Seeing is Believing
The sun was scorching today so I sat in the shade of my porch to just observe and listen to the sounds of the city. There was a poignant stench in the air that reminded me of wet garbage and only got worse as the day heated up. Between the stench and the heat, I wasn’t feeling well. However, I couldn’t just blame those two things for my growing nausea. I kept replaying everything that had happened from the night at the Autumn Equinox Fair up to the events of yesterday in that woman’s shop. I felt like there was a missing piece to a puzzle I didn’t even know I was putting together.
I wanted to tell Brad about all of it, confide in him the strange events that have taken place, but I knew he’d go crazy on me. He lived and breathed strange experiences and the paranormal, but somehow this didn’t feel like that. Would he think I was completely nuts? And that night in the forest! How would I ever explain something like that to him? I couldn’t even explain it to myself, so how did I expect to explain it to others?
All I know is that the longer I sit here, the more my mind tries to make sense of what’s going on and I’m no expert on these matters whatsoever. I already told the woman from the shop that I’d join this evening’s class and I was actually going to, but not for the reason she thinks I’ll be there. I couldn’t care less about tarot readings and the like, but I had a feeling she would be a good person to speak to about the strange things happening to me. Or, at the very least, she’d be a good starting point.
When my phone rang, the loud chirping startled me nearly out of my seat. I clutched my chest and took a few deep breaths, looking around to see if anyone had caught me jumping like a skittish cat. My eyes landed on the strange man a few porches down that watched me yesterday and continued to do so today. He was smoking another cigar, or perhaps the same one while glaring at me. It gave me chills to know he had probably been sitting there for a while, just watching me.
I finally answered my phone, ending the loud alert and greeted the person on the other line with a breathy hello.
“Emmy! My sweet daughter! How are you getting settled in? The house is just perfect, isn’t it? Have you made your way to Bourbon Street yet? I thought you’d like that.”
I looked over my shoulder towards the creepy man but found he was no longer sitting there. Was he also a figment of my imagination? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.
“Hey, Mom. Which question would you like me to answer first?” I smiled, knowing how my mom could get when she was excited about something. Nobody could ever get a word in edgewise.
She laughed. “How are you settling in?”
My eyes drifted away from the strange man’s porch and spotted a young guy biking by with a small dog sitting in a basket that hung from the handlebars.
“It’s perfect,” I lied because frankly, the man a few houses down gave me the creeps. “How are things back home?” I honestly missed them and felt a bit homesick.
She sighed into the phone and my heart dropped. I didn’t like the sound of that.
“It’s very quiet back home, Emmy. We miss you terribly and we’ve thought about visiting all day, but we know you’re trying to start your own life now and don’t want to be a bother. We wouldn’t be a bother, though, would we?”
“No, Mom, you wouldn’t,” I laughed out, trying to picture my mom’s face at the moment, probably looking worried as ever.
“Well, we’ll plan a visit real soon then, Emersyn. We love you. I better go now before your father breaks his neck. He’s cleaning out the gutters.” She let out a laugh as we said our goodbyes and she hung up without another word as I sat there, staring straight ahead.
I wish she were here, to be honest. I missed my mom and dad and wished I had chosen a school much closer to home, but I can’t think about that right now. It’s too late for that for one, and for two, I’m starving.
My stomach growled and I knew I should eat something, but there wasn’t anything in the house after I ate the only frozen pizza in the freezer last night. I had gotten in so late last night and didn’t have time to go grocery shopping with the money Mom gave me specifically for that, so, I would try to do that today.
After I locked up the house, I headed back towards Bourbon Street, remembering the smells of a good barbeque joint I smelled yesterday. The memory was making my mouth water so I picked up speed and made it there in no time. The line was short, thankfully, and I already knew what I wanted.
I sat outside at one of the small bistro tables doting the sidewalk as I scarfed down the ribs and potato salad while I watched the growing crowd mill about downtown, going from one shop to the next.
“Is this seat taken?”
I startled at the voice next to me, whipping my head in their direction, coming face to face with a guy who looked to be in his early twenties. He had that bad boy look about him and I was instantly wrapped around his finger. What is it about bad boys that make a girl completely lose herself? The guy had long, dark brunette hair, tied back at the moment in a man-bun, and dark, piercing eyes. His attire seemed to match everything about him: black jeans, black tee, and black biker boots that he left untied.
