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Blood and Bourbon

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Story One, Amelie I

“Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”
Oscar LeRoux


Friday night, 14 August 2015, PM

GM: “…we wish you a pleasant stay in New Orleans and we hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of all our crew, thank you for choosing Air Canada Express as your airline this weekend.”

Amelie retrieves her carry-on luggage and rises with the mass of passengers departing the newly-landed plane. More than a few grumble. The flight was noisy and turbulent. The baby in front of her wouldn’t stop crying. The lady behind her kept complaining how much tickets cost, an irrelevant topic where Amelie is concerned. For better or worse, she is unlikely to fly back to Toronto under her own money anytime soon.

Her footsteps loudly thump against the jet bridge’s floor as she follows other passengers out of the plane, her luggage audibly rolling behind her. Glass windows at the end of the corridor look out over flat flat runways that provide a nearly unobstructed view of the starless night sky. It stretches over the blinking clusters of yellow-white lights like a great void the planes aren’t flying into so much as being swallowed up by. Distant engines roar as aircraft take off, then fade into background noise as their blinking lights disappear into the black.

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Amelie’s half-translucent, shadow-drenched reflection stares back at her from the windows overlooking the runway. Just past it, she can dimly make out a dark sign with a pale gold trombone emblazoned over the skeleton of a blue globe.

THANK YOU f… N… O… &… R… R… LOUIS ARMSTRONG… N.. O… I… A…”

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Amelie: Amelie stares into the dark as she takes in her first bittersweet sight of Nouvelle Orléans. Louis Armstrong even greets her with a song. He’s before her time, but she remembers the jazz musician for a few of his most historic pieces. She can’t help but mutter “pieces” now that the horns and unmistakable deep voice are stuck in her head. She lets the lyrics carry her along and even dances her feet just a little to the temp.

“-magic spells you cast. This is la view en rose.

She lets out a small sigh once her walk down the jet bridge ends and breaks into what she assumes is arrivals. She’s not sure what she’s supposed to do at this point, but chooses to follow the crowd while standing up straight and scanning for any signs. Bad movies and worse books dictate there’s a stranger holding a sign with her name on it.

She only hopes she recognizes her own aunt.

GM: The airport Amelie walks into from Course C looks like a bus terminal in South America. It’s appallingly crowded. Every single seat in the airport is occupied by bleary-eyed, impatient-looking, or simply half-asleep human bodies. Some people sit on the floor, while others merely stand tiredly in place, almost elbow-to-elbow with their fellow passengers. Long lines only half-distinguishable through the crowd wind towards the restrooms. People snap at one another and argue through clenched teeth why they should get to go first, their motions causing the line to shift like an agitated animal flicking its tail. Most of the adults sullenly wait out the arrival of their flights, though a few of the younger children cry. “Mommy, I’m tired…”

Amelie: Amelie almost recoils at the sight. So many people in such a cramped space is unlike anything she’s seen. Just a half hour ago she was thinking on how busy Toronto was compared to Quebec City, and now this. It feels off-base and even a little alien. But she proceeds along quietly. All she needs to do is grab her checked bags and go to the front of the airport, right?

She hopes that’s right. She wants a shower and change of clothes more than anything else right now. The sweatpants and faded Real McKenzies t-shirt is not a flattering look. It’s even less so with her wild black bed-head.

GM: The scene is more orderly but little happier away from the boarding and departure points. Bored-looking customs officials herd lines of people through metal detectors like parts on an assembly line. A detained woman flushes red when security rips open her suitcase and sorts through a pile of lingerie before finally retrieving the underwire bra that set off their scanners, eliciting a round of snickers from the otherwise apathetic crowd. Masked and armed black-uniformed police officers watch the proceedings suspiciously. Camo-clad National Guardsmen shoulder their way through the throngs of bodies, occasionally chatting into hand-held radios. No one stops and frisks Amelie as she picks up her remaining luggage from the stainless steel conveyor, though a few leashed inspection dogs growl at her presence.

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Amelie: The flood of gunmetal, camo, and Kevlar makes the United States seem all the more alien. Her heart drops into her stomach for a split second when she sees a masked man with a gun, but it calms after she sees the patches and realizes he’s supposed to be here. She can understand the weapons, but fails to see any reasoning for masks besides intimidation.

She goes through the metal detectors on her best behavior, eying the pissy dogs as she gathers her luggage and sets off towards the front of the airport. She looks around for a sign, or for her aunt to sneak up on her. She hopes either happens before she starts suffocating amidst so many human bodies.

GM: The airport becomes a completely different world outside of security. There are still people, but Amelie can make out wide and empty stretches of white linoleum. Leather couches and chaise lounges recline around bookstores, gift shops, and casual dining establishments from international chains like Subway, Chili’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s a couple more that Amelie hasn’t seen in Canada, including a PJ’s Coffee and West Beignet.

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A man with long dreadlocks and a skull-emblazoned t-shirt storms up to a seated customer by the Subway. “The fuck are you doin’ there? Are you seriously the guy who comes to New Orleans to eat at fuckin’ Subway?”

The other man, a portly middle-aged fellow wearing khaki shorts and glasses, looks up from his sub with an annoyed expression. “If this is Southern hospitality, you’re making a shit case for it.”

“Fuck you! Go back to suburbia!”

“I’m gonna call security.”

FUCK YOU!” the first man yells, spinning away on his heel.

Amelie: It’s a relief to get back out where she can think. Amelie stops to gather herself and take in her surroundings. Subway at least is familiar. Chili’s is known to her only through American media bleeding north, and Dunkin’ Donuts is the kind of place that can only struggle next to the Canadian giant that is Tim Hortons. The scenery is marred by the rather silly confrontation, and Amelie has a hunch that the dreadlocked man has quite a bit of pride, but also a lot of pent-up anger against white people. Just like home. She lets it go, scans the rest of the airport lobby, and pushes down the itch to walk into the bookstore or sit down with her own book.

GM: As Amelie turns her gaze from the two’s commotion, she can see a figure by the airport’s entrance holding a sign that reads “Savard.” He’s an elderly, slightly stooped African-American man with a short beard that’s streaked through with white. He’s dressed in a plain black suit.

Her aunt is nowhere in sight.

Amelie: Of course. She can only assume this stereotype made flesh is her driver for the evening. The young woman quickly fixes her hair with her fingers, takes a deep breath, and pulls her bags up to the man.

“Sir? I’m Amelie Savard. Are you here for me?”

Her accent is almost nonexistent. Like many Quebecois born to English parents in larger cities, English was a second language learned alongside her native Francais.

GM: The old man grins as he sees Amelie. “Whoa, Miss Savar’! Welcome t’ the Big Easy.” His voice is worn, deep, and slightly scratchy, like an old vinyl record. “Name’s Oscar, with the Executi’ Charter Limo Service. I’m t’ drive you to your auntie’s.” He motions to her luggage. “If you’ll permi’ me?”

Amelie: “It’s a pleasure, Oscar, glad to be here.” It bothers Amelie a little that her aunt isn’t here, but she waves off the feeling as she remembers how busy the woman must be. She does have to prepare for her niece moving in. And what kind of job does she work that lets her send a limo, anyway?

She looks back at her bags and offers Oscar her smaller carry-on to wheel after them. “I’ll take one, you take one? I have my pride, after all. Are you parked nearby?”

GM: Oscar laughs as he sticks the ‘Savard’ sign under his elbow, takes Amelie’s first bag, and holds out another hand to take her second one. “Haw haw! Naw, please, you’ll be doin’ me a favor lettin’ me carry yours. I say I let a client carry her own bags, ain’ never gonna hear the end of it from the boss-man! Blo’ on my recor’, yessir.”

Amelie: Amelie immediately realizes that being waited on like this is going to take getting used to. She mutters a small “merde,” under her breath and reluctantly wheels the bigger bag to him around her back.

“You’re a hard worker, thank you, Oscar. Do you only work for my aunt, or are you part of an agency?” She motions for him to lead the way and prepares for the drive. It’s going to be an interesting night.

GM: “Yes ma’am,” Oscar answers as he takes Amelie’s other bag and starts wheeling them out of the building. “I work for the Executi’ Charter Limo Service, like I say. Your auntie gives us a call e’ry now an’ then. She always tip well.”

Amelie: Amelie uses her now free hands to smooth through her thick black hair. She’s glad her aunt doesn’t own a limo and tipped the so-far nice man. She strikes out in front, holds the door open for the driver and follows him out to wherever he’s parked.

“How well do you know New Orleans, Mr. Oscar? I haven’t been here since I was a child. I could use some good insider information.”

GM: Amelie finds that the airport’s sliding front doors open automatically, for there are a great many other people with full hands making their way past. She is immediately struck by the almost stifling warmth of the humid air. It’s not all like her cold hometown’s. She can make out an asphalt plane filled with parked cars for as far as her eye can see, though that is not far on the dark and overcast night. The odd street lamp stares over the vehicles, throwing deep shadows where its illumination does not touch. The low roar of departing and arriving aircraft sounds in the distance.

“Well, I been here since I was a chil’, so guess I the guy t’ axe!” Oscar laughs. “What you wanna know ’bout New Orleans?”

Amelie: It’s been a long day of plane rides, for sure. But it nearly takes Amelie off her feet when the air hits her outside of the air-conditioned building. Humidity was normal where she grew up, out on the ocean of the Saint Laurent, but it was never like this. It takes her a moment to adjust. Heat itself is nothing to her, and she can have a jolly time slamming a hammer into yellow glowing steel, but the air itself being like this is something. She keeps beside Oscar as they walk and talk.

“Mostly where the good places are. I know from experience there’s a big difference between tourist and local places.”

GM: “Well, Bourbon Stree’, that a touriss place,” Oscar answers over the sound of Amelie’s luggage rolling along the asphalt. “Ain’ no self-respexin’ musician who play there! I do me a lotta drivin’ ‘roun’ the Quarter, an’ there’s things there worth a stop, don’ get me wrong. It’s the upper bit now, they makin’ it like Disneyland. I got a frien’ in Vegas who say the city goin’ that way too.”

The two stop by a parked black limousine. Oscar sets down Amelie’s luggage, reaches into his pocket and clicks a keyfob, then grins at her. “But that ain’ what you axed me, now is it? Good places, tha’ right?”

Amelie: Images of Old Quebec come to mind as Amelie thinks about how played up everything in the district is, with ‘the most photographed hotel in the world’ at the center. But Oscar knows just what she means, and she can’t help but smile at both that fact, and this limo. Her nicked-up self of a year ago certainly never thought she’d ever sit in one of these, and she still doesn’t feel quite right with it as she opens the back door and tentatively looks inside.

“Your favorites, if anything. To eat, to listen, to shop. I’ll be living here from now on, you know. Got my citizen’s card and everything.”

GM: Oscar laughs as Amelie insists on opening the door herself. “Damn, girl, you gonna drive me outta bidness at this rae!”

The limo’s interior isn’t enormous, but it’s large enough for Amelie to comfortably lie down across the seat if she were so inclined. The usual alcoholic beverages in the minibar also seem to be absent, replaced instead with pop (don’t they call it something else in the U.S.?) and flavored fizzy water. It’s still a year before she’s old enough to legally drink.

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Amelie: It takes a moment for Amelie to realize what Oscar means, especially since she was only looking. It’s always been her first instinct to ride in the front seat, after all.

“Oh… I’m sorry, Oscar. I’m not exactly high class-bred, this is all more than a little new to me. I hope I didn’t offend you.”

The interior is new to her as well. It’s so posh and exactly like she’s seen in movies, though she makes note of the absent alcohol. Not that she was ever planning on drinking, she’s had quite enough of that garbage.

GM: Oscar laughs again. “Ain’ no thing, Miss Savar’. ‘Specially now that we got you ’way from any more doors to open, ain’ tha righ? Here on, you can jus lay back an enjoy the trip. Is’ a long ride. Half an hour, my way up! No wonner your auntie had me come drive you.”

Amelie: Amelie just sighs and nods a tiny bit. Half an hour. “I just had a big trip in a bad plane, I don’t mind a half-hour ride. It’ll give my nerves time to settle.”

It’s a bit nervewracking to finally meet the relative who’s taking her in, even if they did talk over the phone. Amelie can face down a bear with a toothpick but this is a big debt she has to prove is worth her aunt’s time, lest she be stranded here in America all on her own. She doesn’t have a clue if her aunt’s the kind of person who would do that, not really. She makes her way close to the front as she crawls into the limo. Oscar is good company for her nerves.

GM: The chauffeur loads in Amelie’s luggage and gets in on the driver’s side of the limo. “There should be a bag in there, West Beignet’s. Issa a good place for airport food. They don’ make nothin’ but beignets! No, they do jus’ one thing, an’ they do it righ’.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down and around for this bag. Beignets are basically a kind of fritter, but everything from short-rib meat to apple can be stuffed in the center. She’s never had any her… her mother hasn’t made. The excitement drops and she gives up the search almost immediately, instead leaning back to look out the windows. She isn’t supposed to be eating too many treats anyway, but the sore subject lessens her excitement.

“Where exactly does my aunt live, Oscar? Our talks were a little short while I was up north, she’s quite a busy person.”

GM: “She live in the Garden Dis’ric,” Oscar declares as he starts up the long car’s ignition and begins to pull it out of the lot. Amelie sees a white paper bag resting on the limo’s long seat. “Is’ real pretty. Magazine Street is’ a calmer Royal Stree’, thas the closes’ I can put it. Still a few touriss, but yknow, they ain’ all bad. They bring in the money, an’ the ones ousside Bourbon Stree’, maybe there hope for. Your auntie’s the one who lives there, though. She can tell you all ‘bou the Garden Dis’ric.”

Amelie: Garden District. Amelie doesn’t try to strain her jet-lagged head and just assumes it’s one of New Orleans’ more upper-class neighborhoods. Not that it’s hard, much easier images come to mind of squalor and hard times for residents of the other districts.

“I dunno, I’m hard-pressed to have faith in most tourists. But we’ll see how they behave.” Her tone is teasing, of course. “I have a bit of a strange and tricky question for you, then, Oscar. What do you know about the fencing in New Orleans? The city does stand as the American duel capital.”

GM: “Whoa! I don know nothin abou’ fencin, Miss Savar’. There a duelin tree in one of the parks, I guess, the Duelin’ Oak. Where people use to do tha’ in the old days. If there’s any duels goin’ on now, I sho’ ain’ hear of them!”

Amelie: Amelie grins a little bit. The tree is interesting, of course, but that isn’t what she means. But if he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.

“That’s a shame. I’m looking to join a fencing club now that I’m here. I’m a bit of a history buff. That dueling tree is interesting, though… can you remember which park?”

GM: “Lesse, that’d be at City Park. Bigges’ one in the city. Almos’ think you weren’ in a city when you’re there.” Oscar’s teeth flash in the car’s rear view mirror as he grins. “You like your hissory now, do you?”

Amelie: Amelie nods thoughtfully. This dueling tree is a good place to add to her list. Just how many hundreds of insults have been settled under that tree? Rapiers and sabers flashing, flintlocks bellowing out, sixshooters snapping. If trees can tell stories, Amelie wants to hear them.

“I live history. I grew up working with my father in an historic tourist attraction. It’s where I learned my smithing trade.”

GM: “Whoa! You a smith now, like swords an horseshoes? You pick a good city to be a smith, Miss Savar’. This city love her hissory too.” Oscar smiles distantly and taps the steering wheel. “She really do.”

Amelie: “Swords and horseshoes,” she agrees, smiling. She’s prod of what she is, and itchy to get her idea of building a forge here in New Orleans underway.

“I visited here when I was just a little kid… my aunt gave me a history book on Nouvelle Orleans. I fell in love. I’m actually happy to be back.”

GM: “Well, this city knows how to love, yes she do. She’s got a lot t’ love.” Oscar’s smile seems to dim a bit as his eyes return to the road and onrushing night sky. “Lovin’ someone ain’ always easy, Miss Savar’. This city knows that too. She’s a lot to love.”

Amelie: Amelie can only nod, not from experience, but at least from reading. “Lots of good, I’m sure. But lots of bad underneath, I’m even more sure. This writer I really enjoy once wrote, ‘We accept the love we think we deserve.’ Even if thinking that only makes it harder, I guess.”

Oscar seems a little world-weary to her, but it’s none of her business if he doesn’t want it to be. “I plan to take it slow. I do still have school, after all.”

GM: “Oh yeah? Hope you don’ go to one of ‘em, whas’ it they’re called, charter schools. Seems like all schools are charters these days. Them charters are shi’.” Oscar’s eyes seem to return from the road as he grins again. “’Scuse my French.”

Amelie: “Your French is excused.” Amelie can’t help but smile just a tiny bit as she wonders if her tongue will even work here. Anglo and Creole French aren’t interchangeable after all. Charter schools, however, make her hope that at least a good public school is in the cards for her.

“I’m not entirely sure where yet, but hopefully somewhere close. What’s wrong with charter schools?”

GM: “I ain’ a teacher or nothin’, Miss Savar’. Kids an parenss jus’ seem a lot sadder than they use to. They close down the school I wen’ to when I was a lil’ boy, too. Was a good school. Been aroun’ over a hunnerd years.”

Amelie: Oscar seems like he’s perturbed and steering away from the topic. Amelie has a hunch why. She’s coming from foster care and poverty but now in a limo as she goes to live with her wealthy aunt. Maybe it has something to do with there being no alcohol to drink.

“That’s a real shame… old buildings need to be preserved as they are.” She lets that sit for a moment before coming in with a more somber question. “How about a better question. What places in New Orleans should I avoid, Oscar? If I’m living here now, not knowing the laws of beating up muggers, I want to know where isn’t safe.”

GM: “Well, lesse. Central City an’ the Ninth Ward, those the worse’ places f’ a girl like you, I reckon.” Oscar lets out a low sigh. “The Ninth Ward ain’ so bad as they say on TV, an’ use to be nicer too. But the ward jus’ got lef’ to die since Katrina… it still looks like the hurr’cane hit only yesserday, lotta parts.”

“‘Sides those places, well, New Orleans can be a funny city, Miss Savar’. Rough neighborhoods can be righ’ nex by the not-so-rough ones. Can be har’ for a touriss to fin’ they way… Bourbon Stree’ is safe ‘nough, or least has lotta po-lice ’roun it, but Rampar’ an’ Decatur, lot worse can happen than losin’ a wallet.”

“So it really ‘pends where y’at. An’ if you ain’ sure, jus’ axe your auntie, or somebody else who know the place. The Garden Dis’ric is pretty safe, though, if you belong there. Lotta money there.”

Amelie: Amelie makes mental notes as she listens in rapt attention. She’d suspected all of this news, but but now she has names to tack onto a map of avoidance. She has research to do now, as well, about what kind of protection she can carry with her. Every form of self-defense besides your fists is illegal in her country. It’s all great until she hears that very last part.

“Safe if you belong there? What do you mean, Oscar?”

GM: Oscar makes a waving-off motion with his hand. “Oh, don’ worry, you do fo’ sho’ livin’ there with your auntie. Garden Dis’ric’s a safe place f’ you to be.”

Amelie: Oscar waving it off just makes Amelie wonder even more about what he means. She assumes the worst in that maybe the Garden District won’t have many black people. Natives get treated much the same in Canada. Rare is the Metis who isn’t living on the other side of the tracks.

She pushes the thought out of her head and looks up and out the window to do some sightseeing. “Speaking of the Garden District, how much longer? I’d kill for a shower after all this travel.”

GM: Oscar laughs. “While longer. It an hour’s drive, both ways. You jus’ sit back…”


Friday night, 14 August 2015, PM

GM: The sights roll by.

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A long stretch of midnight highway follows the playground. Cars thrum along against the road, their headlights cutting twin spotlights through the dark. The muffled sound of traffic in the big limo is easy to fall asleep to.

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Another park comes up near a Best Buy. Oscars mentions the lights are, “Real pretty roun’ Christmas time. They get this dragon wi’ a Santa hat in the water.”

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After the second park comes another long stretch of I-10. Rows of cloned suburban houses, bereft of any trace of individuality, fly past. And past. They could be anywhere in Canada or the United States from what Amelie can tell, although the trees lining the curbs are tall and venerable-looking.

They turn in at Pontchartrain Expressway, and the houses give way to endless rows of a different sort. Oscar grins again. “Ah, now we close to New Orleans.”

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Amelie: Amelie is less than interested in the parks, they just mean kids after all. An incident involving a helmet rivet and a peckish grabby child left her none too fond of them, though the Christmas lights manage to pull a smile off the girl’s tired face. What really gets her interest, however, is the cultural sculpture. Even in the dark, they’re prolific: stone faces in the ether and figures seemingly frozen in time standing guard over Louisiana’s above-ground cemeteries. They’re stunning.

“This is incredible! Real stone statues, too. Canada is only able to have steel, the winter and snow cracks stone too easily. I’ll have to come back during the day, maybe be a tourist for just a moment, and do a tour or two.”

GM: “Seein’ em from a car window ain’ the same,” Oscar nods. “There lossa cemeteries to go see, you like those. Mos’ famous is St. Lou’s, ‘course, an there thirteen more ’long Canal Street. Metairie here’s one of em. Got the bigges’ tombs an statues of em all. Like that Egyptian peer-mid, which they say there mummies in.” Oscar smiles at that statement.

Amelie: “Mummies in a pyramid, hmm? Well then, I better bring a book of matches in case he breaks out during my tour.” Amelie smiles a bit as she watches the mausoleums go by. “St. Louis’ the most famous. You have any idea which one’s the oldest?” Old cemeteries, of course, are the more important to her. Sometimes there are hints of what kinds of weapons and armor they have locked away, either from tour guides or through hints left on graves. She hopes it’s the case as well with mausoleums.

GM: “St. Lou’s is the oldess,” Oscar laughs. “But you wanna see others, like I say, lot more. Even this one, Metairie, ‘is pretty old. Davi’ Hennessy, the po-leece chief killed by the Mafia way back when, he buried here.”

The chauffeur glances into one of the limo’s side mirrors. “So’s Josie Arlington, Storyville’s riches’ an’ classies’ madame. See tha’ girl statue knockin’ at the door?”

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“She’s a virgin bein’ turned ‘way, cause Josie Arlington wouldn’ let no virgins get deflowered workin’ for her.”

Amelie: That’s good info and now makes near the top of Amelie’s list to become one of her first stops. If only just for the stonework. “You know a lot of history yourself, Oscar! If it paid better, I’d tell you to become a teacher.”

GM: Oscar laughs. “I do more than jus limo drivin, Miss Savar’. I also drive ‘roun carriages in the Quarter. Cussomers like hearin’ hissory, an’ you pick it up.”

Amelie: Amelie can only smile as she pictures Oscar in a big fancy driver’s outfit carting people around on a horse. “I’m surprised a madame is buried here, though. Isn’t New Orleans mostly Catholic?”

GM: His laugh spreads into a wide grin at Amelie’s question. “Amen, she is! So’m I. Go to church e’ry Sunday. Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”

Amelie: The strange news that this madame was a rightly buried Catholic and still facilitated the sin of selling your body in life. It’s a confusing thought, but she doesn’t judge. Instead, she changes the subject again. “Is your carriage ride job a normal history tour? Or one of those late night ghost tours by horse-drawn carriage?”

GM: “Oho, ghos’ tours? I don’ do those, but I know a few folks who do. Or, well, a lotta folks. New Orleans a real spooky city, afta all. There as many spooks as they say, I don know how it got room for the people!”

Amelie: “Probably some old ones, too, I bet. You already talked about that dueling tree. Bet it’s a pretty spook place to be near after dark,” Amelie laughs, siting back again. If only ghosts really do exist. Talking to one sounds more educational than reading a book droning about how those ghosts thought in life.

GM: “All the dark is spooky, Miss Savar’,” Oscar smiles faintly.

The limousine drives on through it. A light rain begins to patter against the windshield, prompting Oscar to turn on the wipers. Shk-shk-shk they go.

Amelie: Amelie has to agree that the dark is something to be wary of, but after growing up playing in the woods she isn’t scared so much as she is respectful. Dark places hide a lot. Then the rain starts to fall. That at least makes things feel even more relaxing in the soft back of the limo.

GM: It isn’t much longer before the cemetery’s stony expanse recedes into grass and foliage.

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“That the Longue Vue Gardens. They don’ have much hissory, used to belong to some rich folks who ‘cided they’d make it a museum. But they sure made it a pretty one. Lotta weddin’s hos’ed there.”

“Now you got me started up playin’ tour guide, you jus gonna have to sit an’ lissen to me all the way,” Oscar teases.

Amelie: Amelie wonders if anything interesting besides architecture is hosted at this museum. “I’m here for the history, I really do appreciate it, Oscar. Do you want one of these fancy waters for your voice?” As much as the young woman likes the sound of it, she isn’t sure if water like this is palatable. Better to test it on the driver.

GM: The driver’s smile seems to fade a bit. “’Scuse me?”

Amelie: Amelie cocks an eyebrow and wonders if he thinks she’s ragging on his voice. “I’ve been making you talk this whole time. You probably have to talk all day during your other job. Do you want one of these waters?”

GM: “No thanks, Miss Savar’. I’m use to talkin,” Oscar answers.

Amelie: Amelie feels a pang of guilt as she gets the impression his opinion of her has lowered. “I’m sorry Oscar, I didn’t mean it like that. I like your voice, it’s calming and classy. I can’t imagine having a job that has me talk so much, and wanted to see if these waters were any good while I was at it. I’m not exactly… socially graceful sometimes. Metal doesn’t really talk.”

GM: Oscar chuckles a bit. “Don’ think nothin by it, Miss Savar’. I won’ be doin’ too much more talkin tonigh anyways. Your auntie’s is comin’ jus up.”

Amelie: Amelie almost sighs in relief when Oscar seems to forgive her. She melts back into the seat and passively watches out the window.

GM: Buildings roll past in the dark. Indistinct houses and their soft lights give way to the brighter ones of convenience stops, low-rise apartment complexes, and office spaces. Rain continues to patter down. The limo eventually reaches a tangled crisscross of looping highways, shadowed to their left by the outline of a looming sports stadium and downtown skyscrapers. On the expressway’s right, the high-rises crumble away into darkness and neglect. Indistinct shapes, perhaps Oscar’s ghosts, flicker and cavort through the ruins.

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Amelie: Things change a little quicker than she’s used to thinking of as kosher for a city, but the effect is nonetheless dazzling. Even in the moonlight, Amelie is gobsmacked at the sheer size of downtown, only to turn and grow a bit somber looking at the neglect on the other side of the freeway as they drive on. It’s just as Oscar has said, this city is a lot to love.

GM: Oscar pulls off the expressway into a classically-styled faubourg with tree-lined thoroughfares. Southern live oaks, weeping willows, palm trees, carefully maintained hedges, and expansive lawns fill the neighborhood with green. Attractive rows of Greek Revival and Colonial-style homes, some small enough to be ordinary homes and others large enough to call mansions, are surrounded by ornate cast-iron fences and classical statues of Greek nymphs and muses, lending the district an aura of grace.

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This late at night, the neighborhood is quiet and its streets largely deserted. Police cruisers and armed patrols with leashed attack dogs patrol the borders, keeping out jealous ghosts.

Amelie: The duality of New Orleans gives way to spit-polished streets and ancient history. Even just what she can see in the headlights and streetlamps confirms a lot of fantasies she has about this old and cultured city. Seeing the police again worries her, but her focus is quickly recaptured by thoughts of which house she’s going to spend the next year in.

“This is beautiful, Oscar… I’ve never seen a neighborhood like this where people are allowed to live in the buildings.”

GM: “Jus’ you see it durin’ the day. Is’ a pretty neighborhood to do nothin but walk ‘roun in. You can do that f’ hours, jus walk aroun’ an’ look at the ol’ houses.”

The house Oscar pulls up at it isn’t as large as some of the district’s true mansions, which are replete with their own sprawling grounds, high walls, and armed guards. Still, a cast-iron fence and barred gate provides what is likely enough privacy for most. Oscar stops the limo, gets out, and punches a string of numbers onto a keypad. The iron gate swings open to a white-washed, neoclassical-style home. Several palm trees sway against the light wind and rain.

Amelie: Amelie is gobsmacked again upon seeing where her aunt lives. None of her chats with her parents indicated how wealthy her aunt is. What does she do for a living to be this successful?

She does things right this time and stays where she is until Oscar opens the door, then gets out to walk under the kindly-offered umbrella. “Thank you for the ride, Oscar, you were really good company.”

GM: “S’ my job an’ pleasure. Din’t eat your beignets, so even more pleasure for me!” the chauffeur laughs.

Oscar makes several trips to carry Amelie’s luggage up the steps to the front door. Oscar rings the bell.

Amelie: Oscar’s last-minute joke lightens Amelie’s mood enough to put a slight smile on her face, but the bell’s ring rips her heart in two. One half rises up into her throat while the other drops like iron into her stomach. Petrifying as it is, she keeps a brave face and reminds herself to breathe. She silently prays she makes a good impression despite her bedhead and ratty clothes.

GM: The person who answers the door is a handsome, 40-something woman who wears her age well. She has long brown hair that falls to her upper back, matching eyes, and faint lines around her mouth that give her face a slightly sad, or at least contemplative expression. She wears a v-neck green sweater, black slacks, and pair of brown loafers.

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“You must be Amelie. My, you’re certainly taller than I remember.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a rush of a lot of different emotions, but she swallows a mighty few. This is awkward and it feels like she’s answering for something she’s done. But as Amelie looks up and scans her aunt’s face, for better or worse, she recognizes a lot of her mother. Strong personality, a fierce intellect, expectant of results, and, yeah—her niece’s jetlagged appearance definitely isn’t winning points.

“Hello, Aunt Christina,” is all she can really manage as she picks up her carry-on and steps into the house’s atrium. Amelie stands tall with her back straight, trying to make a good impression with her proud and correct posture after she sets down her bag. “Sorry for looking so… ratty for our reunion, Auntie. This is not the kind of first impression I was hoping for.” Just like her mother once taught her, no excuses. The young woman straightens her band shirt and dark sweatpants, already having tamed her thick black hair much as she could without washing and combing it.

GM: “Don’t worry about it. It’s not as if you’re headed anywhere besides bed at this hour,” Christina waves off as she leans in to give Amelie a hug. She pulls away after a moment to address the chauffeur. “Oscar, thank you for bringing her.”

“S’ my privilege, ma’am,” he replies as Amelie’s aunt retrieves a purse and counts out some bills for him. He tips his hat to the two after accepting them and calls as he leaves, “Get some beignets someplace else now, hear!”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t expect the hug, but it does a lot for her nerves as she instinctively returns the embrace. “Thank you again, Oscar,” she waves with a fond look as the kind man leaves. She’s suddenly left alone with her aunt again. It’s still awkward, and she wonders if her aunt has questions about where her mother got off to, what her father did to her afterwards, or if the foster system has already given her reports or something.

“It was a little surreal being picked up in a limo. But… thank you. It was a good experience. Oscar told me quite a lot about New Orleans. And I—well, I don’t really know how to fit it into normal conversation, so before I get settled… thank you, Auntie. For taking me in. You didn’t need to, especially when I’m an adult, and I really can’t thank you enough.” There’s a lot more she wants to say, but knows Amelie knows she’s rambling already. She bites her lip, unable to make proper eye contact.

GM: With her eyes staring towards the floor, Amelie can’t make out her aunt’s expression as she hears the woman reply, “You’re welcome. You only have a year of high school left to finish, anyways, and I can’t imagine aging out of the foster system would’ve made that easy on your own. But come on, the living room’s a better place for us to talk. You can leave your bags by the stairs.”

So saying, Christina closes the front doors and leads Amelie down a picture-lined entry hall into a wider room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the palm trees and green yard outside. Several couches and plush leather chairs are positioned around a central (empty) fireplace and mantle. A few low bookshelves, lamps, and vases fill in the remaining blank space. Amelie’s aunt sits down on one of the chairs and motions at a table with a laid-out spread of bread, cheese, salami, grapes, olives, vegetables with dip, and other non-junk snack foods.

“Airline food isn’t much good, so that’s there if you’re still hungry.”

Amelie: Amelie gives her aunt a small nod and does as she’s told, pulling her carry-on to lean against her luggage as she follows along into the living room. When she sees the spread, however, she’s surprised to see her aunt went through that kind of effort! It’s a good sign, at least, and one her empty stomach very much appreciates. She takes a mushroom and piece of meat and cheese, glad to finally get something in her stomach as she carefully sits down in another chair.

“This is wonderful, thank you. I didn’t end up eating any airline food. But… yes, I, um—there’s a lot to talk about, I guess. I have to imagine you have questions about your sister and her husband. And about me, as well.”

GM: Christina gives a slight shake of her head. “Your parents, not so much. But so far as yourself, I imagine you’ll know a better place to start than I will.”

Amelie: It’s a little strange hearing that after spending the better part of a year talking about her parents with a slew of people.

“Oh. Well, in that case I don’t really know where to start? I’m… still obsessive over history, just like when I was little. I still have that book you gave me back when, too. I fence and I smith, and I plan to make a career out that.” Amelie slowly peters out and awkwardly grabs for something else to say about herself. “I speak… English, French, European Spanish, and German.”

GM: “You don’t say on that first language?” her aunt remarks wryly, then smiles. “That’s good you’ve been passionate over something for so long, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It sounds like you have your path in life fairly figured out.”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but give a small smile and fights back a little chuckle. “English isn’t my first language, so I tend to just include it all. But as for my life, it’s a best guess… one I’m planning on achieving.”

She finishes her first little bit of finger food, takes a step forward out of the chair and snags another couple mushrooms, making it clear what her favorite is.

GM: “That’s also good,” Christina nods. “You’ve been an adult for several years now, so I think it’ll be better for us both if I treat you less like a ward and more like a roommate. I’ll be around if there’s anything you need help with, but for the most part, you can focus on finishing high school and making a start on that fencing and smithing career, getting into college, or whatever else you want to do with your life next.”

Amelie: There it is. Amelie has thought a lot about how the ways this could go over, and the current scenario actually measured rather high on her ‘possibilities’ rankings. Her aunt seems just like her mother did, only with her head ripped out of the clouds and her feet firm in her success, even if Amelie misses the warmth her father once was so happy to provide. But for now, it’s business.

“There is actually something I was hoping you could help me with, yes. My mother was… well, you know your own sister. Very strong, very independent, but sacrificing a lot of… social grace, maybe is the word? If I hope to strive here in New Orleans, I was hoping you could help me in those graces.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt reaches for a celery stick. “If that’s something you want to get better at, then I might recommend you start by using more natural-sounding language. Something like ‘I want to fit in’ over ‘I hope to strive.’”

Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and clasps her hands together a bit. She’s nervous, of course, and her heart is still threatening to fall out of her nose and ass at the same time. “I went through today a few too many times in my head, I guess. My parents never really gave me any details about you other than New Orleans and great personal success, so you’ve kind of always been this big intimidating figure for me.”

GM: “‘Great personal success’ is another one of those phrases,” Christina adds, then offers a faint smirk. “But here I am. I won’t bite.”

Amelie: Amelie sighs, her posture falling apart as she rubs the back of her neck with both hands. “I just don’t want to be embarrassing or anything. I was raised around swearing and hard work. I have—look.” She grabs the hem of her pants and pulls it up, revealing an old and oddly-shaped scar.

“All over. A-And I don’t know how to dress, Mom never bothered with cosmetics shit—stuff. Stuff… like that.” Another much deeper sigh slips past and the young woman roughly scratches her head, messing up her thick black hair again. “Les choses doivent aller bien pour baiser une fois.” (“Things need to go well for fucking once.”)

GM: Christina cranes her neck to get a better look at the skin Amelie shows her, but her expression doesn’t change at what she sees.

“Presenting yourself well is like any other skill. Some people might seem as if they have a born knack for it, but it’s really just a matter of learning by example and putting the time in.” She then adds, “And money, I suppose, when it comes to dressing. I have a personal assistant who could show you around there.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses. “You have a personal assistant, on top of Oscar driving people around for you often. What-” But she cuts the rude question short. Here she is talking about wanting to be more socially graceful. “Putting the time in doesn’t sound like a problem to me, then. What do you mean by ‘show me around there’?”

GM: “I mean go shopping with you,” her aunt elaborates. “If you’d rather do it by yourself, that’s fine, though you did just ask for help there.”

Amelie: “Oh! No, no, that would be amazing. Bit of a hand would help in something like that.” Watching her aunt, Amelie knows right away that a shopping trip isn’t really a big blip on her radar, but… “Of course, I’d pay you back. My grades are good, I can tutor while in school, or help you with your work or anything else you need.”

GM: Christina waves her off. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure your parents didn’t ask you to pay for your clothes or food.”

Amelie: Amelie gives a rather coy smile for someone so jet-lagged, then leans in to grab a few more mushrooms and meat slices.

“You don’t get arms like mine from not earning your keep. I don’t want to be a drain on you, Auntie. Though now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m curious again. Do you mind me asking what you do for a living?”

GM: Her aunt smiles faintly. “The thought is touching, though don’t worry yourself there either. You won’t be. And so far as my livelihood, I work in logistics consulting.”

Amelie: Amelie offers a little smile back. Something is up with this. Her aunt’s job has just turned from a comment piece to a mystery, especially with that hint of amusement at the mention of Amelie helping with her work. She might be coming here to live in her aunt’s house and finish high school, but she’s still an adult and hates being told she can’t do something. But she drops the matter and relaxes a little as she pops a mushroom into her mouth and leans back into her chair.

“That sounds like it’s a lot to manage, especially if you have a personal assistant. The offer is always open, though. How about… what else… school. Is the school I’m going to be attending in the area?”

GM: “Perhaps we can talk there after you finish college, if that’s something you want to do. But so far as school, it’s the McGehee School for Girls. Their campus isn’t too many minutes away from here. It’s quite lovely.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile just gets bigger at the mention of college, until the bomb hits. School for girls? She all but freezes mid-fungal bite and almost chokes on the mushroom as she jerks up and finally swallows.

“School for girls? Like a private school?”

GM: “Oh, yes, the city’s public school system is terrible,” her aunt remarks. “It’s one of the worst in the country. The public schools have all been getting turned into for-profit charters since Katrina, which has turned out about as well as you might expect. Not that they were much good even before then. Anyone who can afford it here pays for their children to attend private school.”

“McGehee looks like a good place for you to finish up your senior year. Class sizes are very small, the graduation and college acceptance rates is close to 100%, and some of the teachers hold PhDs. That’s not common in most high schools.”

Amelie: Amelie bites her lip, slumping back into her chair. This is… going to take a lot longer to pay back than a trip to American butt-fucking Apparel. “That’s… I mean, that’s amazing, I didn’t think. I—how much—is there a pamphlet?”

GM: “They have a website,” her aunt nods. “Your tuition is only for two semesters, so it was affordable. You’re also required to visit the campus before getting accepted into the school, but given your living situation, I was able to talk the admissions office into deferring your visit until you were here in the States. You’ll need to go in either tomorrow or the day after. The school week starts this Monday, so between that visit and the weekend, you should have some time to settle in to things.”

Amelie: Amelie tosses another salami slice into her mouth. She feels simultaneously humble and dizzy with the sudden action of it all. Worst of all, she can feel some of that blue-collar sarcasm rising up like bile. “Is the uniform going to get me leered at, or is it not a Catholic school? I’ve never worn a skirt before.”

GM: “It’s not a religiously affiliated school,” Christina confirms. “But I’ve seen girls in the uniforms. They’re fairly modest.”

Amelie: Amelie winces a bit as she realizes she let something crude slip out, then nods. “That’s good. Sorry, I’m just… I never show my legs. I already showed you the scar. That was molten copper for a pommel decoration, and there’s more.”

GM: Her aunt reaches for an olive. “I stopped by the school a fair number of times to arrange things with admissions. The skirts on all of the girls I saw were knee-length. But I’d guess how your legs look is a bigger deal to you than it’s going to be to anyone else.”

Amelie: When a woman has a point. Amelie sighs, nods, rubs her eyes, and leans in to grab some cheese. “You’re right. I’ll have to look it up tonight and see what I’m in for.” She’s almost glad her aunt isn’t picking up on the Catholic schoolgirl kink joke, or at least seems to be ignoring it.

“Um… well… I’ve been asking a lot of questions. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to talk to me about?”

GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “You’re the one who’s moved three thousand miles to be here, so I’d say you have the right to ask a lot of questions. I imagine you still have quite a few others.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a little naked. Her aunt is good. But there’s one more question she has to force out.

“I have a rather… difficult one. My pieces. Back in Quebec. All the things I made, I don’t—my father lost custody but wasn’t jailed, but one of my swords, I have an… attachment to it. Is it still his?”

GM: “When you were a minor, you had the legal capacity to own property. As your legal guardian, your father acted as your fiduciary for purposes of acquiring, investing, reinvesting, exchanging, selling, and otherwise managing that property, but he didn’t legally own it, and ceased to have fiduciary powers when you turned eighteen,” her aunt explains. “So if you want to bring over anything you left at your father’s, that’s fine. You’ll just have to ask him about it.”

Amelie: “I doubt he’ll give it to me. Forged W1 tool steel, short but engraved ricosso, perfectly hand ground fuller, forge beveled and then hollow ground, perfect distal taper, and 5 degree sabering. Grip-slabs hand carved from purpleheart, riveted to the tang. Pommel Cap is hollow-ground. Non-traditional knuckle guard despite the 180 degree mild steel crossguard.” Amelie almost wakes up from a trance talking about her work, then clears her throat. She’s sold too many weapons. “It’s worth a grand a half, easily. If he even still has it, after this many years… I dunno if I’ll be getting it back.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt regards her technical description of the sword with a largely blank look. “Well, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about a sword that may or may not be in someone else’s house three thousand miles away. I’ll reimburse your father for shipping if you can convince him to send it over, but if you can’t, filing legal action against someone in another country is an absurd hassle.”

Amelie: Amelie flushes a little at the blank look. She adjusts in her seat and nods. “I wasn’t really considering suing him over a kriegmesser. I’ll give him a call next week, I just wanted to see if I had any rights to it. Sorry, I’ve been making these damn things long enough the technicals are nearly lullabies.” She shifts in her seat to look around the house, and feels small again as soon as she regards its size. “Would it be okay if I packed up some of this food and went to see my room?”

GM: “Feel free. It’s the former guest room on the second floor.” Christina rises from her seat and picks up the platter. “That’s too bad you forgot about the sword. It sounds like it was important to you.”

Amelie: Amelie stands up quickly, but there’s a frown on her face the moment the sword gets mentioned again. “They didn’t let me take it. No deadly weapons allowed in foster care, couldn’t afford a big enough deposit box, and my mother is… probably in Rio with some mouth breather, and I ran out of time before I could think anything else up.” The young woman shakes out her legs and stretches tall. “Thank you, though… it is important, as stupid as it sounds. Can I take that to the kitchen for you?”

GM: “Language,” her aunt says mildly as she passes over the plate. “I’m sorry to hear you weren’t allowed to keep it then. And sure. Put some saran wrap over whatever you don’t take upstairs. There’s also more food in the fridge if you’re still hungry.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles a tiny bit. “If that’s bad language in New Orleans, Canada would give the locals a heart attack.” It’s a tease of course as she takes the platter and thanks her aunt, then turns and heads towards where she assumes the kitchen is. She resolves to explore if she’s wrong.

GM: “It’s not what’s said, but when and where,” Christina retorts with a trace of wryness. “Anyways, sleep well. Feel free to explore, or I can give you a tour tomorrow. And welcome to New Orleans.” With that, Amelie’s aunt bids her good night and heads upstairs.

The kitchen has a dark brown hardwood floor and white cupboards and cabinets. An island with a black granite countertop and bowl of fruit sits in the center of the room, surrounded by several identically-colored chairs. Amelie finds saran wrap after rummaging through a few drawers. A random scan of the clear metal refrigerator’s interior reveals leafy green vegetables, more fruits, yogurt, almond milk, takeout boxes, a few precooked meals in glass dishes, and various other food items she might expect to find from an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods.

Amelie: Amelie waves and wishes her aunt a good night. Once it’s quiet, she stops to take inventory on what happened today. Oscar, the trip, Aunt Christina, and how hard she is to read. Maybe being a cool person is just how she works, or maybe she just has a tough shell? Amelie doesn’t know.

She goes about wrapping up what she doesn’t intend to eat and puts the rest on a plate. She washes and dries the big tray and puts it away before she turns to leave. She starts with her plate of food and carry-on bag, hauling them up and into the guest room once she finds it. The day starts to wear on her now that it’s almost over. She hopes to see an attached or at least nearby bathroom.

GM: Amelie finds that her new bedroom on the second floor contains a double-sized bed and two adjacent bedside tables with lamps on them. There’s a desk, dresser, and picture of a ship sailing by a forested coast. She also has an attached bathroom.

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A window overlooks the house’s lawn and cast-iron fence. Amelie can make out near and distant lights from the Garden District’s other fine homes, nestled among the greenery like the cicadas are silent for now. In their place, raindrops steadily plunk against the roof.

Amelie: It’s a lot more than she’s used too, and as Amelie looks around the room she can’t help but visualize what she had before. Her mattress on the floor and the loft walls a pyramid over her head, covered in every inch with posters and magazine cut-outs of everything from beautiful faces to large charts detailing the reactivity of carbon housed in common iron when introduced to borax solution. Now there’s this… big window looking out like an eye over a nice yard.

As much as she misses the familiarity, she knows things can be different here. She already has more than she did in that ratty apartment after Mom vanished. She drops her carry-on onto the bed, puts her food back down, and grabs her luggage back from downstairs. She yanks it onto the bed, then lays out some sleeping clothes before tossing her disgusting life-of-their-own travel clothes into the corner and hopping into the bathroom with her toiletries kit. She thanks whatever gods are listening that she doesn’t have to make good on her promise of stabbing someone for a wash.

It’s a long one, and she hopes her aunt doesn’t need the hot water anytime soon as she scrubs the last 24 hours out of her bones. It’s an odd feeling to walk out of the shower and not immediately regret it. There’s no cold chill or freezing tiles, yet there’s still windows in the room. It’s fucking magic. Amelie is in a shirt and boxers just a moment later, checking the time on her laptop as she unpacks and eats. Maybe there’s enough time to make that call. A day can only get so stressful before it watersheds.

Amelie walks back down to the first floor. Her only option without a cellphone is the house’s landline. She’s brought a pad of paper and a pen for her to write details down on, but the ache in her gut tells her it’s not going to make keeping her emotions down any easier. But calling her father serves a lot more purposes. She’s not spoken to him since she was first put into foster care, and who knows how her absence affected him. But she dials the number, clears her throat and hopes he answers. Her hand remains ready to write.

GM: The phone rings and rings. Amelie is almost convinced that no one is going to pick up before a man’s voice grogs, “Hello?”

Amelie: Amelie is just about to hang up before she gets that familiar grogging answer. It’s hard not to just hang up.

“Salut, Père. Est-ce que je t’ai réveillé?”

(“Hello, Dad. Did I wake you up?”)

GM: “What d’you want?” he grunts in English.

Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes. Of course this is the reaction she’ll get. Fucking drunk.

“I’m settled in New Orleans. I wanted to know If I pay shipment, will you drop off my Kriegsmesser at a post office? You know, the one I spent 200 hours on?”

GM: “Wha?” the voice over the phone mumbles.

Amelie: “Dad, this is Amelie. Your daughter? The one you haven’t talked to in ages?”

GM: “Th’ hell are you talking abou’, Krigsmess? It’s not Christmas.”

Amelie: “The sword, Dad. The big one, in my old room. Wake up, go splash water on your face.”

GM: “I threw out your stuff. Don’ call again.” The line hangs up.

Amelie: Amelie just about slams the phone on the floor before she hangs it up. She looks back down at her writing notes and nearly tears the paper with the ballpoint before slamming it down on the counter and leaving it there by the phone. She stalks away back upstairs. Every fiber of her being screams that he must be lying, but she knows her father well enough. Her masterpiece is gone.

She throws herself into bed instead of fuming about it any longer. This isn’t the first time she’s had to force herself to sleep, but it is the first time she’s had to do so in another house than that drunk bastard’s. Tomorrow will be better.

It has to be.


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Story One, Amelie II

“It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”
Christina Roberts


Saturday morning, 15 August 2015

GM: For better or for worse, tomorrow eventually comes. Amelie dreams of flickering ghosts, purloined blades, and sinners interred in ornate mausoleums with full funerary honors. After she showers and brushes her teeth, she finds her aunt in the kitchen downstairs. Christina is seated by the island and eating a plate of eggs and toast.

“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

Amelie: Now that Amelie’s hair is brushed into a much more deliberate style, mostly to one side and mostly controlled, she certainly looks a lot better than she did last night.

“Good morning. I slept good, the bed was almost too soft, I thought it was going to swallow me. How about you, Auntie?” Amelie simply sits with her aunt, wiping blear out her eyes and blinking out the last of those flickering ghosts.

GM: “I slept well, thank you for asking. There’s more eggs still in the pan.” Amelie also finds bread by the toaster. Once she gathers up food and sits back down, Christina adds, “I’m going to be out of the house for most of today. If you want to go anywhere, like your visit to McGehee, feel free to take the other car around.”

Amelie: Food sounds good. When she sits back down and hears her aunt’s next statement, however, she can only chuckle. “That’s an amazing offer. But I can’t drive. Having a walk around the Garden District will be nice.”

GM: Her aunt frowns briefly. “Hm, I suppose we can sign you up for driver’s ed classes at school, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’d be interested, for sure. Now that I’m allowed to take them, I’d be happy to.” She pauses for a second, clears her throat, and starts just poking her eggs. “I called my father last night, about my things. It didn’t end well.”

GM: “I’m sorry to hear that. It’s easier for people who’ve let you down to continue the pattern than to break it.”

Amelie: “That’s true. He just threw it out as well, that’s the part that made me so upset.” She sighs and almost angrily pops more egg into her mouth. “I’ll have to make another. Anyway. You’re going to be out today. I’ll keep myself busy, take that walk, unless you wanted me to stay in? I don’t know if you had a key made for me or anything.”

GM: “Rebuilding and moving on is often all we can do,” her aunt nods between a sip of coffee. “So far as today, I’ll leave you fare for the streetcar and other expenses. If you still want to go shopping, today or later, I can see when my assistant is available to also drive you around. And yes, I did have another key made.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment and just kind of laughs at herself. This is all so different from what she’s used too, and in more ways than just wiping up bad free-sample microbrewery beer vomit. It’s almost surreal. “I think I’d like to get as much done as I can before school on Monday. Today would be great. But won’t you need your assistant for your work?”

GM: Her aunt takes a bite of toast. “No, not today. It’s the weekend.”

Amelie: “I’ll be sure to return her in good condition then. I’ll do the dishes here, too.” Amelie stands up again, her plate already empty, and goes to wash it. “Would it scare your assistant if I brought her in to see a gunsmith?” It’s not a tease, but her tone is joking.

GM: “That’s thoughtful of you. And she has a fairly level head,” Christina counters with an equally faint touch of amusement.

Amelie: “Oh, I’ve got no interest in the guns. I wanna see how much Louisiana sells their acetylene and permits for, and see if I can’t make some friends. I have a year to set the groundwork for a business.”

GM: “I haven’t a clue there, but I’m sure the internet could tell you.” Her aunt then remarks approvingly, “Good for you though wanting to make some contacts. They’re the lifeblood of any successful business.”

Amelie: “The internet is great. But I don’t have a cellphone anymore. But I’m glad you think so. I need to get in touch with the Mardi Grass costume shops and float artists, performance theaters, and as many old Civil War fanatics as I can. Restoration is good business.”

GM: “You’re sure you didn’t actually come over as a Syrian war refugee?” Christina remarks wryly, shooting off a text on her Solaris. “All right, she can take you out to buy a cellphone as well. You can get by without knowing how to drive, but there’s really no excuse not to have a phone in today’s day and age.”

Amelie: Amelie chuckles, shaking her head. “I had a phone. You just don’t have Telus here in the states. They made me give back the phone when I ended the contract early. As for driving, I can just get rollerskates.”

GM: Her aunt looks as if the concept of ‘giving back’ a phone is foreign to her. “Hmm, that’s not a very equitable deal. We’ll make sure to get you a phone that you actually own.” The mention of rollerskates only elicits a dry look before Christina puts her plate in the sink, rinses it, and remarks, “All right, I’m taking off. My assistant should be here in an hour or so. The extra key is on the dinner table, along with the gate code. Enjoy your day.”

Amelie: Amelie just grins back at her aunt about the rollerblades comment, but decides against stepping in to wash her plate. She instead wishes her a good day and waves goodbye. She then cleans out the pans used to cook breakfast, puts everything away, and goes back up to her room for a moment. It’s going to be an interesting day. Once the hour is up, she’s sitting down at the dining room table, dressed in faded jeans and a white tee shirt almost stereotypically topped with a thin plaid button-up. They’re honestly the best clothes she owns, with no holes and no soot.

GM: The doorbell rings. Amelie answers it and meets a fair-skinned, long-legged and attractive woman with shoulder-length auburn hair who looks in maybe her mid-20s. She’s dressed for the 80-degree-plus weather in a blue and white sundress, closed-toe sandals, and a purse slung over her shoulder.

Kristina1.jpg “Hi! I’m Kristina Winters. You must be Amelie,” she smiles, offering a little wave.

Amelie: New Orleans is off to a good start on the “make you feel manish” side of things so far.

“Amelie Savard. Nice to meet you, Ms. Winters.” Christina Roberts hiring a Kristina Winters, there’s enough joke material there to choke on.

“You look good! I can see I’ll be in good hands as far as advice on appearances. Should we get going, or did you want to sit inside awhile?”

GM: Her aunt’s PA laughs. “You can just call me Kristina. But thanks! Pretty hard to buy any clothes from inside here though, unless you want to do it online.”

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and steps outside, closing and locking the door behind her with the new key.

“More meant to get some water or something, but point taken. Let’s head out, I promise not to take up too much time.”

GM: “Don’t worry about it, your aunt doesn’t need me today.” Kristina heads walks down the house’s steps and over to a silver Prius. Kristina punches some buttons on the keypad to close the house’s gate, gets in on the car’s driver’s side, and takes off once the two have fastened their seatbelts. Tall and proud Southern live oaks interspersed with rows of Colonial-, Victorian, and Greek Revival-style old homes drift past.

“There any particular places you’d like to head, or do you wanna leave that in my hands?”

Amelie: Amelie gets in on the passenger side, looks out the window and enjoys the scenery passing by. It’s still barely real. This part of New Orleans is just so beautiful, and there are so many houses she’s tempted to walk into when the owners are gone just to look around. But memories of the canines and officers patrolling so close act as a good deterrent.

“I dunno if my aunt told you, but I do have one very odd stop to make last. I need to go to a privately owned gun store, to speak with the owners. Plus I need a cellphone. But after that? It’s in your hands completely.”

GM: “Yep, gun store it is,” Kristina nods as the car passes by a garden whose stone fountain is festooned with capering nymphs and dolphins. “There any particular stop you want to make first?”

Amelie: Amelie looks over and cocks an eyebrow at the woman, wondering if her aunt is just that thorough or if Kristina has heard stranger things out of the blue. The scenery is quite a distraction from the question, though, and the teen takes a moment to fawn over the stonework before collecting herself.

“Cellphone has my vote, networking is easier with one I’d imagine. No questions about the gun shop though? Does my aunt send you to look at weapons often?”

GM: “This would be my first time,” Amelie’s driver answers with an amused smile. “If that’s what you wanna do, that’s what you wanna do.”

Amelie: That reply just makes Amelie even more curious, and she can’t help but laugh a little. So tight-lipped.

“If it makes you feel better, it’s for business. I’m not interested in guns. For now, I’ll leave it in your capable hands where to go for this cellphone, and the clothes after.”

GM: “All right! There’s a place not too far off on Magazine Street. We can probably do most of your clothes shopping there too.”

Amelie: “That sounds good to me. Dunno how long we’ll be out though, I don’t need a lot, unless my aunt is planning on taking me to corporate parties or something. In that case, god help us finding a dress.”

GM: “Nah, she’s not much one for those. But okay, Magazine Street it is.”

Amelie: It’s almost a relief to hear her aunt isn’t one for attending every soiree in New Orleans. Amelie doesn’t really know how much she can get away with wearing men’s formal wear before someone shoves her in a dress that shows too much scarring. Though she has to wonder, would showing all that off maybe help her case? No one wants a swordsmith who can’t swing a hammer.

GM: Kristina drives a few minutes, and the greenery-interspersed rows of old houses give way to a stretch of antique shops, art galleries, craft shops, boutiques, coffee houses, and restaurants. Kristina mentions that the street was originally named for a “magazin,” a warehouse that was built in the late 1700s to house products awaiting export. Today, Magazine Street features as historic a range of architecture as the rest of the Garden District, from the large columned Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century to colorful Victorian cottages trimmed in gingerbread millwork.

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Amelie: Amelie’s internal struggle comes to an abrupt end when they reach Magazine Street, and she listens attentively to Kristina’s story as she scans each craft and antique store for her interests. “Almost nothing in New Orleans feels real so far. Quebec City is over 100 years older, but it feels nothing like this. So much culture in every piece of… everything. Could we stop in a few of these antique stores later?”

GM: Kristina nods as she parks the car outside a store with “myPhoneMD” marked over the door with a red and white medical cross. “Sure! You never know what items those places are gonna have.”

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Compared to the old houses and storied streets the two have passed, MyPhoneMD’s interior feels like it could be anywhere in the United States (or Canada). Kristina says hello to the staff and helps Amelie shop around for a smartphone of her choice. Her aunt’s assistant, personally, is an Apple user.

Amelie: It’s a bit of normalcy at last as Amelie enters the store and starts looking around for what she had before the move. Samsung Note, the bigger kind with the tap pens, and just as akin to a phone and the pocket PDAs of older times. For someone who spent most of her days with hands covered in iron shavings and soot, that kind of phone was a match made in heaven. Once Amelie makes her selection, she saunters back up to Kristina.

“Cheaper than the cutting edge, but function over form though, right? Least I’ll never lose it, le gros baiseur.”

GM: “Oh, your aunt says it’s okay if you want something more expensive,” her driver for the day assures, then frowns a little. “I think I read an article about those exploding in peoples’ pockets…”

Amelie: “That so? Hmm. I’ll take the risk, I like these things. If I get a new scar, I get a new scar, and I can even take part in a grand American rite of passage. Lawsuits.”

GM: “You picked the right aunt to have for that too, she’s got a law degree,” Kristina remarks as she hands over a credit card to the sales associate.

Amelie: “I wonder why she isn’t a lawyer anymore. I asked about her job and it seems she enjoys it well enough, but I gotta wonder.” Amelie thinks it’s a bit of a strange move for her aunt to give her credit card to her assistant, but she steps up to the counter to set up a cellphone plan. She needs a phone number before she leaves this place.

GM: Kristina tucks the card back in her wallet after the sales associate swipes it. “I don’t think being a lawyer was for her. It’s a lot of stress and long hours. Plus, you’d be surprised how many careers a law degree can be used for. Accountants, auditors, bankers, politicians, stockbrokers… I’ve even heard of talent agents and screenwriters who got their starts in law school.”

Amelie: “Laywer in New Orleans, I can see where the stress would come from. Oh well, I’ll have to ask her in person instead of gossiping with her assistant.” There’s something up about her aunt’s work. Even if it’s rude, it’s too tempting not to pry. Slowly.

Amelie is faster, however, in setting up her service, and she has a phone number again in just a few minutes. She also gets a case to protect the thing before they’re done. It’s the first piece of equipment to start towards her end goal, one she’ll set up later. “Next. This part I’ll definitely defer to your judgment more than not.” She grins, motioning with her own phone to Kristina’s Solaris.

GM: Kristina smiles back as the pair exit the store. “Let’s waste no time then. Fleurty Girl’s just up ahead…”

Amelie: Amelie asks if they can stop early when another store catches her eye. She stands at the entrance for a moment, feeling as though she’s getting punked. ‘40s and ’50s styles, ’Betty’ fashion, horribly impractical hats, and over to one quarter of the store? Lingerie. Lovely. As out of her element as the young woman is, she resolves to keep an open mind about all this, clearing her throat as she strides back after Kristina.

“So these are the clothes you wear when you don’t have to worry about freezing to death. Do you go clothes shopping here often?” Amelie motions to the assistants dress.

GM: Trashy Diva looks largely the same as Magazine Street’s other stores from the outside: dark green doors and two swimsuit-clad mannequins in the windows. The interior has a checker-tile floor, further mannequins clad in the knee-length dresses that were ubiquitous in the ’40s, and the usual racks of clothes alongside a jewelry counter.

Kristina shakes her head at Amelie’s query. “I’m not into the whole retro-chic look myself. But it’s got a classy feel.”

Amelie: If anything, the clothes match the architecture. Amelie looks up at the cheap copper chandelier in the middle of much more modern LED lights. Classics ham-fisted back into fashion using modern techniques and styles.

“Classy is good. Just nothing that shows off my back, okay? Nasty scars from before I was Nouvelle Orleans levels of fancy. You mind if I ask you some questions while we look around?”

GM: Kristina smiles at the sales associate as she comes over and tells the woman that they’re just “browsing around.” She nods at Amelie’s next query as the two walk down the racks of clothes. “Nope, ask away.”

Amelie: Amelie barely knows the woman, but the questions have got to be asked. She pulls a black sleeveless top that is pre-tied up daisy duke style a few inches above the belly button, sighs and turns, holding it up to her chest for appraisal from the more fashion-savvy woman.

“What exactly does my aunt do for a living? I’ve never seen anyone self employed with a personal assistant before.”

GM: “Hmm, that says more country girl or party girl to me,” Kristina remarks of the stomach-revealing cut. “If you’re going for a ‘40s look, it’s pretty much all dresses.”

“So far as your aunt, she works in the consulting business. She helps manage money, make introductions between clients and entrepreneurs, navigate legal issues—the law degree helps there—help with networking, that kinda stuff. She does a lot of things for a lot of people. She’s pretty well-connected and has a good sense for knowing what they want.”

Amelie: Expected reactions for Amelie on all fronts but the shirt. She looks down and sighs as she puts it back on the rack and heads for said dresses, panning them from afar as she continues probing.

“She’s well-connected but doesn’t go to social gatherings so much, might mean people come to her. That last part though, that’s something to chew on. Sorry for prying, I’ve a habit of being wary about the people I live with. Makes my life easier sometimes. How about this one?”

Amelie pulls a black dress off the rack, a short-sleeved button-up shirt on the top, the cleavage cutting straight down in a rectangle window, with a belt at the waistline separating into the actual skirt of the dress. “I don’t know. Just how many men might be intimidated if I show off biceps? But going to an all girls school putting out a butch vibe screams, ‘but I’m a cheerleader’.” She hopes Kristina gets the 1999 movie reference.

GM: “It’s corporate parties she isn’t big on, but I’d say she’s pretty social. If you’re nervous, anyways, you might try just talking to your aunt. She’s a pretty cool lady, and being up front about things can’t hurt.”

Amelie: “So far she’s been scarily like my mother. Just more like she’s the smarter sibling. But she’s been really cool so far, yeah. I don’t know many people who’d take in their niece they’ve almost never seen. But still, old habits, eh?”

Amelie doesn’t exactly trust the whole straightforward approach. What could she say? I don’t think your job is what you said it was. Why aren’t I good enough to help? Right.

GM: “Anyways,” Kristina remarks as turns the dress over, “that’s got a more a ‘40s vibe. You’d probably be wearing it outside of school. Your aunt said you’re going to McGehee, but even most of the public schools here have uniforms.”

Amelie: “I’m guessing it’s to avoid gang colors or something? I like this one. I’m going to try it on. Nothing else really catches my eye. How about yours?”

GM: “I’m more modern-chic than retro-chic, like I said. Knock yourself out though, the changing room looks like it’s over there.” Kristina nods in its direction.

Amelie: “Let’s go to a place more your speed after this, then.” It’s a moment in the changing room before she emerges. The dress fits well on her, matching her athletic body type. Her arms and legs pocked with strangely shaped scars, more than a few looking like they’ve originated from something like branding irons.

“Dresses may not be my speed after all. Unless I’m going for the ‘my first house was a toaster oven’ look.”

GM: Kristina cocks her head in appraisal. “I’d say it suits your figure. How much skin you wanna show off’s a personal call, though.”

Amelie: Amelie smooths it out and appraises the feel on her. It’s good. Something nice to make a good impression on someone later down the line. Without another word she vanishes into the changing room and comes back out in jeans and flannel, looking a little more comfortable, the dress draped over her arm.

“Let’s grab this and go to a more modern place. How about you though, Kristina? What brought you to work for my aunt? From what she says you have a level head on your shoulders.”

GM: Kristina buys the dress at the counter, exchanges pleasantries with the sales associate, and carries off the shopping bag as the pair exit the store.

“Well, I grew up in New Orleans and earned a marketing degree in Dallas, but I couldn’t find much work except as a waitress. Employers all wanted experience and all I had was a ton of student debt. I came back to the city and sort of fell in with your aunt. Couldn’t have happened at a better time, as I’d just moved back in with my mom.” She gives a short laugh that’s not quite humorful or humorless. “I guess that’s our generation’s story in a nutshell.”

Amelie: “Seems like she attracts people who feel lucky to be around her. How long ago was it you started working with her?” Amelie leaves the store with her aunt’s assistant and puts her hands on her hips, looking up and down the street. “Next place. I want to get the clothes out the way so I can visit one of these antiques places. See if I can’t find anything actually worth being impressed about.”

GM: “Long enough to have moved out of my mom’s,” Kristina answers with a faint smirk as the pair make the way back to her car. She unlocks the door and sticks the bag in. “About four years though, give or take.”

Amelie: Getting answers out of people like this makes Amelie feel like a mix of the blonde from Mean Girls and a shitty daytime soap detective: rude and ultimately ineffective. But at least it’s starting to feel like a bit more of a conversation. The teen smiles and puts her focus back on Kristina.

“Good chunk of time! I’ll try not to make your job any more difficult. I offered to help already, but… well, her mouth said ‘no thanks’ and her eyes said ‘you couldn’t.’ I have to imagine it’s difficult.”

GM: “I wouldn’t take that too harshly, you just need a degree. Most any good job needs one these days. You know the quip about every barista having a bachelor’s…”

Amelie: “I meant mostly just help organizing. But I can see what you mean. Though I don’t think I’ll be attending a, uh… oh geez, is it called college or university in the states?”

GM: “Both, though if you wanted to earn a bachelor’s, you’d be going to college—that’s a school where you earn an undergrad degree. A university’s a group of schools that offer postgrad degrees, plus at least one college for undergrads. That’s why community colleges aren’t ever called universities, because they only offer AAs.”

Amelie: “Ahhh. Same names with different functions, then. That’s not confusing at all. Colleges in Canada offer mostly vocational training while universities offer more academic studies. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be attending. It’s not part of the career I’m setting up for myself, which is one of the reasons I asked for the gun shop stop. Maybe I’ll change my mind after going to this private school. But so far? I see no harm in making sharp things for the good people of NOLA.”

GM: By this time the pair have since gotten back into Kristina’s silver Prius. Magazine Street’s art galleries, coffee houses, and brunch-eating cafe patrons roll by in the window.

“Oh that’s neat, you want to be a gunsmith after you finish high school?”

Amelie: Amelie watches the buildings change intently, more interested in their make than their contents as she listens to Kristina. That question, though, makes her wonder. “Does my aunt not talk very personally with people? She’s never talked about her sister, my mother?”

GM: Kristina doesn’t break stride as Amelie seemingly jumps between topics. “I’d say I know her pretty well for a boss, but no, she hasn’t talked about her family much.”

Amelie: Thankfully, it’s only a short planned branching off. “I don’t think we have much in the way of it. My mother is—maybe was—a champion epee fencer and artisan, and my father was a master blacksmith in a reenactment village. I want to do both the fencing and the smithing.”

GM: “A chip off both the old blocks then, eh?”

Amelie: “Excuse me? Eh is ‘our’ word,” Amelie jokes, trying to deflect from her parents now. “New Orleans has a lot of history. I should have trouble setting up my own deal here.”

GM: “I cry the forgiveness of your maple gods,” Kristina smirks before continuing, “History might be on your side there. Immigrants in cities like New York pretty much kept to themselves and got famous for their ethnic neighborhoods, but you won’t find any Chinatown or Little Italy in New Orleans. The city just mushed everything together into one big pot of gumbo. So hey, maybe you’ll have a few ingredients to add.”

Amelie: “This place is ancient. I’m sure I’ll find people who want a piece of history for their very own. I know the history, and I have the hands that can re-create and restore it. I like that thought.”

GM: “So you wanna make guns and swords, then? The city used to have a pretty colorful dueling culture from what I know.”

Amelie: “I don’t know about guns. I’d have to look into the permits for that. Plus I just don’t like them. Armor and jewelry too, though. Oscar, the limo driver, he told me about a dueling tree here in New Orleans still standing. It’s an incredibly romantic moment.”

GM: “I guess they could be, two duelists taking to the field over some slight against a fair lady’s honor.” Kristina smiles at the description, as if she’d enjoy the prospect of two men fighting a duel over hers.

Amelie: “I fell in love with the opposite. Dueling meant all that mattered was skill, so a woman could take her own sword and her own pistol. Take her own power, name, and fame. I’m sure history is hiding plenty of women who dueled over a man they both liked.”

GM: “Could be,” Kristina nods. “You said you like making jewelry too? Is there a lot of overlap between that and swords?”

Amelie: “Very much so! Swords are just their blades basically… you sharped a piece of W10 or toolsteel you’ve forged and tempered and that’s your sword. The rest is jewelry, the hand carving of wood, the wrapping of leather, the acid engraving of metal, even the jewel inlays in some. Actual jewelry though, rings need to be forged correctly so they don’t constrict in the cold and kill fingers. Every precious metal has so many rules to follow. Chains are quick, but braided chains are beautiful and so hard to make, three hours, tweezers, and magnification goggles just to make five inches of it. I… sorry, these things get away from me easily.”

Amelie clears her throat and crosses her leg looking out the window. “I would have something to show you, but I lost my collection.”

GM: Kristina takes in Amelie’s description of the technical processes with some interest before remarking, “Oh no, I’m sorry! Hopefully you’ll get to make a new one. You sure sound like you know your way around a forge. I never knew you had to forge rings not to constrict in the cold.”

Amelie: “If I didn’t, I dunno what I’d do with myself. Don’t worry, I’ll make you something nice. How about you, did you always want to go into business?”

GM: “I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, but that didn’t look like it’d really pan out. Marketing’s close enough and pays a lot better.”

Amelie: “I wouldn’t have thought those would be connected at all, but then again I don’t have writing experience. Do you keep up with it? Or does my aunt keep you too busy?”

GM: “I’m more of a reader these days than a writer. People go on a lot about how you should follow the passions you had as a kid… but some things you just end up moving on from,” Kristina answers with a shrug.

Amelie: Amelie sits quietly, thinking on it for a moment. Of course she has backup plans.

“That’s smart. I’ll have to think on that. If anything, it’d look good on a resume to be a, uh… museum curator or something, if I can make and use the things I’m taking care of or studying.”

GM: “My guess is you’d need a degree to work at a museum, but I’m no expert. Weapons experience is definitely an interesting resume item to talk about.”

Amelie: “It’ll require a degree for sure. I don’t see myself having issues with that, though. Of course ‘Plan B’ is ‘Plan B’, I’d rather work with my hands.”

GM: Kristina opens her mouth, then glances up. The subject of her gaze is nestled between a furniture store and a locksmith. Indistinct figurines and metallic shapes peer through dark windows. A wooden sign over the front door bears a single word with no other name:

ANTIQUES

“That the sort of place you were looking for?” her aunt’s assistant asks.

Amelie: Amelie sees it, leaning into the window to get a better look as she nods. Much as she tries to hide it, she looks like a child about to take a trip into a toy store. “That’s exactly it. Can we drop in for a bit?”

GM: Kristina laughs as she parks the car. “Sure. Antiques aren’t so much my thing, so how about you text me when you’re ready to be picked up?”

Amelie: Amelie’s face flushes when Kristina laughs, realizing she may have shown her excitement a bit too much. But she takes out her phone in any case and exchanges numbers with the savvy woman. “I’ll text you. I might wander a little, but I won’t stray more than a block.”

GM: “Sounds good. Oh, in case there’s anything you wanna get.” Kristina digs through her purse and hands Amelie a blue Bank of Columbia credit card.

