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Blood & Bourbon

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Story One, Amelie XI

“You should get out of here.”
Hannah Burroughs

Friday evening, 28 August 2015

GM: The sun sets over New Orleans.

Rain has started to fall.

Amelie’s teachers might have exhorted her to enjoy the beautiful Friday afternoon, but tonight’s weather was presaged by the gathering clouds that accompanied her walk back to an equally disturbed home. Now, as the sky’s orange sun slowly sinks and dies, dark storm clouds rush to cover the purpling horizon like coroners draping a shroud over a corpse. The Quarter’s grimy-faced and crusty-haired panhandlers and gutter punks variously glare, produce tattered umbrellas, or huddle beneath doorways with their mangy-furred dogs as Amelie strides towards 1140 Royal Street.

The house of Marie Delphine LaLaurie looms before her.

She’s read about the house. Looked it up online. Peered at its windows through Qeeqle Street View. Followed realty listings where she pulled the floor plans. Even stared at it in person from across the street, on a balmy summer afternoon not so long ago.

But that was on a balmy summer afternoon. One where she could return to the home of a welcoming aunt who was merely taciturn about her work.

The LaLaurie Mansion stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for its time at three stories. Accounts described it as ‘the highest building for squares around.’ Tall along enough for a young slave girl to leap to her death, if she would rather face the three-story plummet than the wrath of the house’s mistress. Passersby see so little of that history.

But Amelie does.

She’s read about it from her childhood’s books. She’s felt its bite beneath the bandages she unwrapped just today. Now, on this dark and wet evening, with the Quarter’s normally ever-present crowds and tour groups are so diminished, the past looms before Amelie as inescapably as the old house’s forbidding gray walls. Her mind races, thinking back to that long-ago local history book she received from Aunt Christina; that same aunt’s home where she cannot return, not tonight; and the future that she dreads will be cut terminally short within the building before her. Past, present, and future seem to convect, converge, and collide into the past, a force as animate and wrathful as any ghost—and as inescapably predetermined as the events printed on a history book’s next page.

Storm clouds angrily rumble overheard as the rain thuds, plunks, and smashes against Amelie’s umbrella. She has to clench it tightly, several times, to keep from blowing away. Fog has risen along the French Quarter’s cramped old streets. She cannot see any cars. She stares past the LaLaurie House’s windows into its unlit, pitch-dark rooms, and sees her reflected face staring back with black and empty eyes. Waiting, as if from inside the house. It feels as if she has stepped into an Antebellum dream, terrible and exhilarating, where her fantasies of hot-blooded Creole duelists, churning Mississippi steamboats, and sultry quadroon courtesans have come to life—but where death waits on the end of a dueling saber, the jaundiced eyes of yellow fever, or the bloody tails of a slave-owner’s lash.

Yvette has not yet arrived. Time seems to hang suspended in the soaked evening air, an arbitrary construct bereft of meaning next to the terrible viscerality of a now no longer distinguishable from then.

There is no past. No present. No future.

Just her.

Her, and the patiently waiting LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Sabers are quiet. The wrenched blade goes from resting on a shoulder to slicing through the air, all without a sound until it makes contact. Its wielder can only ask against what? Will it slice into your opponent? Will it slip into your own thigh thanks to your incompetence? Will it chip against stone after it passes through a phantom foe?

Amelie is that saber now. Sharp and trembling in the rain, praying she doesn’t rust and shatter while time races against her. The cardinal rule of saber fencing is simple: don’t stop moving.

The young woman paces in front of the house, checks her phone, and mutters to herself. Directions, instructions, prayers: the culmination of a week of hard work and consultation. She stands resolved, confident in her will to rebuke the house’s corruption, and confident in the steel her hand can so easily reach to best more physical threats. It will only take a single movement.

She’s sure the realtor will be here soon.

GM: A BMW eventually pulls up with Yvette and another woman who looks in her mid-to-late 20s. The two could almost pass for twins. They share the same pale skin, pale blonde hair, and pale blue eyes, although the effect is less pronounced when the women are dressed in their own casual clothing rather than McGehee’s identical uniforms.

“Merci pour l’ascenseur, Cécilia. Ou ascenseurs, plutôt,” Yvette says in her formal-sounding metropolitan French.

(“Thanks for the lift, Cécilia. Or lifts, rather.”)

“Bien sûr,” answers the other woman. “Je serai de retour dans une demi-heure avec les autres.”

(“Of course. I’ll be back in half an hour with the others.”)

“Je vais vous envoyer un texto si l’agent immobilier ne part pas,” Yvette remarks as she hefts a backpack around her shoulders and gets out an umbrella. “Et merci de ne pas l’avoir dit à Maman.”

(“I’ll text you if the realtor doesn’t leave. And thanks for not telling Maman.”)

“Ce n’est rien, profite de ta nuit dans la maison hantée,” the woman addressed as Cécilia smiles.

(“It’s nothing. Enjoy your night in the haunted house.”)

The two do not hug, but trade kisses on one another’s cheeks. Yvette steps out into the rain and waves goodbye at the receding BMW.

Amelie: Amelie spots the car and waits. She feels a lump in her throat as she listens to the exchange. Something is missing.

She looks down the road as ‘Cécilia’ drives away. There’s no body guard in sight. Maybe Yvette’s mother called them off, or maybe it was never bothered with. It’s a red flag.

GM: Yvette then seems to see Amelie. She’s dressed in a thin-looking black pea coat (it might be raining, but it’s still hot) and knee-high brown boots underneath her transparent umbrella.

“Oh good, you’re ‘ere. The realtor doesn’t know we’re bringing anyone else, so don’t say anything. Ah’ve let your friends know not to show up until we’re by ourselves.”

Amelie: “I won’t. I apologize if I caused you trouble this week, by the way. Our teacher asked about the hand.”

GM: “Ah’m sorry?” Yvette asks in apparent confusion.

Amelie: “Ms. Perry asked about my hand. And I was told she was worried enough to speak with your mother about it?”

GM: “Uh, why would Ms. Perry talk to mah mother about your ’and?” Yvette asks critically.

Amelie: “Because I was assaulted for asking about the house,” she chuckles, shaking her head. “Never mind, she might have just said that to calm my nerves at the time. Are you ready for the night?”

GM: Yvette just gives Amelie another strange look, then answers, “Yes, Ah brought snacks and things. Rachel says she’s bringing an ouija board.”

Amelie: Someone is lying here, and Amelie is worried about who that may be. The best case scenario is Ms. Perry. The worst case is Yvette’s mother.

“Of course she is. I’m going to do my best not to touch it,” she laughs. “It just had to rain as well. This is going to be very atmospheric for a haunted house.”

GM: “It rains ‘ere all the time, and a lot during August. Ah’m sure that’s new to you, being new to the city.”

Amelie: “New to the country, actually. Though I know how fast the weather can change near the sea.”

GM: A car pulls up to the house. A thirty-something black woman in tan slacks and a gray raincoat steps out, carrying another umbrella against the rain. She briefly looks between the two girls and then smiles at Yvette.

“Hi there, I’m Miriam, Mr. McCaller’s PA. You must be Yvette Devillers?”

“Oui. Yes,” Yvette nods. “It’s very nice to meet you, Miriam. This is Amalie, mah one guest,” she introduces.

“Pleased to meet you too, Amalie,” the woman introduced as Miriam smiles as she digs through the purse over her shoulder, then looks back towards Yvette. “So, you’re the girls who are going to be spending the night in the haunted house? I hope you’re not feeling nervous.”

“We are terrified,” Yvette answers with a faint smirk.

Amelie: Amelie watches the car pull up and listens intently, memorizing names and positions just in case things turn out badly.

“Terrified and prepared,” she echoes. “Will you be giving us a tour, or letting us at it?”

GM: “I’ll just be looking the place over. I could give you girls a tour, but it probably wouldn’t be a very good one. I’ve never been inside before now,” Miriam replies as she pulls out a set of keys.

“Yes, you work under Mr. McCaller, you said? Ah was ’alf-expecting a real estate agent.”

Miriam shakes her head. “Oh no, the house isn’t on the market yet. The bank would have to pay a realtor to come and show you around.”

“But that’s one thing I need to be very clear to you girls about,” she says seriously. “I’m sure you’ve both heard this from your parents already, but this is a very expensive and historic property.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know who Mr. McCaller is, but Yvette’s reaction screams a higher-up at the Whitney Bank. Maybe someone the metropolitan French teen knows through her family connections.

“$3,550,000. Give or take a hundred grand how much you can downplay a few stylish but odd design choices by Mr. Towers, the previous owner. I even wore non-marking shoes,” Amelie remarks. “This house is a state treasure, it should be treated as such.”

GM: Miriam’s eyebrows raise. “Oh wow, someone’s done her research.”

“But that’s it exactly,” she continues. “The house is a historic property, and there are a ton of preservation laws regarding what people are allowed to do to it—even private owners. Mr. Towers was pretty eccentric and butted heads with the city over changes he thought he’d be able to make to his own home, but which turned out to be illegal.”

“What this means for you girls is that if you damage the house, even by accident… you could be charged with vandalism, and the penalties will be a lot stiffer than normal. But it’s not even just that.”

Miriam pauses for a moment, then goes on, “The bank has over three million dollars tied up in this property. Now, I’m sure your parents have told you this too, but your mother,” and at this Miriam looks meaningfully at Yvette, “has signed a liability waiver. That means, if there’s any damage to the property, she will bear the full costs of restoring it. If the house can’t be restored to its original state… she gets to become the new owner for a ‘bargain’ three-plus million price tag.”

Miriam slowly looks between the teenagers, meeting each of their eyes. “You break it, you buy it.”

“Yvette, your mother is trusting you and Amalie a LOT. So are Mr. McCaller and Mr. Whitney. So, please… no running, no door slamming, no sliding down banisters… I know you’re not little kids, but my boss wants to make this absolutely clear, you CANNOT damage this house. Treat it like you were in a museum. Just look around, go to bed, nothing crazy. All right?”

Yvette nods slowly. “Ah understand. Treat it like we were in Versailles.”

“Like Versailles,” Miriam repeats before looking at Amelie, as if to be completely sure both high schoolers understand her.

Amelie: Amelie feels a little sorry for Yvette’s mother as she listens. If something happens tonight, she’s contractually obligated to buy this place?

“I have a question, actually, ma’am. Why doesn’t the bank consider turning the house into a museum? Or a tourist attraction? It’s one of the more famous buildings in New Orleans, and it’s been sitting here forever. I don’t know if heritage sites are charged for property taxes, but even maintenance costs seem like they’d be mounting.”

GM: Miriam frowns deeply. So does Yvette.

Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and motions to the house when she realizes she’s gone off on a tangent.

“My family business restored antiques, I’ll make sure we both respect the house. Since it’s thundering, I’ll ask to see the breaker box in case of a fire, and we’ll keep the windows closed to avoid water damage.”

GM: “Okay, that’s good to hear,” Miriam answers. She looks somewhat relieved by Amelie’s assurance that she won’t damage the property. “I actually don’t know where the panelboard is. I’m not sure if it would do you any good, since all of the house’s utilities have been shut off, but I’m not an electrician.”

“So far as your other question, the short answer is that the bank makes money off houses like this through mortgages. We aren’t in the tourism business, and we have no guarantee it would be profitable even if we were to shoulder all the costs and financial risks of setting up that kind of infrastructure. The bank’s more likely to make money by just selling the property to another Hollywood actor.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and sees a few issues with the possibility of celebrities or other rich people buying a property after Mr. Towers has put his name on it. Still, she doesn’t argue.

“That makes sense. Shall we?”

GM: “One last thing, in case your parents didn’t tell you. Since the house’s utilities have been shut off, like I said, there’s no electricity or running water. If you need to use the bathroom, please do it in a café or someplace nearby.”

Miriam looks at Yvette. “If someone uses the toilet, your mom will have to pay the cost of turning the water back on. Plus my hourly rate when I call the utility company to arrange that, and then have to personally flush the stinky toilet that I know one of you girls used. So if either of you needs to use the bathroom, now would be a good time.”

Yvette nods. “Mah mother mentioned that. Ah’m ready to go in.”

Amelie: Amelie nods as well. She’s glad the power isn’t on. That helps set her mind at ease about something… but not completely. All their phones have flashlights anyway.

“Verti Marte is open 24/7, we can go there long as we buy something, I believe,” she points out, literally pointing with her thumb to the nearby deli kitty corner.

GM: The other two glance at it. “Oh really? Great thinking looking that up,” Miriam remarks.

She jingles her keys. “Okay, now that we’re through all the warnings, let’s get out of this rain and show you two the haunted house…”

Amelie: Amelie still feels a little anxious. She holds one of her hands in the other and thumbs over the fresh scar in her hand. She remembers Tantsy’s warning not to come here, not to do this.

But as she looks over at Yvette she knows that the moment fate started to push them here, she had to come along, too. Numbers will protect them against bodily harm. Her resolve will protect them against the ‘rot’ in this poor house. The bag of tools will hopefully do the rest.

“I guess we’re ready.”

GM: Miriam unlocks the house’s iron gate and ushers the two girls into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. She turns, closes, and re-locks the two great gates. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.

Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. Miriam mentions they’ll need to keep the gates closed and locked to discourage tourists—they’re lucky the rain seems to have driven away the tour groups that show up like clockwork every weekend night. She fumbles for a moment with her keys before unlocking the front door. It swings slowly open on silent hinges.

Amelie: Neither the rain nor gate has Amelie’s laser focus. She stares at the dark handle of that white doorway like she can smell death on the other side. The handle’s turn is the only thing that keeps that oddly sweet smell from overpowering them. She cradles her wounded hand and smooths a finger over the cat’s-eye scar in her palm, almost like she expects it to scream out in warning. It’s too late now. She has a responsibility.

GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. Just enough light passes through the windows for indistinct shapes to swim at the corners of one’s vision and hint at things unseen. It smells musty and old. Miriam and Yvette turn on their phones’ flashlights and sweep them across the atrium. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.

“Well, welcome to the haunted house,” Miriam says, her voice echoing through the empty halls.

“Hm, doesn’t seem too spooky so far,” Yvette remarks, shining her phone across the atrium.

Miriam digs another set of keys out of her purse and passes them to Yvette. “Okay, here are the keys if you or Amalie need to leave and use that mini-mart’s bathroom. Please keep the doors locked at all times—a lot of tourists would like to get in here, and Mr. McCaller promised me ‘hell to pay’ if anyone does besides you two. You have my number if you need to get ahold of me for anything.”

Yvette nods and smiles. “Ah do. And thank you so much for doing this, Miriam. Ah’m sure you ‘ad other ways you’d rather be spending your Friday evening.”

Amelie: Amelie takes off her backpack as the three women step inside the door. She unzips it slightly, pulls out something the others might not see in the dark, and snaps it in half with a crackle. She gives the broken object a shake. Blue-green light suddenly radiates from the glowstick in her hand. Six inches of sodium salicylate and 2-Chloro-9,10-diphenylanthracene dye compound. It helps distract her from the outright lie Yvette tells the woman.

“Yes, thank you for all you’ve done, ma’am. We’ll treat the house like it deserves.”

GM: Miriam frowns slightly at the unexpected action, her dark-skinned face lit up by the stick’s teal glow.

“Amalie, how likely is that thing to break?”

Amelie: “They’re industrial grade. Short of putting one in an oven or intentionally taking a sharp implement to them, they’re leak-proofed. And much safer than candles,” Amelie answers, standing firm on the idea.

Her research into sites with supposedly paranormal activity led her to find a horror movie rule of thumb: batteries drain faster. Activating agent and fluorescent dye doesn’t run out of batteries, and the mix inside doesn’t glow for more than an hour while oxygenated. She’s sure there’d be no discoloration if they were wiped up.

GM: The PA seems to chew on Amelie’s words for a moment. “All right,” she relents. “But if that breaks and the colored… whatever’s in there spills out, your mom,” and here she glances again at Yvette, “will pay for getting any stains removed. And if she can’t get them removed, she’ll pay for the house.”

Miriam’s features look all the more severe against the glowstick’s weird illumination as she stares between the two two high schoolers. “I’m not kidding around, you guys. The document your mom signed is legally binding. The house is hers if there’s any permanent damage, and you two will be in trouble too.”

Yvette frowns initially at the glowsticks too, but says nothing further after Miriam seems to okay them. “Ah understand,” she nods again. “We are in Versailles. And we won’t let down the trust you and Mr. McCaller are showing us.”

“Glad to hear it. Now, okay.” Miriam shines her phone’s light around the barren entry hall in seeming last inspection. “You have my keys, you have my number, that’s everything. Enjoy the haunted house.”

“We ‘ope it won’t let us down,” Yvette smiles faintly as the light recedes.

A faint click sounds as Miriam closes and locks the front door from the other side.

Amelie and Yvette are left alone in the atrium’s near-darkness. A few last feeble rays of light from the dying sun barely make it through the dark storm clouds, pouring rain, and tiny glass panes around the front door.

Yvette rolls her eyes as she glances down at her phone’s screen. “Bla bla bla, your mother will pay for this, your mother will pay for this,” she mimics in a sarcastic, mocking voice. “Finally she’s gone.”

Amelie: Amelie stays quiet for the rest of the exchange between Yvette and the woman, and breathes a sigh of a relief once the latter is gone. She places the glowstick on the windowsill next to the door, marking it as an entrance. This was how her village worked when the power went out. Entrances and exits were also marked with glowsticks for customers when the sun went down. Even rainy days attracted certain groups of people.

“Yup. We’d better make sure she doesn’t find out about our support,” Amelie offers. She walks up to the bottom of the stairs and takes out another glowstick. She breaks it, shakes it, and leaves it standing upright on the first step.

“When do your sisters get here?”

GM: “Whenever they get ’ere,” Yvette answers without looking up as she taps something into her phone.

Amelie: Amelie gives her partner a small look, but just sighs and breaks out the flashlight. She stuffs her leather jacket’s pockets with more glowsticks.

“While it’s just us, Yvette. Do you mind if I ask you a more personal question?”

GM: “Ah guess that depends on the question,” Yvette answers, still tapping away into her Solaris.

Amelie: “About fitting in. I’m not doing the best, and that needs to change. And hair only grows out so quickly.”

GM: A pinging noise goes up from the phone.

“Ah’m sorry, Ah don’t ’ear a question there.”

Amelie: “I was answering yours about what kind of question it was. The question itself is ‘how do you think I could fit in a little better?’ Raise a few less eyebrows. I know how people see me at McGehee. My manners haven’t translated well, either.”

GM: Another few pings go up from Yvette’s phone. The glowing screen dimly illuminates her pretty face. Her pale skin is smooth and free of scars and blemishes. Her long, soft, and obviously carefully-maintained blonde hair falls well past her shoulders.

“Ah’d say grow out your ’air, but Ah suppose you already thought of that.”

Yvette finally looks up from the Solaris’ screen and smiles at Amelie.

“But Ah wouldn’t worry so much about ‘ow you look. Really. There’s some quote, what’s it…” She taps something into her phone. “‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things Ah cannot change, the courage to change the things Ah can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’”

She glances back down at the phone. “Ooh, ’ere’s another one, bah Oscar Wilde. ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.’”

Amelie: Amelie just chuckles, cracks another glowstick and keeps it in hand as she scans around the foyer with her flashlight. “Then I should embrace being a scarred up, accidentally dykish, maple-flavored mess, then. Or maybe just start wearing makeup and hairspray again,” she jokes, slowly opening the door to the left of the entrance to peer inside.

GM: Yvette offers no reply to Amelie’s statement. Her phone makes a few further pinging noises as Amelie ventures deeper into the house. The door’s lock gives a whispered click before slowly giving way.

The room on the other side is marginally brighter than the forlorn entry hall. The expansive window looks some eight feet across, with shutters four feet wide. Rain thuds and crashes against the glass pane. Feeble and water-logged sunlight illuminates a bare and empty room with dark hardwood floors and bare white walls. Raised garlandry adorns the lofty ceiling. The former might look beautiful in daylight, but its presently twisted and indistinct designs appear obfuscated at best and sinister at worst, like pointed claws waiting to strike. The room’s dimensions continue past the window before disappearing into shadow.

Another door beckons to Amelie’s left. She walks, and remembers back to one of many accounts she read concerning the house:

For those lucky enough to attend social functions at 1140 Royal Street, they were amazed by what they found there. The three-story mansion, although rather plain on the exterior, was graced with delicate iron work but the interior was lavish by anyone’s standards. The house had been made for grand events and occasions. Mahogany doors that were hand-carved with flowers and human faces opened into a bright parlors, illuminated by the glow of hundreds of candles in gigantic chandeliers. Guests dined from European china and danced and rested on Oriental fabrics which had been imported at great expense.

The sight on the other side of the door could not be further removed from such a description. It is merely another barren room bereft of furniture, décor, or any signs of human gaiety or habitation. Bereft of anything but the night’s steadily encroaching gloom.

Amelie: Amelie leans down and puts the glowstick in front of the door frame, cracks another, and puts it in the same place on the opposite side. That marks it as another exit. She leaves the glowstick there and returns to the other door in the foyer, planning on leaving every single door in the house open.

GM: Yvette is still preoccupied on her phone and doesn’t glance up as Amelie walks past her. The next door’s lock gives another whispered click before swinging open.

The shadow-drenched room on the other side is just as barren and empty as the last one. There is another door to the left of Amelie’s. Rain pours against the three windows’ glass in a steady thud-thud-thud.

Amelie: Amelie repeats her earlier process and puts down a glowstick on each side of the side of the door. She scans the room and pulls back into the foyer. The house might be empty, but she still can’t shake her anxiety that this is not the best place to be. She gently smooths a thumb over her cat’s-eye scar as she takes out her own phone to check the time. She told her friends when they needed to be here to get around the realtor. It’s a little discouraging how glued Yvette is to her phone.

“Are you sticking around by the door? There’s something I want to check out.”

GM: “You don’t need mah permission,” Yvette answers over the sound of further pings.

Amelie: Amelie isn’t asking for permission. Yvette isn’t listening to her, but it doesn’t matter. She leaves and follows her mental map of the house towards the courtyard, putting glowsticks by doors as she goes.

“You’re going to be rid of me soon enough. If ‘he’ is here to hurt me, I hope you’d even take your anger out on him,” she mutters to herself, trying to keep a positive attitude.

GM: Amelie returns to the glowstick-illuminated room, its shadows now seemingly that much thicker. There’s a gap in the wall to her left, approximately the shape of a door. She crosses its threshold into a smaller, equally bare room, and then a corridor-like area with three doors leading deeper into the house. The courtyard lies directly onwards.

Amelie: Amelie dutifully lays down glowsticks as she walks, using her flashlight to make sure they’re in all the spots she picked out beforehand. Preparation is king.

She takes a breath as she opens the double french doors to the courtyard.

GM: The storm’s once-muffled pounding roars and bellows anew in Amelie’s ears. Raindrops pecker against her exposed skin. Angry clouds rumble from the dark and unobstructed twilight sky overhead.

The roof-less chamber is prettier than the other rooms Amelie has seen so far. The floor is brick. The lattices are made from the same black wood as the sweeping staircase to the second floor. Scattered pots and a larger, earth-filled brick trough contain a few small trees and plants. There are no chairs or tables. A set of double french doors leads out to the street. Several further doors beckon deeper into the house.

Even Amelie would be hard-pressed to list specific functions or historical facts for the vacant rooms she has explored thus far. But she has read about this one. She still has one of the accounts saved to her phone. Rain thuds and cascades as she reads:

The house that joined Madame Lalaurie’s premises on the eastern side had a staircase window that looked down into her little courtyard. One day all by chance the lady of that adjoining house was going up those stairs just when the keen scream of a terrified child resounded from the next yard. She sprung to the window, and, looking down, saw a little negro girl about eight years old run wildly across the yard and into the house, with Madame Lalaurie, a cow-hide whip in her hand, following swiftly and close upon her.

They disappeared; but by glimpses through the dark lattices and by the sound of the tumult, the lady knew that the child was flying up stairway after stairway, from gallery to gallery, hard pressed by her furious mistress. Soon she heard them rise into the belvedere and the next instant they darted out upon the roof. Down into its valleys and up over its ridges the little fugitive slid and scrambled. She reached the sheer edge, the lady at the window hid her face in her hands, there came a dull, jarring thud in the paved court beneath, and the lady, looking down, saw the child lifted from the ground and borne out of sight, limp, silent, dead.

She kept her place at the window. Hours passed, the day waned, darkness settled down. Then she saw a torch brought, a shallow hole was dug—as it seemed to her; but in fact a condemned well of slight depth, a mere pit, was uncovered—and the little broken form was buried.

She informed the officers of justice. From what came to light at a later season, it is hard to think that in this earlier case the investigation was more than superficial. Yet an investigation was made, and some legal action was taken against Madame Lalaurie for cruelty to her slaves. They were taken from her and—liberated? Ah! no. They were sold by the sheriff, bid in by her relatives, and by them sold back to her.

Let us believe that this is what occurred, or at least was shammed; for unless we do we must accept the implication of a newspaper statement of two or three years afterwards, and the confident impression of an aged Creole gentleman and notary still living who was an eye-witness to much of this story, that all Madame Lalaurie ever suffered for this part of her hideous misdeeds was a fine.

Lawyers will doubtless remind us that Madame Lalaurie was not legally chargeable with the child’s death. The lady at the window was not the only witness who might have been brought. A woman still living, who after the Civil War was for years a domestic in this “haunted house,” says her husband, now long dead, then a lad, was passing the place when the child ran out on the roof, and he saw her scrambling about on it seeking to escape. But he did not see the catastrophe that followed. No one saw more than what the law knows as assault; and the child was a slave.

Amelie: The rain almost tricks Amelie’s ears into hearing the light pat of small feet on stone and wood. But she knows better. She stares into the courtyard sadly and images the terror that little girl must have endured to make her jump.

Ghosts were never on Amelie’s mind before New Orleans. There were too many other rumored monsters to fear up the north, all of them supposedly lurking just past the tree line. Things that dragged people away or drove one insane but for the sight of them. Old monsters, dragons whose bellies broke legendary spears and demons that walked in the bones of men.

But all of those monsters were rooted in this world. New Orleans makes her think about the next one, and what comes after dying.

She smooths her finger over her scar again and checks if Yvette is nearby before whispering into the rain, “I hope you ran all the way to your freedom, you deserved better. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see justice. And I really hope someone finds you soon. I hope we don’t scare you being here tonight.”

She clasps her hands together almost nervously and watches the area for a few more moments.

GM: Amelie’s only answer is the rain’s steady downpour.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t mind the lack of reply. In fact, she’s happier for it. The only issue is that the night is still young on that front.

She closes the double doors and ventures into the rain to check out the rest of the courtyard.

GM: Water crashes and plinks against her face as she steps outside. Dark windows stare at her vacantly. Two further doorways lead back into shelter—though perhaps not succor.

Amelie: It’s enough for Amelie. She makes a quick, wet dash to the nearest doorway and shakes out her jacket to get the moisture off before stepping inside. She stomps her feet on the cement to minimize any footprints as she looks around. There’s something nagging her about the construction of this house. Why is there a room off to the side like this—disconnected from all the other ones except through the courtyard? She spots the archway mid-way through the room and the door at its far end. Does it have its own suite? Is there actually still a kitchen on the first floor, after what happened here—waiting just beyond that door?

GM: Her only answer remains the rain’s steady pounding.

Amelie: Amelie only ventures a few feet into the room and lightly rolls a glowstick over to the center of the floor. She regards the door waiting on the other side like it has teeth before retreating to the garage.

GM: More water plunks and strikes against her jacket. The brick-floored garage feels cooler than the house’s other rooms. It, too, is bare and avoid of furnishings save for a water heater. A staircase towards the back of the garage leads up to the second floor.

Amelie: Amelie uses the balcony as cover against the rain and steps into the garage a bit more comfortably—at least at first. The fact there has to be a suite over the garage bothers Amelie as well. Car fumes and nearby stoves don’t go together well. It’s a little thing, but another feature of the house’s construction that just feels… wrong.

Her northern-acclimated skin, at least, barely registers a lower temperature with the leather jacket she has on. She looks over the hot water to see if it’s where the house’s breaker panels are.

GM: Amelie locates a gray panel with a mass of black and colored wires near the water heater. Several of them have been cut.

Amelie: Cut. It’s concerning to see the panel damaged like this. She holds her flashlight closer to the wires to get a better look.

GM: The sometime-electrician can discern no evidence of any recent additions to the circuit box. The markings by the cut wires read ‘bedroom,’ ‘lights,’ and ‘kitchen.’ The interior of the copper tape wrapping bears faint signs of exposure-induced rust, leading Amelie to surmise that the wiring was not cut recently. The bank would have been remiss not to get it fixed.

Amelie: It’s strange the wires were cut, and that long ago. It makes turning on the power a fire hazard.

Amelie takes a few pictures of the scene, including close-ups of the wires’ rust. She takes the added precaution of emailing them to her own address, then pockets the phone and makes a mental note to check the bedrooms later. Just in case this house has been used for other things for a while now.

She leaves a glowstick where she can see it by the door frame and ducks back into the courtyard, hiding under the second floor balconies as she makes her way back to the foyer.

GM: No force arrests or impedes Amelie’s progress. The dying sun has died a little more, and the room’s shadows are dark and thick. Rain distantly thuds against the roof and windows.

Yvette is where Amelie last left her classmate. The blonde-haired teenager is still on her phone.

Amelie: The first 15 minutes? Survived. Amelie feels almost accomplished.

“Do you have the email of that woman who dropped us off?” she asks Yvette. “I should send her pictures of a fire hazard on the breaker panel.”

GM: Yvette looks halfway up from her phone. “Ah’m sorry?”

Amelie: “Le panneau électrique. There are open wires,” Amelie elaborates, showing Yvette the picture on her phone.

GM: Yvette glances at the pictures when Amelie holds them by her. Her face is very flat when she fully looks up at her classmate. “You already broke something. Mon dieu.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the other girl an equally flat look. “These were cut by a reno crew, to cut off power to the suite above the garage, and never fixed. There’s even rust on the copper wires.”

GM: Yvette’s expression doesn’t change. “What are you talking abou—no, never mind. Your aunt’s paying for this, not mah mother.”

Amelie: Amelie takes in a small breath through her nose to even herself out. She speaks as crisply as she can manage and hopes Yvette understands.

“Quelqu’un qui travaillait à la maison a coupé ces fils il y a des mois. Les fils sont usés.” (“Someone working on the house cut these wires months ago. The wires are worn.”)

GM: “Then if it was that long ago the bank must ’ave noticed it,” Yvette answers in English. “Or they should ‘ave. But Ah’m not telling them we broke anything, don’t be silly.”

Amelie: Amelie wants to tell Yvette they could be setting up her family to pay the balance for a burned-down house. She could say how dangerous it is that they’re in a house with potential live wires that could start a fire next to what amounts to a bomb, if it’s old enough and gets overheated.

But she just sighs, steps over to the wall, and leans against it while she checks the time on her phone. She might as well start taking pictures since her friends are taking so long.

GM: Minutes pass.

The run dully thuds and hammers. Pings steadily go up from her classmate’s phone.

Eventually, Yvette walks up to the front door and wordlessly pulls out the keys Miriam gave her.

Amelie: Amelie looks up and turns off her phone’s screen as she waits for Yvette to let people in. She hopes some of her friends have showed up alongside the sisters.

GM: The sound of thudding rain grows thicker as Yvette opens the door and disappears down the portal to the house’s front gate. Amelie can make out assorted greetings and exclamations in French.

Amelie: Amelie sighs lightly. Of course it’s the sisters. She still hopes they’re accompanied by a few other familiar faces as she approaches the door and holds it open.

GM: Two further girls are huddled under a shared umbrella at the end of the portal. One girl looks the same height and age as Yvette, while the other is notably shorter and looks maybe a year or two younger than Miranda. She wears a black leather jacket similar to Amelie’s, while the other newcomer has a navy coat on. All three girls are thin and willowy of build, with smooth pale skin, long blonde hair, clear blue eyes, and delicate facial features. Their uncannily near-identical appearances only make Amelie’s broad shoulders, scar-nicked muscles, and thickly masculine physique stand out all the more.

Amelie: Amelie has a passing thought that she could probably juggle these matryoshka doll sisters, they are so small. Still, she can’t help but feel jealous of how pretty they all are, even if their almost identical appearances would—historically—point at ‘royal’ inbreeding.

GM: Amelie can make out a BMW driving into the rain and away from the house’s gate, which Yvette closes and re-locks. Water dribbles off the edges of the three’s umbrellas as they make their way down the portal to the front door.

“Excuse us,” Yvette says to Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie steps to the side as the girls approach and allows them into the house while making note of where they leave their umbrellas. She doesn’t want any water damage.

GM: Yvette motions to Amelie after she and the other girls have stepped inside. “And this is Amalie, mah research partner. The idea to stay the night ’ere was ’ers.”

“Hallo,” says the taller girl.

“Hi,” echoes the smaller one.

“And these are mah sisters, Yvonne and Simmone.”

“Ah thought Amalie was a girl’s name,” remarks Simmone.

“Amalie is a girl,” Yvette replies.

Simmone peers closer at Amelie, then reddens slightly in the cheeks. “Oh. Sorry. It’s dark.”

Amelie: Simmone’s slip-up breaks Amelie’s train of thought. The older, mannish-looking young woman can’t help but laugh at the remark.

“Ne t’inquiète pas, no offense taken. I’m used to it. I’ve lit up the first floor a bit, so far no ghosts.”

GM: Yvette and Yvonne shake their umbrellas off and leave them next to the door.

Amelie: Amelie makes a mental note to come back later and wipe the floor. A question comes to mind as she looks between them. “Do you all prefer French or English while we’re here?”

GM: “The others will be ’ere soon. Speaking en Français around them would be rude,” Yvette replies.

“Either’s fine until then,” Yvonne answers. Most people would take off their coats at this point. Amelie’s present company does not, even though the night air is warm enough. Perhaps the house simply lacks that indelible quality, endemic to other private residences, that makes one remove their hat and over-garments out of ‘politeness’ and implicit acknowledgement they have entered a place of shelter and respite.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her jacket on for her own reasons. Nothing is going to be making her cold in Louisiana even if the night wasn’t this warm.

