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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Two, Victoria I

“You’ll be okay, and I’ll be here to make sure of it.”
Victoria Wolf


Thursday evening, 27 August 2015

GM: Sylvia gets a call on her cell around dinnertime.

“Je… Jeff and I broke up!” Anna sobs.

Victoria: Sylvia accepts the call and sets it to speaker, a pizza of cheesy pizza dribbling down her chin.

It’s a moment before she responds.

“You… no… oh, honey… where are you?”

GM: “At home,” Anna sniffs.

Victoria: “I’ll be right there. Don’t move. Not an inch.”

GM: “And with a stu… stupid dinner I made, f… for us.”

Victoria: “Do you want to stay on the phone while I drive?”

Pedestrians beware. Lucky Sylvia, she’d been so hungry that she didn’t bother changing before wolfing down half of her first slice of pizza. She bangs her foot on the coffee table, hops to the front door, and does her best to pull on her boots.

GM: “Y… yeah…”

Victoria: “Okay, okay!”

She snags her bag, checking to be sure the keys are inside. The phone is removed from speaker and slotted between her ear and shoulder, while the pizza box is slammed shut and tossed under her arm.

Forgetting something?

Other boot. Right.

GM: “I’ve still got… I’ve still got my ring on, oh my g…! I have to get rid of it…”

Victoria: “DO. NOT.”

“Toss it in a drawer, okay? Don’t do anything brash.”

GM: Anna gives another little sob.

“I… I won’t… but we’re done, we’re over, he’s going to Philly…!”

Victoria: “Anna, baby. You’ll be okay. Okay? You’ll be fine.”

She shuts and locks her apartment door behind her, clomping down the stairs.

“Five minutes. Just five minutes.”

GM: It’s a brief enough drive to Anna’s and Jeff’s shared apartment in Riverbend. The building is white and mid-range. Sylvia lets herself in with the key marked “Do Not Duplicate” that Anna let her duplicate. Anna’s curled up on the couch in front of the TV with a blanket and a miserable look. She looks like she’s been crying for a while.

Victoria: “Anna…” she breathes. If she had ears on top of her head, they would wilt.

Sylvia sets the pizza down on the table beside her, her bag on the floor, and wraps her arms around the girl as if she were a wounded child, fingers stroking her hair, hand at her back.

“I’m so, so sorry.”

GM: Anna cries into Sylvie’s neck.

“We… we had a huge fight… I didn’t wanna, wanna move with him… so… just like that…”

Victoria: “Shhh… Let it out. Let it out.”

And she holds her, as long as she needs, no matter how much she cries, no matter how late it gets.

GM: Anna cries into Sylvie’s arms for a long time. It all comes out. She and Jeff had been engaged, after all. They’d made wedding plans. Decided on venues. Invitees. Sylvia was going to be the maid of honor.

Then Jeff got the job offer in Philly. He’d already moved from Miami to New Orleans, to stay together with her. He thought she should “return the favor.”

“And what’s worse… I feel so, so selfish,” she sniff-hiccups, blowing into another tissue. “He moved for me, and I just… I just couldn’t…”

Victoria: “Shhh…” she continues, stroking her hair gently. As she cries, Sylvia moves onto the couch beside her, front to front, giving her a shoulder to cry on.

“Sometimes… the things we do for others aren’t done for us. Sometimes, things they do for us aren’t returned. Life isn’t always fair.”

She squeezes her as a child squeezes a stuffed bear.

“Would you have been happy in Philly?”

GM: Anna starts to shake her head against Sylvie’s shoulder, then just rests against it.

“N… no… I love my job, so much, I love the city, I lo… love getting to see my parents, and y… you…”

Victoria: Another tight squeeze.

“You loved him, and some part of you will always love him, but the path he set before you is one you can’t follow. Loss is part of life.”

Such a great oversimplification, but she hopes it helps.

GM: Anna gives another loud sniff.

“Yeah, w… well… it still h… hurts…”

Victoria: “It’ll hurt for a while, but you’ll be okay, and I’ll be here to make sure of it.”

GM: “I don’t even wanna, wanna look at him… he drove off, said he’d… be back for his, his stu… f…”

Victoria: Sylvia leans back just enough to look at her. She kisses her forehead.

“Look at me. I want you to eat a slice of pizza. Eat it slow. By the time it’s done, you’ll feel a little better, and you’ll see less Jeff. Okay?”

GM: Anna closes her eyes for a moment at that kiss, taking slower breaths.

“O… kay,” she repeats, nodding.

Victoria: She sets the pizza box in Anna’s lap, and lifts herself off the couch.

As Anna munches the pizza—slowly, she anticipates—she moves around the apartment collecting every little piece of memorabilia of their relationship that she can find. Pictures are the obvious answers, but less obvious are things that only those close know are special—the cake platter he bought her when she had her foray into at-home baking, the table runner that she’d gotten him for the dinner at which they announced their engagement.

She smiles, seeing the smut novel she bought Anna as a gag open on the bed. At least she’s reading something.

Five minutes later, she returns.

“How is it?”

GM: The smut novel about a dominatrix bringing assorted subs to heel, after the endless teasing over her job.

Anna looks like she’s read through most of it, judging by the place she is in the book.

Sylvia also finds a lamp loin dinner set out on the table, only lightly touched.

Anna’s made her way about halfway through the pizza slice when she returns.

“Less hungry, ’least,” she says glumly.

“Thanks for… pizza.”

“Made him the lamb to celebrate his new job.”

Victoria: “Eat the whole damn pie if you want, babe. I’ll order another. Wings, too?”

She wants wings.

She checks in on Anna briefly, but detours to set the plates of lamb in the fridge before returning.

GM: “Fuck it, why not.” Anna munches on the slice some more. “Still got work tomorrow.”

Victoria: “We’ll spare the alcohol until Friday.”

GM: “Show up sloshed to work.” Anna gives a weak laugh. “That’s what I hear. From some of my kids. Everyone gets totally sloshed at those debutante balls.”

Victoria: Sylvia snorts.

“Yeah. Sure. I believe it. You best not show up trashed. You’ll be principal of that place, one day.”

GM: “No, never,” Anna says seriously. “I love working there.”

Victoria: She settles onto the couch beside the pizza demon.

“I’ve known you for years, Anna. You’re my best friend. I’ve never seen you happier than when you had your first day. You told me every minute in such detail that I swear I could picture it all exactly as is.”

She pauses, appraising her.

“You made the right choice.”

GM: “I hope so,” she says glumly. “Maybe Philly has good schools… but I don’t wanna give up my whole life, either…”

“He said I was being unfair, that he’d did this for me.” She sniffs again. “That I was b… being self.. ish…”

Victoria: She takes Anna’s face in her hands.

“Anna. Everyone is selfish. We need to take care of ourselves before others. Even our family. It doesn’t mean sacrifice can’t be made. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them. If you give up too much of yourself, you’ll waste away.”

She smiles a faint smile.

“I’m selfish, too. I’d die if you left.”

GM: Anna gives another sniff but manages a smile back, looking up at Sylvie.

“Me… me too.”

Victoria: She doesn’t let go of her face.

“Do you want me to be here when he comes back?”

GM: Anna nods again.

“Y… yeah.”

“I don’t wanna see him ag… again, this soon…”

Victoria: “Do you want to come back to my place? I’ve got shitty movies, and a fluffy blanket.”

“And the forecast shows a 0% chance of Jeff.”

GM: “Y… yeah,” Anna repeats.

She manages a weak smile. It looks as glum as anything else.

“I was… kinda looking forward to you, telling him off… but that’s probably better…”

Victoria: She smiles with a wolfish glint.

“I could call him.”

But she shouldn’t.

“Go pack a night bag and your morning clothes. Come on.”

GM: Anna’s smile grows a little more solid at that.

“Yes, Mom.”

Victoria: “Don’t forget clean underwear!” she adds, hamming it up.

GM: “I won’t,” Anna says, and then hugs her.

“Thanks, Sylvie… you’re such a good friend…”

Victoria: She hugs her back.

“Of course. You matter to me more than anything in the world.”

GM: “Even more than being a dominatrix?”

The quips have mostly died down after two years.

Mostly.

Victoria: She earns a swat on the rear.

GM: “Eek!” Anna stands up straight.

Victoria: Sylvia smiles the sweet smile of a young debutante at her first ball.

“Why can’t I have both?”

GM: “Clearly,” Anna mumbles, rubbing her rear.

Victoria: Sylvia pokes her tongue out.

“Hey, you asked. Go get your things, unless you want me to go off on Jeff.”

GM: “I dunno, I… I kinda do…”

Victoria: “Should I get back into my work uniform? We can stop by the office and pick up the cigar cutter.”

GM: “Okay. I don’t want that. But I just want… I don’t know.” Anna rubs her eyes again. “I don’t wanna hate him… he should follow his dreams… but I have to make myself say that.”

“You know?”

Victoria: She stands up from the sofa, looking into her eyes on more equal footing.

“Anna?”

She waits.

“Say it to me. Say exactly that.”

GM: ‘More’ equal is still less than fully equal. Sylvia remains the taller one.

Though she usually does.

“That I don’t want to hate him?”

Victoria: “Repeat after me: Sylvia St. George, I will always love you, but you need to follow your dreams. I’m sorry that those dreams aren’t compatible with me.”

GM: Anna frowns.

“Sorry, I’m confused. Those sound like words to say to him, not you?”

Victoria: “Uh huh. And if you can say them to me, you can say them to him.”

“So, break up with me. Come on.”

GM: “Sylvia St. George,” she recites, “I will always love you, but you need to follow your dreams. I’m sorry that those dreams aren’t compatible with me.”

Anna pauses.

“And for the record, I am okay if you want to be a dominatrix. Really. I think it’s a cool job.”

Victoria: She purses her lips and stares.

“Focus. Come on. Say it again. I don’t want you breaking down and letting him take one over on you.”

GM: “Sylvia St. George,” Anna repeats, with more conviction, “I will always love you, but you need to follow your dreams. I’m sorry that those dreams aren’t compatible with me.”

She sniffs again after that and dabs her eye.

Victoria: Sylvia tears up.

“B-but… but, Anna. I fucking love you. You can’t just… without you…”

She falls to her knees.

“I’ll… I may as well die without you in my life.”

Ham: meet cheese.

GM: Anna manages a smile, at the cheese-slathered hammy line.

Then she starts crying again.

“Oh, god,” she says, with something between a laugh and a sob, “I’m a m… mess…”

Victoria: Sylvia rolls her eyes and climbs back to her feet. Her hands clasp Anna’s arms, and she shakes her with gentle firmness.

“Anna, you need to be able to say it. Are you going to be able to say that to him when he begs you to come? When he guilts you? When he blames you?”

GM: “But I have a life here, that I love. I can’t just give that up, to be wi… with…”

The pair are interrupted as the apartment’s front door unlocks. Jeff walks in. He’s a man close to Sylvia’s height, though slightly below it, with ginger hair and a short beard. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

There’s an awkward pause.

Victoria: Sylvia is glad she stood up, and the faux-tears will add a nice touch. The look she gives Jeff will haunt him for the rest of his life. There’s no need for whips and chains and knives and fire.

GM: “Hey,” he greets, a little stiffly.

Victoria: Crickets.

GM: Anna looks up at her fiance, puffy eyes still wet with tears.

Jeff seems to forget Sylvia in that moment, and sits down next to his one-time wife-to-be. He wraps an arm around her shoulder. Anna melts into his embrace.

“Hey… it’s okay…” he murmurs.

“Maybe we both said some things we shouldn’t have.”

Victoria: Sylvia’s forged-steel restraint is the only thing that keeps her from exploding.

“Jeffrey.”

GM: Anna sniffs and nods at his words.

“Can you give us a moment?” he asks Sylvia.

Victoria: He looks into the eyes of a wolf.

She looks to Anna.

GM: Jeff clears his throat.

It sounds a little nervous.

Mistress Victoria has had several years to perfect that intimidating stare.

Anna looks between them uncertainly.

Victoria: She clicks her tongue.

“I’ll be outside, Anna. I think it’d be best for you if we are still on for our plans.”

GM: Anna gives a nod.

“About that,” says Jeff once she starts to leave.

“Anna, I had… I went through this whole speech, after I realized what an ass I was being. But—I love you,” he says. “I want to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you.”

“Do you still want to?”

Victoria: Victoria’s stomach lurches.

GM: “Ye… yes…!” she answers, sniffling again as she nods. “I love you. I always will. But you nee… you need to follow your dreams. I’m sorry those are… aren’t…”

Victoria: The engineer offers Anna a somber, supportive smile, and turns to leave.

GM: “Compatible,” she resumes, “wi…”

Jeff hugs her. She cries into his shirt.

“What if they can be?” he says.

“Anna. I felt like… like a knife was twisting up my insides, thinking of life without you.”

“It was a physical pain.”

Victoria: Her hand touches the door.

“Imagine what she felt like when she called me crying.”

GM: Jeff frowns at her slow exit.

“Like complete shit, I’m sure. Anna… you don’t have to feel this way. We don’t have to break things off.”

She stares up at him.

He rests his hands on her shoulders.

“Come with me. To Philly.”

“We’ll find you a great job.”

“You can fly back to visit your parents.”

Victoria: She leans on the door, her head against the cool of the glass.

Come on, Anna.

GM: Anna looks ready to cry again. She starts shaking her head.

“I can… I can’t, I have a life here…”

“So do I,” says Jeff. “But you know how much this job means. For both of us. We’ll find you a job at your dream school. You can fly down every weekend to visit your parents, if you want.”

“We can come down for vacations.”

“We can get married. We can have it all!”

Victoria: She smacks the door, her rage boiling over.

BANG!

“You selfish pig! If you loved her, this wouldn’t be a sales pitch! You don’t want to marry her. You want your cake in Philly, and to drag her along no matter how she feels!”

“You don’t want a wife. You don’t want to lose your toy.”

GM: Jeff fairly gapes, his face turning red.

“This is none of your fucking business!”

Victoria: The heat rolling off her pales anything New Orleans can offer.

“Anyone who wounds my friends—who breaks off their marriage in some alpha-male knee-jerk reaction to being told no—makes it my business.”

The hate in her eyes makes the thought of murder seem on par with asking for dessert.

‘Maybe? I’m kinda full.’

Sylvia is eternally hungry. Insatiable. She’s confided in Anna on one of her cravings, but not the other.

GM: “I didn’t… I didn’t break off the marriage!” Jeff yells. I HAVE to take this job! What would you know about having a career, when you’re fucking guys for a l-"

“Don’t say that!” Anna yells, voice still raw from crying. “That’s not what she does!”

“Yes, it is! She-”

“No, it’s not! That’s awful, take it back!”

“All right, fine, it’s not! I don’t judge either way! She can make a living however she makes a living, but that’s TOTAL bull that I’m ending our marriage because I got a once-in-my-life job offer, which, yes, she wouldn’t know about!”

Victoria: The accusations wash over her like a stream over smooth stones. It wasn’t a week into her internship when she was first accused of being a whore, just for where she worked.

That bothered her.

This doesn’t.

Sylvia changed. Sylvia hardened.

“But you are, Jeffrey,” she says icily. She sees an out—a way to win over him, and it freezes her anger.

“Because if you cared whether she’d be happy or not with the move, you’d have brought it up after your interview. Don’t bullshit us that it was an afterthought in the acceptance letter.”

GM: “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?! I got the job, it’s across the country, that’s how it is! Anna can stay, Anna can come, but I’m never getting another offer like this one! It’ll make my career!”

Victoria: She looks to Anna.

“There you go, Anna. You heard the same words I did.”

Anna can stay. Anna can go.

Anna isn’t a consideration. Anna’s an afterthought; a bonus.

GM: The heat seems to drain from Jeff’s face as he realizes what he said.

“Anna. I… I didn’t mean it like that!” he exclaims, backpedaling. “I just meant that it’s up to you, you decide, it’s your ch-”

“Go away!” Anna sobs.

“Ann-”

“I heard you, Jeff! Go away!”

She turns around and buries her face against a couch cushion.

Victoria: Sylvia doesn’t smile. She wants to. It felt good, sinking her jaws into that weakness, and ripping out the sweet marrow.

She can’t sit beside Anna as she is, but she crouches there, resting a hand on her hair.

GM: Jeff looks between them, casts Victoria a dark look, and stalks away.

The door doesn’t slam, but it closes with more force than is perhaps strictly necessary.

Anna cries into the couch pillow.

Victoria: Finally, she sits beside her.

“I’m so, so sorry, Anna…” she comforts, rubbing her back. “Come here.”

GM: Anna turns around and sinks into her arms, laying her head against Sylvia’s chest.

“Why’d he have to come back…!”

“I f… feel, ten times worse…”

Victoria: She wraps her arms around the woman’s back, pulling her atop her as she lays back.

“I know, I know.”

She heaves a sigh.

“Get your things. Pack a bag. Let’s go to my place.”

GM: “Honestly, Sylvie, I just… wanna go to bed, right now.”

Anna pulls away and looks up at her.

“Can you stay?”

Victoria: “Forever,” she answers, holding her as tightly as a mother to her child.


Thursday night, 27 August 2015, PM

GM: Anna goes off to bed early. She’s tired. She has work in the morning. She’ll feel better in the morning.

Sylvia, at least, sets her own hours.

She’s working on her laptop when she hears the faint wisp of paper sliding through door.

Victoria: Sylvia is a good girl. It’s illegal to open someone else’s mail.

It’s not illegal to retrieve it. Who’s it to?

GM: It’s to Anna. It’s also not in an envelope. It’s from Jeff, and the first sentence starts by saying how sorry he is.

The full thing is two pages.

Victoria: She drops the letter and opens the door.

GM: She sees Jeff making his way down the hall.

Presumably, he’s not planning on staying the night.

Victoria: She watches him leave. She could stop him, and talk to him, and console him, but she doesn’t want that. No, she wants him gone.

He’s bad for Anna.

She closes the door, locks it, and settles down to read the letter.

GM: He apologizes. He says he realizes how harmful his words were. How they made it sound like Anna was an afterthought to him. He says she isn’t an afterthought to him. He says he never stops thinking about her. He’d meant to say whether she stays or moves is up to her, that she decides what she does with her life. He doesn’t want to issue ultimatums, or to try to sweet-talk her or wheedle her into something. He admits he did that. He’s sorry. He says her feelings are valid and that he hurt her through his words, whatever his intentions were. He made her feel like he didn’t value her. He repeats how that’s not the case. He says how much he loves her and cares about her.

He says that she knows how he feels about the move. He doesn’t try to make any further sales pitches, or bring up old scores (like, Sylvia knows, how he moved once for her). He says he wishes things didn’t have to be this way, but this is how they are. It’s up to her what she wants to do. He says she should listen to her heart and make whatever decision she thinks will bring her the greatest happiness and fulfillment.

He says that he’ll love her and treasure their time together, whatever she decides. She will always be a part of him.

He says she has his number if she wants to talk.

He says he’ll come back for his things while she’s at work, if he doesn’t hear from her. He says a clean break is best if they want to call things off. Maybe later they can reconnect, but he thinks a clean break will help them to heal faster, which is what he wants for her. Her wants her to be happy and to thrive and succeed. Wherever she lives and whoever she marries.

He signs the letter with,

All my love,
Jeff


Victoria: Victoria takes the letter, reading it on the sofa.

Then she reads it again. And again. And again.

The letter she reads conveys all the man’s love, and all of his manipulation.

She folds it neatly, setting it on the table.

If she gives this letter to Anna, it’ll mean a chance for Jeff to earn her good graces once more. She doesn’t want that. She doesn’t like Jeff. She admires the good heart he has in him—when he wants to—but this isn’t the first completely selfish act he’s committed. When Anna first moved with him to New Orleans, it was with hemming and hawing as far late as Thanksgiving.

If she doesn’t give her this letter, it’s admitting that she doesn’t trust her to make the right decision for herself; that Anna will be at risk without her protection; that Anna won’t learn from her lessons.

That she’ll lose Anna to a future that excludes her. Her business, and her life, and Marcus are all in New Orleans.

She sets her jaw and pinches the bridge of her nose, beyond fatigued past where she’s content to be given this decision.

In the end, she closes her laptop, tucks the letter under her pillow, and goes to sleep.

Tomorrow, she’ll give Anna the letter—and give her a choice: Open it, and open the wounds wider. Feel that pain again. Or don’t, and let the healing continue.


Friday morning, 28 August 2015

GM: Tomorrow comes, as it always does, though earlier than expected. Sylvia would say she only got up this early in high school, but she didn’t get up this early in high school—she got up later. Teachers have to get ready earlier.

Anna showers and steps out out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.

“Morning,” she smiles. “Shower’s yours if you want it.”

Victoria: She offers her a tired smile. Sylvia St. George isn’t up this early. She’s a creature of the night.

“Anna… would you sit down for a second?”

“…you can put on pants first, if you want.”

GM: Anna laughs. “Always wise.”

She’s soon back and changed into work attire. Nice, non-jean pants and blouse.

Victoria: She pats the sofa, and pulls out the letter.

“He came back while you were sleeping, and put this in the mail slot. I… thought about whether to wake you, or to burn it, or to leave it where it is.”

She sighs, appraising.

“I don’t want you to read it. It’ll bring you more pain. It’ll hurt, just like when he came back last night, and you’ll be just as hurt as you were—this time going into work.”

A pause.

“I love you. You’re my best friend. If you want to read it, it’s yours, but I don’t think you should.”

GM: Anna takes that in slowly. She looks at the letter.

“What’s… what’s in it…?”

Victoria: “Exactly what you think it is. More of the same. A rewind to the same as what happened, twice.”

GM: Anna closes her eyes, then stands up.

“Get rid of it. Just get rid of it. I’m going in to work, I don’t want to deal with this.”

Victoria: She gives Anna an understanding expression.

“Have a good day at work.”

GM: “I’ll try,” she sighs. “After breakfast.”

She heads off to the kitchen.

Victoria: “After breakfast.”

Which, if Sylvia were remotely a morning person, she’d have already made.

She looks to the note, reassured that she’s made the right decision. Anna will hurt, but she will be better in the longer scale. She will find someone new to love, though it’s better if she takes her time. Anna’s personality is addictive, and diving too quickly into the romance pool would only see her hurt again. Or used.

Sylvia won’t let her be used.

When she leaves for lunch, she walks through the alley behind Anna’s apartment building. She pauses behind the dumpster, pulling out the letter.

All my love

She burns it and crushes it under heel.

None of his love. Their relationship dies.

She considers for a moment how much power she held over the pair of them, though it doesn’t bring the usual inner smile it normally does. No part of her position in deciding the fate of their relationship felt good. No part of it brings her joy. She doesn’t like hurting Jeff, because hurting Jeff hurts Anna.

She kicks the dumpster.

He won’t hurt her anymore. Not now. Not unless he comes back.


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Story Two, Emil II

“Not all medicines get to taste sweet.”
Jared Brown


Day ? Month ? Year ?

GM: “…hello there, Emil.”

Pain in his head.

“Can you hear what I’m saying?”

Pain in his belly.

Pain in his everywhere.

Emil: Emil grunts and opens his eyes. He tries to blink the pain away.

“…yeah.”

His voice is torn in shreds from the sheer desert-dryness of his throat.

“What… happened to the girl?” he croaks.

GM: Darkness grates at his vision like sand from that same desert. Talking hurts. His throat wants water. His surroundings have a sterile, hand sanitizer-like smell.

He blinks a few more times. The outline of a dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope looks down at him. The man 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. Emil can’t say if it’s due to the doctor’s almost-beard or just the lighting, but a shadow seems to spread across his lower face as he smiles down at the bedridden lawman.

Resident_Rapist1.jpg “You take it easy there, Emil. You’ve been through a pretty rough spot.”

Emil: Emil stretches his neck to examine the damage to his body.

He’s unsure why he checks his legs first. Maybe he watches too many Vietnam War movies. Maybe something else.

GM: Emil’s body aches as he tries to make himself sit upright. His arm is hooked up to an IV drip. He does not see his legs.

Emil: He freezes in mid-breath.

GM: There’s a blanket covering them.

Emil: Emil lets out a too-deep sigh once he notices they’re still attached. He gingerly reaches over his stomach, hesitant to touch it for fear of spilling out its contents again.

“Doc, what happened to me. Where is the girl?” he asks, keeping his tone level despite the pain.

Where is that even from? he thinks, trying to pinpoint its origin.

GM: Emil can feel bandages against his head.

“Easy there, Emil,” the doctor repeats. He leans closer and touches the side of the injured man’s bed in seeming substitute for touching his body directly. “You had a stroke and subdural hematoma. You also banged your head pretty bad.”

The doctor smiles widely. “You’re lucky to be alive. Lucky to be able to see and talk to me. But don’t strain yourself. Nearly a quarter of all strokes in the U.S. are recurrent, you know!”

Emil: Emil’s mind races. How could he have a stroke?! That’s fucking insane! He’s only twenty-nine, for God’s sake. His grandma got a stroke before she died, but her medical history was longer than a goddamn novel! And a hematoma on top of that… what about his job? His family? He has a family to take care of.

He recognizes the risk in getting so stressed, though, and breathes deeply to let out his anger with each exhalation. Once he’s calm enough to speak plainly, he asks, “What about my intestines, are they in good shape? Tell me what happened, Doctor.”

GM: The doctor raises his eyebrows and gives a simultaneously humoring smile. “There’s nothing wrong with your intestines, Emil. They’re doing just fine.”

Emil: Emil definitely felt his guts falling out of him. He saw them, for chrissake. But he doesn’t want to look crazy, so he laughs to hide his concern. “I had some real bad coffee yesterday, doc; glad to see it didn’t mess me up too bad.”

GM: “You had a real bad fall yesterday, Emil. Glad to see that didn’t mess you up too bad either,” the doctor chuckles back.

Emil: Emil never fell. This man is hiding things from him. Or maybe someone is lying to everyone about last night’s events. And his innards definitely fell out of his stomach last night. Emil lifts the blanket, trying to check his stomach for any scars or stitches. They have to be there.

GM: Emil’s bare stomach lacks any bandages, stitches, or other signs of injury.

The doctor makes a ‘hmm’ sound. “I’m going to administer a sedative to help you relax. Coming out of a stroke this soon, you want to be taking things easy.”

Emil: “Don’t,” Emil says as he rests his head back and smooths out his blanket. “I’m fine. What happened to that girl. Is she all right?”

GM: “That’s what I’m here to judge,” the doctor smiles reassuringly. He holds up a hypodermic needle, squirts it into the air, and pulls back the fold of Emil’s hospital gown.

“You’re in good hands…”

Emil: Emil pulls away from the needle and responds with the harsh tone one might use with a misbehaving dog. “You should get that needle away from me if you want to keep your residency, Doctor. Because at some point I’m gonna wake up and I’m sure your employers won’t have much use for you behind bars.”

GM: The doctor smiles down at the bedridden lawman. “I’m always happy to do things another way, Emil, if you don’t want to give me your consent. But I’m afraid that kind of verbal abuse isn’t acceptable in our hospital. There’ll be a form for you to sign that releases staff from responsibility to treat you if that keeps up.”

Emil: “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings, Doctor. Say, maybe we could speak more cordially if I knew your name. Hm?” He speaks neutrally, making it hard to tell his level of sincerity.

GM: “Verbal abuse includes sarcasm, Emil,” the doctor smiles as he wags a finger. “But I don’t want to risk agitating you any further in your condition. We’ll have a nurse come by later to make sure you’ve calmed down. Take it easy.” He cheerfully pats the side of Emil’s bed and turns to leave.

Emil: “No sarcasm intended,” Emil says honestly. “I just want to know who is treating me is all.” He thinks for a moment before adding, “And can I use a phone? I need to tell my family I’m all right.”

GM: Emil’s only reply is the sound of a closing door. His last sight is of the doctor’s smiling face.

Emil: Emil is not smiling as he leans across his bed and looks as its foot for his medical notes.

GM: Emil finds no such notes. He remembers how nurses would hang clipboards at the foot of a patient’s bed in the old days (which his father spent his share of at the hospital). The notes would list vital signs, IV medications, intake and output measure, and so on. The rest of the chart was kept at the nurses’ station.

These days, as his bed’s empty foot makes apparent, everything is digital and kept in electronic medical records systems. He suspects a bed-hanging chart would also violate HIPAA.

Emil: He sighs and resigns himself to lying down, making himself comfortable, and searching for a nurse call button.

GM: The ‘button’ looks more like a speaker phone than a button, but one is present and within reach of his bed.

Nurse_Call_Button.jpg Emil: He pushes it to call a nurse.

GM: A tired-sounding woman’s voice crackles to a terse semblance of life over the speaker.

“What is it?”

Emil: “Hi, sorry for the trouble,” he says, trying to sound more weak and pitiable than he has any right to be. “I just want to access my medical records and give my daughter a call. Can you help me? Please?”

GM: “Are you in pain and or need of medical treatment,” inquires the monotone-sounding voice. Emil can’t hear a question mark.

Emil: “I just want to talk to my daughter. If you were in my position you’d want your kids to know they’re safe too, wouldn’t you?” He waits, expecting the woman to ask him again, but hoping she listens.

GM: “Your family’s been told you’re here,” the monotone voice continues with a sigh. “You’ll be allowed visitors with the attending physician’s approval.”

Emil: “What is my attending physician’s name then? He wouldn’t tell me, ma’am.”

GM: “Are you in pain and or need of medical treatment,” the monotone voice repeats.

Emil: “No.”

GM: There’s a click from the intercom.

Emil: So much for Southern hospitality.

Emil rests in his bed, apparently stuck resting until someone comes to visit.

GM: Emil observes a television in the corner of his room. The stroke-afflicted lawman can flick on the remote to watch non-cable game shows.



GM: “For years, Gomek the giant crocodile was the big attraction at this oldest Florida city’s alligator farm.”

“What is… St. Augustine!”

Applause sounds from the televised audience.

Emil: The droning Jeopardy tune loops over and over in Emil’s ear, mocking his inability to find an answer to his troubles.

Impotent to do anything—at least for now—he settles in to his personalized slice of hell.


Saturday afternoon, 29 August 2015

GM: Hell comes to visit Emil on a plate.

Hospital_Food.jpg
The injured lawman has no idea what it is. It’s all mushed browns, pale yellows, and sickly greens congealing in a runny, vomit-like morass over the center of his plate. A Hispanic woman sets it down on his tray along with a spork, napkin, and glass of water without a word.

Emil: Emil looks down at the ‘food’ he’s just been served and considers what in God’s name to do with it. He concocts some half-baked theories but ultimately can’t avoid the understanding that he is meant to eat it. Murderous good-for-nothings on death row get fancy chocolate crepes topped with powdered sugar and he gets… he’s not exactly sure what this is, but it ain’t a crepe, that’s for sure. It looks more like crap.

Nevertheless, he needs to eat if he’s going to get out of this hellhole any time soon. He pinches his nostrils shut in an attempt to block as many senses as possible while using his spork to shove the sludge-like ‘food’ past his tongue and straight down his throat.

GM: Emil smells the ‘food’ through his nasal passage. It’s somewhere between ‘fermented cabbage leaves’ and ‘grime scraped out from the rim of a public bathroom sink.’ The peculiarly stringy texture belies its sludge-like appearance. Dozens of ‘ends’ tickle Emil’s throat on the way down. It’s like swallowing a clump of hair that’s congealed in semi-solid grease.

The woman wordlessly stares at him as he takes his first bite.

Emil: Emil pauses for a moment to let the gunk slide down his throat. He looks at the woman and smiles. “Thanks for the food, ma’am, but do you think I could have access to a phone? I need to call my daughter. I promise it won’t take long and I’d really appreciate you doing that for me.”

GM: The woman walks out of his room without a word.

Emil: Emil curses under his breath and returns to dealing with the situation on the plate in front of him.

GM: Emil ‘deals’ with the situation. The last un-chewed bites taste even worse than the initial ones. Finishing his meal feels like it takes a thousand years until the woman returns to collects tray and eating utensils, then leaves.

Eventually, his doctor comes by again and smiles down at him.

“Good evening, Emil. We feeling calmer now?”

Emil: Emil is in the lion’s den. He can’t afford to be anything but calm.

“Yes. Much calmer,” he responds. “Look. I’m sorry I acted so rudely to you when I woke up. I just came out of a very stressful situation… someone hitting me on the head… and with the stroke… suffice it to say my brain was a bit confused. Anyway, I was hoping we could start over.” He reaches his hand out towards the doctor and places his hand over his chest. “My name’s Emil, what’s yours, Doctor?”

GM: “You don’t say,” the doctor smiles as Emil gives the name he’s used at least several times. “But plenty of my patients are confused and upset, Emil. I don’t take anything they have to say too seriously.”

The doctor’s smile grows just a bit as he sits down. “You can call me Dr. Brown.”

Emil: “All right. Dr. Brown.” He nods for a moment, digesting the situation. “Well, Dr. Brown. Do you have any questions for me? Because I have a lot of questions for you,” Emil laughs casually.

GM: “I make sure to know everything I need about my patients, Emil,” Dr. Brown smiles. “But all right, since you’re feeling better. What can I clear up for you?”

Emil: “Well first of all, how long have I been out?”

GM: “Not too long, actually. Last night and this morning.”

Emil: “Oh, good.” Emil relaxes a bit against his pillow. “So were you briefed on what happened last night then? Can you tell me about it?”

GM: “You had a stroke last night, probably brought on by occupational stress. You sustained further injuries when you fell and hit your head. That’s about all that concerns me,” the doctor smiles.

Emil: “Oh, Doctor, there must be some confusion because I didn’t fall. Something hit me on the head, but it wasn’t the floor.”

GM: “Yes, Emil, you are starting to sound confused again,” Dr. Brown replies, though his smile doesn’t dip. “Now what do you believe hit you on your head, mmm?” he asks in a humoring tone.

Emil: “I’m not completely sure. I was trying to stabilize an injured girl, and I think something hit me from behind which triggered the stroke. Does the injury look more like a fall than a hit? Is that it?”

GM: “Your injury was sustained by a fall,” Dr. Brown explains patiently. “The girls and EMTs on the scene found you lying passed-out on the sidewalk. You had your stroke while administering first aid, which was probably what caused you to run out from the house. When you passed out, your head got a solid bonk against the sidewalk. Make sense?”

Emil: “I suppose that sounds self-consistent, but I remember resting against a wall before I passed out. Anyways, all that matters now is that the wound is healing. How long do you think it will take to heal?”

GM: “That wouldn’t surprise me if you’d wanted to stop and catch your breath, Emil. It was a very hard and confusing night, so let’s take things one at a time,” he says reassuringly. “That’s not the last thing you remember, hitting your head, or passing out as you fell?”

Emil: “Well, I tried to call my daughter, but the call didn’t go through. Then I rested against a wall and passed out. Speaking of which, has my family called or visited yet?”

GM: “Oh no, you haven’t been approved for visitors,” Dr. Brown replies. “I don’t make it my business to know about patient calls, but I’m sure they’ve been thinking of you.”

Emil: “I sure hope so.” Emil’s eyes flash with doubt, but he swallows it down like that gunk the hospital passes as food.

“Well, now that I’m awake, how soon do you think it will be until I am approved for visitors?”

GM: “Oh, once you’re up for it. You’re in a very fragile state after that stroke, Emil. We haven’t had to operate, and it would be much better if no one needs to put you under, now wouldn’t it?”

Emil: “I think having my family beside me would help with the stress. Do you have family? What do you use to calm yourself, Dr. Brown?”

GM: “I’m afraid that I don’t share your thought there, Emil,” Dr. Brown smiles. “Your care is my highest concern. I’m sure you miss your family, but not all medicines get to taste sweet. Choke down this one and you’ll be out of here in no time.”

Emil: “All right. If you think that is best then I trust you.”

GM: The doctor’s smile widens. “Good. Trust between patients and their caregivers is so important. I’ll be back tomorrow morning to check on you again. Let me know if you hear any fun questions over Jeopardy, hear?”

Emil: “Well, I’ll be here waiting. But one more thing, Doctor. Is that girl I tried to save gonna be all right?”

GM: “She’s in good hands, don’t you worry,” the doctor smiles as he withdraws.

Emil: Somehow Emil doesn’t feel completely reassured.


Sunday morning, 30 August 2015

GM: Emil spends a restless and uncomfortable night in his hospital bed. His dreams are strange, dark, and exhilarating, leaving his heart pumping and his gown soaked through with sweat. Recollections slide away like the raindrops pattering against his window as he awakens to the sight of the same woman entering the room with breakfast.

Hospital_Food.jpg
Emil: It’s a relief and exactly the opposite at the same time. Emil pinches his nose again to blunt his sense of taste and mechanically begins to swallow lumpy morsels of the mush, again pinching his nose to blunt his sense of taste. He pauses to let the ‘food’ sink into his poor stomach as he asks the woman, “Is the doctor coming in soon?”

GM: The woman stares at Emil as he takes the first several ‘bites’ of his food, then walks out the door.

Emil: Emil sighs and continues clearing his plate. He fantasizes about eating something, literally anything besides what’s on his lap.

GM: Emil’s not sure if he feels sicker or better by the time he’s done. The woman returns later to gather up his tray. Another woman in nurse’s scrubs stops by later, too, to check his IV drip. She doesn’t once speak to him.

Then Dr. Brown comes by again. He smiles down at Emil.

“It’s a brand new day, isn’t it, Emil? How are we feeling?” he asks over the outside rain’s faint pitter-patter.

Emil: “Oh I feel just grand, Doctor,” Emil responds with a toothy smile.

GM: “Very good!” Dr. Brown exclaims. He spends the next few minutes asking Emil questions and discussing the state of his health and current medications before continuing, “You have some visitors today. You feeling up for having anyone in here?”

Emil: Finally! He was worried it might take a week before he could convince Dr. Brown he’s well enough to get a visitor. He’s still surprised, but can’t help but chuckle away his worries. “Yeah, I believe so, Doctor. Who’s visiting?”

