She didn't look like trouble. But then, they never do.
|Artwork © Daniel Muchaier|
Frenchman Street had been decked with lanterns last night, and the jazz
clubs thronged with revellers, their faces made oddly skull-like by the
half-lights. A bottle of Restoration Ale firmly in hand, you accidentally
trod on somebody's foot when exiting the Black Cat. You turned around,
and were instantly transfixed by a pair of brown eyes. The girl was Creole,
and young, and startlingly beautiful. Of course, if only you'd known then
what you know now... You begged her forgiveness, but her mouth twisted into
a snarl, and she muttered something under her breath.
A careless phrase.
Though a little perturbed, you thought nothing of it until the next morning,
when you awoke in your room to the sounds of someone whispering in your ear.
Strange, you didn't recall the night ending that way... Rolling over, you
saw that there was nobody else in the room. Your heart squeezed as you
realised that the voice was not coming from anyone you could see. Sitting up
dead straight in bed, you reached a trembling hand for the packet of Victory
cigarettes beside you. Barely able to spark up, you inhaled deeply as your
eyes scanned the room. Early morning light was spreading golden fingers
through the slats across the bedsheets. You waited in silence for a moment,
your breath held.
'Bloodsworth'. It hissed the name over and over again.
A curse. You were familiar with curses, of course, having grown up in New
Orleans. To most people, curses were just another part of the Big Easy's
tourist trade, along with factory-made stick-pin dolls and little bags of
gris-gris for Northeners to bring home to their friends. But you've known
people who, while seemingly rational by day, nonetheless check their pillows
for the charms or fetish of an enemy before sleeping at night, and burn
whatever they occasionally may find, along with the pillow. In such ways does
superstition still grip peoples' minds in the Crescent City.
You knew, too, what the voice meant by 'Bloodsworth.' A cabin in the swamps
south of the city, beyond the places where even the tourist boats go. You'd
never been there, of course. Too many strange stories were told about it,
tales that made you curl up your toes in delicious fear on rainy nights as a
child. Even as an adult, some remnant of that fear has kept the place taboo.
There was no way you were going to Bloodsworth's.
By six o'clock, the voices had grown louder, and you had changed your tune.
No-one else seemed to hear them, but they burst like firecrackers in your
skull even when you tried to talk to other people, making normal conversation
impossible. After taking the highway out of the city, the voices at last
grew quiet as you drove past the still-ruined Ninth Ward district. Battered
by Katrina years ago, the brightly-coloured buildings now lay shrouded in
ferns and sub-tropical vegetation as the jungle slowly reclaimed its own.
The voices in your head hushed, as if in sympathy with the human suffering
that had taken place here.
They chattered more as the suburbs passed you by, you remember, chanting
that hated name with increased urgency. You couldn't get to Bloodsworth's
fast enough now. The road rose above the beginnings of swamp country, its
foundations mired in a yellow-green sludge that stretched to the horizon.
The cypress trees began to crowd your vision on both sides as the road grew
narrow, each seeming to bend and moan under its weight of Spanish moss. You
began to wonder how your ancestors had ever eked out a living in this
Ramsay's bridge was out - a colossal rusting hulk that towered over you as
you parked your car at the dead-end chicane. It didn't matter. There was
no way to get to where you were going now except by boat, and since
childhood you had known where the Cajun fishermen kept theirs on this river.
The sun, a bloated and swollen egg, drifted below the pines as you uncoupled
the little fishing craft, turning the woods and river a deep red. You cursed
yourself a fool - why had you left it so late to undertake this mad odyssey?
But there was no turning back now.
The boat drifted away from the shore, into Deadnettle Swamp. Bloodsworth
Bayou was somewhere ahead. The chattering of the voices was now becoming
intolerable. You felt as though your head was going to explode. When the
solid, wooded shore appeared before you, you grabbed your leather satchel
and ran hell-for-leather through the trees in almost perfect darkness.
By the time the cabin came into view, you were capable of little more than
collapsing in a shivering pile over the threshold. Sleep overcame you almost