Have you ever heard of the tragic tale of the eternal sisters, Felicity and Katalina? It all began on a crisp autumn night in September of 1790 at the Vladimir Orphanage in the alleys of southern New Orleans. The old and rotting institution housed over fifty orphans ranging from infants to teenagers just about to partake in adulthood.
Over the years, the former dilapidated plantation turned wretched half way house saw its share of disease, death, poverty and hunger, duly earning the nickname, Death’s Nursery. It had haunted the streets of the city for over ten years and in that time; it bore over seventy graves of the children who simply wasted away under the weight and heartache of starvation and daily filth. So much so the city forced the owners to utilize one of their many acres behind the property to create a makeshift cemetery.
With poorly dug and maintained graves and decaying wood crosses in lieu of headstones, it was a place of deep sorrow and hopelessness. Dark, dank, and with every fog that rolled in during the misty morn, the stench of mold, mildew, and the recently deceased gleefully floated into town, invading every home and nostril. A despised place, ignored by the denizen of the districts. The children imprisoned there an inconvenience to them, no longer flesh and blood, spirit and soul, but refuse staining their lives and homes with the filth of their existence. It was most certainly a place death would be proud to call his home.
Mr. Vladimir, the founder of this architectural atrocity, never cared for children and only opened the facility to appease his young wife whose barren womb plagued her with shame and regret. The only way she could subdue the aching guilt of her condition was charity, as selfish and unwanted as it was among this stoic community. As an anniversary gift, he gave her the plantation, and she decided to use it to save the lost and homeless children of New Orleans. She was going to save them all, be a mother to the suffering and abandoned, find families to love them as she would have. It was a glorious and vain ambition, but midway through the reconstruction, she contracted Scarlet Fever and died soon after. By then, the incomplete habitat housed over one hundred souls and Vladimir had no intention or concern to maintain the burden. But the city fathers gave him no choice, so he operated it with the lowest of priority and compassion, employing the most coldhearted and hateful of staff.
It was in the summer of 1790 that two young sisters, Felicity and Katalina, came to the orphanage from Mississippi. Their parent’s dead of influenza, and grandparents unwilling to take them in, they were sent, by stage, to this purgatory on earth. Stubborn and rebellious, Felicity, the eldest, soon found herself at the receiving end of many beatings and inhuman punishments. Whether locked in an empty room for days with no food, water or human contact or made to stand on a stool with her arms raised, stacked books in each hand, for hours as her tears and screams of agony were either ignored or mocked.
Katalina, the younger, naive, pure, and honest found herself continually bullied by the stronger children, left out of every game, forced to forage for the scraps of food left after everyone else had eaten. She was weak and pale, but her spirit remained high despite every reason for it to fail.
It was soon after their arrival that the two decided to sneak out at night and haunt the streets concealed in the darkness seeking adventure and something to fill their empty, cramping bellies. With so many children to keep track of and so little compassion to go around, they were barely, if ever missed.
They would scavenge garbage cans desperately seeking the smallest morsel to eagerly devour. Each night they found open windows and shabbily locked doors, which became gateways of escape from their relentless misery.
If they found something inside it instantly became theirs. Theft became their only glimpse of control. They would steal and then horde their stash in an old shed behind the orphanage. They stole everything from trash to tattered and ragged garments, broken furniture, to photos carelessly cast away by thoughtless, unsentimental hosts. It was their treasure, their only joy in this curse called life.
But it took very little time for the townsfolk to realize who had been invading their shops and homes. To them they were as obscene as the rats that scurried across the streets at midnight leaving their droppings and mites to pester the citizens of the small settlement. And like rodents, they had to be trapped and exterminated. However, the sisters were far cleverer than their hunters and for the longest time avoided every snare and pitfall with ease. They were shadows just before the dawn, too quick and elusive for the curmudgeons to capture. But like all things that fate has a hand in, it all was surely about to change.