Odette's Song

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An explorer in 1800's Louisiana discovers a house with a young woman with a dark secret, in which he begins to discover slowly and then is haunted by that secret.

Submitted: March 21, 2015

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Submitted: March 21, 2015

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Odette’s Song
 
Louisiana, 1802
 
“Take her to the far side of the lake.”
The man awoke from his dreamy state with a startle upon such words- yet had felt the recovery of such a heavenly action of sleep in days. His hazel eyes, sharpened towards the edges and defined by the smooth skin on his cheekbones, grazed the horizon. His rounded, small ears devoured the rushing sounds of the water beneath them, along with the call of the birds and small animals throughout the life of the small jungle. The water rippled violently, Lake Charles a reflection and nothing more towards the starless sky above them as the darkening world only made their surroundings mysterious. The man held no fear, for his companions were sharpened and keened to a fine line, such as no action would pass from their sight. The birds were low that evening, compared to the earlier nights upon the water traveling to explore for more French inquiry. Thinking about how his journal was lacking the detail it needed, he clutched the leather satchel with dripping papers  that were ready to flee to the water and remain a secret to the outside worlds. Not much had changed over the years, and the journal remained as average as seeing an alligator with teeth. Upon the cover the initials BH were carved  in a blacksmith brand, and Bernard Hardy clutched the hardcover until his knuckles whitened by his grip.  His mind was elsewhere- absorbed in the location around them, never having been around this part of the Lake before. The south side held a different attitude that were as keen eyes watching from the shadows of the trees and dark corners of the banks. 
In the distance a soft tune drifted, perhaps a song but no lyrics could Hardy depict, not even a melody. Hardy knew it was there- whether it was superstitious or his own imagination, he felt compelled to find the source. It travelled in the quiet wind, the small rustle of vines and moss hung to the trees and ground, always to connect to its home. The sounds of the swamps were naturally attracting to Hardy- much less the Isleños around him who working and conducting the steamboat in Spanish accents and behavior. They held no excitement in their voices, much less any discouragement for their Captain and person to guide. Never chipping the perfect pearl columns and paint, the red trim hanging from the ceiling was their arduous blood dripping down from the moisture within the air. Despite the creaking of the floorboards and the shouts of the men, the tune was continuous with its sweet melody and fluency, as sweet as ripened fruit in the summer. Despite the two lanterns hanging above their heads on the small rusted nail, they and the abundance of fireflies buzzing silently above the surface of the lake were not enough to see beyond a few feet- in this case, where the bank of the lake was. 
Despite everything, Hardy only noticed the sounds of wind carrying the voice of a woman, a long forgotten angel that poured her soul with hamonious lyrics. He could make out the words to their core sounds now, a language familiar to him in the lands of his home. The mere sound of it reminded him of the aromas of bread and pastries upon the grimed soot streets, the mention of love spoken into the air.
Le bon roi Dagobert- A mis sa culotte à l'envers ; Le grand saint Éloi- Lui dit : Ô mon roi! Votre Majesté -Est mal culottée. C'est vrai, lui dit le roi, Je vais la remettre à l'endroit.
“Bernard.”
The forest eyes reflected away from the song, away from the lights of the fireflies that hummed to the tune silently. The rocking of the boat had lost its rhythm when it halted rocking against the infested waters of Lake Charles. The world grew silent, and turning his head over to the new voice that had made all else cease, stood Remy. His flattened face held some emotion of concern, but it flashed away with the scrunch of his sharply pointed nose and his spectacles tormented to stay in place. Fixing the pair of glasses back towards the start, his white moustache twitched before he spoke.
“We have ported,” he said, in which Hardy had been unaware of their actions and how far they had travelled within the time of the dreary night. It was apparent that something had captivated the French explorer, in which the short and stout captain watched those detailed irises travel to the Isleños that tied the boat to the dismantled dock. They struggled to step carefully over the missing plank areas and the shards of what had been a sign of destruction. 
“Then I suppose they know of some habitation on this side of the island?” Bernard inquired, watching the back of straggled hair of the natives that glanced away into the darkness of the marsh. The marsh remained silent, as if someone had taken a bullet to the air to silence the rowdy thundererous crowd of an establishment. The animals had quieted to small sounds, and the wind raced against their loose, damp clothes from the humidity- and the singing had long been put to the grave. The Isleños stood frozen as their eyes inquired to the deep vastness of the swamp, as if there was something hidden amongst the vines and trunks that only their eyes could see.
“We have been warned against our better judgment,” Remy spoke slowly, meeting the gaze of Bernard for a moment before both returned their eyes to the strange character of the Isleños. There was a reason to have such character and superstition about the location, but Bernard had never seen them as frightened and stilled before. “It would take all night to the other side and stray our course. They advised us to stay upon the boat.”
“Are there faeries and gargoyles lurking within the trees?” Hardy chuckled under his breath, the soft wind carrying his mockery to the Captain for its purpose. As much as he seemed amused, Remy did not approve of removing themselves from the presence of their guides. He was merely a spectator upon the explorer’s travelers for this short time, and knew of his courage and audacity. Remy did not dislike Bernard, for he had known his father beforehand. They had grown apart for serious and political purposes, and to learn of working with his descendant did not enlighten his spirits. Yet upon meeting Bernard in New Orleans, he had discovered of the own abandonment of Bernard’s fatherly presence after Bernard turned seventeen. The explorer’s eyes told the story- as did much of what he never spoke of. For an explorer and inquiry of lands, his personsa was to reserve and internally be inquisitive to interpret each character he crossed. With any social gathering, Hardy was silent as a tomb, and for that Remy found him more mysterious than the Isleños themselves. Only a small laugh was stifled back towards his remark.
“Your voice does not reward you now- silence would suit you at the moment- for you do not know whom you mock.” 
Bernard rose an eyebrow at his companion’s remark, but did as he was reprimanded as so. He did not take any offense that was personally attacked to his voice, as his father reprimanded him over his life. He respected Remy in every way a man could- not that he agreed with his politics or manner of life. Bernard also didn’t agree sleeping onto a boat and wasting time. He did not see haunted vines and ghostly shadows of the marshes; he saw forgotten land that needed to be explored and excavated- to be known.
