Disclaimers: Depending on how sensitive you are, this story might be a bit scary.
Language: Yeah, there's a little bad language in here, but what do you expect from folks who are unnerved?
Violence: Unfortunately, there is going to be some in here, but it'll be relevant to the plot.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to my beta reader, V dub (Cheers, mate!), for being the cream of the crop!
Please Feed The Bard: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Hey! Wanna go see what they have at that yard sale? We still have plenty of time before it gets dark," Moira Griffith said to her passenger as the old metallic blue Blazer flew down the highway. There hadn't been much talk on the drive from Colorado to Louisiana.
Jodie Benoit's willowy frame slumped deeper into the car seat. "Whatever you'd like is fine," she replied in an apathetic tone. Her emerald eyes continued their incessant stare far down the road.
"Might make you feel a little better."
Moira didn't really want to stop, but the steering wheel slid by itself under her hands and soon the Blazer was rolling down a long gravel driveway. They passed a few cars that lined the driveway and parked.
Moira brightened up a little for Jodie's sake. "Well, whaddya know? We got a good spot! I never find a good spot at these things!"
Jodie didn't move.
"Come on, lazy. Let's have a look around."
"You go ahead."
"You might as well come, too. You look as pale as Dracula. The air and sun'll be good for both of us after being stuck in this ol' sardine can of mine all the way from Colorado."
Without saying a word, Jodie unhooked her seatbelt and got out. She stretched.
Moira pushed her sunglasses on top of her red hair and blinked. "I'm sure we'll find something good."
Jodie wandered the aisle and aimlessly flipped through a cardboard box of old vinyl records that were mostly a Cajun kind of music, zydeco. She then rummaged in the shoebox of CDs next to it and came across the Zydeco Hounds' Shake It Don't Break It. It was only a dollar and had Jambalaya (On the Bayou) on it so she picked it up. She also picked up the Zydeco Party Band's album, Mardi Gras Mambo, because it had a song on it that Linda Ronstadt, one of Jodie's three favorite singers, once did. The rest of the selections were other zydeco CDs except two that were out of place and were labeled as free. The CDs featured Jodie's other two favorite singers: Emmylou Harris - - her CD, Elite Hotel, also had Jambalaya on it - - and Nanci Griffith.
Moira looked around the yard sale, too, until a beautiful middle - aged woman with creamy dark skin came up to her. The woman's eyes were so blue that they were almost white.
"Ah, mon ami! Glad you fin'lly came! Wait right here a moment an' I'll get 'im for you."
"Ma'am, I think you have me confused with someone else," a confused Moira replied. Uneasy chills fingered her spine. Something didn't feel right about the woman or the place, yet she couldn't bring herself to leave.
"Non, chere, you de righ' one."
Before Moira could protest further, the woman scurried into the house and came back with a bundle so fast that it hardly seemed she'd left.
The woman carefully lifted one edge of the red silk - wrapped bundle and then the other to reveal an old photograph inside a gleaming copper frame. Glass fronted the picture to preserve it. The woman regarded the picture a moment. "Mais, yeah," she said, seemingly to the portrait. She looked up at Moira. "Dis one, he like you. Yeah, he like you a lot, chere."
Moira stared at the picture, trying to divine what in the world the picture could possibly say to her. It had turned sepia with age and had some blotches in it around the man's head. She examined the man's face then. He looked like he was in his early 40's, had a neatly trimmed mustache, and dark eyes, probably brown in color. His countenance was very mysterious because his sensitive - looking mouth was turned down slightly in an expression of weary sadness, but his eyes were glittering and hard as if he were capable of extreme cruelty. He looked like he would think nothing of dealing out death. Moira shivered.
Jodie came over and handed the dollar to the woman. "Hey, who's that?" she asked when she noticed the man in the portrait. "Creepy lookin'."
The woman didn't answer her question; she just accepted the dollar and gave Moira the picture. Moira didn't want anything to do with the photograph, but before she could stop herself, her hands rose in an accepting gesture and her words were out: "How much?"
"Free, mon ange," the woman said and folded the red silk back over it. The woman smiled brightly when Moira walked away with it tucked under her arm.
In the car, Jodie slipped the Harris disc into the CD player. She asked Moira, "How come you took that picture?"
Not being able or willing to explain the unnerving, unexpected attraction she felt to the yard sale and the picture in particular, Moira shrugged. "Just 'cause it's free, I guess."
