Italics indicate thoughts
_indicate time skips

Long text in italics indicate flash backs

"You can't go home now, we just got here!"

"Ino, you don't understand, I…I need my pouch. I can't be here without it!"

Ino huffed and threw her hands onto the flare of her hips, her usual round blue eyes narrowing dangerously. Before she could give me another tongue lashing, Chouji broke in.

"What happened Shikamaru? You were fine up until now."

I heaved a long sigh, not really wanting to tell them about what I saw up in my bedroom.

When we were kids, I told them about how I used to see people that weren't there, but they just thought I had imaginary friends. I tried to explain to them that the people I was seeing were nothing of the sort, these people were different somehow, but they didn't understand at that age. All they knew was that I had to keep my leather pouch with me to keep these people at bay.

If I told them that I saw that civil war ghost they were going to think I'd lost my marbles, but I was almost at the point where I didn't give a crap.

Even now in the back of my brain I could feel that man…that spirit determinedly trying to burrow his way back inside my mind, like a mole scratching and clawing its way through the earth. I unconsciously grabbed at the back of my head and rubbed furiously at the spot he was niggling into.

"I…there's something…" I began then shook my head, "no someone in our room Chouji…he…he's dead…"

Chouji's eyes widened. "There's a dead body in our room?"

"No, not like that," I shook my head again, but regretted the action, "h-he's been dead for over a hundred years…"

"Are you telling me you saw a ghost Shikamaru Nara?" Ino asked skeptically.

"I know it sounds crazy, but yes…I've been seeing them since I was a little boy. You both thought I was just had weird imaginary friends, but they were really spirits visiting me in my dreams and in waking. My native relatives made me that pouch I started carrying around later on, it kept the spirits from bothering me. I've never left without it and now I'm seeing them again…please you guys have been my friends since we were in diapers! You have to believe me."

Chouji looked more convinced than Ino, thank god for that. I would have felt weird if both of them thought I was crazy.

"So you're saying you see dead people? Like that little kid in that lame movie?" Ino sneered.

"Kind of…except it's not as lame as that movie…but more troublesome…I can see and feel how they died. It's not anything to take lightly at all Ino…"

"Shikamaru seems to be honest about all of this, maybe we shouldn't just brush it off," Chouji again jumped in.

"Ok," Ino relented some, "he does seem to be telling the truth, but how do we know he hasn't got bonkers?"

"I'm not crazy damnit!" my voice raised, irritated that the idea was being suggested.

Suddenly I doubled over in pain, the spot at the back of my head burning like it was being branded with a red-hot iron. I cried out in agony, sounding like some poor animal dying.

Vaguely I heard Ino and Chouji hovering over my prone form, though I couldn't exactly understand what they were saying. My vision and hearing was assaulted by a completely different vision. A vision of men in colonial attire surrounding me, holding my arms behind my back while one of them aimed a musket at my chest.

What was this? Why was I in this vision? Where is the spirit that died here?

Then I heard a distressed voice, calling out my name in desperation, yet it wasn't my name.

Try as I might I could not turn to see who had called out to me

A loud explosion rang in my ears and I could feel nothing but a numbing crater in my heart, consuming my body and my soul. A cough was forced from my lungs, expelling blood and saliva like a fountain.

"No! You bastards!" the voice cried out again, but more muffled this time.

My vision blurred first from the edges then more and more until everything was a hazy cloud. Numbly I felt my body fall to the ground. I felt heavy.

The voice called to me again, this time sounding barely there, fading into the fog.

Quickly my body became light, floating like a feather. I felt like I was nothing and everything all at once.

"No, please don't leave me!" the voice was merely a whimper as I flew high, and then there was nothing but blinding whiteness.

The smell of brewing tea awakened my senses, urging my eyes to open despite their protest. I found myself laying on an elegantly carved and upholstered love seat patterned in flowers. Light chitchat flowed into my ears and they perked up to catch what was being said. I could make out Ino and Chouji, but the third voice was completely unfamiliar.

