Cosmopolitan: A Contemporary New Orleans Ghost Story

The taxi turned from Tchoupitoulas onto Iberville Street, and then an ivory building plunged into the heavens. The monstrosity, flanked on each side by smaller boutique-style establishments, looked out of place and magnificent.

Janie squealed with delight. “The Easton is incredible!”

James checked his watch. “Damn, I’m gonna be late for the first meeting. Can you handle the check-in so I can get my projector set up?”

“Fine. I got it.” But she wasn’t fine.

“Listen, I said if you and Michael came, you’d mostly be on your own.”

“I know. It’s just hard to check in with him by myself.” Janie hung Michael’s Autism Badge around his neck. This usually gained sympathy help from strangers.

“Daddy, look. Boats!” The boy’s plump finger pointed toward a river full of paddlewheelers hauling tourists and barges hauling shipping containers.

“That’s the Mississippi River, Son. Runs clear from Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the Gulf of Mexico. Over 2000 miles.”

The driver pulled under the covered entry. He opened the door for Janie. “Ma’am, welcome to New Orleans.”

“Thank you.” She walked around the other side of the taxi and unbuckled Michael out of his car seat.

A bellman pushed over a rolling cart and started loading the rich brown leather luggage from the back of the taxi—far more than a family needed for a three-day trip. But Janie insisted Michael had all his favorite things when they traveled, including food. She planned to eat her weight in gumbo, but Michael wouldn’t deviate from his mac and cheese and oatmeal.

“Here.” James passed Janie a handful of bills to tip the hotel attendants, then disappeared toward a conference room on the other side of the hotel.

She shoved the cash into her Louis Vuitton cross-body bag and pulled out Michael’s harness.

“I don’t wike it, Mummy.”

“I’m sorry, Bud. When I’m by myself, I gotta keep you safe.” She locked the chest clip and slipped the other end of the tether onto her wrist.

She pulled him close, and they entered through a revolving door that deposited them into a chandelier-adorned lobby. An aroma of white tea and jasmine welcomed them. Marble-veined floors guided them to a mahogany desk.

A blond in a dark burgundy suit beckoned them to come here with an equally burgundy long-nailed finger.

Three days of single parenting in this place would be worth it. “Follow me, Bud.” Janie tugged gently at Michael as he tried to wander toward a cooler of cucumber water that sat atop a golden tree-branchy-looking table.

“Good afternoon. What’s the last name?”

“Williamson. James and Janie.”

“Great news for you, Mrs. Williamson. Due to your husband’s Titanium status, we’ve upgraded you to a suite facing the Mississippi.” She scanned room keys through a machine. “Here you go. Take that elevator to the 25th floor. You are in Room 2525. The bellman will meet you there. Any questions?”

Janie took the room keys from the young woman. “No. Thank you.”

“Come on, Michael. Let’s go check out the room!”

As she and Michael headed toward the hallway of elevators, an out-of-place photo of an old building hung on the wall. It didn’t fit Easton’s elegance.

Janie peeked as they walked by. A placard read it was an old hotel that sat in the same location. A fire destroyed it back in the early 1900s. It would be another 30 years before Thurston Dupar purchased the land and built a new hotel. She knew the hotel was recently remodeled. But had no idea something sat here before it.

“Mummy, let’s go.” Michael had slipped from the grip of her hand and was pulling her via his harness toward the elevator.


Inside the elevator, Janie asked Michael, “Can you find floor 25?”

“It’s the top one!” He shouted as he pressed the button.

A long hallway carpeted in gold and burgundy and lined with statues and oversized artwork led to room 2525.

“Can I open it?” Michael asked.

“Sure, press the key card right here.”

 Michael’s eyes lit up when the keypad dinged and flashed a green light, allowing the pair entry.

“Holy Shit.” The words escaped Janie’s lips faster than her brain could stop them.

“Mummy! You’re not supposed to say the s-h-i-t word.”

“Sorry, Bud.” Wall-to-wall glass faced the mighty Mississippi. Holy Shit hardly captured the beauty of the scene before her.

The bellman entered with the luggage.

As he emptied his cart, Janie placed a few bucks in Michael’s hand and whispered, “When he’s done, give him this.”

“Have a nice stay, Ma’am.”

Michael smiled and handed over the bills.

After the bellman left, she unbuckled Michael’s harness.

He pounced on the living room’s fluffy pillow-topped blue velvet couch.

She didn’t stop him.

Janie’s gaze gravitated to the right to a huge round bar—topped with a sparkling granite countertop—equipped with a minifridge, microwave, and sink.

She rolled her suitcase through a set of double doors to an expansive master suite with a sitting area and floor-to-ceiling marble ensuite bath with a free-standing tub. Then she rolled Michael’s suitcase through another door into an equally impressive double-bed guest suite with its own bath.

“Michael, you hungry?” When she walked back into the living room, Michael was standing atop the ledge of the windows facing the river.”

“Ten boats, Mummy!”

“That’s unsafe. Bud, you can see from the floor.”

“I’m a big boy. I’m not unsafe.” He held his ground.

This was when she needed James. Michael didn’t fight him as much as he did her.

“I have an idea. Let’s go check out the pool.”

“Pool!” Distraction to the rescue.

She hustled and got him into his swimsuit and sunscreen, and they were out the door in five minutes, even though she didn’t want to leave that room. Ever.

