Balloon Man

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Chapter 12

The rotting flesh in the bucket drew alligators for miles. Cooter Lafuente pulled out a big, fatty piece. While tearing it in half, the tendon snapped and a chunk flung onto his cheek. “Ugh! Here you go you big, ugly gators!”

When he threw the piece of meat into the water, the alligators came right up to the dock where he sat, between all the flotsam leftover from the floods.

Cooter had no fear since he knew he could duck into the shack if he felt they were too close. The one with the big, yellow eyes he’d named Parrain growled and hissed, showing his dominance to the smaller ones. Parrain was the largest alligator in the swamp and always got first dibs on food.

Draining the whiskey bottle, Cooter welcomed the burn as slid down his throat. After wiping his mouth, he felt Parrain’s cold gaze.

Cooter watched the mammoth beast’s head peek up a little from the murky green water. “I’m gonna get ya one day! You think you’re the biggest, smartest around here. You best not forget who be runnin’ this swamp and who’s been feedin’ ya! Ha, I saw that! You’re listenin’, waitin’ for the bigger meal!”

Tossing the empty bottle at Parrain, Cooter groaned when it missed the intended target. The bottle hit the water in front of the beast and he submerged under water. “I can’t give you all of them at one time ’cause you’ll get too full and they’ll go to waste.”

He walked into the brush, lifted up a large cement lid, and shoved his hand inside. He felt around in the hole. “Where the hell did you get to you little varmints?” Cooter smiled when he grabbed hold of an arm, pulling out a screaming boy.

“No! No! No! Let me go!”

“Shut up!” Cooter smacked his greasy hand across the boy’s head. Stunned, the boy stopped yelling. Cooter used his foot to push the lid back over the hole, kicking a bunch of deflated balloons out of the way the boy left behind.

Cooter walked back to the water holding the terrified boy by the scruff of the neck. The alligators watched. Cooter lifted the boy off the ground, laughing while shaking him up in the air, watching the alligators move in. “Here ya go guys! Come and get it! Haw Haw!”

The boy screamed, “No mister, no! Let me go!”

Cooter shook the boy around in the air one more time then threw him straight up while mimicking the boy’s terrified wails. “No! No! No!” Cooter caught the boy before he landed in the water. “Haw! Haw! Haw! Gotcha!”

The boy whimpered silently as Cooter went back to the hole and opened it, this time taking out another boy who just sat numbly on the ground with his hands tied.

“Get up you lazy kid. Get up and walk.”

He prodded both boys with a stick to keep moving, cursing at them when they slowed down. As they neared his trailer, Cooter stumbled, his balance affected by the whiskey. He picked at a loose scab on his face, tugging until it pulled free. “Yow!” he yelled. The pain startled him and he tripped, knocking over a bucket. The rotting head of a deer rolled out. Grabbing it, he tossed it into the water. Parrain caught it and clamped his jaws around the flesh.

“See, you got yours,” Cooter snarled. While walking away, he heard the thrashing caused by the feeding frenzy.

Arriving at the back of the trailer, Cooter pushed the boys into pre-dug holes with only their heads sticking out. He then put a metal pail on top of each one banging it into the ground a bit.

“Now, I have some business to attend to, you don’t go anywhere!”

Cooter planned on paying Jo Bob a visit, thinking his partner was cheating him out of money. He would be damned if someone was going to cheat him.

“I’ll go see him after I have another drink. I’ll show him what it’s like to be cheated out money.”

Cooter retreated inside the small trailer and drank more whiskey until he passed out on the couch. When he awoke, it was dark. “I’ll get myself over to Swarthmore to see Jo Bob, but first I’ll check on my plants out back.”

Walking outside to the upside down water pails, Cooter took a big stick and banged the top of each pail. “You boys go to sleep, you hear me? Go to sleep! Watch out or you’ll be gator bits! Haw!”

Laughing obnoxiously, he walked out into the swamp using no path through the dense swamp foliage. He knew the swamp like the back of his hand, even when there was no moon. Cooter could find his way through the thickest section. He told people he could smell where he was going, saying his nose knew where he was. He called this keen sense his swamp nosiator then laughed, the phlegm in his lungs rattling. “Yep, I can smell a gator five miles away!”

Cooter’s nemesis was Parrain. Catching the beast would be a big achievement of his life if he could make it happen. But he did not have time for that now. He had to find someone to take these kids off his hands or get rid of them. This was the only task Cooter felt any urgency toward at this time.

“All I ever asked from that old man was be fair but no, he couldn’t do that, and I’m the one stuck with these brats,” Cooter mumbled, shaking his fists in the air, his anger rising with each word. “He don’t have to do anythin’ but sit on his ass at the house! He don’t give me enough money to do this!”

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