September 3, 1984,
Do you reckon there might be such things as vampires and such?
“Jesus, J-B!” Oscar swore, and nearly tossed the journal across the room. Wasn’t Chuk enough for his poor mind to accept, never mind vampires, or ghosts, or whatever other spooks might be out there?
I have seen some terrible strange things — things any sane person would say could not — must not — exist. And yet they do. I know, I know, it ain’t good for me to be thinkin’ like this, I’m goan turn into a paranoid old man, checkin’ under my bed before I go to sleep, lookin’ for the boogeyman. But, knowing what I know, makes me wonder if folks that write about horrible stuff, why, maybe they just know something the rest of us are too scared to think about.
I been reading this fella from up north, guy by the name of King, and by god, if everything he writes is just his imagination, I’ll take my reality any day of the week. Better the evil you know than the evil you don’t. That last one I read about the little boy comin’ back from the dead was just too much for me, and I ain’t slept proper for weeks now. At least in Bayou Bonhomme, the dead stay put.
Not that there aren’t ghosts…
Oscar put the journal down and listened to the constant beeping of the machine’s by Luanne’s bedside. He knew all about ghosts. He’d been haunted ever since that day he opened up the door to Darrel Duchesne’s basement, as if opening that door had been an invitation to some demon to possess him. He saw their faces in his nightmares — the missing children, most of whom he never recovered. All he had to go on were pictures the parents provided. School photos, mostly. All dressed up in their best clothes, phoney backdrop behind them, practiced smiles on their faces. Their eyes, unblinking, stared at him out of the past, accusing him in his nightmares.
But there was one night, long before he ever knew Chuk existed, before he’d ever even heard that name. He’d heard something. Something that wasn’t right…
He didn’t want to think about it. He’d imagined it, that’s all. Jean-Baptiste had him spooked, and wouldn’t that have made the old man laugh.
Over the last couple of days sitting in the hospital, it occurred to Oscar that some people might not even wait until they were dead to begin haunting him. His wife, though deep in sleep, nonetheless tortured him whenever he closed his eyes.
You lied to me, Oscar. You lied to me, and you kept me in the dark, and you’ve killed me. You’ve killed me just like you killed all those children.
“Stop it!” he moaned, squeezing his head in his hands. He knew he was just imagining it. It was just his guilty conscience bothering him. He’d been a lousy husband and father, and he’d kept secrets that ought not be kept, and he’d put his family in terrible danger. He was beginning to understand why Jean-Baptiste never married; never had any children. To have to live with this responsibility…
September 20, 1984
It has been seven years since that awful summer, and to tell the truth, it’s been mostly calm. There haven’t been any strange lights out on the bayou, or the sound of that unearthly language being chanted in the middle of the night. No, any of the trouble ’round Bayou Bonhomme these days comes from natural causes, or else human ones, anyhow. Chief Dubois had hisself a heart attack, and you didn’t need to be no fortune teller to know that was comin’. That man eats like a hog and burns through a pack o’ Lucky Strikes a day. Well, not anymore, I suppose. Then there was Margot Angell, God bless her. She ain’t been right for a couple a years now, but a’course, I ain’t got a right to intervene in that situation. I done enough already, me and my big mouth. Martin’s boy Leroy came to me ’bout a month ago, all grown up and wanting to know about his pappy.
“I’m ten years old, Monsieur Levesque. I can ‘andle la verite!”
He looks like such a little man now. He’s gonna be a tall, thin one, I reckon. He’s all skin ‘n bones now, looks a bit like a marionette, with sticks for arms and legs. The way he stared me down, I reckoned I owed him at least a bit of the truth. Boy had grown up thinkin’ his pappy had left him and his ma, and me, I was part of that little conspiracy, such as it was. Don’t know if his ma ever really believed it — I ‘spect not, but we never spoke of it after that once.
So I told Leroy that his daddy had hisself an accident, and drowned out in the bayou. That he was old enough to know the truth, and that he shouldn’t hate his pappy, ’cause he was a good man.
Margot, she didn’t like that very much — said I shouldn’t of told him that, and I reckon she was right. But if she’d seen her boy’s eyes that day, she’d of known he weren’t goan let it go without an answer.
But that ain’t why I picked up this book tonight. I s’pose I’m working my way up to the real reason. This here’s an account of anything and everything to do with C’thuN’Chuk and the people of Bayou Bonhomme that call themselves the Faithful. I ain’t sure if this is one of those things, but I’m writing it down anyway because I need whoever reads this to know and understand.
In light of things I’ve seen and heard over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become convinced that there must be more horrors in this world, and that some people know more than they let on. My hands are shaking as I write this, and it seems no amount of whiskey can calm my nerves.
