Veiled eyes, p.1
Veiled Eyes, p.1C.L. Bevill
by C.L. Bevill
Published by C.L. Bevill
Copyright ©2010 & 2012
by Caren L. Bevill
Twenty-Three Years Ago
They say that it is dangerous to speak aloud of an expected baby. If the fairies hear of the child’s coming, they might be tempted to steal it at the moment of its birth. Instead, old women whisper that an expecting mother should refer to her baby as something so trivial that no discerning fae would dare mess with it.
The young woman climbed out of her rusting car. She held onto the doorframe and stared intently at the dilapidated cottage in front of her. It hadn’t changed in the months that she had been gone and full darkness couldn’t conceal its present flaws. It was a three-room cottage with peeling paint and several broken windows covered by duct tape and cardboard. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and the rotting carcass of an unidentifiable vehicle rested to one side.
The lack of light and the absence of the truck showed the young woman that the cottage was empty. She brushed chestnut hair from her forehead, and her blue eyes focused on the task at hand. She’d driven half the day from Baton Rouge to come to this tiny speck of a town to deliver a message. She’d braved the idiosyncrasies of an unreliable vehicle and an infrequently traveled road. She hadn’t wanted to do it. She was quivering with trepidation inside, but there was still a nagging sense of honor that had forced her to come.
Petite and slender, she smoothed her shirt down in front and carefully shut the car door with a slight noise. For months she had been living in a Catholic women’s shelter in Baton Rouge and the nuns there had convinced her that she had to perform this task. One in particular had been persistently adamant. “They have the right to know,” the sister had said. “Unless you think you would be in danger.”
Danger? The young woman hesitated beside the car. Isn’t all life dangerous? When she had met her husband two years earlier, she knew that there was something wild and primitive about him. Living in the back of beyond only added to that perception. The cottage sat along the bluff of a lake with creeping ivy and Spanish moss dangling from each oak tree. Cypresses emerged from algae-covered waters like the legs of giants.
It was a world beyond her reckoning. Coming from a middle-class family in Natchitoches, the comparison was a one hundred eighty degree turnaround. The people in this place were poor, some worse off than others. But they were proud and isolated. Welcoming outsiders went against their grain, especially someone like the young woman, someone who married one of their own too fast, too swift to retract or counteract against. The priest came to her days after the wedding and spoke solemnly to her, warningly, in a manner that she didn’t understand. At least she hadn’t understood then.
She understood now. Touching the car’s pitted exterior, she looked at a saint medallion that hung from her rear-view mirror. Dressed in her best clothing, she licked her lips and tried to collect her strength. She didn’t have to face her husband yet. She could walk to that favored place overlooking the bayous and search for strength.
Looking into the back seat of her car, she knew she had a half-hour or so before she would be needed. So she vanished into the tranquil shadows, breathing in the scent of forest and bayou, understanding that she had missed the stillness of a place that didn’t move like maddened bees.
And when she reached the place where she had regularly met her lover, she stopped to listen to the night’s denizens. Before long, she also realized that someone must have seen her come through the small town and that someone had rushed to meet her. She was no longer alone in the darkness, and there was no one to hear her scream.
* * *
A man pulled his truck up to the ramshackle cottage and stopped the engine. He stopped ten feet from his door and stared at the car that was parked in front of his home. He didn’t recognize it. Louisiana plates were mounted on the back, and a parking sticker stated Baton Rouge College. He paused, and his face wrinkled into confusion. His wife had fled from his horrid temper six months before, and she had relatives in Baton Rouge. Could it be?
Then there was a cry, not unlike a small injured animal. His head shot up, and he looked around frantically. “Who’s dere?” he called. “Who’s playing games?”
But there was no one there. His head dropped again, and the noise came once more. A soft cry in the darkness, something was begging for assistance. His head swiveled slowly toward the car. He took a tottering step toward it and peered inside. He saw the saint medal first and muttered under his breath. “Arette?” Then there was a movement from the back seat that caught his eye. What he saw there made him gasp with shock.
A car seat was attached to the passenger side facing backwards. He opened the driver’s door and leaned in. The baby in the car seat gurgled at him.
The tiny light that had come on with the car door being opened showed him that the baby’s small thatch of hair was jet black and that the tiny eyes that stared at him were the burnished shade of gilt.
“Ah sweet Dieu,” he prayed. Realization flooded through him, a realization that escaped him until that very second. He knew what he had to do. He would protect her child even though he hadn’t been able to protect her, even from himself. “Please forgive me.”
Sunday, December 14th – The Present
Old lore dictates that seeing the front of a black cat is lucky and the back of a black cat distinctly unlucky.
She cocked the thumb of one hand as she stood at the entrance ramp to Interstate 20 and gathered her coat closer with the other hand. Although it was Texas, Anna St. Thais was chilled by a northern wind. The local meteorologists were calling it an arctic blast and warning people to bundle up.
The truth was, Anna was lucky she had the coat. In addition to the coat and the clothes on her back, all she had left was a backpack stuffed with a few meager possessions from her car before it had been repossessed in Midland. The repo man had generously allowed her two minutes to collect her goods. So in two minutes she had taken what she considered most precious; all the clothing she could grab and stuff in the pack, a coat because the weather was threatening to bite, a Bible, her wallet, and the scratched Wayfarers perched on her nose because they had always brought her luck.
