Excerpt from Caddo Girl

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?”

He nodded.

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.

 

Deborah Epperson

Deborah Epperson

 

Thanks for stopping by ……..Deborah

Breaking TWIG

Breaking TWIG

 

AUTHORS OF THE FLATHEAD WRITERS CONFERENCE

By Marlette Bess
It’s strange to think that a small place like Kalispell, Montana could have such a smart and interesting writer’s conference, but they did just. The Flathead Valley Community College where it was held in a conference room large enough to accommodate a hundred people but the room itself gave off a feeling of coziness, almost intimacy. When the speakers spoke, it was as if they were speaking to you while you were sitting on a couch in front of them.
For me, the joy of the conference was having my worked critiqued by one of the two agents who attended that weekend. Jim McCarthy of New York City gave me a fair and honest assessment of my work. He was neither cruel nor humiliating but concise with a little compassion. Before this conference I had only been to the big conference in Seattle put on by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. To meet an agent or editor there you had to go through a process of speed pitching. I don’t think you could find a mate with speed dating and I don’t see how you could find an agent with speed pitching.
My overall impression with the conference was positive, encouraging and very helpful. I want to thank the staff and presenters for doing such an excellent job and to the crew at the culinary department for putting on two good lunches. I would happily attend again.

Ghosts I’ve Known

       The ghosts I’ve known have not appeared to me in person, just the evidence of their presence.  Not all ghosts are malevolent, but they can be scary.  I lived in a hundred-year-old big house in Helena with a fine complement of spirit beings.  When we’d climb the stairs to the second story, always, at the same place, everyone would turn to the side, as if to allow another person to pass.  We did this without thought, without conscious acknowledgement.  When I finally realized what was happening, I began rushing past that spot, but still, turning sideways.

My daughter had ghosts that stood at the end of her bed, terrifying her.  Must have been the same one that turned on our bedroom TV in the middle of the night one time.  I took the TV out the next day.  When they were teenagers, my son, daughter, and Jerry, a friend, were sitting on bar stools in the kitchen, home alone and being silly.  It was night, dark out, and they’d been eating pizza.  With no warning, something grabbed Jerry’s T-shirt from behind and yanked him backwards off the stool.  All three kids screamed and ran to the neighbors to call me. 

When we were searching for a house to buy just before settling in Helena, I wandered alone into an empty hallway in an old upstairs.  Was slightly interested in the house, but certainly wasn’t after I felt the cold emptiness that filled that dark space.  It seemed as if something horrible wanted me, wanted me to come further in and find it.  I grabbed my family and ran away.

   A few years ago, I was alone in the old Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, measuring for window coverings.  It was about ten below outside, about the same inside, and the wind was whistling through ill-fitting windows, blowing snow and fine dust in around the frames.  I’d almost finished, was glad about that, but had rooms in one more fourth floor wing to go.  As I stepped into the hallway, that same wicked cold enveloped me, the familiar feeling from the old house in Helena.  It was like a wall, keeping me out.  There was no electricity, and my flashlight barely made a dent in the dark.  A weak sun watched through the bad windows, but gave little light.  I was tired and cranky, and yelled into the darkness, “Leave me alone!  I won’t hurt you, but I have to do this!”  I sidled backwards, stopped, then tried again.  And again.  I finally forced myself into the black, the horrendous cold, and measured, Very Quickly, ran out.

 A friend had told me that one cute tiny room on the hotel’s sixth floor has a ghost named Judy, and when Valerie stayed there, she always requested that room because Judy was funny.  If someone were to loll in the old-fashioned claw- foot tub too long, the cold water would turn on and run them out.  Sometimes, the bathroom light went out, just click.  Happened to my friend more than once.  I told her about the dark cold, and she said, “Fourth floor hallway, right?” before I could tell her where.

 Ghosts are poor lost souls who have not yet found their way to the other side, but I can be spooked and shivery when I feel them.  My former husband was visited one night while he was waiting for me to return from work.  Someone gently took his hands and was looking at him with great love and acceptance when he woke.  The entity was wavery, but he had the impression it was a woman, one who looked like an angel.  She looked into his eyes for a long time, the light around her head making the bedroom brighter, then slowly faded away.  He felt loss, yet great love and kindness, and was elated to tell me about it.