Thierry Blanchette invited me over the other night to watch a movie. He and his wife had gotten one of them Betamax machines and were pretty excited to show it off, I reckon. We watched some movie about a girl who gets kidnapped by ghosts after hearing them calling to her from the TV. It was pretty frightening stuff, and the bit about how the poltergeist had been caused by unrestful dead, why, that unsettled me more than I let on to Thierry. There were a lot of uneasy dead in Bayou Bonhomme. And I had been hearing voices.
As it turns out, I weren’t the only one.
Oscar closed the book. He remembered. He didn’t want to remember. He’d dismissed that memory as a dream. It couldn’t have really happened. That was the summer he thought his parents were going to split up. They were fighting all the time — he learned much later that his father had been having an affair — and he took any opportunity he could to get out of the house. He’d forgotten all about that time, and his imaginary friend. That’s all she was. Wasn’t she?
“Daddy?” Celine stretched and yawned. She’d fallen asleep in a chair. Oscar forgot she was there at all. “What time is it?”
When the nurse had come to tell them visiting hours were over, he had convinced her to let them stay a while longer, but now — now it was nearly one o’clock in the morning.
“It’s really late,” he told her. “You should get back to the hotel, get some rest.”
“Uh uh,” she protested. “You’re coming with me, and I’m drivin’. You look awful.”
Oscar knew she was right. He needed rest. He felt weary right to his bones, and was feeling dizzy and light-headed, and hadn’t had a drop to drink. He tossed her the keys.
“Okay,” he said resignedly. “Thank you, cher.”
Oscar fell asleep in the truck on the way back to the hotel, and when Celine woke him up, he’d been murmuring in his sleep, just snippets and stray thoughts — refugees from the nightmare he’d been immediately plunged into when he closed his eyes.
“What is it?” Celine asked, his own fright reflected on her face. He was clinging to the journal like a security blanket.
He hesitated, and then reached out and cupped his daughter’s face with one trembling hand.
“I love you, cher,” he said as tenderly as he could manage.
Celine put her hand over his own and smiled nervously.
“Daddy, you’re scaring me.”
Oscar smiled weakly back at her and yawned.
“Let’s go inside. I’ve got a story to tell you.”
“No, you do not,” she scolded. “You are going to bed, Daddy.”
“I know, I know,” he replied, waving his hand. “I’m not going to be the one to tell you. Jean-Baptiste will tell you all you need to know.”
He handed her the old leather journal he held in his big hands, hesitated for a moment, and then let go of it, leaving it with her.
“Did I ever tell you how I once spent an entire summer being friends with a ghost?”
Thierry’s son Oscar came to visit me in the cemetery today, and asked me a strange question.
“Can you hear them, too?” he asked. He had a peculiar look on his face. I’d been cutting the grass, and had to turn off the mower in order to hear him properly. I took my headphones off — Thierry had bought me one of them Walkman radios for Christmas, and I liked to listen to the ball games when I did the groundskeeping.
“What was that, son?” I asked him once it quieted down.
He pointed to all the graves around us.
“Do you hear them chatterin’? Is that why you wear the headphones?”
“Oscar?” I understood right away what he was askin’. If I’d been someone else, I might have thought the kid had lost his mind. “Do you hear people chatterin’, son? People that ain’t there?”
The poor kid looked at me with tears welling in his eyes and nodded, looking to me to tell him he wasn’t crazy. I knelt down on one knee and opened my arms up for the boy, who ran to me and gave me a hug and started weeping into my shoulder.
I took him down to Mel’s for a couple of sodas and asked him to tell me what was troubling him. I told him that I’d believe anything he told me, and that if he didn’t want me to talk to his pa about it, I wouldn’t. I didn’t tell him anything about my experiences in town — that’s a hell of a lot to lay on a ten year old boy — but I told him I’d seen a lot of strange things myself, and so I was ready to believe him.
I didn’t tell him about the strange phone calls I’d been getting from long dead soldiers. I didn’t tell him about waking up in the middle of the night and staring out at the bayou and seeing a ghostly parade of children and young men in uniforms, walking along Hereford Lane out toward the highway, and then disappearing. I thought at first they were just leftover terrors — bleed from my nightmares. But it wasn’t just the one time. It wasn’t every night, but there were other times, and I would see them, blinking in and out in the moonlight, walking their final walk, over and over again, trapped in a loop echoing through time.
“You know those kids?” Oscar said in a hushed voice. “The… dead kids?”
I nodded. I knew them too well.
“I hear them sometimes,” he said. “Or at least, I did. I don’t think they’re coming back anymore. Not after I…”
“Did they talk to you?” I asked him, and he nodded without hesitation. No wonder the boy looked pale. “What did they say to you?”
