Nightmares Come to Life

Part I

Hallowe’en Eve. The French Quarter is alive with activity- a thumping, pulsating organism. The aerial view of Bourbon Street resembles writhing creatures feasting on a cadaver. The noise is deafening, and Willow is too tired to be bothered with it.
“Three dollar draft!” shouts a vendor with a large, white cardboard sign. Walking in the street with large signs promoting the bars is supposed to be against city ordinance, but no one really enforces it. Women and men barely draped in fabric hang in antique door frames. The Spanish stucco of many structures sits marred with scars from careless visitors and residents alike. A cacophonous and intolerable chorus of contrasting music blends, blaring from a myriad of establishments.
“Hey, hun.” A stunning tall, blonde drag queen addresses Willow.
“Hey, Louise.”
“You look irritable tonight.” She takes a drag from her cigarette and releases a cloud of smoke.
“I’m exhausted. We closed early tonight to get prep done for tomorrow, but instead the guys dragged me out here after we were only half done.”
“Don’t sweat it, sweetie. You’ll do great, just like last year.”
“I didn’t feel like we did great last year, Louise. I thought I would die.”
“We all feel that way sometimes. I remember when I first opened the club. Shit. It was tough. But you do it. People have a good time, and they come back.
Willow sighs.
“Why don’t you come in for a drink? Where’re the guys?”
Willow points to the nightclub into which her husband and brothers disappeared. Flashing lights, smoke from a machine, and drunk tourists covered in colorful plastic necklaces stream from its open doors.
“Come on,” Louise motioned with her head toward her club, The Nightingale. “Jeff, if you see Willow’s people tell them I took her inside for some peace and quiet.” She says to the doorman. “Ready, honey?” Louis asks, but Willow is rigid. Louise’s voice is lost in the resounding shriek filling Willow’s ears. “Willow? Hello?” Louise waves her hand with its long, ornate fingernails in front of Willow’s face.
“What?” Willow responds, visibly shaken.
“You were zoned out. Are you okay? You look terrible.”
“Didn’t you hear that?”
“What?
“That shriek. Didn’t you hear it?
“It’s so noisy out here. I can’t hear myself think. Let’s go inside. You’re stressing yourself to death.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Stress. Yes. It makes sense, thinks Willow. Stress can induce auditory hallucinations…can’t it?
Inside of The Nightingale is hardly different from outside in the street. The music pounds. Dancers swing and shimmy to the rhythm in the light of pulsing red and white strobe-lights. Patrons sit near the bar, at the dancers’ feet, and at round tables within booths. Some are behind the closed doors of the private areas, where-for the right amount-the women, men, and enby performers do more than dance. 
Willow follows Louise to her office. The two cross an open courtyard and separate from the din and chaos of the club. It’s strange how quiet the night is once they exit the back door and enter the cobblestoned courtyard with its sporadically placed pal consumed most of the block several years before. The locks were only slightly damaged. Louise mourned the loss of the original doors. She just couldn’t find anyone to duplicate them. Willow rests on a leather couch and closes her eyes. Louise pours them both a glass of brandy.

Fatigue quickly claims possession of Willow’s agitated brain. She finds herself in her childhood home. The surroundings are odd and out of place, but that discrepancy is minor compared to the fact that the house was destroyed a decade prior during Hurricane Katrina, and was razed to the ground like so many of its neighbors. In the dream, Willow stands at her parents’ back window, looking into the back yard. Enormous bales of hay lay rolled and placed in random order around the yard, even though in real life they’d never existed. A childlike figure appears, manifested from inside one of the bales, a small girl. She wears a red dress and has long, light-colored pigtails. Her white leggings rise from black patent-leather Mary Janes. She dances for a moment, gleeful. “What is that?” asks Willow aloud to no one. The child then turns her eyes on Willow. They become glowing white-hot coals. Willow feels intense terror as the child opens its mouth and emits an eardrum shattering screech. Willow slams the window just in time to stop the child-thing in mid-flight. Willow cowers on the floor as the monster-girl slams its body into the window, rattling the glass and surrounding walls. Willow wakes with a gasp. 
“My God,” remarks Louise. “Are you all right?”
“I had a nightmare.”
“I’m so sorry, darling. You dozed off so peacefully. I didn’t want to disturb you.” Louise hands Willow the brandy. Willow takes a swallow, the dark and warm liquid leaves a tingling trail as it travels down her esophagus. She sighs. Louise refills Willow’s glass; the latter sips her drink instead of swallowing it down. “You want to talk about it?” asks Louise.
“It’s just these stupid nightmares I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m sure they are stress induced.”
“Sorry, sweetie. I know you’re under a lot, and those men of yours are good for nothing,” Louise huffs. 

