Dear readers, new and old. That is, readers that have newly discovered my writing vs all those hipster types who loved it before it was cool.
This is the newest chapter in a serialized novel, and it sets a new scene, a day or so after the murder of Amie LeBeau — though to most of the world, it’s just a missing persons case. But we know better. If you are completely new to this world and are interested in reading from the beginning, the beginning is HERE. If you have read some and just want to check out what you might have missed before you continue on, GO HERE for the chapter list.
Oh, and if you have been reading along, and enjoyed last week’s chapter with Henri’s journal, don’t worry… Jessica will get back to it… it’s too good a plot device not to use.
Olivia Hereford sat in a chair that had belonged to her grandfather, in a house that had been built by his ancestor before the war between the States. She wore a silk dressing gown that cost more than the chair was worth, and it was worth quite a bit. She looked around her sitting room with pride and a twinge of sadness. She didn’t see much of her own personal touch in this old house, despite having lived in it nearly all her life.
Her grandmother’s portrait hung in an ornate frame on the wall across from her, painted by some relative who’d gone on to be famous in Paris. She was a handsome woman, if a bit cruel looking. Olivia had no memory of her — she’d died before Olivia was born, but if she was anything like Olivia’s own mother, then she could believe that the woman might have been cruel. The bookshelves beside her were built by her father — she remembered that day fondly – the smell of fresh cut wood and the not so pleasant tang of varnish — it made her feel a bit dizzy, and her daddy kept telling her to run outside and play.
On the bookshelf was a book bound with strange leather, a hundred years old if it was a day, and still smelled faintly of the bayou and something else. Something dead. It was a book very few had ever laid eyes on, let alone read the contents of. If the Levesque men had actually possessed this book, they might have had power — but The Faithful knew that whatever they had was only speculation and conjecture — whereas this book — it contained everything. Every secret, every name, every ritual that had ever been performed in Bayou Bonhomme. It was only for the Matriarch of The Faithful — and for this generation, that was she. Not only was she the Matriarch of the Faithful, but she was matriarch of both the Hereford family and the Bergeron family, for that was the name she was born with. She wasn’t the first Bergeron to marry a Hereford over the years. She could trace her family tree back to the great old Herefords, for whom much of the town was named, and so she was both Hereford by birthright and by marriage.
Olivia had known from a very young age that she was special. She had heard the Voice speaking to her even as a little girl playing with baby dolls. She could speak the tongue of The Faithful even before she’d learned to speak the tongue of her parents — proper English — none of that bastardized Creole patois for Olivia Hereford. She was a proper Southern lady, and no one would ever say otherwise.
She’d only ever known the touch of one man, and that at the insistence of her parents, who had matched her up with young Stephen Hereford. It had been ages since two such prominent members of The Faithful had wed, and it was seen as something of an omen — possibly something that would change things forever. A child of their union might be something special indeed.
Olivia had gone along with the marriage because she was an obedient daughter, and because the idea of a child that could possibly share communion with the god that lived in the bayou was very alluring. But she didn’t love him, and he had understood. Love could come later. They had both loved another before they’d ever been wed, and in the bounds of wedlock, they were free to continue that affair together. They had been married in the Baptist Church, but they had consummated their marriage in the bayou under the pale moon, each of them calling out the name of their beloved in the tongue of The Faithful until C’thuN’chuk blessed them with his presence.
But Stephen had proven unfaithful — both in his marriage vows, and to the faith. He almost ruined everything in the summer of ’77 when he tried to prevent the necessary sacrifice of Martin Angell, and so Olivia had taken it upon herself to offer up her own husband as the third sacrifice to her beloved C’thuN’chuck, and so ending that reaping cycle.
Now she only had one lover, and that’s all she needed.
