St. Nicholas Day
Anne Marie Andrus
A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”
“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”
“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”
The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.
“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”
“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”
The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.
Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”
The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”
“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”
Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.
Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.
Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.
“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”
If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from the Monsters & Angels Realm, catch up on the saga...
Happy Halloween Horror Lovers!
From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .
A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!
In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.
Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:
USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators),
award-winning bestselling author Robbie Cheadle
award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best
award-winning author Kaye Booth
award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine
award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner
award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor
award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen
award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner
award-winning bestselling author Victoria Clapton
award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus
award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park
award-winning bestselling author Barbara Anne Helberg
award-winning bestselling author MD Walker
award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer
award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon
Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, watching TV with family, or even going on a casual boat ride.
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!
Having the Boss Over for Dinner
By: Victoria Clapton
The chilly October sky turned cerulean and sanguine as the sun dipped below darkened clouds. Thirteen bats flew across the sinister backdrop, signaling the arrival of Leah, my level-headed, put-together boss, to my chilling abode.
Leah stepped out of her SUV, paying no attention to the avian warning high above her head, and gave me a joyous wave before holding up a bottle of wine. She was just as at home here in my dark den of shadows as she was in her high-rise.
“Welcome to my home.” I greeted while motioning for her to enter. The front door of my ramshackle Victorian home gave a squeeeaakkk.
“Thank you for hosting our monthly dinner, Vivien. The renovations are almost finished, but my house is certainly not ready for company.” Leah kissed both of my cheeks before she stepped over the threshold and took in my Gothic décor. I waited for her to flinch, but her smile remained intact.
“Please make yourself at home. Dinner is almost ready.” I pointed towards the living room and waited for her to be seated. “Would you like something to drink? I’ve some vintage Blood Wine.”
“Yes, Blood Wine, what region is that from? I don’t believe I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a rare blend. Transylvanian, of course.” I hand her an empty skull filled with wine and gestured for Leah to take a seat on one of my matching scorpion-shaped chairs.
Leah took a deep sip. Her face turned pallid then flushed scarlet. “Viv, this is a thick wine but is full-bodied. You must share your source with me.”
I nodded and headed back to my kitchen. I’d slaved all day cooking my favorite foods to share with Leah. We were complete opposites but had always worked well together. Sharing this part of my life with her pleased me.
I used my trusty hack saw to slice thick pieces of brioche and then topped them with bat brain jelly, laying them out prettily on an old silver tray. To go with this, I made a delightful meatloaf macabre, filled with all manner of chunky, crunchy surprises. And, of course, to drink, I had plenty of Blood Wine. A most filling meal, I believed.
“Come, Leah,” I beckoned her towards the dining table and smiled pleasantly when I noticed traces of the Blood Wine dripped from her mouth.
“Oh, Viv! You’ve outdone yourself. I must make a video to share with our friends.”
My forehead scrunched. To her, “our friends” meant work colleagues. To me, “our friends” meant all of those that lurked beneath the ground of the cemetery out back. But I enjoyed my boss and would humor her eccentricities. After all, unlike me, she was still part of the living.
Find and Follow ⇒ Victoria Clapton!!
Under The Square
Anne Marie Andrus
chicory, humidity, decadence
Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.
“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”
“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”
“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”
“Haven’t I always, sir?”
“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”
“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”
“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”
“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”
“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”
Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”
“Cross’ the lake.”
“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”
“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”
“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”
“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”
“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”
“You…are damn bossy.”
Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”
“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”
“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”
“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”
“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”
“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”
“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”
“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.
“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”
“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”
“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”
“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”
Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.
“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”
This story was originally written for the “3 Word Challenge” on the blog Bonnywood Manor, home of fabulous writer and friend Brian Lageose.
Check him out!
Ashley’s fork cut through what was left of her tiramisu. Her client’s daughter had been put down for almost an hour. The silence of the house meant that she should be studying but the tiramisu was so delicious. After finishing her dessert Ashley opened her laptop double clicking on her document files.
Now that she had the freedom she was sure she would have the rest of the night to herself to finish her project. As she opened the documents pictures of various newspaper headlines flashed across the monitor. Her assignment that her professor gave would have her follow the trail of supernatural happenings in neighboring towns. Things like “leprechauns in trees” to “ghostly images and sounds ” “unexplained disappearances”.
