Short story of romance in the city of love
Celeste sat at the tiny table outside the Parisian cafe as people rushed by not giving her a second glance. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and warm croissants filled the morning air and the spring sunshine gave the city a golden glow. She could hardly believe she was in the ‘City of Love’ at last.
To a casual onlooker she seemed at ease sipping her coffee, near the Eiffel Tower, watching the world go by. In reality she wanted to scream and shout, tell passers-by that she, Celeste Brown was here. Despite having a French Christian name, she had never left her home in the little Welsh village where she’d been born twenty-two years before. Her mother had been a romantic, filling the young Celeste’s head with stories of the world outside of the coal mining community.
Her mother sadly lost her battle with cancer when Celeste was just fourteen, but not before making her promise she would travel the world, wanting her daughter to experience all the famous cities, but especially Paris. At last she was fulfilling that promise she’d made eight years ago.
“I’m here Mum,” she whispered her eyes filling with tears.
She had been in Paris for just a day, excited to be escaping home at long last, but already missing her father. When he’d said goodbye, she’d seen the tears in his eyes and knew he’d be lost without her. He had been happy for her to travel but made sure that his little girl knew how to defend herself before she left home.
A voice broke into her reverie as she sipped the coffee. Someone addressed her in French, intimating he wished to sit on the vacant chair, she gestured that it was fine.
“Merci, Mademoiselle,” the stranger ordered a café crème from the passing waiter and checked his phone. Celeste glanced at her table companion, surprised to see he wasn’t much older than her. He was tall, good looking and nothing like any of the mining lads back home. He put his phone on the table and began to converse with her in rapid French and although she had a smattering of the language, it wasn’t enough to grasp what he was saying.
Celeste shook her head, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”
He smiled and held out his hand.
“Bonjour, my name is Phillipe and yours?” His English was perfect but with a strong French accent.
“Celeste, I’m on vacation and arrived yesterday from Wales.” He kissed the back of her hand. It’s true what they say about Frenchmen,she thought.
Phillipe was superb company, they sat at the café for over an hour as she told him a little of why she was in Paris. He told her he was a student at the Sorbonne and a tour guide in his spare time, escorting tourists into the catacombs. “Let me be your guide around my beautiful city Celeste, I would be honoured.” Celeste smiled with pleasure accepting his offer.
They made a date to meet at the same café the next day at twelve noon.
Several days went by, with them spending most of the time together at ease in each other’s company. Phillipe made fun of her Welsh accent often misunderstanding her but they both were able to laugh at their mistakes.
“This is the most popular place in the world for marriage proposals,” he told her, as they watched lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, on the top of the Eiffel Tower. He showed her the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral, they took long leisurely walks around the narrow streets, and strolled along the Champs-Élysées. He took photos of her at all the famous landmarks to send home but never wanted to appear in any of them. It was true, Paris was the most romantic city in the world and Celeste was falling under its spell and also a little in love with Phillipe. It poured with rain as they were walking by the river one evening and they made a mad dash for shelter. Phillipe gave her his jacket to put over her and as they ran, she looked over to the Eiffel Tower lit up with thousands of lights, and happiness overwhelmed her. She stopped running and turned to him, her hair and face soaked from the sudden downpour and in the middle of Paris they kissed oblivious of the crowds rushing by.
The next day he offered to take her on a private tour of the catacombs.
“I know a secret entrance where no one ever goes, it's amazing Celeste, much better than the regular tourist experience. There are over 200 miles of tunnels, each containing thousands of bones from when they emptied the cemeteries years ago, the remains of six million people are down there.” He sounded entranced.
Celeste was horrified, she had heard of the catacombs, but hadn’t comprehended the scale, both of the distance and the amount of bodies.
“What happens if we get lost?” she shivered at the thought. She had always had a fear of enclosed spaces and of being trapped.
“It’ll be fun, it’s illegal but amazing, I’ll look after you,” he coaxed.
She could almost hear her father’s voice, warning her not to do anything so stupid, but she trusted Phillipe and said she’d go with him the following night.
He picked her up from her hotel, in his beaten up Peugeot; they drove to a district of Paris Celeste was unfamiliar with on the outskirts of the city.
“We’re here,” he whispered parking under the dim light of a street lamp. He exited the car carrying a crowbar, which he used to lift a heavy circular iron grate set into the pavement.
Celeste felt sick to her stomach as she peered down the hole, Phillipe shone his light and she saw a rusty ladder leading down into the darkness.
“Are you ready?” He passed her a torch, she nodded, but could hardly believe she was about to climb down into the catacombs of Paris.
Phillipe was first, his head lamp lighting the way, Celeste imagined even the light seemed reluctant to enter this chamber of hell.
They proceeded along the passageway, in the beam of her torch, skulls and other bones made a solid wall.
She gasped, her claustrophobia took hold. “I can’t go any further Phillipe, I need to go back.”
She stood, her back to the wall of bones as she waited for him to stop, her heart was racing, and even in the chilly air she was sweating.
Phillipe turned to face her, he gave a cruel laugh. The beam of his headlamp blinded her for a moment, then she noticed he was holding a blade which he held up to her throat.
“Poor Celeste, I guess Daddy will never know what happened to his little girl”
She saw the coldness in his eyes and knew there was a good chance she may never see the light of day again. She heard her father’s voice, “Now, Celeste!”
Grabbing his headlamp, she threw it, and turned off her torch.
In the utter darkness she fought for her life, using the skills her father had taught her. Moments later she switched on her torch, Phillipe lay in a crumpled heap his eyes staring, seeing nothing.
Celeste returned along the long dark passage up to the light and fresh air.
She returned the following day with the police to where she and Phillipe had entered the catacombs the previous night. They discovered the body of Phillipe and the remains of three girls missing over the last two years.
“Mademoiselle Brown, how did you overcome this man and escape?” The investigating officer shook his head in amazement.
“Daddy taught me well.” She whispered.