What Happens in the Shadows

Published by Generic Magazine.

The castle on the hill was no place for a young girl, yet Eulalie’s mind was made. She staggered onto its grounds when the rain began to fall. Her lantern was on its last breath. As if expecting her, the gate was open.

            Eulalie studied her surroundings: steel fencing, stone fixings, all overtaken by uncontrolled greenery. She tied her horse to a sculpture with its bust blown off, ivy claiming the rest. There was a crescent moon, but it hardly peeked through the fog. For how far the land spread, it felt as suffocating as a mouse trap. One would assume the estate had been abandoned decades ago, but Eulalie knew better. She was careful not to step on any cracks as she pushed open the massive doors.

            Nothingness welcomed her. Nothing but the cobwebbed, blanketed furniture and floating dust yearning for a trickle of light. There was a chandelier dangling from the ceiling, whispering that she wasn’t alone. Hot wax dripped from it like a slow rain, collecting into a pile on the velvet carpet of the stairwell. Eulalie continued farther until she noticed a shadow dart by upstairs. She sprinted to follow it. It led her down a corridor and to the left, then another left, and a right, until they reached a dead end and Eulalie cornered it.

            The shadow was a young girl. She was no older than Eulalie, wearing rags and an expression of terror. Bewildered, Eulalie tried to soothe her. She approached the girl with an outstretched hand, but the latter remained mute, collapsing to the floor. As if in a dream, the girl pointed a finger outward. She was trembling.

            Eulalie felt the presence behind her. Tasting desperately for saliva in her dry, dry mouth, she turned around. An enormous figure loomed. He seemed frozen in time, wearing a Victorian suit. His hair was gelled back, and his white hands were gloved. He wasn’t much taller than Eulalie, yet she felt his pupils glaring downward at her. He had eyes to kill.

            “Y-you must be Monsieur Guillory,” Eulalie stammered. “I-I’m Eulalie Hampshire, aspiring actress.” She offered her tremulous hand to shake.

            He observed her carefully. Then, unexpectedly, he took her hand and graced his lips on her skin.

            “Indeed, I’ve heard of you,” he lied. His voice sounded like a thunderstorm.

            Her face lit up. “Oh! You’ve heard of me!” She always adored thunderstorms but knew never to step outside during them. It was too dangerous.

            Guillory assisted the other girl. She withdrew into the corner until the walls blocked her, tucking her head into her legs when Guillory grabbed her arm and lifted.

            Once the girl was on her feet, she dashed down the hallway.

            “You must excuse her,” Guillory said. “She’s shy around new friends.”

            Eulalie wanted to ask who she was, but she feared sounding impolite. Guillory started down the corridor, and Eulalie followed. She kept his swift pace, trying to eye everything around her. All the doors and connecting halls, all the stairs and empty walls. This man would help her. This man, with his gelled hair and broad shoulders—he’d make a name out of her.

            “I-I heard you had connections in Paris,” Eulalie said. “Like producers, and troupes and directors. They say you were a famous director in your day…”

            From what she had heard, Eulalie pictured the Monsieur much older. He seemed so young to have reached the peak of his career and vanished from public eye just as swiftly.

            Guillory ran his finger along a table. When dust formed on his glove, he clicked his teeth and flicked it off. “You say you’re an actress?”

            Eulalie smiled, as she always did when her profession was brought up. She liked having her own identifier. Eulalie the actress. Eulalie the star. “Why yes,” she said, “I am.”

            “No one ever visits me just for the company. They always want something…” He slowed down, and Eulalie kept a few feet behind. With the Monsieur’s comment, all color in her face flushed.

            “Oh! No, no, no—c-certainly that isn’t me,” Eulalie was quick to say.

            Guillory stopped and focused his attention on her. He petted his forefinger down her cheek and grinned. “You’re quite beautiful, has anyone told you that? Such lovely black hair…” He stole a lock in his palm and twirled it.

            She wanted to squirm out of his grasp, but the last thing she needed was to offend him. She would only have to deal with him until she got to Paris. Until he got her to Paris.

