BY: KEITH STEINVAUM
In a section of Los Angeles near Dodger Stadium, two rival gangs rule the streets. For the Alvarado Street Diablos, it’s been a year since the murder of one of their closest members at the hands of their sworn enemy, the North Rampart Lobos. A drive-by killing in his honor is planned, but things go wrong and an innocent bystander is the victim. Several hours later the one who pulled the trigger suffers a horrifying death caused by something never before seen in its uniqueness. Many more such cases follow, but all of them involving only these two gangs among the hundreds throughout the city. And each death occurs at the same time of day. The exact same time of day.
What can these two enemies do to survive against an unstoppable power intent on their mutual destruction? How is a gang-hating young boy’s attempt to save the life of a gang member tied into preventing a loved one’s soul from eternal darkness? What does a mysterious psychic’s prophecy conveyed earlier in New Orleans have to do with all of this?
Exploring both the desolation and hope that define our emotions, The Poe Consequence integrates social and ethnic divisions through acts of fate and supernatural horror for the reader to observe and imagine.
The bond between the brothers commenced in the bunk bed of their mother’s womb. Now an ominous future loomed, destined to rip them apart in a world of prophecies, horror, and death.
“Still plan on getting your fortune read tonight?” Kevin asked, reaching for his coffee.
“Hell, yes,” Warren exclaimed. Returning the credit card to his wallet, he added, “A woman at the wedding party told me the best place to go.”
“I see USC in your future,” Kevin said, waving his hands over an imaginary crystal ball.
“Make fun of me all you want,” Warren replied. “But the chance of finding someone credible is a lot better here in New Orleans than back home in L.A. Mysticism permeates this city. Stories of voodoo and magic are woven into its history. How could I not seek that out?”
Kevin stared at him, his blue eyes twinkling in apparent amusement. “It’s unusual how we were born minutes apart, but in certain ways remain miles apart. Your belief in that psychic nonsense is another example of how different we are.”
Placing his arms on the table, Warren leaned forward and gazed into the disbelieving eyes of his brother. His face, like Kevin’s, was square jawed, with a slightly sloping nose that extended to a narrow tip bordered by long, thin nostrils. Their sandy brown hair hadn’t yet shown any signs of receding, with the one difference being the shorter style preferred by Warren contrasted to the medium length curls that Kevin favored. Jutting his chin slightly upward, Warren prepared to press his case.
“There will always be con artists, I know that,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t mean clairvoyance isn’t real. There are two friends of mine, neither of whom know each other, who recently told me about a sudden feeling they got that something was wrong. It turns out that one of them learned her father had a heart attack. My other friend’s mother had a stroke. How could they both have sensed something like that if it wasn’t true?”
“Lack of sleep and too much imagination,” Kevin shot back. “The perfect recipe for delirium.”
“These friends aren’t flakes,” Warren countered, annoyed over his brother’s sarcasm. “We’re still just scratching the surface of what our brains are capable of. Having inner visions and prophesying things is like an extra sense, that’s all. True psychics are able to cultivate it.”
Kevin looked at Warren with one of those “that’s nice, are you finished now?” expressions that had pissed Warren off for years. “Truly mesmerizing, Professor Palmer,” he said. “But your course in Bullshit 101 will have to continue another day. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
Rising simultaneously from their seats, their six-foot two-inch frames stood at least a half foot taller than a passing waitress who slowed her walk, angled her head upwards, and looked back and forth at the both of them before smiling and moving on.
“Even after thirty-five years, I sometimes forget how much we look alike,” Kevin remarked.
Warren nodded. “Well don’t forget I came out first, so respect your elders.” Approaching the exit, he placed his arm around Kevin’s shoulders and said, “I looked upon my future felicity as secured.”
“It’s a line from Edgar Allan Poe,” he answered. “The Black Cat.”
Kevin closed his eyes and nodded. “Poe, of course. Silly of me to ask.”
“A line of optimism, brother, as my fortune tonight will affirm.”
Omnipresent Bourbon Street jazz provided the soundtrack as Warren advanced toward a man operating a mobile souvenir stand on the corner of Bourbon and Orleans. “Excuse me,” he said, “I need directions to Jackson Square Park.”
The vendor pointed his finger toward Orleans Street. “Keep heading that way,” he said. “Go past Royale ‘til you see the back of St. Louis Cathedral. There’s an alley on either side that’ll take you there.”
