Flicker blue 3 momentum, p.1
a Flicker Blue novella by
Brea Nicole Bond
Copyright 2011 Brea Nicole Bond
The airport in Atlanta, to a girl with limited travel experience, seemed to operate much like a massive machine that, though originally constructed with great attention to detail, had long before grown outdated—defunct, even. Jane Thomas (or Jane Thomas Sylfaen, depending on the introduction) presumed that the long series of lines had once functioned as a measure of efficiency, but whoever designed them that way had probably never envisioned the massive number of people who would toil through them today, not unlike so many ants drudging homeward in succinct single file. Jane followed her godfather without question, herself ignorant of the airport procedures, as he waited in line at the check-in counter, waited in line through the security checkpoint, waited in line at the gate before boarding the plane. When she finally collapsed into the gray leather first-class seat, Jane felt exhausted.
The entire journey passed in a blur of take-offs and landings, tray tables, and disconnected in-flight movie scenes. Jane wasn’t sure how much of the trip she spent sleeping, but she was surprised when the old man squeezed her shoulder and announced that they had landed in Paris.
Paris. She’d looked forward to spending the hours en route speaking to Dr. Mederick Sylfaen (as best she could, anyway), to piece together the strange scraps of information that she’d uncovered in the three days since the start of Summer Break and the bizarre dinner party of his Cursed friends. Cursed, just like she was now…blessed with a supernatural ability she’d once thought only existed in science fiction novels, but cursed just the same because she could not control it, nor could she tell anyone about it without harming herself in the process. Her godfather had promised that the answers were coming, and so far, he had not disappointed her—if anything, Jane thought she might be experiencing an information overload in the form of fractured bits of conversations and random guesses. The trouble was that none of her discoveries made much sense to her as yet. The puzzle was still too incomplete.
But it doesn’t matter now. We’re in Paris, and we’ll find Madame Antoinette and the Book here. By this time tonight, I’ll know everything I need to know.
As they exited the airport with a cart full of luggage (most of it Jane’s, she was embarrassed to see), Dr. Sylfaen spoke to the driver of the taxi cab in French; Jane didn’t catch a word of it, but she deduced by her godfather’s gesturing hands that he was giving the man directions. The driver expertly fit every piece of baggage into the trunk of the cab, a feat which might have qualified as magical, and Jane crumpled into the backseat, feeling no more rested than when she’d boarded the first flight twenty-something hours earlier.
The taxi took off like a bottle rocket, flying deeper and deeper into the city on a path of twisted one-way roads—at least, Jane assumed they were one-way until a tiny beetle-shaped car hurtled by them from the opposite direction, missing the cab by inches. The streets appeared even narrower than they were, flanked on either side by buildings of stone and iron that rose three or four stories, sometimes more, blocking out much of the sky and all semblance of horizon.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the claustrophobic gray and white landscape, Jane began to make out the shapes of the buildings that butted against the cobblestone streets. They were old, some older than anything she’d ever seen, with high-pitched roofs and shuttered dormer windows rather than the modern-looking spires and glass facades that she would have expected in a city so crowded. Balcony after wrought-iron balcony hinted at the sheer number of people who dwelled in the apartments above the hundreds of shops and restaurants that opened onto the fine slip of sidewalk that separated the buildings from the road, people who walked these sidewalks with briefcases and paper grocery bags in hand, frequently stepping off of the pavement and into the street below, braving the traffic in order to avoid the crowded clusters of tables and chairs that made up the outside dining areas of the bistros and delicatessens. As she peered out the window, Jane thought she could just see the gray-green of water peeking through the small spaces of intersecting roads, perhaps a half a dozen blocks away—the Seine, if she was not mistaken.
“What do you think, Jane?” Dr. Sylfaen asked in a wild whisper. Jane realized then that her godfather was excited to share these sights with her. His eyes, green like fresh ink spilled over aged parchment, watched through the window as eagerly as hers, as if the old man were seeing them again for the first time.
Jane surveyed the landscape, lifted straight from one of the novels she’d read on the back porch swing with Cris but veneered in the advertisement posters and spray-painted graffiti that she identified with a modern city. “I don’t know, Uncle Mederick. It’s like I’m looking at a different world…a different reality.”
The old man laughed. “And so it is, in its way.”
“How much farther?”
“To Madame Antoinette’s? Just a few minutes more.”
Jane nodded, and the cab turned right—toward the Seine, she thought, but the view had been obstructed by a line of tall buildings that must have been built parallel to the river’s edge. The shops were fewer here, and fancier, before they gave way completely to a residential district of homes in brown and gray stone, no less stately for being built jam-packed together. Wispy flowering trees grew from holes that were set at regular intervals in the sidewalk, their slender trunks encaged by more wrought-iron.
