Leroy looked at his reflection in his bathroom mirror and shuddered. It wasn’t just the paleness of his skin, or the fact that his hair had gone as white as raw cotton. It wasn’t even the fact that the whites of his eyes were nearly completely red with bloodshot. It’s that he didn’t recognize himself. He thought about his mama, dead for years now, and didn’t have to wonder what she’d think of him.
“Je suis désolé, mère,” he said, running hot water to shave. “I’m so sorry. You did me better dan dis.”
He cleaned himself up, and looked around his small cabin home. It wasn’t anything glamorous, but he’d been comfortable here. There were even some happy memories, but they seemed to far away that Leroy’s heart ached. Why had he stayed? He knew that there were monsters in Bayou Bonhomme — both human and otherwise. You’d think that only a fool would stay with that knowledge. He was beginning to wonder if he had actually had any choice in the matter. One of the recurring scenes in the visions Chuck had given him was the eating of the creature’s flesh — its babies. Was he just the monster’s accomplice?
The thought made him angry. He was a businessman. He liked working for himself; liked the idea of being in charge of his own fate. He hated taking orders from anyone, and he hated even more the idea of being used; being controlled like a game piece.
“I ain’t nobody’s puppet!” He snapped at himself in the mirror. “Nossir!”
He knew what he had to do, but he had no idea how he was going to manage it. He didn’t think it was something he could do alone — he was going to need Oscar’s help. Even that wasn’t likely to be enough, but it was a start. It was the right thing to do. Trouble was, Leroy didn’t have a whole lot of practice doing the right thing, and he wondered if he rightly knew what he was getting himself into.
Oscar’s note had said he’d gone off on a call. Leroy reckoned he would have heard from the fat man by now if he were done his business, and since he hadn’t, well — that didn’t bode well.
Leroy ran a comb through his hair and found that in addition to being powder white, it was as fine as a baby’s. He splashed some hair oil in his hands and ran them through his hair, slicking it back. Then he twisted the ends of his moustache and regarded himself in the mirror, copping a debonair grin.
“Well what d’ya know?” He said, winking. “‘Ello dere, pappy.”
His father had died when he was very young, but he still had a picture of the dapper-looking man. His mama had grinned at that picture like a lovesick girl ’til the day she died, and she never had a bad word to say about the man. He’d drowned out in the bayou — that’s all his mama would tell him. Knowing what he knew now, Leroy had to wonder about the truth of the matter. A lot of things he took for granted were suddenly called into question. He knew a lot of things before; and had almost envied those poor suckers that lined up to buy his BBQ, blissfully unaware that anything was amiss in the Bayou.
He pulled on a clean shirt and scanned the room for his cell phone. He found it and tried the Chief, but got his answering machine after one ring. That was odd. Moving to the kitchen, he opened the fridge and was disappointed at what he found. He tried the Chief again and again got the answering machine.
“Mel’s, I s’pose,” he mumbled to himself, dismayed at the empty state of his pantry and refrigerator. His mother had taught him better than that, too.
He slipped his walking shoes on and headed out the door. He was fiercely hungry, true, but he had one thing he had to do first. He wasn’t looking forward to it, and he had no idea what he was setting in motion, but his mama’d always said soonest begun is soonest done — especially when it came to taking bitter medicine.
Leroy faced himself toward his BBQ Shack, and went to take his medicine.
In a small town just outside of Crowley, about 175 miles northwest of Bayou Bonhomme, Chief Oscar Blanchette tried to shut out the constant whining of his daughter Celine and the well-meaning but irritating concern of his wife Luanne. He just wanted a little quiet, is all. Just some space, and some quiet, so he could think.
The box had made its way from the trunk of his Explorer on to the motel bed, and Oscar was watching it like it might explode. He was pretty sure that it had been responsible for two deaths already. Well, not the box, exactly, but whatever it was that was inside of it.
He’d shut his cell phone off, and made his wife and daughter do the same. He had promised that he would tell them everything once they got settled in from their drive, but he had to laugh at himself even as he said it. Everything. As if he knew anything, let alone everything. What he did know, he meant to protect them from. They didn’t need to know about kids with their skin melted off, and they didn’t need to know about ancient monsters from outer space — and they certainly didn’t need to know what Leroy had been serving up at his BBQ Shack.
