Novella: Phases

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PHASES


Prologue

She turned back for one final wink and a wave of her daintily gloved hand, before stepping out of the gentleman’s carriage and onto Rue Chartres.  She was not proud of her profession, in fact she detested it; in another life, she had been a proper lady with a good husband and a beautiful family.  That distant, fading memory was but a vague ember now.  The War had taken her husband, the famine had taken her sons and daughters, and after Sherman’s fires took her home, she fled west with nothing but the clothes on her back.
She made it as far as the muddy, decadent streets of the Crescent City by way of the rails before stopping to rest her weary bones.  That first night, the city had welcomed her into its beckoning arms and provided for her more than anyone else.  She had walked the streets of the Quarter since that night in the winter of ‘64.  The Quarter had aged her beyond her years though, or perhaps it was the green muse she had turned to, like an old friend, to dull her senses and help her forget her antebellum memories and plantation dreams. 
She never believed a man should be the property of another, and she even welcomed Lincoln’s Proclamation, but she never understood why they insisted on the harsh punishments that crushed the good people that were left.  When there was no flour, they had only hate to fill their stomachs with.  Had enough people not starved already?  Had old Dixie not suffered her share?
Tonight was particularly difficult for her; the man had been a perfect gentleman.  The way he had treated her had caused the memories of her husband to come flooding back to the forefront.  Try as she might, she could not erase the image of him smiling at her in his CSA grays before riding away, never to return.  She had never cried with one of her patrons before, but tonight she could not contain her sorrow.  She turned south off of Chartres until she reached New Levee Street, on the banks of the Mississippi.  She stared into the heavy blanket of fog that hung low over the river and the surrounding city.  She retrieved her pot metal flask and gulped the strong, licorice-like Absinthe before throwing the empty container into the murky water.  She looked out across the river at the crimson moon that hung low on the horizon.  It seemed so close that she might stretch out her arm and touch it with the tips of her fingers.  She buried her head in her hands as she wept for what her life had become.
She heard a faint rustle somewhere behind her and turned to see who was there, but there was no one.  A cold, sepulchral draft stirred her loose bangs and sent a chill across her body.  The deep, hollow tones of a church bell could be heard somewhere in the distance.  It’s just the Absinthe; pull yourself together, she thought to herself.
A long shadow passed across her by the light of the blood moon and several dim street lamps.
“Hello?” She meekly called out to the night, but no one answered.
She retrieved a slender, pepper-box revolver from her garter belt and shakily pointed it into the fog-filled blackness.
Again, she heard the movement somewhere in the darkness, this time on her other side.  As she spun the revolver in the direction of the sound, she called out again.
“Who’s there?”
This time, a low, baneful snarl answered from somewhere nearby.
 She turned and ran as fast as she could along Levee Street, the lights of the Square a distant beacon in the night.  There would be someone there that could help her; there had to be.
Two blocks to the Square.
A malevolent moan chased after her from somewhere along the levee, followed by a deep, hellish growl.  She shrieked as she heard the sound and pushed forward with every fiber in her body.  An errant cock-crow could be heard somewhere deep within the city.  If only he was right; oh God, if only he was right.
One block to the Square
The heavy footfalls behind her grew louder with every stride.  As the wind shifted directions, a foul, musky stench filled the air and assaulted her nostrils.  This was the moment; despite her terror, she spun in the soggy street and swung the revolver in a wide arc.  As her eyes locked with the creatures’, her heart pounded as if it might burst out of her chest.  Her knees weakened and threatened to give out at any moment.  Despite the horror that gripped her, she did not relent; this was not her first Rebel stand on the dark, city streets.  She pulled the heavy trigger and felt the recoil as her arm was pushed up and back.  She watched the beasts’ head tilt back as a macabre, crimson display of blood and matted fur erupted from its brow.  She watched the beast emit a low, guttural gurgle and tumble backwards onto the filthy alley.  Her heart raced as she turned and fled towards the faintly glowing plaza.
