Swamp Thing* Thursdays return (*not affiliated in any way with the Len Wen/Bernie Wrightson creation owned by that evil empire with its head up its collective ass known as DC Comics)
I’ll be posting on a regular basis now until the story is finished, so tune in Thursdays for your Bayou fix.
(Incidentally, I seriously still don’t have a name for this thing — what the hell, right?)
And now the disclaimer for new readers:
This is part of a serialized novel. Reading this chapter is not going to make much sense to you unless you’ve read what came before.
This is the first part in an interlude. To recap, Chief of Police Oscar Blanchette is still in hiding in a motel in a town called Crowley, holed up and examining the contents of the box he received from Mel Cayce — in particular, the journal kept by Henri Levesque and passed down to his son Mathieu. He left with the box, fearing that whoever was looking for it would discover that he had it and come after him. After all, they’d already brutally murdered Jean-Baptiste Levesque, whose daddy and grandpere before him had been its keepers, and Amie LeBeau, the editor of the local paper, who was investigating the history of disappearances and strange deaths in Bayou Bonhomme.
Back in Bayou Bonhomme, a riot has broken out, as people go into withdrawal from not eating the special meat that Leroy has been serving up for the past fifteen years — the offspring of the ancient creature that lives in the swamp. Leroy calls it Chuck, but its actual name is a little more complicated than that. Marla Bergeron, who Leroy’s not sure is trustworthy, tells Leroy that he has to burn his shack to the ground and put an end to the chaos.
GO HERE to find the list of chapters, so you can catch up on anything you’ve missed.
Oscar woke up early and went for a walk to clear his head. He hadn’t slept easily. Not because he wasn’t in his own bed — Oscar found that he could sleep damn well anywhere — but because of bad dreams. He dreamed of fire — surely what he read in Henri’s journal was bleeding into his sleeping mind, but he found himself wondering if it was something more than that. He thought about calling Leroy and telling him to close down his shack and destroy all the… meat that he had stored in his cooler.
Then he thought better of it, and pushed his cell phone back into his pocket. He wouldn’t be responsible for the chaos that would cause. He was beginning to see his time in this little shithole hotel in Crowley as not a first stop in running away, which all good sense told him it should be, but rather just somewhere to regroup and plan his return. He had no idea what he was going to do just yet, but knew that he couldn’t let these fuckers continue getting away with murder.
There wasn’t much to the little rest stop he now called his temporary home. Just the motel – a dozen or so rooms, half of them occupied by junkie hookers and their various clientele, a gas station, and a tiny little greasy spoon diner that served shitty coffee and even shittier food. Still, they opened at six o’clock, and Oscar had begun to make a habit of sitting at a corner table and drinking cup after cup of the lousy coffee and stuffing his mouth with runny eggs and too-salty biscuits.
When he returned to his room, he overheard his daughter Celine talking to someone. It wasn’t her mother, by the way she was giggling and going on.
He pounded on her door, giving her the courtesy of her privacy, even though he was frightened and furious.
“What?” His daughter protested.
“Are you decent?” Oscar asked, trying to remain patient.
“Of course, Daddy,” Celine sighed.
Oscar opened the door and glared at her.
“Who were you talking to?”
“Nobody,” she said, frowning.
Oscar clenched his teeth and washed his hand over his face.
“You stupid girl,” he said under his breath and then, quicker than his daughter would have thought he could move, he took a step forward and grabbed her cell phone from its hiding place under her pillow.
“Hey!” She yelled, jumping after her father, but not soon enough for him to slam her door in her face with him on the other side of it.
Oscar pulled on the door handle with one hand, and scrolled through her call history with the other, finding the last call was exactly who he feared it would be.
Celine pounded against the door and pulled on her side of the door, and in a moment of cruelty, Oscar let go of his side of the handle and watched in satisfaction as his daughter fell on her ass, but not after whacking herself in the head with the door.
“What the hell’s the matter with you, you stupid bonne a rienne?” He growled at her, standing over her as she lay sprawled out on the floor, looking slightly dazed.
“I was just calling Leon, Daddy,” she cried. “He loves me and was worried about me.”
“Did you tell him where we were?”
“I had to, Daddy! He said he’d called the hospital up in Greensburg where gran-mere is to see if we were all okay.”
“Fuck,” Oscar spat, and then shot her a dangerous look. “Pack your shit, you. We got to move on now.”
“Daddy!” Celine whined, and Oscar drew back his hand as if to strike her, and she flinched. He’d feel bad about that later, right then he was just too angry, and threw her phone on the floor as hard as he could, and then stomped on it with the heel of his boot.
“What the hell’s going on?”
Oscar turned and saw his heavily medicated wife Luanne standing in the doorway of their room, looking barely awake.
“We’re moving on today, Lu,” he said, trying to calm himself down. His doctor told him he needed to control his temper on top of everything else, and suggested some breathing exercises for when he got all riled up.
“Okay,” she said without complaint, and turned back into the room to pack up their few things. She’d been hitting the pills pretty hard since they went on the road, and Oscar had to admit that her lethargy was a bit of a relief from the constant barrage of questions and complaints that had been the greater part of the first couple of days after they left Bayou Bonhomme. Now if he could only do something about his restless, hard-headed daughter.
“Hey, Luanne,” Oscar called after her. She turned back, glassy-eyed, and Oscar knew he couldn’t send her on any errands alone. “You’n Celine should go into town, hit the grocery store, get some things for de road, yeah?”