He could tell them a convincing lie, peppered with the truth. They knew about Jean-Baptiste — or at least, what Amie LeBeau had reported in the paper. He could tell them that he’d gotten a lead on who had done it, and that the killer had gotten wind that he was on to them. It was close enough to the whole truth without involving a certain swamp monster with the unlikely name of Chuck.
It would be enough that he was protecting them. The less they knew, the better, he’d say. When he had answers, they’d have answers.
Oscar stared at the box and ran a hand over his face. He was exhausted, but felt safer than he had in a while. It was hard to believe that just the night before he’d been waist deep in the swamp, fishing Leroy out of the drink, hair all white and looking like a spook. A lot had happened since then, but now he had time to catch his breath and think. He needed answers. He hadn’t even heard the rest of Leroy’s story. He hoped the man had written the rest of it down like he asked. Maybe there was something there. But that was nearly 200 miles away, and the box sat six inches away from him. He moved his hand over the lid, his clumsy fingers unable to truly appreciate the craftsmanship. Whatever answers there were, surely they were in this box. He couldn’t help but remember the story of Pandora, and how well that turned out.
“Ah, fuck it,” he said, and opened the box.
Leroy still felt pretty weak, but his resolve, shaky as it was, managed to stand firm. He walked in the front door of his BBQ Shack and waved at Sheryl, who was serving up a couple of sandwiches and beers at the counter. The dinner rush was about an hour away yet, but there were always a few early birds. She froze when she saw him, her mouth gasping like a catfish pulled out of the water.
He chuckled, and waved a hand over his hair.
“De damnedest ting, cher,” he said. “Dey say my pappy’s hair went white overnight, too, so, I tink mebbe it run inna family, no?” He was laying the Cajun on pretty thick — he found it put people at ease for some reason.
Sheryl tried to laugh with him, but found herself too startled.
“Your eyes, Leroy!” She said with a drawl, drawing out the word eyes like a sigh. “What happened to your eyes?”
“Allergies,” he replied, not missing a beat. “Damned allergies, cher. How tings been, here?”
“Uh… um… good, Leroy,” she said, clearly uncomfortable. “Same as ever. You know.”
“Uh huh,” he nodded. “Listen, cher, I’m gonna be shuttin’ down the Shack for just a bit — got to do some changements around here. Got me a call from a mean ol’ health inspector and he tol’ me I gotta fix up de place some.”
“I didn’t hear anything about any inspection,” the girl said.
“Nope,” Leroy agreed. “He called me personally. Said he’d been in here last week — you wouldn’t have even notice ‘im, cher. He was just another customer, I reckon.”
“Huh,” she grunted. “Well that’s just great, Leroy! What am I s’posed to do while the Shack’s shut down?”
“Shh, doan you worry a ting, cher,” he smiled. “It won’t take longer than a couple o’ weeks. Inna meantime, I’m gonna give you two weeks paid vacation. Get on outta town. Go on up to New Awlins and have yourself a good time.”
“Really, Leroy?” She asked excitedly.
“Bien sur!” He said, smiling. “Now lock de doors, have de fellas shut down de kitchen, and meet me out ‘ere when you’re done, I’ll settle y’all up right.”
On the top of the pile of papers was a leatherbound book that looked like it must have been a hundred years old. Oscar carefully picked it up and held it in his hands. He opened it carefully and read a name in faded ink: Henri Levesque, 1910. Below that, a different hand had written: Mattieu Levesque, 1942. The third and final name below that belonged to a man Oscar had known and loved: Jean-Baptiste Levesque, 1960.
Oscar put the book down on the bed, eyes momentarily drawn to the other contents of the box. Specifically, a recent newspaper clipping about Jimmy Singleton, the little boy who had disappeared, only to be found washed up on the shore of the bayou, looking partially eaten. Amie LeBeau’s pointed headline screamed at him from beyond the grave: HORROR RETURNS TO BAYOU BONHOMME.
Oscar felt the urge to crumple the paper in his hands, and turned it over, and saw that Jean-Baptiste had written two words on the back: NOT CHUCK.
It would seem that the old man knew a lot, if he knew enough about Bayou Bonhomme’s resident monster to not only call him by Leroy’s pet name, but to be able to make the deduction that the Singleton boy wasn’t killed by it.
He dug through the box, finding more clippings and pictures and letters, dating back to the 1890s. The earliest newspaper clipping was from 1910, and detailed the disappearance of Josephina DuBois. Oscar read the description of how her body was discovered, and found it frighteningly familiar. He’d heard Jean-Baptiste tell spook stories about Josephina DuBois from the time he was a little kid, running around with a frog in one hand and a candy bar in the other. She was a local legend, almost as much as Remy LeVert. They said that people sometimes saw her walking through the Bayou at night, walking out into the swamp and fading away.
