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Saturday, March 6, 2010


Do you believe in the supernatural? There are two answers to that question, of course. One that you believe in bright sunlight. And the one that you fear is true in the shadows on a strange, moonlit street.

I know. I've had too many occasions to walk the dark streets of the French Quarter at night. I wasn't suicidal. I was broke. I saw street crime naturally. I also saw glimpses of things my rational mind refused to consider.

To focus my mind off those glimpses, I tried to make a list of movies with scenes involving lone walkers at night in the growing fog. Word to the wise. Don't do that. It really doesn't help. At all.

New Orleans has been called a Twilight City, for it rises from civilized slumber to bustling life at night. Performers often line the streets, pushers sell their brands of death, prostitutes promise sex as if it were love, dancers weave through the partiers on the street, and music throbs through the veins of the French Quarter. If the undead do exist, they walk lazily down streets in front of buildings dating back hundreds of years. In that sense, they would be at home. It is we the living who could be thought of as intruders there.

New Orleans is famous for its "Cities of the Dead." Since the city is below sea level, it is filled with above the ground tombs instead of graves in the moist earth. One of the most famous of these "cities" is St. Louis Cemetery #1, established in 1789 and considered by many as being the final resting place of the infamous voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. But Samuel McCord would tell you differently. He still visits her occasionally if the situation is dire enough to warrant risking suicide.

Friends have asked for an encore of a dark scene of the supernatural from FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. Samuel is walking to the Convention Center the first night after Katrina. A wheelchair-bound woman has told him of the raping of women and young girls by drunken gang members. It is a tale he must check out for himself. Long ago he was unable to prevent the murder of his own sister, and he is compelled to rescue each young girl he sees in danger.


As I made my way down the flooded street towards the Convention Center, I looked up at the full moon. It seemed closer than civilization or any semblance of rescue. If there was to be any help for those suffering at the center, it would have to come from me.

I had heard the Superdome was in equally bad shape. I shook my head. To get there, I would have to head north where the water was still chest-deep over the streets. It would take a miracle for me to help those at the Convention Center. The Superdome was on its own. I might be monster not man, but I was only one monster. And Maudie had bought my help with her bravery and her disregard for her own safety.

As I waded along into the night, the black mists curled and creamed in the humid darkness like an unspoken fear trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness. A trick of the thick air, the moon of blood leered down upon its reflection on the dark waters of the flooded street. Ripples of its long bloody image flowed from the floating dead body of a cat, looking like fingers caressing its kill. The cat’s death apparently hadn't been pretty nor was its corpse. The night became colder than it should have been. Much, much colder.

Rind, the Angelus of Death, whispered in my blood. “At night the dead come back to drink from the living.”

I didn’t need Rind to tell me that the night was not my friend. Too much death had happened too recently. Spirits, lost and angry, were walking beside me. Torn clothing. Hollow eyes of shadows. Sharp, white teeth. Long, writhing fingers slowly closing and unclosing.

Because of Rind's blood in my veins, I could see them slowly circling, hear their trailing, splashing steps behind me, feel the heat of their sunken, hungry eyes upon my back and throat.

Were they soul-echoes, mere refracted memory of a will? Or were there such things as literal ghosts? Just because I could see them didn't mean that I understood what they were.

I turned the corner and came upon the startled, fragile grace of a too-white egret standing alert in the middle of the flooded street, staring back at me. Its long sleek neck slowly cocked its sloping head at me. Then, gathering its huge wings, it launched itself into the air with its long black legs. I saw the spirits of the dead around me longingly stare after its curved flight of grace and freedom into the dark sky. I watched with them.

I felt a tug on my left jacket sleeve. I looked down. My chest grew cold. The dead face of a little girl was looking up at me. Or rather the face of her lost, wandering spirit, her full black eyes glistening like twin pools of oil. Her face was a wrenching mix of fear and longing. She tried to speak. Nothing came out of her moving lips. Looking like she was on the verge of tears, she tugged on my sleeve again and pointed to the end of the block. I followed her broken-nailed finger. I shivered.

She was pointing to her own corpse.

I took in a ragged breath I didn’t need to compose myself. The Convention Center would have to wait. I had sworn a long time ago that no child would ever ask my help without getting it.

A haunted singing was faint on the breeze. Somewhere the dead had found their voices. I nodded to the girl’s spirit and waded to her corpse, the force of the rushing flood waters having washed it up onto the sidewalk and against a store front where it slowly bobbed in place. I saw the girl’s spirit out of the corner of my eye, studying the shell of flesh she had once worn. Her head was turned slightly to one side. The expression to her face was sorrowful and wistful at the same time. She pointed again.

I followed the broken-nailed finger. A rosary all wrapped up in the balled fingers of her left hand. She gestured sharply, then looked at me with eyes echoing things I did not want to see. I nodded again and kneeled down beside the girl’s swollen corpse. I pried the rosary loose, wrapping it around the fingers of my own gloved left hand.

I looked up at the girl’s spirit. She just stood there frowning as if in concentration. Her brow furrowed, her tiny fists balled, and her jaws clenched. I could swear beads of sweat appeared on her ghostly forehead.

I jerked as suddenly guttural words were forced from the long-dead throat of the corpse at my boots. “T-Tell M-Mama ... peaceful now.”

And with that, she looked up into the night. I followed her eyes. She was looking at the retreating body of the egret slowly flying into a filmy, billowing cloud. I looked back to her spirit.

She was gone.

“I promise,” I said to the empty night.

Where had she gone? Had her spirit held itself together just long enough to pass on those words of good-bye to her Mama? Was her soul flying alongside that oblivious egret slowly evaporating within the filaments of that cloud? Or was she finding out the truth about the Great Mystery that haunted me still?

I had no answers. Only more questions. Questions in the dark.

And here's a video from Concrete Blonde, warning about the shadows of New Orleans.

Photo from : Photobucket-hallowedbethyname-69.

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