Willow chuckles.
“What? Well,” Louise grins, “I guess I could think of a couple of uses for them.”
Willow laughs, “Hey that’s my little brothers you’re talking about!”

“And your husband,” Louise takes a sip from her glass.

Willow laughs harder.
Later that evening, feeling warm and comfortable from brandy and the solace she’d found in confiding her worries to her friend, Willow walks home with Earl at her side. They cross Jackson Square in front of the historic St. Louis Cathedral, its formidable façade looming over passersby. Peddlers are taking up their tables and wares. A fire-breather stuffs her tools into a duffle bag. Earl and Willow pass down St. Peter, where most shops are already shuttered. A couple of tourists meander out of the voodoo shop next to Poppy’s Diner. They swerve around Earl and Willow, giggling as they stumble off the curb. Feeling particularly amiable, Willow smiles and bids the two a good evening. A tall, young Creole woman with purple dreadlocks and wearing black on black with white Doc Martens stands in the doorway of the voodoo shop.
She smiles at Willow and Earl. “Halloween time, right?” She points her thumb toward the meandering couple and gives an unimpressed chuckle. Her nails are painted blue.
“Yeah, but good for business, Des,” replies Earl. “Especially for y’all.
“You’re right,” she remarks, “if only I got paid overtime.”
“I’ve been telling you to come work by us,” says Earl.
“I know,” she sighs. “I would but I’m just not made for the hospitality business.”
Earl laughs. “Got to be better than selling incense, dolls, and novena candles to drunk tourists.”
Des lets out a hearty laugh. “I do have my side business,” she says, producing a tarot card in her left hand. The Temperance card. Des reaches out to Willow with it. “I have a feeling you’ll need this.”
“Ha, yeah?” replies Willow.

“All things in moderation. Even work and worry,” says Des, and her expression turns grave as she pulls another card. She hands it to Willow, The Hermit. Willow takes the card, puzzled. “Something haunts you,” says Des. “Don’t let it consume you.”
“Okay,” Willow agrees, still confused, and takes the card.
“Well, it’s time to close up,” says Des, returning to her carefree disposition. “Tomorrow should be interesting.”
“Yeah,” says Willow, examining the cards in her hand. 

“You should come by,” says Earl, oblivious to the conversation that’d just transpired between the women.
“Maybe, if I get out of here at a reasonable time,” says Des, stepping back into the shop and preparing to lock up. “Willow, don’t forget.” She points a long finger and looks into Willow’s eyes.
“I . . . I won’t.”
“Good. Happy Halloween!” She grins, slight at first but then her mouth widens more,  her teeth glisten in an unnatural way. Des knows the nightmares are back, thinks Willow. But then again, maybe not. Des is just good at reading people. It’s what makes her such a popular fortune teller. There is the possibility she can sense Willow’s feelings of impending doom, her anxiety and panic about the business. That’s probably it, Willow convinces herself.

