“You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”
Monday morning, 24 August 2015
GM: The weekend passes in relative quiet. Amelie can work on homework, binge on movies and TV shows off her aunt’s Webflix subscription, and engage in other non-demanding leisure activities as she waits for her bandaged hand to hurt less.
Amelie: Amelie uses the downtime and the blear induced by her body adjusting to antibiotics to get ahead in her homework. That includes writing down notes on her investigations into the LaLaurie house, which she intends to share with Yvette later on. Eventually, however, she runs out of work and proceeds to watch the television she rarely pays any mind to.
GM: Mr. Thurston and Ms. Perry both remark on Amelie’s hand come Monday. The former makes a related quip about Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Both teachers express their condolences. Mr. French doesn’t comment on it.
Amelie It’s almost a relief when Monday comes. Amelie dresses in her pristine and ironed uniform, a pair of low-heeled shoes Kristina recommended during their outing, and heads off to school. She’s carefully wrapped her hand to prevent infection and isn’t surprised when it draws attention. She chuckles at Mr. Thurston’s economics joke, assures both teachers her hand is fine, and thanks them for their concern. She tries to take Aunt Christina’s advice to use ‘thank you’ more often to heart.
GM: Today’s Local History class is a lecture rather than small group activity work. Ms. Perry tells her students about the 1724 Code Noir de la Louisiane, an amendment to Louis XIV’s 1685 original Code Noir that set standards for the treatment of slaves. In practice, slave owners did largely as they pleased, but it presented the first substantive effort to regulate slavery as an institution.
The bell’s ring and Ms. Perry’s reminder of some soon-due homework assignments heralds the class’s dispersal. Amelie has the lunch break before fourth period to approach her research partner.
Amelie: She does so without delay once the bell rings.
“Yvette, do you mind if we walk and talk? Something happened in regards to our project.”
GM: Her identically-dressed classmate gives her a mildly curious look. “All right, what ’appened? Mah mother and the bank set up everything so we can see the ’ouse on Friday.”
Amelie: Amelie shows Yvette her phone, which has the picture of her stab wound pulled up.
“I went to Cathédrale Saint-Louis to ask the priests about the house, and they denied the existence of ghosts. But someone heard my conversation. Slipped a card for an occult store into my belongings. When I went? The old lady owner went insane, and did this to me, screaming not to go in the house, or we’d be killed by what she called ‘a festering rot’ of New Orleans.”
GM: The blonde French student gives Amelie a strange look, but then offers, “Ah’m… sorry. And Ah’m sorry about your ‘and. Ah’m sure that was very scary. If you don’t want to come along to the ’ouse, that’s fine.”
Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small smile. “I’m not sure yet. But what I am sure of, is that this is something interesting to put into the report. A violent local reaction to the house. I’ve one more person to interview this week, a Vodoun priestess by the name of Mama Rosa. That makes three ‘interviews’ and three different perspectives on the house.”
GM: “Ohhhh, oui, that’s right!” Yvette exclaims. “That’ll look good to ‘ave in the presentation, no? ’Locals ’ave violent reactions.’ We could even show the picture of your ‘and, if you don’t mind putting yourself up like that.”
Amelie: “Not worried about it at all, no! That’s one of the reasons I took the picture. The story of the assault may score us some points as well.”
Amelie offers to send the picture over to Yvette’s phone, and even offers to delete her contact information afterwards if she’s averse to her partner having it.
GM: Yvette exchanges her phone number with Amelie and does not request she delete the contact information.
Amelie: Amelie also makes one final suggestion.
“So, Yvette, I realize you may not be superstitious. Are you still okay with going into the house if I don’t come? We do have other options we can pursue.”
GM: “Oh yes, Ah’m totally fine,” Yvette answers. “Mah mother and Monsieur Whitney went to all the trouble of setting everything up, after all. And you really don’t ‘ave to go into the ’ouse if you don’t want to, they don’t even know your name. Getting your ‘and stabbed by a crazy person is already a lot of ’field work,’ no?” She smiles faintly. “It’s not like Ah’ll be able to say to Miss Perry that Ah was the one who did all the work.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. Her face betrays just a bit of concern before she smiles at the praise. “You’re braver than I am, that’s for sure. I was going to suggest just renting a camera drone and getting pictures of the inside. Don’t and say we did.”
GM: Yvette laughs at that. “Well, ‘ow about a compromise, you don’t and Ah take the pictures. Ah really would feel bad making you sleep there after your ’and, no?”
Amelie: Amelie gives another small smile and nods slowly. “I’d feel bad to make you go alone. So I’ll get back to you with my decision after I speak to this last person I wanted to interview.”
GM: “All right, go a’ead then. And Ah really am sorry about your ’and.”
Monday noon, 24 August 2015
GM: Lunch rolls around at its usual time after Ms. Perry’s class. Girls chatter or play on their phones as they fill up the cafeteria. The posted overhead menu today reads, Chef’s Turtle Soup; Bayou Beignets; Downtown Chopped Salad; Citrus-Sesame Crusted Salmon; Louisiana Strawberry Salad; Tuscan Grilled Chicken Panini.
Amelie: Amelie spends her time in line scanning the menu and already seated people, but she can’t find Hannah anywhere. Uniforms seem like a good idea until you try to pick someone out of a crowd. She eventually finds herself where she usually does, sitting alone outside with a book and tray of salmon. She resolves to find Hannah during sixth period and ask where she sits at lunch. Hopefully this will be the last day she eats alone.
GM: The rich, brined, and boneless salmon remains pleasantly moist against the contrasting texture of the crunchy salmon seeds. The citrus sauce is a sweet blend of orange, white wine, butter, and honey. It also nicely contrasts the more sour side dish: lemon-drizzled grilled asparagus coated in melted Parmesan cheese and caramelized yellow onion shreddings.
The food tastes as good as ever, but it can’t help but seem like it would taste even better with company. It’s an increasingly bitter aftertaste to watch her classmates talking, laughing, and even just texting in one another’s company.
Amelie: Amelie still enjoys the taste, and despite sitting in this hot and humid corner of the Deep South, it’s an almost nostalgic experience. She didn’t always eat salmon, but she remembers times when her neighbors would trade fish they caught and meat they hunted in return for repairing household items.
Still, the lonely aftertaste spoils the meal somewhat. She doesn’t know if the feeling stems from being alone in such a high-profile school (not to mention older than the other students), or if it’s just general loneliness from having no friends yet.
GM: Amelie cleans and returns her tray with the other uniformed masses of girls. Her phone rings several minutes after she sits down under a banana tree to idly flip through it. The prompt reads ‘caller unknown.’
Amelie: Amelie’s thoughts are interrupted by the buzzing on her lap. She crooks a brow at the call display but answers it anyway. She takes out a pen and pad of paper from her nearby bag to write down any details she might want from the caller.
“Hello, Amelie speaking.”
GM: “This is Rosa Rouzier,” sounds an older woman’s voice. “I received a phone message from you about the LaLaurie House, Ms. Amelie.”
Amelie: Amelie sits up immediately as if the woman can see her. “Mrs. Rouzier! Thank you so much for returning my call. Do you prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Rouzier or Mama Rosa, ma’am?”
GM: “Ma’am or Mrs. Rouzier will do fine,” the woman replies.
Amelie: Amelie nods and makes a note of her prefer states of address as she speaks more. “Thank you, Mrs. Rouzier. I was really hoping you would get back to me, so I could seek your counsel about the house.”
GM: “May I ask what ‘counsel’ you are looking for, Ms. Amelie? Your phone message said something about ‘approaching the house with respect.’”
Amelie: “Well… my priorities have changes slightly since my message, Mrs. Rouzier. At first my research lead me to believe the people who were hurt and died in that house were of the Vodoun faith. So I wanted to ask you in what ways I could go about not offending any spirits within. However I recently received a… rather painful warning and lesson on the house. Either from an occultist madwoman or a real life ghost. I’m not sure what to believe but the fact I paid a price for the information I was given by Mrs. Tantsy. Now, I was hoping you may be able to help me protect my classmate, I believe she’s in danger if she enters that house, with or without me.”
GM: “I see,” the woman answers mildly.
“I don’t understand very much of what you just said, Ms. Amelie, but I’ll give you some free advice. If you believe that it’s unsafe for you or your classmate to go inside the house, don’t go in there. From what I know, the LaLaurie House is private property in any case.”
Amelie: Amelie takes a small breath to collect her thoughts. “We got permission from the bank that owns it, ma’am. I don’t think I’ll be able to talk my classmate out of going inside, though. She has family pride keeping her set on it now. But I was told, and I believe, the ghosts in that house will hurt her. The church wouldn’t help even if I asked, and I was stabbed seeking out an occultist. I was hoping these was some way you could help me protect her.”
GM: “Ms. Amelie, a question first. Actually, two. Why do you believe ghosts are real, much less want to harm your classmate?”
Amelie: Amelie pauses. She’s not sure what to believe, if she’s honest. But she knows what she saw in Tantsy’s eyes. She remembers how strong the old woman was, and how that card mysteriously turned up in her belongings. She’s smart enough to know she doesn’t know, even after being born in a city full of tourist traps that claimed to be severely haunted.
“I don’t know what to believe if I’m honest, ma’am. But my guts tell me to prepare for the worst. And I don’t want anyone hurt.”
GM: There’s an answering pause as the woman seems to weigh Amelie’s words.
“Then we share that goal, Ms. Amelie, but there is not very much that I may be able to do for you. If you shared my religion and were members of my congregation, I would advise making a sacrifice to the proper loa and asking for their protection.”
“Store owners in the French Quarter could tell you about a thousand different remedies to protect against the supernatural, from holy water to black tourmaline to everyday table salt. They might be some comfort to you, and that may be worth something in of itself. I do not believe that any of those alleged remedies hold power.”
“If you believe yourself in the presence of a restless spirit, my advice is to rebuke it and pray, earnestly and truly, from the depths of your heart. The dead hold no power over us but that which we choose to grant them. When we encounter something beyond our understanding, it is often easier to have faith in Bondye’s power than in our own.”
“If you truly believe the LaLaurie House is unsafe, however, my advice remains to simply not go inside—and to investigate legal avenues if your classmate’s mind is made up. I am not a lawyer or realtor, but it does not sound normal to me for banks to offer private tours of homes they own.”
Amelie: Amelie listens closely but doesn’t find much comfort in the thought of invoking a god’s help against a ghost. She’s not a praying sort. Her prayers have never been answered before, after all. But the advice hits home enough that she finds herself nodding, and silently dreading that she may have to face those spirits with Yvette. She still writes down the woman’s every word (or at least as much as she can) and lets out the smallest of nervous sighs.
