Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story One, Amelie VI

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”
Césarine “Tantsy” Rouselle

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: In contrast to Bourbon Street’s gaudy, neon-lit sleaziness, the adjacent Royal Street is frequented by locals as well as tourists. True to its name, the historic street projects a more refined and dignified image than its northern neighbor. Visitors come here for galleries, restaurants, museums, and shopping at arts and antique stores that range from kitschy to high-end. Nearly every building seems to have a second floor wrought iron balcony railing dripping in ivy, greenery, and flowers. Street artists, buskers, and mimes still entertain picture-snapping passersby, but the homeless people and gutter punks from other parts of the Quarter are absent. Jazz drifts from fewer bars and clubs. The ones still present seem higher-class, and feel unlikely to tolerate drunks looking for a loud and riotous time that ends with someone heaving their stomach’s contents over the banquette.

Amelie’s path takes her to a three-story house built in the second-generation Creole style that is easily recognizable by its distinctive L-shape, flush position to the sidewalk, French doors, broad roofline supported by light wooden colonnettes, and generous, traditional wrought iron gallery overflowing with potted red and pink geraniums. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.) A wooden sign hangs from the red-bricked building’s front entrance. Faded and crammed-in letters read:

Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry

Amelie has to squint to make out the last two words below the shop’s name. They are even smaller and their paint is even more faded.

Since 1721

A more legible sign on the double French doors reads simply:


Amelie: 1721. If the owners aren’t lying about their heritage, this building has been standing since the Treaty of Nystad. Not even the nearby cathedral is that old, and just thinking about it gives Amelie momentary vertigo. She smooths a hand over the building’s brick and wonders if it’s been replaced since it was built.

She finally collects herself and steps inside, business card in hand.

GM: A store’s telltale chiming bell sounds as Amelie pushes the door open. The smell of old books, incense, and stranger things has barely filled her nostrils before three mewing cats—one gray tabby, one orange tabby, and one calico—rub up against her legs. Further meows sound from further inside the store. It’s a dark, claustrophobic space cramped with overflowing bookshelves, ancient paint-cracked radiators, and occult knick-knacks ranging from pin-stabbed voodoo dolls to coiled, insignia-painted snake skeletons that stare at Amelie with empty eye sockets. Pentagrams, dream-catchers, and apotropaic talismans dangle from ceilings and partly obscure the doorways’ bead curtains.

Cats are everywhere. They roam over the stage prop furniture, track soiled cat litter over the floor, and crouch from perches atop bookshelves to silently watch the store’s patrons. Two felines even lie sleeping on the countertop that shares the cash register. They casually claim the whole space without regard for the dark-haired person who is also trying to use it. Amelie isn’t sure if they’re a man or a woman. They’re South Asian, look somewhere in their twenties, and are dressed in a yellow… Amelie isn’t sure what it’s called either. Some kind of Indian-looking robe or dress. They’re also bedecked in a multichromatic array of crystal- and wood-beaded bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. A red bindi stares unblinkingly from their forehead while they chat with the store’s sole customer besides Amelie: a dreadlocked, unwashed-looking woman with unshaven legs who’s dressed in a half-torn, raggedy top, patch-quilted skirt, plain sandals, and animal tooth necklace. There’s a half-stoned look to her face as she fumbles through a pentagram-emblazoned bag and produces a fistful of one-dollar bills and assorted change that the South Asian person patiently counts by hand.

Amelie: Amelie finds herself assaulted by cats and doesn’t mind in the least. She leans down to give the three felines rubbing against her legs some love and affection before she carefully steps over them towards the desk. The animal lover in her keeps on the lookout for bombays, or black cats: her favorite breed of furred micro-predators. Still, she pulls herself together enough to clearly address the person behind the desk.

“Excuse me? Is Tante in? I was invited here to see them.”

GM: Amelie can spot at least one bombay among the mass of felines, along with a dozen other breeds ranging from pale-coated Siamese to gray-furred British shorthairs. The shop’s cats vastly outnumber its human residents, whose numbers are reduced by one-third after the unkempt-looking woman takes her leave with a mumbled thanks and plain brown bag of merchandise. The smells of pot and a deodorant-free lifestyle linger in Amelie’s nose.

“Namaste,” the other person responds to Amelie, clasping their hands together in a prayer-like gesture of greeting. “I am afraid dat Tante has been dead for over two hundred years. De shop today is managed by Césarine. Are you here to see her?”

Amelie: The cat Amelie spots becomes an instant favorite, but she keeps her attention forward as the woman in front of her departs and leaves her alone with the strangely-dressed person at the desk. The East Indian greeting throws her off at first, as does the rather morbid ‘news.’

“I guess I am. I assumed it was either a title or the store was renamed,” she offers, leaning against the desk. “Can I see them, then?”

GM: “Tante Lescaut vas de founder ov de shop. She built it from noting and left so much ov herself behind. To rename it vould have been untinkably vain,” the South Asian individual explains, smiling faintly. “De shop has alvays been Tante’s and vill alvays be Tante’s.”

Amelie: Amelie nods at the statement. It makes sense the store keeps a name that old to link back to its supposed history. She also has to wonder if the original Tante also kept so many cats around, though she’s not complaining.

GM: “But yes, Césarine, she is in. Césarine!” the Indian person calls loudly, turning towards a doorway with a bead curtain. “Césarine, we have a visitor!”

“Eh? Dat a cussomer?” comes an old-sounding woman’s gumbo-thick Creole reply.

“A visitor, Césarine! Maybe a customer,” Amelie’s initial greeter calls back.

“All righ’, all righ’, one momen’…”

Amelie: The Creole accent a small tip off as to what Amelie is dealing with. She stands up straight and stands there with the card in her hand as she waits for the woman to come out.

GM: Several feline mews and the faint rustle of beads heralds the elderly proprietor’s arrival through the curtain. Her skin is lumpy all over and so black it has a purple sheen, while her hair so grayed and frizzy that it looks like half-worn S.O.S. pads. Her sunken cheekbones are struck with rouge and her upper eyelids are painted with fluorescent shades of pale lilac. She wears a blue moo-moo stitched with yellow stars, moons, and more esoteric planetary symbols, along with bifurcated librarian glasses that look plucked straight out of the 1960s. Three cats purr and circle around her spider-veined, swollen legs and sandal-beaded feet.

The old woman squints at Amelie past her glasses. “Eh? You a vis’tor, boy? Dat a cussomer or what? An’ I keep tellin ya, Bala, is’ Tantsy.” The latter remark is addressed towards the Indian person.

“Ov course, Tantsy. I suppose dat I just have a bad memory for names,” they reply with a faintly amused smile.

“Ya go’ da righ’,” Césarine or Tantsy replies to Bala before turning back to Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie stiffens just a bit when she hears the woman on the other side of the beads starting to stir. ‘Tantsy’ sounds a little ornery about things, but Amelie keeps her cool as the woman slides out from the back followed by even more cats. Maybe she’s the source of all the feline intruders. But at least Amelie learns what the woman prefers to be called.

GM: There’s a brief spark and flame from a cigarette lighter before she lifts what looks like a hand-rolled joint to her withered lips and takes a drag.

“Well g’wan, boy, cat got ya tongue?” The old woman gives a smoky, pot-smelling laugh as she bends down to scratch a black- and white-spotted feline behind its ears.

Amelie: Amelie produces the card for the woman. “Afternoon, Miss Tantsy. I was talking with a priest at the cathedral about something private, and someone put this on my back,” she explains.

“Ça a mis un peu de froid dans ma colonne vertébrale.”

(“It put a chill up my spine.”)

Her eyes flick up to see the woman’s reaction to her relaxed French. She hopes non-metro French dialects can speak more easily.

She leaves Tantsy think whatever she wants about her gender. The old woman seems to surround herself with androgynous people anyway.

GM: Tantsy squints at Amelie through her ’60s glasses. “English, boy.”

She takes the card and holds it up to the light in inspection, squinting the raisin-like flesh around her eyes still further.

“Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, dere some ec’oplasm on dis, I tink, ligh’ isn’ too goo’… prolly a ghos’ put it on ya, maybe Pere Antoine.”

Amelie: “I’d doubt Pere Antoine. Dead in 1829, I doubt he drinks coffee or knows what life insurance and slumber parties are. I’m more interested in what you might know about the LaLaurie House, and what whoever put this on me thinks is life-threatening.”

GM: Tantsy takes another drag of her joint, withdraws it, and waves around the lipstick-smeared article.

“Naw, naw, I joshin’ ya dat it be da father. But we see lotta ghoss’ roun’ ere who we try an’ help, maybe onea em doin’ us a good turn, sen’in’ us some bi’ness.”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at that statement. Either it’s a scam or Tantsy really believes what she’s talking about.

The young woman keeps an open mind as much as she can. After all, Quebec City’s Château Frontenac isn’t just one of the most photographed hotels in the world, but supposedly one of the most haunted as well.

GM: Tantsy motions to Amelie and ambles her way over to a rickety-looking table whose surface is covered with broken candelabras and half-melted wax candles, packs of tarot cards, dried scattered tea leaves, assorted rings and necklaces, and sticks of incense. Several cats are nestled among the table’s junk and adjacent chairs. Tantsy sits down on one without glancing at its feline occupant, which gives a startled meow and awkwardly bolts from its spot.

“G’wan, boy, siddown, siddown,” Tantsy gestures. “Wha ya say ya name was?”

Amelie: Amelie takes a seat at the table as well, but is a bit more careful. She picks up whatever cat is on the seat and places it onto her lap.

“Amelie. Amelie Savard, miss.”

GM: The orange-eared calico squirms as Amelie disturbs its rest, but settles down when she sets it back down.

“Well, I be Tantsy Rouselle, an’ ya gon’ call me missus or ma’am when ya talkin’ ta me, Mistuh Sartre, I’s old ’nuff ta ave earned it,” Tantsy remarks between another drag of her lipstick-smeared joint.

Bala approaches Amelie with a tray bearing two cups of herbal-smelling dark liquid. “Vould you care for tea?”

Amelie: “Apologies, Mrs. Rouselle. I didn’t mean to offend,” she corrects, petting the cat on her lap as she nods politely to Bala. “Yes, thank you.”

She turns back to the old woman and fixes her posture slightly. “Mrs. Rouselle, you said you help ghosts? May I ask you how?”

GM: The tea smells like mint. It tastes like stale sugar and a horse’s kick to Amelie’s mouth. It’s incredibly strong.

“Oh, well, dey always go’ dings dey wanna say ta deir loved ones. I lissens ta em, an’ I translates, an’ dey move on, but sometime dey stay, I guess dey jus’ like bein dead,” Tantsy remarks over a slow sip of her own tea. If it tastes anything like Amelie’s does, the old woman doesn’t look at all perturbed.

She lays her elbow on the table and extends her hand towards Amelie, palm up. “Gimme ya han’ now, Amanda, if ya please. Ya lef’ one,” she adds, “future slumba party, n all, we gon’ read ya lef’, dat da han’ dat show pohenshul, things y’ain done yet.”

Amelie: Amelie makes a small face when the tea hits her lips. It tastes like it’s gone bad. But it’s impolite to refuse and she sips it again as she listens to Tantsy. She wants to remark that ‘Amanda’ isn’t her name either, but she lets it go. She offers her left hand to the old woman while wondering how much of this she actually believes, and how much is simply showmanship to sell her store.

“Yes, Mrs. Rouselle.”

GM: The sugar is definitely stale, but the tea itself doesn’t taste bad. Just strong. It punches Amelie bloody in the mouth and kisses her passionately to make up. She can already hear her heart loudly thumping in her ears with the second drink.

“Oh no, wai’, wai’, we gon’ do it da Chinese way,” the woman says after a moment. “Gimme ya righ’, das’ da han’ ya be afta ya grows up.”

Amelie: Amelie hates the tea by now. She doesn’t say anything, but gladly takes an excuse to put the cup down when Tantsy changes her mind. She offers her left hand without complaint.

GM: The woman takes Amelie’s hand, holds it up to the light, and squints deeply through her ’60s glasses.

“Lesse, ya life line… oh, now das’ thick an’ clear, like da Miss’ippi if it wasn’ da Miss’ippi. Haw haw! Ya good a’ sports an’ roughin’ it… oh, dis line swoops too, da’ means ya fulla energy an’ vigor, is da’ righ’, you an active boy?”

Tantsy squints harder at Amelie’s hand, runs her finger down its center as if tracing a line, and then connects her finger to the middle space between Amelie’s ring and middle fingers. A frown creases her wrinkled face.

“No, na dere… les’ try f’ a few more years.”

She drawls a line to the bottom of Amelie’s thumb that’s parallel to the first line and another thumb-span lower. She then looks up at Amelie and offers a wrinkly smile.

“Okay, goo’ news, Amanda, ya gon live ta be ‘roun eigh’y years ol’. Very full life.”

Tantsy turns Amelie’s hand slightly, as if to to get a better view under the light. Her thin white eyebrows abruptly shoot up past the frames of her glasses.

“Whoa! Oh… no… I read da’ all wrong…”

Tantsy sets down Amelie’s hand, but doesn’t release it as she quietly says, “Amanda, I’m very sorry, but ya gon’ live ta be ‘roun twenty. Cou’ be off a few years… dese lines only measure in scores. Dat means twenties. Cou’ be ya… pass pretty soon… or before ya hit forty.” She looks down at Amelie’s palm again, then back up at her. “I’m real sorry… how old’s ya now?”

Amelie: Amelie is less than impressed by Tantsy’s reading. The woman confuses her gender again and claims she’s physically active, but anyone could tell that from the thickness and muscle tension of her arm. Tantsy claims she’s going to have a full life, then suddenly takes it back when she ‘gets a better look.’ It’s not good news, but it’s probably a scare tactic. A ‘maybe you can change your fate with this trinket’ kind of scare tactic. Amelie just keeps a stony face through the entire reading.

“It’s Amelie. I’m twenty,” she states as she looks the woman across the table up and down. “Why the Chinese way? Would you get a different result other ways?”

GM: Tantsy’s lip twitches once when Amelie points out her actual name, as if to say ‘I knew that,’ but her expression remains solmen.

“Dere lotta diff’ren ways ta do it,” she says slowly. “Ya migh’ dink of it as usin’ inches or feet or meters da measure somethin’… ya get diffren’ numbers, da’ ya use for diff’ren dings, but dey measure da same space… I’m sorry, Amber, but usin’ anotha ruler won’ make ya life any longer or shorter. Cou’ migh’ tell us more abou’ why.”

Amelie: It sends a chill up Amelie’s spine when the woman’s expression remains solemn, but her face stays stoic as she nods along at Tantsy’s logic. Even if it’s for a ridiculous subject, at least it sounds like logic in the vacuum of it the store has been so far.

“I don’t think that would be wise. There’s more than a few legends about people who drove themselves to their deaths obsessing about the ‘how’ and ‘when.’”

Amelie clears her throat and takes a bracing breath before she takes another sip of the offered tea, forcing it down the best she can.

“Who knows, I may die by the hands of the LaLaurie House’s spirits. Though the reason I’m here is I’d prefer that doesn’t happen.”

GM: The tea tastes like another solid punch to Amelie’s mouth. The calico in her lap gives a wide yawn, briefly displaying its fangs. Tantsy seems to think on her statement for a moment. Lines tug across her wrinkled features.

“Prefer na happen… mmm… well, les’ look at it dis way, Amber.”

Her equally lined green-nailed hands trace Amelie’s for a moment, before she cups the younger woman’s hand in hers and holds it up to the candlelight.

“Look a’ ya skin dere, boy.”

Tantsy releases one of her hands from Amelie’s and paws through the table’s cluttered junk. The cats remain indifferent until Tantsy feels at some object underneath a large-eared tabby. “G’wan, git,” she declares as she pushes her hand beneath the sedentary feline’s belly, then abruptly lifts it up. The cat jostles up and gives her an almost undignified look before haughtily pawing its way across the table.

There’s a bright flash, meanwhile, as candlelight reflects off the cold steel of the dagger now in Tantsy’s grasp. Not a knife. A dagger.

It’s made of brass with a solid ivory handle that’s secured to the hilt by a tarnished-looking copper ring. The life-long weaponsmith identifies the secespita on sight. It was used by the priests of ancient Rome and their wives in sacrifices, she recalls. The blade would have been iron rather than true steel—and the one before her actually looks like iron too. It doesn’t look very well-cared for, Amelie assesses critically. It’s rusted. Chipped. Dull. Not something she’d want to rely on in a fight. But it can still cut.

Tantsy absently waves the sacrificial blade through the air as she continues to talk, still clutching Amelie’s hand, “Now den, Amber, wha’ happen if I gives ya han’ a goo’ nick wi’ dis ol’ thang?”

Amelie: Amelie jumps as she sees the blade but doesn’t pull her hand away. It’s strange to see a black woman using a dagger of that origin. She has to wonder how old it is.

“Secespita, Roman, ivory handle looks firm still, the blade is a mess but it’s still likely iron. You can rub the rust off if you put it to soak in a zip-lock of lemon juice for an hour,” she says, more to ease her own nerves than inform the woman holding it.

But the prospect of that old blade cutting her hand is only concerning from the standpoint of how cleanly it can cut. Jagged cuts scar. Still, curiosity keeps hold.

“Likely if you cut me with that blade, you’re making a sacrifice to something or someone, right?”

GM: The old woman slams Amelie’s hand onto the table and stabs the dagger straight into her palm.

Amelie: Alarm bells sound in Amelie’s head a second too late to save her. The young woman screams bloody murder as the knife punctures straight through her palm, slamming into the wood beneath.


Blood erupts from the jagged wound in her palm, her eyes flaring wide as saucers between the searing pain and suddenness of the attack. She instinctively leaps upright, sending the cat flying and digging the blade even deeper into her flesh.

Howling past the second stab of pain, she grabs the old woman’s wrist with her left hand, frighteningly tight. She looks ready to murder the old hag right there with her own dagger.

“Let—GO. NOW!!!” she bellows.

GM: The calico on Amelie’s lap yowls as her abrupt rise sends it tumbling off. She doesn’t see whether it lands on its feet. The chair hits the floor with a crack, followed a split-second later by another one from the old woman’s wrist (with an accompanied pained hiss) as Amelie pins it beneath her foot. The pair’s violent motions send assorted junk crashing off the table as cats hiss, flatten their ears, and bush their tails.

“Tantsy? Vhat vas dat?” calls Bala’s voice.

Tantsy does not answer it. She futilely strains against Amelie’s hold for a moment, her thick eyebrows bushing together past her ’60s glasses, then throws back her head and laughs.

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Silly boy. Ya bleed. Das’ wha’ happen when I cut ya! ‘Makin’ a sacrifice’, das’ jus’ dressin’ up wha’ I’s arready done.”

Blood continues to painfully well from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm, red and thick against the chandelier-light. The old woman’s overlarge eyes remain riveted on that bleeding font as she cackles,

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw!!!”

Amelie: The pain in Amelie’s hand is getting to be too much for her to think of anything else but ‘get it out.’ Her face still hardens. Not into a grimace, but a slack expression that shows the old woman nothing but cold stone as she laughs and haws. Stabbing the woman back in her own hand crosses Amelie’s mind more than a little, but it’s been a long day. Too long. Still, there’s a strangely calm and oddly warm sensation in her gut at the situation.

She reaches down with both hands to pry the old woman’s fingers off the dagger. Her foot moves just enough to press her attacker’s hand and not wrist under its newly-purchased sole as she curls her own hand around the secespita and pulls.

The dagger’s slightest movement finally breaks the shock that was keeping her from screaming. Her stone-like expression crumbles as she grits her teeth and her eyes start to well. It feels like someone is pulling her nerves out of her skin with dental floss and playing them as a morbid instrument.

“Ba—Bay—Bala! Get the fuck in here!!!” she yells in a raw and pained voice as backs away from the table, ready to kick the old crone if she gets too close.

“You stabbed me right through the hand, you senile cunt! This rusted hunk of shit will rip out my fucking tendons, and you just STABBED me with it!? What were you planning for afterwards?! The Romans made an incision above the elbow pit to blood-let, you didn’t even use the right cunt-forsaken knife!!!”

“Ta mère est une prostituée qui suce les animaux de la ferme. Ton père est baisé dans le cul par des marins pour gagner sa vie. Vos frères et sœurs vous ont baisé comme un bébé pour lubrifier votre trou du cul pour quand il rentrait à la maison!”

(“Your mother is a whore who sucks off farm animals. Your father is fucked in the ass by sailors for a living. Your siblings fucked you as an infant to lube your asshole for when he got home!”)

GM: Tantsy cackles dementedly. Flecks of spittle fly from the rim of her brightly lipsticked mouth. “Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw-haw!!! Ya din’ ‘spec’ me ta stab ya, now di’ ya? I’s a harmless ol’ lady, isn’ I? Now wha’ on earth make ya dink a housea ghosts gon’ be any safer, ya silly boy?”

Amelie makes out footsteps sounding from deeper within the shop. They’re followed by an abrupt crash.

“Hell, I even ask ya, ‘wha’ happens if I stab ya!’ Haw-haw! Haw-haw!” the old woman laughs on. “Ya go’ ya head in da clouds! Say ya stab my han’ ta get even, Amber, den stick it in shi’, jus’ f’ lagniappe, an’ don’ lemme wash it. What happens den?”

Amelie:WHO has their heads in the clouds!? And what happens when the police come asking why you STABBED me in the fucking hand just to give me some bullshit about festering wounds!?” Amelie barks. She strides into the other room to look for the assistant, following the crashing sounds.

GM: Several more “haw-haws!” follow Amelie past the bead curtain. The room on the other side is cluttered with an equally haphazard collection of junk and occult bric-a-bric. One of the bookshelves is tipped over. Just behind it, past the scattered books and mewing cats, Amelie can make out a motionless human arm. Several cats listlessly circle around it.

Amelie: Amelie groans, holds her wounded hand palm up, and carefully balances the embedded knife as she grips the bookcase with good hand. She uses it and her leg to slowly pull the heavy furniture off of the East Indian cashier. It’s a difficult job with just one hand, but she rights the bookcase completely straight and holds it there in case it tries to tip again.

“Hey! Hey, are you okay!? Don’t make me witness my first death by literature! Get up!”

GM: Blood continues to leak from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm. Each grunt, push, and jostle with her good hand feels like someone is twisting a hot brand against her bad one. Several books tumble from the shelves as she hoists the case back up. Bala lies underneath it and does not stir or respond.

Amelie: Dyke they call her. Dyke dyke dyke like unimaginative parrots. But a working woman knows what that kind of pain is like. She shrinks her arm against her chest as she kneels and tosses books aside to get a clearer view of Bala’s face.

BALA! Wake the FUCK up!” she yells.

GM: More cats mew and scatter at the tossed books. Bala’s face looks uninjured, so far as Amelie can tell, but neither do they respond to her entreaties.

Then, there’s a sudden jolt of pain in Amelie’s throbbing wrist. The young woman is yanked up and all but slammed against the wall. Her vision starts to swim.

“Fool boy!” Tantsy bellows. Her once-sleepy eyes are bulding and livid even behind her glasses. “Look what ya gone an’ done!

Amelie: Amelie was about to reach for her phone until a new gut-wrenching surge of pain makes her eyes cross. It’s only when she feels the wall slam against her back that a familiar feeling strikes again. That rising wave of fury behind her eyelids pushes at her to feed this old woman her own teeth.

YOU did this, you old bag! Who isn’t going to scream out when you STAB them!!! Stop hawwing like a donkey lunatic and call a fucking ambulance!”

GM: “I’ll tell ya what happen, I stick ya han’ in shi’!” Tantsy screams. Spittle flies in Amelie’s face from gnashing yellow teeth.

“It FESTER! Why, I stick ya han’ in dere long ‘nough—doctors gon’ chop it OFF!”

The old woman seizes Amelie’s injured, bleeding hand and dashes it against the wall. The sudden impact jostles the embedded dagger agonizingly free. Blood messily spurts over both women’s clothes.

“Maybe dey DON’ chop it off! Maybe dey leave it on ta FUCK YA, an’ it FESTER!” Tantsy screams and raves as Amelie’s blood drips down her face. “Turn green an’ smell an’ make ya DIE! Unnatural! Unnatural! Dere ain’ NO PLACE in nature ya cut ya han’ an’ keep it STUCK IN SHI’!”

Amelie: Amelie gets it again. That cold feeling.

Her good hand snatches out to catch the dagger’s familiar handle as it drops. She grunts, struggles against her attacker’s hold, and tries to get some proper footing as she starts to take this conflict seriously. If the old crone wants a knife fight, she’ll get one.

GM: There’s another jolt of pain as Tantsy smashes Amelie’s so-tender hand against the wall, once, twice, three times. The dagger’s hilt strikes the toe of her sneaker as the blade clatters against the floor. Sweat beads the old woman’s brow and trickles down the spattered blood already there as she screams into Amelie’s face,

“DA WORLD! World be YA SKIN! Lined! Ugly! OKAY! Even da par’s da’ CUT! Scar over, heal up goo’!”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut turns as the knife hits her shoe. Her cold resolve to stab an old lady shatters into another held-in scream of pain as her already hurt hand gets abused again. She needs t-

GM: “Das’ natural! NATURAL!” The old woman cackles dementedly. Lipstick-hued spittle leaks from the corners of her animated mouth. “Haw-haw! Natural! Haw-haw! HAW-HAW! HAW-HAW!

“Dere par’s!” she exclaims, shoving her face into Amelie’s, so close their noses brush. The bleeding youth can feel Tantsy’s pendulous, wrinkled breasts pressing against hers. “Par’s da been STABBED! Dat been hel’ in SHIT! Turned green! Fes’ered! DIED! Doctors can’ chop ‘em off! OFF! Oh no! Oh no! NO! Dey infected! DEY do da choppin’! Chop up da people da’ go in! CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!

Tantsy’s voice drops to a whisper. Almost intimate. Amelie feels the old woman’s rancid, pot-laced breath against her face with every word.

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”

Tantsy suddenly chokes, convulses, and tosses back her head as she lets out a half-strangled shriek that sends cats scattering as she tosses back her head. Her glasses fly off.

The face that whips back towards Amelie looks like a stranger’s. The eyes are huge, bulging, and bloodshot. The veins throb and look about to rupture as the woman screams, bloody sweat running down her lined face and spittle-flecked lips,

“Si vous appréciez votre vie, Amélie Savard—N’ALLEZ PAS DANS CETTE MAISON!”

(“If you value your life, Amelie Savard—DO NOT GO INTO THAT HOUSE!”)

Then, motion. Pained throbbing from her hand. Rough hands at her back. Her feet barely feel like they’re touching the ground as cats hiss and yowl—and the store’s front door rushes to meet Amelie’s face.

Amelie: Amelie watches what can only be one of two things. Some awful parlor trick, or an actual ghost screaming in her face.

She clenches her hand as she curses and hisses in pain. A tear rolls down her cheek as the crone manhandles her. The blood loss is already making her worried. What if she can’t work with her hand anymore? What if she loses it?

She gets the point. She got the point back after the comment about shit on the knife. She isn’t an idiot.
And Tantsy still punctuated it with this gratuitous attack, this bullshit cruelty. She struggles for a moment to find her voice.

“I just came… to ask questions! I didn’t disrespect you or spit in your face, and you did this! People—ow, fuck! People have been in and out of the LaLaurie House for years without dying! It was a bar and restaurant at points, for fuck’s sake! There has to be some safe way to just look inside for a few hours!”

GM: A thunderously slammed door is the only response Amelie receives as she’s all but hurled out of the shop.

CLOSED, reads the sign by the window.

Amelie: Amelie almost steps back towards the shop when she feels a cold prick at the base of her spine. Her hand hurts more and more, and the adrenaline from the fight is already wearing off.

She lets out a low hiss as she fishes her phone out of her pocket with her right hand, clamps her left hand in her elbow pit, and calls her aunt as she puts pressure on the hand. She squats a block away from the store and holds back tears while the phone rings and she bleeds onto the pavement.

GM: “Hello, Amelie? Is everything all right?” her aunt asks in a mildly surprised tone. This is the first time they’ve actually spoken over the phone instead of texting, at least in the States.

Amelie: Amelie can barely speak. Her teeth grit as she watches the dripping blood ruin her pant leg. “No. I-” she pauses to hiss in effort and takes a breath. Short sentences are all she can manage. “I was stabbed. I’m bleeding a lot. My hand.”

GM: There’s a pause, but it’s not for overly long before her aunt replies, “Press your hand with something to apply pressure and slow bleeding. We need to get you to an emergency room. If you need immediate treatment, you can call 911, but ambulance response times are shit in this city. How badly are you bleeding?”

Amelie: Amelie has cut herself more than once, but never worse than a belt sander snapping and cutting into her bicep. The mess makes it hard to tell. It’s a jagged wound, but not ugly enough to make her think she’s going to die.

“6/10. Won’t kill me. Rusty knife though. Jagged. Already putting pressure,” she wheezes, flexing her arm tighter to keep up that pressure. She manages to squeak out the address as well.

GM: “Good thinking. Keep that up,” her aunt says firmly. Amelie hears some indistinct noises in the background as Christina raises her voice. “Can you hail a Ryde and meet me at the Tulane Medical Center ER, or do you want me to pick you up? That second option may take longer.”

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head and lets out another little hiss. “Ryde uses—fuck… me. Personal cars. Might get turned down… for bleeding,” she stammers out, slowly standing up. “Should I risk it? Or get on… main road for you?”

GM: “Personal cars. That’s a good point. Okay, sit down and stay where you are. I will be there as soon as I can. All right?”

Amelie: Amelie slowly moves her feet, feeling more than a little woozy as she does. “I walked. I’m by… wait, it’s-” there’s a small pause as her aunt hears a defeated chuckle on the other end of the line.

“Cafe Amelie. I’m at Cafe Amelie.”

The young woman slumps against the wall and slides down it. She sits and bleeds over the sidewalk like the ending shot from a shitty film noir.

GM: “You’re at Cafe Amelie.” Her aunt’s voice finally breaks at those words, and sounds halfway between a sniffle and smile. “All… right. Keep up that level head.” Her next words tighten. “If you see any police, stand up and fiddle on your phone so you look at least somewhat affluent. I’m getting in my car now, so I have to hang up. I’ll see you soon. Okay?”

Amelie: Amelie nods, then remembers her aunt can’t hear that over the phone. “Yeah. Soon.”

She does as she’s asked and maintains the pressure on her hand while she sits and waits. She already doesn’t trust the police and hopes they avoid her.

GM: Cafe Amelie looks like a nice enough place to have lunch. Patrons eat and converse in an open-air, greenery-filled courtyard. The building itself resembles the shop from which Amelie was only just expelled, with a Spanish-style wrought-iron gallery overflowing with plants. A bubbling fountain sounds from just outside.

Few patrons can likely make out Amelie from behind the courtyard’s brick wall while she’s sitting. Her bloody appearances draws more than a few stares and remarks from others passersby, ranging from “the hell happened to you?” to “someone should call the cops.” In contrast to her native Quebec, random strangers appear amply willing to express their opinions aloud or strike up conversations on the street.

Amelie: Nosy cunts is about all the brainpower Amelie spares to think about the people who pass by. None of them actually stop to offer help, so fuck ’em.

She waves at the bystanders who linger with her good hand, cites “The Fences got me,” and then waves them off. She seals the ‘nothing to see here’ impression with a friendly smile.

GM: Amelie endures perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of waiting before she spots Christina among the passersby, dressed in a navy skirtsuit and blazer. Her aunt makes a beeline when she sees her, gets down to her knees, and strips off the blazer to wrap around Amelie’s injured arm. If her eyes widen at the sight, it’s only for a moment before her jaw hardens.

Amelie: Amelie pulls away and gives an almost awkwardly pained hiss as her aunt starts to strip off what has to be an expensive piece of clothing. “No no no, not the blazer,” she whines.

GM: Christina does not appear to be overly concerned for the blazer as she wraps one of the sleeves taut around Amelie’s still-bleeding hand as an impromptu bandage.

“How badly does it hurt?” she asks.

Amelie: Amelie feels a deep pang in her chest when her aunt ruins the blazer to get a bandage on her hand. “More than a hangnail, less than a stubbed toe. Starting to—nnfuck. Feelin’ pretty damn dizzy. Let my outfit soak it up, let’s get going.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt helps her up and shepherds her into the passenger seat of a silver-gray Subaru Legacy car. Cafe Amelie’s brick walls recede past in the window.

Amelie: Amelie stumbles up into the car with her aunt’s help and then just rests her. Her outfit is a mess. There’s flecks of red on her face and her covered hand is soaked in fresh and dried blood alike. But she’s alive.

GM: “It looks like the worst is over,” Christina remarks, sparing another glance for Amelie’s hand. “All we need to do now is get you checked into the ER. Good job staying calm and good thinking calling me.”

Amelie: “Hopefully my hand makes a full recovery. And thank you. I’ve been hurt a lot, it’s rote at this point.” There’s a small pause before she speaks again. “I’m sorry for interrupting your job.”

GM: “Don’t worry about the job. But we’ll take it as a good sign that you’re feeling clear-headed enough to be worried.” Her aunt stares back towards the road as streets roll past. “Now, how did you get stabbed?”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but dread the answer. “I went to the cathedral to ask about ghosts, was refuted on their existence by the Catholic Church, and had a card for an occult shop slipped into my belongings. I went, told her about the LaLaurie House, she read my palm, and then stabbed my hand with a dagger screaming about it being a festering wound on the world and how I’ll die if I step foot into it.”

GM: Christina doesn’t stop to blink at the half-coherent explanation while she’s driving, but there’s at least one blink in the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry, Amelie?”

Amelie: “Yeah. She was… insane, and old. Which is why I didn’t call the cops. Also because of… another incident I had today.”

GM: “All right, if the staff at Tulane asks any questions, keep the story simple and tell them you were stabbed by a mentally ill person. Don’t talk about any of those… other details.”

Amelie: “That was the plan. Last thing I need is the mental health ward right now.” Amelie hisses a bit as she adjusts her seating.

GM: “You probably won’t be looking at the mental health ward. But hospitals in Louisiana are required to report gunshot wounds to the police, and a stab wound like this could also draw questions. So keep your explanation simple and plausible. Did this person also want money from you? Were you in a bad part of town?”

Amelie: “No, and maybe. I was just off Jackson Square, and she was reading palms. I thought I’d give it a try, like a dumb tourist, and she produced a knife and stabbed my hand. How’s that?”

GM: Her aunt frowns deeply, but then simply says, “All right, there are some sketchy people there. A mentally ill person offered to read your palm, got upset over something you said, and stabbed you. You managed to get away and call me. Can you remember that?”

Amelie: “Like a modern major general,” is all she can muster, eyes closed as she rests her head. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”

GM: “I’m sorrier that you were stabbed by a lunatic.”

Amelie: “Could have been worse. Could have been extorted by a police officer working with a pickpocket.” Amelie lifts her head, eyes not open, but brows raised. “Oh wait.”

GM: Her aunt’s frown deepens. “Did this cop also hurt you? Did you say anything to him?”

Amelie: “Threatened me a lot. Scared me a bit. I was nothing but respectful. He had my ID, and I managed to convince him I was poor and just got a scholarship to a private school. He took 100 bucks. Case closed.”

GM: Christina slowly takes that in before responding, “All right, he only took some money. That’s good. I should have talked to you about this earlier, but you shouldn’t ever speak to the police around here, not if you can avoid it. They’re thugs with badges. The whole department is completely corrupt.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I get that now… I should start carrying a self-defense weapon or something.”

GM: “You don’t ever want to attack the police, Amelie,” her aunt quickly replies. “If a cop talks to you, ask if you’re being detained or under arrest. If they say yes, tell them you want a lawyer. No matter what they say to you, be a broken record and don’t respond with anything except those five words. ‘I want a lawyer.’ Got that?”

Amelie: Amelie actually lets out a little chuckle. “No, no, I don’t mean—I’m not going to stab a cop. I mean so I can defend myself better without calling them.” The jostle makes her grimace a little, but her expression settles back after a moment. “I want a lawyer.”

GM: “That’s right,” Christina answers approvingly, but the look passes as quickly as the onrushing traffic. “And you’re right that we can’t let this happen again.” Her hands clench around the wheel. “You said you met that lunatic from ‘a card?’”

The old Spanish- and French-style buildings with those floral-lined galleries that are so distinctive to New Orleans have receded by now. Brutal glass and steel monoliths, the same unfirmly gray skyscrapers one can find in any city, jut above the traffic in their place. Tulane Medical Center is an interconnected series of brown-bricked, box-like buildings with a skywalk that passes just over the street. The hospital’s name is printed on its side in blocky white letters.

Amelie: Amelie explains the situation as they drive. The card, its written message, the store, the stabbing. Everything but the old woman’s sudden French and that wailing scream from beyond the grave. She grimaces slightly as they roll up to the hospital and mentally readies herself for a six-hour wait.

GM: Christina listens intently and tells Amelie to text her if she finds herself in a suspicious situation like that again—which finding cards with strange messages on her person certainly falls under. The people behind it could have wanted to rob her, rape her, murder her, or who knows what.

“New Orleans is not a safe city,” her aunt declares emphatically. “If you’re ever unsure about a person or situation, text me. Or call me. If you want to snort cocaine, hire a gigolo, get an abortion, or whatever else, I won’t stop or judge you. I will only tell you how safe I believe it is. Beyond that, how much you want me involved in your life is your choice. I would much rather you feel able to come to me for help than feel it necessary to hide things.”

Christina’s gaze seems to notably linger on Amelie at the story’s ‘abbreviated’ ending, but her aunt says nothing further as she parks their car in a disabled persons spot.

Amelie: Amelie feels more than a little guilty at that statement. ‘Necessary to hide things.’ She makes a face like she’s got a sudden lurch in her stomach and shakes her head, unable to keep up the lie.

“You’re going to think I’m insane,” she starts. “When she had me up against that wall, and the knife popped out…? I don’t know what kind of trick she used. Her eyes bugged out and went white, and she screamed in my face in French, not to go into that house. It scared me. Especially after being hurt, and all the ghost talk beforehand.”

GM: “That’s probably exactly what she was trying to do,” Christina remarks as she helps Amelie out and shuts the car door. Her heels click against the pavement as she takes Amelie’s bleeding arm in hers and applies further pressure as they briskly stride towards the sliding ER doors.

“There are a lot of psychics, fortune-tellers, and what have you around the Quarter who are very good at showmanship. There are a lot of tourists, too, who come to New Orleans expecting to see strange things—and Orleanians who believe in strange things. They all get fleeced for everything they’re worth.”

Amelie: Amelie feels silly and nods along with her aunt as she tries to keep her legs moving forward. Her body feels sluggish, but she’s glad she can at least keep step.

“I didn’t want you to think I was crazy or traumatized or something stupid, or that I bought it hook line and sinker. I’m not a good liar and I shouldn’t have tried.”

GM: Christina pulls Amelie aside to avoid several EMTs wheeling in a comatose, blood-spattered dark-skinned man on a stretcher and respirator.

“…how do you starve a black guy? Put their food stamp under their work boots,” one of the black-uniformed personnel quips.

“That’s not nice,” his homely-looking partner says back.

“Don’t you still live with your mom, Abby?”

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh through her nose as she glances down at the man being wheeled in. It seems like black people are the race that gets pressed underfoot here instead of Native Americans.

She groans a bit and stands up straighter as the pressure starts to make her hand sore.

“I wasn’t going to give that crazy bitch any money, anyway. I was going to get a few words for the paper and leave.”

GM: “I don’t think you would have given her money, and I don’t think you were crazy. I think someone took advantage of what you were hoping to see, then badly scared you after she stabbed your hand,” Christina replies as she helps Amelie past the threshold of the sliding ER doors. The inside waiting room is jam-packed with people in various states of discomfort but almost universal discontent. Some looked pained. Some look bored. More than a few appear to suffer from a peculiarly malaisful combination of both.

An overworked-looking triage nurse with bags under her eyes asks the pair the reason for their visit and quizzes Amelie about her medical history and any over-the-counter or prescription medications she is currently taking, along with any allergies she might have. The nurse then measures Amelie’s temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t exactly like the tests. She grits her teeth and lets out some less-than-ladylike noises and mutterings about her hand. Nurses are worth her holding her tongue around, though, and every second word is a “sorry” or “thank you” until she’s told to go sit down and wait.

