My book is up for consideration for Cover of the Month for February on All Author. I could really use your support. I’d appreciate if you please take a short moment to vote for my book cover here.
Thanks So Much!
My book is up for consideration for Cover of the Month for February on All Author. I could really use your support. I’d appreciate if you please take a short moment to vote for my book cover here.
Thanks So Much!
For a little update on what’s happening at Kindle Vella, I posted my last episode of Dumaine Street this past Thursday, January 26. As many endings often are, this was bittersweet. Dumaine Street is a paranormal romance novel I began several years ago. I was so taken by the neighborhoods off of Bayou St. John, particularly the Faubourg St. John area of New Orleans, that I was inspired to write this story with this lovely area as a setting. Dumaine Street, at its heart, is a romance. At its core, it is the tale of two somewhat damaged but extraordinary people who find a way not only to help each other but fall in love in the process. To date, it’s the second and longest Kindle Vella story I’ve ever written. I should begin working on getting it ready for publication as a novel next month. But if you’re not interested in waiting, it will remain posted on Kindle Vella.
In addition, presently, I have two other ongoing Kindle Vella stories. One is my newest, The Alchemist’s Bride, and the other is my werewolf tale, The Story of Enid. I should be posting a new episode for that one sometime this weekend. I also have two other completed stories at Kindle Vella. One is The Lady in the Blue Dress, published recently as a paperback and on Kindle. The other is a long short story, The Most Unlikely of Places, which is a time travel tale.
So, if you want to check out Kindle Vella, type in Evelyn Klebert to find my tales. Also, as always, the first three episodes of any Vella are free to read.
I’ve made so much progress on my Kindle Vella story, Dumaine Street, today. I am two to three episodes away from completing it. To date it’s my longest Kindle Vella story. If you like paranormal romance, make sure to drop by Kindle Vella and check out Dumaine Street. Amazon will give you 200 free tokens if you’re just signing up, and of course, the first three episodes are free to read. Hope you drop by.
Voices in her head, catastrophic emotions, hallucinations, Rebecca Wells is more than convinced that she is losing her mind. And as a last-ditch effort, she contacts a self-professed counselor who seems convinced that he can help. Gabriel Sutton has abandoned the world of medicine to navigate a realm filled with psychic phenomena. Diagnosing Becca with extreme empathic abilities, he struggles to help her stabilize her gifts while trying desperately not to fall in love with his patient.
Recently, I launched a brand new Kindle Vella. In addition to my ongoing stories, Dumaine Street, which has just reached its 33rd episode, and The Story of Enid, which has reached its 17th, I am introducing The Alchemist’s Bride. This tale is a bit of a departure for me, a paranormal romance taking place entirely in 1888 New Orleans. If you want something different and on the gothic side to read this holiday season, check out The Alchemist’s Bride. The first three episodes are always free to read at Kindle Vella.
Emmeline Lescale might as well be an orphan. Her mother is dead, and her father wants nothing to do with her. She has been raised by an aunt in Vacherie, LA and virtually treated as an unpaid servant. But suddenly, her neglectful father insists she come live with him. New Orleans in the 1880’s is no place for a proper young lady, especially when her father is embroiled with a mysterious young doctor whose interests venture deeply and dangerously into the world of the supernatural.
I am very excited to announce the publication of The Lady in the Blue Dress!
Take a little time this holiday season and unravel the mysteries of The Lady in the Blue Dress. Just released at Amazon, Cornerstone Book Publishers, and most online book publishers, as well as Kindle, settle in and travel along the twists and turns of this unpredictable paranormal romance.
When she was a child, Mika Devalieur was introduced to her grandmother’s most precious possession — a priceless and mysterious painting that she simply called The Lady in the Blue Dress. Upon Adele St. Clair’s death, the painting is left in the care of her granddaughter with only one stipulation. Mika must hand over the family heirloom to a total stranger. Mika Devalieur desperately wants to deny her beloved grandmother’s last request, but she can’t. Torn between her Gran’s last wishes and her desire to hold onto the Lady, she ultimately journeys to rural Virginia, where an enigmatic man shows her that this painting is only the beginning.
What quickly becomes clear is that James Clairmont knows much more about her and the Lady than he is letting on. He begins to slowly unravel a powerful supernatural connection that spans three generations of her family. Mika finds herself desperate to uncover the entire truth before she falls in love with a man filled with so many secrets — secrets about him, about her, and most especially about The Lady in the Blue Dress. (First published on Kindle Vella, episodes 1-23.)
I am very excited to announce that my new book, The Lady in the Blue Dress, will be released later this month. This is a novel that I am very proud of and has been in the works for some time. I hope you take this paranormal journey with me this holiday season and unravel the mysteries of The Lady in the Blue Dress.
When she was a child, Mika Devalieur was introduced to her grandmother’s most precious possession — a priceless and mysterious painting that she simply called The Lady in the Blue Dress. Upon Adele St. Clair’s death, the painting is left in the care of her granddaughter with only one stipulation. Mika must hand over the family heirloom to a total stranger. Mika Devalieur desperately wants to deny her beloved grandmother’s request, but she can’t. Torn between her Gran’s last wishes and her desire to hold onto the Lady, she ultimately journeys to rural Virginia, where an enigmatic man shows her that this painting is only the beginning.
James Clairmont clearly knows much more about her and the Lady than he is letting on. Slowly, he begins to unravel the powerful supernatural connection that spans three generations of her family. Mika finds herself desperate to uncover the entire truth before she falls in love with a man filled with so many secrets — secrets about him, about her, and most especially about The Lady in the Blue Dress.
My publisher, Cornerstone Book Publishers, is having a Black Friday Through Cyber Monday Sale. All regularly priced books storewide will be 35% OFF Nov. 25-Nov. 28. Take advantage of this sale to stock up with Cornerstone’s wide and eclectic inventory. And of course all of my books are on sale as well. I hope you drop by.
