Oscar woke up hungry, and went to ask Celine if she wanted to grab some breakfast. He found her sitting up in her bed, asleep with the Levesques’ journal open on her chest. She was sucking her thumb — something she still did when she slept, even though she didn’t think anyone knew. It made her look like a child, which was fine by him. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t always like the young woman she’d grown up into, and he knew that was probably his fault. He remembered her as a little tomboy, catching frogs and chasing boys for the purpose of pulling their hair and teasing them. He supposed that at some point, the whole purpose of chasing them evolved into something else altogether. He thought about his working relationship with Marla, and berated himself for not encouraging Celine more. She could have been a real ally in this, instead of… well, he hated to think it, but baggage. And now he’d dropped this bomb in her lap.
Poor kid, he thought, she’s going to have a million questions.
He scribbled a quick note for her and went out for coffee and donuts.
July 8, 1985
The ghosts have become something I’ve gotten used to, and while I still see them from time to time walking along the bayou road, the phone calls have gotten to be few and far between, and ain’t none of them come visiting anymore. Ain’t heard nothing from that thing out in the swamp, neither. Not that he hasn’t been sighted by all sorts of folks. This past year, Bayou Bonhomme has seen more visitors than we’ve ever had before, and would you believe we’ve become something of a tourist attraction? Well, I never in a million years would have predicted that she would ever have been so brazen, but it seems Olivia Hereford thinks the town needed an injection of outside money into the local economy. So it was that this past Fourth of July celebration, Mayor Quincy DuBois declared Bayou Bonhomme the Official Home of Remy LeVert, and unveiled the new town sign, complete with a painting of this big green creepy looking fella that was supposed to be Ol’ Remy, I suppose, though he looks like a big green ape to me. Oscar showed me a comic book, said the guy on the sign was this Swamp Thing fella. Some English writer named Moore was making him real popular right now. The picture he showed me had this pretty white haired woman — Oscar said her name was Abby — nestled in the arms of this Swamp Thing, like they was lovers or something. Tell la verite, like my old friend Martin would have said — it done creeped me right out. All I could think of was Olivia Hereford wrapped up in C’thuN’Chuk’s arms, or tentacles or whatever it had. That anyone would be drawn to a monster like that — something so inhuman — was just beyond my understanding.
By the end of the day, folks was takin’ their boats out into the Bayou, gone hunting for our local monster Remy LeVert. I couldn’t help but wonder what they’d do if’n they found him.
“This can’t be true,” Celine said, putting the book back in her father’s hands and smiling uneasily.
The big man nodded. “How much did you read?”
“All of it – well most of it anyhow. That stuff at the beginning was mostly French, and I couldn’t make out most of it so I just skipped ahead. I read all about your ghost girlfriend and then I went back and read what came before. This is all crazy talk, right? I mean, Mr. Levesque gave monster tours of the bayou, and he made up all kinds of crazy shit. One time, he told a bunch of tourists that Remy LeVert was actually a centuries old shape-changing vampire who’d fled the town of ‘Salem’s Lot after being chased out of there by a librarian and a cheerleader who was secretly a vampire slayer.”
Oscar laughed. “Yes, J-B loved to fuck with the tourists, that’s for sure.”
“And another time he didn’t even bother to dress it up. He actually told a bunch of people from Delacroix that Remy LeVert had been a scientist working in the swamp, and had an accident that transformed into the monster he is now. That’s the plot of Swamp Thing! I saw that stupid movie same as you.”
“It was terrible, I know,” he shook his head. “I’m sorry I made you watch that. I loved the comics when I was a kid.”
She ignored him. “So what makes you think that the things he wrote in that book are any different?”
Oscar stared at his coffee and sat down next to her.
“How much do you remember about the summer Grandpere died?”
November 9, 1986
They’re shipping the Duchesne boys out, and good riddance. They both enlisted in the Marine Corps, the younger boy as soon as he turned 18, and it looks like Bayou Bonhomme might be rid of them for a spell. C’thuN’Chuk might be quiet (or dead? God, could it be true?) but then, as my grandpere knew, and my daddy, too, that thing ain’t the only monster in Bayou Bonhomme. Gilles got into trouble a while back after attacking a high school girl. I don’t know the details, only the local gossip, but I suppose the fact that he ain’t in jail says all I need to know. Is it too much to ask that something bad might happen to the two of them down in whatever drug-dealing little Latin American country they’re being sent to?
