No cover for this one. Oddly, although I wrote this story sometime back in early 2020, I haven’t published it yet. Well, not until today, here, in this limited venue. Enjoy. Well, if that’s the right word. And stay tuned. When I found this one I found a few more that are previously unpublished too. H
Louisiana is chock full of secrets. That’s what I’d always heard. Especially southern Louisiana, the land of the Cajuns, that very special place called Acadia.
There are alligator-infested swamps down there, and cyprus trees growing right up out of the water. There are bayous and pirogues and little shacks propped up on stilts. There are traiteurs and voodoo practitioners. All sorts of magic and mysteries.
And I like secrets. So after I finished with my time in the military I set out to see for myself.
I went as far as Shreveport on a bus, and frankly I was a little disappointed.
Not a swamp in sight. No bayous. And Shreveport was just another bustling mid-size city, like all the other bustling mid-size cities all over this great country.
I wanted to see something different.
In the parking lot outside the bus depot, I spotted a large, friendly looking man in a cowboy hat. Turned out he was a truck driver who’d cut across the bus station parking lot on his way back to his truck from a Denny’s across the street.
I approached him. “Excuse me, sir?”
He looked up. “Yeah?” He was a very large man, but he also displayed a very large smile. I immediately felt at ease.
“I wanted to come to Louisiana to find swamps and lonely places and the secrets hidden there. So could you tell me, isn’t this Louisiana?”
He laughed. “Well, according to all the maps it is, but not really.” He leaned toward me slightly and put the back of one huge hand alongside his mouth. “You want your first Louisiana secret?”
I grinned. “Okay.”
“This here’s actually Texas.” He straightened again. “Oh, they got a claim up here in the north to the old Caddo injuns, but they ain’t got nothin’ like they got down south in Cajun land.”
“Yes! That’s what I want! Cajun land!”
“Well, what I’d recommend is you get back on that bus and go on south. Don’t get out farther north than, say, Alexandria. Go south from there an’ you’ll be smack in the middle of it. I’d give you a ride myself, but I’m headed west from here.”
“Okay, thanks!” I said.
“No problem. Good luck!” And he turned away.
Well, good. At least I knew I was close.
Unfortunately, I had limited funds, so getting back on the bus wasn’t really an option. Besides, it might be fun to hitch for a while.
I headed south.
I was nearing the south end of town when a cloud broke open somewhere above me and the rain poured down. But there was a small truck stop coming up on my right, so I decided that might be a good time to stop and get a couple bottles of water. I suspected I would need water more than food. No telling how far I might have to walk.
But again I was in luck.
The rain stopped while I was inside, and as I was leaving, I held the door open for a guy who was right behind me. Turned out he was a truck driver too. And he was headed south.
Unlike the other guy, he wasn’t very big. Maybe 5’9” or 10”, maybe 170 pounds, dressed in a dark ball cap with a logo I couldn’t quite make out, lace-up boots and coveralls over a stained white t-shirt.
“Thanks,” he said, and looked me up and down, from the rain still dripping off my ball cap to the brown leather pack on my back to my soaked Nikes. “You a travelin’ man, are you?” He turned and started south across the small parking lot.
I laughed as I walked along with him. “I guess you could say that. I’m headin’ down south.” I shrugged. “I just want to see southern Louisiana.”
“Well, if you ain’t determined to walk the whole way, I’m headed south an’ I’d appreciate the company. A man can only listen to the sound of the tires on the road for so long. I been at it ever since Tulsa.” He laughed. “So where you headed in particular?”
I shrugged again. “I guess I’ll know it when I see it.”
“My favorite destination,” he said. “So you’re alone, though, right? There ain’t several more of you hidden behind a bush somewhere are there?”
I thought that was an odd question. “No, I’m alone.”
“Well, me too. We’ll make a good temporary team. So you wanna ride?”
The rain started again, though more lightly than the cloudburst from before. I took off my ball cap, slung the rain off it and put it back on. “I guess that might be a good idea. Thanks.”
My time is my own, and I wasn’t on a schedule.
He grinned. “Hey, now that’s good news. I can give you a ride as far as Nagodoches. It’s pronounced Nagiditch, y’know. Almost sounds like nekked itch, don’t it?” And he laughed. “Anyway, I gotta head back to the west from there an’ then down to Austin. I don’t guess you’d care to head west an’ then south?”
“I don’t guess,” I said.
