Life at St. Agatha's School for Girls is anything but a fairytale. With ratty blankets and a torturous device called the box, it's not hard to understand Eliza's desperation to escape. When the timing is right, Eliza manages to run away with her best friend Millie, heading through the Louisiana swamps to the town on the other side. But the swamps may be even more dangerous than the orphanage.
Silver and black fairies invite the girls to experience a world where they can have it all, but Eliza doesn't trust the sparkling beauty. When Millie suddenly becomes violent and attacks another girl, Eliza knows something awful is about to happen. She will do anything to protect Millie but once Eliza remembers her own terrible secret, it is impossible to forget. The fairies' songs call to Eliza and its getting harder and harder to pretend it's all in her head.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
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ELIZA GLANCED ACROSS the table at the Head Matron, who sipped her tea with a permanent scowl etched upon her face as she listened to the nun next to her. Just another minute.
"Just like that, gone. No one ever saw her alive again," whispered Amy, one of the older orphan girls seated farther down the table. The younger girls seated around her gasped in unison and leaned closer.
"What happened to her? Where did she go?" a young girl named Lacey asked, her green eyes shining with a mixture of curiosity and worry.
Matron Criggs sat down her tea and turned her back completely on her charges, intent on her private conversation.
Amy smiled. "She tried to run away through the swamps. In the dead of night, she broke the lock on the window and fled, straight into the bushes. They say she just started walking, running, sprinting as fast as she could away from this place. But the swamps were pitch-black and the leaves so thick that no moonlight could be seen. She kept running and running and finally, she thought she had escaped far enough away. She took another step, almost to the little town on the other side, and fell into the black water."
The girls gasped again as Eliza rolled her eyes. This version of the story of the missing orphan girl couldn't be true. She bit her tongue from pointing out the obvious flaws and instead made her move toward Matron Criggs' tea.
"But she might have made it," Lacey insisted. "She could have climbed out and made it to the town."
"True. But she didn't," Amy replied quietly. "For she forgot one very important thing ... alligators."
Next to Eliza, another girl with dark brown hair clutched the edge of the table in fear, but not in response to Amy's story.
"Eliza, stop it, you're gonna get in trouble," cautioned eleven-year-old Millie.
Eliza rolled her eyes and finished pouring the ink into the head matron's tea. "Don't be such a baby," she scoffed under her breath, slipping the half-empty glass bottle back into the folds of her sleeves just as Matron Criggs turned back to her tea.
"Alligators?" one of the girls was saying. "Did they eat her?"
Amy shrugged and moved her fork through her starchy mashed potatoes. "No one knows. A few days later, a search team went out and tried to find her. They even took a few hounds. Then, after hours of searching, one of the dogs came back with something in its mouth, something pale and cold and thin."
The table was silent, each girl dreading the next words.
"The dog brought back an arm. Celia's severed arm," Amy hissed, looking as horrorstruck as her spellbound audience. "There were even teeth marks at the end where the gators had chomped it in half."
"No!" all the girls cried, their eyes wide with disbelief.
"It's true," Amy insisted. "Celia used to be my old roommate when I first got here."
Immediately arguments struck up between the girls as they discussed the details of the story. Millie turned toward the sudden swell of voices and pulled on Eliza's sleeve. "What are they talking about? Who is Celia?"
Eliza shushed Millie out of the corner of her mouth and watched with growing anticipation as Matron Criggs picked up her teacup with two hands, inhaled the sweet fragrance, and raised it to her lips.
Here we go!
Setting her teacup down, Matron Criggs licked her newly blackened teeth and frowned when she noticed Eliza staring at her. "What are you looking at? Eyes down and eat your peas," she scolded.
Snapping to attention at the Matron's voice, all the girls stopped talking and returned to their meals. Eliza inwardly groaned as the youngest orphan gathered her courage and asked, "I was wondering ... is the story about Celia true, ma'am?"
