“Daddy wake up!”
Oscar had finished his bottle of bourbon after reading about Jean-Baptiste’s encounter with Josie Ammon the previous night, and was in no mood for bullshit. His mouth was pasty and his head was ten sizes too big. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only one who had overdone it.
“Go’way,” he grumbled, and then rolled over, finding it strange that he had so much room in the bed.
“Daddy, wake up! Wake up!” Celine cried, shaking him out of one nightmare into another.
“What is it?” he moaned, sitting up slowly and shakily. He could barely open his eyes.
“Wake up!” Celine shouted and slapped him across the face.
His eyes flew open in alarm.
“It’s Momma,” she wailed. “Daddy, she won’t wake up!”
Oscar moved quicker than he thought possible, jumping from the bed and finding his wife lying on the floor, far too pale, her lips a horrible shade of blue. He held his head to her chest and held his thumb to her wrist.
“She’s breathing,” he said, the adrenaline of panic making his own heart pound. “But just barely, and I’ve got a faint pulse. Goddammit, Luanne, what the hell did you do?”
“Daddy?” his daughter was bawling.
“Go start the car, Celine,” he yelled, and picked up Luanne and threw her over his shoulder, hoping that she might wake and throw up.
He carried her out the door and placed her as gently as he could in the back seat of the Explorer. He was about to get in the driver’s seat and yank his daughter out and get in himself, when he had a terrible, paranoid thought, and ran back into the motel.
“Where are you going?” Celine screamed through frantic tears. “Daddy!”
He returned less than a minute later with his gun holster and the wooden box that had cost Jean-Baptiste Levesque his life.
August 30, 1977
I am alive, and that’s all I can really say for sure. I didn’t think that I would be, and so I am grateful to whatever power might have been looking out for me. I will try to recall the events of the past few months so that whoever reads this will know the names of the dead, and that even though they are powerless to change the past, that perhaps they may prevent further bloodshed. Or, if reading about these horrible things causes their blood to boil, that they might find it in them to exact some kind of vengeance on the monsters that did this.
Up north, everyone’s talking about the man they call the Son of Sam, who claimed to be a monster, and whose spectre haunted New York for over a year, until just recently. But David Berkowitz, who they arrested for the crimes, wasn’t a monster at all, but just a common man whose brain didn’t work quite right.
Here in Bayou Bonhomme, we must live in a vacuum, because nobody seems to care about the bodies that either piled up or disappeared altogether this summer.
The local paper called it The Children’s Parade, but there weren’t anything happy about it. One night in early May, fifteen children, the youngest bein’ five year old Elsie Angell, and the oldest was fourteen year old Kenny Johnson, just up and disappeared in the middle of the night. Like they all just woke up in the middle of the night and walked off together. Nobody knows why it was these kids, and why not the others. Some of these kids had brothers and sisters that weren’t taken, some of them were only children. There didn’t seem to be any connection between the children that was relevant, and the age range between them was big enough that many of the children wouldn’t have even known each other.
I couldn’t shake a feeling of déjà vu, and reading back through daddy’s journal, I understood why. A couple of weeks after the disappearances, I was out on the bayou fishing, and caught me a piece of one of those kids’ legs, a bit of cloth still clinging to it like second skin. As much as I would have liked to give the parents of the missing children some sort of peace, I only had to remember what this town had done to my father to know that the best thing I could do was to keep my mouth shut about it. And so I threw that bit of leg back like a sunfish too small for eatin’, and I never spoke a word about what I’d found, and what I knew.
If you’re reading this and judging me harshly for not telling what I knew, ask yourself what you would have thought if I told you that a swamp monster lured your little girl out into the bayou like some magical pied piper.
I’m tired. I wasn’t cut out to be a hero. If I’m going to stay in Bayou Bonhmme,I got one thing to do and one thing only — keep my head down and my mouth shut.
As I write this, no one has given any explanation for the children’s disappearance, and I carry my secret with a heavy heart — just one more thing packed in there among the others.
Oscar sat by his wife’s side, his attention divided between the beeping of her heart monitor and Jean- Baptiste’s journal. He’d been ashamed to be unable to answer many of the doctor’s questions, especially when it came to what medications she was taking, or if she’d been drinking. He hadn’t been paying attention, and not just recently, but for a very long time. He thought he’d been protecting her and Celine from the monsters in Bayou Bonhomme, but he couldn’t protect Luanne from herself.
