Authors: Melinda Barron
Resplendence Publishing, LLC
Copyright ©2008 by Melinda Barron
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or occurrences, is purely coincidental.
Many thanks to Tiffany and her unending friendship and the perfect way she surrounds me with positive thinking and always makes me see the bright side of things, no matter what. Kudos also to Jess and Leigh, for their sustaining support.
This story is for my sister, Janet. I fell in love with New Orleans during a visit there with her many, many years ago. It was a visit I'll always remember, and cherish. Now arriving, gate one...
New Orleans, Louisiana
Two weeks before Halloween...
"Thank you for coming, Martin. I know this is hard on you."
Martin Vandreen gently squeezed Stacy Jackson's hand. “It's much harder on you. Funerals, they say, are for the living, not the dead. I'm glad I could be here to lend some support."
He watched his friend carefully, waiting for what would come next. The question had to come. It always did. It was the reason he tried to avoid these situations as much as possible.
"Do you see him? My father?"
Martin swallowed a sigh. He'd already decided it would be best to tell Stacy the truth. Of course, lying to her could serve a purpose. It would give her some sort of closure to tell her that yes, he saw her father and he was happy, smiling and standing with loved ones. Or he could just tell her the truth, which had good connotations, also.
"No, I don't see him. That means he's already gone into the light, he's already crossed over.” Martin glanced at his friend, who flashed him a sweet, yet sad, smile. He knew that made her feel better, to know her father had moved on.
Sometimes being a medium was a royal pain in the ass. People expected him to know things, when sometimes it just didn't work that way. Every spirit was different, and when he told people that, they sometimes looked at it as a copout, as if he were a fraud who just couldn't tell them what they wanted to hear.
He was glad Stacy took the truth and didn't push the issue any further. He'd lied to people before, mostly to keep unnecessary truths about their deceased relatives from coming out. But he didn't want to do that to Stacy. She was too sweet.
He looked up at the ornate ironwork that composed the gate at the Orleans Cemetery, an obscure city of the dead sitting on the edge of the French Quarter. He stepped back as the horse drawn carriage made its way through the opening.
He would have to follow it now, have to go in behind Stacy and her other friends, providing comfort to her during the loss of her last known family member. It was the only reason he was here, really. Usually, he avoided funerals like the plague.
Being in the church for the service was one thing, but coming to the cemetery was another thing all together. He knew that once he entered the gate, he would be bombarded by the souls of people who hadn't crossed over, souls seeking his help. As much as he loved being a medium, having that many wayward spirits vying for his attention would drain him, leave him weak and vulnerable. And he didn't like that idea, at all.
He should have brought someone with him, maybe Fletch, or Dev, to help him deal with the local residents. But despite his reservations, he knew it was too late to back out now. Stacy needed him, and he never left a friend in the lurch.
The carriage was inside now, traveling down the uneven path. Martin took Stacy's hand, and they fell into step with the five other mourners, a very pitiful number if you asked him. Those that couldn't make it, either by choice or from prior obligations, had sent flowers, though. There were tons of them around the crypt, large sprays of roses and carnations, and a few green plants that Martin knew would find a home in Stacy's small apartment when this was all over.
Still, he'd expected to see more people. Stacy worked as a barmaid at a popular jazz bar on Bourbon Street. It wasn't even noon yet, and he would think more of her co-workers, or regulars would have shown up. After all, New Orleans was famous for its funerals.
Martin glanced at the small jazz quintet standing nearby, waiting to send Mr. Jackson off in style. Funerals were for the living, true, and you came to show respect, to support the survivors. And right now Stacy needed all the help she could get. Her father's illness had left her deeply in debt, with no one to help her shoulder the load.
They were close to where Mr. Jackson's earthly remains would be laid to rest when it hit Martin that not one spirit had made contact with him. He glanced around, expecting to see one or two hovering nearby, respectfully waiting for the coffin to be carried into the crypt before speaking with the medium who was now in their presence.
There was no one there, absolutely no one.
He'd never been in a cemetery and not encountered a wayward spirit. He frowned and closed his eyes, letting his psychic abilities flow out like little feelers, searching for a wisp of ghostly residue.
Cold invaded his body, wrapping itself around his heart and not letting go. Strong prickles of pain radiated out to his fingers and toes, making his arms and legs burn. He gasped loudly, his eyes flying open, at the sensation of sharp stabbing pain invading his body.
The fellow mourners stared at him, their disapproval evident. He tried to get hold of himself, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, silently reciting mantras to expel whatever it was that had grabbed hold of him. His hands shook, and his legs felt like jelly as he continued to dart surreptitious glances at the ornate crypts and statues set around the cemetery grounds.
There was no spirit in sight, no shape or form, no bright lights or circles of energy.
