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Authors: Cassandra Ormand

The Whisper Of Wings

BOOK: The Whisper Of Wings
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub





Cassandra Ormand





The Whisper of Wings

Copyright © Cassandra Blizzard

Cover Model~Leila Trent

Published in the United States of America.


All rights reserved. The reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including any information and storage retrieval system, is forbidden without the prior written consent of the publisher and author.

This is a work of fiction. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.




New Orleans, Spring 1935....

The sidewalk was blistering to her bare feet as she hurried along. She stumbled now and then, whether from sheer exhaustion or the weakening hunger that had plagued her for days, she no longer knew. She barely even cared anymore, although, despite her condition, she was still feverishly driven toward the Garden District. A tiny fragment of her soul still cried out for life, a tiny fragment that still dared to believe there was hope.

An unquenchable thirst had settled at the back of her throat, making it almost impossible to keep her mind on anything else but water. In truth, she was nearly delirious from it. That, coupled with the heat, made putting one foot in front of the other almost unbearable, though every painful step was taken with a singular purpose. If she were going to survive at all, she must continue onward.

Lord, did she even want to survive after everything that had transpired in the last few months? Could she go on as if none of it had ever happened? She was certain of nothing. That surety, the unswerving blind confidence of youth, of innocence, had been stripped from her, quite ruthlessly. It was sad, truly sad, for she knew she might never regain it. She was tainted now, changed forever. In her eyes, there was no longer an innocent blush to the world. Nothing was the same. Nothing.

Still, she pushed onward, her eyes downcast, half in shame, half in fear that she would be noticed, and also to shade her eyes from the merciless glare of the Louisiana sun. Her eyes were no longer accustomed to the harshness of daylight. They'd grown delicate from hiding in darkened back alleys. She'd spent her nights searching the darkness for danger, and her days sleeping. Too many evils lurked about in the night, ceaselessly looking for young, innocent victims, and she had quickly learned that it was much safer to rest during the day.

Rest? She had almost forgotten what that was like. It seemed now that she had never really known. Or the memory was so vague, so elusive, that her mind simply couldn't grasp it any longer.

Her body had certainly forgotten. In the beginning, the exhaustion was unbearable. She felt it in every cell, intensifying every day until she was certain she would either die or go insane from it. There was no rest for her, only short moments of nothingness when her brain succumbed to the fatigue and she drifted off to sleep only to jolt awake a few minutes later.

And then one day, in a rather startling discovery, she realized that she had become numb to the exhaustion. She'd briefly wondered if this new numbness was the beginning of death creeping in on her. But when it lasted for days without changing, she realized that she'd simply gone so far past fatigue that her body didn't register the sensation any longer. There was very little that did register anymore, save for the occasional pang of fear. And the thirst. That abominable thirst.

Despite the hopelessness that dogged her, instinct kept her going. Her body seemed to be operating on sheer will alone.
Keep going. Don't stop. Don't stop.
The words rang through her head like a mantra, continuous, maddening.

A shuffling noise nearby brought her head up. She warily surveyed the people moving past her, only to quickly return her gaze to the sidewalk at her feet. She'd learned early on never to establish eye contact with the strangers that crowded New Orleans for the Spring carnivals. It was especially essential to a young woman alone. The knowledge had been poorly won, a lesson she would never forget.

She'd been so naive, thinking the world was filled with compassionate people, souls bound together with integrity, caring, sympathy. The sentiment was almost laughable to her now. It was unbelievable to think she'd been so stupid after what she'd left behind. How could she expect kindness from total strangers when she'd received none from the people she had once thought loved her?

Now she wanted no contact with anyone, except for that one familiar face, the only person in the world that she was certain could help her. She had placed all her hope on that one thought. All else had been banished from her mind. If she could just make it. Dear God, she had to make it.

Another glance gauged her progress. Bourbon Street was busy today, too busy. She slowed a little as she approached a street corner. Intersections made her nervous. She didn't like having to slow down, didn't like the idea of having to stand in a crowd of people. She wanted to keep moving, didn't want any questions, any knowing stares.

She hugged the side of a building as she approached the corner, her hand automatically going out to support herself when another wave of dizziness and nausea threatened to overwhelm her. The heat was too much for her. And the hunger, the thirst. She was weak from it all. She barely had the strength to continue, but somehow she must.

Signaling that it was clear to do so, the people around her began to cross the little road that intersected Bourbon. She took a deep, bolstering breath and willed her feet to move again. Obstinate as they seemed, she managed to make it across the street.

Keep going.
If she could just gain some momentum, she could keep herself walking. She'd done it before. She knew it was possible to walk for miles if one could simply keep their mind off the actual process, off the agony of it.

Farther on down the street, her steps faltered again, though this time it was not from the heat. She had noticed a group of young black men lounging in the doorway of a nearby speak-easy. Jazz, the music that permeated New Orleans, filtered out into the street. The sound of the men's laughter followed the music as they bantered amongst themselves, and her heart began to beat a little faster in anticipation of their taunts.

Just as she had feared, it wasn't long before she was noticed. She felt rather than saw their curious stares. Their laughter stopped, and she knew they had all turned to watch her approach.

The sudden silence frightened her even more so than the laughter had. Painful as it was, she quickened her steps. She was suddenly reminded of the bad experience she'd recently had with a tourist, and all the fear came rushing back. She knew how she looked to these young men, knew what they thought. The same thing the tourist had thought when he'd pushed her into that alley only days ago. The mere remembrance of it made her shudder with revulsion and self-loathing. She couldn't bear that again, couldn't survive it. Even the thought made her shrink in shame. The memories were horrible. She would never be able to purge her mind of that moment.

