Celine wasn’t handling her newfound knowledge well. She woke up screaming, and Oscar had to hold her like she was a little girl until she stopped shaking. He had done his best to protect her from all this. She likely heard about the missing kids long after the fact, as she grew up, but at the time, he’d insulated her from it completely. She was only a little girl, and he hadn’t wanted her to be afraid.
He raided Luanne’s medicine bag and found a treasure trove of pharmaceuticals, and it wasn’t too hard to find what he was looking for.
“Here, ma cher,” he said tenderly, “take these. They’ll help you rest, I promise.”
He hoped he wasn’t starting her down the same path as her mother, but reasoned that a couple of Valium wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
He sat with her and held her hand, her squeezing his so tightly it was cutting off his circulation. When she finally started to relax, and he pulled his hand away, he had to shake it to get rid of the pins and needles feeling. Sitting with her for a couple of minutes more to make sure she was asleep, he was reminded of how many times he’d done this very same thing. Years ago, before he believed in monsters, before he’d become a drunken wreck of a man, he had looked down on his little girl with love and pride. She was a pain in the ass when it came to bedtime, and he and Lu had to sit with her to get her to sleep until she was nearly seven years old.
Out of habit, he quietly crept away, tip-toeing as to make sure he didn’t make the floor creak, and snuck out of her room. He went to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face and looked at himself in the mirror through his sausage fingers.
“Your daddy’d be ashamed of you,” his reflection accused him. “God, what happened to you?”
He knew the answer, of course. Chuk happened to him. Chuk, and Darrel Duchesne, of course. The summer of ’98 took many casualties, and sometimes Oscar thought that he would have been better off if he’d actually died completely that summer, instead of just his spirit. He’d been wounded beyond repair, and he’d been self-medicating to cope. He’d gotten soft — and not just fat — but weak.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. He’d only just fallen asleep anyhow, reading some of Jean-Baptiste’s journal entries from the later part of the ’80s and early ’90s. Nothing much of interest, there. Local gossip, a couple of stories about some of the more ridiculous stories he’d heard about Remy LeVert. Jean-Baptiste had started giving his own tours of the Bayou at some point, and was having fun winding up the tourists.
Then in the summer of ’93, Jean-Baptiste seemed to get paranoid, looking to see monsters around every corner. Problem was, there wasn’t any to be found. Things were quiet, and after a while, he began to relax. Everyone had, as he remembered it. Remy LeVert had become a local joke. A spook story — eat your collard greens or Remy LeVert will get you! Good boys and girls go to sleep when they’re told, bad boys and girls hear the call of Remy LeVert and go wandering off, never to be seen again.
Oscar now recognized that time as the calm before the storm. Jean-Baptiste wrote in his journal that he’d marked the summer of ’92 on his calendar as when the next cycle should have been. As each year passed after that, he began to equally worry that something bad was coming, or else allow himself the hope that it could possibly be over.
Then in April of 1998, the mutilated body of eight-year old Alex Toussaint washed up on the dock in front of Mel’s Bar and Grill.
From the Journal of Jean-Baptiste Levesque
April 25, 1998
I was mowing the grass around the cemetery when I heard the screams. A couple of kids were there, too, picking the wildflowers that grew there and making bouquets. Little Marla Bergeron — the spitting image of her grandmere at that age — was looking after Oscar’s little one. A tow-headed girl by the name of Celine, calls me grampa Jean, and loves to ride on my shoulders and rub my bristly hair, which is almost all white now, but at least I still got it all.
It was one of the DuBois girls found it. The body, that is. It’s been awfully warm for April, and as it was a Saturday, all the kids was out playing, some of them swimming. I always said you’d be a damn fool to let your kids swim in that bayou, what with the gators and cottonmouths about, but then, I ain’t got kids, so I best keep my mouth shut ’bout things I know nothin’ of.
Ellie DuBois came screamin’ up the hill, crying and wailing like she was running outta hell with the devil on her heels. She was holding onto something real tight, her little fingers clamped down hard in panic.