Amelie: Amelie awkwardly takes the card, looking at the older woman as though she’s just handed a over a severed head. It’s too generous on top of what he aunt is already doing for her. “I’ll… keep it for emergencies, I guess? Oof.”

GM: Kristina laughs again at Amelie’s flustered response. “Well, I’m gonna ask for it back when we’re done here, but your aunt is paying me back for everything we buy. Heck, I get to rack up more cash back and rewards points this way, so I’m actually making a little money here.”

The amusement on her face fades though as she adds, “But seriously, she said to treat you like an adult. Something about that being ‘the best way to get you used to being one.’ So if there’s anything you wanna get, go ahead and buy it. The card isn’t gonna bite.”

Amelie: Amelie stops and takes in what Kristina says. She looks down at where she’s stored the card and thinks. After taking care of her father for so long, she’s thought it fair on occasion to think she’s already very adult-like. Clearly her aunt sees room for improvement, which is both an encouraging and disheartening thought.

“If I see anything I like, I’ll get it. Maybe try to find something I can refurbish and resell!” she assures the woman, looking much more confident.

GM: “Awesome! Pick you up when you’re done.” Kristina shuts the car door and drives off. The dingy-looking shop awaits Amelie.

Amelie: Finally exiting the car, she hurriedly tucks the card into a pocket and waves goodbye. She heads into the shop as the eager historian in her flares back up.

GM: A sales bell lightly chimes as Amelie pushes open the door. The smell of dust, aged books, and old wood and fills her nostrils. The building’s interior has no windows besides the two by the front door, and the store’s cluttered inventory blots out much of the sunlight like a bayou’s hungry plant life.

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Confederate flags. Furniture. Dishes. Typewriters. Cowboy boots. Glasses. An Indian peace pipe. Owl figurines. Books. Jewelry. Silverware. Rosaries. A saxophone. Voodoo dolls. Globes. Sailboats. Portraits. Saints helmets. “Mammy and chef” negro salt shakers. Harmonicas. A bird cage. Domino masks. A Mardi Gras Indian feathered costume. Phonograph records. A riverboat captain’s hat. Paintings. A whip. Taxidermies. A sword. Silver coins. Postage stamps. The dim shop is stacked from floor to ceiling with junk collected from the attics of a dozen eccentric uncles.

Amelie: Amelie understands the reasoning behind the darkness the moment she smells nirvana coming from old paper and wood. Maybe the owners want to avoid fading in the sunlight. Despite the darkness, she doesn’t hesitate before stepping in to browse, then delves into the stacks and looks everything over. Some of it is foreign to her, from the flags and whip to the peace pipe and feathered outfit. It’s a marvel to the young woman that there are Natives this far south. There’s a lot she wants to look over, but the moment the glint of steel from the sword pops into her vision, she lets herself be predictable and makes a beeline for it. She almost hopes no store worker intercepts her before she gets a good look.

GM: The subject of Amelie’s attention is typical of the “Walloon” style that was popular in the mid to late 17th century among military and civilian users alike. Two large side-rings are filled with a plate featuring pierced stars and circles, while a knucklebow with an expanded central section is screwed to the ovoid pommel. The large scrolled crossguard is stamped on either side with faded portraits of men wearing large wigs. The grip is engraved with floral motifs and fleurs-de-lis which Amelie has seen in various places throughout New Orleans and her home alike. The double-edged blade looks a little over 30 inches long with a single 7" fuller.

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The sword itself is dark and covered in heavy dents and pitting. Amelie cannot make out even a ghost of her reflection, though that might also be due to the store’s poor light. The overall condition, she pegs, is somewhere between adequate and poor.

Amelie: Amelie pours over the weapon, dissatisfied with the bulb pommel and the dramatic wave the Walloon has on the back of the quillion, the crossguard that protects the hand. However, the condition itself is both a good and a bad thing. Heavy dents and pitting mean one of three things; use, exposure, or forgery. This isn’t something that she can swing around, lest the blade splinter or shatter, but it’s a possible study and resell piece. Moreover, the floral motif has her interested, especially when in conjunction with a fleur-de-lis! Maybe a Dutch or German swordsman had this commissioned while living in New Orleans? It’s what she loves most about history, the mystery to unfold! Amelie takes the blade and looks around for a desk, and a light so that she can properly look the sword over.

“Hello? Excuse me?”

GM: The shop is small and cluttered, but Amelie’s voice seems to almost echo through its dark recesses. There’s even a few cobwebs. The place seems bereft of life.

Except for the man who’s staring at her.

He’s tall, standing perhaps a head over her, but slim and gaunt like a scarecrow. Cobwebs of wrinkles crisscross his apricot-like, black-skinned face. What little hair remains on his nearly-bald pate is thin, wisp-like, and shock-white, like a leftover snowfall that’s been melting for several days. He’s dressed in a faded dark jacket, wine-colored vest, and mustard yellow bowtie.

“I see the young lady has found something she likes,” the old man observes with a near-ghost of a smile. His hoarse voice is barely above a whisper.

“Welcome to my shop. I am Raphael.”

Amelie: Amelie jumps slightly when she sees the man just standing there, giving him a fast “flight or fight” once-over before she relaxes and looks politely embarrassed for being startled. Taking the sword in one hand, she gently places the point of the blade against the top of her shoe, a safety habit, before she takes the few steps to the man and extends her free hand to shake with him. Now that her heart isn’t trying to pull out her chest to face the foe on it’s own, she’s all smiles, back to her giddy curiosity.

“Amelie. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Raphael. And yes, I’ve found something very interesting. If I may… is there a story behind this sword you’re aware of?”

GM: The old man accepts Amelie’s hand with another ghost-like smile. His fingers are long and slim, and Amelie can feel the bones through his wrinkled skin as if it were merely a tight, well-worn glove. His motions are slow, but his grip remains firm.

“Less a story than several related discoveries and recollections.” The ghost on Raphael’s lips grows just a bit more solid. “But it has a past, as all items that pass through my shop do.”

He slowly gestures towards the storefront with a spindly arm.

“Would the young lady care to sit?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles, hoping that he’s right. It has a past, it has to have one after the oddities that she’s sniffed out already. But as far as the shop goes, she can already tell she’s going to like this place, and this man. You can tell a lot about someone from the way they shake hands and when they deign to smile the fullest.

“I’d love to, thank you.” She passes him carefully, watching the blade of the weapon before she steps up to the storefront, not sitting just yet. It’s polite to wait until the host sits first, after all.

GM: Raphael makes his way through the forest of piled junk. Sharp angles and jutting edges lurk everywhere, roots and thorns in the man-made jungle. The old man does not visibly sidestep them so much as he does not even seem to have to: none interrupt his path. Eventually, the pair emerge into a ‘clearing’ by the store’s counter and register. Raphael motions to a pair of Victorian chairs with wide backs and faded red upholstery, then clenches each armrest with his spindly fingers and slowly lowers himself into the seat with a deliberate-looking motion.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t see it from where she leads, but she has her own nervous journey through things, curving her body to avoid edges, or stifling her breath and turning sideways so as not to knock into anything. It’s a difficult journey, but she watches the man lower himself at the end of it, before she does the same, careful with the chair.

“If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you had this store, Mr. Raphael?”

GM: Filtered beams of sunlight spear through random openings in the thick collection of junk. A few of them lance across the proprietor’s face. So “illuminated” to Amelie’s eyes, or at least made less dark, the man looks even more ancient. His face’s lined crevasses are deep enough to have wrinkles of their own, resembling a desert’s cracked earth more than simply an apricot. The longer she stares, the deeper the lines seem to run and twist.

“For a long time, Ms. Amelie,” comes his whispering reply.

“My mother willed it to me upon her death.”

Amelie: Seeing the old man like this is a bit sobering from the high her find has given her. But she keeps her eyes on his, pushing her mind back to his story as she gently places the sword on her lap, keeping any stress off of it.

“My condolences. That is quite a pedigree for an antiquarian, though, inheritance. This shop must be very precious to you.”

GM: “She has been dead for a very long time, Ms. Amelie,” Raphael echoes with faint amusement at the young woman’s condolences. “You are correct. It is. It will not be long before it passes to another, I think.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses at the man’s words and looks a bit thoughtful for a moment. It sounds to her like he’s almost ready to die, and she finds that rather honorable, for him to know himself so humbly like that. Death is something that has only peeked into her mind these past years. But just peeked. Or is he just ready to rest for his twilight years, maybe? Still, Amelie gives the man a gentle smile.

“Your handshake was still nice and strong you know, Mr. Raphael. Do you plan to pass it on to your kids?”

GM: “I have no children, Ms. Amelie. My shop will pass to a distant cousin of mine, if he should decide to keep it,” the old man answers.

Amelie: “That’s a shame it can’t go to any descendants again. I hope he treats it with a lot of respect.”

GM: “Not all of us are willing or able to bring life into the world,” Raphael murmurs. “That is also my hope, and his choice.”

Amelie: Amelie can only nod. “Some shouldn’t, despite them already having done so.” It’s a sore spot.

“You have a whole lot of good items here. This sword… it’s like a puzzle. Walloon swords were never popular in any French-speaking nations, and yet… fleur-de-lis.”

GM: “As for swords, I will admit they are not my specialty. I was led to believe walloons were developed among either the Germans or Swiss, fell into the hands of the Dutch, and were obtained from them by the French. A weapon’s success on the battlefield frequently breeds imitation from opposing armies.”

Amelie: The young woman perks up with a small smile as the talk comes back to weapons. “It’s a good style of sword. Ones like these were made to deal with both rapiers of the gentry and the rigors of actual battle.” Leaning forward, she puts the whole hilt in the light as much as she can, trying to get a bead on exactly where it might have come from.

After a good few minutes looking over every bit of it, Amelie has a good picture of it. “It’s definitely real. And you were right! French. 1600s, the Baroque era, very nice. I have to guess maybe a bit late in the era. I wonder how much use it saw. But it looks like it was for gentry, not military use! Which explains why it may be in New Orleans! French dandy came to the New World with all his great-grandfather’s belongings. Though that’s just a guess. What has me excited, this was a blade for gentry in the time of the Sun King! Louis XIV! If I could somehow track down that bloodline…”

Looking up, the girl finally realizes she’s been rambling and clears her throat. “Sorry. I get carried away easily.”

GM: There’s a series of faint, cough-like sounds from the darkness ahead of Amelie. It takes her a moment to realize that the store’s owner is chuckling softly.

“If the blade holds the young lady’s interest, perhaps it will find a better home in her hands than mine.”

Amelie: Amelie again feels like she’s an easy startle when a thought about not knowing first aid pops into her head, before seeing he’s just having a laugh.

“I think I’ll take it. I was told to buy something if I saw something I liked. How much would you part with for it?”

GM: Raphael quotes a figure. Accounting for the sword’s notable age but poor condition and obscurity, it’s “only” on the lower end of several thousand dollars.

Amelie: The figure doesn’t phase the girl until she remembers she’s not buying a piece for her shop in Biccoline. This isn’t exactly her money.

“That’s reasonable, but just let me clear it real fast, excuse me.”

She turns to the side just a little in her chair and pulls her phone out to text Kristina.

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Amelie tucks the phone back into her pocket and sits up with a small smile, attention back on the older man. “Mr. Raphael? Would you be willing to give me a small deal? I could do you a favor or two around the shop, or we can work something out to share profit. Once I find the origins of the sword, the price will jump up. Or if you’re looking for company, I could always come back to inspect the sword in my free time, and you can keep all the profits if it turns out to be a historical item.” With her skills, she’s confident see can find the origin, given time.

GM: “The price is already a modest one, young lady,” Raphael answers in his hoarse whisper. “But what is an antique purchase without haggling, and I do not think another buyer will be coming along soon. I will go $100 lower.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down at the blade, an eager rolling in the pit of her stomach, mixing in with the anxiousness of this not being HER money she’s spending. But if she makes a profit selling it? Well, she can pay her aunt back in full. She nods her head, looking more than a little nervous about it.

“Thank you. I think I’ll take it! Would you still be interested in hearing the story if I find the original owner?”

GM: The old man’s dark eyes glint. “Very much so.”

Amelie: Amelie sits up a bit, all smiles. “I’ll be back, then. Often, if I can help it.”

GM: “The profit margin in selling antiques is low, but only materially,” Raphael states with another hoarse whisper.

Amelie: “I don’t mind breaking even, long as I figure out just where this came from. I’ll start with the metals. Easy to track historic metals. Then to smiths. Then to their buyers.” Amelie stands. “I’d love to chat more, but I might be keeping someone waiting. Hopefully you accept credit cards?”

GM: Raphael deliberately grips each of the chair’s armrests and slowly raises his scarecrow-like frame to a standing position. “I do.”

He takes Amelie’s credit card and fades out of sight behind the counter’s register. There’s a faint, slow scratching sound as perhaps a minute passes. Raphael reemerges with the card and a hand-written receipt.

Amelie: Amelie hates this part. It’s always a tense moment for her to finalize a sale, but she’s sure that she can convince her aunt that this is an investment. After he comes out with the receipt, she checks it real quick before she folds it up and carefully sticks it into her wallet.

“Thank you, Mr. Raphael. I’ll update you as soon as I find something.”

GM: “Good day, young lady. I shall look forward to hearing of your discoveries.” Raphael slowly approaches the door and holds it open for Amelie, spilling sunlight into the dingy shop.

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man’s manners, giving him the smallest curtsy before she exits. “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Raphael!” Then she’s right back in the sun, squinting as she pulls off her overshirt to drape over the blade of her find, tucking it carefully under the arm holding the handle. She fishes out her phone to texts for a pickup.

GM: Kristina’s Prius pulls up outside the store after several minutes. “Found something you liked?” her aunt’s assistant asks.

Amelie: Amelie simply pulls out the sword to give the woman a quick once-over before she puts it on the floor in the back seat, covers it with the overshirt and shopping bag to keep it from knocking around, and hops into the passenger seat. “1600s. French. Big mystery to me as to who brought it to New Orleans! Then when the mystery is over, I resell it.”

GM: “Oh wow, nice find,” Kristina remarks as she pulls the car out of its brief parking spot by the curb. “Maybe one of the early French colonists or immigrants. The sword might not have even been that old when they brought it over.”

Amelie: Amelie grins wide, very visibly excited. “What makes it even better is that it was made for gentry! Rich and French! If I can find that family line, imagine them getting this piece of history back! For enough to pay back my aunt, of course.”

GM: Kristina laughs. “I guess that’s between the two of you, but in my experience, people who send you out shopping don’t think of it as a loan.”

Amelie: “I still feel… weird about taking money from her. I earned my money all my life. This wasn’t essential, so I’m going to be paying her back. As for the rest of the day? Gotta finish clothes shopping. I can visit a gun store another time, today has already been an adventure.”

GM: Magazine Street’s shops and eateries roll past the car’s window as Kristina tilts her head. “I dunno how much this is my business, so tell me to but out if it’s not, but your aunt likes treating people. I think she’d feel weirded out if you offered to pay her back.”

Amelie: “Hmm… it might just be a difference in etiquette. I’ll have a talk with her. As for it being your business, you’re close with my aunt, so I really appreciate the insight. She’s as hard to read as my mother was.”

GM: “Glad to help, then,” Kristina answers. “Now, the next store worth hitting is at…”


Saturday afternoon, 15 August 2015

Amelie: After dropping off the day’s rather exhausting haul in her room, Amelie takes a full catalog of pictures of her antique and carefully puts it under the bed before she rushes back out to meet Kristina. Just a short trip to the city library, and she’ll have everything she needs to start the hunt for the owner.

GM: New Orleans has a number of city libraries. Kristina drops off Amelie at the Garden District’s nearest one, the Milton H. Latter Memorial, a former neo-Italianate mansion converted into a library. The building sits on a low grassy hill surrounded by Southern live oaks that makes it feel removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Milton_Latter_Memorial_Library.JPG
Kristina tells Amelie that she’s taking off for the day if there’s nothing else. When Amelie is finished at the library, she can either walk back to her aunt’s house (the Garden District is a lovely neighborhood to stroll through) or take the St. Charles streetcar, which Kristina leaves her with fare for.

The building’s interior still resembles the mansion it used to be, replete with a fireplace, fancy drapes and rugs, and old-fashioned brass light fixtures. As a library, it has the typical reading rooms, computers, printers, and wi-fi one might expect to find.

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Compared to the other public libraries Amelie has seen, which invariably seem to draw at least several obviously homeless people with nowhere else to spend their time, patrons at the Milton Latter are generally quiet and well-dressed. The one person who does not look as if he belongs, a black man with an electronic ankle monitor he plugs into an outlet, is quietly escorted out of the building by a police officer.

Amelie: Visions of canine units and street patrols walking the borders of the Garden District yesterday come to mind as Amelie watches the vagrant escorted out, only to replace him as the worst-dressed person in the library as she steps in. Atmosphere immediately sets in as she takes in the architecture of the library, her mind’s eye bringing up where all the furniture and finery would have been in the days of its intended use. But after a moment, she focuses, looking to find the librarian’s desk. If there’s one thing all libraries have in common, it’s a librarian dedicated to its upkeep, a tamer of what one could call a hydra.

GM: This hydra’s tamer looks as if the lernaean beast has resisted his domesticating hand. He’s a middle-aged man with a closely-shaved graying beard, hair of the same color, oval-shaped glasses, and wearing a beige blazer over a collared light blue shirt. There’s a large bandage over his forehead whose boundaries extend to the edge of his glasses. The placement makes the two items seem almost connected, as if pulling off his eyewear would rip off the bandage and half his scalp with it.

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Amelie finds him sitting behind the service desk’s computer as she approaches. An overweight, nasally-voiced 30-something man wearing socks and sandals clutches a stack of comic books to his chest, thanks the librarian for his help, and waddles off.

Amelie: Amelie pays the man already at the counter no mind, wondering more about the comic books and what they could have to do with the library than anything else. The type of people she’s seen up until now haven’t given this place the sort of air where comics might be kept. Pushing it out of her mind, she approaches the desk and waits a moment for the man to make eye contact.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if you had a moment to help me find something. It’s a bit weird.”

GM: “Someone who works at a library sees ‘weird’ more often than you might think, ma’am,” the librarian answers with a subdued smile. “What are you looking for?”

Amelie: Amelie gives the man a bit of an amused smile at the statement, taking out her phone and sliding a picture of the sword across the desk to him.

“I’m looking for books on the region around France in the mid to late 1600s. I’m trying to identify three things. Mines the French got their steel from, the blacksmiths of note at the time, and the major and minor nobility at the time.”

GM: The librarian strokes his chin. “Famous blacksmiths should be the easiest to research. Mines after that. Major nobility are fairly well-documented, but you’re going to have quite a project if you want to identify all the minor French nobles of the period.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “That’s the order I’m gunning for. Broad list of blacksmiths, narrow them down by the steel they use, and then cross my fingers those blacksmiths kept a record of their work to nobility. I’ve got a hunch the descendants of this dandy are now in New Orleans.”

GM: “They might’ve kept records, but I don’t know how likely you are to find those posted online,” the librarian considers, then types a few things into his computer. “Let’s see what we have, anyway…”

Amelie: Amelie pulls her phone back to her and starts to tap her fingers around in the memo app, starting a record of her search.“Merci! Oh, and if you have other work, please don’t let me distract you too badly. This is a mystery that will take awhile.”

GM: The bandage-wearing librarian pulls up a few titles on blacksmithing for Amelie and suggests those as a start, as well as that she use one of the library’s computers to do further research. Several hours later, Amelie is confident that she’s exhausted every non-checked out title on blacksmithing that the Milton H. Latimer Memorial Library has available in its modest collection on the subject. Many of the books are concerned with technical knowledge of blacksmithing rather than the craft’s history, and most are fairly recent titles too… the oldest how-to manual she can find is Practical Forging and Art Smithing, published in 1915.

Practical_Forging.jpg Blacksmiths themselves, too, appear to generally be less famous figures than their arms and the bearers of those arms. Most well-known blacksmiths are figures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, the former are often famous for reasons besides the quality of their arms and armor. Thomas Davenport (1802—1851) is remembered for inventing the electric motor and simply happened to also be a blacksmith. John Fritz (1822—1913) is known as the “Father of the U.S. Steel Industry” for inventing the first three-high rolling mill. He also happened to begin his life as a blacksmith. Alexander Hamilton Willard (1777—1865) is notable for being a blacksmith on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Contemporary blacksmiths, in contrast, are famous because it is easier to become famous and because crafting swords (rarely armor) is a more distinctive occupation than it used to be. As industrial technology has progressed beyond its roots in hand-operated forges, modern smiths have become more renowned for the quality (and expense) of their weapons than any technological innovations. The Okinawan swordsmith Kiyochika Kanehama best epitomizes how specialized the market has become: his pieces sell for upwards of $15,000 each and he rarely sells more than one sword a year. Most of the ones he crafts do not satisfy his stringent expectations.

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“When I saw my first sword, at a friend’s home in 1974, I was stunned by its power and beauty. I was a college student, studying accounting, but knew instantly I had another calling,” Kanehama explained in an interview. When commenting on his first encounter with a treasured sword, the Okinawan smith also remarked, “When I encountered an old sword which was registered as Japanese National Treasure, I was captured by its beauty and warmth. The elegant curve of the blade fascinated me. I discovered… that Japanese swords are not mere weapons, but they are manifestations of the spirit of Japanese culture.”

Amelie digs deeper for actual historic smiths. The closest she finds are Kunz Lochner (1510—1567), a master armorer from Nuremberg. There’s also Antonio Missaglia, an armorer from 15th century Milan, and Lorenz Helmschmied, a second 15th century armorer who crafted mail suits for the Holy Roman Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I. Many of the surviving pieces of their work are now on display in museums.

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Half an hour before closing time, the librarian announces that fact over the building’s intercom. The announcement is repeated at 4:45, and again at 4:55, at which point patrons are asked to begin returning or checking out their reading materials and packing up their laptops and other personal belongings. It looks to Amelie as if unearthing her sword’s maker is going to be a multi-day project.

Amelie: Amelie keeps bibliographies of the works that interest her, as well as a few pictures of the examples given. None of these things quite match up, and it’s slightly frustrating to have her hard work not give her any immediate results. But she resigns herself to the feelings of anxiety that come with long bouts of work. This library was a great source of starting information, but for the subject at hand it’s outlived its usefulness. Packing up, she rubs her eyes and slides the last book she’d grabbed back in its proper place, before returning to the man at the desk to thank him for his work.

GM: The librarian replies that she’s welcome and to come again if she has any further questions. Amelie files outside with the rest of the patrons. Afternoon feels like it should be waning into evening, but the lazy Dixie sun still hangs fat and sweltering in the humid August sky. A half-hour walk back to her aunt’s house awaits by foot, or a twenty-minute ride by the St. Charles streetcar.

Amelie: Amelie thanks the librarian again and promises to be back sometime as she heads home, resolving to walk and save the streetcar fare for a time she actually needs it. The heat is a mixed bag. She knows this subtle labored feeling from living near an ocean inlet—it’s like trying to breathe in steam. The heat still weighs on her during her walk, and she feels sweat down her back by the time she reaches the gate to her aunt’s house. It’s a climate that will take adjusting to.

And a culture.


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Story One, Amelie III

“You wouldn’t think we were being rude if we asked whether you could find another seat, would you?”
Student at the McGehee School for Girls


Monday morning, 17 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie goes through the rest of her weekend quietly. She takes the mandated trip to McGehee’s campus. Bereft of any distractions, her mind wanders on social anxieties tied to the first day at school. It doesn’t help that her first day will also be her senior year.

The evening before the big day, she lays out her uniform and does everything she can to make herself look presentable. Sleep doesn’t come easily either after spending all day agonizing, but it comes. The alarm she set on her phone rings the next morning, followed by several other alarms minutes after the first.

GM: “I was looking up bus routes, and McGehee turned out to have its own private ones,” Christina remarks after Amelie has showered and come downstairs for breakfast. She’s sitting at the table and eating from a plate of toast and grapefruit. “That’s very good, if taking the bus is how you plan to get to campus. It turns out public schools are obligated to provide transportation to qualifying private schools, and I can only imagine what mixing the students does. God knows that most public school students in this city are delinquents in the making.”

True to the pair’s conversation on Friday night, however, Amelie’s aunt has left her to make her own transportation arrangements, whether that’s walking to school, taking the bus, or whatever else.

Amelie: Amelie comes down fully dressed in her new uniform, a bit unimpressed with the length and existence of the skirt, not mention how the school charter asked it be so high on the hips with the shirt tucked in. Her hair is brushed, but still thick and wild as ever. Hearing about the transit system eliminates one of her worries, however. A walk creates an awkward first impression in a white dress shirt.

“I think I’ll take advantage of that. I underestimated the sun down here yesterday,” she affirms, draping her uniform’s black blazer carefully over the back of a chair. While she can’t agree with the ‘delinquents’ line, she has to admit she likes the thought of the private bus. Young girls in school uniforms are a stereotypical harassment target. Still, her more pressing concern is her aunt, and the best way to fully break the ice this morning.

GM: “That’s the subtropics,” Christina replies between a sip of coffee. “The school should have air conditioning, though. Practically every building down here does.”

Amelie: Amelie replies to the word ‘subtropics’ with a groan of distaste, but she’s glad they’re at least mid-way through August. Only a month before fall. She sits down across from Aunt Christina and has a simple breakfast that almost mimics hers: an apple and some plain toast.

“I’ll be a little busy this week with a few things. Is there anything you’d like me to do or help you with?”

GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “That’s kind of you to offer, but you should focus on school right now. I imagine your first day of classes will give you enough new things to occupy yourself with.”

Amelie: “I’m not sure what to expect there, so far as classes. I’ve only ever been in public school. But I’m confident I’ll be fine in that regard. Did you and my mother attend a private school?”

GM: “Oh yes, the public schools in our area were terrible,” Christina confirms. “Not so bad as New Orleans’—I’m sure it’s no small feat to top those—but some of them might have had daycare centers too.”

Amelie: Amelie thinks as she takes a last bite of toast, trying not to look too interested. Her mother is a sore mystery. “That’s a sad thing for a school to have. I never understood people who didn’t take studies seriously.”

Amelie cleans her dish and sits back down, checking the time on her phone with a sigh. The social aspects of high school aren’t missed by the young woman. But it’s nearly time. “I should go. I need to introduce myself to the headmistress anyway.”

GM: “They’ve called them principals since the ’60s or thereabouts,” Christina mentions wryly.

Amelie: Amelie wonders back to the pamphlets but nods to her aunt. “That’s a shame, too. Principal just doesn’t carry the same weight as a title.”

GM: “Anyways, feel free to either head home or go wherever else once school’s over. I’ll be out until sometime later this evening.”

Amelie: Hearing that her mysterious aunt is going to be home late makes the young woman wonder if it’s safe to venture into New Orleans without a guide. At least this early into her time here. “I want to check out the New Orleans public library, across the river. So I’ll probably do so after school today. Until then, I should get going.”

GM: “You mean in Algiers? That’s a bad part of town,” her aunt warns. “I’m sure there’s quite a few other libraries on the north side of the Mississippi. That’s where most of the city is, including the Garden District here.”

Amelie: The young woman thinks a moment and shakes her head. Directions aren’t her strong suite, but she’s looked this up already. “The one a half-hour walk away, in the Central Business District. Unless I’m wrong about which is the flagship location? Thanks for the warning though. I saw some worrying things on the drive here with Oscar.”

GM: “The CBD is on the same side of the river as we are,” Christina confirms. “I’m not sure off-hand if its library is the main branch, but that seems more likely than it being in Algiers. The CBD is a fairly safe part of town, too.”

Amelie: Amelie reflects on the river, and how her aunt makes it seem as though it’s the proverbial train tracks separating the good and the bad in a small town. She finally stands, slings her backpack on, and takes a deep breath, bracing for the day as she starts for the door. “I’m off, then! Have a good day at work.”

GM: “And you at school. Good luck, too,” Amelie’s aunt wishes as she tabs through something on her tablet.

Amelie: It’s a short trip to the bus stop once Amelie finds it on her phone. Some anxiety starts to peek in, inspired by American movies in English on late night TV. They had a lot to say about the horrors of both American high schools and all-girls schools. She hopes the bus is empty.

GM: For the moment there is no sign of the bus. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and the temperature already feels like it’s hovering around 80 degrees. Together with the abundance of drooping oaks, thick hedges, palm trees, and other greenery in the neighborhood, it almost feels like waiting in a tropical rainforest. The morning sky is a bright and cloudless azure that promises an even hotter August day.

A yellow school bus eventually pulls up near the gate to Christina’s house. The driver, a middle-aged black woman in a green vest, wishes Amelie good morning as she gets on. Her ears are immediately filled with the high-pitched but still sleepy chattering of her identically-dressed schoolmates… all of whom look much, much younger than she is. Half of them don’t have breasts, and the other half are awkward in their braces and acne. Backpacks are pink or rainbow-hued and depict characters from Disney films and other cartoons. The children variously quiet, furiously whisper into one another’s ears, or simply stare as the twenty-year-old makes her way down the bus aisle.

Amelie: The young woman makes her way onto the bus and wishes the driver a good morning, only for the awkward childrens’ faces to drive home a stark thought: most people her age in this wealth bracket are probably driving. The importance of a learner’s permit seems all the more socially relevant now. Her demeanor stays true to the Roberts family brand of poker face as she makes her way to the nearest empty seat and plops down. She takes out her phone to pass the time unless her underclassmen approach her.

GM: Amelie observes that the bus is nicer than the ones in her hometown. There still aren’t seatbelts, but the windows are cleaner and there aren’t anywhere nearly as many visible doodles, graffiti, or tears on the seats. She’s only just gotten out her phone before a high voice behind her asks, “Excuse me, why are you taking the bus?”

The speaker is a blonde-haired girl who’s at least one head shorter than Amelie. She’s dressed in the same uniform as the high school senior and every other student on the bus.

Amelie: Amelie notices but ignores the cleanliness. It feels wrong somehow to be on a bus that’s this well-maintained. The underclassman however takes her off guard, and she turns slowly to get a look at whoever she’s speaking with. She keeps her answer short. “I’m new to the city.”

GM: “Are you poor?” the little girl asks curiously.

Amelie: Amelie raises a brow at the girl’s brash question, but stays polite and shakes her head. “I’m not poor, no. Just not from here.”

GM: “I’m friends with a poor person. She’s mostly like me, apart from not having a dad.”

Amelie: “That’s common.”

GM: “That’s what my mom says too,” the kid remarks. “My friend’s mom used to be our maid before my mom fired her. She says married people are more honest.”

Amelie: Amelie raises a brow again, feeling something like she did looking out at that dark part of town. “Everyone lies sometimes.”

GM: “I guess. Some people lie more.”

Amelie: “Do you want to know the secret of how to tell who?”

GM: The little girl leans forward. “What?”

Amelie: “Practice listening to people. Liars talk a lot.”

GM: “Why’s that?” the child asks.

Amelie: “It’s different for everyone. But the secret works. Try it,” she answers, turning around and putting a ‘shhh’ finger over her lips. It’s half actual answer, half trying to quiet her down.

GM: The little girl turns away from Amelie to listen to the students in the seat behind her.

Amelie: Amelie smirks a little wickedly as she goes back to her phone.

GM: The remainder of the bus ride through the Garden District passes in comparative solitude. Amelie is barely able to tell when they’ve reached McGehee: the school looks the same as any other picturesque home in the neighborhood. It’s surrounded by the same historic Antebellum and Victorian mansions, the same pristine gardens, and the same thick canopy of live oaks, evergreens, and willows that keeps the district as green as its namesake. The only giveaway that Amelie has reached the school is how long the property’s cast-iron fence stretches.

Unlike other schools, whose sprawling complexes of buildings are obvious from afar, McGehee seems to have been worked into the historic neighborhood as unobtrusively as possible. The only giveaways as to its presence, besides the longer fence and the half-visible tops of a slide and jungle gym, is the presence of two gates into the property rather than just one. A red canopy over the left entrance reads in white font, Louise S. McGehee—Founded 1912—Honor, Service, Leadership.

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Amelie: Amelie enjoys the silence and watches the scenery pass her by until they get to the school proper. She’s suddenly glad that she took the bus instead of walking like she did yesterday. It’s a seamless blend into the rest of this historic section of town, and could pass simply for an eccentrically large mansion among other well-to-do houses until one saw the sign itself.

GM: Amelie’s bus stops along the sidewalk for the girls to get off. The bus driver tells them all to have a “super” day, prompting one of the preteens to roll her eyes. A few other buses are parked nearby. Amelie doesn’t see much available space for the older students who clearly drive, but she can spot a number of teenagers walking down the sidewalk who are uniformed in the same plaid skirt, white shirt, and black blazer she also has on. They smirk and whisper among themselves at the sight of the new girl getting off the kiddie bus.

Amelie: Amelie gives a smile and a nod to the driver on her way out of the bus. As soon as she spots her classmates whispering, however, it’s apparent where she’ll be standing in this new school. It’s a disappointment, but her face stays steely. She reminds herself that it’s only for a year. She keeps her blazer draped over an arm, the heat dissuading her from wearing it, and makes her way inside the school. She retraces her steps from yesterday to find her homeroom class, feeling more than a little awkward, but hopes she isn’t showing.

GM: The mass of chattering girls makes their way past the school’s iron gate and the police officer guarding it. The Bradish Johnson House, which serves at the school’s main building, resembles a preserved historic house more than an office where one expects to find school administration at work. Balconies extend underneath the second-story windows, while benches and tables are set out across the carefully manicured lawn. They look like good spots for the home’s residents to sit down at and enjoy a glass of sweet tea to cool off a hot afternoon. The ‘office’ itself is built in the Greek Revival style popular throughout many other homes Amelie has seen in the Garden District. Tall Corinthian pillars and a coat of nearly-uniform white paint bring to mind the buildings of ancient Greece. Amelie observes a few girls making their way up the front steps, but even more are heading off towards a single, larger building.

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Amelie: All of this is a marvel for the young woman to look at. Many buildings in Quebec are just as old as these, but the styles run counter to each other. Where Quebec has Gothic Revival, New Orleans butts heads with its Greek Revival. It feels more secure and aesthetically pleasing—almost airy—but less ornate. It’s a wonder anyone can get work done here with so much to look at. Amelie puts her thumb and forefinger up into the air in front of her eyes to get a sense of the building’s straightness as she walks.

Then she remembers the scheduled assembly. That snaps her out of her reverie. She quickly turns and heads straight for the site. Much as she’s skipped them in previous schools, they certainly aren’t ‘20 grand a year’ schools.

GM: Amelie finds that the assembly is being held in a proper auditorium rather than the gyms her previous schools hosted them at. The cloth seats look relatively comfortable, and the large space is clean and well-lit.

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At least several hundred girls in the same uniform as Amelie are filing into the auditorium. Some of them look around her age, while others are young enough to ride the bus without shame and even be shepherded in groups by adults. All of them are avidly chatting amongst themselves, and the sounds of so many conversations permeate the auditorium with an omnipresent din. Seats swiftly fill up as the students divide into cliques. Everyone seems as if they know one another.

Amelie is left alone.

Amelie: It’s impressive, once again, and she takes a moment to look around the room and take it all in. Plays, announcements, concerts, the venue seems well-suited for everything. Her earlier concerns do not abate, however, as she surveys the divide of the students. Her elders and her betters she can easily work with socially, as well as younger kids, but people her own age are usually more of a problem. Instead of going to join any one clique, she finds a seat near where more of her age seem to be congregating, and sits on her own. Rumors are most likely already spreading about her time on the bus, and accepts her fate in that regard. But damned if she’s going to let the social game stop her from being the best student in the building.

GM: Students continue to file in to the auditorium. Amelie’s proximate position to the girls who look old enough to be fellow seniors soon results in her being approached by a round-faced girl with brown eyes and dirty blonde hair. Like every other student in the room, she’s dressed in the same white blouse and plaid skirt, although unlike Amelie she’s wearing her blazer.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was hoping to sit by my friends—would you mind scooting back a row?”

Mackenna.jpg Amelie: Amelie sighs internally. This is the part in public school where she crosses her legs and ignores this girl, but with a new start comes new concessions. She stands, fixes her skirt and gives the girl a polite smile, resolving to just be formal and remember whoever she is for later. In case this turns into the proverbial Mean Girls scenario somehow.

“Since you were so polite about it, of course. I’m Amelie, by the way. It’s nice to meet you.”

Instead of shaking hands like she usually would, the taller girl simply gives the interloper a curt nod and slides past her. She finds another seat next to a stranger in the row behind.

GM: “Bless your heart,” the girl smiles as she assumes Amelie’s seat, then begins animatedly chatting with her neighbors. More students continue to file in. Several more sit down in the empty spots Amelie could previously have scooted over to.

She is again left by herself as the auditorium continues to fill up.

Amelie: Amelie makes a mental note after moving into her new position. First new person on her list of people to watch. But she lets it go fast, turning to the new prospects and trying to be brave as she takes inventory of the people in the row with her. She hopes whatever clique she now shares a space with is more accommodating than the plump-faced potential queen bee.

GM: The seats next to Amelie soon fill up with students, but they don’t seem to share her space so much as dwell in an independent space that happens to be adjacent to hers. Like seemingly everyone else in the auditorium, the girls appear to already know one another, and ignore Amelie completely as they animatedly talk amongst themselves about various topics.

“These commencement addresses are so boring…” “I hear public school students have an easier time skipping…” “Have you heard about…” “I think senioritis is gonna hit me pretty hard…”

Amelie: It’s a different atmosphere than she’s used to. She’s only ever changed schools once, but this feels awkward. Before she starts to question the need to make friends at all with these people, she scoots in her seat and clears her throat as she introduces herself to the nearest group.

“Pardon, do you know who that girl down there is?” she asks, pointing down casually at the round-faced girl she’s found herself relocated by.

GM: “Yeah, that’s Mackenna,” one of the girls answers distractedly before turning back to her friends.

Amelie: Its less than she hoped for, but more than she dares expect from these people. It’s becoming more and more clear this place isn’t where she’s going to make friends. At the very least, though, there’s now a name on her shit list instead of just a round face.

Amelie crosses her legs, takes her phone out and fiddles with it, waiting for either the damn assembly to start or for someone to approach her.

GM: None of the other girls approach Amelie. After what seems like an eternity of waiting to the friend-less senior, the din of chatter fades. Amelie looks up and sees that the apparent “faculty” section of seats has filled up to perhaps half a hundred teachers, which looks rather sizable next to a crowd that can’t have more than ten times as many students, if not less. In contrast to the sea of green, white, and black uniforms among the girls, the teachers wear their own outfits, although conservative styles and colors predominate. Some of the faculty are also male. Some are old enough for their beards to be struck through with gray and even white, while a few are just young enough to draw appreciative stares from some of the girls. Most gazes in the room, however, look towards the auditorium’s stage, where a woman standing behind a podium is calling for attention.

She’s of average height and in her later middle years, with prominent lines around her neck and cheeks. Her dark blonde hair is cut relatively short, and she wears an austere black suit and skirt with a pearl necklace, matching earrings, and low-rimmed glasses. “Good morning, everyone,” the woman smiles, her voice clear and audible over the podium’s microphone. “As most of you are likely aware, my name is Catherine Strong and I am the headmistress at McGehee. Our 103rd school year is about to commence and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you bright and lovely young women back to our school…”

Amelie: Amelie spends the time alone on her phone, teaching herself about the area and planning out the rest of her week in the back of her mind. It’s full, but it’s the way she likes it. Once the event begins, she puts her phone away to listen. She feels a small sense of vindication at the title of the school’s leadership, given her discussion with her aunt this morning.

GM: The principal’s greeting does not go on for long before she states that there is a video clip she would like to show the gathered students. The lights dim as a projection booth in the back of the auditorium comes to life, splaying its image across the blank wall behind her.

Amelie: The advert is a small surprise. Abused or lonely geriatrics struggling to show themselves that they’re still alive and achieving their dreams through great effort and strength of character. It resonates with Amelie enough to give her a light swell in her chest, but she swallows it down without much effort.

GM: Principal Strong smiles at the assembled teenagers and younger girls as the clip ends and the lights resume. “This ad has resonated with millions around the world for many different reasons—it’s inspiring, beautiful, funny, foreign, curious, unusual, yet common to us all. What themes from it can you relate to your own lives?”

Hands shoot up throughout the crowd.

Amelie: Seeing so many raised hands is another strange sight for Amelie. It’s a stark shift from the level of enthusiasm and participation in public school, but she isn’t about to let herself be outdone. She raises her hand and watches for the headmistress’ choice.

GM: “Yes, Susannah?” the principal asks with another smile, pointing towards an older teenager sitting close to the front.

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“It’s a very sweet ad for sure, ma’am,” the pretty blonde begins.

“Sweet as maple syrup over pancakes,” one of the girls next to her interjects, to the assembly’s light laughter.

“But what really struck me, you know,” the other girl continues, “was how Ta Chong Bank was sponsoring this ad—that’s what the ‘TC’ is short for, my mama has a few overseas clients who do business with them. Anyway, a bank might not seem like they have too much to do with a bunch of old friends reliving their dreams on motorcycles. But just seeing that name at the end, ‘TC Bank’—well, if I were the customer and had to choose between different banks to open a savings account at, I know I’d go with the one whose name I saw in such a heartwarming ad. I’m probably going to go into business after I graduate college, so I’d like to see my company make ads as powerful as this one. I take it as an example of what I should aspire to in my professional career, and another example of what my mama always told me—‘aim for the heart, not the head.’”

“Well-said, Susannah,” the principal replies. “There’s certainly no denying that TC Bank is receiving a great deal of publicity as a result of their ad—including in our very school. Yes, Sadie?” she then asks, pointing towards another face in the crowd.

Many further students, mostly higher schoolers and a few middle schoolers (the elementary-age girls remain quiet) critique the ad and find ways to connect its sponsoring company’s success and brand imaging to the success they’d like to enjoy in their own careers. A few girls comment on how the characters are elderly—“we’re so used to seeing the young and beautiful in the media, that element helps TC Bank further stand out from the competition and appear honest, authentic.” Other girls offer critiques of the ad and what they would do to improve it, or how they would tailor it for broadcasting to different audiences. Amelie is struck by the high level of student participation in the assembly, as well as the fact that the principal knows so many of them by name (though all of them call her by “ma’am”).

Amelie: Amelie waits patiently as she listens, but what strikes her as things go along isn’t just he level of participation but the way other girls are picking apart the ad from a business perspective. There are a few people pointing out the angle of the elderly protagonists in the media vs. the standard of beauty, but she barely pays any mind to them. Each person along the line leading up to her makes her rethink what she’s going to say. The differences between her previous education and what she’s going through right now make her more than a little excited.

GM: Eventually, the principal picks out Amelie among the many still-raised hands and asks, “Yes, over there in the back?”

Amelie: By the time her name is called there’s a faint smile on Amelie’s previously neutral features. Clearing her throat, she makes sure her voice is loud enough to reach the podium. “Thank you. I’d like to first point out that as powerful as this ad is, the reason it’s crossed the borders from Taiwan to the USA is that the core message of the ad is one no one is left out from. That through strength of will, you can achieve your dreams, as long as you’re prepared to sacrifice, and pay in blood, sweat, and tears. While its ultimately a marketing tactic designed to pluck the heart-strings for a profit, I find it deeply endearing and very encouraging that this message of hard work and suffering for your dreams has resonated with enough people outside its consumer base that it’s rung out across the ocean to land in this school. As someone from a life of hard work and harder study, it tells me that many people still respect and aspire to that level of commitment.”

GM: Amelie’s closing mention of being from a life of ‘hard work and harder study’ draws a few amused looks from the crowd. Principal Strong smiles and replies, “Yes, even in our roles as critical analysts and future ad producers, let’s not forget that the core message is still just as applicable to us: follow your dreams. Yes, Hannah?”

Amelie: Amelie already knows that the rumors are starting thanks to being spotted taking the kiddie bus. That piece of information will spread like wildfire after this assembly, what she’s mentioned about being from a life of work is just another piece of a narrative she’s already sure is inevitably going to form about her. With a school this size, it’s guaranteed.

As she sits back down, though, she feels disappointed in both herself and the crowd. The message she was trying to push got misconstrued. ‘The ad is successful for choosing a core value of humanity, in cheering for the underdog and his great efforts to succeed against odds’ instead of just ‘work hard’. Along with a sense of justice and family, it’s something one could say crosses cultural borders into a more widespread audience.

GM: “If the ad is applicable to us,” answers the called-on girl, “and we’re spending this much time talking about it, then you could argue that it’s already successfully influenced us,” answers a voice from the crowd. “Most of us are probably going to remember the school assembly we spent talking about a TV bank ad, and consumers are more likely to buy things from or do business with companies they recognize. We might even be more likely to, since we think the ad is so well put-together. How many of us would might do business with TC Bank now, even if we don’t know anything else about their practices or their competitors? We like to think we’re perceptive enough to see through it all, but their ad probably still made money off of us.”

“My folks would say that’s life,” a voice calls from the crowd to several amused titters.

“Yes, it certainly does behoove us to always keep the big picture in mind—and our roles in it,” Principal Strong replies pleasantly. Something about her seems cross to Amelie, though whether at the comment, the student herself, or something altogether else is not apparent to the new senior.

Amelie: Amelie finds herself agreeing with this student, never having disputed that fact either. Marketing is an art form nowadays. She recalls a similar ad back home in the ‘Prevent-It’ ad campaign in which—after a workplace accident—the victim stands back up covered in blood, as though re-animated from the dead by someone saying it was an accident, to explain that it was negligence. It preyed on another core human emotion, fear. Amelie still remembers being a little girl and hearing the blood-curdling screams of a chef doused in cooking oil and her charred boiling face.

But the headmistress doesn’t seem too happy with something or other. Maybe her? That could mean a call to the office to explain all this. The young woman still pushes it from her mind, leans back and relaxes as she listens to the next speaker.

GM: The principal goes on to compliment the gathered students for their thoughtful analyses and reminds them that for McGehee has graduated young women just like them for over a century now—ones who know what it means to be leading women. “All of you are ready to take charge of your futures thanks to our small class sizes, academic rigor, experiential learning and our focus on the individual girl. At McGehee, we prepare each of you for your unique journey amidst a climate of innovation rooted in tradition.”

Principal Strong relates how Louise S. McGehee, an “extraordinary visionary for her time,” founded their school in 1912. McGehee’s mission was to build a rigorous college-preparatory school for young women that would focus on each girl, fostering self-esteem, encouraging high personal standards, and emphasize active student participation in the learning process. Principal Strong says their program uses traditional and innovative teaching strategies to challenge students and to foster a lifelong love of learning—a gateway to success. Though the concept of single-sex education has come under challenge in recent decades, the headmistress states undeterredly, “We are a school of girls and for girls. Our students understand that they can do anything because here girls fill every role—student body president, math whiz, sports star, lead in the play and valedictorian.”

The principal proudly states that they have never wavered from that goal in over a century. The school’s “extraordinary faculty,” a number of whom hold PhDs in their fields—atypical for a high school—respect the way girls learn and teaches with a curriculum that goes beyond the walls of the classroom. “All of you are encouraged to succeed by harnessing your potential, finding your voice, taking risks and delivering your best. Constantly improving and striving for excellence, our faculty, administration and staff and the Board of Trustees remain committed to ensuring McGehee is as unique and forward thinking as possible.” With that said, the headmistress “turns over” the assembly to “the acting president of our student government, Susannah Kelly!”

Polite applause greets the girl who steps up to the speaker’s podium. Amelie recognizes her as the blonde who was first to offer her thoughts on the TC ad. “How are all y’all doing today?” Susannah asks brightly, then goes goes on to remind the class that as “Abby and her family” have moved to Little Rock, the race for president of student government will not be against an incumbent this year—“much to everyone’s relief, I’m sure, after how remarkable it was for a junior to win last year’s!” she laughs.

Susannah goes on to explain the election’s rules, which most of the auditorium’s faces already look familiar with. There will be a jungle primary where anyone can run in, followed by a general election that consists of two candidates (if a primary candidate isn’t elected outright by receiving 50% or more of the votes). Susannah gives all the relevant deadlines and locations for interested candidates to file the paperwork, and states that she will fulfill “all the functions of the office” as acting president until the election is held. At present, that will include introducing the first of the morning’s guest speakers—all of whom are McGehee alumni, “So let’s all show these fine ladies how tickled we are to have them here today!” Susannah exhorts, prompting a round of enthusiastic applause from the seated girls.

The first speaker is a middle-aged woman with an ugly scar over her face, trailed by a somewhat harried-looking younger woman who sets a water bottle and several speech cards on the podium.

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The scarred woman introduces herself as Vera Malveaux and a graduate of the class of 1975. Today she is married to Matthew Malveaux, the CEO and board chairman of Malveaux Oil, a prominent local petroleum company. Vera herself either sits on the board of trustees for or is a regular patron to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Newcomb Art Museum, and a variety of other cultural centers and philanthropic organizations. She and her family are active in a great many further organizations and causes, including the Malveaux Cultural Trust, the James C. Malveaux Charitable Foundation, the William Dyer Institute, the Roman Catholic Church, political advocacy, conservative think tanks, higher education scholarships, cancer and science research, and more. Vera talks about her experiences at McGehee where she served as secretary for the arts club, treasurer for the student government, and sang in choir. She says these experiences helped her to learn to work with others and realize that the world after high school required more than just good grades. “Join, participate, and experience as much as you can in the short time that you’ll spend in high school,” she exhorts the girls, reminding them that every item on their resumes will make them stand out to colleges and better prepare them for their lives as adults.

Amelie overhears several girls near her chatting that “her face looks that way because a voodoo serial killer tried to cut her up.” “No, I hear her own daughter tried to murder her, and got locked up in a convent. Made a nun and everything.” “Well I hear she’s addicted to painkillers.”

Amelie: Scars don’t affect Amelie as much as they might other students in the room. When she sees Mrs. Malveaux, she simply wonders as to the scar’s origins. She feels the ones on her back and arms tingle as well, like they do whenever the subject comes up. As she listens to the woman’s speech, however, Amelie sees its logic and wonders if she herself should run for an open position. Or even shoot for the top. She only shakes her head at the rumors the other students leak out. None of them are probably true if they’re being thrown around this casually.

She claps along with everyone else when the speech is over. Overall, the young woman wonders how effective a speaker like Mrs. Malveaux was supposed to be when she isn’t a success herself, but simply married a major success. Still, it’s incentive to dig into how involved Mrs. Malveaux is with the company, and what money she uses for her local advocacy and agenda, whenever she has time. At the very least, it’s good to learn the name of what she’s assuming is the ‘Rockefeller’ family of Nouvelle Orleans.

GM: Polite if not enthusiastic applause sounds from the students as Mrs. Malveaux steps off the stage and makes her way back among the seated adults. Amelie catches her taking a very long pull from her water bottle before handing it off to her black-haired younger assistant, who also lays an extra cushion down on her seat.

The next speaker is a stern-looking elderly woman with curled iron gray hair. She introduces herself as Payton Underwood and a graduate of the class of 1965.

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She is an associate judge for the Criminal District Court of Orleans Parish and is serving her final term before she retires. She credits her participation in the school’s debate team and mock trials with developing her interest in civic affairs. She also attributes a girls-only education with helping her develop what she terms “a solid backbone.” She continues that, “Make no mistake, it’s still a man’s world out there. If you want to go anywhere in it, you’ll have to do a man’s jobs and not take gumption from any man who feels threatened by you. McGehee taught me not to apologize or make excuses for my success. Other girls certainly didn’t expect it.” She finishes her speech by waving to her granddaughter who is present in the crowd. She also states that she occasionally volunteers in various capacities with the school’s debate team, and may see any students who have an interest in joining.

Amelie also catches further gossip among her peers. “I hear she sent a little boy to Gruesome Gertie.” “Oh that isn’t true, the electric chair isn’t even legal anymore.” “I hear it was a while ago. Do you know when they outlawed it?” “Dunno. The ’90s?”

Amelie: The next guest is a bit more Amelie’s speed, a woman in a position of power who takes no shit and does her job with a passion she found in her youth. She’s touched, too, to find that the judge is a mother with a granddaughter among the crowd. But of course the rumors still flow, and the young canuck listens carefully. Gruesome Gertie, the infamous chair used to execute many a man in the South, only fell out of use in 1991. Amelie can’t remember the exact month, but it’s surely 1991. If Judge Underwood is an alumnus of the class of ’65, she had plenty of time to sentence someone to the chair before it was replaced by… whatever they use now. Her country abolished the death penalty a while ago. Extracurricular activities in general and the debate team in particular suddenly seem a lot more interesting.

GM: The last speaker is a white-haired, ancient-looking woman with stick-thin limbs who makes her way up to the speaker’s podium on a cane.

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She introduces herself as Patricia Maurier, a graduate of the class of 1946. She works as the clerk of council for Orleans Parish and is responsible for overseeing local elections, managing city council meetings, reviewing legislation, maintaining the parish’s records, and a variety of other duties. She recalls back to her experiences as a yearbook editor and library assistant. It was all so long ago.

“I remember celebrating V-E day as a junior,” she recalls in a voice that’s dry and thin like a well-preserved book. “Everyone took to the streets like it was Mardi Gras. A few weeks later, they let out class early so we could welcome back the first ship of soldiers returning from Europe—New Orleans used to have an important naval base. Now those men, the ones who got to return home first and who didn’t have to re-deploy to the Pacific, were the ones who’d been wounded or earned the most combat points. Every girl wanted her classmates to believe she was welcoming home a war hero and sweetheart who she’d been writing letters to throughout the war. I was too grown-up to do a thing like that, of course,” she laughs self-depreciatingly. “They were all really our fathers and older brothers. And they always told us the real heroes were the ones who didn’t come back.”

“We’d listen to that soberly and remember it for all of five minutes, of course. Every girl wanted to marry a handsome war hero. Most of us, after we graduated, either went to Sophie-Newcomb College—that’s defunct now, it was merged with Tulane University after Katrina—or took out a simple job like secretary or sales clerk, and lived with our folks. We usually got married a couple years after high school, then concentrated on raising families. Everyone wanted to get married at that age. It was embarrassing if you got married too late.”

“I never did, though. I married my work. I started working for the clerk’s office as a secretary with a typewriter, and I’ve worked there for over sixty years. I’ve kept track of so many records. So many births and deaths. I don’t recognize most of your faces—except for my great-great-niece’s, hello there, Rachel—but if I heard your name, chances are I’d know something of your history if you were born in this city. Many of your families have lived here for generations. They’re like the great trees just outside. Faces change like leaves over the seasons as they pass from young to old. Generations grow and flower like branches. Your families are the roots—and they run strong and deep.”

“I remember Katrina and how so many people said the city was finished. Ten years later you can hardly tell it was once half-underwater. I remember the Depression, and the floating Hooverville people built on sad little rafts along the Mississippi. My mother and grandparents—my father wasn’t from New Orleans—told me stories about the influenza and yellow fever epidemics. They made everyone jealous of the colored folks for once—people believed blacks couldn’t get sick from yellow fever.”

“Our city has faced so much adversity, but our roots—your roots—have grown stronger after every storm they’ve weathered. Why, the canopy over some parts of this neighborhood is so thick you could swear it’d stop the rain.” Mrs. Maurier gives a dry chuckle before her wrinkle-lined expression grows sober.

“But times are changing. Things aren’t like they used to be. Girls like you are scattering every which direction across the country instead of staying where you grew up. We have so much history here… my great-grandmother, in the few years I remember her, would tell me stories about the Yankee occupation of the city. Yes, you heard that right, the Yankee occupation—I was half your age when she was as old as I am now. And she was about your age when she remembered one of the doughboys hitting her in the face with a closed fist, like you’d hit a man, because she emptied a chamber pot over his head from her window. Beast Butler, the occupying general, told his men they could treat the town’s ladies like they were prostitutes plying their trade, because of how hostile they were. I suppose we could almost take it as a compliment.” There’s another thin chuckle and wistful look.

“We have so much history in this city. But my generation, the so-called great generation, aren’t your grandparents anymore. We’re great-grandparents, and we’re dropping like flies. I’m going to retire in three years—twenty-five years past the date I started collecting social security. I fear for how much history will be lost after I’m gone. Part of me is sad, but I have to remind myself that your generation also has opportunities which mine never did—as my father once said, ‘You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore’.”

“Spread your wings and fly far, but remember where you come from. Always remember where you come from. Remember your families’ pasts, for their future lives on in you.”

Amelie: Amelie slowly uncrosses her legs as she sits up and listens intently to the current speaker. While history is certainly her passion, it’s not just Mrs. Maurier’s recollections that have her so interested. If anyone can help her track down the sword’s family line, it’s the city clerk who knows everything about the city’s roots and history.

After that realization passes, Amelie allows herself to be taken in by the aged woman’s words. She nods along and feel the pain that every historian feels at one time or another. Those who ignore the past are doomed to relive it. Her stories about being a young woman when WWII ended are interesting, but Amelie finds that the further back in time Mrs. Maurier goes, the higher her own interest climbs. Hearing about the ancestor who dumped chamber pots over the heads of Union occupiers makes her grin. She’s an outsider to the politics of the American Civil War, and it makes her chuckle at the actions of people who Northern histories paint as the villains.

When all is said and done, plans and questions are already forming the back of Amelie’s head as she watches the wizened old lady hobble back to her seat. As she sits back in her own, the young woman reflects on all the speakers and ticks boxes in her head. She’s sure that she needs to visit at least one of them about the history of French immigrants to NOLA.

GM: Applause sounds as Mrs. Maurier ambles off the podium. Acting President Susannah thanks each of the McGehee alumni for coming today to share their experiences, and reiterates the scool’s commitment to making all of its graduates as engaged, passionate, confident, and successful as the ones they’ve received today. Susannah welcomes several new faculty to the school, eliciting another round of applause from the students, and proudly announces that McGehee has had some of the highest GPAs and college acceptance rates in the country—rates that “everyone here, student and staff alike” hopes and expects to increase this year.

“Towards that end,” Susannah goes on to announce times and locations for the year’s first college and career fairs, as well as a long list of extracurricular activities that are directly offered at McGehee. Available ones include the usual math, science, and debate clubs, physical sports, band and choir, theater, and a number of miscellaneous clubs such as chess, breakfast club, finance, philosophy, local history, politics, newspaper, yearbook committee, and of course student government. Printed schedules will be distributed during first period. Susannah not only encourages students to sign up for as many extracurriculars as possible, but to independently pursue further activities that are not offered by the school. “I’m working on my grandfather’s Senate reelection campaign, for instance—”Ivy League schools just love that sort of thing, and want students who show they can go above and beyond.

Amelie: Amelie joins the applause of course, and listens carefully for the announcements afterwards. There’s a few clubs that sound interesting. She wonders what physical sports they offer, but resolves instead to seek a school counselor’s aid for making plans for the future. More than one or two clubs might limit her schedule, but if she chooses to go to tertiary school it’s something she knows she has to consider.

GM: Acting President Susannah eventually steps down, and Principal Strong delivers a few closing words with the three principals for the lower, middle and upper schools, the peer counselor advisor, and a few other faculty members. The assembly closes with a full contingent of cheerleaders, song leaders, and mascots (all but the cheerleaders are of varying age, with some as young as grade school) leading a cheer.

Amelie: Amelie smiles calmly throughout. The assembly has smoothed over most the doubts had about the education and the caliber of thinking at McGehee. As she listens to the headmistress’ and varied staff’s last words, she feels as thought it’s about time to stretch her legs before the glee club arrives. Memories of her last school’s cheer clique rears its ugly head as Amelie watches the pompom-waving girls file out and begin a routine she’s sure they practiced over the summer.

The tall girl slumps back in her chair and runs a hand down her face, feeling her earlier swell of confidence drain out her ear as school spirit is shoved back in. Without the typical public school atmosphere, it’s easy to miss the sports banners, but they’re there as soon as she focuses. McGehee Hawks. Travesty. She lays still in her chair and waits for it to be over so she can get to class.


Monday morning, 17 August 2015

GM: The bell rings and Amelie makes her way across the tree- and flower-lined campus to class. The other buildings resemble the “old Southern house”-like Bradish Johnson House, although the hallways are wood-hued linoleum instead of actual wood. Onrushing tides of students head this way and that. Once Amelie has picked up her things from her locker, first period begins with Business and Finance. The class size is very small and there are only nine students besides her. It almost feels more like the small group discussions her old teachers would sometimes have, rather than a proper class, especially when all of the girls already seem to know one another and the teacher skips the ‘introduce yourself to the class’ ritual that characterized some of her old school’s classes (to varying degrees of awkwardness). The girls all take notes on their individual but school-mandated laptops as the teacher lectures from a modern-looking smartboard.

He’s an older, pale-haired man who’s still relatively handsome for his age, and dressed in a light-hued seersucker suit and burgundy necktie. He introduces himself with a lazy southern drawl as Lawrence Thurston (all of the girls call him “sir”) and mentions that he’s a former investment banker at Whitney National Bank. Teaching is a part-time gig for him in his retirement, which he’s doing more for fun and to “keep the old mind sharp” as anything else. He seems to genuinely enjoy the prospect of teaching many of his former clients’ and associates’ daughters how to navigate the byzantine complexities of modern finance (he himself is the grandfather of another McGehee student who isn’t yet old enough to be taking his class). He seems to particularly favor a girl he addresses as “Miss Whitney,” and even mentions with a chuckle, “Your great-uncle used to cut my paychecks,” to which she smiles prettily in response.

Amelie: Nepotism is clear and real here in this school, it seems, but so long as Amelie keeps her mouth shut about it, she’s certain that she can duck any negative effects long enough to graduate. It’s not like she minds them all knowing each other, anyway. She has her laptop out along with the other students as class starts. It’s not the newest thing on the market, but it was when she bought it two years ago, and it’s served her without error ever since.

GM: The day’s lesson is more a course objective overview and summary of what Mr. Thurston intends to cover than an actual lesson, but its tone still feels almost conversational. Mr. Thurston frequently drifts off-topic to relate anecdotes from his work at the bank (much of which involved his students’ parents and other relatives), only to subsequently weave his meanderings back into the lecture like it’s some grand tale in which his students and their families are the main characters.

Just outside the window, meanwhile, it’s a already a witheringly hot August day. The sun shines brightly overhead from a cloudless azure sky, and Amelie can make out the grounds’ drooping azalea bushes and banana trees actually shimmering in the heat. The air-conditioned classroom itself is quite cool, and many of the girls are wearing their identical dark blazers just to stay warm. That odd duality of hot and cold, together with the still-early morning hour and mirage-like (not to mention foreign) scene outside the window make it so easy for the cold-accustomed Canadian to feel drowsy. Especially with the old man’s mellow Southern cadence as a sleep aid…

“…times were tough then, my granddaddy always said. People were down on their luck and desperate. Robbing a bank was much, much easier in the ’30s than it is today. No cameras, no criminal databases, no ready means of tracing stolen bills. Why, if you could manage to duck the bulls—that meant police—and split town, you could start over with a satchel of money and brand new life in the next state…”

Banana_Tree.jpg
“…like your mother did, I suppose, Amelie. She never did love you.”

Amelie: Amelie takes quiet notes from the start of class, keeping her back straight and her notes in bullet points for now. She jots down the outline of the semester’s topics as well as other interesting bits like ‘Miss Whitney’ having an old family connection to the teacher. Even with the AC going, Amelie keeps her blazer off, unphased by the cold like many of her classmates are. But the outside view somehow feels like she’s on vacation in some tropical dreamscape. Just the existence of trees besides those found in a ‘normal’ forest line draws her attention every so often. But she’s too serious a student to allow it to bother her.

When the sudden curveball hits her in the jaw, her first reaction is a flash of annoyance at the mention of her mother. But she pushes it down as she always does, maintaining a polite smile at the teacher as she wonders if she heard him right. She glances at the students to see if they’re looking at her, if she hasn’t gone insane. Maybe a daydream got the best of her with how drowsy it is. She pinches the space in between the knuckles on her pinky finger to help wake herself up. But she keeps her mouth tightly shut and listens all the same, her heart throbbing slightly in her chest.

She’s sure she didn’t fall asleep, but… maybe she did.

GM: “…it was ironic. My granddaddy made it through the Great War without near so much as a booboo, but that fool bank robber put him in a wheelchair. All those robberies sure blew up a storm, though, and were one of the main reasons the Bureau of Investigation was reorganized into the FBI.”

Mr. Thurston glances up at the clock.“All right, girls, we don’t have too many minutes left. Y’all can use that time to sign up for extracurriculars. Miss Savard, if you’ll be a dear and pass along those sheets…”

The other students are looking at Amelie as Mr. Thurston hands her the sign-up sheets, though their gazes don’t otherwise seem to be regarding her as insane.

Amelie: Amelie lets off a small sigh at herself, wondering if it’s the pressure of being in this school or the hell of a summer she’s had coming up to this point. She stands and gives Mr. Thurston a quick and polite, “Yes, sir,” and hands out the pages when asked, keeping the final copy for herself as she sits back down. She resolves to ask the teacher if he knows about the Roberts family after the bell rings instead of using class time. That’ll settle it in her head, she hopes.

GM: Amelie doesn’t find it necessary to stand as the teacher hands her the sheets. She merely needs to take one for herself and pass the remainder to her nearest peer, a black-haired girl whose name she picks up as “Miss St. John” and who probably speaks the most during the class after Miss Whitney. Once the bell rings, Amelie finds that both girls briefly stick around after class to share a few friendly words with their teacher. Once they’re gone he finds time for Amelie, though it’s not a lot, especially as other students from next class begin to file into the room.

“Roberts? There’s a Christina Roberts I’ve met at a few socials. Probably a few others. It’s a common enough name. What has you asking, my dear?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man and breathes an internal sigh of relief. “I must be fighting traveler’s sickness from the sudden change of climate. I could have sworn I heard you mention a member of my family. That’s all. My mother was from New Orleans, and Roberts is her maiden name.”

GM: “Maybe you were daydreaming, dear. You are listening to an old man drone on about finance and even older family stories during first period,” Mr. Thurston chuckles. “Get a full night’s sleep if you aren’t already doing that. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself, in school or real life.”

Amelie: “Seven hours a night, every night, sir. Thank you. I should hurry to next class, but thanks for taking the time for me.”

GM: “Old buildings can play tricks on hot days, Miss Savard,” Mr. Thurston smiles as he waves her off.

Amelie: If that’s the case, Amelie cannot wait for fall to finally hit. With a little nod and another thank you, she slips out of the class and strides to the next.

GM: Amelie’s next class is History of the Late Middle Ages. It’s in the same building as her last class and equally small, with only ten or so students. The teacher, Mr. Bill French, is a trim-looking man with balding gray hair and a salt-streaked goatee who also serves as the golf instructor.

Bill_French.jpg Amelie: Amelie remarks to herself once again about how different it is to have such a small class. Though another thing that doesn’t escape her notice is another teacher being male, along with the last—Amelie stops in her mental tracks as the teacher mentions… golf coach? The stony look she’s had on her face the whole day breaks for a moment as the sides of her mouth curl up, a small stifled smile on her face as she barely keeps down a laugh at the idea of a girls’ school golf team.

GM: Amelie draws a few glances from her peers, but Mr. French either doesn’t notice or merely chooses not to acknowledge as he goes on, “The Late Middle Ages were a pivotal time period that witnessed Europe’s transition from feudalism to centralized nation-states,” he lectures, and informs the class that, among other topics, they will cover the Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, Great Schism, War of Roses, Ottoman conquests in Europe, flowering of the Italian Renaissance, and discovery of the New World. Students will choose one of those topics to write fairly long-sounding term papers on, “As this is a college-level course aimed to prepare you for doing college-level work.” As there are fewer topics than students, even in a class as small as the ones at McGehee, the remaining students will write their papers on how the period’s changes impacted one of the following modern nations: Britain, France, Spain, Germany, or Italy.

“Broadly, the Middle Ages can be defined as the period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of the Byzantine Empire…” the teacher starts, then goes on to give a brief synopsis of the major historic events that occurred between Rome’s fall and 1200 AD. “Far from the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ commonly stereotyped, 13th century Europe had reached heights of civilization that rivaled if not surpassed many of ancient Rome’s achievements. Europe’s population was over 30 million higher during the 13th century than the 1st, but roughly 1 in 3 people will be dead by 1400.”

After reiterating the many societal changes that both caused and were caused by by this calamitous population drop and its related events, he informs the class that “Those of you wishing to more fully explore the consequences of Europe’s socio-political transformation can do so in Mrs. Bradford’s Early Modern History class next semester. Those of you taking History of New Orleans next semester with Ms. Perry will also find our class a useful frame of reference, as she likes to pick up at the Age of Exploration. Columbus’ search for new trade routes to India was prompted by the fall of Constantinople, so it’s possible that without the Turks, none of us would be be here today.” Mr. French smiles. “History is a great wind and we are but motes swept along its path.”

With those final words, he calls on the girls to list what topics they would like to research before the bell rings.

Amelie: Amelie calms down a few moments after the golf coach mention and takes a seat, starting her notes for the class on her laptop and wondering which of these subjects she should choose. More than one sound appealing to her, though of course her smith’s mind flashes through the rise of Gothic plate armor, masterwork weapons, the invention of the blast furnace, the Hundred Years’ War, and of course the Ottoman conquests’ sharing of military ideals. She nods when she hears about the-tie in with the Local History class and makes a special note of this, a bit of excitement building in her chest. Between this class and the one next period for New Orleans history, she’s already bouncing in her seat in anticipation.

When the call goes out, she of course raises her hand to say her two cents, wanting to touch on ‘the rise of artisan-ship during the rise in technology, especially in western Europe and especially pertaining to metallurgy’ as well as ‘how gunpowder changed Europe’ and of course ‘the life and death of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans’.

GM: “Does that mean you want to choose the Hundred Years’ War for your paper, Miss Savard?” Mr. French asks.

Amelie: Amelie rues a bit that she has to make a choice right now, but nods. “I’ll gladly take it, yes.”

GM: The bell soon rings again. Amelie makes her way down the halls to her next class. Third period is with Ms. Anna May Perry, a slender black-haired woman in her late 20s with half-rimmed rectangular glasses. She wears a floral-printed skirt and darker blouse.

Anna_May_Perry_L.jpg After greeting the perhaps ten-girl class with, “How y’all doing today?” she has the students “break the ice, not that it’s very thick with so few of us” by sharing facts about themselves. Some of Ms. Perry’s include that she was born in Lafayette, earned her master’s in Miami, likes cats, has a skull tattoo on her lower back, and got engaged to her boyfriend two weeks ago. The class offers various iterations of “why, congratulations, ma’am,” which she thanks them for.

Amelie: Amelie notices again how small her class is when she enters and sees just a few others. It’s something that’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s very encouraging that the pamphlet was not fibbing about class sizes. Another surprise quickly surfaces as she takes her seat: the first ice-breaking exercise of the day, something that’s been a staple of pubic education to pad a first day for her many years as a student. When it’s her turn, she remarks that she’s Canadian Quebecois, has only been in New Orleans for the lesser part of a week, is an advanced fencer in the schools of French saber and German messer, been a ‘historical artisan’ making weapons, armor, and jewelry since she was a young girl until last year, and that this is her first experience with private education.

GM: Amelie’s introduction draws pleasant smiles. Her mention of this being her first foray outside of the public school system draws ones that are particularly wide… if not pitying. Once everyone “feels ready to get down to business,” Ms. Perry starts with a brief overview of the time periods the class is going to study. They will cover the colonial period under French and Spanish rule, the Antebellum years before the War Between the States, the Postbellum years after the war, the comparatively calmer 20th century, and “recent history, which really begins with Hurricane Katrina.” Today, however, they will cover a truncated history of the Caribbean and continental Europe during the Age of Exploration. New Orleans’ history is a product of the centuries-old and conflict-fraught relationships between France, Spain, and England, and “That all begins, good or ill, with the 1469 union of the Catholic Monarchs in Iberia.”

Iberia was not yet modern Spain, and Aragon and Castile retained distinct laws and languages despite their sovereigns’ marriages. But they were united in their desire for gold and silver from the New World—as much of it as possible. Columbus’ search for new trade routes to India, spurred by the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks and followed by the Spanish conquest of the Americas, brought an enormous influx of wealth that tripled Europe’s monetary. At least a third of this silver went to China to purchase silks and spices, from whence it would never return. Havana became the chief embarkation point for these precious metals on their way back to Europe. The fleets of transportation ships could take months to assemble, and bored sailors required entertainment, leading Havana to become a city known for its rollicking good times (a reputation it would carry well into the 20th century).

