The Coming Storm
It was August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina made her second landfall over Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana. Her demotion from a Category 5 to a Category 3 storm would do nothing to prevent the immense devastation that this storm would cause in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
At a news conference at 10 a.m. EDT on August 28, shortly after Katrina was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city, calling Katrina “a storm that most of us have long feared.” While many residents followed the order, others chose to ignore the dire message and ride out the storm. Some, seeking shelter in the historic French Quarter believing that being on higher ground would improve their position. But still, the storm took 1,170 victims in Louisiana, in part due to the failure of fifty-three flood protection structures in and around New Orleans. As the levees breached, eighty percent of the city was submerged in a cesspool of stormwater and waste.
New Orleans is a unique place in its relationship between the living and the dead. The atmosphere is intimate with the dead laid to rest above ground and in constant interaction with the living. With a history of voodoo and a Catholic Church on every corner, it’s clear that the living are comfortable dancing around the veil. Anyone who lives there knows that the air is always charged. The oldest city, New Orleans, has no shortage of spirit and these spirits thrive on the bustle of the city. It’s no surprise that when the lights went out and the people left, the dead, too, were out of sorts.
Those who stayed in the French Quarter during the storm reported encounters with the dead. From strange balls of light to full-bodied apparitions; the dead were taking control of the city, unfretted by a fear of discovery. But a few spirits walking the streets in search of the heart of the city is a benign event. It was when the waters receded that the real problems began.
Imagine having a roommate for years and then, suddenly, they move away. Then, when you’d adjusted to living alone, they threw open the door and dropped their bags proclaiming, “I’m home!” This is what happened to the dead in New Orleans and it would take time to find balance again. The bewildered roommates; the living, did not know that there had been a shift in their relationship but they did experience a darkened energy around their beloved city and for some, that darkness would take hold and consume them in a phenomenon known as “Katrina Crazy”.
Our story begins when the waters receded and those who rode out the storm successfully returned to the vacant streets in the ghost town that was once New Orleans. As these people joined together to celebrate their victory against Mother Nature’s rage, something ominous was emerging from the darkness and its unwitting victims would pay the ultimate price.
After the Rain
“Wake up, it’s time to go exploring,” Rob said, bouncing on the edge of the bed.
“Exploring what?” Ophelia moaned, pulling the covers up over her head.
“The streets are pretty clear and I saw people outside. We need food. If we wait too long, everything will be gone!” Rob answered, bouncing harder, then pulling the blanket off the naked girl.
“Come on, jerk! The stores are closed. Are we going out looting today?” she barked.
“I don’t think those rules apply right now. There’s no police, there’s no Army. We have to eat, right?” Rob told her, “Besides, don’t you want to see who’s out there? It could be our friends.”
“Yeah, and it could be burglars or junkies who will kill us over a loaf of soggy bread!” she replied.
“Burglars?” Rob laughed, “Look around, beautiful, there’s nothing here to burgle.”
“I’ll tell you what. You climb back into this bed with me and show me how much you love me. Then, when that thirty seconds is over, we’ll go out looting. Okay? Deal?” she smirked.
“Thirty seconds, huh? We’ve done nothing but drink hot beer, eat chips, and screw for over a week now and you never complained!” He snorted.
“I’m just trying to get your blood hot. You’re better when you’re mad.” She smiled, sitting up and wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Don’t kiss me. Your breath is nasty!” he said, pushing her down on the bed.
The couple got dressed and set out onto Bourbon Street. The air was heavy and humid just as it was inside the apartment. Ophelia looked around and said, “There’s no going out for a breath of fresh air anymore.”
“Stay close to me and don’t wander. We’ll start at the Quartermaster and move on from there,” Rob directed.
“Okay, let’s do this,” Ophelia nodded.
They were an unlikely couple to most. Rob was a quiet guy with few friends who kept mostly to himself. He worked as a mechanic in a local shop and was good at his job but anyone who spent more than a few minutes with him could tell that he was made for something else. His past was a guarded secret and his boss, Jim, referred to Rob as “Einstein” and joked that he was in the witness protection program. At just twenty-four he knew things that the average person didn’t. It was clear that he had an above-average education and his friends believed that he was studying for something in a scientific field before showing up, out of the blue, in New Orleans.
