In that same silver paradise of shimmering night, as an alligator bellowed, mosquitoes hummed, and green tree frogs chirped….a million crickets rubbed their wings together and sang.
By Jeffrey LeBlanc
Marie and Paul Galatoire stared on a skull white moon. The young couple saw its reflection as silver ripples on the ebony waters of the Atchafalaya River. They playfully had went for a stroll up to the river’s banks.
A long vacation in the country had brought them to this place of peace. Both were feeling the exhilaration of youth. Both the slight fatigue of a great meal. Great wine and a fragrant feast of spiced garlic sausage, onions, lemons, and, of course steaming crawfish, had in a way drawn them on out to walk and further enjoy the scenic beauty.
And maybe another drop or two of sweet red wine.
“Oh it’s such a beautiful sight honey?” she said.
“Oh, a wonderful adventure! I’m so glad we went down the bayou for this getaway.”
“Yes, it has been a great one.” Then he continued with a grin and shrug, “Oh, on the getaway, me too,” he said.
They heard a creaking sound back at the restaurant behind them. From the direction of the sound, light cast flickering shadows as moths danced in and between lamp lights. It had been a rickety screen door on the camp porch. The screen door had creaked open and then shut. From that door, a shadow lurched forward down the gravel path towards the river.
Marie curiously glanced over her tanned shoulder.
Seeing her puzzled look, Paul inquired without turning, “Well, you know I’m going to ask curious cat. Who is it?”
“You remember the old fellow eating in the restaurant?” Marie asked.
Paul replied, “Yes. The really tall guy. Purplish mark on the side his face.”
“That’s him walking out this way. There goes our privacy.”
The lurching figure made it to the water’s edge within the briefest of time. He intensely stared out on the moon’s silver horizon cast across the water. He stood as an ancient oak adjacent to the nearby river’s shoreline.
He didn’t speak or look at them. Just continued to stare across the river at the distant woods.
“I wonder what he’s thinking, bae. Do you think we should talk to him?” whispered Marie. “He looks so lonely the old man.”
Leaning in to whisper, “I don’t know. These days you never know what kind of nuts are around.” They looked at the mighty moving river again. Paul pulled his wife in close and slipped an arm around her waist.
“Do…you… hear…them?” The man with the purple spot asked. His voice a low almost guttural growl.
“Are you talking to us, sir?” Paul asked politely.
The purple marked tall man turned and looked at them. His eyes appeared with a silver glitter in the moonlight.
“I asked about their song. I asked if you heard them,” The guttural voice croaked the words.
With a hesitation not to offend the man Paul asked, “Umm, who is singing? Who are you talking about?”
“The crickets that’s who.” A palpable rage in the old man’s voice that Paul took to be directed at him.
So with a knowing nod between them—he’s nuts, the couple stood quietly.
As the time went on the music of the crickets grew ever louder. Their songs a wave of natural rhythm.
After a little interlude Marie couldn’t help break the silence between the couple and the man.
“Oh, these crickets. Such wonderful creatures of Nature. Peaceful and tranquil they are,” Marie was making conversation with the old man. He seemed a troubled soul to her.
“Peaceful and…tranquil?” Venom dripped from his voice saying the words. The man turned away to leave.
Then just after planning his exit, he turned back and paused. Slowly purple mark man turned back and came lurching over to them.
“John Avery is my name,” he said, “Sorry if I was a little curt with you.”
Paul replied, “No worries. Paul Galatoire. This is my wife Marie.” Then after the replies were done, uncomfortable silence.
And the crickets sang on with the occasional bellow of a distant alligator, hum of mosquitos, and chirps of green tree frogs.
“Such a lovely night,” Marie offered. “Isn’t it Paul?”
“How wonderful it would be if it weren’t for them,” interrupted John Avery. He pointed out to the swamp and fields across the river. “Damn crickets.”
“The crickets? Why don’t you like them?” asked Marie.
Avery appeared to listen for a moment. The pallor went pale and his face’s expression like graveyard stone. You could hear him gulp and wipe his mouth nervously.
After another moment he gained control and forced a smile. “Allow me the pleasure of inviting you to my humble home. I offer the finest Parisian bottle of wine from my wine cellar,” he said.
