Episode #1: Werewolf in New Orleans (Monsters Are Real)
“The Rougaroux is a type of werewolf brought to America from France. Once upon a time, it fed its beastly appetite by picking off animals in the field, one-by-one, for meals.”
Angel eyed the strange old man hovered over she and her three friends. His clothes were three sizes too big for his thin body and fluttered like long, grey bedsheets in the muggy, Louisiana wind.
“Here in the city,” the old man continued, “the Rougaroux doesn’t have sheep, or cows, or pigs to steal from small time farmers. Here,” the old man said, dragging a dry tongue across his thin, cracked lips “the Rougaroux has to make due with the meat available.”
The slim old man shot a wet cough into his fist, wiped his palm on his hip, and paused to recover his wind. He breathed heavily through his mouth -- panting like a dog when he exhaled and gasping like he came up from underwater whenever he inhaled.
“Though this werewolf could take an adult and snatch the very scream from their throat. It would rather go for something weaker. Smaller. Easier. To save its strength!”
Abe, no more than 11-years-old, twitched when he heard this. Which, annoyingly, made Angel twitch standing next to him.
The four kids, dressed in their daytime attire -- ratty tank tops, loose t-shirts, rundown jean shorts, fake jerseys, and squeaky sneakers -- stood still as statues listening to the old man speak.
Though it was nearly 8 p.m., it was still warm enough in New Orleans to go swimming outside. Summer nights in the South felt as if someone dangled a giant heater over the entire city, blowing it non-stop.
Charlie, the youngest of their group at 7, gripped the straps of a backpack so big it look like he could sleep in it. Charlie liked to carry his favorite t-shirt, blanket, and pair of jeans with him each time they snuck out for their “missions.” Worried other kids they lived with might try to steal them while he was gone.
Angel once again eyed the saggy skin on the old man’s face which hung in lumped creases. She couldn’t put her finger on where the slender old man came from, or at what point he joined their conversation. Only that he immediately snatched their attention.
“Legend has it, this beast now stalks the narrow alleyways of this very French Quarter. Of course, no one’s ever gotten close enough long enough to escape and tell what they’ve seen,” the old man hesitated, falling into a trance.
“You just hear an ear-splitting scream, then whip your neck around to see something with bluish-grey fur, perched on hind legs, slipping into the darkness,”
He held out a thin, trembling hand to the darkness as if reaching for something in the distance.
“Flick. Flickering shadows. Stretched along a far wall. The sound of hard shoes scraping against the wet pavement.”
Angel looked around their circle. Her partners Drew, Charlie, and Abe were all staring up at the old man’s narrow, wrinkled face with the same expression: wide-eyed-open-mouthed-not-blinking. In a daze.
Angel sighed, rolling her eyes, becoming anxious. It was getting late. They were wasting time. She paused. She sniffed. Then, sniff-sniffed again. Angel breathed a whiff of a scent so bad she felt she could taste it. She frowned, bitterly.
What was that smell on old people? Did old people have expiration dates like milk? Did old men suddenly ‘go sour’? Or did their body parts rot from the inside like stale fruit? If you bit an old woman, would you find a little worm inside?
“When those lamps come on,” the old man wheezed, lifting a long finger to the lamp post they were standing under, “it’s awake!” He gazed wildly into the light. As if it were telling him a brilliant and terrifying story.
Angel inspected the dancing glow locked inside of those little glass windows atop the greenish pole.
“Why does it look like there’s fire inside?” Drew, the tallest and oldest of the group at 13, asked.
“Yeah,” Abram seconded “I thought these lamps had light bulbs in them.”
“Everything is different down here when the full moon is out,” the old man replied. “You kids really shouldn’t be in the French Quarter at night. You should’ve stayed hidden in your homes.Tucked in your beds. Where there are thick walls to stand between you and it.”
Angel’s lips tightened when she heard this. “We ain’t kids,” she spat with a hiss.
The slim man clicked his gaze to Angel. He bent low. Then lower still until his hairy, grey eyebrows (which looked to her like crazy bird nests) were floating right above her face. Angel could see firelight glistening in the outer rim of his steel blue eyes. His stare beamed with a pinch of excitement. He grinned sucked in a deep breath, filling both his lungs to the very brim.
