A Mask of Black Tar
“Kevin I don’t like our odds.” John stood outside their white Toyota Pickup with a camper shell and finished brushing his teeth from a canteen. “What do people do in hopeless situations?”
“You mean what should we do?” Kevin replied as he stuck his head out of the camper shell. “We cannot just live here in a pickup truck on an empty campus parking lot.”
“We should go home to our families.” John finished put his surgical mask back on. “I am worried about them.”
“Yeah, yeah. First we should go to Bourbon Street. That is where Jennifer and her friends were headed. Maybe we can be their saviors.” Kevin put on his mask too and stretched his legs.
“I don’t know that sounds like a horrible idea.” John replied.
“First we have a full tank of gas. Let’s do it. Second tomorrow is Halloween and wouldn’t you want to be in the French Quarter during these ‘awful times’.” Kevin walked up to John and playfully punched him.
“Alright but I’ll drive the first half.” John moved over into the drivers seat.
“Fair enough.” Kevin closed his door and turned on the radio as John pulled out of the lot. They started their journey south from Baton Rouge to New Orleans with their windows down and their masks on.
“The Black Tar has created massive casualties in Louisiana and around our country. This virus causes a fatal pneumonia and the hideous nature of the disease is heard in it’s name which comes from the sticky black substance that fills the lungs. Therefore Black Tar not only fills the lungs but seems to seep out of the pores within an hour of infection.
First the source of this disease is unknown yet highly contagious. Second Louisiana and most of the country have given strict orders that all individuals must remain isolated inside their living quarters.
Even with strict isolation a huge number of our population has been stricken and all public institutions have been closed and evacuated.
All residents of the world are told to stay indoors to avoid contracting the virus or to contribute to its spread. If you must leave your home please wear a mask and avoid all contact with others.”
“Turn that radio off I am tired of listening to the same damn Public Service Announcement.” John thought about the recent evacuation of Louisiana State University and how the campus closed within a day. The parking lot thinned out and within a week of evacuation he saw everyone leave. Therefore he gripped the steering wheel tighter as they past Lake Pontchartrain. “I need some quiet.”
First the Highway was empty as they entered New Orleans. Second Sun started to set so they decided to pull over to the side of the Highway near the Superdome and sleep in their camper.
“Wake up John.” Kevin stood outside the camper. “It’s Halloween and we are in New Orleans. Boo Halloween Krewe!”
“There is no one around Kevin.” John said as he stuck his head out and looked around.
“Let’s go we can get to Bourbon Street in a few minutes. Bourbon Street on Halloween this is going to be epic.”
“Or Suicide.” John moved to the drivers seat again and started up the Toyota. They drove a short distance past the Superdome to the French Quarter exit which was barricaded by concrete. He parked the truck by the barricade as Kevin walked over and stretched.
“Looks like we are walking.” John grabbed both their backpacks from behind the seat. Each had a daypack with water and snacks. “Here take your pack.”
They walked down the exit ramp, noticed the graffiti brighten up the grey industrial area underneath, until they reached parking. High rise parking garages touched the sky on both sides of them as they walked.
“Do you remember the party we had in that garage?” Kevin talked loud enough to produce an echo.
“Kevin we have not seen one person on this trip. Not one car. No one.” John heard his voice echo ‘No one’ as they walked up to another concrete barricade that separated the parking garages from Bourbon Street. They walked passed familiar bars and strip clubs and felt out of place in silence.
This area always seemed active even in early morning when humidity would create a mist that seemed to rise from the Mississippi.
“Everything seems closed.” Kevin pointed out.
“I noticed.” Replied John as they approached Conti and stopped to drink water and take a bite of a snack. “This is really freaking me out Kevin.”
“Look over there!” Kevin grabbed John by the arm and pointed out three people dressed in orange hazmat suits walking towards them on Conti. “Who are they? What are they holding? I don’t think that is the Halloween parade.”
The three figures in the hazmat suits seemed to notice John and Kevin and started to jog in the students direction. One of the orange joggers aimed what looked like a gun towards where the boys stood and a long arm of flame pushed its way down the street.
“Two Individuals spotted heading to incinerate.” A voice echoed down Conti as if coming from a load speaker.
John grabbed Kevin by the shirt and pulled. They ran down Bourbon Street past Toulose as the orange joggers turned towards them. Another of the following figures shot flame down the street.
John never felt as afraid as he felt running down Bourbon Street away from tongues of flame that lit up bar signs of bars where he once consumed drinks called “Hand Grenades” or the deli where he always bought a Muffaletta for lunch.
“Over there quick.” Kevin pointed forward where a parade of people dressed in black slowly moved down Orlean Street toward St. Louis Cathedral. “Go to the parade!”
