Find more from this author on:
About the author:
Lorain O’Neil is the author of Coquina Hard [Historical Fiction Standalone], Alien Advantage [Humorous Adventure Standalone], The Dangerous Path of Loving Jaesha [Very Dark Erotic Humorous Standalone Thriller], Angelique Rising [Humorous Standalone Dark Thriller], A Kiss From Moët [Humorous Paranormal Standalone Romance], The Liar Charms [Humorous Standalone Thriller], and co-author of Bedmonsters are Cool [Humorous Standalone Fantasy], and Firecrystal Deep [Humorous Romantic Suspense] all available on Amazon.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The screaming around her was deafening as Moët managed to shove her driver’s license and cash deeply into her blouse, the only things she hoped to save if she survived. The jet did another full spin in its death plunge as it careened downward to oblivion. Blurs flew past Moët in the aisle: a cart, carry-on luggage, a pet carrier.
Soon… merde!.. she knew. The crash.
She wished she wasn’t alone as she gripped her knees, wished she had somebody else’s knees to grip instead, even the underpowered moron she’d dated the past week who always fell asleep right afterwards and was proud of it, as in her terror she faced—
The impact was beyond deafening, it was cataclysmic, annihilating. Moët was thrown, smashed, hurtled, it wouldn’t stop. It went on… and on… sounding like the airplane itself was screaming in death throes as it was torn apart. And then, miraculously, after eternity, stillness. Stillness.
She was alive!
Moët opened her mouth and got a mouthful of something that wasn’t air. Kee YAW! Rendered almost senseless she spat it out and sucked in another just as she recognized it from the gritty texture on her tongue.
Boue pourrie! Mud. Get away from it her disbelieving mind shrieked and she pushed herself up, wobbling, cursing that long late boozy dinner at the airport before takeoff. In her haywired jumbled mind there was no dimension about her –but then somehow she was standing, standing in a place that couldn’t be.
It was silent, no noise at all. She recognized the place (or at least its type), she’d grown up in this kind of place, loved it, and after all they had been on the approach path to land when the plane had started its wild gyrations. In her first choked gulping breath Moët registered an acrid smell, so out of place in her beloved sweet southern swampland. But the dank night air stunk of it, smoky burning fuel, so her horror-struck eyes immediately started scanning, searching for the source.
She was in a peat wallow she saw instantly, by day a majestic braided channel no doubt ringed by colonies of roosting white ibis pruning their regal plumage and by night a bewitching otherworld of unequaled primordial beauty. But not on this night. On this night swaths of fires were burning the tall swamp sedges to inferno, water was boiling up from unknown immolation and giant pieces of macabre sculptures were strewn about the rushes smoldering. Moët only dimly realized they were parts of the jetliner. Why me, God? Zut! As usual God offered no explanations.
Through a mist of terror sound started creeping into her ears but not the night swamp chorus of peepers, crickets, bullfrogs and cicada permanently etched into her soul; instead it was a crackling, shrieking, yelling. Howling. And she was cognizant of it, she felt it –the unseen marsh entity she’d sometimes felt in her childhood (and didn’t believe in at all in her adulthood) was here, was aware of her and wanted something of her. Soc au lait, why does the Cosmos always have it super in for me?
She was standing waist deep in black water, sunk up to her ankles in gooey mud in a sweltering starless night of drenching summer humidity. But she was alive. Moët looked at her hands –she still had them. She reached beneath and felt each leg. She still had them too and to find out if they worked she took a tentative step forward and that’s when something grabbed her ankle and she reeled in shock. Automatically she thrust her hand downward to free herself from whatever swamp creature had hold of her praying it wasn’t Belinda the Beauteous, an ugly-toothed alligator hopelessly addicted to marshmallows fed illegally to her by Moët’s grandmother. (Belinda unfortunately no longer viewed the marshmallows as voluntary but more as her due and was why the crawdad-catchers in the swamp all now packed marshmallows but Moët was not so armed.)
What Moët discovered clutching her tightly by the ankle however was not a swamp gator but something just as shocking, a human hand. There was a person down there! Crap, now she needed to change her underpants. Bad.
She could not see who was below under the water, it was far too dark (darker’n an outhouse bottom ’cause there’s no dark like swamp dark), but whoever it was obviously couldn’t get up, she would have to help them, she shivered involuntarily. Fighting back her dumbstruck hysteria Moët gamely tried to pluck up some courage, reluctantly took a deep breath and plunged under the water scrambling about for the person’s body. She found a chest. She felt forward, shoulders. She placed her hands under the person’s shoulders and pulled. The body was held fast. She tried again. Nothing. Her strength was ebbing and she was out of air, she let go, stood up and sucked in another breath. The hand clasping her ankle was loosening its grip. Ohmygod she babbled to herself mutely, comprehension dawning, whoever was beneath there was drowning. She had to make a decision (never hesitate to do zilch!). Desperate for a reprieve, she made it.