GM: “A few police friends of yours,” the doctor chuckles back. “They’ve been very insistent.”

Emil: “Oh.” This is what he wanted, someone to bring him up to date on everything he’s missed. But he still can’t push the sad fact of his daughter’s absence out of his mind.

“Well that’s just great!” he exclaims. “Send them up.”

GM: Dr. Brown pats the foot of Emil’s bed with another smile. “You’re in your family’s thoughts too, Emil, I’m sure.”

Emil: He nods weakly in response. A silence fills the room and doubt pours from the jagged edges of his smile. “Do you have kids, Dr. Brown?”

GM: “Let’s welcome in your visitors,” the doctor replies with his ever-present smile as he rises from his seat, then disappears through the door.

Emil: “Right.”

Emil is alone with his thoughts once again. He stares into the curved metal of a beeping machine and finds his distorted reflection. Cold eyes stare back, judging him. The color of his face is washed out, replaced by a silvery pallor. He sits up to prepare for his visiting co-workers, attempting to appear stronger than he is.

GM: His visitors, as it turns out, are superiors.

The first man looks like a fifty-something, over the hill blump with a receding hairline and a large belly. His vaguely beanpole-shaped head seems like it could have been thin once, but it’s since filled out with several chins that spread when he smiles. He’s dressed in the standard NOPD summer uniform: short-sleeved light blue shirt, dark tie and pants. His arm bears a commander’s single gold star.

The second man is dressed the same, but has a lieutenant’s single gold bar instead. He’s also got a large belly and looks maybe half a decade younger, with a bald head, dark skin, prominent jowls, and an even more prominent squatch-shaped nose that’s nearly as wide as his mouth. Emil recognizes him as Captain John Baron, who’s in charge of the Homicide unit he was so recently hired to work for.

John_Baron.jpg “Hell of a way to start your time here, Emil,” Capt. Baron says with a knowing smile as he takes a seat by the detective’s bed.

“This is Delron,” he says, indicating the other cop. “Commander of the Eighth.”

Delron extends a hand for Emil to shake. “I knew your old man. You’ll hear that a lot around here.”

Emil: Emil shakes the commander’s hand and replies, “Well, he was a good man, Commander, hard to forget.” Once their handshake breaks, he reaches out for the lieutenant’s.

GM: “Normally the superintendent shows up when one of ours is in the hospital. He’s been a little busy lately, so you’ll have to make do with me,” Delron says with a self-depreciating smile as the other two men pump hands.

“How you holding up, Emil?” Baron asks.

Emil: “Oh, I’m doing fine. It’s nothing too bad, just a bit of a bruise… and a stroke,” he mentions offhandedly. “But there’s some fine people here taking good care of me. So I’m all right. I assume everything is going well at the station?”

GM: “Yeah, the docs mentioned that,” Baron says with a frown at Emil’s first statement. “Explains you dropping out, I guess. Couple hotheads thought the girls did something to you.”

Delron gives a not-quite warm smile at the captain.‘s words. "We’re still cleaning that up."

Emil: “Well, the docs here say I got the bruise from falling after the stroke. But I remember pretty clearly getting myself stable before passing out. So I’m not exactly sure where the hit came from.”

GM: “Hitting your head can do funny things to your memory,” Baron shrugs. “You weren’t attacked by anyone, though. We’ve got that figured out.”

“Say, how’s the food been in this place?” Delron asks. His grin looks like he’s already sure of an answer.

Emil: “Well, it certainly motivates you to heal up quick, that’s for sure.” The conversation might be moving on, but Emil can’t help but worry about the fidelity of his memories. Furrows to form in his brow.

GM: “Take your time,” Delron says, hefting up a large O’Tolley’s bag.

O'Tolleys.jpg Emil: “Oh, you are a saint of a commander, sir,” Emil says, his mouth watering at the sight of real food. He normally detests fast food, but this looks like mana from the heavens compared to the hospital’s slop.

GM: Baron reaches into the bag and tosses Emil a red box with a golden ‘O’ and picture of a burger printed on it. Delron sets a milkshake and carton of fries on his bedside table. Both cops dig into their own burgers.

“I’m more of a Du Monde man, most days,” Delron remarks between a thick- and greasy-sounding bite. “But there’s nothing like a good burger, sometimes.”

“They’ve got an O’Tolley’s right here downstairs,” Baron says between a thick munch of his own. “Don’t eat that slop they bring you again. And that’s an order, detective.”

Emil: “Oh, I wish I could, sir. I don’t think they will let me get out of bed, let alone order a burger.”

GM: Both older cops make guffawing noises past their food.

“When was it your mama took you away, Emil?” Baron asks, wiping his mouth. “From the city, that is.”

Emil: “Oh, that’s ancient history, sir. 22 years. 23 in a couple months.”

GM: “22. And you look… what, 30 now?” Baron takes an audible ‘glug’ from his milkshake. “So pretty young. And your mama lived with you in LA, right?”

“We do things different than California hippies here,” Delron grins. “If Earl’s boy wants Big O’s in his hospital bed, he gets Big O’s in his hospital bed.”

Emil: Emil savors the burger and lets the greasy flavors get to know each other in his mouth. He answers Baron once he finishes his swallow.

“29, actually. Well, y’all sure know how to make a man feel at home. Thank you for that.”

GM: “We take care of our own,” Baron states emphatically.

Delron snarfs down a few french fries. Flakes stick to his chin as he yells, “NURSE!”

“There’s a button you can push for that, sir,” Baron says.

“I could use the exercise. NURSE!!!” Delron bellows in a roaring voice that sounds like it could be quite audible over police sirens.

The nurse who silently attended to Emil walks in. Her blank expression changes as she looks over the cops.

“Emil here’s been pretty hungry the last few days,” remarks Delron.

“Does he need something?” the nurse asks uncertainly, looking between them.

“We should hire you as a detective with a brain like that,” says Baron. He takes a long pull of his milkshake. “Yes, he does. Some real food.”

“He’s eating,” says the woman, looking between Emil and the uniformed cops again.

“Well bless the brains on this one. Full merit pay for her,” remarks Delron. “Emil, what do you want for dinner?”

Emil: “Whatever you suggest, Commander. Add a fresh apple to that and I’m happy.”

GM: Delron waves a hand. “No, no, it’s your dinner, Emil. Besides, you should have that with your family.”

“You want a menu maybe, to help make up your mind?” asks Baron. “Fresh apple, though, that sounds like a healthy side.”

Emil: “Actually. You know, I think I’ll have some red beans and rice.”

It was Emil’s favorite meal as a child. His memories of that time have always been foggy, but he clearly remembers eating warm beans spoonful by spoonful. Each bite was cooked with love. His mother stopped making it after they left and he hasn’t had it since.

GM: “Beans and rice. You can take the boy outta the city, but you can’t take the city outta the man,” Delron says approvingly.

“Okay, I’m sure you’ve got patients to see to, Nurse…?” Baron asks.

“Green,” the woman replies.

“Nurse Green. Okay,” says Baron. “Since you’re smart enough to notice how Emil’s eating, I guess we don’t need to tell you he doesn’t need his dinner right now. Or that once it’s dinnertime, or whenever he’s feeling hungry, Emil’s getting red beans and rice. With an apple. That right?”

“All right,” says the nurse.

Emil: “I’d really appreciate it, ma’am,” Emil adds.

GM: “What about dessert?” asks Delron.

Emil: “A chocolate crepe with powdered sugar, if you wouldn’t mind, Nurse Green.”

GM: The nurse looks at the other two cops, who nod approvingly.

“Emil, when you’re out of here, I want you to stop by Du Monde for lunch with me. And then the Crepe Cart for dessert,” says Delron. “Man could kill for the crepes there.”

“That’s an order too,” smiles Baron.

Emil: “Now that’s an order I can follow,” Emil chuckles softly.

GM: “That’ll be all, Nurse Green. Unless you want a beer or something to drink too?” Delron asks Emil.

Emil: “No thank you, I’m all right.” He might have asked for a coffee, but that last cup of Folger’s left a bad taste in his mouth and he doubts the hospital can make anything better.

GM: “Just water to drink. That’ll be all, Nurse Green,” says Baron.

Nurse Green looks between the three cops, then leaves without a word.

“We do things different in New Orleans,” Baron declares, snarfing down another bite of Big O as he turns back to Emil.

“People respect cops here,” agrees Delron. He fishes out a box of Chicken O’Nuggets from the bag and chows down several. “Almost forgot, one for you too,” he says, plopping another box on Emil’s bedside table.

“Things are different here,” Baron repeats. “Like up north, I hear they call O’Nuggets O’Dribbles.”

“Do they? That’s funny,” says Delron.

“Yeah, and they’re Patty Kings instead of Big O’s.”

Delron takes another long slurp of milkshake and smacks his lips. “Why do they call ‘em O’Dribbles? Makes me want to lose my lunch.”

Baron shrugs. “Guess they do things weird up there.”

Delron grunts.

Emil: Emil eats a few nuggets as his superiors talk, then asks, “So, I was wondering if y’all knew what happened with that girl who took a fall? Is she all right?”

GM: “Ah yes, the girls from that night,” Delron nods. He slurps his milkshake again. “Did you have any idea who they were, Emil? The one you gave first aid, and the ones who called you?”

Emil: “No. They were just friends of my daughter. She was the one who called me in the first place.”

GM: “And your daughter goes to school at McGehee? Your wife must make all right money,” Baron says.

Emil: “Well, we never actually married, but she does live comfortably, yes.”

GM: “Did you figure that about the girls?” asks Delron.

Emil: “That they come from wealthy families? In the back of my mind, yes, but I was more focused on saving the girl than getting to know them.”

GM: “Thinking on the spot is what a detective does, Emil,” Baron says, tapping his head in emphasis. “Detectives are people we pay to think.”

“Now, as it happens,” Delron smiles amiably, “there’s been no harm done—this time. But when you had those girls write down statements, our boys figured you figured they were up to no good.”

Emil: “There was more blood on the floor than in that poor girl’s body. I did what I had to to keep those other girls busy. If they kept looking at the scene they might have been traumatized for good.”

GM: Delron simply goes on, “Our boys also figured they were up to no good, on account of you lying passed-out on your ass in the rain. The ambulance crew, who ID’d you as one of ours, didn’t make them feel any better. So they got a little… hotheaded, and arrested all the girls. Made ’em strip and spend a few hours in cells.”

Emil: “Oh God. What were the charges? Did they think those children knocked me out?” Emil asks, surprised. “Whose idea was it to arrest them?”

GM: Delron smiles again. “None of that was your fault. But the girls—and their families—were, for a few hours, up in arms over those arrests and written statements. They were scared out of their minds, like you said. Wrote down a jumble of ‘confessions’ they thought they’d get charged for.”

“Or not get charged for,” says Baron. “Lot of details between their stories that didn’t add up. Lot we coulda gone after them for.”

Emil: “Well, the statements were thrown out, right? Who was escalating the issue?”

GM: Both of the older cops look at one another. They’ve stopped eating.

“Who do you think, Emil?” Baron asks.

Emil: “Well I’d expect my fellow officers to be generally up in arms about one of their men getting hurt, so I guess a zealous officer looking to, quote on quote, punch up was likely leading the charge.”

GM: “No. Their families were escalating the issue,” says Baron.

“Rich families, with lawyers, who send their daughters to a place like McGehee,” Delron goes on.

Emil: “I meant escalating as in making it worse, not trying to diffuse it, but I understand.”

GM: “That does make it even worse,” says Baron, his eyes suddenly cool.

“They’re not sparing another thought for those statements now, of course,” Delron adds.

“But we are,” says Baron, tapping his head. “We’re the ones who get paid to think.”

Emil: “You’re right. I’m sorry I slept through most of this mess. I screwed up with the notepads. I apologize. Though if you tell me what is the current hurdle we have to face I’ll put my best efforts into finding a solution, I promise you.”

Emil keeps his voice level and his tone caring yet professional. He needs allies and can’t afford to lose the respect of his superiors. They need to trust him.

GM: “The hurdle is you, Emil,” Delron answers without blinking. “Not thinking. And not listening.”

“I think it’s better if you spend some time walking a beat after you’re discharged,” says Baron. “I’ll keep a spot saved for you on Homicide. We remember who your old man was.”

“But you need to learn the way things work, first,” says Delron. “How to walk before you run. How to walk a beat, like we both did.”

Emil: “I see…”

So he was the linchpin? The statements he made those girls write incriminated them. The other officers saw one of their own get hurt and rashly decided to blame the girls. All in all, it’s a relatively merciful punishment for the problems his actions caused. At the same time, he needs to stem the bleeding before this becomes permanent or damaging to his reputation.

“The chaos caused was my fault and understandably a predicament of this magnitude before I’d even started work would indicate that I’m a major risk factor,” Emil continues. “And so, you want me to learn the work culture before I make another egregious error in judgment. In most cases that would be an understandable decision.”

“However, I would first consider the reactions of my fellow officers. If they were so up in arms at me getting injured that they were willing to fight the most powerful people in this city, they might react even worse finding that once the issue was cleared up, the injured officer, their fellow man, took the fall instead of the powerful targets of their anger. And this time, their anger would likely be directed internally at their superiors. I do not want to cause any further chaos in the station, that would be spitting on my father’s legacy and I don’t think any of us want that.”

“Now, with that said, I do think I need to learn how things work around here, but I spent time on a beat in LA, I learned investigative techniques from my father for as far back as I can remember, and I have a college degree. I think if you kept an eye on me, taught me about ‘how things work here,’ my skills could be better put to use. Of course, you know more than I do about the situation and so obviously I will respect your final decision, it is my duty to do so.”

Emil waits patiently for his superiors’ final judgment, struggling to keep his hands from tensing.

GM: Delron’s many-chinned smile, so laid-back and self-content, suddenly has an edge as hard and pitiless as iron.

“Is that what you think of your fellow officers, Emil? Are you sure?”

Emil: “I respect those men and women very highly, I looked up to them as a kid and I have ever since. I don’t think poorly on them for acting on their emotion. We’re all only human. My fellow officers and I do not know the entire story about the situation. We shouldn’t know it, it’s not ours to know. But like you said, when a man sees his brother hurt, you can’t expect him to become anything but furious. With rightfully limited knowledge, it is dangerous to let anger fill in the blanks in their understanding. I am new to this family, and I don’t want to be responsible for tearing it apart. Please, sirs, I want to help our department thrive. Just let me.” Emil looks at the two men earnestly.

GM: The Eighth District commander’s answering words ring out as hard and unerring as a bullet to the brain.

“You walk a beat—or you walk out this hospital a civilian.”

Emil: Smackings of vengeance nibble at Emil’s hot throat, but he swallows them down like the rest of this hospital’s gunk.

“I understand. I’ll walk the beat, Commander. I will do my best to integrate into the system. I intended no offense to you or any of the officers. I hope my work ethic will help you forgive my mistake.”

GM: Delron’s smile is suddenly as warm, soft, and fat as the Chicken O’Nugget he pops into his mouth.

“Integrated. Now that’s a good word for how we like to do things. You ever think of working in the Public Relations Bureau?”

“Not a chance, sir, I’ve got a desk saved for this one!” Baron protests over a french fry-interspersed guffaw.

Emil: Emil resumes popping down O’Nuggets. He chews meticulously, twice every second, as a sort of fast food meditation to calm his nerves.

He notes after swallowing, “You know, I didn’t walk a beat for too long in LA, so I might need someone to show me the ropes so to speak.”

GM: “Your sarge and squadmates will show you how things are done,” says Baron.

“We’ll assign you to my district,” Delron adds over a loud milkshake slurp. “Don’t be fooled by the officer base salary. A reliable cop can make good money in the Eighth.”

Emil: “All right. I will not let you down, sir. Though I’m still wondering, how were my first aid skills? Who was that girl… is she alive?” Emil pops another O’Nugget.

GM: Baron nods over what’s left of his Big O. “She’s alive. You did good.”

“She’s to blame for most of what went down that night,” Delron says over the soft crunch of french fries. “She’s facing a laundry list of charges from vandalism to drug possession.”

“She’s in a coma right now. DA will throw the book at her when she wakes up,” adds Baron. He gives a faint smirk. “Too bad for her she’s ugly as sin. Real bulldyke.”

“Pretty girls can get off lighter,” Delron grins.

Emil: “I see. All of those girls with her were McGehee girls, was she? Is her family also powerful here?”

GM: Delron’s grin doesn’t slip at Emil’s question. “I guess you could say. But not powerful enough.”

Emil: “Clearly,” Emil grins right back at him, though deep down, he’s not so sure he should.

GM: “You’ll want to sign up for the French Quarter Response Force once you get out, by the way,” says Baron. “Pay is great. $50 an hour and restaurant gift cards whenever you arrest someone.”

Emil: “Thanks for the tip, sir,” Emil responds.

GM: “Nolan Moreno’s the man behind it,” Delron elaborates. “You’ll see him at the station pretty often. He’s a friend to NOPD.”

Emil: “Any friend of the department is a friend of mine,” Emil smiles.

GM: “It’s a nice gig,” Baron agrees. “You do it on your off hours. Carry around a phone, and when someone with Moreno’s app calls a cop, you swoop in.”

“Same job for a million times the pay,” Delron says.

“My boys say they do a lot less paperwork, actually,” Baron adds.

“Well wouldn’t you know it, I suppose they must. Bless Mr. Moreno,” Delron smiles.

Emil: “Bless him indeed. He blesses us so it’s only polite to return the favor,” Emil says, before savoring the taste of the last O’Nugget.

GM: There’s still an untouched chocolate milkshake left for Emil, but beyond that, the three cops have made fast work of the O’Tolley’s bag.

“Oh, say,” Delron says, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin, “my boys picked up some LSD on that girl you saved. You think she got the others to try any?”

Emil: “I doubt it, Commander. LSD is generally long-lasting. If they were given some, and none was found on them, then it follows that they must have used it. However, none of the girls, including the injured one, seemed to have their pupils dilated or were acting any more erratically than one might expect of them. Therefore they didn’t have any. Why do you ask, sir?” Emil gauges the man’s reaction as he slurps from his shake.

GM: “So I know which girls to arrest again, of course. It’s your word that’s gonna make all the difference, Emil,” Delron drawls.

He looks at Baron, then both cops guffaw.

“So you think the Savard girl was the only one on acid,” Baron says.

Delron burps into his fist and pats his belly. “That is funny. The other girls gave some crazy accounts I’d normally chalk up to being on acid.”

Emil: “Like what, sir?”

GM: Baron wipes his mouth with a napkin. “People say crazy things when they see someone die. Or almost die, I guess. Girls especially. Stress gets to their heads. Doesn’t it, Emil?” he asks.

Emil: “It does. To be honest, I’ve always been curious about how people think in those states. What does a human think about when their minds are stripped bare, when all that’s left is their instincts? If you don’t mind sharing, I’d like to hear.”

GM: The two cops trade looks with one another.

“I do mind, Emil. And you need to get your head in order,” says Delron, a trace of that earlier iron edging back into his voice.

Emil: Emil nods. “My bad, Commander, you’re right. My head’s still somewhat foggy. I need to rest up.”

GM: “That’s right, you did hit your head,” Baron remarks.

“Yeah, that must be what’s making you say insane things,” Delron smiles. “Same for the girls. Probably just stress. And being teen girls.”

The overweight police commander leans closer.

“But let’s not have any more crazy things getting said around you, Emil. Or by you. Unless the witnesses really are on acid.”

Emil: “Yes, sir.”

Emil can’t say he didn’t expect this from the NOPD, but the image of the honorable New Orleans police officer that his father exemplified appears to have blinded him to the dirt that lay all around him. Nevertheless, he has his orders.

“It’s clear my understanding of these events is pretty fogged over, so I would appreciate an official refresher once I’m discharged.” Emil looks to them, resolute and obedient.

GM: “This’ll all be taken care of once you’re feeling better,” Baron says, casually stuffing away wrappers and empty containers into the O’Tolley’s bag. “Water under the bridge, Emil. Water under the bridge. You’ll have other things to keep your mind busy.”

“My nephew, Ricky, is a plainclothes in the Quarter. He’ll show you how to fit in.” Delron smiles as he stands up. “And I’ll still expect you for that lunch at Du Monde. My treat for Earl’s boy.”

“You want anything else while you’re here?” asks Baron, also rising from his seat. “Phone, better TV, that kinda stuff?”

Delron grins. “Yeah, or visitors. Maybe some company that’s less ugly than us?”

Emil: “Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, Commander, a spot of real food and human interaction does wonders for one’s comfort. I’m not sure if my family called you, but if you can reach them, tell ‘em I miss them and I’d like to see them.” Emil’s smile falters slightly before fixing itself.

GM: “Oh, you haven’t seen them?” asks Baron, almost offended. “Say no more, Emil. They’ll be in soon.”

“Same with that other company,” grins Delron. “We won’t tell your wife. Ex-wife, whatever.”

Emil: Emil grins with him, he has to dive in if he’s gonna succeed in this city. That’s fine, though, he might still be able to get out of this.

“Well hopefully they won’t arrive at the same time,” he laughs.

GM: “A man can dream,” Baron replies with a wide grin of his own.

“But don’t you worry about that, Emil. We know how to sweep stuff like that under the rug too.”

Emil: He doesn’t doubt they do.


Sunday afternoon, 30 August 2015

GM: It’s perhaps telling which visitor NOPD is able to arrange first.

The woman who strides through Emil’s door is tall, lithe, and has a ready smile that invites approach. She has a heavily made-up face, long black hair, and tight clothes that are just proper enough for the hospital setting while teasing viewers over at what lies beneath. Emil can make out tattoos of stars and thorny roses along her arm and neck.

Audrey_Morrow.jpg
“I heard about the brave cop injured in the line of duty,” she murmurs as she sets down her purse and slides onto Emil’s bed.

“My name’s Chardonnay.”

Emil: “That’s a nice name, Miss. A good chardonnay on a rainy day will cheer up any man,” Emil smiles.

GM: “It’s because I have a taste for the finer things in life,” Chardonnay smiles back, her eyes roaming over Emil’s body… and lingering over one piece of his anatomy in particular.

Emil: “Do you mind chatting for a bit with me? I won’t bite,” Emil responds calmly.

GM: “Not at all… though I can’t promise I won’t,” the woman answers with a wink, lying down on the bed and drawing up close to Emil. She tilts her head and leans it against her closed fist so he can get a full look at her smile.

Emil: “Tell me, Chardonnay, are you an independent contractor? Or is there someone I should call if I’d like to see you again?” Emil stares into the woman’s eyes with false warmth.

GM: Chardonnay laughs and strokes Emil’s arm. “I work for no one but me. That’s called an ‘outlaw.’”

Emil: “That’s nice. An outlaw called Chardonnay coming to visit an injured police officer. Would be the start of a nice story.”

GM: Chardonnay laughs again. “It would be, wouldn’t it? All she needs is a heart of gold, and some tragic figure from his past to have torn out his…”

Emil: “It would. Certainly. An instant classic.”

Emil locks eyes with the woman. He’s reached the line. The edge of the cliff. He looks over the precipice and finds only the unknown. He has no clue whether he’ll be able to climb back up again. All he knows is that he wants to find what lies behind the darkness, below the ocean, in the belly of the beast.

GM: Chardonny doesn’t pull back Emil’s blanket so much as pluck it off. She smiles and licks her lips as her lithe fingers start to tease the injured cop’s hardening manhood.

“Well, I sure do love my classics…”


Previous, by Narrative: Clea II, George II, Julien II
Next, by Narrative: George III

Previous, by Character: Story Two, Emil I
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Story Two, Caroline II

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Jeremiah 29:11, as quoted by Bernard Drouillard


Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM

GM: The next few hours are not happy ones for the remaining girls. Sarah’s idea seems to help, a little. The cops strip-search her first when she volunteers, and Yvonne and Rachel seem to take some (small) measure of heart from feeling like they can protect Simmone by volunteering first. But when it’s the ten-year-old’s turn, she still bursts into tears and has to be physically pried from Cécilia as she wails in French for her mother. One of the cops, who clearly doesn’t understand the language, jokes about how she “must have a frog leg stuck in her throat.” Cécilia’s face is pale with fury.

With the booking room finally emptied of arrestees, the cops promptly escort Caroline, Luke, and Cécilia back to the station’s front entrance. The last of the three’s request to be present when her youngest sister gets searched is denied. Her subsequent request to be present “wherever you’re moving her after she’s searched, then,” is also denied. One or two of the cops seem to find it strange when Caroline doesn’t ask to speak with any of her ‘clients’ in the interrogation rooms, but no one presses the matter. Everyone seems to have a lot on their minds.

The law student sits in the front entrance’s moderately comfortable chairs with her brother and his girlfriend. Cécilia tries phoning her mother and their family’s attorney several more times, but eventually stops. More texts and calls aren’t going to speed things along, she admits—and might even slow things down if they read and listen to each one. She says she wishes she could be there for her sisters. Luke holds her hand and says he wishes that too, but he’s glad they could be there earlier. Both of the two are relieved when Caroline tells them how the girls’ written statements can easily be thrown out. Cécilia just hopes her sisters will keep it together. Rain dully pounds and smashes against the station’s windows.

Denise Bowden’s hair is mussed and her cheeks are a bit red when she steps through the door and shakes off her soaked umbrella. She thanks Caroline for “covering for me” and goes in to see the girls. Luke and Cécilia thank her effusively.

In time, other relatives, attorneys, and assorted persons start to arrive. Caroline’s stern-looking Uncle Carson shows up with Delron Mouton, a balding and over the hill blump who’s the district commander of the Eighth. There’s also an ancient-looking old woman with a cane who dryly remarks that some police should start looking into mall security jobs. Lyman Whitney appears too, clutching a pocketwatch he steals occasional glances at. Caroline recalls the old man having a mild and grandfatherly countenance on the occasions they met, but his face is red with anger as his attorney and personal assistant follow him into the station.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t show relief at the appearance of the assorted powers, but their arrival does simplify matters for her. She bounces around the arriving figures, filling them in on the status of the process as they appear. She tries not to look on too smugly at the police.

GM: Luke frowns at the dark look that Lyman gives Cécilia, but his girlfriend has a hundred other things on her mind and doesn’t seem to care.

Her distraction comes to an end with the last figures who arrive.

The sergeant does a double take and snaps at “Cindy” to go open the doors, but the two are left awkwardly standing in the middle of the room when they’re beaten to the punch. The incoming group of police and lawyers, or at least men who must be lawyers judging by their suits, briefcases, and the looks of restrained smugness Caroline has come to know so well from those associated with the legal profession, are headed by two figures. The one to her left is the man whose portrait she can see behind the sergeant’s desk.

Bernard_D.jpg
Bernard Drouillard, the superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, looks more like a politician or religious minister than a police officer. His navy uniform is crisp and meticulously maintained, with not so much as a crease out of place. One can glimpse their reflection from the polish of his fine leather shoes. Drouillard himself is an African-American man in his middle years with a full head of closely-trimmed hair, crinkled eyes, and a seemingly perennial benign smile. Carson once explained the difference between ‘carnivore’ and ‘herbivore’ cops to Caroline, and had even cited Gettis as an example of the former. But the latter, he’d said, are invariably the ones who fill a police department’s higher posts—and especially its politically sensitive ones.

“…no, my dear, I’m simply glad how quickly we were able to resolve all of this,” the smiling man assures the woman on his left in a warm, slightly scratchy baritone that Caroline’s first instinct is to describe as ‘gladhanding’.

Caroline: Caroline is caught crossing the room and close enough to quietly murmur to White, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” as the captain’s doom approaches on heeled feet.

GM: The police officer’s nostrils flare at Caroline’s words.

“Let’s not be too hasty, Bernard,” sounds an older woman’s voice. “We still have a few loose ends to tie up.”

“Maman,” Cécilia exclaims in relief as she rises from her seat with Luke.

Caroline: She avoids further gloating, but there is a feeling of savage satisfaction, if not joy. The damage has been done to the girls—at least some damage—despite her best efforts, but there may yet be some justice this night. To say nothing of what the night might mean for herself—and for the family more generally. Opportunities to draw in powerful individuals like this don’t come often, and even if they forget the actions of the Malveaux family this evening, the family won’t forget the muddy details of it as it applies to future heiresses in the city.

GM: If the Devillers sisters look like distorted reflections of one another, their mother Abélia resembles her daughters through a glass darkly. She shares their pale skin, willowy figures, long necks, and delicate, high-cheekboned features. Her eyes are a dark rather pale blue, however, and her hair is deep black rather than light blonde. Her facial features show more age and definition, but she remains a strikingly beautiful woman well into middle age. It’s easy to imagine her as the spitting image of Cécilia some twenty years ago. She wears a close-fitting navy dress so dark as to be almost black and stilettos of the same color.

Abelia_Devillers.jpg
“Cécilia, my dear,” she smiles as she and her daughter trade kisses on one another’s cheeks. Her gaze then expands to include Luke and Caroline. “They say that slow and steady wins the race… but sometimes being the fastest runner is what does. I’m to understand that we have you to thank, Caroline, for smoothing a number of things over.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles as she approaches the French matriarch. “Que devons-nous faire si nous ne sommes pas solidaires?” she asks rhetorically, the French rolling off her tongue naturally, though not so beautifully as it did from Cécilia earlier with her sister. (“What are we to do if not stand together?”)

“Je me suis retrouvé plus près de la ligne d’arrivée ce soir,” she continues. (“I happened to be standing closer to the finish line tonight.”)

GM: “Quelle est la distance à ceux qui se tiennent ensemble dans le but?” Drouillard smiles at the three. (“What is distance to those who stand together in purpose?”)

“Pour le corps n’est pas un membre, mais beaucoup,” he intones more somberly. (“For the body is not one member, but many.”)

“Tu as un verset pour chaque occasion, Bernard,” Cécilia’s mother replies with a low chuckle. “Tu as gagné ton premier cycle en divinité, n’est-ce pas?” (“You’ve a verse for every occasion, Bernard. You earned your undergraduate’s in divinity, didn’t you?”)

“Alors je l’ai fait, Abélia. Le bon Dieu m’a appelé à servir d’autres manières,” the police chief replies. (“So I did, Abélia. The good Lord called me to service in other ways.”)

“Car je connais les plans que j’ai pour vous”, déclare le Seigneur, “prévoit de vous prospérer et de ne pas vous nuire, des plans pour vous donner de l’espoir et un avenir,” he recites weightily.

(“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”)

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly, politely, and briefly. “Bravo—if your teachers were anything like mine they made you learn it in Latin though, not French.”

GM: “Or uncles,” Luke smiles. “Abélia, it’s so good to see you. Superintendent, so good to meet you…”

A few further introductions and pleasantries pass before Cécilia interjects, “Perhaps we can all catch up in a few more minutes, Maman. Simmone, Yvette, and Yvonne are still in the holding cells.”

“Yes, and we do so appreciate NOPD not transferring the 18-year-olds among them to the parish prison,” her mother agrees. “Bernard, if you’ll be so good as to show us all the way?”

“With pleasure, my dear,” the superintendent smiles.

Caroline: The heiress trails after.

GM: “As the first legal mind on the scene, Caroline, are there any particular details you think we should know? Don’t worry—we are among friends here and can speak freely,” Abélia smiles as the group heads towards the cells, the womens’ heels clicking against tiled floor.

Caroline: “The decision to arrest the girls was poorly chosen,” Caroline responds carefully. “They could have just as easily been detained to the same effect—minus the in-processing of a group of teenagers—and not even that.”

“It appears on its face to be an emotionally charged reaction that exposes the city to significant liability—you’d be hard pressed to find a jury that might reasonably believe an arrest for stalking and assaulting an officer to be reasonable charges to bring against a preteen. Even with the high standard that’s been applied to Title 28 civil rights cases. Not that I expect that’s your first interest.”

GM: “The charge had been of some concern to me,” Abélia replies. “These gentlemen, however, have assured me that my feelings were simply a mother’s natural if misplaced fears.”

“Ms. Savard’s phone was destroyed,” the superintendent smiles. “With the other girls’ written statements thrown out, we have no admissible evidence to sustain the stalking charges of threatening text messages sent towards Ms. Savard.”

“Do explain for me, Bernard, how did she lose the phone? I can’t imagine that evidence would be irretrievable after such a short fall.”

“Our boys found that it had been repeatedly stabbed by a knife. We discovered no less than three on Ms. Savard’s person, along with a pry bar and can of mace. She certainly went into that slumber party well-armed.”

“How strange,” Abélia remarks. “What would make someone stab their phone with a knife?”

Caroline: Caroline nods as the pieces come together. “People that are already unstable do even more unstable things when they are experimenting with drugs.”

GM: Cécilia and Luke regard Caroline with dawning expressions.

“That explains it all. My sisters would never do drugs.”

“Yes, or the other girls,” Luke agrees. “They all seemed very well-adjusted.” He then amends, “That is to say, the three girls who were brought in to the station.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “Where is the Savard girl? For that matter, is she still alive?” Cécilia asks.

“She’s in the hospital,” the superintendent answers. “Stable, but she has yet to regain consciousness. No one’s been able to question her.”

Luke glances at Caroline. “There is evidence that would speak for itself.”

Caroline: “A troubled youth, I’m told,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Yes, it sounds as if,” Cécilia agrees. “Why would she bring all those knives into the house?”

Caroline: “I can think of few good reasons,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “And then there’s the house itself,” she continues. “It has to have been…”

“We haven’t gotten any building inspectors out of bed,” Drouillard replies. “But damage to the property appears very likely. Young Miss Savard will face any charges, of course,” he says, looking towards Abélia, “but I’m afraid your agreement w…”

Lyman Whitney approaches the group, followed by his lawyer and personal assistant.

Lyman_Whitney.jpg
Sarah’s grandfather is an older man in his 70s with receding brown eyes and gray-white hair and liver spots on his temple. His features are still handsome enough, which together with his usual languid smile, give the old man a mild and agreeable countenance. Tonight, however, he is red in the face.

“Congratulations, Mrs. Devillers,” he grates out. “You are the proud new owner of the LaLaurie House.”

Caroline: “I don’t know that such matters are the largest concern right now,” Caroline suggests. “Let’s get the girls home first, then allow daylight to show the damage to the building as needed. Right now we’re all united in purpose, are we not?”

GM: Luke nods. “Those poor girls are sitting in cells. Let’s at least get them-”

“We most certainly are not, Miss Malveaux,” Lyman replies to Caroline, ignoring Luke as he swivels his angry gaze to Cécilia’s mother.

“Damage to the house! We should be so lucky if that was all it was! I consider you and your family to be entirely at fault for tonight’s events, Abélia.”

“Oh, that Savard delinquent may have brought the drugs, the weapons, and the alcohol onto the premises—god only knows what happened to that detective—but I can’t help note there were seven girls present, when our agreement explicitly specified there would be only two. Now there is a police investigation! Do your children even know what that could do to the property’s value—much less how it makes me look to the bank? This… disaster, after a favor I freely did your family—this is how you repay my trust?”

Caroline: “I’m certain that she is as interested in ensuring that you are made whole as we both were in ensuring your granddaughter—who behaved magnificently this evening in her grace and poise—was also freed from the undue, unwarranted, and unjustified scrutiny and hostility directed at her.” Caroline attempts to throw another wet blanket over Lyman’s brewing temper. “And with her influence and devotion to the city’s history, I’m equally certain that she has the means to ensure that the LaLaurie House is returned to a state of prominence.”

She continues, “I’m equally certain that after hearing how Sarah did everything she could to shield Simmone tonight she’d be inclined to do so without the threats and with enduring goodwill.”

Despite her moderate words, Caroline’s tone grows increasingly firm. “And, depending on how reasonable we are in dealing with this matter, it’s entirely possible that given the small scale of events this evening that there need be no significant reports of the details of where this happened. After all, right now I believe all we have is a potential possession charge for someone that that managed to injure themselves, and a police officer that suffered some manner of harm while rendering first aid, no?”

GM: The red hue to Lyman’s face seems to subside at Caroline’s description of Sarah.

“People always say how she takes after her aunt.”

Caroline: “Your daughter was lovely,” Caroline replies gently. “But your granddaughter might yet be her match. And I suspect right now she’d very much like to see her grandfather and get out of here. The rest of this,” she gestures, “we can work it out later, let’s not spend another second while she’s in a cell she doesn’t belong in.”

GM: Lyman sighs tiredly. “For her sake, Abélia—we can discuss this later. But discuss it we will. The liability waiver you signed had explicit terms…”

“…which I fully intend to keep and honor, Lyman. Or at least those remaining terms that I still can,” Abélia finally speaks up with a resigned smile. “You have every right to be angry with me. My family did not honor our agreement with you. I believe that my daughters’ experience being arrested, as much as it pains me as a mother, will be a valuable lesson to them in consequences.”

The black-haired French matriarch casts a grateful look across the assembled individuals. “All of you have been so good to my family during this dreadful night. Being there for my girls. Giving them the benefit of the doubt. Bringing in lawyers.” She gives a faint smile. “And of course, getting up from warm beds in the middle of a rainy night. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration when I say that, if not for all of you, tonight’s events could have destroyed my daughters’ futures.”

“There’s a proverb where I come from—la gratitude est la mémoire du cœur. Gratitude is the heart’s memory. And what a poor memory mine would have, if I tried to start a protracted legal battle after all that’s happened. Perhaps tomorrow, Lyman, we may instead discuss the particulars of my taking out a new mortgage with some representatives from your bank.”

Lyman’s eyebrows initially raise, but the retired CEO soon gives a genuine if weary-looking smile as he replies, “Everyone here makes it so hard to stay angry. That would be our pleasure, Abélia. I’ll have the bank’s people contact you with the paperwork—the day after tomorrow. I’m sure your girls would appreciate some undistracted time with their mother first.”

“A very happy resolution to the night’s affairs,” Drouillard agrees with a wide smile of his own. “Now, why don’t we see to the girls’ release?”

The group agrees and makes their ways to the holding cells. Lyman asks Drouillard several times along the way if he’s “sure” whether “the Savard girl” and the first-responding police officer are alive or not. The superintendent reiterates that both are unconscious but stable. The old man nods at this and glances down at his watch.

