Two lumbering spindly men in black suits sit on one side of a table in a frigid interrogation room. Both wear black Trilby hats. They have the whitest skin Vincent has ever seen. Dark blue veins are visible at their temples, on their hands, and around their eyes. The corrections officers are told to beat it. Vincent guesses they’re FBI or CIA, or that they came from Area-51. Maybe they just came from the Stennis Space Center. Vincent had told no one the actual story of how his wife and her lover died. He’s curious how these men know that anything out of the ordinary happened.
“Mr. LaRoche, you need to explain your story to us. We don’t care how bizarre it is. Just tell us.”
“Can I get a cigarette?” Vincent asks.
“We’ll get whatever you want as long as you talk to us.”
“Alright then,” says Vincent. “I’ll tell you what happened. But you won’t believe me.”
“We’ll believe you.” The man doing all the talking waves his hand toward the second man, and the second man leaves the room. “Mr. Brown is going to get your cigarettes. Please, while we wait, start your story.”
“I’ll tell you. I been waiting on my appeal for eight years. Eight years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. We’re, all of us, in solitary confinement on death row at The Farm. We ain’t even got air condition. I been sweating in a cell the size of a tiny bathroom with no window for eight years, waiting to know when I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair- me dying, I mean. They don’t really give you the chair no more. Gruesome Gertie was retired in the Seventies. The death’s supposed to be more humane now, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit?
“They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He cries so much, his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.
“Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. ‘God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,’ I holler to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma.
“The guy on the other side of me is Frank Aucoin. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his spooge was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up, and he shits himself on the regular. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.
“I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to the Chamber, and that was Howard Saucier, The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two male sex workers by slicing them down the middle.
“Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was scared because he was one jovial motherfucker; that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t deranged, he’d be a cool guy to hang with. He was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to Lucifer. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes.
“Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real big ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. ‘If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,’ she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well, maybe I am a dipshit. But it didn’t do nothing to save her in the end, so fuck her and her vocabulary.
“Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. ‘I just wanted a taste,’ Howard said.
“He went to juvenile, but they had to let him go when he turned twenty-one. While he was locked up in juvenile detention, he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. ‘I came in my pants,’ he said.
“I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of the stories I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. Still not as hot as it gets in here during the summer, though. Howard told me one time, ‘I can get behind a God who persecutes His own creations. Divine retribution.’ Howard was real big on making people pay for what they done.
“He liked to fuck with the guards, too. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle-up on him. It riled everybody up when that happened. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck- just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him and they threw him back in his cell after roughing him up pretty good. I overheard them saying they didn’t want to have to send him to medical. We was all on lock-down after that.
“Howard was little calmer when he was let out of his cell again. That wasn’t too long before he moved down the line. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us when an inmate is moved for execution. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time, and he never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field for the crows and turkey vultures, for all I know. I figured he went to the Chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did, a little. He never done me nothing.”
“Mr. LaRoche, could you please just get to the details about what happened the day you killed your wife and her lover?”
“I’m getting to it!” Vincent snaps. “I need a minute to remember. And I AIN’T murdered nobody. Get that right. Now what was I saying? Oh yeah. . . “ Vincent lights his third cigarette.
“Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession. I don’t trust him. Looks like he’s probably a pedo. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty because I knew I was going down either way. I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.
“After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty degrees in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?
“My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks he can, anyway. . . But I been here eight years, and I don’t want to go to general population. I don’t want to work in the fields. Besides, I don’t share my cell with nobody. I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.
“I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But now I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody spooge, like Frank? I might as well die here. Got to die someplace.
“‘Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,’ Art always says. ‘I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years. Louisiana has the highest rate of commuting death sentences.’
“Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So, I don’t say nothing.
“I went to court about six months ago. It was summer. The needle on the outdoor thermometer was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. My balls was wet and hot,” Vincent laughs. “And, they was sticking to my thighs.”
“My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more, seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color, and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.
“The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I ain’t had nothing to write, so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I AIN’T one!
“I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back when we started dating. I bet that asshole Nate was the one told her to cut it. ‘He stimulates my mind,’ she said one time. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating, I thought.
‘Your honor, members of the jury,’ Art said, ‘I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. Vincent LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-seven was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary insanity if you will, brought on by blind fury and the heat of passion.’
