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These Ruthless Deeds
By Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas
Feiwel and Friends Copyright © 2017 Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
All rights reserved.
February 1883 Belgium
"This was A terrible plan."
"Evelyn, it's your plan."
"Yes, but you've escaped from far more asylums than I have. Why wouldn't we choose your plan?"
"Because yours was better. There's no need to worry yet. He hasn't even been inside for more than five minutes."
Miss Grey was right. But her reassurances didn't make me feel any less responsible for Oliver Myles, our slippery new friend. Since he was the only one with a useful power for a secretive rescue, we'd saddled him with every difficult task. He had to memorize Miss Grey's complicated map of the asylum (which was somewhat vague, being from memory), steal the keys from a nurse, find Emily Kane's quarters, and sneak her out a side door, where we'd be waiting, doing absolutely nothing to help. If his powers failed him, he could easily get caught by a guard, get stuck in a locked room, or fall down through the floor toward the center of the earth and we wouldn't be any the wiser.
I hated feeling this useless.
I hated feeling the weight of this plan on my shoulders.
A shiver escaped me along with a long-held breath, its white mist barely visible in the faint light of our covered lantern. The night sat cold and silent. There was nothing else around us for miles except the oppressive blackness of rolling hills and woods. I pulled my wool cloak tighter around my shoulders and tried to imagine where in the building Oliver would be at the moment. He should have reached Emily by now, sliding through walls as easily as I stepped through a threshold. Perhaps I could convince Miss Grey to take a quick nap, check his progress in her dream, and assuage my —
Oliver's head burst through the wall. I jumped, still not quite used to his head popping out of things heads shouldn't pop out of. The rest of his body followed and he gave us a disgruntled look.
"What happened?" Miss Grey whispered, uncovering the lantern slightly. "Did you find Emily?"
"I did," Oliver said, "but she wouldn't come."
"Did you tell her my name? Did you remind her about the dreams?" Miss Grey asked.
"I tried to — she wouldn't listen to me and when I kept trying, she said she would scream."
Miss Grey let out a sigh. Over the last few days she had tried to prepare Emily for this escape by entering her dreams and calming her fears. But this seemed to be just like the last time Miss Grey was here, when she had escaped the asylum herself. Emily had refused to come and Miss Grey had had no choice but to leave her behind. Judging from the dark look on my former governess's face, she was not going to let that happen again.
"I'll have to speak with her," Miss Grey said. "How many nurses have you seen in the corridors?"
"Only one. And she's easy to avoid because you can see her light."
Miss Grey turned to hand me the lantern, her face pinched and white. "Evelyn, would you wait —"
"No," I said firmly. "This is still my terrible plan. I'm coming with you."
"Very well," she said, extinguishing the lantern's flame entirely.
Oliver disappeared through the locked door before realizing we could not follow. A second later, he came back with a smirk and handed us the stolen keys. "Sometimes I forget you have to deal with doors," he said.
"Well, you don't have to be smug about it."
Miss Grey unlocked the back door, slid it open as quietly as she could, and followed Oliver into the abyss. With one hand on my governess's back, I closed the door behind us to shut out what little guiding light remained. The pitch black was utterly disorienting, but the two of them seemed to know the way well enough. The building smelled of damp linens and pungent chemicals. I could feel Miss Grey quaking and wondered if this was conjuring up horrors from her time here before. I couldn't get the images out of my own head and I'd only heard them from her. The stories about the nurses' cruel treatment, the beating, the drugging, the starving, the freezing, the electrocuting, the isolating. The way they pushed patients deeper into madness to keep them here.
I stayed close behind, concentrating on keeping my footsteps soft, steadying my breathing, and trying to quell the rising sense of fear that we'd be discovered and I'd experience those punishments firsthand. That my parents would decide to leave me here forever for our reputation's sake. That I would fail again, fail like I had failed my sister.
I swallowed hard, pushing down the thoughts that made my needy heart beat faster. We proceeded at a slow, methodical pace for a minute or two, taking a right turn and two lefts, pausing at one corner upon the distant echo of steps and the faint flicker of a flame. Oliver scouted ahead and waited for the corridor to descend back into complete darkness before leading us forward again. When we found ourselves at our destination, Miss Grey's body shifted as she groped for the wall, the door, and the keyhole. With the faintest scrapings and a click, she managed to unlock the door and lead us inside.
"Emily?" Miss Grey whispered into the darkness. "Please, don't be alarmed. It's me, Alice."
A match ignited and a thin candle seemed to materialize in midair, followed by another in Miss Grey's lantern. Oliver blew out the match and handed me his candle. "I'll watch the corridor," he whispered, closing the door behind him.
Miss Grey took a hesitant step farther into the room, raising and turning her lantern to bounce the light against the walls. It was unfurnished and tiny, making it easy to find Emily. A slim girl with ropes of dark, thick hair tumbling down over her shift was huddled on the bed, knees to her chest, staring at us from deep-set brown eyes, huge in her small, pixie-like face.
