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“Shh, listen”. Gary clenched Dora’s tiny hand so hard it was almost painful. As Dora listened she could hear faintly in the distance, the gurgling wail that must have been what Gary referred to. It seemed to be coming from just over the knoll that they were now climbing.
“Aww”, she cooed. “Sounds like a wounded animal, maybe a deer. Damned hunters! They probably shot it and didn’t bother tracking it.” She pulled away from Gary’s grip and proceeded double-time up the embankment leaving Gary puffing to keep up. “Dora, wait”, he called frustrated. Gary knew this area by reputation only, but knew that just over this low ridge lay Merton’s Marsh and somewhere in the vicinity was the old Hatchett farm. Both had somewhat sinister reputations.
Heedless, Dora hiked up her skirt and soon vanished over the berm. Shaking his head Gary broke into a run to catch up. “Shit! Girls”, he croaked in exasperation as he crested the rise.
The old gypsy woman’s face puckered like a prune through the sea of wrinkles in obvious distain as she handed over the amulet. “This should keep you safe, no guarantees. If you’re a righteous man with a righteous cause, legend has it, it will grant you one wish. That’s twenty for the reading, fifty five for the talisman”.
As Dougie Lee’s hand closed around the item he could feel energy coursing through his hand and forearm. He slapped down a c-note and uttered “Keep the change”. As he turned and strode from the opulently accoutered tent the scent of the evening air carried the usual carnival bouquet of popcorn, cotton candy and boiled wieners. Dougie Lee stood for a moment and breathed deep the enticing aroma, letting himself relax. Looking at the pendant that depended from a worn leather thong, he grimaced. The centerpiece was obviously some sort of rodents’ skull intertwined with crimson thread. The eye sockets were stuffed with some kind of herb, maybe Spanish moss. To either side of the skull, laced onto the thong were what he swore were human teeth. “Ugh”, He shuddered as he slipped the awful contrivance over his head where it came to rest morosely against his breast. It held power; he could feel it. “Please do what you’re supposed to”, he told it as he went in search of his parked truck.
Douglas Leroy Walton Hammerli III was the only son of a southern Baptist minister who’d grown up in northern Lafourche County, Louisiana, among Coonass and Cajun influences and had seen the power of the voodoo priests, called Bokar. His father had warned him vehemently that such practices were the province and machinations of Lucifer, himself and to stay clear of it. Dougie Lee had pretty much heeded that advice until tonight. These were drastic circumstances that required drastic means. He’d never resorted to voodoo before but this case was something different than anything he’d previously undertaken. He gripped the amulet and said silently, “What the hell, I wish that I will not be killed”. As he slipped the key into his 1995 Ford F-150 he released the talisman and whispered, “Sorry Papa”. He closed the door, keyed the ignition and turned north onto Highway 1, headed for Mansura.
Bounty hunting was a far more lucrative living than he’d ever earned in his sixteen years as deputy sheriff. He’d only been at it for three years and had already paid off his home in Cottonport, which he was now renting out, and bought an upscale home in a gated community on the outskirts of Alexandria. Last week he took up the trail of Dooley Hatchett. A member of the infamous Hatchett clan who resided on a run-down, nonproductive, overgrown farm on a sand spit in the swamps around Bayou du Lac. It was said they still raised pigs but Dougie could not imagine how they would ever have grown anything there.
The Hatchetts were grist for local rumor mills. Dougie Lee had heard them all: They were a family of monsters through in-breeding. They killed and ate unwary travelers when they ran out of pigs. They were witches and warlocks and danced naked beneath the full moon. They were also said to be un-killable. Whatever the truth was, he knew one thing; there was a $50,000 reward out for Dooley and that meant the boy was going down. A small grin graced his lips as he pulled off the highway into the parking lot of the Louisiana State Police barracks.
Inside, the night officer at the desk recognized him immediately. “Well well, Deputy Hammerli. What you up to, slummin’?”
Dougie Lee grinned. “Ex-deputy, Floyd.”
Officer Floyd LeChamp returned the grin. “Right. I suppose you’re here about ol’ Dooley. Been expectin’ you. I got this together for ya”. He handed Dougie Lee a thin manila folder. “Ain’t much on ‘im.” He was right; the whole file consisted of an address and a witness report and that was it.
Reading the witness report he was not surprised to realize that knew the witness, knew of her anyway. He dropped the file on the desk. “Mame LeRoux? She’s the witness?”