“Well, come on aboard anyway.” And he turned to walk around the front of the truck.
I shrugged out of my back pack, opened the door and set it on the floorboard and climbed up into the cab.
By then, he was in the cab too, sitting comfortably in a seat that looked like it might have been made for him. He extended his hand. “Danny Boudreaux.”
After we shook hands, I shut the door and he turned his attention to his long side mirror. Then he gave it some diesel and pulled the rig back onto the road.
He glanced over at me. “So why Louisiana in particular?”
“I’m lookin’ to find some of those Louisiana secrets.”
“Secrets? Aw, hell, I can fill you in on a lotta secrets. Just for one example, you like music?”
I nodded. “I do.”
“Okay. But did you know there’s a whole bunch’a old-timey Cajun music greats buried down in Nagiditch?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh yeah, yeah,” he said. And for the next hour or so he talked almost nonstop about Nagodoches. Well, Nagiditch.
He started by running down the names for me, not that I’d heard of any of them. But the way he talked, I swear the guy could have been a docent for the local boneyard. And I do like music, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard any Cajun music specifically.
When I could finally get a word in edgewise, I said, “So Cajun music. You mean like Chris LeDoux?”
He wagged one hand at me. “Nah, that there’s cowboy music. Country and western. Rodeo songs, mostly.”
“Ah, okay,” I said. “So what about John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival? He did some stuff like ‘Born on the Bayou’ an’ ‘Bad Moon Rising’.”
“Nah, CCR was a rock and roll band.” He screwed up his face. “I’m not one-hunnert percent sure Fogarty was even a Cajun, though his voice sounded right. At least sometimes. But no, that wasn’t Cajun music. Cajun music’s almost always got a fiddle an’ a concertina at least, an’ then sometimes a guitar an’ a bass guitar. But that’s about it.” And he was off on another diatribe.
Still, riding was better than walking in the rain. And I did like music. And he was telling me things I didn’t know before, though they weren’t really secrets in the strictest sense.
Anyway, everything was fine until about forty minutes in when I lit a cigarette and cranked the window down a couple inches. Before I looked to the front again, I felt his hand on my thigh. Just above the knee.
I thought it might have been an accident at first. Like maybe he was reaching for the gearshift lever or something. So I moved my leg a little, but his hand remained in place.
So I looked down at his hand, then at him.
Then I looked down at his hand again, only quicker this time.
I had to. It was moving slowly up my thigh. And the whole time, he was staring out through the windshield, though for a change he wasn’t talking.
Seriously? I’m not that good looking. And not that I’d know for sure, but I don’t think anything about me would set off the radar of a queer man. Or a gay man. Whatever. The point is, I only wanted a ride, nothing more.
So I reached down, gripped his wrist gently but firmly between the thumb and finger of my left hand, moved my hand a few inches to the left and let his hand drop on his own damn leg.
He looked at me almost long enough to make me nervous about his attention being off the road, then looked back through the windshield and went back to talking about Cajun music and musicians. Like nothing had happened. And I swear, the guy never repeated himself. That’s how much he knew. Or maybe how nervous he was.
But that was fine with me. As long as he stayed on his own side of the cab. He could have just as easily pulled to the side and told me to get out, I guess. That’s what I was expecting, and maybe he should have. I have nothing against homosexual men, but I’d prefer they recognize that I have my own preferences and they aren’t it.
So we pulled into Nagodoches—Nagiditch—around 6 p.m. and he asked if I wanted to get something to eat.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” I said. “I’ll just bum around here awhile and then head on south maybe.”
“Oh,” he said. “Well, if you’re gonna spend some time here anyway, maybe I can show you that graveyard I was tellin’ you about. The one with the names all laid out there.”
“That’d be all right,” I said. His fervor about it interested me, and like I said, I like music.
So he drove us on up to the next major road, then circled back almost to where we’d left the freeway. Interstate 49, I think it was. The sun was going down by then. It was almost dark when he finally pulled the rig right through the gate and into the graveyard.
I was surprised. I figured he’d park outside, either out of respect for the solitude of the dead or maybe to drop me off and go on his way.
But he got out of the truck right along with me, and we spent some time exploring and looking at tombstones. He pointed out several names he’d mentioned earlier. But soon it became too dark to see the names very well.
“Guess we better go,” he said, and clapped me on the upper arm. He couldn’t reach my shoulder without going up on his tiptoes. “C’mon. I’ll give you a ride back down to the truck stop. Maybe you can catch a ride south from there.”
