Buildings disappeared from the sides of the highway and gave way to trees, primarily cypresses and oaks. She passed a sign reading “Acadiana Swamp Excursions”, and took its exit. There was a gas station, a few fast food restaurants, and then a dirt road that led to a small dock. The parking lot was made of crushed gravel, and was surprisingly full. Abigail parked in the far corner of it under a tree.
Though it was autumn, it was still toasty and humid outside. She had jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers. Bag in hand, Abigail crossed the parking lot to a large shack at the water’s edge. There was a sizeable group of people inside. Some were going through a couple aisles of souvenirs, some were in a corner watching a man standing in a plastic pool holding a baby alligator, and the rest stood in line at a counter, buying tickets.
Abigail bypassed the crowd and went out the back door to the dock. There were several airboats coming and going with guides and passengers. Abigail ignored them as well and went to an airboat at the end of the dock.
As she readied the craft for travel, a man shouted, “Whoa there, missy! I can’t let you just take that.”
Abigail smiled and stood to face the man approaching behind her. “What’s up, redneck?” she said.
The man stopped in his tracks. He was wearing overalls, rainboots, a straw hat, and nothing else. He also had an awful farmer’s tan. “I’ll be damned. Abigail’s home.”
They hugged. “It’s good to see you, Billy.”
“You too, Abby. Rigging up your boat, I see. No worries, it’s got good gas.”
“Yep. Going home for a few days.”
“We kept the place clean for ya. Well, clean enough.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Hey, I’ll be home by six. Come on over tonight and let the old lady and I treat you to a home cooked meal.”
“That’d be great. I’ll see you then.”
“It’s a deal. Be careful on the water. It’s still choppy from the storm.”
“Any gators out today?”
“Oh, they’re out there, all right. But it ain’t them you got to worry about now. It’s the Rougarou.”
“That’s what they call him.”
“Call who? Start making sense before I sink your boats.”
“That freak who’s been killing folks and kidnapping their children.”
“Tell me about it. I ain’t taking my eyes off my kids. Good luck out there.”
Abigail finished readying her airboat and set out through the swamp. The breeze blew through her hair and cooled her off just the right amount. The relaxing ride lasted fifteen minutes or so before Abigail reached a short pier. A raised house could be seen through the cypress trees around it. Abigail docked.
As she tied the boat up, she looked across the water. There it was: The La Roux plantation house, hiding behind its own great trees, looking down at her, as it always did.
Abigail finished and went up a short trail to the house. It was an old, wooden, raised two-story building, high enough to both avoid flood waters and force an obese man to catch his breath upon reaching the top of the stairs. Abigail reached the front door with no such problem. Looking over the rail at the side of the house revealed a large shed, lower than the house, with water lines.
The interior of the house was tidy and an acceptable amount of dusty. Abigail crossed the creaking floors and opened all of the blinds. First was the living room, then the kitchen and dining room. She double checked the refrigerator but it was empty. The upstairs was in similar shape. Abigail checked her bedroom first. The pink bed was made, the flowery curtains drawn, and posters of hunky boys covered the walls. She smiled and dropped her bag on the bed.
The master bedroom was down the hall. Abigail looked at its closed door, but let it be. Instead, she went back downstairs and turned on the TV. She fell asleep watching Judge Judy.
A loud knocking sound woke Abigail up. “Abby? You in there?” Billy’s voice called from the front porch.
Abigail wiped her eyes and stumbled past the staticky TV to the front door. “I’m coming,” she said.
She opened the front door. No one was there. The sun had set and a dense fog had rolled in. Abigail flipped on the porch light and looked down the stairs. Nothing. She looked over the rail. Still nothing.
“Billy? Where you at?” she called. No one answered. She tossed her hands in the air in confusion and returned inside.
The TV wouldn’t change from the static so Abigail turned it off and flipped a few lights on instead. She found her phone to check for anything but it failed to turn on. She scoffed and went upstairs to get her charger from her bag. The upstairs lights would not turn on but when it came to her cell phone, fear was not a concern. She had just set her hand on her bedroom door when she noticed in her peripheral vision that the master bedroom door was wide open.
Abigail narrowed her eyes at the doorway and took her hand off her doorknob. A short time passed this way, Abigail standing and staring. Finally, she walked down the hallway. The floorboards groaned with each step.
The bedroom was empty and dark. It was as Abigail had left it since her last visit, many months ago. There was a king-sized bed in the middle and basic bedroom furniture surrounding it. There was a connecting bathroom across the room. Its door was closed but its light was on, shining under the door.
Abigail showed no hesitation. She stormed across the room and threw the door open. Again, nothing. Even throwing the shower curtain aside revealed no intruder. Abigail sighed in relief of that, but remained on edge. She put her hands on her hips and looked around. Everything began to make sense.
