While on a trip to New Orleans, Kaylie leaves the party early but takes the wrong street back to her hotel that takes her through an alleyway of terror.
I turned over my glass on the patio table telling my friends I’m through and going to head back to the hotel room. They couldn’t believe it. I must admit, I was always the last one in all the while being the first one out. I knew how to party and wasn’t ashamed of it. I could go on for hours and days. But something in me told me I was tired and to turn in. Something in me told me that. It was strange to have internal thoughts and suggestions. Things you never think but are there. The stranger thing is when we listen to these thoughts and suggestions. To think that we give more validity to these thoughts and suggestions and to those given to us by our friends and family. Four of us traveled to New Orleans for a weekend of drinks, fun, and ironically, relaxation. New Orleans was no place to relax, it was a place for debauchery. But as it turns out, it was a place of horrors. Which now that I think about it, that seemed quite natural for a place of its kind of history. I mean, the place does have above-ground cemeteries. How more scary can you get? I also wanted to get back and in bed, I knew they were going to go out to clubs and my hair was a mess. I was a mess. I wasn’t the same size I once was and didn’t have much on me to impress anybody at any club so I was better off by myself in a hot hotel bed alone with maybe a few slices of pizza. My girlfriends would have to do without me.
“Oh come on Kaylie, the nights just starting!” Sam said. She was tall, in charge, and didn’t care what anyone thought. Especially me. We’ve known each other since high school, which I thought was a rather high feat. High school friends never stayed friends past high school. College friends, sure, but high school? Forget about it. “What are you going to do at the hotel anyways, sleep the night away?” She finished that with the song lyrics and a drunken wave of the arms. She was forceful and gave peer pressure and never feel under it herself. If she wanted you to drink, you usually drank. If you wanted her to drink, she’d do whatever she wanted.
“The night started ten shots ago. I’m through,” I said. I felt some shame, but it’s not like we were all new friends and because of that I had nothing to prove. I’m used to these gals sticking it to me, as I did to them. If you can give it, you better be able to take it in our group. And we all could. “And yes, I’m going to go to the hotel and sleep the night away,” I replied back to her with my own rendition and dance choreography but I must admit it looked more tame and embarrassing. I was an unfit mess, and this unfit mess was ready for a slice of pizza.
Renee raised her glass to me and gave me cheers for sticking as long as I did. She was the cutest, and shortest of us, and was the MVP – Most valuable prostitute of our group. I’m not saying that in a negative way, don’t take it like that. We joke about each other, everyone does. Renee just liked to have fun. No shame in that. “You’re getting old, Kaylie.” I agreed. No shame in denying old age. We’re all getting old, one second at a time. But I felt it more each year like it was all coming at the same time to hit me.
“Tomorrow nights our night, girl,” Cierra said, “we’re hitting up the strip club and then going to find the best po’boy joint in town and eat until we pass out dead.” Cierra knew what I liked, good looks and good food. She was a lot like me, we were both on the track team together, a long time ago, and both lost good men (and bad ones) and both have a certain sense of stability that we are fond of. We didn’t like Renee and Sam peer pressure us into doing things we didn’t want to, but to be fair, we did the same to them. None of us did anything we didn’t want to. We were all victims of our choices and accepted them with consequence. Good or bad.
Cheers and applause filled the air, along with a certain stench of beer, piss, and vomit that all offended my senses. More so because they smelled like they were mixed up in a witches pot and the stench was visible steam rising from it. It was Bourbon Street, after all, known for its partying, drinking and debauchery. I loved the French Quarter and wished, then, that I visited more often. Never could one have as much fun in the party life and as cheaply as New Orleans. Vegas, forget about it. This was the place you could have fun with no money, hang out with complete strangers and not feel like such an awkward person afterward. Everyone could be friends here. Everyone could join the party. I’ve never been during Mardi Gras and have no desire to. In my eyes, it’s Mardi Gras year around here. People are always hanging on the balconies wearing masks and throwing beads to unsuspecting victims, or very suspecting criminals below all the willing to expose their breasts for beads. Why come when you can’t even get a seat at a bar? The streets were filled tonight and even in a cold December, it was challenging making it through the crowds.
One doesn’t know how much they have drunk until they stand from their chair and walk around. I didn’t know how much I had to drink until I was a block away. I hadn’t felt drunk, by that I mean my mind felt all there just my balance and sense of motion was without a doubt three sheets in the wind. I stumbled around trying to find my way to the hotel. They all looked similar. Every hotel, every bar, every club, every strip club, everything looked the same. They all looked fun. At least I could tell the difference between a lodge and a cabernet. One has flags hanging off their poles instead of strippers. Maybe it’s more politically correct to say dancers, but I was drunk and those were my internal thoughts then. Passing by all the poles, with no flags, I avoided all the guys (and gals) waving me into their clubs telling me how I could find a good time. Being older than thirty my idea of a good time was Netflix and chill, and I mean that quite literally. Never a place there was then a couch, some snacks, and my favorite shows.
