Welcome to Urban Legends: Author & Artist #SpookyShowcase. This autumn 2019, the strange and unusual is unleashed! Featuring the best authors and artists in the horror landscape, come back each day the month of October for a scare. You can find the master posting schedule here,
Expect dark stories, myths, legends, and creepy creations that will make your spine tingle. Remember, urban legends aren’t true…are they?
by Moriah Satkin
Inspired by the Loup Garou of the American South.
Between the crackling of the fire and the steady wash of waves upon the shore, it was difficult to hear what Papa was mumbling about. The whiskey bottle in his hand was already half empty, and the night had only just begun.
The smell of gumbo was wafting up from the pot, but Papa was ignoring tending the fire. The flames were getting too big, and the bottom of the pot had to be scorching. Still, I knew to keep quiet. When Papa had this much whiskey this fast, it was best to keep myself to myself. So I buried my toes into the sand at the edge of the bayou, taking a deep sniff of the air.
There was the smell of the gumbo, the tang of the fire, and the salt of the sea. I could even smell a little bit of smoke from the Johnsons’ smoking rig they had outback of their house. Probably smoking the fish they had managed to catch. Just as I settled in, still taking deep breaths of the musky salty air, Papa’s huge hand fisted in my hair and pulled hard. I yelped, toes scrambling for purchase on the soft sand, spraying the fire pit with damp pieces and making the angry flames hiss and jump.
Papa pulled me to my feet, bending at the torso to push his face closer to mine, meeting me eye to eye. For a long moment, only the crackle of the flames could be heard, and the fireflies danced all around them. I wondered if he was going to hit me with his hand or with his belt. Maybe even with the bottle in his hand, like he’d done to Mama before she left to go live with Jesus.
Instead, he spoke quietly, more intense than I’d ever heard.
“Don’t you dare go sniffing like that, girl. You’ve got no idea what kind of things people will say about you if they saw. They’d say you were a wild thing, no better than an animal. People have got to be better than animals, else the whole world would come apart at the seams.” His eyes were glazed over, but the depths were more intense than the fire crackling behind them.
It was all I could do to just nod, dropping my gaze to the sand at my feet. Papa let me go, throwing me to the sand and I just laid there, staring up at the full moon – the only witness to our encounter. Papa followed my gaze up to that huge bright moon and cursed as bad as I’ve ever heard a man curse. His whiskey bottle hit the fire next to me, causing the flames to flare up. Papa swore, kicked sand on the fire, and yelled at me to get back to the shack and go to bed. With the flames extinguished, the moon only shone brighter. I could hardly tear my eyes away.
Papa started to act very odd over the next few moons. My monthlies had finally gone and shown themselves, and Papa declared that I was getting older. Our time was coming to an end. I laughed, because I didn’t know what else to do. What an odd thing for him to say. Unease prickled in the back of my mind, ‘cause I’d heard that near everyone thought that he’d gone and killed Mama and tossed her body out to the gators. If Mama wouldn’t have been so sick for so long, I may have believed him too.
That night, like so many before, Papa and I sat in front of the fire. The stew was bubbling happily, the brown gravy popping and hissing. When the venison was finally declared ready, Papa went ahead and scooped out a heaping portion onto the slightly rusty tin plate. There was nothing to eat it with, besides hands. Mine were clean enough, even if there was some grit stuck under the nails.
The moon ahead was cresting, fixing to become as full as a melon. I tried not to stare, knowing that Papa would whup me good if I looked for even more than a glance. So instead I looked out to the gently lapping waves and caught the reflection through the reeds. My food sat untouched in my lap, but he didn’t even seem to notice, too caught up reading the latest copy of the farmers almanac that he’d gotten from one of the shopkeepers. It was half a year too late, but that didn’t phase him none.
I looked back to my plate, picking at the plump beans and spare bits of rice with a gnarled nail. It was edible, but only just. The refined salt had run out a while ago, and I hadn’t bothered to go to the sea to try and scare up some more. Money was tight these days, and the shrimps hadn’t been as plentiful as past seasons. Papa said that there were too many people in the waters these days, encroaching on the wildlife. Pushing the wild things back further and further into the wetlands.
On cue, the howl of a wolf cut through the winds, the gentle sound cresting and falling in a beautiful song of love and loss. One by one, other members of the pack called back, locating one another through the dense brush. Papa stopped reading, tilting his head towards the sound. Wolves had been run out of the area, thanks to the all the folks moving in. Every now and again, they could still be heard.
With a wicked grin, I threw my head back and howled right along with them. The sound bubbled up from within my gut, flowing from the sand under my feet all the up through my gullet until it burst through my mouth and joined with their song.
