Historical/Paranormal Romance, set in Paris and New Orleans. Chapter 1
A STRANGE OCCURANCE IN A PARISIAN ALLEY
“Claudette!” A shrill voice screamed, rousing her from her daydream. Claudette looked up into the beady eyes of Mrs. Habersham who was glaring daggers at her.
“Je soui desole Madame.” She replied, willing herself not to roll her eyes.
“Dearest Claudette if you think you’re looks alone will secure your Placage, you are sorely mistaken.” She turned on her heal and made her way back to the front of the room.
A few of the other girls in the drawing room turned classroom snickered at the blush of embarrassment crawling up Claudette’s neck. Mrs. Habersham, or as some liked to call her the dragon, continued on her tyrannical rant. “You are all in Paris at Antoinette’s Priming Academy, to become fine and upstanding citizens of the quadroon communities of New Orleans. Daydreaming,” she looked pointedly at Claudette, “will most certainly not help you to attain such a status. Furthermore, your mothers and fathers have paid valuable sums for you to be here, and would be devastated to learn of the behavior that some of you are exhibiting.”
Claudette sighed and focused all her attention on the front of the room where Habersham was expounding on the delicate art of needlepoint. Looking at the pile of supplies in her lap Claudette felt the urge to sigh but held back on the act and instead became a perfect pupil and followed the instructions given to her.
Claudette De Maison, came from an elitist family in New Orleans where cultures blended and crashed like waves against the shoreline. Her mother who she adored beyond anything in the world had been a well known Les Sirene, and wanted her daughter to live a different life, but when her beloved father who had been a wealthy white merchant died, her mother and her own circumstances had vastly changed. Her callous Uncle Albert had taken them in, although quite reluctantly. He saw her and her mother as nothing more than a burden, and the only thing that kept him from casting them off into the streets was her fathers express wishes. So he did the next best thing, forced Claudette into the very world that her mother had wanted her to avoid. Next thing Claudette knew she was being shipped over to Paris, to attend priming school, with her uncle hoping that she return a refined and perfected lady ready to sell to the highest bidder.
It disgusted her, to think that in a months time she would attend her first Quadroon Ball, standing around a room with a bunch of other young quadroon girls in the same position as her, waiting for wealthy white men, some with wives, some still bachelors, to offer their guardians prices for their lifetime companionship. It always annoyed Claudette to think that these men could use some women of color for such purposes but not grant them any rights. She flipped back her honey colored and perfectly curled hair trying to focus on the lesson, before the dragon lady yelled at her again.
“Class dismissed!” Habersham yelled. The girls all gracefully rose from their seats and tentatively walked out of the room.
Outside of the room, Claudette ran into her dearest friend Lasiandra. “Good day Claudette.” She said mischief sparkling in her eyes.
“Do not, Lasiandra. What are you up to?” Claudette whispered fiercely, while grabbing her friends arm and hurrying herself and companion to their living quarters. Once safe behind the doors of their bedroom, Lasiandra landed on the bed in a heap of silken skirts and cotton petticoats.
“Lasiandra what is going on?”
She peaked up from her garment cocoon. “He’s invited me to a party Claudy!” She looked as if she would positively pass out.
“No.” Claudette said firmly, dread pooling in her stomach.
“What ever do you mean, no.” Lasiandra looked horrified.
“I mean what I say dear friend. You will not attend a party. Unaccompanied no less! And with a boy who is way under you’re station. You will be ruined.” Claudette cried out.
Lasiandra stood up in a blur, and stomped over to her best friend. “What dear Claudy? Have Habersham’s lessons finally gone to you’re head. Have you indubitably become one of the dumb and brainwashed lambs like Henrietta Montclair?”
“How dare you Lizzy! That is not fair at all, I’m just looking out for you’re best interest. You simply cannot attend a party with a boy alone. Or at all if it were up to me.” She scoffed with a huff.
“Well it is not up to you, and who says I’m going alone?” She looked at Claudette with pleading eyes.
