The Official Back Blurb:
ENTER THE OSSUARY
Push past the cobwebs and peer into murky chamber where, over time, skeletons have piled. As still as night, as quiet as dust, the decrepit remains wait for some brave soul to sift through the ashes and uncover their secrets.
In this dark collection of chills, the moon drips blood and spirits do not rest. Here, spiders waltz with battered angels over broken skulls as centipedes crawl through bleached ribcages.
Terror echoes throughout this clammy chamber. Settle in this haunted sepulcher. Light candles, protection from the creatures that lurk within these eerie pages. Sometimes, the dead still tell tales.
An excerpt from "LOT 323":
Slow, even for a late-January Wednesday, the scant walk-ins allowed Carrie enough time to tinker with her projects. After placing the gargoyle in the studio window facing Frenchman and cleaning up the crate and shipping peanuts, Carrie finished restoring the Eagle Beer sign and e-mailed the owners with photos of the project and to finalize payment. Satisfied that she’d put in an honest day’s work, she locked up and hit the Abby, also unusually unpopulated with late drinkers.
“Everyone’s still hungover and broke from the holidays,” Nikki said while pouring Carrie’s third wine. For some reason, the drinks were going down easy.
Buzzed, Carrie excused herself and sat at her normal table by the gambling machines to doodle in a portable, rectangular sketchpad.
Again the gargoyle poured from her pencil. She spent extra time drawing in the horn’s details, the piercing eyes. While working on the pointed tail, Roman sat at one of the flashing slots.
He nodded. “Right.”
“Are you following me?” Carrie asked, never looking up from her sketch.
“I wouldn’t call it that.” Roman sipped a beer from a red plastic cup. “I didn’t get a chance to finish my story.”
“And you think I want to hear it?”
“It’s a good one.”
“Where were we? Ah, yes, frog sings to the moon though a kiss is unfeasible.”
Carrie rested her pen on the pad. “Does the frog know that?”
“Does the moon?”
Smiling, Carrie swirled her wine. “All right, that was pretty good. You sold me. Go on.”
“Night after night, frog sang to moon. He adored her every phase, falling deeper and deeper in love, cycle after cycle. One evening, when she was so full and close that her light nearly swallowed the starry night, an owl and a snake heard his pitiful wooing and decided that they would help frog reach the moon.”
Punctuating his words, Roman’s hands danced above the beer. Handsome in a roguish way, his clean fingernails and unwrinkled, unbranded shirt weren’t the normal uniform worn by the Lower Decatur tribe. His polished shoes caught the light from the gambling machines, and his trousers fit well. He wasn’t dirty…
What had triggered Malia’s alarms?
She leaned closer, drinking deep from her Malbec.
“Using snake as a swing, owl carried frog up, up, up, leaving behind the reflecting pond. Owl flapped as hard as he could and soared higher than the clouds, yet moon remained out of reach. Frog sang louder, demanding that owl continue climbing. The trio flew so high, the vast, cold emptiness that keeps the stars locked in place froze them, fusing them together so that telling them apart was impossible. Locked halfway between the pond and the moon, frog discovered that they reflected her glow and now gleamed in the sky. So, the trio burned bright, shining down on the reflecting pond until one night, another frog’s lonely song floated up from the pond.”
Roman clasped his hands together, creating a protective barrier around his red cup.
“I admit, a parable isn’t your usual bar chit-chat, but, still, I give the story to you.”
“I’m not sure if you’re coming on to me or if you’re trying to depress me.”
“Perhaps the point was to highlight the difference between real love and obsession. Frog’s obsession left him stranded, but his commitment allowed him to become something desirable, like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.”
“Yeah, and it opened the door for another just like him to make the same mistakes. A totally vicious circle.”
“But what if frog was able to reach the moon?”
Yeah, Roman was crazy. What had she gotten herself into? “And what? Make the moon love him?”
“Yes. What if the moon fell for frog?”
“It’s your story. I guess you’d have to figure that part out before you continue telling it to strangers.” She hadn’t meant the words as mean as they came out.
