“You know, mon ami,” Leroy told Victor as a pre-amble, “by all rights, I shoulda been mixed up in all a dis from the ver’ beginnin’. Olivia Hereford, why, she’s a cousin of mine. Or an aunt. Or something. Who can keep track?”
Victor didn’t know where the drunk cajun was going with this, so he just listened. It would be another hour or two before Ginger was off work, and he wanted to hear the man’s story. He was especially interested in what had happened to turn his hair all white overnight.
“I knew enough to never trust a Hereford or a Bergeron, but I had no idea why. My daddy died when I was just little, you know, and my mama done put the fear of the devil in me concernin’ them folks. But I never believed in no Remy LeVert.”
Leroy began laughing hysterically, a mad, sick chuckle that was more frightening than mirthful.
“Ah, if only, mon ami. If all there was out in that there bayou was a mossy green fella lonely for friends. That’d be a good sight nicer than what’s actually out there.”
“What?” Victor asked anxiously. “What’s out there?”
Leroy shook his head and shrugged. “Don’t rightly know what it is. But I call her Chuk, and I first met her in the Spring of ’98, right before all them kids started disappearin’.”
“I was workin’ for Mr. Cayce,” Victor said, and shivered in recollection. “I remember.”
Leroy nodded. “My mama, but she was still alive, but she was sick. I was lookin’ after her, you know. Anyhow, I couldn’t never sleep, I was so worried ’bout her breathin’. She’d got the pneumonia the winter before, least that’s what they thought. Ended up being cancer, and she weren’t long for the world after that summer anyway.”
“I remember,” Victor said. “Awfully sorry to see her go, too. Your mama was always nice to me.”
“Yeah, she was a good’un,” Leroy agreed. “Your daddy’n mine was friends, as I heard it. You remember him much?”
Victor’s father had gone off to the Army when his boy was just little, and hadn’t come back.
The vampire of Bayou Bonhomme shrugged. “I wasn’t but five or so when he left. I can’t tell if I remember stuff, or if I’ve just heard the stories about him enough that I’ve made them a part of me, you know? Grampa Jean was more of a daddy to me than anyone.”
Leroy frowned. He’d had a falling out with the old man over who-remembers-what-now, but he’d loved the funny old geezer like he was kin. Now he was gone — one more death to lay at the feet of that fucker out in the swamp.
“I had no idea what I was getting into, you unnerstand,” Leroy explained. “When I went out into the bayou that first time.”
“What happened to Jean-Baptiste, Leroy?” Victor asked, and Leroy waved him away with teary eyes.
“Later,” he said. “If I still got it in me to tell you. But first let me tell you about Chuk, and all the awful things I done.”
Leroy had been bringing Meth into Bayou Bonhomme for about six months before anyone noticed. If it had been the police that noticed, it probably would have turned out differently, but it was Robert Bergeron who caught one of his employees dealing while on a construction site. It only took five minutes of intimidation before that dealer gave Leroy up, and less than twenty minutes later, Leroy found himself being rounded up by Chief Gillette and being brought to the basement of the police station and being thrown in a cell.
“He din’t arrest me or nothin’, Vic, he just threw me in a cell, and cleared out the others. There were a couple of regular troublemakers in the other cells, and after that bastard Gillette threw me in mine, he let the others go. I was gettin’ mighty nervous, and it only got worse when that big Duchesne boy walked in.
Victor looked nervous. “The butcher,” he said.
“Well, yeah,” Leroy agreed. “Gilles. He weren’t the butcher then, a-course. Him ‘n his brother ran some janitorial thing or something at the time. He’s a big scary bastard, that one. And he knows how to throw a punch, lemme tell you.”
The big man didn’t even ask Leroy any questions, he just started beating on him the moment he stepped into the cell. Chief Gillette turned away, and Leroy began to realize that the man wasn’t even really there in any official capacity. Someone else came down the stairs, but Leroy couldn’t make out who it was. He blacked out after a particularly brutal blow to the face, and when he woke up again, he could see three men standing over him. The Chief, Gilles Duchesne, and Robert Bergeron, the then VP of Hereford Construction, the biggest company in town.
Leroy tried talking, but his mouth was so swollen, he didn’t make any sense.
“Don’t bother trying to talk,” Bergeron said. “Just listen. We know it’s you that’s been bringing Meth into town.”
Robert Bergeron wasn’t police, Leroy thought, and that ape Duchesne certainly wasn’t. He began to realize that he was in more trouble than he’d thought.
