Saturday, December 15, 2012

Innocence Lost 12/14/2012

For all the stories you can write. none is more important than the one you live. I am reminded recently that we mourn not for the deceased, but for ourselves. our loss of love, friendship and companionship of our departed loved ones. We mourn our loss of them, the finality that death brings, the pain and heartache we feel once our bodies and minds realize they are gone from our presence never to hear their laughter and joy again. To the parents of the children lost on 12/14/2012 words cannot express our grief and sorrow at your loss and the nations loss of innocent young ones caught up in a mentally ill man's world. We my co-author and I write of psychics and ghosts, death, love gained and love lost, but reality is a much harsher mistress. My hope and prayer is that in the coming days as news reporters and politicians argue ad nauseum about gun control and mental illness, that we never lose sight of what is really important here. The grieving parents and family of all those lost and our own grieving as we try to make sense of it all. So lets hug our families and friends, be kind and generous in spirit, grieve with the families and make amends to those we have wronged and say I love you before it is too late. Time is all to fleeting for all of us. Let's make the most of it.

Love and Peace to you all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lucius Johnson

 This is a short story featuring one of our, supporting characters, Lucius Johnson, from The Body Hunters. In this story he's 16 years old and not quite the uptight g-man he is in the book.  Enjoy!

“Lucian Tepes, the headmaster will see you now.” The pretty blonde secretary sitting politely at her desk is waving me into his office. I know I’m in trouble, I have once again pissed off the headmaster and now I’m apprehensively walking into his office where my uncle Miroslav waits.

 He goes by Mike now since living in America.  I am surprised to see him and I know that I must be in real trouble for him to fly all the way to England. He is pissed.  I have broken curfew and disappeared for 3 days. I’m not telling them I was on a bender in Paris. My parents are dead and it falls to Uncle Mike to look after me. He has wasted no time squirreling me away to boarding schools all over Europe. Every time I get kicked out of one school he puts me in another.  He has the money to do so having made his fortune in paper products in America. I don’t care about him or his money. He really doesn’t want me around and I don’t want to be around him.

 A few minutes later and I am packing my things under the watchful eye of the headmaster and Uncle Mike. Kicked out of yet another boarding school.  I must be setting some type of world record.  With my shoulder bag and suitcase I am led out the door to the waiting oversized Black English taxi. This is not going to be a fun ride to Heathrow.
Uncle Mike is staring me down, he starts to yell in Romanian at me, I yell back at him to speak English; I refuse to speak my native language. He gives me a stern look “OK.” he says. “If you want English then we will speak English, but you boy, will listen and listen well if you know what is good for you.” 

The cabbie seems to be snickering at my predicament. I nod my agreement to my uncle and wait to hear what heavy handed sentence he plans to lay down on me this time. Another boarding school? Perhaps Switzerland this time? Maybe Germany? I have been to one in Italy and two in England already. Why doesn’t he just take me to the States?  I am sure he is afraid I will really act out like the American teenagers he sees on television.  My uncle is glaring at me, daring me to say something stupid. “You are going to get your wish.” He says to me. “I’m taking you to the U.S.”  I am ecstatic. Finally! 
“Military school?” I yell out and the whole plane turns to look at me. Uncle Mike is hushing me. “You can’t be serious!” I ignore his hushing and yell. In my imagination of what my American life will be, military school was not in the picture.