A week later, on her way out of Abilene, she had been robbed. Some clever thief was probably still counting the twelve hundred dollars she had in her wallet. She remembered the man brushing up against her in the bus station with a halting and seemingly sincere apology and chastised herself for not knowing what he’d done. He’d even pinched the Greyhound tickets, a little Christmas cheer to make her day and his too.
So Anna didn’t have a driver’s license or any other form of identification, nor more than twenty-three cents to her name. She had her thumb and a friend in New Orleans who would help her get back on her feet. Certainly, she could call Jane in the Big Easy. Jane had spent years with her in the orphanage, as well as in two foster homes. They had banded together like warriors in a supreme conflict and come out the stronger for it. Jane had a restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter and made money now, an almost obscene amount of money, a testament to her personal determination. Jane even had a friend who was willing to give Anna a job as a personal favor. But Anna was reluctant to allow her friend to see how dire her straits had become. She’d already asked so much of her closest friend.
So here I am. Hitchhiking. That’s much better than calling my friend for help, she thought caustically. I can starve for a day or two. No biggie.
Anna adjusted her Wayfarers on the tip of her nose. She knew she didn’t look like much. Five
Given her profession, she wished she weighed fifty pounds more and had a foot more in height. Getting work was difficult unless the man hiring had an open mind. Usually they didn’t, or they wanted favors.
Stupid. Anna considered. I’m a better mechanic than ninety percent of the men I know. I could strip an engine in an hour and put it back together in two. Running better than ever. Her mechanic abilities hadn’t been the problem at the last job. The manager hadn’t cared if she were a woman or not. He had questioned her closely on her ASE certifications, asked her knowledgeable questions about various tasks that she would perform, and given her the job. The pay wasn’t great but included the back room that had a clean bed and a clean bathroom. It wasn’t bad. Not a cockroach in sight…until the manager’s son had shown up.
Because the son had wanted the job to go to a friend of his, he sabotaged Anna. Dropped an auto lift on her, all the while professing innocence. Then he got really nasty, dumping a barrel of recycled oil on the floor while she was under a Toyota and then slammed a hood on her fingers. Anna glanced down at her left hand. She still had a straight half-healed cut running across the upper part of her fingers.
Bruised but not broken, she had shown the manager’s son that she wasn’t going to put up with a load of his crap. A dropped transmission on his chest while Anna peered through the engine compartment got his undivided attention. Later that night she’d used a pipe wrench to dissuade him from doing her bodily damage in retribution. Of course, he’d lost two teeth and would be eating his meals with a straw for the next month. But that hadn’t actually stopped him. It had been her foot planted solidly in his groin that had brought him to his knees. Played soccer for ten years, bucko. Know how to kick.
However, that was the end of that job. Anna agreed not to file charges against the manager’s son in exchange for her last week’s paycheck. Nor would the manager’s son be filing charges against her, if she left town soonest.
The wind began to howl. Anna blinked underneath the sunglasses. It felt like it had dropped ten degrees in a moment. There was a large truck stop sitting kitty-corner to where she was standing. Open twenty-four hours a day, it proclaimed in orange neon so that truckers could see it from miles away.
Anna had spent the last hour in the restaurant with a bottomless cup of coffee trying to fill the ache in her stomach until a waitress had cocked a thumb at the door. The waitress thought Anna looked like a hooker. Glancing down, Anna couldn’t agree. The jeans were tight but old. The T-shirt was clean but worn. The leather coat was probably as old as she was, something she’d obtained in a flea market years before. Ragged Nikes on her feet didn’t look like stiletto-heel boots. And she didn’t even have any makeup to her name, much less any painted on her face.
The word the waitress would have used would be desperate. Anna could read it like she was speaking it. She was thinking, “The girl’s desperate.” It was that sixth sense that came to Anna sometimes. That little bit of something that told her what song would be played next on the radio or when to buy a scratch-off lottery ticket, which never got her more than a hundred bucks. But sometimes it worked with people, although it hadn’t with the pickpocket. But it was a beacon on the older woman’s face. So Anna left.
Anna parked herself in a convenient location for someone coming from the truck stop to be able to pick her up. Truckers tended to pick up more hitchhikers. But a girl had to be careful.
Screwing up her face, Anna grimaced. Three big rigs had already passed her up.
Her little helper, as she called it, was getting a little wonky lately. Her second sight wasn’t as Johnny-on-the-spot as she needed it to be, especially as it related to the people who stopped to offer her rides. She’d had about twenty rides from Abilene to here. Mostly from people who were not going far. There had been a few truckers who’d stopped for the night or for other reasons. Overall, she’d refused three. They had a certain vibe coming from them. But she wasn’t getting that feeling anymore. The last man, who had deposited her at the truck stop and headed due north, had suggested she come along and participate in a threesome with his wife. Anna had threatened to jump out of the truck, but he actually slowed down enough to let her get out, cursing at her for being a “little straight-laced princess.”
