Deborah LeBlanc

The November Special Guest Writer is

Deborah LeBlanc

Please feel free to visit Deborah HERE


by Deborah LeBlanc

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.


Instead of making rounds and dispensing meds as usual, Ariel found herself trudging through thigh-deep water with an eighty-eight-year-old man draped over her back. Stomach cancer had whittled Charlie Nichols down to a mere seventy-six pounds, but that was still more than half of Ariel’s body weight. She struggled to keep moving, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, her knees threatening to buckle with each step. To make matters worse, she kept hearing odd noises, sounds that made her dizzy. Probably her blood pressure spiking. It certainly had reason to. A sudden rise in blood pressure usually caused ringing or buzzing in the ear, though. What she heard was a weird clop . . .thump, clop, and an occasional chuuu, like something hydraulic had been set into motion. Strange. But everything felt strange lately.

It seemed like only hours ago when these halls smelled of antiseptic and freshly waxed floors. Now they held the stench of contaminated water, an amalgam of sewage, oil, and rotted meat. Ariel cringed at the thought of the disease and parasites swirling through the murky water—around her legs.

The water was rising fast. Too fast. Dark ripples sent debris floating about haphazardly. Bedpans, hospital gowns, med trays, and swollen, soggy lumps she couldn’t identify. She chewed her bottom lip to keep from crying. There was no time for tears or self pity. She had to keep moving. They had to reach the second floor, and the stairwell that led to it was still a couple hundred feet away. Those stairs were their only salvation.

Salvation. The word seemed fantastical; something associated with knights on white horses, not a thirty-three-year-old divorced nurse with quarter-inch hair stubble on her legs.

Even harder to believe was here and now—grasping that this was reality. Hurricane Katrina was supposed to have barreled toward the coast, then veer off in another direction at the last minute, just like the other hurricanes that had threatened New Orleans in the past had done. It was a pattern New Orleanians had counted on for decades. Some of the locals credited God for the many years of protection, others claimed specific saints were responsible. A few folks swore it was due to the diversion spells cast by the voodoo priests and priestesses who lived in the city. Regardless of who deserved the credit, He or they had obviously fallen asleep on the job because Katrina had rammed into New Orleans with a vengeance, and it didn’t look like she intended to let up any time soon.

The last time Ariel had dared to peek through the cracks in one of the boarded up windows, she’d seen little change. Torrential rains and triple-digit winds continued to rip through buildings, topple trees, and shatter glass, which filled the air with deadly, flying shrapnel. The street that ran in front of St. Bernard’s Hospital was now a river with a current strong enough to carry cars, mailboxes—dead bodies.  People had prepared for some wind and rain, but not for this monster. And certainly not for the break in the levee that sent Lake Borgne rushing into the Ninth Ward.

Earlier, when it became painfully obvious that the storm wasn’t going to veer off course, many hospital employees simply walked off the job and hurried home to their families. As soon as news about the breach in the levee reached St. Bernard’s, all but seven hospital employees fled. The entire medical staff now consisted of two doctors, one scrawny intern named Paul Struben, and five nurses, one of them being Ariel. She was the only one who’d chosen to stay with the geriatric patients on the first floor. Everyone else had rushed up to the second and third floors to help the younger, stronger patients, claiming they stood a better chance of survival. Although the reasoning sounded logical, Ariel couldn’t bring herself to leave the elderly behind. It wasn’t their fault they were old and unable to move quickly, if at all. Someone had to stay and help them. Paul had promised to come back and lend a hand, but that had been two hours ago. Not that she’d really expected him to return. The opportunistic jerk probably had his nose stuck up some doctor’s ass, sniffing out kudos, and had forgotten all about her. Paul worked as hard at brown-nosing as any athlete training for the Olympics. A knight on a white horse he was not.

Charlie groaned against Ariel’s right shoulder, and his hot, raspy breath reminded her that he was only one of nine patients still in the ward. How was she supposed to get all of them to safety? She couldn’t take the elevator. The power had gone out long ago, rendering it useless. Fortunately, the backup generator had kept the emergency lights going, but they’d recently started to flicker and dim. It didn’t take an electrical engineer to figure out that that wasn’t a good sign.