“I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. That wasn’t her real face. Nobody would believe it. But I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t lying. I can’t really say what I walked in on the day I supposedly became a murderer.”
“Yes, finally! Tell us what occurred just that day, Mr. LaRoche,” says one of the men in dark suits, peevish and exacerbated.
“I had left work early because I was feeling bad. I was feeling bad for a while, and Mallory was giving me some weird ass medicine every night. It made me real dizzy, and then I fell asleep fast. The liquid was thick and red, and sometimes it looked like it had bugs wiggling in it. Mallory told me not to be stupid. There wasn’t no bugs in it. It was just pieces of herbs. I don’t know nothing about herbs or none of that shit. She gave me the medicine. She was my wife, so I took the damn medicine. Even though it didn’t do nothing to stop my stomach from hurting and bubbling all the time.
“Like I said, I went home early that day. There was a second car in the driveway when I pulled up. I figured it was Nate’s car. I got pissed off, more mad than I ever been in my life. I took my .9mm Beretta out of the glovebox in my pickup.
“When I walked in the house, I heard nauseating sounds coming from mine and Mallory’s bedroom. Banging sounds, squashy sounds, and growling. It sounded like two komodo dragons fighting to the death in a tub of Jell-O. I got my pistol ready and kicked in the door.
“Two giant reptile-looking alien creatures was in my bed. They was huge. Their skin was a shiny, pitch-black color. They was covered in slime, too. I don’t know if these alien things were fucking or what.
“I screamed ‘What the fuck!’ at the top of my lungs. I should have kept my stupid mouth shut and ran out the room.
“The two creatures turned around on me, and I ain’t going to lie, I pissed my pants. They were snarling. They had colossal sharp fangs and teeth. Their mouths looked like panthers’ mouths except with more teeth, and loads of thick, syrupy saliva dripping out all over. It was a dark, dark red color. I noticed one of them had a gold necklace stuck to its scaly skin. It was the gold necklace I bought Mallory on our honeymoon in Panama Beach. Mallory always loved seahorses, and I found this gold necklace with a seahorse on it in a tourist shop. One that sold real jewelry. It wasn’t no kind of gold-plated fake crap.
‘Mallory?’ I choked. The thing flung its massive long tail at me. It barely missed me. I fell back onto the wet carpet. It was sticky with whatever alien reptile slime was coming from monster Mallory and monster Nate. I was afraid it was going to eat through my skin or something. The monster Nate creature leapt toward me. I rolled out of its way just enough where it couldn’t grab me with its great big, clawed. . . I guess. . . fingers? It stood up on two legs and hissed at me so loud it sounded like a pit full of pissed off anacondas. Funky slobber landed all over my face, and my arms, which I was using to shield my face. After a second of being scared shitless, I remembered I had the .9mm. I raised the gun, shaking, and pulled the trigger. I hit the Nate thing right in its chest. It shrieked and started to bleed, and then I knew no matter what them things were, bullets hurt them. I held my shooting position and let go more shots into the Nate reptile creature. I hit it in the face with a couple of shots, and that did the most damage. The monster toppled backwards and cracked its skull open against the wall. Blood and bright yellow mucus, or whatever that shit was, poured out of the holes in its face, head, and chest. The thing’s whole body turned fuzzy, static-like. I watched it begin to disintegrate. It looked like it was turning into a trillion gnats- or black sperms swirling in the air. Then the black, swirling sperms disappeared. Like something off one of them stupid late night horror movies that you just turn on to laugh at. Then human Nate’s body was on the floor, full of bullet holes.
“The Mallory creature caught me with its long tongue. Sticky maroon slime soaked my shirt where its tongue was holding me. The stuff looked like blood but real thick. My shooting arm was still free, and my Beretta was still in my hand. Good thing I grew up shooting. The Mallory thing’s tongue was squeezing the hell out of me, crushing my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I raised my pistol, somehow my hand was steady the second time, and I emptied my clip into the monster’s head. The thick, red, syrupy liquid with tiny things wiggling in it- and some kind of brain matter that looked like bright yellow oatmeal- splattered against the wall. Crimson and yellow streaks ran down the wall and puddled on the carpet. I thought of how Mallory always complained that she hated them white walls. ‘These walls are so bland. You need to paint them,’ she always said. The same thing that happened with monster Nate’s body happened to monster Mallory. After a few minutes, I was looking down at my own wife’s dead body full of my bullets.