Not exactly the worst insult I’ve ever had, Anna decided. He had a dead-miss in his engine, and she was glad she hadn’t shared any mechanical expertise with him. Despite the weirdness, Anna was a little freaked that she hadn’t gotten an inkling from the man. Not even a little tickling feeling of danger; something that told her the man wasn’t to be trusted. She usually had a pretty good personal ruler for that. True, he hadn’t attacked her, but just the same she should have had that feeling.
Instead, if she began to lose her concentration there was an odd picture that popped into her head. A lake. A huge lake with fingers of water stretching out into deep woods. A lake with water blacker than night even in the brightest of day. There were dozens of cypress trees growing in the lake, tall and proud, the legs of a Titan walking through a sea of darkness. Their branches were laden with Spanish moss, like angel’s hair draped over twisted fingers. She could feel the air that was heavy and pregnant with moisture. There was a compulsion to reach up and wave away an annoying gnat or mosquito. An aura of expectation. Of longing.
They are waiting for me. He is waiting for me. He is. Waiting.
Anna shook her head violently. Who the hell is waiting for me? She ran a cold hand over her face. She’d never been this far east before. She had lived in West Texas her whole life, in a world of dry earth, of dusty winds, and warm nights where coyotes howled at the night sky. Far away, at the edge of Fort Worth, the world changed rapidly. Even in winter, it was greener than West Texas. Even with leaves still falling and blowing to every corner, the world had become more humid. The bite of the wind only emphasized the moisture in the air.
There was the strangest feeling of déjà vu. Anna shook her head again. If she let her mind wander, that odd image would come to her again. The lake. The black lake. And the man who was thinking about her. His thoughts seemed to be linked with hers. With his manly thoughts and his manly manner and his manly dreams. Dreams that sometimes embarrassed Anna to the core.
She hadn’t been sleeping well the last few weeks, almost from the day she’d left El Paso and headed east. She tried to justify the insomnia, attributing not being able to sleep the last two days to being worried about what crazy person would next offer her a ride. But every time she closed her eyes there was something very peculiar, even for Anna, who believed in the otherworldly, and that was the real cause. She was rotten with fatigue and afraid of what was going to manifest itself next in her mind’s eye.
A large rig pulled out of the truck stop with its diesel engine reverberating. The driver had spent the last half-hour getting a fill-up and having something checked under the immense hood of the vehicle. She perked up as he climbed aboard the truck and slowly began to move out, clearly headed east.
Anna looked up into his face and saw that he wore a baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses. Then she glanced at his truck and almost stepped back. It was a Peterbilt. She knew that much about trucks. It was one of the older models that had the long snout-like metal shroud for the engine. It extended outward like an animal’s mouth and had an extra-decorative feature that accentuated it. The shiny metal add-on was attached to the front of the grill, framing it appropriately. It was the shape of a snarling set of teeth with large canines ready to rip and tear. The truck had a mouth on its grill ready to bite down on its next quarry. Except in this case, its prey was already in its mouth.
The truck driver had attached a Barbie doll to the grill, right in the middle in the widest part o
The truck rumbled to a stop just in front of Anna, and she noticed that the rest of the Peterbilt was black. Black like the color of the lake in her imagination. At least she thought it was her imagination. A deep, glossy black that didn’t seem to reflect anything. The chrome words that indicated the make of the truck were attached to the metal shroud, but there wasn’t anything else painted on the side to display the company and town of origin. Only the front license plate showed the truck to be from Louisiana.
Louisiana is good. At least I know he’s headed for the right state.
The driver waved at her. Waved her over to the passenger door. Anna hesitated. She waited for that feeling to come, for the little Barbie doll to talk to her, to tell her why she was wired to the grill in the middle of a snapping dog’s jaws. She ground her teeth together and demanded the feeling to come. All she got was a brief vision in her head. A man’s hand was reaching for the wheel of a small boat. It was a strong hand, a tanned hand. He was a man who was whistling a tune, some tune that she couldn’t quite place. She’d heard it before, something that sounded happily Cajun. No, not quite happy. Wistful. Not discontent either. But wishing for something he didn’t have, something that was on the edge of his consciousness. You, something said. I want you. And a shiver of comfortable warmth swept through her body.
Then it was gone. The truck driver was staring down at her, white teeth in a friendly grin. Anna broke herself free. She was cold, and the sun was starting to head down for the count. She took a step up on the Peterbilt and opened the passenger door with a tired grunt. “I’m going to New Orleans,” she said clearly. “Appreciate a ride as far as you go in that direction. And I’m not a hooker.”
The man laughed abruptly. “Darling, I didn’t think you were. As a matter of fact, you look like a little lady down on her luck. Going to Shreveport, sugar. You can catch a ride down 49 to Interstate 10, which will get you all the way to New Orleans, sure ‘nough.” He drawled out the city’s name, saying, “N’ah leens.” Then he sighed. “Get in before that cold does my bones in. I ain’t gonna eat you up.” He held up two fingers like a Boy Scout. “Swear on my old black and tan’s grave.”
Veiled Eyes by C.L. Bevill / Fantasy have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes