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“Faubourg” by Carlyn Worthy

She dreamt of the blood-red eyes again.

Ameyah sat up bone-straight in her bed, a cold sweat covering her brow. New Orleans was held in nighttime’s embrace, and her household still lay immersed in their dreams. She may have slept an hour, but that was nothing new. The stars pulled her hair when the rest of the world saw fit to retire, and that was okay. She always thought it was silly – the idea that demigods needed sleep.

She shrugged off the nerves and embraced the morning, careful not to let her eyelids meet for too long – three seconds in pitch dark would invite those demonic eyes back to her mind. She had spent a hundred years fighting that insidious dream. She even tried tracing its origin in a feeble attempt to silence it, but nothing remained of her mortal memories. That was probably for the best, anyway.

Minutes later, Ameyah pulled a bike down the steps of her shotgun house, her trumpet tucked securely in the knapsack slung over her back. The Tremé still donned its costume, the sidewalk masked by broken beads, plastic cups and feathers – victims of last night’s parades. A group of neighborhood kids danced home from Frenchmen Street, the rhythms of The Soul Rebels Brass Band on their lips. Mr. Thompson yelled at their off-key howling from his porch swing while Mama Sue made shrimp and grits for their grandbabies. Ameyah caught the heavenly smell in the air. That morning she was thankful to see and, more importantly, hear her neighbors. Those sounds of life proved that Ameyah and her fellow Guardians had done their job. She kicked the beads, mounted her bike, and headed off towards Mid-City, her path cloaked in darkness.

***

Tucked away behind a community college, Holt Cemetery was a secret hidden from the rest of New Orleans. Ameyah stopped her bike at the gate, where a brand new industrial lock greeted her, the not-so-subtle response to her last break in. She kneeled, tugged her shoelaces for luck and then scaled the fence.

Turning to check for unwanted visitors, Ameyah glimpsed the sign marking the entrance. A small, weather-beaten wooden placard hung lazily a few yards to her left – a far cry from the customary stone signs announcing the presence of millionaires, lawyers and socialites past. She felt a ball of anger take shape as she read the words “Holt Cemetery” splashed in white paint. The wind howled, compelled by Ameyah’s fury. Beyond the gate, ancient trees danced, their roots clinging desperately to the turf. The shutters on the groundskeeper’s office fought against the gusts. Those rickety things barely stood a chance.

The creaking of an oak tree against the storm broke Ameyah’s trance. She took a deep breath, willed the rage through her skin and let it dissolve in the dying winds.

She removed a trash bag from her knapsack, collecting soda cans and notebook paper as she passed dozens of concrete markers rooted in the soil. Holt didn’t have the fancy stone tombs above ground like St. Louis Cemetery down the street, and today she was grateful for that. Before dawn, this mission was a broken bone waiting to happen.

Ameyah went to the cemetery to pray, to scream, to sing and talk to her family. Her thoughts and her music flowed freely when surrounded by resting ancestors. She trashed the last soda can, settled under an oak tree, and removed the trumpet from her knapsack.

For centuries, her sisters had protected their community from invasion. Ameyah had just risen to a full Guardian, and the upcoming battle would be her first. Most Guardians weren’t chosen to join the front lines until their offensive and defensive powers had fully matured, which took 300 years on average. At only 169, the equivalent of a mortal 19, Ameyah had beaten the odds.

Ameyah brandished her trumpet, a gift from her Aunt Sareh, given to her in the days before her homegoing. She played a somber tune, inviting the breeze to take her notes. The sky metamorphosed to a dull gray. The air thickened with the overbearing humidity of a Louisiana summer, fog descending on to the field rapidly. Ameyah took in slow breaths, exhaling the mists and melodies that encased her and her ancestors. Within seconds the greenery vanished, replaced by miles of nothing.

Her mother’s voice came to her, carried on the wind from 160 years earlier…

“She’s only a child! Are you sure?”

“Her mark is forming. I’m sure.” Ameyah’s Aunt Sareh said.

“But that could be anything! Maybe it’s a bruise. It just seems too early.”

“It’s early, but bruises don’t last for months.”

“But—”

“Anita, it’s beyond us. Look at her. She’s already starting to age slower.”

