April 3, 2021 | Saturday, 11:41PM
The Brewery at The Marketplace
The night was going as pleasantly as possible. An old radio provided classic rock as the underscore for the scene; Ruby and her cross-country gang, about four beers in a piece, sitting at the bar having conversation with one of the nice men working the counter of the only brewery to be found in Caulder's Hollow. They had touched on a medley of topics - the ridiculousness that was Jon the Brewer having never watched The Big Lebowski, the many elaborate breweries to be found in the tri-state area alone, and finally, the disappearance of Farrah St. Pierre.
It had been over two years, but still Ruby felt a pang of sadness thinking about it. The abrupt silence in phone communication was only confirmed by the break in national news the next day, when Ruby found herself staring at a picture of Farrah on the screen with the marquee beneath reading "Strange Disappearances in Caulder's Hollow". When Matt had suggested they add this little town as one of their stopping points on the trip, Ruby had almost dismissed the idea. Whatever peace the town had found in reconciling her absence, whatever traces of her they would even be able to find - who were they to disturb this? Farrah had never been found, and it seemed very unlikely after all the time had passed that she would be. But... What better way to remember her than to walk through the streets she had grown up in, perhaps even to see if they'd be able to pay her grandmother a visit? Ruby had a multitude of silly (and mostly appropriate) photos of the two of them on her phone, and wouldn't it be sweet to give her relative a piece of the city life that Farrah once knew?
Ultimately she couldn't say no to the adventure. It was on the way, and hell, Ruby had always been a little masochistic. Now here she was, holding her IPA up to the lowly lit ceiling and gesturing with her pointer finger for the men do the same. "To Farrah, wherever you are. Wish you were here to knock this back with us, baby."
The liquid of the beer had barely passed through her lips when a sudden knot twisted itself in the pit of her stomach. A hard churn, almost a flop. Ruby swallowed and lowered the glass back down to the wooden counter as the other men basically downed the rest of their beverages. Somehow her palms were growing clammy and some inexplicable urge was pulling her gaze over to the door of the brewery bathroom, which wasn't just the door of the brewery bathroom anymore.
Her heart stopped. Breathing quickened. Like cotton being stuffed into her ears, all sound was drowned out as she blinked, feeling rather stupid and paralyzed as she stared at this door. An image that had been burned into the backs of her eyes but had been left deep in her past was just ahead of her, like some billboard of her trauma for the whole room to see. Or maybe they couldn't see it? Maybe it was a mirage?
No, definitely not - judging by the way time seemed to slow for the everyone inside of the room, she knew they could see it too. One by one, the voices grew quiet as the men found the object of her disbelief. "Rub..." She could hear Matt's voice behind her as if through water, could feel that he had almost reached out to stop her as she slid off her stool at the counter and slowly forced one foot in front of the other.
Light was shining through the cracks as if some beautiful relief from this terrible terrible way of feeling lay beyond the door. Just like in her dreams, all those years ago. With parted lips and an inexplicable determination, Ruby ignored the voices of protest behind her and grasped the familiar golden knob. It turned easily in her hand, and before she had the mind to turn back and look at her friends, Ruby had pushed open the door and stepped through.
Did the door shut itself behind her? No, it felt like it wasn't even there anymore. What in the fuck is happening? On top of feeling completely disoriented by the lack of sense everything was making, Ruby couldn't help but feel gutted by the lie, having hoped that the light from behind the impossible door would have enveloped her and given her sweet relief. Or whatever.
In order for her to not completely lose composure she decided to continue functioning as if this was a really weird acid dream, figments of her imagination testing her survival skills. Sure she had had a few beers, but even her imagination could not have taken her this far without at least a shot or two. Someone must have slipped something in her drink, and that someone would pay whenever she woke up. Ruby curled her hands into fists by her side as she strained her eyes to make out any detail of whatever was happening now. Her body was tensed in preparation for the next nonsensical event, so much that she nearly jumped out of her skin upon registering the ice cold water lapping at her ankles. There was also that sound... Deep and resonant, happening all over this place. This place? She wasn't even sure this was real. How could it be? The door, the water at her ankles, the thing yawning...
Ruby yelped at the realization that the water was rising quickly, and as she did a light bulb flickered to life above her head. As her pupils finally adjusted, they did a quick sweep of the newly lit space. If the cramped glass tunnel, the crushed skeleton under rock debris, or the heavily suspicious-looking water didn't already raise goosebumps on her skin, then the other two humans standing nearby definitely did. She took deep breath and let out a long exhale that could have easily been a growl.
"Interesting." The word fell from her mouth very dryly, almost unintentionally, as her brain started sprinting. They both looked younger than her and were faces that she had never seen before in her conscious life. Ruby opened her mouth to address them but it was then that her eyes caught sight of the golden centipede thing, which came to life and plopped into the grey waters. Curiously enough, the bony arm that it had been wrapped around instantly crumbled and the rocks followed suit, causing the water to rush in faster.
Still operating under the guise of a bad trip, Ruby clapped her hands together and finally addressed the other two as she quickly but carefully made her way back toward the stone wall with the plaque. Her Doc Martens were heavy with the weight of the water as she sloshed away from the duo and the only way out like a mad woman. The golden creature was now swimming somewhere around their feet and she was not thrilled about it, having no idea whether the alien was responsible for their skeletal companion and not wanting to personally find out just yet. "Alright, I have no idea who the fuck either of you are, but let's get out of here first and then we can exchange names, okay? I'm gonna try and read this sign in case it's got any helpful information on it if you two want to start seeing if there's a way we can move those rocks." Her voice was loud and assertive, as if she were ringing last call at her bar. Blame it on watching too much sci-fi adventure, but somehow Ruby thought there might be instructions that were important to read on this thing.