Img by Adrian Borda
At the same time, some 240 miles away, Julian shivered as the mist rolled in off the river, creeping around the shell of the old LeBoux mansion like a living blanket, robbing light and only spotlighting the most ghoulish of the ancient oaks. The haunted house sat on a lot beside the Domino Sugar factory that pumped out an industrial rhythm whose pounding bellows would have been ideal music if Bela Lugosi were to suddenly appear.
“Aaah!” Julian screamed and flapped his hands like a bird trying to take off as Buck tapped his shoulder. “Oh my God, you scared the hell out of me!”
Julian noticed that like himself Buck was dressed in all black. Instead of the enormous white John Wayne hat he wore an equally large black one.
Julian sneered, “What held you up? A tough night of riding German Shepherds at the Oompa Loompa rodeo?”
Undaunted, Buck came back with, “What’s up with the fake eyelashes and makeup? Are you Judy Garland the grave robber?”
Julian realized that even though he had changed his clothes after performing his weekly show at the Starlight, he had only half transformed back into his masculine alter ego. He made like was going to punt kick the little guy.
Buck’s hand quick drew a taser and made a spark that lit up the mist. “I wish you would,” he threatened, holding it up to Julian’s waist.”Your balls would light up like a street lamp.”
“Will you two quit playing around? You’re going to attract attention. We’re supposed to be inconspicuous.” Tin Man Taz walked up to them unnoticed in the fog, giving the androgynous giant and the defensive dwarf pause to put the voice with the figure before them.
Taz was carrying three shovels over his shoulder clad in a red and orange Hawaiian shirt above a pair of baggy yellow shorts and yellow patent leather Nikes. It must have taken a sandblaster to remove the silver spray paint from the Tin Man. Taz sported a little afro with a red tint to it and his already light skin was almost pale yellow from the immense SPF factor of the silver paint.
“I didn’t know you were a redhead.” Julian stared incredulously.
“Redhead? I thought you were black.” Buck said just as incredulously.
“I am black. Wanna see my ID? My Mom’s creole. That’s where I get my olive complexion.”
“Olive? Hell, you mean yellow! And you call that outfit inconspicuous? For who, a bullfighter?”
“Well, I didn’t want to look like I was trying to steal something. Let’s go. I want to get this over with.”
They walked through a dense veil of fog and weaved through scattered trees that stood like well flowered dance-less partners on a macabre dance floor while the old sugar mill beat out a sinister serenade.
“So what are we looking for?” Buck asked while smacking his flashlight that kept going out.
“A tree,” Taz snapped.
“Well, I see a bunch of trees,” Buck fired back.
“I think this is the one.” Julian shined his light on a dead tree that surely must have been a lord of the forest when it was alive, but now it was a massive gnarl of knots and twists. The once majestic limbs had become wretched arms reaching to the sky in agony.
“It looks like it is in pain,” Tin Man Taz said, staring up at the petrified oak.
“The Prince said there would be a square on the ground where grass wouldn’t grow and flies wouldn’t even land. Let’s find it.”
The trio broke off, searching the ground with Buck occasionally smacking his defunct flashlight.
“Found it,” Buck called out. His beam pointed to a two foot square where a rank and file of ants carrying bits of nourishment in a neat line that made a neat ninety degree turn when they reached the square as if avoiding an invisible wall. All three beams shined at the phenomenon and agreed.
“The Prince said, with your backs to the river, walk twenty paces.” Taz, whose pace was neither a giant’s, nor jockey-sized, stepped off the paces and then stopped. “This is the spot. Let’s do some grave robbing.”
As Taz and Julian began digging, Buck took a bottle of black liquid and used it to make a large circle around the site, as per the Prince’s instructions.
“This is what I don’t understand. That spell is supposed to keep this girl out of the circle because she might try to harm us…”
“Yeah, that’s what is sounds like.” Julian said, shoveling a load of dirt out of the hole that had rapidly begun to take shape.