I felt lost. True, we were sober when we arrived and sober when we left the hotel in search of a bar to squat but I had no recollection of where I was. The clouds blackened the streets and the music silenced my thoughts and ability to figure out where to go. Spotting a man, well dressed – conservative enough not to be clubbing, maybe he was celebrating a friend’s bachelor party – I decided to inquire where I could find Le Rouge Piece. I typically avoided asking strangers for directions while out alone and drinking, but he looked okay.
“Le Rouge PIece?” He said, “No idea. Ask your phone, or a local at a bar.”
I stumbled around till I found another bar, and if you’ve been to New Orleans you know that’s the next door down. It was filled with drunkards looking for a piece of pizza and something to wash all the sweet alcohol down their throats. These types of places littered the streets and were the drunks favorite spots to prepare for round two. Or round three. Or four. The bartender was friendly enough and again, I asked where I could find Le Rouge Piece.
“Oh, well, that would be down St. Peters about three blocks and down east Fonce Ruelle.,” the bartender said. He was thin, tall, and had the blackest hair I’ve ever seen. His eyes matched his hair. But his smile reassured me so I thanked him and went about finding my hotel. I stepped outside and wondered where I was again. Left or right, I came from left so I went right.
The time said it was only past one in the morning, but the street lights and bars appeared closed or near to. I quickened my pace down St. Peters to find Fonce Ruelle as fast as I could. I wanted badly to be off the streets and in my bed. I felt danger, a presence. Something watched me. Something was there. Something was near. I hurried along the brick walls, at times I pinched my nose to keep it away from the smells. They weren’t bad. They were wrong. Smells I never wanted or imagined to smell. Worse than before.
I stopped to rest. This had to be my fifth time in the French Quarter. I felt by now I knew the place. It was a perfect grid. A forgotten city layout. An unappreciated one. When built in a grid it was easy to find where to go. You need to only go one direction, albeit the right direction, on a street until you a familiar street. It was fifty-fifty. In some cities, streets twisted and turned, went into each other, crossed over, changed names five times in a mile strip, or merely ended into a Burger King. I felt by now I should have known the French Quarter. I should have been going in the right direction. But something felt wrong, something was off about this night. It felt darker than it was supposed to be. Looking up, the clouds appeared only above me. Above this area, the French Quarter, I mean. That smell hit my nose stronger than ever. I didn’t want to wait to see what made the smell, so I continued onward.
I passed Bourbon Street. It was wrong, I came from Bourbon, how was I passing it? I scurried across it but stopped. The police sat on their courses staring across each other behind the barriers. Their horses, oh their horses will forever be burned in my memory. Great winged beasts with dying skin, flailing off. Their front pair of legs were missing, as I saw when the horses did a great show of raising themselves in the air like a biker on a crotch rocket showing off. The hind legs held up the beast and police with a great stance. Those legs weren’t horses legs, they looked like those belonging to a grizzly bear. The chest of the beast was skeletal. Crimson poured out. I found the will to move and ran I did along with the buildings down the street. I sensed my destination could not be further from me. I broke out in a run and ran as fast as I could not worrying or ashamed of how I appeared to onlookers from windows or balconies in the barren street. The barren street, how strange that was to me in a city that never slept, in a city that never ended the party.
I stopped for a breather. I felt exasperated. It’s been months – no years – since I exercised I’ll admit or it could be the shots of tequila and Hurricanes. I stared ahead to see the next street sign. It wasn’t what I was looking for, it couldn’t be too much further. The bartender said it was only a few blocks.
There was a growl.
A dog? It could have been a dog, I’ll admit. But I didn’t take any chances and I hurried along. The growl was louder. The snarl curled my body and made my arm hairs rise. My ears were disapproving, too. I nearly covered them with my hands. I wish I had my headphones. But I lost them. Those cordless things always went missing. The growl was behind me.
I went into a store nearby. The lights were dim. I sniffed a dead skunk. Turning my back to the door I went into the shop. It was a head shop. One of those hippie’s joints. I saw a shape in the back, not a human. Not a dog. But the growl was most certainly there. I peered back into the shop. Furthering myself in, like being pushed by an unseen presence. I took a step back. I fought against something. Reaching my hand behind me I couldn’t feel anything or anyone. I turned around and hit a wall. Something that wasn’t there before. I lowered my hand from my face, blood covering it. I ran towards the growl in the back. The room to the side was shut but I heard noises. It wasn’t the growl. It was moaning. Moaning and fun. Or murder? I ran out the back of the shop into an alley. The sky was purple! No. the air was purple. The atmosphere was purple. I can’t explain it. I felt imprisoned in a bubble or a purple balloon. Like I wore sunglasses distorting the color of all I saw.