Waiting for their reply he watched Paul and Marie’s apprehension. Then thought again and sweetened the deal, “Or maybe I dust off the thrity year old bottles of Glenfiddich and Macallan if you prefer?”
“It’s inviting sir, but—-” Paul started.
With agitated urgency and aristocratic insistence, John Avery bargained, “Please, I absolutely insist.”
With obvious apprehension and caution they decided to follow John Avery to his home. The drive took less than thirty minutes to reach, but the view spectacular by moonlight. It was a sprawling plantation amongst acres of cane fields and oak forests. And, naturally the drive up to the columned home was lined with moss covered five-hundred-year-old oaks swaying in the night breeze.
John’s plantation dining hall was a shadowed and flamed cavern of decadence. The only light came from silver candelabra around a grand banquet table. The candles cast formless shadows of the group on the walls.
“Long may ye live in health and prosperity,” said John Avery as he raised his glass in gentile Southern grace.
As promised, the wine was exquisite and the Macallan superb. Marie remembered the sweetness of the wine. Paul the oaken bite of the whisky. The couple and their guest devoured glass after glass with laugh after laugh.
“Chilled drops of nepenthe”, Marie would say later numbed and shivering from the wine.
Paul feeling the relaxation of the whiskey and good company, felt embolden to inquire, “John, you don’t seem insane man. What’s with the hatred toward crickets?”
“Paul, I’d rather not explain that.” John Avery took another sip of his whiskey crunching down a piece of ice as he did. Then he sighed and turned toward an expanse of window out in the darkness.
When Avery was ready he turned back to them as jovial as before. But the phantom of his hate and possibly fear had re-surfaced. It brought a chill again to both Paul and Marie. For all his generosity and gentile mannerism, both sensed something truly amiss.
Maybe it was Avery’s elusive nature. Maybe his poor attempt at deceit and surveillance of the couple.
Marie reached out to take a sip from her glass.
Suddenly, Avery moved swiftly to a room. He came back with a curious device. It was not much bigger than a modern phone or tablet. It had a connection to a large set of speakers, three to be exact. All three speakers were the size of a small vase.
It was in that same moment that John Avery’s movement had so startled Marie. It caused her to drop her glass and spill some of the vintage on the silk table cover.
Avery placed the screen of the device in front of Paul and Marie. Then, conflicted, waited to talk or turn it on.
“There,” he finally said.
“What is it?” asked Hal.
“It’s something I’ve worked on since graduate school,” said John Avery.
Before he continued, the couple watched him drop a few crystal cubes of ice in his glass. The tinkle of the ice hitting the glass sounded as bell chimes to Marie. Then he covered the ice with more whiskey. He set down the Macallan bottle staring at the bottle’s lengthening shadow on the turquoise table cloth.
Pondering, he picked up the glass and spun the ice a few times to chill the whiskey. Then he spoke “It calculates rhythm, cadence, and pulse patterns to derive in overlap by way of several algorithms the sequences needed for exact interpretation.”
“Hey Professor, Gilligan and Ginger need you to say that again in English,” Paul and Marie both giggled and laughed.
John Avery laughed with them. “I know I went a little too scientific there.” He paused and became nervous again and somber. “It can tell me what crickets are saying.”
Whether it was the fine Parisian wine or the words Avery spoke, Marie couldn’t be sure. But for the young woman it made her uneasy. And for the life of her, Marie didn’t know why. There was nothing ominous about the words.
It was the way John Avery had spoken them. Hesitant, desperate, and pleading.
Candlelight sparked a glow on Avery’s eyes as he leaned forward.
“Listen,” he whispered. “Crickets aren’t just making weather or mating calls when they chirp. These are not, I repeat not, indiscriminate noises. When they rub their wings together they are speaking.” He paused.
He saw the puzzled looks of his guests. John rubbed his temples and sighed as he said, “They’re transmitting their version of text messages. But these messages are an amalgamation of words, thoughts, descriptions, and feelings, all in a single chirp. ”
“How can that be?” Marie felt as if she were a swooning and having difficulty with concentration. Obviously the wine was doing its job well. The room seemed to expand and twist. It was leaning around Marie, then everything was leaning towards her.
Paul asked, “John, why are you telling us?”