“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do my best to keep her out of that house, or if I can’t, go with her to try and protect her. Your calling is more than I could ask for. Legal avenues won’t do a whole lot of good against old New Orleans nepotism, however. Is there anything I can do to repay you for your time?”
GM: Rosa doesn’t sound like she’s smiled at any point throughout the pair’s conversation, but there’s an audible chuckle from the other end of the line at Amelie’s words.
“That won’t be necessary, Ms. Amelie, but that’s thoughtful of you to offer. I hope your instincts serve you well with your friend.”
Amelie: Amelie just stares down at her bandaged hand. “Thank you, ma’am. I hope so too. I hope we can talk again some day as well. Under better circumstances, of course.”
GM: “Until that day,” Rosa states in farewell, then ends the call.
Other girls around Amelie continue to eat, laugh, and chatter under the sun about normal things.
Amelie: Amelie stares down at the page of notes she transcribed and lets herself feel the warm sun. It’s only for a moment before her pen returns paper. Her instincts are clear.
Do not go inside.
Monday afternoon, 24 August 2015
GM: Sixth period rolls around after several more hours. Mrs. Flores greets her comparatively large class with a, “Hello, everybody, happy second Monday of the year! But don’t y’all groan now, it’s almost over… nothin’ left for you to do this period but dance and unwind.” She smiles. “Now today we’re going to talk about a little dance we like to call the foxtrot. We’ll start off with the basic box step we practiced last week…”
Once Mrs. Flores finishes her demonstration (Susannah Kelly volunteers again and is complimented by the teacher for her dancing skills again), the class pairs off into partners. Hannah is present and no longer looks as sick as she did in the ER.
Amelie: Sixth period is as good a period as usual. The dancing is fine, but just being able to move around and shake out an entire day’s worth of sitting and doing nothing feels incredible.
Once the demo is over, Amelie slides across the room and taps Hannah on the shoulder. There’s a bit of a smile on her face. “My hand is still a little torn up, but you wanna be my partner for now, Hannah?”
GM: Hannah is standing next to a plump-faced blonde when Amelie approaches. She flinches slightly when her classmate unexpectantly touches her, but then looks between the two girls and says, “All right, we can do the next dance?” to the blonde.
“Sure,” the other girl smiles before heading off.
Hannah turns back to Amelie. “So I was pretty out of it at the ER, what’s your name again?”
Amelie: Amelie gives the plump-faced girl a thankful nod before turning back to Hannah and offering a hand to shake. The good one.
“Yeah, you were really messed up. You still got some good jokes in through. Amelie Savard!”
GM: Hannah takes Amelie’s hand, then raises it and steps closer so they are in position to dance like the rest of the class. The other ‘men’ in the room are putting their hands on their partners’ waists. Hannah takes a place by Amelie’s right side like so many other previous classmates have.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t hesitate to put her hand on Hannah’s waist. She doesn’t mind being the lead and never has.
GM: Mrs. Flores turns on the music from the front of the class.
GM: “All right, y’all, let’s go through the steps now… walk… walk…”
Hannah takes two steps back as Amelie leads and finally replies, “Thanks. I’d say nice to meet you, so nice to meet you again?”
“Now, side… together…!” Mrs. Flores calls.
Hannah takes a single step to her right and closes her feet. “I’m sorry about my mom being… herself.”
Amelie: Amelie follows the steps with gusto, enjoying the physical activity as she nods to Hannah. “Nice to meet you again. And no need to be sorry. People always assume, and your mom was super nice about it. Was that Leslie you were talking to? You mentioned her, back before.”
GM: Hannah shakes her head. “That’s Megan. Leslie got suspended.”
Amelie: “Oh dang. She going to be back anytime soon?”
GM: “Now, slow… slow… quick… quick,” Mrs. Flores calls as the students go through the steps.
“Fairly soon, yeah. She got ten days last Monday. I think that’s the longest they can suspend someone before expelling them.”
Amelie: Amelie keeps going and matches the teacher’s pace. “Really? In my country you can justify a month. Well, let’s hope she doesn’t freak out when she sees me?”
GM: “She’s less excitable than my mom,” Hannah says with a note of dryness. “You’re not from the States?”
Amelie: Amelie can’t help but chuckle at Hannah’s mention of her mother being excitable. “Nope. Canada. So basically the same thing.”
GM: “Besides suspensions, yeah, just aboot the same.”
Amelie: Amelie grins and rolls her eyes. “Well, y’all should take a look at longer ones.”
GM: As if to emphasize Amelie’s satirical words, Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, y’all, now something just a little silly to mix things up…”
GM: Hannah and a few other girls start giggling when they recognize the tune. A fair number more, though, look as if they don’t get the ‘joke.’
“Well, I’m glad I’m not too old for none of y’all to recognize that,” the dance teacher laughs. “Okay, now… slow, slow… quick, quick…”
“Okay, she did it twice, you win that one,” Hannah snickers.
Amelie: “Yeah she did. How aboot that,” Amelie grins back. “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. If you’ve got room at your table, we should eat lunch together sometime. Might be easier to talk when we aren’t dancing to the Pink Panther theme song.”
GM: “My friends and me usually eat on the grass. But yeah, feel free.” She adds with a slight frown, “Just don’t mention the ER thing. I’m feeling better and they don’t need to worry about me.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. Mission fucking accomplished! Now there’s somewhere she can eat lunch. “Course not. That’s private junk. I’d say the same about my hand if I didn’t have a hole in it.”
GM: “Yeah, about that, since you do. Where’d you…”
Hannah is cut off, however, as Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, let’s change up partners, everyone! Now, for the next steps…”
Tuesday morning, 25 August 2015
GM: One day later, the bell’s overhead ring announces the end of third period. Ms. Perry calls out more due date reminders, then ushers two students who want to speak privately up towards her desk. The remainder of Amelie’s classmates pack up laptops into backpacks and file out the door.
Amelie: Amelie stops Yvette again, though she looks only a little bit more worried today. “Yvette, can we talk quick?”
GM: “All right, what is it?” the pale blonde asks as she slides a Sunburst notebook into her backpack.
Amelie: “I wanted to ask you if we can be dropped off at the house, but not go inside. We could use the night to do the project at my place or something. Be back before the pickup time? We can say we didn’t take photos out of respect for it being private property.”
GM: “Non, don’t be silly,” Yvette answers. “Any tourist can take pictures from the banquette. Mah mother ‘ad to call in some favors to get us inside. If you don’t want to go in after your ‘and, that’s fine, Ah won’t tell Ms. Perry Ah did all the work.”
“But when you say ‘can we get dropped off’,” she continues with a slightly confused frown, “we’re not getting rides from the bank or anything, Ah don’t know if that’s what you thought. The realtor, agent, whatever, is meeting us at the ’ouse.”
Yvette slings on her backpack and heads to the door, then turns back and adds, “Oh, one other thing. If you do, it’s fine if you want to bring a few friends. Just vet them past me, and no boys.” Yvette smiles. “Ah’m bringing a few of mah sisters. It’d be too scary if we ’ad to spend the night bah ourselves, no?”
Amelie: Amelie just looks nervous about the whole thing, especially when Yvette shoots down her idea. Even worse, she’s bringing her sisters along for the ride. Amelie manages a small nod as her classmate heads off.
There’s a dull throbbing anxiousness in her chest. She’s not scared for herself if she goes, but she is scared for the girl—girls—who’s so confident this is a good idea.
She steps up to Ms. Perry’s desk behind the other students and waits until their conversations are over.
GM: “But you know,” Yvette continues, “Ah really do ‘ope you don’t let your ‘and scare you, you seem very into local ’istory. The ’ouse might never be open for public tours, and you know more about it than Ah do, if Ah’m being honest.” She smiles. “Mah sisters would love if we could ‘ave a ’tour guide.’”
“And it won’t be so scary when there’s lots of people, no? Mah littlest sister, Simmone, is very sweet and silly. She likes to ‘ave pillow fights, you’ll be too busy fighting ’er off to be scared. She makes the funniest noises, too, when she gets ’it back.” Yvette laughs a bit to herself, then says, “Anyways, just think about it. Now Ah ’ave to get to lunch.”
Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small nod, wave, and assurance that she’ll think about it.
GM: The other girls talking to Ms. Perry take their leave shortly later.
Amelie: Amelie takes the opportunity to approach their instructor. “Ms. Perry. Can I ask you an insane question?”
GM: The history teacher smirks over her half-rimmed glasses in answer. “Don’t often hear that caveat. All right, try me.”
Amelie: “Do you think ghosts are actually real?”
GM: Ms. Perry tilts her head at Amelie, then says, “There are a lot of people in New Orleans who do. I read a survey that said 45% of all Americans believe in ghosts, and I’m sure the number’s even higher where we live. There are probably people at McGehee who believe in ghosts. We’ve had two students die in directly school-related homicides over the years, so girls talk and stories grow.”
“I think if you were to ask most people whether they’re positive ghosts don’t exist, you’d get more nos than yeses. But that isn’t the same as a ‘yes I’m positive ghosts are out there’ either. I think a lot more people keep an open mind there, or just aren’t sure what they believe. Surveys’ questions don’t always reflect that.”
“But as for me, I believe there are forces at work in the world, invisible to most people. These forces shape our lives in huge and subtle ways, and not always in ones for the better. Many of these forces are connected to deaths, wars, and other tragedies, and get caught in what we could call a ‘feedback loop.’ They draw in more people, force them to repeat those original tragedies, and commit new tragedies that make the ‘loop’ even harder to break. I believe that careful study of those forces can make them visible to us, and maybe even able to change them.”
Ms. Perry smirks again. “I call those forces ‘history.’”
“If I ever run into Casper, I’ll re-think my attitude on ghosts. Until then, history is a mean enough ghost on its own. Maybe even the meaner one. How many people could ghosts have killed next to all the wars and conflicts that have their roots in past ones?”
Amelie: Amelie listens to the woman and slowly frowns, but nods along with her reasoning. Ms. Perry is right, of course. It’s a big surprise to hear two girls’ murders were directly connected to the school, but she tries to bury her reaction so they stay on topic.
“Yes, I understand what you mean. Voltaire said, ‘it is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’ I just mean I’m kind of… ‘caught.’ I’m worried about going into that house, and the far and away possibility it might be dangerous, after what happened. But now I’ve set in motion events that will lead a classmate to do it, even if I try to dissuade her.”
