Corrupt

By: Penelope Douglas

But it could’ve been my mother or Mrs. Crist, too, I guessed.

I removed the lid and set it aside, peeling away the straw and catching the sight of slate gray metal with ornate carvings.

My eyes rounded, and I immediately dived for the top of the crate, knowing what I was going to find. I curled my fingers around the handle and smiled, pulling out a heavy steel Damascus blade.

“Wow.”

I shook my head, unable to believe it. The dagger had a black grip with a bronze crossguard, and I tightened my hand around it, holding up the blade and looking at the lines and carvings.

Where the hell had this come from?

I’d loved daggers and swords ever since I started fencing at age eight. My father preached that the arts of a gentleman were not only timeless but necessary. Chess would teach me strategy, fencing would teach me human nature and self-preservation, and dancing would teach me my body. All necessary for a well-rounded person.

I gripped the hilt, remembering the first time he’d put a fencing foil in my hand. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and I reached up, running a finger along the scar on my neck, suddenly feeling closer to him again.

Who had left it here?

Peering back into the box, I pulled out a small piece of paper with black writing. Licking my lips, I read the words silently. Beware the fury of a patient man.

“What?” I said to myself, pinching my eyebrows together in confusion.

What did that mean?

But then I glanced up, gasping as I dropped the blade and the note to the floor.

I stopped breathing, my heart trying to break through my chest.

Three men stood outside my house, side by side, staring up at me through the window.

“What the hell?” I breathed out, trying to figure out what was going on.

Was this a joke?

They stood completely motionless, and I felt a chill spread up my arms at how they just stared at me.

What were they doing?

All three wore jeans and black combat boots, but as I stared into the black void of their eyes, I clenched my teeth together to keep my body from shaking.

The masks. The black hoodies and the masks.

I shook my head. No. It couldn’t be them. This was a joke.

The tallest stood on the left, wearing a slate-gray metallic-looking mask with claw marks deforming the right side of his face.

The one in the middle was shorter, looking up at me through his white-and-black mask with a red stripe running down the left side of his face, which was also ripped and gouged.

And the one on my right, whose completely black mask blended with his black hoodie, so that you couldn’t tell exactly where his eyes were, was the one who finally made my chest shake.

I backed up, away from the window and tried to catch my breath as I dashed for my phone. Pressing 1 on the landline, I waited for the security office, which sat only minutes down the road, to pick up.

“Mrs. Fane?” a man answered.

“Mr. Ferguson?” I breathed out, inching back over to my windows. “It’s Rika. Could you send a car up to—?”

But then I stopped, seeing that the driveway was now empty. They were gone.

What?

I darted my eyes left and then right, getting right up to the table and leaning over to see if they were near the house. Where the hell did they go?

I remained silent, listening for any sign of anyone around the house, but everything was still and quiet.

“Miss Fane?” Mr. Ferguson called. “Are you still there?”

I opened my mouth, stammering, “I…I thought I saw something…outside my windows.”

“We’re sending a car up now.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”And I hung up the phone, still staring out the window.

It couldn’t be them.

But those masks. They were the only ones who wore those masks.

Why would they come here? After three years, why would they come here?





Three Years Ago



“NOAH?” I FELL BACK, leaning against the wall next to my best friend’s locker as he retrieved a book between classes. “Do you have a date for Winterfest?”

He scrunched up his face. “That’s like two months away, Rika.”

“I know. I’m getting in while the getting’s good.”

He smiled, slamming his locker shut and leading the way down the hall. “So you’re asking me on a date then?” he teased in his cocky voice. “I knew you always wanted me.”

I rolled my eyes, following him, since my classroom was in the same direction. “Could you make this easier, please?”

But all I heard was his snort.

Winterfest was a dance like Sadie Hawkins. Girls ask guys, and I wanted to take the safe route by asking a friend.

Students scurried around us, rushing to their classes, and I held the strap of my bag on my shoulder as I grabbed his arm, stopping him.

“Please?” I pleaded.

But he narrowed his eyes, looking worried. “Are you sure Trevor’s not going to kick my ass? Judging from the way he’s on you all the time, I’m surprised he hasn’t GPS’d you.”

That was a good point. Trevor would be mad I wasn’t asking him, but I only wanted friendship, and he wanted more. I didn’t want to lead him on.

I guessed I could chalk up my disinterest in Trevor to knowing him my entire life—he was too familiar, kind of like family—but I’d also known his older brother my entire life, and my feelings for him weren’t at all familial.