Once inside Sara points to a rock and tells him to sit. Sara sits on what is her bed on the other side of a makeshift table. On the table is a lantern and an old book. In the flickering light Jim sees two pictures faded with age. Between the pictures sits a partly burned old doll in a soiled dress. From the ceiling hangs mobiles, just like the ones he has seen all around the town of Cantrell. They consist of feathers, bone, twigs, shells and fur. They shapes are pleasing to the eye.
Jim feels something gnawing at his boot. Looking down he sees a swamp rat as big as a cat. He jumps up and falls back against the wall knocking down a mobile that falls around his neck. The rat lets out a squeal and leaps onto Sara's lap. It turns and sits up and stares at Jim, flashing its teeth. It's beady little black eyes are filled with fear.
"Easy baby," Sara says as she strokes the huge rat gently.
"Don't worry Reverend, all here are my friends. Nothing will hurt ya."
Jim takes the mobile from around his neck and holds it out toward Sara.
"I'm sorry. I think I broke it," he says feeling foolish again.
"Don't worry Reverend, I fix and make it better," She says taking it from him and placing it on the bed next to her.
"Why do you live here?"
"I lived here all my life. This is my home and all the critters are my family. There is no other place for me, for people will only hurt me. Here in the swamp I am safe '', Sara says in a voice that reflects her serenity.
"You said your papa called you Sky; where is he and your mother," Jim asks, still as far away from understanding the mystery of this angel as ever.
Sara takes one of the pictures and wipes the glass with her dress before handing it to Jim. Holding the picture close to the lantern, he sees a man and a woman with a beautiful little girl. He sees a strong resemblance to the half-faced angel that now sits across from him.
"This little girl, she is you?"
"Yes, she was me," Sara says raising her hand to cover the disfigured side of her face.
"I don't mean to pry, but my heart tells me I need to know your story," Jim says.
"The man and woman are my Papa and Mama. That picture was taken on my ninth birthday. Papa took us to the big city called New Orleans. We stayed in a hotel and we eat in a restaurant. He took Mama and me to a place he called a theater where all these people played music. Mama loved music. My Papa was a swamper. He was the best around here. That was long before the town and all the people. Back then only the bravest would dare live in this cradle of darkness. Mama's whole life was Papa and me. Every night she would teach me to read from this book, the book of God." Sara picks the book up from the table and holds it against her heart.
"Mama died that next summer of the fever. I never saw Papa cry before but he did that night. Mama knew she was on her way to heaven and she prepared me for the pain. Telling me, she will be waiting for Papa and me in the most wonderful place. She made me promise that I would take care of Papa and read to him from God's book every night. Papa did not know how to read. She told me by my doing this he will be able understand his loss.
Papa wanted to send me away to a school; he saw my love for wanting to understand everything around me. I did not want to leave him alone, but he saved all his skins for two years. Papa worked his trap lines for days at a time. He finally had enough for me to go for two years to Miss Mabels in GulfPort, a school that would have all the books to learn from and teach me the ways of a genteel life. But it was not to be, for the devil sent his messenger to take all that was good in life.
When I was a child, the only ones who lived hereabouts was the Mellincamps, us and Pierre Cantrell. We all survived by trapping the critters for their furs. The market was good and Papas hope was to take us from here one day to live in a town in a fancy house. Every month or so the men would get together, they would play cards and partake in the drink. Mama didn't like it but she knew that men had their wild side. I liked the company because Jon Mellincamp would bring his son Tad and the twins. His woman died of the fever two years before Mama. After Mama died, Pierre would come by all the time, for he had no family.
Pierre was always trying to talk Papa and Mr. Melincamp into putting all their furs together and buying boats and trucks for the crabs that fill these waters. He said the people in the towns and cities loved crabmeat and we would all become rich.
Papa and Mr.Mellincamp would always tell him the same thing. They were trappers, not crabbers. They knew nothing about shipping, trucks and business.
