Still a work in progress, but this is the entire short story after first rounds of edits by Zoe Tasia and Minette Lauren.
Chloe Bergeron scraped the heel of her high, rubber boot across a gnarled cypress knee, as she watched the white egret stretch its wings and take flight. She looked up through the tree canopy lining the Pontchartrain Basin, and a zing of elation coursed through her. Happiness could not be helped on such a day. The sunlight glinted off the rippling brown water, and the few white clouds dotting the blue sky were like happy balls of cotton. It reminded her that summer solstice was drawing near. She cut the elder plant Aunt Rie Rie requested then shaved a cedar branch with her pocket knife, that she named Necessity. She collected the shavings into a small, velvet pouch then ambled down the bank towards home, whistling a tune she had heard earlier on the radio.
The old house that she and Aunt Rie Rie inhabited was a two story, dilapidated, antique with pink paint peeling off the wooden siding and a wide, wraparound porch. She had lived in the home for most of her thirty years and did not think she would ever leave it. She helped collect roots and herbs for her aunt’s wellness shop from the time she was out of diapers. Aunt Rie Rie healed the sick for most of the parish, but suffered on and off with a malady she refused to have a city doctor examine. Her aunt seemed well as of late, but she worried about leaving her alone. They were the only family left to each other since her parent’s tragic disappearance more than twenty years ago. They pulled the red, 1979 Ford F150 from Bayou Lafouche, but they never found the bodies.
That truck rested in Otis Coffer’s car cemetery just down the road. Otis said he wanted it for scrap parts, but he said that about every car that found a resting place there. Rumor had it Otis was sweet on her mama at one time. Speculation was he towed the truck to his overgrown yard because of his pining heart. Chloe didn’t think it was anything more than gossip. Otis collected broken down, unwanted cars for as long as she had been on this earth and his daddy and grand-daddy did so before him. She doubted old Otis had a crush on all the folk who owned those cars. Aunt Rie Rie warned her to steer clear of the car cemetery near the Coffer Junk Shop and she did…well, until she met Bennie.
The azalea’s bright, fuchsia flowers blushed against the side of the house making the rundown Victorian look even more dreary. Chloe didn’t want to think about how expensive it would be to repaint. As she rounded the corner and gained the porch, a light breeze blew, cooling her nape. She shivered, smiled and skimmed her hand over her shorn head. She liked the tight curls and how light she felt since she got it cut. Her hair was very curly, but manageable as long as it was kept short.
Aunt Rie Rie was in the kitchen at the sink. Her black dreadlocks swayed as she worked the mortar and pestle, grunting with each twist. The muscles on her coffee-colored biceps bulged and twitched. She turned, frowning at Chloe.
“Girl, I told you to wear a hat. You won’t get a lick of sympathy from me when your neck burns. I hope you aren’t tromping mud in on my floors.” Her aunt was sometimes gruff, treating her as though she was still five years old, but Chloe knew she loved her to pieces.
“I ain’t got no mud on your floor, and that ain’t no way to thank my hard earned efforts for doing your bidding.” Chloe shelved her rubber boots on the mat, by the door and padded to the kitchen in mismatched green and gold socks. She had bought a whole pack of them from the Dollar Vine. The fact that the assorted, mismatched patterns were sold was proof she wasn’t the only soul alive that never found a pair. Aunt Rie Rie glanced over her shoulder with smiling eyes and a mock nag.
“Go on with you chile. Go get cleaned up while them biscuits are baking up right.” Rie Rie peeked in the oven, and dusted her hands on the towel fixed to her apron belt. She poured the mixture of herbs she had pressed together into a small plastic bag. She liked the kind they sold at the craft store intended for jewelry, but most folks in the parish bought those little bags to sell their drugs. Rie Rie wasn’t any different in the eyes of proper business and church-going folks around town. Voodoo was frowned upon and associated with drugs and devil-worshiping. Normal folk didn’t want to come off their righteous pedestals, so why should Chloe try to explain the art of magic to those fools?
Aunt Rie Rie was her momma’s older sister. They came from a long line of strong, creole women. Chloe’s daddy was half Korean and half Irish, which made for one hell of a stubborn temper. It gave her an exotic look that made men stop in their tracks when they were close enough to see the deep, sea foam-green of her eyes. She was fairer than most creole women and mistaken for white by some. It was a curse not being light enough or dark enough to make anyone happy. Everyone could be damned. She didn’t need their approval.
