Change Doesn't Come Easy
John Meiners, Jr.
Samantha and Jesse sit with Pamela Lawton and Monroe at the River's Edge Restaurant in Jackson Square in New Orleans. After the ordeal four days ago, with houses burning, and Jesse changing into God knows what, all are enjoying a relaxing afternoon. Pamela Lawton is a fan of New Orleans. She loves the Mardi Gras, haute cuisine restaurants, and museums by the St. Louis Church. She particularly enjoys the street performers in the square. She remembers the statue of an angel so many years ago and decides to tell the others the story. "You wouldn't believe what happened on my first trip to Jackson Square. I was twenty-eight, and I walked, wide eyed, looking at all the living statues. In particular, I was intrigued with an angel statue posed on the corner. I thought she was lovely. Other people stood around admiring her, and then one approached her to put money in a bucket at her feet. I wondered why when suddenly the statue bent at the waist, her arms still outstretched, and bowed in thanks. Well... I was so startled, I stumbled and fell, but then before I knew it, I had changed. I stood, not realizing. Everyone's eyes were trained on me, and I thought they must be afraid I had hurt myself. A little boy told his mother, 'Look Mommy, a deer.' That's when I realized they all were staring at a deer... me! I ran, and when I was alone in a quiet spot by the Mississippi River, I changed back. I was asked when I returned, 'Did you see that deer?' and I said, "No."
They all laugh. Jesse asks, "So you didn't consciously change?"
"No, it was involuntary. The change can be triggered by fear. It isn't all voluntary. I just knew the statue was moving, and I wanted to leave."
Monroe laughs, says, "Fight or flight."
"And I wanted to FLEE," Pamela Lawton quickly adds. The waitress brings them their drinks, and Pamela who one might think drinks fine wine, has a big glass of Abita Springs draft. She takes a big sip and asks, "Where are Candy and Simon staying?"
Samantha answers, "They're staying on Magazine Street. I wish they could join us."
"I'm missing Candy. I know she can run Deer Run Lodge if I'm there or not, ... but this is where they need to be. I'm afraid they're not going to want to come home," adds Monroe.
"Unless we can find some evidence on Neville Dugat, they'll have to pretend to 'stay dead' and take up residence here. Boje', the woman who saw Simon kidnapped, saw a picture of Dugat and told me he's not the man who took Simon. She said she never saw the other man either," Jesse laments.
Monroe adds, "Officer Jones told me Joe Bidel of Belle Rive Real Estate mentioned that Neville Dugat put down a deposit on a house. Well, now the deposit is really mainly on the land, I believe, since the house burned down the other night."
"I bet he did receive money... money to lie," Jesse says.
Pamela Lawton asks, "You said Dugat works in Slidell at Mercy Hospital?"
Monroe answers, "Yes."
"I know a Doctor Spell who works at Mercy. He lives just outside of La Combe."
"Can we trust him?"
"I believe so. I've known him for twenty years."
Jesse thinks for a moment and says, "Would it be possible to talk with him, maybe next week?" Two weeks after the house burning incident, and Jesse feels, if Neville Dugat was nervous about being a suspect by now he may be more relaxed, let his guard down, and not be suspicious of anyone asking questions.
Pamela Lawton answers, "Shouldn't be a problem."
Monroe receives a phone call from Officer Jones. A canoe was found close to where tracks and impressions were left along the water's edge. Could this be where Neville Dugat escaped, wonders Monroe? The canoe wasn't hidden in the brush; it was partially submerged. It had been damaged, and looked as if it had been purposely sunk. The canoe was new and in good shape before the hole was put in the bottom. This information is relayed to the others.
Pamela Lawton asks Monroe and Jesse, "This man, Dugat, he changed did he not?"
Both Monroe and Jesse agree. Jesse says, "I'm sure he did. We could have caught him if he hadn't."
Pamela appears to be deep in thought and a few moments later asks, "Did you get a look at him?"
Being a lawyer herself, Samantha thinks Pamela sounds like one and feels she is going somewhere with her line of questioning?"
"He was gone by the time we got to the river."
Pamela asks, "You think he escaped in a different canoe and sank the one they found so no one could come after him?"
"I think it's possible," Monroe answers.
Jesse says, "The impressions left in the mud were ruts from one canoe and tracks of one man. We could have missed another man though, I suppose."
"Jesse, did you try to go into the water... to catch him?"