"Okay, we should probably check in on ya friend in da other room," the strange feminine voice said, thickly in the accent many of the middle aged and older folk spoke with in New Orleans.

I heard footsteps heading my direction and groaned, my hand going to the back of my head. The spot there was still pounding like an oncoming headache.

A round, colored woman's face came into view, eyeing me with kind, yet wise brown eyes. She appeared to be about in her early fifties. "Where y'at?" she said, then eyed my hand that was handling my head with care. "You got a hickey on ya head, dawlin?"

I blinked, not understanding what she meant. "A H-Hickey?"

"A hit on da head, dawlin, is dat what is botherin' you or what?"

"I…y-yes," I groaned and closed my eyes; the lamplight was too bright.

"Here drink dis, it's a soothin' tea. It'll help dat bump on ya head," the woman directed, pulling me gingerly into a sitting position.

I opened my eyes to a squint and accepted the teacup her ebony hand was offering.

"Just sip it fawr da mean time."

I did as I was told, admitting to myself that the tea was calming, but the back of my head was still being burrowed into and I didn't like it.

Chouji and Ino soon joined the strange woman's side, faces gushing with worry.

"Do you believe me now?" I glowered a little at them, my words coming out with a rasp.

"W-Well, it was pretty strange how you fainted," Ino relented some, but I could still see the disbelief in her eyes. Great I was a freak show to her.

"We believe you, Shikamaru," Chouji said, with less trepidation and hesitation.

But does he really mean that or did he say it just so my feelings weren't hurt? I wondered. They are my best friends, but I couldn't help but feel like the odd man out now. Maybe I always was the odd one.

I finished sipping my tea and then pinned my friends with a stern look. "You guys stay here and enjoy Ino's birthday." I said, "I'm going to catch a flight back home."

"No," Ino objected, "We're doing this for you too and we're going to do this together." She looked unwavering. Maybe they still wanted me around after all.

But that still didn't take the dead out of the equation. The only solution was for me to go home and get my pouch back.

"You don't understand," I shook my head lightly to try and avoid more pain, "You both don't understand what it's like right now, I feel like I'm being mentally assaulted, even right now. I need to get my pouch back for it all to go away."

"Don't worry about that, we called your parents and told them where they could mail your pouch," Ino said with a confident smile, "They sent it through airmail so just try and hold out for a day or so and then everything will be just fine."

I groaned again and held my head. I just wanted out of this cursed place.

"There's a spirit in this cottage, a civil war soldier," I sighed, "he won't leave me alone, and I'm afraid there are others…"

"A soldier you say?" the black woman interjected for the first time since she gave me the tea.

All three of us turned to her, surprise and curiosity seeped into me. I nodded to her.

"Dere has been reports of a confederate soldier haunting dis cottage fawr years now. But dere is a way to placate him."

I was all ears now, ready to know the answer. "How?"

"Music," she replied, "play him nice music and he'll let you be. We have a record at da office dat he fancies very much. Let me go get it." The woman turned to leave then quickly returned, "Where are my manners?" she said with a laugh, "My name is Clarisse, I'm one of da caretakers at da Audubon. Ya friends have already met me, they say ya name is Shikamaru?"

I nodded.

"Well then, like dis city, ya a special breed. I'll be right back."

Then Clarisse disappeared out the door.

What did she mean by that? This city and I had nothing in common.

Ino came and sat next to me, throwing an arm around my shoulder, making me wince just a little.

"I don't know if that tea really soothed your head, but I did bring along some Midol in case I got some cramps or something."

I glared at her and she laughed. "I'm not taking painkillers for your troublesome girl issues, woman," I seethed in embarrassment.

Chouji chuckled too, making me flush more. "I could run and get you some Tylenol at the gas station," he offered, lessening my suffering via embarrassment.

"Yes, please," I groaned.

Maybe I could make it through this until my pouch arrived. Tomorrow was my birthday, so I'd just have to make the best of it either way.