The sound of thunder burst nearby as the wooden doors of a saloon were violently thrust open.
The four of them shrieked, one after the other.
The four kids breathed gently, waiting to see what would emerge. Every muscle in Angel’s body tensed as a man dressed in strange clothes descended the steps and tapped onto the street.
The man spun around quickly, as if searching for something. Then did a double-take to the five of them standing under the light. He shuffled in their direction. The look on his face was stern as his body bounced up and down with his momentum.
The old man switched his focus back to Angel and her friends, speaking quickly. “It’s not from here. It’s not normal. Don’t stray far from the light!”
“Hey!” Barked the strange man hustling toward them. He looked as if he just stepped out a time portal: Dark blue vest, white long-sleeve undershirt, thin golden chain coming from the back of his vest disappearing into a small front vest pocket, pants the color of storm clouds and shiny jet-black shoes.
“The Rougaroux takes people who don’t pay attention,” the slim old man spluttered. “People who don’t know the edge of the light is a very dangerous place to be. Move quickly between lamps.”
“HEY!” The strangely dressed man shouted again, increasing his speed.
“Be weary of strange noises! Be weary of alleyways! Keep your head on a swivel whenever you feel a breeze!”
“FRANKLIN!” the strangely dressed man yelled, steps away from the group.
Up close, Angel could see he was a hairy man, with a thin maine stretching from the base of his neck to just a few inches below his eyes.
“Break’s over, Frank! Our tables won’t clean themselves!”
The slender old man looked over his shoulder to the strangely dressed younger man and nodded sadly.
“The night is young,” the old man finally said under his breath, gazing at the light. The old man spun on his heel and retreated swiftly from their group, moving with a curious spritz of energy.
Not dragging his feet or lifting them inches above the ground, or taking little, bite-sized steps as Angel would’ve expected. He was nearly gliding. His oversized clothes fluttered behind him like sails on a ship.
Before Angel could blink three times, both men had disappeared.
She looked down at the golden ring of light shining onto the concrete. In the old man’s absence, it now felt like an island. Angel lifted her focus to the dimly lit space beyond the light’s edge.
“Man, you can’t be listenin’ to old people,” Abe said, splitting the silence. Abe ruffled the flaps of his pinstripe jersey and twisted his baseball cap around from back to front. “Old people be lyin’.”
Abe gazed across the circle at Angel and bulged his eyes. His way of begging her to say something.
Angel opened her mouth to speak before two adults, staggering arm in arm, stumbled loudly past them. The couple moved as if they were fighting for control of the wheel in the same car. The man then gave his partner’s arm a jerk and they vanished out of the light.
“I don’t know,” Angel mumbled. “I wouldn’t risk it.”
The same couple, now laughing loudly, swerved back into the light of a different lamp post further down the street.
“I’m with Abe,” Drew cut, smirking down at the rest of them. “That old dude said nobody ever got close enough to see the werewolf and escape. So, how he know all that stuff? Something ain’t right with him,” Drew continued. “He didn’t even ask us where our parents were. And that’s like the first thing old people do.”
“What parents?” Charlie asked, softly.
“What parents? Man, I got a daddy,” Abe said, standing up straighter.
“You ain’t got no daddy,” Charlie muttered.
“Ya momma don’t have no daddy,” Abe snapped back.
“Chill out!” Drew said holding his arms out like a referee between two boxers. “None of us would be at St. Vinny’s Home if we had somewhere better to be.”
Angel barely noticed the boys in their natural state. Instead, she carefully tracked the couple down the street as they moved in and out under pale light posts. It looked almost like they were teleporting the way they vanished in the dark places then reappeared in the light further away.
She saw them...then, she couldn’t. They’re there. Now, gone. They disappeared for a longer time than usual. They should’ve reached the next lamp, she thought. Did they duck into a building? Did they stop. Or did...the two couple appeared under a lamp further down the dim street. Angel let out a big gust of wind. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath.
“Umm, I think we should get out of here,” Angel said.
“Angel may be right, Drew,” Charlie said, still gripping the straps of his enormous
backpack. “We can take tonight off. Come back tomorrow and shoot for double.”
