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The Last Debt This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Ruby smiled at the performer as she collected her coffee and made a break for her usual table in the corner. He wasn’t especially good, but that was expected in this small town. She’d seen him before in the grocery store, gym, and maybe even a couple times at school. And one other place—the library? No, Ruby smiled to herself at the thought of anyone in this town at the library.
Even though he wasn’t any good, no one was planning on booing him off the stage. Fortunately for him, he had nice chestnut colored hair and topaz colored eyes, not to mention he had a nice build. Ruby wasn’t very fond of his looks herself, but then again she’d seen a lot more then most the people in the room would see their whole lives.
It was open mic night and the place was packed, well, as packed as it was ever going to get. But even though it was packed to the point where people were standing, no one touched Ruby’s table.
She sipped her coffee while watching the chestnut boy sing a very pitchy version of a song she believed to be called “Jolene.” Ruby had never listened to the song herself, but apparently everyone and their mother had heard it since practically everyone in the room was singing along.
Open mic night was a teenage event, so Ruby shouldn’t have been surprised to see a boy about her age come in. What wasn’t normal was the fact she’d never seen him before, and she’d seen everyone in this town before. She felt herself stiffen, and looked at all the exits, evaluating the quickest possible escape route. Fortunately, she’d done this the first time she’d walked into “Benny’s House of Fun,” the poorly named restaurant she spent most of her time in.
She tried to keep her cool by looking down so she wouldn’t make eye contact. “If you can’t see him, he can’t see you,” she muttered under her breath.
“Who are you talking to?” she heard a male voice ask. She opened her eyes to see a pair of glacier blue ones staring back at her. She quickly took in the rest of his appearance and realized he was the one who had walked in. This was not good. She made her face a blank slate before saying, “what do you mean?” in her best confused voice. His smile faltered a tiny bit and he crinkled his forehead while simultaneously pulling his eyebrows together. He did this so quickly, had anyone else had been there they wouldn’t have seen it. “You just said something,” he responded. Ruby crinkled her nose and shook her head slowly while bringing her lips together in a straight line, “I don’t think so.” The boy gave Ruby an-are-you-kidding-me expression and said clearly frustrated, “yes, you did, I heard you,” Ruby could tell he was trying not to raise his voice. Ruby raised her eyebrow, and then opened her mouth before closing it again. She then narrowed her eyes and studied the boy not bothering to be subtle. He had hair the color of the shadows that occupy the corners of your room at night, and blue eyes that looked translucent, practically transparent. He stared straight back at Ruby, not saying a word. Challenging her.
Finally she broke the silence, “what’s your name?” He smirked at the question, and she knew the game was up. He looked away and raised his hand to get the attention of the server and he responded, “you didn’t answer my question.” Ruby didn’t miss a beat, “well I guess we’re even because you haven’t answered mine,” her eyes didn’t leave his face. He looked back at Ruby’s face and his smile grew until it became a grin, and then he lowered his eyes to the table. His shoulders started to shake and Ruby could tell he was laughing. There was something off about his laugh. Once again she looked at the exits.
When he finally looked up again the waitress was there, flirtatiously smiling. He didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t let on since his eyes never left Ruby’s as he said, “coffee. Black.” The waitress tried to get his attention by asking, “anything else?” while smiling seductively at him. He didn’t bother responding, so the waitress just angrily huffed and stormed off.
And that was when Ruby realized just how good looking the boy was. He had show stopping good looks. Even in a city he would be considered attractive. His black hair made a wonderful backdrop for his snow colored eyes. They weren’t quite white, but reminded her of the blue-ish tint that comes from looking at snow for too long. Not to mention his smirk, that’d get any girl’s heart beating fast. Well, any girl except Ruby, she’d seen too many pretty faces, and learned by now a pretty face meant an ugly secret.
As soon as Ruby realized all this, she blushed and broke eye contact and started looking anywhere but at the boy. “What’s the matter?” he teased, “Afraid of being the center of attention?” Ruby felt her stomach drop, and she looked around the restaurant. She could see people staring enviously, some trying to be subtle, and some were looking and whispering to their friends without bothering to hide it. Ruby felt sick. She scolded herself; she should’ve known better then to fraternize with new folks. Especially when they had movie star good looks.
She cursed under her breath, and began formulating a plan to get up and leave the new boy. She was just about to say how she felt sick when he cut her off and said, “hey, are you okay?” He looked guilty and a little concerned but Ruby was again struck by how it looked fake. “It was just a joke,” he said urgently, almost as if he knew that she was going to leave and wanted to stop her. Ruby opened her mouth and saw something flicker across his face. He knew what she was going to say. Suddenly she changed her mind and asked determinedly, “Why’d you sit with me?” He seemed a little taken back but answered fairly quickly, “Because you interested me.” Ruby pulled her eyebrows together and asked quickly, “What do you mean?” He opened his mouth and then closed it. Soon a smirk occupied his face and he responded, “You never answered my question, why should I answer yours?” Ruby felt nauseous when she realized that he was flirting. With her.
