Chorus of Whispers22 min read

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Blood/Gore, Death or dying, Sexism and misogyny
Reprinted from Stitched Lips: An Anthology of Horror from Silenced Voices, 2021

Orphelia’s procedure took place on a sunny Monday afternoon. She and her mother arrived early and stood in line outside the surgery with other mothers and daughters, waiting their turn, the temperature gradually rising until Orphelia’s clothes grew scratchy and hot, and her skin tender to the touch.

Eventually they made it into the shade of the waiting room. Orphelia’s stomach growled but she didn’t complain about her hunger; Mummy had already told her she wasn’t allowed to eat before the procedure. She watched as other girls her age were dragged from the surgical suite by weeping mothers. Some of the girls walked stiff-legged, with wide eyes and ashen faces. Others clutched at their mothers and wept soundlessly.

Orphelia’s legs quivered and she wanted to run from the room. Her mother’s huge, sweaty hand gripped her tiny one. When it was her turn, Orphelia’s mother signed various papers and the nurse stamped them. Mummy folded up and tucked them into the pocket of her voluminous skirt.

They went into the surgical suite. There was a tall doctor in a white coat, a big chair with straps on the arms. An injection made the world go fuzzy and gray. When she roused, moments later, her throat was on fire. She wanted to scream but air passing over her savaged larynx was agony. The pain was so severe the world tilted sideways when she tried to sit up. Mummy offered her a hand and Orphelia slid obediently from the chair. Her legs wobbled under her and Mummy gave her a moment to get them under herself before gently guiding her from the surgical suite.

The girls standing in the waiting room stared at her, looking for some sign of what was in store for them. Orphelia wanted to warn them. She wanted to tell them it was horrible, the worst pain you could possibly imagine. She wanted to tell them to run. When she took a breath deep enough to speak, a thousand needles stabbed her throat, and she could only gasp and fall forward into Mummy’s waiting arms. She was carried home, weeping silent tears of pain and betrayal.

This would be Orphelia’s first memory.


Orphelia used her brother’s workshop at night, while the family slept, tinkering and testing, researching and revising. The blueprints spread on the workbench looked like the scrawlings of a madwoman, her brother said, but she had not had the benefit of his formal engineer’s training. She had only the limited numbers and letters she had learned in school and the small amount of secret training her father and brother had allowed her. It was forbidden to teach girls complex math, physics, or medicine. Still, Orphelia devoured books from the family library when no one was looking. She did her best to absorb them, looking up words in dictionaries and thesauruses, reading every footnote and carefully inspecting and recreating every diagram until she had the best understanding she could manage.

She knew her project was probably futile, especially if anyone were to catch her. But, like many great inventors, she was motivated by spite: every time a prototype failed or research led to a dead end, she would remember the afternoon of her procedure and would try again.

Tonight, she crouched over the workbench, attempting to affix a length of jellyfish tentacle to the inside of a narrow copper ring, using a glue she’d made herself by boiling hooves she’d bought from a butcher. She wore only her bloomers and a camisole, sensitive to the heat of the workshop—or any heat at all—ever since that Monday afternoon. Her hair was swept into a messy chignon and her feet slid around inside her brother’s too-big work boots. She’d stuffed the toes with rags and started wearing them after she’d ruined a pair of silk slippers during one of her experiments, which had earned her a thrashing.

A soft touch on her shoulder made her jump. Her mother stood there, lips pressed together, regretful expression on her face. Sorry, she mouthed.

Orphelia’s mother was one of the few unfortunate women upon whom the procedure was completely effective. She hadn’t been able to say a single word without extreme pain since she was three years old. Of course, breathing was also agony, and she rarely slept as a result, but the medical establishment considered the procedure a total success. Maude was an ideal case written about in textbooks.

I’m busy, Mum. What do you need? Orphelia whispered. She was lucky not to have lingering pain after the wounds of the procedure had healed, and she still had a voice—only a whisper, but better than nothing. From her perspective, anyway. Many people felt differently, especially because she wasn’t afraid to use what little voice she still possessed.

Have you thought about Dr. Carver’s offer? Maude smiled hopefully.

Orphelia’s shoulders slumped.

Maude’s smile faded. He expects an answer by tomorrow morning.

I know.

Maude’s hand went to her daughter’s arm. Your father and I were very lucky to marry for love. That’s rare. You may not love Dr. Carver, but he can make you comfortable. Papa and I won’t be around forever to take care of you.

