Chatelaine was born into the blood-drinking Sanga race. She had no choice in the matter. Now she spends her life caught between the darkness and the lantern light, wishing she could be normal like the girls who come to hear her sing in the circus.
At least she is protected there among her own people. Or is she? When a steely-eyed stranger appears in their midst, all of Chatelaine’s illusions are shattered. She and her family face destruction and death from their own kind as well as from other, even more dangerous creatures that dwell in the night. And her only salvation may be in the arms of a human boy.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2013 Studio Daniel
All Rights Reserved.
For those who love the dark.
The Deep South, Late Winter, 1861 -
Chatelaine Du Prey lived a sheltered, vagabond life, traveling with a small circus over the winding back roads of the United States. Her father, Etienne, was the star of the circus, using his Sanga telepathy skills just enough to entertain the humans, but never so much that they would get suspicious. Her mother performed as the show’s sole aerialist until her sister, Isabelle Sanchez, arrived in their midst with her tight-wire walking husband, Alerio the Great. Then the two women became rivals for the spotlight, trying to best each other every night, to thrilling applause. Chatelaine was afraid for her mother; it seemed to her that she and Isabelle hated each other. Why, the girl never knew. But from the moment her aunt and her brutish husband arrived in their camp, Chatelaine felt that the atmosphere changed. It was no longer a circle of love and protection, of contentment and calm. A doubt had come creeping into the back of her mind, some tiny voice whispering to her constantly: “Beware,” it said. “All is not well. It is only a façade, your life is not as it seems.” Her mother had dismissed it as the misgivings of restless youth, but she was not convinced.
Chatelaine also performed in the circus, playing her harp and singing lovely old songs from Brittany, a region in France, where she had been born. Oh, how she missed her home there! They had a beautiful little stone beach cottage with blue shutters, surrounded by flowering hedges and large, sheltering trees. Chatelaine was carefree there, creating all sorts of elaborate fantasy worlds for her dolls, swimming in the sea by moonlight, collecting shells, reading the books her father brought home from his many travels. She was alone quite often, but never lonely.
Then her life changed in an instant. There had been murders in the town of Trebeurden, near their house. The bodies were reportedly drained of blood. She knew her parents would never hurt a human being. It pained them to take the blood of animals for sustenance – but as a Sanga, one had to drink it to survive. The townspeople were suspicious of them, because they slept all day, and stirred only after the sun was safely beneath the horizon.
One night, when she was a child of about six years old, Chatelaine entered the rustic kitchen of their house where her mother was preparing the evening meal. The girl waited nervously as Mignon passed her a cup of red blood drawn from the meat of a butchered cow. Reluctantly, as always, she took the cup and began to drink.
She could hear the thoughts of humans – fearful, ranting, revengeful thoughts, mingling close by. Before she could say anything a horde of angry-eyed villagers, both male and female, rushed in.
Chatelaine dropped the cup – blood spilled out onto the stone floor.
A woman screamed: “There! I told you! They are the spawn of the Devil!”
“Yes!” another agreed. “Light the torches!” she yelled. “Burn them out!”
The villagers lunged towards them, all shouting hard, ugly words.
“You will not hurt my child!” Mignon warned them. She grabbed Chatelaine, flung her up on her hip. Then she focused her eyes at the villagers, who all seemed caught by her gaze. They let go of the unlit torches and clasped their heads, as if each had an invisible vice pressing in their skulls. They backed off, and fled out the door.
“My mind cannot hold them off for long, ma cherie! Where is your father? I am not strong enough to sense him out and hold off our attackers as well.”
The child closed her eyes tight. She could see Etienne Du Prey kneeling beside a stream, washing his face and hands. A pile of branches lay near him.
“He is at the river, gathering wood for the fire.”
Mignon set her down, took her hand.
“Come, we will run to him. If we don’t get away, these monsters will kill us, for sure.”
“But why, Mother? Why do they hate us so?”
“They fear us because we are Sanga. We live for blood, the way they live for vengeance, and cruelty. But we have never harmed a human. Your father and I swore to only take the blood of animals, and only then if we will eat them. Is that any worse than those people, I ask you?”
Mignon had let her guard down. The villagers started to gather round the door.
Chatelaine summoned her power, and made the villagers swear that they had been drinking the blood themselves! They stared at their seemingly blood-soaked hands, wiped streams of imagined blood from their mouths, all the while screaming and moaning in abject horror.
Mignon watched with sad eyes as they fled.
“We will leave this place. Your father has spoken of going to America. We will be safer in a wild, new land where no one knows who we are.”