Ruby realized she needed to leave, she wasn’t getting an answer, “Okay,” she said standing quickly causing the table to move, giving everyone in the room an excuse to look at her. Even the singer stopped to stare. She kept herself composed, and collected her coffee before looking at the boy who was trying not to grin. But there was something odd about it. It seemed cold and distant. As if even though he was making the expression, it didn’t seem like it belonged on his face. She’d learned by now that gut feelings were never just feelings. So she did what she thought any normal teenage girl would do: she called him a psychopath and got out of there.
His unpleasant grin made it easy to say loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, “it was nice meeting you. You’ve reminded me why I don’t become friends with psychopaths, have a nice visit in Markam Willows.” Then she flashed him a superficial smile and walked out without turning back once.
Well, blending in was overrated anyway.
••••••••
Over the next few days, no matter where Ruby went the blue-eyed boy was always there. Even when she strayed from her normal hangouts and went places she’d never been he was there. Smirking at the door right as she walked in. Waiting for her. After a couple days of being followed, Ruby stopped going out, but his presence didn’t disappear. He appeared in her dreams, and when she was home alone she sometimes thought she could hear his voice, but when she looked around… she was completely alone. It got to the point where she refused to sleep, but that only made his voice more frequent.
Finally after 4 days she couldn’t take the lack of sleep and hoped that her exhaustion would prohibit any form of dreams. Unfortunately, it did not.
Her dream was completely empty; it was devoid of any objects, people, or things, yet she somehow felt like she wasn’t alone.
“It’s cause’ you’re not, pumpkin,” said a familiar voice as a set of footsteps walked up behind her. She wheeled on the blue-eyed boy who hadn’t been there five seconds prior. “What?” she asked suspiciously. “You feel like you’re not alone, because you’re not. In case you didn’t notice, I’m here,” he said smiling at her sadistically. “You’re in my head,” her voice quivered as she remembered all the times she thought she’d heard someone talking to her. “You need to get out of my head,” she said shakily while breaking eye contact. Suddenly, she felt his presence right behind her, and could feel his hot breath in her ear as he said sarcastically, “I’m not in your head. That’s all you up there.” She was paralyzed, even as he started walking again. “You’re lying, I know what you are. I know how what you do works, I used to be you,” she whispered suddenly sounding like a scared child.
“I suppose it’s no use to tell you you’re wrong?” he asked sighing patiently, as if he had caught a little kid with their hand in the cookie jar. And even though she knew exactly what he was doing, she still couldn’t resist the magic that made her feel more anxious by the second. “Come on, Ruby. I haven’t been in your head, that’s impossible,” he said; his attempt to be endearing coming off as a challenge. “I know what you are,” she whispered. “Why? Because you used to be me?” he said raising his voice with each word, and laughed without humor. “Say it!” he yelled, opening his arms wide as he said, “it’s not like anyone can hear you, say it!” he growled at her, he didn't say it as a request. It was a command. No, it was a threat.
“Collector,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you!” he yelled sounding more and more like a maniac.
“Collector!” she screamed as she suddenly started crying. He made a sound of disgust and looked away as she sank to the floor and buried her face in her knees and wept.
“Quit your blubbering, we don’t get to be sad. We made our beds, it’s only fair we have to lie in them,” he said still repelled by her break down. But he wasn’t done, “We know what we’re signing up for when we accept. A lonely life where we collect debts for The Devil. And after we devote our living lives to Him, we’re supposed to die for him,” the blue eyed boy said still refusing to look at her. “And what?” she asked, sounding nasally from her crying, “I die too? He took everything,” she finally and in a way that made the blue eyed boy waver. “Look,” he said turning toward her with a new sympathy as he looked at her and saw a broken girl. “Either you or I do it. And if you choose me I won’t make it easy or quick. You said so yourself, you already lost everything, there’s nothing left for you here,” he finished persuasively. She looked up and uncertainty seemed to flicker across her eyes, and then with a resigned air of someone who knows they’re going to die, she nodded.
When she shut her eyes and reopened them she wasn’t surprised when she was in the middle of her apartment. Nor was she surprised when she found a gun on the kitchen table, next to a photo of her family and her, before she made her Choice. She wasn’t surprised either when she almost robotically put the barrel of the gun in her mouth. Then she hesitated and pulled the gun out of her mouth, and let herself wonder. But then she remembered what the blue-eyed boy had said, “either you do it or I do,” and she knew how it’d work if she let him: first the solitude, then the madness, then suicide. But it wasn’t nearly that simple. When they drove you crazy it was ugly. They raped your mind and took the only good part with them. They made it so you could never be happy, and made sure you felt all the pain and anguish you’d ever experienced until it was too much and you did the deed.
I suppose that’s what made it easy for Ruby to put the gun back in her mouth, and pull the trigger.




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