Times were good in Europe, too, at least for Spain. Thanks to generations of inbreeding, Carlos I (better-known as Charles V) ruled the largest empire in Europe since Charlemagne. He inherited Castile, Aragon, and the Sicilies from his Spanish grandparents; the Low Countries from Mary of Burgundy; and the Holy Roman Empire after bribing the electors not to vote for other contenders (who included the French Valois king Francois I and even England’s Henry VIII). Among other things, this dizzying array of kingships gave Charles one of the most complex coats of arms possessed by any monarch in history. Charles was king during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, but Spain’s activities in the Americas were always of lesser importance to him than his driving goal in the Old World: uniting all of Christian Europe under one banner.

It was Charles’ misfortune to be born several centuries too late, however, for Martin Luther’s Reformation (among other factors) broke the Catholic Church’s hegemony and bitterly divided Europe over the subject of religion. Charles ordered Protestants throughout his kingdoms burned at the stake, establishing the precedent that a person’s religion in Europe would largely be determined by where they lived. He also forbade the importation of Muslim slaves to the New World, and further banned all Protestants and Jews from making the trans-Atlantic voyage: this would result in Latin America remaining strongly Catholic even into the 21st century.

Charles was succeeded by Philip II, who by 1556 ruled over a politically united Iberia that now included Portugal. During this peak of Spanish imperial power, no other country could seriously challenge their empire in the New World. Spain’s greatest rival, France, was consumed with religious civil strife. France executed over 15,000 Protestants during its bloody Wars of Religion: the better-known Spanish inquisition, in comparison, killed a mere 5,000 people. French pirates and privateers plundered Spanish colonial ports and treasure ships, but they could not directly challenge Spain until the Edict of Nantes in 1598. This made Catholicism the state religion while also granting guarantees to over a million Huguenots (French Protestants). France could now turn their energies outwards, and Philip II died only a year later.

Philip II’s son Philip III inherited a kingdom in troubled straights. Spanish culture was flourishing across Europe (Don Quixote was published during this time), but its century-long imperial movement was at an end. Despite a vast income from the New World, Spain had been reduced to minting copper coinage and was nearly bankrupt from its wars in Europe—Charles V’s huge empire had united many enemies against him. Spain consequently made no attempt to develop its American colonies: its interest lay purely in extraction. The world today might look very different indeed if Spain had followed the examples set by France and England. Instead, Spanish colonists in the Caribbean were kept under an extraordinarily tight leash. They were not allowed to engage in commerce with other colonies and could only buy supplies from royally authorized Spanish vendors, which put them at the mercy of monopoly pricing and predatory lending.

The colonists would have starved if they had followed their mother country’s heavy-handed edicts, so they unsurprisingly turned to piracy, smuggling, and barter-based commerce. When royal authorities discovered Bibles—Lutheran Bibles—in Santo Domingo, they were aghast. Protestants were not allowed in the New World. Madrid responded with a spectacularly ill-advised order in 1605 to forcibly relocate the island’s entire population to the central town. Over 100 colonists who objected to their homes and farms being burned were hanged in punishment. The entire island of Hispaniola (the second-largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba), except for its administrative center of Santa Domingo, was left depopulated and abandoned. The results were unsurprising, and ultimately made the founding of New Orleans possible.

The pirates moved in.

Spanish authorities simply did not have the means to let the island sit empty and keep pirates off of it the same time. The western third of Hispaniola soon became effectively independent. Society was free to the point of anarchy. The empty territory became populated by wild cattle, dogs, and men called boucaniers (or buccaneers, from boucan, the brazier in which they cooked their food). This almost entirely male society lived and worked in pairs, with the custom of inheritance upon death for the surviving partner. The boucaniers endured lives of great hardship but total freedom, and were spiritual cousins to the French Canadian coureurs de bois and voyageurs, the later South American gauchos, the Mexican vaqueros, and—last to emerge—the cowboys of the Wild West. The New World thus afforded to some a degree of freedom unknown in the Old, and complete slavery to others.

Off the north coast of the western territory of La Espanola, the small island of Tortuga (popularized by a certain pirate film franchise) became a haven for another kingless society: the freebooters, or filibusters (flibustiers in French, from the Dutch flittboten, or flyboats). The emergence of nation-states saw piracy used practically as a military arm of the state, especially with the advent of privateers, who were pirates bearing letters of marque that allowed them to prey on merchant ships of enemy nations. Spanish ships, groaning under the weight of so much silver, were their richest prizes. Although piracy existed in the Caribbean before Spain’s ill-advised decision to abandon Hispaniola, and would have existed regardless of it, granting the boucaniers their own island base from which to launch attacks certainly helped the practice to flourish. The boucaniers also served a valuable role for France as vanguard colonists. Over time, they transitioned from piracy and cattle killing to agriculture. Their first crop was tobacco. Tobacco’s profits would prove far more enduring than gold (not to mention less susceptible to piracy), for plantations would continue to be profitable economic enterprises well into the 19th century.

Meanwhile in Europe, Spain was exhausted from war and signed the Twelve Years Truce with its rebellious vassals in the Netherlands. Spain would never regain them, nor its sense of empire. The newly-independent Dutch would go on to became a major economic power in the 17th century: they were the most urbanized and tolerant people in Europe, and did not burn witches during the mania of persecutions sweeping the continent at the time (witch-burnings were not actually widespread during the Middle Ages, Ms. Perry also points out). Only a few decades later, the Thirty Years War tore apart the Holy Roman Empire, crippled the power of the Catholic Church by separating politics and religion (Europe was sick of religious wars), and humbled Spain’s military power with the defeat of the formerly invincible tercio (Spanish infantry formation). Europe’s stage was set for a new era of French dominance under their greatest king: Louis XIV, for whom Louisiana would be named.

Louis won many wars, broke the power of the feudal nobility, and remade France into a highly centralized state where he enjoyed near-absolute power. Yet despite these accomplishments, the Sun King showed consistently poor judgment where Louisiana was concerned. “I am convinced that Sieur de La Salle’s discovery is quite useless,” were his words when told of his new territory at the mouth of the Mississippi. In 1685 he revoked his grandfather’s Edict of Nantes, removing civil guarantees for Protestants. France had enjoyed religious peace for 87 years, and it was late in the day for an act of intolerance of this magnitude. The Thirty Years War was long over. Nevertheless, Huguenots saw their property forcibly confiscated, and many more of these French Protestants were brutally tortured and executed. At least 200,000 chose to flee France. Their ranks included many of the country’s most productive and industrious people: artisans, craftsmen, and other professionals, some of whom were quite wealthy (“that Protestant work ethic,” Ms. Perry chides). Many smuggled out their gold and silver with them, further weakening France’s economy. They took that money and their considerable expertise, which would help fuel the Industrial Revolution, to France’s rivals: England and the Netherlands.

The Dutch golden age was already over. But an age of English world power was looming. France, at the time, had much greater wealth than England and a population more than three times as large (some 20 million). But England had a greater navy (partly thanks to its copper-bottomed ships, which were safe from barnacles—a significant advantage) and a more modern political and economic structure than France. England established a central bank in 1694 and had an essential weapon for managing the expense of war which France did not: paper money. This eliminated the need to physically transport heavy chests of coins, a practice far too slow for the needs of modern commerce. Louis never understood this, for Versailles was an inland capital and remote from the forces remaking Europe’s economy. Where Britain taxed consumer goods being brought in through trade, and which brought in predictable revenues from diverse sources, France’s taxation system lagged behind in the Middle Ages: the king squeezed his nobles for money, and his nobles squeezed the commoners below them. England’s religious tolerance created a much wider talent pool for business and industry than France, who had just expelled their most productive workers. The British had a bank and a system of credit: the French did not.

It would take time for economic realities to catch up with political ones. The War of the Grand Alliance, Europe’s latest conflict, ended largely inconclusively in 1697. But as part of its outcome, Carlos II (Spain’s last Habsburg king, mentally feeble from generations of inbreeding), conceded Saint-Domingue (the western third of Hispaniola) to France—making official a fact that had long since been established by the boucaniers. Now that France was no longer at war, more plantations sprang up on the colony, which was well on its way to creating phenomenal wealth. France’s economy had been depleted by Louis XIV’s many wars. It was time for them to make their move in the southern region of North America, where they hoped to duplicate Spain’s success at finding precious metal and establish a new empire. Surely in the vast, unexplored territory of Louisiana, there must be gold and silver!

“We will pick up with the results of that search and the direct settlement of Louisiana tomorrow,” Ms. Perry states, glancing up at the clock.

Amelie: Amelie takes voracious notes throughout the lesson with a content smile on her face. It’s a fun class, though she doesn’t share the titters and group chuckles of her peers. Instead, her mind’s eye gets away from her as she touch-types out the best bits of information she can gleam from the lecture. Right up until it ends, like all good things.

GM: “We’ll also spend the rest of this class in America, or at least most of it,” the teacher continues. “But that doesn’t make European history any less relevant to New Orleans. Let’s trace it along. First, who can tell me the main consequence of the Protestant Reformation?”

“It weakened the Catholic Church and started religious wars throughout Europe,” answers the first girl who’s called on.

“That’s right. Spain took the side of the Catholics and tried to keep Protestants out of the New World. What happened because of that?”

“Spain overreacted, made all the colonists move, and left Hispaniola open to the pirates.”

“Right again. And what’d that lead to?”

“The pirates basically took over the island for France.”

Another girl asks, “What does that have to do with New Orleans, though?”

“That’s a bit of a longer answer,” Ms. Perry replies. “But in short, Saint-Domingue and the buccaneers established French power in the region—New Orleans wasn’t a very livable place in its early years. We have to keep in mind the first American colonies were over 200 years older than New Orleans, and the early city would conduct a lot of its commerce with them. Many Haitians would also flee to New Orleans after the revolution. But we’ll get to all of that later. Who can tell me what consequence the Reformation had for Louis XIV? Yes, Ms. Devillers?”

“’E drove out the Huguenots and weakened the French economy,” answers an actually French-accented girl with clear blue eyes, pale skin, and similarly pale blonde hair.

Yvette_Devillers.jpg A thin smile touches her lips. “Louis was a strong king, but mah mother says ‘is success went to ’is head. She says men like that always do ’the most foolish things, once they’ve ‘ad time for their ’eads to swell.’”

“Don’t they ever,” Ms. Perry smiles in response, to amused titters from the rest of the class. “Louis’ ego, if we want to delve that deeply into historical causes, made a mistake that weakened the French economy. That left the Duc d’Orleans, the regent for France’s next king, open to a sweet-talking Scottish gambler who promised an easy answer to France’s financial woes: Louisiana. But we’ll get to that scoundrel,” and there the class titters again when Ms. Perry emphasizes the name with an eye-rolling smile, as if the figure in question were a ne’er-do-well who’d plied his charms on her personally, “tomorrow.”

Amelie: Amelie stays out of the ‘question and answer’ period for the most part. She raises her hand for the question pertaining to a favorite subject of hers, Louis the Sun King, only for someone interesting to get called on first. Her accent is unmistakable, and as Amelie turns to regard her, it’s possible in her mind that the pale girl is a fellow Quebecois. Though it’s impossible to tell unless she gets her speaking French.

GM: “In the meantime,” Ms. Perry continues, “we still have a bit of class left. That will go to your research projects. We live in a city that’s filled with history, including right here in the Garden District. So we have no excuse not to go out and see it. We obviously don’t have time for field trips with an hour-long class period, so y’all will do those yourselves after school—but cheer up, your research projects will also substitute for all but one of your exams.”

“We have two options for research projects, which I’m going to put up for vote: colonial buildings and ghost stories.” Ms. Perry smirks when the class visibly perks up at the second option. “Now you just hold your horses, you haven’t even heard what they are!”

“Colonial buildings will entail you visiting and doing a research project on one building of your choosing that existed between the city’s founding and the coming of the Yanks,” a comment which draws more titters from the class, “in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. It doesn’t have to still be standing, but you have to be able to at least visit the site where it used to stand. Your building also doesn’t have to be in the Quarter, although that is where most of our city’s oldest buildings are.”

“For ghost stories, you’ll research the life and times of a famous local figure who folktales or urban legends have associated with ghosts—and believe me, we have plenty of those. For instance, you could research Jean Lafitte, whose bar and blacksmith shop is reportedly haunted. You can also research a ghost story that isn’t about a famous figure, so long as you can still connect it to a meaningful piece of history—like a ghost story that’s about yellow fever victims. You also have to include a physical place that you’ve visited in your presentation.”

“So that said,” Ms. Perry smiles as she looks around the class, “what’s it gonna be: colonial buildings or ghost stories?”

Amelie: The class’ interest seems quite a bit more piqued at ghost stories, but either one sounds interesting to Amelie. She’ll get into a building of historical importance either way. She decides to see where the vote leans, confident that any show of hands will be for the second of the two choices, and raises her hand for it when it comes to that.

GM: Amelie finds there to be no show of hands. The class is small enough for the girls to simply all start talking. “Oh, let’s do ghost stories!” “But every class probably does that.” “For a reason, of course!” “The colonial buildings have interesting histories too.” “Not as interesting as the people who lived in them.”

Ms. Perry patiently listens as the class talks things out. The consensus seems to be leaning towards ghost stories, but a strong enough voice may yet tip the balance towards historic buildings.

Amelie: It’s fun to think about both, but it’s a long shot from what the young woman is used to. She wonders about it as the others talk, then turns to the teacher with a question.

“Mrs. Perry, is this an individual report, or would you allow groups or pairings? If we chose ghosts, it may be fun and practical to spend a night in a haunted location as part of the research, though I doubt many of us have the courage to do that alone.”

GM: “Ms. Perry, Ms. Savard. I’m engaged but I haven’t tied the knot just yet,” the black-haired teacher laughs off. “That’s a very interesting idea, for those brave enough to take it up.”

Indeed, despite Amelie’s earlier reception among her peers, the idea gets a few intrigued looks.

“And you’re way ahead of me. The projects will be done in pairs.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles thinly and gives Ms. Perry a light apologetic nod. “I put my bid in for ghosts, then. It may be a bit gauche, but this could be a chance to see a different side of New Orleans, and we get to make an event of it. Maybe even a terrifying one, depending on the locale. I have my eyes set on the LaLaurie Mansion for instance.”

GM: That draws another laugh from Ms. Perry. “Oh, you’d be pretty brave to spend the night there. They say it’s brought ruin to every inhabitant. In fact, does anyone here know who owns it? Last I heard it was a famous Hollywood actor.”

“’E sold it,” answers the pale blonde. “It’s on the market, Ah think.”

Consensus from the rest of the class concurs. In fact, as a search on their phones reveals, the actor in question sold the house to pay off some of his debts. One girl adds that he died from alcohol poisoning not long thereafter.

“Sounds as if the curse is alive and well,” Ms. Perry suggests, arching an eyebrow.

Meanwhile, the class seems sold, and expresses as much. Ms. Perry gives a satisfied nod. “All right, ghost stories it is! Though fair warning, you might not be able to spend the night at all haunts. The LaLaurie House for instance is privately owned.” The teacher gives another smile over her half-rimmed glasses. “Luckily, that should also give any chickens a valid excuse to stay out.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider, a plan already forming in her head forming about this project. If there is a curse, best to talk with a priest. Or maybe a Vodouisant, considering the race of the potential tormented souls. The news of a recent death only cements the twinkle of interest in her eye about the house. Only owners have been cursed, it sounds like.

While the class agrees, Amelie turns to the pale blonde. “Vous semblez connaître un peu cette maison. Souhaitez-vous être mon partenaire pour cela?” Speaking French again feels good, really good, as she lets her fluency roll off the tongue.

(“You seem to know a bit about this house. Would you like to be my partner for this?”)

GM: The pale blonde looks confused by Amelie’s words. “Ah’m sorry, what was that?”

Amelie: Amelie looks a bit confused as well for a moment, and switches back to accent-less English. “Oh, I’m sorry! Your accent, I assumed you were French.”

GM: “Oh. Merci. Mah brain’s scattered,” the girl answers. “Ah am French. Ah just don’t usually ’ear the language outside mah family.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment to size up the girl before a small smile breaks out on her face. “That’s perfectly fine. I had a similar issue growing up,” she says, trying to put her at ease. “Which are you more comfortable with, so I can speak that around you?”

GM: “Either’s fine. It was just a surprise,” the blonde answers. “Ah’m Yvette, if you didn’t listen to those stupid introductions.”

Amelie: “Amelie. Very nice to meet you. I’ll try not to surprise you too much from now on.” It’s the first real conversation she’s had at this school, of course it needs to be slightly embarrassing. “I was asking if you’d like to be my partner for this paper. You seemed to know a lot about the LaLaurie House.”

GM: Yvette glances across the room. By now all of the other eight girls have since paired up. They do not seem to have taken overly long to decide about partners and are chatting about topics instead, in between glances at the sheets Ms. Perry has handed out.

“Ah don’t think we really ’ave a choice anymore,” she observes. “But Ah’ve ’eard and seen a few things. Mah sister Cécilia lives in the Quarter and pointed it out to me on a walk.”

Amelie: The room had an even number of people, so Amelie knew beforehand there was little chance she’d get to do this on her own. But at least she and her new partner have something in common besides the fact they’re almost forced to work together.

“Well, before we get too focused on it, do you have anywhere else you’d want to do the report on? I fully intend to stay a night where we choose, and I’d hate to expose you to a curse,” she jokes.

GM: “Oh, well, we might ‘ave trouble as Ms. Perry says. Ah wouldn’t want to let a stranger sleep in mah ’ouse if it were me, no?” Yvette smiles faintly. “It maht spread the curse around.”

Amelie: “It’s currently on the market. We have to talk to the bank I believe? I’m not really sure how it’d work here,” she admits. “As for the curse, for dramatic effect, we could ask a priest—or a Vodouisant, since the ghosts were black servants—to come with us. I more meant, if you want to chose another location, I’m happy to hear it.”

GM: “Non, the LaLaurie ’Ouse is fine,” Yvette replies. “Ah don’t think anyone will take it now, after you said you were interested. And it’s not like Ah really believe in curses.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles, though she keeps her own thoughts on curses to herself. “The way I see it, if we ask a priest or Vodouisant to accompany us to ‘protect us’, we’ll get plenty of material from them. While also getting our own experiences there for the report.”

GM: “That’s fair. St. Louis Cathedral is pretty close by. And there are tons more churches if any priest is too busy.”

Amelie: Amelie ticks a box in her head when Yvette doesn’t mention the suggestion of asking a mambo, but continues on, asking what days of the week Yvette is available to study after school. Talking about it only gets them so far after all, hitting the books is how they’re going to get this done.

GM: “And the ’ouse,” Yvette adds with a faint smile. She is currently busy after school for most of the afternoon today, but can meet with Amelie tomorrow an hour after school ends. She provides a few further dates in the imminent future before the bell rings, signaling the start of lunch break. Yvette gathers up her laptop with the other girls and remarks, “It was nice to ’ave met another French speaker.”

Amelie: Amelie nods, mirroring the faint smile back at her new partner before they start organizing the days they can meet to work together on the project. She’s even more glad for the remark. “Same. Bonne journée, Yvette.”

GM: Yvette and most of the students file off into the hallways, though a few remain behind to talk with the teacher, lunch break eliminating the need to quickly get to next class.

Amelie: It’s lunchtime, but Amelie is one of the students who stay behind to speak with their teacher. She plans to ask if they’ll be touching on a favorite figure of hers. Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla.

GM: Ms. Perry becomes available several minutes later as the other girls head off to lunch. “We’ll be touching on him as part of the dueling culture that was an important part of the city’s larger Creole culture,” she nods. “He was the city’s greatest duelist, after all! You can choose him for your next research project if he’s a figure who grabs your interest.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the teacher a nod. As a fencer, Jose Llulla grabs her interest immensely.

“I’d like that. He was quite the man from what I’ve read. It was written once that three Haitians tried to assassinate him in front of his home. His presence terrified them so much they couldn’t draw their pistols before he’d already killed one with his sword.”

Not wanting to take up any more of the teacher’s time, she thanks Ms. Perry for the affirmation and excuses herself to lunch.

GM: “Yes, there are a lot of stories about him. They say he had a whole cemetery for the losers of his duels, but that he was also unusually merciful for how many of them he spared. They say he was as skilled a shot as he was a duelist, and could blow silver dollars right off his son’s head, with the little boy never once fearing for his safety.” Ms. Perry smiles as Amelie heads off. “Maybe we’ll even hear a few more tall and not-so-tall tales from you.”

Amelie: Amelie feels excitement welling as she talks about the historic duelist. It’s all she can do to hold back from grinning like an idiot and going on and on. “We’ll see! Thank you Ms. Perry, I really look forward to your next class!”

After heading out the door, it’s a quick backtrack through the campus to the cafeteria. Amelie remembers visiting the place during her tour the other day, but worries still flare up about what kind of atmosphere the place has while other students occupy it. She resolves to keep the lunch quick while she browses for the owning bank of the Lalaurie House.

GM: A quick search on her phone as she heads to the cafeteria turns up Whitney National Bank together with the LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Amelie is in no rush as she makes her way over the grounds, but mentally jots down the connection between Whitney National Bank and the speaker at the assembly this morning. ‘Mr. Whitney, your great-grandfather wrote my checks’ or something like that. It’s a good place to start, at least, and the list of who Ms. Whitney is shouldn’t be too difficult with the tiny size of the school compared to her previous public schooling.

GM: Amelie soon arrives at her destination. The school’s cafeteria, Cafe Louise, is a large and well-lit space filled with the sounds of chattering girls and the aroma of surprisingly rich-smelling food. A poster board with pictures of the staff welcomes students to the space.

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Another posted overhead menu reads, Potato Sausage Soup; Cajun Caviar; Jumbo Scallop Salad; Fried Creole Marinated Calamari; California Chef’s Salad; Coconut Beer Shrimp; Gumbo Ya Ya. Amelie overhears one girl waiting in line remark, “I read that the menu is longer at Sidewell Friends, the school where presidents all send their kids.” “Thanks, Obama,” snickers another girl. There are no cashiers, as tuition covers lunches, leaving the students free to simply walk up and ask the lunch ladies for whatever looks tasty. Students who want cold drinks or iced coffee rather than water, lemonade, milk, or sweet tea still have to buy it from a vending machine.

While there are the usual rows of occupied tables one expects to find in a cafeteria, many girls eat outside on benches, the grass, or the particularly scenic (and seemingly coveted) tables around the Bradish Johnson House. Most of these students strip off their blazers in the sweltering heat, which is a pleasant change in temperature (at least in brief doses) from the air-conditioned classrooms. Shaded areas under the oaks and banana trees offer a slightly cooler in-between. A few girls walk off in the direction of their cars, presumably to buy lunch off-campus. Students who bring their own cold lunches (or at least find some creative way to eat the cafeteria food without absconding the trays) would seem free to eat anywhere, though they are likely a minority given the free and aromatic-smelling meals.

It also becomes apparent to Amelie that almost all of the girls, whether they are inside or outside the cafeteria, are divided into avidly chattering cliques. The Canadian transplant is free to find peers to socialize with (or at least try to), or to simply pick a secluded spot on the grass by herself.

Amelie: Once it’s Amelie’s turn, she politely asks for the calamari from the lunch ladies, and heads off to sit at a free table with girls who look around her age, not bothering to wonder what clique they are. She sets her bag between her legs, gets a notebook out, and writes down a list of things she needs to start on so far today. Start planning report on Hundred Years’ War, find Ms. Whitney, approach her about LaLaurie House. Amelie underlines the next item very thickly. Think of way to convince her to help. It isn’t enough to just ask, after all.

With that done, she finally starts on her food and turns to observe who she’s sitting with.

GM: Amelie has barely had a chance to sit down, much less write out a to-do list, before her neighbors react to her sudden presence. Like every other student at McGehee, the four girls are dressed in the same plaid skirt, white shirt, and black blazer as she is.

“Oh, I’m sorry—one of our friends was going to sit there,” remarks a blonde-haired girl.

“We’d use a ‘reserved’ placard if there was one, but seems the cafeteria’s fresh out,” laughs a brunette.

“Yes, it’d be a lot more convenient if we could make those things obvious,” comments the first black girl Amelie can recall seeing in the school.

“You wouldn’t think we were being rude if we asked whether you could find another seat, would you?” asks another brunette.

Amelie: Amelie sighs internally and thinks fast as the group of girls make their thinly-veiled attempts at politesse. This seems as though it could be a good chance, at least. She keeps her usual stony face as the last brunette speaks, then offers a light smile to the group.

“If that’s the case, I’ll go, though I wonder if you could do a new face a favor in pointing me to someone first. The girl pointed out during the assembly? Ms. Whitney?”

GM: “Miss Whitney? You mean Sarah Whitney?” asks the blonde.

“There’s only so many Whitneys,” the first brunette laughs lightly.

The black girl rattles off a room number for Amelie. “You should be able to find her there.”

“Yes, that’s where she has sixth period. So she’ll probably still be there for a little bit once school’s out, if you’re fast,” nods the first brunette.

Amelie: Amelie gives a wider smile at the news and slowly stands. “That’s really helpful, thank you. Sorry for the disturbance. I hope we can become friends over this year.” She excuses herself and makes a note of the room number, then decides to head outside. She sits down under the shade of one of the oak trees to dig into her meal.

Mulling it over in the grass, though, it feels like the girls at the table were lying to her. Not that it matters, there is still Yvette to help introduce her. She doesn’t quite shrug it off, but keeps a mental list of their faces and saves it for later.

GM: The flash-fried suckered calamari tentacles are slightly chewy, as all such fish is, and the marinated Creole sauce brings the flavor. Amelie isn’t sure what the sauce is… it looks like orange gravy, and has a buttery, milky taste, with a zesty tang from what might be pepper, paprika, and white vinegar. The calamari tentacles lie over a bed of steamed brown rice that nicely soaks up the runny sauce. There’s a side of thicker tomato sauce with basil and parmesan to pour over the rice for a heartier contrast. A tinier cup of olives provides a saltier, lighter contrast to both savory sauces.

It’s a lot better than most school cafeteria food.

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Yet Amelie cannot help but notice that she seems to be the only person sitting by herself. The students not sitting in cliques sit in twos and threes. They chatter away between bites of food, and laugh or exclaim at this or that. Amelie even spots a trio putting their arms around one another while the girl with the longest arms snaps a group selfie with her pink-colored phone. The smiling three exclaim something to the effect of, “BFFs!”

Amelie sits and eats alone.

Amelie: Canada has a ‘wealth of cultures’ in its pocket, meaning quite a varied culinary experience. But one learns quite fast that this only applies the larger cities. Once Amelie moved out from Quebec City, she found herself cooking quick meals. Now that the young woman is sitting here in a place famed for its fine foods, she nearly drools over her meal as she takes the first bite. It’s good enough to take her mind off the solitude for a short while, as she looks around at the kind of people she often scoffed at while slaving away in front of a hot forge. Seeing it this close, though, she can only feel a little jealous. Going to find Yvette would be inappropriate and clingy, and if her last interaction is any indicator, breaking into social circles is going to be difficult without an avenue in.

She sighs and eats alone, spending the last 45 minutes of her lunch break browsing around the area, familiarizing herself with the streets and shops and landmarks she’s interested in visiting. Her next class, if she remembers right, is Inorganic Chemistry. That’ll be another chance for her to show off her practical knowledge.

GM: Amelie finds she has less time than the break’s full 45 minutes after she has gone through the lunch line and finished eating, so the stroll through the picturesque neighborhood is short but sweet. Amelie sees more of the old Greek Revival and Victorian mansions, brick (not concrete or asphalt) sidewalks, tall stiff magnolia grandiflora with their shiny dark leaves, wrought-iron fences with their floral patterns, and sentinel oaks stretching out their mammoth branches like mighty and protective arms. Some parts of the Garden District feel almost indoors, like they exist under a great green leafy done. It’s not unlike a giant, all-natural greenhouse. Summer cicadas are out and singing their buzzing song.

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Amelie: Amelie enjoys the walk quite a bit, keeping a brisk pace to keep the air moving through her short thick hair. She tries her best to get used to the sound of cicadas over seagulls and frogs, as well as the perfect silence of winter months. Being in such a different environment is dream-like as she watches the brick walkway and briefly imagines herself as Alice, adjusting to a mad mad world. Beautiful, but oh so foreign. The bliss ends when she gets back to the school gates, and she flips back to the academic frame of mind she always does when she’s ready to learn.

GM: Amelie’s newfound focus proves just enough for her to spot the small, black-haired girl in McGehee’s unmistakable uniform who’s clearly been watching her from a distance.

Amelie: The black-haired girl instantly steals the young woman’s interest. She leisurely makes her way closer.

GM: As the girl sees Amelie coming, she turns and disappears among the mass of identically-attired students on their way back to class. Amelie lasers in like a hawk, and physically keeping up isn’t much trouble with longer legs. In her haste to get away, the younger girl actually bumps head-long into another, taller student. Her wallet falls out onto the ground. She mumbles an apology in response to the other girl’s glare, then looks up to see Amelie. Up close, she appears around middle school age. She’s also very thin, with plain and mousy facial features, and neck-length black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Braces are visible on her teeth and there’s an even more visible red pimple on the bottom of her right cheek.

“Why are you following me?” she glowers.

Amelie: Amelie can barely believe she catches the girl, but long strong legs carry her right to the little middle-schooler in due fashion. She even sees her bump right into the upperclassman, and feels a bit sorry for the mousy little girl, even as she shoots off that hostile look.

“To see why you were watching me so intently,” she answers plainly, kneeling down to pick up the wallet. “I’m sorry if it startled you.”

GM: “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the girl bristles. She then sees Amelie pick up her wallet and exclaims, “Hey, that’s mine!”

Amelie: Amelie takes a moment to size up the smaller girl and slowly offers her a little smile, trying to disarm her. “It’s okay, hun. I followed you, that was kinda awkward too, huh? My name’s Amelie.” Still, she offers the wallet back to her. “We still have some time left on our lunch break. You wanna go sit down?”

GM: The girl looks at Amelie warily, then grabs it back. “Lunch’s over. And you look like a dyke with that hair!” She quickly turns to leave.

Amelie: Amelie gets the first straightforward insult she’s had in America and can’t stifle a bit of smile. She stands back up but doesn’t pursue the girl. Maybe this is a chance to make a little friend. Her first at this school.

“There’s no reason to be rude. I’m trying to make friends. Why don’t you tell me why you were staring and we can start over, okay?”

GM: Amelie’s calm and unruffled response seems to take the wind out of the preteen’s bluster as she looks up at the upperclassman, then looks down at the ground. “I’m not supposed to tell you that.”

Amelie: The girl’s words give Amelie a bit of pause, and she leans down just slightly to get on a more comfortable level with the shorter student. The girl is just scared underneath, she can tell. “Are you okay, hun?”

GM: The preteen’s eyes start to look moist as she stares at the ground.

Amelie: Amelie’s throat starts to clamp as the little girl looks so upset. She leans in a big more, wrapping an arm around the middle-schooler to let her know she’s going to be okay. “It’s okay, hun, you don’t have to say anything if you’re scared. Do you want me to walk you to your next class?”

GM: The bell rings overhead, deaf to such concerns. Chatting students begin trickling back inside to the school’s various buildings. The girl tenses at Amelie’s touch but doesn’t pull away. “I’m already skipping…”

Amelie: The young woman sighs and looks up as the bell rings and people head off to their classes. She resolves to take just a few more minutes. “You don’t like school, then. What’s your name, hun?”

GM: The girl still isn’t looking directly at her. “No, I… Miranda.”

Amelie: “Miranda. That’s a really nice name. Listen, hun, you don’t have to tell me anything, okay? I’m not going to ask you to. And while I’d prefer you went to class, I’m not going to make you do that either. It’s your choice. Can I give you a hug before I got to class, though? Please? I’m really weak to sad faces.”

GM: The preteen starts crying. “You… you weren’t supposed to see… I can’t do anything right…”

Amelie: Amelie swoops in right then and there, pulling Miranda into a full on hug as she cries. There is no greater chink in Amelie’s armor than seeing someone younger than her crying. “Hey hey hey, shhh. It’s okay. It’s not your fault, it was mine. What kind of crazy lady would run after someone like that. It’s okay. Whoever it is that asked you to do this, you can tell them you’ve done one better, okay? That you made friends with me to watch me closer, okay? Would that work?”

GM: Amelie can feel the slight shudders going through the younger girl’s body as she pulls her in. She doesn’t return the hug, but neither does she pull away. “I… I dunno…”

Amelie: Amelie feels awful for making Miranda tense up, but the hug is all she can think to do, and she slowly pulls away to give her some space. “You can try. Okay? I’ll let you. I don’t know what’s going on, but I have some ideas, and none of them are as important to me right now as you, okay? I’ve had dyke hair all my life, so I’m tough like a dyke too, don’t worry about me.”

GM: The preteen wipes her eyes after Amelie lets go. “Okay…”

Amelie: Amelie gives Miranda a little smile and gets out a pen from her bag. She rips a sheet of paper out of her notebook, writes down her phone number, and passes it over. “Do you have a phone, Miranda?”

GM: The preteen looks the piece of paper over. “Yeah.” The pair are now alone, the last of the other upper school students having headed to class.

Amelie: “Text or call me whenever. You’ll be my first friend at this school. I’m going to leave you now and run to class, okay?”

GM: Miranda puts it away and rubs at her eyes again, which now look about as red as the zit on her cheek. “Okay.”

Amelie: Amelie gives her one last smile and hug, then stands and bids her farewell, all but running to her next class. It’s incredibly strange, and bad feelings are ringing every corner of her chest, but the young woman keeps it together. What will come will come, and she’ll face it! There’s just a bit of a throb in her heart at the thought of bashing Miranda’s faceless boss into the pavement with a baseball bat.


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Story One, Amelie IV

“Being the new kid in any school is difficult. Being the new kid in a school like this is a nightmare.”
Amelie Savard


Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s fourth period Inorganic Chemistry class takes place in the typical setting that distinguishes science classrooms from regular ones: posters of the periodic table of the elements, a model human skeleton in the room’s corner, and long tables with thick, stain-resistant black surfaces instead of the normal individual desks. The teacher is a brown-haired woman who looks even younger than Ms. Perry, maybe in her mid 20s, and is saying something about how she had considered pursuing a research career or becoming a professor after earning her doctorate, but felt that McGehee offered “a unique opportunity to introduce a generation of future researchers and professors to science. Alumni of our school are much more likely to-”

The entire class stops to stare as Amelie, tardy, opens the door.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t break her stride as she steps into the room. She doesn’t ignore the stares, but she doesn’t let them phase her either as she sits down in the nearest available seat and pivots her eyes up to the teacher. “Very sorry,” she simply states, hoping the teacher doesn’t ask for an explanation. After all, she’s the school’s new girl.

GM: The young-looking teacher, whose name remains unknown to Amelie after missing the first few minutes of class, spares the tardy student a thin glance that does not look at all sympathetic to someone with ‘new girl’ status. Nevertheless, she continues with her earlier about why she chose to teach at the high school level despite possessing a PhD—in short, because she believed McGehee’s exceptional caliber of students were worth it.

The irony of this sentiment being expressed at the same time as Amelie’s tardiness is not lost on her classmates. None of them actually giggle, but the knowing smiles are impossible to miss.

Amelie: The irony is lost on Amelie, who notices her peers’ glances but dismisses them. To her, PhDs are circumstantial, certainly something one can strive for, but their holders are not by any means infallible. Examples of outdated PhD holders for computer science and political science staying stupid and obviously wrong things about their fields come to mind.

Still, she brings out her laptop if the other students have theirs out and begins to absorb the lesson, straight-backed and looking straight ahead as always.

GM: Like Lawrence Thurston’s finance class, the first day is not very heavy on actual material, and mostly consists of an overview of what the course will be covering. As an AP course, it will count towards college credit, but be that much more work. The nameless teacher hands out syllabi that include her name (Catherine Ward), and states that like a real college course, they will actually be relevant to the class (containing, among other things, due dates for assignments and designated ‘lab days’). An hour later, the bell rings, and the girls rise to head to their next classes.

Amelie: Amelie looks over the coursework and packs it away in her bag. It’s helpful to know what the future holds helps, as does having a paper that explains all the due dates for everything. It’s a delight to know what’s what ahead of time. After packing up, she stands and heads into the hall with her peers. Her classes so far have been packed with facts and memorization, so picked something a bit lighter for her second-to-last period of the day—philosophy of all things.

GM: Amelie’s fifth period philosophy class is with Mrs. Chantilly Laurent. She has a slim figure, pale complexion, and smooth skin that could pass for a well-preserved 30 or even 40, but her lengthy hair is a uniform faded gray, making her exact age difficult to pinpoint. She speaks in a soft, almost droning voice not unlike Mr. Thurston’s, but where his drawling cadence might have lulled Amelie to sleep, Mrs. Laurent’s half-lidded eyes make her seem almost as if she is ready to fall asleep herself. She’s dressed in a white skirtsuit with a blue silk scarf around her neck, and speaks quietly enough that several of Amelie’s neighbors lean forward just to make out what she’s saying.

Amelie: Mrs. Laurent’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for her teaching is a bit of a letdown. But Amelie takes notes on her laptop with light taps, not daring to drown out what little sound she can hear from the woman.

GM: It might be somewhat to Amelie’s relief when Mrs. Laurent finally asks the students to talk instead. The ‘first day ice-breaker’ will be for them to share what college they want to attend, as well as why. “Why is the question we’ll be asking here every day, of course,” the gray-haired teacher murmurs in her same quiet tone. A few students look as if they’re wondering whether Mrs. Laurent made a quip, but it’s hard to tell with how quietly she talks, so they just smile instead. The teacher undeterredly goes on, “No doubt many of you have shared your choices with your peers already… but it’s the why, always the why here.”

All of Amelie’s fellow students are quick to volunteer answers. “Stanford.” “Cornell.” “Northwestern.” “Yale.” “Tulane.” “Berkley.” “UCLA.” “My parents went there. It’s tradition for our family to attend.” “It’s not where you go these days, but with who. It’s a good place to network.” “Their graduate program is one of the best in its field, and I’ll have an easier time getting in if I also attend as an undergrad.” “I have a family friend in admissions, so naturally I want to snag a spot.” “It’s close to home and I want to live near my family.”

Amelie: Amelie’s earlier internal monologue about the usefulness of university seems a bit like this is fate telling her not to underestimate the importance of that little piece of paper one gets after untold years of work and study. Fortunately, she has a dream university in mind already.

Once it’s her turn she answers, “MIT; on top of its second-place history curriculum behind Stanford, it gives me access to tools for learning chemical forensics required for in-depth historical dating, and their engineering programs facilitate my learning better techniques for the restoration and replication of historical metallurgy.”

GM: Mrs. Laurent gives Amelie’s answer the same pleasantly dim smile that she shows the rest of the class, though for once the Canadian transplant’s schoolmates don’t seem to find anything wrong with that same answer. They passively take it in and move on to the next girl. She has to wonder what kind of reception “I’m not going to college” would have gotten.

Amelie: Amelie simply goes about her business of taking notes on her laptop. To her slight surprise, the question does make her wonder again about university. It could be possible to attend that school, maybe by securing a scholarship or finding some way to work until she can sell her skills. But she refocuses quickly in case the quiet teacher starts speaking again.

GM: The introductions take up a fair chunk of the period. There’s a syllabus overview, which Mrs. Laurent gives in the same barely audible volume of voice, and then the bell rings. The girls look a bit more relieved than they did during Amelie’s previous classes.

Sixth period looks as if will be another change of pace for the new senior. The classroom is in another building, necessitating a walk through the school grounds (now even hotter, this late into the day). There are no desks or chairs. It’s not a gym, but a wide and mostly empty space with a floor-to-ceiling mirror over one of the walls. It’s also crowded. There might be half again as many girls as there were in Amelie’s previous classes. The size still falls well short of a public school class, but sixth period would seem to be a popular time for Ballroom Dance.

This late into the day, Amelie can recognize several faces from her prior classes and interactions throughout the school. From the assembly there’s Mackenna and Susannah Kelly, first period’s Sarah Whitney, third period’s Yvette, and the black girl Amelie tried to sit next to during lunch. There’s also a chubby blonde she shared… some other period with, and another girl of Indian descent (South Asian, not Native American), somewhat notable among the mostly white faces, who said she wanted to go to Stanford during their shared fifth period.

No, Amelie deduces after a moment, that girl who looks like Yvette isn’t her. She shares the same pale skin and blue eyes, the almost colorless blonde hair, the slender frame, and even height. But her facial features are just slightly off. Not quite a twin, but an eerily close resemblance for a sibling. Amelie would have sworn they were the same girl at first.

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Amelie: Ballroom Dance is a veritable smörgåsbord of faces she’s seen throughout the day. Susannah Kelly and Sarah Whitney are both people she’s interested in speaking with. The Desi woman is a welcome surprise in this white-washed school. Yvette is also—oh. Amelie thanks her stars she didn’t re-introduce herself to the girl who looks like a near-carbon print of her fellow French-speaking classmate. Amelie confusedly looks her over for a moment before turning her eyes forward. Class is still about to start, and she seizes the chance to step forward to Sarah Whitney with a polite smile on her face.

“Excuse me, sorry. You’re Sarah, right? Sarah Whitney?”

GM: Sarah is a short, gentle-featured brunette who Amelie finds engaged in conversation with Susannah, Mackenna, and a fourth black-haired girl who she doesn’t recognize. “Guilty as charged,” Sarah responds with a pretty smile, drawing several light titters from her friends.

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Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider at the quip but stays professional. “It’s very nice to meet you. I’m Amelie Savard. Do you mind if I ask you a question or two? I won’t take up much time, I promise. It’s about the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Well, Amelie, how very nice to meet you too, maybe in just a lil’ bit. Class is about to start…” Sarah remarks, looking towards the front of the room as the teacher calls for everyone’s attention.

Amelie: Amelie gives a bit of a chuckle at the timing. “After class then, if you have the time.” She gives a nod of recognition to the other girls in the group and steps away as class starts.

GM: The instructor who introduces herself as Diana Flores is a 40-something woman who wears her age well, with a toned figure, vibrant complexion, and sandy blonde hair. An easy smile plays over her lips as she addresses the class, some of whom are staring at the music stereo that’s sitting next to her. She’s dressed more flowingly than Amelie’s previous teachers in a peach-colored dress belted at the waist, and pink heels that might not be the most comfortable to dance in for hours, but are likely good practice for actual dancing events.

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“Good afternoon, y’all, I’ve got to say, it always leaves me tickled pink to see how many girls sign up for this class,” she beams. “Everyone scoot apart a bit, now,” she says while making an almost shooing motion with her hands, “and make sure you have plenty room to move around, because we’ll be doing a lot of it this next hour!”

Amelie: Mrs. Flores isn’t dressed like any PE teacher Amelie has ever seen. Those heels alone make her wince, though she isn’t a total stranger to them. Many styles of fencing require more boot-ish ones. Polish saber fencing is almost impossible without them, actually.

Still, the teacher’s energy is a welcome change from fifth period, and Amelie steps away from her classmates as instructed. She has a feeling they’re going to be doing stretches. The use of the Southern vernacular ’y’all’ doesn’t escape her notice either. It makes her smile, like when Americans make the ‘eh’ joke after she says where she’s from.

GM: Mrs. Flores doesn’t spend too many minutes making introductions. She tells the class that she used to be a ballet dancer in her youth, has six children (three of whom went to McGehee), and a bad leg from a car accident some years back. If she ever has to pause the class because “the ol’ leg’s acting up again, it’s nothing to fret your hearts over.” Today’s lesson will be “nothing too hard:” the fundamentals of waltz. “Just enough to get y’all warmed up for more!”

“Now, with waltz, there are three cardinal rules to always follow. Rule number one, the man starts with his left foot.” Mrs. Flores indicates her left. “And the lady starts with her right foot.” She turns and lifts her right right. “All right? Now, rule number two. You’ll only be dancing in six directions. Forwards, backwards,” she points her hands, “right, left,” then twirls her hand, “turn right, and turn left. The third and last rule is my personal favorite: the gentleman leads, and the lady follows.” She smiles and holds out both of her hands with the palms up.

“What that means is, men must create a frame,” and here she holds out her arms, “in order to lead the lady proper; and ladies… you must allow your body to bend like a tree in the breeze. Pretend you’re Scarlett from Gone With the Wind—y’all do remember that pose she strikes with her man, now don’t you?” She laughs. “Of course you do!” The comparison draws more than a few smiles and giggles from the class.

“All right, now let’s go over the basics. Gentlemen will be starting with the left foot.” Mrs. Flores indicates her left again. “Now we’ll just squint our eyes, and pretend we’re all gentlemen—” this draws another round of smirks and giggles from the class, “—so that you can go forward with the left foot.” Mrs. Flores takes a step forward, left foot first. “Stepping with the heel, like we walk naturally every day of our lives.” She then spreads her legs. “Then sidestep, which step to the right while keeping your left where it is—and close.” She closes her legs, now having moved a step to the left.

“Then you will proceed by moving backwards with your right foot, releasing the toe.” She keeps her heel to the ground but her foot at a tilted angle that keeps the toe of her shoe in the air. “Then you step to the side.” She spreads her legs again. “And close again.” She does so, moving right. “Got that? Okay, now y’all can try it for yourselves, but still with me…”

“Everyone, forward with your left.” All of the class steps forward with their left foot. “Side to the right.” Mrs. Flores spreads her legs again, now accompanied by the rest of the class. “Close.” All of the class closes them. “Back with the right.” Mrs. Flores and everyone else backs up, touching the ground with their heels before their toes. “Side to the left.” They spread their legs again. “And close. There we go, good job!” Admittedly, even a clutz would be hard-pressed to get the simple motions wrong.

“Now, again… forward with the left, side with the right, close, and back with the right, and side, and close.” Mrs. Flores goes through all the motions with the class again, but now with only a slight pause instead of full stops between them. It’s not quite a dance yet, but seems closer.

“Let’s do it again now. Forward to the right—and side with the right—and close—and back with the right—and side—and close.” They go through it all again.

“Okay, I think y’all have it down. But try not to have it too down, we don’t want you to learn to dance like men after all!” she laughs. “Now, for the ladies… it’s much the same thing, just the reverse. Y’all can just watch again for this part.” Mrs. Flores turns around, facing her back to the class, though her front is still visible in the floor-to-ceiling wall mirror.

“Ladies start with their right foot, and go backwards, releasing the toe.” She steps back, heel first, then toe. “And then to the side with the left…” She spreads her legs. “…and close with the right.” She closes them. “Then forward with the left.” She steps forward. “Side to the right.” She sidesteps. “And closing… okay, let’s try it yourselves.”

“Back with the right, side with the left, close, forward with left, side with the right, and close.” The class goes through all of the female versions of the motions with their teacher. “So again,” Mrs. Flores starts up with everyone, “back with the right, to the left, close, forward left, to the right, and close. Very good! Now we’re going to try with a partner… do I have any volunteers for our next demonstration?”

The teacher gets a number of volunteers, including Amelie. The new student finds herself overlooked, however, as Mrs. Flores calls on Susannah Kelly. “All right, we’re now going to squint and pretend I’m a man again,” she smiles at Susannah to a few more giggles from the class. “So first I will extend my left hand towards the woman.” She does so. “She will then raise her right hand, stepping forward, and place it within my hand.” She holds her hand out. “From there it’s the man’s job to pull her into his right side.” She gently takes Susannah’s hand, steps a foot closer, then raises the senior’s hand, “so that she is properly close to dance. Now let’s go over the five connections we’re seeing here.”

“Connection number one,” she motions with her head, “it’s the man’s left arm with the lady’s right arm. Connection number two. The man’s right hand touches the lady’s left shoulder blade.” Susannah turns slightly, though it’s already visible in the mirror.

“Connection three. Lady’s left tricep to man’s right forward.” She nods again to the parts of their arms that are touching. “Connection four. Lady’s left arm to man’s right bicep.” She indicates Susannah’s hand, placed over her shoulder.

“Connection number five is for more advanced dancers. Susannah, do you mind-?” “Oh of course not, ma’am.” “-where the man’s right side of his hip is connected to the lady’s right side.” Mrs. Flores touches her hip against Susannah’s, which has the effect of giving the latter a very romantic-looking swoon backwards. It’s the same pose seen in a lot of old movies.

“And now for the example of the basic step, with the partner.” Mrs. Flores lifts Susannah back up again and takes her arm. “Now I go forward with my left, side right, and close.” She draws to a stop with the senior. “Back with my right, side left, and close. Now the slight rotation as I do these things, so that it feels more like we’re turning in a circle. Ladies, remember that you are going back with the right, side with the left, close, forward left, side right, and close.” The pair go through all the motions again, but faster, now like in a real dance. Mrs. Flores even executes a twirl at the end, lifting her arm arm high and spinning Susannah around underneath it. The class laughs and claps, prompting both dancers to execute a smiling bow at the end.

“Very good, Susannah! We can tell she’s had a lot of practice at this already,” Mrs. Flores praises.

“Oh, you’re much too kind, ma’am.”

“I call it as I see it.” She turns to address the class. “Now that all y’all have seen us go at it, it’s your turn! Everyone take a moment to find partners now. Let’s not take too long.” The teacher lightly claps her hands twice.

Amelie: Amelie watches intently as the lesson goes on and recognizes quite a few points from her days in the fair. Though a fair waltz was a lot sloppier and a lot faster, more for making merry than dancing with a straight back. Still, she tackles the lesson like she tackles every other lesson, wishing she could take notes but settling for her own concentration. Susannah Kelly however catches her eye. This girl seems like the queen of the school, but the origin of her status bears looking into. After more pressing matters.

Once the lesson is done, the young woman once again finds herself at a loss for a moment. Being the new kid in any school is difficult. Being the new kid in a school like this is a nightmare. Still, Amelie brazenly walks back up to Sarah, a calm smile on her features.

“Do you have a partner? If we talk and waltz, hopefully I can save you the time of bothering you after class. If you don’t mind, of course.”

GM: Sarah responds with a humoring smile. In her present clique with Mackenna, the black-haired girl, and not least of all Susannah, she looks as if she could easily have at least two partners.

“Well, I do suppose that kills two birds with one stone,” she laughs instead. “Susannah, if you don’t mind postponing our dance?”

“Oh no, Sarah, you go on, I don’t think I’m ready to play the man just yet,” the taller girl smiles back. It’s not long before she partners up with the South Asian girl.

Amelie: Amelie gives Sarah a bit of an apologetic smile as she assents to the dance, but feels some tension drop off her shoulders. Being the new girl and having short hair make her popularity stock poison, it seems, but she needs this chance. She takes a moment to thank Susannah before she and her partner step away.

GM: “All right, everyone partnered up? Good,” Mrs. Flores calls as the class settles. “We’ll have you change up a few times over the next hour. Make sure everyone gets at least one turn playing the lady, now, you don’t want to learn to dance like men!” she repeats. “Now, everyone link hands with your partner. The man extends their left… lady raises right… man pulls her to his right side…”

Sarah smiles at Amelie but does not extend a hand, seemingly expecting her to play the male role.

Amelie: Amelie cannot complain about the roles. She extends her left hand without a drop of shame, just as the teacher demonstrated, ready for four of the five connections right away. She stops at four to briefly consult Sarah if she’s comfortable with the fifth, but pulls her in confidently if she affirms so.

GM: The girls all partner up and take one another’s hands, though some of them take a few extra moments to decide who should play male and female roles. A few giggles go up about “lesbians!” Mrs. Flores only smiles indulgently at this and states, “Unless you girls know any eligible gentlemen on campus-”

“-Mr. Hargrove!” calls out one girl, to another round of giggles.

“-that’s eligible gentlemen, Ms. Bowers, last I checked he had a class to teach,” Mrs. Flores shoots back without breaking stride. “So unless you ladies know any teenage gentlemen allowed on campus, we work with the tools we’ve been given.” She then stoops down to turn on the stereo.

“Now let’s try this with some music. This is The Blue Danube Waltz, I’m sure you’ve all heard it someplace before. Simple music for a simple first dance…”



GM: Mrs. Flores leads the class through all the preliminary motions with a partner and the same ‘five connections’ as before. Several girls still seem to find it amusing for them to be dancing together, but their giggles are drowned out by the music. Sarah consents to let Amelie pull off the fifth connection, which most if not all of the class seems to be aiming for too, despite the earlier “lesbians!” talk.

Amelie: Amelie isn’t a slouch when it comes to the dance, leading Sarah with a confidence and a focused face, counting the steps in the back of her head. It’s simple enough, dancing isn’t too far removed from fencing steps after all. It even makes her right arm ache lightly as they move.

“I’ll get right to the point, Sarah. Me and Yvette Devillers were assigned a research project today in AP New Orleans History. The decided topic was the ghosts of New Orleans,” she states, leading the dance with her left just as instructed. “We decided to do the LaLaurie House. And if my research was right, Whitney National Bank owns the property at the moment. We were hoping to spend a night inside for the project. Hopefully film it for a laugh or two.”

GM: “Oh, the LaLaurie House? Yes, I’d heard that the bank repossessed it. I suppose no one’s ever owned it for long, have they…”

Amelie leads her partner through a serviceable dance. A waltz isn’t too hard, nor the specific motions Mrs. Flores has them doing. It’s just leading one’s partner across the room.

“That’s a big favor to ask now, admittedly,” Sarah says in between a step. “The bank doesn’t normally let people sleep in houses that aren’t theirs, I’m sure you know, and I’m afraid I don’t actually work for the bank…”

“But the Devillers are a good family, if Yvette’s your partner, I suppose I can at least see what my granddaddy thinks.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t let the music get in the way of their conversation, keeping the pace and keeping in line with the steps as they talk. “That would be above and beyond, thank you! Of course, if you don’t want to ask your grandfather all on your own, I could come along to explain my intent.”

GM: “You know, that really might help if Yvette or her mother did, now that you mention it—our families do know one another.”

Amelie: “That’s excellent. I can’t help but be envious of all the families with history here. I realize being without that, and being so new, associating with me at the moment is a net hit to your social stock. So thank you again for speaking with me.”

GM: Sarah laughs. “Don’t be silly, there is such a thing as Southern hospitality too, you know. The Devillers have only been in the city for ten years. Make nice with a few more folks and I bet you’ll be as popular as Yvette and her family in no time.”

Amelie: Amelie manages a chuckle at the girl’s statement but puts the information into her back pocket. “I’m happy to hear you say that! You never know how different a new country will be, especially its people. If we somehow get permission, would you like to join us? It promises to be a… unique experience.”

GM: “Oh, I’ll just have to think on that,” Sarah laughs again. “If it’s not really haunted, it might be a letdown. And if it is… I reckon I’d be prayin’ that it wasn’t, now wouldn’t I?”

Amelie: Amelie laughs in kind. “Quite a predicament! Though if it isn’t haunted, we’re one of the few people to see the inside in decades. If it is, well, we could always invite a priest along now couldn’t we? Or maybe since the ghosts are purported to be black slaves, a Vodoun priest.”

GM: “That sure would be an adventure,” Sarah smiles. Meanwhile, after several dance rotations, Mrs. Flores shuts the music off and tells the class to “switch on up” and find new dance partners. Sarah gives a vaguely amused-seeming curtsy and takes her leave.

Amelie: Amelie takes one in kind and lets a deep breath out, glad that it’s over. Yvette’s name is the only thing that got her through those gates. She makes a note in the back of her head to ask about it later. She then decides to leave Sarah’s circle of friends alone and goes looking for the girl who looks eerily like her partner in New Orleans ghost history.

GM: Amelie finds Yvette’s seeming half-twin in short enough order, and has similarly little time to make her appeal before the next dance starts. “Ah am sorry, ’ave we met…?” her classmate initially remarks.

Amelie: Amelie gives an almost apologetic smile and shakes her head lightly. “Non, nous n’avons pas. Je suis Amélie Savard. Vous ne seriez pas un Devillers, n’est-ce pas?”

(“No, we haven’t. I am Amelie Savard. You wouldn’t happen to be a Devillers, would you?”)

GM: “Oui, c’est le nom de ma famille,” Yvette’s half-twin replies. (“Yes, that is my family’s name.”)

“Je suis Yvonne.” (“I am Yvonne.”)

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider when her use of French doesn’t trip up Yvonne as much as it did Yvette. "J’ai l’histoire de la Nouvelle-Orléans avec Yvette. Aimeriez-vous être mon partenaire de danse ce tour? "

(“I have New Orleans History with Yvette. Would you like to be my dance partner this round?”)

GM: Much like the last Devillers before her, Yvonne glances around and finds the other dance partners close to already decided. “D’accord, Yvette est ma sœur, je vais devoir lui parler de ta classe ensemble, elle a trouvé la description du cours très intéressante.”

(“All right. Yvette is my sister, I’ll have to ask her about your class together. She thought the course description sounded very interesting.”)

Yvonne seems to wait for Amelie to extend her hand as the other ‘men’ among the couples are expected to.

Amelie: Amelie does so. Feeling the way the women of the group move is enough practice for that part, as it seems the easier role of the two. She extends her left hand to bring Yvonne into the dance. “En effet, ça l’est. Nous travaillons déjà ensemble sur un projet impliquant les hantises de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Et toi? Pas une personne d’histoire?”

(“Indeed it is. We are already working together on a project involving the hauntings of New Orleans. And yourself? Not a history person?”)

GM: Yvette’s sister shakes her head as she joins hands with Amelie and places her other on her partner’s shoulder. “Oh non, l’histoire est très importante pour notre mère. Mon horaire de cours était tout complet. Je prévois de prendre le prochain semestre.”

(“Oh no, history is very important to our mother. My class schedule was full. I plan to take it next semester.”)

Amelie: Amelie nods understandably at the notion of her full schedule, but she worries about the mother part of Yvonne’s statement just slightly. What is it Yvonne wanted to study? But she doesn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, I should have asked if you preferred English or French in school. I got the impression from Yvette that you speak it quite heavily at home.”

GM: “Oh yes, we mostly speak French there,” Yvonne answers as the two take a forward left step. Mrs. Flores has since started the music back up. “It keeps our culture alive. But we speak English outside our ‘ome. Ah suppose that makes us bilingual. Ah don’t mind speaking either.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps on with the dance, following each step and leading Yvonne around to the music. It’s starting to become a bit more of a rote action. “That’s an admirable goal for a family to have. You’re all Metropolitan French, correct? European French?”

GM: Yvonne gives a nod in tune with the last step. Simple repetition is likely making it sink in even among those classmates with no dancing experience. “Yes, we’re all from Europe. Your accent sounded… different.”

Amelie: It’s almost comforting when Amelie gets into the groove. She enjoys having the lead after she finally admits to herself she’s enjoying the dance in general. “Quebecois. Apologies, it might sound a bit more sloppy than metropolitan, but old habits die hard and dialects harder.”

GM: “…left, close, forward left, side right, and close. Now again, everyone—right, side with left, close…” Mrs. Flores calls from the front.

“Yes, Ah suppose they do,” Yvonne remarks as she closes her legs. “But Ah suppose that’s what starts new dialects too, when they don’t die easily.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps up in step and stride, keeping the pace the teacher sets out as they speak. At this point she’s just passing time and trying to make friends. “True! Though it gives birth to a lot of misunderstandings. But tell me, I’m new to New Orleans. Anywhere I have to see?”

GM: “Well, there’s of course the Vieux Carré. All the restaurants, clubs, and other places worth going are there,” Yvonne recommends. “All right shopping too. Mah sister Cécilia says there’s no need to ever leave. The CBD ‘as those things too, but it’s very… American.” She wrinkles her nose a bit but continues, “Ah like Antoine’s most, so far as places to eat. Ah think one of the girls ‘ere belongs to the family that runs it. Antoine’s, that is. Ah think it’s been in business for over two ‘undred years. It feels like a place from back ’ome. Café du Monde isn’t bad either, but gets a lot of tourists.”

Amelie: Amelie listens in rapt attention. This class is proving to be quite a social boon for her. Yvonne’s mention of the CBD being so American makes her chuckle, though. “And here I thought I’d seen the last of that phrase, living in America. Tell me, where exactly did you leave from when you moved to New Orleans?”

GM: “Charles de Gaulle Airport,” Yvonne answers wryly.

No sooner does she do so, however, than the music from the front of the classroom shuts off.

“Okay, everyone, let’s change up partners again!” Mrs. Flores calls.

Amelie: Amelie just gives the girl a grin and a respectful nod, wishing her a good day as they separate. She moves right on to the person that she next wants to speak with. Queen bee herself, Susannah. She’s got a bit of confidence behind her now, and doesn’t hesitate as she strides up to the popular girl.

“Susannah? Sorry to but in, I was the girl who approached Sarah earlier. Do you mind if we pair next? I have a feeling you’re very much someone to get to know a little.”

GM: The popular blonde spares Amelie a winsome smile. “Oh, that’s awful flattering, so I’m very sorry… I’m afraid I promised Sarah here a dance. You can’t trust a president who doesn’t keep her promises, now can you?”

The shorter brunette watches the exchange with a pleasant expression.

Amelie: Amelie takes it in stride. “Only fair, considering I stole a dance already. You both have fun.” She takes her leave and quickly scans the room. Susannah is last person she finds herself caring about dancing with.

GM: Amelie goes through a few more dances with a few more partners, all of whom expect her to play the man. When the bell finally rings, heralding the end of the school day, Mrs. Flores motions for her to remain behind as the other animatedly chattering girls make their ways off to their cars.

Amelie: Amelie stays behind when the teacher calls, wondering if something is the matter.

GM: If there is, it’s not immediately obvious. Mrs. Flores laughs goodnaturedly and says she wants to “go over a few steps” with Amelie, then turns the music back on. She is also the first person Amelie has danced with who takes her hand and plays the man, having the young woman follow rather than lead.

Amelie: Amelie lets out the tiniest of sighs. Of course the teacher notices a student only ever dancing as the lead, or ‘male’ role. Despite that, she hasn’t just been chatting her day away, and knows how to play the woman during a waltz too.

GM: “Okay, I think you’ve got it down,” the teacher smiles after several dances, then turns the music back off. “Next class, see if you can play the lady a few more times, all right?”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Being led around just clashes with me, I think, but I’ll try my best.”

GM: “Thank you, Amelie,” Mrs. Flores smiles again. “And who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy the change of pace. Boys at the school dances usually like to lead.”

Amelie: “The school allows boys on campus for school dances?”

GM: “Oh yes, we partner with a neighboring boys’ school for those. Though we’ve had some pretty fierce debates over coed proms since poor Miss Whitney.”

Amelie: Amelie has an alarm go off in her head at the teacher’s words, pointing to Sarah’s face mentally. “Why would there be a controversy? What happened?”

GM: “Oh, you’re not familiar? Rebecca Whitney, rest her soul, was killed by a drunk driver some ten years back, during prom. A coed prom—the driver was a boy.” Mrs. Flores shakes her head sadly. “It was such a tragedy. She was her year’s brightest star.”

Amelie: Amelie goes a bit quiet. That isn’t what her thinking had pointed to: she’d pictured the headlines of a sexual assault on their very own Sarah Whitney instead.

GM: The teacher tilts her head at Amelie. “You’re definitely not from around here if that story’s news. Lord knows all the students know. People try not to talk about it too much, but I suppose gossip always spreads.”

Amelie: “I’m indeed not. I’m not even from this country. But that’s awful. I’m sure Sarah is sick of condolences, but my heart goes out to her.”

GM: Mrs. Flores’ face grows more somber at the young woman’s words. “Yes, you’re definitely right about that—I’d ask you not bring it up around our class’s Whitney. It’s an old wound. That family went through so much pain.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’ll be sure not to, it’s none of my business anyway. Anyway, I’ll let you go, ma’am. Thank you for looking out for me. I hope it wasn’t hard on your leg.”

GM: “Oh, there was one other thing, a note came for you to pay the counseling office a visit after school. Take care of that and you’ll be free as a bird.” The teacher smiles. “And the ol’ leg’s doing all right today, thank you for asking.”

Amelie: Amelie gives a slight frown at the surprise news about the counseling office. Last time she was in counseling she tore the leg off a chair and brought it over the skull of a 16-year-old meth addict. Colorful. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

GM: Mrs. Flores bids Amelie a warm goodbye and sits down on the instructor’s stool to check her phone. Amelie doesn’t miss the way she starts massaging her calf, though the young woman may miss her bus home. It’s already ten minutes after the bell.

Amelie: Amelie lives close enough she’s not worried about the bus too much, and walks back to the teacher. “Mrs. Flores, would you like me to get you a ice pack from the nurse’s office? Or do you have any medication in your purse? I’m no stranger to how you hold yourself when you’re in pain.”

GM: Mrs. Flores purses her lips initially, but finally sighs, “Oh, I suppose it’s just the first day wearing on me, it’s been a little while since I’ve been on my feet for this long. But if Mrs. Landruff has a spare pack lying around, I’d be obliged to you both.”

Amelie: “Obliged nothing. You were only on your feet so long because of me. Don’t move, I’ll be back.” Amelie gives the teacher a light smile as she trots out the door at a brisk pace towards the nurse’s office.

GM: Amelie remembers from her weekend tour that the counseling and nurse’s offices are located in Bradish Johnson House, the former home of a sugar cane magnate. It also contains the school libraries, the offices of the three school principals and the overall headmistress, and a few classrooms.

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Amelie: Amelie once again marvels at the way people can build when they aren’t trying to toss up structures to avoid the cold of winter. She smooths her hands on the columns as she strides into the administration building. Greek Revival just makes the young woman’s bones feel good, like someone put their heart and soul into what they do and it came out. Still, she makes her way to the nurse’s office at a brisk pace.

GM: The interior feels more like a house than an office. Floors are hardwood and flower-filled vases and framed pictures line the walls. There’s even a few small children in the same McGehee uniform as Amelie excitedly running up a flight of stairs—though their parents are equally quick to catch and admonish the unruly grade schoolers. Indeed, while the three lower, middle, and upper McGehee classes were fairly segregated during Amelie’s school day (except for the assembly and brief intervals between periods), the central office building currently plays host to girls of all ages, from teenagers a few years younger than Amelie to elementary students still holding their parents’ hands.

She makes her way to the reception area on the first floor. The wide desk with three receptionists behind it feels like someone almost rudely dragged it inside a well-furnished living room. Pulled-back drapes and potted leafy plants frame the windows, and the scattered overstuffed waiting chairs invitingly beckon for her to sit down. The wallpaper is a pleasant rose-print and an unlit chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A portrait of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s first and only president, hangs from behind a seated tweenage girl playing on her phone.

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Besides the receptionists’ desk, the only thing stopping the area from feeling like a homey living room are the ringing phones and small line of chattering staff, parents, and students. Amelie’s question is eventually answered by one of the secretaries seated behind the desk, a one Mrs. Nancy Noah (her name is likely easy for children to remember), a plump and middle-aged black woman wearing a navy cardigan and silver crucifix around her neck. She quickly confirms that the school nurse has not left campus. “The good lord knows her job ain’t over yet, with all the after-school sports here.”

Mrs. Noah provides directions to the school nurse’s office in the back wing of the nearby Lower School Annex building, where Amelie finds the aforenamed Mrs. Landruff. She’s a middle-aged woman with glasses, brownish-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a short white coat with a doctor’s stethoscope. She is already providing ice pack aid to the bloody nose of a crying elementary-age student.

“Now Laura, honey, you just keep your head tilted back and hold that pack in place, a bloody nose always looks worse than it is. If you can be brave for me and stay quiet, I can even send you off with a lollipop.”

The girl, who looks about eight, has her own red hair pulled back into a ponytail with a yellow scrunchie. She wears the same black, white, and green uniform as Amelie, and is sobbing hopelessly. “I m-m-missed the bu-us…”

“Don’t you worry, sweet pea, we’ll call your mommy and daddy and see if they can come pick you up. You can have fun in the playroom until they do, okay?”

The girl manages a nod as the nurse finally looks away towards Amelie. “Yes, can I help you?”

Amelie: Amelie thanks the receptionist once she gets her information and quickly makes her way into the office, just in time to see a crying kid with a messed-up face. Poor girl.

Amelie stands there quietly, waits for the nurse to finish up, and gives a respectful nod once she’s addressed. “I need an icepack for Mrs. Flores, please, and anything else you’d suggest for her sore leg would be appreciated.”

GM: “Oh, it must be bothering her pretty bad if she’s sending you,” Mrs. Landruff frowns as she hands Amelie an ice pack, then two ibuprofen tablets she seals in a plastic bag. “Now I’m not supposed to hand out medication to students, but this is nothing you couldn’t get over the counter. Take it right back to Mrs. Flores, all right?”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” Amelie turns on her heel and rushes back to the building with her Ballroom Dance class, hoping her teacher listened to her and stayed put on her stool. The walk through campus is nice, but the young woman’s laser focus keeps her from enjoying it. She has counseling after this, and Mrs. Flores is in enough pain thanks to her refusal to take a non-leading role in dances.

GM: Amelie finds Mrs. Flores seated and scrolling through her phone. “You’re just faster than green grass through a goose, aren’t you?” the dance teacher laughs as she accepts the compress, breaks it out of its package, and applies it over her leg. She drops the ibuprofen into her purse. “But thank you, Amelie. I don’t usually like to ask students to wait on me, but Lord knows it is easier.”

Amelie: Amelie hands everything over and nods. She doesn’t waste any time when people need her, at least. Now that Mrs. Flores is iced and medicated, it’s a small weight off the teen’s shoulders. “If you need a partner for physiotherapy stretches or for me to fetch anything from your car, you let me know, okay? You don’t need to hesitate asking your students for a bit of help.”

GM: “I’ve kept you long enough as it is, now, I’m sure you have extracurriculars to go to before whatever the counseling office wants. At least you’ll avoid the post-school traffic on your drive home.” She laughs again. “Such as we even have it in this corner of town.”

Amelie: “I haven’t actually chosen any extracurriculars yet. I don’t know if I’ll pick an in-school one,” she explains, but wishes the teacher a good day as she leaves. She doesn’t bother explaining that she doesn’t have a car or anything.

GM: “Oh, you should do that right away—most of them meet for the first time this week, and you don’t want to fall behind. Don’t succumb to senioritis!” Mrs. Flores’ voice is half-teasing as she waves goodbye to Amelie and turns back to her phone.

Amelie: Amelie gives a mental shrug. The counselor might have something to say about that anyway.
Finding the counseling office is easier now that she’s been to the building once, and it gives her a bit more time to worry over what they want from her. Once she’s back, she walks up to the black woman behind the desk, and clears her throat once it’s her turn in the busy lineup of people bothering her. The phones and chatting staff don’t help any.

“Sorry to bother you again, ma’am. Amelie Savard, I was asked to come see the school counselor?”

GM: Back at the Bradish Johnson House, Amelie finds that some of the faces apart from the secretaries have shifted, but everything is otherwise much as it was. Mrs. Noah waves off that she’s being any other directs Amelie to the office of one of the guidance counselors, which is another brief walk away.

Amelie: Amelie thanks the secretary again, walks down the corridor, and knocks on the door.

GM: Amelie gets a prompt, “Come in, please,” and opens the door to see a thirty-something Asian-American woman sitting behind a desk and computer. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse and yellow scarf, smiles when she sees Amelie, and motions for the young woman to pull up a chair.

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Her office is decorated in bright colors with assorted mounted plaques, pictures of students, and motivational posters, one of which is an internet Dos Equis meme.

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“Amelie, hi, so glad you could come by. You can call me Ms. Nguyen,” the woman greets. As if reading into Amelie’s expression, she then adds, “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble over anything—I understand you’re new at McGehee and weren’t able to come in before last weekend, so there’s a few things that might’ve slipped through the cracks.”

Amelie: The guidance counselor’s office is almost painfully brightly colored. There’s something patronizing about how bright and cheery it is, Amelie she sits down across from the woman and nods at her words.

“I’ve only been in New Orleans for a few days, I was still in Toronto last weekend,” she elaborates as she folds her hands in her lap.

GM: “Oh really, you’re from Canada? I’m sure this must be quite a culture shock for you—or maybe not, your name sounds French-Canadian?” Ms. Nguyen asks.

Amelie: “Quebec City born and bred. Vive le Québec and all that, yes.” She gets that out of the way, then asks, “Is this a career counseling visit? A mental health counseling visit? I have to admit, I’m not used to school counselors calling on me.”

GM: Ms. Nguyen smiles again and shakes her head. “Oh no, you’re not here for any mental health counseling. I don’t know how things were at your old school, Amelie, but we care about every student’s success here at McGehee. So I’d mainly like to touch base with you about what your academic goals are while you’re with us, what sorts of plans you might have made towards college, and how we can help you get there.”