Ameyah played jacks on the porch while her mother and aunt fired back and forth in rapid Creole, pointing to the mark forming at the nape of her neck. She didn’t see it, but she knew something was off by the way people stared. She also noticed that strange things occurred whenever the little patience she had was tested. That day she threw a temper tantrum at school when her classmate took her snack. A violent gust of wind sent a tree flying through the air and onto the teacher’s wagon. The whole schoolhouse shook from her fury.

“Start homeschooling her,” Aunt Sareh said. “She hasn’t grown an inch since her sixth birthday. Lord knows folks will start asking questions.”

Anita sighed. “I know. I just wanted something different for her. I wanted her life to be her own.”

The war of words had stretched from noon to sunset. Aunt Sareh walked with leaden feet into the house, muttering her displeasure, and Anita wore sadness for Ameyah to see. “Come child,” she said.

***

The snap of a branch sent Ameyah back to Holt. That can’t be the groundskeeper. Snap. It’s too early. Snap. She normally disappeared before the groundskeeper surfaced and burials wouldn’t begin until noon.

Branches stopped breaking and the field grew silent. Ameyah listened for movement. Fog was an old friend of New Orleans mornings, even if a lot of folks feared it. But this person wasn’t cautious. If she wasn’t mistaken, she detected arrogance. After a moment’s silence, laughter erupted from within the haze. “Damnit Ameyah!” a familiar voice shouted. “I hate when you do that!”

A figure donned in green parted the fog. She was much taller than Ameyah and wore long, fire-colored dreadlocks knotted in a bun at the nape of her neck. Freckles sprinkled across her cheeks. The visitor perched along the roots of the giant oak tree. She propped her elbows on her knees, rested her chin at the meeting of her long fingers and stared at Ameyah through squinting mahogany eyes. “100 years and you still throw that shield up on me? You ain’t shit.”

Ameyah smiled. “100 years and you still don’t know me? I hit first and ask questions later, Calypso. And you lucky you caught me before breakfast.” The visitor cocked her head backward, eyes wide with the fierce gaze of a young Ruby Dee. Ameyah sent Calypso a hard glance, then they both erupted in laughter.

Ameyah turned to her sister and fellow Guardian. “I thought you were home. They know you here?”

“Nah,” Calypso said. I left before they woke up.”

“Oh.”

“They know you here?”

“Do they ever?”

“Real.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Calypso toyed with Spanish moss in her left hand, the right hand conducting the turf as it sprouted life. She generated new blades of grass and flowers while Ameyah examined the tips of her chocolate-colored locks. “Listen, I know you’re worried,” Calypso said. “We never put you on the front line before. But they wouldn’t pick you, the Society wouldn’t pick you, if they thought you couldn’t fight The Gorem.”

Ameyah sighed. “I hear you, but we’ve never even gotten close to the damn things. Anyone who has is, well…”

Calypso nodded her understanding. Her silence was a familiar one, the acknowledgment of an uncomfortable truth – that the Guardians didn’t have all the answers. The Gorem attacked the Marigny last year. The untrained mortal eye saw nothing, but most folks felt their ghostly presence, felt the gathering static in the thick Louisiana heat as the Gorem waited for the right moment to strike. Some folks shut down their clubs and left town, knowing that a pile of bricks would greet them one morning if they waited. The year before that it had been the French Quarter, screams covered by the trains rumbling along the river.

The Gorem were their one enemy that remained alive after centuries of battles. Somehow they managed to coexist with the Guardians, hiding in plain sight. As more mortals fled the Marigny, Ameyah quickly learned that this battle would be the start of something bigger than anything the Society had ever seen.

Calypso rose to her feet, extended a hand and pulled Ameyah up from her post. “We got work to do. The Cardinal wants us ready by 8.” A shy January sun peeked over the treetops as Ameyah and Calypso emerged from Holt. A single gravestone that read Blessed Anita sat in the shadow of the oak tree. Ameyah silently forbade fate from filling the vacant green surrounding her.

***

The archway to Armstrong Park emerged as Ameyah and Calypso’s tires burned the pavement. The Cardinal had a no bullshit policy when it came to timeliness, especially now that the next attack was so close. “Where’s the portal this week?” Ameyah asked through deep breaths.

