Jack Olivier stilled the motor of the small boat before it could bump the wet stilts of the old shack sitting atop its rotting timbers. Croaking tree frogs and the lapping of the water as it slaps against the sides of the boat are the only sounds to greet him in the surrounding darkness. His hand reached for the boat’s starter rope, then dropped back to his side. “To late to turn back now,” he whispered, as he tied the boat along side the one already there. Climbing the ladder he sees the faint glow of a candle moving from somewhere inside. His heart picks up speed as the weather-beaten door opens.
She made no move to step aside. “Jack, what brings you to the bayous in the dark of night?” Her husky voice, with its melodic, French-Creole accent, flowed over him.
“I need your help.”
For a long moment she remained still, watching him. Her dark green, almond-shaped eyes wary. Then stepping to the side she pushed the door open wider.
Walking past her a sharp musky odor fills his senses. The smell is not at all unpleasant. It is her smell and he knows long after he leaves it will remain, calling forth vivid images he wants to forget.
A glimmer of fear showed in her dark eyes as she set the candleholder down on a small kitchen table. “What is it you wish of me?”
Dropping into the one available chair he tried, without success, to hide his tension. “I think you already know.”
“Someone has moved into the mansion.” Her hand flew to her throat as though to ward off the suffocating effect his chilling words had upon her.
He can almost smell the stark fear clutching her reed-thin body as a brief shudder passes over her. “So much time has passed, I was beginnin’ to think maybe we were beyond havin’ to worry.”
“Evil does not die, Jack.” She stared through the weathered screen door at the gathering mist hovering over the water. “It only lies dormant. Waiting.”
“You have to warn them, Chandra.” He ran a tired hand through his thick, dark brown hair. “I don’t know how, I mean how does one go `bout warnin’ others `bout the likes of him and not come off soundin’ like we’re the ones they should be leery of?”
“What you ask of me, I am unable to give.”
“Unable, or unwillin’?” He gazed at her in the dim light. “You know as well as I, no one else will go up there. Christ! Even I haven’t been in that house since...” his voice shuddered to a stop. Shoving his tall, lean body from the chair, he pushed past her onto the porch.
She followed jerking him around to face her. “You, and others like you, think since I have the gift to see what others cannot, I am beyond his reach. The powers of darkness are very strong, Jack.” Her slender arms twined around her body. “Only a fool would challenge their wrath.”
His hand moved upward to touch her, then dropped back to his side. “Chandra, I’m talkin’ ‘bout a flesh and blood man. You’re talkin’ as though he’s someone so terrible we need to arm ourselves with holy water and a crucifix.” Jack tried to reason with her. “The man is dangerously ill, but not evil. At least, not in the sense you’re tryin’ to make him out to be.”
A slight laugh bubbled up from her throat, as she looked at him shocked he could be so naïve. “All right,” he nodded, tipping her face up to his and running one finger over her high cheekbones. His eyes lingered on her straight, well defined nose as her nostrils flared with frustration and anger. “I realize there are powers I can’t explain. I know you can do things I would never have believed possible. Such as talkin’ to spirits, or healin’ those who come to you when even the doctors have given up. But, Chandra, I’d be willin’ to bet every cent I have, you could best him.”
Her beautiful face, bathed in the glow of the full moon moving out from the clouds, relaxed for a moment before taking on the shadow of fear once more. “Then you would be a poor man, Jack Olivier, for I know his strength,” She pushed his hand from her face. “Tell me of the people living in the mansion.
“I don’t know much, only what I overheard at the post office.” He shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans to keep from reaching out for her again. “A man, his wife, and three little girls moved in a few days ago.”
“Of course,” she drew out the words her voice taking on a breathless tone. “That is why it has been so long since anyone has occupied the mansion.” Her long, bare nails bit into her arms as she stood there trying to sort out her racing thoughts. “Others, who tried to lease the house were turned away, because they did not have children.”
A slight shiver of fear passed over him. “Why do you say that?”
Without taking her eyes from his, she asked in a voice devoid of feeling. “Are you sure you wish to know the answer?”
“The strength of evil is at its peak when the blood of the pure is spilled.” She ignored the way his brows drew together. “What purer blood is there, than that which is yet to be tainted or defiled? Would he not think it sweeter than the finest wine?” She refused to look away as disgust replaced fear. “They trust with their very souls, my naïve friend. It is this innocence which calls and tempts the evil to come for them.”
His eyes grew wide as the full impact of her words shot through his brain. “Then what you’re sayin’, is not only is he psychotic, he especially enjoys killin’ children!”
“Yes!” she spat out the word. “These people are nothing to me! Yet you ask me to risk my very life to protect them!” She plopped herself into the nearest chair. At her cold indifference, he drew back as though seeing her for the first time. “You think me unfeeling.” Her beautiful eyes rounded as she cocked her head to one side. “But you only feel that way because you do not know what you ask of me.”
