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….."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Portrait of a 16 year old Danielle Labouleaux

 Here's something fun!  Just to get an idea of why she is the way she is, here's a short story featuring the heroine of our book,   The Body Hunters at the tender age of sixteen.  Enjoy! 

I’m not going!” I said not so politely to my mother. Her violet eyes looked at me in exasperation. She threw up her hands as she passed by my father saying to him, “You talk to her!”  Marcel or Dad as he insists I call him gave me a look every father tries on their daughter the 'do it or else' stare, but he doesn’t scare me one bit. I brush past him into my room ready to slam the door in his face. He was having none of it this time.  He grabbed my door from my hands practically ripping it off the hinges. Oh Lord, I have really pissed him off now!
“So help me missy, you are not too old for me to take over my knee!” He barks at me.
 I shoot back with “Really, that’s the threat you’re going to use? You are as pathetic as her!” I know I may have crossed the line. He may not have been the most attentive father, my grandmere raising me and handling most of my discipline and all. But this time he’s not playing. He grabs me by my arm and swats me on my behind.  
“Damn it!” I yelp. I had forgotten how big and strong he really is. “God I hate you!” Yep that’ll teach him, my 16 year old brain is pleased with itself.
Dad however is not.  “I’m going to give you 10 minutes to get into that gown or I will put you in it myself!” And he’s not joking. Even I know when to quit. I resign myself to the fact that the debutante ball is in my immediate future.  He lets go of me and I slam the door.  Fuck her and fuck him! I sit on the edge of my bed my golden brown eyes welling up with tears.  Damn that swat really hurt! 
I go to my closet door where mommie dearest has kindly hung my ball gown. Leave it to Julianna to pick a white gown. Hello it’s not 1940! They do come in other colors! But no, she would not relent on style and color; she said it would be so pretty against my caramel skin. Well, I’ll give her that much, she was right about the dress. I will never tell her though, she would never let me live it down.
I put the dress on and it flows to the ground covering my feet.  I slip the white heels on and it lifts me the few inches I need so it doesn’t drag on the floor. Now let’s see what to do with this hair. Screw it! I just shove it up in a bun. I had eyed the scissors and contemplated killing Julianna by cutting my shoulder length hair in a bob. Yep that would have done her in. I am grinning devilishly at the thought, but alas my rear end is still reminding me of why that is not such a good idea.
Earrings and a necklace, damn! Again they are laid out for me. Pearls, Ugh! Seriously mother I’m not eighty years old! The corsage will be given to me by some poor sap son of a lawyer she has decided to hook me up with.  It’s her debutante all over again except this time I am to play the role of Julianna. I could care less.  Its not like she was ever there for me in the first place with her and dad being absentee parents because of their so called jobs. It’s hard to imagine mother getting her hands dirty, coming from old money and an even older white family. Wretched excess I call it. 
Wasn’t sending me to finishing school bad enough? It nearly did finish me, especially at tea when the head mistress had us showing off our polite high tea skills and I purposely shoved a whole scone in my mouth just to piss her off.  I laugh to myself at the memory. I am probably the only person to ever get kicked out of a finishing school. Yep I was finished alright! But I received another patented Marcel Labouleaux tongue lashing.  At least grandmere found the retelling of the story funny.
I decide since they are making me go to this pretentious event I will not wear the pearls. I had found a small old jewelry box a while back hidden in the floor boards in my bedroom under the bed. It is a very old home we live in and I never had the nerve to open it. I decide maybe there is something in there I could use. I move my bed and crawl on the floor not caring that the dust bunnies may be taking up a new residence on my immaculate white dress. Reaching underneath I loosen the boards and pull up the small jewelry box. Sitting back on the bed opening the box I see with fevered delight, a short gold chain filigree necklace with a pendant in the shape of a star with a blue topaz set in the middle and matching star topaz dangle earrings. I am in awe of the pieces and run to my closet door mirror to put them on. They are gorgeous. I fastened the necklace around my neck and to my delight the star pendant sits at just the right angle that everyone will have no choice but to look at my cleavage.  Another kill shot for mother Julianna! 
I am giving myself a grin in the mirror. Next up are the earrings. I carefully hold them in my hands as I remove the post stops and insert them into my lobes. I turn back to the box looking for anything else I can find. What is this? I pull a tab up and reveal a hidden bottom with a picture of a young man and woman. I immediately get a chilling sensation throughout my body as I fall to the floor; my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I see myself in my room but I am standing and I see the furniture and everything is changed. A man dressed in an army uniform is hiding the jewelry box in the floor board.