"Emily. Do you remember me?" Miss Grey asked, shining the lantern on her own visage. "Alice. Your friend."
"Alice, Alice, Alice, Alice," Emily muttered to herself as if she were reading a list in her head. Then she stiffened. "Alice! You shouldn't be here!" Her voice had an Irish lilt.
"Don't worry, dear. My friends and I have come to help you escape," Miss Grey said gently, aiming the light at me.
At those words, Emily shook her head furiously. "But I can't escape! I already told that boy."
"Why can't you?" Miss Grey asked, eyes flicking back to the door. I felt my own nervousness grow, ready to be gone from here.
Emily turned away from us. "I don't wish to speak with you. Please leave. Thank you."
"You don't belong in here." Miss Grey tried again. "Just think, when we get to London, you will be able to move about freely, to do whatever you please —"
"I can't!" Her back was shaking. "I can't! The ghosts! They find me wherever I go."
"But, Emily, there are no ghosts. Believe me. There are no ghosts." Miss Grey looked at me helplessly, but I did not understand any more than she did. Emily believed ghosts were after her?
"Emily, my name is Evelyn Wyndham," I said softly. "Can you tell me about the ghosts?"
She still did not turn, but I could hear her voice clearly in the dark, little cell. "They — they do things. They hurt people."
"How do they hurt people?" I asked. Did she mean the nurses and guards here? Or did she really see ghosts? Was that somehow a part of her power?
"They knock people over and they drop things and they break down walls and they ruin everything!" Her voice rose on a frantic pitch and Miss Grey rushed to the bed, shushing her quietly.
"It's all right, Emily. It's all right." Miss Grey put her hand on Emily's shoulder and the girl jumped slightly.
"Don't — they'll hurt you. P-please. Don't make me leave," Emily said, shivering pitifully.
Oliver looked in through the small opening of the door. "We should go!" I looked down at poor Emily on the pallet and joined Miss Grey, kneeling on her other side. "I promise, there are no ghosts where we are going."
She shook her head repeatedly. "They make things fly and they follow me. Always."
Miss Grey put her hand to her mouth, stifling a small gasp as she finally realized where Emily's fear came from. "Dear, do you mean you think there are ghosts who control the objects around you?"
She gave a tight nod.
"Oh, Emily!" Miss Grey was smiling in relief, happy to explain everything to the younger woman. "That's just your special ability to manipulate the things around you — I have mine, to see into your dreams. Evelyn here can heal sick or wounded people — and oh, there are so many others. You are not alone!"
The girl peeked at Miss Grey through a sheet of hair. "I don't have any special ability. It's ghosts."
Oliver spoke again. "Miss Grey! We have to go!"
I exchanged worried glances with her before deciding that getting Emily out of here was more important than not lying. "Emily, please, I promise I will cure you of the ghosts."
At that, she finally turned uncertainly. "You can do that?"
"I can," I said, making a promise I did not know I could keep. "But we have to go — now."
Miss Grey tugged lightly on Emily's hand and she uncurled her limbs hesitantly. We gently pulled her to standing and I squeezed her palm as she shivered against the dampness of moldy sawdust under her feet.
"It's all going to be all right," I promised again.
We crept out of the room, Miss Grey and I each holding one of Emily's hands, and found Oliver, rapidly dimming candle in hand. Emily shrank back but Miss Grey calmed her. "This is Oliver, our friend. He is going to lead us out."
Oliver barely spared Emily a glance as he gestured to the blackened passage on the left. I breathed easier with every step, more and more sure of our success. Slowly we crept along, and all seemed well — until we reached the end of a passageway and Oliver slipped through the wall to see if our next turn was free of guards.
But Emily didn't know that was happening. All she saw was our guide slipping through the wall. A cry erupted from her tiny frame, rumbling the floor, the walls, the entire building.
"Oh, Emily, please, stop, that's just his ability!" Miss Grey pleaded with the girl. "He's not a ghost!"
The shaking stopped.
Emily's screaming stopped, too, but not because of Miss Grey's convincing explanation. Emily had fainted into our arms. We stood frozen for a moment of fragile silence, listening, hoping earthquakes were an everyday asylum occurrence.
An alarm began clanging. At once, Miss Grey and I rushed to Oliver, Emily's body supported between us. We passed rooms where frantic voices spoke with curious or fearful tones. Every door we passed we willed not to open upon a group of burly guards and nurses.
"Just one more turn," Oliver whispered back to us. But I could feel a sense of doom creeping upon us as we rounded a dark corner that looked like every other.
This one led to a nurse whose eyes bulged at the sudden sight of us. "Stop! Stop right there!" she yelled.
We spun around and broke out into a full run, heading in the opposite direction. Emily's extra weight was wearing on us, slowing Miss Grey and me down. Oliver quickly passed through our bodies, making us gasp at the oddness, and he led the way, turning left down another dank corridor. The piercing sound of a whistle followed us, calling more nurses down, the light of their lanterns brightening our paths.
