Chapter 1: Embrace
|Night closed around
Sylvian DuClair as she stole from the
solitary car parked on the deserted
parish road. Ghostly shadows floated
overhead. A breeze whispered through the
pines, rippling the dark, indistinct
foilage of the live oaks and cypress
giants surrounding her, then stilled,
chilling her with its absence.
scratched and jabbed the size-five jeans
she'd wiggled into hours ago on
the floor of her apartment. Her forehead
furrowed, pressing her finely arched
charcoal brows into a straight line. She
stepped tentatively away from the
automobile and paused, hesitant to close
the door. Every caution she'd learned in
her almost twenty-five years begged her
to jump back inside, lock the doors, and
remain secure until first light.
Shaking off the
tremor threatening to overwhelm her,
she chided herself sharply, yet silently,
for the stillness felt unwelcoming to the
spoken word. There are no
boogeymen. No ghosts. No ghouls. No
anyone for that matter. You're afraid.
You're standing on a lonely, dark country
road, way past midnight, with no idea
where to go from here. You're overacting
simply because you're lost.
How had she used
so much fuel in such a short time? The
tank registered full in the economy-class
rental when she checked the gauge before
pulling out of New Orleans's Moisant
International Airport and onto the
She kicked the
tire. The gray bomb had no real
get-up-and-go. Driving on the rain-swept,
darkened freeways left her feeling
vulnerable to the larger cars and trucks
speeding past her.
read the signs, staying in the right
lane, avoiding being run over -- too much
-- the stress had all been too much. She
kicked the black rubber again,
harder, and succeeded in ramming her toes
against the hard surface of the tire.
Great. Just great, she thought. Leaning
against the hood, she removed the soft
leather loafer and rubbed her foot to
ease the pain.
.....The car shook from her
weight pressing against the frame. Tin
can, she thought, disgusted. She barely
weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. She
frowned. First the missed turnoff, then
the exit to nowhere, and now this ...
surveyed the darkness; the breathing
shadows pressed in on her. She slid her
shoe back on and stepped into the small
area of light cast by the open door,
ready to leap back inside if ... what?
You're the only chicken here, she
scolded. This place is deserted. No
homes, no farms, no businesses, no
lights, no road markers showing the way
back to the city. Empty like the fuel
needle now quivering ominously close to
sideways on the edge of the driver's
seat, weighing her options while she
twisted her throbbing foot in circles in
front of her. The hint of jade green
rimming her golden brown irises widened
and diffused in the faint glow cast by
the overhead light. Still the fear, she
cajoled silently. This area has more than
two million people. Surely you can find
one of them to give you directions.
people, where are you?" she
whispered in an attempt to lighten her
spirits. A long-forgotten song slipped,
somewhat altered, into the conscious mind
-- Where have all the people gone, gone
to graveyards every one --
"Stop!" Sylvian exclaimed,
startling startling herself.
serve no useful purpose, she coaxed. Your
co-workers would laugh themselves silly
if they could see you. The fearless news
writer cowering in her tracks. And your
psychology professors would insist that
you quit acting like the children you
want to help and face your fear. So, find
out what lies ahead. Now.
And be grateful
for small blessings, she urged, noticing
for the first time the absence of rain.
She breathed in slowly. No musty scent.
No order of decay. No hint of gasoline of
diesel fumes. The air smelled clear,
clean, somehow virginal as if the waft
came from a cooler climate with no foul
breath of pollution.
her head, her long, black hair rustling
gently. She stood and brushed off her
jeans. Nothing made sense. Humidity
didn't suffocate New Orleans after a
rain? Impossible. Although a stranger to
this city, she well knew Texas towns
along the Gulf of Mexico. In Galveston,
the summer humidity, particularly after a
rain, could make breathing labored. Even
Houstonians, whose city wasn't on the
Gulf but lay almost due west of where she
was standing, suffered. New Orleans could
hardly be different.
Again, she took
a deep breath. This time, she caught the
faint hint of salt water from the Gulf of
Mexico. Ah, that's better, she thought.
Perhaps an ocean breeze cleansed the
air of all other scents.
The solution had
little time to settle her nerves before
the idea began nagging at her. Lake
Pontchartrain bordered the city on the
north and the Mississippi River on the
south. The city might be surrounded by
water, but miles and refineries separated
New Orleans from the Gulf. She would not
be smelling a Gulf breeze.
Even as she
puzzled over the confusing smells, she
became aware of another problem. Her mind
recorded a total absence of sound around
her. Deafening silence.
No owls. No
dogs. No crickets. No frogs. A tremor ran
through her body. A storm approached. She
must hurry. Quietly, she closed the door,
and walked stealthily down the unfamiliar
Just as she'd
given up hope that the route ahead led to
civilization, she glimpsed what appeared
to be a break in the trees on her right.
Another road? Heartened, she quickened
She reached the
opening, turned, and stopped. Tiny,
twinkling beacons from hundreds of
fireflies filled the woods. The silvery
light of the full moon sparkled like
diamonds off a lake not one-hundred yards
from where she stood.
The stars shone
brilliantly overhead, seeming at once
near enough to touch yet light years
away. Awed by the vision, she wondered
briefly how a storm could be nearby in a
night sky whose pristine glory reflected
so brightly off the dark water.
bespoke the rapture of another time,
another place, another world -- one which
called to her. Without another thought,
she walked into the woods. Laughter and
music greeted her. Cautiously, she peered
illuminated, youthful women with spring
garlands in their hair danced barefoot in
the moonlight close to the water's edge.