The group is joined by others, including Carson and Gettis, as they make their way down the lonely corridor that contains the station’s holding cells. Rachel and Yvette are locked in the first cell. Yvette still looks coldly furious. Rachel seems somewhat relieved by her father and the ancient-looking woman Caroline spotted earlier, the former of whom has a silver dollar out that he’s performing coin tricks with.

Simmone, Yvonne, and Sarah are locked in the second cell. The youngest girl looks like she’s trying to bury herself under Yvonne’s arms as she cries softly. Both teenagers are trying to comfort her. Even Simmone, however, appears in a better state than Hannah, who has a cell to herself. She looks as if she’s swallowed poison. Her mother, who tightly holds her hand through the bars, looks little happier.

Drouillard and Delron Mouton, the Eighth District’s commander, make a grand show of unlocking the cell doors to reunite the girls with their (grand)parents. After the initial embraces and in some cases tearful reunions conclude, all of the girls but Hannah and Simmone are eager to tell their stories. This draws sharp objections from the present attorneys, but Commander Mouton merely makes another smiling show of tearing up the girls’ written statements, declaring them inadmissible as evidence.

Emboldened by this display, the more talkative girls gush over how Amelie is to blame for everything that went wrong at the house. She was insane. She believed it was haunted. She tried to deface a painting. She dumped salt everywhere to ward off ghosts. She tried to get them to drink and do drugs on the premises.

“…she even cut apart apart some electrical wiring in the garage. Ah think she was trying to burn the ‘ouse down—to ’get rid of the ghosts’!” Yvette adds.

The present attorneys cut off the girls’ statements and tell them to be quiet.

Caroline: It’s a narrative that Caroline wanted to sell. It’s her own idea, and one she laid groundwork for. Yet… Caroline can’t reconcile it with the girl she met earlier, however foolish, weird, and off-putting she may have been.

GM: Drouillard smiles benignly and assures the girls that Amelie Savard will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Caroline: She listens as the destruction of the girl’s life is decided, not in a court of law, but here between those of power, for the sake of their daughters—whom Caroline is quite convinced entered the house with their own malicious intent.

Daughters she defended. Daughters that are—or will soon be—among the city’s elite. The future of it. A future the Malveaux family has further sunk its claws into, through her own efforts. Daughters she praised.

GM: “Bah the way, does this mean she’s getting kicked out from McGehee?” Yvette asks with undisguised glee.

Caroline: It’s too much. “Excuse me,” she mutters quietly as she breaks away towards the bathroom they passed on the way in. She doubt’s she’ll be missed amid the reunion.

GM:NOPD doesn’t have jurisdiction there, my dear, but I think we can all be quite confident of the answer to that question,” Drouillard answers with a smile. Caroline hears a chorus of cheered yeses go up as she takes her leave. No one stops her.

Caroline: She barely makes it to the bathroom, a single unixsex toilet with a locking door intended for officers and support staff. It’s not clean. It’s not filthy. It doesn’t matter. The trip and pause to turn the lock give her barely enough time to make it to the toilet before she’s reintroduced with her earlier meal. Half-digested asparagus, nuts, and red mush that might be strawberries.

Another life ruined at her hands. Or, at least, with her assent. Her participation. She looks down at the vomit-filled bowl and wonders if she sees her own reflection in the filth before flushing it away.

GM: Her phone rings from her purse as she does.

Caroline: She lets it ring for a moment and composes herself before digging it out.

GM: The caller ID is Neil. “Hi, Caroline. I saw you called earlier?” her ex asks, with some concern. After all, it was in the middle of the night.

Caroline: Her voices catches in her throat for a moment, caught on the bile, before she finds it to respond, “Yeah, sorry, Neil, it… I got asked to help a family friend out with something. They wanted an update on a friend that they’d heard was hurt tonight.” Her voice echoes slightly but discomfitingly in the tiled bathroom.

GM: “I’m so sorry to hear that,” sounds Neil’s voice from the phone. “I might still be able to help you out there. Who’s the friend?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, can I call you back in a few minutes, Neil?” she asks.

GM: “Sure, Caroline.” There’s what sounds like a frown from her ex. “You take care of yourself too, all right?”

Caroline: “Yeah,” she replies. Then after a moment, “I’ll talk to you soon.”

GM: Caroline ends the call. She is left with naught but her thoughts in the lonely bathroom.

Caroline: The heiress takes a few moments with those thoughts before squaring her shoulders and standing up straight. She makes her way to the scratched mirror above the sink and examines herself. She makes sure she didn’t get vomit anywhere, then makes certain her hair isn’t mussed and hits the push-button on to the sink—apparently it’s not trusted with a handle that might be carelessly left on.

She catches enough water with one hand to swish around her in mouth, then spits out the last of the bile before digging a mint out of her bag. Whatever she might feel, whatever she might want to do, she’s a Malveaux. That means something here, to others and to herself.

This isn’t the first time she’s lived with the fact that it sometimes means she hates the things she has to do.


Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM

GM: After Caroline leaves from the restroom, she finds that most of the group has re-convened in the booking room.

“Now so far as these arrests…” Abélia begins. She strokes Simmone’s hair, who’s still tightly hugging her side.

“Expunged from their records, Abélia. No colleges or employers will know,” Drouillard assures.

“All records,” Delron Mouton smiles. “Robinson, tear out their page from the book.”

“There’s some other arrests on that page, sir. We can’t leave those unlogged,” another cop ventures.

“Then write those down separately,” the superintendent suggests with slightly strained pleasantness.

“But if I tear up the page I won’t be able t-”

The Eighth District’s fat commander walks up, tears out the page, takes the other cop’s pen, and writes down the names on a separate page. He then holds up both and tears up the longer page.

“I’m afraid we don’t give them booking duty for their brains, ma’am,” he says with a humoring smile.

Caroline: Caroline again watches the proceedings without comment, though she’s careful to make sure the pieces get picked up by members of the girls’ bloc and are not left behind if no one else is.

GM: Abélia smiles faintly and turns as she hears Caroline’s heels. “Caroline, I’m glad you could rejoin us. It may be a long shot, but would you happen to know anything about the off-duty policeman who was the first responder?”

Caroline: “Not yet,” the Malveaux scion replies.

GM: “The doctors say they expect him to make a full recovery,” replies Delron.

“So if Amelie is still unconscious in the hospital, ’ow does arresting ’er work? Can you still do that?” Yvette asks the police commander with a savage grin.

“No law that says we can’t, little lady,” the balding cop replies with a grin of his own. It’s as wide as his bloated belly. “We usually don’t arrest unconscious people ‘cause it makes us responsible for their care. If they die we get blamed. But tonight’s a special case.”

Caroline: “I’m sure the police will take care of her once she’s released,” Caroline adds. “You won’t see her again—what’s important is that you’ve been cleared, and soon this nightmare will be over for you and your sisters.”

GM: Gettis pulls out his gun and shoots Sarah, then Yvonne. Both girls hit the floor in bloody heaps.

Caroline: Caroline stares in mute horror for only a moment before jumping into action. She slides to her knees next to Yvonne, the closer of the two. Her hands reach out to tear away the fabric from around the gunshot wound.

GM: The gunshots’ explosive roars have barely subsided before Gettis drops his M1911 to the tile floor with a clatter, gets to his knees, and places his hands behind his head. Screams and shouts split the air. Some people draw firearms or lunge for Gettis. More freeze. Many run. The room erupts in panic.

Caroline: “I need a first aid kit, QuikClot if you have it.” Caroline puts her eyes on one of the attorneys even as she works. “You, call 911 for two ambulances. Someone else! Get over here!” she snaps.

Caroline’s focus remains on the girls and the too-red blood staining her hands, then her skirt, then her shirt. The rest of the events will see to themselves: Gettis will be seized. Her brain relates this to her without pausing to look up.

GM: Someone tosses Caroline a first aid kit. Yvette falls over her sister, screaming hysterically and getting in the way. There’s blood on her face. There’s blood everywhere. More people bend over. Caroline hears thumping footsteps.

“You just dug your own grave, Gettis! You’re finished on this force!” roars the superintendent’s still half-disbelieving voice.

Caroline: Some of the socialites will keep screaming. Most will freeze. It’s really of no matter next to the life flowing out of the two girls. It’s of as little importance. She tunes it out, breaks open the kit and digs for what she wants. As far as places to get shot go, a police station is far from the worst.

Given their occupation—to say nothing of several policies—the medical kits tend to be well stocked, particularly for dealing with gunshot wounds. QuikClot. That miracle lifesaving device on battlefields both urban and conventional.

“Yvonne, Yvonne, look at me,” she says from above the girl. “Focus on my voice, listen to me.” Semesters of anatomy and premedical come back to her. A summer and semester both spent in a hospital. She’s not a doctor. She’ll never be a doctor. She made that choice. But this feels right.

A night spent ruining lives. Maybe she can save some.

GM: The unconscious teenager is past the point of responding to anything. Caroline might not have even heard her scream (it’s all a blur) before going down. That’s good, when she was shot in the chest. She can’t have suffered neural damage or sufficient blood loss to induce unconsciousness: she’s just fainted from the fear and pain. The other upshot is that she does nothing to complicate Caroline’s ministrations—though the same cannot be said for her sisters. Yvette kneels on the floor, screaming a long and ceaseless wail as she shakes Yvonne’s limp body back and forth. When responders pull her away so that Caroline can work without obstruction, she’s still screaming, and even starts madly flailing, kicking, and biting. A cop shouts a curse as her teeth sink into his arm.

“You have the right to remain silent. Not that you need any help with that part,” sounds Manley’s voice over the unmistakable clicking of handcuffs. “Gotta admit, I was always hoping I’d be able t-”

Gettis grabs the man’s taser off his belt and rams it into his crotch. He goes down in a frothing, jerking, screaming heap as the stench of electrifying piss fills the air. There’s a cut-off gagging noise from the next cop as Gettis simultaneously drives a knuckled fist into his throat while yanking a flailing attorney forward by his necktie. “TAKE HIM!” roars the superintendent as another round of gunfire explodes the air, but not before Gettis swings the lawyer around as a human shield. Bullets riddle his chest as he screams and convulses and dies. The shooters shout too when Gettis hurls the bloody, still-twitching corpse into their faces, then raises his gun (where did he get a gun?) and shoots out the ceiling’s lights. The room plunges into darkness as shattered glass tinkles against the floor.

More gunfire roars. Masonry explodes apart. There’s the clink of spent, falling shells, the hot smell of gunpowder, and shrill screams abruptly cut off by sickening cracks and crunches. Someone bellows, “STOP!-” Caroline feels wetness against her face. She can barely hear after all the close-quarters gunfire. She can’t tell whether the warbled, distant thuds are footsteps or bodies hitting the floor. Her nerves of steel keep her gaze riveted on her patient. It’s not important. None of it is.

“It’s a distraction, AFTER HIM!” bellows Carson’s voice.

Caroline: Caroline’s animal mind screams at her to look up, to focus on the terror around her, the nightmare that must be occurring in the room. But her logical mind wars with it. The room is full of police. The building is full of police.

GM: There’s more ear-rendingly loud gunshots, but fainter. Marginally. Glass shattering. Showers of sparks as distant lights die. All of it is so distant. Caroline can barely see as she furiously works over the life that’s literally in her hands.

Caroline: “I need light!” she screams. There’s so much blood.

GM: The pandemonium does not recede, but it is not overlong before flashlights stab through the darkness. There’s heavy, thumping footsteps. Sounds of chattering, raised voices, and useless debate. About whether to leave the girl—girls—here or drag them out.

Caroline: She could have been a doctor. A doctor would be able to save them. She should have been a doctor. “Light! Just give me light and keep everyone else clear!” she snaps, furiously. “Flashlights, cellphones, I don’t care!”

GM: The Malveaux scion’s commanding voice pierces through the confused din like a foghorn. Scattered lights, it doesn’t matter what they’re from, fall upon the almost-doctor and her charge. There’s more lights, noises, and motion in her peripheral vision from the responders around Sarah.

Caroline: There’s nothing good about a gunshot wound, especially not one that leaves a big .45 caliber hole in a teenager’s chest. No silver lining. Whatever the first aid efforts of a first responder, the person shot will almost certain die without long-term treatment.

That doesn’t mean Caroline is helpless, however. She turns Yvonne onto her side and pours QuikClot into the exit side of the wound before covering it with a large adhesive bandage. Her anatomy lessons tell her that the shot has almost certainly punctured Yvonne’s lung: a deadly wound, but not an immediate one as long as she can keep her breathing.

Another adhesive bandage goes on Yvonne’s chest, bared in a cruel imitation of the girl’s earlier strip search. This one has a slip that allows air to exit when she exhales and helps prevent the lung from collapsing. It’s too dark for her to waste time feeling around in the bag for sealed cloth. She uses her sleeves to wipe away the blood from Yvonne’s chest to get a better seal on that bandage, staining her arms past the elbow with the girl’s blood.

She waits a pair of breaths to make sure the blonde is stable before wrenching herself to her feet, tearing the sides of her bloodstained skirt as she does so. “Don’t touch her unless she stops breathing,” she directs one of the people holding a light over Yvonne. She snatches up the first aid kit and moves over to Sarah, her teeth clenched.

It’s bad. The other responders have tried their best, but those few seconds of difference count. The bullet also took her at an angle and it’s not a clean through and through like with Yvonne. It’s a good sign for external bleeding, but a terrible one for internal. It also means it’s likely it hit—and fractured—ribs, doing potential follow-on damage.

Part of her immediately regrets treating Yvonne first when she sees the damage, but only a small one. She remembers an EMT’s lecture about responding to shootings: If both have life-threatening wounds you work one and then the other. There’s no time to evaluate both and waste time making a decision.

And treating. What a joke, part of her whispers in her ear: You’re no doctor it says cruelly, second-guessing every decision she makes.

GM: It’s hard to say whether Caroline’s doubts or the poor conditions plague her worse. There’s blood. So much blood, even accounting for the bullet’s angle. Sarah doesn’t move or respond, and unlike Yvonne she doesn’t have to have fainted to be unconscious now. The teenager is bad. Worse than bad. Worse than terrible. She can only imagine what it will be like for Lyman, to lose the granddaughter everyone says is so like his already lost daughter.

But, as Caroline seals the next bandage and wrenches the dying girl back from the jaws of death, the almost-doctor is confident that she will only have to imagine what that might be like.

The next minutes are an almost equally loud and confusing blur as EMTs haul the two girls onto stretchers and speed them away towards Tulane Medical Center. Headlights madly flash through the pouring rain as sirens wail.

Caroline: Caroline is left on the floor, covered in blood up to her elbows, her blouse soaked through and her once-white skirt splattered with blood and further stained by the dirty floor. The exhaustion hits her like a tidal wave.

GM: The police station is in shambles. Cops are swarming everywhere. Caroline barely understands what they’re even doing. Someone pulls her out of the area as officers plaster a crime scene barrier within their own booking room—and stoop to photograph, examine, and do all the normal cop things over the body that was not so lucky as to receive the heiress’ attentions.

Caroline: She glances numbly at the body.

She’s utterly spent. The late night and midnight phone call all combine with the adrenaline rush and tremendous focus to save the girls from their brush with death—to say nothing of the shooting’s sheer shock. She allows herself to be led away and sinks into a chair. And yet…

Where another might hang their head, where they might slouch, where they might weep, she sits up straight, her head leaning back instead of down, throat bared.

GM: It’s the lawyer seized by Gettis in a shredded and bloody dark suit. Caroline is not able to make out the face, though, before she’s pulled away from the scene. There are cops, who want to talk with her. There are people crying, swearing, pacing, everything, in the background. Wanting to help. Wanting to feel busy. Wanting to feel something other than helpless. Blood seems like it’s everywhere.

Caroline: Everywhere, but nowhere so much as all over her.

GM: It’s her uncle (technically, cousin) Carson, though, who cuts through the fog of confusion in his stern judge’s voice and half-leads, half-carries Caroline outside towards his car with a blanket. He holds an umbrella over her head against the still furiously falling rain and tells her that he’s taking her back to her Uncle Matt’s place. He says something about not spending the night alone.

Caroline: She nods numbly and allows herself to be led by her cousin, even carefully tucks the blanket under her to avoid staining his car with her own bloodstained form. It’s not until they’re driving that she finds her voice.

“Why? Why would he do that?” she asks in disbelief.

GM: “We’ll find out once he’s brought in,” Carson answers. He stares ahead into the night as the windshield wipers swish back and forth. It’s an easy sound to fall asleep to, in the dark, with the rain, on the plush leather seat.

The ’Nam veteran then adds, “Your parents will be proud.”

Caroline: They’re short words, stupid words. Do they really mean anything? Despite herself, they do to Caroline as they breathe warmth into her cold form.

“I don’t know. If she’ll make it.”

GM: “You do what you can, when you can. You did more than most.”

Caroline: “I could have done more.”

GM: Carson’s eyes don’t drift from the road. “No, you couldn’t have.”

Caroline: “I should have treated Sarah first, the through and through was the less dangerous of the two…” She tries to explain.

GM: “That’s what you always do,” Carson replies, staring ahead into the bright traffic and pouring rain. “Try to find a way you could have done it differently. Think of ways you could have saved more lives.”

“No one second-guesses themselves as much as an infantry commander after the fact, though I suppose medics come close. You see bodies torn by the horrors of war. You feel the blood on them. Or on the ground, as you tread over the field. Not statistics, X percentage killed, Y percentage wounded. Real people, shellshocked they survived when their friends didn’t. You can’t help but feel you’ve failed too. By surviving, when they didn’t.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to imagine Yvonne and Sarah’s bodies dying under her hands, their blood pumping out onto her arms, her so-inadequate attempts to mend their fragile bodies back together… on a scale of hundreds. Thousands. An entire field of the dead.

“I’m going to be sick,” she squeezes out.

GM: Carson stops talking, then stops the car.

Caroline: She opens the door and heaves what little is left in her stomach onto the street. It’s not very much.

GM: Carson gets the door for her, waits, then closes it. Then drives.

Caroline: “How do you… how do you come back from something like that?” she asks when she’s finished. There’s equal parts sympathy, desire for understanding, horror, and awe in her voice as she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, inadvertently smearing more blood across her face.

GM: “Caroline, who shot those girls and that lawyer?” Carson asks.

Caroline: “Detective Gettis,” Caroline replies, bitterness in her voice.

GM:Former Detective Gettis,” the judge sternly repeats. “Not Caroline Malveaux.”

“What will Abélia and Lyman think when they hear you saved their girls’ lives?”

Caroline: Caroline knows the answer, even if she doesn’t feel worth it. “Gratitude.”

GM: “You think you know better than they do how they should feel about their daughters?” Carson asks, seemingly in response to her unspoken thought.

Caroline: “No,” she replies quickly.

GM: “Gettis shot them. You saved them. Repeat that whenever you feel guilty.”

Caroline: She nods. “Okay.” She lets out a deep breath.

GM: The windshield wipers swish back and forth. Rain batters ceaselessly against the car’s glass, but increasingly dimly. It’s warm inside. It’s dark, too, but not a bad kind of dark. Caroline feels so light. She feels like she could simply drift away into nothingness.

It is not overlong before she receives that mercy.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Two, Clea I, Julien I
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Story Two, Caroline I

“Maman will make them pay for this.”
Cécilia Devillers


Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM

GM: Buzz. Buzz.

Caroline glances at the caller ID on her Solaris. Calls from her brother Luke are moderately common. A call at this hour of the night is a first.

Caroline: The heiress stretches tiredly in her bed, pinches her the bridge of her nose, and rubs sleep from her eyes in the same motion as she slides the answer button. At least it isn’t Westley calling.

GM: “Caroline. There’s been an accident,” Luke says without preamble.

Caroline: The words are like a bucket of cold water on her drowsiness as she pushes herself from a half-laying position to a seated one. She reaches for the light on her nightstand. It’s a glossy and sleek black thing that spits hateful light against the dark with the flip of a switch.

“Who?” she asks seriously.

GM: “It’s Cécilia,” Luke goes on. Caroline’s brother isn’t yelling or rushing his words, but she could cut herself on the edge they have. “That is, some of her sisters. They were having a slumber party, and one of the girls fell and hit her head. She might die.”

“There’s also a police officer, who responded before the ambulance did. He’s in the hospital too. We’re not… sure what happened to him.”

“I’m with Cécilia and her sisters at the station. They’re in… they could be in a lot of trouble over this, Caroline. And they had the stupid idea to…” He sighs. “Never mind, they’re kids.”

Caroline: This is where someone else might ask a stupid question like, “Is Cécilia all right?” but Caroline knows too well. If Cécilia or her sisters had been hurt Luke would have opened with that, rather than some nameless girl or police officer.

GM: “Cécilia’s trying to stay strong for them,” Luke answers to Caroline’s unspoken question. “But her sisters wrote… they wrote down what happened at that slumber party, and the cops got their hands on it. I don’t think it was anything good, or the narratives didn’t add up, or…”

Caroline: “Have they made any statements?”

She slides her feet out of the Egyptian cotton sheets and onto the cool wooden floor. She reaches for a nearby pen and paper to start taking notes.

GM: “Caroline, they wrote down what happened, and the cops have those statements. They’re hysterical. I don’t think…”

Her brother takes a breath.

“I don’t want this to destroy their futures.”

Caroline: Caroline briefly considers explaining that police-seized statements written on private stationary are more easily thrown out than verbal statements, but decides against it.

“I understand,” she says instead. “You’re at the station with them? Which one?”

She runs the numbers in her head, but the injured cop complicates matters. The police, however lazy and corrupt they might be, tend to be very protective of their own.

GM: “The 8th District. 334 Royal Street,” Luke says. Caroline doubts he could recite the address off the top of his head before tonight. “We haven’t been able to reach Cécilia’s mother, and the police are being… difficult. You’re the lawyer in the family. Can you come down?”

Caroline: Not quite a lawyer, she doesn’t note to him, but that doesn’t quite make her useless.

“I’ll be down in a few minutes. Until then, don’t let them say anything else.”


Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM

GM: The Eighth District police station doesn’t much look like a police station at first glance.

The whitewashed building’s tall white corinthian pillars are surrounded by a well-maintained garden and wrought-iron fence. Palm trees sway against the howling rain and wind. All told, the station looks much like any other art gallery, restaurant, or historic building one expects to find along Royal Street. Much like the Eighth District police themselves, it doesn’t exist to stand out. It’s here, like they are, to keep the posh district’s money rolling. It’s here to make the owners—and spenders—of that money feel at home.

NOPD T-Shirts Available Inside Station proclaims an almost tourist-like sign by the front entryway.

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Caroline: Caroline has dressed quickly for the occasion—and driven more quickly. Heels, skirt, blouse, and umbrella and light coat against the rain. It’s amazing what the proper appearance does for how people perceive you. She enters the building with the steady clap of heels echoing through the entrance way.

Caroline_Shirt.jpg
Caroline_Skirt.jpg
GM: It takes Caroline some extra time to find a parking spot for her sports car. She observes several other pricey vehicles parked by the “station” (the word seems to demean the building) already.

The front desk area is a pleasant affair. The walls and tops of the pillars are painted faux-gold and several chandeliers and bouquets of flowers hang around the place. There’s even some impressionist murals hanging from the front desk. The walls are adorned with several posters seeking new recruits for the police academy (“Join NOPD—apply today!”), as well as one containing information about the Crimestoppers 504-837-8477 number and another containing information on local neighborhood watch programs. The largest poster of all advertises the French Quarter Response Force phone app, and includes Google Play and OPS App Store download links.

Station_Inside.jpg
The receptionist, a dark-skinned and notably attractive woman with long straight hair, looks up and smiles at Caroline’s entrance. “Good evening, ma’am. What can we do for you tonight?”

The desk sergeant next to the woman, a large but dough-bellied with receding hair and a fuzzy mustache, smiles at Caroline. “Must be something to have a girl as pretty as you up from bed.”

An impatient-looking woman seated on one of the moderately comfortable-looking padded reception chairs rolls her eyes.

Caroline: “Hopefully not,” Caroline replies with a smile at the dough-bellied sergeant. “I just heard there was some terrible accident with some family friends. A bunch of high school girls?”

GM: “Yeah, seven. Brought ’em in in not too long ago.” The sergeant gives an exaggerated sigh that doesn’t dim his smile. “Such a shame when we have to bring in pretty girls.”

Caroline: “Hopefully not for anything they’re at fault for,” Caroline inquires lightly. “I heard there was an accident.”

GM: “Mmm, yes. We arrested them all. One of our own was hurt.”

The sergeant’s gaze rests on Caroline’s breasts.

Caroline: “Oh dear,” the heiress replies without seeming concern for the sergeant’s gaze. “Did they hurt him?”

GM: There’s a throaty chuckle from the balding cop.

“They’d better not have,” he answers in a low tone whose continued smile looks more like a leer.

Caroline: “What were they arrested for, then?”

GM: “Are you related to one of them, ma’am?” the female receptionist asks.

Caroline: “Well, not unless you know something I don’t. I’m afraid I’m actually here in a slightly different capacity.”

She slides a business card across the counter. Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale, L.L.P. is prominently featured on it.

“We hadn’t realized they’d actually been arrested, simply that they’d been involved in an incident. I was told to come down and make any arrangements necessary.”

GM: The desk sergeant’s smile noticeably sours as Caroline produces the card.

“You’re too good-looking a girl to be a lawyer.”

Caroline: “That’s so kind of you to say,” Caroline replies sweetly.

GM: The man sighs. “Cindy, get someone to show her in.”

Caroline: “Thank you, sergeant,” she replies with a wolfish smile. The card vanishes back into her purse.

GM: It’s not long before a young male police officer arrives to escort Caroline deeper into the station with a, “This way, ma’am.” The pair continues around the U-shaped hall away from the desk sergeant’s station. They pass a break room, interior entrance to the evidence lockup, and staircase and elevator. Phones ring as assorted uniformed and non-uniformed personnel type away into computers and go about the mundane busywork that constitutes so much of a police officer’s job.

“I’m just saying, there’s way more of us, but the women’s locker room is just as big,” sounds a man’s voice.

“Shut up, Cole.”

“He’s right,” sounds a third.

“Maybe you should both pray real hard you wake up tomorrow with tits.”

“Wow, that fucking wit. I bet you rule the school playground.”

“You know, there’s surgery for th…”

The voices breaks off in guffaws.

“Oh, that strip search. HA!”

“Bet we’d make half as many arrests if everyone knew they had to strip naked.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“Pervert.”

“Hey, I’m-”

“No, seriously. I’m with you, any other day. Tonight that’s fuckin’ perverted.”

Caroline’s escort shakes his head as the pair pass by a framed portrait of the current police superintendent, a smiling and crease-eyed man in his middle years.

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There’s another portrait she sees too, of a handsome, dark-haired man with a winning smile that belies his nickname of ‘Trashanova’. Caroline has met Nolan Moreno III in passing at a few functions. His picture depicts him standing next to a number of satisfied-looking police officers.

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“Oh, wait. They’re over in booking,” Caroline’s escort admits before turning back the way they came.

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to the crude discussions ongoing. “What are they being booked for?” she asks.

GM: “Probably just a good place to have them,” the officer answers vaguely.

The booking room isn’t so nice-looking as the reception area.

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No walls are painted faux-gold and no artwork hangs from the desks. Everything looks aged, used, and worn, down to the scuffed tile floor. Cage-like grills and metal bars loom at the room’s furthest points. It’s far from the horror stories that Caroline has heard from Uncle Carson (technically, cousin) about conditions in the parish jail or Louisiana State Penitentiary (the largest prison in the country). Still, it’s clear that no effort has been made to make this room look nice—or make its expected occupants feel at ease.

Tonight’s occupants, though, may not be so expected.

Caroline’s attention is first drawn to the four young women who bear an uncanny resemblance to one another. Each one is a mirror of the same willowy build, pale skin, light blonde hair, and clear blue eyes. Caroline knows that the oldest, Cécilia, is a year older than her, while the youngest girl looks in middle or elementary school. Their present demeanors, however, are far less uniform than their physical features.

Cécilia, who’s standing next to Caroline’s brother, looks composed enough. She’s wearing light-colored slacks and a sleeveless blue top that looks like both were thrown on in a hurry.

Cecilia.jpg
Caroline’s brother Luke, a handsome man who shares Caroline’s tall height and fair skin but lacks her blonde hair, is similarly dressed—in both attire and apparent hastiness. He doesn’t look as faultlessly groomed as he usually does, and there’s a several-hours-past-five o’ clock shadow rimming his stonily-expressioned face.

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Cécilia’s sisters look worse. Caroline remembers their names—Adeline, Simmone, Yvonne, Yvette, and Noëlle—but not which ones belong to which girl. There are so many of them, and it doesn’t help how they all look alike. Three are present tonight besides Cécilia. Two look in their mid-late teens. Their hair is mussed and wet, and so are their clothes. Their eyes are wide and scared. The youngest girl, who’s tightly hugging Cécilia’s side while her sister comforts her, looks in much the same state.

There’s another girl in her late teens near them. She’s shorter than the others, with soft brown hair and pretty features. Like everyone else, she seems on edge, but looks like she’s maintaining a brave face. Caroline recognizes her as Sarah Whitney, the daughter of Warren Whitney and granddaughter of Lyman Whitney, the eponymous bank’s retired CEO.

The girl standing next to her is also short, and has wide half-moon glasses and black hair (wet and disheveled like the other teenagers’) pulled back in a ponytail. She’s better described as underweight than thin, and her narrow face’s features are homelier than her peers. Caroline’s seen her in passing too: Rachel Freneau, the daughter of Sebastien Freneau. He’s a mathematician turned casino owner with ties to Tulane University. Rachel herself looks on the verge of tears.

The last teenager in the group is about Cécilia’s height. She has a wide face, prominent nose, and mid-back-length brown hair that’s streaked through with blonde towards the ends. It’s as messy and wet as all of the other girls’. She’s breathing rapidly and doesn’t look on the verge of tears so much as a panic attack.

Caroline doesn’t recognize the girl, but she recognizes the older woman who has an arm around her and is presumably the teenager’s mom. She’s a middle-aged woman with shoulder-length brown hair and a narrower face and nose. Like Cécilia and Luke, she looks as if she just got out of bed. Caroline saw her in passing at an art gallery and heard a little more about her from Christina Roberts—Monica Burroughs, a divorcée from out of state.

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Where the other girls are distraught, and Luke and Cécilia are grim, Caroline senses a burning outrage in the woman—but one that’s also draped beneath a terrible, terrible dread.

Caroline: Whitney, Devillers, Malveaux. New Orleans aristocracy all in the same room—and others not that far off from aristocracy. Not the group she’d expect here—and a mess by any measure for the NOPD. On those merits alone, in other circumstances, she could probably talk them out of the room.

Most circumstances. But probably not this one. Not with an injured cop.

“Luke, Cécilia. I came as quickly as I could. What’s going on?”

GM: “Caroline,” Luke says with relief, turning at her voice. So do Cécilia and the room’s police.

The first one is a handsome man with a full and square jaw, close-cropped brown hair, and a tall, exceedingly-muscled frame. Exceedingly. The kind of excess particular to someone who follows diets and meal plans like a road map to personal salvation and spends enough time at the gym for it to be a part-time job. His full lips wear an even fuller smile that might be assuring or even winsome under more pleasant circumstances.

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The cop next to him is older, shorter, and squatter. And fuller. Few women likely regard him as an object of desire. He looks bald underneath his police cap and wears a half-rimmed pair of rectangle-shaped glasses that combine with his sloped jowls to give him a sense of impassive resignation. It’s the inured look of someone past almost all point of caring.

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The third cop is a known face to Caroline. She and Jessica White jokingly call him ‘the dinosaur.’

Up close, little about him feels worth laughing about.

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He’s got a hard nose, hard jawline, and harder eyes the color of corroded iron. His skin is worn and leathery like a well-used pair of work gloves, crisscrossed with faded scars, and pulled taut against gaunt cheekbones. He’s not thin though. He’s big. Even huge. His powerfully muscled physique isn’t pampered and meticulously maintained like the first cop’s. It’s weathered, like granite left exposed to the elements. He’s a tall man, maybe an inch or two within Caroline’s shoe-less height, and wears a scuffed, faded gray trench coat over a plain shirt of the same color. A police badge on a cord dangles around his neck in place of a tie. The Malveaux heiress knows his name and rank. Detective Richard Gettis.

“Name and relationship to an arrestee,” the shorter of the police calls out to Caroline in a droning voice. His eyes barely seem to follow her entrance into the room.

Caroline: The heiress turns her gaze to the fatter, speaking, cop. “Caroline Malveaux, legal. I’d like to know the OIC for this matter, and the to see the booking report in accordance with Art. 228. B.”

GM: The first officer’s full smile gives a puzzled downturn.

“Captain Russell White, speaking,” the fatter officer replies in monotone. “Get the book,” he seems to say to no one in particular.

Gettis just stares.

Caroline: “Excellent.” Caroline’s tone is crisp and clear. “In the interest of expediting things, why were they taken into custody?”

GM: “In the book,” Captain White replies in the same monotone.

“Right this way, counselor,” the first cop says with a grin and motion towards the booking desk, as if gallantly offering to escort Caroline the several necessary feet towards her destination.

Gettis only stares.

Caroline: Her gaze turns to the detective. “You’re Detective Gettis, right? Jessica White says good things about you.”

GM: The weathered-looking cop meets Caroline’s gaze without response.

Caroline: She smiles and moves after the other cop towards the booking desk.

GM: The hunkish cop chauffeurs Caroline the necessary several feet. A bored-looking man on the other side slides over the book. Caroline sees the following names:

Burroughs, Hannah
Devillers, Simmone
Devillers, Yvette
Devillers, Yvonne
Freneau, Rachel
Whitney, Sarah


The charges include:

Battery
Battery (of public officer)
Criminal damage to property
Criminal trespass
Minor in possession
Possession of schedule I controlled substance
Stalking


The names of the other persons arrested as a result of the same event or facts are as follows:

Burroughs, Hannah
Devillers, Simmone
Devillers, Yvette
Devillers, Yvonne
Freneau, Rachel
Whitney, Sarah


Caroline: She continues to read down to all items taken from them, also listed to see what the schedule I substance is.

GM: Lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “A 10-year-old girl battered a public officer?”

GM: “Ah… Ah didn’t,” Cécilia’s youngest sister speaks up shakily.

Caroline: “Don’t say anything,” Caroline cuts her off.

GM: “Simmone, shhh,” Cécilia shushes, not unkindly.

The preteen starts softly crying.

Caroline: Still, the charges are hardly minor. This is not, unfortunately, a matter she can sweep under the rug. At least, not alone.

GM: Alternately anxious and coldly furious looks flicker across the other girls’ faces, particularly Simmone’s sisters.

Footsteps sound behind Caroline. “Reporting in, Captain. Sorry I took a while.”

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Captain White gives the newly-arrived police officer a curt glance. “Finish the booking.”

“Has to be girl on girl,” the first cop grins.

Most of the girls look confused.

“All right, should I start with…?” the female officer ventures.

“Her,” Gettis says, staring ahead towards the girl who must be Hannah.

“No. No, you’re not,” her mother replies. The woman’s face is barely level.

“W-wait, Mom, are-” the teenager starts.

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to come with me and take your clothes off as part of the standard strip search,” the female officer announces.

Hannah looks as if the cops just handed her a cyanide pill. “No. No. Mom, I’m not doing that. Tell them I’m not doing that.”

“Ma’am, you’ll need t-” the female officer starts.

Gettis strides forward, pulls Hannah off from her mom, and marches her towards the next room. Hannah shrieks and flails wildly, slapping Gettis in the face.

GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF HER!” her mom screams, face flushed as red as a beet.

The other girls stare on in horror.

Caroline: Caroline watches the girl piteously and nods to the officer with the booking report. “Luke, we need to talk. Privately.”

GM: Luke frowns deeply. “Now? I don’t want to leave Cécilia’s sisters alone with these… people, Caroline.”

Caroline: “Now. Briefly.” Her voice is firm.

GM: Luke considers the room’s only (near-)lawyer for a moment, then says, “All right. Cécilia, you’ll manage?”

Cécilia wordlessly nods.

No one stops Caroline and her brother, or even looks at them. Hannah’s and her mother’s continued cries follow the pair out.

Caroline: Caroline leads him a short distance away, though not out of the room, and leans close. She keeps her lips faced away from the rest of the group.

“How serious is it between you and Cécilia, because I can’t make this go away or stop what’s about to happen. The charges against them are very serious, and I don’t have any standing officially. I’d need to call Carson, and Cécilia needs to contact their family attorney.”

GM: Luke’s face looks grave, if not a shade paler than before. “We’re serious, Caroline. What did you see there? I asked them what the charges were. Our families can make this go away.”

But his words aren’t without a note of doubt.

Caroline: “Yes, we can. In the long run. But not before they are strip-searched and processed and interviewed.”

GM: “They’re terrified out of their minds. Especially after…” Luke glances out of the corner of his eye towards where Hannah used to be. “They’re going to crack.”

Caroline: “Half those charges won’t stick, but someone is going to get snipped for the drugs.”

GM: “What? Drugs?” Luke repeats.

Caroline:LSD,” she murmurs into his ear.

GM:Fuck,” her brother whispers furiously.

Caroline: “And with an injured cop they’re going to be sniffing around extra hard. Do you know how badly he was injured?”

GM: “He’s in the hospital, Caroline. They’re not… he sounded like he was hurt pretty badly. The cops have all been saying what a legend on the force his father was. Gettis actually remarked on that, and he’s hardly said a word.”

Caroline: “Then I’ll make the call, but this is going to take a lot of clout, including, likely, Dad getting involved.”

GM: Luke sighs heavily. “Well, the milk’s spilled. Nothing to do now but mop it up.”

Caroline: She nods. “All right.”

GM: “We’ve been trying to reach Cécilia’s mother. This would be so much easier if she were here too.”