Stepping up behind her, he placed both hands on her slender shoulders. Slowly he began to knead the taut muscles, smiling slightly as she dropped her head forward in open invitation for him to continue. “I’m askin’ you to stop somethin’ ‘fore it’s too late.” He kept his voice low-keyed. “If you wish, I’ll go with you to talk to them.”
“No.” she shrugged his hands away. “If I decide to put my own self at risk, I will do what needs to be done alone.” Deliberately she left her chair, distancing the space between them.
He stood where he was, his gaze sliding over her tall slender form, noting how the hot humid night made the thin gown she was wearing cling to her body. It was all he could do to keep his mind on the problem at hand. With a determined shake of his head, he continued, “What I don’t understand, is why you think he will know if you go to them.” His voice had lost its soft tone now. Anger at her stubbornness and the uncomfortable tightening in his groin combined to sharpen his words. “It isn’t as though he can see what goes on at every moment of the day and night.”
“His eyes can see what others cannot.” Chandra pushed a hand beneath her hair to lift it from clinging to the back of her neck. “Never doubt his ability to search me out to extract payment for what he would deem his just due.”
“Chandra!” In two quick strides he was across the floor, taking her arm and spinning her around to face him. “The man is insane!” His fingers dug sharply into her flesh as she tried to back away out of his reach. “I don’t give a damn what the doctors say. He isn’t cured! He never will be! I think the best thing for all of us would be for me to go to them and simply tell them what they need to know.”
“Would they listen?” Her eyes closed briefly sending out a silent plea.
“I’ll do my best to see they do,” his voice softened as he stared down at her. “At any rate he won’t look to you for revenge.”
“It could work.” she let herself warm to the idea. “You are only one of many, where as I would be the first person he would come for.”
“Then it’s settled,” He leaned forward to drop a quick kiss on the end of her nose. “First thing tomorrow mornin’ I’ll go to the mansion and have a talk with them. I can be pretty persuasive when I put my mind to it.”
Chandra gazed up at him, seeing the goodness in his dark brown eyes. His narrow, boyish face revealed his feelings, feelings she remembered all too well. “I know you think I am talking about things which have no real place in your world. Only,” her voice caught on the words she was trying to say, “I know of which I speak.”
A chilling memory crept into his mind. A memory of blood-drenched walls and the unmistakable smell of bodies left to lie in the sweltering heat long after the pulse of life had stopped beating. Quickly he pushed the sickening thoughts to the back of his mind. Taking a deep breath he gently brushed the tightly curled mass of ebony hair back over one dusky shoulder before tipping her face up to his. “You’re talkin’ to a man well-versed in the Catholic Church, Chandra. I know of which I speak,” he smiled down at her.
Deliberately she pushed his hands away, looking beyond him. “So many believe they are pure of heart and because they say their prayers each night evil can never touch them.” She closed her eyes expelling a weary breath. “They are so wrong.”
When he made to reach out for her again, she sidestepped him putting out her hands to ward off his embrace. “If you believe he is not in control, then I fear for you. Remember, even your Bible speaks of Satan’s reign, and although I do not believe in Satan I do believe in dark spirits. Jack listen to me, it is the dark side who is in control, and right now this darkness is unstoppable in the one waiting in the shadows of the Hindel Mansion.”
“Chandra. I get the feelin’ we’re talkin’ ‘bout two different things. I’m talkin’ ‘bout Lawrence Hindel, a deranged killer. Money bought his freedom and turned him loose on the people of this town. Everyone here has enough sense to stay away from that house, but these people aren’t from here. They have no idea what danger they’re in. I can’t close my eyes and pretend somethin’ can’t happen!” He turned, striding towards the door.
Standing in the doorway a few moments later she watched as his small boat disappeared around the bend. Chandra felt her slim body, grow cold with terror for she knew what she had to do. But first she would ascertain, beyond all doubt, the danger really did exist.
Storm clouds moved quickly across the full moon as the low rumblings of thunder echoed throughout the darkness. Seating herself in a chair beside the open window, Chandra concentrated on freeing her spirit from the confines of her earthly body. Taking several deep breaths to relax her mind, she shut out all sound and movement around her, from the fluttering curtain blowing away from the window, to the sound of the tree frogs making themselves heard below. Always before, it had been an easy task. One she had been able to do, almost at will, since she had been a very young girl. Now knowing the danger awaiting the innocent and herself if she were caught, her mind was almost strangled with fear, thwarting her efforts to reach out to the ones in need the only safe way she knew how.