“Unca Jean! Unca Jean!” she was yelling as she ran up the path the the cemetery. A lot of the kids in town have taken to calling me that — like they’ve all adopted me. As she got closer, I could see what it was she had in her hand, and I felt my gorge rise, and I thought I just might throw up my lunch.
“Marla!” I yelled. “Li’l sugah, you take that little one to her daddy. Or her grandpere, if you can. Go on, get out of here. Take her to her daddy, and tell him to get here right quick.”
Ellie came through the cemetery gates holdin’ that boy’s severed arm so tightly, I had to pry her fingers off it to get her to drop it. I wrapped my arms around her and told her help was on the way.
Help was on the way, of course. Marla Bergeron had been babysitting Celine that day, Oscar remembered. He’d come home for lunch and Luanne had been looking so good that he ended up sticking around after lunch for a bit of dessert. Those days, having the house to themselves was a rare occasion indeed.
She would have only been maybe eleven or twelve at the time, but he and Luanne knew Marla to be a responsible girl, real level-headed. Celine loved her to bits, and followed her around like a puppy. He was just dressing and getting ready to go back to work when Marla burst through the door, carrying little Celine piggy-back, both of them wailing and crying.
Oscar had been police for about two years at that point, followed his father into the service. His daddy could have been Chief if he’d had the right last name. As it was, that job belonged to Taylor Gillette. Protocol said that he call Chief Gillette, but his gut told him to call his father, and so that’s what he did. Together, they met Jean-Baptiste and the little DuBois girl in the cemetery, and then down to the dock, where they called in proper back up and hauled the remains out of the water.
From the Journal of Jean-Baptiste Levesque
May 2, 1998
Thierry tells me that the boy they pulled out of the water was a student from a neighbouring parish, reported missing a month or so ago, and that they figure he’d gone swimming somewhere further down the bayou and had a run in with a gator. Neither of us mentioned the summer of ’77, but I’ve no doubt he was thinking it the same as I was. Was this just an isolated thing? Or something worse?
I ran into Leroy down at Mel’s, and I got to say, I ain’t too impressed by how that boy turned out. Maybe I’m to blame, at least partially, for takin’ his daddy away from him, but mama always told me that at a certain point, a man makes his own choices. He’s doing business with Elmer Cayce, who’s helping him open up his own BBQ shack — not much more of a lunch counter, servin’ up pulled pork. Ain’t the same clientele as Mel’s, so Elmer, he ain’t worried ’bout the competition. He’s supplying Leroy with beer, and for the sake of my friends — both Elmer and Leroy, I hope that’s all they’re into together. I heard rumours about something else coming into Bayou Bonhomme, and we got enough trouble here without bringing that evil methamphetamine into the mix.
Young Victor’s working for Mel, too, and I feel terrible for that boy. If I could, I’d find a way to get him out of this horrible town. Mel’s started calling him Varney, as in Varney the Vampyre like those old pulp horror stories, and even trots him out as a peculiarity for the tourists and monster hunters. Man should be ashamed of himself. Thank goodness the apple falls very far from the tree. Elmer’s daughter Melissa is sweet and kind, a credit to her good-hearted mother. I’m pretty sure poor Victor’s sweet on the girl. When we get together to play chess or sometimes backgammon, she’s all he talks about. Well, that and his GameBoy, which is the most remarkable thing. He gave me a turn on it the other day and I never laughed so hard.
The thought of Jean-Baptiste playing video games made Oscar laugh, too. He missed the old man something terrible. He remembered those first few days clearly. The first body was a tragedy — just an awful tragedy, but early on, nobody thought it was anything other than an accident. It had been more than twenty years since anything horrible had happened in Bayou Bonhomme, and there hadn’t been anything unexplained or unexplainable happen in all that time. Oscar had heard the stories, but dismissed them as the superstitious ramblings of the old guard. He’d forgotten his own brush with the supernatural, and couldn’t even bring himself to start down that path of thinking.
