If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been sharing the first chapter of my science fiction/fantasy novel Ruins of Sapphire, the first book in the Crimson Winter Trilogy for young adults. If not, you can start here with Part 1. And if you’re liking this so far, I suggest checking out the paperback or the ebook in our online store because they are both on sale this month!
CHAPTER 1 – STILL TUESDAY…?
Tuesday – 8:15AM
I stared at my phone – silenced now – and I thought long and hard about all I had seen and heard over the past few ‘Tuesdays’.
Hotaru called. I answered it automatically, knowing almost the exact second when it would ring. “So, Tuesday again, huh?”
“Yes,” I responded. “It seems it still is. This time we’re going to try something a little different, though.”
“Oh? What do you have in mind?”
“Meet me at school again. Same place.”
We went through our day as normally as we could and did nothing to upset the balance of events. We passed our science test, I met Reiki at lunch, and I took the blonde stranger’s hatred as naturally as I could. I even signed up for the swim meet, though I didn’t know if I would ever make it to the end of the day again.
After school, Hotaru and I met up and broke the pattern by taking the bus to the hospital. We figured Shuzhue’s grandmother would have been admitted to the nearest hospital to their home, so that was where we went. I picked a few flowers from rows outside the hospital to make our story seem plausible.
“Excuse me,” I addressed the nurse behind the glass in the main lobby, “would you be able to direct me to Chi-sama’s room?”
“Are you friends or family?”
“Friends,” Hotaru supplied.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. “I can only give out room numbers to immediate family.”
“I understand,” I replied, containing my frustration. Of course they would have to control who was allowed to visit the patients.
In a flash of insight I looked down. There on the desk was a sign-in sheet for visitors. The last two people to arrive were Chi Shuzhue and Chi Junae and next to their names was labeled 6th Floor.
“Thanks anyway,” I said to the nurse before taking Hotaru’s arm to lead her away.
“That’s it?” Hotaru demanded in a hushed whisper. “We’re just going to walk away?”
“Not exactly,” I replied, steering her toward the elevator while checking over my shoulder to ensure the nurse wasn’t watching where we went. “I checked the sign-in sheet. They’re on the sixth floor. We just have to go up there and check the charts by the doors.”
The elevator door opened and the blonde Goth stepped out. I was so startled I almost let out a yelp, but I kept it together and hauled Hotaru to the side. There was nothing normal about his appearance. He was not in school clothes, but in his black goth outfit. The red jewel hung limply around his neck with no hint of a glow, but to me he still seemed otherworldly.
He didn’t seem to notice us or care and he continued walking right on by. Though I was not exactly relieved, I pulled Hotaru into the elevator and pressed the button for the sixth floor with a near frantic haste.
“Yukari, what was that all about?” Hotaru demanded once we were safely in the elevator. “You acted like you saw a ghost.”
“That person we just passed,” I said as I tried to calm my nerves enough to explain, “he was one of the four in the park. The ones that surrounded us and trapped us in there with…him.” I couldn’t bring myself to relive that night any further and Hotaru didn’t ask me to. She just looked thoughtful, but I could tell she knew who and what I meant.
The elevator stopped and opened onto the sixth floor. “Come on,” I instructed Hotaru and we split up to check each of the charts along the walls. We were lucky this hall was a quiet one and no one came to stop us.
Finally we found the room we were looking for. “This is it,” I said to Hotaru as I stood in front of a door. It was open just a crack and I put my ear to it to listen for Shuzhue and her mother’s voices.
I was mildly alarmed not to hear anything at all. A creeping suspicion dawning on me, I gently pushed the hospital door open. It was silent on its hinges, so I pushed it the rest of the way open and entered cautiously.
There were two beds in the room, separated by a curtain that billowed loosely in the wind from – I assumed – an open window. The bed nearest the door was neatly made up. The far one appeared rumpled, but even past the moving curtain I could see that it, too, was empty.
There was no one there. No sick grandmother, no visitors, and most importantly no Shuzhue.
I entered the room fully and I could feel Hotaru behind me. Moving the curtain out of the way, I made to inspect the room – they had been here, of that I was certain. What I didn’t know was what had happened to them and where they were now. Did the doctors move the grandmother to another room or take her somewhere for some kind of treatment? Would they not have taken her chart with them?
The window was indeed open – wide open. And on the sill was the strangest thing, a single red sneaker with its laces undone.
Comprehension dawning, I approached the sneaker with mounting dread. This shoe could not have belonged to Shuzhue’s mother or grandmother. If I was correct about the occupants of this room before we entered it, then this shoe likely belonged to Shuzhue herself. My hand closed around the sneaker, almost surprised to feel it was real. Size five. Shuzhue had small feet.
Gripping the mysterious sneaker to my chest, I leaned out the window, the evening wind whipping about my face and I looked down first – nothing down there – then up.
We were six stories up. Two floors away from the roof.
Reset the program. The metallic voice spoke again in my mind.
No! the other voice responded. This has gone on too long…there isn’t enough time.
Reset the program.