“I’d hear them crying sometimes, at night, and I’d crawl out my window to go look for them, but I could never find them.”
“You shouldn’t go out by the bayou at night, Oscar, you know that.”
He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I can’t sleep with them fighting all the time. I can’t stand it. Why can’t they just love each other and stop yelling at each other? It’s horrible!”
“I know, son,” I told him. “Don’t you worry. Your ma ‘n pa’ll work things out.”
“That’s what she said, too,” he said. “She said her parents sometimes yelled and swore at each other, and then the next thing you know, they’re locking themselves in their bedroom, and then the next day they’re all kissy face and such.”
I grinned. “Yeah, I reckon that’s how a lot of grownups are.”
“Not my folks,” he mumbled. “Daddy’s sleeping on the couch. Mama just cries all night.”
“They’re just working through their problems,” I said. I hope I’m right. Then I said what I thought was best — tried to calm his fears. I reckoned I knew what he’d be worried about. “Your daddy ain’t goan leave you or your mama.”
“She told me they might,” he sobbed. “She said that one day, she went home, and her daddy was just gone!”
“Hey, hey, calm down, Oscar. Who are you talking about? Who said?”
“Elsie,” he said. “My friend Elsie.”
“Just this girl I been hanging out with all summer,” he said, swirling his straw around his glass. “Whenever I needed to get out of the house, I’d go down by the bayou. There’s a tire swing there on a big tree in Mr. Gillette’s yard. I like to go there just to sit and swing. One day I went there and Elsie was sitting there, waiting for me. “
“Who is she?” I asked. “Do you know her folks?”
“She told me her name, that’s all,” he shrugged. “And I thought we was friends. But I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks now. I figured I’d see her at school, but I haven’t.”
“Maybe she was just visiting for the summer,” I suggested. “Lot of summer folks lately, comin’ to look for Remy LeVert.”
Oscar shrugged again. “I guess. But she was weird, J-B. Sometimes I’d be talking to her, and it seemed like she wasn’t hearing me at all. Sometimes, she’d just walk off right in the middle of us talking, and go walking to the bayou. Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for days, other times I’d spend the whole day with her, just talking, swinging on the tire, climbing trees.”
“You ever seen her before this summer?”
He shook his head. “But she wasn’t summer people. She knew the town. We’d play hide-and-seek and she knew all the best places to hide. I don’t know who she was, exactly. But I think…”
“What? Go ahead, son. Say what you’re thinking.”
“It’s stupid,” he said, frowning. “You’ll think I’m crazy. I think maybe I just made her up, you know? Like an imaginary friend.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy,” I said. “I seen enough strange things ’round here that I’d believe just ’bout anything.”
“All right,” Oscar said and looked at me as if challenging me. “I don’t think I made her up. I think she was a ghost. I think she was one of those kids that walked into the bayou. Some of the things she said, they didn’t make any sense. She asked me if I thought drowning hurt. She asked me if I believed in monsters. Sometimes she’d say or ask the same things over and over again, as if she didn’t remember she’d already said them. She told me that every night she went walking by the bayou, and she asked me if I wanted to come with her one night.”
I was horrified.
Oscar went pale and shook his head violently, and then slowly, he nodded.
“About a week ago, I almost did,” he said in a low hush. “I snuck out late at night, and went to go look for her, but I couldn’t find her. I walked down the bayou road, but I didn’t see anybody there. She said a lot of kids went walking at night, but there wasn’t anyone. I heard things, though. Voices. Just talking, whispering, like they was right beside me, walking right with me. I turned and ran home as fast as I could, and I didn’t look back.”
He stared at me, daring me to say something, to contradict him. I didn’t say anything.
“I heard her calling my name, J-B. She was calling me, and I just kept running. And I haven’t seen her since.”
I told him that he wasn’t crazy, but that he should try to put it out of his head. That if he heard any more voices that shouldn’t be there, that he shouldn’t pay them any mind. They couldn’t hurt him, but they shouldn’t be there.
“Tell them to go away,” I told him, as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. “Shut your eyes, count to ten, and tell them to go away.”
I dropped Oscar off with his mama, and apologized for keeping him so long, and then I came straight home and dug into my box. I found the newspaper clippings from May of ’77, and confirmed what I’d already feared. One of the girls that had gone missing was one Elsie Angell. Of course, it had to be her. Martin’s little girl. Poor girl. She wouldn’t know what had happened to her daddy. What must she think when she visits her house, sees her mama crying by herself, sees her little brother, but doesn’t see her pa.
It made me wonder what other sad ghosts were haunting Bayou Bonhomme. Who else was getting visits from dead children, and just keeping it to themselves?
This town is very good at keeping secrets, after all.