“I really don’t know. I haven’t revealed to anyone what I’ve created or learned. Maybe your wife’s statement about crickets triggered me.” said John Avery.
Avery leaned in close. “I’ve spent half my life studying crickets and developing the cricket codex. It was my greatest achievement and my greatest sorrow.”
“How so John?” asked Marie.
“I ask you, have you ever really listened to cricket song?” he asked. “I mean really? If you had, you’d have heard a timing, a dark percussion, a base, and a harmonic rhythm to their noises. Definitely there is a natural beat with audible pitch and pulses.”
“For three decades I have listened,” he said. “For three decades I’ve recorded thousands of their signals and then combined them with the latest computers into the codex and interpreter. And the more I listened, the more I became convinced that their noise was greater than codex.”
Avery continued, “Two weeks ago I suddenly heard the amplified pattern adjusting their signals with the latest AI software. It’s not Morse code and it has evolved beyond codex programming too. These cricket harmonics are different.” John Avery took a deep sigh, paused talking and looked at his hand held computer. Avery’s cricket interpreter.
“And there’s my breakthrough,” he said. “After a lifetime, years of work, here it is. I’ve deciphered it.” His throat worked convulsively as he picked up his glass and emptied it with a swallow. “In doing so, I’ve become Ozymandias, the destroyer of worlds.”
“Hey calm that crazy down, John. Its crickets. They are just ordinary swamp dwelling crickets.” Paul had to do something before they lost John to his rants again.
Paul decided to entertain his benefactor. Well at least change the subject, “So, what are they saying?”
Looking up from his device and taking another sip of whiskey, John looked at Paul and said, “Again emotions, feelings, locations, names, and events all in a chirp.”
“Locations, names, and events? Sounds like Google.” Marie and Paul both laughed.
“I know it doesn’t sound very Earth shattering. Hear me out.” He moved to turn on the device and escorted them outside to the gallery. “Like our interconnected world these days, sometimes their multi-conversations get lost in saturation of the masses. That’s the chirp we hear. They are in tune on different frequencies. And that’s how I cracked their translation.
Paul and Marie were still perplexed by Avery’s revelation.
“Look, I’ll show you.” He focused the device out toward the fields and woods. The screen lit a ghostly glare across John Avery’s face. The data downloaded the pulses and sequences to a second computer tablet with the translated ‘cricket texts’. Avery sat their pacing and muttering under breath to himself as it split to five screens the chirps rendering some type of language Avery was watching be converted to human language.
Marie saw the various screens with the frequencies being recorded as a music device. Then she saw other audio graphs and displays converting more sounds to an array of words and messages. All the while she heard the sound synchronicity “Pulse, pulse-silence-pulse, pulse, pulse-silence-pulse- silence-“
What Marie and Paul were seeing would be comical under normal circumstances. Both nodded again to each other the knowing look of—he’s definitely a little out there. Paul attempted to feign a tight smile but couldn’t. They were looking back at the tall man with the noticeable purple mark on his gallery walking in paced anticipation. Eagerly and frantically he was intensely focused on the latest messages coming from the crickets.
John Avery walked back to Marie and Paul. He pointed to Paul the directions of a printer just inside the house hallway. Avery pressed a button to transmit as Paul retrieved the document.
Once Paul was back John Avery said, “Now you’ll have an idea,” he said, holding out the print sheet to them. They looked at it. SALVATORE LABELLE…SHOT WIFE…HEART ATTACK, it read. JOHN JOSEPH DUVALL…NOT SUICIDE…JOHN JOSEPH DUVALL JR…MURDERED HIM. SAMUEL BAD….
“Do you get the picture now?” said John Avery. “They are witnesses.”
“Witnesses?” Marie had to ask it even though she didn’t want to. Avery held his device clenched in shaking hands.
“Witnesses for the past and present…dead,” he whispered the answer.
“Oh,” Said Paul with as much believability as he could fake not to enrage Avery, “I see.”
They walked back inside. The talk turned away from death and crickets. It became lighter again.
The wind crew colder and whispered down the gallery of the aged plantation spinning brown leaves and shifting long curtains within opened windows of the place.
And, the crickets sang on throughout the night.
Time and tales continued into earlier parts of dark morning. John Avery insisted the couple stay in one of his many guest rooms. The couple unable to drive after ingesting way too many spirits agreed. Reluctantly.