“They moved it back to Louie!” Calypso hollered over her shoulder. Ameyah was athletic, but her speed was no match for Calypso’s long legs. The archway faded behind them as they made it to the entrance – a portal masquerading as a statue of the great Satchmo himself. The Guardians cast their bikes into the grass, and Calypso paused at Louie’s feet. “Where…is…the key?” Ameyah said, circling the statue. “It can’t be this easy.”

Portals are funny. They’re sophisticated, but simple, which annoyed the shit out of most Guardians. The Cardinal used them as an excuse to make puzzles, as if they had the time, or the patience, to solve a life-sized rubik’s cube. “We’re looking right at it,” Calypso said. “Or, really, it’s looking right at us. We just can’t see it.” They stared for a moment, then Calypso broke the silence with a sudden yell. “A-ha!” She stretched out her palm and touched the trumpet Satchmo held at his right side. The bell hung next to his knee, just low enough for Ameyah to reach with a jump. They closed their eyes and visualized their sisters, the fellow Guardians of the Sun Society – who were all royally pissed by now – waiting for them on the other side.

Ameyah clutched the strap of her knapsack; her stomach did somersaults as they were pushed and pulled through the atmosphere. She swore her head was being jerked in three different directions and the world became a dark blur around her. She had only joined the front line ten years earlier, not nearly enough time to get used to being handled like a Gumby doll. Calypso, on the other hand, sang along to the Rebirth Brass Band tune in her head as they traveled. I ain’t much on Cassanova. Me and Romeo ain’t neva been friends. Dontcha see how much I really love ya? Gonna say it to ya time and time again…

After what felt like hours, they landed on concrete again. If the Tremé stood in front of a mirror, it’s reflection would be their new world. Trees that had been planted to the left of the statue were now on the right. Gravity abandoned the fountains at the center of the park and water flowed into the sky. Congo Square was now behind them, and the French Quarter, once across the street from the archway, became a distant memory.

“I don’t know how you standing there shittin’ sunshine and stardust right now,” Ameyah said through gritted teeth. “We were almost torn limb from limb.” She took a deep breath, fighting off the vomit dancing in her stomach.

“How do you think I get through it?” Calypso said with a smirk. Ameyah realized that it should’ve clicked sooner. Calypso was always singing something. She was about to ask Calypso about that song when…

“That was dope! Can we do it again?!”

They both turned and watched in horror as a tall boy stumbled from behind the statue.

Oh. My. God.

***

The kid wore a bandana under a Kangol hat and brandished a silver trumpet. His eyes were wide, his nose a button, and he flashed a Cheshire Cat grin. If a child ever went apeshit and robbed the neighborhood Praline Man, this is what he would look like post-sugar rush. “Where’d y’all learn that?” he asked. “Can you teach me?” His high-pitched voice hinted that he was a few days shy of his thirteenth birthday.

The whistle in his vocal chords jerked Ameyah back to reality. “Shit. SHIT. Calypso what do we do?”

Calypso walked to the boy, appraising him as she spoke. “No bruises…no broken bones…he don’t look hurt…” She poked him, her lips curling into a frown as she lifted a slender arm. “Are they usually so skinny at his age? We didn’t do that, huh?”

The boy frowned. “Sorry I’m not Idris Elba,” he muttered. He was almost as tall as Calypso with a giant head and long limbs sprouting under it. Ameyah watched the kid, studying his trumpet. Even through all the jerking and pulling the horn made it through the portal without a scratch.

“We bring him with us,” said Calypso.

“To the statue?” said the kid.

“Come child,” Calypso said with a shake of her head. The three walked toward Congo Square.

***

“You’re late,” the lady in gold said flatly.

“We know. We’re sorry.”

Omena was Cardinal of the Sun Society, the southernmost Society of Guardians in the country. Founded 500 years ago in what would become New Orleans, the Sun Society covered any state that touched the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of Guardians were stationed along the coasts, and the New Orleans chapter was the largest behind California. Guardians traveled from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas to be there that morning. The threat on New Orleans would surely make its way to their homes if they didn’t contain it.

Omena sat amongst her fellow Guardians, floating in a sea of brown, black, red, and gold hair. Women with afros, dreadlocks, braids and curls formed a giant circle in Congo Square. A hundred pairs of eyes stared at Ameyah and Calypso as they shuffled quickly into the meeting. The kid was hidden from view across the park, and they hoped he wouldn’t do anything stupid to give himself away before they could speak with Omena.