“You need the discipline.” Uncle Mike says ignoring his own voice level. The female flight attendant sidles up to our chairs and squats down asking us to please lower our voices. I see several people staring at us. Her smile is false and she is giving us a tone reserved for unruly children. I look away from her. Uncle Mike reassures her we will be quiet and she leaves us alone. He doesn’t speak to me much after that and when he does, it’s in Romanian. I put the headphones into the armrest jack and listen to music to ignore him. It’s going to be a long flight.
We arrive at LaGuardia, where my Aunt Helen and their young seven year old daughter Susan are waiting for us. Auntie as I call her is far happier to see me as she kisses me hello and hugs me tightly. Susan eyes me warily as if I have antennas on my head as she hides behind her mother trying not to make eye contact with me. Auntie does most of the talking on the way to their home in upstate New York. They live in a gated community surrounded by wooded lands. I’m secretly planning my escape till I see my uncle reading my mind. He mentions something about my visa and something called the I.N.S. I see it’s not going to be as easy as I thought. My little cousin is in the back seat with me playing with some of her dolls she calls Barbie. Her sweet blue eyes look at me suddenly as she asks “Are you going to be my new brother?”  My uncle practically runs the car off the road.
I smile sweetly at her and take hold of her hand. “We are cousins.” I tell her. “Would you like me to be your big brother?” She nods yes and fingers the ring on my right hand.
“I know this ring. Daddy has one just like it, but he doesn’t wear it.” Her little fingers are running over the small ruby eyes of the dragon head in the ring.
“Yes, I know, I got this from my father, your Uncle Josef. Do you know what the dragon means?” I am talking really low to her, but not low enough it seems.
“That will be enough!” Uncle Mike barks out.
“She will find out eventually.” I snap back. My Auntie gives me a pleading look as my Uncle glares at me from the rear view mirror. 
“She may find out later, but not by you and not today! Do you understand?”
Susan has a confused look across her face. I tell her it’s just a dragon and that’s all.  My uncle is satisfied with my answer and my Auntie breathes a sigh of relief. I pat little Susan on the cheek and she continues playing with her dolls.
We reach the gated community and pull into the drive. The two story house overpowers my sight as I try to take in its enormity. We enter into the great hall and my Auntie ushers me into a room she has set up for me. I am surprised to see how little furniture there is in such a big room; just a dresser and a single bed. She shows me the closet that could almost sleep a few more people and she puts my shoulder bag in it. She sits at the edge of the bed and pats her hand on the mattress beckoning me to sit next to her.
“Lucian, please while you are here, try not to anger your uncle.” She pleads. “He is not a patient man, you know this.”
“He hates me.” I say dryly. “And I really don’t know why.”
My auntie takes my hand. “Lucian, you know your father and he didn’t get along and with all that mess in Romania, he just never expected to have to take care of you. He blames your father for not looking out for his family and leaving when he had the opportunity, choosing instead to ignore his duties as a father and husband. He pushed his limits for what he felt was his own righteous indignation with no thought to you or your mother. He sees in you the defiance your father had. You just haven’t learned to channel it into something productive.” Her eyes look weary and tired. “Please Lucian I can’t fight for you if you will not meet me half way.”
“He is sending me away again isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, I tried to stop it. I begged him to just be a father to you. He says it will end with you two killing each other. I’m not so sure he is wrong.” She is now patting the back of my head. “You need a haircut.” She laughs as she tugs at my locks. “Dinner will be soon, you may want to freshen up. Lucian?”
“Yes Auntie?”
“Please remove that ring while you are here.” She touches my dragon ring.
“Why, is he ashamed of our family history?” I voice out angrily.
“Lucian, please for me.” I can’t say no to her kind eyes. I take it off and put it in my jeans pocket.
“Thank you.” She kisses me on the forehead before leaving my room.
After dinner Uncle Mike and I are in the living room by ourselves. On the coffee table he has placed three brochures of military schools. “Pick one.” He says. “I don’t care which one, just pick one.”
“What if I don’t choose?” I am pushing my luck and I know it. “What then?”
“I will pick for you, no matter what your aunt tells you, you are going to one of them. If you straighten out then maybe we will reevaluate your situation, but you are sixteen Lucian.  You need to learn discipline and to be a man.”
“I am a man!” I scream out.
He is screaming back. “You think you are a man, running away to Paris with some girl and being on a drunk for a few days?”
I am totally stunned. How could he have possibly known? I ask myself. “What if I run away?” I try to ask more calmly.
“You only have a  student visa. I will have it revoked and I will see to it you are deported. So the choice is up to you.” His threat works. “You can take the brochures to your room and give me your answer in the morning. Go now!” He waves me off with his hand and I decide I am too tired to fight with him.
I am trying to let this new reality sink in as I walk past my little cousin’s room on the way to mine. The difference is stark. Hers is all pink and purples, with stuffed animals everywhere. She is seated at a small child’s table pouring imaginary tea into small cups talking to an empty chair next to her. She catches my eye and invites me in.
“Lucian!” She joyfully leads me by the hand to the table. “Come meet Mr. Vandermarliere, he lets me call him Mr. Van for short.”
I am staring at air. “Susan there is no one here. Is he your imaginary friend?” A tea cup flies off the table and lands against the wall, luckily it was plastic.
“You’ve made him mad Lucian.” She gets up and stamps her foot at me. “He is getting angry.”
I feel a chilling breeze pass by me. “I’m sorry, Susan, tell Mr. Van I meant no disrespect.”
She is talking to her friend and then looks back at me. “He says he wants to know why you can’t see him; he knows you have a gift. What gift? I didn’t see you bring in a present!” Susan is very confused now.
“It’s not that kind of gift.” I explain to her. “It’s like the same gift you have to be able to see him and I don’t. Do your mom and dad know he is here?”
“No.”  She says sheepishly as she looks at her feet. “You’re not going to tell are you? Daddy would be mad and send me away like you!”
I reassure her that no, I will not tell and they are not going to send her away. Another tea cup smashes against the wall. “Please tell Mr. Van to stop throwing things or your parents will come up here and find out what’s going on.”
“He says he wants to talk to you and you know how to do it.”  She playfully dances around my chair.
“He is right Susan, and if he promises to stop throwing things I will try. Can you describe him to me?”
“He is older than daddy and he wears a black suit with a black hat, he calls it a fedora. That’s a funny name!”  She sounds out the word. “feh door a.” She giggles as she continues “He has blood down the side of his face.”  I am taken aback by this. I have been taught that children can sometimes see spirits where adults can’t. I wonder if my little cousin will end up with the same gift I have.
“Tell Mr. Van I need something of his, did he live here at one time?”
“He did.” She tells me and runs to a knee wall in her room, she slides open the little door and brings me what I presume is Mr. Vandermarliere’s fedora.
“Thank you Susan. Tell Mr. Van that I will try in my room. You must stay here, do you understand?” She nods yes and I leave her.
Back in my stark room, I close the door as I make sure no one else is in earshot of me. I lie on the bed and hold Mr. Van’s fedora on my chest. I’ve done this a few times now and I never know what is going to happen, but I know enough to be alone.

 Lights shimmer around me as I start to get pictures, snapshots of Mr. Van. The images are in black and white at first. I am confused by this, but slowly they turn to color. They are spinning faster like on a movie reel until I am in his presence and he is motioning to me follow him. I follow in earnest as I see we are in a dark alley, the smell of garbage and old liquor bottles mixed in with urine assault my nostrils. He points to a body and I kneel on one knee next to it. 

“Is it you?” I ask and he mutters what sounds like a yes. He points to the fedora and motions me to remove it. I do. One gunshot to the head and half his skull is gone. I start to feel a little sick and walk over to the dumpster and puke. The maggots have already invaded his head. He is standing next to me and is pointing to the name on the dumpster. Salvatore Rubbish Removal. He is insistent I pay attention to this name. He is now pointing to a balled up piece of newspaper and I go to pick it up. The date shows January 7th 1962. This murder is over 30 yrs old. I feel overwhelmed as I have had only three other experiences and they were nothing like this or even this old. “I’ll see what I can do. I don’t have a lot of time you know that, you know I am being sent away soon.” I explain to my dead companion. He nods yes and puts his hand on my shoulder. I look back at the body and see a card sticking out of the jacket pocket. Van’s Barbershop it reads and the address is visible. I walk to the end of the alley and onto the sidewalk. We are directly across from the barbershop. I look up and my companion is now dressed in all white suit complete with an all white fedora, there is an otherworldly glow about him and he is smiling as he disappears. The scene spins in front of me and I wake up with a start. My head pounding and there is a little blood trail running from my nose.
“Buna dimineata, Lucian. Te-ai dormit bine?” My auntie Helen asks in Romanian.
“Good morning auntie and yes I did sleep well. Thank you.” I give her a kiss on the cheek as I head over to little Susan who is eating her eggs. I kneel down and whisper to her. “Did you see Mr. Van again this morning?” She nods yes and whispers back to me.
“He says thank you.” She kisses me on my nose and I give her a little laugh. My uncle has entered the kitchen and sits at what I presume is his usual seat at the table. He eyes me suspiciously as I get up from my knee and away from little Susan. My auntie places a plate of eggs and sausage in front of him and motions for me to sit opposite her as she puts a plate in front of me as well. It smells delicious but the image of Mr. Van and the maggots is staying with me and I am a bit put off by it.
“Did you decide?” he asks dryly and my aunt holds her breath. I decide to look him straight in the face.
“Yes.”  I sit silent. My uncle is staring at me for a few seconds before throwing his hands up in the air.
“Would you like to share your decision with me?”  He is getting irritated and my auntie kicks me under the table. For her sake I decide not to continue poking the bear.
“The one in New Mexico.” I say no more to him. I picked that one because according to the map of the United States, it would be the farthest away from him.
“Good, I will call and make the arrangements. In the mean time you will be going to work for me and I will hear no argument about it.” He picks up his news paper and hides behind it. The conversation is over.
I am in the study after breakfast with the phone book. I look up Salvatore Rubbish Removal. It’s unbelievable as I see they are still in business. The yellow pages ad says family owned since 1948. Dean Salvatore proprietor and owner. I must sneak out to use a payphone. It’s a Saturday and uncle is home from his business, but he leaves to run errands. My auntie is busy cleaning. I press little Susan into helping me escape for a little while undetected. 

