Tall shadows creep up walls like phantoms in the moonlight. A crucified Christ shimmers against a grey wall, projected from the streetlamp like an ominous movie trailer. The stench of Bourbon Street is fading into the distance with the clashing base beats and neon lights as we head towards the river. In Jackson Square the artists have gone and the empty park looks black and cold as we reach the gates. The white turrets of the Cathedral stand like a German castle looming up behind us. Its holiness cannot relieve the prickles and shivers as our guide tells us of a vampire who once frequented a bar around the corner. I smile and look across the way at the mellow glow of Café Du Mond and try to recall the taste of a beignet.
We take a left down Chartres and the guide moves on to tales of voodoo and lost souls. We walk beneath the balconies, yellow lights hanging over our heads like small caged suns swinging slightly in the sticky hot breeze. I breathe in the scent of warm bodies and the distant river. We have stopped in front of a hotel. We are told of ghosts that go bump and boo in the night to scare unsuspecting guests as they slumber. My companions listen to our guide as she fills us with tantalizing fear. Stories of murder and suicide, bodies dismembered or swinging from ropes drip from her scarlet lips with gregarious enthusiasm. She is captivating and vivacious in a dirty kind of way. She flicks her dusty blond hair over her shoulder and her blue eyes dart a glance towards me. For a split second she hesitates. Her lips curl slightly and then part as she begins her next story. Others in the group sense her discomfort but seem to decide it is part of the show as we slip down a side street.
We enter a courtyard behind a hotel. It is cooler here and eerily quiet for a city so buzzing with music and chatter. Windows overlook us. Something moves behind a curtain and we wonder what the hotel guest must think of us, ghost hunters outside their window voyeuristically peering about like Peeping Toms. Our guide tells us this is where the tour ends. She gives directions how to get back to Jackson Square and then, with one last glance my way, she is gone.
Abandoned in a dark alley my companions begin to disperse in a flutter of nervous giggles and camera flashes. I wait, lost in reflection. I recall the bar by Jackson Square before the Jazz even came to town. Men in top hats and girls in hoop skirts drifting down the street. Purple, green and gold costumes. Harlequins and trombone players. The taste of a beignet finally returns to my senses. But it is a joy I cannot hold on to and cannot repeat.
The last of the ghost hunters turn to go and I follow them out. I walk slowly behind them as they make their way back to Chartres. As we turn the corner I see our guide is waiting. I stop and smile.
Her eyes flicker in the direction of the trailing ghost hunters; a thirty something couple. They look older than us, but looks are deceiving.
‘It’s been too long’ She says.
‘Sixty years,’ I reply.
‘Supper?’ she asks. Without a beat we are behind them. The familiarity is complete. Teeth sharpen and eyes pale. In less than a minute their lives our gone and ours replenished.
(c) 2018 Liah S Thorley all rights reserved