by Lamont A. Turner
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“We’re too far out in the sticks,” Neal said, trying not to sound too worried. “The GPS isn’t working.”
“I told you we should have brought a map,” June said accusingly from the passenger seat. “Now here we are, an interracial couple lost in the Deep South.”
“It’s not that bad these days,” Neal responded, rolling his eyes.
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re the right color. As long as you aren’t with me you can blend in with the Rebs and make your escape.”
“Funny,” Neal said, slowing down to let the car behind him pass. “This Boston accent of mine would give me away in half a second. Besides, I am with you, and I always will be.”
“Don’t try to romance your way out of this, Neal Whitney. Do we even have enough gas to make it to the next filling station?”
Neal looked at the gauge and winced. They still had almost half a tank, but he had no idea how long it would be until they reached civilization. All he had seen for the past hour was fields and trees. He tried to remember what his GPS had told him before he got off of the interstate to avoid the traffic jam he was told waited ahead. Not expecting to lose the signal, he hadn’t paid enough attention to the route it was taking him on, and the road ahead was a mystery to him.
“I’m sure we’ll get the signal back soon enough,” he said, patting her knee. Either way, I don’t think we’re supposed to turn off anytime soon, so we should still be on track as long as we stick to this road.”
As they passed a pasture full of emaciated cows, Neal reflected on their progress since they set out for New Orleans. They had made good time, and were set to arrive on schedule, two days before Mardi Gras. That would leave them plenty of time to make the rounds, taking in the Cabildo and the World War Two museum before the party started. It was a trip they had been planning ever since their youngest had gone off to college, and he was determined not to let anything screw it up.
“Maybe we could ask them if we’re still headed in the right direction,” June said, nodding towards the men working on an old Chevy Nova in the front yard of a house they were approaching.
“It’s worth a shot,” Neal said, slowing down.
“I was kidding!” June protested. “Don’t you dare stop to talk to those people!”
It was too late. Neal had already pulled off on the shoulder in front of the house. June locked her door and slid down in her seat as Neal got out and walked up the gravel drive.
“Hey!” he shouted, waving at the men as he approached. The two men working under the hood barely glanced up before returning their attention to the engine. A third man, who had been leaning with his elbows on the trunk of the car, not doing much of anything, straightened up and slowly ambled down the road toward Neal.
“What can I do for you?” asked the man, his hands in the pockets of his dirty jeans. “You ain’t from the gas company are ya?”
“No,” Neal responded. “I was just wondering how far it is to New Orleans. We can’t get a signal for our GPS, and I was afraid we had taken a wrong turn.”
“A tourist, huh?” the man said, spitting something brown in the gravel at his feet. “ You’re kinda taking the long way around ain’t ya?”
“There was a wreck on the interstate,” Neal explained, starting to feel uneasy about the way the man was staring at the road behind him. There was an expression on the man’s face Neal couldn’t quite read.
“That your wife in the car?” asked the man, nodding at the rented Buick.
“That’s the misses,” Neal responded, stepping forward to block the man’s view of the car. “She’s pretty anxious to get to New Orleans.”
“I bet she is. Just keep heading straight down this road until you get to Highway 11, then make a right. Keep on a few miles and you’ll hit the interstate,” the man said, craning his neck to look over Neal’s shoulder.
Neal said thanks, and backed down the drive, the man watching him the whole way. As he got in the car, Neal looked back. The man was still there, hands in his pockets, staring at them. Neal waved and put the car into gear, gravel spitting out from under the tires as he sped off.
“What did your new friend have to say?” June asked, sitting up in her seat.
“He said we are still on course,” Neal said, speeding up as he noticed the sun sinking below the line of trees.
With no street lights, and the moon hidden behind the clouds, Neal struggled to see. Leaning forward toward the windshield, he searched for the lines on the road to guide him, but found they disappeared for long stretches, obscured by the dirt and gravel.
“Need me to drive?” June asked, noticing his discomfort.
“I’m fine,” Neal snapped. “We can’t be that far from the interstate.”
Two points of light appeared in the darkness behind them. They quickly grew brighter as the vehicle gained on them, the light reflecting off the rearview mirror into Neal’s eyes. Reaching up, he adjusted the mirror so it was pointing away from his face, and slowed down, hoping they would pass. Everyone down here moved like snails until they got on the road, Neal thought. Once they got behind the wheel they all turned into racecar drivers.
As the pickup shifted into the other lane and soared past them, Neal glanced over. A bearded man leaned out the passenger window and shouted something Neal couldn’t catch.
“Damn hillbillies!” Neal exclaimed, shaking his head. “They think they own the road.”
June started to say something, but was cut off by the sound of screeching breaks as the truck swung over in front of them and came to an abrupt stop. Neal cut the wheel hard, forcing the car up onto the shoulder just in time to miss colliding with the bumper of the truck.