Chloe rubbed the carving on the banister for luck as she had ever since she could manage the stairs without an adult. It was a silly practice, but she couldn’t seem to break herself of the habit. The head of the winged lion was smooth; the tendrils of its mane no longer visible. Many hands touched it over the years. Aunt Rie Rie polished it with love and her own special mixture of wood polish. Placing a kiss on the creature’s head, Chloe inhaled the lemony scent then yanked off her socks and danced up the stairs. She learned the hard way not to take the steps in her slippery anklets years ago, and had a scar on her chin to remind her if she ever forgot.
The home had a two-seater outhouse until the 1960s. Keeping the small bathroom downstairs tidy for customers, they shared the one upstairs. The converted nanny’s room was small for a bedroom, but huge for a bath, providing plenty of space for the large armoire filled with sheets and towels. The lack of closets introduced a need for creative storage in the old home.
Today, she worked at the museum through the afternoon, then did cemetery tours until eight. Later she would assist in the banishment of a spirit. Her protective Aunt Rie Rie taught her all she could about herbalism and voodoo, but Chloe wanted to know more. When he approached her, she was flattered and frightened in equal measure, but Bennie won her over with his flirtation and teasing hints of what he knew. She sensed deep down he was using her, but like rubbing the banister, she could not resist him.
Bennie might be a relation of Otis Coffer because she often met him in the car cemetery. He forced her to sit in her parent’s truck, during their first meeting when she admitted having the heebie-jeebies as they passed it. He challenged her to overcome her fear, and she reluctantly agreed. It was a morbid fascination, but she still felt uneasy. Chloe would never admit it to him, though she suspected he knew.
“I’m happy,” she told her reflection. She held her hands under the water and scrubbed the dirt from under her nails. When she thought of Bennie, she shivered in both delicious intrigue and eerie trepidation, but he wasn’t the only man in her life.
Rutabel Mars wasn’t from around Lafourche Parish. He introduced himself at the cemetery two months back, when she was hosting a grave tour. Telling her first he was from the island of Jamaica, later, he rescinded saying he had been in Louisiana for some time. She smiled when he told her to call him Rutie, like all his closest friends. Sensing a vibe of slickness coming off his handsome face, Chloe had never experienced that kind of energy with anyone. That day, after the tour, he asked her to walk down Main Street, to the cafe. She had ordered a strong espresso to keep her instincts alert, having known some smooth-talking men in her life. She refused to be the kind of woman to be fooled.
He hadn’t joined her in quenching his thirst, but sat admiring her from across the wrought iron cafe table, outside of The Charles Street Grind. His eyes were the most peculiar color of aged whiskey, with a swirl of amber, making them glint in the fine summer sun. She felt heat when he looked at her. The burning ignited when she gazed over the strong planes and angles of his face and torso. He was a muscular, fine man, though not too big, nor small. He was one of those athletic types without all the bulk.
Chloe shook her head as she ran hot water into the old claw-foot tub. She needed to get her head out of the clouds and get to work. There were more important things to do than moon over Rutie Mars. After a short soak in the steaming water, Chloe dressed and devoured her biscuits with honey. As she backed her rusting Jeep down the dirt driveway, she waved to her aunt watering herbs on the porch. Chloe’s smile faded as Aunt Rie Rie’s hands flew up in warning. She slammed the brakes, hitting her head against the driver’s seat, but it was too late. The moment’s distraction cost her. Backing into Fiona Landry was the first blow to her almost perfect morning.
Fiona started a cat-wailing screech, causing Chloe to rest her head on the steering wheel for a minute, before getting out. The damage was a minimal. A fine, long scratch splayed across the hood of Fiona’s brand new Mercedes causing her to wail in horror. Fiona blathered about coming to Rie Rie to get a protection spell, but Chloe guessed that wasn’t going to happen now.