Caroline: “Let me get things moving, sooner rather than later,” Caroline replies. “Let Cécilia know. Have her get her sisters ready, and get the number for the family attorney if she has one.” She slides away from her brother and digs for her phone.

GM: Luke puts a hand on her shoulder before she goes. “Maybe you should talk with Cécilia’s sisters, Caroline. Hear their story and school them on what to say. Cécilia’s been making calls to her mother’s lawyer, but she hasn’t been able to get him out of bed.” He then corrects, “Or at least, school them on what not to say. I know, they shouldn’t say anything at this point.”

Caroline: “Anything they tell me I’m obligated to repeat. I have no privilege with them, or anyone for that matter right now,” she explains, then sighs. “But I’ll speak with them briefly.”

GM: “This is why we called you, Caroline,” Luke replies with a weary smile. “Now all right. Let’s.”

Caroline: The not-quite lawyer moves over to the younger girls, heeled feet clapping on the tiled floor.

GM: The Devillers girls’ already pale complexions are blanched still further. The other girls aren’t taking it much better. Hannah’s mother is gone from the room. Cécilia is cradling a sniffling Simmone and stroking her hair.

Caroline: “Girls, I’m sorry this is happening to you, but I want you to understand so that you know what’s coming and that you’re going to be all right at the end of it, ok?”

GM: “Pretty sure they’re all fucked, actually,” the handsome cop remarks.

Caroline: “You should stand by that phone,” Caroline replies. “It’s going to start ringing soon.”

GM: The girls’ faces are like seesaws as they rise, fall, and then rise just a little at the cop’s and Caroline’s alternating words.

“You’re Caroline, right?” says one of Cécilia’s sisters. “Are you a lawyer? L-listen, we-”

“Don’t say anything, Yvette,” Cécilia urges gently but firmly.

Caroline: She turns her attention back to the girls. “Let me finish,” she interrupts.

“Because you’ve been arrested you will be searched. It’s going to be invasive, and probably a little humiliating. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that. Don’t try to fight, just make sure you remember anything that happens that is inappropriate. After that they’re probably going to keep questioning you. Because you’re all minors they can’t put you in the parish jail, so you’re likely to be held here until they decide what to do. I’ll do everything I can to clear this up before that happens, but the most important thing to remember is nothing you tell them is going to make this better, it only eliminates options for you in the future.”

“You don’t have to explain anything. Any time they ask you questions about what happened ask for an attorney. Nothing you tell them is going to make them stop. But stay tough, you’ll get through this. I’m going to go make some phone calls to try and get you out of here more quickly, ok?”

GM: The teenagers seem to cling to Caroline’s words like drowning women to driftwood. They nod along, whether in gratitude, agreement, or simple understanding.

“Someone’s been watching those ‘if you’re ever arrested’ MeVids,” remarks the grinning cop. “They don’t include the pep talks, though. That’s a nice touch.”

“Those are for a more black audience though,” remarks the other cop behind the desk. “Uh, no offense, Captain.”

The captain ignores the man entirely.

Caroline: Caroline turns back to the first cop. “I know you’re upset that one of your own is hurt, and I’m sorry, and I hope you catch whoever was responsible. But god help you if you stick even a toe out of line here, because no one else will.”

GM: “Don’t you worry about us, ma’am. You worry about those girls,” the cop answers.

Caroline: “What could they have to worry about surrounded by New Orleans’ finest?” Caroline asks as she pulls out her phone, her heels again snapping against the tile as she heads for the door.

GM: “Our mother won’t forget this, Caroline,” Cécilia calls, repeating Luke’s words as she strokes Simmone’s hair.

The female cop re-emerges from the room ahead and looks across the girls. “All right, next one in.”

Caroline: The heiress continues walking, seeking privacy outside for the calls she’s about to make.

GM: Caroline makes her first call. The phone rings several times.

“Caroline. What is it?” sounds an older man’s steady voice without preamble. This isn’t the first time Carson has been called by one of Nathan’s children in the middle of the night. Or about one of Nathan’s children.

Caroline: “I’m sorry to call so late, Uncle Carson, but there’s been an incident. No one in the family involved directly, it’s more than vaguely within our interests, as well as… well. I’ll just get to it.”

GM: There’s an expectant silence from the other end of the line.

Caroline: “You remember the Devillers family, Luke has been going out with one of their daughters? Three of them were arrested this evening on a laundry list of charges related to an incident where an officer and another teenage girl were injured. Warren Whitney’s daughter was also involved. I don’t think they were directly involved in either injury, but you know how the police get when one of their own is hurt. They’ve gone… well, high and right. Luke called me to see if I could provide some guidance, but this is going to turn into both a nightmare for both families, and a public affairs nightmare for the NOPD if someone doesn’t step in.”

GM: “I know who the Devillers are, Caroline,” her uncle (technically first cousin once removed, but easier to call him that) replies to her initial question. Not dryly. Just as a simple statement of fact.

There’s a pause as the criminal judge seems to chew over her words. “What station are they being held at?”

Caroline: “The Eighth District. They were getting ready to strip-search a 10-year-old girl on charges including battery of an officer and stalking when I stepped out to make the call. I don’t think they realize—or care—what kind of a mess they’ve stepped into.”

GM: “Injured cops,” Carson replies. Not tersely, but emphatically. “They look after their own. Especially here.”

Caroline: “I know, I know,” Caroline replies. Knowingly, but not impatiently.

GM: “All right. I’ll call Delron and get the warrants rejected. You already know these girls shouldn’t say anything.” With those final words, the call ends with a click not unlike the safety of the .45 Colt that Westley has wondered if the Vietnam vet actually sleeps with.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a small sigh of relief—one that’s all-too small. Rejecting the warrants will take time. She wonders how many of the girls will get processed before that happens.

Another shake of her head, another call, this one to her ex. There’s no certainty he’s awake or on the floor, but there’s also a better than zero chance. Even if he isn’t on tonight, he’ll eventually be able to give her better information than she has.

GM: Caroline’s phone rings several times.

“Hi, this is Neil. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you,” sounds the resident doctor’s pre-recorded voice.

Caroline: “Neil, I got a call about a girl and a cop that got banged up pretty badly. I was hoping you might have heard something about it. Give me a call back. I promise, no Hippo.” The last bit is a touch of levity, an inside joke from when they were both pre-med and eager for all the gory details.

GM: After ending the call on that nostalgic note, Caroline has better luck with her next one. After all, this is the time when Jessica White is on shift.

“Hi, Caroline?” greets the young officer. No relation so far as she knows to the Captain White here. It’s a common enough last name.

Caroline: “Hey Jessica, how’s it going?”

GM: “Well, the night shift is what it is. I had a pretty weird call recently though.”

Caroline: “Oh?”

GM: “Well, a woman called 911 when a random stranger by a po’boy joint threw a trash can at her head. So I showed up and arrested him. Because, well, for battery. But the woman says, her exact words, ‘whatever. He’s not why I called. I called because the po’boy place didn’t give me enough sriracha’.”

Jessica laughs. “You just can’t make this up.”

Caroline: “Wow.” Caroline keeps her impatience to a minimum through the story despite the seriousness of the matter at hand, but she still can’t help but smile. “Every night an adventure.”

GM: “The woman said her server was rude, so she wanted to see if we could harass him for more sauce. We decided to remove her from the po’boy joint instead. Anyway, what’s got you calling at this hour?”

Caroline: “I wish it was happy news. I heard one of yours got hurt tonight, wondered if you’d heard anything about it.”

GM: “Oh, no, I hadn’t,” Jessica says concernedly. “Not yet, anyways. Who was it?”

Caroline: “I didn’t get the details, but your old fossil is all over it. He’s here in the 8th District having 10-year-old heiresses arrested.”

GM: “Really, the dinosaur? Huh.”

Caroline: “Yeah, I guess the guy’s father was big on the force? Maybe they used to work together.”

GM: “That’d be a first. I can’t picture him working with anyone. Not that he seems to mind me working for him.” There’s a simultaneous smile and frustration to the words.

Caroline: “I’ll stick to only imagining. Anyway, right, thanks anyway. I’m going to make a couple other calls before the truckloads of attorneys start to show up here. The dino really kicked over a hornet’s nest with who got picked up. We need to catch up sometime though, maybe an early breakfast coming off shift or something. Let me know a day that works.”

GM: “Yeah, def—wait, hold on a second, you said he arrested a 10-year-old heiress?”

Caroline: “I don’t know if it was him specifically, but a bunch of the girls that got picked up in association with it are… they’re the children of important people, Jess. People who are going to raise absolute hell over this if their kids were traumatized and strip-searched without a really good reason—and who are connected enough to do it.”

GM: “Oh, wow. Sounds like a hornet’s nest…” Jessica trails off.

Caroline: “I know you guys and gals in blue have to look out for each other. And everyone understands that whenever a cop gets hurt it’s serious.”

GM: “Yeah. He’s actually felt on edge lately. The dinosaur, that is. I mean, I think. It’s hard to tell with him.”

Caroline: “Any particular reason you can think of?”

GM: “Wish I could. He actually hasn’t been asking me to do his paperwork.”

Caroline: “Maybe the old dog has a bone he’s gnawing on?”

GM: “Maybe.” There’s another smile that sounds more than a little frustrated. “Though I don’t think he’d wanna share it with a pup like me.”

Caroline: “You’ll get there, Jess, but I really have to run.”

GM: “Right, I understand. I’ll give you a call back when I hear more.”

Caroline: “You’re the best.”

GM: “Thanks. Ok, good luck with everything.”

Caroline: The heiress stands out in the heavy night air of the city as she scrolls through her phone for her next contact. She finally settles on one and hits send. She hopes her old ‘boss’ is not otherwise engaged.

A hint of a smirk pulls at the corner of her mouth. It could be a banner night for her if she’s available.

GM: “Hi, Caroline?” sounds her old boss’ voice.

Little to Caroline’s surprise, Denise is awake. Fortunately, she does not sound currently ‘preoccupied.’

Caroline: “Good morning,” Caroline replies, glancing at her gold watch. “I trust I didn’t wake you, Denise?”

GM: “Oh no, I was already up. I’m a night owl. Sounds like you might be too.”

Caroline knows all about what a ‘night owl’ Denise is.

Caroline: “When required. How would you like to make a lot of very powerful friends?”

GM: “Oh? We talking some new clients for the firm?”

Caroline: “Both professional and private friends,” Caroline amends. “You’re familiar with the Whitney family, and the Devillers family? They’ve got kids in trouble down at the Eighth Precinct and attorneys that can’t be bothered to get out of bed. A cop got hurt responding to their call and they found some drugs on the scene. I know you don’t usually do criminal, but…”

“I suspect the families would be extremely appreciative of anyone who could ensure their daughters weren’t left alone… and were I confirmed to be still in your employ I could serve as an advanced liaison until you arrived.”

GM: There’s a pause as Denise seems to think things over. It’s two rules to break, but the Big Easy has never been a city with much regard for the rules. And her old boss does so want to be something at the firm besides a subject of water cooler gossip.

It’s not a very long pause.

“Okay. I’m going to come over for this, but until then, you’re still an unpaid intern proud to work at the firm of Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you then.” Caroline hangs up. She considers another call, then decides better of it and sends a text instead to her mother.

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She doubts her mother is awake—and doesn’t want to wake her father—but neither of those things are more concerning than being accused of sitting on the secret.

GM: Unsurprisingly at the late hour, but also perhaps unsurprisingly for Caroline’s mother in general, there is no reply.

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. It’s doubtful her mother would bother to reply even in the middle of the day, but she’s done her due diligence. She tucks the phone away and heads back towards the booking room.

GM: Caroline’s progress is interrupted, or perhaps facilitated, when a man holds the police station’s door open for her. He’s tall and dark-haired, with a neatly-trimmed mustache and goatee. He looks in his 40s or 50s, but well-preserved, with a few streaks of silver through his hair. He’s dressed in a deep maroon sports coat and holding a soaked umbrella in his other hand.

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“I’d say it’s a late hour for a young lady like you to be up,” the man remarks as he looks over Caroline’s attire, “but odds are it’s for something important.”

Caroline: “No rest for the wicked,” Caroline replies with half-false cheer and a smile. “And yourself?” she asks as she slides through the held open door.

GM: The man’s initial smile, which was already a half-hearted thing, dips further. “I’m here for someone innocent,” he replies as the door closes behind them.

“Good evening, sir. How ca-” the receptionist starts.

“My daughter’s been arrested. Her name is Rachel Freneau. Where is she?” he demands brusquely.

Caroline: “I think you and I are here on the same matter,” Caroline offers quietly.

GM: “Either the booking room or the holding cells,” answers the desk sergeant. “Are y-”

The man responds to neither Caroline nor the sergeant as he strides past the front desk. His face is heated with anger.

“Should we stop him?” the receptionist asks the sergeant.

The dough-bellied man snorts.

Caroline: Caroline follows in his wake.

GM: The two arrive at the booking room. Rachel is gone. So is one of the older Devillers girls. The other two look miserable, especially Simmone, who’s tightly if not desperately clinging to Cécilia’s waist like it’s a life preserver while her oldest sister strokes her head and murmurs assurances. Luke is talking to the Whitney girl, who looks somewhat better than the other teenagers.

Caroline: “They’ve been searched before processing,” Caroline fills in.

GM: “You stripped her?” Rachel’s father demands of the police, clenching his fist.

“Standard procedure for all inmates, sir,” Captain White replies.

Caroline: Caroline watches quietly and glances patiently at the phone. Without the warrants they can’t finish processing them—the best they can do is hold them for questioning.

GM: “I want to see her. Now,” Rachel’s father replies coldly.

“What’s your relation to the inmate?” asks the cop behind the desk.

“Shut up,” Captain White replies without looking at the man.

“Manley, take him to the holding cells.”

“This way, sir,” smiles the handsome cop.

The two head out.

Caroline: Caroline heads over to Luke. “They’re pulling the warrants now and my attorney is on the way.”

GM: Luke looks relieved. “Good,” he replies in a lowered voice. “You can see they haven’t searched Simmone yet. She shouldn’t have to go through that.”

“I can volunteer to get searched before her. That might actually make Yvonne feel better, come to think, if she can feel like she’s protecting her sister,” the Whitney girl says.

Caroline: “We’ll see if it comes to that,” Caroline answers. “But thank you.” Now that she’s back in the holding room, frustration at her own relative helplessness in the situation begins to eat at her again.

GM: Luke nods. “Yes, that’s a good idea, Sarah.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t think of it before Yvette had to go,” the teenager admits with a sad smile. “Or… well, Hannah.”

Caroline: “Better late than never,” Caroline answers, feeling the words biting all to close to her own efforts. “I don’t know if your family attorney is in route, but if they aren’t, my own will be happy to represent you until this is sorted out.”

GM: “Where are my manners,” Luke replies with a faint smile. “Sarah, this is my sister Caroline. She’s studying to be a lawyer. Caroline, this is Sarah Whitney. She’s Lyman Whitney’s granddaughter.”

Caroline: “Nice to meet you, Sarah, I wish it were under better circumstances,” Caroline answers.

GM: “I’m sure we’ve met somewhere before, Caroline, but I’m pleased to now.” Sarah gives another sad smile. “And under circumstances where I’ll get to have a lawyer, I think I’ll consider them pretty good. My family won’t forget this.”

Caroline: “In that case,” the ‘intern’ leans close and continues in a low voice, “what the hell happened? The censored and short version,” she asks. “Somehow a cop got hurt, and another girl?”

She glances around to ensure none of the other police are close by.

GM: Captain White is talking in quiet tones to Gettis. The already laconic police captain seems to be doing most of the pair’s talking.

Sarah glances around at the present cops, then whispers, “It’s a long story, and any lawyer should hear it all. But Amelie tried to climb a gate, fell, and hit her head. I’m not sure what happened to the cop. He gave first aid, then… fell down and screamed, this just awful sound, then ran out. When we followed him outside, he was lying on the ground.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her face passive at the name ‘Amelie’, but the name, present company, and circumstances draw a single question to the forefront of her mind:

Are you fucking kidding me?

GM: Caroline’s phone abruptly buzzes with a text from Denise.

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Caroline: She scowls at the phone, but the beginnings of a story is already coming together. Troubled teen experimenting with drugs suffers a tragic fall. Responding heroic police officer is injured in the line of duty. It’s a narrative she can spin in both directions. It’s one the family has used before. Spike a few blood samples. God knows they did with Westley.

GM: “Next one in,” calls the female cop. She’s followed out of the room by Yvette, whose face is flushed bright red with equal parts fury and humiliation. The other Devillers look mortified as they stare at their sister. Cécilia lets go of Simmone and rushes up to her.

“Je suis tellement désolé que ça t’arrive, Yvette, maman va leur faire payer ça, reste calme,” she exclaims as she hugs the younger girl.

(“I’m so sorry this had to happen to you, Yvette. Maman will make them pay for this. Just stay calm.”)

“I’ll go next,” Sarah quickly calls up.

The cop behind the desk snickers.

Caroline: “Je soupçonne plutôt qu’ils vont regretter des choses avant que ce soit fini,” Caroline agrees.

(“I rather suspect they’ll regret things before it’s over.”)


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Story Two, Emil I

“Can you please just… take care of it?”
Sadie Hall


Friday night, 28 August 2015, PM

GM: Knock. Knock.

Emil gets up to answer the sound. He pulls back the security chain and opens the apartment door.

There’s an unmarked cardboard box on his doorstep.

Emil: Emil places his coffee mug, a black ceramic stylized with the letters NOPD over the front, on the table. He crouches down to examine the package. Unmarked, he mentally sighs, worried less about the potential implications of such a thing and more that dealing with those implications will leave his evening cup of Folger’s cold enough to taste. Nevertheless, curiosity gets the better of him, and he lifts the box off the floor to gauge its weight and guess its contents.

GM: His phone rings from the coffee table just as he stoops down to examine the box. The caller ID reads ‘Sadie.’

Emil: Emil’s eyes widen at the sight, and strings pull up the corners of his mouth into a comforted smile. His daughter is calling him. Emil places the box down, walks back to the coffee table, and answers the phone. He waits for the caller to speak as a matter of habit.

GM: His daughter gets right to the point. “Hey, Dad? Some of my friends are… they’re calling about a dead girl. They’re with a dead girl.”

“Or. Well. She’s… they don’t know, they say she… fell and hit her head, and she’s bleeding like crazy, and they don’t know if she’s, she’s dead or not, or…”

The words come out in a half-coherent rush that the newly-minted lawman might be a stranger to, but his father told him to expect. There’s plenty witnesses who don’t think normally under stress. Plenty more who don’t act normally either.

Like ones who call their fathers for the first time in years, even long after he told them he was moving back.

Emil: “Sweetie.”

It’s been a long time since Emil heard her voice. It’s hard not to reminisce on the past but by the sound of the call, this isn’t the time. He’s honestly not sure how to speak to her normally, not after so long, but this panic is something he can work with.

“I need you to breathe, sweetie. To stay calm. Are you with them? Did you dial 911 like I taught you to?” It was one of the first things he taught her, even before he became a cop. He made her a little emergency situation lullaby.

GM: There’s a sound on the other end of the line like someone taking a breath. “No… no, I’m not with them. They’re calling me.” There’s a pause. Then, “They don’t want to call 911.”

Emil: “What. Why?”

GM: “Ambulances here, they take forever,” come another breath. “And they don’t wanna… get sucked into this. They just want someone to take care of it, and they know me, and that my dad’s a cop, so can you please just… take care of it?”

Emil: Emil’s face darkens over what a sorry state his hometown is in for the kids to be raised so selfishly.

“All right. Give me the address and I’ll come. But call 911. I’m not a miracle worker and that girl’s life is more important than your friends’ wishes.”

GM: There’s another pause.

Then, “Look, they don’t wanna call 911, Dad! They’re trusting, trusting me, to call about this. If you wanna call 911, I don’t, I don’t know what they’re gonna do, or…”

Emil: “It’s fine. Just give me the address and I’ll handle it. Don’t worry. I have it all under control.”

He waits for a moment, collects his coffee, and gulps it down away from the phone.

“I love you, sweetie.”

GM: “Okay… it’s 1140 Royal Street.” There’s another low breath. “The… the LaLaurie House.”

Emil: The famously haunted LaLaurie House. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Emil gets slightly giddy at the thought of visiting the place he’s spent more than a few afternoons idly researching, but his voice remains level as he speaks.

“All right. Talk to you later. I’ll fix this. Hopefully we can meet soon. Goodbye.”

Emil doesn’t wait more than a second to end the call.

He has work to do.


Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM

GM: The rain pours down.

It all hangs out on weekend nights in the French Quarter. Emil remembers that much from his boyhood. Tonight, though, there are no crowds of revelers thronging Bourbon Street, no open containers of booze getting sloshed around, and no staggering, drunken tourists wearing bead necklaces who don’t know that it’s not Mardi Gras. Music still pounds from the many bars and clubs like a raging beast straining to burst from its cage—and whose baying howls are answered by the storm clouds raging overhead.

It’s theoretically an 11-minute drive down the I-10 to the LaLaurie Mansion. But Royal Street is shut down to vehicular traffic from 11 AM to 7 PM on weekends. Emil remembers that from his boyhood too. He doesn’t remember a good place to park. Parking in this area of the city looks terrible. He spots more than one truck emblazoned with NOPD’s blue crescent insignia towing away some unfortunate vehicle, each one indifferent as to the urgency of his mission.

The “eleven minutes” stretch and stretch until Emil settles for the parking lot of the French Market. He pays the ever-hungry parking validation machine. He makes his way to the address on foot as rain thuds and pounds against his umbrella.

Nine more minutes by foot, says his phone.

Emil: Nine more minutes that have to pass before he can save that girl. It’s not so much of a matter of space to cross but time to outrace. The great tick-tocks reverberating throughout the universe decide what changes and what stays the same. Emil knows he is locked into the universe’s great cosmic schedule and knows he will get where he needs to be when the universe intends for him to arrive. He nevertheless breaks into a sprint and tucks his umbrella under his arm as his feet hit the damp ground. He’s only human, after all. And he needs to save this girl. It’s the least he can do for his daughter.

GM: The rain crashes and thunders down in eerie synchrony with the pounding of Emil’s shoes against wet pavement. The streets are dark and empty, but still almost catastrophically tight from the pouring rain that obscures Emil’s sight like a curtain.

It abruptly parts.

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The house of Madam Marie Delphine LaLaurie stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for its time at three stories. Emil read accounts describing it as “the highest building for squares around” in the old days.

Water faints squelches in his shoes as the now-panting and umbrella-less man hustles towards the house’s tall iron gates, as much out instinctive urge to seek shelter from the elements as anything else. He pays no heed to the front gates that lead into the yawning, so-deep portal. The text from one of his daughter’s friends said to go to the courtyard. That’s where it happened. The accident.

Spike-topped, ornamental iron-work swings invitingly open at Emil’s touch, without sound or resistance. Unlocked, like the text said it would be.

The open-air courtyard on the other side offers no respite from the raging storm. No light shines from the any of the sunken windows that sullenly stare down at Emil through the thunderous downpour. The floor is brick and makes the rainfall hard and loud. Lattices are made from the same black wood as a sweeping staircase that leads up and out of sight, into the house’s depths. There’s a few sad-looking, stunted trees and wilted plants dropped in scattered pots throughout an earth-filled brick trough. There are no chairs or tables.

There’s also what looks like a blood-spattered corpse by the front gates.

It’s surrounded by a half dozen or so girls. Most look in their mid to late teens. The youngest still looks in middle school, or maybe late elementary school. Some of the girls have umbrellas out. Others are soaked to their skin. All of them look numb. Some of them might be crying. It’s hard to tell in the rain.

“You’re… Sadie’s father?” asks a girl with a pronounced French accent. She’s pale of skin, with blue eyes equally pale blonde hair wetly plastered against her head.

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“Thank… thank you for coming. She… she ’it ’er… she fell…”

She trails off and gestures helplessly at the body lying by the foot of the gates.

What might be a seventh girl, or what might be a corpse headed for the morgue, has a thick and stocky body that’s dressed in a leather jacket, sweatpants, and sneakers. Emil can’t make out much of the face beyond wet black hair that’s cropped to a short crew cut. Red pools from underneath the head, wet and watery. It’s already threatening to stain Emil’s shoes. One of the girls holds an umbrella over the possible corpse’s head as if in paltry effort to slow the seeping spread of blood.

“She was trying to climb the gate,” clarifies another girl. She’s slightly shorter than the first, with equally drenched brown hair and hazel eyes. “But it’s so dark, and with this rain… she fell.”

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“We tried… we tried to stop ‘er. She wouldn’t listen. She… she was crazy. She thought the ’ouse was ’aunted,” says another pale-eyed, pale-skinned, pale-haired blonde. Her features are an almost perfect mirror of the first girl’s. Emil almost thinks they’re twins, at first, but there’s just a few features and contours that are subtly off.

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None of the other three girls speak up. One is thin, with glasses and slightly curled black hair. The second is taller and stockier. The youngest girl looks like the first two girls in miniature. She wordlessly clings to the side of the blonde who spoke first.

Emil: Emil examines the situation, and after letting each girl have her piece, he sets the large bag he was carrying on the floor and opens it. It contains an organized mess of medical supplies, a box of gloves, a box of pens, and some notepads.

He passes around the pens and notepads and tells the brunette, who seems the most stable, “I need you to write down what you saw. Make sure your friends do that too.”

GM: The silent brown-haired girl speaks up. “Um… shouldn’t you be giving her first aid? She… she might be alive…”

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Emil: He doesn’t take his eyes off the bloodied girl on the ground. He pulls on gloves and starts to examine her as fast as he can. Time is of the essence. “Just do as I say,” he tells the girl tersely.

GM: “Hey, how about you stop her from bleeding to death! That’s why we called you!” the girl angrily flares.

Emil: Emil goes to work. He first finds where she’s bleeding from and presses a towel firmly against the area to apply pressure to the wound. He holds each side of her head with his gloved hands and aligns it with her spine. A spinal injury could be devastating if she survives.

“Stop talking. If you don’t want to be responsible for the death of your friend, do what I say now. Start taking photos once you’re done, put your hand in one of them.” His voice is stern but fatherly. He needs to collect evidence in case anything goes wrong. He continues his work, checks the dying girl’s breathing, and grabs her wrist to check her pulse.

But it’s not. Fucking. Working. Her pulse is weak. The rag he’s holding is soaked a deep crimson, meaning the girl’s blood pressure is too high for Emil to stop the flow. Her blood pools all around them. There is so much. Too much to imagine. It pools over the bricks and the ground can’t even drink it. It just marks everything red with the sign of nature upturned. Producers consuming predators.

Emil feels like the city’s soul is howling through the rain as it plunks and thuds against his head. His cold eyes begin to water of their own accord. The girl’s body is getting colder. The Lord’s angels try to pull her soul away from its suffering. But the rain pulls down harder and the angels cannot fight nature. To fight nature is to fight God Himself.

The rain drenches the city. God rains down not with fire and brimstone, but with the cleansing water of His blood. It comes from above and below to consume as well as cleanse. A blood-soaked man cries against the downpour from his knees. His clothes feel as if they are drenched by the city’s tears. His own hope feels ready to die as more tears finally rim his own eyes.

But he is not blinded. Instead, he sees.

A different time. A different place. The memory of a scarred youth and another pool of blood. Small, bloodied hands washed with that same rain. The rain of an evening he’d forgotten until now.

Emil sat on the asphalt, his knees warm with the blood of the man prostrated in front of him. Someone had put a hole in the man’s neck. Blood spurted out like from a crushed, overripe fruit. Blood ran onto the man’s shirt and stained NOPD’s crescent insignia. Emil was too young to grasp all that it stood for, but he cried back when he recognized the man’s uncomprehending eyes as his father’s. He cried to the world that didn’t care, that would be so cruel as to take his daddy from him just because of a little hole. His mother mended holes in his clothes all the time. Why couldn’t he?

Wait.

Maybe he could.

He reached out and touched the hole in Daddy’s neck, touched it with all his heart. He watched the hole close up under his palm, and felt its pain sear against his own neck.

Emil blinks a few times as he stares down at the girl’s expressionless face. He reaches a hand to his neck with returned understanding of the scar he rubs over. He knows he can do it. He knows how to save her. Tears stream down his determined face as he presses his palms to her head and pulls with the whole force of his being.

It hurts. Like hell. The wounds are stubborn. The pain wants to stay where it is. His teeth grit with his own as he pulls harder, with all the strength he can muster. He gasps as pain spreads throughout his whole body and every cell screams at once with its pain. Only then, as Emil wails like a banshee towards the crying sky, does he feel the wounds closing under his hands.

He barely notices the fresh welts and leaking blood on the sides of his head. Their pain is nothing against what he just underwent. He smiles as his tears lose their heat: the only stream running down his cheeks is cool. He feels powerful.

But now is not the time for celebration.

“We need to get out of here now. Help me lift her,” he urges the girls around him. Do they know what just happened? Can they understand what he felt? Emil doesn’t know and even if he cares—now is not the time.

GM: We need to get out of here.

Emil mouths the words.

Help me lift her.

The girls don’t move.

Help me lift h…

Frowns on their faces.

Help me… Help me…

A couple of them start towards him. Their motions seem almost exaggeratedly slow. Their mouths move, but the sound is slurred and all but inaudible against the thundering storm.

Help… me…

The rain pours down. Sight and sound dissolve like so many lost droplets.

help…

It hits him like a firehose shot into his face. Pain. Pain beyond pain. It rocks through his hands, lances up his arms, and slashes across his gut, which now feels so cool and wet. He’s so light. After all, he’s not all in there. He’s missing something. He tugs at the coil of agony leading out of his guts and finds his guts. His guts are outside. He tries to pull them back in and put himself back together, but his fingers burn his guts, like the nails are shards of glass heated to a thousand degrees. He lifts his hands and his amputated wrists scream at him with frothing, bloody tongues. His eyes scream too. The wetness running down his face is hot again. His mouth tries to join the ghastly chorus, but no sound emerges. He gags and tastes something foul. A foulness that is not bile. His holes are in the wrong place. The next scream suffocates beneath the weight of its own dampness and offal. It seeps into his lungs as he futilely hacks and retches. He mindlessly waves his stumps and there’s blessed relief. His head is so cool under the rain. His brains are cool. Rain on his brains. He giggles at the rhyme, at the relief, and cries coppery-smelling tears as the stick stirs and sirs, mushing his brains around like lumpy porridge. The fragile vessel that was his mind breaks from the impossible burden of what it sought it to take in. The burden that no man could ever heal. No man can heal. There is no relief. Only suffering. There is no surcease. Only oblivion.

Oblivion.

He need only let go…

Emil: Not with one last hold to cling on to.

Rage.

Why is this happening to him? Why does God turn His back when he needs help? This house mocks him, mocks his faith, mocks the very blood that he sheds. The falling raindrops tickle his blood and make it laugh on the bricks below, hopping up and down at the hilarity of his hubris. To think he could do better than any of the slaves who trod those same bricks and had their brains stirred, their bodies broken, their souls crushed. He wants to fight back. He wants to strike at these invisible torturers that would turn him and that girl into bloody tableaus of this house’s past.

Somehow he understands. He tried to take that girl’s pain in to himself.

What else did he invite in?

Emil clutches at his stomach—with what?— and runs. He runs towards the gates. He runs for the life and freedom lost to those slaves. He runs before he loses his. The gate’s wrought-iron bars were open only minutes ago. They might as well be the gates to providence now. They have to be open. He runs without even pausing to see, and he prays. For himself. For the poor girls still inside the house. For the poor girl on the ground. His voice cracks like lightning over the thundering rain as he screams,

“G… get her… out! Wri… down… your names! EVERYTHING! Br… ing… my… ba-aA-AG! N-N-NOOWWWWWWW!!!

He doesn’t look back. He has his own daughter. He needs to be alive for her.

He runs and he runs and an eternity passes. Time slows when you’re dying. Emil can’t die. Not here. Now now. His arm trembles as he yanks his phone out from his bloody wool pants. He slumps against a wall as he fumbles to hit the button that will call his daughter. He prays it’s not his last act as he feels his knees buckle. He prays the thundering rain isn’t the last thing he hears as blackness steals over his sight.

“S… Sad… ie. Sadie… p-please… an… s… er…”


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Story One, Amelie XI

“You should get out of here.”
Hannah Burroughs


Friday evening, 28 August 2015

GM: The sun sets over New Orleans.

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Rain has started to fall.

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

The house of Marie Delphine LaLaurie looms before her.

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

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

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

But Amelie does.

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

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

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

There is no past. No present. No future.

Just her.

Her, and the patiently waiting LaLaurie House.

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

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

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

She’s sure the realtor will be here soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Miriam frowns deeply. So does Yvette.

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

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

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

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

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

“That makes sense. Shall we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I guess we’re ready.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When do your sisters get here?”

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

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

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

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

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

GM: A pinging noise goes up from the phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Minutes pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Excuse us,” Yvette says to Amelie.

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

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

“Hallo,” says the taller girl.

“Hi,” echoes the smaller one.

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

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

“Amalie is a girl,” Yvette replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah was packing.”

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

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

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

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

“Ah’ll take you,” Yvette finishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She turns to Rachel and Hannah as the others talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’Ow did that happen?” Yvonne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Figures. That’s a letdown.” Rachel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good choice,” Sarah smiles.

“I took Chinese. Seemed interesting.” Rachel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other girls laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Murder scene!” Rachel.

“Good enough for me,” Sarah laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t this place cozy,” she remarks.

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

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

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

“Oui. Some privacy.” Yvonne.

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

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

“Rachel?”

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

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

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

“Can you call her cell?”

GM: The other girls look around.

“Maybe she wandered off?” Sarah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, we shocked y-” Yvette starts.

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah shines her phone over it.

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

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

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

The scattered phonelights still.

Merde,” Yvonne mutters.

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

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

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

Devil_Baby.jpg
None of the other girls say anything.

Amelie: Amelie does not back down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah looks between them, then follows Yvonne out.

The horned figure silently watches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The room is abruptly plunged into blackness.

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

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

“Leave that thing alone!”

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

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

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

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

GM: Teal glow spills over the portrait.

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

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

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

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

Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks around for her glowstick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah’m cold,” Simmone remarks.

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

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

Simmone bends down to rummage through her backpack.

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

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

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

Danger.

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

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

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

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

“What do you even have that for?”

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

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

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

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

“-from our mother’s cellar.” Yvonne.

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

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

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

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

The five other girls are all staring at her.

None of them blink.

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

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

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

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

“Did she really?” Yvonne scoffs.

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

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

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

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

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

Giggles sound from the others.

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

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

She frowns. The light dips slightly.

“And your… feet?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, does that smell like… chartreuse?”

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

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

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

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

Sarah frowns.

Simmone and Hannah look confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Actually, in some families-” Rachel starts.

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

“This was a project?” Simmone asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah wouldn’t either,” remarks Simmone.

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

“Still.” Simmone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yvette taps away on her phone.

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

Amelie: Amelie tightly clamps her flashlight.

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

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

“Geez, this weather.” Rachel.

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

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

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

GM: Yvonne shrugs.

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

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

“Why not?” the brunette smiles at them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel’s eyes pan up. “None taken.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, th-” Hannah starts.

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

Hannah stares after her.

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

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

“I—why?”

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s clear now. She has to leave.

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

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

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

Amelie: She stops completely and eyes the staircase.

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

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

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

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

Nothing else is visible on the stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

GM: It’s a text.

There’s no message.

Just an image.

Devil_Baby.jpg
As Amelie bolts straight upright, her flashlight winks out.

There’s a dull clunking.

Light in her peripheral vision.

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

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

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

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

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

Her foot touches one step.

Then two steps.

Then air.

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

SMASH

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

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

Overhead, the rain screams and pours.

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

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

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

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

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

Her sweating palms finally seize upon a glowstick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“-and noises,” Yvonne notes.

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

“M-my shoulder! Please don’t-”

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

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

“Yeah, everywhere,” Simmone observes.

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

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

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

GM: “Ah’m sor-” Yvette starts.

“Wait, your stuff-” Rachel calls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It parts.

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

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

There is sound.

Raggedy.

Manic.

High-pitched.

Evil.

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

:: FLY ::

Amelie’s heart stops.

Limp hands slip.

And she flies.


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Story One, Victoria II

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


Thursday evening, 19 September 2011

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

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

He grins and looks around.

“You a new girl?”

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

“Nope. Been here a whole two weeks.”

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

“You must be lost.”

GM: “My good luck,” grins the man.

He whistles and looks around.

“What a collection.”

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

GM: “Heh,” says the man.

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

“How long can someone wear this thing for?”

Victoria: She looks to the fiddle.

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

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

“You got a name, sexy?”

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

“You just said it, hmn?”

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

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

She refrains from giving him his name.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m Greg.”

Victoria: She sighs, calming herself.

“I’m Sylvia.”

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

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

Victoria: “Nope.”

She picks up a welding torch.

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

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

“That’s intense.”

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

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

Sylvia doesn’t see anyone else nearby.

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

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

“If you make them.”

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

Victoria: She shakes her head.

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

GM: He looks at her suspiciously.

“You really don’t use these things?”

“But you make them.”

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

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

“Gregory!” comes an imperious female voice.

“Where are you, you impudent boy!”

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

Victoria: “Try the closet.”

She gestures to an iron maiden.

GM: “Oh, ha, ha, that’s fun-”

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

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

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

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

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

“Bye bye.”


Friday evening, 27 September 2011

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

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

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

Greg wiggles his eyebrows.

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

GM: Greg laughs.

“Dang, the mouth on you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Huh?” frowns Greg.

“Like, this is how you get off?”

“I mean, duh, there!” he chuckles.

Victoria: She stares at him.

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

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

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

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

GM: “She didn’t let me cum.”

Greg looks genuinely irritated.

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

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

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

Sylvia turns, opening a drawer.

GM: He grins at Sylvia’s words.