“I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. I sat on the porch, shaking. I lit a Camel, and I waited. I already knew what it would look like. I knew I didn’t have no defense. Who was going to believe my story?
“The cops had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it over the porch railing into the grass. Two of them snuck me, and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the wood porch with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.
“Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his talking. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and I thought of my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma. But, whatever the fuck I killed in my bedroom that day, it wasn’t Nate.
“Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.
“Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. I didn’t say nothing. I wasn’t going to say their daughter turned into some slimy alien monster lizard beast. Mallory’s best friend, who I always hated, told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds. She asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. ‘Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,’ read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. ‘Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,’ read another one. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. ‘Small Town La. Man Charged with Murder,’ read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected, but it was too late because they already seen it. Maybe if I had told anybody what I saw, I could have got an insanity plea.
“The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory’s and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.
“I stood up and turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt. ‘I’m real sorry, Momma,’ I whispered.
“‘We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,’ said Art.
“My momma looked up at me. Makeup ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face. I used my thumbs to wipe away the black streaks under her eyes. Art can appeal all he wants, but I know it won’t matter. Not just because there ain’t no way any jury will decide in my favor. Because I been feeling sick again, real bad. When I go to the toilet, there’s a whole lot of thick, sticky red liquid with some kind of herbs that look like bugs wriggling in it left behind.”
I killed Frankie Costello. My friends accepted the lie when I told them I couldn’t find him the night of the murder. My account was further validated when no one found him after that night. No one found him because I tossed his body from the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Eastern New Orleans. The Green Bridge, as locals know it, was perhaps once a jade color but had faded to a dull gray.
Disposing of Frankie was easy. He was hardly five feet five inches tall, and he weighed a mere one hundred and fifty pounds. It was part of the reason he victimized women, women like Giselle, which got him into the ugly predicament with me.
Frankie was well respected in the criminal community. He had a lot of money and dangerous associates. Associates like myself. The old adage of keeping one’s friends close and enemies closer was wise advice, and it was the reason I associated with Frankie. He owned the club where Giselle danced, and he pimped his girls for extra money.
Giselle stopped working for him once I’d arrived on scene. I’d put her in my show, as a dancer and back up singer. She was very talented but not formally trained. In her late teens, she became involved with an older man who promised to put her on stage. He’d failed to mention that the stage had a pole. He was also an associate of Frankie Costello’s, and he sold his products out of the club. He and Giselle were married for a short time before he suffered a fatal overdose. Frankie took over his business.
Giselle’s late husband had introduced her to the finest heroin imported by the Persian market, and she was responsible for getting me hooked on the stuff. It’s why Giselle was at the club with Frankie that night, the night Oscar and Felicia found her hunched and sobbing on my porch swing with the dark purple blemish they’d originally attributed to my own unruly and violent temper.
I didn’t like dealing with Frankie because he was a weasel, and he had more than one cop in his pocket. Giselle and I were desperate on the aforementioned evening because the DEA made a major bust at the port earlier in the month. Frankie was the only person in the city with anything.
Giselle went to the club alone. There was an altercation between her and Frankie over money he believed she owed him. Giselle, being the outspoken Creole woman she was, responded to Frankie’s accusation with outrage. Their shouting match quickly became physical.
She arrived back at my house in tears with a rosy and swollen cheek and a bruised eye. Felicia and Oscar came upon her crying on my front porch and then presented her to me. My reaction eliminated any thought they had of my being responsible. It did, however, raise fears that I would overreact.
After I saw what he’d done, I went to the club and interrupted Frankie’s card game. I pulled him into the alley and beat him into unconsciousness. I hog-tied him before dropping his body into the trunk of my car. I drove from his French Quarter club to New Orleans East, and dumped him from the bridge. Maybe I overreacted.
I drove the interstate for hours. Partly because I’d already formulated my lie, that I’d searched all night but hadn’t found Frankie. I was so shaken, though, I was afraid my guilt would betray me. I hadn’t taken a life in eons. Those years felt like part of a past life, intangible and surreal as a fuzzy nightmare. I’d brought the nightmare back to the forefront of my consciousness in vivid color and 3-D.
