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Drama Horror Crime

Eugene C. McLean Jr                          Word Count: 2,154

162 South 23rd Street

Defuniak Springs, Florida 32435

Email: eugenemclean802@gmail.com

Loreley

By Eugene C. McLean Jr

“You better get to making things right before it’s too late, Michael Bennett!” grumbled the old woman in the corner of the store through a nearly toothless mouth stained with chewing tobacco.

“How do you know who I am?” Bennett asked impatiently.

A moment of deathly silence was followed by everyone in the antiquated roadside store laughing loudly.

“Look at ‘im!” the crone cackled. “He like to have shit those fancy pants he’s got on!”

The only person, other than the brunt of the joke, that apparently found no humor in the conversation was the grizzled old man behind the counter. “Y'all hush up!” He reprimanded the other denizens of the East Texas swamps. Turning his scowling expression to the man that had come in off the road to ask for directions he queried, “Do you think that we are so backward around here that we haven’t heard about you and your wife?

“We even have a bet going on as to whether your wife’s condition is due to attempted suicide or attempted murder. Maybe someday she will wake up and tell the truth about what really happened. Until then, my money is on attempted murder.”

“Fuck you people!” Bennett angrily shouted.

Suddenly the jovial atmosphere in the room became palpably hostile. “Language Michael!” The clerk growled. “Before I send you and your disrespectful mouth down the road to the damnation waiting for you, I’ll give you the directions to the Sparks’ place. Wouldn’t want you and your meeting with the devil to be delayed any more than it already is.”

As Michael Bennett strode angrily out to his car, he was cursing the map function on his phone that had failed and caused him to have to ask for help from the locals. He was even too busy indulging his pique to notice as he drove away that the old establishment had changed since he walked hastily out of it. It had transformed into a roofless, dilapidated, and overgrown shell that no one alive had been in since August of 1970. That was when it mysteriously burned down in suddenly engulfing flames, trapping and killing everyone inside.

***

The long and narrow driveway, lined on both sides with thick hedges of Azalea bushes led Bennett up a small hill that was topped with an elegant and stately manor. Sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch that was heavily draped in Wisteria vines was a thin and waif-like young woman with long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She had her light blue eyes focused on a book in her lap.

As his foot started to set on the steps, Michael Bennett references the thick tome by saying, ‘Ghostly Tales’ by J. S. LeFanu. I was required to read Carmilla in High School.”

“One of my favorites. How was it for you?” Asked the woman as she looked up from her reading.

“It wasn’t really something that I got into.” He admitted. “Michael Bennett at your service. Am I speaking to Loreley Sparks?”

“Yes, you are. Please have a seat, Mister Bennett.” Loreley said quietly as she pointed with her open hand towards the vacant chair just like her own. “Would you like some freshly brewed sweet tea?”

“That would be great! Thank you.”

Bennett let out a slight gasp as his hand touched Loreley’s fingers while taking the glass offered to him. It wasn’t like he had touched skin, however, but more like an ice-cold puff of air and it sent a chill through his whole body. He was sure that Loreley heard, if not felt, his reaction because a sly smile parted her thin lips.

As tactfully as possible, he recovered from the awkward moment by commenting, “This is a really nice place you have here. It is nothing like what was on the satellite images.”

“Thank you so very much. We put a lot of work into maintaining it and keeping the property as it was originally. As for the images that modern technology presented to you, I cannot explain.”

“Modern Technology?” Bennett asked after noting the hint of disdain in Loreley’s voice.

“You might say that I am a bit old-fashioned in that regard. People have become entirely too dependent on what they get from computers and satellites when they test for signs of deception. They should instead be questioning their...Perception of things! You make your own reality after all is said and done.”

“You’re talking about Cognitive Bias.”

Upon seeing the lift of a single eyebrow, Bennett explained, “It’s like when people go to a supposedly haunted house. They expect to see ghosts and if their belief is strong enough, they do.”