In contrast, Ophelia was the life of the party. She was just five feet tall and never stood still. She loved everyone and, in turn, everyone loved her. She was a bartender on Bourbon Street, spending her days in bed and coming back to life when the sun went down. She was a beautiful girl but was considered hard to pin down. Many local men tried to catch her but she would lose interest quickly. She was a free spirit that didn’t like attachments. When the shy kid began showing an interest in her, everyone was sure that he would end up broken-hearted. They were shocked to be proven wrong. The attraction between them was instant and evident to anyone who encountered them. It was as if they had found their mutual soul mates.
Rob put his hand on Ophelia’s abdomen and halted her stride. He pointed to the door of their destination and said, “Look, it’s open. Stay behind me and if there’s any trouble, you run!”
She protested, saying, “Maybe we should keep going. There are other places that people might not have checked yet.”
“No, we’re here. Just do what I said. We’ll be alright, “ he answered, grasping the door. The sliding doors were heavy and screeched on the track when he pushed them. He stopped, listening for any sound from inside. He pulled his switchblade from his jeans pocket and opened the blade as the sound of crunching glass echoed inside and a figure came into view.
“Who’s that? Oh, shit, Rob? Is that you?” a voice called out from the shadows.
“Yeah, who’s in there?” Rob replied.
“It’s me, Jimmy,” the lanky man answered, stepping out into the light, “I’m glad you’re alright, man!” Jimmy stretched his neck, seeing Ophelia standing behind Rob, “Hey, girl! You rode it out, too, huh? That’s cool!”
“Rob stepped through the doors, pulling Ophelia by the hand. “Is there food left in here?” he asked.
“Oh, shit yeah. Listen, there’s about six of us in here so don’t freak out when you hear noises. We’re getting supplies together so we can have a little block party. There’s gonna be food and booze. Everybody’s bringing their instruments so we can play. Why don’t you grab a cart and help out? Join the party.” Jimmy replied.
“I don’t know, I was just going to grab some stuff to hold us over until the National Guard shows up. You know?” Rob answered, but there was no stopping Ophelia.
“We’ve been cooped up in that apartment forever,” she whined, “Let’s get out and have some fun! It’ll be good for us!”
“Yeah, Rob, come on! We’re all in this together now. We’re the survivors! It’s time for us to celebrate!” Jimmy added.
“I guess you’re right. Safety in numbers and all,” Rob agreed, reluctant, but he wasn’t going to argue with Ophelia in front of this man. He seemed nice enough, but Rob knew that disasters can bring both the best and the worst out in people. He feared that if anyone sensed a rift between them, they may try to use it to divide them further.
Ophelia grabbed a cart and, letting out a giddy cheer, began pulling chips, pastries, and wine off the shelves.
“Don’t forget about necessities. We need food to take home, too!” Rob scolded, placing canned vegetables and pasta in the basket.
When the cart was full, they met the others in the front of the store. Jimmy introduced them to the other members of the group and said, “We’re meeting up in front of the Bandstand Bar. We figured it would be convenient if we ran out of booze. There are more of us. They’re out finding chairs and tables and barbeque supplies.”
Rob nodded and pushed his cart down the street. He wasn’t comfortable with his part in this bizarre grocery parade bit he looked at Ophelia and she was beaming. This sort of spectacle was right up her alley.
As the carts banged along, Rob’s senses heightened. He absorbed the stale air and picked up the old, familiar stench of death. He looked across the street and saw the crumpled, wet body lying in the grass. No one batted an eye as they continued to their party place. Rob turned his face away from the gruesome display, looking up at a third-floor window. For an instant, he thought he saw a dark-haired woman looking back down at him but as he adjusted his gaze, she was gone.