That evening the three of us sat down to a regional dinner served to us by the butler who showed us to our cottage. Chouji had ordered chicken gumbo and a dressed po boy, while Ino and I each settled only for a Muffaletta. Begneits and café-au-lait was our desert. The food was a little richer than what I was used to, but I found I didn't mind at all. The meal seemed to replace the vigor I had lost earlier.

Clarisse was true to her word and returned with a vinyl record and a record player.

"Dis is fawr you as well," Clarisse said as she handed me a small doll made of twigs and dressed with different herbs and objects. The doll had a lock of dark hair attached to the top of its head.

"What's this?" I asked, eyeing the doll skeptically while turning it over in my hand.

"Dis is a gris-gris." She said, "I had it specially made for you to help you with ya spirit business. Da hair is ya's, I clipped some off while you were sleepin'. Trust me, it'll help you while you wait on ya pouch."

I couldn't help but feel a little strange that a part of me had been used in this, whatever it was, even if it was just my hair; but if it would help keep the spirits at bay I would accept it.

"You need to charge it each day by following these instructions. I've already charged it fawr you today, so follow up tomorrow," she then handed me a small scrap of paper, "Keep da gris-gris on you all da time, especially when leaving da cottage to go anywhere."

"Okay." I pocketed the strange talisman and the paper then thanked the woman, my mind slightly curious as to where or how the thing was made.

"Ya'll have a goodnight, ya hear?" Clarisse called after she cleaned away our dishes.

We chorused a goodnight in return to the colored woman like well-mannered children. Strangely even though I had not known her long, Clarisse was becoming like an aunt or grandma figure. She was definitely growing on all three of us.

We spent the rest of the evening playing the record Clarisse put in our possession, sitting, listening, and waiting. I reached into my pocket, unconsciously caressing the gris-gris as I looked around me.

In the back of my skill, I could still feel the presence of the soldier, but the sensation was different. He wasn't bombarding my senses anymore; he was just merely hanging around. This wasn't a complete eradication of the dead from my world, but I had to admit that this was better than the dead trying to rip into my head for attention.

Ino of course was the first to break our awkward silence. "So, is it working?" she asked in a harsh whisper, as if she was heard my temporary cure would be ruined.

"Kinda," I mumbled, looking around me again. Soldier was still just out of sight but not out of mind. I itched my skill nervously.

"Kinda?" she echoed in question. She and Chouji looked about as apprehensive as I felt.

I let a sigh blow through my lips. "I can still sense him, but he's not trying to mentally assault me with his life and death. It's like he's calmed down now."

"Great!" Ino cried, "So the music worked!"

"I guess so," I shrugged.

"What did Clarisse give you?" Chouji asked this time, still looking concerned.

I considered whether or not I should show my friends the apparent Voodoo talisman. Finally I decided they'd already seen enough weirdness to turn back now.

"She called it a 'gree-gree' or something," I said, pulling the little doll from my pocket.

My friends looked taken aback at the sight of the crude handcrafting and overall peculiarity of the object.

"That thing is freakin' creepy!" Ino hissed in trepidation.

"Isn't that used for like…cursing people?" Chouji added, "You should get rid of it!"

I returned the doll to my pocket, mumbling how troublesome they were being. "Do you really think that lady wanted to put a curse on any of us? Kind of would be bad for business at the cottages, right?"

She seemed too caring to do something so threatening.

"I don't know…this trip has become a big disaster..." Chouji all but whimpered.

Ino turned a scathing look to our chubby friend. "Not you too, we're not leaving this vacation behind, come hell or undead or voodoo! Got it?"

Such the optimist…

"Got it…" Chouji mumbled pitifully. I knew better than to argue with the woman.

"Good, now let's try to enjoy our time here," Ino yawned and stretched in her chair, "Enough talk, time for bed, because the next two days are going to be non-stop fun, and I do mean non-stop." She stood up and pulled Chouji and me into a friendly hug, kissing Chouji on the head and as for me; my hair got ruffled out its ponytail. Damn woman.

Well at least Chouji was getting some positive action.