“Yeah, I sure am.”

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

Victoria: She pulls out a pair of garden shears.

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

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

“Uhhh, I’m just gonna leave. Okay?”

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

GM: “Yeah, you…”

Greg suddenly looks straight past Sylvia.

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

“OH SHIT!” he exclaims.

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

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

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

Victoria: The shears clatter to the floor.

FUCKER! Let. Me. OUT!”

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

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

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

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

He delivers a hard smack to her ass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re gonna get it for that, cunt!”

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

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

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

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

She writhes, struggling against him.

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

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

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

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

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

“As a bitch at my feet!”

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

Unless he holds her up, she sinks down.

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

“That’s a good girl!” he sneers.

“We gonna fix that dirty mouth of yours first, or we gonna have you lick my shoes?”

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

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

“Suck, bitch!”

“That’s a tame little domme!”

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

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

How pliant.

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

“Good bitch! My fucking pet domme!”

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

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

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

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

“Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! You’re mine!”

“My pet domme! I fucking TAMED you!”

Victoria: “Mhmm! Mhmm!”

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

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

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

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

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

“You… bi… you…!”

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

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

Coughing, she still manages a smirk.

“Enjo—” cough! “—enjoy your last?”

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

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

Victoria: She runs to the door, kicking it. “LET! ME! OUT!”

GM: The closed door remains closed.

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

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

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

How could they leave her like this?

OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!”

She walks over and kicks it again.

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

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

Victoria: “OI! GET THE FUCK IN HERE!”

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, freedom.

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

She can hardly speak without trembling.

“He… he… he…”

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

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

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

Greg’s screams have stopped.

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

“Con… control? What do you mean?”

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

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

“Or not so fair?”

“Would that not seem like enough?”

Victoria: She nods.

“…won’t turn down a raise, but… yes.”

A pause.

“And something to prevent that happening again.”

“You’re going to ban him, then?”

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

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

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

“Probably not his smartest life decision.”

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

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

Victoria: She shakes her head.

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

A pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

More assured, “Okay.”

She nods.

“I’ll be back.”


Saturday evening, 28 September 2011

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

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

She says something. Sylvia doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter.

“Aw, YEAH!” shouts Greg.

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

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

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

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

She didn’t sleep much that night.

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

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

Sylvia St. George, stop being a pussy.

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

“How? How is he…?”

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

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

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

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

GM: The domme laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

She drops her voice.

“How far does this go?”

GM: The domme smiles widely.

“As far as you’d like it to.”

Victoria: She lofts a brow, uncertain.

“You mean that.”

It’s not a question.

GM: “I mean that,” comes the answer.

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

Victoria: Sylvia offers her a kind smile.

“I appreciate you. Everyone here.”

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

Sylvia walks up to Greg.

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

GM: Greg freezes.

Maybe he recognizes her voice.

He doesn’t say anything.

Victoria: She gestures the ass licker away.

“Tell me. What. You. Want.”

GM: The girl hops off the bed.

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

He tugs at his restraints.

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

She grips his cock.

“Right?”

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

Greg squirms and tries to pull away from her hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shakes the bottle.

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

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

Victoria: He hears the bottle open.

“You were so eager yesterday.”

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

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

He tugs against his restraints some more.

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

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

She drums her fingers on his thigh.

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

GM: Greg starts actually crying.

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

Victoria: “Let’s fix that.”

She reads the bottle.

“Aha… between one and half a pill.”

She shoves ten into his mouth, then the gag.

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

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

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

They are very much not placebos.

GM: Perhaps he wonders if she’s lying.

About the placebos.

About the other domme.

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

Cold sweat beads his skin.

Sylvia can watch him literally sweating over this.

Then, finally.

He swallows.

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

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

The gag is removed.

Good boy.”

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

“Are you sorry for what you did?”

GM: Greg nods raptly, feverishly.

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

Victoria: “Mmmn… close, but no.”

She reaches over, gently pumping his shaft, testing.

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

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

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

Sylvia can’t see his eyes behind the blindfold.

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

Victoria: She beckons one of the subs over silently.

“It’s not an apology if I tell you.”

GM: The sub obediently approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nnnno—nnnn-NNNN-OOOO!!!!” he wails.

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

He breaks down inarticulately sobbing.

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

The Viagra should be taking effect soon.

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

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

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

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

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

“Doesn’t that feel good?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg screams and impotently thrashes against his restraints.

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

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

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

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

SYLVIA ST. GEORGE, YOU DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO!

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

Her mouth is dry. So dry.

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

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

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

Greg sobs and chokes and blubbers.

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

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

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

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

She presses the board beneath his scrotum.

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

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

Ah!

She retrieves a claw hammer.

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

His restraints hold him fast.

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

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

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

It’s wrong.

It’s terrible.

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

Sylvia is a bad girl.

And in that moment, she loves it.

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

It sure isn’t two.

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

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

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

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

BANG!

“See?! I made you pop!”

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

“Y-YOUUU F-FUCKING SSSHHEE-WWWOOLLFF…!!!!”

It doesn’t literally pop like a grape.

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

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

Greg throws up. Bile leaks down his chest and all over the sub. Piss leaks from his throbbing, blackened cock.

But he screams no more. He hangs limply from his restraints.

He must have fainted from the pain and shock.

The domme straddles up behind Sylvia and runs her hands down the other woman’s shoulders.

“Exquisite,” she breathes.

Victoria: The hammer clatters to the floor. Sylvia planned so much more. She planned it all in her head: him finishing inside the nameless girl, the smashed testicle, the claw tugging what remained further, and further, and further, and further he while writhed and begged. He would scream as she screamed while she takes more than he took.

It remains a dream. A fantasy. Even if he didn’t pass out, Sylvia is done.

Her body gives up.

She can’t do any more.

The purr in her ear brings her a soothing chill. Silently, she looks to the woman.

GM: The woman’s face is proud.

Proud. Aroused. Hungry. There’s something hot kindled in her green eyes. Her voice is a breathless whisper in Sylvia’s ears.

“You should be a mistress.”

“You have what it takes.”

Victoria: Anna is going to die if she ever hears those words.

“I’m…”

Her heart rocks against her ribcage, fluttering up her throat.

“I’m not sure I do.”

GM: Wordlessly, the woman holds up the bloody hammer.

Copper wafts up Sylvia’s nose.

Victoria: She takes the hammer, staring at its sanguine-splotched head.

“This… isn’t what every client wants.”

Even this one didn’t.

GM: “Yes,” the woman laughs. “They usually want… less.”

Victoria: She knows she’ll be good at it.

She isn’t sure she wants to be good at it.

GM: Greg hangs uselessly in place, covered in blood and bile. The smell is overpowering.

Victoria: “What will happen to him?”

GM: “He’ll live. I suppose. And go through life without use of his precious cock, and never touch another girl again.”

The woman strokes a hand along Sylvia’s face.

“None of this will ever come back to haunt you. We look out for our own.”

“You are one of our own.”

“You are one of us.”

“You love this. Everything about this.”

“Don’t you?”

Victoria: She bites her tongue, thinking.

“He still has one left, and his cock will recover otherwise, unless the stimulant ruined him sufficiently.”

She hands the woman the hammer while she leans into that stroking hand, closing her eyes.

She is one of them. She’s been one of them since her interview. She loves this life, even though she couldn’t admit it to Anna.

“…yes.”

GM: The woman takes the hammer, positions the cutting board, and then does exactly what Sylvia just did.

Victoria: She winces. A fleck of blood lands on her glasses.

GM: She sets down the twice-bloodied implement, then wraps her arms around Sylvia and softly kisses her cheek.

“Welcome home… Mistress.

Victoria: Sylvia chews her lip, thinking.

“I’ve a thought.”

Oh, the sound of that word. So crisp. So frigid, yet warming; a mother’s embrace from a statue of ice.

GM: “I’ll bet it’s worth more than a penny.”

Victoria: “He’ll remember this, but he won’t think about it every day. He’ll miss fucking, but over time he’ll miss it less and less.”

GM: “People can get used to anything, it’s true,” sighs the woman.

Victoria: The dregs of adrenaline are fading. Uncertainty plagues her, but the reassurance of this woman pushes her forward.

One more. Just one more.

Her crumbling foundation holds.

“Help me turn him over?”

GM: The woman undoes his cuffs, then turns over his fat, blood- and bile-smeared body.

Victoria: “Got a knife?”

GM: Just as swiftly, Sylvia finds one in her hands.

Victoria: “You are boundlessly prepared.”

She scores the ring just deep enough to weaken muscle, then seats the knife directly into his asshole.

“There. Now he’ll remember daily.”


Saturday night, 28 September 2011, PM

Victoria: Two days in a row, Sylvia leaves Chakras trembling. Two days, with tears welling up behind her eyes. Two days, with blood on her face.

She shouldn’t be driving, but she is despite three separate people offering to take her home.

“It’s only a five minute drive,” said one of them.

“It’s really no trouble,” said another.

She wanted to accept the ride, but not as much as she needs to be alone; to let herself break down, and to allow the skyscraper of roiling guilt and emotion to come crashing down.

The door to her ancient Civic barely clicks closed before she punches the steering wheel hard enough to bruise her hand.

FUCK!”

GM: Her hand hurts.

But that pain will fade.

Greg is never going to use a bathroom the same way again.

Victoria: Greg deserved every ounce of pain that he received. His punishment was justify.

It doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Sylvia drives home, running two stop signs, nearly hitting a pedestrian at one. The angry, Asian man swears at her in an unfamiliar language. She feels more guilty about the corgi that leaps off the sidewalk, but it manages to run between her tires before she passes.

Lucky dog.

She makes it home, both her and passing people in one piece, and she presses a key to the front door of her apartment. Never has she had so much trouble opening a simple door.

Stupid, fucking Greg. If he hadn’t locked the door. If they hadn’t installed a locking door…

GM: Or a soundproofed room.

Or such reliable restraints.

She’d know there, after all. She made those cuffs with her own two hands.

Victoria: She shaped his fate, in a way.

She hadn’t forced him to come in.

She hadn’t forced him to rape her.

GM: She remembers his laugh.

How he said he’d tamed her.

How much he loved taming dommes.

Taking strong and assertive women and bringing them to heel.

Victoria: Now he’ll never bring anyone to heel again.

He’s lost his purpose.

He is weak.

Impotent.

Futureless.

She took everything from him, and wounded him beyond that.

And she reveled in it.

And she hates herself for it.

GM: He was a monster. He’d have preyed on other women.

So she hurt him, until he can’t hurt anyone again, and now she feels like the monster.

Was there a right thing to do?

Victoria: She’s no better than the men of her childhood.

And she liked it.

Likes it.

Likes it a lot.

Is this why they did it to her?

To feel overwhelming power over the helpless?

GM: She remembers how it felt with the chair.

The fear in her eyes.

The sense of a defenseless life completely with her hands. Within her power.

Victoria: She wonders where that chair is now. Chakras is bigger than it’s given credit for, and she is only one small component of the machine. So many dommes. So many subs. So many support workers, just like her.

GM: Wherever she is, she’s probably happy so long as someone is sitting on her.

Victoria: The door clicks closed, and Sylvia St. George crumbles like an overcooked cookie, with none of the sweetness. Her bag falls to the floor, and she barely makes it to the sofa before she’s sobbing, screaming into a pillow.

She’s a broken toy. She’s a toddler with a tantrum. She’s both the uncertain child with a hand down her pants, and the rapist, eyes glinting in the dark.

She is both halves of everything she hates, and everything she swore never to be, and never to be again.

She embodied them both, and what’s worse? She likes it. Even there in her blind rage, she likes it. There’s more she would have done if he hadn’t passed out, and there’s more she wishes she could go back right that moment and do to him. She wishes she could have an auditorium of young men to watch, to broadcast to the world exactly what happens when you take what you don’t deserve, and she wishes she could comfort every last one of them and tell them it’s okay.

Sylvia St. George is a bad girl, and she doesn’t know what to feel.

The very worst part?

They offered her a job for it.

They offered her a job for it, and she already knows she’s going to take it the next morning.


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Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

“So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”
“More steel than satin.”

Caroline Malveaux to Amelie Savard


Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s deliberately slower than normal route under the district’s majestic live oaks is interrupted by a phone call. The caller ID reads ‘unknown.’

Amelie: Amelie pauses and steps under the shade of a tree to answer. “Hello?”

Caroline: “Ms. Savard?” answers an unfamiliar female voice. There’s a clipped tone to it that reminds her slightly of her more entitled classmates. But with a finer edge. If they’re in process, this sounds closer to the finished product of what they’ll become.

Amelie: “Speaking. Can I help you?”

Caroline: “I rather suspect it’s the opposite,” the voice replies in an amused tone. “I heard you were asking about me.”

Amelie: “I’ve asked about a few people in the last few days. Can you please specify?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Caroline Malveaux speaking. Something about fencing and sword-making?”

Amelie: “OH! Yes, that’s—wow, news travels fast. I didn’t ask about you specifically, ma’am, just chasing a rumor about a Malveaux being a state fencing champion. Apologies if it was concerning to you.”


Caroline: Caroline’s stomach falls out at the mention of her old fencing record. She forgot how uncomfortable this topic makes her. ‘State champion’ indeed.


Caroline: There’s silence on the other end for a moment, but only just, before a light laugh sounds.

“You must be new to New Orleans, Ms. Savard. The only thing around here that travels faster than gossip and news has a pair of jet engines on it.”

Amelie: “I grew up idolizing New Orleans. It’s easy to forget how small it is. Which is a reason for my asking about you. I heard you won a state championship in Louisiana despite me not able to find a state fencing league?”

Caroline: “There’s a high school league and championship,” Caroline answers. “It’s USFA sanctioned but not rated, might be the cause of the confusion. It’s also not as large as you might like—mostly a few private schools and academies. Winning here is mostly an invitation to attend a regional event.”

There’s a pause.

“That was a few years ago, of course.”


Caroline: Talking about her old fencing career makes her remember how excited she was when she closed out that championship match. How confident she’d been to go to regionals. And why not? Nerea certainly expected her to clean house.

It leaves a bitter taste in her mouth to say that was ‘a few years ago.’


Amelie: “Did you attend McGehee, ma’am?”

Caroline: “You’re making me feel older than my mother. Caroline, please,” the voice replies with a mild laugh. “But no, I went to St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge. Closer to the legislature for my father.”

Amelie: “Sorry! Caroline. You can call me Amelie. Sorry I assumed, I’m not sure of the relation, but Vera Malveaux spoke at our school as a former student. As for the ‘making swords’ part, I was going to approach your family about your art and history charities. I’m a historical craftsman, you see, I have a lot of restoration experience. I wanted to offer my services as a volunteer.”


Caroline: Caroline avoids scoffing at the high school girl’s claim.


Caroline: “You’re attending McGehee but have ‘a lot’ of experience?” Caroline asks, amused.

Amelie: “This is the only year I’ve attended. I worked in a family artisan-ship since I was around five years old, metallurgy, leather tailoring, and wood-working. Savard Swordsmith, in the village of Biccoline, if you’d like to Google it. It’s since shut down unfortunately.”


Caroline: Then what the hell are you doing at McGehee? Caroline can’t help but wonder.

She idly plugs ‘Biccoline’ into a search engine and scans results as she talks.


Caroline: “It sound as though you’ve lived quite an interesting life,” Caroline replies. “What brings you to New Orleans?”

Amelie: There’s a pause. “Interesting lives have road-bumps. Like I said though, I’ve idolized New Orleans since I was young. I’ve lived here with my aunt the past month.”


Caroline: Caroline is only half listening as she reads the results on her Sunpad. Her brow furrows the further she does.

‘Idolized’ jumps out at her. Caroline resists a laugh at it.

We’ll see how long that lasts.


Caroline: “That’s some aunt to secure you a place at McGehee,” Caroline replies pleasantly.

Amelie: There’s no pause this time. “She’s been incredible, yes. Especially in putting up with me. I’m planning on paying back her costs as well, which means college and a revival of my work. Do you mind if I ask you about your mother? I’m afraid I don’t have a full family picture beyond your… aunt? Vera Malveaux?”

Caroline: “She is. My favorite aunt,” Caroline quips.


Caroline: Whatever her personal feelings about Vera, family problems and conflicts stay inside the family.

Still, it gives her an opportunity. Bicolline. The more she reads, the more confused she gets.

Who the hell pulled strings to get this girl into McGehee?


Caroline: “And what about yours?” she asks. “Do you love her or hate her for getting you into McGehee? Aunt Vera talks about it all the time. She said it was quite challenging.”

Amelie: Amelie is a bit off-put by the question’s rather personal phrasing but she brushes it off. “Academically, I’m handling AP classes just fine. It’s not difficult for me at all. High society, no offense, is the only real obstacle I’m facing. I’m not exactly Southern belle material.”


Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at the tail end of that statement.

Obviously.


Caroline: “So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”

Amelie: “More steel than satin.”

Caroline: “And yet it doesn’t sound like you’ve found them particularly soft or flexible,” Caroline muses.

Amelie: “Satin is usually used to hide things,” she muses.

Caroline: “In any case, you wanted to volunteer with various charities my aunt runs in some capability. Why don’t we schedule a sit-down over lunch to talk over some options. How does later this afternoon work for you?”

Amelie: The thought of an actual sit-down with a Malveaux is a surprise—but a very, very welcome one. Meeting for a talk in public doesn’t sound too dangerous, either.

“Yes! Definitely yes. That works perfectly for me.”

Caroline: “Excellent. Do you know where Avo is?”

Amelie: “The name rings bells, I can find where it is. Would you like to meet there?”

Caroline: “I’ll make a reservation for today in an hour. Late lunch.”

Amelie: “I’ll make sure I look satin. Thank you again, Caroline, this is amazing of you.”

Caroline: “It’s only lunch, and the least I can do for someone that wants to get involved and give back. Too many young people today are happy to sit on the sidelines.” Amelie can almost picture her reading the response off of a note card.

Amelie: Amelie listens and nods. The response might sound robotic, but if she can impress Caroline, it’ll be a huge boon.

“Thank you for this chance, Caroline. Give my regards to your aunt as well, I’m sure I caused you both trouble in my asking around.”

Caroline: “Hopefully not,” Caroline replies cheerfully. “I haven’t heard of any yet. But I’ll see you there. The reservation will be under Malveaux.”

Amelie: “Perfect. I’ll see you then! Have a great weekend.”

Caroline: “Until then,” Caroline replies, ending the call.


Caroline: There’s something there under the surface, Caroline muses as she tucks her phone away. Family feud?

She can hardly resist digging.


Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie takes a deep breath in and out. She feels like she should be doing a back flip as she starts walking again and categorizes the work she has pictures online for her restoration jobs as she heads towards home. She peeks over the fence to see if her aunt’s car is parked in the driveway.

She hopes it’s not.

GM: Amelie does not see her aunt’s BMW parked behind the cast-iron fence that surrounds the pillared, neoclassical house. The garden’s palm trees, so still in the morning’s heat, rustle against a faint breeze that feels like paradise in the so-humid weather. Sweat is already trickling down Amelie’s back from the short walk. Despite her teachers’ talk about the ‘glorious’ day, though, clouds seem to be moving in overhead.

Amelie: The house is probably empty, then. Amelie slips inside and up to her room to get battle ready. She showers and pulls on some loose-fitting cashmere sweatpants, a low-cut black top, sneakers, and the surprisingly functional leather jacket she got during her outing with Kristina. Just a quick zip and she can imagine herself skidding across any surface without an issue.

The equipment she’s bringing along is fairly simple. She slides one folding knife in her pocket, conceals another one in an offhand pocket on her bag, and hides the last one under her bra strap. She pockets the mace and miniature prybar, then looks through the rest of her backpack’s contents to make sure she’s got everything ready and waiting. The last items she adds are another set of clothes to change into for her meeting with Caroline. She doesn’t want to come back to her aunt’s house again if she can help it.

She slings the backpack over her shoulder and makes sure her phone is fully charged before sliding it into her pocket. She looks herself over in the mirror and takes a deep bracing breath before heading back out the door. A simple note remains behind on the kitchen counter for her aunt.

See you tomorrow. Wish me luck in the haunted house.

GM: The house is silent and still as Amelie ventures inside. No one disturbs her when she gathers her weapons for the far from mundane-feeling slumber party. The shards of broken plate from her morning fight with her aunt are gone when she ventures into the kitchen to write her note. The well-furnished house looks as ready to entertain guests as it ever does. No evidence remains of the hurtful words spoken not so many hours ago.

But the memory lingers.

Amelie: Amelie is glad she doesn’t have to pick up the plate’s pieces. She’s also glad she had trouble eating more than half a piece of toast, so that was the only thing her aunt had to clean up.

But the memory covers the kitchen like a queasy film. She only stays as long as she has to. The last item she takes is a box of salt from the pantry, which she places in her bag before she gets going out the door.

GM: Amelie walks past old Colonial, Greek Revival, Italian, and Victorian houses with their white Corinthian pillars and wrought- or cast-iron fences. Classical sculptures depict capering nymphs, satyrs, and dolphins at play. Cicadas buzz as wind rustles through the palm trees and soaring live oaks that give the Garden District part of its name. The occasional lawnmower buzzes along, leaving the unmistakable scent of freshly-cut grass in its wake. Sprinklers steadily whir as they water the bright green lawns and beds of lilies, roses, and creamy white magnolias. There are are only a few slow-passing cars, picture-snapping tourists, and odd pedestrians out today. No one interrupts Amelie’s solitude along her walk.

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She remembers first seeing the picturesque neighborhood past the back window of Oscar’s limo, and commenting how she’d never been to a neighborhood this nice where people were allowed to live in the buildings. She remembers, too, the police and their dogs patrolling the edge of the district. She remembers showing up late, sweaty, and smelly to class. She remembers all those girls in the halls and cafeteria, so much prettier than she is, following her with their silently laughing eyes. She remembers them finally saying what they really thought when there was a bathroom stall’s wall between them. She remembers Ms. Perry saying she’d broken off her engagement, Ms. Ward telling her off in front of the whole class, and Mrs. Flores canceling class on a ‘casual Friday’ because of the leg her husband maimed.

She remembers looking at the student government election posters between Susannah Kelly, who has managed to avoid dancing with her even after two weeks of classes, and the girl who gave her false directions to Sarah Whitney’s class, who the posters said was named Cecil Lancaster. She remembers Rachel’s stories about Rebecca Whitney, killed in the prime of her life by a drunk driver, and Lottie B., raped and murdered in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car.

The Garden District looks as gorgeous as it did when she first arrived in the city. But more and more, that charming exterior seems merely a facsimile. Amelie cannot help but wonder how much darkness is festering behind the doors of each of those old homes, which has had so long to rot and putrefy in the balmy summer heat.

The Dixie sun shines overhead, bright, fat, and yellow against the blue sky and gathering white clouds. Its heat is already making Amelie start to perspire under her leather jacket.

But the brighter the light, the starker the shadow.

Amelie: The architecture once made her knees weak. The phone call with Caroline made her elated. But the district and its historic houses feel more like a well-made Disneyworld exhibit than the revered old buildings they are—or should be. Just peel back the paint. It’s likely caked in mold and holes, but if you keep painting, it looks just fine.

Her ride to the city is still very clear in her mind, but now it feels like it was foreshadowing. The freeway: dark on one side, bright on the other, separating the city’s haves from the have-nots. Their positions feel reversed now. Police and their vicious dogs keep out blacks and derelicts, but how many people are happy and good on the dark side, and how many are miserable and rotten in the bright side?

Her memories of school are much more clear-cut, too. It’s not really that different from a public school. Girls are too cowardly to say anything to her face and laugh behind her back. The only thing that makes it worse than her old school is the damned skirt and how exposed it makes her feel. It’s a relief when the fabric stroking against her legs re-affirms she’s wearing the pants in her relationship with the world again. Her tank top shows off the strong definition of her collarbone.

Rachel’s stories are harder to shake off, though. Every time she thinks about Lottie, raped to death in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car, maybe in this very neighborhood, it makes her blood boil. She wishes the people who harmed her suffered more. But that sorrowful train of thought only brings her back to her two favorite teachers.

She tries to push it out of her mind as she rests in the streetcar and lays her jacket on her lap. It’s the first time she can remember letting her scar breathe in New Orleans. The straps of her low top don’t hide the splotch of boiled-looking skin that’s several shades darker than the rest of her body. The scar tissue starts at her broad and strong left shoulder before vanishing down her back. There’s another deeply curved gouge on her forearm, and a third, smaller scar on her equally broad and strong right shoulder. She doesn’t even remember where she got that one.

Amelie isn’t beautiful. She knows she’ll only ever be able to halfway pass for it in clothes that more fully cover her body. But she’s never lacked for self-confidence. She’s proud of her body—marks, muscle, and all.

More steel than satin.


Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie follows Magazine Street’s rows of shops, restaurants, and art galleries down to their near-terminus in Riverbend’s West Riverside neighborhood. Compared to the Garden District’s ages-old grandeur and verdant greenery, West Riverside merely feels well-to-do, though still far removed from Oscar’s ghosts.

When Amelie looks up her destination on her phone, she finds that Avo is a chef-owned Italian restaurant from New Orleans-born chef Nick Lama, a third-generation Sicilian. “Avo” is an Italian word that translates as ‘grandfather’ or ‘ancestor.’ The menu description says that it’s inspired by family recipes but served with a fresh perspective. The food is Italian-focused, but many ingredients are Southern-grown and locally harvested.

The restaurant’s interior isn’t too full during the post-lunch and pre-dinner hour when Amelie arrives. Attire is business casual. A smiling hostess greets and promptly escorts to her to Caroline’s table.
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Caroline: She finds ‘Caroline’ seated at a small corner table in the open-air courtyard, which guests have largely vacated by this time. The post-lunch, pre-dinner shift that waiters call ‘the run’ from 2 to 5 tends to be any restaurant’s least busy time.

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The woman Amelie is led to is framed by an ivy-colored brick wall and doesn’t look that much older than she is. She’s pale, thin, and even seated, Amelie can tell that the green-eyed blonde is tall.

She looks up from her phone as she sees the hostess arrive with Amelie and her face lights up with a smile that showcases perfect teeth, but more than anything else, sets her apart from Amelie’s classmates. Their manufactured smiles were never so clean and seemingly genuine. She wears an expensive-looking white blouse and a long flowing cobalt skirt leading to open-toed heels. Long hair runs (seemingly) free without seeming to fall over her face.

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The Malveaux woman sets her phone down on the wooden tabletop as she takes in Amelie’s approach. She already has a condensation-beaded glass of water and half-empty glass of tea with several lemon wedges crammed into it. A small salad is set in front of her. A fork rests on the plate, but the meal is seemingly little-touched. Goat cheese, asparagus, and strawberries are immediately in evidence.

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Amelie: Amelie uses the 30-minute trip by public transit to go over her old social media accounts and save some pictures of her best works for Caroline to swipe through. She feels as judged and out of place as always when she asks to be taken to the Malveaux table, but expects more of the same from Caroline.

The Canadian transplant is shorter than the Malveaux heiress by a few inches but quite a bit thicker. Her shoulders are strong and wide, and there’s a very noticeable tension in the way she moves that betrays her fitness and thick muscle mass. She’s refreshed herself in a public bathroom and changed into the business casual clothes she researched for the occasion: a simple flowy button-down, brown slacks, and fashionable belt too long to sit simply tied on her hip, which is obviously its purpose. Her hair is very short, very thick, and very black. It’s obviously brushed but is perhaps hard to manage.

She stays standing when she approaches Caroline’s table and offers a hand. Her arm is covered in small, old-looking scars, but her palm looks free of callouses.

“Caroline, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m amazed you wanted to meet me so quickly.”

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Caroline: The Malveaux woman looks Amelie up and down as she approaches, but the smile doesn’t slip until Amelie offers a hand for a handshake. Her smile turns towards wry amusement as she regards it, but she rises and sets aside the napkin in her lap without haste. There’s a flowing grace to her movements as she rises combined with an ease and comfort not only in the location, but in her own skin.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

Her grip is firm, and as she looks down on Amelie from a standing position, their difference in height is made all the plainer by the three and a half inches Amelie spots to her heels. Caroline quickly disengages from the handshake as she retakes her seat with that same elegant and flowing grace.

“Please join me, Amelie. I hope you haven’t already eaten,” she offers with a hand, amusement still present in the half-smile on her face.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her mouth shut as she observes Caroline’s change in expression. She watches the older woman rise over her in her heels, but matches the handshake’s firmness all the same. Caroline’s graces aren’t lost on her, either. They also don’t surprise her given the sport they share a history with. The Malveaux woman’s confidence in her movements has a visible edge over the post-adolescent’s, though, especially where that sense of comfort in one’s skin is concerned.

Amelie takes a seat once she has Caroline’s blessing and shakes her head. “No, I haven’t. You caught me right out of school, actually. I hope this isn’t imposing too much on your schedule. I imagine you’ve more important things you’d like to keep your attention on. I promise I won’t keep you.”

Caroline: “You hardly imposed at all, I had an opening this afternoon.” She regards the dykish youth. “You have my attention at least as long as it takes me to enjoy lunch. So tell me, Amelie,” (is there just the slightest of hitches on the use of her first name now or is Amelie’s mind racing after those taunting girls in the bathroom?), “about yourself, that is. You mentioned recently moving here from Biccoline, enrolling in McGehee at your aunt’s insistence, and some experience as an ‘historical craftsman’?”

She idly spears a strawberry and piece of cheese together on a fork as she talks.

Amelie: Amelie listens intently, her eyes and brain laser-focused on Caroline’s words. This is a rare chance to impress people from the Malveaux family. However middling their money actually is, they are still the big players in New Orleans.

Caroline’s rather terse mention of ‘at least as much time as it takes me to enjoy lunch’ makes Amelie change gears. She takes her napkin and uses it to wipe clean her phone’s screen before she hands it over, allowing their heiress to swipe any which way.

It’s a collection of antiques. Most of the ‘befores’ look decrepit and damaged, while the ‘afters’ look ancient and full-functioning. The pictures include brilliant chandeliers, historically accurate furniture, and even a younger Amelie with her father, standing proudly on a fully restored carriage. The dykish-looking girl’s hair is in a ponytail, but one can tell it nearly reaches the middle of her back. Her hands and arms are still covered in band-aids.

“I’ll be quick, then. As old as New Orleans is, Quebec City is almost 200 years older. My shop got a lot of contracts thanks to this. What I compiled there was all my personal projects, or things entrusted to me by my family business. Restoration, replication, custom work. Stonework is limited as the area was slow to build or gain any culture, thanks to brutal winters, but I can do that as well. I’m looking to pad my resume to attend Tulane University through volunteering these skills. My pedigree is nonexistent, and grades alone can’t get you into Tulane. Your aunt spoke at my school, and I think I can be a great asset to her charities. New Orleans history is a massive passion of mine, as well, so I can assure authenticity in my work.”

Caroline: Caroline wryly accepts the phone as she chews, idly swiping through the pictures in silence. After several swipes she sets the phone down on the table closer to Amelie.

“You said you only arrived in New Orleans a month ago, right? And your long-term goal is to start a business?”

She continues after a momentary pause, “If you’ll allow me to offer some advice, this,” she gestures to the phone, “isn’t really how business is done in the Big Easy.” She elaborates, “Your work looks impressive, at least based on the pictures of work done in your parents’ shop, but there’s both a dozen hustlers on every corner flashing their goods at people, and a certain lack of… je ne sais quoi.” The French rolls off her tongue effortlessly.

“Relationship, I suppose. Someone else might call it intimacy.” She spears greens and asparagus on her fork without looking while she speaks, her attention on Amelie. The smile hasn’t left her face, but there’s a slightly exasperated quality to it.

“People in New Orleans, they deal with people. With people they know, or that others they know, know. It’s all, in fact, in who you know. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best in the world, you won’t ever get a shot in this city without a personal relationship.”

She seems to consider saying more, but bites it back.

Amelie: “Pour danser dans un hall, vous devez d’abord avoir un pied dans la porte.” Despite Caroline’s fluency, French is indeed Amelie’s first language. (“To dance in the hall, you must first get your foot in the door.”)

“I am staying in a bank-owned haunted house tonight, only because the person I’m doing the project it involves is family friends with the Whitney family. The only reason I’m sitting here with you is because Mr. Thurston put in a call for me. It’s a lesson I’ve not known long, I’m still learning. If I can be candid with you, Caroline, I’d just keep making my weapons and armor if I could. My pieces are works of art, they sell for thousands. My magnum opus could cut through a fence and the person behind it. But carrying swords is illegal, so I couldn’t bring it. I’d open my own fencing class to bring state fencing to Louisiana, too. But it’s like you said, people in New Orleans deal with people. I need people behind me here.”

The young woman slowly leans forward and looks seriously at the sweet tea their waitress brought her. “I know how I look, and how people see me. I plan to grow my hair back out even because of it. And I’m sorry if you felt like I’m trying to pitch at you, but this lunch is the equivalent of a duchess talking to a peasant. There is no reason for you to start a relationship with me, even if I offer my work for free. But I have to try. New Orleans is a lot to love and she’s slow to trust. But I’m here to try to put that foot in the door.”

Caroline: Caroline continues to pick at her salad, eyes on Amelie but fork continuing to collect greens, as she lets the other ‘girl’ say her peace.

“I did a little bit of research on where you came from,” she begins mildly. “I’m sure there’s quite an adjustment moving from a place where you grew up in which any kind of eccentricity is welcomed and even celebrated, to McGehee.”

She reaches out with her free hand to take up the phone again and resumes paging through the pictures. “And it must be equally difficult to have a passion most people don’t care about, or don’t understand. Or both.” She sighs several more images in and places the phone down again. “Did you really do all of this work?”

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet after her peace, letting Caroline thumb through things. “I can handle all that. McGehee or not, teen girls are the same everywhere. The passion is the hardest when I can’t pursue it,” she starts, taking her phone and putting it face down to the side.

“This is just the things I did without help. And only the restoration of antiques and a few examples of custom work. The only surviving piece of my weapons work is that magnum opus I told you about, and it’s at home. But yes. All of it is mine. I bleed for my work.”

The young woman reaches up and rubs her shoulder. Caroline might notice the fabric rests differently when she removes her hand. It’s like the skin is raised, and not unlike the skin on parts of her aunt’s face.

Caroline: Caroline chews on the comments and seems about to continue again when she instead simply gives a slight shake of her head. The smile doesn’t vanish, but perhaps recedes a bit.

Amelie: Amelie finds it hard to pin down the older woman’s motivations, but simply clears her throat and rights herself. “Do you like antiques yourself, Caroline?”

Caroline: The change of subject seems to set Caroline at ease. “My aunt will be dreadfully embarrassed, but I confess, I favor a more modern aesthetic. There can be beauty in older works, but I’m not one for nostalgia. More important than what something was is what it is, or what it does now. It’s not a particularly popular opinion in New Orleans though.”

Amelie: “I understand completely. Practicality. Vintage couches for instance are thin and uncomfortable, they don’t fit properly in a lot of instances, and can be rather delicate. Is that how your home is? I have yet to see any modern houses in the more wealthy parts of New Orleans.”

Caroline: “No, you wouldn’t really see most of them at all. After Katrina many got wise to the value of gated—and patrolled—communities. The decor at my house is more… mixed, though.”

Amelie: “Yes, it was rather shocking to see that. We’ve the same thing up north, but most are cheap and fake, and private security is usually hired. I live in the Garden District myself. You said you attended school in Baton Rouge, did you live here during Katrina?”

Caroline: “I was in Baton Rouge,” Caroline concedes, “but the family has always maintained homes in New Orleans to one extent or another. And it’s really a small circle in Louisiana. Everyone knows everyone. I actually had my débutante ball in New Orleans, just because it’s such a better venue.”

Amelie: “That’s true. I grew up idolizing this place, and it feels a lot bigger than it is. You’re a débutante though, that’s interesting! It’s so easy to think that making your debut is solely from movies and romantic classics. I imagine it comes with some great pressures, I hope you were able to enjoy the ball itself.”

Caroline: “When you’re in my position you either learn to enjoy the pressures or you learn to live in misery,” Caroline answers with some evident amusement.

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider and nods. “That’s a good lesson to learn so early. Speaking of enjoyment, is that why you fenced?”

Caroline: “Youthful impetuousness,” Caroline laughs. “My gym teachers demanded I pick a sport. It was something that my father indulged perhaps a bit too long.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself and leans forward slightly. “I never had dreams of being a fencing champion, despite my mother being one. I never cared for the rules. I asked about it because a career councilor encouraged me to seek accomplishments. I’ve only got a year in McGehee. I have a lot of catching up to do. The moment you told me the league was just a high school low-ball league, I dropped that aspiration. It’s all to keep up the numbers of college applications at McGehee and to help my passion survive. And not to… embarrass the school with my impertinence. I understand my position.”

Amelie motions to Caroline. “Duchess.” She motions back to herself. “Smith.”

Caroline: Caroline taps her lips, a shadow of a smile remaining. “Well, that really cuts to the heart of it, doesn’t it?”

“Not embarrassing the school,” she clarifies after a moment. “I’m certain you have ample reason to think that many at McGehee are simply being bigots, but there’s something deeper at play, as deeply embedded in the culture here as beignets and Mardi Gras.”

“It’s the best school in the city. Maybe the best in the state. I once read an article that described it as ’ the débutante West Point.’ Everyone at McGehee succeeds. It’s a matter of pride. I know it is, certainly, to my aunt.”

There’s a gravity now to Caroline’s tone and expression that was absent before as they slip past small talk. “For you, that’s both a blessing and a curse.”

She pauses. “Do you understand what I’m getting at? Because it sounds to me as though you have two goals: getting into Tulane and setting your future on the path you want in the long term, and pursuing your passion. Those two things are not, unfortunately, both possible right now.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t flinch when the conversation finally comes to a head. She listens to Caroline lay things out and silently nods to a few of them. She doesn’t bother to mention how the United States’ capital of débutante life is in fact New York, where the Waldorf Astoria is. But she keeps her mouth shut until she’s addressed again.