“Oh no no no. Do not even ask this of me Lizzy!” Claudette knew what her friend wanted and it was simply not going to happen.
“Please Claudy!” She whimpered, knowing that eventually Claudette would bend to her shenanigans.
Claudette sighed plopping down ungracefully into the chez lounge in defeat. “OH thank you Claudy!” squealed Lizzy.
“If we get caught so help me Lizzy.” said an exasperated Claudette.
“We won’t I promise!” The excitement on her friends face involuntarily lifted the corners of Claudette’s mouth until a full smile spread across her cheeks.
“So what will we be wearing?” Claudette said her eyebrow raised.
“Ooh that is the best part Claudy, it’s a masquerade! I’m going to Madame LaVergne’s dress shop to fetch my dress.” She looked up through her dark lashes. “I had one made for you also.” Before Claudette could protest she continued urgently, “But do not worry I will pay for it. My father never checks his accounts, he won’t even know the money’s gone.” She took in Claudette’s appearance. “Do not fret my friend. For goodness sakes it is a free dress!”
“I assume, being that you’re involved, the party is tonight?” Claudette grimaced at her friends eager face.
“Yes it is!”
Claudette laughed. “Well then I suppose we’d better get to the dress shop?”
Luckily it was a Saturday which meant, that after their lessons, they were free to go and do whatever they pleased so long as they had a chaperone. Pulling on their travel jackets, they made their way out of their room, and down the carpeted hallway to Brea’s room. Brea was one of twenty chaperones in residence and by far the most lenient which was why Claudette and Lizzy, normally went to her. A chaperones job was to take the girls of the priming school where they wanted to go, while making sure they maintained the proper etiquette that the school taught. Brea though, let the girls do what they wanted but still reported back to the Head Mistress that they were behaving properly.
Lizzy eagerly knocked on Brea’s door until it violently swung open revealing a drowsy looking Brea. Brea was born and bread Irish, and had the temper to match. Her fiery red hair obscured her pale freckle covered skin. “What do ye bleeding whelps want!” She screamed out into the hallway causing a few people to turn their heads in her direction. Her eyes softened when she saw it was Claudette and Lasiandra. “Oh why hullo girls. Come on in then.”
Her rooms were nothing compared to the girl’s, it was clean yes, but small and sparse. Claudette shivered at the thought of having to live in such a way, and immediately felt ashamed for feeling so. Brea was a wonderful woman but her circumstances and no doubt her heritage had placed her here. Thinking more on it Claudette wondered why all people of color could not be free in the America’s. She was from a lucky minority of mixed raced peoples, who were allowed some freedoms that other African Americans were not afforded. Her maman always said, “it isn’t fair but, it‘s the way.”
“What brings ye beautiful Mullato’s to my room eh?”
“We need to go to Madame LaVergne’s to pick up a couple of dresses I’m having made.” Chimed in Lizzy. She conveniently kept the party out of the explanation. Brea was lenient but not that lenient.
“Perfect. Let me just get dressed and we’ll be off.” She shooed the girls out of her room where they waited on one of the cushioned benches that sat against the wall.
After waiting for what seemed to the girls as forever, Brea emerged from her room and they began their journey to the dress maker.
Outside of the big mansion converted into priming school, they boarded one of the schools many carriages, Brea telling the driver where to go.
Paris was beautiful, even though it was a rainy day, people were out in droves meandering through the streets, looking into shop windows, and sitting under café awnings enjoying hot cups of coffee. Claudette’s favorite part of being out in the city was watching the artists paint exceptional sceneries and breathtaking still lives.
After a long and bumpy drive down the cobblestone streets of Paris the trio ended up outside one of the most prestigious dress shops in all of the city. Madame LeVergne’s name was painted in big romantic and loopy letters on a sign that hung over her shop.
Lizzy and Claudette breezed in and immediately commanded the attention of the shop owner.
“Oh my my, look at zi beautiful Mullato’s! Zi dresses that I have created for you both will look perfect against you’re skin tones.”