“What do they fear?” He asked shortly, as if the stench of death and utter horror masked the air and consumed the oxygen that was gifted to them for life. No longer could Hardy hear the harsh breaths of hard work release from their nostrils that flared with each movement. Their hearts were louder than ever before on the Isleños’ bare chests that drenched in sweat that cascaded to the terrain. Hardy remained calm in the silence, his heart rate only sensing excitement in the profound superstitious acres of the plantations. Glancing towards Remy, his companion seemed unmoved with his emotionless attitude and yet his aura gave some wariness towards the situation. They were unlikely to fear the supernatural being within these lands, but Remy was unlikely to explore and experiment with those unnatural forces. 
“Whatever it is, they know this land better than us and are our guides,” he spoke solemnly. “It is wise to listen to them, Hardy. They know more, and we do not know what is beyond the wooden planks of this boat- and I don’t think you wish to find out.” Hardy was surprised his companion did not know him by now, as Hardy was not afraid of the darkening vines and shadows on the trees and moss covered terrain. He was afraid of not hearing the voice that beckoned him, and never accepting that call. 
 
Towards the night, the men had set a small fire. It wasn't meant for heat with the sticky humidity of the marshes and lake, but more for the pronounce amount of insects and buzzing monsters on their thin skin. Diseases were not favored by either Hardy’s French companions, or the Isleños, and the fire was put to the occupation. Resting towards the north side of the boat, the blanket covered Hardy's body to keep away from the insects and grant the faeries of sleep to cast their spells. Leaning his head back against the frame, he listened to the calm water moving underneath them as a thin sheet of silk placed onto a bed by the chambermaids. It was soft and billowy, but secretly a nuisance that drove Hardy insane with the ache in his soul for France. 
He terribly missed the coffee meetings with the rising sun, the incessant gossiping of his vacuous servants. The loving embrace of his children, and his wife plastered on the wall with decadent colors and strokes to remind him of his suffering was hard to leave. His heart ached for his home- and yet part of that home was the fresh air and wind that blew in the breeze and the softening ground under his treading feet. He saw his wife in the nature of the leaves forming circles with the wind, and how her platinum hair would flow with her dancing feet. Her name was no more than a whisper now, and his children were often tiresome of recalling memories of her. To be honest, as was Hardy. Lila was a passing memory, now part with the environment around him, and yet was still not fully discovered. He couldn’t now find the path to her once more, and continued down the path they had started on, not the one death forced her to divert to. 
At the recollection starting from the simple tide beneath him, the song began once more into the air and awakened Hardy to reality. Yet as he glanced around, the others were mindlessly stacking their cards, gambling over the money they still owned with their lack of fortune. The others simply read or had given themselves to sleep. Nobody moved or shifted at the sound of the honey tone in the darkness, beckoning in her French aptitude for some company. Hardy didn’t hesitate to release himself of the blanket and silently gathered his things he thought were necessary. He simply placing a compass into his pleated pants, along with a handgun fully loaded to its holster and matches to guide him through the darkness that growled with anticipation of his soul. Remy glanced up from his cards as he heard the harsh steps on the wooden panels behind him. His green eyes and sunken face directed to Bernard as he sullenly stepped out of the boat, feeling the land which seemed like days ago. 
“Bernard! Where are you going?” He asked, although both knew the answer was clear. The natives paused their incessant foreign chatter, dark eyes glancing up towards the brave soul that peered into the beginning of an unknown world. They did not speak nor forewarn the man of the dangers that lay, because they assumed he had been sharp enough to stay out. 
“I’m just…” He paused, glancing into the darkness once more before seeing a small glow of light in the far distance. It moved and passed the trees with slow audacity, like a child rushing to hide but wanting to be sought as well. It was farther than he could imagine, more than many feet in front of him, and yet it seemed so close to his curious soul. It moved with the music, it moved to the beat of his heart and breath, and he almost forgot what he was beginning to say to his companion. “Exploring.” Surely that would silence the men, for Bernard was doing what he knew to place into action as an occupation and part of France. Every encounter he held was to be written eloquently and detailed as his eyes experienced the same moment.  Many papers were added on from the original bindings, and although he had many space to write about this adventure, he was wary about what the paper would hold today. 
Step after step, the men behind him were now whispers in his mind. The light ahead of him disappeared teasingly to the east, flickering incessantly like a woman batting her eyelashes to attract her prey. His steps were thought out wisely, and yet the darkness was growing deeper with his distance away from the lake. Despite having matches as any source of comfort or guidance, he couldn’t see much than a few feet in front of him. Trees curved and grew thick to their core, startling at first with their extended branches that sought him, and the sagging weeds and plants that dangled off the thick bark. They brushed his shoulder and lingered like the slender fingers of a woman that glided across his chest and shoulder, draping away as he continued walking. The sounds of his feet against the terrain was a motley of crunches of rocks and gravel and the soft silent screams of the grass and moss- and yet the air was vibrant in noise. The voice was no longer distant but abundant around him, maintaining a certain volume. 
Comme il la remettait Un peu il se découvrait ; Le grand saint Éloi Lui dit : Ô mon roi ! Vous avez la peau Plus noire qu'un corbeau. Bah, bah, lui dit le roi, La reine l'a bien plus noire que moi.
The insects and fireflies were silent and contained as the souls of the trees. Low growls of the wind caused them to retreat Hardy's soul, as if light was removing itself from darkness and the animals could feel his heart blackening to the abyss. Creatures didn’t slither or bustle underneath the leaves and broken branches upon the floor to cause commotion. The sky above him didn’t consist of chirping birds but only the soft glistening of the abounding stars. The animals had found their home here, and yet feared the strange being walking towards a familiar sight. 
