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The Secret in Mossy Swamp by Rita Monette

The Secret in Mossy Swamp

by Rita Monette

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Lousiana Legends 3

Behind Every Legend lies the Truth

Here is the final scene from chapter one from The Legend of Ghost Dog Island. As promised. I will continue to post excerpts from this book until November, when book two, The Curse at Pirate's Cove will be released from Musa Publishing.





I hurried to the kitchen window. I didn’t see no moon. Why, it wasn’t even dark yet. All I saw was willow branches blowing in the breeze. If that was a dog, it was the weirdest sounding one I’d ever heard. “But, Mama…”

She gave me a hard stare like she didn’t want to talk any more about it in front of Jesse. I traipsed to my tiny bedroom, with Snooper at my heels, to wait for Papa to get home. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the sound. I plopped down on my small bed, which fit snugly against the wall. “Ouch.” I reached behind me and pulled the bottle from my back pocket. I turned it over in my hands, then shook it. There was something inside. Probably mud. I tried twisting the cap, but it was rusted shut. “I’ll get the top off and clean it out later,” I assured Snoop.

I lay back holding the bottle in my hand, pondering on where it might have come from. My dog jumped onto the bed and put his head on my chest.

Propping my dirty bare feet against the wall, I began tracing the faded flower design on the dingy wallpaper with my big toe. I closed my eyes and imagined someone from long, long ago putting a letter in a blue bottle and tossing it into the water. I’d read someplace that people used to do that in ancient times. Maybe there was a note inside…

RAP RAP RAP. I jumped at the sound against my door. I must have drifted off to sleep.

“Tadpole! You need to get in here and eat supper.” Papa was home.

Papa usually called me Tadpole, unless he was being serious. He said when I was born I didn’t amount to nothing more than a tadpole. I sometimes wondered if I ever would.

I sat at the table to Mama’s hot biscuits and cane syrup.

“We’re eating light tonight.” Mama wiped sticky syrup from my brother’s face and hands. “I’ll need to get some groceries so I can cook a proper meal.”

I reached across the table toward the pan of biscuits.

“Nikki, go clean up before you eat.” Mama waved her hand at me. “You’ve got mud all over you.” She looked me up and down. “And how am I ever going to wash those pants if you have them on all the time?”

I rubbed my hand across the front of my overalls. “They don’t look that dirty.” I scraped my chair back and went to the small wash tub Mama kept near the door so we wouldn’t bring all that bayou mud in the house, like it ever did much good anyway.

After scrubbing the mud off my hands and arms, I went back to the table and tucked in my chair. I poured some syrup onto my plate and swirled my warm, crunchy biscuit through it. “You gonna put your lines out in that big lake past them islands?” I glanced up at Papa as he sat quietly sipping his coffee.

His scarred hands looked real big and strong around the tiny chipped cup. His pale blue eyes seemed out of place against his black hair and dark skin. I always wished I’d gotten blue eyes instead of brown like Mama’s.

“Yup. That there’s Flat Lake,” he said. “This side of the islands is called Bayou Platte.”

“We heard a really weird sound out near that big island earlier.” I stuffed a piece of biscuit in my mouth.

Jesse stopped eating and watched Papa’s face.

Papa set his cup down. “Weird sound, huh?”

“Yeah, like a dog howling, but scarier.” I opened my eyes wide. “Right, Mama?”

“Howing,” Jesse said with a mouthful of food.

Mama smoothed my brother’s curly hair. “It could have been a wild dog. But I’ve got to agree, it did have an eerie yowl about him.”

“I thought I saw something out there on that big island,” I said. “It was mor’n likely just a critter, but I had a creepy feeling about it, like it was watching me.”

Papa rubbed his chin and got a twinkle in his eye, like he did when he was fixing to tell one of his swamp stories.

Mama stood up and lifted my brother from his chair. “Let’s get you ready for bed.” She gave Papa one of her warning looks and disappeared into the back of the houseboat toward their bedroom.

The entire houseboat only had three rooms. Jesse had been sleeping in a cot in my parents’ room since he was born. I kept hoping they wouldn’t decide to move him in with me. I liked having my own space.

Mama closed the door behind her. She knew once Papa got going on one of his tales, there was no stopping him.

The last traces of daylight seemed to disappear in a hurry, as if Papa had ordered it away. The glass globe of the kerosene lamp clinked. He touched a match to the wick and adjusted the flame until it filled the room with pale light and gray shadows. He motioned me to sit next to him on the worn sofa.

I hurried to his side, not knowing what spooky legend he was going to tell this time. But as scared as I’d get, I always enjoyed hearing ’em.

Mais, there’s a legend told around these parts.” That was how they always started out. He leaned down so the light from the lamp made eerie shadows across his face.

I rolled my eyes, determined not to get spooked this time.

“Folks say there’s something living out yonder,” he went on. “Legend has it the monster lures dogs to the island using evil spells. Then at the peak of the full moon, they’re turned into hollow spirits with glowing eyes.” Papa put on his eeriest sneer. “That there’s Ghost Dog Island.”