There were other clippings, in mostly chronological order — 1925, 1942, 1960, 1977, and then, 1998. There was a stack of reading here, with names circled and scribbles of notes in the margins and on the back. Oscar needed to take the time to make sense of this all, but he was overwhelmed by it all. Where to start? His eyes moved back to the tanned leather book, and knew that the real treasure was there. The newspaper clippings, the letters, the pictures, the notes — they were all just supporting evidence — the real story was in the book.
He picked it up with eager, trembling hands, and opened it to the first page.
Mon cher fils,
Ici est la vérité: Il ya des monstres dans le bayou.
Oscar felt an almost palpable chill, as if the ghost of Jean-Baptiste’s grandfather were whispering this message in his ear.
My dear son. Here is the truth: There are monsters in the bayou.
Leroy walked into Mel’s Bar and Grill and was greeted by stares, which he laughed off as best he could. He pulled up at the bar and ordered a beer and a bowl of gumbo.
“Sure thing Mr. Angell,” the pale skinned bartender said, taking in Leroy’s appearance and grinning an unintentionally freakish grin. The boy couldn’t help his condition, but that didn’t make him any less unsettling. “That’s a good look for you.”
“Shut up, Varney,” Leroy grunted, and then smiled at him apologetically. “Sorry, boy. Long, long, day. Hey, you ain’t seen da Chief ’round, ‘ave you?”
“Nossir,” Varney answered, without thinking too much. “But then, I’ve only been here ’bout half an hour, on account of, well, you know.”
“Right,” Leroy nodded, feeling an uncharacteristic twinge of pity for the boy. Most people treated him like a monster, when all he ever did was have the dumb luck to be born that way. “Mel around?”
Varney grunted something and went into the back of the bar. Mel returned a moment later, and was hardly able to meet his eyes. She actually started to cross herself and then stopped herself, a bit shocked at how certain conditioning stuck with her all these years.
“Jesus, Leroy, what happened to you?”
Leroy brushed her off. “You seen Oscar?”
She shook her head. “He ain’t been in. Something’s going on though. People been talking all day. First there’s all that ruckus up at Amie LeBeau’s place, and then I hear you shut down your BBQ shack. Thank you for that, by the way — business is booming. And then you show up here looking like you got chased outta hell and didn’t quite avoid gettin’ burned. What the hell’s going on in this town?”
Leroy was only half-listening. “What happened to Amie?”
“I don’t know, goddammit! Do I look like a cop? All’s I know is there were cars up there, and nobody’s seen or heard from her all day.”
Varney brought a bowl of gumbo and sat it down in front of the ghastly looking man. He wolfed down three bites in quick succession, moaning in delight. He hadn’t realized just how hungry we was.
“You want a biscuit or something with that?” Mel asked him, staring at him with morbid awe.
Leroy nodded, and swallowed another bite. “What about Marla?”
Leroy remembered what Chuck had shown him — how Marla had been there the night the Singleton boy had been found — and she wasn’t alone. He wasn’t sure exactly how she fit into this, but he didn’t have a good feeling about her.
“Deputy Bergeron?” Mel asked. “Nope. Haven’t seen her, either.”
“Deputy Bergeron,” Leroy mimicked, mocking the woman. He knew full well about their history. “Really, cher? That how it is wit the two of you?”
Mel sighed angrily at him. “Marla and I haven’t been a thing in ages, Leroy, and thank you so much for poking at that wound. You got a crack about my face you want to make while you’re at it?”
Chastised, Leroy returned to his gumbo, sopping up the rich brown sauce with a biscuit. When he finished, he tossed a couple of bills at her, over-tipping out of a strange, new-found sense of guilt, and turned to leave.
“You hear from the Chief, you tell him I’m looking for him.”
“Sure. If I see the Chief, or Marla, I’ll let them know,” Mel said, and Leroy turned, and something about the way he looked at her made her blood freeze.
“No,” he said firmly. “Just the Chief. Marla doan need to know I’m looking for her. I’ll find her myself.”
Later that night, Marla came into the bar at closing, and very unexpectedly went home with her. Maybe it was the Southern Comfort, or the comfort and abandon found in Marla’s arms, but Leroy’s visit had completely slipped her mind, and she never mentioned him at all.