An establishment stood before him, white as the snowfall on the grimed streets of France. It held expanding columns connecting the secondary roof towards the foundation that flowed with marble steps to the eroded dirt path. The architecture maintained a high shoulder as a well framed house with triangular covered tops, large in the middle. The extensions on the side held smaller triangles that detailed the size of the plantation, making it appear well sized. It was large enough for a simple farmer and his workers, enough to please a woman with duties, and yet small for any sense of wealthy aristocracy. Middle class, the nonexistence of wealth attributes was the deficiency of French outlook upon the architecture. It was American in its stature, as far as Hardy could assume from what he had seen along his journey around Louisiana and the States. The windows with side panels were glowing with light, a warming beckon without crossing shadows or detail. The dark panels were hard to construe with the darkness that only seemed to grow stronger with the sudden light gave him some French impression. Yet suddenly he held no care in the visage of the establishment, but rather the shadow figure on the upstairs balcony. It leaned against the white frame over the smaller columns that defined the two connecting pieces of wood for a terrace. The body glanced towards the east into the distance before Hardy could soon feel keen eyes upon him. 
The figure didn’t move, and it didn’t seem to show acknowledgement to his presence standing before the house. His concentration upon it broke off once the match in his hand had slipped onto his skin, causing him to flinch and for the flame to expire before it freed itself to the ground. Glancing down at the pained hand, he could no longer see anything but the defined features of his knuckles and large digits, but his pain did not overcome his curiosity. He half expected the figure to be gone from its posture on the second floor from that superstitious feel of the environment. As his green irises sought the figure once more, it had moved towards the south side and faced him. 
“Quel soulagement!” The voice exclaimed, the feminine air about it as the same pitch of the singing he had heard only twice. It appeared youthful, not as a child’s in development but it held the excitement of a woman who hadn’t suffered in her adult paining years. She bounced on her feet, swaying eagerly as she leaned her waist over the south balcony as if to see him better. Hardy was unsure if she could see his appearance or anything beyond the shadow he saw of her, but remained silent as he could sense her examining eyes. “Good Monsieur, the hunting expedition is farther north, and I am fearful that you have lost your way.”
Hardy didn’t think that any hunting expedition would be at this moment, as by walking in the markets on the other shores of Lake Charles, the markets and season was closed. Yet, since the woman appeared to occupy such an establishment, he couldn’t question her knowledge of the activities around the property. Yet he was speechless as how to approach this, and figured honesty was a decent start. 
“I heard a voice, mademoiselle, and I was determined to find the source,” he said merely, peering up at her as she appeared to laugh. Soon he heard the wind carry that soft laugh, as if it was authentic in its approach to his comment but lacked the heart of any cheerful person. 
“I have been discovered it seems,” she remarked, pausing and tilting to her head. “Come inside, monsieur. I fear that the darkness will soon cause your face to be hidden away, and my voice will not last the night.” With that, he saw her gliding figure trace the balcony with an elongated gown before she opened the doors beside her. “The door is unlatched down there, summon yourself in.”
Hardy watched her back turn towards him as she entered into the light, features hardly captured as the door soon fastened and her shadow departed. His answer to the voice was countered, and yet the French occupant was capturing his curiosity as well. Wary of how women were towards his own drawing qualities and how passable his money supply was, he wasn’t eager to dive into the consideration of a woman. France held no supply for him after Lila, and he was not stinging towards one here.  Yet the Islenos feared this land, and was probably a heavily discussed property for them and their mystical myths and folklores. Perhaps the woman hadn’t known of the perils of the wetlands. And even so if she was the only shadow creature inside, whatever shadows lingered out where he was could find the unlatched entrance. Walking towards the steps, he felt no heaviness from the darkness and no attraction to the light as his feet found the smooth and flat stone underneath him. The white French doors appeared to be connected and almost seemed averse to depart from each other, but with a simple grasp of the handle it swung keenly and submissively  and completed his wish. 
Stepping into the vestibule of the house, the interior wasn’t far grander than the outside but was rather customary. The light fixtures didn’t flicker with the lack of energy but only the large amount of candles that gave the place such light without the moon’s glimmers for sustenance. The tables were crafted extremely well, as the rest of the furniture and the wooden antiques of the rooms, in which it was a style that Hardy could identify from French exertion. The staircase was to his port side on the other flank of the wall, in which his neck would have to curve over his shoulder to see whom descendd the stairs in light, fluttering steps. The woman almost leaped off the last stride and fixed her bearing, smiling at the man.
He thought she was music herself; sweet to the core and yet as plain and beautiful as notes could combine to be a masterpiece- and she thought he was the silence after a completed song; an anticipating lack of words saddened at the finished score but soon would lead to the next exploratory song.
The mademoiselle was examined from her small head first with his inquisitive eyes. She held her head tall and parallel to the timber floors beneath her, her facial features minor and delicate. Her chin was softly rounded and contributed to the fine lines of her lips, that moreover naturally curved at their corners or she had secured herself to smile for eternity. Plastered in crimson color, her lips plumped and rounded smoothly under her petty nose, gently pointed before her and flared as she respired slowly. Her marine blue eyes were much more captivating than he would’ve anticipated, as if her cobalt vastness was vocalizing a song itself. Her cheeks were painted naturally, a light pink that matched the hue of her elongated upmarket dress. Her face seemed sunken back slightly, a possible effect from constantly moving lips. With raven ringlets over her chest, they didn't move against the slow lifting of her lungs. The gown was buttoned down in the back with a limited amount of struggle, and the lace lining along the décolletage rubbed against her insipid skin. The dress poured to the flooring with ruffled layers of the fabric, the pannier together to hold the clutter from unleashing around her slender body. The ends glided athwart the floor, hiding her feet and legs completely but the dress managed to remain intact from dust and grime. 
Her eyes watched his own, knowing well the stranger obeserved her- and she sensed as if it had been years that this gentleman had bothered to examine a woman. From his own enunciation and manner of behavior, she knew him to be French in his demeanor. His own clothes despite the Louisiana heat and effect remained unaltered and definitly made him stand out from the locals. His pants were contaminated from the journey through the marsh and plantations around her property, and it was assumed he hadn’t a proper bathe or cleansing for a week’s passing. 
