M. L’ecrivain lives in the village of Saint Catherine de Vigri, located in an out-of-the-way location surrounded by Les Bois des Artistes, a beautiful treed wood. Les bois is surrounded on three sides by a region known to the villagers as Les Beau Fermes, the beautiful farms.
Le petit Fluve des Reves, the Small River of Dreams, runs through Les Bois, and the road that leads to the town stops at the river. The bridge that once crossed it washed out years ago and the villagers never replaced it. It’s still possible to get to Saint Catherine de Vigri by road, but you have to go out of your way to get there. Most people out for a Sunday drive in the country are reluctant to take a sixty kilometer detour. Those who make the trip receive a cold shoulder. The villagers politely, but firmly, make it clear they are not welcome. I lucked out when I decided to take the detour and was invited to stay, but that’s another story.
M. L’écrivain is an honorary title given to M. Gilles Gilbert by the villagers. He earned it by winning the yearly Saint Cat’s writing competition, year after year. To give others a chance to compete for the title of best writer, they made M. L’écrivain the chief judge. Every citizen of Saint Catherine de Vigri are artists, writers, poets, musicians, artisans of every sort, or farmers extraordinaire. None of this is surprising, because Saint Catherine de Vigri, also known as Saint Catherine of Bologna, is the patron saint of creativity.
My job is to record the details of some of the more interesting goings on in the village, and I’m working on some of those stories for you to read. You’ll discover some surprising and magical happenings in the stories I tell. As soon as I complete my work I’ll I’ll let you know where you can read them.
Read Chapter 1 below
M. L’écrivain and Other Stories
Misha Michaud Takes a Path Less Traveled
The Stranger – Le Étranger
Twelve days more, and it will be Spring. The early morning clouds have given way to the warming sun, teasing April’s beauty and warmth to come. All in all, it’s a perfect day for the Saint Cat’s Festival of the Arts.
Chloé and I wander from stage to kiosk to display, taking in as much of the festival as we can. We hold our heads higher than usual because we passed the Bac with high scores, assuring our admission to Rennes 2 University. No one minds our show of pride because the citizens of St. Cats hold the accomplishments of their youth in high esteem. M. Renard announced the top ten scores this morning at the festival’s opening, so all the villagers knew of our achievement.
“Èmile, this is the best festival ever, and next year, we’ll participate for the first time. I can imagine it. I’ll sing one or two original songs and, you’ll present some of your poetry or maybe a short story.”
“Not so fast, sister. We passed the Bac, but there are months of classes to complete before next year’s festival, so be patient.”
“I understand, but I’m so excited to study Voice that I can hardly wait…”
“Why did you stop, Chloé? What’s wrong?”
“A stranger is entering the village on foot carrying a large pack on his back with a guitar strapped to it. No one sounded the alarm. How can that be?”
“We should find out who he is and why he’s here, Chloé. Come on, let’s go.”
“Hello, sir,” said Èmile. “My name is Èmile Hebert, and this is my sister Chloé.”
“Hi. I’m Michel Michaud, but you can call me Misha.”
“Michel Michaud. Your name is so musical,” said Chloé, flashing a smile at the handsome young man and singing the stranger’s name in her lilting soprano, which brings a smile to Misha’s lips. Emile took over the conversation to interfere with his sister’s flirting and said, “Outsiders never wander into our village without an alarm sounding. How did you find your way to Saint Cats? “
“That’s a long story, but I’ll be happy to tell you.”
“When I was your age, I wantedto wander the world like a vagabond, exploring all the places I would learn about in my Geography studies at university. An uncle left me enough money in his will to fulfill that dream, but I had to complete my studies and receive a degree first.”
Èmile chuckled and said, “A rich uncle like in the game Rich Uncle.”
“Yes, Èmile, just like that, only for real. After graduating, I began a trek that took me throughout Europe, stopping at small towns and inns as I moved from place to place. As I hiked toward the Brittany coast to visit the Prehistoric standing stones at Carnac, I heard rumors of a village of artists and artisans called Saint Catherine de Vigri.”
“That doesn’t explain how you found us and why no one sounded the alarm,” said Chloé.
“Most people I asked about the village closed up tighter than a frightened clam and turned their backs to me. I almost gave up looking until I met another trekker called Boisvert. It was a rainy late January day, and cold wind-driven drops of rain pelted me, stinging my cheeks. I shivered with the chill air and sought refuge at an inn called La Petite Fleur. As I approached, I saw Boisvert standing beneath a sign painted with wildflowers, counting money in a small, well-worn purse, wearing a frown. I guessed he lacked the money to buy dinner, so I approached him and said in as friendly a tone as possible, “My name is Michel Michaud.”
