Full Moon on the Bayou
WARNING: Contains Disturbing Imagery and Language. Discretion is advised.
Nothing smells better than Ed’s Cajun Shack - especially during the week of the full moon. The fresh cut herbs, smokey and roasted spices, caramelized shrimp and garlicky fries hit my acute senses like a brick wall and my mouth salivates instantly. As I walked in, the girl behind the host podium looked up and smiled.
“Hi, Tom. Just you tonight?”
“Yeah, just me. Table by the window if you can.” She nodded and grabbed a menu.
“Lucky you, that’s my only open table. This way.” She led me through the dining room to a booth along the far wall. Floor-to-ceiling windows gave a spectacular view over the New Orleans main street. The bustle of the night life filled the alleys and main road; Louisiana’s own Times Square. As I sat down, the hostess handed me the menu. “It might be a little slower than usual. We’re a bit short-handed.”
“Oh?” I said, raising my eyebrow a bit.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Anton didn’t show up at all. Think it’s been a month or so. Just total no-call-no-show. So, we’re down a busboy. And with Mardi Gras around the corner…” she rolled her eyes but gave me a smile. “Anyway, enjoy your meal.”
“Thanks Tracie.” She walked away and I watched her for a few seconds before browsing the menu. If only I was younger, I thought to myself, then maybe. But I’m almost 65 which has dried up most of my sex drive. Still, I’ll admit, the change gives me a little boost and a nice rack or ass like hers makes the feeling of being a pervy old man kinda worth it.
I still read through the menu, despite having been here every week for nearly 15 years. With every ingredient I read, I can smell each of them in the air…
Jambalaya: cajun seasoned chicken, rice, peas, onion, diced tomatoes, celery and bell peppers.
Louisiana Surf-n-Turf: pan seared shrimp, deep-fried frog legs, and a 6oz sirloin. Served with pineapple salsa, spicy chili dipping sauce, and collard greens.
Turkey BLT: peppered turkey bacon, romaine lettuce and thick cut tomatoes. Served on toasted rye with garlic aioli and balsamic vinegar. Fries or salt-n-vinegar chips on the side.
My stomach growled as I read over the Cajun Mac & Cheese listing and a large, middle-aged black woman came to the table. She wore all black except for the vibrant purple apron. She smiled warmly as I made eye contact.
“Hi there, Tom. What’ll it be tonight?” She held a pen ready over a mini yellow pad.
“Let’s go with the BLT. Extra salt on the fries and a plain iced tea.” I handed her back the menu.
“Simple as always. Might be a while, but I’ll get your tea real quick.”
“No problem, baby. Be right back.” As she sped off to the kitchen, I looked around the restaurant. Nearly every table was full. The ones not occupied by people were covered with the dishes and glasses of previous meals. A waitress made a face as she gathered one table’s dishes into a busing tray. I shrugged and looked out at the full moon. It wasn’t my problem. It’s unfortunate and I like this place. But busboys come a dime a dozen. And besides, it’s not like I meant to kill the kid. It was the kid’s choice to walk alone that night. And with his clothes and hair still smelling like grease and spices, it was too good to pass up.
I was slightly lost in my memory of that particular night last month when I heard them come in. Tracie smiled at the police officers but I turned quickly to a look of concern as the older of the two asked to speak to the manager. She left and a minute later returned with Marie. The officer asked if they could speak in private.
“The back is a little too cramped, I’m afraid,” she sighed, finishing wiping off her newly washed hands. “But come it.” She led them over to the newly emptied table of dishes, only about ten feet from my booth. As they sat down, the rail thin waiter came over with my food. I couldn’t hear the first few lines exchanged as the waiter offered to refill my tea. But as he walked away, Marie had her hands up to her face, eyebrows raised in shock. I dug into my sandwich, trying to appear not aware of their conversation, but the animal inside me growled happily as I listened intently to the exchange.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so, ma’am. Now, did he have anyone he was having trouble with? Angry customers or coworkers?”
“No. I mean, he was a busser, so he didn’t deal with customers much. And he was pretty new. We’ve been prepping for Mardi Gras so it’s been busy but…really? By a gator?”
“I’m afraid so,” the officer repeated, writing a couple things down. He scooted back and stood. “Sorry for the trouble. Thanks for your cooperation. We’ll be in touch if we have further questions.” Marie sat still as the police officers filed out. After a minute, she sighed and wiped her eyes. After she disappeared into the kitchen, I didn’t see her for the rest of night. And the other two tables were still covered in dirty dishes when I left.
