Low along the ground of Pirates Alley, right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, a portly brown river rat filtered its way through the debris on the street. Since Hurricane Katrina, the vermin population of New Orleans exploded. As a result, the crowds of people that made their way down the alley overlooked the rat’s presence. This allowed it to forage for food in broad daylight and without interruption, without fear. After turning over banana peels and picking up peanut shells, it moved on. Comfortable with its position in the world, the rat quickly made its way down the alley and into the main street. Keeping low and rounding the corner, it scurried down another long dark alley, up some old rock steps and through a hole that was big enough for a Chihuahua in the bottom of an old wooden door. He barely fit through it.
Once inside, it maneuvered its way between bottles crammed with dried herbs and flowers, jumped over stings of beads and bones, gracefully wiggled through a maze of spider webs, and finally found its hovel beneath the ancient oak cabinet.
It was dark in the small dungeon-like room. It was lit only by a few small candles on the table. Incense burned in a pot next to the warm glow adding to the room’s strangeness with its drifting clouds of smoke and aroma. The room was cold, shrewd.
Athanase was a tall, bony wisp of a man. His true age was undetectable yet he looked worn and experienced. As he sat in silence at the table in the center of the room, he laid his battered tarot cards scrupulously in a spread before him. Nicholas, a shorter, slightly well built boy just shy of twenty looked on with eyes wide in wonderment as sweat seeped down his temples. His hands shook. He had no business being there. He knew that full well, yet the yearning for answers kept him glued to the chair. The need for them boiled in his stomach.
In deep thought, Athanase reached up to stroke the alligator tooth necklace that hung loosely around his neck. His hiss like voice moaned in disapproval as he rolled the tooth between his boney fingers. His nails were long and black as pitch. The flickering of the candles almost said “tisk, tisk” beside them and Nicholas swore he could make out discerning faces in the scented air.
It was all the poor boy could do to not piss his pants as anticipation built to an intolerable level. Nicholas squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, as he fought the urge to run and wiped his sweat with his shirt sleeve.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bony man spoke. “My dear boy,” his voice seemed to waft from his mouth like the smoke from the incense. “You’re greatest fears are in fact a reality.” The candles flickered and almost went out as Athanase accentuated the last syllable.
Nicholas rocked in his seat, trying to get a better look at the terrifying face behind the veil of smoke. “My … my fears?” he asked as he sucked in his breath. The words almost came out backwards.
“Yes. Your girlfriend…let me see…her name is Melinda...,” he said as he rolled the tooth between his fingers again. “She’s not in love with you.” Athanase said this part quickly as he wave his hand in the air as if dismissing her feelings. “Ah, she’s in love with your friend...um...Thomas. Yes, Thomas.”
The boy swallowed the grapefruit lump in his throat. “A...any…anything else?” he asked, afraid of the answer. After all, this fortuneteller had all the names right.
“Yes. You have a dark spirit influencing you…keeping you from success. Hindering you from your goals.”
“What? What are you talking about? Wha...what can I do about that?” Tears started to pool in his eyes.
“I have a spell,” Athanase groaned as he reached for two bottles on the counter near him, one filled with some clear liquid and another with some sort of dried plant. “Listen carefully as you must remember everything very clearly.” He swallowed. “Only on a full moon, while you are out in its full light, take these herbs and place them in the bottle of potion. Hold the mixture up toward the full moon for a full minute and chant Thou Demon presence, be no more! Say it thrice then carry the bottle with you...always. It’s very important not to shake the bottle.” His cold hand touched the boy’s as he handed the items to him causing the boy to want to vomit.
Nicholas nodded quickly as he jumped up and ran from the room, nearly tearing the door from its hinges as he went.
A slow, evil smile crept across Athanase’s face revealing dark putrid teeth. He licked his bony fingers and dowsed both candles. The room fell completely dark.
Nicholas tore down the alley as fast has he could go, stumbling on his clumsy feet with every other step. He ran smack into his girlfriend, Melinda, when he made it to the corner. She was waiting for him to exit the alley right where he left her. She didn’t want to go down there herself with him citing that it was too scary.
“How’d it go?” she asked as she watched him try to stand up straight.
“We’ll talk later,” he said, breathless. “Let’s get as far away from this place as possible. He grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her forward.
“I told you not to...Hey, you’re hurting me,” she growled at him.
Nicholas didn’t pay attention. He kept marching on, trying to put distance between himself and Athanase Leveque. Right now, he didn’t care what Melinda was saying. He didn’t care that he squeezed the life out of her arm. He wanted to get back to the hotel. Back to where Thomas and Ivy waited for them. He wanted to clear this up for good.
Melinda dropped her shopping bag in the street somewhere along the way. She couldn’t get Nicholas to stop long enough for her to turn back and get it. She was determined to make him replace the souvenirs that she bought for her little sister. If only she could get him to let go of her blasted arm! “Let me go!” She screamed. No luck. Nicholas drug on.