My cell phone rang nonstop for the first hour, and after I failed to answer, it stopped. When the darkness began to fade and the sky became light again, I decided to turn around and make my way home. On the way I stopped for coffee and to stretch my legs.
My hands shook as I poured sugar into my cup. No one but me was sitting at the counter.. The bored, tired waitress paid me little attention. It was twelve hours since I’d shot up, and my brain and body were suffering.
My phone rang again. Felicia’s number. I contemplated answering, but I was distracted by a voice. I turned on my stool, and there stood a young woman beside me. She was wearing my band’s last tour t-shirt. I thought she wanted an autograph or something, but I was dizzy and my brain wasn’t absorbing everything she was saying. I scribbled my name on a napkin and pushed it toward her as I stood from the stool. The young lady remarked on my sallow and ashen appearance, and I mumbled something about lack of sleep and malnutrition – common maladies of life on the road. My phone rang again as I was walking out of the diner, the young lady trailing behind me.
“Someone’s really trying to find you,” she remarked. “Your phone’s been ringing for like ten minutes.”
“Yes, finding someone. Right,” I said. She’d given me an idea.
She looked at me with a confused expression.
“Thank you,” I said to her as I got into my car.
Again my phone rang. Giselle calling.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Victor!” Giselle exclaimed. “Where have you been? Please come home.” She sobbed into the phone.
“I’ll be home soon.” Hearing her cry hurt me.
“Did you do it? Did you kill Frankie?” she asked.
I remained silent.
“Victor!” she shouted.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t found him.”
“Tell me the truth,” she sobbed.
“I’m going to look in one last place then I am coming home,” I said.
“Just come home,” she pleaded.
“Soon,” I replied.
We all knew a guy called Romeo who lived downtown. When I say we all knew him, I am referring to Giselle, Frankie’s crew, the police, and myself. I don’t know why they called him Romeo, but his real name was Antoine. His cousin knew people who knew people, and although he wasn’t always guaranteed to have the brown stuff, he was always guaranteed to have an ample supply of fine white stuff. Anything was better than anguish. Since Romeo was an associate of Frankie’s, I was able to further develop my lie. I arrived at Romeo’s apartment about an hour and a half after leaving the diner. I knocked on the door and prepared for my performance.
“Victor? I didn’t expect to see you. I was expecting Frankie,” Romeo said, opening the door.
“When did you speak to Frankie?” I asked, concerned that it was after I’d last spoken to him.
“Last night. He was supposed to be coming for a pick up but he didn’t show,” Romeo replied as we walked into the apartment.
“I’ve been looking for him all night, too. I was hoping you knew where to find him,” I said.
“Fernando heard some guy went and pulled him out of his card game, then he didn’t come back,” Romeo stated.
“Oh,” I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Somebody said it was you,” Romeo added.
“Ha!” I exclaimed. “I fucking wish!”
“Why what happened?” asked Romeo.
“This!” I thrust my cell phone toward Romeo to show him a photo of Giselle’s battered face. I’d taken the photo earlier so that I could show it to Frankie before I killed him. I wanted it to be the last thing he saw.
“Oh wow,” said Romeo, taking the phone from me to get a better look. “Frankie did that?”
“Yes,” I answered while taking my phone back from him. “And if I find him, I am going to return the favor.”
“Frankie has a lot of enemies,” Romeo said. “Seems someone beat you to him.”
“Yes,” I said absent-mindedly as I was still looking at the photo of Giselle. “Seems so.”
“Hey man, you okay?” Romeo disturbed my concentration.
“Actually, I was hoping you could help me out,” I answered.
“Sorry, brother, I don’t have anything,” he replied.
“What about the white stuff?” I asked.
“I’d love to help but I don’t have enough supply right now to…” his voice trailed off when I produced a fistfull of cash. “In that case, how much you need?”
“However much I can get with this,” I said and placed the cash on his coffee table.
Oscar confronted me as soon as I arrived home. I’d pulled into the driveway, through the gate, and around to the back of the house. He was sitting at one of the round, metal tables under the patio beside the pool. I could tell he’d been up all night.
I walked to the table and pulled out a chair to sit beside him. Then I removed a pack of cigarettes from my pocket, took one out, and lit it. Oscar was seething.
“What did you do with him,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked as I dipped the ashes off of my cigarette into a wide, round ashtray fabricated from green agate.