Later that night, Marie climbed into bed with Paul drunkenly. She pulled and pressed close to him.
“Why is it so cold in here?” she slurred and murmured.
“It’s not cold. You believe all that mumbo-jumbo. You’re scared.”
“How can you not be?”
“Well,” he said, “if there’s a possibility I’m frightened, it isn’t in the way you think.”
“It’s impossible to believe what he said. He’s reading some weird signal. Because lord knows there’s a ton of misinformation on the air these days. But, I will say he’s angry and raging. And that might make him a dangerous man. And he’s a mega-millionaire, bourgeoisie. He’d get away with genocide in Louisiana. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Where did he get the information? The names and what happened to them? How did he transmit it in front of us?”
“Maybe they’re family, relatives, or friends of his,” Paul replied. “Maybe he got them from the local mausoleum or tombstones. And then there’s always the possibility he made them up.” He grunted softly. “Transmitting the info? Well, a kid with any juiced up app on a phone these days can pull all manner of prank. So it was probably a joke.”
Marie looked onto her husband trying to read his face between the shadows cast by moonlight. She spoke, “So you don’t believe him.”
“I believe he believes his machine works,” he continued, “But I don’t think the crickets told him.”
Snuggling next to him, Marie whispered in his ear, “I was beyond relieved when you told him we were tired.” Then finished, “He creeped me out tonight. I don’t think I could have taken much more of him.”
“Bae,” Paul said sarcastically, “our friend, who looks like Peter Lorre jammed up on growth hormone, gave us a world changing technology involving crickets and you criticize him. The shame is more than I can bare ‘Scarlett Ohara’.”
“Nice one Paul,” Marie giggled. Then shivering again she said, “Whether he’s right or—“
“He’s nuts.” Paul interrupted.
She continued, “As I was saying, I’ll never have the same fascination and wonder of crickets for the rest of my life.”
They lay close to each other and slept.
And, fog rolled in off the mighty Atchfalaya blanketing the cane fields and woodlands of Avery Plantation. Somewhere, outside in the still darkness, crickets scratched and rubbed their wings together until morning came.
Late in the morning, a knock came to their room waking Paul and Marie. “I’ve made coffee and breakfast if you can eat,” John Avery said. “We need to talk. I need your help.”
After a pot of Community coffee with bitter chicory and wolfing down a breakfast of ham and eggs fit for a king, Paul spoke, “Well John, we are all ears. How can we help such a gracious host?”
Running his hands through his hair and scratching his stubble chin by his purple birth mark, Avery whispered, “I’ve been discovered. They know I can read their language.”
John looked at Paul and Marie, took a deep breath and blurted, “They’re after me.”
“John we had this talk about the crazy train. Are you talking about the crickets?” Inquired Paul frustrated.
“Not sure if it is them,” said John Avery. “Either it’s the crickets or something…far worse–“
Marie had been placing a pat of butter with her knife and fork. Upon hearing his words, she felt spasms in them as her fingers cramped. And the icy chill she’d had last night had returned. Marie was uncertain why the ice was creeping up her legs and spine.
“Avery this has gone on enough. You are scaring my wife.” Paul was trying to sound patient.
“Understand me,” John Avery pleaded. “The crickets are natural harmonics. Easily manipulated and easily control to generate field bending sounds. They’ve been forced into blackest servitude by something. Whatever this darkness is—the Dead, something from the beyond, or something demoniacal, it commands them now. It sent out these horrible messages.”
“Best guess. Whatever this unnamable force is it’s compiling a list of dead names,” said Avery. “It may control dead souls as it does the crickets indirectly. Maybe its sending out a roll call through the crickets to let the others know.”
“This is just plain stupid John. Listen to yourself. Ask yourself if any of this makes a lick of sense. Ask yourself, ‘Why?’” Paul was trying to Avery to use his rational mind to deduce.
Avery’s long hands shook and trembled. “I just interpret what I’m seeing. As for the ‘why’, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe when there are enough names, when enough of these dark entities are summoned and are ready, they’ll-” Avery’s head beaded with drops of sweat. His agitated throat moved convulsively. “They’ll break into our dimension,” he said.
