by Susan EE
The hairy beast of a man paid no attention to Ruby. Instead, he curled on the rushes in the center of the cell. He groaned and twitched, sounding as though he was fighting pain or fury, or both.
Ruby got as far away from him as she could, huddling in the corner as she watched him.
Even her grandmother wouldn’t be able to get her out of this. No one had ever escaped the Midnight dungeons before. It was infamous for its cruelty. And there were stories…
Ruby shut her eyes, willing away the old stories of what happened in the dungeons.
She stretched her neck, hearing the crackling and popping as though she was an old woman. She got up timidly, quietly, to move a little. She wanted to stay limber and ready, in case she needed to move quickly. The last thing she needed was to be stiff and clumsy if she had to run or fight.
She stretched her legs, loosening her tight muscles. The cell was cold and it was hard to warm up. All she wanted to do was sit silently as a mouse in the corner and hope he wouldn’t notice her in the shadows. But hope could be a dangerous thing if it didn’t come hand in hand with caution.
The man’s breathing changed. He stopped twitching. Ruby had the feeling that he was watching her through his lashes.
A spike of panic washed over her. She was trapped in here with this man who had blood on his hands and face. His nails were tattered and clogged with something that looked like torn flesh.
This was only her first night in the dungeons, and she wasn’t sure that she’d survive the night.
“I can defend myself.” Ruby imitated her grandmother’s voice—strong and full of confidence. “You’d be better off finding easier prey.”
Of course, there was no easier prey than a girl trapped in a cell with a monster.
A low growl came from the man. A deep rumbling that was more animal than human.
Ruby forced herself away from the corner. The cell was small, but she was better off having space to maneuver. In the corner, she’d have nowhere to retreat to.
The man began twitching again on the floor the way a dog might twitch while dreaming. But he was awake, wasn’t he?
Down the hall, someone screamed.
At the same time, there was a ferocious sound that was part growl and part animal screech.
This time, the sound was closer.
After that, the screams came in a wave down the corridor, as if whatever was happening was catching like fire from one cell to the next.
The man in Ruby’s cell twitched and jerked. His face contorted and his nose wrinkled. Then he screamed too. The sound was full of agony and violence.
The boy who was in the cell across the way grabbed the bars of his cell and screamed. He was no older than Ruby—old enough to be considered a man but young enough to sometimes be called a boy. He looked terrified and frantically tried to squeeze his way through the bars.
In the dark shadows beyond him, hairy hands reached out and grabbed him. His screams intensified, his eyes begging her for help. The hands dragged him back into the dark recesses of his cell.
All through the dungeon row, the air filled with screams and growls. The scariest sounds, though, were the screams that suddenly stopped midway. Or the screams that ended in a gurgle.
Despite Gran’s old warnings about not backing herself into a corner, Ruby backed all the way against the wall.
The man in her cell jerked his head up. He led with his nose instead of his eyes, as if he was blind. But he clearly wasn’t blind, because his eyes seemed to have an eerie yellowish glow as they watched her.
He dragged his weirdly long limbs as he pushed himself off the floor. Had they been that long before?
Despite his strange proportions, he moved gracefully without wasting a single motion. Like an animal. Like a predator.
Ruby heard herself pant. Her heart pounded in her ears, roaring panic raging through her.
Then the man—who was perhaps not entirely a man—curled his lips to show his unusually sharp teeth.
Before she could get out a scream, he leapt onto her.