Orphelia shrugged and bent over the jellyfish tentacles again. Quincy and I will look after each other.

Maude made a scoffing sound that must have hurt and threw up her arms in frustration. She didn’t bother to make the rest of the argument. They’d had this talk so many times, Orphelia could play the rest of it in her head. Maude would say that Quincy would want to get married eventually, and what wife would want a man saddled with a spinster sister? Orphelia would reply that Quincy didn’t care about getting married and would rather live a quiet life in the countryside with his sister in a house so big they only had to see each other at suppertime. She would add that she was focused on her project, and no husband would let her complete it. A husband would expect her to manage a household and care for children, neither of which held any interest for Orphelia.

And Maude would point out Orphelia’s age, which would make her a humiliating failure if she didn’t accept an offer soon. Dr. Carver was a good man, and Orphelia would admit that if she were to consider any offer seriously, it would be his, but she simply had no interest in marriage and would not be forced into it.

Maude scowled. For the first time, she mouthed, This project is ruining your life, O. I should burn it all. Quick as a snake, she shot across the room and ripped the blueprints off the wall in one swift motion.

Orphelia made a choked sound, the closest thing she could manage to a scream. She ran to Maude and they wrestled over the designs, the paper tearing and crumpling. Orphelia wept and wheezed. Her mother’s face was red as she marched from the workshop with her hands full of torn blueprints. Croaking desperately, Orphelia followed her mother into the kitchen and managed one bark of rage as Maude tossed the papers into the smoldering fire in the hearth.

Maude turned to her daughter with fury in her eyes. You will accept Dr. Carver. I’ll send the note in the morning. She turned and swept upstairs to her own bedroom, and the discussion was ended.

Orphelia knelt in front of the hearth, watching the bits of paper burn. Her mother had never, ever treated her this way before. Of course, Orphelia had never been twenty-seven before. She would already be the oldest bride in the newspaper announcements. And Papa’s health had not been good of late. Maude was worried about what would happen to the family if Papa didn’t survive his next bout of pancreatitis. Quincy had a brilliant mind for engineering, but was not a great businessman, and would struggle to care for both his sister and mother as the head of family.

Maude wanted the best for her daughter, Orphelia knew. But huge tears still slid down her cheeks as she watched the work of years go up in flames. She clenched her jaw in determination and went upstairs, where she dressed in several layers, packed a few things into a case, and took what money she had squirreled away. She went to the workshop and packed up a few tools, supplies, and the most useful books into the smallest lockbox she could find. She crammed even more into the pockets of her skirts, vest, and jacket.

She didn’t know what destination she had in mind as she pulled her black wool cape over her shoulders and swept from the family home. She just knew she couldn’t stay here.


Orphelia made her way into the heart of town. She had considered calling on cousins or family friends or even school acquaintances to put her up, but had rejected those options, because any of those people would report her whereabouts to her parents. So, she made her way from the posh part of town to the merchant class neighborhoods, where a few people still wandered late at night, mostly stumbling drunks. The flickering street lamps cast faint, greasy light onto uneven cobbles as Orphelia staggered along in heeled boots. The air smelled like burning oil and raw sewage. The atmosphere made her skin prickle, and every shadow made her gut roil. She carried her mother’s warnings about being a woman out in the world alone, and her father’s recitation each morning of the murders that had happened overnight while the family slept safely in their beds, dutifully reported in the newspaper. To be out after dark was tempting fate.

Orphelia’s heart raced and she almost went home. No one would have to know she’d left. Tomorrow, Maude would send a note to Dr. Carver; he would visit, and a date would be set for her wedding. Soon enough, she would have children of her own. She would have daughters, and when they were three years old, she would march them to the surgery for the procedure.

She pressed on, into the darkness.

As she passed an alley, there was a sound, as of someone being punched and the air gusting from their lungs. Orphelia sucked in a breath and turned to look involuntarily. The darkness writhed with undefined shapes. A second whuff convinced her someone was, in fact, being attacked. There! Scuffling and the clicking of heeled boots on the cobbles. She knew she should turn away and flee, but what if a woman was being attacked? A woman who couldn’t cry out because the procedure had taken that privilege from her.

Orphelia glanced down the street, hoping for a uniformed officer or a brave-looking gentleman, but saw no one. With a deep inhale for courage, she dropped her case and lockbox into the shadows behind a trash bin. Drawing herself up to her full height, she strode into the alley. She nearly tripped over a piece of wood, which she lifted in her hands as a weapon.

