What happens to Bruce, no one could have predicted.
Shuffling off the boat, Bruce was glad to be back on shore. Something was going on at the end of the bayou. Police were there with flashing lights, men were shouting and pointing, and intermittent shrieks were heard from woman. What in the world was going on? His co-worker, Matt, said, "Let's walk down there and find out what all the chaos is about."
Swearing under his breath, Bruce tagged along.
They walked down the mossy pier hovering over brackish water. Bruce saw a frog hopping across the muck below looking for insects. People were pushing past them. He wondered why they always ran toward a pending disaster instead of away from it.
They stopped at the edge of the bayou where trees, their bulbous trunks sticking half in and half out of the ground, seemed to hover above them like a ghost. Bruce never understood how people could live in those ramshackle huts on stilts with unbearable mosquitoes swarming everywhere. Not to mention the creatures therein, ferocious alligators, poisonous snakes, and other mysterious creatures. Even his parents were glad to move away from here after raising a family.
It was hard to see in the murky light, but the area was taped off and the men were bent over with shovels digging in the mud. He watched with fascination as a shout was heard and then many sounds of horror. Something or someone was plopped on the stretcher, but it appeared to be lifeless.
The crowd moved aside. They were followed by men carrying the discovery. Bruce had to hold back a gag as the horrific site came past. It was apparent that it was a human body, but nothing was left but a skeletal form with a skull holding eye sockets and a leering grin of teeth. What clothing it had worn was nothing more than shreds.
"They're saying that it's another one of those people who were lodged in the mud when that tidal wave came years ago. It's not the first one they've found through the years," stated Matt.
"I can't stand the swamp, snarled Bruce. "Never could get used to it."
Matt, laughed. "What's the matter, getting soft? Let's go over to The Keg, grab some beer and grub, and maybe get lucky."
"Nah, not a chance. I'm looking forward to a hot bath and soft bed. Better think again, the girls will run and hide. You stink like a fish. Take it easy on the girls, see you Monday."
"That's what you need, a woman at home. So long, wish you'd come along."
"Not a bad idea Brother, I'll have to work on that once I get rid of this stink-hole of a job."
Bruce had to find another occupation, but it wouldn't be here in Louisiana. Jobs were hard to come by and he was unskilled in much else besides fishing. The industry was suffering; there was a lack of fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs. The fishermen blamed the oil industry who came in, ran pipes through the swamp, and generally left a mess behind. That being said, a lot of the guys worked on the rigs in the off season. He found work with a construction company that seemed always busy due to Hurricane damage. He learned a lot about construction so that might be a start to a new career for him.
Anxious to get home, Bruce quickened his pace. In the parking lot he found his car and headed to his little cottage on the hill. It was high enough to look out over the ocean from his screened-in porch but far enough away from the beach so that he had been lucky to avoid any substantial hurricane damage.
Standing in the steaming shower with suds running off his body relaxed him. They had a mediocre shower on the boat, but one never felt clean or free of the fish smell. He opened a can of soup, got some crackers, and decided that tomorrow he'd get a steak and grill out. He couldn't help thinking about Matt's comment. Maybe it was time to move on. A wife and family sounded good to him. His parents had retired in Florida. He had a brother in Seattle and a sister in Georgia. He lovingly called her a Georgia Peach. This swampland had never been his cup of tea, there had to be something else out there for him. Grabbing a beer out of the refrigerator he walked onto the screened-in porch and flopped down on a lounge chair. He knew wherever he went it would have to be near water; it brought him a sense of peace. The bayou he could do without. He periodically dozed off, lulled by the sounds of wildlife, screech of a bird or howl of a dog. Even up here the sound of waves splashing against the rocks soothed him.
There was a full moon tonight. The moonlight shimmered on the water below making it look like a hundred lights were floating in the water. Sailboats were still out passing back and forth under the gleaming moon. Occasionally a slow-moving barge drifted by. He always wondered how anyone could steer the large vessel. Once again, he fell into sleep. Wakening with a shock, he rubbed his arms from the chill and decided to call it a night. Looking up at the moon he let out a yell and fell back onto the lounge chair. When he dared to look up again, he couldn't believe what he saw.
Against the moon was a figure. It was skeletal in form but had long black hair streaming from the skull. It was clothed in a dark black shredded gown. The shreds were flowing from all sides of the body. Empty eye sockets were shooting out bolts of red. In panic, he reached for his cell phone but realized he had left it in the kitchen. Almost falling, he ran from the screen porch and entered the kitchen. He grabbed the phone to call Matt.