“Good evening, M. Michaud, my name is Boisvert.”
“M. Boisvert, allow a fellow wanderer to buy you dinner.”
A big-toothed smile blossomed on Boisvert’s face. “But of course, Michel,” he said. “Thank you so much, but please call me Boisvert, that’s all, nothing more, and I shall call you Michaud.”
“So, Boisvert and I ate and talked for more than two and a half hours. By the end of the evening, I had a general idea of where to find the road leading to Saint Catherine de Vigri.” Misha reached into his pocket and retrieved several pieces of paper, one with a list and the other with a map. “Here is the information gathered from my conversation with Boisvert.”
When Chloé and Èmile examined the papers, their eyebrows quirked up, and they sucked in a breath.
“I thought the village is called Saint Catherine de Vigri. “
“That’s the official name, but villagers call it Saint Cats,” said Èmile. “I see you have a guitar with you. Why?” asked Chloé.
“Tell me about the festival?”
“We will,” said Èmile, “but first, finish your story.”
“After enjoying Carnac, I made my way to Rennes, had a meal, studied the papers I’ve shown you, then set off to find Saint Catherine de Vigri. If I walked along the main roads, my hike would take twenty hours, but Boisvert’s instructions led me along small country roads instead.
“I decided to forget about time and distance and enjoyed the hike. In the afternoon of the third day of my journey, I found an overgrown opening into a narrow lane overarched by ancient oak and plan trees, forming an arcade of branches just as Boisvert described. The road ended at a small river and the site of a washed-out bridge. According to a faded sign, Saint Catherine de Vigri is 5 km from the river crossing. Another crudely painted sign nailed to a post nearby read, Next bridge – 36 km, pointing upstream. A path to my left led upriver in that direction, so I began my trek.”
“The detour turned out to be an enjoyable walk along the banks of bubbling waters rushing over smooth river stones. After a time, I came to a one-lane bridge only wide enough for a small car to pass. Once across, I turned back downstream following a sign pointing to Saint Catherine de Vigri – 45 km. A winding road led me through forests and fields for another day and a half until I emerged from the wood at this road leading into the village.
“That explains why there was no alarm,” said Chloé. “The watchtower faces the road, not Le Blois des Artists.”
Misha’s eyebrows quirked up and he asked, “Why do you have an alarm to alert villagers to strangers entering Saint Cats?”
“That’s another story. If you have some time, we can explain later.”
Misha’s attention is drawn to a stage nearby and asks, “Who is the old man with the impressive head of hair and a magnificent beard? Why does he have a gaggle of young children following him?”
“That’s M. L’écrivain. Of all the storytellers in the village, he is the most famous. His fame has spread through the region,” said Èmile, “but he never travels out of the village anymore. He’s nearly eighty-one now and not as strong as he used to be.”
“What an unusual name for a storyteller.”
“His real name is M. Gilles Gilbert. M. L’écrivain is a title of honor. He’s the chief judge of the storytelling competition, the short story competition, and the poetry competition.”
“I’m a poet and a songwriter. Do you think I could enter even though I’m a stranger to the village?”
The corners of Chloé’s mouth tipped upward with a sly smile. “I’m glad you asked. Since you found your way into the village on our festival day, you must perform or leave the village immediately.”
“Where do I sign up?”
“Follow us, Misha,” said Èmile.
There was a spot open for a performer at M. L’écrivain’s stage, and Misha wrote his name on the paper. Chloé and I sat in the second row of benches while Misha went behind the platform to warm up his voice and hands.
Mme. Robert, whose job it was to sign in and introduce the participants, spoke, “The next performer is M. Michel Michaud, a visitor to our village. He wants to be called Misha, so can Misha make his way to the stage, please,” and the audience clapped a welcome.
“He’s going to sing and play,” said Èmile. Instead, Misha played a short musical interlude between each stanza of a poem commemorating his visit to Carnac’s standing stones. When Misha completed his performance, the applause was warm and enthusiastic. Émile and Chloé stood as they clapped their appreciation.
Misha joined his new friends and asked, “Can we have some cider and an apple fritter? I’m hungry, and you can tell me about the mysterious alarm system and why the village needs one.”
“We can go to the Cats Café if you like,” said Chloé. “The proprietor makes excellent cider and is expert at preparing apple fritters.”