There were bodies below The Facility.
Bodies whose maggot-infested, decomposing limbs made the air so foul, one could choke on the heavy, putrid stench of death.
Bodies with bones protruding from where they shouldn’t have been.
Bodies with bones missing from where they should have been.
These bodies with eyeless faces were surrounding the girl, their proximity making it more difficult for her to breathe than even the disgusting odor of their rotten flesh. Blackened blood oozed from their empty eye sockets and the corners of their mouths. They closed in on her like a pack of hungry dogs, mouths open, exposing voids full of rotting teeth. But oddly enough, no incisors. No tongues.
There was nowhere to run.
She would die—that much was obvious—but instead of screaming or crying, she stared. Contemplated the grotesque faces with the concern of a mother seeing to an injured child.
A deep breath. Then, she stretched out her hand.
Interesting, the woman thought as her eyes focused. Any other person would have been saying their prayers in terror, but the girl had been strong. And even more interesting, something about the reanimates seemed to have caught her attention. But what?
“Did you see her again, Madame?”
The voice of her younger companion broke the woman’s musings. Looking up at the curious expression on her friend’s fair face, she nodded slowly. Sitting up in her old, mahogany armchair, she picked up her porcelain teacup from the ornate wooden coffee table, then took a careful sip of steaming rosehip tea.
Ruby red-painted lips pursed tightly. “That’s twice in one week, Simone.”
Eagerly, Simone relocated from where she had been standing in the doorway to the kitchen, so that she could hear about the Madame’s latest vision. Madame Emmanuelle was famous throughout Louisiana’s French Quarter for her visions, as well as for being the only fortune teller in the area who didn’t use tarot cards, palm-reading, or trinkets to make her predictions.
Lately, though, she had been having visions—full trances sometimes—about a mysterious young girl. It was unusual for the Madame to have visions about the same person, and even more unusual for those visions to come within days of one another. The Madame was concerned about the girl because in each of the three visions she’d had about her, the girl had been in danger.
In the first vision, the girl had come home to find her entire family had been murdered. The second vision had seen her kidnapped by people from some strange organization.
As she settled down into the wooden armchair adjacent to the Madame’s, Simone got the feeling that this third vision would not be much better than its predecessors.
“She was being surrounded by reanimates,” Madame Emmanuelle said quietly. Then, realizing that Simone did not know what she meant, she explained, “Corpses—reanimated by unnatural means. Zombies.” Her normally vibrant eyes were dull as she recounted the rest of the events of the vision.
“What does it mean?” Simone asked afterward.
Setting down her cup, Madame Emmanuelle sighed. “I don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is that she noticed something important. Something strange.” She ran a hand through her wild head of long, black curls. “I wish I knew what.”
What she actually meant was that she wished that she knew where the girl was, Simone figured. Ever since the first vision, it had been obvious that the Madame was deeply concerned about the girl’s well-being, but Emmanuelle was not the type of person who liked to show her concerns.
The other visions had been horrifying enough. The thought of that young girl going through such terrible things alone…Awful. Simone tried her best to squelch the bad feeling she was getting in the pit of her stomach. She peered at her friend’s worried face. “Do you think you’ll have another vision about her?”
Madame Emmanuelle tapped her finger against her cup absently. “I don’t know. And if I do…” She paled, brows furrowing. “If I do, I’m afraid that something worse will have happened to her.”
Suddenly, the Madame stood up. “I need to do something. I have to do something.” She shook her head. “I can’t let her suffer any more than she already has.”
“We’ve got to do something,” Simone corrected.
Emmanuelle gave her a small, grateful smile, then turned serious. “No, Sim. You’re still in training. I can’t put you at risk for hollows.”
Her friend, despite having most impressive natural psychic powers, had been a late bloomer. She had come into her powers at fourteen. Most natural psychics—psychics whose powers were inborn and not bestowed—developed their powers in very early childhood. The lucky ones had parents who either believed in their abilities or pooh-poohed the shades and hollows as childish make-believe. But the unlucky ones…They ended up like Simone.
Though Fortune had smirked a bit at Simone, it had ignored the frenzied cries of the others. For unlike them, Simone had learned to hide her “symptoms.” She had swallowed the medicine (at first shocked that it did nothing but dull the voices), stopped jumping at the angry hissing and the aggravated growls, and trained herself to ignore the goosebumps on her arms that always accompanied them.
The voices cussed her and spat, threatened and pleaded, but Simone paid them no mind. She “understood that her condition was simply her brain’s chemicals not balancing out properly, but that it could be easily managed if she took her pills every day.” And the psychiatrists, much pleased with her progress, patted themselves on the back. They had succeeded; she was the star pupil of The Wilmington Institute.
By the time she was eighteen years old, Simone had been granted the freedom that many of her fellow patients, already driven mad for real by their gradually heightened medicine dosages, had been denied.
But that was where Simone’s “luck” had run out. The upstanding famille de Vallière had carefully guarded the secret behind its eldest daughter’s absence. She’d gone to a lovely boarding school in England, mon ami. She didn’t come home during the holidays because she always got terrible airsickness from long flights, chère. Her teachers always say such wonderful things about her grades—c’est très bien!
Of course the famille held a big ol’ birthday/homecoming party for its beloved girl Simone. Neighbors and family friends Simone had long forgotten while in exile came bearing graduation gifts for la bonne fille and for one night, Simone was the much-loved de Vallière girl she had been before.
When the party was over, her younger sister and older brother slid their arms from her embrace, disgusted. The next morning, Madame and Monsieur de Vallière told her that they’d found her a place to live. They would give her as much money as she wanted or needed if she promised never to come home again.
That night, Simone and several bags arrived at a small apartment. The cab driver chuckled as her eyes widened at the Quarter ladies with their hommes de la nuit. “Welcome to the French Quarter, chère.”