As Warren approached the cathedral, he spotted a cardboard figure of a serious looking woman in a pink dress near the front of the alley on the left. A beige-colored sign covering the lower half of the dress read, “Madame Genevieve, spiritual reader.” Behind the cutout was a street level window framed by lighted figures of moons and stars. Warren reached for the knob…and stopped. A feeling in his gut told him Madame Genevieve wasn’t the one for him. He couldn’t pinpoint the reason for his hesitation, but he knew that bypassing her was the correct thing to do.
Warren turned around and walked toward the alley on the opposite side. When he arrived at the narrow, semi-darkened entrance, he looked up at the side of the building and saw a black and white street sign that read, “Pirate’s Alley.” He looked at his watch and saw that almost forty minutes had passed. He hadn’t expected to take that long finding a reader, but his instincts told him he’d soon come across the right one. As he exited the alley he stood facing the park at Jackson Square. Bright lights offered a view of several colorfully garbed individuals sitting at separate tables.
“Now I can see why I was told to come here,” he said to himself.
Warren chose the closest open table, sitting across from a woman who called herself Madame Irene, a sultry, raven-haired woman with wild eyes and a piercing, laser-beam gaze. As he settled in his chair preparing to begin, he encountered that same sense of doubt he experienced about Madame Genevieve. “I’m sorry,” he told her, rising from his chair. “Maybe another time.”
Warren walked past the six other psychics without stopping. He couldn’t understand the reason for his sudden selectivity, feeling like a kid who couldn’t decide which flavored ice cream he wanted. He crossed the street and returned to Pirate’s Alley. “Maybe I should just forget the whole thing,” he said out loud. A few steps in, the sight of another alley branching off to the left startled him. “How did I miss that?” he whispered.
Warren stopped at the entrance, peering down a passageway that appeared devoid of anything other than an unusual looking structure about halfway down. “I can’t stop now,” he told himself. “This might be the way.” As he drew closer, he observed the strange shape and realized it was a large awning tilting so far down it almost touched the ground. He sidestepped the fallen canopy to get a closer look. “The High Seas,” he said quietly, peering at the sign above the door. “I wonder what kind of place this was?”
Warren continued walking, sensing he was now on the right path. The distant sound of jazz music had morphed into an eerie silence that seemed a strange contrast to the festive atmosphere a few blocks away. As he looked around, he realized he stood in complete isolation. Now that he thought about it, there hadn’t been anyone in sight for a while.
Within the shadows, concealed by leafy trees in man-sized terra cotta pots, a small entranceway appeared. He turned and moved toward it, feeling drawn there, like those stories of lost animals that somehow find their way home. He saw an open door leading to a garden courtyard no more than twenty feet away. And there, in the window of what appeared to be part of someone’s home, shone a bright blue neon sign in an upstairs window that read, “Madame Sibilia—Psychic.”
He clutched the cold wrought-iron railing and ascended the narrow stairs. A solitary gas lamp illuminated the checkerboard stonework and abundance of potted plants. Warren tugged at the creases on his jacket, took a deep breath, and discovered that the door stood slightly ajar. He looked for a doorbell and when he didn’t locate one, knocked twice before peeking inside.
“Hello?” he called out. “Hello? Anyone here?” Standing with a foot inside the doorway, Warren scanned the tiny room. Yellow pillar candles placed in tall, antique holders provided a dull light. A small glass table with two chairs was situated near the center of a drawn, shiny gold curtain. “Hello?” he repeated, knocking again.
The curtain moved as someone entered the room. He readied himself to explain why he was there but found himself staring into the chocolate eyes of a beautiful, silk-skinned black woman. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, tall and shapely, and wore a maroon-colored floor-length caftan with a matching headdress that exposed her face like a jeweled amulet.
“Are you Madame Sibilia?” he asked.
“You have come for a reading.”
The intonation of her French-hued accent seemed unusual, as if she was telling him about his visit rather than asking him.
“Is it all right?”
“We will begin in a few moments,” she said. “Please, sit down. I would like to talk with you before we proceed to the other room.”
The subtle aroma of incense created a pleasant addition to Warren’s anticipation. He took his seat and noticed a single business card in a plastic holder at the edge of the desk.
“Mind if I take your last card?” he asked, grasping it in his fingers. “A souvenir for my brother.”
