Word Count: 83,000
Genre: YA Fantasy + strong mystery elements
Systems of oppression: Cissexism, racism
Author's identity: [removed], South Asian/Middle Eastern/African
Stealing a magical item from the abandoned Edwards Mansion didn’t seem like a good idea, even at the time. But eighteen-year-old Aldonza is alone in a city she can’t afford, and despite daily calls, she can’t tell her parents she’s in Massachusetts instead of Minnesota, working instead of studying, and a girl instead of a boy. Bad ideas are all she has left.
She didn’t expect there to be a girl in the cellar.
Aldonza’s best guess is that she’s Melanie, the only Edwards family member who didn’t disappear in a mysterious curse six years ago, but newspapers claim Melanie killed herself when she was eighteen. The girl won’t tell Aldonza who she is, or why she followed her home. What she does say is that she’s placed a threefold curse on Aldonza’s family – a retribution only possible thanks to Aldonza’s brilliant “rob the creepy old mansion” idea. She can lift it before it takes effect, if Aldonza helps figure out what happened to the Edwards.
Even as her threats drag Aldonza into a world where servants mean less than objects and even the loveliest room has dirty secrets buried beneath, the freaky cellar girl’s surprise sleep snuggles and terrible taste in tea start growing on Aldonza. And in case that’s not scary enough, someone starts trying to kill Melanie.
The way folks in town went on about the Edwards Mansion, you’d think it would be harder to break in.
I gripped the ivy on the gate, half-expecting the leaves to turn to dust and the vines to turn to snakes. Or for the whole plant to be an illusion--who actually has gates twined with ivy? Instead, the vines held firm. The leaves were slick with rain, but steadier than my hands. On second thought, maybe ivy was how mistreated servants helped thieves.
I got one leg over the top, then the other, and teetered, caught in a battle with my hands. My argument, muttered out loud to the empty night: “Oh, come on, this isn’t that bad. You got this far, didn’t you? Channel your inner cat burglar.” Their argument: clutching the ivy as tightly as they could. Body parts are jerks that way.
And of course the grass was too overgrown for me to tell how bad the fall would be. All the plants had spilled out of their original places, now too tall or too old or too dead.
I forced my fingers to unclench and dropped, aiming to land in a crouch. Instead, I ended up with my nose in the grass and my hand caught on a thorny branch. Cat burglary: maybe not my calling.
My hand stung in reproach as I spat out a mouthful of wet leaves and clambered through the garden. The grass gleamed black-green. Colors in the North looked wrong in the daylight, without the gold glimmers the sun cast back home, but everything looks similar in the dark.