Welcome to Part One of my first #SuggestionBox submission, “The Fantôme Queen”! First, a giant thank you to all my betas and friends who helped me to polish this from the first draft to now. This story will be comprised of 3 parts, and a new part will be posted each week. The list was given to me by SGD Singh and contained the following items:
Name: Octavia (Tavi) Bordeaux/ AKA: The Crazy Cat Girl (she takes in strays who become strangely devoted to her)
Place: New Orleans, USA
Time: A not-so-distant future where magic is no longer a secret art but has taken over society
Thing: A magical pen that teleports its user to the person who’s name they write–EVEN The Dead. (And fictional characters?)
I sincerely hope you enjoy my take on the prompt!
The Fantôme Queen
By: Claerie Kavanaugh
This is wrong. So, so wrong. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I fought the urge to jump at every movement.
Wind whistled through the streets, and only a few stragglers milled about. Even the usual jazz musicians lining the sidewalks had packed up for the night.
I stifled a scream as the rustle of some discarded trash startled me from behind. The French Quarter was never so lifeless, even at one thirty in the morning. It was especially unnerving, given my coming mission.
“What’s wrong, Char?” I yelped and Talia’s throaty laugh echoed through the night as we turned the corner, now a mere sidewalk away from the intersection of Bourbon and St Anne. The closer we came, the more pins and needles rose on my hands and feet, and the faster the chills raced up my spine. “You’re not afraid of some harmless gris-gris lady…Are you?”
“N-No,” I glared at her and ground my teeth, squaring my shoulders and curling my trembling hands into fists. “Th-That’s ridiculous. Wh- Why would I be scared of an old voodoo witch and some silly stories? I-It’s impossible to resurrect the dead.” I hated the way my voice shook, especially since what I’d said was true… For the most part.
“And yet, you’ve roped us into disturbing her peace at an ungodly hour in order to find out if you can, in fact, do just that.”
My cheeks flushed at the teasing smirk perking at the edges of her lips, and a stab of irritation cut through the terror raging in my veins.
“Talia, lay off. Charlotte’s already stressed enough without you nagging her about logistics.”
Talia scoffed and rolled her eyes. She placed her hands on her hips and scowled. “And she’s also perfectly capable of fighting her own battles without her knight in shining armor butting in, Jaxxy.”
Jackson grunted and narrowed his gaze. “It’s Jackson. Jack-son. How many times do I have to say it?”
“Guys!” I spread my hands and came around from Talia’s left to insert myself between them. “Do we really need to do this now?” I turned to Talia and raised a pointed eyebrow. “Lia, I know Jax isn’t your favorite person–”
“Oh, like I’m his?”
“But I need you both if I’m going to go through with this. Can you two at least try to get along? For tonight? For me?” I looked between them. Talia’s eyes met the ground and she pursed her lips while Jax stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“Fine.” He stepped closer and draped an arm around my shoulder. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you.” I smiled and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. Talia gagged. “And for the record,” I spun back to her, forcing myself to stand still as we returned to the task at hand, “I’m trying to communicate with spirits, not bring home a ghost. Big difference.”
Talia’s smirk slipped off of her face and she gave me a long look. As her pale green eyes locked on mine, I did my utmost to quell the tremble of my lips and rapid rise and fall of my chest. She grabbed my hand, offering a reassuring squeeze.
Are you sure you want to do this? Her gaze never faltered as she studied me. I gulped even as the brisk air stung my throat, and did my best to mold my features into a confident mask.
Her hand was clammy in mine, and the fear rolled off of her in waves. It surprised me that she was so petrified, seeing as it was my sanity on the line, but I didn’t want to fuel either of our fires any further. I gave an almost imperceptible nod, and Talia only blinked before falling back into step beside us.
“No one ever said Octavia’s cats were ghosts, though, just that they were strangely devoted to her. You came up with that one on your own.”
I pressed my lips together and breathed in until the air burned my lungs. “I know you think this is crazy… That I’m crazy, but I have to do this if I ever want to get rid of these…Visions. They’ve been giving me nightmares for a month.”
Talia winced and put a hand on my shoulder. “Charlotte, you know that’s not what I meant. I don’t think you’re crazy, I just…” She sighed. “I may not have my powers yet, but I hate seeing you get yourself worked up over something so… Trivial.”
My ears rang as that simple word reverberated through the silent streets. I clenched my fingers a little tighter. If it hadn’t been for the slim strip of fabric covering my hands– the sleeves of my new jacket were just a few inches too long– my nails would have slit an arch right through the center of my palm. Her implication fogged my mind and punched every ounce of oxygen from my chest, even as Talia’s eyes widened and she slapped her palm over her mouth. Her auburn curls shook in the wind as she fumbled to find the right words.
