As Constant Reader is aware, I find short stories to be particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is–and it’s entirely possible it’s post-traumatic stress disorder from college writing classes (kidding)–but it’s a fact. Constant Reader also is aware I am a horror fan, but writing horror short stories is even more difficult than writing crime stories for me–or any other kind of short story, to be honest.
So, several years ago, when Vince Liaguno asked me to submit a story to his Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire anthology, I was very enthusiastic about saying yes; but at the same time, more than a little nervous and not certain I’d be able to pull it off…but I decided to do something particularly Louisiana: a rougarou story.
The old woman was babbling excitedly, her toothless gums moving up and down as she gesticulated wildly with her arms. Spittle flew from her wrinkled lips, wisps of her thin gray hair floating around her head as it moved back and forth and side to side. Old is an understatement, Special Agent Tom Washburn thought, unable to understand a word she was saying. She looks ancient, like one of those unwrapped Egyptian mummies on that show I watched last night.
It was a struggle to keep his revulsion from showing on his face.
Despite the oppressive heat, she had a white shawl wrapped around her bony shoulders as she rocked in her worn, wooden rocking chair. Her feet were bare and dirty, her toenails long and yellowed. Blue veins spider-webbed over the tops of her feet, making them look like complicated road maps. She was wearing a shapeless white cotton dress with yellow stains in the armpits. The brown, wrinkled flesh hung from her bony arms. Her fingernails were long, grown out so far they’d started curving back in on themselves. They were painted a bright red, contrasting with the brown skin and the dark liver spots on her hands. Her face was more wrinkled than he’d thought it possible for any human to be—her entire face seemed to be nothing more than folds of hanging, sun-browned skin. An enormous mole on her pointed chin had a few white hairs sprouting out of it. Her eyes were a startling blue, but seemed filmy and unfocused. A wooden cane with a brass alligator head leaned against her rocking chair, and on the table next to her a glass ashtray was overflowing with gray ash and cigarette butts.
She’s like something out of a really bad nightmare, he thought.
Tom couldn’t understand a word she was saying—she might as well have been speaking a foreign language as far as he was concerned. Every once in a while he caught an identifiable English word in her sing-song Cajun dialect that almost sounded like chanting. He closed his eyes and wished again he was anywhere but this rotting houseboat on the edge of a swamp. This is, he thought angrily, without a doubt the stupidest call I’ve ever gone out on. If I’d known how this day was going to turn out I’d have called in sick this morning.
He wiped sweat from his forehead with his already damp sleeve. It was stiflingly hot in the houseboat, which stank of collard greens, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling fan was turning but all it seemed to do was push the heavy damp air around. The living room—if you could call the tiny space that—was crammed full of strange objects arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. He picked up a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside and shook it. He set it back down where it had been—next to a shellacked baby alligator head, some polished sea shells, a small rusting Matchbox car, and what appeared to be a copper head of John F. Kennedy. There was a thin coat of dust on everything. Cobwebs danced from the ceiling. He slapped at a mosquito and stepped closer to one of the windows, hoping for a breeze. He glanced back over at his partner.
When I was a kid, I used to love the Movie of the Week on ABC. They did a lot of mysteries and horror–the argument could be made that these television films were the best place to find horror in the 1970’s, and broadened the audience somewhat–but there was one in particular that always stuck out in my mind; it was set in rural Louisiana, and Barbara Rush played the lead female role. It was either called Moon of the Wolf or Cry of the Wolf,and it was the first time I’d heard a werewolf called by it’s French name: loup-garou.
Loup-garou. Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’ve always had that tucked away in the back of my head, and of course, I’ve always been interested in werewolves, who’ve never really gotten their due in the horror genre, particularly if compared to vampires.
Living in Louisiana, you cannot escape Cajun culture, and Louisiana, for whatever reason, is a place where the supernatural is far more easy to believe in than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There’s something about the air here; the way Spanish moss hangs from ancient trees, the heaviness of the damp air, the way the past is so much a part of the present here. In Acadiana, the term loup-garou was Cajunized to rougarou, which to me was even cooler sounding than the original. And in Cajun culture, a rougarou didn’t necessarily have to a wolf; the creature could also be, of course, an alligator.
A gatorman? I was all in.
I had also just finished writing my Todd Gregory novel about vampires, Need, which hadn’t quite turned out the way I’d intended it to–it was a set-up novel; the sequel, Desire, was really going to get the story, and the world I was creating, going–so I was in the mindset of writing supernatural tales. I had also, years ago, kind of toyed with an idea of doing a series that would be my own version of Dark Shadows, only set in Acadiana around a small town called Bayou Shadows, loosely based on Breaux Bridge. So, with a rougarou in mind, I started writing my story.
Imagine my thrill to see, not only a great review of the collection, but one that singled out my story, on the Cemetery Dance website this past week!
While desire drives the plot of the above stories, other authors manage to embrace the theme without making it the central point. In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.
How lovely! It’s also lovely to be in an anthology with such amazing horror writers as Lisa Morton, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, and Norman Prentiss, among the other glittering names on the table of contents.
And now, back to the spice mines. Must get groceries, hit the gym, clean, write and edit. Heavy heaving sigh.