Well, I’m wrapping up Halloween week here at evelynklebert.com with a short story entitled “The Armstrong.” It’s a tale of two people taking an extraordinary leap of faith to find each other. And given the chaotic state of the world right now, I thought it was important to close this Halloween celebration on an upbeat note of possibility. After all, what extraordinary things could flourish if we could embrace change and perhaps take that elusive leap of faith? I wish you all well and hope you enjoy “The Armstrong.”
It was an old hotel. That was something that could be felt, its history, on her very skin.
She would have preferred something new, walls that hadn’t been around for so many years. Of course, the lobby was impressive with its chandeliers, effigies on the ceiling, vast spaces trimmed with mahogany accents.
But she would have preferred something new, not so vast, not so impressive.
Once she got upstairs, the halls were more narrow, skinny even, filled with rooms facing each other, past the elevator, and at one end, a painting slapped on the wall, an old plantation. Not much thought, someone just thought it looked pretty.
She moved quickly, swiping her room key, then slamming the hotel door behind her. Throwing her shoulder bag down onto the king-sized bed, she checked her watch. It was late, eight-thirty.
She didn’t know why she was here, why she’d come. This was pointless. All of it, but she couldn’t stop. She had no idea how to begin to stop.
After having been dropped off by a handsome cab, the lobby was full when he checked in. It was well into the evening, but there were all manner of individuals milling about The Armstrong — evidently serving as a center of social activity as well as a hotel. A valet had offered to carry his trunk and greatcoat, but he declined. As he took the lift to the third floor, he focused. It was necessary to achieve great concentration.
Fortunately, the narrow hallway to his room was deserted, unlike the downstairs. It could be any place, anywhere, and more than that, any time. He held the key that he’d been given tightly in his hand. And then he closed his eyes just before he put it in the door.
He allowed himself to be pulled, pulled by the life force he sensed. After all, time is an ephemeral construction. What is real power is energy, the magnetism of energy. He allowed himself to be drawn in, and then he opened the door.
“Lydia,” her eyes fluttered open.
Surely, she’d been dreaming. Then the fatigue swept over her, and her eyes drifted closed again. “Lydia, focus.”
Someone was talking to her, but she was asleep. Wasn’t she?
“It’s an in-between state of awareness. Not sleep, not awake. That is how I am able to contact you.”
“I—I don’t understand.”
“Just listen, my name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor of sorts. And I’ve been looking for you for some time.”
That’s how it had begun, slowly, insidiously. These were contacts that she could attribute to imaginations, indulgences, then later even mental illness.
At times, they’d talk at length in that in-between state. “You’re not ill. You’re gifted. There is a vast difference.”
“What is it you want?”
“I want us to meet.”
“Meet? How? When?”
He seemed somewhat befuddled by her questions. He could see her, and she could see him in that in-between state, often just across the room from her, but the trouble was that he seemed so insubstantial, passing in and out of vision as though he was made of mist at times, a fluttering photo on a blanket of vacillating haze.
Befuddled, yes. “How? Might be a bit easier than the When.”
“Yes, Lydia.” He called her Lydia. Her name was Lilly Page, but Charles insisted on calling her Lydia. He claimed to have known her as such.
“I don’t understand.”
“We need to meet in a particular place, a place where there is a link.”
“What sort of link?”
“It has to do with the When of things.”
She was sitting in the corner of the room, of the shadowed room, waiting quietly when the door began to open. She should have been scared, should have been terrified at what was happening. But she had slipped into the mindset, the altered state that he’d taught her. The one he had drilled in fact, nearly over an entire year, a few evenings a week, then in the last few months every day, every day striving to achieve a sort of mesmeric trance that he taught her.
And she sat quietly as the door swung open. He stepped into the room, not a mist, not part of an imagination, not a dream manifestation. But real, in the flesh. Silently, he closed the door behind him, turning a lock she did not recognize. He placed his oversized black suitcase on the ornate rug covering a wooden floor and draped his long coat over a golden crushed velvet wing-backed chair. She breathed in sharply, somewhat shakily shifting her state. Lilly had become cognizant that her surroundings had shifted around her.
He stared at her from across the room. Blond hair, dark eyes, and dressed — her breath caught in her throat — dressed in a suit “from another time,” he finished. She straightened up in a chair she no longer recognized. He had completed her thought. “It’s a side effect,” he murmured. “From all the intensive alignment we’ve been working at.”
“Alignment?” she murmured.
“Yes, to make this possible. As I said, the When of things was always going to be more problematic. But we’ve overcome that.”
She was coming to herself now, out of the trance. The room had grown. In fact, they were in a sort of sitting room, and beyond an archway was another room. It was a suite, whereas she’d been in a single room. And the décor was more elegant, like the hotel — mahogany furniture, velveteen, and tapestry chairs, paintings of soft country-side scenes, placed on the walls as though someone had given it thought, not just haphazardly hung them.
“I don’t understand—”
“The place is a mix of your time in 2019 and mine in 1904.”
He had moved closer to her and was standing in front of her. “It doesn’t seem like a mix. It seems to be wholly in your court.”
“There are subtle differences,” he murmured, though his eyes seemed purely transfixed on her. “Can I take your hand, Lydia?” he said rather abruptly.
“Lilly, my name is Lilly.”
“I’m sorry,” he held out his hand for her as though she’d agreed. But she did allow it, allowed him to take her hand, and he rather firmly pulled her to her feet and then into a warm, intense embrace. “I don’t know if I believed it was possible to really reach you.”
It was the writings that he began to find first, in odd places, tucked away in books, in his desk, and on the pages of his own personal journal.