Papa’s massive hand wrapped around my exposed throat, squeezing hard and choking the sound off. One moment I was at peace, calling out to the wolves and the next I was in the sand once again, rubbing at the raw skin around my throat. Coughing and spluttering, I scrambled for purchase on soft sand, ready to run into the reeds if I needed. But Papa just stared at me, his eyes reflecting the hell fire inside his belly. His gaze floated between my still full plate, oozing brown gravy into the sun-bleached sand and my shocked face.
In the end, he simply stood and walked away. He always just walked away.
Tomorrow was my sixteenth birthday. It should have made me happy. The girls in town were always gushing and squealing about it. They got gifts, nice things like pearls and new dresses. Most were presented to the town in with a party. Some even found a husband that very night.
All I got was a letter. Papa had left it on the kitchen table, and I had been staring at it for a long while. The sun was already starting to set, but he still hadn’t come back from wherever he’d gone. It was just me and the letter. I didn’t want to open it, not really. But Mama’s handwriting beckoned to me. I could see it clearly on the onionskin paper, her loopy cursive writing exactly as I had remembered from my childhood.
God, I missed her. I missed her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes. The way that she’d wink at me as she danced around the kitchen, cooking up whatever Papa had managed to scare up from the bayou that day. I could still remember the day that she got sick. She’d gone into town with her purse of coins, saying that she needed to step out and see a woman about settling some debts. That night she had come back with an empty purse and a terrible stomachache.
Just seeing her writing on the front of the envelope hurt.
Still, with the light fading, I had to take my chances and read whatever the letter had to say. Maybe she had something important to tell me. Maybe a piece of her jewelry was hidden somewhere in the bayou for me, and this was her treasure map.
Suitably hopeful, I carefully peeled the wax seal on the back and freed the yellowed paper from its confines. The humidity of the bayou had left its mark on the paper, making the delicate surface warp and wrinkle, but the writing was still legible enough. I could still see the darkness of the ink behind the paper.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to turn the paper and unfurl its contents. Memories of Mama overwhelmed me. I could smell her scent, the paper seeming to have been scented with her best perfume. And when I sniffed, I swear that I could smell her. Not anything like her perfume, but…her. The comforting smell that had coated her bed, the smell that made me want to burrow my head into her hair and breathe deep.
The sun was nearly down now, but I could still the paper as well as if it was daylight. I looked to the sun outside the screen door, but the light hurt my eyes and I hissed before dropping my head into my hands. Maybe I was catching ill.
Stumbling, I abandoned the letter and stood with my eyes closed as the world around me seemed to tilt and swirl. Still, I held onto the table and did my best to keep level. Pain flared up in my stomach and I couldn’t help but collapse onto the floor, clutching my stomach. I tried to open my eyes, but they refused to open even one bit.
For a while, the world seemed to spin and melt around me. My eyes would open and then close just as suddenly as they had flown open. Whimpering escaped my mouth, the pain from the fading light and my stomach was too much. As used to pain as I was, this was like nothing I had ever experienced. I tried to cry out for help, but my throat wouldn’t respond.
I don’t know exactly when I surrendered to the darkness, but the slam of the porch door woke me abruptly. I tried to stand, but my body simply would not respond. Wearily, I managed to level my head toward the door and saw Papa’s large boots in my line of sight. I sighed and whimpered again. As much as Papa could cause me pain, I also knew that he knew exactly what to do to make it stop.
Instead of helping, I heard the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being cocked and loaded.
“I told you that our time was coming to an end, girl. Get up outta this house and don’t you ever come back, ya hear! If I see hide nor hair of that mangey hide ever again, I’ll put a bullet right between those eyes and won’t feel one bit bad about it.”
Had he finally lost his mind to the drink? I went still, knowing that it was the fastest way to make him forget about me.
For a moment, I thought it had worked.
Then a shot rang out and Mama’s nice crystal vase behind me shattered into a million tiny shards. Some hit my back, but the pain was secondary to the shock. I got my legs under me and sprinted for the door. The screen gave way easily, and I didn’t even try to stop to open it. I could apologize for it later, but I had to let him sober up before I even tried to go back.
I ran as fast as I could, feet putting a massive amount of distance between myself and the shack. My lungs burned with the effort but pulling in air from the bayou was refreshing. I could smell the musk of the moss hanging from the tree limbs overhead, and I could hear the snapping of twigs from under the feet of some of the stray deer in the area.
Howls bubbled up from all around me, and I could hear my Mama’s voice calling to me over the lot of them. I could feel her near me, the kind of instinct that wouldn’t, or couldn’t fade. She was near.
Overhead, the full moon shone down on the clearing where my Mama was waiting for me, all glossy fur and knowing eyes. She would have the answers, just as she always did.
About the Author
M.L. Satkin is an aspiring horror writer, and can be reached at email@example.com.