“Can you please just… take care of it?”
Friday night, 28 August 2015, PM
GM: Knock. Knock.
Emil gets up to answer the sound. He pulls back the security chain and opens the apartment door.
There’s an unmarked cardboard box on his doorstep.
Emil: Emil places his coffee mug, a black ceramic stylized with the letters NOPD over the front, on the table. He crouches down to examine the package. Unmarked, he mentally sighs, worried less about the potential implications of such a thing and more that dealing with those implications will leave his evening cup of Folger’s cold enough to taste. Nevertheless, curiosity gets the better of him, and he lifts the box off the floor to gauge its weight and guess its contents.
GM: His phone rings from the coffee table just as he stoops down to examine the box. The caller ID reads ‘Sadie.’
Emil: Emil’s eyes widen at the sight, and strings pull up the corners of his mouth into a comforted smile. His daughter is calling him. Emil places the box down, walks back to the coffee table, and answers the phone. He waits for the caller to speak as a matter of habit.
GM: His daughter gets right to the point. “Hey, Dad? Some of my friends are… they’re calling about a dead girl. They’re with a dead girl.”
“Or. Well. She’s… they don’t know, they say she… fell and hit her head, and she’s bleeding like crazy, and they don’t know if she’s, she’s dead or not, or…” The words come out in a half-coherent rush that the newly-minted lawman might be a stranger to, but his father told him to expect. There’s plenty witnesses who don’t think normally under stress. Plenty more who don’t act normally either.
Like ones who call their fathers for the first time in years, even long after he told them he was moving back.
Emil: “Sweetie.” It’s been a long time since Emil heard her voice. It’s hard not to reminisce on the past but by the sound of the call, this isn’t the time. He’s honestly not sure how to speak to her normally, not after so long, but this panic is something he can work with.
“I need you to breathe, sweetie. To stay calm. Are you with them? Did you dial 911 like I taught you to?” It was one of the first things he taught her, even before he became a cop. He made her a little emergency situation lullaby.
GM: There’s a sound on the other end of the line like someone taking a breath. “No… no, I’m not with them. They’re calling me.” There’s a pause. Then, “They don’t want to call 911.”
Emil: “What. Why?”
GM: “Ambulances here, they take forever,” come another breath. “And they don’t wanna… get sucked into this. They just want someone to take care of it, and they know me, and that my dad’s a cop, so can you please just… take care of it?”
Emil: Emil’s face darkens over what a sorry state his hometown is in for the kids to be raised so selfishly.
“All right. Give me the address and I’ll come. But call 911. I’m not a miracle worker and that girl’s life is more important than your friends’ wishes.”
GM: There’s another pause. Then, “Look, they don’t wanna call 911, Dad! They’re trusting, trusting me, to call about this. If you wanna call 911, I don’t, I don’t know what they’re gonna do, or…”
Emil: “It’s fine. Just give me the address and I’ll handle it. Don’t worry. I have it all under control.” He waits for a moment, collects his coffee, and gulps it down away from the phone. “I love you, sweetie.”
GM: “Okay… it’s 1140 Royal Street.” There’s another low breath. “The… the LaLaurie House.”
Emil: The famously haunted LaLaurie House. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Emil gets slightly giddy at the thought of visiting the place he’s spent more than a few afternoons idly researching, but his voice remains level as he speaks. “All right. Talk to you later. I’ll fix this. Hopefully we can meet soon. Goodbye.”
Emil doesn’t wait more than a second to end the call.
He has work to do.
Saturday night, 29 August 2015, AM
GM: The rain pours down.
It all hangs out on weekend nights in the French Quarter. Emil remembers that much from his boyhood. Tonight, though, there are no crowds of revelers thronging Bourbon Street, no open containers of booze getting sloshed around, and no staggering, drunken tourists wearing bead necklaces who don’t know that it’s not Mardi Gras. Music still pounds from the many bars and clubs like a raging beast straining to burst from its cage—and whose baying howls are answered by the storm clouds raging overhead.
