It isn’t easy. Months have passed since I’ve last fed. I hate going so long between meals, but too much activity and the Circle of Sorrow will catch on to my presence. The last thing a hunter needs is to be hunted.
Heartrate and breathing slow; the beast’s skin and bones reset.
Each transformation leaves me dizzy and slightly nauseous, but it’ll soon past.
When the faculties return to normal, I rifle through David’s garments, grabbing my identification, two eight balls of powder, and just over twelve hundred in cash, picking clean his belongings save for a hotel room key, a pack of menthol cigarettes, and several loose credit cards.
In his coat pocket, I find the badge. An undercover.
He turns up dead, and I’m the last person he’s seen with—bad, bad news.
How could I have been so stupid, so reckless? No doubt other cops in the bar watched us trade off the dope before leaving together. I’ve been reading tarot in the Quarter for years; ask a few questions to the other readers, artists, or home bums in Jackson Square, and my name isn’t that tricky to figure out.
It’s been a few years, but I’ve screwed up before, plucking someone who was missed from a crowded room and making a mess of the drain. I had to leave Philadelphia, uprooting my life and identity overnight. I’d hate to leave New Orleans on such short notice, but survival trumps complacency any day.
I briefly consider tossing the body into the river or simply eating the remains in the dark corridor between warehouses. One is clumsy and high-risk, the other messy and tactless. Both would take too much effort on my behalf. Better to make a clean break and be done with the whole sordid affair. With the money scammed off the dead cop and the cash I’ve got locked up in my Seventh Ward shotgun, I can make a clean jump to Portland and meet up with my dowt. They will protect me, give me a fresh start. That’s what family does.
I leave David for the flies and worms and maggots on the side of Mandeville, following Decatur to Elysian Fields. My apartment, sanctuary, is only a few blocks away.
How much time before the uniforms kick down the door?
Hitching a ride out of the city won’t be hard. There’s a truck stop where I-10 intersects Elysian Fields, and if I flash a Benji, I’ll have no trouble catching a lift with a driver seeking company on the lonely road. Texas is only a few hours away. Once Louisiana is a distant speck in the rearview, I’ll feel a lot better.
Avoiding the banquettes, I walk along the neutral ground, the grassy median separating traffic lanes, stepping over dog shit and discarded needles. Fucking gutterpunks.
The mist thickens, and drawing in the dense air resembles breathing underwater. Intense, even for this time of year. There’s something different about the air tonight, as if the impenetrable atmosphere doesn’t want me walking around. With the opaque haze shoving back, each laborious step saps my energy, my will.
What in the unholy depths of Tartarus is going on?
Acrid sulfur fills my nostrils, perhaps smoldering treated wood from some burning building in the nearby faubourg.
One of the golden pyramids cast from the streetlamps shimmers, then parts, revealing a flight of shiny chrome stairs that extends from the neutral ground and disappears into the swirling smoke.
A young woman in a wispy white gown races down the steps, glancing over her shoulder as she descends. Her iridescent silver hair floats in the breeze, as if her gleaming locks possess their own spectral mind. She may be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.
Barefoot, she steps off the stairs into the wet, cold grass. The needles, the dog shit—doesn’t she care?
She rushes to me, grabbing my wrist. Her icy grip barely registers. “You have to help me. They’re coming.”
Living and creating in New Orleans, Louisiana, Anthony S. Buoni haunts the swamps and bayous along the Gulf of Mexico, writing, editing, producing, and lecturing about his craft. A practicing pagan, he’s responsible for the BETWEEN THERE anthologies, his screenplay-novel, CONVERSION PARTY, and his new collection of short stories, OSSUARY TALES.
Currently, he’s writing a New Orleans monster novel as well as putting the final edits on novels featuring ghosts, zombies, and a cafébetween life and death filled with secrets and philosophy.
When not writing, Anthony poses as a Bourbon Street bartender, underground musician, and DJ, drawing down the moon with new wave, trance, and melancholy tunes. Other interests include film, gardening, comic books, and playing video games with his son, Fallon.
Featured Photo Credit: Lonerloaner’s Pen Grid