The Square was empty when she burst forth from the night and into its irradiated domain.  With the revolver still in her hand, she tilted her head back spun in a circle as she wailed for help.  After realizing the persistence of the terrified woman, several windows began to glow around the perimeter of the Square.  An annoyed man pushed open a distant, second-story window and leaned out to address the fearful woman in the street below.
“What’s your business, woman?”
“There’s something out here, please let me in!”
“Go home; you’ve had enough to drink!”
“Please, no; you don’t understand!”
“If you don’t stop with the noise, I’ll have the constable come and drag you away!”
“Send for him, please!  But please let me in first, someone!”
The window slammed shut as she continued to cry for help.
The low, guttural growl from across the village green only served to push her further into a frenzied state.  She shakily turned to face her fate and leveled the revolver at the beast.  The creature snarled and then began to gallop at a full-stride across the plaza.  Mud shook from its matted fur with each additional leap and bound.  She fired her final round at the monstrosity, hitting it firmly in the shoulder, but it only served to further anger the demon.
Twenty feet from its prey, it leapt through the air and tackled her like a weightless, rag doll.  Her desperate cries in the green went unnoticed, or ignored, by the people in the surrounding buildings.  She screamed in agony as it ripped and tore at her body, shredding it in mere moments.  The beast flung its head skyward and bayed a fiendish song, before continuing with its savagery.  A faint, near-imperceptible howl could be heard in reply, somewhere deep in the sinister darkness beyond the city.
An exhausted, young deputy rounded the corner and happened upon the carnal scene in the square.  The woman’s ghost was gone, but the beast continued to menace her body.
“Halt!” 
He fired two successive rounds from his 1860 Army and struck the creature twice in the back of its head.  The beast turned and snarled at the officer, but he only further entrenched himself in his position and struck the beast twice again in its chest.  The brute recoiled as the .44 caliber rounds exploded against its chest, but did not retreat from the area.  It batted the mutilated remains with a heavy paw before turning and charging the officer.
The raging blur was swiftly covering the distance between itself and the man with every passing moment.  The deputy began to sidestep the blood-soaked monster, forcing it to reevaluate its trajectory, while continually delivering a steady stream of lead along the narrow tunnel that separated man and beast.  Two rounds into the dire exchange of animal and mortal, the deputy was forced to swiftly transition from his spent, service revolver to his smaller, secondary Model 1.  The diminutive .22 shorts had no noticeable effect on the creature, so the officer was forced to aim for its wide, yellow eyes.
As the creature reached the man, it leapt and spread its front arm wide so that it might gore the man with its razor-like claws.  The man dropped low to the ground the moment before impact and aimed high; the round exploded from the barrel of the Model 1 and connected perfectly with the brute’s right, ocular cavity.  The malevolent eye burst like a flattened grape, spraying vile fluid throughout the air.
The sharp claws slashed the man’s shoulder to the bone and sent him reeling across the cobblestone sidewalk.  The man rolled to his feet and turned to run, while lose flesh dangled from his blood-soaked arm.  The creature shrieked in agony from the wound and spun furiously in the direction of the man to devour him whole.  The man cried out for help as he staggered down the avenue, while clutching his gored shoulder.
The beast leapt once again towards the man, but was violently rebuked in midair.  The massive, two-inch, lead ball from the short-barreled musketoon of a second deputy tore through flesh and bone, as it robbed the beast of its will to destroy.  The musketoon clattered on the cobblestone walk below as the second deputy stepped out from darkness of the adjacent alley and transitioned to his herculean, double-barreled, LeMat revolver.  He thrust the revolver into the thick, night air in front of him, searching for his adversary, but the thing was gone.
The second officer rushed to the aid of his fallen brother who was beginning to go into shock, either from his wounds or from the realization of what he had encountered.  He cradled the man’s head in his arms and strived to sooth him as he kept repeating, “Stay with me, it’s going to be alright.”
“Stay with me; help’s on the way.”
“Stay with me, brother.”
One