GM: The nurse barely seems to register Amelie’s thanks or apologies. Her heavy eyes have already moved past the pair as she concludes, “Not urgent. Go take a seat in the waiting-”

“She’s an artist with a probable tendon injury,” Christina interrupts sharply. “I am an attorney and prepared to file suit against Tulane Medical Center if your malpractice costs her-”

“Urgent but not life-threatening,” the nurse interrupts back with a look that’s half-glare, half-placation, and wholly resentful. Her brow then furrows at Amelie. “Where did you get this?”

Amelie: Her aunt’s reaction is something of a surprise, but the nurse’s question makes Amelie look back towards her. “Off Jackson Square. I got my… my palm read by some lady. I was being a stupid tourist. She was crazy. She grabbed my hand and stabbed it with an old weird knife.”

The realization starts to gnaw at her again after her aunt’s words. She can feel a dull panic slowly building in her chest as she wonders if she’ll be able to use both hands at the forge again. Her voice falters as she awkwardly presses the wound and asks, “Is my hand going to be normal after this..?”

GM: “Other patients are waiting,” the nurse replies tersely while making a shooing motion.

Amelie: Amelie carefully pulls her aunt’s blazer off her hand and shows the nurse the open wound. She’s starting to sound a bit scared. “Ma’am, the blade was rusty and filthy… please, can you just take a quick look and tell me if you can save it?”

GM: “Get out before I call security,” the nurse replies in an even terser voice.

Amelie: Amelie frowns and nods, slowly standing up and re-wrapping, turning to follow her aunt to the waiting room.

GM: Christina directs an exceedingly stony look at the nurse, but does not press the matter any further as she leads Amelie back into the waiting room.

“You may not have a serious tendon injury. I only said that to get you faster care,” she explains once they’re out of earshot.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t quite buy it. She looks for a place to sit down and nurse her hand on her lap. “A rusty blade is more dangerous than a clean one in the long term. At this point, I’m just holding my breath.”

The young woman takes a deep breath to steady herself despite her doomsaying. “If I lose the ability to use this hand properly… I’ll find a way around it for my work. It’ll be okay.”

GM: “Let’s worry for now about getting that hand treated properly,” her aunt replies as she leads Amelie up to the registration desk. The glasses-wearing woman on the other side barely glances up from her computer screen as she robotically asks for Amelie’s name, gender, date of birth, mailing address, name of primary care doctor, the medical reason for her visit, and how she got her stab wound. They get through ‘date of birth’ before Christina interrupts the receptionist to tell Amelie, “You go find somewhere to sit down. I’ll take care of the rest of this.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised again by her aunt’s sudden cut-in. She nods thankfully, though, as she cradles her arm and looks around for a chair to slump down in. The blood loss has officially given her a headache. She watches her aunt through squinted lids in case she’s motioned back up.

GM: The ER is absolutely packed. Finding an open seat takes Amelie some time, and takes her past a melange of waiting patients. A young woman groans and massages a deeply reddened ankle while a closely-aged man next to her mouths assurances. A dreadlocked man with an incredibly ripe stench groans loudly about how much pain he’s in. Someone nearby snaps that he isn’t sick and is wasting everyone’s time. In another seat, a crying middle-aged woman rocks back and forth with a droopy-eyed child she hugs to her breast. Even the spaces between seats are occupied. Amelie observes a bearded old man walking up and down the aisle with a bible and rosary, steadily chanting, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“How fucking long are you gonna go on with that?!” screeches a black-eyed woman from a nearby chair.

The old man only continues to walk down the aisle and chant, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“Mom, I’m really thirsty…” groans another voice.

“I’m sorry, honey, but you heard them say to limit your fluid intake until the doctors get a look.”

Amelie: Amelie eventually just stands in place and leaves the seats to more sickly and injured people as she watches the chaos unfold. She feels bad how her aunt strong-armed the hospital. She wishes she could fix the child and the dreadlocked man in the same way she could weld bad pieces of steel back together.

One of the last voices makes her ear prick up, though. She’s heard this girl at McGehee. She decides to approach after a moment of consideration perhaps addled by blood loss, and offers the teenager a small gimped wave with her good hand.

“Excuse me. You’re Hannah, right?”

GM: The girl in question looks a few years younger than Amelie, like most students at McGehee do. She has a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length brown hair that’s streaked through with blonde towards the ends. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved gray tee and pair of blue jeans instead of the standard McGehee uniform.

Her eyes are half-lidded and look exhausted as she leans against the shoulder of a 40- or 50-something woman with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and a narrower face and nose. The older woman is dressed in a low-necked black shirt, tan slacks, and looks in a great deal less discomfort. Physically, at least.

She frowns at Amelie’s address. “I’m sorry, do we know you from somewhere?”

Amelie: Amelie gives Hannah a sorry smile before looking towards the mother addressing her. “Yes, sorry. I’m Amelie Savard, a senior at our school. We haven’t really met before, but I have Mrs. Flores’ ballroom dance class with Hannah.”

GM: “Ah. I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time.” The woman shakes her head as if to clear it, then extends a hand. “Monica Burroughs. You probably guessed I’m Hannah’s mom.”

Amelie: Amelie respectfully declines the handshake as she holds up her good hand to show how it’s also coated in blood.

“It’s very nice to meet you, I’m sorry about the hand,” she says before looking back towards Hannah. Her classmate is in a really really bad way it seems. Maybe something with her stomach, from what she said earlier?

GM: “Oh, don’t be. It’s-”

Monica is interrupted, though, as Hannah gives Amelie a bleary look. “You’re the… girl who Mrs. Flores had stay after class.”

Amelie: “Yeah, that’s me. She wanted me to practice following, since I lead all class.” Amelie keeps her voice a bit softer as she speaks to Hannah. She tries to keep her head in one piece if she has a headache too. “You look so sick. I hope it’s not too painful.”

GM: Hannah gives Amelie another half-focused look.

“It’s dehydration,” her mom says. “Killer in this weather.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and remembers her aunt’s talks about how hot and humid the city’s subtropical climate is. The humidity has yet to slow her down, but the heat and sun definitely have. She gives Hannah a worried look all the same.

“Absolutely. I’m not even from the States,” she admits, “so I’ve had the whole scary talk about dehydration.”

GM: “Say, do you want my seat? You’re not about to bleed out, are you?” Monica asks.

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head at the offer. “You stay, ma’am, I’m just fine standing. Hannah looks like she could use her mom anyway.”

She shifts on a leg, turns, and looks to see how her aunt is doing at the reception area. She hopes she doesn’t have a book of city bylaws open in front of the poor desk lady.

GM: Amelie can make out her aunt offering what looks like an insurance card. The desk lady looks far from poor, however, as Christina covertly slides over a number of green bills.

“All right, if you’re sure,” Monica answers. “You looking for someone?” she asks as she sees Amelie look towards the desk.

Hannah gives a soft moan and shifts against her mom’s shoulder.

Amelie: Amelie frowns slightly. It looks as if she’s about to get called on, but she’s not sure how fair that is to the other people in the waiting room.

“Just looking to see how my aunt is. I should leave you be, though. Hannah looks like she’d appreciate a bit of quiet.”

GM: Monica glances at her daughter. “Yes, thanks. One thing, I’m sorry if this seems forward of me. But are you…?” she makes a motion towards Amelie’s hair.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t’ skip a beat. “Gay?”

GM: “Yes, gay,” the teenager’s mother nods.

Hannah’s eyes crack back open as she gives a muffled yell of, “Mom!”

Amelie: Amelie manages a weak chuckle at Hannah’s reaction. “Everyone assumes, I’m not offended. I cut my hair this short because I grew up around metalworking. Eventually you get tired of your hair catching on fire,” she says without exactly answering the question.

GM: “Oh, really? That does make a lot of sense,” Monica says. “I’m sorry to put you on the spot like that, it was just after this recent fuss over a queer alliance club at McGehee, and…”

“I’m in the ER and you’re still embarrassing me?” Hannah croaks.

Amelie: Amelie smiles and looks at Hannah. She tries to put on a calm and understanding face. “Hannah, you were the one who tried to start it, right?”

GM: Hannah gives an unfocused frown that seems equally split between Amelie, her mother, and the universe at large. “No, that was Leslie…”

“She’s a friend of Hannah’s,” her mom fills in. “I just thought you might have been a friend of hers, given… well, the hair.”

Hannah groans. “Mom, it’s just… a haircut…”

Amelie: “If it wasn’t the haircut, it would be the size of my arms, or all my scars, or my height, or just my attitude. I keep my actual preferences quiet, but I’m getting used to the assumption. People here are more vocal than I’m used to.”

GM: “Are you from France? They’re definitely a lot more reserved in Europe,” Monica agrees. “You know, there are some other girls from France going to McGehee,” she remarks thoughtfully. “I don’t know if you’ve met? You’re new, I know that, practically all the families with kids at the school know each other. They’re the Devillers, anyway, and a very nice family. Which is a good thing, since you would not believe how many of them there are. How many girls do they have, Hannah, eight?”

“‘I don’t believe in birth control’ many,” Hannah mumbles.

Her mom laughs.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a snicker at Hannah’s comment. It hurts more than a little, but she steadies herself with a few breaths. “Oooh, my. No, ma’am, I’m from Canada. Quebec, to be specific. But I do know the Devillers, yes. I’m partnered with one for my New Orleans history class, actually!”

GM: “Quebec, how silly of me. And oh really? Hannah’s taking that for fifth period with Ms. Perry. She’s very friendly and does a good job keeping the class interesting, from what Hannah tells me. They’re doing this project right now for ghost stories—she says there was a vote between that and historic buildings-”

“Which as many people vote for as Jill Stein,” Hannah mumbles.

“-yes, it sounds like that option wins every time, Ms. Perry could maybe make them more competitive,” Monica remarks.

Amelie: Amelie slowly nods and sighs as she looks down at her hand. “I was out doing research for that project today, actually. That’s what I was doing when this happened. New Orleans is a scary place when you aren’t careful.”

GM: “Oh, you poor thing, I’m so sorry to hear that! Hopefully it doesn’t turn you off to the city, people here can be very welcoming. You just have to know what parts of town to avoid. It’s tricky because the bad areas run right up next to the safe ones.”

Amelie: “It’s not enough to turn me off to the city. It was me being a dumb tourist is all. I’ll be more careful from now on. I still have research to do, after all.”

GM: “That’s good to hear. So what’s it you’re doing for your project? There’s really so many ghosts to pick from…”

Hannah gives another moan. Monica pulls out her phone at glances at the screen. “Okay, good news, it’s been five minutes. Now remember, just a little sip…” she says as she extends a water bottle toward her daughter.

Hannah weakly grasps at it and takes a glug before her mom gently but firmly pulls it back away. She groans again, “I’m thirsty…”

“I know, Hannah, but you remember what the last times were like?” Her brow furrows. “You can’t keep doi…”

Hannah cuts her off with a particularly loud sigh, re-closes her eyes, and leans back her head.

“Five minutes, honey, I’ve got the timer on,” Monica says. She taps the phone several times and tucks it back away. “Until then or whenever the doctor sees us…”

“Yeah, by the time Strong reforms the queer club so she can ask Amelie out…” Hannah croaks.

Monica gives Amelie a ‘you know how it is’ smile. “I’m sorry about that. Blame the heat.”

Amelie: Amelie is about to answer Hannah’s mom’s question before she gets another sip of liquid to help pull her body back from the state it’s in. The exchange afterwards, including the jab, makes Amelie smile. Hannah is a little catty. It makes talking with her kinda fun.

“Don’t be sorry, I’d be saying worse things in her state,” she assures her classmate’s mother.

She looks back towards the front desk again to see where her aunt is.

GM: She sees Christina waiting near the reception desk, arms folded and watching her. Other patients are talking to the receptionist. When Amelie makes eye contact, her aunt nods towards a hallway leading out of the waiting room.

Amelie: Amelie nods and turns back. “Excuse me, my aunt is calling me. It was nice to meet you both. I hope I see you in school Monday, Hannah. I’m sorry you’re so sick.” She excuses herself again with a small wave of her good hand and retreats to her aunt’s side.

GM: “Bye…” Hannah grogs.

“It was nice meeting you, Amelie. Get better soon,” her mom adds.

Christina, meanwhile, flags down a nurse and says something about it being “their turn.” The nurse leads them out of the waiting room.

“We’ll still have to wait a little for a doctor, but you’ll at least get to lie down somewhere quiet,” her aunt remarks as they proceed down a hallway. The waiting room’s noise fades to a low din.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything as she lets her aunt lead her down the hall. She doesn’t want to tip off the nurse as to any improvement in her condition. The promise of a quiet room sounds like a dream come true, however, as does finally seeing a doctor.

GM: The nurse leads the pair into an exam room with a bed to lie down on and an adjacent chair. An oxygen tank, tubing, and other medical equipment sit nearby. The nurse attaches a device that resembles a small smartphone to a band around Amelie’s wrist, then fixes it to a cord that connects it to some of the machines.

“A doctor will be with you soon,” the nurse states, then exits through the door. Amelie and her aunt are left alone in the silent room.

Amelie: Amelie lies on the table and shuts her eyes as soon as the door closes, then finally exhales and lets herself relax.

“You really didn’t need to do that, Auntie. With the reception lady?”

GM: “I think I did,” her aunt replies. “You could have been waiting out there for hours.”

Amelie: “Isn’t that normal? I’ve been in a lot of hospital waiting rooms.”

GM: “Yes, it is normal,” Christina answers.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh of defeat. “Well, thank you. That’s—I’m sorry it cost you so much, what happened today.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” her aunt replies as she sits down on the chair. “And I’m not. I think that it’s been time and money well-spent.” She then adds more softly, “You can let people do things for you, Amelie. It’s not a tap that you have to worry about running dry.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say a word. It takes a few moments to gather enough courage that she can swallow the frog in her throat.

“I don’t think I’m very good at that, yet.”

GM: “Maybe not, but practice makes perfect.”

Amelie: Amelie lightly shifts and turns to face slightly away from her aunt so she can’t see the expression on her face. Not even her mother ever treated her like this.

“At least this will be good material for the paper,” she says, trying to change the subject.

GM: “I’m sure it will. Perhaps the teacher will give you extra credit for injury ‘in the line of duty,’” her aunt replies, seeming to go along with it.

Amelie: “I’ll get the purple heart of AP Local History.” It takes a few moments, but Amelie finds she can steel herself again and turns onto her back. “You know… Oscar was right. New Orleans is turning out to be a lot to love.”

GM: “Did he say that? I suppose he’s right,” her aunt considers. “Lord knows there are a thousand and one things wrong with the city, but I’m still living here.”

Amelie: “Maybe it’s just the atmosphere I guess. Or Stockholm’s.”

GM: “For someone who loves history as much as you, there should be a lot of places and activities to appreciate. Most of them are pretty safe. Even NOPD isn’t about to let people get their hands stabbed by lunatics around famous landmarks.”

Amelie: “I hope! There’s a dueling tree I want to visit, lots of people have been stabbed there I hear. Though I don’t think I trust that around landmarks. That cop grabbed me right outside the cathedral in Jackson Square.”

GM: Christina’s eyebrows raise. “A cop manhandled you in front of all those people? That could certainly get him in trouble with his boss when he winds up on MeVid.”

Amelie: “He pulled me off to the side to his little golf cart. Tried to be smooth, talking about $50 gift cards for a steak house Mr. Moreno gives him when he brings in crooks. I think I’m the one who’s going to be on MeVid fending off that pickpocket, unfortunately.”

GM: Her aunt frowns. “There was a pickpocket too? Did he make off with anything of yours?”

Amelie: “They were working together, said he’d take me in for assault on him if I didn’t give him the price of taking in two criminals for his steakhouse money. The weasel didn’t get anything. Came back to give him the money, pickpocket was gone out the back of his golf cart.”

GM: “So you drove off the pickpocket and the cop threatened to bring you in for assault. I’m glad he wasn’t able to take anything, or at least anything else,” her aunt frowns. “But that sounds like a pretty strange confidence racket. Struggling over purses is a flimsy assault charge even for NOPD.”

Amelie: “I want a lawyer,” she repeats.

GM: “Very good,” Christina states.

Amelie: Amelie slowly sits up, looks at her wrapped-up hand and lets out a shaky breath. “It’s starting to settle into one of those really dull pains that make you want to flex the muscle.”

GM: “I’m not a doctor or even particularly medically knowledgeable, but my first instinct is to say you shouldn’t risk tearing anything,” her aunt warns. “We’ve got the exam room, so hopefully it won’t be long until the doctor shows.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I’m not risking it. Just starting to hurt more again.” The pain is different enough that Amelie can rest back on the bed, at least. “I decided to take confession while I was at that cathedral as well. The priest suggested I write my father a letter.”

GM: “What do you think of doing that?”

Amelie: “I think it won’t make a difference to him. But that I should do it anyway.”

GM: “Then I will support you in that decision. Maybe you’ll find it cathartic, even if he doesn’t.”

Amelie: “I hope so,” is all she musters. She slowly rests her head back. “A not-so-smart part of me is telling me to go back to that shop someday. Just with less chance of stabbing. Some of those books looked and smelled ancient.”

GM: “Those smarter parts of you are right. I don’t think that would be an at all safe decision,” her aunt declares emphatically. “There are other shops with just as ancient books if you were to go looking, I’m sure.”

Amelie: “Not-so-smart, like I said. I’m sure once I get my business up and running I can get interns to go into that shop and get what I want,” she jokes. There’s a small grin on her face.

GM: “Even better. Take it from another business owner: opening one involves enough hurdles that you’ll probably forget all about those books by the time it’s off the ground.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “You sound like you built something from nothing, too. Maybe we should sit down one day when I get my business started and talk about it.”

GM: “We could also talk about how you want to start building yours, if you’d like,” her aunt says. “There will be a lot of groundwork, and especially if you want yours up and running by next year-”

Christina is interrupted, however, as the exam room’s door opens. A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope steps through. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe in his 30s. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. A shadow-like smile, perhaps made so from his stubble, slowly spreads across his face as his eyes roam over the supine Amelie.

Doctor.jpg “Good afternoon, ladies. Hopefully you haven’t been waiting too long.”

Amelie: Amelie starts just a little as the door opens. She slowly starts to pull the wrappings off her hand as she sits up and groans a bit as she reveals her hand. “You’re here, that’s what matters.”

GM: “Getting you better is what matters. Hopefully that’ll follow my being here,” the doctor says brightly as he approaches Amelie. “Now, shhh, you just lay back down. You must be pretty tired. Let’s take a look at that hand…”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at how ‘chipper’ the doctor is. She can’t remember the last time someone shushed her like that. But she still turns, sits on the exam bed, and holds out her hand. She rests it on her other hand and keeps the blazer underneath in case it spurts again.

“I’m pretty sure you have… read a chart, or something, but it was a rusty knife. A big one. I tried to keep it in, but it was knocked free.”

GM: “That’s the thing about getting hurt: it never happens the way we’d like,” the doctor smiles.

Meanwhile, a nurse appears. Amelie is subjected to a battery of tests and treatments. The doctor fills a menacingly large hypodermic needle and holds it close to her wound. He doesn’t inject her, but instead depresses a flow of saline solution over the raw and bloody area. It hurts. Debris, sweat, and more blood flushes out and drains into a basin the nurse puts under Amelie’s hand, which she subsequently pats dry with sterile gauze sponges. That hurts too. A lot.

Amelie: If anyone can take pain, it’s Amelie. She bites her lip and nearly breaks the skin on her thigh with her good hand as the nurse sees to her bad one. She trembles when it’s padded off, but stops the nurse for just one moment to take a cellphone picture before it’s wrapped up, then sets her phone on the exam bed behind her. She’s had worse pain in worse places, she tells herself, and tries to make the nurse’s life as easy as possible after the short interruption.

GM: Amelie’s hand is given an x-ray and bandaged up before the doctor gives his prognosis. “All right, Amelie, we have mostly good news for you. There was no damage to your tendons or neurovascular bundles, so you won’t need surgery. But that knife must have been filthy, from how little time you say it was in there, and your wound was infected. We’re going to put you on an oral regimen of cephalexin. If that doesn’t clear up your cellulitis, we’ll try putting you on IV antibiotics.”

He smiles at her again. “Still, that’s good news. You were pretty lucky. Nerve and tendon damage is very common with stab wounds to hands. Surgery can take months to recover from even when successful.”

“So all she has to do is take some pills for a while?” Christina clarifies, her arms having been crossed and lips pressed throughout the procedure.

“And change her bandages, of course,” the doctor adds.

“How are we supposed to tell if she needs to go on IV antibiotics? Or more to the point, once we can tell, would the infection have caused damage preventable by initial IV treatment?”

The doctor does his best to answer Christina’s questions and eventually satisfies her that IV antibiotics are not presently necessary. The two also go down a rather morbid tangent (at Christina’s insistence) where the doctor admits that, yes, if Amelie doesn’t take her cephalexin or follow her wound care instructions, the infection could develop and make it necessary to amputate her hand. Her aunt’s face looks grave at that information. She thoroughly grills the doctor about Amelie’s post-care instructions and types them into her phone as he talks. She also asks for his name and a phone number to contact in case she or Amelie have further questions. The doctor supplies both (his name is Jared Brown) and also gives Amelie a shot of tetanus vaccine when the nurse isn’t able to locate her immunization records. “You’ve probably been immunized already, but just to be sure,” he mentions before depressing the needle into her arm. The doctor applies a band-aid over the sore spot, then doles out two pills and offers Amelie a tall glass of water while the nurse escorts Christina away to “deal with some more insurance business, since we had an x-ray done.”

Amelie: Amelie is glad to have her care done and her bandages made up. Being left alone with this doctor is another matter. Left alone with a man. There’s something about his eyes when he offers her the water and tablets. They make her aunt’s words ring in her head.

“Just give me a moment,” she nods. “I’m horrible with pills. Does the hospital have a cafeteria? Antibiotics on an empty stomach make me vomit.”

GM: “It does, but between you and me, I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to eat,” Dr. Brown smiles. “There’s an in-hospital O’Tolley’s too, but I’m definitely not allowed to recommend that!” he laughs.

“Tell you what, Amelie, you can take these along with something out of your fridge, just so long as you have your aunt take you home straight away. Deal?”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. Hospital food isn’t supposed to taste good, but the hospitals she’s been to had decent baked goods at least.

“Sure. I’m sure we’ll fill the prescription and go straight home afterwards,” she says.

She reaches back to grab her phone and quickly texts her aunt. He still stuck her with a needle.

“Will my hand scar, Dr. Brown?” she asks. “I’ve got enough as it is.”

GM: “It probably will, I’m sorry to say. But ‘count’ your blessings. Your fingers are still going to work fine, after all!” the doctor smiles.

Amelie: Amelie nods. She’s not too broken up about it. “I have worse. Would you mind if I had a moment of privacy? I need to fix myself and make a quick phone call.”

GM: “You mean share that picture of your hand over Facebook?” Dr. Brown chuckles. “But all right, Amelie. Give a shout when you’re done.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to the doctor and breathes a short sigh of relief once he’s gone. She takes a picture of the clock and leaves a note in her phone about the bad feeling the doctor gives her. She crosses her legs to take off her blood-soaked left sock, puts it on the exam table’s paper, and fans her foot off. She waits patiently for her aunt and doesn’t make any movements that could raise her heart rate.

GM: A response pings back from her aunt after a moment.

Amelie strains and strains to make out any noises from Dr. Brown on the other side of the door. It feels like there’s so much ambient noise in the hospital, so many vibrations past the ceiling and walls, that it’s impossible to be sure. Amelie can only lie in place on the exam table. It is very easy to feel alone. It is even easier to feel hurt and vulnerable.

The door suddenly opens. Christina’s gaze lingers on Amelie, then fixes on Dr. Brown, who is also standing just outside. He smiles when he sees her.

Amelie: Amelie bolts upright when the door opens, but gives a deep sigh of relief when she sees who it is. It’s arrested when she sees the doctor. She slowly gets up, slips her foot into her sneaker, and stuffs the bloody sock into her pocket.

GM: Amelie’s aunt and Dr. Brown go over her after-care instructions one more time as he writes the prescription for her medication. Christina also double-checks his phone number, and Dr. Brown adds that Amelie should feel free to call him anytime if she has any symptoms she’d like to discuss.

“And that’s that. Hopefully you won’t be seeing me again too soon,” the doctor smiles at Amelie, “but you never can know.”

Amelie: “Thank you, Doctor,” is all Amelie manages as she takes her aunt’s hand and hopes the gesture convinces the woman they can and should leave.

GM: Christina’s hand feels taut in Amelie’s as she crisply thanks Dr. Brown and takes their leave from the hospital. Hannah and her mother are still sitting in the same waiting room spot where Amelie left them. The former’s eyes are closed.

A light drizzle is falling when the pair exit the hospital’s sliding doors. Aunt and niece observe that the former’s car, parked in the disabled persons space, has a damp-looking ticket on its windshield. Amelie’s attentive eyes even note the amount is for $275 before Christina pulls it off.

Amelie: Amelie breathes a palpable sigh of relief when they finally step through the hospital doors. It feels good to be out in the open, rain or no rain, and away from the whiff she caught off that doctor. The parking ticket is just more spit in the face, but she files the price away in the back of her head and makes no mention of it. She’ll pay her aunt back for today.

GM: “Did he do anything to you at all past giving a bad vibe?” her aunt asks as they get in the car. She stops first to get the door for Amelie.

Amelie: “He handed me two pills,” Amelie answers after sliding into the car and thanking the older woman for helping her. “They’re in my pocket. I got such a bad vibe off him, I didn’t believe they were antibiotics. That little chill was enough to make me worried after today. I’m sorry for stressing you out.”

GM: Her aunt frowns, then says, “All right, you can throw those out while I go back to pick up your prescription. I’d have needed to do that soon anyways. You stay here in the car and rest.”

Christina closes and locks the door, then heads back to the hospital. Amelie is free to listen to the radio, play on her phone, or simply close her eyes and rest while she listens to the lightly plunking rain. The car’s windows are rolled all the way up, and the air-conditioned interior is blissfully cool against the hot and humid air.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t close her eyes, but she momentarily opens the door to toss the pills under the car’s tires, where they’ll be crushed. She then closes the door, locks it back up, and stares straight ahead in a daze until they open again.

GM: Her aunt eventually returns with a small white paper bag in hand. Rain lightly patters against its surface and leaves dark spots. The Dixie sun still seems fat and swollen past the now-overcast sky, but it’s a hazy thing clearly no longer at its zenith. Her aunt starts the car and pulls them out of the hospital parking lot.

“Also, you remember what I said about letting people do things for you?” Christina brings up. “The next time you want to say ‘sorry’ to someone, try a ‘thanks’ instead. You’ll both probably feel better.”

Amelie: Amelie blinks back into the real world and smiles at the sight of her aunt. Her advice is good advice. It’s something she should adopt from this culture and throw away from an older one.

She remembers the priest’s words that children are a gift. She’s never felt like that was true in her case.

She closes her eyes, rests her head back, and can’t hide the small tremble in her voice when she croaks out a soft but sincere,

“Thank you, Auntie.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice IV
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Story One, Alice IV

“I get one happy moment, as the world takes a big fat shit on me, and I’m supposed to be content!?”
Alice Guillot

Friday evening, 28 August 2015

GM: Josephine Louise House, better known as JLH, is a three-story red-bricked building that serves as one of the Tulane girls’ dorms. Built in 1887, the 128-year-old building is one of the four buildings still remaining from the university’s original campus. As Alice makes her way down the winding, bush-lined trail to the house, she can hear the boom of ’80s pop.

GM: Inside the house, inebriated students laugh, dance, and drink. Legwarmers, huge bangs, mullets, and neon colors abound. Some students have put real effort into their costumes, while others are more slapdash affairs: ‘80s accessories over modern fashions. Some of the partygoers just want a casual dorm party, while others want something higher-effort. Like many college students, the party doesn’t seem to completely know what it wants. Alice quickly finds alcohol pressed into her hands.

Alice: Alice just as quickly finds an excuse to set it down somewhere.

Better get everything sorted out, before getting shitfaced, she thinks.

Alice: Alice scans the party, checking out peoples’ costumes. Right, work first, partying later.

She makes her way through the crowd, complimenting people’s costumes, chatting, and trying to scope out the building. Unsure of how much of the dorm is open for the party, she watches to see where she could reasonably explore, without getting attention.

GM: Exploring the dorms without attracting attention proves a simple matter for a college-age girl among the distracted and inebriated crowd. By the time Alice makes her way up to the second floor, the party’s sounds have subsided to a faint but steady din. In several hours, the dorms will likely be occupied by girls bringing hook-ups to their dorms, but the night is yet young.

The third floor is quieter than the second. Any girls still up must be uninterested in the revelry below, or else have assignment deadlines that can’t be put off any later. Many of JLH’s rooms, Alice observes and recalls from previous visits, are unique in character and do not have standard dimensions. The building offers features such as movable Shaker-style wood furniture, old-fashioned casement windows, high ceilings, and mounted bookshelves. Many rooms have a sink and mirror in one corner. Several potential options occur to her as possible sites for the séance:

The study room is quiet and sparsely appointed with several desks, chairs, and tables for students to concentrate on coursework. Alice observes no other present students. She doubts any of the partygoers will have much interest in the place, but it still remains open for anyone to walk into.

A closet stuffed with cleaning supplies offers a second cramped locale. Less spacious, but also less likely to be disturbed. Girls looking for privacy with a partner have dorm rooms of their own.

The bathrooms offer an apparent middle ground between comfort and likelihood of disturbance. The doors can be locked, but it’s probably inevitable that people will need to relieve themselves at some point this evening. The alcohol was flowing freely.

Finally, there are the dorm rooms themselves, where the occupants have (or at least expect) total privacy. The only downside is that Alice is expected to respect that privacy too.

Alice: Alice considers her options. The study is quiet and has space… but explaining what she is doing if someone barges in could be troublesome. The idea of potentially summoning an angry ghost in a small closet immediately strikes her as a bad move. She settles for using one of the bathrooms.

Before she goes in, she jumps into the study, and looks to see if the room has a computer and printer handy.

GM: The study hall is a fairly bare-bones place: desks, tables, chairs, and little else. Any of the resident girls (or semi-invited guests, as Alice can attest) could simply wander up and abscond with school property at their leisure, so the administration seems understandably reluctant to keep any computers there.

The dorm rooms likely have student laptops (and printers) if she’s willing to do a little breaking and entering.

Alice: Alice sighs. Should have fucking known. Well, at least I came prepared.

She sets the bulky, ‘80s style purse down. _Who says work and play don’t mix? This thing may be a fucking crime to fashion, but when it comes to smuggling shit into a party, I don’t think I could have done better._

Alice fishes around in the purse, removing a blank posterboard sign, and one of her alphabet spraypaint stencils. Next, she removes a few markers. Uh, shit. Okay, gotta make it look professional.

She carefully attempts to fill out a sign, reading in big bold red letters: OUT OF ORDER.

GM: After a few minutes of work, Alice is satisfied that her sign looks pretty authentic. Inebriated partygoers are even less likely to notice any potential incongruencies.

Alice: Fucking sweet. Now to put this shit up, and get to work. Alice puts some sticky-tack onto the back of the sign, repacks her bag, and attempts to sneak to the bathroom and place the sign.

Once her sign is in place, she steps inside. She makes sure the room is clear, locks the door, and stuffs the door-crack with paper towels in hopes of muffling any sounds the séance might create. The ouija mat is unrolled, and Alice sits as comfortably as she can on the cold bathroom floor. Despite herself, Alice shivers.

Okay. Calm down. This is no big deal. You’re just going to… talk to a dead girl. In a uh, in a bathroom. Fuck, this is a bad idea.

Alice tries to calm her mind, and in a clear, but hushed voice begins, “Spirits of the past, move among us. Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us.” She intones the names of the girls who died, imploring one of them to make itself known.

GM: Maybe it’s just this occasion, but the bathroom seems cold and lifeless. The walls and floor are a muted gray expanse. The rows of shut stalls are like closed caskets. Some part of Alice, some primitive, id-driven recess of her brain that screams at horror movies, almost wonders if something is going to burst out of them and get her.

She can’t actually see what’s behind those doors.

Alice: Breathe in. Out. Stay calm. I… can do this. I hope.

GM: She names each girl: Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce. She knows little else of them, but names hold power, and any student of the occult knows that much. She repeats her entreaties over and over, eyes fixed on the spread-out ouija mat. She drew a smiling sun at the top right corner, like the picture she’d seen over Qeeqle, but it seems to be leering at her. There was also a frowning crescent moon with a star between its ridges. Now it looks like some spectral claw about to clamp shut over a hapless morsel.

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

Can anyone down there hear her?

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

What might they be thinking?

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

What is she thinking?

Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, Luella Joyce.

The names. They’re getting…

Not harder. Saying them feels…

That’s when Alice notices the bathroom mirror is fogged. That she can see her breath escaping her lips in feeble white plumes.

Alice: Her teeth chatter. Alice wasn’t exactly sure what to expect if this worked, but… this is definitely more Exorcist than Goosebumps.

O-kay. So, something answered. Better find out what. She calls to the spirit, asking it to use the ouija mat to communicate.

“Hello? Spirit?”

GM: Silence greets Alice’s query.

Silence like the grave.

It’s so cold here. So alone.

Her teeth chatter. Are her fingertips turning purple?

How did she end up like this? Alone in a bathroom, talking to dead girls, when the one she wants to date is probably having a great time at the party just two floors down?

Wants to date. That’s all so complicated. All so hard. It wasn’t always like this.

Back in Houston. When she and her parents—not just her mom—were a family. Whatever happened to her dad, he loved her. He really did. She remembers the day he came home from work with a bag of chocolates, gummy worms, and sugar fish. There was no special occasion, he said. He was just thinking of her.

Alice: A tear freezes on its way down Alice’s cheek.

Stop it. I am here to help you move on. Don’t make me think about that.

GM: And Mom. Things were so much less awkward then. Mom hadn’t gone through a divorce, a move, and a daughter’s stay in a mental institution. That wound doesn’t seem like it’ll ever heal. Alice remembers how they’d lie together in bed when she was little, her mom reading Dr. Seuss until she fell asleep.

She can’t deny it. Life was better then. If only she could go home.


Alice: Alice shudders, her mind divided. The little box of doubts, and worries she tries so hard to keep locked has been forced open by the spirit.

I want to go back. To ignore it all. But if I do that…

Alice is back at the shack, peering in at the window. Only this time, the woman watching in horror as the Thing unfurls itself is her mother… then Penny… then herself.

“Spirit. You want to go home? To go back to how things used to be? I want to help you find peace. But if I’m going to do that… you have to talk to me.” Her voice is resolved, but tired.

Alice regretfully lifts her chin, and closes her eyes. I hope this works. Then I can stop fucking around with ungrateful dead bitches, and go hang out with Penny.

With her left hand she begins sketching a series of symbols in the air. Her right, she waves slowly, hypnotically, intoning the words to an incantation she read in one of her family’s old books.

This shit better work.

GM: There’s an abrupt rush of cold under Alice’s legs. A howl of wind—or screaming? Suddenly, Alice flies across the room. She smashes back-first into the bathroom mirror. Cracks run up its length. Her chin bangs against the faux-marble counter with a dull thud. Her jaw hurts.

A thought flashes through her mind. Maybe it’s hers. Maybe not. Either way, it’s there.


Alice: This… this is not going as planned. Not at all. Party or no party, someone is bound to have heard the sound of the mirror breaking. She has to get out. Now.

She tears open a packet of salt, grimaces as she pours some into her mouth, then splashes the rest in front of her. Tearing packets and splashing salt about her, she scrambles to grab the ouija mat and flee the bathroom.

GM: Alice dashes out as fast as her legs can carry her. She manages to pour a mostly straight line of salt over the doorway just as she throws it open, then slams it shut. A booming thud sounds against the door like a battering ram… then silence.

The “out of order” sign lies on the floor in silent testament to the shade’s wrath.

Alice: Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

She slaps the sign back onto the door, then as quietly and quickly as she can, makes her way downstairs, toward the sound of drunken laughter, and Men Without Hats.

I think I’m ready for that drink now.

Somewhere in the back of Alice’s mind, a small fire flickers. The fire has sputtered before. Always, it returns. But for tonight, Alice is beaten. Trying not to think of her Vigil, Alice makes her way downstairs, trying very, very, hard not to think about what she is going to do about the ghosts now.

Friday night, 28 August 2015, PM

GM: Half an hour or so later, Alice finds the party downstairs in fuller swing. The people, a little drunker. The laughter, a little louder. The conversations, a little less intelligible.

The real monsters have also come out to play.

He moves among the partying coeds like a tiger through tall grass, part of the scenery until he strikes. Alice thinks she’s seen him once or twice before. He’s dressed in a thick black jacket, thick gold chain, white basketball shoes, and large square sunglasses. A felt hat sits on his head in place of its usual baseball cap. Camouflage for blending in with the herd.

Alice: Alice’s own costume was somewhat rumpled by the earlier encounter with the spirit. Being a ghoul has its perks though, and aside from a bit of stiffness, and maybe some bruises tomorrow, being smashed into the porcelain hard enough to crack it hasn’t left any left noticeable damage. Her outfit is from head to toe glam rock, complete with white leopard leggings, torn sleeve denim vest, and mesh gloves. Her lucky cap has been traded for a white leopard bandanna, and her hair has been teased into a wild mane.

Alice watches the predator stalk through the party. Shit. Of course the leeches would show up. I… better find Penny. If I know her, she’ll be in the heart of the coolest part of this party. Guess I better mingle.

A part of Alice’s mind shouts at her, that she should follow the vampire, and protect the people here from it… but that awful feeling of longing, of needing things to be normal, just once, just for one fucking night presses in on her.

I can do both… I’ll hang out with Penny and keep an eye out for trouble. I’m entitled to a bit of fucking fun too, right?

Knowing the selfish excuse for what it is, she starts looking for her friend.

GM: Alice locates her friend after a moment. True to her expectations, she finds Penny dancing in the center of a press of partygoers while Eye of the Tiger booms from stereos.

GM: Penelope “Penny” Freeman is a short-haired African-American girl in her early 20s with a slender figure, smooth skin, and an easy smile. She wears a denim vest, several purple, orange, and green bead necklaces, pink leggings, and a short black skirt. A Sony Walkman is even visible dangling from her hot pink belt. She has clearly put a lot more effort into her costume than the kids who’ve just slapped a few accessories on.

Her dance partner is a blonde girl wearing a pink leopard-print A-shirt with a bolt of green lightning emblazoned on the center. Pink leggings contrast to a poofy green skirt and leg warmers.

Alice: Alice allows herself a moment of frustration.

Right. Of course she would have caught someone’s attention by now. She’s too awesome not to draw people to her.

Alice briefly considers the best way to get her attention. The small, angry part of her suggests bluntly cutting in.

The way I’m fucking feeling right now, I almost could… no, that would just make me look like a bitch. Bad plan, think again.

Alice scans the room, hoping for inspiration.

I could get up on the table, and dance my ass off. She’s sure to notice that, and it might make me feel better.

She tries to read the vibe of the party, to see if that kind of stunt would be met with applause, or protest.

GM: Alice scans the party. There’s lots of college kids drinking and having a good time. Some of them look pretty sloshed. Some pretty sober. Some are pretty into the ‘80s theme. Some haven’t even bothered to dress up. Some are in between, for both categories. The party is just too much like a college kid, trying out a bunch of things, but still uncertain what it wants to be.

Alice isn’t certain of much either.

Alice: Fuck it, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Worse case, I look like I’ve had too much. Either way, she’ll notice.

Alice waits for a good song for her little performance. Lady Madonna, as she usually does, answers her prayers.

Alice: Alice hops up onto a bench and tries to work the crowd. She sways with the song, lipsyncing along to the lyrics, and generally hamming it up. She gestures to people at random, at if performing for them, before switching back to addressing the audience.

GM: “Life is a mystery,
Everyone must stand alone
I hear you call my name
And it feels like home.”

An inebriated college crowd, if nothing else, is easy to please. The trick is getting noticed. Alice puts herself out, and faces among the partygoers soon start pointing, smiling, applauding, laughing. Still, they’re not who she’s out to please. It takes a little longer for Penny to notice, in the center of the crowd, but when she does she grins, taps the other girl’s shoulder, and points excitedly for her to watch Alice.

Alice: Alice grins as the song turns.

Alice: She points back at Penny, waving her up onto the bench, as she starts mouthing the words to the new song. As if to emphasize her intent, she starts dancing, and motioning for Penny to join her.

GM: Penny laughs, turns to the other girl, and says something that’s indistinct over the crowd’s noise. When she makes her way up to the “stage,” though, she’s by herself, and the other girl is dancing with someone else.