The horses were there, in the alleyway. Coming in. They stood on their hind legs with their jaws wide open and teeth as machetes pointed at me, hurrying towards me. I turned left away from the horses and ran as fast as my hungover feeling legs could run. I ran and ran and ran. The hooves of the horse, those grizzly hooves, stomped and pounded on the pavement. Clattity clattity clattity was the sound I heard. The jaws clenching and the horse grunting like a hyena eating its meal. I ran and ran and ran. The beast was nearing me and my heart couldn’t take it. I couldn’t take it. I wished for all this to be over.
I saw no exit out of the alleyway. The clouds darkened above more so than before. Darker than any street I’ve seen. The growl was loud. Nearing me. The clattity clattity clattity of the horses grizzly hooves followed. The buildings closed in. The balconies bore hundreds of people wearing masks. I stopped. The horse stopped. The clattity clattity clattity stopped. The growl stopped. I stared at the balconies. The masks. Oh, the masks! They were my friends! They were my family! My ex-boyfriend even! No. My ex-boyfriends! Each of them was there. My ex-friends were there. Everyone I ever knew stood on the balconies laughing and pointing their mauling fingers at me. No, they weren’t fingers. They were claws. I knew underneath the masks were no friends and families or anyone I ever knew. They were masks! Skin masks! How they got them I never knew or never wanted to know! Suddenly, they threw beads down at me. Tens of them, then hundreds of bead necklaces. I threw and shrugged them off of me. The masked people ceased their movements. Their claws lowered. Wings protruded from their backs and they rose into the air. Snarling at me.
I ran with the wind to the unforeseen end of the dark alleyway followed by the clattity clattity clattity of the grizzly hooved horse. The growl returned and returned in force. The buildings inched towards me and closing in. I couldn’t breathe. Oxygen felt like it was being sucked out of the place like a vacuum. Like I was in space. I ran as fast as my legs could run and felt I would run as far as my legs could take me always being followed by the clattity clattity clattity of the grizzly hooved horse and that growl. That growl worsened and wounded my ears. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to give up. I wanted to drop. I wanted to drop dead right there on the pavement but I kept running.
The walls of the buildings reached my flailing arms. I felt the cold brick and I tucked my arms in as I ran. The masked creatures flew above snarling and hurling insults at me. “Dead meat running!” “You’re weak!” “Eat the fat!” “Pigs can’t fly but they can run!” “Dead girl running, get her, get her!” They screamed and snarled. I ran! And the creatures followed. They lowered themselves to just above my head. I could feel their breath. I could smell it and it was worse than vomit, urine, and beer mixed. They screamed and snarled until my ears bled. “Beads demand reward! Beads demand reward!” I knew not what they wanted. I ran until I tripped over the bead necklaces they threw in spades. I hit the pavement face first and stared at the necklaces. They weren’t beads at all but black and white balls. They were eyeballs! Staring at me! I tossed them to side and forced my hands into the ground raising my body and getting back on my feet.
I damn near closed my eyes as the walls came in, the creatures hung above, and the following sound of clattity clattity clattity as I heard the growl just ahead. I could sense it now in front of me as the alleyway was ending. I didn’t dare look at disappointment if it continued on, but I felt it ending. The growl was ahead.
Opening my eyes I saw it. The source of the growl. It was my parents. My parents were not normal. They were animals, beasts, on all four growling at me. I never stopped. I never stopped to even think about it. I ran to them as fast I ever ran before and I leaped as I never leaped before. My eyes were closed. I never looked, I never saw what came of the grizzly two-legged horse, or the creatures above, or the parental growling dogs. But I leaped and made it into my hotel bed covered with blankets at seventy degrees in temperature. The TV was on to the Discovery channel and I never questioned it or revealed it to my friends. But lying in bed I glanced out the hotel window and captured a sight of those masked creatures hovering above outside where I laid, and the grizzly hooved horse standing saliently below, and the parental growling beast sitting in wait for my next reveal in the French Quarter night. I never ventured out at night in New Orleans. Not ever. I spent the entirety of the next day laying alone in the hotel room telling my friends I was under the weather. When we left two days later I peeked from the backseat of the car to see the abysmal blackened street that filled my nightmares with horrors I never imagined and I failed to see, not once, that street nor sign, either there or later on a map, the street called Fonce Ruelle.