March 2008 Volume Two Issue Three
The Devil You Know - Mary Misenor
Miz Marie D'Ambrose never had no reason to drive to church. She could've walked there easy as anything, but that fancy car would've stayed in the garage and them fine shoes mighta got scuffed. Me? I always walked. I never had no fancy car or fine shoes.
That's why I was on foot that Sunday, keeping off to the side and wishing I was in a less itchy dress, when I saw him drive up. I thought Miz D'Ambrose had the finest car I ever seen, but this feller took the prize. It was a sleek city car and it surely didn't belong in St. Lucia. The back window sunk down with a soft hiss.
"Excuse me, Miss," said a voice like nobody I ever heard. "Is this the road to Mount William?" His "W" sounded like a "V."
I heard of girls what got taken this way, so I was real careful not to get close. "Yessir, that's the way all right," I said. "But you're a ways away. You just keep on and you'll see the interstate. It'll take you there eventually."
The windows was so dark I couldn't see in. He wasn't by the window neither, but deep inside the car. "And what would be the name of this town?"
I drew closer in spite of myself. "This here is St. Lucia."
"Charming. Might there be a hotel of some quality?"
"The Hotel D'Ambrose is as good as you're gonna find."
"I thank you," he said and the car moved off, leaving me in the red dust.
I nearly ran all the way to church. I knowed what he was. That night, the oldest D'Ambrose girl disappeared.
I heard about it at Hotel D'Ambrose where I works in the kitchen. It was all Cherie and Regine wanted to talk about. Course they don't talk to me, like they's so much better, but I got ears.
"I heard she went walking to meet a gentleman caller."
"All you think about is men," Cherie said.
Regine shook her braids. "So do other girls. Why else would Evangeline sneak out in her best dress?"
"You think she done run away?"
"Wouldn't be the first girl to run."
"But Evangeline ain't got no reason to run. She's rich and she's pretty."
Regine shrugged. "Rich folks got problems too." She slung more dishes into my sink, even though it was full. Dishwater slopped on my already damp dress. "Hurry up, halfwit. You're falling behind."
I hid behind a blank stare. Ain't nobody in this place gots time for a bastard child with dark skin and icy blue eyes. I done learned to be invisible a long time ago.
Regine carried on like I wasn't there. "Old man D'Ambrose didn't let her step out none. I figure Evangeline just got fed up being daddy's angel and took wing."
"Well, I cain't figure it none at all," Cherie said. "I'd never run from a big house with lots of servants."
"Hah, you'd be one of the servants." Regine tossed her braids again.
"I mean it, Regine. It don't make no sense to me."
"Makes sense to me. I'd never stand for being kept down the way her daddy keeps her."
Cherie shook her head. "That's the difference in me and you. If I had it that good, I'd never run."
Evangeline D'Ambrose stayed a tasty mystery for two whole days. Then she floated.
The Beaumaris was sluggish from lack of rain and Evangeline didn't float downstream, just sort of bumped into the pilings under the bridge and hung there. I followed the shouts.
Her body was still dressed in her finery and that was how I knowed it was her. One sleeve was torn away and her arm gleamed like the palest marble I ever seen.
"Stay back, Sudie Pearl. You don't need to see this thing." Gavin Montforte loves a chance to tell people what to do. Just cause runs the kitchen at the hotel, he thinks I always got to do what he says.
"I done saw, Gavin. How'd she die?"
"What kinda question is that? She's floatin' ain't she?"
"That don't mean she drownded. Just that she ended up in the Beaumaris." Gavin is so thick sometimes.
"Never you mind," he bristled. T'ain't your business."
"T'ain't yours neither."
He's right, Sudie Pearl." Sheriff Fanchon's voice boomed over the commotion. "This is no place for you." He stepped between Gavin and me. "Go on home, girl." He looked back over his shoulder to Evangeline. "And lock your door up tight."
I lowered my eyes and did just what he said. But over my shoulder I saw them trying to roll Evangeline over onto the stretcher and her head flopped loose like it wasn't barely attached by more than a bit of skin. Just like a chicken what ain't taken a clean hit with the hatchet.
As I hurried home, I wondered if Evangeline had run around like a chicken with her head hanging off and I tried not to smile.
My home is what most call Montforte's Barn, and it did used to be a barn, but ain't no animals lived in it but me for as long as I can remember. Mama lived here with me fore she passed. I rents the barn from Gavin's brother, Pebo. Pebo ain't quite as bossy as Gavin and he's always been decent to me.