A knock at the door interrupted her meditation. It had been too long since she had taken communion, and now, with the old man and the writer both sacrificed, she had a lot to think about. The lot fell on her to choose a third from among The Faithful — a true sacrifice. It was not a decision that sat easily with her. And then there was the matter of the missing journal. She knew that old fool had kept a journal — just like his father and his father’s father before him. Yes, The Faithful knew all about the Levesque men and their silly histories. They weren’t afraid of them. They were far too powerful to be afraid of the ramblings of an old black man who never amounted to anything more than the town yarnspinner. That journal — whatever it held — was a bone they threw the old man, and his father Matthieu, who had been more of a pain in the ass than even his son. Let them think they were safe. As long as they kept their mouths shut, The Faithful left them alone. Jean-Baptiste should have remembered that.
“Aunt Olivia,” a voice came, accompanying the knock. Olivia put the book back in its place, hidden in plain sight between other old volumes.
“Yes dear,” she beckoned. “Come in.”
Jaqueline Ammon, Jackie to her friends, entered the room cautiously. If she were to tell the honest truth, Jackie was a bit frightened of Olivia Hereford, and especially on these days, when she brought her the… thing she needed for her communion. Jackie worked in Leroy’s BBQ shack, and knew exactly what it was she was serving up. Leroy didn’t know it, but when he’d come back from his trips out into the bayou, Jackie would smuggle out one of the things he brought back. Jackie would keep it in a tub of water in her basement until Mrs. Hereford asked for it.
“Hello, Auntie Liv,” Jackie said, and gave the old woman a brusque kiss on the cheek. “I’ve brought… uh.. what you asked for.”
“Very good, dear,” she said, smiling. “And have you put it in the tub?”
Jackie swallowed and nodded. “It’s quite large, Aunt Olivia.”
Her eyes widened with anticipation. Her entire body began to ache with the longing of a younger woman. She became lost in her thoughts — strange memories that few could claim — and some that belonged to her alone.
“Yes, dear,” she said, shaking her head. “Just woolgathering. Is your cousin with you?”
“Who, Marla? Yeah, she’s in the sitting room.”
Olivia clicked her tongue at the girl. “Yes, dear. Not yeah.”
“Yes, Aunt Olivia. You want I should send her in?”
She sighed, and resisted the urge to correct her niece. Great-niece, actually, not that there was anything all that spectacular about the girl. Still, Olivia thought, all things serve.
“No, Jacqueline, not just yet. Tell her to have some tea and make herself comfortable. I may be a while yet. If she can’t wait, I’ll understand.”
“I’m sure it won’t be a problem,” Jackie said with a nervous smile.
“Good,” Olivia said, and stood up. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
Jackie left, and Olivia stood and stretched. It had been some time, and she wasn’t nervous, really, just anxious. She walked down the hall toward her private bathroom — no one was allowed in there without her permission. She could hear the faint sound of splashing. She approached the room at the end of the hall like a blushing bride.
Not even aware that she was speaking, Olivia had begun to murmur: C’thu rhys loban hai C’thu rhys eobhain C’thuN’chuk. Me’hai lho rhys N’Chuk. Loban erith N’heloim C’thuN’chuk. She whispered it more like pillow talk than a prayer. The splashing thing in the bathroom responded to her words with excitement.
Pushing open the door, Olivia entered the dark room, leaving the light off. She’d learned over the years that it preferred the darkness. Closing the doors, she let her robe fall to the floor, revealing a body covered with old, puckered scars. Each one held a sweet memory of communion with her god; her beloved. She wasn’t a vain woman. She cared nothing for the adoration or desire of men. She didn’t even miss her youth, as long as she got to feel this.
The writhing, slug-like thing in the tub had started out the size of a pork tenderloin — in Jacqueline’s tub, it had grown. It was now nearly five feet long, and easily as thick as Olivia herself. And it was alive. She could feel its life vibrating in the water. She wrapped her arms around it and drew it close to her body, holding it between her sagging breasts. Wrapping her legs around the creature, she held it tightly. She knew that the next part was as intense for it as it was for her. Olivia threw back her head in ecstatic anticipation, and the brought her mouth down and bit into its flesh; her mouth flooding with black ichor.
