It was a dark and stormy night is a horrible way to begin any story, but that’s exactly what type of night it was; the darkness oppressive and the rain torrential. I did not let the flashes of light nor the shadows on the wall distract me from the fact that my soul was forfeit. I knew something was coming to collect and if I didn’t pay it would torture me forever. I am only writing this in hope that it will be read by someone and used to save a life. I feel the evil surrounding this place, so I’ll start at the proper place for this tale, the beginning.
It was an uncomfortable day outside the small town of Blythe, Louisiana. I don’t just mean the temperature was high, but the air was thick and hard to breathe. It was interesting to watch the dragonflies as they chased the mosquitoes through the haze. I didn’t think much of the house when the cab dropped me off. I stood on a semi-manicured lawn and stared at a plantation house. The house looked like a mini castle against the wooded backdrop.
The tenants of Castle Bayou were Mr. Franklin “Frank” Landry and his wife Elisabeth, who insisted from day one I call her Lizzy. They were both in their mid-seventies and assisted by a live-in caretaker Emeric Chauvet, (the correct pronunciation of his last name will forever escape me). He lived in a modest guest home detached from the main house. The Landry’s, as it turned out, were very capable people taking care of things inside the house, while Emeric’s responsibilities fell more towards driving, handy-work, and outside maintenance.
Dinner was served promptly at 6:30. Lizzy made a shrimp gumbo, that to be honest, filled my mouth with flavors I never experienced before. Cornbread made up the side dish. At 7:30 I helped clear the dishes, there were no leftovers. By 8:45 I was in my room that was straight out of a late 1800’s Sears and Roebuck catalog. Everything in the space looked like an antique right down to the books on the shelf.
The sounds of night filled the air. A soft breeze flowed in driving out the heat. I saw the front door to the guest house open and Emeric step out onto the porch. He took a seat in a rocking chair and sipped a drink. He looked like he could help begin my story. My inquisitive nature took over and I went downstairs to join him.
“Evening Mr Chauvet. Mind if I sit out here with you for a bit?”
“It’s a free country. Have at it.”
I chose a worn, but steady looking wooden chair. Emeric sat back in the rocker, and we watched the fireflies dance across the expanse of the backyard.
“You missed a good dinner tonight.”
“Miss Lizzy’s gumbo is good, but I managed all right.”
“Do the Landrys get many house guests?”
“A ways back they used to throw big parties, but now everyone is too old or moved away.”
“How long you been working for the Landrys?”
“I started out ere’ with my daddy about 25 years ago. He passed some time back and I took over after that.”
“You always lived in the guest house?”
“You sure ask a lot of questions.”
“I’m a writer it’s kinda what I do.”
“Oh yeah, what you write?”
“Mostly stories. Fiction. Urban legends and stuff.”
“Hmm.” Emeric took a long pull from his drink.
“You got another one of those? I’ve had a long day travelin.”
“Well Mister Writer, I hope you have a tough stomach. This ere’ is local to Blythe. We call it Homebrew.”
Emeric disappeared into the house and brought me a half full glass of something that smelled closer to gasoline than alcohol. The first sip brought fire to my lips, throat, and belly. A fit of coughing followed.
“I would suggest sippin,” Emeric said with a low chuckle.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said and took a smaller drink.
“What can you tell me about a devil tree Mr Chauvet?”
“You can call me Emeric. No need to be formal.”
“Alrighty then, Emeric, I’m Chris. What can you tell me about a haunted tree some where round here?”
“It’s not too far.” He pointed off into the wooded distance and continued. “Bout 50 years ago my daddy told me that the Landrys and a few others chased some hoodoo woman off into the woods. Somethin’ about er’ killin miss Lizzy’s baby. When they caught up to her they strung er’ up in a tree and left er’ to die. The police didn’t investigate too hard because Frank’s dad was the police chief at the time.”
“Dead children and lynching? Sounds like a rough time.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t bring it up to em’ though. It’s a touchy subject.”
“They think I’m here to write a story on life in the bayou.”