He cocked an eyebrow at me and slightly grinned, making me realize I hadn’t said a word to him as I gawked openly at him.
“Sorry. No, it isn’t taken.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat as he sat in the open chair at my table.
He had a small grin on his face as I watched him open his to-go coffee mug before pouring some sugar packets into it. After a few stirs and the lid was put back on, he looked up at me.
“I’m Sebastian,” he said while holding his hand out for me to shake.
Sebastian. A strong name for an equally strong-looking man. I reached over and shook his hand, noticing how firm, yet delicate his grip was. The muscles in his arms flexed slightly, showing me how fit this guy actually was and I couldn’t help but swoon when I looked at him.
“Emmy,” I finally replied before taking my hand back.
His small grin turned into a bigger one while he watched me.
“So, what brings you to New Orleans?” He sipped his coffee without any indication that it was hot, staring at me with those dark, piercing eyes.
“School,” I answered, not wanting to give him too many details. Even though he was a very attractive guy, I was all alone in this big city and that left me vulnerable, so I stayed as discreet as possible.
“Very cool. I’ve just arrived in the city for work..”
I couldn’t help but wonder what he did for a living. He wasn’t exactly the professional-looking type guy and I couldn’t picture him in an office setting or doing something for someone else. The occupations that popped into my head for this guy were a tattoo artist, street artist, or perhaps one of those people that travel the country to volunteer their time. What does Brad call them? Hipsters?
“I flip houses.” The corners of his eyes lifted in amusement as I watched him.
I had this overwhelming feeling that he could read my mind, but that’s silly. He can’t read my mind any more than I can read his. He’s probably just a very good face reader, I thought to myself.
“You flip houses?” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. An image of a huge forklift came into my mind as I watched it stick its forks under a house and physically “flip” it over, but I know that’s probably not what he meant. Why would anyone do that anyway?
“I buy older homes with architectural and historical importance and then I send a crew of contractors in to restore the homes before I turn around and sell them for a substantial profit.” He gave me a prideful smile and waited for me to say something.
I was honestly surprised by his words. I’m not the type to judge a book by its cover, but in Sebastians’ case, I never would have pegged him for a house flipper. It seemed to me that you’d need a lot of money for that type of venture and he didn’t seem like the type to be rolling-in-the-dough, as my dad liked to say.
“That sounds very…” I was cut off when my phone started chiming at me. I had set an alarm to remind myself to head to The Mystic for the class and hadn’t realized I had been sitting here for so long. I silenced the alarm and smiled warmly over at Sebastian. “Well, it was nice speaking with you; but I have to go now.”
He returned my warm smile with his own, nodding his head at me. “Nice chatting with you as well, Emmy.”
I gathered my garbage from the table and stood, tossing the contents in a nearby trash can as I walked away from the barbeque joint and headed towards the alley that would take me down to The Mystic.
Tourists still milled about as I passed through them, making me wonder where they had all traveled from and how they were liking the city. I wasn’t a tourist, but the city had a magical feeling and I couldn’t wait to explore its history and culture. I made an internal promise to myself that I’d explore the many sites of the city before school officially started and I’d have no time to do that.
As I continued towards the alley that would lead me to The Mystic, I couldn’t help but feel like someone was following me. The sensation of being watched was strong as I looked over my shoulder and didn’t see anyone that looked suspicious behind me. It’s strange, though, because even though no one was there, I could still feel the overwhelming feeling of not being alone. A cold chill ran up my spine as my feet began to walk faster, heading towards the alley just up ahead.
After I turned into the alley and off of the main street, I leaned against the brick building and took a few deep breaths. I felt panicked for reasons I couldn’t explain because there was nothing to worry about. Nobody was following me and I’m being paranoid for no reason. My eyes scanned the alley before they landed on the sign for The Mystic at the end and I stopped thinking about my non-existent stalker and headed towards the shop.
