“You should get out of here.”
Friday evening, 28 August 2015
GM: The sun sets over New Orleans.
Rain has started to fall.
Amelie’s teachers might have exhorted her to enjoy the beautiful Friday afternoon, but tonight’s weather was presaged by the gathering clouds that accompanied her walk back to an equally disturbed home. Now, as the sky’s orange sun slowly sinks and dies, dark storm clouds rush to cover the purpling horizon like coroners draping a shroud over a corpse. The Quarter’s grimy-faced and crusty-haired panhandlers and gutter punks variously glare, produce tattered umbrellas, or huddle beneath doorways with their mangy-furred dogs as Amelie strides towards 1140 Royal Street.
The house of Marie Delphine LaLaurie looms before her.
She’s read about the house. Looked it up online. Peered at its windows through 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.
Her, and the patiently waiting LaLaurie House.
Amelie: Sabers are quiet. The wrenched blade goes from resting on a shoulder to slicing through the air, all without a sound until it makes contact. Its wielder can only ask against what? Will it slice into your opponent? Will it slip into your own thigh thanks to your incompetence? Will it chip against stone after it passes through a phantom foe?
Amelie is that saber now. Sharp and trembling in the rain, praying she doesn’t rust and shatter while time races against her. The cardinal rule of saber fencing is simple: don’t stop moving.
The young woman paces in front of the house, checks her phone, and mutters to herself. Directions, instructions, prayers: the culmination of a week of hard work and consultation. She stands resolved, confident in her will to rebuke the house’s corruption, and confident in the steel her hand can so easily reach to best more physical threats. It will only take a single movement.
She’s sure the realtor will be here soon.
GM: A BMW eventually pulls up with Yvette and another woman who looks in her mid-to-late 20s. The two could almost pass for twins. They share the same pale skin, pale blonde hair, and pale blue eyes, although the effect is less pronounced when the women are dressed in their own casual clothing rather than McGehee’s identical uniforms.
“Merci pour l’ascenseur, Cécilia. Ou ascenseurs, plutôt,” Yvette says in her formal-sounding metropolitan French.
(“Thanks for the lift, Cécilia. Or lifts, rather.”)
“Bien sûr,” answers the other woman. “Je serai de retour dans une demi-heure avec les autres.”
(“Of course. I’ll be back in half an hour with the others.”)
“Je vais vous envoyer un texto si l’agent immobilier ne part pas,” Yvette remarks as she hefts a backpack around her shoulders and gets out an umbrella. “Et merci de ne pas l’avoir dit à Maman.”
(“I’ll text you if the realtor doesn’t leave. And thanks for not telling Maman.”)
“Ce n’est rien, profite de ta nuit dans la maison hantée,” the woman addressed as Cécilia smiles.
(“It’s nothing. Enjoy your night in the haunted house.”)
The two do not hug, but trade kisses on one another’s cheeks. Yvette steps out into the rain and waves goodbye at the receding BMW.
Amelie: Amelie spots the car and waits. She feels a lump in her throat as she listens to the exchange. Something is missing.
She looks down the road as ‘Cécilia’ drives away. There’s no body guard in sight. Maybe Yvette’s mother called them off, or maybe it was never bothered with. It’s a red flag.
GM: Yvette then seems to see Amelie. She’s dressed in a thin-looking black pea coat (it might be raining, but it’s still hot) and knee-high brown boots underneath her transparent umbrella.
“Oh good, you’re ‘ere. The realtor doesn’t know we’re bringing anyone else, so don’t say anything. Ah’ve let your friends know not to show up until we’re by ourselves.”
Amelie: “I won’t. I apologize if I caused you trouble this week, by the way. Our teacher asked about the hand.”
GM: “Ah’m sorry?” Yvette asks in apparent confusion.
Amelie: “Ms. Perry asked about my hand. And I was told she was worried enough to speak with your mother about it?”
GM: “Uh, why would Ms. Perry talk to mah mother about your ’and?” Yvette asks critically.
Amelie: “Because I was assaulted for asking about the house,” she chuckles, shaking her head. “Never mind, she might have just said that to calm my nerves at the time. Are you ready for the night?”
GM: Yvette just gives Amelie another strange look, then answers, “Yes, Ah brought snacks and things. Rachel says she’s bringing an ouija board.”
Amelie: Someone is lying here, and Amelie is worried about who that may be. The best case scenario is Ms. Perry. The worst case is Yvette’s mother.
“Of course she is. I’m going to do my best not to touch it,” she laughs. “It just had to rain as well. This is going to be very atmospheric for a haunted house.”
GM: “It rains ‘ere all the time, and a lot during August. Ah’m sure that’s new to you, being new to the city.”
Amelie: “New to the country, actually. Though I know how fast the weather can change near the sea.”
GM: A car pulls up to the house. A thirty-something black woman in tan slacks and a gray raincoat steps out, carrying another umbrella against the rain. She briefly looks between the two girls and then smiles at Yvette.
“Hi there, I’m Miriam, Mr. McCaller’s PA. You must be Yvette Devillers?”
“Oui. Yes,” Yvette nods. “It’s very nice to meet you, Miriam. This is Amalie, mah one guest,” she introduces.
“Pleased to meet you too, Amalie,” the woman introduced as Miriam smiles as she digs through the purse over her shoulder, then looks back towards Yvette. “So, you’re the girls who are going to be spending the night in the haunted house? I hope you’re not feeling nervous.”
“We are terrified,” Yvette answers with a faint smirk.
Amelie: Amelie watches the car pull up and listens intently, memorizing names and positions just in case things turn out badly.
“Terrified and prepared,” she echoes. “Will you be giving us a tour, or letting us at it?”
GM: “I’ll just be looking the place over. I could give you girls a tour, but it probably wouldn’t be a very good one. I’ve never been inside before now,” Miriam replies as she pulls out a set of keys.
“Yes, you work under Mr. McCaller, you said? Ah was ’alf-expecting a real estate agent.”
Miriam shakes her head. “Oh no, the house isn’t on the market yet. The bank would have to pay a realtor to come and show you around.”
“But that’s one thing I need to be very clear to you girls about,” she says seriously. “I’m sure you’ve both heard this from your parents already, but this is a very expensive and historic property.”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know who Mr. McCaller is, but Yvette’s reaction screams a higher-up at the Whitney Bank. Maybe someone the metropolitan French teen knows through her family connections.
“$3,550,000. Give or take a hundred grand how much you can downplay a few stylish but odd design choices by Mr. Towers, the previous owner. I even wore non-marking shoes,” Amelie remarks. “This house is a state treasure, it should be treated as such.”
GM: Miriam’s eyebrows raise. “Oh wow, someone’s done her research.”
“But that’s it exactly,” she continues. “The house is a historic property, and there are a ton of preservation laws regarding what people are allowed to do to it—even private owners. Mr. Towers was pretty eccentric and butted heads with the city over changes he thought he’d be able to make to his own home, but which turned out to be illegal.”
“What this means for you girls is that if you damage the house, even by accident… you could be charged with vandalism, and the penalties will be a lot stiffer than normal. But it’s not even just that.”
Miriam pauses for a moment, then goes on, “The bank has over three million dollars tied up in this property. Now, I’m sure your parents have told you this too, but your mother,” and at this Miriam looks meaningfully at Yvette, “has signed a liability waiver. That means, if there’s any damage to the property, she will bear the full costs of restoring it. If the house can’t be restored to its original state… she gets to become the new owner for a ‘bargain’ three-plus million price tag.”
Miriam slowly looks between the teenagers, meeting each of their eyes. “You break it, you buy it.”
“Yvette, your mother is trusting you and Amalie a LOT. So are Mr. McCaller and Mr. Whitney. So, please… no running, no door slamming, no sliding down banisters… I know you’re not little kids, but my boss wants to make this absolutely clear, you CANNOT damage this house. Treat it like you were in a museum. Just look around, go to bed, nothing crazy. All right?”
Yvette nods slowly. “Ah understand. Treat it like we were in Versailles.”
“Like Versailles,” Miriam repeats before looking at Amelie, as if to be completely sure both high schoolers understand her.
Amelie: Amelie feels a little sorry for Yvette’s mother as she listens. If something happens tonight, she’s contractually obligated to buy this place?
“I have a question, actually, ma’am. Why doesn’t the bank consider turning the house into a museum? Or a tourist attraction? It’s one of the more famous buildings in New Orleans, and it’s been sitting here forever. I don’t know if heritage sites are charged for property taxes, but even maintenance costs seem like they’d be mounting.”
GM: Miriam frowns deeply. So does Yvette.
Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and motions to the house when she realizes she’s gone off on a tangent.
“My family business restored antiques, I’ll make sure we both respect the house. Since it’s thundering, I’ll ask to see the breaker box in case of a fire, and we’ll keep the windows closed to avoid water damage.”
GM: “Okay, that’s good to hear,” Miriam answers. She looks somewhat relieved by Amelie’s assurance that she won’t damage the property. “I actually don’t know where the panelboard is. I’m not sure if it would do you any good, since all of the house’s utilities have been shut off, but I’m not an electrician.”
“So far as your other question, the short answer is that the bank makes money off houses like this through mortgages. We aren’t in the tourism business, and we have no guarantee it would be profitable even if we were to shoulder all the costs and financial risks of setting up that kind of infrastructure. The bank’s more likely to make money by just selling the property to another Hollywood actor.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and sees a few issues with the possibility of celebrities or other rich people buying a property after Mr. Towers has put his name on it. Still, she doesn’t argue.
“That makes sense. Shall we?”
GM: “One last thing, in case your parents didn’t tell you. Since the house’s utilities have been shut off, like I said, there’s no electricity or running water. If you need to use the bathroom, please do it in a café or someplace nearby.”
Miriam looks at Yvette. “If someone uses the toilet, your mom will have to pay the cost of turning the water back on. Plus my hourly rate when I call the utility company to arrange that, and then have to personally flush the stinky toilet that I know one of you girls used. So if either of you needs to use the bathroom, now would be a good time.”
Yvette nods. “Mah mother mentioned that. Ah’m ready to go in.”
Amelie: Amelie nods as well. She’s glad the power isn’t on. That helps set her mind at ease about something… but not completely. All their phones have flashlights anyway.
“Verti Marte is open 24/7, we can go there long as we buy something, I believe,” she points out, literally pointing with her thumb to the nearby deli kitty corner.
GM: The other two glance at it. “Oh really? Great thinking looking that up,” Miriam remarks.
She jingles her keys. “Okay, now that we’re through all the warnings, let’s get out of this rain and show you two the haunted house…”
Amelie: Amelie still feels a little anxious. She holds one of her hands in the other and thumbs over the fresh scar in her hand. She remembers Tantsy’s warning not to come here, not to do this.
