The blues man on the sidewalk blew his saxophone while wearing a Cat in the Hat style hat stuffed over his dreadlocks. A trim woman in a gold spangled bra and a black fedora tossed some coins in his case. The street reeked of spilt beer, with an undertone of vomit and urine, accented by drifts of tobacco and pot and clove smoke.
Jim had gotten separated from Andrea, and he was a bit worried about finding her in this Mardi Gras madness. He peered through the slow-moving throng, but only registered a sea of sweaty drunk strangers draped under mounds of beads. Feeling a bit nauseated, he drifted amongst the masks and flashing lights and thumping street music.
He heard cheers ahead and followed the droning noise of voices and crazy laughter. He made way when a brass band penetrated the narrow street playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was headed by a fat black man in lederhosen and a Viking helmet, who was playing a white sousaphone, and trailed by a couple dozen ducks in sailor hats.
One of New Orleans’ ubiquitous Lucky Dogs hot dog carts was parked on the sidewalk with a long line of customers waiting. The smell was enticing, especially since it momentarily overpowered all the other delightful smells in the street. A pair of mounted police slowly ambled through the crowd. Some evangelicals in white gowns were holding “Jesus Saves” and “Repent Now” signs up over their heads.
Samba music was approaching down the street. The crowd parted for a group of Brazilian-style Carnaval dancers in matching slinky yellow outfits, complete with pancake makeup, feather boas, fishnet stockings, and enormous feather headdresses.
“DREA!” he called out, hoping she might be somewhere within shouting distance, but he caught the attention of only a middle-aged woman in cat face makeup sporting a three-foot-long inflatable pink penis with a grinning happy face on its tip. “Lose someone, sweetheart?” She loomed in closer, leading with the penis. Jim could smell the cheap lime daiquiris on her breath. “No,” he muttered, backing away and slipping into the crowd to get away.
His head was pounding. A filthy street drummer was spastically hammering away on an impressive collection of differently-sized tin cups, pots and pans and woks, plastic paint buckets, hubcaps, steamer trays, bits of sheet metal, and even an old washboard. He hummed and moaned and murmured along to his own rhythm in an ecstasy of Asperger’s concentration.
Jim reeled, feeling more anxious by the moment. Did someone slip me a mickey? And where is Andie? A giant foam face with blue eyes and furry lashes loomed menacingly over his head, held up on dowels. Maniacal laughter. Bizarre masks of dragons, animals, demons, shape-shifting supernatural creatures. Sinister voices whispering all around him.
He spun about, trying to orient himself. The cacophony of noise was overwhelming; he put his hands over his ears and turned and ran smack into a half-naked woman. “Whoa, honey, where’s the fire?” She had on a short neon pink wig and silver hot pants. Her arms were tattooed with full sleeves, and she had a ring in her navel and a short string of white puka shells around her neck. Jim couldn’t help but stare at her naked but bejeweled breasts. It looked like she’d stuck them in cake sprinkles, but they were arranged in an artistic flower pattern. It must have taken hours to apply. She was also wearing roller skates.
She took him by the hand. “C’mon with me.” She pulled him into a dark alleyway, away from the din. Jim stumbled along, feeling quite ill by now. They passed by a dead rat with a three-inch-wide hole in its back roiling with hundreds of yellow jackets. Disgusted yet fascinated, he turned his head to stare at it, but the topless skater woman was still dragging him along.
She opened her hips to spin into a circle, rotating around to face him. Her full breasts bobbed in front of his face. She opened a side door and shoved him inside. “Hurry.”
Queasy and befuddled, Jim caught himself from tripping over the doorjamb and tried to orient himself. “Hey. Miss. Where are you? What is this place?” Silence. He caught hold of a wall and steadied himself, panting with nausea. “Hey, this was fun and all, but I really need to find my wife.”
He was alone. The muffled sound of the festivities just down the alley were still faintly audible. Worried now, he scrabbled around the four walls, trying to find the door handle. There was none. He seemed to be in some industrial storage closet, perhaps for city sanitation use. He was locked in. A single wan light bulb glowed dismally from above.
Another, closer sound began to filter through. It was rushing water. Soon it was splashing under his feet, and then spilling over his shoes, soaking his pants legs. “HEY!” he yelled, pounding on the wall. “Let me out, you crazy bitch!” Nothing. “HEY!”
Okay Seamus, think. How did you get yourself into this mess? Stunned by the boobies. I’m such a ten-year-old. Jesus Fucking H. Christ.
He went back to yelling and pounding on the wall. The water was rising quickly, up to his thighs now. The creeping tentacles of panic began to wrap their suckers around his ribs. He plunged his hands under the water, groping around for a latch, a drain plug, anything. All he got was more wet. The freezing cold water smelled like Simple Green and dead rats.
His feet were growing numb. His fingernails were ragged and bleeding from tearing at the door. The water, black and swirling with god knew what, was now up to his chest. He couldn’t stop shivering. He kept yelling at the top of his voice, “HELP! Anyone out there! Help me! I’m in here! Anyone! I’m going to drown! HELP!!” His voice was going hoarse. He tried banging on the walls again, but he was already growing weak and the water checked his movement.
Up to his armpits now, Jim was forced to start treading water. His head soon came up to the top of the closet. Hyperventilating and sputtering water, he focused on the grimy light bulb and angled his face against the ceiling to keep his mouth above the dark water. He had only a couple inches of airspace left.
The light went out, the cold water breaking the bulb with a metallic crack, plunging Jim into a pitch-black, freezing cold, watery tomb.
Jim woke up gasping for air in great whooping gulps, lurching spasmodically up out of bed and slamming sideways into the dresser with a crash.