When I opened the shop door, the bell above it chimed again as the overpowering smell of sage and rosemary greeted me. The shop was much fuller than it was the day before. People milled about, looking at all the different herbs and stones, while others laughed and joked about buying one of the “potions” on the back wall, wondering if they would work. One girl, in particular, thought it might be a good idea to get a love potion for a guy named Jason. I rolled my eyes and walked past them, feeling sorry for anyone who believed in that crap. I wonder if she knows it’s just dried herbs put into a glass bottle and not actually magical herbs that will make this Jason guy fall in love with her.
“Emersyn, you’ve come back.”
I spun around to find the shop owner standing there smiling warmly at me. There was something very motherly about her that made me feel like I could completely trust her. What made it strange was that I trusted a woman I hadn’t been properly introduced to yet. I had no idea what her name even was, but I kept thinking of a name that started with the letter B. I’m crazy. That isn’t possible.
“You’ve successfully piqued my interests, ma’am.” I smiled back at her, stepping away from the love-sick girls at the herb shelves.
The shop owner chuckled as she reached out and embraced my hand in hers, holding mine like a grandmother would, feeling all her love and warmth through a simple gesture.
“I apologize for not introducing myself yesterday, but we were a bit occupied, no?” She continued to pull me away from the cackling girls before she stopped us near the cash register. “Many call me the Mystic of New Orleans, but I prefer to be called Bayou Briar.”
Strange, I thought to myself, she preferred one nickname over another.
“Bayou Briar? How did that one come about?” I honestly had to know. Nobody just picks up a nickname like that without an interesting back-story.
She patted my hand and smiled. “Perhaps we’ll have time another day for such a long story. For now, let’s get you introduced to the others before I shut the shop down and we start class.” She let go of my hand and slowly made her way over towards two women standing near the table full of stones.
I was glad she wasn’t bringing me over towards the girls by the herbs. There was no way I would get through that introduction without cracking a few insulting jokes.
“Jo, Tex, I’d like you to meet a very special friend of mine,” Bayou Briar interrupted the two women.
They turned and smiled first at Bayou Briar and then at me. The two women were stunningly gorgeous and made me wonder if they were sisters. Their blonde hair was the same shade, though the taller woman’s hair was much longer. It wouldn’t surprise me if their ancestors derived from Sweden or Norway.
“Hey, I’m Jo,” the taller one greeted me. There was no accent other than the normal southern drawl of a Louisianan. Perhaps their ancestors have been here for quite some time.
“What’s your special gift?” The other asked, smiling just as warmly at me as Jo had.
Bayou Briar immediately stepped in, thankfully, because I had no idea what she meant by special gift.
“This one is new to the realm, girls. Perhaps we’ll give her some time to figure that out.” Bayou Briar turned to me and winked.
“Well, you’re going to love Bayou Briar’s classes. She’s an amazing teacher,” Tex beamed, throwing her arm around Bayou Briar’s shoulders to pull her in for a tight hug.
The bell above the door dinged as I looked over my shoulder to see who was coming or going. My mouth went dry at the sight of him and I wanted to run and hide. I didn’t want him to see me here.
“Sebastian?” Tex inquired, stepping away from Bayou Briar as she headed in his direction.
He smiled at her, eyeing her seductively as she swayed her hips. It was then that I heard Jo snort an unpleasant sound. When I turned to look at her, she was rolling her eyes and didn’t at all look pleased with the scene in front of us.
“Who is that?” I whispered to Bayou Briar, hoping I was being subtle enough.
“That’s Sebastian, apparently. I haven’t seen him in here before.” I couldn’t help but hear the trepidation in her voice and the way she looked at him made me feel immediately cautious of the handsome stranger. She was obviously keeping her distance from him but said nothing more about him.
My eyes studied the handsome man I had met only moments ago at the barbeque joint. He had a certain energy about him that pulled the opposite sex towards him like a moth to a flame. I have a feeling he’s just as dangerous as any red hot fire could ever be.
“I’m going to ring these girls up and then we’ll get started.” Bayou Briar headed around the counter to help the cackling women, no doubt buying all the herb bottles they could afford.
After a short moment, the girls were carrying their goodies in purple bags out of the shop, Bayou Briar following them out. She waved them goodbye, wished them luck, and then closed up shop before locking the door.
She turned to us and stated, “It’s time.”
Time? Time for what?
