Truman Newirth landed in the city at about 11am on October 29 after what had been a long, boring flight from San Francisco. He felt the weight of his week ease slightly, something he couldn’t say about the massive migraine that had been plaguing him since the Denver layover.
Having downed three glasses of cognac on the plane in the vain attempt of completely shocking his head into hibernation, he knocked back three aspirins to finish the job. He just got comfortable when the captain announced their descent into the Crescent City on a rather rare cool fall morning. Rare since what he remembered about the South was its year-round sultry heat. God, how long had it been since he visited last? Eight years? Ten?
He awoke slightly from a fevered dream, no doubt brought on by alcohol and stress. He dreamt of his father again, the fourth vivid dream since the old man’s death. What was that, four in less than a month?
He saw his reflection in the window pane. His face was pasty white and slightly sunken at the cheeks. His once light blue eyes now red were droopy with dark semi-circles creased underneath the bottom lids. His attire was neat, his light brown hair combed to one side. He was dressed the part of a young businessman while still retaining a boyish look. His body was thin and his posture terrible. He slunk down in his seat, his leg shaking.
I’m starting to show my true age, he thought. Keep up the powder and it’ll be twice as fast. He was pretty certain that when he boarded the plane a stewardess standing at the door remarked to another co-worker that he looked like a badly hungover teenager in a good suit.
In the previous dreams, his father, James John Newirth, or Jimmy to colleagues, came to him about the money that said son had pissed away on silly investments. Father always worried about money since his father left him so little. Truman could never live up to the old man’s reputation. Grampy Alvin was a famous writer who squandered money and Daddy-O a successful realtor who hoarded it.
Truman always thought it strange that his father left him the ramshackle, 1823-constructed 4 story building on Chartres Street in upper French Quarter to personally own and manage. It had been through many renovations, practices and hands. To the state of Louisiana, it had been a brothel, a residence, a doctor’s office, a residence again, and a famous bookstore named Sidewalk Stories, which badly needed a new manager and loving support. Father, ol’ Daddy-O as Truman nicknamed him in life, left him this building, this one job to see that the new renovation ran smoothly so immediate tenants would find it desirable. The old man always loved this building especially. Of all the properties they owned, from there to the West Coast, this one was always the china plate in the cabinet. Truman could never understand why. He never thought it to be no more than a termite hang out with a shady history. Why, the filthy brick pile didn’t even stand out in any real way from the surrounding, more elegant establishments that had more colorful, less dreadful pasts and memories. In fact, it was more likely to repel the tourist eyes that were looking for the garish, expected cast iron balcony galleries, with “lace” as the New Orleanians say.
But it was Sandy, his jovial history buff secretary, who told him- convinced him- time and time again that the business could fold in some states and hanging on to a piece of history (and indeed a family heirloom) was in his best interest. Besides, business in New Orleans was booming and tourism was at an all-time high. He needed the financial push as the two small antique stores in Texas went bust. If the next tenant did not last another year, he could either sell it or swap ideas for something new. Tourists were always looking for something fresh on old spins.
But the renovations, the damned remodeling of the whole thing already developed into a complete nightmare: a nightmare with City Hall, a nightmare with the Vieux Carré Commission, a nightmare with ornery carpenters. A complete renovation of a French Quarter house 181 years old was going to be more than a challenge. It had the making of a catastrophe peppered with a side of pure hell.
Still, it wasn’t until Daddy-O’s death that Truman began to ponder his real cash cow, his mark on the world. He had never looked at the real estate business with a studious eye. At least not like his father had. It was more the casual glance-- listen to dad’s ridiculous stories, cash the check and stay out of the spotlight. Just make sure to be in the office and supervise four times a week. He never could carry the business sense of the Newirth name. Hell, he was still searching for that one talent that lie beneath all that boyish candor and stillness that was his life. Writing had piqued his interest for all of six months. It may have saved him from complete boredom had cocaine and alcohol not beat it to the party. With Daddy-O’s passing, however it occurred to him that he was going to lose all of it. There would be no more money, no more booze, no more living. And for all his past reckless abandonment and coolness, he still had an inkling of his dad’s respect of inheritance and all its attributing sentimentality.
He had a son to worry about. Wiley. A fine young boy of seven and quite curious of that around him. He could see Wiley being an explorer or a journalist or something of an adventurous nature. It was all he had left since Charlotte and he divorced under bitter circumstances.
Oh just admit it to yourself, Truman. You screwed that up royally. You, an 8-ball of coke and a week-long disappearance while secretly binging. You couldn’t even finish that terrible novel nobody would ever read. How did marriage turn out for you, buddy? A swell time in the shade?
