September 4, 1977
I thought for sure he was gonna lay a beatin’ on me, the way he was looking at me. I thought about trying to deny it, but I could tell that the man had been through hell. I recognized the look in his eyes. I ought to — I saw that same look every time I looked in the mirror.
“What are you looking for out there?” I asked instead.
“I’m lookin’ for dat fucker what took ma fille,” he said. “My little girl Elsie, she disparu — up and gone, you know?”
I nodded. I knew that his daughter was among those that had walked into the swamp — those that the thing I’d started to think of as just Chuk — I couldn’t wrap my mouth around the rest of it — had called into the swamp.
“I got me a baby boy, too, and I ain’t goan lose him, too. Dere’s someting out in de bayou, Monsieur Levesque,” he said gravely.
“Please, let me be Jean-Baptiste,” I insisted. “Or just Jean, si vous préférez.”
He smiled at my attempt at even the smallest bit of Creole French.
“Ah, Jean, you probably tink I’m fou — crazy, eh?”
I didn’t flinch, or laugh, or give any indication that I thought that.
“Oh, per’aps not,” he said, and then he said something that give me chills.
“Ici est la vérité, Monsieur. Il y a des monstres dans le bayou.”
“Please,” I said. “Come in and have a drink. I have some iced tea.”
“Whiskey,” he said, closing the door and sitting himself down. “Ice.”
I poured for the two of us, and then sat down across from the skinny Cajun and looked into his eyes. I’d gotten into the habit of not making eye contact with folks, and now I think I understood why. If my eyes were as wild and crazy looking as his, they were enough to chill the blood.
“So,” I began, “what exactly were you doing out in the bayou, then?”
“I know where dat fucker live,” he grinned. “We got to kill it — burn de whole bayou if we ‘ave to.”
Oscar didn’t even know if he wanted to keep reading. He knew they didn’t succeed in killing Chuk. Even so, he was curious to know what they tried, how they failed. Surely the goddamned thing wasn’t completely invulnerable.
Luanne still hadn’t woken up. The doctors were calling it a coma, but assured him that she was stable, and that her body was healing itself. They wouldn’t tell him if she had any brain damage or any other lasting effects, because there was no way to tell yet. All he could do was wait. He hated waiting.
Celine wasn’t talking to him at the moment. She wanted to call her friends, she wanted to go home, she wanted, she wanted, she wanted. He knew this was hard on her, too, so he wasn’t really angry with her as much as he was annoyed. It was just one more thing to deal with, and as his policy of dealing with things that annoyed him was usually to just ignore them, that’s what he was doing. Jean-Baptiste’s journal was helping with that.
September 5, 1977
The next morning, after I’d met with Martin Angell, I found a box on my doorstep. No dead animals or crucifixions, but I wasn’t ready to say that it was something better. It wasn’t my birthday, but it was wrapped up crudely, and even had a bow on top. I took it inside, curious. If whoever it was left it had wanted to hurt me, there were easier ways. No, this had all the earmarks of a childish prank.
I unwrapped it, and my suspicions were confirmed. It was a child’s toy — a jack in box. I figured I’d play along, maybe learn just who I was dealing with. I placed it far enough away from me, just in case whatever jumped out was something dangerous, and turned the handle on the side, listening to the click-click-click of the music box, and waiting for the surprise.
Whoever had engineered the gag must not have been too bright — they would have likely been disappointed with the actual performance of their prop. The box lid popped open, but nothing popped out. The severed hand that had been stuffed on the spring that once held what was likely a clown or something was too heavy for the spring to support.
I got the point, though. And it succeeded in making me angry. I carefully pulled the hand out of the box, and found a note stuffed into its stiff fist. This was the real purpose of the delivery, I supposed. It looked like I wasn’t the only one who’d fished something out of the bayou.
I opened the crumpled note, and found only two words printed on it in a ragged scrawl: KILL YOURSELF.
“Not likely,” I said out loud. “Haven’t yet. Not gonna now.”
September 7, 1977
I told Martin all I knew about Chuk, but decided against a lengthy discussion about the folks that called themselves The Faithful. I needed to be absolutely sure that this whole thing wasn’t a trap, and that I could trust him. I wish I could turn back the clock and change that, but I can’t, and now Martin’s dead because of my lack of trust. And he ain’t the only one. But, like they always have, they’ve left me alive to carry the weight of that.
Martin worked for Hereford Construction — the Herefords and Bergerons had gone into the business of building things as the off shore oil business started bringing some money into Southern Louisiana and smaller towns were expanding. He worked with a guy by the name of Richard Hendricks, who he trusted, which in this town is a very dangerous thing to do. Of course, I’m telling this with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, we didn’t think there was anything to worry about, ‘specially since Martin had paid Richard handsomely to look the other way. They were building new roads and were doing some rock blasting, and Martin greedily stole explosives from the job site.
The idea we had was so foolish and obvious that we should have known it was doomed to fail. We had no idea what Remy LeVert really was, and neither of us had seen him — not really, but we was determined that he, like every other creature, was vulnerable to fire. So we set out the blow the bastard up, even if it meant blowing ourselves up, too. Martin had just lost a daughter, and while he didn’t relish the idea of leavin’ his son without a daddy, he’d do anything to protect him from that thing out in the bayou.
We thought it would be easy. We’d just load up a boat full of explosives, while we rowed out in another boat to where Martin said he thought Chuk lived, park the boat holding the explosives in the roots of the sycamores, light the fuse and row away. Simple. Shoot, why hadn’t anyone else thought of this?