Alice: “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody,
I wanna feel the heat with somebody!”

Alice can feel the stress of the night catching up with her. If not for the rush having Penny, Penny! coming to dance with her, she might have given up, and gone home in utter defeat.

So far… so good. Please, fate, or God, or whatever, let this go smoothly! I can’t take much more shit tonight.

GM: Penny clambers up onto the bench, her Sonny Walkman bobbing as she moves.

“Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody!”
“With somebody who loves me!”
“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody…”

Alice knows they’re just lyrics. Smiles aren’t an unfamiliar thing on Penny’s face. But if she imagines for just a moment…

There isn’t much space on the bench. Their bodies are so close. As Penny pumps her arms and sways her hips to the music, she inevitably brushes against Alice. Alice can smell the other girl’s perfume… something spicy.

“I wanna feel the heat with somebody!”
“Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody!”
“With somebody who loves me!”

Alice: Alice savors this moment. For a brief instant, she forgets her Vigil. She forgets about the blood-sucking monster wandering the party. She forgets about the awkward dinners, the shady hucksters in the streets, the grime and hate, and petty evil piled in the the city like a vast dump. There is the music, and Alice, and Penny. She isn’t a hunter, or a weird kid with fire behind her eyes. She is normal, and happy.

“Haha! Penny! Are you enjoying the party? I’ve been trying to find you!” Alice yells over the music. “I should have known to look where shit was getting crazy! You’re always at the heart of this kind of stuff!”

GM: Perhaps distracted by that relief from her self-appointed motion, Alice doesn’t put her full heart into her motions—or perhaps the crowd picks up that they’re not who she’s dancing for. Penny’s dancing, on the other hand, draws whistles and applause, as well a blown kiss from the girl she’d dancing with earlier. Alice isn’t sure if she’s being serious or playful. She looks a little tipsy. Penny just grins back and mimes a bow to the applauding crowd. Still, Alice isn’t falling off either, so at least the evening isn’t getting worse.

Alice: Alice presents Penny, as if she was the star from the start, adding her own applause.

GM: “I thought I was trying to find you, Alice! You still owe me those legwarmers!” Penny shouts back.

Alice: “Hold on! I’ve got ‘em in my purse! Let’s find somewhere to chat, and I’ll dig them out!” Alice laughs, “Someplace quieter!”

GM: “What? You’ve got them worse?” Penny yells, cupping a hand to her ear even as she pumps her other arm to the music. “Sorry, it’s hard to hear up here!”

Alice: Alice points to quieter section of the room, and mimes walking. “OVER THERE! SHOULD BE QUIETER!”

GM: Penny nods and makes a ‘just a sec’ motion. After all, they still have a song to finish.

“Don’tcha wanna dance say you wanna dance
Don’tcha wanna dance
Don’tcha wanna dance say you wanna dance
Don’tcha wanna dance
Don’tcha wanna dance say you wanna dance
With somebody who loves me

Alice: Alice nods, and joins Penny in dancing. This time, she tries to put in a bit more effort. She focuses on complimenting Penny’s dancing with her own, letting her friend shine like the star she is.

GM: Clearly inspired by her crush’s attentions—and now focused on bringing her star to the fore—Alice puts some real spirit into her motions. Penny cheers and dances harder. People around the two cheer as the song’s lyrics belt out. But if Penny is a star, Alice is her corona—invisible to the naked eye, but the part that actually burns hottest of all.

When the song finally concludes, Penny takes Alice’s hand and pulls her friend into a low bow as the partygoers exclaim, “WHOO!” “YEAH!” “Shake it, girls!”

Alice knows the hand-holding is what all bowing performers do, but still…

Alice: Worth. So much worth. Fuck ghosts, fuck vampires. Alice takes out her phone, and snaps a selfie of her and Penny, with the party behind them. She gives Penny a moment to pose before taking the photo.

GM: Indeed, Alice notes a number of other cameras blink as they snap photos—including that other girl’s. She makes her way over to the duo.

“Wow, Penny, that was really great!” she begins. “Who’s your friend?”

“Alice,” Penny smiles as she steps off the bench. “Alice, Angela. Angela, Alice!”

Alice: “Heya Angela. Rockin’ party huh?”

GM: Angela straightens her overlarge bow. “Yeah, it’s hard to go wrong with an ‘80s theme. Though we actually had a girl who wanted to do the whole thing in peoples’ underwear, if you can believe that!”

Alice: Alice had moved closer to Penny to take the selfie, but even after the photo is snapped, she casually continues to stand close to Penny. Not uncomfortably close, but not “just friends” close either.

“Pretty sure the faculty would lose their shit!” Alice laughs. “So, Angela. You live in the dorms?”

GM: “Oh, Angela’s the dorm supervisor here,” Penny mentions. “She takes a stick to the head of any boys who try to sneak in.”

Alice: “Yeah? Righteous! Fight the good fight, girl! That is, keeping creeps from sneaking in.”

GM: Angela rolls her eyes good-naturedly. “I wish they gave me a stick. Usually I just call Tulane PD, but most of ‘em don’t put up any fuss.”

Alice: “Is it like, a big problem? Do people try to sneak in often?”

GM: “Well, JL house is a little stricter than some other places. All male visitors have to be, quote unquote, ‘supervised at all times.’”

Alice: “Yeah? Sounds kinda tedious. Does that include tonight? There’s plenty of dudes wandering around, from what I see.”

GM: “Oh no, we make exceptions for parties! No way we can keep an eye on this many boys.”

Alice: “Cool, but. Like, you do have people keeping an eye on the crowd or whatever? Security isn’t totally shut down, right?”

GM: Angela shakes her head. “No, we’ve got a couple people keeping an eye out. Designated non-drinkers. I mean, you know how parties can sometimes get…”

Alice: Alice motions to herself and Penny. “Yep!”

GM: Angela touches Penny’s arm. “Hey, speaking of… have you seen Summer around?”

Penny shakes her head. “No, sorry, I thought you were watching her?”

Angela smiles. “I’m trying. You can be pretty distracting, Penny.”

Alice: “What does she look like? I was looking for Penny earlier, and might have run into her.” Alice attempts to draw Angela’s attention back to her with the question.

GM: “She’s got long, dark brown hair. Pretty short, about eighteen. Wears a gray sweater. She, uh. Didn’t care so much for the party’s theme,” Angela admits with a half-smile, half-shrug. “She’s my little sister, our parents want her to stay close by me.”

Alice: Alice’s face goes a little pale. “Uh, actually yeah. At least, I think I saw her. Talking to this older black guy, dressed like one of the dudes from Run DMC. I saw him prowling around earlier, eying up girls. Fuck.”

GM: “Oh yeah? I better get her back, my parents… ah, never mind, I shouldn’t have let her out of sight.” Angela frowns at Alice’s pallor. “Is this guy gonna be trouble?”

Alice: Alice is genuinely upset, as she realizes that her selfishness might have put an innocent in danger.

“Uh, I hope she is okay? I mean, lots of people go to parties just to flirt. Just I have seen the guy at parties, flirting with people before. Definitely a player.” Alice tries to recover, she doesn’t want to scare Angela.

GM: Angela looks… not scared, Alice’s gut tells her. Discomfited, though. Long-suffering. Oddly sympathetic. And even a little guilty.

“Ah. Well, I better go get her then. Where’d you say he was at?”

Alice: “Hold on, let me think.” Alice feels pretty spent, but somewhere in the back of her mind, her vestigial Beast uncoils itself from its cozy spot by the fire.

Vampires are dangerous. Focus, Alice. Use your… instincts. Where is the danger?

She feels her senses temporarily heighten to preternatural levels, her world becoming a blend of smells, sounds, and sharp images. Focus. The hairs on the back of her neck rise as her senses attempt to sniff out danger.

GM: Alice’s unnatural senses hungrily tear through the crowd of revelers like fangs through skin.

Alice: Alice shudders. The vamp blood might help her feel out danger, but the way it makes her feel. Like a hungry cat, eyeing people like mice. She always feels a little sick afterwards.

GM: Indeed, as far as she can discern, there are two types of people: weak and strong. The former are unworthy of attention. The latter are threats. Threats must be dealt with.

Damned blood rushes through Alice’s veins, whispering forbidden knowledge. To her surprise, the greatest threat is not Alexander Wright, but a waifish girl with long, somewhat messy dark brown hair, a button nose, and plump cheeks still holding on to some baby fat. She doesn’t look much older than 18. She wears a somewhat overlarge gray sweater over blue jeans, evidently having spurned the party’s retro theme.

She is talking to some boys in a far-off corner of the party, well away from her older sibling.

Alice: Alice blinks. “Uh, looks like she shot Run DMC down. She’s over there, chatting with those dudes.” Alice points.

She isn’t quite sure what to make of Summer being the most dangerous person in the room—or at least, the most dangerous person to her. She is relieved that the girl isn’t tangled up with the vampire though.

Note to self. Stay the fuck away from Summer.

GM: Angela looks genuinely relieved as Alice relays how her sister is okay. “Oh, that’s good. Dad shouldn’t mind her talking to some boys.” She smiles. “Thanks for letting me know, Alice, I’d hate to get pried away Penny here.” Angela lightly rests a hand on the other girl’s shoulder.

Alice: “Well, I’m glad she is okay,” Alice replies to Angela. “Actually about that. I had something important I wanted to talk to her about, and it is sort of private. Like, you seem nice, but we just met. Mind giving us some space for a bit?”

GM: “Oh c’mon, in the middle of a party?” Angela smiles with seeming good humor. “There’ll be time for private stuff later, won’t there?”

Penny thinks for a moment. “We’ll be just a moment, Angela. Hold the fort down for us, mkay?”

Alice: Alice looks extremely relieved, and a little surprised.

GM: If Angela looks disappointed, it’s only for a moment. “Well, okay. I guess I should check in on Summer anyways.”

Penny nods and assures her that it’s probably better safe than story. She maneuvers her way through the throng of partying students with Alice, heading up to the third floor study where it’s quiet and they’ll be unlikely to be disturbed.

“What’s up, Alice?” she asks, hopping up on a desk and kicking back her feet.

Alice: Alice sighs, trying to calm her racing heart. “Okay, uh, oh! Well, first off, the easy stuff.” She hurriedly says, digging the promised legwarmers out of her purse and handing them over.

GM: “Aw, thanks A! You just can’t have any ’80s outfit without these things,” Penny remarks cheerfully as she slips the zebra print outdated fashions up her legs.

Alice: The garments are loud, tacky, and oh-so-80’s. Hand-made zebra print legwarmers, which should cover the majority of Penny’s shins. She uses the momentary distraction to steady herself, before taking a deep breath, and preparing to take the plunge.

My candle burns at both ends. It won’t last the night. Let the dice fall where they may.

Alice looks to Penny and asks, "So, we’ve been hanging out again for like, over a year now right? Ever since the start of freshman year when we found out we were both going for Art degrees? "

GM: The other art major nods. “Just about!”

Alice: “I want to say, hanging out with you again has probably been one of the best things about college for me. Like, the classes and shit are cool, but more than anything I am fucking thrilled that we are friends, and nothing will ever change that.” Alice continues, as she builds toward her eventual point.

GM: Penny smiles at the compliment, but waits to speak until Alice has said her piece.

Alice: “Only, the last month or two, I realized that something had changed about how I felt when I was around you. Penny, I think I’ve got a crush on you. No, I know I do. It sort of took me by surprise, and I have been trying to figure out what the fuck to do about it. That’s why I have maybe been a bit awkward sometimes, when we are together. So, I invited you to the party tonight, so that we could hang out, have a good time, and so that I could say out loud that I like you.” And there it was, out in the open. “You don’t have to have an answer for me right now, or anything… and no matter how you answer, I’ll always be your friend, if you want me to.”

Alice braces herself for the emotional blow, and waits for Penny’s initial reaction.

GM: Penny raises two fine black eyebrows with initial surprise, then smiles. For a moment, Alice is horrified that her friend’s smile is going to precede laughter, but she touches Alice’s cheek.

“That’s sweet, Alice. That’s really sweet. I like you a lot too, for just about all the same reasons. You’re funny. You’re smart. You’re a great artist. But it’s also kinda sudden. I didn’t know you thought of me that way.”

Alice: “Right, I sort of thought that too. I’ve been dealing with it for a few months, but for you it is out of nowhere. I tried to drop hints, but I guess I’m not good at that sort of thing.”

GM: Penny gives a self-depreciating little shrug. “Well, it’s something my brother tells me I’m pretty bad at.”

Alice: Alice shrugs too, embarrassed. “Like I said, I don’t expect an answer right now. But I was hoping, you would go to Southern Decadence with me? On an actual, date-date? That’s in a week or two, so it gives you some time to thing about it, and if you decide you aren’t interested, I’ll understand and we will carry on being best friends.”

“Uh, nothing wild! I know how some of those parties get. Something fun, and nice. I got invited to a party by one of the art professors. Apparently every year she works on a float with her SO, and she offered to let me and a date go to an artist-only party if I helped with the float.”

GM: “Oh yeah?” Penny asks, curious. “Who’s the professor?”

Alice: “Professor Cahn. You know, the mousy one, who knocks stuff over in class all the time? She’s sort of awkward in class, but when I talked to her she was actually really nice.” Alice tsks, “Her partner is sorta intense though. I met her when I helped out with the float. An ex-Marine, or something? I don’t think she liked me much.”

GM: Penny’s face visibly falls. “Yeah. Megan Garrett.”

Alice: Alice looks concerned. “You look like you just bombed a test or something. Everything okay?”

GM: “She’s the… person,” Penny states, clearly substituting the word for another, “who beat my brother Joey into the ER for being ‘unpatriotic’ last Fourth of July. She fractured his skull, Alice. Don’t you remember me telling you about that?”

Alice: “Holy shit! She’s that fucking Megan Garrett? I didn’t even realize it was the same person.” Alice looks horrified. “Listen, forget the party okay? I had a few backup plans in case you weren’t interested in that.”

GM: “Look, I… I appreciate the thought there,” Penny politely continues. “But this is all really sudden. I don’t think I’m ready to say yes to a date right now, Alice. Or to when, or if, I’m going to say yes. I’m not saying no either. I just… need some time.”

Alice: “Oh. I… okay. No, I understand.” Alice looks like she’s been kicked, but there isn’t anger in her voice either. “Take your time. Think about it, and let me know. I won’t say I won’t be disappointed if you decide no, but I meant it when I said I’ll always consider you my friend.”

GM: Penny nods in recognition of Alice’s grace. “I am going to Decadence with some friends. You’re totally welcome to come hang out with us.”

Alice: Alice casts her gaze around the room, so that Penny can’t see the emotional fight happening behind her eyes. “Um. Well, I guess that covers what I wanted to say pretty well.”

She flinches a bit at Penny’s offer, then turns. “Uh, I’ll have to think about it. I don’t think my head is in the right place, just now to give a good answer. I’ll probably say yes, but it might be a day or two. Cool?”

GM: Penny nods again. An almost sad smile plays at her when as she sees she’s hurt her friend. Sometimes there’s no way of saying ‘no’ without hurt feelings.

“Cool. No pressure or anything. The festival’s still a little while off.”

Alice: With this latest defeat, what little fight was left in Alice for the night is rapidly running out. She sounds and looks tired. Penny might just chalk it up to a bit of letdown, but the ghost certainly had its part to play. Despite her look, however, an ember of resolve still smolders behind Alice’s eyes.

“I’ll say the same to you, P.”

Alice musters up a bit of false bravado, having enjoyed her moment of self-pity. Save it for later, girl!

She grins up at Penny and says, “I bet the party is still in full swing down there. Why don’t we head back down? I think I’ve got at least a little bit of party left in me before heading home.”

GM: Penny nods emphatically, seemingly glad to put the incident behind them. “Sounds good! I don’t think they’ve even played any Michael Jackson yet. What’s an ’80s party without, right?”

Alice: Despite the ache in her heart, as Alice leads he friend back to the party she walks a purpose and clarity she hadn’t felt in weeks.

Fuck. I’m pissed, and depressed. I want to cry, or punch something, or maybe both. So, why the fuck do I feel so relieved? Because I’m not pining away in secret anymore? Fuck, I dunno.

Alice reflects on the roiling feelings bubbling in her breast.

She didn’t say yes… but she didn’t say no either. I guess… I did what I wanted to. I confessed. Just gotta keep my cool for a few dances, then I can go home and fall apart.

Friday evening, 28 August 2015

GM: The two girls make their way down the stairs. A figure blocks their way down from the second floor. Tall. Dark. ‘Run DMC.’ Cold eyes sweep over them both.

“I got some private bid’ness to talk over wit’ you, girl,” he says, staring at Alice. When Penny opens her mouth, he adds, “Nothin’ you’d find too interestin’.”

The other college student leaves whatever’s on her mind unsaid.

Alice: Eyes blazing with a barely contained heat flicker back. Normally, Alice tries to be as harmless and friendly as possible to the leeches. She looks and sounds like she is having a very bad night however, and a bit of her frustration comes across.

“Alex, right? I’ve seen you around, and stuff.”

As if realizing how irritable her tone sounds, she adds a bit apologetically, “Sorry. That sounded rude. Let me try again.”

She breathes and says, “I’m always happy to do commission work. You know us starving artists.” She turns and tells Penny, “Try not to bring the house down without me! I’ll be down in a few minutes, and I promise I’ll come say goodbye before I head out.”

GM: Penny looks between Alice and ‘Alex’, but it seems as if she tries to avoid looking at the latter for too long.

She finally replies after a moment, “I’ll do my best! You know I’m just a floor away.”

Penny heads off. Alice is left alone with the vampire.

Alice: As Penny leaves, so does Alice’s false bravado. She is in no way, shape, or form prepared to deal with an angry lick right now.

“Um, so. You definitely have my attention. You have some business to talk about?”

GM: Wright wordlessly advances up the stairs. His footsteps are thick and heavy. Alice seems expected to follow.

Alice: Alice pauses a moment before doing so.

Shit shit shit shit. Please just be interested in art.

GM: They reach the building’s next story. The vampire opens a door to a dorm room. It’s about the same as any other dorm one might expect to encounter on a college campus. There are two beds festooned with pillows and stuffed animals. Photos, posters, and other homely mementos decorate the walls and refrigerator, while school papers, binders, and two laptops are semi-haphazardly strewn about the floor. A darker-skinned brown-haired girl dressed in ’80s attire lies on one of the beds, face-down and motionless. She could just be sleeping.

Wright closes the door after Alice steps in.

Alice: Alice’s face goes pale. “I’ve heard some stuff about the Windsor. I’m not, uh, I don’t do that sort of service, dude.”

GM: “You been watchin’ me, girl,” the vampire states. “Why?”

Alice: “Because you guys make me nervous?” Alice answers honestly. “I mean, sorry. Listen, you probably didn’t choose to be uh, y’know. You’re just making do as best you can, right? But the way you guys look at us. Like cats watching mice. It’s spooky. I’ve got friends at this party. I was afraid you’d…” she gestures at the girl on the bed, “someone I know.”

GM: Wright looms over Alice’s petite form. He’s a big man, broad-shouldered, and thickly-muscled. And that’s just the man he was before being turned.

The vampire takes a step forward.

Alice: Alice lets her instincts kick in.

Is he about to attack me?

GM: “Take three steps back.”

Alice: Step, step, step. Alice, like a deer caught in headlights, backs up.

GM: Alice’s stomach explodes in pain. The impact knocks the ghoul square off her feet and back-first onto the bed. She feels like she’s been shot. The soft blankets hurt less than hitting the floor might have. She briefly jostles against the other girl lying there, who doesn’t stir.

Alice: Alice can feel the broken rib, conscious only by the unholy fortitude granted by the vitae in her system. She soundlessly cries out at the pain, the wind having been knocked out of her.

GM: Wright looks her over impassively.

“First. Do not give me shit about bein’ a black guy hittin’ a white girl.”

“Second. You’re welcome.”

Alice: Alice coughs a bit of blood and weakly says, “If anything, I was profiling you. You probably get enough of that shit already. You could have killed me, and I know it. So thank you. Uh, not because of being black. Because of the other thing. So, I am sorry.”

And Alice is sorry. Not just because she was been hurt, but because she treated him like a monster instead of a person.

GM: “You’re new to this, ain’t you?” Wright asks flatly.

Alice: “About a year? My uh, ‘domitor’ was an art guy. Liked my work, then got tired of me after a month and left. He was pretty new too, I think.”

GM: “Torries,” Wright snorts. “My boss? He’da ripped your head off. No hyperbole.”

Alice: Alice does not look like she is going to argue. “Understood. In the future, um. What should I do? I know that people in my position don’t really have any sort of sway. Would coming up and asking to have my friends ignored be the right thing to do?”

GM: Wright stares at her for a moment. “Christ, girl. You green as a new dollar bill.”

He finally sits down on the empty bed across from Alice’s. “What you do is you do not fuckin’ watch us. An’ you do not tell us where an’ when t’ eat. You stay outta the way. An’ if you’re lucky, that’s where you stay.”

Alice: Alice looks a bit sick at talk of ‘eating.’ Or maybe it’s just her crushed guts. Probably a bit of both, actually.

She looks like she wants to ask Wright more questions. To learn more, but she isn’t sure whether doing so will reward her with another blow.

GM: “You gonna toss your cookies, do it in the bin.” The vampire glances towards the trash can. “This somebody’s bedroom.”

Alice: “I’ll be all right.” Alice examines herself, to see how visible the damage is. She resigns herself to having to use up some of the vitae in her system to mend the rib.

“Do I look reasonable enough to return to the party, without uh, making people ask tough questions?” She looks to Wright. “I don’t know much, but even I know drawing attention to this sort of stuff is a death sentence.”

GM: “Got that right.” Wright looks her over. “Try standin’ up.”

Alice: Alice stands, gasping as the rib scrapes her innards.

GM: “Better mend up,” the vampire states by way of answer.

Alice: Alice focuses, feeling some of the rushing power in her veins draining into the broken bone, speeding its recovery.

GM: The ghoul still feels a bit unsteady on her feet, and she’s pretty sure she’d have blacked out if she wasn’t on the “red stuff,” as she likes to call it. But the painful scraping against her liver recedes.

Alice: Alice isn’t quite sure where to go from here. Awkwardly, she looks at the vampire. “Thanks for informing me, and not killing me. Um, if you ever need artwork done, feel free to call me.” She rattles off the number of a burner phone she uses for ghoul stuff. “I mostly do street art, but I can handle some basic engineering and metal, or woodwork too given the right tools.”

Alice realizes how weird it must sound, for her to basically give her ghoul resume to this guy, but she’s gotta get her next fix from somewhere.

GM: Wright gives Alice another flat look-over. This time it’s maybe tilted a few degrees. Maybe even in her favor. It’s hard to say.

“That how you get your month-to-month fix?”

Alice: “I’d say this is the first time I met a client by getting pummeled by them, but I get a lot of work from Mid-City, so it would be a lie.” Alice shrugs. “Anyway, you have been extremely clear, and I understand your message. There won’t be a next time. Yeah pretty much. Mostly, other ghouls bring stuff by and ask me to fix it up for them, or paint pretty things for their higher ups.”

GM: “Painting, huh.” The vampire’s expression looks a bit speculative now. “What else you do?”

Alice: Oddly, the funk Alice felt earlier has gone. Getting into a one-sided scrap with this vampire, and standing up has left her feeling more alive than she has in weeks.

“I know a bit about ghosts, I guess. After I started my uh, habit, I wondered if other stuff was real. I dunno about a lot of it, but ghosts and spirits sure as fuck are.”

GM: “Ghosts, huh.” Wright’s repeated nearly the same words, but his face looks a little more thoughtful. “You jus’ know a bit, or can you do a bit too?”

Alice: “I can do a séance, I guess. It’s not a very pleasant experience though. Ghosts are fucking mean. Might be able to send one away, if I knew enough about it.” Alice shrugs. “I’m still learning. Theres a lot of restless dead in the big easy. Uh, not you guys. Ghosts, I mean. I feel bad for them. I’m no mambo, though.”

GM: Wright raises an eyebrow. “Bad for ‘em? Now why’s that?”

Alice: “They are trapped here, unable to go… wherever the fuck we go after. Unlike us, they don’t even get to enjoy any of the nice perks of having a body. They are just souls, trapped and twisted forever. That’s a pretty sad state, y’know? I’m gonna die someday, hopefully not soon, and hopefully pass on wherever. I don’t know exactly how it works with you guys, but you at least have the option of checking out if you want to. Ghosts don’t.”

GM: “Oh, f’us it’s pretty simple,” Wright states. “We’re gonna burn in the big fire below. Gonna roast us some marshmallows wit’ the Devil. Roast ‘em over pitchforks an’ have fuckin’ s’mores.”

Alice: “I have a feeling lots of people are on their way to that particular barbecue, dude.”

Alice nods, deciding something. “It isn’t my usual thing, but I guess if you want help putting a ghost to rest, I would be up for helping out with that too. As best I can, anyway.”

GM: “Maybe,” Wright replies to Alice’s initial remark. “Still up t’ them.”

Alice: Alice isn’t really much of a theologian, and arguing damnation with a vampire seems like a pretty hard fight.

This dude probably knows more about sin than I’ll ever know. No way am I arguing that shit with him.

With her business pitch made, and Wright’s lesson hopefully finished, Alice waits to see what the vampire has planned next.

GM: The vampire doesn’t say anything for a few moments. He glances at the room’s door, from where dim music can still be heard, and then glances back at Alice.

“Some party, huh?”

Alice: “Well, the girl of my dreams shot me down, I danced like an idiot on a table, broke at least one rib, and maybe found some work. I just need to crash on the way home, and it will be complete.” Alice grins, just a little giddy from the vitae and adrenaline. “Definitely not boring.”

GM: “That girl was you?”

Alice: Alice gives a sheepish shrug. “I wanted to dance with somebody. Uh, on a table.”

GM: Wright looks as if he could snort. But Alice doesn’t think she’s ever seen his kind do that. Josua never did.

“Well, it was entertainin’. Fuckin’ spoiled-ass white bread college kids. Of all the ways to piss away my evenin’.”

Alice: Alice isn’t sure whether she is included in that statement, but doesn’t really disagree with his assessment either way. Most of the kids here probably are white and here using their parent’s money.

GM: “You got any aspirin on you?” Wright asks, abruptly changing the topic.

Alice: Alice rummages in her purse, removing a pack of the little miracle pills. “Here.” She offers it over to Wright.

GM: The vampire sets it on the bedside table adjacent to the motionless brown-haired girl’s head. She hasn’t moved or made a sound since Alice entered the room.

Alice: Alice peers at the girl as Wright draws attention to her. To herself, she mutters, “I hope she’s gonna be all right, whoever she is. She hasn’t moved once.”

GM: Wright stares at Alice. The leeches have damnably good hearing, she knows.

“I ain’t a killer.”

There’s a beat.

“‘Less they’re askin’ for it.”

Alice: Alice touches her stomach. “I know. Plus, you left her aspirin. That is… you didn’t have to do that. A killer wouldn’t do that.”

GM: Alice hears a dull thud from the floor.

Wright gets up from his seat on the bed.

Alice: “Uh, right. The party. I told my friend I would be down in a few minutes.”

Alice looks worried. How long had they been talking? What was that noise?

GM: A low growl sounds from Wright’s throat. Alice can see a hint of fang protruding from his mouth. He strides across the room, opens the door, and tromps downstairs.

Alice: Alice stands out of his way as he goes, then likewise leaves, closing the door. She follows, unsure if his business with her is finished.

GM: Downstairs, the party seems to be winding down. A number of students lie slumped against walls with bleary-eyed, out of focus expressions, being attended to by friends. Many people are sneezing and coughing. Girls help inebriated roommates upstairs. Some of them look really out of it. They don’t just look drunk, though. They’re sneezing and coughing too.

Alice: Alice looks around for Penny, shooting her a text.

Hey! Sorry about that. Still at the party?

GM: A reply pings back in short order.

Yeah! You seen Angela, she’s disappeared on me!

Alice: Alice’s face drops. Angela. I wonder if Penny… well. Mom and my friends were right. Maybe I waited too long. Fuck. She feels any lingering rush from her near-death experience wash away, and briefly considers misleading Penny with some story about Angela going upstairs with some other girl.

No, I feel shitty enough. I don’t need my conscience giving me shit too. Plus, I lie to Penny too much as is. Texting she says, Sorry, no. It looks like things are winding down. I’ll make my way to you, and keep an eye out for her as I go.

GM: Thanks A! People seem pretty out of it, hope she’s ok!

Alice: No longer suffering the fugue inflicted by the ghost, Alice finds the little voice in the back of her head much harder to ignore. There might something going on here.

She shakes her head, intent on walking through the party straight to Penny, then leaving. Making only a token effort at scanning the room around her. I’m barely standing. I’m done. I’m running on empty here, the voice persists.

No! Something isn’t right! Alice stops mid-step, mentally arguing with herself. Why do I feel that way? Aside from Wright, who turned out to be at least sort of okay, I don’t see any monsters.

Alice frowns, shaking slightly, memories race through her mind. Summer, talking to Wright. Her instincts screaming at the danger Summer represented. Angela, saying she would go talk to her sister. Influenza victims. Sick people. Wright growling, striding out of the room. A brief, shining moment as she and Penny danced and all the world fell away.

Fuck. It isn’t fucking fair! Just one moment? That’s all I get? I get one happy moment, as the world takes a big fat shit on me, and I’m supposed to be content!?

The fire flares. People need protecting. They NEED to be PROTECTED. Alice looks up, battered, beaten, but resolved.

Fine! …fine. I had my fun. I haven’t been looking properly. If there’s a chance people need help… someone has to help them.

A final flash of memory, as Angela puts her hand on Penny’s shoulder.

Even if I fucking hate doing it.

Alice strides with newfound purpose, casing the dregs of the party, and wracking her brain trying to connect the clues she has.

I don’t know what has been going on in this party… but I am going to find out.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie V
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Story One, Amelie V

“Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t.”
Anonymous note

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s first week of classes goes by.

Mr. Thurston’s class is enjoyable enough, if one likes finance and listening to his stories about the city’s families and banking “in the old days”. The retired investment banker has a fairly laid-back attitude to class and doesn’t assign homework, quizes, or projects. He mostly just lectures and says there’ll be one exam every month throughout the semester. He says that’s “closer to how the real world works,” though he offers extra credit to students who read any of the recommended books off his syllabus and write 10-page reports on them. He also offers extra credit to any student who’ll grade his exams for him, as he evidently doesn’t assign enough work in his classes to justify a TA.

To the surprise of few, Sarah Whitney receives this position, although a black-haired girl he addresses as “Miss St. John” seems like she also wanted it. Amelie gets the impression that Mr. Thurston has no interest whatsoever in spending any of his own time on the class outside of class. Amelie hears he doesn’t even have Sarah read the book reports, just check to see if they’ve been plagiarized (and are actually about the chosen book).

At the same time, the old man has “about forty years” of experience in the financial sector and genuinely seems to enjoy imparting that knowledge to the daughters of his former banking clients. He also has a seemingly photographic memory for the names and family histories of many of his students. He often meanders off-topic from his lectures to relate stories about students’ families in his lazy Southern drawl, and some of the time they’re even relevant to the lectures’ subject matter. All told, his class is a peculiarly personalized blend of zeal and sloth.

“Just like college at the Ivy Leagues,” Mr. Thurston even briefly quips.

Amelie: Amelie tackles her schoolwork intensely: she only has a year of advanced schooling like this before she graduates. It’s a sobering thought and reminds her that being at the very top here is important to her future.

Finance is probably her least favorite class, thanks to Mr. Thurston’s constant tangents, but she uses the chance to memorize names from the old boys’ clubs he seems to be part of. His stories also provide some context into how the finance game’s players operate, and maybe even give her an in with those people. If she hears a name in this classroom there’s always a chance she can ask the teacher for introductions.

GM: Mr. French’s history class is more straightforward in its content matter, and perhaps more professional in how it’s structured. Mr. French treats it like the college course it is: there’s some amount of homework and assigned readings, as well as exams, but it’s mostly lectures geared towards writing a term paper. He seems like a hard grader, and most of the students seem like hard workers. Golf doesn’t come up beyond his initial introduction. Amelie’s own passion for the subject matter likely makes the prolonged lectures more enjoyable for her than they are to the other girls.

Amelie: History class is Amelie’s bread and butter. She sits with a straight back and laps up everything in every lesson, keeping detailed bullet point notes. She fails to keep a small smile off her face as they go over wars, changes in maps, political and religious shifts, and more. This period of history is fascinating and exhilarating for her, and she’s already working on drafts for her paper on the Hundred Years’ War in her spare time. Her initial concern about a male teacher in the girls’ school seems less valid every day, and downright silly by the end of the week. They clearly picked the right man for the job. She frequently raises her hand to asks questions and sometimes stays after class to clear up certain dates and faction names.

GM: Mr. French clearly expects all of his students to be raising their hands and asking questions about the material, and appears to take notice of Amelie simply for doing so more regularly than her peers (which she can hope will earn her a good participation grade).

In contrast, students in Ms. Perry’s third period seem to have a lot more fun. The teacher is younger and more energetic than Mr. French, and tries to give the girls more hands-on roles in the class through small-group discussions and presentations. She still gives lots of lectures herself, but punctuates them with jokes, wry commentary, and frequent pictures on the room’s smartboard (including the occasional cartoon and popular meme). She seems to hold strong opinions on a number of historic figures, especially John Law, who she repeatedly calls a “ne’er-do-well-scoundrel,” “sweet-talking hustler,” and other such variations, usually with a smirk. When one of the students brings up the topic, she laughs and admits she has a soft spot for “bad boy” types.

Amelie: Amelie does her best to keep her hand in the air during Mr. French’s class. She sometimes feels like he doesn’t go into certain topics on purpose, just to keep his students asking questions.

Ms. Perry’s class is more Amelie’s milk and honey, however, and she sits there with a big dumb grin on her face throughout the teacher’s lectures. She can’t help but chuckle at Ms. Perry’s half-hearted admonishments towards John Law. There’s plenty of ‘bad boys’ in New Orleans’ history. Jean Lafitte is a big name that springs to mind: French pirate, spy, smuggler, and war hero. Amelie suspects that more than a little class time will be spent learning about this man.

The figure she looks forward to hearing about most of all, though, is Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla. The famed duelist was only seven or eight when Laffite died, but one of his best-known business ventures was ironically the purchase of Grande Terre Island in Barataria Bay: the former island base of Jean Laffite himself. Amelie enjoys sharing tidbits like this during the more hands-on portions of the class and discussing them with her teacher and classmates. It’s a dream class.

GM: Ms. Perry seems to appreciate Amelie’s knowledge and enthusiasm for history, and the Canadian transplant soon finds herself being regularly asked, “Ms. Savard, you have anything else you want to add for us?” during lectures. Ms. Perry laughs when she brings up Jean Lafitte and admits that her “crush” on the notorious pirate turned folk hero is well-known among her students. They’ll spend plenty of class time on him and his lesser-known brother Pierre in due order.

Amelie: Amelie’s great passion for history is finally stoked! And in a school, by teachers, of all people. The irony of her surprise and delight isn’t lost on her. Amelie always seems to have at least a small tidbit to add whenever Ms. Perry calls on her: the city’s history of the city has a lot of little offshoots and interesting facts, enough that she even researches more outside of class just so that she’ll have more to do.

GM: Lunch breaks continue to be lonely times for Amelie. All of the girls know each other, have their own cliques, and seem to possess an invisible map that designates what spots are acceptable for which people to sit. The school lunches, however, continue to taste delicious, and could easily be restaurant-level fare. The girls who go off-campus for lunch mainly seem to want some extra variety in their diets, and can be found eating at the cafeteria just as often.

Amelie: Lunch becomes a time for review as Amelie figuratively balances her food in one hand and her laptop in the other. She doesn’t deny that she’d like to sit by other people and resolves to make some friends as the days go by. Yvette and Sarah seem like good candidates once they feel more comfortable around her.

GM: Amelie observes that Sarah Whitney spends every lunch period with Susannah Kelly and two other girls she recognizes by sight, and whose full names she eventually fills in as Mackenna Gallagher and Aurora St. John. The four of them appear to be quite popular, and their table is usually surrounded by hangers-on who listen to their every word and laugh at all their jokes.

It’s seemingly by chance that Amelie observes with whom Yvette spends her lunches: her sister Yvonne, and two smaller girls who share their blanched complexions, pale blonde hair, and translucent blue eyes. The physical resemblance between the four young women is already uncanny, and their identical McGehee uniforms make the effect even more pronounced. Only their obvious disparities in age make it possible for Amelie to tell the younger two girls apart. The four eat their lunches in the library and talk exclusively in their formal-sounding metropolitan French.

Amelie: At least lunch allows Amelie to observe the school’s social hierarchy. Sarah is definitely one of the untouchables. It seems Yvette has a family rife with siblings and what she hopes is only selective breeding and not that other thing people often accuse high-class families of.

GM: Ms. Ward never sends Amelie to the principal’s office, but she never seems to quite forget how the new girl showed up tardy during the middle of her introductory speech about why she’s teaching at McGehee instead of pursuing a research career. She’s younger than Ms. Perry, but somewhere between her and Mr. French in terms of the seriousness of her class. She’s friendly enough, and can relate to the students fairly well (she looks maybe a decade older than them at most), but work comes first. In fact, she’s probably the harshest grader out of all of Amelie’s teachers, and clearly has very high expectations for her students. Class follows the same college/AP model of lectures, more emphasis on exams than daily work, one group research project, and the syllabus actually matters.

Amelie: Inorganic Chemistry is a little more tense than Amelie’s other classes. She keeps on her best behavior and often shows up first or second from then on to avoid the teacher’s wrath and demonstrate through her actions that her first day was a one-time accident. The coursework itself is much more serious, but Amelie knows she’s good at this. Inorganic chemical reactions and the understanding of them are what makes a smith a good smith. You know how steel hardens and how different levels of heat affect the introduction of oxygen-leeching borax. She pays close attention, less from mirth like her morning classes, and more from duty. She takes her trade seriously.

GM: Mrs. Laurent doesn’t appear as unenthusiastic for her class as Amelie initially thought and turns out to be maybe slightly more easygoing a grader than Mr. French is. However, the woman speaks in a damnably quiet voice. She isn’t impossible to hear, but missing bits and pieces of her lectures is inevitable unless one pays extremely close attention. Amelie may be amused by the convoluted and always—always—flawlessly polite ways through which her peers entreat their teacher to please, please speak at a higher volume. Mrs. Laurent seems oblivious to each and every one of these requests, and also has a habit of lecturing with her eyes half-lidded, which further compounds the sense that she isn’t quite present during class. Fortunately, small group discussions take up a good chunk of each period.

Amelie: Mrs. Laurent proves to be slightly frustrating, in that her students are always leaning forward to try and make out what she’s saying. Amelie has a solution in mind in the form of a collar-mounted microphone and simple belt speaker to amplify the teacher’s voice. But for now the she just keeps her ears open until it’s time for the group talks, and proves that new kid jitters do not affect her as she shares her opinions and listens to others.

GM: It’s easy for Amelie to see why so many students signed up for Mrs. Flores’ class during sixth period: it’s a relaxing way to end the day and feels more like an extracurricular activity than a proper class. Grading is participation-based, which would be bad for any cutters, but Amelie doesn’t see much cutting in any of her classes—the students all seem to take their studies seriously.

Mrs. Flores spends the first week of class on waltzes, which she calls the “easiest type of dance—most of your grandmas can probably still do it.” She also permits a notable deviation from the school uniform: girls are not only free but encouraged to bring high-heeled shoes to class. “Nothin’ too risque, of course, but you do want to learn to dance in the shoes you’ll actually be dancing in,” the teacher adds.

Even more notably, Mrs. Flores also allows “dress Fridays” when her students don’t have to wear their uniforms. That privilege comes with three caveats, the first of which is that attire must be at least semiformal—skirts or dresses of a minimum knee length, and “definitely no blue jeans.” Secondly, the girls have to change in a nearby locker room before class starts, as the offer is not good for other periods. Finally, they have to change back into their uniforms when class ends, even if they’re driving straight home. Not wearing the uniform is a privilege, Mrs. Flores emphasizes.

That cautionary aside, the class is abuzz with enthusiasm at their teacher’s announcement (though many girls also seem as if they knew it was coming ahead of time), and almost everyone seems as if they’re going to show up in non-uniform come next Friday. The class is generally a very enthusiastic one, and everyone seems like they have a lot of fun, though there are a few occasions when Mrs. Flores has to sit down and direct things from her stool because of her leg.