"Goodnight boys!" she called over her shoulder as she bounded up the stairs and to her room.

Chouji looked ready to melt into a lava flow. He smiled goofily and turned to me. "D-Did you see that…Ino kissed me"

"Hold on to your horses, Romeo," I chuckled, "on the forehead. Save the excitement for when she kisses you on the lips."

"You think she will, Shikamaru?"

"I don't know…women are too troublesome to figure out…and very few so much so as Ino."

"Maybe you need a girlfriend to change your outlook," Chouji countered.

"I'd rather keep my sanity and my dignity as long as possible," I grumbled, "C'mon, lets go to bed too."

Please let me get some sleep tonight, I begged any and all spirits that might be lurking.

The record that had been playing the whole time suddenly made a whirring sound, indicating it was finished. To be on the safe side, I walked over and placed the needle back at the beginning of the vinyl record. The music it played sounded like it was from the turn of the century, playing classical waltzes and simple string instrument songs. There were no vocals, just instrumentals. It was foreign music to my ears, but not unpleasant. I placed the player on repeat so it would last through the night and then joined Chouji in heading upstairs to our room.

We said our goodnights as we climbed into the massive bed, back to back. The softness of the bed was already doing it's magic by making me instantly drowsy. Today had been a long, arduous day, and I was eager to have it behind me in hopes that my birthday would somehow be better.

My eyes began to droop, lulled by Chouji's snoring filling my ears, and all horrific thoughts of earlier slowly drained from my body. Sleep was coming as smooth sailing until my body gave a sudden jerk and my eyelids jumped open.

I could feel the inexplicable cold I had felt when Soldier showed himself to me the first time. My body gave an involuntary shudder, so I clutched onto the gris-gris as reassurance as I willed my eyes to search out the presence I already could sense was there.

Soldier stood at the doorway this time. His face was still marred from his fatal injury, but his lips were turned up in a gentle, almost gracious smile. I could only stare. Smiling or not, Soldier was dead, and yet here he was, it was unnatural and unnerving.

I couldn't forget how those dead eyes stared into my soul.

Unperturbed by my concern about his motives, Soldier pursed his lips and began whistling a tune that matched the song playing on the record. He then turned on his slick booted heels and walked straight through the bedroom door. Though I could no longer see him, his haunting tune reverberated from the hall to my ears.

I gave a slight sigh of relief and worked on calming my breathing. Soldier meant me no more harm today, so I decided to savor the sleep that was afforded to me.

"This is getting weirder and weirder…" Chouji remarked as the three of us stood in St. Louis Cemetery, in front of a above-ground crypt covered in 'X's and surrounded by strange offerings.

It was the final resting place of famous New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

Ino shivered and looked around at all the mausoleums surrounding us. "Just hurry up and get this over with, this place is giving me the creeps."

"Alright, alright, troublesome," I muttered and stepped towards the crypt, throwing my senses out to see if I could see this Voodoo Queen.


Throughout the cemetery and even on the way there I was able to see spirits wandering all over. They came in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities; like their living counterparts. Each one also seemed to have a different mark of death upon them, from embedded gun rounds, to slices of the blade, severing arteries or spilling guts. Others, looked sickly or clearly had broken necks, and judging from the nooses around their necks, they'd been hanged. Whether done by their own hand or not, I didn't want to know.

They had seen me because they all looked in my direction, looking for all the world like they wanted my attention, but they could only come so close to me before they'd stop as if hitting a wall, before returning to their original path. They couldn't touch me nor enter my mind and put visions in my head.

So this gris-gris does work.

There were even more departed souls in the cemetery, but they still left me alone save for a cursory stare.

But as I stood in front of this grave, I sensed no soul whatsoever. What did that mean? I should be able to at least sense some spiritual residue.

"Shika!" Ino urged again, stamping an impatient boot.

"Okay," I said.

I retrieved three coins from my pocket went to place them at the tomb site as an offering when a voice interjected my action.

"What are you doing?"