Willow wakes on a mattress of soft, downy moss. The air is damp and cold; her skin is clammy. Shadows move in the mist, between the trees. She feels a sense of familiarity, but she doesn’t know this place. It feels like an ageless place, the place of her ancestors. 
The saturated vegetation envelopes Willow ‘s feet when she stands. She digs her toes into the soil under the surface greenery.  The dirt is warmer than the surrounding air, and Willow finds comfort in it. The atmosphere is phantasmagoric yet corporeal. Willow touches the trunk of a tree and feels its rough trunk. Gossamer moss hangs from its limbs. Tiny winged creatures, maybe hummingbirds or large dragonflies, flit about. More of them assemble, first high in the trees then lower, lower, and then right in Willow’s line of sight.
She sees now that they are not birds or insects but faeries. The radiant, miniature, winged humanoids dart and dance about Willow. The air is warmer, inviting. Not damp and chilly as before. The faeries calm Willow in this eerie place. They dance near her face, and their iridescent wings brush her nut-brown hair.
One of the creatures hovers before Willow while the others dart away, seemingly distracted by some new curiosity. The lone faerie slows its wings and transforms. While Willow watches in bemusement, the sprite’s arms and legs lengthen as does her torso, neck, and face. The faerie’s wings are hidden or have disappeared. Her hair is long and brown, and her skin is fair and still glistening with radiance. She stands as tall as Willow, smiling, no, smirking . . . The woman tilts her head and reaches out to Willow. Willow observes a reflection ball in the fay’s hand. She leans close and sees her own orbed visage.
Willow’s face smiles back at her, but then the ambience changes. No longer is it mellow and enchanting. An intense dread overwhelms Willow. She wants to back away, but the faerie holds her in place. The fay’s face has changed, from amiable to fearsome. Her eyes burn into Willow, and Willow wants to flee this place. The reflection in the ball changes. It no longer maintains Willow’s soft countenance. The face resembles Willow’s, but it is sadistic and hard. The eyes burn into her. She feels they might extract all the oxygen from her lungs to give their fire life. The eyes turn dark as onyx, and show no sign of human characteristics. In the ball, the reflection moves although Willow remains still. It grows and appears too near the silvery surface, as if it will eject itself from inside.
Willow tries to scream, but her vocal chords are palsied. No sound comes from them. Willow’s mouth is stuck open. Her flesh feels like stone, and her muscles are paralyzed. Her body is inanimate, but her brain is racing. No don’t, she begs, trapped inside her own mind. BREATHE! her mind shouts, but her lungs do not accommodate. In the reflecting ball, the face’s mouth is also open wide; its inside is black and as expansive as space. Its eyes are the same. Leave me alone! Willow screams inside her head. You can’t hurt me, she tries to convince herself. You can’t hurt me if I don’t let you.
The horrible face in the reflecting ball emits the screech Willow’s so feared, and even though she isn’t breathing, it feels as though it takes her breath away even more. Willow finally finds her voice and lets out a magnificent wail. She feels her lungs fill before she screams herself awake.
Earl is sitting beside her. He wipes the dampness from her forehead. Willow, weary, meets her husband’s gaze but stays silent.
“It’ll be alright,” he says. “It’s just a nightmare.
Willow sighs and sits. “If only I didn’t feel like I would die during it.”
Earl embraces his wife.  “You are stressing too much about tomorrow. We’ll be there, too, you know. You’re not on your own.”
“I wish I found some comfort in that,” says Willow, then regrets it. “Sorry. I trust you, and I love you. I know you will do anything for the bar, but it’s the boys. We’re only two people.”
“And with them we’re only four people. But with our staff, we’re half a dozen.”
“If they all show up.”
“Maybe we can get Des to come help out if they don’t?”
Thinking of Des gives Willow chills, remembering her vague yet disturbing forewarning. “Yeah, maybe so,” Willow answers, rubbing the gooseflesh from her arms. She doesn’t know if she wants Des there. The thought kind-of freaked her out after their previous encounter.

But then, Willow felt silly thinking Des’s fortune-telling was anything more than a creative scheme. Willow didn’t believe in psychics or monsters-or even ancient, mystic nightmare wraiths. Despite her Catholic upbringing, she wasn’t even sure she believed in an afterlife. Paranormal beings are funny things, Willow thinks. They always follow the same pattern, don’t they? Vague EVPs, EMF spikes, a cold breeze, a disembodied voice, hairs standing on the back of one’s neck. It’s foolish! 