But as she looks over at Yvette she knows that the moment fate started to push them here, she had to come along, too. Numbers will protect them against bodily harm. Her resolve will protect them against the ‘rot’ in this poor house. The bag of tools will hopefully do the rest.
“I guess we’re ready.”
GM: Miriam unlocks the house’s iron gate and ushers the two girls into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. She turns, closes, and re-locks the two great gates. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.
Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. Miriam mentions they’ll need to keep the gates closed and locked to discourage tourists—they’re lucky the rain seems to have driven away the tour groups that show up like clockwork every weekend night. She fumbles for a moment with her keys before unlocking the front door. It swings slowly open on silent hinges.
Amelie: Neither the rain nor gate has Amelie’s laser focus. She stares at the dark handle of that white doorway like she can smell death on the other side. The handle’s turn is the only thing that keeps that oddly sweet smell from overpowering them. She cradles her wounded hand and smooths a finger over the cat’s-eye scar in her palm, almost like she expects it to scream out in warning. It’s too late now. She has a responsibility.
GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. Just enough light passes through the windows for indistinct shapes to swim at the corners of one’s vision and hint at things unseen. It smells musty and old. Miriam and Yvette turn on their phones’ flashlights and sweep them across the atrium. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.
“Well, welcome to the haunted house,” Miriam says, her voice echoing through the empty halls.
“Hm, doesn’t seem too spooky so far,” Yvette remarks, shining her phone across the atrium.
Miriam digs another set of keys out of her purse and passes them to Yvette. “Okay, here are the keys if you or Amalie need to leave and use that mini-mart’s bathroom. Please keep the doors locked at all times—a lot of tourists would like to get in here, and Mr. McCaller promised me ‘hell to pay’ if anyone does besides you two. You have my number if you need to get ahold of me for anything.”
Yvette nods and smiles. “Ah do. And thank you so much for doing this, Miriam. Ah’m sure you ‘ad other ways you’d rather be spending your Friday evening.”
Amelie: Amelie takes off her backpack as the three women step inside the door. She unzips it slightly, pulls out something the others might not see in the dark, and snaps it in half with a crackle. She gives the broken object a shake. Blue-green light suddenly radiates from the glowstick in her hand. Six inches of sodium salicylate and 2-Chloro-9,10-diphenylanthracene dye compound. It helps distract her from the outright lie Yvette tells the woman.
“Yes, thank you for all you’ve done, ma’am. We’ll treat the house like it deserves.”
GM: Miriam frowns slightly at the unexpected action, her dark-skinned face lit up by the stick’s teal glow.
“Amalie, how likely is that thing to break?”
Amelie: “They’re industrial grade. Short of putting one in an oven or intentionally taking a sharp implement to them, they’re leak-proofed. And much safer than candles,” Amelie answers, standing firm on the idea.
Her research into sites with supposedly paranormal activity led her to find a horror movie rule of thumb: batteries drain faster. Activating agent and fluorescent dye doesn’t run out of batteries, and the mix inside doesn’t glow for more than an hour while oxygenated. She’s sure there’d be no discoloration if they were wiped up.
GM: The PA seems to chew on Amelie’s words for a moment. “All right,” she relents. “But if that breaks and the colored… whatever’s in there spills out, your mom,” and here she glances again at Yvette, “will pay for getting any stains removed. And if she can’t get them removed, she’ll pay for the house.”
Miriam’s features look all the more severe against the glowstick’s weird illumination as she stares between the two two high schoolers. “I’m not kidding around, you guys. The document your mom signed is legally binding. The house is hers if there’s any permanent damage, and you two will be in trouble too.”
Yvette frowns initially at the glowsticks too, but says nothing further after Miriam seems to okay them. “Ah understand,” she nods again. “We are in Versailles. And we won’t let down the trust you and Mr. McCaller are showing us.”
“Glad to hear it. Now, okay.” Miriam shines her phone’s light around the barren entry hall in seeming last inspection. “You have my keys, you have my number, that’s everything. Enjoy the haunted house.”
“We ‘ope it won’t let us down,” Yvette smiles faintly as the light recedes.
A faint click sounds as Miriam closes and locks the front door from the other side.
Amelie and Yvette are left alone in the atrium’s near-darkness. A few last feeble rays of light from the dying sun barely make it through the dark storm clouds, pouring rain, and tiny glass panes around the front door.
Yvette rolls her eyes as she glances down at her phone’s screen. “Bla bla bla, your mother will pay for this, your mother will pay for this,” she mimics in a sarcastic, mocking voice. “Finally she’s gone.”
Amelie: Amelie stays quiet for the rest of the exchange between Yvette and the woman, and breathes a sigh of a relief once the latter is gone. She places the glowstick on the windowsill next to the door, marking it as an entrance. This was how her village worked when the power went out. Entrances and exits were also marked with glowsticks for customers when the sun went down. Even rainy days attracted certain groups of people.
“Yup. We’d better make sure she doesn’t find out about our support,” Amelie offers. She walks up to the bottom of the stairs and takes out another glowstick. She breaks it, shakes it, and leaves it standing upright on the first step.
“When do your sisters get here?”
GM: “Whenever they get ’ere,” Yvette answers without looking up as she taps something into her phone.
Amelie: Amelie gives her partner a small look, but just sighs and breaks out the flashlight. She stuffs her leather jacket’s pockets with more glowsticks.
“While it’s just us, Yvette. Do you mind if I ask you a more personal question?”
GM: “Ah guess that depends on the question,” Yvette answers, still tapping away into her Solaris.
Amelie: “About fitting in. I’m not doing the best, and that needs to change. And hair only grows out so quickly.”
GM: A pinging noise goes up from the phone.
“Ah’m sorry, Ah don’t ’ear a question there.”
Amelie: “I was answering yours about what kind of question it was. The question itself is ‘how do you think I could fit in a little better?’ Raise a few less eyebrows. I know how people see me at McGehee. My manners haven’t translated well, either.”
GM: Another few pings go up from Yvette’s phone. The glowing screen dimly illuminates her pretty face. Her pale skin is smooth and free of scars and blemishes. Her long, soft, and obviously carefully-maintained blonde hair falls well past her shoulders.
“Ah’d say grow out your ’air, but Ah suppose you already thought of that.”
Yvette finally looks up from the Solaris’ screen and smiles at Amelie.
“But Ah wouldn’t worry so much about ‘ow you look. Really. There’s some quote, what’s it…” She taps something into her phone. “‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things Ah cannot change, the courage to change the things Ah can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’”
She glances back down at the phone. “Ooh, ’ere’s another one, bah Oscar Wilde. ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.’”
Amelie: Amelie just chuckles, cracks another glowstick and keeps it in hand as she scans around the foyer with her flashlight. “Then I should embrace being a scarred up, accidentally dykish, maple-flavored mess, then. Or maybe just start wearing makeup and hairspray again,” she jokes, slowly opening the door to the left of the entrance to peer inside.
GM: Yvette offers no reply to Amelie’s statement. Her phone makes a few further pinging noises as Amelie ventures deeper into the house. The door’s lock gives a whispered click before slowly giving way.
The room on the other side is marginally brighter than the forlorn entry hall. The expansive window looks some eight feet across, with shutters four feet wide. Rain thuds and crashes against the glass pane. Feeble and water-logged sunlight illuminates a bare and empty room with dark hardwood floors and bare white walls. Raised garlandry adorns the lofty ceiling. The former might look beautiful in daylight, but its presently twisted and indistinct designs appear obfuscated at best and sinister at worst, like pointed claws waiting to strike. The room’s dimensions continue past the window before disappearing into shadow.
Another door beckons to Amelie’s left. She walks, and remembers back to one of many accounts she read concerning the house:
For those lucky enough to attend social functions at 1140 Royal Street, they were amazed by what they found there. The three-story mansion, although rather plain on the exterior, was graced with delicate iron work but the interior was lavish by anyone’s standards. The house had been made for grand events and occasions. Mahogany doors that were hand-carved with flowers and human faces opened into a bright parlors, illuminated by the glow of hundreds of candles in gigantic chandeliers. Guests dined from European china and danced and rested on Oriental fabrics which had been imported at great expense.
The sight on the other side of the door could not be further removed from such a description. It is merely another barren room bereft of furniture, décor, or any signs of human gaiety or habitation. Bereft of anything but the night’s steadily encroaching gloom.
Amelie: Amelie leans down and puts the glowstick in front of the door frame, cracks another, and puts it in the same place on the opposite side. That marks it as another exit. She leaves the glowstick there and returns to the other door in the foyer, planning on leaving every single door in the house open.
GM: Yvette is still preoccupied on her phone and doesn’t glance up as Amelie walks past her. The next door’s lock gives another whispered click before swinging open.
The shadow-drenched room on the other side is just as barren and empty as the last one. There is another door to the left of Amelie’s. Rain pours against the three windows’ glass in a steady thud-thud-thud.
Amelie: Amelie repeats her earlier process and puts down a glowstick on each side of the side of the door. She scans the room and pulls back into the foyer. The house might be empty, but she still can’t shake her anxiety that this is not the best place to be. She gently smooths a thumb over her cat’s-eye scar as she takes out her own phone to check the time. She told her friends when they needed to be here to get around the realtor. It’s a little discouraging how glued Yvette is to her phone.
“Are you sticking around by the door? There’s something I want to check out.”
GM: “You don’t need mah permission,” Yvette answers over the sound of further pings.
Amelie: Amelie isn’t asking for permission. Yvette isn’t listening to her, but it doesn’t matter. She leaves and follows her mental map of the house towards the courtyard, putting glowsticks by doors as she goes.
“You’re going to be rid of me soon enough. If ‘he’ is here to hurt me, I hope you’d even take your anger out on him,” she mutters to herself, trying to keep a positive attitude.
GM: Amelie returns to the glowstick-illuminated room, its shadows now seemingly that much thicker. There’s a gap in the wall to her left, approximately the shape of a door. She crosses its threshold into a smaller, equally bare room, and then a corridor-like area with three doors leading deeper into the house. The courtyard lies directly onwards.
Amelie: Amelie dutifully lays down glowsticks as she walks, using her flashlight to make sure they’re in all the spots she picked out beforehand. Preparation is king.
She takes a breath as she opens the double french doors to the courtyard.
GM: The storm’s once-muffled pounding roars and bellows anew in Amelie’s ears. Raindrops pecker against her exposed skin. Angry clouds rumble from the dark and unobstructed twilight sky overhead.
The roof-less chamber is prettier than the other rooms Amelie has seen so far. The floor is brick. The lattices are made from the same black wood as the sweeping staircase to the second floor. Scattered pots and a larger, earth-filled brick trough contain a few small trees and plants. There are no chairs or tables. A set of double french doors leads out to the street. Several further doors beckon deeper into the house.
