Monday, October 22, 2012

Crescent City - Chapter One (Partial)

This is my first draft of an incomplete chapter 1, but I thought I would go ahead and share some of it with you: 

Though the parades were long over, the night was still very young.  The revelers had retreated from their stations along St. Charles and Tchoupitoulas for their preferred haunts throughout the French Quarter.  The Monday night before the culmination of Carnival was known for its debauchery and overindulgence, of all kinds.
The sights from the parades earlier that evening were still emblazoned in the minds of the raucous crowds as they continued their extended celebration.  Some floats were decorated with chromatic, oriental dragons that spewed magnificent flames from their mouths.  Others boasted impressive, ornate gods from numerous, mythological pantheons that served as the figureheads of the earth-bound ships’ bows.  Masked dragoons rode atop their illustrious steeds as they tossed gleaming, colorful doubloons to the nearby, eager bacchanalians.  Some were dressed as mighty, Indian chieftains, while others were mock princes or knights; still others masqueraded as Greek warriors or ghastly, skeletal cavaliersmen.  Clydesdales pulled lavish carriages, while Southern belles in antebellum dress waved to the adoring crowds.
Ensemble marching bands comprised of brass, woodwinds and percussions conjured up hauntingly-beautiful, jazz and dixieland renditions.  The band members glide-stepped and shifted down the packed streets in their vibrant shakos, gauntlets, sashes and capes, as the color guards chased after them with their spinning flags and flaming batons.
The entire scene was one of complete pandemonium, like the climax of some bizarre, pagan sacrifice.  The rhythmic music pulsated, as if it was a living creature, with the coming and going of the bands and floats.  The crowds cheered or booed as the masked riders blessed them with or withheld from them their coveted trinkets and bangles.  Women on second-story balconies, or atop the shoulders of their counterparts, pleaded and shouted carnal obscenities at the regal procession; they bargained with the veiled argonauts by whatever means they had available for a simple, beaded necklace or a cheap, silk rose. 
The legions pressed in on themselves increasingly tighter as the revelers strained to gaze upon the more exotic thespians in the street beyond the barricades.  The horses whinnied and snorted nervously at the sights and sounds, while officers rapped their clubs along the aluminum palisades, threatening the more unruly within the crowd to restrain themselves. 
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the current state of the world, this Carnival season had been particularly wild and uninhibited.  With Europe splintering into age-old factions, Japan faltering and becoming increasingly vulnerable to the aggressions of its much larger neighbor, Russia reacquiring much of its Cold War territory without even a whisper of protest from the rest of the world, and the Middle East and North Africa coalescing into a unified front under a single, standard bearer, many people had grown weary.  The string of unending, bad news had exhausted them and made them apathetic or indifferent.  Carnival had been their release; they would drink and be merry, for tomorrow was no longer guaranteed.
Along with the intense reveling that had been a mark of the present season, it had also been marred by an alarmingly high rate of crime.  Bar fights and muggings, stabbings and shootings, had all been widespread and rampant, even with the overbearing presence of police.  Many of the bacchants seemed to be on the precipice of violence, needing only a gentle nudge over the edge.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hayden unquestionably hated the city, and if it was even possible, he hated this period of the year even more.  The drunken, masked multitudes served only to elevate his feelings of agitation and unease.  He carried the compact, CZ pistol in a shoulder holster, under his jacket, at great risk during Carnival in the city, but he reasoned it was an even greater risk to not carry it.  Between the concealed pistol and the heavy, folding knife clipped to his front, hip pocket, Hayden reckoned he was armed heavier than most in the establishment, or at least he hoped so.
