Brian had never seen so damn many turtles in his entire life. On both sides of the narrow two-lane bayou road, on every fallen log and tree stump and stone above the waterline, there were turtles, sunning themselves. Some in a row. Some stacked up. Everywhere. "What's with all these turtles?" he asked.
Terry Wayne Lacroix kept his eyes straight ahead as he drove. "They live here, brother," he said.
"You're not my brother," Brian said, voice on edge. "You're just someone who was fuckin' my sister." And now you're going to show me what you've done with her, you sonovabitch, he thought. He squeezed the handle of his gun for reassurance.
"Y'know," Terry Wayne said nervously, "some says that the world, it sits on a giant turtle."
"Uh huh," Brian said. "And what does that turtle stand on?"
"Ain't another turtle," Terry said. Something about the way he said that bothered Brian.
But then, there had been a lot bothering him lately. It had been a month since he got the email from Melissa, saying that something was wrong, that she would contact him to explain, but that call never came. So he had to make his way from his comfortable life in Little Rock down to the ass-end of Louisiana, the god-forsaken patch of swampland known as St. Jude's Parish, where Missy had been working as a teacher in the central school in Oubliette. She had said she was happy here. Then she met Lacroix, member of one of the parish's oldest families, a past high school football star who hadn't done much since. This man was Brian's only solid lead, and he wasn't going to let go of him until he had some answers.
He had tried doing this by the book. In the days after Missy went missing, Brian called the sheriff's office nearly every day. Figured they'd get tired of him and get to work so they wouldn't have to hear from him anymore. As further reassurance, he hired a private investigator, who called him a few days ago to tell him that the sheriff and Lacroix played football together back in the day on the Oubliette Water Moccasins. Both been part of an inner-circle group, in fact, known as the Seven Deadly 'Sins. Something of a long-standing tradition, he found, as his own car had seen the wrath of this year's class of 'Sins when he came down after the P.I. also disappeared -- or vanished to New Orleans, either way Brian had to take care of this himself.
Lacroix's car pulled off onto a gravel road. Brian watched him suspiciously. This had all the makings of a swamp-people trap -- who knew what these crazy Cajuns would do -- but he still had the gun, and was willing to use it. Alligators or linebackers, they all responded to bullets. The road became less gravel, then less of a road. Terry Wayne stopped the car. "We've gotta walk from here," he said.
"You stay ahead of me, where I can see you," Brian said. "And don't forget..."
"I know," Terry Wayne said.
It hadn't seemed that late in the day, but the longer they walked, the duskier it seemed to get. From time to time, there would be a splash to their right or left as a turtle left its post. Brian only saw one gator, but figured there were others unseen. Their movement into the water was smoother, quieter than that of their shelled cousins.
The heavy humid air started to weigh on him, like a feeling of dread settling on his shoulders. Shadows deepened around them. Sounds of frogs and insects filled the air. His mind started to sing with them, "too late TOO LATE too late TOO LATE too late..." he stopped the train of thought when he realized what he was saying. "How much further," he asked, unable to keep the nervousness out of his voice.
"I think we're almost there," Terry Wayne said, sounding nervous himself. There were small lights ahead -- fireflies? Their movements seemed random, but were coming ever closer.
Lacroix stopped walking, extended his arms towards the swirling lights, and shouted, "I have brought him! I have done what you wanted!"
Sensing a trap was springing, Brian raised his gun to point it at Lacroix. Then he saw her. Missy seemed to shimmer in moonlight, standing next to a tree a few yards ahead of them. Brian lowered his gun and stepped towards her. "Melissa? Missy? It's me."
She smiled, dead eyes looking into him.
Terry Wayne started slowly backing away. "You got that gun," he said. "You may want to save a bullet for yourself." A moment later he was gone, running back up the path. But Brian hardly noticed. He watched as shining lights came down and settled in Missy's hair. The air was eerie silence, except for a distant cracking of tree branches. Moments later, he heard a loud splash. "What was that?" Brian asked.
"Ain't another turtle," the thing that was Melissa said.
- - -
This is my entry for LJ Idol, Season 8, Week 34, Topic two of three: "Turtles All the Way Down."