Even Amelie would be hard-pressed to list specific functions or historical facts for the vacant rooms she has explored thus far. But she has read about this one. She still has one of the accounts saved to her phone. Rain thuds and cascades as she reads:
The house that joined Madame Lalaurie’s premises on the eastern side had a staircase window that looked down into her little courtyard. One day all by chance the lady of that adjoining house was going up those stairs just when the keen scream of a terrified child resounded from the next yard. She sprung to the window, and, looking down, saw a little negro girl about eight years old run wildly across the yard and into the house, with Madame Lalaurie, a cow-hide whip in her hand, following swiftly and close upon her.
They disappeared; but by glimpses through the dark lattices and by the sound of the tumult, the lady knew that the child was flying up stairway after stairway, from gallery to gallery, hard pressed by her furious mistress. Soon she heard them rise into the belvedere and the next instant they darted out upon the roof. Down into its valleys and up over its ridges the little fugitive slid and scrambled. She reached the sheer edge, the lady at the window hid her face in her hands, there came a dull, jarring thud in the paved court beneath, and the lady, looking down, saw the child lifted from the ground and borne out of sight, limp, silent, dead.
She kept her place at the window. Hours passed, the day waned, darkness settled down. Then she saw a torch brought, a shallow hole was dug—as it seemed to her; but in fact a condemned well of slight depth, a mere pit, was uncovered—and the little broken form was buried.
She informed the officers of justice. From what came to light at a later season, it is hard to think that in this earlier case the investigation was more than superficial. Yet an investigation was made, and some legal action was taken against Madame Lalaurie for cruelty to her slaves. They were taken from her and—liberated? Ah! no. They were sold by the sheriff, bid in by her relatives, and by them sold back to her.
Let us believe that this is what occurred, or at least was shammed; for unless we do we must accept the implication of a newspaper statement of two or three years afterwards, and the confident impression of an aged Creole gentleman and notary still living who was an eye-witness to much of this story, that all Madame Lalaurie ever suffered for this part of her hideous misdeeds was a fine.
Lawyers will doubtless remind us that Madame Lalaurie was not legally chargeable with the child’s death. The lady at the window was not the only witness who might have been brought. A woman still living, who after the Civil War was for years a domestic in this “haunted house,” says her husband, now long dead, then a lad, was passing the place when the child ran out on the roof, and he saw her scrambling about on it seeking to escape. But he did not see the catastrophe that followed. No one saw more than what the law knows as assault; and the child was a slave.
Amelie: The rain almost tricks Amelie’s ears into hearing the light pat of small feet on stone and wood. But she knows better. She stares into the courtyard sadly and images the terror that little girl must have endured to make her jump.
Ghosts were never on Amelie’s mind before New Orleans. There were too many other rumored monsters to fear up the north, all of them supposedly lurking just past the tree line. Things that dragged people away or drove one insane but for the sight of them. Old monsters, dragons whose bellies broke legendary spears and demons that walked in the bones of men.
But all of those monsters were rooted in this world. New Orleans makes her think about the next one, and what comes after dying.
She smooths her finger over her scar again and checks if Yvette is nearby before whispering into the rain, “I hope you ran all the way to your freedom, you deserved better. I’m sorry you didn’t get to see justice. And I really hope someone finds you soon. I hope we don’t scare you being here tonight.”
She clasps her hands together almost nervously and watches the area for a few more moments.
GM: Amelie’s only answer is the rain’s steady downpour.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t mind the lack of reply. In fact, she’s happier for it. The only issue is that the night is still young on that front.
She closes the double doors and ventures into the rain to check out the rest of the courtyard.
GM: Water crashes and plinks against her face as she steps outside. Dark windows stare at her vacantly. Two further doorways lead back into shelter—though perhaps not succor.
Amelie: It’s enough for Amelie. She makes a quick, wet dash to the nearest doorway and shakes out her jacket to get the moisture off before stepping inside. She stomps her feet on the cement to minimize any footprints as she looks around. There’s something nagging her about the construction of this house. Why is there a room off to the side like this—disconnected from all the other ones except through the courtyard? She spots the archway mid-way through the room and the door at its far end. Does it have its own suite? Is there actually still a kitchen on the first floor, after what happened here—waiting just beyond that door?
GM: Her only answer remains the rain’s steady pounding.
Amelie: Amelie only ventures a few feet into the room and lightly rolls a glowstick over to the center of the floor. She regards the door waiting on the other side like it has teeth before retreating to the garage.
GM: More water plunks and strikes against her jacket. The brick-floored garage feels cooler than the house’s other rooms. It, too, is bare and avoid of furnishings save for a water heater. A staircase towards the back of the garage leads up to the second floor.
Amelie: Amelie uses the balcony as cover against the rain and steps into the garage a bit more comfortably—at least at first. The fact there has to be a suite over the garage bothers Amelie as well. Car fumes and nearby stoves don’t go together well. It’s a little thing, but another feature of the house’s construction that just feels… wrong.
Her northern-acclimated skin, at least, barely registers a lower temperature with the leather jacket she has on. She looks over the hot water to see if it’s where the house’s breaker panels are.
GM: Amelie locates a gray panel with a mass of black and colored wires near the water heater. Several of them have been cut.
Amelie: Cut. It’s concerning to see the panel damaged like this. She holds her flashlight closer to the wires to get a better look.
GM: The sometime-electrician can discern no evidence of any recent additions to the circuit box. The markings by the cut wires read ‘bedroom,’ ‘lights,’ and ‘kitchen.’ The interior of the copper tape wrapping bears faint signs of exposure-induced rust, leading Amelie to surmise that the wiring was not cut recently. The bank would have been remiss not to get it fixed.
Amelie: It’s strange the wires were cut, and that long ago. It makes turning on the power a fire hazard.
Amelie takes a few pictures of the scene, including close-ups of the wires’ rust. She takes the added precaution of emailing them to her own address, then pockets the phone and makes a mental note to check the bedrooms later. Just in case this house has been used for other things for a while now.
She leaves a glowstick where she can see it by the door frame and ducks back into the courtyard, hiding under the second floor balconies as she makes her way back to the foyer.
GM: No force arrests or impedes Amelie’s progress. The dying sun has died a little more, and the room’s shadows are dark and thick. Rain distantly thuds against the roof and windows.
Yvette is where Amelie last left her classmate. The blonde-haired teenager is still on her phone.
Amelie: The first 15 minutes? Survived. Amelie feels almost accomplished.
“Do you have the email of that woman who dropped us off?” she asks Yvette. “I should send her pictures of a fire hazard on the breaker panel.”
GM: Yvette looks halfway up from her phone. “Ah’m sorry?”
Amelie: “Le panneau électrique. There are open wires,” Amelie elaborates, showing Yvette the picture on her phone.
GM: Yvette glances at the pictures when Amelie holds them by her. Her face is very flat when she fully looks up at her classmate. “You already broke something. Mon dieu.”
Amelie: Amelie gives the other girl an equally flat look. “These were cut by a reno crew, to cut off power to the suite above the garage, and never fixed. There’s even rust on the copper wires.”
GM: Yvette’s expression doesn’t change. “What are you talking abou—no, never mind. Your aunt’s paying for this, not mah mother.”
Amelie: Amelie takes in a small breath through her nose to even herself out. She speaks as crisply as she can manage and hopes Yvette understands.
“Quelqu’un qui travaillait à la maison a coupé ces fils il y a des mois. Les fils sont usés.” (“Someone working on the house cut these wires months ago. The wires are worn.”)
GM: “Then if it was that long ago the bank must ’ave noticed it,” Yvette answers in English. “Or they should ‘ave. But Ah’m not telling them we broke anything, don’t be silly.”
Amelie: Amelie wants to tell Yvette they could be setting up her family to pay the balance for a burned-down house. She could say how dangerous it is that they’re in a house with potential live wires that could start a fire next to what amounts to a bomb, if it’s old enough and gets overheated.
But she just sighs, steps over to the wall, and leans against it while she checks the time on her phone. She might as well start taking pictures since her friends are taking so long.
GM: Minutes pass.
The run dully thuds and hammers. Pings steadily go up from her classmate’s phone.
Eventually, Yvette walks up to the front door and wordlessly pulls out the keys Miriam gave her.
Amelie: Amelie looks up and turns off her phone’s screen as she waits for Yvette to let people in. She hopes some of her friends have showed up alongside the sisters.
GM: The sound of thudding rain grows thicker as Yvette opens the door and disappears down the portal to the house’s front gate. Amelie can make out assorted greetings and exclamations in French.
Amelie: Amelie sighs lightly. Of course it’s the sisters. She still hopes they’re accompanied by a few other familiar faces as she approaches the door and holds it open.
GM: Two further girls are huddled under a shared umbrella at the end of the portal. One girl looks the same height and age as Yvette, while the other is notably shorter and looks maybe a year or two younger than Miranda. She wears a black leather jacket similar to Amelie’s, while the other newcomer has a navy coat on. All three girls are thin and willowy of build, with smooth pale skin, long blonde hair, clear blue eyes, and delicate facial features. Their uncannily near-identical appearances only make Amelie’s broad shoulders, scar-nicked muscles, and thickly masculine physique stand out all the more.
Amelie: Amelie has a passing thought that she could probably juggle these matryoshka doll sisters, they are so small. Still, she can’t help but feel jealous of how pretty they all are, even if their almost identical appearances would—historically—point at ‘royal’ inbreeding.
GM: Amelie can make out a BMW driving into the rain and away from the house’s gate, which Yvette closes and re-locks. Water dribbles off the edges of the three’s umbrellas as they make their way down the portal to the front door.
“Excuse us,” Yvette says to Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie steps to the side as the girls approach and allows them into the house while making note of where they leave their umbrellas. She doesn’t want any water damage.
GM: Yvette motions to Amelie after she and the other girls have stepped inside. “And this is Amalie, mah research partner. The idea to stay the night ’ere was ’ers.”
“Hallo,” says the taller girl.
“Hi,” echoes the smaller one.
“And these are mah sisters, Yvonne and Simmone.”
“Ah thought Amalie was a girl’s name,” remarks Simmone.
“Amalie is a girl,” Yvette replies.
Simmone peers closer at Amelie, then reddens slightly in the cheeks. “Oh. Sorry. It’s dark.”
Amelie: Simmone’s slip-up breaks Amelie’s train of thought. The older, mannish-looking young woman can’t help but laugh at the remark.
“Ne t’inquiète pas, no offense taken. I’m used to it. I’ve lit up the first floor a bit, so far no ghosts.”
GM: Yvette and Yvonne shake their umbrellas off and leave them next to the door.
