FIRST, A BAYOU BONHOMME PRIMER:
This is a serial story set in the Louisiana bayou in the fictional town of Bayou Bonhomme, where there lives the legend of a swamp monster some call Remy LeVert and others call C’thu N’chuk, but most folks don’t really believe he exists. Fifteen years ago, several children from neighbouring parishes went missing, and the legend of a monster in the swamp seemed like a convenient place to lay the blame. But not all monsters live in the swamp, and the true culprit turned out to be one of their own. Chief Oscar Blanchette and local restauranteur Leroy Angell discovered the truth of the missing children, and other secrets that summer that they’ve had to keep to themselves. Because there are monsters in Bayou Bonhomme, and some, but not all of them walk on two legs just like you or I. The events of the summer of ’98 are only the most recent in a cycle of blood and violence going back hundreds of years, even before the French moved into the area in the early 1700s. And now it seems the cycle has begun again. First there was the missing boy, who turned up some weeks later looking like he’d been partially eaten. Then somebody or bodies brutally murdered Jean-Baptiste Levesque, an old man who knew too much, and was tired of hiding. They crucified him and ransacked his place. It’s not clear whether they found what they were looking for or not, or who exactly they are, but we know that Jean-Baptiste’s gran-pere had told him a story of seeing hooded figures kill a girl in the swamp.
Amie Lebeau runs the Bonhomme Gazette, and was fed a story of a rogue gator by Chief Blanchette back in ’98 to cover up what really happened, and has been compiling information to try to get to the truth of the matter. She showed up at Jean-Baptiste’s murder scene and got into a confrontation with the Chief, who tried to warn her off of the case, as he honestly feared for her safety. Because while Amie didn’t know it, the Chief had seen that kind of ritual murder before. Elmer Cayce, father of Mel, who runs the town’s only real bar, had been killed in the very same way fifteen years earlier, but the Chief had covered it up, trying to protect his town the best he could.
The first on the scene was deputy Marla Bergeron, who called the Chief away from his breakfast with Leroy Angell, who was paying a visit to the Chief in order to give him his monthly cut of the profits of Leroy’s Grill, home of Louisiana’s best barbecue. A gratuity for keeping his mouth shut about the nature of the meat that Leroy served — although, to be fair, neither Leroy or the Chief know exactly what C’thuN’Chuk really is, or whether the slug-like things that Leroy collects from Chuck every few weeks are actually, in fact, its babies. They do know that the meat has addictive properties, is delicious, and doesn’t seem to have any other adverse aftereffects other than the fact that once you’ve tasted it, you constantly crave it. And that’s just good for business.
If you want to go back and read from the beginning, click HERE, otherwise, let’s turn our attention now to Marla Bergeron…
Marla knocked on the door of the oldest home in Bayou Bonhomme and was admitted by an old black man who had once played with Jean-Baptiste Levesque when they were boys. Since then they’d moved in different circles.
Marla had never actually set foot in Hereford House, though she’d been aware that there was something important about it since she was a child. Her mother had promised her from the time she was a little girl that someday she would show her the inside of that great house, and today that day had come.
She was escorted to a dining room, where there sat a number of familiar faces, including her mother, who welcomed her with a look of glorious pride.
“Well, come in, cher,” a voice she recognized as her dear uncle beckoned. “We’re all friends here. You’ve nothing to be afraid of.”
Marla sat at the table next to her mother and felt a moment of disenchantment. She’d been expecting… well, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t dinner. Or, if she’d pictured dinner, she’d pictured it by candlelight , at at table surrounded by hooded, anonymous figures who called each other by assumed names — maybe they called each other Brother and Sister. Her mother had initiated her into the old religion at the age of 16, and there had been rituals and ceremonies then. There had been hooded figures and secrecy, and blood oaths, and the mystery had captivated her. She was part of something big, something real, and she was a true believer. Theirs was the true religion, and their god was among them, for she’d heard his terrible voice; had heard her call.
To see it all stripped of its mystery was a little disappointing. She’d seen these people with their hands covered in blood; seen them naked except for their hooded faces, and yet now they seemed more naked than she’d ever seen them. It made her feel a little ill.
“Did anyone see you enter the house before Oscar arrived?” An older man who had once been Marla’s 4th grade teacher asked.
