This is part of a serial tentatively called Stories from Bayou Bonhomme (which I’m liking less and less so if anyone has any suggestions…) and continues fast and hard from last week’s episode, which you can read HERE. Last’s week’s episode was something of a cliffhanger, so if you haven’t read at least that story, I’d suggest checking it out.
Oscar moved as quickly as his body would allow, practically falling out of his car and lurching up the steps to his front door. He prayed silently to saints and angels he didn’t precisely believe in during rational hours, begging for his family’s safety. At the top of the half-dozen stairs, he suddenly felt a pain in his chest that his doctor had warned him about, and bit back a cry of pain and terror.
Let it pass, he prayed. Let it pass and I’ll put this monster to bed, I swear. I’ll put all these monsters to bed.
His prayer was answered and he was given a reprieve for the time being.
Leaning on the front door, he could see the silhouette of three figures standing in his kitchen. Fearing the worst , he began pounding his shoulder against the door to break it down. His mind had gone on vacation and his police training, such as it was, was in the driver’s seat.
“Luanne!” He shouted, trembling.
One of the silhouettes turned and started moving toward the door, quickly. Oscar stood back and pulled his gun.
“Open the door, goddammit!” He ordered.
The door opened, and Luanne poked her head cautiously into the small opening she’d created.
“Oscar?” She asked, bewildered. “Oscar, what the hell’s the matter with you? Did you lose your keys along with your mind?”
Oscar’s legs felt rubbery, and he thought he might collapse. Steeling himself, he placed a hand on the door jamb and sighed in relief.
Luanne opened the door and looked at him with strange concern, and he stood up and wrapped meaty arms around her tiny frame, holding her tightly.
“Oh, dear god, get a room!” A shrill voice said from the kitchen. Celine was standing there with a disgusted look on her face, along with a young man who was staring at his shoes as if by staying very still he could avoid notice.
“Who’s that?” The Chief asked his wife. “What happened to Roger?”
“Daddy!” His daughter wailed. “Roger’s ancient history. This is Leon.”
Oscar made his way into his own house, still breathing heavy and fueled by adrenaline.
“Uh, yes sir, that’s me,” the boy said, holding out a hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr… uh, Chief Blanchette.”
Oscar held out his hand and did a mental inventory, trying to place the boy, and found that he couldn’t. Bayou Bonhomme wasn’t a large town by any means, but even Oscar couldn’t claim to know everyone. Still, there was something familiar about him.
“Do I know your pa, Leon?” He asked, still holding the boy’s hand in a firm grip.
Leon smiled back at him and laughed.
“Well,” he said, almost looking embarrassed. “I don’t rightly know if you know my pa, Chief, but I’ll bet you breakfast you know my aunt — Olivia Hereford.”
Oscar’s grip loosed on the boy’s hand as if he’d been holding something foul and unclean. Or perhaps something dangerous. He forced a smile and a look of recognition, trying not to let the boy see his discomfort.
“Of course!” He said jovially. “Why, doan you just look the spitting image of your gran-pere, too! Has anyone ever told you that? I met old Mr. Hereford once, when I was just a kid. Charming man. A bit strange, but charmant, n’est-ce pas?”
“I never had the pleasure, I’m afraid,” Leon replied, regarding Oscar like a weasel watches a chicken. “He died before I was born.”
“Of course, of course,” Oscar said. “Well, it was nice to meet you Leon, but I’m going to have to ask you to excuse us — something of a family emergency has come up, and we may have to go away for a couple of days.”
Alarm rose in the room, and questions came from all sides. Oscar raised his hands and tried to calm them all down.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said, “I came to tell you as soon as possible — it’s my mother, she’s in the hospital up in Greensburg.”
Celine sighed, and Luanne rolled her eyes.
“What is it this time?” His wife asked, and Oscar glared at her.
“We’re not going, are we, Daddy?” Celine whined. “That’s all the way up in St. Helena Parish!”
“I’m afraid I don’t know many details, cher,” he said patiently, biting his cheek to quell the anger that threatened to rise. “The doctor wouldn’t tell me much over the phone.”
“Sounds serious,” Leon remarked. “You should go, Celine. Go see your grandmother.”
She sighed and rolled her shoulders in a pout.