She’s a licensed psychologist, for Christ’s sake. Her nightmares were nothing more than neurological patterns inspired by anxiety. She’d always suffered from anxiety. Hearing the shriek in the street was an auditory hallucination, as she’d previously posited. Louise’d even remarked on the clangorous noise in the street. The sound was surely anything but the actual shriek of a supernatural being. Nonsense. Still, the thought of the persistent specter terrified Willow. She couldn’t deny that.

The morning begins slowly. Willow and Earl both sleep in, but not on purpose. McFinley’s is nearly prepared for the night, but there’s still a lot to get done-organizing, decorating, food prep, making sure the inventory is stocked and… Shit! Willow jumped from the comfortable sheets when she remembered the deliveries.
“Everything all right?” Earl asks, half asleep still
“The trucks. The trucks!
“What about them?”
“It’s almost ten, Earl,” snapped Willow.
“The boys are there,” Earl replies during a stretch..
“The boys are there?” Willow repeats his statement in question form.
“I called them last night and told them to be there or else.”
“Or else what?” Willow chuckles and pulls her hair up into a disheveled bun, her hands shaking.
“Or else you’re going to kick their asses,” he laughs.
“Ha! I’m sure that worked.” Willow slips on her jeans then her favorite black and white checkered deck shoes. They’re worn but comfortable, and perfectly fit her long, slender feet. Earl grimaces. He dislikes those shoes on her. They don’t complement Willow’s elongated, sleek legs, he thinks. Willow scrunches her nose at Earl, knowing his thoughts. She doesn’t care if he loathes those shoes; they’re her favorite.
Willow doesn’t see herself in the same way as Earl, or the same as anyone sees her.  In the mirror, Willow sees a plain thirty-something whose curly brunette hair is usually unkempt and whose green eyes are encircled in dark, blooming rings from exhaustion. She rarely wears make-up. She doesn’t see a need for it since she took over the family business and left the psychologist’s practice for which she worked. It was important for her to look put together for her clients back then.. She makes herself presentable for the bar patrons, but she spends most of the night behind the scenes. In her office, in the supply room, in the freezer, in the kitchen. Willow sees little point in getting made-up for a sweltering grill or the dumpster rats or dusty cases of whiskey. The only time she dresses elegantly, does her make-up, and styles hair is for special occasions. 

Professionalism is important to Willow. During events, local media is bound to be present. McFinley’s has been a Royal St. staple for many years. The local television,  newspapers, and magazines always send a reporter to their events. On these occasions, Willow wears her best dress or pantsuit, and although her feet ache and curse her, she insists on wearing heels.
Willow dresses in costume on Halloween. This year she decides on 18th century dress, a monarch’s attire. A royal blue and eggshell colored silk and taffeta gown, a considerable bodice, and corset bejeweled with multi-colored stones. The ensemble includes an elaborate, high powdered-wig adorned with the same sapphire, ruby, emerald, and tourmaline colored jewels as the dress. A blood-red choker with red-crystalline blood drops hanging from it is tight around Willow’s neck. She also agrees to let Earl drip sticky red corn syrup down her neck to resemble even more blood dripping.

Louise arrives at Willow’s with her friends, who are also her employees, to do Willow’s make-up. Willow is famously bad at doing anything more elaborate than the basics: foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick.
After a long day of moving inventory, cleaning, decorating, and sweating, Willow is ready to shower and get dolled-up. Wine flows freely, and soon Willow feels confident about the night. It will be fine, Willow thinks. Relax, and drink more wine. 

Cecilia, one of Louise’s employees, pours herself and Willow yet another glass of moscato. Louise tugs hard on Willow’s hair, pulling it up into a tight bun to fit under the wig. Willow winces. “Oh, sorry, sweetie. I’m not used to tender heads.”
Willow grins. She can recall her mother brushing her hair, yanking hard to untangle the knots Willow allowed to form in her long curls. “You wouldn’t know it, but I was used to this once,” says Willow. “I guess it’s been a while, though,” she adds.
“Come by us to get your hair done more often, and your head will be nice and tough,” says Antonia, Louise’s business partner.
“No thanks,” answers Willow, squinting as Louise continues to tug on her hair.
The door of the dressing room swings open. Earl stands in the doorway, looking stern. 