“You be careful Writer Man or you might become the next story round here.”
“Duly noted. Do you know exactly where this tree is or what it looks like?”
“Oh… It’s probably about a half mile back into the woods near the swamp. Just follow the trail. Trust me when I say, you won’t miss it.”
I drank and talked with Emeric late into the night. I don’t really remember going back to my room, but that is where my pounding head woke me up the next morning.
“Good Morning Chris,” Lizzy said from the hallway. “Coffee?”
I could barely mumble a response that resembled a yes. Breakfast was grits, biscuits, and black coffee. It helped to mute the bass drum beat in my head, but only slightly. I sat at the table and watched Emeric through a window as he landscaped the lawn.
“You and Emeric have a good time last night?” Frank asked from behind a newspaper.
“I think he enjoyed watching me sample the Homebrew.”
Lizzy let out a small laugh and Franklin chuckled.
“Yeah,” Franklin began, “it can be rough the first go around, but I think it grows on ya.”
I managed a half smile and nursed myself back towards health.
“You got a busy day planned?” Lizzy asked.
“Figured I would take a walk around the place. Get a feel for it.”
“Well if you need anything be sure to ask. Keep an eye out for any critters that may want to make you a snack. Frank and I may go in to town later. Be sure to be back before supper.”
Lizzy’s bony hand patted mine for emphasis.
I finished the breakfast and retrieved a small digital camera from my bag. Sometimes taking a picture helps me to remember when words fail. The day was already sweltering and the time on my watch didn’t even read noon yet. Clouds, at least in this part of Louisiana, seemed to be in short supply. Soon I was in the middle of the woods surrounded by sounds of birds, bugs, and creatures unknown.
The worn path was easy enough to follow. It looked like an old animal trail that led in the direction I wanted to go. I gave little thought as to what kind of animal would need to forge a trail in the bayou. I counted off what I believed to be a half mile in my head and began to look around. The air had grown humid the closer I got to the swamp, but when I saw the tree my blood ran cold.
It was tall and gray; a stark contrast to the lush greens and browns around it. It had thick gnarled branches with no leaves. The roots reached out of the ground like hands reaching out to drag me to hell. I couldn’t even see where any other plants had grown within ten feet of the living statue. I felt like I was staring into an ancient living obelisk ready to summon forth Lovecraftian horrors from the aether. I did not realize at the time how close that thought was to the truth.
I pulled my camera out and began to take photos. Something caught my eye in the lens and I zoomed in to take a closer look. Around the lowest, thickest branch I noticed groove marks where ropes had once hung. I could almost hear the whispers and cries of the dead. The sudden appearance of a cloud hid the sun from my eyes and cast long shadows on this tree of woe. It seemed to come alive; angry at me for having life. I took one last picture and headed in the direction towards the house. Being near that tree was akin to walking over someones grave. I found the trail again and followed it back to the Landry’s house sweat dripping from every pour.
It was a past 4:00 when I made it back to my room. I showered and changed eager to get started on my story. The smells coming from the kitchen were distracting and filled the whole house.
Dinner was served once again at 6:30. The spread was incredible ham hocks, rice and beans, and collard greens. I don’t know what a rhubarb is, but it makes a wonderful tasting pie. Emeric shared the meal with us this time. By 8:00 I was enjoying scotch that was definitely older than I was.
My next memory was of me in bed fully clothed with the world around me slowed to a crawl. It was still night out and my watch indicated that it was about 2:45 in the morning. A soft glow and noise from outside drew my interest. I approached the window cautiously. The world spun slightly beneath my feet.
I saw a young girl, dressed in a sheer white dress, lead a group of people carrying torches into the woods. She was hauntingly framed by the torchlight and I couldn’t make out what the noise was exactly, but it sounded like chanting. I sobered up quickly, grabbed my camera, and took off after them.
It was a dark new moon night, but there were plenty of stars out. I could barely keep my eyes on the path. The path seemed wider, but the trees closer. A pure black circle could be seen in the sky even though there was no visible moon. The sounds of the woods grew silent and then I heard it; a soft rhythmic chant up ahead.