Amelie: Amelie makes a mental note to come back later and wipe the floor. A question comes to mind as she looks between them. “Do you all prefer French or English while we’re here?”
GM: “The others will be ’ere soon. Speaking en Français around them would be rude,” Yvette replies.
“Either’s fine until then,” Yvonne answers. Most people would take off their coats at this point. Amelie’s present company does not, even though the night air is warm enough. Perhaps the house simply lacks that indelible quality, endemic to other private residences, that makes one remove their hat and over-garments out of ‘politeness’ and implicit acknowledgement they have entered a place of shelter and respite.
Amelie: Amelie keeps her jacket on for her own reasons. Nothing is going to be making her cold in Louisiana even if the night wasn’t this warm.
“As long as it’s comfortable for you all, I’ve heard you all speaking it to each other in school,” she assures them. She takes her phone, turns it on its side, and starts to prepare her camera for the picture tour.
GM: “Yes, Ah can tell you want us to be comfortable. This is the third time you’ve asked if we prefer English or French?” Yvette half-asks, half-remarks while glancing down at her own phone. Simmone pulls out hers and aimlessly shines its flashlight around the room.
Amelie: “Northern Hospitality,” Amelie comments offhand. She brings up her camera, steps off to the side, and snaps a picture of the adjacent rooms from the doorways. She makes sure not to get Yvonne or Simmone in frame at any point.
“As for the project, I actually went into the courtyard. Where that little girl running from Delphine LaLaurie jumped to her death.”
GM: “She should ’ave climbed down,” Simmone comments.
Amelie: “I think she must have been scared, reportedly she was on the roof. Even the fire that outed Delphine and her cruelty was a suicide attempt by a terrified slave, chained to a stove upstairs.”
GM: “Ah think she was around your age, too, when she jumped…” Yvette smiles wickedly, brushing a finger along her sister’s hair.
“Ah wouldn’t ’ave been that scared,” Simmone retorts.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t really approve of Yvette teasing the young girl, particularly where this situation is concerned, but she bites her tongue about the distaste of it.
“So, the electricity is off, as you can see. But in case Yvette didn’t say, the plumbing is too. There’s a deli kiddy corner to us that’s open 24 hours, so we can go there if we need snacks or to use the bathroom.”
GM: “Okay. Ah need to use it,” Simmone says.
Yvette frowns slightly. “You didn’t before we drove out?”
“Ah was packing.”
Amelie: “We shouldn’t let her go alone at night. Yvette, you have the key, want to walk her over?”
GM: Simmone looks at her sisters, but then looks at Amelie. “Ah can walk to a deli by mahself.”
Yvette runs a finger along her forehead. “Non, she is raht-”
“-the Quarter isn’t always safe,” Yvonne continues.
“Ah’ll take you,” Yvette finishes.
Amelie: “Less because you’re young, and more because the buddy system is safer in general. Tourist spots like this one have lots of weird people nearby.”
GM: Simmone looks down at her phone, then back up. “Seriously? It’s next door!”
Amelie: “’I’m a little paranoid after a rather painful incident that happened last week. You mind humoring me, Simmone? I’d say the same to Yvonne and Yvette.”
GM: The younger girl’s face doesn’t look happy against the glowstick’s teal light. “Fine, if it’ll make you feel better.”
Amelie: Amelie can’t help but give the girl a thankful smile. It really is safer. Maybe she’ll ask Simmone to come out to the deli with her later. That could make her feel better about the buddy system.
“Thank you, Simmone. It will, for sure.”
GM: It’s just as Yvette fishes out the keys from her coat pocket that another ping goes up from her phone. She glances down at it. “Oh good, the others are ’ere.”
She unlocks the door and disappears down the portal. Several girls’ voices exchange greetings, this time in English, over the rain’s hard and relentless roaring.
Amelie: Amelie eyes the key and wonders if they should put it on a lanyard or something before Yvette gives her the good news. It’s wonderful they’re here, and even more so to hear them come in. The rain sounds like it’s getting to become more of a problem, though. At least they don’t have to worry about the power going out.
GM: Yvette files back in. So do Hannah, Rachel, and Sarah Whitney. This is the first time Amelie has seen any of them out of uniform, though all of the girls wear full (if light) coats and carry umbrellas they shake off after stepping inside.
“…Ah’m so glad you all could make it. Makes the ‘aunted ’ouse less scary when there’s so many of us,” Yvette says.
Amelie: Sarah Whitney? Amelie is a little surprised to see her, but it makes sense that she’d be here. It also puts a significant deterrent in her back pocket—unless Sarah’s either in on her father’s proclivities or a planned victim of them. Still, Yvette is absolutely right that having more people makes everything a lot less tense in some ways.
“Evening! You guys didn’t get washed away on the way here, glad to see it. Megan couldn’t make it?” she asks, looking to Hannah and Rachel.
GM: Hannah shakes her head. “She wasn’t feeling up to it.”
“Chickened out is what you mean,” Rachel corrects, smirking.
Amelie: “Considering? I think we can excuse her on that,” Amelie offers.
GM: “I was chicken too when Amelie first pitched sleeping in a haunted house to me,” Sarah laughs lightly before turning to Amelie. “So nice to see you here, by the way. I’m glad we’ll have someone big and strong around to protect us from any ghosts.”
Amelie: “Hah! Well, I’ll do my best. Though I have my doubts I can grab a ghost,” Amelie admits. “Thank you again for this, Sarah. I’ve only looked through the first floor and I’ve already got chills.”
GM: “Hopefully that’s just from the rain,” Sarah laughs again. “But don’t mention it. I have Ms. Perry’s class too, you know, and she said she’d give me extra credit for participating in this.”
Amelie: “Oh really? I’m glad to hear you have that class, Ms. Perry is a good woman. It’s a shame about her engagement.”
GM: “Some things just don’t work out, Amelie. No matter how hard anyone tries to make them, sometimes a bad fit is just a bad fit,” Sarah smiles. “She is a sweet woman. I’m sure she’ll find somebody else.”
“Yes, Ah’m sure she will,” Yvette agrees as she takes Simmone’s hand and shepherds her younger sister towards the door. “All right, Ah’m going to lock you all in while we go to the deli.” She smirks wickedly. “Try not to get killed-”
“-bah all the ghosts before you’re back…” Yvonne finishes with a mirrored smirk.
The girls laugh and exchange goodbyes. The door’s lock clicks behind the sisters.
“Don’t worry,” Yvonne smiles as the outside light dies. “Mah mother ’as us on the platinum level for the French Quarter Response Force app. Ah could ’ave this place swarming with police if Ah wanted to.”
“Oh, that is nice,” Sarah agrees. “My family doesn’t live in the Quarter, so we never bothered getting it… I just wish it covered other parts of the city.”
“Oui, that is too bad,” Yvonne agrees back. “You could still get it, though. Ah mean, you must come ’ere for shopping and eating out.”
“You know, that’s absolutely right. Don’t I feel silly not thinking of that,” Sarah smiles back.
“What’s the French Quarter Response App?” Hannah asks.
“Oh, you ’aven’t ‘eard? It’s wonderful,” Yvonne explains. “It’s this app you can call police in the Quarter with… so much faster than 911. There’s different levels—well, three paying levels, the first one is free—and the ’igher your level is, the faster they come. Ah feel so much safer.”
“Oh, wow. You pay more for them to show up faster?” Hannah.
“Kind of. They respond to users with the platinum level first, and people using the free version last, if they’re dealing with more than one call at once.” Rachel. “My family doesn’t live in the Quarter either, so it’s not like we need it. But I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s great, like Ah said,” Yvonne repeats. “Mah mother says she’d support Moreno if ‘e decides to run for mayor, ’e’s done so much to clean up the streets.”
Amelie: Amelie listens in on the conversation and doesn’t have too much to say until she hears that name. She still feels disgusted after the incident with that cop and his boss’ supposed solution to crime in the Quarter. She wonders if he has any secrets he doesn’t want spread around, but quickly discards the idea. It’s not something she should mess with.
She turns to Rachel and Hannah as the others talk.
“So you came! I’m glad you did, it’d been a little weird with just me and Yvette’s sisters. As you can see, though, the place has its utilities cut off. Extra spooky bang for our buck. Long as we don’t break anything.”
GM: The awkwardness in the dark room is palpable as the four girls, all of whom are clearly within speaking and hearing range of one another, look at Amelie.
“Ah’m sorry you’ve felt that way,” Yvonne finally replies.
Amelie: Amelie feels the crushing pressure of being an idiot.
“I didn’t mean it like that, I swear. I’m just nervous about the house. I meant numbers, and people I’m familiar with,” she says, her face red as a beet.
GM: “Maybe we should take a look around the house. I’m sure it’s got us all nervous, being so big and dark and spooky,” Sarah fills in, clearly changing the topic.
“Oh, not me. I wanna see the attic.” Rachel.
“There any place for us to dump our backpacks?” Hannah.
“Maybe where we sleep? We should decide who gets what rooms.” Sarah.
“Let’s wait until Yvette and Simmone are back for that.” Yvonne.
“Okay, why don’t we just look around for now?” Hannah.
“Attic’s on the top floor. That’ll be easy to find.” Rachel says as she glances towards the stairs.
“Oh, let’s wait to do the attic too,” Sarah says. “If it’s the scariest part, we’ll want to do that with everyone here…”
“Second scariest,” Rachel corrects. “I brought an ouija board. We can do a séance!”
“Ah brought drinks,” Yvonne smirks. A glass-like clinking noise goes up as she shakes her backpack. “So we don’t ’ave to spend all night in an empty ’ouse with nothing to do…”
“Oh wow, booze and séances,” Sarah laughs again.
“It’s a little-known drinking game. You take a drink every time you see Casper.” Hannah.
“You don’t see ghosts in séances. You just hear them. Sometimes they give a sign.” Rachel.
“Okay, it’s one drink when you hear a ghost, one glass if they give a sign, and the rest of the bottle if you see one.” Hannah.
“Ah brought more than one. Bottles, that is. So we can see plenty ghosts,” Yvonne giggles.
Amelie: The sight or at least sound of booze is almost a relief. Amelie doesn’t belong with people like this. She can already feel the blue collar coming out her throat. A drinking game around ghosts reminds her about Mr. Towers, though, and his own little drinking problem that was rumored to come up after buying the house.
“Oh no, a ghost, quick give me a bottle,” she exclaims, her voice monotone. “I’m game. First one possessed, everyone else takes a shot.”
GM: “So where do we wanna go first, if we’re saving the attic for last?” Hannah.
“There’s the courtyard. This little girl slave fell to her death there.” Rachel.
“’Ow did that happen?” Yvonne.
“Madam LaLaurie was chasing her with a whip. She probably knew all about all the horrible things LaLaurie was doing to the other slaves, so… she took the easy way out.” Rachel.