The penmanship was odd, not flowing, and well composed as most writing he’d encountered. But rough, and not in script at all, but rather some blockish-looking print.
It’s odd. I’ve been having these headaches more often lately. The doctor can’t find anything in particular wrong with me, just stress, she said.
He’d found the writing on an unfamiliar stationery stuffed in a book on Animal Magnetism that he was reading by Franz Mesmer.
She even did a CT scan, but nothing. Stress — the convenient diagnosis when they have no idea what is wrong with you. It’s frustrating, and I didn’t even bother to tell her about the dreams. After all, they are just dreams.
The paper was thin, filled with lines, and the ink was an odd color, a forest green shade. He had no idea where it had come from, perhaps just the shop where he’d purchased the book. But such a strange note.
And then he found another.
I’m starting a dream journal. Not sure why except I’m desperate to get things sorted out somehow.
He found this one on the same sort of paper stuffed in a nightstand by his bed. It was quite impossible unless the housekeeper or a maid had left it there. He would question them thoroughly as the hour was quite late when he’d discovered it.
Last night I dreamed I was walking through an unfamiliar house, a large place old-fashioned with a great staircase just past the entrance. As I ascended to the second floor, I put my hand on the rail, a heavy dark wood. I turned the corner past the stairs, and there was a long hallway filled with doors. Then someone was beside me, but I couldn’t turn to look. It was like a paralysis, but he whispered in my ear, a deep voice. “Which door will you choose, Lydia, or will you go back to whence you came?”
It shook him, the name Lydia. It was an odd sensation, not a word that was precisely in his memory but in his other memory, sense memory he’d read about in a book on magnetism. This was a deeper sort of holistic phenomenon attributed to the spiritual plane.
He sunk down onto the mattress of his queen-sized bed. The scrap of paper he held in his hand was fluttering. And given his usually methodical nature, it was a bit shocking. But his hand was shaking, not just that he was trembling, trembling all over. He schooled himself to breathe deeply, calmly, but it was next to impossible. His eyes again scanned over the curious script. It felt familiar, something he should know or would know.
Of course, he would check with his housekeeper, Mrs. Farrow, and the two maids, Cecily and Lucy. He didn’t really need two. He was a widower, but Lucy was Mrs. Farrow’s daughter, and she had asked for her employment, a sort of favor to help her find her way. There was still that possibility that it was one of them. He folded the paper over, putting it on the nightstand. The name Lydia, he knew it but from where?
Her head spun with dizziness. “Try to anchor yourself,” he whispered in her ear. She did. She focused on the reality she was experiencing now, in her mind accepting that this new place was now her plane of existence.
He continued to hold her, gently rubbing her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t know if it was helping or distracting, but she liked it, allowing herself to relax in his embrace. “I cannot tell you how pleased I am to meet you finally,” he murmured. And she felt it, through his touch, the emotions she felt in his thoughts seeping through the embrace. “You’re so sensitive.”
“I—” she began, having no idea where to begin.
“You must tell your mind that this is real.”
She felt her knees begin to buckle as the reality of her exhaustion swept over her. She felt him sweep his hands under her knees and scoop her up just before she collapsed. “I can’t—” she whispered as she lost consciousness.
When had all this started? She couldn’t remember, probably with the journal. It was supposed to be a dream journal but turned into something else, something she would scribble thoughts and feelings in at odd times during the day. She’d taken a semester off from work. She taught English Literature at a local university, but the inexplicable medical issues had made things too complicated. Kindly, they’d given her time to sort things out, though she was several months in and felt no closer to anything being settled.
One day though, a chilly day late in September, she’d opened her journal to find the curious writing just below her entry.
It was a fine penmanship and strange ink, completely different from her thick green ballpoint pen.
To Whoever May Receive This,
Please take note this is an experiment on my part, an indulgence if you will. The headaches you are experiencing may be connected to a hyperconnectic experience. Do not assume that they are traditionally physiological in the sense that most may experience.
She remembered staring at the page in total confusion. Lilly Page lived alone in a townhouse in New Orleans. No one else had access to this journal. Of course, the panic had surged up inside her. Maybe she was losing her mind. Maybe this was some sort of multiple personality disorder. The possibilities that she concocted were quite horrifying. So, she did the only thing she could think of, she answered.
Please tell me, who is this. You are frightening me.
Two days later, there was an answer in the same formal antiquated script.
Forgive me. My name is Charles Del Couer. I’m a doctor.
How are you doing this?
I found your journal in my bureau some days ago. I believe I am supposed to help you.
It’s difficult to know what to believe and what not to believe once events step out of your ordinary parameter of thinking. Lilly left the journal alone for about a week. She considered all sorts of things, primarily among them all that she was having some sort of a break from reality — schizophrenia, multiple personalities, a brain tumor. But no, they’d done a CT scan. That wasn’t a possibility.
She thought to throw the journal out into the trash. But she couldn’t bring herself to. The headaches continued, and she was becoming desperate.
Look, I can’t deal with much right now. I’m in too much pain. If this is some kind of trick or worse, or if it’s just me having some sort of breakdown, then have a little mercy and —
She stopped writing. What else could she say?
She closed the journal, put it on her little white desk in the corner of her bedroom, and pushed it away for a few moments.
Then tentatively, she slid the old-fashioned looking leather-bound book she’d purchased from Barnes and Noble back towards her. Taking a breath, she flipped it back open to the ribbon-marked page that she’d just written on. Just under her writing was a new entry, scribed in that exquisite penmanship.
So, I believe it falls upon me to convince you that I am not a delusion elicited from the depths of psychosomatic illness. Very well, as I said, my name is Charles Del Couer. I am a practicing physician at the Hotel Dieu, French Hospital, Charity Hospital, and Mercy Hospital. I am a member of The Society of Magnetism in New Orleans. I live in a house along the Esplanade Avenue near The Bayou St. John. I am a widower.