Amelie: “Ah, I see. Well, Ms. Nguyen, to be completely honest with you I don’t plan to attend a university right out of school here. It’s not realistic for me. Have you spoken with my aunt about my situation?”

GM: “We talk pretty often with parents here,” the counselor nods, “and we talked with your aunt more than most, since you weren’t yet in the States. But you’re a little older than our normal students and there’s no one who can be a better advocate for your goals and needs than you. Are you planning to enter vocational training, the military, or some other career directly?”

Amelie: “To speak plainly, I’m not comfortable with debts. I plan to start a business to repay my tuition to my aunt, and then put myself through university on my own merits. If it eases your alarm, my plans do point at MIT when my business gets off the ground. They have an exemplary history course, and their engineering courses are of course world renowned. Even if most outside STEM students would call MIT a glorified vocational school.”

GM: “Yes, student debt is a very big concern for your generation these days,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “But if money is what’s standing in the way of your dreams right now—whether that’s college, a business, or a glorified vocational school,” the counselor says with a smile, “you’ve got a number of options, including scholarships and programs here at McGehee.”

“In fact, we have quite a few of those. That’s one of the reasons many parents enroll their daughters with us—they’re a lot more likely to get noticed and qualify for good scholarships if they attend a highly-rated school, and our tuition is still cheaper than most universities’.”

"Th"The truth is, most families who send their girls here aren’t descended from Antebellum aristocracy. Quite a few are well-off but not truly wealthy, or even middle-class, and just don’t want to subject their daughters to the public school system. Some use financial aid to afford tuition. So it’s a very quiet topic, and no girl here will ever admit it—but you’re far from the only student for whom money is a legitimate concern."

Amelie: Amelie nods and leans back a bit in her chair. “My aunt is wealthy for sure, but she shouldn’t be subjected to paying for her niece’s life. I’m sure I could get scholarships, but I’m sure that would limit me more than simply earning my way. I have a trade already, and New Orleans is a perfect place to ply it in the United States. In fact, I’m already in the planning stages of my business. I might have to be 21 before I can crack a bottle of wine to celebrate opening it, but I can still open it.”

GM: “Oh that’s excellent, it sounds like you’ve already got a path forward for yourself figured out. Who’s providing the start-up capital, your aunt?”

Amelie: “I plan to find outside investors. I have a current project in the works that will hopefully drum up some interest. The identification of an aristocratic historical piece brought from France to New Orleans. I find the family who it belongs to with a paper trail to when it was created. Offer to also restore it for a price, and then sell it back to them to cover my expenses.”

GM: “That sounds fascinating,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “I’m a transplant to New Orleans, myself, but it’s impossible not to appreciate how much history the city has. If you’re looking for investors and plan to operate your business here in New Orleans, anyways, you might just be in luck—McGehee is affiliated with an outside program that backs local entrepreneurs who’ve recently finished their educations, among other things.”

Amelie: “Is that so? Can I ask where you were transplanted from?” Amelie starts to relax, if just a little bit, and nods at the offer. “Who runs this entrepreneur program?”

GM: “I’m originally from San Diego. You definitely won’t find as much history there,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “I’ve actually had a bunch of people think I’m a local! Apparently there’s a big Vietnamese population east of the city.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods at the assumption that she’s local. She admits that she just assumes most people are from the town that she meets them in, including Ms. Nguyen.

GM: “Anyways,” she continues, “it’s the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation. It primarily funds college students through ISAs—incoming sharing agreements, but it has a program for qualifying high school graduates to use the funds for other things like vocational or technical school, or even entrepreneurial projects. Since it’s an ISA, the best part is that the student isn’t fully on the hook to pay them back.”

“If you’re not familiar with how those work, an ISA is an arrangement where an investor pays for a college student’s tuition and potentially related expenses like food and housing. In return, the students repay the investor with a percentage of their post-graduation salaries, usually for no more than 10 years. If the student doesn’t make any money, the investors lose out, but the student is off the hook. If the student succeeds, the investors profit too.”

“The foundation was set up by the Whitney family, if the name wasn’t a giveaway. I think these days it operates closer to the bank and its investors than the original family members, though I could be wrong.”

Amelie: Amelie looks rather amused for a moment before chuckling, “I can’t seem to get away from the Whitney family today. First the presentation talking about her, then it turns out somewhere I’d like to go for a history project is owned by the Whitney bank, I even spoke with Sarah Whitney last period, and now this,” she explains, crossing her legs.

“However, if I do manage to snag it, hopefully it’ll be enough for a place of work. Metallurgy equipment is surprisingly cheap, due to the fact a lot of tools I can just make once I have the basics, but we’ll have to see! Is there an information booklet on this ISA?”

GM: “Oh really? I guess that isn’t too big a surprise, the Whitney Bank is our largest regional bank. And let’s see, booklets…” Ms. Nguyen types something into her computer.

Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers fucking Desjardins, the worst bank you could possibly go to, but one that was still everywhere in Quebec, much to her dismay.

GM: “Okay, they have a website, here’s the address.” The counselor briefly asks Amelie for an email address, or just lets her copy the url directly off the computer screen. “I can also call them to set up a meeting with a foundation member, if you’d like. Maybe they’ll even have a pamphlet I can pass on.”

Amelie: Amelie saves the url to her bookmarks so she can look it up later. “I think I’m going to hold off on that until I have something to show them. My project will hopefully turn a profit, or at the very least break even and spread my name around collectors in New Orleans a little. Have a success story to get them interested.”

GM: “Sounds like a promising way to start things,” the guidance counselor nods. “I know that they require students applying for ISAs to give a presentation, and having a couple good references already could only help you.”

Amelie: “It only seems fair, I mean If I can’t prove that I can do something, how am I going to be given money to do something?”

GM: “I might also recommend that you talk your plans over with your aunt. Last we chatted, she admitted she didn’t have much idea what your intended path in life was, beyond that she was going to require you to finish high school. I’m sure she’ll have plenty more things to say about the business you want to start up.”

Amelie: “Me and her have already spoken about this, actually. I made it clear to her as well that I like to see debts repaid.”

GM: “That’s a healthy attitude in life,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “Another thing I wanted us to talk about was extracurriculars—at McGehee, we encourage all students to develop their interests and pursue achievements outside of the classroom, both to improve their college applications and for simple personal enrichment. Are you signed up for any after-school activities yet?”

Amelie: “I am not. But I’m looking at an out of school curricular in Systemé d’Armes, the local HEMA group in New Orleans. From what I’ve read it’s run by some class A historians.”

GM: “Sounds promising. Now admittedly, with you not attending college, there’s not as much need for you to have a long list of extracurriculars on an application. But they can still look good on a work resume, help you meet potential references, or simply provide personal enrichment. If you’re ever curious what else McGehee has to offer, we have a handy list right here,” the counselor says before passing Amelie a small paper booklet.

She abruptly frowns. “Oh, I’m sorry, this is one of the bad copies. Let me get you a current one.” She withdraws the proffered booklet, rummages around in her desk for a moment, and then hands Amelie another, identical-looking one.

Amelie: Amelie moves to look through the pamphlet, and is about to ask about any engineering classes or extracurriculars after seeing a picture of girls building a catapult on the school website. But the sudden change between booklets makes her a bit wary. They both look the same. She glances up at the woman and gives a small smile. “May I see the other one again, however? It’s good to gauge interest in certain activities by seeing what is cut out.”

GM: “Oh, you’d be wasting your time, it’s exactly the same except for one entry,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “Some students wanted to form a club the administration decided not to allow. One of them worked as a TA and had access to the copy center, so she made copies which included the unrecognized club, and those all got passed out across the school. Principal Strong was not happy. Looks like I forgot about my copy, though.” The counselor drops it in the trash bin.

Amelie: Amelie looks a little concerned as to what this club is as her eyes linger on the trash bin. “If you don’t mind me asking, what was the cut club? I can’t imagine there being any dissent at this school so far, was it something especially toxic?”

GM: “It was the Queer Student Alliance, or whatever the girls were calling it. And no, we found the responsible girl’s behavior much worse than the club itself was. McGehee believes a student’s sexual identity is their own business. We also believe students should express themselves through their interests and vocations, rather than personal labels. We try to focus on the things every student can try out or have in common.”

Amelie: Amelie deflates a little. She thought it was something saucy or dangerous, and actually chuckles a bit at the sudden lift in tensions. “It was a gay/straight alliance? You had me thinking it was a ‘burn books’ club or something catty. Is the student who started it still with the school?”

GM: The guidance counselor nods. “She was suspended, but yes, she’s still with us. We wouldn’t expel a student just for something like that.”

Amelie: “You probably can’t tell me her name, can you? You’ve gotten me interested. I… actually, ma’am, do you mind if I ask you how long you’ve been with McGehee?”

GM: “Four years and worth it every day,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “And I’m afraid I can’t. Circulating who she was just makes it harder to put the incident behind us.”

Amelie: Amelie debates with herself for a moment before offering the guidance counselor a nod. She can’t ask about what group that girl might belong to. “Fair enough. I’m sure she’ll make herself known if she wants to cause any more trouble,” she relents. “Was there anything else, ma’am?”

GM: “I think a few things…” Ms. Nguyen spends the next chunk of time going over Amelie’s selection of classes for this and next semester, reviewing graduation requirements and previous academic records (Amelie’s grades back in Quebec notably suffered from her poor home life), and informing her of various scholastic resources open to students, such as the library and tutoring services. She also goes over deadlines for the SAT exam and college and financial aid applications—“just so you can keep those in mind, they’re the drumbeat everything here marches to.”

“Okay,” Ms. Nguyen finally concludes, “I think that’s everything. I may call you back in a week or two just to check up on how things are doing. And if no one’s said so already, welcome to McGehee,” the guidance counselor smiles in farewell.


Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015

GM: Half an hour later, Amelie is back home. Christina is still out, true to her word that morning, but has left a note on the dining room table saying she expects to be home. The afternoon is Amelie’s to spend as she wills.

Amelie: Amelie has a little while before her aunt gets home, it looks like. She spends that time in the kitchen cooking and listening to Google’s ‘text to speech’ feature recite her notes in its plain modulated voice while she hurries around. She spent years making food for a drunk who had zero ability to do those kinds of things for himself, and it made the rather butch girl a surprisingly competent cook. She has a simple stir-fry waiting for her aunt when she gets home, where she also finds the cooking dishes already washed and Amelie sitting in the kitchen on her laptop.

GM: It’s around 6 PM when Amelie hears a car outside and the front door opening. Christina greets her by the kitchen’s island and asks how her first day went, adding, “I hope you’ve started to make some friends.”

Amelie: Amelie perks up at the questions after her aunt comes in. “I think I did make one or two. Hard to tell at this school. My classes are proving interesting. How about yourself? Calm day at work?”

GM: “Oh yes, calm as ever. Kristina said you two got some good shopping done yesterday. And how thoughtful of you to make dinner, that smells scrumptious.” Her aunt gets out some napkins, plates and utensils to set down on the island.

Amelie: “I’m glad work was calm.” As suspicious as Amelie feels of of her aunt’s work, she does hope it went well. “I do need some advice, however. Something very odd happened at school today.”

GM: “Oh yes, what was that?” her aunt asks as she fills two glasses with water.

Amelie: “During lunch break I noticed someone watching me across the yard. I approached them and they ran. I found them again and it was a middle schooler. I got out of her that she ’wasn’t supposed to be seen’ watching me and someone gave her the task. I’m none too worried, maybe it was just a bad ripoff of an ‘elite of the school’ club, but I’m not sure how to proceed.”

GM: “That is strange,” Christina remarks as she spears a forkful of stir-fry. “How you should proceed depends on what you want to do about it, I suppose.”

Amelie: “I’m rather stuck on that, as well. I don’t know who the group in question is. The only options I see are to investigate the school’s history for a clue, find that girl again, or just ignore the group until I graduate or they contact me.”

GM: “Ignoring them doesn’t sound like a poor option if they haven’t bothered you yet,” her aunt remarks between a bite.

Amelie: “My only issue with that plan is the possibility of offending the ego of that group. If they’ve got eyes on me, and they know I’m aware? I could see a club of little heiresses taking offense.”

GM: “A club of little heiresses relying on even littler girls in training bras to do their dirty work?” her aunt wryly asks. “Until they actually do something to interfere with you, they don’t sound worth the time to me. It’s money, after all. You have much more important things you can spend yours on.”

Amelie: “Very true. I’ll take that advice, then. I do have a lot of things already on my plate. I hopefully have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch to gain access to the LaLaurie House, and I’ve got my business plans to set up—I also heard there’s a possible ISA grant through the school, I have to find a good pair of rollerskates until driver’s ed starts, and of course keeping up with all my other schoolwork and tour plans.” She slowly nods to herself as she tells her aunt about her plans. It helps her organize them better in her own head.

GM: “Sounds like a lot,” her aunt remarks. “Do you know when driver’s ed starts up?”

Amelie: Amelie sits up and reaches into her bag, pulling out the booklet with extracurricular activities she got from Ms. Nguyen, and pages through it for driver’s ed.

“The counselor called me in today. I still have that public school tightening in my gut every time that happens. But she gave me this. Should have information for driver’s ed.”

GM: “That’s thoughtful of the school to do. I think you’ll find that the staff here has a different way of doing things.”

Amelie spends about a minute paging through it before she finds the location and times for driver’s ed: 4:00 PM until 5:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting this week. Christina comments wryly on how “back in her day” driver’s ed was offered as an in-school class rather than an after-school activity, though she does comment on the late start time. “Probably so the girls can attend ‘real’ extracurriculars. I suppose even offering driver’s ed is more than I expected, it’s not as if learning to drive is something the students can put down on their college applications.”

The booklet says that driver’s ed lasts for a semester and teaches all the fundamentals of driving. Amelie’s aunt adds that she’s free to go to the DMV (“Department of Motor Vehicles, if you call it by something else back in Canada”) and take her licensing test at any point: driver’s ed simply teaches all the topics likely to come up.

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit at her aunt’s words and recounts the look on the woman’s face when she mentioned her decision not to apply for college right out of McGehee. It’s a bit of a funny thought, that the school relies so much on those numbers from students heading to higher education when that should be public school’s aim. The pamphlet takes but a moment to get through, and she nods along to it all, hoping it comes with practical lessons as well. “The learner’s permit will be quick to get, especially. Then just a bit of practice and I’m sure I’ll be behind a wheel in no time.”

GM: “I remember when your grandfather taught your mother and me how to drive,” Christina recollects. “That would have been back in ‘85 or so. He started by having us drive laps around empty parking lots. Once we could do that, he’d have one of us play chauffeur whenever he or your grandmother left the house. Sometimes we’d drive out to Boston or along the I-95 to get practice at the harder aspects of driving. Cities and highways can be intimidating during those first few times behind the wheel. We got our learner’s permits after a few weeks and our licenses after maybe a few months. It doesn’t take too long.”

Amelie: Amelie isn’t able to hide a small frown at her aunt’s recollection of her and Mom’s childhood. Or at least teen years. She remembers back in that group home, when her ‘goal for the day’ was so often not to think about her missing parent. Now it’s twice in one day that she hasn’t been able to stop herself. Her normally straight-backed and formal tone cracks as she asks,

“Auntie? Has she… called you? Sent you a letter? Anything since she left? Anything at all?”

GM: Christina shakes her head and lays a hand on Amelie’s shoulder. “She hasn’t. I’m sorry. I can only imagine what that not knowing is like for you.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down at her aunt’s hand. The touch is nice. But that’s the only thing which is.

She clears her throat. “It was long enough ago that it’s dulled. I’m actually glad she hasn’t contacted you, if I’m honest. If just for the fact that it means I wasn’t the only part of her life she didn’t approve of.”

GM: “I can’t say what may have been going through your mother’s head when she chose to leave,” her aunt answers. “I wish I could. I wish she’d come back. That’s unfortunately out of our hands, so all we can do is go forward with our own lives.”

Amelie: “We’ll see her again. I’m almost sure of it.” Amelie’s tone isn’t hopeful, not one bit, but saying it seems to steel her again. “Until then, you’re right. I’ve got to go about my own life. That includes getting a few appointments settled, seeing if McGehee will be angry if I use their name for my tutoring credentials, and getting into the New Orleans HEMA group, because like my mother I need to hit things with sharp sticks every so often.”

GM: “Sounds relaxing,” her aunt observes with some amusement. “So far as upsetting McGehee, what are you planning there?”

Amelie: "Well, a business needs references. McGehee is a great reference, but I don’t know if they’d be happy if I posted on a flier. ‘McGehee Private school student offering private tutoring’ "

GM: “Oh, something like that? No, they won’t mind if all you’re doing is saying is that you go to McGehee.”

Amelie: “And yet, my day was baffling enough that I feel safer doubting. What about you? I heard from Kristina and even my Economics teacher, Lawrence Thurston, that you attend quite a few events. I hope I’m not keeping you.”

GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “Oh no. You’re not very likely to see many of those on a Monday night. I’m usually busier on weekends, but you’re old not to need me always around. You have my cell if there’s ever something you want to quickly get in touch over.”

Amelie: “Fair enough. I was surprised about Mr. Thurston though. It feels as though New Orleans is the only place I could find a high school teacher socialite.”

GM: “Lawrence Thurston, you said?” Her aunt seems to think the name over. “I think he worked for Whitney Bank. You can run into lots of mid-to-upper management corporate types at assorted functions, but more often as faces in the crowd than what you might be thinking of by ‘socialite’. There are a few members of the board of trustees who fit that profile, though. The investors behind the school are definitely old money.”

Amelie: “Maybe my definition of socialite is off. Though a lot of students are definitely old money, too. Sarah Whitney herself is in my final period class, that’s how I may have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch. And I think I only got that ‘may’ by being partners with a daughter of the Devillers family. This school makes me feel like I’m playing a game of Renaissance social chess.”

GM: “I’d imagine that it does. Some perspective can be useful, though,” her aunt reflects as she finishes her dinner. “I lived in New York for some years before I moved south. The families here are welfare queens next to the money floating around in that city. New Orleans used to be one of the most important cities in the country, but that was two hundred years ago. Most of its old money families don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Or the one about how they lost the Civil War too.”

Amelie: Amelie listens closely and nods in agreement. Perspective is very important. The country she came from has nothing that compares to the kind of money and influence a world power throws around every day. New Orleans is shiny, but her aunt is right. Shiny silver isn’t worth a quarter as much as dull gold.

“I’ll keep that in mind. When I’m older maybe I’ll go and see New York, as well,” she concedes. She takes her aunt’s plate when she’s finished and reflexively moves to wash it in the sink.

“On a different note, I’ll be going out tomorrow after school. I want to take a look at the LaLaurie house from the outside, take some pictures. I want to view a church or two as well, maybe find a place I can buy some rollerskates. I know it sounds bad, but they’re handy.”

GM: “Louisiana is the poorest state in the Union today,” her aunt continues. “It has a thousand other ills from rampant political corruption to abysmal poverty and education rates, to the largest incarcerated adult population in the country. Louisiana has no industries truly competitive with those of other states besides tourism, most of which is based in New Orleans, and petroleum—and the latter is going to run out, no matter how much the Malveauxes may plug their ears and yell global warning is a hoax. If you managed to back a McGehee ‘heiress’ into a corner and got her to admit those problems are real, she’d probably say ‘they only really apply to the poor, my family can trace our ancestors back to the Confederacy and we’re so much better off.’ But they really aren’t. The state is equally ‘poor’ among its rich. It’s only home to two billionaires, one of whom spends half his time in Texas. The old families here really aren’t as rich or as important as they’d like to believe. All they have is their history.”

Christina doesn’t roll her eyes, but the sound is there in her voice.

“And their pride, goodness knows.”

Amelie: Amelie just stands there at the sink, stunned as she hears her aunt go off like a firework at the old families in the city. She actually breaks into a small fit of laughter as she squirts some soap over the dishes and turns back to her aunt. “That sounds like a lot of pent-up patronizing encounters with old family assholes,” she says, trying to regain her composure.

“I’ll keep that all in mind. I think that lifts a little bit of weight off their opinions for me, too. Even the councilor Ms. Nguyen said something along the lines of very few actual old families are putting their kids through McGehee.”

GM: Her aunt waves a hand as if to dismiss the whole topic. “You don’t need to wash that plate yourself, by the way, we have a dishwasher.”

“And I’m sure the LaLaurie House will be an interesting place to stop by. You should stop by a few of the Quarter’s cafés and restaurants while you’re out. Say what you will about the old families, but the cuisine here is to die for.”

“St. Louis Cathedral is also the most popular place to stop if you want to see an old church. It’s the seat of the Catholic archdiocese here, though there’s plenty more historic churches too.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a little silly as she notices the dishwasher and fits the plate inside. It’s been a while since she was in a house that had one of those.

“I think the cathedral is the one I’ll hit up, yes. It’s not liable to be too crowded on a Tuesday, I’m sure I’ll get to look around without much of an issue.”

GM: “Oh yes, it’s open to the public more or less all the time. There was a wedding going on the first time I visited, which struck me as fairly strange. Anyone was free to just walk in.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the thought of a wedding somewhere so historic, and that the building itself doesn’t close itself off even during those events.

“Well, thanks for the advice. I’ll go and sign up for the driver’s course tomorrow before I head out to the French Quarter. But for now, I should start studying and preparing. And thank you, for… well, talking about my mother with me. I’m sorry it’s been affecting you, too.”

GM: “People who disappear affect everyone who knows them, unfortunately,” her aunt remarks. “But don’t mention it. I’m glad that you still have your head in your studies after all that’s been going on.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and thinks back to her father. That pathetic husk. “If you ever want to talk about it more, we can. I’m sure it was hard being in a whole other country when it happened. Study though, it’s kinda relaxing for me. Plus, now I want to shove my grades in some welfare queen faces,” she smirks.

She thanks her aunt for the great talk and retreats up to her room. She spends most of her time studying notes over her laptop, but she also puts together details for her LaLaurie proposal on the side. There’s plenty of time in the night to study before bed.

There’s plenty of time ahead for anything.


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Story One, Amelie V

“Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t.”
Anonymous note


Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s first week of classes goes by.

Mr. Thurston’s class is enjoyable enough, if one likes finance and listening to his stories about the city’s families and banking “in the old days”. The retired investment banker has a fairly laid-back attitude to class and doesn’t assign homework, quizes, or projects. He mostly just lectures and says there’ll be one exam every month throughout the semester. He says that’s “closer to how the real world works,” though he offers extra credit to students who read any of the recommended books off his syllabus and write 10-page reports on them. He also offers extra credit to any student who’ll grade his exams for him, as he evidently doesn’t assign enough work in his classes to justify a TA.

To the surprise of few, Sarah Whitney receives this position, although a black-haired girl he addresses as “Miss St. John” seems like she also wanted it. Amelie gets the impression that Mr. Thurston has no interest whatsoever in spending any of his own time on the class outside of class. Amelie hears he doesn’t even have Sarah read the book reports, just check to see if they’ve been plagiarized (and are actually about the chosen book).

At the same time, the old man has “about forty years” of experience in the financial sector and genuinely seems to enjoy imparting that knowledge to the daughters of his former banking clients. He also has a seemingly photographic memory for the names and family histories of many of his students. He often meanders off-topic from his lectures to relate stories about students’ families in his lazy Southern drawl, and some of the time they’re even relevant to the lectures’ subject matter. All told, his class is a peculiarly personalized blend of zeal and sloth.

“Just like college at the Ivy Leagues,” Mr. Thurston even briefly quips.

Amelie: Amelie tackles her schoolwork intensely: she only has a year of advanced schooling like this before she graduates. It’s a sobering thought and reminds her that being at the very top here is important to her future.

Finance is probably her least favorite class, thanks to Mr. Thurston’s constant tangents, but she uses the chance to memorize names from the old boys’ clubs he seems to be part of. His stories also provide some context into how the finance game’s players operate, and maybe even give her an in with those people. If she hears a name in this classroom there’s always a chance she can ask the teacher for introductions.

GM: Mr. French’s history class is more straightforward in its content matter, and perhaps more professional in how it’s structured. Mr. French treats it like the college course it is: there’s some amount of homework and assigned readings, as well as exams, but it’s mostly lectures geared towards writing a term paper. He seems like a hard grader, and most of the students seem like hard workers. Golf doesn’t come up beyond his initial introduction. Amelie’s own passion for the subject matter likely makes the prolonged lectures more enjoyable for her than they are to the other girls.

Amelie: History class is Amelie’s bread and butter. She sits with a straight back and laps up everything in every lesson, keeping detailed bullet point notes. She fails to keep a small smile off her face as they go over wars, changes in maps, political and religious shifts, and more. This period of history is fascinating and exhilarating for her, and she’s already working on drafts for her paper on the Hundred Years’ War in her spare time. Her initial concern about a male teacher in the girls’ school seems less valid every day, and downright silly by the end of the week. They clearly picked the right man for the job. She frequently raises her hand to asks questions and sometimes stays after class to clear up certain dates and faction names.

GM: Mr. French clearly expects all of his students to be raising their hands and asking questions about the material, and appears to take notice of Amelie simply for doing so more regularly than her peers (which she can hope will earn her a good participation grade).

In contrast, students in Ms. Perry’s third period seem to have a lot more fun. The teacher is younger and more energetic than Mr. French, and tries to give the girls more hands-on roles in the class through small-group discussions and presentations. She still gives lots of lectures herself, but punctuates them with jokes, wry commentary, and frequent pictures on the room’s smartboard (including the occasional cartoon and popular meme). She seems to hold strong opinions on a number of historic figures, especially John Law, who she repeatedly calls a “ne’er-do-well-scoundrel,” “sweet-talking hustler,” and other such variations, usually with a smirk. When one of the students brings up the topic, she laughs and admits she has a soft spot for “bad boy” types.

Amelie: Amelie does her best to keep her hand in the air during Mr. French’s class. She sometimes feels like he doesn’t go into certain topics on purpose, just to keep his students asking questions.

Ms. Perry’s class is more Amelie’s milk and honey, however, and she sits there with a big dumb grin on her face throughout the teacher’s lectures. She can’t help but chuckle at Ms. Perry’s half-hearted admonishments towards John Law. There’s plenty of ‘bad boys’ in New Orleans’ history. Jean Lafitte is a big name that springs to mind: French pirate, spy, smuggler, and war hero. Amelie suspects that more than a little class time will be spent learning about this man.

The figure she looks forward to hearing about most of all, though, is Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla. The famed duelist was only seven or eight when Laffite died, but one of his best-known business ventures was ironically the purchase of Grande Terre Island in Barataria Bay: the former island base of Jean Laffite himself. Amelie enjoys sharing tidbits like this during the more hands-on portions of the class and discussing them with her teacher and classmates. It’s a dream class.

GM: Ms. Perry seems to appreciate Amelie’s knowledge and enthusiasm for history, and the Canadian transplant soon finds herself being regularly asked, “Ms. Savard, you have anything else you want to add for us?” during lectures. Ms. Perry laughs when she brings up Jean Lafitte and admits that her “crush” on the notorious pirate turned folk hero is well-known among her students. They’ll spend plenty of class time on him and his lesser-known brother Pierre in due order.

Amelie: Amelie’s great passion for history is finally stoked! And in a school, by teachers, of all people. The irony of her surprise and delight isn’t lost on her. Amelie always seems to have at least a small tidbit to add whenever Ms. Perry calls on her: the city’s history of the city has a lot of little offshoots and interesting facts, enough that she even researches more outside of class just so that she’ll have more to do.

GM: Lunch breaks continue to be lonely times for Amelie. All of the girls know each other, have their own cliques, and seem to possess an invisible map that designates what spots are acceptable for which people to sit. The school lunches, however, continue to taste delicious, and could easily be restaurant-level fare. The girls who go off-campus for lunch mainly seem to want some extra variety in their diets, and can be found eating at the cafeteria just as often.

Amelie: Lunch becomes a time for review as Amelie figuratively balances her food in one hand and her laptop in the other. She doesn’t deny that she’d like to sit by other people and resolves to make some friends as the days go by. Yvette and Sarah seem like good candidates once they feel more comfortable around her.

GM: Amelie observes that Sarah Whitney spends every lunch period with Susannah Kelly and two other girls she recognizes by sight, and whose full names she eventually fills in as Mackenna Gallagher and Aurora St. John. The four of them appear to be quite popular, and their table is usually surrounded by hangers-on who listen to their every word and laugh at all their jokes.

It’s seemingly by chance that Amelie observes with whom Yvette spends her lunches: her sister Yvonne, and two smaller girls who share their blanched complexions, pale blonde hair, and translucent blue eyes. The physical resemblance between the four young women is already uncanny, and their identical McGehee uniforms make the effect even more pronounced. Only their obvious disparities in age make it possible for Amelie to tell the younger two girls apart. The four eat their lunches in the library and talk exclusively in their formal-sounding metropolitan French.

Amelie: At least lunch allows Amelie to observe the school’s social hierarchy. Sarah is definitely one of the untouchables. It seems Yvette has a family rife with siblings and what she hopes is only selective breeding and not that other thing people often accuse high-class families of.

GM: Ms. Ward never sends Amelie to the principal’s office, but she never seems to quite forget how the new girl showed up tardy during the middle of her introductory speech about why she’s teaching at McGehee instead of pursuing a research career. She’s younger than Ms. Perry, but somewhere between her and Mr. French in terms of the seriousness of her class. She’s friendly enough, and can relate to the students fairly well (she looks maybe a decade older than them at most), but work comes first. In fact, she’s probably the harshest grader out of all of Amelie’s teachers, and clearly has very high expectations for her students. Class follows the same college/AP model of lectures, more emphasis on exams than daily work, one group research project, and the syllabus actually matters.

Amelie: Inorganic Chemistry is a little more tense than Amelie’s other classes. She keeps on her best behavior and often shows up first or second from then on to avoid the teacher’s wrath and demonstrate through her actions that her first day was a one-time accident. The coursework itself is much more serious, but Amelie knows she’s good at this. Inorganic chemical reactions and the understanding of them are what makes a smith a good smith. You know how steel hardens and how different levels of heat affect the introduction of oxygen-leeching borax. She pays close attention, less from mirth like her morning classes, and more from duty. She takes her trade seriously.

GM: Mrs. Laurent doesn’t appear as unenthusiastic for her class as Amelie initially thought and turns out to be maybe slightly more easygoing a grader than Mr. French is. However, the woman speaks in a damnably quiet voice. She isn’t impossible to hear, but missing bits and pieces of her lectures is inevitable unless one pays extremely close attention. Amelie may be amused by the convoluted and always—always—flawlessly polite ways through which her peers entreat their teacher to please, please speak at a higher volume. Mrs. Laurent seems oblivious to each and every one of these requests, and also has a habit of lecturing with her eyes half-lidded, which further compounds the sense that she isn’t quite present during class. Fortunately, small group discussions take up a good chunk of each period.

Amelie: Mrs. Laurent proves to be slightly frustrating, in that her students are always leaning forward to try and make out what she’s saying. Amelie has a solution in mind in the form of a collar-mounted microphone and simple belt speaker to amplify the teacher’s voice. But for now the she just keeps her ears open until it’s time for the group talks, and proves that new kid jitters do not affect her as she shares her opinions and listens to others.

GM: It’s easy for Amelie to see why so many students signed up for Mrs. Flores’ class during sixth period: it’s a relaxing way to end the day and feels more like an extracurricular activity than a proper class. Grading is participation-based, which would be bad for any cutters, but Amelie doesn’t see much cutting in any of her classes—the students all seem to take their studies seriously.

Mrs. Flores spends the first week of class on waltzes, which she calls the “easiest type of dance—most of your grandmas can probably still do it.” She also permits a notable deviation from the school uniform: girls are not only free but encouraged to bring high-heeled shoes to class. “Nothin’ too risque, of course, but you do want to learn to dance in the shoes you’ll actually be dancing in,” the teacher adds.

Even more notably, Mrs. Flores also allows “dress Fridays” when her students don’t have to wear their uniforms. That privilege comes with three caveats, the first of which is that attire must be at least semiformal—skirts or dresses of a minimum knee length, and “definitely no blue jeans.” Secondly, the girls have to change in a nearby locker room before class starts, as the offer is not good for other periods. Finally, they have to change back into their uniforms when class ends, even if they’re driving straight home. Not wearing the uniform is a privilege, Mrs. Flores emphasizes.

That cautionary aside, the class is abuzz with enthusiasm at their teacher’s announcement (though many girls also seem as if they knew it was coming ahead of time), and almost everyone seems as if they’re going to show up in non-uniform come next Friday. The class is generally a very enthusiastic one, and everyone seems like they have a lot of fun, though there are a few occasions when Mrs. Flores has to sit down and direct things from her stool because of her leg.

Amelie: Mrs. Flores’ class proves to be quite fun for Amelie too, and gives her a chance to show off her more physical prowess. She still prefers to lead during dances, but she learns from her first day and plays the female role too, even though she’s sure that the other girls find it awkward to lead around their tall and masculine classmate. Still, she probably needs the practice there.

The mention of dancingwear makes Amelie a little nervous. Her earlier shopping trip with Kristina hasn’t changed her opinion that her fashion sense is… fairly bare-bones. She thinks she can do the dancing shoes at the very least, though.

Amelie stays behind on days when Mrs. Flores seems to be in pain. She offers to help the older woman with stretches to ease the pain and shows her the rigors of ice skating injury recovery.

GM: Mrs. Flores thanks Amelie several further times for her thoughtfulness on the first day of class. On subsequent occasions, she simply smiles and tells the young woman she’s “very sweet, but you don’t need to worry about me. My leg’s been this way since ‘03, so I’m used to managing.” She laughs. “It won’t be too much longer before it’s old enough to take this class.”

Amelie: Amelie still offers her services every day the pain seems to be a bother for her teacher. Long-term injuries are a different story than injuries from the last few years, but unless the muscle itself is missing Amelie keeps the offer open. Either for fetching ice packs, being a partner for stretches, or helping her walk to her car.

GM: Amelie’s after-school afternoons are fairly open. She has an hour to kill every Tuesday and Thursday before driver’s ed begins, but she receives enough homework from her classes that she can put the time to productive use studying in the library. Getting behind the wheel is intimidating at first, but it doesn’t take long before she can drive a car in basic laps around an empty lot.

Christina also helps Amelie set up a bank account at Whitney Hancock National Bank. She leaves a monthly allowance in it for expenses like clothes, cab fare, eating out, and the like so that Amelie doesn’t need to ask her for money all the time.

Her aunt also recommends that Amelie apply for a credit card, and is willing to co-sign for one if her first two applications get rejected. She cautions Amelie to always pay back the monthly balance in full, and to use it simply to establish a good credit history—which she will need even more than the average person if she intends to open a business. Banks and would-be investors alike will want to see evidence that she can handle money responsibly.

Amelie: Amelie’s life outside of school moves quite a bit faster as they get the bank account set up and apply for a credit card right afterwards. She does some reading and postulates that the longer she has the card the more likely the bank will be willing to set up a corporate card once she gets her business off the ground.

The monthly alllowance is another matter. Given the facts she rarely eats out, considers it wasteful to take cabs, and already has a bunch of clothes from both Quebec and shopping with Kristina, it simply feels like free money. Still, she leaves it at that.

GM: Amelie is able to purchase a pair of rollerblades without issue. Her aunt pointedly makes no comment.

Amelie: For all the silence that purchase meets, Amelie doubts her aunt can argue with the results. It’s not long before the she’s whipping in between traffic like she’s gliding on ice. She’s actually faster than the streetcar on days with congested enough traffic.

GM: Ms. Nguyen gets back to Amelie several days later about the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation’s ISA program. She has a brochure and repeats that she can arrange for Amelie to meet one of the foundation’s members. She adds that it will not be a formal interview or anything of the sort, merely a simple ‘question and answer’ meeting that the foundation is happy to entertain from potentially interested students.

Amelie: Ms. Nguyen’s pamphlets are as useful as always. She pours over the information inside, thanks the counselor for her time, and says she’ll have more information for her in the coming month. She would would love to have that Q & A meeting once she has some examples her work and a write-up of the material costs she’ll need to get her feet wet.

GM: Ms. Nguyen clarifies that the foundation will be happy to meet with Amelie simply to answer questions, as opposed to deciding whether she qualifies for the ISA, but leaves it at that.

Ms. Perry provides some time during Friday for her students to do research on their group projects. She also admonishes them, “With only ten of y’all, I can tell who’s checking Facebook!” Yvette mentions that she spoke with her mother and Sarah Whitney, and that the Devillers invited the Whitneys over for dinner a few days ago. Sarah’s grandfather Lyman, the bank’s now-retired CEO, was willing to pull some strings and get Yvette into the LaLaurie House for a night as a favor to her family. Amelie still isn’t sure how allowable that is under the bank’s policies, but nepotism and old-boy networking seems to be everything in Louisiana.

Lyman is willing to let Yvette bring along a single classmate of her choice, but was stern this was not to turn into a slumber party. If there’s any damage to the historic house, the Devillers are paying for it—and Yvette’s mother expects Amelie’s family to pay for it.

“’E also mentioned a liability waiver to sign in case the curse kills us,” Yvette states dryly.

Amelie: Class with Yvette is a real kicker. Amelie is surprised that it only took a week for Sarah to not only get back to her grandfather, but for the two families to meet and give them the thumbs up.

“That’s… that’s great! Honestly, I didn’t think it’d be this easy. As for the curse, I think it might only apply to the owners of the house. As long as Sarah doesn’t come with us.” She laughs lightly before asking, “Are you sure you want to do this, then? Spend the night in this scary old place? It sounds like we aren’t allowed to bring that priest or voodoo mambo like I suggested.”

GM: “Of course,” Yvette answers. “It’ll be a much better presentation if Ah can actually go inside the ‘ouse we’ll be talking about, no? Besides, mah mother and Ah already asked Monsieur Whitney. ’E’s been so nice to us, Ah’d be rude to back out now. Ah didn’t ask ‘im about any priests, though. Ah wouldn’t want to bother one over something like this. And don’t be silly, Ah wouldn’t want to damage the ’ouse letting in some voodoo clochard.”

Amelie: “That’s wise,” Amelie nods. “But I want you to know the offer is open. I can always spend the night alone with a camera. Though I think I’ll bring one anyway.” She doesn’t overlook Yvette calling Vodouisant priests tramps, but she lets it go.

“I’m heading to a cathedral after school today, however. I’ll at least ask the priest their advice on the matter. The interaction between religion and ghosts is something interesting I’d like to explore. How Catholics love to have buildings consecrated and exorcised of spirits, and how New Orleans’ Vodoun traditions interact with hauntings. Did they give a certain time they’d like us to visit?”

GM: “Oui,” Yvette answers, “Frahday next week. Monsieur Whitney said it would take a bit to pull strings, and mah mother would rather Ah did something like that on a non-school night.”

“And that’s very nice of you, but Monsieur Whitney is letting me stay the night as a favor to mah mother. ’E’s letting me bring one classmate, but Ah ’ave to be there with ’er.”

Amelie: “That’s good of him. I’ll have to think him personally, if I ever get the chance. Friday gives us time, though, that’s good. Maybe we should call Ms. Perry over and inform her of the good news. I’m sure she’d be amazed.”

GM: “Be mah guest,” Yvette offers as she scrolls through something on her laptop.

Ms. Perry is talking to another pair of students, but in the ten-girl class, Amelie does not have to try very hard or wait for very long to make herself heard. “All righty, what can I do for you gals?” the black-haired teacher asks as she strides over.

Amelie: Amelie nods and beckons Ms. Perry when she can, smiling as the teacher approaches. “We just wanted to give you the good news. We secured a night pass to stay in the LaLaurie House for our project.”

GM: “Oh wow, for real? You two better watch out for that curse, no telling if it might haunt you later,” Ms. Perry smiles.

Yvette replies with a faintly sardonic one. “We can only ‘ope not, ma’am.”

Amelie: “The curse has only ever affected owners though, hasn’t it?”

GM: “Good point,” Ms. Perry laughs. “you two are probably safe if you don’t plan on moving in. But that’s wonderful for you though, really it is. Who knows when that house is going to get snagged up by another movie star… take as many pictures as you can, hear?”

Amelie: “How about you make a small list of things you’d like us to document specifically? I’m sure we can help you out with your curiosity. As long as the ‘attic’ isn’t on that list, of course.” It’s a question in the back of her mind she knows the teacher doesn’t have an answer for, if they sealed that space off or filled it in.

GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea. If the attic is off, definitely the courtyard… that’s where a young slave was supposed to have jumped to her death, because she was so terrified of what Madam LaLaurie would do to her.” Ms. Perry’s smile turns a touch self-depreciating. “I gotta admit I’m just a little jealous. The most haunted house in the city, all yours for one spooooky night.” Yvette smirks and rolls her eyes as Ms. Perry raises her fingers to eye level and wiggles then as if to pantomime a ghost.

Amelie: Amelie chuckles lightly, enjoying the banter. “Actually, ma’am, I do have a question. The slaves in Madam LaLaurie’s possession… were most slaves in those times Christian, or followers of voodoo?”

GM: “You know, that’s a somewhat tricky question,” Ms. Perry answers as she sits down. “We have to remember that Vodoun developed in response to early African slaves being forcibly converted to Catholicism, and as a means for them to continue practicing their native faiths under the watch of their owners. West African religions are syncretic, so the slaves had no problems adopting Catholic saints into their ‘pantheon’, or just viewing them as equivalent names and faces to loa they already revered. The loa Papa Legba, for instance, is considered the same figure as the Catholic St. Peter, and Damballah is another mask for St. Patrick. Fun myth there-,” the teacher smirks, “-the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland in Catholicism is a giant snake in Vodoun.”

“As time went on,” she continues, “Vodoun adopted more Catholic trappings, and its followers didn’t see all that much difference between being Catholic and being a Vodouisant. Marie Laveau considered herself both and she was married in a Catholic ceremony by Padre Antonio, the city’s probably most famous priest. It took time for Vodoun to evolve from an underground religion in the early 1700s into a more public one and even influential social force by the mid-1800s. By the time of Madam LaLaurie, there were around fifteen different voodoo queens who’d amassed quite a bit of power. In fact, it was only a year after Madam LaLaurie’s abuses were exposed, in 1835, that Marie Laveau became New Orleans’ more or less supreme voodoo queen. There’s actually a story that the two of them knew one another—which isn’t impossible, Marie Laveau had a lot of upper-class customers—and raised a baby who was the Devil’s own son together.” Ms. Perry smiles over the rims of her half-oval glasses. “I can’t vouch for whether that last bit’s true, though.”

“Are there many voodoo followers these days?” Yvette asks.

The teacher seems to think for a moment. “They’re still around, but there’s a lot fewer than there used to be. Particularly after Katrina, since a lot of the real believers were poor and some of the most displaced by the storm. People who practice Vodoun these days might just be purely ‘in it for the money’ as something to commercialize and sell to tourists. Others might think of Vodoun as part of their cultural heritage but not ‘really’ believe in it, like an atheist Jew who still celebrates Passover and Hanukkah. Others might think of themselves as Catholic Vodouisants like Marie Laveau did. And probably only a small minority see Vodoun as an exclusive religion.”

“Of course, I might just be talking out of my rear end there,” Ms. Perry smirks, “I don’t actually have any Vodouisant friends. If you ask a Catholic, they’ll probably see Vodoun as a distinct religion, and if you ask a Protestant, they’re even more likely to. History shows us that religion is pretty mutable, and trying to assign hard labels to people’s beliefs can be a tricky thing.”

“But to actually answer to your question, Ms. Savard,” the teacher finishes, “Madam LaLaurie’s slaves were probably Vodouisants who also attended Catholic Mass.”

“Ah don’t see ‘ow that must work, ma’am,” Yvette frowns. “Catholicism isn’t just believing in saints. Do followers of voodoo, for instance, believe in the ‘Oly Trinity? It would seem more like another religion if they don’t. Ah mean, Islam believes in Jesus, but not that ’E is the son of God or rose from the dead.”

“Afraid I can’t answer that, Ms. Devillers. My degree’s in history, not theology.”

“Hmm, well, one thing you maybe can. Is that what they’re called, people who follow the religion? ‘Followers of voodoo’?”

“That’s a somewhat roundabout way of describing them,” Ms. Perry smiles. “The religion’s name is Vodoun, or ‘Vodou’ with a ‘u’—the spelling with two ’o’s is how Hollywood spells it. ‘Vodouisants’ or ‘Vodouists’ is the term we use for someone who believes Vodoun. Less of a mouthful, isn’t that?”

“Oui. Rather so,” Yvette smiles faintly back.

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet as she listens to Yvette and Ms. Perry talk, nodding along and thinking up questions. Papa Legba makes her think of two things, the first of which is Baba Yaga. Despite her fascination with New Orleans, the study of fencing takes one to northern Europe and its own legends and folktales.

The other thing Legba makes her think of is an embarrassingly cheesy new TV series in which Papa Legba and Madame LaLaurie are prominent characters. The loa is depicted as a sly and playful man who makes iron deals and doles out harsh punishments in hell. Now that she thinks about it, his demon-like role paints him in a very Catholic light. She doubts West African Vodouisants had ideas about hell before the Catholics sewed it into their skin.

“The issue I think I’m taking is that I see Louisiana as a very strange spot, in that I don’t think I could rightfully lump it all together. From my reading, New Orleans’ development of voodoo, with all ’o’s’, basically became a local ‘folkway’. Not quite African or Haitian Vodou, not quite Deep South hoodoo, but very much a practice while I would be wary to call it a religion. Yet we all associate this Creole ‘folkway’ with the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Of course, you can steal a name and commercialize it, and that’s indeed what’s happened. I can’t google any spelling of Vodou without some mid-50s white woman in middle America telling me her gris-gris is 30% off.”

She’s not smiling as she makes the joke. New Orleans’ commercialization bothers her.

“I think it’s a question to ask, though. Maybe I’ll snoop around for a living practitioner to get her two cents on New Orleans’ dearly not-so-departed for the paper.”

GM: “Talking to someone who knows more about Vodoun than us couldn’t hurt,” Ms. Perry nods. “Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a new thing or two to teach us about the religion.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and taps the table with her finger as the wheels turn in her head. It might be best to get the opinion of both or either a Catholic priest and a Vodouisant. She hasn’t taken confession in a while, anyway.

“Either way, we should bring plenty of cameras and take some video as well. With how much it’s been renovated I’m sure it’s not anything like it once was, but if we work at it I’m sure we can identify original features between all the replicas. Though I have to wonder what they may have done with ‘that’ attic door.”

GM: “Perhaps you’ll just get to find out,” Ms. Perry smiles.


Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: After school gets out for the day, Amelie either walks or skates home on the now-familiar route past rows of old houses, verdant gardens, and majestic Southern live oaks. The muggy heat is no less stifling than it was on her first week in New Orleans, and perspiration is slick against the Canadian transplant’s back when she finally enters her aunt’s blessedly cool, air-conditioned house. Christina is not home. After a quick shower, Amelie hits up the internet for her latest line of research.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the trip more on skates, at least. Her speed makes the wind rush right past her and cools her off slightly. Still, her first thought when she opens the door is a string of expletives in two languages as she feels sweat making her uniform stick to her back. The shower and change of clothes greatly improve her mood as she sits down by her room’s desk and turns on her laptop. The former already houses several stacks of printed reference material as she works towards her next goal: the Vodouisants of New Orleans.

GM: Amelie’s search proves slow going, but she eventually turns up the names of several Vodouisants who also sound like priests (mambos and houngans, as the female and male ones are respectively called).

A man named Toussaint turns up the most results. He is apparently known for hosting semi-public rites and ceremonies in Tremé, the Ninth Ward, and other poorer parts of the city. Toussaint does not maintain a personal website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media presence that Amelie can find. Indeed, she only finds out that he exists by cross-referencing a number of police reports (many people associated with him have been arrested at some time or other), and an article by the Times-Picayune about “modern voodoo kings and queens in the Big Easy.”

A woman named Julia Jackson claims to sell charms, curses, love potions, and assorted spells from her shop in the French Quarter. She actually has a website, if one that is fairly dated-looking.

A woman named Mama Rosa has been the subject of an anthropologist’s book about Vodoun. Like Toussaint, she has no website of her own, but she is mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the anthropologist (Margaret Harrell), which makes it sound like she lives in either Tremé or the Quarter.

Amelie uncovers two final names from some more online police reports: Doc Tom in Central City and Mama Wedo in the Ninth Ward.

All told, she concludes, legitimate practitioners of Vodoun do not seem to maintain a very large online presence.

Amelie: Two names catch Amelie’s attention the most. Mama Rosa and Mama Wedo. She’s in a girls’ school, so it makes sense to pander to that in her report. She could outline the prominence of ‘voodoo queens’ over the traditional patriarch-driven priesthood of so many other religions. Doc Tom and Toussaint both come up as possibilities too, though Toussaint’s semi-fame makes her a bit dubious. Just because you’re public doesn’t mean you’re authentic. Julia Jackson doesn’t even earn a footnote. Having a store, and one in the French Quarter no less, makes Amelie instantly disregard her. She starts with Mama Wedo, a very mysterious-sounding name if nothing else, and looks around for any means of contacting her.

GM: Amelie looks through page after page of Google results, but cannot find a surname (or given name?) to attach alongside Wedo. Locating an address or phone number for the potential mambo proves frustratingly out of reach.

Mama Rosa’s surname, however, proves easier to locate after Amelie pulls up the title of the book she is featured in (Mama Rosa: A Vodou Priestess in Little Cuba). A few more searches on the online yellow pages pull up both a phone number and a home address in Bywater.

Amelie gives the number a call. The phone rings for a while. “You’ve reached Rosa Rouzier. Leave a message,” states an older-sounding woman’s firm voice. A beep follows.

Amelie: Amelie plans out what to say before dialing the number, but she’s almost relieved when she hears the tone ask her to leave a message. The woman sounds old, which matches what her research turned up, and the name she gives matches too. It’s the best chance the teenager is probably going to get.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Amelie Savard, I was just calling because I was looking for your advice. I’m spending a night in the LaLaurie House for research purposes, and with the stories and my research pointing to those departed from life being Vodousiants in life, I wanted to approach the house as respectfully as possible. Thank you the time you’ve already spent listening to this message, and have a lovely day. Thank you.”

GM: Amelie hits the ‘end call’ button on her new phone. The rest of the weekend stretches before her—and the rest of the week until her promised night in the LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Amelie glances at the time, then grabs her things and hurries out the door. This is a good time to make the other half of her trip until she can talk to Mama Rosa. She uses her phone to navigate the city’s public transportation system and heads out to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in Jackson Square. The St. Charles streetcar has a route from the Garden District to the French Quarter every ten minutes. Perfect.

GM: The streetcar doesn’t sound like the bus. There’s a distinct clang-clang as it clatters along the tracks, like a tiny railroad car, and a low roar that follows in its wake. Amelie pays to get on, like any other bus. The seats are wood instead of cushioned, the ceiling is a woodish-hued maroon, and its largest advertisement for a local restaurant.

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Amelie: Amelie enjoys the streetcar. It’s open-air and feels heavy as it moves. No plastic and paper-thin buses with fogged and closed windows whose wheels grind along bad roads. This mode of transportation feels solid, grounded, and loud not least of all. She puts her earbuds in and leaves the music off just to have a small bit of insulation.

GM: The terminus of her destination is just off Royal Street, at a restaurant called the Court of Two Sisters.

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The first thing she notices about the Quarter is how much louder it is than the Garden District. The beeping noise of ongoing traffic was all but absent outside her aunt’s house, as was the indistinct din of multitudes of human beings walking, talking, and going about their lives. The occasional clop-clop of horse’s hooves reminds her that she isn’t in just any city.



So does the music from wafting from three men in white t-shirts and pale fedoras. Each sits on a folding chair in the middle of the street. Their cello quivers, low and deep, while their trombone and saxophone blare and wail. A small crowd listens. Some people record the performance on their phones. A man and woman pull one another into an impromptu swing dance and get cheered by onlookers. A golf cart-like patrol vehicle with a blue-uniformed police officer rolls by.

Not far off, spectators laugh, gawk, and snap pictures at another attraction.



Worth a picture—worth a dollar
Coffins are expensive—tipping is appreciated
Need money for a proper burial

Amelie: Amelie pulls out her earbuds just in time to be assaulted by a wave of new sounds. Royal Street’s noise and architecture is a feast for her senses. People using the streets to panhandle with clever routines and good music is an almost welcome change from the pockmarked tweaker back home who’d use broken French to ask “do you got any change, I need a coffee” from people who can barely stand. The dog gives her a fright for a split second before her eyes scan the sign.

GM: A man abruptly dashes up to Amelie. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!” he calls.

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Amelie: The man is the two in a one-two punch and makes Amelie nearly jump as she turns away from the dog and almost runs into him. She pulls herself together as the man talks and smirks lightly at his proposed bet. She digs a hand into her jeans and pulls a $10 bill out of her wallet to offer him. “Sorry, I’m a shitty gambler. Better just buy out before you know my tells. You mind giving me some directions though, Mr…?”

GM: “Oh, why, ’course, girl! I know this city like the palm of my hand!” the watery-eyed man exclaims, happily plucking the bill from Amelie’s fingers as he dances up around her.

Amelie: Amelie turns on her heel to keep the man’s eyes level with hers. She notes he didn’t take the hint to give his name. “I’m looking for the St. Louis Cathedral.”

GM: The man leans forward and taps Amelie’s shoulder, then quickly pulls away and slinks behind her, pointing down the street as she follows his hand. “One block down Royal, stop at the green lawn with the Jesus statue. Can’t miss it!”

That’s also when Amelie spots his other hand creeping towards the pocket she pulled out her wallet from.

Amelie: Smooth as the man is (or thinks he is), he’s doing this in a heavy tourist area. Making movements too quick and close for anyone to follow just shows what he’s up to. The shoulder tap is an even bigger warning, and Amelie’s hands go in her pockets as she spots where the man’s hand is moving. She grips her wallet firmly and mentally thanks the Lonely Planet Guide to New Orleans for its sidebar about pickpockets and conmen in the French Quarter.

“Sorry, sir, but I’m not technically a tourist. Thank you though, you have a good day.”

She steps away from the man and briskly heads in the cathedral’s without another word. Her hands stay firmly in both pockets.

GM: “Fuck you, dyke! Even got your directions!” the man whines after Amelie as she leaves.

Amelie: Amelie just waves with the hand not gripping her wallet and doesn’t waste any more energy. He’s got to make a living too, and it’s not worth dragging him through the mud or reporting him to the police. Part of her really wants to punish him for trying, though. What a rude little man. Still, taking in the sights on her way to the cathedral puts her in a good move again.

GM: The man’s directions at least prove true. It is not overlong before the soaring cathedral fills Amelie’s vision.

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Its semi-famed Christ statue is less ominous when the sun is up. The edifice casts a tremendous black shadow, like something distorted by a fun-house mirror, in the nighttime photographs Amelie has viewed. One’s gaze is still all but pulled to the Nazarene’s enveloping stone arms, which stretch wide as if to receive all the world’s poor sinners into his fold.

Amelie next passes through the so-called Pirate’s Alley to reach the front of the cathedral.

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Jackson Square. The cultural and historic heart of the Big Easy.

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The square is named for its iconic equestrian bronze statue of Andrew Jackson mounted on horseback, erected to commemorate the former president and general’s victory at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The area around the statue is landscaped with circular paths, fountains, trees, flower beds, gas lamps, and an iron fence. Benches and statues of the four seasons sit in the corners.

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The Jackson statue is fronted on two sides by matching red-brick, block-long 4-story buildings: the Upper Pontalba Building and the Lower Pontalba Building. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments, inhabited since 1849 by some of the city’s wealthiest residents, and the oldest continuously-rented apartments in North America.

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The third side of Jackson Square overlooks the Washington Artillery Park & Moonwalk. The former attraction holds a Civil War canon in honor of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard, while the latter is a brick walking path named in dedication to former mayor Moon Landrieu.

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Jackson Square’s fourth side faces the church its image has become nigh-synonymous with in photographs: Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest continually operating church in the United States, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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The historic cathedral is flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytere. Once, Amelie knows these two early Spanish structures were used by the state supreme court and by the city as a courthouse. Today they constitute the Louisiana State Museum.

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But Jackson Square is more than historic buildings and tourist attractions.

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Artists hawk their wares and works to flocks of chattering Japanese tourists, curious college students, and Midwestern parents. Painters and photographers try their hands at capturing the city’s image for posterity. Mimes pantomime their struggles to escape invisible prisons. Jugglers dextrously toss rainbow-colored clubs through the air to applauding audiences. New Age and neopagan devotees tell fortunes and read palms and tarot cards, promising to “lay bare the mysteries of your past, divine the portents of your future!” Horses pull carriages as tour guides regale audiences with anecdotes from the the Crescent City’s history (such as the murdered sultan of Dauphine Street, a fantastically wealthy Turk who moved into a renoved townhouse with a harem of bewitching slave girls and eunuch bodyguards, only for them all to be savagely rent limb from limb by assailants unknown). A man in a gold spray-painted sweatshirt, with equally golden spray-painted skin, mutely regards his onlookers as he proceeds towards some unknowable destination with exaggerated, robotic steps. Off by the Artillery Park, a small boy climbs onto the Civil War cannon while his mother shouts for him to get back down.

The music never ceases. There’s saxophonists, trombonists, and buskers aplenty throughout the area around the Square, but it’s the slow and heartful tune of a violin that most catches Amelie’s ears. An older man wearing plain clothes stands near the statue of Andrew Jackson, a violin case open in front of him. His eyes are closed as he gently plays a superb rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Onlookers gather around the man. Some toss coins or bills into his case, but he doesn’t acknowledge them or open his eyes. He simply continues to play, seemingly lost in his music.



The cathedral’s tall black doors silently loom past the statue of America’s seventh president.

Amelie: Jackson Square’s degree of activity is almost dizzying to Amelie. She could always tell from pictures that New Orleans is a bustling city, alive with everything one could imagine, but actually being there is a completely diffetent experience. She stops every few steps to take something new in, and it soon gets to the point where she’s grabbing onto random objects just to feel them beneath her hands. Old walls. The alley’s wrought iron fences. Glass lanterns. Door frames. The city’s history is well and alive. Every sight is incredible. The style isn’t as intricate or grand as Château Frontenac, but the feeling is so much more open and classical. It’s like the people who lived here wanted to feel the wind every moment of their lives. It’s almost strange how touching that suddenly feels.

Amelie wanders for enough time to realize the heat might start to get to her if she doesn’t make her way inside. She slows her pace past the master violinist and the many artists and fortune-tellers. It’s only a few more moments before she makes her way up the cathedral’s doors and smooths her hands along the old wood before she pushes them open.

GM: It’s just as Amelie shakes off her semi-stupor that she feels a hand lightly brushing against her side. Against her pocket. She sharply turns around.

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It’s the guy from earlier. The same one.

Amelie: Amelie’s expression is clear as death as her hand darts to check for her wallet. She’s starting to get angry. “In front of a church!? I was more than fair with you, leave me alone!”

GM: The watery-eyed man quickly withdraws his hand as Amelie catches him. His features are scrunched in frustration as she confirms her wallet is still there.

“Cheap-ass carpet-muncher! I’d rather suck dick than stick mine in a cunt as slimed over as yours! You wanna be a man so bad, ‘girl’, you too chickenshit to hack off those walnut-sized tits?”

Amelie: Amelie feels it coming like a crashing wave behind her eyelids. Her turning point towards violence.

“Cheap!? What planet are you from!? It’s my wallet, you windshield eye wiper-needing motherfucker! Why are you wasting your time being butthurt that I know a pickpocket when I see one, rather than going and digging too close to some tourist’s dick! What, you wanna hold a grudge like a woman, go cut off that gumbo shrimp you call a dick and cook it for your mother so you can both go eat a dick! I’m calling the cops!”

GM: The man dances behind Amelie and laughs in her ear, a sound not unlike an apoleptic hissing cobra. She feels wet flecks of spittle against her neck and hair.

“Ha ha! Go ahead, dyke hag! Cops don’t give a fuck! Go back to ’Frisco!” the man jeers.

Amelie: Pop. The crashing wave turns into a watershed.

Amelie doesn’t bother with retorts. Her expression visibly calms, but her body moves frighteningly fast. The ‘dyke hag’ steps back with her left foot and spins, putting her her whole hip into a hook shot aimed right for the man’s crotch.

It’s not her first fight. The little girl teased for being too strong while chasing scared boys with sticks got into plenty of those.

GM: Amelie’s fist drives into the jeering man’s testicles like a jackhammer. His bulging eyes are practically wide enough to resemble china plates as his mouth puckers into a perfect ‘o’, his knees buckle out from under him, and he topples helplessly to the ground.

“Ohhh-hhh-ohhh… hhh… yyyeeaaah…” he moans.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything. She double-checks her wallet and pulls out her phone to dial 911 as she heads towards the church doors for protection. She gave the man slack before, but now she just wants the cops to take him away so she can get on with her afternoon.

Despite everything, though, she has to admit she needed that. It’s a chunk of frustration off her shoulders.

GM: The man’s watery eyes rapidly blink. His lips pull back from his teeth into a grimace… and quivering smile that has all the warmth and greasiness of melted butter. His left hand weakly caresses his battered manhood. His right one snags out to grab the leg of Amelie’s jeans.

“Hit me… ’gain… dykie!” he wheezes.

Meanwhile, exclamations of notice go up from Jackson Square’s many and now-gawking bystanders.

Amelie: Amelie stuffs her wallet into her sports bra to keep it safe as she pulls out her phone, dials 911 and calls to the crowd, “HELP! This man keeps trying to take my wallet! You! Guy in the red shirt, please come help me hold him down while I call 911!” She tries to cut through the bystander effect as she listens to the phone dialing and plants a foot on the man’s back keep him on the ground.

GM: A few more people gawk as Amelie sticks her wallet down her shirt, but calling 911 turns out to be unnecessary when she spots a man already making his way through the staring and picture-snapping crowd. He’s wearing a short-sleeved pressed shirt, dark green pants, and full black utility belt. The side of his shirt is printed with a six-pointed star with the Louisiana pelican in its center. His clean-shaven, ruddy-complexioned doughy face is set in a humoring smirk. “Ma’am, please remove your foot and step away from that man.”

“Off… cer! She att… acked me! She’s crazy!” the would-be pickpocket wheezes from the ground.

Amelie: Amelie hangs up the call and slides her phone back into her pocket. She puts up her hands and takes a step back, should the man not still be clinging to her jeans, and folds her hands in front of her as she waits for the police officer.

“This man asked for money when I stepped off the 12 to St. Charles. I gave him ten dollars and he tried to take my wallet. Followed me here when I caught him and walked away, sir.”

GM: “That’s… not true! Search me, officer, I ain’t got ten bucks!” the man wheezes, ambling to his feet as he dusts himself off. He has since released Amelie.

“Uh-huh, I see. What was he doing on the ground?” the cop asks.

Bystanders continue to hold their phones up around the trio. Clicks and tapping noises go up from many.

Amelie: Amelie steps a few more feet away from the man as he gets up. “He kept trying to get behind me and I was afraid. So I punched him in the crotch, sir.”

GM: “Uh-huh now,” the police officer clucks.

“She did! She’s crazy! She’s a psycho!” Amelie’s would-be pickpocket whines in agreement.

Amelie: Amelie just keeps a straight back and a calm face. “Should I get my IDs out for you, sir? I put them in my shirt.”

GM: There’s a few laughs and ‘wows’ from the crowd. The only person seemingly unmoved is the violinist. His eyes are still closed and his face remains tranquil as he gently strums the instrument.

The officer pulls out some handcuffs and snaps them around the dark-skinned man’s wrists.

“Hey! Bullshit!” he whines.

“Ma’am, please come with me,” the cop states as he takes the man’s arm and leads him away.

Amelie: Amelie obeys the officer, takes her wallet back out of her shirt, and puts it back into her pants. She keeps quiet as she lets him lead.

GM: “You’re under arrest, blah blah Miranda warning, I’m sure you remember it as well as I do by now,” the cop drawls to the man in a familiar tone as the three walk off.

“This is bullshit! You’d cuff her if she wasn’t white!” the man whines.

“Probably,” the cop agrees. “Now you know the first law in the Quarter as well as I do, pervert.”

Amelie: The exchange is hauntingly familiar. Just replace ‘black’ with ‘native’, turn the thermostat down, and Amelie’s back home again. But she knows it’s better to keep quiet and follow the officer’s directions until spoken to.

GM: The officer leads the three only a short distance off from Jackson Square where his Polaris is parked. The vehicle resembles nothing so much as a militarized golf cart. He helps the sullen-looking cuffed man into the back seat.

“I didn’t do nothing!” the pickpocket whines.

The officer turns back to regard Amelie and grins widely. “You know, ma’am, I’m on patrol for the French Quarter Response Force right now.”

Amelie: Amelie gives him a confused look. “French Quarter Response Force? I’m sorry, I’m new to New Orleans, I’m not familiar. But thank you for your service, in either case.”

GM: “Yeah, Mr. Moreno thanks us too,” says the cop. “I’m getting paid $50 an hour right now, plus goodies like gift certificates at Ruth’s Chris Steak House whenever I pick up troublemakers. Those are usually $100. Mr. Moreno doesn’t want any trash on these streets, no sir.”

Amelie: “That’s… wow, that’s staggering. Does Mr. Moreno own a lot of property in the French Quarter?”

GM: “Oh yes, he’s very concerned about public safety. There’s a lot of crime here in the Quarter,” the cop agrees. “Like psycho dykes punching people in the balls.”

“She did! She even said so!” the cuffed man wheedles.

Amelie: Amelie winces a bit and nods slowly. She deserves that. “I’m sorry, officer. I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I was up against a wall and stopped thinking. I was here to visit the cathedral for a paper, and already explained what happened after that.”

GM: “Oh now, ma’am, I understand how it is,” the officer smiles. “This pervert’s always making trouble. Frankly, I’d be kicking him in the balls too, if I didn’t know he got off to it.”

The smile widens to a grin.

“Sounds like you’re a student somewhere too, to be working on a paper?”

Amelie: Amelie nods slightly. “I’d tell you where, but I don’t put it past present company to visit me there.”

She instead pulls out her student ID and hands it to him. “I’m asking about the haunting at the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Oh now, you go to McGehee? I hear that’s a pretty nice school. Your family must be rich,” the cop remarks unconcernedly as he looks over Amelie’s ID and hands it back.

Amelie: Amelie winces when the man says it out loud anyway. Still, it’s not like the watery-eyed man can easily get that deep into the Garden District.

“Not really, sir, no. But I had the grades for it. But if there’s nothing else you need, am I free to continue back to the cathedral?”

GM: “Really, your folks ain’t rich? You get a scholarship, something like that?” the cop asks.

Amelie: “More like… a loan. I’ll be paying it back when I leave high school.”

GM: “Now ain’t that a plum shame for us both,” the policeman clucks.

“Still, I can see how things might be for you. You must owe a lotta money already, going someplace nice like that. I sure wouldn’t wanna owe any more if I was you.”

Amelie: “Well, and then there’s college to think about,” she mentions, feeling a lump in her throat. She can’t follow the cop’s thought process here.

“But, do you mind I get going, sir? I’m kind of shaky still, and I’d like to… get my info for my paper, and head home.”

GM: “Since you said you’re new to town, ma’am, battery carries a fine of up to $1,000 here. Here in the great state of Louisiana,” the cop grins. “Plus up to six months in jail. The judge’ll see you up to three days later, and you gotta hire a lawyer to wrangle out the plea deal. You gotta strip naked in front of a buncha cops when you check into jail, too.”

The cuffed man shoots Amelie a rancid smirk.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes widen slightly at the man’s talk as she clears her throat. Is he trying to blackmail her or just scare her?

“That’s… not pleasant to think about, sir.”

She’s not scared of the threats. It’s more the man himself who’s leaving her ill at ease. Americans and their shit law system are lots of fun to poke at from a distance, but right up close is another matter.

GM: “Oh yes, it’s not,” the cop agrees as he pulls out a second pair of handcuffs from his Polaris and walks up close to Amelie.

“But y’know, lawyer, judge, three days… you’ve got money. Be a lot easier on us all to cut out the middlemen, wouldn’t it?” he drawls quietly.

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘aha’ in her head and mentally pulls herself together as the man makes his intentions clear. She takes a small breath and nods her head as she thinks. It’s a gamble, but she goes for it.

“I don’t have any family besides my aunt, sir. She was a lawyer, so I’m not worried about the legalities. The naked thing doesn’t bother me a whole lot, either. But I don’t have anything to give you anyway, the loan went right to tuition, not into my pocket. I’m only still in high school. I’m also sure there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, and I don’t want to burden you. May I please go, sir? I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

GM: The policeman laughs. It’s a hard and mirthless sound, but his eyes glint as he takes another step closer to Amelie. He casually plants an arm against the building wall behind her head.

“Well, missy, that’s too bad you don’t got any money. I’ll still get a gift card bringing you in. Here in the great state of Louisiana, see, which you don’t sound like you’re from, 20-year-olds happen to be grown-ups. Even if they are dumb enough to still be in high school. They go to the grown-ups’ jail, face grown-ups’ charges, and get to keep it all on their arrest records.”

The policeman leans forward until his grin fills Amelie’s vision. She can feel his breath hot against her face as he whispers, “See, missy… in this city, nothing is difficult, unless it has to be. Understand?”

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘oh’ look like it’s no big deal, taps her chin, and nods.

“I understand, sir. I’m sorry, like you said, I’m not even from the States. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to make excuses. But I was honest about the money, I have maybe 20 dollars left in my wallet. What could I do to make this easy for everyone?”

His breath stinks. She wants to punch him and run, especially after the comment on her age, but that’d only make things worse.

GM: “You can match the $100 I’d get bringing you in, is what you can do,” the cop answers, but his voice is no longer an easy drawl. There’s a dangerously rising impatience to it.

Amelie: "Can I get to an ATM, then? Please?’

GM: The policeman stares into Amelie’s eyes, then pulls back and smiles again. “Don’t get any funny ideas now. I know your face.”

Amelie: “You know more than that, I showed you my ID,” she notes before letting him direct her to the nearest ATM. She just wants to get this over with.

GM: The man does not do so, and seems unwilling to leave behind the arrested and handcuffed man who harassed her earlier. The latter shoots Amelie a sullen glare. A dark look is starting to reappear on the former’s face.

Amelie: Amelie shrugs and tells him she’ll be right back. She resolves to just take the hundred dollar hit to her allowance and come back immediately.

GM: Amelie weaves back through Jackson Square’s now-reoccupied crowds and past the still-playing, close-eyed violinist. She is fortunately able to find an ATM in short order. The modern-looking machine is discongruently all but jack-hammered into the side of a historic-looking building.

The cop counts the $100 when she’s back, pockets it, and offers a friendly smile. “Stay out of trouble now, ma’am.”

The handcuffed pickpocket is gone from the Polaris.

Amelie: Amelie looks back at the cart, looks towards the cop, and offers a wordless nod as she turns away. A ball of violent hate rolls around in her gut. It’s already been too long of a day. She proceeds towards the cathedral again and resolves to take confession and calm herself down before she asks for a priest. She wants to get as far away from this situation as she can.

GM: The cop lays his hand on Amelie’s shoulder just as she turns to leave. “Oh, now let’s have that Jackson in your pocket too.”

Amelie: Amelie sighs as she takes out the $20 bill and hands it to him. “I have to give it to you, you’re smooth. I’ll learn from this and stay out of trouble.”

GM: “I get paid either way,” the cop offers with a simultaneous smile and shrug as he tucks away the bill. He climbs into his golf cart-like vehicle and drives off.

Amelie: Amelie just sneers at nothing. Moreno. She’ll remember that name.


Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Amelie’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s. Amelie can make out two black-garbed and white-collared priests near the altar at the far end of the chamber.

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Amelie: The silence is like a soothing breeze to Amelie. She breathes it in through her nose and out through her mouth as she takes in the beautiful surroundings and tries to calm herself. The historic church is everything she imagined. Bright and grand, with painstakingly detailed work and hand craftsmanship that preserves its history and import. Just three years to go until the third centennial for this great building.

The young woman keeps her steps quiet and approaches the end of the aisle where the two fathers are. She hopes she won’t bother them too much with her interruptions.