“Don’t play stupid with me, Victor,” Oscar replied.
“Firstly, if you are referring to Frankie Costello, I did nothing with him,” I said.
“No,” I answered. “I searched all night for Frankie, but I didn’t find him.” I was nervous because Oscar could detect deceit. He always knew when I was dishonest.
“You didn’t murder Frankie Costello?” he asked.
“I certainly wanted to! But no, I couldn’t find him.”
Oscar seemed to relax. We sat in silence for several minutes. I finished my cigarette and stood to leave.
“Victor, wait,” said Oscar as I turned to walk away.
“What is it now?” I asked.
“You really were doing so well for a while, and I really hoped that . . .” he trailed off.
“Hoped that what? I was a reformed man?” I scoffed.
“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I was a fool to think I could make a righteous man out of a murderer.”
Oscar looked to me for a response, but I gave none.
“I always thought I was gaining your respect and by having your respect you would be honest with me and at least afford me that courtesy,” he said.
It was hard to look at him. I owed him so much; I owed him my life. I knew I was wrong to deceive him.
“You can go now if you’ve nothing more to say,” said Oscar with disappointment, as if he’d been expecting deeper conversation.. He stood and replaced his chair.
My brain was consumed by images from the night he’d put my life before his own, my rival’s blade to my throat. Oscar’s own weapon reflecting shards of moonlight. I knew I was wrong to deceive him. I owed him so much.
“Wait,” I said.
Oscar turned back around.
“I’ve more to say,” I said, as I sat down and lit another cigarette.
*Note from the author: This story was written in 2014. It was partly inspired by the innumerable hospital stays, operations, procedures, and treatments my son experienced after his brain cancer diagnosis.This story was in no way inspired by or relative to the current COVID pandemic.Any comparability is completely coincidental.
My case is the only one – the only one – that’s been successful. There were so many unsuccessful attempts, so many abominable screw-ups. Not that the victims were even aware of their predicament. They didn’t know the experiments to which they were subjected. I do. I didn’t in the beginning. But later.
Weeks, months, and years are erased from my memory. They weren’t erased. That’s incorrect. The memories were never there. They never existed because my brain was not retaining information. It functioned at only the most primal level.
I don’t want to remember those days. The Delphic Days they were called. A title bestowed upon that era by the then living poets before so many perished, or rather became exanimate. Survivors tell me it went on for years, decades even. Still, some remnants linger about-rancid, fetid corpses moving around in their rancid, fetid corpse way.
I was fresh. Only the freshest were taken into captivity for experimentation. Some claim that experiments were even conducted on humans who were alive and in good health. Those test subjects were supposed to have been converted, on purpose, in desperate endeavors conducted by multiple countries’ government health agencies worldwide.
It wasn’t any country’s government health agency that discovered a cure. That task was accomplished by a team of medical doctors, epidemiologists, biologists, chemists, and a myriad of other specialists working for a non-profit organization. The Revival Operation, almost solely funded by celebrities and other sorts of rich folks who still had money to spend and who didn’t want to morph into putrefying boogie men.
I’d like to specify that I use the term cure loosely. Sure, I am alive, in that I am not dead. It took years for me to reach any kind of semi-healthy state. Life support machines worked my organs, an external device helped regulate my body temperature. My lungs were replaced with lab grown versions. I have a pacemaker. My trachea was invaded by a tube, as was my stomach-for nutrition supplementation. Much of my colon was removed because of necrosis. I suppose consuming human flesh, some of it rotting, isn’t advisable for human digestive health. I’m just regaining my ability to walk without assistance. I’m subjected to ten hours of therapies each week. I’ve had fourteen brain surgeries. I’m partially blind.
Speech therapy is my least favorite. I struggle to grasp language again, and the therapist spends hours force feeding me all sorts of healthy fare. I’d never lost my ability to chew or swallow, but I’d lost my taste for typical human cuisine. I don’t favor the flavored sprays, or lollipops, or even popsicles-too cold. Meat, that’s what I crave. Raw. Bloody, so fresh I could smell the copper scented hemoglobin as it squeezes through my teeth.
