Balloon Man

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Chapter 16

Elaine Emmett or Alma Emmett would arrive at the regular daily time—four thirty in the morning—to clean and tidy up for Jo Bob Swain. They did chores and checked to see what food items were needed for the next week. Sometimes, they would sit with Jo Bob and have a cup of coffee.

Elaine liked Jo Bob. He was a big man, strong and solid. A little rough around the edges, but he seemed to have a good heart. Elaine never considered making a play for him since he was in his seventies. He was too old. Elaine was only in her fifties and still felt young and energetic. Seventy seemed over the hill, but she did enjoy his company and the boys were an interesting bunch.

The boys. They certainly were rowdy at times yet a deep sadness hung over them. New, young ones came and left often, but the older ones remained. Nobody ever took them.

“So sad,” she thought while walking to the front door. “Those poor older boys never really felt the true warmth of a family.”

Jo Bob told her he never had children because of his own painful childhood. He and his brother Cye grew up in an orphanage too, and Jo Bob never really got over it. Jo Bob always intrigued Elaine. He was sort of mysterious and a bit secretive.

Cye was a different story.

Alma and Cye had dated briefly when teenagers. They went separate ways after Cye was sent to prison. Elaine and Alma shared Cye, but he didn’t let on if he knew. They never told Cye about Alma’s pregnancy, or her decision to give the baby up for adoption. Knowing Cye grew up unwanted, Alma and Elaine felt he never needed to know.

Cye, Elaine, nor Alma ever married. When Cye was released from prison, he did try to rekindle their romance, but too much time had passed. Alma didn’t have the same feelings for Cye anymore. Alma wasn’t interested in a love life at the time. She liked to go out and have fun, but no strings.

Climbing up the front steps, Elaine thought about the handsome stranger who visited Jo Bob yesterday. Elaine had never seen him before and he was quite attractive, though too young for Elaine to try charming into the sack. He said he was some kind of natural energy man.

“Why is he interested in the swamp?” Elaine said out loud. “Who in the hell wants to have a swamp? Ha ha!”

Elaine reached the front door and entered the hallway. It was very quiet as she stepped over the threshold. Usually everyone was awake and doing chores when she arrived.

A weird buzzing sound caught Elaine’s attention. “What’s that noise? It sounds like a lot of flies trapped in a window or something! Good grief, one of the boys probably left a window open.”

Then, she smell hit her.

The air was heavy with a bad odor as Elaine rounded the corner, making her way down the hallway toward the stairs. The buzzing of the flies grew louder, along with Elaine’s thumping heart.

Something was wrong. Elaine felt the negative energy and realized her instincts were on target when she saw what was on the floor.

Her eyes told her what she was seeing, but Elaine’s mind struggled to comprehend it was real. Jo Bob was on the floor, his body surrounded by tacky blood, his face crushed on one side. Flies covered his face like a moving black wave.

Screaming, Elaine ran out the door and jumped into her car, fumbling to get the keys in the ignition. After two tries the engine roared to life so Elaine floored it. She drove away in a cloud of dust.

After a couple miles, Elaine stopped the car, opened the door and vomited. Once finished, she collected her thoughts, realizing she never checked on the boys.

“Oh, my God!” kept coming out of Elaine’s mouth.

Elaine decided to go to the police before she did anything else. She sped off toward the police station. While driving, all kinds of horrors went through her head. She kept thinking about the boys upstairs and how she’d run away in fear without even checking on them.

“What have I done by leaving? Nobody is there to help them!”

Elaine stopped the car and tried to talk herself through it. “I should go back and call the police from the house. No, wait, should I just drive to the station and tell them what I found? My God! What do I do?”

Too frightened to go back, Elaine lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “I’ll just go to the police. For all I know, one of the boys killed Jo Bob. If I go back, they might kill me!”

Elaine leaned over to put the cigarette out in the ashtray. Just as she did, the driver’s door opened. Before Elaine knew what was happening she felt something around her throat. She tried to scream, but the sound came out as a gurgling hiss. Burning, blinding pain made her dizzy as her neck was slashed. Elaine’s head fell back against the headrest. Disoriented and in excruciating pain, Elaine’s mind started to shut down, rendering her muscles useless.

Elaine felt someone pull her out of her car by her feet. The ground rushed up as her face slammed into the dirt. Dirt filled her nostrils while sticks and brush gouged into the open neck wound.

Strong fingers dug into her arms as her attacker repositioned her body. “You just had to come around and get nosey didn’t ya?”

A foot pressed into the small of Elaine’s back and rolled her over. She recognized the voice. It belonged to Cooter, though she couldn’t fathom why he was hurting her. As blackness descended inside her mind, Elaine prayed, asking God to let the end come quickly.

Her prayer was answered.

Cooter took a handful of leaves, stuffing them into Elaine’s mouth until she stopped breathing. Once she was dead, he took the bloody hunting knife he’d used to slit her throat and cut off her hands. Satisfied, he stood and gave her a final push, watching her body roll down the hill into the Anacoco Bayou.

“Feedin’ time, gators!” Cooter whispered while wiping the blood from the knife.

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