Thick, grey smoke billowed from the steam pipe of the aging locomotive and disappeared into the night.  As the smudge-face stoker shoveled heaps of coal into the glowing firebox, water in the pressurized boiler began to phase change into steam, producing the necessary energy to push the engine’s piston down the track.  As the heavy, iron wheels completed their revolution, the crank and connecting rods in turn pushed the piston forward again.  As the piston slammed forward, another heavy plume of smoke surged from atop the iron workhorse.  And so the characteristic, rhythmic chuffing sound produced by the seemingly eternal labor of the sinewy boilerman and his iron sweatshop, pierced the night.
In a dining carriage, several rail cars back, Talmadge meticulously oiled his Colt Dragoon.  The heavy pistol had been developed during the Mexican-American War, and was originally designed for killing the mounts of charging, Mexican cavalrymen.  A broad, silver cutlass was sheathed on the dark-stained, oak table beside him.  His dozen-man, volunteer entourage of Federal, Confederate and other allegiances, were seated throughout the car as well.  Though resentment still ran high in the shattered South as the region struggled through the crippling realities of Reconstruction, the men had united under Talmadge for a common cause that transcended their regional differences.
Talmadge insisted on volunteer enlistment for his unit; if any man grew weary of his post, he was free to leave without fear of a court martial.  To date, there had been no deserters.  The men came from all walks of life and all corners of the fledgling republic, and beyond.  Talmadge’s squad included Secret Service agents from New England, Gray Riders from Virginia, leathery frontiersmen from the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, Indian trackers from the borderlands and pair of seasoned emissaries from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The men bided their by attending to their weaponry, studying various tomes or finishing a late meal.
The rail guided the men south through the thick forests and bayous of Louisiana, until they emerged on the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain.  As they left their wooded confines behind, they were immediately engulfed by a fog so deep and heavy, it seemed to push angrily against the very motion of the locomotive itself.  The windows of the carriage were soon drenched from the condensation that was suspended in the Creole air, further obstructing Talmadge’s view of the world beyond their temporary refuge.  He rested his forehead against the cool, glass pane of the window and craned his head up to peer at the one remaining landmark that he could descry - the waxing, sanguine moon of the October sky.
Caleb, one of Mosby’s Riders during the War of the States, stood watch for the men at the carriage’s entrance door.  A loud knock at the door startled the man and garnered the attention of the entire room.  Though the man had been attentive, the impenetrable fog had nonetheless shrouded the figure’s approach.
“Who goes there?”
“It’s the conductor, son.”
The men in the room instinctively readied their arms as Caleb slowly opened the door for the gray-haired gentlemen.  As he stepped into the room, he surveyed the eclectic group before regarding, “Well, you’re an apprehensive bunch, if I’ve ever seen one.”
None in the room replied.
The conductor awkwardly cleared his throat and continued, “We will arrive at our destination within the hour, gentlemen.”
The conductor’s forehead wrinkled in thought as he scanned the room, before finally settling on Talmadge.  “Mister McKinley, as I’m sure you are already aware, your host is to meet you upon your arrival at the station.”
“That I am; thank you.”
As the conductor left the car, Talmadge stood to address the men.
“Gentlemen, as you all know, there will be no defections when we arrive in the city.  There’ll be no visiting the drinkeries or carousing with the courtesans.  We move as one man, never leaving another behind.  There are no exceptions; all or none.  Understood?”
The men nodded in understanding at his address, before returning to their various labors. 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The wheels of the iron horse screeched in protest as the engineer applied the brakes to the hulking machine.  The man jerked the pull cord with his own unique style to announce their approach.  The station hands could easily discern who was at the helm by the pitch and cadence of the steam trumpet.  The whistle belted three short yips followed by a long, throaty bawl.
The station was sparsely illuminated by several dim lamps.  Talmadge and his men gathered their equipment and exited the rail car.  A small fleet of horses and carriages awaited their arrival on the opposite side of the open rail yard.  The carriage attendants rushed to the men to help them stow their baggage for the short, midnight ride across the city.  Caleb and the two other Gray Riders in the detachment handed off their bags to the attendants and aimed to a distant rail car near the back of the train. 
As they sensed the men’s presence, the yips and howls of the dogs grew increasingly excitable.  By the time the men reached them, they were in a howling frenzy.  The Catahoula Curs knew of only one reason they ever rode the rails; soon, they would hunt.  The pack of Blue Leopard Catahoulas was worth a small fortune to the affluent sportsman of finer tastes.  They were choice selected from the finest pedigrees for their size and temperament.  Most were white-chested with a full spectrum of blues and greys on their backs; their legs and faces were interspersed with rich, brindled-tan markings.  Though the breed was not typically known to exceed ninety pounds, several of the blue merles in the pack weighed, or exceeded, three figures.  The dogs were royal descendants of the Wright Line, developed by Preston Wright.  The Wright Line represented a storied breed that could be traced back to Hernando de Soto.
