At the hospital, there was no change in Luanne’s condition. The doctors were starting to talk to Oscar about the possibility of brain damage, and long-term plans for care. He wasn’t ready to hear any of that just yet. He told the doctors he just wanted to be left alone with his wife, to talk to her about it. They gave him some pamphlets for long-term care facilities and kept telling him that they didn’t have the means to give her the care she needed.
Oscar growled at them. “This is a goddamn hospital, ain’t it? What exactly does she need that you ain’t got here?”
“Please, sir,” the doctor said, holding an array of pamphlets. “There’s no need to…”
“There ain’t no need for any of that,” he barked at the startled man who looked like he wasn’t old enough to shave yet. “My Lu’s a fighter, and she’s gonna come outta this real soon. You’ll see. Now fuck off and leave us be!”
Oscar tried to calm down. He knew it wasn’t just Luanne that had him upset. He was having a real hard time sitting still, and was torn between staying with his wife, who didn’t seem like she was going to wake up any time soon, and returning to Bayou Bonhomme to take care of that thing out in the swamp, and those two-legged monsters that did its bidding.
Reaching out for help didn’t seem to be doing him any good. Neither Leroy or Marla were answering their phones, and Mel’s awkwardness on the phone that morning didn’t do anything to ease his concern.
He’d been reading what was left of Jean-Baptiste’s journal. The older the man got, the less and less he wrote. His writing had gotten harder to make out, but Oscar muddled through it.
From the Journal of Jean-Baptiste Levesque
August 4, 2003
Amie LeBeau is back in town. She came and visited me in the hospital this afternoon, introduced herself. I knew who she was, of course. I stood at her daddy’s funeral and cried. She made no mystery of why she was there. Got straight to the point. She wanted to know what I knew. Said she was lookin’ to write about Bayou Bonhomme. ‘Bout all the bad, secret stuff that gone down here that nobody be talkin’ about.
I tried to tell her to forget about it. I’d just had a heart attack — my second — and I didn’t want to talk ’bout any o’ that.
Then she did something that pretty much broke my heart, and started crying ’bout her daddy. I got to thinkin’ how I din’t have no kids of my own, so there weren’t goan be no Levesque writin’ any more in this here journal once I’m gone. Started me thinkin’ bout why we’d been keepin’ this journal in the first place if it ended up bein’ lost and forgotten.
So I did something selfish and stupid and I made Miss LeBeau a deal. I told her ’bout this box, and the journal. I didn’t tell her any more than that, only told her that if she did me a favour and brought it to me in the hospital, that I would give it to her when I was gone. I made her promise not to open the box, just to bring it to me. I told her it was a matter of trust. I didn’t want her bein’ tempted, like Pandora, to open that box and let all that knowledge out into the world while I was still breathin’.
“After I’m dead and gone,” I told her, “you do with it as you see fit. But give me the respect of heedin’ my wishes, and don’t be peekin’ in that box ’til I’m gone.”
Besides, I didn’t reckon I had much in the way of time, anyhow. If I’d died of that heart attack, the death certificate would have read cardiopulmonary arrest, but then, the doctors wouldn’t have known about the visit I got from Marla Bergeron, or the horrible and impossible phone call I received after the fact. If they had, why, they might be more likely to write Murder.
It’s been a hot summer, and I been sleeping more and more. Can’t help it, the heat just knocks me out. But sleepin’ during the day means sometimes I’m up all night, and things have been happening again out on the bayou. I’m too old to be investigating, but I know I seen lights out there, and I reckon if I’d gone lookin’, I’d have seen folks in white hoods and robes, doin’ all kinds of horrible things out there.
Yesterday, ’round dinner time, I heard a rap on my door, and it woke me up out of a sweet dream. I’d been thinking of Josie, my sweet Josie, with her fiery hair and the taste of the sweat on her skin. I thought I was still dreaming, because the girl who came through my door looked so much like my Josie that it was like gazing back through time.
“Hello, Jean,” she said, and I did a double-take.
“Marla,” I said. “Why, honeybee, it’s been ages. How are you?”
I’d kept an eye on Marla best as I could from a distance, but after that day when her mama threatened me, I kept my distance, lest I end up like my daddy. I have to say, what I seen, even from a distance, had me concerned. She’d been spending an awful lot of time at Hereford House, and I could only assume she’d been talking with Olivia.
“Better than ever,” she said, with a strange twinkle in her eye. I smelled something old and familiar, and if I’d been smarter or younger, I might have recognized it right away. It was a strong, musty smell, part bog-water and part rot.
“Well, that’s good, honeybee,” I said, suddenly aware I wasn’t wearin’ nothing but my boxer shorts. I stood up and made to put my housecoat on, but when I turned to go to my bedroom, I felt her hand on my back. I turned, alarmed and yet strangely excited. Her touch was like electricity, and I felt my breath catch in the back of my throat.
“I’ve missed you, Jean,” she said, and her voice didn’t sound like her own. As she stood closer to me, that smell became stronger. “I’m sixteen now, and mama says I’m a woman now.”
I was paralyzed with a strange mix of terror and arousal. She touched her open palm to my naked chest, and felt my heart thrum in my ribcage like a hummingbird’s wings.
“Does she now?” I managed to whisper.
She nodded and dropped her hand to my boxers, where I’d begun to show. Before I could stop her, she’d wrapped her hand around me and held me tight.
“Hey!” I shouted, shaking myself out of my stupor in embarrassment and shock. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, child?”
I grabbed her hand by the wrist and pulled it away, and when I looked at her face, I saw that her eyes had gone completely black, and her mouth had broken into a hideous grin. Her teeth had black residue like treacle molasses on them.