Their lithe forms moved with pagan
abandon; their feet painted circles in
the pearly sand while their hands drew
patterns in the air, reaching in unison
for the heavens and the earth. She found
the dance unlike any she'd ever
witnessed; the movements sensuous,
alluring, and somehow innocent.
.....The beguiling scene had a
twilight feel, and Sylvian feared if she
spoke or moved down to the sandy beach,
the dancers would vanish. She dismissed
the notion as silly. Still, she remained
.....The quintet moved in
adagio tempo to the lyrical strains of a
haunting song. She could not find a
source; the rhapsody seemed to be borne
on the air. The rhythm intensified,
growing faster, deeper, harder until the
ground beneath her reverberated.
.....Abruptly, the music
.....The dancers fell to their
knees on the sand, folded inward on
themselves, then arched their backs and
stretched their arms upward. Rising as
one, they turned to the water.
.....A sailing vessel similar
to the ancient ones she'd seen in the
Hall of Viking Ships in Oslo, Norway,
gleamed on the surface. Sylvian blinked
her eyes, once, twice, three times. The
mirage did not go away. She repeated the
process to no avail.
.....This is the twentieth
century. The ship is a replica.
Reassured, she quietly stepped forward,
using the trees as camouflage.
.....At the helm stood
a tall, muscular man clad in a sleevless,
short byrnie fitted over a lavender
tunic, which extended almost to his
knees. A skull-fitting golden helmet
covered his head. Although his ship and
his appearance should have been obscured
by the distance and the night, they
.....A fierce dragon's head
formed the prow. The rectangular red
sail, full-billowing despite the utter
stillness, proudly carried three golden
dragons emblazoned across the fabric,
separated by a V-shaped swatch of
lavender inset with gold crests. The
dominant dragon in the triangular
formation bore silver-tipped wings and a
spirling tail. The smaller, non-winged
dragons clenched their tails in their
.....The warrior drew her
attention. She could see him as clearly
as if she stood openly on the ship with
him instead of hidden behind the trees.
.....He stood battle ready. A
sheathed sword hung at his waist. Blond
locks flowed from beneath his helmet and
floated above the long, red cape
fluttering behind him as though the ship
were at full sail.
.....The helmet's faceguard
concealed most of his features, while
heightening the sensual fullness of his
mouth. His eyes pierced the distance.
.....They were deep violet.
Commanding. Sylvian fought the desire to
walk toward him.
.....He did not sail alone.
Four warriors stood behind him. When the
Viking ship landed, the five men
alighted. The dancers sprinted through
the shallow water toward them.
.....They embraced. Tenderly.
.....Suddenly, savagely, the
men slaughtered the women. The water ran
red with blood.
.....Sylvian screamed. She
turned and ran. Rain beat against her as
she struggled to reach the security of
her car, crashing into its metal body
before she could see the vehicle.
.....Shaking, she jumped in,
locked the doors, started the engine,
turned the compact around, and took off.
She sped down the black-top parish road
faster than safety allowed on the slick
surface, wondering what she'd just
witnessed. Nothing made any sense. Who
were those people in the woods? Five of
them were surely dead.
.....Glancing at the dashboard,
her eyes widened in surprise. Her gas
tank registered three-fourths full. Had
the dial been stuck before? Did she have
gas or not? She prayed she did.
.....Her breath came in short
.....Calm down, she cautioned.
Breathe deeply. Pay attention to the
signs. Otherwise, you'll never be able to
direct anyone to the location.
.....What would she say? She
couldn't mention the Viking ship. They'd
discount her words if she did. Besides,
how could a sailing vessel sail with no
wind -- not even a breeze? And the rain.
It rained -- poured -- then it didn't,
then it rained again. How could she
explain that? She began piecing her story
together in words the police would find
.....The lights of an all-night
diner appeared ahead. Odd, she thought.
She'd driven all over the area trying to
find her way back to the freeway. Surely,
she hadn't missed seeing something so
brightly lighted. Somehow, she'd not come
this way before.
She stopped. Once inside, she felt safer.
This world she understood. The air
conditioning chilled her drenched body;
her jeans and emerald green,
short-sleeved shirt clung to her. She
ordered coffee, as much for the
reassurance of warmth as for the taste,
and cradled the steaming cup in her
hands, her slender fingers wrapping
themselves around the warmth.
.....Studying the double stem
of white lilies leaning stiffly in a
Mason jar on the counter, she wondered
who'd set the flowers in this dreary
place. Her eyes held an appraising look
as they passed over the crome-trimmed,
gray Formica table tops and black vinyl
booths, before coming to rest on the pay
phone hanging on the wall. Sighing, she
decided. No time like now. Make the call.
.....The police dispatcher's
words further unsettled Sylvian. He
insisted she dialed him from Laplace in
St. John the Baptist Parish, northwest of
New Orleans. She'd turned the wrong way
onto the freeway when she left the
airport, he snapped, then ordered her to
stay there and hung up. She vowed never
to arrive in a strange city at the
witching hour again and sat down to wait.
Embrace the Boogeyman, Copyright ©
Georgia Temple, 1997, 1998/ First U.S. Printing
Novel: Johnson County (Texas) Creative Writers
Annual Writing Contest, 2002 award winner
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