As she approached, the picture became clearer. Several women in black dresses crouched over a prone form. One of them carried a lantern turned down as low as the flame would allow. As they reeled back from the body, one of them cradling something against her stomach, Orphelia saw a man. His eyes were open and staring, his mouth slack-jawed, and his throat torn away, a bloody wreck.

Orphelia had seen corpses before, when her brother snuck her into the anatomy laboratory at his university, but those had been skinned, muscle on display, organs removed, faces covered, flesh cold. This man was still warm. One of his legs kicked and his chest quivered as if he still tried to draw breath.

Orphelia dropped the piece of wood to the cobbles with a clatter. Her gloved hands flew to cover her mouth and she gasped, tears springing to her eyes. 

As one, the women turned to her. They were young, younger than she was expecting, with faces ranging from pale to dark, and expressions ranging from panicked to resolute.

Hypatia, one of them hissed to the girl holding the bloody thing. She presented Hypatia with a box and the other girl slipped it inside.

Hypatia turned her attention to Orphelia. With a movement like a scorpion extending its tail, she flicked out a razor, the sort a barber might use to shave a gentleman’s beard. Orphelia wanted to run but her legs refused to work. Instead, she whispered What are you doing? What is this?

None of your business, Hypatia hissed. Can you forget what happened here?

A chorus of rasping voices:

Look at her.

This is the most exciting thing she’s ever seen.

She’ll never forget.

And she heard your name.

You know what we do to witnesses. Even women.

Orphelia’s legs finally worked and she turned to run, but her boots caught in her long cape and the fabric twisted around her ankles. She hit the ground hard, skinning her palms against the rough cobblestones.

The girls were on her like hunting dogs on a fox. Feet kicked her ribs and Orphelia curled into a ball to protect her organs. Fists punched at her arms, shoulder, face and chest. Someone’s boot stomped at her face and she rolled away with a screech of terror that came out as a squeak, no louder than the sound made by a mouse.

Hypatia pulled her hair, yanking Orphelia’s head back. The razor was cold against the flesh of her throat.

Wait! One girl’s whisper was almost normal volume. Hypatia, wait!

What?

Look at this! It fell out of her pocket.

Orphelia, trembling with her murderer’s blade at her neck, wondered what they could possibly have found. She didn’t remember what she had crammed into her pockets. Springs, screwdrivers, books, curls of fine-gauge wire, a vial of jellyfish tentacles. What could possibly interest this gang of murderesses? 

The razor fell away and the pressure on her hair increased. Orphelia scrambled up to a sitting position.

Hypatia thrust a book into her face. Is this yours?

Orphelia squinted at it. She didn’t know. She couldn’t see the words on the cover.

Someone turned up the flame in the oil lamp and brought it closer. The book was Buchanan’s Manual of Anatomy. Orphelia nodded, her eyes finding Hypatia’s in the lamplight. The girl’s irises were nearly as pale as her face. She looked about fifteen or sixteen years old, with bright flaxen hair. She would have been pretty, if not for a long, ragged scar down one cheek.

What do you know of anatomy? Hypatia asked, breath reeking of stale beer.

Orphelia could only guess why she inquired. The girls looked dirty and bedraggled up close, and they stank of unwashed bodies. Perhaps they were seeking a doctor for their various injuries?

I know it by heart, Orphelia admitted.

Could you do surgery? Hypatia hissed.

Orphelia nodded, grateful the girl asked if she could and not if she ever had. The answers to those two questions were very different.


In a dingy attic room in Madame Pepper’s Boardinghouse, the girls arrayed themselves around the room, removing boots and jackets, unlacing corsets, and generally making themselves comfortable. The room was the length of Madame Pepper’s entire house. Several mattresses were unrolled on the floor, and various mismatched chests, small tables, and a single dresser missing all its drawers filled the space.

The lamp was turned up to full illumination. The girls cleared the chairs and eating implements from a small table and Hypatia jumped up onto it, seating herself with ankles crossed casually. She presented the lockbox to Orphelia.

Orphelia opened the box gingerly, not sure what to expect. The box was filled to the brim with rapidly melting ice. On top of the ice was a bloody, fleshy lump. Orphelia pulled a pencil from her skirt pocket and prodded it carefully. There was skin, and connective tissue, in the shape of a tube. It was the man’s throat, which Hypatia had cut raggedly from his neck, including his larynx.