            Cognizant of her uneasiness, Guillory chuckled. He said nothing as he led Eulalie to the entrance. When she saw the door, she planned to beg. She would collapse to her knees and plead for his aid. She would do anything. She couldn’t return to her father or the butcher’s boy he sold her to. She repressed her cost, but it wasn’t much. Some fat cows were priced higher than she was. Those bastards. And a life sleeping next to the rank of raw beef was no life for Eulalie the actress. Eulalie the star would not spend her days cleaning pig blood and rubbing the warts on his feet and cooking him stews of yesterday’s scraps.

            Guillory retreated to the staircase.“We’ll start tomorrow at dawn,” he announced. “You’re going to require headshots.”

            Startled, Eulalie darted to him. His presence made her short of breath.

            “Y-you have my gratitude—for everything!” she exclaimed. “I owe you my life.”

            He snickered. “I’ll have one of my girls prepare you a room.”

            Girls? Eulalie was taken aback. Just how many did he keep around here? They must wait on him hand and foot. The idea made her uncomfortable, but she would think of it some other time, for her career was her priority, and, without him, she was nothing.

            Then Guillory hollered something indiscernible. A shadow rushed by Eulalie’s periphery, and just like that, a girl—this one completely different—appeared at the bottom of the stairwell. She peered up to Guillory as if she were praying to a god. He muttered something, and, try as she might, Eulalie couldn’t eavesdrop. The Monsieur disappeared up the stairwell.

            This girl looked different than the prior: her skin was black, and her lips and nose were fuller. She appeared gaunter than the former, but both had the same deep eyes. Eulalie didn’t know the color, but she knew they were so deep that staring into them felt full and empty at one and the same time. Both had worn the same rags, and their hair seemed as if it wasn’t washed for weeks. They had the odor of antique, secondhand furniture.

            This girl led Eulalie oppositely the Monsieur, down corridors Eulalie doubted Guillory had trekked himself. They seemed uncharted by any life save the mice and spiders that infested it. Large, wide hallways like empty coffins nailed shut. It was enough to drive a claustrophobe mad.

            Eulalie paced behind the girl. “Have you worked for the Monsieur long?”

            The girl’s features tightened, but she didn’t acknowledge Eulalie. They kept moving.

            “Do you have a name?” Eulalie persisted. She knew the girl wasn’t deaf; she knew she heard every word she spoke. One could see it in the way she reacted. As if someone hadn’t spoken withher in centuries.

            Eulalie wouldn’t let it bother her, she convinced herself. This visit was only temporary. Guillory knew people, is what she was told. With these headshots, he could send them out to who-knows-where, and by tomorrow Eulalie would be off with some troupe around Paris.

            She wouldn’t return to her father or the butcher’s boy if it killed her. She forbade herself to be another man’s meat to slaughter and eat.

            Eventually the pair arrived at a tiny, tight room, with a minuscule window at an inhuman height. Dust collected at the corners, and the bed was no more than a slab of concrete. It could have been a jail cell. The servant curtsied away, leaving Eulalie in solitude.

            She pictured the future, as she always did. Reveries of her portrait posted in town squares, the crier hollering her name. Tickets with her name in huge block letters. Signing autographs—she had been practicing—behind the theatre. The future was the only thing that kept a person going. Without that hope, there was nothing.

            Sunrise revealed another girl, differing from the others. This one was pale white, and her hair was orange. She was very homely but still donned the uniform and scent of the others. Her presence startled Eulalie, but the servant motioned to follow. Having hardly slept, Eulalie adjusted her hair and trailed after. She imagined these girls must hide in the shadows.

            “Is the Monsieur awake?” Eulalie asked her. But, like the others, the girl kept mute. Eulalie had so many questions for her. She wanted to know more about Guillory, about the servants, about his networks in Paris, and about the castle itself. Suddenly Eulalie was stricken by a wave of naïveté, held under water by the weight of her ignorance. She left her life, left her village for a promise built off town gossip and stories. She knew nothing about this place or its inhabitants. Yet she placed her future in the Monsieur’s hands. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for this after all.

            But she pushed the anxiety away until tomorrow, for she had headshots to worry about and her career to jumpstart.

            The servant brought Eulalie to a ballroom, and, when she entered, Eulalie found herself alone. The room was set up as an installation of mirrors at every angle, like an illusion stretching towards infinity. Her reflection repeated on and on enough to make a person lose their mind. Everywhere she looked. If prompted, she couldn’t recount where the door was.