Yet Pierre was obsessed. More and more he would come around with his moonshine and talk. It won't take long before Papa would get mad and run him off, but he would always come back.
One night he did come back. The sky filled with the flash of lighting and rumbling thunder. It warned us of a storm but also the end of God's good grace. It was late when he came that night. I was already up in the loft asleep. The noise woke me up. He was drunk. I watched silently from the edge of the loft as he sat with my Papa filling his cup to the brim with the drink of temptation.
He was telling Papa how he just came from New Orleans. He talked with men there that were willing to buy all the crabs we could send them. He needed more money than he had and he told Papa that he had to put in with him. I knew when he told Papa that he had to do something that the night would soon end. For all of Papa's kindness he was very independent, and being told he had to do something never sat right with him. Papa by now was full of the drink. Instead of cutting him off and throwing him out he tried to tell Mr. Cantrell that he couldn't go into business with him. He was going to use the money to send me to school.
Mr. Cantrell seemed like he just went crazy. He just could not accept that a school and a little girl stood between him and riches enough to quench even his greed. He called Papa a fool and demanded that he give him our furs.
Good night, Mr. Cantrell I said to myself. I knew my Papa and no matter how much drink, Mr. Cantrell just went too far. Papa stood up and with a no fooling look on his face, he told Mr. Cantrell to get out right now or he will throw him out. Mr. Cantrell stood up, his face red with anger. I'll leave all right and with me goes your furs, he said, while pulling his knife. In what was just an instant he plunged it handle deep into Papa's chest. I can still see Papa's face. The look was not pain, more like bewilderment. Papa looked up at the loft and when he saw me, his face filled with worry and he stared at me with "I'll miss you" eyes. Mr.Cantrell pulled the knife from Papa's chest and Papa fell back into the corner. I still can see him sitting there with tears streaming from his lightless eyes.
The sound of Mr. Cantrell's voice sounded like it was coming from inside hell itself. Little Sky, your Papa's dead and now Pierre wants you, he said coming up the ladder, the knife still dripping with my Papa's heart. I jumped from the loft, landing on the table that broke and sent me crashing to the floor. He was there in a second pulling me up by my hair. The look in his eyes and on his face scared me, scared me deep. Tonight you will learn about lust and pleasure. I Pierre am your master, he said while trying to kiss me. My revulsion at his kiss made me struggle to escape. He slapped me and slapped me, I fell over the chair and on the floor. He jumped on top of me and tore my nightshirt off leaving me completely naked and ashamed. Again he pulled me up by my hair and pushed me in the chair. He stood there staring at my nakedness with eyes red with lust, his mouth wet and drooling with anticipation. When I tried to cover myself, he slapped me so hard that my ear and the side of my face felt like they were on fire. Relax, little Sky, you will enjoy Pierre, he said, taking a drink from the bottle of shine. Drink, he said, pulling my head back with his fingers in my tangled hair. I took long deep swallows. I remember Papa telling me it made you feel foggy and numb. I figured anything that could take the sharp edge of agony from this night would be a gift. Even if the taste was as vile as Satan himself.
An uncontrollable trembling took over my body as I watched him slowly undress. I did not beg, for the look of glee on his face told me this pig man had no soul. For the rest of the night he took me, he slapped me, punched me, pulled my hair, banged my head on the floor, bit me on my breasts, legs and arms, he made me do the unspeakable. My poor Papa propped up in the corner as if witnessing his little Sky being dragged into the pit of depravity. I knew Papa was now with Mama. Still I prayed to the sweet Lord that they did not know what was happening to their little girl, for it would cause them great pain and there is no place for that in heaven.
Then just before the sun came up, he stopped. It was as if he knew the light would expose his godless soul. He sat me in the chair. I could not sit up without him holding me. He was almost tender as he stood over me. He told me how good I was, how much he enjoyed me. When he asked me if I liked it, I refused to answer the absurd.