“You seem famished,” she said suddenly, causing their eyes to meet once more before she glanced towards the small dining table. He would’ve expected more from her lavish appearance, and yet it stood with only four chairs as if social gatherings took dwelling in another room. Since she was alone, he made the conjecture social gatherings were not common. The design of the room was modest and yet heavily lacked any French accents to it besides the insignificant grand table. From the looks of it, the table was constantly shifted across the floor, leaving the marks exposed below from the lack of a proper throw or cover. “It is ill-fated that I have directed my servants away for the end of the week, but I have a lovely soup prepared.”
“Thank you,” he said, almost a little too hastily after her remark, in which he tried to reconfigure himself. “I do suppose I should have the pleasure in knowing the name of my host.” She smiled greatly, gesturing him towards the table. His mind raced with reasons to be there in the first place, and she held no disposition to ask, let alone rather allowed such a gathering. Solitude was the perfume he could smell just from her guiding him into the room. 
“Odette Labelle,” she said reassuringly, pulling out one of the seats for him to assemble as she began to gust for a proper set table top. Grasping hastily silk napkins and silverware, she made sure to have the glasses placed on the wooden whittled table before the bottle of wine publicized before him. Beholding at the bottle he found it good age and manufacturer, and soon the little host had disappeared to the kitchen towards his right. Leisurely his coarse hands poured the bottle’s remains into her glass first, than his own as she returned with two bowls. Rushing over he could see her hands steaming from the heat the bowls relinquished, and she was relieved to place them on the table. Everything seemed ordinary- peculiarly ordinary. 
“Voilà,” she said simply, fixing her hair behind her smoothed ear before she assembled across from him. Plainly, she sat elevated and about as artificial as the wine- she was trained well and held the demeanors of a native French mademoiselle. “Will your identity be a transient ghost or a haunting sound on my tongue?” She teased, blowing on the soup before she took the ladle to her lips, her eyes never leaving his.
“Bernard Hardy, mademoiselle. Bernard is adequate as a title.”
“As is Odette,” she returned, seeing as it would be abnormal to have him call her otherwise. “Where are you from- as in which city? I can easily infer your behavior as well as you could with me.”
“Paris, the world of the revolution and industry,” he remarked slowly, a hint of cynicism floating off those words sharply, and yet she paid no mind towards that. Perhaps she had been absent so extensively that she hadn’t been engrossed in the past, let alone the bustling of the streets and aristocracy. 
“Versailles,” she said in return on the mark of her home. “I suppose it is close enough to Paris for you to visit. Lovely people, always quite the characters. It’s a shame.” Her tone was saddened and yet her eating habits were continuous and unchanged, and neither was her curiosity. 
“I’ve been there repeatedly- not as of now,” he said half-heartedly. “I’ve been marking and mapping the land for some time for the King’s men. Secretly I believe they are considering removing themselves from this land- or at least producing a bargain to the Americas.”
“No,” she huffed slowly with a lowered voice, a little stunned before she considered the thought. “I suppose that would source some revelry around here, but I don’t recall the Americans having any concern in this land more than to grange and produce.”
“France doesn’t have a motive either,” he said simply, and began to leave that discussion at hand. She didn’t mind the peace as she drank her wine, pleased with the taste but held no reaction to the lack of alcohol she had constrained herself to. They ate the soup in harmonious silence, minus their ladles scratching the curves of the cutleries and the soft breathing they held as the candles flickered about them. As soon as Odette stood to remove the bowls and empty glasses, he had attempted to make conversation once more to the generous host. 
“I hate to intrude, but it isn’t wise to be here unaccompanied,” he remarked, glancing from his chair to the standing women. She collected the bowls and ladles s only having been placed out before they had devoured their meals faster than what would be conventional. It had been centuries since a proper French meal, let alone a simple soup, and she could tell that Hardy didn’t seem inclined to be here extensively. 
“Oh?” She asked slowly, glancing at him almost worriedly as if she didn’t entirely know that the darkness surrounding the property was threatening, or that the spirits of the land was dancing at her doorstep. Or, she was concerned that some sort of secret had been revealed, let alone the ideal manner that she took to uphold the house. Besides, any man chasing a voice in the breeze wasn’t the most aware or perhaps mentally occupied. 
“The Isleños would hardly step foot on the land, let alone converse of the spirits,” he chuckled under his breath.
“The what?” She asked slowly, confused about the title of the Isleños but remained quiet before she took a sharp inhale of breath and gathered the china towards the kitchen. “I am not alone, Monsieur Bernard. My husband is to return shortly.”
Hardy was not surprised by the remark, as he had seen the amusing ring upon her left hand and she had eaten intricately with her right. She surely did not hold any pleasant appeal to him to break the societal rule, especially with her husband away- but if she was married, it wasn’t a disgrace to lucky man.
“Where is he?” he asked cautiously, hearing her footsteps towards the dining hall as she returned to her chair, flattening her dress. She didn’t speak for a while, gathering her thoughts or configuring a falsehood that she needed. Perhaps she did not know his whereabouts, let alone the duration of his stay.
“Commerce back in France,” she said slowly, meeting his gaze sullenly. “Of course, the neighboring plantation is also in France at the same time. At least Elena would give him great comfort.” She did not press into that matter, and he saw the truth in her eyes, and she hadn’t made it unclear for him to grasp. She didn’t mind partaking that the secret of her husband’s absence was of no business but rather with the other women. “I don’t see why that business is important in France, let alone I could not holiday with my family.”
“Perhaps it is better you remained,” he said shortly. “Otherwise I would be without a splendid meal.” The smile returned to her lips, but it was short-lived just as it appeared their marriage. She didn’t wish to speak of the matter anymore, much less the lack of his presence was unbearable to tell another gentleman. He wasn’t sure if he heard a small “He will come” under her breath, and wasn’t going to ask her to reiterate that dreadful reassurance. 
“Do you have children, Monsieur?” She asked curiously, titling her head at the new conversation she seemed greatly interested in. It was quite an interesting conversation to hold, as he didn’t wear any sign of matrimony or marital appearance. Perhaps his inclination to keep some distance away respectively was an insignia to her of an unobtainable man.
