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.
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.
“The Armstrong” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with theUnknown: 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.
“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.
Check out my second short story for Halloween Week here at evelynklebert.com. This is the story of two strangers trapped in a New Orleans boutique hotel in the middle of a tropical storm and the amazing connection that they discover between them.
The rain was pouring down in sheets, bands, they were called. She watched pensively through her balcony door. The breeze felt good, flooding into the dimly lit room. She stared downward toward the inner courtyard of the Hotel St. Mariana from the second floor. The swimming pool below, situated just in the center of the ornate patio, rippled with cascading rain droplets. The news said that the tropical storm should move over quickly, just tying up things for a bit, though the establishment had taken the precaution of placing sandbags at all entrances.
It was unexpected.
The storm was in the Gulf of Mexico but was predicted to move into Texas. Surprisingly, it took a substantial jog to the right at the last minute and landed in Louisiana, crashing her weekend getaway. She knew there might be a bit of rain, and it was the middle of hurricane season, late September, but she had been reluctant to shift course. She needed this. This time signaled a personal emancipation of sorts, beginning her life anew, and now, consequently, she was trapped in this little boutique hotel in the French Quarter for who knew how long.
She thought about going downstairs, not just staying here, trapped in the room. Though admittedly, it was a lovely trap, atmospheric. It reminded her of another time, one well removed from everything that her life represented now.
That voice in the back of her head, the cautious one that usually governed, reminded her that perhaps she should shut the balcony door, but the breeze felt so lovely and lifted her spirits. There was a rebelliousness burgeoning inside of her, one she usually kept in check, that seemed deliberately at odds with all those things she should do.
Undeniably though, the best part of this excursion of hers was that no one knew where she was. For the next two days, she’d escaped the snare of familial interference, people telling her what she should do, how to get on with her life, how she should feel. One way or another, this would be the new beginning for her that she so desperately craved.
It was a time to shed her old life, although, at the moment, all that progressive intent was a bit stymied as she was stuck in the middle of a storm. In some respects, storms made everything stand still. This, she’d always felt. The world and all her desires would simply have to pause until it passed.
Then again, perhaps this was just what she needed, a moment of quiet, suspended expectation and anticipation.
She leaned back on the white bedspread and closed her eyes, fatigue overtaking her. It had been this way for some time, just fatigue. She was so tired of stress and her life as it was. Undoubtedly all of this was purely emotional, then again, perhaps not.
He prowled with a deliberate restlessness. That was really the only way he could describe it. “Shouldn’t this be boarded up?” he fired toward the desk clerk, perhaps a little abrasively. He felt the clerk’s eyes on his back as he watched the torrents of rain pouring onto the street outside the plate glass windows.
“It’s only a tropical storm, sir. It should pass over with no incident.”
He frowned with tangible irritation. He was on a business trip traveling from up North, and this whole thing was woefully unexpected. Only a tropical storm was significant enough to cancel all his meetings and trap him in this little hotel. With frustration, he stalked the length of the antiquated lobby again. “Would you like more coffee, sir?”
He looked down at the Styrofoam cup in his hand that had been already filled twice with coffee several times more potent than he would ever obtain back home. The young clerk, a slender dark-haired lad that couldn’t have been in more than his early twenties, had made a pot of coffee just half an hour ago when he’d showed up. This storm was bothering him, and he undoubtedly was bothering the young desk clerk. “No, that’s all right.” Clearly, he was jumpy enough.
Mathias West didn’t like feeling trapped. He couldn’t book a flight out early, and he couldn’t roam the streets of New Orleans because of the storm. And he didn’t want to stop moving because if he did, it would only remind him of things he didn’t feel like facing, for instance, what a hollow sort of shamble his life was in. Ostensibly, he was a workaholic. He dated casually with no real intent of permanency because frankly it was easier and had become a habit. And usually, he was so busy that none of that was a problem unless, of course, things stopped like now.
He did not want this quiet time to reflect, but it seemed mother nature had other things in mind. So instead, he continued to stare out the window at the sheets of rain cascading off the pavement of Chartres St., trying to will it to move on, knowing full well what a futile waste of energy that was.
“Is there coffee?” He heard a decidedly feminine voice back in the vicinity of the front desk. He turned around, spying a tall slim, brunette woman at the small coffee station on the side of the long cherry wood desk. Amazing, another soul stirring in this bleak situation.
“How is the storm?” he heard her ask the young clerk, but he interrupted, answering rather intrusively.
“Wet and unmoving.”
Slowly, she turned around at the sound of his voice. Yes, tall, slender, pale skin and enormous eyes, lovely, he registered rather quickly. “Oh really, not moving?” she asked with surprise.
“Umm, no, Ma’am, actually,” the young clerk intervened. “The storm is moving. It will just take a day or so to completely clear out.”
He shrugged, turning back to the window, “Best listen to the expert,” he muttered.
And then, surprisingly, in just a few moments, she was standing next to him, coffee cup in hand. “I know it’s an inconvenience, but I do love the rain,” she murmured.
“This much of it?” he asked with sarcasm.
“I suppose that seems odd. But I find it, well, energizing, I suppose.” He couldn’t help but pick up on it. There was something just a bit wistful in her voice and a lovely intonation that seemed only characteristic of New Orleans, or so he’d surmised in the brief time he’d been in the city.
“Well, as it seems, we’ll be stranded here for a bit. I suppose I should introduce myself, Mathias West.” He didn’t bother to outstretch his hand as both of them were still holding coffee cups.
“What an interesting name,” she commented softly. “Olivia Blanchard,” she offered, smiling at him only briefly. And there was no denying it. Just that quickly, he was intrigued.
The small restaurant nestled in one corner of the Hotel St. Mariana opened around 7:00 AM. And as it was, they were the only partakers of breakfast. “I’ve been told to caution you that the hotel could lose electricity at any moment.” The young blond waitress told them rather gravely.
Liv smiled, sipping her orange juice. Across from her, her breakfast companion just gave a sort of grunt in acknowledgment. “Thank you,” Liv murmured just before the younger girl scurried away. Liv was only thirty-five, but she felt like Methuselah next to some of these young kids these days. Across from her, Mathias — still trying to wrap her brain around that name — drank his coffee. She wondered how he could drink so much of it, but then again, he did strike her as someone living a bit on the edge of things. “You know. It may just blow over with no power outages. It’s usually the wind that does damage.”
