Mysty Bayou– The freshly painted words on an old board greeted as our car entered the town. Delays shadowed me in every possible place. Still, I managed to reach the town before the night took over. Compact modern buildings stood beside ancient structures, elegant and attractive. Rolling down the window, I let the sea breeze lift my spirits.
“Storm’s brew’n. Don’t go out tonite.” The driver warned. Thanking him for the advice, I stared at the azure sky tinted with light shades of pink. A few people were hurrying along the road, shaking their heads and talking to themselves. Dropping me at Haven for Souls he left, reminding me to stay inside.
Crossing the threshold, I stumbled. The suitcase slipped from my hands. A young boy rushed forward to help. Pale eyes shielded by tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, the manager greeted me with a smile.
“Welcome to Mysty Bayou.”
“Thank you.” Filling my details and paying the deposit, I asked. “Isn’t this the tourist season?”
She nodded. “You arrived early. We’ve allotted the best room for you. Enjoy your stay, Mr. Clooney.”
The room on the first floor was small but neat. Giving the young boy some pennies, I shut the door and went to open the window. Distinct orange haze spread over the horizon, even as thick clouds rolled towards me with tremendous speed. The breeze was getting stronger each minute.
A flock of seagulls flew by, their screeches loud enough to wake the dead. Dr. North would love this town. A new start after the revelation in The Unmasked Death. There was enough time before the deadline set by my agent. Taking a look around would give me some inspiration. Small towns had big secrets.
There was a sudden tentative knock on the door. “Umm… Mr. Clooney, you are that famous author? Can I get an autograph? My mum loves your books. Please?” It was the same boy.
“She’s gonna be crazy tonight.” He grinned when I obliged. Being recognized for my work in a remote town gave me a lot of happiness. It was surprising that his mother was a fan of my works.
A quick shower later, the almost deserted streets called to me. Ignoring the ominous sky and the driver’s warning, my walk began. A lone seagull cried, giving me an idea for the introductory scene. I jumped aside as a delivery van drove by at full speed, bumping into someone soft and fluffy.
“Uff! Young man!” A melodious voice complained.
“Sorry, ma’am.” Picking up the bags, I noticed they were rather heavy.
“Thank you. Early tourist?” Her amethyst eyes sparkled. Lips painted in a matching shade, her silver hair was pulled into a messy bun. A sigil of Baphomet* pendant rested on her ample bosom.
“Whoa!” Breath locked in my lungs. I continued to stare at her.
“See a ghost?” Bracelets tinkled from her wrists as she waved an arm. “Boy, you alright?”
“Who are you?”
It didn’t look like she was bothered much by my gruff tone. “Well, I’m a resident of Mysty Bayou and the owner of this store.” She pointed towards a door behind her. In an ornate script, the words Aromatic Makutu were engraved.
“You sell perfumes!”
“Is that a sin?”
“Yes… No.” Closing my eyes, I spoke. “You resemble my famous character. It caught me off guard. That’s all.”
Chuckling, she turned and gestured to follow her inside. After a slight hesitation, I did. The place wasn’t big, but she stocked the shelves full with colorful bottles in various sizes. The white and cream walls had flowers painted on them. In one corner sat a table with four chairs. The scent of exotic elixirs hung in the air.
“So tell me about her.” She dumped the bags on the counter. “Your name, boy?”
“Samuel Clooney. Not sure you’d like to know more, though.”
She chose the shadows as we sat at the table. “Ah, that man. Nice to meet you. I’m Elle,” She winked and whispered, “Or call me Dr. North.”
The laughter faded from her eyes at my expression. “Not her? Did I get confused?”
“You know.” I glared at her.
Elle shook her head. “Haven’t read, Samuel. Sorry. People tell me things, like Katie. You might have met her son. He works as an assistant in Haven for Souls hotel.”
“How do you that I’m lodged there?”
“I don’t. There are only two hotels in this town where tourists stay. Haven for Souls is the first choice for most people.” She sighed. “Are you always like this or am I responsible?”
I forced the tension away from my bones, with a rueful smile. “Usually better than this. It’s Sam.”
“A pity. Do serial killers look like me?”
Elle nodded and slowly stood, gripping the table for support. “Arthritis.” She grimaced. “Want to have dinner with an old lady, Sam boy?”
Thunder rumbled far away, a reminder to deny her invitation. But, she might come in handy. I might need her. The idea got me excited, overpowering the unease. “Sure.”
