Back then, in the immediate aftermath of disaster, I wrote something... and offered it to the Sime-Gen site which was offering up such contributions as a "Read a story - do a good deed" link and giving readers the opportunity to contribute directly to the Red Cross Funds as a link on the site.
It is no longer up on that site, naturally - so I give you the story again, here, today, in memory and in remembrance. And if, in the aftermath, you feel the urge to put a dollar or so into the kitty, you can do it here - I am sure that, unfortunately, these people haven't stopped needing your help.
The sound of it. The gurgling, dripping, rushing, hissing noises of water flowing in the dark, like someone breathing, crying, screaming. No lights. People in the choking grip of fear and fury and despair wading through black water full of something unspeakable and unseen, feeling things hard-edged and clawed that rip at clothes and skin or things wet-furred, once stirring with their own life but now soft with the beginnings of rot and decay, knowing that somewhere underneath the dark surface hide things out of childhood nightmares, the monsters under the bed, the monsters under the water.
It has always been a little bit like this, down in the bayous, the damp, moss-draped, mysterious voodoo mists of it all. They always had snakes and alligators out there – this is nothing new in this country. You were used to seeing eyes in the water, and sometimes the eyes were hungry – hungry for your body, or hungry for your soul. This is a place close to the primal fears, to the silence in which the only sound is a monster breathing somewhere very close to you, close enough for the hot wet breath to brush past your hand or your cheek… or was that just a piece of Spanish moss? Just a passing moth? Just a breath of bayou air, hanging low, so heavy and full of moisture that you can almost see it stir the surface of the dark water beneath? But that was out there – in the marshes, where the water moccasin lurked, where the alligator cleaves the water, where the veil between past and present is thin, transparent, where you can summon saints and devils and hear them call your name.
Not here. Not where the music was, and the lights, and people laughed in Creole. The communities where small children with their hair done in tight braids and bright beads played in the streets beneath the levees. Not here, where the dead live above ground in carved stone crypts, where funerals turn into dancing processions in the streets, where death has never been the enemy, just something to which you paid your respects and then lit your red candles in churches flickering with lights like tiny galaxies of hope and faith. The city where the scent of fresh pastries rose from bakeries at dawn, where the sky was vivid with sunsets that promised untamed nights, where people cooked with spices and loved with passion, where you were afraid of your shadow because it might be the incarnation of your soul but were afraid of nothing else because everything that mattered you had already faced, or had courage to face. A city of music and of spirit.
Until the levees broke under the weight of water. And you heard it. The sound of it. The gurgling, dripping, rushing, hissing noises of water flowing in the dark, like someone breathing, crying, screaming. The city of faith and festival and fire, turning into a city of water, with the dead not walking the streets that night but swimming in them, sinuous, calling to the living still clinging to rooftops and to makeshift rafts floating upon the reflections of the silent houses. Dogs, howling, abandoned. Those who made the shelters, breaking under the weight of human need – no air, no clean spot to wash the filth of the catastrophe off your body and your mind, no food for the babies, no water that is safe to drink although you are surrounded by it, lapping at the walls just beyond your feet, flowing deeper, ever deeper, into the city that lies drowned, asleep.
I dreamed of it – of the children whimpering quietly in their sleep, of abandoned animals used to having food and shelter foraging in the dark or dying quietly in the submerged streets, of the smells of sewage and of chemicals that cling to this water that inundates the neighborhoods, of rainbow-coloured oily slicks oozing ominously around drowned homes. The creatures of the bayou are in the city tonight – the physical incarnations, the hungry alligator and the poisonous snake and the rat, and the marshland gods who come stalking the night and call to the unwary, call their names, call them down to the deep which they will never leave again. Souls come, hundreds of them, and linger above this haunted place. You can see them, faint shapes in the smoke of the fires burning upon the water. You can feel them brush past you as you wait in the dark, shapes, some like wings, some like veils, some just a faint hot breath on your skin. You can hear them, whispers in the still air – you can hear those whispers soft on the water, and then the sound takes off from the drowned streets like water birds, and spreads wings that are wind, and flies far and away, and turns into a murmur, and then a cry, and then a scream – and you can hear it far away, far away across mountains and prairies and other cities dreaming in the safe snug nights, and it enters dreams and people stir in their beds and shiver as the thing touches them and hunts them, haunts them, while they sleep.
I dreamed of it.
I dreamed of anguish and of fear and of pain.
I dreamed of water.