She shook her head, and then reconsidered. “The reporter was there before Oscar — almost before I was.”
“LeBeau,” a woman who worked in Mel’s kitchen spat, as if the word tasted rotten.
“Do you think she…” Marla began nervously, but her mother put a hand on her arm.
“Don’t you worry about her, darling,” Mrs. Bergeron said comfortingly, “she’ll be dealt with soon enough. Are you certain there was nothing to find? No journal, no scrapbook? We were told that Jean-Baptiste had been talking to the reporter, but it doesn’t seem like anything changed hands between them.”
Mrs. Bergeron shot a frustrated look at a young man across the table, who worked at the Bonhomme Gazette and had been keeping a close eye on Amie LeBeau.
“Perhaps we missed something,” she continued. “No matter. Jean-Baptiste won’t be telling any more tales, and if he did have something to pass on, it will be in Miss LeBeau’s possession, and not for much longer.”
Marla nodded. She knew what had to happen.She would protect their secret. And now she was the keeper of even more secrets, and she felt a little lightheaded. Seeing the faces sitting around the table — faces that she had passed every day of her life — in this new context was making her head spin and her mouth dry up.
“There was one more thing,” Marla said, rising to leave. “Leroy was there. With the Chief.”
A dry chuckle came from the end of the table. It belonged to Jolene Duchesne, widow of Darrel Duchesne, who had long ago been digested by C’thuN’chuk. Her late husband’s extra-curricular activities hadn’t been approved by The Faithful, but neither had they done anything to stop him. He’d been a zealot who claimed that he heard the voice of C’thuN’chuk, and was called upon to feed their god. He was, of course, quite insane.
“Yes, Oscar told me all about his friend Leroy,” Jolene laughed. “They’ve become quite cozy. He broke down and told me all about poor Darrel, and how they’d taken him out into the swamp to feed our beloved C’thuN’chuk. I, of course, had to act like I was shocked and furious. I even hit him over the head with a lamp, which I’d been wanting to do for some time anyway, so it was all for the best.”
“Will they be a problem?” the oldest woman in the room asked. She had been sitting quietly at the other end of the table, sipping a glass of sweet tea and listening. Her family had been in Bonhomme since before it was part of the Union, and had lived in Hereford House since it was built. Though there was no longer slavery, the man who had answered the door for Marla belonged to the Hereford family, just as his father, and his father’s father before him.
“Eventually, I expect so,” Jolene admitted. “But it might be more useful to keep them around for information.”
“Or scapegoats,” someone else suggested. “We can always use scapegoats. Especially ones with secrets of their own.”
Several people nodded their agreement, and Mrs. Hereford gave a disgusted clack of her tongue.
“They have looked upon the glory of our beloved, and yet they don’t believe,” she sighed. “They have been so blessed to have seen his face, and instead of falling to their knees in worship, then cower in revulsion. C’thu rhys loban hai C’thu rhys eobhain C’thuN’chuk.”
There were reverent murmurs all around the table as the older woman spoke the praise in the tongue of The Faithful, and Marla found that she was on the verge of tears. Something about the old woman’s voice made her want to weep.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said, her voice sounding very far away. “I’ve got to get back to work. Chief’s expecting me.”
“Of course, darling,” her mother said, standing to escort her out.
When Mrs Bergeron returned to the dining room, she closed the door behind her.
“Did she seem nervous to you?” Marla’s uncle asked.
“It’s a big step,” Marla’s mother replied confidently. “Seeing us all for the first time.”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Hereford said. “Still, I’d keep an eye on her. She’s got something of your mother in her I think.”
Mrs Bergeron looked uneasy. “She would never betray us. She’s a true believer.”
Mrs. Hereford smiled, and Marla’s mother relaxed.
“Of course she is, dear. Of course she is.”
Oscar Blanchette kept turning over the murder scene in his head, trying to figure out what he missed. The problem was, it was what was missing that he was missing. What did the killers take? What were they looking for? Did they find it? There were all kinds of things that the Chief would never know that would be invaluable to him if only he could. What did the old man know that was bad enough to get him killed? Did he recognize the faces of the people who strung him up and disemboweled him? Were they, perhaps, grown up versions of the same kids he’d bounced on his knee and told scary little tales of Remy LeVert to? Oscar hoped not, but knew what hope was worth these days. Hope in one hand and shit inna udder, his daddy used to say, and Oscar had adopted the axiom.