It’s theoretically an 11-minute drive down the I-10 to the LaLaurie Mansion. But Royal Street is shut down to vehicular traffic from 11 AM to 7 PM on weekends. Emil remembers that from his boyhood too. He doesn’t remember a good place to park. Parking in this area of the city looks terrible. He spots more than one truck emblazoned with NOPD’s blue crescent insignia towing away some unfortunate vehicle, each one indifferent as to the urgency of his mission.
The “eleven minutes” stretch and stretch until Emil settles for the parking lot of the French Market. He pays the ever-hungry parking validation machine. He makes his way to the address on foot as rain thuds and pounds against his umbrella.
Nine more minutes by foot, says his phone.
Emil: Nine more minutes that have to pass before he can save that girl. It’s not so much of a matter of space to cross but time to outrace. The great tick-tocks reverberating throughout the universe decide what changes and what stays the same. Emil knows he is locked into the universe’s great cosmic schedule and knows he will get where he needs to be when the universe intends for him to arrive. He nevertheless breaks into a sprint and tucks his umbrella under his arm as his feet hit the damp ground. He’s only human, after all. And he needs to save this girl. It’s the least he can do for his daughter.
GM: The rain crashes and thunders down in eerie synchrony with the pounding of Emil’s shoes against wet pavement. The streets are dark and empty, but still almost catastrophically tight from the pouring rain that obscures Emil’s sight like a curtain.
It abruptly parts.
The house of Madam Marie Delphine LaLaurie stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for its time at three stories. Emil read accounts describing it as “the highest building for squares around” in the old days.
Water faints squelches in his shoes as the now-panting and umbrella-less man hustles towards the house’s tall iron gates, as much out instinctive urge to seek shelter from the elements as anything else. He pays no heed to the front gates that lead into the yawning, so-deep portal. The text from one of his daughter’s friends said to go to the courtyard. That’s where it happened. The accident.
Spike-topped, ornamental iron-work swings invitingly open at Emil’s touch, without sound or resistance. Unlocked, like the text said it would be.
The open-air courtyard on the other side offers no respite from the raging storm. No light shines from the any of the sunken windows that sullenly stare down at Emil through the thunderous downpour. The floor is brick and makes the rainfall hard and loud. Lattices are made from the same black wood as a sweeping staircase that leads up and out of sight, into the house’s depths. There’s a few sad-looking, stunted trees and wilted plants dropped in scattered pots throughout an earth-filled brick trough. There are no chairs or tables.
There’s also what looks like a blood-spattered corpse by the front gates.
It’s surrounded by a half dozen or so girls. Most look in their mid to late teens. The youngest still looks in middle school, or maybe late elementary school. Some of the girls have umbrellas out. Others are soaked to their skin. All of them look numb. Some of them might be crying. It’s hard to tell in the rain.
“You’re… Sadie’s father?” asks a girl with a pronounced French accent. She’s pale of skin, with blue eyes equally pale blonde hair wetly plastered against her head.
“Thank… thank you for coming. She… she ’it ’er… she fell…”
She trails off and gestures helplessly at the body lying by the foot of the gates.
What might be a seventh girl, or what might be a corpse headed for the morgue, has a thick and stocky body that’s dressed in a leather jacket, sweatpants, and sneakers. Emil can’t make out much of the face beyond wet black hair that’s cropped to a short crew cut. Red pools from underneath the head, wet and watery. It’s already threatening to stain Emil’s shoes. One of the girls holds an umbrella over the possible corpse’s head as if in paltry effort to slow the seeping spread of blood.
“She was trying to climb the gate,” clarifies another girl. She’s slightly shorter than the first, with equally drenched brown hair and hazel eyes. “But it’s so dark, and with this rain… she fell.”