Then the missing posters started turning up, one or two a week. Something else was going on.
From the Journal of Jean-Baptiste Levesque
June 6, 1998,
Something is happening. I ain’t sure it’s Chuk, either. My granpere believed there were monsters in the bayou, even if he didn’t believe in C’thuN’Chuk. Someone, or something, is taking children. There have been six so far that we know of, and only the one has been found — most of him, anyhow. There been rumours that some of the Toussaint boy was missin’ some pieces, but I ain’t got the gaul to ask Thierry or Oscar ’bout that.
Kids are scared, parents, too. The idea that someone in town could be snatching kids made people paranoid and suspicious. Some of the older folks give me dirty looks on account of my dad, and that I never married, so of course I must be some sort of deviant.
I don’t care too much about that. I got one concern only, and that’s young Marla. She came by the cemetery this morning, as she sometimes does, just to hang out. She’s not supposed to hang out with me — her mama don’t like it at all — but I reckon her gramma Josie must have told her it was okay, and I’m not about to rat her out. I made a promise to look out for her, and I’ll stand by that.
She was mighty scared, as everyone was, but Marla had another, more personal reason to be afraid. Oh, the poor girl! Being born into that family was bad enough, and now this.
“I’m scared, Papa Jean.” She had tears in her eyes.
“Oh, I know, l’il sugah,” I said, giving her a hug. “But I won’t let nobody snatch you up.”
She shook her head. “No, that’s not what I’m afraid of. Not really.”
I smiled at her. What a brave little girl.
“Then what is it?”
“My uncles,” she said, and the look on her face was she’d just bitten down on something rotten.
I know Marla’s family. The only uncle I know of was her uncle Charlie, who everyone in town knew was what’s politely called a lifelong bachelor, though, I suppose as I’m a lifelong bachelor as well, the term is kind of misleading.
“Your uncle Charlie?” I asked. “Why on earth would you be afraid of him?”
“Not Charlie,” she said. “The other two. The ones Aunt Olivia calls my uncles. They’re not my real uncles.”
“Gilles,” I offered, and she nodded. “And t’other one, too. Darrel.”
She nodded again, and wrapped her arms around me and squeezed me so hard I could barely breathe. I found myself wishing again that something bad could have happened to them while they were off in Panama or wherever it was they were. But Bayou Bonhomme wasn’t that lucky, and so the boys came home, and started up a cleaning service, of all things. They did some janitorial work, cleaning motels and schools and such.
The tears in her eyes made me furious, but I did my best to hide my rage for Marla’s sake.
“Why, sugarbee? What’d they do to you?”
“Nothing,” she shook her head. “Nothing, really. They look at me funny sometimes, and when they touch my hair, they make me feel all creepy. And sometimes I hear them talking, when they don’t think I’m listening.”
“What’d they say?”
“They were talking about their time in time in the Army or Marines or whatever, and things they did. Things they did to girls. Awful things. And then, one time, I heard them talking about that guy in the Bible — Jesus’ friend John the Papist.”
“Baptist, sugarbee,” I laughed. “John the Baptist. Like me. Jean-Baptiste.”
“Right,” she tried smiling. “John the Baptist. Uncle Gilles was telling his brother that he was like John the Baptist. I don’t know what they meant by that, but they scare me. I can’t hardly stand to be in the same room with either of them.”
“I don’t rightly know, Marla,” I told her. I been thinking about it, though. I can’t stop thinking about it. John the Baptist. What the hell was that all about?
Oscar’s hands shook, and he had a hitch in his throat as if he might throw up. John the Baptist. It might not have meant anything to Jean-Baptiste, but it was like a punch in the guts to him. Words echoed down through the years, laughing at him. Blood-soaked words that he’d puzzled over and heard over and over again in his nightmares.
I’m just a man, but he who comes after me is not a man…
Oscar ran to the bathroom and threw up until was an empty, quivering lump curled around the base of the toilet.