Forgetting her firm belief that self-preservation was far superior to heroics, Moët forced herself back under feeling for the person’s head, finding it. In the dark her trembling fingers fumbled for the lips and nose and found those too. She pinched the nose shut, placed her own mouth firmly over the unknown mouth and blew her breath into it hard. She thrust herself back upward into the air, sucked in another breath, dove back down and repeated the maneuver four times, getting dizzy. The person trapped under her incredibly started helping her, opening that mouth widely for her, sucking in the air from her lungs.
But Moët knew she could not keep it up indefinitely, she would pass out. She needed to slow, develop a rhythm she could handle until help came. She needed to calm the trapped person, get them to relax, not need so much oxygen, let her rest a bit between breaths. And she needed to stop maniacally screaming for help every time she came up for air, it was accomplishing nothing. Her calls were simply being swallowed up by the stifling wet night, mingling with other screams and pleading about her in the dark. Moët mentally promised herself that when she got outta there she was granting herself unlimited indulgence in something.
Surely help would come soon she guessed, the airport control tower had to know they’d crashed, maybe had even seen it happen, the crash site known, rescue immanent. This was America! She simply needed to keep this one person alive for the minutes it would take for someone to come and release her from this now top of her list don’t-ever obligations.
Moët took another deep breath and returned but this time she didn’t only kiss the air into the person’s mouth, she stroked their shoulders.
Mon cher she willed her fingers to communicate, I’m not leaving you so enough with les fremeers, okay? She went back up and rested for a few moments. The person below did not respond by a panicked tightening of their grip on her ankle but… waited. She knew they understood you must let me rest. She went back again, gave the air, and started touching the person’s body.
The head was pressed deeply into the mud, only the nose and mouth were now above it. She thought of pulling it up but what if the person had a neck injury? She could kill them right there. The shoulders were broad, probably a man. She passed her hands over the person’s chest –definitely not a woman. A man. She surfaced for air. Her back was hot, searing. She returned, gave another breath continuing her exploration of the man’s body searching for whatever it was that was pinning him to the bottom. As her hands reached his waist, unobstructed, one of his hands scrabbled for hers, finding it. Briefly he squeezed her hand. Both his arms were completely free and working. So why didn’t he budge? She surfaced again. A rest. Another breath. Back down. Breathing into him once again. She knew that being a man the guy probably thought she was groping him, not looking for whatever it was that had him so thoroughly caught.
His waist felt normal though he winced as she was about to touch his hip and then she banged into it, a big hot metallic wall. She surfaced and looked. Stupidly. Her mind could simply not grasp it.
Directly behind her, which she would have easily seen had she looked, was the source of the heat on her back. An engine. A giant round airplane engine, unattached to anything, big enough that several people could have stood in its entrance comfortably. It was huge. She stood gawking at the thing, she had never seen anything like it, not close up anyway. The man’s hand found her ankle again and gently squeezed. Oh shoot she realized hurriedly, this was not a sight-seeing moment. She took a breath and again submerged. There was no way she had the strength to drag the man out from under crushing weight like that. That he was still alive was a miracle –under the engine’s weight his body had probably been forced into the soft mire.
But the engine was certainly continuing to press the guy down into the mud, the reason why his body seemed to have sunk further each time she dove to him. As the engine sank lower it was sucking him under it, burying him alive. Help needed to come. Now.
She surfaced again and saw it. Little lights, in the distance.
“Here!” Moët shrieked, her voice raw. “OVER HERE!”
The hand around her ankle squeezed. Dang! She didn’t want to go back down, the rescuers would not spot her. But she dove, another breath, and quickly resurfaced. The lights were nearer and she could hear shouts, the shouts of men, closer.
“THERE’S A MAN HURT HERE!” she bellowed. The new arrivals were on a boat, an airboat they were gingerly poling their way through the debris and fires. As the men neared she recognized them, their sort anyway, from their shapes, their clothes, their lights, their white rubber fishing boots. They were Cajun frog catchers, or maybe night gator hunters, or some other best-done-quietly-in-the-dark swamp gatherers (she spotted a bag of marshmallows stashed for Belinda in the engine cowling) who’d reached the crash site first, the kind of people Moët liked very much owing to their quite liberal dress codes and manifestly forgiving social requirements. The hand around her ankle squeezed.