Back on the road, Moira tried hard to shake off the uneasy feeling she'd gotten from her experience at the yard sale. She glanced briefly at a sad Jodie whose uncle passed away recently. Moira and Jodie had been in the same residence hall in college, graduated three years ago, and hadn't seen each other since, but when Jodie called Moira and asked her if she'd go along for moral support while Jodie sorted out her uncle's things, Moira couldn't pass up a chance for a little vacation and see a part of the U.S. she'd never seen and always wanted to. She wanted to see where Jodie's folks had been from, though Jodie herself mostly grew up in Colorado.
Ten more miles down the highway, Jodie instructed Moira to turn off onto a little dirt road that swung past the side of a country general store. The road led down a hill and around to a parking lot that had been leveled off and paved with crushed shells. There, folks who had houses along the water could park, walk along a trail that led past informal docking places, and use their boats to get back home.
There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot and nobody else around when Moira swung the Blazer into a spot. Thankfully, she and Jodie had suitcases with wheels on them that Jodie could roll along the trail to their boat.
Jodie had already started across the parking lot when Moira got the groceries out of the backseat. Moira closed the door and followed Jodie, but stopped. "Hey, wait!" she called. Moira set a bag of groceries on top of the Blazer, unlocked the vehicle, and pulled out the picture. She set it on top of the bag, closed the Blazer again, grabbed the sack of groceries, and followed Jodie down the trail.
They passed cypress trees with Spanish moss hanging down like waving gray - green icicles. Moira yelped when a snake dropped down from a tree in front of them and slithered off. They also saw various kinds of boats tied to cypress trees. Moira saw a shallow boat made from a hollowed - out cypress tree. It was beautifully tapered to a point on either end so it could glide through the water, and a long push - pole lay in the bottom. "Is that a real pirogue?"
Moira eyed it suspiciously. "And I'm supposed to believe it can carry people without sinking? Seriously? I think I saw one of those floating in my bathtub once." Her humor didn't take, but it didn't offend Jodie, either.
"They'll get you from here to there in the bayou. No keel underneath. They're not made for open water, you know. We'll have something just a little bigger anyway." Jodie paused and her voice took on a dreamy quality. "It was fun coming out here and being on the water with Uncle Etienne. Sometimes I'd tag along with him on business or we'd be out there trying to catch something for dinner. Other times, we'd go out for the heck of it, just to see if maybe the irises were blooming or see if a cypress tree finally fell. There're all sorts of cool critters out here, too. I'm telling you, it was better than going to a zoo!" Jodie watched an alligator's head pop out of the water. "Even the dangerous animals are amazing in their own way."
Jodie pulled out of her thoughts and sauntered up to a boat. "Here she is!"
The boat was a wooden one that was all angles. It was square in the front and in the back, and it sloped from front to back. It reminded Moira a lot of a wheelbarrow without the handles and wheel. Jodie stowed the suitcases, had Moira pass her the groceries and the picture, stowed those, and helped Moira into the boat. Then, Jodie untied the boat from the cypress tree, got in, and shoved off with a push pole like the one Moira had seen in the bottom of the pirogue.
Moira watched Jodie guide the boat a little like a Venetian gondolier. She grinned. "Please don't tell me you're going to sing O Sole Mio."
Jodie lifted her dark head and smiled faintly. "Okay, I won't."
The rest of the trip was fairly quiet and peaceful as the ladies drifted on the water. Moira closed her eyes and tilted her head up toward the sun and enjoyed its warmth until overhanging cypress and Spanish moss blotted out the light. It was like going through a tunnel and Moira prayed no snakes would drop down from the trees as one had on the trail. She was very relieved when they came out of the overgrowth's darkness without any extra passengers.
After another few minutes on the water, Jodie steered them smoothly up to a dock and expertly swung herself out. She tied up the boat and offered a hand to help Moira up. As Jodie unloaded the boat, Moira looked at the immense deck. In one corner near the water, the deck had a small television set and next to it, a refrigerator. There was a set of patio furniture in front of those. Toward the back of the large deck, there was a barbecue grill with a little smokestack coming out the top. It looked to Moira as if it were made of an old oil drum. She eyed the house which sat on stilts in case the water rose. The house had vertical board siding painted a light mint green that was badly peeling in places. Moira looked at the rust - stained corrugated tin roof and couldn't imagine that the house would impress her as much as the deck. "Nice place your uncle had here. Looks like he really had it made!"
"Yeah. I remember sitting out on the deck a lot. We sure had some good food, even if we were good food for the mosquitos once in a while. We had some great music, too, when Uncle Etienne invited some of the boys over to play with him. Sometimes those boys would stomp dance so hard that I thought the deck would break, but it always held up." As if to prove her point, Jodie stomped once on the deck. "Yeah," Jodie said almost to herself. "Good times."