Her eyes opened wide, and Olivia Hereford gazed into the face of the universe. She saw fire, she saw blood, she saw the faces of her ancestors, members of The Faithful long gone. She saw the Thousand Gods as she knew them, falling to their destruction. She saw her beloved C’thuN’Chuk, saw his thousand terrible eyes. She saw Josie Ammon with a knife to her throat, being dragged out into the bayou — the last sacrifice that ended the reaping of ’98. She saw storms and riots and hurricanes. She saw the victims of Hurricane Katrina huddled together in terror. She saw dead bodies flooding the streets, and shivered. Sometimes she saw things that were, and sometimes she saw things that were yet to come. She saw through the eyes of any and all who had tasted C’thuN’Chuk’s flesh. All things serve. That was one of the tenets of their faith.
She saw Marla and Mel in the throes of passion, and tightened her grip on her own grotesque lover. She saw Oscar and his family through the eyes of her grandson, getting ready to flee. It irked her that he could not see them now. She knew that they had fled the Bayou, but not where. That blind spot bothered her. She saw Leroy, and seeing through his eyes was like looking through a kaleidoscope. She had experienced this once before, and knew what it meant. This man had not just eaten the flesh, served up in his own BBQ — he had shared communion with C’thuN’Chuk. This filled Olivia with a momentary dread — what knowledge he must possess! And just as quickly, she was filled with a blissful calm, an almost unbearable euphoria — and she remembered the face of Leroy’s father in the summer of ’77 when she promised him that she would leave his little boy alone — right before she slit his throat and offered him up to C’thuN’Chuk. She got the feeling that she was going to have to break that promise after all these years.
She saw many things, but not what she had wanted to see. No one showed her the journal, and she didn’t feel any clearer about who was to be the third sacrifice. The last time it had been a traitor. Josie Ammon had lost the faith. Was her granddaughter Marla also having her doubts? The visions were unclear, and Olivia would have more than just doubt to go on when she made her decision. She had always liked the girl. It would be a shame if she had to die to end this cycle. But Olivia wouldn’t hesitate at all. When it came to the faith, she belonged, heart and soul, to the strange and terrible god who lived in the bayou.
When the thing in her arms stopped twitching, and the visions faded, she released its dead body and lay with its black blood trickling over her lips and down her chest. It was hot and sticky, and she languorously smeared it over her body, licking her fingers and sighing in pleasure.
Stepping out of the bath some time later, she wrapped herself up in her dressing gown and wiped the last of the creature’s blood from her lips. She made her way down the hall and resumed her place in her sitting room.
“Jerome!” She called her manservant — a paid position these days, but Jerome’s family once belonged to the Herefords back in the days before emancipation.
The man appeared at once, looking sharp in his charcoal pinstripe suit. It got stifling hot sometimes in the summer, but it was comfortable in the cooler fall weather.
“Yes, Missus Hereford?”
“Send in Marla, would you? And perhaps bring us some tea and sandwiches, I’ve suddenly got quite an appetite.”
“Yes, Missus,” Jerome nodded and left to complete his task.
A few minutes later, Marla opened the door to Olivia’s sitting room, and walked in, smiling brightly at the old woman.
“Hello, Aunt Olivia,” Marla said, trying to conceal her discomfort. Every time she set foot in Hereford house, she feared it would be her last.
Olivia stared back at Marla and had to fight the urge to cry. She hadn’t wanted to believe it. She’d hoped that she was wrong. But when she looked at Marla, who she’d once tried to teach how to dance when she was just five or six, she saw a dark corona around her head. She knew that she was still partially in her vision, so she blinked her eyes, hoping that perhaps it was just a trick of the light. When she opened them again, Marla’s eyes looked bloody, her skin was ghastly pale, and black webbed veins streaked her face. A black cloud of death shrouded her face in a sign that couldn’t be clearer in the old woman’s mind.
Marla had to die.