“Honey what are you doing?” a female voice calls out. I see him quickly replace the boards and right himself before she enters into my bedroom. She is unaware I am there.  She is beautiful, almost glowing with a little bump in her stomach. I recognize she is pregnant.
He tries to hide his mischievous grin. “Just looking for my watch baby.” He says as he kisses her and puts his hand on her bump.
“You mean the one you’re wearing?” She says putting her hand on top of his as she kisses him back. “C’mon hubby we are going to be late for Thanksgiving at my parents.” 
“We could just stay here and celebrate by ourselves.” He is now embracing her tighter, I feel like I am seriously intruding.  
“Um, no they are expecting us and may I remind you celebrating by ourselves is what got me in this physical state to begin with!” She laughs and lightly pushes him away.
“C’mon baby you know I ship out tomorrow.” He gives her sad little puppy dog eyes.
“I know, we’ll stay a few hours and then the rest of the night you are mine!” Her eyes gleam at him. He smiles widely at the thought.
 She walks out the door first with him in tow. I turn to find a way out but I see him now standing side by side next to me. He is looking forlorn; I think he is going to cry. No sound is coming out of his mouth, I am aware of this because it’s happened before, the spirits that come forth can’t speak to me. He turns to look me head on and I see the bullet hole in his forehead and the blood pooling in his eyes. I am shocked but hold on to my senses. He points to my neck and ears. I get it now; they were supposed to be a Christmas gift to her.  I nod my understanding to him as I touch the pendant that is resting on my chest. I suddenly feel very guilty wearing it. I look away from him embarrassed. When I look back he is smiling, the bullet hole and blood gone, his is wearing white and glowing pointing to a slip of paper that was also in the bottom of the box. It’s a receipt with what I am assuming is his name. Sgt. John Deardon. I have a name to go on and I know what I must do. The room shimmers around me and I am suddenly eyes open on my bedroom floor. There is a feeling of urgency to the find her, Mrs. Deardon.
I have to escape this prison I’m in. Marcel and Julianna are at the watch waiting for me to come downstairs. I hear the front door open and the voice of a squeaky young man that is to be my date. Ugh! Dad is bellowing for me to hurry up. I yell back not to rush me in the most irritated voice I can muster. I look around frantic as I take off the earrings and necklace and replace them in the box. I have to act fast. I can’t go looking for Mrs. Deardon in this damned dress, but I don’t have time to change. I eye the scissors I was contemplating cutting my hair earlier with. I cut the dress ruffles to just above my knee. I am really going to pay for this later, but I don’t care, when the spirits ask me to help, they usually mean it’s very urgent and need help now. I open my window and remove the screen slipping out to the large branch hanging on quietly trying to not make any noise as I let myself fall to the ground. Damn it! I forgot about these heels. 
“Oh well” I muse and head off sneaking into the back yard and over the fence. Mission accomplished! My inner voice is screaming with glee, no fucking dance tonight and no pimply nerd for a date to try to fend off in the corner of the hall. 
I am quite a sight as I catch a bus a little closer to town. At least I had sense enough to bring my backpack with money and my bus pass not to mention the jewelry box. I am getting a lot of stares and snickers, but that’s ok. I get off at Bourbon Street and walk to my favorite little pizzeria; they will have a phone book there. I know the owner Terrance very well, I’ve given him a reading with his deceased daughter and helped him get closure after her death. For that he helps hide me out for a while when the wardens known as my parents come looking for me. He welcomes me in and after looking me up and down knows I’m up to no good.
“What in God’s name is going on today Danielle?” He says in his Caribbean accent. I tell him I need a phone book because I need to find someone and it’s urgent.  He laughs and tells me aren’t they all urgent. He knows me well! He points me in the direction of the old fashioned phone booth with the phone book attached to a chain. Deardon. Not a common name and hopefully not too many in New Orleans. Thank God only one, Deardon, Samantha R. I won’t call her. I just need the address. It’s actually only 3 streets over! Terrance says I’m not going alone he will go with me. He’s met dad once or twice and doesn’t want to get on his bad side by telling him that his only child was kidnapped or something terrible he conjures up in his mind. Terrance leaves the restaurant in his capable waitress’s hands and brings his scooter to the front. He makes me wear a helmet. Now I really do look a sight!
We pull up into the driveway of the small apartment building. Terrance insists that he escort me. He’s afraid one of these times I’m going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We walk the hall and find the apartment number. I knock with apprehension as I hear light footsteps approach and open the door.
She is still beautiful. Her dark mane with silver streaks cascading down her shoulders as she stands staring at me with helmet hair and my torn debutante dress, standing with this skinny Caribbean man with the wide toothy grin. 
“May I help you?” She asks me with a quizzical look on her face. She is dressed in mom jeans and a button down blouse appropriate for her age.