"Matt here, what's up?"
"Matt, don't say anything. Go outside right now and look at the moon."
"Don't ask, just do it, please."
"Alright, just a sec."
Shaking, Bruce waited on the phone.
"So, I'm looking at the moon, now what?"
"You see it, right?"
"The figure, the figure against the moon!"
"Listen Bruce, I don't know what you're on but all I see is the moon. You do know you've interrupted something special, don't you?" he laughed.
Dropping the phone on the floor, Bruce ran out the front door and looked at the moon. The figure was gone!
Back in the kitchen he picked up the phone to a dial tone. Quickly he locked all of the doors and windows, turned out the light and sat shaking on the edge of his bed. Must have been dreaming. No, I'm sure I was awake. He couldn't rationalize what had happened.
Surprisingly Bruce slept well and woke up refreshed. Pushing aside last night he tidied up, had coffee, and decided to walk into town. The small town was quaint and friendly. When he moved on, he would certainly miss the town and its people. Stopping at the cafe he ordered breakfast and was invited to join a group of fellows he knew well. Talk ensued including last night's find on the shore. Mysteriously it had disappeared!
"Old people say that a Voodoo Priestess commanded a hurricane in anger years ago. She was known well in the area for her spells. They say she was never seen again after the flash flood," stated Raymond. "Maybe it was her and she walked away."
"You don't say," perked up Bruce. "I know voodoo was practiced here long ago and still today we have places to get your fortune told. Pretty farfetched to think the thing just up and walked away. Someone must have moved it elsewhere."
"Most likely, it's a good story though," chimed in Harold. "There are so many legends around here, makes you wonder what they were drinking back then."
"Well on that note, guess I'll head back home. Catch you all next time I'm in town again," smiled Bruce.
Bruce did some maintenance inside and outside the house. He mowed the small yard, fixed part of the picket fence that was tipping and trimmed a few hanging branches. Inside he tidied up, then flicked on the TV and watched a movie. Later Bruce cleaned up the grill, threw on a steak and potatoes and sat alone at the kitchen table. Probably should have invited Matt over, he thought. A warm ocean breeze blew through the screened porch, he stretched out on a lawn chair with a Stephen King book. Maybe shouldn't be reading this after last night's encounter, ran through his mind. Soon night fell and he laid the book aside drifting in and out of sleep.
The full moon rose high in the sky and briefly waking, Bruce once again saw the specter. Shaking the sleep off, Bruce tried to get up but found he couldn't move his legs. He looked to the side and saw something on the end table, so he picked it up. My God! Was it? NO, it couldn't be! A voodoo doll. It was made of soft wood and had pins sticking up all over it. He felt it quiver in his hand and tried to toss it, but there it stuck. "What the heck, GET OFF ME," he screamed. Perplexed, he couldn't fathom how it had come to be there. Had someone snuck onto the porch when he was in town? But who? Then he laughed, probably Matt pulling one of his dumb jokes. He reached for the phone, but it flew out of his hand as if some unseen power had picked it up and thrown it in the corner. Now fully awake and concerned, he fell to his knees and tried to crawl toward the phone but any movement was paralyzed.
Hearing a noise, he looked up again and fear set in as the figure on the moon seemed to be floating toward him. The doll started shrieking louder and louder hurting his ears. He flicked his hand again, and it went flying; then seemed to crawl toward him again. His head screamed make it stop. Bruce thought his heart would burst. Closer, Closer, Closer. All he could do was watch. Then it stood before him in all its ugliness; saliva dripping from its gaping mouth and nose.
"What do you want," Bruce managed to croak.
"You of course," it responded.
"Because you will help me rise again."
"Me? I know nothing of you. Who are you? Where did you come from?"
"I was known well for my chants and cunjas (spells), but a flash flood took me away and buried me alive. Now I have been found and the curse will be broken."
"Yes, Monsieur. The first person to see me against a full moon will be the one who saves me. That would be you, mon cher."
"No, I want nothing to do with this! Please, go away!"
"But you do not have a choice. You are under my cunja and will do as I command."
"I won't, I hate the Bayou and all the legends it represents."
Red sparks flew from the eye sockets and a booming voice screamed. "You will!"
