"I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect-in terror."—Edgar Allan Poe
The Bayou is no ordinary swamp—for it is a wistful place, where the Southerners are quite keen to remember their childhood memories, in the south pleasantly. But this story that you will read is about the one childhood memory that I dread yet, with an immense state of wicked horripilation. The memory of the daunting death of my father haunted me too incessantly.
What I shall disclose with arrant trepidation is a tale that will unravel the perturbable mystery that binds me still, within the indelible clammy Bayou. It had been over twenty years ago, since I last visited the venerable mansion I once was attached to, as a young adolescent. Ever since Father was killed mysteriously, my memories have been forever tainted, with the abhorrent day of the murder. Verily, as Tobias Garceau I do not know how to describe the terror that I relived, in returning to the colonial mansion, but returned I did in the year of 1920.
Mother who had been interned within the psychiatric ward of Trudeau Home for hallucinations had been released, after being diagnosed. She was now in her late seventies, and suffering as well, from the advanced stage of the illness of dementia. I was her only adorable child and a social recluse. I never married, nor had a child—for I was an eccentric man, studious bibliognost, and daring writer of horror stories. I was well provided for, and Mother knew how to pamper me with gifts; even though there were many times, when I perceived her callous attitude toward me. She was quite stringent in discipline and punished me for my mischief and audacity; always preaching about the Lord and his punishment for our iniquities. Sweet Jesus was the only salvation to the heavenly world as she called it, but not even sweet Jesus could have saved my father, from her madness—or so I was led to believe.
The day was Monday, the beginning of the week, when I returned to my childhood house by the Bayou. Mother was brought to the house afterward, by a driver from the hospital. The Antebellum Mansion had belonged to the Garceau family, since 1820. The mansion endured the hardship of the Confederacy and the Civil War. The remnants of the old plantation of the property could be vaguely seen from afar. The large cypress and hickory trees by the garden still stood tall and imposing, over the paludose edge. The tawny leaves of autumn abundant as ever, while the eerie breeze of the grove was placidly felt.
The steward Mr. Thompson was in charge of the care of the mansion, and he had been paid handsomely, during our absence. The house had been closed and untidy for several decades, but the obvious decadence of the stately mansion was replaced by the restoration I had invested, since I was informed of Mother's released from the hospital. Despite the macabre event that took place in that antiquated mansion it was our charming home, and above all it was Mother's home.
I was reassured by her psychiatrist that the ill-fated nature of that day she had forgotten; although I was somewhat reluctant to accept that affirmation wholeheartedly. Mother had been treated well at the facility, and every time I had visited her, she appeared to be less restive and apprehensive. This illness was relatively a new phenomenon for me, since there was not much known about hallucinations or dementia. I was glad to know we would be living together in our familiar house, and I hoped that the house would not cause her to remember that terrible day of Father's death. Whatever reservation I had about coming back to the house was negated, by the fact that Mother would struggle in the city.
Therefore in the end, I brought her back to the memorable circumference of where we Garceaus were born and bred each, by the Bayou of Louisiana. What most city folk deem too tedious in nature, we faithful Acadians embrace with a boundless imagination. The Acadian culture is what reminds us of our French ancestors, who once proudly governed the state of Louisiana centuries ago. There are some who call us Cajuns, and that I do not dispute, although Mother said we were more Acadians.
If I was to describe the beauty of the estate and mansion finalized, then I would enhance my words, with poetic grandeur that would imbibe me in camphors of purified wine. The garden was vast of verdant moss, vines, azaleas, camellias, irises and magnolias. The old plantation field of sugar was covered then, by willows and lilies. The animated Bayou was full of bustling sounds of Mother Nature, but my illusory enjoyment was the momentary glimpse of the luminous fireflies, who I seldom espied during the night of starry skies. The mansion was broad and colossal, like the lofty temples of the Greek Gods of Athens. Inside the affluent mansion had decorative rooms and halls, with such narrow corridors typical of European architecture and glamour. This winsome appearance had once pleased Mother, and she was always fond of the revelry and gaiety expressed, at the festive balls of her youth, when Grandfather Elijah Garceau lived, and was the supreme master of the plantation.
For a week Mother was demure in her mien, and mainly spent her leisure time at the estate walking, amid the lovely garden and cypress trees. Naturally, I was extremely grateful to see her so joyous and natural, within her ambience. It was so common to have a bidden visitor, in those unforgettable days of the past. I knew that the Garceau Estate would be the only place I could take Mother. My great hope was that she would not then remember much that terrible day Father was found dead. This was a very profound contemplation of mine, and I took the necessary preparation.