Realizing he was losing the battle with Avery on logical thinking and sanity, Paul Galatoire paused, then asked, “What compels you to think you’re in peril, sir?”
“Because I made adjustments to the software. I added an updated component that puts the language in a 3-D rendering. Early in the morning, just before the Sun rose, it showed me something most foul,” said John Avery.
Marie, her curiosity and dread getting the better of her, asked, “What was it John?”
Panic raced across his eyes as he said, “It showed my death.”
Paul didn’t believe the cricket interpreter worked. He didn’t believe the lucid madness that John Avery spouted about precognition through…crickets. What worried him was Avery believed it. And he was sure now Marie did weirdly enough. But she had been always gullible to such silliness.
Awkward weighted silence since Avery’s last statement. Paul broke the heavy silence. He figured better he sees this through for both Marie and Avery’s sanity. “What can we do?” he asked in a voice of apprehension and dread.
“I don’t know. I just know the crickets lower their volume when I stay in a group or crowd. Maybe it’s a natural law thing that governs evil. I don’t know the rules for other dimensions. I say stay with me until I can get my colleagues and family out here,” requested John, “so they can’t get me.”
Marie’s spine had the return of the chill as she stared pleaing at Paul to leave. Paul nodded—what can we do?
As if inferring their concerns, “This is a big house. Plenty of things to entertain you. I promise I won’t intrude or bother you,” said Avery. “It’s tonight when they return. Just be in the room until morning. I’ll sit over in the next room out of your way. Just so I can see you.”
John Avery lifted up slowly with a stiff back. From Paul’s perspective, Avery looked as if he had aged a hundred years in a day.
“I leave this in your care. Can you keep an eye on this for now?” he asked. He slid the cricket codex over to the couple. “Plenty of wine and whiskey left in the cellar. Feel free.”
Lurching, John Avery left before they could say another word. Avery seemed to hobble now and sway as he left their table and walked across the dining room, weaving in and out among the artwork, fine chairs, and statues. In the adjacent parlor and vast library from them, he sat down at a desk filled with scientific literature, facing them. They saw him reach forward and turn on an emerald blue table lamp.
“Now what?” asked Marie.
“Hey, it’s an open bar of thousand dollar wine and whiskey. We’ll entertain Master John for a little while at his chalet dear Scarlett,” said Paul jokingly. “Eat the great gourmet food. Purge the booze. When we’ve had enough of both, we’ll retire for our last night.”
“Oh, Paul, do we really have to stay? Ugh.”
“Quiet, he’ll hear you. Bae, he’s a wild card. I don’t want to provoke the nut. Who knows what’s going on in John Avery’s noggin? I don’t want to take any chances.”
Weak and weary from concern, Marie exhaled in a sarcastic mumble, “This was such a ‘wonderful’ vacation.”
Dusk again approached Avery Plantation.
Paul had been fidgeting and fumbling with John Avery’s cricket codex half the afternoon. He’d looked at the applications and the records saved on the adjacent tablet. He’d even managed to figure out how to turn it on and off. That brought him a great deal of pride and a momentary smile from Marie.
He was turning it on and off a third time when he heard something and saw the screen light up. It was a loud serrated sound that increased as the last light of dusk faded to darkness. Paul and Marie had become conscious of the crickets rasping loudly outside.
The codex was alight collecting data from the wireless speakers set up on the gallery. Paul flipped through the applications trying to figure out how to turn them on. Letters numbered in short hand gave each file’s use. He managed to find the right app–the new app, and turned on the interpreter to send the new images.
Marie leaned in to whisper, “Avery’s watching us.”
“Oh really. Don’t be bothered by the nut.” Paul said back.
She mulled over the screen with him. “Let me help you.”
“Okay. I’ve been waiting all afternoon for that,” he smiled. ‘Go ahead ma’am.”
“First let’s put this on that much larger sixty one inch screen.” Marie clicked the control panel and clicked the TV sync button. Then she walked over to turn it on.
Before she turned on the TV she asked, “You think there’s anything to this?”
“Probably not. Well, let’s hope not,” said Paul.
Paul keyed his ears on the louder drone of crickets outside. He looked down at the screen and out to the woods surrounding them. He focused and tried to listen to the crickets’ noise and find some point of comparison with the graphs and audio software. He tried the display as Marie turned on the TV. He couldn’t.