“I’ll be right back!” she yelled at the astonished threesome, disappearing back below the black water, reappearing panting.
“He’s wedged! Under that engine! I’ve been breathing for him but I can’t pull him out. You’ve gotta do it because it’s sinking!”
“Dere’s a guy alive under dat? Sa c’est fou!” one of the men called to her in bewilderment.
“Yeah. I gotta give him some air.” She dove back down. When she resurfaced two of the men were in the water.
“Don’t step on his head! His shoulders are there. Pull him out.” Again she dove but this time there was a hand on the back of her head, then another. Both hands started feeling around her face, the man’s face, the man’s shoulders. She reemerged right as two of the frog catchers did the same.
“Mon Dieu!” one of the men was wheezing to the third man still on the boat. “Dere is a guy down dere. An’ he’s alive.”
“Please!” Moët cried out, “drag him out from underneath that engine or he’s gonna be sunk into the mud. Allon!” She submerged again with her mouth on the man’s but was pushed aside by a tangle of arms, arms that were grappling around the man and pulling. And her body, touching the side of the man’s body, felt it. He was moving. It was slow, tugged along only inch by inch, but the moment she thought she should stop them, tell them she needed to give him air, he was pulled free and the whole jumble of men fell away from her, then staggered above the water.
The frog catchers had the man in their arms, he did not seem able to stand as he broke through the water. He was gasping violently, retching almost, flailing his arms combatively, but the men held on. His hair was caked mud and his face was entirely obscured by it, the muddy water had not only not washed it off but seemed to have added an oily layer on top of it. Moët knew from the rasping sounds the man was making he must have his mouth open though in the dark she couldn’t see. And then a little flashlight the frog catcher still on the boat had taped to his hat shown on the man’s eyes and he opened them.
His eyes were like two glowing orbs on a blackened sepulchral face staring straight at her. The frog catcher followed the man’s gaze and in so doing the small light shifted, briefly illuminating Moët’s face.
“Hi,” was all Moët could think to stammer agog at the black silhouette. He blinked. “You were stuck under that engine,” she croaked, pointing behind her but the man’s bright shining eyes reflecting the orange-red flames of nearby fire did not look, but stayed riveted on Moët. He blinked again, staring like some kind of malevolent beast risen from the depths of the quagmire. Monster from the black lagoon she almost laughed. Ghoul.
“Put ’im up here!” the frog catcher on the airboat ordered and the man was hauled away through the water to the airboat. Moët almost called “good luck” after him but an uneasy premonition of disaster –way too late– chilled her and she didn’t.
Suddenly there were motor boats, people shouting, burning searchlights stabbing everywhere, a roar of a helicopter above her and a blinding blue-white spotlight blazing the scene all about her. Moët was immobilized by the brilliantly lit carnage interspersed between water lilies the size of manhole covers.
There was debris everywhere, but not bodies. No, she realized, there wouldn’t be –the flight had been a red-eye with only a handful of passengers. Most of what surrounded Moët was wiring. Mounds and mounds of electrical wiring strung together in thick bundles that had once been an airplane, a modern commercial airliner. A seat bobbed empty in the water next to her. But there were figures moving about too, Moët was definitely not alone. She wanted to scream. And she did. She was twenty-four years old, beckoned back for the first time in eight years since her escape and banishment and while she’d predicted her return to the bayou would be bad she hadn’t expected gruesome.
Bad ju-ju coming back, Moët, she could almost hear Arkady whispering in her ear. Such bad ju-ju, you jus’ don’ learn nuthin, never. Maudit!
A pet carrier floated past, only the back of it above the waterline. Moët heard a weak strangled sound from within it. Pulling it from the water, in the blinding light she peered inside. A half drowned bedraggled cat was there, opened its pink mouth wide and yowled.
Oh little meeno, she bleakly muttered raising the carrier above her to let the water drain out, we’ll be okay. Both of us.
Because I’m home again. Merci, merci, bien bayou, I’m finally home.
“Hoo-wee, crashed right into the swamp and not one person dead!” Arkady grinned in inscrutable delight the next day, “that ol’ bog musta gone soft!”
Moët glowered up at Arkady, simmering, she resented it when the old woman just barged into the bathroom. Moët was soaking in a failed evasion-tactic-bubble-bath knowing that a “just ten minutes” with Arkady could take her into next week.
“It was luck.”
The old woman’s face split into a wide smile.
