“Dreams do come true. You just have to die for them.”
GM: The Quarter is a sea of glowing souls. True to Em’s memory, the Evergreen is a posh jazz club along Royal Street. Sounds of warmth and merriment emanate from within over the sound of classic Louis Armstrong.
Yet if that were all it ways, it does not feel to Em as if it were the sort of place his dark benefactor would send him.
Emmett: Forget feelings. Abélia’s love is rape and her favors are guided missiles.
But for all that, he suspects he’s at least carrying the payload rather than about to be crushed under it.
That’s fine. If Abélia won’t give him the time of day, he’ll leave things as they are with her. Her daughter’s still warm to him, after all.
And if this pays off… maybe it’ll make the loss of his conscience easier to bear.
Probably not, though.
GM: The Evergreen’s walls part for Em like so much smoke. He’s treated to an all-out assault on his senses as he floats inside. He hears laughter, and the sound of jazz, both louder now and carried through the place by means of a static-filled and barely functional sound system that hurts his ears. It sounded state of the art when he was last here. Em doesn’t smell any smoke or alcohol, despite the copious quantities of both. The rotted, once-fancy décor looks French. The first floor is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on ruined antiques antiques while a live band plays.
The club’s walls suddenly turn solid and opaque. Em can no longer see through them. A high, alarm-like whine splits the air, although none of the patrons pay it a glance.
A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man strides towards Em, winks at him, and makes a beckoning motion with his finger. He strides up the stairs, away from the carousing patrons.
Emmett: Em salutes back, which is why he’s reasonably sure the playboy cannot see him.
Nevertheless, he follows. Seems only polite.
GM: The glove-wearing man looks and carries himself more like a butler than a playboy as he walks upstairs and down a hallway into a well-appointed parlor room in that same fancy French style. He opens a cupboard, removes an ouija board, and sets it down on a table.
“Welcome to the Evergreen, departed spirit,” smiles the man, inclining his head. “My name is Fabian. May I ask yours?”
Emmett: Well, fuck, Delacroix is too long to spell.
He spells out, E-M.
GM: The planchette does not move.
Fabian’s smile does not dim. “If you are unable to answer me, departed spirit, a medium can be made available. I would pray your patience until then.”
Emmett: Em waits.
GM: Fabian removes a phone from his jacket. “We have a guest who’d like to remain out of sight. Can you ensure they are suitably entertained, please?”
“Thank you. C-”
“Don’t bother, Fabian. I guess it’s your lucky night,” sounds a familiar voice at the door.
Sami Watts leans against the frame with an arm out. She wears a low-cut black dress tonight with red pumps.
“The spook’s at the table, you suppose?”
Fabian bows low. “Yes, madam. Lord Savoy would be most obliged if you were to be of assistance. I had not been aware that mediumship was among your many talents.”
“A girl has to keep a little mystery to keep herself interesting,” replies Sami. She looks at the table and closes her eyes for a moment. Em sees her fangs lengthen slightly in her mouth before her eyes open.
Emmett: He twiddles his fingers at her in greeting, crossing his legs as he sits in midair.
“Long time, no see. Moved past ouija, have you? That’ll make things steamier.”
So. It’s a vampire joint.
GM: Sami looks over his floating form. It’s not unappreciatively.
“That was the idea. Nice jacket. I didn’t notice it, last time.”
Emmett: He would dab if he hadn’t died before that became a thing. Instead he just winks and flourishes. “Ah, well. Can’t chat all night, but I’ll find you later, if you hang out around the hotel.”
He looks her over shrewdly, but not unappreciatively, either. “I’m here to talk to an Antoine Savoy, on behalf of the proprietor of the LaLaurie House.”
He lifts the box, taps it. “And I’ll give you a gift if you pass on the message.”
GM: She glances its way. “Mm. What’s in it?”
Emmett: “A surprise,” he says, completely honestly. “And my heart.”
“You wouldn’t throw away my heart, would you?”
GM: “I could probably use it as a blackening agent, at least.”
Emmett: He thinks back to the rotten, shriveled thing Abélia tore from his breast.
“You have no idea. So, you gonna tell this guy why I’m here?”
