Crime in the Bayou

The hag – courtesy Pinterest

They say there\\\’s never a dull moment in the bayou.

In all my time on the force, across all the crime scenes I\\\’ve had to investigate, this was a new one. The young man\\\’s face looks like it had been erased, his brown skin as smooth as a baby\\\’s arm. No lips, eye sockets, or facial hair. Naked, I see that the rest of him is untouched. He\\\’s muscular, tall-ish. It makes me sad to see him.

\\\’We scanned his prints and it seems he\\\’s from Las Vegas. Reported missing a week ago by his mom. She\\\’s a pastor of that big AME church on TV.\\\’

Mike and his wife are very religious. He\\\’d never been inside a predominately Black church until he married her, a woman proud to be a member of an African Methodist Episcopal mega-church.

\\\’Anyway,\\\’ he goes on, knowing I don\\\’t need the reminder about their uber-faith connection and that the whole church pastor thing doesn\\\’t help me put the pieces together. \\\’We\\\’ve notified the family and they\\\’re asking if they need to come here or if we\\\’ll send him home.\\\’

\\\’What\\\’s he doing in Florida?\\\’ I lean close. \\\’What\\\’s he doing in the Tarklin Preserve?\\\’ What remains of the hair on the victim\\\’s head smells like Cantu Shea Butter, even though he\\\’s been in the water. The lack of wrinkling on his fingers suggests it wasn\\\’t for long.

Mike scrolls through his electronic notes. \\\’Seems he was here for summer break from school. He\\\’s a college student at UNLV.\\\’

I point my chin at the woman. She\\\’s in the shadows, but I can see she\\\’s trembling like a leaf. \\\’What\\\’s up with her?\\\’

Mike does that thing: looks at her without looking. \\\’Her name is Aenwyn Blackwood. She says she\\\’s a … pastor, too.\\\’

I wait for more and he looks at me as if he\\\’s begging me not to make him talk more. \\\’Mike!\\\’

He flinches. \\\’The only thing she keeps saying is it went all wrong. What do you make of that?\\\’

\\\’Man, listen.\\\’ I just don\\\’t have the energy to deal with him and walk away. As I step closer to Miss Blackwood, the first thing that strikes me is the odor. It\\\’s more than woman funk and it isn\\\’t death. It\\\’s like a combination of burnt chitlins and fish roe. Right nasty.

I breathe through my mouth to keep it out of my nose. \\\’Miss Blackwood,\\\’ I address her.

She lifts her head and the light dappling through the trees reflects off the horns attached to her elaborate headpiece. I get closer and realize it\\\’s not a headpiece but her actual dome.

Miss Blackwood is a monster, a hag of epic proportions.

\\\’It wasn\\\’t my fault. It went all wrong because he wasn\\\’t right,\\\’ she starts blabbering. \\\’T-t-that sea witch, Esme Denholm. It\\\’s all her fault! She knew I wanted to start my church and what does she do? She starts one last week! Damn her. So I rushed. I read the prophesy and followed it to the letter, except the translation of the scroll said Black tar and I thought it said Black scar, like a scar on Black skin!

\\\’I see this fella. Him and his buddies are taking an airboat tour of the preserve. I live in the bayou, so I am aware of who comes and goes. But I see him and he looks perfect to address the tenets of the omen. He has — had — a scar along his left cheek. The airboat driver always stops by my dock because I\\\’m something of a celebrity in these parts.\\\’

She blinks, seeming both surprised and upset that I am not impressed.

She clears her throat and continues, \\\’Anyway, I asked about his scar. He said it had happened when he was a wee babe. Fell off his bike evidently.\\\’ She grins. \\\’It was more confirmation of how perfect he was to meet the expectations for the omen! This is just not right!\\\’

I can\\\’t with all this hoodoo stuff. \\\’So you kidnapped this young man –\\\’

\\\’His name is — was — Reginald. He said his sister called him Ray.\\\’

\\\’– kidnapped Reginald and what, erased his features?\\\’

She shakes her head wildly, flinging spittle for about three feet. \\\’No, no, no! I did the incantation properly, except for seeing scar instead of tar. I was thinking the chant would take the scar from his face and add it to the other elements for the altar.\\\’

I grit my teeth to keep from cussing her. She blinks at me again, this time obviously feeling my irritation.

\\\’Look,\\\’ she spreads her arms wide and her wings flex. They are ochre as midnight, blending into the surrounding darkness. Stretched out like that, she\\\’s a fright. But I flex my shoulders right back at her so she doesn\\\’t get the thought in her head she could come at me.

She continues. \\\’When my kind start a religion, the process always begins with an age-old augury. I waited until the appointed day and hour. I had gathered all the ingredients, except the damned Black scar and there he was!\\\’ She grabs her head and howls. \\\’If that horrid Esme hadn\\\’t told me a lie, hadn\\\’t confirmed my incorrect reading, we wouldn\\\’t be here right now! She hates me! That\\\’s the only reason she would have done something so, so …\\\’ She\\\’s heated and lost her words.

I\\\’m thinking, This chick got beef with another witch. I\\\’ll be damn.

\\\’What you are saying, Miss Blackwood, is that a Miss Denholm, who I presume is also a resident here in the bayou preserve, gave you incorrect information and based on that, you improperly attempted to complete the incantation to start your church. The incorrect incantation resulted in Reginald not losing his scar but losing his entire face. And his life. Is that correct?\\\’

She wails again, shaking her claws in the air. \\\’Yes! It\\\’s all Esme\\\’s fault!\\\’

I shrug. \\\’You said something about Miss Denholm also wanting to start a church. Did she have to use the same incantation?\\\’

She crosses her arms tightly, pouts, and nods.

\\\’A bit jealous, are we? Maybe if we\\\’d taken our turn and let Miss Denholm do her thing, we wouldn\\\’t be in this predicament?\\\’

She wails again and stands to her full nine feet.

Before she can whip out a spell on me, I snap my fingers and disappear. A whistle, and I reappear behind her. Snapping on the wrist cuffs, I read her rights.

\\\’Wait! What are you doing? Why are you arresting me? It\\\’s her you should be taking in!\\\’

I raise my voice. \\\’Miss Blackwood! You are the cause of this young man\\\’s demise, not this Miss Denholm! Regardless of who told who what about the wording of the incantation, it was you who attempted the spell. It was you who erased Reginald\\\’s face. It was you who took his life. And it will be you who stands before the tribunal and Reginald\\\’s family!\\\’

She is surprised at my strength. Her taut muscles mean nothing as I grip her arms and the edges of her wings to keep her from doing anything else stupid in the moment. I march her to where Mike is waiting with a look on his face that tells me I might want to slap him.

He looks up at Miss Blackwood and back at me.

\\\’What is it, Mike?\\\’

He digs a toe into the sandy soil. \\\’I just called dispatch. It will be about a half-hour before they can get us transport. She won\\\’t fit in the squad car.\\\’

Gritting my teeth, I walk the hag to the closest tree stump. \\\’Please have a seat, Miss Blackwood.\\\’

I shake my head. Yeah, this is one to tell my therapist. And my priest.

I decided to pop into my story engine box. I bought the whole ginormous set of expansions and pulled out the Mythology Booster box. My prompt was

A jealous (aspect) hag (agent) wants to found a religion on (engine) an omen (anchor) but they do not meet the terms of the prophesy (conflict).

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