            Soon, the Monsieur entered, and Eulalie’s image in the mirror was paired with one much more colossal, massive, and it slithered its arm around her neck. She flashed him a flawless silver-screen smile, cheek-to-cheek and ear-to-ear.

            He carried with him a hefty bag, and out of it he pieced together some machine that Eulalie had never encountered. It was a wooden box with a glass lens at one end. Eulalie circled the lens with her finger, terrified the box would open and suck her in.

            “W-What is this?” she questioned.

            “You’ve never seen a camera before?” Guillory said.

            The fashion in which he asked this made Eulalie feel like a fool. Cam-er-a. She listened as the syllables rolled off his tongue.

            Surely this man was magical, or anachronistic, but Eulalie would think of that once she was in Paris. She had things to do instead.

            Once the camera was set up, Guillory moved to Eulalie. He grabbed her arms, cold to the touch, and folded one of her hands around her head, the other behind her back so her chest jutted forward. When Guillory reached for her leg, Eulalie gulped. But she resolved on letting the professional work his magic. “Perfect…” he whispered.

            Eulalie felt stiff and contorted at one and the same time. “W-wouldn’t you prefer…something m-more natural?” she muttered.

            He disregarded her. He made her feel so small. Gazing into a mirror, Eulalie lost herself in a trance, permitting the artist to adjust the clay doll to his liking.

            When Guillory finished, Eulalie allowed herself to exhale and to reclaim the blood in her veins. He told her he’d have the finished product sometime this week and packed up his technology with a calculated preciseness.

            “Th-those servants of yours…who are they?” Eulalie inquired. Watching in the mirror, she caught the Monsieur’s eyes drift from the camera to her reflection.

            “Nothing but girls,” he said.

            “Can they speak?”
“They’re shy—don’t bother with them.”

            She wished to change the subject. “Th-these headshots…they will make me f-famous?”

            “That and more,” Guillory said, packing what was left. He slid towards Eulalie until the two were face to face. Eulalie felt his breath on her flesh, their noses almost touching. Guillory stared into her eyes until she could feel her pupils shrink to a speck. Peering to her side, Eulalie found their reflections repeated again and again in the mirrors.

            She had no clue what to say. “Th-thank you…for everything,” she murmured, terrified to lock eyes with him. He brushed a finger down her cheek, and with his other hand, flicked a loose strand of hair off her forehead.

            He grinned. “I’ve met my fair share of models in my days,” he told her, “But never one quite as lovely as you, my dear.”

            “M-model? You think I’m a model?” The ends of her lips crept up, her cheeks blushing pink.

            Unexpectedly, Guillory pushed Eulalie against a mirror and pressed his lips on hers. She froze, yet when the Monsieur opened his mouth she had no choice but to follow along. She had to let him finish out of fear that he’d take her headshots and toss them into the rainstorm. She knew of no one else in the world with a camera or the connections he had. She couldn’t travel by herself to Paris. Like it or not, he was all she had. Her future depended on him.

            But she didn’t like it. His lips were slimy and his breath was stale. Combing his finger through her hair, his nails scratched at her scalp. She couldn’t budge, for he was stronger and his body was far too heavy upon hers. His tongue begged for entrance, but she wouldn’t permit it. If need be, she could play the part of a naïve ingénue. A chaste good girl. That’s what men liked—right? They take a bad girl in their bed for a night, but they keep a good girl. If she wished Guillory to keep her around—her career counted on it—she would have to be everything he desired and more. And isn’t that the way of the actor? To be an object of desire.

            Her eyes wide open, his closed, she spotted in her periphery something move. She assumed it to be one of those servant girls. How many did he have? How long had she watched? She must think Eulalie to be some slut, whoring herself to the Monsieur for a career.

            When Guillory let her go, Eulalie whimpered. “I-I should be going.”

            “We’ve just began,” he said.

            She wasn’t sure what he meant by that. “I’m t-tired Monsieur…C-couldn’t we continue this t-tomorrow?”

            Exasperated, he nodded. She wanted to sigh in relief knowing she could depart from him, but all she did was bat her eyes and smile. She tiptoed around him, observing in the mirrors how the Monsieur watched her every move out of the room.