“As long as it’s comfortable for you all, I’ve heard you all speaking it to each other in school,” she assures them. She takes her phone, turns it on its side, and starts to prepare her camera for the picture tour.

GM: “Yes, Ah can tell you want us to be comfortable. This is the third time you’ve asked if we prefer English or French?” Yvette half-asks, half-remarks while glancing down at her own phone. Simmone pulls out hers and aimlessly shines its flashlight around the room.

Amelie: “Northern Hospitality,” Amelie comments offhand. She brings up her camera, steps off to the side, and snaps a picture of the adjacent rooms from the doorways. She makes sure not to get Yvonne or Simmone in frame at any point.

“As for the project, I actually went into the courtyard. Where that little girl running from Delphine LaLaurie jumped to her death.”

GM: “She should ’ave climbed down,” Simmone comments.

Amelie: “I think she must have been scared, reportedly she was on the roof. Even the fire that outed Delphine and her cruelty was a suicide attempt by a terrified slave, chained to a stove upstairs.”

GM: “Ah think she was around your age, too, when she jumped…” Yvette smiles wickedly, brushing a finger along her sister’s hair.

“Ah wouldn’t ’ave been that scared,” Simmone retorts.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t really approve of Yvette teasing the young girl, particularly where this situation is concerned, but she bites her tongue about the distaste of it.

“So, the electricity is off, as you can see. But in case Yvette didn’t say, the plumbing is too. There’s a deli kiddy corner to us that’s open 24 hours, so we can go there if we need snacks or to use the bathroom.”

GM: “Okay. Ah need to use it,” Simmone says.

Yvette frowns slightly. “You didn’t before we drove out?”

“Ah was packing.”

Amelie: “We shouldn’t let her go alone at night. Yvette, you have the key, want to walk her over?”

GM: Simmone looks at her sisters, but then looks at Amelie. “Ah can walk to a deli by mahself.”

Yvette runs a finger along her forehead. “Non, she is raht-”

“-the Quarter isn’t always safe,” Yvonne continues.

“Ah’ll take you,” Yvette finishes.

Amelie: “Less because you’re young, and more because the buddy system is safer in general. Tourist spots like this one have lots of weird people nearby.”

GM: Simmone looks down at her phone, then back up. “Seriously? It’s next door!”

Amelie: “’I’m a little paranoid after a rather painful incident that happened last week. You mind humoring me, Simmone? I’d say the same to Yvonne and Yvette.”

GM: The younger girl’s face doesn’t look happy against the glowstick’s teal light. “Fine, if it’ll make you feel better.”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but give the girl a thankful smile. It really is safer. Maybe she’ll ask Simmone to come out to the deli with her later. That could make her feel better about the buddy system.

“Thank you, Simmone. It will, for sure.”

GM: It’s just as Yvette fishes out the keys from her coat pocket that another ping goes up from her phone. She glances down at it. “Oh good, the others are ’ere.”

She unlocks the door and disappears down the portal. Several girls’ voices exchange greetings, this time in English, over the rain’s hard and relentless roaring.

Amelie: Amelie eyes the key and wonders if they should put it on a lanyard or something before Yvette gives her the good news. It’s wonderful they’re here, and even more so to hear them come in. The rain sounds like it’s getting to become more of a problem, though. At least they don’t have to worry about the power going out.

GM: Yvette files back in. So do Hannah, Rachel, and Sarah Whitney. This is the first time Amelie has seen any of them out of uniform, though all of the girls wear full (if light) coats and carry umbrellas they shake off after stepping inside.

“…Ah’m so glad you all could make it. Makes the ‘aunted ’ouse less scary when there’s so many of us,” Yvette says.

Amelie: Sarah Whitney? Amelie is a little surprised to see her, but it makes sense that she’d be here. It also puts a significant deterrent in her back pocket—unless Sarah’s either in on her father’s proclivities or a planned victim of them. Still, Yvette is absolutely right that having more people makes everything a lot less tense in some ways.

“Evening! You guys didn’t get washed away on the way here, glad to see it. Megan couldn’t make it?” she asks, looking to Hannah and Rachel.

GM: Hannah shakes her head. “She wasn’t feeling up to it.”

“Chickened out is what you mean,” Rachel corrects, smirking.

Amelie: “Considering? I think we can excuse her on that,” Amelie offers.

GM: “I was chicken too when Amelie first pitched sleeping in a haunted house to me,” Sarah laughs lightly before turning to Amelie. “So nice to see you here, by the way. I’m glad we’ll have someone big and strong around to protect us from any ghosts.”

Amelie: “Hah! Well, I’ll do my best. Though I have my doubts I can grab a ghost,” Amelie admits. “Thank you again for this, Sarah. I’ve only looked through the first floor and I’ve already got chills.”

GM: “Hopefully that’s just from the rain,” Sarah laughs again. “But don’t mention it. I have Ms. Perry’s class too, you know, and she said she’d give me extra credit for participating in this.”

Amelie: “Oh really? I’m glad to hear you have that class, Ms. Perry is a good woman. It’s a shame about her engagement.”

GM: “Some things just don’t work out, Amelie. No matter how hard anyone tries to make them, sometimes a bad fit is just a bad fit,” Sarah smiles. “She is a sweet woman. I’m sure she’ll find somebody else.”

“Yes, Ah’m sure she will,” Yvette agrees as she takes Simmone’s hand and shepherds her younger sister towards the door. “All right, Ah’m going to lock you all in while we go to the deli.” She smirks wickedly. “Try not to get killed-”

“-bah all the ghosts before you’re back…” Yvonne finishes with a mirrored smirk.

The girls laugh and exchange goodbyes. The door’s lock clicks behind the sisters.

“Don’t worry,” Yvonne smiles as the outside light dies. “Mah mother ’as us on the platinum level for the French Quarter Response Force app. Ah could ’ave this place swarming with police if Ah wanted to.”

“Oh, that is nice,” Sarah agrees. “My family doesn’t live in the Quarter, so we never bothered getting it… I just wish it covered other parts of the city.”

“Oui, that is too bad,” Yvonne agrees back. “You could still get it, though. Ah mean, you must come ’ere for shopping and eating out.”

“You know, that’s absolutely right. Don’t I feel silly not thinking of that,” Sarah smiles back.

“What’s the French Quarter Response App?” Hannah asks.

“Oh, you ’aven’t ‘eard? It’s wonderful,” Yvonne explains. “It’s this app you can call police in the Quarter with… so much faster than 911. There’s different levels—well, three paying levels, the first one is free—and the ’igher your level is, the faster they come. Ah feel so much safer.”

“Oh, wow. You pay more for them to show up faster?” Hannah.

“Kind of. They respond to users with the platinum level first, and people using the free version last, if they’re dealing with more than one call at once.” Rachel. “My family doesn’t live in the Quarter either, so it’s not like we need it. But I’ve heard of it.”

“It’s great, like Ah said,” Yvonne repeats. “Mah mother says she’d support Moreno if ‘e decides to run for mayor, ’e’s done so much to clean up the streets.”

Amelie: Amelie listens in on the conversation and doesn’t have too much to say until she hears that name. She still feels disgusted after the incident with that cop and his boss’ supposed solution to crime in the Quarter. She wonders if he has any secrets he doesn’t want spread around, but quickly discards the idea. It’s not something she should mess with.

She turns to Rachel and Hannah as the others talk.

“So you came! I’m glad you did, it’d been a little weird with just me and Yvette’s sisters. As you can see, though, the place has its utilities cut off. Extra spooky bang for our buck. Long as we don’t break anything.”

GM: The awkwardness in the dark room is palpable as the four girls, all of whom are clearly within speaking and hearing range of one another, look at Amelie.

“Ah’m sorry you’ve felt that way,” Yvonne finally replies.

Amelie: Amelie feels the crushing pressure of being an idiot.

“I didn’t mean it like that, I swear. I’m just nervous about the house. I meant numbers, and people I’m familiar with,” she says, her face red as a beet.

GM: “Maybe we should take a look around the house. I’m sure it’s got us all nervous, being so big and dark and spooky,” Sarah fills in, clearly changing the topic.

“Oh, not me. I wanna see the attic.” Rachel.

“There any place for us to dump our backpacks?” Hannah.

“Maybe where we sleep? We should decide who gets what rooms.” Sarah.

“Let’s wait until Yvette and Simmone are back for that.” Yvonne.

“Okay, why don’t we just look around for now?” Hannah.

“Attic’s on the top floor. That’ll be easy to find.” Rachel says as she glances towards the stairs.

“Oh, let’s wait to do the attic too,” Sarah says. “If it’s the scariest part, we’ll want to do that with everyone here…”

“Second scariest,” Rachel corrects. “I brought an ouija board. We can do a séance!”

“Ah brought drinks,” Yvonne smirks. A glass-like clinking noise goes up as she shakes her backpack. “So we don’t ’ave to spend all night in an empty ’ouse with nothing to do…”

“Oh wow, booze and séances,” Sarah laughs again.

“It’s a little-known drinking game. You take a drink every time you see Casper.” Hannah.

“You don’t see ghosts in séances. You just hear them. Sometimes they give a sign.” Rachel.

“Okay, it’s one drink when you hear a ghost, one glass if they give a sign, and the rest of the bottle if you see one.” Hannah.

“Ah brought more than one. Bottles, that is. So we can see plenty ghosts,” Yvonne giggles.

Amelie: The sight or at least sound of booze is almost a relief. Amelie doesn’t belong with people like this. She can already feel the blue collar coming out her throat. A drinking game around ghosts reminds her about Mr. Towers, though, and his own little drinking problem that was rumored to come up after buying the house.

“Oh no, a ghost, quick give me a bottle,” she exclaims, her voice monotone. “I’m game. First one possessed, everyone else takes a shot.”

GM: “So where do we wanna go first, if we’re saving the attic for last?” Hannah.

“There’s the courtyard. This little girl slave fell to her death there.” Rachel.

“’Ow did that happen?” Yvonne.

“Madam LaLaurie was chasing her with a whip. She probably knew all about all the horrible things LaLaurie was doing to the other slaves, so… she took the easy way out.” Rachel.

“Oh wow, that’s scary. Should we take a closer look?” Sarah.

“Let’s,” Hannah says, setting off with the others.

Amelie: “They say they buried her there, too. In a shallow well that’s since been filled in,” Amelie adds as she follows the group.

She’s already been through these rooms. The path and doors along the way are illuminated with a dull teal glow from the veritable horde of chemical light capsules in her bag. At least those things seem to be helping.

GM: The girls arrive at the courtyard. None bring their umbrellas and are mildly annoyed when they see that rain is falling over the roofless area. Yvonne comments how Amelie “must ’ave so much on your mind” before they head back to the atrium, retrieve their umbrellas, and then enter the courtyard proper. Rain thuds and splashes against the plastic and nylon surfaces as the group looks around. Thunder rumbles ominously overhead.

“Huh. They must have bricked it up.” Hannah.

“Figures. That’s a letdown.” Rachel.

“Ah ’ave to admit Ah was expecting… more.” Yvonne.

“I’m sure this house will be a lot more interesting after a few drinks,” Sarah smiles.

Yvonne laughs. “Point. Ah wonder if it ’as a bar anywhere?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, it belonged to Rick Towers.” Rachel.

Amelie: Amelie tags along and gives the grounds a second scan for where the well could be, but gives up when the conversation catches her attention.

“Far as a bar, I doubt anything is still stocked. Unless he made his house like his movies and we have to poke a statue’s eye for a secret cabinet.”

GM: “Is it okay for us to be drinking with your sister around? Isn’t she a little young?” Hannah asks Yvonne.

“Oh no,” the blonde replies with a shake of her head. “Lots of people drink a little wine with meals in France, even children. It isn’t a big deal to us.”

Amelie: “I agree with Hannah, but do you usually let her have drinks with you and Yvette?”

GM: “You Americans,” Yvonne laughs. “So uptight. All of mah sisters ’ave a little wine at meals, we always ’ave.”

Amelie: “That might sting if I was American,” Amelie lightly ribs back before looking to Hannah. “We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t have more than a little, then. Even France frowns on liquor before 18.”

GM: “Oh, you aren’t? You seemed very American to me, Ah thought you just spoke French,” Yvonne smiles. “Ah mean, everyone ‘ere learns it at McGehee, so it’s not like it’s too rare. High school’s such a silly time to teach new languages, Ah suppose that’s just another American thing. But who ‘ere ’asn’t learned French?”

“Oh yes, I took French for my foreign language requirement. I also thought about learning German or Italian… but you know, the history here.” Sarah.

“I took French too. My last school offered either that, Spanish, or Japanese.” Hannah.

“Good choice,” Sarah smiles.

“I took Chinese. Seemed interesting.” Rachel.

“Oh really? Ah didn’t think they offered that ’ere.” Yvonne.

“Online,” Rachel clarifies. “My dad and I took a vacation to Macau and that got me interested.”

“That’s the gambling capital of China, isn’t it?” Yvonne asks.

“Gambling capital of the world, actually. It brings in more money than Vegas. Anyway, I figured Chinese would be more useful than French.”

“Fighting words, with the native French speaker here…” Sarah laughs.

“Chinese ’as more speakers. French ’as better speakers,” Yvonne smiles contently.

The other girls laugh.

Amelie: The flow of the conversation feels a little different than Amelie is used to with groups of friends. She guesses that might just be from the absence of boys. She lets the question of her nationality go and chuckles along with others, though more at the feel of things than the actual joke.

“Chinese though! That had to be difficult. I know a few languages, but none without the Latin script alphabet.”

GM: “It’s more of a challenge, yeah. There isn’t that common frame of reference.” Rachel.

“Why don’t we take this out of the rain?” Sarah asks over the relentless downpour hammering against everyone’s umbrellas.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get wet,” Hannah says as she starts off.

“Yes, good idea. Where’s there to go next?” Yvonne.

Amelie: Amelie takes off her jacket as they get back under the cover of the second-floor balcony. She runs a hand through her soaked hair and shakes the rain off her jacket before carrying it inside. It’s dark, but she’s still hyper-conscious of how the other girls can see her back. The loose black tank top hangs low enough off her shoulders.

“The garage might not be interesting, but that’s where they say Delphine LaLaurie made her escape from a mob. Or we can go to the second floor, where it’s said a man was murdered after ranting about a demon. Should we wait for Yvette and Simmone, first?”

GM: “We can just text them where we are,” Rachel says impatiently. “I wanna see the murder scene.”

“I don’t know that it’s going to be too much more grisly than the one here. Someone did live in this place.” Sarah.

“Oui, probably not. We should just get drunk already,” Yvonne smiles.

“Oh, we should wait for Yvette for that,” Sarah smiles back.

Amelie: “I don’t remember if anyone lived here again after that murder, other than Towers. It was the music school, the school for black children, and a furniture store. The furniture store was slightly spooky, a sheen of grime over all his product every night. Even when he stayed overnight with a shotgun.”

GM: “Okay, so right now do we wanna see the murder scene or the garage?” Hannah.

“Murder scene!” Rachel.

“Good enough for me,” Sarah laughs.

“Yes, if we’ll go upstairs anyway.” Yvonne.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but smile at Rachel’s enthusiasm, as well. “I don’t know which room it was, but it was definitely the second floor. Texting Yvette’s a good idea, too.”

GM: “Great. If the committee’s all in favor, then let’s go ahead.” Hannah.

Amelie: Amelie nods and pulls her jacket back on, feeling a small bit of relief that she’s covered again. Her pockets are still full of glowsticks and she takes a few more out of her backpack before sliding that back on as well. She breaks and shakes one stick before dropping it at the top of the stairs, then scans a flashlight through the landing.

GM: The group makes their way up the steps, rain thudding and crashing against their umbrellas. Rachel mutters a curse as a sudden gust of wind nearly blows hers from her hand, the other one of which still grips her phone.

Dark windows impassively stare down at the five from above. Amelie can make out several doors past the top-most step, but it’s hard to get a good luck at anything else. The other girls are all eager to get out of the rain and simply file past her. Cones of light from their held-up phones struggle to pierce the gloom.

“That top looks good on you, bah the way, you shouldn’t ’ide it under that jacket,” Yvonne remarks as she passes Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie lets the others file past her and steps out of the way to check around where she can, before she follows. Yvonne’s comment rolls off her like rain over treated leather. “Sure. Hey, that door in front of us to the left, let’s start there.”

It’s a dig. Of course it is, she’s Yvette’s sister and one of those inbred elites. Amelie wonders if Yvonne saw the scar over her back but keeps moving forward. The reminder of how many of these girls are elites makes her anxiety over fitting in rear its head again, though. She’s looking forward to the great equalizer of liquor later on. Maybe a chance to air things out will come up then.

GM: Sarah pulls opens a door. Her phone’s light illuminates a sink, stove, and oven. The shadow-drenched room is otherwise bare.

“Isn’t this place cozy,” she remarks.

“You mean small. Thought a house like this would have a bigger kitchen.” Hannah.

Amelie: “There’s undoubtedly more than one kitchen in this house. This looks like a small guest apartment.”

GM: “Isn’t that nice for whoever’s here, their own little place to make food.” Sarah.

“Oui. Some privacy.” Yvonne.

“Well Rachel probably wants to get to the murder scene. Right?” Hannah asks.

She glances around, then shines her flashlight around the room.


Amelie: Amelie feels a drop in her gut. She takes quick inventory of the girls before peeking out the door in either direction for Rachel.

GM: Sarah, Hannah, and Yvonne are all present. The lights from their phones cast long and exaggerated shadows over their faces. Rachel is nowhere that Amelie can see.

Amelie: Amelie frowns. She doesn’t like this. At all. She looks over to Hannah.

“Can you call her cell?”

GM: The other girls look around.

“Maybe she wandered off?” Sarah.

“She does love this ’ouse so much.” Yvonne.

Hannah taps her phone several times, then holds it to her ear.

Amelie can faintly make out the ring tone of an old-fashioned rotary phone from somewhere to her left.

Amelie: “I hear her to our left. I’ll go ahead,” she says, striding out the door and briskly making her way through the house. She breaks multiple glowsticks at once, shakes them, and drops them as she goes. At least she knows where Rachel is now.

GM: “What, while the rest of us bake cookies in that kitchen?” Hannah snorts as she and the other two follow after Amelie.

“Ah wonder why she isn’t answering ’er phone.” Yvonne.

Amelie: Amelie just gives a nod and smile to Hannah as she makes a good point, but doesn’t slow her pace for the others. It’s odd. The one person in the group who loves horror and she’s the one to make the horror movie mistake.

GM: The four girls take the door on their left. Phone-lights spill over an equally dark and empty room with two doors. They go left again. The gloomy chamber on the other side is identical to the last one—but for the figure standing in the middle of the room. She faces the wall. A ringing phone emanates from close by.

Amelie: Amelie pauses when she sees Rachel just standing there. “Rachel? Don’t try and scare us, what’s going on?”

GM: Rachel screams and falls over backwards, hitting the wood floor with a thud.

Amelie: The scream sets Amelie on edge and her body tenses like it’s ready for something to strike her. The tension uncoils just as fast as it comes, though, and the dykish young woman is suddenly a picture of flowing grace as her right leg pushes forward. She grabs the back of Rachel’s head with her hands, taking away the brunt of the fall’s force even as her fencing thrust carries her into the splits.

Her next actions are hurried. She grabs Rachel under the arm and pulls her back as she scrambles out of her position while looking down at the other girl’s face. “Rachel! Shit, we need light on her!”

GM: The sudden noise makes Yvonne give an audible half-gasp, half-gulp. She and Sarah both startle. Rachel, however, shrieks and flails as Amelie grabs her.

Hannah shines her phonelight over the pair. “Rachel!?” she shouts. “What the hell-”

Jesus,” Rachel exclaims with wide eyes as her chest rises and falls, “you guys fucking shocked me!

“Wait, we shocked y-” Yvette starts.

“Get off me, I’m FINE!” she protests, trying to disentangle herself from Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie drops and lets go of Rachel. She sighs and pats herself off as she stands up. “You left the group, didn’t answer you phone, and were Blair Witching it staring at a wall when we walked in. Almost cracked your head on the floor, too.”

GM: Rachel dusts herself off as she stands up. “I wasn’t staring at a wall.”

Amelie: Amelie looks over to the direction Rachel was facing when they walked in. To see if there is, in fact, only a wall there.

GM: Amelie can make out nothing in the darkness, that now seems so very thick and pregnant.

Sarah shines her phone over it.

The creature resembles a chubby-faced infant with pinkish-red skin and pointed ears. Tiny horns poke up from the top of its head. Solid, milk-white eyes bereft of pupils bore deliberately ahead towards Amelie.

Screams sound from behind her as phonelights wildly pivot, throwing frantic shadows across the room.

“Fuck, you guys, it’s just a painting!” Rachel yells.

The scattered phonelights still.

Merde,” Yvonne mutters.

Amelie: Amelie tries her best to keep her eyes fixed on the painting. The screams set her heart thumping in her chest, but she brings out the flashlight in her pocket and shines it over the pink face.

She speaks again when the screams finally die down. “Didn’t the man murdered here say something about a demon?”

GM: The creature’s pupil-less eyes bore straight back into hers.

None of the other girls say anything.

Amelie: Amelie does not back down.

“Should we turn it around so it doesn’t look at us?”

GM: Several more lights fall over the chubby, horn-topped head.

One abruptly drops. Footsteps sound as Sarah strides out of the room.

The round, reddish-hued face watches her go with its too-adult smile.

Amelie: Amelie hears it and rubs the side of her face. “Let’s go with Sarah. If she’s freaked out, she shouldn’t be alone.”

GM: “’Ow kind of you to say that out loud about ’er, in front of everyone,” Yvonne remarks acidly. The tremor in her own voice is plain as she briskly follows Sarah out.

“I’m gonna stay,” Rachel replies distractedly.

Hannah looks between them, then follows Yvonne out.

The horned figure silently watches.

Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes at Yvonne’s balking, watches Hannah and Rachel for a moment, and then looks back at the painting.

“Can you just… take a picture, and we’ll go, or something? I don’t know if we should be near this thing.”

GM: “I think we should do the séance here,” Rachel says quietly. Her eyes don’t meet Amelie’s.

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head. “I don’t want to do it here, this isn’t… what we came here for. It’s wrong.”

Amelie takes off her jacket to use as an impromptu set of gloves. She approaches and grabs the painting so she can turn it to face away from them.

GM: The dark-rimmed, pupil-less eyes stare up at Amelie’s advancing hands.

The room is abruptly plunged into blackness.

Amelie: Amelie reflexively reaches up and covers her head. Her body tenses as she she focuses her senses on finding out what the hell is doing this.

GM: The young woman’s jacket-clenching hands pass through leather and air. Footfalls sound from behind her.

“Leave that thing alone!”

Amelie: Amelie pauses, drops her jacket and puts her hands over her eyes. She’s barely holding in panic at her sudden inability to see light, and takes a deep breath to try and quench how hard her heart is beating.

“Rachel, if this was a horror novel, this would be the first sign of trouble, wouldn’t it? Just… I need light. I can’t see.”

GM: “Good!” the teenager’s voice calls out. “You don’t just grab old paintings like that, you could damage it!”

Amelie: Amelie fishes another glowstick out of her pocket, then breaks and shakes it to try and get some more light.

GM: Teal glow spills over the portrait.

The subject looks as if it is staring down at Amelie from the deepest, weirdly illuminated ocean depths. The now-uniform color of its eyes and flesh make the former seem large, wide, and eager—more eager than even before.

Amelie: Amelie slowly side-eyes the painting. She does not kill the light. Not again.

“My family restored antiques, this isn’t even an antique. It’s probably worthless. Can we just get back to the others? We’re gonna get a drink and poke ghosts instead of demons.”

GM: “Fine,” Rachel replies, the glowstick’s cyan light wanly shining off her glasses. “Just so long as you aren’t gonna damage anything else.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks around for her glowstick.

GM: The darkness remains thick and pregnant—but not with any glowstick that Amelie can discern.

Amelie: Amelie warily side-eyes the painting again. “I can explain when we aren’t in the same room as it, I promise.”

GM: “Explain wh-never mind, whatever. Great, even. I can’t wait.” Rachel gestures mock-grandiosely towards the doorway.

Amelie: Amelie gives Rachel a bit of an apologetic look and leads her out of the room. She breathes a sigh of relief as she closes the door behind them.

“I’m sorry I’m still a superstitious mess,” she starts. “That painting, LaLaurie was said to have cared for an infant boy, born from the devil himself.”

GM: “Well then, I guess the painting had to be from hell too. Just don’t grab anything else,” Rachel says exasperatedly as she turns on her phone’s light and heads down the hallway.

Amelie: Amelie bites back her reflexive response, closes her mouth, and watches Rachel walk away. The danger in this house still feels very real to her. Maybe she’s the only one who feels it.

She rubs a finger along her palm and remembers the old woman’s words. Blacker than the brew of a nigger witch laying with the devil at midnight.

Amelie keeps silent and doesn’t put a glowstick in front of the door they just left. She pats her pockets and clothes to try and find a stick that’s already lit.

GM: No light shines from any of the sticks she removes from her pockets.

Amelie: Amelie frowns. It bothers her where that stick could have gone missing to, but she keeps walking. She’s looking forward to having a shot or two to loosen up, even just a little.

She quietly follows Rachel while breaking glowsticks and dropping them at entrances and exits.

GM: Rachel taps away on her phone as the two advance through lightless corridors. They finally reach the kitchen. The other girls are all there, including Yvette and Simmone, and clustered around a granite-countertopped island not unlike the one in Christina’s house. The evening sun has died, and the unexplored room is pitch dark without Amelie’s glowsticks. The only light comes from the girls’ phones, which cast long shadows against their pale faces. Rain pounds, howls, and roars against the room’s three tall windows. Several cabinet-like shapes loom in Amelie’s peripheral vision. The tiled floors are beige. The walls are navy. The ceiling is a stark blood red.

“Yvonne, we ‘ave glasses, don’t we?” Yvette asks from behind the counter.

“Of course,” her sister answers as she bends down to rummage through a backpack. Dull clinks sound against the counter’s granite surface.

“We’re drinking from glasses at a slumber party?” Hannah remarks.

Yvette smiles indulgently at her classmate as she pours from a bottle. “People with class don’t drink from the bottle.”

“Yes, let’s keep this classy,” Sarah smiles.

“Ah’m cold,” Simmone remarks.

“It isn’t cold ‘ere. And you’ve got your jacket.” Yvette.

“You brought a blanket, no? Trah putting that on.” Yvonne.

Simmone bends down to rummage through her backpack.

Yvette smiles as she sees Rachel and Amelie approach, then slides a glass across the table. “And there’s our ladies of the ‘our. Ah think the night’s first drink should go to you, Amalie, as the one who ’ad the idea to bring us all ’ere.”

Amelie: Amelie breaks three glowsticks at once to put on the countertop. They illuminate the room effectively, if weirdly, as the chemicals roil in endothermic reactions and throw shadows against the walls.

Those shadows grow hands. Amelie feels one of them press into her back as Yvette slides the glass towards her. It’s a sudden throb through the mass of scar tissue and spells out an unmistakable message:


Amelie’s eyes rest on the drink with a stare no less granite than the countertop’s. She then leans down, pulls a box of table salt out of her bag, and rests it on the counter before standing up straight to shrug off her jacket and drop it over the bag. The open air feels good on her throbbing scars. She rubs her hand over the patch that just barely encroaches on her shoulder.

“Merci. What kinda drink is it? I smelled wine all during my lunch meeting, so I have a craving.”

GM: “Uh… not one you put salt in?” Hannah remarks with a perplexed look as Amelie places the box of salt on the table.

It’s a look shared by more than a few of the other girls.

“What do you even have that for?”

Amelie: “I was told we were doing a séance,” Amelie says offhandedly. “You know this is the main kitchen. A slave chained to a stove right here in this room, starting a fire in fear of punishment. A blaze that had firemen come in and discover the men and women horrifically tortured just above us. In a room where many others had already perished.”

GM: Amelie’s peers look even more confused and discomfited.

“Yeah, uh, all ’cuz someone forgot the salt.” Hannah.

Yvette shakes her head and motions as if to dispel the room’s confusion. “It’s chartreuse-”

“-from our mother’s cellar.” Yvonne.

Amelie: Amelie looks the drink over and swirls it around uncertainly. There has to be a way out of this.

“Salt is said to be protection against the vengeful departed. It’s why tossing it over your shoulder is considered good luck.”

She slides the box of salt further along the counter. That’ll help obscure the light—and what she’s about to do. She holds the glass low as she gives it a quick tip over her open backpack, then raises it to her lips. She takes a pull the others can see and puts the empty glass back down on the counter with a soft clink.

GM: “So… you brought a box of it here. That makes total sense,” Hannah remarks as the stream of sweet-smelling chartreuse spills over Amelie’s backpack. She feels individual droplets spatter against the legs of her jeans, each one’s sensation as jolting as a gunshot. Nagging thoughts pull at her: what if she missed, by just enough, and more chartreuse is running down her backpack and over the precious tile floor? The rain pours and pounds against the now-rattling windows and makes it impossible to hear any further light spatterings. There could be so many.

The five other girls are all staring at her.

None of them blink.

“Too bad they don’t sell those backpack things from Ghostbusters or we could’ve brought those too,” Sarah smiles.

“Or maybe we should’ve all just stayed home if the ghosts are going to kill us,” Rachel remarks, rolling her eyes.

“And Ah suppose you want to throw salt everywhere to protect against ghosts. Mon dieu.” Yvette shakes her head, thens pulls the box of salt away from Amelie and stuffs it into her backpack. “Were you even listening when that woman said we aren’t supposed to mess this place up?”

“She tried to rub her jacket all over that painting too,” Rachel adds.

“Did she really?” Yvonne scoffs.

“Seems like you might only be this place’s second biggest fan, Rachel,” Sarah laughs.

Amelie: Amelie can feel her ears burning as the girls all look at her. The sudden shift in conversation confirms that she’s gotten away with it, at least. The new subject of discussion still feels rather pointed.

“Salt leeches water from wood, instead of pushing it in like a rag would. And touching a painting with bare hands can damage it. My family worked with antiques,” she explains before kneeling back down to her bag. She tosses her extra pair of clothes over her foot where the bit of mess is and lets it soak the liquor up as she rifles through her bag. The extra phone battery goes into her back pocket, the snacks stay in a front section of her bag, and her knife goes in a separate one. She steps on her clothes as she stands back up to better soak up the mess.

GM: Amelie can feel the other girls’ eyes lingering on her as she bends down, rummages through her things, and stands up empty-handed.

“Checking for ghosts down there?” Yvonne inquires with a faint smile.

Giggles sound from the others.

Amelie: Amelie looks between the girls as they snicker. “Why yes, yes I was. No luck though, so I think this’ll be a dry night,” she shoots back. “You and Yvette left France when you were around 10 years old, right?”

GM: Hannah shines her phonelight over Amelie. “Uh, not so dry. Your bag’s wet.”

She frowns. The light dips slightly.

“And your… feet?”

Amelie: “Dry as in no alcohol,” Amelie smiles at Hannah. “I spilled something, sorry. Hand. I leaned down to remove my extra phone battery.”

The situation is starting to get clearer to her. The glowsticks’ light is dim, but she can still make out that look in Yvette’s eye.

“You mind if we step into the other room, Yvette? Just for a moment. We should suss out a few last details about us documenting the house, and I’d hate to bore everyone. I should be taking pictures, not drinking with people,” she chuckles.

GM: “Wait, what? That doesn’t make any…” Hannah frowns.

Rachel steps closer to Amelie and shines a phonelight over her.

“Hey, does that smell like… chartreuse?”

Amelie: Amelie leans down, picks up the bundle of clothes, and stuffs it in her bag. The mess on the floor is soaked into the blouse she wore to her earlier meeting with Caroline.

“That’s because it’s chartreuse,” she says bluntly. She points her own phonelight up at Yvette and waits for an answer.

GM: Yvette’s expression goes flat. “Ah’m sorry. Chartreuse? On your…”

“…all over her feet,” Rachel fills in, sweeping her phonelight over Amelie. “And her bag, and leg…”

Sarah frowns.

Simmone and Hannah look confused.

Yvonne’s expression is a mirror of her first sister’s.

“Ah’m sorry. Is that from the vintage bottle from mah mother’s cellar, or some other chartreuse that just ’appened to find its way onto your feet?” Yvette asks with a sudden smile, as if it’s all just a joke.

Amelie: Amelie feels humiliated, of course. She gives Rachel a sidelong look for outing her, then turns back to Yvette. “I asked you into the other room for a reason.”

There are two reasons she came to this house. The first was because she was scared what might happen if Yvette came here alone. Ghosts, demons, snuff films. The second reason was ironically Rachel herself. She wanted to get the other girl into the house she was so interested in. It hurts Amelie in her chest, but she puts on a stony Roberts family expression.

“I apologize for the drink, it’s unfortunate. As for me being here, I’ll be blunt. I get the hint. But I couldn’t pass up the chance. The last thing I want is to insult you.”

She looks back to Hannah and Rachel again, just for a moment, before returning her gaze to Yvette. “I’m going to take my pictures for the project and leave you be, likely leave after, all things considered.”

GM: “And Ah said no for a r-” Yvette starts.

“Now look, y’all,” Sarah interjects over the girls’ variously confused and ambivalent looks, “I’m sure Amelie just didn’t want to offend anyone saying no. That’s fine. In fact, that’s actually very thoughtful, if you ask me… it’s a good idea for someone to stay sober, or are you just not a drinker?”

She waves a hand. “You know what, that’s really none of my business. We aren’t even supposed to be drinking in here anyway… I’m sure the bank would blow a gasket. Yvonne, why don’t you save that for some other time?” The blonde girl smiles faintly. “I’m sure your mama would blow a gasket too, if she found out it was missing. My grandmama always said, you know, never fool around with someone’s private stash.”