It was a scene from an obscene fairy tale. While the bodies of those who got caught in the storm lightly littered the landscape, those who survived were setting up a makeshift bandstand and placing candles on their tables as the barbeque pits cracked and snapped and the smell of death was replaced by the smell of stolen food.
The group of survivors, twelve in total, would spend the next week together; getting drunk and high, eating to excess, and embracing the freedom that comes from not having a job, bills, or other obligations to ground them in reality. Some stayed at the block party day and night, sleeping in stolen tents and showering with bottled water. Others, like Ophelia and Rob, returned to their shelters at night but rejoined the party every day.
It was on the third night of the party when Rob had his first paranormal encounter. Ophelia had wandered away from the group to find a private place to urinate. Worried when she didn’t return, Rob, set out after her. Stumbling in the dark, he heard someone whisper, “Hey, come here.”
He stumbled backward, startled by the voice, “Ophelia, is that you?” he called.
His call was answered by a giggle followed by, “Come here!”
“You’re not funny, girl! It’s dark and I’m gonna fall on my ass chasing after you,” Rob said, turning in the direction of the sound.
He took a few steps through the soggy grass and asked, “Where are you?”
“Come on, almost there,” the voice answered.
“Ophelia! You’re not funny! Stand still and let me catch up to you!” he grunted, almost taking a header into a tree.
“Come on, baby, I’m right here…” the voice moaned.
Rob quickened his pace to a sprint as the giggling came closer. If his ears didn’t deceive, he was right on top of her. He was moving at a slow run when his foot caught on something and he tumbled headfirst to the ground.
“You found me!” the voice whispered, so close to his ear that the hair stood up on his neck.
He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his cigarette lighter. Lighting it, he turned to scold his girlfriend but no one was there. He turned back to see what he’d tripped over and skidded backward on his hands and feet. There, on the ground beside him was the corpse of a dark-haired woman. He leaped to his feet and ran back to the street. As he moved back into the candlelight; wet and gasping for air, Ophelia placed her arms around him and said, “What’s wrong, baby? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
A few beers later, he told the group what happened. To his surprise, no one laughed or called him a fool. They each had their own tales to tell. Since the water receded, everyone, except Ophelia said they had an encounter with something paranormal. It was then that Jimmy suggested that they use an Ouija Board to commune with the dead. “Nothing harmful. We won’t summon anything. We’ll just let them know what’s going on. They have to be confused. They don’t know why there’s no electricity. No cars, no people; they have to be wondering. Maybe if we explain things, they’ll calm down and leave us alone.”
“Or, maybe, they’re happy that they can walk around undisturbed,” Rob said.
“What do you mean?” Ophelia asked.
“Look around this place. There are nightly ghost tours here, people go to the cemetery and try to summon Marie Laveau! Haunted hotels that cost twice as much a night as they would if they were just nice hotels. Voodoo stores, spell casting, this place is as bad as Salem. Nobody knows how to let the dead rest. They turn it into a tourist trap. Anything for a buck, right?” Rob shook his head, disgusted.
“Well, sure, some people are here to capitalize on history, but not everyone is like that. Some of us honor that history. Some of us actually practice voodoo as a religion. We don’t bother the dead. We cherish them,” Jimmy’s wife, April, replied.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Ophelia said, looking at Rob, “Nothing wrong with spreading peace and good thoughts, it there?”
“You do what you want. I’m going to take my beer and go upstairs. I’m tired,” Rob told her.
“Are you mad at me, baby?” Ophelia asked.
“No, stay and have fun. I just need to get some rest,” he told her.
She smiled, “I love you, baby!”
“I love you, too,” he replied, accepting her kiss goodnight.
He arrived upstairs and used the battery-operated lantern to find his way to his bed. He could hear the chatter of the group on the street below and closed the window to block out the sound. In a world gone silent, he could hear a pin drop and he was a light sleeper. He woke up several times each night. Every creek or clink, every moan of the wind caused his eyes to open. He thought that perhaps his sleep-deprived state combined with his preservative-filled diet and increased alcohol consumption may have caused him to hallucinate the voice that he’d heard. He couldn’t afford to lose his head. There were still rough roads ahead and he needed to be able to protect Ophelia and keep her safe.
