Ruby finally gets an interview. She hopes the day gets better .... (Ed. Pick Mystery NL)
|“This is insane,” Ruby mumbled, “I know I put that interview suit in this closet someplace.” Ruby rummaged through the last few pressed outfits and struck upon the royal blue dress suit. “Finally!” She glanced at the alarm clock across the room. “I’ve got to hurry!”
She tossed her bathrobe on the bed. Tiny particles erupted and danced in the sunlight beaming through the window. She shimmied into the suit and smoothed the polyester fabric with her hands. She turned in front of the mirror. Not bad.
Grabbing her purse, she dashed out of the bedroom, slipped through her apartment door, and bounded down the stairs. She caught a whiff of Tommy Finigan’s marijuana habit as she dashed by. I hope that doesn’t stick to my clothes. God, that’s the last thing I need going to Homeland Security.
Half-running, she caught the next subway downtown. Tired and perspiring, she plopped down in a plastic seat and flipped out her phone. A man next to her pushed a furtive smile toward her. She returned that gesture with a glance, and a quick re-focus on her phone. Kinda cute, but reminds me too much of Harry. Damn him for leaving me for that hussy Cheryl.
The train lurched to a stop and Ruby felt hot liquid splatter on her blouse. She looked down to find coffee dotting her top. Her head arose and pivoted toward the man next to her. Her teeth clenched, she glowered at him.
The man fumbled with the lid. “Sorry,” he squeaked and lifted his eyes up at the same time.
Ruby managed a heavy sigh and cocked her head to look at the grimy ceiling. The man jumped up and exited. Damn it!
“Chestnut Street,” the pre-recorded voice droned. That’s my stop.
Ruby ascended the stairs to the busy sidewalk. The wind whipped through the streets and rustled a small dam of trash in the gutter. A cup broke free and skidded across the walk and bounced off her toe. Disgusted, she kicked it back to the gutter.
She popped a Certs in her mouth. The pleasant peppermint swirled on her tongue. She perused the directions on her phone and determined the huge office building was three blocks down. Calm down, Ruby.
Walking briskly, she crossed Chestnut street at the corner and slowed when she spied a line of people swaying in irritable pantomimes. Greeeeat.
“My first interview in months and I’m going to be late!” she yelled and stomped her foot. The heel broke off her pump, and she lost her balance and tumbled to the concrete. Pain shot through her elbow and blood oozed from the scrape. Ruby’s eyes misted over as she riffled through her purse and snatched a tissue to apply pressure. This just isn’t my day.
She hobbled to the back of the line; A bloody Kleenex pressed against her elbow, and two shoes and a broken heel in the other. She glared forward and watched the guard pass people through the metal detector. He tapped a yellow pencil while watching the screen. He gave monotone directions to those about to step forward.
“Remove your shoes. Place your pocket contents in the bin. Put all bags on the conveyor.” He repeated.
A slather of caramel icing graced the fat man’s cheek. At this, Ruby smiled. She reached to put her purse on the conveyor when five men pushed her aside and tossed their pocket contents in the bin. She caught herself on the side of the metal detector and a glint of sunshine blinded her momentarily.
“Hey! What’s the big idea?” she protested.
The men, dressed in black suits and sunglasses, remained silent. They didn’t even glance her way. They seemed “pack-like” intent on scrambling into the building. The guard half-grinned and waived the men in without a question.
“They can’t do that! You guys come back here! I’ve got a mind to…”
The last one turned around and a small piece of what appeared to be rubber protruded from his neck, and revealed green scales underneath. Ruby sucked in a breath as the man grabbed the wayward flap, adjusted it and covered up the lizard-like scales. The man stared into Ruby’s eyes and a forked tongue flipped from his mouth. Ruby blinked hard a couple of times as the sunspots faded from her vision. Did I just see that? No. That had to be…
“Look, lady. Are you going through or not?” the guard asked.
“Oh, right.” Ruby stepped through the machine. She fully expected that it would buzz, but it didn’t. She peered at the disgruntled faces behind her. “Did you see…?” Her voiced trailed off. She pointed at the man who had bounded through the checkpoint. The tall man behind her just glared and tapped his bare foot. After a loud grunt toward Ruby, he grabbed his wallet, phone, and shoes and bee-lined to the elevators.
Ruby flipped the bloody tissue in a trash receptacle and murmured “Room 313”. She pushed the up button. That was weird. Must’ve been the sun playing tricks on me.