The steward Mr. Thompson had fallen ill somehow, and I was forced to hire another caretaker afterward. The perficient stranger that I had hired was referred by Mr. Thompson. His name was Mr. Guillory, and he was from Baton Rouge originally. His credentials were also outstanding, and I entrusted the good word of Mr. Thompson.
The Plaçage was the reason of such a miscellany of races seen, throughout Louisiana. It was an extralegal system where European descendants had common-law marriages, with Negroes and Mestizos. The Spaniards had once invited the exiled Acadians into Louisiana, and the sole reason I mention this is due to the indisputable fact that our noble lineage was a product of that antiquated system. I do not acknowledge this through shame of any degree—for my succinct admission is a token gesture of my irrefragable veracity that has since estranged me, from my kindred up north. If there was one grand thing that personified Louisiana it was Mardi Gras. However, I enjoyed more the fais do-do-of the Cajuns, with their fiddles and banjos. Often as a child I feasted on duck, rabbit, okra, mirlitons, gumbo, court bouillon, cracklins, boudin all of which was Cajun cuisine. There was no other place, like the unique mélange of Louisiana culture to compare.
A month passed, and Mother was evolving well. She had her days, when she was not much talkative and gay, but that was to be expected, according to what the psychiatrist explained. The maid Mrs. Guillory a very kind and hardworking Negro woman had kept Mother busy, during the day. She was also the wife of Mr. Guillory.
The woven streams of the Bayou had interspersed onto the flowing rivers, above the cloven branches of the hardwood trees with its smooth unflecked bark and edible nuts, beyond the genuine cleft before the dusk. The colorful foliage and the yew, along the edge of the estate had sheltered the long warm days of summer. Winter was as idyllic, as the shades of green were tinctured in a mild whitish hue.
One day, I found Mother sitting within the porch tacent, and she appeared to be rather aloof in her stare, as if something or someone had been occupying her attention considerably. When I asked her, what was troubling her, she was extremely vague and discreet in her behavior. This began to concern me, since it was the very first time I had detected this subdued quietude in her. The viridescence of the leaves strewn no longer entertained her, and soon she was drifting into a world of her fanciful imagination. When I looked ahead, I saw nothing out of the ordinary, but for some apparent reason, she was mesmerized, by some unseen captivation of the Bayou. I had spoken to Mrs. Guillory and Mr. Guillory, about this matter, and neither had a reasonable response. Therefore, I decided to accept this occurrence, as nothing of a grievous consequence.
That next morning Mother had resumed her more familiar self, but I was left wondering, if these alterations in moods were attributed to a sudden pattern of alterity in her environs—or was I overreacting in my presupposition? I recalled once studying the matter, and the words of her psychiatrist that it was normal for Mother to have certain changes in her moods, as long as they were not constant and were absolute manifestations in her daily evolution. The natural scenery of the picturesque garden of the estate soon brought serenity in her restless eyes. The pleasant sounds of music had always made Mother smile and less pensive.
She had a fond attachment to a priceless phonograph that Father once gave her as a birthday gift. I often played the notes of the piano for her, as we gathered within the hall in the evenings. Mrs. Guillory would sometimes entertain us, with sensational renditions of old hymns of the Gospel. Mother was a devout Catholic, and Sweet Jesus and the Virgin Mary were heard typically in her euphemisms, with her mellifluous southern drawl. Thus, our days at the mansion were spent among ourselves. Whenever I had time, I would continue with my novels. Autumn would become winter, and spring would become summer. Soon as the seasons passed, so would a year pass, and Mother was the same—no worse than when she arrived at the mansion.
Upon the following month, I was forced to travel to New Orleans to speak to my publisher, concerning the status of my unfinished novel. New Orleans was a broad reflection of the homogeneity of the history of the city. Its diverse citizens were representative of the ancestral composition of their progenitors. My time was brief, and only a day and Mr. Bushnell my publisher had invited me to a party that night. I did not see any harm—nor did I have any need to object. I knew Mother was being kept well, by Mrs. Guillory. The elites of the publishing world in Louisiana would be present. The possibility of reuniting, with old colleagues and meeting new people was exciting. If I wanted to extend my audience, I would have to attend. Fame and recognition were at times, as transient as the gust of the wind that blew. I spent my time in the party sharing intellectual discourses, with prominent poets and novelists.
