“Eugene didn’t know if he believed in the devil beyond the wicked things people did of their own accord, but if the devil had a face, it would look like Johnny Walker’s.”

A queer, southern gothic horror novella set in small-town Louisiana, drenched in the atmosphere of the Deep South in the midst of the Public Enemies era. THE BAYOU is now available in ebook and paperback, and free to read in Kindle Unlimited! Content warnings are listed at the bottom of this post.

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The summer of 1935 was a hot one: the kind of damp, heavy heat that seemed like it would last forever. The scent of roses hung stilted in the air, an all-pervading perfume that clung to Eugene’s clothes and caught in the back of his throat. People moved slowly, like they were walking underwater; even the birds sang sluggishly, and the frogs croaked their dusk songs under duress. The weather felt like something dying.

A cop was bleeding out in front of the National Bank.

He lay on his back, eyes wide and staring as he gasped uselessly for air. He should have been dead before he hit the ground, the back of his head blown clean off and his brains leaking onto the pavement. Instead, he clung to the edge of life, refusing to accept the inevitable. The entry wound from a single bullet burrowed messily in between his eyes. Flies were already starting to gather, humming discordantly around his face like a threat.

Eugene stared at him from the other side of the street, pressed flat to the ground and using his car as a shield. He had dropped to the pavement as soon as the shooting started, the gunfire the only thing loud enough to drown out the cicadas screaming from the trees. Keeping his camera curled protectively against his chest, he shut his eyes and tried to breathe. If he breathed through his nose, he could smell the cop dying: blood so dark it looked black on the asphalt, bowels loosening as his body gave up on him. If he breathed through his mouth, he could taste it.

He hadn’t come to Baton Rouge to take pictures of a dead cop, not even one the papers would laud as a hero. Never mind the fact that the cop had shot first, that there might not have been any violence at all if he’d been a little less keen on pulling that trigger.

Eugene opened his eyes as a pair of boots came into view on the other side of the car’s undercarriage. Black and polished to a shine, out of place in a desperate bank robbery. Eugene straightened up by inches, balancing his camera on the roof of the car as he slicked his hair out of his face one-handed. His glasses were slipping down his nose and sweat pooled in the small of his back, his shirt limp from the humidity, as his heart rabbited behind his ribs.

Johnny Walker stood in the middle of the street like the heat didn’t bother him and bullets couldn’t touch him. Like there wasn’t a cop dying at his feet. Angelique Monnet stood by his side, her revolver pointed to the ground, a bag of stolen cash in her other hand. The gun was a Colt Peacemaker, the name as ironic as they came, long-nosed and gleaming dully in the sun. Monnet looked indifferent to the violence, her sharp eyes flickering up and down the street, cataloguing witnesses and potential threats, before settling on Walker. His tommy gun rested against his shoulder, his hat set at a smart angle to keep the sun out of his eyes, but it did nothing to hide his face.

Eugene froze, his fingers locked around the camera. Johnny Walker met Eugene’s gaze through the lens as Eugene pressed his finger to the trigger and snapped the shot. It was over in a fraction of a second, but his heart stuttered and skipped a beat at the look they shared, as if Walker knew him. He didn’t. They had never set foot in the same town together, before Baton Rouge.

Johnny Walker and Angelique Monnet had been declared public enemies months ago. Together they had mapped a trail across America, zigzagging back and forth across state lines all through the South and Midwest, leaving a wake of bodies and stolen cash behind them. They were a handsome couple, Walker in his sharp suits and Monnet in her flashy black dresses, both of them with smiles like razorblades for the cameras. They took up residence in the public consciousness like they belonged there, and Eugene, pale-faced in his ill-fitting suits, was pulled to them like a moth to the flame. They made trouble at every turn, always skipping just out of reach of the law, like stones over water. They couldn’t keep it up forever, the authorities promised, grim and mirthless. They would burn bright for a few months and then die hard, the same as all the others before them.

Eugene wasn’t so sure. There was something almost preternatural about the way their luck ran, like they had God or the devil on their side. They had a wildness about them, something beyond the guns and the way they laughed in the sweltering heat, their teeth white like animals’.

Walker broke into a slow smile, his coal-dark eyes still locked on Eugene’s, before he turned and murmured something to Monnet. As one, they broke away from the scene of the crime, piling into a dusty black car and tearing off as the mournful wail of city sirens closed in.

THE BAYOU is a 33,000-word southern gothic novella with an m/m relationship, firmly planted in the horror genre. Content warnings: on-page suicide, child sexual abuse, one scene of dubious consent, period-typical homophobia, graphic descriptions of gore and violence, gun violence, religion, blasphemy, smoking.

Amazon: Ebook, paperback, and free to read in KU


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