“The first thing is my path to the second. Like you said, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Tulane is my best path forward to keep pursuing relationships with families in New Orleans, to establish myself with the old blood in Louisiana, and to build up my skills and knowledge over time. I’m looking to create a pedigree for myself that will keep that McGehee adage true, in the surest capacity I can without any of that old blood. Me asking Mr. Thurston to send a word along the Malveaux family was me trying to forge a relationship, in order to succeed. I’m sorry if there was a wire crossed about my fencing that was not conducive to that success. Vera Malveaux can rest assured that idea died in its crib.”

Caroline: “I’m certain she’ll be happy to hear that,” Caroline replies. “Because if you’re willing to play the game, as much as it may burn you, McGehee is of far greater advantage to you than your not at all inconsiderable talents.” She gestures to the phone.

GM: The pair’s waitress stops by. After asking, “How you ladies doing here?” and refilling their drinks, she asks if Amelie is “sure if all you want” is that glass of sweet tea.

Caroline: “The Tuna and Orzo is to die for,” Caroline offers.

Amelie: Amelie beams widely and thanks the waitress for the refill. “I’m just fine, thank you. I’ll take you up on that next time,” she assures, nodding and letting the waitress step away.

GM: The waitress, a black-haired woman with slight bags to her eyes who gave her name as Amanda, repeats she’ll be back later “just in case you change your mind” with another smile before heading off to another table.

Amelie: “As for the game, I don’t have the potential to reach very high very easily. I’m just looking for my niche, where those higher than me might find me useful. Like you said, modern household finery and antiques are a great taste in New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline firmly interjects before the waitress can leave that Amelie will have the Tuna and Orzo, and adds a glass of Far Niente chardonnay for herself.

GM: Amanda jots the order down and replies it’ll be “coming right up.”

Caroline: The débutante’s eyes linger as she departs before cutting back to Amelie.

“It’s considered rude not to at least put on the appearance of sharing a meal with someone. And she,” Caroline says, tilting her head towards the departing waitress, “is going to remember it because you’re snubbing her as well by taking up a seat she would otherwise be making money off of. You’ve been nothing but polite on the surface, Amelie, but it’s the little things you don’t even seem to realize you’re doing that are undermining you at every turn.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised when Caroline calls out to the woman and orders her something, but she understands the heiress’ rather terse logic. Tipping, however, is never a ‘no’ option for Amelie. Even if she only gets a diner coffee in the middle of the night, she always tips the waitress more than she’d get with 15% on a meal.

GM: Not that her present waitress (or Caroline) has any reason to expect such generosity.

Amelie: Still, the rest of Caroline’s argument is sound. “I’m sorry if I offended you, I’d thought it might seem rude to keep you anchored here while I eat. I agree with you, however. The little differences and niceties I miss have been making even McGehee difficult for me.”

Caroline: “Can I let you in on a secret?” Caroline asks, setting her fork down at last. “Most of us may be stuck up, arrogant, and proud, but we’re not going to do anything that blatantly showcases that.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile wanes just a bit, but stays pleasant as she hears the admission. “I imagine you have enough trouble without people pointing at that kind of behavior. Besides, devastating hurricanes, howling tourists, clashing cultures, a harsh history, I think Louisianans deserve a bit of pride.”

Caroline: A quick and forced smile. “Even so, the message, so it is not lost, is twofold: we’ll rarely reject you to your face, and we’re adept at honing our knives in the dark. That is where you’re bleeding, whether you realize it or not: in the places you can’t see.” She picks up her fork again, then sets it down. “And you must realize it on some level. So you want help.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile on the other hand hasn’t changed, she keeps her pleasant expression on. These are all things she’s heard already, lessons she’s viscerally learned, some of them as early as last night in fact. “I do. And I do.”

Caroline: A moment of silence hangs in the air as the two women sit.

At last Caroline breaks it. “Tulane’s tuition and board runs over $60,000 a year. Do you have a plan for that, if you get in?”

Amelie: Amelie sips her tea and rests the glass back down on the table. “Grants, scholarships, my aunt is of no lean means. McGehee I think does work with me in this regard, most girls there may not have to go after those kinds of things.”

Caroline: “You might be surprised,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of more moderately wealthy families will pay out the nose to get their daughters to McGehee in the hope that the school and its connections will later defray the costs of college by helping them get a scholarship.”

“But that’s a secondary hurdle. Right now you’re trying to pad your package for admissions.” Caroline thinks for a moment, then offers a somewhat blunter answer than she normally might. “I don’t think my aunt would be interested in bringing you in to do antiques work. Beyond the headaches of bringing in a minor to work at all, there’s also the question of appearances and the skepticism that will come with the idea of putting a teenager on it—and yes, before you start, your work does look impressive. The age however is a massive impediment.”

“If your goal though is entirely focused on simply padding your package however, there are a few doors I can open for you. Tulane has large medical and legal ties—if you were willing to do an internship or volunteer program in either field, I might be able to find a spot for you. It probably wouldn’t be glamorous work, and obviously not what you want in the long term, but focusing on the major programs of the college would increase your chances. Alternatively, a STEM focus in general is always a positive—women in STEM fields is all the rage these days for admissions numbers.”

“There are also, likely, some volunteer opportunities I could point you at or open doors on that are tangentially, though not directly, related to your interests. For instance, working with one of the krewes. It’s not the greatest extracurricular itself, but might allow you to do some of the work you enjoy in a less… scrutinized environment while also potentially impressing others, and it shows specific ties to the city that are worth more than you might think for a school in the city. It’s more socially acceptable for a teenager to work on a krewe float and consumes, than it is to, say, be an antiques restorer, even if you might be doing similar things, depending on the krewe.”

“Of course, in all of these, in making any introduction or pulling any string, the concern remains the same. Whoever does so, no matter who the do so for, is putting their own credibility and reputation on the line for someone else. You’ve heard the expression ‘throwing good money after bad’, haven’t you?”

A moment passes.

“Thirty days,” she finally seemingly decides. “If you’re serious about not rocking the boat, trying to fit in more neatly, and about going to Tulane, take a month to sort yourself out. Style your hair. Play the game. And call me in thirty days. Do that and I’ll reach out to my aunt, or my own contacts, and we’ll see about what can be done to ‘pad’ your application before the January deadline.”

The heiress shrugs. “Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t mention that she’s actually twenty, but she supposes that’s a reasonable enough mis-assumption for someone who hears she’s in high school to make. Besides, she was waiting for something along those lines: for Caroline to give a definitive answer to her request for help. But what she wasn’t expecting was… this extent of it. The young woman’s eyes gradually get wider as she listens to the heiress’ words. She doesn’t answer the presumably rhetorical question on throwing money after rotten projects, but keeps quiet long enough to hear Caroline’s ultimatum. The hour she had to get ready for this meeting and travel here without a car hasn’t done her any favors, but she cedes the point and nods instead.

“I will! Working with the krewes, I can do a lot, and Tulane’s Engineering Physics is a perfect major for the STEM fields that I’d be thrilled to undergo! I’ll take the 30 days, you won’t be able to recognize me, I promise!”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “I hope so, but if not, ultimately it’s your decision. I’m offering only a path.”

Amelie: “You’re the first one to offer me a tangible path forward. It’s more than I could have hoped for.”

GM: The waitress returns with Amelie’s food. The light and refreshing-looking tuna and orzo salad is topped with with diced avocado, olives, and halved cherry tomatoes, as well as a layer of melted Parmesan cheese dolloped with honey and olive oil. A sharper smell of lemon juice, basil, and red wine vinegar also wafts from the food.

Tuna_Orzo.jpg
The young woman also refills Amelie’s sweet tea and Caroline’s wine. She seems to particularly dote on the Malveaux heiress’ service and laughingly remarks to Amelie that she’s “glad to see you eating something” before heading off to another table.

Amelie: Amelie beams down at the food and thanks the waitress. She lets her dote on Caroline while brushing her palm up from the dish, smelling it without putting her dumb face in there. The first small spoonful is magic and she hums in approval to herself.

Caroline: Caroline smiles again as she takes a sip of her recently arrived wine. “It’s good to have a way forward,” she agrees. She purses her lips in amusement. “Just out of curiosity, did you have much experience with fencing?”

Amelie: The question about fencing makes Amelie nod and swallow quickly to answer. “Lots. It was a big outlet for me. My mother competed, even placed nicely in the world fencing championships in her youth. We’re both saber fencers, Spanish and Swiss hybrid stylings. She also had me learn a lot of other types of non-competitive fencing. I never ended up competing, however.”

Caroline: “Really? Saber? The world’s a small place. What’s her name?”

Amelie: “Saber yourself, as well? It is the sword of the South, after all. Her name was Abigail Savard.”

Caroline: “The name is vaguely familiar, but I’ll have to look her up. And yes, saber. The rest seemed derivative to me. And slow.” The last is offered with a grin. The window to land a touch in response is .12 seconds for the point to be counted.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but grin right back. “I miss that. My mother always described it as two tigers sizing each other up. The first one to pounce exposes his neck, but the one not to act is dead without perfect timing to grasp it. I always loved the chase. Tell me, have you ever tried traditional saber fencing? With blunted sabers instead of sport sabers?”

Caroline: “Only playfully with Nerea a few times. Daniel—our coach—thought it was a waste of time. He was much more focused on chasing medals than historical roots.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a lot more fun than the medal chasing. Sampling how other people millennia ago fought their peers, won renown, won kingdoms. El Cid, Pepe, the Landskrecht, the Hussars. I love to romanticize them.”

Caroline: “Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways,” Caroline offers, less enthusiastically. “What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Amelie: “That’s the tigers,” Amelie reminds, her smile spreading wider. “No whispers behind backs, no brand names, no clout, no nepotism. It feels like everything else falls away. Without helmets especially, just keeping that eye contact.”

“I don’t mean to infer anything, but it’d be fun to pick up a saber and have a few rounds with you one day. I expect to lose! But it’d be fun,” she laughs.

Caroline: “There is a certain simplicity to it,” Caroline agrees, laughing lightly. Her tone grows less cheerful as she continues, “But I hung that up a while back.”

Amelie: “Because it isn’t very ladylike?”

Caroline: “We all have to play by the rules, Amelie.”

Amelie: “Rules are indeed a prerequisite for success. Even New Orleans’ famous grave-digging duelist Jose Llulla never shot a man in cold blood.”

Caroline: “You’re just a font of New Orleans history,” Caroline replies, perking up a bit at the change of subjects. “Did you visit often as a child with your aunt or something?”

Amelie: “No, I wish I did. When I was little, my aunt visited us for Christmas. She bought me a book of New Orleans history. I fell in love. I still have that book.”

Caroline: “With a book,” Caroline replies somewhat skeptically, but she brushes it off. “What brings you to New Orleans then? The fantastic school system?”

Amelie: The smile on Amelie’s face for the entirety of the lunch hitches, her brow creasing despite her mouth still being curved upwards. “You’ll notice there’s a lot of ‘was’ since we’ve been talking, instead of is. What ‘is’, however, has been amazing. New Orleans has been dizzying and I’ve still got so much to see.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, that was insensitive. I’m sorry for your loss,” Caroline replies after a moment.

Amelie: “It’s nothing you should trouble yourself over. My aunt has been amazing, school’s been wonderful, the city is a dream. I’m having lunch with a Malveaux, for goodness’ sake.”

Caroline: “Community outreach, my father would say. Remember to vote Malveaux… or at least have your aunt vote Malveaux. What does she do, by the way? She must be pretty successful to send you to McGehee.”

Amelie: “I don’t know if I qualify for voting, with my dual citizenship. But remember when you said that more moderately wealthy families pay out the nose? It’s one of the reasons I’m gunning so hard for success. As for what she does, she’s friends with political consultants, so maybe I should ‘play the game’ and keep quiet,” she laughs. “I may just vote Malveaux though. I met your cousin, I think, and you just convince me further the family has good values.”

Caroline: “Oh, which one?”

Amelie: “I don’t remember his first name, forgive me. He’s a father at St. Louis Cathedral, if I don’t have my faces mixed up?”

Caroline: “Adam,” Caroline says with a smile. “Carrying on the family tradition. They say there’s always been a Father Malveaux.”

Amelie: “That’s a very noble tradition. He took my first confession in a year, he’s a fine clergyman.”

Caroline: “He takes after our uncle, the archbishop, like that.”

Amelie: Amelie raises her brows. “Archbishop, wow. Is he still here in New Orleans, as well?”

Caroline: “The Archbishop of New Orleans would be of little use elsewhere.”

Amelie: “I guess not. Though you went to school in Baton Rouge, and I’m not familiar with the American archdiocese, just thought I’d make sure. Are you a churchgoer yourself?”

Caroline: “Every Sunday,” Caroline replies between another drink. “And yourself, Amelie? You mentioned taking confession.”

Amelie: “I often went to confession, but I spent most weekends outside of town. There are unexpected loopholes to building a real church in a fake town. Now that I’m in New Orleans, I expect I’ll be attending masses regularly.”

Caroline: “That’s all too common,” Caroline replies. “Even here, most people want to fit their faith into a neat little convenient box. They forget their first duty is to God.”

Amelie: “God is treated a bit more casually in the north. My parents were rather secular, even. Seeing how fast everyone holds onto all their faiths here has been rather inspiring.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Most people claim a visit to New Orleans shakes their faith, rather than reinforces it. I’m certain both my uncle and my cousin would be thrilled to hear it has instead been a source of inspiration to some. Too often I fear they feel they are throwing sandbags against a sagging levee—though I suppose that’s been a problem for priests across the country for decades now as people convince themselves they’re better off without God.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a difficult situation. There’s an old saying; ’ Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions’. I think a lot of young people can see that, and mistake authority, that they think has failed them, as the fault of faith. And lean away from it instead of realizing their own personal faith. Even me, so romanticizing as I am of history, become disillusioned. But that’s not god, that’s the nature of men. I had a co-worker obsessed with Pascal.”

Caroline: “You can say that, but I think it’s an excuse. It’s easier to turn from God when you can villainize Him,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah,” Amelie recites, nodding. “I like to think faith means more when you can temper it. But you’re right that people do love their excuses.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “That’s actually an interesting translation. In the original Hebrew there are two words that are translated into evil in English. One is evil in the traditional sense of a bad thing, the other, which is used in that sentence is perhaps more neatly translated as calamity.”

Amelie: “That makes more sense. Light and dark are opposites, but evil isn’t the opposite of peace. Sometimes it’s uncomfortably close. Though I doubt that makes a difference to most people. Calamity is often a faith-shaker. Katrina was rough on New Orleans, for instance.”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “Or a faith-maker. Really there are only two responses to hardship: to turn one’s face towards Him and seek an answer from God, or demand an answer of Him and turn away in anger when it is not what you wish. I don’t think any of us, whatever we might think, truly know how we’ll respond to true adversity until we face it.”

Amelie: Amelie can only match the smile, and nod. “There was once a bandit clan in Scotland from the 13th to the 17th centuries, one of their main families have a crest motto I enjoy for my own tacklings. Invictus maneo, ‘I remain unvanquished.’”

“Thanks to your generosity with your time. I think I avoided it here today, too.”


Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie changes back into her clothes for the slumber party and takes the streetcar to the Quarter. When the car comes to a stop at Canal at Carondelet, she steps off and starts walking. She carries her jacket to keep cool as she stares down the street. She still has time to kill before she heads to the LaLaurie house, starting with the 15-minute walk to the French Market.

Amelie feels like most people would expect her to feel some kind of connection with Joan of Arc, but the Maid of Orleans isn’t the kind of woman she aspires to be. Joan’s poor choice to stay with the rear guard during the retreat to Compiégne got her captured and ultimately burned alive.

joan-of-arc-statue.jpg But Joan remains a brilliant picture, and Amelie feels no small measure of wonder over how the girl was only a year younger than she is and still managed to do so much. She probably had accusations similar to ‘dyke’ thrown at her given the ages of marriage and childbearing at the time.

Amelie doesn’t run too far with that idea, however. She doesn’t want to project herself onto the figure as she stands and admires the French bronze workmanship.

GM: The inscription on the pedestal is a simple one:

JOAN OF ARC
MAID OF ORLEANS
1412—1431
Gift of the People of France


Amelie remembers reading a news story sometime over the past few weeks about the sword being stolen, and that not being the first time. There was another one about the statue being vandalized in response to political developments in France.

Despite not wishing to identify too personally with the historic figure, it is not lost on Amelie that the statues of Lee and Davis have not suffered the same indignities as the other ‘dykish’ young woman. And that she, like Amelie, may remain an outsider to certain circle of the city.

The walk to the French Market is a single block.

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Amelie has long since looked up the article that describes the French Market as, ‘a market and series of commercial buildings spanning six blocks in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded as a Native American trading post predating European colonization, the market is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It began where Café du Monde currently stands and has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times.’

In person, the Market is all those things and a more. It runs along the Mississippi River at the edge of the French Quarter and is part flea market, part souvenir shop, and part art show. Tourists and residents alike browse the market’s stalls of T-shirts, spices, jewelry, seafood, candy, books, hats, home decor, keychains, and most anything else Amelie can probably think of, tucked away in some obscure kitschy stall. The smell of a hundred foods from spicy jambalaya to buttery fried shrimp to sugary pralines is thick in the air. Busking trombonists, accordianists, mimes, and other street performers move among the throngs of tourists to make a quick buck.

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Amelie: Amelie tackles the French Market like a local, at least as much as she can while she marvels at all the stalls and everyone’s art and music. It’s good to spend the time before her big night just enjoying this. She walks along the grounds, sampling oysters, sweet tea, snack sized crawfish etouffee, and just basking in it all. She keeps an eye out for stranger vendors, looking for occult baubles, butterfly knives, and anything else that catches her eye as odd while sipping ice-cold sweet tea through a straw.

GM: Amelie finds no shortage of occult-themed knickknacks being hawked by the vendors. Among the items for sale are voodoo dolls, mojo wish beans, blessed chicken feet, dragons’ blood incense, obsidian scrying orbs, mojo bags, Turkish evil eye amulets, Buddha charms, alligator skulls, Florida water, roots and herbs, love potion #9 oil, and many others. A hundred chants, claims, and boasts from “curse your enemies!” to “protect your loved ones!” and “find true love!” fill Amelie’s ears.

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Amelie: Amelie goes from stall to stall looking for anything that catches her eye. She pauses after a while by a random one.

“Excuse me? Do you know Mrs. Tantsy, at all?”

GM: “Not personally,” answers the vendor, a middle-aged and dark-skinned man in a sleeveless red shirt who’s selling hand-made wire fish statues. “She runs a voodoo store off Royal Street.”

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Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man as she looks over his statues. “I’ve been there, yeah. Does she have a reputation around here? She was really mysterious when I was there.”

GM: The man shrugs. “Mysterious as any store owner in the Quarter, I guess. The voodoo thing’s just a racket.”

Amelie: “She’s pretty theatrical. Mysterious might cover it too,” Amelie muses, looking over one of his smaller fish baubles. “These are really nice. Have you bee making them long?”

GM: “Thank you ma’am, and no I haven’t,” the vendor smiles. “Two or so months. I’ve worked on Indian suits for a while longer. Thought I’d give my hand a try with wire ’stead of feathers for a bit.”

Amelie: Amelie catches the man’s smile, enjoying the talk. “You’re good! You know, if you collect can tabs, you can clip off the bit that sticks out at the bottom, snip the top of the big hole, and make chain fabric from them. Cheap, pretty, easy. If you ever get tired of being so good at making these fish, that is.”

GM: “Can tabs. Now I will have to remember that one,” the vendor remarks. “I know a girl who likes to work with bottle caps, make little model chairs with bent wire for the legs. Lot you can make with somebody’s garbage.”

Amelie: “One man’s trash. Little tables and chairs sounds fun though,” Amelie muses. “I should get going though, sir. Can I buy one of these smaller fish?”

GM: “S’what they’re here for,” the man laughs, gesturing across the table for Amelie to take her pick.

Amelie: She picks out one that’s caught her fancy and pays the man, thanks him for the talk, and offers a handshake before she heads off. It’s a cute and simple little thing. Better good luck charm than anything in the occult-themed stalls. She slips it into her pocket and heads off.

It’s time to scout that house.

Time to spend a night in hell.


Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria I
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria II

Previous, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I
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Story One, Victoria I

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”
Victoria Wolf


Monday morning, 27 August 2007

GM: “So, first, why don’t you tell the person you’re sitting by something interesting you know about the school.”

Sylvie doesn’t think she’s seen a sadder icebreaking prompt before, but that’s the one she gets from her Sociology 101 class at Lafayette U. The professor smiles dimly at all the students spread across the auditorium-style classroom.

The dark-haired girl she’s sitting next to looks more like she feels sorry for the old man, than anything else.

Victoria: Sylvia St. George envisioned the glitz and glam of academia as something more…

Purposeful.

Yes, she has her Calculus II, as she placed out of the first. She has her Chemistry 101, as all first-year engineering students are required to take. She has this, and she has that, and she has the other class, and then she has her electives, and then she has…

This class. Sociology 101. How-to-society-for-dummies.

Boring class. Boring professor. Boring people.

Is she boring? She’s here, too.

She looks to the girl beside her, offering her a thin-lipped smile, her teeth barely showing through; a polite smile, vice one of warmth.

“Something interesting about the school…”

Not even a hello.

“…why don’t you go first?”

GM: “Well, they say the girls’ dorms are haunted,” smiles the girl. She’s got dark brown hair, brown eyes, and rectangular classes. She’s shorter than Sylvie, though most women are. Mary wound up giving her hand-me-downs from Julius after she hit her puberty growth spurt; and everyone else got her hand-me-downs.

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“The story goes that back in the ‘60s, an out-of-commission elevator fell on a girl’s neck and decapitated her.”

“Ever since then, they’ve sealed it off behind a steel door. But some students say they’ve seen a girl with ’60s hair and clothes waving at them.”

Victoria: Sylvia listens intently. The class is no longer boring. She nods, hanging on her every word.

“Have you gone in?”

GM: “Girls’ dorms, remember?” smirks the girl. “I live there.”

Victoria: She rolls her eyes.

“I meant the elevator.

GM: “Ohh, sorry. No, I haven’t! I’m not even sure where it is.”

Victoria: She would much rather go looking for it than sit through the rest of this class, but nor does she want to squander her chance.

“I wonder where it is, and where she’s seen.”

“How did you learn that?”

GM: “I grew up here,” says the girl. “And I’m studying Louisiana history. So, kinda my job! Well, degree.”

Victoria: “You grew up in the girls’ dormitory?”

She’s teasing, but her faux-serious sense of humor may not betray it.

GM: The girl smirks. "No, Lafayette. Though I dunno if there’d be much difference. I went to high school with at least half these people. "

Victoria: “Look at me,” she grins. “New one in town. I came here because I wanted to get away. Just not too far away.”

She holds out a hand.

“I’m Sylvia.”

GM: The girl shakes it. Like most girls’, her handshake isn’t very strong.

“I’m Anna May. Or, just Anna.”

“Where are you from, a small town?”

Victoria: “New Orleans. It’s a tiny ’burb. You might have heard of it, Miss History.”

GM: Anna laughs. “No, sorry, you’ll have to tell me about it.”

Victoria: “Maybe over lunch. We’re supposed to be talking about the school.”

She glances to the screen.

“A subject I’m sorely lacking on,” she laments.

A moment passes.

“Aha! I’ve got it. Bathrooms are the third door on the left from this room.”

GM: “Very helpful,” Anna says dryly.

She glances at the professor, who’s sitting behind his desk and looks half-asleep in his chair.

“I actually feel kinda sorry for Mr. Breaux. My dad knows him and he shoulda retired a while ago, but he got swindled a bunch of money around Katrina. So he has to keep working.”

Victoria: “Poor guy. At least the work for the course seems minimal, on both sides. Still, I’d rather have more challenging work for a better use of time.”

She shrugs.

“What now? Do we write a paper on bathrooms and dead girls?”

GM: “I think he wanted to do an icebreaker that also worked up some school spirit and it just… didn’t come together.”

Anna glances around. Most of the class is talking among themselves. One male student, eyeing Mr. Breaux, finally just gets up and walks out. The elderly professor doesn’t stop him, or even seem to notice him.

“Uhhh, good question. I hope he has a lesson plan?”

She smiles again and rolls her eyes.

“This is smaller-town Louisiana, anyway. What you moved out for.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“It doesn’t seem like he has much of a plan at all.”

It isn’t spoken with cruelty, but pity.

“Doesn’t seem so bad. Once you get past the murderous elevators.”

GM: “I’m surprised you moved out here,” says Anna, curious. “Most of the people here are from here, or the really small towns. And a lot of other people who go to college go to New Orleans, if they can.”

Victoria: “I guess you can say I’ve got a small town heart. Maybe.” She shrugs. “Like I said, I wanted to get away, but not too far.”

GM: “I guess that makes sense. But no, it’s not bad! Everyone who’s from here knows each other. Mrs. Remy, she teaches math if you have her, used to live next door to me.”

“And the dean is in the UDC with my mom.”

Victoria: Sylvie nods.

“Yeah, she’s teaching my calculus class. Wow—this is a small town. What’s the UDC?”

GM: “United Daughters of the Confederacy. They’re descendants of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Something she might have known if she knew any of her ancestors.

“That’s never been my thing.”

Half-truth.

“Is it fun?”

GM: “It is!” Anna nods. “It’s partly how I got into history. They do a lot of things, like hold memorial services or parades, or track family trees. And my dad’s involved in a reenactment society. They dress up like old soldiers and act out battles.”

Victoria: “That sounds fun!” she says, eyes lighting up at the reenactment. “Do you ever participate with your dad?”

GM: Anna looks a little glum. “They don’t like female actors.”

Victoria: Sylvie purses her lips.

“I suppose we’ll just have to join the Union.”

GM: “I did participate in one, story was that I was disguising myself as a boy to enlist. The actors were VERY serious about how my disguise had to be good enough that I fooled them, to be authentic. And a lot of them were worried it’d mean they’d get a ton more girls in disguise, if they allowed one.”

“They were also mad that I didn’t want to cut my hair, because that’s what a girl in disguise would’ve done.”

Victoria: “It’s your fault, isn’t it? You were supposed to enlist in laundry washing and sandwich making reenactment.”

GM: “Maybe I should have been a camp follower?” muses Anna.

Victoria: She nods, then laughs.

“We’re blessed to live in the modern day.”

GM: “Do you wanna participate in a battle? They’re really fun! You just… need a thick skin.”

Victoria: She shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe. I don’t want to deal with all of the sexism, but it sounds fun. You sound fun.”

She looks to the professor, who seems to be struggling with consciousness.

“Do you want to grab lunch?”

GM: Anna looks at Mr. Breaux again. She looks even more sorry for him, but smiles at Sylvie’s question.

“Sure! Where do you wanna go?”

Victoria: “Jazzman’s? I would die to eat a danish, and a smoothie doesn’t sound bad.”

She gets up from her desk, eyeing the drowsy professor.

GM: He doesn’t stop them. Another guy leaves after he sees them do so.

“I wouldn’t say it’s sexism, anyway, they just don’t want anything to be inauthentic. Which I get it. They’re just… really zealous about it.”

Victoria: “I can tell,” she answers, but leaves the subject there.

“You think you’re going to stay in town when you graduate? You know, in like… years.”

GM: “Well, I wanna go somewhere else for grad school,” says Anna. “An advisor told me it’s ‘academically incestuous’ to get both your degrees at the same school.”

Victoria: "I’ve always wondered why people go to different schools. I figured they just wanted different points of view.

GM: “I think that’s it, yeah. Getting exposed to new people and ideas. I’ve had other advisors tell me I should stay in Lafayette, though, which… says something about Southern towns?”

Victoria: “They want you to stay home like a good girl? Keep the town bustling?”

She shrugs.

“I want to do something; to be something. Maybe I’ll work for NASA.”

GM: “Oh! I dunno if you went to the right school,” Anna says, amused.

Victoria: Sylvie flushes crimson. “I got where I could afford.”

GM: Mount Carmel got some scholarship money, like Mary had hoped.

But she didn’t have any college funds set up for her six kids. It was all she could do to get them to private school.

“No one here’s rich,” Anna says understandingly. “Literally, no one. I also went here to save.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“They’ve got an engineering program. I’ll just… do the best I can. Get me A’s. Get an internship. Get somewhere better for my master’s, and we’ll see from there.”

GM: “That makes sense,” Anna says as Jazzman’s comes into view. There’s not a lot of students eating right now, with classes in session. “So that’s cool, engineering, NASA. It actually helps to be a girl there! Colleges love female STEM majors.”

Victoria: “So I hear. I don’t want to get in on that. I guess I won’t say no; but…”

Something about it bothers her.

GM: “But…?” Anna asks, curious.

Victoria: “It irks me. I want to live and die by my own merit, y’know?”

Sylvie pulls the door to Jazzman’s open, allowing Anna to enter first.

GM: “Yeah, I get that,” Anna nods before thanking her. It’s a small little cafe inside. There’s espresso, smoothies, flavored coffees, and various pastries and baked goods. Probably none of them healthy, but they don’t call it the freshman 15 for nothing. Anna orders a danish.

“But no way of knowing with admissions, is there? Can’t ask to opt out.”

Victoria: Sylvia agrees. It bothers her that she agrees, but the truth is the truth and the world is what the world is.

She orders a pumpkin iced coffee, and a pumpkin glazed muffin.

GM: “What are the schools like in New Orleans?” Anna asks after they get their orders and sit down.

“Not, like, colleges. Lower schools.”

Victoria: “You don’t want to know the answer to that,” she answers, her brow lofting with betrayed pain, poorly masked.

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, bad subject?” Anna asks, nibbling her danish.

Victoria: “It’s not great. I’m lucky to be here, honestly. Many of the children who grow up in New Orleans aren’t so fortunate, unless they luck into a family that’ll send them to private school.”

She nibbles her muffin.

“I was one of them. Kind of.”

GM: “Kind of?”

Victoria: She’s a curious one…

“I was adopted just before my teens.”

GM: “Oh, congrats! Er, belatedly. Is that the right thing to say?”

Victoria: Sylvie chokes on her coffee, laughing.

GM: Anna smiles in response. “I don’t know, honest! It sounds like it was a good thing? How else do you say ’I’m glad a good thing happened to you’?”

Victoria: She swallows, red-faced. “It is good, yeah! Just… kind of a heavy topic, y’know? Like talking about surviving cancer.”

Honestly, it’s not far off.

GM: “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that I know I wanna be a teacher, after I graduate, and I’m pretty sure I wanna stay in-state.”

“I was thinking about New Orleans, but I don’t really know anyone there. No one from there moves to Lafayette.”

Victoria: “A teacher? Oooh… I’ve never met someone who wants to be a teacher!”

She seems genuinely excited at the prospect.

“I mean, there are plenty of private schools. I went to Mount Carmel. Didn’t see a boy ’til I got here!”

GM: “Catholic school?” smiles Anna.

Victoria: “Virgin Training,” she nods.

GM: Anna giggles.

“Well, it’s not as if sex ed out here is much better. We had a pastor come in to talk about abstinence, and that was it.”

Victoria: “How well did that take with the class?” she teases with a knowing smirk.

GM: “Welllll, the babies that appeared after prom didn’t come from storks, let’s just say!”

Victoria: The muffin is suspended between her teeth. Flowers bloom and wilt, civilizations rise and fall before she says, “…yours?”

GM: “Oh, no!” Anna exclaims, blushing. “I wanna teach kids, not have them! Not that early, anyway.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Oh.

She nibbles the muffin some more. The silence doesn’t feel awkward so much as amusing.

“One day. I think my mom kinda hopes I’ll have them; give them a good life. Like she did for us.”

GM: “Yeah, I think every parent hopes that. Mine do.”

“They also think high school is too early, though!”

Victoria: She grimaces.

“Maybe not every parent. Good parents, though.”

Nibble.

“This is much more fun than class. What else are you taking?”

GM: “History, surprise surprise. And general ed requirements. Wish I didn’t need to take lab sciences.”

Victoria: She slaps the table in a sudden eruption of excitement!

“Those are the most fun! How many other classes do your TAs tell you about the time they incidentally built a bomb?”

GM: Anna giggles. “Bonus points if he’s Middle Eastern.”

“I’ve not had one do that, though. Wish one did, lab sciences put me right to sleep.”

Victoria: Sylvie almost takes a sip of her coffee. Thankfully, she doesn’t, as it would have been more on Anna then in her mouth.

“Mmm… different strokes. You’ve got a little racist in you, hmmm?” she chides, playful in intent.

GM: “I meannnn, let’s just say if you wanna be a terrorist, New Orleans is a better city!”

Victoria: “A better city than New York? Why’s that?”

GM: “Sorry, New York?”

Victoria: “The major terrorist attack of our generation. Middle Eastern origin. You might’ve heard of it.”

A pause.

“…or did you mean better than Lafayette?”

GM: “Oh, yeah, that’s what I meant. Y’know, more bleedin’ hearts in the big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, yeah. You ever been to the Big Easy?”

GM: “A few times, when I was younger! Everything there is just so much… bigger and faster, but everyone says New Orleans is really lazy and laid back for a big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, they do? I wouldn’t know. This is the furthest I’ve ever been, and… it’s not really all that far. It’s much quieter out here.”

GM: “I like that. Life being calm, everyone knowing their neighbors. But I wanna see what a bigger city is like, too. That’s why I wanna go somewhere else for my master’s.”

“And then… I’m not sure where I’d want to teach. Maybe a small or mid-sized city. I wanna feel like I’m making a difference in kids’ lives, but I want it to be somewhere I like living, too.”

Victoria: “I think… I’d like to see what life is like out here. Not just in university, but the people, y’know? I know what I’d like to do with my life, and I don’t see it changing, but there’s something about getting to know new people; learning who they are, and their dreams, and what makes them smile. Is that odd to say?”

She shrugs, uncertain.

“You could always live outside the city and transit in.”

GM: “No, I don’t think so!” says Anna. “That says you like people, that you’re interested in them. What’s odd about that?”

Victoria: “I dunno! I’ve never really admitted that to anyone.”

She isn’t sure why she said it to Anna, either, and falls silent there, contemplating.

GM: “Oh, why not? Just never came up, or…?”

Victoria: “Something like that. Have you always wanted to be a teacher?”

GM: Anna nods. “Helping people understand the world around them, yeah. And I’ve seen teachers do great things for kids even besides teaching. It just seems like a really nice way to make a difference in your community. And I’ve always liked kids.”

Victoria: “What about the kids who don’t want to learn?”

Her, seven years ago.

GM: “You help them! You try and make it fun for them, and you’re nice to them. You show you care. And maybe if there’s something wrong in their home life, you bring in social services.”

Victoria: Poor, naive girl.

“If only it were so easy.”

There’s a somber note in her words.

“I wish there were more teachers like you out there. Social services isn’t the best answer every time, but… for many, it’s better than where they are.”

GM: Anna nods. “Maybe they can’t make everything better, but they can pull kids out of bad situations. And teachers are in a good place to know if a kid is.”

Victoria: May God help this woman if she ever finds a job in New Orleans.

“If they’re attentive.”

She sets her coffee down, knitting her fingers and looking up to Anna.

“Tell me something about myself.”

“Give me your most interesting read.”

GM: Anna looks at her and thinks.

“Welll, you were adopted when you were eleven, you’re interested in people and have never said that to anyone, and you’re an engineering major…”

“Are you studying machines instead of people because you’re interested in how things work, but haven’t really thought that studying people is something you can do? Or should do?”

Victoria: Sylvie sets her chin to her palm, thinking.

There was a time in her life where she considered becoming a therapist, or a social worker, or one of a myriad choices of work helping those who needed help, whether they be children like she was, or adults who lost their way. She considered becoming a police officer, too.

In the end, she came to understand that it isn’t a path for her, not because she doesn’t want to help people, but because she doesn’t believe she’d be able to stomach seeing others in positions similar to her childhood.

She doesn’t want to relive it, even knowing she’s now safe and sound.

“Something like that. Got me, I guess.”

GM: “Ha. Maybe I’ll be able to spot if a kid’s in a bad situation.”

“Okay, you try me,” says Anna. She sets down what’s left of her danish, resting her face on her hands.

“Tell me something about myself. Your most interesting read.”

Victoria: “You are endless in your optimism; or, at least you try to keep yourself that way. You like viewing the world through a lens of positivity, and projecting that positivity onto others to bring just a little more light onto their day, whether they need it or not.”

She pauses to sip her coffee. It seems endless.

“Maybe because you were brought up that way. Maybe your mother taught you that the light and levity you bring to others is reflected back on you. Or, maybe something happened to you. You’ve seen pain and darkness, and you don’t want to live there anymore, so you project your bubbly self to avoid the pain; so that no one asks why you don’t smile.”

She cants her head a hair, still staring.

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”

GM: Anna blushes faintly at Sylvia’s assessment, but smiles again too.

“Oh, well, thanks.”

“I haven’t had anything bad happen to me, though! I just think people should try to be nice to each other. You’re right that my mom does think that, too. And my dad. They’re good people.”

Victoria: “I wish everyone had that philosophy. What do your parents do?”

GM: “My mom’s a stay-at-home mom, pretty much. My dad’s a cop. They’re proud I’m going to college.”

Victoria: “My mom too! Not every one of my brothers and sisters are. A cop? Is there much crime around here?”

GM: “Hm, not a lot, next to New Orleans. He’s never been shot at or anything. But he’s gotten involved in some domestic violence disputes.”

“He says those are really sad, and that there’s not always anything you can do.”

Victoria: She frowns sympathetically.

“Sad.”

She’s more familiar with that then she’d like to be. Her many foster parents rarely argued in front of her, but she recalls her one likable foster father arguing with her foster mother the night before she was returned.

Used goods.

GM: A change of pace.

Usually it was the foster kids getting abused.

“So you have a lot of siblings?”

Victoria: She nods, finally finishing her muffin.

