Chapter 2

 Music spilled out into the air; a mixture of Creedence Clearwater and rock-n-roll mingled with jazz mingled with loud, electronic bass.

Bright, neon lights and old-fashioned gas lamps pushed back against the darkness of the night.

The flow of people moving up and down the street, in and out of the bars and clubs and shops, was nearly as endless as the flow of alcohol. Laughter and gleeful squeals and hundreds of conversations abounded. The never-ending party that is Bourbon Street was in full swing.

Everything about New Orleans is just different; the sights, the sounds, the people, even the very air. It’s as if you’ve left behind the real world, and everything ordinary and mundane, and stepped right into your wildest fantasies. The atmosphere is intoxicating, it’s addicting. At times, it’s almost too much.


But not that night. That night, I soaked it all in, loving every minute of it. In fact, the only thing that I really don’t like about Bourbon Street, is the smell. The street itself isn’t too bad, but the alley ways for a least a block in every direction are horrid! The odors that waft through there are enough to make you gag. It would be an educated guess to assume that it’s the vomit and urine and garbage, the sex and drugs and alcohol, and all matter of other things that have accumulated over the decades, that no amount of scrubbing will ever remove.

You know you’re nearing Bourbon Street when that smell hits you. During the day, it’s not quite as bad, but come nightfall… well, let’s just say that it’s a working theory of mine as to why people stay so drunk there – it inhibits your ability to smell your surroundings.

Danni was the youngest of our group, having just turned 18, and she was the reason we were there: To celebrate her birthday. Many of the establishments in the Quarter didn’t strictly adhere to the 21 and up policy, but some did, and it just so happened that the drink she specifically requested was at one of these places. I volunteered to stand on the sidewalk with her, as the guys went in to buy our drinks, with Ben’s promise to bring me back a Hurricane.

As soon as they disappeared into the throng of people, Danni turned to me, an excited look in her hazel eyes. “I think David’s gonna propose, soon!”

“Um-hm. Wait -what?” I was pulled out of my people watching once her words registered.

“Yeah! I think I caught him talking to his mom about it.” She said, leaning in so she could speak quietly. “I don’t know when yet, but I’m so excited!”

“You’re 18,” I stated. Ok, sure – they’d been dating for 3 years, and I knew that they would get married eventually, but -

“So?” she interrupted my thoughts. “I love him, and I know what I want to do with my life, where it’s going. David’s the one.”

I swallowed my immediate rebuttal. I liked David – in fact, I adored him – but settling down at 18, especially when he was only guy she’d ever been truly serious about – well, it stumped me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love love – but settling down so young…it really wasn’t for me. However, this wasn’t about me – this was Danni’s life, her decision. As long as she wasn’t completely screwing her life up, my job as her best friend was to be supportive: Basically, if she was happy, then I was happy.

“Well – tell me when and where, and I’ll be there with bells on.” I said, smiling. “Of course, I expect to be standing in the Maid of Honor spot and my dress better be gorgeous.”

“Duh!” she said, slapping me playfully on the shoulder. She looked relieved at my answer, the tension in her shoulders lessened, and her black ringlets bounced around her face.

I watched her, watching for David. Sometimes I envied Danni. She always seemed to have everything figured out, whereas I had nothing figured out. She knew what she wanted out of life, and I had no idea at all. That kind of certainty must be rather peaceful.

I didn’t have time to think on it much more, as our drinks arrived. Ben handed me a neon green, plastic container – the bottom shaped like a grenade with face drawn on it - a long straw protruding from the top. The thing was nearly a foot tall. “Really?” I asked, looking from him to the absurd form holding my mixed drink, then back to him.

He shrugged, his lips twitching as he tried not to laugh.  “You said get the biggest – that’s what the biggest comes in. It’s called a Hand Grenade.”

“Yes, I know what a Hand Grenade is, but I asked for a Hurricane.” I deadpanned.

“It’s basically the same thing,” he answered, with a shrug of his shoulders “This was bigger, so I figured you’d like it. Plus, you get a commemorative cup to put on that shelf of yours.” He gestured to the cup in my hand. He was right, I could add it to my shelf of randomness once I got home.

I turned to see that Danni and David had ones just like it, and I gravitated towards them in a show of solidarity. Danni and I clinked our “Hand Grenades” together in a “cheers” type gesture, and was about to take a swig, when Michael interrupted.

“Whoa! Hold on, hold on!” He jumped into the center of our little circle, his hands clamped around several little test tubes, filled with a blue liquid. He began passing them out, and once everyone in our group had one, he continued, “I figured we’d all do a shot in honor of Danni’s 18th!”

Danni looked at the vial in her hand questioningly. “What is it?”

“It’s a blue kamikaze.” He replied. “Trust me, it’s good.” He flipped the top off of his with his thumb, and held it out, as he glanced around at the group. “Well?”

It dawned on us what he meant, and we all followed suit, until all six tubes were touching.

