We had my launch party last night, and since I want to report on it and post pictures (and there’s no way I’m going to have the time or energy to write it up afterward) I’ll wait until next week to share the details. Instead, in honor of Halloween week and the posts we’ve had here, I thought I’d share my ghost story.
I love New Orleans. When I was in grad school, my husband and I decided to start a political consulting firm. We signed a candidate in Mobile, and went down over a weekend to meet him. We quickly realized he wasn’t the candidate for us — he kept suggesting ways to get around the FEC filing laws, talked about how he was going to split apart his political donations for home improvements — you get the idea. So we cut the trip short and drove over to New Orleans. Hubby made a reservation at the Maison Dupuy, an utterly charming and highly romantic hotel in the Quarter, and I fell in love. With the city, the people, the vibe, and a little bit deeper with hubby. It’s one of those shining memories, a day and night of pure bliss.
We went into a million clubs, danced and drank too much, wandered through the Quarter all night . . . it was a wonderful twenty-four hours. The only things we didn’t get to do was go to a club known as the Dungeon. Hubby had been there on another trip and wanted to show it to me, but we just ran out of time.
Fast forward a few years. Hubby and I were now married, and decided a three day excursion down to New Orleans might be a fun way to blow off some steam. I had a good sense of the town now, and I wanted to do a ghost tour. I loved our vampiric guide — with his pearly smooth skin, his long fingernails, velvet frock coat, he embodied the New Orleans I’d read about in Anne Rice novels. He told us a lot of great, gruesome tales, but I didn’t "feel" anything.
Now, let me back up and admit that I’ve always been a bit attracted to the paranormal. I’ve had some bizarre, unexplainable situations. Lest you think I’m a bit off, I have this weird six sense about bad things. Especially when I was younger, I would tell my mom something bad was going to happen, and it always did. Supposedly, most of the women in my family have this heightened radar, so it wasn’t a huge deal. The big one was when I woke up and told my mom something horrible was going to happen to President Reagan that day. He was shot six hours later. Ever since, I’ve done my best to tamp down those "hunches." I feel better that way. I’d rather not know.
Okay, so my bonafides are in place. I’m a little sensitive to weirdness. And I loved reading Anne Rice. I’d always been entranced by her New Orleans, and wanted to see it through her eyes. The ghost and vampire tour went a long way toward satisfying that need, but I still felt . . . I don’t know . . . unfulfilled.
After the tour, the group split off. I was tempted to follow our guide and see what he did next, but he disappeared (probably had a gig to play, or blood to drink, or something.) Hubby really wanted to make sure I got to see the Dungeon this trip, but the doors don’t open until midnight. We decided to kill some time at Pat O’Brien’s. We had a great dinner, and I sampled the infamous hurricane. Just one. Hubby had two. We weren’t drunk. We weren’t even buzzed. Just having a good time in Crescent City.
It was now about a quarter to one, and time to head down to the Tombs. Our waiter had been a ball all night. We were tickled because he looked exactly, and I mean exactly, like Louis Farrakhan. In between giggles, we asked him the shortest path to the Dungeon. He gave us directions, we paid our check and left the restaurant.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know that it’s just like New York. It never sleeps. There’s always (or at least there were before Katrina) crowds about in the Quarter. We walked up Bourbon Street to Toulouse, turned left and started down until we hit the entrance for the Dungeon.
There’s a wide plank wooden door, with antique hinges, the whole nine yards. Hubby reached for the handle of the door, and it was locked. We pulled on it a few times and were completely puzzled. It was 1 AM. The place was supposed to be open.
That’s when we realized there was no one around. No one. On Toulouse Street, just a block off Bourbon, at 1 in the morning — it was completely empty and silent. We looked at each other and started to feel a little strange. We’re standing there, discussing what to do, whispering to each other because we’re really creeped out. The hair on the back of my neck suddenly rose. We turned to our right, and the waiter from Pat O’Brien’s was standing there. No footsteps, no clatter of shoes on the cobblestones, nothing. He literally appeared.
We looked at him, and said a shaky hello. All of my warning signals were screaming at me. But I couldn’t move. I was frozen to the spot. He shook his head gravely and looked me right in the eye.
"They will eat you alive," he said. "Get back up onto Bourbon Street."
And then he disappeared.
There was no sound, no moment, not even a whisper of a breeze. Silence, and emptiness. He was just gone.
We practically ran up to Bourbon Street. We didn’t look back. We went straight to the hotel and to our room. We locked the door, and stashed a chair under the antique knob for good measure.
Two years ago we went back to New Orleans. Another three day trip. Had a great time, ran around, went to a couple of "private" clubs, got a drink spilled on my shirt and scored a free t-shirt that said "No Beads Necessary." After a long night roaming the streets, we decided to try the Dungeon one more time.
The door was unlocked this time. We crossed through the dingy front, across the moat, into the bar. We walked through, staring at the skulls, debating whether to get something to drink. There are a lot of mirrors on the walls, it’s very dark and freaky — just the kind of place people who like to be scared would hang out. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. The hair on my neck, the shiver down my spine, everything in me screamed Get Out Of Here Now. I told hubby we needed to leave. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And as I left, I heard the odd strains of deep laughter, ringing in my ears alone.
I’m going back to New Orleans in December for a signing at the Borders in Metarie. I’m staying in the Quarter. But I won’t be going back to the Dungeon. Something, someone, evil resides there.
Wine of the Week — Vampire Merlot It’s quite good.
My very first televised interview was this past Sunday. I was honored to appear on John Seigenthaler’s A Word on Words, a fantastic weekly exposé into the lives and books of authors. Here’s a link to the podcast of our interview — just a warning, it’s thirty minutes. Felt like five. There’s something very, very cool about being interviewed by a legend.