It took four long hours to get to New Orleans, but somehow, they lurched and sputtered their way until they reached the city. All three women were slightly seasick from the effort. They took a very long lunch and decided to keep to the back roads, and out of sight as much as possible.
“Where are we going now?” asked Paula.
“We really don’t know,” replied Ana, “we have to make it back to the apartment building where we once lived. We can sense it, almost smell it, but at the same time, until we are actually standing in front of the place it all began, we won’t know that we’re there.”
“Let’s take a right at the next light,” Bella offered.
“The last time we were there we were infants escaping from a flooded city with our parents, in rubber boats. There were so many people trapped by the water, and so many people who lost their humanity and some who lost their lives.” Ana said.
“Stop!” Bella said loudly. “I remember that building.”
The edifice was a decaying monster at the edge of town. Windblown and battered by storms, it had never been repaired and never been torn down. The windows were boarded up, but the barricade that shuttered the front door had been removed by the homeless people in town.
“We sheltered in the third floor of that building until the Red Cross came. There were many people who were there, and some never left. They thought it was safe, but the water rose.” Ana whispered.
“I remember,” Belle said.
“Then we are close?” asked Paula.
They entered the lobby of the building as rat scurried away and pigeons cooed overhead. The first three floors of the building had collapsed into rubble, and going further meant climbing over the debris.
“Something was wrong,” Ana said. “When we arrived here. Something was wrong. Someone was missing.”
“I remember,” Bella said.
“Our parents where here, Michael was here,” Ana looked around. “We stayed on the fourth floor, it was crowded, people were screaming and crying, and it was dark. Some people had flashlights.”
“Yes,” said Bella.
“You should not have returned to this place,” a man’s voice called from above. “You should have forgotten everything, and stayed away. This is New Orleans. The dead are buried above ground to keep their souls from leaving. Everyone who dies here stays.”
“Lies,” Paula called back. “Lies and more lies. You cannot frighten us. If you had more than your voice you wouldn’t bother to speak.”
“I was shot in the head while trying to get my baby’s clothes out of our apartment. They called me a looter. I was thrown into the water and my family never heard from me again.” The man said, and they could hear him making his way down, jumping from floor to floor. “Now people like you who have lost so little return to find what? Justice in some fashion? The pieces of a puzzle?” the man stepped out into the light and all three women recoiled. The top part of his head was missing.
“Why are so many trying to stop these girls from coming here?” Paula demanded. “Why is it so important for them to stay away? Who is afraid of what they will find? What will they find?”
“’Lies and more lies’” the man laughed. “You know what they’re looking for. They know. Everybody knows why they’re here. The dead don’t leave this city. The drowned don’t drift downstream. You brought them here to find out the truth, but what is the truth? I got shot trying to steal a widescreen, or I got shot trying to help my people. What makes you think the dead are more honest than the living?” He stepped back into the shadows and backed away.
“You girls go on back home now,” he called as he slipped away. “You know the truth. Live with it. I got to live with the idea that my people won’t know what happened to me. You don’t go back to the living once you’re dead, you know better than that, over here. They got to move on, and I know I should too, but there’s something I ain’t done, maybe this is it. But I was helping my people, I was getting clothes for the baby. I was doing right, but after I got all I could there was more just sitting there. I heard the voices of those that didn’t make it telling me I could have it. They knew where the snipers were and led me into the sights of those Army rifles. Yeah, yeah, most people that linger are trying to make things right but how they see the world set right ain’t like it ought to be, and I’m dead proof of that. You don’t belong here. I don’t either. Maybe if you leave I will, too. But you know the truth. You know why this is happening.” The man stopped speaking and they were about to turn and leave when he continued.
“Don’t hold up living because you remember the dead,” he told them, “that’s why we never go back. That’s why you ought’a leave now.”
They made their way back to the car but Ana stopped when she got to the door. “I think we should walk from here. It’s a few blocks, but we need to let them know we aren’t afraid. We go into this fearless and it will make them leave us alone. I’m through running. I’m done being scared of what was and what might happen. Let them come. Let’s face them. Let’s go find out why this is happening, and who is behind it all.”
“Okay,” Bella replied. “I’m with you.”
“I think it’s a mistake, but from what I’ve learned today, not going in like this might be worse.” Paula replied. “Let’s roll.”