“Wait!” I said suddenly, stopping everyone again. “If we’re gonna do this, we need to do it right…right?” I glanced at Ben, then at David, a mischievous gleam in my eye. They immediately knew where I was headed. And so did Danni.

“No! No, Shelly – I mean it,” she pleaded, desperately trying to stop what was coming, but failing as our voices rang out:


This being New Orleans, several onlookers joined in, complete with applause and cheering after we tossed back our shots. The vodka and lime went down smooth, and I raised my empty tube high in the air, as I called out, “To Danni! Woooo!”

Other, similar sentiments rang out – from our friends as well as our fellow partiers as they passed by. Danni’s face was still in a slight grimace as she handed her empty tube off to David, and he planted a kiss on her already puckered lips.

And that was how we officially kicked off Danni’s birthday celebration.

The night wore on. We walked Bourbon countless times; we danced our way through the tightly packed clubs and along the sidewalks; we browsed the brightly lit shops, with their feather boas and mardi gras beads and voodoo dolls – the usual kitsch to attract the tourists.

Yet, even as we reveled, the nagging sensation of being watched, that something was about to happen, never truly left me. I found myself glancing over my shoulder quite often. Not even the alcohol lessened my unease, and I decided it might be better if I refrained for the rest of the night. Just in case. No one else in our group seemed to sense anything unusual, but that wasn’t really a surprise to me. I had certain…gifts, that my friends didn’t. They were oblivious. I was not.

I was fully aware that something was off, so I should have paid more attention to my surroundings – but it’s New Orleans! It’s hard to focus on any one thing, when there are a billion things around you clamoring for your attention all at once.

For example: The thick crowd who’d gathered in the middle of the street around a couple who were busily, and most passionately going at each other. Loud whistles, lewd comments and suggestions were thrown from the crowd almost as quickly as the couple’s clothes were being tossed aside.

I’m not going to lie: I glanced. But quite frankly, I was more disgusted than anything else. I mean, I have no qualms about sex in public – to each their own – but on Bourbon Street, the actual pavement itself? Yuck. I mean, sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been walking behind the rest of my little group, but I was. Maybe I should have latched onto Ben’s shirt, an anchor in the sea of strangers, but I didn’t; and somehow in the process of pushing and pulling my way through the throng of people, I got separated from my friends. Honestly, I was trying so hard to not come into contact with those around me that, I simply wasn’t able to pay attention to where they went, and by the time I got clear, they were nowhere in sight.

I’m not short, standing at around 5’10” – and with Ben’s 6’4” profile, he shouldn’t be hard to spot, but even standing on my tip-toes I didn’t see him, or the rest of them. I turned in a full circle, eyes scanning the crowd, but it was as if they had vanished.

I spied what appeared to be a milk crate sitting next to one of the old lampposts, and without thinking, I hopped up onto it – hoping the added height would give me a better view over the crowd. As my fingers closed round the iron lamppost, I realized my mistake.

The people, the noise, the lights around me faded until they were nothing more than hum in the back of my mind, and for a moment, the past became the present, and the present no longer existed.

Gone were the drunk partiers, the garish lights, and anything even remotely modern. I heard hoofbeats on cobblestones, and voices murmuring something I couldn’t quite make out. Indistinct figures moved along the sidewalk, and I thought I heard the tapping of a cane on stone. A full moon hung low in the sky, and that along with the scattered lampposts, like the one I was holding onto, provided the only illumination. I glanced up to glass enclosed top of the post, watching the flames flicker and –

I was abruptly pulled from the vision and barely had time to keep from falling to the ground. The drunk man who’d run into me, knocking me from the crate and breaking my link to the past never even stopped, as he barreled through the crowd. If I wasn’t somewhat used to this sort of thing, I probably would have fallen right on my ass.

It was always somewhat disorienting when I snapped out of the visions, or whatever they were. The strength of what came through usually determined how dizzy or nauseous I was afterwards. This particular one hadn’t carried any extreme emotions with it – it was just a glimpse of the past, a snapshot and nothing more, so it didn’t take long at all to recover – maybe a few seconds.

Still, I wrapped my arms around myself, gripping my elbows fiercely, as I started off down the street, carefully avoiding contact with both the people and the buildings as much as possible. In a place as old as New Orleans, and a street as rowdy as this one, there was simply no telling what might come through with even the briefest of touch. The vision had cleared my head of any lingering effects of the Hand Grenade and shot, and with a renewed alertness I kept moving, looking in doorways and scanning the faces I passed, until I was almost to the corner across from Jean Lafitte’s – the spot on Rue Bourbon where we typically turned around.

I abruptly stopped walking when a near overwhelming dread hit me. The hair on the back of my neck raised, goosebumps raced down my arms, and all my senses were suddenly on overdrive. An almost palpable presence seemed to envelop me, the air around me veritably screamed “DANGER!”

I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply to calm the fear that was beating at me, because I knew that whatever was coming, whatever my inner alarm had been warning me about, was here.