That night as I left the festivity and went to my hotel. I had a strong presentiment that something bad had transpired at the mansion. However, I set aside the nervous feeling, and thought about the wondrous exchanges I shared that night.
When I awoke the next morning, I returned to the estate and had discovered that Mother had an epileptic attack. She had not had one, since she returned, and naturally I was concerned. I spoke to Mrs. Guillory, who explained to me the dreadful incident. It appeared that Mother had been outside in the porch, when she began to babble about having seen my father in front of the marsh. Was it the spectral image of his ghost that had appeared? There had to be a logical explanation for this occurrence, but the only tangible was that she had mistaken his image, for something else. The brisk confluence of the Bayou was extensive.
Mrs. Guillory had said that all Mother uttered was "Sweet Jesus its, my darling Isaiah."
The strange image of my father she had sworn to have seen was truly disconcerting, but I was more troubled, by the rapid signs of hysteria that had been demonstrated by her. That night I had instructed Mrs. Guillory, with the solicitude of Mother. I had dreaded to fathom another epileptic attack occurring that could leave her incapacitated indefinitely. I did not leave the area for travel, since I was guilty of having not been there, when she had that unfortunate episode. I kept strict vigilance of her and made certain that Mrs. Guillory was always near Mother for needed supervision. But her comportment began to unsettle me. These strange consequences of her behavior and reoccurring visions of Father were then frequent and palpable in her imagination. They were not merely confined to her physicality, but to her mental capacity also. It was her mental capacity that mostly worried me. This sudden change was not what I had desired. However, it was imposed on me, by the circumstance that unfolded. I simply had to take control of the evolving situation, since it was indicative that Mother had started losing her coherent volition.
Thereafter, I had joined Mother in the porch, as well as the servants. When the night befell, the most horrifying experience at the mansion had transpired so audaciously. I was in my room resting when I was awakened, by a horrible scream that resonated throughout the mansion. Mr. Guillory had knocked on the door of my room calling me, when I rose to my feet to see what urgency had compelled him to knock on my door so late in the night. After I opened the door, Mr. Guillory had immediately informed me that Mother was having another convulsion. Once I arrived at Mother's room, she was on the floor suffering another epileptic episode. I was aghast about what I saw before me. Mrs. Guillory had been holding her arms, while Mother was moving uncontrollably. I assisted, and Mother was stable and steady, as she was before the attack. She was given medication at once to stop the convulsion.
Early in the morning, I called her doctor and her psychiatrist, and related what had happened with Mother the night before. Both the doctor and the psychiatrist conferred that it was imperative that I monitored her day to day status. I was not totally prepared for what had transpired abruptly, but I knew that I could not abandon Mother in her hour of need to a solitary and somber gloom. When I spoke to Mrs. Guillory, about what had caused Mother's commotion prior to the attack she made a rather disturbing disclosure. According to Mrs. Guillory, Mother had seen the phantom of Father again. What was I to do or respond to that harsh verisimilitude? I had to then rationalize apperceptively, and think logically. Mother had granted her appanage to me since a child, and the issue was more needed supervision was warranted afterward.
The following days, her condition had worsened into a frantic hysteria. What was once a dormant esprit in her had then transformed into an unhinged distress and paranoia. The option of Mother returning to the asylum was contemplative, but I could not indulge in the thought of sending her again there. It would be too devastating for me, and for her vital progression. This daunting encumbrance had begun to preclude my options. Mother was never the same, and the instability of her variable condition began in earnest to afflict her.
She would say to me boldly "Toby, do you not see your father there. Boy, he is alive, and he has come from yonder blue."
Mother ever so affectionate of my name would always address me as Toby, instead of Tobias my real name. There was this parlous world of distinction that she was drifting irrevocably within gradually that was becoming irreversible. This was of extreme relevance, and required more than average patience. It would require my absolute attention and careful adherence then. I had perceived that she was obtaining in the following days a heightened acute awareness that seemed exaggerated. Despite at times her serene posture and position of generality, she was impassioned in her obsession of seeing the image of my beloved father.
This was a conflictive pattern of behavior that was germane to the prudent observation of her health. Thenceforth, I hired a nurse to administer her medication and accompany her—so that when these episodes of epilepsy occurred during the day, there was a professional always present. I could not afford to be careless in my errant perception. I attempted through actual distraction to dissuade her thoughts of Father, but she was adamant on mentioning him, whenever she claimed to see him.
