Elijah wasn’t a superstitious man, but as he walked home shortly after midnight on Saturday, he couldn’t help but recall the warning his landlady imparted Friday evening.
“It’s unlucky to be out on a night like tonight,” she’d said as he handed her the rent for the month.
He looked at her blankly. “Why’s tonight different from all the other nights?”
She stared at him for a minute longer than was comfortable, green eyes intently surveying brown. “It’s a blood moon.”
“That’s just a lunar eclipse, Mrs. J. Something to do with the atmosphere and light dispersion. Turns the moon red.” Elijah swallowed his laughter at the look on her face and unconsciously held his breath.
Mrs. Josephine Valentine was a diminutive woman whose bottle blonde hair was teased to give her an extra 3 inches in height. Always perfectly made up and dressed elegantly in flowing dresses suited to the humid New Orleans weather, she was the picture of southern gentility. Until provoked. Then, her easy-going charm receded to reveal a biting sarcasm which reduced the unfortunate receiver to bits. Elijah waited for the barrage of words to hit him, but beyond staring him down, his landlady didn’t utter a sound.
He cleared his throat and dropped her gaze. “I’m … uh … sor-”
“I have your laundry,” she interrupted, turning away from the reception desk and stepping to the built-in behind her, rifling through the stack of folded clothes from other boarders.
“Thanks, Mrs. J.” Elijah reached for his shirts, grateful that he’d have a clean one to wear tonight. She merely nodded before returning to her book, clearly dismissing him.
Now, with the echo of his boots on cobblestones as his only companion, he began to curse at the folly of finding himself alone on a deserted street in the dark of night.
Clouds blotted the moon, forcing him to navigate the streets in pitch black. But, as he turned the corner, the cloud cover eased away, revealing a coppery-red moon. A shiver whispered down his back, especially when he realized that the night had become unusually silent. No occasional call from a restless mammal. No caterwauling from the neighborhood strays. Nothing.
“Ridiculous. You just had one too many mint juleps.” Nonetheless, Elijah quickened his steps, the blood singing through his veins as his heart beat a rapid tattoo.
He could never explain what happened next, even years later. One minute he was hurrying along the street, sighting with relief Mrs. J’s neat Victorian boarding house, the next he was flat on his back on the gravel. He blinked up at the night sky; stars winked back at him, the moon once again its normal eggshell color.
Carefully, he sat up and, for the first time, noticed that the breast pocket of his polo shirt wasn’t empty. Reaching inside, he grasped at something that felt like a teabag. Bringing it out to the light, Elijah looked at the small sachet with confusion. The aroma was complex; he thought he smelled rosemary and perhaps garlic. Clouds came over the moon again, and Elijah decided now was not the time to investigate his find. He got up and ran the rest of the way home.
Several hours later, on his way out the door, he passed by the reception desk where Mrs. J sat at her usual spot, reading.
His landlady looked up from her book. “Good morning, Elijah,” she said. “How was your night?”
“Fine,” he answered automatically. “Erm…just fine.” He turned away, trotted the ten steps to the front door and stepped through it to begin his morning jog.
Josephine watched him make his way down her porch, nodding with satisfaction when he brushed against the abundant growth of rosemary planted on either side of her front gate.
Written for Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday: Word Bank
© 2014 All Rights Reserved