“That all stops now,” he continued. “Where we go from here, well, that’s up to you.”
Leroy nodded, eyes wide and pleading. “Whatever you want,” he tried to say, and was clear enough to understand, because his captors smiled.
“Good boy,” the Chief said, and threw him an ice pack. “We’ll be back. Rest up, son. You got a big night ahead of you.”
Leroy slept. He’d imagined that he was just going to be dragged off and done away with. People sometimes disappeared in Bayou Bonhomme — he knew that — and who besides his mama would miss him, anyway.
“You gotta understand, Victor,” Leroy pleaded apologetically.”My mama was sick, and I had to pay the bills somehow. They told me they’d take care of my mama, so long as I did as they asked me. Din’t matter, anyhow, did it? Mama didn’t last but a few months.”
“What did they want from you?” Victor wanted to know.
“They let me heal up a couple days. Gilles had fucked me up something good. But after a couple days in a cell, they came to me and told me they had a business proposition for me. Something to help everyone out, they said.”
“You like barbecue, Leroy?” Robert asked.
Leroy looked puzzled, and shrugged. “Sure. Who don’t like a good barbecue?”
“Good,” the man smiled and laughed. “Right. Everyone likes a good barbecue. And you know, this town’s missing a good barbecue shack, wouldn’t you say?”
Again, Leroy nodded. This wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting.
“Well, son, then today’s your lucky day,” the Chief smiled. “Mr. Bergeron here would like to offer you the chance to be your own boss. Legitimate-like. No more bringing drugs into town.”
“Nossir,” Leroy said, shaking his head vigorously. “Only, see, my supplier, he might get pretty pissed at me if…”
“Let us deal with that,” the Chief smiled, and gave a nod to Gilles Duchesne, who hadn’t said a word, just stood there looking threatening.
Leroy nodded in grim understanding.
“I don’t understand what you want from me,” Leroy admitted.
“Nothing,” Robert laughed. “Well, nothing really. We want to help you. I own a small building, used to be a lunch counter back when the offshore oil business was booming, but now it’s not being used for anything. But it’s already got a kitchen set up, and could be ready to be a barbecue shack in a month — maybe less.”
Leroy looked around at the three men, and laughed.
“What’s the joke, fellas?” he asked. “You boys want me to go into business with you? Making barbecue?”
“That’s right,” Robert nodded.
“You dragged me in here and had psycho-boy beat on me all ’cause you want me to make barbecue? Don’t that seem a little strange to you?”
“Well,” Robert admitted, “that’s not even really the strange part, Leroy. The strange part — the part that’s really going to blow your mind — that comes tonight.”
“Gilles,” the Chief said, and the big man grabbed Leroy and held him tightly, pushing him down on his knees. Chief Gillette produced a bottle of a foul smelling black fluid, and held it out to Leroy and told him to drink.
Leroy clenched his teeth so tight he began to tremble. The giant hand of Gilles Duchesne squeezed his cheeks, forcing his lips open, exposing his closed teeth.
“Open your mouth, boy,” Gilles whispered in his ear. His breath was hot and smelled like garlic and fish. “Or I’ll break all them teeth out and mouth-fuck you. Either way, you’re gonna drink what we got for you to drink.”
So Leroy opened his mouth, and the Chief poured the warm black liquid down his throat.
Leroy swallowed despite every instinct to spit it out, and immediately began to scream.
“The next thing I knew, I was on a boat out in the bayou,” Leroy said. “I don’t even remember how I got there, I just remember feeling like I knew just where I was goin’, like I was following a voice, callin’ my name. It was the strangest damn thing, and I don’t know how else to explain it.
“Then there was something callin’ my name, Varney. Something that sounded like it was talking with a mouth full of mud and gravel, callin’ me.”
“Hello?” Leroy said, terrified and excited at the same time. Whatever it was they’d given him to drink, it heightened his senses and made everything seem amplified. He could hear his own heartbeat, smell everything the night air had to offer, hear cicadas and dragonflies and bullfrogs like a symphony.
“L’roy,” the voice called, and the surface of the water became full of thrashing, as dozens of colourless tentacle-like limbs reached out and grabbed the boat and drew it toward a grove of cyprus trees.
Leroy began to cry involuntarily. He was terrified, but it wasn’t just that. His sinuses were exploding with pain, and his teeth were humming like he’d bitten down on tinfoil.