He dropped on the bed and closed his eyes. It wasn’t long before his swimming head drifted off to sleep. He didn’t know how long he’d been there when he was awakened by the sound of the apartment door. He turned to say something to Ophelia, but it wasn’t her standing in the bedroom doorway. It was a hulking man with a long, messy beard and broken teeth. Rob sat up, blinking wildly, hoping this was just a dream, but the man was still there brandishing a long blade knife that shone in the moonlight.
Rob leaped from his bed and lunged at the man grabbing his arm with one hand and his throat with the other. He slammed the man’s arm into the doorframe until the knife fell to the floor. Then, he placed his other hand on the man’s throat and began to squeeze the life from him. He slammed his head into the wall as the man reached up and grasped his hands with his own. Rob was blinded with rage and just continued to choke him until he heard a garbled moan coming from the man’s lips. It was a woman’s voice that he was hearing. It was Ophelia. He closed his eyes, loosened his grip, and then opened them again. He found himself staring into the bewildered eyes of his beloved.
“Oh my God! Baby, I’m sorry, I don’t understand!” he muttered, helping her to the bed and sitting her down, “I’ll get you some water! I can’t believe this!” he rushed to the kitchen to get a bottle of water, ripping at his own hair and convulsing from the horror of his own actions.
When he returned to the bedroom, Ophelia was laying on the bed with her legs pulled tight to her chest. She was holding her throat and sobbing. He placed his hand on her shoulder and she jerked. He lifted his hand from her and fell to his knees beside the bed.
“Baby, I must have been having a nightmare or something. When I looked at you, I didn’t see you. I thought you were someone else. I would never intentionally hurt you. Please, have some water and let me see you. I need to make sure you’re okay,” he pleaded.
“Go away,” she whispered.
“No, come on, you know I would never hurt you,” he begged.
“Go away, and close the door. We’ll talk about it in the morning,” she demanded.
He left the water on the bedside table and left the room, closing the door behind him. He sat down on the sofa and considered sleeping there, but he knew that sleep wouldn’t come so, he put on his shoes and wandered out into the night.
The party outside had ended and the group dispersed to bed down for the night. Rob opened the dry cooler that was always out next to the bandstand and plucked a bottle of whiskey from inside. He ventured on down the middle of the street getting drunk on whisky and sad memories. As he approached the cemetery, he stopped, hearing the sound of laughter coming from inside its gates. It wasn’t the menacing cackle that would make one move swiftly away peeking over their shoulder to make sure no one was following. It was the sound of pleasure. Someone, or something, was having a good time in there.
He opened the gate and slid inside following the sound to a well-lit row of mausoleums and crypts. He slipped behind a tree and gazed at the scene, not believing his eyes. Three large-breasted women were dancing around naked, stopping on occasion to kiss and caress each other or touch themselves provocatively. Rob smiled at his discovery and took a seat on the ground. What harm could come from watching from a distance? He took another swig of his whiskey and leaned his back against the tree. He intended to watch until the show was over.
Completely consumed by the performance, he failed to hear the footsteps behind him. His heart leaped when he heard the woman ask, “Are you enjoying yourself?”
He turned, confronted by yet another busty brunette in the moonlight. She was wearing a thin, silk robe. Her breasts showed through the light fabric.
“I’m sorry, I’m drunk. I didn’t mean anything. I just heard voices and wandered in. I’ll go now,” he said.
She reached out her hand and took the whiskey bottle from him. She held it up to her lips and took a long swig, then, handed it back to him.
“That’s smooth. No wonder you’re drunk,” she told him.
“Yeah, well, I should get going. Again, I’m sorry. I feel like a real pervert now,” Rob blushed, lowering his head. He stepped around the woman and was walking away when she called out to him, “Maybe, you’d like to join us for a while?” she asked.
“It looks like a lot of fun, but no, I shouldn’t. I have a girlfriend at home, but, thanks,” he told her.
