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If One of Them is Dead

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Viola grasped her father's hand as she climbed up the steps, hauling a single burgundy carpet bag by her side. Inside, carrying dust from its unused condition, were nothing but ivory hand-tailored clothes she'd finished the week before, an oil lamp, and a tiny blue bottle that smelled faintly of floral perfume. It might have seemed like too little to bring into the big city of London, but it was all she needed to begin a new life.  

The family of two took their seats near the middle of the caboose. Viola sat in the window seat, so she'd able to wistfully gaze at the passing forests and mountains. The train started to move, slowly, like a caterpillar inching across a chartreuse leaf. Within a minute, it flew over the tracks at the pace of a fox, racing past scenery in a blur.  Hands folded over her lap, like a respectful girl her age, she caught sight of her reflection in the glass pane, blurry and quick to vanish.  

Looking back at her was a beautiful young lady, well taken care of. This morning, she donned a dark cyan coat to keep her warm as she travelled. She'd let down her golden hair in its naturality, showing off her emerald eyes, and she wore a somber expression, missing the quiet and simplicity of home. She looked as if she hadn't slept in ages, being busy with packing bags and moving out of her small cottage. 

 But as her father often reminded, children were meant to be seen, not heard. Among the businessmen with their poised wives and children, she blended in perfectly.  

Suddenly, the train bumped on rough terrain, and the reflection changed into a monstrosity.  

Her porcelain skin became flaky, crumbling, and far too pale to be healthy. The golden locks turned a deep shade of plum, draping past her shoulders, thinning and split at the ends. But the most grotesque part to set sight upon were her eyes. 

They had become rotten, a home for maggots. There were sickening tears of blood, oozing from her dull golden pupils, which had long lost their shine. Inflamed skin, red and crumbling, folded over her sunken cheekbones. Nothing much remained, nearly everything taken by disease and time. Any soul that was in such a state would be writhing in agony and pain, wishing for death to come. Yet, the grin on that girl's mutilated face implied something else.  

It was . . . sinister, so say the least. Her cracking lips were twisted into an empty smile, as if she knew something that was supposed the remain a secret. As if she'd be so happy if she were to die right now. 

Viola knew the secret too. But, "Viola" wasn’t really the name to call hers, was it? After all, that girl's reflection was so familiar . . .  

"What are you staring at?" Her father chimed, his nose in the newspaper. "I promise there'll be many lovely sights in London. You just wait 'till we get there," he assured, then turned back to his reading.  

Viola peered at the headline he was hawking. It read in bold type, "ROTTEN CHILD FOUND IN MOUNTAIN FORESTS." Printed below was a grainy photograph of an eerily human carcass. Its limbs were skinny and bare, almost like those of a little girl. Dark puddles stained the woodland ground, likely dried blood. It was buried into the earth by time, face planted into the dirt. She shuddered; it was a revolting and unnerving sight.  

Viola yawned. If only she could be face-down in her bed, in the comfort of her blanket and the soft glow of the moon. She remembered the smell of a burning fireplace, and how she made herself a meal for the first time before falling asleep. But glancing at the paper, her nose wrinkled, instead imagining the smell of decay and mortality she knew so well . . .  

Settling back in her own seat, Viola lifted the velvety jacket over her shoulders and was whisked away to sleep.  

 When the sun began to set over the horizon, heavy footsteps came trotting down the caboose. The conductor waved slips of paper in his gloved hands, motioning toward the exit. He hollered, "Tickets please! Show yer' tickets when ya' step off the train!" Passengers began straightening themselves up, tucking back stray hairs and smoothing out wrinkled clothes as they gathered their belongings. Viola turned to the window, her first impression of her new home.  

Outside, she could see the steel train tracks, a crowd of trench coats and hats, crawling in all directions. She and her father forked over their tickets as they stepped off, waving goodbye to the kind train conductor, and into the city, bearing her bag behind her. 

The sights were, for a moment, like nothing she'd ever seen before. But as she followed her father to where they'd find their carriage, the world around her began to look like the old village. The streets smelled of pastries and perfume. Tall buildings of brick and glass towered over her like giants, just like the looming oak trees that isolated her in the forest. Even the smell of her neglectful mother's sweet perfume seemed to linger, as if nothing had changed.  

She smiled for her father, who walked the cobble street with caution. Viola kept close to his side, until he stopped at the corner next to a grey stone fountain. Right on time, the coach pulled up to the curb. It was a horse-drawn carriage, driven by a pair of black steeds, dark as midnight.  

Viola hid a smirk. They'd soon be on the steps of their new home, wherever that was. She didn't care. Because she'd gotten away with it. She had a new family, and a healthy, painless body. After all . . .  

"Two can keep a secret . . ."