“Thank you. We should make it before the storm begins.”
“The weather changes fast. Why are these so heavy?” I asked, carrying her bags outside.
“Yes, in the blink of an eye. Only locals can predict the changes. Ingredients and stuff for perfumes. I customize the scents. You won’t find two perfumes alike, ever.”
“Can you make one for me?”
“Why not? It would cost you. Not talking about money.” She grinned. “What’s your favorite scent?”
Elle had a musical laugh. It filled my senses, pushing aside everything else.
“Scent, Sam. Patchouli would suit you. Got some at home.”
Her car was a second-hand Chevy. It stuttered making me wonder how she’d manage if it broke down. The clouds loomed overhead, ready to drench us.
“My Beetle is in the garage for some repair. The neighbor allowed me to use his car. Get in, Sam.”
“A red one?”
She looked surprised. “Are you stalking me?”
How does one answer a question like that? We drove in silence until we reached her house.
“Do you believe in the occult?” The question was weighing on my mind ever since we met.
She laughed again. “Oh, the chain and bracelets? Brings me a better business from tourists. Many have an odd fascination with the dark world.” Elle replied as I helped her from the car. The breeze turned into wind as dust swirled around us.
“My husband’s gift.” She added, her features softening at the fond memory. “He had a wacky sense of humor.”
An old house stood among wildflowers and tangled creepers. The faded paint on the outside was no match for the cheerful splashes of color inside. Abstract art pieces adorned the walls, enhancing the shades. Soft cushions were scattered on the worn out sofa. The house was a simple two bedroom, single floor design.
“How did your husband pass away? Hope you don’t mind me asking.”
Elle washed her hands, placed a few utensils on the kitchen counter, and gave me a sad smile. “I don’t mind. He tripped down the basement stairs and broke his neck. We’ve been married for barely a year.”
“I’m sorry. Must have been hard for you.” Poor woman.
She nodded. “It was until his distant relatives found out and took me in. I owe them my life. Whatever I’m now is because of them. Enough about me, Sam. Haven’t you got a special someone in your life?”
Sinking into the sofa, I mumbled. “She left.”
Elle blinked and tilted her head, waiting for me to continue.
“She thought Gabriel North was my alter ego or something. Asked how I can write such vivid details without having experience. Walked away calling me a crazy.”
Elle snorted. Restless, I stalked to the window. Lightning flashed, blinding me for an instant, bringing along an idea. I needed to write it down. Nothing mattered more than my work.
“It’s here.” She murmured. “Thinking about her, Sam?”
With a short laugh, I explained. She gestured to a shelf. “Write away while I cook.”
“Thanks, Elle.” Stretching on the sofa, I let the words flow, ignoring everything else. “Tell me about your parents, please.”
“You created me. You should know.” She laughed, waving her knife at me. The image of her wielding it on her victims with ruthless precision, as they cried for help filled my mind.
“Don’t say that! Anyway, I’m developing her. Readers should empathize with her.”
Elle spoke as she cooked. “Orphan. Never knew my parents. Grew up here and there until my husband found me stealing from his garden. We got married in a week.” She shook her head and continued. “Katie already feels sad. She told me the entire story from book one to three the other day. Why the name Dr. North?”
“It sounded cool. I’m glad Katie feels that way. Some readers are pissed off at me for turning Gabriel into Gabrielle. The agent said readers would go bonkers when he read it. Didn’t happen.”
“From what you say, they did, indeed.” Elle pointed out. Right.
“The next book will take care of it.” My confidence was high as I scanned through the sheets on my lap.
“Good for you, Sam.” Elle placed a bowl of fresh lettuce in front of me. “Tear it for me. Do you know my husband’s name?”
A thunderbolt crashed nearby, making me jump. The house shook as the lights flickered twice and gave up.
“Sam, stay where you are. There are candles nearby.”
A few seconds later, Elle lit a candle. Her amethyst eyes had a strange glow in the tiny flame. Gulping, I sat away from her. She noticed and started tearing the lettuce. Her hands trembled. A sweet scent gradually filled the room, calming my senses.
“I’m sorry, Elle. It’s been a bad day.” Taking her hand in mine, I couldn’t help but notice how fragile she was.
“I understand.” Blinking back her tears, she spoke in a low voice. “My husband was North. I’m Gabrielle North. It’s my real name.”