Omena placed her hands at the sides of a large black and gold bass drum. When Ameyah and Calypso completed the circle, she banged the drum with her fist three times. BONG. BONG. BONG. No one needed a mallet or a megaphone when Omena was there. Cardinals inherited the strength of Guardians past. They could easily command the attention of a stadium. Omena was no exception.

The Society faced their Cardinal. “Sisters! Our enemies will descend upon us soon. We don’t know when they plan to strike, only that this time will be worse than any attack we’ve ever seen. But what we do know is this: they desire silence and will stop at nothing to mute the city.”

Ameyah turned to Calypso. She knew without words that Calypso shared her thought – she had put her life in danger that same morning at the cemetery. “We also know that they show loyalty to no creature, not even their own kind,” Omena said. “The mortals can’t fight what they can’t see. This is why we’re here. No matter what happens, we cannot fail!”

Ameyah watched as her fellow Guardians nodded in agreement. Some beat the ground with their fists, while others yelled in camaraderie. “Weapons can’t stop them. Our ancestors tried them centuries ago. They evolve as the world around them evolves. They learn and change. We must rely on our strengths, our elemental forces, to win. Guard yourselves, guard each other, and guard the people.” Omena turned to her right and nodded once to her neighboring Guardian. “Hazen. The floor is yours.”

Hazen was Omena’s second-in-command, and she would likely become the next Cardinal. She was tall with thin, shoulder-length dreadlocks that spiraled out to tight curls at their ends. Her posture was damn near perfect and she, like Omena, owned your attention before you knew it was open to claim. “My fellow Guardians. I have created a map of the city and marked territories that are most coveted by our enemies.” With a wave of her left hand and a flash of flames, Hazen projected the map in the air for all of the Society to see.

“Show off,” Calypso muttered to the cobblestones.

Hazen’s map could’ve fallen straight out of The Matrix and into Congo Square. Hovering above the Guardians were smaller projections of themselves, roaming the streets of New Orleans and invisible to the people. In the Tremé, children played on the sidewalk while their elders watched them from the porch. A DJ stood at the end of a cul-de-sac scratching her turntables. Groups of college kids flocked to the warehouses by the river, ready to see the next rising star. In the Bywater, a young kid sat on an outdoor stage plucking an electric bass. He watched as folks circled the bar for more rounds of Sazerac, washing out their troubles from the week. Even though the people enjoyed New Orleans without a care, the map carried a certain sadness; the weight of tension from a battle brewing.

“We have to double security at Frenchmen Street and St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny, Poland Street in the Bywater, and the Ninth Ward. The first line needs to be stationed in the Tremé.” Guardians rose to volunteer for different posts. Hazen arranged their projections on the map to align them with their assigned posts. “We also need a task force to be stationed on the avenue when the attacks begin. Ameyah and Calypso, you’ll be on task force with me,” Hazen said.

The Society shared Ameyah’s look of shock. Some glanced at Ameyah with approval, while others wore their jealously and disdain. She knew she was expected to stand guard now that her defensive weapons had matured, but she would have never guessed Hazen would call her to serve in the Task Force. A Task Force was only brought out during emergencies. Past task forces had been comprised of Cardinals only, and they took no prisoners.

“Everyone, expect your shift schedule within the hour,” Hazen said. “Shifts begin today at sunset. Be ready.”

Damn. Ameyah thought. They aren’t messing around. She looked at Calypso and they made a beeline for Omena before anyone could go to her with their auspices on the battle or requests for shift changes.

“Omena, we need to talk,” Calypso said.

Omena narrowed her eyes. “Yes, sisters?”

“Can you come with us?” said Ameyah. “We can show you better than we can tell you.”

They led her out of Congo Square to a small forest that ensconced the fountain. “Well,” Omena said, “where is he?”

“Where’s who?

“The child.”

“What child?”

Like Calypso, Omena had the temperament of a volcano – she was either calm or enraged, nothing in between. After today’s Society meeting, Ameyah could only imagine how close the two of them were to igniting Pompeii. “I know there’s a human here. I made the portal, remember?” She’d probably sensed the kid’s presence before he grabbed a hold of Satchmo. ”

Calypso and Ameyah glanced at each other. “Well. Where is he?” Omena said with a clipped tone. “I’d like to meet him.”