“But we are IN the circle and we are digging her up. Won’t we be in here WITH her?”
Julian stopped and wiped his brow. “Yeah, I was a little fuzzy on that myself.”
“Well, I don’t believe in any of this crap. I bet there won’t be anything down here and I am sure the only thing that might try to get us is the levee police if they see us digging this hole.”
“Wait. If you don’t believe in spells, why did you owe the Prince in the first place? Obviously he sold you a spell that must have worked, because you are here paying for it.”
Buck shook his head. “It’s been so long ago it could have just been luck.”
“Is it when you won the seven races in one day?”
“At one time I was just a buck boy, which means you exercise the horses. Well, after a year, someone took a chance and let me ride in a race.”
“And you won?” Taz guessed.
“Hell no. I was slow and I thought they were going to have to send out a search party for me.”
“But you eventually started to win, right?” Julian pressed in between shovels.
“No. Twelve times in a row I was dead last.”
“What changed all that?”
“Back then I used to drink and, to tell you the truth, it was the only thing I was good at. I know it’s going to be hard for you two to imagine, but an entire life of being below average is hardly worth living. So, I decided to end it.”
The other two stopped digging to listen. They were in a hole about 5 feet deep.
“Since I couldn’t win a race I barely made enough to survive, so buying a gun to shoot myself was out of the question.”
“So what did you do?” Taz asked, entranced.
“I was staying at the Midtown in Tulane, so I walked back to the train tracks and after half a fifth of Wild Turkey, I decided to step in front of a train. Sure enough, here come a silver Amtrak barreling down the track like a sixty mile an hour brontosaurus. I closed my eyes and stepped into destiny.”
“Hold up. You got hit by a train?” Julian had continued digging.
“No, but I did step in front of one.”
“Why didn’t you get hit?” Taz breathed.
“Well, I don’t know how they slipped up on me, could be ‘cause I was drunk, but as I stepped out that big ogre with the one eye snatched me out of the air by my jacket. I was so close that train knocked the heel off my boot.”
“So that’s why you owed the Prince?”
“Owed him? I was pissed off! I owe him because he told me if I went to work the next day he’d offer me a deal. A favor for a favor. The rest is history. The next day I won seven races in a row. After that I had a name so people let me ride the good horses and I continued to win.”
“So then, why don’t you believe in magic?”
“Cause I think I was good all along. I just didn’t have the good horses. That first race, a jockey got sick and I got to ride a Pat O’Brien horse. Since I won, it was like a domino effect.”
“But you think you just happened to get a winning horse? The other guy just happened to get sick?” Taz led.
“It don’t have to be magic. The Prince knew Mr. Pat. He was a big deal in the Catholic church. Christ, he’s practically a saint. The Prince is thick as thieves with the priests. The jockey game is all in who you know, and the Prince knows people.”
A hollow boom silenced the doubtful dwarf and echoed like a bass drum as Julian’s shovel hit wood.
Taz leaned down and started clearing dirt off the box. He said, “Looks like you’re wrong about one thing, Buck.”
“Is it a coffin?” Buck’s voice broke up.
Julian replied, “Two coffins buried side by side, just like he said.”
They dug around and cleared the coffins. Buck felt a chill creep up his spine as he realized that the grave site was silent. “Why is it so quiet?” Buck whispered.
The night had lost the chugging of the sugar mill. Even the crickets and locusts were silent.
Taz looked at his watch. “It’s almost eleven. The factory shuts down for shift change at eleven.”
“Well, here goes nothing.” Julian pried open the casket.
Buck felt torn. He was too short to climb down into the grave, but he suddenly felt naked and alone looking down at the grave robbers. He covered his face with his hands but peeked through his fingers like a kid at a horror movie. “Is it her?”
“No. This is the mulatto girl, “ replied Julian.
“How is this…?? It’s an abomination!” declared Taz.