Yvonne manages a faint one in return past the gloom. “Ah suppose you are right. Our mother does love ‘er wine. Well, liquor. She says our grandmother used to feed ’er a bit of wine as a baby, to quiet ’er down. You can’t do things like that these days, of course.”

“Actually, in some families-” Rachel starts.

Sarah spares another smile for the anecdote, but doesn’t reply to it as she looks back across the countertop towards Amelie. “I’m sorry if we made you feel unwelcome. And I don’t think it’s fair that you should have to do all the work while we fool around.”

“This was a project?” Simmone asks.

Hannah looks as if she’s about to say something catty to that, but holds her tongue.

Amelie: Amelie looks Sarah right in the eye as a flash of memory dings in the back of her head. Her father is being poked by Christina about snuff films while he pays her escorts act them out. The girl’s sheer power of conversational steamrolling is also astonishing, if a bit terrifying.

“I’m not in the same class as many in McGehee, it honestly seems fair to me. Still, I appreciate the thought. As for our New Orleans history project on this house,” she pauses and smiles to Simmone, but then back to Sarah, “it’s not work, I worked for years, this is just an enjoyable research study. But if I can get stabbed for this project I can take some pictures. Sorry, Rachel, you were saying?”

Amelie picks up her bag and quietly starts to close it, seeing if Rachel picks up where she left off.

GM: “I… agree with Sarah,” Rachel says after a moment with an uncomfortable look. “I’m sorry if we, uh, I was rude. I just… didn’t want the painting to get damaged.”

Sarah’s smile slips a bit at the painting’s mention.

Rain continues to thud and crasg against the house’s darkened windows. Thunder is audible and water streams down the glass like furious tears.

Amelie: Amelie looks between them all. She catches Sarah’s small slip but goes back to Rachel almost immediately. “Thank you, Rachel. You don’t have to be sorry, though. I’ve been on edge, acting strangely, ever since I started research on this project,” she admits before pulling her backpack on. “That being said, I’m wondering why a painting was left here. And why it was painted over 100 years after that child would have died.”

GM: “Maybe Rick Towers just didn’t want it,” Rachel speculates.

“Ah wouldn’t either,” remarks Simmone.

“You ’aven’t seen it,” Yvonne points out.

“Still.” Simmone.

“Yeah, I’d probably pass on that thing too.” Hannah. “Leave it for someone else to deal with.”

Amelie: “Does the bank own it if it was left here?”

GM: “Beats me,” Hannah answers. There’s a few other shrugs and “good question” remarks.

Amelie: “I wonder what else Towers have left here. We are talking about the man who bought cobras for alleged home defense.”

GM: “Did ‘e really do that? That’s crazy!” Simmone exclaims.

“I suppose we’ll just have to find out,” Sarah smiles at her and Amelie.

Amelie: “My my. Ghosts, demons, and now buried treasure. I think I’m going to go and start looking around again.”

GM: “Ah suppose that does beat sitting around an empty kitchen, now,” Yvonne remarks.

“Yeah, if we’re not drinking.” Simmone.

“I still want to see the attic.” Rachel.

“Great, the committee approves. Are we going to take votes again on where to go?” Hannah.

Yvette taps away on her phone.

There’s a flash of lightning that illuminates the room stark blue for a split second, throwing pitch dark and into pitch light. Simmone actually jumps.

Amelie: Amelie tightly clamps her flashlight.

“Power is cut to the apartments above the garage, but I think the attic is more interesting, for sure.”

GM: “Then whatever, let’s get a move on.” Hannah.

“Geez, this weather.” Rachel.

Amelie: Amelie already has her backpack on and flashlight out, which casts a harsher light than the glowsticks. Leaving still feels like a good option.

GM: There’s a few shuffles as the others shoulder their backpacks and follow Amelie, their phonelights cutting tiny swaths of light through the gloom.

Amelie: Amelie takes it carefully. Her steps are as light as someone her size can manage as she creeps up to the third floor. “Two rooms here. Split up?”

GM: Yvonne shrugs.

“Let’s not put this up for committee vote too, please,” Hannah says in a flatter tone.

Simmone looks at the phone-preoccupied Yvette, then back to Sarah. Rachel does too.

“Why not?” the brunette smiles at them.

Amelie: Amelie wasn’t looking for committee. “Rachel? Hannah?” she asks, motioning to the north apartment.

GM: Rachel looks down at her phone for a moment. Hannah shrugs and follows after her. Rachel then does too. “Let us know if you find any buried treasure,” Sarah smiles again as the others’ phonelights recede into the gloom.

Amelie: Amelie closes the door behind them and runs her fingers over her eyes. The stress is like a weight on her shoulders as she leans against the wall next to the door. “I’m sorry for this. Both of you.”

GM: “Uh, sorry for what?” Hannah frowns.

Amelie: “Making tonight awkward. With the drink. And for being so skittish about the painting and grabbing you, Rachel. I thought you were hurt.”

GM: “Well… good for me I wasn’t, I guess,” Rachel says, her eyes cutting between the closed door and her phone. The glowstick-bereft room is otherwise pitch dark. Rain distantly thuds overhead.

Hannah glances at the door as Amelie closes it, then back at her classmate. She seems to chew on her thoughts for a moment. “Well, I appreciate the apology. But… I honestly dunno where to start with you. You’re just so weird. About… everything. I mean, you make Rachel look normal.” She doesn’t look away from Amelie as her eyes briefly cut to the glasses-wearing girl. “No offense.”

Rachel’s eyes pan up. “None taken.”

Amelie: Amelie steps a little ways away from the door as she sees them eye it. “Well… I guess I never really told you guys much about me. I’ll just have to trust you not to tell people,” she says. She takes out her phone and swipes to a set of pictures on a Facebook album before offering the device to Hannah.

It’s Amelie, about 12 years old and with long braided hair. She’s wearing thick gloves and a leather apron. Her face is smeared with soot as she squints at a handle-less, literally flaming sword that she holds with a pair of tongs. Other pictures in the album have her swinging hammers at glowing steel, fitting huge men with armor, and talking to a crowd while she wears her own suit and holds a sword.

If Hannah keeps swiping, she comes across a picture where a weakly smiling Amelie has a buzz cut and walks on a cane. She’s surrounded by smiling people in Medieval clothing, including a bigger lady with a tight bodice over her dated dress. The woman holds up a sign that reads, Welcome back extra crispy, Amelie.

“And… to top it off, I haven’t told people everything about the assault. Details about it are… people would have thought I was crazy. Once I get this project behind me, I should be less weird. I hope.”

The next pictures might be a little wild to a girl from McGehee, but Hannah’s classmate’s face and physique are in every one at varying ages.

Amelie holds a smoking sword dripping what looks like motor oil. Her teeth grit in effort as she lifts it into a slit in the wall to the left, as if it’s going to support it.

Another picture shows Amelie pulling a second sword as it blazes with an uncontrollable fire. Her face looks stoic under the cap on her head. She blows at the sword with all of her might as the fire rages in her face.

Amelie’s unmistakably strong and worn hands are zoomed in close as she works a classical dragon relief onto the side of a sword. A small hammer and chisel shows how she’s doing it by hand.

Too object here is big to be a sword, and yet it has its shape. The figure holding a torch and welding paces in place on a huge hunk of metal could be anyone, but is tagged as Amelie.

She’s dressed in leather from head to toe in the next picture. A visor protects her face while she brings a hammer down on a piece of glowing metal. Pieces fly off in every direction.

There are a scant few pictures of Amelie not in armor or work clothes, too. One shows her standing among fields of men who are either on their backs or hunched over. Another one or two pictures show Amelie wearing a fencing helmet she hoists out her arms towards a taller woman like they’re trying to kill each other.

If Hannah scrolls far enough, there’s even a red-eared and smiling Amelie dressed in a much more ladylike getup. A few women stand off to the side with overacted expressions of faux surprise.

GM: Amelie’s initial words engender what is now a very familiar perplexed look on her classmates’ faces.

But the pictures seem like they do what words can’t.

Hannah doesn’t say anything as she swipes through them. Rachel looks over her shoulder. Their faces dully glow against the phone’s screen as images of swords, forges, and happy-looking girls flash past.

Hannah stops when the swipe button doesn’t take her any further, then finally asks, “Wow. Is this all, like… a Renaissance fair?”

Amelie: “It’s, um… it’s called Biccoline. It’s two villages on a big plot of land. Like an all-year all-day Renaissance fair tourist trap.”

GM: “Yeah,” Hannah says after another moment. “That really sounds like it. Well. Looks like it.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a pang of guilt herself as her pictures make Hannah feel that very same emotion. It’s easy to see the freak in a circle of people as somehow less, isn’t it? History is filled with examples from personal betrayals to the demonizing of minority groups.

She takes her phone back and tucks it carefully into her pocket. “Thanks. But… yeah. Once this house stuff is over with, maybe we can have a few drinks to make up for tonight, without the elites or the ghosts, if you’re up for it. Fresh start.”

GM: “I could go for some drinks here,” Rachel says. “Yvonne’s still got that chartreuse.”

“Well, th-” Hannah starts.

“No, I don’t want to go through tonight sober. Back in a bit,” Rachel says. She opens the door and walks out. Her receding figure is soon swallowed by the house’s gloom.

Hannah stares after her.

“You should get out of here,” she says in a low voice.

Amelie: Amelie looks back to Hannah and feels her heart drop into her stomach.


GM: Hannah turns her head to regard Amelie. Her face is unsmiling as she replies, “Same reason you shouldn’t have ever gone to this school.”

Amelie: Amelie locks eyes with Hannah. Her confused face slowly goes slack with the Roberts family stone-like expression. “Because I don’t belong? Or is there something else?”

She doesn’t mention Yvette knowing her living situation, or catching Miranda spying on her. Both for obvious reasons.

GM: Hannah’s face seems to get darker, though it could also be her phone’s screen turning off. “This isn’t a good time for Q&A.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a shiver go up her spine that all but vibrates through her surroundings. Her hyper-awareness of the other girls and drive to keep them safe safe suddenly flips into an escape plan. X’s mark over certain exits due to the key not being in her possession. The hard rain locks out two other potential avenues of escape. Rachel’s departure pains a grim picture, too. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.

But it’s clear now. She has to leave.

“Hannah. Keep yourself safe too, okay? I hope I can talk to you at school again, soon.”

It feels like Hannah is putting herself in danger by doing this, but Amelie gives her one last sad and worried smile before turning on a heel and calculating a path out. She heads back through the door, her stride unbroken as she makes her way onto the balcony again. Into the rain. She’s not worried about getting wet as she grips the rail and heads down the stairs to the courtyard below.

GM: That’s when she feels another dull and shuddering throb of alarm shoot up her spine.

Amelie: She stops completely and eyes the staircase.

GM: Without one of the umbrellas enjoyed by her peers, rain thuds and splashes against Amelie’s exposed skin and leather jacket. Her thick hair wetly plasters against her scalp. The South’s warm night air feels all-too cold. She strains her eyes, but can make out almost nothing in the unlit house’s near-pitch gloom.

She remembers the stairs supporting everyone’s weights without any problem on the way up.

Amelie: Short hair comes in handy as Amelie smooths it out of her face and off to the side. Her phone is already safely tucked into an inside jacket pocket as she shines her flashlight down the steps for one last look. It’s either this or going down the steps in the garage apartment.

GM: Fat and brightly illuminated drops of rain plummet through the flashlight’s beam.

Nothing else is visible on the stairs.

Amelie: Amelie can’t ignore the shudder of warning and turns back. She makes her way down to the covered stairwell at the far south-eastern part of the house. The part that winds its way all the way down to the garage.

GM: Her flashlight’s beam flickers uncertainly through the gloom. There is no door before the staircase. The way down yawns ahead.

Amelie: Amelie takes a bracing breath and slowly starts down the stairwell. She grips the railing tightly and keeps her flashlight trained on every step downwards, her ears out for the danger her body warns her of.

GM: Amelie’s phone buzzes from her pocket as she begins her descent.

Amelie: Amelie stops dead and sits down on the stair. She quickly fishes out her phone to check the screen, then to puts it on ‘vibrate only’ so it stays silent.

GM: It’s a text.

There’s no message.

Just an image.

As Amelie bolts straight upright, her flashlight winks out.

There’s a dull clunking.

Light in her peripheral vision.

Her gaze rivets ahead. The flashlight lies at the bottom of the stairs. It must have slipped from her hand.

Amelie: It’s Amelie’s saving grace and her failing to have sat down. She bites back a shriek of surprise as as a shudder goes up her spine. Terror rings like bells in her head as the world goes dark again. She grasps at the dark for her light until she spots it at the bottom of the stairwell. Her heart is beating hard enough to power a small car while her lungs burn with the strain of not panting like a dog. Her face burns and her eyes strain from the fear forcing eyes open.

But Amelie is a Roberts girl. She grabs that fear and puts a knife to its throat as she sticks her phone back in her jacket, resolves to ignore it, and hurries down the stairs to her destination. She rips out two glowsticks from her pocket as she goes, breaking and shaking them for light.

If anything, they’ve helped her by sending that text. Maybe there’s a way she can trace it, or use the photograph of the painting to learn more. The logic bolsters the young woman as she makes her way down to the apartment. She needs to calm down and take stock. The windows in the apartment will be the perfect place to do so. She can hide out there and plan her next move.

GM: The old wooden stairs creak and groan under Amelie’s sneakers. Her flashlight beckons from the bottom floor.

Her foot touches one step.

Then two steps.

Then air.

Then her back hurts, then her ass hurts, then her legs, her sides, her chest, her face—and she’s flying, soaring through the darkness, and she’s crashing, and teal lights are spinning like speeding comets, and there’s no light, she can’t see—the darkness pours over her in oppressive waves, drenching her, suffocating her, like the rain smashing against the house’s walls, like the furious mob once smashed them down after they saw the atrocities the house’s mistress had committed, and the slave girl, the child who’d seen those horrors with her own eyes, who knew what fate awaited her, who chose to hurl herself from the house’s roof than face the wrath of Marie Delphine LaLaurie—


Screams in her ears. A blade in her hands. She knows what to do. She’s always known what to do. She stabs the hideous, diabolical face, rams the blade into its cheek, pulls, and blood gushes forth, bright and yellow and burning and she’s screaming, it’s dead, it’s dead, she killed it, she killed it, SHE KILLED IT-

And she’s sobbing, crying, aching everywhere, rocking back and forth at the bottom of the stairwell, knife clutched in hand. The darkness presses down on her like a heavy cloak.

Overhead, the rain screams and pours.

Amelie: Amelie free-falls through the void, but there’s no pain. Her mind blacks it out—and drags up other horrors and disquiet memories. Footsteps. The violent clanking of tools sent flying. The vague rumblings of a familiar deep voice screaming at the top of its lungs. That helpless panic, the helplessness that comes with knowing you can hurt someone and desperately wanting nothing more than to do the opposite.

THROUGH! Strike THROUGH, you stupid girl! Pick it up, Amelie! THRUST!!”

Familiar. Harsh, like a hammer bashing glowing steel. Molding it. Muscles tense and work their harsh mistress’ unconscious will. They know what to do. They’ve always known what to do. Amelie thrusts and feels her blade sink in and through, just like her mother taught her. Just like she’s already felt from her father. Just like her body knows it’s been built to do.

The young woman bellows incoherently. She twists the blade, rips it back, and feels everything come with it. It’s dead. It’s choking on its own bile. The real Amelie Savard shows its teeth for just long enough—until anguish crushes her against the bottom of the stairwell and her mind catches up with every blow at once. When did the fall end? When did it start? She struggles to breathe past the pain and horror as she keeps her knife pointed out at the darkness. Her hands fumble for one of the glowsticks that lined her pockets at the top of the stairwell. They fumble for her phone. For her flashlight. Any weapon against the dark.

GM: Amelie can hear her heart pounding in her ears as her hands frantically rummage across the floor. The rain thuds and pounds overhead. The darkness patiently waits.

Her sweating palms finally seize upon a glowstick.

Amelie: The situation slowly sinks in as Amelie’s body tells her the cold truth. If this were someone less fit, like one of her classmates, that fall would have put them out. Maybe worse. For Amelie, it just hurts. It hurts so bad. She shudders and sobs intermittently until she finds relief in the glowstick. She grabs it, breaks it, and shakes it hard as she slowly sits up and takes stock of her surroundings. Her eyes frantically search for blood.

GM: The teal light dully shines across the base of the stairs. No blood visibly stains the floor. Amelie’s backpack lies on the ground, the flap ripped open, and its contents haphazardly strewn everywhere like spilled guts.

Her light shines over one of those entrails. She reaches to pick it up.

Her hand abruptly burns. She reflexively pulls away, suppressing an instinctive hiss. She moves the light closer.

It’s her phone, or at least what’s left of it. The now-blank screen is shattered, cracked, and marred by a dark scorch mark.

Amelie: Amelie just lays there for a moment, feeling sorry for herself as she looks at her ruined phone… that it looks like she stabbed.

She briefly wonders about the warranty as she slowly pulls out her extra pair of pants, wraps them around the device and stows it in her backpack. Her knife goes in there too as she gets her bag back in order. She keeps the still-hot phone away from the glowsticks as she staggers to her feet and put a hand on her chest. Her ribs hurt, her back aches, and her head is splitting.

It’s time to vault that damned fence and get out of here. She’ll make her escape through the same garage that Delphine LaLaurie did in her carriage all those years ago.

GM: Amelie is still kneeling and gathering up her things when she hears approaching footsteps over the rain. Thunder rumbles angrily.

The door swings open. Beams of light stab into Amelie’s eyes.

“Oh mah goodness, what ’appened ’ere?” comes Yvette’s voice.

“Oh my god, did you fall down?” asks Sarah.

Yvette kneels down to lay a hand on Amelie’s shoulder. The other girls’ figures loom in the background. “Yes, did you? We ’eard screams-”

“-and noises,” Yvonne notes.

Amelie: Amelie feels like a deer caught in the headlights. The voices—there’s Yvette, Sarah, and Yvonne. No Hannah to calm her down, or at least none that she can hear. Instinct screams they’re the enemy as she recoils from them.

“M-my shoulder! Please don’t-”

GM: “-yes, and noises,” Yvette continues, smiling reassuringly at Amelie. “You must be so scared, Amalie… are you all right?”

“Your stuff’s everywhere…” Rachel remarks, looking across the room.

“Yeah, everywhere,” Simmone observes.

“Let’s ‘elp ’er get it picked up, why don’t we,” Yvonne smiles as she bends down and starts scooping up things.

Amelie: Amelie winces and scrambles away from Yvette as she still reaches for her, then grabs the wrapped phone and pocket knife to hurriedly stuff in her backpack.

“I’m leaving! Thank you for the look around,” she blurts out. She all but shoves past the other girls if they get in her way, barrels put the door into the rainy courtyard, and makes a running start for the gate. Her heart is beating a mile a minute even in the pain she’s in. Adrenaline pumps through her bloodstream as she jumps and grabs the gate, her thickly muscled body furiously working to launch her over the top—and out of this terrible house.

GM: “Ah’m sor-” Yvette starts.

“Wait, your stuff-” Rachel calls.

There are other words from the other girls. Exclamations. Maybe admonishments. Perhaps snickers. Amelie could never fit in among them and now she’s not even trying. Her footfalls thump and splash against the rain-drenched brick courtyard in eerie tune with her thundering heart.

She can make out hazy, water-blurred lights from the French Quarter beyond the gate’s cage-like iron bars. Their ornate wrought-iron filigree is so like that of the fences she admired in the Garden District. If it’s a cage it’s a gilded one.

Rain mercilessly pounds and cracks against Amelie’s back as she vaults into the air. She seizes onto the iron bars bare-handed as she frantically, manically, scrambles to pull herself up. Midnight storm clouds flash and rumble overhead with hungry anticipation.

The gate is dry underneath its archway. Some fast-fading rational part of the blacksmith’s mind tells her that’s so it won’t rust under New Orleans’ frequent rains, but her footing seems little safer for that familiarity. Her socks are completely soaked through. Her feet squelch in their sneakers as the rubber soles scramble for purchase against rain-slick metal. It’s so easy to imagine one careless slip sending her plummeting to her death like that poor little slave, who’s buried within less distance than it could take to crack Amelie’s skull open over the brick pavement like an over-ripe pumpkin.

There might be alarmed shouts and exclamations going up from the other teenagers, but that might also just be the crashing rain. Amelie’s bare, wet hands already feel so raw and sore. Her limbs burn like fire as she heaves her aching body upwards. She swings one leg over the top of the gate, careful to slip it past the hungrily pointed spikes that could so easily feast upon impaled flesh.

She can just make out the top of the French Quarter.

Old-fashioned streetlights. Black and white street signs that say ‘Rue’ in smaller font at the top. Galleries, not balconies like non-natives call them, dripping with flowers and greenery off the old Spanish-style buildings. Some part of Amelie’s heart sings at the sight. This is the New Orleans she fell in love with.

It was never in this house. This cursed, death-filled house. It’s out there. She has to get to it. She has to. Panic rises in her chest as water smashes against her exposed face, stinging her eyes, and streams down her clothes. Wind whips and howls against her back as thunder roars overhead. She’s not climbing into the rain, at this point, but a storm. A Katrina. It’s so cold. Her breath visibly steams in the chill night air as lightning flashes overhead.

No. This is summer. New Orleans doesn’t get this cold—

A reflected face in the metal spike catches Amelie’s eye.

Everything disappears as rain cascades over Amelie like a thick, wet curtain.

It parts.

Ice-cold, ashen, and horrifyingly solid hands seize Amelie fast, freezing the blood in her veins to ice. Terror explodes through a heart thundering too fast to even tell where one beat ends at the next begins. The convergence of past, present, and future that began when she gazed upon the LaLaurie House have reached their ultimate terminus to become one—and become none.

Yet, as conscious thought dissolves into that yawning oblivion like so much rain, something stirs. The void is not empty.

There is sound.





Child-like giggles leak into a single word brimming with malevolence so hateful that it stains Amelie’s soul just to hear:

:: FLY ::

Amelie’s heart stops.

Limp hands slip.

And she flies.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria II
Next, by Narrative: Story Two, George Prelude

Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II
Next, by Character: Story Nine, Amelie I

Story One, Victoria II

“You should be a mistress. You have what it takes.”
Unknown Chakras domme

Thursday evening, 19 September 2011

GM: They call it the Steel Room. It’s where Sylvia makes the magic happen. Cages. Spreader bars. Collars. Cuffs. Chains. St. Andrew’s crosses. Chastity belts. Stents. Anal hooks. Kneelers. Bondage fiddles. It’s all there, and more. The past six months have been good to Chakras’ resident welder.

Sylvia’s in the middle of her latest project when a man wanders inside. He looks like a client, and an older one, with a portly belly and receding gray hair.

He grins and looks around.

“You a new girl?”

Victoria: She lofts a brow to him. Her leather-dominated outfit screams ‘Yes, I fucking work here, you unobservant choad’, but Sylvia is more polite.

“Nope. Been here a whole two weeks.”

No one is new past the first day. Not after the interview. Faces come and go. Or cum and go. Or don’t cum, then go. Or don’t cum, and don’t go. Sometimes they leave by the door. Sometimes they leave by ambulance. One time, Sylvia saw someone leave by a body bag—though, she wonders whether that was part of the act or not.

“You must be lost.”

GM: “My good luck,” grins the man.

He whistles and looks around.

“What a collection.”

Victoria: “Why, all the yours, if you paid at the front and booked your time with one of the masters or mistresses.”

GM: “Heh,” says the man.

He takes one of the bondage fiddles off the wall and turns it around in his hands.

“How long can someone wear this thing for?”

Victoria: She looks to the fiddle.

“I suppose until your arms fall off, or are removed.”

GM: The guy laughs and sets the fiddle down, then picks up a pair of chainless cuffs.

“You got a name, sexy?”

Victoria: She lofts a brow at him. Even in two weeks, it isn’t the first time she’s been mistaken and accosted by the clientele. As much fun as she had during her interview, it isn’t her place to whip the guests.

“You just said it, hmn?”

GM: The man laughs and turns around the cuffs in his hands. “What, Sexy’s really your name?”

Victoria: “Seems to be what I’m called more than not.”

She refrains from giving him his name.

GM: “Heh. You got a… you got a mouth,” the man chuckles.

Victoria: And oh, the things she can do with her mouth.

“Look, I think you’re a bit turned around. Booking is at the front. Were you assigned a room?”

GM: “Is that part of the job for you, being mouthy?” asks the man.

“Seriously, what’s your name? I just wanna be friendly.”

“I’m Greg.”

Victoria: She sighs, calming herself.

“I’m Sylvia.”

GM: “Sylvia. That’s a pretty name,” smiles the man.

“Isn’t really a domme name. Are you a sub?”

Victoria: “Nope.”

She picks up a welding torch.

“I build the things that make you scream—one way or another.”

GM: “Wow,” whistles the man, backing away slightly.

“That’s intense.”

Victoria: She glances past him, wondering how he escaped his domme.

GM: “So you’re not just a domme, you’re the domme who makes all the toys?” he grins.

Sylvia doesn’t see anyone else nearby.

Victoria: “Not a domme, not a sub, just an employee in a house of horror.”

GM: “Oh. But you use these things, right?”

“If you make them.”

“Do you like it when guys use them on you, or do you like to use them on guys?”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

“Not really. I just fiddle with them. If you want them used, the front desk is what you want.”

GM: He looks at her suspiciously.

“You really don’t use these things?”

“But you make them.”

Victoria: “Uh huh. Got a degree and everything. I had to dye my hair away from blonde so they believed me, even with the diploma. Go figure—a smart woman in 2011. Next we’ll be practicing communists.”

GM: The man laughs. “Yeah, ‘smart’ sounds like you. You feel like a domme, though. Do you do it on top with your boyfriend?”

“Gregory!” comes an imperious female voice.

“Where are you, you impudent boy!”

“Ah, shit,” Greg grins, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Hide me! There anything here?”

Victoria: “Try the closet.”

She gestures to an iron maiden.

GM: “Oh, ha, ha, that’s fun-”

He’s interrupted as one of the dommes strides in, high heels clicking against the floor. She yanks Greg away by his ear. He gives a loud, “Owww!”

“My apologies,” she says huskily. “He’s such a bad boy, showing up where he’s not wanted. You can be assured he’ll be punished, and severely!

Greg’s ear-to-ear grin is interrupted by the domme giving his ear another sharp tug. “Yoowww!”

Victoria: “I’m sure he’ll love the punishment!”

She curls her fingers after them, as if waving goodbye to a child.

“Bye bye.”

Friday evening, 27 September 2011

GM: Sylvia’s working in the Steel Room again, perhaps a week later, when Greg pops his head in.

“Hey, how much to hire you as my domme?” he grins.

“I’ve been thinking about you, and you really get my motor going. If y’know what I mean.”

Greg wiggles his eyebrows.

Victoria: “Oh, I don’t know if I could cut it as a domme, but I’ll give you a pitiful hand job for seven million dollars. Hell, I’ll even use the special lube with gold flecks—but don’t tell the master! He’ll want a cut.”

GM: Greg laughs.

“Dang, the mouth on you!”

He runs his hands over the devices like a kid in a candy store.

“These things are amazing, you know that? Seriously, I bet you’d use ’em better than any girl here. Since you made ’em, right?”

Victoria: “Is the best blacksmith better than the best swordsman? I think not.”

GM: “Huh. I didn’t think of it like that.”

Greg picks up a gag, sets it down, and then another pair of link-less handcuffs.

“But you are a domme, though. Just the way you talk!”

Victoria: “No, dear, I’m a Christian. This is my church, and through prayer, I can see why many find catharsis in these halls. Can’t you?”

GM: “Huh?” frowns Greg.

“Like, this is how you get off?”

“I mean, duh, there!” he chuckles.

Victoria: She stares at him.

“Did you run away from Mistress Cybil again, Gregory?”

GM: He raises his hands. “All right, all right. I’ll be outta your hair.”

“She was really mad about that last time, anyway.”

Victoria: “Uh huh. What did she do to you for it?”

GM: “She didn’t let me cum.”

Greg looks genuinely irritated.

“Like, fucking hell. I’m here to get off! Five hundred bucks down the fucking drain.”

“I thought running off was gonna make her beat me extra hard, make the session extra good. She ruined the whole thing.”

Victoria: “Are you big, Greg? Like—be straight with me. You packing?”

Sylvia turns, opening a drawer.

GM: He grins at Sylvia’s words.

“Yeah, I sure am.”

“I beat it off thinking about you, a couple times.”

Victoria: She pulls out a pair of garden shears.

“Like, how big? Grocery store salami or Oscar Meyer hotdog? I’m wondering if she’ll use these, or get out the crescent knife and really have to work at it.”

GM: Greg freezes like a deer in headlights, as if wondering whether Sylvia is serious.

“Uhhh, I’m just gonna leave. Okay?”

Victoria: She snickers. “Hey, you were surprised what she did on the first offense.”

GM: “Yeah, you…”

Greg suddenly looks straight past Sylvia.

Not in the direction of the door, where one would expect Cybil to come from.

“OH SHIT!” he exclaims.

Victoria: She jumps with a start, her heart bouncing off the ceiling. She looks where he’s looking.

GM: Suddenly, she feels Greg’s hands on her wrists, forcing them into the cuffs she made. There’s a metallic click.

“Ha ha! Not so smart after all!” laughs Greg.

Victoria: The shears clatter to the floor.

FUCKER! Let. Me. OUT!”

Sylvie screams bloody murder, which is exactly what will happen whether she is or isn’t let out—it just depends when.

GM: Sylvie knows the room is soundproofed. No one wanted the welding noises disturbing scenes in the other rooms.

Greg pulls Sylvia against his body. She can feel his erect cock pressing against her ass. Rough hands squeeze her tits.

“Ah, fuck, yeah!” Greg exclaims. “You really are a domme, aren’t you? You just fuckin’ wish I was the one locked up! God!”

He delivers a hard smack to her ass.

“Call me Daddy, bitch! I’m your dom now!”

Victoria: As she pulls him against his body, she slams her forehead into his nose. No playing, no toying, no risk—she intends to break his nose and send him to the floor.

GM: Despite being handcuffed, Sylvia’s forehead smashes into Greg’s face with a satisfying crunch of cartilage. Blood leaks down his nose as Greg gives a shout of alarm, reflexively pulling away. Sylvia trips him with her leg and he hits the floor.

Victoria: She bolts for the door, hopping over his body and trying to wrench it open.

GM: Opening a door while handcuffed from behind, and thus facing backwards, proves difficult. Sylvia can’t even see what she’s doing.

But she can see Greg. He angrily hauls himself to his feet, then grabs Sylvia by her hair and yanks her away from the door. Another hand clamps around her throat as he forces her head downwards.

“You’re gonna get it for that, cunt!”

He hauls her towards the sink in the corner of the room.

“I love bringing a domme to heel! Fucking yeah!”

Victoria: Hands behind her back, there’s little she can do to fight him with her hands.

OUCH!” she roars as he pulls her by the hair. She opens her mouth to scream a string of profanity that would make a sailor blush, when his hand forces the air out of her throat.

She writhes, struggling against him.

GM: Greg slams her against the sink. Her belly hurts.

“God! Fuck!” pants Greg. “That’s the thing, about dommes! They got spirit! They fight!”

Victoria: She grunts in pain, trying to scoop a leg in front of him to trip him.

GM: His hand slips down her leather pants as he stomps a foot over hers.

“Submit, honey. Say you submit. You’ll like it, I promise.”

“As a bitch at my feet!”

Victoria:OUCH! Okay, OKAY… fuck, just stop!”

Unless he holds her up, she sinks down.

GM: Greg lets her kneel to the floor. Blood’s still leaking down his nose.

“That’s a good girl!” he sneers.

He points at his shoes. “Lick ’em. First step to fixing your dirty mouth.”

Victoria: “Just fucking let me suck you off. That’s what you want, right? An apology for your lost money? They’re going to wonder where you are, soon, so if you want what’s yours, you’ve probably got three minutes.”

GM: Greg scowls furiously, then unzips his pants and forces his erect member into Sylvia’s mouth. He makes a fist in her hair, tugging her close.

“Suck, bitch!”

“That’s a tame little domme!”

Victoria: Well, she was going to suckle his balls, but sure.

She takes him into her mouth, her tongue lapping at the underside, as far as he’s willing to go.

How pliant.

GM: Greg spits on her face. He chokes her with one hand. He yanks her head backward and forward by the hair with his other hand.

“Good bitch! My fucking pet domme!”

“You love that, don’t you, when a man takes control!”

Victoria: “Mhmhmhmmm!” she mumbles. Wow, she’s really putting in her effort. She takes everything he has, and is a compliant kitten when he offers more.

GM: Greg humps her face back and forth, holding her head in place with both his hands. It’s very little time before he feels almost ready to climax, if his faster thrusts are any indication.

“Swallow it! Swallow it all, bitch!” he pants.

“Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! You’re mine!”

“My pet domme! I fucking TAMED you!”

Victoria: “Mhmm! Mhmm!”

She begins to gag on him as he presses further into her mouth, encouraging him. She’s an attentive lover, and so she watches him, his emotion, his escalation. She reads his body as if it is a musical score, and just before he erupts, she clamps her teeth down and sheers, as if rending beef jerky. She can’t move her head, but the natural reaction to pain is to jerk away.

Someone always pays for gifts, and she has been very generous.

GM: The human jaw can exert a truly prodigious amount of force. 70 pounds per square inch, even if most of it is back in the molars.

Even the most well-endowed penis weighs a lot less than 70 pounds.

There’s a grisly tear, and then suddenly hot, coppery blood fills Sylvia’s mouth, almost completely masking the salty tang of cum. Greg’s screams are prodigious as the man collapses to the ground, blood freely leaking from his ruined manhood. Greg rocks back and forth in fetal position, screaming at the top of his lungs. Tears stream from his scrunched eyes.

“You… bi… you…!”

The rubbery, turn-off, bloody shaft sits there in Sylvia’s mouth.

Victoria: She gags, chokes, then vomits the amputated member onto the floor along with her half-digested lunch.

Coughing, she still manages a smirk.

“Enjo—” cough! “—enjoy your last?”