The point of the assignment was to find why are people wanting these “tales of make believe” to be real? Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She believed that if she could see it she would believe it for herself. Her computer monitor flickered for a second before completely darkening. A sharp squawking from upstairs made her blood run cold. It also reminded her that the only person up the stairs was Lauren, the child she was sitting.
The family had no pets, a fact that ran through Ashley’s mind as she grabbed the fork she used to eat her tiramisu. She scampered up the stairs tightly gripping her silverware weapon in her fist. Once she reached the door she flung it open to see little Lauren asleep in the same position she had left her in. Perched at the foot of the bed was a blood red cardinal bird with a thumb sized roll of cotton in between its beak.Ashley flung her arms at the bird predicting that the bird would fly outside of the window across the room in which the bird did flapping its wings through the night air.
Lauren gave a yawn before speaking. “I had the weirdest dream miss Ashley. You saved me from a gigantic female pterodactyl and it was red!” She yelled in excitement rolling over on her pillow which she now found with a gaping hole in the center. “Miss Ashley…” the girl let out.
Ashley grabbed Lauren by the hand and stormed out of the house.
TWO BEST FRIENDS ARE BARISTAS
A crooked little coffin-shaped sign hung rather creepily and just a bit off-center, somewhat hidden beneath eerie Spanish moss from an ancient tree that draped over a tiny coffee shop where cemetery workers and the occasional mourner would stop in after passing time in the famous Southern graveyard that was just a few yards across the street.
Delia adjusted her purple work shirt that sported their shop’s unique logo. The owners of the shop were two best friends, “Miss Charlotte” and “Miss Cordelia”, and they had hand drawn themselves the symbol of a tiny tomb upon which a tiny coffee cup sat. Above this, in silken threads, the name of their shop, the words Burial Grounds were embroidered on the left shoulder. The concept of the shop had been the brainchild of her best friend, Lottie and had somehow taken their after-college plot of turning a mountain (unemployment) into a more manageable molehill, (becoming entrepreneurs!) with some quick thinking and a few old Southern recipes. The two best friends combined their attributes and somehow had managed to stay out of the red in their first year of business. The shop provided everything that after-funeral crowds might need: water, coffee, teas, pastries, biscotti, bagels and breads, panini and fruit, as well as tasteful cemetery souvenirs such as photography coffee table books of the cemetery that the tourists were just gaga for. Just recently they had also added a very small lunch menu so that the groundskeepers and out-of-town visitors (here to see the book-and-movie-famous gothic nuances that lay by the river just across the way) might be tempted to drop in during the noon hours. A late sleeper, Lottie came in most days after lunch, to prepare the next day’s soups, and sandwich fixings while Delia took great delight in early-hour baking and the opening of the storefront doors each morning.
On this stifling September day in Savannah, Delia was hoping to inspire a few customers into trying her new recipe for Pumpkin bread. As she switched on a coffee pot, she peered out the rippled glass pane of the old storefront. An Autumn fragrance called “Something Wicked” filled the small dining area that was dotted with small black café tables and chairs the girls had found and refurbished from the flea market. The dining area possessed a slightly witchy aura in a Practical Magic sort of way. Delia suddenly observed that a rickety, white-haired, very tall, hat-wearing gentlemen (whom she immediately secretly named “Papa Justify”, she had heard that creepy name in another movie once) was slowly making his way inside from the empty parking lot. She was unsure of where he came from, but it seemed awfully hot for a man of his years to be out and about, walking around alone in the September heat at 10:30 in the morning.
The man creakily made his way to the counter, his loveless face was daunting in the bright morning light, but Delia stood ready to take his order, despite his frightful countenance. Holding a pad, and slightly biting the eraser at the end of a pencil, Delia smiled and said, “Good morning, Sir. What can I get for you?”
He leaned his ghoulish face towards Delia, his large teeth protruding from his thinly-veiled face and replied.” I would love a large cup of coffee, black, and 2 of your old-fashioned tea cakes, please”.
Delia carefully wrapped the two sweets in a glycine treat bag, then poured freshly-brewed liquid glory into the recyclable-yet-insulated to-go cup, it was an aromatic and steaming brew. She dribbled a rich, dark splash onto one of her sneakers as she placed the carafe back on the burner.