“Oh wow, that’s scary. Should we take a closer look?” Sarah.
“Let’s,” Hannah says, setting off with the others.
Amelie: “They say they buried her there, too. In a shallow well that’s since been filled in,” Amelie adds as she follows the group.
She’s already been through these rooms. The path and doors along the way are illuminated with a dull teal glow from the veritable horde of chemical light capsules in her bag. At least those things seem to be helping.
GM: The girls arrive at the courtyard. None bring their umbrellas and are mildly annoyed when they see that rain is falling over the roofless area. Yvonne comments how Amelie “must ’ave so much on your mind” before they head back to the atrium, retrieve their umbrellas, and then enter the courtyard proper. Rain thuds and splashes against the plastic and nylon surfaces as the group looks around. Thunder rumbles ominously overhead.
“Huh. They must have bricked it up.” Hannah.
“Figures. That’s a letdown.” Rachel.
“Ah ’ave to admit Ah was expecting… more.” Yvonne.
“I’m sure this house will be a lot more interesting after a few drinks,” Sarah smiles.
Yvonne laughs. “Point. Ah wonder if it ’as a bar anywhere?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised. I mean, it belonged to Rick Towers.” Rachel.
Amelie: Amelie tags along and gives the grounds a second scan for where the well could be, but gives up when the conversation catches her attention.
“Far as a bar, I doubt anything is still stocked. Unless he made his house like his movies and we have to poke a statue’s eye for a secret cabinet.”
GM: “Is it okay for us to be drinking with your sister around? Isn’t she a little young?” Hannah asks Yvonne.
“Oh no,” the blonde replies with a shake of her head. “Lots of people drink a little wine with meals in France, even children. It isn’t a big deal to us.”
Amelie: “I agree with Hannah, but do you usually let her have drinks with you and Yvette?”
GM: “You Americans,” Yvonne laughs. “So uptight. All of mah sisters ’ave a little wine at meals, we always ’ave.”
Amelie: “That might sting if I was American,” Amelie lightly ribs back before looking to Hannah. “We’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t have more than a little, then. Even France frowns on liquor before 18.”
GM: “Oh, you aren’t? You seemed very American to me, Ah thought you just spoke French,” Yvonne smiles. “Ah mean, everyone ‘ere learns it at McGehee, so it’s not like it’s too rare. High school’s such a silly time to teach new languages, Ah suppose that’s just another American thing. But who ‘ere ’asn’t learned French?”
“Oh yes, I took French for my foreign language requirement. I also thought about learning German or Italian… but you know, the history here.” Sarah.
“I took French too. My last school offered either that, Spanish, or Japanese.” Hannah.
“Good choice,” Sarah smiles.
“I took Chinese. Seemed interesting.” Rachel.
“Oh really? Ah didn’t think they offered that ’ere.” Yvonne.
“Online,” Rachel clarifies. “My dad and I took a vacation to Macau and that got me interested.”
“That’s the gambling capital of China, isn’t it?” Yvonne asks.
“Gambling capital of the world, actually. It brings in more money than Vegas. Anyway, I figured Chinese would be more useful than French.”
“Fighting words, with the native French speaker here…” Sarah laughs.
“Chinese ’as more speakers. French ’as better speakers,” Yvonne smiles contently.
The other girls laugh.
Amelie: The flow of the conversation feels a little different than Amelie is used to with groups of friends. She guesses that might just be from the absence of boys. She lets the question of her nationality go and chuckles along with others, though more at the feel of things than the actual joke.
“Chinese though! That had to be difficult. I know a few languages, but none without the Latin script alphabet.”
GM: “It’s more of a challenge, yeah. There isn’t that common frame of reference.” Rachel.
“Why don’t we take this out of the rain?” Sarah asks over the relentless downpour hammering against everyone’s umbrellas.
“Yeah, I’m starting to get wet,” Hannah says as she starts off.
“Yes, good idea. Where’s there to go next?” Yvonne.
Amelie: Amelie takes off her jacket as they get back under the cover of the second-floor balcony. She runs a hand through her soaked hair and shakes the rain off her jacket before carrying it inside. It’s dark, but she’s still hyper-conscious of how the other girls can see her back. The loose black tank top hangs low enough off her shoulders.
“The garage might not be interesting, but that’s where they say Delphine LaLaurie made her escape from a mob. Or we can go to the second floor, where it’s said a man was murdered after ranting about a demon. Should we wait for Yvette and Simmone, first?”
GM: “We can just text them where we are,” Rachel says impatiently. “I wanna see the murder scene.”
“I don’t know that it’s going to be too much more grisly than the one here. Someone did live in this place.” Sarah.
“Oui, probably not. We should just get drunk already,” Yvonne smiles.
“Oh, we should wait for Yvette for that,” Sarah smiles back.
Amelie: “I don’t remember if anyone lived here again after that murder, other than Towers. It was the music school, the school for black children, and a furniture store. The furniture store was slightly spooky, a sheen of grime over all his product every night. Even when he stayed overnight with a shotgun.”
GM: “Okay, so right now do we wanna see the murder scene or the garage?” Hannah.
“Murder scene!” Rachel.
“Good enough for me,” Sarah laughs.
“Yes, if we’ll go upstairs anyway.” Yvonne.
Amelie: Amelie can’t help but smile at Rachel’s enthusiasm, as well. “I don’t know which room it was, but it was definitely the second floor. Texting Yvette’s a good idea, too.”
GM: “Great. If the committee’s all in favor, then let’s go ahead.” Hannah.
Amelie: Amelie nods and pulls her jacket back on, feeling a small bit of relief that she’s covered again. Her pockets are still full of glowsticks and she takes a few more out of her backpack before sliding that back on as well. She breaks and shakes one stick before dropping it at the top of the stairs, then scans a flashlight through the landing.
GM: The group makes their way up the steps, rain thudding and crashing against their umbrellas. Rachel mutters a curse as a sudden gust of wind nearly blows hers from her hand, the other one of which still grips her phone.
Dark windows impassively stare down at the five from above. Amelie can make out several doors past the top-most step, but it’s hard to get a good luck at anything else. The other girls are all eager to get out of the rain and simply file past her. Cones of light from their held-up phones struggle to pierce the gloom.
“That top looks good on you, bah the way, you shouldn’t ’ide it under that jacket,” Yvonne remarks as she passes Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie lets the others file past her and steps out of the way to check around where she can, before she follows. Yvonne’s comment rolls off her like rain over treated leather. “Sure. Hey, that door in front of us to the left, let’s start there.”
It’s a dig. Of course it is, she’s Yvette’s sister and one of those inbred elites. Amelie wonders if Yvonne saw the scar over her back but keeps moving forward. The reminder of how many of these girls are elites makes her anxiety over fitting in rear its head again, though. She’s looking forward to the great equalizer of liquor later on. Maybe a chance to air things out will come up then.
GM: Sarah pulls opens a door. Her phone’s light illuminates a sink, stove, and oven. The shadow-drenched room is otherwise bare.
“Isn’t this place cozy,” she remarks.
“You mean small. Thought a house like this would have a bigger kitchen.” Hannah.
Amelie: “There’s undoubtedly more than one kitchen in this house. This looks like a small guest apartment.”
GM: “Isn’t that nice for whoever’s here, their own little place to make food.” Sarah.
“Oui. Some privacy.” Yvonne.
“Well Rachel probably wants to get to the murder scene. Right?” Hannah asks.
She glances around, then shines her flashlight around the room.
Amelie: Amelie feels a drop in her gut. She takes quick inventory of the girls before peeking out the door in either direction for Rachel.
GM: Sarah, Hannah, and Yvonne are all present. The lights from their phones cast long and exaggerated shadows over their faces. Rachel is nowhere that Amelie can see.
Amelie: Amelie frowns. She doesn’t like this. At all. She looks over to Hannah.
“Can you call her cell?”
GM: The other girls look around.
“Maybe she wandered off?” Sarah.
“She does love this ’ouse so much.” Yvonne.
Hannah taps her phone several times, then holds it to her ear.
Amelie can faintly make out the ring tone of an old-fashioned rotary phone from somewhere to her left.
Amelie: “I hear her to our left. I’ll go ahead,” she says, striding out the door and briskly making her way through the house. She breaks multiple glowsticks at once, shakes them, and drops them as she goes. At least she knows where Rachel is now.
GM: “What, while the rest of us bake cookies in that kitchen?” Hannah snorts as she and the other two follow after Amelie.
“Ah wonder why she isn’t answering ’er phone.” Yvonne.
Amelie: Amelie just gives a nod and smile to Hannah as she makes a good point, but doesn’t slow her pace for the others. It’s odd. The one person in the group who loves horror and she’s the one to make the horror movie mistake.
GM: The four girls take the door on their left. Phone-lights spill over an equally dark and empty room with two doors. They go left again. The gloomy chamber on the other side is identical to the last one—but for the figure standing in the middle of the room. She faces the wall. A ringing phone emanates from close by.
Amelie: Amelie pauses when she sees Rachel just standing there. “Rachel? Don’t try and scare us, what’s going on?”
GM: Rachel screams and falls over backwards, hitting the wood floor with a thud.
Amelie: The scream sets Amelie on edge and her body tenses like it’s ready for something to strike her. The tension uncoils just as fast as it comes, though, and the dykish young woman is suddenly a picture of flowing grace as her right leg pushes forward. She grabs the back of Rachel’s head with her hands, taking away the brunt of the fall’s force even as her fencing thrust carries her into the splits.
Her next actions are hurried. She grabs Rachel under the arm and pulls her back as she scrambles out of her position while looking down at the other girl’s face. “Rachel! Shit, we need light on her!”
GM: The sudden noise makes Yvonne give an audible half-gasp, half-gulp. She and Sarah both startle. Rachel, however, shrieks and flails as Amelie grabs her.
Hannah shines her phonelight over the pair. “Rachel!?” she shouts. “What the hell-”
“Jesus,” Rachel exclaims with wide eyes as her chest rises and falls, “you guys fucking shocked me!”
“Wait, we shocked y-” Yvette starts.
“Get off me, I’m FINE!” she protests, trying to disentangle herself from Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie drops and lets go of Rachel. She sighs and pats herself off as she stands up. “You left the group, didn’t answer you phone, and were Blair Witching it staring at a wall when we walked in. Almost cracked your head on the floor, too.”
GM: Rachel dusts herself off as she stands up. “I wasn’t staring at a wall.”
Amelie: Amelie looks over to the direction Rachel was facing when they walked in. To see if there is, in fact, only a wall there.
GM: Amelie can make out nothing in the darkness, that now seems so very thick and pregnant.
Sarah shines her phone over it.