The taxi pulled to a stop close to the sidewalk in front of one of these homes, a three-story mansion of dull brown stone trimmed in pristine white—window casings, shutters, and columns on either side of the enormous front door alike gleamed disharmoniously against the aged stone. Standing before each of the columns was a white marble sculpture of a nude cherub. The little angel to the left of the door sat looking out onto the street, his baby lips drawn into a pensive pout as if censuring anyone who dared to stare back at him; the one to the right had been sculpted into a flying posture so lifelike that the little round figure seemed poised to take off at any moment—only one small place where the ball of his foot met the pediment below kept him from going airborne. The cherub’s too-large eyes beckoned the passersby on the street to break him free from his endless hovering, but no-one had ever had the nerve to deface the beautiful statue. The little angel seemed doomed to hover there forever, while his brother looked on in haughty disapproval.
Dr. Sylfaen paid the driver, and Jane swallowed hard as she stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the house. As she took in her new surroundings, the massive door opened to reveal a mouse of a man in a black suit trimmed in a white every bit as jarring to the eye as the paint on the house’s adornments. He scurried down the front steps toward the taxi, and he rapped his knuckles twice on the trunk to signal the driver to open it. When he did, Jane reached into it for one of her bags, and the Mouse Man made a noise like a kettle, just before it begins to whistle.
“No, Mademoiselle,” it hissed with a snootiness that mismatched the nervous gait and twitching fingers. The Mouse Man loaded its arms with as many of the bags and cases as it could manage in one trip, shot a warning glance at Jane, and shuffled back up the front steps. He re-entered the front door; as he did so, it opened wider.
There, framed by the white doorway, the white columns, and the troublesome white cherubs, Jane first beheld Madame Antoinette d’Asp. She was awe-struck.
The elegant lady swept down the steps to meet her guests on the sidewalk below. “Dr. Sylfaen, my dear old friend, it has been far too long.” Her accent was strong, but her English was flawless. She smiled pleasantly and reached to touch his arm, but her fingers merely brushed the fabric of the old man’s s
“Ah, Dr. Sylfaen…now this one is a perfect doll.”
“Jean-Pierre, take the luggage up to the rooms. And inform the kitchen staff that my guests will be taking tea with me in the salon.”
Her business taken care of, the stately lady with the girlish ringlets returned to Jane and Dr. Sylfaen. Her tone with them was drastically softer, Jane noticed, than the one she employed to address the Mouse Man.
“If you will follow me, dear friends, I have a fine tea prepared for us.”
They did as they were told, walking between the peevish little cherubs, through the front door, and into a grand foyer of black and white tiles set in a harlequin pattern before an immense staircase leading to the floors above. Rather than ascend the stairs, Madame Antoinette turned left through an arched doorway into a large sitting room. The walls were papered in pale metallic ochre (they made Jane think of looking at gold through fog) and crammed with ornate white shelves. Upon each shelf sat a small army of porcelain dolls.
In the center of the room, two semicircular white silk sofas framed a round wooden coffee table with dainty legs, which had been set with a large silver tea tray, set and ready for teatime. Madame Antoinette made a sweeping gesture with one arm, signaling them to sit down, and she settled onto one of sofas. Dr. Sylfaen, who had entered the room behind Jane, put a hand on either of her shoulders and guided Jane onto the opposite sofa, then walked behind it to seat himself next to her. Madame Antoinette had already set out the fine porcelain cups and was pouring his tea for him by the time he’d maneuvered into a position between two of the throw pillows, one pale pink and one pale yellow—both silk, like the sofa and every other scrap of fabric Jane could see in the room. Two middle-aged women in white aprons entered from a smaller archway opposite the one which led into the foyer, carrying trays of finger sandwiches and miniature cakes.
Dr. Sylfaen took a couple of each. “This is most generous, my dear Antoinette, but it all seems a bit overdone for a Monday afternoon.”
The little cake Jane held stopped short at her lips. Is it already Monday? God, no wonder I feel so worn out! The weekend had passed in a whirlwind, leaving Jane feeling tired and hungry and unusually off her guard. She inhaled the perfumed air of Madame Antoinette’s salon and slumped an inch deeper into the silken cushions.
“Perhaps, perhaps…but you are important guests, and you have traveled quite far to visit me. I thought that you might arrive in need of refreshment.” Madame Antoinette smiled as Jane stifled a yawn. “And rest, it seems.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jane replied—she hadn’t meant to appear rude.
The lady laughed behind one delicate, ivory hand. She, too, appeared as washed of color as the decorations in her home. Ivory skin, pale strawberry-golden hair, powder pink dress. Jane couldn’t help feeling that she was looking at everything through a veil. Maybe I’m just that tired, she thought.
