Life is Short and Then You Die: New Excerpt by Y. S. Lee
By Crime HQ
Life Is Short and Then You Die is the Mystery Writers of America’s first teen anthology, edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong. Below, enjoy an excerpt from the story “In Plain Sight” by Y. S. Lee, the author of a YA mystery series set in a Victorian-era girls’ academy that acts as a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency!
“In Plain Sight”
I expect the workshop to be empty, but Corrigan is standing there. Alone. Or so it seems at first. She’s heaving deep breaths, clenching and unclenching her fists. It’s such a change from her usual icy immobility that, for a long moment, I can only stare at her.
After a bit, I realize there’s something large crumpled at her feet: black-and-white uniform, prison-made shoes, a sizeable pool of blood. I wonder who it is and how he got in here, and then I notice the empty burlap sack, the cudgel under the table. Ah.
I stare at Corrigan again, and this time she meets my gaze. There’s a dark smear on her cheek, but she looks—well, satisfied is not too strong a word. The gleam in her eyes locks up my joints, freezes my muscles.
“Sorry about your scissors,” she says with a Northern Irish lilt, and nobody could sound less penitent.
Her voice compels me. I walk into the room, my feet once more taking me where I have no business. When I reach the rat-catcher’s body, I finally understand. The dressmaking shears—a pair of oiled steel blades, nine inches long—are sheathed deep in his left eye. His upper lip is curled back, exposing yellowed incisors.
This isn’t my first corpse. As a tot, I saw my granny laid out on the kitchen table. When I was six or eight, I found a drunk frozen to death in the street on an early January morning. But this—this is different. The rat-catcher was a repulsive, predatory prick, to be sure, but he was breathing and talking and leering not ten minutes ago. It’s contrast that makes me recoil.
By what accident or oversight are any of us still alive?
I should turn around and go. Return to the tailoring workshop, wait with the others until the guards find us. Matron Palmer will come back to her senses. The guards will confine us to our cells while they sort out what happened. We’ll all be on bread and water for weeks, as it is. I needn’t—mustn’t—know anything about this additional mess. Corrigan will have to face the consequences of this desperate thing she’s done. I don’t doubt for a minute why she did it.
We stare at the body. Corrigan rubs at a splash of blood on her right cuff. “Don’t,” I say automatically. “You’ll only grind it in.”
She grins, humorless. “Think I can launder away the proof?” There’s a tiny gap between her front teeth.
Suddenly, I’m shaking with . . . I don’t know. Energy. Fear. Panic. It’s too much, I can’t swim against this fast-rising tide of emotion, can’t beat it back or drain it or freeze it or any of the things I’ve taught myself to do over the past six years, in order to survive. Tears burn the backs of my eyes. “They’ll hang you.”
She makes a puffing noise that I realize is a gasp of laughter. “They’ll have to find me first.”
Is she mad? Not obviously, in the way that Bollard and Wabuck are. But she doesn’t seem to understand how confined we are. We have no privacy, no rights. Only the thoughts in our heads are ours alone. “What are you talking about?”
She takes a long step toward me. I recoil. She smiles again, all sharp, crowded teeth, and while she’s still beautiful, she doesn’t look quite human. More like an archangel. More like a wild animal. “You know how this place works,” she says. “Six years, the matron said?”
“What’s the best way out?”
I gape at her. “Out of . . . the penitentiary?”
She snorts, and it’s reassuringly earthy and normal. “Aye. And the hell away from it.”
“You won’t make it.”
“I’d rather die trying.”
It’s the kind of thing people say from time to time, trying to sound dramatic or fierce. But one look at Corrigan’s face and I absolutely believe her. Still . . . “Why do you trust me? Why shouldn’t I betray you?”
“I saw you when the matron was talking.” She pauses. “You act like her little lapdog, but you’re just biding your time, too.”
It’s like crashing through ice into frigid waters. The shock is comprehensive, prolonged. As I thrash, fighting toward the surface, my heart seizes. How does she know? How can she read that so easily on my face, when nobody else ever does? How dare she strip me of my secrets?
“We do what we must,” says Corrigan. “I did.” She gestures toward the rat-catcher’s body, but her gaze remains fixed on me, keen and alien.
Copyright © 2019 Y. S. Lee