The Gothic Tale of Blair Devereaux, and the evolution of an empire.
|Hidden behind a mass of spanish moss and magnolia trees, a decrepit sepulchre of a building rested chillingly among the chirping cicadas. This monumental structure of flint and granite had been ostracised from normal societal function, leaving the decaying walls to crumble by their own hand. Surprisingly, this edifice housed four hundred and seventy orphans of ages fourteen to seventeen in relative squalor, a product of the waning public safety ordinances. And whilst the children slept, a creeping squall hovered above the bayou.
The predictable combination of lightning and a clap of thunder suddenly broke the innate silence, and a young man abruptly awakened, perhaps unreasonably startled. The boy quietly sat up and rested against the headboard of his bed, creating creaks and squeaks from the ancient boxspring. As he ripped off the covers, he put the soles of his feet on the piercingly cold floor, and peered out the foggy window. Wiping the condensation off the panes, he stared at the gigantic magnolia tree outside. It was blowing violently in the wind, decimated by strong waves of pounding rain. Green terracotta tiles from the roof of the gothic colonnade began falling to the courtyard below, shattering upon impact. The tree’s waxy leaves flew like projectiles and finally came to an ultimate rest among the statue of St. Augustine. Yet, with the bustling excitement of the storm stirring about, and the intense percussion of the breaking roof tiles, this was not what caught the eye of the young orphan. The flicker of a kerosene lamp slowly floating through the colonnade became as distracting as the storm itself.
Believing this to be either a bizarre hallucination, or simply a radical continuation of his dream, the boy closed and opened his eyes rapidly, hoping for the light to eventually fade. He waited, but instead, it grew closer with every second. Fearing for the lives of his peers, and through his unprecedented adolescent thought process, he gathered his strength and decided to investigate the treacherous intruder.
From before his memories were clear, the boy could recall being so easily startled: lightning, strangers, conversation, human interaction, possible phobia. He cautiously snuck through the door, and entered the dimly lit hallway. The floorboards creaked with every step, like a sharp moan. The candle lights flickered as he darted past the black candelabra on the mahogany paneled walls, creating no direct source of light and making sight increasingly difficult. He attempted desperately to muffle the sounds of his escapade, trying to avoid awakening the “warden” of the dormitory. In this case, the term warden alludes to the self-proclaimed “matron-saint” of St. Augustine, Madame LaFourche. A woman of high standards and low morals, the French woman dictated the wellbeing of children through their solemn silence and back-breaking labour. Old myths of negligence and abuse plagued her reputation, therefore denying her any chance of retribution. The insufferable snores emanating from her room were enough to silence any ruckus, but for the sake of being thoroughly safe, the boy continued on.
He finally snuck past the anti-melodic vibrations of Madame LaFourche’s boudoir, and hastened his pace to the central stairwell. The limestone room easily made sound resonate rather obviously, making silence a highly valued asset. The harsh raindrops pounded against the stained glass windows, creating a disheartening cacophony which echoed throughout the chamber. Dark frescoes of colored light projected against the wall depicted the trials of St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and St. Theresa in an ethereal glow. Every step he took, he strategically placed his foot along the edge of the wall. As the boy reached the bottom of the staircase, his breath grew heavy and rapid.
However subtly it caught his attention, it heralded the beginning of one of the boy’s infamous panic attacks. His sight became blurred and warped as he stumbled to the french doors leading to the colonnade, tripping over chairs and the moth-eaten oriental rugs scattered about in the foyer. A clash of lightning greeted the boy at the door, as did the enormous silhouette of a bear of a man standing before him, with a recently silenced lantern. The boy held his breath in his already spasming diaphragm. Though he wanted to believe that he had gone unnoticed by this massive creature sporting hands the size of soccer balls, he was not of the level of intelligence where such ignorance would be acceptable. With one fowl swoop, the boy had fallen flat on his back, frozen in terror at what stood before him. The black mass entered the building with such a ghastly grace that it was registered in his mind that the creature was in fact floating a few feet off the ground. The thing never said a word, nor made any sound whatsoever. Instead, the young man’s senses spoke for the creature.