Her eyes blinked. Some of those hospitals he listed she wasn’t even aware had ever existed, and the Society of Magnetism. What exactly was that? So how could she create something that she had no knowledge of?
Her head had begun again to pound unmercifully. So, she wrote with a shaky hand.
I’m not trying to insult you. I just have to be sure. It’s been difficult. She closed her eyes and let the pen drift from her hand, trying to mentally will the pain to subside.
She could hear the sound in her ears, a voice murmuring in her mind. She began to take long, measured breaths, in and out.
“Try to focus on allowing the pain to subside. Let it drift away slowly with every breath.”
Again, she focused. With every breath in, she concentrated, and with every breath out she relaxed, allowing the pain to slowly drain away from her temples and forehead. And it was helping, she could feel it. The pain was still dull but a ghost of the intensity that it had been.
“Good, now try to lie down on your bed and rest for a bit. I will continue to focus energy to you.”
She didn’t reply. She simply groggily did as she was directed to do. She didn’t mentally put it together at that moment who was speaking to her and leading her. She was just grateful for the help. She drifted effortlessly into sleep, moving into quiet, until she dreamed of a great house near the water and a man speaking softly to her.
Dreams became a link between them. Perhaps from the first time when she’d read what Charles had written in her journal and then when he’d directed her, helped her, and perhaps mesmerized her into a deep sleep as was his way.
In this dream, she was still in her room, in the bed but now it was layered with a different room — one she didn’t recognize. She sat in the bed and saw the enormous mahogany rolltop desk against the wall and the man sitting in a straight wooden chair next to it.
He was there, but insubstantial as was his room, quite different from the usual space she inhabited.
“What is this?” she meant to speak but felt it as something else emanating from a place that wasn’t exactly sound.
“You should be resting Lydia, not forcing a connection at this juncture.”
“What does that mean? Forcing a connection?”
His clothes, suit rather, was antiquated, but his tie hung loosely untied at the collar of his white shirt. “We, you, and I clearly will be communicating. Somehow we’ve bridged the space that traditionally separates us.”
“Space?” she murmured.
“Yes, space is the only adequate description of what separates us. Time is an artificial construct.” Her eyes were examining him. He wasn’t old, older than her but not by much. His hair was a dark blond shade, and he had a well-kept beard and mustache.”
“You’re Charles,” she murmured.
He eyed her oddly, with curiosity, she felt, because she was feeling so many things. “Yes, yes, I am. You should rest.”
“My name isn’t Lydia,” she said, while she felt the fatigue take her over again.
“I know,” was the last thing she heard him say.
She slowly opened her eyes but wasn’t sure where she’d be when she opened them. She felt the pressure of his hand atop hers. Flesh upon flesh, not that insubstantial contact that she’d come to expect between them.
“Lydia,” he murmured, softly brushing her hair away from her forehead.
“Charles,” she whispered. “Where are we? Still in between?”
He nodded, “Seems so,” squeezing her hand. “How are you feeling?”
She glanced around the room, again seeing the ornate vintage furnishings but noting now tapestry-type wallpaper that she did not remember before. “It’s changing,” she whispered.
Again, he squeezed her hand. His eyes were blue with amber flecks. She’d never been so close to him to see that before. They were actually together. It worked.
“Yes, it has,” he said softly, looking at her with quite a degree of tenderness. He’d read her mind, heard her thoughts as he’d done before. And she remembered now how along the way she’d completely fallen in love with him.
“I don’t understand how this is possible.”
He’d led her through a guided meditation, initially writing her the instructions in her journal. After guiding her with his voice in her mind a few times, he then communicated with thought transference once she was deep in the meditation.
“Is this like hypnosis?”
“Not exactly, it travels well beyond simple mesmerism. We have genuinely connected on an astral plane.”
And it was dazzling, talking to him as though he were right next to her and sometimes seeing impressions of him in his home, but not concrete, more translucent.
She was sleeping soundly, and he knew he dare not disturb her, no matter how tempted he was. He paced the room, noting that it did indeed seem to be slipping away from her timeline and more into his. He wasn’t sure why exactly, only that things seemed unstable.
“The headaches, my love, are they worse after our sessions?”
He didn’t know when it had started, when he’d started referring to her as my love. It just seemed to have popped up organically, and she didn’t stop him. It was easy, easy to slip into. She seemed so vulnerable and accessible in some way though insubstantial, like some sort of a dream.
“No, they’re actually better after I spend time with you. They crop up when I’m doing other things, going to work, doing things in the outside world here.” He was extremely focused on her as she spoke, having glimpses into her life, flashes of her moving through her life. And then deeper, slipping deeper into the physiology of what was happening.
He could see her, see her body in two spaces. There was tremendous stress on her energy systems. In her modern era, Lilly’s aura was becoming chaotic, bleeding energy to stabilize itself.
He questioned if he’d caused this, if their contact resulted in this divided stress.
“Can’t you rest, my love?” he’d asked.
“It’s difficult. I’m always tired, bothered, even when I sleep.”
“Sleeping isn’t always rest, you know,” he murmured. “Some believe it’s traveling to other realities.”
“Yes, this life, this awareness we experience in waking hours is only a small part of actual living.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Give it time Lydia,” so odd how that name kept slipping out. “Then you will understand.”
Of course, she fell in love with him. Why would she agree to attempt such a thing, such an unthinkable meeting, attempting what rationality told her was impossible? But what was really rational and what was not?
She opened her eyes to look around the room. On the bedside table was a platter of fruit and cheese and a bottle of wine next to it.
She sat up shakily in the unfamiliar bed as it wasn’t the one that had been there once she’d checked into the hotel. “Are we celebrating?” she murmured.