Aunt Rie Rie joined Chloe at the driver’s side of the Mercedes. This close to the partly opened window, the strident complaints made Chloe’s shoulders raise toward her ears. I prolly look like a turtle ducking back into its shell and I surely wished I could, Chloe thought. Aunt Rie Rie rapped on the window and, as Fiona took a deep breath to power her next assault, said, “What in the world ails you, Miss Landry? Are those menstrual cramps bothering you again? That must be it, because that little tap from Chloe surely didn’t cause no harm. You best come in so I can dose you with some tonic.” That took the wind out of Fiona’s sails. She gawped like a guppy for a few seconds, then closed her mouth so fast that her teeth met with a click
“It most certainly is not my time of the month and I do not want to discuss such a topic in public.” She frowned at the smudge Aunt Rie Rie’s knuckles left on the window. Aunt Rie Rie made a show of peering up and down the street. “Don’t appear that there be any public excepting us, Miss Landry. Now you pull on up and park so Chloe can get to work. Even if it isn’t a red letter day, seems to me you need something to calm your nerves.”
Fiona shut the car off and folded her chubby arms in front of her ample chest. “What I need is insurance information,” she said as she gave a wiggle to set herself more firmly in the seat, staring straight ahead. Chloe darted a panicked glance at her aunt. Aunt Rie Rie gave her the smallest shake of her head before she replied. “Ca va! That’s enough, Fiona Kay LeBoeuf Landry. What will it take for you to let this go?” There is power in names and even an uppity, wannabe-socialite like Fiona knew better than to press Aunt Rie Rie any harder.
“Six months of the potions of my choice gratis might make me forget this unfortunate incident,” she said sliding her eyes toward the window.
“One month,” Aunt Rie Rie countered.
“Three.” The comeback was so fast that they knew it was her price from the start.
“Okay, three, but just elementary potions and only the ones I already provide.” Fiona tapped her fingers on the steering wheel and twisted her mouth around as she thought.
“Done,” she exclaimed after a long delay then moved her car so Chloe could go to work. Duey was sure to bark at her for being late.
Duey Herbert stood scowling on the bank of the bayou, in front of the museum’s large, army green pontoon boat. It was filled with kindergarten kids, waving all their appendages and squealing with animated glee. She was fifteen minutes late to give the Heritage Tour, so Duey had improvised, loading them up for the Swamp Excursion first. The tour usually began in the old saw mill that now served as a cultural center slash library. The old brick building had been erected in the early nineteenth century, but the structure was still sound. Its illustrious white painted brick with cayenne red trim was like a beacon in the one-street town. The few other stores, lining the block were faded shades of brick and mortar that had seen better economic times. Chloe tried not to look at her shoes, as she made her way to the hull of the boat. “Good morning, Mr. Herbert,” Chloe smiled, trying to slide over his ill-borne temper.
“Hey Mr. Hey Bear!” The kids chimed in giggling as they teased him about his French borne name. This didn’t endear Duey to Mrs. Whitehead’s nerve-grating class.
“They are all yours, Miss Berseron…and I need to speak with you after the tour, understand?” His voice was clipped. It was a rhetorical question and Chloe understood completely. She had been late twice this month. Once because of Rutie Mar showing up unexpected in the bayou, where she was gathering morning herbs. He took her to a misty area with an abundance of plants and wildlife. She was mystified because she knew the region inside out, yet this jewel, she had never seen before. The second time she was late was because of Aunt Rie Rei’s near catastrophe on the landing. She considered that time a family emergency, since if she hadn’t been running late, she wouldn’t have caught her aunt before she fell down the stairs.
Duey had given her a hard time since she had spurned his advances back in high school. He was mad that he married Elisa Pevy and that, four children later, she was as big as her momma. Marilina Pevy was well over three-hundred pounds.
Chloe nodded and started the outboard motor on the pontoon. After smiling at the children, she directed the boat into the murky Lafourche Bayou. She wouldn’t let this day get the best of her. She loved educating others on the history of her people and wandering through the beautiful bayous of southern Louisiana. She wasn’t going to let Fiona or Duey rain on her sunny day.