The only picture I've got of Mama sits by my bed. "They found her," I said. I pulled the kerchief off my head and tossed it on the chair. "They pulled her from the river. She looked drained to me, like she'd been bled as dry as this town. I bet the vampire rumors is already staring." Of course, I knowed this wasn't no vampire.
Talking to Mama's picture ain't crazy. It makes me feel not so alone. "I better take down the altar. Anybody sees this, I'll be dancing on the end of rope." I wasn't ready to put it all away yet, so I sort of hid my stuff in the pantry. Mama and I wasn't really blood kin, but she gave me her knowledge. This wasn't no gris-gris or poppets for the tourists. This was the real thing, dark and heavy and bad, but that's just how I felt inside. And it's all them D'Ambroses' fault.
Next morning, the air was buzzing like bees and not just bout Evangeline D'Ambrose neither.
Cherie was late, which wasn't strange at all, except her skin was gray as a ghost girl when she got there. She pulled her apron on over her head and went right to working without saying a word. She was in trouble sure enough, but she didn't seem to care none. I expected her to get docked like always but ain't nobody said nothing.
Regine kept looking at her, but Cherie kept her head down til she dropped a plate. It shattered into a million white bits and Cherie started sobbing and ran from the room, even though t'ain't the end of the world. It just comes outta her check like the being late.
"Clean it up, Regine," said Gavin.
"But I didn't . . ."
"I said clean it up." "That just ain't right," Regine grumbled, but she went for the dustpan and hand broom. "What's got everyone up in such a twist?"
Gavin stared at her. "You ain't heard? Both of them D'Ambrose boys are missing. They had a candlelight mass for Evangeline at the church and then they vanished on the way home."
Regine blinked stupidly. "What's that got to do with Cherie?"
"Cherie done found their car, girl. Now get to it. We still got a hotel to keep and guests to feed. It'll be dinner rush before you know it."
Regine squatted and swept the bits into the pan. She glanced over at the door where Gavin had gone out. "Big deal. Cherie found a car. What's so bad about that?"
Cherie came back with a tub of dirty dishes. She slopped them carelessly in my sink. Her eyes was red and swollen. Regine faced her, hands on her hips. "You better tell me what's going on."
Cherie raised her eyes slowly as if noticing Regine for the first time. "It was Francois' car. I found it by the Beaumaris Bridge. It was pulled over almost into the trees. I almost missed it." She barely spoke above a whisper.
"Whoop-de-do. Don't think you can dump all your work on me just cause you was sweet on him."
Cherie began to tremble. "I walked up to it just cause I didn't know no better. It was empty and ain't no harm in looking."
Regine drew closer. "What did you see? Was they in it? Was they dead?" She'd lowered her voice to Cherie's level. I had to work hard to hear.
"Blood. The seats was all slashed and there was blood everywhere. Oh, Jesus." Cherie crossed herself. "I cain't do it. I just cain't stop seeing it." She ran sobbing from the room.
Regine turned to look at me, but I was up to my elbows in the suds and washing away. I ducked my head so she couldn't see my smile.
The full moon passed. There was a heap of suspicion on my friend with the accent and the fancy car. I heard tell Sheriff Fanchon had him picked up and things got quiet, but they had to let him out cause they ain't got no proof he done nothing.
He skipped outta the hotel, even though Sheriff Fanchon told him to stick around. I woulda skipped too. I knew he didn't really go nowhere. He wasn't done yet.
Next full moon, Emile D'Ambrose took his son Louis hunting, even though Marie told him not to. I heard them fighting up in Emile's office, but Gavin shooed me away fore I got more than the gist.
It was late and no woman ought to answer a man pounding on her door, but I done just that. I could hear Pebo Montforte's voice on the ragged edge of panic. I took a moment to shut away what shouldn't be seen. Pebo was leaning so hard on the door that he plumb sprawled on the floor.
"Something took 'em," he jabbered. "It just . . . just . . . oh, Jesus." He said it real devout -- a prayer, not a curse.
He crouched on my floor, his face all ashey and twitching like he was having a fit.
Moonlight streamed in my opened door and I heard something scream, not so far away. I was safe enough, but I shut and locked my door anyways. Something stirred inside me when the thing done cried out. I know a hunting cry when I hears it.
I hunkered down next to Pebo and took his hand. "Tell me what you saw." He pulled away and rocked back and forth, cradling hisself. "It's okay," I crooned in a sing song. "It's okay. Tell Sudie Pearl everything. Tell me everything and you'll be safe."