“Excuse us, sir, but we have ladies dressing in here,” says Cecilia. “Of course, none of us have anything you haven’t seen.” The women all laugh.

“I’m confident you have wild tales about what you’ve seen me seeing, and I’d love to hear them. But first, somebody needs to help me with this tie.” Earl is also in period dress. Dark pants, boots, royal blue vest emblazoned with colorful paisleys, his button-up collared shirt the same egg shell white as Willow’s dress. Its arms flow out then gather again at the wrists. His tie matches the vest, and judging by his flushed face, he’s been struggling with it for a while.
“Alright, come here,” says Willow
“Nah uh,” Louise interjects. “You are getting a royal make-over, missy. Relax and let one of the other ladies help that man.”
Willow abides and relaxes in her chair, raising her glass to indicate someone should refill it.
***
The crowd flows into McFinley’s and does not flow out. The throng of bodies surrounding the bar is rows deep.  Francine-the lone employee who didn’t skip out for more entertaining activities-Earl, Jace, Justin, and Des serve drinks to the encroaching mass of customers. Willow is at the door with the hired security. Bald, muscular sentinels stand beside Bill, the doorman, who is checking identification cards. 
The hostess is playing the part, greeting customers and pedestrians alike. Her egg-white fan, decorated with lace and colorful painted embellishments, flutters at her neck. The weather is humid for late October, and Willow’s skin is damp from the cool mist hanging in the air. She pats her powdered face with a silken cloth, dabbing as to not smear her make-up.
“Mrs. Duplantis! Mrs. Duplantis!”
Willow turns to see an eager local news personality waving her toward himself and a cameraman. She smiles and hides the handkerchief in her corset before approaching the men.
“Mrs. Duplantis, Happy Halloween,” says the newsman.
“Please, John, call me Willow,” she smiles at the camera, still fanning her moist light skin.
“Willow,” John says, complying with her request, “things are alive tonight in the Vieux Carré, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Halloween is always a spirited time,” laughs Willow.
Both laugh for the camera, but Willow’s attention is soon diverted by an austere figure looming beside a building across the street. Among the colorful, costumed revelers looms a shady being, almost a shadow, tall to a degree of ridiculousness. Willow is entranced by this figure. John is talking, but she doesn’t hear his words. She nods and waves her fan as he again wishes her a Happy Halloween before moving deep into the crowd with the camera man. Willow stares at the shadow-figure. It transforms into mist. Nobody else notices. 

A man suddenly grabs Willow by the arm, his emaciated hands are strangely strong. His skeletal fingers dig into her flesh. She yelps and tries to pull away.
“Willow!” Des shouts from inside the bar. “Willow!”
The emaciated man forces Willow’s eyes to his. She doesn’t comprehend what is happening, but she cannot look away from his emerald eyes.
“Will you give me some succor, Miss?
“What?”
“I can’t protect you unless you offer me aid,” he pleaded
“Get away,” Des growls at the man and shoves him away from Willow. “Get away from her.”
“Protect me from what?” Willow questions, ignoring Des.
“Sheeeeee,” hisses the man.
“Who?” Willow shoves past Des who is still trying to separate the man from her.
“Not who, but what,” he responds. “I can’t protect you unless you offer me succor. It’s the one caveat we are bound to…” He trails off as Des manhandles him away from the door and into the street.
“Wait!” Willow shouts and feels for something in the material of her dress, but then remembers she has no pockets. No cash on her person. “Come in,” Willow insists. “Come in and have some food.”
“What!?” exclaims Des.
“Come on, sir. Come inside,” Willow, still ignoring Des, takes the emaciated man by the arm and leads him through the crowded bar to a bench seat near the plate glass window painted with her family name, McFinley’s, in green and gold. 