As if the past wouldn't let go of Jodie so easily, an old Cajun man in a pirogue shouted, "Jodie? Jodie Benoit? Dat you?"
"Mon Dieu! You a sight for my ol' eyes, petit ange!"
Jodie made quick work of the introductions and then smirked. "Hey, Pepper! We passed your place. If I didn't know your house is on stilts, I woulda thought it was floatin' down the bayou. You know, a real house boat!"
Pepper laughed heartily. "You always sayin' dat!"
"And it's true every time! It's always ready to slip its mooring!" Jodie shot back.
Pepper's face dropped. "I'm sorry about Etienne. Me? I'm gonna miss him."
"Yeah. Me, too."
"Anyhow, the missus put some of her shrimp creole in dat ol' refrig'rator of yours."
"She make it with Tabasco?"
Jodie brightened and turned to Moira. "You've never tasted shrimp creole until you've tried Marie's."
"Can't wait!" Moira responded.
Pepper, whose pirogue was drifting away, called out a goodbye which Jodie and Moira heartily returned.
After dinner, Jodie and Moira sat on the deck and listened to the bayou's nightly serenade. Insects buzzed and soon, as if the entire bayou had its own conductor orchestrating its sounds, frogs sang. A nighthawk nearby joined the end of every refrain. Moira swatted at some mosquitoes and tried tapping her toe in time to the frogs' calls. "How about that? I can almost dig that crazy beat!"
Jodie got up, fetched a very large piece of mosquito netting, baire, and covered the both of them. "Yeah, it's almost like a song but not quite. Trust me." Jodie checked her watch. "It'll get a bit more tuneful right . . . now."
Just as Jodie marked, zydeco music drifted down the bayou from Pepper's place. Moira's ears picked out bass guitar, drums, and accordion as the main instruments and noted that the vocals were in French. Once in a while, somebody who was having a really good time punctuated the music with a happy yell: "Yeah - eeeeee!"
Although the ladies caught the infectious love of life that the party music spread, both of the ladies soon yawned, got up, and prepared for bed. After a long day of driving, Moira thought a soft sleeping bag on a small cot would be as wonderful as a feather bed in a five - star hotel. The room temperature suited Moira and she loved the roomy den/kitchen/dining area in the front of the house. The picture - - whose nearness she'd come to crave since the yard sale - - leaned against the wall on the other side of a small night table so the man's creepy expression couldn't disturb her yet still close enough that she was comfortable. Calling a goodnight to Jodie in the other room, Moira let herself drift off to sleep.
"Uhhhhhhhhh, ARRRRRRRRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, YAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"
Moira's eyes shot open and she bolted upright in the cot when an old but big and powerful man she didn't know roared in her ears. As her heart beat a million miles an hour, she slowly scanned the room, certain some crazy old man broke into the house and screamed in her ears for two minutes. There was no sign of anyone in the room, and Jodie hadn't stirred either. You're just imagining things, Moira, she told herself. If any sicko really screamed, Jodie would've heard it too, huh? Still, Moira got out of bed, turned on a soft light, and found a box of Kleenex. She took a few and wiped her palms, forehead, and neck before padding around the house's main room, checking to see if the doors were locked and the windows were closed. Everything was locked up tightly. Thinking the whole scary ordeal was more than her imagination, but convincing herself it was just a dream, Moira got herself back to sleep.
An image shimmered in her mind. It was a beautiful young woman dressed in a period nightgown. Her long blonde hair flowed around her shoulders as if a breeze were playing with it. The only things that kept Moira from thinking it was an angel were the woman's wide brown eyes, pleading with Moira for help. She pointed next to herself, at a vision of some sort of building that was focusing into view when the old man suddenly appeared again. Moria saw through his beard and noticed a short slash in his face that was a hardened mouth, and the man also had the same dark, cruel stare as the man in the yard sale portrait, except the old man had an insanity in his eyes that scared Moira.
The old man blocked the image of the structure and looked at the woman who almost fainted in terror of him. She opened her mouth to speak, but the old man let out a low, long demonic laugh and did everything he could to drown out her presence. Moira heard a heartbeat, though she didn't think it was hers. It mixed with a sound from the old man's mouth that started as a low buzz and turned into a shrill teakettle - like whistle the longer it went on. When the sound got as high - pitched as it could, a horrifying explosion filled Moira's mind and ears.
The next thing Moira remembered, she was on the floor as if she'd fallen out of bed. Jodie hovered over her and shook her.
"Moira. Moira! You all right? C'mon. Wake up!"
Slowly, Moira's blue eyes fluttered open.