Calypso whistled, signaling the kid to emerge from the forest. He padded cautiously from the thick of the woods and stood in front of Omena. She grabbed him by the chin, forcing his head upward so they stared eye-to-eye.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Quincy.”

Omena frowned. “Quincy, how did you know about the portal?”

The kid’s chin quivered under Omena’s grip. Ameyah felt bad for him. She was almost tempted to shield him from Omena’s wrath, but knew better. She could challenge a Cardinal, but then again she could jump off a bridge, too. They were basically the same thing.

Quincy struggled to keep his cool. “I…I uh…saw the other chicks –”

“Excuse me?”

“Um, women. I saw the other women disappear into the statue and I wanted to know where they went.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause it looked cool, but kinda scary. Like something out of a movie,” he admitted.

“No one ever told you not to go looking for shit you don’t wanna find?”

“Guess not.”

Omena looked at Quincy, then waved her hand over his face, hovering between his eyes. She told the kid to stay where he was, then walked over to Ameyah and Calypso. “He’s not just any kid,” she said. “He’s one of your descendants, Ameyah.”

Ameyah’s mouth dropped open. “Descendents?”

“But we can’t bare children, Omena. How?” Calypso asked.

“Mine?” Ameyah said. She looked back over at Quincy, searching for some hint of herself in him. The boy sat at the edge of the fountain, shaking spit out of his horn and humming to himself.

“He’s not a direct descendant,” Omena said. “Likely one of your cousins’ great-grandchildren. The blood runs through him, which is why he was able to see the portal. Instinct drew him to it. An unusually strong instinct…”

“What should we do with him?” Ameyah said. Of all the rules that governed the Society, discretion was the most important. If a mortal stared a Guardian in the face, they shouldn’t be able to suspect a thing. Full Guardianship could be taken by the Cardinal if they did. No questions, no objections. But Quincy was family, and anyway, he already knew too much.

“We keep him for now,” said Omena. “We’ll decide his fate after the battle.”

Quincy looked up at them. “Did someone say battle?”

***

The sun crawled slowly toward the river. The rest of the Society had spread out across the city, while Quincy and the Task Force set up the rooftop of the Hotel Pontchartrain. The building was nothing special – a dull monstrosity against the New Orleans skyline – it offered little more than a glimpse of life on the avenue. Floats, dancers and marching bands crawled through Uptown. From the top of the Pontchartrain, they were just caterpillars surrounded by a vast swarm of ants.

Ameyah wore her locks in a high bun, her exposed neck calling Quincy’s eyes to the mark. Three straight lines curled at the ends, projecting an imaginary gust of wind into the Uptown air. She watched as the locals danced to the horns and drums. Ameyah lived in New Orleans her whole life, and in 100 years she never met someone who could stand still when a band played. It was a time of year where silence made no sense.

A couple hours passed, leaving everyone marred by boredom. The mass of parade-goers thinned as the final floats moseyed down St. Charles. “I don’t undestand,” Hazen said. “Every indication said the attack would be tonight.”

Quincy walked to the ledge and stood next to Ameyah. “This the big battle y’all were talking about.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry ’bout that, smartass. Worry ’bout getting your chops up on that horn.”

Quincy smirked. “Chops up? I’m a pro!”

“Oh yeah? Prove it.”

Breaking the silence, Quincy pulled out his trumpet and played Maze & Frankie Beverly’s “We Are One.”

Can’t understand why we treat each other in this way…

Ameyah nodded her head as Quincy played. The kid was talented. More than that, she heard some of her own stylings in his grace notes and playful cadence.

Hazen tapped her foot and Calypso swayed back and forth slowly.

“He’s annoying,” Hazen said, “but a pretty good kid.”

Calypso nodded and snapped her fingers to the beat. “And Omena said he’s one of Ameyah’s. Can we keep him?”