“Two,” he said slowly, nodding before he saw her face brighten up and her posture grew quiet out of proportion from her excitement. Her smile was widened to the edge of her jawline, her nose wrinkling as she shuffled against the cushioned chair. Bernard wasn’t light on the subject, but understood the fascination women had with children. 
“Well do share! What are they like? How old are they?”
“My eldest is five, Adeline. She’s a stunning lass who’s already chasing the boys around the parks and the streets,” he chuckled slowly. “Her brother Charles is a year younger, and all he does is draw. We go through masses of paper a day.” Odette laughed and she grinned extensively as before, leaning back in her chair and glancing at the ceiling. He wondered if she was imagining what it was like to have children, and he also was curious to know if she imagined being with his children. For now, her sadness disappeared and she seemed quite content with her imaginative mind. 
“Was your wife unable to join you on this expedition? You seem affluent enough to manage a caretaker, or you could’ve brought them along,” she pronounced, and Bernard took a sharp exhale from his nose, lumbering in his chair. He wasn’t uncomfortable with the matter, although it was a rather profound one to make at one’s first gathering. Yet, she had faintly revealed part of her own unhappy domestic life. 
“My wife died from scarlet fever a few months after Charles was born,” he said slowly, watching her face drop and there was no eagerness in her voice or upon her lips. He could hardly hear her apologize, the solemn ocean eyes calming but she seemed more depressed about the occurrence than he had.
“The children are…pleasant without her?” She asked curiously.
“Quite well- Charles didn’t know much of her, and Adeline asks about her occasionally. They both do well without her, and they have enough motherly figures with their grandparents and servants.”
“And are you… pleasant without her?”
Bernard paused before nodding slowly, almost as if he would soon shake his head and confess it. There were periods that he was absolutely misplaced without her, and felt as if there was nothing but a suffocating darkness in his life. Yet the next slumber brought peace and his children gave him life. “There is nothing that retains me from a content life.” Now he disliked the spotlight upon him, and since he was never one to fully converse and more a listener, he wanted to know more of her curiosity. That trait they seemed to share. “Do you have children?”
“No,” she said deliberately, shaking her head. “How I wish I had something to seal the time with despite attempting to remember the French songs my mother taught me. I hoped one day to teach my own daughter, but we have hardly consummated anything.” Bernard paused at her last remark, a little punctured by that remark, and he hesitated to comprehend fully and not make any such assumption. But there was no other possible meaning she could hold.
“How long have you been married?” He asked absurdly, his mind completely disappointed for this woman. Her life was nothing but darkness- and he feared this was the smallest of it. 
“…Four years? Perhaps more- the time here is long and monotonous,” she said shortly. “Casimir had always been busy with his farming and agriculture. He owns more land the one we are currently placed on- some in the borders and others scattered about, even in France.”
“He’s French, I presume. How did you two meet?”
“No, I’m not entirely sure what he is,” she whispered, hesitating to think but she could have no recollection. That remained a mystery to Bernard, in which how could she not distinguish? But he didn’t wish to press into matters, let alone if it involved anything such as a transaction. “My father made furniture and was sometimes an architect as well- that’s where some of the accents come from,” she said proudly. Bernard had heard of the name, and he wasn’t at all surprised to know she came from an affluent family. “His company was losing business after some workers of his stole much of his money- and Casimir came to the rescue with some of his own men.”
“And I assume some reward to the man was your lively energetic spirit.”
“Yes, well, Casimir loves money like I love him,” she spoke slowly, glancing at him with a soft smile. “After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to a woman completely revolved in money- an only child and with no other possible heir, I gain everything. I haven’t seen France or my father since; Casimir wouldn’t allow it.”
Bernard knew for certain he detested this man, let alone detested how light Odette painted the picture of her husband. They hadn’t consummated their marriage, let alone she was unaccompanied in her own establishment. Casimir wanted money, and Odette didn’t seem the being to escape from a life she wouldn’t reason to admit she had. She watched him carefully and began to scowl, standing up slowly as she fixed her dress and her eyes drew down to the floor.
“He still supports my father,” she said shortly. “If I were to jeopardize by a leave of absence or any sense of power gained to me, surely my father will fail and to no avail will Casimir get the money he desires.”
“Do not aide him in his quest to destruction,” Bernard warned, and she simply smiled. As simple as it was, he could see the tears form in her eyes and the hidden scream behind her tightly closed lips. All this time, most of her smiles were nothing but a mask of darkness and pain- was the creature and spirit of the plantation what Casimir had produced, or left behind?
“He’s already destroyed me- what use is it to my father?” She fidgeted inside her dress, a symbol of uneasiness and it was quite apparent that she was overdressed for the occasion of sharing a meal with a stranger. Yet he wasn’t a stranger- not anymore. “I am to change- I can have a bath ready for you will salts and cleansing oils, of course.”
“No, I won’t have you waste those luxuries upon me,” he said earnestly and she shook her head at the same veracity he did. Rising from the chair, she avoided his gaze as if she was to burst and simply realize her situation. It shouldn’t have taken a mere stranger in the marsh to awaken her to a paralyzed lifestyle- and yet, she had always known. Before her dark secret buried itself on the grounds, she knew.  
“It is not a delinquent, at least proceed with the oils. I am sure whomever you travel with will be fearing to find your corpse somewhere on the grounds.”
Her eyes met his own before moving towards the stairways and ascended up them slowly. Bernard suddenly felt that trivial alarm that Isleños had revealed with their own bodies and eyes as he watched her. He had no knowledge of the spirits of the forest, much less the darkness he had only seen when he voyaged here. As much as the marsh was easily comprehensible, the more he learned about Odette, the less he knew about the land around them. Everything was a game- a dangerous one to play if he walked up those stairs after her.
Odette was hardly primed by her youth, as if that time never existed and neither did she. Her manner and behavior were strange and alien to him, even for someone of the same culture and background. Something altered her, and it wasn’t her present or previous situation, but rather something she was hiding. The walls and the furniture identified it, the paintings and portrait’s eyes knew the hidden and buried secret that she held. Bernard did not, and concerned over her that he would never learn of it's meaning and purpose.
