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.
Oscar couldn’t go back to sleep. He’d been tossing back and forth with a terrible knot in his stomach. Could have been the burger he picked up on the road, but it felt like more than that. He had a pounding headache, and his muscles ached something fierce. He didn’t have a fever, but he would have sworn he had the flu.
Luanne was snoring, enjoying her chemically enabled sleep, and how he envied her. He hadn’t had so much as a beer since he’d left Bayou Bonhomme, and he could use something a whole lot stronger just then.
He picked up the Levesques’ journal and read the first line written by Jean-Baptiste and couldn’t help but laugh. As he read further, he stopped laughing.
August ??? 1960
I’m drunk again, and who the hell cares?
Call this my confession, or maybe my suicide note, if I keep drinking. Those that hold that my daddy was a depraved voodoo murderer wouldn’t be surprised that his only son drunk himself to death, but others would likely say that they were glad my mama weren’t alive to see how I turned out.
It’s been a strange year, and I have no idea what the future holds for Bayou Bonhomme as a whole, or for me in particular.
My first confession: I’m in love with Josie Gillette. This ain’t no crime, except that she’s going to marry Ben Ammon in the spring, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The Ammons and Gillettes have both been good to me, and Ben Ammon’s a good man. Besides, she surely thinks of me as an older brother, if she thinks of me at all. Folks around here wouldn’t take too kindly to a nice white girl like Josie taking up with a Negro like me, no matter how fair my skin might be.
My second confession, and I reckon it’s only fair that I write this down for whoever ends up reading this, is this: I killed Phillip Hereford. And because I did that, somebody snuck into my father’s hospital room like a snake and killed him in the night.
Phillip Hereford had taken up with one of his housekeepers, and had a room in a motel over in Slidell. She wasn’t the first of Phillip’s housekeepers that he’d taken there, and the word was that he liked to hurt the girls. One of these girls ended up coming and working at the Gillettes’ boarding house where momma worked, and she told ma mere all about what that terrible man had done to her. Momma told her to shut her mouth if she wanted to keep it, but what was spoke couldn’t be unspoke.
I began keeping an eye on Phillip’s comings and goings, and after a couple of weeks, figured on the right time to follow him out to Slidell, and to the sleazy motel where he held his affairs.
The night I finally decided to go, I had to work up the courage, first to borrow Doc Ammon’s car (I say borrow, but what I really mean is steal, because there weren’t no way I was getting permission) and then to do the deed itself. I’d carried around a lot of anger — not knowing who had done that to my father. Then one day I got jumped on the way home by Luc Bergeron and some of his friends. I took a beating that day like I hope to never be on the receiving end of ever again, but it was worth it to learn what had really happened to my daddy.
Luc had laughed at me as he was kicking me in the belly, and said how my daddy was rotting in prison, and how his daddy and his uncle Phillip had been the one to put him there. He kicked gravel in my face as he told me how his Uncle Phillip had gotten drunk and told him all about how they tied my daddy to a chair and beat him nearly to death, and how then they broke all his fingers and cut out his tongue — with gardening shears, and then they’d fed it to their dog.
Once I healed up from that beating, my only goal, my sole obsession, was killing Phillip Hereford and Georges Bergeron. My own life didn’t matter as long as I could remove them from this world.
When I got to the motel, though, I lost my resolve. I was no cold-blooded murderer. I was about to turn the car around and leave, when I saw a light come on in Phillip’s room. Hands shaking, I got out of my car, which was parked across the street, and started making my way toward his room. I could see Phillip’s shadow in the window, and watched as he raised his hand, not understanding what I was seeing until the gun went off. I ran to the door and opened it on to a scene that I wish I could erase from my memory. There was a girl on the bed, naked and stone dead — and Phillip, also naked, had put a bullet in his head. I don’t know why I did what I did next, and I’m sure it baffled the police when they found the crime scene, but I suppose I had brought the gardening shears for a reason, and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste.