As the men attended to the Catahoulas, their excitement began to arouse their more aloof brethren in the next car.   While the attendants escorted the Leopard dogs to their kennels on the backs of the carriages, Caleb and the former Gray Riders approached the second kennel car to release the remainder of the pack.  As they unlocked the door and slid it open, six towering monsters stood patiently at the opening.  The Spanish Mastiffs, all weighing well over two hundred pounds, stepped off of the rail car and silently followed the three men to the carriages.  As they walked, two of the massive beasts split off from either side and formed an impenetrable, protective, wedge formation around the three men.
The Spanish Mastiff was a beast bred for conflict.  The hulking creatures were said to have descended from ancient Greek war hounds.  The war dogs eventually found their way to Spain around 1,000 B.C. by the way of Phoenician mariners.  Spanish royalty were enamored by the hounds and began to refine the breed for their own purposes.  Much later, conquistadors would use the mastiffs and other, similar molossers, against the natives of the Americas.  Even the renowned Aztec warriors were terrified of the war hounds’ strength and ferocity.
During the War, the Gray Riders had learned how critical the bond between man and beast was to their survival.  They talked to and understood their horses as if they were fellow men-at-arms, because in fact, they were.  The three men had immediately taken to the mastiffs and curs, learning their language and becoming an integral part of the pack.  In the dark, Louisiana bayous, Caleb would prefer the company and watchful eyes of the mastiffs over any of the other men, despite the immense respect he had for all of his comrades – even the Yanks.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once the men and their equipment were in the carriages, they braved the short ride from the depot to their destination in the French Quarter.  Their drivers whipped the horses east along Tchapitoulas for several miles, before a short jog north on Rue Canal and then finally Rue Bourbon.  The men who had never been to the city were amazed at the sights in the city that refused to sleep.  Streetwalkers catcalled to the ornate, Victorian carriages in hopes of a profitable rendezvous.  Drunken disputes spilled out of the drinkeries and taprooms, and into the streets.  A pair of muddled brawlers each withdrew their long-bladed Bowies and commenced to spilling one another’s blood in the muddy streets.  The lesser man, pale from his wounds, finally yielded to the other before collapsing on the cobblestone promenade.  
After several blocks, they arrived at their destination – the Old Absinthe House at the corner of Rue Bourbon and Rue Bienville.  The loud commotion coming from the Catahoula’s kennels only fueled the spectacle of the carriage convoy that encircled the establishment.  Late night itinerants stopped to survey the scene as the Leopard dogs pleaded for their release.  The droves of heavily armed men garnered curious stares as they filtered out of the carriages and into the tavern.  Several of the group’s escorts remained outside to bar the doors and stand guard.
The popular speakeasy was completely devoid of any customers; the entire establishment had been rented for the discrete, late-night assemblage.  The only living soul downstairs was Ferrer, the eccentric bartender only recently stolen away from the French Opera House.  Despite the empty room, the cool waters continued to flow from the marble fountains, while trays of sugar cubes lay ready on the copper-topped, wooden bar.  The wrought-iron chandeliers and sconces only served to illuminate the room just enough so that it was navigable.
As the men entered the bar, Ferrer nodded and motioned to the narrow staircase in the back corner of the room, before returning to his seemingly idle duties.  He carefully poured the greenish Absinthe from a crystal decanter into the reservoirs of a half-dozen, meticulously-aligned glasses.  After filling the reservoirs, Ferrer retrieved six silver, Absinthe spoons and placed the special lip of the utensils on the rims of the glasses.  He then placed a large cube of sugar on each spoon before drizzling the cool water over them; the water dissolved the cubes, and the solution dribbled down into the reservoir glasses.  Upon completion of the task, Ferrer alternated between consuming the elixirs and sliding full glasses across the bar to various empty seats.
As the men passed by the bar on the way to the staircase, they watched curiously as Ferrer began anew with six more glasses.  Finally Josiah, their liaison and escort, addressed the man.
“Ferrer.”
“Why, yes sir?”
“Ferrer, what are you doing?
The bartender looked at the Josiah quizzically and replied, “Why, my job of course, good sir; could I interest you in one of our signature elixirs?  It cures what ails you just as well as any apothecary’s tonic.”
The man ignored Ferrer’s attempt to hock his tinctures and continued to press him.  “Your profession is a barkeep, is it not?”
“Precisely; indeed it is.”
“But tonight you have no patrons; there is no bar to keep, Ferrer.
    “There’re always patrons in Vieux Carré, my friend, even if you can’t see them.  I expect tonight to be busier than most, actually.”
“You’ve drank the muse too long, old friend.  The wormwood has withered your senses.”
“Tell me, how is a man so tralatitiously parochial expected to assist in the expulsion of the transcendental?”