With him in the fetal position, she finds the strength to stand up, and does what she didn’t to that poor sub just three weeks before. The same boot that crushed her face lands a heel to the center of his face, forcing his already-broken nose further into his head.

GM: There’s another satisfying impact beneath Sylvia’s boot as red gets all over the sole. Greg screams and and crawls away on his hands and knees, blood still leaking from his destroyed manhood.

Victoria: She runs to the door, kicking it.


GM: The closed door remains closed.

Greg continues to scream. Sylvia sees him crawling towards his spat-out penis shaft.

Victoria: She walks to him, swiping it away with a foot. It splatters across the room. Then, she moves to take the shears off the floor, lest he become brave.

Even injured, as adrenaline begins to cool toward calmer heads, she begins to tremble.

How could they leave her like this?


She walks over and kicks it again.

GM: Greg’s screams rise to a still-higher pitch as he sees his manhood fly away. He scrambles after it.

The door finally crashes open beneath Sylvia’s adrenaline-fueled kicking.


She stomps out of the room, looking for the nearest employee. Blood and cum coat her chin.

GM: The handcuffs she made dig painfully into her wrists. However, Sylvia’s shouting eventually brings several of the dommes and subs running. There’s several screams at the scene of violence. Several more people just look turned on and start kissing and groping one another. Someone licks Sylvia’s chin. There’s questions about what happened. There’s more screams from the now-open room.

It’s not until one of the dommes arrives, though, that some sense of order is restored to the scene. She has caramel skin, a slender body encased in a leather corset, and way black hair that falls to the small of her back. She starts perfunctorily giving instructions and has someone unlock Sylvia’s cuffs.

“You poor dear…” she murmurs, dabbing a cloth along Sylvia’s chin. “I’m so sorry this happened to you… we’ll take care of this, don’t you worry.”

Victoria: The chaos makes her want to cover her ears and shrink into a ball, but she can’t do that. So much screaming. A tongue on her chin. More screaming. Being pulled this way, and that.

Finally, freedom.

When she looks into the domme’s eyes as she cleans her chin, she’s that little girl again; a small child in bed, helpless, while a monster of a man shoves his hand into her pants.

She can hardly speak without trembling.

“He… he… he…”

GM: “Yes… things out of hand…” says the domme, thoughtfully dabbing her cloth along Sylvia’s face.

“I think a raise would only be fair, don’t you? Call it reparations for the trauma you’ve suffered.”

“And maybe you’d also enjoy having some more… control in your workplace?”

Greg’s screams have stopped.

Victoria: She doesn’t answer right away. Sylvia knows well enough that Chakras prefers to keep out of the eyes of the law, but the thought that she would be bribed didn’t even occur to her until that moment.

“Con… control? What do you mean?”

She leans on the woman. Her knees shake. Her legs hurt. Her jaw is sore.

GM: “Well, let me just ask… if Greg never bothered you again, after this, and never came inside Chakras again, would that seem fair?”

“Or not so fair?”

“Would that not seem like enough?”

Victoria: She nods.

“…won’t turn down a raise, but… yes.”

A pause.

“And something to prevent that happening again.”

“You’re going to ban him, then?”

GM: “Oh, of course. But he’ll go somewhere else, after he gets his penis reattached, and the police won’t care, if we file a report. They’ll just say he got frisky with a sex worker, because that’s all we are, in their eyes.”

Victoria: She grimaces, looking down at him and his unattached member.

“He’s not a good person. He… he forced me to blow him.”

“Probably not his smartest life decision.”

GM: The domme has since ushered her away from the bloody scene.

“So not fair, then? He gets a painful memory, and then just walks away?”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

“I don’t want him to hurt someone else.”

A pause.

“…but I won’t tell the cops. I know it’s bad for business.”

“What are you trying to say? Be direct.”

GM: “Don’t worry about the police,” smiles the domme.

She wraps an arm around Sylvia and shepherds her to the front entrance.

“Go home and shower. Pamper yourself. Have a cry. Hug a pet, or someone special. We’ll have someone give you a lift, if you don’t want to drive right now.”

“Be back tomorrow, and we’ll discuss… avenues of justice.”

“Ways to keep him from doing this to any more girls.”

Victoria: She nods. She won’t tell the police. Sylvie is a good girl.

“I think I can use a drive, yeah. I… I can take myself. I’ll be fine.”

Because she’s the only one she can rely on, and I’d Sylvia St. George doesn’t have the strength, then Sylvia St. George doesn’t deserve her life.


More assured, “Okay.”

She nods.

“I’ll be back.”

Saturday evening, 28 September 2011

GM: The next day, Sylvia’s back at Chakras. The domme greets her at the front entrance, then takes her to a room upstairs. Tied spread-eagled with his hands between the posts, blindfolded, collared, and grinning like a shit-eating possum, is Greg. He’s got his dick back. It’s hard as a rock while a naked girl behind him eats out his ass. Greg looks in complete bliss.

The domme smiles and gestures at a wall of wicked implements, many of them made by Sylvia’s own hands.

She says something. Sylvia doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter.

“Aw, YEAH!” shouts Greg.

“After this, I wanna put HER ass in chains, and teach her a lesson! Come on, kitty kitty, come and play!”

Victoria: Sylvia didn’t go home that afternoon. Not right away. True to her word, she took a long drive, with no particular destination or direction. Lefts became rights, rights became lefts, and she wandered around the city until she almost ran out of gas. She knew what would happen if she went home. So, she didn’t.

With time, she ended up at Audobon Park, where she sat on the grass, eating a pretzel.

She didn’t want a hotdog. Not that day.

She didn’t sleep much that night.

Thoroughly caffeinated and with a few hours of sleep, Sylvia returns to Chakras, unsure what she’ll face—though she has a few guesses in mind.

She jumps at Greg’s outburst, shaking. No.

Sylvia St. George, stop being a pussy.

And then she notices his cock, and something inside her knots.

“How? How is he…?”

GM: “His brother-in-law’s a highly-placed administrator at Tulane Medical Center,” says the domme. “Turns out, that gets you some pretty swift attention from their best surgeons.”

“He’s probably going to damage it using it again so soon, but what does he care.”

“He’s just overjoyed to have it back, I’m sure.”

Victoria: “Impossible! He… he… no swelling. No bruising. Full function..?”

GM: The domme laughs.

“I’ve not inspected it up close, but swelling and bruises wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Full function would surprise me.”

She smiles, takes Sylvia’s hand, and lays it against the implements on the wall.

“Maybe you’d like to try some of those things on it, and see how full a recovery it’s made?”

Victoria: Sylvia looks to the implements, then the domme.

“Be frank. I know that consent and safety aren’t always paramount in the privacy of these walls.”

She drops her voice.

“How far does this go?”

GM: The domme smiles widely.

“As far as you’d like it to.”

Victoria: She lofts a brow, uncertain.

“You mean that.”

It’s not a question.

GM: “I mean that,” comes the answer.

“Come on, kitty kitty, come out and PPLLAAAAYYY!!!” roars Greg. His voice heaves with laughter.

Victoria: Sylvia offers her a kind smile.

“I appreciate you. Everyone here.”

They protect their own. Just like her own family. That means more to Sylvia than anything. Even the new girl is given protection.

Sylvia walks up to Greg.

“What do you want, hmn?” she asks, dragging a finger up his chin.

GM: Greg freezes.

Maybe he recognizes her voice.

He doesn’t say anything.

Victoria: She gestures the ass licker away.

“Tell me. What. You. Want.”

GM: The girl hops off the bed.

“Get the fuck away from me!” shrieks Geg, panic in his voice. Sylvia sees a cold sweat break out along his skin.

He tugs at his restraints.

Victoria: “Shhh… shhh… sh… there are no hard feelings. You raped me, I bit you. We’re both fine.”

She grips his cock.


GM: Up close, Greg’s dick does not look fine, or feel fine. It’s colored an unhealthy shade of purple. It’s swollen, but in a way that makes it look more fat than truly large. It’s neither fully soft nor fully erect, just sort of a sad in between.

Greg squirms and tries to pull away from her hand.

“Look, just… lemme go, and you’ll never see me again, I swear.”

“I can’t even fuck girls! Just get my ass licked!”

Victoria: “Oh, come on, Greg. That’s no fun.”

She disappears from his side, moving to a nearby cabinet. She’s only been in this room for installation, but…

There it is. She retrieves a bottle of Viagra, and a gag.

“Don’t you want to fuck me? If you’d been nice yesterday, I’d have let you.”

Probably untrue, but stranger events in her life have happened, and it wouldn’t be the first she’d regret. Certainly not the last, either.

She shakes the bottle.

“Here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to cum. Didn’t you want kitty to play?”

GM: “I… please, the doctors… they said I shouldn’t…!” begs Greg.

Victoria: He hears the bottle open.

“You were so eager yesterday.”

GM: “Yesterday I hadn’t my dick fucking bitten off! PLEASE! I could… I could lose it! For real!”

“I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry! I got too frisky! I’m sorry!”

He tugs against his restraints some more.

Victoria: “Mmmn.” She cants her head back and forth, sounding uncertain.

“I suppose there would eventually be something we agree on.”

She drums her fingers on his thigh.

“Is that all the mast you can muster? You told me you were huge.”

GM: Greg starts actually crying.

“Please. Please don’t fuck me. Not now! I could lose it!”

Victoria: “Let’s fix that.”

She reads the bottle.

“Aha… between one and half a pill.”

She shoves ten into his mouth, then the gag.

“Swallow. You know very well it’ll be worse if you don’t. You get me if you obey, and you get her if you don’t.”

She leans in to his ear. Paint the picture, Sylvie.

“She wanted to kill you. I made her promise we’d just scare you a bit. They’re placebos.”

They are very much not placebos.

GM: Perhaps he wonders if she’s lying.

About the placebos.

About the other domme.

It’s the prisoner’s dilemma, in a completely warped context.

Cold sweat beads his skin.

Sylvia can watch him literally sweating over this.

Then, finally.

He swallows.

Victoria: She begins to shake, and is thankful that he’s blindfolded.

You fucking do what you have to do, Sylvia St. George, and you do it with a straight back and a smile.

The gag is removed.

Good boy.”

It’ll be a little while before it takes effect. Oh, when it does…

“Are you sorry for what you did?”

GM: Greg nods raptly, feverishly.

“Yes! Yes! I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry! I won’t ever—you’ll never see me again! Ever! Never!” the man babbles.

Victoria: “Mmmn… close, but no.”

She reaches over, gently pumping his shaft, testing.

“Maybe you’ll take my apology better than I take yours.”

GM: “N-no? What do you want!? What do you want me to say!? I…”

It’s like watching a half-rotted eggplant solidify in her hand. The veins along the purpled flesh already look red and angry.

Sylvia can’t see his eyes behind the blindfold.

But she has no doubt they’re as wide as dinner plates.

Victoria: She beckons one of the subs over silently.

“It’s not an apology if I tell you.”

GM: The sub obediently approaches.

PPLLLEEAAASSE!!!!” Greg wails, full on sobbing now. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m SORRY, OKAY!? I’m SORRY! I CAN’T LOSE MY FUCKING COCK!”

Victoria: She gestures the nameless sub before her, front to back, and speaks to him as if they are one.

“Shhh… crying isn’t appealing. You’re not going to lose it. You’re going to use it.”

She nudges the sub up onto the bed, guiding her with gestures to mount him.

Always, when she speaks, it’s head to head with the sub, preserving the illusion.

As the sub takes his penis, pressing it against her sex, Sylvia breathes.

“Don’t you want me? This is your chance.”

GM: The naked girl obediently guides his swollen, purpled, and throbbing cock into her pussy.

Greg recoils from it like someone’s pulling his dick into a paper shredder.

“Nnnno—nnnn-NNNN-OOOO!!!!” he wails.

“Please! Please don’t fuck me! Please let me have my, have my di, lemme have my….!”

He breaks down inarticulately sobbing.

Victoria: “Fuck! You’re right. It is big.”

The Viagra should be taking effect soon.

“You can have it, silly. Once I’m done with it! You never really got to enjoy this yesterday, so why don’t we make this first one good, hmmn?”

GM: “No! NO! I don’t want to, I don’t want to, please, don’t…!” Greg wails.

Such strange words to hear from a man’s mouth.

Victoria: “Words I’m all too familiar with. I said them yesterday, while you invaded my throat.”

She sets her hands to the sub’s shoulders, pressing her all the way onto his shaft.

“Doesn’t that feel good?”

GM: “NNnnooooo!!!” Greg sobs as his throbbing cock fills the girl.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I invaded your throat! I take it back!”

Victoria: Her fingers clasp around his sack, squeezing gently. The bruising may have spread, but at least those weren’t so severely injured.

“That’s the thing about rape, Gregory. You can’t take it back. You can never take it back.”

No matter what those greedy men do, no matter how charitable they are, no matter how much they beg and plead and offer their lives, they’ll never take back what they did to Sylvia and her foster siblings.

“You can only repent, and repentance. Takes. Time.”

She squeezes the girl’s shoulder, loving, and offers her a smile.

“Squeeze him. Milk him,” she murmurs in her ear.

GM: Greg’s balls, at least, look healthier than his shaft does. He still whimpers as her fingers snake around them.

“Please! Let me repent another way! Any way! Don’t take my…”

The sub obediently smiles and starts riding him back and forth. His rock-hard shaft easily fills her.

Greg screams and impotently thrashes against his restraints.

“PPppllleeaasssee! Sssttoooooppp!!! I’ll do anything! I’ll pay anything…!”

Victoria: She pads quietly back away, whispering to the dominatrix.

“…would you get a cutting board from the kitchen?”

Her heart is pounding so hard that she feels light-headed. She shouldn’t be doing this. She shouldn’t be doing this, but she needs to. She couldn’t save herself as a child, and she couldn’t save her siblings. She couldn’t save herself as an adult!


She winces. Her own mental voice is stinging, as if her mother caught her hand in the cookie jar.

Her mouth is dry. So dry.

She swallows, licking her lips, and dons the mask again as she comes to the riding sub’s side.

“You can’t take back, Gregory, but you can give. You gave me your cock yesterday, didn’t you? I figure it’s mine to have when I want. I want it now.”

GM: Sylvia swiftly finds a cutting board pressed into her hands.

Greg sobs and chokes and blubbers.

It’s a pathetic sight from a middle-aged man.

“It doesn’t work, okay!? It doesn’t! The docs, the d-docs s-said, OH GOD PLLLEEAAASSEE!!! Doooooon’t!!!!” he wails.

The sub continues to obediently thrust back and forth against his rock hard shaft.

Victoria: That was fast. It’s almost as if the domme knew.

She presses the board beneath his scrotum.

“Greeeeg…” she whines. “I’m fucking horny, and nothing gets me off more than knowing I’ve pleased someone! Won’t you finish for me? Come ooooooon…”

She opens a drawer beside him. No, not a flog. Nope, not the whip. Not this, not that. Not the other thing.


She retrieves a claw hammer.

GM: Greg gives a shrill, girl-like scream and tries to recoil.

His restraints hold him fast.

Victoria: “Oh, relaaaax! Don’t you want to finish? I could have her finger your ass while I fuck you! Come on, Gregory! I want you to pop!”

Thumpthump, thumpthump, thumpthump, thumpthump, thumpthump, thumpthump.

She’s a little girl living a naughty fantasy, and the sheer adrenaline and taboo of it gives her a high like no other.

It’s wrong.

It’s terrible.

It’s horrific, and she should be thrown away for it.

Sylvia is a bad girl.

And in that moment, she loves it.

GM: That makes one person who enjoys Gregory’s climax.

It sure isn’t two.

Gregory’s screaming face is tomato red when he cums. Hot, wet spunk shoots into the sub’s cunt.

NNN-NNN-OOOO-OOOOO!!!!” he wails, tears streaming down his face.

The sub looks towards Sylvia, as if to see whether she should slide off. His rock hard cock is still throbbing inside her, even as his jizz seeps out.

Victoria: As she did the day before, she watches him, drinking in his expression. She watches him pant. She watches him fight his orgasm. She watches him lose, and the moment she sees the fight overtake him, she sends the head of the hammer down onto his left testicle, supported by the cutting board.


“See?! I made you pop!”

GM: Greg can’t see the hammer approach. But he feels the cutting board, and as he realizes, he screams,


It doesn’t literally pop like a grape.

First, the testicle squishes as the skin rips, exposing Greg’s bloodstream and testes. Sylvia can hear ‘splodge’ and ‘crunch’ as the hammer comes down on the man’s exposed testicles. Blood gushes out. Less than she’d actually think, but it’s hard to tell.

A ruptured, ruined testicle really does look just like a red grape.

Greg throws up. Bile leaks down his chest and all over the sub. Piss leaks from his throbbing, blackened cock.

But he screams no more. He hangs limply from his restraints.

He must have fainted from the pain and shock.

The domme straddles up behind Sylvia and runs her hands down the other woman’s shoulders.

“Exquisite,” she breathes.

Victoria: The hammer clatters to the floor. Sylvia planned so much more. She planned it all in her head: him finishing inside the nameless girl, the smashed testicle, the claw tugging what remained further, and further, and further, and further he while writhed and begged. He would scream as she screamed while she takes more than he took.

It remains a dream. A fantasy. Even if he didn’t pass out, Sylvia is done.

Her body gives up.

She can’t do any more.

The purr in her ear brings her a soothing chill. Silently, she looks to the woman.

GM: The woman’s face is proud.

Proud. Aroused. Hungry. There’s something hot kindled in her green eyes. Her voice is a breathless whisper in Sylvia’s ears.

“You should be a mistress.”

“You have what it takes.”

Victoria: Anna is going to die if she ever hears those words.


Her heart rocks against her ribcage, fluttering up her throat.

“I’m not sure I do.”

GM: Wordlessly, the woman holds up the bloody hammer.

Copper wafts up Sylvia’s nose.

Victoria: She takes the hammer, staring at its sanguine-splotched head.

“This… isn’t what every client wants.”

Even this one didn’t.

GM: “Yes,” the woman laughs. “They usually want… less.”

Victoria: She knows she’ll be good at it.

She isn’t sure she wants to be good at it.

GM: Greg hangs uselessly in place, covered in blood and bile. The smell is overpowering.

Victoria: “What will happen to him?”

GM: “He’ll live. I suppose. And go through life without use of his precious cock, and never touch another girl again.”

The woman strokes a hand along Sylvia’s face.

“None of this will ever come back to haunt you. We look out for our own.”

“You are one of our own.”

“You are one of us.”

“You love this. Everything about this.”

“Don’t you?”

Victoria: She bites her tongue, thinking.

“He still has one left, and his cock will recover otherwise, unless the stimulant ruined him sufficiently.”

She hands the woman the hammer while she leans into that stroking hand, closing her eyes.

She is one of them. She’s been one of them since her interview. She loves this life, even though she couldn’t admit it to Anna.


GM: The woman takes the hammer, positions the cutting board, and then does exactly what Sylvia just did.

Victoria: She winces. A fleck of blood lands on her glasses.

GM: She sets down the twice-bloodied implement, then wraps her arms around Sylvia and softly kisses her cheek.

“Welcome home… Mistress.

Victoria: Sylvia chews her lip, thinking.

“I’ve a thought.”

Oh, the sound of that word. So crisp. So frigid, yet warming; a mother’s embrace from a statue of ice.

GM: “I’ll bet it’s worth more than a penny.”

Victoria: “He’ll remember this, but he won’t think about it every day. He’ll miss fucking, but over time he’ll miss it less and less.”

GM: “People can get used to anything, it’s true,” sighs the woman.

Victoria: The dregs of adrenaline are fading. Uncertainty plagues her, but the reassurance of this woman pushes her forward.

One more. Just one more.

Her crumbling foundation holds.

“Help me turn him over?”

GM: The woman undoes his cuffs, then turns over his fat, blood- and bile-smeared body.

Victoria: “Got a knife?”

GM: Just as swiftly, Sylvia finds one in her hands.

Victoria: “You are boundlessly prepared.”

She scores the ring just deep enough to weaken muscle, then seats the knife directly into his asshole.

“There. Now he’ll remember daily.”

Saturday night, 28 September 2011, PM

Victoria: Two days in a row, Sylvia leaves Chakras trembling. Two days, with tears welling up behind her eyes. Two days, with blood on her face.

She shouldn’t be driving, but she is despite three separate people offering to take her home.

“It’s only a five minute drive,” said one of them.

“It’s really no trouble,” said another.

She wanted to accept the ride, but not as much as she needs to be alone; to let herself break down, and to allow the skyscraper of roiling guilt and emotion to come crashing down.

The door to her ancient Civic barely clicks closed before she punches the steering wheel hard enough to bruise her hand.


GM: Her hand hurts.

But that pain will fade.

Greg is never going to use a bathroom the same way again.

Victoria: Greg deserved every ounce of pain that he received. His punishment was justify.

It doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Sylvia drives home, running two stop signs, nearly hitting a pedestrian at one. The angry, Asian man swears at her in an unfamiliar language. She feels more guilty about the corgi that leaps off the sidewalk, but it manages to run between her tires before she passes.

Lucky dog.

She makes it home, both her and passing people in one piece, and she presses a key to the front door of her apartment. Never has she had so much trouble opening a simple door.

Stupid, fucking Greg. If he hadn’t locked the door. If they hadn’t installed a locking door…

GM: Or a soundproofed room.

Or such reliable restraints.

She’d know there, after all. She made those cuffs with her own two hands.

Victoria: She shaped his fate, in a way.

She hadn’t forced him to come in.

She hadn’t forced him to rape her.

GM: She remembers his laugh.

How he said he’d tamed her.

How much he loved taming dommes.

Taking strong and assertive women and bringing them to heel.

Victoria: Now he’ll never bring anyone to heel again.

He’s lost his purpose.

He is weak.



She took everything from him, and wounded him beyond that.

And she reveled in it.

And she hates herself for it.

GM: He was a monster. He’d have preyed on other women.

So she hurt him, until he can’t hurt anyone again, and now she feels like the monster.

Was there a right thing to do?

Victoria: She’s no better than the men of her childhood.

And she liked it.

Likes it.

Likes it a lot.

Is this why they did it to her?

To feel overwhelming power over the helpless?

GM: She remembers how it felt with the chair.

The fear in her eyes.

The sense of a defenseless life completely with her hands. Within her power.

Victoria: She wonders where that chair is now. Chakras is bigger than it’s given credit for, and she is only one small component of the machine. So many dommes. So many subs. So many support workers, just like her.

GM: Wherever she is, she’s probably happy so long as someone is sitting on her.

Victoria: The door clicks closed, and Sylvia St. George crumbles like an overcooked cookie, with none of the sweetness. Her bag falls to the floor, and she barely makes it to the sofa before she’s sobbing, screaming into a pillow.

She’s a broken toy. She’s a toddler with a tantrum. She’s both the uncertain child with a hand down her pants, and the rapist, eyes glinting in the dark.

She is both halves of everything she hates, and everything she swore never to be, and never to be again.

She embodied them both, and what’s worse? She likes it. Even there in her blind rage, she likes it. There’s more she would have done if he hadn’t passed out, and there’s more she wishes she could go back right that moment and do to him. She wishes she could have an auditorium of young men to watch, to broadcast to the world exactly what happens when you take what you don’t deserve, and she wishes she could comfort every last one of them and tell them it’s okay.

Sylvia St. George is a bad girl, and she doesn’t know what to feel.

The very worst part?

They offered her a job for it.

They offered her a job for it, and she already knows she’s going to take it the next morning.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie XI

Previous, by Character: Story One, Victoria I
Next, by Character: Story Two, Victoria I

Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

“So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”
“More steel than satin.”

Caroline Malveaux to Amelie Savard

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s deliberately slower than normal route under the district’s majestic live oaks is interrupted by a phone call. The caller ID reads ‘unknown.’

Amelie: Amelie pauses and steps under the shade of a tree to answer. “Hello?”

Caroline: “Ms. Savard?” answers an unfamiliar female voice. There’s a clipped tone to it that reminds her slightly of her more entitled classmates. But with a finer edge. If they’re in process, this sounds closer to the finished product of what they’ll become.

Amelie: “Speaking. Can I help you?”

Caroline: “I rather suspect it’s the opposite,” the voice replies in an amused tone. “I heard you were asking about me.”

Amelie: “I’ve asked about a few people in the last few days. Can you please specify?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Caroline Malveaux speaking. Something about fencing and sword-making?”

Amelie: “OH! Yes, that’s—wow, news travels fast. I didn’t ask about you specifically, ma’am, just chasing a rumor about a Malveaux being a state fencing champion. Apologies if it was concerning to you.”

Caroline: Caroline’s stomach falls out at the mention of her old fencing record. She forgot how uncomfortable this topic makes her. ‘State champion’ indeed.

Caroline: There’s silence on the other end for a moment, but only just, before a light laugh sounds.

“You must be new to New Orleans, Ms. Savard. The only thing around here that travels faster than gossip and news has a pair of jet engines on it.”

Amelie: “I grew up idolizing New Orleans. It’s easy to forget how small it is. Which is a reason for my asking about you. I heard you won a state championship in Louisiana despite me not able to find a state fencing league?”

Caroline: “There’s a high school league and championship,” Caroline answers. “It’s USFA sanctioned but not rated, might be the cause of the confusion. It’s also not as large as you might like—mostly a few private schools and academies. Winning here is mostly an invitation to attend a regional event.”

There’s a pause.

“That was a few years ago, of course.”

Caroline: Talking about her old fencing career makes her remember how excited she was when she closed out that championship match. How confident she’d been to go to regionals. And why not? Nerea certainly expected her to clean house.

It leaves a bitter taste in her mouth to say that was ‘a few years ago.’

Amelie: “Did you attend McGehee, ma’am?”

Caroline: “You’re making me feel older than my mother. Caroline, please,” the voice replies with a mild laugh. “But no, I went to St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge. Closer to the legislature for my father.”

Amelie: “Sorry! Caroline. You can call me Amelie. Sorry I assumed, I’m not sure of the relation, but Vera Malveaux spoke at our school as a former student. As for the ‘making swords’ part, I was going to approach your family about your art and history charities. I’m a historical craftsman, you see, I have a lot of restoration experience. I wanted to offer my services as a volunteer.”

Caroline: Caroline avoids scoffing at the high school girl’s claim.

Caroline: “You’re attending McGehee but have ‘a lot’ of experience?” Caroline asks, amused.

Amelie: “This is the only year I’ve attended. I worked in a family artisan-ship since I was around five years old, metallurgy, leather tailoring, and wood-working. Savard Swordsmith, in the village of Biccoline, if you’d like to qeeqle it. It’s since shut down unfortunately.”

Caroline: Then what the hell are you doing at McGehee? Caroline can’t help but wonder.

She idly plugs ‘Biccoline’ into a search engine and scans results as she talks.

Caroline: “It sound as though you’ve lived quite an interesting life,” Caroline replies. “What brings you to New Orleans?”

Amelie: There’s a pause. “Interesting lives have road-bumps. Like I said though, I’ve idolized New Orleans since I was young. I’ve lived here with my aunt the past month.”

Caroline: Caroline is only half listening as she reads the results on her Sunpad. Her brow furrows the further she does.

‘Idolized’ jumps out at her. Caroline resists a laugh at it.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Caroline: “That’s some aunt to secure you a place at McGehee,” Caroline replies pleasantly.

Amelie: There’s no pause this time. “She’s been incredible, yes. Especially in putting up with me. I’m planning on paying back her costs as well, which means college and a revival of my work. Do you mind if I ask you about your mother? I’m afraid I don’t have a full family picture beyond your… aunt? Vera Malveaux?”

Caroline: “She is. My favorite aunt,” Caroline quips.

Caroline: Whatever her personal feelings about Vera, family problems and conflicts stay inside the family.

Still, it gives her an opportunity. Bicolline. The more she reads, the more confused she gets.

Who the hell pulled strings to get this girl into McGehee?

Caroline: “And what about yours?” she asks. “Do you love her or hate her for getting you into McGehee? Aunt Vera talks about it all the time. She said it was quite challenging.”

Amelie: Amelie is a bit off-put by the question’s rather personal phrasing but she brushes it off. “Academically, I’m handling AP classes just fine. It’s not difficult for me at all. High society, no offense, is the only real obstacle I’m facing. I’m not exactly Southern belle material.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at the tail end of that statement.


Caroline: “So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”

Amelie: “More steel than satin.”

Caroline: “And yet it doesn’t sound like you’ve found them particularly soft or flexible,” Caroline muses.

Amelie: “Satin is usually used to hide things,” she muses.

Caroline: “In any case, you wanted to volunteer with various charities my aunt runs in some capability. Why don’t we schedule a sit-down over lunch to talk over some options. How does later this afternoon work for you?”

Amelie: The thought of an actual sit-down with a Malveaux is a surprise—but a very, very welcome one. Meeting for a talk in public doesn’t sound too dangerous, either.

“Yes! Definitely yes. That works perfectly for me.”

Caroline: “Excellent. Do you know where Avo is?”

Amelie: “The name rings bells, I can find where it is. Would you like to meet there?”

Caroline: “I’ll make a reservation for today in an hour. Late lunch.”

Amelie: “I’ll make sure I look satin. Thank you again, Caroline, this is amazing of you.”

Caroline: “It’s only lunch, and the least I can do for someone that wants to get involved and give back. Too many young people today are happy to sit on the sidelines.” Amelie can almost picture her reading the response off of a note card.

Amelie: Amelie listens and nods. The response might sound robotic, but if she can impress Caroline, it’ll be a huge boon.

“Thank you for this chance, Caroline. Give my regards to your aunt as well, I’m sure I caused you both trouble in my asking around.”

Caroline: “Hopefully not,” Caroline replies cheerfully. “I haven’t heard of any yet. But I’ll see you there. The reservation will be under Malveaux.”

Amelie: “Perfect. I’ll see you then! Have a great weekend.”

Caroline: “Until then,” Caroline replies, ending the call.

Caroline: There’s something there under the surface, Caroline muses as she tucks her phone away. Family feud?

She can hardly resist digging.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie takes a deep breath in and out. She feels like she should be doing a back flip as she starts walking again and categorizes the work she has pictures online for her restoration jobs as she heads towards home. She peeks over the fence to see if her aunt’s car is parked in the driveway.

She hopes it’s not.

GM: Amelie does not see her aunt’s BMW parked behind the cast-iron fence that surrounds the pillared, neoclassical house. The garden’s palm trees, so still in the morning’s heat, rustle against a faint breeze that feels like paradise in the so-humid weather. Sweat is already trickling down Amelie’s back from the short walk. Despite her teachers’ talk about the ‘glorious’ day, though, clouds seem to be moving in overhead.

Amelie: The house is probably empty, then. Amelie slips inside and up to her room to get battle ready. She showers and pulls on some loose-fitting cashmere sweatpants, a low-cut black top, sneakers, and the surprisingly functional leather jacket she got during her outing with Kristina. Just a quick zip and she can imagine herself skidding across any surface without an issue.

The equipment she’s bringing along is fairly simple. She slides one folding knife in her pocket, conceals another one in an offhand pocket on her bag, and hides the last one under her bra strap. She pockets the mace and miniature prybar, then looks through the rest of her backpack’s contents to make sure she’s got everything ready and waiting. The last items she adds are another set of clothes to change into for her meeting with Caroline. She doesn’t want to come back to her aunt’s house again if she can help it.

She slings the backpack over her shoulder and makes sure her phone is fully charged before sliding it into her pocket. She looks herself over in the mirror and takes a deep bracing breath before heading back out the door. A simple note remains behind on the kitchen counter for her aunt.

See you tomorrow. Wish me luck in the haunted house.

GM: The house is silent and still as Amelie ventures inside. No one disturbs her when she gathers her weapons for the far from mundane-feeling slumber party. The shards of broken plate from her morning fight with her aunt are gone when she ventures into the kitchen to write her note. The well-furnished house looks as ready to entertain guests as it ever does. No evidence remains of the hurtful words spoken not so many hours ago.

But the memory lingers.

Amelie: Amelie is glad she doesn’t have to pick up the plate’s pieces. She’s also glad she had trouble eating more than half a piece of toast, so that was the only thing her aunt had to clean up.

But the memory covers the kitchen like a queasy film. She only stays as long as she has to. The last item she takes is a box of salt from the pantry, which she places in her bag before she gets going out the door.

GM: Amelie walks past old Colonial, Greek Revival, Italian, and Victorian houses with their white Corinthian pillars and wrought- or cast-iron fences. Classical sculptures depict capering nymphs, satyrs, and dolphins at play. Cicadas buzz as wind rustles through the palm trees and soaring live oaks that give the Garden District part of its name. The occasional lawnmower buzzes along, leaving the unmistakable scent of freshly-cut grass in its wake. Sprinklers steadily whir as they water the bright green lawns and beds of lilies, roses, and creamy white magnolias. There are are only a few slow-passing cars, picture-snapping tourists, and odd pedestrians out today. No one interrupts Amelie’s solitude along her walk.

She remembers first seeing the picturesque neighborhood past the back window of Oscar’s limo, and commenting how she’d never been to a neighborhood this nice where people were allowed to live in the buildings. She remembers, too, the police and their dogs patrolling the edge of the district. She remembers showing up late, sweaty, and smelly to class. She remembers all those girls in the halls and cafeteria, so much prettier than she is, following her with their silently laughing eyes. She remembers them finally saying what they really thought when there was a bathroom stall’s wall between them. She remembers Ms. Perry saying she’d broken off her engagement, Ms. Ward telling her off in front of the whole class, and Mrs. Flores canceling class on a ‘casual Friday’ because of the leg her husband maimed.

She remembers looking at the student government election posters between Susannah Kelly, who has managed to avoid dancing with her even after two weeks of classes, and the girl who gave her false directions to Sarah Whitney’s class, who the posters said was named Cecil Lancaster. She remembers Rachel’s stories about Rebecca Whitney, killed in the prime of her life by a drunk driver, and Lottie B., raped and murdered in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car.

The Garden District looks as gorgeous as it did when she first arrived in the city. But more and more, that charming exterior seems merely a facsimile. Amelie cannot help but wonder how much darkness is festering behind the doors of each of those old homes, which has had so long to rot and putrefy in the balmy summer heat.