They both looked at the TV display and saw static and blurred images. Nothing to indicate that the device worked at all. After several minutes, Paul Galtoire turned the codex off.
Taking it light on the whiskey today, Paul had opted for a few glasses of wine. Marie had slowed to just a couple of glasses. Once the bottle had been half emptied, Paul and Marie decided for bed.
“It’s time Wifey,” he said. Marie didn’t have to be told twice. Before she’d gotten her shoe on to go up to the room, John Avery was back to their table.
“Where are you going? We had a deal.” Avery said almost whining.
“John, it’s almost one in the morning,” Paul replied. “We’re tired. Marie and I are sorry. But we have to go to bed.”
Avery looked broken in a way that Paul or Marie couldn’t quite figure out. This stoic figure, who’d been a stranger less than two days ago, looked like he was losing his life-long friends. John Avery stood wordless at their reply. He gauged them, looking from one to the other with pleading, hopeless eyes.
Avery appeared ready to make a last desperate plea. When he seemed about to speak, John paused, let his wide shoulders slump. Then his gaze cast down to the floor. Resigned to whatever preconceived fate he had in mind, Paul and Marie heard him swallow and sigh before he spoke anymore.
The awkward silence between them was back. They were strangers again.
“Will you take care of the cricket codex?” he asked.
“Don’t you want it?”
“No. No need for it now. Done is done. No more fun in the Sun.” He cracked a wry, waned smile at the young couple and walked away.
John Avery headed to his room as well. His footsteps echoed down on the marbled floor of the long hall casting a tall lurching shadow. To Paul, the image and the sounds reminded him of a man going to the gallows.
He stopped just for a moment in his stride. Just a few paces he had paused with his head still hung low facing forward. He briefly glanced back across his shoulder. “Can I ask a favor?”
“Go ahead and ask John?” Paul replied.
“Would it be too much trouble to leave your door open in case something might happen? So I can call for help, you see?” John Avery’s eyes as he said the words seemed someplace else.
“All right, John. We can oblige.” Paul said annoyingly.
Marie gave Paul a mean stare which said—don’t be rude! “It won’t be a problem John.”
“Marie and Paul, thank both of you.” A faint smile, a momentary grin across his haggard lips, then John Avery, the lurching man with the purple mark on the side his face, walked away.
At three in the morning there was blood curdling banshee screams. The screaming woke both of them. In the dark, Paul felt Marie’s fingers clawed and locked into his arms. Another terrified yell jolted them out of the bed tossing covers.
They were staring into the darkness of Avery Plantation.
“What the H—“
“What is it?” interrupted and gasped Marie.
“I have no idea.” Hal threw on a pair of jeans and shirt. He kicked the fallen covers out his way. Then headed swiftly across the cold floor to sound of the screams.
“Don’t leave me!” cried Marie.
“Come on then!”
The hall had the look and chill of a tomb. Reaching shadows twisting between brief shards of silver moonlight from adjacent windows. No candelabra or bulb burned overhead to illuminate the shadows. Paul Galatoire sprinted with Marie trailing. The couple moved across the iced marble floor to the private chamber of John Avery.
His bedroom door had been pressed and crushed shut in its jam. It wouldn’t open. Paul ran a shoulder into it but it wouldn’t budge. It was closed although Paul was sure John had made sure it had been left open before. Paul futilely banged his fist against the door—no use. Paul and Marie banged their bodies against it.
Finally, Paul grabbed an iron table housing a vase. Paul picked up the table, crashing the vase into pieces, then used it to batter the door open. All the while horrific screams were heard in all directions of the room.
“John Avery! John!” he called while splintering the door to get in.
Paul continued splintering the door cutting his hands with the jagged, splintered pieces. Drops of his blood stained the door. A few heart wrenching crashes against the door knob and he managed to push through.
Inside the room it was obsidian and pitch. An insect-like whir surrounded Paul and Marie. Within the room, there were shaking tambourine sounds, scratching sounds, rustling sounds, popping and crackling sounds above, below, and behind them. The deafening and disorientating noise made Marie and Paul fall back out of the room convulsively.
“Paul what’s going on in there?!” terrified Marie almost in a scream.