Hearing her singing once more with closed doors to block the volume, Bernard ascended well after she had, discovering one of the doors in the hall to be exposed. Walking towards it, he found a candlelit dresser with the French masks and oils placed neatly onto it, in which he slowly removed the unclean shirt he had worn repetitively. Taking the oil to his hands, he began to lavish himself greatly enough to purge of the odor of grimed lake and moss, but didn’t take more than he required. Gathering oils to here from France must’ve been a fine cost, and he wasn’t about to use the complete flask to cover a week’s loss of a bath. The journey was almost over- and home was waiting. 
Odette returned in a simple white gown, covering down to the middle of her long slender legs as she plaited her hair to the side, watching him with a satisfied smile. He felt no loss of comfort with her presence, even in such a compromising situation. She was silent, the smile plastered to her face as she braided continuously without binding it with the blue ribbon in the slits of her digits. Her cerulean eyes examined the shadows left by the candles on the walls, and the mirror that directed back towards Bernard who was quickly finishing with his cleaning. She wished him to use more- he smelled worse than the workers in the fields but wouldn’t dare admit something to her friend. 
Friend. 
“I’m quite sure you’re one of my last destinations,” he said slowly. “France is only days away to return to.” He was placing his shirt back on from his finished action, but also to avoid the eyes that he knew were burning towards him.
“You cannot ask me to come with you.”
“I wasn’t,” he said quickly. “I know you won’t, and as much as I would scorn to dispense you here, I was meaning to say it would be nice to give me an address.”
“To?” she inquired, tying the braid that she decided to leave, as rummaging apprehensively with her hair did not result to any ease. She was fleeting from him, and he could feel her presence almost leave the air around him. 
“Your father- or Casimir. I am sure visitations are not declined.”
“I know neither.”
“That’s not true,” he said shortly, turning around to face her but she was already towards the door, long sleeved arms folded into her chest as she glanced down at the floor. She was pale to the core and her face drained of that smile and color it once had before. The secret seemed to be placed into her hands, and yet she simply huffed teasingly. It was too deep to discuss, to share with someone she had recently shared conversation with. 
“Your men will soon search for you if you do not return,” she warned. “I am of no danger to you physically. I bid you luck on your journey, Bernard.” With that, she left the room and descended the stairs once more, and to where she went, Bernard never knew. He descended after her, a little apprehensive about leaving without a proper farewell, much less depart from her soul that cried out to him. She seemed terrified, and now that her mask was partially revealed, he was scared of her as well. Maybe that’s what she meant- she was no harm, but it wasn't easily understandable. She was of no impairment to him….
Physically. 
 
Bernard could not recollect on how he walked on the boat, his head rested flatly onto the boards of the rocking ship and the blanket now aside with the rising sun. His eyes burst open only to flutter incessantly and detest the rays that shined accosting from the sky. Groaning, he dragged himself to sit up and found Remy reading a book across from him on Louisiana nature. His companion remained the same monotonous reflection, as if nothing had changed. Yet Bernard had felt something disturbing within him. 
“Good Morning- when did you come in last night?” He asked, his eyes scattered across the pages and not to his companion. “You smell rather nice for someone who was in the marsh the entire night with nothing but a loaded gun and matches.”
Bernard paused and glanced down at his shirt, and then the smell of the French oils spilled into his nose and he had to evoke the memories of the night before. The reminiscences flooded and he wasn’t entirely sure what happened, what occurred. He was left with more questions than he had before he even entered the wetlands. 
“I’m not entirely certain,” he whispered, rubbing the back of his ruffled tan hair. 
“I’ll tell you what they’re certain of,” he grumbled, glancing over to Isleños that appeared to be making breakfast and meals for the company. Their eyes watched Bernard, curious on what had occurred during the night of the fleeing spirits and the darkness surrounding the feminine being of the wetland.  “Apparently when you returned, the singing didn’t stop until dawn. The Isleños could hardly sleep, it was terrifying. Loud and gloomier than what you were attracted to.”
“The same song?”
“French melody about the King? They wouldn’t distinguish it but that’s what I was told,” Remy said, standing and placing the book aside with a hard shut of the pages. Fixing his clothes and pants, he placed his boots on and Bernard watched him curiously. His companion seemed to know something Bernard did not, just as Odette had hidden her darkest secret within her. Yet, the Isleños knew and Remy understood it without any exploration. How is it that Bernard inquired everything about her, and it seemed the rest knew more than him?
“Where are you going?”
“Where are we going? I have to show you something, Hardy. And I’m not sure what answers you’ll be left with, but I’ll tell you what they told me.”
“About the forest, or Odette?”
“You learned her name?” He asked worriedly, which caused Bernard to pause.
“What’s her name have to do with it?”
“Nothing- and everything.” 
 
Bernard did not recognize the path they took back towards the establishment. Remy appeared to have known about it, and yet the familiar draw to the center of the plantation was stronger with each step. The marsh was much less familiar without its darkness and didn’t seem as the same area he had explored before. The animals were vibrant with noise and chatter, rushing about the skies and the grounds , never crossing paths with the two French men but less afraid of the place itself. 
“What have they told you?” Bernard asked for a third time, still receiving the same answer of silence. Remy did not seem displeased with his actions, as if he had spurred some conjuring or curse from conversing with the woman. Yet  he had no insight on why they were afraid, much less curious about learning about his companion's time with her.
Finally they approached the house, and Bernard seemed pleased with it’s reflection- for the most part. The white audacity of the place had worn slightly, and a few granges and thorns had grown onto the base of the columns and the first floor deck. The windows were dark and grimed, their fashion much less appealing and held no sense of light. The second floor balcony was the same, as Bernard would’ve claimed that perhaps those details were not noticed from his tiresome journey and the darkness.
Yet the broken door on the first floor told him otherwise. 
“What happened here?” Bernard asked slowly, almost wondering if the Islenos had attacked the establishment or Remy had merely invaded the woman’s privacy. The only mark he could place on his companion was softening eyes that looked at the establishment, almost as if he had been there before. Remy turned to Bernard and paused, continuing on the path but travelling to the east part of the house.