All three of us jumped upon hearing the question, quickly I realized that the voice was of a living person.

The rich voice belonged to a young black woman. She was tall and had her hair cut short. Her brown eyes were dark with a thin ring of blue surrounding her irises, and she was fixing those eyes on me with an intense stare.

I immediately felt intimidated, but I didn't want to look scared of a girl.

"I'm asking a wish from the great Marie Laveau," I answered.

The tall girl laughed highly, which was at odds with her deeper speaking voice. I lifted an eyebrow.

"What's so funny?" Ino demanded, "he needs help badly, we'll do anything that might help!

The other girl's laughter died and she fixed us with yet another intense stare.

"Sorry to burst your bubble, but this isn't Marie Laveau's crypt," she said, again in her deep womanly voice. She seemed to lack some of the accent that locals older than her carried when they talked, but one could still place her as a resident of this city.

"How do you know?" Ino threw back.

I put my arm up in front of Ino, silently telling her to be quiet.

"Then do you know where her crypt is?" I asked gently, hoping I wouldn't rile up a local.

She shrugged. "Many say this is her final resting place, but it's only a rumor. There are other reputed resting places around, but no one really knows where she truly rests. I certainly know she doesn't rest here though. Besides," She gestured to the series of three 'X's covering the tomb, "These are considered graffiti, anyone found to be marking this crypt or defacing any other in any of the cemeteries will face severe charges."

"T-Thanks for enlightening us, but I wasn't going to mark the crypt, but simply leave some coins as offering for my wish," I clarified.

"Go ahead, but it won't come true anyway," the girl said, "If you want your wish to really come true, go see a Voodoo priestess or priest around here."

The strange girl then turned to leave. Ino walked out from behind me and called after her.

"Hey, wait a minute!"

I held my breath, hoping her big mouth wouldn't get us in trouble.

"How do you know so much about this Marie Laveau?" Ino questioned.

The girl merely turned her head as she answered, "Because I am Marie Laveau Glapion the Third."

"So you're related to her?" Chouji asked this time.

"Distant yes, I have more of the Glapion side in me. Though I am said to resemble the first Marie Laveau, thus my first and middle names. And I guess the family wants to keep her name alive through the generations."

"Then could you help our friend's affliction?" my chubby friend prodded.

"Sorry," Marie said, "but I don't follow my ancestor's practices, I just like to visit the cemetery and make sure tourists aren't screwing up historical crypts. It's been my family's duty for years and it's been passed onto me. I can't help you, sorry." She then disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

Ino sighed in frustration. "So what do we do now?"

"Let's just forget about charging the gris-gris, it's been helping enough so far," I shrugged, "Let's just try and have some fun around town," I smirked a little, "It is my birthday and all"

My friends immediately perked up.

"Now that's what I wanted to hear!" Ino squealed with joy.

"Can we go eat first?" Chouji begged, "It's my treat."

I couldn't help but chuckle at my friends' enthusiasm. "If you're treating for once, then sure."

"After we eat, we have to go shopping for you Shika!"

We ate out at Antoine's restaurant, which served an abundance of creole cuisine. Chouji seemed to surprise both the staff and other patrons with his hunger, he asked for seconds and thirds. Ino and I just laughed at our friend's gluttony.

After having a nice meal, Ino then dragged us to several shops.

"Just pick out what you want and I'll get it," Ino announced.

"But aren't you supposed to surprise me?"

"This is just easier, and wouldn't want to get something you wouldn't like," She said and waved me off.

"Alright, I won't complain."

I began looking around inside each shop, but nothing stood out to me until I saw individual arrowheads, each painted with a Native American patterns and symbols. I didn't understand many of the patterns, but one symbol spoke to me. It was a tribal deer.

My father's totem is the deer and so is mine, so I decided it was time to embrace my totem a little more. After all this spiritual happenings hitting me in such a short time, I was beginning to feel the need to get closer to my roots.

I picked up the arrowhead and showed it to my friends.

"This'll do."