"I heard a loud crash, thought someone was breaking in 'cause a window's busted, and you're down there, apparently sleeping through it all."
Jodie noticed Moira was trembling all over. "Okay, what the hell happened?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Moira's eyes teared up.
Jodie helped Moira up from the floor, gave her a quick, reassuring hug, and got her settled on the bed. Then, Jodie took a chair from her uncle's desk and moved it close to the bed so they could talk. Jodie started.
"Hon, this is Louisiana. You know, Home of the Creepy. I don't think anything would surprise me."
Jodie got up, retrieved the old photograph from the other side of the night table, and pointed to the broken window. "Besides, things don't add up. Take the window, for instance. If someone broke in, the window glass would probably be on the inside, as completely shattered as the window was. No glass on the inside. I took this flashlight and shone it outside before I'd realized you were sprawled on the floor like that."
"I was not sprawled!" Moira protested.
Jodie held up her hand to cut off any other interruptions. "Weird, though! The window was completely shattered, but it looked like someone placed the pieces together nearly like a jigsaw puzzle. I heard it and got out here as soon as I could. They wouldn't have had time to put it together like that."
Moira felt her spine tingle again. "Okay. What else?"
"Look at the picture."
"Frame glass completely shattered, too."
"Uh - huh."
"Let me guess. Put together almost like a jigsaw puzzle?"
The women got up and moved to the other side of the night table. The glass fragments were neatly laid out.
"How come no other windows or glass was broken?"
"Don't know," Jodie replied.
Moira felt a little bit better knowing Jodie would believe her as well as listen to her. She sighed. "Okay. I'll tell you what happened, as far as I can tell." And Moira told everything, being stopped once in a while so Jodie could ask a question.
"Well," Jodie concluded. "I wonder if that creepy picture has anything to do with it."
"64 million dollar question is can you bear to part with it for a night?"
"I don't know. This attraction to it is pretty strong and if I'm away from it, I'm kind of restless, you know. I really don't like it. But I think it would be best if we got rid of it for a night."
"Guess we'll give it to Pepper tomorrow. His wife deals with all sorts of creepy stuff and knows how to protect them if needed." Jodie frowned. "Hell of a thing to do to a friend, though."
Nevertheless, late the next afternoon, Moira sat on the deck and watched Jodie and Pepper talk about the portrait before Pepper smiled and took it.
"How're you holding up?"
"Okay, I guess," Moira replied as she paced back and forth along the dock.
"Why don't we go in and try to get a little sleep?"
Jodie and Moira had spent most of the day sorting through Jodie's uncles things, figuring out what Jodie wanted to keep and what could be given or thrown away. Uncle Etienne led a good life, although simple, and had only a few boxes of clothes, papers, books, and mementos, and Jodie could rent or sell the house later. The job could be finished in the morning.
When both of them were ready for bed, Jodie sat at her uncle's desk sorting the last of his personal papers. Moira crawled into her sleeping bag on the cot and when Jodie finished, Jodie noticed Moira's feet tapping in the sleeping bag as if Moira couldn't hold still.
"Hey. You'll get a good night's sleep tonight. Just be still, concentrate on your breathing, and you'll drift off in no time. Smooth sailing all the way."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Moira didn't sound so sure.
Moira tossed and turned most of the night. She got some sleep, but woke up every hour on the hour and fought to stay asleep. At six in the morning, she finally fell into a deep, relaxed sleep.
* * *
"What in heaven's name?!"
Heavy pounding on her front door woke Jodie from a deep sleep of her own. She rushed to throw on a bathrobe and ran barefooted to the front door.
"What's going on?"
"I woke up dis mornin', dat portrait was gone!"
"Whaddya mean dat's all? Marie told me to haul my tired ol' butt out here to warn you. She said somethin's not good. She'd know!"
Inside, Moira talked in her sleep. "Shut up, old man! I want to hear what she's saying!" Moira warned. Her Irish temper sounded like it was getting the best of her.
Jodie turned and noticed the picture was inside the house again, resting against the night table; her heart raced.
"Oh, no," Jodie groaned.
"What?" asked Pepper.
"Just wait and see."
Suddenly, one of the house's windows burst. Jodie pushed past Pepper and ran to the side of the house. Shattered pieces of glass swirled in the air and fell like leaves, arranging themselves neatly on the ground.
"Mon Dieu! Dat's bad hoodoo chere!"
"Yeah, I know."
"Jo - dieeeeeeeeee!" came Moira's voice from inside.
"Out here!" Jodie called back. "Be in in a second."
Pepper and Jodie tentatively crossed the side yard to have a closer look. They compared the destroyed panes.
"Two windows broke?" asked Pepper.