There was nothing in the papers the next day. Or the day after that, neither. It was all hushed up, but I knew that the Herefords or Bergerons had to have been a part of the clean up, and must have known about Phillip’s missing tongue. So I found me a box — a little wooden box not unlike the one that once held my grandmere’s eyes — and I placed Phillip’s tongue in it, along with a note. I was brash and bold and sixteen, and I had convinced myself that I had no fear.
The note said I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, AND I CAN GET TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU. I HAVE PICTURES OF THE MOTEL. PHILLIP TOLD ME EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU BEFORE I KILLED HIM. HE BEGGED LIKE A DOG BEFORE I PUT THAT BULLET IN HIS HEAD. YOU HAVE SHOWN THAT YOU CAN TAKE FROM ME. NOW YOU KNOW THAT I CAN TAKE FROM YOU.
In the middle of the night, I placed the box on the doorstep of Hereford House and went home, where I crouched in fear for what I’d done. I considered going back and taking the box back a hundred times, until morning came and it was too late. I was a fool, and I thought that if I could hurt them, that they would leave me alone. I was wrong.
I said before that I killed Phillip Hereford. Well, maybe I didn’t pull the trigger, but in my stupidity, I took credit for his death, and as far as the Herefords know, I did it. They responded by killing my father, and then, two years later, killing my ma. Of course, her death was ruled an accident, but the only witness was Claudette Angell (she that was Claudette Hereford before she married, and was, of course, Phillip’s daughter). Mama fell out the second storey window of Josie’s boarding house. Claudette said that Mama was leaning out the open window to reach one of the shutters, and lost her footing, falling and breaking open her pretty head. And then these monsters that live in the Bayou did the cruelest thing of all — they let me live.
I have lived in constant fear. I’d be a fool to think that my threat of photos (an empty threat at that, because there were none) or the information in this journal is enough to buy my life. No, I think that this constant fear is my punishment. The knowledge that they could take me at any time, and that I dare not leave, lest they track me down. My daddy’s story is a testament to the fact that there are worse things than death.
I thought for sure that it was going to be this summer. Things got strange again, with people acting weird. I read grandpere’s story again, and daddy’s and I think I understand something now. Marie Hereford once told Grandpere that she was the Matriarch — kind of an odd thing to call yourself, but I think it has more to do with this secret society or religion or whatever it is you want to call it. And this summer, the Matriarch died. Sitting around Ed Cayce’s bar throwing back beers, I heard all kinds of things. People talking about the end of an era, whispers about how the old woman had died. They say she went crazy and just walked into the bayou. I thought about daddy’s story about the soldiers, and I wasn’t so sure she was crazy.
Georges Bergeron had a heart attack, and Claudette Angell — the same Claudette who had pushed my mother from a window — killed herself in the bath by swallowing a bottle of pills.
It feels like everything is falling apart in the Bayou. I would hold out hope that maybe with the old guard dead, that maybe the old ways would die with them — except for one thing.
For the past year, Marie has had a shadow. Everywhere she went, any time anyone saw her in public, she was accompanied by a young girl, who, it was said, she was tutoring and grooming in the ways of Southern society. Everyone could tell that the girl was special to Marie — her first great-granddaughter, and her parents had honoured the Matriarch by giving their daughter her name: Olivia Marie Bergeron.
I can’t help but wonder just what exactly Marie has been preparing young Olivia for.
Oscar was starting to see a pattern emerge. Every fifteen years or so, a series of deaths, ending, presumably, with the death — the sacrifice — of one of the family. He wondered how that decision was made, and who made it — though he could make a guess.
So why, then, did Marie Hereford walk herself into the bayou? Did she have a sudden attack of conscience? Was she old and sick and decided to be the sacrifice? Or was she just a crazy old woman — a crazy old religious woman ready to meet her god?
Oscar figured it didn’t really matter. What mattered is that it seemed to Jean-Baptiste that Marie had been grooming her replacement. How old would Olivia have been in 1960? Ten? Twelve? Oscar didn’t know for sure, but figured that had to be about right.