“Yep. Scared the poor ol’ girl half to death too”, said Floyd as he sipped tepid, half-stale coffee. The old Cajun woman had been sitting on her porch at about sundown smoking her pipe when she heard a scuffle in the woods. Suddenly Dooley came storming out of the underbrush dragging a woman kicking and screaming. He proceeded to tear the hapless woman’s clothing from her body and when her struggling continued he clubbed her senseless with the butt end of a huge Bowie knife and proceeded to rape her limp body mercilessly. When he was through, to Ms. Leroux’s shock and horror, the brute cut off her head, stood and held it aloft for poor old Mame’s benefit. This whole tableau took place only yards from the old woman’s front door. She rose in shock from her rocking chair and promptly passed out. When she came to she had to walk almost a mile to the nearest neighbor with a phone.
“Laura something. Name’s in the file”. Floyd pushed it across the desk. “From over in Norma”.
Dougie Lee reopened the file. Lara Gilquist, wife and mother. “Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed.
“Right? We sent officers out there with warrants but no sign of him…or anybody for that matter. Place looks like it hasn’t been lived in for years. They’re out there alright. There’s pigs in the pen. Damned if we could find ‘em though”.
“Shit! I’m gonna have to stake the place out. Not looking forward to that. Mind if I sleep in the back tonight? I’ll get an early start in the morning.”
“Sure”, said Floyd. “Cell four’s open.
Dougie Lee retrieved his duffle from his truck and repaired to the cell block.
He was off well before daylight after checking his inventory. Map: check, Glock 40: check, S&W M10 back-up: check, M-16: check, Buck knife: check, hand-cuffs: check, lighter: check, waders: check, binoculars: check, bag lunch: check, cell phone: check. He checked and double checked. He decided that the waders would only slow and weigh him down and put those back in the truck’s tool-box. Finally he reached under his shirt for the amulet and repeated his wish. “Please don’t let me be killed.”
After parking the truck and hiking for a few miles he stopped to check the map. Just as he thought, the Hatchett farm should be right over the next ridge. He found a stand of rhododendron on the hill overlooking the farm (if indeed one could call it that), which supplied superb cover and settled in to fan the area with his binoculars. Hours went by without a movement or sound from the farm other than pig grunts and squeals, and it was starting to look like the clan had truly vacated, when he noticed movement. Just before sundown, through the door came the hunched, freakish figure of an elderly man with two buckets. This trollish apparition shuffled in hitching, jerking strides across the muck-sodden yard to the pig pen and dumped the contents of the buckets within, screaming curses at the animals in a croaking, barely human voice.
A cloying dank ground mist had slid in off the marsh from the early evening’s temperature change and Dougie Lee patted the amulet wondering at his good fortune. This fog would provide just the cover he needed to work his way down the hill to the yard undetected. He stealthily crept around the south corner of the house and with his Glock drawn and cocked, surprised the old man. “On the ground”, Dougie Lee shouted. He was not prepared for the sight that greeted him when the man spun on his heels to face him and he gasped and stepped back. The face that fairly stunk of hatred was one out of a nightmare. Covered with warts and pus-running lesions, it bore only one working eye. The other was only a weeping socket. The nose was more like a pig’s with huge running nostrils funneling mucous into a gaping maw that sported only two large tusk-like teeth protruding from the bottom jaw. That mouth presently flew open and the tongue lashed back and forth emitting a blood-curdling roar.
At that moment Dougie Lee could hear commotion from within the house and he turned to his left just in time to see Dooley Hatchett burst from the front door with other ugly family members in tow. Then, with a blinding silver flash, his world went black.
Gary knew this was a spooky place; he’d counted on it. In his mind he saw Dora clinging to her hero and himself stepping up to be the brave knight in shining armor to slay any and all dragons that might accost her. How could she resist him in such a role? What he hadn’t counted on was Dora taking off in search of the poor wounded animal they’d heard bleating just over the hill. But nothing in all his nineteen years had prepared him for the sight that now confronted him.
Dora was sitting on the ground white as snow, tears streaming from wide eyes, mouth moving but unable to form words, pointing straight ahead. As he came up behind her and saw what she was looking at Gary realized that someone had nailed a scarecrow to a huge oak tree. No…not a scarecrow. Holy God! It was a human skeleton draped with gobbets of bloody meat and swarming with flies. The only flesh left was on the head and right arm. That arm gripped a necklace of some sort and finally Gary realized that this was the source of the noise they’d heard, which suddenly uttered the first intelligible words…”One-more-wish…oh God…Let –me-DIE!”
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