He went and got one of Papa's traps. He came back to me with it held high above his head. I was not surprised for I know that the Beast will always try to cover his tracks, for he only fears being exposed. I remember him hitting me the first time then again and again. I lived surrounded by the brutality of the lesser world, but I was incapable of understanding this evil. My last thought was he just wasted my life on his journey to damnation.
I don't know how many days and nights I laid there; all I know that is when I woke up, the pain was crushing. My head felt like it had a red-hot poker running right through the center. The left side of my body was burned, the skin was blackened and cracked. I tried to scream in hopes that it would offer some relief but I could not remember how to make sounds. In fact my head was completely vacant. I remembered nothing of Papa, our home or Mr.Cantell. I had only one thought; run. I had to escape for if they caught me, I wasn't sure what they were, but with them would be more pain. Run, oh yes run I did, deeper and deeper into the swamp. My head flooded with terror that only the hunted know.
I lived with and like the animals. When I would see the animals wait in ambush and eating each other I would shake uncontrollably, for any kind of violence repulsed me. The pain in my head was always with me. I would get sick to my stomach. My body was bloated and expanding more and more every day. With me not a threat to them and not considered prey the animals would gather around me at night. They would not attack each other, it was as if they did not want to upset me. At night I would lay down in my bed. It was more like a nest I made from leaves and moss. All the animals' songs would ease my pain, letting me slip into a peaceful sleep.
Then one night the pain in my head got really bad again and my body, mostly deep in my extended belly, was racked with cramps that twisted my insides. I was so scared, I didn't know what was happening to me. Throughout the night and most of the next day it only got worse. I felt like I was being torn in half and could not catch my breath. I went from deep sweats to cold chills. My lips dried and cracked. I could not take it any more. I went into a trance, it was as if I was on my way to a place where things would never be the same.
The next thing I remembered is a sound. First it was like music drawing me closer. It was like showing me the way, the way back. Back to a place I yearned for, but also I felt terror, why I didn't know. The closer I felt the more the music changed. The sound now was more a scream.
Slowly the sparkle of sunlight broke through my fluttering eyes. Slowly I came back. My surroundings started to look familiar. The animals were all around me. I felt their amazement.
Then again that sound. It was like yelling at me, telling me I must do something. Still, I did not understand. I look down at my legs, blood all over me, blood. At first I thought the animals were eating me alive. Then I saw his eyes staring up at me, knowing me. Those big bug eyes, it was as if he dare not miss a thing, those eyes, those big wide eyes always seeking answers.
I wiped the blood from him gently. His beauty was radiant. From the very first moment I adored him. When I held him to my heart, he found my breast. In that instant I first realized that the pain in my head was gone and I was not alone. I was no longer lost. With this gift I would find my way.
Season after season I carried him. He was a part of me. I could not bear being separated. He was my reason to continue. As he got older things changed. He wanted to walk and speak. I had to hold him. His little legs all twisted, his feet turned the wrong way. He could not walk. When he tried, he would just hopelessly flop around. It made the animals very nervous. For them the imperfect is prey. To them it is passion to end the suffering of the weak. The sounds he made caused me more concern, for they were loud and varied. I could not teach him to talk for I still could not remember how.
The noises he made were just another thing that set him apart; putting him beyond the borders of the harmony of the lesser life. Harmony is an important part of living in the swamp. I never let him out of my sight. At night I held him close. I worried that the natural order of things would take the life that was more important than my own.
Things were changing; where once, no people, now more and more they crossed our path. They came in small boats putting trap lines in the canals to catch crab. At first, I thought I would destroy their traps. When we would come across the land trap lines, I would spring them again and again. Soon there was no more trapping of my friends, just the canals were full of the crab boxes.
My little one was getting harder to control and when he would get sick it would be for weeks at a time. I feared so that I would lose him. The people scared me so for I knew if they caught us bad things would happen. We would follow them back to where once was nothing. Now many houses and barns cluttered the shore of the place my Papa called Black Bayou.