The customer appeared to be delighted, thanking Delia as he took his purchases, and left a twenty on the counter. “Keep the change, doll”, he whispered. A shiver ran up Delia’s arms.
It was then that Delia heard a key turning the lock in the back door of the shop. “Lottie, quick! Come here!” Delia called. Delia turned her back to the window that looked over the parking lot just for a moment, motioning to her friend to hurry and observe the unusual customer who had just left. Delia had never seen anyone like him before in her life. Lottie sat down her purse, and quickly was standing by Delia’s side. As they both looked across the parking lot, no one was there. Had the small tourist bus silently picked him up without their hearing it? Surely, he couldn’t have walked completely out of sight in that short amount of time.
Back to the business at hand, the phone rang, orders were placed and work demanded the two friends’ attention and soon the entire morning had flown by. Now the girls were both busy packing up 15 box lunches which they had promised to deliver over to the Cemetery Visitor’s Center across the street by 1 pm. Lottie stayed behind at the store making up a fresh batch of pimento cheese and Delia walked over with a large cardboard box filled with the smaller box lunches, and cold drinks to give to Mrs. McGuire, the docent. She told Delia they were having a Civil War reading near the war monuments later today with guest speakers and so the workers wouldn’t have time to go out to get their lunch. The coffee shop was happy to oblige them. The Visitor’s Center tipped quite nicely.
As the sun pelted down upon the shell-lined pathways, and the hushed Spanish moss gently swayed, swishing ominously throughout the bent and gnarled limbs of the ancient trees, Delia walked past graves and headstones, and statuesque obelisks, headed away from the old grey house that now was designated as the Visitor’s center, and on back towards the shop. Thinking what a lovely blue sky hugged from above, Delia was taken aback as she noticed that someone had thoughtlessly littered the beautiful resting grounds. An abandoned coffee cup sat upon an ornate rock headstone. Intending to clean the trash up herself, she reached to grab the debris, and was taken aback to see that both the sack and coffee cup were imprinted with a little symbol, the coffee shop logo symbol, and the words starkly stated Burial Grounds captured in a sickly red ink made her gasp. A glycine treat bag was also crumpled up with the paper sack, and these were laying over the grassy and sandy grave of a man who had mysteriously died in 1832. His name…Jasper Justify Jacquemin.
This is the precise moment when Delia decided that this would be a good time to lay off the caffeine.
A New Love Blooms in Old Age
I walked the dusty path that led to the family cemetery located beneath some spindly old cedar trees on the expansive property of the looming Eirewood Plantation. On my way, I stopped to eat a few of the tart bitter blackberries growing there and pondered on how I’d come to such a quiet place.
The sprawling white Greek Revival sat imposing in the sunlight. The tall, thick columns stood stately, supporting the two story gargantuan house while the rocking chairs on the front porch silently invited someone to relax and rock a spell,taking in the beauty of the Southern landscape. Though I had trekked some distance from the house, I could still see the majesty of the house patiently waiting for something, or maybe someone. It’s empty loneliness bothered me very little. At first sight, I was overcome with the feeling of having always been here, having belonged. Whatever the reason, this home was not alone anymore.
Three weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail requesting my presence at McAllister and McAllister Law Firm to claim an inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.
Upon meeting with them, Misters McAllister and McAllister led me to a polished long cherry table in what must have once been the dining room in the old Victorian house they’d converted into their law firm, and there over tall glasses of ice tea, they informed me that I’d inherited the two hundred year old house and the surrounding land that made up Eirewood Plantation from an absolute stranger. Despite my fervent attempt to refuse such a preposterous gift, the McAllisters presented me with the deed, already in my name, and bid me to have a good day.
Now, I stood somewhere between the hulking house and the graveyard filled with crumbling tombs all sporting the name “O’ Brady”, trying to figure out what I was going to do with this unasked for and unusual gift. Unaffected by my presence, a large, husky squirrel bounced from one oak tree to the next as if rejoicing at my arrival.
For a spring afternoon, it was a bit chilly beneath the shade of the trees, and just like the house, this piece of land had a feeling of waiting. A solitary rusted out shovel discarded by the old stone wall surrounding the graves solidified the feeling of a space frozen in time.