            “And Eulalie!” He beckoned as she stepped out the door. She turned upside her frown and faced him, cocking her head. He returned the gesture. “I truly hope you enjoyed this,” he said, “Because if you didn’t…well, daguerreotypes like these don’t always turn out so well. Some of them never print at all…”

            She wanted to cry, or to slap him and scream, but all she did was shake. When she was out of his vision, she wiped at her lips and gagged. She was so alone! She had no one. No one but the Monsieur! Off by herself in the castle that everyone warned her of. Yes, she would do anything to become an actress. Even if that meant kissing Guillory. If it took a few smooches to rise to stardom, so be it. This is what her mind told her. So why did she feel so invaded inside?

            His kiss—it was so forceful. In it, she lost her agency, her power, her freedom to be. Earlier, Guillory told Eulalie that starlets always came to him wanting something. Is this how that felt? Because now Eulalie couldn’t become an actress on her own free will. Now there was something attached. Guillory wanted something from her. And it wasn’t just headshots.

            And the Monsieur’s comment! Some daguerreotypes never print at all.Was that a threat? Did he imagine she’d run away? Where would she go? She had no home. No, she was a leaf floating in the breeze; she’d go where her career took her. And Guillory was her only chance at kickstarting it.

            Late that night, Eulalie awoke by the fiery light of a candle. Someone stood at the doorway. It was one of the servants.

            “Is it t-time already? F-for another shoot?” Eulalie asked. The sun hadn’t risen yet and she was half in a daze.

            Remaining silent, the servant signaled to follow and darted off. Eulalie jolted awake and dashed after.

            She wasn’t sure if she should trust the girl. Perhaps word spread that the Monsieur kissed her. There’d be rivalries among the females, and Eulalie would be at the center of it.

            The girl led her through corridors that Eulalie had no idea existed, behind corners and through secret hatches where cobwebs formed and dust collected. The only light was the servant’s candle, dripping scalding wax onto her hand. Eulalie tried questioning her, but as expected, she never responded. Soon they reached a wooden door.

            Following the girl inside, Eulalie noticed it was a library. Shelves with old, dirty spines encased them. A leather chair and desk stood at one end. In the blackness, dust particles floated like dandelions in the air, the light of the moon peeking through a hole by the ceiling. It seemed the Monsieur had forgotten this room existed. Eulalie never beheld so many books in her life.

            Then, in the darkest corner, Eulalie discovered a plethora of girls collected in a gaggle. There must’ve been a dozen. Eulalie recognized three of the servants from before. They reached out their arms in unison, pointing to a bookcase, and the girl who led her here took Eulalie’s hand and placed a volume in her palm.

            Eulalie wished to speak with the girls, but she knew they wouldn’t respond. She held the book like some apparitional orb or holy grail, feeling it scorching hot in her hand and wanting nothing more than to drop it and scatter. Not a sound intruded the empty room, yet Eulalie felt her senses screaming.

            “I-I don’t want this,” she said. “Please take it back.” Something told her that she couldn’t return the book to the shelf. These girls brought her here for a reason.

            Eulalie paged through the book, searching for a sign. Then she found it, like a bookmark protruding out. A series of daguerreotypes. The first Eulalie had ever come across. She rubbed her finger along the lamentation, smudging the image underneath. The first photograph was of a girl, modeling in the same manner that the Monsieur had Eulalie in, inside the ballroom with all of the mirrors. It was the first of a pile that Eulalie flipped through.

            The second took a turn for the disturbing. This time it was a different girl, posed in the nude. Her bare breasts jutted out sultrily, her hand teasingly laid over her privates. Perturbed, Eulalie quickly flipped to the next photo.

            A different girl again. Naked. Exposed to the camera in a manner Eulalie had never seen before. It was so crude. So demeaning. She used some horn—was that it?—as a phallic toy, her head titled back so you couldn’t see her face. Eulalie almost vomited.

            She looked at all the photos. They got worse as they went on. There was a word for it: snuff. All these unthinkable fantasies were here in these photographs. Naked women bounded with ropes and leather, some with taxidermy and some in the horse stables, others piled on other women, their faces covered by masks. This must be some nightmare, Eulalie thought.

