The Isle Of Sin And Shadows - Keri Lake

Prologue

Chevalier Isle in Veilleux Bay

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

May 2011

Don’t look back.

The humid breath of early morning fog swallowed the girl in a lazy white haze, burning her throat like a toxic poison with every shallow inhale. Despite the suffocating May heat, a constant, bone-rattling tremble beneath her skin reminded her that she was cold and alone.

Completely alone.

A passing storm had left the mud a squishy muck-sponge that sucked at the soles of her feet with every stroke of speed she pushed from too-tired legs. Moss covered headstones marked the graveyard behind the house—the halfway point to where she was headed. Ordinarily, the old cemetery was a place of comfort, where she would hide and play, spending hours with the voices who spoke to her there. But with the boogeyman on her heels, and the threat of death looming over her, it’d become a terrifying place.

The citrus fragrance of the magnolias in full bloom were a reminder of the flowers’ short-lived beauty, and the soft petals that crushed beneath her feet might well have been an omen, after the horrible things she’d witnessed.

Unspeakable things.

Long wisps of Spanish moss, delicately draped over spindly oak branches, seemed to reach down for her hair and shoulders, urging her to run faster.

As if the monster was everywhere.

Toying with her.

1224 Regnier. 1224 Regnier. 1224 Regnier.

Her mind tried to trip her up with different combinations. 4212. 2141. But at a flash of her daddy’s panicked eyes and the sweat beading across his forehead, the scent of body odor clinging to his skin as his trembling hands held her shoulders in one last bid of urgency, she remembered the numbers vividly. Perfectly, as he’d said them, articulate and clear.

1224 Regnier. Man’s name is Russ James. Russ James.

Russ.

She’d never heard that name before. Didn’t even know who the man was, but her daddy made her promise she would find him. And according to the man she trusted most, the stranger would keep her safe.

First, she had to make it to the neighbor’s house, Mr. Guidry’s, across the way. Not the police. Daddy never trusted them. The girl’s nanny, Maw Maw Day, had always called him too paranoid and lost in his own world, the way he never trusted folks.

But he’d said to find Russ James. 1224 Regnier. A man he trusted.

Branches crackled somewhere behind the girl. Fire scorched her lungs. Only the small sips of air she managed through her quick strides filled the hollow in her chest. The key tucked inside her shirt, looped by a long chain, scratched at her skin, but she wouldn’t take it off for nothing, because her daddy insisted that she protect it. The key to a secret place.

She coughed and sniveled, legs heavy as if they’d been dipped in concrete, but she kept running. The ache in her stomach from not having eaten in three days settled to a deep, cramping fear.

Blood. That coppery flavor, still branded across her tongue, hit the back of her jaw with a bitter warmth she couldn’t swallow away.

Don’t look back.

If she chanced so much as a glance, Tonton would find her. His inky black eyes would be the last thing she’d see, before he’d whack that machete into her skull, just like he did the others.

If only she hadn’t stolen that candy. If she hadn’t lied. Maw Maw Day had told her he’d come for her, if she was bad. That he’d throw her in his gunnysack and eat her for breakfast. The girl never believed in all that Creole hocus pocus, as her Daddy once called it. Silly stories of monsters, told by a crazy vieille fille, he’d called her.

But she believed now, and she wished more than anything that it was all just a dream.

“Minou, minou, where are you?” the voice called from behind, stirring up sharp tingles of horror, like the bustle of a thousand bugs swarming her insides.

“Hide,” she could almost hear Daddy’s faint whisper, just like on the night those strangers showed up at their door.

Cypress needles and broken twigs scraped over her knees, as she ducked inside the tree’s twisted, split trunk and curled tight against the bark. She and her best friend, Brie, always played inside this tree, ignoring Maw Maw Day’s warning of mites and beetles that, she claimed, would burrow into their skin if they got too dirty. The girl didn’t care about the bugs right then. She didn’t care about any of that.

Please don’t find me. Please don’t find me.

“Minou, minou, where are you?” The ensuing chuckle echoed

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