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A Brief Escape

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Miranda slammed the door behind Tessa. She was left alone with the Dark Sisters again. They sat where they did every day, behind a tall desk made out of heavy wood. The desk was adorned with a globe that didn’t seem quite right to Tessa; Europe seemed larger and shaped differently than it was on all of the maps she’d ever studied in school. Various little trinkets were scattered around: a golden chain, a pair of cracked eyeglasses, an earring, a beaded bracelet. These things at first had seemed strange to Tessa. Why would the Dark Sisters collect these seemingly worthless items? But she knew what they were for now.

She also knew, to some extent, what she was for.

“Come and take this, Miss Gray,” Mrs. Black said, holding out the beaded bracelet. It looked like something a young girl would have made for her friend. Tessa bit her lip and took it from the woman, refusing to meet her eyes.

Mrs. Black’s voice was deceivingly gentle. Tessa knew that within a couple of minutes, she would raise her voice to a demanding screech. Her grip around the beaded bracelet tightened.

The ticking of her clockwork angel on her necklace helped to calm her. She would survive this day, just as she had every other.

“Now Change,” Mrs. Dark told her. Of the two sisters, she was the calmer and more agreeable one. Tessa did not hate her any less.

Tessa slowed her breathing and tried to focus. The Dark Sisters had instructed her to think and feel certain ways—to believe that her body was malleable like clay. Something to be taken out and molded again and again.

She used to have a mirror in her bedroom, but the Sisters had taken it away. Their reasoning was that she would never believe that her body could Change if she thought she had evidence otherwise. A reflection would hold her back.

“I can’t,” Tessa said.

“Change!” Mrs. Black snapped. “Did you forget everything we’ve tried to teach you, girl?”

You haven’t taught me anything, Tessa had to bite back before the words slipped from her mouth. Instead, she spat out, “I’m clay.”

“Then act like it!” Mrs. Black said, standing from behind the desk. “You should have mastered this days ago already. Change.”

Tessa’s fingers ran over the cool beads of the bracelet and tried to feel the person who had owned this. She tried to Change. She couldn’t. She didn’t know how. The Dark Sisters demanded her to do so every day. They had told her that she had powers that weren’t yet unlocked. They’d slapped and kicked her in their attempts to get her to use them.

They’d never taught her how.

“Sister,” Mrs. Dark said, sounding disinterested. “Maybe should give her something else? Something easier?”

“Changing into a mundane child should be easy,” Mrs. Black retorted. She began to make her way to Tessa.

Tessa inched backward, but Mrs. Black had already caught her wrist. Her sharp claws dug into Tessa’s skin and she nearly cried out. Tessa knew better than to try to get out of Mrs. Black’s grip. Fear surged through her. She was going to hit Tessa again.

“Mrs. Black, please, I don’t know how,” Tessa said.

“Your body is clay! Your body is clay! Now Change!” Mrs. Black said. She emphasized her last word with a harsh slap to Tessa’s face. Blood streaked down her cheek. Mrs. Black had gotten her with her claw-like nails.

Tessa stumbled back, gripping the bracelet as though the girl who had owned it would be able to know that she was in trouble. That she would save Tessa and find her bracelet.

The girl would show up—the girl would show up—

A sharp pain shot up from her limbs. Her chest tightened and burned. Tessa gasped. Her limbs grew shorter, and her fingers thinned. In Tessa’s vision, blurry with pain, Mrs. Black stood just as she had before, but she could see the woman begin to tower over her as Tessa became short.

The features on her face shifted and her head was not quite so heavy—her hair had become short.

Then the memories came.

A dark night—a cutoff scream from her mother—not Tessa’s mother, the girl’s mother, Lizzy Adams’ mother—

Tessa fell back with a cry. Nausea rolled in her stomach, overtaking the sharp pains lancing through her body once again.

She had Changed.

Tessa lifted her hand to inspect it. It wasn’t the small hand of a young girl. It was her hand. Chipped nail polish that she had applied three weeks ago before her flight to London from New York. Long fingers. That little freckle on her right thumb. Her hand.

She sighed and took hold of the clockwork angel pendant. She was Tessa again. She always would be Tessa Gray.

Mrs. Dark came to stand in front of her. Tessa tipped her head back. As always, her temper was cooler than Mrs. Black’s. She radiated an ancient power. Tessa had no doubt that Mrs. Dark only needed to look at someone if she needed to kill them. The woman crouched down over her with an icy smile. “Marvelous work, Miss Gray.”

“We might get you a book,” Mrs. Black said. She sounded darkly pleased. Tessa didn’t look at her. “If you hold the Change a little longer tomorrow. Can you give us a title?”

Tessa kept staring at Mrs. Dark’s beady eyes, and didn’t say a word.

“We’ll just guess what you like,” said Mrs. Dark. She reached out and patted Tessa’s cheek in the same spot that Mrs. Black had hit her. It might have been affectionate, but Tessa knew better. Mrs. Dark’s hand came away with a red smear of Tessa’s blood. The woman stood and called out for Miranda again.

The door to the basement of the Dark House opened and Miranda walked in. Tessa refused her help standing up. Miranda grabbed her arm regardless, ensuring that she wouldn’t attempt to escape.

“Oh, and Miranda?” Mrs. Dark called as she and Tessa were leaving the basement. “You can give Tessa back her mirror. She looks dreadful.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Miranda said. Her voice, as always, was flat. Her grip around Tessa’s arm tightened as she led her up the stairs.

Miranda pushed Tessa into her bedroom. Tessa spun around, about to ask about her mirror, but the door had locked shut.

Back in her prison cell.  

It was a bedroom. There was a bed. An empty closet. An empty bookcase. Another door led to a half bath; only a toilet and sink. Tessa suspected that the Dark Sisters didn’t want her to get any ideas about taking her own life. Not that she would. She had her brother Nate to think about. If she died here, what would happen to Nate?

She tried to do as she was told. She stayed in her prison cell. 

A cell with an empty bookcase. When the Dark Sisters had first taken her, she couldn't fathom why it was there. Now it might have a place in the room after all.

She might get a book tomorrow. It was a hollow thought.

A book would give her a brief escape from this reality.

Tessa wanted a permanent one.