GM: The two priests are engaged in discussion near the statue of St. Peter, who bears heaven’s keys in his right hand. The first priest is an older man in maybe his 70s with a full head of silvery hair. His equally full salt and pepper beard has only a few streaks of pepper still left among the salt. Bushy eyebrows meet over weary blue-gray eyes and a thick, wide nose. He leans heavily upon a cane.

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The second priest looks much younger, perhaps in his early 30s. He has slim, almost facial features, ash-brown hair, and solemn gray eyes.

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“…Father, you are unwell,” states the younger priest.

“You have responsibilities, Adam,” the older one answers. Both of their voices are quiet, though his volume is especially low.

“As do we all. But there are few parishioners here now, and you may better serve the later ones if you are rested and healthy.

The older priest seems to chew on the younger one’s words, then finally replies, “All right. So long as you stay here. I will call you if I need you.”

“Of course, Father.”

The priests exchange farewells as the older one limps off, clearly favoring one leg (and his cane). The younger priest initially moves to assist him, but the older one motions him off.

The younger priest watches his senior go, then turns to regard Amelie. “May I help you?” he asks quietly.

Amelie: Amelie initially approaches the priests with intent, but takes a respectful few steps back when she hears their still-ongoing conversation. She doesn’t mean to eaveadrop, but she can’t help but respect them both after what she overhears. One is concerned for the other one, who’s concerned for their flock. The end of their conversation is not good news for her intentions, though.

“I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to interupt. Though it seems less likely now that any priests are free for confession?”

GM: “I am available,” the ashen-haired priest answers Amelie.

Amelie: "Only if you’re sure, Father. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your senior. Do you take confession in the booth? "

GM: “The confessional is the only place a priest receives confession, barring a just reason to hear it elsewhere,” the priest answers Amelie. He turns and leads her a short distance away from the altar towards the grilled and box-shaped wooden structure. Amelie enters through a door-less latticed opening that leaves her still visible to the public. The priest remains hidden. There is no chair for the confessant to sit upon like some new churches have, but there is a kneeler.

Amelie: Amelie feels a bit sheepish when the priest has to correct her on how the confessional is used and even what it’s called. She follows him inside the wooden enclosure and slowly kneels. Movies made her think that was the confessant’s choice when she was younger, but historical paintings at least made her familiar with kneelers.

She’s silent for a few moments. It’s been awhile.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… four years and a half since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins,” she starts.

GM: The priest patiently listens.

Amelie: “When my father spun to the bottom of a bottle, he approached me with more and more anger every day. I was working in the shop to keep us fed, with the help of my neighbors. We were smiths in a small theme town in Quebec. Just a few months before I was taken from the house, he raged at me with a bottle and threatened to beat me. I took a sword off the wall. Just a sharpened blade with no handle. It made him angry and he lunged at me. When he did, I… I’m sorry. I swung at him, and sliced open his face from mouth to ear.”

“I stayed in a group home after that and was teased every day. I keep my hair short. People assume. But this one girl, an unapologetic terror, would not stop. Day and night. One day, she stole my clothes while I was in the shower. My hate boiled over the next day. I tore off my chair’s leg during group therapy and assaulted her with it.”

“I also feel like I’m taking advantage of my aunt. She worked to ship me across a country, took me in, gave me a home, and put me in a good school. But I feel like I have nothing to offer her. I feel like I’m a burden on her, and making her spend money on something she’ll get no returns on right away. I can’t even properly comfort her about her sister, my mother, vanishing.”

“I also… often think of fighting. It’s as though I need to best someone, or a tension behind my eyes won’t go away. I sated this by fencing when I was younger, but now that I’m not, I feel this pressure to strike out at people who wrong me. Like I did just today.”

“My final sin I can think of was just this past hour. A man approached me off the streetcar and tried to steal my wallet. I caught him and left, to come here. But he followed me. After he tried again, and I felt him becoming a threat, I struck him without thinking. Hard. A corrupt policeman blackmailed me into giving him money. So I paid. I was scared he’d arrest me for assault. But I didn’t realize until too late that he and the pickpocket were working together.”

“For these sins and all those that I cannot remember, I humbly repent and ask for absolution, counsel, and penance.”

GM: “Very well,” sounds the invisible voice behind the booth’s grill. “Let us begin with counsel. You say that you are a burden upon your aunt. Why do you believe she took you in?”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t like the question. “I don’t know. We only saw each other a few times when I was growing up. I’d imagine it’s even painful to see me. Maybe just an obligation to my mother.”

GM: “Perhaps. Tell me, daughter, what is your interpretation of this scriptural verse? ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.’”

Amelie: Amelie has to wonder on the passage for a moment, but she knows what the priest is trying to say in the process. “That it wishes people to treat children as though they were treasures.”

She wants to point out how old she is, versus the age of childbearing in the times the scripture would have been written, and the fact that she’s not her aunt’s child, but leaves the man to make his point.

GM: “The scripture tells us that children are treasures,” the priest corrects Amelie. “But you are otherwise correct.”

“You say that you wish to compensate your aunt for the money she has spent on your care. Yet according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost for a middle-income family to raise a child from infancy to 17 years of age is just over $230,000. That is enough money to buy a house. That is enough money to buy many material things. Yet even the most materially fixated parents choose to forgo those things.”

“The decision whether to bring new life into the world is a deeply personal one, and parents may arrive at it for many different reasons. Yet few parents in the developed world realistically expect their children to be financially profitable ‘investments.’ As the scripture tells us, children have value beyond the material. Their value is intrinsic and decreed thus by God.”

“I do not know your aunt or her motivations for taking you in. Certainly, however, if she wanted ‘returns’, then finding another relative to care for you or simply leaving the foster system to do so would have been a more financially sound decision. It would seem more likely that your aunt was motivated by altruistic reasons such as love or a sense of responsibility—and recognition that caring for her sister’s child was important for reasons beyond simply money.”

Amelie: The priest’s numbers and statistics catch Amelie slightly off-guard. She wasn’t expecting those from a man of the cloth. They certainly lend weight to his following words, however.

It’s clear to Amelie how much she’s worrying over nothing, and how she might have taken her aunt’s comment about ‘treating us as roommates’ slightly out of context. She came to New Orleans expecting… something different. Roberts women don’t seem wired to be up front with their affections and emotions, among other things. Her mother and Christina are—or were—very much alike in that way.

Still, the father’s words put a dent on the issue, or at least let it breathe.

“I should talk to her more about that. Thank you, Father. Maybe it’s just me misunderstanding her. I’ve not been here with her too long.”

GM: “Seaking with your aunt to understand her better would then seem only logical. As to your thoughts of violence, which you satisfied through fencing, the solution to this would seem self-evident.”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. “There are no reputable fencing schools in New Orleans, but I found something similar that will fill the void thankfully.”

GM: “Pursuing that alternative, too, would seem only logical, if there is no obstacle that makes you mention it alongside your other sins and dilemmas.”

Amelie: “It’s already in motion, thankfully. There is nothing in the way of my attending that I’m aware of.”

Amelie still feels a block in her stomach of things she could spill out, but she hangs on to them for now. There’s more pressing matters she could use help with after this, and she figures that asking about ghosts during confession may not be very polite.

GM: “As to your father attempting to strike you in anger, that is a grave sin. As was your response in doing the same. ‘See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.’ Your penance will be to deliver him an apology. Written or verbal, over whichever medium you find more convenient.”

Amelie: Amelie can almost hear her drunken twitching mess of a half-man father growling at her over the phone last week. Refusing to even speak to her in French. Silence is the only reply from her end of the partition for a moment as she wrestles with herself.

“Written would likely be easier,” is all she can finally manage, past the flurry of pride and hate in her gut that screams she owes him nothing.

GM: “Very good. Do you know the name of the girl in the group home whom you attacked?” the priest then inquires.

Amelie: “Not her real name, no. She used a nickname or a… street name, as she called it.”

GM: “I see. Call the group home in which you stayed. Find out her name and where she is now staying, if possible, and deliver her an apology for your actions as well.”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut is much more clear cut on this issue. It says NO. But the father is right that it’d make her the bigger person.

“I’ll try my best to find her. If they’ll give me the information, I’ll call her.”

GM: “As to the pickpocket you attacked, I believe you have already suffered an unjust, but nonetheless instructive consequence through being extorted by the policeman.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. There is really nothing to say for or against. “Yes, Father.”

GM: “You say it has been over four years since your last confession. I am sure it has also been a long time since you last said a rosary. Do that as well,” bids the unseen priest. “I will now hear your Act of Contrition.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself at the father’s request. She claws at her brain to remember the proper words translated from French to English.

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

GM: The unseen priest’s somber reply sounds through the booth’s grill.

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a pregnant pause, as if the priest might be tracing the sign of the cross through the air.

Amelie: Amelie does not look to see if he is, but maintains her kneeling position and makes a mental list of what the things she needs to do to make right. This isn’t her first time taking confession, but she’s never done penance for any gods but herself. Soul or not, she knows from experience how it feels to scrub the slate you sit upon.

She takes a deep breath after several moments of silence and nods. “Thank you, Father. I was hoping I could take a bit more of your time as well, once we end our confession. If you aren’t busy. I need advice on a matter of spirit.”

GM: “You have been given penance and absolved of your sins,” the priest answers. Amelie hears the sounds of footsteps from just beyond the booth. “Confession is over, but I will give what advice I can.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the priest out of the booth. “I would like to hear your advice about ghosts. I’m going to be spending the night in the LaLaurie House and heard this cathedral was said to be haunted as well. I thought consulting the church on matters of protection from those not quite passed—but still quite wrathful, I hear—would be wise.”

GM: The priest frowns deeply. Perhaps at Amelie’s strange phraseology, perhaps at the topic of ghosts. “As Catholics, we believe in that which science tells us is unbelievable. We believe in the power of saints to perform miracles and to intercede on our behalf. We do not teach that souls, angry or otherwise, linger on earth after the deaths of their bodies. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not the empirical channels employed by purported ‘scientists’ in pursuit of the paranormal. God alone has power to control and invoke the supernatural. Ghost hauntings are stories told for the entertainment of tourists and no more.”

Amelie: Amelie nods but doesn’t otherwise react to his statement. It’s a good quote to put in her paper.

“It’s for a paper I have to write for a class on the history of New Orleans, Father. I didn’t mean any offense. If that’s the official stance of you and the church, I can leave it at that. I’m happy to hear you haven’t been bothered or taken in by the trappings of tourist rumors, however. You must have more than a few people come to you asking about the ghost of Père Antoine.”

GM: “We do,” the priest answers. “We also see many self-proclaimed mediums, astrologers, tarot readers, psychics, and other spiritualists in the area around Jackson Square. If you were to ask them, they would purport to be able to establish contact with Père Antoine and countless other historical figures. If you would indeed like to know the church’s official dogma for your paper, we teach that all forms of divination are to be rejected. This includes recourse to Satan and demons, conjuring up the dead, and other practices falsely purported to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting palm readers, interpreting omens, an interest in clairvoyance—all of this conceals a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings. Belief in the supernatural contradicts the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. Spiritualism is hostile to all of the world’s religions, and the miracles attributed to Christ and the saints stand on a level high above all spiritic interpretation.”

“Was there further advice you wanted to ask of me, daughter?”

Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers quite a few of those psychics in Jackson Square, but the bulk of her thoughts are on the priest. She’s never really seen someone so straightlaced working for the church before. But she shakes her head at his question.

“No, Father. I’ve taken up quite a bit of your time, thank you for seeing me.”

GM: Amelie takes her leave of the cathedral and makes her way down Jackson Square’s tourist-filled streets on the route back to the streetcar. When she pauses to adjust her loose backpack, though, a note card tumbles out.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her strides quick and wide as she resolves to ignore the people around her—unlike last time. Movement still catches her eye, however. She stoops to pick up the card.

GM: Amelie sees that the faded, coffee-stained piece of paper is actually a business card for a one ‘Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry.’ The back of the card contains a hand-written message:

Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t. See Tante before the slumber party at LaLaurie.

Amelie: Amelie looks up at the cathedral’s doors again. Someone had to have put this in her bag after listening in on her conversation with the priest. But no one was close enough to have done so. Or at least no one she remembers. The thought puts a chill up her spine as she slides the card into her pocket and resumes her walk towards the streetcar. She googles the name ‘Tante Lescaut’ on her phone as she does.

GM: Several results turn up for a store that sells occult-themed books and knick-knacks just off Royal Street. The store claims to have been founded during New Orleans’ colonial era and close to three hundred years old.

Amelie: Amelie pauses, looks at the address, and turns on her heel. She might as well confront these people right now. She watches her progress on her phone’s map as she makes her way towards the supposedly centuries-old shop. Maybe she can even catch whoever thinks scaring high schoolers is so funny just as they return to the storefront.

She’ll give them a piece of her mind.


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Story One, Amelie VI

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”
Césarine “Tantsy” Rouselle


Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: In contrast to Bourbon Street’s gaudy, neon-lit sleaziness, the adjacent Royal Street is frequented by locals as well as tourists. True to its name, the historic street projects a more refined and dignified image than its northern neighbor. Visitors come here for galleries, restaurants, museums, and shopping at arts and antique stores that range from kitschy to high-end. Nearly every building seems to have a second floor wrought iron balcony railing dripping in ivy, greenery, and flowers. Street artists, buskers, and mimes still entertain picture-snapping passersby, but the homeless people and gutter punks from other parts of the Quarter are absent. Jazz drifts from fewer bars and clubs. The ones still present seem higher-class, and feel unlikely to tolerate drunks looking for a loud and riotous time that ends with someone heaving their stomach’s contents over the banquette.

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Amelie’s path takes her to a three-story house built in the second-generation Creole style that is easily recognizable by its distinctive L-shape, flush position to the sidewalk, French doors, broad roofline supported by light wooden colonnettes, and generous, traditional wrought iron gallery overflowing with potted red and pink geraniums. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.) A wooden sign hangs from the red-bricked building’s front entrance. Faded and crammed-in letters read:

Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry

Amelie has to squint to make out the last two words below the shop’s name. They are even smaller and their paint is even more faded.

Since 1721

A more legible sign on the double French doors reads simply:

OPEN

Amelie: 1721. If the owners aren’t lying about their heritage, this building has been standing since the Treaty of Nystad. Not even the nearby cathedral is that old, and just thinking about it gives Amelie momentary vertigo. She smooths a hand over the building’s brick and wonders if it’s been replaced since it was built.

She finally collects herself and steps inside, business card in hand.

GM: A store’s telltale chiming bell sounds as Amelie pushes the door open. The smell of old books, incense, and stranger things has barely filled her nostrils before three mewing cats—one gray tabby, one orange tabby, and one calico—rub up against her legs. Further meows sound from further inside the store. It’s a dark, claustrophobic space cramped with overflowing bookshelves, ancient paint-cracked radiators, and occult knick-knacks ranging from pin-stabbed voodoo dolls to coiled, insignia-painted snake skeletons that stare at Amelie with empty eye sockets. Pentagrams, dream-catchers, and apotropaic talismans dangle from ceilings and partly obscure the doorways’ bead curtains.

Cats are everywhere. They roam over the stage prop furniture, track soiled cat litter over the floor, and crouch from perches atop bookshelves to silently watch the store’s patrons. Two felines even lie sleeping on the countertop that shares the cash register. They casually claim the whole space without regard for the dark-haired person who is also trying to use it. Amelie isn’t sure if they’re a man or a woman. They’re South Asian, look somewhere in their twenties, and are dressed in a yellow… Amelie isn’t sure what it’s called either. Some kind of Indian-looking robe or dress. They’re also bedecked in a multichromatic array of crystal- and wood-beaded bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. A red bindi stares unblinkingly from their forehead while they chat with the store’s sole customer besides Amelie: a dreadlocked, unwashed-looking woman with unshaven legs who’s dressed in a half-torn, raggedy top, patch-quilted skirt, plain sandals, and animal tooth necklace. There’s a half-stoned look to her face as she fumbles through a pentagram-emblazoned bag and produces a fistful of one-dollar bills and assorted change that the South Asian person patiently counts by hand.

Amelie: Amelie finds herself assaulted by cats and doesn’t mind in the least. She leans down to give the three felines rubbing against her legs some love and affection before she carefully steps over them towards the desk. The animal lover in her keeps on the lookout for bombays, or black cats: her favorite breed of furred micro-predators. Still, she pulls herself together enough to clearly address the person behind the desk.

“Excuse me? Is Tante in? I was invited here to see them.”

GM: Amelie can spot at least one bombay among the mass of felines, along with a dozen other breeds ranging from pale-coated Siamese to gray-furred British shorthairs. The shop’s cats vastly outnumber its human residents, whose numbers are reduced by one-third after the unkempt-looking woman takes her leave with a mumbled thanks and plain brown bag of merchandise. The smells of pot and a deodorant-free lifestyle linger in Amelie’s nose.

“Namaste,” the other person responds to Amelie, clasping their hands together in a prayer-like gesture of greeting. “I am afraid dat Tante has been dead for over two hundred years. De shop today is managed by Césarine. Are you here to see her?”

Amelie: The cat Amelie spots becomes an instant favorite, but she keeps her attention forward as the woman in front of her departs and leaves her alone with the strangely-dressed person at the desk. The East Indian greeting throws her off at first, as does the rather morbid ‘news.’

“I guess I am. I assumed it was either a title or the store was renamed,” she offers, leaning against the desk. “Can I see them, then?”

GM: “Tante Lescaut vas de founder ov de shop. She built it from noting and left so much ov herself behind. To rename it vould have been untinkably vain,” the South Asian individual explains, smiling faintly. “De shop has alvays been Tante’s and vill alvays be Tante’s.”

Amelie: Amelie nods at the statement. It makes sense the store keeps a name that old to link back to its supposed history. She also has to wonder if the original Tante also kept so many cats around, though she’s not complaining.

GM: “But yes, Césarine, she is in. Césarine!” the Indian person calls loudly, turning towards a doorway with a bead curtain. “Césarine, we have a visitor!”

“Eh? Dat a cussomer?” comes an old-sounding woman’s gumbo-thick Creole reply.

“A visitor, Césarine! Maybe a customer,” Amelie’s initial greeter calls back.

“All righ’, all righ’, one momen’…”

Amelie: The Creole accent a small tip off as to what Amelie is dealing with. She stands up straight and stands there with the card in her hand as she waits for the woman to come out.

GM: Several feline mews and the faint rustle of beads heralds the elderly proprietor’s arrival through the curtain. Her skin is lumpy all over and so black it has a purple sheen, while her hair so grayed and frizzy that it looks like half-worn S.O.S. pads. Her sunken cheekbones are struck with rouge and her upper eyelids are painted with fluorescent shades of pale lilac. She wears a blue moo-moo stitched with yellow stars, moons, and more esoteric planetary symbols, along with bifurcated librarian glasses that look plucked straight out of the 1960s. Three cats purr and circle around her spider-veined, swollen legs and sandal-beaded feet.

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The old woman squints at Amelie past her glasses. “Eh? You a vis’tor, boy? Dat a cussomer or what? An’ I keep tellin ya, Bala, is’ Tantsy.” The latter remark is addressed towards the Indian person.

“Ov course, Tantsy. I suppose dat I just have a bad memory for names,” they reply with a faintly amused smile.

“Ya go’ da righ’,” Césarine or Tantsy replies to Bala before turning back to Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie stiffens just a bit when she hears the woman on the other side of the beads starting to stir. ‘Tantsy’ sounds a little ornery about things, but Amelie keeps her cool as the woman slides out from the back followed by even more cats. Maybe she’s the source of all the feline intruders. But at least Amelie learns what the woman prefers to be called.

GM: There’s a brief spark and flame from a cigarette lighter before she lifts what looks like a hand-rolled joint to her withered lips and takes a drag.

“Well g’wan, boy, cat got ya tongue?” The old woman gives a smoky, pot-smelling laugh as she bends down to scratch a black- and white-spotted feline behind its ears.

Amelie: Amelie produces the card for the woman. “Afternoon, Miss Tantsy. I was talking with a priest at the cathedral about something private, and someone put this on my back,” she explains.

“Ça a mis un peu de froid dans ma colonne vertébrale.”

(“It put a chill up my spine.”)

Her eyes flick up to see the woman’s reaction to her relaxed French. She hopes non-metro French dialects can speak more easily.

She leaves Tantsy think whatever she wants about her gender. The old woman seems to surround herself with androgynous people anyway.

GM: Tantsy squints at Amelie through her ’60s glasses. “English, boy.”

She takes the card and holds it up to the light in inspection, squinting the raisin-like flesh around her eyes still further.

“Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, dere some ec’oplasm on dis, I tink, ligh’ isn’ too goo’… prolly a ghos’ put it on ya, maybe Pere Antoine.”

Amelie: “I’d doubt Pere Antoine. Dead in 1829, I doubt he drinks coffee or knows what life insurance and slumber parties are. I’m more interested in what you might know about the LaLaurie House, and what whoever put this on me thinks is life-threatening.”

GM: Tantsy takes another drag of her joint, withdraws it, and waves around the lipstick-smeared article.

“Naw, naw, I joshin’ ya dat it be da father. But we see lotta ghoss’ roun’ ere who we try an’ help, maybe onea em doin’ us a good turn, sen’in’ us some bi’ness.”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at that statement. Either it’s a scam or Tantsy really believes what she’s talking about.

The young woman keeps an open mind as much as she can. After all, Quebec City’s Château Frontenac isn’t just one of the most photographed hotels in the world, but supposedly one of the most haunted as well.

GM: Tantsy motions to Amelie and ambles her way over to a rickety-looking table whose surface is covered with broken candelabras and half-melted wax candles, packs of tarot cards, dried scattered tea leaves, assorted rings and necklaces, and sticks of incense. Several cats are nestled among the table’s junk and adjacent chairs. Tantsy sits down on one without glancing at its feline occupant, which gives a startled meow and awkwardly bolts from its spot.

“G’wan, boy, siddown, siddown,” Tantsy gestures. “Wha ya say ya name was?”

Amelie: Amelie takes a seat at the table as well, but is a bit more careful. She picks up whatever cat is on the seat and places it onto her lap.

“Amelie. Amelie Savard, miss.”

GM: The orange-eared calico squirms as Amelie disturbs its rest, but settles down when she sets it back down.

“Well, I be Tantsy Rouselle, an’ ya gon’ call me missus or ma’am when ya talkin’ ta me, Mistuh Sartre, I’s old ’nuff ta ave earned it,” Tantsy remarks between another drag of her lipstick-smeared joint.

Bala approaches Amelie with a tray bearing two cups of herbal-smelling dark liquid. “Vould you care for tea?”

Amelie: “Apologies, Mrs. Rouselle. I didn’t mean to offend,” she corrects, petting the cat on her lap as she nods politely to Bala. “Yes, thank you.”

She turns back to the old woman and fixes her posture slightly. “Mrs. Rouselle, you said you help ghosts? May I ask you how?”

GM: The tea smells like mint. It tastes like stale sugar and a horse’s kick to Amelie’s mouth. It’s incredibly strong.

“Oh, well, dey always go’ dings dey wanna say ta deir loved ones. I lissens ta em, an’ I translates, an’ dey move on, but sometime dey stay, I guess dey jus’ like bein dead,” Tantsy remarks over a slow sip of her own tea. If it tastes anything like Amelie’s does, the old woman doesn’t look at all perturbed.

She lays her elbow on the table and extends her hand towards Amelie, palm up. “Gimme ya han’ now, Amanda, if ya please. Ya lef’ one,” she adds, “future slumba party, n all, we gon’ read ya lef’, dat da han’ dat show pohenshul, things y’ain done yet.”

Amelie: Amelie makes a small face when the tea hits her lips. It tastes like it’s gone bad. But it’s impolite to refuse and she sips it again as she listens to Tantsy. She wants to remark that ‘Amanda’ isn’t her name either, but she lets it go. She offers her left hand to the old woman while wondering how much of this she actually believes, and how much is simply showmanship to sell her store.

“Yes, Mrs. Rouselle.”

GM: The sugar is definitely stale, but the tea itself doesn’t taste bad. Just strong. It punches Amelie bloody in the mouth and kisses her passionately to make up. She can already hear her heart loudly thumping in her ears with the second drink.

“Oh no, wai’, wai’, we gon’ do it da Chinese way,” the woman says after a moment. “Gimme ya righ’, das’ da han’ ya be afta ya grows up.”

Amelie: Amelie hates the tea by now. She doesn’t say anything, but gladly takes an excuse to put the cup down when Tantsy changes her mind. She offers her left hand without complaint.

GM: The woman takes Amelie’s hand, holds it up to the light, and squints deeply through her ’60s glasses.

“Lesse, ya life line… oh, now das’ thick an’ clear, like da Miss’ippi if it wasn’ da Miss’ippi. Haw haw! Ya good a’ sports an’ roughin’ it… oh, dis line swoops too, da’ means ya fulla energy an’ vigor, is da’ righ’, you an active boy?”

Tantsy squints harder at Amelie’s hand, runs her finger down its center as if tracing a line, and then connects her finger to the middle space between Amelie’s ring and middle fingers. A frown creases her wrinkled face.

“No, na dere… les’ try f’ a few more years.”

She drawls a line to the bottom of Amelie’s thumb that’s parallel to the first line and another thumb-span lower. She then looks up at Amelie and offers a wrinkly smile.

“Okay, goo’ news, Amanda, ya gon live ta be ‘roun eigh’y years ol’. Very full life.”

Tantsy turns Amelie’s hand slightly, as if to to get a better view under the light. Her thin white eyebrows abruptly shoot up past the frames of her glasses.

“Whoa! Oh… no… I read da’ all wrong…”

Tantsy sets down Amelie’s hand, but doesn’t release it as she quietly says, “Amanda, I’m very sorry, but ya gon’ live ta be ‘roun twenty. Cou’ be off a few years… dese lines only measure in scores. Dat means twenties. Cou’ be ya… pass pretty soon… or before ya hit forty.” She looks down at Amelie’s palm again, then back up at her. “I’m real sorry… how old’s ya now?”

Amelie: Amelie is less than impressed by Tantsy’s reading. The woman confuses her gender again and claims she’s physically active, but anyone could tell that from the thickness and muscle tension of her arm. Tantsy claims she’s going to have a full life, then suddenly takes it back when she ‘gets a better look.’ It’s not good news, but it’s probably a scare tactic. A ‘maybe you can change your fate with this trinket’ kind of scare tactic. Amelie just keeps a stony face through the entire reading.

“It’s Amelie. I’m twenty,” she states as she looks the woman across the table up and down. “Why the Chinese way? Would you get a different result other ways?”

GM: Tantsy’s lip twitches once when Amelie points out her actual name, as if to say ‘I knew that,’ but her expression remains solmen.

“Dere lotta diff’ren ways ta do it,” she says slowly. “Ya migh’ dink of it as usin’ inches or feet or meters da measure somethin’… ya get diffren’ numbers, da’ ya use for diff’ren dings, but dey measure da same space… I’m sorry, Amber, but usin’ anotha ruler won’ make ya life any longer or shorter. Cou’ migh’ tell us more abou’ why.”

Amelie: It sends a chill up Amelie’s spine when the woman’s expression remains solemn, but her face stays stoic as she nods along at Tantsy’s logic. Even if it’s for a ridiculous subject, at least it sounds like logic in the vacuum of it the store has been so far.

“I don’t think that would be wise. There’s more than a few legends about people who drove themselves to their deaths obsessing about the ‘how’ and ‘when.’”

Amelie clears her throat and takes a bracing breath before she takes another sip of the offered tea, forcing it down the best she can.

“Who knows, I may die by the hands of the LaLaurie House’s spirits. Though the reason I’m here is I’d prefer that doesn’t happen.”

GM: The tea tastes like another solid punch to Amelie’s mouth. The calico in her lap gives a wide yawn, briefly displaying its fangs. Tantsy seems to think on her statement for a moment. Lines tug across her wrinkled features.

“Prefer na happen… mmm… well, les’ look at it dis way, Amber.”

Her equally lined green-nailed hands trace Amelie’s for a moment, before she cups the younger woman’s hand in hers and holds it up to the candlelight.

“Look a’ ya skin dere, boy.”

Tantsy releases one of her hands from Amelie’s and paws through the table’s cluttered junk. The cats remain indifferent until Tantsy feels at some object underneath a large-eared tabby. “G’wan, git,” she declares as she pushes her hand beneath the sedentary feline’s belly, then abruptly lifts it up. The cat jostles up and gives her an almost undignified look before haughtily pawing its way across the table.

There’s a bright flash, meanwhile, as candlelight reflects off the cold steel of the dagger now in Tantsy’s grasp. Not a knife. A dagger.

It’s made of brass with a solid ivory handle that’s secured to the hilt by a tarnished-looking copper ring. The life-long weaponsmith identifies the secespita on sight. It was used by the priests of ancient Rome and their wives in sacrifices, she recalls. The blade would have been iron rather than true steel—and the one before her actually looks like iron too. It doesn’t look very well-cared for, Amelie assesses critically. It’s rusted. Chipped. Dull. Not something she’d want to rely on in a fight. But it can still cut.

Tantsy absently waves the sacrificial blade through the air as she continues to talk, still clutching Amelie’s hand, “Now den, Amber, wha’ happen if I gives ya han’ a goo’ nick wi’ dis ol’ thang?”

Amelie: Amelie jumps as she sees the blade but doesn’t pull her hand away. It’s strange to see a black woman using a dagger of that origin. She has to wonder how old it is.

“Secespita, Roman, ivory handle looks firm still, the blade is a mess but it’s still likely iron. You can rub the rust off if you put it to soak in a zip-lock of lemon juice for an hour,” she says, more to ease her own nerves than inform the woman holding it.

But the prospect of that old blade cutting her hand is only concerning from the standpoint of how cleanly it can cut. Jagged cuts scar. Still, curiosity keeps hold.

“Likely if you cut me with that blade, you’re making a sacrifice to something or someone, right?”

GM: The old woman slams Amelie’s hand onto the table and stabs the dagger straight into her palm.

Amelie: Alarm bells sound in Amelie’s head a second too late to save her. The young woman screams bloody murder as the knife punctures straight through her palm, slamming into the wood beneath.

AGGGHH!”

Blood erupts from the jagged wound in her palm, her eyes flaring wide as saucers between the searing pain and suddenness of the attack. She instinctively leaps upright, sending the cat flying and digging the blade even deeper into her flesh.

Howling past the second stab of pain, she grabs the old woman’s wrist with her left hand, frighteningly tight. She looks ready to murder the old hag right there with her own dagger.

“Let—GO. NOW!!!” she bellows.

GM: The calico on Amelie’s lap yowls as her abrupt rise sends it tumbling off. She doesn’t see whether it lands on its feet. The chair hits the floor with a crack, followed a split-second later by another one from the old woman’s wrist (with an accompanied pained hiss) as Amelie pins it beneath her foot. The pair’s violent motions send assorted junk crashing off the table as cats hiss, flatten their ears, and bush their tails.

“Tantsy? Vhat vas dat?” calls Bala’s voice.

Tantsy does not answer it. She futilely strains against Amelie’s hold for a moment, her thick eyebrows bushing together past her ’60s glasses, then throws back her head and laughs.

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Silly boy. Ya bleed. Das’ wha’ happen when I cut ya! ‘Makin’ a sacrifice’, das’ jus’ dressin’ up wha’ I’s arready done.”

Blood continues to painfully well from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm, red and thick against the chandelier-light. The old woman’s overlarge eyes remain riveted on that bleeding font as she cackles,

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw!!!”

Amelie: The pain in Amelie’s hand is getting to be too much for her to think of anything else but ‘get it out.’ Her face still hardens. Not into a grimace, but a slack expression that shows the old woman nothing but cold stone as she laughs and haws. Stabbing the woman back in her own hand crosses Amelie’s mind more than a little, but it’s been a long day. Too long. Still, there’s a strangely calm and oddly warm sensation in her gut at the situation.

She reaches down with both hands to pry the old woman’s fingers off the dagger. Her foot moves just enough to press her attacker’s hand and not wrist under its newly-purchased sole as she curls her own hand around the secespita and pulls.

The dagger’s slightest movement finally breaks the shock that was keeping her from screaming. Her stone-like expression crumbles as she grits her teeth and her eyes start to well. It feels like someone is pulling her nerves out of her skin with dental floss and playing them as a morbid instrument.

“Ba—Bay—Bala! Get the fuck in here!!!” she yells in a raw and pained voice as backs away from the table, ready to kick the old crone if she gets too close.

“You stabbed me right through the hand, you senile cunt! This rusted hunk of shit will rip out my fucking tendons, and you just STABBED me with it!? What were you planning for afterwards?! The Romans made an incision above the elbow pit to blood-let, you didn’t even use the right cunt-forsaken knife!!!”

“Ta mère est une prostituée qui suce les animaux de la ferme. Ton père est baisé dans le cul par des marins pour gagner sa vie. Vos frères et sœurs vous ont baisé comme un bébé pour lubrifier votre trou du cul pour quand il rentrait à la maison!”

(“Your mother is a whore who sucks off farm animals. Your father is fucked in the ass by sailors for a living. Your siblings fucked you as an infant to lube your asshole for when he got home!”)

GM: Tantsy cackles dementedly. Flecks of spittle fly from the rim of her brightly lipsticked mouth. “Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw-haw!!! Ya din’ ‘spec’ me ta stab ya, now di’ ya? I’s a harmless ol’ lady, isn’ I? Now wha’ on earth make ya dink a housea ghosts gon’ be any safer, ya silly boy?”

Amelie makes out footsteps sounding from deeper within the shop. They’re followed by an abrupt crash.

“Hell, I even ask ya, ‘wha’ happens if I stab ya!’ Haw-haw! Haw-haw!” the old woman laughs on. “Ya go’ ya head in da clouds! Say ya stab my han’ ta get even, Amber, den stick it in shi’, jus’ f’ lagniappe, an’ don’ lemme wash it. What happens den?”

Amelie:WHO has their heads in the clouds!? And what happens when the police come asking why you STABBED me in the fucking hand just to give me some bullshit about festering wounds!?” Amelie barks. She strides into the other room to look for the assistant, following the crashing sounds.

GM: Several more “haw-haws!” follow Amelie past the bead curtain. The room on the other side is cluttered with an equally haphazard collection of junk and occult bric-a-bric. One of the bookshelves is tipped over. Just behind it, past the scattered books and mewing cats, Amelie can make out a motionless human arm. Several cats listlessly circle around it.

Amelie: Amelie groans, holds her wounded hand palm up, and carefully balances the embedded knife as she grips the bookcase with good hand. She uses it and her leg to slowly pull the heavy furniture off of the East Indian cashier. It’s a difficult job with just one hand, but she rights the bookcase completely straight and holds it there in case it tries to tip again.

“Hey! Hey, are you okay!? Don’t make me witness my first death by literature! Get up!”

GM: Blood continues to leak from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm. Each grunt, push, and jostle with her good hand feels like someone is twisting a hot brand against her bad one. Several books tumble from the shelves as she hoists the case back up. Bala lies underneath it and does not stir or respond.

Amelie: Dyke they call her. Dyke dyke dyke like unimaginative parrots. But a working woman knows what that kind of pain is like. She shrinks her arm against her chest as she kneels and tosses books aside to get a clearer view of Bala’s face.

BALA! Wake the FUCK up!” she yells.

GM: More cats mew and scatter at the tossed books. Bala’s face looks uninjured, so far as Amelie can tell, but neither do they respond to her entreaties.

Then, there’s a sudden jolt of pain in Amelie’s throbbing wrist. The young woman is yanked up and all but slammed against the wall. Her vision starts to swim.

“Fool boy!” Tantsy bellows. Her once-sleepy eyes are bulding and livid even behind her glasses. “Look what ya gone an’ done!

Amelie: Amelie was about to reach for her phone until a new gut-wrenching surge of pain makes her eyes cross. It’s only when she feels the wall slam against her back that a familiar feeling strikes again. That rising wave of fury behind her eyelids pushes at her to feed this old woman her own teeth.

YOU did this, you old bag! Who isn’t going to scream out when you STAB them!!! Stop hawwing like a donkey lunatic and call a fucking ambulance!”

GM: “I’ll tell ya what happen, I stick ya han’ in shi’!” Tantsy screams. Spittle flies in Amelie’s face from gnashing yellow teeth.

“It FESTER! Why, I stick ya han’ in dere long ‘nough—doctors gon’ chop it OFF!”

The old woman seizes Amelie’s injured, bleeding hand and dashes it against the wall. The sudden impact jostles the embedded dagger agonizingly free. Blood messily spurts over both women’s clothes.

“Maybe dey DON’ chop it off! Maybe dey leave it on ta FUCK YA, an’ it FESTER!” Tantsy screams and raves as Amelie’s blood drips down her face. “Turn green an’ smell an’ make ya DIE! Unnatural! Unnatural! Dere ain’ NO PLACE in nature ya cut ya han’ an’ keep it STUCK IN SHI’!”

Amelie: Amelie gets it again. That cold feeling.

Her good hand snatches out to catch the dagger’s familiar handle as it drops. She grunts, struggles against her attacker’s hold, and tries to get some proper footing as she starts to take this conflict seriously. If the old crone wants a knife fight, she’ll get one.

GM: There’s another jolt of pain as Tantsy smashes Amelie’s so-tender hand against the wall, once, twice, three times. The dagger’s hilt strikes the toe of her sneaker as the blade clatters against the floor. Sweat beads the old woman’s brow and trickles down the spattered blood already there as she screams into Amelie’s face,

“DA WORLD! World be YA SKIN! Lined! Ugly! OKAY! Even da par’s da’ CUT! Scar over, heal up goo’!”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut turns as the knife hits her shoe. Her cold resolve to stab an old lady shatters into another held-in scream of pain as her already hurt hand gets abused again. She needs t-

GM: “Das’ natural! NATURAL!” The old woman cackles dementedly. Lipstick-hued spittle leaks from the corners of her animated mouth. “Haw-haw! Natural! Haw-haw! HAW-HAW! HAW-HAW!

“Dere par’s!” she exclaims, shoving her face into Amelie’s, so close their noses brush. The bleeding youth can feel Tantsy’s pendulous, wrinkled breasts pressing against hers. “Par’s da been STABBED! Dat been hel’ in SHIT! Turned green! Fes’ered! DIED! Doctors can’ chop ‘em off! OFF! Oh no! Oh no! NO! Dey infected! DEY do da choppin’! Chop up da people da’ go in! CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!

Tantsy’s voice drops to a whisper. Almost intimate. Amelie feels the old woman’s rancid, pot-laced breath against her face with every word.

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”

Tantsy suddenly chokes, convulses, and tosses back her head as she lets out a half-strangled shriek that sends cats scattering as she tosses back her head. Her glasses fly off.

The face that whips back towards Amelie looks like a stranger’s. The eyes are huge, bulging, and bloodshot. The veins throb and look about to rupture as the woman screams, bloody sweat running down her lined face and spittle-flecked lips,

“Si vous appréciez votre vie, Amélie Savard—N’ALLEZ PAS DANS CETTE MAISON!”

(“If you value your life, Amelie Savard—DO NOT GO INTO THAT HOUSE!”)

Then, motion. Pained throbbing from her hand. Rough hands at her back. Her feet barely feel like they’re touching the ground as cats hiss and yowl—and the store’s front door rushes to meet Amelie’s face.

Amelie: Amelie watches what can only be one of two things. Some awful parlor trick, or an actual ghost screaming in her face.

She clenches her hand as she curses and hisses in pain. A tear rolls down her cheek as the crone manhandles her. The blood loss is already making her worried. What if she can’t work with her hand anymore? What if she loses it?

She gets the point. She got the point back after the comment about shit on the knife. She isn’t an idiot.
And Tantsy still punctuated it with this gratuitous attack, this bullshit cruelty. She struggles for a moment to find her voice.

“I just came… to ask questions! I didn’t disrespect you or spit in your face, and you did this! People—ow, fuck! People have been in and out of the LaLaurie House for years without dying! It was a bar and restaurant at points, for fuck’s sake! There has to be some safe way to just look inside for a few hours!”

GM: A thunderously slammed door is the only response Amelie receives as she’s all but hurled out of the shop.

CLOSED, reads the sign by the window.

Amelie: Amelie almost steps back towards the shop when she feels a cold prick at the base of her spine. Her hand hurts more and more, and the adrenaline from the fight is already wearing off.

She lets out a low hiss as she fishes her phone out of her pocket with her right hand, clamps her left hand in her elbow pit, and calls her aunt as she puts pressure on the hand. She squats a block away from the store and holds back tears while the phone rings and she bleeds onto the pavement.

GM: “Hello, Amelie? Is everything all right?” her aunt asks in a mildly surprised tone. This is the first time they’ve actually spoken over the phone instead of texting, at least in the States.

Amelie: Amelie can barely speak. Her teeth grit as she watches the dripping blood ruin her pant leg. “No. I-” she pauses to hiss in effort and takes a breath. Short sentences are all she can manage. “I was stabbed. I’m bleeding a lot. My hand.”

GM: There’s a pause, but it’s not for overly long before her aunt replies, “Press your hand with something to apply pressure and slow bleeding. We need to get you to an emergency room. If you need immediate treatment, you can call 911, but ambulance response times are shit in this city. How badly are you bleeding?”

Amelie: Amelie has cut herself more than once, but never worse than a belt sander snapping and cutting into her bicep. The mess makes it hard to tell. It’s a jagged wound, but not ugly enough to make her think she’s going to die.

“6/10. Won’t kill me. Rusty knife though. Jagged. Already putting pressure,” she wheezes, flexing her arm tighter to keep up that pressure. She manages to squeak out the address as well.

GM: “Good thinking. Keep that up,” her aunt says firmly. Amelie hears some indistinct noises in the background as Christina raises her voice. “Can you hail a Ryde and meet me at the Tulane Medical Center ER, or do you want me to pick you up? That second option may take longer.”

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head and lets out another little hiss. “Ryde uses—fuck… me. Personal cars. Might get turned down… for bleeding,” she stammers out, slowly standing up. “Should I risk it? Or get on… main road for you?”

GM: “Personal cars. That’s a good point. Okay, sit down and stay where you are. I will be there as soon as I can. All right?”

Amelie: Amelie slowly moves her feet, feeling more than a little woozy as she does. “I walked. I’m by… wait, it’s-” there’s a small pause as her aunt hears a defeated chuckle on the other end of the line.

“Cafe Amelie. I’m at Cafe Amelie.”

The young woman slumps against the wall and slides down it. She sits and bleeds over the sidewalk like the ending shot from a shitty film noir.

GM: “You’re at Cafe Amelie.” Her aunt’s voice finally breaks at those words, and sounds halfway between a sniffle and smile. “All… right. Keep up that level head.” Her next words tighten. “If you see any police, stand up and fiddle on your phone so you look at least somewhat affluent. I’m getting in my car now, so I have to hang up. I’ll see you soon. Okay?”

Amelie: Amelie nods, then remembers her aunt can’t hear that over the phone. “Yeah. Soon.”

She does as she’s asked and maintains the pressure on her hand while she sits and waits. She already doesn’t trust the police and hopes they avoid her.

GM: Cafe Amelie looks like a nice enough place to have lunch. Patrons eat and converse in an open-air, greenery-filled courtyard. The building itself resembles the shop from which Amelie was only just expelled, with a Spanish-style wrought-iron gallery overflowing with plants. A bubbling fountain sounds from just outside.

Cafe_Amelie.jpg
Few patrons can likely make out Amelie from behind the courtyard’s brick wall while she’s sitting. Her bloody appearances draws more than a few stares and remarks from others passersby, ranging from “the hell happened to you?” to “someone should call the cops.” In contrast to her native Quebec, random strangers appear amply willing to express their opinions aloud or strike up conversations on the street.

Amelie: Nosy cunts is about all the brainpower Amelie spares to think about the people who pass by. None of them actually stop to offer help, so fuck ’em.

She waves at the bystanders who linger with her good hand, cites “The Fences got me,” and then waves them off. She seals the ‘nothing to see here’ impression with a friendly smile.

GM: Amelie endures perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of waiting before she spots Christina among the passersby, dressed in a navy skirtsuit and blazer. Her aunt makes a beeline when she sees her, gets down to her knees, and strips off the blazer to wrap around Amelie’s injured arm. If her eyes widen at the sight, it’s only for a moment before her jaw hardens.

Amelie: Amelie pulls away and gives an almost awkwardly pained hiss as her aunt starts to strip off what has to be an expensive piece of clothing. “No no no, not the blazer,” she whines.

GM: Christina does not appear to be overly concerned for the blazer as she wraps one of the sleeves taut around Amelie’s still-bleeding hand as an impromptu bandage.

“How badly does it hurt?” she asks.

Amelie: Amelie feels a deep pang in her chest when her aunt ruins the blazer to get a bandage on her hand. “More than a hangnail, less than a stubbed toe. Starting to—nnfuck. Feelin’ pretty damn dizzy. Let my outfit soak it up, let’s get going.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt helps her up and shepherds her into the passenger seat of a silver-gray Subaru Legacy car. Cafe Amelie’s brick walls recede past in the window.

Amelie: Amelie stumbles up into the car with her aunt’s help and then just rests her. Her outfit is a mess. There’s flecks of red on her face and her covered hand is soaked in fresh and dried blood alike. But she’s alive.

GM: “It looks like the worst is over,” Christina remarks, sparing another glance for Amelie’s hand. “All we need to do now is get you checked into the ER. Good job staying calm and good thinking calling me.”

Amelie: “Hopefully my hand makes a full recovery. And thank you. I’ve been hurt a lot, it’s rote at this point.” There’s a small pause before she speaks again. “I’m sorry for interrupting your job.”

GM: “Don’t worry about the job. But we’ll take it as a good sign that you’re feeling clear-headed enough to be worried.” Her aunt stares back towards the road as streets roll past. “Now, how did you get stabbed?”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but dread the answer. “I went to the cathedral to ask about ghosts, was refuted on their existence by the Catholic Church, and had a card for an occult shop slipped into my belongings. I went, told her about the LaLaurie House, she read my palm, and then stabbed my hand with a dagger screaming about it being a festering wound on the world and how I’ll die if I step foot into it.”

GM: Christina doesn’t stop to blink at the half-coherent explanation while she’s driving, but there’s at least one blink in the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry, Amelie?”

Amelie: “Yeah. She was… insane, and old. Which is why I didn’t call the cops. Also because of… another incident I had today.”

GM: “All right, if the staff at Tulane asks any questions, keep the story simple and tell them you were stabbed by a mentally ill person. Don’t talk about any of those… other details.”

Amelie: “That was the plan. Last thing I need is the mental health ward right now.” Amelie hisses a bit as she adjusts her seating.

GM: “You probably won’t be looking at the mental health ward. But hospitals in Louisiana are required to report gunshot wounds to the police, and a stab wound like this could also draw questions. So keep your explanation simple and plausible. Did this person also want money from you? Were you in a bad part of town?”

Amelie: “No, and maybe. I was just off Jackson Square, and she was reading palms. I thought I’d give it a try, like a dumb tourist, and she produced a knife and stabbed my hand. How’s that?”

GM: Her aunt frowns deeply, but then simply says, “All right, there are some sketchy people there. A mentally ill person offered to read your palm, got upset over something you said, and stabbed you. You managed to get away and call me. Can you remember that?”

Amelie: “Like a modern major general,” is all she can muster, eyes closed as she rests her head. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”

GM: “I’m sorrier that you were stabbed by a lunatic.”

Amelie: “Could have been worse. Could have been extorted by a police officer working with a pickpocket.” Amelie lifts her head, eyes not open, but brows raised. “Oh wait.”

GM: Her aunt’s frown deepens. “Did this cop also hurt you? Did you say anything to him?”

Amelie: “Threatened me a lot. Scared me a bit. I was nothing but respectful. He had my ID, and I managed to convince him I was poor and just got a scholarship to a private school. He took 100 bucks. Case closed.”

GM: Christina slowly takes that in before responding, “All right, he only took some money. That’s good. I should have talked to you about this earlier, but you shouldn’t ever speak to the police around here, not if you can avoid it. They’re thugs with badges. The whole department is completely corrupt.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I get that now… I should start carrying a self-defense weapon or something.”

GM: “You don’t ever want to attack the police, Amelie,” her aunt quickly replies. “If a cop talks to you, ask if you’re being detained or under arrest. If they say yes, tell them you want a lawyer. No matter what they say to you, be a broken record and don’t respond with anything except those five words. ‘I want a lawyer.’ Got that?”

Amelie: Amelie actually lets out a little chuckle. “No, no, I don’t mean—I’m not going to stab a cop. I mean so I can defend myself better without calling them.” The jostle makes her grimace a little, but her expression settles back after a moment. “I want a lawyer.”

GM: “That’s right,” Christina answers approvingly, but the look passes as quickly as the onrushing traffic. “And you’re right that we can’t let this happen again.” Her hands clench around the wheel. “You said you met that lunatic from ‘a card?’”

The old Spanish- and French-style buildings with those floral-lined galleries that are so distinctive to New Orleans have receded by now. Brutal glass and steel monoliths, the same unfirmly gray skyscrapers one can find in any city, jut above the traffic in their place. Tulane Medical Center is an interconnected series of brown-bricked, box-like buildings with a skywalk that passes just over the street. The hospital’s name is printed on its side in blocky white letters.

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Amelie: Amelie explains the situation as they drive. The card, its written message, the store, the stabbing. Everything but the old woman’s sudden French and that wailing scream from beyond the grave. She grimaces slightly as they roll up to the hospital and mentally readies herself for a six-hour wait.

GM: Christina listens intently and tells Amelie to text her if she finds herself in a suspicious situation like that again—which finding cards with strange messages on her person certainly falls under. The people behind it could have wanted to rob her, rape her, murder her, or who knows what.

“New Orleans is not a safe city,” her aunt declares emphatically. “If you’re ever unsure about a person or situation, text me. Or call me. If you want to snort cocaine, hire a gigolo, get an abortion, or whatever else, I won’t stop or judge you. I will only tell you how safe I believe it is. Beyond that, how much you want me involved in your life is your choice. I would much rather you feel able to come to me for help than feel it necessary to hide things.”

Christina’s gaze seems to notably linger on Amelie at the story’s ‘abbreviated’ ending, but her aunt says nothing further as she parks their car in a disabled persons spot.

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Amelie: Amelie feels more than a little guilty at that statement. ‘Necessary to hide things.’ She makes a face like she’s got a sudden lurch in her stomach and shakes her head, unable to keep up the lie.

“You’re going to think I’m insane,” she starts. “When she had me up against that wall, and the knife popped out…? I don’t know what kind of trick she used. Her eyes bugged out and went white, and she screamed in my face in French, not to go into that house. It scared me. Especially after being hurt, and all the ghost talk beforehand.”

GM: “That’s probably exactly what she was trying to do,” Christina remarks as she helps Amelie out and shuts the car door. Her heels click against the pavement as she takes Amelie’s bleeding arm in hers and applies further pressure as they briskly stride towards the sliding ER doors.

“There are a lot of psychics, fortune-tellers, and what have you around the Quarter who are very good at showmanship. There are a lot of tourists, too, who come to New Orleans expecting to see strange things—and Orleanians who believe in strange things. They all get fleeced for everything they’re worth.”

Amelie: Amelie feels silly and nods along with her aunt as she tries to keep her legs moving forward. Her body feels sluggish, but she’s glad she can at least keep step.

“I didn’t want you to think I was crazy or traumatized or something stupid, or that I bought it hook line and sinker. I’m not a good liar and I shouldn’t have tried.”

GM: Christina pulls Amelie aside to avoid several EMTs wheeling in a comatose, blood-spattered dark-skinned man on a stretcher and respirator.

“…how do you starve a black guy? Put their food stamp under their work boots,” one of the black-uniformed personnel quips.

“That’s not nice,” his homely-looking partner says back.

“Don’t you still live with your mom, Abby?”

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh through her nose as she glances down at the man being wheeled in. It seems like black people are the race that gets pressed underfoot here instead of Native Americans.

She groans a bit and stands up straighter as the pressure starts to make her hand sore.

“I wasn’t going to give that crazy bitch any money, anyway. I was going to get a few words for the paper and leave.”

GM: “I don’t think you would have given her money, and I don’t think you were crazy. I think someone took advantage of what you were hoping to see, then badly scared you after she stabbed your hand,” Christina replies as she helps Amelie past the threshold of the sliding ER doors. The inside waiting room is jam-packed with people in various states of discomfort but almost universal discontent. Some looked pained. Some look bored. More than a few appear to suffer from a peculiarly malaisful combination of both.

An overworked-looking triage nurse with bags under her eyes asks the pair the reason for their visit and quizzes Amelie about her medical history and any over-the-counter or prescription medications she is currently taking, along with any allergies she might have. The nurse then measures Amelie’s temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t exactly like the tests. She grits her teeth and lets out some less-than-ladylike noises and mutterings about her hand. Nurses are worth her holding her tongue around, though, and every second word is a “sorry” or “thank you” until she’s told to go sit down and wait.

GM: The nurse barely seems to register Amelie’s thanks or apologies. Her heavy eyes have already moved past the pair as she concludes, “Not urgent. Go take a seat in the waiting-”

“She’s an artist with a probable tendon injury,” Christina interrupts sharply. “I am an attorney and prepared to file suit against Tulane Medical Center if your malpractice costs her-”

“Urgent but not life-threatening,” the nurse interrupts back with a look that’s half-glare, half-placation, and wholly resentful. Her brow then furrows at Amelie. “Where did you get this?”

Amelie: Her aunt’s reaction is something of a surprise, but the nurse’s question makes Amelie look back towards her. “Off Jackson Square. I got my… my palm read by some lady. I was being a stupid tourist. She was crazy. She grabbed my hand and stabbed it with an old weird knife.”

The realization starts to gnaw at her again after her aunt’s words. She can feel a dull panic slowly building in her chest as she wonders if she’ll be able to use both hands at the forge again. Her voice falters as she awkwardly presses the wound and asks, “Is my hand going to be normal after this..?”

GM: “Other patients are waiting,” the nurse replies tersely while making a shooing motion.

Amelie: Amelie carefully pulls her aunt’s blazer off her hand and shows the nurse the open wound. She’s starting to sound a bit scared. “Ma’am, the blade was rusty and filthy… please, can you just take a quick look and tell me if you can save it?”

GM: “Get out before I call security,” the nurse replies in an even terser voice.

Amelie: Amelie frowns and nods, slowly standing up and re-wrapping, turning to follow her aunt to the waiting room.

GM: Christina directs an exceedingly stony look at the nurse, but does not press the matter any further as she leads Amelie back into the waiting room.

“You may not have a serious tendon injury. I only said that to get you faster care,” she explains once they’re out of earshot.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t quite buy it. She looks for a place to sit down and nurse her hand on her lap. “A rusty blade is more dangerous than a clean one in the long term. At this point, I’m just holding my breath.”

The young woman takes a deep breath to steady herself despite her doomsaying. “If I lose the ability to use this hand properly… I’ll find a way around it for my work. It’ll be okay.”

GM: “Let’s worry for now about getting that hand treated properly,” her aunt replies as she leads Amelie up to the registration desk. The glasses-wearing woman on the other side barely glances up from her computer screen as she robotically asks for Amelie’s name, gender, date of birth, mailing address, name of primary care doctor, the medical reason for her visit, and how she got her stab wound. They get through ‘date of birth’ before Christina interrupts the receptionist to tell Amelie, “You go find somewhere to sit down. I’ll take care of the rest of this.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised again by her aunt’s sudden cut-in. She nods thankfully, though, as she cradles her arm and looks around for a chair to slump down in. The blood loss has officially given her a headache. She watches her aunt through squinted lids in case she’s motioned back up.

GM: The ER is absolutely packed. Finding an open seat takes Amelie some time, and takes her past a melange of waiting patients. A young woman groans and massages a deeply reddened ankle while a closely-aged man next to her mouths assurances. A dreadlocked man with an incredibly ripe stench groans loudly about how much pain he’s in. Someone nearby snaps that he isn’t sick and is wasting everyone’s time. In another seat, a crying middle-aged woman rocks back and forth with a droopy-eyed child she hugs to her breast. Even the spaces between seats are occupied. Amelie observes a bearded old man walking up and down the aisle with a bible and rosary, steadily chanting, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“How fucking long are you gonna go on with that?!” screeches a black-eyed woman from a nearby chair.

The old man only continues to walk down the aisle and chant, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“Mom, I’m really thirsty…” groans another voice.

“I’m sorry, honey, but you heard them say to limit your fluid intake until the doctors get a look.”

Amelie: Amelie eventually just stands in place and leaves the seats to more sickly and injured people as she watches the chaos unfold. She feels bad how her aunt strong-armed the hospital. She wishes she could fix the child and the dreadlocked man in the same way she could weld bad pieces of steel back together.

One of the last voices makes her ear prick up, though. She’s heard this girl at McGehee. She decides to approach after a moment of consideration perhaps addled by blood loss, and offers the teenager a small gimped wave with her good hand.

“Excuse me. You’re Hannah, right?”

GM: The girl in question looks a few years younger than Amelie, like most students at McGehee do. She has a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length brown hair that’s streaked through with blonde towards the ends. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved gray tee and pair of blue jeans instead of the standard McGehee uniform.

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Her eyes are half-lidded and look exhausted as she leans against the shoulder of a 40- or 50-something woman with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and a narrower face and nose. The older woman is dressed in a low-necked black shirt, tan slacks, and looks in a great deal less discomfort. Physically, at least.

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She frowns at Amelie’s address. “I’m sorry, do we know you from somewhere?”

Amelie: Amelie gives Hannah a sorry smile before looking towards the mother addressing her. “Yes, sorry. I’m Amelie Savard, a senior at our school. We haven’t really met before, but I have Mrs. Flores’ ballroom dance class with Hannah.”

GM: “Ah. I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time.” The woman shakes her head as if to clear it, then extends a hand. “Monica Burroughs. You probably guessed I’m Hannah’s mom.”

Amelie: Amelie respectfully declines the handshake as she holds up her good hand to show how it’s also coated in blood.

“It’s very nice to meet you, I’m sorry about the hand,” she says before looking back towards Hannah. Her classmate is in a really really bad way it seems. Maybe something with her stomach, from what she said earlier?

GM: “Oh, don’t be. It’s-”

Monica is interrupted, though, as Hannah gives Amelie a bleary look. “You’re the… girl who Mrs. Flores had stay after class.”

Amelie: “Yeah, that’s me. She wanted me to practice following, since I lead all class.” Amelie keeps her voice a bit softer as she speaks to Hannah. She tries to keep her head in one piece if she has a headache too. “You look so sick. I hope it’s not too painful.”

GM: Hannah gives Amelie another half-focused look.

“It’s dehydration,” her mom says. “Killer in this weather.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and remembers her aunt’s talks about how hot and humid the city’s subtropical climate is. The humidity has yet to slow her down, but the heat and sun definitely have. She gives Hannah a worried look all the same.

“Absolutely. I’m not even from the States,” she admits, “so I’ve had the whole scary talk about dehydration.”

GM: “Say, do you want my seat? You’re not about to bleed out, are you?” Monica asks.

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head at the offer. “You stay, ma’am, I’m just fine standing. Hannah looks like she could use her mom anyway.”

She shifts on a leg, turns, and looks to see how her aunt is doing at the reception area. She hopes she doesn’t have a book of city bylaws open in front of the poor desk lady.

GM: Amelie can make out her aunt offering what looks like an insurance card. The desk lady looks far from poor, however, as Christina covertly slides over a number of green bills.

“All right, if you’re sure,” Monica answers. “You looking for someone?” she asks as she sees Amelie look towards the desk.

Hannah gives a soft moan and shifts against her mom’s shoulder.

Amelie: Amelie frowns slightly. It looks as if she’s about to get called on, but she’s not sure how fair that is to the other people in the waiting room.

“Just looking to see how my aunt is. I should leave you be, though. Hannah looks like she’d appreciate a bit of quiet.”

GM: Monica glances at her daughter. “Yes, thanks. One thing, I’m sorry if this seems forward of me. But are you…?” she makes a motion towards Amelie’s hair.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t’ skip a beat. “Gay?”

GM: “Yes, gay,” the teenager’s mother nods.

Hannah’s eyes crack back open as she gives a muffled yell of, “Mom!”

Amelie: Amelie manages a weak chuckle at Hannah’s reaction. “Everyone assumes, I’m not offended. I cut my hair this short because I grew up around metalworking. Eventually you get tired of your hair catching on fire,” she says without exactly answering the question.

GM: “Oh, really? That does make a lot of sense,” Monica says. “I’m sorry to put you on the spot like that, it was just after this recent fuss over a queer alliance club at McGehee, and…”

“I’m in the ER and you’re still embarrassing me?” Hannah croaks.

Amelie: Amelie smiles and looks at Hannah. She tries to put on a calm and understanding face. “Hannah, you were the one who tried to start it, right?”

GM: Hannah gives an unfocused frown that seems equally split between Amelie, her mother, and the universe at large. “No, that was Leslie…”

“She’s a friend of Hannah’s,” her mom fills in. “I just thought you might have been a friend of hers, given… well, the hair.”

Hannah groans. “Mom, it’s just… a haircut…”

Amelie: “If it wasn’t the haircut, it would be the size of my arms, or all my scars, or my height, or just my attitude. I keep my actual preferences quiet, but I’m getting used to the assumption. People here are more vocal than I’m used to.”

GM: “Are you from France? They’re definitely a lot more reserved in Europe,” Monica agrees. “You know, there are some other girls from France going to McGehee,” she remarks thoughtfully. “I don’t know if you’ve met? You’re new, I know that, practically all the families with kids at the school know each other. They’re the Devillers, anyway, and a very nice family. Which is a good thing, since you would not believe how many of them there are. How many girls do they have, Hannah, eight?”

“‘I don’t believe in birth control’ many,” Hannah mumbles.

Her mom laughs.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a snicker at Hannah’s comment. It hurts more than a little, but she steadies herself with a few breaths. “Oooh, my. No, ma’am, I’m from Canada. Quebec, to be specific. But I do know the Devillers, yes. I’m partnered with one for my New Orleans history class, actually!”

GM: “Quebec, how silly of me. And oh really? Hannah’s taking that for fifth period with Ms. Perry. She’s very friendly and does a good job keeping the class interesting, from what Hannah tells me. They’re doing this project right now for ghost stories—she says there was a vote between that and historic buildings-”

“Which as many people vote for as Jill Stein,” Hannah mumbles.

“-yes, it sounds like that option wins every time, Ms. Perry could maybe make them more competitive,” Monica remarks.

Amelie: Amelie slowly nods and sighs as she looks down at her hand. “I was out doing research for that project today, actually. That’s what I was doing when this happened. New Orleans is a scary place when you aren’t careful.”

GM: “Oh, you poor thing, I’m so sorry to hear that! Hopefully it doesn’t turn you off to the city, people here can be very welcoming. You just have to know what parts of town to avoid. It’s tricky because the bad areas run right up next to the safe ones.”

Amelie: “It’s not enough to turn me off to the city. It was me being a dumb tourist is all. I’ll be more careful from now on. I still have research to do, after all.”

GM: “That’s good to hear. So what’s it you’re doing for your project? There’s really so many ghosts to pick from…”

Hannah gives another moan. Monica pulls out her phone at glances at the screen. “Okay, good news, it’s been five minutes. Now remember, just a little sip…” she says as she extends a water bottle toward her daughter.

Hannah weakly grasps at it and takes a glug before her mom gently but firmly pulls it back away. She groans again, “I’m thirsty…”

“I know, Hannah, but you remember what the last times were like?” Her brow furrows. “You can’t keep doi…”

Hannah cuts her off with a particularly loud sigh, re-closes her eyes, and leans back her head.

“Five minutes, honey, I’ve got the timer on,” Monica says. She taps the phone several times and tucks it back away. “Until then or whenever the doctor sees us…”

“Yeah, by the time Strong reforms the queer club so she can ask Amelie out…” Hannah croaks.

Monica gives Amelie a ‘you know how it is’ smile. “I’m sorry about that. Blame the heat.”

Amelie: Amelie is about to answer Hannah’s mom’s question before she gets another sip of liquid to help pull her body back from the state it’s in. The exchange afterwards, including the jab, makes Amelie smile. Hannah is a little catty. It makes talking with her kinda fun.

“Don’t be sorry, I’d be saying worse things in her state,” she assures her classmate’s mother.

She looks back towards the front desk again to see where her aunt is.

GM: She sees Christina waiting near the reception desk, arms folded and watching her. Other patients are talking to the receptionist. When Amelie makes eye contact, her aunt nods towards a hallway leading out of the waiting room.

Amelie: Amelie nods and turns back. “Excuse me, my aunt is calling me. It was nice to meet you both. I hope I see you in school Monday, Hannah. I’m sorry you’re so sick.” She excuses herself again with a small wave of her good hand and retreats to her aunt’s side.

GM: “Bye…” Hannah grogs.

“It was nice meeting you, Amelie. Get better soon,” her mom adds.

Christina, meanwhile, flags down a nurse and says something about it being “their turn.” The nurse leads them out of the waiting room.

“We’ll still have to wait a little for a doctor, but you’ll at least get to lie down somewhere quiet,” her aunt remarks as they proceed down a hallway. The waiting room’s noise fades to a low din.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything as she lets her aunt lead her down the hall. She doesn’t want to tip off the nurse as to any improvement in her condition. The promise of a quiet room sounds like a dream come true, however, as does finally seeing a doctor.

GM: The nurse leads the pair into an exam room with a bed to lie down on and an adjacent chair. An oxygen tank, tubing, and other medical equipment sit nearby. The nurse attaches a device that resembles a small smartphone to a band around Amelie’s wrist, then fixes it to a cord that connects it to some of the machines.

“A doctor will be with you soon,” the nurse states, then exits through the door. Amelie and her aunt are left alone in the silent room.

Amelie: Amelie lies on the table and shuts her eyes as soon as the door closes, then finally exhales and lets herself relax.

“You really didn’t need to do that, Auntie. With the reception lady?”

GM: “I think I did,” her aunt replies. “You could have been waiting out there for hours.”

Amelie: “Isn’t that normal? I’ve been in a lot of hospital waiting rooms.”

GM: “Yes, it is normal,” Christina answers.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh of defeat. “Well, thank you. That’s—I’m sorry it cost you so much, what happened today.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” her aunt replies as she sits down on the chair. “And I’m not. I think that it’s been time and money well-spent.” She then adds more softly, “You can let people do things for you, Amelie. It’s not a tap that you have to worry about running dry.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say a word. It takes a few moments to gather enough courage that she can swallow the frog in her throat.

“I don’t think I’m very good at that, yet.”

GM: “Maybe not, but practice makes perfect.”

Amelie: Amelie lightly shifts and turns to face slightly away from her aunt so she can’t see the expression on her face. Not even her mother ever treated her like this.

“At least this will be good material for the paper,” she says, trying to change the subject.

GM: “I’m sure it will. Perhaps the teacher will give you extra credit for injury ‘in the line of duty,’” her aunt replies, seeming to go along with it.

Amelie: “I’ll get the purple heart of AP Local History.” It takes a few moments, but Amelie finds she can steel herself again and turns onto her back. “You know… Oscar was right. New Orleans is turning out to be a lot to love.”

GM: “Did he say that? I suppose he’s right,” her aunt considers. “Lord knows there are a thousand and one things wrong with the city, but I’m still living here.”

Amelie: “Maybe it’s just the atmosphere I guess. Or Stockholm’s.”

GM: “For someone who loves history as much as you, there should be a lot of places and activities to appreciate. Most of them are pretty safe. Even NOPD isn’t about to let people get their hands stabbed by lunatics around famous landmarks.”

Amelie: “I hope! There’s a dueling tree I want to visit, lots of people have been stabbed there I hear. Though I don’t think I trust that around landmarks. That cop grabbed me right outside the cathedral in Jackson Square.”

GM: Christina’s eyebrows raise. “A cop manhandled you in front of all those people? That could certainly get him in trouble with his boss when he winds up on MeVid.”

Amelie: “He pulled me off to the side to his little golf cart. Tried to be smooth, talking about $50 gift cards for a steak house Mr. Moreno gives him when he brings in crooks. I think I’m the one who’s going to be on MeVid fending off that pickpocket, unfortunately.”

GM: Her aunt frowns. “There was a pickpocket too? Did he make off with anything of yours?”

Amelie: “They were working together, said he’d take me in for assault on him if I didn’t give him the price of taking in two criminals for his steakhouse money. The weasel didn’t get anything. Came back to give him the money, pickpocket was gone out the back of his golf cart.”

GM: “So you drove off the pickpocket and the cop threatened to bring you in for assault. I’m glad he wasn’t able to take anything, or at least anything else,” her aunt frowns. “But that sounds like a pretty strange confidence racket. Struggling over purses is a flimsy assault charge even for NOPD.”

Amelie: “I want a lawyer,” she repeats.

GM: “Very good,” Christina states.

Amelie: Amelie slowly sits up, looks at her wrapped-up hand and lets out a shaky breath. “It’s starting to settle into one of those really dull pains that make you want to flex the muscle.”

GM: “I’m not a doctor or even particularly medically knowledgeable, but my first instinct is to say you shouldn’t risk tearing anything,” her aunt warns. “We’ve got the exam room, so hopefully it won’t be long until the doctor shows.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I’m not risking it. Just starting to hurt more again.” The pain is different enough that Amelie can rest back on the bed, at least. “I decided to take confession while I was at that cathedral as well. The priest suggested I write my father a letter.”

GM: “What do you think of doing that?”

Amelie: “I think it won’t make a difference to him. But that I should do it anyway.”

GM: “Then I will support you in that decision. Maybe you’ll find it cathartic, even if he doesn’t.”

Amelie: “I hope so,” is all she musters. She slowly rests her head back. “A not-so-smart part of me is telling me to go back to that shop someday. Just with less chance of stabbing. Some of those books looked and smelled ancient.”

GM: “Those smarter parts of you are right. I don’t think that would be an at all safe decision,” her aunt declares emphatically. “There are other shops with just as ancient books if you were to go looking, I’m sure.”

Amelie: “Not-so-smart, like I said. I’m sure once I get my business up and running I can get interns to go into that shop and get what I want,” she jokes. There’s a small grin on her face.

GM: “Even better. Take it from another business owner: opening one involves enough hurdles that you’ll probably forget all about those books by the time it’s off the ground.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “You sound like you built something from nothing, too. Maybe we should sit down one day when I get my business started and talk about it.”

GM: “We could also talk about how you want to start building yours, if you’d like,” her aunt says. “There will be a lot of groundwork, and especially if you want yours up and running by next year-”

Christina is interrupted, however, as the exam room’s door opens. A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope steps through. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe in his 30s. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. A shadow-like smile, perhaps made so from his stubble, slowly spreads across his face as his eyes roam over the supine Amelie.

Doctor.jpg “Good afternoon, ladies. Hopefully you haven’t been waiting too long.”

Amelie: Amelie starts just a little as the door opens. She slowly starts to pull the wrappings off her hand as she sits up and groans a bit as she reveals her hand. “You’re here, that’s what matters.”

GM: “Getting you better is what matters. Hopefully that’ll follow my being here,” the doctor says brightly as he approaches Amelie. “Now, shhh, you just lay back down. You must be pretty tired. Let’s take a look at that hand…”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at how ‘chipper’ the doctor is. She can’t remember the last time someone shushed her like that. But she still turns, sits on the exam bed, and holds out her hand. She rests it on her other hand and keeps the blazer underneath in case it spurts again.

“I’m pretty sure you have… read a chart, or something, but it was a rusty knife. A big one. I tried to keep it in, but it was knocked free.”

GM: “That’s the thing about getting hurt: it never happens the way we’d like,” the doctor smiles.

Meanwhile, a nurse appears. Amelie is subjected to a battery of tests and treatments. The doctor fills a menacingly large hypodermic needle and holds it close to her wound. He doesn’t inject her, but instead depresses a flow of saline solution over the raw and bloody area. It hurts. Debris, sweat, and more blood flushes out and drains into a basin the nurse puts under Amelie’s hand, which she subsequently pats dry with sterile gauze sponges. That hurts too. A lot.

Amelie: If anyone can take pain, it’s Amelie. She bites her lip and nearly breaks the skin on her thigh with her good hand as the nurse sees to her bad one. She trembles when it’s padded off, but stops the nurse for just one moment to take a cellphone picture before it’s wrapped up, then sets her phone on the exam bed behind her. She’s had worse pain in worse places, she tells herself, and tries to make the nurse’s life as easy as possible after the short interruption.