The Dixie sun shines overhead, bright, fat, and yellow against the blue sky and gathering white clouds. Its heat is already making Amelie start to perspire under her leather jacket.

But the brighter the light, the starker the shadow.

Amelie: The architecture once made her knees weak. The phone call with Caroline made her elated. But the district and its historic houses feel more like a well-made Disneyworld exhibit than the revered old buildings they are—or should be. Just peel back the paint. It’s likely caked in mold and holes, but if you keep painting, it looks just fine.

Her ride to the city is still very clear in her mind, but now it feels like it was foreshadowing. The freeway: dark on one side, bright on the other, separating the city’s haves from the have-nots. Their positions feel reversed now. Police and their vicious dogs keep out blacks and derelicts, but how many people are happy and good on the dark side, and how many are miserable and rotten in the bright side?

Her memories of school are much more clear-cut, too. It’s not really that different from a public school. Girls are too cowardly to say anything to her face and laugh behind her back. The only thing that makes it worse than her old school is the damned skirt and how exposed it makes her feel. It’s a relief when the fabric stroking against her legs re-affirms she’s wearing the pants in her relationship with the world again. Her tank top shows off the strong definition of her collarbone.

Rachel’s stories are harder to shake off, though. Every time she thinks about Lottie, raped to death in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car, maybe in this very neighborhood, it makes her blood boil. She wishes the people who harmed her suffered more. But that sorrowful train of thought only brings her back to her two favorite teachers.

She tries to push it out of her mind as she rests in the streetcar and lays her jacket on her lap. It’s the first time she can remember letting her scar breathe in New Orleans. The straps of her low top don’t hide the splotch of boiled-looking skin that’s several shades darker than the rest of her body. The scar tissue starts at her broad and strong left shoulder before vanishing down her back. There’s another deeply curved gouge on her forearm, and a third, smaller scar on her equally broad and strong right shoulder. She doesn’t even remember where she got that one.

Amelie isn’t beautiful. She knows she’ll only ever be able to halfway pass for it in clothes that more fully cover her body. But she’s never lacked for self-confidence. She’s proud of her body—marks, muscle, and all.

More steel than satin.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie follows Magazine Street’s rows of shops, restaurants, and art galleries down to their near-terminus in Riverbend’s West Riverside neighborhood. Compared to the Garden District’s ages-old grandeur and verdant greenery, West Riverside merely feels well-to-do, though still far removed from Oscar’s ghosts.

When Amelie looks up her destination on her phone, she finds that Avo is a chef-owned Italian restaurant from New Orleans-born chef Nick Lama, a third-generation Sicilian. “Avo” is an Italian word that translates as ‘grandfather’ or ‘ancestor.’ The menu description says that it’s inspired by family recipes but served with a fresh perspective. The food is Italian-focused, but many ingredients are Southern-grown and locally harvested.

The restaurant’s interior isn’t too full during the post-lunch and pre-dinner hour when Amelie arrives. Attire is business casual. A smiling hostess greets and promptly escorts to her to Caroline’s table.
Caroline: She finds ‘Caroline’ seated at a small corner table in the open-air courtyard, which guests have largely vacated by this time. The post-lunch, pre-dinner shift that waiters call ‘the run’ from 2 to 5 tends to be any restaurant’s least busy time.

The woman Amelie is led to is framed by an ivy-colored brick wall and doesn’t look that much older than she is. She’s pale, thin, and even seated, Amelie can tell that the green-eyed blonde is tall.

She looks up from her phone as she sees the hostess arrive with Amelie and her face lights up with a smile that showcases perfect teeth, but more than anything else, sets her apart from Amelie’s classmates. Their manufactured smiles were never so clean and seemingly genuine. She wears an expensive-looking white blouse and a long flowing cobalt skirt leading to open-toed heels. Long hair runs (seemingly) free without seeming to fall over her face.

The Malveaux woman sets her phone down on the wooden tabletop as she takes in Amelie’s approach. She already has a condensation-beaded glass of water and half-empty glass of tea with several lemon wedges crammed into it. A small salad is set in front of her. A fork rests on the plate, but the meal is seemingly little-touched. Goat cheese, asparagus, and strawberries are immediately in evidence.

Amelie: Amelie uses the 30-minute trip by public transit to go over her old social media accounts and save some pictures of her best works for Caroline to swipe through. She feels as judged and out of place as always when she asks to be taken to the Malveaux table, but expects more of the same from Caroline.

The Canadian transplant is shorter than the Malveaux heiress by a few inches but quite a bit thicker. Her shoulders are strong and wide, and there’s a very noticeable tension in the way she moves that betrays her fitness and thick muscle mass. She’s refreshed herself in a public bathroom and changed into the business casual clothes she researched for the occasion: a simple flowy button-down, brown slacks, and fashionable belt too long to sit simply tied on her hip, which is obviously its purpose. Her hair is very short, very thick, and very black. It’s obviously brushed but is perhaps hard to manage.

She stays standing when she approaches Caroline’s table and offers a hand. Her arm is covered in small, old-looking scars, but her palm looks free of callouses.

“Caroline, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m amazed you wanted to meet me so quickly.”

Caroline: The Malveaux woman looks Amelie up and down as she approaches, but the smile doesn’t slip until Amelie offers a hand for a handshake. Her smile turns towards wry amusement as she regards it, but she rises and sets aside the napkin in her lap without haste. There’s a flowing grace to her movements as she rises combined with an ease and comfort not only in the location, but in her own skin.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

Her grip is firm, and as she looks down on Amelie from a standing position, their difference in height is made all the plainer by the three and a half inches Amelie spots to her heels. Caroline quickly disengages from the handshake as she retakes her seat with that same elegant and flowing grace.

“Please join me, Amelie. I hope you haven’t already eaten,” she offers with a hand, amusement still present in the half-smile on her face.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her mouth shut as she observes Caroline’s change in expression. She watches the older woman rise over her in her heels, but matches the handshake’s firmness all the same. Caroline’s graces aren’t lost on her, either. They also don’t surprise her given the sport they share a history with. The Malveaux woman’s confidence in her movements has a visible edge over the post-adolescent’s, though, especially where that sense of comfort in one’s skin is concerned.

Amelie takes a seat once she has Caroline’s blessing and shakes her head. “No, I haven’t. You caught me right out of school, actually. I hope this isn’t imposing too much on your schedule. I imagine you’ve more important things you’d like to keep your attention on. I promise I won’t keep you.”

Caroline: “You hardly imposed at all, I had an opening this afternoon.” She regards the dykish youth. “You have my attention at least as long as it takes me to enjoy lunch. So tell me, Amelie,” (is there just the slightest of hitches on the use of her first name now or is Amelie’s mind racing after those taunting girls in the bathroom?), “about yourself, that is. You mentioned recently moving here from Biccoline, enrolling in McGehee at your aunt’s insistence, and some experience as an ‘historical craftsman’?”

She idly spears a strawberry and piece of cheese together on a fork as she talks.

Amelie: Amelie listens intently, her eyes and brain laser-focused on Caroline’s words. This is a rare chance to impress people from the Malveaux family. However middling their money actually is, they are still the big players in New Orleans.

Caroline’s rather terse mention of ‘at least as much time as it takes me to enjoy lunch’ makes Amelie change gears. She takes her napkin and uses it to wipe clean her phone’s screen before she hands it over, allowing their heiress to swipe any which way.

It’s a collection of antiques. Most of the ‘befores’ look decrepit and damaged, while the ‘afters’ look ancient and full-functioning. The pictures include brilliant chandeliers, historically accurate furniture, and even a younger Amelie with her father, standing proudly on a fully restored carriage. The dykish-looking girl’s hair is in a ponytail, but one can tell it nearly reaches the middle of her back. Her hands and arms are still covered in band-aids.

“I’ll be quick, then. As old as New Orleans is, Quebec City is almost 200 years older. My shop got a lot of contracts thanks to this. What I compiled there was all my personal projects, or things entrusted to me by my family business. Restoration, replication, custom work. Stonework is limited as the area was slow to build or gain any culture, thanks to brutal winters, but I can do that as well. I’m looking to pad my resume to attend Tulane University through volunteering these skills. My pedigree is nonexistent, and grades alone can’t get you into Tulane. Your aunt spoke at my school, and I think I can be a great asset to her charities. New Orleans history is a massive passion of mine, as well, so I can assure authenticity in my work.”

Caroline: Caroline wryly accepts the phone as she chews, idly swiping through the pictures in silence. After several swipes she sets the phone down on the table closer to Amelie.

“You said you only arrived in New Orleans a month ago, right? And your long-term goal is to start a business?”

She continues after a momentary pause, “If you’ll allow me to offer some advice, this,” she gestures to the phone, “isn’t really how business is done in the Big Easy.” She elaborates, “Your work looks impressive, at least based on the pictures of work done in your parents’ shop, but there’s both a dozen hustlers on every corner flashing their goods at people, and a certain lack of… je ne sais quoi.” The French rolls off her tongue effortlessly.

“Relationship, I suppose. Someone else might call it intimacy.” She spears greens and asparagus on her fork without looking while she speaks, her attention on Amelie. The smile hasn’t left her face, but there’s a slightly exasperated quality to it.

“People in New Orleans, they deal with people. With people they know, or that others they know, know. It’s all, in fact, in who you know. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best in the world, you won’t ever get a shot in this city without a personal relationship.”

She seems to consider saying more, but bites it back.

Amelie: “Pour danser dans un hall, vous devez d’abord avoir un pied dans la porte.” Despite Caroline’s fluency, French is indeed Amelie’s first language. (“To dance in the hall, you must first get your foot in the door.”)

“I am staying in a bank-owned haunted house tonight, only because the person I’m doing the project it involves is family friends with the Whitney family. The only reason I’m sitting here with you is because Mr. Thurston put in a call for me. It’s a lesson I’ve not known long, I’m still learning. If I can be candid with you, Caroline, I’d just keep making my weapons and armor if I could. My pieces are works of art, they sell for thousands. My magnum opus could cut through a fence and the person behind it. But carrying swords is illegal, so I couldn’t bring it. I’d open my own fencing class to bring state fencing to Louisiana, too. But it’s like you said, people in New Orleans deal with people. I need people behind me here.”

The young woman slowly leans forward and looks seriously at the sweet tea their waitress brought her. “I know how I look, and how people see me. I plan to grow my hair back out even because of it. And I’m sorry if you felt like I’m trying to pitch at you, but this lunch is the equivalent of a duchess talking to a peasant. There is no reason for you to start a relationship with me, even if I offer my work for free. But I have to try. New Orleans is a lot to love and she’s slow to trust. But I’m here to try to put that foot in the door.”

Caroline: Caroline continues to pick at her salad, eyes on Amelie but fork continuing to collect greens, as she lets the other ‘girl’ say her peace.

“I did a little bit of research on where you came from,” she begins mildly. “I’m sure there’s quite an adjustment moving from a place where you grew up in which any kind of eccentricity is welcomed and even celebrated, to McGehee.”

She reaches out with her free hand to take up the phone again and resumes paging through the pictures. “And it must be equally difficult to have a passion most people don’t care about, or don’t understand. Or both.” She sighs several more images in and places the phone down again. “Did you really do all of this work?”

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet after her peace, letting Caroline thumb through things. “I can handle all that. McGehee or not, teen girls are the same everywhere. The passion is the hardest when I can’t pursue it,” she starts, taking her phone and putting it face down to the side.

“This is just the things I did without help. And only the restoration of antiques and a few examples of custom work. The only surviving piece of my weapons work is that magnum opus I told you about, and it’s at home. But yes. All of it is mine. I bleed for my work.”

The young woman reaches up and rubs her shoulder. Caroline might notice the fabric rests differently when she removes her hand. It’s like the skin is raised, and not unlike the skin on parts of her aunt’s face.

Caroline: Caroline chews on the comments and seems about to continue again when she instead simply gives a slight shake of her head. The smile doesn’t vanish, but perhaps recedes a bit.

Amelie: Amelie finds it hard to pin down the older woman’s motivations, but simply clears her throat and rights herself. “Do you like antiques yourself, Caroline?”

Caroline: The change of subject seems to set Caroline at ease. “My aunt will be dreadfully embarrassed, but I confess, I favor a more modern aesthetic. There can be beauty in older works, but I’m not one for nostalgia. More important than what something was is what it is, or what it does now. It’s not a particularly popular opinion in New Orleans though.”

Amelie: “I understand completely. Practicality. Vintage couches for instance are thin and uncomfortable, they don’t fit properly in a lot of instances, and can be rather delicate. Is that how your home is? I have yet to see any modern houses in the more wealthy parts of New Orleans.”

Caroline: “No, you wouldn’t really see most of them at all. After Katrina many got wise to the value of gated—and patrolled—communities. The decor at my house is more… mixed, though.”

Amelie: “Yes, it was rather shocking to see that. We’ve the same thing up north, but most are cheap and fake, and private security is usually hired. I live in the Garden District myself. You said you attended school in Baton Rouge, did you live here during Katrina?”

Caroline: “I was in Baton Rouge,” Caroline concedes, “but the family has always maintained homes in New Orleans to one extent or another. And it’s really a small circle in Louisiana. Everyone knows everyone. I actually had my débutante ball in New Orleans, just because it’s such a better venue.”

Amelie: “That’s true. I grew up idolizing this place, and it feels a lot bigger than it is. You’re a débutante though, that’s interesting! It’s so easy to think that making your debut is solely from movies and romantic classics. I imagine it comes with some great pressures, I hope you were able to enjoy the ball itself.”

Caroline: “When you’re in my position you either learn to enjoy the pressures or you learn to live in misery,” Caroline answers with some evident amusement.

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider and nods. “That’s a good lesson to learn so early. Speaking of enjoyment, is that why you fenced?”

Caroline: “Youthful impetuousness,” Caroline laughs. “My gym teachers demanded I pick a sport. It was something that my father indulged perhaps a bit too long.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself and leans forward slightly. “I never had dreams of being a fencing champion, despite my mother being one. I never cared for the rules. I asked about it because a career councilor encouraged me to seek accomplishments. I’ve only got a year in McGehee. I have a lot of catching up to do. The moment you told me the league was just a high school low-ball league, I dropped that aspiration. It’s all to keep up the numbers of college applications at McGehee and to help my passion survive. And not to… embarrass the school with my impertinence. I understand my position.”

Amelie motions to Caroline. “Duchess.” She motions back to herself. “Smith.”

Caroline: Caroline taps her lips, a shadow of a smile remaining. “Well, that really cuts to the heart of it, doesn’t it?”

“Not embarrassing the school,” she clarifies after a moment. “I’m certain you have ample reason to think that many at McGehee are simply being bigots, but there’s something deeper at play, as deeply embedded in the culture here as beignets and Mardi Gras.”

“It’s the best school in the city. Maybe the best in the state. I once read an article that described it as ’ the débutante West Point.’ Everyone at McGehee succeeds. It’s a matter of pride. I know it is, certainly, to my aunt.”

There’s a gravity now to Caroline’s tone and expression that was absent before as they slip past small talk. “For you, that’s both a blessing and a curse.”

She pauses. “Do you understand what I’m getting at? Because it sounds to me as though you have two goals: getting into Tulane and setting your future on the path you want in the long term, and pursuing your passion. Those two things are not, unfortunately, both possible right now.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t flinch when the conversation finally comes to a head. She listens to Caroline lay things out and silently nods to a few of them. She doesn’t bother to mention how the United States’ capital of débutante life is in fact New York, where the Waldorf Astoria is. But she keeps her mouth shut until she’s addressed again.

“The first thing is my path to the second. Like you said, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Tulane is my best path forward to keep pursuing relationships with families in New Orleans, to establish myself with the old blood in Louisiana, and to build up my skills and knowledge over time. I’m looking to create a pedigree for myself that will keep that McGehee adage true, in the surest capacity I can without any of that old blood. Me asking Mr. Thurston to send a word along the Malveaux family was me trying to forge a relationship, in order to succeed. I’m sorry if there was a wire crossed about my fencing that was not conducive to that success. Vera Malveaux can rest assured that idea died in its crib.”

Caroline: “I’m certain she’ll be happy to hear that,” Caroline replies. “Because if you’re willing to play the game, as much as it may burn you, McGehee is of far greater advantage to you than your not at all inconsiderable talents.” She gestures to the phone.

GM: The pair’s waitress stops by. After asking, “How you ladies doing here?” and refilling their drinks, she asks if Amelie is “sure if all you want” is that glass of sweet tea.

Caroline: “The Tuna and Orzo is to die for,” Caroline offers.

Amelie: Amelie beams widely and thanks the waitress for the refill. “I’m just fine, thank you. I’ll take you up on that next time,” she assures, nodding and letting the waitress step away.

GM: The waitress, a black-haired woman with slight bags to her eyes who gave her name as Amanda, repeats she’ll be back later “just in case you change your mind” with another smile before heading off to another table.

Amelie: “As for the game, I don’t have the potential to reach very high very easily. I’m just looking for my niche, where those higher than me might find me useful. Like you said, modern household finery and antiques are a great taste in New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline firmly interjects before the waitress can leave that Amelie will have the Tuna and Orzo, and adds a glass of Far Niente chardonnay for herself.

GM: Amanda jots the order down and replies it’ll be “coming right up.”

Caroline: The débutante’s eyes linger as she departs before cutting back to Amelie.

“It’s considered rude not to at least put on the appearance of sharing a meal with someone. And she,” Caroline says, tilting her head towards the departing waitress, “is going to remember it because you’re snubbing her as well by taking up a seat she would otherwise be making money off of. You’ve been nothing but polite on the surface, Amelie, but it’s the little things you don’t even seem to realize you’re doing that are undermining you at every turn.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised when Caroline calls out to the woman and orders her something, but she understands the heiress’ rather terse logic. Tipping, however, is never a ‘no’ option for Amelie. Even if she only gets a diner coffee in the middle of the night, she always tips the waitress more than she’d get with 15% on a meal.

GM: Not that her present waitress (or Caroline) has any reason to expect such generosity.

Amelie: Still, the rest of Caroline’s argument is sound. “I’m sorry if I offended you, I’d thought it might seem rude to keep you anchored here while I eat. I agree with you, however. The little differences and niceties I miss have been making even McGehee difficult for me.”

Caroline: “Can I let you in on a secret?” Caroline asks, setting her fork down at last. “Most of us may be stuck up, arrogant, and proud, but we’re not going to do anything that blatantly showcases that.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile wanes just a bit, but stays pleasant as she hears the admission. “I imagine you have enough trouble without people pointing at that kind of behavior. Besides, devastating hurricanes, howling tourists, clashing cultures, a harsh history, I think Louisianans deserve a bit of pride.”

Caroline: A quick and forced smile. “Even so, the message, so it is not lost, is twofold: we’ll rarely reject you to your face, and we’re adept at honing our knives in the dark. That is where you’re bleeding, whether you realize it or not: in the places you can’t see.” She picks up her fork again, then sets it down. “And you must realize it on some level. So you want help.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile on the other hand hasn’t changed, she keeps her pleasant expression on. These are all things she’s heard already, lessons she’s viscerally learned, some of them as early as last night in fact. “I do. And I do.”

Caroline: A moment of silence hangs in the air as the two women sit.

At last Caroline breaks it. “Tulane’s tuition and board runs over $60,000 a year. Do you have a plan for that, if you get in?”

Amelie: Amelie sips her tea and rests the glass back down on the table. “Grants, scholarships, my aunt is of no lean means. McGehee I think does work with me in this regard, most girls there may not have to go after those kinds of things.”

Caroline: “You might be surprised,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of more moderately wealthy families will pay out the nose to get their daughters to McGehee in the hope that the school and its connections will later defray the costs of college by helping them get a scholarship.”

“But that’s a secondary hurdle. Right now you’re trying to pad your package for admissions.” Caroline thinks for a moment, then offers a somewhat blunter answer than she normally might. “I don’t think my aunt would be interested in bringing you in to do antiques work. Beyond the headaches of bringing in a minor to work at all, there’s also the question of appearances and the skepticism that will come with the idea of putting a teenager on it—and yes, before you start, your work does look impressive. The age however is a massive impediment.”

“If your goal though is entirely focused on simply padding your package however, there are a few doors I can open for you. Tulane has large medical and legal ties—if you were willing to do an internship or volunteer program in either field, I might be able to find a spot for you. It probably wouldn’t be glamorous work, and obviously not what you want in the long term, but focusing on the major programs of the college would increase your chances. Alternatively, a STEM focus in general is always a positive—women in STEM fields is all the rage these days for admissions numbers.”

“There are also, likely, some volunteer opportunities I could point you at or open doors on that are tangentially, though not directly, related to your interests. For instance, working with one of the krewes. It’s not the greatest extracurricular itself, but might allow you to do some of the work you enjoy in a less… scrutinized environment while also potentially impressing others, and it shows specific ties to the city that are worth more than you might think for a school in the city. It’s more socially acceptable for a teenager to work on a krewe float and consumes, than it is to, say, be an antiques restorer, even if you might be doing similar things, depending on the krewe.”

“Of course, in all of these, in making any introduction or pulling any string, the concern remains the same. Whoever does so, no matter who the do so for, is putting their own credibility and reputation on the line for someone else. You’ve heard the expression ‘throwing good money after bad’, haven’t you?”

A moment passes.

“Thirty days,” she finally seemingly decides. “If you’re serious about not rocking the boat, trying to fit in more neatly, and about going to Tulane, take a month to sort yourself out. Style your hair. Play the game. And call me in thirty days. Do that and I’ll reach out to my aunt, or my own contacts, and we’ll see about what can be done to ‘pad’ your application before the January deadline.”

The heiress shrugs. “Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t mention that she’s actually twenty, but she supposes that’s a reasonable enough mis-assumption for someone who hears she’s in high school to make. Besides, she was waiting for something along those lines: for Caroline to give a definitive answer to her request for help. But what she wasn’t expecting was… this extent of it. The young woman’s eyes gradually get wider as she listens to the heiress’ words. She doesn’t answer the presumably rhetorical question on throwing money after rotten projects, but keeps quiet long enough to hear Caroline’s ultimatum. The hour she had to get ready for this meeting and travel here without a car hasn’t done her any favors, but she cedes the point and nods instead.

“I will! Working with the krewes, I can do a lot, and Tulane’s Engineering Physics is a perfect major for the STEM fields that I’d be thrilled to undergo! I’ll take the 30 days, you won’t be able to recognize me, I promise!”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “I hope so, but if not, ultimately it’s your decision. I’m offering only a path.”

Amelie: “You’re the first one to offer me a tangible path forward. It’s more than I could have hoped for.”

GM: The waitress returns with Amelie’s food. The light and refreshing-looking tuna and orzo salad is topped with with diced avocado, olives, and halved cherry tomatoes, as well as a layer of melted Parmesan cheese dolloped with honey and olive oil. A sharper smell of lemon juice, basil, and red wine vinegar also wafts from the food.

The young woman also refills Amelie’s sweet tea and Caroline’s wine. She seems to particularly dote on the Malveaux heiress’ service and laughingly remarks to Amelie that she’s “glad to see you eating something” before heading off to another table.

Amelie: Amelie beams down at the food and thanks the waitress. She lets her dote on Caroline while brushing her palm up from the dish, smelling it without putting her dumb face in there. The first small spoonful is magic and she hums in approval to herself.

Caroline: Caroline smiles again as she takes a sip of her recently arrived wine. “It’s good to have a way forward,” she agrees. She purses her lips in amusement. “Just out of curiosity, did you have much experience with fencing?”

Amelie: The question about fencing makes Amelie nod and swallow quickly to answer. “Lots. It was a big outlet for me. My mother competed, even placed nicely in the world fencing championships in her youth. We’re both saber fencers, Spanish and Swiss hybrid stylings. She also had me learn a lot of other types of non-competitive fencing. I never ended up competing, however.”

Caroline: “Really? Saber? The world’s a small place. What’s her name?”

Amelie: “Saber yourself, as well? It is the sword of the South, after all. Her name was Abigail Savard.”

Caroline: “The name is vaguely familiar, but I’ll have to look her up. And yes, saber. The rest seemed derivative to me. And slow.” The last is offered with a grin. The window to land a touch in response is .12 seconds for the point to be counted.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but grin right back. “I miss that. My mother always described it as two tigers sizing each other up. The first one to pounce exposes his neck, but the one not to act is dead without perfect timing to grasp it. I always loved the chase. Tell me, have you ever tried traditional saber fencing? With blunted sabers instead of sport sabers?”

Caroline: “Only playfully with Nerea a few times. Daniel—our coach—thought it was a waste of time. He was much more focused on chasing medals than historical roots.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a lot more fun than the medal chasing. Sampling how other people millennia ago fought their peers, won renown, won kingdoms. El Cid, Pepe, the Landskrecht, the Hussars. I love to romanticize them.”

Caroline: “Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways,” Caroline offers, less enthusiastically. “What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Amelie: “That’s the tigers,” Amelie reminds, her smile spreading wider. “No whispers behind backs, no brand names, no clout, no nepotism. It feels like everything else falls away. Without helmets especially, just keeping that eye contact.”

“I don’t mean to infer anything, but it’d be fun to pick up a saber and have a few rounds with you one day. I expect to lose! But it’d be fun,” she laughs.

Caroline: “There is a certain simplicity to it,” Caroline agrees, laughing lightly. Her tone grows less cheerful as she continues, “But I hung that up a while back.”

Amelie: “Because it isn’t very ladylike?”

Caroline: “We all have to play by the rules, Amelie.”

Amelie: “Rules are indeed a prerequisite for success. Even New Orleans’ famous grave-digging duelist Jose Llulla never shot a man in cold blood.”

Caroline: “You’re just a font of New Orleans history,” Caroline replies, perking up a bit at the change of subjects. “Did you visit often as a child with your aunt or something?”

Amelie: “No, I wish I did. When I was little, my aunt visited us for Christmas. She bought me a book of New Orleans history. I fell in love. I still have that book.”

Caroline: “With a book,” Caroline replies somewhat skeptically, but she brushes it off. “What brings you to New Orleans then? The fantastic school system?”

Amelie: The smile on Amelie’s face for the entirety of the lunch hitches, her brow creasing despite her mouth still being curved upwards. “You’ll notice there’s a lot of ‘was’ since we’ve been talking, instead of is. What ‘is’, however, has been amazing. New Orleans has been dizzying and I’ve still got so much to see.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, that was insensitive. I’m sorry for your loss,” Caroline replies after a moment.

Amelie: “It’s nothing you should trouble yourself over. My aunt has been amazing, school’s been wonderful, the city is a dream. I’m having lunch with a Malveaux, for goodness’ sake.”

Caroline: “Community outreach, my father would say. Remember to vote Malveaux… or at least have your aunt vote Malveaux. What does she do, by the way? She must be pretty successful to send you to McGehee.”

Amelie: “I don’t know if I qualify for voting, with my dual citizenship. But remember when you said that more moderately wealthy families pay out the nose? It’s one of the reasons I’m gunning so hard for success. As for what she does, she’s friends with political consultants, so maybe I should ‘play the game’ and keep quiet,” she laughs. “I may just vote Malveaux though. I met your cousin, I think, and you just convince me further the family has good values.”

Caroline: “Oh, which one?”

Amelie: “I don’t remember his first name, forgive me. He’s a father at St. Louis Cathedral, if I don’t have my faces mixed up?”

Caroline: “Adam,” Caroline says with a smile. “Carrying on the family tradition. They say there’s always been a Father Malveaux.”

Amelie: “That’s a very noble tradition. He took my first confession in a year, he’s a fine clergyman.”

Caroline: “He takes after our uncle, the archbishop, like that.”

Amelie: Amelie raises her brows. “Archbishop, wow. Is he still here in New Orleans, as well?”

Caroline: “The Archbishop of New Orleans would be of little use elsewhere.”

Amelie: “I guess not. Though you went to school in Baton Rouge, and I’m not familiar with the American archdiocese, just thought I’d make sure. Are you a churchgoer yourself?”

Caroline: “Every Sunday,” Caroline replies between another drink. “And yourself, Amelie? You mentioned taking confession.”

Amelie: “I often went to confession, but I spent most weekends outside of town. There are unexpected loopholes to building a real church in a fake town. Now that I’m in New Orleans, I expect I’ll be attending masses regularly.”

Caroline: “That’s all too common,” Caroline replies. “Even here, most people want to fit their faith into a neat little convenient box. They forget their first duty is to God.”

Amelie: “God is treated a bit more casually in the north. My parents were rather secular, even. Seeing how fast everyone holds onto all their faiths here has been rather inspiring.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Most people claim a visit to New Orleans shakes their faith, rather than reinforces it. I’m certain both my uncle and my cousin would be thrilled to hear it has instead been a source of inspiration to some. Too often I fear they feel they are throwing sandbags against a sagging levee—though I suppose that’s been a problem for priests across the country for decades now as people convince themselves they’re better off without God.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a difficult situation. There’s an old saying; ’ Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions’. I think a lot of young people can see that, and mistake authority, that they think has failed them, as the fault of faith. And lean away from it instead of realizing their own personal faith. Even me, so romanticizing as I am of history, become disillusioned. But that’s not god, that’s the nature of men. I had a co-worker obsessed with Pascal.”

Caroline: “You can say that, but I think it’s an excuse. It’s easier to turn from God when you can villainize Him,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah,” Amelie recites, nodding. “I like to think faith means more when you can temper it. But you’re right that people do love their excuses.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “That’s actually an interesting translation. In the original Hebrew there are two words that are translated into evil in English. One is evil in the traditional sense of a bad thing, the other, which is used in that sentence is perhaps more neatly translated as calamity.”

Amelie: “That makes more sense. Light and dark are opposites, but evil isn’t the opposite of peace. Sometimes it’s uncomfortably close. Though I doubt that makes a difference to most people. Calamity is often a faith-shaker. Katrina was rough on New Orleans, for instance.”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “Or a faith-maker. Really there are only two responses to hardship: to turn one’s face towards Him and seek an answer from God, or demand an answer of Him and turn away in anger when it is not what you wish. I don’t think any of us, whatever we might think, truly know how we’ll respond to true adversity until we face it.”

Amelie: Amelie can only match the smile, and nod. “There was once a bandit clan in Scotland from the 13th to the 17th centuries, one of their main families have a crest motto I enjoy for my own tacklings. Invictus maneo, ‘I remain unvanquished.’”

“Thanks to your generosity with your time. I think I avoided it here today, too.”

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie changes back into her clothes for the slumber party and takes the streetcar to the Quarter. When the car comes to a stop at Canal at Carondelet, she steps off and starts walking. She carries her jacket to keep cool as she stares down the street. She still has time to kill before she heads to the LaLaurie house, starting with the 15-minute walk to the French Market.

Amelie feels like most people would expect her to feel some kind of connection with Joan of Arc, but the Maid of Orleans isn’t the kind of woman she aspires to be. Joan’s poor choice to stay with the rear guard during the retreat to Compiégne got her captured and ultimately burned alive.

joan-of-arc-statue.jpg But Joan remains a brilliant picture, and Amelie feels no small measure of wonder over how the girl was only a year younger than she is and still managed to do so much. She probably had accusations similar to ‘dyke’ thrown at her given the ages of marriage and childbearing at the time.

Amelie doesn’t run too far with that idea, however. She doesn’t want to project herself onto the figure as she stands and admires the French bronze workmanship.

GM: The inscription on the pedestal is a simple one:

Gift of the People of France

Amelie remembers reading a news story sometime over the past few weeks about the sword being stolen, and that not being the first time. There was another one about the statue being vandalized in response to political developments in France.

Despite not wishing to identify too personally with the historic figure, it is not lost on Amelie that the statues of Lee and Davis have not suffered the same indignities as the other ‘dykish’ young woman. And that she, like Amelie, may remain an outsider to certain circle of the city.

The walk to the French Market is a single block.

Amelie has long since looked up the article that describes the French Market as, ‘a market and series of commercial buildings spanning six blocks in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded as a Native American trading post predating European colonization, the market is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It began where Café du Monde currently stands and has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times.’

In person, the Market is all those things and a more. It runs along the Mississippi River at the edge of the French Quarter and is part flea market, part souvenir shop, and part art show. Tourists and residents alike browse the market’s stalls of T-shirts, spices, jewelry, seafood, candy, books, hats, home decor, keychains, and most anything else Amelie can probably think of, tucked away in some obscure kitschy stall. The smell of a hundred foods from spicy jambalaya to buttery fried shrimp to sugary pralines is thick in the air. Busking trombonists, accordianists, mimes, and other street performers move among the throngs of tourists to make a quick buck.

Amelie: Amelie tackles the French Market like a local, at least as much as she can while she marvels at all the stalls and everyone’s art and music. It’s good to spend the time before her big night just enjoying this. She walks along the grounds, sampling oysters, sweet tea, snack sized crawfish etouffee, and just basking in it all. She keeps an eye out for stranger vendors, looking for occult baubles, butterfly knives, and anything else that catches her eye as odd while sipping ice-cold sweet tea through a straw.

GM: Amelie finds no shortage of occult-themed knickknacks being hawked by the vendors. Among the items for sale are voodoo dolls, mojo wish beans, blessed chicken feet, dragons’ blood incense, obsidian scrying orbs, mojo bags, Turkish evil eye amulets, Buddha charms, alligator skulls, Florida water, roots and herbs, love potion #9 oil, and many others. A hundred chants, claims, and boasts from “curse your enemies!” to “protect your loved ones!” and “find true love!” fill Amelie’s ears.

Amelie: Amelie goes from stall to stall looking for anything that catches her eye. She pauses after a while by a random one.

“Excuse me? Do you know Mrs. Tantsy, at all?”

GM: “Not personally,” answers the vendor, a middle-aged and dark-skinned man in a sleeveless red shirt who’s selling hand-made wire fish statues. “She runs a voodoo store off Royal Street.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man as she looks over his statues. “I’ve been there, yeah. Does she have a reputation around here? She was really mysterious when I was there.”

GM: The man shrugs. “Mysterious as any store owner in the Quarter, I guess. The voodoo thing’s just a racket.”