Samantha remembers Pamela explaining that draakar were good swimmers and felt at home in the water.
"I didn't have a canoe, " Jesse answers.
Jesse doesn't remember exactly what was going on in his head and wonders why all these questions. Samantha on the other hand thinks she knows. Pamela Lawton questions if Jesse has alien blood because if he does, then he could have changed into a draakar. This alien creature is so used to being in the water, that Jesse may have had the urge to jump in and felt confident in swimming after Dugat.
Monroe puzzled suddenly tells Jesse, "You did go in or started to. You don't remember? We ran up to the river's edge, and I stopped... You did too, but then you took a step, then another, and I stopped you from... whatever you were going to do ."
Jesse stares at Monroe in shock, not from what Monroe said, but from the cloud slowly moving away that blocked his memory. It comes back little by little, and he remembers standing alongside Monroe just like he said, but Jesse also remembers glowing eyes looking back at him from the river. It was then and only then that he did take a step then another edging closer and closer to the water when Monroe suddenly stopped him. What was happening to him? Jesse remembered Monroe calling his name over and over and realized the glowing eyes in the water were gator's eyes, but it was as a draakar that he remembers those eyes rising up out of the water, turn, splash, and disappear. Not unlike an alligator but more like a seal, and Jesse suddenly blurts out, "It was a draakar. "
"What?" Samantha asks.
"It was a draakar... Neville Dugat is a draakar."
Monroe thinks about the one canoe, the one set of foot prints and the impressions left in the mud. Suddenly it all makes sense. Neville Dugat escaped and swam away as a draakar. "It makes sense."
Jesse almost apologetic says, "He was watching us... I forgot."
Pamela Lawton tells him. "As a man, you forgot, as a draakar... you knew."
"If I had it to do over, I'd let you go... Maybe you would have caught him."
Samantha tells them. "If Dugat is a draakar, we've learned something."
Pamela Lawton agrees, "Indeed."
Samantha is eager to know more about the draakar and their world, Osteo, not only because of the new information about Dugat, if true, but more for a concern for Jesse. He appears to be a draakar himself. She asks Pamela Lawton to tell them more, "Can you tell us about Osteo and the draakar? I think it would be helpful."
"I agree,... First the draakar have a propensity for water and are wonderful swimmers . Osteo was across the great sea of Vuage from Avante, my country. Osteo edged the sea. The draakar was an impressive animal, and it was no surprise the ancient Osteoans chose it for their change. I was with my good friend, Deborah once in Osteo. It was after our first year in school. I spent two months at her home. It was all new to me, and I was fascinated. I saw a draakar for the first time as well when Deborah and her family changed into draakars. They saw me change into a loswekan , our changing animal in Avante similar to a deer. As I recall, they were taken with my agility. The draakar could not keep up with me on land, but I was no match for them in the water. They moved well on land and could even climb, but were definitely more at home in the water. On the beach, pontatonko trees towered above the sand. They contained draak fruit, named after them. It was the draakar's favorite food on Osteo. I watched in amazement as Deborah climbed up higher and higher. I was breathless watching. I dared not accompany her. Being warned of the danger, I stood well back as a draak was dropped. It was the size of a watermelon, but firmer and could withstand the long drop to the sand. Scarlet red, it looked like a space stone dropping out of the sky. The beach was more or less purple as if it were ground amethyst. It was beautiful... Oh, I remember the beach because my color, Deborah and her family told me as I lay on the beach, looked like I belonged in their world... I'm carrying on so, aren't I?"
Samantha quickly says, "Not at all."
Jesse asks, "What was the color of the water? Sounds like there was a lot of color."
Pamela answers, "Blue . Water is always blue."
Jesse laughs, replies, "Silly me."
"Let me tell you a bit more about draakar. In the ancient days, there were many predators and as the draakar evolved they had to become more fierce. As the days and years of new came, most predators had moved on, still the draakar remained fierce. They were good natured but formidable in a fight."