Hazen waved her hand. “Can we keep him? He’s a person, not –” She stopped tapping her foot. “Hey, kid, why’d you sto– ”

A blood-curdling roar erupted from behind the Task Force and pierced the sky. They turned around and saw Quincy in the clutches of an animal that towered over them all. At least eight feet of something ungodly stood under a tattered cloak. Blood red eyes glared at them from within the shadow cast by a hood. They were the same blood red eyes that haunted Ameyah’s dreams. The unrelenting, soul-shaking blood red eyes that had warned her of this night for more than a century. The Gorem’s translucent, waxy skin looked thick enough to take a bullet. The claw clutching Quincy’s neck bore razors that could behead him effortlessly.

It was a creature designed by death itself, and it smelled of death, too. Even in the open air the stench was paralyzing. Ameyah fought to keep her eyes open. She tried to move her hands and conjure something, anything, but felt nothing.

The scream of another monster sounded, deafening even in the distance. The creature let out a furious roar. Quincy dropped his trumpet as the Gorem pushed off the rooftop and launched into the night.

***

The Task Force ran down the avenue, watching the skies for any sign of Quincy or the Gorem. They pushed between the diminishing crowd – the last drunken oblivious revelers.

“I can’t see anything,” Ameyah yelled. “It’s too dark!”

With a flick of the hand Hazen conjured sparks in the clouds. They heard the scream again and spotted the Gorem flying down Saint Charles Avenue toward Lee Circle. It dove out of sight behind a canopy of trees next to the Audubon Hotel. A crash rang through the air, and a cloud of smoke rose from the building. Ameyah stopped in her tracks. The thought of her cousin being trapped in that abandoned building snatched the wind from her lungs.

She was about to launch across the street when Hazen’s warm hand caught her wrist. “Ameyah, it’s a trap.”

Amyeah yanked her arm free. “He’s family, Hazen.”

“You didn’t even know he existed until today, girl. It could be a trap!”

***

The Audubon Hotel had seen better days. Built almost a century ago, tonight it crumbled slowly, abandoned within the confines of police tape, construction cones and graffiti. It was a strange sight; a childhood memory lost in time. For many of the Guardians, the hotel had lived and died during their time in New Orleans.

Ameyah stood with Calypso in front of the wrecked building, Quincy’s trumpet in tow.

Calypso shook her head. “This may be the dumbest shit you’ve come up with in the century I known you.”

Ameyah scowled. “I’m sure I’ve had dumber ones. Ready?”

“Ready.”

***

The lobby was still open. Well, what used to be the lobby was open, guarded only by flimsy beams of rotting wood. Darkness engulfed the ground floor. As Calypso prepared their exit, Ameyah ran through the lobby and up a rickety stairwell. She arrived to the second floor landing, pitch dark and void of space and time. She pushed the thought of the crimson eyes out of her mind again, and moved further into the shadows.

As her eyes adjusted, Ameyah saw a path along the edge of the gutted floor. She slid along the ancient wall past the shells of hotel rooms and ghosts of the golden age. She walked through bedrooms with suitcases, detached bathroom sinks and bottles of Absinthe littered across the floor, untouched and covered in a film of dust. Then there were the toys. Dolls mostly. Their porcelain eyes grabbed a hold of her gaze as she continued down the path. Ameyah ignored the creepiness sliding along her skin and kept it moving.

As she edged toward the other end of the floor, she came to the painstaking realization that Quincy may not be here. Maybe the Gorem didn’t bring him here. Maybe we’re out of time.

She turned to find her way back to the staircase when she heard a cough in the next room. Just inside the doorway, Quincy lay barely conscious in the rubble of a collapsed wall. His chest rose and fell in slow, labored breaths.

The screeching of the Gorem filled the air as the flimsy floorboards shook beneath them. Ameyah shook Quincy’s shoulders; eyes rolled and he turned his head upward, shaking away the dusts of unconsciousness from his mind. He stumbled to his feet, barely finding his footing.

Another screech rang in the air and a pair of crimson eyes cut the darkness.

“Quincy run!” she screamed.

They turned and ran for the stairs. .

***

Ameyah and Quincy jumped past the missing boards on the staircase, descending back to the ground floor. She paused as the odor of the Gorem filled her nose, threatening to knock her to the ground. They were here, and they had been watching the whole time, waiting for the Task Force to save Quincy. But one or two Gorem wasn’t a big enough catch. Ameyah drew the trumpet, pointing it to the air, and padded slowly toward the splintered ruins of the concierge desk.