But just because I knew something was coming, didn’t mean I wasn’t still surprised as hell when an arm went around my neck, a hand closed over my mouth, and I was nearly jerked off my feet and roughly pulled into an alley.

Something strange happened then: I felt the uneven ground beneath my feet as I was pulled further into the darkness, heard the skittering of cans and other trash that was kicked out of the way; I felt my heart, like a jackhammer beating against my chest and my eyes watered as I tried to breathe…but it seemed like it was all happening in slow motion. Each step I was pulled seemed a mile; each moment between the thud of my heartbeats took eons…and yet, my brain was working as feverishly as it ever had.

My hands clutched at the arm around my neck, my nails digging into the flesh, and the pressure against my windpipe increased painfully. Part of my mind was screaming in terror, but there was another part that remained perfectly calm.

Pay attention to where he’s taking you…

There’s another one here, waiting…

Stop struggling and wait for your moment, for a weak spot to exploit…

I allowed the man to move me further into the alley with a minimum amount of struggle on my part, as I attempted to adjust my eyes to the darkness. Not that the street had been much brighter, but the inky blackness that surrounded me now was like a suffocating blanket.

The walls around us were old brick and mortar, with what looked like ivy growing along the side. The moonlight filtered down between the buildings and I got a glimpse of the other man I’d somehow already known was there. His clothes were dark – I couldn’t tell the exact color – and his face was shaded by a hat. But it was the glint of metal in his hand that caught my attention. He had a gun.

He said something, but I don’t know what; all I could hear was a roaring sound in my ears as time caught up again, and the danger I was in fully hit home. I might die. I might be raped. Probably both. Well, shit.

Again, the man in front of me was speaking, but I wasn’t listening; even as the man holding me let out a chuckle that sent a shiver of disgust through me. No, my brain was sizing up the situation, trying to figure out if there was a way out of this without dying. Most likely not, but I’d rather die than go through whatever they had planned for me. Call it reckless, call it foolish, call it brave, but I’m a fighter. No way was this happening without me fighting like hell to stop it.

I stilled completely, my hands still gripping the arm around my neck, my eyes on the man slowly approaching me, as my brain rapped out orders…

Remember what you learned in your self-defense class!

Cause a distraction!

I took a breath, then bit down hard on the hand over my mouth; I bit until a coppery taste hit my tongue and I knew I’d drawn blood. The man holding me wrenched his hand away, cursing. “Fuck! The bitch just bit me, man! She fucking bit me!”

I could have screamed for help once the hand was gone from my mouth, but it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. If anyone did hear me over the noise on the street, I wasn’t certain they would bother to come to my aid. Besides, I didn’t have a chance anyway. The man in front of me stepped forward backhanded me hard across the face. My vision blurred, as pain blossomed throughout my head.

Do not show fear!

I spit blood from my mouth, unsure if it was mine, or the guy whose hand I’d bitten; probably a little of both.

Use your surroundings!

Use your body weight!

I spared the guy in front of me one glance, before I leaned back hard into the man behind me. As he staggered back into the wall, I used the leverage to send a hard kick into the groin of the man before me, swiftly followed by another to the hand that held the gun. I heard it hit the ground somewhere off to my left as he doubled in pain.

Ok – now S.I.N.G.!

I sent my elbow into guy behind me with as much force as I possibly could. I heard his “oomph!” as the breath left his lungs, and I dug my heel into his shin, scraping downwards until I stomped on his instep.

“AAAHHH!” he yelled, and it was like music to my ears. His arm loosened from my neck, and I slipped free, spinning and bringing my knee up. I was aiming for his groin, but he’d bent over in pain, and my knee instead connected with his abdomen.

So, I didn’t exactly follow the S.I.N.G. rules, but hey – I did my best.

I turned to run – I could see people passing just a couple yards away, hear voices from the street. Freedom was within my grasp…until a hand grabbed me roughly, fingers digging into my upper arm with enough force to make me cry out in pain. Without thinking, simply reacting on instinct, I spun back around, and sent the heel of my hand directly into his nose. I felt the bones break, but I didn’t stop; I couldn’t, the force behind the blow was too much. I saw his eyes widen in pain, then glaze; I felt his grip loosen, and I watched him stumble back a step, then fall to the ground at my feet.

And I froze. Because I knew that he wasn’t unconscious. He was dead. And I had killed him. I killed someone. That knowledge was enough to freeze me in place. It’s one thing to contemplate it during a self-defense class, to say that you’d have no problem doing it if it came down to it; but it’s entirely different when you put those words into action, when it becomes real.

Oh my God…what did I do…

You did what you had to – now stop thinking about it and RUN!

But, I –

No buts! Just RUN! Run, n-

My inner argument was interrupted as I found myself in the air. One moment, I was standing, frozen in shock, and the next, I was being hurled toward the entrance of the alleyway. I bounced off the ivy-covered wall to my right, and landed on the sidewalk, all the air knocked out of me. What the fuck!?!

Using my hands, I gently pushed myself up, looking back over my shoulder to see what or who the hell had just thrown me, and the world stopped…

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