“We tried… we tried to stop ‘er. She wouldn’t listen. She… she was crazy. She thought the ’ouse was ’aunted,” says another pale-eyed, pale-skinned, pale-haired blonde. Her features are an almost perfect mirror of the first girl’s. Emil almost thinks they’re twins, at first, but there’s just a few features and contours that are subtly off.
None of the other three girls speak up. One is thin, with glasses and slightly curled black hair. The second is taller and stockier. The youngest girl looks like the first two girls in miniature. She wordlessly clings to the side of the blonde who spoke first.
Emil: Emil examines the situation, and after letting each girl have her piece, he sets the large bag he was carrying on the floor and opens it. It contains an organized mess of medical supplies, a box of gloves, a box of pens, and some notepads.
He passes around the pens and notepads and tells the brunette, who seems the most stable, “I need you to write down what you saw. Make sure your friends do that too.”
GM: The silent brown-haired girl speaks up. “Um… shouldn’t you be giving her first aid? She… she might be alive…”
Emil: He doesn’t take his eyes off the bloodied girl on the ground. He pulls on gloves and starts to examine her as fast as he can. Time is of the essence. “Just do as I say,” he tells the girl tersely.
GM: “Hey, how about you stop her from bleeding to death! That’s why we called you!” the girl angrily flares.
Emil: Emil goes to work. He first finds where she’s bleeding from and presses a towel firmly against the area to apply pressure to the wound. He holds each side of her head with his gloved hands and aligns it with her spine. A spinal injury could be devastating if she survives.
“Stop talking. If you don’t want to be responsible for the death of your friend, do what I say now. Start taking photos once you’re done, put your hand in one of them.” His voice is stern but fatherly. He needs to collect evidence in case anything goes wrong. He continues his work, checks the dying girl’s breathing, and grabs her wrist to check her pulse.
But it’s not. Fucking. Working. Her pulse is weak. The rag he’s holding is soaked a deep crimson, meaning the girl’s blood pressure is too high for Emil to stop the flow. Her blood pools all around them. There is so much. Too much to imagine. It pools over the bricks and the ground can’t even drink it. It just marks everything red with the sign of nature upturned. Producers consuming predators.
Emil feels like the city’s soul is howling through the rain as it plunks and thuds against his head. His cold eyes begin to water of their own accord. The girl’s body is getting colder. The Lord’s angels try to pull her soul away from its suffering. But the rain pulls down harder and the angels cannot fight nature. To fight nature is to fight God Himself.
The rain drenches the city. God rains down not with fire and brimstone, but with the cleansing water of His blood. It comes from above and below to consume as well as cleanse. A blood-soaked man cries against the downpour from his knees. His clothes feel as if they are drenched by the city’s tears. His own hope feels ready to die as more tears finally rim his own eyes.
But he is not blinded. Instead, he sees.
A different time. A different place. The memory of a scarred youth and another pool of blood. Small, bloodied hands washed with that same rain. The rain of an evening he’d forgotten until now.
Emil sat on the asphalt, his knees warm with the blood of the man prostrated in front of him. Someone had put a hole in the man’s neck. Blood spurted out like from a crushed, overripe fruit. Blood ran onto the man’s shirt and stained NOPD’s crescent insignia. Emil was too young to grasp all that it stood for, but he cried back when he recognized the man’s uncomprehending eyes as his father’s. He cried to the world that didn’t care, that would be so cruel as to take his daddy from him just because of a little hole. His mother mended holes in his clothes all the time. Why couldn’t he?
Maybe he could.
He reached out and touched the hole in Daddy’s neck, touched it with all his heart. He watched the hole close up under his palm, and felt its pain sear against his own neck.
Emil blinks a few times as he stares down at the girl’s expressionless face. He reaches a hand to his neck with returned understanding of the scar he rubs over. He knows he can do it. He knows how to save her. Tears stream down his determined face as he presses his palms to her head and pulls with the whole force of his being.