I nervously shifted from one foot to the other as I watched the two sisters head through the shop and disappear behind a dark purple curtain that had the symbol of a triangle and eye in the center of it.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Sebastian joked as he walked past me, heading towards the same dark purple curtain.
My hands became sweaty and I looked around, completely unsure what the hell I was even doing here. This was Brad’s scene, not mine.
“Emersyn?” Bayou Briar’s warm voice seemed to immediately calm me as I looked for her. She stood near the same curtain. “Are you ready?”
I didn’t know if I was actually ready. I have no idea what’s behind that curtain or where my fate lied if I followed strangers into the unknown.
“You’re safe with me, Emersyn,” she stated matter-of-factly, intensely staring at me before she added, “And if anything happens, you stay by my side; okay? You’re safe with me,” she repeated.
Was I, though? Even if she made me feel warm and comfortable around her, gaining my trust out of nowhere, it didn’t mean I was safe. Where’s my best friend when I need him?
Who am I kidding? Brad would be dragging me behind that curtain if he were here right now, telling me not to be such a baby and to live a little.
Alright, Brad, I’m doing this for you.
I let my feet carry me towards the curtain as I dipped behind it and into the darkness.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw an old metal spiral staircase that descended into what I assumed was a basement. A golden, flickering glow helped my eyes adjust to the dimness, noting that what I was seeing was the flickering flame of candlelight.
A strong but calming odor greeted my senses next as Bayou Briar came up behind me and softly touched my elbow.
“They won’t bite, I promise,” she joked before adding, “I need you to go down first. There isn’t enough room for both of us.”
“Oh, right.” I grabbed the metal railings with shaking hands and took one step at a time, wondering what I would see once I made it to the basement. Images of an old dungeon swarmed my mind, causing my heart to speed up. I wouldn’t think a sweet woman like Bayou Briar would have cages and chains dangling from the rafters or walls, but I also didn’t know her all that well either.
Once I reached the last step, I found myself standing in a small dark space, a few candelabras holding white candles as their light flickered on the black floor-to-ceiling drapes. It wasn’t the black drapes that caught me off guard. No, it was the fact that the candelabra was sitting at table height without an actual table holding it up.
That’s crazy, though; my mind is playing tricks on me again and I need to seriously chill. There’s probably a table hidden beneath it, covered in the same black drapes as the wall and I just can’t see it because I’m blinded by the lack of light in here. Yep, that’s definitely it.
“Through here, child.” Bayou Briar joined me at the bottom of the steps as she grabbed the black drape and pulled it open, revealing the basement room.
It was your typical old basement with stone walls and open floor joists for the ceiling. The floors were poured concrete that had seen better days, missing a chunk here and there.
Candles were the only source of light down here, littered among several tables and in places they shouldn’t be. Wasn’t Bayou Briar afraid of causing a fire? Good grief. There had to be thousands of candles down here. Who lit them all? Seems like it would take forever. She must have a decent supply of candles around here because there were seriously more candles lit in this space than an entire candle store would have out for display.
When I pulled my gaze away from the fire hazard, I found several people sitting in chairs that formed a circle in the center of the room. They seemed to all know each other, laughing and chatting like old friends. I felt like the odd one out, standing here like a complete weirdo.
“Emersyn! You can sit with us!” Jo, the shorter blonde sister waved at me before pointing at the open chair next to her.
Even though I didn’t know her, she was at least a familiar face among all these strange ones.
However, as I made my way around the circle, I noticed they were all smiling kindly at me. Some greeted me with a nod of their head, while others greeted me with a small wave of their hand. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.
“You’re going to love what we’re going to do tonight. It’s my favorite thing to do,” Jo commented as I sat down next to her. “Did you bring anything personal?”
I glared at her, not sure what she was talking about. “This is my first night,” I replied, hoping that would tell her that I didn’t bring anything personal. Bayou Briar didn’t mention this to me the day before.
She excitedly clapped her hands together. “You’re going to love it!”
I’m glad she’s excited because I wasn’t so sure about any of this.
My eyes scanned the faces of those sitting in the circle when they landed on Sebastian’s. He was watching me intently, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. My heart began to race and I quickly looked away from him. There was something about him that terrified me and intrigued me all at the same time and I didn’t like it.