"Celia?" Matron Criggs snorted. "What story? The one of how the gators took big bites out of her?"
The little girl nodded and looked down, biting her lower lip.
"It's garbage," Matron Criggs barked. "No one gets out of here unless I say so." The head nun took another sip of her tea, spreading the ink to her lips. She looked down at the girls and smiled widely, her mouth a giant black hole in the center of her wrinkled face.
As one the girls averted their eyes.
Matron Criggs sucked in a quick breath through her teeth and narrowed her eyes. "Do you think one of these girls has something else to say, Sister Emily?"
Sister Emily, one of the younger nuns and the one member of the staff that Eliza liked, looked up from her lumpy mashed potatoes and tilted her head. "Something else to say? I'm not sure what you — oh Matron! Your mouth, it's black!"
"Black?" the Matron repeated, not looking surprised. She grabbed her teacup and looked inside. "Ink in my tea," she sneered. "Clever. And who was the little brat who came up with this latest scheme?"
In an act of rare harmony, the girls remained silent, their faces betraying nothing. Matron Criggs studied each girl in turn, until her eyes at last alighted on Eliza.
Eliza stared back at the nun defiantly, a smirk tugging on the corner of her lips.
"I should have known," Matron Criggs spat. "Miss Eliza Q. I believe it's off to the box for you."
Eliza pushed back her plastic chair and stood. "And I believe you really need to see a dentist," she replied, batting her eyelashes.
The girls gasped in unison. The box was far more terrifying than the story of Celia's demise.
"Liza, stop it," Millie hissed, grabbing hold of Eliza's plaid skirt.
Matron Criggs' foul smile widened. "Make that two days in the box!" Faster than the girls could blink, the woman rounded the table and dug her sharp nails into Eliza's upper arm. "Let's be off then, shall we?"
Eliza allowed herself to be dragged from the dimly lit cafeteria and down a winding hall, until Matron Criggs stopped before a waist-high door, bouncing a set of brass keys in her hand. Finding the correct one, she sorted it out from the others and unlocked the door. The well-oiled hinge swung open, revealing only darkness.
"In you go, you little brat," the Matron ordered with obvious glee as she pushed Eliza through the opening.
The box had once been a janitor closet, but Matron Criggs had done some redecorating to make it as uncomfortable as possible for a child waiting out their punishment. It was called "the box" for a reason; it allowed no light or fresh air, and offered no reprieve for a weary offender. Eliza noted the smell of urine was particularly strong today. There was no bathroom in the box.
Gritting her teeth, Eliza ducked underneath the divider. Inside she was only able to turn around and stare straight ahead. She had been a guest to the box many times, during her stay at the orphanage, but never for two whole days. Tiny shivers ran down her spine but she refused to apologize or beg. She had known what her punishment would be when she smuggled the ink bottle out of the library and she was proud. Someone had to stand up to Matron Criggs, and if she was the only one brave enough, then so be it.
"I hope you ate enough at dinner, because that's all you'll be getting until Thursday," Matron Criggs spat. "Sweet dreams." With a clang, she slammed the door shut and total blackness enveloped Eliza.
Welcome to St. Agatha's Home for Girls, Eliza thought.CHAPTER 2
ELIZA AWOKE WITH a start as the metal door to her black prison smashed against the outer wall. For the past two days, she had been trapped inside the box with no food, no water, no sunlight, no communication, and no hope.
The purpose of the box was sensory deprivation. Matron Criggs believed that this form of punishment was effective in curtailing deviant behavior in the girls. Eliza suspected she liked to hear them scream as the thick blackness took control.
Startled by an abrupt noise, Eliza felt a stream of hot urine run down the inside of her skirt, trickling down onto the floor she lay on. "God, get me out of here," she whispered miserably.
"Come on out, my dear," Sister Emily whispered.
