These Vicious Masks

By: Kelly Zekas & Tarun Shanker



“Do not trust him—protect Rose.”

“Who? Who can’t I trust?” I tried to ask. But nothing came out. The river lapped against my shoulders as I shut my eyes and desperately tried to wake up, wake up, wake up!

But all I could do was lie rigid and paralyzed in the water, staring up at the rapidly changing clouds with her words resounding in my head.

“Do not trust him—protect Rose.”

“Do not trust him—protect Rose.”

I lay for ages in a horrible half-state, knowing I was dreaming but unable to wake from the horrid nightmare.

Until a scream, one not in my head, pierced the air.





I FLEW UP and awakened, senses adjusting to the diffused sunlight, the smell of burned tallow, the sounds echoing across the house. The cries had not stopped.

When I scrambled out of bed and stepped into the hallway, a folded sheet of paper rustled under my foot. I snatched it up, but another loud yell sent me running into Rose’s room, where Mother and two maids stood, hands clasped to their mouths in shock. Chills crawled down my back.

“What happened?” I asked.

No reply.

Rose was nowhere to be seen, and her room had the strange appearance of a hasty departure. Her bedsheets had spilled onto the floor, her dresser drawers were left open, and her wardrobe was half empty. A sizable number of her dresses were gone, but the selection made little sense. Her favorite green silk and other well-loved dresses were left behind, but some of the older, unfashionable ones were missing. Kneeling by her trunk, I flung open the lid. Her familiar medicine bag, meticulously packed away, stared up at me.

“Where is she?” No response again. My pulse jumped forward. Something was horribly, horribly wrong. “What is all of this?”

“I don’t know, Evelyn!” my mother finally erupted, pacing the room with her hand at her breast, as though trying to keep her heart in place. Her wide eyes scanned the floor. She bit her lip and cleared her throat. “No one has seen her this morning.”

“And in the night?”

“Please. I must think.”

My fists clenched, and the forgotten paper crinkled in my hand. A letter. The writing looked haphazard and rushed, but it was undoubtedly Rose’s hand:

Evie—



I must apologize for my abrupt and secretive departure, but I felt it necessary for my own sake. A true good-bye would have been far too much to handle, and I fear I would never have gone through with it had we spoken.

I have decided to travel to London to provide care for Mr. Cheval’s sister. I find that I cannot deny someone in need of my help, and if I do not take this request, I can never trust myself to do something of the slightest inconvenience to me in the future. I know I had planned to speak with Mother about the matter, but what you said is true—I am the last person who can persuade her. I know this request would not stand a chance.

I hope you understand my reasons and I will write to you immediately upon my arrival.

Rosie





“Mother,” I said, handing her the letter with shaking fingers, “it’s her hand—but this isn’t her. This isn’t Rose.”

She drew in a sharp breath, her eyes scanning the document. “Heavens.” The word escaped her lips unnoticed. Leaning against the wallpaper, she looked trapped by a congested tangle of flowers and vines growing around her. Gradually, though, the lines on her forehead smoothed, and her distress changed to her usual, if more strained, self-command. “Your sister has put us in a difficult situation.”

“Mother, Rose would not write such a letter! This was written under duress—someone forced her to do it!”

“Stop it,” she snapped, belying her composure. She drummed her fingers against her neck, where I could see the slightest tick of her heartbeat. “This is serious. Stay calm, and I will speak with your father to decide what must be done.” She ordered the maids to clean up the mess and hurried out, folding the letter over and over.

I stared around the room blankly. I had told Rose that she was the only one who could persuade Mother—quite the opposite of what she’d written. And the names! Never had we used Evie or Rosie as nicknames or even as jokes. Rose would never have written a good-bye letter like that.

My hand flew to my mouth as I struggled not to heave.

“Do not trust him—protect Rose.”

I failed her. Somehow I dreamed of the danger last night but remained asleep like a useless lump. It was entirely my fault.

Our maid Lucy cleared her throat by the door. “Miss Wyndham, your mother asked me to help dress you for church.”

My guilt shifted very quickly to anger. Rose was kidnapped, and they wanted to go to church? Mechanically, I marched to my room and dressed, not knowing where Lucy put my nightgown or how she laced me into my corset with shaking fingers. My mind thought of nothing but Rose. Mother would not listen until I found some kind of evidence, and with two men showing entirely too much interest in my sister last night, I had my suspicions about which of them might be able to provide it. And he would be attending church with his uncle.

“For the time being, we will tell anyone who asks that Rosamund is visiting my sister in London,” my mother informed me as the carriage took us into town for church.

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