GM: Ms. Perry initially looks sympathetic enough, if also a little humoring at Amelie’s strange choice in language. The young teacher’s expression dovetails into a more concerned frown at the words ‘after what happened.’
“Do you mean your hand there, Amelie?” she slowly asks.
Amelie: Amelie nods and looks the bandaged mess over. It still hurts.
“The person who did this ranted about the LaLaurie House being a festering wound no one can amputate. That got too bad, and now it’s black and after anyone who steps inside. But there are accounts of people going inside and being fine afterwards. It was a lounge for once, for goodness’ sake. I know I’m being irrational, I’m just torn is all.”
GM: Ms. Perry takes in Amelie’s words before continuing in that same slow tone, “I’m sorry, Amelie, the person who did this? What happened to your hand wasn’t an accident?”
Amelie: Amelie takes out her phone and shows the teacher what is obviously a stab wound on a very obvious person’s hand.
GM: “Oh my god. The person who did that wasn’t someone close to you, were they?” she asks, looking between Amelie and the phone.
Amelie: “It was an occultist in the French Quarter. Someone heard me talking to a priest about the house and slipped a card onto me. When I came asking questions… well, I learned I shouldn’t be an idiot tourist, or let people read my palm.”
GM: “That must have been so awful. Come on… let’s sit down.” Ms. Perry guides Amelie over to one of the classroom’s desks and takes an adjacent seat.
“We have a school psychologist on-staff. I can take you to see her, if you’d be comfortable with that.”
Amelie: Amelie follows the teacher to sit down. She looks a little confused again at first, but actually lets out a chuckle when Ms. Perry offers to sit her down with a psychologist.
“No, no, Ms. Perry, I’m not delicate or traumatized, and I’ve gotten hurt much worse than this before. I’m absolutely fine. I don’t think psychologists want to be bothered on if I’m unsure if ghosts are real. Trust me, this will just be another scar to join plenty others.”
GM: Ms. Perry’s concerned look does not abate when Amelie mentions having ‘plenty other’ scars. In fact, it grows even more serious.
“Amelie, did someone close to you give you those?” she asks quietly, her eyes not leaving Amelie’s.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t lose her smile as she slowly shakes her head. “Keep it between us, okay? People might laugh a little. My parents loved history. So much so they worked in a tourist attraction, a 24/7 all-year-round Renaissance fair called Bicolline. My father was a smith, my mother was a tournament fencer. I was born while they worked there and grew up working in our shop. These are from my work, not from abuse, though I appreciate your concern. I can even show you pictures if you don’t believe me. My childhood was a circus,” she jokes, though her smile doesn’t grow any larger at it.
GM: “Now that would explain it. I knew some people back in grad school who were into that whole historical reenactment scene.” Ms. Perry doesn’t linger on the topic, however, as she continues with a wry half-smile that looks more like her usual expression, “All right, good to hear you aren’t being abused. You had me worried there for a moment.”
“Give me just a second, now.” The teacher gets up, walks to her desk, and scrawls a note. She plasters it over the classroom door’s window, then closes it to shut out the noise from the hallways.
Amelie: Amelie remains sitting. She wonders if she can get a tardy slip for her next class if they’re here through lunch.
GM: Ms. Perry sits back down with Amelie. “I don’t think you’re being irrational,” she says. “I think you’ve had something traumatic happen to you, and you’re concerned it could happen to one of your classmates too.”
“Now, there’s a few things I can think of for us to do.” The teacher starts to tick off fingers. “I could get in touch with Yvette’s mom, and let her know that you were attacked while doing ‘field work’ on your project—if you’re okay with me sharing that.”
“There’s also, as I said, talking with the school psychologist. You don’t need to worry about being a bother to her, or if what you want to talk about seems silly. Talking with students who have something on their minds is exactly what she gets paid to do. If you like, I could even bring up what you’ve told me—anonymously, with no names—and let you know what she says.”
“And of course, there’s the project. Now, I just want to say—I do not expect you to work on a school project where you’re concerned for your safety. If you don’t want to visit the LaLaurie House, inside or outside, and just use pictures you find online for your presentation, that’s completely fine with me. If you want to work on a totally different project, that’s also okay. We’ll work things out so you can still earn a good grade.”
Amelie: Amelie’s head whirs with all the options Ms. Perry lays out. She’s worked on this project long enough that she doesn’t want to abandon it, but that’s not the issue she’s really having. She needs to keep Yvette and those other girls out of the house.
The police might not do anything, since the bank owns the property and old family nepotism will let her bring in her classmate and sisters come this weekend. Talking to Yvette’s mother probably won’t do much either, she was the one who signed off on the thing. Ms. Perry’s inference that she should talk with the school psychologist, however, is just a side distraction. She’ll go and talk to this woman if it means her teacher will be at ease.
“We’re too far into the project to turn back, I think. I spoke with a priest at the cathedral, Mama Rosa herself, and this experience with the crazy local is a good writing piece. I spoke with Yvette. She’s just fine with me not coming, she’d already planned to take her sisters along with her for company and said it was fine if I don’t go. But now I have the moral dilemma. If I just let them go alone, and they’re hurt, it feels like it’ll be my fault.”
GM: Ms. Perry shakes her head at Amelie’s initial assertion, though the name ‘Mama Rosa’ doesn’t seem to elicit any recognition from the teacher.
“Don’t worry about the project. If you want to work on something else, we’ll make sure you can still earn an A+. If you’re scared for Yvette, I can let her mom know what’s happened. Do either of those options sound like a good idea to you?”
Amelie: “I’m sure I can still get 100% even without going into that house. Especially if I milk the fact a local stabbed me for asking questions,” she laughs, but nods slowly to Ms. Perry’s question.
“I’d appreciate it if you kept my name out of it. Yvette is likely to be furious with me either way, but if she’s just told I’ve been assaulted for asking about the house, we can let her make a choice on that. And if they still go… I’ll figure it out. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll even go see that psychologist.”
GM: Ms. Perry thinks. “Okay, I can talk with Yvette’s mom. If she asks for details, I’ll just say I had multiple students interested in the LaLaurie House, which is true, and leave out your name. So far as my feelings, though, they don’t matter one bit here.” The teacher gives a faint smirk. “This is me not making a ‘she said’ joke.” The look on her face grows more serious as she continues, “I think you could benefit from talking with the school’s psychologist, Amelie, but it’s your decision. Not mine, yours.”
Amelie: Amelie takes a long and bracing breath. This is not likely to change anything, but it might.
“If you need to, use my name, okay? And yeah, I’ll bite and go see this woman. It might be better to get things out now let them ‘fester’ like that crazy lady was going on about, right?”
GM: “I think that would be a very good idea,” Ms. Perry agrees. “Okay, I’ll get in touch with her and see when the soonest is that she can meet with you. Is today after school a good time, or do you have extracurriculars?”
Amelie: “I haven’t decided on any yet, no. There’s that engineering class I was hoping was a club, but it’s a class. So I don’t believe I’ll be picking any.”
GM: “Aw, c’mon, there’s nothing in the booklet that looked fun?” Ms. Perry half-smiles, half-ribs. “They’re a good place to make friends, too. And believe me, you’ll be a lot more likely to get accepted into a good college if you have some extracurricular activities under your belt. Grades aren’t enough these days.”
Amelie: Amelie just smiles at Ms. Perry’s question. She chuckles a bit, though, when college comes up. “I’m not planning on going to college just yet. I plan on opening a business for my particular skills instead of attending college. Why? Would you recommend a club?”
GM: Ms. Perry taps her chin thoughtfully. “Well, let’s see… when I was in high school, I did Lincoln-Douglas debate. Our school’s got a great team, they’ve won several state championships. There’s a local judge, Mrs. Underwood, who sometimes volunteers as an assistant coach.”
“There’s also peer tutoring, working with the younger students. That’s another great club, since we’ve got elementary and junior high students on the same campus as us. I think there’s also volunteer options with the preschoolers at Little Gate—it’s not really tutoring when they’re that young—but you’d have to ask the staff there.”
Ms. Perry smiles. “I did a fair bit of tutoring myself. Surprise surprise for someone who decided to become a teacher, huh?”
“There’s the genealogy club, too. That one’s basically a history club, but specifically for researching the city’s old families. They’ve put together some really impressive family trees.” Ms. Perry’s smile widens a bit. “Somehow I have a feeling that might be up your alley.”
“There’s also web design, writing, poetry, physics, engineering, math league, the national history and spelling bees… we’ve got so many clubs here. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a club for it.”
Amelie: Amelie just keeps smiling and occasionally nods as Ms. Perry lays out all the clubs. She looks a bit confused when the teacher mentions an actual engineering club, but doesn’t let it sidetrack her.
“You reacted a lot like the career counselor. I live with my aunt. She’s paying for my schooling here. I plan to have my business up and going before I apply to MIT. I’ll have a look at that engineering club though, I didn’t see that on the list I don’t think.”
GM: “Engineering club could definitely still help you out then,” Ms. Perry nods. “MIT will look at your high school extracurriculars when they’re considering your application. Having more than just good grades will do a lot to help you get into a college that selective.”
There’s another, slightly more subdued smile. “Some of the adults here might seem like nags, but we all want you to succeed. Just keep that in mind.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles back. “It’s been a while since I did anything with my hands. I’ll take a look at the club and see if it’s for me. I know though… the career counselor was very supportive of my business idea, even. I just have to bring her an example of my work.”
GM: “Oh, yeah? What work do you wanna do for your business?” Ms. Perry asks.
Amelie: “I was a smith. I still am. My historical recreations are very good, I’ve done and can still do restoration on historic metallurgy, and of course I plan on making contact with several different parties in New Orleans, the float krewes included, for constructive forging. If you need something very specific, what would your rather do? Look for it for weeks, or have someone just make you one in 20 minutes? I can do jewelry, even.”
GM: “Oh, wow, that would explain where your love for history comes from,” the teacher smiles. “I’ll have to keep that in mind once you’re up and running. There’s a fair number of girls here whose families are involved in the parades, too. And the old Carnival krewes, not that they’ll admit being members of the secret ones. You might do so some asking around.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’m really lucky to be going to this school, to get these chances. I don’t plan to waste them kicking my feet around about things like that. I also found something, and I’ll be flexing my historic muscles finding the past owners,” she says before pulling up the walloon sword’s pictures on her phone and showing them to the teacher.
GM: “Oh wow, that is a find,” Ms. Perry remarks as she peers over the phone’s screen. “Swords aren’t my specialty, but they can have just as much history as any building.”