He’d been drinking since noon, which was a very bad idea, but once he got started he couldn’t seem to stop. It wasn’t helping anything, and in fact, he thought that he might be going a bit crazy, because he thought he heard a voice speaking in a strange language calling his name.
He must have fallen asleep, because when the telephone rang, it jerked him awake and he nearly fell off his chair.
“Hello?” he answered, and listened to the sounds of panic on the other end of the line. “Hello, dis is Chief Blanchette, who dere?”
“Oscar,” a woman’s voice said cautiously. “Oscar, it’s Mel.”
“Well,” Oscar said jovially. “What can I do for you, Miss Cayce?”
“Can I trust you?” Mel asked nervously.
“Well a’course you can trust me, cher,” Oscar said, slurring only a little. “I’m your Chief of P’lice, ain’t I?”
“I don’t care about that, Oscar, this ain’t about you bein’ Chief o’ Police or Chief Shit of Crap Mountain. I want to know if I can trust you, Oscar. This is personal.”
Oscar sat up and reeled, his head spinning and his stomach lurching.
“Of course, cher. Your daddy and I was friends. Your daddy…”
“My daddy thought you were a piece of shit, and it seems he thought that friend of yours just might be a murderer, but somebody told me that I can trust the two of you, so despite every instinct I have, I think I need to talk to you. So I need to know, Oscar — can I trust you?”
Oscar rubbed his temple with his thumb and closed his eyes tightly. When he opened them again, he heard Mel’s voice repeating her last question again. The desperation in her voice frightened Oscar.
“You can trust me, cher,” he said without even a trace of his usual lecherous self.
“Then come out to the bar,” Mel said. “Best not to try sneaking around. Just come out to the bar, Oscar.”
“I’m already on my way,” the Chief replied, staggering out his door and hanging up the phone.
“Is he coming?” Marla Bergeron asked Mel Cayce, who had once saved Marla’s life when the two girls had gone skinny dipping one night and startled a rather large gator. Mel had nearly lost her left eye, and while Marla never looked at her with the same desire after that, she’d never forgotten it.
“He’s coming. And I’m sure he’ll bring Leroy along, too.” Mel said resignedly. “Why are you doing this? What have you gotten me into?”
Marla shrugged, and kissed Mel’s scarred left cheek.
“Call it a crisis of faith,” Marla said and shivered. The nights were starting to get cooler, finally. “And I’m sorry, Mel. I’ve put you in danger, yes, but not any more than you already were, considering…”
“Considering what?” Mel asked, alarmed.
Marla considered telling Mel about her father, then thought better of it. The less Mel knew, the better.
“Nothing,” Marla said instead. “Now don’t you go digging into things, ‘Lissa Cayce. It’s not good for your health, believe me. You just give that box to Oscar, and walk away from all this, and forget you ever saw me tonight. You hear?”
“What’s in the box?” Mel asked, picking up on her ex-lover’s own terror.
“Never you mind, ‘Lissa. Please. Don’t get any more mixed up in this than you already are.”
“So what am I supposed to tell them?” Mel asked, on the verge of tears. She wasn’t stupid. She never believed that her daddy had been killed by a gator any more than she believed that there was a monster in the swamp called Remy LeVert.
“Tell them you can’t tell them. Tell them it was your daddy’s. Tell them whatever they’ll believe — just don’t tell them I gave it to you. You can’t, ‘Lissa — it’ll mean my life!”
Melissa Cayce, who once wrestled an alligator and survived, went cold and pale.
“What do you mean, your life?” she laughed nervously, and stopped just as suddenly at the look on Marla’s face.
“I’ve got to go,” Marla said firmly. “I was never here.”
Mel nodded and watched the last person to kiss her without pity go to leave.
“One more thing,” Marla said, turning back. “Amie LeBeau.”
“The newspaper lady?” Mel confirmed, and Marla nodded, with a look in her eyes that frightened Mel.
“She’s not safe,” Marla stated plainly, and then added: “And it may already be too late.”