He was across the room, back to her, staring out a window whose heavy brocade drapes he’d pushed back with his hand. He turned around quickly in response to her inquiry. “How are you feeling?”
She smiled, “I’ve no clue yet. Dizzy, I guess.”
“I thought you’d want to eat something.”
He sat beside her on the bed, taking her pulse without asking, then lightly feeling her forehead. “Will I live?” she asked lightly.
He squeezed her hand, and she felt that draw to him. She’d always felt it before, but not concrete, not like this with his skin next to hers. “You better. I’ve put a lot of effort into this.”
She nodded, “What now, though?” She wasn’t sure she wanted an answer. If they succeeded, they hadn’t really discussed it. And now that they had what was on the other side of this moment was the question.
“Why don’t you eat something? Then we can sort things out.”
She reached for a strawberry holding it in her hand for a moment, and a curious thought crossed her mind. She felt a bit like Persephone, eating the pomegranate seeds in the Underworld. Once she took a bit, would she be unable to go back? Would she be forever linked to where he was? She looked at him oddly, wondering, feeling as though he indeed did know the answer. She didn’t really hesitate. She didn’t regret anything. She simply took a bite.
Copyright © 2022 by Evelyn Klebert
“The Armstrong” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with the Unknown: The Hotel Stories.
In “Too Many Pens,” an artist finds a very routine stay at a hotel slowly transforming into a place of romance and mystery. “Slipping” is the story of a young woman finding herself threatened by unexpected interdimensional attacks. Two unique travelers find love and themselves trapped in a French Quarter hotel during an unexpected tropical tempest in “The Storm.” In, “The Armstrong,” two people from different eras try to bridge the gap of time itself in an old historic hotel. “Variables” tells the story of a dimension traveler battling to rescue a man from a devastating fate. And “Hotels in the Time of Covid,” explores a relationship between a news reporter and her spirit guide.
Follow the unpredictable lure of the supernatural in this collection of Hotel Stories.
What if every choice you’ve ever made is much more impactful than you could truly imagine? A young woman confronts this reality and a very terrifying customer in my next Halloween Story, “The Left Palm.”
The Left Palm
Fear, a manifestation of fear, certainly this was it. It was the only explanation, the one that made any sense she could live with.
She looked outside the bedroom window of her apartment onto her small secluded concrete patio. Hopefully, this time it would be gone. Shakily peering through the blinds, her heart clutched in her chest. It was nearly midnight, but the nearby streetlamps still illuminated the enclosed space, reflecting off its thick black coat. It turned its face toward her, unmistakably a pure, black wolf with eerily pale blue eyes.
She stepped back, allowing the blinds to snap back into place.
Again, it feverishly crossed her mind to call the police, or the SPCA, or the fire department — frankly, anyone. But each time she moved to pick up her cell phone, a paralysis crept in. Something inside her refused, absolutely refused to follow through.
Silently, she crept back onto her daybed, pulling the covers tightly around her. In the morning, it would be gone. It always was. After all, this was the third night in a row she’d seen it.
It was summertime, unbearably hot and humid in the city. But she made her way to the college by the lake, where she was taking one graduate course in Victorian Literature. It was a nine o’clock class. After lunch, she would head to the French Quarter for the rest of the day, where she worked oddly enough as a Tarot card reader at a small shop on Chartres Street.
Granted, it was a unique profession, but one that she literally fell into. She’d been working at a gift shop on Decatur Street and, feeling the pinch of inflation, began looking for a second job. A sign was boldly taped on the door of The Left Palm, “Looking for Part-Time Help.” The front of the store itself was filled with books, candles, and even clothing, so naturally, she’d assumed that it must be a sales position. She just sort of drifted in with no idea of what she was getting into.
The lady that greeted her from behind a glass counter was older, at least late fifties. She had substantially long black hair, dramatically streaked with gray, which was piled up in a low bun behind her head. Presenting quite a striking image, she wore a sort of electric blue caftan dress and an ornate oriental scarf draped across her shoulder. But when she’d met her eyes, there was no smile but rather an almost suspicious expression reflected through her intently plucked black eyebrows. “Yes,” she’d asked nearly sternly.
She breathed in deeply, suddenly feeling as though she’d like to slink off somewhere and forget the whole thing. “Well,” she hesitated, quelling a bizarre combination of panic and curiosity, “I saw your sign outside about a job opening.”
The slim dark woman who’d been leaning over the glass counter in front of her now straightened up. It was difficult not to be struck by the regalness of her bearing. “You’re looking for a job?” She asked flatly.
“Yes, I am.”
She nodded, feeling amazingly uncomfortable, “Yes, that’s fine.”
And then she outstretched one of her hands that were ornamented by very long, bright red nails and placed it flatly on the glass case in front of her. “So, you’re a reader.”
She hesitated, “A reader?” asking with surprise.
“Yes, we need a Tarot reader.” Suddenly Claudia glanced around the store and took it all in — crystal balls, new age paraphernalia. Of course, now she understood. It wasn’t a sales position at all. Again, the woman repeated in low tones, “You are a reader.”
And Claudia, with great confidence, met her dark eyes and answered quite directly, “Yes, I am.”
Prior to working at The Left Palm, it had all been a hobby, an eccentric interest. She’d done Tarot readings since high school for friends, relatives, but never herself. Long ago, she’d recognized that she simply couldn’t read for herself. It was too personal, as though she was always searching for something. And it was frustrating because more than she wanted to know anything, she wanted to understand about herself. She needed to know why all her romantic entanglements ended disastrously if she’d ever finally finish her degree, if she’d stop having to work so much, and if her life would ever settle down. But The Left Palm had proved to be more lucrative than she imagined at first. The pay was primarily commission, and before long she had developed a clientele. At times, the work she’d found less than rewarding and, at its worst, completely draining.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, the money was too good to relinquish. Even with an assistantship at school, there were too many bills to pay. So, Claudia continued to read people’s fortunes, all kinds of people.