Chloe figured Louisiana was desperate for teachers if Mrs. Whitehead still taught. She outlived her husband, her children and too many school boards to count. When Chloe attended her class, it was one of her easiest A’s, however, the lack of supervision left her at the mercy of the wilder students. Halfway through the best bit of Chloe’s lecture, the aging teacher began to snore and crossed her legs. Her skirt hitched up revealing the yellowed edges of her girdle. The children giggled and pointed. Then, to their further amusement, the left garter gave up the ghost with a snap and her hose slid to her ankle in quiet despair. The two, startled chaperones glanced up from their phones. Not finding the event as exciting as the students, they soon returned to gazing at their screens. Chloe didn’t have a television, let alone a cell phone. Aunt Rie Rie said technology was a different kind of energy that interfered with castings. The resulting laughter and hilarity didn’t make Chloe’s job any easier, nor did Duey’s glares.
“Please, remain seated,” Chloe said for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Hey! You did that on purpose!” A child yelled. Two boys, furthest away from her shoved each other. She looked at Duey with a silent plea. He leaned back and slipped his cap forward over his eyes. The commotion interfered with Mrs. Whitehead’s nap, causing her to snort and sit up. “What…what is going on here?” She stumbled to her feet surprising everyone at her speed. Spying the nearby culprits, she sprung toward them, but unfortunately the pontoon was not in the best shape and her loose hose caught on the splintered seat. Mrs. Whitehead went one way, but the hose remained at the bench. The result was not pretty. If it had just caught the hose, Chloe though it would have been fine…or, well, better. But it caught the reinforced part at the top, letting her get quite a distance before snapping her back. She flew back towards the seat, and flipped over into the water, taking seven kids with her along the way. Duey helped her fish everyone out, while the two parents snapped photos. She made the executive decision to shorten the excursion and turned back. She could only hope that they wouldn’t post them to their social media pages.
To crown the afternoon, one of the boys cried out, “Look what I got!” Chloe held her breath as Timmothy Geadon pulled a baby gator from his khaki shorts pocket.
Chole stopped at the fountain, chasing two aspirin with water, before seeking out her boss. She didn’t consider herself much of a drinker, but today she could use a strong shot of Bourbon from Dollie’s Beer ‘n Bait House. True to its name, Dollie’s sold beer and bait, but there was a lot more bartered at the corner of Charters and Antoine. Chloe’s policy was a strict, don’t ask-don’t know.
Dollie Barnes was a pillar of Lafourche parish, helping the school purchase new laptops for the children and benches for the park. Hardworking Dollie understood that older people needed somewhere to sit. Chloe didn’t know how she managed so well for her age, but it might have something to do with the potion she gets from Aunt Rie Rie’s special supply each Saturday morning.
Duey held up a single hand, silencing her greeting as she knocked on his office door. After the Swamp Excursion, the Heritage Tour was anticlimactic. Mrs. Whitehead spent most of the time under the hand dryer in the Ladies room, while the two parents’ fingers twiddled over their phones. Chloe assessed them with a few serious stares as she tried to keep the tour interesting, but no one seemed to care about the Louisiana Purchase, Huey P. Long, the great Mississippi, or the exotic casket girls.
Duey finished the conversation he was having with purposeful mediation. “Yes ma’am, you know how important this grant money is to the Parish Cultural Fund. No ma’am, I would never take you as a fool. Yes ma’am, I will personally see to it…um-hum, well of course. We would consider it a challenge and an honor. I will see to it that our most elated staff member attends. You have my word, Mrs. Gautreaux.” A few more gracious words were said, and the call ended. Chloe tried to avoid his beady eyes, as she hid halfway behind the office door.
“I can come back later. I see that you are busy,” She eased backwards. The unflattering red creeping up the back of Duey’s neck, started to migrate in blotchy sections across his cheeks. Now would be a very bad time for their meeting.
“I was going to dock your pay for being late Miss Berseron, but instead I have a job for you to make up for missed time.” Duey plopped his scuffed loafers on top of the metal desk, showing his green socks. Chloe mentally shook her head at the dreaded work proposition and his ill matched socks. Who would wear grey slacks, with Irish green socks and tan loafers?
“The Voodoo Festival is Mrs. Gautreaux’s pet project this year, and she will be needing your personal assistance. We need volunteers for set up, take down and the dunking booth.” He smiled like the cat who ate the canary.
“Voodoo fest? That’s not until December.” Chloe reasoned.
“Yes indeed,” Duey let out a long whistle, loving Chloe’s discomfort. “And it will be your responsibility to shadow Mrs. Gautreaux and her son, Robert and to get anything they need. You know he’s running for Mayor of New Orleans?”