Arriving at the third floor, she stepped from the empty elevator car onto a cold, tiled floor. Her shoes still in her hand, she meandered to one of the long halls straddling the elevators. Empty. Nobody at all. Eerily silent too. Ruby could hear her heart beating and throbbing in her ears. She glided down the hall to stand in front of the door with “313” above it. She stared at the sign and noticed odd symbols beneath the numbers.
Cupping her hand, she sniffed. Breath ok. She smoothed out her suit, ignoring the coffee stains. It’s now or never. She grabbed the knob and twisted. The door leaned open and a staggering deluge of hot, moist air struck her face. Ruby swayed uneasily as she reached forward and pushed open the door.
A mahogany table stood in the middle of the non-descript room. Two plastic chairs mirrored each other at each end. A bizarre picture of a swamp with an equally bizarre white bird with huge wings drifted in painted stillness, as it hung to the right of a green door opposite her.
“Hello?” Ruby inquired, to whom she wasn’t certain.
The green door opened and a man wearing a black suit, black tie, and sunglasses walked in. He pulled the door shut and a soft thump filled the quiet of the room. Ruby’s anxiety swelled.
“Hi, you're one of those gentlemen from downstairs,” she stammered, “I’m Ruby Musselwhite. I’m here for my interview.” She stuck out her hand.
The man looked at her, then at her hand, and licked his lips. He nodded and pulled out a chair.
Ruby took the cue and sat in the other chair. A bead of sweat drifted down her cheek. “Is it always this hot in here?” She wiped the drop from her chin and preemptively wiped another bead forming.
“Yes,” the man stated. He retrieved a notebook and scribbled in it as he surveyed Ruby.
“I know I’m late…”
“Silence!” the man shot from his chair and wagged a deformed hand at her. She hadn’t noticed before as he hid it just inside his cuff. “I’ll do the talking. We’ve been monitoring you, Ms. Musselwhite. Do you think we don’t know all about you?”
“Well I …,” Ruby started, but quieted when the man stared her into submission.
“What qualifications do you have to work at Homeland Security?”
“Well, I went to MIT and worked with Dr. Spiel. He was brilliant at encryption. He told me I had a real aptitude for decoding. This is just the opposite end of that and I…”
“… thought you could just jump right into it?” He finished.
“Well, yes.” Ruby brushed another stream of sweat from her forehead. She noticed the man wasn’t sweating at all. His beady eyes just stared at her. She tried to maintain good eye contact. Just do it, Ruby. Good eye contact, even if this guy is quite possibly the most bizarre man you’ve ever met. The salty taste of sweat seeped into her mouth.
“We know Dr. Spiel. He’s worked with us a few times on the Hullon Project.” For the first time, the man’s eyes wandered off Ruby, and fixated on the picture. Again he licked his lips as if reminiscing. He clutched the sides of the table. Ruby noticed a small red substance right next to his good hand.
He looked back at Ruby who stared at the red drop. He grinned broadly, revealing sharp pointy teeth.
Ruby’s heart sunk. “You aren’t human are you?”
“You would be good at decoding. Unfortunately, we can’t have many of those around to decode our messages from our home planet. We do, however, like to harvest humans as a delicacy. Two birds with one stone, isn’t that the right phrase?”
Ruby leaped for the door only to find it locked. When she turned toward the man, he'd vanished.
3rd Place in "Show, Don't Tell Contest"
Editor's pick Mystery NL 09/07/2011
Written for Show, Don't Tell Contest limited to 1500 words
Must contain these markers:
Ruby is unemployed. (1) Now she's mad, (2) since she's late for a job interview at Homeland Security. (3) She's worried about her appearance (4) because a stranger spilled his coffee on her blouse.(5) He reminded her of her ex-boyfriend. (6) When she gets to the big office building (7) where her interview will be held, she is dismayed (8) at the long line at the security checkpoint. (9) She impatiently joins the queue. (10) The bored security guard slowly lets people through. (11) When she's finally next in line, (12) a group of five men in black suits cut in front of her. (13) That makes her furious. (14) She tries to confront them, (15) but they ignore her. (16) She notices one of them is wearing a mask. (17) It slips and she realizes that it hides a lizard-like face that can't be human. (18) No one else notices (19) and the men all rush (20) through the checkpoint. She decides the strange face was just her imagination. (21) When she gets to her interview, one of the men in black suits is there. (22) His strange manner (23) scares her.(24) He locks her in a room by herself. (25)