Balloon Man

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 26

The bloodhounds brought the police to the shack on the water. Police then searched around looking for signs of the boys or Elaine.

“Nobody here,” said Chief Fox. “It looks like someone was here, but the trail goes down to the water and stops. I hope they didn’t get eaten by alligators.”

One of the officers standing next to the chief commented, “All three of them? That seems unlikely. Unless of course it was Parrain.”

Chief Fox shook his head. “Not if they were already dead. They may have been fed to the alligators. We’ll look more over the next few days, but we can’t keep everybody on this job much longer. I have other cases that need attention. It’s time to let Detective Booth put his time into it. I think they’ve all been eaten up, and we aren’t gonna find anyone. We’ll look one more time again tomorrow. It’s getting dark and this ain’t no place to be after the sun sets. You boys take the dogs home and let them rest.”

None of the men said a word as they turned and headed out of the eerie swamp.

The next day, while Chief Fox sat at his desk sorting through paperwork, the coroner called.

“You sitting down, Chief?” DuPriest asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Got a match on the prints from the pipe. They belong to Elaine Emmett.”

Chief Fox nearly spilled his coffee. “What? Are you serious?”

“Yep. We found skin under Jo Bob’s nails that’s DNA matches one of the blood samples found near Jo Bob’s corpse. It don’t match any of the samples of the boys or Jo Bob. I’d lay money down on the bet its Elaine’s blood.”

“Well I’ll be damned,” Fox snorted. “Thanks for the update, DuPriest. Did you inform Booth?”

“Called you first, bud. He’s next on the list.”

After hanging up, Fox stared out the window, trying to figure out what in the world made Elaine Emmett go on a killing spree. Was she mad at Jo Bob because he didn’t take her out? Hell, everyone knew Elaine had taken a shine to Jo Bob Swain. Maybe so, but that didn’t explain why she’d killed the boys.

None of it made sense. Fox knew he was back to square one. “No, scratch that. Booth’s back to square one. I’ll take the easy route and head over to Alma’s. Anything to keep me out of the nasty swamp. Let Booth sweat himself to death.”

Alma woke up to loud pounding on the front door. She’d had a bad, restless night worrying about Elaine. Dark dreams of drowning made her toss and turn. Alma knew their twin bond had kicked in and something awful had happened to Elaine. Deep inside her soul, Alma sensed it.

Throwing on her robe, Alma yelled, “I’m coming!”

As she opened the door, Chief Fox almost knocked her over as he burst into the house. “Alma, we need to talk.”

“Chief, what’s going on? Did you find Elaine?”

“No, but I do have some bad news. Elaine’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon found at the scene. Jo Bob scrapped off some skin of his attacker and it stuck under his nails. Looks like Elaine’s our killer. The question is why.”

“No way! This is a mistake!” Alma shook her head back and forth, her frizzy hair swinging from side to side. “Elaine wouldn’t hurt anyone! Ever!”

“We’ll know for sure once the coroner runs a DNA test on the sample. If we don’t find her, we’ll need a sample of yours to compare it to, so don’t leave town. I’ll be back.”

The door closed and Alma stared blankly at the wood, wishing she was still dreaming. Knowing she wasn’t, she ran to the bedroom, threw some clothes on and left the house. She jumped into the car, started it up, and gunned the engine, heading straight for Swarthmore.

Upon arriving, Alma gasped. The place was crawling with cops, dogs, and yellow tape covered the front door and several sections of the yard. Alma walked up to cop closest to her and asked, “What’s going on?”

“Lady, you can’t be here. This area is a crime scene! Leave or risk going to jail.”

Angry, Alma left and drove down the road. “I’ll be darned if they think they can tell me what to do. I just know Elaine didn’t hurt anyone.”

Determined to find Elaine and clear her name, Alma parked her car in the bushes and headed into the swamp. She pushed her way into the dense, thick woods, keeping her eyes peeled for alligators and snakes.

A few times she jumped and swatted at her face when it felt like something was on her head. Alma was scared yet she forged ahead, unwilling to let Elaine down.

Alma trudged through the swamp for what seemed like hours. She stopped to catch her breath and looked around. Nothing looked familiar and she feared she was lost. The only thing she knew for sure was if she could get to the water, she could follow it and it would lead her out.

The swamp was alive with all sorts of eerie noises that made Alma’s skin crawl. She wondered why anyone would want to live there all the time.

“Elaine! Elaine! Where are you?”

The noises would stop for a few minutes whenever she called for Elaine. Alma yelled several times until it felt like the whole swamp was watching her with a million eyes she couldn’t see.

It was like the swamp was heckling her intrusion. Ignoring her fears, Alma called again. “Elaine, can you hear me? It’s Alma! Elaine! Elaine?”

All the creatures hushed in response, but then Alma heard a faint voice plead, “Help me!”

Alma looked up and all she could see was green trees and thick moss. “Keep talking! I’ll follow your voice!”

“Up here!”

Alma followed the voice until she saw the body spread across a large branch. She could tell it was not Elaine. “I can’t get climb up there!”

“Please, I need help. I got caught in a gator trap and my feet are all messed up. I’ve got a knife in that pack about ten feet to your left. Please, toss it up here.”

“How do I know you’re not a killer? There’s one lurking in the swamps. Cops are searching everywhere.”