He nodded, “So I’ve heard. We get our share of storms, so they’re not completely alien to me. I just wasn’t expecting one here. Now, I mean. There wasn’t enough warning. It really threw a kink in things.”
“Yep, they do tend to get in the way,” she responded with the slightest tinge of humor in her voice. She was surprised to be sitting here with this man, this odd, cantankerous sort of individual. He’d caught her by surprise in the lobby, striking up a sort of pessimistic conversation about the weather when she’d joined him. They’d watched the storm roll in through the front window of The Hotel St. Mariana. “I’m sure tomorrow things will right themselves again.”
“Can I quote you on that, Olivia?” he’d said gruffly, though he lingered on her name a bit. He wasn’t really what most people would consider a handsome man — probably at least in his forties, bearded, dark brown hair, more on the husky side than slim, maybe just under six feet, she thought. And exuding, what was it, a sort of direct, disgruntled demeanor. She’d thought to herself like an angry bear, but it didn’t bother her. She was a teacher and used to fielding all types of personalities.
“No, you better not, just in case I end up being wrong.”
He’d looked at her a little oddly at her comment, assessing, she thought. Most people tended to dig in on their opinions, but she wasn’t nearly that committed to off-handed remarks. “Are you local?” he’d asked.
“Yes,” she smiled, “native to New Orleans.”
“I could almost pick up that peculiar accent. It’s not exactly Southern.”
She smiled, oddly amused at being described as peculiar. “Well, southern covers a lot of territory. Though I admit, we’re different than most anything else around us. And you are from?”
“Up North, Maryland originally, now Boston. I was in for a convention, supposed to be a sort of vacation.”
“Thus, the frustration,” she murmured lightly.
And it continued on, small talk. He worked for the Boston Globe as an editor, and she was a teacher at a community college. She expected him to be dismissive of that, many were, but he wasn’t, just continued to ask more questions. Of course, she didn’t flatter herself that he was really interested. It was clear to her that Mathias West desperately needed a distraction, and she just happened to fit the bill at the moment. After all, in truth, a distraction suited her as well.
She glanced around the small restaurant. Yes, she and Mathias West were indeed the only individuals here. So strange, she hadn’t even intended to leave her room that morning, but then the strongest restlessness had flooded over her, a need to ramble and explore, so much that it felt impossible to resist. She sipped her cool frothy orange juice and thought how lovely and indulgent a Mimosa would be just now. After all, she was now a free agent of the freest kind.
“Well, Olivia Blanchard,” he said casually, stirring his coffee, “you haven’t told me if there is a Mr. Blanchard.”
She glanced up, feeling just a little jolted, but again, she’d forgotten that the angry bear was direct and had no southern sensibilities of tactfulness, which suited her just now. She was tired of careful people. “No, no Mr. West, just me.”
Mathias waited, looking at her for an instant, expecting her to continue, then finally filling in. “Well, Olivia, I should tell you that I wasn’t always an editor. I started as an investigative reporter in my younger days and can’t shake the feeling that your response wasn’t a hard No but rather a soft one.”
“A soft one?” she questioned.
“More story there,” he elaborated.
She glanced around, wishing distractedly the waitress would come with her hash browns and eggs. She didn’t usually eat much breakfast, but for some reason, she felt like indulging, just like the hotel, an indulgence. Oh yes, back to his prying, “I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. West.” She said softly with an elusive smile but then noticed that he was studying her quietly, probably waiting for an answer that sounded reasonable. Well, she shouldn’t be surprised. Again, what else were they going to do today except perhaps dig up a stranger’s skeletons in the closet? “I’m recently divorced,” she offered quickly.
He nodded slightly as though she’d only acknowledged what he’d picked up on. “Yep, divorce is its special kind of hell, never easy.”
“Personal experience?” she asked, not overly concerned if she was now prying. It was only fair, and tactfulness seemed out the window here. It wasn’t as if they ran in the same circles or ever would. So, what if she offended him? Though oddly, her impression was that offending him might be difficult to do.
“About eight years ago, we’d been married just out of college, then, well, it just sort of fell apart.”
“My husband and I had been married just short of ten years. It was final, I guess, about a month ago.”
“Children?” he asked calmly.
“No, I, well, we tried. I lost a baby close to term once. Then there was another miscarriage. Just didn’t seem to be in the cards.”
His eyes seemed to change a bit. They were light-colored, maybe blue, or green, but she wasn’t sure. “That must have been difficult,” he said, maybe in a comforting way. It was challenging to tell with him. She suspected it wasn’t his nature to comfort, but she could be wrong. She didn’t have the best track record in reading people, her ex-husband being a prime example.
“Yes, it was, but the marriage wasn’t good. Children would have — I don’t know.”
“Made it complicated?”
She sighed, smiling a bit, funny feeling confiding in a stranger. It wasn’t her nature to be so unguarded. But now, with the storm, in this lovely little hotel so far apart from the way she’d always lived, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. “I would have loved children, but, yes, it would have made it difficult. Ryan and I were leading separate lives. And he, well, just went off and fell in love with someone else.”
His eyes were so fixed on her as though he was intently listening to what she was saying. It was odd that amount of attention. “I’m sorry, Olivia. That sounds like a very painful time.”
She smiled, “Most people I know call me Liv. Olivia seems very formal.”
He nodded, “Liv,” as though considering if, indeed, he felt comfortable with the sound of it on his lips, and then the food arrived, and the intense conversation stopped for the moment.
The storm continued to rage outside. Once in a while, he could hear it rattling, but it felt different now. All the irritation and frustration he indulged earlier was being stripped away. Liv? Did he dare tell her he preferred Olivia? Did he dare tell her that she was entrancing him with her candidness, with the lovely intoxicating tone of her voice? That a forty-three-year-old man was developing an intense crush on a perfect stranger, with emphasis on the word perfect.
This was ridiculous at his age. But he wanted to excoriate the ex-husband and thank him profusely for letting her go and throwing her in his path. She was quiet now, eating her breakfast, and he knew she was wondering if she’d made a mistake sharing the raw and painful part of her life that she was still dealing with. He was a middle-aged man and felt like he was in entirely new territory. He knew people and how to read people. But this, what was going on here, was new. “So, you’re leaving tomorrow?” she asked, her eyes wide. They were hazel, with flecks of dark green throughout.