It was massive, as it towered over him effortlessly with it’s unnaturally elongated legs. It’s face was covered in bandages crusted with dried blood and pus, only to show two slits where it’s grey, lifeless eyes were. The smell of it’s burnt flesh and smoke scalded his nostrils, filling them with the petrifying odour. The boy began gasping for a few last breaths as the shadow bent over to embrace him. When his surroundings had eventually dissipated, the boy surrendered unto sleep: an abysmal, deep sleep of which one could consider to be a state of inactivity of both mind and spirit. These stents, however, are relatively short lived. Therefore, he awoke to being shaken violently, and being bombarded with the scent of Sauvignon Blanc.
His eyes unfortunately adjusted to the sloppily kept face of Madame LaFourche, of whom had just finished her daily morning routine consisting of downing a bottle of wine, and making her dramatic entrance down the staircase in her booze-stained silk robe. Madame LaFourche was a peculiarly and particularly poignant drunkard, favoring a dive into a bottle of bourbon before outwardly dealing with confrontation. In this case, confrontation meaning the disregard for the dormitory curfew. The boy would rather be caught by the police in a criminal act then be discovered by the foul-breathed mistress. At some point in her life, she must have been a very attractive woman; though the years of excessive testosterone and estrogen levels she dealt with had disintegrated her youthful appearance, along with her relaxed and rather cheerful demeanor.
“Blair!” she wailed in her overbearingly dramatized French accent. “Blair, you little wretch, get up! What are you doing on the floor?” she wailed, “Have you been drinking? How dare you drink any other beverage than water! I can tell when minors are... intoxicated.” Blair rolled his eyes. The blatant display of irony was no longer an amusing aspect of life at St. Augustine’s, but now a more pensive hilarity. As LaFourche babbled on about upholding the supposed hierarchy of the orphanage, a young woman about the same age as Blair observed the scene from the adjacent archway.
Anastasia watched with lonely eyes at the boy she had longed secretly for such a time that she had completely forgotten the memories before she had met this mysterious bystander. How she had fantasized about his love for her: the long and intense dialogues written in her diaries, her inconceivably devoted thoughts, all pushed aside for her own tedious idiosyncrasies. So many nights, she spent hours lying awake wondering if he felt the same way that she felt about him; perhaps it was an unfounded adolescent romance, though she purged those thoughts in favour of hope. She had always known Blair to be a very stoic individual on the surface, but had seen him in his more vulnerable moments where he appeared to be almost compassionate, like a guardian angel who truly loved her. And perhaps that was all she needed to trick herself to believe in this fantasy, for that is all she desired to have with him. Nothing more, but surely nothing less. But as she looked on at the ravaging rambling of the “matron-saint,” she couldn’t help but prematurely speak her peace.
“Madame, he must have been sleepwalking. You have three padlocks on your liquor cabinet and no one in their right mind would dare touch it for fear of being mercilessly mutilated.” She quickly realized the error in judgment, and snapped her mouth shut. However, as everyone knows, words speak louder than actions, as Madame LaFourche turned her unscrupulous face to Anastasia.
With a single glance, LaFourche could silence a room, and she took full advantage. With head hung low, and a shameful expression, Anastasia made her way to the broom closet, as is typical with the traditional disciplinary tactics that LaFourche employed. En route, Blair glanced at her, as if thanking her with expression: something that was rarely seen with him. She could have sworn that he flashed a slight smile, which made her heart sink in the most splendid way; something she feared might kill her, but something she awaited every time she saw him.
“As for you, you little toad,” LaFourche croaked, “You will obey my rules in my home. That includes all curfews. Do you understand me? I don’t care about the law. I am the law. You can’t get around me.” Blair lightly nodded his head, at least showing some form of solemnity, and an absolute sign of redemption.
“Fine. You may go.” Now released from his slightly lenient punishment, Blair arose and ascended the obnoxiously tall staircase. He followed the monotonous daily ritual of readying himself for the judgmental, rude, and snobbish classmates he’d surely get at school. Using the plethora of jobs he managed to obtain, he could afford decent clothes and maintain a normal image. His insecurities of his status as an orphan could only be sufficed by upholding a normal lifestyle: this consisted of attending repetitive pep fests and superficial dances with peers and colleagues that wouldn’t give a damn about him either way. Yet, maintaining this facade had been difficult. He shared a room and bathroom with 14 odorous, athletic, and unintelligent teenage men. His roommates always meant well, but never knew how to go about portraying it. Ultimately, Blair was the target of a remarkable amount of unintentional animosity due to his unusual scholarship to Basingstoke. Many of the men’s jealousy would overcome them, allowing them to carry out acts of little more than immaturity: putting flour in his underwear, replacing his shampoo with mascarpone, even going so far as to hide his book bag in their dirty laundry. Each time, though, Blair knew that they meant nothing by it, albeit intrinsically.