The waitress brings their food and as they are famished, there is no more serious conversation, only pleasant New Orleans small talk about Le Petit Theatre, the Mardi Gras, and the St. Louis Cathedral. When finished, they decide to head back to Community. It's dusk and night is falling fast. Walking back to their car parked beside the Mississippi, they see Cafe Du Monde but decide to pass on the beignets this trip, then up the stairs at the amphitheatre and down the other side. In the parking lot, sounds of night creatures are heard while birds become more quiet as they roost. The river boat lights are on now and grow brighter as the night grows darker. The moon is full in the crescent city tonight. Laughter and jazz are heard, and as they enjoy the moment, a shrill woman's voice pierces the merriment with cries of 'Help, Help.' A boat in the middle of the river can be seen. Lights are on, but there is no sign of anyone on board. A woman appears on deck, waving her arms, screaming, "My daughter fell overboard. Help, Help." A few people watch helplessly, but no boats are close to come to her aid. Jesse moves quickly to the river and is gone within a minute.
Samantha yelled, "Jesse" a few times knowing he had made the decision. It was the right decision. They along with five or six others watched the river. A small life boat was launched from the river boat to pick up the woman and take her to the dock. Bystanders watch breathlessly. Police rescue boats rushed on the scene for what seemed to take an eternity, but was actually less than ten minutes. They searched shining spotlights in the water and along the shore. Samantha, Pamela, and Monroe moved as close to the river boat as they dared. The police are on the scene and an EMT medic comforts and administers aid to woman who is not surprisingly hysterical while all on shore wait for word. The current is swift, and most fear the worst. Samantha, Pamela, and Monroe also wait. They sit and say little. Suddenly Samantha's head is in her hands.
Pamela tells her, "Samantha, hopefully he saved the little girl, but you needn't worry about Jesse. Please believe me." Pamela puts her arm around Samantha.
Suddenly a little girl's excited voice is heard. "He saved me Mama, he saved me. I was so scared." The sobbing mother holds her daughter close with relief.
Samantha wants to go closer and see what happened, but knows she can't. If the little girl is safe, then Jesse is to, but where is he?
Monroe decides he will see if any of the crowd gathered around heard anything. Luckily a few people are talking and laughing. It seems the little girl believes a sea creature got her and took her to shore then ran off. Most think the little girl is in shock, which she may be, but Monroe doesn't doubt what she says is true. He hurries back to Samantha and Pamela Lawton. He happily tells Samantha, "Jesse is fine. The little girl said a sea creature saved her and then walked off."
"I bet he's going to Magazine Street to see Candy and Simon," Samantha says.
"Yes." Monroe dials Candy on his phone. "Candy, this is Monroe. We think Jesse is making his way to your place on foot... Tell you later, it's a long story... Oh, yeah, he's coming from the Jackson Square area ... Okay, let me know, wait, he may be naked and hiding. Call his name."
Samantha's phone rings, and she quickly answers, "Yes... Jesse, where are you?... Where? Corner of ... Ok I understand. You okay?... Great... I'm glad you're having a good time... Money?... We'll arrange something. We're coming to get you... Don't move..."
Pamela happily says, "I told you."
Monroe, concerned asks, "Someone wants money?"
"No, it's not like that." She laughs and tells them, "Jesse found some new friends, some homeless guys. They said they didn't mind him being naked and welcomed him... even shared their wine with him. He wants to give them money. Knowing him, we'll probably adopt them."
Pamela nods and says, "Jesse is a good man."
Samantha agrees, "He is."
Monroe gets on the phone. "Candy... Jesse is okay. We're going to pick him up now... The news? On TV? ... Really?... Yeah, it's Jesse they talking about... I'll tell you the story tomorrow... You guys take care." Monroe puts down the phone. "Looks like Jesse made the news. You know sometimes I'm glad people don't believe the news."
Samantha agrees, says, "You ready?"
Ten minutes later, their car pulls up in front of about three homeless men and Jesse. Jesse from under a blanket, looks very comfortable and waves at them. These are my friends, Frank, Emil, and Bob. That's my wife Samantha, Pamela Lawton, and Monroe Cane.
Samantha opens the car door to go to Jesse, and Pamela hands her money. Samantha looks at it in surprise, "It's six hundred dollars."
Pamela says, "I know."
"We'll get it back to you."
"No need, Dear."
Samantha goes to Jesse, wraps him in a new blanket, and he distributes the money to a very happy Frank, Emil, and Bob. After the trio bid their new friend Jesse and his friends farewell, Jesse, Samantha Pamela and Monroe are finally on their way home to Community. On the radio, the newscaster asks the question, "Who or what is this unknown river creature who saved a little girl from certain death tonight?" They are all certain this story will not go quietly into the night.