“Trivial?” I hissed, whirling to face her before skidding to a stop. Jackson stiffened beside me, but I barely felt his hand entwine with mine as he stepped forward. My vision had gone crimson, tunneling to fit only the crumpling features of my best friend and the stretch of vacant pavement behind her. “You’re calling these hallucinations…. My–” The words hitched in my throat, but I swallowed around the lump and pushed on. “My mother’s death, trivial?”
Talia paled and stumbled back. “Char… Lotte… No! God, no! That’s not what I meant at all!”
“Charlotte!” Jackson gasped, linking his arm through mine and pulling me back a few paces so I was no longer towering over her. “Calm down!”
I ignored him. “Let me tell you something; you should count yourself lucky that you don’t have to deal with it yet. Because this? Being terrified to go to sleep every night because of what, or who, I might see? I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Having magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“No, Jackson. She doesn’t get it. And she won’t until she comes into power on her own. She needs to understand that this isn’t just a game anymore. I wouldn’t be doing this unless I didn’t have any other choice.” My voice cracked on the last word and I buried my face in my hands.
Jackson wrapped me in a sideways hug, shaking his head. “You know that’s not what she meant.” He let me rest my head on his shoulder. “I know you’re scared– ”
“Of the visions, of seeing Octavia, of ending up like your mother…”
I whimpered in confirmation as ghoulish scenes swirled behind my eyelids.
“And I don’t blame you for any of it.” He paused and I exhaled. “But lashing out at your best friend isn’t going to help anyone.”
My shoulders slumped. I hated when he was right. “I know… But… I’m so fucking scared,Jax. My mother went mad because she couldn’t control her magic, and now she’s come to haunt my dreams, expecting me not to do the same?” My whole body quaked, and sharp, salty tears burned the edges of my eyes. I chomped down on my inner cheek and tilted my head, refusing to let them fall. Now was not the time to be weak.
Jackson leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to my temple. Soothing warmth spread through me, filling my subconscious with happy thoughts.
Our first date, to a concert during Jazz Fest, walking along Jackson Square in the early hours of the morning, stopping every few feet to watch the newest street performer or admire a painting, the day he asked me to be his girlfriend, after three months of dating.
A slow smile spread across my face, and for the first time that night, I was able to take a breath without the air catching in my throat.
“Thanks.” It was times like this when his healer’s magic really came in handy.
Jackson smiled. He brushed a stray curl behind my ear before molding his lips to mine. “Anytime.”
When we broke apart, I turned back to the street and wiggled out of his embrace, tiptoeing toward Talia. “I’m sorry, Lia.” I let out a long breath. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”
Talia sniffed and smiled, wiping her damp cheeks with her sleeve. “It’s okay. I know I slipped up. I shouldn’t have said what I did. That… That was really stupid.”
“Yeah… It kinda was.”
Lia cringed and caught her lip between her teeth. “I know. For the record though, I would never try to imply anything about your mother. I only meant… We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet, so… So there’s no need to be scared.” She shrugged. “I was trying to make you feel better, but… I shouldn’t have said it the way I did, you’re right.”
Talia shook her head. “No, it’s not. I… I can imagine what you’re going through, and I think… I think it’s incredibly brave.
I blinked. “You do?”
Talia nodded. “I know you’re nervous to see her, but I would never think you were crazy. This may be a little unorthodox, but if you think seeing Octavia will help, then…” She trailed off. “Then who am I to stop you?” She took a deep breath, but her shoulders hunched and her gaze dropped downward again. “You’re ten times more courageous than i’ll ever be.” She trailed off, and I opened my mouth to object.
“You’re willing to face, embrace, even, your biggest fear, all to find an answer, even though the thought of that answer scares you witless. That’s… That’s not something I think I’ll ever be able to do.” She choked on a sob then, but gulped it back before I could even put an arm around her shoulder. She sighed and swiped at her still damp cheeks, now frigid in the chilled breeze. “Anyway,” she let go of my hand and took a few steps forward. “Let’s get going, before you chicken out again.
I closed my eyes and exhaled. How could I ever explain this properly?
It wasn’t Tavi, or the legends surrounding her, that had me bolting up at midnight from a dead sleep drenched in a cold sweat, but what she represented. The dreams… The ear-splitting screams and harsh, incoherent ramblings… And the eyes. A calm, serene grey that, in a mere blink, transformed to a piercing, all-knowing sapphire blue that made my blood run cold and my heart stop beating every time our gazes locked. The images had haunted my thoughts for countless nights, but ever since my 15th birthday, merely a week ago, I couldn’t seem to shake them even in the daylight.
I shivered in the brisk fall air and pulled my jacket closer to my chest. It had been a gift from my father. For protection, he’d said. From what, I was about to find out.