She probed her foot along the floorboards, tapping them one by one. There. The loose one Calypso had said to look for.

Ameyah faced Quincy. “Listen to me. When I tell you to run, you run. Don’t look back, and don’t try to be a friggin’ hero. You hear me?”

Quincy blinked at Ameyah.

“Do you hear me?”

He nodded.

She put the mouthpiece against her pursed lips. Quincy’s playing had attracted the Gorem before, and she knew they wouldn’t resist now. They would have exactly what they wanted – a Guardian, and not just any Guardian, but a member of the Task Force. Ameyah closed her eyes and blew as loud as she could. At the sound of the trumpet, the eyes of death descended upon her.

“RUN!” she screamed.

She blasted out another trumpet-call as Quincy kicked the loose floorboards and jumped into the darkness.

***

Ameyah watched as dozens of Gorem raged toward her. She dropped the trumpet and raised her hands to the beasts, releasing a windstorm into the lobby. She pushed it forward, aiming for the monsters’ arms, legs, and wings; anything that would immobilize them. She fought a wave of nausea as disfigured talons dislodged from legs and claws fell in piles of concrete. They fell to their knees, some crawling slowly to Ameyah, the thirst for blood still unquenched.

She threw gusts of wind as more Gorem launched themselves at her. As the limbs detached, they dissolved in her onslaught, the wax-like parts melting into the concrete. The smell of burnt flesh filled the room. She saw stars, but kept fighting. A few more seconds and it would all be over.

Ameyah counted in her mind, pacing herself against every nerve in her body that commanded her to run. 5…4…3…2…

She grabbed Quincy’s trumpet and disappeared down the rabbit hole. Above, Gorem thrashed each other to throw themselves in after her. They’re loyal to no one, not even their own kind. Omena’s words rang in her head.

Finally, she landed on the spongy earth and broke into a run, following the tunnel built by Calypso. She hurled towards the moonlight that shone through the tunnel. An ear-piercing scream resounded through the air. Almost there.

The moon grew larger as Ameyah barreled ahead. 100 yards… 80… 60… Almost there… When the light touched her face, she leaped into the air and grabbed Calypso’s hand. Calypso heaved Ameyah to the surface where they both lay on their back panting. Hazen stood over them, smiling. “Calypso’s tunnel worked out after all.” Quincy peeked out from behind her; he was shaken and covered in dust and Gorem ichor but otherwise alright.

Ameyah stood and handed Quincy his trumpet, then turned to face the Audubon. She raised her hands, pointing them toward the roof, and released a gust of wind. It swept along St Charles, gathering force and then smashed head on into the broken façade, toppling it. Concrete and wood barreled towards the avenue, masking the shrieks of the Gorem. Dust burst skyward over the building as car alarms, barking dogs and police sirens rang in cadence.

The Task Force and Quincy walked towards Central City as ambulances and squads cars sped down the avenue to the wreckage.

Hazen turned to Ameyah. “So what do we say when people ask what happened?”

“We say nothing,” she said. “A building collapsed.”

With a wave of the hand, fog descended upon New Orleans.

***

Ameyah awakened as the sun cast the last hazy shadows across the shotgun house, a balmy afternoon making its graceful exit from the Tremé. She padded through the shotgun house, smiled at where Quincy lay passed out on the couch, and scanned the room for her trumpet. She felt a tap on the shoulder, turned and saw Calypso holding it.

“Ready when you are,” Calypso said.

Mr. Thompson yelled, cutting the air with his cane, and Mama Sue sang as she stirred her red beans simmering for dinner that night. Ameyah would never forget those blood-red eyes. She would never forget dancing with death, but only today mattered.

Ameyah and Calypso kicked the turf with their bikes and parted the heavy Louisiana fog. Blessed Anita and royals of the past waited patiently for her morning song.

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About the Author

Carlyn Worthy is a writer and photographer living in New Orleans, LA. When the ink dries and the camera sleeps, she wanders from festivals to record stores, film screenings and second lines. She plans to capture the world on film and find the perfect slice of pizza on the way. You can find her musings on her blog at http://www.withlovefromlyn.com and @andthenlynsaid on Twitter.