“Lecoran luck!” she cackled.
Oh crap, not that again Moët rolled her eyes in frustration. There was only one Granmámá Arkady and thank heavens for that. She looked intently at the old woman who was now perched on the closed toilet seat like an underfed vulture (one of her favorite poses) and staring back at Moët just as intently. The aged witch still looked exactly as Moët remembered –an aged witch. Arkady was dressed in layer upon layer of pink, purple, and red paisley silk in a way only Arkady could bring off: an impression of impending explosion but what a beautiful one it would be. A few necklaces jangled around her neck but Moët had long since learned never to ask about them as each one had a story even more preposterous than the last. Arkady’s hair was snow white now, her face lined and fallen but not brown the way so many of the “bayou hags” became, but with skin as rosy white as Moët’s –but always radiating a look of perpetual devilment. And as usual, Arkady seemed to know exactly what Moët was thinking.
“You got the skin of a Lecora, girl. You were pretty at sixteen but now you’re a damned beauty all het up an’ why the blazes did you come back here? You jus’ plain got the bayou too much in your blood, you know what’s gonna happen now, you know.”
“Stop it, Granmámá, I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“Like that’s gonna matter. Word gets out you’re back –unmarried– and you know what’ll happen. You do. And even if you weren’t a Lecora –which you are and if you stay here you sure are gonna be enlightened– they’d still be bangin’ down your door to get to you. Those blue eyes! You’ve got the spirit-eyes of Lecorá herself.”
Moët burst out laughing. “Arkady,” she said slipping back easily into the informality of her youth, “that marsh princess lived hundreds of years ago, how would you know what her eyes looked like?”
“Princess? Lecorá wasn’t any princess!” Arkady snorted. “Some folks still think she was a demon, will think that o’ you too, bein’ a Lecora yourself.”
“I recall a few people calling you a demon, Arkady, and I always took for granted it was well deserved and had nothing to do with you being a Lecora. Which I am not. Now if you don’t mind—”
The doorbell rang.
“It starts,” Arkady frowned. “You’re not still a virgin are you? That would be bad, Moët.”
Knowing there’s never anything to be gained by answering such a question, Moët threw a handful of bubbles at the old woman instead.
“Answer the door, Arkady! It’s probably your nosey old Serkle, come to check me out.”
“Ain’t a circle no more, honey, more like a triangle.”
“Je regrette, Arkady. I know they were your friends, I meant to come back for the funerals but—”
“Oh yeesh, that’s all we woulda needed. An unclaimed Lecora at the funerals of dead ones. Woulda been a stampede.” She rose. “Your hair,” she said in the low resonant sound of vague misgivings, “blacker’n a moonless night in the swamp now. And your body –even if you weren’t Lecora a man would go gaga over you, Moët. You need to answer my question. Vous-autres GOGO? Repónn!”
“Mais yah, Granmámá, I had lovers in Connecticut. Now tampri.”
“None of ’em mor’n a few days I’m guessing. So I don’t understand it. You don’t have the look yet, but still, there’s something… like a big bahbin on you. I don’t want you taken by just any man, Moët, look at what happened to poor—”
“ARKADY! No man is going to take me. I am a free person and will choose who I please for what I please! All this Lecora nonsense is just a bunch of old superstition and at your age you should be past it by now. I grew up in that swamp, I know it backwards and forwards and I assure you there’s no gris gris curse on me.” You silly old woman, her expression plainly stated.
There was a pounding on the bathroom window and a shrill birdlike voice.
“Arkady you old fart! I know Moët’s back, you’ve got her in there, you dôn open the door right now I’ll sick the Hammock boys on both o’ you!”
The Serkle. Now Triangle.
“You’d better let Roslyn in, Arkady,” Moët said knowing Roslyn’s tempers caused even the crustiest shrimpers at the docks to dive for cover. “But count me out ’cause the last thing I need is this débâcle.” Moët loved that word simply because it was the final sum-up her grandmother had said before packing her onto a bus eight years before to a dubiously enthused father. Moët had never been certain if Arkady had been referring to her sudden appearance in her father’s life, or, her sudden disappearance from the parishes. For Moët it had been the jolting realization that she was leaving her marshlands, mangroves, tupelos, nurseries of bebette, her bayou birthright soul.
“Insufferable gasbag!” Arkady lobbed at the window as she left the bathroom.