He sat in a corner booth and watched Morgan and a pair of their mutual friends at the bar, as they struggled eagerly to garner the attention of one of the frenzied bartenders.  Morgan was, without a doubt, the only reason he stayed in the city.  As much as he hated the place, he loved her more; she was beautiful, articulate and complimented him perfectly.  She did not disagree with his opinions on New Orleans, but this was her home, and she was not yet ready to leave.  They had fought countless times over the subject, and he had threatened to leave without her nearly as many; every time he made the threat, she would simply laugh and say, “Baby, if you were going to leave, you’d have left a long time ago.”  She, as usual, was right.
The two-story, Spanish-styled, Old Absinthe House was one of the older and more storied structures within the French Quarter, having been established in 1807.  It was located on the corner of Rue Bourbon and Rou Bienville, and was a landmark to locals and tourists alike.  Many a famous patron had sat at its copper-topped, wooden bar and quaffed its namesake concoctions, including Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Robert E. Lee.  The second floor of the building was even rumored to be where the pirate Jean Lafitte met with Andrew Jackson to plan the strategy for the Battle of New Orleans.
The establishment still displayed the marble columns once used to drip cool water over cubes of sugar and into reservoir glasses of Absinthe.  Absinthe, the bitter, chartreuse-colored, anise-flavored spirit made from grand wormwood among other herbs, was a powerful and storied substance that the House came to be known for.  The libation was often associated with hallucinations, delirium, paranoia and death.  Edgar Allen Poe was said to imbibe the cocktail prior to commencing his writing, and Jack the Ripper was rumored to have went mad because of his addiction to Absinthe.  Although no longer available at the establishment, the Absinthe House still managed to concoct unique and unusual imbibements for its patrons.
Perhaps it was a history of mere hallucinations brought on by the strong elixirs once purveyed at the House, or perhaps otherwise, but the Absinthe House was rumored by many to be alive with many a presence from beyond the veil.  In a city rich with the voodoo culture brought in on slaver’s ships, and ancient, European mysticism, the reputation was particularly hard earned and often disputed, but never fully conceded by the establishment, for long. 
The antique, wrought-iron chandelier only served to vaguely illuminate the booth and the table that it encircled.  Hayden continued to warily survey Morgan and the others at the bar from a distance, while he occasionally sipped his club soda.  He had purposefully remained at the booth while they went for more drinks, partly to retain their seats, but primarily to have a panoramic view of the bar; if trouble started to come her way, he would have time to meet it head on.  Morgan glanced over her shoulder at him periodically, while she waited on her cocktail.  Guthrie sang City of New Orleans while the dimly-lit, arcadian canteen beckoned street gypsies and bohemian wayfarers through its aging thresholds.  Hayden tapped a steel-toed boot to the rhythm of Guthrie as he swirled the ice around in the tumbler; the old-time voice that drifted from the speakers, combined with Morgan’s hypnotic smile, temporarily caused him to forget his surroundings and find momentary mirth in her presence.
He never noticed the man that approached his table while he watched Morgan; the sudden presence unnerved him, Hayden was usually keenly aware and observant of his environment.  The man was a powerful, towering specimen with startlingly intense, emerald eyes.  The massive man stood over Hayden for several moments, as if to size him up, before finally speaking.
“Seat taken?”  The man’s voice carried a strange accent of origins that Hayden was unable to recognize.
Hayden motioned to the bar and replied, “Actually yeah; sorry.”
“I’ll be gone before they’re back, friend.”
Under the cover of the rough-hewn, wooden table, Hayden reached into his pocket and retrieved the large, folding knife.  With a gentle flick of his left wrist, it was open and ready; he rested his left hand on his thigh as he clutched the steel grip firmly.
“Look bud, I’m not gay and I’m not looking for trouble; if either of those describes your intentions,” Hayden allowed the spine of the blade to be revealed from under the table and momentarily glimmer in the dull, yellow light, “you best leave now.”
“Sounds like I’m in luck.” The man pulled a nearby chair over and sat opposite of Hayden at the open end of the round table.  “I’m not here for either.  Name’s Ariel, can I buy you a round?”
Hayden rattled his tumbler and replied, “No, I’m fine.”
“Probably for the better; I doubt we could get a round in here right now, anyway.”