“Yeah, five. Most of them a good bit older than me. We’re all from different places in life. Mom adopted each of us.”

A pause.

“I’m not sure why she chose each of us out of the many more foster children she saved from the system, but I owe my life to her. Literally.”

GM: “Oh, wow, six! That’s a ton of kids to adopt,” Anna says, eyebrows raised.

Victoria: She nods excitedly.

“I don’t know how she does it! Single mom with six kids, none of them her own blood, and every one treated as if they are! Grandma Beth helps out, but still. She manages more than any group home I was part of. I hope one day to be half the mother she is.”

GM: “Geez, no dad?!” Anna exclaims. “Your grandma must be a lot of help, I don’t know how anyone would do that!”

Victoria: “She’s kind of a model! Tough as nails and not afraid to tell anyone her mind. I swear, she could take on any man three times her size if she was mad enough.”

GM: The only things Sylvie’s seen make her mom angry are repeatedly taking the Lord’s name in vain and harming her children. It’s a quiet sort of tough, if there is such a thing. Mary prefers not to go off on people, but she stands her ground.

“Good for her. It has to take tough to raise so many kids.”

Victoria: “Especially feral children.”

She winks.

“The world needs more of both of you.”

GM: Anna smiles. “Oh, I think more of people like your grandma. I don’t think I could do six foster kids, without a husband. I just couldn’t.”

Victoria: “I’m not sure I could do six foster kids with a husband,” she chortles, though that undertone of proud admiration never leaves.

“Not just six, though; many more fostered who came and went. Of them, six adopted.”

The two go on for the better part of an hour, talking about life, and love, and the meaning of happiness; of Anna’s local friends, and of Sylvie’s family; of the best local restaurants, and the places to avoid; of rural, southern hospitality, and the bustle of the Big Easy.

A promise is made to find lunch the next day, following a more interesting class with a more awake professor, and it becomes a pattern. Sociology Tuesday and Thursday, lunch to follow. Eventually, it becomes an everyday thing. Dinner some nights. A movie. Heartfelt conversations. Inside jokes. The bonds of friendship link the two, they hope for good.


Wednesday afternoon, 4 September 2011

GM: “Have a seat, Sylvia. You mind if I call you Sylvia?”

The office room has no chairs.

“Oh, how careless of me. Eileen, make a seat for our guest.”

No one would ever call the woman standing in the corner “beautiful.” They’d say things like “pretty enough” as their eyes slide past where she sits on her barstool to scope out her much more attractive friends. She’s noticeable enough, though, when she’s naked except for a posture collar, leash, harness gag, and crisscrossing strips of black leather that do nothing to conceal her most intimate places. Fingerless mittens render her hands useless.

She obediently gets down on her hands and knees, presenting her back for Sylvia to sit on.

Victoria: Years of undergrad developed what was once a mostly-Christian, young woman, preening back the layers of tempered pride and kindness to reveal a lioness; yet, still a cub. Sylvia St. George drives for what she wants, and she works for it, no matter the effort. She’s taken to party-life, making her mistakes along the way, and grown into a stronger person for it.

Still, she held on to some semblance of ‘awkward’ when caught off-guard by the brash nature of how forward people can be. It’s rare when someone is more forward than her.

This is one of those times.

She expected something eccentric when she applied for a position with Chakras. Handcuffs dangling from the ceiling. The cries of a flayed man in the distance, either of pleasure, or of pain. Of ‘yes, yes!’ and ’I’m sorry, mistress’.

She does not expect to sit upon a living chair; and yet, that’s exactly what she does. Something tells her that the man—master—hosting her interview is not one to savor disagreeing, and even without a strong tie, she immediately complies.

Sylvia sits.

“Yes. Sylvia works.”

GM: The ‘chair’ is somewhat yielding under Sylvia’s rear, but the woman remains kneeling in place.

The man sitting behind the desk across from Sylvia is handsome, though. He’s black, maybe in his 30s, with a goatee and hair cut low enough to seem more like a shadow over his head than anything else. He’s also dressed in dark leather, though his conceals more of his fit frame than it reveals.

“Great,” he says.

“What’s the worst you’ve ever hurt someone in bed?”

Victoria: Sylvia has a bony ass. It’s more than a little painful for the unpadded chair of a person.

She veils the interest she feels in him, keeping herself professional despite a wandering mind. This place is fantasy brought to life.

She grins, if faintly.

“Intentionally or unintentionally?”

GM: Eileen suffers it without complaint.

The man shrugs. Sylvia never quite got his name.

“Whatever was worst.”

Victoria: She doesn’t bother to ask. If he wants to give her his name, he’ll give it. She knows well enough to know that this is probably part of the game of establishing positions, and though she isn’t ordinarily, she’ll take one of subservience if it means receiving this internship.

He will be her employer if he extends the offer. It makes sense.

“I misread landing on an ex while riding him and bent his cock. Did you know they can break?”

She shudders. That was a night in the hospital, a week of apologies, and a month of guilt.

“I’ve used handcuffs; tied him to the bed, teased him. Left him wanting. Left him begging. Left entirely.”

She shifts her hips. Sitting on another person isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.

“Another asked me to slap him, and twist his balls; to tug them, little by little, further and further from his body until he couldn’t take it anymore. One time, he finished before me, so I punched him in the balls.”

She talks as if she’s a little girl with a fantasy, and the fraudulent guilt of a cookie she doesn’t regret stealing.

GM: It’s not comfortable at all. She has to sit straight the entire time. The ‘chair’ shifts under her whenever she shifts. It takes some effort not to fall off.

“Yeah,” says the man. “No bones in a guy’s cock, but they can still break.”

He smirks at Sylvia’s story.

“How’d your boyfriend like that?”

“Or is that why he’s an ex?”

Victoria: “Which part? The cock breaking, or… the rest of it?”

She doesn’t wait for him to answer. Why would he?

A smirk foretells her answer before she speaks.

“He didn’t like being punched in the balls as much as the rest of it. That is why he’s an ex.”

She adds, “…I’m insatiable. The more I learn, the more I try, the more I experiment, the more I want. Some days, I worry about what I’ve become, and what I’ll become from here; but, it’s fun, with partners that enjoy it.”

“…was that too forward?”

Her cheeks are pink.

GM: The man just grins.

“Do something to her,” he says.

The ‘her’ underneath Sylvia shifts.

Victoria: “I…”

Maybe there’s a misunderstanding.

“This is for your industrial assembly position, right?”

Not to disobey him, she does stand up, looking for an implement.

GM: She finds no shortage of those lining the walls. There cuffs, collars, whips, chains, anything that could plausibly fit into a wall without taking up overmuch space on the floor.

“Yeah,” he says.

Victoria: Curious. She wonders whether this is for his entertainment, or some odd requirement. It doesn’t matter.

She wants a job.

She has one outfit at home. One single, leather outfit, bought on a fantasy-laden whim to live out a life she never expects to have in the privacy of her home with whoever she dates next.

She wonders whether or not she might have had better chances if she wore it here.

Maybe.

She selects a crop from the wall: a thin, wooden dowel, flexible to a point, with a silicon loop at the end. It feels unfamiliar in her hand.

Is she just to… hit her with it?

“Would you explain a paradox to me?” she asks the man, back turned. Her boot finds the chair’s ribs, pushing her into a roll onto her back.

Sylvia St. George roils inside, her heart thumping into her throat at the fantasy come to life, yet the thought of harming a stranger bringing concern.

And excitement.

Two parts excitement, one part guilt.

She lives in a democracy.

The boot comes to rest—gently—against the girl’s cheek, rubbing the forward half of her sole against her face.

GM: If nothing else, she can’t see the outfit hurting here. It’d be right at home.

The woman doesn’t resist as Sylvia kicks her over. Just gives a little whimper.

Her tongue flecks obediently out to lick the sole of Sylvia’s boot.

“Okay,” says the man.

His voice sounds like he’s doing more watching than listening.

Victoria: “If she likes this…”

Her heel grinds her cheek, pushing the other side of her face into the floor.

“…isn’t it giving in? They win. She wants this.”

GM: Eileen moans in need as the boot disappears from her lips.

“Yes,” the man says.

“That’s the difference between a bad dom and a good one.”

“A good dom pushes them farther than they ask to go.”

Victoria: She shifts more of the weight onto her face, grinding her sole.

“She seems more upset by having it taken from her mouth than by being crushed. How do you know ‘too far’? I haven’t heard a word—obviously.”

Being that she’s gagged.

GM: “You just tell,” says the man. “When they’re yelling to stop, not go on.”

Eileen makes an unintelligible noise.

Victoria: “…and when they do?”

She drags the crop down her nose, slipping it down the center of the ring, over her tongue.

GM: “You keep going. Duh.”

The woman moans again and licks at the crop’s head.

“It’s what they really want. To lose control.”

“It’s why they come here.”

“They don’t want to feel like they can stop you. They want to be at your mercy.”

Victoria: She slips the crop further, feeling it stop against soft flesh inside her mouth.

“What if you injure them? What if I kick her in the ribs?”

What if she broke a rib?

GM: The woman’s tongue eagerly laps against the leather.

“Go ahead. Kick her.”

“Dom who stops where they say to is just a hooker without the sex.”

Victoria: She finally turns to look at him, if only through the corner of her eyes. She appraises him—how serious he is.

Sadism, at its finest. Are there really people who enjoy that level of abuse?

Sylvia grinds her sole once more, removes her foot, and sends it into her ribs. It could have been harder, but she doesn’t want to injure her.

GM: The man looks dead serious.

He’s not even grinning anymore.

The woman gives a sharp exclamation of pain and reflexively curls her body inwards. She doesn’t ward off the blow or try to stand up.

The man watches Sylvia, dark eyes silently glinting.

Victoria: She cants her head.

Her boot arrives at the same point in her ribs, this time harder, a significant portion of her weight behind it.

GM: The woman cries out again, louder this time. She curls further inwards, arms protectively encircling her belly.

“No hands,” says the man. “Tell her that.”

Victoria: She draws the crop from the chair’s mouth, slapping her across the face with it.

Paint the picture, Sylvia. It doesn’t all need to be true. She tosses the crop aside, turning on heel. Where is it? Where, where, where…

She thumbs along the wall, an idea forming as she looks. Flogs, whips, chains, excitement, cuffs, restraints, ropes…

She draws a false knife from the wall, returns to the girl, and kneels on her wrist. The cold of the knife kisses her wrist.

“If you block me again, I’m taking a finger.”

It feels so wrong. She’ll never actually do it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever will she hurt someone so permanently, but she isn’t here to hurt someone.

She’s an artist, here to paint a picture.

…for a job putting together equipment?

Her eyes flash to the interviewer, then back to the girl.

Don’t question him.

The knife kisses the girl’s lips.

“Burble if you understand.”

GM: The woman gives another cry and whips her face away. Her cheek has an angry red mark now.

She burbles.

Sylvia sees it.

The flash of fear in the woman’s eyes.

She looks at this naked, gagged, leashed, and mittened woman lying on the ground, staring up at her, and sees a helpless life within her power.

It feels like she can do what she wants here.

Whatever she wants.

Would this man stop her if it was a real knife?

He just grins and nods.

Victoria: She sees that fear.

It excites her. It shames her. It makes her heart pound faster. She wants more of that fear; to know that his woman—this inferior creature, fit only to serve and to be beaten—shakes at the mention of her name. She wants to comfort her; to tell her everything is okay, and that she’s loved, and she matters.

The knife drags along her cheek, presenting one, final reminder, before disappearing from her flesh.

As hard as she can, her boot sails into the girl’s ribs.

GM: The chair doesn’t see it coming, fearfully transfixed as she is on the knife.

It doesn’t sound like a cry, this time. It sounds like a scream. It’s short, but the chair’s eyes clamp shut as she curls inwards into fetal position.

Her arms start to curl inwards.

Then, gingerly, they spread back out.

The chair looks up at Sylvia. Her eyes are many things. Pained. Fearful. Contrite. Hopeful.

Did she disobey?

Sylvia knows, as if by instinct, the question that must be on her mind:

Will she be punished?

Victoria: They didn’t curl in all the way, and she opened herself up right away.

Sylvia looks to the man uncertainly, but snaps her gaze back to her prey. No, he won’t like her dependence on him.

She crouches, her boot on the girl’s wrist. A pair of fingers find the chair’s mouth, slipping between the ring.

Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump.

“I won’t take a finger for instinct. You’re an animal. You want to protect yourself. I won’t take a finger, as you opened yourself up to me.”

Again, she looks to him. Just a fraction of a second.

Her fingers pass over her tongue.

“Are you happy?” she asks the chair.

GM: The chair makes a noise at the weight pressing down on her wrist.

The chair doesn’t try to lick Sylvia’s fingers this time.

The chair nods, when she hears she’s an animal.

The man smiles.

The chair nods, fervently, in final answer.

Victoria: Sylvia’s fingers hit the back of her throat.

GM: The chair starts to gag, but keeps her mouth open. Her eyes look up at Sylvia helplessly.

So helplessly.

Victoria: Her fingers hover there, on the cusp between pleasant choking and making her puke.

It must feel like minutes for the chair before Sylvia removes them, wiping the thick, vile saliva of her throat against her cheek with a pair of slaps.

She rises, turning to the man with an expectant expression.

GM: The chair gags and sputters and drools over the floor, completely bereft of dignity, like the thing she is. Saliva freely leaks from her forced-open mouth.

The man looks at the chair, laughs, and then looks back to Sylvia.

“You’re hired.”


Wednesday evening, 14 September 2011

GM: “Oh my god, you’re a dominatrix?!” Anna giggles over the phone.

“I thought you wanted to be an engineer!”

Victoria: Sylvia cackles.

“I’m not a dominatrix! I’m just working for that kinda place. The job is to help assemble their equipment, rigging, machinery—that sort of thing. You know, engineering. The interview was just—well, a bit of gratuitous, hedonistic fun, I think. To make sure I’m a personality fit. They wouldn’t want someone who’d be awkward to be around.”

“You want to keep making jokes, I’m sure they won’t mind if a flog disappears for the night. Wait—no. You’d like that. Your boyfriend probably would, too, and I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of the mental masturbation.”

GM: Anna just bursts out laughing for several moments.

“Sylvie, you’re totally a dominatrix, just listen to you!”

“‘I just assemble the machinery.’ Riiiiiight.”

Victoria: She bites her lip, holding in a retort.

GM: “Literally the next sentence, you say you’re gonna punish me!”

Anna giggles even more.

“You’re even kinda right, Jeff probably would be into that.”

“I’d totally be the sub with him.”

Victoria: “You know, I still have a picture of that secret, little mole of yours, and I haven’t uploaded to Facemash in a while…”

It’s an empty threat. She knows Sylvie would never embarrass her so publicly. Especially with something so exposing.

“You aren’t already?”

GM: “What?” Anna laughs. “No! We’ve done some spank play, and sometimes I call him Daddy, but we don’t, you know, work at a dungeon or anything.”

Anna giggles some more.

“And if you post that photo I’m gonna tell everyone you’re a dominatrix now!”

Victoria: “I think one of those would be a lot more embarrassing than the other!”

A brief pause.

“Cute butt, by the way.”

GM: “Oh why thank you, Dark Mistress Dominatrix.”

Victoria: “You are incorrigible, I swear.”

GM: “Dark Mistress Dominatrix Doombringer? Dark Mistress Dominatrix Tyrannia? Is that enough titles?”

Victoria: “Oooooh, I like that last one… you want a spanking for a thank you?”

GM: “Yes, and for you to say what a bad girl I’ve been.”

Anna giggles a few more times.

Victoria: “You know very well just how bad a girl you’ve been.”

Anna’s laugh is just as soothing and addictive as it was that very first day.

GM: “I’m sorry, I’m happy for you, really. It sounds like a fun job. It’s just… it fits.”

Victoria: “No, no, we wouldn’t be us if we couldn’t tease.”

Yet, saying it fits strikes a cord in her. She isn’t sure why, nor can she tell whether it’s positive or negative.

“What do you mean by that? That it fits.”

GM: “Well, just… everything. You know, not much control growing up, Catholic household… it fits.”

“Also, you’re tall and dark.”

“Short girls aren’t dommes, I just don’t see it.”

Victoria: “Anna, I go into the sun to get my phone from the car and come back with a sunburn. Dark is the last thing I’d call myse—wait, you think I’m just coping with my lack-of-daddy issues!?”

GM: “Oh I mean dark hair, not dark skin. Seriously, how many blonde dommes are there?”

“And no, I don’t mean you’re coping! It’s just… it fits!”

Victoria: “Yuh huh. You know all about what does and doesn’t fit.”

GM: “Okay, I have it. Ultimate test, to determine once and for all of you’re a dominatrix.”

“If you fail it I won’t say another word.”

Victoria: “Oooh, the almost-teacher is giving me a test!”

GM: “You bet she is! Now, okay, you ready?”

Victoria: “I am always ready.”

GM: “How many dark leather domme outfits do you have in your clooos-seeet?” Anna asks in a singsong voice.

Victoria: A loooooong pause.

GM: Anna bursts out laughing again.

“You’re a DOMINATRIX! You’re a dominatrix! You’re a dom, dom, dom…!”

She breaks off giggling.

Victoria: “…two. I got one the other day, okay!?”

GM: Anna laughs even louder.

“Two!? I thought you just… had… one…!”

There’s more laughter.

Victoria: “I am so going to smack you next time you come over.”

“They made me get one for work! Look—you wore your black pants when you waitressed. I wear… that.”

GM: “Those pants were cloth. Black is just a good waitress color!”

“You know, like black leather is for dominatrixes.”

Victoria: “You know, you’re only making it worse for when you’re eventually my client,” she answers playfully.

GM: “So you are a dominatrix,” Anna declares triumphantly.

Victoria: “Only for you, love. Only for you.”

“Don’t tell Jeff, hm?”

GM: “He’d probably want me to do that, if he could watch.”

“So, I have to ask, what is getting… interviewed for a totally-not-dominatrix job like?”

Victoria: “Just… things. You know. Some technical questions and skill competency. A bit of the environment.”

She knows that Anna is going to have a field day with the truth, and while she’s comfortable bending the it to not-quite-a-lie, Anna deserves the truth in its entirety.

“They made me… demonstrate a bit. If I were to be hired for more.”

GM: “Demonstrate…?”

Victoria: She’s grateful they aren’t video calling.

“Uh huh.”

GM: Anna lets out a whistle.

“‘Skill competency.’”

“Uh huh.”

“At spanking or tying people up?”

Victoria: “It’s better to show than tell,” she hums in a sing-song voice.

GM: “I seeeee,” Anna says consideringly.

“So, for real, did you spank people?”

Victoria: “Nope.”

Technically the truth.

Anna knows her better than that.

“Okay, okay, okay.”

She pauses.

“Jeff isn’t around, right?”

Promise you won’t tell?”

GM: “Yeah, he isn’t. And I promise.”

The laughter mostly leaves her voice.

Victoria: “Okay, okay. They kinda made me… do it. Like, on the spot.”

She puts on her employer’s voice.

“Do something to her.”

And back to her usual husky tones.

“…so, I did. Not too much. Just a few minutes of letting myself go. Honestly, it was kinda fun.”

GM: “Oh. Wow. Just like that?”

Victoria: “Just… like that, yeah. I guess the girl they brought in likes it. She didn’t seem too unhappy.”

GM: “Wooow. I don’t even know what I’d have done there.”

Victoria: “Probably die.”

GM: “That’s probably why I’d be the sub, ha?”

“Sooo, what did you… ‘do’ to her?”

Victoria: “You know, Anna, for all you’re talking about it, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more than a small fantasy in that pretty, little head of yours.”

GM: Sylvia can all but hear the blush in Anna’s voice.

“It’s not! I’m just curious.”

Victoria: Testing time.

“How about… I tell you in person, hmn?”

Every ounce of her acting goes into that question, immersing herself as far into the performance she put on at Chakras as she can.

GM: “Oooh, boy. Is it that racy?”

“That’s kinda a long trip from Miami, though.”

Victoria: “Well, if I’m going to be helping you live your fantasy, I may as well do it in person. At least then I’d get something to watch out of it.”

GM: “Okay, for real, it’s not a fantasy! It’s just… I’m curious, since you said this wasn’t actually a dominatrix position.”

“So, wouldn’t the only thing that matters be what you can build?”

Victoria: “Uh huh.”

She doesn’t believe her.

“I just… I took a crop, and used it on her face. They had already tied in her a ring gag, hands in mittens, and largely nude aside.”

She pauses, seeing how Ana takes that.

“There was some other bits. Mild choking. Boot play. That sort of thing.”

Downplayed, but still true.

“I mean… I guess they trust my resume, and only needed to see how I fit the culture.”

GM: “Wooow,” says Anna.

“That’s seriously the wildest job interview I’ve ever heard of.”

Victoria: “Yeah, it was pretty fucking absurd. But it was also pretty fun, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.”

GM: “Good for you, then. It sounds like a fun job.”

Victoria: “…do you really mean it?”

GM: “Yeah. Waitressing’s really stressful.”

“There’s a reason I quit for that bookstore job.”

“If you’re having fun with it, why not get paid?”

Victoria: “Yeah.”

There’s a smile in her answer.

“You’re right. We should enjoy work. How’s the bookstore going?”

GM: “Eh. I’m looking forward to teaching, let’s just say.”

Victoria: “I’ll bet. Almost there…”

A pause, and then her words are filled with an overwhelmingly somber note.

“I really miss you.”

GM: “I know,” Anna sighs. “I miss you, too.”

“Miami’s a change of pace, but I’d trade it for another year at Lafayette together.”

Victoria: “Could trade it for a few years in New Orleans? I don’t think I’m going to be leaving anytime soon.”

GM: “No, of course not, it’s where your family is.”

“I don’t think I wanna teach in Miami. That’s not for me.”

Victoria: “Beach humidity isn’t as fun as bayou humidity?”

GM: “Ugh, the humidity’s worse. Not a ton worse, but it is.”

“Lafayette is further north.”

Victoria: “Will you be going back there? Or finally try the city?”

GM: “I might try New Orleans, yeah. To see what it’s like. See you.”

“Contracts are only a year, if it turns out to be something I can’t do.”

Victoria: “I think that you’ll be the best teacher they’ve ever seen, no matter where you go. Enthusiasm matters, and you’ve got it in droves! Maybe you can teach at my old haunt.”

GM: “Awww.” Anna smiles. “Thanks, that means a lot. They all say teacher burnout is such a thing.”

“I’ve had some teachers outright tell me, not to do it, but… someone has to.”

Victoria: “Or the next generation will be for the worse, right? True of so many jobs; teaching especially.”

“…you’ll be a good teacher.”

GM: “Thanks. I hope so.”

“And you’ll be a great engineer.”

Victoria: “I’m a dominatrix, remember?”

GM: Anna giggles. “I was just about to say. When you aren’t being a dominatrix.”

Victoria: There’s a long pause.

“Visiting soon?

GM: “Oh definitely, I was thinking over break?”

Victoria: “Uh huh. That sounds nice. I’ll try and pull myself away from the dungeon.”

GM: “It’s such a long drive. I’m really tempted to just fly.”

Victoria: “You’re probably better off.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s ‘only’ another two hours to go visit my family, so.”

“Be a nicer drive if you took a rental out to Tallahassee.”

“Or even just Mobile.”

Victoria: “You want to meet in the middle?”

GM: “Yeah, it’d make the long drive a lot more fun!”

Victoria: “…I could fly all the way to Miami, and drive back with you. That might be a fun trip.”

GM: “Ohh, that’s a thought. Flying isn’t too expensive?”

“Or are you rakin’ in the dominatrix dough?”

Victoria: “Eh. I’ve got a savings. Not a lot, but enough.”

“No,” she laughs. “I make dough out of their asses.”

GM: “Ha, of course. But yeah! If it’s not going to bust the piggy bank, that sounds like a really fun road trip.”

Victoria: “Sure, sure. Can we do it in one go? Or will we need a hotel?”

GM: “It’s 13 hours… yeah, I’d wanna break that up.”

Victoria: “Ah, weakness…”

GM: “We could do stuff in Miami, too! If you’re already flying over.”

Victoria: “Oooooh, there’s an idea! I’ve never been to the coast before. It’s a big party city, isn’t it?”

GM: “It is, yeah. Lot in common there with New Orleans. And the beaches are incredible.

Victoria: “I take it you’ve spent a good amount of time there?”

GM: “Yes! There isn’t anything like them. I love home, but there just isn’t.”

Victoria: “Mmn. That does sound like a nice trip. Okay, okay! Let’s plan it. I can stay at your place?”

GM: “Of course! It’s not much but you’re welcome to it.”

Victoria: “You know I don’t need much.”

One fateful class brought them together.

Despite time and distance, together they’ve stayed.


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Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

“It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”
Amelie Savard


Friday morning, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie lies wide awake with her clutched sword for what feels like hours. Sleep eventually steals over her like a nocturnal phantom neither locks nor doors may keep out. She awakens to the sounds of chirping birds and her phone’s automatic alarm, still clad in her clothes from the previous night. The sheathed sword rests beside her like a cold lover.

The dress she put on for Jill lies discarded on the floor like a once-comforting fancy now outgrown. Past the palm trees surrounding her aunt’s fine house, the rising sun is bright and fat, promising a long and always-humid day of stifling summer heat.

Amelie: However upset Amelie might be, her body refuses to let her routine fall to the wayside. She’s up on her feet almost reflexively once that alarm goes off. Her cold lover remains in the warm and comforting bed as she discards last night’s clothes and pulls on her morning shorts and a tank top that shows off the crags and valleys of her scarred back. She’d always joked that it was “cooked well-done.”

She’s outside in just moments, stretching and carrying dumbbells as she squats, fists and barbells on the ground and kicks her legs out into a plank. She holds the last position for a moment before quickly bringing herself back in to a squat, then jumps and hoists her arms above her head. The set goes on autopilot as her brain starts, or at least tries, to process past the numb shock from yesterday’s eavesdropped horrors.

Snuff films. Whoring. Her own kind and caring aunt, who literally gave the jacket off her back to protect her niece’s hand, being that kind of person. And still being the kind of person who manages such a lifestyle. She remembers Oscar’s words again, and how the madam who turned away virgins and was honored in a Catholic graveyard despite her occupation. Maybe it’s New Orleans’ twisted idea of ‘good enough.’

Amelie stands after her set and moves to push-ups. One arm grips the earth and pushes her body away from it while her other arm rests behind her, holding both dumbbells as she processes her new reality. She can’t undo what she’s heard. This is what her aunt does to make a living after she was disbarred from practicing as a lawyer, right?

Did she start out as an escort, or did she skip right to managing them? Her conversation with Jill sounded as though some of her girls were even upper class. If all of the girls’ mothers at school know Amelie because of who her aunt is, it stands to reason those rich and powerful people have wandering husbands. The new reality of her school situation does not leave her at ease over the upcoming house visit, and what she might have to do there.

Amelie switches hands and starts a second set, giving her body its needed daily hardship. The phone in her shorts finally buzzes, signaling the hour mark as the clock strikes 6 AM. The young woman lets herself back into the house and up to her room. She showers, dresses in her uniform, and sits at the breakfast table with a piece of toast. She stares at it and waits. Just to see how her aunt acts this morning, and whether she’ll act like she does every morning.

For once she doesn’t even know what she’s going to say or do. She just needs to see this woman and look her in the eye.

GM: Christina seems to rise later in the morning than Amelie does, but by 7 AM she’s dressed, downstairs, and making scrambled eggs and grits in the kitchen.

“Good morning. How’d you sleep?” she greets.

Amelie: Amelie usually has her schoolwork out to look over before class by this time. Now she just sits there with a plate of toast until Christina comes down. She stares at the back of her aunt’s head while she cooks.

“I slept. I was thinking a lot.”

GM: “Oh, yes? What about?” her aunt asks as she cracks some eggs and tosses the shells into the compost bin.

Amelie: “Why I want to start my business. And why it’s not the best idea.”

GM: Christina grates some cheese over the eggs, puts it back in the fridge, and turns on the stove.

“Starting a business has its share of challenges. What were your thoughts there?”

Amelie: “That my roots aren’t strong enough yet. Contacts-, notoriety-, and education-wise. And that I might just want to work for the sake of… working. Honestly, I’ve already run a business. I know how to order inventory, manage finances, and sort space and utilities. I ran that store for a while before people noticed.”

GM: “That could be some valuable experience to draw on,” her aunt remarks over the low crackling starting to sound from the pan. “Roots and education are also things you can build up with time and persistence.”

Amelie: “This city isn’t something I can tackle with brute force like I usually do. I can’t just keep my head down. It keeps stabbing me where I’m not looking.”

GM: “Has something come up at school?” Amelie’s aunt asks, turning off the stove to look at her.

Amelie: “No. I’m just not stupid, despite what that therapist might think. It’s more than just that, however. I need to know this place better.”

GM: Christina leaves the stove off and pulls out a stool to sit down across from Amelie. “That’s a fairly large change to your plans. Can I ask what prompted it?”

Amelie: “Talking about the Whitney Foundation, the cost of a professional shop, having this dance I was probably already going to attend shoved down my throat,” she lists, keeping her eyes down. It’s impossible for her to look the woman in the eye right now.

“I’m going to tell the career counselor that I’m shooting for Tulane. It’s not where you go, but with who.”

GM: Her aunt reaches across the table to touch her shoulder. “Amelie, are you all right?”

Amelie: Amelie steels herself for that touch, her knuckles white.

“I’m just having a realism day. It’s fine.”

GM: Still staring at the table, Amelie cannot see Christina’s expression as the latter asks, “Are you sure?”

Amelie: Amelie slowly rocks her knuckles around on the island. She knows she’s close to just… bursting and can barely contain it.

“New Orleans is not what I thought it’d be. I’m not scared of it, I just—some things here feel almost malignant.”

GM: “It can be a dark city,” her aunt agrees. “You’ve certainly seen how, with that lunatic stabbing you.”

Amelie: “It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”

GM: “The city is the way it is,” her aunt replies. “New York and Boston were hurt too, in their own ways. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a flip side to the city. I’ve seen how you light up when you’re talking about its history. There are so many historic sites, museums, restaurants, festivals, and a hundred other things that you’d enjoy seeing. Maybe we should find some time this weekend. Or even after school. We could catch an early dinner at Antoine’s or some other nice place in the Quarter before your sleepover. And I know how much you’ve been looking forward to that, getting to see the inside of the LaLaurie House.”

Amelie: Amelie feels her chest getting tight. She clears her throat and rocks her knuckles against the countertop again. “That sounds nice. Really. Do you… enjoy having me here? I know you probably never wanted to have kids.”

GM: “Of course,” her aunt answers. Amelie still cannot see what Christina’s face might look like with her gaze fixed on the island’s granite surface. “You’re an amazing young woman, Amelie. You’re responsible, considerate, sweet, and your passion for the city and your work is infectious. Jill had so many nice things to say about you last night after you went to bed.”

Amelie: “Would you forgive me if I did something horrible? Something I shouldn’t have?”

GM: “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done something horrible, at some point. Someone who can’t look past that won’t have many friends.”

Amelie: Amelie feels her heart sink into her stomach. Her aunt’s trying to comfort her and has been nothing but perfect since she came here. Now there’s this betrayal. Amelie is less sure what to make of her aunt and her living than when she first heard that news. But fessing up to her trespass is the right thing to do.

“I eavesdropped. On my way upstairs, I wondered about your work and why you couldn’t talk about it. I’d never heard you mention any of your clients, or… I shouldn’t be trying to excuse it.”

GM: The black granite countertop continues to dominate Amelie’s vision. She still cannot see whatever look passes across her aunt’s face. There is only silence. When Christina’s reply finally comes, it’s hard and cool like that same granite.

“What did you overhear?”

Amelie: The silence makes Amelie feel like she’s a rabbit standing stock still with a dog just feet away. One that’s waiting to see which of them moves first. Her aunt’s reply sends a chill up her skin and makes her feel even smaller. Like she’s about to get told to pack her bags and leave the city. Back into… well, not the foster system anymore. God knows where now.

“The therapist, the school wanting to expel me, and… well, almost everything. You got quiet sometimes. I don’t know how I should feel. The first half was a good reality check, but your work, I… you’ve been too kind since I got here for me to believe you’re a bad person, Auntie. And that I think you have good intentions. All I can say is I’m sorry.”

GM: For all the meekness and profusion of Amelie’s tortured apologies, that looming feeling of danger over her head does not abate. Part of her may want to hope that if she looked up, she’d see forgiveness on her aunt’s face. But she doesn’t, and can only imagine what’s there. Maybe it’s a furious dog about to burst its chain and dash after the hare. Hare, like the word her aunt used for her ideas last night. Harebrained. Another thing she wasn’t supposed to hear.

There’s another pause, each second agonizingly long, before Christina asks in that same granite-hard voice:

“What did you hear about my work?

But it isn’t a cool hard. For the first time since Amelie came to New Orleans, her aunt sounds as if she might be truly angry.

Amelie: Amelie has to force the breath out of her lungs to speak. Like a rabbit allowing its defense mechanism to trigger, ready to let the dog rip her apart with numbed senses.

“That you’re a New Orleans madame. Like Josie Arlington.”

GM: Christina’s hand abruptly slams down on the island’s surface. Amelie might flinch, but retains enough self-composure to keep her eyes from jerking up.

“Do not talk to me about fucking history now!”

Amelie: “It helps me relax! Having a point I can keep focus on, instead of freaking out! I’m scared! I didn’t want anything to change, and now my heart feels like it’s going to shoot out my mouth. I spent the entire night choking back fear that I’d either have to keep a secret from you, or that you’d hate me for this. I’m even freaked out that I’m not, like… FREAKED out by what you do, I just don’t want you to think I’m a danger to you now or that I look down on what you do, or…” she trails off, pulls on her skirt and keeps her eyes on the countertop.

GM: Christina’s hand doesn’t pull back. As Amelie furtively stares at the black granite, her aunt asks in a voice that’s slightly cooled but has become no less hard, “Whose names did you hear?”

Amelie: “Warren. I think Whitney.”

GM: “Oh, really? You are such a good student, are you sure that’s all?”

Amelie: “Please don’t do that. Of course I heard Kristina’s name.”

GM: There’s a flash of skin in Amelie’s peripheral vision, and then her toast’s plate is gone. It loudly shatters into a hundred pieces against the wall.

“Then perhaps you should have said so when I fucking asked for names!”

Amelie can feel the heat off her aunt’s face and hear the uneven tenor of her breath.

Amelie: The situation suddenly veers into more familiar territory. Amelie can almost feel her father in the room. The sudden violent action gets her heart beating harder instead of faster, and steels her somewhat. She’d snap back at the woman if not for the fact she’s trying to make up for being in the wrong.

“I was starting with the dangerous name.”

GM: “Well go on then, Amelie! Let’s hear the rest! Did you memorize every client I discussed with Jill? Or do you want to wait on those, maybe find out what they like to do in bed too, and say sorry after you spill every last one!”

Amelie: “You think I’d tell anyone, and put you in danger!? Why do you think I came to you instead of just keeping this a secret. It was dangerous to have me walking around knowing without you being aware of it. And if people are aware of who you are and who I am to you, and you say they are, how do I know that the Whitneys agreeing to let me stay in this empty private-gated house aren’t the wives plotting? The last thing I want is someone trying to hurt you because I’m around.”

GM: Christina abruptly yanks Amelie’s chin upwards, forcing the younger woman’s gaze away from the countertop. Her aunt’s normally so-composed face is red with anger as her chest rises and falls. Her eyes bore into Amelie’s with an edge no less sharp than any of her prized swords.

“I said: What. Other. Names. Did you hear? ALL OF THEM, Amelie!”

Amelie: Amelie almost rises to grab at her aunt. A hand gets halfway to gripping her wrist before she wrenches it back down to the counter. Tears form at the corners of her eyes.

“That was IT! Those were the only two names!!!”

GM: Christina lets go of her niece. “Three tries to finally get that right.”

The half-cooked eggs in the pan have long since cooled into a formless white and yellow mess.

“You are not to breathe so much as a word of what you snooped to ANYONE. I don’t care if it’s your friends. I don’t care if it’s the police. I don’t care if Sarah walks up to you and says she already knows what her father likes to do in bed. I don’t care if my sister calls you and says she’ll come back if you start blabbing. Whoever it is—whenever it is—you are to keep your mouth CLOSED. Is that understood?”

Amelie: Amelie feels like crying. She feels like grabbing her stool and fighting her way out of the kitchen. That crack about her mother is a real fucking low blow. It doesn’t drag up any further violent thoughts when her aunt lets go of her chin, just hurt and scared ones. Her aunt has more than shown her kindness during the short time she’s been here. But Amelie isn’t blind to the danger her aunt has put them both in, either.

“If I wasn’t resolved to keep my mouth shut, and you safe, I wouldn’t have come to you. I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

GM: “Keep me ‘safe?’ Oh, do not give me that ‘responsible adult’ bullshit!” Christina seethes. “You know what adults do? They respect each other’s requests for privacy, instead of listening through doors like fucking children! They put other people’s wishes over their own curiosity! And they consider, that just sometimes, maybe there are things they’re better off not knowing!”

“You like listening to gossip, Amelie? You like finding out strangers’ dirty laundry? Well then, let’s give you some more, and see how you like it when the owners aren’t strangers!”

Her aunt starts ticking off fingers. “Let’s see, of your teachers, Mr. Thurston helped his bosses defraud poor families and get them thrown out of their homes during the ‘07-’08 financial meltdown, because he is a company man to the end.”

“Ms. Perry is a rape survivor, I have good instincts for picking up on that.”

“Mr. French is a high-functioning alcoholic except for several weekend DUIs, I do wonder how long it will take until he runs over people instead of cats and dogs.”

“Ms. Ward, she was the teacher who first brought her ‘concerns’ over you to the upper school principal and then the headmistress. You think they decided they wanted you expelled on a lark this many weeks in?”

“Droopy-eyed old Mrs. Laurent, have you ever considered there might be a reason she looks so sleepy during class all the time?”