She suddenly understood what Hypatia was asking. It can’t be done.

Rage flared in Hypatia’s pale eyes and the razor flashed in her hand. Are you saying you can’t, or won’t?

It’s impossible.

Why?

The larynx is tangled up with the thyroid gland. It’s almost impossible to separate the two.

So?

To remove your larynx and replace it with this one…it would almost certainly kill your thyroid. And you need your thyroid to live.

Hypatia sucked in a breath and her mouth puckered. How long could I live without one?

Orphelia recoiled. No one knows, exactly. It’s a mystery what compounds your thyroid releases into your bloodstream.

The girl raised her chin. Do it, then.

Here?

Hypatia nodded.

I can’t. This place is filthy. I don’t have medical tools, or anesthesia…

We have those things, another girl rasped.

Venus is a nurse, Hypatia whispered. She can assist you. Her hand went to her throat, massaging it, as if even this small amount of speech caused her pain.

Orphelia steeled herself, shaking her head. I can’t. It’s much too dangerous. You’ll die.

The razor flashed to her throat. The girls surrounded her, their bodies pressing uncomfortably close. No, she won’t, Venus hissed. What happens to her, happens to you.

Orphelia weighed her options. She could confess to her lack of medical experience right now. But if she did, these crazed girls wouldn’t hesitate to throw her from the roof of Madame Pepper’s Boardinghouse. Performing the surgery was the best choice she had. At least there was a chance Hypatia might survive, and thus Orphelia might as well.

She sighed, the exhalation scraping past her own mangled vocal cords. She raised her chin, removed her cape with a flourish, and accepted the box of excised human flesh.


Orphelia tried to perform the surgery quickly. Breathing through a tube could not be comfortable, even with anesthesia, and she feared Hypatia waking while she was still removing the remains of her larynx or inserting the new one. Her hands shook as she stitched the new larynx in place. The organ was too large for the girl’s slim neck, and it would probably bulge and cause her pain forever.

At least she could be proud of how she managed to preserve Hypatia’s thyroid, coiled around the front of her neck like a fat snake, protecting her throat. If they could keep her from getting an infection, she might actually survive this reverse procedure.

When she finished stitching Hypatia’s throat closed, Orphelia collapsed into a puddle on the floor.

She lives, for now. Venus announced authoritatively in the heavy silence, her voice nearly as loud as a man’s softest speech, her fingers pressing into Hypatia’s wrist. The other girls turned wide eyes full of wonder to the surgeon weeping on the floor.

There was still so much that could go wrong, but Orphelia didn’t point this out. She let the girls undress her, pull a clean nightgown over her head, and guide her onto one of the stinking mattresses. She fell asleep staring at a mouse hole in the wall.

She woke sometime later to someone plying her with warm, salty broth. She gulped it down without opening her eyes more than a crack, and then went back to sleep again. Exhaustion was like a heavy weight around her ankles, pulling her underwater.

When she woke again, it was to the sound of excited chatter. One of the girls crouched beside Orphelia’s mattress. You awake? The girl mouthed.

Orphelia nodded and pulled herself to a sitting position. Her limbs were heavy as stones and her stomach growled. Her mouth tasted like she’d been eating roadkill. How long have I been asleep?

The girl held up three fingers.

Orphelia started and scrambled to her feet, casting about the dark room. How is Hypatia? Girls and women dressed in black crowded the attic space.

The girl offered her a black blouse, skirt, and waist cinch much like the ones she wore.

No, thank you. I’d rather wear my clothes.

Sold, the girl mouthed. She tapped her chest and mouthed, Winifred.

Sold? Anger and fear lanced through Orphelia’s chest. You sold my things?

Winifred shook her head. Not me.

Venus appeared from the crowd. Your things were sold to benefit the revolution. These clothes should fit, Doctor Waverly.

Orphelia started again. She wanted to ask how they knew her surname, but then she thought about her travel case embossed with her initials, the velvet jacket with her first name embroidered on the breast, and the delicate lace waves sewn to the hem of her cape. It wouldn’t take too much work to put those pieces together if you were clever.

I’m not a doctor, Orphelia protested.

You are now. Venus offered Orphelia a slim pamphlet printed on ivory paper.

Dr. Orphelia Waverly has performed the greatest miracle: returning human speech to the female throat! The pamphlet proclaimed. See the wonder in the flesh when Hypatia Crane-Hemsby SPEAKS at sunset on April 26th on the steps of City Hall. Beneath this, in a flowing, cursive script, was written: Government Men and Church Elders, we recommend you cease and desist robbing girls and women of their voices, or WE WILL TAKE YOURS.