They won’t give me any. I noticed the therapists are extra careful near my mouth. I’d only bitten once. It was reflexive, totally. Before our session, the therapist had hamburger for lunch. The primal part of my brain detected the scent. Like a captive reptile that instinctively bites its handler if it smells the scent of its prey on their hands, I sunk my teeth into her soft, well-moisturized flesh.
I don’t remember attacking her. I just remember the euphoric taste of hot blood rushing across my wanting tongue, down my lustful throat. The feel of sinuous tendons and muscle tearing under the pressure of my jaws sent me into a frenzy. She screamed. There was chaos. Large orderlies subdued me while a doctor-or nurse or someone, I don’t remember-injected a needle into my thigh. Serenity followed.
All therapies were suspended for a while after the incident. I was moved out of the commons and into isolation. I understand. Research suggests the likelihood of relapse is ninety percent.
After some time in isolation, I was cleared to resume therapies. My new therapist wears a chainmail glove, and a protective mask that includes a leather neck covering. Despite these necessary, and understandable, precautions the team’s tenacious in their efforts to make me well again. Everyone still living knows what we ghouls are capable of doing. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they’d decided to put a bullet in my brain after that incident.
Too much money is involved in my recovery, though. Too much is riding on my being human again. If I could provide proof that a remedy existed . . . it would be an unprecedented success for the Revivalists. And what a goal? To save the species from extinction. The possibility of regaining lost loved ones, giving parents back their children, and giving children their parents back. Spouses could be reunited. Friends, relatives, lovers could all be together again.
Our critics say we’re giving people false hope. However, hadn’t my treatment worked? I am irrefutable proof; even with my innumerable medical complexities, I am alive. I am human again. I’m handled with the utmost care because I was the Revivalists’ only surviving specimen. I’m given almost anything to make me happy, almost. They even afford me limited freedom, as far as safety allows.
Other patients, many battling their own scars-both physical and psychological-caused by my kind are less than amiable. Animosity, name calling. Monster. I can’t argue with them.
“You belong on a leash,” spits Mrs. Humphrets, a withered, elderly white woman with long white hair and yellowed teeth and skin. At all times an unlit cigarette rests between her lips. Even with my auditory deficit, I hear the COPD rattling her aged lungs. “Look, this thing is out again.” She points at me with a crooked, pale finger.
“Put a muzzle on that thing,” says Jeffrey, a middle-aged dark haired man. He still wears his wedding ring even though he’s many years widowed.
“You should be euthanized, like a dog.” Mrs. Humphrets again. She’s standing nearer to me. Her lungs rattling in their bony cage with each breath.
“Please,” I say, demure. “I understand. I do. Please, don’t be afraid of me.” I reach my hand out, but she slaps it away.
“Eat it, Bitch!”
“Don’t tell her that, she just might,” laughs Jeffery. “How’d my wife taste, Mongrel? Was she good?”
“Jeffrey, I am sorry about your wife. And your family. I had nothing to do with them . . .”
“How dare you mention my family,” he sneers, closing in on me.
I look around for the orderlies. They aren’t supposed to be far away. They’re supposed to be close by when I’m out.
“Why are you here, anyway?” asks another patient. I think his name is Frank or Fred. “You belong in prison for what you’ve done.”
“I haven’t done anything.” Out of the glass double doors I see the orderlies smoking, far into the parking lot. Too far away from me.
“Oh, you haven’t?” asks Mrs. Humphrets. “Liar. You’re a murderer!” She reaches out and shoves me with her feeble arms. Had I been my former self, her slight assault wouldn’t have affected me. In my own infirm condition, however, it’s enough to knock me backwards against the wall.
Rage churns inside my chest. My extremities become numb as adrenaline fills my veins. “You will not shove me!” I growl and lunge forward. Jeffrey or Frank or Fred takes me about the waist and hoists me into the air, slamming me down hard onto the floor. My head strikes the tile with so much force my nose starts to bleed. I hear shouts, maybe the orderlies. Someone’s hand is in my face, another one around my neck.
I do the only thing I think to do; I bite. The hand near my face pulls back, blood drips from it. Its flesh is mangled, muscle exposed. Something hits me hard in the head again. I feel a strange deja vu sensation, but I don’t lose consciousness. My eyes fight against my brain’s instinct to shut down. I look at my attackers’ faces.. I look over their shoulders at the staff. A security officer struggles with a man. A nurse screams into a phone. I gnash my teeth again, but this time I don’t make contact. My defensive act is interrupted by a tremendous pain in my back, left side. My shaking hands reach around to feel the wound, warm fluid flows over my fingers. An object is in my body. I pull it out. My brain gives into unconsciousness.