“Oh, never mind apologizing, mon cherie. You will have time to take a short nap before our party this evening.”
“Party?” Jane blinked at her, then turned to her godfather.
He ran one finger over the rim of his teacup. “You are ready to proceed this evening then?”
“But of course! You are a man of action. Even after all these years, I have not forgotten that much.” After a moment of thought, he nodded, and Madame Antoinette plowed forward. “Our dear friend Liam is in town and should be arriving here in a few hours, along with Albert Manech. Do you know him?”
Dr. Sylfaen took another sip of tea. “We have been introduced before.”
“Splendid. I wasn’t sure if we would require his presence…” her voice trailed off for a moment, “but I thought it best to be prepared.”
Jane could sense her godfather’s eyes looking over her as he answered. “His assistance will be greatly appreciated. Unless, Jane, you would prefer to act as your own fourth?”
“What?!” Act as my own what? Fourth? Does that mean we’re doing that—that ceremony thing again, like the one in the library?
Dr. Sylfaen arched an admonishing eyebrow at her, and she regained her composure over the course of two focused breaths. “If Madame Antoinette’s friend is willing to help, I think I’d prefer to let him,” she said, selecting each word with great care. “I’m afraid I may be too tired to participate…this time.”
Her godfather seemed placated, and the lady across the coffee table seemed nothing less than astonished.
“Well, it seems that you have outdone yourself in preparations, Antoinette. You have prepared for all possibilities. How can I possibly repay your hospitality?”
He may have meant for the comment to be rhetorical, but Madame Antoinette swallowed her momentary speechlessness as soon as the question escaped his lips. “Answers, Mederick,” she stated—all formalities cast aside. The two locked eyes for a full minute before she added, “Perhaps Jane would like to retire to her room?”
“No. I would like to stay,” Jane interjected before the butler could be summoned to fetch her. “Your questions are about me, I assume.”
The lady seemed annoyed for a fraction of a second, then an amused smile fashioned itself to her mouth. “Indeed. I find you very curious, Jane.”
“How so?” Jane’s reply was not defensive—if anything, she felt ready to answer Madame Antoinette’s questions as well as she could. Okay, so she’s a little creepy, but so is Uncle Mederick…and so am I, in all honesty. But I kind of like her, and her house is so, she searched her thoughts for the right word, so serene. That wasn’t exactly right, but she did feel unusually calm. I haven’t felt this relaxed in ages.
“Well, mon cherie, our introduction was a bit incomplete, so let’s just start there, shall we? I am Madame Antoinette d’Asp, and I am delighted to have you in my home.” She offered her hand across the table in a limp gesture that Jane understood to be a more ladylike version of a handshake.
“I’m Jane Thomas Sylfaen,” she thrust her own hand forward and suddenly thought of Gregory, “and you shake hands like a girl.” Madame Antoinette inclined her head as if she misunderstood, and Jane tried to explain. Why on earth did I say that out loud? What’s gotten in to me? “Sorry…it’s something that somebody told me once, as a joke. I’m very pleased to meet you, Madame Antoinette.”
All at once, the lady returned her hand to her lips to conceal another childlike giggle. “An amusing joke. Now, Jane, can you tell me how you came to be called Jane Thomas Sylfaen? I have not seen my dear friend for many years, but I assume that he is not your father.”
Jane felt the old man sidle closer to her on the sofa and place one hand on her shoulder. “No, ma’am, he’s not my father. He’s my godfather…my guardian.” There was a brief flash of pain, but it disappeared almost before Jane noticed it.
Madame Antoinette’s eyes lit up, and she lifted her chin to speak directly to Dr. Sylfaen. “Is this possible?”
“Did you know?”
The old man’s face grew red before he answered her. “You know damn well that I did not, Antoinette.”
“I suppose I do.” She looked chastised for a moment, then a thought came to her and brought a fresh spark into her pale sea-green eyes. “Was there a ceremony?”
He nodded again.
“Ha! And why not? If the same can be accomplished by marriage, why ever not? My dear, you are a genius, even when you do not mean to be.”
“So I’ve been informed.”
Another idea sparked behind the lady’s eyes, but she quickly dampened the enthusiasm and excitement in her voice before returning her attention to Jane, who was freshly confused although she’d heard nothing new in their conversation. “Tell me, mon cherie, are your parents living?”
“Of course,” the lady answered smoothly before changing to her other voice. “Jean-Pierre!”
The butler scurried in from the direction of the foyer.
“Take my young guest to her room. And see that she has everything she needs.”
As ever, Jane was asleep before her head hit the pillow, but she napped lightly enough that she bolted out of the bed when she heard a soft knock on her door. I wonder how long I’ve been asleep, she wondered. An hour? Maybe two? There was still light coming in through the window of the guest bedroom, but it felt late just the same.