“But I love Brittany. And our house. And all my dolls, and books. I don’t want to leave them!” Chatelaine cried.
“We often do things we don’t want to do, Chatelaine. That is part of life. But open your heart to new places and ideas, and magical things can happen! Come now! Rapidement!”
They hurried out a side door, and into the cold, bare woods. Mignon held Chatelaine’s hand as she turned back, watching teary-eyed as her beloved stone house disappeared into the black.
The family found passage on a ship bound for America, and hid amongst the cargo boxes so they could sleep safely in the day. Once there, Etienne began to discreetly advertise for performers to join his circus. Gradually, they built up a whole troupe of Sanga artists, all of whom professed to be non-violent like them.
The years passed, not so quickly, but easily. No one questioned their sleeping habits, mostly because they never stayed anywhere long enough for people to really get to know them. Mignon thought that was a good way to live but Chatelaine often longed for new companions and interesting conversations.
She was thankful for Dorothy Lambert, or Dory, as everyone called her. She was Chatelaine’s best friend even though she was two years older than her; a Negro girl with pale eyes and sallow skin, her long wavy hair the color of dusk. She was not a Sanga; neither were her parents, Gordy and Rosalie, but they were privy to the troupes’ secrets, and kept them, in exchange for the freedom they offered. Etienne had bought them in New Orleans from a cruel trader and set them free but they offered to carry on with the circus as a dressing assistant and blacksmith until they decided where they wanted to go.
That was four years before. Dory and Chatelaine became as close as sisters, sharing dreams and giggles and relying on each other for comfort in a world that seemed to be growing increasingly colder and crueler every day. The girl had often revealed her fears to Dory but, not being privy to the instincts of a Sanga, she brushed off her worries as just so much imagination.
Morning usually found the trail of colorful circus wagons huddled together in the darkest forest available, where the Sanga brood would sleep until the accursed light of the sun disappeared over the hills.
As soon as evening came, they would rise and drive to the nearest town, set up their tent, a brilliant green and red striped beacon that called to one and all, and offer pleasant entertainments to anyone willing to pay for them.
The show began with a colorful parade led by animals in rolling wooden cages who growled miserably at the constant irritation of captivity, followed by overly made-up courtesans prancing with voodoo zombie appeal in front of bounce-less, feather-capped horses and clowns tripping along, some dancing, or drunkenly wavering back and forth. All in all it was a disappointing, depressing cavalcade for the more discerning eyes of the crowd. But to the neophyte children it was an unforgettable thrill. A small band played a traipsing march as the parade curved round and round on a living carousel. Then the line vanished out of the tent, all but the clowns, who picked up their routines, tumbling, cart-wheeling, and mimicking the customers to an appreciative applause that helped warm the chilly air.
The featured clowns were two midgets and a creaky, lanky fellow in ragged gentlemen’s attire. They played at fighting then performed a duel where one midget was “shot” by the other with a popping fake gun that spit out a sign proclaiming “Bang!” As they finished and moved on, in came the acrobats, an Italian family called the Carandinis, then a trained dog troupe led by the beautiful blonde, Miss Esperanza, drew laughter and smiles.
Afterwards the crowd enjoyed some fancy bow and arrow tricks by the resident Cheyenne, a brown, mute, moving sculpture named Andrew who also did a knife act with Miss Esperanza as his willing but always unscarred target. Andrew lost his vocal chords as a youth when some whites ambushed his family and stole their food and horses. He resisted and they slit his throat. Once he was healed, he tracked the people down and did what the humans call “eye for an eye justice”, only, since he was a Sanga, he took their blood for his own after he cut their throats. Chatelaine couldn’t imagine him harming anyone. He was kind to her, and very protective, like a strong, silent guardian angel.
Following his act were the trapeze artists, her mother, Mignon Du Prey and her aunt, Isabelle Sanchez.
That night, as usual, Chatelaine watched the two sisters from behind a silky red curtain. Both had exquisite ebony hair and ultra-white skin, with slanted eyes that smoldered like black coals above perfectly pouting crimson lips. Dressed in white lace from head to toe, they swung on their tiny swings like lilting birds then hung by their knees, then their ankles and, amidst gasping echoes from the crowd, by their teeth, from thick ropes.
Isabelle, always trying to outdo her sister, faked a slip to elicit more gasps, and a scream or two, then she pirouetted downward to rousing acclaim. Mignon shook her head, unimpressed, and eased herself down the rope.
“You’ll do that trick once too often, ma soeur, and wind up with a broken wing!”
“You wish!” Isabelle scoffed.