Amelie: “She’s pretty theatrical. Mysterious might cover it too,” Amelie muses, looking over one of his smaller fish baubles. “These are really nice. Have you bee making them long?”

GM: “Thank you ma’am, and no I haven’t,” the vendor smiles. “Two or so months. I’ve worked on Indian suits for a while longer. Thought I’d give my hand a try with wire ’stead of feathers for a bit.”

Amelie: Amelie catches the man’s smile, enjoying the talk. “You’re good! You know, if you collect can tabs, you can clip off the bit that sticks out at the bottom, snip the top of the big hole, and make chain fabric from them. Cheap, pretty, easy. If you ever get tired of being so good at making these fish, that is.”

GM: “Can tabs. Now I will have to remember that one,” the vendor remarks. “I know a girl who likes to work with bottle caps, make little model chairs with bent wire for the legs. Lot you can make with somebody’s garbage.”

Amelie: “One man’s trash. Little tables and chairs sounds fun though,” Amelie muses. “I should get going though, sir. Can I buy one of these smaller fish?”

GM: “S’what they’re here for,” the man laughs, gesturing across the table for Amelie to take her pick.

Amelie: She picks out one that’s caught her fancy and pays the man, thanks him for the talk, and offers a handshake before she heads off. It’s a cute and simple little thing. Better good luck charm than anything in the occult-themed stalls. She slips it into her pocket and heads off.

It’s time to scout that house.

Time to spend a night in hell.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria I
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria II

Previous, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I
Next, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie XI

Previous, by Caroline: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I
Next, by Caroline: Story Two, Caroline I

Story One, Victoria I

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”
Victoria Wolf

Monday morning, 27 August 2007

GM: “So, first, why don’t you tell the person you’re sitting by something interesting you know about the school.”

Sylvie doesn’t think she’s seen a sadder icebreaking prompt before, but that’s the one she gets from her Sociology 101 class at Lafayette U. The professor smiles dimly at all the students spread across the auditorium-style classroom.

The dark-haired girl she’s sitting next to looks more like she feels sorry for the old man, than anything else.

Victoria: Sylvia St. George envisioned the glitz and glam of academia as something more…


Yes, she has her Calculus II, as she placed out of the first. She has her Chemistry 101, as all first-year engineering students are required to take. She has this, and she has that, and she has the other class, and then she has her electives, and then she has…

This class. Sociology 101. How-to-society-for-dummies.

Boring class. Boring professor. Boring people.

Is she boring? She’s here, too.

She looks to the girl beside her, offering her a thin-lipped smile, her teeth barely showing through; a polite smile, vice one of warmth.

“Something interesting about the school…”

Not even a hello.

“…why don’t you go first?”

GM: “Well, they say the girls’ dorms are haunted,” smiles the girl. She’s got dark brown hair, brown eyes, and rectangular classes. She’s shorter than Sylvie, though most women are. Mary wound up giving her hand-me-downs from Julius after she hit her puberty growth spurt; and everyone else got her hand-me-downs.

“The story goes that back in the ‘60s, an out-of-commission elevator fell on a girl’s neck and decapitated her.”

“Ever since then, they’ve sealed it off behind a steel door. But some students say they’ve seen a girl with ’60s hair and clothes waving at them.”

Victoria: Sylvia listens intently. The class is no longer boring. She nods, hanging on her every word.

“Have you gone in?”

GM: “Girls’ dorms, remember?” smirks the girl. “I live there.”

Victoria: She rolls her eyes.

“I meant the elevator.

GM: “Ohh, sorry. No, I haven’t! I’m not even sure where it is.”

Victoria: She would much rather go looking for it than sit through the rest of this class, but nor does she want to squander her chance.

“I wonder where it is, and where she’s seen.”

“How did you learn that?”

GM: “I grew up here,” says the girl. “And I’m studying Louisiana history. So, kinda my job! Well, degree.”

Victoria: “You grew up in the girls’ dormitory?”

She’s teasing, but her faux-serious sense of humor may not betray it.

GM: The girl smirks. "No, Lafayette. Though I dunno if there’d be much difference. I went to high school with at least half these people. "

Victoria: “Look at me,” she grins. “New one in town. I came here because I wanted to get away. Just not too far away.”

She holds out a hand.

“I’m Sylvia.”

GM: The girl shakes it. Like most girls’, her handshake isn’t very strong.

“I’m Anna May. Or, just Anna.”

“Where are you from, a small town?”

Victoria: “New Orleans. It’s a tiny ’burb. You might have heard of it, Miss History.”

GM: Anna laughs. “No, sorry, you’ll have to tell me about it.”

Victoria: “Maybe over lunch. We’re supposed to be talking about the school.”

She glances to the screen.

“A subject I’m sorely lacking on,” she laments.

A moment passes.

“Aha! I’ve got it. Bathrooms are the third door on the left from this room.”

GM: “Very helpful,” Anna says dryly.

She glances at the professor, who’s sitting behind his desk and looks half-asleep in his chair.

“I actually feel kinda sorry for Mr. Breaux. My dad knows him and he shoulda retired a while ago, but he got swindled a bunch of money around Katrina. So he has to keep working.”

Victoria: “Poor guy. At least the work for the course seems minimal, on both sides. Still, I’d rather have more challenging work for a better use of time.”

She shrugs.

“What now? Do we write a paper on bathrooms and dead girls?”

GM: “I think he wanted to do an icebreaker that also worked up some school spirit and it just… didn’t come together.”

Anna glances around. Most of the class is talking among themselves. One male student, eyeing Mr. Breaux, finally just gets up and walks out. The elderly professor doesn’t stop him, or even seem to notice him.

“Uhhh, good question. I hope he has a lesson plan?”

She smiles again and rolls her eyes.

“This is smaller-town Louisiana, anyway. What you moved out for.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“It doesn’t seem like he has much of a plan at all.”

It isn’t spoken with cruelty, but pity.

“Doesn’t seem so bad. Once you get past the murderous elevators.”

GM: “I’m surprised you moved out here,” says Anna, curious. “Most of the people here are from here, or the really small towns. And a lot of other people who go to college go to New Orleans, if they can.”

Victoria: “I guess you can say I’ve got a small town heart. Maybe.” She shrugs. “Like I said, I wanted to get away, but not too far.”

GM: “I guess that makes sense. But no, it’s not bad! Everyone who’s from here knows each other. Mrs. Remy, she teaches math if you have her, used to live next door to me.”

“And the dean is in the UDC with my mom.”

Victoria: Sylvie nods.

“Yeah, she’s teaching my calculus class. Wow—this is a small town. What’s the UDC?”

GM: “United Daughters of the Confederacy. They’re descendants of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Something she might have known if she knew any of her ancestors.

“That’s never been my thing.”


“Is it fun?”

GM: “It is!” Anna nods. “It’s partly how I got into history. They do a lot of things, like hold memorial services or parades, or track family trees. And my dad’s involved in a reenactment society. They dress up like old soldiers and act out battles.”

Victoria: “That sounds fun!” she says, eyes lighting up at the reenactment. “Do you ever participate with your dad?”

GM: Anna looks a little glum. “They don’t like female actors.”

Victoria: Sylvie purses her lips.

“I suppose we’ll just have to join the Union.”

GM: “I did participate in one, story was that I was disguising myself as a boy to enlist. The actors were VERY serious about how my disguise had to be good enough that I fooled them, to be authentic. And a lot of them were worried it’d mean they’d get a ton more girls in disguise, if they allowed one.”

“They were also mad that I didn’t want to cut my hair, because that’s what a girl in disguise would’ve done.”

Victoria: “It’s your fault, isn’t it? You were supposed to enlist in laundry washing and sandwich making reenactment.”

GM: “Maybe I should have been a camp follower?” muses Anna.

Victoria: She nods, then laughs.

“We’re blessed to live in the modern day.”

GM: “Do you wanna participate in a battle? They’re really fun! You just… need a thick skin.”

Victoria: She shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe. I don’t want to deal with all of the sexism, but it sounds fun. You sound fun.”

She looks to the professor, who seems to be struggling with consciousness.

“Do you want to grab lunch?”

GM: Anna looks at Mr. Breaux again. She looks even more sorry for him, but smiles at Sylvie’s question.

“Sure! Where do you wanna go?”

Victoria: “Jazzman’s? I would die to eat a danish, and a smoothie doesn’t sound bad.”

She gets up from her desk, eyeing the drowsy professor.

GM: He doesn’t stop them. Another guy leaves after he sees them do so.

“I wouldn’t say it’s sexism, anyway, they just don’t want anything to be inauthentic. Which I get it. They’re just… really zealous about it.”

Victoria: “I can tell,” she answers, but leaves the subject there.

“You think you’re going to stay in town when you graduate? You know, in like… years.”

GM: “Well, I wanna go somewhere else for grad school,” says Anna. “An advisor told me it’s ‘academically incestuous’ to get both your degrees at the same school.”

Victoria: "I’ve always wondered why people go to different schools. I figured they just wanted different points of view.

GM: “I think that’s it, yeah. Getting exposed to new people and ideas. I’ve had other advisors tell me I should stay in Lafayette, though, which… says something about Southern towns?”

Victoria: “They want you to stay home like a good girl? Keep the town bustling?”

She shrugs.

“I want to do something; to be something. Maybe I’ll work for NASA.”

GM: “Oh! I dunno if you went to the right school,” Anna says, amused.

Victoria: Sylvie flushes crimson. “I got where I could afford.”

GM: Mount Carmel got some scholarship money, like Mary had hoped.

But she didn’t have any college funds set up for her six kids. It was all she could do to get them to private school.

“No one here’s rich,” Anna says understandingly. “Literally, no one. I also went here to save.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“They’ve got an engineering program. I’ll just… do the best I can. Get me A’s. Get an internship. Get somewhere better for my master’s, and we’ll see from there.”

GM: “That makes sense,” Anna says as Jazzman’s comes into view. There’s not a lot of students eating right now, with classes in session. “So that’s cool, engineering, NASA. It actually helps to be a girl there! Colleges love female STEM majors.”

Victoria: “So I hear. I don’t want to get in on that. I guess I won’t say no; but…”

Something about it bothers her.

GM: “But…?” Anna asks, curious.

Victoria: “It irks me. I want to live and die by my own merit, y’know?”

Sylvie pulls the door to Jazzman’s open, allowing Anna to enter first.

GM: “Yeah, I get that,” Anna nods before thanking her. It’s a small little cafe inside. There’s espresso, smoothies, flavored coffees, and various pastries and baked goods. Probably none of them healthy, but they don’t call it the freshman 15 for nothing. Anna orders a danish.

“But no way of knowing with admissions, is there? Can’t ask to opt out.”

Victoria: Sylvia agrees. It bothers her that she agrees, but the truth is the truth and the world is what the world is.

She orders a pumpkin iced coffee, and a pumpkin glazed muffin.

GM: “What are the schools like in New Orleans?” Anna asks after they get their orders and sit down.

“Not, like, colleges. Lower schools.”

Victoria: “You don’t want to know the answer to that,” she answers, her brow lofting with betrayed pain, poorly masked.

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, bad subject?” Anna asks, nibbling her danish.

Victoria: “It’s not great. I’m lucky to be here, honestly. Many of the children who grow up in New Orleans aren’t so fortunate, unless they luck into a family that’ll send them to private school.”

She nibbles her muffin.

“I was one of them. Kind of.”

GM: “Kind of?”

Victoria: She’s a curious one…

“I was adopted just before my teens.”

GM: “Oh, congrats! Er, belatedly. Is that the right thing to say?”

Victoria: Sylvie chokes on her coffee, laughing.

GM: Anna smiles in response. “I don’t know, honest! It sounds like it was a good thing? How else do you say ’I’m glad a good thing happened to you’?”

Victoria: She swallows, red-faced. “It is good, yeah! Just… kind of a heavy topic, y’know? Like talking about surviving cancer.”

Honestly, it’s not far off.

GM: “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that I know I wanna be a teacher, after I graduate, and I’m pretty sure I wanna stay in-state.”

“I was thinking about New Orleans, but I don’t really know anyone there. No one from there moves to Lafayette.”

Victoria: “A teacher? Oooh… I’ve never met someone who wants to be a teacher!”

She seems genuinely excited at the prospect.

“I mean, there are plenty of private schools. I went to Mount Carmel. Didn’t see a boy ’til I got here!”

GM: “Catholic school?” smiles Anna.

Victoria: “Virgin Training,” she nods.

GM: Anna giggles.

“Well, it’s not as if sex ed out here is much better. We had a pastor come in to talk about abstinence, and that was it.”

Victoria: “How well did that take with the class?” she teases with a knowing smirk.

GM: “Welllll, the babies that appeared after prom didn’t come from storks, let’s just say!”

Victoria: The muffin is suspended between her teeth. Flowers bloom and wilt, civilizations rise and fall before she says, “…yours?”

GM: “Oh, no!” Anna exclaims, blushing. “I wanna teach kids, not have them! Not that early, anyway.”

Victoria: “Oh.”


She nibbles the muffin some more. The silence doesn’t feel awkward so much as amusing.

“One day. I think my mom kinda hopes I’ll have them; give them a good life. Like she did for us.”

GM: “Yeah, I think every parent hopes that. Mine do.”

“They also think high school is too early, though!”

Victoria: She grimaces.

“Maybe not every parent. Good parents, though.”


“This is much more fun than class. What else are you taking?”

GM: “History, surprise surprise. And general ed requirements. Wish I didn’t need to take lab sciences.”

Victoria: She slaps the table in a sudden eruption of excitement!

“Those are the most fun! How many other classes do your TAs tell you about the time they incidentally built a bomb?”

GM: Anna giggles. “Bonus points if he’s Middle Eastern.”

“I’ve not had one do that, though. Wish one did, lab sciences put me right to sleep.”

Victoria: Sylvie almost takes a sip of her coffee. Thankfully, she doesn’t, as it would have been more on Anna then in her mouth.

“Mmm… different strokes. You’ve got a little racist in you, hmmm?” she chides, playful in intent.

GM: “I meannnn, let’s just say if you wanna be a terrorist, New Orleans is a better city!”

Victoria: “A better city than New York? Why’s that?”

GM: “Sorry, New York?”

Victoria: “The major terrorist attack of our generation. Middle Eastern origin. You might’ve heard of it.”

A pause.

“…or did you mean better than Lafayette?”

GM: “Oh, yeah, that’s what I meant. Y’know, more bleedin’ hearts in the big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, yeah. You ever been to the Big Easy?”

GM: “A few times, when I was younger! Everything there is just so much… bigger and faster, but everyone says New Orleans is really lazy and laid back for a big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, they do? I wouldn’t know. This is the furthest I’ve ever been, and… it’s not really all that far. It’s much quieter out here.”

GM: “I like that. Life being calm, everyone knowing their neighbors. But I wanna see what a bigger city is like, too. That’s why I wanna go somewhere else for my master’s.”

“And then… I’m not sure where I’d want to teach. Maybe a small or mid-sized city. I wanna feel like I’m making a difference in kids’ lives, but I want it to be somewhere I like living, too.”

Victoria: “I think… I’d like to see what life is like out here. Not just in university, but the people, y’know? I know what I’d like to do with my life, and I don’t see it changing, but there’s something about getting to know new people; learning who they are, and their dreams, and what makes them smile. Is that odd to say?”

She shrugs, uncertain.

“You could always live outside the city and transit in.”

GM: “No, I don’t think so!” says Anna. “That says you like people, that you’re interested in them. What’s odd about that?”

Victoria: “I dunno! I’ve never really admitted that to anyone.”

She isn’t sure why she said it to Anna, either, and falls silent there, contemplating.

GM: “Oh, why not? Just never came up, or…?”

Victoria: “Something like that. Have you always wanted to be a teacher?”

GM: Anna nods. “Helping people understand the world around them, yeah. And I’ve seen teachers do great things for kids even besides teaching. It just seems like a really nice way to make a difference in your community. And I’ve always liked kids.”

Victoria: “What about the kids who don’t want to learn?”

Her, seven years ago.

GM: “You help them! You try and make it fun for them, and you’re nice to them. You show you care. And maybe if there’s something wrong in their home life, you bring in social services.”

Victoria: Poor, naive girl.

“If only it were so easy.”

There’s a somber note in her words.

“I wish there were more teachers like you out there. Social services isn’t the best answer every time, but… for many, it’s better than where they are.”

GM: Anna nods. “Maybe they can’t make everything better, but they can pull kids out of bad situations. And teachers are in a good place to know if a kid is.”

Victoria: May God help this woman if she ever finds a job in New Orleans.

“If they’re attentive.”

She sets her coffee down, knitting her fingers and looking up to Anna.

“Tell me something about myself.”

“Give me your most interesting read.”

GM: Anna looks at her and thinks.

“Welll, you were adopted when you were eleven, you’re interested in people and have never said that to anyone, and you’re an engineering major…”

“Are you studying machines instead of people because you’re interested in how things work, but haven’t really thought that studying people is something you can do? Or should do?”

Victoria: Sylvie sets her chin to her palm, thinking.

There was a time in her life where she considered becoming a therapist, or a social worker, or one of a myriad choices of work helping those who needed help, whether they be children like she was, or adults who lost their way. She considered becoming a police officer, too.

In the end, she came to understand that it isn’t a path for her, not because she doesn’t want to help people, but because she doesn’t believe she’d be able to stomach seeing others in positions similar to her childhood.

She doesn’t want to relive it, even knowing she’s now safe and sound.

“Something like that. Got me, I guess.”

GM: “Ha. Maybe I’ll be able to spot if a kid’s in a bad situation.”

“Okay, you try me,” says Anna. She sets down what’s left of her danish, resting her face on her hands.

“Tell me something about myself. Your most interesting read.”

Victoria: “You are endless in your optimism; or, at least you try to keep yourself that way. You like viewing the world through a lens of positivity, and projecting that positivity onto others to bring just a little more light onto their day, whether they need it or not.”

She pauses to sip her coffee. It seems endless.

“Maybe because you were brought up that way. Maybe your mother taught you that the light and levity you bring to others is reflected back on you. Or, maybe something happened to you. You’ve seen pain and darkness, and you don’t want to live there anymore, so you project your bubbly self to avoid the pain; so that no one asks why you don’t smile.”

She cants her head a hair, still staring.

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”

GM: Anna blushes faintly at Sylvia’s assessment, but smiles again too.

“Oh, well, thanks.”

“I haven’t had anything bad happen to me, though! I just think people should try to be nice to each other. You’re right that my mom does think that, too. And my dad. They’re good people.”

Victoria: “I wish everyone had that philosophy. What do your parents do?”

GM: “My mom’s a stay-at-home mom, pretty much. My dad’s a cop. They’re proud I’m going to college.”

Victoria: “My mom too! Not every one of my brothers and sisters are. A cop? Is there much crime around here?”

GM: “Hm, not a lot, next to New Orleans. He’s never been shot at or anything. But he’s gotten involved in some domestic violence disputes.”

“He says those are really sad, and that there’s not always anything you can do.”

Victoria: She frowns sympathetically.


She’s more familiar with that then she’d like to be. Her many foster parents rarely argued in front of her, but she recalls her one likable foster father arguing with her foster mother the night before she was returned.

Used goods.

GM: A change of pace.

Usually it was the foster kids getting abused.

“So you have a lot of siblings?”

Victoria: She nods, finally finishing her muffin.

“Yeah, five. Most of them a good bit older than me. We’re all from different places in life. Mom adopted each of us.”

A pause.

“I’m not sure why she chose each of us out of the many more foster children she saved from the system, but I owe my life to her. Literally.”

GM: “Oh, wow, six! That’s a ton of kids to adopt,” Anna says, eyebrows raised.

Victoria: She nods excitedly.

“I don’t know how she does it! Single mom with six kids, none of them her own blood, and every one treated as if they are! Grandma Beth helps out, but still. She manages more than any group home I was part of. I hope one day to be half the mother she is.”

GM: “Geez, no dad?!” Anna exclaims. “Your grandma must be a lot of help, I don’t know how anyone would do that!”

Victoria: “She’s kind of a model! Tough as nails and not afraid to tell anyone her mind. I swear, she could take on any man three times her size if she was mad enough.”

GM: The only things Sylvie’s seen make her mom angry are repeatedly taking the Lord’s name in vain and harming her children. It’s a quiet sort of tough, if there is such a thing. Mary prefers not to go off on people, but she stands her ground.

“Good for her. It has to take tough to raise so many kids.”

Victoria: “Especially feral children.”

She winks.

“The world needs more of both of you.”

GM: Anna smiles. “Oh, I think more of people like your grandma. I don’t think I could do six foster kids, without a husband. I just couldn’t.”

Victoria: “I’m not sure I could do six foster kids with a husband,” she chortles, though that undertone of proud admiration never leaves.

“Not just six, though; many more fostered who came and went. Of them, six adopted.”

The two go on for the better part of an hour, talking about life, and love, and the meaning of happiness; of Anna’s local friends, and of Sylvie’s family; of the best local restaurants, and the places to avoid; of rural, southern hospitality, and the bustle of the Big Easy.

A promise is made to find lunch the next day, following a more interesting class with a more awake professor, and it becomes a pattern. Sociology Tuesday and Thursday, lunch to follow. Eventually, it becomes an everyday thing. Dinner some nights. A movie. Heartfelt conversations. Inside jokes. The bonds of friendship link the two, they hope for good.

Wednesday afternoon, 4 September 2011

GM: “Have a seat, Sylvia. You mind if I call you Sylvia?”

The office room has no chairs.

“Oh, how careless of me. Eileen, make a seat for our guest.”

No one would ever call the woman standing in the corner “beautiful.” They’d say things like “pretty enough” as their eyes slide past where she sits on her barstool to scope out her much more attractive friends. She’s noticeable enough, though, when she’s naked except for a posture collar, leash, harness gag, and crisscrossing strips of black leather that do nothing to conceal her most intimate places. Fingerless mittens render her hands useless.

She obediently gets down on her hands and knees, presenting her back for Sylvia to sit on.

Victoria: Years of undergrad developed what was once a mostly-Christian, young woman, preening back the layers of tempered pride and kindness to reveal a lioness; yet, still a cub. Sylvia St. George drives for what she wants, and she works for it, no matter the effort. She’s taken to party-life, making her mistakes along the way, and grown into a stronger person for it.

Still, she held on to some semblance of ‘awkward’ when caught off-guard by the brash nature of how forward people can be. It’s rare when someone is more forward than her.

This is one of those times.

She expected something eccentric when she applied for a position with Chakras. Handcuffs dangling from the ceiling. The cries of a flayed man in the distance, either of pleasure, or of pain. Of ‘yes, yes!’ and ’I’m sorry, mistress’.

She does not expect to sit upon a living chair; and yet, that’s exactly what she does. Something tells her that the man—master—hosting her interview is not one to savor disagreeing, and even without a strong tie, she immediately complies.

Sylvia sits.

“Yes. Sylvia works.”

GM: The ‘chair’ is somewhat yielding under Sylvia’s rear, but the woman remains kneeling in place.

The man sitting behind the desk across from Sylvia is handsome, though. He’s black, maybe in his 30s, with a goatee and hair cut low enough to seem more like a shadow over his head than anything else. He’s also dressed in dark leather, though his conceals more of his fit frame than it reveals.

“Great,” he says.

“What’s the worst you’ve ever hurt someone in bed?”

Victoria: Sylvia has a bony ass. It’s more than a little painful for the unpadded chair of a person.

She veils the interest she feels in him, keeping herself professional despite a wandering mind. This place is fantasy brought to life.

She grins, if faintly.

“Intentionally or unintentionally?”

GM: Eileen suffers it without complaint.

The man shrugs. Sylvia never quite got his name.

“Whatever was worst.”

Victoria: She doesn’t bother to ask. If he wants to give her his name, he’ll give it. She knows well enough to know that this is probably part of the game of establishing positions, and though she isn’t ordinarily, she’ll take one of subservience if it means receiving this internship.

He will be her employer if he extends the offer. It makes sense.

“I misread landing on an ex while riding him and bent his cock. Did you know they can break?”

She shudders. That was a night in the hospital, a week of apologies, and a month of guilt.

“I’ve used handcuffs; tied him to the bed, teased him. Left him wanting. Left him begging. Left entirely.”

She shifts her hips. Sitting on another person isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.

“Another asked me to slap him, and twist his balls; to tug them, little by little, further and further from his body until he couldn’t take it anymore. One time, he finished before me, so I punched him in the balls.”

She talks as if she’s a little girl with a fantasy, and the fraudulent guilt of a cookie she doesn’t regret stealing.

GM: It’s not comfortable at all. She has to sit straight the entire time. The ‘chair’ shifts under her whenever she shifts. It takes some effort not to fall off.

“Yeah,” says the man. “No bones in a guy’s cock, but they can still break.”

He smirks at Sylvia’s story.

“How’d your boyfriend like that?”

“Or is that why he’s an ex?”

Victoria: “Which part? The cock breaking, or… the rest of it?”

She doesn’t wait for him to answer. Why would he?

A smirk foretells her answer before she speaks.

“He didn’t like being punched in the balls as much as the rest of it. That is why he’s an ex.”

She adds, “…I’m insatiable. The more I learn, the more I try, the more I experiment, the more I want. Some days, I worry about what I’ve become, and what I’ll become from here; but, it’s fun, with partners that enjoy it.”

“…was that too forward?”

Her cheeks are pink.

GM: The man just grins.

“Do something to her,” he says.

The ‘her’ underneath Sylvia shifts.

Victoria: “I…”

Maybe there’s a misunderstanding.

“This is for your industrial assembly position, right?”

Not to disobey him, she does stand up, looking for an implement.

GM: She finds no shortage of those lining the walls. There cuffs, collars, whips, chains, anything that could plausibly fit into a wall without taking up overmuch space on the floor.

“Yeah,” he says.

Victoria: Curious. She wonders whether this is for his entertainment, or some odd requirement. It doesn’t matter.

She wants a job.

She has one outfit at home. One single, leather outfit, bought on a fantasy-laden whim to live out a life she never expects to have in the privacy of her home with whoever she dates next.

She wonders whether or not she might have had better chances if she wore it here.


She selects a crop from the wall: a thin, wooden dowel, flexible to a point, with a silicon loop at the end. It feels unfamiliar in her hand.

Is she just to… hit her with it?

“Would you explain a paradox to me?” she asks the man, back turned. Her boot finds the chair’s ribs, pushing her into a roll onto her back.

Sylvia St. George roils inside, her heart thumping into her throat at the fantasy come to life, yet the thought of harming a stranger bringing concern.

And excitement.

Two parts excitement, one part guilt.

She lives in a democracy.

The boot comes to rest—gently—against the girl’s cheek, rubbing the forward half of her sole against her face.

GM: If nothing else, she can’t see the outfit hurting here. It’d be right at home.

The woman doesn’t resist as Sylvia kicks her over. Just gives a little whimper.

Her tongue flecks obediently out to lick the sole of Sylvia’s boot.

“Okay,” says the man.

His voice sounds like he’s doing more watching than listening.

Victoria: “If she likes this…”

Her heel grinds her cheek, pushing the other side of her face into the floor.

“…isn’t it giving in? They win. She wants this.”

GM: Eileen moans in need as the boot disappears from her lips.

“Yes,” the man says.

“That’s the difference between a bad dom and a good one.”

“A good dom pushes them farther than they ask to go.”

Victoria: She shifts more of the weight onto her face, grinding her sole.

“She seems more upset by having it taken from her mouth than by being crushed. How do you know ‘too far’? I haven’t heard a word—obviously.”

Being that she’s gagged.

GM: “You just tell,” says the man. “When they’re yelling to stop, not go on.”

Eileen makes an unintelligible noise.

Victoria: “…and when they do?”

She drags the crop down her nose, slipping it down the center of the ring, over her tongue.

GM: “You keep going. Duh.”

The woman moans again and licks at the crop’s head.

“It’s what they really want. To lose control.”

“It’s why they come here.”

“They don’t want to feel like they can stop you. They want to be at your mercy.”

Victoria: She slips the crop further, feeling it stop against soft flesh inside her mouth.

“What if you injure them? What if I kick her in the ribs?”

What if she broke a rib?

GM: The woman’s tongue eagerly laps against the leather.

“Go ahead. Kick her.”

“Dom who stops where they say to is just a hooker without the sex.”

Victoria: She finally turns to look at him, if only through the corner of her eyes. She appraises him—how serious he is.

Sadism, at its finest. Are there really people who enjoy that level of abuse?

Sylvia grinds her sole once more, removes her foot, and sends it into her ribs. It could have been harder, but she doesn’t want to injure her.

GM: The man looks dead serious.

He’s not even grinning anymore.

The woman gives a sharp exclamation of pain and reflexively curls her body inwards. She doesn’t ward off the blow or try to stand up.

The man watches Sylvia, dark eyes silently glinting.

Victoria: She cants her head.

Her boot arrives at the same point in her ribs, this time harder, a significant portion of her weight behind it.

GM: The woman cries out again, louder this time. She curls further inwards, arms protectively encircling her belly.

“No hands,” says the man. “Tell her that.”

Victoria: She draws the crop from the chair’s mouth, slapping her across the face with it.

Paint the picture, Sylvia. It doesn’t all need to be true. She tosses the crop aside, turning on heel. Where is it? Where, where, where…

She thumbs along the wall, an idea forming as she looks. Flogs, whips, chains, excitement, cuffs, restraints, ropes…

She draws a false knife from the wall, returns to the girl, and kneels on her wrist. The cold of the knife kisses her wrist.

“If you block me again, I’m taking a finger.”

It feels so wrong. She’ll never actually do it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever will she hurt someone so permanently, but she isn’t here to hurt someone.

She’s an artist, here to paint a picture.

…for a job putting together equipment?

Her eyes flash to the interviewer, then back to the girl.

Don’t question him.

The knife kisses the girl’s lips.

“Burble if you understand.”

GM: The woman gives another cry and whips her face away. Her cheek has an angry red mark now.

She burbles.

Sylvia sees it.

The flash of fear in the woman’s eyes.

She looks at this naked, gagged, leashed, and mittened woman lying on the ground, staring up at her, and sees a helpless life within her power.

It feels like she can do what she wants here.

Whatever she wants.

Would this man stop her if it was a real knife?

He just grins and nods.

Victoria: She sees that fear.

It excites her. It shames her. It makes her heart pound faster. She wants more of that fear; to know that his woman—this inferior creature, fit only to serve and to be beaten—shakes at the mention of her name. She wants to comfort her; to tell her everything is okay, and that she’s loved, and she matters.

The knife drags along her cheek, presenting one, final reminder, before disappearing from her flesh.

As hard as she can, her boot sails into the girl’s ribs.

GM: The chair doesn’t see it coming, fearfully transfixed as she is on the knife.

It doesn’t sound like a cry, this time. It sounds like a scream. It’s short, but the chair’s eyes clamp shut as she curls inwards into fetal position.

Her arms start to curl inwards.

Then, gingerly, they spread back out.

The chair looks up at Sylvia. Her eyes are many things. Pained. Fearful. Contrite. Hopeful.

Did she disobey?

Sylvia knows, as if by instinct, the question that must be on her mind:

Will she be punished?

Victoria: They didn’t curl in all the way, and she opened herself up right away.

Sylvia looks to the man uncertainly, but snaps her gaze back to her prey. No, he won’t like her dependence on him.

She crouches, her boot on the girl’s wrist. A pair of fingers find the chair’s mouth, slipping between the ring.

Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump.

“I won’t take a finger for instinct. You’re an animal. You want to protect yourself. I won’t take a finger, as you opened yourself up to me.”

Again, she looks to him. Just a fraction of a second.

Her fingers pass over her tongue.

“Are you happy?” she asks the chair.

GM: The chair makes a noise at the weight pressing down on her wrist.

The chair doesn’t try to lick Sylvia’s fingers this time.

The chair nods, when she hears she’s an animal.

The man smiles.

The chair nods, fervently, in final answer.

Victoria: Sylvia’s fingers hit the back of her throat.

GM: The chair starts to gag, but keeps her mouth open. Her eyes look up at Sylvia helplessly.

So helplessly.

Victoria: Her fingers hover there, on the cusp between pleasant choking and making her puke.

It must feel like minutes for the chair before Sylvia removes them, wiping the thick, vile saliva of her throat against her cheek with a pair of slaps.

She rises, turning to the man with an expectant expression.

GM: The chair gags and sputters and drools over the floor, completely bereft of dignity, like the thing she is. Saliva freely leaks from her forced-open mouth.

The man looks at the chair, laughs, and then looks back to Sylvia.

“You’re hired.”

Wednesday evening, 14 September 2011

GM: “Oh my god, you’re a dominatrix?!” Anna giggles over the phone.

“I thought you wanted to be an engineer!”

Victoria: Sylvia cackles.

“I’m not a dominatrix! I’m just working for that kinda place. The job is to help assemble their equipment, rigging, machinery—that sort of thing. You know, engineering. The interview was just—well, a bit of gratuitous, hedonistic fun, I think. To make sure I’m a personality fit. They wouldn’t want someone who’d be awkward to be around.”

“You want to keep making jokes, I’m sure they won’t mind if a flog disappears for the night. Wait—no. You’d like that. Your boyfriend probably would, too, and I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of the mental masturbation.”

GM: Anna just bursts out laughing for several moments.

“Sylvie, you’re totally a dominatrix, just listen to you!”

“‘I just assemble the machinery.’ Riiiiiight.”

Victoria: She bites her lip, holding in a retort.

GM: “Literally the next sentence, you say you’re gonna punish me!”

Anna giggles even more.

“You’re even kinda right, Jeff probably would be into that.”

“I’d totally be the sub with him.”

Victoria: “You know, I still have a picture of that secret, little mole of yours, and I haven’t uploaded to Facemash in a while…”

It’s an empty threat. She knows Sylvie would never embarrass her so publicly. Especially with something so exposing.

“You aren’t already?”

GM: “What?” Anna laughs. “No! We’ve done some spank play, and sometimes I call him Daddy, but we don’t, you know, work at a dungeon or anything.”

Anna giggles some more.

“And if you post that photo I’m gonna tell everyone you’re a dominatrix now!”