“You know the deal,” Drew said, clapping a fist into his palm. “If we want more stale bread and hot water that tastes like grease, we can leave. BUT, if we want to sink our teeth into a warm, delicious cinnamon roll from Johnny’s Bakery -- rolls so big you have to hold them like a burger,” Andrew paused, pretending to hold one in his hand. “Smothered with a thick layer of sweet, white icing...then we need 75 cents each. $3 total. Easy money. Between the four of us it never takes long. We’re pros at this!”
Angel looked over at Charlie, who was staring blankly ahead, not looking at anything or anyone. His silence meant he was thinking or maybe convinced. Abe looked at Angel raising his eyebrows and squinting at the same time. Angel chewed the inside of her cheeks. She looked around the French Quarter and exhaled.
She nodded. Then, Abe happily, but Charlie kept a still, emotionless face looking forward. “Great! We’re in. 30 minutes. 3 dollars. Back to Vinny’s.”
“No matter what,” Angel added sharply. “Three bucks or not in 30 minutes we’re going back!”
“Promise,” Andrew said, as he flashed a wide mischievous smile.
“You know the rules,” Drew said, rubbing his hands together with excitement. “Say whatever it takes. We meet back here when the big clock at Saint Louis’ Cathedral strikes 9 and the bell rings 9 times. That’s 30 minutes,” Drew said slowly, teasing Angel. “Abe, sir, will you do the honors?”
They inched into a tighter circle and threw their sweaty palms into the middle. “One for the icing. And two for the roll. Three lil’ dollars and we can go home!” They broke the circle and spread like fireworks deep into the French Quarter.
Looking over her shoulder, Angel saw everyone hustling from lamp to lamp. Maybe it was just in her mind.
As she stepped off the sidewalk into the street, two horses dragging a tall white carriage rattled across her path. She stopped with her toes inches away from the squeaking red wheels as they rolled by. She exhaled.
She looked both ways, then continued across the uneven cobblestone street. She walked past Jackson Square, then St. Louis Cathedral, which looked like a castle in an old Disney movie.
She hooked a right on Royal Street. This was always a great street for business. She could catch people stumbling to and from Bourbon Street a block away. Here, she could hit people up for money without all the crazy crowds, blaring music, and people in strange costumes.
Angel spotted her first victim!
Fitted dark blue jeans, trendy, yet comfortable dress shoes, a tucked in button up shirt, no tie and rolled up sleeves. He was moving toward the Soniat House, a hotel for the really rich people who can afford to live in middle of the action.
Angel tried once to stand in front of this hotel and beg. But a man in a funny little red coat, wearing a funny little red hat leapt from in front of the entrance as if he’d been bitten on the butt. He shooed her away, yelling something about panhandling. Angel thought he was crazy. They didn’t want pans. They wanted money.
Angel closed in on her target.
“Excuse me, sir; can I have a dollar?” Angel looked up innocently, stuck her hands deep
in her jean pockets, and twisted gently left to right.
The man’s eyes flashed to Angel as if she rose from the ground. She stood there in her stained blue jean shorts, unevenly cut below the knee, and her favorite pink shirt. The word “Princess” at one point was spelled in big letters across the shirt in pink jewels. But, she wore the shirt so often the “r” was missing and now the shirt read ‘P incess’.
The trendy man smiled without showing his teeth. Then, his smile transformed into a what can only be described as a smile-ish frown. That’s the look! The money face!
The man fished a hand deep inside the left pocket of his navy blue skinny jeans and extracted a messy clump of nearly all one-dollar bills.
Angel frowned, before quickly returning to a smile. N o wallet? Usually people headed for the Soniat House have wallets so big they practically fold open like a tent.
The man focused with great intensity as he attempted to tease a one dollar bill from his messy clump of money. The green ball in his hand looked like a big knot, where if he tugged on a certain bill with the right amount of force the whole thing would come undone in a big mess. Angel watched tilting her head like a puppy. Then, something miraculous happened!
A five-dollar bill slipped from the bottom of this cluster of money and drifted to the ground. Angel’s mouth dropped open. She looked at the man. He glanced over his wad of money at her. She snapped her mouth shut. He hadn’t noticed!
Wow! A whole $5!