And on the early morning drive to school in late July, she wondered if there was some connection in this, in her work and the black wolf that had prowled her patio for the last three nights.
It had rained earlier in the morning, which increased the humidity to an almost oppressive extent. She’d always loved this city but did not love the summers. She yearned for the fall again, when it would be easier to breathe.
The summers were a quiet time around here, but this morning seemed exceptionally quiet. As she entered the English building, hearing her sandals lightly tap on the stone floor, it struck her suddenly how deserted everything seemed. When she’d arrived, she’d noted a few souls wandering about in the parking lot and then sitting on the library steps as she passed by, but the English building was now virtually empty.
Then, as she finally reached the door of the classroom, she understood at least one of the reasons why: A note on the door, “Class Cancelled.” She thought longingly of how she could still be in bed catching up from another largely sleepless night.
Her thought was to go home, try to catch just a few more hours, but such fatigue suddenly filled her that she couldn’t even muster the effort. So, instead, she wandered outside and sat down on the first bench that came along. Just a few minutes, she thought, only a few to regroup. She leaned back against its wooden frame and closed her eyes, trying to draw energy from anywhere.
It was some moments before her eyes flickered open again before she noticed that a rather substantial shadow had fallen over her. But when she did, she instinctively straightened up in a jolt. It was quite unexpected. Not a cloud passing over, but a man standing in front of her. a man dressed in a black suit, standing a few feet away, just watching.
The sun shone directly in her eyes. She attempted to block the glare with one hand, trying to get a clearer glimpse of this stranger. Bearded, dark, possibly black hair, but skin fair, she straightened up a bit more, expecting something from him, some sort of conversation, but nothing.
“Umm, can I help you with something?” she asked in puzzlement. And then, an unnerving wide smile spread across his face. Suddenly, a flash of sunlight stung her eyes so painfully that she quickly squinted. But more disturbing than that was that when she reopened them, the stranger was gone. She bolted up, quickly scanning in all directions but seeing no one that even remotely resembled his form. He’d simply vanished. An unexpected chill of fear traveled up her spine and spread out, making her skin feel like ice. She quickly began heading back to her car, moving so fast that it nearly felt like a run.
“You look awful.”
After an hour of sleep and a quick shower, she somehow managed to drag herself into work for noon. Madame Christina stood behind the front counter with a frown on her face. Over the year Claudia worked at The Left Palm, she’d come to a plateau of understanding with the shop owner. Christina Duverje rarely smiled, had a sour disposition, and was profoundly psychic. Once you accepted all these facts about the woman, life working at the French Quarter shop could be bearable. “No sleep,” she murmured as she crossed the threshold. “Any appointments today?” she asked, secretly hoping there were none. Between the wolf literally at her door and the disappearing stranger at the University, her nerves were frayed to the point of unraveling. What would be most medicinal would be a nice quiet, uneventful afternoon.
“No, my sweet,” the older woman commented. “Just a few stray walk-ins this morning. Wednesdays, as you know, are notoriously slow around here. But I have some new stock you could put on the shelves while I go to lunch.”
Claudia nodded. Just for a moment, she thought about confiding the recent bizarre occurrences in her life to her boss. But something kept her silent. Somehow talking about them felt as though it would become more real. Madame Christina had already gathered her things from a locked drawer beneath the counter. “You can ring me on my cell if things get too busy. Marguerite will be in at one. And I probably won’t be back for a while. I’m meeting an old friend.”
Claudia smiled with distraction as her boss noiselessly exited, except, of course, for the delicate chiming of the bells positioned strategically over the entrance. She breathed out a deep sigh of fatigue. It would be an hour until their very high-energy palmist swept through the door, hopefully, a quiet hour to regroup. She sat on a stool behind the glass counter at The Left Palm and attempted to clear her mind. It was stress that she felt all over her, crawling over her skin, sapping her strength. She should have simply called in sick, but the truth of the matter was she didn’t want to go home. The memory of the black wolf last night prowling her patio left a fear wrapped around her heart. It was clear that whatever was happening couldn’t continue. She needed help, but precisely what kind of help was the ultimate question.
Claudia was deeply lost in thought when the bells at the doorway of The Left Palm chimed to signal the entrance of someone. She came to her feet quickly but, in the next moment, stood literally rooted to the spot as a man rounded the corner of a book display. Her breath caught. There was no mistake, the black suit, pale face, and now, as he approached the counter, she could see very clearly the ice-blue eyes.
He stood in front of her, not unlike what he had done earlier at the University. But there was no hint of expression on his face, just a calm appraisal. They stared at each other silently, and then, almost against her will, the words slipped out, “What do you want?”
Now, there was a smile, the kind that didn’t touch the eyes. He spoke in a low voice with a clipped British accent. “Why, I think I’d like a Tarot card reading.”
They were like booths, partitioned with long red curtains at the back of the store. Madame Christina had set up the first one in particular with a slim sightline through the curtain to the front entrance. Business wasn’t booming enough that there would always be more than one person working at a time. So, this was a way to alert a reader if there was another person in the store. Within each booth, there was a card table covered by a soft white, silken scarf and two chairs on either side. They were very nice padded armchairs Christina had obtained from a friend at a nearby antique store. It was all very atmospheric, which was necessary, given that they charged sixty dollars for only a thirty-minute reading.
And today, Claudia was giving that reading to a man who called himself simply “Neil.”
She had no idea why she was doing this. It was crazy. It was crazy. A thousand excuses, a thousand lies had flooded up to her mind the moment he asked for a reading. But she seemed incapable of uttering even one, just stood there staring at him blankly, as though he had just asked to clean out their cash register. And then he’d asked quite calmly, “Is that all right?”