“Welcome to Eirewood, Ms. Endicott.” From behind one of the twisted oaks, stepped a nice-looking gentleman wearing light pants, a blue cutaway coat and holding a top hat that he’d just removed from his head in his hands.His cream colored silk cravat accentuated his dapper look. “I’ve been waiting for you to return.”
Startled by his unannounced presence, I took a step back from him but not before I noticed his uniquely light colored eyes. The color of frozen ice, just barely blue, they were visible even in the dappled afternoon light.
“Thank you. Wait, return? I’m sorry, Sir, but I have never been here,” I insisted then introduced myself. “You may call me Eilene I have recently acquired Eirewood Plantation, so I’ve come to see what it’s all about.”
The man moved closer to me. His handsome looks struck a chord in my heart, a memory I couldn’t quite grasp, even if his clothing and manners were two hundred years out-of-date. Perhaps he was here for one of those reenactments I’d heard about history buffs having. Either way, something about his demeanor drew me towards him. My fingers tingled, itching to reach out and touch this mysterious stranger.
“Eilene,” He said my name slowly as if he was savoring his favorite sound. “Then you may call me Jonathan. I’m Jonathan O’Brady.”
“O’Brady?” I recalled the names on the tombstones just behind Jonathan, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The intensity he watched me with was unnerving and somewhat alluring. There was just something about him, something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. “Jonathan, are you kin to the people who owned this house? Do you know why the previous owners would leave it to me?”
“You kept your promise,” was his reply. “You vowed that you’d return, that not even death could keep us apart.”
My heart sped up as I processed this stranger’s words. “You have me confused with someone else.”
“Oh?” Jonathan offered his hand to me. “Then let me show you, my love.”
I should have ran off, gotten away as fast I could and called the cops on this crazy anachronistic man. Instead, without any hesitation at all, I rested my hand in the crook of his offered arm and allowed him to guide me back into the shaded cemetery. We weaved around graves, one O’Brady after another, until we reached a battered Celtic cross. At the base was the epitaphs and memories of two.
Eilene O’Brady Jonathan O’Brady
Born April 30, 1832 Born November 1 1825
Died May 14 1862 Died May 14 1862
Something in my subconscious stirred, awakening memories of someone else’s life, promises made by a woman I was not. I should have fled. I should have gotten away as fast as I could. I didn’t know what this man was trying to pull, but I wanted no part of it.
Then I made the mistake of looking up from the tomb into Jonathan’s love-filled eyes. Within their pale depths, I saw that he, too, had been waiting. Just like the house and this land, he had been waiting for his love from an old age long gone to begin again-new.
Find and Follow Victoria Clapton
A lone soldier on night watch. A single bullet through the heart. Every light in Paris flickers—the city’s thundering silent scream.
When Commander Raimond Banitierre was assassinated, French Revolutionaries lost their gallant leader. After a villain’s offer of eternal life condemned him to slavery, Raimond rebelled again, driving his vampire comrades to freedom.
Raimond escapes to Savannah, Georgia where his dream of becoming a doctor comes true. During his trial-by-fire residency on the Civil War’s battlefields, he discovers his true calling—the power to preserve memories and dignity in the face of death. His chance meeting with a beguiling mortal nurse ignites passionate nights and a long overdue crack in the door to paradise.
Vicious flames and an unholy miscalculation deliver Raimond back to the depths of hell. Being arrested for treason makes him wish for death and the arrival of Prince Draven Norman appears to be the final nail in Raimond’s coffin. Will the prince’s eccentric judgement grant Raimond a true reprieve? Is Draven’s invitation to join New Orleans mystical royalty an extension of his own treachery, or the next step in Raimond’s miraculous journey?
Has the legendary Crescent City found a spirit noble enough to protect her future?
Driven by tragedy to honor her family name, Sorcha embarks on a journey that takes her from the bleak but familiar streets of New York, through the sultry and seductive city of New Orleans, and into the brutal jungles of Nepal. Forging friendships and carrying on her mother’s mission of healing was her dream. Plunging into a love affair with the mysterious Dr. Ashayle, could have been a fairytale.
Being murdered and waking up as a blood-thirsty monster—became her living nightmare.
