I knew the cemetery here had been started as a resting places for victims of the Yellow Fever outbreak back in the 1870s. And since it was a Catholic cemetery, there were odd reminders that, at least in New Orleans, the Saints still performed miracles. In fact, on my way to this particular crypt, I saw one of the old leg braces with the big joints and metal rods that people used to wear. It looked to be attached to an old alligator boot that was half eaten away by time. I wondered what kind of miracle had spawned that kind of offering. Hanging next to the brace was all kinds of other bric-a-brac that hung over an alter to St. Roch. It was all part of a simple chapel that was not locked behind a wrought iron gate.
Yet there’s a darker side of this place as well, and it was not caused by time or theft. Rumors that voodoo practitioners came to preform ceremonies among the stone angels and burial vaults had been part of this place since it opened. Given that the cemetery severed parts of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Wards and that it was built, at least in part, on an old dump, there seemed to be a great deal more to worry about then voodoo. Things like the toxins that would seep out of the ground.
But even some of those worries paled in comparison to the Young Mafia Fellaz in the 7th ward, or the Ridagang in the 9th. These two gangs would instigate brutal fights for perceived slights at the drop of a hat, most of which ended in a stabbing at the low end of things. They were also the organizations that provided the drugs that went into the pipes and syringes that crunched under my boot as I moved to examine the niches along the back wall.
Unlike more modern constructions, it looked as if these places had been built of limestone, and that's when it snapped into place. The limestone would eat the bodies, but the new places, with their granite - It'd take a body decades to fully decompose in one of those tombs. I knew it was wrong. Knew that it could be the end of my career, but I had to know. There were two niches that looked to have been sealed recently, as they were not open to inspection.
It took some work: the crowbar bounced off the stone a few times before I cracked it. As I worked I cursed the heat wave that we were having and that caused rivulets of sweat to pour down my back. Hammering away on the tomb I thought of how instead of watching the fall leaves coming out, people were being told to look out for tarantulas. Apparently the warm weather had extended their mating season. Of course this late in the season, a lot of the male spiders got eaten after finding a female, as the food supply was low. But as I brought my crowbar singing though the air for one last good hit, I hoped, in this case, the male had been able to escape.
The covering broke and crumbled in on itself, and I found myself staring at a hole. I’d had a 50/50 chance, but I was still annoyed that I had to set to work on the other niche. I hefted the crowbar, comforted slightly by its weight. But then right as I was going to let fly I heard a soft voice say, “If you’re looking for my body, save yourself the trouble.”
I spun around and brought the crowbar up, ready to defend myself, but there was nobody there. At least not anyone that could be called human. Instead I descried a woman’s body that was gray and wasted and seemed to serve no other purpose than to provide place for the tattered remains of a once elegant dress to hang. There were no open wounds or blood, but if I looked at the skin closely, I could see worms moving underneath it. And perhaps it was my imagination, but I swear I could hear the rats as they gnawed on her body, eating her from the inside out.
“Why are you looking for me?” The womanlike thing asked.
“Because, without the things I said and did, you would not exist. I am responsible,” I said.
“You are not the one that walled me up in a vault to die. Nor are you the one that drugged me. How then, am I your responsibility?” As the womanlike thing said this, it moved towards me. Not by walking or floating closer. It simply moved, like an image projected onto a wall, only solid.
“I may not have been the person to do those things, but I told them where to find you. I told them what you had done. I told them to make you suffer for it.”
The thing smiled at me then. “Tell me,” and it put a finger on one of the buttons on my shirt, “Do you think this punishment is enough? Do you think I have paid for my misdeeds?”
It was not a real thing that was touching me; nevertheless, I could feel the button it was pushing on being driven into my chest. It was as if that button had become the head of a nail and the more she pushed, the longer and deeper the nail penetrated into me. I tried to run, but could not.
“Do you know, that male tarantulas beat the ground outside a female’s den to attract them to mate? I do believe I heard you rapping,” the thing said. It was so close now that I could make out the features fully, and they were both repellent and wondrous all at once.
Where it was pushing on me, a great pain blossomed in my chest, and I dropped the crowbar. It landed with a crunch among the flotsam and jetsam of the damned, but the noise cleared my senses. The thing vanished, leaving behind only a feeling of violation and a cold shudder in its wake.
I ripped at my shirt to see what the pain was, and I discovered the whole of my chest was red and a great rash that looked as if it might have been caused by poison ivy stood out angrily. I also felt a small splash of blood, and realized that it was coming from my nose.
I ran out of that place, into the warm, humid air of New Orleans. Around me I could smell the toxic fumes from the dumpsite the graveyard had been built on and in the distance I could hear snatches of music bouncing around on the wind. I vomited, doubled over and gasping. How long I stayed that way, I could not say. It seemed an eternity, but could not have been even a fraction as long as that.
I left that place then and went home. In the living room, I poured myself a bourbon and sat on the couch. The rash from the cemetery had already faded. I drank more and tried to forget. Why had I gone to look? Why had I sought her out?
I drank several more glasses and eventually fell asleep on my couch. Thankfully I embraced a dreamless void that offered me a respite. Perhaps I even began to relax. Then it came back. The feeling that a nail was being forced though my body. But this time there was something more. A stirring. A quick movement that caused a kind of exquisite pain. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before: terrifying and sweet all at once.
It was only once the first mandible broke through my skin that I saw how my chest was moving. I wondered, as I looked at it, if I was going mad or if this was what death truly felt like? I turned away from the horrid sight, and there, in the corner of the room I saw her looking at a picture that I knew was of Gloria. The womanlike thing said, “I hope she was worth it” and vanished. As she did so I saw my face reflected back at me from the eight eyes that stared hungrily at me from under my own chest. Then everything went dark.