“I see. I suppose that you don’t believe in ghosts?”

“Never met one.”

“That you know of.”

Looking up at the fragrant blue and white blossoms, Loreley asks her doubting visitor, “What month is it?”

Temporarily stunned by the breakneck change in the direction of the conversation Michael stutters, “February, why do you ask that?”

“These flowers don’t bloom until just before Easter or Early April in this area. How do you account for them doing so now?”

“Climate change.” He said with a sarcastic grin.

With an indignant scowl, Loreley looks at the real estate developer as her eyes grow dark. “And what of this house that you so admire? What if it were nothing but a facade?”

“I would say that whoever built it did a damn good job!”

“Indeed. Then why don’t you look inside and find out for sure?”

When the man hesitated, Loreley insisted, “Get up and look for yourself, Mister Bennett!”

Seemingly under a spell that moved his limbs without his control, Bennett did get up from his chair and placed himself before the ornately carved wood entrance. The door swung slowly wide open and revealed a scene of crumbling degeneration with gnarled trees and leafless bushes pushed up through broken floorboards.

Almost instantly, Bennett was assaulted by the overwhelming stench of putrefaction amid a cloud of blowflies that swarmed at his face. He painfully fell hard onto his back, unable to take another breath and heaving. Everything was swirling around him and a loud buzzing bored into his skull.

When after what seemed to be hours he finally recovered his senses, Bennett looked through blurry eyes at the stygian world he had become part of. The once pristine Georgian Style mansion was now a fallen pile of rubble and rotted timbers.

Water dripped like rain from branches draped with moss where the stagnant-smelling fog had condensed. Night had fallen and the only light was an ethereal glow that appeared to fade in and out as it moved among the trees and bushes as if it were a living thing.

With every bit of strength that Michael Bennett could push into his muscles, he managed to turn onto his side. He nearly bumped his nose on the skeletonized shins with tattered bits of grey, rotting flesh hanging on them. Just beyond this hideous vision, his eyes came for a brief moment into focus. Standing there, smiling with dreadful satisfaction, was his wife.

***

“Hell on Earth”. That is what locals call this hundred-some-odd-acre tract of swampland alongside the Sulfur River.

It wasn’t enough that it was insufferably hot and humid here, even on the coldest days of winter. It was not just the swarms of Yellow Flies waiting to take a chunk out of you and leave a crippling or deadly disease behind. It was, of course, the infernal lair of Loreley, and that by itself was enough to keep smarter people steering far clear of the area.

Sheriff Gonsalves considered all this and felt guilty about sending his Deputies into such a place to search for Michael Bennett. The wealthy Real Estate Developer, however, was well-connected in Austin and was also the Son-in-Law of Thomas “Big Tom” Hempstead, whose family had basically owned much of the state for decades. It was, therefore, a convenient excuse for Gonsalves to wait for the Oil and Gas Magnate’s arrival outside the gate to the old estate.

The acreage the sheriff stood in front of had not always been cursed. Back before the “War of Northern Aggression” it had been prime river bottom farmland. The Carpetbagger James Sparks had married the sixteen-year-old Loreley Olson to get his grubby hands on it after the girl had been orphaned by a combination of the war and typhus.

The prosperity that such holdings rendered to Sparks were short-lived, however. Not long after he replaced the old farm with a grand estate, he returned home drunk and belligerent from a night in town and argued with his young and pregnant wife.

The confrontation turned violent and the resulting beating that Loreley received caused her to lose her unborn child. According to the story, when her husband came back some days later from a business trip to Houston, Loreley met him in the parlor with the fetus in one bloody hand, and a razor-sharp Butcher Knife in the other.

Loreley was a slight girl and weak from blood loss. Her husband’s entire body would have been far too cumbersome for her to drag all the way down to the river. So she proceeded to put the large blade to its intended use. The alligators that dwelt in the nearly impenetrable riverside swamps would dine especially well that night. At least, that was the plan.

