July 15th 2022
Bang in the middle of 2018, I was back home at Jugon-Les-Lacs for the summer after breaking up with Julien over some petty squabble. A couple of girlfriends and I watched the Bastille Day fireworks over the lake—pretty, even though they haven’t changed for twenty years—then went to Le Canotier to commiserate about our love lives over cidre. Our running joke was, all we needed now was to see the ghost-bike by the lake; a local legend claiming those it appeared to were forever doomed in love. The neighbour’s old Aunty insisted she’d seen it; she never got married, and even stopped bothering with waxing after a while, because what was the point?
Much later that night, with an old high school flame’s tongue down my throat and a credit card maxed-out of the galaxy, I decided it was time to go home. “Stay for one more, Nicole,” they all said; but I knew my limits, and I’d overshot all of them.
A wild wind that came out of nowhere whipped my hair into my face as I wandered down the lakefront path. Staring at my phone, I wished Julien would text. When I looked up, I stopped dead in my tracks. No way could I be seeing this: a rusty bicycle with a basket holding dead flowers, glowing in the moonlight like some creepy ghost ship. As it hovered above the ground, not making any sense, details of the legend flashed inside my head. In the early fifties, a girl called Louise Thomas had vanished. Her body was never found; only her bicycle, abandoned on the lakeshore. Her religious family had quickly quashed rumours of doomed love and suicide.
Blasted by the raging wind, I got angry; I didn’t need some curse on top of a senseless breakup. I stormed toward the bike and kicked at it, but of course my foot went through it and I fell on my bum. When I got back up, the bike was gone. But on the path, stuck under a pebble, I found a piece of paper. A handwritten note my shaking fingers grabbed and unfolded.
It said: “Break the curse. Reunite me with my lover and embrace love unbounded. Louise”
Spending the rest of my life like the unwaxed Aunty wasn’t an option; I started looking the next day, after a strong coffee and no text from Julien. The internet only returned the dates of Louise’s birth in July 1934, and presumed death in May 1952. According to the calculator on my phone, she’d been 17-years-old—Julien and I would have laughed that I couldn’t mentally work that out. So young—but who could have been her lover? I had to find out.
Next stop: the library, where they keep track of stuff older than Google. I found newspaper clippings of the time Louise disappeared, but nothing super helpful. The article just mentioned some school friends of hers saying she had been an unconventional girl. I asked the librarian, who looked like a good candidate for ghost-bike sightings, whether there were any records of school enrolments from the 1950s. After he retrieved them for me from a sky-high shelf, I came across a list of names at the École Saint-Yves in 1951; it included Louise’s and about twenty classmates. I took a picture with my phone and started looking up the names on a computer in the lobby. Checked on Julien’s Insta at the same time, where snapshots of us in love stared back at me. Working through the list, once I ruled out the classmates that were dead or had moved far away, there were only a few nearby. Robert, Marcel and Jeanne all happened to have been put away at the Résidence Du Prieure, an old people’s home down the road.
The receptionist at the home eyed me suspiciously.
“You’re coming to visit your grandfather Marcel? As in, Marcel who never had children, Marcel?”
Damn it, I should have picked Robert.
“I… well, ok, he’s not really my grandfather. But he might know something about my family’s… history. Like, what happened to my… real grandfather. Anatole.”
Somehow that worked, or they were not all that concerned about the residents’ safety. But when I got to Marcel’s room, it was clear from the dribble on his chin that he wasn’t going to help. Robert only looked marginally more alert. At the end of another corridor, I caught a glimpse of a picture through a door left ajar. A rusted yellow bicycle leaning against a sunlit wall, with a front basket holding a pot filled with purple-ish flowers. Under the picture sat a crinkled old lady on a recliner chair. The name on the door: Jeanne Morvan.
She looked through me as I stepped inside.
“Do you remember Louise Thomas?” I asked, leaning close to her ear.
Her eyes were blank, and she didn’t make a sound, but she brought her hand to a locket resting on her chest. After pushing the door closed, I reached for the locket, engraved with the letter J on one side and L on the other. Inside, the faces of two young girls in love smiled in black and white. Solemnly, I gave Jeanne the note. The smile behind her tears as she unfastened the locket made my heart twinge.
“Take it… to her,” she whispered, pointing at the lake. “She’s been alone for so long.”
On the lakeshore, gentle waves were cresting in the warm breeze. The locket seemed to pulse in my hand as I looked once again at the two smiling girls. Jeanne had said nothing else; the rest of the story was theirs, forbidden and tragic. I closed the locket, held it against my chest for a second, then threw it into the water.
No longer doomed with a curse, or perhaps free of the one I’d brought upon myself, I pulled my phone out and called Julien.
Author Bio: Bridget Haug plays with words at the edge of the world. Born and raised in France, she lives in New Zealand where she sometimes sits down to write stories. She’s an emerging writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in takahē, MetaStellar, and various anthologies. Find out more at https://bridgethaugwriter.wordpress.com/
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