They had pumped her stomach and given her charcoal, but she still hadn’t woken up. Her colour was a little better, Oscar thought. That’s something.
Celine came back with a couple of sodas and sandwiches, and asked if there’d been any change. Oscar shook his head and held his hand out to her. She took it and gave it a squeeze.
“I’m so sorry, Celine,” he said. “I wish… I wish I could tell you the whole truth of what’s going on, but I’m afraid you’d think your daddy gone fou.”
“I think that anyway, Daddy,” she smiled weakly. “This got anything to do with that book you been carting around?”
He nodded, but didn’t say any more. She’d showed more character in the last few days that he usually gave her credit for. He loved his daughter, but being an only child, she’d been spoiled since the day she was born, and she was used to taking and taking and taking but never being held accountable.
“I figure if I need to know, you’ll tell me,” she said. “Tell you the truth, the way you look lately — I’m not sure I want to know.”
Oscar recoiled as if he’d been slapped. “What do you mean? How do I look?”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said, furrowing her brow in a way that made Oscar smile, because he did the same thing. “It’s like when there’s an empty house in the neighbourhood. You have this vacant look in your eyes all the time — like whatever is in that book is eating you from the inside out, hollowing you out. It’s like you’re not quite there anymore — you’re just a ghost.”
“I — I don’t know what to say,” Oscar hung his head. “It consumes me…”
“Yes!” Celine said. “Consumes — that’s the word I was looking for.”
“I’m sorry, cher. It’s really important stuff, and it’s a lot to take in. It takes my mind a while to process it all, and there’s just so much of it.”
“What makes it so important?”
Oscar thought about what to say, and decided to be vague.
“There’s something bad going on in Bayou Bonhomme,” he began.
“Well, yeah,” she sighed. “Thanks, Daddy. I’m not a child, you know.”
“Yeah, well, this is something far worse than most people even know, but the men who wrote this journal,” he said, placing his hand on it like swearing an oath on the Bible, “they knew. They knew all kinds of things.”
“What did they know?”
“Secret things,” he said. “Dark things. Unbelievable things.”
That was all he said on the subject.
August 31, 1977
One Sunday in June, the preacher of the Baptist Church — a very loud and outspoken man by the name of Marcel LeBeau — just didn’t show up for service. We was all waiting, and one of the elders of the church had gotten up and led the congregation in some hymns and prayers. But when the time came that Pastor LeBeau would usually address the church and give a heavy-handed sermon, he still hadn’t shown. We sang a couple more hymns, and were in the middle of All to Jesus I Surrender when the Pastor’s wife Francine came in crying hysterically, carrying her baby daughter Lacy (or maybe it’s Amie, I can’t remember just now) and screaming for help.
She’d woken that morning and her husband wasn’t in the house — which didn’t alarm her at all — sometimes Marcel liked to go for a walk early Sunday morning to pray and to go over what he was going to say in his sermon. So it wasn’t until she and her daughter were getting ready to leave the house for church themselves that they found his body. Someone had nailed him to their back shed, crucifying him, and scooped out his belly, leaving a sick red hollow beneath his ribcage.
Oscar felt his gorge rise. He was intimately familiar with this scene, having witnessed it more than once. And once was far more than enough, anyway. At least he’d been able to hide what had happened from the town’s eyes. It seemed that Marcel LeBeau (and was that Amie’s father? Oscar wondered. It would explain a lot.) was displayed publicly.
He must have done or said something to piss off Olivia, Oscar figured. I wonder what it was.
He scanned through the next bit of Jean-Baptiste’s journal, but it didn’t seem that he knew anything more than what he’d said.
September 1, 1977
I dug the grave for Pastor LeBeau, just as I dug the graves for pretty much everybody in Bayou Bonhomme. But he never did find his way into that hole. Oh, they buried a casket, and told folks that he was in there, but I know for a fact that the casket was empty. I’m friendly with a police officer, name of Thierry Blanchette, and he and his wife Hélène sometimes have me over for dinner after Sunday service. I think they feel sorry for me — Thierry was orphaned, and as I have no real family here, he and his missus have sort of adopted me, and that suits me just fine. They’re good folks, I reckon, and they have a chubby little boy by the name of Oscar that just lights up my world. He’ll bounce on my knee or ride me like a horse the whole time I’m over there if I let him, and to tell you the truth, I don’t mind it one bit that I often leave there exhausted by that rambunctious boy.
