C’thuN’Chuk’s voice coming out of her mouth. There was nothing more exquisite; more transcendental.
She had gone into the bayou herself for this piece of sacred flesh, and C’thuN’Chuk had honoured Olivia with her awesome presence, if only for a moment. She was not so foolish or unafraid of C’thuN’Chuk’s terrible power that she dared gaze into her many eyes for more than a heartbeat. Even this moment of profound glory left her feeling overwhelmed and trembling in reverence and awe.
Biting down on the thick grey flesh, she savoured the musky taste of the black ichor that flowed down her chin and on to her naked chest. She might not be much to look at anymore, but when she took communion, she felt like she was a young woman again, lusty and firm and ripe, and while she might be getting on in years, everything still worked, and she needed no lover to take her pleasure, not when the blood of her god was coursing through her.
So hungry, Olivia. So terribly hungry. I need you.
Marla’s face surfaced in her mind, and Olivia felt a wave a hatred and resentment. Did C’thuN’Chuk want her or her young protégé? Was she being replaced already? Olivia’s heart ached with a stab of jealousy. Once, long ago, she had watched her great-grandmother, Marie Hereford, walk into the bayou and give herself to C’thuN’Chuk. Her Granny Marie had lived forever, and was ready to die. She had given Olivia so much wisdom and instruction before she had gone. She had explained to her why she was going into the bayou herself rather than offer up one of the Faithful, as was the tradition.
“I’ve earned this,” she said, not sadly, but with a smile on her face. Olivia never forgot that look. “I hope that one day, you will have this honour as well. You are the Matriarch now, Olivia. Serve her well.”
Olivia had tears in her eyes that day as she said good-bye; now she was filled with selfish anger.
“No!” she screamed through gritted teeth. “Not me! Not today! Take her instead!”
So hungry, C’thuN’Chuk replied, speaking through Olivia’s mouth, and flooding her body with endorphins. So very hungry. Tell, me, Olivia — do you love me?
“Yes,” Olivia sighed, her anger dissipating as she suddenly felt elated with pleasure. “Always.”
You would never let anyone hurt me?
Olivia thought that this was a strange question. She thought it absurd that anyone could possibly hurt C’thuN’Chuk. Surely she could protect herself from any danger.
“Of course not,” she promised. “I would kill anyone who even thought about hurting you. I love you.”
Then feed me, Olivia. I’m hungry and I grow impatient. Feed me, and protect me, or I will walk every one of you disgusting things into the water. I will bring the hurricane and the flood like you have never seen before, and wipe this unfaithful town away, and the name of Hereford will be disgraced and forgotten.
Olivia closed her mouth, and then opened it again to reply; to beg for mercy and forgiveness; to assure her god that she remained faithful, but she found herself breathless and unable to speak. She could no longer feel C’thuN’Chuk’s presence, and she felt terribly cold, and not just because the water of her bath had lost its warmth. She felt a catch in the back of her throat, and before she could stop herself, she began to vomit all over herself. Thick black liquid poured out of her like a flood, and she began to weep in terror. She’d felt the presence of her god since she was a little girl — even before she communed with C’thuN’Chuk, or taken her into her body sexually. Now, for the first time that she could remember, she could not feel her. She’d never felt so terribly afraid or alone.
“Oh, god,” she wept, “is this what the unfaithful feel like all the time?”
Across town, in the back room of Bonhomme Meats & Deli, a cell phone began to ring. The only time this phone ever rang was when Olivia needed something. Gilles Duchesne pulled himself away from what he was doing and picked up the phone.
“Hello, Mother,” he said, knowing that she hated when he called her that. But he had spent his entire life resenting her, and sometimes that resentment even wavered into hatred. Mostly he was just tired of doing her dirty work without reward. Olivia kept telling him that he was special — that his faith was stronger than anyone else’s — but she had no idea how it felt to be on the outside looking in.
“Gilles, it’s time,” she said.
Gilles was losing his erection.
“What, now?” he said, not hiding the frustration in his voice.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Olivia said, clearly not sorry at all, “were you entertaining?”
He looked over at the body bent over a worktable and sighed. “She’ll keep.”
Gilles had been fucking the corpse of a hooker that he’d snatched from an Econo Lodge in New Orleans East. She hadn’t started out a corpse, of course, but she wouldn’t stop screaming, and he’d gotten a little over-enthusiastic with a meat tenderizer, and at some point during the last half hour or so, she must have expired. That wasn’t a problem for him — he didn’t care whether they were alive or not — but once they died, they usually only kept fresh for two or three days afterward, and if Olivia was going to have him running errands, well, that just spoiled everything.
“Good,” Olivia said. “I need you to fetch Marla. Today. And have you taken care of Colette?”
Gilles held his breath. He sometimes did this to calm himself. He didn’t know what he was going to say just yet. He’d promised not to hurt Colette, and he hadn’t, not really. He’d explained the rules to her, and so far, she’d been good. As long as she didn’t scream, he wouldn’t lose his temper. And she didn’t want him to lose his temper. Chained to the wall in the corner of the room, Colette had watched him lose his temper with Amber — or was it Andie? The dead girl he’d just been fucking had screamed, and Colette had watched on in horror as he’d brought the heavy wooden mallet down on her head again and again and again.