Colette Bergeron and her husband are expecting a baby. I happened upon Josie Ammon down at the video store, and she insists she’s far too young to be a grandmother, but I can tell she’s thrilled about the prospect. Thrilled and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I flirted a bit with her — can’t help myself, I guess. I’ve loved that woman my whole life. Told her that if the baby got her looks, she’d be a lucky one indeed.
“Yeah, but what if the baby’s a boy?” she laughed, and the sound was like sweet jazz to my ears.
She promised to come by and visit, and bring pictures of the baby when it was born, but I ain’t goan hold my breath.
Claire Hendricks (although of course, she’s gone back to callin’ herself Claire Bergeron since her husband disappeared, on account of that name pulls an awful lot of weight around here) opened up a sort of museum and gift shop, the theme bein’ our local legend, Remy LeVert. There’s all sorts of supposedly historical documents — newspaper clippings and the like — about the town, and the legends surrounding our swamp monster. Ain’t nobody callin’ him C’thuN’Chuk, though — they ain’t that bold — but some of the news stories they’ve got hanging on the walls of that little store of hers… It’s like salt being rubbed in an open wound. ‘Course, most of the stories they got there are nonsense — that famous tabloid picture of the blurry swamp man, conspiracy theories about the disappearance of those army boys back in ’41 — but nothing recent. There weren’t nothing about any of the gruesome murders that have happened over the years, nothing about the Children’s Parade in 1977, and there wasn’t anything about no religion that worshiped that swamp thing. And you can bet your ass there weren’t no mention of the Herefords or the Bergerons bein’ involved in anything unsavory. Mostly, the whole place — which she’s called The Good Man of the Bayou — is basically a way to fleece the tourists by sellin’ them bumper stickers, T-shirts, key chains and postcards with Remy LeVert slogans like “I Believe in Remy LeVert” or “Swamp Monsters are Sexy” on them.
If Chuk is still alive (and I can only hope he’s not), I wonder what he makes of all of this. People talking openly about him like a mythical creature, nobody really believing, folks just getting caught up in the thrill of the legend — most of which I’ve overhead is complete bullshit. At one point he was worshiped as a god, and some folks here in town made sacrifices to him. Now, he’s a spook story, a town mascot — a T-shirt. And as for the religion — well, maybe Olivia Hereford and her group know something the rest of us don’t. Maybe Chuk’s alive and just sleepin’. But it’s nearly ten years on from the summer of ’77 and I ain’t seen anything in years. Far as I know — and I been watchin’ — there ain’t been no midnight meetings or strange baptisms out on the bayou. Maybe the nightmare is finally over. Nothin’ lives forever, after all.
Celine didn’t say anything for a minute after her father had finished speaking. She’d gone pale, and held on to his arm to help her stand up. He’d started to ask her if she was going to be all right, when she burst out of the room and barely made it to the toilet to throw up. He’d only given her the highlights, leaving out all the horrible stuff about Darrel Duchesne and the missing kids, and more recently, the deaths of Jean-Baptise and Amie LeBeau. She’d be having enough nightmares as it was.
“You’ve…” she paused, threw up again, and come back. “You’ve actually seen this thing?”
She put her head between her knees and began hyperventilating.
“Shh,” he said, rubbing her back. “Take it easy, now, cher. We’re all alive, ain’t we? That’s the most important thing.”
She laughed through tears, then jerked her head up and stared at her father in disbelief.
“What are we doing here? Why aren’t we far, far away?”
“I got to think, that’s all,” he explained. “I got to figure out what to do next.”
“I just told you what to do!” Celine screamed, trembling. “We get in the car and we get mama, and then we drive and never look back!”
Oscar couldn’t blame her. It had been on his mind, too.
“I can’t do that, cher,” he said sadly. “I got friends back there. Folks I care about. I got to go back.”
“I ain’t going back there!”
“I know you ain’t,” he assured her. “We’ll figure something out when the time comes, but no — you and your mama ain’t going back.”
“Daddy? Daddy, you can’t be serious about going back. Are you crazy?”
“Maybe,” he grinned. “Anyhow, I ain’t ready just yet. I need to know your mama’s gonna be okay, and I need to get a hold of some folks in town. I just ain’t a hunnerd percent sure who I can trust.”
“What about Marla?” she asked. “Officer Bergeron, I mean.”
Oscar scratched his face, which badly needed a shave.
What about Marla? he thought. That’s the real question, ain’t it?
April 13, 1987
A knock on the door late at night from a beautiful woman ain’t nearly as common these days as it once was, but thank god for small mercies, it still happens. Josie weren’t at my door for no midnight rendezvous, though, much as I would’ve liked that. Nah, she came by for another purpose altogether, and if it had been anybody else, I would’ve kicked them out on their ass, but Josie’s my weakness, no doubt about it. And no doubt she knows it, too, and that’s why she knows she can come to me when she needs me.
