A spooky little tale.
By John S Alty
Sheet lightning bloomed inside the bank of clouds on the horizon and Aaron knew there’d be a storm before nightfall. On the bayou, flooded cypress stumps threw long shadows like gnarled fingers towards the east. The only sounds were the rhythmic dipping of his paddle, the rustle of leaves in the slight breeze and the occasional slap and roil of a feeding bass. He nudged the pirogue up against a spit of solid ground and stepped ashore. A grey heron barked its indignation and lifted off.
It was one of many shacks in the vast swamp, crude structures erected by fishermen who came for the catfish and bass; it would provide shelter from the gathering storm. Shutters were lowered over the un-glazed windows but the door was open. Aaron could make out a plank table, two chairs and a single bed frame with no mattress, a dirt floor littered with crushed fast-food cartons, rusty cans, yellowing paper.
Darkness had fallen quickly but lightning lit the shack, shadows danced on the clapboard walls and the thunder rolled. A fetid smell faded in and out as though there was something rotting nearby and the breeze was wafting it around. Aaron tried to push open a shutter but the rusted hinges and catches defeated him.
Something about the bed frame caught his attention and he went over to it. Clipped to the rails at each end of the bed were handcuffs. The bare boards under the bed and the wall beside it were stained black. Aaron sensed a presence; he stepped away from the bed, eyes darting, nostrils tightened against the smell and his hand felt for the comfort of the filleting knife on his belt. A figure appeared in the doorway; a tall man wearing a rain slicker, water dripping off the brim of his steel safety helmet, his face in shadow. Lightning flashed and Aaron glimpsed an expression of deep melancholy, of utter despair.
Then the figure was gone and Aaron lurched to the doorway and ran for the pirogue. By the time he got to the Fin ‘n Fur it was nearly midnight but the bar was still open; a couple of diehards nursed shot glasses and the owner sat behind the till reading a newspaper.
“Gimme a whiskey, Pete.”
“Hey, Aaron, you OK?” He lifted a bottle of bourbon and poured. “You don’t look so good.”
Aaron took the glass in both hands and drank half its contents, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I pulled into Sorrow Point before the storm hit, sheltered in an old shack. Weird shit goin’ on, really spooked me.”
“There ain’t no shack on Sorrow Point, you got yourself turned around somehow.”
Aaron took a folded chart from inside his jacket, laid it on the counter, stabbed at it. “That’s Sorrow Point, right?”
“That’s Sorrow Point but there’s no shack there. The only thing at Sorrow Point these days is a memorial to Lizzie Blackmore.”
“The shack was there, dammit.” The drinkers looked up and Aaron lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. “I was in the fuckin’ thing, and…” He shuddered.
“Look, young Lizzie lived with her papa, he was a roughneck on the oil rigs. When she didn’t get home after school he figured she was with a friend but when it got real late he called the Sheriff. First light they organised a search. Me and a couple guys took the swamp east of here, checking the fishing shacks. We found her in the one on Sorrow Point, handcuffed to a bed. I ain’t gonna tell you what was done to her but it was bad. And the smell; I’ll never forget it.”
“But you said there was no shack…” said Aaron, but Pete held up a hand and went on,
“I got some guys together and we went out there and took that shack to pieces, carted it away. Lizzie’s papa built a monument of stones. A month later he fell to his death from the drill floor of the rig. I don’t know where you were tonight, Aaron, but there ain’t no shack on Sorrow Point.”