“Yeah, I know. My brother was one of them. I was out searchin’ myself, hopin’ to find out who killed him. That’s how I got stuck up here.”

Alma stepped closer, eyeing the man in the tree and letting him see her face. “Cye? It’s me, Alma.”

“Alma! What’re you doin’ here?”

“Elaine is missing. Chief Fox thinks she did all the killings, but I know she didn’t. I came out here looking for her, hoping she’s hiding in the swamp.”

“We’ll, I don’t think she did it either. I think it was someone else.”

“But where did she go?” asked Alma.

“Can we talk about this once I’m back on the ground?”

“Oh, sorry! I’m just so worried about Elaine. You said you had a bag?”

Cye pointed to the left. Alma turned and started walking while searching the dense underbrush, picking her way through the tangle of leaves and weeds. Finally, she found it.

“Got it!” she yelled, racing back toward the tree.

“Thank God!” Cye exclaimed. “Toss the bag up here—carefully.”

Alma held her breath then heaved the bag into the air. Cye caught the strap and dug through it, seasrching for the knife.

“Be careful, Cye,” Alma begged as he cut through the rope. “The limb looks slick and I don’t want you to fall—”

“Ahhh!” Cye screamed, cutting Alma’s words off in midsentence.

In horror, Alma watched Cye fall from the limb and disappear under the water. In seconds, his head bobbed back up while his arms flailed in the water as he swam toward the shoreline.

Without hesitating, Alma ran to the edge then jumped in up to her knees. Since she couldn’t swim, Alma stretched her arm as far as it would reach. Cye’s hand latched onto hers and Alma pulled with all her strength.

Movement in the water behind Cye caught Alma’s attention just as they neared the bank. It was the biggest alligator she’d ever seen. Alma guessed it was Parrain. Alma was frozen with fear, the warning scream stuck in her throat.

The beast opened its big jaws and snapped them shut, catching Cye’s foot in its mouth. Cye’s yelp of pain and all the blood slapped Alma out of her funk.

Alma yanked and tugged on Cye’s arm, desperate to get him to the shore. She was playing tug-of-war with a monster, and losing.

“Get a stick! Something! Poke it in the eye!” screamed Cye.

Alma felt around the bottom of the murky water with her foot until it touched something hard. While hanging on with one hand, she squatted down and felt around until her fingers latched on to what she thought was a stick. Alma squealed with delight when she realized it was the knife.

“It’s your knife!” Alma yelled, holding it up like a trophy.

Cye didn’t say a word. Instead, he reached for the blade and Alma passed it to him. Raising his arm in the air, Cye let out a blood-curdling scream then jammed the blade into Parrain’s eye.

The beast unlatched its jaws and hissed then disappeared under the dank water. Alma wasted no time. She grabbed both of Cye’s arms and scrambled up the embankment. The sight of Cye’s mangled foot made her dizzy.

“Did you see the size of him?” Alma asked, still in shock. “We better get out of here before he comes after us.”

“Yep, it was Parrain alright. God, my foot, I don’t think I can walk. Help me up into a tree and go get help.”

“No way,” said Alma. “I’m gonna help you. Hang on.”

Alma took her socks off and wrapped them around Cye’s foot. Grabbing a few thick limbs on the ground, she snapped the longer pieces into smaller ones and made a makeshift splint.

“That’s not gonna work!” Cye grumbled. “You’ve got nothing to tie it with.”

“Sure I do,” Alma replied while shoving her hands up the back of her shirt. “This!”

Alma removed her bra and secured it around the limbs on each side of Cye’s foot.

“You’re something else,” Cye muttered through the pain.

Alma smiled. “Just hang on to me. I’ll pull you back to my car. I haven’t been out here long so it can’t be too far away.”

Alma hooked her arms through Cye’s and pulled him through the swamp behind her, pushing through the stress and pain with the fear of Parrain following. She huffed and puffed without stopping, following Cye’s directions to get out to the road.

Finally, after almost an hour of trudging through the swamp, they made it back to Alma’s car. Though exhausted, a sense of giddiness made her smile. She’d done the impossible with no major mishaps along the way.

Or so she thought until she reached into her pocket for the car keys. “No! The keys! I don’t have the keys. I must have dropped them in the swamp.”

“Go to my car,” said Cye. “It can’t be that far from here. I’ve still got mine.”

Alma’s eyes widened as Cye produced a set of keys clipped on his belt. “Unbelievable.”

Cye grimaced, handing the keys over. “Go find my car. It’s just up the road about a quarter of a mile. I’ll sit inside your car until you come for me. I’ll be okay.”

Alma hesitated before taking the keys. “Okay, just promise me you’ll stay inside the car and won’t try to walk.”

Nodding in agreement, Cye said, “Go, hurry!”

Alma took off running down the road as fast as her tired legs would allow. She couldn’t believe her bad luck with the car keys. A heavy sense of dread raced through her body, warning her if she didn’t get back really fast, it would be too late.

Out of breath and chest heaving for air, Alma almost cried when she caught a glimpse of Cye’s car only yards away. A fleeting thought of how close it had been parked to hers made her grin.

As she unlocked the door, Alma muttered, “I guess we think alike. How odd yet comforting.”

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.