Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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OCTOBER 30, 2011 7:19AM

The Comtesse de Marignac and bad shrimp both make me sick

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The ghost of the Comtesse de Marignac stares mournfully out the window, waiting for her husband, who she knows will never come back.  It's  a sight that would move anyone to pity.  Except me.  I’m rather sick of it.

It’s certainly easy to feel sorry for her.  A young girl who was deeply in love with her husband, she watched the years pass by and began to suspect the love of her life was having an affair.  She confronted him about it and he denied it.  The next day, he left with his valet, giving no information about where he was headed.  The Comtesse was alone in their chateau with only the servants for company (poor thing!).  One day, there was banging on the door. The Revolution had finally reached her small town, and now the angry locals were going to attack the chateau and destroy everything inside it – including her.  At best, the Comtesse faced a “trial” that would inevitably lead to the guillotine, unless she could hide or run away.  Heartbroken and in despair, she decided not to take her chances.  An account by one of her maids says that she was last seen sitting at an upstairs window, staring at the horizon “with such a look of sorrow upon her face that I am sure she would have died of it, had it not been for the mob’s attack.”

When my own time came, I’d thought dying in a historic chateau turned bed and breakfast was a pretty dramatic thing to do. But I hadn’t counted on the Comtesse's star power.  With her tragic story and occasional apparitions at that window, she’s become the chateau’s pride and joy.  Every guest hopes for a glimpse of her.  But they never seem to think there might be other haunted souls here.

Of course, it’s not completely the Comtesse’s fault that we're not talked about by the staff.  For example, I didn’t lose my life gazing sadly out of a window. Instead, I was found by a horrified fellow guest in the shared toilet, suffocated by my own vomit. That was the cause of death – brought on by food poisoning from the B&B’s own kitchen.  A lesson I learned too late: if shrimp smells a little off, and all the other diners seem to be avoiding it, it’s probably not just some unusual French seasoning.  

Though I’m famous here in my own way, being the only person who’s ever been killed by the chateau’s normally excellent cuisine, naturally my story and photo aren’t on the B&B’s website – unlike the Comtesse, whose tragic tale has its own link on the main page.  Oh well, at least I’m in a nice place that’s both peaceful and exciting, with sometimes-interesting guests coming and going. I have my haunts, so to speak: the rooftop, with its beautiful vistas; the lobby, where I can check out the arrivals; a second-storey storage closet where I can go to be alone when I need to.  There are books to read when no one’s looking, televisions to watch when guests turn them on, and even a computer with internet in an alcove near the reception desk.  I rest, relax, and occasionally blog, saying only that I’m a francophile and traveler.  I’m not exactly a liar. Unlike the Comtesse.

When I woke up here after my death, I was panicked, but once I settled into things, I figured – as probably anyone would – that I’d end up making friends with the famous lovelorn ghost.  After all, a person who’s spent centuries waiting for her estranged husband’s return must be a kind, sensitive soul.  Wrong.

When I approached the Comtesse, she raised her head and looked down at me.  “I do not associate with people like you,” she’d said haughtily. I still don’t know what that means: Is it because I’m a foreigner?  Because I’m a commoner?  Because I died in such an ungraceful way?  Whatever the case, I’m convinced the angry people of her village didn’t make a mistake: the Comtesse de Marignac is a perfect example of why the Revolution happened.

Fine, though, I can deal with the snubbing. I’ve always been a loner, and I haven’t felt much like conversation in my afterlife, either.  But what bothers me is, she’s such a hypocrite!  I see her wandering the halls, looking sad, but I’m pretty sure that’s just her neutral facial expression.  Because usually Jacques, another unsung ghost here (he also died while spending the night, but in the late 19th century, and, unexcitingly, from natural causes), will appear from somewhere and they’ll start chatting and flirting – and sometimes more than that.  

I’m not saying things can’t change after more than two centuries. In fact, I’m happy the Comtesse has found someone else. But to be glorified as a symbol of eternal love and longing!  I spend my days wishing spirit photography was real, so that I could take a snapshot of the two of them and show everyone what a sham she is!

You might say I should be more assertive, and make a name for myself if that’s what I want.  I don’t know if it’s what I want, but it’s now become a matter of principle.  The only problem is, not everyone can see ghosts – and those who do see me, have been expecting to see her, and so that’s who they think I am.  A few years ago, for example, I was able to be not only seen, but heard by someone, which was really thrilling.  He was an old man with a bushy mustache.  Late one night, I appeared in the room where he and his wife were staying, the room that had been mine when I’d left this earth, and he shot up in bed and said, in very accented French, “La Comtesse!”  “Non,” I’d answered, “je ne suis pas elle” – “I’m not her.”

But even ghosts have to deal with selective hearing: the next morning, the whole B&B was abuzz with the fact that for the first time the Comtesse had appeared in someone’s bedroom, and spoken to them.  “I asked her if it was really her, and she said “Je suis elle”, the old man repeated to guests, then local journalists, over and over again.  Nevermind the “ne pas”, and nevermind the fact that I’m not dressed like someone from the late 18th century (I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror once, and saw that I was wearing jeans, hiking boots, and a sweater, which is exactly what I’d worn while out walking around the countryside the day I died).

Sometimes I think maybe I should find somewhere else to haunt.  I’m not sure if I can do that, though; I’ve never felt the desire to leave the chateau. And when I think about it, I sometimes get filled with self-doubt.  Is it the Comtesse’s fault I go unnoticed, or am I just an insipid ghost?  When I start thinking like that, I end up deciding momentarily to become one of those awful phantom hitchhiker “white ladies” you hear about, who lure cars off the road.   That will get you noticed.  But you know, there’s even rivalry amongst them, maybe: there’s not one official White Lady, it seems.