Truman’s family now consisted of his son Wiley and the rental properties spread from here to there. Despite his frivolity, if anything, he loved his son and wanted to leave him something. He fought long and hard for the boy and he could not just abandon his family’s legacy. What would Daddy-O think?
Yes, what would Daddy-O think of T-Tru, (French Louisiana’s endearing version of ‘Little Truman’) or Tru-Tru (so many nicknames) selling off all the properties just to build a big old house on the Coast and hide away from the world. He would exhaust his resources quickly and there would be painful debt left to Wiley to handle. No, his heart wouldn’t allow it. The voice in his head, that of Daddy-O speaking to him on his deathbed. Daydreaming was over, and obligation commenced.
Besides, the voice of the old man in the recent dreams that plagued him terribly came back again somewhere over Texas as the airplane hovered over a cloudy morning sky. It intruded fast, only seconds from dozing off in the broad, first class seat.
The new dream, though, goddamn these dreams, really put more of a physical nuisance than anything on his overloaded thought machine. But this one and the feeling of his heartbeat pumping through the veins outlining and crisscrossing his temples. This one was something quizzical.
Stress is a bitch and sudden demanding changes in one’s life is enough to make you mental. I give it that. But I am too strong to have such nightmares, such internal worry. A mental trigger, I call it. A closed trap that now sprung open.
This particular dream felt real. He just knew it happened. The reality was that he flew first class, flirted with the stewardess and knocked back those drinks. He got on a plane to meet with Uncle Lester, his dad’s New Orleans confidant to which Truman would be meeting. Those things were very real. Within minutes of passing out, it seemed like all of it before was a lie and the dream his new reality.
He thought he saw the shape of his father walk past his bed and toward the hallway. The hat, the coat, the confident stride. After all, one knows what one’s dad looks like. But in dreams, they’re always different faces. The feeling of Daddy-O’s spirit was apparently there. He felt that for sure, but the vision of the tall, faceless, almost emaciated figure standing in the doorway proved to be something else.
Truman was five years old. He was in his old room, his childhood bedroom in New Orleans when they resided in Mid-City. The Batman comic books lined the floor, scattered like leaves. The old double bed with Joker sheets, they were there too. The lamp, the desk, the bureau. The ugly arm chair he tripped over and busted his bottom lip on. It was all present and accounted for.
He tried to move his arms, but his body was glued down by a robust force. A fog rolled along the far side of the bed near his shivering feet. It rolled and laid low, tamed yet taunting, licking at the bedpost. He could smell nothing and only felt a dampness, a shiver. The feeling of the grave at midnight.
The bedroom door had slowly creaked open. The fog barely stirred. Little Tru, T-Tru as his dad always called him, turned his head toward the creepy noise, his neck feeling like a twisted tree branch. His eyes could not quite focus on what emerged from the fog. The detail of it lost in bad eyesight and disorientation.
Initially his mind was curious. Who could possibly be disturbing him at this ungodly hour?
He heard the dragging noise next. Someone or something dropped a hard metallic, anvil like object to the floor. No, it couldn’t have been an anvil, because the thing in the darkness was also dragging it with a wood beam, whatever it was. A shiny gleam of silver. A rough diamond scraping eerily across the hardwood floor.
The figure now entered the room with heavy steps as though clumsily trying to learn to walk. At first it looked hunched over, almost childlike and then it rose to its feet, hatching from its sinister cocoon of fog and fear.
Truman shivered slightly. The little hunchback of fire hydrant size now rose to its maximum, natural height of about seven feet. It had to be seven feet since it nearly bumped its head above the door arch. Of course, he could’ve been mistaken of the creature’s real height, because as it crept closer to his bed, he clearly saw the bowler hat atop its scrawny sunken head. The same black hat his dad wore. The same one placed on his corpse in the casket.
The figure stepped clumsily forward dragging along the object of choice. In the sparse moonlight that reached from beyond his curtains, he saw the object clearly for the first time. It was an axe.
Little Truman struggled against the invisible hands holding him down. He let out a bit of a muffle. He could feel hot tears roll down his cheek.
The tall creature emerged slightly from the shadows and the fog parted as though afraid. The moonlight spat on the floor and the it-thing leaned its creaky scarecrow head forward so that Truman could get a full view of exactly what entered his bedroom this night.
The skin peeled back from the hair line, the rind pulled from the scalp like a sliced blood orange revealing the ripe red fruit inside. Did he injure himself purposefully with his weapon of choice, Little Truman wondered with almost grotesque curiosity? There was nothing else to do but wonder as his limbs remained comatose. The tree branch right arm reached out while the bending creaking left held onto the axe dutifully.
The eyes were shriveled black grapes, the cheeks high in the skull. No facial hair, no eyebrows, not even stubby hair jutting from the split cranium.