Amelie: Mrs. Flores’ class proves to be quite fun for Amelie too, and gives her a chance to show off her more physical prowess. She still prefers to lead during dances, but she learns from her first day and plays the female role too, even though she’s sure that the other girls find it awkward to lead around their tall and masculine classmate. Still, she probably needs the practice there.

The mention of dancingwear makes Amelie a little nervous. Her earlier shopping trip with Kristina hasn’t changed her opinion that her fashion sense is… fairly bare-bones. She thinks she can do the dancing shoes at the very least, though.

Amelie stays behind on days when Mrs. Flores seems to be in pain. She offers to help the older woman with stretches to ease the pain and shows her the rigors of ice skating injury recovery.

GM: Mrs. Flores thanks Amelie several further times for her thoughtfulness on the first day of class. On subsequent occasions, she simply smiles and tells the young woman she’s “very sweet, but you don’t need to worry about me. My leg’s been this way since ‘03, so I’m used to managing.” She laughs. “It won’t be too much longer before it’s old enough to take this class.”

Amelie: Amelie still offers her services every day the pain seems to be a bother for her teacher. Long-term injuries are a different story than injuries from the last few years, but unless the muscle itself is missing Amelie keeps the offer open. Either for fetching ice packs, being a partner for stretches, or helping her walk to her car.

GM: Amelie’s after-school afternoons are fairly open. She has an hour to kill every Tuesday and Thursday before driver’s ed begins, but she receives enough homework from her classes that she can put the time to productive use studying in the library. Getting behind the wheel is intimidating at first, but it doesn’t take long before she can drive a car in basic laps around an empty lot.

Christina also helps Amelie set up a bank account at Whitney Hancock National Bank. She leaves a monthly allowance in it for expenses like clothes, cab fare, eating out, and the like so that Amelie doesn’t need to ask her for money all the time.

Her aunt also recommends that Amelie apply for a credit card, and is willing to co-sign for one if her first two applications get rejected. She cautions Amelie to always pay back the monthly balance in full, and to use it simply to establish a good credit history—which she will need even more than the average person if she intends to open a business. Banks and would-be investors alike will want to see evidence that she can handle money responsibly.

Amelie: Amelie’s life outside of school moves quite a bit faster as they get the bank account set up and apply for a credit card right afterwards. She does some reading and postulates that the longer she has the card the more likely the bank will be willing to set up a corporate card once she gets her business off the ground.

The monthly alllowance is another matter. Given the facts she rarely eats out, considers it wasteful to take cabs, and already has a bunch of clothes from both Quebec and shopping with Kristina, it simply feels like free money. Still, she leaves it at that.

GM: Amelie is able to purchase a pair of rollerblades without issue. Her aunt pointedly makes no comment.

Amelie: For all the silence that purchase meets, Amelie doubts her aunt can argue with the results. It’s not long before the she’s whipping in between traffic like she’s gliding on ice. She’s actually faster than the streetcar on days with congested enough traffic.

GM: Ms. Nguyen gets back to Amelie several days later about the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation’s ISA program. She has a brochure and repeats that she can arrange for Amelie to meet one of the foundation’s members. She adds that it will not be a formal interview or anything of the sort, merely a simple ‘question and answer’ meeting that the foundation is happy to entertain from potentially interested students.

Amelie: Ms. Nguyen’s pamphlets are as useful as always. She pours over the information inside, thanks the counselor for her time, and says she’ll have more information for her in the coming month. She would would love to have that Q & A meeting once she has some examples her work and a write-up of the material costs she’ll need to get her feet wet.

GM: Ms. Nguyen clarifies that the foundation will be happy to meet with Amelie simply to answer questions, as opposed to deciding whether she qualifies for the ISA, but leaves it at that.

Ms. Perry provides some time during Friday for her students to do research on their group projects. She also admonishes them, “With only ten of y’all, I can tell who’s checking Facebook!” Yvette mentions that she spoke with her mother and Sarah Whitney, and that the Devillers invited the Whitneys over for dinner a few days ago. Sarah’s grandfather Lyman, the bank’s now-retired CEO, was willing to pull some strings and get Yvette into the LaLaurie House for a night as a favor to her family. Amelie still isn’t sure how allowable that is under the bank’s policies, but nepotism and old-boy networking seems to be everything in Louisiana.

Lyman is willing to let Yvette bring along a single classmate of her choice, but was stern this was not to turn into a slumber party. If there’s any damage to the historic house, the Devillers are paying for it—and Yvette’s mother expects Amelie’s family to pay for it.

“’E also mentioned a liability waiver to sign in case the curse kills us,” Yvette states dryly.

Amelie: Class with Yvette is a real kicker. Amelie is surprised that it only took a week for Sarah to not only get back to her grandfather, but for the two families to meet and give them the thumbs up.

“That’s… that’s great! Honestly, I didn’t think it’d be this easy. As for the curse, I think it might only apply to the owners of the house. As long as Sarah doesn’t come with us.” She laughs lightly before asking, “Are you sure you want to do this, then? Spend the night in this scary old place? It sounds like we aren’t allowed to bring that priest or voodoo mambo like I suggested.”

GM: “Of course,” Yvette answers. “It’ll be a much better presentation if Ah can actually go inside the ‘ouse we’ll be talking about, no? Besides, mah mother and Ah already asked Monsieur Whitney. ’E’s been so nice to us, Ah’d be rude to back out now. Ah didn’t ask ‘im about any priests, though. Ah wouldn’t want to bother one over something like this. And don’t be silly, Ah wouldn’t want to damage the ’ouse letting in some voodoo clochard.”

Amelie: “That’s wise,” Amelie nods. “But I want you to know the offer is open. I can always spend the night alone with a camera. Though I think I’ll bring one anyway.” She doesn’t overlook Yvette calling Vodouisant priests tramps, but she lets it go.

“I’m heading to a cathedral after school today, however. I’ll at least ask the priest their advice on the matter. The interaction between religion and ghosts is something interesting I’d like to explore. How Catholics love to have buildings consecrated and exorcised of spirits, and how New Orleans’ Vodoun traditions interact with hauntings. Did they give a certain time they’d like us to visit?”

GM: “Oui,” Yvette answers, “Frahday next week. Monsieur Whitney said it would take a bit to pull strings, and mah mother would rather Ah did something like that on a non-school night.”

“And that’s very nice of you, but Monsieur Whitney is letting me stay the night as a favor to mah mother. ’E’s letting me bring one classmate, but Ah ’ave to be there with ’er.”

Amelie: “That’s good of him. I’ll have to think him personally, if I ever get the chance. Friday gives us time, though, that’s good. Maybe we should call Ms. Perry over and inform her of the good news. I’m sure she’d be amazed.”

GM: “Be mah guest,” Yvette offers as she scrolls through something on her laptop.

Ms. Perry is talking to another pair of students, but in the ten-girl class, Amelie does not have to try very hard or wait for very long to make herself heard. “All righty, what can I do for you gals?” the black-haired teacher asks as she strides over.

Amelie: Amelie nods and beckons Ms. Perry when she can, smiling as the teacher approaches. “We just wanted to give you the good news. We secured a night pass to stay in the LaLaurie House for our project.”

GM: “Oh wow, for real? You two better watch out for that curse, no telling if it might haunt you later,” Ms. Perry smiles.

Yvette replies with a faintly sardonic one. “We can only ‘ope not, ma’am.”

Amelie: “The curse has only ever affected owners though, hasn’t it?”

GM: “Good point,” Ms. Perry laughs. “you two are probably safe if you don’t plan on moving in. But that’s wonderful for you though, really it is. Who knows when that house is going to get snagged up by another movie star… take as many pictures as you can, hear?”

Amelie: “How about you make a small list of things you’d like us to document specifically? I’m sure we can help you out with your curiosity. As long as the ‘attic’ isn’t on that list, of course.” It’s a question in the back of her mind she knows the teacher doesn’t have an answer for, if they sealed that space off or filled it in.

GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea. If the attic is off, definitely the courtyard… that’s where a young slave was supposed to have jumped to her death, because she was so terrified of what Madam LaLaurie would do to her.” Ms. Perry’s smile turns a touch self-depreciating. “I gotta admit I’m just a little jealous. The most haunted house in the city, all yours for one spooooky night.” Yvette smirks and rolls her eyes as Ms. Perry raises her fingers to eye level and wiggles then as if to pantomime a ghost.

Amelie: Amelie chuckles lightly, enjoying the banter. “Actually, ma’am, I do have a question. The slaves in Madam LaLaurie’s possession… were most slaves in those times Christian, or followers of voodoo?”

GM: “You know, that’s a somewhat tricky question,” Ms. Perry answers as she sits down. “We have to remember that Vodoun developed in response to early African slaves being forcibly converted to Catholicism, and as a means for them to continue practicing their native faiths under the watch of their owners. West African religions are syncretic, so the slaves had no problems adopting Catholic saints into their ‘pantheon’, or just viewing them as equivalent names and faces to loa they already revered. The loa Papa Legba, for instance, is considered the same figure as the Catholic St. Peter, and Damballah is another mask for St. Patrick. Fun myth there-,” the teacher smirks, “-the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland in Catholicism is a giant snake in Vodoun.”

“As time went on,” she continues, “Vodoun adopted more Catholic trappings, and its followers didn’t see all that much difference between being Catholic and being a Vodouisant. Marie Laveau considered herself both and she was married in a Catholic ceremony by Padre Antonio, the city’s probably most famous priest. It took time for Vodoun to evolve from an underground religion in the early 1700s into a more public one and even influential social force by the mid-1800s. By the time of Madam LaLaurie, there were around fifteen different voodoo queens who’d amassed quite a bit of power. In fact, it was only a year after Madam LaLaurie’s abuses were exposed, in 1835, that Marie Laveau became New Orleans’ more or less supreme voodoo queen. There’s actually a story that the two of them knew one another—which isn’t impossible, Marie Laveau had a lot of upper-class customers—and raised a baby who was the Devil’s own son together.” Ms. Perry smiles over the rims of her half-oval glasses. “I can’t vouch for whether that last bit’s true, though.”

“Are there many voodoo followers these days?” Yvette asks.

The teacher seems to think for a moment. “They’re still around, but there’s a lot fewer than there used to be. Particularly after Katrina, since a lot of the real believers were poor and some of the most displaced by the storm. People who practice Vodoun these days might just be purely ‘in it for the money’ as something to commercialize and sell to tourists. Others might think of Vodoun as part of their cultural heritage but not ‘really’ believe in it, like an atheist Jew who still celebrates Passover and Hanukkah. Others might think of themselves as Catholic Vodouisants like Marie Laveau did. And probably only a small minority see Vodoun as an exclusive religion.”

“Of course, I might just be talking out of my rear end there,” Ms. Perry smirks, “I don’t actually have any Vodouisant friends. If you ask a Catholic, they’ll probably see Vodoun as a distinct religion, and if you ask a Protestant, they’re even more likely to. History shows us that religion is pretty mutable, and trying to assign hard labels to people’s beliefs can be a tricky thing.”

“But to actually answer to your question, Ms. Savard,” the teacher finishes, “Madam LaLaurie’s slaves were probably Vodouisants who also attended Catholic Mass.”

“Ah don’t see ‘ow that must work, ma’am,” Yvette frowns. “Catholicism isn’t just believing in saints. Do followers of voodoo, for instance, believe in the ‘Oly Trinity? It would seem more like another religion if they don’t. Ah mean, Islam believes in Jesus, but not that ’E is the son of God or rose from the dead.”

“Afraid I can’t answer that, Ms. Devillers. My degree’s in history, not theology.”

“Hmm, well, one thing you maybe can. Is that what they’re called, people who follow the religion? ‘Followers of voodoo’?”

“That’s a somewhat roundabout way of describing them,” Ms. Perry smiles. “The religion’s name is Vodoun, or ‘Vodou’ with a ‘u’—the spelling with two ’o’s is how Hollywood spells it. ‘Vodouisants’ or ‘Vodouists’ is the term we use for someone who believes Vodoun. Less of a mouthful, isn’t that?”

“Oui. Rather so,” Yvette smiles faintly back.

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet as she listens to Yvette and Ms. Perry talk, nodding along and thinking up questions. Papa Legba makes her think of two things, the first of which is Baba Yaga. Despite her fascination with New Orleans, the study of fencing takes one to northern Europe and its own legends and folktales.

The other thing Legba makes her think of is an embarrassingly cheesy new TV series in which Papa Legba and Madame LaLaurie are prominent characters. The loa is depicted as a sly and playful man who makes iron deals and doles out harsh punishments in hell. Now that she thinks about it, his demon-like role paints him in a very Catholic light. She doubts West African Vodouisants had ideas about hell before the Catholics sewed it into their skin.

“The issue I think I’m taking is that I see Louisiana as a very strange spot, in that I don’t think I could rightfully lump it all together. From my reading, New Orleans’ development of voodoo, with all ’o’s’, basically became a local ‘folkway’. Not quite African or Haitian Vodou, not quite Deep South hoodoo, but very much a practice while I would be wary to call it a religion. Yet we all associate this Creole ‘folkway’ with the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Of course, you can steal a name and commercialize it, and that’s indeed what’s happened. I can’t qeeqle any spelling of Vodou without some mid-50s white woman in middle America telling me her gris-gris is 30% off.”

She’s not smiling as she makes the joke. New Orleans’ commercialization bothers her.

“I think it’s a question to ask, though. Maybe I’ll snoop around for a living practitioner to get her two cents on New Orleans’ dearly not-so-departed for the paper.”

GM: “Talking to someone who knows more about Vodoun than us couldn’t hurt,” Ms. Perry nods. “Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a new thing or two to teach us about the religion.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and taps the table with her finger as the wheels turn in her head. It might be best to get the opinion of both or either a Catholic priest and a Vodouisant. She hasn’t taken confession in a while, anyway.

“Either way, we should bring plenty of cameras and take some video as well. With how much it’s been renovated I’m sure it’s not anything like it once was, but if we work at it I’m sure we can identify original features between all the replicas. Though I have to wonder what they may have done with ‘that’ attic door.”

GM: “Perhaps you’ll just get to find out,” Ms. Perry smiles.

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: After school gets out for the day, Amelie either walks or skates home on the now-familiar route past rows of old houses, verdant gardens, and majestic Southern live oaks. The muggy heat is no less stifling than it was on her first week in New Orleans, and perspiration is slick against the Canadian transplant’s back when she finally enters her aunt’s blessedly cool, air-conditioned house. Christina is not home. After a quick shower, Amelie hits up the internet for her latest line of research.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the trip more on skates, at least. Her speed makes the wind rush right past her and cools her off slightly. Still, her first thought when she opens the door is a string of expletives in two languages as she feels sweat making her uniform stick to her back. The shower and change of clothes greatly improve her mood as she sits down by her room’s desk and turns on her laptop. The former already houses several stacks of printed reference material as she works towards her next goal: the Vodouisants of New Orleans.

GM: Amelie’s search proves slow going, but she eventually turns up the names of several Vodouisants who also sound like priests (mambos and houngans, as the female and male ones are respectively called).

A man named Toussaint turns up the most results. He is apparently known for hosting semi-public rites and ceremonies in Tremé, the Ninth Ward, and other poorer parts of the city. Toussaint does not maintain a personal website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media presence that Amelie can find. Indeed, she only finds out that he exists by cross-referencing a number of police reports (many people associated with him have been arrested at some time or other), and an article by the Times-Picayune about “modern voodoo kings and queens in the Big Easy.”

A woman named Julia Jackson claims to sell charms, curses, love potions, and assorted spells from her shop in the French Quarter. She actually has a website, if one that is fairly dated-looking.

A woman named Mama Rosa has been the subject of an anthropologist’s book about Vodoun. Like Toussaint, she has no website of her own, but she is mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the anthropologist (Margaret Harrell), which makes it sound like she lives in either Tremé or the Quarter.

Amelie uncovers two final names from some more online police reports: Doc Tom in Central City and Mama Wedo in the Ninth Ward.

All told, she concludes, legitimate practitioners of Vodoun do not seem to maintain a very large online presence.

Amelie: Two names catch Amelie’s attention the most. Mama Rosa and Mama Wedo. She’s in a girls’ school, so it makes sense to pander to that in her report. She could outline the prominence of ‘voodoo queens’ over the traditional patriarch-driven priesthood of so many other religions. Doc Tom and Toussaint both come up as possibilities too, though Toussaint’s semi-fame makes her a bit dubious. Just because you’re public doesn’t mean you’re authentic. Julia Jackson doesn’t even earn a footnote. Having a store, and one in the French Quarter no less, makes Amelie instantly disregard her. She starts with Mama Wedo, a very mysterious-sounding name if nothing else, and looks around for any means of contacting her.

GM: Amelie looks through page after page of Qeeqle results, but cannot find a surname (or given name?) to attach alongside Wedo. Locating an address or phone number for the potential mambo proves frustratingly out of reach.

Mama Rosa’s surname, however, proves easier to locate after Amelie pulls up the title of the book she is featured in (Mama Rosa: A Vodou Priestess in Little Cuba). A few more searches on the online yellow pages pull up both a phone number and a home address in Bywater.

Amelie gives the number a call. The phone rings for a while. “You’ve reached Rosa Rouzier. Leave a message,” states an older-sounding woman’s firm voice. A beep follows.

Amelie: Amelie plans out what to say before dialing the number, but she’s almost relieved when she hears the tone ask her to leave a message. The woman sounds old, which matches what her research turned up, and the name she gives matches too. It’s the best chance the teenager is probably going to get.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Amelie Savard, I was just calling because I was looking for your advice. I’m spending a night in the LaLaurie House for research purposes, and with the stories and my research pointing to those departed from life being Vodousiants in life, I wanted to approach the house as respectfully as possible. Thank you the time you’ve already spent listening to this message, and have a lovely day. Thank you.”

GM: Amelie hits the ‘end call’ button on her new phone. The rest of the weekend stretches before her—and the rest of the week until her promised night in the LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Amelie glances at the time, then grabs her things and hurries out the door. This is a good time to make the other half of her trip until she can talk to Mama Rosa. She uses her phone to navigate the city’s public transportation system and heads out to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in Jackson Square. The St. Charles streetcar has a route from the Garden District to the French Quarter every ten minutes. Perfect.

GM: The streetcar doesn’t sound like the bus. There’s a distinct clang-clang as it clatters along the tracks, like a tiny railroad car, and a low roar that follows in its wake. Amelie pays to get on, like any other bus. The seats are wood instead of cushioned, the ceiling is a woodish-hued maroon, and its largest advertisement for a local restaurant.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the streetcar. It’s open-air and feels heavy as it moves. No plastic and paper-thin buses with fogged and closed windows whose wheels grind along bad roads. This mode of transportation feels solid, grounded, and loud not least of all. She puts her earbuds in and leaves the music off just to have a small bit of insulation.

GM: The terminus of her destination is just off Royal Street, at a restaurant called the Court of Two Sisters.

The first thing she notices about the Quarter is how much louder it is than the Garden District. The beeping noise of ongoing traffic was all but absent outside her aunt’s house, as was the indistinct din of multitudes of human beings walking, talking, and going about their lives. The occasional clop-clop of horse’s hooves reminds her that she isn’t in just any city.

So does the music from wafting from three men in white t-shirts and pale fedoras. Each sits on a folding chair in the middle of the street. Their cello quivers, low and deep, while their trombone and saxophone blare and wail. A small crowd listens. Some people record the performance on their phones. A man and woman pull one another into an impromptu swing dance and get cheered by onlookers. A golf cart-like patrol vehicle with a blue-uniformed police officer rolls by.

Not far off, spectators laugh, gawk, and snap pictures at another attraction.

Worth a picture—worth a dollar
Coffins are expensive—tipping is appreciated
Need money for a proper burial

Amelie: Amelie pulls out her earbuds just in time to be assaulted by a wave of new sounds. Royal Street’s noise and architecture is a feast for her senses. People using the streets to panhandle with clever routines and good music is an almost welcome change from the pockmarked tweaker back home who’d use broken French to ask “do you got any change, I need a coffee” from people who can barely stand. The dog gives her a fright for a split second before her eyes scan the sign.

GM: A man abruptly dashes up to Amelie. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!” he calls.

Amelie: The man is the two in a one-two punch and makes Amelie nearly jump as she turns away from the dog and almost runs into him. She pulls herself together as the man talks and smirks lightly at his proposed bet. She digs a hand into her jeans and pulls a $10 bill out of her wallet to offer him. “Sorry, I’m a shitty gambler. Better just buy out before you know my tells. You mind giving me some directions though, Mr…?”

GM: “Oh, why, ’course, girl! I know this city like the palm of my hand!” the watery-eyed man exclaims, happily plucking the bill from Amelie’s fingers as he dances up around her.

Amelie: Amelie turns on her heel to keep the man’s eyes level with hers. She notes he didn’t take the hint to give his name. “I’m looking for the St. Louis Cathedral.”

GM: The man leans forward and taps Amelie’s shoulder, then quickly pulls away and slinks behind her, pointing down the street as she follows his hand. “One block down Royal, stop at the green lawn with the Jesus statue. Can’t miss it!”

That’s also when Amelie spots his other hand creeping towards the pocket she pulled out her wallet from.

Amelie: Smooth as the man is (or thinks he is), he’s doing this in a heavy tourist area. Making movements too quick and close for anyone to follow just shows what he’s up to. The shoulder tap is an even bigger warning, and Amelie’s hands go in her pockets as she spots where the man’s hand is moving. She grips her wallet firmly and mentally thanks the Lonely Planet Guide to New Orleans for its sidebar about pickpockets and conmen in the French Quarter.

“Sorry, sir, but I’m not technically a tourist. Thank you though, you have a good day.”

She steps away from the man and briskly heads in the cathedral’s without another word. Her hands stay firmly in both pockets.

GM: “Fuck you, dyke! Even got your directions!” the man whines after Amelie as she leaves.

Amelie: Amelie just waves with the hand not gripping her wallet and doesn’t waste any more energy. He’s got to make a living too, and it’s not worth dragging him through the mud or reporting him to the police. Part of her really wants to punish him for trying, though. What a rude little man. Still, taking in the sights on her way to the cathedral puts her in a good move again.

GM: The man’s directions at least prove true. It is not overlong before the soaring cathedral fills Amelie’s vision.

Its semi-famed Christ statue is less ominous when the sun is up. The edifice casts a tremendous black shadow, like something distorted by a fun-house mirror, in the nighttime photographs Amelie has viewed. One’s gaze is still all but pulled to the Nazarene’s enveloping stone arms, which stretch wide as if to receive all the world’s poor sinners into his fold.

Amelie next passes through the so-called Pirate’s Alley to reach the front of the cathedral.

Jackson Square. The cultural and historic heart of the Big Easy.

The square is named for its iconic equestrian bronze statue of Andrew Jackson mounted on horseback, erected to commemorate the former president and general’s victory at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The area around the statue is landscaped with circular paths, fountains, trees, flower beds, gas lamps, and an iron fence. Benches and statues of the four seasons sit in the corners.

The Jackson statue is fronted on two sides by matching red-brick, block-long 4-story buildings: the Upper Pontalba Building and the Lower Pontalba Building. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments, inhabited since 1849 by some of the city’s wealthiest residents, and the oldest continuously-rented apartments in North America.

The third side of Jackson Square overlooks the Washington Artillery Park & Moonwalk. The former attraction holds a Civil War canon in honor of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard, while the latter is a brick walking path named in dedication to former mayor Moon Landrieu.

Jackson Square’s fourth side faces the church its image has become nigh-synonymous with in photographs: Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest continually operating church in the United States, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The historic cathedral is flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytere. Once, Amelie knows these two early Spanish structures were used by the state supreme court and by the city as a courthouse. Today they constitute the Louisiana State Museum.


But Jackson Square is more than historic buildings and tourist attractions.

Artists hawk their wares and works to flocks of chattering Japanese tourists, curious college students, and Midwestern parents. Painters and photographers try their hands at capturing the city’s image for posterity. Mimes pantomime their struggles to escape invisible prisons. Jugglers dextrously toss rainbow-colored clubs through the air to applauding audiences. New Age and neopagan devotees tell fortunes and read palms and tarot cards, promising to “lay bare the mysteries of your past, divine the portents of your future!” Horses pull carriages as tour guides regale audiences with anecdotes from the the Crescent City’s history (such as the murdered sultan of Dauphine Street, a fantastically wealthy Turk who moved into a renoved townhouse with a harem of bewitching slave girls and eunuch bodyguards, only for them all to be savagely rent limb from limb by assailants unknown). A man in a gold spray-painted sweatshirt, with equally golden spray-painted skin, mutely regards his onlookers as he proceeds towards some unknowable destination with exaggerated, robotic steps. Off by the Artillery Park, a small boy climbs onto the Civil War cannon while his mother shouts for him to get back down.

The music never ceases. There’s saxophonists, trombonists, and buskers aplenty throughout the area around the Square, but it’s the slow and heartful tune of a violin that most catches Amelie’s ears. An older man wearing plain clothes stands near the statue of Andrew Jackson, a violin case open in front of him. His eyes are closed as he gently plays a superb rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Onlookers gather around the man. Some toss coins or bills into his case, but he doesn’t acknowledge them or open his eyes. He simply continues to play, seemingly lost in his music.

The cathedral’s tall black doors silently loom past the statue of America’s seventh president.

Amelie: Jackson Square’s degree of activity is almost dizzying to Amelie. She could always tell from pictures that New Orleans is a bustling city, alive with everything one could imagine, but actually being there is a completely diffetent experience. She stops every few steps to take something new in, and it soon gets to the point where she’s grabbing onto random objects just to feel them beneath her hands. Old walls. The alley’s wrought iron fences. Glass lanterns. Door frames. The city’s history is well and alive. Every sight is incredible. The style isn’t as intricate or grand as Château Frontenac, but the feeling is so much more open and classical. It’s like the people who lived here wanted to feel the wind every moment of their lives. It’s almost strange how touching that suddenly feels.

Amelie wanders for enough time to realize the heat might start to get to her if she doesn’t make her way inside. She slows her pace past the master violinist and the many artists and fortune-tellers. It’s only a few more moments before she makes her way up the cathedral’s doors and smooths her hands along the old wood before she pushes them open.

GM: It’s just as Amelie shakes off her semi-stupor that she feels a hand lightly brushing against her side. Against her pocket. She sharply turns around.

It’s the guy from earlier. The same one.

Amelie: Amelie’s expression is clear as death as her hand darts to check for her wallet. She’s starting to get angry. “In front of a church!? I was more than fair with you, leave me alone!”

GM: The watery-eyed man quickly withdraws his hand as Amelie catches him. His features are scrunched in frustration as she confirms her wallet is still there.

“Cheap-ass carpet-muncher! I’d rather suck dick than stick mine in a cunt as slimed over as yours! You wanna be a man so bad, ‘girl’, you too chickenshit to hack off those walnut-sized tits?”

Amelie: Amelie feels it coming like a crashing wave behind her eyelids. Her turning point towards violence.

“Cheap!? What planet are you from!? It’s my wallet, you windshield eye wiper-needing motherfucker! Why are you wasting your time being butthurt that I know a pickpocket when I see one, rather than going and digging too close to some tourist’s dick! What, you wanna hold a grudge like a woman, go cut off that gumbo shrimp you call a dick and cook it for your mother so you can both go eat a dick! I’m calling the cops!”

GM: The man dances behind Amelie and laughs in her ear, a sound not unlike an apoleptic hissing cobra. She feels wet flecks of spittle against her neck and hair.

“Ha ha! Go ahead, dyke hag! Cops don’t give a fuck! Go back to ’Frisco!” the man jeers.

Amelie: Pop. The crashing wave turns into a watershed.

Amelie doesn’t bother with retorts. Her expression visibly calms, but her body moves frighteningly fast. The ‘dyke hag’ steps back with her left foot and spins, putting her her whole hip into a hook shot aimed right for the man’s crotch.

It’s not her first fight. The little girl teased for being too strong while chasing scared boys with sticks got into plenty of those.

GM: Amelie’s fist drives into the jeering man’s testicles like a jackhammer. His bulging eyes are practically wide enough to resemble china plates as his mouth puckers into a perfect ‘o’, his knees buckle out from under him, and he topples helplessly to the ground.

“Ohhh-hhh-ohhh… hhh… yyyeeaaah…” he moans.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything. She double-checks her wallet and pulls out her phone to dial 911 as she heads towards the church doors for protection. She gave the man slack before, but now she just wants the cops to take him away so she can get on with her afternoon.

Despite everything, though, she has to admit she needed that. It’s a chunk of frustration off her shoulders.

GM: The man’s watery eyes rapidly blink. His lips pull back from his teeth into a grimace… and quivering smile that has all the warmth and greasiness of melted butter. His left hand weakly caresses his battered manhood. His right one snags out to grab the leg of Amelie’s jeans.

“Hit me… ’gain… dykie!” he wheezes.

Meanwhile, exclamations of notice go up from Jackson Square’s many and now-gawking bystanders.

Amelie: Amelie stuffs her wallet into her sports bra to keep it safe as she pulls out her phone, dials 911 and calls to the crowd, “HELP! This man keeps trying to take my wallet! You! Guy in the red shirt, please come help me hold him down while I call 911!” She tries to cut through the bystander effect as she listens to the phone dialing and plants a foot on the man’s back keep him on the ground.

GM: A few more people gawk as Amelie sticks her wallet down her shirt, but calling 911 turns out to be unnecessary when she spots a man already making his way through the staring and picture-snapping crowd. He’s wearing a short-sleeved pressed shirt, dark green pants, and full black utility belt. The side of his shirt is printed with a six-pointed star with the Louisiana pelican in its center. His clean-shaven, ruddy-complexioned doughy face is set in a humoring smirk. “Ma’am, please remove your foot and step away from that man.”

“Off… cer! She att… acked me! She’s crazy!” the would-be pickpocket wheezes from the ground.

Amelie: Amelie hangs up the call and slides her phone back into her pocket. She puts up her hands and takes a step back, should the man not still be clinging to her jeans, and folds her hands in front of her as she waits for the police officer.

“This man asked for money when I stepped off the 12 to St. Charles. I gave him ten dollars and he tried to take my wallet. Followed me here when I caught him and walked away, sir.”

GM: “That’s… not true! Search me, officer, I ain’t got ten bucks!” the man wheezes, ambling to his feet as he dusts himself off. He has since released Amelie.

“Uh-huh, I see. What was he doing on the ground?” the cop asks.

Bystanders continue to hold their phones up around the trio. Clicks and tapping noises go up from many.

Amelie: Amelie steps a few more feet away from the man as he gets up. “He kept trying to get behind me and I was afraid. So I punched him in the crotch, sir.”

GM: “Uh-huh now,” the police officer clucks.

“She did! She’s crazy! She’s a psycho!” Amelie’s would-be pickpocket whines in agreement.

Amelie: Amelie just keeps a straight back and a calm face. “Should I get my IDs out for you, sir? I put them in my shirt.”

GM: There’s a few laughs and ‘wows’ from the crowd. The only person seemingly unmoved is the violinist. His eyes are still closed and his face remains tranquil as he gently strums the instrument.

The officer pulls out some handcuffs and snaps them around the dark-skinned man’s wrists.

“Hey! Bullshit!” he whines.

“Ma’am, please come with me,” the cop states as he takes the man’s arm and leads him away.

Amelie: Amelie obeys the officer, takes her wallet back out of her shirt, and puts it back into her pants. She keeps quiet as she lets him lead.

GM: “You’re under arrest, blah blah Miranda warning, I’m sure you remember it as well as I do by now,” the cop drawls to the man in a familiar tone as the three walk off.

“This is bullshit! You’d cuff her if she wasn’t white!” the man whines.

“Probably,” the cop agrees. “Now you know the first law in the Quarter as well as I do, pervert.”

Amelie: The exchange is hauntingly familiar. Just replace ‘black’ with ‘native’, turn the thermostat down, and Amelie’s back home again. But she knows it’s better to keep quiet and follow the officer’s directions until spoken to.

GM: The officer leads the three only a short distance off from Jackson Square where his Polaris is parked. The vehicle resembles nothing so much as a militarized golf cart. He helps the sullen-looking cuffed man into the back seat.

“I didn’t do nothing!” the pickpocket whines.

The officer turns back to regard Amelie and grins widely. “You know, ma’am, I’m on patrol for the French Quarter Response Force right now.”

Amelie: Amelie gives him a confused look. “French Quarter Response Force? I’m sorry, I’m new to New Orleans, I’m not familiar. But thank you for your service, in either case.”

GM: “Yeah, Mr. Moreno thanks us too,” says the cop. “I’m getting paid $50 an hour right now, plus goodies like gift certificates at Ruth’s Chris Steak House whenever I pick up troublemakers. Those are usually $100. Mr. Moreno doesn’t want any trash on these streets, no sir.”

Amelie: “That’s… wow, that’s staggering. Does Mr. Moreno own a lot of property in the French Quarter?”

GM: “Oh yes, he’s very concerned about public safety. There’s a lot of crime here in the Quarter,” the cop agrees. “Like psycho dykes punching people in the balls.”

“She did! She even said so!” the cuffed man wheedles.

Amelie: Amelie winces a bit and nods slowly. She deserves that. “I’m sorry, officer. I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I was up against a wall and stopped thinking. I was here to visit the cathedral for a paper, and already explained what happened after that.”

GM: “Oh now, ma’am, I understand how it is,” the officer smiles. “This pervert’s always making trouble. Frankly, I’d be kicking him in the balls too, if I didn’t know he got off to it.”

The smile widens to a grin.

“Sounds like you’re a student somewhere too, to be working on a paper?”

Amelie: Amelie nods slightly. “I’d tell you where, but I don’t put it past present company to visit me there.”

She instead pulls out her student ID and hands it to him. “I’m asking about the haunting at the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Oh now, you go to McGehee? I hear that’s a pretty nice school. Your family must be rich,” the cop remarks unconcernedly as he looks over Amelie’s ID and hands it back.

Amelie: Amelie winces when the man says it out loud anyway. Still, it’s not like the watery-eyed man can easily get that deep into the Garden District.

“Not really, sir, no. But I had the grades for it. But if there’s nothing else you need, am I free to continue back to the cathedral?”

GM: “Really, your folks ain’t rich? You get a scholarship, something like that?” the cop asks.

Amelie: “More like… a loan. I’ll be paying it back when I leave high school.”

GM: “Now ain’t that a plum shame for us both,” the policeman clucks.

“Still, I can see how things might be for you. You must owe a lotta money already, going someplace nice like that. I sure wouldn’t wanna owe any more if I was you.”

Amelie: “Well, and then there’s college to think about,” she mentions, feeling a lump in her throat. She can’t follow the cop’s thought process here.

“But, do you mind I get going, sir? I’m kind of shaky still, and I’d like to… get my info for my paper, and head home.”

GM: “Since you said you’re new to town, ma’am, battery carries a fine of up to $1,000 here. Here in the great state of Louisiana,” the cop grins. “Plus up to six months in jail. The judge’ll see you up to three days later, and you gotta hire a lawyer to wrangle out the plea deal. You gotta strip naked in front of a buncha cops when you check into jail, too.”

The cuffed man shoots Amelie a rancid smirk.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes widen slightly at the man’s talk as she clears her throat. Is he trying to blackmail her or just scare her?

“That’s… not pleasant to think about, sir.”

She’s not scared of the threats. It’s more the man himself who’s leaving her ill at ease. Americans and their shit law system are lots of fun to poke at from a distance, but right up close is another matter.

GM: “Oh yes, it’s not,” the cop agrees as he pulls out a second pair of handcuffs from his Polaris and walks up close to Amelie.

“But y’know, lawyer, judge, three days… you’ve got money. Be a lot easier on us all to cut out the middlemen, wouldn’t it?” he drawls quietly.

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘aha’ in her head and mentally pulls herself together as the man makes his intentions clear. She takes a small breath and nods her head as she thinks. It’s a gamble, but she goes for it.

“I don’t have any family besides my aunt, sir. She was a lawyer, so I’m not worried about the legalities. The naked thing doesn’t bother me a whole lot, either. But I don’t have anything to give you anyway, the loan went right to tuition, not into my pocket. I’m only still in high school. I’m also sure there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, and I don’t want to burden you. May I please go, sir? I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

GM: The policeman laughs. It’s a hard and mirthless sound, but his eyes glint as he takes another step closer to Amelie. He casually plants an arm against the building wall behind her head.

“Well, missy, that’s too bad you don’t got any money. I’ll still get a gift card bringing you in. Here in the great state of Louisiana, see, which you don’t sound like you’re from, 20-year-olds happen to be grown-ups. Even if they are dumb enough to still be in high school. They go to the grown-ups’ jail, face grown-ups’ charges, and get to keep it all on their arrest records.”

The policeman leans forward until his grin fills Amelie’s vision. She can feel his breath hot against her face as he whispers, “See, missy… in this city, nothing is difficult, unless it has to be. Understand?”

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘oh’ look like it’s no big deal, taps her chin, and nods.

“I understand, sir. I’m sorry, like you said, I’m not even from the States. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to make excuses. But I was honest about the money, I have maybe 20 dollars left in my wallet. What could I do to make this easy for everyone?”

His breath stinks. She wants to punch him and run, especially after the comment on her age, but that’d only make things worse.

GM: “You can match the $100 I’d get bringing you in, is what you can do,” the cop answers, but his voice is no longer an easy drawl. There’s a dangerously rising impatience to it.

Amelie: "Can I get to an ATM, then? Please?’

GM: The policeman stares into Amelie’s eyes, then pulls back and smiles again. “Don’t get any funny ideas now. I know your face.”

Amelie: “You know more than that, I showed you my ID,” she notes before letting him direct her to the nearest ATM. She just wants to get this over with.

GM: The man does not do so, and seems unwilling to leave behind the arrested and handcuffed man who harassed her earlier. The latter shoots Amelie a sullen glare. A dark look is starting to reappear on the former’s face.

Amelie: Amelie shrugs and tells him she’ll be right back. She resolves to just take the hundred dollar hit to her allowance and come back immediately.

GM: Amelie weaves back through Jackson Square’s now-reoccupied crowds and past the still-playing, close-eyed violinist. She is fortunately able to find an ATM in short order. The modern-looking machine is discongruently all but jack-hammered into the side of a historic-looking building.

The cop counts the $100 when she’s back, pockets it, and offers a friendly smile. “Stay out of trouble now, ma’am.”

The handcuffed pickpocket is gone from the Polaris.

Amelie: Amelie looks back at the cart, looks towards the cop, and offers a wordless nod as she turns away. A ball of violent hate rolls around in her gut. It’s already been too long of a day. She proceeds towards the cathedral again and resolves to take confession and calm herself down before she asks for a priest. She wants to get as far away from this situation as she can.

GM: The cop lays his hand on Amelie’s shoulder just as she turns to leave. “Oh, now let’s have that Jackson in your pocket too.”

Amelie: Amelie sighs as she takes out the $20 bill and hands it to him. “I have to give it to you, you’re smooth. I’ll learn from this and stay out of trouble.”

GM: “I get paid either way,” the cop offers with a simultaneous smile and shrug as he tucks away the bill. He climbs into his golf cart-like vehicle and drives off.

Amelie: Amelie just sneers at nothing. Moreno. She’ll remember that name.

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Amelie’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s. Amelie can make out two black-garbed and white-collared priests near the altar at the far end of the chamber.

Amelie: The silence is like a soothing breeze to Amelie. She breathes it in through her nose and out through her mouth as she takes in the beautiful surroundings and tries to calm herself. The historic church is everything she imagined. Bright and grand, with painstakingly detailed work and hand craftsmanship that preserves its history and import. Just three years to go until the third centennial for this great building.

The young woman keeps her steps quiet and approaches the end of the aisle where the two fathers are. She hopes she won’t bother them too much with her interruptions.

GM: The two priests are engaged in discussion near the statue of St. Peter, who bears heaven’s keys in his right hand. The first priest is an older man in maybe his 70s with a full head of silvery hair. His equally full salt and pepper beard has only a few streaks of pepper still left among the salt. Bushy eyebrows meet over weary blue-gray eyes and a thick, wide nose. He leans heavily upon a cane.

The second priest looks much younger, perhaps in his early 30s. He has slim, almost facial features, ash-brown hair, and solemn gray eyes.

“…Father, you are unwell,” states the younger priest.