He studied the bland design of several stars and moons against the white background. He turned the card over, revealing the same white setting with black letters across the center reading, “Madame Sibilia, Psychic.” She had her phone number in smaller type at the bottom, but no address listed. He contemplated the different turns and alleyways required to find her. Why no address? he wondered, unzipping his jacket pocket and depositing the card inside.
“You are prepared to seek the truth?” she asked.
“I’m eager to find something out,” he replied, “about a teaching job I’m hoping to get.”
“Let me see your palm.”
Warren reached out and rested his right forearm across her desk. Placing his hand in hers, Madame Sibilia remained silent as her head moved in inconspicuous nods.
“I see something that must be explained,” she said, her voice a loud whisper. “The Tarot is a source of enlightenment and self-knowledge, and you will hear much about your life. Not just the past and the present, but also what lies ahead.”
“Great,” he said, “the future. That’s the reason I came.”
“Please understand,” she replied, her tone a bit too serious for his liking, “you will be told all that is revealed. Nothing shall remain a secret.”
“That’s fine…fine, no problem,” he replied, anxious to get started. She gazed into his eyes and nodded. Placing her hands flat on the desk, she rose from her chair. “The reading room is through the curtain,” she told him. “Please go inside.”
Warren entered a larger room filled with an additional amount of similar candles. To his right stood a table with two wooden chairs placed across from each other, each facing what appeared to be a strategically placed gray handkerchief covering something in the center. In the middle of the room, an old-fashioned avocado green couch with matching chairs brought back memories of early photos of his parents in their younger days. Long strands of hippy beads dangled from an open doorway and a dark blue lava lamp glowed from the opposite corner. He walked over to watch the hypnotic spectacle of the lamp, perplexed by the unplugged cord lying on the floor.
“Let us begin,” she said, standing near the curtain. He followed her to the table and settled in the closest chair. Madame Sibilia slid the handkerchief off the unknown object, exposing a pack of Tarot cards. Raising her eyes to Warren’s she said, “There are seventy-eight cards in the Tarot. We will use ten.”
She eased the cards over to Warren and asked him to shuffle them, making sure to keep the pictures of each card face down. “By shuffling the cards, your conscious and subconscious mind will be made one with the Tarot,” she explained. “Now divide the cards into three piles. These will represent your past, present, and future.”
“Which pile is which?” he asked.
“Your own intuition will determine that answer,” she told him.
Enjoying the sense of mystery, Warren brought the cards together and shuffled them one more time upon her request.
“The cards are ready to be revealed,” she announced.
“Let’s do it,” he told her, rubbing his hands on his knees.
“There will be ten cards chosen, each representing a life force. I will place them in a spread called, ‘The Celtic Cross.’ They will explain what is behind you, show your present position, and reveal your future. The final card will determine the outcome. Its meaning will be communicated to us by the influences of the other nine cards.”
Madame Sibilia placed the first six cards face up on the table. With the exception of a single card lying horizontally across another, the other five were separated from each other and placed in vertical positions. Warren couldn’t help noticing how her eyes started blinking and brows furrowed with each card she set on the table. She reminded him of someone playing a high stakes game in Vegas and showing distress over the hand they’d been dealt. He also perceived the increased time she took with each successive card, as if she didn’t want to see what came next. All the silence and solemnity made him uncomfortable.
“That bad, huh?” Warren said, hoping to lighten the mood.
Madame Sibilia held up her hand in an unspoken request for quiet and selected the final four cards from the deck. These were placed face down, in contrast to the others whose identity was exposed. Taking her fingers and grasping the left side of each one, she turned the last four cards over from left to right. When the final card revealed itself, Warren was sure he heard a groan.
He didn’t want to believe that her mannerisms were just part of an act, and that he was the audience watching a performance, and he wasn’t sure what to make of her reactions. There was something about her expression that made him feel uneasy and fidget in his seat.
“Why are some of the cards backwards?” he said.
“Those cards are reversed,” she answered. “Their direction affects how they’re interpreted.”
“Six of the cards are black and four are red. Does that mean anything?”
“Everything has meaning.”
As Warren lifted his gaze from the cards she unnerved him by her intense stare.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Your future disturbs me greatly.”
Warren’s stomach tightened. “What…what do you mean?”
“The answers are coming,” she said. “We’ll begin with the first card.”
Card number one, a red one, was a Ten of Cups.
“This is your present position,” she said. “You have satisfaction in your life. You are surrounded by an aura of love.”