"Are you sure?" Ino asked, "I mean there's so much more around."

"No I'm sure. I really like it."

"Seems like a nice choice to me," Chouji agreed.

Ino sighed, "I was hoping to spend more money spoiling you, but ok."

Ino then proceeded to shop for herself, mostly cocktail dresses for nights at the clubs. I wasn't arguing; her birthday was tomorrow after all. My only hope was that she wouldn't take too many hours.

Chouji approached me and secretly asked what I thought he should buy the blond. I told him that some sort of jewelry would work, especially florally decorated ones. Chouji happily took off with my suggestion in his head and talked to the jeweler of the shop.

I was left alone for the time being so I walked towards the shop's window to observe the city outside. There were no spirits out and about around here at the moment, so I reveled in the simplicity of watching the normal city folk go about their business. I was so interested in something so normal, that I barely noticed the abnormality right in front of me.

There was a young man standing across the street from me, eyes seemingly looking at me. He had medium toned skin that was tan, but not too sun kissed, and long flowing black hair. The oddity about him was that he was wearing animal hide clothes and shoes, and his hair was adorned with one long feather.

If it weren't for his Native American dress or the fact that no one else appeared to have noticed him, I might not have given him a second glance.

The man was as clear to me as Ino and Chouji were, and his skin wasn't ghastly shaded, nor a wound graced his body. I moved closer to the window and placed my hand upon the glass to get a better look.

The figure mirrored my movement.

I was about to dash out of the store, but Chouji's hand broke my attention from the window.

"What do you think about this one?" he asked.

I turned to him purely on reflex and then quickly glanced back out the window to find no sign of the young man. My hand on the window slowly turned into a fist as I searched for him, but to no avail.

"Shikamaru? What is it?" Chouji asked.

I reluctantly turned back from the window and shook my head. "It's nothing," I looked to the flower earrings in Chouji's palm, "They look really nice, Chouji. She should like them."

Chouji nodded, but looked worried nonetheless. "Are you sure it's nothing?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it ok?" I replied, offering him a smile, hoping he would drop the matter.

"Alright, but let us know if something's up."

"I will, I promise."

After shopping, we made our way to the interesting sights of New Orleans, which included the historical Jackson Square, home to the grand statue of the 17th president atop a majestic steed. Ino insisted on photos being taken in front of the statue. I wasn't too keen on pictures, but I was dragged into the fray anyway.

We then explored the outside of the elegant St. Louis Catholic Cathedral and the inside of adjoining Calbildo and Presbytère museums, which were filled with very interesting information on the history of Louisiana and its culture.

By the time we left the historic buildings, it was heading towards evening. As we prepared to leave the square, we were greeted with the sight of street performers doing what they did best. Ino insisted we watch for a little bit, and it would have been troublesome to argue. Surrounding the statue were musicians, dancers, mimes, artists, and tarot card readers. First Ino was content to simply watch all the entertainment, but then she jogged over to an artist drawing sketches of people for money.

"What is she doing now?" I asked Chouji, who merely shrugged. Ino appeared to pay the artist and then ran back over to us, grabbed our arms in hers, and pulled us over to the man sitting behind the easel. "What are you doing?" I asked the troublesome woman.

"We're going to get a portrait of us together on this trip, a memento!" she gushed.

"Not a bad idea, Ino."

"For the love of…"I sighed and gave a tired smile, "alright."

The artist positioned us so the statue was in the background and returned to his stool. He picked up his charcoal pencil and set to work.

I was worried that this would take hours, but in no time the artist put down his utensil and presented us with our finished portrait. The medium was simple, but the detail of our faces and forms, down to the smallest wayward strands of hair and button of clothing were amazing. Even the people walking in the background were captured exquisitely. Chouji and Ino thanked the artists enthusiastically while I continued to look over the portrait. That was when something caught my eye.

In the portrait's distant background was a miniscule, familiar figure. Squinting my eyes, I felt my heart palpitate. There standing nearly in the shadows was the Native American I saw outside the storefront earlier. I whirled around in the direction the figure would have been standing in the portrait.