“Come with us!” She begged. “Daddy, you don’t mind, do you?”
Oscar shot Leon a look that told him everything he needed to know, and the boy nodded briefly in acceptance.
“I can’t, Celine,” he said regretfully. “Gotta work. But call me as soon as you know what’s going on. I’ll keep your Gran in my prayers.”
Oscar raised an eyebrow at him.
“A religious man?”
“Faithfully,” he replied, and tipped Oscar a wink and a smile before he left. Oscar watched him leave, walking down the drive and heading east toward the bayou.
“Oscar,” a nagging voice spoke from behind him. “Oscar, what’s going on? Please tell me we’re not actually driving all the way up to Greensburg to visit your hypochondriac mother. She’s been dying of the same stroke since we were in high school. You moved her up to Greensburg so we could be away from her.”
Oscar ignored her, keeping his eyes on the Hereford boy, hoping that he believed the story he’d been given.
“Oscar!” Luanne shouted.
He spun around to the sound of her voice, and something in his face made hers turn pale.
“Pack your bags!” He growled. “Now! Both of you!”
Celine crossed her arms defiantly and stood behind her mother.
“Oscar, you’re scaring me,” Luanne said. “Please, what’s going on.”
Oscar resisted the urge to just grab the two of them and forcibly coerce them into doing what he’d asked. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to smash their stubborn skulls together and stand over them, screaming in fury that he was trying to protect them, goddammit! But Oscar knew that no amount of rage was going to move things along, and so he sighed, buried his face in his hands as if to wash it, and when he looked up at them, he managed to conjure up some sympathy for the two women, who were clearly confused and frightened. The two people he loved more than anything in the world, he reminded himself.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and opened his arms wide, inviting them to embrace him. When they did, an evil little part of his brain told him that the time was right for skull-smashing, but he ignored it. Instead, he held them as long as they’d allow it, and then, when they let go, he saw tears of fear in his wife and daughter’s eyes. It was completely out of character for him to be so affectionate and sentimental, but their tears unmanned him.
“We’re in danger,” he finally said. “I can’t tell you any more right now, but I promise I’ll tell you what I know once we’re on our way.We’re leaving the Bayou. Right now.”
“What about Gran-mere?” Celine asked, and Oscar smiled at her, resisting the skull-smashing urge once more.
Luanne nodded, knowing that would be the last word on the matter until they were on their way. She pushed Celine up the stairs to her room and told her to pack and be quick about it, and not to bother bringing anything she didn’t need — they’d only be gone for a couple days until her Daddy could straighten this out.
Oscar grabbed his old army duffel and threw in some clean socks and underwear, as well as some pants and shirts. Then he went to his closet and took out two shotguns and placed them carefully into the bag, followed by several boxes of shells, and two boxes of bullets for his sidearm.
He met his wife and daughter in their yard. He opened the gate of his Explorer and started packing bags in.
“Quickly!” He exclaimed. “C’mon, let’s go!”
Luanne handed him a bag that rattled — her collection of pills — and a second bag full of what Oscar could only imagine were terribly impractical clothes.
Her eyes were drawn to an ornately carved wooden box that was sitting in the SUV’s trunk.
“Ooh, that’s nice,” she said. “What’s in the box?”
Oscar ignored her, taking her bags, throwing them in, and slamming the gate closed.
“Get in the car,” he grunted in response. “Let’s go.”
Across town, in a small shack of a house by the bayou, Leroy was waking up after a long sleep, plagued by nightmares. He’d dreamed he was drowning, and could almost feel the physical sensation of being choked. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the light shining through his window. He had no idea what time it was. A glimpse of something yellow caught his eye, sitting on top of his television set. He pulled himself out of his recliner and discovered that it was a note from Oscar. He’d been called away, it said, and asked him to write down the rest of what he remembered.
“Ah, now ain’t that sweet?” Leroy said aloud, hoarsely chuckling. He shivered and gagged, almost retching. His mouth was full of an awful taste — like rotten meat and boiled cabbage. He went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, scrubbing his tongue until it was raw.
After he was done, he put the kettle on and sat down and began to write the rest of what he remembered.
By the time he was done writing, Oscar and his family were long gone from Bayou Bonhomme.