Eliza perked up for a moment, surprised to hear the gentle nun's voice rather than the harsh voice of the Matron. Pushing herself off the musty back wall, Eliza crawled from her prison with weak, shaking limbs. The bright fluorescent lights lining the hallway burned her enlarged pupils and she shrank back into the box for a moment.
"There, there," Sister Emily comforted, staying a sensitive distance away. "It's all over now. Perhaps this latest visit to the box will prevent further misconduct, hmmm?"
Eliza knew Sister Emily hated the concept of the box, but the headmistress's orders were never questioned. Using the wall for support, Eliza crawled out with shaking legs. After the first three hours of confinement her legs had gone numb.
"Oh dear," Sister Emily whispered, stepping forward to catch Eliza from hitting the floor.
"Thank you," Eliza coughed. Impulsively she wrapped her arms around the nun's waist.
"Now, now, none of that, my dear," Sister Emily said gently as she untangled herself from Eliza's embrace.
Although Eliza knew the other nuns would tattle if they saw the physical contact, after two days of severe isolation, Sister Emily's rejection was too much. Tears sprang to her eyes and her arms dangled uselessly at her sides.
"Please, Miss Eliza, no tears," whispered Sister Emily. "You know the rules."
"Now, let's get you cleaned up and ready for dinner. I'm sure you're starving."
Eliza nodded again, and with a quiet sniffle and quick swipe of her hand, all evidence of her momentary weakness was gone. She turned away from the nun, stomach growling, and went to move in the direction of the dormitories. On the first shaky step, her knees gave out.
Sister Emily reacted instantly, catching and lowering Eliza gently to the floor before walking quickly down the hall.
Eliza's cheeks burned with embarrassment when the nun returned with a wheelchair. Although she would never admit it, she was relieved to take a seat, even with her soiled skirt pressing cold and wet against her legs. She hoped Sister Emily couldn't smell her.
Sister Emily set off briskly, and even the air in the hallway was refreshing after the past forty-eight hours. Eliza closed her eyes and soaked it in. She could have used conversation, but the Matron disliked chatter almost as much as she did physical contact.
Sister Emily wheeled the chair to a stop in front of Eliza and Millie's shared room and smiled at Eliza. "If you want to go in and grab your shower supplies and a towel, I'll wait here."
Eliza nodded and carefully lowered her feet to the floor, using the nearby wall to help support the majority of her body weight. Sister Emily looked away, unable to offer her assistance. Eliza breathed out slowly and hobbled to the door, her legs weak from hours of not moving. She knew it wasn't Sister Emily's fault. If anyone saw the nun helping her, or simply holding her hand, Criggs would be informed.
"I'll be right back," Eliza whispered over her shoulder as she grasped the cold handle and pushed the door open. At the sound of the door, Eliza saw Millie's dark head turn and a large smile spread across her friend's face.
"Eliza! You're back!" Millie squealed as Eliza crossed the threshold into their room. She waited for the door to click shut and gave her friend a quick hug. "What was it like in there for two days? You probably almost died." Though shy, Millie had a wild imagination that even the Matron had yet to break.
Eliza shrugged and collapsed onto the stiff mattress. "It was fine. It smelled really bad but I think next time I'll go for three days. It was a nice break," she lied. Even around Millie she hated being vulnerable, and found herself constantly fabricating stories and telling lies to appear tough.
The two girls could not have been more different. Millie was petite, with pale skin and blue eyes, and had come to the orphanage two months ago after her family's home burned to the ground, with her mother, father, and older brother trapped inside. Millie had been at a friend's house when it happened and was soon after brought to St. Agatha's.
From Millie's stories, Eliza knew the girl had once been adventurous, but Millie's only adventures now happened in her dreams. Eliza hoped that a nice family would adopt her soon and save her from the orphanage. The orphanage's monthly Adoption Day was next week, and Millie would be the pick of the litter in Eliza's opinion.