“What? What is it?” Buck dropped his barely working flashlight into the hole at the sight of the girl. Even though the casket had rotted away, the interior was perfect and so was the body. Even though Nikki Ledger has been lying in her grave for almost a century and a half, her dainty pre-teen complexion was clear. She looked serene and peaceful. The flabbergasted felons felt she could open her eyes at any second.
“C-c-close it p-please,” stuttered Buck.
Julian shook his head and let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “We have to open the other one, anyway.”
Somewhere in the distance church bells rang. They knew it was eleven.
There is a theory that the world we live in is only one layer of the whole multiverse of dimensions that all natural and supernatural life occupy. Ghosts or phantoms are entities that can move in between more than one of these realities. In one of these realities, one in which George was almost trapped, it is perpetually 1867. In this reality, or dimension, the St. Vincent Orphanage is a place of rescue, filled with children. It’s a place that brought Isabella LeBoux great pleasure in life and a place that occupies most of her time in death. She had picked out little Nikki from there when she was five and Nikki was only two. Marjorie LeBoux had brought the little girl home and made her part of the family. Everything in this dimension was just like Izzy remembered it. Just like she had done a thousand times before, she lifted a pretty pale faced cherub of an orphan out of a crib and enticed the baby into giggles with goo goo faces. Then the priests of St. Mary’s over on Camp Street struck the eleven o’clock bell and the giggles turned to screams of bloody murder. Every baby that gazed upon Izzy’s normally dewy white skin shrieked in horror. A nun in the corner looked at Izzy and dropped the baby she was holding and let out a blood curdling cry of fear.
Izzy spun around, believing some horror must have been behind her, but instead, she shrieked at her own reflection glaring back at her in fear from a mirror on the wall. There was no pore-less porcelain reflection, only a decayed lip-less mummy whose teeth were exposed and sinister.
As Julian pried the lid off her coffin and the lit flashlights lit another body that looked like it could be a sleeping girl, Isabella knew what was happening.
“How do I get the fingernail off?” Julian asked squeamishly.
“Just pull it off!” snapped Taz.
“But, I thought it be a mummy. This… I.. It looks like she could… It’s not just going to come off.”
Buck pulled out a leatherman from his belt and flipped it around until it was a pair of pliers. “Here. Use this. Just hurry, I have a bad feeling.”
While Julian was kneeling down trying to work up enough nerve to pull the girl’s fingernail off, Taz pulled out his pocket knife to get a lock of her hair. He reached for her hair and the whole top of her head came off. “It’s a wig. She doesn’t have any hair!”
“Well, take it. The fingernail will have to do.” Julian gripped the girl’s nail with the pliers and yanked with all of his powerful frame. It made a cracking sound as he pulled off the corpse’s nail.
“AAAAAAAAAAA!” screamed the ghost of Izzy as she hit an invisible wall encircling her grave.
The grave robbers recoiled in fear. Buck fainted on the ground.
“YOU!” said the monstrous form of Izzy. She beat on the invisible barrier with both fists, one of which was missing a fingernail.
Julian and Taz realized that they were safely trapped inside the circle and hurriedly began to fill in the grave.
Goosebumps went up his spine as the specter said his name. “These other two are gonna get theirs, but I’m gonna kill you! You’ve already been dead once and that worthless wizard won’t save you this time!”
“Don’t blame me, I’m just doing my job!” Julian braved the real-life horror movie he found himself in. Izzy began to fade as her grave was filled in. She also returned to her normally striking beauty. She began to skip around the circle like she was playing hopscotch.
“Three dead men were robbing a grave,
“One fell down because he wasn’t real brave.”
Buck came to and sat up. Izzy crouched down right in front of him. “You know this circle will only last until sun up.”
Julian, seeing Buck about to panic, said, “You can’t touch us as long as we wear these.” He held up the amulet.
She began skipping again.
“The angel gave magic,
“So ghosts can’t touch them.”
Buck started to run, but Taz grabbed his arm, the hole now half filled in. “Don’t do it.”
The girl leaned so close that her black ringlets started to singe from the magic of the barrier. “Boo,” she whispered.