We went out on the bayou after dinner as Martin’s place. Red beans and rice and some spicy chicken that promised to come back later to haunt me. He told his wife we was goan do a little fishin’ in the evening, maybe catch us a catfish or two. His little boy Leroy jumped around excitedly, yelling Fishy! Fishy! and askin’ if he could come, too. He wasn’t too happy when we told him no, but his mama cheered him up with some ice cream, and that seemed to distract him. We left, and I thanked Mrs. Angell kindly for dinner, and ruffled little Leroy’s hair. They were all smiles as we waved good-bye. They had no idea what was about to happen, and they were all smiles. I’ll never forget that. The next time I saw them, I was alone, and they had all kinds of questions I couldn’t answer.
But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself. Martin’s dead, and I’m not. And once again, in my own way, I killed him. I should have told him not to trust anyone, ‘specially not a Bergeron or a Hereford — ‘course, in this town, so many folks’re kin or else related by marriage (or both, in some cases) that it’s hard to tell just how big those two families are. But Richard Hendricks had married Georges Bergeron’s grand-daughter Clare, and that made him part of the family. Didn’t realize it at the time, though. No, I had to hear that from Josie, after the fact, along with the rest of the awful story.
We were doomed from the start, I can tell you that much. We loaded up the boat with the dynamite and hitched it on to my own. Sun was still pretty warm, considerin’ and both of us was wishin’ maybe we’d brought a couple of cold beers. Would have helped take the edge off our fear, too, I s’pose. But they were beers we hadn’t thought to bring, so it didn’t do anyone any good worrying about them. Martin directed me, and I wasn’t at all surprised to recognize the grove of sycamores where I’d rescued the Duchesne boys.
But as we approached the grove, something started happening. I heard a buzzing in my ear, and I kept slapping at it, thinking it was a swamp fly that just wouldn’t take the hint. Through the buzzing, I swore I thought I heard a voice, low and clear. It spoke to me directly, calling me by name. I almost recognized the voice.
Jean-Baptiste, it said, he’s going to kill you. He brought you here to give you to his god. He’s lying to you.
I just kept slapping at the buzzing, hoping the voices would go away, and wondering if this is what that guy up in New York felt like — the guy who said his dog told him to kill all them women.
That voice kept on a-talkin’, though. Sweet and honest and true, it told me that Martin was sent by Olivia to trap me and kill me, and that I needed to strike first, or he was gonna.
I looked at Martin, and he was staring at me strangely. He opened his mouth to speak and thick black ichor poured out. Then he grinned at me with black-stained teeth and hissed like a snake. I could see him slowly reaching into his pack, and so before he could strike, I jumped on him, wrapping my hands around his throat and screaming at him. I don’t even remember what I was saying, I just kept screaming and he just started laughing. He had his hands around my throat, too, me screaming and him laughing, and we were killing each other, killing each other, killing each other, and suddenly we were underwater, and the water was enough to wake us up from whatever nightmare we were trapped in, and what I saw when I opened my eyes nearly caused me to suck in a lungful of water.
I don’t know who dragged who to the surface, but Martin and I made our way back in to the air again, only once took a great gasp of air, he just kept repeatin’ a bunch of nonsense, babblin’ about a thousand eyes and talking in that strange language I’d heard Levi Duchesne speak. I was still terribly disoriented, but I could see that only one of our boats was afloat. The boat with the dynamite in it had been pulled under, and as it was tethered to the other boat, it was pulling it down with it.
I acted as quickly as I could, helping Martin into the sinking boat, and grabbing a knife out of his fishin’ bag. I sawed away at the rope until it snapped, and as the weight dropped away, I got myself into the boat and started bailing water as best I could. When there was no longer danger of us sinking, I started rowing us to shore. Neither one of us spoke a word to the other, but it was clear to me that we hadn’t been in control of ourselves. I rounded a bend, and saw a place to go to shore — I didn’t want to be out on the bayou a moment longer. I started rowing harder, eager to get to the shore, when suddenly it was like the boat just disappeared out from under us. I could hear screaming in my head — screaming and laughter. At least, I think it was laughter. The boat was reduced to toothpicks, and Martin and I found ourselves splashing in the water again, gasping for breath and shaking with terror. I felt something grab my leg and pull me under, then let me go long enough for me to get to the surface and take a gasping breath of air, only to grab me again and pull me under again. I struggled to make my way to the land, which was only a few yards away. If I could just break free, I could make it. But that thing was playing with me, laughing at me, just waiting for my strength to give out.
I had no idea where Martin was, or if he was still afloat — I was fighting for my own life at that point, and it was getting dark and hard to see. I went under again for what I feared was the last time, when suddenly I heard what I thought was an explosion, followed by screaming inside my head, as Chuk released me. I came back to the surface and slowly made my way forward in the water, struggling to remain conscious. Another explosion filled the air, followed by sparkles and colors, shooting like comets across the evening sky. It was two weeks past the 4th of July, but it seemed that some kids still had some left over whizz-bangers.
A few feet away, I saw Martin floating beside me, still alive, but straining to stay above water. I made my way to him, and together, we found our way to dry land. We crawled ashore, barely alive, but still breathing, but when we looked up and saw Stephen Hereford standing there waiting for us, I didn’t hold out much hope for how much longer we’d be breathing.
“Come with me!” he yelled, holding out his hand. “Quickly!”