Hayden nodded awkwardly and warily watched Ariel as the conversation drifted into a lull.  After several moments, Ariel spoke again.
“So, what’s your name?”
“Hayden, you a military man?”
“What’s it to you?”
“I suppose I was just wondering if that high and tight was a fashion statement.”
Hayden managed a slight grin and replied, “Former marine; now with the Louisiana National Guard.”
“Yea, how’d you know?”
“Just an educated guess, since you’re here in town.”
“What about you Ariel?  You seem to be knowledgeable enough on the subject.  What branch is allowing ponytails these days?”
“I am a soldier of sorts.”
“What branch?”
“I’m not from here; the name wouldn’t mean anything to you.”
“Where’re you from?”
“I’m a long way from home.”
“Alright, where have you fought?”
“Our operations are covert; my battles go unnoticed to most.”
Hayden snorted and replied, “Ariel, I’m not sure you understand the mechanics of a conversation.  To have one, there must be communication by two parties.”
“I’m not much of a talker.”
“Did you not seek me out?”
“I did.”
“I tell you what, just keep the booth; I’ve got to go.”
As Hayden slid out from behind the booth and stood up, the man said, “Wait.”
“Look around you.  What do you see?”
“A bunch of drunks.”
“They’re people thoroughly oblivious to a storm on the horizon.  Do you follow world events, Hayden?”
“I do.”
Ariel’s eyes blazed with an intensity even greater than before, “Tell me about Europe.”
Hayden sat back down on the edge of the booth and said, “In short, they’re failing.”
“Can what’s happening there, happen here?”
“Without a doubt.”
If that sickness spreads across the Atlantic, what happens here?”
“The same thing:  bank runs, riots, inflation, maybe a currency devaluation-“
No,” The man’s heavy fist pounded the oak table as he interrupted Hayden, “here.  Orléans, Vieux Carré, Rue Bourbon, Old Absinthe House.  What happens here?”
“Utter chaos.”
“Quite an understatement, don’t you think?”
Hayden did not reply.
“How about: a baalful maelstrom of bedlam and death not experienced in centuries.”
Hayden felt his chest tighten and begin to burn as the man continued to stare unblinkingly at him.
“But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come, that a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.”
“I’m impressed, Hayden; Kipling it is.  Now, tell me about the Middle East.”
Hayden tried to speak, but his words failed to materialize; the conversation had been transmuted by the man from awkward, pointless, bar drivel, to something much more fervent.
Hayden simply looked down and shook his head from side to side.
“We’re living in Vienna, 1681; maybe 1682.  We’re in the last, sunny days before being thoroughly engulfed by darkness.  In less than two years’ time – maybe not even that long, a very old evil will rally outside of our gates, but no one is standing watch on the ramparts this time.”
Ariel allowed the table to fall silent.  The sounds of the revelers in the bar seemed to disappear into some vast gulf as Hayden’s chest burned with dread.
“The threads of your society are unraveling before your eyes, Hayden, and you’re sitting here?  What are you doing, son?”
“I don’t know.”
Ariel stood from the dark-stained, scarred table.  He pushed the chair underneath it and began to walk away, before turning back to Hayden.
“You like Guthrie?”
Hayden stared at him with a puzzled look, but said nothing.
“Yea, I know that’s a strange question after a conversation like that.  I suppose he’s alright; this song’s a little cliché, but I understand it’s for the tourists – people like me.  Remember this song Hayden; don’t ask me what that means, because I don’t even know myself.  Just remember this song.”
As Hayden sat speechless, the man turned back and began to push his way through the crowd.  Hayden cast a sidelong gaze towards the bar at Morgan; she was just turning back to look at him as well.  She smiled lovingly and waved to him before grabbing her drink and tipping the bartender.  When his eyes returned to the crowd to search for the strange man with the blonde ponytail, he was already gone. 


  1. It has a mystique in it already. Looks to be a great start. Hayden.....hummm?
    Papa Mike

  2. Dingin me on the name pop? ; )

    Everyones a critic.

    1. No dingin. Like the name, fits.
      He's gonna be an interesting person.
      Papa Mike

  3. Good start. Already lookin' forward to more!


  4. Thanks IB.

    Yea pop, I think he'll be the type of guy that try as he might, he can never quite stay out of trouble. Seems to follow him around. NOLA is its own world when things are normal, much less when things go south - as we saw in Katrina.