“Ghost dogs?” I pulled my knees up against my chest and wrapped my arms around ’em tight. My mind conjured up images of a huge monster with drippy fangs and dogs with bright yellow eyes. I thought about the feeling I had of something watching us. Was there really a creature out there? Did it have its eye on my best buddy? I shuddered.

IEEEOWWWOOOO-oooooooo! The howling sound echoed again across the bayou.

Did it capture someone’s pet? Or was it signaling its claim on a new victim? My Snoop.

Is Snooper in Danger? What will Nikki do to find out if the legend is true? Stop back next Monday for excerpts from chapter two, A Swamper's Life. Read from the beginning in my previous posts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Louisiana Legends 2

Leading up to my second anniversary of the Legend of Ghost Dog Island, and the release date of The Curse at Pirate's Cove, in November....as promised...the second scene from The Legend of Ghost Dog Island.  Read my previous post, for scene one.

 




As the propeller stirred up smells of rotted seaweed and dead fish, I stared out into the swamp. A cypress tree all draped in silver moss stared back at me like a crooked old woman dipping her hair into the muddy bayou. Its twisted limbs reached out to me. I shuddered.

Papa loved telling legends about those swamps…and what might be living out there. I was pretty sure most were just old Cajun stories with no truth to ’em at all. But they sure could give you the willies.

“What do you suppose lives up in that swamp, Snoop?”

He opened one eye. It took a lot to rile that beagle. He was the laziest hunting dog there ever was.

But, everything looked pretty ordinary to me. A white egret stood in the tall grass holding a small fish. Its dinner squirmed to get free. The high-pitched song of cicadas rang through the trees. A gray snake with brown blotches slithered off the bank and zig-zagged toward the boat.

I jerked my feet up under me.

A huge alligator blinked his bulging eyes sideways at us from a half-sunk log, the gray mud on his back all dried and cracked from the hot sun.

“Look at the size of that thing, Snooper. It could gobble you up before you could let out a yelp.”

Snooper shook his head, flopping his ears, as if he understood.

The swamp to the north began to break up into islands. I pointed to a large lake in the distance. “Look at all that water. You can hardly see the other side.”

Then a strange feeling crept over me, like something was watching me. I darted my gaze toward the big island up ahead of us. The branch of a palmetto bush sprang up, kinda like somebody had been holding it down.

“Did you see that, boy?”

My dog sat up straight and mustered a low growl.

“Maybe it’s the Rugarou,” I whispered and rubbed the creep bumps off my arm.

That legend had been used to get Cajun children to mind their parents since before my great grandpa was a kid. But I was getting too old to believe in that werewolf tale anymore.

“Probably just a squirrel.” I stroked the hair on Snooper’s back. “We’ll be past that island shortly, anyway.”

But as we got closer, the houseboat took a sudden turn south, into a narrow inlet on the mainland, and pulled up to a ragged pier.

I glanced around. “I guess this is home.” A small shack sat back a-ways into the trees to the right. Didn’t look like anybody’d lived there for a while. On the left, a small house with a big, screened-in back porch sat real close to the bayou, with a fishing boat tied up to a small dock. Straight ahead, a dirt levee followed the edge of the bayou. It stood like a snaky wall between the bayou folks and the city folks, so the water would stay on our side, where it belonged.
 
