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Chapter 1: Embrace the Boogeyman

Twentieth Century A.D.
Night closed around Sylvian DuClair as she stole from the solitary car parked on the deserted parish road. Ghostly shadows floated overhead. A breeze whispered through the pines, rippling the dark, indistinct foilage of the live oaks and cypress giants surrounding her, then stilled, chilling her with its absence.
     Her nails scratched and jabbed the size-five jeans she'd wiggled into hours ago on the floor of her apartment. Her forehead furrowed, pressing her finely arched charcoal brows into a straight line. She stepped tentatively away from the automobile and paused, hesitant to close the door. Every caution she'd learned in her almost twenty-five years begged her to jump back inside, lock the doors, and remain secure until first light.
     Shaking off the tremor threatening to overwhelm her, she chided herself sharply, yet silently, for the stillness felt unwelcoming to the spoken word. There are no boogeymen. No ghosts. No ghouls. No anyone for that matter. You're afraid. You're standing on a lonely, dark country road, way past midnight, with no idea where to go from here. You're overacting simply because you're lost.
     How had she used so much fuel in such a short time? The tank registered full in the economy-class rental when she checked the gauge before pulling out of New Orleans's Moisant International Airport and onto the freeway.
     She kicked the tire. The gray bomb had no real get-up-and-go. Driving on the rain-swept, darkened freeways left her feeling vulnerable to the larger cars and trucks speeding past her.
     Straining to read the signs, staying in the right lane, avoiding being run over -- too much -- the stress had all been too much. She kicked the black rubber again, harder, and succeeded in ramming her toes against the hard surface of the tire. Great. Just great, she thought. Leaning against the hood, she removed the soft leather loafer and rubbed her foot to ease the pain.  
.....The car shook from her weight pressing against the frame. Tin can, she thought, disgusted. She barely weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. She frowned. First the missed turnoff, then the exit to nowhere, and now this ... this stupidity.
     Her eyes surveyed the darkness; the breathing shadows pressed in on her. She slid her shoe back on and stepped into the small area of light cast by the open door, ready to leap back inside if ... what? You're the only chicken here, she scolded. This place is deserted. No homes, no farms, no businesses, no lights, no road markers showing the way back to the city. Empty like the fuel needle now quivering ominously close to dry.
     She perched sideways on the edge of the driver's seat, weighing her options while she twisted her throbbing foot in circles in front of her. The hint of jade green rimming her golden brown irises widened and diffused in the faint glow cast by the overhead light. Still the fear, she cajoled silently. This area has more than two million people. Surely you can find one of them to give you directions.
    "Hey, people, where are you?" she whispered in an attempt to lighten her spirits. A long-forgotten song slipped, somewhat altered, into the conscious mind -- Where have all the people gone, gone to graveyards every one -- "Stop!" Sylvian exclaimed, startling startling herself.
     Morbid thoughts serve no useful purpose, she coaxed. Your co-workers would laugh themselves silly if they could see you. The fearless news writer cowering in her tracks. And your psychology professors would insist that you quit acting like the children you want to help and face your fear. So, find out what lies ahead. Now.
     And be grateful for small blessings, she urged, noticing for the first time the absence of rain. She breathed in slowly. No musty scent. No order of decay. No hint of gasoline of diesel fumes. The air smelled clear, clean, somehow virginal as if the waft came from a cooler climate with no foul breath of pollution.
     Sylvian shook her head, her long, black hair rustling gently. She stood and brushed off her jeans. Nothing made sense. Humidity didn't suffocate New Orleans after a rain? Impossible. Although a stranger to this city, she well knew Texas towns along the Gulf of Mexico. In Galveston, the summer humidity, particularly after a rain, could make breathing labored. Even Houstonians, whose city wasn't on the Gulf but lay almost due west of where she was standing, suffered. New Orleans could hardly be different.
     Again, she took a deep breath. This time, she caught the faint hint of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico. Ah, that's better, she thought. Perhaps an ocean breeze cleansed the air of all other scents.
     The solution had little time to settle her nerves before the idea began nagging at her. Lake Pontchartrain bordered the city on the north and the Mississippi River on the south. The city might be surrounded by water, but miles and refineries separated New Orleans from the Gulf. She would not be smelling a Gulf breeze.
     Even as she puzzled over the confusing smells, she became aware of another problem. Her mind recorded a total absence of sound around her. Deafening silence.
     No owls. No dogs. No crickets. No frogs. A tremor ran through her body. A storm approached. She must hurry. Quietly, she closed the door, and walked stealthily down the unfamiliar road.
     Just as she'd given up hope that the route ahead led to civilization, she glimpsed what appeared to be a break in the trees on her right. Another road? Heartened, she quickened her pace.
     She reached the opening, turned, and stopped. Tiny, twinkling beacons from hundreds of fireflies filled the woods. The silvery light of the full moon sparkled like diamonds off a lake not one-hundred yards from where she stood.
     The stars shone brilliantly overhead, seeming at once near enough to touch yet light years away. Awed by the vision, she wondered briefly how a storm could be nearby in a night sky whose pristine glory reflected so brightly off the dark water.
     The forest bespoke the rapture of another time, another place, another world -- one which called to her. Without another thought, she walked into the woods. Laughter and music greeted her. Cautiously, she peered ahead.
 