“Gentleman,” Josiah called out to the others, “please ignore the loon in the corner and follow me, if you will.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The upstairs room was brighter and warmer than the speakeasy, but only slightly.  Rough-hewn timbers were exposed along the walls and the ceiling overhead.  The same style sconces and chandeliers found downstairs also lined the walls and hung low over the large, round table in the center of the open room.  Numerous tomes, documents and maps were scattered aimlessly across the planked surface of the table as several men studied them intensely.  Numerous officers from the Fifth Military District were already seated around the table as Josiah, Talmadge and the other men crossed the threshold into the gloomy room.  A pair of armed officers closed the double-doors behind Talmadge’s entourage and stoically stood at attention. 
Talmadge recognized the senior officer in the room as none other than General Sheridan.  He sighed deeply in anticipation of the encounter.  He had hoped that a more affable, junior officer of Sheridan’s would be in attendance in his absence.  The infamous general was well known for his hostility towards the South and the former soldiers of the Confederacy.  General Sheridan was the military governor of the district that encompassed Texas and Louisiana.  He was probably best known in the postbellum South for his quote, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell,” a statement that he was known to proudly repeat often.
“Gentlemen; please, have a seat.  Might we offer anyone some coffee?”
Talmadge nodded as he took a seat, “Yes sir, coffee for all.”
As an aide served the men, the general continued, “Mr. McKinley, I assume you and your men know why you’re here?”
“Only vaguely, sir; you’re office has not been forthcoming with details.”
“By my office, are you inferring I am withholding information from you, sir?”
“No sir, I was only-“
“I prefer to deliver news of this order in person, Mr. McKinley.  It seems there are scarce few men in your grande old South that can practice the necessary discretion that this subject requires.”
Talmadge fumed and his face flushed, but he refused to step into the snare the general was setting for him.
“I understand your concerns, general.  We’re here now; tell us what’s happened.”
“Six bodies in as many days, that’s what’s happened; six bodies that had been savaged in the most abhorrent ways.”
“Is there a pattern as to where these incidents occurred?”
“All six have been within a few blocks of the river and have occurred in, or very close to, Vieux Carré.”
“Tell me about the bodies.”
“What little remains of the bodies were mutilated – ripped to shreds.  The injuries are animal in nature, no doubt, but not from any animal I can imagine.  I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I don’t have to remind you how many of your boys I’ve watched fall in battle in some of the most deplorable ways.”
Unable to contain his rage, Caleb slammed his chair back and towered over the table.  The chair scraped noisily across the hardwood floor before tipping backwards and crashing against it.  Several of Sheridan’s men arose and unsheathed their cavalry sabers as they began to close in on Caleb. 
Caleb!” Talmadge growled, “Take your seat, now!”
 Caleb menacingly eyed the Union men that were encircling him with sabers ready.  He maintained his focus on the men as he slowly leaned down and restored the chair to its proper position at the table.
As Caleb reclaimed his seat, Talmadge apologized to Sheridan, “Please, forgive us.”
The general smirked at Caleb as he replied to Talmadge, “Discipline is strongly lacking in your unit, McKinley.  Is this how you operate?”
“No sir.”
“So let’s quit dancing around the subject.  I’ve been told quite a bit about your unit.  How many of these things have you apprehended?”
Talmadge paused momentarily before replying, “None.”
“Oh?  Well, how many have you killed?”
“None, sir.”
How many have you even seen, McKinley?”
Talmadge looked down at the table and shook his head from side to side.
“So let me understand this, McKinley:  There’s something out there ravaging my citizenry in ways that are thoroughly unspeakable, and it’s only getting worse!  If this leaks out onto the streets, I’ll have an entire city in panic!  I already have my hands full with Klansmen lynching free men all across my district.  If this gets out, they’ll blame it on the negroes. I will not have another St. Landry!”
General Sheridan arose from his seat and pounded the table fiercely as he continued, “My God!  The district is on the edge, and they send me you!  And all you can do is shake your head no and tell me that none of you professionals even know what we’re dealing with!”
Two figures stepped forth from a dark corner of the room and interrupted the general’s malediction.
“We know exactly what you’re facing, sir.”
“And who are you?”
Two
The creature slogged through the dark thickets across the river with surprising stealth and efficiency for its size.  Its footfalls were scarcely noticeable by the other creatures of the forest.  As the hulking beast reached the banks of the Mississippi River, it squatted for a moment to observe its surroundings from the shadows.  It dug an errant claw into the soft sand at its feet as it surveyed a distant pair of ospreys.  The seasonal visitors circled the swirling waters below in the bend of the river, searching for an unfortunate bass or sunfish.  The brute listened keenly to a herd of wild boars as they noisily grunted and rooted in the soft, rich soil of the river swamp.
