Oscar stared at the newspaper clipping and had to do a double take. He recognized the man in the photograph — or thought he did, anyhow. He had the same blank eyes and the same widow’s peak hairline. The Chief saw this face across the counter every time he went to pick up some steaks, or maybe a rack of ribs. Of course, that was the son — Gilles Duchesne, older brother of Darrel, who Oscar and Leroy had fed to that thing out in in the bayou back in the summer of ’98. Levi Duchesne, their father, stared out at the Chief under a headline that read BAYOU BONHOMME MAN DECLARED INSANE, REMANDED TO GREENWELL SPRINGS.
This had been a bit before his time, but Oscar had history with the man’s youngest son, and it would appear that the rotten apple didn’t fall very far from the tree.
July 19th, 1970
Everybody’s talking about Levi Duchesne, but it’s all gossip and nonsense. I won’t speak a word about it in public, much as people try to pry the details out of me. When they ask, I just give them an aw shucks grin and say that I’m just glad I happened upon him before he could finish what he started. It’s made me a sort of local hero, but I’m sure not going to let my sudden celebrity go to my head, and I ain’t fool enough to think that my hands are washed clean as far as the Herefords or Bergerons are concerned. If anything, I’ve likely seen and heard things they probably wouldn’t want me to, and that’s dangerous. For them or me, I ain’t sure just yet.
Thing is, Levi wasn’t liked very much anyway. The Duchesnes in general were bad news, always had been. My mama’d warned me to stay away from them, called them no-account poor white trash, and other things I didn’t rightly understand at the time, but now that I’m a man, and have seen some of the evil that folks can do to one another, I reckon my mama was right. The Duchesnes were mixed up with the Klan, and had escaped persecution for their crimes on account of the colour of their victims’ skin and the fact that no one would testify against them. For folks who thought nothing of stringing a man up and lighting him a-fire, it seems strange to me that they’d have any type of moral code at all. But it seems they did, and one thing they didn’t do is roll on one another. But no one had to roll on Levi Duchesne. That man had strange written all over his face, and people would cross the street and walk along the other side when they saw him coming. His wife was a notorious drunk, and could often be seen layin’ half-naked in their yard, layin’ in an inflatable pool with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. This was sometimes at seven or eight o’clock in the morning, and the real head-scratcher was trying to figure out whether she was up drinking early or if she’d been there all night. Why God saw fit to give the two of ’em children, I’ll never know — but they got two little boys — the oldest must be three or four, and the other one’s just starting to walk so I reckon he might be a year or so.
Like my daddy, I loved being out on the Bayou. It weren’t just his obsession with Remy LeVert or whatever its name was — he liked being out on the water, day or night. The bayou was where I went to get away. Most of the time I wasn’t even fishing, just drinking and taking in the sunshine, maybe even have an afternoon nap on a Sunday. That’s why I just happened to be in the right place at the right time last week when Levi Duchesne tried to drown his two little boys.
“Ah, Jean-Baptiste,” Oscar sighed, and felt a guilty twinge of anger that he knew was unwarranted. You couldn’t change the past, of course, he knew that. But reading that Jean-Baptiste saved the life of Darrel Duchesne — that put a knot in his stomach. He was a little boy, sure, but a little boy that would grow up to be the man that Oscar once walked in on while he was gnawing the last bit of meat off of a leg bone that had once belonged to a third grader by the name of Elliot Desjardins. The boy had grown into a madman — a monster who killed (eighteen?) children, and hadn’t thought anything of it. When Oscar had pulled his pistol and pointed it in Darrel’s face, he hadn’t even stopped chewing. He had, in fact, reached into a pot and pulled out another piece of meat, offering it to Oscar. He stared into the other man’s eyes and could not find a shimmer of humanity there. Not long afterward, Oscar had unintentionally stared into the face of C’thuN’chuk, and even now, he couldn’t decide which was more frightening. Just thinking about it made him break out in a cold sweat.
I heard them screaming, and it woke me up so quick I nearly tipped my boat. The sun was still up, but just barely — I put it at maybe six or seven o’clock. I poked my head up and saw another boat not far off, and there was Levi Duchesne struggling with the older boy — I don’t rightly remember his name — and the little baby Darrel. I only remember that on account of he’d been dedicated not three months before at the Baptist church.