Torn away from a life that had just begun, Sorcha returns to New Orleans as a newborn vampire, forced to start over in a cutthroat underworld of devilry and decadence. Complicated politics, bitter rivals and jealous ancestors stand between her and the promises she’s still determined to keep.
In a realm where the boundary between good and evil is as murky as the Mississippi River and immortal does not mean invincible, will Sorcha ever risk her shattered heart and love again? Can the magical harmony of the Crescent City give her enough courage to fulfill her eternal destiny?
Sorcha’s final word will make your jaw drop!
Join the Monsters & Angels Society!
A STRANGE REQUEST at a PIANO BAR
a short story by Elizabeth Lemons
Good Evening. I’m Lorraine. I moonlight on weekend nights at a world-famous restaurant and piano bar that is found on the corner of St. Peter Street in New Orleans. It is a heady, two-centuries-old location, surrounded by ivy-covered brick walls with fountains kissed in patina of verdigris oxidation. Verdant fronds of fern drape lazily year-round over cast ironwork. Intricate, black lace designs twirl abundantly, dressing the galleries and gateways here and all over the French Quarter with elegance rarely seen in modern day construction. At this little meeting and eating house amidst tourist bombardment, I have determinedly shared my talents and heartbreak, laughter and tears by taking song requests from others for what seems like a hundred years.
Pungent gaslights flicker overhead as endless stories and scandalous rumors continue to be born here in this very courtyard. My favorite in-house tale is the true retelling about my fellow showman friend Eddie, another musician who worked and played here for over 67 years. Gumption hitched a ride in Eddie’s back pocket on the day he entered this bar, sat down and began to play at the corner piano. He was hired just a few hours later when the boss man saw him pick up a tray and begin to clear tables, all on his own merit. Eddie needed a job. So, impressing the owner with his ingenuity, Eddie was hired, and he played music and filled in when the help was scarce on late nights for almost 7 decades, until he drowned in the flooding of Katrina at the age of 95. I felt a close kinship to him and befriended his gentle spirit. I miss Eddie and his quick wit when we together played piano duets. His perseverance still encourages me to carry on when the noise and vulgarity of entertainment in a riverboat city overloads my gentle music- loving heart.
Over the many years, I have seen all types of folks walk through the red-bricked archway of this establishment for dinner or drinks. Always around are the raucous college party-kids, attracted to the larger-than-life Hurricane rum drinks. These juveniles with cash who push and shove their way in to sit near the flaming fountain possess large amounts of laughter and little good sense. When only pirated rum was plentiful in the time of Prohibition, our establishment made a living serving this same unique passion fruit cocktail, in single servings. Now it can be bought in an obnoxious oversized Hurricane glass that comes with a multitude of straws and mixed with 2 bottles of rum. These good-time kids would find a better spot for their “getting-plastered” intentions over at the Apple Barrel Bar on Frenchman Street with its cheap drinks and loud bands rather than hanging here in this laid-back piano bar.
More about finding an eating place that fulfills their desire for New Orleans cuisine but still able to supply the kids with burgers, are the “tourist” families, who’ve come out with their small kiddos after inhaling the online reviews on Trip Advisor before their arrival. They want everything to be conveniently located to the “must-see” attractions so they can hurry and get back to their hotels and put the kids to bed.
Of course, locals have always been the ones drawn here time and time again throughout the years by the sweet sassafras aroma of Gumbo simmering in our back kitchen which always fills the courtyard, and its beckoning siren aroma filters out into the street with whiffs of shrimp, chicken, and the sautéed holy trinity. Despite this heaven in a pot, and endless over-the-top hospitality that has been afforded to regulars in recent years, the locals have sadly trickled away as the growing tourist business has overpowered the sumptuous leather hunter green booths and chairs that line our dining rooms. These long-timers live amidst great controversy as wealthy outsiders slither in to gentrify the French Quarter, they annihilate the old while insisting on bringing in the new. Like oil in the gulf stream, the two just don’t mix. Locals despise this gentrification and loss of the music and culture as well as raised exorbitant rents. Thankfully, some of the locals are just creatures of habit, despite their legitimate gripes and thus, a few regulars continue to support us at the bar. Simply put, they ignore the out-oftowners as much as they can but certainly not their money. This is where I come in.