Termination Report: In reference to Patient 14527 “Jane Doe” compiled by Dr. Theodore Zurich, former Revival Operation Specialist
The efforts of The Revival Operation, although initially successful, proved fruitless. Due to the dangers involved in the research, The Revival Operation was served a cease and desist order signed by the sitting POTUS. The threat of patient relapse is too great. Upon the expiration of the above mentioned patient, she returned to her former feral, cannibalistic state and was terminated via separation of the brainstem and cerebellum from the temporal lobe.
The Revival Operation has been disbanded, and all future experimentation will be conducted by the U.S. Government Sector Z, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as per H.R. Bill Z 001 passed by the 116th Congress of the United States of America.
I suppose with the cherub(s). The plural will explain itself later.
Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Katrina, I only have a few pictures left of Jennifer Elaine. No photos left from our childhood, when she truly resembled a creation of Raphael himself. The artist that is, not the archangel.
Three of us made up “the girls” of our block. We were the only kids who lived on the block the longest. There were others who came briefly and went. Some of whom I am still friends with in adulthood. But the three of us were “the girls.” Sort of like a more homogenous and smaller version of “the them.”
Donnell (myself), Jenny and Amanda. They are twins, fraternal but still very much identical to the human eye. We were the scourge of the 500 block of Community St. in Old Arabi – just blocks away from New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward neighborhood and minutes away from the French Quarter (where much of our teen years were spent). For all intents and purposes, that was our neighborhood. We decided who joined our band of merry miscreants and who didn’t. There were kids from other blocks who later became part of our friend group as teens, but as kids it was just us. We frequently had trouble with a group of boys from the next street over, and I will confidently say we always defended our territory with little effort.
The area from Community Park to the Lebeau Mansion (no longer standing) was ours. We owned it proudly. We rode our bikes to the Mississippi River levee and gazed upon our land. Even if there were other groups of kids who did the same, to us the dominion was ours.
All things pass with time, which I imagine is the natural order of things – if there were a natural order. As we became teenagers, our paths became a great deal disjointed. But we lived across the street from each other. Right across the street. We were still the girls, even if we weren’t always together causing mischief and causing Mr. Otis, the old man who walked his cat on a leash, bouts of agita.
By now you’re wondering where this rambling stream of consciousness goes next. Now I will address the next topic and major intermixture that will help make sense of the finale -my current Good Omens obsession. A novel that somehow I hadn’t discovered until 2019 when it was released as a Prime original series. And which since discovering have fangirled the hardest over in several years.
The three of us, the girls – myself, Jenny and Amanda – discovered Queen at quite a young age. Part of that was probably because of my parents’ vinyl collection from which I acquired several albums. One of them being the original Jazz album with the iconic Bicycle Race photo on the inner part of the sleeve, sadly yet another victim of Hurricane Katrina.
Did every cassette we had turn into Queen’s Greatest Hits? Well, there wasn’t a car to be had as we were children, but my bedroom oddly seemed to work the same magic. There were albums to be listened to and cassettes to be played and CDs didn’t exist yet. This was the Before Times, people. The 1980s.
We even had a mascot, Freddie Flamingo, which was a plush flamingo I’d caught at a Mardi Gras parade and was rather good at singing Don’t Stop Me Now.
Queen was a big part of our lives then, and still. Mine and Amanda’s anyway. . .
On November 18, 2003 my cherub, Jennifer Elaine, went to sleep for the last time. She and her twin both suffered epilepsy. She had a seizure in her sleep and it was her final seizure. Death does come like a thief in the night.
As kids we were all three inseparable, but I would be lying to say I hadn’t shared something with Jenny that was different than what I shared with Amanda. Neither of those being the lesser or greater. Just different. Love for them both, and I wish I could say unconditional because this is where the regret part begins.
But first, I will get to our song. It will clear up a lot to anyone familiar with the Good Omens Prime series, which is very close to the book but has new elements that I connected with on levels much differently.