Amelie: “I could go on for hours, ma’am. Weapons and armor evolved with people, and tracking their history is always difficult and rewarding. I bet I’ll find the family this belongs to in the USA. And then I get to see their faces when I bring their history to their door.”
GM: “Those faces are gonna be open mouths, I bet. You’ll have to let me know how it goes.” Ms. Perry smiles, then glances up at the classroom’s clock. “Arright, I’ve kept you long enough. The lunch line’s probably empty at this point. You should go snarf something down before your next class.”
Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you for talking to me. Hopefully all of this will… sort itself out.” Amelie stands, pockets her phone and heads out for lunch, hoping to find Hannah and get introduced to her circle of friends.
GM: Ms. Perry lays a hand on Amelie’s arm as she adds, “And Amelie, I’m glad you came to me over this. We’ll make sure everyone stays safe. I’ll let you know how that call with Yvette’s mom goes tomorrow.”
Amelie: Amelie gives the teacher a small smile, nods, and thanks her profusely as she walks out the door. She takes her aunt’s advice and doesn’t even apologize for the trouble this time. It feels strange, but the smell of the cafeteria helps her get over it.
GM: True to Ms. Perry’s words, Amelie finds the lunch line nearly devoid of students. Today’s menu reads, Redfish Oceana; Cuban Midnight Sandwich; Blackeyed Bayou Duck; Vegetarian Pasta; Black Bean and Couscous Salad; Red Beans, Rice, & Sausage; Cream of Broccoli Soup.
After some searching, she also finds Hannah eating lunch together on the grass with several other uniform-wearing girls. Even under the shade of a banana tree, their blazers are all off in the mid-80s degree heat and humid air.
Amelie: The Cuban Midnight barely wins out over the Redfish Oceana, and Amelie takes her sandwich out into the yard. She’s had her blazer over her arm for most of the day already. She only slides it on to get into class and then immediately takes it back off to drape over the back of her chair. She approaches the group and nods to Hannah with a relaxed smile.
“Hey Hannah. Mind if I sit?”
GM: The Cuban Midnight is a sandwich consisting of roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, and sweet pickles packed within grilled, olive oil-drizzled sweet egg dough bread. It also comes with a side cup of sesame ginger black bean soup and whatever drink Amelie chooses from the cafeteria’s selection.
Amelie’s nervousness may only intensify as the other girls in the clique simultaneously look up at her.
Hannah looks much the same as she did yesterday, still seemingly none the worse for her dehydration outside in the hot weather. She’s eating from a now close to empty bowl of pasta with grated cheese and assorted bright vegetables.
Sitting to her right is another girl Amelie recognizes from their sixth period dance class. She’s around the same height as Hannah and noticeably chubbier, with pretty facial features, plump round cheeks that jiggle slightly as she talks, large breasts, and shoulder-length blonde hair.
The much shorter and thinner girl next to her is a study in contrasts. Her narrow, oval-shaped face is framed by a wide pair of half-moon glasses, and her dark brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Where her plumper friend has almost finished a bowl of broccoli soup, the thinner girl’s lunch tray has two half-eaten haunches of lemon-drizzled black duck. The coleslaw sides are untouched.
“Oh hey, sure! That’s Megan and Rachel,” Hannah says, nodding in turn to the other two identically-dressed girls.
“Heya,” says the blonde who seems to be Megan.
“Hi,” says Rachel.
“Hannah mentioned you,” Megan adds.
Amelie: Amelie feels a little like a deer in headlights when the other two girls look at her, but she un-tenses a bit when they seem to welcome her nicely enough. It’s also good to hear Hannah already filled them in. She slowly sits down in the shade next to the three.
“Amelie, nice to meet you both,” she greets, and wonders if she should address Rachel’s name being called. She lets it rest for now as she toys with her sandwich.
“Are you all in the same year?”
GM: “Meg and I are both seniors,” Hannah answers.
“Rachel’s a widdle junior…” Meg coos.
The glasses-wearing girl rolls her eyes and flips the bird between a large bite of duck.
Amelie: Amelie smiles when Rachel gets teased and fires back so easily. “And here I was scared that every girl in this school would be the textbook definition of gratingly ‘nice.’”
GM: “Courtesy is a lady’s armor,” Megan says.
“That’s from the TV show, right?” Rachel asks.
“It’s her Remington too,” Hannah replies between a piece of pasta.
Amelie: “Wow. I know Americans were violent, but weaponizing being a decent person? Diabolical,” she teases, smirking at Hannah and taking a bite of her sandwich.
GM: “Hannah said you’re new to the city?” Rachel asks once she’s swallowed her food.
Amelie: “New to the country in general. I’ve only been here a few weeks. It’s been a mixed bag,” she laughs as she holds up her bad hand.
GM: Hannah looks at it for a moment in dawning comprehension. “Hey, was that why…” She then trails off.
Rachel looks at her.
“Oh, wow, where’d you get that?” Megan asks.
Amelie: Amelie reads in between a few lines at the way Rachel looks at Hannah, but doesn’t comment.
“Got stabbed, actually. By a crazy fortune teller while doing research for my AP New Orleans History project.”
GM: All three girls stare.
“Uh, wait, what?” Hannah asks.
Amelie: Amelie just smiles and takes her phone out. She pulls up the photos from her ER visit and extends the phone towards the three girls so they can see the wound when it was fresh.
“It was an eventful Friday afternoon. I wish I was joking.”
GM: “How do you get stabbed by a fortune-teller?” Megan asks, still half-disbelievingly.
“One grabs a knife and sticks the pointy end in your hand, presumably,” Hannah answers.
“That’s definitely from the TV show,” Rachel says.
Amelie: “You also let them hold your hand on a table like a dumbass tourist.”
GM: “Ha ha ha,” Megan deadpans. “Seriously though, how did you get stabbed?”
Amelie: “I’m not joking. I went to the cathedral in Jackson Square to get a statement about ghosts from the priests there for the project. I branched off after up to Royal Street. Sat with a fortune teller. Talking about the LaLaurie House pissed her off and she stabbed my hand.”
GM: “Wow, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful,” Megan says.
Amelie: “I’m a big girl. Plus, I wasn’t exactly a maiden fair beforehand,” she jokes, smiling again.
GM: “Yeah, Meg, give her a hand,” Hannah remarks between a forkful of pasta.
Megan makes a face at the pun.
Amelie: Amelie also starts eating in earnest. She puts her sandwich down for a moment first to look over at Meg and quickly unfold her good hand several times to mimic the sound of ‘one hand clapping.’ It’s nice to just sit and have people she can talk with. Almost relaxing.
“You have a friend getting out of suspension tomorrow, right?”
GM: Rachel pauses between her two ducks to add, “Next week.”
Amelie: “Looking forward to it. I hear she made some waves, the career counselor even freaked out handing me an old club pamphlet.”
GM: “Yeah, that took balls, but… it wasn’t very bright. All it did was get her suspended,” Hannah frowns.
Rachel pulls out her phone, then recites while staring at the screen, “‘Never be afraid to voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world… would do this, it would change the earth.’”
Megan smiles faintly. “Your graunt can do that without a phone.”
“Well, she’s older. Give me a few years.”
“Well I don’t think it’s a ‘forum for honesty and truth and compassion.’ It was just a club,” Hannah says. “And she’s gonna be so behind after missing ten days.”
“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Megan frowns. “We’re all sending her notes, right?”
“Don’t have her email. Or any classes with her.” Rachel.
“Both here, obviously.” Hannah. “And yeah, I am. But it’s not like we have all six together.”
Amelie: Amelie gives the girls a small smile. She enjoys the banter, and the confirmation that Rachel is in fact the niece of the woman she was so interested in during the ‘start of the year’ announcements.
“If she has any classes with me she doesn’t with you, I can hand over my notes as well.”
GM: “Class-wise, she’s got…” Hannah rattles off a mostly complete list of classes and periods. Given the student body’s small size, it is unsurprising when Amelie finds out they have one class together: AP Local History.
Amelie: Amelie mentions they share that class and offers to share her notes. Though she’ll still have to start the ghost project two weeks behind schedule.
GM: Hannah supplies Amelie an email address and adds, “Oh, that’s great, she could really use those.”
Amelie: Amelie quickly taps the address into her phone, along with a reminder to email Leslie her notes. She sets it to go off during her study time tonight.
“Her club though, did she really write all that?” she asks.
GM: “Did she really write all what?” Rachel asks, sipping her sweet tea.
Amelie: “The never be afraid to voice for honesty stuff. I assume that was a saying for the club or something?”
GM: “No, that’s Faulkner,” Rachel answers. “He’s a favorite of my graunt’s.”
“I thought he was her dad,” Megan smiles.
“Honestly, even my parents aren’t sure if she’s telling the truth or not there. But she quotes him all the time.”
Amelie: Amelie lets out a little chuckle at Rachel’s and Megan’s conversation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and is content to enjoy her sandwich and have other people to talk to. It helps puts the anxiety over seeing a shrink at the back of her mind, at least for now.
GM: “So what kind of research were you doing for your class to get stabbed by a fortune teller?” Rachel asks after a few moments.
Amelie: “Mine and Yvette’s research project is on the LaLaurie House, I thought I might as well pick one of the scarier haunted spots.”
GM: “Isn’t that where a bunch of slaves were tortured?” Hannah asks.
Amelie: “Worse than tortured. The things that witch did to them are unspeakable. No one knew they were there until the kitchen where the secret door to her attic was caught on fire. But the house isn’t just haunted by them, especially since all those stories of her medical experiments on them didn’t pop up until the 1940s. People still recount moaning coming from underneath the kitchen at night though, and footsteps all through the house.”
“But in 1894, a tenant in the at the time apartment building, was found brutally murdered in his room, his things went though but nothing missing. He’d claimed earlier that year that there was a demon in that house, who wasn’t going to stop until he was dead. Next, when it was a girls’ school for black girls, the girls would come crying to their teachers, arms scratched and bruised all up and down, unable to tell who did it other than ‘that woman.’ There’s only ever been one recorded physical attack, a black man wrapped in chains who vanished after he charged an occupant. There’s other incidents, of course, some different than others, but plenty of people have made it out just fine. Many others, especially the young, have had ill effects however. But hey, the local ghost experts think it’s even more dangerous than that. Enough to tell me I’ll die if I enter.”
GM: All three girls fall silent at Amelie’s recounting of the LaLaurie House’s infamous horrors. Megan might’ve been close to done with her lunch anyways and doesn’t touch any further soup. Hannah only takes another bite or two of pasta. Rachel’s appetite, however, doesn’t slow down in the slightest.
