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?”
“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.
Here’s another short story featuring our heroine from The Body Hunters
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.
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.