“And sweet Mrs. Flores, where to start with her life, besides that she’s tried to end it at least once. I’m not sure whether her attempted suicide was because her husband liked to beat her until her eyes were too swollen to see through, or because he shattered her leg after she tried to leave him. She’d have no leg at all if he hadn’t been drunk off his ass when he tried to saw it off with that hacksaw, although it certainly put an early end to her ballerina career. He’s the senate majority leader in Baton Rouge now, by the way, and contemplating a run for federal office in the next election. There’s a rumor he also raped one of his daughters, too.”

“There.” Christina sweeps a hand dramatically. “A giant stinking hamper of filth and shit and soiled things that everyone wanted to keep in the back of the laundry room, dark and out of sight. You didn’t even have to strain your ears too hard this time. Are you still curious, Amelie? Should I start with your new friends next? Hannah’s family isn’t nearly as good at keeping secrets as they think they are.”

Amelie: Amelie just sits there as she mutely listens to the horrors her aunt unleashes. It’s not that most of it bothers her: she knows her teachers have lives of their own, despite how awful some of their secrets are. It’s the fact her aunt is dumping those secrets on her as a punishment. The woman’s rage is overwhelming, as the last family she has in this world…

It’s too much. The tears that had started to form finally fall, and are joined by others. The young woman breaks into sobs, blubbering apologies and admissions of guilt.

GM: “You’re going to be late for school,” her aunt finally sighs, rubbing a hand against her forehead. “We’ll finish this later.”

Amelie: Amelie would say she’s never exited a room as quickly as she does now, but she’d be lying. The graceful young woman rabbits from the house with her bag before her aunt can say another word. She rubs the resentment and tears off her face with the inside of her blazer, pulls herself back together, and simply looks run-down when she gets to school.

GM: Amelie is fortunate that her house is already one of the last stops on the bus route to McGehee, which allows her to arrive only somewhat late by walking. But that’s as far as her luck seems to hold out. It’s still swelteringly hot and muggy outside. She’s still perspiring when she arrives at school. Her sweat leaves visible wet stains against the white dress shirt’s armpits. Her eyes may still be red from crying.

No other girls say anything to her face. But after all she’s heard last night, how she “isn’t one of” the sorts of girls who attend McGehee, it’s impossible not to wonder how many of the faint whispers, sly glances, and subdued laughs among the students she passes are directed at her. The madame’s ugly twenty-year-old bulldyke niece.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes unfocus as she makes her way through the halls. She slides her blazer on to hide her sweat stains and lets the air conditioning send a small shiver down her spine. Every set of eyes feels like daggers waiting to drive into her back, but they stab dead flesh. Of course she’s never been one of them. She’s no citizen of Sodom like these Southern dandies.

Amelie never considered how all of these people might have their own secrets. But the rotten film over this place isn’t anything worse than she saw her father fall into. She saw it as the ward of a province buckling under refugees, a new wave of deadly drugs, a suicidal Native population, and absent parents. She thought New Orleans would have been different, somehow.

But it’s not. It’s another place where she’ll cut someone’s face open and bash them over the head with a chair leg. It’s another place where she’s smarter than many people and definitely stronger than them.

But she’s left almost alone.

GM: Amelie isn’t late enough to earn a tardy slip from Mr. Thurmon, but the old man still gives her a, “Tut tut. Punctuality, dear,” in his lazy Southern drawl while the rest of the class smiles oh-so politely on. “Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, time is the one thing everyone on God’s earth receives for free—and should value just as much. It’s the ultimate commodity, so valuable that it can’t be bought or sold for all the money in the world. There’s a reason your family has a clock for their bank’s symbol, Miss Whitney,” he drones on before smiling at Sarah, who smiles prettily back.

Sarah, whose father gets off to watching girls like Kristina Winters to hang themselves, and pays them to do it for his videos. And who watches films where girls actually die. Next to that sin, Mr. Thurston remaining a ‘company man’ during the Great Recession seems almost banal.

Amelie: Amelie gives the true capitalist that is Mr. Thurston a humble apology as she steps into his class, slides into her seat, and settles in. She takes out her laptop and starting on her notes.

The attention she pays Sarah brings another small realization. ‘Miss Whitney’ is no longer the slightly intimidating blue blood she was yesterday. She’s a 17-year-old girl dancing a thin line in a house with a man who constantly contemplates murder and stages it with prostitutes to get his rocks off on the regular. Filthy.

Amelie pushes it out of her mind and returns to her notes. She’s still determined to keep her grades at the top of the class. Even in this one.

GM: Mr. French seems as impersonal and business-focused as ever during second period. Amelie has to wonder if his attitude is truly as dedicated to his students’ academic success as it seems like, or if he just doesn’t care enough to relate to them like Mr. Thurston does. She wonders how many pets he’s killed during his DUIs, and whether he cried or if it just didn’t bother him. The pets’ owners might have cried. She wonders if killing a person would make him cry.

Amelie: Amelie is no stranger to alcoholism. Her father’s manifested differently than Mr. French’s, but she remembers having to hide keys, sabotage the car, take screaming fits on the chin, and (on the worst days) endure bottles flying at her. Mr. French seems a lot more subdued. She wonders if anyone is there to deal with him. She absently checks his left hand.

GM: She observes a gold wedding ring.

Amelie: It’s hard not to feel bitter about the thought of Mr. French having a family. But there is one thing Amelie is certain of. If he’s as far gone as her father, he wouldn’t cry until the courts kept him from a bottle for too long.

She stops to talk with him after class. She shows the pictures of her sword on her phone, and offers to bring the sword in as a historic example. Just to see how he’ll react. If he’ll show any outward emotion.

GM: Mr. French looks the photo over and smiles pleasantly before remarking, “That’s not bad. Obviously a contemporary piece. It could use some decoration. A sword’s only good for being pretty nowadays, after all.”

Amelie: Mr. French draws a small chuckle out of Amelie. She assures him that the Germans of the Landsknecht only started decorating their weapons after they become lazy and worthless, and stopped after they were humiliated. She assures him the sword is wonderful in person, just a bit different than the gold and gilded pieces one sees in museums. But she doesn’t push him otherwise on the chance to show off.

GM: Mr. French shrugs at Amelie’s insistence the sword looks nice. “Did you want my opinion or to change my mind?”

Amelie: Amelie makes no such attempts and leaves Mr. French to his own.

GM: “Weapons aren’t allowed on campus, anyways,” he finishes. “Feel free to include some pictures during your project’s presentation.”

Third period is spent with the so-often joke-cracking and smirking Ms. Perry. Amelie has to wonder how upbeat the teacher’s attitude was during her rape. She wonders how violently Ms. Perry’s violator took her, and what she sounds like when she screams and cries. Did she scream and cry, or just take it silently? Maybe she begged. Amelie wonders what Ms. Perry sounds like when she begs.

Her smile seems a bit dimmer today. When a student asks what happened to her missing engagement ring, it looks even less convincing as she answers, “We broke it off. Plenty more fish in the sea, though.”

Amelie: Third period is much harder than the day’s previous ones. The news that Ms. Perry broke off her engagement only sharpens the questions in Amelie’s mind. The struggles that her teacher has to be going through are immense. She knows how hard sexual insecurity can make relationships.

She takes a moment after class to give the teacher a few consoling words and a bitter smile. She offers her phone number if Ms. Perry ever wants to get her mind off things. It’s the best she can do for the woman, bitter as it feels to try.

GM: Ms. Perry gives another not fully convincing smile and thanks Amelie for her concern, but replies that her students should stay focused on themselves. “Don’t you girls worry about me, I’m outta high school. You just keep your eyes on that GPA.”

Amelie: Amelie only remarks, “People should focus on other people,” leaves a post-it on the desk with her phone number, and gives another small supportive smile on her way out. If there are any teachers who deserve a little support, one of them has to be Ms. Perry.

GM: Ms. Perry thanks Amelie again before she leaves, but replies that it’s not appropriate for her to burden students with too many details of her personal life. Amelie is free to call her (her phone number is posted on the faculty website) if she’s looking for a sympathetic ear or has any problems of her own that she wants to talk about, though. The school’s adults are here for her.

Lunch initially seems like a high point to look forward to. When Amelie ventures outside to the spot under the banana tree where she’s eaten with Hannah, Megan, and Rachel, she finds it empty—save for a still-green, unripened banana smooshed over one of the tree’s roots. A dark cloud of buzzing flies is already greedily devouring the pulped remains.

Amelie searches the cafeteria and exterior grounds for her friends, but only finds circle after circle of other peoples’ enjoying their lunches together. Their silently laughing eyes seem to follow the sweaty and disheveled college-age dyke who’s wandering around alone with her lunch tray.

The cheese-, bacon-, and sour cream-topped baked potato with its side of buttery creamed spinach doesn’t seem to taste nearly as good as the cafeteria’s usual fare today.

Amelie: Lunch is the worst part of the day far. Amelie is sure her friends just have… other activities when she finds their spot empty. That’s it. The other girls’ daggers seem sharper when she’s alone, but she takes it stride as best she can. She eventually sits down alone to eat her potato and spinach. She has a small appetite despite not having breakfast and reminds herself to eat at a moderate pace. The food might as well be gruel.

She puts away her tray once she’s done and spends a few minutes in the bathroom washing her face with cold water and fixing her hair. She uses cold damp paper towels to dab her neck and wipe her pits, then reapplies the antiperspirant from her bag. She remembers a lesson from her mother as she does—a rare thing.

Amelie. To be fierce is only to appear fierce to others. If you must be as weak as paper, be a paper tiger.

GM: Amelie finds the bathrooms very full during lunch hour. Most of the girls don’t bother to wear makeup at the boy-less school, but they still care about looking presentable. Amelie’s peers ignore her presence one and all, but it’s only after she locks herself inside a stall that an unseen voice remarks,

“You could just shave yourself bald, you know… be even less work then.”

“Sad dyke is sad!” laughs another voice.

“Least if one of those bathroom bills pass ‘she’ won’t be allowed in here anymore,” sounds a third.

“He, more like. I hear he’s a retard too. Isn’t he like twenty-five?”

There’s a round of giggles, followed by retreating footsteps. When Amelie opens the stall door, the girls on the other side seem well gone.

Amelie: Lunch offers a small return to form. All of those girls are too cowardly to insult Amelie to her face. That’s familiar enough that their laughter only gets an amused little “hah!” when the second girl can’t even think of anything to say besides ‘sad’ and ‘dyke.’ Amelie gives herself one last check-over in the mirror to make sure nothing is wrong with her appearance, fixes her shirt, and walks out of the bathroom feeling no worse than when she stepped in.

GM: Ms. Ward seems to have even less patience for Amelie than usual during fourth period. She berates her in front of the entire class for her “poor attitude today” and finishes the public telling-off with, “Unacceptable, Ms. Savard. If you aren’t willing to come to class with a smile, then you can frown by yourself in detention.”

A few of other girls smirk. Most just watch with their silently judging and laughing eyes.

Amelie recalls her aunt’s words on how the science teacher “brought her concerns” over Amelie to the upper school principal and headmistress, who now want to expel her. She wonders if Ms. Ward is aware of that and whether she approves. She contemplates the irony of her youngest teacher having the seemingly biggest chip on her shoulder. She has to wonder if Ms. Ward is bitter in general or has something out for her personally.

Amelie: Ms. Ward’s period is soul-crushing, but Amelie takes it on the chin as best she can. She gives the teacher an apologetic smile and an actual apology, but offers no excuses. This isn’t something she can fight today, so she keeps that smile on for the rest of the class, or at least as much as she can.

Chemistry is easy for her to get excited about, at least. The language of chemicals and her favorite part of chemistry, the chemicals of minerals. Ca(UO2)2(PO4)2·10-12H2Ois her favorite: French Autunite. That’s followed of course by (K,Na)Ca4Si8O20(F,OH)·8H2O, or Arizona Apophyllite. The thought of chemical findings actually does lend her tired smile an earnest twinge. She just hopes it’s enough to appease Ms. Ward.

GM: Ms. Ward corrects Amelie that she is to be addressed as either ’ma’am’ or ‘Dr. Ward,’ but seems to find no excuse to send her to attention. The other students all seem to be in a chipper mood and repeatedly make their teacher smile.

Mrs. Laurent is as quiet-voiced and droopy-eyed as ever during fifth period. After this many weeks, most of the girls have given up on trying to get their teacher to speak at a louder volume. Amelie thinks back to her aunt’s words and has to wonder what Mrs. Laurent is on. Or what happened to her. Or what she’s doing.

Such thoughts are interrupted when the philosophy class teacher has the students turn their desks inward for small group discussions. Amelie has to wonder if any of her partners are the girls who mocked her from behind the bathroom stall’s concealing walls.

Amelie: Amelie has the least information on what’s up with Mrs. Laurent. She can conjecture a lot, from opiate addiction to fibromyalgia, but it doesn’t change anything when she’s pulled inward for the group discussion. It does occur that some of her partners might be the girls who mocked her in the bathroom. But Amelie knows they would never reveal themselves, cowards that they are. She passes the class time as best she can, puts her full effort into the discussions, and tries to include herself without thinking too much about next period.

It’s not going to be as relaxing as before. Not after she knows so much about another one of her favorite teachers.

GM: In sixth period, a stool-seated Mrs. Flores greets the class with a “happy Friday, everybody!” and gives them a few minutes to change into their “casual Friday attire” in the locker rooms, which Amelie realizes she forgot about after last night. Almost all of the other girls leave to go change. Hannah is one of the few who doesn’t. When Amelie asks where she was, she replies that “something came up” during third period, which she shares with Rachel and Megan. She adds that she talked with Yvette and is looking forward to the slumber party tonight.

Amelie: Amelie stays behind. She’s glad that Hannah’s there with her, and even more glad to hear something came up during the period she shares with their other friends. She tells Hannah that someone left a banana to rot in their usual spot, anyway. She also expresses how much she’s looking forward to tonight.

It’s not a comfortable realization that she still has to go home to pack. She hopes her aunt won’t be there. She even wonders if she should bring her sword along, but quickly dismisses the idea as overkill. Three knives, a prybar, mace, and the sword would make her look like she’s planning more than just self-defense.

She also shows off her newly un-bandaged hand to Hannah before class starts. She’s happy to see that it’s almost completely healed besides the rather ugly new scar. Function remains good and there’s no real pain, just some soreness. Not that it would stop her even if it did.

GM: It’s not long before the rest of Amelie’s classmates return in their well-heeled dresses. Mrs. Flores smiles and remarks over how pretty the girls all look, but the still-seated teacher cancels class after ten minutes because her leg hurts too badly today for her to walk around. She smiles again and exhorts, “Guess it’s y’all’s lucky day, go enjoy that sun and early weekend!” as she lets the students loose.

Amelie is no stranger to cutting implements. She has to wonder what kinds of incisions she would need to make to with her sword to inflict that sort of years-long harm on someone. Her area of expertise is lies in swords rather than hacksaws, admittedly. She has to wonder what Mrs. Flores looks like when her eyes are too puffed and blackened to see through, and what she sounds like when she screams. Ms. Perry could have endured her rape silently, but Mrs. Flores had to have screamed when the hacksaw drunkenly sawed through her leg. Amelie has to wonder how much blood there was, and whether it was possible to tell if her teacher was crying past the blood and bruises. She had to have cried. Amelie has to wonder how long ago that night was (because such things always happen at night), and how long it’s been since Mrs. Flores’ children last spoke to her. She has to wonder how many times the dance teacher has cried over that too, and how scared she still is of her ex-husband.

Amelie: It raises Amelie’s alarm when class gets canceled early. Mrs. Flores has to be in serious pain from her injury. It’s not one her swords are capable of inflicting, if she’s honest. Clean smooth cuts either kill people or heal just fine with modern medicine. They cause less pain. Jagged tearing cuts, though, are terrifying. Saws and rusty cleavers, the jagged back edges of hunting knives, the serrated teeth of predators: they leave skin ripped apart and in disarray, with no clear vision of how to heal itself. That’s when amputations become necessary.

Amelie is no expert in modern hacksaws, but she’s studied wounds where the hacksaw is the cure.

Old cannonball injuries tore legs to shreds and required field surgeons to shear the flesh from the wound using blacks, hammers, and hatchets (or better yet, saws). They would cut a wedge, pull out more bone than skin, and press the wedges back together. Surgeons sometimes doubled as barbers. They used their straight razor to slice of any bits of errant flesh to prevent rot. Amelie has also read medical texts in which leprous and gangrenous limbs were grabbed by the ankle or wrist and had a sickle-shaped blade drawn around the arm until bone was the only thing that remained before being hacksawed off. Success was minimal and suffering immense. Patients died from blood loss as often as they died from shock.

But none of that knowledge makes Amelie any less shocked. She stares at her teacher’s leg and can almost hear her screaming in the back of her head. She zones out for a moment as she imagines it from a first-person perspective, the ex-husband’s face a blur. The former ballerina’s heart must have been racing with horror as she was overpowered, mutilated, and made to feel so helpless. Her heart might have stopped just to protect her from shock. The thought burns Amelie like a white-hot coal in her ribcage as Jill’s words ring in her ear. How anyone can kill when pushed far enough.

She allows herself a vision of that man standing over Mrs. Flores. She can almost feel his skin part and his bones shatter as she cuts into him. She imagines clamping her hands around his neck and seeing the terror in his eyes before she twists the blade and parts his shoulder from his neck. Thoughts of hurting people like ‘that’ don’t twist her stomach like she knows they should. They give her pleasure.

She keeps picturing the slice across her father’s face after he cornered her. She felt so helpless before she grabbed the unfinished blade off the wall. She wonders if she could stomach it a second time: seeing what happens to someone’s face after the cut. That senator deserves what comes after the cut.

Amelie snaps back to the reality after a moment, steadies herself, and suppresses a shiver. She fills in Hannah on the sleepover’s scheduled time and place. She thanks her for the heads up on what happened during third period, then approaches Mrs. Flores.

“Would you like me to get you an ice pack, ma’am? Or get something from your car for you?”

GM: Hannah confirms she’ll see Amelie at the LaLaurie House before she heads off with the rest of the class.

Mrs. Flores smiles, oblivious to the violent yet so-tempting thoughts warring in Amelie’s head. “Oh, that’s so kind of you, Miss Savard. I’d be obliged if you could bring over my purse and save me the trip,” she says, motioning towards one of the room’s cubbies.

Amelie: Amelie brings over the purse quickly but carefully. “Well, Mr. Jones always did say to look for the helpers, cheesy as that sounds.”

GM: Mrs. Flores accepts the flower-printed roomy pink purse with a “thank you” and sets it down by her stool. She gives a laugh at Amelie’s words. “Yes, Mr. Jones was just the sweetest man, wasn’t he? There might’ve been some controversy around him, but I made sure my kids all watched his show when they were growing up.”

Amelie: “He was. It makes me happy that they still air his show years later. I still listen to it when I study sometimes. Are you sure I can’t do anything else for you?”

GM: Mrs. Flores seems to wince as she rubs her leg, but manages another smile. “That’s so thoughtful of you to offer, Amelie, it really is. But you’ve done just about all you can. Some days I can feel when it’s going to be a bad one and know what to pack.” She pats the purse in emphasis.

Amelie: Amelie rubs her shoulder and feels the start of her burns. “I can understand that on a smaller scale.”

GM: “Still,” the dance teacher says thoughtfully, “if you’re really fixin’ to do something for me, maybe next week you could join the other girls for casual Friday? It really does add a lot to the class, I think, for everyone to dress up like they were at a real dance.”

Amelie: “I will. Promise. I was going to this week, but I had a busy morning. I think everyone will be surprised I can wear heels,” she jokes, offering the teacher a small smile.

GM: “Maybe they will, but I don’t think I’ll be,” Mrs. Flores smiles back. “Dancing in heels just takes time and practice, and I’ve seen how much of yourself you put into this class.” She then adds in a lower voice with a wink, “Even if I do have to rag on you sometimes to play the lady.”

“Anyways, Amelie, I won’t keep you, I’m sure you have places you’d like to be on a day this lovely.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods, feeling assured by the talented teacher. She gives Mrs. Flores a light touch on the shoulder before she excuses herself. Her next stop is to see whether the two people she needs to talk with are available: the career councilor and the school shrink.

GM: Amelie finds that Mrs. Achord is unavailable today without a prior appointment, but Ms. Nugyen is still free. The guidance counselor welcomes Amelie in to her office and appears thrilled by the news that she wants to apply to Tulane.

Ms. Nguyen wastes little time in explaining that the application deadline is January 15th and the early action deadline is November 15th. Ms. Nguyen repeats that while a good GPA will help Amelie get in, Tulane has a very selective acceptance rate at 26 percent. Good grades are not enough—“A lot of girls here have 4.0s”—so Amelie will need noteworthy extracurricular activities as well. Letters of recommendation from older adults will help too, if she can get any. She should also begin preparing for the SAT exam. Registration is in September and the exam itself is in October.

The guidance counselor finally adds that Amelie should apply to more schools than just Tulane. It’s possible she won’t get in, “so it can be a good thing to have a backup plan, if you don’t want to wait a whole year before applying again.” Application deadlines vary by college. Finally, there is the matter of scholarships, student loans, and whatever other financial aid Amelie wants to obtain in paying for school—more applications with more deadlines. Applying for college is a lot of work.

“Engineering club is good,” Ms. Nguyen adds as Amelie explains her plans, “but you should shoot for more than just one club. Having specific awards and achievements you can put down on your application will also help it stand out. ‘Second-year state semi-finalist and third-year state finalist’ looks a better than, for instance, ‘three-year member of the chess club’.”

Amelie: Amelie outlines a few of her plans. First of all, she wants to join the historical HEMA organization in New Orleans, System d’Armes. Its members list includes quite a few academics, as well as people who regularly lecture at Tulane. Secondly, she wants to enter local robotics and ‘brain bowl’ competitions to show her interest in STEM fields and score high in, if not bring home awards. She inquires whether McGehee gives any internal awards and names a few other schools she’s interested in, MIT still included, as secondary options. She’d like to stay in New Orleans if possible, though.

“I’ll be honest, ma’am, I just wanted to work like I’ve been doing all my life. I realize now that I have to have a pedigree for people to take me seriously. I’ll found a fencing club at this school to get my name in the annals, if I must. There are a lot of girls in this school with 4.0 GPAs, but none as hungry as me for the next step.”

GM: Ms. Nugyen tells Amelie frankly that she is very unlikely to be accepted into MIT. She can certainly apply, but the school’s acceptance rate is less than 10%. More of its students are postgrads than undergrads. MIT looks for “super students” who are, essentially, the best of the best in everything. Amelie, unfortunately, has a fairly so-so transcript from her first three years in high school. Her troubled home life and subsequent time in foster care was not good for the then-teenager’s grades, even bright as she was. Dropping out of school for several years also does not look good on her transcript.

Amelie might be able to get into Tulane, if she does everything perfectly right over the next few months—which includes getting reference letters from connected adults who can leverage their ties to “people in the right places” at the local university. Tulane isn’t sure odds, so Ms. Nguyen also cites Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, and several other local colleges that Amelie can apply to if she wants to stay in the city.

HEMA sounds like a good extracirricular for you participate in, especially if there are people there with connections to Tulane,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “As I’ve said, you’ll be doing three years of work in just one if you want your application to be competitive. So I’d recommend fitting in additional clubs, volunteer work, local competitions… really, anything that can take up extra lines on the paper.”

Amelie: Amelie is aware that MIT needs exceptional students to fill its quotas for fame. But she’s also sure that she wants to at least apply. She might be lucky, or someone looking at her application might think her odd skillset has potential. A girl can dream, or at least look ‘fondly’ at a rejection letter to fuel her.

She apologizes for her rudeness when it comes to the topic of competitions, but Louisiana isn’t a big state. Some of the things she does best might have to happen out of state. The greatest duelist in the history of the South might have made his living in New Orleans, but the modern city doesn’t even have a state fencing club outside of HEMA, its national competitions, and the Ordo Procintus’ brutal full contact tournaments.

She also asks if there are any academic awards, charities, or competitions with a link to the Malveaux family that she can pursue. She found their family matriarch’s talk on the first day of school rather moving. She also agrees that applying to those secondary choice colleges is a good idea to keep her in New Orleans, though she hopes Tulane will be her first stop.

GM: “The Louisiana fencing circuit isn’t something I’m too familiar with, so I’d find someone who knows more than me if you want to participate in that,” Ms. Nguyen says in response to Amelie’s HEMA tangent. “Wish I could be more help there, sorry.”

She looks thoughtful when Amelie asks about the Malveauxes. “I think one of the Malveauxes placed highly in a few fencing tournaments, actually. Another girl I had in my office mentioned it once. You might kill two birds with one stone by asking about them.”

Amelie: “How would I go about asking about one of the city’s old families? I don’t expect they just have public records hanging around.”

GM: “Well, none of the Malveauxes go to McGehee, so that is a little tricky. You might try asking some of your teachers.” The guidance counselor thinks a moment, then briefly types into her computer. “Let’s see, pulling up your classes list… I bet Mr. Thurston or Mrs. Flores could be the most help there. Mr. Thurston was a pretty successful banker for the Whitneys, and Mrs. Flores married a state senator, so they both could have rubbed elbows with the Malveauxes.”

Amelie: “Mr. Thurston just might, but I don’t think it’d be appropriate to ask Mrs. Flores,” Amelie muses. “Vera Malveaux did come to speak at the school, so maybe she’d read a letter from me when I’m a student at her alma mater. But I’ll definitely ask Mr. Thurston. I have time before school normally ends, since my dance class got canceled.”

GM: “Sounds like a plan,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “If he’s teaching right now you can probably pull up Mrs. Malveaux’s address online.”

The guidance counselor goes on to confirm that the Malveauxes are involved in a number of charitable organizations, many of which Vera iterated during her speech before the school. Ms. Nguyen presumes, however, that Amelie is asking about scholarships and volunteer opportunities. She pulls up the application page urls for the Malveaux Cultural Trust, the James C. Malveaux Charitable Foundation, the William Dyer Institute, and several other scholarship databases that she passes on to Amelie. She also adds that the teenager should look into applying for financial aid, and that FAFSA’s recommended deadline was in June. The sooner that’s done, the better—if she can’t pay tuition, it doesn’t matter what school accepts her.

Amelie: Amelie considers it and wonders just where she can go to make the most difference on her college resume. Competitions, memberships, grants, volunteer work. The Malveaux family sounds like a good place to start. They’re old money and invested enough in New Orleans’ history and future to be associated with all of these charities. If Amelie can just MEET Vera Malveaux in person, or even send that letter, maybe she can work her way into her personal graces through the woman’s charity work. And if anyone can restore items from New Orleans’ history, it’s Amelie, after all. Her family’s fencing history might also be a good icebreaker.

GM: Ms. Nguyen also belatedly answers Amelie’s question about awards granted by McGehee. There are quite a few of these, she nods, including for Academic Distinction, NHS, Perfect and Exemplary Attendance, National Merit, Outstanding Community Involvement, and many more. These awards are typically most sought by and awarded to juniors, “So your time might be better spent on the extracurriculars that are the bread and butter of any college application.”

But it’s plain as day to the new and unpopular teenager. Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think Amelie has any chance of earning the school’s awards next to girls like Sarah and Susannah.

Amelie: The talk about awards bothers Amelie slightly. It’s plain as day that Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think she has any chance of earning them next to girls like Sarah and Susannah. Everyone here seems so fine with using family history as a measure of worth.

She’s sure that those two are smart and capable. They’re involved in student government and probably a lot of other school functions. She’s sure Ms. Nguyen would change her tune, though, if she’d been going to McGehee since ninth grade. It’s frustrating not to have more time to show how exceptional she is.

“So you suggest I find Vera Malveaux’s address to send her a personal letter?”

GM: Ms. Nguyen thinks. “You know, going to Mr. Thurston might actually be better. Anyone can just send a letter—or brush one off—but another person can probably answer your questions better. Or make an actual introduction.”

Amelie: “I’ll see if he’s teaching a class right now, then. I’ll approach him afterwards to broach the topic if he is. I doubt he wants me to keep him too long from his weekend.”

GM: Ms. Nguyen agrees, asks Amelie if there’s anything else she wants to discuss, and then lets her loose with an, “Okay, I think this should be enough to keep you pretty busy for a while.”

Amelie has half an hour or so to kill before sixth period gets out.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t have anything else she wants to go over. She thanks the guidance councilor for her time and help, then makes an appointment with the desk lady to see Mrs. Achord as soon as possible. Her walk back to her first period classroom is leisurely. She patiently waits by the door until the bell rings if she hears a class being conducted inside.

GM: Mrs. Nancy Noah sets up the appointment with Mrs. Achord for Amelie before exhorting her to “Go out and enjoy the sun, youngun!” Doing the opposite, she waits outside Mr. Thurston’s classroom and plays on her phone until the bell rings.

Uniformed girls chat as they file out. A few linger behind to talk with their teacher. They’re all prettier than Amelie is, and talk in the same drawling Southern cadence as Mr. Thurston. He gives them his time first and turns to deal with Amelie last, but regards her with a smile.

“And what can I do for you, Miss Savard?”

Amelie: Amelie figures (or at least hopes) that Mr. Thurston will pay attention to his class before seeing her. She returns the man’s smile and gives him a nod of greeting before getting down to business.

“Actually, Mr. Thurston, I wanted to ask you about the Malveaux family. Vera Malveaux spoke during our orientation this year, and I find myself looking for ways of introducing myself to her in regards to her charities and rumors about a member of her family being a fencing enthusiast.”

GM: “Slow down, dear, don’t set your cart before the horse,” Mr. Thurston chuckles. “What’s this you’d like to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about? Volunteering at one of the family’s charities?”

Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and feels a little sheepish. “Pardon, sir. I’ve just had a fire lit under me recently. Her charities are one thing, yes. But I’m also interested in her scholarships and this fencing business. I only have one year with you, I need to pad my resume for college. I’m aiming for Tulane.”

GM: “Tulane’s a good school,” Mr. Thurston nods. “There’s a fair number of girls here who apply to it. They like staying where they grew up. A lot of them get in pretty easily.” He smiles again. “Perhaps the AC’s getting to me instead of the summer heat, dear, but I’m afraid I don’t ken what you want to speak with Mrs. Malveaux about. What’s this about fencing business?”

Amelie: Amelie slows down a bit. She explains what the guidance counselor told her and how she needs to have achievements on her college application to Tulane. She briefly touches on her fencing history and emphasizes how speaking to Vera Malveaux personally about the woman’s charities, awards, and grants might coincide well with her own craftsmanship skills. Volunteers were one thing, but not even philanthropic organizations get skilled labor without paying for it. A championship title for a sport in Louisiana could also be priceless.

GM: Mr. Thurston is still puzzled by what exactly Amelie wants to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about. Does she want the woman’s assistance, somehow, in winning a championship? Does she want to apply for some of the Malveaux family’s scholarships? Does she want to take commissions from the family, since she’s mentioned being a craftswoman?

Amelie: Commissions aren’t exactly the right words. Amelie wants to offer herself for free. But she also wants to offer her services in such a way that Vera Malveaux will write her a letter of recommendation. The Malveaux matriarch is big on art museums, and Amelie has experience and skills in antique restoration. So she wants to meet with Vera, offer her skills, and put it down as volunteer work. She also hopes to get in good with the family, use that as a kick-off point to apply for their higher education scholarships, and off-handedly ask about the rumors that one of the Malveauxes was a fencer. Like the counselor said, ‘state finalist’ looks good on a college resume. Amelie believes that she and Vera can come to an advantageous agreement, which could spread her name among the city’s old money families while also helping her get into college.

GM: “See there, Ms. Savard? Slow and steady does it,” Mr. Thurston chuckles once Amelie has explained herself.

Amelie: “Sorry, sir. I think I may have just gotten nervous about wasting your time,” she apologizes.

GM: “Always better to err in assuming someone’s time is valuable, dear. You heard my lecture during first period, after all,” Mr. Thurston chuckles.

“But don’t fret. I know Mrs. Malveaux from my time at the bank.” Whitney Bank has always been ‘the’ bank in his classes. “I reckon I could pass along what you’ve had to say. What’s a phone number or email she can reach you at?”

Amelie: Amelie quickly takes out a pen and paper to jot down her a phone number and email address. She has a lucky habit of making professional-sounding addresses.

GM: Mr. Thurston tucks the note into his jacket’s breast pocket. “All right, my dear, I’ll give Mrs. Malveaux a call. You go on out and enjoy the sun, now. It’s a glorious afternoon.”

Amelie: “Yes, sir.” Amelie excuses herself after thanking the man for his generosity a few more times, then reluctantly heads out into the day. She’d wanted to avoid this. She’s been avoiding it all day.

Going home.


Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Caroline’s summer has nearly wound down. Her final year of law classes starts back up in several days. September 1st has that Southern Decadence festival Aimee has been trying to talk her into attending. The Malveaux scion’s Friday afternoon is hers to spend as she pleases until she hears her phone ringing. The caller ID is from her aunt Vera.

Caroline: Caroline is recently back from a shopping trip, and the dining room table is piled high with designer label bags. She sets down the half-eaten half of her Hook and Cheddar sandwich from St. James Cheese Company (something she picked up on the way home) on the bar of her kitchen.

Hook_And_Cheddar.jpg
She sighs when she looks at the caller ID. Her aunt is a strange one.

She considers letting it ring to voice mail as she chews, savoring the soft ciabatta bread, sharp cheddar cheese, and smooth avocado and mayo spread of the sandwich. She (reluctantly) swallows and answers, suspecting her ‘wide open’ weekend will become less so.

“Hi Aunt Vera, how are you?”

There’s a hint of false cheer in her voice.

GM: “Oh, there you are, Caroline. That took you a while, are you in the middle of something?” her aunt asks back. It sounds more like a criticism than a question.

Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline replies sweetly. “I was just setting some things down. What can I do for my favorite aunt today?”

GM: “Oh, very good. Well, you see, it’s about my old portfolio manager from Whitney Bank, Lawrence Thurston. I wish he hadn’t retired, my new one isn’t as good. She’s all right, by herself, but there’s just no substitute for having a years-old relationship with your client.”

Caroline: “Good help is so hard to find these days,” Caroline agrees loftily.

GM: “Not just these days. It’s always been that way. Katherine!” Her aunt’s voice grows more distant. “Katherine! It’s time for my four o’clock soon!”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Well, you do have so much more experience than I do.”

GM: “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux, I’ve already-”

“Check it again, Katherine. I’ve had a very long and tiring day, I don’t want the rest of it to be any worse!”

“Yes, Mrs. Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline patiently walks two fingers up and down the bar while she waits for her aunt to finish.

GM: Vera’s voice grows louder again. “Anyways, Caroline, where was I—oh yes. Lawrence has been teaching part-time finance classes at the McGehee School for Girls, my old high school, to ‘keep busy’ in his retirement. Really, if the man wants to keep busy, I’d be perfectly happy to hire him on retainer, but he just goes on about how he must ‘gracefully and regrettably decline’ because his ‘loyalty must be to the Whitneys.’ I do admire loyalty like that in a man, it’s just a shame when it’s… well, misplaced.”

Caroline: “You can’t make good choices for them,” Caroline offers.

GM: “Sadly not,” her aunt sighs. “Anyways, Lawrence just called me about one of his students. He said the girl was asking about you specifically, and your old fencing… career.” There’s what sounds like a frown from the other end of the line. “You aren’t going back into fencing, are you? Your mother was right that it’s a distraction, not to mention unladylike. You’re only a year off from graduation.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes, pushing back unpleasant memories. She still has several foils and even real swords upstairs. She hasn’t touched them in more than a year. She still remembers the state semi-finals. Remembers that stocky coiled spring of a girl.

“Of course not, there’s not exactly a future in it.”

GM: “Yes, exactly. Lawrence said the girl was some kind of… sword-maker, and she’d also somehow found out that our family was involved in that scene—people do talk, as you can well see.”

Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose, near her eyes, with her free hand. As if she needs a reminder. She still remembers that last fight with her hag of a mother. Remembers the exact words that kicked it all off, minutes before the semi-finals. ‘People are talking’.

Caroline shoves the thought to the side.

GM: Her aunt, however, continues on, “Lawrence also said that she’s been one of his more… challenged students.” The word is clearly a euphemism. “She’s new to the school and the city, doesn’t know anyone at all, and then there’s this whole fencing thing. But she’d been to the year’s opening assembly where I addressed the girls as one of the alumni guest speakers, and it seems I must have inspired her. She was very taken by what our family’s done, and then, again, there’s this sword business…”

Vera pauses and sounds like she’s frowning over the phone. “It’s a strange request I’m about to make, Caroline, but can you talk with her and steer her straight? Out of that whole fencing scene? McGehee doesn’t even have a fencing club, and if this girl turns out poorly enough, it’ll reflect on the school.”

Caroline: On your alma mater? Caroline asks herself sarcastically. Heaven forbid.

“I’m always available to help my favorite aunt,” she replies. “Do you have her contact information, or would you rather Lawrence set something up?” She continues after a moment, “Preferably something semi-public.” Just in case the girl is a nut job.

GM: “Yes,” her scarred aunt agrees quickly. Very quickly. “Meeting strangers by yourself is always a chancy idea. Lawrence was thoughtful enough to get her email and phone number, you can use either if you want to set something up… or keep things distant.” Vera duly supplies them.

“There was also something about her being an amateur art historian and antique restorer… so much the better if you can keep her away from fencing, Caroline.”

Caroline: “There are better uses of anyone’s time,” Caroline agrees tightly. A lie.

GM: “I’m so glad you agree,” her aunt says, relieved. “In any case, I don’t want to miss my four o’clock… thank you for taking care of this, Caroline, your mother would approve.”

Caroline: Doubtful, Caroline reflects.

“As I said, my favorite aunt.” She takes down the girl’s name and number.

GM: Another sharp call of “Katherine!” and “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux,” punctuates that brief pause.

As in all things, family must come first.


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