He was still there.

Numbly I dropped the portrait and took off towards the figure, not caring to notify my friends. As I raced toward the figure, he bolted in a flash of long black hair. Spirit or not, I gave chase. We ran out of Jackson Square like a pair of wild horses, not caring if we got in the way or if people got pushed out our way. Soon we found ourselves on Bourbon Street among the bar scene.

This man was like a hurricane, no matter how fast I ran he was always a stride ahead of me. Just in sight, but just out of reach. The path he lead me was mostly straight forward, but he then made an abrupt turn, dashing inside a drinking establishment.

I followed without hesitation, running headlong into a mass of muscle.

"Da fuck're you doin' bra?" the chest I bounced off of growled as its owner spoke.

Quickly I rubbed my face and looked up at whomever I had run into. My eyes widened at the mass of humanity standing before me. The black man was built like a boxer heavyweight, and I was way below a lightweight in comparison.

"S-Sorry I just…" I stammered, trying to find my courage and voice, "I was just trying to catch up with…t-that man that just ran in…"

I was cut off by the man grabbing me by my jacket collar and I went from having my ass on the ground to being face to face with the well over six foot tall brute. I lost my courage and my voice.

"A puny toot like you who doesn't have da balls to talk straight to me, doesn't deserve a tongue to talk with. How 'bout I rip it out of ya head?"

Oh shit…

A young Asian woman appeared at man's left, brandishing a short katana. "Don't waste your effort, Johnny boy, when I can make it effortless," the girl spoke darkly, bits of her native accent filtering through. She was a transplant from another country probably. To prove her point, she unsheathed the blade expertly.

I'm dead…I'm going to die

"Or I could spare your life, if you tell us about this man you saw run inside," the samurai woman said with a silken smoothness that was laced with venom.

"A-An Indian…" I choked, "I was a-after him…a-and h-he disappeared…in here."

Johnny boy looked from me to his female accomplice and they shared a look. The woman gave a curt nod.

"Hey!" a gruff voice interjected.

I was able to catch the view of a third person marching up to the scene. At first I thought it was another man because of the closely cropped hair, and sleek muscular arms. However the ample chest blew that assumption out the window.

"What da fuck you think yawr doing, grand beede? Put dat capon down!" the new woman said in that animalistic tone of hers. I couldn't understand some of the phrases she was using, but I was instinctually more afraid of her than the brute or the woman threatening me with the sword.

"Stupid Cajun bitch, what are you doing here running a New Orleans establishment?" the Asian woman hissed.

"I ain't runnin' it," the Cajun replied, "But I sure as fuck won't tolerate anybody to make the misère in dis establishment."

A second later I was on my ass on the ground again and the brute turned to the Cajun girl. "And just who do you think ya are, little girl?"

"I'm da gawddamn bouncer here!" she cried like a lioness, her fist rearing back before slamming right into the mush of the brute. She then whipped around him and kicked him hard in back of the knee, instantly dropping him to his hands and knees.

I was too shocked to say anything or make a move from my seat on the floor.

The Cajun was on the samurai woman before she could properly hold her sword up in defense, making the action of grabbing her foe's weapon by the hilt and wrenching it from her hand seem easy.

This Cajun girl…she was fast and strong.

The bouncer tossed the sword outside the doorway of the bar and pointed to the other woman. "You and ya crew…get outta here or you'll really be mal pris."

The sword swinger glared daggers at the Cajun girl (if looks could kill…) then helped the fallen brute to his feet. "This isn't over, Cajun trash."

"Remember, mal pris, Couyon, mal pris," said the bouncer.

Whatever she was saying made the samurai girl and her brute leave. I gave a sigh of relief and looked at my rescuer.

"Did you see a young Native American man run in here at all?" I asked her.

All I received was a stiff shake of the head, then she changed the subject.

"Hey Chot, Chique," she said, "Ya a tourist ain't ya?"

I had no idea what she called me, but I nodded in affirmed that I was here on vacation.