“One of the Islenos has been here many times,” he spoke shortly. “First at the smell of gunpowder, and the second because of the singing. His third time was this morning to explain to me what has happened here on these haunted grounds.”
Bernard was attempting to connect the pieces, much more to learn of how Odette was at all connected with the Isleno. She made some inclination she wasn’t coined of the term, and yet again, it was rather suspicious she didn’t. Perhaps that’s not what they were called to the locals- but Bernard knew that wasn’t the case. He just couldn’t place the pieces together, or why in the first place the destruction of the house appeared now.
“Bernard, the woman you met last night is deceased.”
Remy glanced directly at his companion, and Bernard stifled a nervous laugh and mock, turning towards him and back towards the place. Something had changed, but the entire motion of it was absurd! His exploration left his companion with nothing but ghost stories that evening, it seemed. Stories, myths; that’s all they were and could be. Bernard had never touched Odette- wouldn’t have for the life of him to be persuaded- but she had carried objects and offered him much more than any woman would.
“You’re delirious,” Bernard chuckled. “You were not there and there’s no possible way that she couldn’t be here right now.” Pausing he glanced back towards the establishment, exhaling shortly. “Odette!” He called out, and Remy quieted him down with a sharp glare. Bernard tried once more but Remy's voice reprimanded him. 
“Stop calling to her, you dickens!” He said harshly, grasping the man’s shoulder but he retreated soon, taking a few steps forward and waiting for any answer. He was desperate for some returning voice, some song in the air or anything to help him with reassurance- because he knew if he entered that house, she wouldn’t be found.
“She’s….She has to be alive, Remy,” he shook his head. “This doesn’t make any logical sense, much less that I saw her! Dined with her, conversed and you heard her song as well! The Isleños heard her!”
“You’re standing on her grave, Bernard,” he said under his breath, glancing down at the terrain and Bernard followed his eyes. It was fresher greenery than the empty haunted marsh, and flowers covered the bases and edges of what appeared to be the outline. Hardy almost choked at the realization, and there was nothing he could do to prove against Remy's story. He respectfully stepped off, rubbing his jaw and chin with distressed silence and confusion. She had recently been alive, vibrant with him and now her secret and darkness was revealed. She was the spirit of the planation because of the destruction that was left with her. Now Bernard wished he had never learned it. 
“What happened here?” Bernard whispered, kneeling down and fixing the flowers as he patiently waited for an answer. His entire world was tossed in a basket and thrown directly onto this very location. How Remy wasn’t surprised or ignorant of believing such tales made Bernard a little saner, but no more relieved. She was gone- and it was apparent she was even with his presence. Remy didn’t believe in much of anything, especially stories that Bernard shared of his encounters of wild animals which were all the truth. But this was beyond anyone’s comprehension.
“The man who told the story said that he was rowing the boat late at night on the Lake when he heard gunshots,” he said slowly. He glanced back towards their camped boat that couldn’t be seen for the mile journey and thickets of trees and swamp life. “It took him a long duration to travel to the sight of the sounds, and more people had heard them as well. There was a hunting party up north, but a few lost hunters had known they were not to shoot on the surrounding property and found her dead. The house was ransacked and many jewelry boxes and vanities were emptied. A few ruled out suicide from some sort of depression, since no other bodies or marks were found. That was, until, they examined the body to find the bullet pierce her heart from behind.”
Bernard almost didn’t want to imagine it, to see her in that lovely dress with whatever audacity she had to be outside at the time. She should’ve stayed inside, should’ve never married Casimir or should’ve run away to France. Why did she have to experience this, to perish after her suffering and to continue in the afterlife, let alone mask her toment with a smile? He rubbed his face from pure exhaustion and despair, not wishing to hear much more or imagine her  stained garment to collapse on the ground he stood above.
“They buried her quickly- a bunch of strangers together for a woman they had never met. She lived alone and died alone. The second time the Isleño came, he came to bring her flowers and found her singing on the porch, swaying and dancing with a candle in her hand. She informed him about the hunting party, apparently she was still stuck in that moment of death. And yet, she said she recognized the Isleno with a look upon her face.
“She asked about the hunting party,” Bernard groaned in anguish, keeping himself to help his emotions from releasing onto the grounds. Emotions he had held them in so intricately and carefully were now slipping from his controlling grasp. He cried over Lisa and was in despair, and yet for some reason his heart clenched and was suffocating him from this. Odette was an innocent flower plunged into darkness. “And yet she seemed fully aware of what she was. She knew she was dead..."
“The Isleño says that anyone who enters that house never stays past midnight, or that’s the rumor in the surrounding towns as well,” he said shortly. “And I know you were gone longer than that, Bernard. I don’t know if you took forever to return, or you were there past midnight.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know- it’s never been done. But you soaked in her oils, Bernard. As soon as you awoke the Isleños knew. They say you’re contaminated with her- that her music will forever play in your mind and she will never leave you. She means to harm.”
“She is not darkness, Remy. Casimir surrounded her in it, in pain and anguish. But never once did she submit to it, never once did she give in and forget about her purpose. Whether or not her husband would return, she continued her life. Her contamination is not harm- it is kindness and how someone was so pained and continued to show goodness and love to a stranger.”
“It’s a habitual death occurrence. She asked the same question to the Isleño as to you,” Remy said shortly, not entirely convinced by Bernard’s persuasion on her lack of harm. Mentally she had harmed him, as Bernard was changed entirely and was defending her with every strenght he had. Whatever connection he had with the woman, Remy would never comprehend and neither would Bernard. Hardy just felt as if he was supposed to be there, to know her. His life would be incomplete without knowing her.
“I don’t think she’s human anymore,” Bernard murmured, standing up and glancing back towards the house. It held no life inside it- and as much as the plantation had lost its darkness and gained life in the animals, he couldn’t feel her there. 
“I don’t think she ever was.”
Remy wasn’t purposely bringing his companion down, as he was still at the edge of comprehending everything. Both knew they never would, and yet Remy worried about the effect this would have on Bernard even long after this, how she would haunt him for the rest of his life and never leave him. 