Suffering near total exhaustion, Loreley stepped too close to the river’s muddy water to heave the last of Sparks’ remains into it, slipped, and fell in. Without the strength to extricate herself, she drowned. Thus began the Legend of Loreley.

The Sheriff’s reverie was suddenly broken by the sound of a large SUV’s tires crunching gravel. Tom Hempstead may have lived up to his “Big” nickname in his youth, but not now. The Suit that climbed out of the “Rich Man’s Toy” seemed a bit too large for the withered old man it was draped on.

Gonsalves walked up and asked, “Mister Hempstead?”

“Yes.” said the man as he ignored the hand presented to him to shake in the traditional gentleman’s greeting. “What’s the status of your search?”

Not surprised by the gesture, or lack of it, the county’s Chief Law Enforcer dropped his hand and said bluntly, “Still lookin’.”

“Why out here?”

“Cell pinged to this approximate location.” Even though he knew the answer to his next question, Gonsalves asked anyway, “Did your daughter accompany you?”

It had been all over the news that Tamara Hempstead/Bennett had tried to kill herself after learning of her husband’s infidelity. She was in a coma for the last three months since then. It was, therefore, not surprising that Tom responded to his “Pop Quiz” by glowering angrily and grunting out, “No.”

Just as the Sheriff started to continue his Question and Answer with Hempstead, the Cell on his hip buzzed. Over the crackle of heavy interference came the voice of Sergeant Edwards, “We found ‘im, Sheriff. Or, what’s left of ‘im. Right where you said it would be in the ruins of the old house. Looks like Loreley got another one.”

“You sure about that ID?”

“The wedding ring on this lopped-off hand we found is real unusual and matches the one that was pictured on the bulletin.”

“Got it. Send the coordinates to me and I’ll send in the CSI people when they get here.”

“Sending now.”

“Who or what the Hell is Loreley?” the old man asked in a more conciliatory, quivering squeak of a voice.

Gonsalves confirmed receipt of the GPS before turning a sideways look in Hempstead’s direction. “I take it you haven’t heard of our most famous of local residents.”

With no answer forthcoming from his guest, Gonsalves continued, “Loreley is the vengeful spirit who haunts these woods and carves up like a Christmas Turkey any of us male-type individuals who abuse the trust of their significant other.”

“Bullshit!”

“May be BS sir, but there’s a lot of folks around here that believe it.” The Sheriff points to a large heap of stones rounded and smoothed by the river. “For instance, that pile over there is considered to be a kind of altar to Loreley.

“Spurned and/or abused women take a rock from the river and leave a note explaining their situation and hoping that Loreley will take care of business for them. To sweeten the request, it is a tradition to leave money.”

Turning his eyes skyward in incredulity, Hempstead grumbles, “Why doesn’t somebody just move the rockpile?”

“It’s been done. They show back up like they were never disturbed a day or two later.

“Anyways, most folks these days don’t walk around with dollars and change in their pocket, there’s quite a bit of plastic now that gets shoved among the rocks.

“Like this credit card we found with your daughter’s name on it.”

The End

October 25, 2023 16:55

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2 comments

David Sweet
14:29 Oct 30, 2023

Awesome ending! Is this based in actual local legend? Your dialogue is very good as is the progression of the story: a mix of local legend and your own imagination, I suppose? If so, we'll done. Very entertaining.

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Eugene McLean
18:33 Oct 30, 2023

I grew up in East Texas and my "Southern Gothic" writing is heavily influenced by those stories and legends. I also had a German Grandfather who related the myths and legends of his homeland to me when I was young including "The Loreley". One of my favorite bands is also German, Lord Of The Lost. They came out with their reiteration of the legend which brought it all back to me which I "Americanized". https://youtu.be/ai3LrJ2MPSs?si=YfqqoVLK-rhL4OLY

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