“It’s beautiful,” I gently lifted the garment from the crinkled tissue paper that lined the bottom of the box. It was a light, white-washed material with a navy design embroidered in the sleeves, front, and back. I traced the pattern with the pads of my fingers, admiring the way the swirl of flowers and symbols flowed together. “Who made it?”
My father smiled. “Widow Seraphina designed it especially for you.”
“Really? Wow!” My eyes lit up as they flicked from my new jacket to my father. I turned it in my hands and draped the fabric behind my back so I could slip my arms into the sleeves. As it settled over my shoulders and came to rest just above my waistline, I snuggled deeper into the cloth, marveling at how soft and flexible it was. “It’s so comfortable.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Well, I would hope so. When I went to pick it up from the shop, Madeline told me Sera had slaved over it for three weeks just to make sure it was perfect. The poor girl had to force her mother to eat.”
I swallowed an audible gasp as heat warmed my face and my mouth dipped into a frown. “She didn’t have to do that. Surely, she has more important customers to tend to.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that.” My father wagged a playful finger in my direction as he came round to sit next to me on the couch. I bit back a teasing grin as the cushion sagged and the springs creaked under his weight. “You know you’re the closest thing she has to a grandchild. I’m certain she would have had my head if word got out that I ever dreamed of taking it to anyone else.”
I giggled and covered my mouth, my sandy curls slapping my cheeks. “Don’t worry, Papa, your secret’s safe with me.”
“Good.” He nodded briskly and winked as I went back to studying the embroidery.
“What do these flowers mean?” I motioned to the leafy plant with finely-tipped, white blossoms, which were intermingled throughout the design with the fleur de lis’s that were the longtime symbol of our home. Gabriel Lefevre never did anything without an alternate motive. Though Seraphina had painstakingly sewn it, I was almost positive the design was not her idea.
“That, my dear, is Jimsonweed, commonly used in the ancient gris-gris cure-all potion, and as a vehicle for spirit communication.” He paused, hardening his features to look me in the eyes. “Something I hope you would remember from our last lesson.”
I sighed and bit back the retort on the edge of my tongue. I had been homeschooled my entire life, and though magic was no longer thought to be a fantastical impossibility or carefully guarded secret as it was when my grandparents were alive, I had never once felt the pull of my voodoo-practicing ancestors, and could not see why he thought it important to know the uses, meanings, and names for so many flowers, herbs, and symbols.
“Yes, Papa, I remember. And this?” I pointed to the shape over my heart, a heart with a trident coming out of the top and a triangle touching the bottom point. Both shapes had a series of small, horizontal lines running down the middle, and three horizontal lines with intricate loops on the ends ran across the top, middle, and bottom of the design.
His features turned to stone. “That is the symbol of Ma’man Brigit, the mother of cemeteries and ruler of transitions between life and death, children, changes, and money.”
My head snapped up and a frigid sense of dread ignited in my blood as I watched him. “W- Why–”
The conversation ended then, with my father pushing himself up and striding toward the kitchen, refusing to answer my questions.
The reason for the symbol kept prodding at me, like I shouldn’t have had to question it in the first place. Deep down, I knew the answer, or at least, I had an inkling, but I pushed it to the depths of my mind, hoping that if I ignored the terrifying revelations surfacing in my dreams, I wouldn’t have to face them in real life.
Everywhere I turned, her expectant, desperate eyes found me. And her words. The first and last words I’d heard her speak since I was a mere foot high in my father’s arms. They pounded relentlessly at my skull, and hard as I tried to banish them, she refused to be silenced.
Don’t block it out, my little Char, or you’ll meet a fate much worse than mine.
It hadn’t been twenty-four hours since my mother’s voice echoed through the cavernous maze that my dreamscape had become as of late. I had wanted nothing more than to ignore her pleas, but, this time, something had spurred me to act. I couldn’t say what it was– maybe the way she kept glancing over her shoulder as her eyes darted around the shop, piled with so many trinkets, jewels, potions, herbs, and charms that the furniture was barely visible, and rocked back and forth on her feet. As if, at any moment, she might be captured by the menacing shadows lurking on the walls, lit by the flickering flames of the vanilla-scented candles scattered around the room. Or maybe, it was the panic-stricken glint in her gaze, urging me to find the courage she had never possessed, and seek help before it was too late. Whatever it was, something about her had finally caused me to snap. For better or worse, I was here, in front of Octavia Bordeaux’s shop, once the shop of legendary gris-gris queen Marie Laveau, facing the past I had tried for twelve years to escape.
Jackson put a hand on my shoulder and I felt Talia’s warm hand entwine with my own clammy palm. “You ready?”
I drew myself up and looked between the two of them, before stepping forward and raising my hand to knock on the door. “As I’ll ever be.”
*Fantôme is French for Ghost.