“I’m not sure. There was a convention and meetings scheduled through the weekend, but I have a feeling all of it might be cancelled.”
She smiled, “Pity you can’t see more of the city. Have you been here before?”
“No, I haven’t. I wasn’t planning sightseeing, but I could be stranded a little while.”
“There are worse places to be.”
He moved his scrambled eggs around on the plate a bit. He’d ordered as she had, but not really hungry, and right now not at all interested in his food. And then he asked the question he’d wanted to ask for some time. “So, you live here in New Orleans, Liv?”
“Yes, well, in Metairie, I have a townhouse.”
“So, you’re here at this hotel. Why exactly?”
She paused, looking at him strangely. She was used to being judged. He could feel her wariness on his skin. He did have instincts as he called them. “I guess that seems strange to you.”
“No, not necessarily. I’m just curious, trying to put all the pieces together.”
“Lovely woman, all alone in this little boutique hotel buried in the French Quarter. I’m just nosy I guess.”
She smiled tentatively again, looking down at her plate, then glancing up at him almost shyly, deciding whether to trust him or whether it mattered if she could. “I just needed something different, a break, away from the old life — from people, from old things. I wanted something for me, completely out of the ordinary. I guess that sounds a bit self-indulgent.”
He shook his head slowly. “No, I booked this hotel away from the convention center, away from people I might know, for something different as well. To breathe different air for a little while.”
She stared at him, considering, he thought, that maybe under all his gruffness, there might be something there, something quizzically kindred. “That’s it exactly, to breathe different air. You do understand.”
“Yes, of course, I do, Olivia.”
He left the doors leading out to the balcony open in his room. The breeze from the rain outside helped to keep the room cooler. Just after his entrancing breakfast with Olivia Blanchard, the building did indeed lose electricity. He and Olivia had taken the stairs to the second floor, where they both had rooms. He’d escorted her to her door at the other end of the hall, wondering distractedly how to prolong their exchange.
“Are you a fan of cards?”
She’d smiled, indulgently he thought. “Only if I’m winning.”
“Seeing as we’re a bit trapped here, maybe I can test your skill later.”
She stood in the narrow hallway, looking at him in a way that made him wish they weren’t parting just now. “That sounds intriguing, Mr. West. You know where I am.” And then she’d left him to his own devices. Oddly, he wasn’t thinking anymore about his frustration, about being trapped here, unable to get on with things. Now, he was thinking about how long to wait before going down the hall to knock on Olivia Blanchard’s door.
She had opened the French balcony doors to allow some manner of light to creep into the hotel room. Outside, the storm raged, but she felt as though that veil of depression that had been hanging on her for months had been lightened. She smiled to herself. Suddenly, she felt young again, engaging, attractive. Angry Bear, she laughed — thinking about the man just down the hall that seemed anything but that now. In the short time they’d spent together downstairs in the lobby, then the dining room, she’d begun to see beneath the layers. He was incredibly sharp, to the point, insightful, compassionate, funny, and incredibly good-looking. And leaving for Massachusetts in probably a day. She was being silly, but it felt so good to be seen for a change, to be listened to, to not be judged by a lifetime of baggage.
She stood by the open doorway, feeling the soft mist of rain caressing her face. She was tired, but she didn’t want to sleep. She wanted to jump in headfirst. Of course, she didn’t know his room number. Maybe she could figure it out. And then, a bit unexpectedly, she heard a soft knock.
She whisked open the hotel door without hesitation. He was standing in the hallway with a deck of cards in his hands and a can of cashews. “I picked these up at the airport. They’re my weakness. But I can come back later if you’d like to rest.”
“No, maybe it’s the storm, but I can’t sleep. Come in. We can pass the time,” she said tentatively.
And then he looked at her warmly, making her melt a bit inside. This probably wasn’t the best idea, wasn’t safe, but she craved, needed to feel alive for a change.
As the day stretched on, the rain continued to pound outside the hotel with shifting levels of intensity. But it went unnoticed as they whiled away the morning playing cards. At first, on the coffee table that stretched in front of the white loveseat in what she would term the sitting room of her tiny suite, then later across the great white puffy comforter of her double bed, as it was more comfortable for leaning and resting with the large down stuffed pillows.
Was it improper?
The idea had not even crossed Olivia’s mind. Maybe she should be more careful. After all, what did she really know about this man, except that on the whole he was good at poker, not at gin, and a bit clueless about stealing casino, though he did seem to be catching on.
She was sitting on the bed, shoes off, leaning back against the headboard, while Mathias sat at the foot of the bed perched on one arm. He’d gotten rid of his sports jacket early on and rolled up the sleeves of a button-down blue shirt as the room was getting stuffy from the lack of air. They’d both gotten bottles of water from the mini-fridge, taking advantage while it was still cool.
Her mother would think her mad, allowing a stranger to spend so much time in her hotel room, but at the moment, she didn’t wish to think about her mother. And her less-than-supportive antics during her separation.
“So, I can pick up the ten and the two cards that add up to it,” he said with such a focused expression that made her want to giggle.
“Yes, all that.”
He glanced up with a furrowed brow. “Now, don’t laugh at me. I’m an amateur here.”
“No, Mathias, I saw you play poker. I definitely wouldn’t call you an amateur. So, no one ever calls you by a nickname, just Mathias.”
He nodded solemnly, still focused on the cards. Evidently, he was taking this very seriously. “Yes, nothing ever seemed to fit me. So, I was stuck with Mathias.”
She took a sip of the water that was now becoming less than cool. “It’s going to get pretty muggy in here with no air.”
He straightened up, having collected his pile of cards and added them to a very meager stack on the side. “Yes, I’ve noticed that about your climate here, very sultry.”
“The word is humid, and yes, it can be daunting even in the Fall.”
“The Fall is lovely up north,” he murmured. “You should come see it.”
She looked at him a bit oddly. The talk had been rather superficial, nothing as deep as what they’d perused over breakfast. But she’d felt a slight shift in his tone. “I’ve been up as far north as North Carolina, but that’s it.”
“Your turn,” he said. Then as she quickly picked up a card, he added, “I’d be happy to show you around Olivia Blanchard if you’d like to see it.”
