Bayou's Lament A Labyrinth of Souls Novella #9 by Cheryl Owen-Wilson Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror
Veya Marie St. James has vowed to never again set foot on the Island of her birth—a strip of land buried deep in the swamps of southern Louisiana. Her childhood memories are rampant with ancient superstitions and the bizarre rituals of her estranged mother. Veya long ago rejected that life and those beliefs, but when a mysterious illness threatens her daughter's life, it all leads to the Island. Veya swore she would never go back, but the Island calls to her, and now it's calling with her daughter's voice.
She sat slumped on cold, metal stairs struggling for breath. With each labored inhale an old familiar scent filled her senses, the stagnant stench of decay. She sat between the fourth and fifth floors of her office building in a stairwell she’d traversed hundreds of times. Yet, she could not shake the feeling she’d been transported through a time warp back to her childhood and the nightmares it held.
Invisible rubber bands tightened and pulsed across her chest. Panic attacks had always walked hand in hand with her childhood memories. Memories she—Veya Marie St. James—had eradicated within the first year of leaving the place where they’d originated. The Island, the home of her birth, hidden deep within southern Louisiana’s swamplands. A land fed by layer upon layer of decomposing foliage and dead animals resulting in the odor now assaulting her senses.
Veya had been eighteen when she left the Island. She was now a thirty-nine-year-old woman with a nineteen-year-old daughter.
The sensation of having no control over her own body diminished with each breath, until she could sit upright without the fear of her chest being crushed by an unseen vice. A panic attack after so many years. Why?
She searched the stairwell for the kid who’d just scared the hell out of her. It was a kid, wasn’t it? She’d been fumbling in her purse for her phone thinking she should call to check on her daughter, Triste. When she’d looked up, he’d been standing in her way, a four-foot tall black goblin with pointy ears, a tail, and red glowing slits for eyes. It’s the end of August, not October, she’d thought right before her phone fell from her hand, and her body began its well-tuned dance with the all-consuming panic. An affliction it had taken her months in therapy to overcome.
She called out, “Where the hell are you, you little cretin?” When no answer came, she wearily climbed the steps out of the stairwell, careful to avoid looking in its dark corners. Costumes these days are too realistic.
The writing bug first snagged Cheryl Owen-Wilson through the penning of a personal essay, for which she received an award and publication. Today what drives her writing life is Southern Gothic fiction. Since her biological roots are buried not only in Oregon, but also deep in the bayous of Southern Louisiana the genre is a natural fit.
When not writing she can be found at an easel covered in oil paint. “When I write I usually have painting in mind to go with the story. The same holds true when a painting forms, a story generally follows.” In that vein one of her paintings is featured on the ShadowSpinners: A Collection of Dark Tales, book jacket. You can find her short story: Swamp Symphony, in the book’s collection. This is Cheryl’s first published novella.
Fall is my favorite time of the year. There’s such a crispness in the air, I want to take a bite out of it and feel its sweet juices flow slowly down my cheeks. Like many of you who enjoy fall, I too welcome the cooling weather and the rainbow of leaves that dress the trees. But for me there are other elements, which make this a treasured time of year. It is October, and in this month alone, I can unpack all those friends of mine who normally live only in the dark recesses of my brain, or within the confines of my stories. In October, they come out into the light of day, and play.
In October they become tangible, touchable things, as they gleefully sit on my mantle, tumble from the windows in my kitchen and greet visitors at the threshold of my door. The vampire nutcracker hides in the vines of my trailing ivy plant. Witches fly from my front porch. Headless bodies recline in my lawn chairs and skeletal bones become wind chimes lulling me into slumber each night. Gone are the classic books that normally line my bookshelves, replaced by titles such as, Voodoo Hoodoo, The Everyday Book of Spells and A Witches Kitchen. In my kitchen, the counters no longer hold the usual fruit or bread. They are now filled with jars of pickled brains, baskets of leathery bat wings and any number of colorful glass bottles with labels such as: Love Potion, Wart Remover or the one most requested this season; Politician Expeller.
I too transform during this month, when I host my annual book club party. This year I will greet my guests as, E. She’s my Day of the Dead Meets Steampunk painting. Not certain how I will conduct a meeting with my lips sewn shut, but I’ll manage somehow. As you can imagine, my ghoulish menagerie has taken some time to collect. This year, I will be adding yet another friend, he will reside in a 3 ft. coffin (thanks to the skill and willingness of my daughter, Shawnacee). The casket will lie upon my hearth and he will be nestled in its velveteen black folds. He is my Victorian clad, top hatted skeletal muse of the month, his sharp fangs, when caught by light, glisten with tiny drops of liquid crimson. I call him Edward.
I am always heartsick after October 31st, has come and gone and I reluctantly begin packing away my many friends. But, a thought occurs. What if this year, I don’t put away all my friends? What if I keep Edward in the dark corner of my office behind that big potted plant? The neighbors, or the occasional visitor would never look there, would they? Edward, with his sharp-toothed grin and long, bony fingers clutching at a heart that no longer beats. Edward, whose tattered black waistcoat reminds me of genteel days gone by. I sit and stare mesmerized at my new friend and begin to smell the damp earth still clinging to his casket and see the Spanish moss that covered the trees around his ancestral home. Without warning, he begins to whisper into my ear and a story unfolds. Yes, fall is my favorite time of year and once again I find myself wanting to take a bite out of something and have its warm, sticky juices flow ever so slowly down my cheeks…
Friends are so very important in this solitary life as a writer. What friends do you have; things to entice those stories hidden in the dark corners of your brain to come out and play, so they can jump into your story and live on the written page?
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