Des never liked it, the way her father chose such a cliche logo. But he was correct that it brought the customers. “Customers want two things when they visit New Orleans, my dear,” her father had drawled with his lingering brogue. “They want novelty, and alcohol.” He grinned at her and lit his pipe. She inhaled the woody scent of the pipe tobacco. “McFinley’s is here to provide both, my fair Willow.”

The haggard looking man doesn’t resist Willow’s assistance. Willow waves to her brother, Jace, once the man is seated. He notices her frantic waving and makes his way to his sister with haste. “Give this man some food and a drink,” instructs Willow.
“Seriously?” Jace questions.
“Yes, seriously,” Willow answers with a scowl.
“Uh, Willow?”

“What?” she retorts, impatient.
“Your friend is gone,” Jace says.
Willow whirls round to see the man has indeed vanished. “What in the hell? Where did he go?”
“Beats me,” Jace shrugs.
“Jace!” Justin shouts from the backroom. “Get your butt in here and help me with these boxes.
“Gotta go,” he says to Willow and maneuvers through the crowd.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Des asks, standing at Willow’s side.
“He needed help,” Willow answers. She notices Des’s face is wet with sweat, but not the moist sheen one formulates outside on a balmy New Orleans October evening. Her hands are trembling. “You saw it, too. The thing across the street!”
Des’s irises, behind their purple-colored contact lenses, peer not at Willow but through Willow. “What the hell was that man talking about? What is he protecting you from?”

Willow wrings her hands and looks around, hoping to see the strange, skeletal man staggering through the street. 

“Willow!” Des almost shouts, demanding to be acknowledged.

Willow meets Des’s gaze. Still wringing her hands, Willow looks over the thickening crowds outside the bar and at the continuous stream of guests going in and out of the establishment. “You know folklore.” Willow states, not a question. “You study cultural myths.”

Des nods.  

“You know about the sidhe fae?”

“Fairies?” Des questions, amused.

“Yes… but one type specifically. Banshees, Des.” Willow shakes her head and adjusts the wig she’s wearing. It’s seeming heavier by the minute. Her head starts to throb. “Can nightmares come to life?”

***

PART 2 COMING SOON

On The Farm

Angola

Louisiana State Penitentiary

 17  June, 2005

Two lumbering spindly men in black suits sit on one side of a table in a frigid interrogation room. Both wear black Trilby hats. They have the whitest skin Vincent has ever seen. Dark blue veins are visible at their temples, on their hands, and around their eyes. The corrections officers are told to beat it. Vincent guesses they’re FBI or CIA, or that they came from Area-51. Maybe they just came from the Stennis Space Center. Vincent had told no one the actual story of how his wife and her lover died. He’s curious how these men know that anything out of the ordinary happened. 

“Mr. LaRoche, you need to explain your story to us. We don’t care how bizarre it is. Just tell us.”

“Can I get a cigarette?” Vincent asks.

“We’ll get whatever you want as long as you talk to us.”

“Alright then,” says Vincent. “I’ll tell you what happened. But you won’t believe me.”

“We’ll believe you.” The man doing all the talking waves his hand toward the second man, and the second man leaves the room. “Mr. Brown is going to get your cigarettes. Please, while we wait, start your story.”

“I’ll tell you. I been waiting on my appeal for eight years. Eight years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. We’re, all of us, in solitary confinement on death row at The Farm. We ain’t even got air condition. I been sweating in a cell the size of a tiny bathroom with no window for eight years, waiting to know when I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair- me dying, I mean. They don’t really give you the chair no more. Gruesome Gertie was retired in the Seventies. The death’s supposed to be more humane now, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit?

“They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He cries so much, his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

“Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. ‘God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,’ I holler to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. 

“The guy on the other side of me is Frank Aucoin. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his spooge was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up, and he shits himself on the regular. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

“I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to the Chamber, and that was Howard Saucier, The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two male sex workers by slicing them down the middle. 

“Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was scared because he was one jovial motherfucker; that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t deranged, he’d be a cool guy to hang with. He was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to Lucifer. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. 

“Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real big ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. ‘If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,’ she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well, maybe I am a dipshit. But it didn’t do nothing to save her in the end, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

“Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. ‘I just wanted a taste,’ Howard said.

“He went to juvenile, but they had to let him go when he turned twenty-one. While he was locked up in juvenile detention, he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. ‘I came in my pants,’ he said.

“I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of the stories I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. Still not as hot as it gets in here during the summer, though.  Howard told me one time, ‘I can get behind a God who persecutes His own creations. Divine retribution.’ Howard was real big on making people pay for what they done.

“He liked to fuck with the guards, too. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle-up on him. It riled everybody up when that happened. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck- just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him and they threw him back in his cell after roughing him up pretty good. I overheard them saying they didn’t want to have to send him to medical. We was all on lock-down after that.

“Howard was little calmer when he was let out of his cell again. That wasn’t too long before he moved down the line. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us when an inmate is moved for execution. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time, and he never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field for the crows and turkey vultures, for all I know. I figured he went to the Chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did, a little. He never done me nothing.”

“Mr. LaRoche, could you please just get to the details about what happened the day you killed your wife and her lover?”

“I’m getting to it!” Vincent snaps. “I need a minute to remember. And I AIN’T murdered nobody. Get that right. Now what was I saying? Oh yeah. . . “ Vincent lights his third cigarette.

“Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he’s probably a pedo. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty because I knew I was going down either way. I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

“After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty degrees in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

“My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks he can, anyway. . . But I been here eight years, and I don’t want to go to general population. I don’t want to work in the fields. Besides, I don’t share my cell with nobody. I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

“I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But now I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody spooge, like Frank? I might as well die here. Got to die someplace.

“‘Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,’ Art always says. ‘I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years. Louisiana has the highest rate of commuting death sentences.’

“Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So, I don’t say nothing.

“I went to court about six months ago. It was summer. The needle on the outdoor thermometer was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. My balls was wet and hot,” Vincent laughs. “And, they was sticking to my thighs.” 

“My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more, seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color, and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

“The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I ain’t had nothing to write, so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I AIN’T one!

“I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back when we started dating. I bet that asshole Nate was the one told her to cut it. ‘He stimulates my mind,’ she said one time. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating, I thought. 

‘Your honor, members of the jury,’ Art said, ‘I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. Vincent LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-seven was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary insanity if you will, brought on by blind fury and the heat of passion.’

“I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. That wasn’t her real face. Nobody would believe it. But I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t lying. I can’t really say what I walked in on the day I supposedly became a murderer.”

“Yes, finally! Tell us what occurred just that day, Mr. LaRoche,” says one of the men in dark suits, peevish and exacerbated.

“I had left work early because I was feeling bad. I was feeling bad for a while, and Mallory was giving me some weird ass medicine every night. It made me real dizzy, and then I fell asleep fast. The liquid was thick and red, and sometimes it looked like it had bugs wiggling in it. Mallory told me not to be stupid. There wasn’t no bugs in it. It was just pieces of herbs. I don’t know nothing about herbs or none of that shit. She gave me the medicine. She was my wife, so I took the damn medicine. Even though it didn’t do nothing to stop my stomach from hurting and bubbling all the time.

“Like I said, I went home early that day. There was a second car in the driveway when I pulled up. I figured it was Nate’s car. I got pissed off, more mad than I ever been in my life. I took my .9mm Beretta out of the glovebox in my pickup. 

“When I walked in the house, I heard nauseating sounds coming from mine and Mallory’s bedroom. Banging sounds, squashy sounds, and growling. It sounded like two komodo dragons fighting to the death in a tub of Jell-O. I got my pistol ready and kicked in the door. 

“Two giant reptile-looking alien creatures was in my bed. They was huge. Their skin was a shiny, pitch-black color. They was covered in slime, too. I don’t know if these alien things were fucking or what. 

“I screamed ‘What the fuck!’ at the top of my lungs. I should have kept my stupid mouth shut and ran out the room. 