He handed her the wrinkled $1 bill he managed to free from the group.
“Thank you,” Angel said, nearly snatching it from his fingers on accident. The man bowed a little, then desperately tried to stuff the sloppy ball of money back where it belonged. As he moved down the street, walking a little taller, Angel watched until she thought it was clear then switched her attention to the fallen treasure.
The crinkled five-dollar bill had been carried by a breeze to the edge of the light. She gazed at it as the wind brushed softly against its edges.
She took a step. Then another. And another. Then suddenly froze. She lifted her attention from the green strip of money on the ground to the dark alley just beyond it.
Angel chewed her cheeks looking down at the money as if it were balanced on the edge of a cliff. The bill wiggled in the wind a few steps away. Threatening to be blown away like an autumn leaf at any moment.
If she got it, they could go home tonight and probably take the next two nights off if the rest of the group got anything.
Angel inched closer. It felt like her feet were covered in wet cement. She slid to where she felt she could simply lean forward and reach the edge of the bill.
The sidewalk glistened under the golden light of the lamp hanging above her. A rhythmic tapping sound came from a dripping water spout nearby.
“You can do this,” Angel muttered. “An hour ago you didn’t even know what a stupid Rougaroux-thing was. You don’t believe in this stuff. You don’t believe in this stuff.”
Angel leaned forward over her right knee.
“C’mon,” she whispered, stretching her right arm as far as it could go. The edge of the bill tickled her fingertips. She wiggled her index and middle fingers attempting to trap the bill between them.
Out of her peripheral vision she saw something moving quickly toward her. “Yahhh!” She yelled.
Angel lost her balance and fell on both hands with a loud slap. She looked to her left to see Charlie standing there calmly.
“How many times I gotta tell you to stop creepin’ up on people!” Angel said, as she dusted the small rocks from her palms using the front of her jeans.
“What’re you doing?” Charlie said. He looked at her with the blank expression of a bulldog.
“I’m getting that $5. I already got $1. That’ll make six. Then, Imma go wait at the clock until everyone is finished.”
Charlie stared at the bill, and gripped the straps of his backpack. He took a step and the crinkled $5 bill skidded into the alley.
Charlie frowned angrily. He clutched the straps of his backpack tighter, as if he was choking them. He searched the blackness, trying to figure where the $5 flew off then took another step forward. He then took one more before Angel grabbed a fistful of his backpack and yanked him back.
“Charlie what are you doing!” Angel yelled. Charlie struggled against her.
“It’s right there. We have-to...get-it...before-it-blows-further-away,” Charlie gritted through his teeth.
Angel leaned back, pulling with all her might. Even though Angel was bigger than Charlie, he was still ridiculously strong for his size. Like an angry little ant, or spider, or freakin’ Tasmanian Devil.
“Charlie, no! No, Charlie! Quit it! Stoppit, Charlie!” Angel screamed. Her palms were beginning to sweat. Her grip was slipping on the clump of backpack in her fists. She wished an adult would come help them even if it meant them getting in trouble.
As she was losing the last of her grip, Drew and Abe skidded to a stop at her side and helped to pull Charlie back.
Drew was huffing like he ran a mile. “What happened? We heard you screaming! We thought...”
“A man dropped a $5 bill. It blew into the alley and ole crazy Charlie tryin’ to go in and get it,” Angel said sharply.
Drew and Abe’s eyes bulged.
“A whole $5? You sure?” Drew questioned.
Angel scowled. “Positive,” she said, now moving herself between Charlie and the dark alley. She bent her knees and floated her arms out at her side like a soccer goalie.
“Charlie!” Abe yelled. “That old man just told us about that werewolf thing in dark alleys at night. What’s the matter with you?”
“I decided I didn’t believe him,” Charlie offered, plainly. “Plus, we need the money.” “We do need the money,” Drew said with emphasis.
“Doesn’t mean you go stepping into dark alleys, werewolf or not!” Abe fired back.
“Abe, you’re the one who said we shouldn’t be listening to old people!” Drew responded. “So...that don’t mean we go run into alleys and stuff,” Abe responded with less heat. “Haaaa! That boy scared,” Drew snickered.
“Okay Drew,” Angel snipped. “You go in and get it!”