And she answered too quickly on its heels, “Yes,” without paying attention to what her brain was screaming at her. The man himself was calm, collected and showed no indication whatsoever that he’d ever laid eyes on her his whole life. And then, the doubts crept in. Perhaps, it was her. Perhaps, she’d had some premonition of their meeting. That was why she’d seen him before. But why and what did it mean?
And now, here she was only moments earlier feeling content and pleased to have the shop to herself, and now literally counting down the minutes until Marguerite flew in the front door like a tornado. Blessed tornado, for once in your life, please be on time.
“Is everything all right?” he asked.
She glanced up at him, again entertaining the gaze of those strange, blue eyes. She’d tried to avoid looking at them too often. They were pale, disturbingly pale. She had tried to gage the man’s age somewhat, but found it difficult — late thirties, early forties, hard to say. And that suit, that was one of the oddest things of all. It was a nice suit but so unsuitable for this time of year — so heavy, so hot. Then again, maybe he worked in a funeral parlor. She started to shuffle the oversized Tarot deck in her hands and leaned back in her chair. “No, everything’s fine. Have you had your cards read before?” she asked, her eyes still downcast, concentrating on the cards.
“How old are you?” She looked up, a bit surprised at the question.
“I’m twenty-four,” she answered a bit guardedly.
He nodded, “Seems young.”
She stopped shuffling and, perhaps a bit too abruptly, placed the cards on the table. “If you’d prefer a more seasoned reader, Madame Marguerite will be back this afternoon.”
“No,” he murmured. “That’s not what I meant. And yes.”
She looked at him with puzzlement, “Yes?”
“You asked if I have had my cards read before.”
She looked down again, nervously picking up the deck. “Oh yes, well, is there anything, in particular, you’d like to know about?”
Again, he answered “Yes,” rather quietly.
She glanced up. He was watching her again with that odd curious expression as though he were expecting something. “Well, then, as you shuffle the cards, you should concentrate on it.”
She reached over, handing him the deck and feeling the brush of his fingertips as he did. The contact was startling, disturbing. The only way that she could describe it was electric and cold at the same time. She pulled her hand away, feeling an absolute numbness in her fingers now. Instinctively, she glanced through the slim opening in the curtains toward the front door, but nothing, no movement. And then she glanced at her watch, forty minutes until Marguerite. Murmuring to him, she said, “We’ll begin now.”
She glanced up, noting that he’d stopped shuffling the cards. Suddenly, she realized she’d neglected to pull out a significator. “I’m sorry, I forgot—”
But then she stopped mid-sentence as the man who called himself Neil was holding out a card to her. “It’s all right,” he said. “I pulled it myself.”
She hesitantly took the card in her hand and flipped it over. “The Hermit,” she read. “That’s an unusual choice. I mean for someone whose—”
“Not old?” he finished. She looked up again. He was smiling that slight odd smile as though he was somewhat amused. “Well, I might be older than you think.” And then he handed her the deck.
“You really should cut them three times.”
Slowly, he shook his head, “Not necessary. They’re fine.”
She nodded hesitantly, placing the Hermit in the center of the table as she began the spread.
“You have a strange style.”
It was her job interview or, rather, her audition as a Tarot card reader for Madame Christina Duverje. At the time, she’d smiled back at the dour older woman feeling without question that there was no way in hell she was getting this job. She had no professional experience as a Tarot reader, and this woman, well, she oozed experience in so many spheres.
She continued driving home her point, “You’re very weak on specifics.” She glanced at her over the Tarot spread that Claudia had just boldly read for her. Naturally, she had given her all and hadn’t held back. It wouldn’t do, she thought, to appear hesitant. After all, she’d believed these people were seventy-five percent theatrics anyway. Christina Duverje eyed her critically, slowly shredding away any feigned confidence she’d brought with her. “You know,” she went on, “Clients like specifics. The man they’re going to meet, who’s going to have a baby, illnesses, even who’s going to kick the bucket.” All of this she delivered with a straight face, as those these were only the facts of the business. And then she pointed one of her menacingly long fingernails at her, “But you, you’re too vague.”
She nodded, mentally considering what her next plan of action would be. Maybe a job at a mall, although she did hate the late hours. And then Madame Christina had completely surprised her. She had reached out with one of her elaborately manicured hands and placed it atop Claudia’s. She looked up into the older woman’s dark eyes. “But you know, I think there’s something there. With a little coaching, you could do this.” She literally couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And, good to her word, she had coached her, albeit briefly, just enough to get her up and running. But today, this day, in front of this man, she could literally feel all of that confidence that she’d built up over the past year slowly melting away.
She swallowed on a dry throat as she finished laying the Celtic spread, her hands hesitating over the cards. Again, it was crazy. This not only seldom happened. This never happened. It was all major Arcana cards. The first twenty-two cards of the Tarot, the most powerful cards in the deck, and this guy had ten of them, plus the Hermit that they’d started with. “Umm,” she began, just stunned. “Are you sure you shuffled these well?”
“Yes,” he answered pointedly, “as did you.”
She nodded. That was right. She had shuffled them. And she did see him do so, or at least she thought she did. “This is just very strange.”
“Really?” he answered with little emotion.
She glanced up, “Would you like to redo it?”
“No,” he stated flatly.
She distractedly frowned, “Okay,” placing the rest of the deck down on the table.
“Do you read palms?” he asked.
She looked up, “No, our palmist will be arriving very soon if—”
“No, I was just wondering if you did.”
She forced a smile and shook her head, “No, sorry. No, just the cards.”
“I wondered because of the name of your shop — The Left Palm.”
“Madame Christina does read palms as well,” again seized with the hope that their interaction would be cut short.