It was now within three feet from the bed, the midnight moon haze showing off its decrepit frame. Its dry cracked lips opened and slowly cooed out a word.
“Sonnn,” the spidery, corpse like creature croaked while twitching its bony figures toward the boy’s full head of hair. Unable to respond or lash out, Little Truman shook all over and watched with frightened eyes as the figure gently patted the top of his little brown mane.
Then he saw fully the figure’s face- how could he have been so stupid? So scared? In this creepy scenario, how could he be so frightened by the face of his own father! The scalp leaked and oozed brains and the skin flaccid, the cheeks gaunt. But it was him, Daddy-O, in the cold haunting flesh. The boy’s face dropped a bit but not in pure terror, but in recognition that this apparition was indeed his father, only, well, deader looking.
“Ssson, heeskaaahmeen…” it continued. “Heeskaahmeenbak!”
Little Truman’s throat muttered a sound finally. “What Dad?”
“Youumus keeellit beforrrrt killzzzou…”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
A loud crashing sound, a church bell, the kind he heard in St. Louis Cathedral one Christmas when his mama was alive and vivacious. She took him to Sunday Mass and then ice cream afterwards at Angelo Brocato’s famous parlor. He heard it, the church bells, a signal of things to come. They rocked the walls of the bedroom and shook the floorboards to splints.
The Daddy-O corpse thing relinquished the axe by placing it at his son’s feet careful as to not have the blade face down.
Little Truman’s impulse was to snatch up the axe and hold it dearly. He could feel its importance as Daddy-O spoke. Something was not right here but altogether altruistic. He didn’t want to kill me. He was giving me protection. But from what?
The bell continued to clang its chorus in slow mournful rhythms. Daddy-O made a half attempt to smile as he withdrew away from the light and back into darkness. As he scurried back into the doorway, Little Truman felt an overwhelming sadness overtake his heart. He shook abruptly and realized he could move again. His feet couldn’t lift off the bed, but his arms and torso moved with sudden animation.
“Daddy-O!” he cried, his voice now aged 25 years. He could hear his adult vocals now. He flung the bed sheets from his being and sat up reaching for his dead father. “I don’t understand.”
His head remained low, his body darting for the door when his father replied calmly, clearly: “You will.”
Little Truman reached for the axe and took it into his shaking but capable hands.
The church bell abruptly quit. Daddy-O stopped dead in his tracks and tilted his head upward.
“Now you will soon see,” Daddy-O cried, frightened.
“See what, Daddy-O? Tell me.”
“You’ll see what they don’t. Keep your eyes open or there will be no escaping it.”
“What is it?”
Daddy-O whipped his head around and with utter horror Little Truman saw that his father’s eyes had been gashed out and what remained were two large gaping slits. The cracked hole of his mouth opened and spewed blood. “Kaaahmeeng!”
The little boy covered his own eyes, found the full force and power in his voice and screamed.
Black haze, swirling membrane and the dark becomes the light.
The creepy voice and church bells were gone altogether.
He heard a friendlier murmur this time. Almost like his mother’s, Christine. Angelic. Was he dying? Was mama calling him to Heaven finally?
“Sir? Sir, wake up.”
Truman woke with a slight jerk to the stewardess with her greying brunette hair pulled back into a braid shaking him gently. “There we go.”
She was standing over him with an employee’s smile. He noticed most of the passengers had disembarked. The highball glass was gone, his tray pulled back into place.
“Where are we?” “We’ve arrived at your destination, sir.”
“My destination…” he whispered.
“Yep. We’re in the Big Easy!”
Easy does it, T-Tru.
“Certainly, sir. Have a pleasant stay and be careful on your way out.”
I most certainly will, I have an axe in my bed, he thought.
He stood up at the emptiness. Another dream. Another warning. So bizarre. This was writing material. He thought about scribbling it down, but the stewardess tapped her watch abruptly with a cheesy wide grin near the cockpit. He waved at her and stood up to situate his twisted blazer and yank the briefcase from the top compartment.
I paid first class, lady, chill out while I exit casually and coolly from the Nightmare Bus and depart into certainty where fathers don’t visit their children from beyond the grave and that sound of the axe scraping the floor won’t give me a fucking conniption fit to spring on your dainty ass.
The airplane hummed under his expensive loafers but also another sound, though initially faint could be sensed.
He heard a dragging sound, somewhere in the airplane’s gut but toward the rear, away from his spot. He felt it in the floor. Could be the engine but could be something else. Maybe it was all one big dream. Wouldn’t that be a scream? It was all one big mind prison, a whirlpool where you wake up in one dream just to be shoved in another.
Another bump vibrated in the floor and a subsequent dragging noise. This time, he noticed it was getting closer to his seat.
He grabbed his things quickly and got the hell off the plane.