There were two women sketched in the middle of the pamphlet, with remarkably good likenesses: Orphelia and Hypatia. Orphelia’s stomach dropped and her skin went suddenly clammy.

You’ve ruined me, she gasped.

Venus clapped a strong hand on Orphelia’s arm. No, friend. We’ve made you the key to the revolution.

Orphelia folded herself back onto the mattress, staring at the pamphlet. Winifred quietly placed the clothes beside her. The two women turned to join the others, who were making their way downstairs.

Wait, Orphelia called after them, her loudest call a harsh croak.

Venus turned back.

April 26th would be in only…her muddled brain tried to do the math, but she couldn’t remember what date it had been when she fled her family home.

Three days, Venus said.

Will Hypatia be able to speak by then? That’s so soon. The swelling…

Venus stared down her nose at Orphelia. She heals quickly. She’ll be fine. And then Venus made her way to the ladder and down, leaving Orphelia alone in the suddenly drafty attic in only a nightgown.

Orphelia dressed quickly. The blouse was tight, and the black skirt and petticoat were much too long and would require hemming.  The only item in her possession unsold by the revolutionaries were her boots, which were a dark enough green to appear black, especially under these too-long skirts. Winifred had left her a black ribbon to tie up her hair, as the other girls did, but Orphelia drew the line there. She raked her fingers through her tousled mane and hoped some few of her curls still remained. Without a mirror, it was difficult to tell. She imagined she must look frightful and couldn’t help thinking what her mother would say. She could almost see Maude’s lips mouthing, You really must make more of an effort, O.

Tears rose to her eyes at the thought of her mother. She dashed them away. Her stomach rumbled again and she moved to the ladder, throwing her legs over so she could climb down.

Rough hands caught her and pushed her back up into the attic. What are you doing? She demanded when she regained her breath, staring down the ladder at two black-clad women. One was small and wiry, and the other was tall and stocky, like a farm girl from a provincial tale.

The small one shook her head slowly and pointed to the attic. The communication was clear enough: Orphelia was to remain upstairs.

I’m hungry, Orphelia complained, pressing her hand to her stomach.

The small one nodded at her companion. The larger woman moved in front of the ladder and stared up at the captive while the smaller one slipped out of view, hopefully in search of sustenance.

With a sigh, Orphelia settled her skirts around her like a nest and waited.


Hypatia appeared the following afternoon with a group of new recruits. A black scarf was tied around her throat. She sat beside Orphelia on her mattress and handed her a pasty wrapped in paper, still warm.

You sold my things, Orphelia whispered.

Not the important things. Smirking, Hypatia rose and went to the dresser, pulling out clothes and dumping them on the floor so she could reach deep inside and remove Orphelia’s lockbox.

Orphelia snatched it from her hands and opened it eagerly, fingers gliding across the implements and prototypes, unpacking each with tender care. Tears of overwhelming relief stung her eyes. 

You should let me see your throat, Orphelia whispered, closing the lockbox and hiding it under her skirts as she reseated herself on the mattress. She unwrapped the pasty and tucked in gratefully.

Venus is caring for me. Hypatia’s words were barely a whisper, inaudible over the crinkling of the paper pasty wrapper. Fortunately, Orphelia had a lot of experience reading lips.

Is Venus a nurse the way I’m a doctor?

Hypatia shrugged and frowned. She didn’t look Orphelia in the eyes as she untied the scarf and let it fall away. Hypatia’s face was pale, but her neck was red and splotchy with purple bruising that was visible even in the dim light streaming in the filthy attic window. Her neck was swollen and lumpy, straining Orphelia’s neat stitches.

Orphelia shook her head. You should be in bed. You need to rest.

I feel fine.

You don’t look fine.

I’m recovering very well.

You could die!

Hypatia turned to Orphelia, settling those eerie, near-translucent eyes on her. We’re all going to die. When I’m gone, she paused to wince and her fingers came to her throat, hovering as if she wished she could touch the tender flesh, but didn’t dare. Take care of them. She nodded to the many girls in black who had swarmed up the ladder to stuff the attic, more girls than Orphelia had seen up here before.

Orphelia realized, then, that Hypatia intended to martyr herself. And, apparently, she was leaving her recruits in Orphelia’s care. Why me?