Madame LaVergne is a mass of fabric and feathers, her brown hair done up in an elaborate up-do. She looked at the girls down the length of her long elegant nose. A small mole graced the spot just above her lip, and her smile was radiant and warm.
“Okay zen girlz, please go to zi dressing rooms in zi back, while I go and fetch zi dresses. Yes?” She nodded at them, and then briskly walked to the back of the store. Lizzy excitedly grabbed Claudette’s hand and pulled her to the back of the store where a series of small rooms with curtains to close them off reside. Claudette picked one and Lizzy picked the one next to her. Madame LaVergne handed them the dresses, and asked, “If you need any help please let me know.”
Claudette knew looking at the thing that she was going to need help. “Madame, I think I’ll take you up on that offer.”
“Of course.” She said coming into the small space.
Madame helped Claudette undress and slip into the new dress. Lizzy squealed from the dressing room next to them. “Oh Madame I love it!”
“I’m glad, mon amor.” She said with a smile.
After minutes of fighting with the dress Madame finally managed to get it on Claudette, and was beginning to lace up the corseted part. “Let us look upon you in zi mirror yes?” Claudette nodded wearily looking down at her already large chest, which was being pushed up by the tight corset.
When she emerged the first thing she saw was how stunning her best friend looked. Lizzy’s body was encased in a tight fitting corseted dress the color of bone china, which looked perfect against her cinnamon colored skin. There was blue embroider work placed along the skirt part of the dress which was dangerously close to being too tight without crossing the line. The blue in the skirt matched Lizzy’s eyes perfectly. Madame disappeared for a moment and when she reappeared she produced a mask that was the same color white as the dress and decorated with sapphire colored crystals.
“Lizzy you look amazing!” Claudette said happily.
Lizzy was looking in her direction though with a hint of jealousy in her eyes. “Thanks Claudy, but look at yourself!” she exclaimed, her jealousy melting away into excitement.
Claudette turned to the mirror and was shocked by the sight awaiting her. Her dress was a deep wine color, that could look black in a certain light, and was the same style as Lizzy’s. The only difference besides the color scheme was that Claudette filled out the dress in a more womanly way than Lizzy did. Claudette blushed at the low bust line, but couldn’t help but appreciate her appearance. She stood up taller, causing her slender neck column to elongate gracefully. She was light skinned almost passing for a white woman, but dark enough that people knew that she wasn’t. Her hair fell in soft golden brown ringlets around her diamond shaped face.
When Madame placed the wine colored mask with ruby crystals and a black feather attached to the corner, on Claudette’s face the look was completed. Only her sea foam green eyes peered out exuding a kind of mysterious air about her. Claudette was used to being pretty. In her short 17 years she’d had many suitors of which her late father had turned down, but this was a beauty all together, this was more than being pretty and it haunted her.
“Thank you so much Madame. Here is the payment, plus a little extra for your exquisite work!” Lizzy said handing Madam LeVergne a small stack of money.
Once the girls change back into their day clothes, thank Madame once more, and head back to the school with Brea.
Hours later Claudette and Lasiandra were standing in a room full of brutish men, and scantily clad women. They were in the back with their arms crossed over their chest fuming. Their companion for the night and the boy who Lizzy had been madly in love with had promptly gotten drunk and left with a different women. Lizzy was hurt and had begun to cry and quickly took to the bottle becoming drunk within the hour. Claudette tried to remain calm and not rub the mess they were in into her fragile friends face. The only reason they were there still was because the excuse they had used for leaving forced them to be back at a certain time, which was, unfortunately for them, not now.
Still Claudette was getting an uneasy feeling and wanted to get out of the unsavory place more than anything. “Lizzy maybe we should go. We can go get coffee or just walk around town until we can go back to the Academy.”
She nodded in agreement and we started to walk towards the exit. A stumbling drunkard, who reeked of whiskey and sex greeted them at the exit. “Where are two pretty doves like you headed all alone?” He slurred and grabbed Lizzy’s arm who was to drunk to pull it away.