Moët could see she’d been right, her coming back was going to be bad, get everything all riled up. Well tough she fumed as her grandmother was surprisingly considerate enough to close the bathroom door as she exited. This was Moët’s house now, she had a right to be here and nobody had a right to mess with her. Her maternal grandmother had left it to her (since her mother had died at her birth) and by golly she was going to live in it and make a life for herself, she’d never wanted to leave in the first place. No one was going to chase her out again. She wasn’t sixteen anymore, if that Hammock boy tried to bother her again she’d kick his freakin’ butt. In court. Where it would hurt. She’d make him chew rouge.
The Bar exam was in one day and she already had her first lawyer job lined up –at the courthouse. Didn’t matter how powerful that Hammock creep was, nothing in the three parishes topped the power of the judges and she was going to make damn sure she became one of their darlings. Un-freakin-touchable. She was free now, no more school ever, she was, for the first time in her life, going to PAR-TEE.
But ah, right now she was being rude by not drying off and going to greet that other old witch, Roslyn, who would also no doubt be full of that you’re-a-Lecora nonsense too. Oh the rich legends and superstitions of the bayou and especially of the three parishes. But it had been that #[email protected]! legend of Lecorá that had been responsible for driving Moët out of her treasured bayou, away from the balmy summer dawns, color-streaked hushed twilights, and the gloriously discordant cacaphony of nocturnal voices that every night sang for her to the stars.
She tried to rise but did hurt from the crash. Moët was bruised and sore so instead of getting up and doing what she should she simply laid back in the hot water, closed her eyes and drifted away. The legend of Lecorá. Such addlebrained malarkey. Lecorá probably hadn’t even had blue eyes. Oh, ridiculous, she never even existed.
The legendary Lecorá, Moët mused sourly, who nevertheless had managed hundreds of years later to so devastatingly intervene in Moët’s life. Supposedly Lecorá had been like Moët, a young girl of the swamp, free, unfettered; some whispered she was the daughter of a fairy and a mortal, others that she was the daughter of a witch. All versions of the legend said that the swamp loved her, for her beauty, wanted her for itself, and to entice her shared with her its powerful magic. But the day came when a handsome suitor arrived and asked for her hand –if she would forsake the marsh and never dwell there again. Instead he would build her a house on the edge of a great lake, a lake the swamp despised for stealing its water and for its openness, purity and light. And so Lecorá left, marrying well, in freedom and love, and wishing that for her daughters too. So she bequeathed the magic the swamp had given her upon her daughters, and their daughters, in a gift –the gift of their kisses. A kiss from a daughter of Lecorá would bind a man forever, in happiness and love, and bestow upon him fabulous luck in return.
But the swamp was angry at the departure of Lecorá, at the betrayal, and decided to punish her terribly. It poured itself into the largest, oldest alligator in its midst and traveled to her lake at last spotting her one moonlit night alone in a small rowboat gliding across the lake after digging wild lily bulbs. It seized the boat, sank it, and was about to devour her, but the lake hated the swamp as much as the swamp hated the lake and came to her defense. In a great wave, the lake threw Lecorá upon a large rock at its center and swept the gator away every time it tried to reach her.
“I cannot take back the magic I gave you,” the swamp alligator finally hissed at her, “but I am swampland eternal and I can putrefy that which came from me and this I do. Your daughters’ kisses will not bind a man to them forever but will bind your daughters to the man forever! Your daughters shall be taken, and have no freedom! Their husbands shall be like this cursed rock you stand upon –they will protect but also shall they confine. This is your legacy to them.”
Craperoo, Moët scoffed, but so many people believed it. Since antiquity, if a beautiful woman in the three parishes married a man and that man did well, she must be a descendant of Lecorá with the lucky magic, or desolating curse, depending on which side of the wedding aisle you were on. It would have been funny except when the rumor started that she was a Lecora and that idiot, Norway Hammock, had come up with a plan to kidnap her, force her to kiss him, and marry her. And Arkady had had to pack her off tout de suite to her distant father in Connecticut. That godrotting legend had cost her everything, her home, the bayou, condemned her to a perpetual homesick rootless feeling of not here, wrong place, not me…
But as Moët soaked in her bubble bath, a brooding unwelcome fear nevertheless began growing in her that there was indeed an awful lot of curious rigmarole regarding the rare women who’d been branded Lecora. It was difficult to explain away. Then again she could bask happily in the self-satisfaction that she was a known born swamp rat and no man could ever take her and no one would ever again boot her out of her wetlands home.
But there was no denying that the men who married a Lecora, without exception, were bombarded with phenomenally good luck.
Screw it, she said to herself. I’ll just go on being my misbehaving little burglar masked chaoui self. Lecora be damned.
It was a comfortable thing to believe.