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Author's note: Before reading this, I ask you to view it with an open mind, and yes, an open heart. Be warned, it is not scary in the traditional sense, nor does it deal with haunted video games, lost episodes or someone losing their sanity.It does however, deal with life, and loss, and the way I think we all feel when we have lost someone close to us. Our desire to have "one more day" with that person. This story was inspired by my own grandfather, who was in fact lost in Hurricane Katrina. There is a supernatural context here, however, I would hope that it tells a different story of the supernatural. That not all spirits are wicked, that not everything that goes bump in the night wishes us harm. That sometimes, that little tingle on the back of your neck isn't impending doom. That it might be something much more pure, like the love of a grandfather.
I should tell you a bit about my grandfather. First of all, we called him TaTa. Not sure where that came from or why, but that is what we grew up calling him. He was also like a second father to me. I was an only child being raised by a single mother, so TaTa, who lived right around the corner from us, was everything from mentor to disciplinarian to me as a child.
We had our ups and downs, sometimes with his strict nature being at odds with my "latch-and-key" upbringing. He was old school, and felt that children were to be seen and not heard.
He was a World War 2 Veteran, which was the topic of almost all of his stories. While he only served for four years, we used to joke that all of his stories combined would add up to a twenty year military career.
I was one of twelve grandchildren, and the only one that lived in New Orleans with him. Due to this, he often seemed to show a great deal more love towards the out of town grandchildren, because he didn't see them except for once or twice a year. I was more of a household item, and this caused me to often feel as though I was taken for granted.
Either way, this all came to a sudden stop in 2005, when the tragic Hurricane Katrina rolled through. TaTa, a proud homeowner, refused to leave his house to evacuate the city. His home was flooded, and he drowned in the kitchen of the house he so loved. His wife, my grandmother, whom we called Granny, was able to escape to the roof of the house and was rescued the next day.
The family gathered as normal for the funeral. TaTa was buried in our New Orleans family plot, along with his mother and father, my mother, and his oldest son. Some of us believed that TaTa would outlive all of us. Sadly, this wasn't the case.
Now, let's fast forward to the present day, 2014, summertime. I work at a hotel in the French Quarter. I have a beautiful wife and son, and as much as it pains me to say, my thoughts rarely, if ever, return to TaTa. Life goes on, as they say.
Now, the hotel where I work is supposed to be haunted, and if all the rumors are true, spirits are attracted to such places as my workplace. While I cannot confirm that, the story I am about to tell you certainly lends context to such a claim.
I was working a rather boring shift on a rather boring weeknight. I was a Risk Manager, which meant that if something happened, I would be called to investigate. If nothing happened though, I would usually sit in my office and play solitaire or read the newspaper.
Around 9 pm that night, I received a call from the front desk, informing me that I had a family member that wished to see me. Now, keep in mind, my wife was at work, my son was only ten, Granny was now living in Georgia, and my mother was deceased. Certainly no family member of mine was here to visit.
Curious, I asked the front desk agent who was there to see me.
"He says he's your grandfather." Responded the front desk.
I looked up at our surveillance screen that looked down at the front desk, and I'll be damned if the little man standing there didn't look like he could be TaTa's twin brother. I didn't waste any more time thinking about how this was happening, I simply had to walk up there and find out.
Upon my arrival, the little Italian man certainly looked just like TaTa, down to the detail. He was also charming and flirting it up with our young desk clerk, Brandi, and this was without a doubt a TaTa trait. I could hear his voice as I closed in, and even though it had been almost ten years since I had actually heard his voice, the connection was instant.
Still, this entire situation was impossible.
When Brandi saw me walk up, she smiled and told him, "Oh, here he is."
TaTa looked at me, smiled as though no time at all had passed since we last spoke, and went right on charming the woman that was probably sixty years younger than him. Finally he walked over to me. I honestly had no idea what to say. If this was a scam or a fraud, I couldn't begin to fathom why or how it was being done.
"Hey boy! How do you get any work done with all these beautiful women around here?" he announced, clearly saving the biggest part of his smile for Brandi.
"What... how are you..." that was about all I could get out.
I have always prided myself on being articulate and well spoken, a must if you are to succeed in the hospitality business, but I had no clue how to approach this. Mercifully, he seemed to see that I was having a hard time. He turned back to Brandi, and in perfect TaTa style, asked her if I could kindly take the rest of the night off to spend some time with him.
Brandi, who was the acting manager that night, approved, since it was such a slow night, and since TaTa was just such a charmer after all.
We walked outside in silence, standing in the bustling French Quarter.
"Can you drive me home tonight? Seems I must have walked here." TaTa said to me.
Now that we were alone, I looked at him, and asked the difficult question.
"TaTa... if you are TaTa.... aren't you... dead?"
He looked at me and for the first time, I saw his eyes become a bit sadder.
"Remember my safe I had in my bedroom? Remember when you were a kid, and you always wanted to know the combination, and I always told you that I couldn't tell you. Well, your question...it's like that safe combination..."
"Okay, well tell me this..."
And I began a long series of questions, specific things that I figured no one else could know. He nailed them all with no hesitation.
My last question, the only other thing I could ask...
"Why are you here then?"
"Well, I was just passing through town, figured I should spin by. Maybe we could go and get something to eat. Granny always cooked, I just tend to make a mess in the kitchen. Let's go out and grab a quick bite."
We did just that. We ate and we talked and we laughed. It was like old times, when he would drive me to school when I was a kid. He would tell me war stories or stories about when he was a boy himself. Since he was the only father figure I would ever know, I would hang on to his every word. I did the same thing that night. I knew all the stories, had heard them a million times, but this time, I latched on for every word, asked questions and relished moments that I never thought I could experience again.
After our meal, we were strolling down Royal Street, making our way slowly to where my car was parked.
There was a question I had to ask.
"TaTa, how is my mom, is she there with you?"
He smiled again, and repeated once more the analogy about the safe combination. However, his eyes didn't get sad, in fact, he looked pleased. Until this day, I hold on to that to mean that everything is alright for her.
When we returned to my car, he asked me to drive him home. Now, the house where he lived, and died, had been sold back to the city during the rebuilding after Katrina. The city had gutted, and eventually torn down the house, leaving only a vacant lot now. On the drive over, we continued to talk, just like so many rides to school when I was a kid. Only this time, I was driving him. I told him about my family, my lovely wife, his great grandson, who was only an infant when Katrina rolled through.
I pulled up in front of the lot where his home once stood. We climbed out of the car together.
"TaTa, do you... do you see a vacant lot, or do you see your home?" I asked.
TaTa now did something that he rarely did in life, he hugged me hard, and spoke to me close, while we embraced.
"I am in front of the place where I spent my fondest years, with my family. Of course I see my home."
I began to cry, softly, and I could feel tears running down his face as well.
"Well boy, thanks for the ride. It's late though, and I need my rest."
I looked at him... "Will I ever see you again?"
He looked at me and smiled.
"Thirty-two right, fourteen left and then right back to zero."
I took that as a yes.
TaTa walked near the center of his property, and finally, in darkening night, he simply vanished.
This story is dedicated in loving memory to my own grandfather, whom we did in fact call TaTa.
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published July 13th, 2014