Looking straight in my eye, Elle asked. “Do you know I’m a healer? Not a doctor with a degree. Still, a doctor for those in need. A witch, in common language,” Pushing aside the bowl, she stared at her bracelets. “I moved here after the family died in a fire accident. My focus was on earning enough money to survive. Funds were scarce, but the town had more tourists back then. Katie helped me throughout, along with a few others. Half the townsfolk steers clear of me even today.”
Rain lashed at the window as lightning and thunder fought a fierce battle. The storm wreaked havoc as my mind processed her words. Various emotions tumbled within me.
“I… don’t know what to say.”
“Then let’s eat.” She said in a sudden change of mood. “I’ve got to work afterward.”
“There’s no power.”
Dinner was hot and creamy squash soup, toasted fresh bread, chicken breast with lettuce and cherry tomatoes. It was delicious. My stomach was full. Complimenting her, I stood. The room spun as my vision blurred.
” Sam?” Her voice was filled with concern.
“Poor boy. Why don’t you lie down? You can’t go out anyway.”
Nodding, I let her guide me. My last coherent thought was finding the bed warm; smelling of sandalwood.
Pain shot through my limbs as I tried to move. Turning my head to a side, I saw a group of people huddled together. My hands and legs were tied to the base of a huge slab of stone. Hard and unyielding, it hurt all over. A musky, damp smell filled my lungs. Odd sounds reverberated around. One of them raised a hand in a signal. The chants grew louder. The setting was familiar.
“Sam, you’re awake.”
“Elle?” I croaked.
“Don’t move. You’ll only end up with more pain.” She advised as the rope cut into my flesh. A stout woman waddled our way, holding a copy of The Unmasked Death. “Dr. North, we are ready.” Staring at me, she added. “Can he sign this for me? It’ll be his last book.”
“What!” The gravity of the situation was sinking into my muddled brain.
“Don’t shout, Sam. And Katie, no. Bring the tray.” Elle ordered. A red robe hung from her shoulders, covering her body. The pendant sparkled in the dim light. Paragraphs of words I’d written describing the process in detail spun around, mocking me for being a fool. The thought being a sacrifice turned my stomach. Tears filled my eyes.
She gave me one of her smiles. “Dr. North, it is. The best healer in the world. I’ve saved as many lives as I’ve sacrificed. That’s how Satan likes it.”
I shook my head. It made me dizzy. With much effort, words formed. “No… Please.”
The others swarmed closer, forming a circle around me. My blood froze. I tugged at the rope, knowing it was useless.
Elle spoke. “It’s Satan’s wish that you entered Mysty Bayou at this time. A storm on a new moon night is powerful. You gifted yourself to us.”
“Elle… How can you?” I choked.
It was getting impossible to breathe as the fumes from the incense sticks thickened the atmosphere. Each of them in the circle looked at me in anticipation. Someone stepped forward to remove my clothes. It was the boy from the hotel. His expression was unreadable. The manager woman was there as well, her pale eyes staring at my naked body. Were they all crazy?
Katie covered my mouth with a cloth, tying it around my head. One by one, they stepped forward and stabbed me with needle-like instruments in the arms and thighs. They folded their hands, bowed to Elle before going back to their places in the circle. I whimpered, twisting like a trapped bird.
Elle held a dagger in her left. Marking the pattern of the sigil of Baphomet on my chest with her right hand, she repeated the process several times. I kept kicking, every move resulting in blood trickling from those wounds.
“Sam, consider yourself lucky and lie still. Satan will be pleased with your selflessness.” Elle murmured. Others nodded, swaying in a trance. In one swift movement, she cut deep into my flesh, a diagonal line of the star. My muffled cry was loud enough for Katie to look at me. Chest heaving, I silently pleaded, not taking my eyes off her.
At last, she turned to Elle. “He’s hurting.” Gritting my teeth against the pain, I held my breath.
Elle said nothing. Her right hand disappeared into the folds of her robe. “Just once, it’ll be painless.”
The needle pricked at my neck before her words made sense. They chanted with increased vigor as I slipped into the void along with my unanswered questions.
*Sigil of Baphomet- Official emblem of the Church of Satan, consisting of the head of a goat transfixed upon a reversed pentagram flanked by the Hebrew letters of the word “Leviathan”. (Source Wiki).
Makutu: sorcery; witchcraft.
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