“Anyone who watches the nightly news knows Mr. Slick-talking, New Orleans Lawyer, Robert Gautreaux. There is no way I will be his or his momma’s lackey until December!” Bobby G had gone to her school until his family moved to the Crescent City her sixth grade year.
“Well then, we will just have to reassess your pay raise.” Duey clicked away at his old desk calculator, emphasizing the debits he intended to deduct from her future paycheck. She was due to get a substantial raise at the end of the month. She and Aunt Rei Rei were counting on that money to pay off the mortgage and make the necessary repairs to expand the business. A few years ago they had refinanced due to the hurricane and economy. Since then, it had been hard to make ends meet.
Chloe ground her teeth as she squeezed the words from her mouth, “Alright, when and where do I start?”
As soon as the last tour of the morning ended, Chloe hoofed it to her Jeep. Normally she brought her lunch, but she didn’t think she could choke a sandwich down while Duey scowled at her. She needed to call Mrs. Gautreaux to confirm she would be at that stupid meeting tomorrow. “I’ll do it as soon as I get off work,” she thought out loud then smiled at the dashboard Madonna. “Me and you are going out to eat, Lady.”
Chloe lucked out and only had to drive around the drive-up diner twice before a brown Malibu, backed out. She wouldn’t splurge on a whole meal, but she could afford a coke and fries to go with the PBJ she made. The carhop delivered her order and skated away, when she heard a honk behind her. “Chloe! Chloe Berseron!” someone shouted.
“Great, now what?” she muttered. She craned her neck out the window. Robert Gautreaux! Just the person she didn’t want to see. He tooted the horn again and waved. Putting his car in park with the engine running, he got out, eliciting a whole cacophony of honks. He turned to the drivers behind him and lifted one finger indicating he would only be a minute, then jogged to her window.
“Heard Duey volunteered a pretty, little staff member to work the Voodoo Fest with us. Unless he hired extra help, you must be the lucky one.”
“Mr. Gautreaux, you are causin’ a line to pile up ’round the drive-thru.” Chloe complained.
“That’s only Tobias and Mrs. Monroe. They are over seventy so surely there isn’t any real pressing matters for them to attend.” Robert looked over his shoulder and then smiled down into her car. “Why don’t you let me take you into the city for supper tonight?”
“I…I got a tour tonight.” Chloe was relieved to have an excuse. Robert Gautreaux was about as handsome as they came for white folk. Consorting with him would lead her down a slippery slope. His daddy was a senator, and his gran-daddy before that. All the Gautreauxs were as crooked as Maxine Gadon’s back. The election for the Mayor was a stepping stone toward the Gautreaux’s aspirations. No Gautreaux had ever made it past the Senate or Congress, but Robert’s momma sure was gonna try. She thought her son was supremely presidential. He may be a fine specimen of a man to look at, but Chloe would rather stick to her own folks on her side of the tracks. White folks were complicated and the last thing she needed was more complication in her world.
“Alright then, Sugar. I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow. We can grab a bite then. A beautiful woman like you shouldn’t be alone.” He pointed to her then waved as he walked backward, smoothly missing the iron pole behind him. Chloe shook her head. He surely saw her with Rutie before.. How like him to not count a black man as worthy competition. She regarded the sandwich into which she was about to bite. She wrapped it up and tucked it back in the bag. Somehow she had lost her appetite.
The ghost tour ended at eight pm and all Chloe could think of was dinner and bed. She tucked her flashlight into the trunk of her car along with the umbrella she had carried throughout the tour. It was just a drizzle, but that never kept the tourists away. What she needed was a night off and maybe a little romance. It had been a week since she had seen her friend, Rutie Mars, and wondered if he had lost interest. As if the thought had conjured the devil himself, he was there leaning against the driver’s side door as she approached the Jeep.
“Rutie Mars, you scared the devil outta me!”
“Well that’s a good thing, ain’t it?” His teeth shown in the moon light. His smile was infectious and she could feel the familiar heat of desire wash over her. “You know, I was thinkin’ ’bout this job you have and all this time you spend in the bayou and in town. Maybe you could look up a fellow for me next time you are in the city.” His rich voice hung in the soft breeze.
“Sure, what’s his name?”