She shows me the basement and the large windows that I can climb out of in the back of the house and I do. I have no idea where I am but Susan tells me there is a payphone a few blocks away at a little supermarket she remembered seeing when she goes there with her mother. She says she will pretend she is playing hide and seek with me if her dad returns before I get back. I am beginning to feel real love for this child now. I scramble out the window and run like mad reaching the party store out of breath. I only have minutes and I have re-gain my composure. Drawing a deep breath I dial the 911 number and am patched through to a police detective. I give him the information I know on Mr. Vandermarliere and Dean Salvatore. I refuse to give him my name. I hang up and run back to the basement window as my uncle is pulling into the drive. I am sweating like mad. My sweet little cousin is waiting for me in the basement and leads me up the stairs and to a back staircase in this large house, it empties into the second floor rooms. I hear Uncle Mike talking to my aunt as I quickly dip off into my room and lay on the bed wiping sweat away from my forehead with the sheets. Uncle Mike is at my door.
“Get up off that bed boy! What now you are lazy? I have work for you to do.”
A few weeks later and we are at our usual breakfast seating arrangements, my arms are sore but getting stronger as my uncle now has me loading rolls of paper onto trucks for delivery all over the U.S. I am eating my breakfast as my uncle unfolds his daily newspaper to hide behind and I see the secondary headline. Thirty year old murder solved. Dean Salvatore charged in mob style killing. 

Apparently Mr. Salvatore was a mobster before going legit and was demanding protection money from small businesses in the New York neighborhood where Mr. Van's barbershop was. Mr. Vandermarliere, a Dutch immigrant refused to pay and paid the ultimate price for not cooperating. The mob made an example out of him. The article said the murder investigation was given new life when detectives received an anonymous phone call.  I can't help but smile.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Danielle Labouleaux's Fight

Here's another excerpt from our book The Body Hunters  in this scene our heroine, Danielle Labouleaux is having dinner with her fiancĂ©'s coworkers and their wives.  Let's just say these women don't exactly welcome her with open arms.  Enjoy!

              Danny could see she had started chipping away at the ice queen's cool facade. Something akin to hatred blazed in the woman's eyes. Cassie, sensing her friend was now at a loss for words, continued the conversation.

            "I absolutely love that dress. Who are you wearing?" Cassie inquired innocently.

            "Alexander McQueen." Danny responded rolling her eyes. At this point she wasn't even trying to conceal her annoyance with the fifty questions.

            "What about your shoes?" Tricia asked regaining her voice now that Cassie seemed to have her back.

            "Christian Dior." Danny could feel that they were working as a tag team, but she had no idea where this attack was going.

