Here’s a bonus story just ’cause Jessica couldn’t wait to tell the next part.
Leroy was still waiting for Varney to start bringing out cases of beer when he saw a girl he thought he recognized but couldn’t quite place running down the street, soaking wet, toward Mel’s in a right hurry. Her face was red, and not just with exertion – when she entered into the glow of Mel’s floodlights, Leroy could see that her eyes were bloodshot from crying and she had runners of snot on her upper lip that weren’t the least bit attractive.
“They found him!” The girl cried as she burst through Mel’s door, and every head turned to look at her. The chatter died down, leaving a pause that would have been eerie if it weren’t for some old Allman Brothers tune playing on the jukebox.
“They found him,” she repeated absently, and then turned pale and collapsed in a limp pile right in the doorway.
“Goddammit!” Mel yelled. “Someone pick ‘er up and lay her out on one o’ the tables!”
The girl would come to, of course, and tell her tale to Mel’s customers, but Leroy had heard all he needed. He hopped in his old Dodge Duster and sped off in the direction of his BBQ shack on the bayou, where he was stopped by flares in the road and the yellow police tape that Chief Blanchette so rarely got to use and so overdid it on any occasion he got to.
Leroy pulled over and got out of his car, only to see Oscar’s shuffling form coming toward him in a huff, hands up as if he were the victim of an old-fashioned stick up.
“You stay back now, Leroy!” He said, with only the slightest trace of his accent. The Chief looked scared and angry, which was never a good combination in Leroy’s experience. “This ‘ere’s a crime scene. Just get back in your car and drive away, you.”
“If there’s been a crime here, Chief, maybe I can be of assistance,” Leroy said congenially enough, but the Chief bristled nonetheless.
A woman screamed behind the Chief and he turned his head just long enough for Leroy to slip away like the snake he was.
“Ah, now get her outta here!” The Chief yelled and headed back to the body of twelve year old Jimmy Singleton – or, what was left of it, anyway. They’d have to get his parents to identify the boy, of course, but there was still part of the Saints jersey his folks said he’d been wearing on the day he disappeared. Oscar could still see part of the black and gold fleur-de-lis on what remained of the boy’s shoulder.
One of the Chief’s officers was doing his best to keep gawkers back, but it was an exercise in futility. It looked like the whole town had shown up to see what had washed up at Leroy’s dock. Martha Rae Lafleur and her boyfriend were going for a night swim and discovered the body – it was Martha Rae who had gone running to Mel’s to spread the news, while her boyfriend went to tell Oscar and then went home to find comfort from the fright with his unsuspecting wife.
Flashes went off from the gathered mob, and that set Oscar off in a snit.
“Go on! Get outta here, you ghouls!” He yelled, waving his arms at them as if he were swatting flies.
“Is it Jimmy, Oscar?” A familiar voice asked. Oscar turned toward Amie LeBeau, who ran the Bonhomme Gazette and who was already on his shit list for that whole Swamp Monster name drop.
“We haven’t identified the body, yet, Miss LeBeau… and call me Chief, goddammit! Ain’tchu got a lick o’ respect?” Oscar replied, exasperated.
“Well a’course it’s the boy,” someone from the mob shouted.
“Was it gators, Chief?” Amie asked, and the Chief just shook his head and cleared his throat.
“Bill, you want to get these people back from here so’s we can fish the boy out of the water. If the gators haven’t already been at him, leavin’ him in the water’s like ringin’ the dinner bell.”
Bill, the officer who had been keeping the crowd back, waved for one of the other officers to assist him while a third joined Oscar down by the dock, where Leroy was already crouched and staring at the boy’s remains. The boy’s left arm was completely missing, and he was naked from the waist down. Parts of the muscle was gone from both of his thighs and calves, bright white bone showing through – but no visible signs of bite marks or teeth broken off like you sometimes saw with gator attacks. The right side of the boy’s face was nearly completely peeled off, and his cheekbone had been crushed, along with the eye right in its socket. What was most perplexing was that some of the wounds almost looked corrosive – as if something burned or melted the boy’s flesh rather than tore it from his bones.
Leroy felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“You’re a sneaky bastard, you,” the Chief said without a trace of humour in his voice. Leroy started a little, but only because he thought the Chief might push him into the drink just to spite him.
“This weren’t no gator did this,” Leroy said under his breath.
“No, it weren’t,” the Chief agreed quietly. “Just like in ’98.”
Leroy grabbed the fat man’s enormous hand and used it to pull himself up.
“Couldn’t be,” Leroy said. “We took care o’ that, you and I.”
Oscar pointed at the mutilated body of Jimmy Singleton and shot a sick smile at Leroy.
“Did we now?”
Later that night, after the crowd had dispersed and all that remained was the crime scene tape, Leroy loaded a large canvas bag into his little boat with its quiet outboard motor and headed out on the bayou. Leroy wasn’t a terribly brave man, but his livelihood depended on him being wrong about his suspicions and so he was willing to take the risk of a midnight ride out into the swamp. Besides, once he got to where he was heading, he wouldn’t have to worry about gators anymore. Where he was going, even the gators feared to swim.
Leroy knew his way to where he was going, having made the same trip at least twice a month for the last fifteen years, though he usually tried to avoid doing it at night. He always kept a sawed-off handy in case some gator got ambitious, but so far he’d never had cause to use it.
He remembered the very first time he’d gone out there, back in that weird summer of ’98, back before all the craziness, back when he’d thought, just like everybody else, that L’Homme Vert, or Remy LeVert, or C’thu N’chuk, or whatever you wanna call it, was just a figment of some old drunk’s imagination, and that there couldn’t possibly be such a thing as swamp monsters.
Leroy knew better now, not that it helped him sleep any better at night.
He killed the motor as he approached the clump of Cyprus trees that formed something almost like a cave. As he drifted toward it, Leroy shined the beam of his big lantern over the roots of the trees until he found what he was looking for.
“Chuck!” Leroy called. “Hey Chuck, is that you, ol’ gal?”
Leroy watched for movement, and was about to move his beam a little further along when a shape among the tree trunks shifted a bit, and then slowly began to unfurl itself in a serpentine manner. Leroy watched in fascinated horror as dozens of thick, tentacle-like appendages writhed in front of the creature, which could by no means be described as humanoid in shape or manner. No many how many times Leroy came face to face with the creature he called Chuck, (if such a thing could be said to have a face) he could not get past the revulsion; the utter sense of alien-ness that he felt in its presence.
One wet slit opened, and then another, and another, and in a matter of seconds, Leroy found himself being stared at by Chuck’s numerous orange and black eyes. A vertical slit began to open in the centre of what Leroy thought of as Chuck’s head, showing the bright pink of Chuck’s mouth. It writhed and rolled, wet and obscene, like a foot long vagina with teeth, and when it spoke, its maw made hungry, rude smacking sounds.
“What do you want?” Chuck asked, more bored than annoyed.
Leroy shined his light in the creatures many eyes, making it wince and squint.
“We need to talk, Chuck.”