“I heard that a teacher sexually abused the black girls,” she adds as she finishes up her ducks. “Different versions though. I also heard the 1894 tenant was found dead of dehydration and caked in his own crap. But all of that’s tame next to what LaLaurie supposedly did.”
“I heard she cut girls’ stomachs open and nailed their intestines to the floors,” the dark-haired girl continues excitedly, “and would stuff their mouths full of crap and then sew their lips closed-”
“We’re eating,” Megan says with an inflection of just-strained politeness.
“You were eating,” Rachel counters.
“Yeah, all the same, I think I’m gonna upvote Amelie’s version,” Hannah says.
Rachel hmphs. “Pussies.”
She then takes a sip from her lemonade and adds, “Madam LaLaurie did The Human Centipede before it was mainstream.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles at the reaction to her story, even if she feels a little guilty that it ended their meals. Well, except for Rachel’s.
“Well… the 1894 difference might fit, since when the building was a furniture store, a thick black substance always ruined the inventory. Even when the owner stood up all night with a shotgun to protect it. But I’ll say those two little tidbits, the guts and mouths, weren’t nearly as bad as what was spread around in 1940 for horrific effect. And the school? I heard it wasn’t the all-black girls’ school, but a later music school that the newspaper shut down with allegations. Either way? My partner thinks I’m nuts for not wanting to go inside. The city I was born in is older than New Orleans, I was kinda raised around ghost stories.”
GM: Rachel looks fascinated by the topic and opens her mouth as if to add something further, but Megan beats her to the punch as she interjects, “I think it’s kinda moot whether anyone wants to go inside or not, though. The building’s private property.”
“Was your partner gonna break in?” Hannah asks.
Amelie: That’s the fourth person who’s said that now.
“I found out what bank owns the property. And we got permission for one night.”
GM: Rachel stares at that declaration. “Oh, you are so lucky.”
Amelie: “I’m not going. Trying to convince my partner not to go either.”
GM: “What? You don’t seriously believe that ghost crap, do you? My graunt would jump at something like this!”
“Well, she did get stabbed,” Megan says with a frown. “Can you blame her if she doesn’t wanna go in?”
“Yeah. I dunno, if something doesn’t make you comfortable, you shouldn’t do it,” Hannah says with an even deeper one. “I mean, I think it sounds fun. Night in a haunted house. But when something doesn’t feel safe, you should go with your gut.”
Amelie: Amelie finally finishes off her sandwich. The girls all have differing opinions and it makes her think on things.
“My gut tells me it’s not a good idea, that if my partner gets hurt going in there alone, I’ll feel responsible. But if I can’t convince her not to go? I’ll likely have to go as well.”
GM: “Oh, I don’t think your partner’s gonna get hurt,” Hannah says.
“My grandma visited the LaLaurie House when it was an apartment building and she came out fine,” Megan nods.
Amelie: Amelie perks up slightly and looks towards Megan. “Is your grandmother still living in the city?”
GM: Megan actually laughs. “Yeah, she is. I’m sorry. Just… don’t ever ask something like that to her face.”
Amelie: Amelie looks confused for a moment, then it dawns on her. She puts a hand over her mouth to hide a smile. “I’m sorry! Oh my god, my brain just went to ’she’ll probably not want to talk on the phone, so I should ask if I could sit down with her,’ not if she’s alive or not!”
GM: “What? Oh, no, no, she’s alive,” Megan says. “It’s just, our family’s lived in the city for over two hundred years. She’d flip her lid if someone ever said we should live someplace else.”
“Megan’s parents run Antoine’s,” Rachel explains. “It’s the oldest restaurant in the city.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and enjoys the news. Megan and Rachel are both very important people. “I feel like a peasant at this school when I hear things like that,” she laughs as she looks back to Megan.
GM: “Oh, that’s actually another thing she’d get… sensitive around,” Megan says. “Our family’s old but we’re not rich like the Malveauxes or anything. We just run a restaurant.”
Amelie: “More meaning that I worked in a store growing up. I don’t have any roots or businesses in my family or anything like that, grew up in a small town.”
“But did your grandmother ever talk about her time in the house? Was she there at night?”
GM: Megan shakes her head. “Not really, I just remember it from one of her stories. She said she went there to visit a friend one time and thought it could use a new paint job.”
Amelie: “That’s… useful, thank you. It backs up what I was thinking. Who is hurt in that house and who gets out without a scratch. I can’t tell.”
GM: The three girls trade glances with one another.
“You know that no one actually gets… hurt in there, right?” Rachel says dubiously. “There’s only been one guy who died, since LaLaurie was alive. And that happens in apartment buildings. People dying, that is. I mean, sure, he died caked in his own crap…”
Megan shoots her friend a ‘please?’ look. “If you don’t wanna go in the house, definitely, don’t… just don’t feel like you have to because your partner is,” the chubby blonde assures Amelie.
Amelie: It’s like two magnets finally got close enough to attract more than gravity. Frictions holds them and slams them together with a sharp clack. Amelie’s face slowly flushes red as she looks down at her hand.
GM: “Hey, are you okay…?” Megan asks concernedly, leaning a bit closer to Amelie.
Amelie: “You know, I think maybe getting poked shook me more than I thought. You’re right. Ha ha, this is a wired first impression, eh?”
GM: “Well, getting stabbed must’ve been pretty scary…” Hannah fills in.
“I’ve got it,” Rachel speaks up. “I can trade projects with you. Partners too. I’ve got Ms. Perry’s class too, for one of my periods. I bet she wouldn’t mind after you’ve been stabbed.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles at Rachel’s kind offer, but shakes her head. “It’s fine. You don’t have to do that. I’m going to think on it, and if I decide to stop being a baby, I’ll see if I can’t bring you with.”
GM: Rachel doesn’t swallow her lemonade so much as gulp it in an effort to reply faster.
“Grow up soon then! Seriously! I’d love to spend a night in that house! I’m a writer, that would be just… well, great.”
Amelie: Amelie gives the girl a small smile and considers her options. Maybe talking with the school psychologist will be a good idea.
“If nothing else, we’ll be taking pictures that you can see.”
GM: “Screw pictures, you can find those online. Spending the night in a haunted-”
“Rachel…” Megan entreats.
“All right, supposedly haunted house,” she amends, “would make an amazing short story, school essay, whatever.”
By this point both her ducks aren’t much more than blackened bits of gristle. Thee glasses-wearing girl takes a long gulp of lemonade. Megan sips her sweet tea. Hannah leaves her water untouched as she checks something on her phone.
Amelie: Amelie just smiles and picks up her soup, sipping it without the spoon and eying Hannah’s full water glass. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she found her dehydrated in the hospital. She doesn’t comment, but makes a mental note to talk with Hannah later.
“I’ll think about it, Rachel. Promise.”
GM: “You should tell her about the project you’re doing for that class,” Hannah comments.
Rachel looks as if she finds that prospect rather less engaging, but says, “I’m doing the McGehee Murders.”
Amelie: Amelie looks back to Hannah and picks up her own bottle of water. She gives it a pull to try and coax her into drinking herself as she nods. “I heard a few whispers about that. Were they seriously just straight-faced murders?”
GM: “The first one definitely was,” Rachel says. “That was Charlotte Beauregard back in the ’60s. Second degree murder.”
Hannah doesn’t drink from her water, but simply listens to Rachel as her friend continues, “Rebecca Whitney’s in 2004 was… messier. It wasn’t actually a murder, technically. But it’s catchier just to call them both murders.”
“The McGehee Second Degree Murder and Vehicular Homicide,” Hannah sardonically quotes.
Amelie: Amelie pauses. “Rebecca Whitney? I heard she died in a car accident, I didn’t hear anything about it being a homicide.”
GM: “The driver of the other car was drunk. I looked it up, that’s vehicular homicide,” Rachel explains.
“I heard that he was her ex-boyfriend and rammed her car when he saw she was with another boy?” Megan asks.
Amelie: “Weird. I would think that falls under manslaughter. Unless the whole ex thing is the case. I hear the prom’s kinda been tense since then though, at least as far as the administration.”
GM: “Manslaughter’s a type of homicide,” Rachel says. “But that part’s actually true, the guy behind the wheel was her ex-boyfriend. And she had gone to the dance with another boy. No one was able to prove he’d tried to kill her at the trial, but he still got 30 years at the Farm.”
“That’s the big prison up north,” Megan adds.
“Probably wouldn’t have gotten 30 years if he’d left her prettier,” Hannah snorts.
“Wow, that’s…” Megan.
“Well, it’s true,” Rachel flippantly agrees. “Her body was mangled so badly it had to be a closed-casket funeral. So if you’re gonna kill a girl from a family like the Whitneys, be sure to leave her pretty.”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure and do that.” Megan.
“Who gives the best advice?” Hannah.
“But anyways,” Rachel goes on, “here’s the ‘ghost stories’ bit. They say she still haunts the school dances.”
Amelie: “The Farm sounds incredibly menacing. But beyond that I don’t think I like the thought of a ghost haunting something already so awkward as a dance involving an all-girls school. Have a teacher hover over your shoulder to make sure you ‘leave room for Jesus.’ And then boo. Ghost. Or according to Rachel the ghost of ground beef.” Amelie taps her chin and wonders about the phenomenon.
GM: “We have boys come over for the school dances, they’re not like Mrs. Flores’ class or anything.” Hannah.
Megan looks confused. “Ground beef?”
“She means Rebecca Whitney got ground up like beef.” Rachel.
Amelie: “Is the boy still alive? How have people said they’ve seen her at the dance?”
GM: “Yeah,” Rachel answers, “the guy’s still alive, just in prison. Not really a boy anymore, he’s like 30 now. And some of the stories say she shows up and crashes the cars of drunk exes and boyfriends. Or that she protects girls from jerk guys. I heard one that anyone who’s drunk can see her.”
“That’s convenient,” Hannah remarks. “A ghost only drunk people can see.”
Amelie: “No, Ms. Perry, this isn’t vodka, it’s research equipment,” Amelie jokes. She finally finishes off her soup and puts the dishes down on the tray.
GM: There’s a few chuckles.
Amelie: “And I meant the guy she was going to the dance with, the other guy in the car. Did he die as well?”
GM: “No, he’s still alive,” Rachel says. “Though he wound up in a wheelchair.”
Amelie: “Man, I feel sorry for him. How many times must he have been interviewed about that, or given stink-eye by the family.”
