Thursday, August 15, 2013

Taste for Nutria: A Cajun’s Tale of the Loup Garou

Image copyright 2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved.

There are many reason why everyone should have a copy of the book Purloined Stories and Haunted Tales of Old New Orleans by Alyne Pustanio. She's a fantastic writer and an invaluable asset to the state of Louisiana for retelling classic folklore and contributing to the rich body of literature surrounding the unique history of the state. Her own contributions of supernatural fiction, accounting the stories told to her by others, as well as recording her own experiences with the paranormal in New Orleans are deserving of serious attention and I, for one, am her biggest fan.

But don't just take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. If you are a Conjure Clubber, you will have received the first 12 stories of her book. For those of you who are not Conjure Clubbers and have not gotten the book yet, I am posting an excerpt here for you to read and get a feeling for the kinds of stories it contains. From Werebeasts to Zombies to haunted people and places, the book shares stories of characters unique to Louisiana folklore, including Chicken Man, the Grunch and the Loup Garou. Here is one of her stories.

 Taste for Nutria: A Cajun’s Tale of the Loup Garou

by Alyne Pustanio

Joe the Cajun Indian was a hunter who spent long stretches out in the swamps in search of duck, deer, and nutria – Louisiana’s version of an overgrown rat. In all that time, he said he’d never seen or heard a Loup Garou or anything like it. “There’s always a first time,” I said, and so the tale recounted below was born!

At the end of a long day’s work of emptying traps along the water’s edge throughout the shadowy, winding labyrinth of the bayou, the trappers were gathered together near the camp of one man where they all planned to spend the night. No one wanted to be caught out in the dappled darkness so the little fishing camp known as the “Tide Over” was picked for the overnight stay. With the boats and traps secured at the camp’s makeshift dock, and the nutria safely stowed in an old metal ice chest near the back door, the trappers settled in for the night. Soon the windows were aglow, casting feeble yellow light into the near-impenetrable darkness of the surrounding swamp. Insects buzzed against the window screens and now and then a large moth fluttered in the light before the night sucked it up again. Amid the comforting chirping of the crickets and katey-dids, the familiar snufflings of the raccoon and the possum could be heard; every now and then a little “plunk” from the still bayou water meant a fish was jumping or a frog had caught a meal.

A nutria, also known as a river rat, is a semiaquatic rodent
found all over south Louisiana. Image in the public domain.
The men made a quick dinner of some catfish they had caught earlier in the day and washed it down with ice-cold beer. Soon, the lights were dimmed and the tired trappers contentedly took to their beds. Surrounded by the all-encompassing darkness and the symphony of the swamp, they were soon asleep.

Baudier was the first to wake up, jolted, all of a sudden, but by what he did not know. Blinking in the darkness, he listened. He sat up. He listened some more. And he sat straight up because he heard — nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a cricket, not a kateydid, not a snuffle or a plunk. He heard nothing.

“Chotin!” he whispered to the man on the cot next to him. “Chotin! Wake up, man! Dere’s sometin’ wrong out dere!” Chotin, a large lump of a Cajun man, sleeping shirtless but in his pants and white shrimp boots (it was these that Baudier saw move first), sat up and looked into the darkness toward Baudier’s voice.

“Maannn! What is wrong wid you?” Chotin droned. “You waked me up from a good sleep, I tell you. Dis better be good!”

“Shhh!” said Baudier. “Listen!” He peered into the darkness until he could make out Chotin’s wide face. “Hear dat?” Chotin listened. He heard nothing. “Hear what?”

But even as he said it, he became aware that he, too, was hearing nothing and he let out a low whistle.

“Chere! Dere ain’t notin’ out dere!” Nearby, Tirout and Gaspard, hearing Chotin whistle, sat up too.

“Maannn, what is you two doin’?” said Gaspard.

“Shhh!” came a hoarse little whisper from Tirout, then, “Listen! What’s dat?” All together they heard it, a THUMP, then another THUMP, followed by a couple of splashes, then two more THUMPS. In each of their minds, the terrified trappers could envision, by the approach of the sounds, just where they were coming from. THUMP and THUMP were on the little spit of land where the traps were set; the splashes put the sound near the boats; the two last THUMPS on the bank near the boats.

Waiting, sweating, not understanding what had them so frightened, but too scared to ignore their gut, the four trappers sat petrified, listening to something approach in the absolute stillness of the night. THUMP. THUMP.

“Gawd!” Baudier choked and in the darkness the round, white eyes of his friends turned to him. “Dat sounds like FEET to me!” The white eyes grew wider and all turned away toward the screened windows and the night beyond.
Just then came three THUMPS in succession, followed by the definite sound of something stepping onto the wooden porch alongside the camp. Though they thought they had been scared before this, the terror level inside the little fishing camp hit a peak as a sniffing, snuffling, snorting kind of sound filled the air. SOMETHING was out there and it was SMELLING for them! Beads of sweat broke on Baudier’s forehead and dripped down into his eyes. He glanced at the windows, illuminated by the faint starlight glinting down from the canopy of cypress and moss; he could feel the others were looking this way, too. That is why there never was any debate on what Baudier must have seen before he passed out, because three other men saw it right along with him!