“What is happening?” John screamed as he followed Kevin. First the details of the parade came into focus as they felt a wind hit them from St. Peter’s. Second the parade consisted of very tall individuals dressed in skeleton jumpsuits whose faces were covered with nylon skulls. Each carried an articulated skeleton marionette above their heads.
The marionette’s wooden appendages clacked together like bones falling on a concrete tomb. Behind the skeletons a few unmasked hippies played the drums and danced barefoot.
“Run with the hippies.” John yelled as they ran to join the procession.
“They are good as gone. Let them go.” A voice said as the individuals in the Hazmat suits stopped jogging and turned around.
As the parade approached St. Louis Cathedral another concrete barricade blocked them. First the parade stopped and the hippies stopped keeping beat on their drums. Second each skeleton turned around and stood still facing towards the hippies.
“If I were you I would run.” Yelled a bum from a nearby street corner.
“Kevin I think we should go.” John turned Kevin away from the Skeletons and towards the bum. “Now.”
“Go.” Kevin replied through his mask as both of them started to run towards the bum and away from the parade. A scream came from behind followed by a series of screams that started and finished as they ran past the bum who sat on the corner of Chartres trying to drink booze through his mask next to a boarded up liquor store.
They noticed Jackson Square to their left and wondered if they ever saw the open air market closed.
“Ya’ll in the swamp piss now.” Laughed the bum as they ran by. “Ya’ll dead and don’t know it.”
Kevin and John kept running down Chartres towards the river. They stopped to catch their breath a few blocks away from the bum. They opened their packs and drank some water and ate some food there was no one to be seen and all the Seafood Restaurants were boarded.
“What do we do about those flame thrower freaks?” Kevin spat on the empty sidewalk while leaning on his knees. “I feel like they will find us soon.”
“Aw man.” John said drinking his water. “I don’t know anymore.”
“Maybe we should get off the streets and see if any of these businesses are not boarded up.”
“Alright but we should try to make it to Canal Place. The mall might be safe.”
They noticed an open gate and a path that led into a private garden with a small fountain. On the other side of the fountain a black door seemed to hide loud club music.
“People.” The two of them walked around the fountain to the door. Before they had time to consider whether to enter the door opened and a person dressed in a black gown and a Dark Ages Plague Doctor mask stood in the doorway.
“Well come in.” The masked person said and moved to the side as John looked over at Kevin. “I am only keeping this door open for a second.”
Kevin moved inside first with John right on his heels. They walked into a slender bar with just enough room, between a black wall and a lit mirror shelved with different liquor bottles, to sit. A few couples sat at the bar. One couple, dressed as Vampires, sipped drinks as a Jukebox played: “Send me an angel. Send me angel. Right now. Right now.”
A girl dressed in a Raggedy Ann costume and wearing a surgical mask stepped in front of Kevin and stared.
“Hello.” Kevin said, “I’m Kevin.”
“Your eyes. Your eyes are bouncin’ like slot machine. That must be why they call it rollin’.” She said as she put her hand up to his cheek.
“Excuse me.” Kevin replied stepping back from her hand as a man in a Grim Reaper costume entered from a staircase slightly left of the bar.
“It is time. Come upstairs.” The Grim Reaper motioned to everyone to follow him upstairs. Everyone stood up as Raggedy Ann giggled and ran up the stairs first.
“You two coming.” The bartender asked as he flipped off the jukebox and followed the last person up.
John started up the stairs first as Kevin trailed behind. They entered into a large black box dance area. In one corner stood turntables and large speakers while the rest of the room was blanketed with black fabric.
A gathering of costumed people stood on the dance floor.
“Welcome to The Dungeon on Halloween Night! Our bar has been frequented by the undead for many Octobers but this October is different.” The Grim Reaper spoke into a microphone. “Our dear owner has recently passed and if you look above your heads you will see his coffin suspended with his remains.”
Above the heads of the costumed a wooden coffin hung from chains.
“He died of The Black Tar and left only one dying wish.” The Grim Reaper continued his monologue. “He wanted to share this gift with the people he loved. You, the ghouls who haunt his nightclub.”
A cheer erupted from the small crowd as a D.J. started to play “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus through the large speakers. The masked dancers held their hands above their heads towards the coffin.
“How did we end up at a party?” John asked Kevin over chants and cheers. “This is the craziest Halloween.”
Kevin looked at John, pulled down his mask, smiled and shook his head. When John finished talking a loud clicking sound drowned out the music for a second as a pair of chains holding the coffin were released. The coffin fell to its side and the top opened on its hinges.
The cheers of the crowd turned to screams as infectious Black Tar scraped from the flesh of dying fell in bucket loads.
Kevin’s smile, suddenly covered in tar, turned black and John only had moments to panic.
“We except this gift of death with open arms.” John heard the Grim Reaper before his ears filled with tar.
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