“Hey, come back. I didn’t mean you had to come have sex with us. I just meant, well, I’m a little lonely. Can you at least sit and talk with me for a while. We can turn our backs on them. You don’t have to watch if you aren’t comfortable, please?” she pleaded.
He knew he shouldn’t, but he walked back to the woman and sat with her on the ground. He handed her the bottle again, and she took another drink.
“Who are you?” Rob asked, “We didn’t realize that there was anyone else around here. We thought we’d met all of the survivors.”
“I’ve been here my whole life,” she answered, “My friends and I keep to ourselves.”
“Those girls?” Rob asked, taking the opportunity to look back at the orgy, “They’re your friends? Are there more of you or just the four?”
“There’s just us,” she replied.
“Why the cemetery? This place is a ghost town. You could do … that anywhere. Why here?” Rob asked.
“Is there anywhere better?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t do things like that. I guess, you aren’t hurting anything, right?” Rob told her.
“Right,” she replied, placing her hand on his thigh.
Rob looked down at her hand and protested, “I told you I have a girlfriend,”
“Is she here? She’s welcome to join us, too,” the woman said, leaning in close and nibbling his ear.
Giddy from the whiskey, Rob chuckled at the thought of Ophelia joining him in an orgy with these four women. She was more likely to sprout wings and fly out the window.
The woman untied her robe letting it fall open. She placed his hands on her breasts and said, “Let go, Rob. Give in to the pleasure,”
“How do you know my name?” he muttered, trying to pull his hands back but he couldn’t. His brain had lost control of his body. The woman lifted him to his feet and led him to the well-lit crypts and the awaiting arms of the other women. He could feel their hands on him but he couldn’t respond. He knew that he was making love to them, but he didn’t know how. Eventually, in a rush of absolute passion, his mind went black. When he awoke in the morning, he was alone in the cemetery. His clothes were strewn on the ground around him and the empty whisky bottle standing upright on a crypt. He crawled to his pants and quickly covered his exposed manhood, then, struggled to collect his socks and boots.
Feeling less vulnerable with his clothes on, he scanned the cemetery for any sign that his vague memories of the previous night were anything more than a drunken fantasy. He found nothing. No sign of the women or the candles that they had burned. There was only the faint scent of lavender. It was the first time the air had smelled of anything other than death and barbeque.
Convinced that it was all just a dream, he headed back to his apartment to face Ophelia. Though he was truly sorry for putting his hands on her, he was feeling oddly better about things. He knew she would understand and that she would forgive him. He knew that everything would be alright.
He strolled past the group of survivors who were rolling out of their tents and boiling water on the fire for morning coffee. He threw a nod in Jimmy’s direction. It was reciprocated with a smile and wave.
He climbed the stairs to his apartment and slowly pushed the door. Ophelia was awake. She was seated on the sofa waiting for him to arrive. He stepped inside and leaned against the wall across from her. She sat, quietly, for a moment, then lifted her head to reveal the bruises he’d left on her. She cleared her through and said, “If you ever put your hands on me again, I will kill you while you sleep.”
“Baby, I didn’t mean to. I told you last night, I didn’t realize that it was you! It was a nightmare!” he pleaded.
“I don’t care. I don’t care if you thought I was the devil himself. If you touch me like that again, I won’t leave you, I won’t call the police, I will kill you. Do you understand?” she asked.
“I do, I understand. Do you forgive me?” he asked, holding his breath until she answered.
“I do, and we won’t talk about this again. Don’t make me regret it,” she said.
“I love you, beautiful,” he said.
“And I love you, baby,” she replied.
They tried, but things would never be quite the same again. Each time he looked at her, he would see the marks that he’d left even after they’d healed. Though she was true to word and had forgiven him. He couldn’t forgive himself.
Each night after, as Ophelia slept, he would creep out of the apartment, grab a bottle of whiskey, and return to the cemetery where he was welcomed by his harem of dark-haired vixens. This was his escape from his own atrocities. The only time he was truly free of himself was when he was in the arms of these strangers. And each morning, he’d wake before the sun rose and walk back home unsure if the women existed outside of his imagination.
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