GM: Amelie’s hand is given an x-ray and bandaged up before the doctor gives his prognosis. “All right, Amelie, we have mostly good news for you. There was no damage to your tendons or neurovascular bundles, so you won’t need surgery. But that knife must have been filthy, from how little time you say it was in there, and your wound was infected. We’re going to put you on an oral regimen of cephalexin. If that doesn’t clear up your cellulitis, we’ll try putting you on IV antibiotics.”

He smiles at her again. “Still, that’s good news. You were pretty lucky. Nerve and tendon damage is very common with stab wounds to hands. Surgery can take months to recover from even when successful.”

“So all she has to do is take some pills for a while?” Christina clarifies, her arms having been crossed and lips pressed throughout the procedure.

“And change her bandages, of course,” the doctor adds.

“How are we supposed to tell if she needs to go on IV antibiotics? Or more to the point, once we can tell, would the infection have caused damage preventable by initial IV treatment?”

The doctor does his best to answer Christina’s questions and eventually satisfies her that IV antibiotics are not presently necessary. The two also go down a rather morbid tangent (at Christina’s insistence) where the doctor admits that, yes, if Amelie doesn’t take her cephalexin or follow her wound care instructions, the infection could develop and make it necessary to amputate her hand. Her aunt’s face looks grave at that information. She thoroughly grills the doctor about Amelie’s post-care instructions and types them into her phone as he talks. She also asks for his name and a phone number to contact in case she or Amelie have further questions. The doctor supplies both (his name is Jared Brown) and also gives Amelie a shot of tetanus vaccine when the nurse isn’t able to locate her immunization records. “You’ve probably been immunized already, but just to be sure,” he mentions before depressing the needle into her arm. The doctor applies a band-aid over the sore spot, then doles out two pills and offers Amelie a tall glass of water while the nurse escorts Christina away to “deal with some more insurance business, since we had an x-ray done.”

Amelie: Amelie is glad to have her care done and her bandages made up. Being left alone with this doctor is another matter. Left alone with a man. There’s something about his eyes when he offers her the water and tablets. They make her aunt’s words ring in her head.

“Just give me a moment,” she nods. “I’m horrible with pills. Does the hospital have a cafeteria? Antibiotics on an empty stomach make me vomit.”

GM: “It does, but between you and me, I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to eat,” Dr. Brown smiles. “There’s an in-hospital O’Tolley’s too, but I’m definitely not allowed to recommend that!” he laughs.

“Tell you what, Amelie, you can take these along with something out of your fridge, just so long as you have your aunt take you home straight away. Deal?”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. Hospital food isn’t supposed to taste good, but the hospitals she’s been to had decent baked goods at least.

“Sure. I’m sure we’ll fill the prescription and go straight home afterwards,” she says.

She reaches back to grab her phone and quickly texts her aunt. He still stuck her with a needle.

“Will my hand scar, Dr. Brown?” she asks. “I’ve got enough as it is.”

GM: “It probably will, I’m sorry to say. But ‘count’ your blessings. Your fingers are still going to work fine, after all!” the doctor smiles.

Amelie: Amelie nods. She’s not too broken up about it. “I have worse. Would you mind if I had a moment of privacy? I need to fix myself and make a quick phone call.”

GM: “You mean share that picture of your hand over Facebook?” Dr. Brown chuckles. “But all right, Amelie. Give a shout when you’re done.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to the doctor and breathes a short sigh of relief once he’s gone. She takes a picture of the clock and leaves a note in her phone about the bad feeling the doctor gives her. She crosses her legs to take off her blood-soaked left sock, puts it on the exam table’s paper, and fans her foot off. She waits patiently for her aunt and doesn’t make any movements that could raise her heart rate.

GM: A response pings back from her aunt after a moment.

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Amelie strains and strains to make out any noises from Dr. Brown on the other side of the door. It feels like there’s so much ambient noise in the hospital, so many vibrations past the ceiling and walls, that it’s impossible to be sure. Amelie can only lie in place on the exam table. It is very easy to feel alone. It is even easier to feel hurt and vulnerable.

The door suddenly opens. Christina’s gaze lingers on Amelie, then fixes on Dr. Brown, who is also standing just outside. He smiles when he sees her.

Amelie: Amelie bolts upright when the door opens, but gives a deep sigh of relief when she sees who it is. It’s arrested when she sees the doctor. She slowly gets up, slips her foot into her sneaker, and stuffs the bloody sock into her pocket.

GM: Amelie’s aunt and Dr. Brown go over her after-care instructions one more time as he writes the prescription for her medication. Christina also double-checks his phone number, and Dr. Brown adds that Amelie should feel free to call him anytime if she has any symptoms she’d like to discuss.

“And that’s that. Hopefully you won’t be seeing me again too soon,” the doctor smiles at Amelie, “but you never can know.”

Amelie: “Thank you, Doctor,” is all Amelie manages as she takes her aunt’s hand and hopes the gesture convinces the woman they can and should leave.

GM: Christina’s hand feels taut in Amelie’s as she crisply thanks Dr. Brown and takes their leave from the hospital. Hannah and her mother are still sitting in the same waiting room spot where Amelie left them. The former’s eyes are closed.

A light drizzle is falling when the pair exit the hospital’s sliding doors. Aunt and niece observe that the former’s car, parked in the disabled persons space, has a damp-looking ticket on its windshield. Amelie’s attentive eyes even note the amount is for $275 before Christina pulls it off.

Amelie: Amelie breathes a palpable sigh of relief when they finally step through the hospital doors. It feels good to be out in the open, rain or no rain, and away from the whiff she caught off that doctor. The parking ticket is just more spit in the face, but she files the price away in the back of her head and makes no mention of it. She’ll pay her aunt back for today.

GM: “Did he do anything to you at all past giving a bad vibe?” her aunt asks as they get in the car. She stops first to get the door for Amelie.

Amelie: “He handed me two pills,” Amelie answers after sliding into the car and thanking the older woman for helping her. “They’re in my pocket. I got such a bad vibe off him, I didn’t believe they were antibiotics. That little chill was enough to make me worried after today. I’m sorry for stressing you out.”

GM: Her aunt frowns, then says, “All right, you can throw those out while I go back to pick up your prescription. I’d have needed to do that soon anyways. You stay here in the car and rest.”

Christina closes and locks the door, then heads back to the hospital. Amelie is free to listen to the radio, play on her phone, or simply close her eyes and rest while she listens to the lightly plunking rain. The car’s windows are rolled all the way up, and the air-conditioned interior is blissfully cool against the hot and humid air.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t close her eyes, but she momentarily opens the door to toss the pills under the car’s tires, where they’ll be crushed. She then closes the door, locks it back up, and stares straight ahead in a daze until they open again.

GM: Her aunt eventually returns with a small white paper bag in hand. Rain lightly patters against its surface and leaves dark spots. The Dixie sun still seems fat and swollen past the now-overcast sky, but it’s a hazy thing clearly no longer at its zenith. Her aunt starts the car and pulls them out of the hospital parking lot.

“Also, you remember what I said about letting people do things for you?” Christina brings up. “The next time you want to say ‘sorry’ to someone, try a ‘thanks’ instead. You’ll both probably feel better.”

Amelie: Amelie blinks back into the real world and smiles at the sight of her aunt. Her advice is good advice. It’s something she should adopt from this culture and throw away from an older one.

She remembers the priest’s words that children are a gift. She’s never felt like that was true in her case.

She closes her eyes, rests her head back, and can’t hide the small tremble in her voice when she croaks out a soft but sincere,

“Thank you, Auntie.”


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Story One, Amelie VII

“You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”
Beatrice Achord


Monday morning, 24 August 2015

GM: The weekend passes in relative quiet. Amelie can work on homework, binge on movies and TV shows off her aunt’s Webflix subscription, and engage in other non-demanding leisure activities as she waits for her bandaged hand to hurt less.

Amelie: Amelie uses the downtime and the blear induced by her body adjusting to antibiotics to get ahead in her homework. That includes writing down notes on her investigations into the LaLaurie house, which she intends to share with Yvette later on. Eventually, however, she runs out of work and proceeds to watch the television she rarely pays any mind to.

GM: Mr. Thurston and Ms. Perry both remark on Amelie’s hand come Monday. The former makes a related quip about Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Both teachers express their condolences. Mr. French doesn’t comment on it.

Amelie It’s almost a relief when Monday comes. Amelie dresses in her pristine and ironed uniform, a pair of low-heeled shoes Kristina recommended during their outing, and heads off to school. She’s carefully wrapped her hand to prevent infection and isn’t surprised when it draws attention. She chuckles at Mr. Thurston’s economics joke, assures both teachers her hand is fine, and thanks them for their concern. She tries to take Aunt Christina’s advice to use ‘thank you’ more often to heart.

GM: Today’s Local History class is a lecture rather than small group activity work. Ms. Perry tells her students about the 1724 Code Noir de la Louisiane, an amendment to Louis XIV’s 1685 original Code Noir that set standards for the treatment of slaves. In practice, slave owners did largely as they pleased, but it presented the first substantive effort to regulate slavery as an institution.

The bell’s ring and Ms. Perry’s reminder of some soon-due homework assignments heralds the class’s dispersal. Amelie has the lunch break before fourth period to approach her research partner.

Amelie: She does so without delay once the bell rings.

“Yvette, do you mind if we walk and talk? Something happened in regards to our project.”

GM: Her identically-dressed classmate gives her a mildly curious look. “All right, what ’appened? Mah mother and the bank set up everything so we can see the ’ouse on Friday.”

Amelie: Amelie shows Yvette her phone, which has the picture of her stab wound pulled up.

“I went to Cathédrale Saint-Louis to ask the priests about the house, and they denied the existence of ghosts. But someone heard my conversation. Slipped a card for an occult store into my belongings. When I went? The old lady owner went insane, and did this to me, screaming not to go in the house, or we’d be killed by what she called ‘a festering rot’ of New Orleans.”

GM: The blonde French student gives Amelie a strange look, but then offers, “Ah’m… sorry. And Ah’m sorry about your ‘and. Ah’m sure that was very scary. If you don’t want to come along to the ’ouse, that’s fine.”

Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small smile. “I’m not sure yet. But what I am sure of, is that this is something interesting to put into the report. A violent local reaction to the house. I’ve one more person to interview this week, a Vodoun priestess by the name of Mama Rosa. That makes three ‘interviews’ and three different perspectives on the house.”

GM: “Ohhhh, oui, that’s right!” Yvette exclaims. “That’ll look good to ‘ave in the presentation, no? ’Locals ’ave violent reactions.’ We could even show the picture of your ‘and, if you don’t mind putting yourself up like that.”

Amelie: “Not worried about it at all, no! That’s one of the reasons I took the picture. The story of the assault may score us some points as well.”

Amelie offers to send the picture over to Yvette’s phone, and even offers to delete her contact information afterwards if she’s averse to her partner having it.

GM: Yvette exchanges her phone number with Amelie and does not request she delete the contact information.

Amelie: Amelie also makes one final suggestion.

“So, Yvette, I realize you may not be superstitious. Are you still okay with going into the house if I don’t come? We do have other options we can pursue.”

GM: “Oh yes, Ah’m totally fine,” Yvette answers. “Mah mother and Monsieur Whitney went to all the trouble of setting everything up, after all. And you really don’t ‘ave to go into the ’ouse if you don’t want to, they don’t even know your name. Getting your ‘and stabbed by a crazy person is already a lot of ’field work,’ no?” She smiles faintly. “It’s not like Ah’ll be able to say to Miss Perry that Ah was the one who did all the work.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. Her face betrays just a bit of concern before she smiles at the praise. “You’re braver than I am, that’s for sure. I was going to suggest just renting a camera drone and getting pictures of the inside. Don’t and say we did.”

GM: Yvette laughs at that. “Well, ‘ow about a compromise, you don’t and Ah take the pictures. Ah really would feel bad making you sleep there after your ’and, no?”

Amelie: Amelie gives another small smile and nods slowly. “I’d feel bad to make you go alone. So I’ll get back to you with my decision after I speak to this last person I wanted to interview.”

GM: “All right, go a’ead then. And Ah really am sorry about your ’and.”


Monday noon, 24 August 2015

GM: Lunch rolls around at its usual time after Ms. Perry’s class. Girls chatter or play on their phones as they fill up the cafeteria. The posted overhead menu today reads, Chef’s Turtle Soup; Bayou Beignets; Downtown Chopped Salad; Citrus-Sesame Crusted Salmon; Louisiana Strawberry Salad; Tuscan Grilled Chicken Panini.

Amelie: Amelie spends her time in line scanning the menu and already seated people, but she can’t find Hannah anywhere. Uniforms seem like a good idea until you try to pick someone out of a crowd. She eventually finds herself where she usually does, sitting alone outside with a book and tray of salmon. She resolves to find Hannah during sixth period and ask where she sits at lunch. Hopefully this will be the last day she eats alone.

GM: The rich, brined, and boneless salmon remains pleasantly moist against the contrasting texture of the crunchy salmon seeds. The citrus sauce is a sweet blend of orange, white wine, butter, and honey. It also nicely contrasts the more sour side dish: lemon-drizzled grilled asparagus coated in melted Parmesan cheese and caramelized yellow onion shreddings.

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The food tastes as good as ever, but it can’t help but seem like it would taste even better with company. It’s an increasingly bitter aftertaste to watch her classmates talking, laughing, and even just texting in one another’s company.

Amelie: Amelie still enjoys the taste, and despite sitting in this hot and humid corner of the Deep South, it’s an almost nostalgic experience. She didn’t always eat salmon, but she remembers times when her neighbors would trade fish they caught and meat they hunted in return for repairing household items.

Still, the lonely aftertaste spoils the meal somewhat. She doesn’t know if the feeling stems from being alone in such a high-profile school (not to mention older than the other students), or if it’s just general loneliness from having no friends yet.

GM: Amelie cleans and returns her tray with the other uniformed masses of girls. Her phone rings several minutes after she sits down under a banana tree to idly flip through it. The prompt reads ‘caller unknown.’

Amelie: Amelie’s thoughts are interrupted by the buzzing on her lap. She crooks a brow at the call display but answers it anyway. She takes out a pen and pad of paper from her nearby bag to write down any details she might want from the caller.

“Hello, Amelie speaking.”

GM: “This is Rosa Rouzier,” sounds an older woman’s voice. “I received a phone message from you about the LaLaurie House, Ms. Amelie.”

Amelie: Amelie sits up immediately as if the woman can see her. “Mrs. Rouzier! Thank you so much for returning my call. Do you prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Rouzier or Mama Rosa, ma’am?”

GM: “Ma’am or Mrs. Rouzier will do fine,” the woman replies.

Amelie: Amelie nods and makes a note of her prefer states of address as she speaks more. “Thank you, Mrs. Rouzier. I was really hoping you would get back to me, so I could seek your counsel about the house.”

GM: “May I ask what ‘counsel’ you are looking for, Ms. Amelie? Your phone message said something about ‘approaching the house with respect.’”

Amelie: “Well… my priorities have changes slightly since my message, Mrs. Rouzier. At first my research lead me to believe the people who were hurt and died in that house were of the Vodoun faith. So I wanted to ask you in what ways I could go about not offending any spirits within. However I recently received a… rather painful warning and lesson on the house. Either from an occultist madwoman or a real life ghost. I’m not sure what to believe but the fact I paid a price for the information I was given by Mrs. Tantsy. Now, I was hoping you may be able to help me protect my classmate, I believe she’s in danger if she enters that house, with or without me.”

GM: “I see,” the woman answers mildly.

“I don’t understand very much of what you just said, Ms. Amelie, but I’ll give you some free advice. If you believe that it’s unsafe for you or your classmate to go inside the house, don’t go in there. From what I know, the LaLaurie House is private property in any case.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a small breath to collect her thoughts. “We got permission from the bank that owns it, ma’am. I don’t think I’ll be able to talk my classmate out of going inside, though. She has family pride keeping her set on it now. But I was told, and I believe, the ghosts in that house will hurt her. The church wouldn’t help even if I asked, and I was stabbed seeking out an occultist. I was hoping these was some way you could help me protect her.”

GM: “Ms. Amelie, a question first. Actually, two. Why do you believe ghosts are real, much less want to harm your classmate?”

Amelie: Amelie pauses. She’s not sure what to believe, if she’s honest. But she knows what she saw in Tantsy’s eyes. She remembers how strong the old woman was, and how that card mysteriously turned up in her belongings. She’s smart enough to know she doesn’t know, even after being born in a city full of tourist traps that claimed to be severely haunted.

“I don’t know what to believe if I’m honest, ma’am. But my guts tell me to prepare for the worst. And I don’t want anyone hurt.”

GM: There’s an answering pause as the woman seems to weigh Amelie’s words.

“Then we share that goal, Ms. Amelie, but there is not very much that I may be able to do for you. If you shared my religion and were members of my congregation, I would advise making a sacrifice to the proper loa and asking for their protection.”

“Store owners in the French Quarter could tell you about a thousand different remedies to protect against the supernatural, from holy water to black tourmaline to everyday table salt. They might be some comfort to you, and that may be worth something in of itself. I do not believe that any of those alleged remedies hold power.”

“If you believe yourself in the presence of a restless spirit, my advice is to rebuke it and pray, earnestly and truly, from the depths of your heart. The dead hold no power over us but that which we choose to grant them. When we encounter something beyond our understanding, it is often easier to have faith in Bondye’s power than in our own.”

“If you truly believe the LaLaurie House is unsafe, however, my advice remains to simply not go inside—and to investigate legal avenues if your classmate’s mind is made up. I am not a lawyer or realtor, but it does not sound normal to me for banks to offer private tours of homes they own.”

Amelie: Amelie listens closely but doesn’t find much comfort in the thought of invoking a god’s help against a ghost. She’s not a praying sort. Her prayers have never been answered before, after all. But the advice hits home enough that she finds herself nodding, and silently dreading that she may have to face those spirits with Yvette. She still writes down the woman’s every word (or at least as much as she can) and lets out the smallest of nervous sighs.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do my best to keep her out of that house, or if I can’t, go with her to try and protect her. Your calling is more than I could ask for. Legal avenues won’t do a whole lot of good against old New Orleans nepotism, however. Is there anything I can do to repay you for your time?”

GM: Rosa doesn’t sound like she’s smiled at any point throughout the pair’s conversation, but there’s an audible chuckle from the other end of the line at Amelie’s words.

“That won’t be necessary, Ms. Amelie, but that’s thoughtful of you to offer. I hope your instincts serve you well with your friend.”

Amelie: Amelie just stares down at her bandaged hand. “Thank you, ma’am. I hope so too. I hope we can talk again some day as well. Under better circumstances, of course.”

GM: “Until that day,” Rosa states in farewell, then ends the call.

Other girls around Amelie continue to eat, laugh, and chatter under the sun about normal things.

Amelie: Amelie stares down at the page of notes she transcribed and lets herself feel the warm sun. It’s only for a moment before her pen returns paper. Her instincts are clear.

Do not go inside.


Monday afternoon, 24 August 2015

GM: Sixth period rolls around after several more hours. Mrs. Flores greets her comparatively large class with a, “Hello, everybody, happy second Monday of the year! But don’t y’all groan now, it’s almost over… nothin’ left for you to do this period but dance and unwind.” She smiles. “Now today we’re going to talk about a little dance we like to call the foxtrot. We’ll start off with the basic box step we practiced last week…”

Once Mrs. Flores finishes her demonstration (Susannah Kelly volunteers again and is complimented by the teacher for her dancing skills again), the class pairs off into partners. Hannah is present and no longer looks as sick as she did in the ER.

Amelie: Sixth period is as good a period as usual. The dancing is fine, but just being able to move around and shake out an entire day’s worth of sitting and doing nothing feels incredible.

Once the demo is over, Amelie slides across the room and taps Hannah on the shoulder. There’s a bit of a smile on her face. “My hand is still a little torn up, but you wanna be my partner for now, Hannah?”

GM: Hannah is standing next to a plump-faced blonde when Amelie approaches. She flinches slightly when her classmate unexpectantly touches her, but then looks between the two girls and says, “All right, we can do the next dance?” to the blonde.

“Sure,” the other girl smiles before heading off.

Hannah turns back to Amelie. “So I was pretty out of it at the ER, what’s your name again?”

Amelie: Amelie gives the plump-faced girl a thankful nod before turning back to Hannah and offering a hand to shake. The good one.

“Yeah, you were really messed up. You still got some good jokes in through. Amelie Savard!”

GM: Hannah takes Amelie’s hand, then raises it and steps closer so they are in position to dance like the rest of the class. The other ‘men’ in the room are putting their hands on their partners’ waists. Hannah takes a place by Amelie’s right side like so many other previous classmates have.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t hesitate to put her hand on Hannah’s waist. She doesn’t mind being the lead and never has.

GM: Mrs. Flores turns on the music from the front of the class.



GM: “All right, y’all, let’s go through the steps now… walk… walk…”

Hannah takes two steps back as Amelie leads and finally replies, “Thanks. I’d say nice to meet you, so nice to meet you again?”

“Now, side… together…!” Mrs. Flores calls.

Hannah takes a single step to her right and closes her feet. “I’m sorry about my mom being… herself.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the steps with gusto, enjoying the physical activity as she nods to Hannah. “Nice to meet you again. And no need to be sorry. People always assume, and your mom was super nice about it. Was that Leslie you were talking to? You mentioned her, back before.”

GM: Hannah shakes her head. “That’s Megan. Leslie got suspended.”

Amelie: “Oh dang. She going to be back anytime soon?”

GM: “Now, slow… slow… quick… quick,” Mrs. Flores calls as the students go through the steps.

“Fairly soon, yeah. She got ten days last Monday. I think that’s the longest they can suspend someone before expelling them.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps going and matches the teacher’s pace. “Really? In my country you can justify a month. Well, let’s hope she doesn’t freak out when she sees me?”

GM: “She’s less excitable than my mom,” Hannah says with a note of dryness. “You’re not from the States?”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but chuckle at Hannah’s mention of her mother being excitable. “Nope. Canada. So basically the same thing.”

GM: “Besides suspensions, yeah, just aboot the same.”

Amelie: Amelie grins and rolls her eyes. “Well, y’all should take a look at longer ones.”

GM: As if to emphasize Amelie’s satirical words, Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, y’all, now something just a little silly to mix things up…”



GM: Hannah and a few other girls start giggling when they recognize the tune. A fair number more, though, look as if they don’t get the ‘joke.’

“Well, I’m glad I’m not too old for none of y’all to recognize that,” the dance teacher laughs. “Okay, now… slow, slow… quick, quick…”

“Okay, she did it twice, you win that one,” Hannah snickers.

Amelie: “Yeah she did. How aboot that,” Amelie grins back. “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. If you’ve got room at your table, we should eat lunch together sometime. Might be easier to talk when we aren’t dancing to the Pink Panther theme song.”

GM: “My friends and me usually eat on the grass. But yeah, feel free.” She adds with a slight frown, “Just don’t mention the ER thing. I’m feeling better and they don’t need to worry about me.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. Mission fucking accomplished! Now there’s somewhere she can eat lunch. “Course not. That’s private junk. I’d say the same about my hand if I didn’t have a hole in it.”

GM: “Yeah, about that, since you do. Where’d you…”

Hannah is cut off, however, as Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, let’s change up partners, everyone! Now, for the next steps…”


Tuesday morning, 25 August 2015

GM: One day later, the bell’s overhead ring announces the end of third period. Ms. Perry calls out more due date reminders, then ushers two students who want to speak privately up towards her desk. The remainder of Amelie’s classmates pack up laptops into backpacks and file out the door.

Amelie: Amelie stops Yvette again, though she looks only a little bit more worried today. “Yvette, can we talk quick?”

GM: “All right, what is it?” the pale blonde asks as she slides a Sunburst notebook into her backpack.

Amelie: “I wanted to ask you if we can be dropped off at the house, but not go inside. We could use the night to do the project at my place or something. Be back before the pickup time? We can say we didn’t take photos out of respect for it being private property.”

GM: “Non, don’t be silly,” Yvette answers. “Any tourist can take pictures from the banquette. Mah mother ‘ad to call in some favors to get us inside. If you don’t want to go in after your ‘and, that’s fine, Ah won’t tell Ms. Perry Ah did all the work.”

“But when you say ‘can we get dropped off’,” she continues with a slightly confused frown, “we’re not getting rides from the bank or anything, Ah don’t know if that’s what you thought. The realtor, agent, whatever, is meeting us at the ’ouse.”

Yvette slings on her backpack and heads to the door, then turns back and adds, “Oh, one other thing. If you do, it’s fine if you want to bring a few friends. Just vet them past me, and no boys.” Yvette smiles. “Ah’m bringing a few of mah sisters. It’d be too scary if we ’ad to spend the night bah ourselves, no?”

Amelie: Amelie just looks nervous about the whole thing, especially when Yvette shoots down her idea. Even worse, she’s bringing her sisters along for the ride. Amelie manages a small nod as her classmate heads off.

There’s a dull throbbing anxiousness in her chest. She’s not scared for herself if she goes, but she is scared for the girl—girls—who’s so confident this is a good idea.

She steps up to Ms. Perry’s desk behind the other students and waits until their conversations are over.

GM: “But you know,” Yvette continues, “Ah really do ‘ope you don’t let your ‘and scare you, you seem very into local ’istory. The ’ouse might never be open for public tours, and you know more about it than Ah do, if Ah’m being honest.” She smiles. “Mah sisters would love if we could ‘ave a ’tour guide.’”

“And it won’t be so scary when there’s lots of people, no? Mah littlest sister, Simmone, is very sweet and silly. She likes to ‘ave pillow fights, you’ll be too busy fighting ’er off to be scared. She makes the funniest noises, too, when she gets ’it back.” Yvette laughs a bit to herself, then says, “Anyways, just think about it. Now Ah ’ave to get to lunch.”

Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small nod, wave, and assurance that she’ll think about it.

GM: The other girls talking to Ms. Perry take their leave shortly later.

Amelie: Amelie takes the opportunity to approach their instructor. “Ms. Perry. Can I ask you an insane question?”

GM: The history teacher smirks over her half-rimmed glasses in answer. “Don’t often hear that caveat. All right, try me.”

Amelie: “Do you think ghosts are actually real?”

GM: Ms. Perry tilts her head at Amelie, then says, “There are a lot of people in New Orleans who do. I read a survey that said 45% of all Americans believe in ghosts, and I’m sure the number’s even higher where we live. There are probably people at McGehee who believe in ghosts. We’ve had two students die in directly school-related homicides over the years, so girls talk and stories grow.”

“I think if you were to ask most people whether they’re positive ghosts don’t exist, you’d get more nos than yeses. But that isn’t the same as a ‘yes I’m positive ghosts are out there’ either. I think a lot more people keep an open mind there, or just aren’t sure what they believe. Surveys’ questions don’t always reflect that.”

“But as for me, I believe there are forces at work in the world, invisible to most people. These forces shape our lives in huge and subtle ways, and not always in ones for the better. Many of these forces are connected to deaths, wars, and other tragedies, and get caught in what we could call a ‘feedback loop.’ They draw in more people, force them to repeat those original tragedies, and commit new tragedies that make the ‘loop’ even harder to break. I believe that careful study of those forces can make them visible to us, and maybe even able to change them.”

Ms. Perry smirks again. “I call those forces ‘history.’”

“If I ever run into Casper, I’ll re-think my attitude on ghosts. Until then, history is a mean enough ghost on its own. Maybe even the meaner one. How many people could ghosts have killed next to all the wars and conflicts that have their roots in past ones?”

Amelie: Amelie listens to the woman and slowly frowns, but nods along with her reasoning. Ms. Perry is right, of course. It’s a big surprise to hear two girls’ murders were directly connected to the school, but she tries to bury her reaction so they stay on topic.

“Yes, I understand what you mean. Voltaire said, ‘it is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’ I just mean I’m kind of… ‘caught.’ I’m worried about going into that house, and the far and away possibility it might be dangerous, after what happened. But now I’ve set in motion events that will lead a classmate to do it, even if I try to dissuade her.”

GM: Ms. Perry initially looks sympathetic enough, if also a little humoring at Amelie’s strange choice in language. The young teacher’s expression dovetails into a more concerned frown at the words ‘after what happened.’

“Do you mean your hand there, Amelie?” she slowly asks.

Amelie: Amelie nods and looks the bandaged mess over. It still hurts.

“The person who did this ranted about the LaLaurie House being a festering wound no one can amputate. That got too bad, and now it’s black and after anyone who steps inside. But there are accounts of people going inside and being fine afterwards. It was a lounge for once, for goodness’ sake. I know I’m being irrational, I’m just torn is all.”

GM: Ms. Perry takes in Amelie’s words before continuing in that same slow tone, “I’m sorry, Amelie, the person who did this? What happened to your hand wasn’t an accident?”

Amelie: Amelie takes out her phone and shows the teacher what is obviously a stab wound on a very obvious person’s hand.

GM: “Oh my god. The person who did that wasn’t someone close to you, were they?” she asks, looking between Amelie and the phone.

Amelie: “It was an occultist in the French Quarter. Someone heard me talking to a priest about the house and slipped a card onto me. When I came asking questions… well, I learned I shouldn’t be an idiot tourist, or let people read my palm.”

GM: “That must have been so awful. Come on… let’s sit down.” Ms. Perry guides Amelie over to one of the classroom’s desks and takes an adjacent seat.

“We have a school psychologist on-staff. I can take you to see her, if you’d be comfortable with that.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the teacher to sit down. She looks a little confused again at first, but actually lets out a chuckle when Ms. Perry offers to sit her down with a psychologist.

“No, no, Ms. Perry, I’m not delicate or traumatized, and I’ve gotten hurt much worse than this before. I’m absolutely fine. I don’t think psychologists want to be bothered on if I’m unsure if ghosts are real. Trust me, this will just be another scar to join plenty others.”

GM: Ms. Perry’s concerned look does not abate when Amelie mentions having ‘plenty other’ scars. In fact, it grows even more serious.

“Amelie, did someone close to you give you those?” she asks quietly, her eyes not leaving Amelie’s.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t lose her smile as she slowly shakes her head. “Keep it between us, okay? People might laugh a little. My parents loved history. So much so they worked in a tourist attraction, a 24/7 all-year-round Renaissance fair called Bicolline. My father was a smith, my mother was a tournament fencer. I was born while they worked there and grew up working in our shop. These are from my work, not from abuse, though I appreciate your concern. I can even show you pictures if you don’t believe me. My childhood was a circus,” she jokes, though her smile doesn’t grow any larger at it.

GM: “Now that would explain it. I knew some people back in grad school who were into that whole historical reenactment scene.” Ms. Perry doesn’t linger on the topic, however, as she continues with a wry half-smile that looks more like her usual expression, “All right, good to hear you aren’t being abused. You had me worried there for a moment.”

“Give me just a second, now.” The teacher gets up, walks to her desk, and scrawls a note. She plasters it over the classroom door’s window, then closes it to shut out the noise from the hallways.

Amelie: Amelie remains sitting. She wonders if she can get a tardy slip for her next class if they’re here through lunch.

GM: Ms. Perry sits back down with Amelie. “I don’t think you’re being irrational,” she says. “I think you’ve had something traumatic happen to you, and you’re concerned it could happen to one of your classmates too.”

“Now, there’s a few things I can think of for us to do.” The teacher starts to tick off fingers. “I could get in touch with Yvette’s mom, and let her know that you were attacked while doing ‘field work’ on your project—if you’re okay with me sharing that.”

“There’s also, as I said, talking with the school psychologist. You don’t need to worry about being a bother to her, or if what you want to talk about seems silly. Talking with students who have something on their minds is exactly what she gets paid to do. If you like, I could even bring up what you’ve told me—anonymously, with no names—and let you know what she says.”

“And of course, there’s the project. Now, I just want to say—I do not expect you to work on a school project where you’re concerned for your safety. If you don’t want to visit the LaLaurie House, inside or outside, and just use pictures you find online for your presentation, that’s completely fine with me. If you want to work on a totally different project, that’s also okay. We’ll work things out so you can still earn a good grade.”

Amelie: Amelie’s head whirs with all the options Ms. Perry lays out. She’s worked on this project long enough that she doesn’t want to abandon it, but that’s not the issue she’s really having. She needs to keep Yvette and those other girls out of the house.

The police might not do anything, since the bank owns the property and old family nepotism will let her bring in her classmate and sisters come this weekend. Talking to Yvette’s mother probably won’t do much either, she was the one who signed off on the thing. Ms. Perry’s inference that she should talk with the school psychologist, however, is just a side distraction. She’ll go and talk to this woman if it means her teacher will be at ease.

“We’re too far into the project to turn back, I think. I spoke with a priest at the cathedral, Mama Rosa herself, and this experience with the crazy local is a good writing piece. I spoke with Yvette. She’s just fine with me not coming, she’d already planned to take her sisters along with her for company and said it was fine if I don’t go. But now I have the moral dilemma. If I just let them go alone, and they’re hurt, it feels like it’ll be my fault.”

GM: Ms. Perry shakes her head at Amelie’s initial assertion, though the name ‘Mama Rosa’ doesn’t seem to elicit any recognition from the teacher.

“Don’t worry about the project. If you want to work on something else, we’ll make sure you can still earn an A+. If you’re scared for Yvette, I can let her mom know what’s happened. Do either of those options sound like a good idea to you?”

Amelie: “I’m sure I can still get 100% even without going into that house. Especially if I milk the fact a local stabbed me for asking questions,” she laughs, but nods slowly to Ms. Perry’s question.

“I’d appreciate it if you kept my name out of it. Yvette is likely to be furious with me either way, but if she’s just told I’ve been assaulted for asking about the house, we can let her make a choice on that. And if they still go… I’ll figure it out. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll even go see that psychologist.”

GM: Ms. Perry thinks. “Okay, I can talk with Yvette’s mom. If she asks for details, I’ll just say I had multiple students interested in the LaLaurie House, which is true, and leave out your name. So far as my feelings, though, they don’t matter one bit here.” The teacher gives a faint smirk. “This is me not making a ‘she said’ joke.” The look on her face grows more serious as she continues, “I think you could benefit from talking with the school’s psychologist, Amelie, but it’s your decision. Not mine, yours.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a long and bracing breath. This is not likely to change anything, but it might.

“If you need to, use my name, okay? And yeah, I’ll bite and go see this woman. It might be better to get things out now let them ‘fester’ like that crazy lady was going on about, right?”

GM: “I think that would be a very good idea,” Ms. Perry agrees. “Okay, I’ll get in touch with her and see when the soonest is that she can meet with you. Is today after school a good time, or do you have extracurriculars?”

Amelie: “I haven’t decided on any yet, no. There’s that engineering class I was hoping was a club, but it’s a class. So I don’t believe I’ll be picking any.”

GM: “Aw, c’mon, there’s nothing in the booklet that looked fun?” Ms. Perry half-smiles, half-ribs. “They’re a good place to make friends, too. And believe me, you’ll be a lot more likely to get accepted into a good college if you have some extracurricular activities under your belt. Grades aren’t enough these days.”

Amelie: Amelie just smiles at Ms. Perry’s question. She chuckles a bit, though, when college comes up. “I’m not planning on going to college just yet. I plan on opening a business for my particular skills instead of attending college. Why? Would you recommend a club?”

GM: Ms. Perry taps her chin thoughtfully. “Well, let’s see… when I was in high school, I did Lincoln-Douglas debate. Our school’s got a great team, they’ve won several state championships. There’s a local judge, Mrs. Underwood, who sometimes volunteers as an assistant coach.”

“There’s also peer tutoring, working with the younger students. That’s another great club, since we’ve got elementary and junior high students on the same campus as us. I think there’s also volunteer options with the preschoolers at Little Gate—it’s not really tutoring when they’re that young—but you’d have to ask the staff there.”

Ms. Perry smiles. “I did a fair bit of tutoring myself. Surprise surprise for someone who decided to become a teacher, huh?”

“There’s the genealogy club, too. That one’s basically a history club, but specifically for researching the city’s old families. They’ve put together some really impressive family trees.” Ms. Perry’s smile widens a bit. “Somehow I have a feeling that might be up your alley.”

“There’s also web design, writing, poetry, physics, engineering, math league, the national history and spelling bees… we’ve got so many clubs here. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a club for it.”

Amelie: Amelie just keeps smiling and occasionally nods as Ms. Perry lays out all the clubs. She looks a bit confused when the teacher mentions an actual engineering club, but doesn’t let it sidetrack her.

“You reacted a lot like the career counselor. I live with my aunt. She’s paying for my schooling here. I plan to have my business up and going before I apply to MIT. I’ll have a look at that engineering club though, I didn’t see that on the list I don’t think.”

GM: “Engineering club could definitely still help you out then,” Ms. Perry nods. “MIT will look at your high school extracurriculars when they’re considering your application. Having more than just good grades will do a lot to help you get into a college that selective.”

There’s another, slightly more subdued smile. “Some of the adults here might seem like nags, but we all want you to succeed. Just keep that in mind.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles back. “It’s been a while since I did anything with my hands. I’ll take a look at the club and see if it’s for me. I know though… the career counselor was very supportive of my business idea, even. I just have to bring her an example of my work.”

GM: “Oh, yeah? What work do you wanna do for your business?” Ms. Perry asks.

Amelie: “I was a smith. I still am. My historical recreations are very good, I’ve done and can still do restoration on historic metallurgy, and of course I plan on making contact with several different parties in New Orleans, the float krewes included, for constructive forging. If you need something very specific, what would your rather do? Look for it for weeks, or have someone just make you one in 20 minutes? I can do jewelry, even.”

GM: “Oh, wow, that would explain where your love for history comes from,” the teacher smiles. “I’ll have to keep that in mind once you’re up and running. There’s a fair number of girls here whose families are involved in the parades, too. And the old Carnival krewes, not that they’ll admit being members of the secret ones. You might do so some asking around.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’m really lucky to be going to this school, to get these chances. I don’t plan to waste them kicking my feet around about things like that. I also found something, and I’ll be flexing my historic muscles finding the past owners,” she says before pulling up the walloon sword’s pictures on her phone and showing them to the teacher.

GM: “Oh wow, that is a find,” Ms. Perry remarks as she peers over the phone’s screen. “Swords aren’t my specialty, but they can have just as much history as any building.”

Amelie: “I could go on for hours, ma’am. Weapons and armor evolved with people, and tracking their history is always difficult and rewarding. I bet I’ll find the family this belongs to in the USA. And then I get to see their faces when I bring their history to their door.”

GM: “Those faces are gonna be open mouths, I bet. You’ll have to let me know how it goes.” Ms. Perry smiles, then glances up at the classroom’s clock. “Arright, I’ve kept you long enough. The lunch line’s probably empty at this point. You should go snarf something down before your next class.”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you for talking to me. Hopefully all of this will… sort itself out.” Amelie stands, pockets her phone and heads out for lunch, hoping to find Hannah and get introduced to her circle of friends.

GM: Ms. Perry lays a hand on Amelie’s arm as she adds, “And Amelie, I’m glad you came to me over this. We’ll make sure everyone stays safe. I’ll let you know how that call with Yvette’s mom goes tomorrow.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the teacher a small smile, nods, and thanks her profusely as she walks out the door. She takes her aunt’s advice and doesn’t even apologize for the trouble this time. It feels strange, but the smell of the cafeteria helps her get over it.

GM: True to Ms. Perry’s words, Amelie finds the lunch line nearly devoid of students. Today’s menu reads, Redfish Oceana; Cuban Midnight Sandwich; Blackeyed Bayou Duck; Vegetarian Pasta; Black Bean and Couscous Salad; Red Beans, Rice, & Sausage; Cream of Broccoli Soup.

After some searching, she also finds Hannah eating lunch together on the grass with several other uniform-wearing girls. Even under the shade of a banana tree, their blazers are all off in the mid-80s degree heat and humid air.

Amelie: The Cuban Midnight barely wins out over the Redfish Oceana, and Amelie takes her sandwich out into the yard. She’s had her blazer over her arm for most of the day already. She only slides it on to get into class and then immediately takes it back off to drape over the back of her chair. She approaches the group and nods to Hannah with a relaxed smile.

“Hey Hannah. Mind if I sit?”

GM: The Cuban Midnight is a sandwich consisting of roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, and sweet pickles packed within grilled, olive oil-drizzled sweet egg dough bread. It also comes with a side cup of sesame ginger black bean soup and whatever drink Amelie chooses from the cafeteria’s selection.

Cuban_Midnight_Sandwich.jpg
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Amelie’s nervousness may only intensify as the other girls in the clique simultaneously look up at her.

Hannah looks much the same as she did yesterday, still seemingly none the worse for her dehydration outside in the hot weather. She’s eating from a now close to empty bowl of pasta with grated cheese and assorted bright vegetables.

Sitting to her right is another girl Amelie recognizes from their sixth period dance class. She’s around the same height as Hannah and noticeably chubbier, with pretty facial features, plump round cheeks that jiggle slightly as she talks, large breasts, and shoulder-length blonde hair.

The much shorter and thinner girl next to her is a study in contrasts. Her narrow, oval-shaped face is framed by a wide pair of half-moon glasses, and her dark brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Where her plumper friend has almost finished a bowl of broccoli soup, the thinner girl’s lunch tray has two half-eaten haunches of lemon-drizzled black duck. The coleslaw sides are untouched.

“Oh hey, sure! That’s Megan and Rachel,” Hannah says, nodding in turn to the other two identically-dressed girls.

“Heya,” says the blonde who seems to be Megan.

“Hi,” says Rachel.

“Hannah mentioned you,” Megan adds.

Amelie: Amelie feels a little like a deer in headlights when the other two girls look at her, but she un-tenses a bit when they seem to welcome her nicely enough. It’s also good to hear Hannah already filled them in. She slowly sits down in the shade next to the three.

“Amelie, nice to meet you both,” she greets, and wonders if she should address Rachel’s name being called. She lets it rest for now as she toys with her sandwich.

“Are you all in the same year?”

GM: “Meg and I are both seniors,” Hannah answers.

“Rachel’s a widdle junior…” Meg coos.

The glasses-wearing girl rolls her eyes and flips the bird between a large bite of duck.

Amelie: Amelie smiles when Rachel gets teased and fires back so easily. “And here I was scared that every girl in this school would be the textbook definition of gratingly ‘nice.’”

GM: “Courtesy is a lady’s armor,” Megan says.

“That’s from the TV show, right?” Rachel asks.

“It’s her Remington too,” Hannah replies between a piece of pasta.

Amelie: “Wow. I know Americans were violent, but weaponizing being a decent person? Diabolical,” she teases, smirking at Hannah and taking a bite of her sandwich.

GM: “Hannah said you’re new to the city?” Rachel asks once she’s swallowed her food.

Amelie: “New to the country in general. I’ve only been here a few weeks. It’s been a mixed bag,” she laughs as she holds up her bad hand.

GM: Hannah looks at it for a moment in dawning comprehension. “Hey, was that why…” She then trails off.

Rachel looks at her.

“Oh, wow, where’d you get that?” Megan asks.

Amelie: Amelie reads in between a few lines at the way Rachel looks at Hannah, but doesn’t comment.

“Got stabbed, actually. By a crazy fortune teller while doing research for my AP New Orleans History project.”

GM: All three girls stare.

“Uh, wait, what?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and takes her phone out. She pulls up the photos from her ER visit and extends the phone towards the three girls so they can see the wound when it was fresh.

“It was an eventful Friday afternoon. I wish I was joking.”

GM: “How do you get stabbed by a fortune-teller?” Megan asks, still half-disbelievingly.

“One grabs a knife and sticks the pointy end in your hand, presumably,” Hannah answers.

“That’s definitely from the TV show,” Rachel says.

Amelie: “You also let them hold your hand on a table like a dumbass tourist.”

GM: “Ha ha ha,” Megan deadpans. “Seriously though, how did you get stabbed?”

Amelie: “I’m not joking. I went to the cathedral in Jackson Square to get a statement about ghosts from the priests there for the project. I branched off after up to Royal Street. Sat with a fortune teller. Talking about the LaLaurie House pissed her off and she stabbed my hand.”

GM: “Wow, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful,” Megan says.

Amelie: “I’m a big girl. Plus, I wasn’t exactly a maiden fair beforehand,” she jokes, smiling again.

GM: “Yeah, Meg, give her a hand,” Hannah remarks between a forkful of pasta.

Megan makes a face at the pun.

Amelie: Amelie also starts eating in earnest. She puts her sandwich down for a moment first to look over at Meg and quickly unfold her good hand several times to mimic the sound of ‘one hand clapping.’ It’s nice to just sit and have people she can talk with. Almost relaxing.

“You have a friend getting out of suspension tomorrow, right?”

GM: Rachel pauses between her two ducks to add, “Next week.”

Amelie: “Looking forward to it. I hear she made some waves, the career counselor even freaked out handing me an old club pamphlet.”

GM: “Yeah, that took balls, but… it wasn’t very bright. All it did was get her suspended,” Hannah frowns.

Rachel pulls out her phone, then recites while staring at the screen, “‘Never be afraid to voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world… would do this, it would change the earth.’”

Megan smiles faintly. “Your graunt can do that without a phone.”

“Well, she’s older. Give me a few years.”

“Well I don’t think it’s a ‘forum for honesty and truth and compassion.’ It was just a club,” Hannah says. “And she’s gonna be so behind after missing ten days.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Megan frowns. “We’re all sending her notes, right?”

“Don’t have her email. Or any classes with her.” Rachel.

“Both here, obviously.” Hannah. “And yeah, I am. But it’s not like we have all six together.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the girls a small smile. She enjoys the banter, and the confirmation that Rachel is in fact the niece of the woman she was so interested in during the ‘start of the year’ announcements.

“If she has any classes with me she doesn’t with you, I can hand over my notes as well.”

GM: “Class-wise, she’s got…” Hannah rattles off a mostly complete list of classes and periods. Given the student body’s small size, it is unsurprising when Amelie finds out they have one class together: AP Local History.

Amelie: Amelie mentions they share that class and offers to share her notes. Though she’ll still have to start the ghost project two weeks behind schedule.

GM: Hannah supplies Amelie an email address and adds, “Oh, that’s great, she could really use those.”

Amelie: Amelie quickly taps the address into her phone, along with a reminder to email Leslie her notes. She sets it to go off during her study time tonight.

“Her club though, did she really write all that?” she asks.

GM: “Did she really write all what?” Rachel asks, sipping her sweet tea.

Amelie: “The never be afraid to voice for honesty stuff. I assume that was a saying for the club or something?”

GM: “No, that’s Faulkner,” Rachel answers. “He’s a favorite of my graunt’s.”

“I thought he was her dad,” Megan smiles.

“Honestly, even my parents aren’t sure if she’s telling the truth or not there. But she quotes him all the time.”

Amelie: Amelie lets out a little chuckle at Rachel’s and Megan’s conversation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and is content to enjoy her sandwich and have other people to talk to. It helps puts the anxiety over seeing a shrink at the back of her mind, at least for now.

GM: “So what kind of research were you doing for your class to get stabbed by a fortune teller?” Rachel asks after a few moments.

Amelie: “Mine and Yvette’s research project is on the LaLaurie House, I thought I might as well pick one of the scarier haunted spots.”

GM: “Isn’t that where a bunch of slaves were tortured?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: “Worse than tortured. The things that witch did to them are unspeakable. No one knew they were there until the kitchen where the secret door to her attic was caught on fire. But the house isn’t just haunted by them, especially since all those stories of her medical experiments on them didn’t pop up until the 1940s. People still recount moaning coming from underneath the kitchen at night though, and footsteps all through the house.”

“But in 1894, a tenant in the at the time apartment building, was found brutally murdered in his room, his things went though but nothing missing. He’d claimed earlier that year that there was a demon in that house, who wasn’t going to stop until he was dead. Next, when it was a girls’ school for black girls, the girls would come crying to their teachers, arms scratched and bruised all up and down, unable to tell who did it other than ‘that woman.’ There’s only ever been one recorded physical attack, a black man wrapped in chains who vanished after he charged an occupant. There’s other incidents, of course, some different than others, but plenty of people have made it out just fine. Many others, especially the young, have had ill effects however. But hey, the local ghost experts think it’s even more dangerous than that. Enough to tell me I’ll die if I enter.”

GM: All three girls fall silent at Amelie’s recounting of the LaLaurie House’s infamous horrors. Megan might’ve been close to done with her lunch anyways and doesn’t touch any further soup. Hannah only takes another bite or two of pasta. Rachel’s appetite, however, doesn’t slow down in the slightest.

“I heard that a teacher sexually abused the black girls,” she adds as she finishes up her ducks. “Different versions though. I also heard the 1894 tenant was found dead of dehydration and caked in his own crap. But all of that’s tame next to what LaLaurie supposedly did.”

“I heard she cut girls’ stomachs open and nailed their intestines to the floors,” the dark-haired girl continues excitedly, “and would stuff their mouths full of crap and then sew their lips closed-”

“We’re eating,” Megan says with an inflection of just-strained politeness.

“You were eating,” Rachel counters.

“Yeah, all the same, I think I’m gonna upvote Amelie’s version,” Hannah says.

Rachel hmphs. “Pussies.”

She then takes a sip from her lemonade and adds, “Madam LaLaurie did The Human Centipede before it was mainstream.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the reaction to her story, even if she feels a little guilty that it ended their meals. Well, except for Rachel’s.

“Well… the 1894 difference might fit, since when the building was a furniture store, a thick black substance always ruined the inventory. Even when the owner stood up all night with a shotgun to protect it. But I’ll say those two little tidbits, the guts and mouths, weren’t nearly as bad as what was spread around in 1940 for horrific effect. And the school? I heard it wasn’t the all-black girls’ school, but a later music school that the newspaper shut down with allegations. Either way? My partner thinks I’m nuts for not wanting to go inside. The city I was born in is older than New Orleans, I was kinda raised around ghost stories.”

GM: Rachel looks fascinated by the topic and opens her mouth as if to add something further, but Megan beats her to the punch as she interjects, “I think it’s kinda moot whether anyone wants to go inside or not, though. The building’s private property.”

“Was your partner gonna break in?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: That’s the fourth person who’s said that now.

“I found out what bank owns the property. And we got permission for one night.”

GM: Rachel stares at that declaration. “Oh, you are so lucky.”

Amelie: “I’m not going. Trying to convince my partner not to go either.”

GM: “What? You don’t seriously believe that ghost crap, do you? My graunt would jump at something like this!”

“Well, she did get stabbed,” Megan says with a frown. “Can you blame her if she doesn’t wanna go in?”

“Yeah. I dunno, if something doesn’t make you comfortable, you shouldn’t do it,” Hannah says with an even deeper one. “I mean, I think it sounds fun. Night in a haunted house. But when something doesn’t feel safe, you should go with your gut.”

Amelie: Amelie finally finishes off her sandwich. The girls all have differing opinions and it makes her think on things.

“My gut tells me it’s not a good idea, that if my partner gets hurt going in there alone, I’ll feel responsible. But if I can’t convince her not to go? I’ll likely have to go as well.”

GM: “Oh, I don’t think your partner’s gonna get hurt,” Hannah says.

“My grandma visited the LaLaurie House when it was an apartment building and she came out fine,” Megan nods.

Amelie: Amelie perks up slightly and looks towards Megan. “Is your grandmother still living in the city?”

GM: Megan actually laughs. “Yeah, she is. I’m sorry. Just… don’t ever ask something like that to her face.”

Amelie: Amelie looks confused for a moment, then it dawns on her. She puts a hand over her mouth to hide a smile. “I’m sorry! Oh my god, my brain just went to ’she’ll probably not want to talk on the phone, so I should ask if I could sit down with her,’ not if she’s alive or not!”

GM: “What? Oh, no, no, she’s alive,” Megan says. “It’s just, our family’s lived in the city for over two hundred years. She’d flip her lid if someone ever said we should live someplace else.”

“Megan’s parents run Antoine’s,” Rachel explains. “It’s the oldest restaurant in the city.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and enjoys the news. Megan and Rachel are both very important people. “I feel like a peasant at this school when I hear things like that,” she laughs as she looks back to Megan.

GM: “Oh, that’s actually another thing she’d get… sensitive around,” Megan says. “Our family’s old but we’re not rich like the Malveauxes or anything. We just run a restaurant.”

Amelie: “More meaning that I worked in a store growing up. I don’t have any roots or businesses in my family or anything like that, grew up in a small town.”

“But did your grandmother ever talk about her time in the house? Was she there at night?”

GM: Megan shakes her head. “Not really, I just remember it from one of her stories. She said she went there to visit a friend one time and thought it could use a new paint job.”

Amelie: “That’s… useful, thank you. It backs up what I was thinking. Who is hurt in that house and who gets out without a scratch. I can’t tell.”

GM: The three girls trade glances with one another.

“You know that no one actually gets… hurt in there, right?” Rachel says dubiously. “There’s only been one guy who died, since LaLaurie was alive. And that happens in apartment buildings. People dying, that is. I mean, sure, he died caked in his own crap…”

Megan shoots her friend a ‘please?’ look. “If you don’t wanna go in the house, definitely, don’t… just don’t feel like you have to because your partner is,” the chubby blonde assures Amelie.

Amelie: It’s like two magnets finally got close enough to attract more than gravity. Frictions holds them and slams them together with a sharp clack. Amelie’s face slowly flushes red as she looks down at her hand.

GM: “Hey, are you okay…?” Megan asks concernedly, leaning a bit closer to Amelie.

Amelie: “You know, I think maybe getting poked shook me more than I thought. You’re right. Ha ha, this is a wired first impression, eh?”

GM: “Well, getting stabbed must’ve been pretty scary…” Hannah fills in.

“I’ve got it,” Rachel speaks up. “I can trade projects with you. Partners too. I’ve got Ms. Perry’s class too, for one of my periods. I bet she wouldn’t mind after you’ve been stabbed.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at Rachel’s kind offer, but shakes her head. “It’s fine. You don’t have to do that. I’m going to think on it, and if I decide to stop being a baby, I’ll see if I can’t bring you with.”

GM: Rachel doesn’t swallow her lemonade so much as gulp it in an effort to reply faster.

“Grow up soon then! Seriously! I’d love to spend a night in that house! I’m a writer, that would be just… well, great.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the girl a small smile and considers her options. Maybe talking with the school psychologist will be a good idea.

“If nothing else, we’ll be taking pictures that you can see.”

GM: “Screw pictures, you can find those online. Spending the night in a haunted-”

“Rachel…” Megan entreats.

“All right, supposedly haunted house,” she amends, “would make an amazing short story, school essay, whatever.”

By this point both her ducks aren’t much more than blackened bits of gristle. Thee glasses-wearing girl takes a long gulp of lemonade. Megan sips her sweet tea. Hannah leaves her water untouched as she checks something on her phone.

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and picks up her soup, sipping it without the spoon and eying Hannah’s full water glass. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she found her dehydrated in the hospital. She doesn’t comment, but makes a mental note to talk with Hannah later.

“I’ll think about it, Rachel. Promise.”

GM: “You should tell her about the project you’re doing for that class,” Hannah comments.

Rachel looks as if she finds that prospect rather less engaging, but says, “I’m doing the McGehee Murders.”

Amelie: Amelie looks back to Hannah and picks up her own bottle of water. She gives it a pull to try and coax her into drinking herself as she nods. “I heard a few whispers about that. Were they seriously just straight-faced murders?”

GM: “The first one definitely was,” Rachel says. “That was Charlotte Beauregard back in the ’60s. Second degree murder.”

Hannah doesn’t drink from her water, but simply listens to Rachel as her friend continues, “Rebecca Whitney’s in 2004 was… messier. It wasn’t actually a murder, technically. But it’s catchier just to call them both murders.”

“The McGehee Second Degree Murder and Vehicular Homicide,” Hannah sardonically quotes.

Amelie: Amelie pauses. “Rebecca Whitney? I heard she died in a car accident, I didn’t hear anything about it being a homicide.”

GM: “The driver of the other car was drunk. I looked it up, that’s vehicular homicide,” Rachel explains.

“I heard that he was her ex-boyfriend and rammed her car when he saw she was with another boy?” Megan asks.

Amelie: “Weird. I would think that falls under manslaughter. Unless the whole ex thing is the case. I hear the prom’s kinda been tense since then though, at least as far as the administration.”

GM: “Manslaughter’s a type of homicide,” Rachel says. “But that part’s actually true, the guy behind the wheel was her ex-boyfriend. And she had gone to the dance with another boy. No one was able to prove he’d tried to kill her at the trial, but he still got 30 years at the Farm.”

“That’s the big prison up north,” Megan adds.

“Probably wouldn’t have gotten 30 years if he’d left her prettier,” Hannah snorts.

“Wow, that’s…” Megan.

“Well, it’s true,” Rachel flippantly agrees. “Her body was mangled so badly it had to be a closed-casket funeral. So if you’re gonna kill a girl from a family like the Whitneys, be sure to leave her pretty.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sure and do that.” Megan.

“Who gives the best advice?” Hannah.

“But anyways,” Rachel goes on, “here’s the ‘ghost stories’ bit. They say she still haunts the school dances.”

Amelie: “The Farm sounds incredibly menacing. But beyond that I don’t think I like the thought of a ghost haunting something already so awkward as a dance involving an all-girls school. Have a teacher hover over your shoulder to make sure you ‘leave room for Jesus.’ And then boo. Ghost. Or according to Rachel the ghost of ground beef.” Amelie taps her chin and wonders about the phenomenon.

GM: “We have boys come over for the school dances, they’re not like Mrs. Flores’ class or anything.” Hannah.

Megan looks confused. “Ground beef?”

“She means Rebecca Whitney got ground up like beef.” Rachel.

“Eww.” Megan.

Amelie: “Is the boy still alive? How have people said they’ve seen her at the dance?”

GM: “Yeah,” Rachel answers, “the guy’s still alive, just in prison. Not really a boy anymore, he’s like 30 now. And some of the stories say she shows up and crashes the cars of drunk exes and boyfriends. Or that she protects girls from jerk guys. I heard one that anyone who’s drunk can see her.”

“That’s convenient,” Hannah remarks. “A ghost only drunk people can see.”

Amelie: “No, Ms. Perry, this isn’t vodka, it’s research equipment,” Amelie jokes. She finally finishes off her soup and puts the dishes down on the tray.

GM: There’s a few chuckles.

Amelie: “And I meant the guy she was going to the dance with, the other guy in the car. Did he die as well?”

GM: “No, he’s still alive,” Rachel says. “Though he wound up in a wheelchair.”

Amelie: “Man, I feel sorry for him. How many times must he have been interviewed about that, or given stink-eye by the family.”

GM: “Well one of those times was by me. But I felt pretty sorry for him too,” Rachel agrees.

“Yeah… that would really suck to get put in a wheelchair right when you’re graduating,” Megan frowns. “When you’re leaving home, with your whole life ahead of you…”

“Yeah, he was still pretty emotional about the whole thing,” Rachel says. “He did say the Whitneys don’t like him at all.”

Amelie: Amelie nods sadly. She’s glad to hear that Rachel went and talked with the man for her project. The amount of grief that’d put a person through gives her secondhand heartache.

“What’s his name?”

GM: “James Dyer.” Rachel takes another sip of sweet tea.

Amelie: Amelie files away the name in a mental rolodex and nods along with Rachel. “I doubt I’ll be going to the dances, though.”

GM: “Why not? They’re fun,” Megan says.

Amelie: “If they’re anything like dances I’ve already been to, it’ll be awkward and weird.”

GM: “The middle school dances are on different days,” Hannah quips as she looks up from her phone.

Rachel snickers and takes a longer pull of tea.

“They’re not awkward,” Megan nods. “I mean, you’re taking Mrs. Flores’ class so you can dance, right?”

Amelie: Amelie looks to the other girls with a small smile. She feels like they knew this was going to happen. She wonders if Megan is innocent enough that she hasn’t yet thought ‘dyke’ like everyone else.

“Sure, but that’s not the part that makes it awkward.”

GM: “You should try coming to one. You can always leave if it feels weird.” Megan.

Amelie: “Only if the dress isn’t open-backed.”

GM: “Well, unless your parents pick out your clothes for you, you’re probably okay there.” Rachel.

Amelie: “If we all go, we can all go ghost hunting or something. We should probably start getting ready for afternoon classes, though.”

GM: “I think you go to dances to dance, not hunt for ghosts,” Hannah comments dryly.

Rachel checks the time on her phone at Amelie’s remark, but sees there’s still some minutes left. “Yeah, ghosts. You probably haven’t heard the story about the first McGehee murder, right?” she asks, changing the topic.

Amelie: Amelie perks up a bit and shakes her head. “No, never.”

GM: “Well it starts with a dance too.” Rachel looks thoughtful. “Huh, I should work that in.”

“Remember that girl I mentioned, Charlotte Beauregard? Or Lottie, that’s what everyone called her. During her junior year’s Sadie Hawkins dance, Lottie asked out a black football star from a public school. This was back in the ‘60s, so everyone was shocked. But Lottie didn’t budge, and her dad still gave her the keys to her sweet sixteen present: a brand-new Chevelle convertible. Lottie’s date was the only black guy at the dance, and everyone stared, but they stayed the whole evening.”

“After the dance, Lottie and her date drove to another party, but they got lost. When they stopped to ask for directions, Lottie’s ex-boyfriend and some of his friends were walking by. You can guess what he would’ve thought back then, seeing his girlfriend going with a black guy. Who ran off, by the way, after the three boys threatened to lynch him.”

Rachel’s eyes gleam again past her glasses as she continues in a low voice, “So those three boys, they all took Lottie right there and gang-raped her in the backseat of her birthday car. Tons of people heard. No one did anything.”

“The next day, the cops found Lottie’s corpse in that same backseat. It was beaten, barely recognizable, and still wearing the bloody tatters of her pink prom dress. The coroners said the boys beat her so badly so she couldn’t even move, so she bled to death, over hours, on the seat where she’d been raped.”

Megan looks a little queasy.

Rachel is actually grinning, but goes on, “It hit the city like Katrina. Everyone thought the black boy raped and murdered her. It didn’t help that he was missing either. There were mobs and lynchings all over the city, until the cops finally found him holed up in the Ninth Ward. He said he was innocent, and that the white boys did it. Well, that got him a seat on Gruesome Gertie. Flick.” Rachel pulls an invisible lever for emphasis.

“So that was that, right? But it wasn’t much later that one of the white boys got killed in a hit and run. There weren’t any witnesses, just bruising—that looked like a ‘64 Chevelle’s grill and tire marks. It showed the vehicle hit him, then reversed and ran him over—not once, not twice—but sixteen times.

“You think that Rebecca Whitney was ground beef,” Rachel says with something oddly between somberness and a giggle as she glances at the other three girls, “you should’ve seen this guy. The cops could only figure out who he was by his dental records.”

“Well, the cops looked for who did it, but they couldn’t find anyone—only that Lottie’s car, which the family obviously didn’t want back, was missing from the impound lot.”

“A couple years after that, weirdly, the cops arrested two more of the boys. One of them, Lottie’s ex, got sent to Gruesome Gertie too. The third boy’s trial was two years later, because he’d served in Vietnam. The jury convicted him, but he got a pardon from the governor, because of his family and how he was a war hero—he’d gotten a Medal of Honor. No one was upset though. He’d gotten burned by napalm during the war and came back with an iron lung, so everyone figured he’d suffered enough.”

Hannah interrupts. “Yeah, I’m sorry—actually, no, I’m not sorry—getting an iron lung and shiny medal doesn’t excuse what he did. He raped and murdered her.”

“Didn’t iron lungs… weren’t they machines that made it so he’d have to stay in bed for the rest of his life?” Megan offers. “It sounds like he might’ve paid his dues…”

Amelie: Amelie tries to see if any dots are going to connect and motions for Rachel to keep going. “Please tell me a car came through the front of his house, where his iron lung-laying ass was.”

GM: Rachel shakes her head. “Nope. He died in his bed a couple decades later.”

“Wow. Some justice,” Hannah remarks.

Megan holds up her phone and points at an “open web page.”: https://gizmodo.com/the-last-of-the-iron-lungs-1819079169 “But look at this, guys. It looks so awful…”

“It’s basically life in prison.”

“Text it to me?” Hannah says.

A couple pings go up from their phones. Hannah stares at her screen for a little while, then looks up. “Did he actually have to stay in one 24/7? Because not all those people are actually in the lungs.”

“I don’t know,” Rachel admits. “Just that he had to use an iron lung.”

Amelie: “Yeah, at that point, just build a guillotine around the end of that tube and end me. Still, I agree with Hannah. It feels a lot more like justice if they suffer more the way they hurt a person. Still, it fits. A few decades as a vegetable.”

GM: “I thought Canadians were too polite to want the death penalty?” Hannah half-questions, half-ribs.

Amelie: “At the advent of our country, too many people died of cold, sickness, and wildlife to afford having a death penalty. People still get drunk and dehydrated and pass out in snowbanks, buried in the snow just out of view until they die.”

GM: “That’s cheerful.”

“What is this ‘snow’ of which you speak?” Rachel asks.

Amelie: “Frozen flakes of hell. I don’t honestly believe in the death penalty, though. It’s too easily corruptible and expensive, like it was with this poor football guy.”

GM: “I think there are some people who deserve it,” Hannah says. “Like murdering rapists. Courts today are better than they used to be.”

“Well, even if you don’t think it’s wrong, she’s right that it is actually more expensive.” Megan.

“So I know this a little weird coming from me, but maybe we should talk about something else?” Rachel says.

“Eh, true. My grandma always says talking about politics isn’t polite,” Megan says. “So what happened next?”

“Not a lot, honestly,” the darker-haired girl continues. “Besides how no one ever found Lottie’s car. The police think a vigilante stole it and ran over the rapist for poetic justice. But I mean, sixteen times…”

Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks towards Rachel. “What’s the name of that 80’s movie? Christine? The one with the possessed car?”

GM: “Sorry, haven’t seen it.”

Amelie: “Culturally, Canada is like… never not the 1990s, so maybe that’s it,” she jokes, nodding. “Yeah, the car messes up a bunch of her owner’s bullies, I think?”

GM: “Well, if she hasn’t seen it, she probably doesn’t know.” Hannah.

Amelie: “I’m just saying, ‘ghost car.’”

GM: “I wonder what made the cops arrest the other two boys,” Megan says. “I mean, did the murder make them go over the old case again?”

“I actually tried to find out by looking up which detectives were on the case,” Rachel answers. “I thought there might be more people I could talk with. Maybe they had kids or were still around. But I couldn’t find any names, anywhere. Old records just got lost, I guess.”

Amelie: “Did you talk to your grandmother about it?”

GM: “She’s not my grandmother, she’s my aunt,” the glasses-wearing girl corrects. “By several ‘greats.’ But yeah, I did. She said police records don’t fall under the ones she keeps. She talked about how she remembered the case making headlines though. The original case, with Lottie’s rape, not the boys getting found guilty.” Rachel pauses. “Kinda funny to think how she was even older than us back then…”

“Yeah. I know what it’s like with my grandma. You really wanna value the time you have left…” Megan says.

“Three years,” Rachel says. Her smile this time has some actual warmth to it. “She’s 87. My dad says that even when he was a kid, she’d say how she was going to retire and die once she turned 90. I’ve told her that it’s nice to have a figure.”

Amelie: Amelie quietly apologizes and keeps listening. The story makes her lips slowly curl up into a fond smile. She’s never had a figure like that in her life. She had a strict mother who slapped her with metal sticks and tarnished memories of a sniveling drunken father. Now she just has her aunt. Someone who’s worthy of being called a figure in her life for certain, even if they’ve only really known each other for a couple weeks.

“She sounded great when she came to speak here. I bet you get to hear a lot of great stories.”

GM: “Yeah, she’s full of them. She writes a lot too. A couple books and a bunch of news articles, but also these… just crazy bodice rippers she probably thinks I don’t know about.”

Amelie: Amelie chuckles as she considers the post-menopausal senior who spoke at the school’s ‘start of the year’ speeches, and the way her several-times-great-niece also acts. It’s a pleasant enough topic, and the young woman hasn’t smiled for this long in a while.

Lunch looks like it’s going to be a lot less lonely from now on.


Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015

GM: The day’s remaining three periods roll by. Sixth period’s Ballroom Dance also proves less lonely when Amelie has two partners she knows. Hannah and Megan both play the woman when they dance with her. This prompts Mrs. Flores to chide as she moves among the waltzing partners, “Make sure you get in some practice as a lady too, Ms. Savard. You don’t want to be used to dancing like a man at real dances, now!”

Amelie: Amelie tries to play the woman as often as she plays the man, but Mrs. Flores still has to correct her every few classes. She doesn’t apologize, but instead just makes sure her next partner leads their dance. All this talk about dances leaves a small smile on her face as she wonders how a private boys’ school student would react to her sweeping him off his feet like a man. She puts her best into the class as always, however.

GM: Once sixth period’s closing bell heralds the end of the school day, Amelie is called to Bradish Johnson House over the intercom.

Amelie: It’s surprising to have her name called for what she assumes is the meeting she was already talked to about, but she heads over as requested.

GM: The homey-atmosphered Greek Revival building has the same eclectic age range of young children, tweens, teens, and the occasional parent that Amelie remembers from her last visit. The older black secretary she spoke to is dressed in a different cardigan but retains the same silver crucifix, and promptly directs her to the school psychologist’s office.

Amelie knocks on the door and is answered by a, “Come in please.” The figure who greets her is a tall and mature woman with a lined face and gray hair done up in a tight bun. She’s dressed in a lighter-hued seersucker skirtsuit with a tiny lapel pin depicting a star-circled American flag encircled by a gold wreath.

Pin.jpg “Ah, you must be Ms. Savard.” The woman is seated behind a desk with a computer as Amelie enters the room, but rises to greet her. “You can call me Mrs. Achord. Please, take a seat.” She motions towards a couch in the corner of the room.

Amelie: Amelie gives the woman a once-over as she steps inside. She pays special attention to the pin for just a moment, wondering what it signifies, before she sits down on the couch.

She keeps rather quiet. She remembers all the negative experiences she had with ‘therapy’ after being taken from her father.

“Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

GM: Indeed, after spending a good amount of her adolescence as a ward of the state, Amelie has been inside her share of offices belonging to social workers, therapists, and related professionals. Most of them had chairs rather than couches. Mrs. Achord’s does: the narrow plush leather sofa lacks armrests but is slightly curved at the bottom to support a patient who is lying down. The office’s walls are lined with bookshelves, framed diplomas and awards, several potted plants, and a picture of Sigmund Freud.

Amelie: Amelie scans the room carefully. She’s already getting a feeling for what this woman is like. The potted plants are a nice touch, though she wonders if they’re real or not. The much-debated Freud’s portrait is a bit of a put-off.

She sits up on the couch instead of laying down and rests her blazer beside herself to keep cool.

GM: The school psychologist picks up a notepad and pen from her desk, then sits down on a chair adjacent to Amelie’s couch.

“Ms. Perry said there were some things you wanted to discuss with me, but also that you were worried about being a bother. The first thing I want to say, Amelie, is that listening to the concerns of this school’s young ladies and helping them live up to their full potential is exactly what I am here for. Whether there is something I can help you with, or if it turns out that you’re managing just fine on your own, I will consider our session to be a good day’s work.”

Amelie: Listening to Mrs. Achord talk is a stark difference from Amelie’s earlier experiences. When she was a ward of the state, the people who talked with her always seemed overworked and underpaid. This woman seems more comfortable in her job. It also seems like she gets paid quite a bit more from the way her office is set up.

“I agreed to come because she was concerned about me, though. I was assaulted during the weekend. I don’t think you’ll have trouble with the ‘full potential’ part.”

GM: Mrs. Achord writes something onto her notepad.

“That does sound like something Ms. Perry was right to be concerned about, Amelie. I think you could benefit from talking about it, but you should also be here for you, not Ms. Perry. Would you still want to be spending your afternoon this way if she hadn’t expressed her concern?”

Amelie: “I don’t think so, no. I know I have unresolved issues, that I was shaken by the assault, but I don’t think I’d have come on my own. I don’t have a lot of experience with therapy, but what little I have hasn’t been a… positive experience.”

GM: “I’m very sorry to hear that, and all the more so when it sounds like there are issues a positive therapy experience could have helped you with. If you would prefer not to risk repeating a negative experience, however, the door is open.”

The school psychologist motions towards it.

“I will not be offended or tell any of your teachers if you choose to leave. No one can make the decision that being here is in your best interests but you.”

Amelie: Amelie looks to the door, but only for a moment. She’s already here, and she imagines Ms. Perry would be disappointed if she didn’t at least try this.

“I realize it’s in my best interests. It’s just awkward, I think. Out of my comfort zone.”

