JACK STORM AND NEW ORLEANS HOODOO, the first book in the HURRICANE HOODOO series:
7:40 am August 29, 2005
Captain Pierre Bonnard stood on the Florida Avenue Bridge overlooking the Industrial Canal levee. He had been standing here for hours watching the destruction Hurricane Katrina was wreaking on his beloved New Orleans.
Even though the wind blew hard enough that windows broke and trees fell down, Captain Pierre Bonnard didn’t slouch against the wind but stood tall and unmovable. And even though the rain fell hard, the captain’s clothes were dry as a bone. As pristine as if they were an exhibit in a museum. And the clothes could have been in a museum because Captain Bonnard dressed as a gentleman in the 1830s: black top hat, knee-length coat, white shirt with cravat, waistcoat, and pants tucked into black leather boots.
At 6:50 am water had spilled over the top of the Industrial Canal, sending water into neighborhoods including the Lower Ninth Ward, which Captain Bonnard looked down into from where he stood.
Many people in the Lowest Ninth Ward had not left the city. First, because they thought this hurricane would be like earlier ones — an excuse to have a party. Then, when the mayor of New Orleans issued a mandatory evacuation order the day before, many people in the Lower Ninth Ward didn’t have any transportation to leave the city.
And so far the amount of water spilled into the Lower Ninth Ward didn’t appear to be life-threatening. Yes, there was some water damage but nothing that New Orleans hadn’t endured before.
Captain Bonnard smiled. The people would return soon. New Orleans would be back to its old rhythms soon enough.
Out of the corner of his eye Captain Bonnard saw a woman in blue-and-white flowing garments walking through the water. She obviously wasn’t human. He could feel her power against him in rhythm with the water slapping against the levees.
She leaned down to the wall of the nearest levee. She cocked her head to the side and shot an evil smile at him. Then she gently blew on the levee.
The levee broke, and Captain Bonnard watched a wall of water sweep into the Lower Ninth Ward — smashing into cars and houses. Within minutes, the water level rose to the tops of houses.
Captain Bonnard bowed his head in prayer: “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord.”
There was nothing more the captain could do to help the people drowning. Captain Bonnard was, after all, only a ghost.
August 26, 2006
One year later
You can take the 10 Freeway from Los Angeles, California, all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana. And that’s what 12-year-old Jack Storm was doing at this moment with his dad, Paul.
Before this Jack hadn’t thought he’d ever move away from LA or at least he’d never imagined it. But then his mother died this past spring, a month or so before school had ended. She had pneumonia with complications and the doctors couldn’t save her.
Only two weeks ago his dad had said he was moving his construction company to New Orleans. For the opportunity, his dad had said, to help rebuild New Orleans.
Jack knew that this week at the end of August was exactly one year from when Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas and headed towards New Orleans. Many of the people of New Orleans had been caught unprepared because they had no way to leave the city.
And while the storm caused some flooding, the levees holding back the water had been ill-designed (his father talked about this) and broke after the storm passed, flooding many parts of the city and killing those who had expected this to be the usual no-big-thing storm.
But Jack didn’t think that, if his mother were still alive. they would be moving. Part of Jack didn’t want to move. He felt as if he were a tree yanked from the ground, his roots hanging out so that everyone could see. But another part of him had stopped loving Los Angeles because everywhere he went reminded him of his mother.
Jack didn’t look over at his dad in the driver’s seat or, at least, he tried not to. If he did, he would think of his mother; his mother was the one who had driven Jack places in LA. Instead, Jack spent the time looking out the window. He would forever remember the move as the 10 Freeway — that white-grey-yellow of the concrete — with the urn at his feet holding his mother’s ashes.
Their stuff that hadn’t been sent ahead filled the back of his dad’s five-seater truck. What was sent ahead had been met by Miguel Perez, Jack’s dad’s right-hand man. Miguel and his family had moved ahead of Jack and his dad to start hiring workers and generally getting the company ready.
“Jack,” his dad said now. Jack shook his head to clear his thoughts and saw they were pulling into a gas station. “This is our last stop before we get to New Orleans. Get some lunch for yourself.”
Jack checked his watch. Twelve noon — 10 in the morning in LA. If he were still in LA he’d be at fencing camp. The other kids would be pairing off for practice bouts right about now.
Jack got out of the truck and closed the door, careful not to cause the urn to fall out.
Inside the gas station store Jack got a bag of chips and an ice cream bar. He certainly wasn’t going to buy a hot dog here. The hot dogs rotating on the spit smelled gross, like meat when it had been in the refrigerator too long.
As Jack stood in line to pay, he pictured in his mind his fencing footwork. He tapped his foot in time: bam — bam, bam. Short jump forward — short jump forward, lunge.
Jack came out of the store and his eyes locked on his fencing bag in the back of the trunk. Would he be able to find a fencing school in New Orleans?
Jack turned around and saw that his dad stood next to him, looking at what Jack was looking at.
As they clicked on their seatbelts, Jack’s dad said: “I’m sorry you had to miss fencing camp. Schools in New Orleans start earlier than in LA. Here they start at the end of August.”
“I know.” And Jack did know because his dad had explained this before, although Jack was still annoyed. He thought it stupid to start school in August when it was still summer. September was when school started — the first Tuesday of the month right after Labor Day.
“You’ll get used to it,” his dad said.
Maybe Jack thought.
Copyright © 2009–2013 Yael K. Miller