She almost stumbled and fell but then righted herself, forcing her feet to keep moving as she quickly made her way past the men. They watched her. She knew because she watched them through her lashes—ever wary—though she was careful to hide the fact, keeping her head down.

One of the young men stepped away from the door, his hand outstretched, his shining dark eyes beckoning. She instinctively shied away, hastening her steps and averting her eyes, signaling that she wanted nothing to do with him.

"Leave it alone, Henry," his friend warned, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"She looks so afraid," Henry protested.

"She'll be all right," his friend said, following the girl with his eyes.

Henry shook his head. He wasn't so certain. "I just wanted to help her."

"Let's go back inside," came the suggestion.

"Forget about her, Henry," another advised.

Henry gave her one last look and reluctantly followed his friends back into the cool, dim interior of the taproom. "Did you see the way she looked at me?"

But no one heard him. They had already been surrounded by the brassy music, enveloped in it, re-absorbed into their society, where the troubles of a certain young woman couldn't touch them.

She was relieved when they made no remarks, merely watched her pass with a curiosity that was only natural. Who wouldn't stare at a woman in such a state? She could feel the stares of nearly everyone she passed. They were like fingers reaching out to prod at her exposed shoulders, the swell of breast above the tattered neckline of her dress, the soft white thighs glaringly visible below the torn hem, a hem that should have ended mid-calf but had been viciously torn nearly all the way to one slender hip.

She was ashamed of her own appearance. The stares made her feel as if her secret was plain for all to see. Did they all know what had happened to her in that alley? Or did they think she was a lunatic walking the streets, half-clothed, raving mad? Not so long ago she herself might have thought the same about a lone woman walking the streets in such a state. Surely, they thought it of her now.

Not that it really mattered. She wasn't sure anything mattered to her anymore, except getting to her destination, if she could.

She passed a man sitting on the curb, a saxophone in his hands. He was completely absorbed in the music he played, his eyes closed, his body gently rocking back and forth. She wondered that she couldn't seem to hear it. All she heard was her own heart as it battered against her ribcage, struggling to keep her going in the torturous heat. All she heard was her own fear whispering to her, weakening her, telling her she couldn't possibly make it, telling her there was no hope even if she did.

New Orleans. The city seemed jaded to her now. It had become cold and cruel. She would never look upon it with the same enthusiasm again. Strange how only a short time ago she had considered it one of the most exciting cities in the world. She'd visited it so many times, riding the carriages through the French Quarter with her friends, down this very street, lunching in all the popular restaurants, laughing and clapping as she joined in the festivities and the carnivals. She'd never seen the harsher side, the seamier side. She'd never even known it existed. She had been so caught up in her own tiny circle that she'd simply never thought about it.

Until now.

She saw it now for what it really was. Not that she had been naive enough to think it would be easy on the streets alone—even in a city she was familiar with—but she'd never expected it could be quite so terrible as it had turned out to be.

Despite the morbid slant of her own thoughts, she forced her feet to keep moving, turning off Bourbon and continuing toward the Garden District. She must get there. If there was any hope left at all, this was the last remaining shred of it, and she had to try.

The scenery began to shift, to change just a bit as she entered the more residential area. Had she been a tourist, she might have noticed the beauty of her surroundings. But, as it was, she didn't see the creamy blossoms abundant in the magnolia trees, didn't smell their heavy fragrance. She paid no heed to the bright green of the large oaks towering overhead, nor the clear blue sky above, the sunshine that was slowly but surely wilting her like a delicate blossom trapped in the killing heat of an endless desert. Her eyes were as blind to the wonders of New Orleans as her ears were deaf to the music. It no longer touched her. She had long since become an automaton, driven by instinct alone and nothing more.

Then, miraculously, she was there, standing at the gate, her fingers wrapped around the sun-warmed bars, leaning on it for support as she stared down the shaded drive at the house beyond, two stories of red brick and iron-railed balconies. So familiar. So reassuring. She wanted to collapse with relief but knew she dare not. Not yet.

Just a little farther,
she silently promised herself. And then blessed comfort.

She rested there for a moment, her forehead pressed against the iron bars of the gate, gathering what little strength remained in her body. Her journey was almost ended, and she felt relief beginning to take over where driving need had once been, felt her body beginning to give in to the fatigue, the hunger, the thirst. If she could just make it down the driveway, that beautiful tree-lined driveway.

She tested the side gate that led into the back yard of the gatehouse, and was amazed when it opened beneath the slight pressure of her trembling hands. She closed her eyes against a wave of dizziness that threatened to overwhelm her. Despite the debilitating weakness that was slowly invading her limbs, she took a deep breath and forced herself to step through the opening.

Before long, she was standing at the front door. She stared at the heavy wooden panel, at all the fine scratches of time, the whorls in the grain of the wood, and the brass knocker. All of it seemed oddly vivid, every detail. Right down to the ants that were climbing the frame, marching in a solemn line, seeking, like she was.

She reached out and pressed her fingertips against the door, the last remaining portal that separated her from the tiny shred of hope she had carried all the way down Bourbon Street with her. What waited on the other side for her? Dare she trust it? Dare she trust her own instincts anymore?

The journey is over. There is hope,
her heart cried out.
Take it! Cling to it! It's your only chance.

The mere thought brought tears to her eyes, small globes of liquid crystal that overflowed and spilled down her cheeks. She was practically sobbing with relief tinged with uncertainty as she lifted the heavy knocker for several quick raps on the door. It seemed like an eternity passed while she waited for someone to answer, an eternity while she stood there weeping from the sheer relief of knowing that her horrible journey had finally come to an end. At last, there was the promise of a respite for her. Soon she would have a friend to lean on. She stood there with her shoulders shaking from the sobs, her head bent, willing them to hurry.

BOOK: The Whisper Of Wings
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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