Chuuu . . . clop, thump . . .clop . . .

Gripping Charlie’s forearms, Ariel forced herself to keep moving. One more step—three more, meandering around floating utility carts, plastic trays, a toppled wheelchair. She kept her head down, her eyes on the water swirling about her legs. She struggled to block out the impossibility of it all—the roar of the wind that pummeled the building—the weird sounds in her head—the loud, desperate cries from the other patients. The fact that she had no family, no one to go home to. No one to worry about her. 

By the time Ariel reached the heavy metal door that led to the stairwell, she wanted to collapse from exhaustion. The water had risen to hip level, and it had developed a current.

Chuuu . . . thump, thump . . .

She grabbed the doorknob, turned it, and pushed against the door. It didn’t budge, but that didn’t surprise her. Opening it usually required a hefty shove. She’d have to put a shoulder into it—but how on earth was she supposed to do that with an old man clinging to her back? Thump, clop . . . Even on a good day Charlie wasn’t able to stand upright without help. If she allowed him to slide off her back, he’d surely drop into a heap and drown.

As Ariel racked her brain for a solution, a loud clatter, like so many pots tumbling from a high shelf, startled her. She glanced back towards the sound and spotted black smoke billowing out of a room directly behind them.

God, no—no, please . . .

A rush of adrenaline sent Ariel pushing and pounding frantically against the door. They had to reach the stairwell.

Charlie began to thrash against her, as though offering what little strength he had to the cause.

“Charlie, don’t. You’ll make us fall!”

He mumbled something incoherent and wiggled against her.

Just hang on. Don’t move!”

Chuuu . . . clop . . . clop, clop. . .

Charlie grunted and twisted his body slightly to the right, like he meant to break away from her and take the lead.

“Wait, stop! Stop moving or we’ll—” Ariel felt her body tip forward, and in that moment bright light flashed in her periphery, and on its heels, a deafening explosion. Something big and solid slammed into them from behind, smashing Charlie against her. The force of the impact stole her breath, threw them into the water.

Then under it—


Deeper still.

Chuuu . . .

Someone needed to tell whoever was making those ridiculous gurgling sounds to shut up. This was supposed to be a peaceful, quiet place. A weightless zone. As weightless as her body felt this very moment. She wanted her mind to know that same buoyancy, but how could it with all the damn burbling . . .gurgling? Irritated, she started to say something—      

Ariel’s eyes flew open. Disoriented, it took a second for her to realize she was underwater and only half that time to know she needed air. She started to flail, but her arms and legs refused to work as a cohesive unit. She fought harder, frantic to break the water’s surface, desperate to breathe.

But there was no surface. Only what felt like a heavy, wide wall hanging a foot or so over her head.

She squinted through the murk, eyes burning as she searched for a ledge, a corner of anything that might give her the leverage she needed to pull herself up to freedom. All she saw, though, was a beige, littered sea and Charlie Nichols’ face as it bobbed into view. The old man’s eyes held the blank gaze of a corpse, and his mouth hung open as if waiting to be fed. Without thinking, Ariel cried out and reached for him. Noxious water filled her mouth instantly, made her gag, seared her nostrils. Her lungs felt ready to explode. Chuuu . . .

Breathe! Breathe! It was the only word on her mind, her sole prayer. But He or they must have fallen asleep on the job again because no air came.

Clop . . . thump . . . clop, clop.

The little energy she’d had earlier drained away, leaving her with only enough strength to swallow.

Swallow and blink.

Above her, the world had gone silent. She no longer heard the wail of the wind or the pitiful cries for help. Even the gurgling had stopped. All she heard was that annoying clop . . . clop . . . and voices?

Ariel’s eyes felt scorched and she knew she should close them against the filthy water, but she wanted to—had to—see. Where were the voices coming from?

The water surrounding her suddenly turned into a shimmering silver veil, and through its sheen she saw . . . people. A black man wearing a short brimmed cap—a gray-haired woman standing beside a short, bald man . . .

“All dis was what we called de upper side of de Ninth,” the black man said, holding his arms out wide.

