Bear Creek Roller Rink Temporarily Closed To Undergo Deep Cleaning
by Sunny Ahmed, 3.24am July 10th 2021
Ruth looks exactly the same as she did when she moved away, or maybe she doesn’t. Sage can’t remember. She split town three or four years ago, which doesn’t make her unique — people flee Bear Creek all the time. What makes Ruth unique is that she came back.
“So nothing has really changed,” Ruth says after they make a third loop around the rink together. She’d shown up just as Sage was closing up the Bear Creek Roller Rink for the night, but they didn’t have the heart to turn her down when she asked to take a few loops. For old time’s sake.
Sage doesn’t know whether her assessment is a compliment or an insult. “Well, some things have,” they say. “The GSMSA meets on Fridays now, for one.”
“I still can’t believe I mixed up the nights,” Ruth says. “I was looking forward to catching up with all the gays.” Sage doesn’t have the heart to tell her that the Gay, Straight, and Monster Slayer Alliance is heavier on slayers than gays lately.
She swivels her hips and turns to skate backwards alongside them, her face falling in and out of darkness as she passes underneath the neon lights of the rink. Sage wonders when she learned to skate so well.
“It’s no sweat,” they say with a smile. “It gives us more time to catch up.”
Sage can’t keep track of how many loops the pair has made around the rink. They haven’t had much time to skate since they got promoted to manager, and they’re tight in the hips and the calves. But something about Ruth’s smile makes it easy to push the discomfort out of their mind.
“You guys seem to be making a difference here,” Ruth says. She pulls her hair into a ponytail — has she always had braids? — and rounds the corner of the rink for the ninth or ninetieth time. “It feels safer here.”
This conclusion would be impossible to come to without ample distance from the town. Sage wants to tell her all the ways she’s wrong — about the bodies that turn up mauled in the creek, the corpses drained of blood dropped in dumpsters around town, the daze-eyed victims who jump from the City Hall belltower, unable to escape the memories of what they’ve seen and survived.
But Ruth has managed to escape the black hole of Bear Creek, and Sage doesn’t have the heart to drag her back into it.
"The Sadie twins caught a mimic last week,” they concede instead. They don’t offer up any more details — that it’s not hard to catch a mimic while it’s feeding. That the twins came downstairs to find the creature on their couch with its jaw unhinged like a snake. That it had swallowed their father from the waist up and was slowly working on the rest.
“That’s amazing, Sage,” Ruth says. She rounds the corner again, and Sage follows.
“So how’s life on the outside?” Sage asks. They palm drenched hair out of their eyes. They’re dripping a trail of sweat around the rink. They’ve lost count of how many times they’ve circled around the popcorn maker, the skate rack, the DJ booth, the popcorn maker, the skate rack, the —
“It’s fine,” Ruth says. “Quieter.”
“So why did you come back?”
It somehow sounds like an accusation, and although Sage doesn’t mean it that way, they don’t make any attempt to soften it. There’s something odd about her return, about her being here, and the more they think about it, the more it bothers them.
“I wanted to visit my mom,” Ruth says quietly. If she’s offended, she doesn’t let it show.
“I thought your mom was dead.”
“Oh yeah,” Ruth says. “I forgot.”
The light from the sun that peeks in under the rink’s entrance has faded to black. Sage can feel blisters sporing inside of their skates, their ankles growing moist with something, maybe sweat, maybe blood.
"What are we doing this?” they ask. The thought feels clouded, like a vision they had to squint into the distance to see.
“Not much longer now,” Ruth says.
Her words are meaningless to Sage. The second the question escapes their lips, they forget the thought entirely.
“People knew me here,” Ruth blurts out after a stretch of silence that was only interrupted by the occasional squeak of a wheel. “They knew me so well. All the baristas knew my coffee order. All the librarians had personalized book recommendations. Everyone always knew what girl I was dating and who I was fighting with and what classes I was failing and that I’m allergic to peanuts before I could even look at the menu.”
“One time the general store sent me a box of light bulbs because they saw my porch light flickering for a few days,” Sage says. “Charged to my account and everything.”
Ruth smiles and nods. “I could handle all of the fucked up shit that goes on here. But I had to move somewhere I could be someone else.”
“What about you, Sage?” she asks. “Do you think you’ll die here?”
Sage takes a misstep and stumbles on their wheels, something they haven’t done since they learned to skate as a child. They crash down onto their hip and feel a bruising that blooms across the bone. Their forearms scream where their flesh was scraped raw by the skid burn.
Ruth brakes swiftly and extends a hand. Sage takes it, pulls themself up, and thrusts into motion again.
Maybe the sun has risen, or maybe it never went down. There is only an agonizing exhaustion coming from within Sage’s body somewhere deeper than skin and muscle.
“I need to stop,” they finally manage to say. “We have to stop.” Getting the words out feels harder than what it takes to keep their legs pumping.
“But we’re almost there,” Ruth says, a sweetened pout in her voice.
Ruth looks pristine. A sweat hasn’t so much as broken at her brow. Sage tries to think of how long it’s been. What she looked like back then. How she dressed. How her voice sounded. But there’s nothing there.
“Who are you?” they say.
“I love it in Bear Creek,” Ruth says. “I could really see myself staying here forever. Couldn’t you, Sage?”
Sage’s thoughts feel like they’re blurring around the edges, like they’re fading into a dream. They always had a crush on Ruth growing up, the way that she kept her head above water in a town of people who seemed to be drowning. They can’t remember everything about her, but they can remember her smile — and they struggle to hold it in their mind as they reach into their pocket.
“You can’t do anything to me with that,” Ruth says as Sage closes their fingers around their switchblade.
For a second, they believe it. And then they slash upwards, slicing into something that feels like flesh but is something else entirely.
Sage crumbles, collapsing onto the rink as a lifetime's worth of exhaustion sinks into their body at once, whatever force was propelling them forward extinguished. They slide across the rink through a pool of blood, staining the floor with a streak of dark red. A pile of writhing maggots, slugs, and larvae wriggles out in every direction across the rink where Ruth’s body should be. The creatures burst and squelch underfoot as Sage pulls themself back onto their feet, heaving labored breaths against pain and fatigue.
Sage releases a groan from deep in their gut, then they check their watch and skate off to grab a mop. The rink re-opens in an hour, and they have a huge mess to clean.