“You have responsibilities, Adam,” the older one answers. Both of their voices are quiet, though his volume is especially low.

“As do we all. But there are few parishioners here now, and you may better serve the later ones if you are rested and healthy.

The older priest seems to chew on the younger one’s words, then finally replies, “All right. So long as you stay here. I will call you if I need you.”

“Of course, Father.”

The priests exchange farewells as the older one limps off, clearly favoring one leg (and his cane). The younger priest initially moves to assist him, but the older one motions him off.

The younger priest watches his senior go, then turns to regard Amelie. “May I help you?” he asks quietly.

Amelie: Amelie initially approaches the priests with intent, but takes a respectful few steps back when she hears their still-ongoing conversation. She doesn’t mean to eaveadrop, but she can’t help but respect them both after what she overhears. One is concerned for the other one, who’s concerned for their flock. The end of their conversation is not good news for her intentions, though.

“I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to interupt. Though it seems less likely now that any priests are free for confession?”

GM: “I am available,” the ashen-haired priest answers Amelie.

Amelie: "Only if you’re sure, Father. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your senior. Do you take confession in the booth? "

GM: “The confessional is the only place a priest receives confession, barring a just reason to hear it elsewhere,” the priest answers Amelie. He turns and leads her a short distance away from the altar towards the grilled and box-shaped wooden structure. Amelie enters through a door-less latticed opening that leaves her still visible to the public. The priest remains hidden. There is no chair for the confessant to sit upon like some new churches have, but there is a kneeler.

Amelie: Amelie feels a bit sheepish when the priest has to correct her on how the confessional is used and even what it’s called. She follows him inside the wooden enclosure and slowly kneels. Movies made her think that was the confessant’s choice when she was younger, but historical paintings at least made her familiar with kneelers.

She’s silent for a few moments. It’s been awhile.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… four years and a half since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins,” she starts.

GM: The priest patiently listens.

Amelie: “When my father spun to the bottom of a bottle, he approached me with more and more anger every day. I was working in the shop to keep us fed, with the help of my neighbors. We were smiths in a small theme town in Quebec. Just a few months before I was taken from the house, he raged at me with a bottle and threatened to beat me. I took a sword off the wall. Just a sharpened blade with no handle. It made him angry and he lunged at me. When he did, I… I’m sorry. I swung at him, and sliced open his face from mouth to ear.”

“I stayed in a group home after that and was teased every day. I keep my hair short. People assume. But this one girl, an unapologetic terror, would not stop. Day and night. One day, she stole my clothes while I was in the shower. My hate boiled over the next day. I tore off my chair’s leg during group therapy and assaulted her with it.”

“I also feel like I’m taking advantage of my aunt. She worked to ship me across a country, took me in, gave me a home, and put me in a good school. But I feel like I have nothing to offer her. I feel like I’m a burden on her, and making her spend money on something she’ll get no returns on right away. I can’t even properly comfort her about her sister, my mother, vanishing.”

“I also… often think of fighting. It’s as though I need to best someone, or a tension behind my eyes won’t go away. I sated this by fencing when I was younger, but now that I’m not, I feel this pressure to strike out at people who wrong me. Like I did just today.”

“My final sin I can think of was just this past hour. A man approached me off the streetcar and tried to steal my wallet. I caught him and left, to come here. But he followed me. After he tried again, and I felt him becoming a threat, I struck him without thinking. Hard. A corrupt policeman blackmailed me into giving him money. So I paid. I was scared he’d arrest me for assault. But I didn’t realize until too late that he and the pickpocket were working together.”

“For these sins and all those that I cannot remember, I humbly repent and ask for absolution, counsel, and penance.”

GM: “Very well,” sounds the invisible voice behind the booth’s grill. “Let us begin with counsel. You say that you are a burden upon your aunt. Why do you believe she took you in?”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t like the question. “I don’t know. We only saw each other a few times when I was growing up. I’d imagine it’s even painful to see me. Maybe just an obligation to my mother.”

GM: “Perhaps. Tell me, daughter, what is your interpretation of this scriptural verse? ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.’”

Amelie: Amelie has to wonder on the passage for a moment, but she knows what the priest is trying to say in the process. “That it wishes people to treat children as though they were treasures.”

She wants to point out how old she is, versus the age of childbearing in the times the scripture would have been written, and the fact that she’s not her aunt’s child, but leaves the man to make his point.

GM: “The scripture tells us that children are treasures,” the priest corrects Amelie. “But you are otherwise correct.”

“You say that you wish to compensate your aunt for the money she has spent on your care. Yet according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost for a middle-income family to raise a child from infancy to 17 years of age is just over $230,000. That is enough money to buy a house. That is enough money to buy many material things. Yet even the most materially fixated parents choose to forgo those things.”

“The decision whether to bring new life into the world is a deeply personal one, and parents may arrive at it for many different reasons. Yet few parents in the developed world realistically expect their children to be financially profitable ‘investments.’ As the scripture tells us, children have value beyond the material. Their value is intrinsic and decreed thus by God.”

“I do not know your aunt or her motivations for taking you in. Certainly, however, if she wanted ‘returns’, then finding another relative to care for you or simply leaving the foster system to do so would have been a more financially sound decision. It would seem more likely that your aunt was motivated by altruistic reasons such as love or a sense of responsibility—and recognition that caring for her sister’s child was important for reasons beyond simply money.”

Amelie: The priest’s numbers and statistics catch Amelie slightly off-guard. She wasn’t expecting those from a man of the cloth. They certainly lend weight to his following words, however.

It’s clear to Amelie how much she’s worrying over nothing, and how she might have taken her aunt’s comment about ‘treating us as roommates’ slightly out of context. She came to New Orleans expecting… something different. Roberts women don’t seem wired to be up front with their affections and emotions, among other things. Her mother and Christina are—or were—very much alike in that way.

Still, the father’s words put a dent on the issue, or at least let it breathe.

“I should talk to her more about that. Thank you, Father. Maybe it’s just me misunderstanding her. I’ve not been here with her too long.”

GM: “Seaking with your aunt to understand her better would then seem only logical. As to your thoughts of violence, which you satisfied through fencing, the solution to this would seem self-evident.”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. “There are no reputable fencing schools in New Orleans, but I found something similar that will fill the void thankfully.”

GM: “Pursuing that alternative, too, would seem only logical, if there is no obstacle that makes you mention it alongside your other sins and dilemmas.”

Amelie: “It’s already in motion, thankfully. There is nothing in the way of my attending that I’m aware of.”

Amelie still feels a block in her stomach of things she could spill out, but she hangs on to them for now. There’s more pressing matters she could use help with after this, and she figures that asking about ghosts during confession may not be very polite.

GM: “As to your father attempting to strike you in anger, that is a grave sin. As was your response in doing the same. ‘See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.’ Your penance will be to deliver him an apology. Written or verbal, over whichever medium you find more convenient.”

Amelie: Amelie can almost hear her drunken twitching mess of a half-man father growling at her over the phone last week. Refusing to even speak to her in French. Silence is the only reply from her end of the partition for a moment as she wrestles with herself.

“Written would likely be easier,” is all she can finally manage, past the flurry of pride and hate in her gut that screams she owes him nothing.

GM: “Very good. Do you know the name of the girl in the group home whom you attacked?” the priest then inquires.

Amelie: “Not her real name, no. She used a nickname or a… street name, as she called it.”

GM: “I see. Call the group home in which you stayed. Find out her name and where she is now staying, if possible, and deliver her an apology for your actions as well.”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut is much more clear cut on this issue. It says NO. But the father is right that it’d make her the bigger person.

“I’ll try my best to find her. If they’ll give me the information, I’ll call her.”

GM: “As to the pickpocket you attacked, I believe you have already suffered an unjust, but nonetheless instructive consequence through being extorted by the policeman.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. There is really nothing to say for or against. “Yes, Father.”

GM: “You say it has been over four years since your last confession. I am sure it has also been a long time since you last said a rosary. Do that as well,” bids the unseen priest. “I will now hear your Act of Contrition.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself at the father’s request. She claws at her brain to remember the proper words translated from French to English.

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

GM: The unseen priest’s somber reply sounds through the booth’s grill.

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a pregnant pause, as if the priest might be tracing the sign of the cross through the air.

Amelie: Amelie does not look to see if he is, but maintains her kneeling position and makes a mental list of what the things she needs to do to make right. This isn’t her first time taking confession, but she’s never done penance for any gods but herself. Soul or not, she knows from experience how it feels to scrub the slate you sit upon.

She takes a deep breath after several moments of silence and nods. “Thank you, Father. I was hoping I could take a bit more of your time as well, once we end our confession. If you aren’t busy. I need advice on a matter of spirit.”

GM: “You have been given penance and absolved of your sins,” the priest answers. Amelie hears the sounds of footsteps from just beyond the booth. “Confession is over, but I will give what advice I can.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the priest out of the booth. “I would like to hear your advice about ghosts. I’m going to be spending the night in the LaLaurie House and heard this cathedral was said to be haunted as well. I thought consulting the church on matters of protection from those not quite passed—but still quite wrathful, I hear—would be wise.”

GM: The priest frowns deeply. Perhaps at Amelie’s strange phraseology, perhaps at the topic of ghosts. “As Catholics, we believe in that which science tells us is unbelievable. We believe in the power of saints to perform miracles and to intercede on our behalf. We do not teach that souls, angry or otherwise, linger on earth after the deaths of their bodies. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not the empirical channels employed by purported ‘scientists’ in pursuit of the paranormal. God alone has power to control and invoke the supernatural. Ghost hauntings are stories told for the entertainment of tourists and no more.”

Amelie: Amelie nods but doesn’t otherwise react to his statement. It’s a good quote to put in her paper.

“It’s for a paper I have to write for a class on the history of New Orleans, Father. I didn’t mean any offense. If that’s the official stance of you and the church, I can leave it at that. I’m happy to hear you haven’t been bothered or taken in by the trappings of tourist rumors, however. You must have more than a few people come to you asking about the ghost of Père Antoine.”

GM: “We do,” the priest answers. “We also see many self-proclaimed mediums, astrologers, tarot readers, psychics, and other spiritualists in the area around Jackson Square. If you were to ask them, they would purport to be able to establish contact with Père Antoine and countless other historical figures. If you would indeed like to know the church’s official dogma for your paper, we teach that all forms of divination are to be rejected. This includes recourse to Satan and demons, conjuring up the dead, and other practices falsely purported to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting palm readers, interpreting omens, an interest in clairvoyance—all of this conceals a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings. Belief in the supernatural contradicts the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. Spiritualism is hostile to all of the world’s religions, and the miracles attributed to Christ and the saints stand on a level high above all spiritic interpretation.”

“Was there further advice you wanted to ask of me, daughter?”

Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers quite a few of those psychics in Jackson Square, but the bulk of her thoughts are on the priest. She’s never really seen someone so straightlaced working for the church before. But she shakes her head at his question.

“No, Father. I’ve taken up quite a bit of your time, thank you for seeing me.”

GM: Amelie takes her leave of the cathedral and makes her way down Jackson Square’s tourist-filled streets on the route back to the streetcar. When she pauses to adjust her loose backpack, though, a note card tumbles out.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her strides quick and wide as she resolves to ignore the people around her—unlike last time. Movement still catches her eye, however. She stoops to pick up the card.

GM: Amelie sees that the faded, coffee-stained piece of paper is actually a business card for a one ‘Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry.’ The back of the card contains a hand-written message:

Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t. See Tante before the slumber party at LaLaurie.

Amelie: Amelie looks up at the cathedral’s doors again. Someone had to have put this in her bag after listening in on her conversation with the priest. But no one was close enough to have done so. Or at least no one she remembers. The thought puts a chill up her spine as she slides the card into her pocket and resumes her walk towards the streetcar. She qeeqles the name ‘Tante Lescaut’ on her phone as she does.

GM: Several results turn up for a store that sells occult-themed books and knick-knacks just off Royal Street. The store claims to have been founded during New Orleans’ colonial era and close to three hundred years old.

Amelie: Amelie pauses, looks at the address, and turns on her heel. She might as well confront these people right now. She watches her progress on her phone’s map as she makes her way towards the supposedly centuries-old shop. Maybe she can even catch whoever thinks scaring high schoolers is so funny just as they return to the storefront.

She’ll give them a piece of her mind.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice III
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Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie VI

Story One, Alice III

“Let’s face it, Mom, things between us are weird, and have been for ages.”
Alice Guillot

Wednesday evening, 26 August 2015

GM: No work shifts or classes save for Professor al-Aidan’s on Wednesday leaves Alice time to do homework. She needs it: al-Aidan’s grading rubric is very confusing and he assigns plenty of homework on top of her other classes.

Evening approaches and Alice hails a taxi to Bywater. As she opens the orange door to her ride, her ears are blasted by the pounding, juxtaposable rhythm of shofar and synth guitar. The smell of aging veal and tahini from leftover shawarma is thick in the tiny cab. The Palestinian cabbie’s English isn’t too good, but he doesn’t talk much either.

Twenty minutes later, Alice is in Bywater. It’s a gentrifying, residential neighborhood bordered by the Quarter’s sleaziness, Fabourg Marigny’s libertinism, and the Ninth Ward’s abject squalor. With its back to the Mississippi River (hence its name of being “by the water”), the cornered district has adopted a siege mentality against its raucous neighbors. Windows are closed and shuttered, doors locked tight, and the streets nigh-deserted after dark. It’s only twenty or so feet to her mom’s house from where the cabbie drops Alice off, but it might as well be twenty miles for all the human contact she encounters.

Michelle Guillot’s house is a modest, one-story affair. The window shutters are dark blue. The house itself is a pale beige. An iron fence silently warns intruders away from the neatly-maintained yard. A few bushes sprout up around the two palm trees, and a few plants sit apart from their cousins in separate pots. They came with the house. Alice’s mom hasn’t ever been much of a gardener.

The front door regards Alice squarely, closed, locked, and silent. As ever, it falls upon one of the Guillot women to first bridge the distance.

Alice: Alice straightens her cap and takes a moment to fuss needlessly with her shirt. It’s just dinner. Stop it.

She reaches out, and hears the muffled chimed as the doorbell announces her arrival. Alice is dressed casually, with her courier’s bag slung over her shoulder.

GM: Alice hears footsteps. There’s a slight pause at the door and a darkening through the peephole. Then the door swings open.

“Hi, Alice. Come in,” says her mom.

Alice: Obeying the direction, Alice steps through the doorway and says, “Thanks for having me over, Mom.”

GM: A high-pitched mew sounds by Alice’s leg as she enters the home.

The source is a bushy-whiskered tabby cat she hasn’t seen before. It’s missing its eyes. There’s just more fur where they should be.

Alice: Alice smiles down at the poor fuzzball. “Hey there, kitty! Nice to meet you.” She gives her mom a questioning look, and waits to see if she will offer some explanation for the poor thing.

GM: Alice’s mother closes the door and gives her a brief hug hello. “You’re welcome. And that’s Pierre. I adopted him last week.”

Alice: Alice returns it. It feels a little stiff.

“From a shelter, or is he a refugee from the streets?”

GM: “A shelter. I felt sorry for him. Blind cats are always slated to be put to sleep first.”

Alice: Alice scratches the cat’s ears. She thinks she has a guess who her mom named him after.

“Who’s a fuzzy little explorer then, Pierre?” She smiles at her mom. “Neither of us could ever turn away someone in need. I’m glad you saved him.”

To herself, Alice thinks, If only it was that easy to save everyone.

GM: Pierre mews again and rubs his head against Alice’s hand.

“Me too,” her mom states. “Dinner’s already on the table. You can go wash your hands.”

Alice: Alice stands and goes to wash up for dinner. At home she doesn’t bother, but she has long since learned that it isn’t worth arguing over something so simple when dealing with her mother. Better to save her energy for bigger arguments. On the way, she drapes her bag onto the back of her usual chair.

GM: The two sit down at the table. Dinner is crawfish etouffee, with brown roux and tomatoes over rice, and a side of salad with ranch dressing. Unlike a blond roux, which adds a nutty taste, a brown roux is cooked longer to deepen the lobsters’ flavor.

Alice is positive that her mother didn’t make it. Her enthusiasm for cooking is one of many things hasn’t changed over the last twenty years.

“Are you forgetting something, Alice?” her mom asks pointedly, not yet having started her meal.

Alice: Alice was waiting for her host, before digging in. She pauses at the question, having no idea what her mother is talking about. In the absence of real understanding, she removes her cap and sets it to the side. “Thanks for your hospitality, and the meal.”

GM: Her mom nods. Hats go off at the table. The awkwardness in the room is almost tangible as she replies to the somewhat odd thanks, “You’re welcome.”

She starts eating. The conversation doesn’t start quite as easily.

Alice: Alice waits for her mom to have a few bites before starting her own meal. Wish I understood why she cares about all that stuff.

Instead of asking, however, Alice finishes chewing, swallows, and asks, “How have you been?” As far as conversation goes, it is along the same lines as ‘how about that weather?’ but she is determined to have some sort of interaction, even if she has to force it a bit.

GM: “All right,” her mom answers simply. There’s a pause as she drinks from her water. “So. How was your first week?”

Alice: “Interesting. Art class is awesome, as usual. Uh, one of my professors is a real as—uh. A real jerk. He started the semester by telling us we would never make a difference in the world.” More to herself than her mom, she grimly says, “He is wrong.”

Blinking, she hurries on, “Penny and I are going to an 80’s themed event together. I was hoping maybe you could give me advice, for making a costume?”

GM: Fork clinks against plate. “I’m not much of a seamstress, Alice. Leg warmers. Neon colors. You can find that all out, I’m sure.”

Alice: “Oh well. I was sorting hoping you had some pictures of yourself or something. Uh, if you have time to look at old photos I mean,” Alice sheepishly replies. Come on, Mom! Isn’t this how bonding is supposed to work? Arg! Fucking pop culture, your education continues to fail me at every fucking turn.

GM: Clink.

“I did have a box full of old pictures, Alice.”


“That was one of the things that got left at your dad’s.”

Alice: Alice’s face falls. Any talk of ‘Father’ or anything related to him is brief and doomed to a quick shutdown. She doesn’t even know what became of ‘him’ in the time she was sent away.

“Sorry to hear that.”

Alice is nothing if not determined though, perhaps there is some other way to salvage the dinner. “So, why Pierre?”

GM: Her mother sips from her water. “Lafitte. There are three bars in the French Quarter alone with ‘Lafitte’ in their name. There’s also an inn. Countless tourist guides. Halloween costumes. Probably a breakfast cereal, for all I know.”

Alice: “So, you figure Pierre deserves to have something named after him too?”

GM: Sip.

“There are more figures in Orleans’ history than just Jean I’ve-had-enough-of-him Lafitte.”

Alice: Alice smirks. Sometimes I forget there’s fire in your veins too, Mom.

GM: “Pierre held the colony together, back when the French settlers spent half their time living with the Choctaw because conditions at the colony were so terrible. Seemed fitting for this Pierre.”

Alice: She looks down, as spoon scrapes plate. “Oh, uh. I guess I was pretty hungry.”

GM: “There’s more salad in the fridge if you still are.”

Alice: “Y’know, Mom. I could paint Pierre, um, Pierre the guy not Pierre the cat, somewhere. If you wanted to see him being recognized more.” Alice shifts in her seat. “Like, that piece I put into the campus art show last year got a lot of attention.” Alice reflects that it was that award winning work that got her noticed by Josh, and led to her first dose of the red stuff.

GM: “He could use the PR,” her mom nods. “I’m sure there’s a few pictures of him floating online somewhere.”

Alice: Alice nods, thinking, “If he was a figure that stood for rallying the city, and standing up to hardship then I’m sure I can get inspired enough to paint the dude. I’ll have to read up on him.”

GM: “Try The World That Made New Orleans. It’s pretty digestible. The author has a sense of humor.”

Alice: She turns her attention back to her mom. “Uh, speaking of reading. Do you remember my text about someone wanting to buy some of Great-Granddad’s books?”

GM: Her mom raises an eyebrow. “I do. Tell it to me again face-to-face, Alice.”

Alice: Alice restates the information she offered in her text from yesterday.

GM: The older Guillot’s mouth downturns in vague disapproval that’s not quite a fully-grown frown. “What’s your read on this Sandra person?”

Alice: Alice looks a bit uncomfortable as she adds, “So, the books belong to you, and are yours to sell if you like, but.” She pauses, then gives her mother a more direct look. “She works for someone with a lot of money. I know that you are trying to turn the store into more of like, a normal one, but it’s still an, well, underground bookstore. You know what the community is like.”

“As far as Sandra, she wasn’t honest with me. She lied about her name, and wouldn’t say what she really wanted. Uh, she was very rude. Sort of… had contempt for everyone, I guess is the best way to say it? Like, she thought everything was boring, or boorish.” Alice makes a face of disapproval as she finishes, “She smoked in the shop.”

GM: Alice’s mom frowns, evidently thinking. Her thinking doesn’t take very long before she replies, “Then I’m not selling. You can tell her that once she finds it in herself to be honest, and courteous, then maybe I can find it in myself to do business with her.”

Alice: Alice’s face is a mixture of relief and worry. “Okay. If she makes any shady threats or something when I tell her, I’ll tell you right away. Um, if you do end up selling the books. Could I make digital copies first?”

She looks sheepish at the final request. “They are great inspirational material. And, it feels weird, thinking about them leaving the family. I’d like to keep copies, to pass on if I ever adopt or whatever.”

GM: “I never said they’d leave, Alice. Only that being a dishonest, irreverent, smoking liar disqualifies someone from even discussing business with me.”

“But if you want to make copies, feel free. One of us should probably do that anyways. No book lasts forever.”

Alice: Alice smiles and nods. “Knowledge lost is a tragedy. Even kooky occult knowledge, from back in Great-Granddadd’s day.”

GM: The doorbell rings.

Alice: Alice looks up. “Um. More company?”

GM: “I’m not sure. Wait here.”

Alice: Alice ignores the command, and subtly moves so as to keep an eye on her mom as she goes to open the door.

GM: Her mom gets up. Then she turns and states, her expression nonplussed, “While you’re in my house, Alice, you follow my rules. I recall that being one of the reasons you were glad to move out.”

Alice: Alice shrugs. “I can’t help it if I worry. It’s hereditary. I’ll stay here, but I’d feel better if I could at least watch from the kitchen, in case you need me.”

It isn’t the first time she has been scolded for her overprotective nature.

GM: Alice’s mother sighs. “It’s a doorbell, Alice. I’ve been answering them since long before you came along. But if you’re so determined to watch, fine. Feel free.”

Alice: “I know. It’s unreasonable. You don’t need me to guard you. But, it makes me feel better.” Quietly she adds, “Thank you.”

GM: Alice’s mother doesn’t respond as she moves to answer the door. A uniformed delivery man (FedEx, by his shirt) apologizes for the delay and passes her something. When her mom returns to the table, she’s holding a small bouquet of gladioli and pink roses.

Alice: Alice returns to her seat, relieved it was nothing. “Nice flowers.”

GM: Alice’s mother looks up from the card that came along with them. “Hmm? Oh, yes. They are.” She promptly fills a pitcher of water for the bouquet and sets it on the dining room table.

Alice: Alice politely browses her phone while her mom examines her parcel.

GM: There’s actually a bit of a smile lurking at the corner of her mom’s mouth, for the first time in the evening. “No phones at the table, Alice,” she states as she gathers up the dinner plates.

Alice: Alice notices the smile and is surprised at how bitter it makes her feel.

At least something in your life makes you happy. Since being with me doesn’t.

She feels angry at herself, but some part of her can’t help but acknowledge the truth of her observation.

Alice does her best to look cheerful. “Looks like good news.”

GM: Her mom returns after a moment with a plate of storebought chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Pierre follows by her heels.

“Yes, they’re from a man I’ve been seeing.”

Alice: Alice feels the familiar rush of anxiety, but she suppresses it. “Oh. That’s good.” She absently munches on a cookie as she wrestles with her thoughts.

GM: Her mom, in turn, looks as if she’s about to sigh, but suppresses it. “Thank you for at least saying so, Alice.”

Alice: “I hope. I hope that you guys, um. Get along?”

Alice awkwardly struggles to find words for the situation.

“Mom, I know that I… was never very nice to the guys you dated.”

GM: Alice’s mom does not look as if she disagrees.

Alice: She continues, “But, the only time you have smiled all night was when you read this guy’s letter. If he can make you smile… then I really am glad you are seeing him.”

She manages to keep any lingering bitterness out of her voice.

GM: “I’m glad to hear that, Alice. Thank you,” says her mom. “That’s very mature of you.”

Alice: “Living alone… I sort of get it. After I moved out, I realized how lonely things can get, when you don’t have someone to be with. I mean, I was living with you but… let’s face it, Mom, things between us are weird, and have been for ages. Living with me probably wasn’t that different from being alone.” Alice nods, more to herself than her mom. “So, I’m glad you have someone. I hope he is a good dude.”

GM: “He is,” Alice’s mom nods. “He works for a museum. Bookish type. Like me.”

Alice: “Yeah? That’s cool. Someone you can talk history with. Like me and Penny, with art.”

GM: “The two of you are together now?” her mom asks.

Alice: Alice blushes, realizing what she just said. “Not that we are dating, or anything.”

She goes to pull her hat over her face, but doesn’t find it there. Damn.

GM: “Well, you are blushing,” her mother observes matter-of-factly. “Do you want to?”

Alice: “N-not yet. I’m hoping that the ‘80s thing goes well. That’s sort of why I wanted your advice. That and as a chance to talk to you about something other than work. I really want things to work out with her.”

GM: “So ask her on a date. If you don’t, someone else is probably going to.”

Alice: Alice looks at her mom and nods. “That’s what my friends say too. I plan on asking her at the party. I’m hoping that, if I ask when she is already out having a good time with me as friends, it will encourage her to say yes.”

Alice mentally adds, Maybe I’ll be less nervous since I’ll be on a hunt, too.

GM: “Well, don’t wait too long or decide to put if off, or she’ll think friends is where you want things to stay.”

Alice: Alice looks horrified at the thought. “I won’t.”

“Um, Mom? Thanks. For the advice, and stuff. I know you are really busy, but maybe we could do this again? Dinner, or hanging out or whatever? If you have time.”

GM: “Of course, Alice,” her mom states. The ’you’re welcome’ is there in her tone. “Most nights that I’m not working late or seeing Rich are fine.”

Alice: “If you like, you are welcome to come visit me next time at my place.” She stands, and starts to clean her plates.

GM: “Sure. How has it been working out?”

Alice: “Good! It’s worth the price for the view alone. Watching the sun rise over the city in the morning is incredible.”

GM: “I’m sure. That is the nice thing about living on a higher floor.”

Alice: “It’s in the heart of everything too. I like being able to get to lots of places in the city, without having to bike for too long.”

GM: Alice’s mother agrees. With a full day of classes still looming for Alice tomorrow, she calls a cab to take her daughter home. The hug that marks their goodbye feels less stiff than the initial one.

Alice: “…love you, Mom. Good night.”

Wednesday night, 26 August 2015, PM

Alice: Alice looks at the strip of cardboard taped over her laptop’s webcam. Doesn’t hurt to be careful.

She cracks her fingers, and sets to sieving the World Wide Web, for whatever juicy informative flies it might have.

GM: The internet makes stalking people anonymously so easy. Going through lists of employees in New Orleans museums is tedious… the history-filled city has quite a number of them.

What it doesn’t have so many of, however, are museum employees named Richard. Eventually, Alice narrows her search down to a Richard Merrill and a Richard Allen.

Alice: Alice looks at the clock, and navigates back to the main search page.

There will be more time for looking into this stuff later. Better focus on the dorms, until it’s time for bed.

GM: Further online research reveals that stories of ghosts at Josephine Louise House go back 103 years, which coincides with the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic that killed the girls in the first place.

Alice: Alice grins in satisfaction after stifling a yawn. Fuck yeah! It looks like this haunting could be the real fuckin’ deal.

Another yawn prompts her to close the browser, and power down the machine.

Shit, dealing with Mom is always so exhausting. I better get to bed.

Without further ado, she flops onto her bed.

Friday promises to be eventful. She’ll need her rest.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie V
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Previous, by Character: Story One, Alice II
Next, by Character: Story One, Alice IV

Story One, Amelie IV

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

Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, you’re much too kind, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amelie: Amelie manages a chuckle at the girl’s statement but puts the information into her back pocket. “I’m happy to hear you say that! You never know how different a new country will be, especially its people. If we somehow get permission, would you like to join us? It promises to be a… unique experience.”

GM: “Oh, I’ll just have to think on that,” Sarah laughs again. “If it’s not really haunted, it might be a letdown. And if it is… I reckon I’d be prayin’ that it wasn’t, now wouldn’t I?”

Amelie: Amelie laughs in kind. “Quite a predicament! Though if it isn’t haunted, we’re one of the few people to see the inside in decades. If it is, well, we could always invite a priest along now couldn’t we? Or maybe since the ghosts are purported to be black slaves, a Vodoun priest.”

GM: “That sure would be an adventure,” Sarah smiles. Meanwhile, after several dance rotations, Mrs. Flores shuts the music off and tells the class to “switch on up” and find new dance partners. Sarah gives a vaguely amused-seeming curtsy and takes her leave.

Amelie: Amelie takes one in kind and lets a deep breath out, glad that it’s over. Yvette’s name is the only thing that got her through those gates. She makes a note in the back of her head to ask about it later. She then decides to leave Sarah’s circle of friends alone and goes looking for the girl who looks eerily like her partner in New Orleans ghost history.

GM: Amelie finds Yvette’s seeming half-twin in short enough order, and has similarly little time to make her appeal before the next dance starts. “Ah am sorry, ’ave we met…?” her classmate initially remarks.

Amelie: Amelie gives an almost apologetic smile and shakes her head lightly. “Non, nous n’avons pas. Je suis Amélie Savard. Vous ne seriez pas un Devillers, n’est-ce pas?”

(“No, we haven’t. I am Amelie Savard. You wouldn’t happen to be a Devillers, would you?”)

GM: “Oui, c’est le nom de ma famille,” Yvette’s half-twin replies. (“Yes, that is my family’s name.”)

“Je suis Yvonne.” (“I am Yvonne.”)

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider when her use of French doesn’t trip up Yvonne as much as it did Yvette. "J’ai l’histoire de la Nouvelle-Orléans avec Yvette. Aimeriez-vous être mon partenaire de danse ce tour? "

(“I have New Orleans History with Yvette. Would you like to be my dance partner this round?”)

GM: Much like the last Devillers before her, Yvonne glances around and finds the other dance partners close to already decided. “D’accord, Yvette est ma sœur, je vais devoir lui parler de ta classe ensemble, elle a trouvé la description du cours très intéressante.”

(“All right. Yvette is my sister, I’ll have to ask her about your class together. She thought the course description sounded very interesting.”)

Yvonne seems to wait for Amelie to extend her hand as the other ‘men’ among the couples are expected to.

Amelie: Amelie does so. Feeling the way the women of the group move is enough practice for that part, as it seems the easier role of the two. She extends her left hand to bring Yvonne into the dance. “En effet, ça l’est. Nous travaillons déjà ensemble sur un projet impliquant les hantises de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Et toi? Pas une personne d’histoire?”

(“Indeed it is. We are already working together on a project involving the hauntings of New Orleans. And yourself? Not a history person?”)

GM: Yvette’s sister shakes her head as she joins hands with Amelie and places her other on her partner’s shoulder. “Oh non, l’histoire est très importante pour notre mère. Mon horaire de cours était tout complet. Je prévois de prendre le prochain semestre.”

(“Oh no, history is very important to our mother. My class schedule was full. I plan to take it next semester.”)

Amelie: Amelie nods understandably at the notion of her full schedule, but she worries about the mother part of Yvonne’s statement just slightly. What is it Yvonne wanted to study? But she doesn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, I should have asked if you preferred English or French in school. I got the impression from Yvette that you speak it quite heavily at home.”

GM: “Oh yes, we mostly speak French there,” Yvonne answers as the two take a forward left step. Mrs. Flores has since started the music back up. “It keeps our culture alive. But we speak English outside our ‘ome. Ah suppose that makes us bilingual. Ah don’t mind speaking either.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps on with the dance, following each step and leading Yvonne around to the music. It’s starting to become a bit more of a rote action. “That’s an admirable goal for a family to have. You’re all Metropolitan French, correct? European French?”

GM: Yvonne gives a nod in tune with the last step. Simple repetition is likely making it sink in even among those classmates with no dancing experience. “Yes, we’re all from Europe. Your accent sounded… different.”

Amelie: It’s almost comforting when Amelie gets into the groove. She enjoys having the lead after she finally admits to herself she’s enjoying the dance in general. “Quebecois. Apologies, it might sound a bit more sloppy than metropolitan, but old habits die hard and dialects harder.”

GM: “…left, close, forward left, side right, and close. Now again, everyone—right, side with left, close…” Mrs. Flores calls from the front.

“Yes, Ah suppose they do,” Yvonne remarks as she closes her legs. “But Ah suppose that’s what starts new dialects too, when they don’t die easily.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps up in step and stride, keeping the pace the teacher sets out as they speak. At this point she’s just passing time and trying to make friends. “True! Though it gives birth to a lot of misunderstandings. But tell me, I’m new to New Orleans. Anywhere I have to see?”

GM: “Well, there’s of course the Vieux Carré. All the restaurants, clubs, and other places worth going are there,” Yvonne recommends. “All right shopping too. Mah sister Cécilia says there’s no need to ever leave. The CBD ‘as those things too, but it’s very… American.” She wrinkles her nose a bit but continues, “Ah like Antoine’s most, so far as places to eat. Ah think one of the girls ‘ere belongs to the family that runs it. Antoine’s, that is. Ah think it’s been in business for over two ‘undred years. It feels like a place from back ’ome. Café du Monde isn’t bad either, but gets a lot of tourists.”

Amelie: Amelie listens in rapt attention. This class is proving to be quite a social boon for her. Yvonne’s mention of the CBD being so American makes her chuckle, though. “And here I thought I’d seen the last of that phrase, living in America. Tell me, where exactly did you leave from when you moved to New Orleans?”

GM: “Charles de Gaulle Airport,” Yvonne answers wryly.

No sooner does she do so, however, than the music from the front of the classroom shuts off.

“Okay, everyone, let’s change up partners again!” Mrs. Flores calls.

Amelie: Amelie just gives the girl a grin and a respectful nod, wishing her a good day as they separate. She moves right on to the person that she next wants to speak with. Queen bee herself, Susannah. She’s got a bit of confidence behind her now, and doesn’t hesitate as she strides up to the popular girl.

“Susannah? Sorry to but in, I was the girl who approached Sarah earlier. Do you mind if we pair next? I have a feeling you’re very much someone to get to know a little.”

GM: The popular blonde spares Amelie a winsome smile. “Oh, that’s awful flattering, so I’m very sorry… I’m afraid I promised Sarah here a dance. You can’t trust a president who doesn’t keep her promises, now can you?”

The shorter brunette watches the exchange with a pleasant expression.

Amelie: Amelie takes it in stride. “Only fair, considering I stole a dance already. You both have fun.” She takes her leave and quickly scans the room. Susannah is last person she finds herself caring about dancing with.

GM: Amelie goes through a few more dances with a few more partners, all of whom expect her to play the man. When the bell finally rings, heralding the end of the school day, Mrs. Flores motions for her to remain behind as the other animatedly chattering girls make their ways off to their cars.

Amelie: Amelie stays behind when the teacher calls, wondering if something is the matter.

GM: If there is, it’s not immediately obvious. Mrs. Flores laughs goodnaturedly and says she wants to “go over a few steps” with Amelie, then turns the music back on. She is also the first person Amelie has danced with who takes her hand and plays the man, having the young woman follow rather than lead.

Amelie: Amelie lets out the tiniest of sighs. Of course the teacher notices a student only ever dancing as the lead, or ‘male’ role. Despite that, she hasn’t just been chatting her day away, and knows how to play the woman during a waltz too.

GM: “Okay, I think you’ve got it down,” the teacher smiles after several dances, then turns the music back off. “Next class, see if you can play the lady a few more times, all right?”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Being led around just clashes with me, I think, but I’ll try my best.”

GM: “Thank you, Amelie,” Mrs. Flores smiles again. “And who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy the change of pace. Boys at the school dances usually like to lead.”

Amelie: “The school allows boys on campus for school dances?”

GM: “Oh yes, we partner with a neighboring boys’ school for those. Though we’ve had some pretty fierce debates over coed proms since poor Miss Whitney.”

Amelie: Amelie has an alarm go off in her head at the teacher’s words, pointing to Sarah’s face mentally. “Why would there be a controversy? What happened?”

GM: “Oh, you’re not familiar? Rebecca Whitney, rest her soul, was killed by a drunk driver some ten years back, during prom. A coed prom—the driver was a boy.” Mrs. Flores shakes her head sadly. “It was such a tragedy. She was her year’s brightest star.”

Amelie: Amelie goes a bit quiet. That isn’t what her thinking had pointed to: she’d pictured the headlines of a sexual assault on their very own Sarah Whitney instead.

GM: The teacher tilts her head at Amelie. “You’re definitely not from around here if that story’s news. Lord knows all the students know. People try not to talk about it too much, but I suppose gossip always spreads.”

Amelie: “I’m indeed not. I’m not even from this country. But that’s awful. I’m sure Sarah is sick of condolences, but my heart goes out to her.”

GM: Mrs. Flores’ face grows more somber at the young woman’s words. “Yes, you’re definitely right about that—I’d ask you not bring it up around our class’s Whitney. It’s an old wound. That family went through so much pain.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’ll be sure not to, it’s none of my business anyway. Anyway, I’ll let you go, ma’am. Thank you for looking out for me. I hope it wasn’t hard on your leg.”

GM: “Oh, there was one other thing, a note came for you to pay the counseling office a visit after school. Take care of that and you’ll be free as a bird.” The teacher smiles. “And the ol’ leg’s doing all right today, thank you for asking.”

Amelie: Amelie gives a slight frown at the surprise news about the counseling office. Last time she was in counseling she tore the leg off a chair and brought it over the skull of a 16-year-old meth addict. Colorful. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

GM: Mrs. Flores bids Amelie a warm goodbye and sits down on the instructor’s stool to check her phone. Amelie doesn’t miss the way she starts massaging her calf, though the young woman may miss her bus home. It’s already ten minutes after the bell.

Amelie: Amelie lives close enough she’s not worried about the bus too much, and walks back to the teacher. “Mrs. Flores, would you like me to get you a ice pack from the nurse’s office? Or do you have any medication in your purse? I’m no stranger to how you hold yourself when you’re in pain.”

GM: Mrs. Flores purses her lips initially, but finally sighs, “Oh, I suppose it’s just the first day wearing on me, it’s been a little while since I’ve been on my feet for this long. But if Mrs. Landruff has a spare pack lying around, I’d be obliged to you both.”

Amelie: “Obliged nothing. You were only on your feet so long because of me. Don’t move, I’ll be back.” Amelie gives the teacher a light smile as she trots out the door at a brisk pace towards the nurse’s office.

GM: Amelie remembers from her weekend tour that the counseling and nurse’s offices are located in Bradish Johnson House, the former home of a sugar cane magnate. It also contains the school libraries, the offices of the three school principals and the overall headmistress, and a few classrooms.

Amelie: Amelie once again marvels at the way people can build when they aren’t trying to toss up structures to avoid the cold of winter. She smooths her hands on the columns as she strides into the administration building. Greek Revival just makes the young woman’s bones feel good, like someone put their heart and soul into what they do and it came out. Still, she makes her way to the nurse’s office at a brisk pace.

GM: The interior feels more like a house than an office. Floors are hardwood and flower-filled vases and framed pictures line the walls. There’s even a few small children in the same McGehee uniform as Amelie excitedly running up a flight of stairs—though their parents are equally quick to catch and admonish the unruly grade schoolers. Indeed, while the three lower, middle, and upper McGehee classes were fairly segregated during Amelie’s school day (except for the assembly and brief intervals between periods), the central office building currently plays host to girls of all ages, from teenagers a few years younger than Amelie to elementary students still holding their parents’ hands.

She makes her way to the reception area on the first floor. The wide desk with three receptionists behind it feels like someone almost rudely dragged it inside a well-furnished living room. Pulled-back drapes and potted leafy plants frame the windows, and the scattered overstuffed waiting chairs invitingly beckon for her to sit down. The wallpaper is a pleasant rose-print and an unlit chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A portrait of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s first and only president, hangs from behind a seated tweenage girl playing on her phone.