∼Play Me a Song∼
Tickling the eighty-eights each Saturday and Sunday evening, I take requests and play from 9 pm until 2 am for the generous tips that grow in a brandy snifter atop my made-here-in-New-Orleans Werlein piano. Over time, it has become a game with me to guess by appearances only who I think will request a certain kind of song. Believe me, my repertoire includes hits from Fats, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas then makes its way through Buddy Bolden, Jellyroll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and further through the years to Allen Toussaint, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dr. John, the Meters, and brother Aaron Neville. Occasionally, I even share the mike with Grandpa Elliot on rare nights when he is up for a song or two. When it comes to sizing up people and their song requests, I am a good guesser.
So, I was not at all surprised about a month ago, (it was Epiphany night, January 6, the official end of the Christmas season, the night that kicks off Carnival Season in New Orleans), when a tall, mysterious man wearing a sumptuous cobalt blue suit and ornate feathered mask proceeded to make himself comfortable at the bar right next to my piano. That night, (and every other Sunday leading up to Mardi Gras), he always sat beside me and ordered a Sazerac. His credit card told me that his name was Remy Mikhael. From first appearances, he looked like a jazz man to me, so I waited for him to request a song which reflected his persona. But no. This time I didn’t win at my own internal guessing game. Remy brought with him quite the veiled illusion. Even after he had removed the mask and laid it atop the bar, he maintained an intriguing otherworldly aura. Each time he visited me, he wanted one song, one drink. Tonight, he had arrived 10 minutes before closing time.
I had recently severely sprained my left ankle as I took a harsh twist on the winding back staircase that leads upstairs to a sumptuous lady’s lounge. Being so richly appointed, I love to spend quite a bit of time there in between sets. Unfortunately, the twist to my foot had me bandaged on this evening and I was gingerly using my awkward right foot as I pumped the pedal beneath my instrument.
After settling in after his subtle arrival, Remy spoke up in his powerful but quiet voice, “play me something,12-bar, please play “Dead Man’s Blues”, chere? He had requested this song, and ONLY this song every Sunday night for the past 4 weeks. I thought it was a bit strange that he always asked for the same tune but, whatever…he was a good tipper. As I wound down the final arpeggios from an old Beatles tune, I changed my tempo and demeanor as I completely altered the mood of the bar with the first few somber notes. He closed his eyes and reached for his glass, and took a comforting sip of his nightcap, seeming to be reminiscing as the song unfolded. I did my best to please him with my musical rendition. Across the bar from me, on this cold February night, Remy had a secret plan.
~Walking me Home~
New Orleans is a dark city, with its pungent nuances, unique culture and unsolved mysteries. People come here to lose themselves or lose their past. There are hidden doors, secret rooms, and forever unsolved sinister crimes with no clues on each and every corner. Sinners and Saints abide side by side. And, of course, I hear these stories as I nightly sit behind my piano in this rowdy river town, tales that give my arms gooseflesh shivers as I later recall them while walking cautiously to my own rooms in the early dawn hours after work.
My set tonight ended with Remy’s chosen mournful tune, and so I bid he and 2 other late-night patrons a good evening. I watched him as he tossed a $20 bill into my tip jar.
“Thank you, kind sir”, I acknowledged his appreciation. He rose from his bar stool, leaving his feathered mask behind, as I emptied the brandy snifter’s contents into my across-the-shoulder bag. I began to hobble walk on my damaged foot back through the restaurant section, towards the exit of our bar on St. Peter Street, saying goodnight to the few co-workers who remained.
“Catch you next week”, I said to Jerry, who maintained the inner courtyard bar. He was drying and putting away glasses. “G’night, Lorraine,” he answered. It was then I realized that Remy was right behind me, a dark shadow in mimic of every step I took.
“Sweet Lorraine, please let me offer you a gentleman’s arm as you head home. New Orleans is not the place for a beautiful woman such as yourself to be walking alone so late at night, please allow me to protect you”. Remy’s polite offer rolled off his charismatic tongue.