One of my fondest memories from our childhood was of myself and Jenny, playing without Amanda this day for some reason. She would get mad at us because we tended to gang up on her unnecessarily sometimes. (Sorry, Amanda!) Probably she had had enough of our shit and went home to play Nintendo.
Jenny and I were running around like the little 10 year old maniacs we were in my backyard, around a table my grandparents had under a patio, listening to what I imagine would be considered an “antique” cassette player. I lived in a double. New Orleans people are familiar with the term if others might not be. My parents and I lived in one side, and my grandparents lived in the other side. Basically a duplex, but in New Orleans everything is different than the rest of America. And our housing conforms to our way of life.
We were listening to my Queen’s Greatest Hits cassette, if you can even imagine it, and the song You’re My Best Friend was playing. (This was the Greatest Hits with the purple [or red?] cover that came before the Greatest Hits II with the dark navy cover that included more songs from Queen’s later albums.)
Jenny stopped running, looked straight at me with all the sincerity a person could have, and said to me “Donnell, you’re my best friend.” I don’t recall my response verbatim, but I imagine I said to her that she was my best friend, too.
I only started being able to listen to that song again in the last five or so years. Since Jenny’s passing in 2003, I had skipped over it whenever it came up on my playlist because I couldn’t bear to hear it. That was our song.
As I stated earlier in this piece, once we reached our teens, we grew apart a bit. Boys that weren’t worth it got in the way and stuff got really complicated. My two best friends had always gone to a different school than me, so we obviously had friends from school that were not part of our Community St. gang.
Jennifer was always such a fan of mine. Jenny and Amanda both always had the utmost confidence in me, and Amanda still does. I don’t know why. But before I started writing this, I prayed to Jennifer and asked her for some of that confidence now. This is the hard part. A lot of things happened, memories that I will keep in the sacred tabernacle of my mind. My cherub was tempted down a terrible path. And not by me.
Everyone pretty much accepted I was the evil one. It was known. Jenny was influenced easily, and I was normally the one who did the influencing. But at a point, I distanced myself and someone else came and took my place. Someone truly wicked, not just slightly evil in a cheeky, devilish way. Not someone who’d just sauntered vaguely downward. In our youth, I might have taken advantage of the fact that I could get Jenny to do certain naughty things. If I dared her to do a thing, she did it. She trusted me.
I failed her.
Soon things were cascading out of control, and I didn’t know what to do. None of us really did. But by God, I should have done more. I do hold myself accountable in so many ways. We weren’t angels in our late teens/early-20s. I was a fool. I should have been more assertive with her. Aggressive even. But I felt betrayed for reasons, and we parted ways for a while.
Just days before she passed, I saw her and talked to her for the first time in a long time. I asked her to come over – from my front porch. Her grandmother was ill, and she said she couldn’t at the time but maybe soon. I said OK and went on with life. All I had to do was walk across the street. I could have easily gone over to her house, if she’d have let me. I was foolish and stupid.
That same week she died.
“Love of my life, don’t leave me…”
My Obsession with Good Omens
Let me first start with explaining that I am very prone to fangirling. Already mentioned: The Vampire Chronicles (When we first saw Interview With a Vampire as young teens, we decided I was Lestat and Jenny was Louis, because as I’ve stated, everyone knew I was the more tarnished one.) and The Phantom of the Opera.
Most recently, obviously, Good Omens. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that when I saw this trailer I was instantly interested (also a friend of mine who knows I love Queen brought it to my attention):
Did I read the novel twice in the last month? Yeah. I did.
Have I watched the series thrice in the last two months? Yep.
You know what an almost forty year old woman who still fangirls over things like a teenager discovered? Good Omens animatics on YouTube. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It is. I’ve watched many of them.
I know if she was still here, we’d be all over this. Even as adults. And every time I watch a scene with Crowley and Aziraphale, I think of her.
I think of how we’d both read the novel together, and maybe watch the series together. Although at this point in life, we would both be grown with our own families. I can romanticize my imaginary scenarios. They are only imaginary after all.
Because in the series, Crowley tells disincorporated Aziraphale that he lost his best friend, but **SPOILER ALERT** his best friend returns.
There is no magical happy ending in real life. Real life is raw and uncut. There are no edits. Things we lose are gone. Only to live on in our hearts and memories.
So make it count.
(This blog entry is dedicated to Jennifer Elaine Lapara April 2,1979 – November 18, 2003)