Mala's ghost busting tip #1: Never piss off a vengeful spirit or she may follow you home.
Black mud oozes between my toes as I shift the rope, sending up a cloud my weight and jerk on of midges and the rotten-egg stench of stagnant swamp water. The edge of the damn crawfish trap lifts out of the water—like it’s sticking its mesh tongue out at me—and refuses to tear loose from the twisted roots of the cypress tree. It’s the same fight each and every time, only now the frayed rope will snap if I pull on it any harder. I have to decide whether to abandon what amounts to two days’ worth of suppers crawling along the bottom of that trap or wade deeper into the bayou and stick my hand in the dark, underwater crevice to pry it free.
Gators eat fingers. A cold chill runs down my spine at the thought, and I shiver, rubbing my arms. I search the algae-coated surface for ripples. The stagnant water appears calm. I didn’t have a problem wading into the bayou to set the trap. I’ve trapped and hunted in this bayou my entire life. Sure it’s smart to pay attention to my instincts, doing so has saved my life more times than I can count, but this soul-sucking fear is ridiculous.
I take a deep breath and pat the sheathed fillet knife attached to my belt. My motto is: Eat or do the eating. I personally like the last part. A growling belly tends to make me take all kinds of stupid risks, but this isn’t one. If I’m careful, a gator will find my bite cuts deeper than teeth if it tries to make me into a four-course meal. Grandmère Cora tried to teach her daughter that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. Since Mama would rather fuck ’em than feed ’em, I inherited all the LaCroix family recipes, including a killer gator gumbo.
Sick of second-guessing myself, I slog deeper into the waist-high water. Halfway to the trap, warm mud wraps around my right ankle. My foot sticks deep, devoured. I can’t catch my balance. Crud, I’m sinking.
Ripples undulate across the surface of the water, spreading in my direction. My breath catches, and I fumble for the knife. Those aren’t natural waves. Something’s beneath the surface. Something big. I jerk on my leg, panting. With each heave, I sink deeper, unable to ...break the suction holding me prisoner. Gator equals death…But I’m still alive. So what is it? Why hasn’t it attacked? A flash of white hits the corner of my eye—
Shit! I twist, waving the knife in front of me. My heart thuds. Sparkly lights fill my vision. Blinking rapidly, I shake my head. My mind shuts down. At first I can’t process what I’m seeing. It’s too awful. Too sickening. Then reality hits—hard. The scream explodes from my chest, and I fling myself backward. The mud releases my leg with a slurp. Brackish water smacks my face, pouring into my open mouth as I go under. Mud and decayed plants reduce visibility below the surface.
Wrinkled, outstretched fingers wave at me in the current. The tip of a ragged fingernail brushes across my cheek. It snags in my hair. I bat at the hand, but I can’t free my hair from the girl’s grip. She’s holding me under. Trying to drown me. I can’t lift my head above the surface. She won’t let me go!
My legs flail, kicking the girl in the chest. She floats. I sit up, choking. I can’t breathe and scream at the same time. I’m panting, but I concentrate. Breathe in. Out. In. The girl drifts within touching distance. Floating. Not swimming. Why doesn’t she move? Is it stupid to pray for some sign of life—the rise of her chest, a kick from her leg—when I already know the truth?
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