“But there’s nothing out here,” the woman said.

“You right. Katrina, she took everything. Dere used to be little shops and restaurants out dis way. Good size neighborhood, too. Back dere, over to de West side.” He aimed his chin to indicate the direction.

“How many people were lost in this area?” the bald man asked, his voice low and sad.

“Well, from what everybody say, ‘bout nine hundred, give or take. Some people dat used to live out here dey never did find.”

The woman gasped and held a hand to her chest. Then she turned, walking in a slow, tight circle, scanning the vast emptiness around them. Her brown pumps gave voice to her faltering steps—clop, clop . . .clop—and the disbelief on her face spoke of her struggle to imagine that so many had died here.

“Nine hundred,” the bald man repeated. “Unbelievable. It looks like nothing was ever here. It must have taken them, what . . . a year, year and a half to clear the debris?”

“No. More close to three, four years.”

The bald man let out a low whistle. “Why so long?”

The black man shrugged. “All I know is de gov’ment’s gonna do what dey
wanna do, and dey gonna do it when dey wanna do it. Reg’lar folk like me don’t got much say ‘bout nothin’.”

“Oh, Ralphie, this is so sad,” the woman said, taking hold of the bald man’s arm.

“It sure is.” Ralphie patted her hand. “Hard to believe so many people lived and
worked here.”

“I know,” the woman agreed. Her voice sounded shaky, like she was about to cry. “All those poor, poor people. Dead . . . drowned.”

“Oh, not all of dem died ‘cause of de water,” the black man said. “De wind did her part, too, and some people even got blowed up.”

The woman gasped again. “You mean in an explosion?”

Yes, ma’am. Dat’s what happened to ol’ St. Bernard’s Hospital. Don’t know ‘xactly why, but it sure ‘nough blowed up. And from what everybody say, de people dat was stuck inside it ‘cause of de storm never came back out.” He pointed to the woman’s feet. “In fact, dat hospital used to be right dere where you standin’, on dat big concrete slab.”

“O-oh, dear!” The woman looked down, seemingly panicked. She lifted one foot, then the other. Clop . . . clop.  “We shouldn’t be standing on it. It—it’s sacrilegious. Let’s go, Ralphie. I-I want to go back to the hotel. This is too . . . sad. And it’s wrong. I didn’t know it was going to be like this. All those poor people died, and here we are trampling over where it happened.”

“But we’re not done with the tour,” Ralphie said.

“I don’t care,” the woman cried. She turned to the black man and shook a finger at him. “You should be ashamed of yourself, exploiting the dead like that.” Then she tugged on Ralphie’s arm, forcing him to follow as she hurried across the slab. Her brown pumps hit the concrete with a rhythmic clop, clop, Ralphie’s sneakers with a steady thump—thump . . .

“Wait . . . what I did?” the black man asked, frowning.

“You making all that money off the misery of others,” the woman said loudly, not bothering to look back at him. “It’s a sin and a shame. That’s what it is, a sin and a shame.” Having reached the end of the slab, she stormed up three metal steps that stood a short distance away, Ralphie at her heels.

The black man shook his head and followed the woman and Ralphie up the three metal steps, climbing them slowly like it pained his knees. “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no money. No, ma’am. I just drive dis here bus. Dat’s my job. Drivin’ de bus and tellin’ people who wanna know what happened. Dat’s all.”

With that, he cleared the top step. Then two, narrow glass doors closed behind him with a soft . . . chuuu.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.


Deborah LeBlanc is an award-winning, best-selling author and business owner from Lafayette, Louisiana. She is also a licensed death scene investigator, a private investigator and has been a paranormal investigator for over twenty-seven years. She is currently the house clairsendium for the upcoming paranormal investigation television show, Through the Veil, and currently did a shoot for MTV’s latest program, Are You the One?

She speaks at conferences around the country, served four years as president of the Horror Writers Association, eight years as president of the Writers' Guild of Acadiana, and two years as president of Mystery Writers of America's Southwest Chapter. In 2007, Deborah founded Literacy Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting illiteracy in America’s teens. 

For more information, visit www.deborahleblanc.com and www.literacyinc.com