Perhaps her mother had been onto something when she rambled on about why to never trust garage sales. Most people were getting rid of things for a reason, she had said. But it was so interesting to Kara—why on earth should she refuse? Moreover, the thing she had scored from it had no price on it at all. The owner said she could have it for free!
She had got herself a silver ring with a ruby on it for no price at all. It would go so well with so many outfits, it complimented other jewelry she often wore, and was an overall stellar buy. There were no red flags to start, and why would there have been? It was nothing but a pretty ring.
Until she wore it to bed one night, an accident. Never had she had such horrific nightmares. Her dreams painted cruel landscapes of past events turned sour, ripping away any happy memories she might have tried to have.
Kara’s eyes shot open; sweat had made her clothes stick to her body. She grabbed her hands together tight to soothe her shakes, hoping somehow, she could provide herself with comfort. Her grip tightened when she heard tiny giggles begin to surround her. Her eyes frantically searched the room for the source, only to find that her ring was slowly beginning to glow brighter and brighter.
Anxiety bubbling in her chest, she made a move to pull it off when it began to sting her. She gasped, tears swelling at the pain. Trying to remove the ring now felt as if she was tearing off her own skin. Her vision blurred as tears rolled down her face, still trying to rip the ring off.
“Too little, too late,” a voice said into her ear.
She whipped her head to the side to look at who could have gotten into her room—or maybe what the ring had manifested—only to see nothing there. I’m going crazy, she thought, I’m mad.
The ring’s light engulfed the room in its red light. Kara’s entire body felt as if it were melting away, growing warmer the more intense the light became. She had been too panicked to notice if the warmth had begun when the light first did. But now, she felt her skin burning. The last thing she heard before blacking out was the sound of her window opening.
Kara awoke to the feeling of someone shoving her gently. Her eyes fluttered open, and widened when she saw her close this other person was. She sat up with haste and backed away, confused.
“You’re up,” they said, “It’s about time, you know. You’d been out for ages.”
She looked around and knew instantly that she wasn’t home any longer. This new area was covered entirely in a red mist. Things that were close, like this stranger, she could see perfectly. But anything just beyond that was too hazy to make out.
“Where…is this place?” she asked.
“It’s hard to describe, but if I had to put it very simply it’s…a sort of trap. An eternal wasteland meant to capture gullible souls like you and I.”
Her eyes widened and she looked frantically around as if some magical exit or answer would appear behind her. That can’t be right, she thought. All she did was get a pretty ring from some garage sale. Did that person know what they were handing her, know that they were endangering her?
“A trap,” she repeated, “Has anyone found a way out of here? Can I go home?”
The stranger shook their head, “No can do, I’m afraid. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be here to let you know what this place is. I don’t even know what the ring wanted from me. I don’t know anything.” Their voice faltered, growing quieter as they spoke.
“Do…do you know why we’re here?” Kara asked.
Zee frowned deeply before nodding and saying, “We were selected for our youth. Whoever it is that originally owned that ring made it pretty clear. Whenever she comes back, she would mock me, saying my life would drain and that it would soon be hers…”
“How long have you been here?” Kara asked, trying to process that new information.
“Um…” they grew silent for a moment before continuing, “enough about me, I think. What’s your name?”
“Right, well I’m Zee. I suppose we have all of eternity to get to know each other.”
It was meant to be lighthearted, Kara knew that, but it didn’t do anything but further press a frown into her face. She felt tears swelling up again, what had she done to deserve this? It was a pretty ring, there was nothing sinful in grabbing it for free. The owner insisted! Was this their fault or hers? She sighed, hunching over. She had a long time to be able to think this through. At the very least, she didn’t have to go it alone.
Zee rested a hand on her shoulder, trying to make eye contact. “It’s going to be okay; I promise. Who cares if we’re here for years? We can keep each other company!”
“This is a lot more than I bargained for,” she replied.
Zee nodded knowingly, wishing there was more for them to do here. Forced optimism can only go so far. They didn’t know how much time would pass or if others would come soon or if others would be coming at all. All they knew was that they had each other and the eternal red wasteland surrounding them.
Now, and forever more.
Blade Moore (they/them) is a queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent writer from Florida. They’ve written several short stories online.