A few weeks ago I posed a challenge to my readers (and to the followers of my friends at toursdepartingdaily.com)—select one of their photographs and write a 1,000 word (or less) story to accompany it. I promised that I would run the best story on this site as well as on http://www.toursdepartingdaily.com. Congratulations to the winner, Ali Kimmel. Here is her winning entry.
21 Rue Royale
The Philibert’s carriage was old and dark. It creaked and rocked as it rode through the streets. Madame Philibert sat and stared at the little girl sitting across from her. She shivered as the child stared back, her dark hair and eyes blending in with the darkness of the cabin. The little bit of light that shined in illuminated her face, giving her the appearance of a floating head in the dark. None of the other servants made Madame Philibert feel as uncomfortable as this one did. It was as though the girl could see inside her. Of course her mother had been an eerie woman as well. Mr. Philibert had liked that woman, and treated her daughter well; all the more reasons to keep this mission a secret from him. A smirk stretched across her mouth as she thought of the man they were going to. The steady stare of the girl unsettled her again. Could she read her mind? Did she know that little slave children who visited this man never went home?
The carriage shook violently. Madame Philibert screamed and shielded herself with her hands. The child screamed because she screamed, which made her scream even more. The carriage lurched to a halt and they both stopped screaming as the driver opened the door.
“I’m sorry, Madame.” He said. “We went over a small hole in the road, but we’ve arrived.”
Madame Philibert took a deep, embarrassed breath. She held out her hand.
“Thank you, Fred.” She said. “See that you drive more carefully, next time.”
“Yes, Madame.” Fred said as he took her hand and helped her out.
The cool autumn air was filled with a light fog that suggested rain, despite the clear dark blue sky above. The street was quiet, though not unusually so for four in the morning. Light was coming from an apartment above her and illuminated a bronze sign hanging over a door. Fancy letters spelled out “ROYAL” and above that, inset like a giant lapis stone, was an oval address marker featuring a large white “21”.
“Come.” Madame Philibert beckoned as she walked up to the modest door below the elaborate sign. She could hear the child behind her jump out of the carriage and run up behind her. She knocked and waited. No response. She wasn’t surprised of course but knocked again, a little harder.
“Yes, yes!” A man’s voice came from inside. “I’m coming.”
A short, round man opened the door. He wore a robe around his nightgown.
“Monsieur Chatry!” She greeted him.
“Madame Philibert?” Monsieur Chatry asked, surprised. He stepped aside to allow her in.
There seemed to be a faint smell of cinnamon in the air. Madame Philibert looked around to see where it was coming from, but it was as dark in there as it was in her carriage. Monsieur Chatry walked behind the counter, took out a match and lit a lamp and a soft light filled the room. The warm, stuffy air seemed strong enough to hold up all of the odd items in Monsieur Chatry’s secondhand shop. Old portraits graced the walls, books sat on shelves, and jewelry once meant to be inherited sat in glass cases.
“Why have you come, Madame?” He asked.
“I need you to take this.” She pointed at the girl without looking at her. Monsieur Chatry came from around the counter and knelt down in front of the quiet little girl.
“Hello.” He said.
“Please, Monsieur, take her.” She pleaded. “We cannot keep her—“
The child had shyly hugged Madame Philibert’s skirt and hidden her face in the folds of fabric as a child would do with her mother.
“No, Lee!” Madame Philibert scolded. She pushed her away and then recoiled as though she awaited some punishment to befall her. When nothing happened, she pointed to a wooden stool in a far corner. “Go over there and touch nothing.” The little girl wandered away, dreamily. “She was my daughter’s slave. Her mother died—Lee! No!”
The child was distracted on the way to the stool by a statue of a slave boy holding a lantern. She turned, her big dark eyes staring at her mistress under loose dark curls. Her pale skin only barely gave her away.
“Who is the father?” He asked.
A frown betrayed the lady’s lips. “I’m sure I don’t care.” She said, coldly. “Anyway, she was my daughter’s pet, but my daughter fell ill and blamed the girl. We put her to work in the house, but things would happen.”
“She just looks at things and they break. Once, a lamp just fell off a table and almost set the room ablaze!” She leaned in. “Everyone in the house, including myself, thinks she might be evil.”
“Then why, my dear Madame Philibert, would you bring her to me?”
“She asked to come to you. She’s never met you, never heard of you, yet she asked to come here.”
“But what shall I do with her? I have no use for a child who causes things to break or catch fire.”
“Please, Monsieur Chatry!” Madame Philibert looked away. “I’ve heard you—have a fondness for—children.”
“I beg your pardon, Madame?!”
“Fine, I’ll take your demon off your hands.”
“Oh, thank you!” She said. She turned and beckoned for the child who floated over and stood before them.
“This is Monsieur Chatry. Do what he says.” She looked up to him. “Monsieur Chatry, this is Leota.”
“Enchante, mademoiselle.” He said. Leota smiled shyly.
“I must go now.” Madame Philibert said, anxiously. She backed away, never taking her eyes off the child, though she remained there. The wood floor groaned as she stepped.
“Good morning, Madame.” He said as she quickly backed out the door. He followed and watched her ride away. Royal Street was empty. He locked his door and turned to the child.
“Well, my dear,” Monsieur Chatry said. “You have no idea how fortunate you are.”
Ali Kimmel has been writing stories and plays since childhood. Her degree in theatre arts has helped go on to performing in local plays, doing voice over work for commercials on local radio stations, and a successful job as a restaurant server. She lives with her adorable and loving family in the California desert. She maintains a blog at http://prettymcsomethin.blogspot.com.