“Um, excuse me, I am Danielle Labouleaux and this is my um…uncle Terrance. I believe I have something of yours.” I am sweating and bordering on stuttering.  This is the hardest part, getting the living to believe you. I unzip my backpack and take out the box while Terrance is saying his hellos.  I hand her the jewelry box and she takes it with hesitation looking at it like I just handed her a bomb, which in a way I have.
“I’m sorry young lady, but I have never seen this before, I think you are mistaken.” She looks to Terrance who shrugs.
“Ma’am could you please open it? There is a piece of paper with a name you may know.” She breathes deep and ushers us into her small but nicely decorated apartment.
“Please sit.” She motions to the dining room table and chairs. Terrance and I oblige her request. He is smitten I can see it; he hasn’t taken his eyes off of her since we got here.
She puts the box on the table and slowly opens it picking up the necklace and earrings, I lift up the false bottom and she pulls out the receipt. An audible gasp escapes her mouth as she puts her hand over it. Tears well up in her eyes and I am suddenly feeling very sad. Terrance puts his hand on my shoulder sensing my mood.
“Where did you get this young lady?” Tears are streaming down her face.
“Call me Danny and I found it in my room. I believe you used to live in my house. It was hidden under the floor boards.” I am now holding my breath.
“On Rouge Street?” she asks.
“Yes ma’am” She stares at me as if she has seen a ghost. I am hesitant to tell her the truth but feel the need to do so anyway.  “Ma’am, I know this sounds crazy but I get visions and spirits come to me when I see a picture. Here this is also yours.” I dig out of the backpack the picture of her and Sgt. John Deardon and hand it to her. “You too were lovely together, did he ever get to see the baby?” I ask and she jumps out of her seat. Terrance stands up quickly and tries to calm her down.
“Ma’am” He says through his thick accent. “I know it sounds funny, but it’s ok, she tells the truth on this. Trust her, she can do this, she has done it for me after my daughter died. Please sit we mean you no harm.” Terrance’s voice soothes her and she sits warily.
I tell her the whole story with all the details and her beautiful blue eyes glow with anticipation. I finish and she picks up the story.
“He shipped out the next day, straight to the front line. A few weeks later I have two Army men at my door giving me the news that his envoy had been captured and he was shot in the head as he was trying to gun down the enemy to give his platoon a chance to escape. So in answer to your question, no he never got to meet his son.” 
She goes to the small living room and picks up her son’s picture from a small desk in the corner and brings it back to the table. “He looks just like his dad.” She says fighting back tears. “He’s getting married tomorrow and now thanks to you Danny I have a very special gift to give to my new daughter in law.” She leans over and kisses me on the forehead. Terrance smiles sweetly at her as he grabs her hand to comfort her. She continues wiping her tears away with a tissue. 

“Young lady, I can’t thank you enough, but judging by your manner of dress aren’t you supposed to be somewhere? And what did you do to that dress!” She is now practically laughing at the sight of me. I explain the circumstances and she tells me I should have never gone against my parents, but admits she also left her own debutante ball ditching her date to meet her secret motorcycle riding boyfriend in the back alley, the future Sgt John Deardon.  Her dad after giving her a good backside swatting, grounded her for a month along with threatening to break lover boys legs and bike if she ever saw him again. She is alive with the memory and I feel that I have a comrade in arms with her and Terrance who is now so deeply engrossed laughing at her every word.
I motion to Terrace that we should be going and I know that I have to go home and face the music. I can’t hide out at grandmere’s since she is in Atlanta right now, and I don’t want to ruin my other hidey hole at the pizzeria by having Terrance try to explain to my parents what I was doing. Samantha Deardon walks us to the door still holding Terrance’s hand. I go into the hallway walking fast and far enough so he can have a moment with her for which I can see he is grateful. I sneak around the corner and listen. She gives him her phone number and he promises to call her to tell her that I have made it home and that my parents aren’t going to go all Mommy Dearest on me. He reassures her that he’s fairly positive it’s not like that but is aware there are tensions between me and my parents. She tells him if it ever does become that way to please bring me to her. He agrees and tells her he will call her within an hour. She smiles at him. I think the smitten thing is now going both ways. I’m glad, since Terrance’s daughter died he’s been alone, his wife divorcing him for another man years before.
I put the helmet back on and we are driving through the streets. I am feeling free on his scooter, wishing it were a real motorcycle.  The wind in my face is freeing and I relish the ride knowing that my very freedom is at stake. I tell Terrance to drop me off a street away so Marcel and Julianna don’t see him. He doesn’t need that grief and I don’t need to explain what I’m doing with an older Caribbean man. He agrees but makes me promise if things get to rough to call him right away he will confront the wardens. I promise him and tell him to save a slice for me whenever my dad decides to unground me. He winks and drives away.