After several moments of silent observation, it strode into the murky depths and began to glide through the black waters toward the city lights on the other side.  The creature’s strokes were powerful but discrete as its chin gently bobbed in and out of the water.  Eddies swirled in its wake as its broad legs kicked out and propelled it forward.
A pair of wide, red eyes followed the waterlogged beast as it cut across the swift current.  The ancient alligator began to shadow the intruder that infringed upon his domain.  His long, muscular tail cut back and forth through the muddy waters with unrivaled power as he closed in on the brute to investigate its intentions.  The gator sunk below the surface for a distance before appearing again in front of the outcast.  The scaly, prehistoric monster refused to yield to the strange, exotic beast that had trespassed into his territory.  The gator began to close the distance, ready for the challenge.  The brute refused to so much as acknowledge the ancient reptile’s presence as it continued swimming the river unmolested.  The two ospreys curiously circled the titans overhead to see which of the challengers would be victorious.
When it seemed all but certain that the two forces would collide in a furious contest of dominance, the creature released a low, menacing snarl at the gator.  The muddy, river water gurgled and bubbled around its mouth as it eyed the massive reptile unblinkingly.  Surprisingly, the alligator abdicated the river to the monster and sunk into the black depths.  When he reemerged to gaze once again at the strange foe, they were distant adversaries separated by half the river’s width.  The gator turned in defeat to find easier, more accommodating prey.  He slowly navigated through the night toward the sounds of the distant boars.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The two men passed the near-empty bottle of bourbon back and forth as their lines bobbed in the water.  The excursion was less about catching fish than it was about drinking until the bottle was gone, or until they woke up sober.   They had been drinking since early in the evening, and now it was well into the night.
The cool breeze swirled about the men, but they were swiftly becoming too inebriated to notice its chill.  The blanket of fog over the river was impenetrably thick.  The light of the heavy moon illuminated it like a second river, strangely floating atop the first.  As the midnight gusts waxed and waned, the fog pushed increasingly deeper into the surrounding city.
Vieux Carré proper, the center of the Quarter, was only several blocks away, but it was sheltered from the men’s riverfront alcove by a series of dark allies and narrow passages.  The men often boasted to themselves and others that the fishing was better in their secluded nook than anywhere else in the city, but they both knew that they preferred the hidden pier because it was a quiet spot to overindulge without interruption.
In spite of their delirious ramblings, one of the corks began dance atop the water before disappearing altogether.
"Pull, William!  Pull!"
The fat man bellowed with laughter as his friend struggled to process the command and react appropriately.  The sounds of the fat man's voice echoed across the river and beyond.
"You old drunk!  We'll never catch anything with you behind a pole!"
William jerked the pole forcefully, sending the line sailing through the air, with no fish in sight.  The hook's trajectory appeared to be heading directly for the fat man; he recoiled in anticipation and tumbled backwards off the bench.
"You fool!  I'm in more danger than any fish!"
The William merely chuckled to himself, before casting his line back into the river.
"You have to bait the hook!  I swear you’re cutoff; I’m not wasting any more good whiskey on you, old friend."
William tried to retrieve his line from the dark depths, but it refused his tugs. He teetered to his feet so as to pull harder, but the line still would not break free.
“I think I’ve got a bite.”
"You don’t have a bite; give it here!  I might as well do everything for you.  I’m just glad no one else is around to see the shape you’re in.”
The fat man grabbed the pole and began to tug at it forcefully, but it still would not yield, even to him.  William muttered to himself as he gently swayed from side to side.  The fat man gingerly leaned over the edge of the pier and began to tug fiercely at the line.  Suddenly, a snarling blur of fur and claws burst forth from the obscured depths and grasped the man, before pulling him down into the water. 
The man shrieked in terror as his gaze locked with the beast’s single, yellow eye.  He cried out in agony as it sunk its sharp canines into his shoulder.  The man thrashed about for a brief moment in the shallow waters near the river’s edge, before being dragged into the deep waters beyond. 
William leaned over the pier railing in muddled disbelief as his friend screamed and pleaded for his life.  He strained to reach his friend, but it was too late.  William watched the brute savage the man and rend his flesh, before pulling him down and out of sight.  William turned to his side and retched on the rotting, wooden planks as a sudden sickness overwhelmed him.  He muttered incoherently in a drunken attempt to cry out to the fat man, but it was in vain – his friend was gone. 
After several minutes in a near-stupor, William heard a blood-curdling howl from the opposite bank.  A wave of great trepidation and unease consumed him; the sound was like none other he had heard before.  He suddenly felt alone and completely vulnerable to whatever was across the river.  He turned and began to stagger precariously off the pier and to the Quarter in search of help, if anyone would believe him.  He closed his eyes in terror and cringed as a second howl could be heard answering the first. 