A huge animal head went past the windows then: like the head of a big dog, blown up to enormous size, the three men who did not pass out saw it in vivid profile against the shimmer of the night beyond. Long, dog-like ears stood straight up to hear every sound; the glassy yellow of monstrous, watery eyes that, had they turned inside, would surely have caused the shaking Cajuns to die on the spot! Drool hung in long, sinuous strings from grisly teeth, and, perhaps worst of all, was the scraping and skittering of what could only be long nails scratching along the outside wall. Suddenly, the creature bent down, probably to walk on all fours because the next sound was like a big dog scampering on the wooden porch planks. The thumping led away to the rear of the camp and suddenly there came a loud metal “CLANG!” The beast had found the
old cooler!  

With growing terror and disgust, the Cajun trappers sat in the darkness of that camp and listened while the horrible Loup Garou devoured every single one of the nutrias they had trapped that day. Guttural gulping and the horrible cracking of skulls and bones filled the men with dread, but they dared not move so long as the Loup Garou was feasting.

Long moments passed that seemed like hours, then suddenly, to their horror, Baudier began to awake and he was groaning loud enough for the Loup Garou to hear!! Now, all the wide, white eyes in the pitch-black room turned upward and each man began to pray, while Baudier continued to groan. Suddenly, the horrible eating stopped. The Loup Garou was listening!

A limp, sad little thud sounded and the men knew the beast had dropped a nutria to the deck; a rustling and clicking noise meant the beast had surely heard Baudier’s pitiful groaning. Chotin, Tirout and Gaspard thought about all the things they would miss in life — boudin sausage and Miller Lite beer, bingo and deer hunting, their boats and watching Saints football, their mommas and their wives—when suddenly, from out in the swamp, they heard a sound that made the hair on their bodies rise and stand straight on end!

“CAAAWWWWW!!” came the horrible noise. “CAAAWWW! CAAAWWWW!”
The noises from the Loup Garou stopped instantly. The thing was wary now, listening. Maybe its yellow eyes were big, too, and peering at the swamp. Stillness descended. Then, suddenly, a cacophony of unearthly screeching and squawking and flapping and howling filled the night air. In the tumult Gaspard, the Cajun closest to the outside window, now summoned up a courage that would become legendary in the swamp, talked about at crawfish boils and fais-do-dos for years to come. He rose stealthily from his cot and sneaked over to the screened window. Looking out he saw an amazing sight: The huge shaggy Loup Garou was covered with angry black crows, all flapping and pecking at the creature.

Suddenly, with a howl, the Loup Garou broke free and in a flash snorting and splashing, it bounded away from the little camp, into the pitch darkness of the swamp with the birds, a cloud of soot and feathers, following. The trappers now clung together, drenched in sweat and shivering with fear in the uneasy silence. They sat like this, holding on for dear life, fearful that the beast might return, until the pale grey light of day could be seen illuminating the sky beyond the mosshung canopy of the swamp. Then, all together in  agroup, like a turtle or a doodlebug with many legs working in unison, they moved toward the back door and opened it.

What greeted them was such a feast of horror that none would soon forget it! Nothing was left of their trapped nutria but some brown fur, some bones and a lot of blood. The men moved around, inspecting the area and found huge prints, like the footprints of a huge dog, all around the camp. It was Baudier who nervously pointed out the bloodstained scratches near the handle of the camp’s door. But suddenly, Tirout stopped.
“Listen!” he called out in a hoarse whisper. They all listened. Out of the silence they heard a single croak, the “caw” of a big black crow perched at the very top of a ragged cypress tree. They watched as the crow spread its wings and flew away, and as it did so, it seemed to the men, that the swamp came alive again. Birds chirped, frogs were croaking, and the incessant song of the katey-dids started up again, as if on cue. “You know what dey say, don’ you?” said Tirout looking thoughtfully up at the crow. “Dey say dem old swamp witches dey go around like big black crows and dey is the only thing what scare de Loup Garou to an inch of his life!”

Chotin whistled again, as was his habit. “Maaannn! You tink dere’s sometin’ to dat?” Just then a cackle, almost like a hoary laugh, trickled down to them from the crow. The men watched as the black bird became a small speck moving in the distance; it wheeled once and fluttered down to be lost among the mossy trees and the grey morning haze.

This last was a sign to the men that it was now safe to move on. Needless to say, not nobody nor nothing had to tell them twice!

And this, they say in South Louisiana, is a true story of the Loup Garou.


This story is copyright 2013 Alyne Pustanio, All rights reserved.

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