The creature resembles a chubby-faced infant with pinkish-red skin and pointed ears. Tiny horns poke up from the top of its head. Solid, milk-white eyes bereft of pupils bore deliberately ahead towards Amelie.
Screams sound from behind her as phonelights wildly pivot, throwing frantic shadows across the room.
“Fuck, you guys, it’s just a painting!” Rachel yells.
The scattered phonelights still.
“Merde,” Yvonne mutters.
Amelie: Amelie tries her best to keep her eyes fixed on the painting. The screams set her heart thumping in her chest, but she brings out the flashlight in her pocket and shines it over the pink face.
She speaks again when the screams finally die down. “Didn’t the man murdered here say something about a demon?”
GM: The creature’s pupil-less eyes bore straight back into hers.
None of the other girls say anything.
Amelie: Amelie does not back down.
“Should we turn it around so it doesn’t look at us?”
GM: Several more lights fall over the chubby, horn-topped head.
One abruptly drops. Footsteps sound as Sarah strides out of the room.
The round, reddish-hued face watches her go with its too-adult smile.
Amelie: Amelie hears it and rubs the side of her face. “Let’s go with Sarah. If she’s freaked out, she shouldn’t be alone.”
GM: “’Ow kind of you to say that out loud about ’er, in front of everyone,” Yvonne remarks acidly. The tremor in her own voice is plain as she briskly follows Sarah out.
“I’m gonna stay,” Rachel replies distractedly.
Hannah looks between them, then follows Yvonne out.
The horned figure silently watches.
Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes at Yvonne’s balking, watches Hannah and Rachel for a moment, and then looks back at the painting.
“Can you just… take a picture, and we’ll go, or something? I don’t know if we should be near this thing.”
GM: “I think we should do the séance here,” Rachel says quietly. Her eyes don’t meet Amelie’s.
Amelie: Amelie shakes her head. “I don’t want to do it here, this isn’t… what we came here for. It’s wrong.”
Amelie takes off her jacket to use as an impromptu set of gloves. She approaches and grabs the painting so she can turn it to face away from them.
GM: The dark-rimmed, pupil-less eyes stare up at Amelie’s advancing hands.
The room is abruptly plunged into blackness.
Amelie: Amelie reflexively reaches up and covers her head. Her body tenses as she she focuses her senses on finding out what the hell is doing this.
GM: The young woman’s jacket-clenching hands pass through leather and air. Footfalls sound from behind her.
“Leave that thing alone!”
Amelie: Amelie pauses, drops her jacket and puts her hands over her eyes. She’s barely holding in panic at her sudden inability to see light, and takes a deep breath to try and quench how hard her heart is beating.
“Rachel, if this was a horror novel, this would be the first sign of trouble, wouldn’t it? Just… I need light. I can’t see.”
GM: “Good!” the teenager’s voice calls out. “You don’t just grab old paintings like that, you could damage it!”
Amelie: Amelie fishes another glowstick out of her pocket, then breaks and shakes it to try and get some more light.
GM: Teal glow spills over the portrait.
The subject looks as if it is staring down at Amelie from the deepest, weirdly illuminated ocean depths. The now-uniform color of its eyes and flesh make the former seem large, wide, and eager—more eager than even before.
Amelie: Amelie slowly side-eyes the painting. She does not kill the light. Not again.
“My family restored antiques, this isn’t even an antique. It’s probably worthless. Can we just get back to the others? We’re gonna get a drink and poke ghosts instead of demons.”
GM: “Fine,” Rachel replies, the glowstick’s cyan light wanly shining off her glasses. “Just so long as you aren’t gonna damage anything else.”
Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks around for her glowstick.
GM: The darkness remains thick and pregnant—but not with any glowstick that Amelie can discern.
Amelie: Amelie warily side-eyes the painting again. “I can explain when we aren’t in the same room as it, I promise.”
GM: “Explain wh-never mind, whatever. Great, even. I can’t wait.” Rachel gestures mock-grandiosely towards the doorway.
Amelie: Amelie gives Rachel a bit of an apologetic look and leads her out of the room. She breathes a sigh of relief as she closes the door behind them.
“I’m sorry I’m still a superstitious mess,” she starts. “That painting, LaLaurie was said to have cared for an infant boy, born from the devil himself.”
GM: “Well then, I guess the painting had to be from hell too. Just don’t grab anything else,” Rachel says exasperatedly as she turns on her phone’s light and heads down the hallway.
Amelie: Amelie bites back her reflexive response, closes her mouth, and watches Rachel walk away. The danger in this house still feels very real to her. Maybe she’s the only one who feels it.
She rubs a finger along her palm and remembers the old woman’s words. Blacker than the brew of a nigger witch laying with the devil at midnight.
Amelie keeps silent and doesn’t put a glowstick in front of the door they just left. She pats her pockets and clothes to try and find a stick that’s already lit.
GM: No light shines from any of the sticks she removes from her pockets.
Amelie: Amelie frowns. It bothers her where that stick could have gone missing to, but she keeps walking. She’s looking forward to having a shot or two to loosen up, even just a little.
She quietly follows Rachel while breaking glowsticks and dropping them at entrances and exits.
GM: Rachel taps away on her phone as the two advance through lightless corridors. They finally reach the kitchen. The other girls are all there, including Yvette and Simmone, and clustered around a granite-countertopped island not unlike the one in Christina’s house. The evening sun has died, and the unexplored room is pitch dark without Amelie’s glowsticks. The only light comes from the girls’ phones, which cast long shadows against their pale faces. Rain pounds, howls, and roars against the room’s three tall windows. Several cabinet-like shapes loom in Amelie’s peripheral vision. The tiled floors are beige. The walls are navy. The ceiling is a stark blood red.
“Yvonne, we ‘ave glasses, don’t we?” Yvette asks from behind the counter.
“Of course,” her sister answers as she bends down to rummage through a backpack. Dull clinks sound against the counter’s granite surface.
“We’re drinking from glasses at a slumber party?” Hannah remarks.
Yvette smiles indulgently at her classmate as she pours from a bottle. “People with class don’t drink from the bottle.”
“Yes, let’s keep this classy,” Sarah smiles.
“Ah’m cold,” Simmone remarks.
“It isn’t cold ‘ere. And you’ve got your jacket.” Yvette.
“You brought a blanket, no? Trah putting that on.” Yvonne.
Simmone bends down to rummage through her backpack.
Yvette smiles as she sees Rachel and Amelie approach, then slides a glass across the table. “And there’s our ladies of the ‘our. Ah think the night’s first drink should go to you, Amalie, as the one who ’ad the idea to bring us all ’ere.”
Amelie: Amelie breaks three glowsticks at once to put on the countertop. They illuminate the room effectively, if weirdly, as the chemicals roil in endothermic reactions and throw shadows against the walls.
Those shadows grow hands. Amelie feels one of them press into her back as Yvette slides the glass towards her. It’s a sudden throb through the mass of scar tissue and spells out an unmistakable message:
Amelie’s eyes rest on the drink with a stare no less granite than the countertop’s. She then leans down, pulls a box of table salt out of her bag, and rests it on the counter before standing up straight to shrug off her jacket and drop it over the bag. The open air feels good on her throbbing scars. She rubs her hand over the patch that just barely encroaches on her shoulder.
“Merci. What kinda drink is it? I smelled wine all during my lunch meeting, so I have a craving.”
GM: “Uh… not one you put salt in?” Hannah remarks with a perplexed look as Amelie places the box of salt on the table.
It’s a look shared by more than a few of the other girls.
“What do you even have that for?”
Amelie: “I was told we were doing a séance,” Amelie says offhandedly. “You know this is the main kitchen. A slave chained to a stove right here in this room, starting a fire in fear of punishment. A blaze that had firemen come in and discover the men and women horrifically tortured just above us. In a room where many others had already perished.”
GM: Amelie’s peers look even more confused and discomfited.
“Yeah, uh, all ’cuz someone forgot the salt.” Hannah.
Yvette shakes her head and motions as if to dispel the room’s confusion. “It’s chartreuse-”
“-from our mother’s cellar.” Yvonne.
Amelie: Amelie looks the drink over and swirls it around uncertainly. There has to be a way out of this.
“Salt is said to be protection against the vengeful departed. It’s why tossing it over your shoulder is considered good luck.”
She slides the box of salt further along the counter. That’ll help obscure the light—and what she’s about to do. She holds the glass low as she gives it a quick tip over her open backpack, then raises it to her lips. She takes a pull the others can see and puts the empty glass back down on the counter with a soft clink.
GM: “So… you brought a box of it here. That makes total sense,” Hannah remarks as the stream of sweet-smelling chartreuse spills over Amelie’s backpack. She feels individual droplets spatter against the legs of her jeans, each one’s sensation as jolting as a gunshot. Nagging thoughts pull at her: what if she missed, by just enough, and more chartreuse is running down her backpack and over the precious tile floor? The rain pours and pounds against the now-rattling windows and makes it impossible to hear any further light spatterings. There could be so many.
The five other girls are all staring at her.
None of them blink.
“Too bad they don’t sell those backpack things from Ghostbusters or we could’ve brought those too,” Sarah smiles.
“Or maybe we should’ve all just stayed home if the ghosts are going to kill us,” Rachel remarks, rolling her eyes.
“And Ah suppose you want to throw salt everywhere to protect against ghosts. Mon dieu.” Yvette shakes her head, thens pulls the box of salt away from Amelie and stuffs it into her backpack. “Were you even listening when that woman said we aren’t supposed to mess this place up?”
“She tried to rub her jacket all over that painting too,” Rachel adds.
“Did she really?” Yvonne scoffs.
“Seems like you might only be this place’s second biggest fan, Rachel,” Sarah laughs.
Amelie: Amelie can feel her ears burning as the girls all look at her. The sudden shift in conversation confirms that she’s gotten away with it, at least. The new subject of discussion still feels rather pointed.
“Salt leeches water from wood, instead of pushing it in like a rag would. And touching a painting with bare hands can damage it. My family worked with antiques,” she explains before kneeling back down to her bag. She tosses her extra pair of clothes over her foot where the bit of mess is and lets it soak the liquor up as she rifles through her bag. The extra phone battery goes into her back pocket, the snacks stay in a front section of her bag, and her knife goes in a separate one. She steps on her clothes as she stands back up to better soak up the mess.
GM: Amelie can feel the other girls’ eyes lingering on her as she bends down, rummages through her things, and stands up empty-handed.
“Checking for ghosts down there?” Yvonne inquires with a faint smile.
Giggles sound from the others.
Amelie: Amelie looks between the girls as they snicker. “Why yes, yes I was. No luck though, so I think this’ll be a dry night,” she shoots back. “You and Yvette left France when you were around 10 years old, right?”