Hurt washed over Roman.
The conversation stalled.
Carrie rolled the pen over the sketchpad.
Maybe this strange man—or any man—wasn’t what she needed in her life. Her art satisfied her in ways no other person ever had before. God forbid she say that to Malia; she’d never hear the end of it.
“I’ll get us another drink.” Roman rose.
“I’m okay. Really, I—”
“It’s no trouble. I know you like wine. I’ll be right back.”
As Roman went to the bar, Carrie planned her escape. There were a thousand things she should be doing instead of wasting time in the Abby with the weird storyteller. Wash the dishes piled in the sink, balance her checkbook, string together some of the broken computer parts, and solder the wiring to the robo-gauntlet…
Roman set another wine in front of her.
“Cheers.” He raised his glass.
One drink, then leave.
Get back to work.
“Cheers.” She tapped her glass against his before drinking half of it.
“Wow, you must be thirsty.”
“Eh, not really.”
Though Decatur Street was only a few steps away, the Abby’s exit could have been on mars. Outside, several gutterpunks led by a leashed, shaggy dog passed through the thickening fog.
She envied them, their freedom.
Roman frowned. “Did you just hear me?”
She shook her head.
Maybe the Pixies song floating from the jukebox was too loud.
Maybe she didn’t care.
“I’ve had enough to drink.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” She checked the time on her phone. “I can’t believe it’s already after midnight. I need to get some rest, so I can open the shop up tomorrow.”
Standing, Carrie exchanged a wave with Nikki.
The colors and lights were too fuzzy, loud.
Her head spun.
Roman stood. “Would you like me to accompany you home?”
“No, I’m fine. I just need some fresh air.”
Roman followed her to the door. “All right. Please. Be safe, Carrie.”
“I’ll see you here tomorrow?”
Why did he want to see her again? “Probably.”
She left the Abby and walked over the broken, uneven sidewalks, heading towards Esplanade.
Clammy fog kissed her cheeks; each icy pinprick promised spring.
Mist swirled in the track lights illuminating the hanging blade signs lining the Decatur Street dives, churning around the glowing, neon beer window ads and amplifying their eerie red and blue glow. A Bad Apple song, something from their first and best album, poured from the open doors and blended with the cloudy night.
Carrie approached a beggar waving a cardboard sign asking for food or beer on the corner of Governor Nicholls. The real down-and-outs always knew better than to ask for money on their signs, at least, the more experienced ones. Tourists and bleeding hearts were more likely to kick down loose change when the homeless were honest with their addictions.
“Hey, lady.” The bum stepped forward. Black smudged fingers protruded from red, fingerless gloves. His shaggy gray beard masked his mouth. “Can you help me?”
Perhaps the wine had dulled her judgement, but the aggressive move towards her rattled her instincts. She didn’t like his vibe.
Carrie quickened her pace.
“Hey, lady. Help a veteran out.”
His unintelligible mumbling grew faint as she passed Aunt Tiki’s, another counterculture dive also empty on this cold Wednesday. Though unnerved by the beggar, she couldn’t talk herself into another cocktail at some other bar. She’d open a bottle of red when got home and have a nightcap with the gargoyle, sketch him again.
She looked forward to seeing him.
Malia was right about the loneliness.
Maybe instead of a man, she could get a dog. A friendly corgi, or a fluffy Keeshond.
Maybe an independent cat would be better with her busy lifestyle. At least, it’d help with the rats chewing away at the studio…
Wanting to avoid more vagrants and hustlers, Carrie turned left at Envie Espresso Bar and headed down Barracks, planning on turning on Royal and following it the rest of the way to Frenchmen.
She could still smell the chicory coffee that eternally hung around the closed building. The shop’s dark windows only enhanced her desire for a warm cup. Now that the place was closed, she craved a café au lait something fierce.
It’s always that way. Once you can’t have something, you want it more. It’s like--
Pressure tightened around her neck.
She screamed, but a large hand covered her mouth as the arm choking her squeezed, muffling her cry.