He looked at his daughter and an unspoken understanding passed between them. Celine might be a pain in his ass, but mayhap it was better that her head was clear. Oscar didn’t need the both of them all muddled and useless.
“Let’s get outta here for a bit, Mama,” Celine said, shooting her father a look that told him she was still furious at him, but would do what needed to be done. “Leave Daddy to pack up your stuff.”
Oscar looked past his considerable gut at his shoes, trying to find something to say, but came up empty.
“I’m sorry, cher,” he began, but his daughter pushed past him and grabbed the keys, her purse, and then her mother.
Her mother stumbled out of her room, looking confused.
“Where are we going?”
“Going to the store, Mama. After that, you’ll have to ask Daddy,” Celine said with a glare at her father.
Oscar just shook his head and waved them out the door.
After they’d gone, he tossed everything in his room into a suitcase and zipped it up. He took his pistol from out of the nightstand and replaced it into his shoulder holster. He didn’t ordinarily carry his gun that way, preferring it on his hip, but it was a less conspicuous this way, and easier for the long drive they were going to have to make.
He took the wooden box out from under the bed and opened it. The leather-bound journal stared back at him, and he stroked it’s skin absently, curious to read what secrets Henri’s son might have imparted.
He wished he could hear the story of how Mathieu Levesque ended up marrying Melisande Lafleur — the daughter of the man who was said to have killed Mathieu’s mother, but there was nothing of that in the journal. Oscar could only speculate that the two families must have joined together in their grief and shared some of the same anger and suspicion.
In fact, Mathieu didn’t seem to have been much of the journal keeping sort. There were some newspaper clippings, most of them having to do with World War II, and specifically a great many about something called the Louisiana Maneuvers from the early 1940s, but when Oscar opened the journal, expecting to see Mathieu’s account of his time in the Bayou, he only found one entry, dated September 12, 1952 — a good fifteen years after the previous entry.
You are almost a man, now, my son, and so you’ll make up your own mind about things, I’m sure. But I can’t go on to whatever’s waiting for me when I finally give up my ghost without you knowing the truth about some things. Least of all that your daddy dint do what they say.
Your granpere, he dint believe in no monsters. Not real ones, least ways. Not like the ones in those horror comics you like so much, or like in the moving pictures like King Kong. No, my daddy always warned me not to be afraid of no spook stories or legends, but to keep my eyes on them around me that might want to do me harm. Daddy always told me there weren’t no Remy LeVert.
I think that if he had seen what I have seen, and written down what I am about to write down — I think he would have left town, as I tried to do. I did try, Jean. Please believe me, I tried.
Your granpere was good enough to write down everything he knew about what’s really going on in Bayou Bonhomme. I ain’t been good about writing, Jean, and I’m sorry. Truth is, I dint want to believe it. Horrible things happened here, and it ain’t like I don’t remember that. My mama, your granmere, was killed, right along with your granpere Lafleur. But I convinced myself that it was all just the work of one bad man. Rene Hereford was a monster, and when he died, well, all the awful things that had happened in the Bayou, and to my family in particular, were over. I never wanted you to grow up afraid like I had. I was always worried who might be out to hurt me, and when I started reading your granpere’s journal, I began to worry that everyone who looked at me funny was part of this secret cult he wrote about. My daddy sat me down and told me the story of the night that DuBois girl died, and I’d believed him, sure, just like I believed that Moses parted the Red Sea and Jesus walked on water. But in the same way, saying I believed it and taking it to heart in such a way that it consumed me — well, that was a different matter.
Besides, after Ed Cayce’s restaurant burned down, things quieted down ’round the Bayou. Rene Hereford was dead, and his sons Philip and Anton spent most of their time out of town on business, tending to their business interests — munitions factories in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and even as far away as Shreveport. By 1941, there hadn’t been a strange death or disappearance in over ten years, and so I put it out of my mind. With the country entering into the war in Europe, there was plenty of work all over Louisiana for a strong young black man. I was too old for the draft, and just barely at that, and wasn’t your mama so relieved. The Herefords and Bergerons were making all kinds of money off the war, and had put a lot of men and women to work in their factories.
Was a time, under Jim Crow, a black man couldn’t do nothing but work the sugar, cotton or rice, but with all the young men being called away, and not enough hands to go around, there was plenty of work for everyone left behind — and folks weren’t too choosy about who did it. Couldn’t afford to be, iffin’ they wanted they sugar, which was in short supply, ‘long with gas and all sorts of other things. Everyone was workin’ for the war effort and everything else took second fiddle.
Your ma even got herself a job. Your mama may be able to pass as white to strangers, but she wasn’t exactly getting invites to tea at old Hereford House. Besides, the memory of what they said happened between grandma and her daddy — your namesake — was still in the back of everyone’s mind. That would taint her, and while she had dreams of being a school teacher, she had to settle for being a seamstress, sewing uniforms for the boys going to fight the Nazis.
I guess what I’m trying to tell you, son, is that things were good for us for a while. We weren’t eatin’ no fancy lobster dinners like the movie stars, but things were quiet and mostly, folks left us alone. I even stopped looking over my shoulder for spooks and secret societies. I lived in the Bayou, did my business in the Bayou, and I never did see any hooded figures holding any secret ceremonies in the swamp. In fact, I didn’t see any hooded figures at all until a week ago, when they pulled me out of that jail cell and tried to kill me.