As for Jean-Baptiste, Oscar had always wondered why the old man stuck around. He’d never married, never had a family — he could have picked up and left any time. Except that he couldn’t — or at least, he felt he couldn’t. Oscar didn’t know what he would have done in the other man’s position. He was still trying to figure out what to do with his own.
September 20, 1965
Hurricane Betsy has finally gone away. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday this year, and after thirty years in Bayou Bonhomme, I don’t reckon I’m going anywhere. After everything else, no storm is going to chase me away.
Yesterday in church, the preacher called the hurricane a wake up call. He said we lost our faith. The Herefords and Bergerons were all there — well, except for Anton Hereford, who never set foot in a church, as if he might catch fire if he did. Ben and Josie Ammon were there with their new baby daughter Collette, and I had to keep my eyes to myself. Olivia Bergeron was there, of course, almost all grown up and having the air of an empress. She’d moved into Hereford House and had taken to calling herself Olivia Hereford, and no one contradicted her. Folks said that Anton’s son Stephen, ten years her senior, was courting her, though if they was living under the same roof, I reckon he was doing more than just courting her, if you get what I’m saying.
We were into the second verse of Just a Closer Walk With Thee when suddenly, Olivia thrust her arms into the air and began speaking in some strange language. I immediately thought of what I’d read in this book, but others seemed to have another idea. Everyone stopped singing and stared at the young Olivia, who seemed to be in a trance. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, and her mouth just kept moving, speaking words I’d never heard before, but every few words I recognized something that sounded like Kathew Unchuck and I knew what I was hearing. The very sound of it caused me to break out in a cold sweat and turned my stomach to knots.
The preacher tried to put a stop to it, but someone else shouted that she was speaking in tongues, and a couple of other people cried Hallelujahs. The preacher started quoting from scripture about the gift of tongues and prophesy, and demanded that Olivia cease this noisy interruption, saying something about how God is a God of order and not chaos.
Olivia did not stop, but seemed to laugh at that last bit, and then something else strange happened. Barbara Angell stepped forward and declared that she had a prophesy — that she knew what Olivia was saying, and couldn’t we all hear it?
“We have forgotten our God,” she said, “and we have reaped the destruction of our faithlessness. The time has come for the young to rise up and lead, to renew our faith, lest our great legacy wither on the vine. We have forgotten the three. Our God is here in the Bayou, and longs to have communion with us. Be ye baptised and return to your faith. The faithful will be rewarded, all others will feel the wrath of our powerful God.”
I have not often been filled with religious fervour, but her words filled me with a sort of dread that I can’t quite describe. I can’t tell you whether Barbara was actually translating what Olivia was saying, or if she was only speaking the religious-speak one learns when you grow up in the church — either way, it felt like a manifesto or declaration, and the smile on Olivia’s face and the silent exchange that took place between the two women did not go unnoticed by me.
After service yesterday, Olivia and Barbara led folks out to the Bayou, where Olivia, not the preacher, baptised all who came and followed her. I was both awestruck and terrified at her charismatic presence, but I was not fooled by the blasphemous farce she was playing at. It was clear that my fears were being realized, and that Olivia was truly Marie Hereford’s heir.
I sat awake that night, waiting and reading this journal. I thought I knew what had to follow. Grandpere had just thought it a strange ritual. He hadn’t believed that there was really anything out in the swamp. Daddy learned differently — if I believed what he wrote, he heard the thing’s voice. I needed to see these things for myself. My own faith needed proof, I suppose, and so I watched, and I listened.
I woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. I guess I’d drifted off while waiting for something to happen. I looked out the window and saw a flicker of firelight out on the bayou. The phone kept ringing, and I was filled with terror. It just kept ringing, demanding to be answered.
With trembling hands, I picked up the receiver, and said Hello? I was greeted by a horrible screech, so loud and awful that I dropped the phone. When it hit the floor, it seemed to bleed a thick, black, foul smelling liquid, and a strange voice spoke three words:
SHE IS MINE.