Besides the receptionists’ desk, the only thing stopping the area from feeling like a homey living room are the ringing phones and small line of chattering staff, parents, and students. Amelie’s question is eventually answered by one of the secretaries seated behind the desk, a one Mrs. Nancy Noah (her name is likely easy for children to remember), a plump and middle-aged black woman wearing a navy cardigan and silver crucifix around her neck. She quickly confirms that the school nurse has not left campus. “The good lord knows her job ain’t over yet, with all the after-school sports here.”

Mrs. Noah provides directions to the school nurse’s office in the back wing of the nearby Lower School Annex building, where Amelie finds the aforenamed Mrs. Landruff. She’s a middle-aged woman with glasses, brownish-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a short white coat with a doctor’s stethoscope. She is already providing ice pack aid to the bloody nose of a crying elementary-age student.

“Now Laura, honey, you just keep your head tilted back and hold that pack in place, a bloody nose always looks worse than it is. If you can be brave for me and stay quiet, I can even send you off with a lollipop.”

The girl, who looks about eight, has her own red hair pulled back into a ponytail with a yellow scrunchie. She wears the same black, white, and green uniform as Amelie, and is sobbing hopelessly. “I m-m-missed the bu-us…”

“Don’t you worry, sweet pea, we’ll call your mommy and daddy and see if they can come pick you up. You can have fun in the playroom until they do, okay?”

The girl manages a nod as the nurse finally looks away towards Amelie. “Yes, can I help you?”

Amelie: Amelie thanks the receptionist once she gets her information and quickly makes her way into the office, just in time to see a crying kid with a messed-up face. Poor girl.

Amelie stands there quietly, waits for the nurse to finish up, and gives a respectful nod once she’s addressed. “I need an icepack for Mrs. Flores, please, and anything else you’d suggest for her sore leg would be appreciated.”

GM: “Oh, it must be bothering her pretty bad if she’s sending you,” Mrs. Landruff frowns as she hands Amelie an ice pack, then two ibuprofen tablets she seals in a plastic bag. “Now I’m not supposed to hand out medication to students, but this is nothing you couldn’t get over the counter. Take it right back to Mrs. Flores, all right?”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” Amelie turns on her heel and rushes back to the building with her Ballroom Dance class, hoping her teacher listened to her and stayed put on her stool. The walk through campus is nice, but the young woman’s laser focus keeps her from enjoying it. She has counseling after this, and Mrs. Flores is in enough pain thanks to her refusal to take a non-leading role in dances.

GM: Amelie finds Mrs. Flores seated and scrolling through her phone. “You’re just faster than green grass through a goose, aren’t you?” the dance teacher laughs as she accepts the compress, breaks it out of its package, and applies it over her leg. She drops the ibuprofen into her purse. “But thank you, Amelie. I don’t usually like to ask students to wait on me, but Lord knows it is easier.”

Amelie: Amelie hands everything over and nods. She doesn’t waste any time when people need her, at least. Now that Mrs. Flores is iced and medicated, it’s a small weight off the teen’s shoulders. “If you need a partner for physiotherapy stretches or for me to fetch anything from your car, you let me know, okay? You don’t need to hesitate asking your students for a bit of help.”

GM: “I’ve kept you long enough as it is, now, I’m sure you have extracurriculars to go to before whatever the counseling office wants. At least you’ll avoid the post-school traffic on your drive home.” She laughs again. “Such as we even have it in this corner of town.”

Amelie: “I haven’t actually chosen any extracurriculars yet. I don’t know if I’ll pick an in-school one,” she explains, but wishes the teacher a good day as she leaves. She doesn’t bother explaining that she doesn’t have a car or anything.

GM: “Oh, you should do that right away—most of them meet for the first time this week, and you don’t want to fall behind. Don’t succumb to senioritis!” Mrs. Flores’ voice is half-teasing as she waves goodbye to Amelie and turns back to her phone.

Amelie: Amelie gives a mental shrug. The counselor might have something to say about that anyway.
Finding the counseling office is easier now that she’s been to the building once, and it gives her a bit more time to worry over what they want from her. Once she’s back, she walks up to the black woman behind the desk, and clears her throat once it’s her turn in the busy lineup of people bothering her. The phones and chatting staff don’t help any.

“Sorry to bother you again, ma’am. Amelie Savard, I was asked to come see the school counselor?”

GM: Back at the Bradish Johnson House, Amelie finds that some of the faces apart from the secretaries have shifted, but everything is otherwise much as it was. Mrs. Noah waves off that she’s being any other directs Amelie to the office of one of the guidance counselors, which is another brief walk away.

Amelie: Amelie thanks the secretary again, walks down the corridor, and knocks on the door.

GM: Amelie gets a prompt, “Come in, please,” and opens the door to see a thirty-something Asian-American woman sitting behind a desk and computer. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse and yellow scarf, smiles when she sees Amelie, and motions for the young woman to pull up a chair.

Her office is decorated in bright colors with assorted mounted plaques, pictures of students, and motivational posters, one of which is an internet Dos Equis meme.

“Amelie, hi, so glad you could come by. You can call me Ms. Nguyen,” the woman greets. As if reading into Amelie’s expression, she then adds, “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble over anything—I understand you’re new at McGehee and weren’t able to come in before last weekend, so there’s a few things that might’ve slipped through the cracks.”

Amelie: The guidance counselor’s office is almost painfully brightly colored. There’s something patronizing about how bright and cheery it is, Amelie she sits down across from the woman and nods at her words.

“I’ve only been in New Orleans for a few days, I was still in Toronto last weekend,” she elaborates as she folds her hands in her lap.

GM: “Oh really, you’re from Canada? I’m sure this must be quite a culture shock for you—or maybe not, your name sounds French-Canadian?” Ms. Nguyen asks.

Amelie: “Quebec City born and bred. Vive le Québec and all that, yes.” She gets that out of the way, then asks, “Is this a career counseling visit? A mental health counseling visit? I have to admit, I’m not used to school counselors calling on me.”

GM: Ms. Nguyen smiles again and shakes her head. “Oh no, you’re not here for any mental health counseling. I don’t know how things were at your old school, Amelie, but we care about every student’s success here at McGehee. So I’d mainly like to touch base with you about what your academic goals are while you’re with us, what sorts of plans you might have made towards college, and how we can help you get there.”

Amelie: “Ah, I see. Well, Ms. Nguyen, to be completely honest with you I don’t plan to attend a university right out of school here. It’s not realistic for me. Have you spoken with my aunt about my situation?”

GM: “We talk pretty often with parents here,” the counselor nods, “and we talked with your aunt more than most, since you weren’t yet in the States. But you’re a little older than our normal students and there’s no one who can be a better advocate for your goals and needs than you. Are you planning to enter vocational training, the military, or some other career directly?”

Amelie: “To speak plainly, I’m not comfortable with debts. I plan to start a business to repay my tuition to my aunt, and then put myself through university on my own merits. If it eases your alarm, my plans do point at MIT when my business gets off the ground. They have an exemplary history course, and their engineering courses are of course world renowned. Even if most outside STEM students would call MIT a glorified vocational school.”

GM: “Yes, student debt is a very big concern for your generation these days,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “But if money is what’s standing in the way of your dreams right now—whether that’s college, a business, or a glorified vocational school,” the counselor says with a smile, “you’ve got a number of options, including scholarships and programs here at McGehee.”

“In fact, we have quite a few of those. That’s one of the reasons many parents enroll their daughters with us—they’re a lot more likely to get noticed and qualify for good scholarships if they attend a highly-rated school, and our tuition is still cheaper than most universities’.”

"Th"The truth is, most families who send their girls here aren’t descended from Antebellum aristocracy. Quite a few are well-off but not truly wealthy, or even middle-class, and just don’t want to subject their daughters to the public school system. Some use financial aid to afford tuition. So it’s a very quiet topic, and no girl here will ever admit it—but you’re far from the only student for whom money is a legitimate concern."

Amelie: Amelie nods and leans back a bit in her chair. “My aunt is wealthy for sure, but she shouldn’t be subjected to paying for her niece’s life. I’m sure I could get scholarships, but I’m sure that would limit me more than simply earning my way. I have a trade already, and New Orleans is a perfect place to ply it in the United States. In fact, I’m already in the planning stages of my business. I might have to be 21 before I can crack a bottle of wine to celebrate opening it, but I can still open it.”

GM: “Oh that’s excellent, it sounds like you’ve already got a path forward for yourself figured out. Who’s providing the start-up capital, your aunt?”

Amelie: “I plan to find outside investors. I have a current project in the works that will hopefully drum up some interest. The identification of an aristocratic historical piece brought from France to New Orleans. I find the family who it belongs to with a paper trail to when it was created. Offer to also restore it for a price, and then sell it back to them to cover my expenses.”

GM: “That sounds fascinating,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “I’m a transplant to New Orleans, myself, but it’s impossible not to appreciate how much history the city has. If you’re looking for investors and plan to operate your business here in New Orleans, anyways, you might just be in luck—McGehee is affiliated with an outside program that backs local entrepreneurs who’ve recently finished their educations, among other things.”

Amelie: “Is that so? Can I ask where you were transplanted from?” Amelie starts to relax, if just a little bit, and nods at the offer. “Who runs this entrepreneur program?”

GM: “I’m originally from San Diego. You definitely won’t find as much history there,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “I’ve actually had a bunch of people think I’m a local! Apparently there’s a big Vietnamese population east of the city.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods at the assumption that she’s local. She admits that she just assumes most people are from the town that she meets them in, including Ms. Nguyen.

GM: “Anyways,” she continues, “it’s the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation. It primarily funds college students through ISAs—incoming sharing agreements, but it has a program for qualifying high school graduates to use the funds for other things like vocational or technical school, or even entrepreneurial projects. Since it’s an ISA, the best part is that the student isn’t fully on the hook to pay them back.”

“If you’re not familiar with how those work, an ISA is an arrangement where an investor pays for a college student’s tuition and potentially related expenses like food and housing. In return, the students repay the investor with a percentage of their post-graduation salaries, usually for no more than 10 years. If the student doesn’t make any money, the investors lose out, but the student is off the hook. If the student succeeds, the investors profit too.”

“The foundation was set up by the Whitney family, if the name wasn’t a giveaway. I think these days it operates closer to the bank and its investors than the original family members, though I could be wrong.”

Amelie: Amelie looks rather amused for a moment before chuckling, “I can’t seem to get away from the Whitney family today. First the presentation talking about her, then it turns out somewhere I’d like to go for a history project is owned by the Whitney bank, I even spoke with Sarah Whitney last period, and now this,” she explains, crossing her legs.

“However, if I do manage to snag it, hopefully it’ll be enough for a place of work. Metallurgy equipment is surprisingly cheap, due to the fact a lot of tools I can just make once I have the basics, but we’ll have to see! Is there an information booklet on this ISA?”

GM: “Oh really? I guess that isn’t too big a surprise, the Whitney Bank is our largest regional bank. And let’s see, booklets…” Ms. Nguyen types something into her computer.

Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers fucking Desjardins, the worst bank you could possibly go to, but one that was still everywhere in Quebec, much to her dismay.

GM: “Okay, they have a website, here’s the address.” The counselor briefly asks Amelie for an email address, or just lets her copy the url directly off the computer screen. “I can also call them to set up a meeting with a foundation member, if you’d like. Maybe they’ll even have a pamphlet I can pass on.”

Amelie: Amelie saves the url to her bookmarks so she can look it up later. “I think I’m going to hold off on that until I have something to show them. My project will hopefully turn a profit, or at the very least break even and spread my name around collectors in New Orleans a little. Have a success story to get them interested.”

GM: “Sounds like a promising way to start things,” the guidance counselor nods. “I know that they require students applying for ISAs to give a presentation, and having a couple good references already could only help you.”

Amelie: “It only seems fair, I mean If I can’t prove that I can do something, how am I going to be given money to do something?”

GM: “I might also recommend that you talk your plans over with your aunt. Last we chatted, she admitted she didn’t have much idea what your intended path in life was, beyond that she was going to require you to finish high school. I’m sure she’ll have plenty more things to say about the business you want to start up.”

Amelie: “Me and her have already spoken about this, actually. I made it clear to her as well that I like to see debts repaid.”

GM: “That’s a healthy attitude in life,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “Another thing I wanted us to talk about was extracurriculars—at McGehee, we encourage all students to develop their interests and pursue achievements outside of the classroom, both to improve their college applications and for simple personal enrichment. Are you signed up for any after-school activities yet?”

Amelie: “I am not. But I’m looking at an out of school curricular in Systemé d’Armes, the local HEMA group in New Orleans. From what I’ve read it’s run by some class A historians.”

GM: “Sounds promising. Now admittedly, with you not attending college, there’s not as much need for you to have a long list of extracurriculars on an application. But they can still look good on a work resume, help you meet potential references, or simply provide personal enrichment. If you’re ever curious what else McGehee has to offer, we have a handy list right here,” the counselor says before passing Amelie a small paper booklet.

She abruptly frowns. “Oh, I’m sorry, this is one of the bad copies. Let me get you a current one.” She withdraws the proffered booklet, rummages around in her desk for a moment, and then hands Amelie another, identical-looking one.

Amelie: Amelie moves to look through the pamphlet, and is about to ask about any engineering classes or extracurriculars after seeing a picture of girls building a catapult on the school website. But the sudden change between booklets makes her a bit wary. They both look the same. She glances up at the woman and gives a small smile. “May I see the other one again, however? It’s good to gauge interest in certain activities by seeing what is cut out.”

GM: “Oh, you’d be wasting your time, it’s exactly the same except for one entry,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “Some students wanted to form a club the administration decided not to allow. One of them worked as a TA and had access to the copy center, so she made copies which included the unrecognized club, and those all got passed out across the school. Principal Strong was not happy. Looks like I forgot about my copy, though.” The counselor drops it in the trash bin.

Amelie: Amelie looks a little concerned as to what this club is as her eyes linger on the trash bin. “If you don’t mind me asking, what was the cut club? I can’t imagine there being any dissent at this school so far, was it something especially toxic?”

GM: “It was the Queer Student Alliance, or whatever the girls were calling it. And no, we found the responsible girl’s behavior much worse than the club itself was. McGehee believes a student’s sexual identity is their own business. We also believe students should express themselves through their interests and vocations, rather than personal labels. We try to focus on the things every student can try out or have in common.”

Amelie: Amelie deflates a little. She thought it was something saucy or dangerous, and actually chuckles a bit at the sudden lift in tensions. “It was a gay/straight alliance? You had me thinking it was a ‘burn books’ club or something catty. Is the student who started it still with the school?”

GM: The guidance counselor nods. “She was suspended, but yes, she’s still with us. We wouldn’t expel a student just for something like that.”

Amelie: “You probably can’t tell me her name, can you? You’ve gotten me interested. I… actually, ma’am, do you mind if I ask you how long you’ve been with McGehee?”

GM: “Four years and worth it every day,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “And I’m afraid I can’t. Circulating who she was just makes it harder to put the incident behind us.”

Amelie: Amelie debates with herself for a moment before offering the guidance counselor a nod. She can’t ask about what group that girl might belong to. “Fair enough. I’m sure she’ll make herself known if she wants to cause any more trouble,” she relents. “Was there anything else, ma’am?”

GM: “I think a few things…” Ms. Nguyen spends the next chunk of time going over Amelie’s selection of classes for this and next semester, reviewing graduation requirements and previous academic records (Amelie’s grades back in Quebec notably suffered from her poor home life), and informing her of various scholastic resources open to students, such as the library and tutoring services. She also goes over deadlines for the SAT exam and college and financial aid applications—“just so you can keep those in mind, they’re the drumbeat everything here marches to.”

“Okay,” Ms. Nguyen finally concludes, “I think that’s everything. I may call you back in a week or two just to check up on how things are doing. And if no one’s said so already, welcome to McGehee,” the guidance counselor smiles in farewell.

Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015

GM: Half an hour later, Amelie is back home. Christina is still out, true to her word that morning, but has left a note on the dining room table saying she expects to be home. The afternoon is Amelie’s to spend as she wills.

Amelie: Amelie has a little while before her aunt gets home, it looks like. She spends that time in the kitchen cooking and listening to Qeeqle’s ‘text to speech’ feature recite her notes in its plain modulated voice while she hurries around. She spent years making food for a drunk who had zero ability to do those kinds of things for himself, and it made the rather butch girl a surprisingly competent cook. She has a simple stir-fry waiting for her aunt when she gets home, where she also finds the cooking dishes already washed and Amelie sitting in the kitchen on her laptop.

GM: It’s around 6 PM when Amelie hears a car outside and the front door opening. Christina greets her by the kitchen’s island and asks how her first day went, adding, “I hope you’ve started to make some friends.”

Amelie: Amelie perks up at the questions after her aunt comes in. “I think I did make one or two. Hard to tell at this school. My classes are proving interesting. How about yourself? Calm day at work?”

GM: “Oh yes, calm as ever. Kristina said you two got some good shopping done yesterday. And how thoughtful of you to make dinner, that smells scrumptious.” Her aunt gets out some napkins, plates and utensils to set down on the island.

Amelie: “I’m glad work was calm.” As suspicious as Amelie feels of of her aunt’s work, she does hope it went well. “I do need some advice, however. Something very odd happened at school today.”

GM: “Oh yes, what was that?” her aunt asks as she fills two glasses with water.

Amelie: “During lunch break I noticed someone watching me across the yard. I approached them and they ran. I found them again and it was a middle schooler. I got out of her that she ’wasn’t supposed to be seen’ watching me and someone gave her the task. I’m none too worried, maybe it was just a bad ripoff of an ‘elite of the school’ club, but I’m not sure how to proceed.”

GM: “That is strange,” Christina remarks as she spears a forkful of stir-fry. “How you should proceed depends on what you want to do about it, I suppose.”

Amelie: “I’m rather stuck on that, as well. I don’t know who the group in question is. The only options I see are to investigate the school’s history for a clue, find that girl again, or just ignore the group until I graduate or they contact me.”

GM: “Ignoring them doesn’t sound like a poor option if they haven’t bothered you yet,” her aunt remarks between a bite.

Amelie: “My only issue with that plan is the possibility of offending the ego of that group. If they’ve got eyes on me, and they know I’m aware? I could see a club of little heiresses taking offense.”

GM: “A club of little heiresses relying on even littler girls in training bras to do their dirty work?” her aunt wryly asks. “Until they actually do something to interfere with you, they don’t sound worth the time to me. It’s money, after all. You have much more important things you can spend yours on.”

Amelie: “Very true. I’ll take that advice, then. I do have a lot of things already on my plate. I hopefully have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch to gain access to the LaLaurie House, and I’ve got my business plans to set up—I also heard there’s a possible ISA grant through the school, I have to find a good pair of rollerskates until driver’s ed starts, and of course keeping up with all my other schoolwork and tour plans.” She slowly nods to herself as she tells her aunt about her plans. It helps her organize them better in her own head.

GM: “Sounds like a lot,” her aunt remarks. “Do you know when driver’s ed starts up?”

Amelie: Amelie sits up and reaches into her bag, pulling out the booklet with extracurricular activities she got from Ms. Nguyen, and pages through it for driver’s ed.

“The counselor called me in today. I still have that public school tightening in my gut every time that happens. But she gave me this. Should have information for driver’s ed.”

GM: “That’s thoughtful of the school to do. I think you’ll find that the staff here has a different way of doing things.”

Amelie spends about a minute paging through it before she finds the location and times for driver’s ed: 4:00 PM until 5:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting this week. Christina comments wryly on how “back in her day” driver’s ed was offered as an in-school class rather than an after-school activity, though she does comment on the late start time. “Probably so the girls can attend ‘real’ extracurriculars. I suppose even offering driver’s ed is more than I expected, it’s not as if learning to drive is something the students can put down on their college applications.”

The booklet says that driver’s ed lasts for a semester and teaches all the fundamentals of driving. Amelie’s aunt adds that she’s free to go to the DMV (“Department of Motor Vehicles, if you call it by something else back in Canada”) and take her licensing test at any point: driver’s ed simply teaches all the topics likely to come up.

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit at her aunt’s words and recounts the look on the woman’s face when she mentioned her decision not to apply for college right out of McGehee. It’s a bit of a funny thought, that the school relies so much on those numbers from students heading to higher education when that should be public school’s aim. The pamphlet takes but a moment to get through, and she nods along to it all, hoping it comes with practical lessons as well. “The learner’s permit will be quick to get, especially. Then just a bit of practice and I’m sure I’ll be behind a wheel in no time.”

GM: “I remember when your grandfather taught your mother and me how to drive,” Christina recollects. “That would have been back in ‘85 or so. He started by having us drive laps around empty parking lots. Once we could do that, he’d have one of us play chauffeur whenever he or your grandmother left the house. Sometimes we’d drive out to Boston or along the I-95 to get practice at the harder aspects of driving. Cities and highways can be intimidating during those first few times behind the wheel. We got our learner’s permits after a few weeks and our licenses after maybe a few months. It doesn’t take too long.”

Amelie: Amelie isn’t able to hide a small frown at her aunt’s recollection of her and Mom’s childhood. Or at least teen years. She remembers back in that group home, when her ‘goal for the day’ was so often not to think about her missing parent. Now it’s twice in one day that she hasn’t been able to stop herself. Her normally straight-backed and formal tone cracks as she asks,

“Auntie? Has she… called you? Sent you a letter? Anything since she left? Anything at all?”

GM: Christina shakes her head and lays a hand on Amelie’s shoulder. “She hasn’t. I’m sorry. I can only imagine what that not knowing is like for you.”

Amelie: Amelie looks down at her aunt’s hand. The touch is nice. But that’s the only thing which is.

She clears her throat. “It was long enough ago that it’s dulled. I’m actually glad she hasn’t contacted you, if I’m honest. If just for the fact that it means I wasn’t the only part of her life she didn’t approve of.”

GM: “I can’t say what may have been going through your mother’s head when she chose to leave,” her aunt answers. “I wish I could. I wish she’d come back. That’s unfortunately out of our hands, so all we can do is go forward with our own lives.”

Amelie: “We’ll see her again. I’m almost sure of it.” Amelie’s tone isn’t hopeful, not one bit, but saying it seems to steel her again. “Until then, you’re right. I’ve got to go about my own life. That includes getting a few appointments settled, seeing if McGehee will be angry if I use their name for my tutoring credentials, and getting into the New Orleans HEMA group, because like my mother I need to hit things with sharp sticks every so often.”

GM: “Sounds relaxing,” her aunt observes with some amusement. “So far as upsetting McGehee, what are you planning there?”

Amelie: "Well, a business needs references. McGehee is a great reference, but I don’t know if they’d be happy if I posted on a flier. ‘McGehee Private school student offering private tutoring’ "

GM: “Oh, something like that? No, they won’t mind if all you’re doing is saying is that you go to McGehee.”

Amelie: “And yet, my day was baffling enough that I feel safer doubting. What about you? I heard from Kristina and even my Economics teacher, Lawrence Thurston, that you attend quite a few events. I hope I’m not keeping you.”

GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “Oh no. You’re not very likely to see many of those on a Monday night. I’m usually busier on weekends, but you’re old not to need me always around. You have my cell if there’s ever something you want to quickly get in touch over.”

Amelie: “Fair enough. I was surprised about Mr. Thurston though. It feels as though New Orleans is the only place I could find a high school teacher socialite.”

GM: “Lawrence Thurston, you said?” Her aunt seems to think the name over. “I think he worked for Whitney Bank. You can run into lots of mid-to-upper management corporate types at assorted functions, but more often as faces in the crowd than what you might be thinking of by ‘socialite’. There are a few members of the board of trustees who fit that profile, though. The investors behind the school are definitely old money.”

Amelie: “Maybe my definition of socialite is off. Though a lot of students are definitely old money, too. Sarah Whitney herself is in my final period class, that’s how I may have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch. And I think I only got that ‘may’ by being partners with a daughter of the Devillers family. This school makes me feel like I’m playing a game of Renaissance social chess.”

GM: “I’d imagine that it does. Some perspective can be useful, though,” her aunt reflects as she finishes her dinner. “I lived in New York for some years before I moved south. The families here are welfare queens next to the money floating around in that city. New Orleans used to be one of the most important cities in the country, but that was two hundred years ago. Most of its old money families don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Or the one about how they lost the Civil War too.”

Amelie: Amelie listens closely and nods in agreement. Perspective is very important. The country she came from has nothing that compares to the kind of money and influence a world power throws around every day. New Orleans is shiny, but her aunt is right. Shiny silver isn’t worth a quarter as much as dull gold.

“I’ll keep that in mind. When I’m older maybe I’ll go and see New York, as well,” she concedes. She takes her aunt’s plate when she’s finished and reflexively moves to wash it in the sink.

“On a different note, I’ll be going out tomorrow after school. I want to take a look at the LaLaurie house from the outside, take some pictures. I want to view a church or two as well, maybe find a place I can buy some rollerskates. I know it sounds bad, but they’re handy.”

GM: “Louisiana is the poorest state in the Union today,” her aunt continues. “It has a thousand other ills from rampant political corruption to abysmal poverty and education rates, to the largest incarcerated adult population in the country. Louisiana has no industries truly competitive with those of other states besides tourism, most of which is based in New Orleans, and petroleum—and the latter is going to run out, no matter how much the Malveauxes may plug their ears and yell global warning is a hoax. If you managed to back a McGehee ‘heiress’ into a corner and got her to admit those problems are real, she’d probably say ‘they only really apply to the poor, my family can trace our ancestors back to the Confederacy and we’re so much better off.’ But they really aren’t. The state is equally ‘poor’ among its rich. It’s only home to two billionaires, one of whom spends half his time in Texas. The old families here really aren’t as rich or as important as they’d like to believe. All they have is their history.”

Christina doesn’t roll her eyes, but the sound is there in her voice.

“And their pride, goodness knows.”

Amelie: Amelie just stands there at the sink, stunned as she hears her aunt go off like a firework at the old families in the city. She actually breaks into a small fit of laughter as she squirts some soap over the dishes and turns back to her aunt. “That sounds like a lot of pent-up patronizing encounters with old family assholes,” she says, trying to regain her composure.

“I’ll keep that all in mind. I think that lifts a little bit of weight off their opinions for me, too. Even the councilor Ms. Nguyen said something along the lines of very few actual old families are putting their kids through McGehee.”

GM: Her aunt waves a hand as if to dismiss the whole topic. “You don’t need to wash that plate yourself, by the way, we have a dishwasher.”

“And I’m sure the LaLaurie House will be an interesting place to stop by. You should stop by a few of the Quarter’s cafés and restaurants while you’re out. Say what you will about the old families, but the cuisine here is to die for.”

“St. Louis Cathedral is also the most popular place to stop if you want to see an old church. It’s the seat of the Catholic archdiocese here, though there’s plenty more historic churches too.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a little silly as she notices the dishwasher and fits the plate inside. It’s been a while since she was in a house that had one of those.

“I think the cathedral is the one I’ll hit up, yes. It’s not liable to be too crowded on a Tuesday, I’m sure I’ll get to look around without much of an issue.”

GM: “Oh yes, it’s open to the public more or less all the time. There was a wedding going on the first time I visited, which struck me as fairly strange. Anyone was free to just walk in.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the thought of a wedding somewhere so historic, and that the building itself doesn’t close itself off even during those events.

“Well, thanks for the advice. I’ll go and sign up for the driver’s course tomorrow before I head out to the French Quarter. But for now, I should start studying and preparing. And thank you, for… well, talking about my mother with me. I’m sorry it’s been affecting you, too.”

GM: “People who disappear affect everyone who knows them, unfortunately,” her aunt remarks. “But don’t mention it. I’m glad that you still have your head in your studies after all that’s been going on.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and thinks back to her father. That pathetic husk. “If you ever want to talk about it more, we can. I’m sure it was hard being in a whole other country when it happened. Study though, it’s kinda relaxing for me. Plus, now I want to shove my grades in some welfare queen faces,” she smirks.

She thanks her aunt for the great talk and retreats up to her room. She spends most of her time studying notes over her laptop, but she also puts together details for her LaLaurie proposal on the side. There’s plenty of time in the night to study before bed.

There’s plenty of time ahead for anything.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice II
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Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie III
Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie V

Story One, Alice II

“Get your shit together if you want a sale, kid.”

Tuesday morning, 25 August 2015

GM: “…huh. This is serious, Alice. Really serious.”

Trevor shifts his gaze from Alice’s laptop to its owner. He’s an Asian-American boy who just turned 21 and an inch shorter than Alice at 5’4", with short black hair and a wide nose made more prominent by his thick glasses. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt for a popular sci-fri franchise blocked over with Japanese lettering. Though as Alice knows, he’s actually Vietnamese. He’s told her about how lots of Vietnamese settled in the Big Easy after the war. According to his grandmother, Louisiana’s hot swampy climate felt like home.

The eating and chattering of students forms a low but omnipresent din around them over the warm smells of assorted breakfasts. Trevor’s gone with a plate of roasted red pepper hummus and a breakfast burrito.

“I mean, you nailed the virus,” Trevor continues, “but it’s a good thing you came to me. ‘Cuz you’re still in deep shit. Really, really deep shit.”

Alice: Alice sips a coke, having eaten breakfast at home, as she sits watches Trevor check out her laptop. She is dressed in her usual manner, t-shirt and Capri jeans, with her lucky cap. Earlier that morning, she had sent Penny a text, warning her of the virus, and advising her to get Trevor to help remove it, and not to get dressed or stand where her machine’s webcam could see until she was sure it wasn’t going to snap photos of her.

She grimaces at Trevor’s statement, replying with a worried “Y-yeah? Talk to me, Trev.” She sets aside her drink, to listen attentively to her friend.

GM: “If you keep masturbating to those girl-on-girl porn vids,” he pronounces, “you will go blind.”

Alice: Alice grins, playfully punching Trevor’s shoulder. “You ass! I’m serious, dude, my comp is clean? You’re sure?”

GM: Trevor snickers, a s-s-s-like sound. “No, I’m pretty sure it’s anything but clean, and I only looked at your last week of browsing history.”

Alice: “Only because you wanted to know where to find the good shit! Anyway, thanks Trev.” Alice laughs, and moves to retrieve her laptop. “I’d fucking lose it, if something happened to it.” She indicates the laptop. “Plus, my mom would probably go totally apeshit.”

GM: “Um, wait. There actually was one kinda weird thing.”

Alice: Alice waits, half-expecting another joke.

GM: “I couldn’t find signs of a RAT anywhere. I’m not… sure how that pic actually got taken.”

Alice: “Uh, a rat? Sorry, Trev I mean, I’m no grandma or whatever, but I’m not exactly a computer security expert either.”

Alice frowns at the unfamiliar tech-speak. She understood one thing plainly enough though, something weird had happened with the webcam. Something that even her up-to-his-eyeballs in technology friend couldn’t figure out.

GM: “Remote Administration Tool,” explains Trevor. “Tldr, it’s how you hack into someone’s computer, turn on their webcam, do all sorts of shit. Go through IM conversations, grab passwords, give them pop-ups, blah blah. Most RAT users aren’t even real hackers. It’s really easy to do. I mean, there are how-to guides and forums where you can buy and rent slaves. That’s what they call people whose systems they’ve infected.”

Alice: “Oh, got it. Cool, good to know. RAT, huh? Could it have, like, deleted itself after the photo was taken, or something?” Alice looks contemplatively at her laptop, as it powers down, and she gets ready to stow it back in its cover, and put it into her bag. “I uh, don’t suppose you can tell which site it came from?”

With a small expression of sudden remembrance, “Oh! Yeah, Penny might have gotten this thing too. You might be able to learn more from looking at her machine.”

GM: Trevor shakes his head. “No, that’s the thing. There is no RAT on your computer. I mean, sure, you can delete that stuff. But it’s a lot easier to…” he pauses, perhaps attempting to parse down tech jargon, “dig things up than it is to permanently get rid of them. And if some run-of-the-mill antivirus coulda nailed whatever you caught, I probably coulda found it. I mean, I haven’t looked around that long, so maybe I’m missing something. But if I haven’t, whatever happened to your computer… isn’t technically possible.”

Alice: “Freaky. Listen, the semester just started, so I understand you are busy and shit. But, if you are curious, I’d be happy to try to figure out what the fuck this was with you. When you have time.” Alice nods, then gives her friend a smile. “Anyway, thanks dude for helping out. I owe ya one.”

GM: Trevor nods at the praise between a bite breakfast. “Welcome. Like I said, weird stuff. Wouldn’t mind finding out who’s behind it.”

Alice: Alice pulls out her phone, and navigates to the calendar. “What’s you class schedule look like? Maybe we have some classes together.” She shows the screen to Trevor for him to compare with his own.

GM: Trevor confirms that he’s sharing Symbolic Logic with Alice. That’s a math-based (or at least, quantitative reasoning) course she’s put off for a while. Trevor declares he can do it in his sleep/.

Alice: “Guess I know who to bug for help with homework,” Alice jokes, nodding. “You’re in some engineering classes too, right? Are you planning on making anything cool?”

GM: Trevor nods back. “Yeah. There are these GPS handcuffs I’ve been hearing about. They track the position of the person wearing them, and even give an electric shock if they wander out of the allowed area. Kinda like that Companion app, but for criminals instead.”

Alice: “Sounds pretty fancy, Mr. Secret Agent!” Alice proceeds to spend the rest of their break chatting with Trevor and going with the flow of conversation.

It’s good to have friends.

Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015

Alice: In between class, Alice visits with her acquaintances and classmates. The conversations are casual on the surface, but in truth she is carefully combing the academic grapevine, hoping to pluck the answers to two questions. First, she needs more information to continue her investigation into the haunting of the Josephine Louise House on campus. Her second question is more personal, but of a similarly serious nature. Is there anything date-worthy going on in the city in the next week or two?

In love, as in war… better to have a fucking battle plan! Alice muses, as she daydreams of her and her crush Penelope “Penny” Freeman going out on the town. A few passing students break into quiet laughter at Alice, as she stands in the middle of the hall with a goofy, daydreaming grin. Her cheeks go red as she realizes what she was doing, and resumes walking.

Shit, totally got lost for a moment there. C’mon Alice… focus! Ghost busting first, girl chasing second!

Nodding to herself, Alice adjusts the brim of her cap, and resumes her investigation.

GM: Beyond snickers over her obvious crush, there are two words foremost on the lips of Alice’s acquaintances: Southern Decadence. It’s annual six-day festival on the Sunday before Labor Day, and marked by parades, bead tossing, street parties and dance parties. In these ways it resembles Mardi Gras, but tends to be more sexual in tone and is generally geared towards more upscale and mature revelers. Most events take place in or around the French Quarter neighborhood, centered at the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets. Decadence is also a pride parade and geared toward the LGBT crowd. There have been a number of sexual assaults, and public sex acts that have sparked opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

Alice: Oh shit, yeah there is that. Mom was always pretty against me getting involved in Decadence. ‘Course, I’m out on my own now… she can’t exactly stop me from doing whatever the fuck I want to.

Alice recalls the stories about the rapes and assaults associated with the festival. She also considers the very sexual tone.

It would make for a pretty racy first date, depending on what party we went too. But it is an LGBT pride thing, so… hmm. I’ll try bringing it up, and seeing how she reacts.

Alice nods, making a decision. Take a casual approach, broaching the topic and see what Penny has to say about it. If she seems positive… ask her out!

It isn’t like it has to be considered a date… it could just be a pride thing. Yeah.

Having found an answer to one question, she proceeds to work towards answering the other.

GM: Further asking-around on Alice’s part reveals that the girls of Josephine Louise House are hosting a dorm party a night or two from now, which means the house will be open for non-residents to explore. It sounds like it’ll be a pretty informal, red cup thing: just a bunch of students looking to cut loose and forget about exams and schoolwork.

Alice: With a bright smile, Alice thanks them for the information!

Sweet! Sounds like a perfect chance to scope the place out. I wonder if anyone I know will be there.

Seeing that her classes are done for the day, she sighs and gets ready to head to the family bookshop. It is just after 3:00 PM, and her shift will keep her there until evening.

Time to see what weirdos wander into the shop today. If I’m lucky, it’ll be slow and I’ll be able to knock out some of this homework.

Before getting on her bike and riding for the French Quarter, she shoots Penny a text to see if she wants to hang out tomorrow, or sometime over the weekend. She adds a follow-up text, mentioning the open-house party in a few nights, citing it as a potential excuse to hang out.

GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back just as she’s unlocking her bicycle from the curved metal rack.

Sure A! U hear what the themes gonna b?

Alice: Themes? Shit, is that a thing that parties have? Alice panics a bit, as she realizes she is out of her depth of expertise. Fuck, how should I know? I don’t drink, so I don’t usually have much reason to go to parties unless a friend invites me. She texts her reply:

Uh, shit, sorry P! I totally forgot to find out! I can ask around online if you like? The people who invited me said it was just a casual thing. Red cups and stuff.

Alice is beginning to wonder if asking her classy friend to a trashy dorm party was such a good idea.

GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back again, comfortingly oblivious to its owner’s worrying.

Oh it is lol. But with 80s theme. Bust out the leg warmers!

Alice: Alice does a quick mental inventory of her wardrobe. I guess I could just go in active wear? Workout clothes were a style in the 80’s right? Maybe I could make something in time… I know I still have some leftover bolts of cloth from last semester’s quilt project.

With relief at the seeming unconcern of her friend about her party-theme ignorance, Alice replies, Active wear. Got it! I can make us some leopard or zebra print stuff too. You remember, the zoo-themed quilt I made for class last semester? I still have a plenty of leftover cloth.

GM: Another buzz. Aww, cute! I do have a costume already… maybe u could make me some leopard/zebra print accessories? Can’t ever have enough headbands/armwarmers/legwarmers lol!

Alice: LoL, Sure thing, P. Anything for you ! ;) Anyway, I’m off to work. TTYL :)

With that business taken care of, Alice peddles off to work in a radiant mood. Fuck yes! This is going to be awesome! Who says you can’t mix work and pleasure? After that, nothing is going to get me down today!

Unconcerned about Murphy, or his universal law, she rides on.

GM: As if the fates themselves were eavesdropping, Alice’s phone vibrates again. The sender reads “Mom”.

Alice: Alice skids to a stop and checks her phone. The small alarm-buzz sound of a Mom-text raising her hackles.

Shit, I’m not late am I?

GM: The text reads:

Won’t be around this afternoon. Please mind store. Dinner at 7 tomorrow, my house?

Alice: Alice quickly types a reply. Got it, Mom, I’m on my way as we type. If you have anything specific that needs doing, let me know. Um, dinner sounds fine. I get out of class right at 8 pm though. Maybe you could pick me up? It might take me a bit to bike over to your place if that isn’t an option.

She sends off the text, and waits a moment for the reply.

GM: Won’t have time to pick you up. Routed your account $20 for taxi fare. See you then.

Alice: Alice smiles and replies, Cool, will do. I’ll let you know how things went in the shop after I close up tonight. Then after pausing a moment, she adds, Love you. See you tomorrow. Her text sent, Alice resumes her ride.

GM: Another buzz after a moment.

Love you too, Alice.

Alice: With a small sad smile, Alice rides.

I’m trying, Mom. I hope you are too.

Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015

GM: The French Quarter isn’t so busy on weekday afternoons as weekend nights, but it still has its characters. A mime with spraypaint silver skin dressed in spraypaint silver clothes draws looks and photos from tourists. Two buskers, a messy-haired trombonist and pretty blonde guitarist, play classic blues to the light clapping of onlookers. Changes hits their open instrument cases with a light thump-clink. Clop-clop-clops sound from the odd horse-driven carriage that has never gone out of style in the Quarter. Tourists stroll the old streets, taking the chance to snap pictures of the old Creole townhouses when the streets aren’t packed full of drunk partygoers.

As Alice cycles past, a man appears in her path as she rounds a corner. He’s a short, weasely-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!”

Alice: What a weird catcall, Alice thinks as she maneuvers her bike without slowing around the man. She calls out, “Sorry, dude, I’m in a hurry! Good luck hustling tourists, or whatever the fuck you’re up too.”

Her shirt ruffles against her petite frame, as the wind whips past her speeding bicycle. She doesn’t think the man is dumb enough to try to stand in front of her as she tries to ride past, but she readies herself to leap clear of the crash just in case.

GM: The man indeed seems to have enough common sense not to stand in the direct path of a moving bicycle, but that doesn’t stop him from quickly stepping up to the sidewalk’s curb and grabbing Alice’s bike by the handles. His arms don’t look much thicker than hers, but they’re certainly quick.