But she hadn’t screamed. And so she was safe from Gilles’ temper for now.
“Colette won’t be a problem,” he said, winking at the woman in the corner. He held a finger to his lips, warning her not to make a sound.
“Good,” Olivia sighed. “Bring Marla to me immediately. Do not hurt her unnecessarily. I don’t want her to suffer.”
Gilles grunted, and turned away from Colette. He fingered old scars on his bare chest, reminders of old debts that had finally been settled. Olivia had forbidden any revenge on that old man for a long time, too, and now here she was again, forbidding that he hurt Marla. Marla, who had always acted like she was too good for him, and looked at him like he was some kind of monster. He’d wanted to hurt her for a long time, but would never dare. Anyhow, it didn’t matter anymore.
“That might be a problem,” he mumbled.
“Why?” Olivia asked, annoyed.
“She’s gone,” he said plainly.
“What do you mean, she’s gone?”
“Can’t find her. Been watching her place — hers and that chewed up Cayce cunt’s — and she ain’t there. She’s gone.”
Olivia screamed, and Gilles held the phone away from his head and smiled. He took great pleasure in anything that caused Olivia pain.
“Yeah, she’s disappeared,” he continued. “I hope nothing bad happened to her.”
“You listen to me, you sick fuck,” Olivia roared. “You find her. And if anything has happened to her, I am going to hold you personally responsible. I will gut you like a fish, do you hear me?”
“Really?” Gilles chuckled. “And exactly who are you going to get to do that?”
Olivia was fuming. “How dare you talk to me like this? I am your Matriarch. I hear the voice of god, and I speak for her. She is hungry, and will be fed. Bring me Marla — alive — or I will tell C’thuN’Chuk to take you instead.”
Gilles lost all mirth, and nearly dropped the phone. He’d made damn sure that he’d never so much as tasted that strange flesh — he saw what it did to people. But that didn’t mean that thing out in the bayou couldn’t take him in other ways.
“I’m sorry,” he said, chastened. “But it’s true, what I said — she really is gone. If she’s still in Bayou Bonhomme, she’s hidden real good.”
Olivia considered this. “Maybe she’s not in town. The last time I spoke with her, I told her to take care of two rats — one right here in town, the other… well, I’m not sure where that fat bastard got off to.”
“Blanchette,” Gilles growled. He had a bone to pick with him, too. Several, actually.
“Who else?” Olivia agreed. “Maybe she’s gone off to find him.”
“Maybe,” he grunted, “but that kid Leon was wrong — they ain’t in Greensburg. That idiot must’ve done something to spook the Chief, ’cause they headed out west to Crowley.”
“Well, then go get him. Kill his wife and girl, but bring the Chief back to me alive. You have my permission to have a little fun, but not too much.”
Gilles sighed. “How do you think I know they was in Crowley? The girl called Leon, told them where they were. Do you really think the Chief stayed put after that?”
Olivia cursed violently.
“Find Marla,” she repeated. “Oscar isn’t a threat so long as he stays away — we can deal with him later. But right now, your first priority is to find that girl. You look for her as if your life depends on it.”
Because it does, Gilles thought, finishing what remained unspoken.
Olivia hung up the phone and threw it across the room, where it smashed to pieces on the floor. Then she yelled for Jerome to clean it up, and to make her a Sazerac. Then changed her mind, and instructed him to just bring her a bottle of absinthe and some sugar cubes. She found that absinthe — good absinthe, which she imported from France in a not-strictly-legal fashion — was the only thing that brought her down from the high she got from taking communion with C’thuN’Chuk. It dulled her senses and cleared her scattered mind.
It also made her emotional and nostalgic, and she needed to be alone during these times. She sat in her grandfather’s chair and cried over wedding photos. She’d never loved any man the way she loved Stephen, and he had broken her heart. They should have been together forever, have lots of children to raise in the Faith, and create a legacy that would last for all time. Instead, he lost his faith and betrayed her. She could still see him bearing down on her in that old Eldorado he loved so much. She had thought for sure that he was going to run her down.
When he stepped out of that car, she’d had to restrain herself from grabbing Remy Dubois’ gun and shooting him dead right then and there. But she had stopped herself from being ruled by her emotions then, and she would do so again. She knew the meaning of sacrifice. She had given C’thuN’Chuk the only thing she’d ever loved. She hadn’t hesitated — that had to count for something, didn’t it? She was not ready to sacrifice herself just yet. If C’thuN’Chuk required another sacrifice, she would give her Marla, and in the process, settle all scores. Leroy, Oscar, Melissa Cayce, and if Gilles could not be controlled, then she supposed he would have to go, too. She would give C’thuN’Chuk the whole town if that’s what it took to have another ten — no, twenty — years of power. She could re-build if she had to. Sometimes you needed to prune away the dead branches in order for the entire tree to recover and survive. She wasn’t about to hand over her position as Matriarch to some faithless bitch who would invite her god’s wrath and destroy the town.
The absinthe gave her the clarity she had hoped it would. She would be the town’s saviour — even if she had to sacrifice every man, woman and child to do so — she would save Bayou Bonhomme.