“I know you’re here,” she said aloud. Silence. After the long pause, Abigail proclaimed, “And I know your name.”
After that announcement, floorboards creaked from the hallway. “Is that so?” a voice replied. It was calm and feminine.
“The priests dragged it out of you.”
The voice chuckled. “I gave it willingly, Abigail.”
“You want me to control you?”
“If that is what you believe uttering my name achieves.”
Abigail walked into the bedroom and looked down the hallway. Moonlight shone through a window and revealed a woman’s silhouette in the middle of the hall. It was a head taller than Abigail, but shared the same body type. Abigail could not discern any of its characteristics and began to tremble.
“Say it,” the creature dared. “Take my strength as your own.”
It took all of Abigail’s nerve to respond, “I won’t do a damn thing you ask.”
“Because you are afraid, much too afraid to say my name.” The womanly demon strode toward Abigail. “Just like you are too afraid to move.” The demon chuckled again and walked right past Abigail into the bedroom. Its shoulder brushed against Abigail’s. Abigail felt a tremendous, icy chill shoot up her spine. “Such a lovely room,” it said behind her. “But where are your parents?”
Abigail brought one trembling hand to the other and pinched herself, again and again. It hurt, and she did not awaken.
“What are you doing over there? Do you think this is a dream?” Abigail faced the demon. It was sitting cross-legged on the bed. “Come to bed, Abby-baby.”
“How do you know that name?”
“Your parents called you that, did they not? Do you want to know how I know?”
Abigail did not answer.
“It is because they are in hell, with me, and they told me themselves because I told them that if they failed to obey me, I would kill their only daughter.”
The demon’s neck snapped and cracked, and its head stretched out and stopped a foot short of Abigail’s. The face was that of Abigail’s. However, the skin was as white as porcelain, lips and hair black, and the red of a fire glowed deep, deep within its all-black eyes. It smiled and revealed mouth full of crooked fangs.
“I could do it now. It wouldn’t take much.”
Abigail’s anger overcame her fear. “Then do it and quit fucking with my head!”
“All in good time, my angry darling. Did you know that they blame you? They would still be alive if it were not for you.”
Abigail’s fear faded, and she swung a fist at the demon. Ire took the punch but was unphased. Abigail struck again but the effect was the same.
“It seems that I am a little stronger than you anticipated.” Someone knocked at the front door. “Oh, dear. I thought we would have more time.”
The knocking continued, and Abigail awoke on the couch, the TV on and functional.
“Abby, where are you? Come eat!” Billy shouted from the other side of the door.
Abigail had to catch her breath before getting up. Her hand stung. She saw her skin was still red from pinching herself. She rubbed it as she walked to the front door and opened up. “Hey, sorry,” she said.
“Damn, girl, you’re white as a ghost. Let’s get some food in that belly. We’ll get some color back in that face.” He held up a pair of rainboots. “You’ll need these.”
Billy led the way from the house to his own, which was only a five minute walk along the bank of the water. The ground was soggy and muddy from the recent storm, but still traversable. Bugs pestered the pair, but Billy handed a much-needed bottle of bug spray to Abigail, who covered herself in it.
They arrived at another raised house that was similar to Abigail’s. They heard shouting inside before they even reached the steps.
“Sounds like Mary’s got her hands full in there.”
“How many do you have now?”
“Three! Mary made me get snipped after little Tommy.”
“How old are they?”
Billy opened the door for Abigail. “Jill is the oldest at five, Beth is three, and Tommy’s six months.”
“God, they grow so fast. Last time I saw them here I was holding baby Beth in the hospital.”
“Abby!” Mary called when she saw Abigail walk in. Mary was setting plates on the dining room table. A baby was in a crib beside the table, fascinated with the stuffed animal beside it. She had frizzy, long black hair and tanned skin. She still had her baby weight. “It’s been ages. How are you?”
Abigail gave Mary a big hug. “It’s good to see you, too. I’ve been good! I see you’ve been busy.”
“That’s an understatement. Here, meet Tommy.” She pulled the baby boy from a crib and handed him to Abigail.
Abigail held the baby like it was a bomb. “Oh, he’s heavy.”
“He’ll be a big fatty like his daddy one of these days,” Mary joked. She returned to the kitchen in the other room.
“Hey, there’s a lot of muscle hiding in here.” Billy patted his belly. “Give him here.” Abigail handed Tommy over. “He’ll be buff, not fat, and he’ll be a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints.”
“That’s quite a goal.” Abigail went to the kitchen. Mary was setting fried catfish on plates beside steamed vegetables. “That smells delicious.”