            "You must feel so lucky being engaged to a doctor." Tricia began. "He can buy you all those nice things. You're living in that beautiful mansion in Sheridan Hills. It must feel so good for a woman of your background to be able to afford the finer things in life."
            Save for Tricia and Cassie, every mouth at the table was wide open in shock. Danielle pinned both the women down with a stare.
            "I don't know what kind of ideas you have about me." She began, sipping from her glass of water. "But, I am nobody's kept woman. My dress, my shoes, everything I own is mine, paid for with my money, from my job. I'm not sitting around waiting for Gerard to hand me an allowance."
            Cassie turned beet red while Tricia continued to glare. They were all saved by the ringing of a cellular phone. Everyone at the table checked their pockets or evening bags for the source of the ringing. Thankfully the phone was Danny's, which was strange since she didn't get many phone calls save for Stephania or Gerard. She scrunched her nose at the Washington Area code displayed on the caller ID.
"It's me." She said holding up the phone. Thank you, Jesus. "I'm sorry, but I really have to take this.  It's probably WORK!" Excusing herself from the table, she talked to a waitress who pointed her in the direction of the ladies room.
            The ladies restroom was truly elegant with a separate sitting room, complete with a loveseat and comfortable chairs plus makeup tables. Beyond the sitting area was the restroom. Danny checked the lavatory for occupancy, skipping over the one with the Out of Order sign. Satisfied that she was alone, she redialed the Washington DC phone number.
            "Hello." A baritone, male voice answered. "This is Special Agent Stone."
            "Agent Stone, this is Danielle Labouleaux. I received a call from you a few minutes ago." She responded, leaning against the marble bathroom sink.
            "Yes." He returned in that late night radio host voice. "I'm working a cold case and I was told you could help."
            "My help? Agent Stone, you must be mistaken. I've been gone from the Bureau for years."
            "I understand that ma'am, but there is a murder I'm working on and Special Agent in Charge Lucius Johnson recommended that I contact you if I needed any help."
            Danny was outraged. Lucius had a lot of nerve giving her number out to total strangers. "I'm sorry Agent Stone, but Lucius was mistaken. I'm no longer with the Bureau. I work as a consultant, but that's all. I won't be able to help you with your case." She disconnected the call, shaken that the Bureau would try to contact her after all these years.     She didn't even realize that Tricia, Cassie, Sarah, and Melissa had joined her in the ladies room. It was true;  wolves really do roam in packs Danny mused. She headed for the exit, but Sarah barred her way, folding her arms and staring her down.
            "You think you are so smart. Just because you're fucking a rich, white doctor doesn't mean you've moved up in the world. You're still garbage you poor little gold digging nigger bitch." Cassie was blatantly all in Danny's face and invading her personal space.
            Amused, Danny cocked her head to the side. "Oh, it's gonna be like that?"
            Cassie and her comrades were participating in what grand mere used to call 'selling wolf tickets'. They were basically making a bunch of noise and racket, trying to scare a reaction out of her. Of course, Danny wasn't the least bit intimidated. She had gone toe to toe with some of the most vicious gang members in New Orleans. No way in hell was she the least bit afraid of these silicone-inflated bimbos.
            "Yes, 'it's like that." Cassie imitated her slight southern accent. "You think you're so smart. Always having a smart answer for everything, trying to make us look stupid."
            "You girls make it so easy." Danny quipped, providing them a curtsy.
            "It's about time you learned your place." Tricia said. "The only thing you're fit for is cleaning toilets."
            "Go back to the ghetto where you belong." Sarah added, more than likely trying to fit in with the queen bees.
            "We're gonna teach your black ass a little lesson." Cassie threatened.
            As if on cue, Tricia grabbed Danny's left arm and Melissa grabbed her right. Danielle had a premonition that things were going to end badly, and not for her. If the scene weren't so childish and ridiculous, it would be hilarious.
            "Where's your smartass comments now, huh? You think you're better than us?" Cassie punctuated the question by pushing Danny in the middle of her forehead with her finger. "Just because you're sucking Gerard's dic....."
            Danny snapped.
            The former FBI consultant thrust her head forward, head butting Cassie across the forehead. As Cassie gripped her head in pain, the heel of Danny's shoe shot out like a blade, taking aim at Melissa's toes, which were unprotected by her sandals. Screaming, Melissa forgot all about the arm she was charged with holding. Her arm freed, Danny drew it back, sending her elbow right into Melissa's gut, dropping the woman like a sack of potatoes. Disbelief dawned on Tricia right before Danny grabbed her by her face and shoved her into the wall back first, sending the woman careening into the wall mounted paper towel dispenser and an innocent trash can. Before Cassie could regain her senses, Danny grappled with the woman, kicked open the door to the out of order bathroom stall and dunked her head in the filthy, clogged toilet.
            Seconds later, Danny was back to her senses and virtually unscathed. She dragged Cassie out of the toilet by her hair, leaving the woman sobbing and sopping wet with filth on the bathroom floor. Surveying the damage she'd done, Danny went to the sink to wash her hands and used an alternate paper towel dispenser to dry them. Stunned, Sarah still stood, blocking the doorway. A sinister look from Danny was all it took to move her the hell out of the way.
            "Lesson One, ladies." She said with her back turned in the doorway. "Danielle Labouleaux is not the one with whom to fuck."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Danielle's Afternoon

Here's another short story featuring our heroine from  The Body Hunters
 I hope you enjoy it!