Free from the paralysis, Bruce rose and tried to run out of the porch, but a shock ripped through his body and again he could not move. "You, hater of the Bayou, don't try to defy me, it will only make things worse, Monsieur."
Resigned, Bruce was now under the cunja and at the mercy of the hideous thing before him. "Now you listen and hear me well. Do as I say, and I will release you when you have done everything, I ask of you. You have a boat, oui?"
Bruce nodded. Trancelike he said, "I do, at the dock."
"Then, we will go. Don't try to run or yell, it will do you no good. I can easily turn you into anything, even a gater," its evil laugh blasted through the night.
Bruce covered his ears with his hands to stop the laughter.
Angry, he retorted, "You say you can do anything; then why do you need me?"
"Do not question me." It pointed a bony finger at Bruce and more shocks went through his body. Then it demanded, "Put the doll in your pocket. NOW!"
Cringing, Bruce slowly made his way down the hill wondering what would happen if he started to run. The thing was just above him and he feared getting shocked again or something worse."
He readied his boat and slowly oared deeper and deeper into the swamp, the full moon lighting his way. Sometimes what appeared to be stumps were alligators waiting for prey, their broad tails slapping the water. Eyes of unknown creatures could be seen along the shore. The half-submerged trees stood with their clinging moss sometimes grabbing at his head as they passed by. Snakes slithered by not seeming to notice their presence. In his trans-like state, Bruce did not cringe for he had a tremendous fear of them.
It seemed hours that he had been oaring but he didn't tire. Where they went, he did not know for he had never been this far into the swamp before. Herons stood along the banks, looking for fish and birds above flew in and out; sometimes with bits of something in their beaks. Their shrieking could be heard in the treetops. Fish jumped and splashed as they passed by.
"The hideous figure floated along at his side until she shrieked, "Stop! Go to the shore, over there! Bury the be belle (doll) and bury it deep."
He took the quivering be belle and stuck it in the mud. It was screaming like a human. He looked at the thing and asked, "What is this? Why is it screaming?"
"It is my soul, Monsieur, the soul that was stolen from me during the hurricane. Now it will return to me again and give me back my life."
Bruce did his best to bury the doll, glad to be rid of it.
"Deeper, bury it deeper," the figure yelled.
With the end of the boat paddle, he pushed it down as far as he could, then with his foot stomped the mud around the hole. It was done!
The buzzing in his head stopped and he realized that the trance was broken. He turned to the boat and reared back in surprise, almost falling in a heap. A beautiful dark haired, deep eyed Creole woman was standing in the back. She was garbed in a long gown but there were no rips or sheds in the material. On her forehead was a simple black band. She smiled at him.
"You have saved me, mon cher. Merci beaucoup! The Manchac Priestess has risen. Once again, I will be sought after for my potions and predictions, once again I am free. If you ever need me, you can come here and call to me. I owe you a deep debt."
With that she stepped out of the boat and floated over the water to the shore. He watched her until she disappeared from sight. Hoping he could find his way out of the swamp he quickly turned the boat around and sped back home. He felt a great sense of relief that he had survived whatever this was. He wasn't sure of the way but soon saw lights in the distance and followed them until he once more reached the dock. One thing he knew for sure, he would never go back into the swamp and search for her.
Bruce found that his legs were shaky, and he sat in the boat for some time unsure that he could make it back to his house. He walked to the only bar in town that was still open and asked for a shot of whiskey. "I'll be down tomorrow to pay you," he told the bartender.
"No problem Bruce, I know you're good for it. You look a little pale, did something happen?"
"Just had a close call with a gator coming back with my boat," he replied. "Shook me up a bit."
"Yes, they're everywhere, best not go out alone this time of night. What were you thinking?"
"Guess I wasn't. Thanks, I'll see you tomorrow. What time do you open?"
Monday morning Bruce stood on the pier dressed in casual clothes and waiting for his friend Matt.
"Hey Bro, what's up? You're not working today?"
"Nope, heading North just as soon as I list the cottage on the market. When I get settled, I'll let you know where I am. I hope you'll come visit me."
"Of course, I will but what brought this on so suddenly?"
Bruce swallowed, "If I told you, you wouldn't believe it. Maybe someday I'll tell you the story."
They grabbed hands, hugged and separated. Matt watched Bruce walk away and felt a deep sense of sadness. His best friend was leaving, and he didn't know why.