“That’s because it is. Girls! Come to the table.”
“Here, let me help.”
Abigail grabbed plates and set them on the dining room table. Two little girls waddled into the dining room and took their seats. They were surprised to see a new woman putting plates on the table.
“Who are you?” Jill, the oldest, asked.
“My name’s Abigail. You don’t recognize me?”
Jill shook her head, but then her eyes widened and she switched to rapidly nodding. She then left her seat and ran off to another room. Abigail was confused but shrugged it off to continue setting the table. Billy had set Tommy in a high chair and began feeding him finger food. Mary set a pitcher of water on the table and took her seat at the head of the table.
Jill returned with an iPad. “Mommy, look.”
“Just a second, dear. Take a seat and let’s say grace first.”
Everyone bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and Mary led a prayer. Abigail was raised Christian but religion had never been an interest of hers. However, given the circumstances, she was more than willing to participate. But she did feel a slight sting in her heart when Mary said “Amen”.
They started eating. Billy started talking to Abigail as Jill showed her iPad to Mary. A video played, but the sound was low. Mary brought a hand up over her mouth when it ended. She took the iPad from her daughter’s hand.
Mary held the paused video up for Abigail to see. It was paused where Abigail had two men struggling in her grip. “What’s going on here?”
Abigail sighed and looked down at her food. “Even in the middle of the swamp, I can’t catch a break.”
“Even swamp people want Internet,” Mary replied. She closed the video and gave the iPad back to Jill. “Abby, we’re your oldest friends. What happened?”
Abigail shook her head. “Just some bad stuff.”
“You always had a few anger issues but… Dang.”
“Shut up, Billy.” Mary cleared her throat. “You know what, we brought you over here for a pleasant dinner, and that’s what we’re going to have. Abby, how’s life in the Big Easy? Do you like being a cop?”
Abigail perked up. “The city’s not so bad. It took some real getting used to, though.”
“I’ll bet it’s one thing visiting for Mardi Gras like we used to, and a whole ’nother thing living there.”
“Yeah, now you out-of-towners are just a pain in our asses!” Abigail noticed the kids. “Sorry.”
“They’ve heard worse,” Billy assured.
“If you’d shut the bedroom door, then they’d be fine,” Mary said.
“Oh, and thank you both for taking care of my parents’ house.”
Billy laughed. “Don’t thank us. We make the girls clean it when they’re bad.”
“Well, thank you very much for helping me,” Abigail said to the daughters. They smiled in reply. “For God’s sake, let me pay you for that.”
Billy waved a hand. “No need. You’re looking at the co-owner of Acadiana Swamp Excursions!”
“Get out! What happened to Porter?”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“No, you ain’t. He was a real ass.”
Abigail shrugged and poked her food. “Who are you co-owning with?”
“Well, when Porter passed, we all thought his son would get it. But, lo and behold, he handed the business over to me. It was in his will.”
Abigail looked at Mary, who winked back. “That’s right,” Mary said. “It’s our business now.”
“And business is booming! And all it took was reversing all of Porter’s decisions.”
“He ain’t even kidding,” Mary added. “I still don’t know how Porter kept that place afloat.”
“Hell, I’m still wondering how he was able to pay my salary. Must’ve made a deal with the devil.”
“Any changes over at the La Roux plantation?” Abigail asked.
The husband and wife looked at each other to see if the other had anything. Both just shrugged.
“I think the state still keeps in maintained,” Mary said. “Other than that…” She shrugged again. “It’s a historical landmark and all, so they’ll keep it around.”
Billy wiped his mouth. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. Don’t tourists still ask about it?”
“Yeah, if they can spot it back there behind the cypresses. There’s nothing new to report, though. The only big news around here is the Rougarou.”
“That killer and kidnapper?”
“Ugh! Don’t get me started,” Mary said.
“I’m a cop. Why haven’t I heard of this guy?”
“You have your big city business to take care of. We just don’t get the same attention out here.”
“But our police department is on the case,” Mary added. “I saw that on the news. They have leads and everything.”
“They’ll get him,” Abigail said matter-of-factly. “Crime never pays.”
Everyone finished their dinners over more pleasant chit-chat, and then they crammed into the kitchen to do the dishes together. Afterwards, Mary took her babies away to settle down for the evening while Billy walked Abigail back to her house. He let her be at the base of the stairs and returned home, disappearing into the darkness.
Abigail looked up at the house. Home. A hotel. Which was it now? She walked up the stairs and went inside. It had gotten late. Abigail was tired enough from the long drive and hearty meal that she decided that going to bed was the best. She ambled through the house, peeking around corners as she proceeded, until she reached her bedroom, where she slept with a light on.