But Hypatia shook her head, unable to say more for the pain. Orphelia helped her tie the scarf around her neck again. And then Hypatia beckoned the new recruits downstairs and they were gone, leaving Orphelia alone to wonder why she had been chosen as the caretaker of this ragtag motley. She lay down on the mattress again and realized she couldn’t even smell the stink of it anymore. She wondered if the stink had become a part of her.

All this, she thought wryly, because she wouldn’t marry Henry Carver.


Winifred collected her on the third day and threaded her arm through Orphelia’s as they walked down the cobbled streets, like bosom friends rather than captor and captive. The fresh air, even reeking as it did of raw sewage and stagnant rainwater, was a balm to soothe Orphelia’s restlessness.

Hypatia and her girls now numbered in the hundreds, and when Orphelia and her escort arrived, they had already taken control of the courtyard before the City Hall steps. A crowd had gathered, a crowd of hundreds, and more were arriving, attracted to the hustle and bustle like flies to a corpse. Hypatia stood on a wooden crate and untied her scarf, holding it in place as the sunset illuminated her black dress and ghostly white skin in gold and pink.

A policeman stood toward the back of the crowd, taller by a head than anyone else there. “You, get down from there,” he called.

“Are you ready to see?” Hypatia asked. Her voice was as loud as any man’s, but it made Orphelia gasp. It was higher, more musical, like the trill of a flute or a bird. It was beautiful, even if there was a pained rasp behind it.

The crowd thrust their arms into the air. They were mostly women, except for the police officers gathering around the edges of the throng, so their shouts were not so much a ringing chorus as a hiss, like the sound of a giant snake, with a few impassioned squeaks and choked grunts. A few reporters at the back of the crowd scribbled notes and an artist frantically sketched the scene in charcoal.

Hypatia pulled the scarf away with a triumphant flourish. Her throat was red, lumpy, purple and blue in places, green in others, horribly bruised and probably oozing something, but the sutures held. Her voice rang out. “If you take our voices,” she pointed at the policemen now pulling batons from their belts. “We will take yours!”

The assembled women hissed their approval and Hypatia’s scarf fluttered dramatically to the ground. Hypatia reached into her pocket and pulled out her trusty silver razor, lifting it high, so the sun’s last rays limned it gold. Orphelia’s breath caught.

Winifred had brought Orphelia close now, close enough that she could see Venus hovering directly behind Hypatia, waiting to catch her should she collapse. Arrayed around the crate on which she wobbled were a dozen girls in black, like dogs ready to attack. Orphelia turned to regard the crowd and watched as hoods and hats were thrown off, and black-clad women and girls turned their backs to Hypatia so they could face the police officers ringing the gathering. A tense silence fell over the courtyard for an instant as the sun slipped below the horizon, plunging them all into the hazy gray of early evening lit only by the dull golden glow of street lamps.

A shot rang out, and blood erupted from Hypatia’s throat, a long crimson scarf, nearly black in the darkness. She tumbled gracefully from the crate.

The riot began.

Winifred joined her sisters, a razor flashing in her hands as she rushed a policeman who fumbled with his pistol. Chaos exploded all around Orphelia. Unarmed, she could only stand watching as the revolutionaries and the police collided, razors versus batons, fists versus pistols. The men shouted curses and commands, but the women were silent, their voices stolen, their demands spoken in a language of blood and bruises.

Orphelia turned back to the crate where Hypatia’s body lay sprawled. Venus was trying to drag her down. Orphelia ran to help, and together they pulled their leader’s body to the ground. Venus sought a pulse at Hypatia’s throat, her wrist. But she shook her head and lowered Hypatia’s eyelids.

They shot her, Orphelia rasped.

She chose her fate, Venus answered.

We need to get out of here.

Back to the attic. Do you know the way?

Orphelia nodded and took off running up the City Hall steps, hoping she could perhaps discern a path back to the sidewalk through the riot from above.

Instead, she saw a familiar figure standing in the teeming crowd, perfectly still, her eyes locked on Orphelia. Orphelia blinked. It was her mother, Maude. Orphelia deflated for a moment, confused, fearful, expecting to see disappointment or perhaps even hatred in her mother’s eyes.

But the only emotion on Maude’s face was hope. She mouthed, Me next. Her hand fluttered to her throat.

Two futures spread out before Orphelia. In one, she married a doctor. In the other, she was the doctor.

She extended her hand to her mother and beckoned her to follow.

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