“Girl, come on!” he exclaims with an odd half-whine, half-grin. “$20! Couldn’t you use an extra $20?”

Alice: “If you don’t fucking let go of my bike, I am gonna scream my head off and attract attention. It might not be the weekend, but there are plenty of folks around. Now, say what you want, dude, or fuck off. I don’t need money,” Alice warns the stranger. She tenses, ready to fight, flee, or scream.

GM: In a gesture of seeming compromise, the man releases one of his hands, though as he hasn’t let go of the bike it isn’t much of a compromise. He offers her a smile with all the sincerity of melted butter while making a ‘calm down’ motion with his other hand. “C’mon, c’mon, girl. Easy, easy. Just a little bet.”

Alice: He keeps saying $20. Is that supposed to mean something to me? Alice wracks her brain.

GM: So far as Alice can recollect, there is no particular significance attached to $20—but her gut tells her the man is confident that the odds of this bet are in his favor. The Quarter is full of hustlers looking to fleece tourists (or unfortunate locals) for all they are worth.

Alice: Alice’s face goes red, anger flashing dangerously in her eyes. No, this guy is just another predator, out to fuck over anyone who gets in his way. Shit, that isn’t it. This guy is another symptom of the fucked up environment we live in. Her frustration at the prevalence of such men is unmistakable, as she appeals to the man’s better nature.

“Listen, man. It’s fucking hard out there. I get it. But is this what you saw yourself doing, when you were growing up? Grabbing girls in the street, and shaking them down for petty cash? I want to think you are better than that. Let me go. Find a way of making cash that doesn’t leave you feeling so shitty afterwards.”

GM: The man makes a few whiny entreaties for Alice to “take me up, girl, c’mon, take me up,” his voice growing increasingly nasal and pleading after each one. When he sees that she is not interested in his wager, and evidently unwilling to start a public scene over $20, sloth wins out over greed as he releases her bike. Alice can hear a mumbled, “Fuck you, cunt…” as he shuffles off.

Alice: “I knew you had some good in you, dude. Don’t let the city kill whatever spark of it is left. Take up busking or street performances, or something!” she calls, verbally reinforcing to the retreating figure that he made the right choice. Then she rides on.

Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015

GM: Guillot Books is tucked away in an unassuming corner of the French Quarter, just a few blocks from Royal Street. The old building has a subdued, red-bricked exterior, with a green wooden sign labeled “Guillot Books” hanging just over the door. While one can’t judge a book by its cover, or a bookstore by its entrance, the small shop projects an image of neatness and cleanliness that still retains the ‘non-chain hole in the wall French Quarter bookstore’ vibe that draws the Satanists, neopagans, and alternative weirdos.

Alice: Alice stops in front of the shop, and walks her bike to the rack beside the entrance. With the ease of familiarity, she padlocks and chains it to the rack, and moves to unlock and enter the shop.

GM: All looks to be in order among the rows of stacked, shelved, indexed books. Alice’s mother tolerates little dissent within her kingdom. Its borders may be small, but within them, she is queen.

Jake, predictably, is late to work. His text arrives after a moment, stating that he will “be a couple late”.

Alice: Once inside, Alice relocks the door, and heads to the break room to change into her work clothes. It wouldn’t be the first time she was glad her friend and co-worker was late, as it gave her time to change with absolute privacy. Her mother had wanted them to dress professionally, in a blouse and skirt, or dress shirt and suit pants, but after a long and arduous debate, Alice succeeded in working the uniform down to a polo shirt and slacks. A neat, green apron proudly emblazoned with the Guillot Books logo had also been included, as a compromise when Alice refused to relinquish her hat. After ensuring she is properly attired, Alice returns to the storefront, unlocks the door, and flips the business sign to “Open”.

GM: Business is slow at first, as it usually is on weekday afternoons. However much the Guillots and other New Orleans natives may make fun of tourists, out of towners generate a significant amount of revenue, especially on weekends.

Jake’s “couple minutes” soon look to be stretching into “ten or more.”

Alice: Better get here before it gets too late, J. Mom finally put in that electronic punch card machine. I can’t cover for you being late like I used to. Plus, I am supposed to be adding that fancy paintjob on the panneling today, Alice texts.

Today is important, as she plans on painting some magical wards around the store, but to do that she can’t afford to be interrupted. Whenever she uses her home-brewed style of magical painting, she goes into a deep trance, and if that trance is broken, she knows the magic will fail.

GM: Her friend’s returning text communicates his opinion quite succinctly:


your moms a hardass

Alice: Pretty much. It’s real fuckin chill today, though. I just need you to sit at the front and make sure nobody fucks with me while I am painting. And that nobody tries to steal shit. We’ll both see what a hardass she is if that happens! Alice replies.

GM: Alice waits another nine minutes before Jake finally shows. The shop’s bell heralds his entrance with a light ding. Maria’s boyfriend is a tall, long-limbed 20-year-old sophomore with a shaggy mop of dirty blond hair that seems to resist all efforts to comb it. He wears a hoodie sweatshirt over blue jeans that smells of grass—whether smoked recently, or enough prior times it’s seeped into the garment, Alice honestly can’t say.

“Alice, ’sup?” he asks as he unshoulders his backpack.

Alice: “Not a lot. Got shaken down for cash by some fucking street dude on the way here. Talked him out of it, before I lost my temper though.”

She moves to her own bag, unzips it, and starts taking out brushes, paints, pallets, and the other tools of her trade. She blushes a bit, and adds as a final bit of news, “Um, I invited Penny to a party this weekend. In the JLH. You know, the haunted girls’ dorms?”

GM: Jake grins as he drops his backpack behind the counter. “You’re turning red.”

Alice: “Fuck off. Just taking your advice, and trying to be fucking proactive, and shit,” Alice defensively replies. She had asked Jake for advice not too long ago, when she learned that he had successfully wooed Maria, who was by no means an easy girl to impress.

“A-anyway dude. I’m gonna get started. Anything you wanna talk about before I do? You know how I totally zone out once I start painting.”

GM: Jake bends down to unzip his backpack, removing two finger-sized white papery articles.

“Yeah. Just take it easy. Girls know when you’re nervous.” He lights one, closes his eyes as he takes a drag from it, and extends the other towards Alice. “Joint?”

Alice: “Nah, I’m good. And I’m gonna call bullshit on the nervousness detector. I can’t just, like, tell when people are nervous and shit.” Alice protests… but then she thinks about it.

Well, I am pretty good at reading people. But, that isn’t some female superpower or any bullshit like that. I mean, everyone is good telling what other people are feeling, right?

She looks doubtful. To take her mind off that troubling line of thought, she offhandedly says, “Try not to get weed stink all over the store. Mom’s gonna pop an artery if she smells it tomorrow. Our customers might complain to her too, which ends with us being equally fucked.”

GM: Jake laughs between a smoky exhalation. “Half your customers are stoners. This is the Quarter. But sure, I won’t stink it up.”

Alice: Alice nods, acknowledging the truth of Jakes words, and gets ready to perform the warding ritual. She gathers her tools, and heads to the front of the shop.

First, she focuses on her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Slowly, she allows her conscious mind to drift, her thoughts flowing along, like a lazy creek. Images and words from her recent experiences bubble into her mind, joint, a man’s hand on her bike, haunted dorm.

The thoughts speed up, as her awareness of her surroundings fade. Older experiences mingle with the new, adding to the growing stream of ideas, Penny excitedly asking her about 80’s fashion, Spanish Inflluenza, the flash of her webcam, None of you will make a difference in the world.

As more and more images, sounds, smells, and feelings merge into the vast river in her mind, an image forms. New shoots of life spring forth from the pale wood of the shops panneling. Twisting, they grow, forming a long intricate vine of gold, the leaves and curls of the vine twisting to form various shapes. Animals, men, women, carriages, and books.

Fixing the image of the vine in her mind, Alice feels her body pulled into the work. She lifts her brush, mixes the paints she will need, and begins.

GM: By the time Alice finishes, she’s made progress towards the end of her beginning. Gold vines have begun to take shape, twisting and threading their way through the store like the rows of a metallic vineyard. Leaves are the next thing to appear, peaking out from the stems like blossoming flowers. Jake nods between inhalations of his joint. “Hey, that’s lookin’ nice. Simple but flowery.”

Alice paints thin outlines and proto-renderings for some of the later figures she plans to paint: ‘80s pop stars, blinking cameras, rabbits running down holes, hands snatching after bicycles, and more. For now, the outlines look fairly in keeping with Jake’s aforementioned “simple but flowery” motif. It actually reminds Alice a bit of Penny’s chosen style.

Alice: Alice blinks, feeling slightly light-headed from the intense focus required to maintain the trance. The base coat, and underlying wards, are finished. The painting itself still needs a few more days of work, but the warding is done. She only hopes it proves to be a strong one.

“When it’s done, the vines and leaves will make images of people, and animals and stuff. I’m done for today though. Gotta let this coat dry, and come back to add details to it later.”

Alice considers, and works in one final outline, in a corner. Later, it will form a small, barely noticeable image of a lit candle.

GM: Jake nods in vague understanding as he leans back, feet over the counter. It’s a slow day. He doesn’t budge them when the bell chimes, heralding a customer’s arrival.

Alice: Alice turns, and rises to greet the customer. The small smear of golden paint on her face only adding to her cherubic charm. Wearing her best ‘I love talking to tourists!’ smile, she cheerily calls, “Welcome to Guillot Books! Feel free to look around, or if there is something specific you are looking for, let us know!”

In the back of her mind, she can clearly see the shit-eating grin Jake is no doubt wearing at her song and dance routine.

GM: The woman is of average height, pale complexion, and has slightly frazzled, neck-length black hair. A little greasy, but healthy looking. She wears a low-cut, knee-length black dress and matching fedora hat. Sunglasses obscure her eyes.

She blows smoke from her cigarette in seeming response to Alice’s cheerful greeting, heedless of the “no smoking” sign.

Alice: Seeing it isn’t a tourist, a lot of the faux cheer drops from Alice’s demeanor.

Goosebumps go up along her skin when she recognizes the woman.

What’s one of them doing here?

“Here about a commission? Let’s step out front and talk about it.” Alice subtly moves her eyes to indicate Jake, behind her. “You’re a busy woman, and I am at work, so we’ll do each other a favor and keep things quick. Cool?”

GM: The woman takes another drag from her cigarette, wordlessly motioning for Alice to lead the way.

Alice: Alice removes her apron, tossing it back to Jake, calling, “I’m going on break for bit. You can take yours after I come back. Gonna talk art with my friend.”

Shorn of at least one of the symbols of corporate subservience, Alice strolls out the front door, and waits to see what exactly her ‘friend’ wants.

GM: Jake hasn’t even donned his own apron. Corporate attire is optional whenever Alice’s mom isn’t around. He makes an amused declaration about “fighting the power!” as Alice heads off.

The dark-haired woman joins Alice outside and takes another drag from her cigarette.

“I’m not here for books,” she says without preamble.

Alice: “Right. Who is going to be reading, and for how long? We don’t sell them, just rent out time in a private reading room for people to use them.”

GM: The woman stares at Alice for a moment.

“A bookstore. And you don’t sell books.”

Alice: “I was assuming you meant the rare ones. If you want some of the stuff on the bottom floor, buy away. Well, I could probably take some photos, and put ’em on a flash drive.”

GM: The woman breathes out another plume of smoke.

“A bookstore,” she repeats. “And you don’t sell books.”

Alice: Alice shrugs at the woman’s confusion and says, “We live in crazy times. I can’t sell you the originals, but I could make digital copies.”

GM: “Who the fuck are you people,” the woman says in a flat voice. “I heard you were the real deal.”

“People who are the real deal don’t want to share their fucking books.”

Alice: “The place is being modernized. All the mass produced books are on the shop floor. They are for sale. The special collection is locked up, because it isn’t for sale. They’re family heirlooms. Old families are weird about holding onto stuff. Like you said, the people who have original volumes of valuable books don’t like to part with them. If all you need is the info in the book, I am happy to get you a full cover to cover copy. But if you want the actual bound book, there isn’t much I can do. People pay money to go visit old houses and stuff right? Same deal, but in our case, people pay to come visit our old books.”

GM: The woman boredly answers, “Kid, the people who visit old houses are tourists. The people who buy them? Not.”

“The people who ‘visit’ your old books? Tourists.”

“The people who buy them? Not.”

Alice: “A digital copy is actually a lot better. It is easier to carry, store, and hide. You can make backups of it.”

GM: Another plume of smoke wafts into the air. “Wycked Wishes sells books. Esoterica sells books. Starling Magickal sells books. Earth Odyssey sells books.”

Alice: That’s a no then, Alice nods at each name.

GM: The plume of nicotine slowly dissipates.

“See where I’m going?”

Alice: “I do. I don’t really agree that blindly conforming is the best choice, but I do get where you are coming from.”

GM: The sunglasses-wearing woman gives her a long stare.

“You are fucking new to this.”

“Okay. Here’s how this works. People like me, who want the real shit, don’t want to share our shit.”

“We don’t want other people, like us, knowing what the fuck we’re reading.”

“We don’t want other people, like us, getting to read our shit.”

“We don’t want to beg you to let us read our shit, when we want to read our shit.”

“We just want to buy the fucking books and have fucking done.”

“If your books are so fucking precious you won’t sell, that tells me you’re a bunch of fucking amateurs. Because you can’t get ahold of new inventory. That’s how Myst and her pals get people like me coming back regular.”

The woman takes a long drag and blows a thick plume of smoke in Alice’s face.

Alice: Alice coughs and waves the air in front of her face. Clearly, negotiations have broken down.

“I can’t sell you the originals. I’m not haggling, or playing hard to get, or any of that bullshit. I save that for the tourists, and the idiots. You know what you want, and know what it is worth. But the tomes aren’t mine to sell, and the person who DOES own them, only rents them. I can tell her you stopped by, and what books you are interested in. If you give me an estimate offer, I’ll give her that too. Or I can get you a digital copy, if you, or your… boss decide that digital will do. Sound fair?”

GM: The woman flicks away the spent cigarette and snubs out the glowing embers.

“I don’t want the fucking digital copy.”

“Tell your boss I’ll pay five grand for a book. If it’s what I want.”

“I’m going to Wycked Wishes and other places not run by fucking amateurs.”

“So get your shit together if you want a sale, kid.”

Alice: Five grand is… more than they’ve ever sold a book for.

Alice doesn’t raise her eyebrows at the figure. She just takes out her phone, queues up a note-taking app, and turns to the woman.

“List off what you want, and I’ll see she knows. I’ll text my boss when we are done, but whether she’ll have an answer by closing time I dunno. You might wanna come back tomorrow. Since you are busy, I don’t want to keep you here any longer. I should probably get your name, too, so I can say who asked.”

GM: “Sandra,” says the woman. “And it’s none of your fucking business what I want. Get your boss’ permission. Show me the books. If you have what I want, you’ll have a sale.”

Alice: Alice writes down a note to make digital copies of all the books for herself, in case they are sold.

Before the woman leaves, Alice offers, “Wycked Wishes might not be a great use of your time. The owner got robbed, and came back… well, actually no. I don’t think all of her did come back. Anyway, the shop’s business has been hurting since. None of us know all the nitty-gritty’s, but word is out that stores are being robbed. Expect people to be a bit twitchier than usual. Uh, you can consider that tip pro bono, or whatever.”

Alice regards the woman a moment, adding. “Watch your back too. Never know if someone else is after the same stuff, and is going to send their goons to grab you off the streets.”

Her warning is genuine, coming from her desire to protect others, even rude snobs who blow smoke in her face and make her job a headache. ‘Sandra’ or whatever the fuck her name really is, is just another pawn in the big chess game the… she still isn’t sure what to call them, play with each other.

And pawns are made to be sacrificed.

GM: Sandra stares at Alice behind her sunglasses.

A warning to stay away from the competition. A warning to watch her back.

“From anyone else,” she says, “that’d seem like a threat.”

Her stare lingers on Alice for a few moments more.

“Anyone else.”

Her next words lack the sarcastic bite of her earlier ones.

“Sorry about the smoke.”

Alice: “Peace.”

Her business done, Alice sends her mom a text, explaining all the business related stuff that occurred. A woman calling herself ‘Sandra’ came to store wanting to buy one of their books, for up to $5,000.

Alice notes that she is pretty sure the name was fake.

She notes that Sandra refused to say what books she wanted, but wanted to look at what they had.

Alice also mentions that the buyer likely wants some sort of reply ASAP, and that from the way she talked, she was acting as an intermediary for someone with a very large amount of money.

She also mentions that the woman brought up several other occult bookshops, including Wycked Wishes, which had a break-in recently. Her mom knows as well as she does what kind of skulduggery goes on in the rare book scene.

Hoping that she has given enough information, Alice goes back in the shop.

GM: Alice’s phone buzzes back after several moments:

We’ll talk about this over dinner tomorrow. ‘Sandra’ can wait.

Alice: Alice sends a quick reply, Gotcha, Mom. Looking forward to it.

As she sends the message, she can’t help but imagine her mom getting scooped up by some vampire’s goons and being dumped off at the doorstep, broken.

If they so much as try, I swear I’ll burn those fuckers until even the ashes are gone.

Trying to suppress her sudden fury, Alice returns to work.

GM: The rest of the day proves uneventful. A few tourists come in. They snap a few pictures, only half of them bothering to buy anything. A few pimply teenagers, skipping school if the hours they’ve shown up are any indication, shell out a hodgepodge assortment of change and crumpled dollar bills to buy a book on tantric sex. Jake laughs after they leave that he’d have recommended something better, but let it not be said he’ll prevent the store from making money.

Alice: “Better to let them live and learn. Who knows, they might come back for more.”

GM: A stringy-haired, middle-aged man with cloyingly strong cologne (Alice can smell it off him from five feet away) stumbles in several hours later. He does not even look at Alice or Jake as he briskly strides through the shop. Loud farts and squelches emanate from the restroom. When he leaves the store, he is sweating and panting, and has not made a single purchase.

“Flip you for who has to clean that,” Jake languidly opines, producing a quarter.

Alice: Alice gives the man a parting middle finger before turning to Jake. “You read my mind. Also, in the future, we should keep that door locked.”

GM: Alice calls heads, Jake tails. She flips the coin.


Alice: Alice fumes. “Fuuuuuuuck!”

GM: Jake wordlessly extends a joint.

Alice: The coin has spoken. Shit duty is hers.

“Fuck my life. Seriously dude.”

She continues their habitual ritual, of Jake offering a joint, and her turning it down, as she always does, before taking a painting mask out of her pack, and heading to the storage closet to put on some gloves and prepare herself for the showdown with whatever unspeakable horrors their visitor left for them.

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Story One, Amelie III

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

Monday morning, 17 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amelie: “That’s common.”

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

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

GM: “I guess. Some people lie more.”

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

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

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

GM: “Why’s that?” the child asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amelie is left alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hands shoot up throughout the crowd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday morning, 17 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pirates moved in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amelie sits and eats alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why are you following me?” she glowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice I
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Alice II

Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie II
Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie IV

Story One, Alice I

“Nothing that any of you do will ever make a difference.”
Muhammed al-Aidan

Monday evening, 24 August 2015

GM: “Nothing that any of you do will ever make a difference.”

Alice’s anthropology professor is a middle-aged Arabian man named Muhammed al-Aidan. He’s a very tall fellow, perhaps 6’5, with dusky skin, short black hair streaked through with gray, and wrinkles that tug at the corners of his brown eyes. He wears dark slacks, loafers, and a navy blue dress shirt.

Silence greets his declaration. The lecture hall is packed with students and nearly as many open laptops. Some faces look surprised, others offended, and more than a few are entirely indifferent as they screw around on their computers. Alice can see a number of Facemashs and Twitters open from her own seat.

Professor Al-Aidan shrugs and continues, “I am sorry if that does not fit with your sheltered preconceptions of how the world works, but affirming them is not my job, no matter what our culture today with its trigger warnings on books might tell you. No, I am a tenured professor. I have the most secure job in the world. I can say whatever I want.”

“Now, let us begin this first class with a brief overview of why our world is such a dismal, awful place.” Al-Aidan cites several examples. Global? We know we’re destroying our planet for future generations and we do it anyway. National? Our elected representatives serve the interests of the rich, not us. They barely even bother to hide it. Local? One word: Katrina. Personal? Statistics say that 20% of all women in this room have been raped. And that’s just the national average, sexual assault is even more prolific on college campuses. One girl actually gets up and leaves the classroom, but the professor doesn’t so much as glance at her as he finishes, “Show me anything that is good, and I will tell you how people have… what is a good aphorism? Screwed it up.”

Al-Aidan takes out his wallet and holds up a $100 bill. Benjamin Franklin’s papery-green face stares at the rows of silent youths.

“This belongs to the student who can prove me wrong by stumping me. I will even give you ten minutes to try as many times as you like.”

Alice: Alice sits near the front of the class, on the third row. She taps a pencil on her notebook, frowning. What a fucking depressing way to start a semester. She raises a hand, and asks for clarification on the challenge, “Do you mean something objectively good or just something a reasonable person would call ‘good’? It’s all pretty relative, isn’t it?” She is dressed casually, in t-shirt and shorts, her lucky cap lays on the desk in front of her, since some professors make an issue of students wearing them in class.

“Even if we can show you something you would consider ‘good’, if we are doing it for cash that sort of undermines the point. It’s like saying you give someone a movie ticket if they can show you true love, or absolute justice or something.” Alice muses to herself on the nature of higher concepts like this. I guess it’s a good excuse to think about this shit. She waits curiously to hear what the professor has to say.

GM: Professor Al-Aidan smiles. It isn’t quite mocking, but there is a sense of challenge and amusement behind it. “If that is the way you would prefer things, whatever your name is, I can give you nothing for answering me instead.”

He continues, “Because I am such a kindly professor, I will assume you are a reasonable person and that anything you cite as an example of goodness is, in fact, good. No, you have it quite easy. All you need to do is cite something that humankind hasn’t made a horrible mess of.”

Alice: Alice sits, contemplative for a minute or two. Her silence is not the silence of someone who has given up a problem, instead it looks as though she is giving serious thought to a weighty issue. Finally she sighs, frustrated, and gives an apologetic reply to Al-Aidan.

“Sorry, Professor. The only answers I can come up with are cheap ones, like writing the word ‘Good’ on a piece of paper. I guess it wouldn’t be the sort of thing stuffy bearded dudes spend their lives on mountains thinking about if one of us could come up with the answer in 10 minutes in a freshman anthropology class.”

Alice gives the professor an apologetic smile and shrugs. Cheap questions get cheap answers, I guess. Fuck, but I hate thinking about this sort of shit. Guess it wouldn’t be worth thinking about if it were easy.

GM: The professor shrugs back. “Apologize to yourself, not to me. I get paid whether you are intellectually lazy or not. It is, how does that expression go, ‘no skin off my back.’ Though it may well be percentile off your grade, depending on how much I think that laziness carries over to your coursework.”

Alice: What a dick!

GM: A few students snicker at the open disparagement. Some regard it with semi-awkward silence. The professor turns away from Alice to flash the hundred-dollar bill again, prompting a number of students to venture answers of their own. Al-Aidan shoots each one down. The love of parents for their children? He cites horrific cases of child abuse, and besides, all life wants to perpetuate its DNA. Allied intervention in World War II? He cites the bombing of Dresden, war rapes committed during the occupation of Japan, and other Allied atrocities. The sun? He cites cases of fraud committed with solar panels.

Eventually, the ten minutes run out, and al-Aidan folds the dollar bill back in his wallet. “Do not think of yourselves as failures so much as unexceptional. I have yet to hand this bill to any student. I have had it in my wallet since before many of you were born.”

Alice: Alice feels her blood boiling at the arrogance of her professor at his closing statements. She resolves to email him a list of potential examples of ‘good’ every day. Even if it never amounts to anything, giving up feels much worse than fighting a losing war against his aged cynicism. She muses to herself,

Hope isn’t a thing of numbers or logic, dude. It isn’t measured in money either. If you think you can buy the answer to that question, you are a fucking idiot.

GM: Alice might just be imaging it, but she could swear that smile of his looks that much smugger in response to her body’s increasing internal temperature.

At length, he states, “As I have said, none of you are capable of making a lasting difference in the world, and I am going to spend all semester explaining why you can’t. Some of you are likely wondering, ‘why bother’? What point is there in protesting against wars, voting for the lesser evil in elections, donating money to good causes?”

He shrugs again. “I will tell you my answer to that question on the last day of the semester. If you can figure it out before then, I will give you a 4.0. You can stop showing up for class. You have learned everything I have to teach and I won’t waste any more of your time.”

He shrugs. Again. “Only several students have taken me up on that offer. Most give me an essay. I will do one thing with those essays.” He picks up a piece of paper and drops it in a recycling bin. “Unread,” he states for emphasis.

A few students snicker.

“Show me how you have lived it, in such a way that involves at least one other person who I can talk to. If you are not living it, you do not really know it.”

The professor walks over to his desk. “More likely you will keep attending daily classes, get a passing grade if you do the work, and maybe by next semester you will remember 1% of what my TA and I had to teach.” He starts fiddling on his laptop. “That is all for today. Class dismissed.”

Alice: Alice scoops up her backback and puts on her cap. She quickly glances at her smartphone’s built-in calendar and wonders, All right, what’s next? as she figures out where she is supposed to be going now. She hopes she doesn’t have any more professors as bleak as this one, or it will be a very long semester.

GM: 8 PM, her calendar tells her. Class is over for today. It’s an odd Monday schedule, class from 7-8 with the rest of her day wide open.

As Alice exits Dinwiddie Hall, the anthropology building, it’s already quite dark out. Skeletal tree branches stretch over the lamps like grasping hands eager to extinguish the bright orbs.

Alice: Alice hefts her bag, the reassuring weight of her art supplies and other bric-a-brac comforting her against the night. Even in a t-shirt and shorts, the air is warm and humid enough for her to feel comfortable. I didn’t think it would be so fucking dark, when class let out. Okay, mental checklist. Picked up local newspapers? Check. City Tourism Board’s ‘Atlas of the Big Easy’ map? Check. Guess I’ll see if any of my friends are free to walk me home.

She navigates out of her Calendar app, and switches her phone out of airplane mode. No phones in class my ass! It’s like, 2015. Briefly, she checks her messages, then navigates to the Companion App, and sends a request to her friends explaining that she just got out of class, and is about to walk home.

GM: Her phone buzzes after a second with a text from Maria. Sure A. U get out of class rly late!

Tulane’s campus remains fairly active even this late at night. Many of the faces Alice passes by are older than in her other classes, being either parents, working professionals, or both. Her choice of dress proves practical. Even after sundown, the temperature has yet to dip below 70. The Big Easy’s humidity, too, remains no less muggy than ever.

Alice: She quickly replies with a text of her own, Right? I’m glad to be out. The prof. is a srs Asshole. And thanks, M! I didn’t realize how dark it would be when it let out :(

She makes her way to the bike-rack where she left her old, well-used bicycle. I really gotta get a new set of wheels. She unlocks it from the rack, and tightens her courier’s bag.

GM: U check out ratemyprof? Tells u what theyre gonna be like. After a moment, another text pings. Sry, wont text when ur bikin!

Alice: With a parting text, lol, I really should have! Its okay though, he may be an asshole, but I think he is really smart too. About to start, thanks again for riding with me! she starts her ride home.

GM: Old Elizabethan and Greek-revival style buildings, interspersed by reddened, leaf-dropping trees and indistinct students, whiz by Alice’s field of vision. Riverbend is generally one of the safer parts of New Orleans, but night brings out monster of more than one variety. Students wandering dark streets by themselves make tempting targets, especially after they’ve been to some of the local bars that aren’t supposed to serve under-21s.

The night looms dark and long enough that the Blackwater mercenaries (“security contractors”) remain vigilant outside Audubon Place, the exclusive gated community home to the university’s president. Leashed attack dogs growl as the young student bicycles past.

Alice: Alice takes in the beautiful architecture, and muses at just how much trouble she could get in for leaving some of her ‘Art’ on some of the walls. She casually flips the bird to the dogs with one hand, as she pedals past, but her heart isn’t really in it.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Whoever the fuck lives there must be a serious security freak. I can almost imagine those things getting loose and mauling somebody.

Her face falls a bit, as she is suddenly reminded of another dog, she vaguely remembers being trained to protect its owners. Fuck. Why did I have to think about her…

She rides on.

GM: Who lives in Audubon is impossible to tell past the high concrete walls, road blocks, and iron gate by the toll booth. Whether such cloistered souls feel secure is equally impossible to say. The baying snarls of German shepherds and cold glares from the masked, black-garbed mercenaries follow in Alice’s wake.

Alice cycles past fortress-like blocks of cloistered apartments, their own security measures less expensive than Audubon Place’s, but their residents’ desire to keep out the rest of the world no less strong. Her own apartment building sits just by Mid-City; still close enough to Tulane to count as part of Carrollton, but sufficiently distant for the property values to fall within a more affordable range. Perhaps too affordable.

Alice: Slowing to a stop by the building’s bike rack, Alice hops off and quickly secures her ride for the night. She checks the companion app, tapping the ’I’m okay!’ button that popped up because she stopped moving. Adjusting her cap, she makes her way upstairs toward her apartment on the 4th floor.

I can’t complain about the rent, and I have a pretty decent view, but would it kill them to put in an elevator or something?

GM: The Briarwood Apartments are just within a starving, aid-reliant student’s means at $600 a month, but one gets what one pays for, and oftentimes a good deal less. Paint might not be peeling from the building’s sagging exterior, but it could use a fresh coat. The windows aren’t broken, but they’re smudged with dirt and odd orange specks, and spiderweb-like cracks are snaking through at least several. Gang tags and graffiti are absent from walls, but Alice earlier observed the word “Help” ignominiously scrawled onto a shingle by the building’s back door. Three months after she’s signed her lease, the anonymous plea remains unanswered.

Alice: Alice has puzzled over that for a few weeks. Being unable to answer the written plea bothers her more than she cares to admit.

GM: The aged, carpeted stairs creak and groan under Alice’s shoes. At this hour of night, late enough for people to be home from work but still too early for the real crazies to come out, Alice’s neighbors have withdrawn into their own private worlds. Indistinct voices and droning TV sets sound from behind thin walls, along with the stench of cigarette smoke that open windows do little to contain. The lease said there was a “no smoking” policy.

They don’t talk to each other much.

Alice: Alice stops in front of the door to her apartment. It stands out from its dull, gray neighbors, and appears to be vibrantly painted with a scene of pastoral fall. The building’s manager had been pissed when he first saw it. He was mollified somewhat, when shown that it was just a home-made door cover. Alice taps at her phone, closing the companion app with a parting message for Maria, Made it home, thanks M! You’re the best :D Then opens the colorful door and heads inside. The inside of Alice’s apartment is small, and furnished in a modern style with the best IKEA can offer, on a college kid’s budget.

GM: YW A anytime! Alice’s phone buzzes back.

Alice: Dropping her keys in the bowl, Alice wanders through her living room/kitchen/dining room and into her bedroom. She puts her bag on the bed and tosses her phone, wallet, keys, and cap on her desk, before collapsing in a heap on her bed.

Right. First, a shower, then I’ll set stuff up. Fuck, I’m starving. Okay, new plan. Food, shower, cloak and dagger shit, then bed.

With a groan, she rises, and set about her various household tasks.

Monday evening, 24 August 2015

Alice: After a brief but bountiful foraging session in the fridge, Score! Leftover pizza!, a brief shower, and one change into duck-themed pajamas later Alice is ready to get down to business.

First she spreads the city map out on the wall, pinning up the corners with thumbtacks. Next, the takes her haul of newspapers, collected from all the local providers, and spreads their pages out on the floor. Red pen in hand, she sits, cross-legged and begins pouring over them. She starts with the headlines, mentally noting any that catch her attention, and marking them with a red star for later. Even the comics get a brief examination. Once that is done, she begins reading the articles in earnest, circling anything that strikes her as significant, and writing notes on her laptop. When she is able, she marks locations on the map, a red thumbtack for vampiric activity, blue for ghosts, purple for potential magical happening, and green for anything that does not fall into one of the above.

GM: The clock on Alice’s phone ticks by, and the shadows outside grow long and deep. The ones veiling her knowledge of Riverbend’s own shadowy happenings, however, slowly peel back.

Josephine Louise House is a girls’ dorm room at Tulane, originally built in 1887. Josephine Louise Newcomb, distraught by the death of her young daughter Harriet Sophie, from diphtheria in 1870, memorialized the girl by donating more than $100,000 to Tulane University for the founding of an all-women’s college.

The history of the Josephine Louise dormitory contains many oddities, but perhaps most interesting is the third floor’s function as a quarantine for the Spanish Influenza outbreak that swept the Uptown campus in the early 1900s. Susan Tucker, Tulane University’s curator of books and records, denies that she has heard the ghost stories of the school’s oldest resident hall, but acknowledges the deaths that took place there during the Influenza epidemic in 1918.

“One or two female students died from the Spanish Influenza during the outbreak,” Tucker said. “The deaths occurred in the fall when the girls would have just moved here.”

Alice: Alice underlines the names of the people and places mentioned by the story, and jots quick notes in a word processor program on her laptop.

GM: Alice has already seen Audubon Place with her own eyes (or at least its walls) and knows the gated community is the residence of Tulane University’s president. What is news to Alice is that he lives in a mansion donated to the university by Samuel Zemurray. Zemurray was widely known as “Sam the Banana Man” for being the founder of United Fruit, a banana company that now exists under the name Chiquita.

Chiquita is most infamous for its role in the United States 1954 overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected government, but it has been (and still remains) involved in a number of other unsavory incidents, from the 1928 “Banana massacre” that saw as many as 2,000 Colombian workers killed for striking, to its present-day funding of right-wing Colombian paramilitary groups that butcher peasants, unionists, indigenous people, human rights workers, teachers, and left-wing political activists.

Zemurray himself reigned over his banana-built empire from 1899 to 1961 before dying peacefully in the mansion now inhabited by Tulane University’s presidents. Whether the Banana Man’s spirit lingers on, Alice cannot say. But it is all-too easy to imagine other wrathful shades arising from his company’s actions. Numerous Latin American immigrants (mostly Hondurans) have also settled in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, some of whom could well have been personally affected by Chiquita’s activities.

Then, finally, there is the Ursuline Academy. Founded in 1727, the Academy is the oldest Catholic school in the United States, as well as the oldest school for girls. It is still run by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and under the trusteeship of the Ursuline Sisters of the New Orleans Community, a group of nuns. Though the Ursuline Covenant in the French Quarter is more famous, the Ursuline Academy is nearly as old and is heavily linked to its sister institution.

Indeed, a number of the historic casket girls (originally known as fille à la cassette, or girls with cassettes) and their children were among its first students. The aforementioned women brought from France to serve as wives for Louisiana colonists, and named for the small chests, known as casquettes, in which they carried their clothes. They were conspicuous by reason of their virtue, for women were normally supplied to colonists by raking the streets of Paris for prostitutes and undesirables. The casquette girls, however, were recruited from church charitable institutions, usually orphanages and convents, and practically guaranteed to be virgins.

Though it later became a matter of pride in Louisiana to show descent from them, more sinister rumors claim the casket girls were literal casket-bearers and transported vampires from Paris to the New World. More mundane stories claim that a number of sex scandals and suicides have taken place at the school. Nevertheless, it remains well-reputed among New Orleans’ social elite, and the Malveaux family have sent all of their daughters there. Alice even recalls her friend Maria mentioning she is an alamnus of the Ursulines.

Alice: Alice compiles what information she can. Three potential tracts for her to take. More investigation is going to be necessary. Taking her laptop to her desk, she prepares to do some digging online.

GM: The influenza pandemic of 1918—1919, Alice learns, killed more people than WWI, racking up a death toll somewhere between 20 and 40 million. Known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe,” it has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history, with more people dying of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Black Death from 1347 to 1351. New Orleans itself had over four thousand reported cases.

It’s ironic. The city thought it was finally over yellow fever, long the city’s most dreaded disease, with the advent of modern sanitation and drainage systems in the early 1900s. Then influenza came along. Disease, it seems, always reappears in some new form.

Alice digs up the names of several female Tulane students who died of the epidemic, including Ira Hooper, Rose Abbott, Grace Nelson, and Luella Joyce. No doubt there are many more names, but “female Tulane Spanish influenza victims” is an obscure topic to qeeqle.

Her laptop’s clock reads 10 PM. It’s just so easy to spend time on Facemash, reading webcomics, and general fooling around…

Alice: Alice sighs, thinking of her insane class schedule tomorrow. Turning to the grinning plush cat sitting on her desk, she says, “A little more won’t hurt right? For real this time! I’m gonna focus my ass off!”

The cat has only a sly, knowing grin by way of reply.

“Don’t look at me like that! I fucking mean it!” Realizing she is berating a stuffed animal, Alice turns back to the glow of her laptop, and dives once more into the wide, vast internet in search of information.

An hour later, she realizes she has done nothing but watch MeVideos. She could almost swear the cat’s grin had grown wider. “Fuck off.” With that, she powers down her laptop, sets her phone in its stereo charger, and retreats under the covers.

GM: Tulane victims of the Spanish influenza epidemic proves a frustratingly obscure subject to qeeqle. It’s so easy for Alice to take just one little break, to tab over to a news page to read a breaking story, to check out her friends’ latest Facemash posts. And, of course, the MeVids. There’s this hilarious one where—and then it’s an hour later, and the cat’s grin remains firmly in place. Alice chooses the responsible option of finally going to bed. As she moves to click the ‘shut down’ icon, the laptop’s built-in webcam blinks white as it snaps her picture.

She didn’t choose to take one.

Alice: Alice frowns, and flicks off the laptops wireless feature. Fuck, did I pick up some sort of virus? She tries to power off the machine.

GM: The computer powers down without incident.

Who take that picture is anyone’s guess.

Or where it went.

Alice: Alice sits, fuming for a moment. Shit. Some sicko has my photo now? Argh! I thought this anti-virus was supposed to be good! It isn’t like I was looking at fucking porn or anything! Damnit, who the fuck put viruses on historical data websites? Or… wait, I guess Penny did send me that one link… fuck!

Having internally vented, and calmed herself down, she tries to follow the virus recovery instructions her nerdy friend Trevor taught her.

Okay so, I power it up, in safe mode, and run the BugByter program from my desktop… uh, let’s see if I can do that.

GM: Safe mode powers on in a stark contrast of black backgrounds and white font. The beige desktop screen is bare of its usual cluttered icons and colorful wallpaper. BugByter starts up and begins running its diagnostic scan. A number of red flags pop up, though whether from Penny’s link or Alice’s own browsing and downloading history, she cannot say.

Alice: Alice writes down the names of the flagged files, and makes a note to ask Trevor about them later. The damage has largely been done, but she would still like to know what he has to say about them.

Hopefully he won’t fuck with me about these. ‘Oh, hur hur, Alice! looking at scantily clad ladies online? Shame shame!’ Grumbling, she queues her laptop to remove all of the flagged files, then leaves it running in safe mode. Looks like it will take a while, guess I’ll leave it overnight.

Yawning, she crawls into bed, and tries to go to sleep.

Tuesday night, 25 August 2015, AM

GM: Sleep comes fitfully and uneasily. Alice dreams that she is her namesake, wearing that iconic blue dress and white apron-thingy (what’s it called? A pinafore?) as she chases after the White Rabbit. When she falls down the rabbit hole, however, it isn’t dark at all, but lit up by the flash-flash of clicking cameras. She can see hands holding them, but not any faces.

Alice: Alice feels her face growing hot at the flash-flashing of the cameras. “Fuck off! Can’t you see I am trying to find that fucking rabbit? You shits are being rude!” She tries to push her way past the cameras, flipping them off or smacking them to the ground as she goes.

GM: Alice’s swatting sends a number of cameras tumbling from surprised hands, but just as many continue snap-snap-snapping. Several endless moments of free-falling later, it isn’t the ground that rises up to meet her feet, but a stuffed Ceshire Cat’s grinning maw. “You’ve been very bad,” it pronounces, opening wide. Alice feels hot breath against her ankles just as her eyes snap open.

Alice: With a small yelp, Alice startles into consciousness. Her eyes take in her surroundings, as her sleep-addled mind readjusts to the logic of the waking world. “Shit.” It isn’t as if this sort of thing is new. Ever since seeing the Thing shred a woman into a fine red mist, she has occasionally had messed up nightmares. But ever since she starting working with magic, it’s felt like they come more often. Worse, she remembers them, with frightening detail.