I hesitated, for I didn’t know anything of this man, other than his peculiar taste in music, but he was dressed so nicely, and had such genteel manners that I thought, well, what could it hurt? I don’t want to be rude. I was not picking up on negative vibes about this man, so I replied, “Thank you, Remy, I appreciate your kindness.” With a glance down towards my injured foot, I acquiesced, “I AM moving a bit more slowly these days”. We began to stroll together towards my upstairs apartment that was just a bit further than a block away. It was two nights before Mardi Gras so it was no surprise when a small group of costumed revelers, still out and about, (probably also heading home themselves), passed us by on the opposite side of the street. We arrived in front of my home in just a few minutes, when Remy spoke.
“Are you familiar with Voodoo, Child?”, his unexpected question made me giggle.
“Stevie Ray Vaughn song, right?” Of course, I love Stevie Ray Vaughn!”
“No, chere. I am referring to the religion brought here to your fair city with the slaves hundreds of years ago from Haiti” he explained.
“Well, no, not really. I have read a few things about how Lwa (pronounced Low-ah) represent Catholic Saints. The correlation to Catholic saints was the way the Voodoo religion here in New Orleans was acknowledged, presented publicly, with each saint representing an ancient Lwa before the average citizen, with none being the wiser. Practitioners could display, for example, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when all the while possessing actual intentions that the revered figure represented Erzulie. I have read a couple of books”, I said, and “I went to the Voodoo museum with some friends a while back but no, I can’t say that I really am all that knowledgeable when it comes to Voodoo”. It was a strange conversation to hold at 2:30 in the morning down on St. Peter Street and I was tired and ready to say goodnight.
“I can see you are exhausted, Lorraine Laurent”, he continued with an eerie understanding in his voice.
How does he know my last name? I frantically searched my silent brain to figure out where he could have learned this information. As a single woman, it was something I rarely revealed to anyone.
“Yes, I am”, was my curt reply as I turned the key into the cast iron door lock. I suddenly felt a need to free myself from Remy and this suddenly chilling night.
“There is no need for angst, chere. I know you are afraid. Let’s end this game of pretend. It is time for you to come with me, as you do nightly, and have been doing so for the past 93 years. My dear, you must be ready to come home and leave New Orleans forever behind. Eternal stagnation is not advisable. Submit to me. I am here to guide and protect you until you let go of the life you knew and loved. I am known as Agarou Toume, your intermediator. Do you remember how you died, Chere?”
“What? No!!!” You are not! Stop this now! You are Remy Mikhael! Please do not speak to me this way, I can’t be dead!!!,” I shivered beneath the light of a gas street lamp as it flickered in the dark, foggy night.
“Hush, child, and try to remember. You died suddenly without warning, it was 1926 when a fire brigade wagon ran you over in this very street on a night just like this one as you returned home from your performance at the piano bar. Your leg was severely cut, an artery was sliced, and your ankle was crushed. I held you in my arms as you stopped breathing. I am only sorry that I could not prevent this tragedy, but it was, as they say, it was your destiny. And this I could not change. And now, please recognize for once and for all that I have come to take you home, Lorraine, your true spiritual home, not this weekly farce of a life that you have chosen to relive, over and over. Let me guide you.”, he spoke firmly.
“Get away from me, Remy Mikhael! I don’t know you, I won’t go with you!”, I practically shouted as I looked left and right for rescue. No one was near now, no one celebrating Mardi Gras came to my aid. What could I do? I felt trapped, I felt betrayed. I just didn’t understand.
But it was then that I saw for the first time ever great silver wings manifest behind his cobalt blue suit. From out of nowhere, there appeared a mighty sword in his hand and I immediately knew fear like I had never known, because he was…. he was…Mikhael. Oh, my god. Archangel Michael. In the world of Voodoo I knew that he is also called Agarou.
He had visited me for weeks at the bar, making friends with me, having a drink, allowing me to gain some semblance of trust. Why had he delivered such a strange request at a piano bar. My piano bar? It must be that he came for this one final moment, for me, to at last bring me home, to let me know…I am no longer alive, and I am no longer destined to play away, consuming endless hours and endless years without rest.
This time, somehow different than ever before, held me captive. I whispered inwardly to myself. “I hear you, Remy, Michael, my fierce warrior guardian angel” …. For I am done now, with Remy’s final request, his very strange request. He had asked one final time for me to play and to finally truly hear… the Dead Man Blues.
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