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8 comments:

  1. I promise not to write a van helsing knockoff. But I do find the Postbellum Victorian era both fascinating and sad. I'm actually listening to that Black Crowes rendition of Dixie as I write this.

    And what do you know, my story is starting to take a depressing turn - haha

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  2. Good story, I like the feel. I live here in the Deep South about a mile from the only Confederate Armoury not destroyed by the Yankees. The atmosphere down here is just different from other parts of the country. Not to say there aren't some creepy places up North, but down here the veil seems pretty thin most of the time.

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  3. Mike,

    As a southern boy, I couldn't agree more. There are some truly creepy places in the deep bayous and river swamps. That Spanish moss doesn't help either.

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  4. I lived in the Baton Rouge area (on the Amite River) and there were unexplained creatures roaming in the river swamps. Life on that river was a an experience i'll never forget. Things happened from the river people that you would never dream up. They are a different breed of folks.
    Papa Mike
    III

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  5. On a dark night, deep in the swamp, separated from your dogs by sloughs and bottoms and now cursing that wise, old ringtail you set out to hunt - a man can see a lot of things that aren't what they seem - especially when there's a few drinks involved. A bear or a mountain lion looks a lot different by the light of the moon than it does in the clear day.

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  6. I like the mention of the Lemat. A very impressive weapon; I hope to have one some day.

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  7. The Lemat is an epic pistol indeed. Fitting for an encounter with any beast. With the Lemat and a musketoon, that officer was bringing some heat!

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