Forcing the fear deep inside, she at last felt herself becoming weightless felt her spirit soar from the flesh-and-blood-shell sitting upright in the tattered old chair. In no time at all, she was walking in the sprawling grounds of the Hindel Mansion. Light streamed through the high windows, pushing back the shadows reaching defiantly across the spacious lawns as she made her way unerringly up the wide stone steps to the front entrance.
Passing quickly through the door, she halted just inside as she watched three little girls, ranging in age from five, eight and possibly ten, coming towards her down a wide staircase. They were beautiful children, with their long blond hair parted in the middle and hanging well below their waists. Their large blue eyes still shone with the innocence of youth. As she watched them, she felt an unusual sadness come over her at the thought of what may be waiting for them in the shadows.
Suddenly an unearthly howling arose from somewhere beyond the sturdy walls, stopping each girl in mid-stride as they looked one to the other trying to discern what had caused it. Then as if by some unspoken agreement, they began running as fast as their young legs would allow through the cavernous rooms to where a man of perhaps thirty-five, and a woman somewhat younger, sat in conversation.
“Mama! Did you hear that?” the oldest girl asked breathlessly before throwing herself into the safety of her mother’s arms.
“Yes, Margaret,” her mother allowed, beginning to push the child away from her, “ it was only a dog.”
“But… it sounded like it was hurt,” Margaret’s eight-year-old sister cried, her large blue eyes growing even larger.
“I don’t think so, Rebecca,” her father spoke up, trying to put the children at ease. “It was probably some neighbor’s dog out hunting.”
“I wish we could have a dog,” she whined, settling herself on the floor at his feet.
“Now, we aren’t going to start this again.” He glanced at her over his wide-rimmed glasses, as though the subject was already settled.
Their mother entered into the conversation. “You both know what Mr. Quigly, the caretaker, said when we leased this house. “He said no pets!”
A long, deep-throated howl combined with echoing peals of thunder brought all five people up straight.
“Good God! That is unnerving, isn’t it!” The tall, thin-bodied man laid his crossword puzzle book down on the table beside his chair and rising to his feet walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window. Pulling back the heavy drapery, he gazed out onto the shadowed grounds. “That was enough to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up!” He shivered slightly, dropping the drapery back into place before turning to face the ones watching him closely.
“Din’ make my hairs stand up,” five-year-old Lisa whispered, trying to sound brave while at the same time inching closer to the woman who reached out lovingly towards her.
“Roger,” she glanced nervously at her husband. “Maybe it’s some stray who’s simply hungry.” She inserted an embroidery needle into a pillowcase she had been stitching to lay it aside. “Why don’t I set some food out for it?”
“Janet, if we start doing that, before you know it, it’ll be hanging around all the time.” He withdrew a pipe from a carved wooden holder setting on the end table. “Then Mr. Quigly will assume its ours and accuse us of breaking our lease. The man strikes me as the sort who would refuse to return our money, too.” He popped the lid from a large can of tobacco and taking a pinch between his thumb and forefinger placed it in the bowl of the pipe, tamping it down snugly. “I think it goes without saying we would be in a sorry mess if that happened.”
“Roger, please!” she nodded to the girls.
“What? Oh yes...well...anyway,” he glanced toward the three small girls whose trusting eyes were fixed on his as he continued with what he was saying, “the point I was trying to make is, no one is to feed that dog. He’ll find his way back home.”
“All right, girls it’s bedtime.” Janet cut short the conversation before the children had a chance to bring up their campaign for the dog’s wellbeing again. “You need to scoot upstairs and get into your gowns. Daddy and I will be up directly to tuck you in.”
With a resigned sigh Margaret herded her sisters ahead of her toward the staircase, watching her parents over her shoulder, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think Mama and Daddy are mean not to let us have a dog. I don’t care what they say.” Her small mouth settled into a determined pout. “After everyone’s in bed tonight I’m going to take some food out to that poor little dog. He must be terribly hungry to cry like that.”
“I’ll go with you,” Rebecca placed a small arm lovingly, around her sister’s waist.
“Me too! Me too!” cried Lisa, determined not to be left out of anything that had to be talked about in a whisper.
They were starting up the stairs when they heard the strange howling erupt once more.
“Listen!” Margaret whispered.
“Yes! Listen!” Chandra cried, only they couldn’t hear her. They have no idea what they are heading for, the chilling thought raced through her mind. If they found them on the grounds the children wouldn’t stand a chance. They wouldn’t hesitate when their prey was so readily available.
She must warn them. They were no longer faceless strangers. She had witnessed the love between this family. Now there was no way she could turn her face from them. She had to return to her body as quickly as possible. They could not see her as she was now. Within moments she was outside in the rain, on her way back to her home in the swamps when the piercing howls split the night silence once more. Very close this time. So close she could smell the distinct odor of wet fur.