I head downstairs with a little extra pep in my step this morning.  There’s no school today and I get to hang out with my grand mere.  She has some special project she has to take care of and she asked me to come along.  She could have said she was going to watch paint dry and I would still be excited.  For as long as I can remember grand mere has been my parent, my teacher, my disciplinarian, and my confidante.  Even though I live with my parents, they’re not always around, but my grand mere is always there when I need her.
Other than being family, grand mere and I have something in common: we’re both psychics.  We both have the ability to communicate with the dead.  It’s a trait that’s passed down from generation to generation in the Labouleaux women from way before our family migrated to New Orleans.  My great-great grandmother trained grand mere how to use her abilities just like grand mere trained me.
At five years old I was diagnosed with a life threatening heart illness and while the surgeons were operating on me, I died on the table and was gone for a few minutes before I could be revived.  This event gave me a deeper connection to what grand mere calls the ‘spirit realm’; the place where we’re able to interact with people who’ve passed on.  Grand mere calls me a prodigy and promises that if I continue using my abilities like she taught me, I may be the most powerful medium in the world.  Mwah hah hah!  It’s a good thing I’m not plotting world domination.
I head to the kitchen where my egg and sperm donors, otherwise known as mom and dad are busy getting ready for their day. They have no clue as to my psychic abilities.  Sometimes the things that I’m able to see and do freak me out; so I know my logical father and prim and proper mother couldn’t handle it.
 I’m a product of a mixed marriage, dad is Haitian Creole and mom is white, her family coming from a long line of New Orleans aristocrats.  Dad is an FBI agent and mom is a high society blue blood trying to climb back up the social ladder.  With their busy agendas, it’s a wonder they ever fit enough time into their schedules to conceive a kid.
I follow my nose to the coffee maker where dad has a fresh pot brewing.  Mom is sitting across the table from dad who’s busy with his nose in some of his case file while eating a bowl of corn flakes.  Mom scowls at me, but I ignore her evil look and fill my mug with coffee and a copious couple teaspoons of sugar.
“Danielle, you’re only sixteen years old.  You have no business drinking coffee.”  She complains, peering at me with her violet eyes.
With my back turned I roll my eyes.  If she cares so much about what I have for breakfast the least she could do is have some semblance of food prepared.  Truth is she can’t boil water without causing a three alarm fire.
“I’ll be fine, mother.”  I tell mommy dearest as I stuff a Pop Tart into the toaster.  “I don’t think I’ll stunt my growth or anything.”
“What are you wearing?”  She moves to the next subject of my attire.  Unless it’s got a designer label or comes out of a boutique she doesn’t think it should be worn.  I on the other hand find nothing wrong with my dark jeans with the hole in the knee and my button up cotton top over my tank top.  I am not going to become a debutante, designer name dropping zombie like her so called friend’s daughters.
“What?” I ask.  “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”  Mom hates confrontation so I love pushing her buttons.
“Well, it’s atrocious.  You’re wearing sneakers, those jeans should have been thrown out long ago, and look at your hair.  You have that beautiful hair and you tie it up in a ponytail?  Really, Danielle how do you expect to attract a nice young man?”
“I already have mother.”  I say.  “Why just last week I gave Walter Brady my virginity.”
Mom just about chokes to death on her store bought croissant and dad is up in an instant patting her on the back.”
“Jesus, Danny!”  Dad grumbles, handing mom a cup of water.  “Are you trying to kill your mother?  Juliana honey she’s just joking.”
She looks at me for confirmation that her dear sixteen year old daughter hasn’t yet been deflowered and I’m barely standing I’m laughing so hard.  After I wipe the tears from my eyes I soothe her mind, letting her know I was just joking.
“Danielle you shouldn’t play games like that.”  She scolds.
“Okay, mom, I was just kidding.  Lighten up a little.”  I say, taking a bite out of my hot Pop Tart.
“I swear, you’re meaner than a snake some times, little girl.”  Dad complains, but I can see the laughter in his gold-brown eyes that are identical to mine.  “You bout ready?  I’ll walk you over to Mama’s.”
Luckily for me, Grand mere lives right across the street.  Whenever I needed her, she was never that far away.  As Dad opens the door to her house, the smell of her cooking immediately steps out to greet us as warmly as grand mere.  
She still lives in the same house that dad grew up in and we moved in across the street when I was just a baby.  Her house and decor has been seriously upgraded over the years though.  You see grand mere was a woman of color ahead of her time.  While my grandfather was a fisherman and shrimper, grand mere also had the entrepreneurial spirit, owning her own down home N’awlins style food restaurant.  Tourists would come from miles and mile to pig out on grand mere’s cooking. 
A few years after grandpa passed, a big corporation paid grand mere a pretty penny for her restaurant and her recipes for their own chain of restaurants.  Ever the shrewd businesswoman, grand mere made a ton of money off the deal, enough where she could retire early and still have money left over to take care of the next few generations of the Labouleaux family. 
“Mama, you sure have it smelling good in here.”  Dad says as he walks through the house to the kitchen.  The windows in the kitchen are fogged up because of the steaming pot she has on the stove.  Grand mere is at the sink, picking collard greens fresh from her garden.
My grand mere is pretty jazzy for an old chick.  She’s about my height at 5’ 5’ with a tiny waist and slender build.  She too is biracial, her dark hair now streaked with strands of grey and curled into spirals.  Her skin is a clear and flawless honey gold and she has the same golden eyes as me and dad, another Labouleaux trait. As always she’s wearing some of her colorful vintage jewelry, the type you see Liz Taylor wearing in those old movies.
“Thank you, cher.”  She tilts her head so she can accept Dad’s kiss on the cheek.  “Danielle, do your grand mere a favor and help me pick these greens.”
Obediently I follow her orders, washing my hands before separating the leafy greens from the stems and washing them.  Grand mere stirs the pot on the burner where she has a smoked turkey neck cooking for adding flavor to the greens.  She wraps the seasoned roast she has on the stove in foil before having dad put it in the oven.  As usual grand mere has been working her culinary wizardry in the kitchen.
“Isn’t this a lot of food for just you?”  Dad asks.
Grand mere smiles and pats his pot belly.  “Well you know I try to feed my son and his family every chance I get, cher.  I can’t have you starving to death.  You know that pretty little thing you married can’t cook to save her life.”
I smile to myself.  Grand mere has no malicious intent talking about my mom.  Her not being able to cook is a documented fact in our family.  Grand mere has tried to teach her to cook, but mom is just hopeless in the kitchen.  Training me in my paranormal abilities isn’t the only thing grand mere has taught me; I’m a mean cook. 
Dad leaves a few minutes later and grand mere walks him to the door.  I’m following grand mere’s orders, seasoning the greens and reducing the temperature of the big stainless steel pot. 
“What are we doing today, grand mere?”  I ask as she reenters the kitchen, taking off her apron.
“Consider today part of your training, child.”  She says cryptically.
We get in her sporty little Cadillac and head to the other side of town; the hood so to speak.  Grand mere pulls in front of nice little house that looks like it had been transplanted from a nicer neighborhood.  The two story house with the fresh coat of paint doesn’t seem to belong with the dilapidated housing on the block.
A Hispanic woman who looks to be in her mid-thirties is sitting on the porch in a white plastic chair.  On seeing grand mere she stands up, moving like she just lost a heavy weight bout.  Her eyes are red and by the balled up tissue in her hand she’s been crying.  Grand mere hugs her, whispers something in her ear and takes a set of keys from her hands.  The woman leaves and heads to a house next door and grand mere turns to me.
“What you are about to see is not like anything I’ve ever shown you before.  I don’t want you to be scared, cher.  But I want you to be prepared.  You understand?”  She says with a hand on my shoulder.
I nod dumbly, not quite sure what she means, but okay.  I’m game.
