Ruth cried out.
She was sprawled on the sandy floor and dazed from the blow. Everything was backwards from where she laid completely vulnerable – she couldn’t recognize the place she called home.
But it wasn’t home right now, was it? No. An intruder made this a battlefield.
Colors were deceiving Ruth; her hand changed colors to the beat of her heart. Her short hair pulsed gold, then shot back to her normal brown. Her head throbbed from lack of water, and her breath was wrenched out of her lungs when she stood up. As she tried to blink back the overpowering desire to just lie back down, no tears came to water her eyes. She’d just have to do without the preparation.
Ruth’s legs lurch forward to put her in a crouch. The room was round and layered with warm colors in the shape of curtains and beanbags – thousands upon thousands of reds and oranges piled on top of each other. And every one of them spun with Ruth’s vision.
She pushed off the ground, but it came back up towards her. Ruth made a rushed decision to crawl forward to the entrance instead of risking the chance of passing out while running there.
Everything still spun, and it just spun faster when her head knocked against the wooden pole suspending the house’s entrance. Right before she closed her eyes, she could have sworn she saw something.
No. It was something else.
The fear couldn’t keep her from blacking out.
The dark lump jumps up towards Ruth right before her vision inked. Its body was a mix of gray-green and black. Long strands of matted and untreated hair swayed as the creature neared her.
Ruth was completely paralyzed and dehydrated, but what she saw was a mutilated horse.
The rocking kept Ruth from waking up. When she finally did, her hands were tied around the flaking leather of the pommel on a saddle. Ruth was still dizzy, so the movement of the horse only made her stomach twist even more.
Ruth kept her head down, thinking it was better to let her captives think she was still asleep. With her eyes, she studied the group of people with closer inspection.
There were four of them; three were about her age. The one remaining was ancient; he had specks of brownish-gray hair perched on the top of his head. He was the head of the group. The guy looked like he was a century old, but the others dragged like lame mules compared to him.
One really did have a limp; he was the one guiding the horse Ruth rode on.
Well, that made things easier.
Ruth’s hands pivoted around the pommel as she undid the rope. As soon as she began, the roan horse she was tied to jerked her raisin-brown head with force towards the limping boy.
The boy stopped moving, urging the horse to freeze as he acted as her hindrance.
With a slow turn of his head, the boy’s eyes connected with Ruth.
“Don’t think we’re weaker than you, sweety.”
His ears pulled back, like an animal’s, tightening his facial features to create an air of superiority.
Surprise and fear made Ruth’s throat close – what kidnapper says that, and smirks like that?
That disgusting expression made her want to slap it right off.
Ruth wanted to think that way. Right now, she also wanted to flatten herself against the warm saddle of the traitorous horse that somehow leaked her escape agenda. How’d the cow do that, anyway? Could the two different species have spoken to each other?
Never mind that.
Ruth let herself be plucked right out from underneath her rock. She was being pushed into a world she didn’t want to see, so she had to be prepared.
Ruth thought of everything that made her angry: the way the saddle slid slightly so it felt like she going slip, how the heat from the beating sun took it too far with the heat and let sweat inch and trickle down her back.
How she had so many questions about was happening, yet she kept pushing them off unconsciously to “deal” with bigger confusions that made her buzz with frustration.
How her parents – oh, her parents.
Why’d Ruth have to do that?
The guilt made the space between her fluttering heart and her shrunken, twisting stomach swell with an unseeable goo. The weight of her well-deserved guilt burdened her and pulled her back from whatever she planned. What was the point of doing anything again?
From the point where the boy with the limp and the gold skin stopped the horse to the present, the rest of the group traveled a good way away from them. Ruth could hear shouting from their direction, but the self-contempt clouded why the sound mattered until the shouting was so close it made her flinch, barely keeping herself from falling off the horse.
“Calvin! Calvin! Are you okay?” One of the girls fell back from the shrinking caravan. “Is there something wrong? I told the others to stop, but I don’t think they’ll stay put for more than a few minutes.”
She was short. Her shoulders made her physique unique; they were tough and toned with muscle. But she wasn’t unproportional. Her legs curved back with power and agility, rooted and nailed to the sandy floor. Her whole body was constructed to withstand the desert wind.
“No, no, it’s just – nothing.”
Her shining, black eyes dulled in response. They shifted from Calvin to Ruth. Her physique changed. It looked as though she was a dam straining against the weight of the sea. Unconsciously, she shook when she smiled tightly and said, “Okay. Just, speed up.” She took several steps back to the caravan. Something was gnawing at her. Then, and it just seemed to come out now.
“Really – again? The recruits aren’t your lovers. She knows you’re playing her; that limp isn’t fooling anyone. Just stop, alright?” She scoffs weakly, turns, and lets her hair flip as she runs. She makes her way up ahead with her knees brought up high.
“Okay, Maggie, sure,” mumbles Calvin with his head to his chest. He chuckled; his teeth were bright white and uncomfortably sharp. But they way the blond-tipped edges of Calvin’s hair spilled over his eyes made him look more alluring than dangerous.
Ruth cheeks would’ve burned red if not for what Maggie let slip about Calvin.
He wasn’t injured?
Sure enough, the moment that Maggie left, Calvin’s footsteps in the sand didn’t drag anymore. He was just trying to get her attention, for some reason or another.
Again, as Ruth recalled Maggie, something stuck out.
Recruit? Ruth as a recruit? For what? All she knew now was that she wasn’t going to be killed for any immediate purpose.
So… if she was at least a bit sure she wasn’t going to die running, then she had the hope of escape. If they wanted her dead, they would’ve killed her already.
The amount of opportunity enabled Ruth, yet scared her. The vast, open span of the desert was sure to make a sitting duck out of Ruth if she were to escape. And what about the unknown power of the caravan? Did they possess magical energy? Her mind whirled with scenarios. Logic and reasoning seemed to push past her with the thought of action encompassing her, all foreboding and ominous.
With Ruth’s heart beating fast, something in her chest awakened.
Rising to the surface of her soul, It seemed to answer to her adrenaline. The shaking in the bones of Ruth’s arms burst into her chest and rushed down to her leather shoes. Her breath eluded her and left vertigo. An infinite, hovering presence of darkness opened Its eyes and entered into the visible world.
It was the horse.