A Walk with the Damned
Illustrated by Alankrita Jain
We gathered around the tour guide, just off of Bourbon Street. He scanned each member of our group with keen interest, beginning his introduction, “N’Awlins, isa place of history — and intrigue… The type of place with many an interesting tale to tell on a moonlit summer’s night. The modern world doesn’t understand it, so instead, it attempts to veil it beneath its own meagre vestiges of advancement — and drudgery.
“But even the present keeps looking back on itself unconsciously — unable to truly lets go of the past. Here, the only future is a re-enactment of what has already happened. A cheap, yet somehow still authentic homage to the way things were. If the past yet resides anywhere, it is on these streets.
“It is here, that alcohol and sweat mix daily with the tones of laughter and sadness. Where the very essence of life and death co-mingle, nightly — in pleasure and in pain.
“This is where there exists a unique bond amongst the holy and the depraved. For where else, could one expect to find a cathedral only steps away, from abordello? “
And with that, began my much anticipated “A Walk with the Damned” ghost tour, in the heart of the Big Easy. The group consisted of about twenty of us, clearly visiting from all over the world. True to my previous observations, I noticed that as always, there was an Australian on the tour. Those Aussies really seemed to get around. The tour was a three hour walk through history in the sweltering forty degree heat. The last stop would be at the city’s oldest bar, Lafittes Blacksmith Shop Bar, afterwards for a drink. We wound our way onto one of the side streets.
The first story spoke of a famous voodoo priestess named Marie Laveau — an interesting character indeed, though not what I’d call ‘damned’. We were in themiddle of our second story, involving what used to be an apothecary, when a late arrival joined us. She looked rather shy — probably a novice globetrotter, given her age. She smiled apologetically at the group and paid our guide. He nodded andwith an air of mystery, gestured for her to join us. She came and stood at theback of the crowd with me and smiled a dainty smile, asking what she’d missed. I filled her in, adding that I couldn’t wait to see the old house where they’d filmed ‘Interview with The Vampire’. The house was featured on the tour’s promotional brochure and was what had attracted me to this particular tour. Immediately, her shyness lifted. She too, loved the movie and we could barely contain our excitement as our guide led us to where it had all taken place.
For the next two and a half hours we took in the sights and stories, talking as if we were old friends. She was keen to ask of all the places I’d seen and still wanted to see. She was from a tiny village in France and it was indeed her first trip alone. She’d never been to England, where I had a home nestled in thecountryside. Being used to picking up friends wherever I went, I handed her my contact information, scribbled on a page from my diary. It was clear to me that we’d definitely visit one another and perhaps we could even travel somewhere together one day?
Our tour guide had stopped and was looking at us in amusement. In fact, thewhole group was looking in our direction though not all of them were smiling. My face reddened as I realized that we had been so wrapped up in conversation and engulfed in the timeless charm of the streets and buildings that we had forgotten we weren’t the only ones in the group. The heat had died down by now but my cheeks burned. I self-consciously mumbled an apology to which our tour guide shook his head and replied:
“It’s marvelous, just splendid! If anything, I’m glad you’ve found a fellow traveler, aconfident — a friend even!”
A few people in the group now laughed. What a pill, I thought.
“Seriously folks”, he continued “This young lady brings me to an important fact — N’Awlins is known for, ‘losing’ transients — why, it is quite literally the city where persons go missing! In fact, this relates closely to our next and final story…our piece de resistance”
We came to a street named Chartres. My new friend reached out and squeezed my arm in excitement. “And here we are — The Old Ursuline Convent! Who knowsthe story behind this one?”
“The coffin chicks!” called the Aussie in the group.
“Correct! Or, more famously known as the Casket Girls” said our guide.
My friend smiled eagerly, “We know this one in France too” she said.
Our guide paused for a long exhale, “So the story here goes, that the Sisters of Ursula founded this convent to receive young maidens from the old world. Thegirls would eventually be wives to the locals, bringing civility to an otherwise godless city.
“They came enduring long journeys by ship, bringing nothing but meagre possessions that could fit inside their little suitcases, which closely resembled coffins or ‘caskets’.
“They arrived looking pale and sickly. But soon, people started disappearing andthe girls started to flourish…. Turned out, they weren’t girls at all, they were vampires.”
“Awesome! So they went around sucking the blood of the locals?” enquired theAussie. He was enjoying the creep-factor of this story as much as me. We proceeded to walk around the walls of the convent, in the general direction of theold bar.
“Well, legend goes that to fall victim to a casket girl, one had to freely give her one of their own possessions — anything food, clothes, even a lock of hair. At first it was easy, as these ‘girls’ had so little to their names and people took pity.
“But as time went on, the residents wised up and that’s when they started preying on visitors. I still believe they are responsible for the many people, who come here and go missing today!” Our guide looked pleased with a job well done. He thanked us for coming and enthusiastically encouraged our presence at thebar.
The sun had almost set and the Old Ursuline Convent loomed behind ominously, as the rest of the group quickly disappeared down the street for their much awaited drink. I stood there contemplative, on the spot where the tour guide left us. I turned to ask my new friend if she wanted to grab a bite to eat. She surveyed me with an intensity that felt uncomfortable and I suddenly knew I should have stuck with the group.
“He’s right you know…Even after all these years, visitors are so easy…” she said in a smooth whisper as she drew closer. I glimpsed at the folded piece of paper in her hand — the same one that I had casually torn from my diary and handed her earlier. I felt my blood turn to ice as she moved in for the kill.