“Damn fools almost killed us!” he shouted, reaching for the door handle.
“No!” June said, grabbing him by the shoulder. “Just let it go.”
They both stared at the truck, idling in the middle of the road. As Neal’s rage dissipated, he felt a chill run through his body. They were just sitting there, daring him to confront them. He put the car into reverse, and backed out onto the road, then moved into the lane next to the truck to go around them. As he approached, the truck inched forward into his lane, blocking him. Neal slammed on the brakes and backed up again, not sure what to do. As he sat there, hoping they would tire of toying with him, flashing lights appeared behind them.
“Thank God!” Neal exclaimed. “Now maybe those red necks will get what’s coming to them.”
He was still trying to extricate his wallet from his pants pocket when a gloved hand tapped on his window and motioned for him to roll it down. June was saying something about not liking the situation, but Neal was too focused on the tall man standing beside the car to pay any attention. As the window came down, two huge hands reached in and yanked Neal through it, smashing him down on the pavement. He heard his wife scream, and saw two booted feet hit the pavement next to the open door of the pickup and run toward him. Then everything went black.
Neal felt something wet splatter on his forehead, and opened his eyes in time to see a second drop of water falling from between the joints of the tin roof above him. Rolling on his side to avoid it, he tried to spread his hands out to steady himself but could not part them. Unable to move his head without forcing daggers into his neck, he raised his arms. Silver bands encircled his wrists, glistening in the flickering light. An orange glow seeped in through the solitary window, casting undulating shadows across the room. Neal managed to get his legs under him and pushed himself up off the floor. He stood there until the room stopped spinning, and then stumbled toward the window.
A red robed figure stood with outstretched hands before a black clad congregation. Despite the light from their torches, Neal was unable to determine how far back the group extended into the woods, but he was sure there were at least a dozen of them out there, too many for an old man in handcuffs to get around. In his present condition one would have been too much. Then, a glimmer of hope presented itself. The man in red pointed at the distant trees, and they shambled off, disappearing into the darkness.
Neal checked the door of the shack, and finding it unlocked, bolted out into the sweltering night. He would get help. All he had to do was find the police. They would get June back from those monsters! He stopped running, remembering the hulking brute that had pulled him through his car window with so little effort. Even if he did manage to get to them, how could he trust the police? Feeling he had no other options, he headed back toward the woods. At least he might be able to find out where June was.
He found them standing before a post driven into the muddy earth where the bayou met the shore. His wife, naked and seemingly unconscious, dangled by her wrists from a rope attached to the top of the post. Overcome by the sight, Neal bent down and vomited.
“What we got here?” asked a voice from behind. Neal wiped his mouth on his sleeve and slowly rose to face the stranger.
“What are you doing with my wife?” he demanded, trying to see the face of the man under the black hood.
“She ain’t your wife no more,” the man said. “She belongs to us now.”
Hearing the exchange, some others came up from the banks of the bayou to surround Neal. He could feel the heat from their torches as they closed in on him, jostling each other for a chance to get to him first.
“You racist bastards!” he screamed, slapping out against their outstretched hands. “Get the hell off of me!”
“We ain’t no damn racists!” objected a man holding a rifle. “These robes look white to you? Hell, half of the flock is black folks.”
Several of the men around him lowered their hoods, revealing dark skinned faces.
“Typical Northern elitist!” said the man with the rifle. “I bet you never even been south of the Ohio River before, have ya? You just think everybody not from your neck of the woods is ignorant red necks.”
“Then what are you people?” Neal stammered.
“We’re the children of Kalfu,” said the one of the men holding Neal, whispering it into his ear as though he were afraid someone might hear.
The man in the red robe raised his arms and began chanting in a language Neal couldn’t understand as the rest of them, even the ones who had been restraining him, fell to their knees. A black mist arose from the water and drifted toward June. It floated there in front of her for a moment, and then extended smoky tentacles to embrace her. It wrapped her in itself, enveloping her in darkness. After several minutes, the priest in red stopped chanting and lowered his arms. The cloud immediately slid back down into the water, revealing a fleshless skeleton tied to the pole.
Neal’s scream died in his throat as a rifle butt smashed into the side of his head. As he struggled to stay conscious a man approached and slammed a bucket over his head. He recognized it as the bucket June had insisted on bringing; hoping to fill it with beads caught at the Mardi Gars parades. He imagined the two of them, slightly drunk, hanging on one another and laughing. The image was still in his head when the man with the rifle shot into the bucket.
Lamont A. Turner is a New Orleans area author and father of four. His work has appeared in numerous print and online magazines and anthologies. "Souls In A Blender," his first collection of short stories was released by St. Rooster Books in 2021 and is available on Godless Horrors and Amazon. A second collection is scheduled for an early 2023 release. He can be found on Twitter at LamontATurner1 and on regulay posts updates on the Facebook group, The Haunt Of Lamont.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.