When I was a hard headed seven-year old, mom and dad forbade me from watching the movie Poltergeist.  I didn’t let their warning of the film being too scary bother me and I watched it anyway.  For weeks my immature seven year old brain was having day and nightmares about child eating trees and little girls stuck in the television. 
The scene grand mere and I encounter when we open the door to the house reminds so much of that movie.  It looks like a ghost is having a telekinetic temper tantrum.  Nearly every inanimate object in the room seems to have become animated and alive.  A kid’s collection of Hot Wheels cars have turned the wooden living room floor into their own personal race track and a Slinky moves down the staircase and back up again.  The living room chair is moving back and forth across the floor, while a pile of shattered porcelain lay on the floor.   Upstairs a voice calls for ‘Mama’ as if from the top of Mt. Everest, the voice echoing throughout the house.
“It’s okay.”  Grand mere assures me.  “He’s not going to hurt us.  He’s just scared and confused.”
As a butcher knife sails through the air, I silently hope grand mere is correct and whoever ‘he’ is he means us no harm.  
“Grand mere, what’s going on here?”  I finally get the courage to ask.
“Something bad, cher.  Something really bad.”  She says sadly.  “Are you ready to go into the spirit realm, Danielle?”
I nod my head and we sit together on the sofa, which thankfully hasn’t been brought to life.  She takes my wrist, her finger over my pulse.  We’ve done this before, her venturing into the realm first and me piggybacking on her ‘signal’ right behind her.  Grand mere is strong enough to slip into the spirit realm at will; I’m still learning so my gift requires a photograph to act as my bridge into the realm. 
I concentrate on her ‘signal ‘ and I get the chill that comes with entering the spiritual plane, that feels like someone dropping ice cubes down my back.  When I open my eyes again, we’re inside the house, but it’s not really the house, just a recreation of it.  As most times when I’m in the trance, there is no audio, so it’s important to pay attention to the minute details of the vision.  I’m standing beside grand mere and she silently nods to me; holding her right index finger is a little boy.
He’s probably about five and as cute as a speckled pup as grand mere would say, his big brown eyes looking at up at her.  In much the way I used to when I was his age, he’s tugging on her finger like he wants something.  He points up the wooden staircase; he something to show us. 
We follow our tour guide to what’s the doorway of an adult’s room.  Inside is another representation of our young chaperone and another child about the same age.  Grand mere and I watch the scene unfold as the boys are playing with action figures on the bed.  After a few minutes one of the boys grabs a chair and starts rummaging around the top of the closet.  I’m holding my breath as I see him pull down a shoebox. 
The two boys hover over their prize and pull the lid off the box; inside is a shiny handgun.  Grand mere and I watch the scene unfold, wishing we could change it, but there’s nothing that we can do.  Our little guide’s future is already set in stone.
The two boys toy with the gun, playing cops and robbers or army men, whatever little boys at that age play.  All too soon the gun goes off.  It’s surreal watching it happen with no sound, like watching a silent movie.  The gun muzzle flashes, the brief flare momentarily lighting the room like someone’s taking pictures.  One child drops the gun, his expression one of horror.  The other boy falls to the ground, a blossom of red slowly spreading all over his white tee shirt.  There’s red now all over the carpet, so much red. 
The woman who we saw on the porch is in the room now and I realize she’s the young boy’s mother.  She drops to her knees, cradling her son to her chest, rocking him back and forth.  Grand mere and I are still observing as the paramedics come, pronounce our little friend dead and take him away.  Even though I knew how his story ended, I still was hoping for a better ending.
We step away from the vision and the little boy is crying, still holding on to grand mere’s finger.  Grand mere takes him and wraps him in a hug like she used to when I was little.  She wipes his tears and I’m standing there at a loss, unsure what to do, feeling totally powerless.  This scene is beyond the scope of anything I’ve ever done as far as my gift.
A nearly blinding light opens in the spirit realm, right where the bedroom door should be.  Grand mere walks him to it, but doesn’t step thru it.  On her knees one more time, she rubs his head, kisses his cheeks and hugs him one more time.  I watch as the child walks into the light, looking at us one more time as an older Hispanic man with short grey hair and kindly brown eyes appears and takes his hand. I am instantly understanding this is his grandfather who passed before him. The older man smiles and then they are gone, evaporated in smoke. I feel a couple of tears drip down my cheeks.
My eyes open in my reality and all the movement in the house had ceased.  Things are back to normal or as normal as this broken family can get.
"You okay, cher?"  Grand mere asks as I shake my head, loosening the remnants of the startling scene I've just witnessed.  With my gift, I've seen death, but never one so young.
"I'm fine, grand mere."   I say.
We head back outside where the mother is waiting, her eyes nearly overflowing with unshed tears.  Grand mere takes the mother into her arms and the woman breaks down.  My grandmother whispers words of sympathy and encouragement into her ears.  She tells the woman that her boy is finally at peace and she needs to stay strong and keep living.  After a few moments, the woman stands up, her teary eyes and red nose the aftermath of her broken heart.  With a final goodbye, grand mere heads back to her car, but not before promising to call and check up on the mother from time to time.
As we're headed back home, grand mere tells me what was really going on in the house.  The little boy's death was so sudden, that he'd been stuck in transition from this world into the next.  His spirit had been acting out, desperate to break through the spirit realm and get to his mother.  Grand mere had to step in and help him move into the afterlife, something she is hoping I will be able to do in the future. I may not she says, I may only be able to help them in their immediate issue but not actually open the door for them to move on. Either way grand mere says I have to heed whatever my gift allows me to do. She explains that just the act of righting a wrong may allow them to go to the afterlife on their own. Some come and go between the earth and the spirit realm several times at will just to have a wrong righted or give a warning at a particular time and place. She is also promised to teach me to discern which spirits really need help and which ones are just trying to get attention for attentions sake, otherwise she says I may go crazy with the visitations.
Coming home, we enter into her kitchen, the roast is now done and the house smells heavenly. It’s close to 2pm and Marcel and Julianna are heading from our house across the street. Mother of course looks perfect with her long brushed shiny black hair and yellow sundress, her sunglasses hiding her sparkly violet eyes. Dad is wearing his plaid dad shorts that come down to his knees and a white polo shirt. What a pair! He is holding her hand as they cross onto grand mere’s lawn. Ugh, now he’s kissing her. Grand mere is watching this hideous display of affection through her dining room window smiling at them. I stick my finger down my throat mocking the scene. Grand mere smacks me on the arm and warns me to behave. Dad opens the door and lets mother go through first. We are having an early dinner because apparently it’s the alien pods anniversary.  Dad settles into a chair in the kitchen after kissing grand mere on the cheek. Mother follows suit.
“Mama that smells wonderful, we about ready to eat?” Dad is patting his belly. “Where did you two go today?” He looks directly at me hoping to catch me flinch. I know his interrogation techniques and I’m prepared to put on my game face.
Grand mere answers. “Cher, we just went to the mall, why are you always so suspicious?”
Mother speaks up on his behalf. “Danielle did you tell your grandmother we caught you sneaking out at night twice this week?”  She’s boring holes in my head with her stare. I have to quickly defend myself.
“It’s not that big of a deal, I just had to give Amy her homework, she’s been out sick. I didn’t want to disturb you and dad fooling around on the couch.” Dad spits his sweet tea all over his shirt as I burst out laughing. Mother is hiding her face behind her hands.
“Danny!” Grand mere admonishes as she smacks me on the back of the head as I pass her to get plates. “Child, I swear you are going to be the death of me!” For the moment the subject of my escaping the prison is forgotten as we set the table for my parents anniversary dinner.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Danielle's Mardi Gras