“Leighton Benoit.” Another casual smile brightened Rutie’s face. “Old friend of mine. We lost touch…some years back. I just wanted to see if he’s still around.”
“I’m sure there are a lot of Benoits in the phonebook. You got a place of employment, last address, momma’s name?” Curious, Chloe peered up at him. She didn’t know Rutie very well, but he often asked Chloe for strange things. Usually something small, nothing that cost money, just tidbits of information or maybe the words to an old hymn he couldn’t remember. Once he asked her to cast a spell on the cemetery gardener. She refused to do it and he had laughed, but there was hardly anything she could deny him, not even the first kiss they shared after their third meeting.
“Just remember that name darling, and don’t be too naive,” Rutie teased her as he tapped her pert nose with his elegant finger. She agreed to ask around and see what she could find and after a short goodnight kiss, she offered him a ride home.
“No Darlin’, I need to ramble awhile and quiet my head,” was all he said before heading down the gravel trail out to the swamp. He was a brave to be out there after dark, but something about Rutie said he didn’t need much protection. His amber-flecked eyes told her that he could handle himself.
“I am an adult…I don’t need to sneak out of my own house,” Chloe whispered to herself as she hoisted her window open. She got three hours of sleep before her phone alarm went off. The banishment would take place in a small private cemetery. She was to meet Bennie just outside the Garden District, but that was the only directions she received. She slung her backpack over her shoulder. It was filled with spells, potions, tinctures and every object she could think of for protection against evil. She loved that Bennie asked her to help him. He knew so much and she couldn’t imagine her paltry contributions would make the smallest difference, but sometimes that was all that was need. With one leg over the sill, she put her foot onto the lattice and climbed into the night.
Bennie stood still as a statue. A piece of luggage dangled from one hand, and a burlap sack was held in the other. The bag danced by his side. The luggage looked like an oversized, black, doctor’s bag. She paused to admire him, watching him waiting for her with a small smile on his face. Cornrows lined each side of his head, but at the top his hair was free and curled in ringlets. His nose was broader and flatter than hers with adorable triangle-shaped nostrils. His skin the color of good, strong coffee with a splash of cream. He wore dark clothes to make him blend with the night, but he stood out to her. She hitched the backpack higher on her shoulder. His masculine scent would hit her like a brick. His cologne was an exotic mixture of sweet flowers and cedar. She had never smelt anything like it before. She braced herself for his presence and vowed he would never know just how much he intrigued her.
As Bennie hailed her, Rutie’s image flashed in her mind, like a darting minnow in a pond. Two men, and she didn’t know how either felt about her or how she felt about them, yet she was compelled to find out.
“Chloe, you came.” Like a balm, Bennie’s voice calmed her. He didn’t wait for her response but took her hand.
She knew this part of the city and yet between the two houses she swore had been side by side, now a new one stood. A Gothic mansion with stone gargoyles and griffins. “What…where?”
“Shhh,” he hushed her and opened the wrought iron gate. Taking her elbow, he led her to the back of the home where one small crypt stood in a corner of the estate. “I will cleanse this place, with your help.” He smiled, and her heart flip-flopped.
She set up the protection spell paraphernalia, laying out the candles, herbs and special incantation articles in a wide circle around them. They stood in the center of the circle for protection, and Chloe waited for Bennie’s lead. He told her he would be performing a banishing spell to drive away a spirit. She was merely a witness to his powers, so she stood silent in the darkness. He made a fire in the brazier and began burning herbs. Chloe suppressed her cough. He walked the circle as he chanted. Her heavy head drooped. She squinted as visions flew by too fast for her to discern. More voices chanted, but she knew they were the only two present. A rotten-egg scent of sulfur filled the air and, the fire hissed. Then…she was not alone…someone else, another soul resided within her.
“Margaux?” Bennie asked.
Without Chloe’s volition, she responded, “Yes, my love.”
“I have waited too long to be reunited with you again, Geaux. Such a beautiful form, she is, just like you.” The voice came from the dark magic man Chloe was so drawn to help. He had introduced himself as Bennie and she had never thought to ask his surname. Now, the rich baritone of the handsome Bennie before her, resonated like a funeral toll. His eyes darkened so that she couldn’t tell the black pupils from the irises. She feared an older spirit’s influence.