“Do you know what that means?”
She stared at him blankly. “I’m sorry?” she said with genuine confusion.
“The Left Palm, do you know its significance?”
She shook her head slowly, “No, not really,” feeling that chill sweep over her again, the one she’d felt at his fingertips.
He spoke slowly and deliberately, “The left palm charts the path of the spirit. Did you know that?” he asked with deliberation. Again, she shook her head, feeling greatly unnerved by this turn in the conversation. And then, he placed both of his hands face down on the table in front of her. “I’d like to show you something. So, you can get an idea of who I really am.” She stared at him with confusion but was unable to utter a sound, just like before. And then slowly, he turned over his left hand, and at that moment, time just truly seemed to stop. Her eyes blurred over in disbelief at what she was seeing. His hand, his entire palm, had no creases, no lines in it at all. It was entirely blank.
“Oh God,” she finally managed to mutter brokenly.
“So, now Claudia, I would like to spend these last minutes we have together not reading my cards because, as you might have guessed, I know exactly what they say. But instead, having a little talk that is long overdue.”
It began when her grandmother died. She’d been ill for some time and had stayed with her family at her parent’s home toward the end. She’d even briefly shared a room with Claudia, which had made the little girl, who was only eight, somewhat uneasy. It wasn’t the recognition of her grandmother’s failing health or even that particular sensation of agitation that seemed to surround the older woman at the end. It was as if her soul was fighting the change. It created a discordant feeling between the body and the spirit that felt the pull to escape. Of course, all of this she didn’t recognize at eight. But she did see them — all around, and in the end, all the time. Some were spirits that looked like a bright glow of light, and others came in more tangible forms, people moving around the room, talking to her grandmother — whispers all the time whispers, and then, the last night, right at the end, the angels. Beautiful lights, white, gold, long robes glowing, when they took her with them. When her grandmother did pass on, it hadn’t registered at all to Claudia that there was still a body there. She had already left with the angels, and there remained a disturbing emptiness once they were gone.
She breathed in deeply, deep painful breaths of fear. “Oh God, what do you want?” she asked.
He smiled coldly, so coldly. “Now, we get down to it. There’s no reason to panic.”
“The wolf,” she whispered.
“A messenger to let you know I was coming. But I see you didn’t quite get that did you.”
She glanced around, looking at the door. Still no sign of Marguerite, and it was ten to one.” She’s going to be late,” he stated flatly. “Late enough for us to finish this.”
“Finish what?” she snapped out.
“I need a promise.”
“You’re out of your mind. I’m not signing anything.” She almost yelled emphatically.
He laughed softly, leaning back in Madame Cristina’s antique chair, “You’ve seen too many movies. No, my dear, you’re not important enough for that. I just want a promise.”
“What kind of promise?” she knew that she shouldn’t have asked. She knew she should have run, run like crazy to the nearest holy ground. But instead, she asked what should not have been asked.
She stared at him blankly in bewilderment, “What?”
“What I need is fewer complications.”
“And I need a vacation. What’s your point?”
He smiled, “Actually, you’ve hit the nail on the head. You need a vacation, and I need less complications. All I ask from you is that you live your life, a nice life, a comfortable life perhaps but stay out of my way.”
She stared at this strange aberration of a person in complete confusion. “What?” was the only response she could think of, “What does that mean?”
His pale face seemed to harden a bit. Evidently, she wasn’t giving quite the expected answers. “Let me paint you a picture, my dear. One life, things go smoothly. You finish college. You get a nice job. You get a house, a car. You marry a nice man, have children, live quietly, peacefully, sound nice?”
She shrugged. Did he really want an answer?
“Another picture,” he continued in a silky low voice. “A life of struggle. It takes a while to finish school, not enough money. Not so easy to land a job. Things interfere, unfair things. You continue to work, sometimes several jobs. No house, not enough money. Maybe no husband, maybe no children. Always a battle, always some impediment. Sound nice?” he asked with an edge of sarcasm.
“So, you’re saying if I stay out of your way, I get the first life. And if I don’t?”
“The wolf will always be at the door,” and then he smiled coldly, “So, to speak.”
Her heart thudded loudly in her chest. Her head was spinning. Was this real or some sort of deluded dream? Impossible, how could it be?
And then the answer came to her softly, almost silently, in a whisper — angels. She remembered now from back then. She’d told her mother about them, expecting, completely expecting her to say she was crazy, or that she had imagined them.
“You didn’t,” she’d said. “It’s a gift that you could see them; they’ll always be there for you when you need them.”
And she had. She’d seen them again five years later when her mother died unexpectedly. She knew then that she was right. It had been and was now a gift.
For a moment, the coldness seemed to lift enough for her to think clearly. So, she reached out slowly and gathered the cards together, quietly glancing down at her watch. She met his ice-blue eyes and said calmly with confidence. “Your time is up.”
He frowned explicitly, “Are you sure you’re making the right decision Claudia?”
She nodded with assurance, “Yes.” And she kept him in her sight until he left.
Copyright © 2022 by Evelyn Klebert
“The Left Palm” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural.
Halloween is the time of year when that veil between worlds is thinned, and you can just catch a quick glimpse into the realm of the unknowable. In this collection of short stories, Evelyn Klebert takes you to a place where ordinary life splinters into the sphere of the paranormal.
The journey begins with one woman’s unstoppable quest for vengeance against a supernatural creature in “Wolves,” and continues in an old historical graveyard where a horrifying discovery is uncovered in “Emma Fallon.” In “The Soul Shredder,” a psychiatrist’s unusual patient opens his eyes to a disturbing new view of reality, while in “Wildflowers,” a woman strikes up a supernatural friendship with impossible implications. And in “The Left Palm,” a fortuneteller in the French Quarter receives a most unexpected and terrifying customer.