Lost in the Bayou (edited for length)
Elita eased down upon the most comfortable looking cypress knee, studied her homemade map, and tried to reassure herself that she wasn’t lost. Maybe it had been five years since she’d been here, but she’d spent her first seventeen years on the Caddo. Mathematical probability was in her favor.
“What’ca doing here, girl?”
The realization that she wasn’t alone froze her insides for a moment. She rose slowly, bringing her eyes to rest on a stringy-haired stranger standing some twenty feet away across the clearing. He looked about five feet ten, roughly four inches taller than her. He had a barrel chest, thick waist, wide hips, and tapering legs that looked as though they should snap in two under the weight of the body they were holding up. His arms were too short for the rest of him, like God had made them for someone else, but stuck them on this fellow at the last minute. He had no chin to speak of and muddy-brown eyebrows that crawled across his entire forehead. His hands were massive, or at least they looked that way to Elita, but that could’ve been because of the shotgun they were caressing.
His navy blue tee shirt and rolled-up jeans were stained, but not dirty. On the front of his black cap, tiny pieces of thread dangled out of a faded circle where normally one would expect to find a patch. His clean-shaven, round face served as a pale canvas to black eyes that turned down at the corners.
“Why you messing around here, girl?” he asked again.
“I was headed for Moccasin Bayou, but took a wrong turn someplace.”
He eyed her up and down, then rested the shotgun in his arms like a mother cradling her child. “Sorry about your ma. She was a good woman. Gave me four peach fried pies once. Peach is my favorite. How’d she die?”
“In a car accident on the way to work.” Somewhere in the back of her mind, a man’s name fluttered. “Jax? Jax Boudreaux, is that you?”
The Boudreaux family kept mostly to themselves, especially Jax, the youngest of the clan. Rumor had it Jax’s mother was a quadroon, meaning she was one-fourth Negro, the offspring of a mulatto voodoo priestess from New Orleans and a white sailor. Elita could understand how a person of mixed blood would shy away from some of the townsfolk, if you could call LaSalle, Louisiana with its population of 682 souls a town.
When she was growing up all the water fountains, public restrooms, and doors into the town’s only grocery store had signs hanging over them that either read Whites Only or Colored. You’d figure if people were only one-eighth Negro, as Jax and his sister were, they’d be considered white. But it didn’t work that way in Caddo Parish. If you carried Negro blood, you were considered to be a Colored, arithmetic be damned. The signs had been taken down in ’64 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but signs are easier changed than minds.
“What brings you to Tadpole Island, Jax? You got trotlines set out around here?”
He shook his head. “The Caddo talks to me. She told me you were here.”
“I wish she’d talk to me and tell me how I got lost.”
“The Caddo’s mad at you cause you and your ma up and left her.”
Elita didn’t mean to laugh. She did that sometimes when she got nervous.
Jax’s face darkened. “It’s not funny, Elita. The Caddo can be real hurtful to those who upset her. You should know that better than most.”
His insinuation was less than subtle. “My daddy loved this place. His death was an accident, pure and simple.”
“There ain’t no accidents in the Caddo.” Jax studied the sky. “Dark’s coming on fast. The loup garou will be prowling soon.”
She hadn’t heard the term loup garou since leaving the Caddo. Every child raised on the bayou knew about the loup garou. Some call them werewolves. Others refer to them as skin-changers—half human-half wolf. Whatever the term, they were the most feared of all the creatures rumored to haunt the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. Supposedly, this ancient evil came from France to Canada first, then traveled south in the mid 1700’s with the French Acadians who sought refuge in Louisiana after being pushed out of Nova Scotia by the British. Legend has it that like the vampire, a loup garou can’t be killed with bullets. And when one bites you and tastes your blood, you become one of them.
Elita had never believed there was any truth to the tales of the loup garou. Still, the thought of navigating the bayous alone at night made her feel a bit uneasy.
“You’d best come with me, girl, before the loup garou finds you here.”
Dammit. She’d only been home a week and already managed to get herself into a bind reminiscent of her early teenage years spent on the Caddo. Why hadn’t she listened to Nettie? Granny Pearl spoke the truth—she was jackass stubborn. She was also a twenty-two year old college-educated woman who would not allow herself to be intimidated by ancient tales of imaginary swamp monsters. But Shotgun Jax and the alligators that navigated the murky waters of Caddo Lake were not fantasy.
“We need to go, Elita,” Jax said, as he glanced around the clearing. “We need to leave this place before it’s too late.”
Jax’s nervousness was catching. You’d think an anxious man holding a gun would be worrisome enough, but no. Her annoyingly inquisitive brain kept wondering what could make a man who knew the Caddo as well as Jax did, a man protected by a double-barreled and no-doubt loaded shotgun, so uneasy? She decided to take her chances with the gators.
“I . . . I can’t leave my grandpa’s pirogue here, so I’ll just drift on home before it gets good dark. It was nice seeing—”
“Be quiet, girl.” Jax took a couple of steps toward the lake. “You hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything.”
He cast her a hard stare. “That’s because the Caddo won’t talk to you, but I hear. He’s coming now. He’ll be here . . . soon.”
Elita’s scalp began to tingle. That was never a good sign.
Thanks for stopping by ……..Deborah