It hurts. Like hell. The wounds are stubborn. The pain wants to stay where it is. His teeth grit with his own as he pulls harder, with all the strength he can muster. He gasps as pain spreads throughout his whole body and every cell screams at once with its pain. Only then, as Emil wails like a banshee towards the crying sky, does he feel the wounds closing under his hands.
He barely notices the fresh welts and leaking blood on the sides of his head. Their pain is nothing against what he just underwent. He smiles as his tears lose their heat: the only stream running down his cheeks is cool. He feels powerful.
But now is not the time for celebration.
“We need to get out of here now. Help me lift her,” he urges the girls around him. Do they know what just happened? Can they understand what he felt? Emil doesn’t know and even if he cares—now is not the time.
GM: We need to get out of here.
Emil mouths the words.
Help me lift her.
The girls don’t move.
Help me lift h…
Frowns on their faces.
Help me… Help me…
A couple of them start towards him. Their motions seem almost exaggeratedly slow. Their mouths move, but the sound is slurred and all but inaudible against the thundering storm.
The rain pours down. Sight and sound dissolve like so many lost droplets.
It hits him like a firehose shot into his face. Pain. Pain beyond pain. It rocks through his hands, lances up his arms, and slashes across his gut, which now feels so cool and wet. He’s so light. After all, he’s not all in there. He’s missing something. He tugs at the coil of agony leading out of his guts and finds his guts. His guts are outside. He tries to pull them back in and put himself back together, but his fingers burn his guts, like the nails are shards of glass heated to a thousand degrees. He lifts his hands and his amputated wrists scream at him with frothing, bloody tongues. His eyes scream too. The wetness running down his face is hot again. His mouth tries to join the ghastly chorus, but no sound emerges. He gags and tastes something foul. A foulness that is not bile. His holes are in the wrong place. The next scream suffocates beneath the weight of its own dampness and offal. It seeps into his lungs as he futilely hacks and retches. He mindlessly waves his stumps and there’s blessed relief. His head is so cool under the rain. His brains are cool. Rain on his brains. He giggles at the rhyme, at the relief, and cries coppery-smelling tears as the stick stirs and sirs, mushing his brains around like lumpy porridge. The fragile vessel that was his mind breaks from the impossible burden of what it sought it to take in. The burden that no man could ever heal. No man can heal. There is no relief. Only suffering. There is no surcease. Only oblivion.
He need only let go…
Emil: Not with one last hold to cling on to.
Why is this happening to him? Why does God turn His back when he needs help? This house mocks him, mocks his faith, mocks the very blood that he sheds. The falling raindrops tickle his blood and make it laugh on the bricks below, hopping up and down at the hilarity of his hubris. To think he could do better than any of the slaves who trod those same bricks and had their brains stirred, their bodies broken, their souls crushed. He wants to fight back. He wants to strike at these invisible torturers that would turn him and that girl into bloody tableaus of this house’s past.
Somehow he understands. He tried to take that girl’s pain in to himself.
What else did he invite in?
Emil clutches at his stomach—with what?— and runs. He runs towards the gates. He runs for the life and freedom lost to those slaves. He runs before he loses his. The gate’s wrought-iron bars were open only minutes ago. They might as well be the gates to providence now. They have to be open. He runs without even pausing to see, and he prays. For himself. For the poor girls still inside the house. For the poor girl on the ground. His voice cracks like lightning over the thundering rain as he screams,
“G… get her… out! Wri… down… your names! EVERYTHING! Br… ing… my… ba-aA-AG! N-N-NOOWWWWWWW!!!”
He doesn’t look back. He has his own daughter. He needs to be alive for her.
He runs and he runs and an eternity passes. Time slows when you’re dying. Emil can’t die. Not here. Now now. His arm trembles as he yanks his phone out from his bloody wool pants. He slumps against a wall as he fumbles to hit the button that will call his daughter. He prays it’s not his last act as he feels his knees buckling. He prays the thundering rain isn’t the last thing he hears as blackness steals over his sight.
“S… Sad… ie. Sadie… p-please… an… s… er…”