Loup Garou Tale
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Everyone down the bayou knows of the loup garou.
Some poor soul missed too many masses or failed to make a Lenten sacrifice. For the next 101 days, the loup garou transforms from a human to wolf, following the phases of the moon. If they tell someone what has happened to them, the curse is passed to the person told.
Along the bayou, the loup garou is used to threaten and cajole the little ones into being good. The old ones would say, “If you not good, the Loup Garou will eat you.” They gave hazy descriptions of teeth and red eyes and make big bad wolf growls. When we were little, we would promise to be good then designate the oldest to keep watch in case the beast made a sneak attack.
Every family had a different version of the story. The one I remember best was told by my Grand'Mere after long days of summer mischief. She would begin, “there was a small community along a back bayou, who made their livings from the fish and the animals they trapped.”
A widow, who repaired nets for her neighbors, had a son who was wild and headstrong. His antics made his neighbors miserable. Tangled nets, missing boats and empty traps were his milder escapades. No matter how much his mother prayed for him, no matter how much he was punished, he continued to lie, cheat and steal.
Though no one would have said it aloud, few along the bayou would have been sorry to see him disappear down a gator hole.
One autumn night, after a day of full traps, someone began boiling crabs and the whole neighborhood joined in. They played guitars and sang loudly, almost drowning out the jackhammer croaking of the frogs. Silly jokes led to sillier stories soon ending laughter echoing across the bayou.
The wind shifted. Passing clouds dimmed the huge moon for a moment. The bayou became still. One remarked about the sudden quiet and everyone listened for a boat or some other reason for the change. No raucous frogs or crickets, just eerie silence.
They tried to shrug the strangeness away. The mothers said that it was late and gathered dishes to put away. A low howl came across the water, low and rumbling. They looked at each other and began to work a little faster.
The cry came again, this time rising in pitch until it raised the hair of everyone there. No lonely coyote cried like that. Coming from the left, then right, ahead, then behind, the call gathered the people into a tight circle. They wasted no more time in discussing the origin of the sound. They ran into their houses, locked the windows and closed out the night. They sang soft prayers. They kissed the little ones safely to sleep.
But the bed of the bad boy was empty. He had gone out to poach the traps of the others. His mother prayed all night, crying deep inside her heart. She knew he would not be back.. The next morning there was no sign of him or his little boat.
For the sake of the woman, they set aside their fear and searched the back channel and wooded areas. They searched until the approach of dusk chased them home. Another night was spent listening quietly behind locked doors. But the howls did not come again and no one saw the boy again.
This story worked its magic on our behavior until our early teens.
It was then the lure of moonlit nights spent running wild on the bayou overcame childish fears of boogiemen or loup garou. With laughter and dares, we brazenly refused to believe.
It was one autumn when the moon passed unusually close to Earth, I once again believed.
Out we went for moonlight fishing, being wild and young. Racing our boats deep into the bayou, we tied to cypress knees as soon as we found dry land. The first to land taunted the followers deeper into the woods, proposing a game of hide and seek. The stark light and deep shadows tricked the eyes and the bayou caused our calls to echo back and forth, confusing distance and direction. Determined to be the last found, I crawled deeper into the brush covering myself with leaves and pine needles.
Escape routes ran through my mind and I imagined sneaking up on the group as they plotted my capture.. A sudden quiet brought me out of these daydreams. No insects, no frogs and no friends called to each other in the dark. Was ambush imminent? I lifted my head just slightly and surveyed the area. Clouds moved across the moon and the shadows deepened.
Back toward the boats, a low growl began. It lengthened into a sort of howl coming from the right, then left, ahead, then behind. Every hair on my body raised and a cold chill began in my stomach. I didn’t want to imagine what would make a sound like that; let alone come face to face with the maker. I began to pray.
A branch broke to my right, the moon reappeared and I thought I could see something. It didn’t move. I hoped that -maybe -it was only a tree. It took a step forward. No, it wasn’t a tree and its outline looked like nothing I had ever seen.
It moved slowly but made no sound. The moon flashed against long, white teeth and glowed red in eyes turned toward the light. It crooned a chilling song then cocked its head and seemed to listen for an answer. Thankfully, none came.
It took a few steps towards me, crouched down and peered around. I held my hands tightly over my mouth, trying to keep the screaming inside me. What I saw was part shadow and part fur and smelled of childhood nightmares. Eyes tightly closed, I prayed over and over. Let it be quick. Let it not hurt. Please make it go away.
Another long howl and I shut down entirely. When I opened my eyes, I was still under the bush. The bayou was noisy again and a. quick glance suggested whatever I had seen was no longer around.
The sun was all the way up before I dared move. I raced fear back to the boats, telling myself it was only a nightmare. I remained unconvinced.
Breakfast was cooking and congratulations were shouted as I came into the campground. Joking, they accused me of returning home and spending a comfortable night indoors. I joked back that they were jealous of my prowess. But that was not how I truly felt. Fear of the thing I had seen sealed the story inside. If I told of the existence of this thing that lived along the edges of belief, I knew in my heart it would be back for me.
So, ma chere, I save this tale for the new moon. Always I tell it with this warning: If you find yourself along some forgotten bayou, with the fullest moon you remember, don’t linger to admire the reflections. You never know what might be just around the next bend.
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