“I am C’thuN’Chukyygl’eh-R’yleh,” a voice said. It sounded like it was coming from underwater. Leroy couldn’t see anything other than the tentacles that held his boat tightly against the roots of the cyrus grove.
“Where are you? What are you?” Leroy asked in awe.
A rumbling, wet chortling sound, a sort of laughter, was the only response he got.
“Why am I here?”
Several grey slug-like things, like enormous leeches, began moving toward Leroy, and the man began to panic. More wet laughter echoed across the bayou. The grey things crawled into the boat and curled up like puppies at Leroy’s feet — half a dozen of them at least, each of them the size of a man’s arm.
“What are these?” Leroy asked, terror in his voice. Terror, and curiosity. “What are you?”
“Do you really want to know?” the thing that called itself C’thuN’Chukyygl’eh-R’yleh asked, and Leroy thought he heard a malicious sort of humour in its voice.
“Yes,” Leroy said without thinking.
“Very well,” C’thuN’Chuk said, and opened its eyes. All of them. Leroy found himself staring into a thousand strange and ancient eyes, so inhuman and alien that his mind shut down for a moment, and he threw up. His nose started bleeding, and the humming in his head was nearly intolerable.
“Your primitive mind cannot comprehend me. I have seen the birth of stars, and the death of entire galaxies. I was old when the universe was young, and I will be drawing breath long after this world is dust. I have eaten every creature that walks on legs or scurries along on its belly, and I could devour your mind and leave you an empty husk, or I could eat you all with one bite. Don’t try to understand what is so far beyond the scope of your existence, L’roy. It will only drive you mad.”
“What… what do you want from me?”
“I need you to take my flesh to my servants.” C’thuN’Chuk answered.
“Your… flesh?” Leroy sputtered, still gagging and spitting out bile. He kept his eyes closed. It helped. A little.
“My flesh, you shaved ape. The creatures at your feet. Take them to the Her’fords. They will know what to do. Next time, bring a bag.”
“Next time?” Leroy asked, but the thing had retreated into the swamp, and wasn’t talking.
Victor grabbed the bottle from Leroy and took a deep swig. He’d felt that same strange headache when he’d been up in that tree watching the hooded figures carry Amie LeBeau’s body out into the bayou. He couldn’t imagine meeting that thing face to face.
“What did it look like?” he asked.
“Horrible,” was all Leroy could manage. “Horrible. Like nothing you can imagine. I’ve only ever seen part of her, and I don’t dare look for very long. It’s got a body of some sort, I imagine, though mostly I’ve only ever seen its tentacles — it’s got dozens, maybe hundreds of them — and I’ve seen what passes for it’s mouth. It looks like an open wound full of teeth — rows and rows of ’em, like a shark’s. Her eyes… I saw the universe in her eyes… and it nearly killed me, Victor. I hope you never see it. I never want to see it again.”
“But you did, right?” Victor asked.
“Ain’t you figgered it out, yet?” Leroy laughed, a sickly sound. “I been cookin’ up that thing’s babies for the last fifteen years. Those folks you seen takin’ Amie LeBeau’s body into the bayou, they used me. They wanted me to set up the BBQ Shack and feed Chuk’s flesh to the whole town.”
Victor looked sick. “But why? Why would they want that?”
Leroy shook his head. “I ain’t got it in me, Vic. I’m bushed. And I think I’m goan be sick. I’ve written down most of the rest of what I know. The last time I met with Chuk, he… well, you might say, he forced himself on me, and showed me things.”
“I can’t explain it now. Come with me to my car, I got the papers there. You can read it if you like, but it’s likely to give you nightmares. Me, I’m goan go to the alley and throw up until I can’t throw up nummore, and then I’m goan sleep like the dead.”
Victor helped Leroy out to his car to retrieve the papers that held the account he’d spoken of, then put an arm around him and propped him up against the wall of the motel, where he emptied his stomach of all of its contents and then some.
“I’m glad you told me ’bout all this,” Victor said as he helped Leroy lay down on a pile of blankets in the corner of the motel room after he was done vomiting.
“Really?” Leroy laughed weakly. “And why’s that?”
“Well, tell the truth, I always wondered, in the back of my mind about you.”
“Well, all them kids that gone missin’. I heard Mel talkin’ one night to Jean-Baptiste. He was sayin’ how you was always sneakin’ out into the bayou at night, and, well…”
Victor didn’t want to say it, but he did anyway.
“Mr. Cayce, he thought maybe it was you was killin’ those kids, and dumpin’ their bodies out in the bayou.”