Here is another short story featuring our herione, Danielle Labouleaux, from The Body Hunters.  In this story she's sixteen again and she gets into a little trouble when she heads down to Mardi Gras.  Enjoy!

The Body Hunters by Raven Newcastle

The Body Hunters: Paradise Denied by Raven Newcastle
… the fun continues in the sequel.

As usual the people who call themselves my mother and father are gone leaving me in this big empty house alone.  Of course they're off to save the world yet again, all the while forgetting about their only child.  Dad is an FBI agent and he's heading up a big investigation, so I expect him to be gone; it's just part of his job.  Mommy dearest on the other hand is off trying to impress her blue blood cronies by helping them with some charity dinner nonsense.
Those rich, high society bitches never did forgive my mom for marrying a black man, well Haitian Creole man to be exact.  Mom comes from a long line of New Orleans nobility, going all the way back to caveman times probably.  The snobs aren't exactly the most understanding and accepting group in the world.  Before the ink was dry on their marriage certificate they excommunicated mom from their little clique.  Over the years I've watched mom bust her ass trying to get back in the good graces of those good Christian women, for what I don't know.
She's even tried to use me in her ploy, expecting me to be a little brown copy of herself.  Other than my caramel complexion and my gold-brown eyes I got from Dad, we sorta do look alike.  I've got mom's straight black hair, which half the time I'm tempted to chop off just to piss her off and her facial features.  Except for my boobs and my butt, which I'm assuming I got from Dad's side of the family, me and mom share the same petite and thin body structure, though I do think I've got a couple inches on her.
She's always trying to get me to go to this ball and that extravaganza.  She forces me to wear these gaudy dresses showing me off to her so called friends like her personal life size Barbie.  I drew the line when she tried to force me into befriending their equally bitchy and uptight daughters.  That's definitely not gonna work.  Danielle Labouleaux is not going to be caught dead hanging around those backstabbing, stuck up, highfalutin', snotty heifers.  I've seen them in action and I need friends like that like I need a hole in the middle of my head.
With my issues with my parents, I'm so grateful for my grand mere.  My parents were always too busy for me, wrapped up in their own worlds, so my grandmother has been my one constant.  She lives just across the street which is totally convenient for those times when my 'birth units' piss me off or when I come home from school to an empty house.  No topic is off limits and I can always count on her to be my Yoda with the good advice.
The connection between me and grand mere also runs a bit deeper than most.  Unbeknownst to my parents and like my grand mere, I'm psychic.  I can communicate with the dead.  Yep, I see dead people! Grand mere says that it runs in the family through the female members of the Labouleaux family.  Due to a childhood illness that nearly killed me, Grand mere says I have a stronger connection to what she calls 'the spirit realm' and that one day my abilities will surpass even her own.
Even though I've had this ability since childhood, I've put off telling my parents.  I've seen the way they look at grand mere when she starts talking about spirits and the dead.  They treat her like a senile old lady with one foot in the nursing home, which I know is far from the truth.  Not wanting them to fit me for my own personal straight jacket, I decided long ago to keep my supernatural skills to myself.
Tonight is the Mardi Gras parade, and like my alien pods called parents, Grand mere is away, spending the evening at a church function. Without her to talk me out of any mischief, I'm left to my own devices.  Oh well, it serves Marcel and Juliana right for leaving me alone.  I surmise any trouble I get into is their fault.
Right now I'm in the garage, paying dear Lucille a visit.  Lucille is my dad's classic '70 Z28 Camaro.  He bought her before I was born from some old dude and he spent a nice chunk of change getting her in tip top shape over the years.  Last year he had a new engine and transmission put in and the year before that he went for the candy apple or as I like to say 'hooker red' paint job.  He refuses to let me drive her, but what dear old Dad doesn’t know won't hurt him.
Lucille and I have an understanding.  I take her out every now and then and she doesn’t tell Dad.  Seriously, it should be a sin to keep this car locked up the way he does like a giant paperweight.  It's like locking a lioness up in a cage without letting her go out and hunt.  Lucille is a bad ass ride and doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.  I smile to myself as I run a finger along the smooth lines of the hood.  Yeah, me and Lucille are gonna have a girl's night out.
With a plan in my head, I go up to my room and get dressed.  I pull on a black knit tunic that ends right above my knees, with a pair of skin tight denim leggings.  A black leather belt goes around my waist and I slip my feet into a pair of black biker boots that mom finds absolutely atrocious.  Just in case it’s a little chilly out, I grab a beat up leather jacket that I stole from Mom's closet a few months back.  I don't know what the hell she was doing with a leather jacket in the first place.  I check myself out at the mirror and like always my eyes gravitate toward the faint scar that runs between my breasts, a souvenir of my childhood illness.  Satisfied with my perfectly punk look, I go downstairs.  I reach into the cookie jar where dad thinks he keeps the keys hidden and head to the garage where Lucille is patiently waiting.
I'm sixteen years old and I can now drive without an adult being present.  When I'm allowed to drive, it's always the grandpa mobile my parents have designated as my car, you know the kind of car you don't back out of the drive way, you launch it, so driving Lucille is a treat.  I start her up and Lucille roars at me.  But any drive wouldn't be complete without driving music.  One of the upgrades dad made to the Camaro is a CD player, so I check the visor where he keeps his CD's stashed.  Sade, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Led Zeppelin are all waiting to be played like albums lined up in a juke box, but I grab Dad's AC/DC CD that mom refuses to let him play in the house.
With the bass cranked up way too loud, I head to my friend Amy's house, letting Lucille stretch her legs and pick up some speed.  I called Amy before leaving and she was up for hanging out tonight.  Maybe we could check out the Mardi Gras parade after all.
One of my pet peeves is people who like to mess over other people.  When I was in sixth grade, I came to Amy's defense when Tammy and her blue blood crew started picking on her at school.  I'd been watching from the sidelines as Amy, who joined the school in the middle of the year, was singled out by Tammy and her flunkies.  They'd call her names, talk about her mom, that sorta thing, and me rooting for the underdog, was waiting for Amy to tell them to take the express elevator straight to hell.  She never did and the bullying got worse and worse as Amy walked with her head down and never said a word in her own defense. 