Chloe’s muddled mind flashed through the memories of the past few days. She met Bennie during a walk. A large moccasin slithered from the culvert. When she turned to flee, she tripped. She struggled to untangle herself, but the kudzu vine writhed under her hands and tightened on her ankle. Something hissed behind her. Terrified, she turned, but instead of another snake, Bennie slinked toward her. He directed another sibilation at the snake. “There is nothing to fear, Beb,” he told her in a thick creole drawl, as he crouched and held out his arm. The snake coiled around his bicep and he carried it back to the water. He bought her a cold drink at the nearby Coffer Junk Shop had flirted with her. He had opened up her hand and traced the history of her past, imparting he might be able to decipher the mysterious disappearance of her parents. His sage wisdom was intriguing, dark and hypnotic… a most powerful aphrodisiac. She craved to hear him speak more of her fortune.
She was now paralyzed, staring at his illuminated form. Fire flickered, dancing in the balmy night air, shimmering across the engraved letters of the old tomb. It was the tomb of Margeaux and Leighton Benoit. Benoit…Bennie, Chloe mentally screamed as she remembered Rutie’s request, but the sound could not find her lips. Did Rutie have something to do with this?
Bennie reached out and gently stroked her cheek. “Yes, she is a fine vessel for your soul, Margeaux. Our lives were too short. I have been searching seventy long years for a woman with the right energy and features to compliment your spirit. Now we can live together as we once did, as man and wife.”
Seventy long years? How could that be. Bennie was young, only a few years older than she. Chloe was powerless to move, to chant, to protect herself from the man who sought to steal her body. He tossed seven red crystals onto the rocks near the fire, and broke into a guttural wail. He didn’t give her more than a glance, as he twined the legs of a pheasant he drew from the burlap sack. With the quick flick of a switch blade the stones were soaked in feathers and blood. The pheasant heart sizzled in the fire, casting a rich aroma of roasting meat. Chloe felt her spirit pulling away from her true form. Her energy lifted and she struggled to remain in her body, trying to push the other entity out. Bennie told her she would witness a banishment. She never dreamed it was her own soul that would be expelled. As she levitated, she stared into the eyes of Rutabel Mars.
“Rutie?” Her energy spoke to him, and he in turn nodded, hearing her spiritual cry of terror.
“His name is Leighton Benoit. His wife died on this day seventy years ago. He stole my body when I was fishing in the bayou. He made a deal with the devil for eternal life and that is what preserves my dated form. He has never gotten this far obtaining a vessel for his wife’s soul, but he has to complete the task before midnight of the seventieth day of her passing or she will never be resurrected. Seven is the number of completion.. If the clock strikes twelve and you have not found your way back into your body, your soul will wander the banks of the bayou forever…like me.” His words trailed away in sadness, and Chloe tried to call him back to her.
“Rutie! Don’t you leave me!”
“I’m sorry Chloe, I tried to warn you, but I am bespelled and cannot tell of the fate to come. Find your voice and call out his name. Find a way to have him recant Margeaux’s soul. I can offer no other physical help. As you can see, I am trapped within this world.” Rutie’s words washed across Chloe’s conscious, flooding her senses with urgency. She could now see through his luminous form. Images flashed through her mind as she remembered all of their meetings in the bayou with no one around to see him. The one time at the coffee shop, he had not ordered anything to drink. Mrs. Dollie had looked at her like she had lost her mind when she walked past their table and into the café. Yes, she could see now that Rutie was not of her world.
She chanted the words that Aunt Rie Rie had spoken to her as a small child. “I shield myself with the light of the father. I arm myself with his sword. I am protected and loved by the light with in me and no one shall pass upon my door. Free is the soul who chooses evil and damn be the damned no more.” Repeating this phrase over and over, within her spirit, Chloe felt herself descend to the Earth and walked back to her own form. She struggled with the bonding of her body, but clung to images of her life…family, friends, job and the beauty of her home. What felt like forever was probably a struggle of only a few minutes. When she could finally move her limbs, she ran at a break-neck speed towards the gate. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the form of Leighton Benoit collapse upon his knees crying Margeaux’s name into the empty night. Rutie Mars was nowhere, and yet she knew he had saved her life. She wondered if their introduction had been for this very moment; a series of events culminating to this one end, or would she meet his presence again…
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