Martin clawed at the tie around his neck. None of the people around him gave off any indication that something was amiss other than the sadness they felt on Stacy's behalf. The priest waited nearby, worrying the beads on his rosary as Stacy spoke quietly with the undertaker.
He feels it too. That makes two of us.
Martin lashed out at the presence, which tried to invade him. His breath came in short, shallow gasps, and whatever had grabbed hold of his heart was squeezing now. The pain radiating down Martin's arm grew more intense as he clutched at it. He wondered if he would make it to the front gate without having a heart attack.
A better question was whether the evil lurking in this cemetery would let him go; would let any of them go. Martin glanced around again, licking his lips, feeling the fine layer of sweat that now dotted his upper lip.
The man standing next to him clasped his arm “Are you all right?"
Martin looked up into his worried glance. “Can't ... breathe ... need...” He stumbled and the man grabbed him, yelling out in a mixture of concern and surprise.
Martin felt another set of hands grasp him as he tried to wheeze in a breath, the air not making it into his lungs.
"He's having an asthma attack!” The first man held him firmer. “Let's get him away from the flowers."
Martin nodded, clutching at hands, trying, and failing to fight whatever was clawing its way into his body. The silently tense air of the funeral turned frantic. Someone was yelling to check his pockets for an inhaler, and another person was screaming for an ambulance.
"Out...” he wheezed again, the movement of his lungs making his chest ache more. The blood vessels in his eyes pounded with the increase in his blood pressure. “Outside."
"Help me!” Two large sets of hands grasped Martin's body then he felt as if he were flying. He watched the blue sky above him as they ran toward the entrance of the cemetery. Each step they took provided Martin with a little relief.
The pain inside him lessened, and feeling returned to his feet and hands. By the time they'd stepped outside, the pressure on his heart lessened and his breathing slowed.
"Sit him down!” Stacy's voice rang out. Martin's rescuers deposited him on a bench as she knelt down before him. “Martin?"
The fear in her voice hit him in the belly. He should never have come here. Still, he'd never had an experience like this before. Never encountered a spirit that was purely evil, like the one lurking inside the Orleans.
"I'm so sorry,” he whispered.
He looked down into her eyes, so full of pain and fear. “No, not him.” He gave her a reassuring pat, even though his own hands were still shaking. “I promise you Stacy, it wasn't him."
The sound of a siren rent the air. Martin shook his head to try to get control of himself. The paramedics would find an elevated heartbeat, but nothing more. They wouldn't be able to diagnose what had just happened, because it wasn't physical.
As the ambulance skidded to a stop, Martin looked back at the priest, who nodded at him, his knowing gaze burning into Martin's soul.
Two male paramedics rushed up, setting down boxes of equipment. One of them clasped Martin's hand and he shook his head no, looking from one to the other. The first one babbled about vital signs and a trip to the hospital.
Martin voiced his dissent, and then glanced at the second paramedic, who held a clipboard and stared at him with the same look the priest had just delivered. Martin shivered and pushed everyone away, thanked them for their time, then wobbled toward a taxi, ignoring the cries of the medical workers for him to come back.
He didn't need their kind of assistance right now. It wouldn't help. He needed to talk to his friends, needed to relate his story to people who would believe him and help him decide how best to handle the situation.
"There are no reported hauntings at that cemetery.” Devlin St. Giles flipped through a large book, then slapped it shut.
"I don't care,” Martin said, sipping from a huge mug full of chamomile tea. “Whether it's been reported or not, something is in that cemetery."
"Voodoo?” Fletch, Dev's lover, sat on Martin's other side, his face scrunched up in concern.
"I don't know,” Martin replied, smiling back at Quinn, the female part of their trio, who placed a steaming plate of pasta in front of him. Carbs were always good at restoring energy, and Martin dug into the food without hesitation.
"Male or female?” Fletch poked at him.
"Evil,” Martin said, his head bent toward the plate, strands of fettuccini hanging from his mouth. He swallowed quickly and sat down his fork. “I didn't get a signature on it, just the stench of malevolence. I felt no other spirits in there, so I'd say it has been feeding off their souls, absorbing their energy to grow strong."
"Wonderful,” Dev replied, sitting back. “Whatever it was thought you were a great addition to its smorgasbord."
Martin took another bite, savoring the creamy sauce that invaded his mouth. His friends let him eat in silence, and when his plate was empty he sat back. “We have to figure out what it is, and get rid of it."
"Why didn't it try to get anyone else?” Quinn took the empty plate to the stove, refilled it and put it back on the table.
Martin nodded his thanks at her when she sat down. “I put out feelers for it.” He shook his head in disgust at his own arrogance. He'd dreaded facing the spirits, and when he hadn't found any, he'd gone searching for them. “I wondered why I wasn't sensing anything, so I went looking. It probably took that as an invitation."