GM: “No, but Fabian will.” She glances at the living man. “He says he’s here to talk to Lord Savoy.”
The man bows. “Thank you for your assistance, madam. The lord has an opening in his schedule four nights from now.”
“He says the LaLaurie House’s owner sends him, too,” says Sami.
“Ah. The lord is available in two hours.”
Emmett: Em winks at Sami. “I’ll meet you at the hotel later tonight.”
GM: “I remember getting raped, tortured, and murdered the first time I accepted a gift from you.”
Sami winks at Em.
Emmett: He shoots her finger pistols.
There’s an accompanying pew pew.
GM: She cocks one at his forehead, deadpan, and fires it once without sound effects.
Emmett: His head explodes in a burst of gore and viscera. He cries out and clutches at it.
Then he lowers his hands and he’s fine. He wipes his intact brow of nonexistent sweat.
“I do birthday parties, too.”
GM: Nothing happens to his head. Em cries and clutches it without visual effects.
Hahaha, idiot! You don’t get ghost powers until I’m out of the box again!
Emmett: It’s a mime show, mate. I’ll cope.
GM: “I bet. Anyway, keep the heart. I suppose I’ll see you around.”
Emmett: “Your call,” he says frankly. “For what it’s worth, it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward deals. I’ll tell you more about it later.”
Aw. We’ll have to wait a bit longer ‘til we’re reunited, Gaspy.
GM: Don’t worry. I’m patient. Won’t be long before you’re like an ADHD kid forced to sit in class all today.
Sami knows how well those tend to work out.
“I bet. You want Fabian to get anything while you’re waiting here?”
Emmett: What the hell. “A Cafe Brûlot. With the fire and all, please.”
GM: A raised eyebrow. “I didn’t think you could still enjoy those.”
“He’d like a Cafe Brûlot, fire and all,” Sami says to Fabian.
“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else?” smiles the butler-like man.
Emmett: “I can always enjoy a drink somebody makes for me. Plus, I like a show.”
GM: “I suppose Fabian will enjoy getting to drink it, too.”
“Madam, may I inquire as to the departed spirit’s name?” asks Fabian.
“Delacroix,” Sami answers.
“Mr. Delacroix. It is Lord Savoy’s pleasure, and my personal one as well. Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation.” Fabian bows again, towards where Sami is speaking. “The lord shouldn’t wish you to be kept idle until he can see you. Are there any additional entertainments or diversions we might arrange?”
Emmett: “A movie, if it wouldn’t be any trouble. Surprise me.”
GM: “A movie,” says Sami.
“Of course,” smiles Fabian.
“See you around, again.” Sami eyes the heart-shaped box. “Good luck with the high-risk, high-reward deal.”
“You’ll probably need it.”
Emmett: “I make my own luck. Or make off with somebody else’s. Either way, I’ve only died once.”
GM: The movie is the first to arrive. Some people bring up a TV into the room. Fabian selects the movie. Like everything else in the Evergreen, and the Shadowlands, it’s ruined. A spiderweb of cracks runs across the surface and the movie flickers with static. Em can make out enough of what’s playing. It’s the original 1960 Ocean’s 11 with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack.
The Cafe Brûlot comes partway through the first act.
Fabian prepares it himself over a portable grill, and briefly regales Em with the the drink’s history as he halfway peels the orange into a continuous curl and studs it with cloves. Café Brulot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in the late 1880s by Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant’s founder. According to Phillip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans, Alciatore was inspired by French bon vivants who would drown a sugar cube in Cognac and place it over an open flame before extinguishing it in a cup of hot coffee. Today, one can still find the drink in New Orleans restaurants including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s—“As well as, of course, the Evergreen,” Fabian smiles.
The preparation of Café Brulot is something like a magician’s show. Outside of the flambeaux at a Mardi Gras parade, there’s nothing like it. Fabian puts cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar and brandy in a fireproof bowl and heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot, but not boiling, he brings the bowl to the table and ignites it with match, sending up a gout of fire. He uses a ladle to stir the liquid around for two minutes before pouring the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. Then—to the delight of usually present guests—he proceeds to ladle the still-flaming mixture into demitasse cups.