Isabelle’s assistant, a mousey, skittish girl named Abigail Lynn, flung a white cape about her shoulders as a corpulent Negro woman, Rosalie Lambert, Dory’s mother, did the same for Mignon. The women bowed for the audience and made their exit just as the next act entered: the high wire man, Alerio the Great, Isabelle’s husband. He bowed for the crowd, but his brooding eyes watched his wife’s every move.
He began his act, moving back and forth across a thick rope, balancing various objects, each more cumbersome than the last, while the crowd approved.
Isabelle blatantly blew a kiss to a man standing in the shadows behind the seats. Alerio saw her, and missed a step, catching himself with one hand. The audience swooned as the nimble body hung precariously near destruction. He ably climbed back up and reached the platform, oblivious to the cheers of the crowd, as his hot gaze singed the beautiful aerialist below.
“Isabelle, we do not need trouble here!” Mignon scolded.
“You are full of warnings tonight. Mind your own business!”
“This circus is my business, and if you do one thing to threaten the peace we have here, you’re out! Comprendre?”
“I don’t have to listen to you!”
Etienne Du Prey, a tall, slender man in a black tuxedo and top hat, stepped forward.
“Well, my dear Isabelle,” he said, “I run this circus, and Mignon is my wife, so I think maybe you do have to listen to her!”
“Pig!” she spat, and stormed away.
Chatelaine began to watch Alerio, fascinated by the swell of emotion passing like an invisible fire from his dark eyes to the haughty woman lingering below. A primitive brutality surged through the cleanly-chiseled performer, a crude tension, like an animal ready to pounce. He wasn’t a Sanga, she was certain of that, but the others tolerated his presence for some unknown reason. Once she tried to enter his mind, to find out his secrets, but the mesh of conflicting thoughts and sinister designs left her breathless and afraid.
After he finished his act, it was Chatelaine’s turn to perform, as a sort of calming amusement, to prepare the humans for her father’s mind plays.
She was announced very lovingly by her father, his brown eyes glowing, as always, with the warmth of deep devotion. Her mother nodded at her encouragingly. She took a deep breath, walked out from behind the curtain and sat down on a carved wood stool next to an elegant gilded harp. The audience clapped politely then waited for her to begin.
Chatelaine wore her best outfit, a long, red velvet dress with black ruffled trim, black stockings, and black boots with red, laced uppers. Her long russet hair was curled, and held in place by a large black bow.
The children in the audience fidgeted impatiently as she very gently started to stroke the harp strings. Her haunting voice sailed through the air, and the children became still. She always slipped a bit of her power into her singing – nothing obvious, but enough to guarantee Etienne a quiet, settled crowd.
She tried not to look at the faces spread out before her, but found she couldn’t ignore the glances from the assortment of lecherous old men, jealous females and smiling young bucks. Chatelaine felt a strange chill, cast her eyes towards the shadows where her aunt’s kiss had flown. The man was still there. He was dressed all in black, with hair to match, and wore a fashionable mustache. His eyes were a bright, startling blue; they showered her with curious gazes.
That voice rose up in her head again. She tried to drown it out by singing louder but it wouldn’t be tamed. She felt as if she’d stepped into a theater to see a play. All the characters were on stage, ready to act, but were waiting for the director to show them the way.
Once Chatelaine was done, she bowed to the crowd and left amid thunderous applause. She rushed towards the curtain, past her father’s open arms and her mother’s worried frown, and found shelter in a dark corner.
The tall clown in tails noticed her. His face now washed to reveal a rakish old tease, Bill Corrigan, nicknamed Toothless for his obvious oral deficiencies. He came towards the girl, his oversized shoes bouncing as he walked. She looked up, let out a laugh.
“That’s better!” He grinned. “What’s got you spooked, little Kitty?”
“Something’s not right around here, Toothless. Can’t you feel it?”
“Sure. I been feeling it ever since those two showed up.” He was bald-eyeing Alerio the Great, who was creeping behind a food stand, spying on the radiant Isabelle. She knew he was there, and turned to give him a lewd finger gesture for his efforts. “A sorry state, them two. Steer clear of them. There’s a bad brew swelling.”
“Now, git over there and talk to your folks. I see a mad pappy looking for you.”
“I’m not angry, Toothless,” Etienne admitted as he came close. “I’m just worried. Is something wrong, Chatelaine?”
She passed glances with Toothless. He shook his head.
“I could search your mind, you know, to see if you’re lying…”
“Etienne, you wouldn’t!” Mignon walked up, hugged her daughter. “You wouldn’t break your own rules!”
“I’m sorry. Of course, I won’t pry. But if you need me, I’m always here, mon cher!”