My voice finally worked it's way into his head and his face went slack and his eyes half-closed, like a man who was into his rum. The madness slipped away a mite. "We went hunting for the thing. Louis said the foreign guy was loup-garou, said he was hunting D'Ambroses so they had to get him first. They gots shotguns and two of my best dogs. We was out by the Beaumaris when the dogs lit off into the trees after a scent. They was baying and running something."
He faltered and I stroked his forehead. "And then what?"
Pebo blinked and turned to face me. His eyes lost some of the blur, letting the madness creep back in. "Then nothing. The dogs got too far ahead and we lost 'em." He started to shiver.
"But you found them. Didn't you, Pebo."
"One of 'em. I found what was left of my best dog."
"And Louis and Emile?" I fought hard to keep triumph from my voice.
"It just come outta nowheres and took Emile down, took his head off with one swipe. Then it grabbed Louis with both paws fore he could do nothing. I didn't see no more. I dropped my lantern when I ran." He was still too scared to be ashamed for running away.
I gathered his face in both hands. "Listen to me, Pebo. What you saw ain't after you. You're all safe here. Tomorrow, you're gonna tell Sheriff Fanchon that the foreign feller done ambushed Emile and his son in the woods while y'all was coon huntin'. Got it?"
"But . . . "
"You didn't see much on account of you dropped your lantern."
"But that thing wasn't human, Sudie Pearl. I ain't sure it was even a loup-garou."
"You wanna end up in the hospital over to Mount William again? You go right ahead tells them that story about a demon taking off Emile's head. But you want justice to be done? Then you tells them it was that foreign feller."
A dull light went on behind his eyes. "You reckon he's behind this?"
Pebo weren't never too bright, but once he's wedded to an idea, you cain't shake him. He told Sheriff Fanchon and anyone who'd buy him a drink about the crazy man in the woods. His story got wilder each time I heard it, but everyone knowed how Pebo is and figured him to have a kernel of truth.
After that, Miz Marie D'Ambrose looked like the dead herself. Her brother Philippe come to town for the funeral and she leaned on his arm like she was fit to fall over. She wore black and kept her veil down, but I saw it lifted. She ain't the wailing type, but her eyes was still all swollen.
"I reckon she'll go back to N'Orleans with that brother," Regine said. "She ain't got no more family left here. It's just her brother now." Regine seemed to realize that she was speaking to me and walked away.
I frowned. I hadn't planned on Miz Marie leaving. I wanted to watch her suffer.
I thought they'd done have a noose around someone's neck in a couple days, but they was still hunting the foreign feller when the moon swelled full again. I guess some things cain't be caught.
I stood at my window, staring down the moon. Something howled. It was real far away, and I'd almost convinced myself it was a dog, when Miz Marie D'Ambrose commenced to beating on my door. Course it wasn't locked, so she busted in, her eyes all crazy. She was on fire with fear or anger, or maybe both at the same time.
"What have you done?" she said. "You stupid girl!" She slammed the door and bolted it. "Don't bother denying it. I know it was you."
"How does it feel?" I hissed at her like a cat. "How does it feel to have everything you love stripped from you?" I leaned close and stared into her ice-blue eyes, eyes just like mine. "You let her die. Couldn't even lift a hand to help save her. Even a little medicine . . . " I choked on my words. "She was the only mother I ever knowed. You'd have let me die too if you could. She saved me."
"Fool!" She slapped my face. "I couldn't keep a little half-dark baby. Emile wanted to kill you, but I gave you to her. I saved you."
This time the creature's scream was closer. It was definitely coming this way. What was it hunting?
"You saved me? What for? Where's my daddy?"
"Dead. Emile killed him when he found out. What have you done?" This time the cry was right outside my door. It trailed off into a growl and raked its claws down the door. "You called this thing, didn't you? Is it loup-garou? Is it a demon?"
"Close enough. I summoned it," I said with confusion. "But don't worry none. It ain't hunting us."
It threw itself against the door again and again. Then suddenly it was at the window. I could hear it snuffling, smelling us. I backed away.
It screamed again and the windows shook as it flung itself against them. I could see the shape of a something too large to be human back-lit by the moon. It placed a large paw against the window very carefully, like it was testing the glass.
"It . . . cain't be after us," I whispered. "I cursed the D'Ambrose blood."
We backed farther away from the window as it flung itself again, rattling the windows in their frames.
Marie clung to my arm. "It took Philippe. It pulled him right off the veranda."
"I don't understand," I wailed.
She raised her sad eyes to mine. "Emile was my cousin. I'm a D'Ambrose by blood as well as by marriage. My idiot child, you've killed us both."
The window gave way and the creature was inside.
- END -