Victoria: “I think one of those would be a lot more embarrassing than the other!”

A brief pause.

“Cute butt, by the way.”

GM: “Oh why thank you, Dark Mistress Dominatrix.”

Victoria: “You are incorrigible, I swear.”

GM: “Dark Mistress Dominatrix Doombringer? Dark Mistress Dominatrix Tyrannia? Is that enough titles?”

Victoria: “Oooooh, I like that last one… you want a spanking for a thank you?”

GM: “Yes, and for you to say what a bad girl I’ve been.”

Anna giggles a few more times.

Victoria: “You know very well just how bad a girl you’ve been.”

Anna’s laugh is just as soothing and addictive as it was that very first day.

GM: “I’m sorry, I’m happy for you, really. It sounds like a fun job. It’s just… it fits.”

Victoria: “No, no, we wouldn’t be us if we couldn’t tease.”

Yet, saying it fits strikes a cord in her. She isn’t sure why, nor can she tell whether it’s positive or negative.

“What do you mean by that? That it fits.”

GM: “Well, just… everything. You know, not much control growing up, Catholic household… it fits.”

“Also, you’re tall and dark.”

“Short girls aren’t dommes, I just don’t see it.”

Victoria: “Anna, I go into the sun to get my phone from the car and come back with a sunburn. Dark is the last thing I’d call myse—wait, you think I’m just coping with my lack-of-daddy issues!?”

GM: “Oh I mean dark hair, not dark skin. Seriously, how many blonde dommes are there?”

“And no, I don’t mean you’re coping! It’s just… it fits!”

Victoria: “Yuh huh. You know all about what does and doesn’t fit.”

GM: “Okay, I have it. Ultimate test, to determine once and for all of you’re a dominatrix.”

“If you fail it I won’t say another word.”

Victoria: “Oooh, the almost-teacher is giving me a test!”

GM: “You bet she is! Now, okay, you ready?”

Victoria: “I am always ready.”

GM: “How many dark leather domme outfits do you have in your clooos-seeet?” Anna asks in a singsong voice.

Victoria: A loooooong pause.

GM: Anna bursts out laughing again.

“You’re a DOMINATRIX! You’re a dominatrix! You’re a dom, dom, dom…!”

She breaks off giggling.

Victoria: “…two. I got one the other day, okay!?”

GM: Anna laughs even louder.

“Two!? I thought you just… had… one…!”

There’s more laughter.

Victoria: “I am so going to smack you next time you come over.”

“They made me get one for work! Look—you wore your black pants when you waitressed. I wear… that.”

GM: “Those pants were cloth. Black is just a good waitress color!”

“You know, like black leather is for dominatrixes.”

Victoria: “You know, you’re only making it worse for when you’re eventually my client,” she answers playfully.

GM: “So you are a dominatrix,” Anna declares triumphantly.

Victoria: “Only for you, love. Only for you.”

“Don’t tell Jeff, hm?”

GM: “He’d probably want me to do that, if he could watch.”

“So, I have to ask, what is getting… interviewed for a totally-not-dominatrix job like?”

Victoria: “Just… things. You know. Some technical questions and skill competency. A bit of the environment.”

She knows that Anna is going to have a field day with the truth, and while she’s comfortable bending the it to not-quite-a-lie, Anna deserves the truth in its entirety.

“They made me… demonstrate a bit. If I were to be hired for more.”

GM: “Demonstrate…?”

Victoria: She’s grateful they aren’t video calling.

“Uh huh.”

GM: Anna lets out a whistle.

“‘Skill competency.’”

“Uh huh.”

“At spanking or tying people up?”

Victoria: “It’s better to show than tell,” she hums in a sing-song voice.

GM: “I seeeee,” Anna says consideringly.

“So, for real, did you spank people?”

Victoria: “Nope.”

Technically the truth.

Anna knows her better than that.

“Okay, okay, okay.”

She pauses.

“Jeff isn’t around, right?”

Promise you won’t tell?”

GM: “Yeah, he isn’t. And I promise.”

The laughter mostly leaves her voice.

Victoria: “Okay, okay. They kinda made me… do it. Like, on the spot.”

She puts on her employer’s voice.

“Do something to her.”

And back to her usual husky tones.

“…so, I did. Not too much. Just a few minutes of letting myself go. Honestly, it was kinda fun.”

GM: “Oh. Wow. Just like that?”

Victoria: “Just… like that, yeah. I guess the girl they brought in likes it. She didn’t seem too unhappy.”

GM: “Wooow. I don’t even know what I’d have done there.”

Victoria: “Probably die.”

GM: “That’s probably why I’d be the sub, ha?”

“Sooo, what did you… ‘do’ to her?”

Victoria: “You know, Anna, for all you’re talking about it, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more than a small fantasy in that pretty, little head of yours.”

GM: Sylvia can all but hear the blush in Anna’s voice.

“It’s not! I’m just curious.”

Victoria: Testing time.

“How about… I tell you in person, hmn?”

Every ounce of her acting goes into that question, immersing herself as far into the performance she put on at Chakras as she can.

GM: “Oooh, boy. Is it that racy?”

“That’s kinda a long trip from Miami, though.”

Victoria: “Well, if I’m going to be helping you live your fantasy, I may as well do it in person. At least then I’d get something to watch out of it.”

GM: “Okay, for real, it’s not a fantasy! It’s just… I’m curious, since you said this wasn’t actually a dominatrix position.”

“So, wouldn’t the only thing that matters be what you can build?”

Victoria: “Uh huh.”

She doesn’t believe her.

“I just… I took a crop, and used it on her face. They had already tied in her a ring gag, hands in mittens, and largely nude aside.”

She pauses, seeing how Ana takes that.

“There was some other bits. Mild choking. Boot play. That sort of thing.”

Downplayed, but still true.

“I mean… I guess they trust my resume, and only needed to see how I fit the culture.”

GM: “Wooow,” says Anna.

“That’s seriously the wildest job interview I’ve ever heard of.”

Victoria: “Yeah, it was pretty fucking absurd. But it was also pretty fun, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.”

GM: “Good for you, then. It sounds like a fun job.”

Victoria: “…do you really mean it?”

GM: “Yeah. Waitressing’s really stressful.”

“There’s a reason I quit for that bookstore job.”

“If you’re having fun with it, why not get paid?”

Victoria: “Yeah.”

There’s a smile in her answer.

“You’re right. We should enjoy work. How’s the bookstore going?”

GM: “Eh. I’m looking forward to teaching, let’s just say.”

Victoria: “I’ll bet. Almost there…”

A pause, and then her words are filled with an overwhelmingly somber note.

“I really miss you.”

GM: “I know,” Anna sighs. “I miss you, too.”

“Miami’s a change of pace, but I’d trade it for another year at Lafayette together.”

Victoria: “Could trade it for a few years in New Orleans? I don’t think I’m going to be leaving anytime soon.”

GM: “No, of course not, it’s where your family is.”

“I don’t think I wanna teach in Miami. That’s not for me.”

Victoria: “Beach humidity isn’t as fun as bayou humidity?”

GM: “Ugh, the humidity’s worse. Not a ton worse, but it is.”

“Lafayette is further north.”

Victoria: “Will you be going back there? Or finally try the city?”

GM: “I might try New Orleans, yeah. To see what it’s like. See you.”

“Contracts are only a year, if it turns out to be something I can’t do.”

Victoria: “I think that you’ll be the best teacher they’ve ever seen, no matter where you go. Enthusiasm matters, and you’ve got it in droves! Maybe you can teach at my old haunt.”

GM: “Awww.” Anna smiles. “Thanks, that means a lot. They all say teacher burnout is such a thing.”

“I’ve had some teachers outright tell me, not to do it, but… someone has to.”

Victoria: “Or the next generation will be for the worse, right? True of so many jobs; teaching especially.”

“…you’ll be a good teacher.”

GM: “Thanks. I hope so.”

“And you’ll be a great engineer.”

Victoria: “I’m a dominatrix, remember?”

GM: Anna giggles. “I was just about to say. When you aren’t being a dominatrix.”

Victoria: There’s a long pause.

“Visiting soon?

GM: “Oh definitely, I was thinking over break?”

Victoria: “Uh huh. That sounds nice. I’ll try and pull myself away from the dungeon.”

GM: “It’s such a long drive. I’m really tempted to just fly.”

Victoria: “You’re probably better off.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s ‘only’ another two hours to go visit my family, so.”

“Be a nicer drive if you took a rental out to Tallahassee.”

“Or even just Mobile.”

Victoria: “You want to meet in the middle?”

GM: “Yeah, it’d make the long drive a lot more fun!”

Victoria: “…I could fly all the way to Miami, and drive back with you. That might be a fun trip.”

GM: “Ohh, that’s a thought. Flying isn’t too expensive?”

“Or are you rakin’ in the dominatrix dough?”

Victoria: “Eh. I’ve got a savings. Not a lot, but enough.”

“No,” she laughs. “I make dough out of their asses.”

GM: “Ha, of course. But yeah! If it’s not going to bust the piggy bank, that sounds like a really fun road trip.”

Victoria: “Sure, sure. Can we do it in one go? Or will we need a hotel?”

GM: “It’s 13 hours… yeah, I’d wanna break that up.”

Victoria: “Ah, weakness…”

GM: “We could do stuff in Miami, too! If you’re already flying over.”

Victoria: “Oooooh, there’s an idea! I’ve never been to the coast before. It’s a big party city, isn’t it?”

GM: “It is, yeah. Lot in common there with New Orleans. And the beaches are incredible.

Victoria: “I take it you’ve spent a good amount of time there?”

GM: “Yes! There isn’t anything like them. I love home, but there just isn’t.”

Victoria: “Mmn. That does sound like a nice trip. Okay, okay! Let’s plan it. I can stay at your place?”

GM: “Of course! It’s not much but you’re welcome to it.”

Victoria: “You know I don’t need much.”

One fateful class brought them together.

Despite time and distance, together they’ve stayed.

Previous, by Narrative: Amelie IX, Caroline I
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

Previous, by Character: Story One, Victoria Prelude II
Next, by Character: Story One, Victoria II

Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

“It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”
Amelie Savard

Friday morning, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie lies wide awake with her clutched sword for what feels like hours. Sleep eventually steals over her like a nocturnal phantom neither locks nor doors may keep out. She awakens to the sounds of chirping birds and her phone’s automatic alarm, still clad in her clothes from the previous night. The sheathed sword rests beside her like a cold lover.

The dress she put on for Jill lies discarded on the floor like a once-comforting fancy now outgrown. Past the palm trees surrounding her aunt’s fine house, the rising sun is bright and fat, promising a long and always-humid day of stifling summer heat.

Amelie: However upset Amelie might be, her body refuses to let her routine fall to the wayside. She’s up on her feet almost reflexively once that alarm goes off. Her cold lover remains in the warm and comforting bed as she discards last night’s clothes and pulls on her morning shorts and a tank top that shows off the crags and valleys of her scarred back. She’d always joked that it was “cooked well-done.”

She’s outside in just moments, stretching and carrying dumbbells as she squats, fists and barbells on the ground and kicks her legs out into a plank. She holds the last position for a moment before quickly bringing herself back in to a squat, then jumps and hoists her arms above her head. The set goes on autopilot as her brain starts, or at least tries, to process past the numb shock from yesterday’s eavesdropped horrors.

Snuff films. Whoring. Her own kind and caring aunt, who literally gave the jacket off her back to protect her niece’s hand, being that kind of person. And still being the kind of person who manages such a lifestyle. She remembers Oscar’s words again, and how the madam who turned away virgins and was honored in a Catholic graveyard despite her occupation. Maybe it’s New Orleans’ twisted idea of ‘good enough.’

Amelie stands after her set and moves to push-ups. One arm grips the earth and pushes her body away from it while her other arm rests behind her, holding both dumbbells as she processes her new reality. She can’t undo what she’s heard. This is what her aunt does to make a living after she was disbarred from practicing as a lawyer, right?

Did she start out as an escort, or did she skip right to managing them? Her conversation with Jill sounded as though some of her girls were even upper class. If all of the girls’ mothers at school know Amelie because of who her aunt is, it stands to reason those rich and powerful people have wandering husbands. The new reality of her school situation does not leave her at ease over the upcoming house visit, and what she might have to do there.

Amelie switches hands and starts a second set, giving her body its needed daily hardship. The phone in her shorts finally buzzes, signaling the hour mark as the clock strikes 6 AM. The young woman lets herself back into the house and up to her room. She showers, dresses in her uniform, and sits at the breakfast table with a piece of toast. She stares at it and waits. Just to see how her aunt acts this morning, and whether she’ll act like she does every morning.

For once she doesn’t even know what she’s going to say or do. She just needs to see this woman and look her in the eye.

GM: Christina seems to rise later in the morning than Amelie does, but by 7 AM she’s dressed, downstairs, and making scrambled eggs and grits in the kitchen.

“Good morning. How’d you sleep?” she greets.

Amelie: Amelie usually has her schoolwork out to look over before class by this time. Now she just sits there with a plate of toast until Christina comes down. She stares at the back of her aunt’s head while she cooks.

“I slept. I was thinking a lot.”

GM: “Oh, yes? What about?” her aunt asks as she cracks some eggs and tosses the shells into the compost bin.

Amelie: “Why I want to start my business. And why it’s not the best idea.”

GM: Christina grates some cheese over the eggs, puts it back in the fridge, and turns on the stove.

“Starting a business has its share of challenges. What were your thoughts there?”

Amelie: “That my roots aren’t strong enough yet. Contacts-, notoriety-, and education-wise. And that I might just want to work for the sake of… working. Honestly, I’ve already run a business. I know how to order inventory, manage finances, and sort space and utilities. I ran that store for a while before people noticed.”

GM: “That could be some valuable experience to draw on,” her aunt remarks over the low crackling starting to sound from the pan. “Roots and education are also things you can build up with time and persistence.”

Amelie: “This city isn’t something I can tackle with brute force like I usually do. I can’t just keep my head down. It keeps stabbing me where I’m not looking.”

GM: “Has something come up at school?” Amelie’s aunt asks, turning off the stove to look at her.

Amelie: “No. I’m just not stupid, despite what that therapist might think. It’s more than just that, however. I need to know this place better.”

GM: Christina leaves the stove off and pulls out a stool to sit down across from Amelie. “That’s a fairly large change to your plans. Can I ask what prompted it?”

Amelie: “Talking about the Whitney Foundation, the cost of a professional shop, having this dance I was probably already going to attend shoved down my throat,” she lists, keeping her eyes down. It’s impossible for her to look the woman in the eye right now.

“I’m going to tell the career counselor that I’m shooting for Tulane. It’s not where you go, but with who.”

GM: Her aunt reaches across the table to touch her shoulder. “Amelie, are you all right?”

Amelie: Amelie steels herself for that touch, her knuckles white.

“I’m just having a realism day. It’s fine.”

GM: Still staring at the table, Amelie cannot see Christina’s expression as the latter asks, “Are you sure?”

Amelie: Amelie slowly rocks her knuckles around on the island. She knows she’s close to just… bursting and can barely contain it.

“New Orleans is not what I thought it’d be. I’m not scared of it, I just—some things here feel almost malignant.”

GM: “It can be a dark city,” her aunt agrees. “You’ve certainly seen how, with that lunatic stabbing you.”

Amelie: “It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”

GM: “The city is the way it is,” her aunt replies. “New York and Boston were hurt too, in their own ways. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a flip side to the city. I’ve seen how you light up when you’re talking about its history. There are so many historic sites, museums, restaurants, festivals, and a hundred other things that you’d enjoy seeing. Maybe we should find some time this weekend. Or even after school. We could catch an early dinner at Antoine’s or some other nice place in the Quarter before your sleepover. And I know how much you’ve been looking forward to that, getting to see the inside of the LaLaurie House.”

Amelie: Amelie feels her chest getting tight. She clears her throat and rocks her knuckles against the countertop again. “That sounds nice. Really. Do you… enjoy having me here? I know you probably never wanted to have kids.”

GM: “Of course,” her aunt answers. Amelie still cannot see what Christina’s face might look like with her gaze fixed on the island’s granite surface. “You’re an amazing young woman, Amelie. You’re responsible, considerate, sweet, and your passion for the city and your work is infectious. Jill had so many nice things to say about you last night after you went to bed.”

Amelie: “Would you forgive me if I did something horrible? Something I shouldn’t have?”

GM: “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done something horrible, at some point. Someone who can’t look past that won’t have many friends.”

Amelie: Amelie feels her heart sink into her stomach. Her aunt’s trying to comfort her and has been nothing but perfect since she came here. Now there’s this betrayal. Amelie is less sure what to make of her aunt and her living than when she first heard that news. But fessing up to her trespass is the right thing to do.

“I eavesdropped. On my way upstairs, I wondered about your work and why you couldn’t talk about it. I’d never heard you mention any of your clients, or… I shouldn’t be trying to excuse it.”

GM: The black granite countertop continues to dominate Amelie’s vision. She still cannot see whatever look passes across her aunt’s face. There is only silence. When Christina’s reply finally comes, it’s hard and cool like that same granite.

“What did you overhear?”

Amelie: The silence makes Amelie feel like she’s a rabbit standing stock still with a dog just feet away. One that’s waiting to see which of them moves first. Her aunt’s reply sends a chill up her skin and makes her feel even smaller. Like she’s about to get told to pack her bags and leave the city. Back into… well, not the foster system anymore. God knows where now.

“The therapist, the school wanting to expel me, and… well, almost everything. You got quiet sometimes. I don’t know how I should feel. The first half was a good reality check, but your work, I… you’ve been too kind since I got here for me to believe you’re a bad person, Auntie. And that I think you have good intentions. All I can say is I’m sorry.”

GM: For all the meekness and profusion of Amelie’s tortured apologies, that looming feeling of danger over her head does not abate. Part of her may want to hope that if she looked up, she’d see forgiveness on her aunt’s face. But she doesn’t, and can only imagine what’s there. Maybe it’s a furious dog about to burst its chain and dash after the hare. Hare, like the word her aunt used for her ideas last night. Harebrained. Another thing she wasn’t supposed to hear.

There’s another pause, each second agonizingly long, before Christina asks in that same granite-hard voice:

“What did you hear about my work?

But it isn’t a cool hard. For the first time since Amelie came to New Orleans, her aunt sounds as if she might be truly angry.

Amelie: Amelie has to force the breath out of her lungs to speak. Like a rabbit allowing its defense mechanism to trigger, ready to let the dog rip her apart with numbed senses.

“That you’re a New Orleans madame. Like Josie Arlington.”

GM: Christina’s hand abruptly slams down on the island’s surface. Amelie might flinch, but retains enough self-composure to keep her eyes from jerking up.

“Do not talk to me about fucking history now!”

Amelie: “It helps me relax! Having a point I can keep focus on, instead of freaking out! I’m scared! I didn’t want anything to change, and now my heart feels like it’s going to shoot out my mouth. I spent the entire night choking back fear that I’d either have to keep a secret from you, or that you’d hate me for this. I’m even freaked out that I’m not, like… FREAKED out by what you do, I just don’t want you to think I’m a danger to you now or that I look down on what you do, or…” she trails off, pulls on her skirt and keeps her eyes on the countertop.

GM: Christina’s hand doesn’t pull back. As Amelie furtively stares at the black granite, her aunt asks in a voice that’s slightly cooled but has become no less hard, “Whose names did you hear?”

Amelie: “Warren. I think Whitney.”

GM: “Oh, really? You are such a good student, are you sure that’s all?”

Amelie: “Please don’t do that. Of course I heard Kristina’s name.”

GM: There’s a flash of skin in Amelie’s peripheral vision, and then her toast’s plate is gone. It loudly shatters into a hundred pieces against the wall.

“Then perhaps you should have said so when I fucking asked for names!”

Amelie can feel the heat off her aunt’s face and hear the uneven tenor of her breath.

Amelie: The situation suddenly veers into more familiar territory. Amelie can almost feel her father in the room. The sudden violent action gets her heart beating harder instead of faster, and steels her somewhat. She’d snap back at the woman if not for the fact she’s trying to make up for being in the wrong.

“I was starting with the dangerous name.”

GM: “Well go on then, Amelie! Let’s hear the rest! Did you memorize every client I discussed with Jill? Or do you want to wait on those, maybe find out what they like to do in bed too, and say sorry after you spill every last one!”

Amelie: “You think I’d tell anyone, and put you in danger!? Why do you think I came to you instead of just keeping this a secret. It was dangerous to have me walking around knowing without you being aware of it. And if people are aware of who you are and who I am to you, and you say they are, how do I know that the Whitneys agreeing to let me stay in this empty private-gated house aren’t the wives plotting? The last thing I want is someone trying to hurt you because I’m around.”

GM: Christina abruptly yanks Amelie’s chin upwards, forcing the younger woman’s gaze away from the countertop. Her aunt’s normally so-composed face is red with anger as her chest rises and falls. Her eyes bore into Amelie’s with an edge no less sharp than any of her prized swords.

“I said: What. Other. Names. Did you hear? ALL OF THEM, Amelie!”

Amelie: Amelie almost rises to grab at her aunt. A hand gets halfway to gripping her wrist before she wrenches it back down to the counter. Tears form at the corners of her eyes.

“That was IT! Those were the only two names!!!”

GM: Christina lets go of her niece. “Three tries to finally get that right.”

The half-cooked eggs in the pan have long since cooled into a formless white and yellow mess.

“You are not to breathe so much as a word of what you snooped to ANYONE. I don’t care if it’s your friends. I don’t care if it’s the police. I don’t care if Sarah walks up to you and says she already knows what her father likes to do in bed. I don’t care if my sister calls you and says she’ll come back if you start blabbing. Whoever it is—whenever it is—you are to keep your mouth CLOSED. Is that understood?”

Amelie: Amelie feels like crying. She feels like grabbing her stool and fighting her way out of the kitchen. That crack about her mother is a real fucking low blow. It doesn’t drag up any further violent thoughts when her aunt lets go of her chin, just hurt and scared ones. Her aunt has more than shown her kindness during the short time she’s been here. But Amelie isn’t blind to the danger her aunt has put them both in, either.

“If I wasn’t resolved to keep my mouth shut, and you safe, I wouldn’t have come to you. I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

GM: “Keep me ‘safe?’ Oh, do not give me that ‘responsible adult’ bullshit!” Christina seethes. “You know what adults do? They respect each other’s requests for privacy, instead of listening through doors like fucking children! They put other people’s wishes over their own curiosity! And they consider, that just sometimes, maybe there are things they’re better off not knowing!”

“You like listening to gossip, Amelie? You like finding out strangers’ dirty laundry? Well then, let’s give you some more, and see how you like it when the owners aren’t strangers!”

Her aunt starts ticking off fingers. “Let’s see, of your teachers, Mr. Thurston helped his bosses defraud poor families and get them thrown out of their homes during the ‘07-’08 financial meltdown, because he is a company man to the end.”

“Ms. Perry is a rape survivor, I have good instincts for picking up on that.”

“Mr. French is a high-functioning alcoholic except for several weekend DUIs, I do wonder how long it will take until he runs over people instead of cats and dogs.”

“Ms. Ward, she was the teacher who first brought her ‘concerns’ over you to the upper school principal and then the headmistress. You think they decided they wanted you expelled on a lark this many weeks in?”

“Droopy-eyed old Mrs. Laurent, have you ever considered there might be a reason she looks so sleepy during class all the time?”

“And sweet Mrs. Flores, where to start with her life, besides that she’s tried to end it at least once. I’m not sure whether her attempted suicide was because her husband liked to beat her until her eyes were too swollen to see through, or because he shattered her leg after she tried to leave him. She’d have no leg at all if he hadn’t been drunk off his ass when he tried to saw it off with that hacksaw, although it certainly put an early end to her ballerina career. He’s the senate majority leader in Baton Rouge now, by the way, and contemplating a run for federal office in the next election. There’s a rumor he also raped one of his daughters, too.”

“There.” Christina sweeps a hand dramatically. “A giant stinking hamper of filth and shit and soiled things that everyone wanted to keep in the back of the laundry room, dark and out of sight. You didn’t even have to strain your ears too hard this time. Are you still curious, Amelie? Should I start with your new friends next? Hannah’s family isn’t nearly as good at keeping secrets as they think they are.”

Amelie: Amelie just sits there as she mutely listens to the horrors her aunt unleashes. It’s not that most of it bothers her: she knows her teachers have lives of their own, despite how awful some of their secrets are. It’s the fact her aunt is dumping those secrets on her as a punishment. The woman’s rage is overwhelming, as the last family she has in this world…

It’s too much. The tears that had started to form finally fall, and are joined by others. The young woman breaks into sobs, blubbering apologies and admissions of guilt.

GM: “You’re going to be late for school,” her aunt finally sighs, rubbing a hand against her forehead. “We’ll finish this later.”

Amelie: Amelie would say she’s never exited a room as quickly as she does now, but she’d be lying. The graceful young woman rabbits from the house with her bag before her aunt can say another word. She rubs the resentment and tears off her face with the inside of her blazer, pulls herself back together, and simply looks run-down when she gets to school.

GM: Amelie is fortunate that her house is already one of the last stops on the bus route to McGehee, which allows her to arrive only somewhat late by walking. But that’s as far as her luck seems to hold out. It’s still swelteringly hot and muggy outside. She’s still perspiring when she arrives at school. Her sweat leaves visible wet stains against the white dress shirt’s armpits. Her eyes may still be red from crying.

No other girls say anything to her face. But after all she’s heard last night, how she “isn’t one of” the sorts of girls who attend McGehee, it’s impossible not to wonder how many of the faint whispers, sly glances, and subdued laughs among the students she passes are directed at her. The madame’s ugly twenty-year-old bulldyke niece.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes unfocus as she makes her way through the halls. She slides her blazer on to hide her sweat stains and lets the air conditioning send a small shiver down her spine. Every set of eyes feels like daggers waiting to drive into her back, but they stab dead flesh. Of course she’s never been one of them. She’s no citizen of Sodom like these Southern dandies.

Amelie never considered how all of these people might have their own secrets. But the rotten film over this place isn’t anything worse than she saw her father fall into. She saw it as the ward of a province buckling under refugees, a new wave of deadly drugs, a suicidal Native population, and absent parents. She thought New Orleans would have been different, somehow.

But it’s not. It’s another place where she’ll cut someone’s face open and bash them over the head with a chair leg. It’s another place where she’s smarter than many people and definitely stronger than them.

But she’s left almost alone.

GM: Amelie isn’t late enough to earn a tardy slip from Mr. Thurmon, but the old man still gives her a, “Tut tut. Punctuality, dear,” in his lazy Southern drawl while the rest of the class smiles oh-so politely on. “Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, time is the one thing everyone on God’s earth receives for free—and should value just as much. It’s the ultimate commodity, so valuable that it can’t be bought or sold for all the money in the world. There’s a reason your family has a clock for their bank’s symbol, Miss Whitney,” he drones on before smiling at Sarah, who smiles prettily back.

Sarah, whose father gets off to watching girls like Kristina Winters to hang themselves, and pays them to do it for his videos. And who watches films where girls actually die. Next to that sin, Mr. Thurston remaining a ‘company man’ during the Great Recession seems almost banal.

Amelie: Amelie gives the true capitalist that is Mr. Thurston a humble apology as she steps into his class, slides into her seat, and settles in. She takes out her laptop and starting on her notes.

The attention she pays Sarah brings another small realization. ‘Miss Whitney’ is no longer the slightly intimidating blue blood she was yesterday. She’s a 17-year-old girl dancing a thin line in a house with a man who constantly contemplates murder and stages it with prostitutes to get his rocks off on the regular. Filthy.

Amelie pushes it out of her mind and returns to her notes. She’s still determined to keep her grades at the top of the class. Even in this one.

GM: Mr. French seems as impersonal and business-focused as ever during second period. Amelie has to wonder if his attitude is truly as dedicated to his students’ academic success as it seems like, or if he just doesn’t care enough to relate to them like Mr. Thurston does. She wonders how many pets he’s killed during his DUIs, and whether he cried or if it just didn’t bother him. The pets’ owners might have cried. She wonders if killing a person would make him cry.

Amelie: Amelie is no stranger to alcoholism. Her father’s manifested differently than Mr. French’s, but she remembers having to hide keys, sabotage the car, take screaming fits on the chin, and (on the worst days) endure bottles flying at her. Mr. French seems a lot more subdued. She wonders if anyone is there to deal with him. She absently checks his left hand.

GM: She observes a gold wedding ring.

Amelie: It’s hard not to feel bitter about the thought of Mr. French having a family. But there is one thing Amelie is certain of. If he’s as far gone as her father, he wouldn’t cry until the courts kept him from a bottle for too long.

She stops to talk with him after class. She shows the pictures of her sword on her phone, and offers to bring the sword in as a historic example. Just to see how he’ll react. If he’ll show any outward emotion.

GM: Mr. French looks the photo over and smiles pleasantly before remarking, “That’s not bad. Obviously a contemporary piece. It could use some decoration. A sword’s only good for being pretty nowadays, after all.”

Amelie: Mr. French draws a small chuckle out of Amelie. She assures him that the Germans of the Landsknecht only started decorating their weapons after they become lazy and worthless, and stopped after they were humiliated. She assures him the sword is wonderful in person, just a bit different than the gold and gilded pieces one sees in museums. But she doesn’t push him otherwise on the chance to show off.

GM: Mr. French shrugs at Amelie’s insistence the sword looks nice. “Did you want my opinion or to change my mind?”

Amelie: Amelie makes no such attempts and leaves Mr. French to his own.

GM: “Weapons aren’t allowed on campus, anyways,” he finishes. “Feel free to include some pictures during your project’s presentation.”

Third period is spent with the so-often joke-cracking and smirking Ms. Perry. Amelie has to wonder how upbeat the teacher’s attitude was during her rape. She wonders how violently Ms. Perry’s violator took her, and what she sounds like when she screams and cries. Did she scream and cry, or just take it silently? Maybe she begged. Amelie wonders what Ms. Perry sounds like when she begs.

Her smile seems a bit dimmer today. When a student asks what happened to her missing engagement ring, it looks even less convincing as she answers, “We broke it off. Plenty more fish in the sea, though.”

Amelie: Third period is much harder than the day’s previous ones. The news that Ms. Perry broke off her engagement only sharpens the questions in Amelie’s mind. The struggles that her teacher has to be going through are immense. She knows how hard sexual insecurity can make relationships.

She takes a moment after class to give the teacher a few consoling words and a bitter smile. She offers her phone number if Ms. Perry ever wants to get her mind off things. It’s the best she can do for the woman, bitter as it feels to try.

GM: Ms. Perry gives another not fully convincing smile and thanks Amelie for her concern, but replies that her students should stay focused on themselves. “Don’t you girls worry about me, I’m outta high school. You just keep your eyes on that GPA.”

Amelie: Amelie only remarks, “People should focus on other people,” leaves a post-it on the desk with her phone number, and gives another small supportive smile on her way out. If there are any teachers who deserve a little support, one of them has to be Ms. Perry.

GM: Ms. Perry thanks Amelie again before she leaves, but replies that it’s not appropriate for her to burden students with too many details of her personal life. Amelie is free to call her (her phone number is posted on the faculty website) if she’s looking for a sympathetic ear or has any problems of her own that she wants to talk about, though. The school’s adults are here for her.

Lunch initially seems like a high point to look forward to. When Amelie ventures outside to the spot under the banana tree where she’s eaten with Hannah, Megan, and Rachel, she finds it empty—save for a still-green, unripened banana smooshed over one of the tree’s roots. A dark cloud of buzzing flies is already greedily devouring the pulped remains.

Amelie searches the cafeteria and exterior grounds for her friends, but only finds circle after circle of other peoples’ enjoying their lunches together. Their silently laughing eyes seem to follow the sweaty and disheveled college-age dyke who’s wandering around alone with her lunch tray.

The cheese-, bacon-, and sour cream-topped baked potato with its side of buttery creamed spinach doesn’t seem to taste nearly as good as the cafeteria’s usual fare today.

Amelie: Lunch is the worst part of the day far. Amelie is sure her friends just have… other activities when she finds their spot empty. That’s it. The other girls’ daggers seem sharper when she’s alone, but she takes it stride as best she can. She eventually sits down alone to eat her potato and spinach. She has a small appetite despite not having breakfast and reminds herself to eat at a moderate pace. The food might as well be gruel.

She puts away her tray once she’s done and spends a few minutes in the bathroom washing her face with cold water and fixing her hair. She uses cold damp paper towels to dab her neck and wipe her pits, then reapplies the antiperspirant from her bag. She remembers a lesson from her mother as she does—a rare thing.

Amelie. To be fierce is only to appear fierce to others. If you must be as weak as paper, be a paper tiger.

GM: Amelie finds the bathrooms very full during lunch hour. Most of the girls don’t bother to wear makeup at the boy-less school, but they still care about looking presentable. Amelie’s peers ignore her presence one and all, but it’s only after she locks herself inside a stall that an unseen voice remarks,

“You could just shave yourself bald, you know… be even less work then.”

“Sad dyke is sad!” laughs another voice.

“Least if one of those bathroom bills pass ‘she’ won’t be allowed in here anymore,” sounds a third.

“He, more like. I hear he’s a retard too. Isn’t he like twenty-five?”

There’s a round of giggles, followed by retreating footsteps. When Amelie opens the stall door, the girls on the other side seem well gone.

Amelie: Lunch offers a small return to form. All of those girls are too cowardly to insult Amelie to her face. That’s familiar enough that their laughter only gets an amused little “hah!” when the second girl can’t even think of anything to say besides ‘sad’ and ‘dyke.’ Amelie gives herself one last check-over in the mirror to make sure nothing is wrong with her appearance, fixes her shirt, and walks out of the bathroom feeling no worse than when she stepped in.

GM: Ms. Ward seems to have even less patience for Amelie than usual during fourth period. She berates her in front of the entire class for her “poor attitude today” and finishes the public telling-off with, “Unacceptable, Ms. Savard. If you aren’t willing to come to class with a smile, then you can frown by yourself in detention.”

A few of other girls smirk. Most just watch with their silently judging and laughing eyes.