Chatelaine noticed a slight change in her mother’s demeanor. An unsettling flash of danger sparked the air. If only she could have sensed the truth, then maybe she could have silenced that stupid voice.
“I know, Father. You’d better go. You’re on next.”
He smiled, kissed her cheek, headed for the main ring.
Once the show was over, the crew began to clean up and dismantle the tent. Packing a circus, however small, into a line of clattering old wagons was no simple task. But every member of the wagon train pulled their weight. By two A.M. the troupe was on its way to a safe haven in the woods.
The drivers circled the wagons. Toothless started a fire, put on some coffee. People sat around on tree stumps, hovering close to the fire. Some drank blood from metal cups or straight from bottles. Everyone willingly following Etienne Du Prey’s edict that no one in the group could drink human blood.
Dressed now in a plain brown skirt with matching blouse and worn black boots, Chatelaine fed the circus animals with some hay bought from a nearby farm. She loved the horses, and the other animals; their menagerie contained nothing truly exotic, except for the two monkeys Etienne had secured on a trip to South America. The others, Miss Esperanza’s set of trained dogs, a wolf, a mountain cat, a bear and a pair of feisty raccoons, were something most people had seen at some point in their lives, but the children enjoyed them, so they were kept as a small amusement. She wished she could set them free; hated seeing anything living locked up in such close quarters. But Etienne insisted, so they remained.
Chatelaine had the urge to search his mind, and her mother’s, and everyone else’s as well, thinking that maybe then she could decipher all the peculiar vibrations and voices she’d been hearing of late. But that was one of her father’s strictest rules: no mind-reading among the group.
“Chatelaine! Come get your dinner!” Mignon called from the campfire.
She finished feeding the animals, settled them in for the night with a quiet lullaby.
“That’s a beautiful song,” a deep voice uttered from behind her. “If only someone could sing to me so sweetly.”
Chatelaine turned, startled, and looked straight into those brilliantly blue eyes. Her heart caught still. The man bowed, tried to take her hand but she snatched it away.
“I don’t think I know you, sir.”
“Well, of course you don’t. We haven’t been properly introduced. You French are awfully big on that sort of thing, aren’t you?”
“I actually consider myself to be a Breton. But good manners cross all boundaries, I should think.”
“Indeed. You’re right. My name is Stephen Justice. I’m a traveler, in need of a soft bed. Do you suppose your troupe could put me up? I have money.”
“I wouldn’t know. You’ll have to ask my father. But I don’t believe he’d want you here if you’re acquainted with my aunt.”
“Yes, the one who blew you a kiss.”
“Ah, the lovely aerialist! No, I haven’t actually had the pleasure of her company. But that could be changed.”
“You should think better of it. Her husband is madly jealous.”
“And what husband wouldn’t be, with a wife so fetching. But I’ve lost my manners again. What is your name, pretty missy?”
She was growing tired of this preening peacock with the startling, mesmerizing eyes. He was too assured of his own attraction; too personal, and inquisitive.
“My name is Chatelaine Du Prey.”
“Yes, it is. I knew it already. I just wanted to hear you say it out loud. You are fifteen years old, and you were born in Brittany, near the town of Trebeurden, in a stone villa with blue shutters. A place you miss terribly, and dream of quite often.”
“But how did you … oh, you’re a Sanga?” She was shocked; hadn’t even guessed at it. He kept his power well concealed. Chatelaine instinctively drew a hand up to cover her throat.
“Yes, I am. And you needn’t fear me. I’m not in the market for blood as fresh as yours just now.” He laughed. “I must tell you it’s good to find my own kind after so long a journey. Will you introduce me to your father?”
Chatelaine nodded, still in shock. He followed her into the circled wagons, and right into the center of the camp, where the fire’s warmth enveloped the shivery night air.
All at once everyone turned to view the intruder. Etienne stepped forward.
“What do you want here?”
“I’m seeking shelter. Surely you won’t shun one of your own kind?”
“We have before. We are a peaceful tribe. We do not allow strangers here if they cannot follow our rules.”
“I fully intend to abide by your laws.”
“Very well, you can sleep in the hay wagon.”
“Excellent. Merci, and Bonne Nuit.”
They nodded at each other. Justice bowed to Chatelaine, winking as he passed.
She caught a glimpse of her mother, hiding behind a wagon, watching Stephen Justice with an expression of unbridled surprise in her moist dark eyes. Maybe he didn’t know Isabelle, or maybe he did. But one thing Chatelaine was sure of – her mother knew him –and well enough to fear his presence there.
The voice in her head was near screaming now.
END OF EXCERPT