Bonsoir, Jacques!” A man with baggy dungarees and a stained T-shirt waved to Papa from the muddy bank. His mop of black hair looked as if it’d never been combed, and his scraggly beard hung down to his chest.
I leaned over the deck rail to watch Papa and him slosh in and out of the water. They spoke in Cajun French while they worked at getting the houseboat tied up. I couldn’t understand Papa’s other language, but people always used a lot of hand motions when they went to talking it. The man pointed at the bayou and held his arms out as if to say something was big. Were they talking about crabs or gators…or something else?
As I strained my ears for a single word of English, something shiny caught my eye. It bounced in the tiny waves near the water’s edge, stuck in the roots of a cypress tree. I balanced my way down a narrow board on what was left of the broken dock and jumped onto the muddy bank. As I got a closer look, I saw it was a bottle. I grabbed hold of a vine that hung from the tree and, with a long stick, dragged the bottle to where I could reach it. I rubbed some of the mud off on my pants leg. It was a dark shade of blue, kinda like Lydia’s eyes. It sure would look nice in the window of her tree house. I poked it in my back pocket.
When I looked up, I saw my papa and the man pull away in a rusted old van, the back hatch and bumper completely gone. One of the rear tires wobbled as it headed up and over the levee.
Where’d Papa go? How could he just leave without telling me where he was going? Who was that strange man anyway? The lump in my throat swelled even bigger. I ran with my bare feet across the rough wooden deck and threw open the screen door.
Mama stood in the kitchen part of the front room, unwrapping and putting away her fragile cups. My little brother Jesse lay sound asleep in Papa’s old brown chair.
“Mama, where’d Papa run off to with that man?”
“That’s Tee Joe.” She pulled a strand of damp hair behind her ear. “They went back to Pierre Part to get your father’s truck.”
Papa had told me lots of stories about his old friend Tee Joe and some of the crazy stuff they did as kids. Like taking a boy from town out into the Atchafalaya swamp, telling him they’d seen the Rugarou, then leaving him there until after dark. He always laughed when he told it, but I didn’t think it was funny at all.
“But, Mama, he’ll be gone all night.” I felt like I was going to explode from holding back all them tears. “I hate it here already!” I snatched the straw hat from my head and slammed it on the floor.
“Nicole Landry, you pick that up and stop all this nonsense.” Mama put her hands on her hips like she did when she got real serious.
Jesse sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Papa’s gonna be gone aw night?”
All, Jesse, all.” I emphasized the L sound by poking out my tongue.
“He’ll be home shortly. It’s not that far by road.” Mama turned back to getting her kitchen in order so she could start supper.
“This place is awfuw,” Jesse chimed.
My brother was only four and peskier than a fly at a crawfish boil. He had a habit of repeating everything I said, only he couldn’t say his Ls, no matter how many times I corrected him.
IEEEOWWWOOOO-oooooooo! The eerie sound started off loud and sharp, then trailed off almost to nothing.
I jumped to my feet. “What was that?” Bumps big as balls from a chinaberry tree popped up all over my skin. Snooper raised his head and made a low growl in his throat, like he wanted to bark but was afraid to. Jesse grabbed hold of Mama’s legs and buried his face in her apron.
Mama stopped for a second, looked toward the window, then back at me. Her face went kinda pale. Then she turned her attention to Jesse. “It’s more than likely some wild dog howling at the moon.”
 

Rugarus, gators, and snakes...oh my! What was that howling sound? Will Nikki be able to hold back all those tears from leaving her best friend and being stuck in a strange bayou? Tune in next Monday.....

Monday, August 4, 2014

Louisiana Legends

Since I am nearing the anniversary of the publication of my first middle grade novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, and will be celebrating the release of book two in the Swamp Legend series, The Curse at Pirate's Cove, between now and November 17, on Mondays, I will post excerpts from book one, beginning with chapter one, page one. Enjoy.
 

 

 

The Legend of Ghost Dog Island

Louisiana Legends

“I’m going to hate Morgan City,” I complained to my dog Snooper, “no matter what Papa says.”

My beagle laid his head on my lap and gazed up at me with his watery eyes. He pretty much agreed with me on everything.

I sat on the deck of our old flat-bottomed houseboat as it glided through the winding bayous. Papa’s fishing boat, filled with baskets of line and crab crates, trailed behind on its rope. We were leaving Pierre Part, and Lydia, far behind. I rolled the legs of my overalls up and dangled my feet over the edge.

“Nicole Landry, keep your feet out of that filthy water,” Mama hollered from the doorway of the small living area of our floating home. She wiped her hands on her stained apron, then fixed the comb that held her long dark hair in a pile on top of her head. Mama was born and raised in New Orleans, but left the big city for a life in the bayous with Papa. She never looked back. At least that’s what she always told folks.

“They ain’t in the water, Mama.” I held my legs up so she could see they were dry.

She opened the patched screened door and shooed a fly out, before closing it and going back inside.

I twirled the end of my long black braid. Moving to a new place always gave me a lump in my throat as big as a bullfrog. But I wasn’t going to cry this time. I was ten years old after all.

I’d lived in that same house since the day I was born—as Mama always tells it, “the coldest morn’ of 1946.” But I couldn’t rightly recall how many times it got tied up to a new dock. Mama liked to say Papa never let the grass grow under his feet. But I could hardly think of a time when his rubber boots ever touched grass.

Papa grew up in Morgan City, and he said folks there were mighty friendly. But it seemed to me, most city dwellers weren’t too welcoming to my kind, being from the wrong side of the levee and all. And the city was where I’d have to go to school.

“And, as for making friends with any kids there, no way.” I shook my finger in Snoop’s face. “Just to up and leave ’em behind anyway.”

He managed a tiny whimper, as if I was fussing at him.

I thought about Lydia standing on the Belle River Bridge waving goodbye. My eyes burned, and I squeezed ’em shut. I felt in my pocket for her note. I’d read it at least a hundred times since she’d handed it to me, right before I went stomping down the ladder from her tree house. She’d scribbled down her post office box address and “write me,” then signed her name with the little heart over the i like she always did.

“Hmph!” I told Snooper. “She’s crazy if she thinks I’m going to write her after what she did.”

Lydia Hebert was my best friend in the whole world…until yesterday. It was a lot easier to leave while I was still mad at her. But now it felt like an empty hole inside me.
 
 
 

Come back next Monday for page two.

 

Of course, if you can't wait, you can purchase the book at one of the links in the side bar, or anywhere you normally buy your e-books.