On the short walk back home I see the house.  All the lights are on and the front door is open. Marcel is pacing frantically and Julianna is trying to calm him down. I sneak behind the house and climb the big tree outside my bedroom window reaching across the branch to the frame of it. I enter in the window butt first and when I turn around he is there. Fire is lighting in his golden eyes making them shine brightly; this is not a good sign. He is staring at me waiting for me to speak. Julianna enters into the room and screams at the sight of my dress and me. Dad orders her out. Another bad sign. She is screaming in French about the dress and what the hell had gotten into me as she leaves. I put on my defiant face and dig in my heels. Marcel finally speaks.
“Of all the dumbass things you have done! I cannot wait to hear this explanation young lady!” He pauses. I say nothing. We stare at each other for a few seconds. In truth I am trying to formulate a decent lie and I know he knows it but he will never be able to confirm it’s a lie. I finally speak.
“I told you I didn’t want to be forced into going to that stupid ball! You didn’t listen to me, like you never listen to me!” I’m on a roll; I’ll use the screaming teenage girl routine on him. “You don’t care about me neither of you do! She just wants me to be her! Well guess what? I’m not and never will be! And wouldn’t want to be! I gave up stuck up snobbery for lent!” Whoa! even I surprised myself on that one. I am shocked when he answers in a calm voice.
“That’s all fine and dandy Danielle but it doesn’t explain where you were or how your dress got to this state, not to mention your hair!” It’s a ploy. He’s not buying the screaming teenage girl routine. I try a different tactic.
“I just wanted to see if either of you even noticed if I had left! Seeing as how you both are way too busy to be bothered half the time!” I start with the crocodile tears.
He’s not moved. “Well if it’s our time you want then by all means your mother and I will be very happy to spend a lot of quality time with you. Starting tomorrow in fact! You will be your mother’s little helper around the house and I will be more than happy to make sure you are not deprived of my attention when we clean out the gutters and garage.” Oh crap! Well that backfired and grandmere is not going to be back from Atlanta for another two weeks. He continues. “Now that that is settled I’m still waiting to hear where you were.” I’m running out of ploys, I can’t tell this man that I’m psychic and talk to dead people, that I was delivering jewelry box to a heartbroken widow. They will have me committed! Only grandmere would understand. I come up with the best thing I can think of on the fly.
“I was meeting my boyfriend. He picked me up in his motorcycle down the street, that’s why my hair is messed up.  I've got helmet head.” I look down at my feet. I hear my mother reenter my room. I think I just succeeded in killing them both. They should be dropping dead at any moment.  Instead their mouths are wide open and they're staring at me. Well at least it shut them up. My brain is pleased with itself! Hell I should have thought of this sooner! Ha! A faint sound escapes my lips that resembles a snicker.  Marcel is not buying it, Julianna is hovering over my father’s shoulder ready to cry.
“Julie, quit crying! She’s joking!” Marcel is glaring, damn why did I snicker out loud! “Fine you don’t want to say where you were then that’s OK, but don’t even think you are leaving this house anytime soon! And tomorrow that tree is coming down! Talk to your daughter damn it!” He addresses her as he leaves and mother comes over to me, she takes my face in her hands and sits me on the bed. Oh lord what fresh hell is this? My brain is frantic.

“I know your father thinks you were joking, but darling do you have a boyfriend and are you having sex? Do we need to talk?”
“Oh God mom! Really!” My face is flushed with embarrassment and anger. I'm sixteen years old and she's just deciding its time to talk about the birds and the bees? “No, you don’t have to talk to me about that; grandmere has already had that talk with me a long time ago! Ugh!” I cross my arms and turn away from her. I can’t even look her in the face. How dare she decide this is the time for that just because I bring up an imaginary boyfriend. She is just as uncomfortable as I am I can tell. She gets up to leave and kisses me.
“If you do have any questions……”
“Grandmere has covered everything, will you please leave now, I’d like to enjoy my last few hours of freedom before I begin my prison sentence!”
“Danielle, be happy I had already talked him out of the belt! I’ll work on getting you an early pardon if you promise not to do anything like this again.”
I look at her dark hair and flawless white skin that has been sun kissed by the hot Louisiana summer sun. I wish I could have had her violet eyes. She really is stunning, people have compared her to a young Liz Taylor and I can see why. I feel she means her words and I make a meek promise. She leaves and I finally get out of the destroyed dress and shoes. I brush out my hair and get ready for bed. Laying in the dark I am awake but dreaming of boyfriends with leather jackets on motorcycles.