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.
GO HERE to find the list of chapters.
The fire could be seen for miles around, lighting up the entire bayou, but the screams could only be heard by a certain few. Olivia Hereford writhed in her bed, eyes black with rage, and spit curses both in English and in the tongue of the Faithful. The jail cells, which once held a badly beaten and tongueless Mathieu Levesque, were full of the rioters from earlier in the day, and they were restless and ill.
Marla, who had heeded her mother’s warning and had never eaten Leroy’s BBQ, held tightly to Mel, who was shaking with pain and crying that her head felt like it was going to explode.
Far north in Greensburg, Oscar tossed and turned uneasily, and eventually got up and was sick in the motel’s toilet. For some reason, he thought he smelled the swamp, but put it down to a lingering nightmare — a rather vivid one.
Leroy should have been sleeping easy. He was finally free of the wretched business that he’d been a part of for the past fifteen years, and while the damage couldn’t be undone, he comforted himself in knowing that he’d done the right thing. Furthermore, he needn’t worry about the loss of his livelihood. The envelope safely tucked away in his freezer was a testament to both his instinct for survival as well as his corrupt character. Years ago, he’d met an insurance agent who assured him that, for a fee — a percentage of the settlement — he would doctor any investigation of a fire, and declare it accidental.
After everything, he was exhausted, but restless. He was plagued with worry. He still hadn’t heard from the Chief, and to make matters worse, he had a bad feeling about Varney. He’d gone down to Mel’s to enlist the strange man’s help in burning the shack. Varney was an odd one, but useful in a pinch. Leroy had trusted him with some of his less savoury endeavours, and he’d never asked any questions. Leroy didn’t really consider the man his friend — but he was useful, and so the fact that he seemed to have gone missing was akin to Leroy losing a handy tool, or maybe his Mossberg. It pissed him off. More than that, it made him wonder why Varney had gone missing. People tended to ignore the pale-skinned bastard, and it made him sort of invisible. And invisible men often over-hear secrets. Leroy wondered if maybe Varney had been caught listening in on the wrong people.
More than just the worries plaguing Leroy, he was in physical pain. He was twisting and turning in his bed, his stomach cramping like he’d never felt before. One time when he was young, he’d eaten some bad chevrette, and got so sick he thought he’d die, and this was ten times worse. It felt like his insides wanted to crawl up through his mouth, or perhaps out the other way. His head throbbed so bad that his eyes were watering, and putting a pillow over his head didn’t block out the sound of screams — like cats in heat — which seemed to be coming from inside his head. Whatever was making the screaming, it was obviously in pain, and terribly angry. It didn’t make sense that it was what Leroy thought of as Chuck’s babies — after all, how many of them had he cooked up over the years?
Not far away, in a grove of sycamores that Leroy would recognize, C’thuN’Chuk gnawed on the last remaining bits of Amie LeBeau, which did not satisfy the ancient thing, but only left it wanting. It howled in frustration, feeling the death of its young only in passing. This little community had been until its control for over three centuries, and no little rebellion was going to change that. Still, the little hairless apes amused C’thuN’Chuk — they were most interesting playthings — and ever so tasty.
C’thuN’Chuk watched the fire with something akin to fear. Fire was an awful, hateful thing, and it didn’t understand it. It had been hurt before — eons ago, when this planet was splitting itself apart at the seams, and there were terrible fires that seemed to last for years. From a distance, it was harmless, but the creature still recoiled at the sight of it. This made C’thuN’chuk angry, and it reached out with its terrible mind and squeezed all of those under its spell, and revelled in pleasure at the sensation of their pain. All over Bayou Bonhomme, people were shuddering in pain and revulsion. Everyone who had ever tasted its flesh was currently twisting in C’thuN’Chuk’s invisible grip, and the beast chortled in its own grotesque version of laughter.
Finally, it reached out to one mind in particular, that one that C’thuN’Chuk knew as L’roy — the perpetrator of this current violence against itself, and squeezed hard. With a vicious malevolence, it screamed inside L’roy’s mind, with enough force to make the weak creature lose consciousness. It screamed one insistent phrase: She is mine.
Leroy slept, but his dreams were so vivid it was as if he were awake.
In his dream, he sits at the bar at Mel’s, drinking a beer and eating a plate of crawfish. He can taste the cayenne pepper and butter, smell the hops in the beer. The song on the jukebox is some old Stevie Ray Vaughan number that Leroy couldn’t tell you the name of. A couple in the corner is having an argument about who is singing. Leroy doesn’t recognize them, but he should. The man is his daddy, but in the context of the dream, he can’t make sense of what he is seeing. The woman is a much younger version of Marie Hereford, though again, Leroy doesn’t put the name to the face. At the end of the bar, Marla is sitting on a stool and making goo goo eyes at Mel, who is serving her up another pint of Heineken and returning her flirtatious gaze.
Leroy recoils at the sight of Marla, whose face seems to be blackening as he watches her, as if her skin is being consumed by flames. He feels a hand on his shoulder, and turns to see the face of Gilles Duchesne, the scary butcher and older brother of that creepy fuck Darrel who he and Oscar had fed to Chuck fifteen years earlier.
Gilles smiles at Leroy, showing a mouth full of row upon row of teeth, like a shark, and when he opens it to speak, black liquid oozes out.
“She is mine,” Gilles says, and Leroy screams but does not wake up.
He’s suddenly behind the wheel of his car, sitting idling outside of Mel’s. He waits for Marla to come out, somehow knowing what he has to do. When she wanders out of the bar, drunk and wavering, he rolls down his window offers her a ride home.
Looking over at Marla in the passenger seat, he noticex the swell of her breasts pushing against her T-shirt. She is wearing a Remy LeVert T-shirt, the kind they sell to the tourists who come looking for the legendary swamp monster. For a moment, he is overcome with an unhealthy desire for the young woman, but then the radio turns on by itself and a voice says She is mine, and Leroy moves his hand away from his crotch and down to the floor.
The scene changes again, and Leroy finds himself on a boat out in the bayou, with one hand holding a fist full of Marla’s hair, pulling her head back and exposing her vulnerable throat. With the other hand, he takes a large blade and slits the woman’s throat, then tosses her into the bayou.
As her body hits the water, he hears the triumphant laughter of the swamp monster, and even as he wakes up, he can still hear the laughter echoing in his ears.
He didn’t scream — not at first. The first thing Leroy did was gasp for air, and splash his way back to shore. Soaking wet and covered in mud, he screamed weakly and curled up in a tight, frightened ball.
Terrified that he couldn’t account for how he got there, and remembering the climax of his dream, Leroy pulled himself together as best as he could and began running in the direction of Marla’s house.
He prayed to his mother’s God and all the saints that he wasn’t too late.