Mrs. Guillory had experienced the same situation as I had, and I did my best to make her forget, by taking her to the parlor to hear music of the piano I would play, or put on the phonograph. For some particular reason she was very drawn, by the harmonious sounds of the phonograph, and perhaps it was I thought a good idea. However, soon she began to mumble to me that she heard the voice of Father speaking to her so clearly, and this would spook me.
"Toby, can't you hear boy, your father talking? He speaks to me, through that darn phonograph. He is here, and he is coming for me boy. I tell you, he is coming for me!"
These aberrant manifestations of hysteria were distressing and irrepressible. They had begun to surpass the threshold I feared of no return. Mother had completed the process of regression, and there was nothing I could do, except be there for her, as the madness would ultimately absorb her to death. Sedatives were given to her, along with her medication to mollify her hysteria. At times it was necessary to restrain her afterward, even though it was the cruelest form of human discipline and chastisement applied. Nonetheless, this was the morose veracity I had to endure so unwantedly, as her only son.
Often, I would see a temporary smile in her joyous countenance, when the sun glistened, through the silk curtains of her room upstairs. I believed that it reminded her of her childhood days once plentiful in excitement and adventure. She was rather beautiful and exuded the light of her own beauty, as a young woman judging, from the portraits that were painted of her. Although they were fain to witness, these moments were few and unpredictable in nature.
I don't recall exactly the hour, when I first noticed the crows, gathered on the rooftop and branches of the hickory trees. She became nervous as they vexed with their vociferous caws and started to haunt Mother with a supernal terror that was condemnable. She abhorred the unyielding caws of the crows and swore that they were the Devil's doing.
She would say, "For God sake Toby, the crows are signaling my passage to the other world, boy."
Naturally, I was preoccupied with her ongoing schemes and visible overreaction. I do not know as well, why she was frightened terribly by the crows. The only thing I could surmise was that it must have triggered a shocking memory of the day that Father died. This I could not prove, yet it did appear to be feasible. Whatever it was, I had to unravel the unique mystery that was unfolding before me.
One night, I was slumbering in my room, when I heard queer voices speaking. The sound originated from the parlor downstairs. Thus, I descended the staircase slowly, until I reached the edge of the parlor. There I heard for the first time the voice of my deceased father speaking, through the old phonograph. The voice was incoherent and began to fragment in tone.
"Isaiah, go away—for the boy does not know!"
I was stupefied to hear those words of Mother, and see her in the parlor so late and alone unattended. I entered the parlor and immediately took her upstairs, as I calmed her anxiety the best I could. Thereafter, I spoke to Mrs. Guillory and her husband, and had revealed what had happened. I would query, if they were not cognizant of the incident with Mother.
Apparently, they were not, and what was troubling was the fact that they did not seem to be worrisome, as if they too had begun to succumb to the madness of the mansion and Mother. I could not easily rebuke them, with my authoritative reproach, since it was assumed that they could not be vigilant with Mother twenty-four hours a day, and the nurse was only there periodically.
I slept little that night, and concentrated on what was burdening Mother's soul. At heart, I knew that there was something in the end more substantially that I needed straightaway to discover than Mother's bizarre tale and mental disorder. But for a brief moment, I thought of the remote possibility that there was indeed a supernatural phenomenon occurring that was exceedingly captious in nature. I was predisposed to write about terror, never did I once suppose it to be adjoined by its consternation. However, it was encompassing the mansion unequivocally.
The crows began to gather more in numbers tenfold around the house, as the days passed. The reappearance of the ghost of Father had resurfaced unsuspectedly. It all culminated one night, when the comprisable succession of events that followed, were consequential in the verification of this account I share openly. The crows had suddenly accumulated in numbers, and the sound of their caws had intensified. I could see them plainly from my room upstairs, as they congregated. Their dark plumage and piercing eyes overshadowed their gibbous tails, and their occiputs and crowns were slightly flecked, with a conglomeration of violet blue and black. The napes they bore were of a dull black, while the flecking on their heads was more transparent. They had upper backs and scapulars, with ample feathers that were violet and reflected the noble appearance of the primacy of the crows. They bore a gloss of reddish violet to their primary coverts, with the bright light of the sun.