"Then you betta stay away from dis place, for ya own well-bein'. The Zirondelle ain't a bar for skinny mullets that are wet behind da ears."

"But, I need to find that man," I protested.

"Naw," she disagreed and pulled me to my feet about as easily as that brute had. "Best you get back to where ya stayin' and fais do-do." As gently as someone as violent as she could be, she pushed me out onto the street. She shut the door for good measure.

I felt dejected from losing the mysterious native, but yet relieved to still be alive. As I began walking back down Bourbon Street the way I came, I decided I might be able to pick up on his trail sometime tomorrow.

That thought was eliminated from my brain when a thick arm wrapped around my neck and muscled me into the darkness of an alleyway between the Zirondelle. I yelped and made to cry out for help, but an equally large hand clamped over my mouth and nose. In my panic I tried breathing, but I could only inhale in violent heaves. Exhaling was nearly impossible.

"Ya sure you want dis runt? You know I still wanna make him a sacrifice in da ritual tonight," It was the brute.

I opened my eyes as wide as I could so I could see in the darkness enveloping me and finally I could see the vague outline of the samurai woman.

"He's got the gift, we need him if we're going to find what we need," she hissed, "we'll find others to be our sacrifices." I could sense her wicked smile and I grew sick inside. "But first we have to make him our slave. Hold him steady."

The brute chuckled with sadistic mirth and removed his limbs from my face and neck, moving them to firmly grip my shoulders instead. I gasped for breath for the first time after what seemed like an eternity, recovered enough, and prepared to yell.

I felt a brief searing pain at my neck and the sensation of falling. Before I could register what had happened, my eyes viewed the woman and the brute, and in his arms my body still stood.

I'm falling, yet I'm still upright. Wha…what is this? This feeling… It is…

Realization finally caught up to my numbing brain upon seeing the body, my body, had no head.

A thud dully rang out in my ears and in my skull as I hit the pavement. My mouth hung open as if to say something I could not remember, for a reason I could not recall. Above me I heard voices and none of the words were discernable to my failing brain.

Fogginess overcame my senses making me feel more tired and heavy than I ever felt before.

Before? What before? What's before?

The voices were fading and I was getting lighter and lighter all the while whiteness veiled my eyes.

Up and up I went to a place I'd never visited, yet seemed so very familiar and welcoming.

I was nothing and knew nothing except that I never wanted to leave this bright, ethereal place.

New Orleans vocabulary and/or translations:

Where y'at? – 'How are you?' Or 'Where are you?'

Hickey – A bump on the head.

Dawlin' – 'Darling' and endearing term.

Gumbo – A New Orleans regional dish, coming in two varieties: Seafood and chicken

Po-boy - A popular sandwich in New Orleans. Called 'Drest' (Dressed) when it comes with all the fixings.

Muffaletta – An Italian sandwich made of ham, Genoa salami, provolone cheese, and marinated olives, on a round, seeded bun.

Begneit – a French, fried doughnut.

Gris-gris – (pronounced 'Gree-gree') a voodoo charm or spell.

Fawr – 'for'

Marie Laveau – A real historical figure of New Orleans, called the Voodoo Queen for being the most prominent voodoo practitioner of her time during the 19th century. The placement of her remains are subject to debate and her alleged crypt has been marked with three X's over the years by tourists whom were told doing so would grant them their wishes, others would leave offerings. The marking of the crypt or any other grave marker is now outlawed in New Orleans.

Bra – 'bro' usually used among men.

Toot – Wuss or sissy

Cajun vocabulary and/or translations:

Yawr – You're, your.

Grand beede' – Big, clumsy man.

Capon – Coward.

Make the misère – Make trouble

Mal-pris - In a sticky situation.

Couyon – Stupid person.

Chot, chique – A little, short ponytail.

Zirondelle – Dragonfly

Skinny Mullet – Skinny person.

fais do-do – Go to sleep.

Misc. Translations:

Dis – This

Dat – That

Da – The

Dere - There