GM: Hannah shines her phonelight over Amelie. “Uh, not so dry. Your bag’s wet.”
She frowns. The light dips slightly.
“And your… feet?”
Amelie: “Dry as in no alcohol,” Amelie smiles at Hannah. “I spilled something, sorry. Hand. I leaned down to remove my extra phone battery.”
The situation is starting to get clearer to her. The glowsticks’ light is dim, but she can still make out that look in Yvette’s eye.
“You mind if we step into the other room, Yvette? Just for a moment. We should suss out a few last details about us documenting the house, and I’d hate to bore everyone. I should be taking pictures, not drinking with people,” she chuckles.
GM: “Wait, what? That doesn’t make any…” Hannah frowns.
Rachel steps closer to Amelie and shines a phonelight over her.
“Hey, does that smell like… chartreuse?”
Amelie: Amelie leans down, picks up the bundle of clothes, and stuffs it in her bag. The mess on the floor is soaked into the blouse she wore to her earlier meeting with Caroline.
“That’s because it’s chartreuse,” she says bluntly. She points her own phonelight up at Yvette and waits for an answer.
GM: Yvette’s expression goes flat. “Ah’m sorry. Chartreuse? On your…”
“…all over her feet,” Rachel fills in, sweeping her phonelight over Amelie. “And her bag, and leg…”
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.
“Yeah, I’d probably pass on that thing too.” Hannah. “Leave it for someone else to deal with.”
Amelie: “Does the bank own it if it was left here?”
GM: “Beats me,” Hannah answers. There’s a few other shrugs and “good question” remarks.
Amelie: “I wonder what else Towers have left here. We are talking about the man who bought cobras for alleged home defense.”
GM: “Did ‘e really do that? That’s crazy!” Simmone exclaims.
“I suppose we’ll just have to find out,” Sarah smiles at her and Amelie.
Amelie: “My my. Ghosts, demons, and now buried treasure. I think I’m going to go and start looking around again.”
GM: “Ah suppose that does beat sitting around an empty kitchen, now,” Yvonne remarks.
“Yeah, if we’re not drinking.” Simmone.
“I still want to see the attic.” Rachel.
“Great, the committee approves. Are we going to take votes again on where to go?” Hannah.
Yvette taps away on her phone.
There’s a flash of lightning that illuminates the room stark blue for a split second, throwing pitch dark and into pitch light. Simmone actually jumps.
Amelie: Amelie tightly clamps her flashlight.
“Power is cut to the apartments above the garage, but I think the attic is more interesting, for sure.”
GM: “Then whatever, let’s get a move on.” Hannah.
“Geez, this weather.” Rachel.
Amelie: Amelie already has her backpack on and flashlight out, which casts a harsher light than the glowsticks. Leaving still feels like a good option.
GM: There’s a few shuffles as the others shoulder their backpacks and follow Amelie, their phonelights cutting tiny swaths of light through the gloom.
Amelie: Amelie takes it carefully. Her steps are as light as someone her size can manage as she creeps up to the third floor. “Two rooms here. Split up?”
GM: Yvonne shrugs.
“Let’s not put this up for committee vote too, please,” Hannah says in a flatter tone.
Simmone looks at the phone-preoccupied Yvette, then back to Sarah. Rachel does too.
“Why not?” the brunette smiles at them.
Amelie: Amelie wasn’t looking for committee. “Rachel? Hannah?” she asks, motioning to the north apartment.
GM: Rachel looks down at her phone for a moment. Hannah shrugs and follows after her. Rachel then does too. “Let us know if you find any buried treasure,” Sarah smiles again as the others’ phonelights recede into the gloom.
Amelie: Amelie closes the door behind them and runs her fingers over her eyes. The stress is like a weight on her shoulders as she leans against the wall next to the door. “I’m sorry for this. Both of you.”
GM: “Uh, sorry for what?” Hannah frowns.
Amelie: “Making tonight awkward. With the drink. And for being so skittish about the painting and grabbing you, Rachel. I thought you were hurt.”
GM: “Well… good for me I wasn’t, I guess,” Rachel says, her eyes cutting between the closed door and her phone. The glowstick-bereft room is otherwise pitch dark. Rain distantly thuds overhead.
Hannah glances at the door as Amelie closes it, then back at her classmate. She seems to chew on her thoughts for a moment. “Well, I appreciate the apology. But… I honestly dunno where to start with you. You’re just so weird. About… everything. I mean, you make Rachel look normal.” She doesn’t look away from Amelie as her eyes briefly cut to the glasses-wearing girl. “No offense.”
Rachel’s eyes pan up. “None taken.”
Amelie: Amelie steps a little ways away from the door as she sees them eye it. “Well… I guess I never really told you guys much about me. I’ll just have to trust you not to tell people,” she says. She takes out her phone and swipes to a set of pictures on a Facebook album before offering the device to Hannah.
It’s Amelie, about 12 years old and with long braided hair. She’s wearing thick gloves and a leather apron. Her face is smeared with soot as she squints at a handle-less, literally flaming sword that she holds with a pair of tongs. Other pictures in the album have her swinging hammers at glowing steel, fitting huge men with armor, and talking to a crowd while she wears her own suit and holds a sword.
If Hannah keeps swiping, she comes across a picture where a weakly smiling Amelie has a buzz cut and walks on a cane. She’s surrounded by smiling people in Medieval clothing, including a bigger lady with a tight bodice over her dated dress. The woman holds up a sign that reads, Welcome back extra crispy, Amelie.
“And… to top it off, I haven’t told people everything about the assault. Details about it are… people would have thought I was crazy. Once I get this project behind me, I should be less weird. I hope.”
The next pictures might be a little wild to a girl from McGehee, but Hannah’s classmate’s face and physique are in every one at varying ages.
Amelie holds a smoking sword dripping what looks like motor oil. Her teeth grit in effort as she lifts it into a slit in the wall to the left, as if it’s going to support it.
Another picture shows Amelie pulling a second sword as it blazes with an uncontrollable fire. Her face looks stoic under the cap on her head. She blows at the sword with all of her might as the fire rages in her face.
Amelie’s unmistakably strong and worn hands are zoomed in close as she works a classical dragon relief onto the side of a sword. A small hammer and chisel shows how she’s doing it by hand.
Too object here is big to be a sword, and yet it has its shape. The figure holding a torch and welding paces in place on a huge hunk of metal could be anyone, but is tagged as Amelie.
She’s dressed in leather from head to toe in the next picture. A visor protects her face while she brings a hammer down on a piece of glowing metal. Pieces fly off in every direction.
There are a scant few pictures of Amelie not in armor or work clothes, too. One shows her standing among fields of men who are either on their backs or hunched over. Another one or two pictures show Amelie wearing a fencing helmet she hoists out her arms towards a taller woman like they’re trying to kill each other.
If Hannah scrolls far enough, there’s even a red-eared and smiling Amelie dressed in a much more ladylike getup. A few women stand off to the side with overacted expressions of faux surprise.
GM: Amelie’s initial words engender what is now a very familiar perplexed look on her classmates’ faces.
But the pictures seem like they do what words can’t.
Hannah doesn’t say anything as she swipes through them. Rachel looks over her shoulder. Their faces dully glow against the phone’s screen as images of swords, forges, and happy-looking girls flash past.
Hannah stops when the swipe button doesn’t take her any further, then finally asks, “Wow. Is this all, like… a Renaissance fair?”
Amelie: “It’s, um… it’s called Biccoline. It’s two villages on a big plot of land. Like an all-year all-day Renaissance fair tourist trap.”
GM: “Yeah,” Hannah says after another moment. “That really sounds like it. Well. Looks like it.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a pang of guilt herself as her pictures make Hannah feel that very same emotion. It’s easy to see the freak in a circle of people as somehow less, isn’t it? History is filled with examples from personal betrayals to the demonizing of minority groups.
She takes her phone back and tucks it carefully into her pocket. “Thanks. But… yeah. Once this house stuff is over with, maybe we can have a few drinks to make up for tonight, without the elites or the ghosts, if you’re up for it. Fresh start.”
GM: “I could go for some drinks here,” Rachel says. “Yvonne’s still got that chartreuse.”
“Well, th-” Hannah starts.
“No, I don’t want to go through tonight sober. Back in a bit,” Rachel says. She opens the door and walks out. Her receding figure is soon swallowed by the house’s gloom.
Hannah stares after her.
“You should get out of here,” she says in a low voice.
Amelie: Amelie looks back to Hannah and feels her heart drop into her stomach.
GM: Hannah turns her head to regard Amelie. Her face is unsmiling as she replies, “Same reason you shouldn’t have ever gone to this school.”
Amelie: Amelie locks eyes with Hannah. Her confused face slowly goes slack with the Roberts family stone-like expression. “Because I don’t belong? Or is there something else?”
She doesn’t mention Yvette knowing her living situation, or catching Miranda spying on her. Both for obvious reasons.
GM: Hannah’s face seems to get darker, though it could also be her phone’s screen turning off. “This isn’t a good time for Q&A.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a shiver go up her spine that all but vibrates through her surroundings. Her hyper-awareness of the other girls and drive to keep them safe safe suddenly flips into an escape plan. X’s mark over certain exits due to the key not being in her possession. The hard rain locks out two other potential avenues of escape. Rachel’s departure pains a grim picture, too. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.
But it’s clear now. She has to leave.
“Hannah. Keep yourself safe too, okay? I hope I can talk to you at school again, soon.”
It feels like Hannah is putting herself in danger by doing this, but Amelie gives her one last sad and worried smile before turning on a heel and calculating a path out. She heads back through the door, her stride unbroken as she makes her way onto the balcony again. Into the rain. She’s not worried about getting wet as she grips the rail and heads down the stairs to the courtyard below.
GM: That’s when she feels another dull and shuddering throb of alarm shoot up her spine.
Amelie: She stops completely and eyes the staircase.
GM: Without one of the umbrellas enjoyed by her peers, rain thuds and splashes against Amelie’s exposed skin and leather jacket. Her thick hair wetly plasters against her scalp. The South’s warm night air feels all-too cold. She strains her eyes, but can make out almost nothing in the unlit house’s near-pitch gloom.
She remembers the stairs supporting everyone’s weights without any problem on the way up.
Amelie: Short hair comes in handy as Amelie smooths it out of her face and off to the side. Her phone is already safely tucked into an inside jacket pocket as she shines her flashlight down the steps for one last look. It’s either this or going down the steps in the garage apartment.
GM: Fat and brightly illuminated drops of rain plummet through the flashlight’s beam.
Nothing else is visible on the stairs.
Amelie: Amelie can’t ignore the shudder of warning and turns back. She makes her way down to the covered stairwell at the far south-eastern part of the house. The part that winds its way all the way down to the garage.