            Dropping the photos, Eulalie exhaled and turned to the girls. Were they trying to scare her? Frighten her off so they could have the Monsieur to themselves? Test her all they want! Eulalie knew better than to let a few jealous girls get in her way to success.

            She was about to yell at the girls when one knelt and dug through the photographs. The moon shone on her. When she found what she was looking for, she handed a singular daguerreotype to Eulalie and stepped back into the shadows.

            The last thing Eulalie wished was to look at any of that smut again. Yet she turned the image over and instantly wanted to gasp. It was the girl! The same servant girl who handed her the daguerreotype. She was the girl in the picture! All tied up with leather over her eyes, but Eulalie knew it was her. She dropped to the floor and gathered the other images, studying them side by side with the girls in the corner.

            They were all here! In these snuff pictures. Each one of the girls! They brought Eulalie here to show her this. They must’ve been models, just like Eulalie, for the Monsieur’s camera. Wanting the same thing Eulalie wanted. And look what happened. Look what Guillory did to them! Eulalie could cry. She was so stupid! How could she not realize she was being taken advantage of? Her headshots would never reach Paris; they’d remain the Monsieur’s pornography while she was trapped in this castle, waiting on him hand and foot. There was no more pushing thoughts until the next day. She had to confront this now or be a victim forever.

            Stepping into the light, the girls circled Eulalie in an embrace. They stuck there until dawn, and together devised a plan. For the Monsieur may have stripped them of their voice, but they could hear, and had brains of their own.

            When morning arrived, Eulalie was taken to the ballroom. Awaiting the Monsieur, she checked her smile in the mirrors, and when the doors swung open, Eulalie turned to him grinning. He returned the favor and kissed her cheek. She didn’t budge.

            “I was thinking that today,” Guillory said, “We could do something a bit more experimental. You want to wow these directors, these playwrights. That means you must stand out.”

            Eulalie agreed with him. Guillory positioned his camera so its reflection would be hidden in the frame. Though alone, Eulalie filled the room in every angle in every mirror.

            “How about,” he said slowly, not bothering to eye her, “You remove your clothes.”

            Eulalie expected this. She recollected each and every daguerreotype the servants showed her. Squaring her shoulders, she planted her feet firm. “I’m not going to do that,” she stated.

            He gazed up at her. “What did you say to me?”

            “I said I’m not going to do that.”

            Guillory slunk to Eulalie and grazed his arm around her waist. She winced away and he chuckled. “You seem to forget what I told you yesterday,” he said. “These headshots don’t have to happen, my dear…”

            “I know what you said,” Eulalie told him, straightening her posture. She wasn’t going to let Guillory under her skin.

            Fuming, Guillory shoved Eulalie against the mirror. His grimy fingers pinched at her cheek, dirt underneath the fingernails, the stank of his breath tearing at her senses. She felt his pulse pounding her, his eyes piercing into her as she pressed her eyes shut. She thought, why had she allowed people to do this to her for her whole life? The butcher’s boy, the Monsieur, her own father—they’d taken advantage of her, and she let it happen. But she was a human being, too, one with agency and her own free will. She would become an actress with or without the Monsieur, and it would be on her own terms. No more being stepped on. No more being beat up. No more letting people treat her like some object, as if she weren’t human with her own personal space. She wouldn’t become one of his snuff models if he suffocated the life out of her….

            The scene played out rather quickly. The servant girls busted down the doors and rushed at Guillory, kicking him to the floor. Each had a knife, and each skewered him as if he were a slaughtered pig. They tore at his flesh, impaling over and over, one body versus so many with years of rage pent up. As they did so, the girls gradually retrieved their voices back, and they howled at their lungs’ capacity like wild, undomesticated creatures. Eulalie watched this in the mirrors: the image of the Monsieur butchered by his own servants repeating into infinity.

            After the mess was cleaned and Guillory’s body was dumped in the woods, Eulalie prepared her stallion and set out for Paris at dawn. What girls stayed, freed from their servitude, inherited the castle and converted it into a shelter for battered women to come and go as they pleased.

painting: “La Polonaise,” Tamara de Lempicka (1933)

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