He came out of the shower, and one of the younger boys, Daniel, was drying his obscenely long dreadlocks. Daniel was neither intelligent nor quick of wit, however, he always seemed to bring out the best in everyone he encountered.
“Blair, y’know something?” Blair glanced at him, and awaited the surely underdeveloped question. “I think I might just make a run for it tomorrow. I’m done with this place. You interested?”
“Danny, I don’t think so. It’s my last year in high school, I’ve got to stay on top of this scholarship.”
“Why? What’s a goddamn degree gonna do for you in a place like Beauxsoleil? Don’t you ever dream of living on your own, away for here, from her? ‘Cause I sure do.”
“Then I wish you the best of luck. It’s best that I take my chances out here. Hopefully you can make it.” Danny looked disappointed. Blair tried his best to move on to more optimistic subjects. “Where are you planning on going?” Immediately, Danny’s face lit up, excited to hatch his plan.
“Oh, I was thinking New Orleans. Near the French Quarter. My cousin Richie has an uncle out there that would have room at his place. I could work at their bakery over in the Lower Ninth, anything’s better than sitting around here waiting to die.” Blair stared into the mirror, trying his best to be a comforting source of support.
“How are you planning on getting there, Danny? You don’t have money for the bus, or the train.”
“Well…” he sat and thought for a moment, defeated. “I’ll just walk. It’s not too far.”
“Danny,” Blair tried to reason with him, but Danny’s passion for the subject didn’t allow any room for doubts.
“Blair, I’m sick of this city. Everybody is so damn rich… so damn awful. The people out in Eastpointe, St. Antoine, over in Monte Bella… They look right through us; like we don’t exist. Their kids are the same way. You’d think that they’d know by now that we’re people too, and still, they don’t even talk to us; to them, we’re the scum of the Earth. You don’t even like it at that prep school you go to. Does anyone so much as look at you there? Do people realize that they’ve bumped into you in the hallway? When are you gonna wake up, Blair? Things aren’t gonna get better here.” Blair let Danny’s words sink in. He was right, he didn’t enjoy his time at Basingstoke. He remembered all the times which he knew something in a class, but kept his mouth shut to avoid contact with the judgemental classmates. People he passed in the hallways looked right through him; his whole career there was a blatant lie; the white tiling and sterile color scheme of the shower room exemplified the feeling of Blair’s uncomfortability.
“Smoke and screens…” He admitted, “I suppose I don’t like it, but I have to pretend I do. Sometimes you’ve got to deal with following up an opportunity just to avoid an excursion.” Danny stared at him, confused.
“What the hell is an excursion?”
“Ahh, never mind... Here, take this.” Blair took out forty bucks from his wallet, and handed it to Danny. His eyes lit up with excitement and mischief. Danny could already see the rush of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras or the quiet strolls through the Garden District. He imagined the opulence of the mansions on St. Charles Avenue, or the quaint little shotgun houses in the Marigny. Danny, of course didn’t comprehend that he knew so little about the city, but in reality, his ignorance became his bliss; he gladly accepted the gift, and rushed back to his bed to start packing as inconspicuously as he could. Blair returned to his bed, and pulled out his shoes from his beat-up trunk. He suddenly began worrying about the intruder last night. He debated with himself on whether it was a dream or if it was reality. It had seemed so vivid, so lucid. It was incomprehensible. He slipped on his shoes and down the stairs he went.
Past the gloomy broom closet which now had a very unwilling occupant, and past Madame LaFourche trying her best to hide a flask in her desk files. He took the long, winding gravel road down to the bus stop on Villaneuve Boulevard, and sat down. He pulled out the iPod he had snatched from Basingstoke’s lost and found and began listening to whatever was on the most played playlist. Yet, across the street, stood the figure just as dark as the night before, patiently lying in wait for the opportune moment to act.