What I overheard at the restaurant nagged at me as I drove home through the bumpy bayou paths in my Jeep Wrangler. Mostly the fucking inconvenience it made. I cursed the person who found the body and the police who were investigating, my ire mixing with the irritation when my front left tire dipped into a particularly nasty pothole. They could have - no, should have - left it be as an accident like all the others. Hell, that’s why I dump them the bodies in gator alleys and nests. It’s an easy cover up. The bodies are usually barely in tact when I’m done with them and the eviscerations are hard to pass off as anything but an animal attack. But if someone came across them in a gator pit, then it’s chalked up to a drunken night tragedy or a creative suicide. Rarely do they actually fucking investagte the thing, but everytime it’s a fucking headache.
Now, I thought as I pulled into my garage, I’ve got to find a new fucking dump. And at a two night’s rush it’s going to be such a pain. Tomorrow was going to be spent combing the bayou for somewhere and trying not to arouse suspicion. That half of the bayou is going to have to be steered clear of while all the cops are loitering around. I put my Jeep in park and got out. With the heavy plywood and particle board covering up the windows, the only light was the moonlight coming in from the open garage door and the back of the garage was almost pitch black.
I walk with a slight limp. The rest of the month this is pretty painful and requires a cane. When I need to use it, it hurts my shoulder and elbow and I can only walk a few hundred feet at a time without resting from the pain. But during this time of the month, during these three days around the full moon, it’s little more than a stiffness and slight gimp.
The night air was damp and heavy and warm. It made me think of my past, growing up in Minnesota then the year I spent in Arizona before finding this place. God, those places sucked. Once I came back from ‘Nam, the months of snow and sub-zero pissed me off to no end. It was just too fucking cold, even with a thick fur coat, and there was little places to hunt. I was starving there. Once I could move myself, I went right to the southwest, just outside Phoenix. But that wasn’t much better. Sure, it wasn’t always cold, but at least with the cold a coat helped. No, then it was too fucking hot and dry. So fucking dry it was exhausting just to breathe. And the desert makes hunting even harder than snow.
After suffering a year in Arizona, I moved here, to southern Louisiana. When the warm, wet air of the swamps and bayous hit me, my inner animal growled with satisfaction. It puzzled me a lot at first, why this place felt perfect, but it made sense. Afterall, I got this way in the monsoon tropics of Vietnam.
We’d been neck deep in the rain and mud for nine fucking months - just marching through bogs and jungle. So long that we joked we’d forgotten what it was like to be dry and comfortable, or that we’d drown before we’d found Charlie.
One night, Red and I were tasked with patrolling camp. Just the two of us armed with a couple service machine guns, a few grenades each, and a pair of high intensity signal flares. If we got in trouble, we’d engage with the gooks and supress them with fire long enough to light a flare, then keep them away long enough for backup. Grenades were a last resort or for an ambush. At that point, it was just a matter of taking as many of them out with you as possible.
Red and I were walking, the full moon peeking through the rain clouds and tree canopies just enough to light our way. A rustle of ferns to our left made us stop dead.
“Safety off,” Red hissed as we raised our guns. It was the last thing he said apart from that last choking scream. We crept toward the noise’s position in the bushes. The rain washed away all our cold sweat as we inched closer. Then, in a burst of mud and leaves, it leapt at us.
It slashed at both of us, only slicing across my face but with enough force to knock me on my ass. Through the blood and rain streaking down my face, I could only watch as the thing tore into Red. Growling and wet slashes of claws mixed with Red’s screams. He sounded like a goat at the slaughter. A slaughter it wasn’t going into willingly. Army training kicked in - the survival training that is beaten into us enough to override any sort of natural instinct - and I saw Red’s hand grab one of the grenades from his belt and it disappeared between him and the beast on top of him. It was the longest seven seconds of my life. Seven eternities before the grenade went off. The fireball and shrapnel was mostly contained by Red and the beast, but I was close enough - too close - and got mangled by the blast. The last thing I remember before the pain knocked me out was seeing the beast inexplicably leap away into the jungle, and the rain slowly extinguishing the flames in its fur.
I’d come back to reality days later and was told that my platoon found me bleeding in the mud with the remains of Red next to me. I was just muttering, “wolf, wolf, wolf.”
Animal Attack is what they wrote on my hospital chart. When asked what happened, all I could say was “wolf”. The overworked doctors and nurses didn’t have time to tell me wolves aren’t native to Vietnam so it couldn’t have been that. They guessed it was either a rapid pet dog from a nearby village or a large predatory cat. But I knew.
I cursed those incompetant pieces of shit as I limped across the front path and up the porch. I guess I should’ve been grateful to them for fucking up so bad to get me sent home. But fuck it, and fuck them.