“None of your business sir. Now if you’d kindly let go of my friends arm, so we can be on our way.” Claudette’s voice held an air of confidence to it, but just beneath the surface of that calm, she was quivering with fear. She waited with her breath held for the man to lash out but instead he just shrugged and pushed Lizzy into her. Before Lizzy could open her sometimes offensive mouth, Claudette grabbed hold of her and guided her out of the building.
“Oh Claudy. You were right. We should of stayed in our own part of town.” She looked around disgusted with what surrounded them. They were most definitely in the slums, the rats scurrying by them, looking for food in the trash, proof enough of that.
“It’s fine, we’ll just find our way to the opera house and hang around until it lets out. Just please keep calm.” Claudette tried to reassure her.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Drunken words and all that.
“I know Lizzy. Lets just get home okay?”
Lizzy nodded her head and began to walk in the direction of the main street. Instead of ending up on the main street though they ended up in a darker more dangerous alley way that stopped in a dead end.
“Oh I think we’ve made a wrong turn.” Claudette exclaimed fear riding up her spine.
A sound came from the end of the alley echoing and ricocheting from it’s source making it sound bigger and more frightening than it probably was. At least that’s what Claudette hoped for.
Claudette turned around and started making her way back the way they had come. “Lizzy, I’ve got a dreadful feeling.” She confessed. When no one answered her in return she whipped around and to her horror found nothing but air in the place her best friend had been seconds ago.
Panic gripped her and questions raced through her mind. “No. Lizzy I hope you’re only messing with me! Please come out.”
Claudette started to search the darkened alley for her friend, but could not find anything. She tried in one desperate moment to calm herself and breathe. A sickening wet and slurping sound met her and she felt it throughout her whole body.
Without thinking for her safety, she followed the sound hoping to rescue her best friend from whatever fate had befallen her. She heard a pained moan, and ran to the sound. Her first thought was that someone was defiling her friend in the filthy alleyway, her second that her friend was being violently stabbed or murdered. A hundred scenarios flashed through her mind each one more gruesome than the next. When she finally pinpointed the sounds and found their source her mind could not comprehend what was going on.
A group of spindly little creatures were feasting on her friends body, while Lizzy thrashed violently trying to escape. “DEMONS” Claudette yelled into the empty night. They were deep into the slums of the city, no one could possibly hear her, and if they did, they would most likely not be inclined to come running to her rescue. The creatures turned their beady black eyes on Claudette, who in turn let out a yelp.
Lizzy tried to tell her to run, but the message got disconnected due to the slash that ran across her throat. The little monsters turned away from her and began to make chase. Claudette let out a strangled cry and began to run. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she vowed she’d come back for her friend. If she made it of course. Her skirts tangled around her legs preventing her from running faster.
One of the beasts latched it’s claws into her back which sent her careening onto the filthy cobble stoned road. The rest of the pack of creatures descended upon her in a flurry of claws and teeth, pinching and biting.
“Be gone!” A booming male voice roars from somewhere behind her.
As quickly as they had attacked her they all scurried away into the shadows the stench of their fear almost palpable.
She struggled to push herself up, the cuts and gouges the monsters had made burning intensely. Someone hauled her up and over their shoulder. She tried to wriggle her way to freedom but the steel band that was holding her there, which turned out to be her captors arm, was to strong. She looked around and saw that it was not just her and her captor, but a group of men dressed in strange clothing. Their pants were extremely to tight and made out of an unfamiliar fabric the color of sand. They carried strange weapons too, which were attached to leather holsters spanning their large and muscular chests.
“Who are you?” Claudette demanded.
“Shut up.” Said the man holding her, his voice vibrating with menace.
“My friend! We have to go back to her!” Claudette pleaded.
“Your friend is dead.” He replied bluntly. “And if you want to live we must get the poison out of you.”
Between the news of her friends death and the news that she had poison coursing through her veins Claudette had had more than what one woman could bear. Her world went black as she bobbed lifelessly over the shoulder of the brute.