The Ghosts of Ste. Genevieve

By Aura Martin

            We started the ghost tour in front of Sam’s shop. She sold bats and sugar skulls she made

from old corrugated tin. Sam wore a steampunk corset dress, and a top hat with goggles. Twenty

people stood in the cobbled street. Sam pointed to a bed and breakfast with her umbrella.

            Ladies and gentlemen, our first stop.

            A widow built the brick hotel on Main Street. The hotel had huge dining rooms, because

guests would come off the train and eat there. A ghost of a little girl was seen pacing on the

upper floor.

            A grey cat slinked through the crowd. Dad knelt down, and the cat booped him.

            Ali never finishes a tourSam said.

            Now this place used to be a saloonSam continued, pointing to a small building across

the street.

            After dinner at the railway hotel, you’d stroll over here. Drinks in front, brothel in back.

            Yes, in the cafe that now served sandwiches and had religious slogans.

            Denise and I would smoke and talk about the baby she heard crying. Folks, it was not her

kid crying.

            I looked around for the cat, but he was gone. We kept walking.

            We kept walking, always behind Sam. There was the boutique that used to be a butchery.

            If you look through the windows, you can still see the meat hooks suspended from the

ceiling.

            Only a few naked bulbs were on.

            Momma’s coffee shop was once a storehouse. A boy long ago was born there. He grew

up to be a painter, then he was killed by a train. He was embalmed in the room he was born in.

There’s a buried jar of his bodily fluids in the backyard.

            Whenever I garden there, I hope I don’t find it while tilling.

            Sam is the town bartender. She’s always doing something with her hands.

            We stop in front of the inn with the red roof and white pillars. This place almost burned

down nine years ago. Sam and innkeeper’s wife were bawling their eyes out in the street.

            And there was John shouting, save the chandelier! Save the chandelier! Luckily the

firemen saved it.

            But the fire was so beautifulSam said. In February, the shrubs were iced. The way the fire reflected on those frozen bushes - it was just spectacular.

            She beckoned and we followed. It’s been raining.

            It’s been raining since five this morning, until now! Sam pounded the road with her

umbrella. There was nobody driving on Main Street with all the shops closed.

            Sam pointed at a dress boutique. This used to be a bank, and it was once robbed by Jesse

James and his gang in 1873. The place that now sold tunics for middle-aged women. Warning

shots scared away their own horse, so they grabbed another and got away.

            In the French colonial centre there was a portrait of John Smith T.

            He was a notorious dualistSam said. He made the finest weapons around. Before the

duel, he would bring two guns. Invite you to choose one, because when he killed you, he wanted

you to know you were killed by the best. He was rumored to have killed Lewis. Yes, that Lewis,

as in Lewis and Clark.

            Sam grasped her umbrella.

            Did Lewis commit suicide? Unlikely. He had two shot wounds. One in his skull, and the

other in his abdomen. And he was shot by a rifle. John Smith T. looked like a fine gentleman.

            Sam shrugged. You never know.

            Along the street, there were scarecrows tied to lamposts.

            There were scarecrows tied to lamposts, but not in front of the southern hotel. The hotel

was right across the street from the pewter shop, the place that sold snuff boxes, steamship

ornaments, and fleur-de-lis necklaces. There was a little creek nearby.

            Well, it used to be a bigger creekSam said. People would come up from the Mississippi

River in row boats and people would run up and collect their luggage.

            In the 1850’s, the hotel used to be a billiard hall, the first one west of the Mississippi

River. Only men were allowed in the billiard hall.

            There were two murders in the hotel. Both committed by women. The wife killed her

husband in the 1870’s. Bludgeoned him to death. Over a hundred years later, in the ‘80s, in the

morning, a woman took a rifle and shot her abusive husband.

            There was a chill, now that the sun has set. Sleeves rolled down over our hands. We

walked on.

            In the ‘30s there was a middle-aged man who was the local terror. One day he set his

eyes on a young woman in town. She refused his advances.

            So with his Syphilis brain, he decided if he couldn’t have her, then no one could.

            There were three attempts on her life. He had a chance to kill her the first time, but he

didn’t want to kill her in front of her little brother. She was too far away the second time, but he

saw her. The third time, he ambushed her while she was milking cows. She ran but he shot her

down.

            The man was caught and paraded in town. It was rumored the Sheriff sold tickets to watch his execution. One dollar per head.

            Ste. Genevieve built a gallow to hang him, but his neck didn’t snap right away. It took

nineteen minutes to finally finish him off. The site is now a daycare.

            Where I come from, by thirteen, you’d be drunk, stoned, or pregnantSam said. I saw the

signs when I came here, so I gave the kids something to do. She built the community center.

            There’s a guy living in town. Nice man with kids. Yeah, he was my student. I have never

stayed in a place long enough to see a child grow up.

            Sam pointed at the Vallé museum. White bricks and red shutters. A photographer came to

town and she brought her young son. The child complained of pain. There were scratch marks all over the child’s back, like somebody clawed him. Everybody in town thinks it’s the ghost of the boy in the museum.

            The tour ended in front of a tavern. The bar was named after a doctor. He took the place

of his reckless younger brother. There was an island on the Mississippi River that was used for

duels. Moreau Island. The doctor died because - well, can’t you guess? He was sworn to never

take a life.

            Some of us lingered in the street. Some of us went inside for a drink.

            Sam lit a cigarette. Well good night, folks. And she walked away.

©2020 by Variant Literature Inc.