Another left and we found ourselves headed straight for an intimidating woman blocking our escape. I hesitated, but Miss Grey pushed me and Emily forward, shouting desperately, "Keep going. More are behind us."
In a full sprint, Oliver tossed his candlestick straight at the nurse. She barely dodged it and it clanked and clattered onto the floor behind her. Oliver used the distraction to melt through the wall to his right, disappearing completely, and before she knew what was happening, he launched himself out of the wall right beside her and brought her down with a whoop and a thud, allowing us to pass.
"That's right — I did that!" he yelled triumphantly at her. I couldn't say what kept me moving, but we were at the end of the hall before I stopped to look back for Oliver, yelling and struggling with two more nurses who had arrived to restrain him. He should have slipped out from their grasp and caught up by now, I thought.
"Wait!" I yelled to Miss Grey. "There's something wrong with Oliver!"
She stopped and we dithered in the shadows. I couldn't leave him. A sharper panic was cutting through my general anxiety now.
"We have to go — his power will return soon enough!" Miss Grey said, pulling Emily determinedly away from Oliver. I took a step back to him, and another to Miss Grey. My mind sped, knowing that I would be unlikely to free Oliver from three different guards. Whichever way I went, I would be failing someone. I felt sick, but finally rushed back to Oliver. I would not leave him behind.
"Let go, you bloody bastards!" he was yelling.
"Let go!" I joined in. "Stop it!" I tried to break them off him, but there were too many.
One of the nurses pulled my arms tight behind my back, and thick palms gripped my ankles. I could feel the calluses through my stockings. I flailed wildly, but they easily pulled me down, experienced in controlling disorderly patients. One grunted and sighed before slapping me hard across the face with the back of a fetid hand, and I stopped struggling for a moment, disoriented by the shock of it.
"Miss Grey!" I looked around through the sea of guards, hoping she'd managed to miraculously solve the problem. But her only response was a shriek as they restrained her and took Emily.
As they dragged us away, I heard my companions' screams and pleas as though underwater. They rushed over me but did not seem to sink in.
A crackle rang out, a new sound amid the grunting of the guards. I turned to see a guard disappear through a strange sliver in the air that materialized out of nowhere. My heart dropped and I screamed.
It couldn't be.
I began to struggle again but another crackle split the air, and the guards' hands released me. I fell but did not hit the ground. Instead a solid arm found my waist, reaching through from a new world, pulling me away from the asylum and into a dark-paneled room with a blazing fire.
I looked up, caught in his embrace, bewildered and gasping.
"Hello, Miss Wyndham. I always did want to rescue you."
Mr. Kent's face was inches from mine, his brown eyes glittering, his smile uncontainable, his familiar scent of spice and smoke bracing. My head swam as I stared at him, unable to comprehend what exactly had happened.
The smile turned into a frown. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I ... don't know yet." He pulled me to my feet but kept one arm around my waist and I forced myself to reorient. Just seconds ago I was screaming and fighting through a dark endless corridor and now Mr. Kent was embracing me in a cozy study. Some part of me worried I was back in the asylum, drugged up and dreaming. "Where ... are we? Is this real?"
His mouth twisted with pleasure, dimpling one side of his cheek, and he drawled, "As thrilled as I would be to appear in your dreams as a daring, dashing rescuer, this is most definitely real. We're in London. You're safe now."
"How did —"
That same crackle interrupted me with the answer to my question. Oliver and Miss Grey stumbled out of thin air, followed by two strangers, one carrying Emily, who appeared to be sleeping. I felt my breath leave me. The last time I'd seen someone travel like that was when Mr. Hale had come to help us find my sister, then cowardly disappeared into one of his doorways that could take him anywhere in the world.
But neither of the strangers was him. One was a compact, well-built man in his thirties, wearing a threadbare, olive jacket that clashed with his bright-blue waistcoat and plaid maroon trousers. His dark hair was pulled into an old-fashioned queue and he sported a neat little mustache accompanied by an air of general disinterest.
The one holding Emily was a very tall, slightly portly man in his forties. He set her down gently (if awkwardly) on a settee. She murmured and turned, eyes still closed. The man who carried her had a kind, square face that suggested a grave, trustworthy demeanor. "Is anyone hurt?" he asked, looking the rest of us over.
I looked, too, and blood caught my eye. Slipping out from Mr. Kent's grasp, I hurried to Oliver and Miss Grey, trying to assess their injuries.
Oliver shook his head stubbornly. "Those guards don't know how to punch," he said, though his cuts, bruises, and bloody nose said otherwise. "I just don't know what happened...." He frowned hard and pushed at my hand, trying to slip through it. I frowned back. Perhaps he was just overtired.
Miss Grey's injuries were less severe, but I grasped her and Oliver's hands tightly. Their minor cuts and scrapes began to fade before our eyes, while Oliver's deeper cut started to close at a glacial place. (Continues...)
Excerpted from These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas. Copyright © 2017 Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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