Drew’s face squinched like he bit a lemon. “I ain’t finna get eaten by no Kangaroo!”
“Rougaroux. And I thought you said it didn’t exist,” Angel teased.
“I didn’t say that,” Drew postured. “I said there were inconsistencies in the old man’s story. Plus, you let the money get away.”
“I was saving Charlie!” Angel added.
“And who’s gonna save me?” Drew replied.
“How about this, if you don’t come back in 5 seconds we’ll come get you,” Angel proposed.
Abe sucked his teeth. “Man, I ain’t goin’ in there to get that dude.” “We’ll actually find it quicker if we go in together,” Charlie muttered. A silence suddenly fell upon the group.
Charlie returned to clutching the straps of his backpack. “Last night, any one of us would’ve ran in there for that $5. Now, one old man tells us a story and we’re gonna miss two days of good food?”
Angel knew it was true. They’ve done all sorts of things they probably shouldn’t have. Shoved arms into gutters, dove into trash cans, searched junkyards you name it. Even being here now was a risk. But this felt different.
“Cool” Drew swallowed, standing up taller. “We get it together.” Charlie looked motioned to the alleyway with his head.
The four of them lined up side by side, facing the alley. Then, inched forward slowly as if stepping out onto frozen ice which could split any minute.
“We don’t believe in this,” Angel whispered. They inched closer.
“We don’t believe in this. We don’t believe,” she trembled. “It’s not real. It’s not. It’s not rea—”
Angel went silent as the four of them slipped past the invisible dark curtain into the realm of no light.
Inside the alley, Angel heard heavy breathing nearby. She couldn’t actually see them but imagined the breathing to be Drew and Abe, while Charlie as the quiet one. Angel opened her eyes wide as she could, trying to see better in the darkness.
A sour stench in the alleyway rose and stung her nose. She pinched her nostrils with one hand and ran her other across the wet concrete.
Searching the floor, she heard the pitter-patter of feet as they spread out. Someone went deeper into the alley and their footsteps clicked further away.
Angel’s fingers rolled over what felt like a wet roll of paper. Beads of sweat raced down her forehead. She freed her nose so she could use both hands and tried to breathe through her mouth.
Ting! A high-pitched echo shot through the alley. “Kicked a bottle. Sorry.” The voice sounded like Drew’s.
“This is nasty,” Angel said, standing up and wiping two slimy fingers on her jeans. “Anybody find anything?”
“No,” said a calm voice. Charlie.
“Nope.” Definitely Drew.
“Abe, you?” Drew asked. “Abe? Abe?”
Bonnnnng! ... Bonnng! ... Bonnng!
The clock tower struck 9 o’clock. The chimes echoed loudly through the alleyway.
“What’s that?” Angel whispered, quickly.
“I don’t know,” Drew whispered back.
Angel swore she could make out faint noises in between the deafening chimes of the bell.
What was that? A voice? Angel thought.
Between the loud chimes, she finally understood the pitter-patter sound to be footsteps. And they were moving quickly.
“RUN!” the voice shouted.
It was Abe running like he was on fire. He bolted through the group.
Something rose in a jerky, rickety motion. It continued to rise until two eyes, red as volcanoes, hung high as a second-story window in the blackness.
“Ahhhhhhhhhh!!” They screamed.
They each turned and tripped over each other. Got back up and ran. Abe was up ahead. The dim golden light at the end of the alley seemed a mile away. Angel pumped her legs fast as she could. The ground was uneven, making her jerk and dip as she ran. She begged not to trip. She pleaded not to stumble. She prayed she didn’t get eaten.
Bursting into the golden light was like breaking the ocean’s surface.
The four of them sprinted until their adrenaline died out several blocks away.
Angel’s lungs burned with fire as she tried to catch her breath.
“It’s real,” Andrew spluttered in shock. “It’s real!”
“It was holding me!” Abe shouted, bent over, his hands gripping his knees.
Angel noticed Charlie wasn’t wearing his backpack. This made sense of the loud thud she heard a ways back.
Angel put her hands on her head, struggling to catch her breath.
Despite the reeking smell in the alleyway and fear pulsing through her veins, Angel swore she sniffed another scent. Something very distinct. Familiar. Something sour.