It’s Tuesday again! You know what that means? It means we’re sharing another piece of the first chapter of Ruins of Sapphire, book one in the young adult scifi/fantasy trilogy by J.A. Dowsett (that’s me!). If you’re just seeing this for the first time, you can find part 1 here, or check out the book, which is ON SALE in our online store (ebooks and paperbacks available)
CHAPTER 1 – THIS WAS GETTING RIDICULOUS
The alarm sounded on my cell phone. I reached over immediately and shut it off, thumbing through the menu by memory to find Hotaru’s cell phone number. At the last moment I put on my glasses to double check I had it right and pressed send.
It rang and rang, but there was no answer.
Frustrated, I hung up and called her house line. Hotaru’s mother answered immediately.
“Hatsumuya-san, good morning,” I said politely, even though the delay grated on me. “Would Hotaru-san be available to talk to me? I’d like to meet her to walk to school this morning.”
“Sure thing, Yukari-chan,” Hotaru’s mother responded happily. “I’ll just go get her.”
I waited much longer than I expected for Hotaru to finally come to the phone. When she did, her demeanor was completely different than it had been on the previous Tuesday mornings.
“Yukari,” she said, sounding panicked, “there’s something really wrong here!”
“Hotaru,” I responded authoritatively – I wasn’t in the mood for nonsense this morning, “calm down. What is going on?”
“Well,” she said, as she forced herself to breathe as normally as possible, “I haven’t been able to find my cell phone. It was ringing just now. I could hear it, but it’s not where the sound is coming from.”
Okay. That was weird, but it didn’t call for the level of panic Hotaru was displaying.
“So I reached for it,” Hotaru continued, still sounding shaky, “and my hand grabbed hold of a metal pipe instead.”
“There is a metal pipe in the center of my room,” she repeated as calmly as she could. “I’m still holding it, I haven’t let go. It comes up out of the floor on a strange angle and then goes across the room a ways before bending down and disappearing through my bed. I’ve hidden it with a blanket so my mom didn’t see it, but Yukari, what is it?”
I tried to consider this rationally – and failed. “I don’t know, Hotaru. The only thing I can think is there is something seriously wrong about this whole circumstance. We need to see what happened if we are to make any sense of this. Let go of the pipe, Hotaru. Let’s try something different today. We’ll go straight to the hospital.”
“And skip school?” Hotaru sounded scandalized at the suggestion.
“Why not?” I answered, somewhat uncharacteristically. “It’s not like it’ll matter by next Tuesday.”
The hospital was quiet during the day and infinitely less ominous than it would be later – closer to the mysterious disappearance of Shuzhue and her entire family. Hotaru and I walked the grounds of the hospital as I searched for something specific.
“There.” I pointed for Hotaru’s benefit.
“The fire escape ladder?”
“That window there is on the second floor. If we find that room, we can lower the fire escape ladder,” I explained. “Then if we need an alternate route to the rooftop, we’ll have one ready.”
“The rooftop?” Hotaru asked, not following my logical leaps. “Isn’t Shuzhue’s grandma on the sixth floor? What’s on the roof?”
“When I found that sneaker on the windowsill I figured they had to have taken Shuzhue either up or down. There was no trace of her down here. No prints in the moist ground,” I said, nudging the dirt with my foot so Hotaru could see how soft it was, “and no indication someone had fallen or landed there. So I looked up, and that’s when the day reset, remember?”
I shook my head. Hotaru was so dense sometimes. “Every time we’ve changed something that brings us closer to the truth – essentially every time we break the pattern completely – the day resets. We’ve been pushing the limits, but now we’re into completely new territory. None of this,” I said, indicating the hospital around us, “happened on the original Tuesday, so we must be getting closer.”
Hotaru nodded, deep in thought. “If we want to find out what happened to Shuzhue in that room, we shouldn’t go to the roof. That would be too late. We should be in the room.”
“There’s not really a place to hide in there,” I pointed out, “and these people are dangerous, Hotaru. How about a compromise? We wait nearby and try to hear what’s going on, and step in if necessary. Shuzhue had to have been taken between the time she signed into the hospital and the time we reached the room, so if we get to that time, we should head to the roof.”
Hotaru agreed, so that was what we did. We spent the rest of the day staking out the hospital. We located the stairwell that led to the rooftop, found a nearby public washroom to hole up in while we waited for Shuzhue and her mother to come, and we lowered the fire escape ladder as a backup plan.
We were as prepared as we could be and the day still hadn’t reset – I thought we were doing rather well.
We shared our bento in the restroom – which thankfully was fairly clean and did not seem often used – and we waited out the afternoon companionably, discussing our theories on this strange phenomenon we found ourselves in. We didn’t come to any sensible conclusions, but we did agree that with the day as likely to reset as it was, any rules we needed to break to see this thing through would be forgotten by tomorrow, so there was no use hesitating if something needed to be done.
The public washroom door was directly across the hall from Chi-sama’s door and a short run to the stairwell. I watched my cell phone clock with anticipation when the time indicated on the sign-in sheet drew near. Hotaru and I kept our ears glued to the door.
“You are her family, yes?” a deep, accented male voice said clearly in the hall – he sounded European of some sort. “Please come inside, so we can review her condition together.”
There was the sound of a door opening and footsteps, but curiously no sound of the door shutting.
“This is it,” I whispered to Hotaru.
Hotaru nodded and together we opened the bathroom door, peered out to make sure no one was watching, and then hurried across the hall to stand outside Chi-sama’s partially open door to listen in.
“She’s very ill,” the accented voice was saying. “I’m afraid she does not have a long time left.”
Through the crack in the door I could just make him out. I almost let out a gasp of horror, but that would have given us away, so I stifled it as best I could. It was one of them. He was dressed as a doctor now, but I remembered him from the park. Long black hair, pointed chin, dressed in a long black coat, and wearing a black eye patch over his left eye. He still had the eye patch now and it didn’t look comical on him, it looked…intimidating.
The time on my cell phone was getting nearer to when Hotaru and I had come here yesterday, but they were all still in the room. Had something changed?
Just then there was a crashing sound and the room went dark and silent. I couldn’t see into the darkness. I met Hotaru’s gaze and we nodded in mutual understanding. It was time to go to the next phase of our plan. We ran for the stairwell.
The two flights took us no time at all. Still, however they had gotten up two stories from Chi-sama’s window with several people in tow, I had no doubt it would be faster than us. At the top of the stairs was the rooftop door. It had a large red handle clearly marked: Alarm Will Sound.
No hesitation. Hotaru and I had promised. I lunged at the door and pressed the handle down to open it, bursting onto the rooftop with Hotaru on my heels.
The alarm sounded frantically and filled my head with noise.