GM: Her flashlight’s beam flickers uncertainly through the gloom. There is no door before the staircase. The way down yawns ahead.
Amelie: Amelie takes a bracing breath and slowly starts down the stairwell. She grips the railing tightly and keeps her flashlight trained on every step downwards, her ears out for the danger her body warns her of.
GM: Amelie’s phone buzzes from her pocket as she begins her descent.
Amelie: Amelie stops dead and sits down on the stair. She quickly fishes out her phone to check the screen, then to puts it on ‘vibrate only’ so it stays silent.
GM: It’s a text.
There’s no message.
Just an image.
As Amelie bolts straight upright, her flashlight winks out.
There’s a dull clunking.
Light in her peripheral vision.
Her gaze rivets ahead. The flashlight lies at the bottom of the stairs. It must have slipped from her hand.
Amelie: It’s Amelie’s saving grace and her failing to have sat down. She bites back a shriek of surprise as as a shudder goes up her spine. Terror rings like bells in her head as the world goes dark again. She grasps at the dark for her light until she spots it at the bottom of the stairwell. Her heart is beating hard enough to power a small car while her lungs burn with the strain of not panting like a dog. Her face burns and her eyes strain from the fear forcing eyes open.
But Amelie is a Roberts girl. She grabs that fear and puts a knife to its throat as she sticks her phone back in her jacket, resolves to ignore it, and hurries down the stairs to her destination. She rips out two glowsticks from her pocket as she goes, breaking and shaking them for light.
If anything, they’ve helped her by sending that text. Maybe there’s a way she can trace it, or use the photograph of the painting to learn more. The logic bolsters the young woman as she makes her way down to the apartment. She needs to calm down and take stock. The windows in the apartment will be the perfect place to do so. She can hide out there and plan her next move.
GM: The old wooden stairs creak and groan under Amelie’s sneakers. Her flashlight beckons from the bottom floor.
Her foot touches one step.
Then two steps.
Then her back hurts, then her ass hurts, then her legs, her sides, her chest, her face—and she’s flying, soaring through the darkness, and she’s crashing, and teal lights are spinning like speeding comets, and there’s no light, she can’t see—the darkness pours over her in oppressive waves, drenching her, suffocating her, like the rain smashing against the house’s walls, like the furious mob once smashed them down after they saw the atrocities the house’s mistress had committed, and the slave girl, the child who’d seen those horrors with her own eyes, who knew what fate awaited her, who chose to hurl herself from the house’s roof than face the wrath of Marie Delphine LaLaurie—
Screams in her ears. A blade in her hands. She knows what to do. She’s always known what to do. She stabs the hideous, diabolical face, rams the blade into its cheek, pulls, and blood gushes forth, bright and yellow and burning and she’s screaming, it’s dead, it’s dead, she killed it, she killed it, SHE KILLED IT-
And she’s sobbing, crying, aching everywhere, rocking back and forth at the bottom of the stairwell, knife clutched in hand. The darkness presses down on her like a heavy cloak.
Overhead, the rain screams and pours.
Amelie: Amelie free-falls through the void, but there’s no pain. Her mind blacks it out—and drags up other horrors and disquiet memories. Footsteps. The violent clanking of tools sent flying. The vague rumblings of a familiar deep voice screaming at the top of its lungs. That helpless panic, the helplessness that comes with knowing you can hurt someone and desperately wanting nothing more than to do the opposite.
“THROUGH! Strike THROUGH, you stupid girl! Pick it up, Amelie! THRUST!!”
Familiar. Harsh, like a hammer bashing glowing steel. Molding it. Muscles tense and work their harsh mistress’ unconscious will. They know what to do. They’ve always known what to do. Amelie thrusts and feels her blade sink in and through, just like her mother taught her. Just like she’s already felt from her father. Just like her body knows it’s been built to do.
The young woman bellows incoherently. She twists the blade, rips it back, and feels everything come with it. It’s dead. It’s choking on its own bile. The real Amelie Savard shows its teeth for just long enough—until anguish crushes her against the bottom of the stairwell and her mind catches up with every blow at once. When did the fall end? When did it start? She struggles to breathe past the pain and horror as she keeps her knife pointed out at the darkness. Her hands fumble for one of the glowsticks that lined her pockets at the top of the stairwell. They fumble for her phone. For her flashlight. Any weapon against the dark.
GM: Amelie can hear her heart pounding in her ears as her hands frantically rummage across the floor. The rain thuds and pounds overhead. The darkness patiently waits.
Her sweating palms finally seize upon a glowstick.
Amelie: The situation slowly sinks in as Amelie’s body tells her the cold truth. If this were someone less fit, like one of her classmates, that fall would have put them out. Maybe worse. For Amelie, it just hurts. It hurts so bad. She shudders and sobs intermittently until she finds relief in the glowstick. She grabs it, breaks it, and shakes it hard as she slowly sits up and takes stock of her surroundings. Her eyes frantically search for blood.
GM: The teal light dully shines across the base of the stairs. No blood visibly stains the floor. Amelie’s backpack lies on the ground, the flap ripped open, and its contents haphazardly strewn everywhere like spilled guts.
Her light shines over one of those entrails. She reaches to pick it up.
Her hand abruptly burns. She reflexively pulls away, suppressing an instinctive hiss. She moves the light closer.
It’s her phone, or at least what’s left of it. The now-blank screen is shattered, cracked, and marred by a dark scorch mark.
Amelie: Amelie just lays there for a moment, feeling sorry for herself as she looks at her ruined phone… that it looks like she stabbed.
She briefly wonders about the warranty as she slowly pulls out her extra pair of pants, wraps them around the device and stows it in her backpack. Her knife goes in there too as she gets her bag back in order. She keeps the still-hot phone away from the glowsticks as she staggers to her feet and put a hand on her chest. Her ribs hurt, her back aches, and her head is splitting.
It’s time to vault that damned fence and get out of here. She’ll make her escape through the same garage that Delphine LaLaurie did in her carriage all those years ago.
GM: Amelie is still kneeling and gathering up her things when she hears approaching footsteps over the rain. Thunder rumbles angrily.
The door swings open. Beams of light stab into Amelie’s eyes.
“Oh mah goodness, what ’appened ’ere?” comes Yvette’s voice.
“Oh my god, did you fall down?” asks Sarah.
Yvette kneels down to lay a hand on Amelie’s shoulder. The other girls’ figures loom in the background. “Yes, did you? We ’eard screams-”
“-and noises,” Yvonne notes.
Amelie: Amelie feels like a deer caught in the headlights. The voices—there’s Yvette, Sarah, and Yvonne. No Hannah to calm her down, or at least none that she can hear. Instinct screams they’re the enemy as she recoils from them.
“M-my shoulder! Please don’t-”
GM: “-yes, and noises,” Yvette continues, smiling reassuringly at Amelie. “You must be so scared, Amalie… are you all right?”
“Your stuff’s everywhere…” Rachel remarks, looking across the room.
“Yeah, everywhere,” Simmone observes.
“Let’s ‘elp ’er get it picked up, why don’t we,” Yvonne smiles as she bends down and starts scooping up things.
Amelie: Amelie winces and scrambles away from Yvette as she still reaches for her, then grabs the wrapped phone and pocket knife to hurriedly stuff in her backpack.
“I’m leaving! Thank you for the look around,” she blurts out. She all but shoves past the other girls if they get in her way, barrels put the door into the rainy courtyard, and makes a running start for the gate. Her heart is beating a mile a minute even in the pain she’s in. Adrenaline pumps through her bloodstream as she jumps and grabs the gate, her thickly muscled body furiously working to launch her over the top—and out of this terrible house.
GM: “Ah’m sor-” Yvette starts.
“Wait, your stuff-” Rachel calls.
There are other words from the other girls. Exclamations. Maybe admonishments. Perhaps snickers. Amelie could never fit in among them and now she’s not even trying. Her footfalls thump and splash against the rain-drenched brick courtyard in eerie tune with her thundering heart.
She can make out hazy, water-blurred lights from the French Quarter beyond the gate’s cage-like iron bars. Their ornate wrought-iron filigree is so like that of the fences she admired in the Garden District. If it’s a cage it’s a gilded one.
Rain mercilessly pounds and cracks against Amelie’s back as she vaults into the air. She seizes onto the iron bars bare-handed as she frantically, manically, scrambles to pull herself up. Midnight storm clouds flash and rumble overhead with hungry anticipation.
The gate is dry underneath its archway. Some fast-fading rational part of the blacksmith’s mind tells her that’s so it won’t rust under New Orleans’ frequent rains, but her footing seems little safer for that familiarity. Her socks are completely soaked through. Her feet squelch in their sneakers as the rubber soles scramble for purchase against rain-slick metal. It’s so easy to imagine one careless slip sending her plummeting to her death like that poor little slave, who’s buried within less distance than it could take to crack Amelie’s skull open over the brick pavement like an over-ripe pumpkin.
There might be alarmed shouts and exclamations going up from the other teenagers, but that might also just be the crashing rain. Amelie’s bare, wet hands already feel so raw and sore. Her limbs burn like fire as she heaves her aching body upwards. She swings one leg over the top of the gate, careful to slip it past the hungrily pointed spikes that could so easily feast upon impaled flesh.
She can just make out the top of the French Quarter.
Old-fashioned streetlights. Black and white street signs that say ‘Rue’ in smaller font at the top. Galleries, not balconies like non-natives call them, dripping with flowers and greenery off the old Spanish-style buildings. Some part of Amelie’s heart sings at the sight. This is the New Orleans she fell in love with.
It was never in this house. This cursed, death-filled house. It’s out there. She has to get to it. She has to. Panic rises in her chest as water smashes against her exposed face, stinging her eyes, and streams down her clothes. Wind whips and howls against her back as thunder roars overhead. She’s not climbing into the rain, at this point, but a storm. A Katrina. It’s so cold. Her breath visibly steams in the chill night air as lightning flashes overhead.
No. This is summer. New Orleans doesn’t get this cold—
A reflected face in the metal spike catches Amelie’s eye.
Everything disappears as rain cascades over Amelie like a thick, wet curtain.
Ice-cold, ashen, and horrifyingly solid hands seize Amelie fast, freezing the blood in her veins to ice. Terror explodes through a heart thundering too fast to even tell where one beat ends at the next begins. The convergence of past, present, and future that began when she gazed upon the LaLaurie House have reached their ultimate terminus to become one—and become none.
Yet, as conscious thought dissolves into that yawning oblivion like so much rain, something stirs. The void is not empty.
There is sound.
Child-like giggles leak into a single word brimming with malevolence so hateful that it stains Amelie’s soul just to hear:
:: FLY ::
Amelie’s heart stops.
Limp hands slip.
And she flies.
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