The way he made me feel was as uncomfortable as an ice bath, yet I was magnetized to him as well. It was like someone burning themselves as they sipped their freshly brewed coffee, only to do it again seconds later. I knew I should steer clear of him, but one glance back in his direction and I knew I couldn’t. Our gazes held longer than I intended as if I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to.
An amused grin spread across his lips as he watched me, his gaze burning right into my soul.
I finally blinked and pulled my gaze away when Jo grabbed my forearm, whispering something into my ear.
“Bayou Briar is about to start. I’m so excited,” she shrieked as quietly as she could.
My eyes sought out Bayou Briar, finding her near a small table of candles. She was holding a feather in one hand and what looked like a sea-shell in the other.
What the hell is she doing?
She turned towards the group, her friendly smile absent, as she began walking from one person to the next. A cloud of smoke billowed from the shell as she waved the feather through the smoke in their direction. Each person closed their eyes and breathed in the smoke as if their life depended on it. They were bathing in it.
“Cleanse yourselves of any negativity. Cleanse yourselves of energies and spirits that may have clung to you.”
Bayou Briar was waving the smoke at Jo as I watched her relish in it, her eyes closing tightly. Even as Bayou Briar stepped away from her, Jo continued to wave the lingering smoke at herself.
Crazy, weird, strange…
My thoughts were cut off when Bayou Briar stood in front of me and waved the smoke in my direction. I stared up at her, not mimicking the others one bit. It was just smoke, people. And something I didn’t exactly want to breathe in. What the hell is that stuff? I knew what sage smelled like but there was another unfamiliar scent mixed in there that I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Release the negativity, Emersyn.”
I pulled the smoke towards me to appease Bayou Briar, not understanding one bit by what she meant. It must have worked because she finally went onto the next person.
“I love sage so much. You should grab a stick before you leave tonight. Not only does it smell amazing, but the healing and protection properties of it are life-changing.”
I rolled my eyes; I just couldn’t help it. Brad had tried to shove the whole sage stick ordeal at me too, and that didn’t go very far. But I did have to admit that there was something very calming and majestic about the new scent.
“Now that we’ve cleansed ourselves, I think we better get started. Tonight, we’re going to do some psychometry. Did you all bring something personal?” Bayou Briar looked at me before she came over. “The necklace around your neck will do fine tonight.” She winked before stepping away from me.
My hand instinctively went up to the necklace around my neck as I recalled which one I was wearing. I honestly don’t remember putting it on this morning but it didn’t surprise me either. I’d worn this necklace nearly every day since I was a kid. When I first laid eyes on it at the antique store back in my hometown, I just had to have it. Of course my mom didn’t buy it for me that day, but she eventually did after I begged her for days. I dreamt of the necklace every night for a solid two weeks after I saw it. I knew deep in my soul that that necklace was mine. Once I put it around my neck, it was as if everything made sense about the piece. Even though I still have no idea what its history is all these years later.
Now I have to take it off and give it to a complete stranger. I wasn’t very comfortable with it but I took it off anyway.
“Alright, pass your items to your right and stop when you’ve passed an item seven times.”
Everyone did as Bayou Briar asked, my eyes trained on my necklace as it passed from hand to hand.
It was when it stopped in his hands that made me want to jump up and take it back, securing it back around my neck where nobody could touch it again.
“Perfect. Now I want you to feel the object in your hand. I want you to really focus on it. When you see or feel anything, write it down in your notebook.”
I looked down in my lap and saw a notebook there that I hadn’t grabbed. Am I constantly blacking out down here? Where the hell did this thing come from?!
It was then that I saw the small object in my hand as I stared at it with confusion. The black stone wrapped in wire and turned into a necklace was making my hand tingle. I turned it this way and that in my hand, still feeling the strange vibration when all of a sudden I began seeing things in my head as if they were my own memories, but I know I’ve never seen these people or places before.
“Write it down,” Bayou Briar whispered into my ear as I slightly jumped from her close proximity.
And I did what she said. I began writing every little detail down that I could see. None of it made sense to me but I just went with it.