She glanced up with a bit of surprise. That was direct, but then again, he was quite direct. “But you barely know me, Mathias,” she said lightly, taken aback by the draw she was feeling to this “stranger.” But a “stranger” who undeniably felt like someone remarkably familiar.
And then, quite unexpectedly, he reached out, covering her hand with his, and she felt an overwhelming response to the sudden contact. Was it attraction? She didn’t know. She’d never felt this before, this soothing feeling emanating into her skin through his touch, electric, maybe, but calming, relaxing. “Oddly, it doesn’t feel that way.”
She hesitated, nodding a bit, acknowledging the unchartered nature of their situation. Was she being silly? Probably, but she felt inclined to push away all those fearful voices that difficult life experiences had hammered into her head. They were the ones telling her to second guess everything she felt or thought, the ones telling her that somehow she was unworthy of feeling good or having happiness. All of them felt so easy to drown out at the moment.
“You’re thinking way too much, Olivia,” he murmured. His voice had that rich, deep timbre that seemed to reach inside her.
She smiled shyly, “Picked that up, did you?”
He squeezed her hand a bit. “I can literally feel it on you and, of course, see it in your eyes. They’re so easy to read.”
“Guileless,” she muttered.
“I would have said entrancing.” And then he reached over, lightly touching her face and pulling her in for the softest kiss. She couldn’t remember what she should do, couldn’t remember who she was before this moment, only that she sank into the comfort, sank deeply into the possibility.
Olivia knew things, knew she should stop, knew this would probably end in heartbreak for her if she let herself — what was the word, feel?
“It’s all right,” he whispered, pushing the cards onto the floor of the hotel room, and pulling her closer to him, his hands on her sides.
She breathed in deeply. What could she do? What did she want to do? Again, his mouth was on hers, more insistent, magnetic, pulling her intently toward him. And then there was the swirl, like the storm outside, that just blotted away everything, blotted away memory, concern, and allowed her to respond as if this moment between them was all there was.
She kissed him back, pulling him more securely to her, against her. All was forgotten, and all was remembered as they began to find peace in each other’s arms.
He quietly watched her lying next to him asleep. Mathias could still hear the storm raging outside. The doors on the balcony patio were partially opened. But inside the room, it was calm. He was perfectly content to be still now. He wasn’t thinking to the next moment, rushing onward, plotting, strategizing beyond this place. It was perfectly novel to him. He was content.
She shifted in her sleep, and then her eyes fluttered open. They were so lovely, deep, warm, and vulnerable. He remembered holding her so close just a little while ago, the passion and gentleness in her eyes as he made love to her. He wasn’t the sort of man who liked to deceive himself, and it was clear, even to him, that he’d fallen in love, maybe for the first time in his life. What a predicament, what a glorious predicament.
She moved again beside him, then murmured. “What time is it, Mathias?”
“I have no idea,” he whispered huskily, reaching over to her again and pulling her against him. He was determined to take everything this moment had to offer.
She was hungry. On and off during the evening, they had raided the min-fridge in her room, then he had done the same returning with an assortment of cookies and crackers from his. And they had lived off of these for the rest of the evening.
“Any chance we could find something else to eat downstairs?” she asked.
Mathias was across the room looking out the balcony, wearing his shirt untucked over his pants. For the balance of the day, they’d worn a lot less. It made her cheeks warm. Even when she’d been married, she couldn’t remember having spent such an intensely intimate day. She pulled the sheet up a little higher. “I suppose we could get dressed and go foraging.”
She laughed, “Sounds like a lot of effort. How does it look out there?”
“Still raining, still wet, but the sun is trying to make its way out.”
“Too bad. I’ve decided yesterday was my favorite day ever. Don’t really want it to end.”
He turned back to her coming to sit on the edge of the bed, then taking her hand in his. “My favorite day ever as well Olivia. But it doesn’t have to be the only one.”
“Why don’t you come back to bed Mathias?” she smiled. She didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to think about what this meant, could mean, anything really. She just wanted to continue to be simply happy.
“I thought you were hungry.”
She pulled on his arm. “It will keep.” And he complied, rather easily, she thought.
They slept again. And Olivia dreamed of the storm. She could see it rolling over the landscape, not like a usual hurricane but like a great steamroller of turbulent clouds breaking through the land, through her townhouse where she lived, through the school where she taught, her car, her mother’s house, the quaint little house where she used to live with Ryan uptown. All of it was crushed, demolished, with nothing left. It was devastating, but strangely she didn’t feel devastated. She felt relieved as all those old bondages, things that weighed her down, were purged from the landscape, and she was left ready to start over.
She woke up with a start. Mathias was not next to her, and her heart lurched in panic. Maybe he’d left. Maybe he’d decided their “fun” night was over. Then she heard rattling in the bathroom, and he walked out.
She bunched the bedsheets in her hands. But didn’t feel relief. “I didn’t want to wake you,” he said, smiling. Then his expression changed as he sat down next to her on the bed, “What’s wrong?”
“Honestly?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, lightly brushing her face with his fingertips.
“For a moment, I thought you’d left.”
“Really? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know. This, last night, yesterday, it’s all new territory for me. Was it a fling? Two people trapped in a storm whiling away the time. Or, or was it—”
“Something more,” he filled in. “What do you want it to be, Olivia?”
“I think I want you to tell me what you want it to be first,” she stammered. “This is all scary new terrain for me. I’m quite sure I don’t have to say this, but it’s not my normal way of doing things.”
He took her hand in his, murmuring, “No, not you don’t have to say it. I don’t want you to feel afraid. Honestly, it’s new for me as well. I can’t ever remember feeling this way, feeling such a profound draw to someone as I do to you.”
“So, what now?” she whispered.
“We need to talk and make plans. I want you to come back to Boston with me.”
She leaned back against the pillows. “Really, just like that?”
He nodded slowly, “Yes, just like that, I can take some time off, several weeks, spend it helping you to get things in order, then we can go.”
“Just upend my life.”
His expression hardened a bit as though he were considering. “Is it a life worth preserving?”
She frowned at his bluntness. “I don’t know, Mathias. That’s a lot of change.”
“You asked what I want. I think I’m making it clear that I want you.”
“So, I move to Boston. What, then, we live together? I’m not really keen on that.”
“Then let’s get married.”
“I just got unmarried.”