In comparison, Eliza was a little older, tall and blonde, had dark amber eyes, and didn't miss her family at all, because she had never had one. She had been kicked out of numerous foster homes ever since her mom threw her away. Five weeks ago her case worker had reached her last straw and brought Eliza to St. Agatha's as a last resort before juvenile hall. After only a few weeks, Eliza already held the record for the longest time in the box.
Unlike Millie, Eliza didn't harbor any dreams of being adopted. She had already tried living with families and been given away by each for not playing nice with their other children. Eliza didn't understand it, but knew from experience another family would think no different. Each night, when Millie prayed for a nice family to find her, Eliza planned her escape. Adoption was a lost cause for her; the only way to get out was to run.
As Eliza stared up at the yellowed-popcorn ceiling, she remembered what the Matron had said at dinner before her trip to the box. No one gets out of here unless I say so.
Yeah, maybe no one but me. Eliza smiled.
Millie wrinkled her nose, noticing the stench of old and new urine permeating the small room. "Wow, you weren't kidding, you reek!" she cried, plugging her nose.
"I know, I know," Eliza chuckled, remaining on the bed. "Sister Emily is going to take me to shower."
"Well, yeah! I think I need one too — you hugged me. Now I'm smelly!" Millie joked and rose to her feet. Eliza, knowing she couldn't keep the nun waiting any longer, slowly rolled off the mattress and landed with a clumsy thud on her feet.
"Are you okay?" Millie asked, concern evident in her voice.
Eliza knew she had never allowed herself to look so weak before, but she was too weary to mind very much. "Yeah, I'm okay."
As they moved toward the door, Millie turned to her friend and lifted her eyebrow. "Would you really have stayed in there for another whole day?"
Eliza shrugged and grabbed her ratty, purple towel, letting it drag along the floor as she moved toward the door.
Millie rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. "You're such a liar, but I'm glad you're back. Are you coming to dinner after?" Eliza shrugged. "Maybe. It depends on how tired I am."
"Okay, I'll try to smuggle something good out for you," Millie said, holding open the door and subtly offering her arm for assistance.
Waving goodbye to Millie, Sister Emily wheeled Eliza down another hallway while Millie headed to the cafeteria.
In the bathroom Sister Emily turned on the cold water for Eliza and hung up her towel on a nearby peg. She looked at Eliza as if wanting to offer more assistance, then nodded and exited the bathroom.
Eliza pulled the flimsy, yellowed-curtain along the rusty metal pole. Hidden from view, she began to peel off her urine and sweat-soaked clothing, dropping each piece to the damp floor. Her stomach growled so loudly she could hear it over the splash of water hitting the pink floor tiles. Stepping gingerly into the waterfall, Eliza savored the feel of clean water against her skin. She wanted to indulge herself for hours, but the water pressure often died quickly, and she wanted to get the urine off her legs.
Mechanically she lathered and washed her hair, then scrubbed her skin repeatedly with her thin bar of soap until her legs turned red and raw from her efforts. Feeling clean at last, Eliza raised her face to the cool stream and squeezed her eyes shut, ready to enjoy the last few minutes. Seconds later the water abruptly shut off.
Eliza sighed, wrapped her thin towel around her body and rung her hair out over the drain. Pulling the curtain back, she bent to gather her clothes and stopped short, realizing they were gone. The door opened and Sister Emily poked her head in.
"I hope you don't mind. I took care of your soiled clothing for you so that you could just return to your room," the nun said.
Eliza nodded as she hugged the towel tighter against her body. She wanted to thank the kind nun, but she couldn't make her tongue form the correct syllables.
Sister Emily smiled. "Come on, let's get you into bed." She waited for Eliza to exit the bathroom and sit down in the cleaned wheelchair, then pushed her back to the girls' room. This time she opened the door for Eliza.
"Thank you," Eliza managed to choke out, surprised again how much the simple assistance meant to her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dark Flowers"
Copyright © 2016 Caytlyn Brooke.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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