GM: “I’m sure a lot of things have been these past few weeks,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “I also understand that you’re also new to the United States.”

Amelie: “Yes. I’ve only been here a few weeks. The heat was difficult the first week here.”

GM: “There’s a reason you’ll find pitchers of water in everyone’s refrigerators down here,” the psychologist nods. “Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but especially newcomers.”

Amelie: “I’m used to that part at least. I grew up working in very hot conditions. Sweat and worked a lot.”

GM: “Oh, what did you grow up doing?”

Amelie: “It’s a bit silly to say out loud. I worked in a smithing shop in a re-enactment village called Bicolline.”

GM: Mrs. Achord smiles. “Really, did you? My husband is a member of the Civil War Reenactment Society. His idea of a fun weekend is to dress up in old uniforms, wave around old swords, and act out mock battles. We have a great deal of regard for our history in this part of the country.”

“Ms. Perry said that’s a passion of yours, too. She told me you’re the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic student she has in any of her Local History periods.”

Amelie: “Bicolline takes it quite a bit further, but I understand your point. I just think a lot of people find it surreal when I say ’I’m going to be a smith when I graduate’ and mean it. But that’s sweet of Ms. Perry. She’s a good teacher. And New Orleans history is something I really do enjoy. My aunt, who I live with now, bought me a book on this city’s history when I was a little girl and I kind of attached to the place.”

GM: The school psychologist’s eyebrows raise in mild surprise. “Now that’s a career choice I don’t hear from girls every day. You’d make the cavalry sabers that reenactment societies use?”

Amelie: “I could make their swords, their buttons, their clothes, their rifles, their cannons. As my father deteriorated, I had to grow up fast. I can also do period correct restorations, jewelry, replicas, and even furniture. I even plan to make arrangements with the krewes. Why order a part for a float when I can make one in 30 minutes.”

GM: “Oh my, that’s quite a bit more than ‘smith’ made me imagine. You could find those sorts of restorations very much in demand here. I have quite a few friends who own antiques and family heirlooms they want to keep well-maintained.”

Amelie: “Before I was allowed to make my first knife, I had to be trained in geometric forging. Make shapes out of white hot metals, then horseshoes, then chandeliers. All while making your own tools to solve problems. I look forward to restoration jobs, though. Being able to inspect and touch things centuries older than I am. I got shivers when I went to Jackson Square to that cathedral, even.”

GM: “Oh yes, you can find no end of old buildings in the Quarter to pour over. I’ve always liked the Cabildo, the old capitol where the colonial government used to meet. It’s right next to St. Louis, actually.”

Amelie: “It and the Presbytere are on my list of ‘must see’ places. I want to see how they measure up to each other as museums as well. It’s a shame the Cabildo seems to set on fire every few decades as well.”

GM: “At least it’s waterproof, so small favors.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “Damage to the Quarter was fairly minor during Katrina, thank goodness. As well as McGehee.”

She laughs. “But that’s ancient history to the girls now. They all have their eyes on the future. What about you? Do you plan on staying in New Orleans after you graduate, going home to Canada, or attending college somewhere else?”

Amelie: Amelie sees the segway coming the moment she hears ‘ancient history’, but nods to the woman. “Likely stay here and see if my business if viable. At least until I pay back my aunt. I’ve considered MIT in the past, they have a surprising history department, and of course top notch engineering courses. But I like the thought of staying here too. Even if living in New Orleans has rubbed some of the sparkle off what I imagined.”

GM: Mrs. Achord’s pen scratches across her notepad. “Yes. I can certainly imagine that it has. That’s very resilient of you to still want to live in the city.”

Amelie: “The first person I met in New Orleans was a driver named Oscar. I bet he’s lived here all his life. I’ve thought back on his words a lot since my bad weekend. ‘Loving someone isn’t always easy. This city knows too. She’s a lot to love.’”

GM: “That’s unfortunately all-too true,” the school psychologist nods. “There are a lot of things that make this city special. But many parts of it aren’t safe, and we have a very high crime rate.”

Amelie: “Among other things, yes. I find it sad. But I guess I should have been more careful of rose-tinted glasses.”

GM: “Being careful is always a good idea, but we are all ultimately responsible for our own behavior. The person who attacked you chose to do that, and to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the city.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses when Mrs. Achord steers the conversation back to the assault. She looks over her hand again and nods her head.

“After the assault, I wholeheartedly believed that the LaLaurie House was dangerous. I didn’t have evidence. Today at lunch, talking to friends, I realized that only one person has ever died in that house after the events. But my gut still feels off about it.”

GM: There’s more scratching from Mrs. Achord’s pen. “Tell me about that. What did you believe was dangerous about the house?”

Amelie: Amelie tries her best not to let the writing breaks get to her. “When I was assaulted, I was looking for information on the ghosts in the mansion. A card was slipped into my belongings for a fortune teller, saying something about life insurance. I found her. She read my palm, said I was going to die in my early 20s, and then stabbed my hand. It was difficult to get her off, despite her age, she was screaming about the house being a festering wound, that the ghosts inside would kill me.”

GM: “That must have been an extremely frightening experience. I’m so sorry it happened to you. It’s entirely normal and understandable that you would now harbor feelings of anxiety towards the house.”

Amelie: “I’m aware how it sounds, to say that I think ghosts could be a real threat.”

GM: However it might sound to Mrs. Achord, the woman’s face doesn’t waver as she replies, “Ms. Perry mentioned to me that you chose to work on the LaLaurie House for your class project. I could speak with her and arrange for you to work on something else, if you’d like me to.”

Amelie: “I can’t decide whether or not I should just go.”

GM: “I understand that the LaLaurie House is privately owned, but even seeing the outside of the house could be beneficial to you,” the school psychologist states. “That would fall under a technique called exposure therapy, whereby a patient’s anxiety is treated by gradually exposing them to its source. In other words, they conquer their fears by facing them. Physically visiting the house would also be a significant step, and not one that would need to happen immediately. It’s already a positive sign that you’re talking about your attack this openly.”

Amelie: Amelie considers it and slowly nods. “We’re going inside. Overnight. So maybe I shouldn’t be worrying so much and just… go.”

GM: “If you feel ready to visit the house, but only if, then doing so could be a good thing for you,” Mrs. Achord encourages. “I think that bringing someone else with you for support would also be a good decision.”

She glances down at her notes. “As I said, however, the LaLaurie House is private property. I do not recommend that you break the law by attempting to sleep inside.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know how many times she’s told people she’s gotten permission from the Whitneys, but for now she glazes over that point.

“I’ll do so then, I think. I have a few people that might like to go with me this weekend. So I’ll get over it. I’ll face that house like I face anything else.”

GM: The school psychologist appears less than assured by Amelie’s dodging of the topic. “Entering a house without permission is breaking and entering, Amelie. I think that it’s a good thing for you to face your fears, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of your future. The city takes damage to its historic properties very seriously. A criminal conviction will destroy any chance you might have of going to a good college.”

Amelie: “The Devillers and Whitney families know each other personally. I had special permission from the bank that owns the property—for just one night—before I even started my field work into the subject. I’d just like to stop spreading it around so much, if I cause a stir in return for their generosity.”

GM: “You could also do that by not mentioning you’re spending the night,” Mrs. Achord suggests. “But you are right, that is very generous of them. It sounds as if you’ve made some friends since starting school.”

Amelie: “It can be difficult when you’re having issues regarding it,” she admits. “And I have. But not how it seems. I was just partnered with Yvette and managed to speak with the right person the right way.”

GM: “Oh? You’d mentioned having a few people you wanted to invite along for the sleepover.”

Amelie: “Yvette will be bringing her sisters. I have to see if I want to bring along anyone I know. I’m still having anxiety over all this.”

GM: “You can always change your mind if visiting the house makes you feel too uncomfortable. Graded exposure therapy would take a more gradual approach than having you spend the night inside. But if you still want to do that, I think inviting someone you feel at ease with would be a good idea. Are there any other girls at school who you’ve gotten along with, or who simply seem like people you’d want to know better?”

Amelie: Amelie looks the woman over for a moment before looking back down at her hand. “My original fear was putting people in danger by going to this house. Should I really invite someone else?”

GM: “You are in no danger from the LaLaurie House, Amelie,” Mrs. Achord assures her. “It’s understandable that you would feel personally anxious about the house. But what do you expect to happen to someone else?”

Amelie: Amelie reaches up and rubs a scar on her shoulder. She bites her tongue as she thinks on the question.

“Sorry to deflect, but did you ever get that feeling in your spine when you were younger, walking up from the basement or out of a dark space in your house? Like something was about to grab you?”

GM: “I did,” Mrs. Achord answers. “My parents owned an old Victorian house in Baton Rouge. It had a large attic that was full of even older assorted junk. When I was very small, it was an absolutely terrifying place when the lights were turned off.”

“My older brother once tricked our middle sister into going inside as part of a hide-and-go-seek game, then turned off the lights and locked her inside. She was also very small, and screamed for hours that monsters were going to get her.”

“She was all but catatonic when my parents got home and let her out. When she could speak again, she cried that my brother had tried to kill her. I was even younger than she was and couldn’t have stopped him, but I still felt awful.”

“That attic terrified my sister for years afterwards. Our parents never sent her up to get anything. The monsters never quite went away for her—until they did.”

“The night when we were packing her things for college, she said that if she was going to leave home, she wanted to leave her fears behind too.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “I remember thinking that speech sounded like something she’d prepared in advance. But she’d made up her mind that she was going to go inside that attic alone, even when I asked her not to. More like begged, in fact. I still remembered how terrified she’d been.”

“I couldn’t stop her, though, from going inside and closing the door. I’m sure she was still half-expecting some monster to reach out and grab her—or more likely, to hear the sound of the door locking shut.”

“But neither of those things happened, even after she stayed inside for a good ten minutes. She said some of the dust made her sneeze, and also that the attic was actually much smaller than she remembered. It was still a large attic, but to a child locked inside by themselves, it had to have seemed like the Tower of London.”

“My sister was no longer a child. She was a newly-independent adult, and one who realized it was time to set childish fears aside.”

“It is natural for children to be afraid of the dark. It equally natural, and part of growing up, for them to overcome those fears. Monsters are not real.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and continues to rub the spot on her shoulder as she listens to the story. Her hand is back on her lap by the end of it.

“I spent all my summers and weekends in the village we worked in. Over 350 acres of land. Lots of people that came to the village left at night to stay at hotels in a nearby town. But there were people who just… lived there in that village. I stayed there over summers, and remember always being scared of the woods. So vast, so dark, filled with all kinds of horrific sounds. My mom would tell me to such it up, to go and cut the forest down if I was so scared of it. My dad tried to comfort me over it. But there was an older metis woman who lived on the grounds and maintained them. She saw me staring into the tree line one night and told me something I’ll always remember.”

“Nous ne craignons pas les ténèbres parce que nous ne savons pas ce qui est à l’intérieur, mais parce qu’une partie de nous se souvient.” (“We do not fear the dark because we know not what is inside, but because a part of us remembers.”)

“I don’t know if going into the house will make me less afraid, but I think I need to go anyway. The house is ancient, and I’ll regret it if I don’t go and it turns out fine.”

GM: “You may be pleasantly surprised where your fears are concerned,” Mrs. Achord answers. “Have you heard the term ‘neuroplasticity?’ When we have new experiences, our brains forge new neural pathways and literally change their physical makeup as we adapt and expand our minds. Sleeping inside a house that makes you anxious will be a very significant new experience. Your brain will not have the same neural composition as when you leave.”

“I won’t lie,” the school psychologist continues in a somewhat more somber voice, “it’s possible that the experience may be too much and too soon. It could aggravate rather than alleviate your anxiety. Not all of the neural pathways our brain forges are beneficial to us. If a dog is improperly house-trained as a puppy, it’s that much harder to re-train them as a grown dog.”

“But I think you are a resilient person, Amelie, and can handle a visit to the house. I also think you will find it even easier to handle together with friends. To return us to that topic—are there any students at McGehee who you’d like to get to know better, or who you consider friends already?”

Amelie: “Biology isn’t my specialty, but I understand the idea. But I think ice bath exposure might suit me better. Not that I don’t have a week to gather myself and visit the house once or twice. But I’ll see if I can’t invite someone I’ve been sitting at lunch with, yeah. If I can get over that danger idea in the back of my head.”

GM: “Visiting the house from a distance also sounds like a good idea to me, whether you choose to go inside or not,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “That’s also very good you’ve found some girls to share lunch with.”

She glances down at her notes for a moment. “As someone new to the city, I’m sure you’ve found it difficult to meet many boys. Do you have any plans to attend the homecoming dance?”

Amelie: “I’ve only been here for a few weeks. I’m not really considering boys or dating just yet. Especially since this is an all-girls school and I’ve been focusing on the only year of education I’ll be able to receive here. But the dance has been brought up, so I’m considering it. Is it really a homecoming dance if the school has no football team, though? I thought that was the point of ‘homecoming?’”

GM: “The point is to throw a dance where young girls and boys can have a fun time together,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “If you don’t have too much coursework keeping you buys, I think we could even make that your homework assignment for this session. You won’t need to worry over having a date or not—it’s not as if the boys only stick with one partner, so you’ll get plenty of turns on the dance floor. If anything, going without a date could relieve some of the pressure.”

Amelie: “Do you mind if I ask why the sudden focus on it?”

GM: “On the dance, you mean?” Mrs. Achord asks. “As you are new to both New Orleans and McGehee, Amelie, I am concerned that social isolation may be contributing to your anxiety over the house. That’s also due to the attack you suffered, of course. But feelings of loneliness are proven to have a profoundly negative effect on many anxiety disorders as both a cause and symptom. Social isolation can also negatively impact academic performance, personal health, and countless other areas of your life. That’s why I am thrilled to hear you are making friends you can share your lunches with. Attending a school-wide event such as homecoming will help maintain that positive trend and allow you to enjoy the many benefits that come with maintaining an active social life.”

Amelie: “I’ll admit I was lonely before I found these girls. I’m not used to politeness including thistles universally. Either way, I’m still not sure how I’ll enjoy a dance like this, but I’m willing to try it. I was mostly asking to add onto a small personal theory of mine. Though as for my academic performance, I can assure you that I’m dead set on 100%s in each of the classes I’m graced with being able to attend this year. Social standing or not, I enjoy school on its own merits.”

GM: “I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to stretch yourself,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “Homecoming is the Friday after this one. I think we should meet again after school next week, to talk about how your visit to the house went. You can tell me what dress you’ve picked out, and what advice you’ve gotten from talking to other classmates or adults. Do you have any particularly favorite teachers?”

Amelie: “I think I’m done asking advice, I’ve gotten a lot of different opinions, I think it’s going to come down to my thought process. As for the teachers? I think the only teacher I’m not in love with is my Inorganic Chemistry teacher, Dr. Ward. I showed up late to her class on the first day, and I’ve been on eggshells with her since to make up for the bad first impression.”

GM: “You know, Benjamin Franklin had a similar problem to yours once,” the school psychologist remarks. “My dad loved to tell me this story. Franklin had just been elected clerk of the General Assembly in Philadelphia, but one of the richest men in the Assembly disliked him bitterly. The man denounced him in public talks, which was dangerous, so Franklin decided to make the man like him.”

“He thought about offering the man a favor, but ‘that would have aroused his suspicions, maybe his contempt.’ Franklin was much too smart for that. He asked the man to do him a favor instead. He didn’t ask for anything so tasteless as money, but instead, whether he could borrow a certain ‘very scarce and curious’ book from the man’s library. That touched the man’s vanity, by subtly expressing admiration for his knowledge and achievements.”

“Sure enough, the man lent him the book, and they remained great friends until his death—or so my dad’s story went. You might benefit from asking Ms. Ward for tips on enjoying yourself at homecoming. How to dress, how to dance, how to meet boys at a girls’ school, and the like. She’s one of our school’s younger faculty, so homecoming dances aren’t too distant a memory for her.”

Amelie: “You don’t think it might be better to take the angle of her profession? I’m taking Inorganic Chemistry for a reason, I could ask her about suppliers of sodium borate I’ll need for by business, or ask about temperature storage now that I’m in a subtropic environment for acetylene tanks. As much as I’m sure she’d be proud of be coming to her for fashion advice, I don’t think we’re personal enough for that kind of approach.”

GM: “I think that Ms. Ward would be willing to help you, Amelie, if you explained that you were new to the school and this was your first homecoming with us. Every teacher here wants to see girls succeed, socially as well as academically.”

“But engaging her over her job sounds like an excellent idea too. I’m sure that she would also be glad to recommend her sodium borate suppliers to you.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “Then that’s what I’ll do. For now, I think I’d like to start off. My hand needs a bandage change, wounds discharge plasma the first few days even after the bleeding stops.”

GM: “Wonderful. You can let me know how that goes next week.” The school psychologist hashes out a time and date for Amelie to next stop by, then rises from her seat to open the door as they exchange goodbyes.

“Remember what I said about your experiences forging new neural pathways in your brain. You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”


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Story One, Victoria Prelude I

Saturday night, 24 October 1998, PM

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GM: Sometimes, at night, she hears them.

Her parents.

Her real ones. Not her foster ones. Her latest foster ones treat her like she is invisible. They talk about her like she is not there. The whole family seems like they are plastic with their perma-grins—the mother, the father, and their real kid. Sylvia is not sure what to expect or how long she is going to be there. The family walks around her like she is an alien. Sometimes they say they are leaving and will be back later. She has no idea where they go or when they will come back home.

There’s food in the fridge, at least. She has a room to herself, though not anymore since the other two girls arrived today. She’s nine. She’s not how sure old they are. No one tells her. They’re smaller than she is, for what that’s worth. They don’t talk to her. They don’t talk to anyone. Maybe they’re wondering when this will be over and what will happen to them. Sylvia has wondered the latter, but never the former. Foster care is all she has known. She’s heard about families that fight to get their kids back. Families who leave their kids with phone numbers. Maybe the girls would talk if they had those.

Sometimes Sylvia thinks back to the parents who gave her up. Who were they? A child’s mind wonders, and in the dark, she sees them.

“I’m a magic princess, Sylvie,” says a beautiful woman in a shimmering gown. “That makes you a princess, too!”

“I’m a magic prince, Sylvie,” says a handsome man in a knight’s shining armor. “I’d kill a dragon to keep you safe!”

“I’m a doctor, Sylvie,” says a kindly-eyed woman in a white coat. “I’m gonna make you better.”

“I’m a firefighter, Sylvie,” says a rugged man with a yellow helmet.

A veterinarian. An astronaut. A cowboy. A president. Her parents are all sorts of things, and they always love Sylvie.

That happens less often than it used to. Fantasies like those are for little kids.

No, as she’s gotten older, her parents have told her they are other things instead. Words some of her other caregivers have used.

“I’m a deadbeat, Sylvie.”

“I’m a bum, Sylvie.”

“I’m a whore, Sylvie.”

“I’m a junkie, Sylvie.”

She doesn’t understand what all of the words mean. But she understands enough.

Sometimes, though, they don’t say anything at all.

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Sometimes she just sees their faces, rising up like shadows from under the bed and engulfing her. She tries to scream, but nothing comes out past the weight suffocating down on her chest.

She can’t breathe. She can’t see. She feels everything. Sweat stains her sheets as her heart pounds. It feels like someone is looking at her in the room, but when she opens her eyes, there’s never anyone there.

A social worker talked to Sylvie once, about how she slept. She referred Sylvie to someone else, who said she suffered from night terrors and gave pills for her to take. Pills with a long name that started with ‘k.’ They made her feel dizzy and weak, and sometimes gave her headaches.

But she stopped seeing her parents.

That was worth it.

Sylvie knows what it’s like, to have the night terrors.

It’s how she recognizes the expression on her new foster sister’s face.

It’s hard to make out faces in the dark. But she recognizes the silent crying, .

She recognizes the contours of the mouth, pulled into an unmistakable whimper.

And, above all:

She recognizes the dark figure looming over the frozen girl, hands descending over her small body.

Victoria: Always, at night, she hears them.

“Mama’s got her sweets, just like you, baby. You want a cookie?”

She always wanted a cookie. She still does.

“If you’re good while mama has her treat, you’ll get as many cookies as you want.”

She doesn’t trust offers of cookies anymore. Not unless she can see them. Promises just bring disappointment. They bring disappointment.

Every mama and papa brings disappointment. Her last mama said that the girls that get the most mamas become the smartest. It makes sense. She gets new a new mama every few months ‘cause she’s got nothin’ left to learn from ’em.

So Sylvia was a good girl, just like mama asked. She thought about those cookies. Would they be chocolate chip? Mocha almond fudge? Vanilla glazed?

She wondered why mama had bruises on her arm. Maybe that’s why she had a shot next to her. Shots fix everything, including bruises! Sylvia doesn’t like shots. She doesn’t like doctors either. She doesn’t remember seeing a doctor around the house. She was probably too busy thinking about her cookies.

Mama never gave her those cookies. The men with flashing lights on their cars never gave her cookies. The wrinkly woman in the doctor place never gave her cookies.

She doesn’t trust offers of cookies anymore.

Her parents visited her that night.

“You got no cookies? Then you weren’t a good girl. Good girls get cookies. Are you going to be a good girl, Sylvia?”

Sylvie is always a good girl. She slides out of bed, her small feet touching the dingy, carpet floor soundlessly. Her sister won’t be giving her any cookies, but she knows that look; those whimpers, and that blank, fearful stare.

Brandi’s mom is visiting her.

Sylvia doesn’t like when her mom visits. Brandi must not either. Brandi hasn’t spoken to her, but Sylvie wants her new sister to like her. People like when you help them, right?

She sees the figure standing over her sister, beady eyes glinting in the darkness like her third mama’s jewels. The jewels didn’t scare her. The beating when she took them did. The man reminds her of her mama’s anger.

Her eyes well up. She didn’t do anything wrong! Brandi didn’t either!

“You leave her be!” she hisses, eyes darting to the bedroom door. Her feet hit the frayed carpet soundlessly as she creeps toward her sister.

“She ain’t want to talk to you!”

GM: The figure turns to Sylvia.

Tall and dark, it fairly towers above her, a monolith in the gloom.

Up close, she can see one of its hands sticking down the pants of Brandi’s PJs.

It stares at her for a long moment. She feels so small beneath its gaze.

Silently, the thing lifts a finger towards where a face should be.

The universal sign for:

Shhhh.

Just go back to sleep, Sylvie.

Victoria: She shivers as if the figure poured ice water down the back of her nightgown.

It’s just a bad dream. Just a bad dream. Just a bad dream. Just a bad dream.

She stomps her foot in impish anger and throws her pillow at it.

GM: The pillow hits the looming figure square in the face.

It stumbles backwards as it raises its hands.

Its back his the light switch.

Light floods the gloom.

Sylvie’s looking up at her foster father’s face, absent only its plastic perma-grin.

Brandi, her PJ bottoms still pulled down, stares dully up.

Victoria: The cub’s resolve wavers, confusion plain on her face.

She isn’t sure whether to hide, to cower, or to stand up to him.

GM: For several moments, her foster father doesn’t look sure what to do either.

Krista stirs in bed next to Brandi.

“Go back to sleep,” says their foster dad.

Then he turns off the light, walks out, and closes the door behind him.

Brandi starts quietly crying.

Victoria: Sylvie purses her lips, counting the creaks in the floor until she’s certain he’s gone, then crosses to Brandi’s bed.

She pauses, wrapping her arms around Brandi’s twiggy body and murmurs, “It’s okay. You get used to it.”

Sylvie never has. She probably never will. She doesn’t want any foster sister to have to, but she lies because the alternative is worse: to be tossed back into the machine. She’ll probably be back there tomorrow.

Or tomorrow night will be her turn.


Sunday morning, 25 October 1998

GM: Sylvie’s first guess is the correct one.

Tomorrow morning, her foster mother drops her off at the now-familiar DCFS building. She tells the social workers that Sylvie was “too problematic” and “completely out of control.”

Just like that, she’s tossed back into the machine.

Again.

Victoria: Sylvie looks around. This is life. This is all there is. No good deed rewarded. No cookie. They even kept her stuffie.

She huffs.

She wonders what life will be like for Brandi. How long until they tire of her? Will she even fight back?

GM: Sylvie will probably never know.

She overhears from one of the social workers, talking to her co-worker, that foster parents aren’t actually supposed to do this. They’re supposed to call their assigned social worker and try to work things out within a week, or within the day in an emergency situation where the child is causing or threatening violence or sexual assault. You’re not supposed to just drop the kid back off.

No one does anything. The social workers are all overworked, and foster families are all-too few. Sylvie knows how this whole process works by now. She sits somewhere out of the way. A harried-looking social worker spend the next few hours running through the master bed list, of all the available families who can take in a child on emergency notice. Usually they are temporary, and Sylvie gets bounced to another home, or two, or even three, before another family takes her in. Maybe they will be good. Maybe they will be bad. Eventually, they’ll get rid of Sylvie too.

Then she’ll be right back here in the DCFS building, with a social worker on the phone.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: And Sylvie wants no one.

She hops off the plastic, orange chair, wandering across the room. She stops in front of a vending machine, aglow inside. So many treats, just out of reach. They didn’t even feed her before they got rid of her. That’s common.

She huffs.

GM: Maybe if she had parents who loved her and wanted her, she’d get to eat as much as she wanted from vending machines.

Several hours later, Sylvie’s case worker drives her to a new home. The woman there has three of her own children and another foster child, a boy. She blatantly puts her real kids first. Sylvie and the boy eat boiled hot dogs and potato chips on paper plates almost nightly. The woman’s real kids come home with O’Tolley’s that Sylvie and the boy aren’t allowed to have. Sylvie and the boy do all sorts of chores like pulling weeds and vacuuming. The woman’s real kids don’t have to do anything. Sylvie and the boy aren’t allowed to watch TV. The woman’s real kids steal Sylvie’s clothes and the few belongings she’s brought from her previous home.

Victoria: Sylvie punches the boy in the mouth when she catches him stealing.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.


Wednesday morning, 28 October 1998

GM: The foster parents let their sobbing boy keep everything of Sylvie’s that he wants. She’s left with nothing but the clothes on her back. Sylvie’s case worker drives her to a home outside of the city that has a basement, a rarity in New Orleans proper. The foster mother is a super couponer. The shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with cereals and cleaning supplies. Sylvie sleeps on the cold, hard basement floor with some blankets and pillows with two other girls. When she wakes up in the morning, she’s covered in red and angry-looking bug bites.

Victoria: Sylvie shrieks.

Her foster mother learns that Sylvie has quite a sailor’s dictionary. She’s usually smart enough not to use it, but the panic of her bite-ridden skin throws all caution to the wind.

GM: Sylvie’s foster mother tells her to stop telling lies, and to stop swearing or she’s going back.

Victoria: “I’m NOT lying!”

She holds out her arms.

“They’re EVERYWHERE! Those little niggers bit me!”

She doesn’t know what it means, but that man sounded real angry when she heard him say it the other day. Whatever they are, they’re not a good thing.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.


Thursday morning, 29 October 1998

GM: Sylvie’s next home is in a nice-looking suburb. The foster parents are nice. They’re kind and gentle and generous. There’s no other kids. Sylvie has a room of her own, with a real bed, and the mom makes spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Sylvie can eat as much as she wants.

“Things are going to be better for you here, okay?” the foster mom smiles as she applies disinfectant over Sylvie’s bug bites. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t believe them. It’s never going to be better. Never has. Never will.

She eats her dinner, but only half the plate.

At her foster mom’s words, she nods, but it doesn’t touch her eyes. She doesn’t believe her.

GM: Her foster mom smiles sadly and pats her off. The rest of the day passes pleasantly. Sylvie gets to watch a lot of TV. She goes to school on Friday. She’s used to being the new girl, and being the outsider looking in. But it feels like everyone points and laughs at her partly-healed bug bites. They ask her if she’s poor.

Victoria: She punches the one who asks if she’s poor, too. Punching is the easy answer to bullies.

GM: The bully runs off, crying. They never seem to want to stand and fight.

When Sylvie gets off the school bus, on a typically rainy afternoon, a gang of kids chase after her. They hold her face-down against the wet earth and beat her senseless. They kick her sides until she wants to curl up and die. They steal her backpack and leave her clothes caked in mud.

They don’t say why. They don’t say anything.

They just hurt her and leave.

Victoria: Maybe that’s why they beat her while she walks home. She screams, and whimpers, and whines, and covers her face. She doesn’t fight back. She doesn’t have a chance. They don’t give her one.

She walks in the door to her foster home, sobbing.

GM: Her foster parents freak when they see her. The mom leaves the room. The dad recovers after a moment. He’s nice. He hugs Sylvie, despite the mud she gets on his clothes. He listens to her choked story, says how sorry he is, and asks for the kids’ names so he can call the school about them. He takes Sylvie up to the bathroom, where she can have a long, hot bath or shower, and applies band-aids like his wife applied disinfectant. He applies some of that again, anyway, and says they should probably have a doctor look at Sylvie. When was the last time she had a checkup? He lets her watch TV and eat ice cream.

Victoria: The shower is bliss, but the heat of the water stings her bruises, cuts and bug bites. Still, she feels better after than before.

The disinfectant burns.

She doesn’t like doctors. Except the one who gave her a lollipop.

GM: That night, while she’s sleeping in her bed, Sylvie hears voices arguing.

The next day, the foster mom tells her that she’s leaving.

The dad looks sad. He tells her that he’s sorry.

And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.


Saturday morning, 31 October 1998

Victoria: And just like that, she’s back at DCFS.

She sits in front of the vending machine, looking up at it.

Still locked. Still beyond her. Still above her.

Nobody wants Sylvie. Nobody ever wants Sylvie. Not her mom. Not her dad. Not any of her foster parents. Not her foster siblings. Not her schools. Not her teachers. Not her classmates. Not her social workers. No one.

Sylvie is used goods; a callous on the foot of the foster system, abused, toughened, and ugly.

She wonders here and there if it’s her fault. Maybe she’s a little too aggressive sometimes, but only when others push her to it. She’s not the smartest. She’s not the prettiest.

This one felt a little different for the first few days. Her foster mom was kind. She got along well with her foster dad. He even tended to her when she was attacked by those kids from school.

They yelled. Not at her, but it’s still her fault.

It would be easier if they yelled at her. Maybe she’d still be there.

GM: All she wants is someone to love her.

For a little, it seems like she even did.

It would be easier if they just yelled.

Used goods.

That’s a phrase that will stick in Sylvie’s head.

Sylvie’s next home is another one out in the suburbs. The parents have one real kid, a younger boy, and another foster kid, an older girl. She’s nice and lets Sylvie play her Gameboy. She’s very sympathetic, if Sylvia shares her story about her last home, and says how sorry she is. She says she’s been in the foster system for a while and “gets it.” She says she’s been with this family since she was 12. She’s 17 and turns 18 tomorrow, she says. She says that Sylvie can have a home here.

Victoria: Sylvie has never held a Gameboy before! She’s absolutely terrible at it, but the time she spends with her foster-sister is valuable.

Kindness goes a long way with used goods.

GM: On the girl’s birthday the next day, the parents bake her a cake. Double-layered chocolate. Sylvie sings happy birthday along with their real kid, and gets a big slice with a vanilla ice cream scoop.

Later in the night, the parents tell the girl she needs to move out because she’s 18. She doesn’t say a word in response. Later, Sylvie hears her sobbing herself to sleep.

Sylvie’s had temporary foster siblings before. She thinks this one sets a new record. Just one night.

Victoria: Upon hearing the sobbing, Sylvie crawls into bed with the girl, hugging her. She doesn’t say anything to her.

GM: The girl is inconsolable. She squeezes Sylvie like a teddy bear and sobs into her hair. She doesn’t say anything either. She just sobs and shakes for what feels like hours. Sylvie will remember that, the sensation of her trembling like a leaf in the wind. She remembers how her hair is still wet from her foster sister’s tears when she wakes up.

She hopes it does the girl some good, to know that someone else cares.

She’s gone the next morning. The parents complain about how she didn’t give them “a very loving goodbye” and just left her key.

Then they serve Sylvie a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and waffles with maple syrup.

Victoria: She eats her breakfast tentatively and asks what happened to her foster sister.

GM: “She’ll be fine,” her foster dad smiles, and then never talks about her again.

Sylvie gets to keep the Gameboy.

Victoria: Something in her foster dad’s tone ensures that Sylvia never asks about her either. She never forgets her name, though. It’s written on her Gameboy, and on all the files in all the games inside.

She hopes the girl is okay. Where do you go once you turn 18? Are you given a real family?

GM: Sylvie’s heard about that before. How once you turn 18, you “age out.” They say that a lot. “Age out.” No one says exactly what happens, though.

Her new foster family doesn’t either.

Victoria: Nine years to go. Sylvie can’t remember anything before her fifth birthday, and she’s 9 now, so she’s got more than half her life to go, by her logic.

Not for her to worry about today.

Of course, she worries. Will she be told to leave, too?

GM: Her new family never answers that question.

Life with them is all right. Sylvie is fed and cared for, and goes to a suburban public school where most of the kids are white, there’s no graffiti on the walls, and the teachers are nice. None of the kids seem like they want to be her friends. No one sits with her at lunch, but at least they don’t beat her up after school.

Victoria: For the first time in years, Sylvia not only managers to keep her hands to herself, but doesn’t even have the desire to harm any of her classmates. She even tries talking to them; tries to make friends.

They don’t want it, but they don’t rebuke her either.

That’s better than the usual.

GM: At home, Sylvie eats with the family and their real son for dinner, and there’s always plenty of food. She’s told to go to her room when they have guests over. Her foster parents bring up a plate to eat by herself, though they never say why she can’t join them.

That Christmas, Sylvie and her foster brother open up lots of presents under the tree, and get lots of chocolates in their stockings. They get equally many. Her foster parents ask her to stay out, though, when they take pictures of themselves. They take several, all without her, and declare how beautiful the pictures are.

It was like that with the pictures on Santa’s lap at the mall, too. Her foster parents also wanted her to stay out of those.

Victoria: When holidays come, Sylvia wonders why she isn’t included in family photographs. She puts on a brave face. She says she understands.

Deep down, she isn’t brave, and she doesn’t understand. Don’t they want her, too? She’s not part of the family—but isn’t she part of the family?

She feels like the family dog. They aren’t included in photos with Santa, either. Can people be pets, too?

GM: Sylvie’s foster parents do include the dog, a golden retriever, in one of the photos. Their real son drapes wrapping paper over the dog and laughs. Sylvie gets to do that too. The dog is a pretty good sport about it all. Her dad smiles and tussles her hair, then asks her to “move out” when he takes the picture of his son playing with the dog.

Another year and another Christmas passes. Sylvia gets presents again, but isn’t included in any photos either.

Then one day, shortly after winter break ends, Sylvie’s case worker picks her up from school. She’s got Sylvie’s things in her car, including the Gameboy. She says she’s “really sorry,” but that Sylvie has to go to a new home.

Her foster parents never say goodbye.

And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.


Monday morning, 10 January 2000

Victoria: This one hurts. She cries the entire way to DCFS, and doesn’t stop crying until her tears run dry. It doesn’t stop her hiccuping.

“I—I… but… they lo—”

Love you? If they love you, you’d still be there.

She’ll miss the dog most of all. There were no conditions on his love.

“Wh-why?” she asks the social worker. “Wh-wh-wh-what d-d-did I do wr-wrong?”

GM: Her case worker’s heart looks like it’s breaking for Sylvie as she drives.

“They… they couldn’t keep you. I’m so sorry, Sylvie. I’m so, so sorry.”

That’s all she says, when Sylvie asks. That they “couldn’t keep you.” She repeats how sorry she is.

She never says why.

But Sylvie knows why. It’s just a simple truth.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: At least she has her Gameboy. She wonders where the sister who gave it to her is now. She treasures that stupid thing, not because of the fun it provides, but because it reminds her: she made it to ‘aging out’, and so can Sylvie.

She continues crying.

GM: Her case worker tries to comfort her.

But it only lasts until they get back to DCFS, and she needs to find a new home for the unwanted foster child.

Sylvie’s next home is a “group home” in Bywater. It’s a big house and looks expensive and well-kept. The man who runs it is tall, thin, and blonde. He gives his name as Jacob. He’s very excitable and tells Sylvie a riveting story about Hansel and Gretel and the evil witch with the gingerbread house. He tells her and the other kids stories about monsters and magic and fairies and Indians, some in the deep dark German woods, some in the hot Texas sun. He tells the most incredible stories Sylvie’s ever heard. The other dozen-odd kids are all spellbound listening to him.

Victoria: She only stops crying because no one wants a crying girl. They don’t want a strong girl, either. Whatever Sylvia is, they don’t want.

She’s glum when she’s given her next home, only smiling when she’s addressed. After all, she can’t seem completely destroyed, or she’ll end up right back where she was before.

It still hurts. She’s infected, and the virus is ripping apart her insides.

She misses the dog.

She barely hears the story.

GM: Sylvie doesn’t seem to be the only one who doesn’t. For all that the story entrances, some of the other kids look half-ready to fall asleep. The kid next to Sylvie, a South Asian girl who’s missing a leg and walks with a crutch, actually zonks off against her shoulder.

The blond man tells Sylvie welcome to her new home, then it’s time for bed. There are dormitories. Everyone gets their own bunk, but there’s lots of bunks to a room. Once Jacob is gone, the other kids show their colors. An older boy with a mean smile demands that Sylvie hand over the Gameboy or else, “I’ll beat the SHIT out of you!”

Victoria: She gives him one warning. Just one.

GM: The older boy laughs and grabs at the Gameboy.

“You asked for it!”

Victoria: She feeds it to him, teeth in the way be damned.

GM: The Gameboy leaves him with a satisfying split lip.

Unfortunately, he pays it back, with interest. He punches her in the face, kicks her to the ground, and then kicks her in the gut until she can’t move from pain. Then he takes the Gameboy and spits on her.

Victoria: It hurts, just like it hurt the day she was attacked walking home from school. Sylvie can take a punch better than most, but he still renders her broken on the floor.

Still worth it. It’s always worth it standing up to bullies.

GM: Jacob isn’t around much. It’s several days later because the only other adult in the house, a 30something African-American woman, gives Sylvie the Gameboy back and apologizes. It’s got a tooth-like dent near the screen, but still works.

Victoria: She takes it, thanking the woman awkwardly.

“How did you find out?” she asks, thumbing the dent. She isn’t sure whether it’s from her hitting him with it, or him trying to eat it. Fatass.

GM: “Saw him playing on it,” answers the harried-looking staffer. “Figured it was from you. Don’t know how else he’d have gotten one.”

Victoria: “Thank you. It’s important to me. What happened to him?”

How polite. She really means it.

GM: “Sorry?” the woman asks, confused.

“Oh. You mean was he punished?”

Victoria: She nods.

GM: The woman pauses for a second, then says,

“He won’t get to listen to story hour for two days, since that’s how long he had it. Fair?”

It sounds like she made that up on the spot.

The woman has deep bags under her eyes. She’s pale and messy-haired. She looks completely exhausted.

Victoria: She likes that. She’s punishing him just because Sylvia wants him to be.

That feels nice.

“Deal!”

GM: Was it meant as a deal? But the woman just nods and heads off.

It’s a deal in practice, if not in intent.

That interaction proves emblematic. Care in the group home is lackadaisical at best. Jacob is barely around. The woman has her hands full just cooking for all the kids, cleaning their messes, getting them dressed, and getting them to the school bus; everything else is optional. Including actually going to school. Sylvie watches many of the kids just run off after they leave the house, not even waiting for the school bus. It’s their secret, open to everyone except the adults.

Victoria: Sylvie protects her Gameboy like a dictator protects his people: with poor care, and an iron fist. After the first interaction, anyone who so much as glances at it is confronted. Some taste grass.

Sylvie doesn’t care about school. Once she learns that she doesn’t have to get on the school bus, it all but disappears from her thoughts. School is where the bullies are. At least if she hangs out with the bullies here, they bother her less. She’s one of them. They may not like her the best, but it’s better than being the nerd who leaves them to learn about men in triangle hats and why a triangle isn’t a circle.

GM: Some of the kids offer to let Sylvie come along to get ice cream with them. They steal the money from Jacob, they say. He’s absentminded and doesn’t seem to notice, when he’s around to notice. He’s happy to play the family man at dinner with his stories. His only real rules are not to go into his rooms and not to damage the willow tree he keeps outside. He tells Sylvie and the other kids, dead serious, that it’s a fairy tree. It’s alternately made from goblins and dragons and nymphs. Very dangerous.

Sylvie quickly picks up that the kids all put on nice and obedient faces for the story hours Jacob hosts during every dinner, the only time he regularly sees them, and then it’s every kid for themselves. The other staffer barely keeps the tide of anarchy at bay. Kids cry all the time, get in scrapes, cause messes, act out, swear, sob, or get sick and lie in bed all day. Lots of them seem to get sick. Lots of them seem to have behavioral issues. Lots of them pick fights and steal from each other. At various points, kids just go missing. Sylvie never finds out what happens to them. The other kids think they run away.

Victoria: She’s less easy about stealing from Jacob, but her desire to be wanted outweighs her morals. She never helps steal it, but not does she stop them. It’s a tenuous compromise.

Some nights, she cries about it. Jacob is a nice dad. He doesn’t deserve to be stolen from.

GM: The kids buy things with the money they steal. Candy. Comic books. Even cigarettes. Sometimes they share with Sylvie.

Jacob never says anything about the missing money.

Victoria: Sylvie tries a cigarette, if they let her. She chokes on it. She prefers the candy.

She wonders about the willow tree. Some days, she sits in front of it, waiting for goblins and faeries and dragons to appear. Sometimes, if she stares long enough, she can swear she sees them peek from knots and branches.

They never fully come out. They don’t want Sylvie either.

GM: The willow tree’s only goblins and faeries and dragons appear to lie in the patterns of its leaves. Sylvie can make out all sorts of things in those, if she stares hard enough for long enough. It’s easier to see faces than mythical creatures, though. The tree looks a lot like a lady’s face at the right angle. She can even pretend the wind whistling through its leaves is a voice, sometimes.

But it never says anything she can make out.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: Eventually, she asks the woman if the faeries ever talk to her.

GM: The woman says that yes, the faeries sometimes do. You can’t make them, though. They’ll talk when they feel like talking.

Victoria: “Do they ever talk to you?”

Sylvie watches the leaves and trees and knots and branches, but she never quite sees any mythical creatures.

GM: The woman says she just answered that.

One day, Jacob says he’s going to be out of town on a business trip. They’ll be in good hands. That turns out to be untrue when the woman disappears several days later. The house goes into complete free fall, with that. Kids destroy furniture. They leave giant messes. They paint graffiti on the walls. They gorge themselves on sugar and sweets, and steal things; Jacob’s, each other’s, everyone’s. They get into bloody fights. Kids are beaten senseless. No one takes care of them. No one cooks. No one does laundry. No one’s there to do anything. Chaos reigns.

Victoria: It’s a lawless land. The government falls on the first day. Society follows on the second. Sylvie wonders if she’ll need to learn to survive once food runs out. She doesn’t know how to hunt, or where the grocery store is, or how to get more money. They already stole all of what they could from Jacob.

She protects her Gameboy, though. Even with the batteries dead and none in sight, she protects it. It’s the most cherished thing she owns.

She spends most of her time in her room. What’s the point in leaving?

GM: There’s food, when she gets hungry, though the house’s food rapidly disappears. There’s bathing and showering, until the toilets get clogged when some kid has the brilliant idea to flush rocks down them. Shit literally piles up, after that. The bathrooms become toxic waste dumps. The kids start shitting outside, or going to places with public restrooms. Several of them never come back.

Yet perhaps worst of all for Sylvie, her medication runs out, or perhaps disappears. She’s not sure which.

Either way, the night terrors come back.

They’re worse than ever. She dreams of her parents getting crucified on in the willow tree and burned alive. They laugh, their voices sizzling and popping like their cooking flesh, that no one wants an orphan like Sylvie. She dreams of schoolmates who never talked to her beating her bloody after school, holding her face-down in the mud until she suffocates. She dreams of being a dog in her last family’s house, kept in a cage and forgotten. She starves to death while they eat syrup-drizzled waffles. She dreams of getting raped in the dark by shadowy figures while her foster sisters endlessly sob. Voices wail at her, plead with her, scream obscene things at her.

She wakes to sheets drenched in sweat and urine, heart pounding in her chest like a drum, stomach growling in hunger.

No one comes for her. No one does anything. No takes care of her.

Victoria: Some kid leaves the vegetables outside. They begin to rot on the porch. By the third day, what isn’t picked away by scavengers turns into a fetid mash; a mockery of ratatouille.

She can smell it through her bedroom window.

She doesn’t sleep much. When she does sleep—somewhere between the sugar-laden rush ending in a crash, often literally, and the morning heat raising shit-stink—it’s restless, sweat-stained, and unwanted time with unwanting parents. Feral schoolmates. Burning loved ones. A dead dog. The pancakes are the worst. Stale marshmallows and bland cereal is nothing next to pancakes.

She doesn’t like the tree anymore. Faeries and dragons never come to help her parents, not that she’s sure she wants them helped.

The next morning, she isn’t soaked through with sweat due to her dreams alone. The air conditioner is broken.

It’s Tuesday.

She begins to cry. She misses her dog.

GM: Flies descend on the vegetable mush. Tiny fruit flies and big fat buzzing flies. They breed. Insects get inside the house. She sees maggots in the shit caking up in the bathrooms.

Between the lack of sleep, food, and AC, Sylvie feels sick all the time now, and delirious. She gets a fever. The other kids fight less. Mostly they just lie around, now. They look half-dead.

Someone eventually reports the situation to social services. Sylvie doesn’t think she’s ever been relieved to see social workers, police, and ambulances on scene before.

Cops make disgusted remarks about “kids living like animals.”

Victoria: Sylvie feels like an animal. Unwashed. Unfed. Uncared for.

Only some of that is new.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.


Thursday morning, 16 March 2000

GM: “Your next home is going to be very different from this,” her case worker tells her after she’s showered, eaten, and been checked by a nurse. Her case worker is a woman she’s never seen before. Her old case worker quit. Or got transferred. She never finds out why the woman gets replaced.

Victoria: She isn’t sure she wants different. Different is a beast she’s unfamiliar with. At least she knows how she’ll suffer, even if they find new ways to do it.

“I don’t like different.”

GM: “Different will be good for you,” smiles the social worker.

Different is what she gets.

Sylvia is sent to a group home with several dozen residents. The contrast with the last one is night and day.

First, there are literally alarms all over the house. Everything is locked. Sylvie can’t even open the windows at night or it rings alarms, not that there’s any point with bars over them. If she can’t sleep and she wakes up, she cannot do anything but sit in her room and read or try to force herself to go back to sleep. She’s not allowed to have any electronics at night (including her Gameboy) and she’s not allowed to wander the house at night. The doors to her room are locked. The doors to the kitchen and living room are locked. Staff don’t sleep at night, and conduct bed checks with a flashlight every two hours.

She shares her room with at least two other, random, ever changing girls. She wonders where they go, and why they leave so fast. Some of them lie crying in bed all the time. Some pick fights and attack her. Staff haul them away and she never sees them again after that happens.

She doesn’t own much, but her belongings often disappear. The staff search her room top to bottom whenever they feel like it, and often do.

She is told she is on a points system. She enters with zero points, and has no privileges (TV, phone, going outside of the home for anything except school or a doctor appointment) until she earns three points. A point takes of week of incident-free behavior to earn. Points are deducted for breaking rules. If she ever earns negative points, she is told, she will go to jail. Juvenile hall. Youth detention center. “This is your absolute last chance,” staff tell her. If she makes any real trouble, such as fist fighting, verbally threatening a staff member, touching a staff member (including hugs), or stealing, she will be automatically sent to jail for an unknown period of time, with no way of knowing if she will later return to the same home, or be sent someplace else.

“This is your absolute last chance,” staff repeat.

Victoria: Her heart tries to escape long before she has any thoughts of escaping, herself. It begins as soon as she walks in the door.

Fight or flight holds congress as soon as the doors shut behind her, sealing her into her into the prison. Flight wins with a narrow margin of 52 to 48 (her brain holds an extra vote in reserve for ties), but before she can take the first step, two black boys tumble out of a nearby doorjamb, fists wailing like a summer storm.

“HE SAID I AIN’T GOT NO HAIRCAUSE MY REAL MAMA AIN’T GOT A CROW-MA-SOME!”

“NO! I CALLED YOU A CHROME DOME!”

Both boys are taken away by men in white shirts and pants, and neither are seen again.

She reconsiders running. Different still isn’t better, but this different is better than the last different.

GM: Her day starts with going to the bathroom. The doors have no locks. Other kids can barge in at any time.

Then she takes a shower. Doing so requires permission from a staff member, or she loses a point.

Everyone eats cereal at 8 AM, sandwiches at 1 PM, and dinner at 6 PM. No snacks, ever. Outside of her three allowed meals, she can have tap water or nothing. All food is kept locked up. She must be present for all meals unless she is in school or working.

There are daily rotating chores five days a week. Washing bedding, doing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, mopping and sweeping floors. Falling behind loses points. Sylvie is kept constantly working when she’s not eating or in school. There’s almost no time before curfew. The bathrooms are cleaned the most often, and yet somehow always filthy.

Residents ages 13 and below have an 8 PM curfew. Residents 14 and up have a 9 PM curfew. At 9 PM, the doors are locked. If Sylvie isn’t inside the building, and doesn’t call, she will be reported to the local police as a runaway.

It is usually extremely loud until 10 PM, which is lights out and silence. Even reading in bed, after lights out, is not allowed and deducts points.

That is her day. Day in and day out. Sylvie almost never sees the outside of school or the group home. It’s like being in jail.

She gets $12.00 a month spending money, for clothes, preferred toothpastes, tampons—because only maxi-pads are provided—or for anything else “personal” that she needs. She must provide receipts to prove she has not purchased drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. No receipt, no money the following month.

Sylvie will get a slice of cake on her birthday if she has no infractions. She will get a $20 store gift voucher on her birthday, and on Christmas, if she has no infractions. She can pick from four stores: A music store, a book store, a clothing store, or a beauty supply store.

All kitchen knives and sharp objects, including disposable razors, and all medications, are kept inside of locked cabinets. Even Tylenol. If she gets caught with a bottle of Tylenol, she will lose points, and may be sent to juvenile hall.

If she gets caught with any alcohol or drugs, she will go into a lock-up drug rehab for 30 days, and it will be reported to the police, and she will be prosecuted.

She can spend half an hour on the phone each day, if she has her privileges intact. Local calls only.

There are lots of rules about when she’s allowed to watch TV. There’s lots of fighting over TV.

Once a month, she and all the other kids are piled into white vans and taken to a PG-rated movie. She is left locked in her room if she has recent infractions.

There is medical care. An OBGYN visit upon menstruation. Yearly physicals. Yearly dental visits. Sylvie also sees a psychiatrist who gives her more meds. She is told that if she gets pregnant, and wants to keep it, she will be moved to “another placement” for pregnant foster youth.

Staff come and go. Residents come and go. All of the time, never to be seen again, and never with any notice.

It’s structured. Sylvia has to give it that. But it’s never safe. If another resident is angry enough with her, they might literally stab her, with a pen. One time she ends up with hair remover in her shampoo bottle. Another time, someone pisses in her bed. Some residents seem one bad day away from a psychotic break. Sylvia never knows what will happen.

She gets used to a lot of chaos. Yelling, screaming, arguing, fighting, breaking shit, throwing things, people being restrained, police, crying, drama, ambulances, slamming doors, threats, insults. She even learns new profanity.

Staff never touch her, except to give her a high five or physically restrain her. Rules prohibit all other physical contact.

They also tell her she’ll have a future, after she “ages out.” She’s going to enlist in the military.

They’ll get started early on the whole process and its attendant paperwork. They have an agreement with the local recruiting station. She’ll be on a plane to basic the day she turns 18.

Victoria: At 11 years old, Sylvie isn’t entirely sure what ‘basic’ is, but she knows what the military is. They’re the strong guys with tanks and bombs and planes and green clothing.

Sylvie doesn’t want to kill people. She gets mad, sometimes, and the three girls who—one of—chemically genocided her hair deserve to be punched in the mouth, but she doesn’t want to kill people she doesn’t know.

Why would she?

Why would anyone?

The thought of her life already decided by people who know her name as if it’s just as number destroys her.

She vows to get out of this house.

But until then, Sylvie is a good girl. Sylvie is a model daughter in a home without parents. Sylvie listens. Sylvie earns her points. Sylvie gets her treats. Sylvie is every fairy her willow tree never showed.

Until she pulls away the entirety of her hair one fateful shower. She doesn’t know who it was, but the choices are slim. Is it Mary-Mabel, who refused to accept that no, Sylvie would not be giving her her breakfast? Is it Bethany, whose feet Sylvie tripped over the night before? Or is it Donna, who was told that it was Sylvie who pushed her down the stairs the week before?

It wasn’t Sylvie.

Anger overtakes her. She cries in the shower, sinking to her knees as long as they allow her to stay. It isn’t long. She wants to hurt them; to stab them; to take a knife to their eyes and mush up their brains like strawberry pudding. She wants to see them hit by a car, and made part of the pavement. Maybe if they’re hit by a bus, they’ll sail clear over the bridge down the street.

She stuffs that anger down, down, down, deep inside. She doesn’t want to go to jail. She doesn’t want to lose her Gameboy.

Sylvie is a good girl.

A bald, good girl.

GM: Most of the kids are black, like the two quarreling boys. Sylvie’s not sure if she gets punished harsher or less harsh.

Running will not succeed, from what everyone tells her. She’s locked in the building almost all of the time. If she bolts after school, and doesn’t return for bed, the police will hunt her.

But that’s okay. She can be a good girl, until she loses her hair.

Most of her hair.

The staff declare what’s left “distracting” to the other residents and get rid of it. The razor they use cuts her skin. Harshly wielded scissors painfully nick her scalp. She bleeds. She will probably develop scabs.

The staff angrily tell her she’s lost a point, for what she’s done to her hair, and demand to know where she got the hair remover. Or else she will be “really in for it.”

Victoria: She never stops crying while they rend the dregs of her hair from her head. She saw an interrogation in a movie, once.

This is worse.

“I d-didn’t!! It wa-was one of them!”

She points at the door. All three suspects are somewhere out there.

“I l-loved my hair!”

GM: “You’re a liar,” says the staff member.

He roughly grabs Sylvie, hauls her to a sink, and forces her head in. He turns on the hot water full blast against her face. He then takes a fat handful of awful, pink, grainy powder K-Mart soap and shoves it into Sylvie’s mouth. He yells for her to chew as hot water pours over her face. He sticks his hand in her mouth and scrubs back and forth, washing her from teeth to gums to tongue. Sylvie gags and spits and burns. Soapy water froths out of her nostrils. She feels like she’s drowning.

“Stop lying, you awful girl. Where did you get the hair remover?” he asks after turning the water off.

Victoria: Sylvie tries her hardest not to vomit. The soap is acidic. It burns her tongue. It burns her gums. It gets in her eyes. It gets in her nose. It gets in her scrapes and cuts. Still, she sticks to it.

“I-I-I didn’t!! I loved my hair!! HONEST!!”

GM: The staff member hits her.

Just like that, he punches her in the gut. She crashes to her knees. She feels like she’s been shot. The urge to throw up is even stronger.

He yanks her back up and turns on the hot water again. Sylvia can see steam rising from it now.

“Where did you get the hair remover?”

Victoria: Is this what life is now? Is this what an interrogation really is?

She understands the movie a little better.

“I… I bought it.”

Life is giving people what they want.

“Mary-Mabel made me.”

GM: The staff member roughly grabs Sylvie by the hand and takes her to one of the “solitary” rooms for kids. There’s a bed on a thin mattress and nothing else in the windowless room.

He closes the door in her face. A lock clicks.

Victoria: She sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

GM: Used goods, says the voice in her head.

Look at her now.

Bald.

Sobbing.

Ugly.

Unlovable.

No one wants Sylvia.

No one wants an orphan.

No one wants a bald, crying, lying, soap-mouthed orphan.

Not even the people here.

She doesn’t have a family.

She will never have a family.

She’s going to be a pariah when she gets out. The other kids will torment her, ceaselessly, when they see she’s bald.

She’s probably lost all of her points. They’re never going to let her leave this place. She’s going to be locked up here until she turns 18, when she’ll join the army and kill people.

If they don’t just send her to jail. Juvenile hall. Youth detention. Will they do that?

That’s all she is.

Used goods.

Victoria: She might hurt herself, if she has anything to do it with. She has nothing. She is nothing. She’s never been anything. She will never be anything.

She’s the food her dog left behind, unfit to lick the bowl.

She’s the fetid vegetables left behind by maggots.

She’s the shit piled so high that you could no longer sit on the bowl.

She’s the piss in the bed she’s no longer sleeping in.

She’s every blank space in every picture she was never allowed in.

She’s the crumbs in the cookie jar, tossed into the trash.

She is emptiness, incarnate: blank space unfit even to be recognized.

I’m a junkie, Sylvia.

I’m a whore, Sylvia.

I’m a bum, Sylvia.

I’m a deadbeat, Sylvia.

I’m wasted, Sylvia.

I’m trash, Sylvia.

And so…

Are…

You.


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Story One, Amelie VIII

“You think he has it in him to kill Kristina?”
“Everyone has that in them. It’s only a question of what draws it out.”

Christina Roberts to Jill d’Agostino


Wednesday morning, 26 August 2015

GM: The next day’s classes pass by. Ms. Perry gives a very enthusiastic lesson on the Lafitte brothers, who she laughingly admits to finding, “Such bad boys! The baddest of the bad—after that scoundrel John Law.” Yvette and several other students tease her goodnaturedly for her “crush.” Amelie may be particularly interested to hear about the less famous Pierre Lafitte, who was a blacksmith. Ms. Perry even touches on “their watering hole,” Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop & Bar in the French Quarter. It’s reported to be haunted by ghosts—like countless other buildings in the Vieux Carré.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t display the kind of interest someone might expect over one of the Lafitte men being a blacksmith. There were still hundreds of artisans like that in those times and they were nothing special. It’s the rest of the brothers’ story that’s fascinated with. Like usual, she regularly puts her hand up to ask questions and add tidbits of her own.

GM: Ms. Perry has Amelie stay after class ends and mentions that she called Yvette’s mother. Mrs. Devillers was very grateful for the warning and said she would have a bodyguard escort her daughter to the LaLaurie House, “Just in case.”

Amelie: It puts Amelie at ease to hear there’ll be a bodyguard, but not by too much. At least Yvette’s mom knows the place is dangerous in case anything happens to the girls. All Amelie has to do now is clear whether Rachel can come along and focus on protecting them during the night.

GM: The history teacher also says that she hopes Amelie’s talk with Mrs. Achord was “useful to you,” although she does not press for further details.

Amelie: Amelie tentatively nods along and makes an off-handed comment that the focus on the imminent school dance made her worry about the therapists’ opinion of her. All in all, though, it was good to talk to someone in more detail.

“It seems eyes are on me for this dance, so I’ll be going. I already have a dress I can wear, as well.”

GM: Ms. Perry waves off Amelie’s initial concerns about the school psychologist’s opinion, adding, “You see a therapist for yourself, not for them. Don’t worry about what she thinks.” The young history teacher also expresses how glad she is to hear that Amelie is going to the school dance. She’ll be attending herself, too. “As a chaperone,” she smirks. “Gotta keep the boys from getting too fresh after you dazzle them in your dress.”

Amelie: “I went to a public school. And worked at a tourist attraction for geeky out of shape boys and men who sweat in armor they’re strapped into for five hours. You don’t have to worry about me,” Amelie laughs.


Wednesday evening, 26 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s aunt mentions during dinner that, “I’m having a friend over for dinner tomorrow. You’re welcome to either join us or go treat yourself at one of the city’s restaurants, as you’d prefer.”

Amelie: Amelie expresses a bit of surprise, and more interest, at the mention of one of her aunt’s friends. “I think I’d like to stay, if you don’t mind. I’m curious to see one of your friends. I’ve only ever met your assistant.”

GM: “Her name is Jill. But all, right we’ll be having a late dinner at 8:30.”

Amelie: “That’s just fine. I’ll move my study time to earlier, then. I’m looking forward to meeting her.”


Thursday morning, 27 August 2015

GM: The next day at Ms. Perry’s class, Yvette nods agreeably when Amelie mentions having a friend she wants to bring along.

“Ah ’ave another class with Rachel, Ballroom Dance. She should be fine.”


Thursday noon, 27 August 2015

GM: At lunch, Rachel is quite happy over Amelie’s news that she can come to the slumber party. The new student appears to have scored some major points with her circle of friends as Rachel asks, “Would it be okay if all of us came? Do you guys want to?”

“This is on Friday, right?” Megan asks. “Let me get back on that, I might have a family thing going on.”

Hannah thinks a moment. “I think I could swing it. Night in a haunted house sounds pretty fun.”

“If we don’t get murdered in our sleeping bags,” Rachel cheerily adds. “I’d say ‘murdered in our beds’, but the house probably doesn’t have any.”

“Poor us,” Hannah remarks between a forkful of salad.

Amelie: Amelie is still anxious over the visit, but she keeps her feelings to herself and simply plans how to get them through it all. She’s already found the house’s floor plans online and familiarized herself with its layout and escape routes. There’s even going to be a bodyguard now, although Amelie can’t say whether they’ll be a help or harm.

It’s a spirit-raiser to hear the other girls get so excited, though, so Amelie just smiles and nods. “I’ll have to ask Yvette, but I don’t think she’ll have issues with any of you. It’ll be more fun with so many people. I dunno if they have beds or anything, but I bet the house is ready for show at least. So we won’t be choking on dust bunnies.”

GM: “Great!” Rachel smiles at Amelie’s assent. “I call dibs on the room where they found the murdered guy covered in his own crap.”

Amelie: “I think that room was made into a larger room when it was converted back to one big mansion for that actor guy.”

GM: “Yeah, that actor,” Hannah says. “Whatshisname, wasn’t there a meme that he was dead?”

“Rick Towers,” Megan fills in. “I thought he was dead. Alcohol poisoning?”

“Well dead or alive, he’s not going anywhere.” Rachel. “He had this insane pyramid built at St. Louis for his grave.”

“So, what, he thinks he’s a pharaoh?” Hannah snorts. “Celebrities.”

“He’s not even dead yet and there’s already this tradition springing up around it.” Rachel. “Girls are leaving lipstick kisses all over the grave. Well, pyramid.”

Megan frowns. “My grandma wouldn’t like that. Those old cemeteries… they don’t have a lot of room. He’d probably have to get rid of a bunch of other graves for his pyramid.” Her frown deepens. “I don’t think I like that. I mean, I’m glad he likes the city and all, but he isn’t from here. He shouldn’t get to come in and wave his Hollywood money to tear up that old cemetery.”

Hannah looks up from her phone. “Sounds like the curse got him. He got hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, then his wife divorced him. And he’s pretty deep in debt too.”

Amelie: Amelie nods along. She knows the actor and has seen all the cheese he’s vomited out over his manic career.

“Wonder why he took such an interest in New Orleans. Or if the bank will repossess his grave. But I have to agree, it’s pretty disgusting to take up so much room, having a place with land you can’t bury people in sounds so strange. I’d already decided I wanted to be buried in one of those tree pods. Do you think he left a national treasure or something before he vacated the house?”

GM: “Guy was broke. He probably grabbed anything that wasn’t nailed down.” Hannah.

“Tree pods?” Meg asks.

Amelie: “Crazy as he was, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hid fossils under the floor boards. And yeah, they’re these little biodegradable graves, they bury you, and your body gives nutrients to grow a tree. No grave, just a tree. I thought it sounded romantic.”

GM: “Huh. I could go for that. Sounds better than biodegradable coffins.” Hannah.

“Yeah, it does. I wanna be buried at Lafayette though. Well, not buried, you know what I mean. But all my family has plots there.” Megan.

“Same. Literally. Same cemetery.” Rachel. “Maybe we’ll be neighbors.”

“That’s kinda creepy and comforting at the same time.” Megan.

“Wanna write our wills together then, in case we all die at the LaLaurie House?” Rachel suggests with a smile that might or might not be joking. “Or maybe we could just write them there.”

“Okay, that’s only creepy. Writing your will in a haunted house.” Megan.

Amelie: Amelie chuckles at the exchange and adds, “Who knows what infernal otherworldly powers might make us write a contract to sell our very souls without us knowing.”

GM: Amelie’s phraseology draws second looks from Megan and Rachel.

“Writing your will is kind of a contract though. It’s really acknowledging you’ll die,” Hannah says thoughtfully. “So writing ours in the house would be saying, if you think about it… that we’re signing our lives over to the house. That we know we’re going to die in there.”

Megan looks even more discomfited than before.

Hannah adds, “Well, uh, hopefully we aren’t.”


Thursday afternoon, 27 August 2015

GM: The end of Ballroom Dance with Mrs. Flores heralds the end of the school day. Amelie’s phone rings as she walks across the now-crowded exterior campus. Younger girls walk to the school buses as the older ones almost uniformly head towards parked cars.

Amelie: Amelie can hear the song’s chorus playing over the buzzing in her shirt pocket, and can never help muttering along with the lyrics. “Pineapples are in my head…”

She answers the phone quickly after. “Hello?”

GM: The caller ID is ‘unknown.’ The voice on the line is young and female. “Uh, hey. It’s me.”

Amelie: “Miranda! It’s good to hear from you. How are you?”

GM: “Good, I guess.”

Amelie: “Did you go to school today? I can come find you if you wanna talk in person.”

GM: “No, I’m okay. Just… waiting around until my dad picks me up.”

Amelie: “That’s good. Does he pick you up often? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to. I know how difficult family can be.”

GM: “Sometimes,” Miranda says. “When he feels like it, I guess.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and starts casually looking around the school parking lot for Miranda. Even if they talk on the phone, she still wants to keep her eyes on the girl.

“That sounds like it can hurt. Can I wait with you? I can show you something cool.”

GM: “Well I think it’s stupid,” the preteen counters. “Our housekeeper picks me up faster.”

McGehee, as best as Amelie has previously been able to discern, lacks a single designated parking lot that would be an eyesore in the historic neighborhood. The closest thing it has is a space behind Bradish Johnson House and a particularly large weeping willow that can hold up to maybe twenty cars. A sign indicates it is reserved for faculty use.

Students, meanwhile, simply park their cars against the sidewalk facing the school’s long wrought iron fence. Parking ‘spots’ are given on a ‘first come, only one served’ basis. The girls who obtain these lucky spots can drive off campus at their leisure, while the less fortunate must walk a block or more to wherever they have been able to park their vehicles. The limited spaces no doubt encourage carpooling among friends, which is probably more likely in any case with the small student body.

Amelie doesn’t have an easy time picking out one student from so many other identically-dressed ones, but she eventually spots Miranda waiting by the flagpole just off the sidewalk.

Amelie: “I’m sure she does. Do you and your dad do anything when he picks you up, though?”

Amelie keeps walking and maintaining the conversation until she finally spots Miranda, then casually approaches her while they talk.

GM: The mousy- and pimple-faced girl looks slightly alarmed by Amelie’s abrupt appearance. “How’d you know I was here…?”

Amelie: Amelie taps to hang up her cell and drops it into her breast pocket. “You said you were getting picked up. This is where people park. You okay, hun?”

GM: “Yeah, I’m fine,” the preteen repeats, adjusting her backpack over her shoulders. “It’s just boring waiting around.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles just a little and offers her messed up hand for Miranda to look over. “Well, I brought you something cool. Look, I got into a knife fight. I took pictures, too.”

GM: “Oh, that must’ve been fun,” the girl says with plainly affected nonchalance.

Amelie: “Oodles,” she replies in kind. She takes out her phone to show the girl her palm’s freshly-cleaned stab. “Gross, huh?”

GM: Miranda looks it over. “Who’d you fight to get that?”

Amelie: “Honestly, I was just blindsided by a fortune teller near Jackson Square. She didn’t like me asking about the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Oh. Well they’re all scammers or crazy.”

Amelie: “Yup. I acted like a tourist,” she mutters bitterly. “How about you? Do you do anything fun on weekends?”

GM: “Yeah, stuff,” the preteen says vaguely.

Amelie: “No fair. Secret stuff? Wild drinking parties? Stalk the nights in a costume?”

GM: “Just… stuff,” she says with a shrug. “Same as anyone here does.”

Amelie: Amelie smirks. “If it isn’t a pain, you should take me sometime. I’m new to the city, I don’t know what people here do.”

GM: “Well… they eat a lot,” Miranda fills in. “There’s a bunch of restaurants here.”

Amelie: “The food’s pretty bland where I grew up. I’ve been meaning to try a lot of food. How about… hobbies? Nothing on your end?”

GM: “No, there’s nothing to do in this city,” she complains.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but smile at the irony. Miranda is bored in a place her older classmate is excited to be in.

“Well, there’s a lot of stuff you can do. Take up an instrument, focus on fitness, oh! Art. New Orleans has a huge art scene. If nothing else, you can do your best now, and move somewhere more interesting. Like I did. The place I lived before this only had a few thousand people.”

GM: “Well the place I lived had way more than this boring city,” Miranda goes on. “But I had to move here and it sucks.”

Amelie: “Hmm… Los Angeles? New York?”

GM: “Chicago.”

Amelie: “Moving is tough. I miss the stuff I left behind a lot, too. But hey, the University of Chicago is great. I don’t think your folks could say no if you wanted to move back for that.”

GM: Miranda pauses, then answers, “I guess. In seven years.”

Amelie: Amelie frowns lightly and puts a hand on Miranda’s shoulder in an attempt to cheer her up.

“I could teach you to rollerskate or something to pass the time. Parents… have a way of trapping their kids. All we can do about it is do our best to surpass them and be happier, so we know we don’t owe them anything.”

GM: The preteen doesn’t look sure what to say to that, then mumbles, “I just miss my mom…”

Amelie: There’s a pang of sadness for them both in Amelie’s gut as she rests a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder.

“I know how you feel, Miranda. I’m sorry.”

GM: Miranda looks surprised by that admission. “Oh. Where’s yours?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles bitterly. “We don’t know. Just that she wanted to leave, so… she did. I try not to think about it. Among other things. How about yours?”

GM: “She’s in Chicago, my parents are divorced.” A beat. “I’m sorry your mom left.”

Amelie: “I’m sorry your parents divorced. You have more to deal with than I do on that front. But if your mom is in Chicago, I bet you could ask to spend parts of your summer with her. Get back to the big city.”

GM: “No I couldn’t,” Miranda answers glumly.

The two are interrupted, however, by the arrival of a black Chevrolet SS. The man who gets out is a tall figure in his early middle years. His close-cropped beard and mustache are streaked with salt and pepper, which together with his angular face and fit, lean frame, give him a vaguely wolf-like countenance. He’s dressed in a gray blazer and black button-up shirt.

Roger_Ferris_L.jpg
“Miranda. Good to see you’re making friends,” the man remarks as he rests a hand on her shoulder.

Amelie’s attentive eyes note that two of his fingers don’t bend like the other three. He’s angling his hand accordingly.

Miranda looks up. “Dad. You’re early.”

“I got off early. Are you going to introduce your friend and me?”

Miranda looks at Amelie. “So you probably guessed that’s my dad.”

“Mr. Ferris,” her father supplies.

“And this is…” Miranda starts, then trails off. “I actually don’t know her name…”

Mr. Ferris gives a faintly indulgent smile before turning to Amelie. “Then there’s no time like right now to find out.”

Amelie: “Amelie,” the young woman supplies in kind. She offers a strong and firm handshake to the man’s prosthetic-less side. “Amelie Savard, I’m in senior year.”

GM: Amelie finds the man’s answering grip to also be quite firm. “You play many sports, Amelie?” he asks.

Amelie: “I fence, sir. A good deal of the grip comes from manual labor growing up.”

GM: “Fencing. That’s a practical sport.” The words might be a compliment.

Amelie: “In the modern world, maybe not so much,” she jokes, cracking a smile. “Why do you ask?”

GM: “Curiosity,” Miranda’s father smiles back. “Anyways, we’re due somewhere. I’m glad that you and Miranda know each other’s names now. Did you have any plans to hang out?”

Amelie: Amelie knows exactly why and flexes her arms in the uniform rather proudly. “Not yet, sir. That’s up to you, anyway, Miranda. You have my number, if you ever want to hang out just let me know. I’m only busy this Friday.”

GM: Miranda looks up at her dad, then says, “Uh, okay, maybe Saturday?”