GM: “Well one of those times was by me. But I felt pretty sorry for him too,” Rachel agrees.
“Yeah… that would really suck to get put in a wheelchair right when you’re graduating,” Megan frowns. “When you’re leaving home, with your whole life ahead of you…”
“Yeah, he was still pretty emotional about the whole thing,” Rachel says. “He did say the Whitneys don’t like him at all.”
Amelie: Amelie nods sadly. She’s glad to hear that Rachel went and talked with the man for her project. The amount of grief that’d put a person through gives her secondhand heartache.
“What’s his name?”
GM: “James Dyer.” Rachel takes another sip of sweet tea.
Amelie: Amelie files away the name in a mental rolodex and nods along with Rachel. “I doubt I’ll be going to the dances, though.”
GM: “Why not? They’re fun,” Megan says.
Amelie: “If they’re anything like dances I’ve already been to, it’ll be awkward and weird.”
GM: “The middle school dances are on different days,” Hannah quips as she looks up from her phone.
Rachel snickers and takes a longer pull of tea.
“They’re not awkward,” Megan nods. “I mean, you’re taking Mrs. Flores’ class so you can dance, right?”
Amelie: Amelie looks to the other girls with a small smile. She feels like they knew this was going to happen. She wonders if Megan is innocent enough that she hasn’t yet thought ‘dyke’ like everyone else.
“Sure, but that’s not the part that makes it awkward.”
GM: “You should try coming to one. You can always leave if it feels weird.” Megan.
Amelie: “Only if the dress isn’t open-backed.”
GM: “Well, unless your parents pick out your clothes for you, you’re probably okay there.” Rachel.
Amelie: “If we all go, we can all go ghost hunting or something. We should probably start getting ready for afternoon classes, though.”
GM: “I think you go to dances to dance, not hunt for ghosts,” Hannah comments dryly.
Rachel checks the time on her phone at Amelie’s remark, but sees there’s still some minutes left. “Yeah, ghosts. You probably haven’t heard the story about the first McGehee murder, right?” she asks, changing the topic.
Amelie: Amelie perks up a bit and shakes her head. “No, never.”
GM: “Well it starts with a dance too.” Rachel looks thoughtful. “Huh, I should work that in.”
“Remember that girl I mentioned, Charlotte Beauregard? Or Lottie, that’s what everyone called her. During her junior year’s Sadie Hawkins dance, Lottie asked out a black football star from a public school. This was back in the ‘60s, so everyone was shocked. But Lottie didn’t budge, and her dad still gave her the keys to her sweet sixteen present: a brand-new Chevelle convertible. Lottie’s date was the only black guy at the dance, and everyone stared, but they stayed the whole evening.”
“After the dance, Lottie and her date drove to another party, but they got lost. When they stopped to ask for directions, Lottie’s ex-boyfriend and some of his friends were walking by. You can guess what he would’ve thought back then, seeing his girlfriend going with a black guy. Who ran off, by the way, after the three boys threatened to lynch him.”
Rachel’s eyes gleam again past her glasses as she continues in a low voice, “So those three boys, they all took Lottie right there and gang-raped her in the backseat of her birthday car. Tons of people heard. No one did anything.”
“The next day, the cops found Lottie’s corpse in that same backseat. It was beaten, barely recognizable, and still wearing the bloody tatters of her pink prom dress. The coroners said the boys beat her so badly so she couldn’t even move, so she bled to death, over hours, on the seat where she’d been raped.”
Megan looks a little queasy.
Rachel is actually grinning, but goes on, “It hit the city like Katrina. Everyone thought the black boy raped and murdered her. It didn’t help that he was missing either. There were mobs and lynchings all over the city, until the cops finally found him holed up in the Ninth Ward. He said he was innocent, and that the white boys did it. Well, that got him a seat on Gruesome Gertie. Flick.” Rachel pulls an invisible lever for emphasis.
“So that was that, right? But it wasn’t much later that one of the white boys got killed in a hit and run. There weren’t any witnesses, just bruising—that looked like a ‘64 Chevelle’s grill and tire marks. It showed the vehicle hit him, then reversed and ran him over—not once, not twice—but sixteen times.”
“You think that Rebecca Whitney was ground beef,” Rachel says with something oddly between somberness and a giggle as she glances at the other three girls, “you should’ve seen this guy. The cops could only figure out who he was by his dental records.”
“Well, the cops looked for who did it, but they couldn’t find anyone—only that Lottie’s car, which the family obviously didn’t want back, was missing from the impound lot.”
“A couple years after that, weirdly, the cops arrested two more of the boys. One of them, Lottie’s ex, got sent to Gruesome Gertie too. The third boy’s trial was two years later, because he’d served in Vietnam. The jury convicted him, but he got a pardon from the governor, because of his family and how he was a war hero—he’d gotten a Medal of Honor. No one was upset though. He’d gotten burned by napalm during the war and came back with an iron lung, so everyone figured he’d suffered enough.”
Hannah interrupts. “Yeah, I’m sorry—actually, no, I’m not sorry—getting an iron lung and shiny medal doesn’t excuse what he did. He raped and murdered her.”
“Didn’t iron lungs… weren’t they machines that made it so he’d have to stay in bed for the rest of his life?” Megan offers. “It sounds like he might’ve paid his dues…”
Amelie: Amelie tries to see if any dots are going to connect and motions for Rachel to keep going. “Please tell me a car came through the front of his house, where his iron lung-laying ass was.”
GM: Rachel shakes her head. “Nope. He died in his bed a couple decades later.”
“Wow. Some justice,” Hannah remarks.
Megan holds up her phone and points at an “open web page.”: https://gizmodo.com/the-last-of-the-iron-lungs-1819079169 “But look at this, guys. It looks so awful…”
“It’s basically life in prison.”
“Text it to me?” Hannah says.
A couple pings go up from their phones. Hannah stares at her screen for a little while, then looks up. “Did he actually have to stay in one 24/7? Because not all those people are actually in the lungs.”
“I don’t know,” Rachel admits. “Just that he had to use an iron lung.”
Amelie: “Yeah, at that point, just build a guillotine around the end of that tube and end me. Still, I agree with Hannah. It feels a lot more like justice if they suffer more the way they hurt a person. Still, it fits. A few decades as a vegetable.”
GM: “I thought Canadians were too polite to want the death penalty?” Hannah half-questions, half-ribs.
Amelie: “At the advent of our country, too many people died of cold, sickness, and wildlife to afford having a death penalty. People still get drunk and dehydrated and pass out in snowbanks, buried in the snow just out of view until they die.”
GM: “That’s cheerful.”
“What is this ‘snow’ of which you speak?” Rachel asks.
Amelie: “Frozen flakes of hell. I don’t honestly believe in the death penalty, though. It’s too easily corruptible and expensive, like it was with this poor football guy.”
GM: “I think there are some people who deserve it,” Hannah says. “Like murdering rapists. Courts today are better than they used to be.”
“Well, even if you don’t think it’s wrong, she’s right that it is actually more expensive.” Megan.
“So I know this a little weird coming from me, but maybe we should talk about something else?” Rachel says.
“Eh, true. My grandma always says talking about politics isn’t polite,” Megan says. “So what happened next?”
“Not a lot, honestly,” the darker-haired girl continues. “Besides how no one ever found Lottie’s car. The police think a vigilante stole it and ran over the rapist for poetic justice. But I mean, sixteen times…”
Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks towards Rachel. “What’s the name of that 80’s movie? Christine? The one with the possessed car?”
GM: “Sorry, haven’t seen it.”
Amelie: “Culturally, Canada is like… never not the 1990s, so maybe that’s it,” she jokes, nodding. “Yeah, the car messes up a bunch of her owner’s bullies, I think?”
GM: “Well, if she hasn’t seen it, she probably doesn’t know.” Hannah.
Amelie: “I’m just saying, ‘ghost car.’”
GM: “I wonder what made the cops arrest the other two boys,” Megan says. “I mean, did the murder make them go over the old case again?”
“I actually tried to find out by looking up which detectives were on the case,” Rachel answers. “I thought there might be more people I could talk with. Maybe they had kids or were still around. But I couldn’t find any names, anywhere. Old records just got lost, I guess.”
Amelie: “Did you talk to your grandmother about it?”
GM: “She’s not my grandmother, she’s my aunt,” the glasses-wearing girl corrects. “By several ‘greats.’ But yeah, I did. She said police records don’t fall under the ones she keeps. She talked about how she remembered the case making headlines though. The original case, with Lottie’s rape, not the boys getting found guilty.” Rachel pauses. “Kinda funny to think how she was even older than us back then…”
“Yeah. I know what it’s like with my grandma. You really wanna value the time you have left…” Megan says.
“Three years,” Rachel says. Her smile this time has some actual warmth to it. “She’s 87. My dad says that even when he was a kid, she’d say how she was going to retire and die once she turned 90. I’ve told her that it’s nice to have a figure.”
Amelie: Amelie quietly apologizes and keeps listening. The story makes her lips slowly curl up into a fond smile. She’s never had a figure like that in her life. She had a strict mother who slapped her with metal sticks and tarnished memories of a sniveling drunken father. Now she just has her aunt. Someone who’s worthy of being called a figure in her life for certain, even if they’ve only really known each other for a couple weeks.
“She sounded great when she came to speak here. I bet you get to hear a lot of great stories.”
GM: “Yeah, she’s full of them. She writes a lot too. A couple books and a bunch of news articles, but also these… just crazy bodice rippers she probably thinks I don’t know about.”
Amelie: Amelie chuckles as she considers the post-menopausal senior who spoke at the school’s ‘start of the year’ speeches, and the way her several-times-great-niece also acts. It’s a pleasant enough topic, and the young woman hasn’t smiled for this long in a while.
Lunch looks like it’s going to be a lot less lonely from now on.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015
GM: The day’s remaining three periods roll by. Sixth period’s Ballroom Dance also proves less lonely when Amelie has two partners she knows. Hannah and Megan both play the woman when they dance with her. This prompts Mrs. Flores to chide as she moves among the waltzing partners, “Make sure you get in some practice as a lady too, Ms. Savard. You don’t want to be used to dancing like a man at real dances, now!”
Amelie: Amelie tries to play the woman as often as she plays the man, but Mrs. Flores still has to correct her every few classes. She doesn’t apologize, but instead just makes sure her next partner leads their dance. All this talk about dances leaves a small smile on her face as she wonders how a private boys’ school student would react to her sweeping him off his feet like a man. She puts her best into the class as always, however.