“That sounds good, doesn’t it? Why were you so troubled before?”
“My concern begins with the next card,” she replied, a strange edge to her voice.
“Go on,” he muttered. “I’m listening.”
Madame Sibilia placed her hand on the one horizontal card, an Eight of Swords, lying across the Ten of Cups.
“The second card shows an immediate influence of something that will exist in your near future,” she said. “By crossing the Ten of Cups, it will affect your life’s path.”
“What does the Eight of Swords mean?”
Madame Sibilia’s demeanor remained somber. “When a black Eight of Swords reveals itself in this manner, there is serious difficulty ahead. Perhaps an accident of some kind.” She appeared ready to say something else, then her shoulders sagged and she fell silent.
Warren sat up in his chair. “What kind of accident?”
“Let us continue,” she said, “so that we may understand.”
When Madame Sibilia pointed in the direction of another card, he recognized the character immediately.
“This third card is The Devil. It represents your destiny.”
Warren swallowed hard.
“You seem like a nice man, Mr. Palmer. But I see violence in your future. And evil. A strong attraction to evil.”
Warren shook his head, flustered, unable to recall when he had told her his name.
“That’s ridiculous!” he cried. He took a deep breath to regain his composure. “I didn’t come here to listen to this doom and gloom nonsense, all right? The person you’re talking about sure as hell isn’t me.”
“I told you before, Mr. Palmer, I was going to tell you all that I see,” she said.
“And you see evil and violence, for me, huh? Do you scare everybody like this? I came here to see about a job opening I hope to get. But this has been very depressing and I’m damn upset about it.”
“Do you wish to continue?” she asked.
“Let’s hurry through the remaining cards, all right?”
Madame Sibilia proceeded to the fourth card, a red-suited Six of Cups.
“This card represents past influences that affect present events,” she said. “You grew up in a home with strict morals. You’ve taken on those same characteristics in your own life and in your family. You resent what you see as a moral breakdown in society. You long for what’s referred to as ‘the good old days.’ ”
“Now that’s more like it,” Warren exclaimed. He looked down at the black-suited card that came next. “Please continue.”
“The fifth card is a reversed Four of Wands. In this situation, it stands for recent past events. There’s a dark cloud here, sadness of some kind, over someone very close to you. A health problem, perhaps, or a disappointment with someone in your family.
“My wife, Michelle, died of cancer last October,” he replied.
Madame Sibilia closed her eyes for a few moments, nodding her head. She advanced to the next black-suited card. “The sixth card is a reversed Nine of Swords,” she said. Pausing, she glanced at Warren with an expression that seemed almost sorrowful, reminding him of her earlier warning about his future. “I see isolation. Wandering and despair in the afterlife. An angry restlessness.”
“Here we go again, he complained. “Wandering and despair in the afterlife? What the hell does that mean, anyway? That I’m destined to become some sort of ghost? A restless, wandering ghost? Is that what you’re saying?”
Madame Sibilia gazed into Warren’s eyes. “Death doesn’t always bring a peaceful conclusion, Mr. Palmer.” Her voice was calm, yet her message, terrifying. “There are some who believe when a person dies they are given a choice of two pathways into the next world. They take the form of separate lights, and they are quite different from each other.”
Warren remained silent, too numb to respond.
Madame Sibilia continued. “When someone’s soul is disturbed, when it’s unsettled, there is another light that veers away from Heaven, a darker entrance, that one may choose to take.”
“And where does that lead?” he asked. “Hell?”
“Not Hell,” she answered. “But a place where one may wander forever. If these spirits finally achieve serenity, they can find their way back to the light of eternal peace.”
“Is that what a ghost is?” he asked.
“Some of these restless spirits, or ghosts as you call them, remain in one place where their souls are secure, like a house, or an area of land. They are often harmless. Others…others may attempt to violate. These are the dangerous ones.”
Warren didn’t understand. “What do you mean, ‘violate?’”
“Invade the sanctity of someone’s mind and body,” she replied. “Poison their emotions. Control what they see, and hear…and think. Some even have the power to kill.”
“For what purpose?” he asked.
Madame Sibilia’s expression was calm, but her eyes blazed with an unnerving power.
He stared in silence, wondering, again, what he had to do with any of this.
“Even good people are familiar with evil deeds, Mr. Palmer. Our lives present many opportunities to learn of such things and use this awareness on others from the afterworld I’ve described. These acts of evil can be nurtured from knowledge that is real or imagined. It doesn’t matter.”