If they hadn’t broken my leg, I would’ve been patched up and sent back to the jungle. But the day before I was due to leave, I was walking through the camp to the mess hall when a truck backed into me. Half of my face was bandaged up and the truck came in from my bad side. It knocked me to the ground and kept going until the back tire rolled clear over my leg - going over it like a speed bump. Broke my shin in four places and lascerted my calf. I was laid up in the infirmary for a week and a half, doped out on whatever opioid shit they gave me. Lucky for them, as it fucked with my metabolism and internal clock. So, we went without incident when the moon came and waned that week.
I was sent home a week after that. I wasn’t healing fast enough and they needed the bed space and man power for others. So I got home to Minnesota with a broken leg, fucked up face, and a string of veteran disabilitty checks - plus a little extra by way of apology for my leg. Now, that’s what I live on. It’s enough to cover my living expenses and what I have to do to maintain the shack I’m in. If only silver didn’t cost so much these days.
I’m writing this all down. Almost like keeping a journal when I was younger. Writing is the cheapest hobby there is, and it keeps my mind fresh when my body isn’t. I suppose I could publish this at some point - chalk it up as fiction. But every word is true. And if this falls into the sweaty sausage links of some authority’s hands, then this is my confession. I did it. All of it. And I loved it all. They all tasted so fucking good.
I feel good. So fucking good. Tonight’s the night and I can’t wait. The saltiness of everyone’s sweat, the sugary sweet perfumes, the clouds of lustful food makes my mouth water when I’m in town. It’s almost too much. So I’m home for now. Soon enough though. Soon enough I can hunt again. I’m so fucking hungry.
Even without the moon, the wolf could’ve seen perfectly. No creature, insect, or alligator could hide in the shadows from his sharp eyes. But he doesn’t want anything like that. No, he wants something else. He wants blood. As he stalks through the bayou, he’s led by the lights and smells on the horizon. Two miles of swamp and mud are between him and his desire. If it were raining, he could run, crash through the mud and ferns with abandon. But he knows better. A still night calls for a careful hunt. And besides, he’s got all night.
On the bank of a muddy river, there’s a guttural growl and a hiss as something lunges out of the water. The wolf gives his own, deeper, growl with knife like canines flashing in the moonlight. The alligator is longer than a man is tall - a massive log of muscles and scales - but quickly slides back into the dark water. For tonight, the wolf is king of this bayou. He leaves the gator; the lights aren’t far off now and the wolf can smell everything.
Finally, he’s on the edge of town. The main strip is filled with people. Too many. He doesn’t need that much flesh. Instead, he clings to the shadows of the buildings and parking lots. Each teenage couple bursting with pheromones and cheap beer is tempting as they flail in their cars, but he moves on. A party of drunk sorority girls spills out of a neon covered bar just as he’s about to cross the open street intersection. He slinks quickly into the shadows and waits. After they pass, he moves on. It takes over an hour before he finds his prey.
The black trash bag looks almost too heavy for her. But she brings it over to the half full dumpster and heaves it over. It lands with a soggy thud and the sound of breaking glass. When she turns around, she dances to the music in her earbuds. Under the yellow streetlight, her brown skin becomes golden and the white of her tank top and earbud wires pop.
The wolf can smell her; the shampoo lingering in her still damp hair, the strawberry wine cooler on her lips, and the serotonin pumping in her veins. He licks his teeth with a large moist tongue. The young woman stops, slightly self-conscious as she looks around for passersby. She smiles, happy to be alone, and looks up at the full moon. A warm breeze picks up and she lifts her arms, closes her eyes, and takes in the night. But after a minute, she stops, opens her eyes, and looks around. The breeze wasn’t just carrying the smell of the bars and the Louisiana air. She inhales deeply, figuring out what it is. The wolf tenses, snarls, and his deep roar mixes with her final scream.
It’s a couple hours after dawn when Thomas Grimes wakes up. Mud clings to his back and hair as he sits up. It’s always a little disorienting to wake up in the middle of nowhere. Thomas gets up, he’s naked. He stretches. Adrenaline still lingers in his blood as he takes in the morning air. As he blinks the sleep from his eyes, he looks over.
She’s laying there, or at least what’s left of her. Head nearly decapitated, face and body torn beyond recognition, and skin more red than brown. Her clothes are long gone, torn to ribbons before her heart stopped pumping. She could just be a dead deer, torn apart by wolves and scavengers. But, he thinks, in a way she is.
He looks around, just as a precaution, but he knows he’s alone. The wolf usually knows where to hide away from prying eyes. He looks and sees where the wolf tramped through the tall grass and heads off. As he walks away from the remains of the waitress, he limps slightly. He’ll need his cane when he comes back. He’ll get the plastic garbage bags, a shower and new change of clothes, and come back to dispose of her. As he walks, he licks the red, drying blood from his hands and arms. He can still taste the strawberry wine. The beast inside him growls with satisfaction.