So we climbed back into the truck. Him on his side, and me on mine.
Only it didn’t stay that way.
Instead of putting the truck in gear, he turned to face me. That same ridiculous grin was plastered on his face. “Look,” he said, “you got back in the truck, right? An’ the deal is, I know you’re attracted to me as I am to you. Now we’re all alone out here. Don’t nobody in Louisiana come to a graveyard after dark.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “An’ I got a great big ol’ double sleeper right there.”
Then he actually did it. He reached across the truck and rubbed my thigh again. That leer still on his face, he said, “So whaddya say, John? Let’s get us some lovin’!” And then the guy actually giggled.
Something about that set me off. Before I realized it, I’d turned in my seat and grabbed his throat with my right hand. “Damn it, why don’t you listen!” I slammed him back against the frame around the driver’s side window. Then I jerked him toward me and slung him through the curtain into the sleeper. Like I said, he only weighed maybe 170 pounds soaking wet. “There!” I yelled. “You want in the goddamn sleeper? You’re in the goddamn sleeper! “
Then I jerked the door handle, opened the door, grabbed my bag, and stepped down.
As I turned away, still muttering, I expected to hear a string of curse words coming at me, maybe followed by the sound of the truck creaking a little as he climbed out of the sleeper, then the door slamming shut. And all of that would’ve been fine. No less than I deserved for losing my temper.
But it didn’t come.
When I was maybe thirty yards away, maybe halfway to the gate we’d driven through, I stopped and looked back.
Nothing. The truck door still hung open like I’d left it. The interior light glowed like a damn beacon in the dark cemetery. But the guy, as far as I could tell, was still in the sleeper.
Or maybe he was back in the driver’s seat. The truck was still idling. He hadn’t turned it off when we got out. Maybe he was going to put it in gear and make the door slam when he took off.
Only that didn’t make sense. From what I could tell when we pulled in, he’d have to back out to leave.
I waited. But neither one happened. The truck didn’t move forward or backward. The passenger door still hung open.
Probably I’d hurt his stupid feelings. I didn’t mean to hurt the guy, feelings or otherwise. So after a long moment, I dropped my bag and walked back to the truck. As I got closer, I called, “Danny?”
I stepped up on the sideboard and gripped the back of the passenger seat. “Hey, Danny.”
When he answered, I’d tell him it was nothing personal. I just don’t swing that way. That maybe he should ask before he starts making advances. That’s the rule with us heterosexuals, right? We can’t just walk up and start putting our hands on a woman just because we’re horny, right? And if there’s a chick in your car and your hand suddenly lands on her thigh, chances are you’ll be in court in a week or two defending yourself against charges of being a predator.
But I didn’t get to tell him anything. He didn’t answer.
I yelled again. “Hey Danny, you all right?” I climbed up farther, put my left knee on the seat, my right foot in the floorboard, and pried the curtains apart.
His head was jammed up against the back corner on the driver’s side of the sleeper. And it was turned at a really weird angle. I didn’t have to check his pulse. The guy was dead.
Maybe I should call the cops. I could explain and—
But no. He was obviously gay, and I’m pretty sure killing a gay guy, even by accident, is considered a hate crime even in Louisiana. Like killing anyone else isn’t. Whatever. Anyway, I saw no future in hanging around to find out.
I reached over and turned off the ignition, pulled the keys out and wiped the main key on my shirt. Then I palmed them and tossed them into the sleeper. I closed the curtain, then backed out of the cab and closed the door. I took off my ball cap, pinched it and used it to wipe the edge of the door and the inside of the door latch. Then put my cap back on, turned and walked away from the latest Louisiana secret.
I didn’t want to leave him like that, but there it is.
A half-hour later I was well south of Nagodoches. Which is pronounced Nagiditch.
The air was humid and warm, like it always is in southern Louisiana, and the whole place is musty and old smelling. Dense, tall woods dominated both sides of the highway. At least there was no more rain. For now. The night sky was atypically clear, but it was the time of the month when the moon wouldn’t make an appearance until around ten p.m. And even then it would take awhile to climb above the trees.
My only companions were an occasional hoot owl and the constant chirruping of cicadas and the barupping of frogs.
And when a truck passed going the other direction, for some reason I looked back.
And there in the glow of the headlights, I saw a sign that spelled the name of the town Nachitoches.