The terrorizing escalated one day in the girl's locker room when one of the gang tripped Amy and Tammy shoved her to the ground.  Not able to mind my own business anymore, I intervened.  I helped Amy off the tile floor and told Tammy if I caught her or any of her friends messing with Amy again, I'd put my boot to her ass like she owed me money.  I could see the fear in Tammy's eyes.  You see me and that bitch went way back. 
When I came back to school after my heart surgery when I was six, Tammy was the ringleader of my torment, calling me Frankenstein because of my scar.  After not being able to take the teasing anymore, I beat the dog shit out of her.  She cried running home to mama and I was put on punishment.  She never so much as farted around me even after all those years.  She knew I wasn’t bluffing.
Since the moment I came to her rescue, Amy and I have been best friends.  She skips to the car as I pull up to her house, in her jeans, black tank top and sneakers, her blonde curls bouncing along the way.
"Sweet ride, Danny."  She said as she hops into the car.
I turn around the corner a little too fast probably, because I immediately see the blue and red lights flashing in my rear view mirror.
Oh shit.  I mutter as the cop slow walks to my door, my hands shaking like a leaf.  Dad is gonna skin me alive if he finds out!  I hand him my license and registration and he gives me that fatherly look.  As easily as he wields that look, I can tell that he has kids at home.  He lets me off with a ticket and a stern warning not to get into trouble.
Crisis averted, I head to the Mardi Gras parade and because of the crowd gathered on Bourbon Street, I am forced to park the car over a few blocks.
Amy and I are engrossed in the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras.  Even though I grew up in New Orleans, I was never allowed to visit the festivities because as my parents said 'Mardi Gras is not for kids'.  I immediately know exactly what they meant and as I'm quickly learning,  It's like a place for adults to behave badly, nothing and I mean nothing is too taboo.
As the parade floats pass, young women lift up their tops and show off their boobs for a handful of cheap plastic beads.  The smell of liquor and puke hangs in the air and I roughly grab Amy's arm as she's about to step into a suspicious puddle on the sidewalk.  Drunks stagger up and down the block while couples engage in PDA not caring who's watching.  Drag queens make their way through the street, flirting with the men in the crowd.  With all the adult activity going on around me, I start to feel a little uncomfortable and know exactly why I was forbidden from attending Mardi Gras in the first place.  Gee go figure the dynamic duo of Marcel and Juliana got it right for once!
After getting more than an eyeful of the festivities, I tell Amy that I'm ready to go.  We take our time as we head down Bourbon Street, window shopping the various store fronts.  Amy Oohs and Aahs over the display of a voodoo shop and I am reluctantly pulled inside. 
"Oh, this is so cool!"  Amy says as inside my head all my supernatural warning bells are going off like a car alarm.
This shop is obviously a tourist trap, filled with all the stereotypical things you'd expect in a voodoo shop, from voodoo dolls, incantation books, and a smoking cauldron.  It's to sucker the visitors in so they can buy 'authentic' voodoo paraphernalia.
"What you doin' here children?"  An old woman startles us as she emerges from the beaded doorway at the back of the shop.  Her voice heavily accented like someone from the Islands.
She's wearing a floor length caftan, small clouds of curly white hair peeking from under her turban, crowning her dark face.  Her eyes are locked on me and I can see that one of her eyes is grey and the other hazel.
"Ah, you have the sight child?"  She says to me and I know exactly what she's talking about.  She knows about my abilities.
She turns to Amy and dismisses her with a wave of her hand.  "You wait outside."
Like she's watching a tennis match, Amy looks between me and the woman for a few seconds before finally obeying.
Now alone the woman reaches for me.  The first thing I think of when I see her hand is the gnarled roots of a tree.  Her skin is baby smooth though, her hands warm as she takes mine.
"You are strong, child."  She says to me.  "Your grand mere teach you?  Yes?"
With my grand mere's training, I'm not at all skeptical about this woman knowing about me.  It just goes with the territory.  I feebly shake my head yes.
"You will suffer a great loss of something you never knew you had."  She predicts, her voice is raspy like she needs to clear her throat.  "Three loves you will have."
Okay, she is really freaking me out with these predictions!  She must have read my mind because she releases my hand, but not before pointing her knobby finger into my chest.
"Beware of a wolf in sheep's clothing."  She says as I just nod my head like an idiot.  She smiles and waves her hand at me to leave.
I'm practically running back out to Bourbon Street where Amy is waiting wide eyed.  "What happened?"
"Um..She just wanted to tell my fortune."  I say.  Amy doesn't know I'm psychic and I have no plans to share it with her either.
I am totally rattled by the old woman's predictions, so I'm not in a talkative mood as I drop Amy back at home.  I know it's harsh since she's my best friend, but I need some time to think to myself.  I pull Lucille back into the garage without incident, remembering to leave things as I found them.  I'm pacing in front of our big picture window, until I see grand mere pull up into her driveway.
Before she's out of the car, I'm across the street rambling on about what happened at Mardi Gras.  Calm as ever she wraps her arm around me and sits me at her kitchen table, asking me to go over what I said slowly.  With a freshly brewed cup of her special tea in front of me, I tell her the whole story between sips. 
Grand mere doesn't seem the least bit troubled.  She takes my hands and tells me that my future is what I make it.  No one can know my future except for me.  Feeling a little better, I nod and she wraps me in a hug and kisses my cheek.  She points her finger at me and lightly scolds me about taking Lucille out without permission.  It's funny how just a little chastising from her feels worse than any hollering my parents do when they're mad at me.  I tell her I'll try and do better, but I'm careful not to make any promises.
Two weeks later the old woman's premonitions are just a faded memory.  I walk into our house, slinging my backpack onto the loveseat.  For some strange reason Dad is home, sitting in his favorite living room chair.  There's a small stack of mail on the wooden coffee table. 
I look at him and he looks at me.  I know something is wrong but I don't know what.
"Hey."  I said, putting my toe in to test the waters.
"Hey."  He answers back.
"What's going on?"  I ask.
"Oh, nothing."  He says, flipping through the envelopes.  "Just sorting through mail, you know: catalogues, bills, traffic tickets."
I am so busted.  I'd planned on paying that ticket, but I'd forgotten all about it.  My mouth opens to speak, but I can't make anything come out.
"You mind telling me what you were doing out in Lucille?"  He growls, holding up the ticket reminder postcard.
"Uh, yeah, uh.  See what had happened was….."