Bayou La Batre, Alabama, 1995.
Friday, between pitch dark and first light, the Gulf Breeze, a shrimp trawler out of Corpus Christi, Texas, entered the Bayou Shell Banks. A dead fog full of moonbeams rested over the marsh. Swamp-stench curdled the air, a real nose burner.
As she passed through the canal, her wake from port side slapped gently against the outer bank. Like waltzing shades the fog wobbled to life. Apparitions materialized and danced in the moon-spangled haze. Isaiah Shanks braced himself.
Isaiah saw a monster with hungry eyes, clenched teeth, and spider fingers working feverishly within his palms. A black trench coat, splotched with filth and stench of sulfur draped his hunch-back form. Under a brown fedora, still wet from the storm, drops of moisture raced around brim’s edge. Underneath was hid a flat-cratered faced, cursed with a squashed nose and owl-like eye. Behind the royal-blue drapes he stood, still as death.
The young mother was wrapped in a white cotton towel tucked between the valley of her breasts and reached to her knees. Seated at the vanity, head tilted, she shook the wet strands and felt them fall to the small of her back. Reaching over her shoulders, Mary Ann’s delicate fingers combed through her velvet tresses, then paused to massage the soft nap of her neck. She reached for the ivory hairbrush resting on the right corner of her vanity.
There was a sound, one that shouldn’t be in the room. The intruder stepped from the curtain. Footsteps, heavy footsteps. The wood floor creaked and popped as the repulsive monster advanced toward its prey.
Incarnate evil was in her mirror. Petrified, Mary Ann jumped to her feet like a tripped coil spring. A small bottle of perfume crashed to the floor and broke into bits and pieces of colored glass. Sweet Carolina Jasmine filled the room.
No place to hide.
Nowhere to run.
Retreating to the nearest corner of the room, Mary Ann screamed, “WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU──”
No word to announce intentions, he pulled free the towel. Then with a back swing, his right hand struck Mary Ann a pile-driving blow. Unconscious, he threw her to the bed like a rag doll.
No escape. He would consume her soul. Yes, to consume, that is what evil does best; to steal Peace, to kill hope, and to destroy a living soul. He wrapped his putrid green hands around her fragile neck and──
The vapor boiled.
The images vanished.
Isaiah Shanks slid down the outer bulkhead. He’d seen these visions so many times.
He lay crumbled on the deck.
Sweat cascaded over his distorted face.
His eyes welded shut.
Isaiah didn’t want to remember──it was too painful──he twisted his head to one side, then the other. Spasmodic jerks. He fought the urge to look and remember the “mean man” of his boyish past, but the compulsion was too strong.
Eyes wide open, Isaiah stared again into the fog. The mist continued to stage a part of his life he could never forget. The apparitions reappeared.
The intruder saddled the unconscious woman. He gritted his teeth. Calloused hands transformed themselves into a snake-like vice as they constricted around Mary Ann Shank’s slender neck. Like so much Play Dough, he felt innocent life squeezed between his fingers. He gasped in demented moaning as he mumbled, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”
For a moment, his grim work was interrupted by the sound of rusted hinges. His head spun to one side as he strained bulging eyes. A little boy stood in the shadows who sought the warmth of his mother’s embrace. An innocent child of five, Isaiah could not understand the evil that towered before him.
The beast turned to inspect the boy.
The child was of no consequence.
He returned to his labor. Tighter… Tighter…Tighter…Tighter.
Mary Ann’s frail form shook with a last spasm as precious breath disappeared like water swirling around an open drain.
There was a gurgled groan.
It was done.
She was finished.
Stretched across her bed, Mary Ann Shanks lay still as any midnight grave. Little Isaiah watched as the fiend of the night stepped through the blue curtain that covered the window.
“Mean man. Mean man,” the little boy chided.
The murderer paused. He stared hard at the child as if he was trying to remember a time of innocence in his own tortured life, a time when he danced with joy upon the holy mountain of God. The thought of it, like the fire of molten lava, erupted within his dark and formless soul. He screamed with searing pain beyond human comprehension as the black trench coat transformed into dark shining scales. His face protruded as he made a hissing sound unintelligible to the human ear, “As I have no peace with God, neither shall you. You worm of flesh, I curse you. The day will come when I reign in chaos and I will destroy you and all your putrid kind. Live in misery. Live hopeless. Live in war. Live Godless and let there be no Peace with God.”
A thunderous explosion.
A flash of lightening outside the window.
An unworldly, white-brilliance, flooded the room illuminating the body of Mary Ann Shanks.
Holding his brown teddy bear under his left arm, the confused child walked to the left side of his mother’s bed. Little Isaiah pulled on the arm that hung over the mattress edge. Mary Ann’s head rotated, her eyes glazed and red-stained.
The child recoiled, screamed, then fell backward against the wall sliding to the floor. His small form was crumbled with arms cradled around his knees. And there he sat, eyes shut, until neighbors entered the house.