The words themselves were unknown, but carried pure evil intentions by their tone. It sounded like something other-worldly, ancient. My steps were softer once the fire was in view. I wasn’t sure what I saw at the time, and knowing what I know now I should have just ran away.
The young girl was under the tree swaying back and forth to the chant. Emeric was out front and had white runes painted on his face. He was the main source of the eerie chant. His clothes looked out of place for any century. There were about ten others present with faces painted in white. I was surprised to see Frank and Lizzy as part of the motley group that stood by with torches in hands. Their eyes were long gone. My gaze was drawn to the tree. It looked alive.
The branches moved and swayed to the same rhythmic chant as the young girl. The roots were reaching, clawing in the flame’s shadow. I made sure the flash was off on the camera and took as many pictures as I could.
Emeric’s chanting grew louder and louder. That was when I noticed the girl float off the ground. Only she wasn’t floating. A rope was around her neck, and she was being lifted towards the branch of the tree. She reached for her neck trying to scream. It seemed that sanity returned at the wrong moment.
Emeric held a curved knife up in the air, lost within his own spell. I dropped my camera and bowled him over before he could finish whatever he was doing. The knife hit the ground and the tree twisted towards me. I didn’t see any movement from the young lady hanging from the thick branch.
“No! I must complete the spell, or he’ll destroy us all!” Emeric shouted.
I picked up the knife and drove it deep into Emeric’s chest. A large gust of wind blew the remainder of the fire into the swamp; only the torchlights remained. The tree seemed more alive now than ever. I ran over to one of the torch-bearers and took the flame. I threw the fire at the base of the tree; to my surprise it caught fire quickly. An otherworldly scream echoed in my head and the rest of the zombie party turned their heads towards me. The tree writhed in agony. The chase through the woods left me breathless by the time I reached the house. I heard them near; the closer they were the louder the screams in my head.
I was too scared to notice at first, but when my foot hit the back porch I noticed something was very off. The pristine house that I had stayed in the night before was now run down and falling apart. The paint was old and faded; the dust inches thick. I ran up the dilapidated stairs to my room. It looked the same, but everything was in tatters, covered in dust and mold. I grabbed my travel bag and made my way down the stairs.
The backyard looked dead and patchy; Emeric’s house was nothing more than a ramshackled pile of wood. The pursuit finally caught up with me. A growing darkness seemed to swallow the woods as the first of the torch wielding zombies appeared. Lightning flashed in the sky and the rain began to pour down. The outside door to the cellar looked to be the only thing that had not succumbed to the ravages of time. I quickly opened and shut the heavy doors behind me. I put a solid wooden board in between the handles to buy me some time. To my surprise soft candles burned below.
A book was open on the table written in a language I could not understand. In fact, most of the books around the cellar space I could not read or understand. That was when I came across Emeric’s personal journal. I scanned the last few entries and my blood ran cold. It told the story of KaluLi RaNoh, an ancient deity from Africa. Emeric’s ancestors had kept the ancient one trapped in a tree for quite a few generations through the use of magic handed down from father to son.
Emeric was the last of his line, but he was also a chosen. He was a seventh son of a seventh son; the one who could finally send KaluLi RaNoh back to the void. Tonight, it seemed, a once every thousand year occurrence happened; an eclipse during a new moon. I regretted his death almost immediately.
That brings us to the present. I am a hack writer who was just trying to make a name for himself. The door can’t take much more now. I don’t even know if anyone will ever read any of this. What I do know is that life as we know it is over and it’s all my fault. I only hope that the universe forgives me before I’m torn…
Authors Notes: This story is 2588 words set in the fictional town of Blythe, Louisiana. It should be noted I love a story where the bad guy wins in the end, not that I have anything against good triumphing over evil. It felt good to write a story just for the fans and myself. No prompts just, me and my imagination. The story took 2 days to write and 4 to edit. I welcome any comments, criticisms, and concerns.
Photo Credits: (1) (2) (3) (4)