   Pumpkin pie and fallen leaves underfoot remind me of my ghost stories.  They make my life interesting, exciting.      

                Nan McKenzie

The Ghost and the Candelabra

By Leslie Budewitz

Assault and Pepperin my new mystery series, the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries — debuting in March 2015 from Berkley Prime Crime, with ASSAULT & PEPPER — questions of ghosts flit around the plot and characters like a mist off Puget Sound. In writing ASSAULT & PEPPER and its sequel, tentatively titled GUILTY AS CINNAMON, I’ve been recalling real life ghost stories I’ve heard over the years.

My favorite is this: My friend Cath suffered from several health conditions that at times put her on crutches or in a wheel chair. During a time when she had good mobility, she bought an older home on Seattle’s Capitol Hill and set about remodeling it. Flanking the fireplace in the living room were sconces with detachable electric “candles.” Cath noticed that one or both were regularly turned upside down. During an extended health challenge, she was on crutches. Several times, she dragged herself over to the fireplace and righted the sconces, only to find them turned upside down again. After a few weeks of this, she finally decided she had a ghost, and it was time for a talk. “Look,” she said, “I’m on crutches.The lights don’t work when you mess with them, and fixing them is a real pain. A real pain. You don’t have to leave — just stop messing with the sconces.”

ghosts2She never did figure out who her ghost was — but the lights never went out again.

***

LESLIE BUDEWITZ is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries (Death al Dente, winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, and Crime Rib, July 2014) and the forthcoming Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, starting with Assault & Pepper in March 2015, both published by Berkley Prime Crime/Penguin Random House. Visit her online at http://www.LeslieBudewitz.com, on Facebook as Leslie Budewitz Author, or on Twitter, @LeslieBudewitz.

Silky’s Halloween

by Karen Wills

This is an excerpt of a revised version of my very first ever story, written when I was in third grade.

Silky shrank behind the vat of black, bubbling brew. She watched Witch Gertrude put on her best black dress, her pointed hat, and then rub baby oil on the wart on her nose.
Silky hated Halloween for one big reason. She feared riding on skinny old broomsticks. She’d have to dig her claws deep into the handle or the wind might blow her off.
“Silky!” yelled Witch Gertrude, lifting a torch. “Where are you, my beastly beast? Let’s go!”
Shadows wavered on the walls like bats. Silky scrunched in her corner. Witch Gertrude looked behind rows of pickled wasp wings, under the table where bottles of beetle dust sat, behind the case of snakeskins, just everywhere.
Finally, she dunked her torch in a kettle of water. She peered into the shadows until she saw – two eyes, shining like candle flames.
“Aha, there you are,” she cackled. Grabbing Silky by the scruff of the neck, Witch Gertrude plopped her on the broomstick.
Silky hung on tight. They swished through the door and up into the starry sky. Under the orange moon, Witch Gertrude shrieked like a banshee, scaring owls, skunks, bats, and sweethearts.
Silky tried not to look down.
They sailed into a dark cloud. Wet mist plastered Silky’s fur flat to her skin.
They crashed!
“Witch Brunhilde! Watch where you’re going!” screamed Witch Gertrude, lying flat on her back.
Witch Brunhilde got up and started picking thorns out of her black dress. “I think I had the right-of-way,” she said. “Anyway, I was just out for a little Halloween fun.”
Silky had landed on her feet as cats usually do. She stretched and looked around. Suddenly, her back arched. Her black fur stood on end and she spit and hissed.
“What are you afraid of now?” snapped Witch Gertrude, rubbing all the places where she ached.
“Well, cast a spell on me,” said Witch Brunhilde. “It’s a jack-o-lantern. Humans make them, you know. They’re supposed to scare us witches away.”
“I’m sure we can do something about that,” Witch Gertrude said.
Silky could now see that the jack-o-lantern had a big, friendly grin. She tiptoed behind the witches.

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