..Five radiantly illuminated, youthful women with spring garlands in their hair danced barefoot in the moonlight close to the water's edge. Their lithe forms moved with pagan abandon; their feet painted circles in the pearly sand while their hands drew patterns in the air, reaching in unison for the heavens and the earth. She found the dance unlike any she'd ever witnessed; the movements sensuous, alluring, and somehow innocent.
.....The beguiling scene had a twilight feel, and Sylvian feared if she spoke or moved down to the sandy beach, the dancers would vanish. She dismissed the notion as silly. Still, she remained silent. Motionless.
.....The quintet moved in adagio tempo to the lyrical strains of a haunting song. She could not find a source; the rhapsody seemed to be borne on the air. The rhythm intensified, growing faster, deeper, harder until the ground beneath her reverberated.
.....Abruptly, the music ceased.
.....The dancers fell to their knees on the sand, folded inward on themselves, then arched their backs and stretched their arms upward. Rising as one, they turned to the water.
.....A sailing vessel similar to the ancient ones she'd seen in the Hall of Viking Ships in Oslo, Norway, gleamed on the surface. Sylvian blinked her eyes, once, twice, three times. The mirage did not go away. She repeated the process to no avail.
.....This is the twentieth century. The ship is a replica. Reassured, she quietly stepped forward, using the trees as camouflage.
.....At the helm stood a tall, muscular man clad in a sleevless, short byrnie fitted over a lavender tunic, which extended almost to his knees. A skull-fitting golden helmet covered his head. Although his ship and his appearance should have been obscured by the distance and the night, they weren't.
.....A fierce dragon's head formed the prow. The rectangular red sail, full-billowing despite the utter stillness, proudly carried three golden dragons emblazoned across the fabric, separated by a V-shaped swatch of lavender inset with gold crests. The dominant dragon in the triangular formation bore silver-tipped wings and a spirling tail. The smaller, non-winged dragons clenched their tails in their teeth.
.....The warrior drew her attention. She could see him as clearly as if she stood openly on the ship with him instead of hidden behind the trees.
.....He stood battle ready. A sheathed sword hung at his waist. Blond locks flowed from beneath his helmet and floated above the long, red cape fluttering behind him as though the ship were at full sail.
.....The helmet's faceguard concealed most of his features, while heightening the sensual fullness of his mouth. His eyes pierced the distance.
.....They were deep violet.
.....Unreal. Arresting. Commanding. Sylvian fought the desire to walk toward him.
.....He did not sail alone. Four warriors stood behind him. When the Viking ship landed, the five men alighted. The dancers sprinted through the shallow water toward them.
.....They embraced. Tenderly.
.....Suddenly, savagely, the men slaughtered the women. The water ran red with blood.
.....Sylvian screamed. She turned and ran. Rain beat against her as she struggled to reach the security of her car, crashing into its metal body before she could see the vehicle.
.....Shaking, she jumped in, locked the doors, started the engine, turned the compact around, and took off. She sped down the black-top parish road faster than safety allowed on the slick surface, wondering what she'd just witnessed. Nothing made any sense. Who were those people in the woods? Five of them were surely dead.
.....Glancing at the dashboard, her eyes widened in surprise. Her gas tank registered three-fourths full. Had the dial been stuck before? Did she have gas or not? She prayed she did.
.....Her breath came in short pants.
.....Calm down, she cautioned. Breathe deeply. Pay attention to the signs. Otherwise, you'll never be able to direct anyone to the location.
.....What would she say? She couldn't mention the Viking ship. They'd discount her words if she did. Besides, how could a sailing vessel sail with no wind -- not even a breeze? And the rain. It rained -- poured -- then it didn't, then it rained again. How could she explain that? She began piecing her story together in words the police would find acceptable.
.....The lights of an all-night diner appeared ahead. Odd, she thought. She'd driven all over the area trying to find her way back to the freeway. Surely, she hadn't missed seeing something so brightly lighted. Somehow, she'd not come this way before.
She stopped. Once inside, she felt safer. This world she understood. The air conditioning chilled her drenched body; her jeans and emerald green, short-sleeved shirt clung to her. She ordered coffee, as much for the reassurance of warmth as for the taste, and cradled the steaming cup in her hands, her slender fingers wrapping themselves around the warmth.
.....Studying the double stem of white lilies leaning stiffly in a Mason jar on the counter, she wondered who'd set the flowers in this dreary place. Her eyes held an appraising look as they passed over the crome-trimmed, gray Formica table tops and black vinyl booths, before coming to rest on the pay phone hanging on the wall. Sighing, she decided. No time like now. Make the call.
.....The police dispatcher's words further unsettled Sylvian. He insisted she dialed him from Laplace in St. John the Baptist Parish, northwest of New Orleans. She'd turned the wrong way onto the freeway when she left the airport, he snapped, then ordered her to stay there and hung up. She vowed never to arrive in a strange city at the witching hour again and sat down to wait.

End of Chapter I
Embrace the Boogeyman, Copyright Georgia Temple, 1997, 1998/ First U.S. Printing 2002
Novel: Johnson County (Texas) Creative Writers Annual Writing Contest, 2002 award winner

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