I heard him shout something, and I guess I assumed that he was talking to one of his kids, but I’d soon find out that weren’t the case. “Why won’t you talk to me?” he yelled, over and over again, all the while both kids screaming and crying. I watched him carefully, worried at what might be going through his head. Looking back, I think I might have been worried that he wasn’t in complete control of himself. I started making my way slowly toward him, rowing instead of using my motor, so’s not to startle him. I didn’t get but ten, fifteen yards away from him when he saw me coming and shouted at me to stop, that he had to do this, that it was the only way, and then he said that name — Kathew Unchuck — and my blood went cold. Before I could stop him, he tossed both of his boys into the bayou, and without thinking, I dived in after them.
The water was dark and impossibly cold for the season, and the moment my body was submerged, I began to feel sick and dizzy. There was something with me in the water — something strange and cold and alien — and it was shrieking in my head, repeating one word: MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE!
I don’t know how I reached the boys, but somehow my arms found their way around them, and when I surfaced into the late afternoon daylight, it was like being reborn. I gasped huge lungfuls of fresh air, and kicked my way to my own boat, throwing the boys in first and then climbing in myself, careful not to tip it. I told the police that I got the boys back into my boat, and then hit Levi over the head with my paddle and knocked him out, then took the boat back to town. I didn’t mention to them — or anyone — that Levi was screaming like a kid throwing a tantrum, fists clenched and face red, crying that it wasn’t fair.
“What the hell’s the matter with you, Levi?” I asked him, careful to keep my distance. My boat and his were only about four feet apart, but I kept myself out of arm’s reach. I didn’t trust my reaction time if he decided to try to make a move on me — between his raging and the two boys crying, I was disoriented.
“I just want to see its face,” he moaned. “I just want to hear its voice, like she said I could.”
“Whose face?” I asked, afraid I knew. “Whose voice? Who said?”
“God,” he cried. “I want to see the face of god. I want to hear his voice.”
“Don’t we all?” I said under my breath.
“But he’s here!” Levi said, eyes wide and bulging. “He’s here beneath us now. I know it. I can almost feel it in my head, but…”
“What are you talking about, Levi?”
“Chuk!” he shouted at me as if I were asking stupid questions. “Chuk! Chuk! Chuk! Chuk! Chuk! She can say his name properly, I can’t even do that much.”
He began hitting himself on the head and repeating that he was stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Kathew Unchuck,” I offered.
“Don’t you dare!” he yelled at me, enraged. “Don’t you dare speak his name. You don’t believe, even though it’s right in front of you. I believe, but I have never seen its face. I believe, but I have never heard its voice. She said that I am blessed, but I don’t feel blessed, I feel cheated.”
“Who said?” I tried again.
“She told us all at the wedding that if we listened, we would hear his voice. She told me that I was special, and that I would play an important part in the days to come. She promised me that I would hear his voice, and that I would feel him. But she lied to me. I haven’t heard anything. And so I came to make sacrifice — but you stole that away from me. And now she’s going to be so angry with you.”
“Who?” I shouted.
“Olivia, you stupid fuck! The Matriarch!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked him. Olivia Bergeron — or Hereford, as she’d been calling herself for some time now already — wasn’t married. Not yet, anyway, but it was all people had been talking about for months. The wedding was planned for some time in August, I believe — not that I was invited, you understand, but everyone had heard about it.
“Olivia told me — she promised me on her wedding night — that I would hear the voice of our god,” he said through gritted teeth. “But she lied. She used me to do things — horrible things — and lied to me on her wedding night. How could she do something like that on such a sacred night?”
“I think you’re confused,” I told him, careful how I tread. The look on his face was mad,desperate, and unstable. “Olivia and Stephen Hereford aren’t married yet. They don’t get married until next month.”
“Not the church wedding, you idiot!” he laughed. “The real wedding! The water wedding! It was a sacred time. The joining of the two houses in front of Chuk, and all The Faithful. I saw. I saw, but I wasn’t part of it. Like watching a movie, and no matter how much you want to be a part of it, it just doesn’t happen. But she swore to me…”
“She swore what?” I asked. “Did she tell you to drown your kids, is that it?”
“Not drown them!” he said, and I swear, it’s as if he were offended. “I wasn’t going to drown them! I was giving them to him. He needs sacrifice. And I thought that if I gave him my kids, then he would speak to me like he does to her. But you know, maybe Chuk don’t want my kids, after all. Maybe that’s why you’re here, nigger. Maybe Chuk brought you here so I could fulfill my purpose.”
I’d heard more than enough, and before he could get anymore ideas, I grabbed my oar and swung it around, smacking him on the back of his head and laying him flat out in his own boat. I ain’t gonna lie — for a minute or two, I gave serious considering to dumping him in the bayou. But I’m no murderer.