“A toast, Mr. Delacroix, to your and my good health,” says Fabian as he raises the drink to his lips.
It seems a safe enough toast to make with someone who can’t talk or toast back.
Emmett: Maybe less so to a man whose heath is decidedly moot.
Still, fire burns even in the Shadowlands. That makes the drink a spectacle, even if he can’t appreciate it more directly.
He can remember how it tastes, though. That’s enough.
GM: Fabian downs the drink, hits play on the movie, and leaves the room. He returns after the caper crew has made off with their millions (or rather, been revealed to have done so already).
“The lord will see you now, Mr. Delacroix. Please follow me.”
Emmett: He doesn’t answer the lackey. Why would he?
Perhaps it would be flattering to pretend he’s taken his respite and schemed even as Frank Sinatra schemes onscreen.
But the truth? That fragile thing he keeps running over, backing up on, and running over again?
The truth is, it’s nice just to watch a movie again.
Time to go see the vampire.
GM: The Creole man escorts Em to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. It’s all rusted and pitted. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback’, or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate. The bill is torn and the cracked glass is specked with crud.
Fabian steps inside with Em before the door can even close through his incorporeal form, then presses the ‘up’ button. Em doesn’t feel any motion underneath himself as he rises.
There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that would probably afford a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline, on the other side of the afterlife. Here it’s just dismal. Em can survey carnage and destruction and decay across the ruined cityscape.
Corroded statues of disfigured angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, nestle among dead and leafless trees, rotted rose bushes, dead flowers, and withered grass. Moths and maggots infest rusted cages containing crows’ half-rotted carcasses.
A short ways off from them, a corroded marble jacuzzi beckons mockingly. Clouds of flies hungrily buzz over half-rotted corpses reclining in the filthy, stagnant, and algae-infested water.
In fact, corpses are everywhere. Some look fresh. Some are rotting. Some are skeletons. They’re as common as logs, all the way down to how they’re stacked and piled atop one another. Blood freely oozes from their cuts and gaping wounds, as well as the neck punctures that all of them have. Em’s never seen so many bodies in one place besides Abélia’s house.
He still hears the rain, endlessly weeping, but doesn’t feel it. A globe-shaped curtain of dark, hungrily crackling energy encircles the garden from the building’s railings to perhaps 20 feet in the air. Rain that hits it dissolves into plumes of noxious-looking black smoke.
The stench of blood, rot, mildew, and decaying vegetation is awful, but Em’s nose is as dead as the rest of him.
Three figures are seated around a rusty circular iron table, its surface slick and dripping with blood.
The first is a short, dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: sports coat, dress shirt without a tie, slacks, and snakeskin wingtip loafers. A signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers. Em can’t tell what color his clothes are, beyond various shades of cheerless gray.
The second is a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression with hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative business jacket, matching skirt, lighter blouse, and darker pumps. A tablet with a shattered screen rests on her lap.
The third figure is a biracial woman in her early middle years with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a scarf. She wears a shawl and plain cotton dress. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. One of her eyes is glass and glows a faint, otherworldly blue—the sole splash of color in this patch of the Shadowlands. The air around her feels thick and feverish, and is blotted with writhing shadows. Phantasmal faces fade in and out like mirages, their lips ceaselessly mouthing whispers too low for Em to make out. A single rotting, disembodied hand rests on her shoulder. Its wrist vanishes into the aether.
There’s no telltale white glow around the three figures. Their forms are lifeless and ashen as Em’s own.
The first two figures continue speak among themselves, but the third one stares Em straight in the eye as he approaches.
Fabian bows deeply as he approaches to them.
“Lord Savoy, Madam Preston, Madam Bale, may I present Mr. Emmett Delacroix, departed spirit here on behalf of the LaLaurie House’s proprietor.”
Emmett: He winks at her.
Pauses and taps the sole of a dress shoe against the forehead of a blankly staring corpse.
“Well, y’all nailed the ambiance,” he ventures. “I like your eye, Ms…”
GM: The corpse continues to bleed from its neck.
“Madam Bale,” says the woman.