“Then I’ll find you a place there for a while and help you find a job until—” he sighed deeply, running his hand through his thick hair. “Look, I haven’t had the time to figure this out beyond I want to be with you, perhaps need to be with you, Olivia. The question is what do you want.”
She pursed her lips. Old habits die hard. She was afraid, afraid to leap. “Right now, I want to get dressed and get something to eat.” Suddenly, she heard a quick sizzle, almost like a zap, and then the electricity flashed on.
He looked up a little darkly. “Well, I guess we’re back to real life,” he commented dryly.
Mathias plugged in his cell phone, whose battery had depleted some time before, and took a shower. He’d left Olivia in her room to do the same. He sensed that she needed a little time to herself, to consider what they’d discussed.
For him, it seemed obvious, black and white. They should be together, even if that meant uprooting her to do it. Maybe her roots here were deeper than he suspected. Maybe it was an old habit, being comforted by the familiar, even if it was miserable, though he hoped this was not the case.
But the time they’d spent together had been a revelation for him. He was old enough to be able to sense the extraordinary. It wasn’t just the intimacy, though he had to admit that was unparalleled. But it was mostly the extraordinary connection that he felt just being near her, talking to her. He had always heard the word kindred but didn’t truly understand what it meant until now.
But he did know how to fight, how to be tenacious, and how to get what he wanted. And what he wanted was Olivia Blanchard. He just had to figure out how to convince her.
She dressed slowly, deliberately. They were to meet downstairs in half an hour, and she had to say something. “What do you want, Olivia?” he’d asked. Had she answered? What did she want?
She wanted to go back to last night when everything was simple, and they were just together, with no past, no future.
She thought again about her dream. About the great storm rolling through and pummeling her life. Was that what Mathias was — a great storm flattening her old life? But in the dream, she didn’t seem to mind. She felt unfettered, free. All she had to do was leap. But did she even have that in her anymore? To leap?
He waited for her in the lobby, noting a different clerk at the desk this morning, a rather tall blond-haired boy, still young. He passed by the coffee. He didn’t want it. He felt more than awake already. Outside, the sky seemed bright and rosy. One would scarcely know that a storm had blown through.
He wandered up to the desk, the young man seeming enmeshed in the laptop. “Well, I guess the storm has passed.”
The boy glanced up, plastering on a friendly smile. “Sir?”
“The storm from yesterday, the tropical storm, Selene, or whatever they called it. It’s passed.”
Confusion seemed to furrow his young brow. “Storm, sir? I’m sorry I don’t know what—”
“Now come on. It knocked the lights out last night.”
“What’s the matter Mathias?” Suddenly, Olivia was right at his elbow. He hadn’t even heard her approach.
“This young man seems to be playing a prank on me. Not very funny if you ask me.”
“No sir, I’m sorry. I wasn’t here yesterday, but I assure you there was no storm. It was a beautiful sunny day.”
She grabbed his arm firmly. “Mathias, come here. Let’s get something to eat.”
“It’s all right,” she murmured, pulling at him. “It’s all right.”
“I don’t understand,” he grumbled. “How ridiculous.”
It was quite bizarre. Olivia felt dizzy. She remembered the storm yesterday, the time when the lights were out — all the hours they spent together in bed, and the weather was raging outside. But then she remembered dreaming about the storm, and suddenly it all felt confusing.
“You remember it, don’t you? When we met downstairs in the lobby, we watched the rain.”
Vaguely now, she remembered but thinking about it made her head spin. Maybe it was hunger. That was why. They hadn’t eaten, had they? “I—I think so.”
Mathias reached into his pocket for his phone. He could check the news. That would confirm it and settle all this nonsense. But then he remembered that he’d plugged it in upstairs. “I have to get my phone.”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“No, no,” he said, grabbing her arm. It was ludicrous, but in all the confusion, he didn’t want her slipping away as well.
Mathias was a man that hung onto the facts. It made him feel grounded in his work and his life. But now, out of the blue, things felt indefinite, not grounded, as unstable as sand.
He held onto Olivia, though, pulled her to his side, and wrapped his arm around her back in the elevator. She wasn’t saying much.
“You do remember, don’t you?”
And she would whisper, “Yes, of course,” but it sounded hesitant. Was he losing it? Had he had some sort of bizarre stroke that tampered with his well-ordered memory?
By the time they got to his room, his head was spinning with disorientation. He moved quickly across the space to the phone on the end table. There were several voicemails. He looked at Olivia with concern, who had immediately sat down on the edge of the bed.
Quickly, he listened intently to the voicemails. “Mathias, where are you, buddy? You missed the first two meetings at the Conference Center. Are you all right?”
Then, “Mathias, it’s after lunch. Are you going to be a no-show all day?”
And lastly, “Mathias, it’s Todd. Call me back.”
He stared at the phone as if it were a viper, letting it slip out of his fingers onto the bed. He stared wide-eyed at Olivia. “What’s happening?”
She shook her head. “I’m so tired. Can we sleep?” Abruptly, he pulled her into his arms, and they laid down.
Olivia stood on a hill overlooking the city below. It vaguely registered that it wasn’t a landscape that was literal but rather symbolic.
“What are we looking at?”
Mathias was beside her this time. “The path of the storm,” she answered.
“I don’t see it,” he stated flatly.
She smiled, “Don’t you see it’s changed everything, remade what was.”
She took his hand. She could see it clearly, but it might take Mathias a while. But she’d be with him to help.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. Her head pounded, oh yes, with hunger. They still hadn’t eaten. Mathias was sitting up beside her, looking around. “I guess I better let them know I won’t be making the conference.”
She took his hand. “Let’s go slow. First, let’s get breakfast, and then figure out our next step.”
He nodded, pulling up her hand to kiss it. “I can’t quite remember Olivia. Was there ever a storm?”
“I think there was, but not exactly the way we thought it was.”
“The Storm” first appeared in a collection of short stories entitled Appointment with theUnknown: 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.
It’s that spooky season again and Halloween Month here at evelynklebert.com. Every week I’ll be posting a creepy/paranormal short story. My first story features my favorite werewolf Ethan Garraint as well as some of his more unusual friends. I hope you enjoy, “The Broken Window.”
“I’m not sure, not at all sure what the problem is.”
“Is it the glass?”
“Doesn’t seem to be. It’s made of the same glass as all the other windows along the wall.”