No, when it comes down to it, I guess I don’t have it so bad.  I just wish the Comtesse would stop that ridiculous, affected giggling when Jacques is around.  She can’t lose, though: the people who can hear it think it’s the sound of heartbroken sobs. And so her legend lives on.  


This week's Fiction Weekend prompt was suggested by Shiral: Write a ghost story from the ghost's point of view.  If you'd like to check out the other Fiction Weekend stories, or would like to participate yourself (and everyone's welcome!), feel free to check out The OS Weekend Fiction Club blog.  You can read the stories or post your own here.

 Thanks for a fun prompt, Shiral - and Happy Halloween to all! 

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There must be some kind of Appellate Court where you could argue for another venue to haunt? Something more with the times and your attire. Loved this!
I really enjoyed this! It's so charming and funny and I love how you weave history into your ghost's own story, especially how you bring the legend back at the end. I've been preoccupied lately with how we never really know what's behind the stories we hear (in history or even just on the news), though we become so invested in them either because we identify with them or because they come to represent something we resent. From the guest who wants to believe your narrator is the Comtesse to her flirting with Jacques to the way guests hear her giggling as heartbroken sobs, your story was such a engaging way to think about this!
bobbot - Thanks!

Linnn - I definitely hope the narrator can find another place to haunt, though she does have a pretty sweet deal where she is now, except for the whole Comptesse situation.... Thanks for reading and I"m glad you liked it!

Sally - Thanks so much! I wonder, too, sometimes how much we can ever really "know" history or the people involved in it. Sometimes I do think we get a vibe, and feel that a figure is a kindred spirit or something, but there is maybe no absolute truth. Just like the present day....ugh...existential crisis coming on.... :-)
Competition among ghosts! I never thought about it that way, but I guess it could be. Excellent use of the prompt.
A lesson I learned too late: if shrimp smells a little off, and all the other diners seem to be avoiding it, it’s probably not just some unusual French seasoning.

I love this, Alysa! But no, the Comtesse Marignac probably wasn't the sort of girl who took long hikes in the countryside. Especially not if she's a snob and a hypocrite even in death.

Given my druthers, I'd say spending the Apres-vie haunting a nice little French Chateau is a good deal. =o)

Such ghastly internal rivalry among ghosts! I had no idea. I hope not everyone who dies turns into one, it would kill me to have to compete. Well done, Alyssa!
Wow. What an imagination, Alysa.
I loved this tale told by an unnoticed ghost.
This was right up my alley.. I know nothing of no pormpt as they say and this could be a book ma cher.
I would read it.
This was excellent. It was delightfully different, if such can be said about a ghost story. A ghost blogging; so funny. The jealousies and insecurities that "live" on. I guess THAT would be the really creepy part. Again, a really nice twist of a tale.
R+Facebook, OOooooo!
You ARE NOT insipid! Darn it, you are a PERSON
with lots of talents I am sure
and just a ...well, a damn bad run of luck,
suffocating on your puke in the toilet,
and sharing your environs with that weepy diva.

Things will look up soon, I'm positive!
Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of ..eternity...for you!
Assert yourself a bit!
Great story, Alysa. Kinda sounds like hell though: stuck for all eternity in a B&B with a (reputedly) excellent kitchen, smelling the food, seeing it presented to the guests, hearing their exclamations of pleasure and satisfaction—but never being able to taste any of it! :-)
Thanks so much for reading, guys! I really appreciate it, and your kind comments.

I'm sorry I can't respond individually - today has turned out to be a lot busier than I thought...though not really in a fun, Halloween way....
Thanks so much for reading, guys! I really appreciate it, and your kind comments.

I'm sorry I can't respond individually - today has turned out to be a lot busier than I thought...though not really in a fun, Halloween way....
I have some time today and I want to thank you all for reading and commenting.

jramelle - Thanks for your kind words! I'm so glad you liked this story and that it's encouraged you to come back for more.

Out on a limb - When I thought of the prompt, this idea came to mind for some reason. Thanks for reading and sorry I couldn't enjoy your own Halloween story - I appreciate your warning me that it has disturbing spider imagery!

Shiral - Yeah, I think that of all the places to haunt, a chateau like the one in the story wouldn't be so bad....

Fusun - I hope not, either! I would try my darndest to compete, though - it'd be an all-out war, I think. Unless I got distracted. I mean, this ghost has books, TV, and internet. I feel in such a situation, an under-appreciated spirit could go his/her own way and create an identity for him/herself online. Hopefully.

Just Thinking - Thanks!

Macco - You are far too nice. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that from what I understand, the ghost class system problem may be an issue almost everywhere. I am so disappointed in the spirit world... :-)

Matt - Thank you - that's an honor to read.

Linda - Thank you! I'm glad you liked it! And I hope you're feeling better.

ASH - Thanks! The blogging thing just came randomly as I started writing the story and it made me chuckle, so I kept it in. I'm so glad you liked it!

James - Thanks for showing so much support for the poor narrator! I hope she'll take your advice to heart!

Seth - I thought about that, and then I was like, I don't think she likes the kitchen or the dining area of the chateau. I feel like she unconsciously stays away from them, since, though what they produce is delicious, it's what caused her demise. Maybe that's what gives ghosts the willies?

Thanks again for reading, everyone, and I hope you all had a Happy Halloween!