“Come in,” she mumbled as she gathered the sheets over herself.
“Jane?” The unmistakable voice of Madame Antoinette sounded from behind the door as it cracked open. “Are you awake yet, mon cherie?”
“Only just.” Jane gasped as Madame Antoinette entered room, her knee-length bronze silk dress rustling as she walked. Diamond earrings swayed like chandeliers from her earlobes. “How long do I have to get ready?”
The lady smiled. “Not long, I’m afraid—the other guests will arrive within the hour. I thought that you needed to rest, but perhaps I should have given you more time to dress….” She looked around the room, and then at Jane. “Would you like for me to help you? I’m sure we could have you ready in minutes.”
“Well,” Jane didn’t seem to have a choice, but she didn’t really mind. Something about the strange woman’s present comforted her, though she couldn’t put her finger on why. “Okay.”
“Wonderful! Now, what were you planning to wear?”
Jane unzipped the blue tapestry garment bag, all the while cursing at herself for not laying out her dress before she napped. She pulled out the simple navy dress that she’d worn three nights earlier, as well as a black dress she’d found on her shopping trip. Thanks to Angelita’s careful packing, neither was in terrible shape. “One of these, I guess. I have a few others, but they’re not as dressy.”
As Jane pulled out the shoes that matched the two dresses, Madame Antoinette considered the options briefly before pointing to the navy satin.
“Really?” Jane asked, remembering how dowdy she’d felt standing next to Lorena, and even Old Moll.
“Oui. But never mind those shoes.” She pointed instead to the heels Jane had purchased to wear with the black dress. They were more charcoal-colored than black, open-toed, and a solid inch taller than the sensible navy heels Angelita had chosen for her.
Jane shrugged and dressed as Madame Antoinette directed. When she was done, the lady took her by the hand and led her into her own bedroom, which was the next door down the long third-floor hall. It was larger than the guest room, bedecked with several dozen porcelain dolls, and covered virtually floor-to-ceiling in palest pink—silk, of course. They crossed the enormous room and entered Madame Antoinette’s private bathroom (also pink, but done up in marble), which featured the largest claw foot tub Jane had ever seen and a counter at least twenty feet long that was crowded with tiny glass jars and vials and bottles. The lady sat Jane down on a vanity stool and went to work sweeping her brown hair into an elegant knot on the back of her head. When she was quite satisfied, she doused her with a hairspray that smelled like lilacs and jasmine before beginning her makeup. Now that Jane could see her, she observed the pleasant, maternal smile that she wore as she brushed and poufed and painted her new canvas, even as she muttered under her breath that there was no time to do anything with “those eyebrows.” This is kind of…fun, Jane admitted to herself as Madame Antoinette doted on her. Like having a mother again. Granted, she and her mother had never spent a second together primping in the bathroom. Okay, maybe it’s like having a really attentive older sister, then. Whatever it is, I can’t remember the last time I felt so…whole.
The entire routine lasted no more than thirty minutes, but Jane hardly recognized the face reflected in the wide gilded mirror over the makeup counter. The effect was subtle, but for once she looked every day of her sixteen years.
“Are—are you finished?” Jane asked nervously as she touched her cheek and watched the beautiful reflection follow suit.
“Hmmm…almost.” Madame Antoinette disappeared into her bedroom for a moment and returned with a pendant necklace on a thick silver chain. “Here, my love. A token of faith.” She fastened the necklace behind Jane’s neck, and Jane looked at the pendant in wonder. It contained a single disc-shaped stone unlike any she’d ever seen before. The stone was emerald green, but it was reflective like an opal or mother-of-pearl. Wherever the light caught the stone, blue sparks shimmered over its surface.
“It’s…so pretty,” Jane said, not even trying, for once, to come up with a better word.
Madame Antoinette nodded. “A pretty bauble for a pretty girl.” She laughed. “So someone told me long ago, when he gave it to me, and so I tell you now.” The lady leaned down to embrace Jane as she sat, still gazing at herself in disbelief.
“No, I can’t accept this as a gift.”
“But of course you can…don’t you like it, Jane?”
“I do!” Jane was surprised by the fervor in her voice. “I love it, but…this—all of this,” she said, including the necklace and glistening bottles and her reflection in her sweeping gaze, “It’s just too much. I don’t even look like myself.”
Madame Antoinette’s eyes took hold of Jane’s in the mirror and held them firmly while she spoke. “Do not be afraid of change, my darling. Be proud of who you are, and prouder still of who you are becoming. Your confidence will protect you, mon cherie. Remember that.”
Flicker Blue 3: Momentum by Brea Nicole Bond / Fantasy have rating 2 out of 5 / Based on32 votes