“Perhaps the sizing of the glass is off.”
“I don’t know. That seems to be a bit unlikely. After all, this is the third time.”
“Are you serious? The third time?”
“Yes Ma’am, last Thursday, Tuesday, and then today.”
Moira frowned. It was Saturday evening at the East Bank Regional Public Library, and she was staring at a two-story tall wall of plate glass windows — in particular, one pane whose glass was not shattered but oddly cracked from the center out.
“You want me to put up the yellow tape?”
She shrugged with distraction. “I suppose. I’ll call someone to fix it, but it’s the weekend. They probably won’t do anything until Monday.” She continued to stare for a moment, oddly transfixed for some inexplicable reason. After all, it was just a window. It didn’t mean anything.
Moira was a part-time librarian at the library, at least for the present. Her plans were uncertain, her life in flux. She didn’t intend to make a career here, just fill a gap or a chasm as she often looked at it. She’d actually only been working here a month, and the window problem. Well, the night watchman had indicated it had started about two weeks ago. She tapped her pen on the wooden counter in front of her, just two weeks.
“Working late tonight Moira?”
She glanced up from the computer terminal where she’d been constructing an inventory form. “Yes, until nine. How about you?”
Sally Clark stared at her with that wild animated look that she always seemed to possess. “No, no, I’m out of here at six. Wish you were coming. My boyfriend has a friend—”
Her voice droned on in Moira’s ears, but she had tuned her out. Sally was, well, predictable. She was closing in on forty, and although Moira was only several years her junior, she looked on in trepidation with anyone Sally could set her up with. Sally was a lovely woman, but Moira was sure their taste in men might not even rub elbows in this universe.
She snapped a book closed, looking up at Sally, whose hair had been dyed an odd reddish-blonde color when Moira wasn’t paying attention. But it seemed as if she’d concluded her ramble. “You have a great evening.”
“Maybe some other time,” Sally tacked on enthusiastically. She was actually a nice lady, and Moira should be nicer. But, well, she wasn’t. So instead of responding, she just smiled, waiting patiently for her co-worker to exit.
It was Saturday evening, but the staff tonight in the whole two-story structure of the East Bank library would be there tonight; however, only four, as opposed to the usual six, were closing.
The desk in reference where she stood had a clear view of that problematic cracked window. It was odd, disturbing, and alerted her to something deep within her skin that perhaps told her it was time to move on, although she’d only been here a mere month.
She sighed deeply from somewhere at her core, glancing down at her hands that were spread out on the wooden counter. And there, right on the ring finger was a tell-tale white mark indicating where a band had once been, a band that was now missing.
Instinctively she balled her left hand up in a fist almost protectively.
She ran her hand through her short brown hair. It was a sensible haircut that she’d gotten just before she came to work here. After all, if Moira Archer wanted to be a librarian, she needed to look the part. But she missed her hair, her long auburn-colored hair that she’d dyed a shade of dark brown. It was best not to stand out. Nervously, she strummed her fingers again on the counter, staring at the broken window, broken strangely, almost as if it imploded internally from pressure but pressure from an odd point.
She breathed in deeply. It was unfortunate because she’d hoped to stay longer. It was unfortunate but unavoidable. Tonight, after work, she would go home to her small apartment on West Napoleon Avenue, pack up her car and leave. She would leave behind the furniture that she’d just bought and decorated with, leave behind the friends, although just a handful that she’d just begun to make, leave behind everything, and start over somewhere else. She thought perhaps of the mountains, maybe driving up into the Ozarks. There it would be more difficult. There were so many varying energies that would block things. But then again, that was why she’d come to New Orleans with the same thought, perhaps if she’d settled deeper in the city.
But she shook these second guesses out of her mind. The broken window could be a coincidence, but she was not in a position to gamble.
She tried to focus on the screen in front of her. It was just after six. She just needed to get through the next three hours, although she was not beyond walking out. That indeed was a possibility.
Again she stared at the computer screen in front of her, mind cluttered, unable to concentrate. It wasn’t as if it mattered if she worked much tonight. She’d already decided she was leaving. And the fatality of that understanding left her with a heavy heart. She liked her little apartment with its light wicker furniture and the pretty floral pictures she’d hung on its walls. It felt like life.
She shook her head and headed to a shelving cart by the side of the desk. This she could do right now. It required little brain power.
The long aisles of the library were narrow and smelled musty to him — but then again, his sense of smell was of the acutest kind, a blessing and a curse. Of course, he thought with little humor; this seemed to be the theme of his life.
Ethan wore a long trench coat of which he was of half a mind to divest himself. After all, he had spent enough time over the centuries in Southern Louisiana to be aware of its humid climate. It was only two days until Halloween, late October, and still summer as far as this area of North America was concerned. But he was on a delicate mission, and so as his indulgent nature demanded, he had wanted to dress the part.
Then on the other hand, he was also suffocating, so in expediency, Ethan pulled off the trench coat and flipped it over his arm shaking out his longish blonde hair. He checked his watch — eight o clock. Well, that gave him about an hour to exercise his diplomatic powers. Lucky for him, there would be no full moon this Hallow’s Eve. A full moon on that particular night or in the days leading up to it could be particularly, well in his case, unraveling.
He took in a deep whiff of the musty air around him, trying to focus beyond the well-worn stench of book covers that had been untouched for far too long.
No, it was beyond the human occupants of this building where he focused, well beyond.
A slight smile crossed his lips. Yes, he had marked her.
Moira was trying to relax, but her skin prickled. For some time, the mindless shelving of books had placed her into a sort of thoughtless reverie. But that had seemed to pass now. Something had changed. Only four were on duty tonight, but they could close up without her if she feigned illness. She moved the cart of books she’d been pushing around all evening around the corner of a bookshelf, then stopped.
Several sections of books away down at the other end of the long stretch was a man, a tall blondish man dressed in black with a coat draped over his arm.
She didn’t know who he was, but she could clearly see what he was — a werewolf standing right in the middle of the East Bank Regional Library.
Moira took a deep breath and braced herself. After all, they were in a public place, and the last she’d checked, the moon was at a very slim crescent. So all she had to do was play dumb — be the reclusive little librarian that she had chosen to be.
She glanced at the stranger, a brief acknowledging smile, then turned to her task of shelving books, focusing intently. Perhaps his presence here had nothing to do with her; maybe it was one of those odd random coincidences that the universe seemed intent on perpetrating on ordinary folk.