Paul’s throat was dry as sandpaper. He tried to moisten it to talk but he couldn’t. Paul’s mind was processing what was occurring. He couldn’t answer Marie even if he wanted too. He didn’t answer.
They stood immobile, not knowing what to do.
Then, inside, the screams stopped. Then the noises stopped. Paul gulped, took a deep breath for courage, and pushed what remained of the broken door.
Screams and gasps gagged in both their throats. Paul vomited. Marie seeing her husband vomit wretched as well.
Crimson blood spattered the ceiling, the walls, and ran as a red river all across the floor. Pieces of what remained of John Avery were lying in separate pools of blood splotched moonlight. The skin to each part shredded as through a food processor. Avery’s flesh and sinew and bone ground to mash as if by a chainsaw.
A door leading from John Avery’s room out onto the gallery had been ripped from its hinges. Fog rolled out from that gaping corridor now.
“It had to be some freak storm!’ Paul thought, “That explains the door. But nothing can account for the m—“
Crying, sobbing uncontrollably, Marie screeched, “He was right! John Avery knew! He knew he would die Paul. And we did nothing for him!”
Marie looked on the pools of blood and mashed flesh and bone. She stood paralyzed, a fist pressed against her mouth while Paul moved to something John had written by his bed.
They are good kids Paul and Marie. I made a mistake letting them know. But it had been so long since I had anyone over. Seemed every time I tried, I remembered what happened to my dear Elizabeth when I showed her my discovery. These minions of that thing out there, out in the beyond that waits to rot us, they are ruthless predators.
The crickets left nothing of Elizabeth to bury. Heartless savages!
If I live through the night I’ll take the codex back and destroy it. No need for anyone else to die.
Paul could hear his own heartbeat thundering between his ears. His fingers trembled and began to spasm. The world around him was shifting and becoming cloudy. He had to inhale slowly to control his growing dread.
Were Marie and him safe?
He saw Marie swooning and caught her. She regained herself and opened her eyes to Paul. Wide, staring eyes that recognized nothing, that looked right through her husband at first. Panicked eyes that realized something.
They were probably doomed too.
“I have to know Marie.” Paul whispered in her ear. As if his knowledge would change anything.
“Won’t matter Paul,” she said in that same hopeless tone that John—dead John Avery used. Same eyes too. Eyes stark and glazed.
She heaved from him and back to him sobbing. His eyes widened and he waited to hear…anything.
In the dinner hall where John Avery had shown his cricket codex, Paul sat with his wife. He turned the device on and watched the playback in the ghostly shadows of recorded audible. There was the static again and then then the usual spiked graphs they had seen before.
Then Marie realized something. “Paul, the playback was too fast. We have to slow it down here.” She moved a button with her finger. The static began to dissipate.
The image in the video was instant. “John Avery” a hissing voice said. Then another image. It was a multitude of colossal, twisting, spider-like claws that ripped the gallery door to John Avery’s room off its hinges. Then a million crickets swarmed him. You heard the terrified man screams. Then as they ripped his spurting head off, you heard the terrible pig-like squeals of a decapitated man.
“Oh dear God!” Marie went into hysterical fits again as Paul tried to calm her.
Paul Galatoire was beyond numb by the image. He was spiraling into madness. That wasn’t real what he saw. Was it?
But then, Paul and Marie cast hopeless eyes on a new image. They saw the spidery lurker from beyond return on the screen as they sat hiding in Avery’s Plantation. It hissed again, “Paul Galotoire” and showed Paul reduced to piles of excrement and flesh in the darkness of the cellar. Then it hissed “Marie Galatoire” and showed Marie torn in half with her shredded, ripped flesh and intestines strewn in the swaying oaks.
Marie fainted in shock. Something shattered as glass in Paul’s mind. He went into fits of maniacal laughter which neither recovered from.
Well at least until dusk. When the crickets came.
Then, the crazed woman sat on a blood pooled floor staring the gallows stare. The maniac howled with laughter. And pieces of John Avery lay scattered all around them.
And, outside, the silver moonlight shimmered on the ebony Atchafalaya River.
In that same silver paradise of shimmering night, as an alligator bellowed, mosquitos hummed, and green tree frogs chirped….a million crickets rubbed their wings together and sang.