Oscar smiled and wiped away a pesky tear. He really hadn’t had a chance to mourn the old man; not really. But he missed him. He was glad to know that he’d made him happy as a child. That was something.
The Sunday after the Pastor was buried, the Blanchettes had me over for dinner – blackened snapper and creole rice, and smothered okra — and Thierry confided in me that the body had gone missing, and that the police had no leads as to who might have taken it. Just as they had no leads as to who had killed him in the first place. They — that is, Chief DuBois — had decided to keep this bit of information secret, with the logic that if any came forward to confess to the crime, they’d have to know that they also came and stole the body. Thierry thought that the Chief had been watching too much Rockford Files but didn’t question his boss’ decision.
“Plus,” Thierry told me, “we don’t want a panic. The man’s dead — the last thing we need is for people to know about his body being snatched. What do you think, Jean-Baptiste?”
I trusted the Blanchettes — I did, don’t get me wrong — but I’d learned not to trust anyone, no matter how I felt about them. Josie Ammon had taught me that lesson, just as she’d tried to warn me about something bad coming. It appears that she was right, because bad things — truly horrible things — had begun.
So when Thierry asked me what I thought, telling me that he respected my opinion, and did I make anyone for the crimes, I acted as dumb and clueless as I could. I knew that even after all these years, some people still looked at me with suspicion. Why, I ran into Chief DuBois and his little girl Jolene down at the Piggly Wiggly just last week, and when I stooped down to say hello to the little one, he pulled her away. I don’t even think he realized he was doing it, really. It was just instinct and habit.
“Nobody tells me anything, Thierry, you know that. Hell, there’s likely people out there that make me for this, on account of what they said my daddy did.”
I’d also learned that a good way to re-direct a conversation that I didn’t want to have was to bring up my father, which was a topic that made just about everyone uncomfortable.
Thanks for that, Dad.
September 3, 1977
After Pastor LeBeau’s murder, things moved pretty quickly, and the summer was a blur of short tempers and violence all around. Anson Morse nearly beat his wife to death in front of their baby boy. . He left her partially paralyzed and brain damaged, and turned a gun on hisself. Thierry said the police was so busy with domestic calls that they were looking to hire a couple of extra officers to handle them. Kids around time were constantly scrapping, the bigger and stronger ones picking on the slower, smaller, and weaker kids. And someone had begun to leave little presents on my doorstep — dead birds, frogs, a squirrel — and it weren’t no animal, neither. No, they were all displayed with a sick cruelty, by hands that by the strictest definition, had to be human. The frog was crucified, with its guts cut out in a grotesque parody of the manner that the pastor had been killed. Someone was taunting me, but it had the air of a childish prank to it, as well. My bet was on the Duchesne kids — weird, mean little bastards who. even at a young age gave me the creeps. I caught them lighting off firecrackers behind Elmer Cayce’s bar earlier in the summer and chased them off. When they cleared out, I found a poor cat with its tail blown clear off.
Me, I spent a lot of time out on the bayou, keeping an eye out for anything strange. Well, stranger than usual. One afternoon, I noticed someone else out on the water. It wasn’t the first time that I’d noticed them, but for some reason, I just seemed to find myself suspicious of them all of a sudden. They weren’t doing anything particular out on the bayou, but then, neither was I, really. I didn’t know Martin Angell very well — just to say hello if I passed him on the street — but then, I didn’t really know anything about him, other than that he was connected somehow to the Herefords. Married one of the girls, maybe, or maybe his father had, I couldn’t rightly say.
I began keeping an eye on him, making sure to keep my distance and avoid notice. I must have watched him for almost a week, but I still couldn’t figure out what he was doing. He stayed pretty close to the cypress groves along the shoreline, dipping his boat in and out of the little inlets. If I had to guess, I’d say that he was looking for something, but it didn’t appear to me that he found anything.
Then one night, after a long hot day digging graves and a couple of hours out on the bayou following Martin Angell around and seeing nothing, a knock came at my door.
I opened the door and found myself face to face with the man I’d been trailing for a week or more.
“So,” he said with a Cajun accent thick as gumbo.”Quoi faire, sha? You goan tell me what you be doin’ followin’ me ’round de bayou? Dis-moi la vérité!”