My eyes scanned the circle of people, watching them write down in their notebooks, as I saw Sebastian staring at me. He was writing in his notebook as well but never pulled his gaze away from me. His hand was writing so quickly that I wondered if he would even be able to read his handwriting. And, why is he staring at me?
I nervously looked away and stared down at the notebook in my lap. I read what I had written down and laughed to myself. There was no way any of this was true, but hey, I wrote down what I saw and felt. I just hope I don’t have to share what I wrote down because the owner of this necklace was going to laugh at me right before she called me a fraud.
I didn’t belong here. They knew it and I knew it.
Bayou Briar walked among the group, looking over their shoulders before she returned to her own seat.
“Looks like everyone has a pretty good start on their objects. Why don’t we share with the group?”
I felt the blood drain in my face. I really didn’t want to share what I had written down. The things on my sheet were ridiculous and completely unbelievable. I didn’t come here to be made fun of.
Jo offered to start, nearly bouncing out of her chair in excitement.
“Whose is this?” She held up a tiny music box that fit in the palm of her hand. A brunette guy with thick black glasses held up his hand, smiling at Jo as if he were challenging her.
Jo nodded at him, looking down at her notebook.
“Well, the first thing I felt was a female energy. I got that she was very loved and lived a happy life.”
My eyes went back to the brunette guy sitting across the room and watched his eyebrow lift in amusement. He slightly nodded, giving her validation maybe? I have no idea.
Jo continued, “I can’t seem to get the woman’s name, but I feel like she was a family member of yours?” The man nodded but stayed silent. “I also saw a farmhouse and horses.” Then she sat back and giggled. “That’s all I got, though.”
Everyone in the room turned to the man in the thick black glasses as if they were waiting for him to speak.
He laughed, nodding at Jo. “You were pretty darn close. That was my grandmother’s music box. She did live on a farm but I don’t remember her having any horses. Maybe that was before my time. Everyone loved my grandmother.” The man smiled, clearly remembering his grandma with fond memories.
The room broke out in claps, cheering Jo on. I had a hell of a time not rolling my eyes. This was all hogwash. Anyone off the street could come up with this crap. It was just pure coincidence that Jo said those things. For real, give me a break.
“Emersyn? Would you like to go next?” Bayou Briar asked, eyeing me with curiosity.
“Me? Why me?” I shifted nervously in my chair.
“Awe, come on, girl. It’s fun.” Jo nudged me.
I swallowed, looking down at my notebook and all the things I wrote down. My notes were completely different than Jo’s and I didn’t want to sound like an idiot.
Shaking my head, I looked up. “No, I think I’ll wait.”
“Is that my necklace?” A woman across from me asked, nodding towards my hands. I held it up and she smiled with a nod. “Please, tell me what you got. I’m very curious. I bring this object every time and nobody has gotten it correct yet.”
Great, so no pressure then. I grabbed the notebook with shaking hands and began reading. “I wrote down a few things. They’re probably not right and I…”
“Emersyn, it’s okay if they’re not right. Go ahead and read what you have.”
I stared at Bayou Briar for a long moment before I tore my eyes away and began reading the notes again. I was having a hard time getting my mouth to work, though.
Finally, I started. “I wrote down that this necklace is very old. And when I say old, I mean hundreds of years old.” I kept my eyes down as I continued on, not believing a word I wrote but reading them aloud anyways. “I see a lot of death. I see this stone being dug out from a cave and many people wanting it. This stone was kept in the safety of the church before it was passed down to one particular priest. He’s held onto it until his death in the 1980s where the stone was left to a God-fearing family. This stone could be dangerous in the hands of someone who meant to do harm with it. The name Carmichael kept popping up in my mind.” I stared at the last thing I wrote on the page but kept that tidbit to myself. It didn’t feel right to say it out loud, so I didn’t.
I finally tore my gaze from the page and looked around. Everyone was intently listening to me before they turned their eyes to the woman who owned the necklace.
Her expression turned ashen and her eyes were brimming with tears.
I nervously laughed. “I’m sorry. I knew that was too ridiculous to be true.” I began scratching out my words with my pen before I felt a magnetic pull towards the woman across from me. When I looked up at her, she had a terrified expression on her face.
Her bottom lip trembled as she whispered out, “Who are you?”