“The two creatures turned around on me, and I ain’t going to lie, I pissed my pants. They were snarling. They had colossal sharp fangs and teeth. Their mouths looked like panthers’ mouths except with more teeth, and loads of thick, syrupy saliva dripping out all over. It was a dark, dark red color. I noticed one of them had a gold necklace stuck to its scaly skin. It was the gold necklace I bought Mallory on our honeymoon in Panama Beach. Mallory always loved seahorses, and I found this gold necklace with a seahorse on it in a tourist shop. One that sold real jewelry. It wasn’t no kind of gold-plated fake crap. 

‘Mallory?’ I choked. The thing flung its massive long tail at me. It barely missed me. I fell back onto the wet carpet. It was sticky with whatever alien reptile slime was coming from monster Mallory and monster Nate. I was afraid it was going to eat through my skin or something. The monster Nate creature leapt toward me. I rolled out of its way just enough where it couldn’t grab me with its great big, clawed. . . I guess. . . fingers? It stood up on two legs and hissed at me so loud it sounded like a pit full of pissed off anacondas. Funky slobber landed all over my face, and my arms, which I was using to shield my face. After a second of being scared shitless, I remembered I had the .9mm. I raised the gun, shaking, and pulled the trigger. I hit the Nate thing right in its chest. It shrieked and started to bleed, and then I knew no matter what them things were, bullets hurt them. I held my shooting position and let go more shots into the Nate reptile creature. I hit it in the face with a couple of shots, and that did the most damage. The monster toppled backwards and cracked its skull open against the wall. Blood and bright yellow mucus, or whatever that shit was, poured out of the holes in its face, head, and chest. The thing’s whole body turned fuzzy, static-like. I watched it begin to disintegrate. It looked like it was turning into a trillion gnats- or black sperms swirling in the air. Then the black, swirling sperms disappeared. Like something off one of them stupid late night horror movies that you just turn on to laugh at. Then human Nate’s body was on the floor, full of bullet holes.

“The Mallory creature caught me with its long tongue. Sticky maroon slime soaked my shirt where its tongue was holding me. The stuff looked like blood but real thick. My shooting arm was still free, and my Beretta was still in my hand. Good thing I grew up shooting. The Mallory thing’s tongue was squeezing the hell out of me, crushing my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I raised my pistol, somehow my hand was steady the second time, and I emptied my clip into the monster’s head. The thick, red, syrupy liquid with tiny things wiggling in it- and some kind of  brain matter that looked like bright yellow oatmeal- splattered against the wall. Crimson and yellow streaks ran down the wall and puddled on the carpet. I thought of how Mallory always complained that she hated them white walls. ‘These walls are so bland. You need to paint them,’ she always said.  The same thing that happened with monster Nate’s body happened to monster Mallory. After a few minutes, I was looking down at my own wife’s dead body full of my bullets.

“I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. I sat on the porch, shaking. I lit a Camel, and I waited. I already knew what it would look like. I knew I didn’t have no defense. Who was going to believe my story?

“The cops had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it over the porch railing into the grass. Two of them snuck me, and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the wood porch with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

“Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his talking. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and I thought of my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma. But, whatever the fuck I killed in my bedroom that day, it wasn’t Nate. 

“Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

“Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. I didn’t say nothing. I wasn’t going to say their daughter turned into some slimy alien monster lizard beast. Mallory’s best friend, who I always hated, told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds. She asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. ‘Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,’ read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. ‘Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,’ read another one. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. ‘Small Town La. Man Charged with Murder,’ read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected, but it was too late because they already seen it. Maybe if I had told anybody what I saw, I could have got an insanity plea.

“The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory’s and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

“I stood up and turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt. ‘I’m real sorry, Momma,’ I whispered.

“‘We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,’ said Art.

“My momma looked up at me. Makeup ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face. I used my thumbs to wipe away the black streaks under her eyes. Art can appeal all he wants, but I know it won’t matter. Not just because there ain’t no way any jury will decide in my favor. Because I been feeling sick again, real bad. When I go to the toilet, there’s a whole lot of thick, sticky red liquid with some kind of herbs that look like bugs wriggling in it left behind.”