“You want me,” she said. “Oh you dirty old crow, you want me so badly, don’t you? Do you want to fuck me? Do you want to put your cock in my mouth? Do you? I’ll do things my grandmother never dreamed of, you old pervert.”
I pushed her away from me and felt my legs lose their strength. I tried to stand upright and order her out of my house, but I suddenly found that I couldn’t speak, and that my arm was racing with pain. I collapsed against the wall and glared at her, and she just laughed at me.
I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, louder than drums, louder than explosions, and I could hear Marla — or maybe it was that thing speaking through Marla, I can only hope — laughing at me as she walked out the door. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding, and then the phone started ringing, and I thought that if I could just get to the phone, I could call for help, and so I crawled across the room, which felt like it was miles, and pulled the phone down off my table.
The receiver fell off the hook and immediately began to bleed that black, foul-smelling ooze, and even over the pounding of my heart, I could hear that wet, chortling laughter.
I tried to scream in rage, but instead passed out. When I woke up, I was in the hospital.
It seems that I have failed. Marla has come under the same spell as my poor Josie. Please, Amie, or whoever reads this. Save Marla. I have to believe she can still be saved. Don’t let her fate be that of my Josie. Please save Marla from that thing, and if necessary, from herself.
Oscar felt very uncomfortable reading about Marla like that. He knew that it had to be Chuk’s influence on her, but if he never had to think about he word cock being spoken in such a way by the woman he thought of as a daughter ever again, he would be a happy man. His other daughter — his actual daughter, on the other hand — well, he tried to live in denial about that one. Celine had been trying to get her father’s attention in all the wrong ways, and instead of him giving her what she wanted, he’d responded by ignoring her, deciding that she was going to do what she was going to do, and that nothing he said or did was going to change that. In other words, he was a coward about it. It was easier, he reasoned, to just wash his hands of her than actually be a parent.
Celine was back at the hotel, getting some rest. They’d been visiting in shifts. Oscar’s stomach reminded him that he really hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He called Celine and asked her if she wanted to grab something to eat, and she told him she’d already gotten a burger from the little roadside drive-in beside the hotel.
“Well, shit,” Oscar said. “You wanna come and sit with your mama while I go get something?”
“She ain’t goin’ nowhere, daddy.”
He felt the anger rise in him and swallowed it.
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth, and hung up the phone. He returned back to Luanne’s room and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back in a bit, hon. Don’t go anywhere, you.”
Oscar drove through around looking for somewhere to get some dinner, and finally settled on a drive-thru burger himself. He sat in the parking lot and ate his burger, and when he was finished, he decided to call Mel back.
“Hello, Mel’s; this is Mel,” she answered, yelling in the Chief’s ear.
“Mel, it’s Oscar, everything all right?”
“Hang on a minute, okay?”
Oscar could hear the noise from the bar slowly fade away, as Mel no doubt took the phone into her back room.
“Oscar, Jesus, where are you? The whole town’s fallin’ to pieces!”
Oscar sighed. “I’d rather not say just yet, Mel,” he said. “No offence to you of course. I trust you, it’s just maybe it’s better you not know.”
“You ain’t kiddin’,” she said. “Cops was here this morning bright and early, looking for you.”
That explained her reluctance to talk this morning, Oscar figured.
“Looking for me, huh? ‘Bout what?”
“Well, for starters, Gilles Duchesne is dead. His car was found burnt to ash out at his brother’s old place, with him in the trunk. Cops seemed to think you’d know something about that.”
Oscar didn’t know what to say.
“Hello? Chief? You still there?”
“Yeah, I just… I didn’t know. I ain’t been anywhere near there. What were you saying about Varney?”
“Victor, Oscar! Jesus! It ain’t funny no more. It never was.”
“Sorry, Mel,” he said. “You were saying?”
“I ain’t seen him in weeks — he stopped showing up to work around the same time as you up and left. Did something happen? Why did you leave? And is Marla with you?”
“Fuck!” Mel spat, and Oscar thought he heard panic in her voice. “It’s been chaos around here, Oscar. Victor’s gone, you’re gone, Marla’s gone, and I ain’t seen Leroy, neither, but good riddance on that score, I say. Marla left in the middle of the night, though, without even a good-bye. I figured she’d gone off to meet you.”
“Sorry, Mel. I ain’t seen her. And…” Oscar wondered how much he should say.
“Well, have you called either of them? Marla? Or Leroy?” Mel was frantic. Or angry. Or pissed off. Oscar could never tell with women.
“I have,” Oscar said. “Neither of ’em’s picking up.”
“Well, did you leave a message?” Mel asked, as if it were the obvious thing to do.
“God, you sound like my daughter. Yes I left a message. Well, for Marla, anyway. But that was nearly a week ago, and she hasn’t called me back. I’m worried about her. She may be in trouble. There are things maybe you don’t know, Mel.”
Mel sighed in exasperation. “Yeah, I know. Monsters in the bayou. Scarier monsters in the town. Tell me Chief, just who do I need to be afraid of? Can you tell me that much?”
“Olivia Hereford,” Oscar said without hesitation, and Mel laughed.
“Well of course,” she said. “I been afraid of that bitch my whole life.”
Oscar smiled to himself. “I need you to stay safe. I will be coming back, and when I do, I need to know I can count on you.”
“Of course,” she said, fierce anger in her voice. That was good. She needed to be angry. Oscar could use that.
“If Marla shows up, do you want me to tell her anything?” he asked.
“Nothing I haven’t already told her, Chief. I know how to leave a message.”
“Ha ha,” Oscar deadpanned. “I’ll be seein’ you, cher.”
“Not if I see you first,” she replied and hung up the phone.