“There’s nothing here.” The humid air sat heavy on her shoulders.
“Stop being so negative,” her friend said. “What all is ‘somethin’ to you anyways?”
“Something is something.” She looked out into the bayou. The bar played scratched blues records behind them.
“You knew good and goddamned well that there wasn’t nothin’ here when you came,” her friend said. She handed her a glass of bourbon.
“Maybe I thought that was a good thing at the time.” She had already drunk so much whiskey her sweat was smoky, but she still shot it in two gulps.
There was a loud blast of music as a group of college students came out to the deck. She usually waited until a drunk tourist jumped into the bayou to cool off amongst the catfish before going home, but she felt empty.
“I’m gettin’ outta here.” She kissed her friend and walked into the bar. Familiar faces spouted compliments, men she’d tried and found wanting. She thought of the half empty bottle of vodka in her fridge and her nipples hardened. Tonight it would be just her and the bayou. Again.
“Excuse me, miss.” The stranger blew a thick stream of cigarette smoke over her head. He looked bored and drunk.
“Yes, mister?” she replied sarcastically. Her hand remained on the door.
“You’ve got a hell of a tick sucking away there on your thigh.”
He pointed his cigarette near the fork of her legs. “There.”
She touched the tiny carapace, felt her fingernail click on it.
“Jesus, that’s gross!” He grabbed her hand quick as lightning before she could scratch it off.
“Wouldn’t want to do that, miss.” He held the lit cigarette close to her face. “Allow me.”
He knelt behind her. He took a drag off his cigarette and pressed the red-hot cherry on the parasite. It fell to the floor, smoking. He squeezed her thigh and then put his mouth on her.
“What the-” He held her still and sucked painfully. A couple of people sniggered and pointed.
“Y’all, git a room!” a toothless codger yelled. Someone whooped.
She surprised herself by remaining still as he sucked. He spit bloody saliva on the floor, then picked up his drink. She didn’t know what to say.
“It’s a damn sight easier than snake venom.” He took another drink.
“Uh. Yes. I imagine.” She still felt the aching outline of his lips on her thigh. He ran his hand through his hair and it stuck out in leonine spikes that filtered the neon light into a profane diadem.
“You need a drink,” he said. He pulled out the chair next to his.
“I was just headed home.” She was out of breath.
His eyes moved over her body. “Pity,” he said.
Had she felt his tongue flicking over the bite as he sucked out the blood? She couldn’t tell.
“I live just a stone’s throw away. Why don’t I buy you a drink? Least I could do.”
“What’s a ‘stone’s throw’?” He shot the last of his tequila.
“Means we could walk.”
“Let’s go.” He walked out of the bar and she followed. She picked up a big flashlight from behind a barren stone flowerpot.
“Just this way,” she said and walked into a broad gravel path. He matched her gait, then walked a step or two ahead.
“I’m back here you know,” she said, exasperated.
“Aren’t you afraid of animals in this darkness?” He looked around at the black wall of trees on either side.
“Uh, no,” she said. She’d never thought about it. An owl flapped across their path. He stopped and put his arm protectively across her chest. Her breasts jiggled above his forearm.
“Stand down, soldier. It was just a night bird.” She giggled. “You’re definitely not from around here.” She pointed her flashlight toward a small white bungalow by the water. “And here we are.”
He ate up the last 25 yards and began looking around her veranda. His face poked through a green fall of ferns as she walked into her house.
“You don’t lock it?”
“There’s no need to,” she yelled at him from her kitchen. “There’s nothing in here worth boosting anyway.” She came back to the veranda holding two jelly jars and a bottle. “What are you looking for?”
“Creatures, I suppose. Seems this place is chock full of ’em.” He sat down on a cane back rocking chair. He was so tall it creaked with his weight. “Vodka?”
“Oh yeah,” she said and sat opposite him. He drank it all in a gulp.
He held the sweaty jar up to the light of the moon. “You’re not from around here either.”
“Perceptive.” She poured him another drink and left it on the windowsill where he could reach it. She watched him from the rim of her jar. He looked both perfectly at home and completely out of place. He pointed to a basket filled with bits of driftwood.
“That’s whittlin’ wood,” she said. “I make little figurines and give them to the bar owner. She sells them to the tourists and gives me a cut.”
He lifted his jean leg and pulled a blade out of his boot. “May I?”
He whittled confidently and for a while, the only sound were the crickets and his knife scraping wood. Something hooted in the distant, a mournful sound. He looked toward the water.
His eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“You’re not afraid they’ll come ashore or somethin’?”
“There were more frightening monsters where I came from.” Her eyes were hooded.
“Nola?” He tried to sound nonchalant.
He nodded as if she’d just confirmed his suspicions. “You still have that aura about you. A kinda… look.”
“What look is that?”
“Don’t know,” he said judiciously.
To be continued…