Amelie recalls her aunt’s words on how the science teacher “brought her concerns” over Amelie to the upper school principal and headmistress, who now want to expel her. She wonders if Ms. Ward is aware of that and whether she approves. She contemplates the irony of her youngest teacher having the seemingly biggest chip on her shoulder. She has to wonder if Ms. Ward is bitter in general or has something out for her personally.

Amelie: Ms. Ward’s period is soul-crushing, but Amelie takes it on the chin as best she can. She gives the teacher an apologetic smile and an actual apology, but offers no excuses. This isn’t something she can fight today, so she keeps that smile on for the rest of the class, or at least as much as she can.

Chemistry is easy for her to get excited about, at least. The language of chemicals and her favorite part of chemistry, the chemicals of minerals. Ca(UO2)2(PO4)2·10-12H2Ois her favorite: French Autunite. That’s followed of course by (K,Na)Ca4Si8O20(F,OH)·8H2O, or Arizona Apophyllite. The thought of chemical findings actually does lend her tired smile an earnest twinge. She just hopes it’s enough to appease Ms. Ward.

GM: Ms. Ward corrects Amelie that she is to be addressed as either ’ma’am’ or ‘Dr. Ward,’ but seems to find no excuse to send her to attention. The other students all seem to be in a chipper mood and repeatedly make their teacher smile.

Mrs. Laurent is as quiet-voiced and droopy-eyed as ever during fifth period. After this many weeks, most of the girls have given up on trying to get their teacher to speak at a louder volume. Amelie thinks back to her aunt’s words and has to wonder what Mrs. Laurent is on. Or what happened to her. Or what she’s doing.

Such thoughts are interrupted when the philosophy class teacher has the students turn their desks inward for small group discussions. Amelie has to wonder if any of her partners are the girls who mocked her from behind the bathroom stall’s concealing walls.

Amelie: Amelie has the least information on what’s up with Mrs. Laurent. She can conjecture a lot, from opiate addiction to fibromyalgia, but it doesn’t change anything when she’s pulled inward for the group discussion. It does occur that some of her partners might be the girls who mocked her in the bathroom. But Amelie knows they would never reveal themselves, cowards that they are. She passes the class time as best she can, puts her full effort into the discussions, and tries to include herself without thinking too much about next period.

It’s not going to be as relaxing as before. Not after she knows so much about another one of her favorite teachers.

GM: In sixth period, a stool-seated Mrs. Flores greets the class with a “happy Friday, everybody!” and gives them a few minutes to change into their “casual Friday attire” in the locker rooms, which Amelie realizes she forgot about after last night. Almost all of the other girls leave to go change. Hannah is one of the few who doesn’t. When Amelie asks where she was, she replies that “something came up” during third period, which she shares with Rachel and Megan. She adds that she talked with Yvette and is looking forward to the slumber party tonight.

Amelie: Amelie stays behind. She’s glad that Hannah’s there with her, and even more glad to hear something came up during the period she shares with their other friends. She tells Hannah that someone left a banana to rot in their usual spot, anyway. She also expresses how much she’s looking forward to tonight.

It’s not a comfortable realization that she still has to go home to pack. She hopes her aunt won’t be there. She even wonders if she should bring her sword along, but quickly dismisses the idea as overkill. Three knives, a prybar, mace, and the sword would make her look like she’s planning more than just self-defense.

She also shows off her newly un-bandaged hand to Hannah before class starts. She’s happy to see that it’s almost completely healed besides the rather ugly new scar. Function remains good and there’s no real pain, just some soreness. Not that it would stop her even if it did.

GM: It’s not long before the rest of Amelie’s classmates return in their well-heeled dresses. Mrs. Flores smiles and remarks over how pretty the girls all look, but the still-seated teacher cancels class after ten minutes because her leg hurts too badly today for her to walk around. She smiles again and exhorts, “Guess it’s y’all’s lucky day, go enjoy that sun and early weekend!” as she lets the students loose.

Amelie is no stranger to cutting implements. She has to wonder what kinds of incisions she would need to make to with her sword to inflict that sort of years-long harm on someone. Her area of expertise is lies in swords rather than hacksaws, admittedly. She has to wonder what Mrs. Flores looks like when her eyes are too puffed and blackened to see through, and what she sounds like when she screams. Ms. Perry could have endured her rape silently, but Mrs. Flores had to have screamed when the hacksaw drunkenly sawed through her leg. Amelie has to wonder how much blood there was, and whether it was possible to tell if her teacher was crying past the blood and bruises. She had to have cried. Amelie has to wonder how long ago that night was (because such things always happen at night), and how long it’s been since Mrs. Flores’ children last spoke to her. She has to wonder how many times the dance teacher has cried over that too, and how scared she still is of her ex-husband.

Amelie: It raises Amelie’s alarm when class gets canceled early. Mrs. Flores has to be in serious pain from her injury. It’s not one her swords are capable of inflicting, if she’s honest. Clean smooth cuts either kill people or heal just fine with modern medicine. They cause less pain. Jagged tearing cuts, though, are terrifying. Saws and rusty cleavers, the jagged back edges of hunting knives, the serrated teeth of predators: they leave skin ripped apart and in disarray, with no clear vision of how to heal itself. That’s when amputations become necessary.

Amelie is no expert in modern hacksaws, but she’s studied wounds where the hacksaw is the cure.

Old cannonball injuries tore legs to shreds and required field surgeons to shear the flesh from the wound using blacks, hammers, and hatchets (or better yet, saws). They would cut a wedge, pull out more bone than skin, and press the wedges back together. Surgeons sometimes doubled as barbers. They used their straight razor to slice of any bits of errant flesh to prevent rot. Amelie has also read medical texts in which leprous and gangrenous limbs were grabbed by the ankle or wrist and had a sickle-shaped blade drawn around the arm until bone was the only thing that remained before being hacksawed off. Success was minimal and suffering immense. Patients died from blood loss as often as they died from shock.

But none of that knowledge makes Amelie any less shocked. She stares at her teacher’s leg and can almost hear her screaming in the back of her head. She zones out for a moment as she imagines it from a first-person perspective, the ex-husband’s face a blur. The former ballerina’s heart must have been racing with horror as she was overpowered, mutilated, and made to feel so helpless. Her heart might have stopped just to protect her from shock. The thought burns Amelie like a white-hot coal in her ribcage as Jill’s words ring in her ear. How anyone can kill when pushed far enough.

She allows herself a vision of that man standing over Mrs. Flores. She can almost feel his skin part and his bones shatter as she cuts into him. She imagines clamping her hands around his neck and seeing the terror in his eyes before she twists the blade and parts his shoulder from his neck. Thoughts of hurting people like ‘that’ don’t twist her stomach like she knows they should. They give her pleasure.

She keeps picturing the slice across her father’s face after he cornered her. She felt so helpless before she grabbed the unfinished blade off the wall. She wonders if she could stomach it a second time: seeing what happens to someone’s face after the cut. That senator deserves what comes after the cut.

Amelie snaps back to the reality after a moment, steadies herself, and suppresses a shiver. She fills in Hannah on the sleepover’s scheduled time and place. She thanks her for the heads up on what happened during third period, then approaches Mrs. Flores.

“Would you like me to get you an ice pack, ma’am? Or get something from your car for you?”

GM: Hannah confirms she’ll see Amelie at the LaLaurie House before she heads off with the rest of the class.

Mrs. Flores smiles, oblivious to the violent yet so-tempting thoughts warring in Amelie’s head. “Oh, that’s so kind of you, Miss Savard. I’d be obliged if you could bring over my purse and save me the trip,” she says, motioning towards one of the room’s cubbies.

Amelie: Amelie brings over the purse quickly but carefully. “Well, Mr. Jones always did say to look for the helpers, cheesy as that sounds.”

GM: Mrs. Flores accepts the flower-printed roomy pink purse with a “thank you” and sets it down by her stool. She gives a laugh at Amelie’s words. “Yes, Mr. Jones was just the sweetest man, wasn’t he? There might’ve been some controversy around him, but I made sure my kids all watched his show when they were growing up.”

Amelie: “He was. It makes me happy that they still air his show years later. I still listen to it when I study sometimes. Are you sure I can’t do anything else for you?”

GM: Mrs. Flores seems to wince as she rubs her leg, but manages another smile. “That’s so thoughtful of you to offer, Amelie, it really is. But you’ve done just about all you can. Some days I can feel when it’s going to be a bad one and know what to pack.” She pats the purse in emphasis.

Amelie: Amelie rubs her shoulder and feels the start of her burns. “I can understand that on a smaller scale.”

GM: “Still,” the dance teacher says thoughtfully, “if you’re really fixin’ to do something for me, maybe next week you could join the other girls for casual Friday? It really does add a lot to the class, I think, for everyone to dress up like they were at a real dance.”

Amelie: “I will. Promise. I was going to this week, but I had a busy morning. I think everyone will be surprised I can wear heels,” she jokes, offering the teacher a small smile.

GM: “Maybe they will, but I don’t think I’ll be,” Mrs. Flores smiles back. “Dancing in heels just takes time and practice, and I’ve seen how much of yourself you put into this class.” She then adds in a lower voice with a wink, “Even if I do have to rag on you sometimes to play the lady.”

“Anyways, Amelie, I won’t keep you, I’m sure you have places you’d like to be on a day this lovely.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods, feeling assured by the talented teacher. She gives Mrs. Flores a light touch on the shoulder before she excuses herself. Her next stop is to see whether the two people she needs to talk with are available: the career councilor and the school shrink.

GM: Amelie finds that Mrs. Achord is unavailable today without a prior appointment, but Ms. Nugyen is still free. The guidance counselor welcomes Amelie in to her office and appears thrilled by the news that she wants to apply to Tulane.

Ms. Nguyen wastes little time in explaining that the application deadline is January 15th and the early action deadline is November 15th. Ms. Nguyen repeats that while a good GPA will help Amelie get in, Tulane has a very selective acceptance rate at 26 percent. Good grades are not enough—“A lot of girls here have 4.0s”—so Amelie will need noteworthy extracurricular activities as well. Letters of recommendation from older adults will help too, if she can get any. She should also begin preparing for the SAT exam. Registration is in September and the exam itself is in October.

The guidance counselor finally adds that Amelie should apply to more schools than just Tulane. It’s possible she won’t get in, “so it can be a good thing to have a backup plan, if you don’t want to wait a whole year before applying again.” Application deadlines vary by college. Finally, there is the matter of scholarships, student loans, and whatever other financial aid Amelie wants to obtain in paying for school—more applications with more deadlines. Applying for college is a lot of work.

“Engineering club is good,” Ms. Nguyen adds as Amelie explains her plans, “but you should shoot for more than just one club. Having specific awards and achievements you can put down on your application will also help it stand out. ‘Second-year state semi-finalist and third-year state finalist’ looks a better than, for instance, ‘three-year member of the chess club’.”

Amelie: Amelie outlines a few of her plans. First of all, she wants to join the historical HEMA organization in New Orleans, System d’Armes. Its members list includes quite a few academics, as well as people who regularly lecture at Tulane. Secondly, she wants to enter local robotics and ‘brain bowl’ competitions to show her interest in STEM fields and score high in, if not bring home awards. She inquires whether McGehee gives any internal awards and names a few other schools she’s interested in, MIT still included, as secondary options. She’d like to stay in New Orleans if possible, though.

“I’ll be honest, ma’am, I just wanted to work like I’ve been doing all my life. I realize now that I have to have a pedigree for people to take me seriously. I’ll found a fencing club at this school to get my name in the annals, if I must. There are a lot of girls in this school with 4.0 GPAs, but none as hungry as me for the next step.”

GM: Ms. Nugyen tells Amelie frankly that she is very unlikely to be accepted into MIT. She can certainly apply, but the school’s acceptance rate is less than 10%. More of its students are postgrads than undergrads. MIT looks for “super students” who are, essentially, the best of the best in everything. Amelie, unfortunately, has a fairly so-so transcript from her first three years in high school. Her troubled home life and subsequent time in foster care was not good for the then-teenager’s grades, even bright as she was. Dropping out of school for several years also does not look good on her transcript.

Amelie might be able to get into Tulane, if she does everything perfectly right over the next few months—which includes getting reference letters from connected adults who can leverage their ties to “people in the right places” at the local university. Tulane isn’t sure odds, so Ms. Nguyen also cites Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, and several other local colleges that Amelie can apply to if she wants to stay in the city.

HEMA sounds like a good extracirricular for you participate in, especially if there are people there with connections to Tulane,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “As I’ve said, you’ll be doing three years of work in just one if you want your application to be competitive. So I’d recommend fitting in additional clubs, volunteer work, local competitions… really, anything that can take up extra lines on the paper.”

Amelie: Amelie is aware that MIT needs exceptional students to fill its quotas for fame. But she’s also sure that she wants to at least apply. She might be lucky, or someone looking at her application might think her odd skillset has potential. A girl can dream, or at least look ‘fondly’ at a rejection letter to fuel her.

She apologizes for her rudeness when it comes to the topic of competitions, but Louisiana isn’t a big state. Some of the things she does best might have to happen out of state. The greatest duelist in the history of the South might have made his living in New Orleans, but the modern city doesn’t even have a state fencing club outside of HEMA, its national competitions, and the Ordo Procintus’ brutal full contact tournaments.

She also asks if there are any academic awards, charities, or competitions with a link to the Malveaux family that she can pursue. She found their family matriarch’s talk on the first day of school rather moving. She also agrees that applying to those secondary choice colleges is a good idea to keep her in New Orleans, though she hopes Tulane will be her first stop.

GM: “The Louisiana fencing circuit isn’t something I’m too familiar with, so I’d find someone who knows more than me if you want to participate in that,” Ms. Nguyen says in response to Amelie’s HEMA tangent. “Wish I could be more help there, sorry.”

She looks thoughtful when Amelie asks about the Malveauxes. “I think one of the Malveauxes placed highly in a few fencing tournaments, actually. Another girl I had in my office mentioned it once. You might kill two birds with one stone by asking about them.”

Amelie: “How would I go about asking about one of the city’s old families? I don’t expect they just have public records hanging around.”

GM: “Well, none of the Malveauxes go to McGehee, so that is a little tricky. You might try asking some of your teachers.” The guidance counselor thinks a moment, then briefly types into her computer. “Let’s see, pulling up your classes list… I bet Mr. Thurston or Mrs. Flores could be the most help there. Mr. Thurston was a pretty successful banker for the Whitneys, and Mrs. Flores married a state senator, so they both could have rubbed elbows with the Malveauxes.”

Amelie: “Mr. Thurston just might, but I don’t think it’d be appropriate to ask Mrs. Flores,” Amelie muses. “Vera Malveaux did come to speak at the school, so maybe she’d read a letter from me when I’m a student at her alma mater. But I’ll definitely ask Mr. Thurston. I have time before school normally ends, since my dance class got canceled.”

GM: “Sounds like a plan,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “If he’s teaching right now you can probably pull up Mrs. Malveaux’s address online.”

The guidance counselor goes on to confirm that the Malveauxes are involved in a number of charitable organizations, many of which Vera iterated during her speech before the school. Ms. Nguyen presumes, however, that Amelie is asking about scholarships and volunteer opportunities. She pulls up the application page urls for the Malveaux Cultural Trust, the James C. Malveaux Charitable Foundation, the William Dyer Institute, and several other scholarship databases that she passes on to Amelie. She also adds that the teenager should look into applying for financial aid, and that FAFSA’s recommended deadline was in June. The sooner that’s done, the better—if she can’t pay tuition, it doesn’t matter what school accepts her.

Amelie: Amelie considers it and wonders just where she can go to make the most difference on her college resume. Competitions, memberships, grants, volunteer work. The Malveaux family sounds like a good place to start. They’re old money and invested enough in New Orleans’ history and future to be associated with all of these charities. If Amelie can just MEET Vera Malveaux in person, or even send that letter, maybe she can work her way into her personal graces through the woman’s charity work. And if anyone can restore items from New Orleans’ history, it’s Amelie, after all. Her family’s fencing history might also be a good icebreaker.

GM: Ms. Nguyen also belatedly answers Amelie’s question about awards granted by McGehee. There are quite a few of these, she nods, including for Academic Distinction, NHS, Perfect and Exemplary Attendance, National Merit, Outstanding Community Involvement, and many more. These awards are typically most sought by and awarded to juniors, “So your time might be better spent on the extracurriculars that are the bread and butter of any college application.”

But it’s plain as day to the new and unpopular teenager. Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think Amelie has any chance of earning the school’s awards next to girls like Sarah and Susannah.

Amelie: The talk about awards bothers Amelie slightly. It’s plain as day that Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think she has any chance of earning them next to girls like Sarah and Susannah. Everyone here seems so fine with using family history as a measure of worth.

She’s sure that those two are smart and capable. They’re involved in student government and probably a lot of other school functions. She’s sure Ms. Nguyen would change her tune, though, if she’d been going to McGehee since ninth grade. It’s frustrating not to have more time to show how exceptional she is.

“So you suggest I find Vera Malveaux’s address to send her a personal letter?”

GM: Ms. Nguyen thinks. “You know, going to Mr. Thurston might actually be better. Anyone can just send a letter—or brush one off—but another person can probably answer your questions better. Or make an actual introduction.”

Amelie: “I’ll see if he’s teaching a class right now, then. I’ll approach him afterwards to broach the topic if he is. I doubt he wants me to keep him too long from his weekend.”

GM: Ms. Nguyen agrees, asks Amelie if there’s anything else she wants to discuss, and then lets her loose with an, “Okay, I think this should be enough to keep you pretty busy for a while.”

Amelie has half an hour or so to kill before sixth period gets out.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t have anything else she wants to go over. She thanks the guidance councilor for her time and help, then makes an appointment with the desk lady to see Mrs. Achord as soon as possible. Her walk back to her first period classroom is leisurely. She patiently waits by the door until the bell rings if she hears a class being conducted inside.

GM: Mrs. Nancy Noah sets up the appointment with Mrs. Achord for Amelie before exhorting her to “Go out and enjoy the sun, youngun!” Doing the opposite, she waits outside Mr. Thurston’s classroom and plays on her phone until the bell rings.

Uniformed girls chat as they file out. A few linger behind to talk with their teacher. They’re all prettier than Amelie is, and talk in the same drawling Southern cadence as Mr. Thurston. He gives them his time first and turns to deal with Amelie last, but regards her with a smile.

“And what can I do for you, Miss Savard?”

Amelie: Amelie figures (or at least hopes) that Mr. Thurston will pay attention to his class before seeing her. She returns the man’s smile and gives him a nod of greeting before getting down to business.

“Actually, Mr. Thurston, I wanted to ask you about the Malveaux family. Vera Malveaux spoke during our orientation this year, and I find myself looking for ways of introducing myself to her in regards to her charities and rumors about a member of her family being a fencing enthusiast.”

GM: “Slow down, dear, don’t set your cart before the horse,” Mr. Thurston chuckles. “What’s this you’d like to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about? Volunteering at one of the family’s charities?”

Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and feels a little sheepish. “Pardon, sir. I’ve just had a fire lit under me recently. Her charities are one thing, yes. But I’m also interested in her scholarships and this fencing business. I only have one year with you, I need to pad my resume for college. I’m aiming for Tulane.”

GM: “Tulane’s a good school,” Mr. Thurston nods. “There’s a fair number of girls here who apply to it. They like staying where they grew up. A lot of them get in pretty easily.” He smiles again. “Perhaps the AC’s getting to me instead of the summer heat, dear, but I’m afraid I don’t ken what you want to speak with Mrs. Malveaux about. What’s this about fencing business?”

Amelie: Amelie slows down a bit. She explains what the guidance counselor told her and how she needs to have achievements on her college application to Tulane. She briefly touches on her fencing history and emphasizes how speaking to Vera Malveaux personally about the woman’s charities, awards, and grants might coincide well with her own craftsmanship skills. Volunteers were one thing, but not even philanthropic organizations get skilled labor without paying for it. A championship title for a sport in Louisiana could also be priceless.

GM: Mr. Thurston is still puzzled by what exactly Amelie wants to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about. Does she want the woman’s assistance, somehow, in winning a championship? Does she want to apply for some of the Malveaux family’s scholarships? Does she want to take commissions from the family, since she’s mentioned being a craftswoman?

Amelie: Commissions aren’t exactly the right words. Amelie wants to offer herself for free. But she also wants to offer her services in such a way that Vera Malveaux will write her a letter of recommendation. The Malveaux matriarch is big on art museums, and Amelie has experience and skills in antique restoration. So she wants to meet with Vera, offer her skills, and put it down as volunteer work. She also hopes to get in good with the family, use that as a kick-off point to apply for their higher education scholarships, and off-handedly ask about the rumors that one of the Malveauxes was a fencer. Like the counselor said, ‘state finalist’ looks good on a college resume. Amelie believes that she and Vera can come to an advantageous agreement, which could spread her name among the city’s old money families while also helping her get into college.

GM: “See there, Ms. Savard? Slow and steady does it,” Mr. Thurston chuckles once Amelie has explained herself.

Amelie: “Sorry, sir. I think I may have just gotten nervous about wasting your time,” she apologizes.

GM: “Always better to err in assuming someone’s time is valuable, dear. You heard my lecture during first period, after all,” Mr. Thurston chuckles.

“But don’t fret. I know Mrs. Malveaux from my time at the bank.” Whitney Bank has always been ‘the’ bank in his classes. “I reckon I could pass along what you’ve had to say. What’s a phone number or email she can reach you at?”

Amelie: Amelie quickly takes out a pen and paper to jot down her a phone number and email address. She has a lucky habit of making professional-sounding addresses.

GM: Mr. Thurston tucks the note into his jacket’s breast pocket. “All right, my dear, I’ll give Mrs. Malveaux a call. You go on out and enjoy the sun, now. It’s a glorious afternoon.”

Amelie: “Yes, sir.” Amelie excuses herself after thanking the man for his generosity a few more times, then reluctantly heads out into the day. She’d wanted to avoid this. She’s been avoiding it all day.

Going home.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Caroline’s summer has nearly wound down. Her final year of law classes starts back up in several days. September 1st has that Southern Decadence festival Aimee has been trying to talk her into attending. The Malveaux scion’s Friday afternoon is hers to spend as she pleases until she hears her phone ringing. The caller ID is from her aunt Vera.

Caroline: Caroline is recently back from a shopping trip, and the dining room table is piled high with designer label bags. She sets down the half-eaten half of her Hook and Cheddar sandwich from St. James Cheese Company (something she picked up on the way home) on the bar of her kitchen.

She sighs when she looks at the caller ID. Her aunt is a strange one.

She considers letting it ring to voice mail as she chews, savoring the soft ciabatta bread, sharp cheddar cheese, and smooth avocado and mayo spread of the sandwich. She (reluctantly) swallows and answers, suspecting her ‘wide open’ weekend will become less so.

“Hi Aunt Vera, how are you?”

There’s a hint of false cheer in her voice.

GM: “Oh, there you are, Caroline. That took you a while, are you in the middle of something?” her aunt asks back. It sounds more like a criticism than a question.

Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline replies sweetly. “I was just setting some things down. What can I do for my favorite aunt today?”

GM: “Oh, very good. Well, you see, it’s about my old portfolio manager from Whitney Bank, Lawrence Thurston. I wish he hadn’t retired, my new one isn’t as good. She’s all right, by herself, but there’s just no substitute for having a years-old relationship with your client.”

Caroline: “Good help is so hard to find these days,” Caroline agrees loftily.

GM: “Not just these days. It’s always been that way. Katherine!” Her aunt’s voice grows more distant. “Katherine! It’s time for my four o’clock soon!”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Well, you do have so much more experience than I do.”

GM: “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux, I’ve already-”

“Check it again, Katherine. I’ve had a very long and tiring day, I don’t want the rest of it to be any worse!”

“Yes, Mrs. Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline patiently walks two fingers up and down the bar while she waits for her aunt to finish.

GM: Vera’s voice grows louder again. “Anyways, Caroline, where was I—oh yes. Lawrence has been teaching part-time finance classes at the McGehee School for Girls, my old high school, to ‘keep busy’ in his retirement. Really, if the man wants to keep busy, I’d be perfectly happy to hire him on retainer, but he just goes on about how he must ‘gracefully and regrettably decline’ because his ‘loyalty must be to the Whitneys.’ I do admire loyalty like that in a man, it’s just a shame when it’s… well, misplaced.”

Caroline: “You can’t make good choices for them,” Caroline offers.

GM: “Sadly not,” her aunt sighs. “Anyways, Lawrence just called me about one of his students. He said the girl was asking about you specifically, and your old fencing… career.” There’s what sounds like a frown from the other end of the line. “You aren’t going back into fencing, are you? Your mother was right that it’s a distraction, not to mention unladylike. You’re only a year off from graduation.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes, pushing back unpleasant memories. She still has several foils and even real swords upstairs. She hasn’t touched them in more than a year. She still remembers the state semi-finals. Remembers that stocky coiled spring of a girl.

“Of course not, there’s not exactly a future in it.”

GM: “Yes, exactly. Lawrence said the girl was some kind of… sword-maker, and she’d also somehow found out that our family was involved in that scene—people do talk, as you can well see.”

Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose, near her eyes, with her free hand. As if she needs a reminder. She still remembers that last fight with her hag of a mother. Remembers the exact words that kicked it all off, minutes before the semi-finals. ‘People are talking’.

Caroline shoves the thought to the side.

GM: Her aunt, however, continues on, “Lawrence also said that she’s been one of his more… challenged students.” The word is clearly a euphemism. “She’s new to the school and the city, doesn’t know anyone at all, and then there’s this whole fencing thing. But she’d been to the year’s opening assembly where I addressed the girls as one of the alumni guest speakers, and it seems I must have inspired her. She was very taken by what our family’s done, and then, again, there’s this sword business…”

Vera pauses and sounds like she’s frowning over the phone. “It’s a strange request I’m about to make, Caroline, but can you talk with her and steer her straight? Out of that whole fencing scene? McGehee doesn’t even have a fencing club, and if this girl turns out poorly enough, it’ll reflect on the school.”

Caroline: On your alma mater? Caroline asks herself sarcastically. Heaven forbid.

“I’m always available to help my favorite aunt,” she replies. “Do you have her contact information, or would you rather Lawrence set something up?” She continues after a moment, “Preferably something semi-public.” Just in case the girl is a nut job.

GM: “Yes,” her scarred aunt agrees quickly. Very quickly. “Meeting strangers by yourself is always a chancy idea. Lawrence was thoughtful enough to get her email and phone number, you can use either if you want to set something up… or keep things distant.” Vera duly supplies them.

“There was also something about her being an amateur art historian and antique restorer… so much the better if you can keep her away from fencing, Caroline.”

Caroline: “There are better uses of anyone’s time,” Caroline agrees tightly. A lie.

GM: “I’m so glad you agree,” her aunt says, relieved. “In any case, I don’t want to miss my four o’clock… thank you for taking care of this, Caroline, your mother would approve.”

Caroline: Doubtful, Caroline reflects.

“As I said, my favorite aunt.” She takes down the girl’s name and number.

GM: Another sharp call of “Katherine!” and “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux,” punctuates that brief pause.

As in all things, family must come first.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria Prelude II
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria I

Previous, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie VIII
Next, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

Previous, by Caroline: Story One, Caroline Prelude
Next, by Caroline: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

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.

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.

There are worse things to feel than naked in a stiflingly hot and humid New Orleans summer.

Victoria: The simple nature of Mary’s explanation vexes her. Why is she answering her questions so straightforwardly?


A pause.


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 ones that play Christian and classical music. There are others that play jazz and classic rock, if Sylvie would prefer those.

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—religious music—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.”

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.


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?”


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.


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.

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.

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?


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.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie VIII
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Previous, by Character: Story One, Victoria Prelude I
Next, by Character: Story One, Victoria I

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.

“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.

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

Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie VII
Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

Story One, Victoria Prelude I

Saturday night, 24 October 1998, PM

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.

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:


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.


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, like a leaf in the wind. Sylvie’s 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 they don’t beat her up after school either.

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. 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 chocolates and small toys in their stockings. Her foster parents take pictures they ask Sylvie to stay out of. They take lots of pictures of themselves and their son, 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 had her 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. She still isn’t included in the photos.

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.


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. 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 get 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 larvae in the shit caking up in the toilets.

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.

Staff tell her 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 fistfighting, 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.



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 leaves the group home, other than to go to school. 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, 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, 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 or graduates high school. Whichever comes first.

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.





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…



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Next, by Character: Story One, Victoria Prelude II

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.

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.

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.”: “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, Alice Epilogue

GM: Wright takes up Alice’s offer and promises her “your monthly fix” before disappearing. Alice can’t say where he’s going or what he might be doing. She supposes she has other priorities. For a vampire he didn’t seem that bad.

Alice does her best to connect the dots. If the ghost is what’s making people sick, she needs to put a stop to that. She re-checks the bathroom and finds the salt barrier by the door broken. She is not sure how that happened. Ghosts can’t do that, right? She looks around and finds no sign of the restless spirit.

She makes her way around the party, which is winding down, and asks sick people what they’ve seen. She finds Angela coordinating “relief efforts” at the center of it all. She’s called a resident doctor she knows, to come help out. She’s sent Summer back to their parents’ house. But there’s still so much to do. Girls are scared there’s something contagious going around. Is the flu contagious? Sick people need rides home. So do drunk people. One girl threw up on an upstairs floor. People are pretty sure another sick girl got her drink spiked. She woke up in a dorm room with her pants missing, and she doesn’t remember how she got there, and she’s crying.

“There are going to be rapes,” Angela says, her face tired beyond her early 20-something years. “Guys will take advantage of the sick girls. There are so many rapes on this campus.” The university president, Edward McGregor, is “completely deaf” to all student complaints. He even had the campus police crack down on a sexual assault awareness protest.

Alice does the only thing she’s ever done. The only thing she can do.

She pitches in.

She helps people comfort the crying girl. She calls Tulane PD and tells the girl not to shower yet, so police can collect evidence for the rape kit. She helps organize a carpool to get the other drunk and sick partygoers home. She waits until Angela’s doctor gets there, until the campus police get there. She helps out where she can once they do. The ghosts are still out there, but there’s so much to do. Alice reluctantly decides to help live girls before dead ones. At the end of the night, once all the partygoers are home, once the dorm residents are in bed, once she’s done everything she can think to do and Angela and the doctor and the police say they can’t think of anything else for her to do either, Alice catches a bus home. She barely has the energy to stagger into bed.

She did what she could.

Saturday arrives. Alice wakes up, still tired. She’s so tempted to hit the snooze on her alarm. But there are things to do. She gets up, weary but ready to take on the world. She goes back to Josephine Louise House and checks in on the girls there. It wasn’t a fun way to end the evening, but they say she did what she could. She conducts another séance. The ghosts do not come. She can only cajole and entreat, not compel: perhaps they are choosing to ignore her summons. Perhaps they are gone. Alice combs over the bathroom and the rest of the dorm for clues, but doesn’t find much. She feels a headache coming on. She supposes she did all she could. The girls at the dorm thank her for her help.

Saturday becomes Sunday. She wakes up and her head still hurts. Her skin is warm. It’s hard to get out of bed, but she has schoolwork due. Plus those ghosts to do something about, somehow. Maybe she should follow up on Summer; what was up with that girl? She should talk with Penny, make sure things aren’t awkward there. Look into Sandra, too. And Rich: maybe he’s no good. She should find out who that creep watching her through her webcam was. They’re definitely up to no good. She can’t forget to check up on her mom, too, see if she’s still okay. Alice is the only one who can protect her. Michelle doesn’t know what’s out there. Plus go to work, and do her art…

How do they do it? All the other people, who know what’s out there? Life is crazy enough. How do they balance its demands with even more on top? With something no one is prepared to face, or taught will ever be part of life?

Alice soldiers on. She goes to work and feels crappy. She’s hungry for the red stuff. She gets the shakes. The sweats. Damn it, how long has it been since her last fix? Withdrawal is a bitch. “Alice, are you all right?” Michelle asks. Alice tries to say she’s fine, but there is no fooling a mother’s eyes.

It’s well there isn’t when Alice throws up. Her head spins as the bile exits her stomach. Is this just withdrawal? Did she get sick, too? Maybe food poisoning? Or just… stress? She heaves again, but watery orange is all that comes out. Her stomach cramps.

She feels arms around her before she hits the floor. “I’ve got you, Alice,” says her mother. There’s the sound of a car door closing and an engine starting. Alice zones out through the drive. For a while, she thinks her mother is taking her back to her apartment, but she’s greeted by Pierre’s mew when her mom helps her out of the car. She tries to get the door, but her mom does it for her.

“You shouldn’t do everything yourself, you know,” Michelle chides.

Part of her wants to protest. She is the only one who can do what needs to be done. Her mom helps her into the house. She feels a bed underneath her as her mom pulls off her shoes.

“I’ll take us to the ER if you don’t get any better by tomorrow. Those places just get you even sicker, a lot of the time.”

She feels a glass pressed into her hands. She takes a swig of the water. Gargles the taste of puke out of her mouth. Spits into the plastic bowl her mother holds out.

“I saw the mural you painted at the store. With the rabbit in the corner.”

She feels a pillow against her head. It’s so soft. Her eyelids are heavy.

“I always meant to ask. I can guess what the rabbit means, but what does that candle in the corner represent?”

Michelle’s face is half-veiled in shadow. Outside, the sun has nearly set. The sky will only get darker. Soon, the monsters will come out to play.

Part of Alice wants to rise and stride boldly out into the night. But her limbs are so heavy and her head is so light.

She knows what the candle is. It’s more important than the rabbit ever was. She starts to answer, but it hurts to talk. The bed is so warm and soft. She feels her mother’s hand against her brow.

“Just rest a while, Alice.”

There’s the faint click of a lightswitch. Darkness descends over the room. Night has fallen over New Orleans. Alice feels her mother’s hand squeeze against hers. She hears the sound of the woman’s steady breathing.

Just rest a while.

For now, Alice’s candle is unlit. It may be some time before its wick burns again. Perhaps it never will.

But someone else is there for her in the dark.

Perhaps, for now, that is candle enough.

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