Amelie: “I’d love to. We’ll figure out what we want to do during the week. We’ll make New Orleans fun, promise. I’d ask you to come on Friday, but we’re having an overnight stay in a ‘cursed’ house. Might not be a comfortable night.”

GM: “A cursed house?” Miranda asks curiously.

Amelie: “The LaLaurie. I’m pretty nervous about it.”

GM: “I dunno what that is.”

“It’s an old house in the Quarter. The owner tortured her slaves,” Miranda’s father explains.

Amelie: “And they say the house is haunted and cursed because of that. People think it’s pretty dangerous.”

GM: The gray-bearded man looks at Amelie. “Do you?”

Amelie: Amelie holds up the bandaged hand. “I’ve been convinced. But my hands are tied, thanks to my research partner. So I’m just hoping strength in numbers will… help. I mean, the place has been apartments and a lounge.”

GM: “You’ll be lucky to have full use of that hand again when the bandages are off,” Mr. Ferris remarks, though Amelie feels as if the man’s attentive gray eyes have long since made note of her wound. “If that’s where you got hurt, we won’t chance things with my daughter.”

Amelie: “The hand will have full function, thankfully. And it’s not. I interviewed a very passionate local about the house.”

GM: “Do you two have each other’s phone numbers?” Miranda’s father asks.

Amelie: Amelie nods. Now that Miranda has called her, she has the younger girl’s number too.

GM: “Good. You can arrange something maybe this weekend,” Mr. Ferris smiles. “My daughter and I have to be going now. I hope you can have those bandages off soon. Miranda, say goodbye.”

“Bye,” the preteen says.

Amelie: “Bye, Miranda. The bandages will be off by Saturday, we’ll go do something fun. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Ferris.”

GM: “I’m always glad to meet a friend of Miranda’s,” Mr. Ferris says in farewell. He gets the door for Miranda, then gets in on the other side. The black Chevrolet soon recedes past the neighborhood’s live oaks, palm trees, and other greenery.

Amelie: Amelie slowly unpacks the encounter in her head. It helps in figuring out if Miranda has some sort of out of school reason for spying on her, at least.

She turns on her heel and strides off towards the streetcar stop. Miranda might not be coming, but there’s a lot to do before the big night.


Thursday evening, 27 August 2015

GM: The doorbell to Amelie’s and Christina’s home rings promptly at 8:30. Her aunt moves to answer it.

Amelie: Amelie stands in place and smooths out the clothes she picked out. She still wonders about her sense of style even after the painstaking day she spent with Kristina. Her aunt’s assistant suggested various pieces of clothing, but never actually told her if there was anything wrong with her own choices. Their efforts culminate in the first occasion where she’s not wearing a school uniform or casual t-shirt and jeans. Low black heels, Blue King blouse, brown Romewe dress over it all, and an ascot keeping the neck tight. She hopes it’s not too dressy.

The ringing bell makes Amelie jump slightly. She watches the door with anticipation, curious to see what kind of people her aunt associates with.

GM: “Christina, how are you,” greets a woman’s voice from the other side of the door.

“Jill,” Christina answers as they hug. The light patter of rain intersperses the pair’s greeting. “I’m glad you could make it today.”

When her aunt pulls away, Amelie sees that Jill is a buxom-figured woman in maybe her early 40s with wide hips, ample breasts, and wavy auburn hair that falls past her shoulders. She’s dressed in a cashmere blouse, darker slacks, bangle earrings, and a flimsy-looking light coat (though it might be raining, anything heavier would be unbearable in the city’s muggy heat).

“Me too. Work has been hectic.” She turns to regard Amelie. “And this must be the niece you told me about. How are you, duckie,” the woman half-asks, half-greets as she moves to hug Amelie as well.

Amelie: The person Amelie sees is NOT who she was expecting. Her outfit suddenly isn’t the part of her appearance that she’s questioning, but she does her best not to show the surprise on her face. “Amelie, Miss! It’s nice to meet-!?” The hug catches her completely off-guard, and she looks to her aunt for a moment before returning it. “Nice to meet you. I’m doing well.”

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GM: “Mrs.,” the woman corrects mildly as she sets down her purse and removes her coat. “But you can call me Jill,” she smiles at Amelie. “And don’t you look scrumptious in that dress.”

“The food’s already out, to re-purpose that adjective,” Amelie’s aunt notes with faint amusement. “Come, let’s eat.”

“Yes, let’s,” Jill concurs.

Amelie: Amelie isn’t used to compliments about her appearance. She mutters a “thank you” and adjusts the dress’ fit on her broad shoulders as she follows the older adults to sit and eat.

GM: Christina has already set the table and laid out the food, which consists of a creamy white cauliflower, gold potato, and milk bisque soup. No plumes of steam rise from anyone’s bowls: Christina has elected to serve the meal cold, even if the house’s air conditioning protects everyone from the worst of the stiflingly hot summer weather. Brown butter croûtons, deep red pomegranate seeds, and bright green chives provide the soup’s finishing toppings. Toasted buttery garlic bread (served warm) and a tall bottle of wine provide two complements to the meal’s main course.

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“That’s the real reason I arrive late,” Jill observes with a titter as the three sit down and tuck into the soup. “The food is already out. Now tell me a little about yourself, Amelie, I’ve only heard about you from your aunt. She says you’re going to school at McGehee?”

Amelie: The food is perfect as always. Amelie remains cautious about spilling any over her clothes as she takes her first spoonful of soup.

“Yes, it’s been amazing so far. I’m looking into the engineering club, there’s a dance coming up, so it’s really been keeping me on my toes. Academically and socially.”

GM: “That’s news. I’m glad that you’re looking into clubs. They’re a good place to network,” Amelie’s aunt remarks.

Amelie: “I was under the impression there was an engineering class, not a club. I learned differently thanks to the great teachers I’ve got.”

GM: “Would that be Ms. Perry or Mrs. Flores? You seemed to like them the best.”

Amelie: “It was Ms. Perry, actually. Either way, I’m looking forward to it.”

GM: “This Mrs. Flores wouldn’t be Diana Flores, would it? I think I’ve had her husband as one of my clients,” Jill remarks between a bite of garlic bread.

Amelie: “I’m not sure about her first name, actually. She teaches Ballroom Dance, if that helps?”

GM: “Oh yes, now that’s her, the former ballerina. Her husband is in the state senate.” Jill gives a tsk. “Former husband, at least, which is such a pity. They made a lovely couple on the campaign trail together.”

“Jill works as a political consultant,” Amelie’s aunt fills in.

Amelie: Amelie frowns at that news, buts nods understandingly. “I guess you don’t share your more personal details with students. Divorced and with a longtime injury, that’s a shame. She’s a great woman.”

GM: “That is a shame if she had to give up her career. A man she could at least do without,” Christina remarks.

“She may not have,” Jill reflects. “Ballerinas rarely dance past their mid-30s. It’s a very physically demanding career—it takes such a toll on their bodies. Quite a few ballerinas go on to teach dance after they retire. So they’re almost definitely the same Mrs. Flores if she’s your instructor.”

“Those who can’t do, teach,” Christina quotes as she fishes several pomegranate seeds into her spoon.

Amelie: “I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that saying without it being meant as an insult,” Amelie muses as she stirs her soup. “Still, at least she teaches a very popular class at a very good school.”

GM: “That certainly is something,” Jill agrees. “So what are your plans once you graduate, Amelie? Your aunt mentioned that you were passionate about smithing.”

Amelie: “I think it’s an untapped market in a place with so much history. The krewes, all the reenactment societies, and I’ve even gotten some interest for what I can do so far as antique restoration. And then of course, I can ship commissions nationwide with the USA’s lax shipping laws. My school’s been… hinting that I should consider college as well, which I will. After my business takes off.”

GM: “Oh how exciting, starting your own business!” Jill exclaims. “I remember back when your aunt was starting up hers, when she first came to the city. That was a lot of work, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. And worthwhile,” Christina answers. “Breaking into the market and building up a name was a big challenge at first. Things were smoother sailing after those early days.”

“Yes, it’s all about networking these days,” Jill agrees. “Do you have many contacts and customers lined up so far, Amelie?”

Amelie: “A few. I’m being offered an interview with the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation board. They’ll offer me an ISA to help me get it off the ground, if they like it. But I have to have some work to show them first. Then I have a few teachers who have contacts they may be willing to share with me, like Mrs. Achord, her husband is a member of a reenactment society.”

GM: Jill raises her eyebrows over a sip of wine. “My, that’s a bold move going to the Foundation out of high school. Your aunt is so painstaking in everything that she does, I suppose you’re more of a gambling woman?”

Amelie: “Oh, I don’t plan to accept them right out of the gate, I’d like to speak with them first. But I plan on building this business up right out of high school whether I accept the ISA or not. The way it was worded to me sounded like a huge commitment.”

GM: “Yes, most ISA proponents usually tout how the student doesn’t have to pay the loan back if they don’t make enough money. But I think that’s an optional provision or something, Christina?”

“That’s up to the loan provider,” Amelie’s aunt answers. “ISAs fall under contract law. The lender who writes the contract can set essentially whatever terms they want. They can exempt low-income students from having to pay the loan back, but they don’t have to. Or they can include more obscure provisions such as that the student has to fall within a certain income threshold by X years, and then for Y years without interruption, to have their debt forgiven. Or they might offer a provision to buy out the debt with a flat sum, or allow another lender to buy the student’s debt. I don’t know what terms the Whitney Foundation specifically offers in its contracts.”

“Mmm, yes, maybe that’s it,” Jill thinks. “I just remember hearing from one of my clients about a well-off girl who had a falling out with her parents, so they refused to pay for college, and she took out an ISA from the Foundation. Then she didn’t graduate, or maybe just didn’t get a good job, and was still on the hook for the full debt. And with the way interest balloons…”

Jill laughs. “But I’m sorry, this isn’t a polite dinner topic. I don’t mean to be so doom and gloom, anyway. Like your aunt says, it sounds like terms can vary. Maybe I heard wrong, or it wasn’t the Whitney Foundation I heard about.”

Amelie: “TV where I grew up really paints a grim picture of the USA, I was already going to thoroughly read through anything before signing it! But thanks for the concern,” Amelie says, looking between the older adults. “So, how did you two come to know each other?”

GM: “Oh, we met around eight or nine years ago, when we both first came to the city,” Jill answers. “The flooding damage was the easiest part of Katrina to clean up, you know, the hurricane impacted so many other things. Like political district lines, after how much populations changed. I’d been living in Baton Rouge and moved to New Orleans, since there looked to be so much work available in the city.”

“Your aunt was in a similar place. She’d just moved here from New York to set up her consulting business. We were in a similar place, both new to the city and wanting to establish ourselves. So when we met at some professional function or other, we simply struck off.” Jill smiles. “It’s easier being new when you know someone else who is.”

“All of that’s true, though she’s leaving out the part where she still knew a thousand and one people in the area, not to mention its particular ways of doing things, and I knew no one and next to nothing,” Christina adds with some wryness. “It’s more accurate to say that she helped me.”

Amelie: Amelie listens and enjoys the two reminiscing. It’s nice ti imagine the two of them building their respective businesses up side by side. The hurricane caused so much destruction and displacement, but in these women’s case it seems like it did some good by bringing them together.

“I’m happy to hear you had each other in either case. I imagine post-Katrina New Orleans was not exactly the most reassuring environment to start a company or a practice.”

GM: “Oh, your aunt is kind to say that, but it has been almost a decade. I’m sure some of the details have slipped past us both, after that long,” Jill lightly laughs at Christina’s words.

“In some ways it was very inhospitable. That’s one detail that hasn’t faded,” Amelie’s aunt half-answers both women. “So much infrastructure had been disrupted. There were still thousands of abandoned cars lying everywhere, and blue tarps over so many roofs. But there was opportunity, too, to get in on the ground floor of markets when the city rebuilt. The early bird gets the worm.”

Amelie: Inhospitable. Amelie understands what they mean. It’s ironic New Orleans could be that, with how ingrained Southern hospitality and politesse seems to be among all the blue bloods she goes to school with.

“Well, just a few years later, and I’d have to say it looks like you both succeeded in getting that worm. Though I hear another saying a lot, that the second mouse gets the cheese. I imagine you both had competition?”

GM: “Of course,” Jill smiles. “And we’re hardly the only logistics and political consultants in the city. But we’ve made ourselves comfortable in our little niches.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and pointedly looks around the room. Comfortable indeed.

“I can only hope to follow your examples. During my first day we had speakers during our orientation, none of them owned a business. The closest was Vera Malveaux, but she married into the company. Though I have to sympathize with her, considering her scar.”

GM: “Oh yes, it’s very sad what happened to that poor woman,” Jill sighs. “It made sensational headlines at the time. Some corrupt or mentally ill police officer, this hulking giant of a black man, savaged her half to death one night for seemingly no reason at all.”

Amelie: “That seems to happen in this city,” Amelie offers. She takes another spoonful of soup with her bandaged hand. “Still, it was interesting to see her. She seemed like a strong woman. Minus the rumors that seemed to leak out during her speech. Painkillers and nun daughters.”

GM: “I remember all the stories. I was younger than you when it happened, in fact. We heard about her attack even in Baton Rouge. Most of the Malveauxes still lived in the state capital then, and Matthew was engaged to Vera Dyer. They almost called off the wedding.”

Amelie: “He still married her, despite what happened to her face? Was it a marriage of convenience, or did they actually have a thing?”

GM: “If she was such a strong woman, why wouldn’t he have still married her?” Christina asks with some amusement.

Amelie: “You don’t usually think ‘likes strong women’ as a trait most CEOs have. You always picture them with trophy wives, don’t you? For once maybe it’s good I’m wrong.”

GM: Jill fishes two croûtons into her spoonful of soup. “From what I hear, the two don’t get along very well these days. They only had one son, and he ended up being a priest instead of an executive VP in the family company—his uncle pushed for that, I’m sure, and Matthew didn’t stop it. Vera supposedly hasn’t ever gotten over that.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses for a moment. “How old is this priest son? Vera Malveux didn’t look that old.”

GM: “Adam Malveaux is relatively young for a priest. Early thirties, I think,” Christina answers. “His mother is in her fifties or sixties.”

Amelie: “Do we know what church?”

GM: “St. Louis Cathedral, of course. He is the archbishop’s heir.”

Jill taps her chin. “I’d thought he was assigned to St. Patrick’s. Though he is going to preside over St. Louis sooner or later, of course.”

“Yes. Father Connelly is getting old,” Amelie’s aunt agrees.

Amelie: “Huh. Well, in that case, I think I’ve met him as well. When I was in Jackson Square, I stepped into the cathedral and spoke with a priest about that age, taking care of an older priest who seemed a bit sickly.”

GM: “Hmm. I really could have sworn he was assigned to St. Patrick’s,” Jill muses, then smiles. “But that’s good for you, duckie, rubbing elbows with the old families. Just the sort of thing you want to be doing for your business.”

Amelie: “Especially one on his way to being such a figure in a historic building. If he was my client, I could do a lot for the building. I mean, if that was indeed him. I’ll have to find a picture.”

Amelie tucks back into her soup and thinks on everything they’ve spoken about so far. She’s been talking enough that she reels back her own part in the conversation to let the older adults catch up with each other.

GM: “Say, duckie, while we’re on the subject, you wouldn’t happen to have any finished pieces of yours lying around, would you?” Jill asks first. “I’d love to see any, your aunt says that you’re very talented.”

Amelie: Amelie nods, stands up, and excuses herself from the table. She remembers her pure elation when Christina brought this out to her. She couldn’t afford a storage locker in Canada, and the foster system wouldn’t allow her to possess weapons, so she mailed it to her aunt for safekeeping. She didn’t trust her father to take care of an absolute masterpiece like this: the product of weeks of screaming, swearing, and hammering the rage of puberty into a forged piece of iron.

Pic.jpg Amelie is beaming with pride when she returns to the dining room. She holds her masterwork’s long and thick scabbard against her forearm, right under the big steel crossguard: like a squire who’s presenting their knight with their weapon for an upcoming battle.

“Careful when you pull it out. It’s sharper than hell.”

GM: “Oh my, this does feel authentic,” Jill laughs when Amelie presents her the large sword hilt-first. “Let’s just hope I won’t impale myself…”

She grasps the hilt with both hands and gives a solid pull. Amelie has seen plenty of tourists handle other products from her family’s forge the same way: they all expected the swords to be much heavier than they were.

Her aunt’s friend gives a half-laughed, “Oh!” as the large blade comes out easily. Amelie briefly fears Jill is about to drop it—and worse, clip her feet with the hellishly sharp edge—but the woman’s awkward grip turns instantly steady as the same lethal thought seems to flash across her mind.

“I feel like I just drew forth Excalibur from the stone,” Jill chuckles, before her arms start to sag and she lays the sword flat across her lap. Her expression turns more serious as she continues, “And I say that because this seems like a sword fit for a king. I don’t know too much about weaponsmithing, but I can tell when an artist has put their all into something. You did, didn’t you—give this your all?”

Jill strokes a finger along the blade’s edge. “I can just picture it… you bent over the forge with a great steel hammer, pounding and bludgeoning the blistering-red metal into shape, sparks flying every which way like fireflies in summer.”

Her aunt’s friend closes her eyes and murmurs, “And in each one, a fire—an inferno in embryo! Stillborn conflagrations that could annihilate a thousand lives! Oh, for weapons of war to be birthed from fire, it is only appropriate.”

She looks back up at Amelie and chuckles, “I’m sorry, duckie, you’ll have to excuse me getting carried away—I actually minored in poetry in college. But this feels like a sword worthy for King Arthur, truly. I’m very impressed.”

Amelie: Amelie listens to the praise, but her gaze stays locked on her creation. She watches like a hawk in case the edge slips from Jill’s hand—someone who doesn’t even see the entirety of its beauty. She’ll show her.

“I can make beautiful swords, gaudy ones. I can lay gold and ivory, set jewels, and carve bones. But this is a subtle beauty. A lethal beauty,” she starts, dipping a finger into her water glass and taking the blade’s flat with her other hand. She gently slides her wet finger down the flat to reveal a pattern so subtle that it would look like bad polish to an untrained eye. But the moisture makes it shine and shows off flowing yet uniform waves and twists that cross against each other like rivers. They’re as neat as a row of military graves.

Damascus_Steel.jpg
“1095 Carbon steel. S7 shock steel. 9260 Silicon-manganese alloy steel. Stacked, tac welded, heated, and forge welded. Then folded. It’s called a Herring-bone Damascus pattern. And those specific steels together are part of my masterpiece. This sword broke two of my hammers, ruined the back half of my anvil, cost 300 pounds of coal when I decided I didn’t want to introduce chemical heating to the mixture. I ground it on a machine half way, and then hand ground it to the point it is now. The handle is purple heart, my favorite wood, and one that doesn’t like to absorb moisture. The pommel I made by hand, and it, the guard, and nail, are all W10 tool steel. No ornamentation, no wasted space. I worked on this every day after my normal work for a month. Slow, steady, focused attention. My only surviving work.”

GM: “That all sounds very, very impressive,” Jill repeats. “I know next to nothing about swords, but it’s clear how much of yourself you’ve put into this.”

She carefully sets the sword down when Amelie touches a wet finger to it. “I sounds as if chemical heating is inferior, somehow? Is using coal the smith’s equivalent of making something by hand?”
Jill laughs again. “Well, any more than you already do, clearly.”

Amelie: “Oh! No, not at all. In fact, it’s usually superior. The difference is the heat diffusion. If you use chemical heating, you use a sword forge, which is basically a rectangle made of stone with 10 to 20 blowtorches on the inside. It’s usually great. But coal heats and radiates, it takes much longer to heat up but you get a much more complete heat at a much more complete rate. Metals react differently to heat. Shock steel is… incredibly force-resistant, and heat-resistant, so it heated to hammering temps much slower,” she explains, taking the sword back and gripping the handle like it’s made for her. It feels good to have it in her hands again, but she slowly re-sheathes it after rubbing the wet spot dry, then carefully leans it up against the wall. “I made the scabbard as well.”

GM: “Oh my, I had no idea that the type of heat used was so important to how the final product turned out. Do you hear a lot of facts like these over dinner, Christina?”

Amelie’s aunt smiles over the rim of her wineglass. “Now and again.”

“It’s that Damascus pattern I find the most remarkable,” Jill continues. “The fact the sword has a literally hidden layer of beauty to it, which no one would even notice if they didn’t think to dab water over the metal.”

Amelie: Amelie actually flushes a bit when she hears that she goes on tangents around her aunt, but clears her throat.

“Well, it’s just that type of Damascus. It’s subtle, and tightly packed. If you look close you can see it. But certain patterns can make stars, dot matrix, circles, squares, there’s even one called ‘vines and roses.’ It’s all about how you work the metals, how many layers you use, and… well, luck. No two are the same.”

GM: “That’s all fascinating, duckie, it really is. I don’t think anyone could doubt that smithing is its own form of art after listening to you talk.” She smiles. “Or seeing your pieces. Do you have your own smithy set up yet?”

Amelie: “I’ve heard it’s been likened to baking,” Amelie offers. “I don’t have anything set up yet, no. Getting all the equipment is a bit expensive. Though I just need used equipment, I can maintain and upgrade mechanics and electrics on my own.”

GM: “Well, if you won’t think I’m crass for actually bringing up figures during dinner, but how expensive is that equipment? Your aunt and I know some people who might be happy to fund more of these.” She smiles again, but this time towards the sword as well.

Amelie: Jill’s words knock Amelie off-center. The insinuation of such generosity makes her reflexively look over towards her aunt, almost for permission to talk about it.

GM: Christina simply nods encouragingly.

Amelie: It takes a moment for Amelie to tabulate the amount in her head, if only to convert the prices she knows into USD. She explains that once she has a few basics she can mostly make her own tools. She names a figure that includes the monthly rent for an industrial district space to line up with Louisiana fire code. All in all, it’s a surprisingly low figure. The most expensive thing is what she calls a ‘power hammer,’ a machine that can deftly pound around thousands of pounds of die steel to draw out billets of red-hot steel. Power hammers usually cost under ten thousand dollars.

“…I mean, I should find a used one. Hopefully an older one, they’re usually more mechanical than pneumatic.”

GM: Jill simply nods along as Amelie quotes the various figures and replies, “I’ll talk to the people I know and see what they have to say. You’re very lucky to have a piece that impressive to show off.”

“Yes, she is,” Amelie’s aunt agrees. “You need a finished piece to impress people with, but you can’t make new pieces until you’ve impressed people enough to fund you. That’s an ugly chicken and egg scenario.”

Amelie: “I likely would have had to pay out of the nose for time in an independent forge. The nearest guild is a state over, so it would have been a nightmare. I’m lucky I have a favorite aunt who could keep my pieces—my future safe,” Amelie beams. Her cheeks are already starting to feel sore after tonight’s volley of praise.

“I can make armor too. Full knightly sets. And furniture.”

GM: “Oh, you could simply pay an independent smith to use their facilities? That might actually not be a bad idea,” her aunt muses. “Or spending a weekend over in the next state. Which one is that?”

“Knightly armor. Oh my,” Jill laughs.

Amelie: Amelie winces slightly at the thought of having to go and use another blacksmith’s shop. She kept hers pristine. Barrels lined the walls like a distillery, full of pieces and scraps of certain metals. Her tanks were locked in protective cases. Her saws and presses were greased and sharpened every night. She has too many memories of yelling at her drunken father’s guest smiths ruining her space and bitching about her systems.

“It’s in Mississippi, but it’s something I’d honestly like to avoid. I like to control my environment after my accident a bit more than most people.”

GM: “We can see what the future holds so far as getting your own space, and talk about things from there. For right now, who’d care for some dessert?” her aunt asks.

“Oh, yes please,” Jill answers.

Amelie: Amelie perks up at the mention of dessert. She spares her sword one last look before leaving it where it is and returning to her seat. A sweet note isn’t a bad one to end the night on.

GM: Dessert is a chilled affair, consisting of salted vanilla ice cream with drizzled gooey brown caramel sauce and honey-roasted pecans. Even with the house’s air conditioning on, it feels just right in this weather. The city’s heat is an almost palpable thing, even past the windows and at night.

Damascus_Steel.jpg
Jill and Amelie’s aunt ask a few more questions about Amelie’s work, but also talk about state and municipal politics. Neither woman seems to find it a dinner-inappropriate topic, nor do they spend much time talking about partisan issues: they mainly chuckle about about politicians’ personal dramas and how crooked officials in Louisiana are. FBI investigations into their activities sound quite common.

“The upcoming elections should be interesting ones, anyway,” Jill remarks. “There’s the mayoral race to watch in 2017, of course, and this year there’s supposed to be a challenger who wants to unseat Senator Kelly. In the primary, that is, not the general election.”

“Well, good luck to him with that,” Christina replies. “I think it’s more likely that we’re going to see Cherry making a run for the seat once Kelly finally retires or dies. That would be something to see her and Malveaux serving in DC together.”

“Oh, wouldn’t it. I’ve kept an ear out, and I hear Cherry’s daughter is now working as a waitress.”

“That poor girl. Do you think that…?”

Both of them laugh.

“I’m sure she has rather enough problems,” Jill chuckles.

“Yes, me too.”

“The poor thing, though,” Jill remarks wistfully. “It’s difficult not to want to help.”

“Yes. But in the long run she may be much better off.” Christina then turns to her niece. “Since we’re just about finished here, Amelie, Jill and I have some work-related business to discuss. Would you mind giving us some privacy?”

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet for most of dessert, letting the older adults talk as she finishes up relatively quickly. She’s sure the sugar will make it harder to sleep, but the fact she’s up past her normal bedtime should also help with that. She soaks in the politics, noting names and events, but stacks everyone’s bowls together and excuses herself once her aunt asks for privacy.

GM: When Amelie declares her intention to go to bed, Jill offers her a hug and adds, “I’m so glad to have met you, duckie, it’s clear you’re very talented,” before she leaves.

Amelie: Amelie already gave the woman a hug at the door, but leans in and gives her another one. She resolves to ask her aunt later why Jill keeps calling her ‘duckie.’

She gives Christina a small hug too, then carries her sword and an armful of dishes out of the room. She leaves the latter in the kitchen and rolls her shoulders as she heads up the stairs to wind down for the night. It’s a shame she can’t stay to hear about the two’s actual work.

There’s a pause, though, when she passes a vent in the hall and inspiration strikes. A quick mental map of the house brings her to her bathroom. She tosses the dress off her broad shoulders, sinks down to the floor and presses her ear to the grate. She slows her breath to catch the conversation downstairs.

GM: “…well, she seems sweet,” sounds Jill’s distant voice through the grill.

“Yes, she is.”

“So how has it been, living with a teenager?”

“She’s twenty, actually. But better than I expected. Especially after the home life she came from. My brother-in-law is a real piece of shit.” There’s a faint noise that might be Amelie’s aunt sipping from her wine. “She’s been very responsible, though, and seems to be looking towards her future. Some of her ideas are a little harebrained, but that’s the important thing. I thought about asking her if she wanted to see a therapist at first, but I don’t think she needs one.”

There’s a pause before Christina continues, “It’s still had its ups and downs, though. Her school wants to expel her.”

“Oh, no, what for?” Jill asks.

“For ‘behaviors at odds with the values of the school and posing a disruptive influence to the academic and social success of other students.’”

“Ah, yes. She doesn’t quite fit in with that crowd, does she?”

“No. She doesn’t,” Amelie’s aunt answers. “Maybe enrolling her at McGehee wasn’t realistic of me, especially when she’s older than all the other students. The women there all know who I am, too. God knows they wouldn’t have admitted any relative of mine without your friend.”

Amelie: Amelie stays rigid and unmoving as she lays there, but it’s all she can do to contain her emotions when the realizations dawn on her. Of course she couldn’t trust a school therapist. Of course even mentioning ruining the school’s perfect little college acceptance numbers would make her enemies. That’s odd all the women would know her aunt, too. Is she a wedding ring chaser? A gossip?

It hurts when her aunt calls her ideas harebrained, but she pushes that to the back of her mind. Of course her future isn’t solid, of course what she does isn’t stable. It’s… complicated.

Still, she stays quiet as a mouse, feeling a little numb as she keeps listening.

GM: “She could make this go away too,” Jill offers.

“I’ve asked you for enough favors,” Christina answers. “We can do that if I’m not able to make the school back down on my own.”

“So what are your options there? Could you appeal to the board of trustees?”

Amelie’s aunt might shake her head at this point, but she can’t make out anything besides ventilation ducts. “No. We’d be able to fight this if it were a public school. Private schools operate under contract law. They can essentially throw her out for whatever reason. I can still sue, though, which is what I’ve been threatening.”

“They don’t know you’re disbarred?” There’s some amusement in Jill’s voice.

“No. They don’t know me as well as they think.” There’s the faintest smirk to her aunt’s voice at those words. “Not that it matters, I’d hire another lawyer even if I wasn’t. But people are usually more intimidated when they think you’re the lawyer.”

Amelie: Amelie starts planning already how she can help her aunt make this right. There’s people in the school who can help for sure: teachers who like her, the headmistress, even that career counselor. She’ll just need to draw less attention and do more under the radar ass-kissing.

GM: “How much have you scared the headmistress, then?” Jill asks with a similarly audible slight smirk.

“She was willing, for now, to essentially put Amelie on probation, and have her attend regular meetings with the school psychologist, who will teach her how to fit in. Her assignment this week is to go to a school dance.”

“That’s not too bad,” Jill replies.

“I agree. It’s not. She could stand to meet some people closer to her age than you or me. Though I’m not sure the girls at McGhee are ideal there either, or even that it’s necessary. She’s getting good grades despite coming from a bad place, and I don’t want to push her too hard.”

“But it was either that or deal with her being expelled,” Jill fills in.

“Yes. What’s that quote, ‘there are no good options in this city, only ones which are less distasteful’?”

“Too true.”

“A dance with boys should also quiet down the headmistress’ ‘fluidity in gender identity’ complaint,” Christina continues. “She all but said that she thought Amelie was going to rape the other girls. Especially with how she’s older than they all are.”

Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes so hard she almost feels them pop out her head and hit the bathroom floor.

GM: “I said that she cut her hair short because she’s a smith, and long hair is an occupational hazard.”

“That does make sense. I suppose it could easily catch on fire.” Jill laughs. “You didn’t really say that though, did you?”

“No. I just said she wasn’t gay and there was no need to consider conversion therapy. Lord knows I wouldn’t have paid for that anyways.”

“So would you say things are in hand, then?” Jill asks. “No need to bring in anyone else?”

“No,” Christina replies. “Not at this point. And some of what the school wants to impress upon her is actually a good idea. I mean, god knows the bit about being a sexual predator was a load of nonsense, but they do want to encourage her to apply for college.”

“You think she should do that?” Jill asks.

“I think it’s more that she doesn’t grasp the impact that the decision could have on her future, especially her business plans,” Christina replies. “She doesn’t believe she needs to attend college because she already knows her trade. Well, that’s fair, you saw that sword of hers yourself.”

“Oh, yes.”

“But she wants to start this expensive-sounding business, all by herself. Who is going to provide startup capital to a random 21-year-old with only a high school diploma? She says she knows people at McGehee who’ll contribute funds, but behind her back they want to expel her. She even cited her therapist’s husband, for goodness’ sake, the woman who said her ‘gender is unanchored because her mind is unanchored.’ Or because her father abused her, whatever nonsense that was.”

“Mmm, yes,” Jill seems to nod. “Her work does speak for itself. But work can speak very quietly next to other things.”

“Right,” Christina agrees. “She doesn’t know how to deal with the sorts of people who go to McGehee, on any basis besides the relative merit of her ideas.”

“My, that sounds cynical,” Jill offers.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Christina says with a sigh. “I have to remind myself that she is only twenty.”

“Well, you never did want to be a mother. I think it’s only fair to need the occasional reminder.”

“Yes. That’s true.”

“It’s not as if I know much better how to deal with teenagers or near-teenagers, anyway…” Jill briefly trails off. “Nathalie passed before Amelie’s age.”

“How are things moving along there?” Christina asks quietly.

Amelie strains her ears against the grate. Whatever response Jill gives is too muted for her to pick up.

Silence, or perhaps further inaudible conversation passes between the two. Amelie briefly wonders if her aunt has shown Jill to the door, or if they’ve simply moved to another room, until Jill speaks up, “But let’s talk about yours.”

“All right. Where was I?”

“About her still being twenty and thinking if you work hard you’ll succeed.”

“Now who’s being cynical?” Christina asks.

Whatever reply Jill gives seems to be nonverbal, or perhaps she simply doesn’t before Amelie’s aunt goes on, “I suppose that’s the thing I need to impart, anyways. How these people would be flinging money her way if she was one of them, but she’s not. Say she somehow scrapes together funding, and starts up the business. Then what? Does she know how to balance books? Advertise? Attract customers among the people here, image brand herself, deal with suppliers? Manage employees, if she doesn’t intend to do everything herself? She’s a stellar smith, obviously, but that doesn’t mean she’s qualified to run a business. Especially at twenty.”

“Do you think she’s not?”

“I don’t know whether she is or not, to be honest. She’s not lived with me for very long. But she’s not considering all of the details. Such as renting a space, when she has no meaningful credit history, or-”

“Details, Christina.”

“Yes. I think she might be better off simply working under another smith, at least initially. She’d still get to do what she loves, but without any of the risks, responsibilities, and plain extra work of starting her own business.”

“And you’d like her to go to college.”

“I think that would be a very good idea. I have no idea whether there’s even any smiths in the city who could or would take her on. But going to college, she could open so many doors for herself. Both as a business owner and in case the business doesn’t pan out. I’m even paying extra for her to take AP classes, which there’s no point in taking unless you go to college. She’s very serious about her studies, but I don’t think she gets how no one cares about high school grades outside of college admissions.”

“Mmm. She did say she wanted to attend MIT. But…”

“Yes, that’s obviously a pipe dream,” Christina fills in. “It’s the same as McGehee, except we don’t have any pull there.”

“So why doesn’t she want to attend college?” Jill asks. “You said she’d been enjoying her schoolwork.”

“Student debt, I think.”

“Hmm. Well, I could ask around, see about scholarships or early-issue grants or anything else like that.”

“I wouldn’t say no. I obviously don’t have any kind of college fund set up for her.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t usually get emotional. She prides herself on having her mother’s stone face. But she’s forced to put her hand over her mouth as she lays there. She bites into its bandages to hold back the stinging feeling in her eyes that threatens to rip a sob from her throat. She doesn’t let it, but grips the grate and forces herself to face the truth. That for the first time in her life, she can’t brute force this.

She presses her face closer, trying to hear more.

GM: “Do you plan to talk with her about this?” Jill asks.

“After things have settled a bit. When the bandages come off her hand, at least.”

“I saw that. How did she get those?”

“Some lunatic attacked her in the Quarter. She was lucky to get away. Even luckier not to suffer any lasting damage to her hands, or to even be that traumatized.”

“Oh, that’s very lucky. I’ve told you about that friend of mine, the pianist, who had his hands crushed.”

“He wasn’t so lucky.”

Amelie: All Amelie can think is too late. It’s difficult to calm down, but the rational voice still kicking around in her head tries to convince her that this is a good thing. A good step.

GM: “Yes, he wasn’t,” Jill replies. “Do you plan to talk with Amelie about all this—the school wanting to expel her, that is—or keep it under wraps?”

“Oh, she has enough to deal with right now. Mrs. Achord said that the two of them got along, so hopefully that will continue while I take care of things behind the scenes. And who knows. Maybe she’ll learn to fit in better at school. That’ll help even after she graduates.”

“For certainly,” Jill agrees. “One last piece of advice. However things pan out for college, don’t let her take any money from the Whitneys.”

“You’ve had some dealings with them.”

“I know what I’m dealing with.”

“Warren has had more than one of my girls star in his films,” Amelie’s aunt replies.

“Take my advice please, Christina.”

There’s a pause. “All right, I will.”

“Speaking of Warren though, has he had any ‘interesting’ requests lately?” Jill asks.

“He’s seen some new snuff films. Real ones. He’s taking a break from directing his own fake snuffs to directing ‘remakes’ with Kristina.” Amelie’s aunt continues more amusedly, “She wasn’t sure what to charge him initially. She thought to treat it like a PSE, but that didn’t seem quite ‘it.’ Half the time he doesn’t even fuck her. He just slashes fake blood packets over her neck, stages a faux hanging, or what have you.”

Jill laughs. “That second one is new.”

“It’s fairly simple how they do it. The noose around her neck is real, but she wears a harness around her torso that holds her up. It did mean she couldn’t be fully naked during the hanging, though, which Warren was disappointed by. I’m sure a real studio could manage it, but this is obviously a ‘home’ production. And he wants it to feel authentic.”

“Yes, authentic,” Jill remarks. “Do you know yet where he’s seeing these real snuffs?”

“Not yet,” Amelie’s aunt replies. “I’ve told Kristina to ask him about it when he’s in a talkative mood after some fucking. And to get some wine in him first.”

“Good,” Jill concurs. “Warren likes to pretend-play at being the debauched sybarite. But after enough play someone might be able to tempt him into the real thing.”

“You think he has it in him to kill Kristina?” Christina asks.

“Everyone has that in them,” Jill answers. “It’s only a question of what draws it out.”

“Hmm. I’d say about as much as anyone else, to be quite honest. Maybe less. You think someone is pushing him in that direction?”

“Someone would certainly stand to benefit from doing so. A tape where the Whitney heir murders an escort would be excellent blackmail material,” Jill replies. “Something like that would be so very hard to stage.”

“I could pull Kristina out. But if Warren can’t use her, he’ll just find some other girl,” Amelie’s aunt considers. “If you’re right.”

“If I’m right,” Jill agrees. “If she can find out more about those snuffs from Warren, then we can make moves of our own.”

“Until that time, then,” Christina finishes. “I could go for some more ice cream. What about you?”

“Just one scoop, please.”

“One scoop,” Amelie’s aunt echoes.

There are a few further sounds of movement, but no longer any discernible voices.

Amelie: Amelie’s initial burst of emotion has long since cooled, but it’s plummeted to the opposite end of the spectrum. She can feel her veins turn to ice as she listens, eyes and mouth wide open. The hand she was biting just a moment ago clamps over her dropped jaw as if to keep it attached and silent at the same time.

She remembers her day out with Kristina. How normal she seemed. Now she realizes that money may have come from Kristina getting faux-hanged, and in danger of the real thing, every day she spends with this maniac. The snuff films are almost secondary to the fact that the two speak so casually about them, or that someone she touched hands with played them out.

But the worst of it all is her aunt and that kind lady she met today. They act as though this is normal. An everyday reality.

Amelie remembers her first night in New Orleans. She remembers driving by the grave of Josie Arlington. She remembers Tantsy’s choked words about the world and its ugliness. Most of all, she desperately tries to remember the kindness and care that her aunt has shown her. But maybe that just makes it worse.

The young woman’s mind races as she slowly slides to her feet, creeps over to the door, and locks it from the inside. She turns the lights out and sits on the bed with her sword, processing everything she’s just heard.

She lives with a madame. A woman who was disbarred from practicing law and now pimps out women, maybe even ones her own age.

The clock ticks. Amelie lies in bed with wide-open eyes and grips her sword’s scabbard through her half-buttoned shirt. She stares into the dark until the emotions bottom out. Finally, exhaustion grips her brain, and plunges her into nightmares.


Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Caroline Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria Prelude II

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Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

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Story One, Victoria Prelude II

Tuesday night, 13 June 2000

Victoria: Sylvie is a beaten dog. She cries in that solitary box until the tears run dry, then she heaves hollow sounds. She hugs her knees, rocking back and forth on the floor.

Sylvie is a bad girl.

A bad, bad girl.

The dreams remind her of that. She sees her parents, burning in the willow tree, needled and jabbed by faeries and dragons and goblins. They don’t mind if Sylvie sees them as long as they have her parents.

GM: Sylvia languishes in solitary for hours, eventually crying herself to sleep. She’s hungry when she wakes up.

She’s just as bald, when she wakes up.

She can feel her bare skin under her fingers. The cuts and nicks from the cruel scissors still sting.

She waits for what feels like hours before a staff member finally unlocks the door. He’s got all of her things in a cardboard box that he shoves into her hands. “You screwed up,” he tells her. She’s now at negative points.

He leads her through the group home’s hallways. Every kid stares at her and her bald head.

All of them laugh or sneer.

Victoria: Her feet are too heavy to move. She can’t help them. She can’t help anyone.

She doesn’t even respond to the staffer, her eyes counting the myriad speckles in the floor. One trillion and one, one trillion and two…

She loses count once they start walking.

GM: The staffer leads her out to the home’s reception area. Sylvia’s latest case worker is there, along with a short, gray-haired, and middle-aged woman with clear blue eyes and lines along her face, although they aren’t harsh lines. A silver crucifix hangs from her neck. She’s dressed in a dark button-up and clogs.

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She gives her name as Mary St. George and says she’s Sylvie’s new foster mother. Sylvie is leaving the group home to come live with her.

That’s good news, at least, though the rest of the woman’s words likely don’t leave much impression.

How long will this foster parent last?

Victoria: ‘Foster parent’ doesn’t mean much positive to her anymore. Foster parents just rent kids and do what they want with them, then toss them back.

“Hello…” she answers when Mary gives her name.

GM: Mary offers to carry Sylvie’s box of things to her car, if she wants.

Victoria: She doesn’t accept the help. No, Sylvie can carry her own things. People take them when others touch them.

She does make sure her Gameboy is inside.

GM: Sylvie has her Gameboy.

There’s not much else in the cardboard box. Just a few changes of clothes and toiletries, really. It’s not a heavy box.

Victoria: It’s the only possession in the world that has value to her. One of a kind, despite millions of others.

This one has her name on it.

GM: Mary’s car is a white minivan. After they load in Sylvie’s things and she fastens her seat belt, Mary turns to her and says,

“You have been treated very badly. That stops today. From this day forward you will be loved, cherished, and cared for. No one will be allowed to hurt you. I know you don’t believe me, you have every reason not to. That’s okay, you will when you are ready.”

Victoria: “Anything is better than here,” is the only answer Mary gets on her promise.

GM: Mary just nods at her answer and drives.

“Would you like to get a hat?”

Victoria: She nods.

GM: “Do you want to come with me into the store, or would you like me to find you something?”

Victoria: “I don’t have any money… I don’t like when they steal.”

“They stole from Jacob, and he didn’t care. I still didn’t like it.”

GM: “I don’t like that either,” says Mary. “And that’s fine, I don’t expect you to have any. I’ll pay for your clothes.”

Victoria: She begins to cry again.

GM: They’re driving, so Mary can’t take both hands off the wheel. But she reaches over and rubs a hand along Sylvie’s shoulder, lightly at first, as if testing whether she’s okay with the physical contact.

“I’m so sorry, Sylvie… they’ve all been so cruel to you… so cruel…”

Victoria: She can’t stop crying. She wants to be brave, and obedient, and quiet, and go to school, but she can’t stop the tears.

She can’t stop crying because she doesn’t believe a word this woman says.

GM: Mary pulls over the car and asks if Sylvie would like to hug her.

Victoria: She isn’t sure. Is it a trick?

She does want a hug, and she’s so desperate for any shadow of the affection she got in the year she spent with a loving family that she doesn’t care if she’ll be hit for it.

GM: Mary leans over and puts her arms around Sylvie. The stoutly built woman is a lot for the thin and gangly preteen to hug. She’s warm and soft. Sylvie has few memories of being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The closest was the family who wouldn’t take pictures of her, then got rid of her without saying goodbye. So many of her foster parents haven’t wanted to touch her. Rules at the group home strictly prohibited all physical contact between residents and staff, other than, apparently for the latter to hit the former. The full weight of all those years without physical affection seems to fall in on her as Mary holds her close.

Victoria: The closest she’s come to this was when she hugged her dog; the only creature who loved her, unconditionally and unmitigated.

It doesn’t help the tears stop.

She clutches into Mary’s shirt, soaking it through to the skin with her crying. She doesn’t care if this woman will bring her back tomorrow. She doesn’t care if she tosses her out, or calls the police. She just wants this contact.

GM: It’s anyone’s guess what tomorrow will bring. Sylvie’s least of all.

Mary holds the 11-year-old against her, sometimes running a hand along her back. She says things, every so often, that Sylvie doesn’t really hear. All she makes out is that Mary’s voice is soft.

Sylvie isn’t sure how long passes. The woman doesn’t let her go.

Victoria: Nothing could break that hug. It’s tried.

She hugs the woman, and hugs her, and hugs her, not because she’s fond of the woman, or because she took her from that horrid prison, but because it’s human contact. How long has it been since Sylvie had a real, unconditional hug?

Eventually, her heaving sobs lessen to hiccups, and she sits back.

GM: Sylvie is hard-pressed to say when, if she leaves out the dog.

Does the foster sister she had for a day count?

Mary resumes driving and asks again whether Sylvie would like to come into the store with her. If not, she can just say what kind of hat she’s looking for and let Mary get something.

Victoria: She just shakes her head.

“I don’t want people to see me…”

She gets a choice in the type of hat? She can’t remember the last time she’s been given a choice by an adult, either.

“…my favorite color is purple.”

GM: “I didn’t think you would,” says Mary. “What about a purple bucket hat, or beanie?”

Victoria: “What’s a beanie?”

“I don’t like beans.”

GM: Mary smiles. “They’re made from wool or cloth, usually. They fit your head closely and don’t have a brim like a baseball cap.”

Victoria: “Oooooh…”

She thinks about it.

“I think I like that.”

Then she thinks about it some more.

“Won’t it be hot?”

Then again, she doesn’t have hair. She’ll get a sunburn without something.

GM: “People wear them when it’s cold out, though also when it’s not,” says Mary. “Since they’re tighter on your head than a bucket hat or baseball cap, they’re usually warmer.”

“But your head will feel colder anyways, without hair.”

It’s the strangest sensation, how cool she feels up there. Sylvie always took her hair’s insulation for granted. Her head feels naked without it.

Though there are ways way to feel in a stiflingly hot and humid New Orleans summer than naked.

Victoria: The simple nature of Mary’s explanation vexes her. Why is she answering her questions so straightforwardly?

“Oh.”

A pause.

“Okay.”

GM: “Okay, a purple beanie. Do you have any other colors you’d like if I can’t find purple?”

Victoria: “Pink. Or blue. I guess green is okay. Or white?”

GM: “I’ll see what I can find,” says Mary.

She drives a little while longer before stopping outside a hat store. She shows Sylvie how to change the channels on her car radio, if she wants to listen to music. She says that her two favorite channels are 89.7 Wake Forest and 95.9 The Fish. The former plays classical music. The latter plays Christian music. Star 101.5 and 103.7 The Mountain play modern rock, if Sylvie would prefer that.

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t touch the radio station, despite being allowed to.

She doesn’t trust it.

The radio remains untouched, exactly on the current station—The Fish—and at volume 13.

GM: After Mary’s gone, Sylvie sees another family with a kid, a girl, walking into a nearby store. The girl points at Sylvie and laughs. The parents smile, say something, and head into another store with her.

The radio music continues to play.

“All I know is I’m not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.”


Victoria: This is not where she belongs.

But anywhere else makes her feel worse.

She sinks down low in the seat, waiting for the air conditioning to short circuit and leave her to bake.

One serving Sylvie: Leave in car fifteen minutes on 140F.

GM: For better or worse, the AC doesn’t give out before Mary returns with a beanie hat.

“I couldn’t find purple, sorry, but you can see they had blue.”

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Victoria: She really did buy her a hat.

How will Sylvie be paying her back?

Such a cute shade of blue, too!

Sylvie appears confused.

GM: “You should put it on,” smiles Mary, handing it to her.

Victoria: She takes the beanie, staring.

It’s a long moment before she puts it on.

GM: The wool is soft and fits snugly around her head.

“It looks good on you,” says Mary. “While we’re out, do you have any other things you’d like to get?”

Victoria: “I… I don’t know.”

It’s less a sadness and more a statement of fact. She doesn’t know what ‘having much’ feels like.

GM: “Our house has a lot of toiletries, so things like toothbrushes won’t be an issue. What about things like clothes or books or food?”

Victoria: “I have three shirts, and two pairs of underwear. Two pairs of pants. Some socks…”

She paints it as if it’s enough.

GM: “That’s not enough, even if we want to do laundry every two days,” says Mary. “Let’s get you some clothes, then. Come on.”

Victoria: “They made me do laundry at another house!”

House, not home.

“I don’t mind. I can do it.”

Perhaps she sees a little bit of a good thing here. She expects the tricks to come. She knows the pain will start, but if she can prove that she’s a useful girl—a good girl—then maybe they’ll treat her just a little better.

GM: “That’s good you know how to, though you shouldn’t have had to do all of it yourself,” says Mary. “We have laundry nights where we sort and fold everything together.”

She takes Sylvie to a nearby thrift store. The woman doesn’t seem like she’s operating on as large a budget as her last family, but she browses the racks in the children’s section with Sylvie and asks her to pick out things she likes.

Victoria: She doesn’t complain when Mary actually does take her to a store.

Sylvie picks out a single shirt and a single pair of shorts. That’s enough, right?

GM: Mary nods at her two choices and asks what else Sylvie wants to get.

Victoria: “Oh.”

She doesn’t fully get it.

“This is fine.”

She doesn’t need anything else.

Or does she?

GM: Mary shakes her head.

“You should have something different to wear each day of the week. So, we need three more shirts, and four more pants or dresses. Plus socks and underwear.”

“You should also have a nicer dress to wear for church and special occasions.”

Victoria: “What’s church like?” she asks, thumbing through a rack of dresses.

As they talk, she picks what seems nice—her taste, without looking too expensive.

GM: Expensive, at least, seems less of an issue in the thrift store. Her last family took her to a department store.

Those clothes are long gone, pilfered by roommates and staff in the group home.

“Church is wonderful,” says Mary with a serene expression. “The priest will give mass in Latin. You won’t understand the words, but it’s very beautiful. Then he’ll talk about God, and how much He loves us all. The choir will sing, and that will also be very beautiful. We’ll talk with people about stories and lessons from the Bible. All sorts of things, like the life of Jesus or Noah’s ark, or Daniel in the lion’s den. Everyone will be very nice to you. We’re all there to rejoice in how much God loves us.”

“And He does love you, Sylvie,” smiles the woman, resting a hand on her shoulder. “He loves you very, very much.”

Victoria: She’s heard of God before—in people passing on the street, in school, in stores. She’s heard His name a million times, but no one ever really stopped to explain God to her.

Sylvia winces at the declaration of love, and it’s immediately apparent she’s trying not to cry.

“I don’t like when a man loves me, or my foster family…”

GM: Mary pulls Sylvie into a fuller half-hug with her free arm.

“God isn’t just a man, Sylvie. He’s so much more than a man. He is greater and bigger than the whole wide world. And His love is deeper and bigger than any kind of love you can receive. His love will never hurt you, make you feel bad, or touch you in places where you shouldn’t be touched. His love will fill you like a big meal after you’re hungry, a long drink of water after you’re thirsty, and so much more. You won’t even realize how hungry and thirsty you are, until you realize how much He loves you. It’ll fill your heart and shine through your eyes, and everything in your life will be better. You will feel warm and safe and never, ever alone, because God is always with you, and will always love you. No matter what happens, no matter what you do.”

Victoria: She doesn’t entirely understand, nor does she entirely believe Mary, but maybe if she attends Church she’ll have a better idea what it means.

“I don’t get how someone can always be loved, but okay…”

She continues rifling through clothing. All in all, she picks out four more pairs of pants, two shorts, three dresses, five shirts, and enough underwear and socks to last.

GM: “That’s okay,” nods Mary. “That’s what church is for, to help you understand God’s love.”

She shows Sylvie her crucifix up close. It’s silver and shows a man with his arms spread and a crown of thorns.

“My father gave this to me, when I was around your age. He’s in Heaven now, and with God all the time. So when I look at it, I’m reminded of how much they love me, and how I’m never alone. Just like you aren’t ever alone, Sylvie. God thinks about you all the time, and how special you are to Him, and how much He loves you.”

Victoria: She shudders again.

“Am I gonna go to Heaven too? How do you get there? Why do we go to meet God?”

GM: “If you try your best to be a good person, you go to Heaven,” says Mary. “You go there when you die. But death isn’t really the end, Sylvie. Death just means you get to be even closer to God.”

Victoria: This is all very confusing to Sylvia. She prefers looking at pretty dresses.

“Okay.”

Death isn’t the end, but that is the end of the conversation.

“I think this is enough?”

GM: “I think that’s enough clothes,” nods Mary, once they have enough for seven basic outfits and a nicer dress.

She casts a glance at Sylvie’s well-worn pair of converse. They were new when her last family got them, but months in the group home have left them in pretty sorry condition.

“Do those have any holes in them? Or your socks?”

Victoria: She nods sheepishly.

GM: “Let’s get you some new shoes, then. We don’t want your feet to get wet when it rains.”

She lets Sylvie pick out another pair for everyday wear, and a second nicer pair for church. Along with extra socks.

Victoria: She’s much too old for light-up sneakers, and so she skips those. She finds a simple pair of converse, much like those she has on but with different coloration and patterning.

Her shoes for church are black; formal and to the point.

GM: Mary compliments her fashion sense and pays for the purchases. She asks what Sylvie’s favorite foods are on the way out.

Victoria: “Uhm. Pizza.”

It doesn’t take her long to answer that one. It’s a simple answer, though, as everyone likes pizza. Even Sylvia is aware enough to know that she may learn to like many more foods, if she had the family to experience them with.

GM: “That’s a classic,” says Mary as she opens the car trunk and loads in bags. Sylvie’s expected to do so too. “Any others?”

Victoria: She shrugs her shoulders.

“Pasta. Fried chicken. Candy.”

She expects to receive none of that.

“Mac and cheese.”

GM: “Let’s see, I think we have everything on hand for pasta,” says Mary as she sits down in the driver’s seat. “You don’t need too many ingredients. How does that sound for dinner tonight?”

Victoria: She nods.

“Thank you, ma’am,” she answers.

“Are there… others in your house?”

“Kids.”

GM: “You can call me Mary, Sylvie. Or Mom, whenever you feel ready,” she says as she starts the car.

Victoria: “Okay. Mary.”

Sylvia has a mom. She doesn’t like when she visits.

“Is it far?”

GM: “Not too far,” she says as she drives. “We live in the Irish Channel. My mother and I are Irish and very proud of it.”

“And yes, I’m taking care of five other children besides you. Julius, Leslie, George, Brian, and Hannah. My mother, Beth, also lives with us and helps take care of everyone.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Another group home. Great. She’ll have to find a place to hide her things.

“Are they nice?”

It’s a test.

GM: “They are nice. Like you, they’ve all been hurt. They won’t hurt you or steal from you.”

“It’s okay if you don’t believe me. We’ll all have to earn your trust.”

Victoria: She isn’t sure whether Mary means it or not.

“Okay.”

It’s become a common answer; a lie.


Wednesday afternoon, 14 June 2000

GM: Mary’s house looks old. It’s big enough to comfortably house a normal-sized family, which means that Sylvie shares a room with Leslie and Hannah. Leslie’s a redhead who’s a little younger than her. Hannah is black and looks several or more years younger. She seems nervous around Sylvie, but Mary assures her that Sylvie isn’t going to hurt her.

There’s not much privacy, but the rooms are clean and there’s no locks on the doors or bars on the windows. Laundry is done weekly. They’re doing laundry today, in fact. Sylvia’s new and old clothes can get a washing.

Victoria: She shares a room with other kids, none of whom push her, shove her, or call her names. Not that she takes off her hat—she isn’t going to give them a reason to change.

Sylvie reassures Hannah that she isn’t going to hurt her, too.

Laundry is done weekly. Together. As a family. Talking, and laughing, and making chores fun. Or so she comes to believe, from how the rest of her first day goes.

GM: Dinner on the first night is spaghetti and meatballs. Mary and Beth oversee the cooking and have Sylvie participate, so she can also learn how to cook. Everyone bows their heads, prays, and thanks God for providing their meal before they eat. Sylvie gets a few glances when she doesn’t remove her hat with dinner, but no one remarks.

Victoria: She isn’t the best cook in the world, but she’s also 11; but, she participates, and she gets to know her new mother and elder sister.

She even uses the bathroom on her own without asking, after being told she didn’t have to ask the first time.

GM: Mary teaches Sylvie to say the Lord’s prayer alongside Leslie and Hannah before they go to sleep. She also gives her pajamas. They used to belong to another girl who stayed with Mary, but they’re clean and only a little big. Mary says she’ll grow into them.

Victoria: She moves her lips during prayers, but doesn’t speak the words she doesn’t know, and doesn’t pray in her head. Who would she pray to?

Sylvie asks what happened to the girl who owned the pajamas.

She already knows the answer.

GM: Mary says that the girl’s grandmother assumed care of her. That’s what foster care is supposed to be, Mary explains: temporary, pending either adoption into a new family, or reunification with an old family. The girl had no pajamas when she came to live with Mary. Her grandmother got her new ones, and said Mary should keep at least some the old clothes she’d bought her granddaughter; Mary looks after a lot of kids, after all, and clothes are expensive. Not to mention kids go through them fast.

That approach seems characteristic of the St. George household: Mary doesn’t seem to have a lot of money, but she provides. Leslie and Hannah are likely going to wear her hand-me-downs after she outgrows them, if they stay with Mary.

Victoria: Temporary. Exactly as it always has been. Forever and always temporary. How long will this one last?

GM: Mary says that Sylvie can stay with her forever, if she wants to. She knows Sylvie doesn’t have any biological relatives in the picture. George and Julius don’t either, so Mary’s adopted them.

Sylvie also doesn’t need to decide right away. She can take some time to see if she likes living here.

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t believe her. The only forevers are being temporary and being unwanted.

GM: Those thoughts may long occupy Sylvie’s mind as she drifts off to sleep. Her beanie falls off during the night. Leslie sees in the morning.

“What happened to your hair?” she asks.

The question sounds curious rather than mean.

Victoria: When her beanie falls off, she freezes. The abuse never comes, just curious questions.

“I—I… some mean girls swapped my shampoo with hair remover…”

GM: “Oh,” says the younger girl at her answer.

“I’m sorry.”

“What’s hair remover?”

Victoria: “Uhm. It removes hair. Like mine. I hope it grows back. No one said that it would…”

GM: Leslie asks why it wouldn’t. Hair grows, right?

Victoria: The next day, Sylvie decides on a test. She finds Mary.

“Can we take a picture? Like, all of us.”

GM: “Of course,” says Mary. “Here, or somewhere else?”

“We could go on a picnic for it. The weather is just right.”

Victoria: “A picnic?”

She’s seen those before.

“I’ve never been on a picnic. I’d love that. Do you have a camera?”

GM: Sylvie’s last family went on some picnics. She stayed behind in their house, though they left her with food.

Mary says they’ll go on a picnic, then, and shows her a handheld Kodak.

Victoria: She holds the camera up to her eye, looking at her foster mother.

“What will we bring on the picnic?”

GM: “We want things we can carry in a basket,” says Mary. “So solid foods, rather than liquid ones. We don’t want anything that’s too messy, because we’ll only have what napkins we bring with us. We also want things that can stay fresh and not spoil after a while in the sun, in case there’s leftovers.”

Victoria: “Like sandwiches? And rice?”

She can’t think of much else that fits.

GM: “Those are good ideas,” says Mary. “Fruit and potato salads are also popular.”

Victoria: “But fruit has juice!”

GM: “That’s okay. It comes in whole pieces, and we keep it in a container.”

Victoria: “Okay.”

Containers are allowed.

“What about vegetables?”

The other kids made fun of her for liking vegetables.

GM: “Vegetables are good to eat at picnics, and good to eat any time,” Mary says approvingly.

“Oh, you also want them to be things that taste good cold, since we’ll walk for a little while to get to the park.”

Victoria: “But won’t the cold things get warm? So they have to taste good in the middle.”

GM: Mary nods. “That’s right, Sylvie. That’s what I should have said. You’re very smart.”

Victoria: She is? She can’t help but smile.

“Can I help pack…? Are we going now?”

GM: “We need to make the food first,” laughs Mary. “So, we can go for dinner. Or we can go tomorrow for lunch.”

Victoria: “Lunch tomorrow!”

She’s almost forgotten about the whole trick of a picture. For the first time in a long time, Sylvia feels a spark of excitement.

GM: “Lunch is the most popular time,” says Mary. “Dinner second. I’ve never heard of a breakfast picnic.”

They make things for the picnic, later in the day. Sandwiches. Potato salad. Fruit salad. Veggie salad. Chocolate chip cookies. Juice boxes and water bottles. The next day, they load everything into the family’s two cars, along with blankets, and drive up to City Park. It’s the biggest park in the city, and one of the biggest in the country.

Lots of other people are there that day, having picnics of their own, walking dogs, or just strolling through the park. Mary and Beth also bring Frisbees for the kids to play with.

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There’s also ducks to feed. Mary and Beth bring a bag of old bread and show the kids how to tear it into clumps and toss to the ducks. They noisily squawk and descend en masse wherever the scattered bread bits land.

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Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t ask for a cookie, but it’s plain on her face that she wants nothing more than just a nibble. Or the entire plate.

Sylvie is good while they pack, helping pick out food, pack it into boxes, bring it to the car, and participating in conversation while they drive there. It’s only been a day, but she feels as if she belongs. It’s almost akin to how she felt in the family with her dog, but there’s no subtle exclusion. No exclusion at all. She’s there. She’s welcome. She’s wanted.

Sylvie is wanted.

For now.

She’s never had more grins than feeding ducks with her new family.

GM: Sylvie can’t have the entire plate of cookies, because her foster brothers and sisters want cookies too. But she can have multiple ones, not just nibbles. They’re there to be eaten.

Mary brings the camera, too, and asks where she’d like to take pictures.

Victoria: If God comes and takes her to Heaven tonight, she won’t complain. Not after cookies. And kindness. And smiles. And family.

“Right here!” she says, pointing to the blanket. “All of us.”

GM: Mary asks a passerby if he can take some pictures of them, so they get in everyone. He snaps several of the family gathered on the blanket. Mary and Beth take some individual photos of everyone, after that. Mary drops the camera off at a drug store on the way back, to get the pictures developed. That’ll take three to five business days.

Victoria: Sylvie feels something bubbling up inside her that she can’t identify. It’s a positive feeling, but bitter. Unknown. Uncertain. She can’t place her finger on what it is, because—at least in part—she’s never felt it before.

GM: Four pass before Mary picks them up. She finds the one she likes most, of everyone on the blanket, and frames it and hangs it on a wall.

There are other pictures on the house’s walls too, Sylvie notices. Some feature her foster siblings. Some feature kids she doesn’t recognize. Some are mixes of both. Some kids appear in lots of pictures, others in only one. Mary points out each of their names to Sylvie. There are even more pictures in a photo book, where she puts the others.

“Some of them stay with me for a long time,” says Mary. “Some only stay for a little while. God doesn’t give forever to anyone. That’s how He teaches us to treasure the moments we have, and the people we share them with. Whether it’s for a long time or just a little while.”

Victoria: Days later, she sits in front of the portrait, marveling.

There are no tricks. There is no deception. There is no cruelty, or mean words, or thrown punches. There is no theft, nor leaving anyone out. No willow trees. No burning parents. No faeries. No goblins. No dragons. No locks. No doors that can’t be opened. No barred windows. No broken air conditioners.

And there are pictures; pictures of her, and her family.

For now.


Tuesday morning, 20 June 2000

GM: “For now” stretches into one week, then two, then three, then four.

Then one month becomes two, then three, then four.

Then more.

Some of the kids come and go. Hannah and Brian are replaced with a Kelly and Robert. Kelly’s replaced with a Maria. Robert’s replaced with a Shawn.

Victoria: Every time a kid leaves, Sylvia asks where they went. Whether they were there for a day, a week, or a year, she cares; if not for them, the poor soul cast back into the system, then for the principle. She doesn’t forget them. Not like she was forgotten for so much of her life.

GM: It’s almost always because they’re reunited with their biological relatives, Sylvie picks up from Mary’s answers. Sometimes the children go to live with relatives other than their parents. No child leaves their parents’ custody unless there’s a serious problem. Some of these parents get their lives back together, and eventually regain custody of their children. Others don’t. There’s not always a happy ending. Some parents only get their lives together enough to satisfy minimum court requirements, and will probably lose their kids again. But the kids who leave aren’t just shuffled off to new foster homes where they’re abused. Mary often thinks it’s for the best, when a child leaves.

“Goodbyes can be happy, too.”

Victoria: It’s a world that Sylvie’s never encountered. Foster children being returned to their real families? Why were they taken in the first place? Why are they returned? Why does it take so long? What if their parents are bad again? Sylvie asks, and Mary answers. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

GM: Sylvie goes to St. Rita’s School. It’s a Catholic school, where the kids wear uniforms. The suburban school with her old family was nice, but there are no metal detectors at the doors or fights in the halls. Her foster siblings go to the school with her. The ones in her grade share her classes, so she has an in to make friends.

Victoria: She’s thankful for having foster brothers in the same year. She isn’t sure she’d be able to make friends without them—though, maybe so. The Sylvie of today isn’t the Sylvia of yesterday, thanks to Mary St. George. She’s more outgoing. She’s happier. She talks more. She smiles. She engages with others. She’s even learned to trust; to expose her vulnerable insides to others, and hope that they don’t rake them raw.

GM: Church is every week at Saint Alphonsus. It’s much as Mary described. Lots of singing and talk about God, along with Sunday school. Mary asks if she wants to be baptized, so she can receive the eucharist—the body and blood of Christ. Some of her foster siblings do, others don’t.

They volunteer afterwards, cooking meals for the homeless and other families, who Mary calls “the less fortunate.” The people are poor and need their money for other things, or don’t have any money at all. Some of them smile gratefully and say thank you. Others look embarrassed to be there. Mary tells Sylvie that helping others helps herself, and brings her closer to God. She’s fond of the Feeding of the 5,000, the story where Jesus feeds everyone with five loaves and two fish. She’s also fond of the story where He washes the feet of His disciples—even Judas, the one He knew would betray Him.

Mary’s faith is everything to her. She’s something called a consecrated virgin. She is married to Christ, having vowed to take no other husband, she loves Him that much. She thought about becoming a nun, when she was younger, but she also wanted to raise a family. She thinks fostering and adopting children is the best way to do both—to raise them and commit herself to God.

Victoria: She isn’t really sure what happens when someone is baptized, but it seems to be what her mother wants. She listens to the priest talk for a while, and then she agrees—and over time, she becomes a dutiful, Christian daughter.

She isn’t sure she wants to marry Jesus, though. She doesn’t want to think about virginity and how it disappears. Other kids have talked about sex. It doesn’t really interest her.

The story of 5,000 intrigues her in the same way as fairy tales do: they’re fun, and they’re interesting, but she knows that they aren’t real. Much as she has become invested in her own expression and self with respect to God, the story—and many others—delegitimizes that relationship to her. Why does God need to share fairy tales? It seems that his other teachings are good enough. Now he’s just embellishing.

GM: Baptism is a way you declare your faith in Christ. It shows how much you love Him and want to go to Heaven.

Mary says that most girls don’t marry Jesus like she does. They marry normal husbands. Pledging yourself to Jesus without becoming a nun is a very rare choice.

Mary says that the Feeding of the 5,000 isn’t a fairy tale, though. It’s real and actually happened. That’s what’s so miraculous about God—things that would be fairy tales to Sylvia are real to Him.

Victoria: “I hope I have a nice husband one day,” she muses one day. She pictures marrying an astronaut.

She asks Mary to make Jesus do a real fairy tale again, like feeding all the foster children in the whole world. She promises baptism if he does.

GM: Mary says that she will have a wonderful husband. “If you have love in your heart, you will find someone with love in his. Love begets love.”

Mary says that Jesus will feed all of the foster children in the world when he comes back. He will feed them and clothe them, and do more than Mary has ever done (or is capable of doing) for any of the children in her care. They will want for nothing, their suffering will end forever, and they will know His boundless love in all of its richness and fullness when God establishes His kingdom on earth.

When asked why God doesn’t do this yet, Mary reads Sylvie a quote by C.S. Lewis, which she says explains why God doesn’t just wave His hand and make everything better.

Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a French-man who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.

God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.

Victoria: Sylvie wants to see it happen now. She wants to see every foster child happy today, and fed today, and clothed today. Not tomorrow.

But the quote helps her understand. A little.

She gets baptized anyway. It makes Mary happy.

GM: Mary is glad when Sylvie gets baptized and takes communion. She says it’s good for her, even if she doesn’t understand everything yet or believe everything yet. It can take people a very long time to come to an understanding with God. The author of that quote only did when he was 30.

Victoria: She doesn’t know that baptism involves dunking your head. She’s old enough to appreciate symbolism, but it’s hard for her to understand the connection between bobbing for apples and God. Still, she does it. It makes Mary happy.

GM: Life is stable and predictable. School, after-school activities, chores, homework. Everyone is busy. There’s always chores to do at a house with six kids. The kids are expected to contribute to the house’s upkeep, and taught the value of hard work, though Mary and Beth do more work than they do. Mary most of all. Beth is retired, and spends her time at home. Mary also has a job as a social worker. She still finds time for things like picnics and trips to Audubon Zoo, or Lake Pontchartrain, or the museum.

Sylvie is fed and clothed. She gets cake and a modest amount of presents on her birthday. There are movies to watch on TV, since Mary doesn’t have cable (or want it). Mary takes everyone to an animal shelter, at one point, to get dogs—her last one “crossed the rainbow bridge” a little while before she fostered Sylvie. The kids are expected to help walk them, clean up their poop, and take care of them.

No one hits or molests or insults or steals from Sylvie.

Her hair grows from bald to a peach-like fuzz to full enough that she no longer needs the beanie.

At first, Mary says things like how much she appreciates Sylvie. How much she enjoys having her in the family. How much she likes her laugh. She talks about saying “I love you” and what it means, outside of God’s love. She says there is no pressure for Sylvie to say those words herself.

Eventually, she asks if Sylvie is okay with Mary saying them to her.

Victoria: The concept of love is foreign to Sylvie. She’s never had a mother say it. She’s never had a father say it. She can imagine what love is from movies and stories of princesses and books—she loves reading—but she doesn’t know what love feels like.

Maybe that’s the strange feeling burrowing up lately?

Maybe.

She flushes a light tinge of crimson at Mary’s question, and nods silently.

“If you want.”

GM: Her foster mother hugs her close, after she answers yes, and then says,

“I love you, Sylvie.”

Victoria: Her pause is long, and she’s not immediately sure her heart can speak the words; words, she realizes, that she’s never actually spoken. When they come, they project that uncertainty.

“…I love you, too.”

GM: Even getting baptized doesn’t seem to make Mary so happy as Sylvie’s answer does. For all its uncertainty, her foster mother’s face is radiant as she hugs Sylvie again and asks,

“Would you like me to adopt you, Sylvie? You can stay until you’re grown up. And past when you’re grown up, if you ever need to.”

“It will mean that you’ll always have a home here, that no one can take away. Your social worker will close your case.”

Victoria: Sylvie has been in the foster system her entire life. She’s seen the rare child get adopted. They disappear, as all the others do. Where they go, and what happens to them, is beyond her knowledge and sight; however, it’s always spoken of in the positive.

She isn’t really sure what being adopted fully means, either, but Mary’s promise of staying until she’s an adult—and then beyond—lights up as if all the Christmas tree lights and all the birthday candles in the world ignited before her. She’ll have not just a house, but a home, and a mother, and a future!

She’s never had a future before.

Sylvie begins to sob, and nods emphatically.

GM: So it happens.

Mary’s already a foster parent, so she doesn’t need to go through the process of being certified there. All that’s left to do is submit the petition, involving some paperwork, and then attend a finalization hearing with a judge. Sylvie’s birth certificate will be amended to list Mary as her mother. Sylvie can also have her last name changed to St. George, if she wants to. Her original surname of Banks, she knows, was given to her by social workers. She’s not sure why they decided on Banks.

The day of the hearing, Mary and Beth attend with Sylvie and the family’s other children. Sylvie and the others dress up in their church clothes: Mary says it’s important to present yourself well when you see a judge. Going to court is a special occasion.

The whole process takes maybe an hour. Once the judge signs the adoption decree, and smiles, “Congratulations, young lady,” it’s official: Sylvie is a legal and permanent member of the St. George family. There’s much crying and embracing.

It’s to no one’s surprise when they take pictures.

Sylvie is in the front and center.


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