Another deep breath to stabilize her, yes indeed, that was what she had chosen to be, ordinary folk — just like Sally, or dour Tom at the front desk, or combative Jessica Renard up in Special Collections. Yes, indeed extraordinary in their unique ordinariness.
She grasped the three hardback Nora Robert’s novels from the cart and placed them on the shelf. Then she froze, on the spot still facing forward. But she could feel it all over her back, as tangible as if he’d directly placed his hands there. Of course, he hadn’t. He was just standing there quietly, now behind her.
With little choice, she slowly turned to face him. He looked to be in his thirties, bearded with a mustache, longish blonde hair grazing the top of the black turtleneck he wore. And his eyes, which she was close enough to see, were an eerie blue-gray color staring at her as though he hadn’t a care in the world.
And everything, still everything about him screamed wolf to her.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked softly.
It was odd what hit her most acutely in the next moment. A touch of compassion seemed to reach his eyes — something she found most unexpected. “I think perhaps maybe I can help you, Moira Archer, is it?”
It was a strange moment filled with some duality. Indeed there was the disappointment that her hopes had been crushed. Oddly enough, and there was no denying her existence had always been filled to the brim with oddities, she also felt a measure of relief.
Although she’d pegged him as a werewolf, she was also sensing no malice, no threat — quite unexpected.
Ethan felt oddly frustrated as a lingering thought floated through his mind. “Why were all the good ones taken?”
There was a coffee shop or a small coffee bar with accompanying tables situated in the library’s foyer. He and the woman who was calling herself Moira Archer sat there. She sipped a hot mug of peppermint tea and he, a hot coffee mocha, something that called itself coffee but tasted a bit more like hot chocolate. But given that he’d nurtured his sweet tooth through the many centuries of his existence, it suited him well.
A brief interlude having a sweet and spending time with an intriguing woman didn’t seem like a bad deal for an old lycanthrope like himself.
“So,” he smiled engagingly, “how do you like the city?”
She slowly placed her hot, in fact still steaming cup of tea on the table and stared at him with eyes that were large and dark, but for some odd reason, reminded him of some strange violet tone. Of course, that couldn’t be so — what human had violet-colored eyes? And then he stopped himself. Yes, what human indeed?
“My break isn’t that long, Mr.— I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?”
She nodded slowly. “And may I assume that you were sent here by—” she paused, so he obligingly filled in. After all, there wasn’t time to be coy. In fact, there didn’t seem to be time for much of anything.
“Well, actually, an old friend — your husband.”
Her face showed no surprise, in fact, not much emotion of any kind. But then again, for a woman like this, it was most predictable that her husband would attempt to get her back.
“I am not wholly unacquainted with my husband’s acquaintances, but I don’t recall—.”
“We go way back,” he replied, taking a quick sip of the cocoa/coffee concoction. “Actually, early Renaissance, in Italy, we first crossed paths.”
“I see,” she pronounced a bit definitively. “I’ll get to the point, Mr.—”
“Ethan,” he interrupted. He had to get this on a friendlier plateau, or it would be a wasted effort before he even began.
“Ethan, you can tell my husband that I am not —”
“Yes, yes, that you are not coming back.”
Now she looked at him a bit oddly. Finally, he’d said something that had elicited a reaction. “Yes, isn’t that why you are here?”
“Well, Moira, not exactly, he is concerned about you. You see, it seems your absence has created a bit of, well, imbalance.” He sighed deeply, trying to find the appropriate avenue to navigate around the truth.
Her brow wrinkled slightly, but it did nothing to mar her delicate loveliness. He was not at all at a loss to explain his friend’s fascination, dare he say, obsession with the woman before him.
“What do you mean imbalance?”
He leaned in a bit closer to her. “Moira, haven’t you felt ever since you’d left that you were being followed?”
A slight downturn of her finely shaped lips, “Well, yes but I thought that was just him, well, trying to get me to come home. After all, he sent you.”
“Yes, but he sent me to warn you. He hasn’t been trying to get you back, just protect you.”
There was a hesitation, clearly a moment to soak in unconsidered information. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ethan,” she almost rasped out in what he unmistakably pegged as mild panic.
“Think Moira, the window. They’re coming for you — the minions breaking in from their dimension to disrupt the order of things.”
Again she stared at him with violet-colored eyes. Perhaps they were violet, and with indulgence, he thought perhaps he was the only one who could see that.
She leaned back a bit in her chair, contemplating, he thought, sipping her tea. “What are you trying to say that to restore the natural order of things I have to return?”
He shrugged a bit. Who was he to get in the middle of another’s marital discord? He’d tried it himself once so long ago and found not only was it impractical for a werewolf, but he wasn’t exactly the best marital material. “I don’t know if it’s that simple, Moira. It has more to do with discord, ill-feelings. If you both could come to an understanding, it might stabilize things.”
And then the unexpected happened. Her wide violet-colored eyes seemed to tear up as she shook her head. “You don’t understand, Ethan. I am a free spirit — a creature of the light.”
He smiled a bit sadly. She tugged at his heart, and he truly wished he could tell her what she wanted to hear. But as it was, “I do understand Moira. But I also understand that each of our lives comes with burdens. Burdens we must learn to carry.”
She stared at him a moment, so long that he wondered if she’d understood what he’d said. And then she stood up, “It was good of you to come, Mr. Garraint. I will certainly consider what you have told me.” And then she walked away, and he took one more sip of his coffee before he gathered his things and left.
As Ethan exited the library doors, a chill hit him that he had not expected. It seemed that when he arrived, it would be a balmy autumn night which was not so unusual for this part of the country. But something in the air had changed; something that he had an instinctual feeling had nothing whatsoever to do with the weather.
Slowly he descended the granite steps, never letting his eyes leave the shadows which seemed to be unnaturally gathering in the parking lot. Once he reached level ground, he waited patiently for what exactly he had no idea. But something, every inch of his skin, told him something was on its way.
Then finally, as if in direct answer to his anticipation, a figure stepped out of the darkness — a tall, lean man dressed rather immaculately in a grey suit with shoulder-length black hair.
He breathed a sigh of relief that would be tangible to no one but himself. It wasn’t exactly that the new arrival was devoid of danger — just not particularly dangerous to him. After all, he was simply a bit player in this particular drama.