Back on floor one, they followed signs to the pool. A winding tube waterslide sat in the middle. Afternoon swimmers and sunbathers created the laidback vibe she was after.

A pool bar caught Janie’s attention. “Let Mommy get a drink, then you can swim.”

Michael fussed a little but eventually complied.

Janie ordered a Cosmopolitan—because she felt that fancy.

“Thanks for waiting. You can go, but stay where I can see you.”

“Okay, Mummy.”

She took off the harness, and off he went. Years of swim lessons meant he was a good swimmer. Janie could relax—kind of. She kicked off her flip flips, pushed up her Lulu Lemons, and sat on the pool’s edge while Michael swam.

An hour later, her drink was empty, and he was done. She toweled him dry then they made their way back inside.

She assumed James would wrap up his conference and head out for elbow rubbing with the Elder Law Section. For herself, Janie envisioned room service, a bottle of wine, and curling up to read her airport RomCom.

Back in the room, she microwaved Michael’s mac and cheese while he watched cartoons on the large screen. Then she dialed room service and ordered a cup of gumbo and a bottle of Kim Crawford.

After they’d both eaten, she showered Michael and slipped him into his favorite train pajamas.

Tucked in one of the cozy guest beds between crisp, white sheets, Michael asked, “Mummy, tell me a bedtime story about the little boy who died in the fire here at the old hotel.”

She gripped the stem of her wine glass. “I don’t know that story.”

“You saw his picture downstairs. Tell me his story, or I won’t go to sleep.”

Janie remembered the photo of the old hotel she’d seen, but she’d not seen a boy in it. But, if Michael asked for a request, she did her best to fill it. It kept the autistic meltdowns at bay.

“Okay. Once upon a time, there was an old hotel here. It was called”—she stumbled to come up with a name—”The Oldest Hotel in New Orleans. And one night, a family was spending the weekend here to take a ride on a ferry boat up the Mississippi. But because the hotel was old, the electrical wiring sparked. A fire broke out. The family then became friendly ghosts. And when the hotel was rebuilt, instead of going to the afterlife, they decided to stay here and spend the rest of eternity keeping families like ours safe. The End.”

“The boy—his name was Bobby,” Michael said.

Janie laughed. “How do you know his name if I made up the story?”

“He told me.” Michael had always had a vivid imagination. “Goodnight, Mummy.” He clutched his dinosaur plushie and closed his eyes.

 “Goodnight.” Janie plugged in and turned on Michael’s sound machine, and turned off the light. “If you wake up, come straight to my room.” She left his door slightly cracked.

She poured the last of the Sauvignon Blanc into her glass and plopped onto the plush sofa. Her phone buzzed—a text from James.

—Sorry, babe. Networking. Cigars & whiskey on Bourbon Street. Don’t wait up—

Such was the life of the wife of a rising law partner.

It’s fine. Michael’s asleep. I’m drowning my loneliness in the last of a bottle of Kim—

Three dots flickered. Then stopped. He probably got distracted by one of his voluptuous associates. She trusted James. But his associates worshipped him. She hoped the attention never went to his head.

She pushed the thoughts out of her mind, determined to enjoy her evening in luxury. There were some perks to being married to a lawyer.

She read for a bit, but her head kept nodding. Even though she hated most television shows, especially anything super popular like epic fantasy and not reality reality shows, she pressed the remote. Eventually, she settled in on a local station highlighting cozy NOLA ghost stories.

One by one, stories of ghosts in graveyards and old hotels lulled her to sleep. The mixture of wine and jet lag was the perfect cocktail to keep her there.

After what only seemed like seconds, a siren sobered her up. A smoke alarm! Michael! Lights flashed in the room.

She darted into the guest room. The unmade bed was empty. The door to the suite was open. She grabbed her phone and texted James.

Where are you? The smoke alarms are going off, and Michael is missing

Three dots then—I’m on my way

Janie sprinted into the hallway. What looked like female apparitions floated near housekeeping carts. The sirens were SO loud. Janie screamed, “What’s going on? Have you seen my son? He’s about this tall and was wearing train pajamas.”

They smiled and pushed their carts into rooms. They weren’t real. This wasn’t real. I’m dreaming. Janie tried to convince herself. But it was real. The sirens screamed into her ears.

Smoke filled the hallway. Janie dropped to the floor. The door to a stairwell was ajar. Coughing and gagging, she crawled to it.

“Michael! Michael!” she screamed into the smoky vacuum of the stairwell.

“Mummy!” Small arms wrapped around her neck.

“Michael. Are you okay?” Janie cried as she embraced her son.

“Mummy, I’m okay. Bobby kept me safe. See.”

Janie looked over and saw what she thought was a foggy apparition of a child near the stairwell.

“Michael, we gotta get outta here. Follow me.” Twenty-five flights of stairs later, they fell onto the street.

“Janie, Michael.” James scooped his family and moved them away from the burning building. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

First responders and firefighters ascended. “They’re gonna be okay,” an EMT told James as he strapped an oxygen mask on Michael.

The EMTs hoisted Janie and Michael onto stretchers and pushed them toward an ambulance. James climbed in.

Before the EMT wheeled Janie in, she saw three apparitions. A small one in the middle and two larger ones on either side.

“Thank you,” Janie muttered to them.

Michael waved. The small one in the middle waved back.

Then ghost family disappeared into the Canal Street fog.

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