Feeling too keyed up to go immediately back to bed, she shuffles over to her desk and checks on her laptop, sparing a moment to eye the grinning cat plushie, to see whether the virus has been successfully removed.

GM: The antivirus confirms the infected files were deleted. To her laywoman’s computer knowledge, the system appears fine and healthy. Trevor could offer a more expert opinion… as well as relentless teasing for looking at porn of naked ladies. (“Hur hur!”)

Alice: Cool, looks like it is gone. Probably… fuck, I’m paranoid. Still, I don’t want any more photos of me ending up who knows where. I’ll ask Trevor for his opinion when I see him in class.

She nods and powers down the machine. Feeling a little freaked out by her dream, she tries to calm down by getting a glass of milk, and checking around to make sure nothing weird has happened in her apartment while she slept.

Doors locked? Windows still closed? Good. Okay, back to bed. It was just a dream… nothing to freak out about.

GM: The IKEA furniture still looks purchased on a college kid’s budget, and the property manager still hasn’t gotten around to fixing that dead bulb in her kitchen, but Alice can observe nothing out of place in her apartment.

Alice: She finishes her glass of milk, rinses it and leaves it in the sink for later, and retreats to her bed and hopefully, pleasant dreams.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie II
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Next, by Character: Story One, Alice II

Story One, Amelie II

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

Saturday morning, 15 August 2015

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

“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Hello? Excuse me?”

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

Except for the man who’s staring at her.

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

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

“Welcome to my shop. I am Raphael.”

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

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

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

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

He slowly gestures towards the storefront with a spindly arm.

“Would the young lady care to sit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday afternoon, 15 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a culture.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Alice I

Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie I
Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie III

Story One, Alice Prelude

Thursday night, 31 October 1993

GM: Victor Krieger paces back and forth outside the double doors of the maternity ward, biting his lip and tapping his wristwatch. The howling wind and thudding of the rain outside is scarcely quieter than Michelle’s cries. His gait jerks with every wail to escape her lips. At long last, they cease, and for a moment there is silence. The moment lasts too long. Victor stares at the door, closing his eyes. The lights of the maternity ward flicker briefly. October 31st. Why did it have to be Halloween? His lips move, almost of their own accord.

“All right. I agree.”

With that, the lights flicker back on as his daughter takes her first breath in the next room.

Friday evening, 10 December 1999

GM: “So your father’s getting back from his business trip tomorrow, Alice,” sounds her mother’s voice from the kitchen. There’s a chop-chop-chop from a knife converting plant matter into dinner. It’s probably broccoli soufflé or something. Dad has always been the better cook in the family. Mom’s dinners are edible and that’s the highest praise anyone can give them. If only she’d just order pizza.

“How do you think we should surprise him?”

Alice: Alice nervously straightens her dress, and clicks together her mary janes. Her mind races like the little prancing reindeer on her skirt as she tries to think of something they can do to surprise her daddy. Cooking for him is out, Daddy likes Mommy’s cooking about as much as she does. She casts her eyes around, hoping for some inspiration… and spies Daddy’s violin case!

“Let’s play music for him! Daddy was really sad about not getting to play with the band. They are teaching us the recorder in music! I can even play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!” Alice can still see how sad he looked listening over the phone, when he found out he wouldn’t get to play for them with his friends at the neighborhood Christmas party. Maybe if she plays for him, it will help him feel better.

GM: The violin case collects dust from a forlorn corner near the living room TV. Putting it into storage didn’t seem right, with Daddy coming back so soon. Alice can hear the smile in her mother’s voice over the TV’s din and the knife’s chopping as she replies, “Music for Daddy. Good idea, Alice. If he misses his flight, maybe the crowds will at least drop a few dollars in our case?”

Saturday morning, 11 December 1999

GM: The Houston Intercontinental Airport’s din is omnipresent. People talking, phones ringing, luggage carts rolling along the floor, planes taking off with low roars past the giant windows overlooking the airstrips. Alice’s mother holds her daughter’s hand firmly as they make their way through the thick crowds. It’d be easy to get lost here. Alice, at her insistence, is entrusted with that most precious of all objects: Daddy’s violin case. It’s heavy with only one hand, though, and scuffs and bonks against the floor.

“Damn it, 2:30, where is he…”

Alice: Alice does her best to protect her precious cargo. She carries the battered old case with all the solemnity her small, little girl frame can muster. The jolly snowman on the sweater her mother insisted on dressing her in only slightly diminishes the effect. “He will be here, Mommy! Daddy never breaks his promises.”

It’s true, no matter what lengths he has to go through, her father always come through for his family. Careful not to loosen her grip on Mommy’s hand, Alice looks about excitedly, at all the people rushing around. She doesn’t get to come to the airport often and all the weird, exotic people fascinate her.

GM: The duskier-skinned ones even talk in their own language. Alice’s mother appears more interested in person-watching than people watching, however, as she scans the crowd, frowning. Gray eyes dart to and fro from behind her rectangular glasses. “He said right here…”

Her eyes pause in mid-scan. After a moment, a smile lights up her features. “There he is. Go on, start playing!” Alice, however, can hardly see over the press of tall adults.

Alice: Smiling widely, Alice sets down the violin case, and takes her recorder out of her back pocket. She straightens her clothes momentarily, trying to work out her nervousness, then starts shakily playing. A very plastic-sounding sounding rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star begins to drift through the airport lobby. It isn’t a bad effort, for a six-year-old.

GM: Alice’s mother smiles encouragingly and squeezes her hand, but Daddy isn’t anywhere in sight. The airport is so big and loud. There are so many people, all a shifting mass of backpacks and suitcases amidst a ceaseless cacophony of voices. Michelle continues to smile and nod as if to say “he’s getting closer,” but Alice still can’t tell.

Alice: Is he really coming? Alice thinks. She is a bit doubtful, but her mother usually knows best, so she keeps playing. She stands on tiptoes hoping to get a better view, but quickly finds that no amount of stretching is going to let her see over the top of so many grownups.

GM: A man absently walks past the mother and daughter. He wears a long brown coat over a gray suit. His face, early middle-aged. Receding blond hair turning gray. Blue eyes. Clean-shaven. Nose a little long, but all things told, a generic face on a generic man. Unremarkable save for the fact that he’s Alice’s father.

Alice: The recorder abruptly stops as Alice realizes her father has just walked past them without so much as a glance. “D-daddy? Daddy, we are over here!” She frantically waves, trying to get her father’s attention.

GM: Alice’s mother swiftly expresses sentiments. “Vic! Over here!”

The man pauses and turns his head at his family’s voices. For a second, he regards them blankly, but it’s only for a second. Then he smiles, makes his way towards them, and scoops his daughter up in a hug.

“Alice! I’m sorry, baby, I must have missed you. These old eyes of mine.”

Alice: Alice giggles happily as her daddy whirls her around before gently setting her back down. “We missed you too, Daddy!” She laughs gaily at her joke, and points to the treasured violin case. “Mommy and I brought your violin! Did you like the music?” She is bursting with the energy and exuberance of youth. As her mother approaches, she quiets down, knowing better than to interrupt when adults are talking.

GM: “I did, sweetie! Very thoughtful!” her father answers, tussling her hair once he’s set her down. After exchanging hugs and similar greetings with his wife, he remarks, “The flight had some delays. I hope you two didn’t think I wasn’t coming home?”

Alice: Alice beams and cheerfully replies, “You always keep your promises, Daddy! I knew you would come.” She feels proud of herself, for believing in her father, and proud of him! I have the best Daddy in the world! Alice thinks as the family prepares to return home.

Friday morning, 17 December 1999


Glass shatters as orange juice spills over the floor. Alice’s father howls in pain and surprise as Moxie sinks her jaws into his calf.

The fluffy dog looks as if she must be blind under that thick coat of white hair. Nevertheless, Moxie appears quite able to see what she’s doing as she snarls and jerks her head. There’s a loud tear from the cloth of Daddy’s pants as the sheep dog pulls him off his chair. His rear hits the floor with a thud.

Alice: Alice panics as she watches the scene unfold. She can’t understand it, Moxie is the sweetest dog ever! She doesn’t even bark at Willy Baker next door, when he throws rocks at her! But from the day Daddy came back, any time she saw him she would start growling, and whining. Frantically, Alice reaches for Moxie’s collar, trying to drag her away from Daddy, and calm her down.

Given that Alice is a six-year-old girl, and Moxie is a fully grown sheep dog, her efforts are probably in vain.

GM: Alice has some success in calming the animal, as Moxie settles into a low growl instead of her earlier frenzy. She still bares her teeth, and Alice can feel the tension in the dog’s muscles as she pulls at the collar.

Daddy scrambles backwards, but there isn’t any fear, surprise, or anger on his face. Only loathing. Cold, distant and alien, as if someone had flipped the night sky upside down on a chill winter night, and none of the stars were in their proper place.

Alice: Where Moxie’s primal fury sent Alice into panicked action, the look she sees her daddy levels at the beloved family pet paralyzes her with a cold dread. Somewhere, in the back of her mind a little voice whispers into the stillness, Something is wrong. Daddy would never make a face like that. Alice’s head begins to ache, the stress of the situation no doubt taking its toll on her fragile young psyche.

GM: Daddy rises to his feet and straightens his rumpled shirt. He looks angry now, like any man abruptly savaged by the family pet would be. Alice’s mother returns from the bathroom and sees her husband’s bleeding leg.

“Vic! Oh my god, what happened?!”

“We’re getting rid of that thing!” he snarls.

Alice: Alice remains frozen, for a moment, then shakes her head, as it trying to clear it. Get rid of Moxie? But we love Moxie! We can’t get rid of her! Far from alleviating her discomfort, her headache seems to grow worse. She tries to protest, to plead that they keep Moxie, that she is a good dog. But her head swims in a painful fugue.

GM: Mommy takes Moxie’s leash and pulls the dog outside. Seeing her apparent discomfort at the scary situation, Daddy scoops Alice up and takes her to her room. He lays her on the Little Mermaid bedspread, assurances her that he will take care of the situation, and leaves her to recover.

A dog’s mournful howls sound, followed by the slam of a car door.

Alice: Alice merely nods and stares out the window. Perhaps later she will be angry. Perhaps later she will despair.

For now, she just wants to trust her daddy.

She just wants things to go back to normal.

Tuesday night, 4 January 2000, PM

GM: Alice isn’t supposed to be up this late. Her parents never said she wasn’t supposed to come here, but she’s pretty sure that would break another rule too.

‘Here’ isn’t the nicest place. The apartments’ paint might’ve been white once, but now it’s gray, aged, and peeling, where it hasn’t been scraped off to reveal rotting, splinter-lined wood beneath. Windows are broken or covered with plastic tarp. Obscene graffiti coats the walls. Profanity-laced music blasts from nearby windows. Breaking glass, the odd shriek, gunshot, or incoherent raving occasionally goes up from the distance.

Alice once overheard her parents talking about the ‘bad’ parts of town. They used names like Gulfport and the Fifth Ward. Daddy said he heard from a friend of a friend that there’s a separate entrance at the police station for sex offenders. Alice isn’t sure what those are. Alice isn’t sure if she’s at Gulfport or the Fifth Ward, either. She has no idea where she is. All she did was climb inside the car trunk and wait for Daddy to go out on one of his increasingly frequent ‘midnight drives.’ She’s lucky the car has those pull-down seats in the back. She pulls the seat down and crawls out of the trunk to stare through the window.

Alice’s father is talking to a lady under a street lamp. She wears a skimpy leather jacket, lots of makeup, fishnets, and high-heeled black leather boots. Her mascara can’t entirely conceal the dark circles under her eyes, nor can her lipstick paint a smile on a face that seems like it’s done nothing but frown. She doesn’t look like a very nice lady, but Daddy is still talking to her.

Alice: That little voice in Alice’s head has grown steadily louder over the past few weeks. Something is definitely wrong with Daddy. Things around the house have grown increasingly tense between her parents arguing and Daddy leaving for his ‘midnight drives.’ Alice’s headaches have likewise increased in frequency.

Perhaps it is curiosity, and her father’s increasingly bizarre behavior that has driven her to do the unthinkable, and break the rules to follow him tonight. She makes for a most unusual sight in this time and place, in her pajamas and rain boots. She watches her father intently through the window, as if the intensity of if afraid he will disappear into the darkness if she loses sight of him for even a moment. This place is kind of scary.

But not as scary as he’s been.

GM: Alice’s father continues talking. His body language is terse and impersonal. So is the woman’s. He doesn’t smile as he flashes the cash, but the woman gives a nod. Alice’s father says something else she can’t pick up. The woman looks skeptical. Alice’s father shrugs and moves to leave, but the woman follows after him and hurriedly says something. Alice’s father just keeps walking.

Back towards the car.

Where Alice is hiding.

Alice: Alice quickly crawls back into the trunk and pulls up the backseat. She doesn’t make a sound, careful to stay as hidden as possible. But even if she can’t see what happens next, she can listen. What are Daddy and the lady doing?

GM: Alice hears the car door open.

“Come closer,” her father’s voice says coldly.

Alice hears the click-click of a lady’s tall shoes.

“Give me your purse.”

“What you want my purse for?” comes the lady’s worn-sounding voice.


“Oh, oh shi…” she whispers. There’s a note of trembling panic to her voice, just whispered.

“Make up your mind.”

The two adults make their way back to Daddy’s car. Alice’s father reaches into the passenger seat and fumbles with something, but he can’t see what. He motions the lady closer. She looks over his shoulder. Her eyes widen as she starts backing away. Daddy turns to face her and smiles, but it isn’t the least bit warm or friendly. He holds up the cash and then shrugs as if to say, “Your call.”

The lady looks reluctant for a moment, but approaches the car. Daddy removes her purse, places it inside the car, and fumbles with something. He hands the purse back to her. The lady accepts it with a nonplussed expression.

Alice: Alice’s head throbs dully, as her confusion and frustration build. Whatever is going on, she somehow knows it is wrong. Tentatively, she edges a little farther out of her hiding spot, trying to get a better view of what is going on.

GM: The two adults make their way back to a miserable-looking excuse for a house. Shattered windows, graffiti-strewn exterior. Garbage littering a yard of dead brown grass. They make their way around the house, into an adjacent shed. Just as sorry.

Alice: After catching her breath from the furious peddling she had to do to keep up, Alice quietly leans her bicycle against the shed, and looks about for a window to look in through. Her head pounds furiously from the exertions of the chase.

GM: By the time Alice has found a rain-ruined, leaf-strewn plastic chair, hauled it over to the window and climbed up, Daddy and the lady are hugging each other inside the shed. They’re naked, too, except for the purse, which the lady is strangely still wearing.

Alice: Alice stares uncomprehending at the scene. Her thoughts are muddled, and sluggish.

What… is happening? My head… hurts. What are you doing… with that lady, Daddy?

GM: Daddy shudders and convulses. Alice can’t see exactly what happens, with his back to her. All she can hear is the squelch. The squelch-pop, slimy and wet, like a runny pustule being burst. All she can smell is the stench. Overwhelmingly rotten, like bad eggs over a dead mouse that’s been decomposing behind a bookshelf all summer long.

But she can see the four mottled, slime-slick tendrils slowly… unfolding? Rising? Almost with relief, like after a good long stretch. Translucent white gunk drips from hungry rows of fangs that wickedly gleam under the moonlight.

Alice: As the Thing unfolds before her, Alice stands frozen in terror. There is only the beat of her heart, keeping time with the pulsing agony between her ears. Each second seems an eternity.

GM: The lady stares for a moment.

Then she starts screaming.

Alice: Badump… badump… badump…

GM: It all happens too fast to process. The… Thing makes a rumble-slurching sound, like a gass-guzzling tractor being started up while a dozen wailing infants are simultaneously disemboweled. And then the room turns red. It’s as if someone turned on a sprinkler system and filled it with coloring dye. Chunks of viscera and other less identifiable remains hit the walls with hundreds of messy wet splats. The stench is beyond awful. An overwhelming odor of copper admixed with guts and vomit.

The sensation is even worse.

Alice feels something misty spray over her face. A dozen lesser wet splats against her nose, her cheeks, her forehead. Something hard dings against her lip, like hail. She looks down. It’s a tooth. Three teeth. Still attached to the shredded leftovers of the woman’s gums. Stringy, red-pink clumps of muscle, like the leftover meat still attached to shrimp-shells.

Alice: Confronted with such horror, Alice’s mind shuts down. In the absence of conscious thought, there is only an unbearable agony, driving through her skull like a spear. The pain builds, and builds, until Alice is sure her head will explode, and then something inside her breaks. The pain is gone, her mind clear as it had never been before. With open eyes she sees the Thing that was pretending to be Daddy, and the ruin it has made of the lady.

There is a flicker in her mind, as a spark of anger alights. Swiftly it grows, becoming a white-hot inferno of rage, glittering behind the child’s eyes. Every fiber of her being screams in furious rejection of the Thing, and suddenly the inferno isn’t just in her head. It is in the shed, filling it with a searing heat as the blood-soaked walls and floor boil, and debris is engulfed in flames. As the fire leaves her head, Alice regains her senses.

I can’t let it get me.

Madly, she rushes to her bicycle, and pedals furiously for home. Once there, she hurriedly enters the house, and quietly hurries toward the bathroom, where she tries to wash as much of the red off of her as she can. Her energy nearly spent, she closes her bedroom door, and gets under the Little Mermaid Covers, clutching her stuffed rabbit close.

GM: Alice buries her face under the covers. But she can’t sleep. How could she sleep? After that? After the Thing? She’s not sure how much time passes until she hears her parents’ voices.

“There you are, honey. You’re home late.”

“Business at the office. At least I’ll be getting overtime pay for it.”

Alice: Alice tries, and fails, to suppress a shudder at the sound of the Thing. In her head, there is a spark, but it dies away before it can become anything substantial.

I can’t let it get me…

Sunday afternoon, 8 January 2000

GM: The straps cut into Alice’s arms and legs like hot knives. She feels a bump and jostle underneath her, though what the patient cart hit, she couldn’t say. The ceiling zooms by overhead, a dull expanse of white-gray interspersed by harsh lights. Wheels screek against the floor, interspersed by orderlies’ footfalls. They don’t usually have to resort to this, they told her parents, but with how she’s acting up, there’s no choice.

She feels her mother’s hand against her bare arm. “We just want you to get better, Alice.”

Alice: She struggles vainly against the bonds, tears streaming down her face. “I’m not lying! It isn’t my fault! Please, believe me!”

She tries to meet her mother’s gaze, and actively avoids looking at the Thing. “Please, I don’t want this… I don’t want to be here!”

She struggles to keep the smoldering embers in her head from escaping. “Mommy… please…”

GM: “I know, Alice,” her mother answers heavily. Her jaw is set, but she can’t stop her eyes from blinking, or her fingers from periodically dabbing at them. “I want you to come home too. You will. When you’re better.”

Alice: Alice sees the determination in her mother’s eyes. She doesn’t believe me. None of them do. But It does. The embers flare, a small portion leaking out of her head to leave a barely noticeable scorch mark on a nearby wall.

“This place isn’t making me better! It makes things worse!” Alice’s face is a pitiful mixture of hope, and despair.

Please, please, please, please! She has to understand!

Alice’s protest is true. Her newfound powers, whatever they are, are triggered by stress and anger. Being locked away, and treated like an idiot, or a dangerous animal by too-friendly men in white was not helping her to stay calm. She only hopes that her mommy can see it.

GM: Her mother looks like she’s been hit. “It will, Alice. I wish you could see how. I-I wish so bad you coul…” She trails off, wiping furiously at her eyes.

Her father leans in close, his face a mirror of pity. “Honey? Will you give Daddy a kiss goodbye?”

Alice:NOOO! Keep it away! KEEP IT AWAY!” Alice thrashes in her bonds like a panicked animal.

As the Thing leans back up, she realizes what it has done. If Mommy held any doubts before, they are surely gone. The Thing has won.

Softly, Alice weeps, and closes her eyes. For a moment, she is beaten, but she turns to gaze defiantly at the Thing, and somewhere behind her eyes, a barely contained fire rages.

GM: As Alice screams and thrashes, the men in white murmur something concerned-sounding. A figure looms across her field of vision. She feels something prick her arm. Everything starts going blurry.

“We’re sorry, Mrs…”

So blurry.

Choked sobbing. “We love you, Alice…”

Date ?

GM: “This is how you take a pill.”

It goes in her mouth.

“Now drink some water.”


Water down her throat.

“Okay everyone, it’s time for group therapy today.”

The shuffling of feet, the march of lunatics into the common area, but she isn’t one of them, she isn’t crazy, she isn’t crazy, she isn’t crazy…

Alice: Alice blinks. It is hard to focus. Her medicine makes things dull. Focusing on the fire helps, it makes things clear… but it also makes the fire grow. Her thoughts ramble. It is hard to focus.

GM: “Alice, why don’t you start us off with…”

An episode.

“Hold her down! I’ll administer some…”

Two milligrams.

“Now Alice, you know matches aren’t allowed.”

Muttering to another lady in white. The gaolers discussing the prisoners. “I swear, where does she keep getting those…”

Alice: “I didn-” she cuts off, then in a tired huff nods. The embers glow, but she holds them. “Sorry, sir. I know.”

It is getting easier. The art therapy helps. It lets her forget. And when she forgets, the embers die, and she can think. She takes the things she saw out of her head, and puts them on the canvas. The men in white look nervous about it, but it makes her feel better to get it out of her head. The doctor seemed very interested in her picture of the Thing and the Lady, before it ate her.

GM: “You see what she’s…”

“…saw her parents having sex?”

“…no, her father and…”

Snicker. “Daddy issues.”

“…not in front of them.”

“…good artist…”

“…therapy brings it out in lots of them…”

Alice: The embers flare, she glares at the men. Why can’t they let her have this?! This is the only thing that gives her peace. “Fuck off! Let me paint.” One of the other ‘patients’ taught her curse words. She feels better when she uses them. Like letting out little puffs of fire, without hurting anything. She returns to her easel, her outburst over. Today, she paints Moxie, happily sleeping by the fire.

GM: “…a dog this time? Is that your dog back home, Alice?”

Whispers. Looks. The other patients know. Everyone spills their guts during therapy. Daddy took Moxie away. She was a bad dog.

Alice: “F-Father had her taken away. Because she bit him. Just like he had me put here. She wasn’t a bad dog.” Alice does not look up from her easel, but her voice cracks, and a tear rolls down her face. She is getting better at calling the Thing her father. “I didn’t protect Moxie from Father. It is my fault she got taken away.” She stops painting, and sits staring at the canvas, silently crying, but too defiant to turn and let the others see her tears.

GM: Jots and notes on the clipboard. Her state of mind, spilled forth over the pages by scratching pens. Approving nods. Cluck-clucks of agreement from her keepers. The father. Resentment towards the father. Resentment over the family pet.

Time for her medicine.

Water down her throat.




Making progress.

No more matches.

Alice: Alice looks at the graded tests, smiling at A after A, inscribed in crimson. Even in this prison, a child is given an education. It is another outlet. She reads voraciously. Anything to escape her memories. As her mind sharpens, so too does her control. The fire answers her now, most of the time. She learns to play along. To make pretend for the men in white. Anything to avoid more medicine. The pills come less and less. Her swearing however, comes more and more casually. It is not angry, usually. Alice hears the term ‘coping behavior’ at least once.

GM: They wake her up after the other kids have gone to bed. To talk. The doctors. She’s not sure of their names. She hears different ones. Sometimes Spencer and Sarah. Sometimes Carter and Cobber. Sometimes Landry and Louise. Are those their names? They can’t be. They can’t rhyme every time. They say things and she wonders if she’s making it up, finding rhymes where there are none.

They have questions for her. Questions about the fires. Questions about the Thing and the Lady. They don’t use clipboards, just ask questions. The answers spill out of her like vomit. She talks until she’s exhausted, late into the night. It’s so hard to remember what she talk about, she talks so much. She talks until the answers are sounds devoid of meaning, just mindless babble ringing in her ears, and once all of the answers spill out and they talk about “tests” she feels a spike of terror like something caught in her throat and she has to get out, she has to get out, she has to get out, she hates the way they look at her-

Then she wakes up and it’s time for a bland and shitty breakfast where everyone watches her and she has to give back the utensils immediately after use. Then take her meds. Always meds.

Alice: Alice doesn’t want to get out of bed.

She doesn’t want to talk to doctors.

She doesn’t want tests.

She doesn’t even want breakfast.

She begins to wonder if her mother will ever visit, or if she has been totally forgotten.

She wonders if she wants her to, dreading what might happen if she is faced with the Thing again.

Friday morning, 11 June 2004

GM: The hot Texas air feels strange against Alice’s skin. What she might say about that place, at least it was air-conditioned. It looks like the setting for a movie. It sits like a gargoyle at the center of a large, lawned campus, a dismal counterpoint to countless millennia of architectural advancement. Every edge and angle advertises sterile efficiency. Her mother’s minivan is parked by the curb just outside. Outside the place she never wanted to be. That all seems such a blur.

Alice’s mother looks at her daughter. She’s a strong-looking woman. Firm jaw, with an often matching expression. Graying brown hair pulled up in a bun. Half-rectangular glasses that give the impression she’s peering down at people, constantly evaluating and checking them. Narrow eyebrows. At first, her expression is composed.

When she wordlessly pulls Alice into a bone-crushing hug, though, she’s trembling.

Alice: Alice has spent years thinking about this moment. How she will never forgive her mother. Her resolve is broken in an instant at the hug. She weeps hot tears, as she clings desperately to Mom. She will not forget that Mom locked her away… but she will not forget that she came back to save her too. All Alice wants is to start over. To be a happy family, again.

She will not return to being Mom’s little doll, though. A fire lives in Alice now, and she has been forged in its heat, and the mental gauntlet of the institution for four long years. When she pulls away, Alice’s face is a mirror of her mother’s, made miniature. Her cherubic features touched with an iron resolve to grasp the future.

“I’m back, Mom.”

GM: “I know, honey,” her mother whispers, stroking her hair.

Perhaps she is oblivious to the changes within her daughter. Perhaps she intuits them and does not know where to begin addressing them. But she picks up Alice’s luggage and stows it in the car’s truck. She opens the door. The two get in. They drive off. It’s a long drive, and Alice’s mother doesn’t break the silence even an hour later. Her expression looks reflective.

Alice: Alice takes out her sketchpad and idles doodles. I should probably talk, right? But Mom isn’t saying shit. And… what the would I say? So, instead of talking, she looks at her mom, taking in her features, and idly starts sketching a portrait of her.

GM: “You’ve been drawing much?” her mother finally asks.

Alice: “Yeah!” Alice’s face lights up at the talk of art. She excitedly answers, “It’s fucking awesome! Like, it helps me calm down and stuff, and I am actually pretty good at it!”

She winces when she realizes she cursed in front of her mom. “Uh, sorry, Mom. I will try not to curse. It just… it helps. It lets me vent, in a safe way. That is what,” she briefly stumbles over their names, “Dr. Cobbler and Dr. Carter said. My art helps too.”

She thinks that’s what they said? Some doctors did.

GM: Her mother frowns mildly at the swearing. She seems as if she’s about to say something over it, but then seems to reconsider. Not here. Not now, with her daughter just back.

“So long as you’re trying, Alice. I’m glad it’s helpful. What do you… usually draw?”

Alice: “Stuff around me. Stuff I’ve seen. Uh, I get sort of, like calm when I paint. All the stuff in my head blurs together, and comes out on the paper. I like to put rabbits in my drawings too! When I first started, I drew my stuffed rabbit, because I missed him. I guess… I put him in my art because I wanted someone who would always be there for me.”

Alice is quiet after that, feeling the palpable awkwardness in the car. “But um, yeah. I like drawing and reading. I like Nancy Drew.

“Um, my picture of you is done.” She sets it up on the dashboard, where her mom can see. It is a remarkable likeness, done in pencil.

GM: Alice’s mother initially looks somewhat surprised, eyes halfway between her daughter and the road. “That’s… that’s very good, Alice. It looks just like me. Do you have many others?”

Alice: Alice nods, and sets her sketchpad down where her mom can look at it. Some of the pictures are of her fellow ‘patients’. There is one of Dr. Hill, too. She didn’t want to draw the other doctors. Moxie is in quite a few. However, for every four or five normal sketches, there is one that is… weird. Not disturbing exactly, but not the sort of thing that one would expect to come from the mind of a 10-year-old girl. Blurry shapes, pills, needles, crying doves in lab coats, shaking their heads at a clipboard which has the word “defective” written in red. And that is just one example. It is like someone took all the jumbled thoughts in her head, and framed them. Each and every one shows remarkable talent, though. Her father is noticeably absent.

GM: Alice’s mother is clearly doing her best to repress a frown at the disturbing drawings. That frown seems to simultaneously battle with surprise at and admiration for her daughter’s talent. With just a touch of awkwardness thrown in, it’s… well, it’s not a look Alice has seen on her mother’s face before, she has to admit that.

“They’re very good, Alice. All… very good. Is this something you want to pursue?”

Alice: Alice nods vigorously. “Yes, I would like that! A whole lot!” Her enthusiasm wanes a bit, and she idly flips to one of the ‘weird’ drawings, then sets her sketchbook aside. She gazes out of the windshield at the horizon, as if she could see the future in it. “This isn’t going to be easy… is it, Mom?” Her tone is worried, but determined.

GM: Her mother follows Alice’s gaze out to the highway. Dozens of cars thump-thump along the seemingly endless gray expanse.

“…no, sweetie,” she says at length.

“It’s not.”

Saturday evening, 21 April 2007

GM: “…I had a lovely time, Michelle,” states her mother’s date in their home’s entry hall. Alice watches from the stairs where they can’t see her. Her mom sent her to her room.

“I just don’t think we’re right for each other at this point in our lives. Maybe if I were a few years earlier. Or later.”

“Yeah,” says Michelle. “I’m sorry what Alice did to your shirt.”

Alice: It was just a bit of holy water. This dude needs to chill the fuck out, Alice thinks.

She glares.

GM: The man glances down at the one he’s borrowed. One of Dad’s old things. The man himself isn’t a bad-looking. Around the same age as her mom. Curly graying black hair, glasses, bit of a wide nose. Alice has pointedly tried not to get his name right.

“Well, it happens at that age with them.”

Alice: A teenager now, Alice no longer wears cute little dresses. Her jeans are black and torn, her shirt has Twisted Sister writ large in blood. She scoffs quietly Terry, or whatever-the-fuck his name is just another potential threat. If he was serious about Mom he wouldn’t flip out like this. He just looks bookish, and acts nice. You can’t just trust appearances, Mom. I am doing you a favor.

She does feel a little guilty about spilling the potatoes on his lap. That was an accident. A vague memory of her mom leaning over her, telling her that they ‘just want to help’ flashes through her head. She only partially succeeds in ignoring it.

GM: Mom and Terry (Jim? Phil? Ted?) smile and make small talk about the right age to start dating again, and how to handle kids in these situations. Phil (Ted? Terry? Jim?) adds that he has a daughter of his own. She was also pretty apprehensive about him inviting women over for dinner.

The two settle on the consensus that either adult children (“when they’re grown up and out of the house”) or little kids (“when they’re more open and not going through so much”) are the best age for a single parent to start dipping their toe in the dating scene. Tweenage and teenage years, they conclude, are horrible. Some kids just have too hard a time with their parents dating when that’s such a big concern to them. As those potatoes well illustrate.

Alice: Fire flares behind the silvery grate in Alice’s mind.

No. He isn’t one of them. He is just a normal asshat. I gotta calm down.

She tightens her grip on the railing. Teenage hormones and psychic powers do not mix well, and keeping her inner fire contained has been more of a struggle since puberty hit.

I won’t go back. Never again.

GM: The two talk for some further length, their tones simultaneously humorous and regretful. They end things with a chaste hug. Alice’s mother sees whats-his-name out the door and waves goodbye, then walks up the stairs, and regards her daughter flatly.

“Would you like me to throw water at girls you have over? Or potatoes?”

Alice: “…no. I just… I don’t want you to get hurt by a bad guy.” Alice looks apologetic at the potatoes, but otherwise has a look of certainty. She believes what she did was right.

“You told me I couldn’t date Jenny, because she had her eyebrow pierced, and lives in Central City. How is this different?”

GM: Someone could retort that Jenny was no good and Whatshisname might be a nice guy.

Alice’s mom answers, “How is this different? Because I’m your mother, that’s how. And while you live under my roof, I’m the one who makes decisions about your safety. Not the other way around.”

Alice: Alice seethes with frustration, Why can’t she just understand!? and mutters under her breath, through gritted teeth, “…you can always lock me up again. Wouldn’t that make things easier?”

There it is. The elephant in the room. Often, when they fight, this subject comes up. Perhaps it is the real source of Alice’s tension with her mom. She had never apologized. Not even a hint!

GM: Alice’s mother has never been one to cry. Or yell. So when her daughter brings up that elephant in the room, her face just gets a stony look as her eyes narrow.

Alice: For her part, Alice has never quite forgiven her mom, either. So, Alice does what she always does when she sees that Mom just isn’t going to listen.

“Argh! You always fucking do this! You never fucking listen to what I think! You never take me seriously! I just… shit!”

With a huff of teenage angst at the unfairness of it all, Alice storms up to her room. She pauses at just before entering, and yells over her shoulder down to her mom,

“I don’t care what you say, Mom, I am never going to stop trying to keep you from getting yourself hurt!” and slams the door. All in all, it is a pretty strange sentiment for an angsty teen to rebel over.

Inside her room, Alice furiously paints a portrait of Phil, the Potato King, sitting waist deep in his buttery mashed potato throne. One set of lumps looks suspiciously like a rabbit.

GM: Michelle doesn’t interrupt the teenager’s angry diatribe or stop her from storming upstairs. Or follow her. Seemingly washing her hands of the whole thing, Alice hears the sounds of footsteps downstairs. There’s the sound of the pantry door opening. Mom keeps wine in the pantry.

She probably needs a drink after tonight.

Friday night, 29 August 2014

GM: His good looks are model-gorgeous. He has a boyish face with sandy blond hair, bright green eyes, perfect white teeth, and the sort of smile that could leave anyone who likes men weak in the knees.

Still, it’s not for his looks that Alice is following him upstairs from the dorm party. He only laughed and said he “wasn’t interested in that sort of thing” when she made clear that a nightcap wasn’t happening. No, he had something to show her, he said. Something that would change her life. The boy motions her into his room—a typical messy college dorm—and fishes out a red-filled vial from the heap of scattered clothing.

“This will change your life,” he repeats softly, extending it forward.

Alice: Alice looks at the vial hesitantly. “Yeah? What is it?”

She isn’t too big on drugs. Not from any sort of bullshit moral standpoint, of course. She’s learned the hard way that being shitfaced makes it much harder to control her fire. Still, this guy seems pretty cool. He had complimented her art, and mentioned potentially wanting do have her do some commissions. Her job at the family bookstore and her scholarships gives her enough to get by, but little money to play with. If taking a hit of this… whatever it is helps her improve her cashflow, it might be worth it.

But not before finding out more. She isn’t stupid enough to just drink something a guy at a party gives her. Even if he is really pretty. For a guy. Nervously, she fidgets with her lucky hat. When she realizes what she is doing, she stops. Fucking nervous habits. Just be cool, Alice.

GM: The boy—his name was Josh, he’d mentioned—just laughs. It’s a rich and velvety sound. “Short version, lush? It’ll make you feel better than anything else out there, with no hangover, no crash, no nothing.”

His smile widens.

“Too good to be true? I thought so too, until I tried it.”

Alice: “No shit? This stuff have a name?” Alice looks incredulous. No crash? Is this guy for real? Too good to be true means that it is too good, and is not true.

GM: “Hmm. What they really call it is… life.” Josh grins.

Alice: Alice gives the guy a deadpan look. “That… is some corny stuff right there, dude. I mean, you make it work, but damn. Okay, tell you what. You take a hit, and then I will.”

In the back of her mind, something whispers, Life. Where have you heard that? It sounds familiar. Alice mentally shrugs off the thought. Plenty of time to think about it later.

GM: Josh shrugs casually, still grinning, uncorks the vial and takes a sip. He closes his eyes. He visibly shudders at the taste and licks his lips, getting every little last drop. He waits and smiles, clearly basking in the aftereffects.

After a minute, he opens his eyes, that wide smile still in place. “Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T. I can say the rest of the alphabet or wait another couple minutes if you want.”

Alice: Alice laughs. It is a cheerful, playful sound full of vitality and good humor. “Nah man. Sorry for bugging out, but a girl’s gotta be careful. Shit, with looks like yours, I bet you have to watch for shit being slipped in your drinks too.” She takes the bottle, and has a tentative sip.

GM: “Oh, that usually doesn’t ever bother me,” the boy smiles as he passes Alice the vial, again with that same hint of amusement. He mimes raising a glass with a ‘bottoms up’ motion. A heady fragrance washes over Alice as she lifts the vial to her lips.

It changes her life.

The red liquid trickles down her throat like honey, setting her insides afire with… life. It’s rich. It’s liquid gold. She can feel the taste linger on her tongue and shoot through her veins like lightning. It hurts so good, leaves her tongue shuddering, lapping for more…

Alice: The red stuff hits her system like a Semi doing 180. It courses through her veins, making her feel alive, and powerful. It feels so damn good!

As her senses heighten, she remembers. Remembers the passage in the Bestirae Mysterium she read a year ago, while pouring over the occult books in the back room of the family shop. ‘Fear ye they who sup on the cursed blood of the damned. Fear ye the blood-thrall.’

Fuck. This is not good. But it feels so good.

A vampire. A fucking blood-sucker. And she’s just gorged herself on its tainted blood. She waits, in sweet agony, for whatever insane transformation into a mindless slave to come over her… but nothing happens. She feel amazing, but when she looks at the blood-sucker, he is the same. If anything she likes him less, for tricking her like this.

“Woah… that is… intense, Josh.”

GM: Alice isn’t sure she’s seen Josh do anything with his lips but smile. He’s still smiling. But there’s an air of knowing to it now as he nods his head slowly, in recognition of Alice’s understanding. “There’s more where it came from, too.”

“A lot more.”

Alice: I’m sure.

Outwardly, Alice grins. “You… mentioned commission work? For my art?”

GM: Josh nods, laying a hand on her shoulder in emphasis. “Something like that, Alice. Something like that.”

Tuesday evening, 12 May 2015

GM: Short graying hair. Lined face. Black and white suit. Sensible, modest jewelry. The woman looks corporate. Not the sort of type to shop in a secondhand, alternative religion-themed bookstore. Nevertheless, she smiles pleasantly, if distantly, as she hands the cash over the register and accepts her books in a bag from Alice.

“Have a pleasant evening, miss.”

Alice: “Thank you for visiting! We hope to see you again soon!” Alice puts on her best, customer-pleasing smile for the woman.

GM: The middle-aged woman leans forward, resting her hand on Alice’s. “I will be certain to recommend this store to my associates.”

Her grin is just a little too wide. With just a few too many teeth.

Alice: Fucking wonderful. Another one. Alice has always known they were out there, somewhere. But every since her first dose of the red stuff, she’s been so much more aware of them.

“Thank you kindly, ma’am!” A bestial voice growls out its warnings in the back of her mind from its cozy place by the fire. “You be safe out there, ma’am! The streets aren’t always safe, even this early in the evening. We would hate to lose a valued customer.”

Alice offers a parting wave to the woman with too many teeth. Note to self. Find… wards around the neighborhood.

The books have mentioned that. Magical cards. She didn’t believe them until now.

She didn’t believe in a lot of things until now.

GM: Alice cannot help but note the woman’s hand was as warm as her own during the brief contact.

She smiles thinly at Alice’s advice and strides out the door without further word, the shop’s bell chiming in her wake. As she leaves, the shadow she throws upon the wall is not that of a woman at all, but a creature with horns and wings.

Alice: “Mom? I am going on break for minute!” Alice calls to the back room. She heads upstairs, to the attic-turned-art-studio, and hastily sketches and notes everything about the woman she can. The name and number on her card, what book she was looking for, everything she can remember about her time in the shop. She finishes by drawing a small candle in one corner, with practiced ease, then carefully folds the paper and puts it into her pocket.

Later, it will go into the nondescript manilla envelope hidden in the secret compartment beneath the tiles in her apartment bathroom, where it can join its siblings. Page after page of sketches, and notes, bearing the candle. Alice cannot do anything about these things right now… but someday the candles will be lit. And when they do, she hopes, they will make New Orleans a brighter place.

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