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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
.....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
.....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,
.....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
.....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
.....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
.....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
.....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
.....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
.....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
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