Her eye rests upon the heart-shaped box in Em’s hand.
Lord Savoy smiles at the same space in the air where Bale is staring.
“Mr. Delacroix! I think I’ve heard your name somewhere before, if memory serves. Where might that have been, Nat?”
“The first man executed by the state of Louisiana in some years, sir,” answers the glasses-wearing woman, who by process of elimination must be Preston.
Emmett: At last, his reputation precedes him. Famous, just like he’s always wanted. Goes to show, dreams do come true.
You just have to die for them.
“Lord Savoy,” he says. “From one dead man to another, your hospitality is a rare thing on this side of the grave. I’m grateful. I lived near here, you know. Right on Royal. The Quarter’s a good place for swindling.” He glances at the corpses stacked like pizza boxes. “I suppose it’s a good place to hunt, too.”
He glances at Bale. “Thanks for the translation, madam. I’m sure it’ll sound sweeter in your voice than mine.”
GM: Disembodied whispers sound near the glass-eyed woman as she repeats Em’s words.
“They aren’t always so different a thing, sometimes,” Savoy replies to the air with a knowing wink. “And it’s our pleasure, Mr. Delacroix! To a friend of Abélia’s, and to a fellow purveyor of the Quarter’s own pleasures. What can we do for you this fine evening?”
Emmett: “To converse with me is already a great gift. I ask for nothing more, merely a conversation. To be transparent, neither does Madam Devillers. I came here looking for somebody to give my heart, and when I listened to it it brought me here, looking for the one I would give it to. She told me to use her name to speak with you, and so I have, and I hope that you do not feel deceived by her. I am new to this side of the world, and there is much I have to learn. But, I hope, also much to tell. And much to offer, if you should like the services of a sandman who serves who he pleases.”
“I know that even Kindred dream. Dreams of blood, but dreams still.”
GM: Wow, you sell yourself to everybody. If you just could’ve kept doing that with your hole, without fucking things up, we’d be a rich man.
Or a rich man’s wife.
“Indeed we do, Mr. Delacroix. I just may take you up on that offer! There’s much a freelance wraith can do for my people, and we for him.”
“But first things first. I don’t think it’s by chance your heart led you here, if Abélia also did. I wonder what we might do to unite your heart with the object of its affections?” Savoy drums his fingers against the blood-smeared table thoughtfully.
“Perhaps you should listen to it again, now that you’re here?”
Emmett: What a nice lick. So likable. So warm.
That’s probably what all the other dead people on the roof were thinking, too.
Still, it’s good advice. He listens to the box.
GM: He hears voices, like Celia’s and Cécilia’s and Sami’s, but they fade out against the sluggish thump-thump. A low whisper starts to build, hauntingly familiar. Em’s dead stomach clenches with instinctive, soul-deep unease, and he feels as if the box is somehow smiling at him.
Heh. Heh. Heheheheh.
Blood starts to leak from the box, black and oily, and it suddenly feels fleshy and sensitive underneath his hands. Like the time he carried Dino’s cut-off testicle to the gimp. The heartbeat grows stronger and faster. There’s suddenly a terrible, sucking emptiness in Em’s chest, a void that cannot be filled. He feels like he’s trying to breathe through a lungful of tar.
Oh yeah… !
There is a cavity in his chest. A gaping hole open to the air. Em feels like he’s having a heart attack, only held from the palm of his hand. The whispers around Bale rise to a fevered pitch as the faces fade in and out, faster and faster.
“…heart’s desire… "
“…bargain made… "
“…heart’s desire… heart’s desire… "
“I suggest you replace your heart if you do not wish to meet Oblivion,” says Bale, the spectral hand tightly clutching her shoulder.
That’s right, Em! HERE IT COMES! HEART’S DESIRE!
Emmett: Guess this is the bed we made.
Bring it on, mini-me.
He replaces it.
GM: It fills his chest with a wet squelch, and he can breathe again.
But the hole expands.
It spreads over his chest. Em watches chunks of his corpus spiral away into black void. He pitches over backwards and the hole swallows him up. The last sound audible to his ears are the whispers fading in and out around Bale:
“…heart’s desire… "