I should’ve been happy to see her, but I’d been to church on Sunday and watched as her grand-daughter, Marla Olivia Bergeron, was dedicated to the Lord. I had all sorts of bad memories about a day years and years before, when Olivia Hereford gave her prophecy in that strange, evil tongue she spoke. Thankfully, the woman kept her mouth shut this time around, but I still felt a chill, like a cold hand gripping my heart, as I watched her stand up at the front of the church as the baby’s chosen Godmother. As she swore that she would help raise the girl in service to the Lord, and be a helper to her parents, and to raise her in the Church, I couldn’t ignore the irony of her promises. I cut out early, not wantin’ to have to play the game of smiling and shaking hands with the Herefords and Bergerons, and went back home and drank myself stupid, drunkenly praying that it wasn’t beginning all over again.
Josie stood in the doorway like one of them vampires that lady over in New Orleans writes about, waiting for me to invite her in. Maybe there was something in my face that told her she weren’t welcome, I don’t know.
“What do you want, Josie?” I asked her, trying to forget my feelings for her.
“Can I come in?” she asked, and of course, I invited her in, fool that I am.
She sat down in my living room, on the same couch where we’d once torn off each others’ clothes, centuries ago, it seemed.
“She’s a beautiful little girl,” I said, breaking the wall of silence that sat between us.
“I won’t let them take her, Jean,” she sputtered, tears suddenly springing to her eyes. “I won’t let them do to her what they…”
“What they?” I asked cruelly.
“What I,” she amended, owning the guilt. “What I did to Colette.”
I didn’t want to know. There are some parts of this that I am in the dark about, and that’s how I want to keep it.
“Horrible,” she cried. “Oh horrible.”
I put my arm around her, despite every instinct to the contrary, but I didn’t comfort her with empty words. I couldn’t tell her “it’s all right” or “it’s going to be fine” or “don’t be so hard on yourself” because I didn’t mean any of that. I love Josie, but she’s had her chance to walk away from this many times, and yet she’s still here. She still stood on that road and stopped Martin Angell and Stephen Hereford from running away. Ain’t nobody had a gun to her head that I’m aware of. And no amount of times she told me that I wouldn’t understand, or that she couldn’t possibly leave, on account of they’d find her and make her pay made me feel any differently on the matter. In fact, I reckon it’s only ’cause I love her that I’m still in Bayou Bonhomme at all. Part of me figures that some day she’ll come to her senses and we’ll leave together.
“What do you want, Josie?” I asked her again, not exactly sure why she was here.
“I need you to look after her, Jean,” she pleaded. “I need you to do all the things Olivia promised to do as her godmother. I need you to make sure she doesn’t fall into this… this… nightmare.”
I laughed at her. I didn’t know what she expected me to do, and I told her so.
“I need someone outside all this, someone who’s good and and noble, and…”
“Stop right there,” I said. “You don’t need to sell it so hard. I don’t got any desire to see your grandbaby end up in the clutches of C–“
“Don’t!” she stopped me with a hand over my mouth. “Don’t say her name!”
“What the hell is going on?” I asked. “Is it — is it dead?”
Josie went pale as moonlight, and shook her head.
“We don’t know,” she whispered. “Olivia says no, but we haven’t even been meeting, and there have been no new initiates since…”
“For a long time,” she finished. “And for a long time…”
Whatever it was, she almost seemed embarrassed to tell me.
“What?” I repeated, not letting it drop. “For a long time what?”
“For a long time, I haven’t felt her. Not in my dreams, not in my head. I can’t hear her voice, I can’t taste her in the back of my mouth, I can’t feel her, Jean. It frightens me.”
“But why are you afraid for little Marla?” I asked, a bit repulsed. “Maybe this is all finished, Josie. Maybe now’s the time to cut loose and get the hell out of here. Leave before the past comes a-callin’. You ever think about my offer?”
She shook her head. “Not now, Jean. Please. My granddaughter is all that matters to me now.”
“So why do you need me looking out for her when she’s got you?”
“You don’t understand, do you?” she asked, frantic. “Olivia has no daughters of her own, Jean. She has no heir. Which means–“
“Which means that you think she’ll want to groom Marla to be the next Matriarch.”
Josie nodded, crying so hard she was unable to speak. I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight.
“Please,” she managed. “Promise me, Jean. Promise you’ll look after my grandbaby.”
What else could I say?