GM: Once sixth period’s closing bell heralds the end of the school day, Amelie is called to Bradish Johnson House over the intercom.
Amelie: It’s surprising to have her name called for what she assumes is the meeting she was already talked to about, but she heads over as requested.
GM: The homey-atmosphered Greek Revival building has the same eclectic age range of young children, tweens, teens, and the occasional parent that Amelie remembers from her last visit. The older black secretary she spoke to is dressed in a different cardigan but retains the same silver crucifix, and promptly directs her to the school psychologist’s office.
Amelie knocks on the door and is answered by a, “Come in please.” The figure who greets her is a tall and mature woman with a lined face and gray hair done up in a tight bun. She’s dressed in a lighter-hued seersucker skirtsuit with a tiny lapel pin depicting a star-circled American flag encircled by a gold wreath.
“Ah, you must be Ms. Savard.” The woman is seated behind a desk with a computer as Amelie enters the room, but rises to greet her. “You can call me Mrs. Achord. Please, take a seat.” She motions towards a couch in the corner of the room.
Amelie: Amelie gives the woman a once-over as she steps inside. She pays special attention to the pin for just a moment, wondering what it signifies, before she sits down on the couch.
She keeps rather quiet. She remembers all the negative experiences she had with ‘therapy’ after being taken from her father.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
GM: Indeed, after spending a good amount of her adolescence as a ward of the state, Amelie has been inside her share of offices belonging to social workers, therapists, and related professionals. Most of them had chairs rather than couches. Mrs. Achord’s does: the narrow plush leather sofa lacks armrests but is slightly curved at the bottom to support a patient who is lying down. The office’s walls are lined with bookshelves, framed diplomas and awards, several potted plants, and a picture of Sigmund Freud.
Amelie: Amelie scans the room carefully. She’s already getting a feeling for what this woman is like. The potted plants are a nice touch, though she wonders if they’re real or not. The much-debated Freud’s portrait is a bit of a put-off.
She sits up on the couch instead of laying down and rests her blazer beside herself to keep cool.
GM: The school psychologist picks up a notepad and pen from her desk, then sits down on a chair adjacent to Amelie’s couch.
“Ms. Perry said there were some things you wanted to discuss with me, but also that you were worried about being a bother. The first thing I want to say, Amelie, is that listening to the concerns of this school’s young ladies and helping them live up to their full potential is exactly what I am here for. Whether there is something I can help you with, or if it turns out that you’re managing just fine on your own, I will consider our session to be a good day’s work.”
Amelie: Listening to Mrs. Achord talk is a stark difference from Amelie’s earlier experiences. When she was a ward of the state, the people who talked with her always seemed overworked and underpaid. This woman seems more comfortable in her job. It also seems like she gets paid quite a bit more from the way her office is set up.
“I agreed to come because she was concerned about me, though. I was assaulted during the weekend. I don’t think you’ll have trouble with the ‘full potential’ part.”
GM: Mrs. Achord writes something onto her notepad.
“That does sound like something Ms. Perry was right to be concerned about, Amelie. I think you could benefit from talking about it, but you should also be here for you, not Ms. Perry. Would you still want to be spending your afternoon this way if she hadn’t expressed her concern?”
Amelie: “I don’t think so, no. I know I have unresolved issues, that I was shaken by the assault, but I don’t think I’d have come on my own. I don’t have a lot of experience with therapy, but what little I have hasn’t been a… positive experience.”
GM: “I’m very sorry to hear that, and all the more so when it sounds like there are issues a positive therapy experience could have helped you with. If you would prefer not to risk repeating a negative experience, however, the door is open.”
The school psychologist motions towards it.
“I will not be offended or tell any of your teachers if you choose to leave. No one can make the decision that being here is in your best interests but you.”
Amelie: Amelie looks to the door, but only for a moment. She’s already here, and she imagines Ms. Perry would be disappointed if she didn’t at least try this.
“I realize it’s in my best interests. It’s just awkward, I think. Out of my comfort zone.”
GM: “I’m sure a lot of things have been these past few weeks,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “I also understand that you’re also new to the United States.”
Amelie: “Yes. I’ve only been here a few weeks. The heat was difficult the first week here.”
GM: “There’s a reason you’ll find pitchers of water in everyone’s refrigerators down here,” the psychologist nods. “Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but especially newcomers.”
Amelie: “I’m used to that part at least. I grew up working in very hot conditions. Sweat and worked a lot.”
GM: “Oh, what did you grow up doing?”
Amelie: “It’s a bit silly to say out loud. I worked in a smithing shop in a re-enactment village called Bicolline.”
GM: Mrs. Achord smiles. “Really, did you? My husband is a member of the Civil War Reenactment Society. His idea of a fun weekend is to dress up in old uniforms, wave around old swords, and act out mock battles. We have a great deal of regard for our history in this part of the country.”
“Ms. Perry said that’s a passion of yours, too. She told me you’re the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic student she has in any of her Local History periods.”
Amelie: “Bicolline takes it quite a bit further, but I understand your point. I just think a lot of people find it surreal when I say ’I’m going to be a smith when I graduate’ and mean it. But that’s sweet of Ms. Perry. She’s a good teacher. And New Orleans history is something I really do enjoy. My aunt, who I live with now, bought me a book on this city’s history when I was a little girl and I kind of attached to the place.”
GM: The school psychologist’s eyebrows raise in mild surprise. “Now that’s a career choice I don’t hear from girls every day. You’d make the cavalry sabers that reenactment societies use?”
Amelie: “I could make their swords, their buttons, their clothes, their rifles, their cannons. As my father deteriorated, I had to grow up fast. I can also do period correct restorations, jewelry, replicas, and even furniture. I even plan to make arrangements with the krewes. Why order a part for a float when I can make one in 30 minutes.”
GM: “Oh my, that’s quite a bit more than ‘smith’ made me imagine. You could find those sorts of restorations very much in demand here. I have quite a few friends who own antiques and family heirlooms they want to keep well-maintained.”
Amelie: “Before I was allowed to make my first knife, I had to be trained in geometric forging. Make shapes out of white hot metals, then horseshoes, then chandeliers. All while making your own tools to solve problems. I look forward to restoration jobs, though. Being able to inspect and touch things centuries older than I am. I got shivers when I went to Jackson Square to that cathedral, even.”
GM: “Oh yes, you can find no end of old buildings in the Quarter to pour over. I’ve always liked the Cabildo, the old capitol where the colonial government used to meet. It’s right next to St. Louis, actually.”
Amelie: “It and the Presbytere are on my list of ‘must see’ places. I want to see how they measure up to each other as museums as well. It’s a shame the Cabildo seems to set on fire every few decades as well.”
GM: “At least it’s waterproof, so small favors.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “Damage to the Quarter was fairly minor during Katrina, thank goodness. As well as McGehee.”
She laughs. “But that’s ancient history to the girls now. They all have their eyes on the future. What about you? Do you plan on staying in New Orleans after you graduate, going home to Canada, or attending college somewhere else?”
Amelie: Amelie sees the segway coming the moment she hears ‘ancient history’, but nods to the woman. “Likely stay here and see if my business if viable. At least until I pay back my aunt. I’ve considered MIT in the past, they have a surprising history department, and of course top notch engineering courses. But I like the thought of staying here too. Even if living in New Orleans has rubbed some of the sparkle off what I imagined.”
GM: Mrs. Achord’s pen scratches across her notepad. “Yes. I can certainly imagine that it has. That’s very resilient of you to still want to live in the city.”
Amelie: “The first person I met in New Orleans was a driver named Oscar. I bet he’s lived here all his life. I’ve thought back on his words a lot since my bad weekend. ‘Loving someone isn’t always easy. This city knows too. She’s a lot to love.’”
GM: “That’s unfortunately all-too true,” the school psychologist nods. “There are a lot of things that make this city special. But many parts of it aren’t safe, and we have a very high crime rate.”
Amelie: “Among other things, yes. I find it sad. But I guess I should have been more careful of rose-tinted glasses.”
GM: “Being careful is always a good idea, but we are all ultimately responsible for our own behavior. The person who attacked you chose to do that, and to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the city.”
Amelie: Amelie pauses when Mrs. Achord steers the conversation back to the assault. She looks over her hand again and nods her head.
“After the assault, I wholeheartedly believed that the LaLaurie House was dangerous. I didn’t have evidence. Today at lunch, talking to friends, I realized that only one person has ever died in that house after the events. But my gut still feels off about it.”
GM: There’s more scratching from Mrs. Achord’s pen. “Tell me about that. What did you believe was dangerous about the house?”
Amelie: Amelie tries her best not to let the writing breaks get to her. “When I was assaulted, I was looking for information on the ghosts in the mansion. A card was slipped into my belongings for a fortune teller, saying something about life insurance. I found her. She read my palm, said I was going to die in my early 20s, and then stabbed my hand. It was difficult to get her off, despite her age, she was screaming about the house being a festering wound, that the ghosts inside would kill me.”
GM: “That must have been an extremely frightening experience. I’m so sorry it happened to you. It’s entirely normal and understandable that you would now harbor feelings of anxiety towards the house.”
Amelie: “I’m aware how it sounds, to say that I think ghosts could be a real threat.”
GM: However it might sound to Mrs. Achord, the woman’s face doesn’t waver as she replies, “Ms. Perry mentioned to me that you chose to work on the LaLaurie House for your class project. I could speak with her and arrange for you to work on something else, if you’d like me to.”
Amelie: “I can’t decide whether or not I should just go.”
GM: “I understand that the LaLaurie House is privately owned, but even seeing the outside of the house could be beneficial to you,” the school psychologist states. “That would fall under a technique called exposure therapy, whereby a patient’s anxiety is treated by gradually exposing them to its source. In other words, they conquer their fears by facing them. Physically visiting the house would also be a significant step, and not one that would need to happen immediately. It’s already a positive sign that you’re talking about your attack this openly.”
Amelie: Amelie considers it and slowly nods. “We’re going inside. Overnight. So maybe I shouldn’t be worrying so much and just… go.”
GM: “If you feel ready to visit the house, but only if, then doing so could be a good thing for you,” Mrs. Achord encourages. “I think that bringing someone else with you for support would also be a good decision.”
She glances down at her notes. “As I said, however, the LaLaurie House is private property. I do not recommend that you break the law by attempting to sleep inside.”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know how many times she’s told people she’s gotten permission from the Whitneys, but for now she glazes over that point.
“I’ll do so then, I think. I have a few people that might like to go with me this weekend. So I’ll get over it. I’ll face that house like I face anything else.”
