Remembering Rue: Part Four
Had her life been better before this? Rue didn’t know. Was this the normal way of life—for a mother to distance herself from her daughter and snap at her when she asked a question, and to stare off into space when she thought her daughter wasn’t looking?
Perhaps not. Rue didn’t know; in her mind, this was the first family experience she’d ever had. Her mind was a blank slate if she tried to remember anything before a few days ago; all she had was a handful of vivid memories.
She could not remember the fall; the fateful moment when the lift had broken and she and her brother had crashed into the mountainside. She could remember stepping onto the lift.
For the first time in her life—that she knew of—her life after the accident—Rue feared herself. Looking at the broken lift had caused her to remember taking Stacey up it. Thinking about her father had made her remember when Ruth had left Meridell and taken her children with her, leaving him behind.
She could not look out at the world safely, or think safely. There were only her books to save her; she’d open one of the old volumes and bury herself in diagrams and hypotheses. But nothing could last forever. Sooner or later, when it grew too dark to read or she grew hungry or tired, she’d look up and see her lost mother, angry with her lot and the world, or suddenly, the memory of taking Stacey to the lift would spring into her mind unbidden.
She began to have faint recollections one day of riding the lift when Ruth sent her out shopping.
The lift drew her eyes like nothing else could, the one thing she could not look at. As she stared at it, she felt a very faint wisp of a memory in her mind of sitting on the lift, clutching the sled, holding Stacey’s hand, and watching as the snow sank away and they went up and up and up...
She couldn’t be here anymore. Her mother was not her family. She could not stay here. She did not want to remember. She did not want to go through life looking at everything around her and reliving the worst moments of her life.
And, suddenly, as soon as she realized this, she realized another thing: she might have left anyway. If she had never gone on the lift and lost her memories, she might have left Terror Mountain completely. There were too many bad feelings there.
And, as soon as she made this connection, she thought: perhaps the same reason I must leave here is the same reason that Ruth left Meridell.
All Ruth had there were memories of poverty and working as long as the sun was shining. She’d made good memories in Meridell, too, of spending time with Jean and their children, but the bad memories had driven her out, all the same.
Rue had thought her mother a coward when she remembered hiding behind a haystack and watching Jean and Ruth argue. Rue had thought Ruth a coward for running away, for not being brave enough to pull through.
Did that mean that Rue was a coward, too?
It was no use making excuses for herself.
Maybe. . .maybe Ruth had known she was a coward too when she left. Maybe that was what made her so bitter—she knew that she’d gotten a bad lot, and then when she fled to escape it, she found herself in the same situation and with the realization that she was too afraid to face her problems.
But it wasn’t poverty Rue was escaping; she was escaping her mother and the memories of her and Jean and Stacey. Her mother could not come with her; Rue must go somewhere where the memories could not follow and Ruth would only remind her every day of Stacey and Jean.
So Rue left. She took all of her books with her; a huge stack that wobbled as she walked, and walked into an antique shop while Ruth was at work. It turned out that several of the books were old and valuable, but the shopkeeper recognized how young Rue was and bought the books for much less than they were worth. Rue realized this but did not care: she had just enough money now for a few meals and a boat to. . .where?
The Krawk went to the docks and looked at the ticket prices. She would go to the Haunted Woods; it was cheap because a trip to a forest full of monsters and zombies wasn’t exactly what most people had in mind when they considered their dream vacations. And Rue was sure there would be no clockwork lifts or haystacks there.
So Rue stepped onto the boat, wearing the only other dress that she owned—a pale green one that covered her entire arms and fell just below her knees. She worried that it wasn’t long enough, but she’d have to make do with what she had.
This boat was much smaller than the one Rue had ridden to Happy Valley on with Ruth. There were only six other passengers, and they were all in tight little compartments just below the deck that had barely enough room for the single bed and nightstand that filled it.
Rue remembered seeing a pair of dark blue curtains in her mother’s bedroom and then seeing a sewing kit resting on her mother’s nightstand, and a sudden and very strong dislike filled her as she looked at them; frustration at endless hours of pulling out stitches and poking herself with the needle. So she took the curtains and the sewing kit and left behind the little handful of Neopoints she had left from selling her books.
So that was what the Krawk did now—she laid the curtains on her knee and sat down on the bed and set out to make herself something warm out of them—a cloak, maybe—the cloth was too long for a coat.
She opened the cloth packet and frowned—one of the leaves was sewn shut. The other side contained an ample supply of pins, needles, and thread. Rue took out a needle, threaded it with a thread about the same color as the curtains, and began to sew.
It was very frustrating and tiring, but it did its job: her mind was so busy trying to remember how to make her stitches straight and how to tie a knot that she had no time to think of other things—like Stacey and Ruth and Jean.
She sewed until she grew very tired and fell asleep, waking up the next morning and putting her mind into automatic mode: wake up, pack up her sewing supplies, eat some bread for breakfast, and go outside. The boat was close enough to the shore that she didn’t have time to take out her sewing packet, but far away enough that there was plenty of time for her mind to dwell on unpleasant facts, so she walked around the deck, playing a game where she could only step on certain tiles. It was a very difficult game, and it occupied her mind nicely until the horn blew and Rue stepped off the little boat and set off into the woods, walking briskly with the curtains draped around her shoulders.
It was not a pleasant place, the Haunted Woods. There were howls and moans and growls and snarls echoing off the creaking trees, and even the plants looked as if they were vile and evil. It was a consuming task to focus on where to put her feet, and to stay away from the vines that threatened to strangle her (and were disturbingly common), and to shy away from the paths that looked unusually dark or where strange noises echoed from their depths.
She could see no houses, but eventually she could see a light in the distance, and smoke billowing through the thick trees and up into the sky. Rue picked up her pace, realizing that her plan, while it had kept her mind off things wonderfully, was not a very good one, for she had nowhere to find food or eat or sleep, and the sun was beginning to go down. Rue supposed that she could live in Neovia, but at the moment she was still far from there and in the middle of the Haunted Woods with only a packet full of sewing needles as weapons.
She clutched the curtains around her and shivered, her eyes focused on the light ahead of her. Her shuffling feet shifted aside dried leaves and dead bits of vine, and the edge of the curtain slithered along on the ground behind her.
At last the house came in sight. It was a little cottage, with a garden in the front. There was a room added on to the main structure that looked rather decrepit. Rue held the curtains around her with one hand and with the other hand knocked on the door.
To be continued...