Then one day I saw what started me on my way back. Right outside the town a small house and next to it was your church. The cross on the roof enchanted me. I could not look away from it. I was afraid if I did I would be lost forever. Thoughts of something missing, something greater then what we knew were slowly creeping into places within my mind. The church spoke to me, telling me of safety, a place where peace and good dwelled.
We stayed close to the church for I knew if any good was to become of my little one and myself it would be because of this place. On what I know now is Sunday all the people from the town would come. My little one and I would hide under the church to hear the words. When all the people would come out, they seemed less frightening.
Then one day while staring at the signs that were above the front door I understood what they meant. It said THE CHURCH AT THE GATE OF FOREVER. It was just like in a flash it came back to me, it was like an opening door. It took many years and still much is lost, but I know the Lord. The understanding of the words was like a thirst. My mind was like scorched earth but the words brought new life.
The name Cantrell was on everything. I did not know why, but out of all the words that and only that one would send my mind back searching my past. Looking for a piece of my life I had to know, and yet it left me feeling as cold as a grave.
Me and my little one, watched the people in town, but never would I let them see us. My fear of them lessened, but when I would see Pierre Cantrell, I would tremble. When my little one would see the children, he wanted to be with them. I understood how he felt. I just wasn't sure if they would accept him, him being different.
I knew the right thing to do and the church would be the door for him to enter the world of his birthright. I remember the day I left him and knew I would never embrace him again. I knew that I should never make contact, for in his new world I would only bring him shame. I left him on the steps of the church and waited for the Godman to find him. The tenderness the Godman showed gave me hope for my little one. The loneliness and the broken hearted emptiness I felt that day remains a wall keeping me from the peace for which I pray.
For years I stayed close to my baby, learning more from the Godman on Sundays. I would also hide under the school, all the time understanding more. I was torn not knowing if I did the right thing for my little one. He learned to walk and talk but the children tormented him. It was as if they could not see past his twisted body and into his broken little heart. He yearns for nothing more than to be a part of what surrounds him.
I would sit outside his window and listen to his muffled cries. As the years passed the pain took its toll on my little one. As he got older, he became part of the world I sent him to. He turned mean. He did return what was given to him. Never would he do bad things to his tormentors for he feared that they would only make his life more of a misery. He would do things like torture animals. He got from this I no not, maybe this gave him power.
After years of wonder most of my memory and speech returned. The remembering of Mama and Papa and how they loved me gives me comfort and peace. There is something fine in knowing of true love. Sometimes when I see my little one in the swamp frustrated by how they treat him. I want to go to him. Tell him, show him, that someone has true love for him. I don't, for he would look at me only as the past of his tormented present.
I feel my Papa would be proud of me for he wanted me to learn and learn I did. I have to ask you something that gives me great worry. I would take books and other things I needed. I would always leave one or more of my mobiles in trade and only the ones I loved best. Will God's commandment I shalt not steal keep me from Mama and Papa and my eternal reward?"
"If God would bar you from the kingdom, none of God’s children could ever pass," Jim says walking over and kneeling down to hold her close in a reassuring hug.
"Pierre Cantrell can't get away with what he did to you and your Papa. You have to come back with me and tell the sheriff your story."
“The sheriff, not the sheriff, do you think a man like Pierre Cantrell would let justice live within the borders of a town he built and owns? The Sheriff is nothing more than an instrument for Cantrell to keep the people in line. The Sheriff and Cantrell are as thick as thieves. Do you think the trucks that leave every night are filled with only crabs? More moonshine then crabs fill them trucks and it's the sheriff that runs that part of the business."
Jim thinks about the town which he has come to love. He thinks about Cindy. She must be so worried. He thinks about Claude, Monique, Cantrell , and all that has happened in the last few hours. It has turned what he thought was the best of times into now what seems lost in the darkness.
"You can't let them escape from the punishment that their deeds deserve. We will go to New Orleans; there we will get justice," Jim says.
"We will see. When the sun comes up I will get you back to your church. Now please read from the book, for I need some answers. We will pray for the light together and God's pure wisdom will show us the way."