Content warning: blood, violence against a child, human death
Sainte Ygrette was burning when Genevieve arrived. As her coach approached, slowing at the sight of ash and smoke, she felt as though she were entering the town’s own private midnight. Greasy black plumes choked off what little sunlight the autumn clouds permitted, and the gaslights were already doused, their lines evacuated before they could cause greater disaster. The only light came from the embers strewn across scorched rooftops and the flames that still licked the shingles of a giant manor house at the end of the road.
The coach stopped several blocks from the source of the chaos and Darnell dismounted to aid in Genevieve’s descent. From the rear of the carriage, he hefted a solid wooden chair and lowered it gently to the cobbled road. He rolled it along on two oversized wheels until he reached her door and then lifted her down onto its upholstered seat. Genevieve straightened the bulk of her lilac-coloured silk dress, gently brushing away the wrinkles as a few townsmen rushed by, seemingly oblivious to her presence.
“Should I aid them, Mademoiselle?”
Genevieve watched with cold curiosity as half a dozen men passed buckets and three or four others ran off to find more. The blackened building loomed over them as if complicit in the fiery chaos, a creature threatening to devour them. Tearing her eyes from this spectacle, Genevieve noticed a handful of people clinging to doorways and peeking from the windows of buildings far enough away from the blaze to create an illusion of safety. She gripped the hefty rims of her chair’s wheels and propelled herself forward, approaching a stern-faced woman with three trembling children clutching at her legs.
“Excuse me,” she called to them. The children’s eyes flew to the ornately carved wood of her seat and the wheels beneath her black gloves (white ones would always get ruined, as much as she preferred them). The mother’s eyes did the opposite, flying this way and that, any direction to try to avoid the contraption on which Genevieve was seated.
Well, Genevieve always did much prefer speaking with children anyway.
She directed her speech to the eldest, a girl of perhaps seven. “Do you know if anyone is inside the building there? The big one with all the flames?”
The girl blinked. Clearly she was not used to being the one addressed by adults. She shook her head. “Only the governor lives there now. He’s the one who told everyone about the fire.”
“What about the staff?” Genevieve asked, but then rephrased as the girl’s mouth twisted in confusion, “The people who work there? Housemaids and cooks and such.”
“There aren’t any.” It was the mother who answered this time, and Genevieve raised her chin to address her properly.
“None?” she asked, tilting her head at this bizarre tidbit.
“I go in a couple times a week to help with the laundry and tidying, but seeing as most of the house is empty ain’t no point keeping it all dusted. He buys his meals around town, or maybe makes some himself.” The mother hesitated, her gaze returning to the ash and flame, “Not many who’ll go in there at all these days.”
“Oh?” Genevieve asked, a hungry grin splitting her face, “Why’s that?”
“Cursed, isn’t it?” she answered with a shiver.
“So it would seem.”
Wrangling the bulk of her chair, Genevieve made to return to where Darnell was waiting beside the coach, but the mother made a noise as if to call her back.
“Are you… I mean, did they send you? Are you here to help us?”
The eldest girl’s eyes went wide, flying from her mother and back to Genevieve. They burned with a hope and wonder that made Genevieve straighten her posture, and smirk as she answered:
“Ah, yes, I am Hunter Gregoire. That gentleman across the way is my assistant, Hunter Furst.” A slight bow of the head, but not so low that she couldn’t watch the woman’s mouth droop a little in disappointed surprise.
“You? But surely you…”
“Are your best hope,” Genevieve interrupted, “And I will be expecting your full cooperation. Once the flames are out, of course.”
This time she turned away without hesitation and returned to where Darnell stood rigidly straight (as was his habit), watching the thick smoke rising from the now-diminished flames.
“We wait,” she told him, “They’ll have it out soon enough. Let the beast burn.”
Darnell nodded, and they watched and waited together.
Windows glinted like eyes, reflecting the light of the half-moon in those brief moments when she winked down through the clouds: the only witnesses to the gruesome scene below. The night was cold for early June, but the mother’s blood kept the babe warm, drenched as she was in it. She cried out, in pain and confusion: Mother’s smell is near. Mother’s warmth is near. Where is mother?
Still the eyes stared, the hulking mass of the building looming, a frigid stillness permeating the night.
The babe cried until she slept through the pain and fear. Her primal brain knew little, except how to cry for help and how to surrender when it didn’t come. She continued to sleep even when – against all odds – help did come and carried her away. Away from her dead mother. Away from the watchful eyes of the manor house. Away from the murderers concealed within.
*** Author’s Note***
Hey everyone, thank you so much for reading the first episode of The Beast of Ste Ygrette! The series will be eight parts in length and run bi-weekly until the end of October. Think of it as a Hallowe’en special, if you will. Don’t forget to like and comment if you enjoyed the episode, and follow the blog (at the bottom of the page) or check me out on Instagram for updates to the series. Thanks again for your support <3.
Part II: An Ill-Timed Meeting —>