Bernard didn’t see it as a haunting- but an everlasting companionship.
 As they returned and departed the planation, he sat himself in the same spot of his awakening, eating the meal prepared as he took out his journal. He was debating on writing it- for the King’s men would surely read every detail and word that was written onto the page. There was no harm except being the laughing stock of the aristocracy and bureau- but Odette had suffered much more than harsh words. 
He wrote the pages eloquently and took the duration of his entire journey back to France, across the Atlantic and passage to Paris. It wasn’t because it was a long tme and his mind struggled to recall her, but to make sure it was perfection. Everything about her was as fresh as the perfume he smelled every time he thought of her- she was guiding his words. For what reason, he didn’t know. Before he turned the journal in, he aguishly tore the pages out of the journal that belonged to someone else. Who it was to be given to, he didn’t know.
He just knew she wanted it that way. 
 
His children hadn’t noticed the effect of Odette Labelle, much less that their father had changed in his love for them and care. Whether it was the motherly voice in the air when he would normally reprimand them, or the simplicity of knowing his children were not to bear any pain that Odette had served dutifully, Bernard was gentler with them. Her presence was always there, and the papers were placed on his vanity every morning. The words were only revealed back to him when he needed that reassurance, and even then he could feel the way of the wetland and marsh and how it clung to him. The dangling weeds that dragged across his shoulder was Odette's hand, stroking and lovingly reminding him that the past was behind him, her along with it. Why she remained now and towards the future, Bernard hoped it was to give him peace and tranquility with his family. But something told him she was not there for Bernard alone- but someone else. 
There was no pain that Bernard could not bear that Odette had. Amongst every strife, Odette reminded him that there were worse things that could turn his heart into darkness, that could murder his soul.
 
Bernard never discovered Casimir in France, and told close companions to lend their ears to anyone named such. Any mention of the name twanged his heart with hate and anger, and yet Odette would not want such to be developed inside anyone. She loved Casimir despite what he had produced her to, the life he left her with. Who Bernard did find, was her father.
The old man was standing in front of his shop in Versailles when Bernard happened to make a visitation to a colleague.  He noticed the letters upon the building removed slowly and the man held the flowers clenched into his hand, as if burying something to the earth. He was short, lacking any lean side on his body but was not unhealthy. The sunken in face held soft emotions, his wrinkles bunched together and defining his elderly demeanor. He showed no sign of sickness or mongering in death, and sadness was not upon his sapphire eyes. The name and blue irises instantly reminded Bernard of Odette, despite it having been over two years ago. Labelle's place was to be finished, along with all his finished products. Was this the result of Casimir? 
 
Bernard then recalled that he despised the colleague he was to visit, and was determined that approaching this man was not coincidence. Odette knew this would happen- she had to. 
Upon conversing with him, the elder spoke of removing himself from the business and retiring. He was to take a trip to Louisiana to visit his daughter and find her- and that’s when Bernard realized that her death must’ve been a few decades ago, for Odette was no more past her youth. She had been dead long before. Without hesitation, the letters that rested every morning on his dresser were found in his bag slung over his shoulder, whicih caused him to be wary about its placement, but he knew what he had to do. Slowly lifting the pages out of the bag, he was hesitant on giving it to her father. It wasn’t because the news to him would be dreadful, or that the man would be relieved in knowing his daughter did not purposely ignore him. 
Bernard did not wish to let go of Odette.
The journal pages was what he had of her. Even though his mind could remember what was important, the words on the pages reminded him of every single detail he wished to hold in his heart. Yet, he knew that Odette would want her father to know, and that perhaps his purpose wasn’t to hold onto the letters. He tore them out but didn’t know why, and he didn’t know why he placed them into his sack that morning. Odette knew this would happen, and as much as he loved her, he handed the papers over to the man.
As the elder examined it, Bernard felt a complete loss in her presence, her perfume and warm hand on his shoulder. Odette was finally free from the destruction of Casimir, much longer than it should’ve taken for her peace. She was at peace, as was her father would soon be after reading the words.  Bernard left the man’s side in anguish, departing Versailles and not gathering with the colleague, for there was no reason to be there anymore. It was finished, and yet Bernard was the only one left without peace.
 
Entering back to his establishment, his children rushed to him with open arms, older and educated with pride and eagerness. He masked a smile onto his face, holding them dearly before they began to drag him towards the small ballroom. It was hardly used besides social gatherings he held for the King’s bureau, and even those weren't common. Adeline flattened her dress slowly as Charles motioned their father to sit down, and Bernard laughed under his breath at how this was to be prepared. He refined himself on the chair, leaning back to watch their eager faces and their new profound work. 
The two stood in front of him, the gleaming sun shining through the abundant windows onto the marble floors and gold walls. They never did play in the room, but chose it for the perfect place for such talents. The room showed the most affulency and French aspect of the entire mansion, and yet Bernard was never one to appreciate it. At the moment, he wasn’t in the energy to be around his children. They looked like Lisa but reminded him of Odette, who was still gone from his side and heart. 
“Papa, we learned a song today,” Adeline spoke sweetly as if she was already singing. Their hands folded in front, their shadows cast to the floor as they seemed eager and excited to share these verses with him. Bernard spoke of nothing, and they were concerned that he wasn’t to ask them to start or comply, but he was rather stranded with his mind . “Do you want to hear it?”
No, he didn’t wish to hear music nor associate with it. He wanted peace. He wanted the peace that they deserved and he wanted the scent of perfume lingering in the rooms, the words spilling from his lips as he mumbled them in his sleep about his haunted friend.
“Of course, you may begin. What’s it about?”
“The Good King Dagobert. Of course, that’s not what he was at all,” Adeline smiled. Both sang eloquently in their native language, Charles falling behind from his lack of memorization of the lyrics. The song was familiar, of course, and the children simply learned it to learn history and enhance their pronunciation of the language.
Bernard could feel pride in them learning the song, not because it was a political standard and that their learning was profiecinet.  The peace arrived, and Bernard smiled and hummed along with his childre


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