Warren learned back in his chair. Edgar Allan Poe had written about such evil. “You said before there are some who believe in different pathways to the next world. Are you one of them?”
Madame Sibilia’s hardened visage displayed a trace of a smile. “I’m quite sure of it.”
“And this might happen to me?” he asked. “An angry ghost entering someone’s soul? Intent on doom and destruction?”
She waited several moments before answering, “Yes,” she whispered.
Warren took a deep, silent breath. “Let’s go to the next one,” he said.
“The seventh card is a reversed Wheel of Fortune. It describes your present position with personal things like job and family.”
“I’ve applied for a teaching job at U.S.C. Can you tell me anything about that?”
“I’m sorry, but in this card I see bad luck.”
Warren’s shoulders sagged. Without a punch being thrown, he felt beat up. He knew he shouldn’t believe her frightening scenarios, but the constant barrage of troubling news was upsetting nonetheless. He stared with a feeling of emptiness at the card that came next.
“The eighth card is the Sun card,” she said. “This can be interpreted as a symbol of love, devotion, contentment from others.”
“Thank you, Sun card,” he said. “I welcome you like a long, lost friend.”
“It also shows you to have a positive influence on other people.” Madame Sibilia raised her head and looked at him. “People like…Bill and Joanne.”
Warren’s eyes widened at the mention of Michelle’s parents, who he’d be meeting tomorrow in Phoenix before returning home. A frightening realization occurred to him, transcending any lingering doubt. She’s for real.
“How do you know about them? Are they all right?”
“Yes, Mr. Palmer,” she answered. “They’re fine.”
Warren looked at the next card, and, still wary, wondered what this female purveyor of darkness would say next.
“The ninth card is a reversed Star. This represents your troubled emotions, like bad dreams, or anxiety in situations you have yet to face.”
Warren bolted out of his chair. “Enough!” he shouted. “I’m out of here!”
“Please wait, Mr. Palmer,” she said, her expression maddeningly calm. “The tenth card is vital to understand.”
Warren looked at Madame Sibilia for several seconds before glancing downward. His eyes grew wide and he had difficulty pulling them away. A card entitled, “Judgment,” contained an image of an angel blowing a horn over a man, a woman, and a child-like figure in an open tomb. The picture felt like a dagger to the heart. The woman and child reminded him of Michelle, and their son, Seth, and seeing them in a tomb with a man, who he feared was himself, gave Warren a sickening feeling of claustrophobia.
“I don’t want to know about that card!” he roared, backing toward the door. “I don’t want to know!”
Madame Sibilia followed him to the open doorway as he hurried down the stairs.
“A new beginning, Mr. Palmer!” she cried. “The Judgment card shows a new beginning! You were directed here to learn this!”
At the bottom of the steps, Warren looked back and saw Madame Sibilia standing just inside the doorway, looking down at him. For a brief moment he thought about asking her what she meant by “a new beginning,” but he was too upset. Directed here to learn this? The woman was a nut-case.
Warren rushed past the open gate into the obscurity of the darkened, soundless alley. He hesitated, unsure which direction to take, then turned left and broke into a jog through the unfamiliar landscape. He wanted to reattach himself to civilization again, to see a face and hear a voice. As he ran from one alleyway into another, the welcome sound of a spirited saxophone seemed to appear out of nowhere, causing him to stop in his tracks and close his eyes in gratitude. Turning his face upwards, he inhaled the air as if he’d been a drowning swimmer rescued from an unforgiving sea. His throat felt devoid of any moisture and his damp shirt clung to his body. His head ached, throbbing to a steady rhythm of pain. He wasn’t sure what street he was on or how he got there, but he knew what he needed; a good, stiff, drink. He resumed running, heading toward the music.
“A Hurricane,” he managed to say, his voice rendered weak and raspy.
Warren’s eyes never left the hotel bartender until she placed the magical rum concoction within reach of his unsteady hands.
“If you don’t mind me asking sir,” she said, “are you all right?”
Warren closed his eyes and guzzled the drink for several moments, relishing the cool rush of liquid salvation sliding down his throat in search of a direct route to his brain.
“Now that I’m here, I’ll be okay,” he replied, continuing to clutch his drink. “Why do you ask?”
She looked at him, offering a slight, hesitant smile. “I was wondering if you had the flu or something,” she said. “You’re as white as a ghost.”