Being in no particular hurry, Ethan Garraint waited patiently for the man to approach, who, when doing so, paused just in front of him with a very slight smile crossing a particularly distinguished face.
“You might have given it a bit more time,” Ethan directed toward this very old acquaintance, although in reality, the man physically didn’t look a day over forty.
“There isn’t time,” he responded with a sereneness that Ethan always recalled seemed to be present in his manner.
Even in the very pale lamplight of the library steps, he could see the very dark blue eyes that he remembered his old friend possessing. It was the most animated aspect of his persona, those eyes that seemed to stretch deeply into infinity if you were foolish enough to gaze too deeply within.
“Well, that’s a pity Nathaniel. She is confused and could use more time.”
He nodded slowly, staring beyond him towards the library’s front doors. “There is no choice. Even now, the others are planning their strike. If they succeed —” then he stopped.
Ethan instinctively reached out and patted his friend’s shoulder, instantly recognizing the chill he’d sensed in the air earlier. Of course, it had emanated from this ancient and powerful being. “Then let’s make sure they don’t.”
The deep blue eyes focused on him again. He felt compelled, even drawn to a place where his particular immortality had prevented him from ever finding — that place beyond in another sort of eternity that undeniably a part of him craved.
“Did you pave the way?”
He hesitated. Had he indeed done all he could have? Hard to say, not knowing what the outcome might be. “I did my best Nathaniel. The rest is up to you.” Then he stepped away from him, donning the trench coat he’d been carrying across his arm, and headed toward the shadows before him. However, he paused for just an instant and called over his shoulder.
“Nathaniel, I have no evidence of this, but I feel it. I believe she still loves you.”
And then he continued to walk away, not particularly interested in waiting for a response because the dominant emotion he felt at the moment was envy.
Moira Archer’s head began to swim. It was just thirty minutes until closing and then — and then. There was the rub. What would she do? Where would she go?
So much she had deliberately blocked from her mind so she could do what she wanted. Her legs felt like lead as she walked, was compelled to go there — just take one more look to see if what Ethan Garraint had told her could possibly be true.
She moved beyond the information desk to right in front of the tall wall of glass where the fracture had occurred.
Her eyes slowly drifted into another state of seeing. Now it became more apparent. It was a glowing light, gathering, not outside, not inside but within the cracks of the panes — glowing like some strange insects, fireflies perhaps, but those which gave off a ruddy, irritated-looking, reddish-pink glow.
“You have the gift of sight, Mneme,” her mother had told her. “And the gift of healing, and merging the light with the darkness. So many gifts my child. Your life is one filled with destiny. You are the bridge.” So young she’d been told this, so young she’d been given away in an arranged marriage so long ago. It had been frightening and then uncanny. It wasn’t as if she were unhappy, just puzzled, curious as to what she did not have.
Her eyes were drawn back to the window. She could feel them near her skin, buzzing angrily, hungry, ravenous, in fact. She could feel them gathering strength, pushing against the cracks in the glass, determined to spread the opening further and further.
“Until they gain entrance to this world.” The voice came from behind her and sent an instinctive shiver up her spine.
“To what end?” she murmured without looking back, although she felt him move beside her.
And then she began to feel that instinctual draw toward him — the one she had felt on her wedding day. She’d been so filled with terror learning she would be the bride of the master of death, but then she’d seen him, and all the fear had melted away. And there had been the magnetic pull that had been so nearly impossible to overcome.
“They feel the balance has been disrupted. It is their chance to enter and feed on humanity.”
“Feed?” she whispered.
“In all kinds of ways. Energy to begin, then life itself, so there is no peace, no transition.”
“I thought that was your domain.”
She felt him sigh. He was weary. She could feel it within her as it had always been with the two of them. “That’s not really fair, is it my dear? I do not take life. I am simply there to ensure transition once it is time.”
She turned slowly to Nathaniel, feeling tears slipping down her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“This goes beyond you and me,” he stated softly. “But you could have come to me if you were so unhappy.”
Her heart hurt like a tangible stab. How she’d missed him; how she had fought so hard not to acknowledge it. “I needed to be here, to remember living. To remember who I was. If I’d come to you.”
“If,” he repeated.
“I would not have had the strength to leave.”
Slowly he nodded in understanding, she thought; his dark eyes filled with so many layers of emotions that she could easily allow herself to drown in them. “And did you? Did you find what you sought, my beloved?”
“Maybe, I think I’m still looking. I don’t know, but it seems it’s over.”
And then he smiled softly. “All that is needed is the balance between us, death and memory. The balance must be restored. The discord must end.”
“I don’t understand,” she said in confusion.
“If you wish to stay for a while, you can. If you only return sometimes and, of course, allow me to visit you.”
She looked at him with surprise, a compromise quite unexpected. “You mean something like six months of the year?”
His dark eyes sparkled. “Something like that if you agree to take me back as your husband.”
She smiled, noting that the ugly fireflies at the broken window had begun to thin bit.”
“I’ve missed you, my love,” she whispered.
She felt Nathaniel softly take her hand in his. “We have much to talk of,” he said as she gazed at her husband, feeling her heart begin to lighten.
If you’d like to spend more time with Ethan Garraint, check out his stand alone novel.
The Broken Vow: Vol. I The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf
In the heart of every man there is a history. In the heart of every monster there is a story. In this first installment of “The Clandestine Exploits of a Werewolf,” Ethan Garraint is on a vendetta that begins in the heart of the Pyrenees with the fall of Montségur and leads him to the streets of New Orleans nearly five hundred years later. But the person he chases isn’t really a man anymore and Ethan has been a werewolf for almost a millennium. With the aid of a gifted seer, he is on a blood hunt that will culminate in a journey that crosses the line between heaven and earth and ends somewhere in between.
Also check out the sequel to The Broken Vow, The Story of Enid at Kindle Vella.
When one realizes that a long-lost soulmate has been reincarnated, it poses some complications. When you have been a werewolf for nearly a millennium, the complications explode exponentially. Ethan Garraint understands that he should stay far away from Erin Holt, but she is in his city, New Orleans, and possibly in danger. And the truth is, he doesn’t want to stay away. He only wants to remind her of the lifetime they lived long ago, when they were more than lovers, when they became legend.