I knew as I stood gazing at them that something evil was to occur. This I perceived, with a swift frisson that aroused my recognition of the developing situation. I had an intuitive six sense that was indicating this menacing disquietude in me. For some unknown cognition existential with me in that exact moment, I walked down the staircase, as the crows had begun to flock in masses of procacity, around the house. Quickly I ran to Mother’s room, where I discovered, she was not in her bed. Then, I heard the sound of the phonograph coming directly, from the parlor.
Consequently, I ran down the staircase until I reached the parlor, and lo behold there was no sign of Mother. Thus, I heard the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Guillory speaking in Creole to each other. I did not hear Mother’s voice at all, among them. When I saw them immediately, I had inquired about the whereabouts of Mother, and they smiled with a nefarious gratification seen upon their faces. Naturally, I did not understand what was occurring, and I screamed at them, to tell me where Mother had gone.
They said an utterance at first in Creole, “Li pa la, mai li va jamé bandonné twa Tobias. Ton per, li vivant. Li pa mort!” (She is gone, but she has never abandoned you, Tobias. Your father is alive. He is not dead.)
Then Mrs. Guillory said in English, "The Day of Reckoning has arrived child."
Suddenly, the crows began to enter the house through the windows they shattered. Then, Mr. and Mrs. Guillory began to fade away, into the emerging mist of the night.
Afterward, I saw standing there behind me plainly, the cadaverous guise of a young boy, who was drenched in the verdure of the teeming moss of the Bayou. His eyes were fashioned in an obsidian color of impelling dread, as the boy walked toward me, before he screeched out loud. I found myself surrounded, by the Stygian lurid embodiment of sheer horror—the crows. I ran out of the house and reached the porch, where then I saw a mysterious figure amidst the sedges, cattails and the rushes, by the nearby bank of the Bayou. The stranger was no other than Father motionless like a menacing scarecrow, and his decomposed carcass was bound, by the sprawling branches that surrounded him.
I ran toward the Bayou, and when I did, I noticed that the crows surrounded the lone scarecrow, as I gazed at the indelible figure of ghastliness that was my beloved father. It was where, I saw there within the Bayou, a floating garment. The garment had belonged to Mother, and it was a piece of Mother’s silk turquoise dress she wore. This dress was her favorite, but little did she know that it would be her death dress. There was still another shocking revelation.
As I grabbed the garment, there was a floating dead cadaver that came up the surface. It was the exact young boy, who I had seen in the house before so minatory. He was floating on his stomach, when I had spotted him. I used a heavy branch to steer him my way, and once I was able to achieve that I turned him around and saw through the intervals of the dense fog the hideous cadaver in the most atrocious form of decomposition. The body had been at the bottom of the Bayou for decades, and the one thing that horrified me was the revolting maggots that had come out of the eyes of the corpse. It was hitherto, the grisliest image of death I had ever seen in my life.
I soon discovered that this young boy was the actual son of Mr. and Mrs. Garceau, my father and mother of whom I did not know had adopted me. He was murdered by my mother, who killed my father and left him to rot away in the swamp. She had unburied him from his grave and had his body thrown into the bayou. I had being living all this time an unworthy lie, and was not aware of that ineffable secret that Mother and Father had concealed from me, since my birth. I often wondered why I was not like them, in my mien and for that matter in my appearance much.
The servants Mr. and Mrs. Guillory I discovered as well were nothing more than the ghosts of servants, who once served my mother as a child fifty years ago honorably. This revelation I had discovered, when I was looking through the trove of Mother’s trinkets and valuables afterward. There was a picture taken of them back in the year of 1880 I found.
Mother never returned and had perished in the sinister incarnation of the Bayou of Louisiana, where her lifeless body was found afterward floating in its cesspool. I had fully understood then, why as well the crows, had gathered and attacked. They had come as an imminent omen for Mother’s death. I can only through supposition suspect that Mr. and Mrs. Guillory had led Mother to the Bayou, so that the crows could escort her to the eeriness of the Bayou. In the end, it was all a horrible sequence of madness that I was compelled to be an unwilling participant of its finality of death.
Subsequently, I had thought of selling the Antebellum Mansion that had belonged to the Garceau family for decades, but I remained behind, and kept the mansion as the sole proprietor of the Garceau Estate; even though, I was not the legitimate son of Isaiah Garceau and Mary Beth Garceau. The hidden secrets of the mansion and the Garceaus were never known to anyone I reckon, except the kindred, who knew the absolute power of the consanguineous black magic.