GM: The school psychologist appears less than assured by Amelie’s dodging of the topic. “Entering a house without permission is breaking and entering, Amelie. I think that it’s a good thing for you to face your fears, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of your future. The city takes damage to its historic properties very seriously. A criminal conviction will destroy any chance you might have of going to a good college.”
Amelie: “The Devillers and Whitney families know each other personally. I had special permission from the bank that owns the property—for just one night—before I even started my field work into the subject. I’d just like to stop spreading it around so much, if I cause a stir in return for their generosity.”
GM: “You could also do that by not mentioning you’re spending the night,” Mrs. Achord suggests. “But you are right, that is very generous of them. It sounds as if you’ve made some friends since starting school.”
Amelie: “It can be difficult when you’re having issues regarding it,” she admits. “And I have. But not how it seems. I was just partnered with Yvette and managed to speak with the right person the right way.”
GM: “Oh? You’d mentioned having a few people you wanted to invite along for the sleepover.”
Amelie: “Yvette will be bringing her sisters. I have to see if I want to bring along anyone I know. I’m still having anxiety over all this.”
GM: “You can always change your mind if visiting the house makes you feel too uncomfortable. Graded exposure therapy would take a more gradual approach than having you spend the night inside. But if you still want to do that, I think inviting someone you feel at ease with would be a good idea. Are there any other girls at school who you’ve gotten along with, or who simply seem like people you’d want to know better?”
Amelie: Amelie looks the woman over for a moment before looking back down at her hand. “My original fear was putting people in danger by going to this house. Should I really invite someone else?”
GM: “You are in no danger from the LaLaurie House, Amelie,” Mrs. Achord assures her. “It’s understandable that you would feel personally anxious about the house. But what do you expect to happen to someone else?”
Amelie: Amelie reaches up and rubs a scar on her shoulder. She bites her tongue as she thinks on the question.
“Sorry to deflect, but did you ever get that feeling in your spine when you were younger, walking up from the basement or out of a dark space in your house? Like something was about to grab you?”
GM: “I did,” Mrs. Achord answers. “My parents owned an old Victorian house in Baton Rouge. It had a large attic that was full of even older assorted junk. When I was very small, it was an absolutely terrifying place when the lights were turned off.”
“My older brother once tricked our middle sister into going inside as part of a hide-and-go-seek game, then turned off the lights and locked her inside. She was also very small, and screamed for hours that monsters were going to get her.”
“She was all but catatonic when my parents got home and let her out. When she could speak again, she cried that my brother had tried to kill her. I was even younger than she was and couldn’t have stopped him, but I still felt awful.”
“That attic terrified my sister for years afterwards. Our parents never sent her up to get anything. The monsters never quite went away for her—until they did.”
“The night when we were packing her things for college, she said that if she was going to leave home, she wanted to leave her fears behind too.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “I remember thinking that speech sounded like something she’d prepared in advance. But she’d made up her mind that she was going to go inside that attic alone, even when I asked her not to. More like begged, in fact. I still remembered how terrified she’d been.”
“I couldn’t stop her, though, from going inside and closing the door. I’m sure she was still half-expecting some monster to reach out and grab her—or more likely, to hear the sound of the door locking shut.”
“But neither of those things happened, even after she stayed inside for a good ten minutes. She said some of the dust made her sneeze, and also that the attic was actually much smaller than she remembered. It was still a large attic, but to a child locked inside by themselves, it had to have seemed like the Tower of London.”
“My sister was no longer a child. She was a newly-independent adult, and one who realized it was time to set childish fears aside.”
“It is natural for children to be afraid of the dark. It equally natural, and part of growing up, for them to overcome those fears. Monsters are not real.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and continues to rub the spot on her shoulder as she listens to the story. Her hand is back on her lap by the end of it.
“I spent all my summers and weekends in the village we worked in. Over 350 acres of land. Lots of people that came to the village left at night to stay at hotels in a nearby town. But there were people who just… lived there in that village. I stayed there over summers, and remember always being scared of the woods. So vast, so dark, filled with all kinds of horrific sounds. My mom would tell me to such it up, to go and cut the forest down if I was so scared of it. My dad tried to comfort me over it. But there was an older metis woman who lived on the grounds and maintained them. She saw me staring into the tree line one night and told me something I’ll always remember.”
“Nous ne craignons pas les ténèbres parce que nous ne savons pas ce qui est à l’intérieur, mais parce qu’une partie de nous se souvient.” (“We do not fear the dark because we know not what is inside, but because a part of us remembers.”)
“I don’t know if going into the house will make me less afraid, but I think I need to go anyway. The house is ancient, and I’ll regret it if I don’t go and it turns out fine.”
GM: “You may be pleasantly surprised where your fears are concerned,” Mrs. Achord answers. “Have you heard the term ‘neuroplasticity?’ When we have new experiences, our brains forge new neural pathways and literally change their physical makeup as we adapt and expand our minds. Sleeping inside a house that makes you anxious will be a very significant new experience. Your brain will not have the same neural composition as when you leave.”
“I won’t lie,” the school psychologist continues in a somewhat more somber voice, “it’s possible that the experience may be too much and too soon. It could aggravate rather than alleviate your anxiety. Not all of the neural pathways our brain forges are beneficial to us. If a dog is improperly house-trained as a puppy, it’s that much harder to re-train them as a grown dog.”
“But I think you are a resilient person, Amelie, and can handle a visit to the house. I also think you will find it even easier to handle together with friends. To return us to that topic—are there any students at McGehee who you’d like to get to know better, or who you consider friends already?”
Amelie: “Biology isn’t my specialty, but I understand the idea. But I think ice bath exposure might suit me better. Not that I don’t have a week to gather myself and visit the house once or twice. But I’ll see if I can’t invite someone I’ve been sitting at lunch with, yeah. If I can get over that danger idea in the back of my head.”
GM: “Visiting the house from a distance also sounds like a good idea to me, whether you choose to go inside or not,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “That’s also very good you’ve found some girls to share lunch with.”
She glances down at her notes for a moment. “As someone new to the city, I’m sure you’ve found it difficult to meet many boys. Do you have any plans to attend the homecoming dance?”
Amelie: “I’ve only been here for a few weeks. I’m not really considering boys or dating just yet. Especially since this is an all-girls school and I’ve been focusing on the only year of education I’ll be able to receive here. But the dance has been brought up, so I’m considering it. Is it really a homecoming dance if the school has no football team, though? I thought that was the point of ‘homecoming?’”
GM: “The point is to throw a dance where young girls and boys can have a fun time together,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “If you don’t have too much coursework keeping you buys, I think we could even make that your homework assignment for this session. You won’t need to worry over having a date or not—it’s not as if the boys only stick with one partner, so you’ll get plenty of turns on the dance floor. If anything, going without a date could relieve some of the pressure.”
Amelie: “Do you mind if I ask why the sudden focus on it?”
GM: “On the dance, you mean?” Mrs. Achord asks. “As you are new to both New Orleans and McGehee, Amelie, I am concerned that social isolation may be contributing to your anxiety over the house. That’s also due to the attack you suffered, of course. But feelings of loneliness are proven to have a profoundly negative effect on many anxiety disorders as both a cause and symptom. Social isolation can also negatively impact academic performance, personal health, and countless other areas of your life. That’s why I am thrilled to hear you are making friends you can share your lunches with. Attending a school-wide event such as homecoming will help maintain that positive trend and allow you to enjoy the many benefits that come with maintaining an active social life.”
Amelie: “I’ll admit I was lonely before I found these girls. I’m not used to politeness including thistles universally. Either way, I’m still not sure how I’ll enjoy a dance like this, but I’m willing to try it. I was mostly asking to add onto a small personal theory of mine. Though as for my academic performance, I can assure you that I’m dead set on 100%s in each of the classes I’m graced with being able to attend this year. Social standing or not, I enjoy school on its own merits.”
GM: “I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to stretch yourself,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “Homecoming is the Friday after this one. I think we should meet again after school next week, to talk about how your visit to the house went. You can tell me what dress you’ve picked out, and what advice you’ve gotten from talking to other classmates or adults. Do you have any particularly favorite teachers?”
Amelie: “I think I’m done asking advice, I’ve gotten a lot of different opinions, I think it’s going to come down to my thought process. As for the teachers? I think the only teacher I’m not in love with is my Inorganic Chemistry teacher, Dr. Ward. I showed up late to her class on the first day, and I’ve been on eggshells with her since to make up for the bad first impression.”
GM: “You know, Benjamin Franklin had a similar problem to yours once,” the school psychologist remarks. “My dad loved to tell me this story. Franklin had just been elected clerk of the General Assembly in Philadelphia, but one of the richest men in the Assembly disliked him bitterly. The man denounced him in public talks, which was dangerous, so Franklin decided to make the man like him.”
“He thought about offering the man a favor, but ‘that would have aroused his suspicions, maybe his contempt.’ Franklin was much too smart for that. He asked the man to do him a favor instead. He didn’t ask for anything so tasteless as money, but instead, whether he could borrow a certain ‘very scarce and curious’ book from the man’s library. That touched the man’s vanity, by subtly expressing admiration for his knowledge and achievements.”
“Sure enough, the man lent him the book, and they remained great friends until his death—or so my dad’s story went. You might benefit from asking Ms. Ward for tips on enjoying yourself at homecoming. How to dress, how to dance, how to meet boys at a girls’ school, and the like. She’s one of our school’s younger faculty, so homecoming dances aren’t too distant a memory for her.”
Amelie: “You don’t think it might be better to take the angle of her profession? I’m taking Inorganic Chemistry for a reason, I could ask her about suppliers of sodium borate I’ll need for by business, or ask about temperature storage now that I’m in a subtropic environment for acetylene tanks. As much as I’m sure she’d be proud of be coming to her for fashion advice, I don’t think we’re personal enough for that kind of approach.”
GM: “I think that Ms. Ward would be willing to help you, Amelie, if you explained that you were new to the school and this was your first homecoming with us. Every teacher here wants to see girls succeed, socially as well as academically.”
“But engaging her over her job sounds like an excellent idea too. I’m sure that she would also be glad to recommend her sodium borate suppliers to you.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “Then that’s what I’ll do. For now, I think I’d like to start off. My hand needs a bandage change, wounds discharge plasma the first few days even after the bleeding stops.”
GM: “Wonderful. You can let me know how that goes next week.” The school psychologist hashes out a time and date for Amelie to next stop by, then rises from her seat to open the door as they exchange goodbyes.
“Remember what I said about your experiences forging new neural pathways in your brain. You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”