I Am the One Who Is Lost
Based on True Events
1974, MID-SEPTEMBER, HURRICANE season in Central Florida. The usually placid Gulf Coast waters were churning as Hurricane Carmen plotted her slow but intent approach towards the southern belly of the United States. Her devouring winds now largely threatened the marshlands of Louisiana, but even this far away, Bryn could feel the anger biting in the wind-whipped rain left blowing in Carmen’s wake. Moored in Port Tampa Bay on his shipping freighter for the time being, Bryn had no cargo to unload and no way to preoccupy this time not spent working. He leaned against the top-deck railing and stared across the blackening sky towards the Gulf of Mexico, watching the last of the reddened sun sink below a wall of turbulent clouds. A sudden, great wind rose and whistled, slapping his face with cold ocean spray, and Bryn, unflinchingly but with force, gripped the railing tighter. Inside, his mind was a hurricane—howling with ravaging winds and muddling his ability to think clearly. A catastrophe was unfurling that night on the undulating surface of the agitated sea.
THE SURGE OF rainfall was now hammering down in full force outside the Tampa General Hospital, but inside was a calm still and the sterile smell of rubbing alcohol flooded the air. A disquieting symphony echoed in the halls—the irregular clicking of the flickering fluorescents mingled with the dull hum of medical equipment mechanically keeping time. Bryn clenched his fists. His mouth was dry, and his feet were cold. Why was he so cold? He blinked against the oppressive florescent glare—it was as if his eyes hadn’t seen light in days and everything was awash in painfully bright clarity. With his eyes screwed half-shut, he took a daring, slow glance around. He was lying in a hospital bed, his bare feet aimlessly dangling from the bed’s end. With a trembling hand, he cautiously touched around the inside of his left elbow to find it pierced with an IV needle and taped firmly in place. How did I get here? Panic of the unknown took a firm hold and overwhelmed his senses in crashing waves of ragged breaths and whole-body attacks of trembling fear. Bryn squeezed his eyes shut.
When he opened his eyes again, after several agonizing minutes, Bryn realized with a shock that he was levitating. His naked feet hung above the ground, toes brushing the floor. Captive in his own body and carried toward something dark and nameless, Bryn clutched at his narrowing throat trying to draw in precious air as the once floodlit hospital room blackened in rolling waves of darkness. Suddenly, pin-drop silence descended on the room. With the alarming realization that he wasn’t alone, Bryn lifted his gaze to meet two glowing eyes buried deep inside the head of a shadow-obscured figure standing back in the furthest corner of the room. His heartbeat hastened, breathing erratically and desperate—the creature grinned a doom-filled smile and Bryn felt the oceans in his mind rise and churn into deafening chaos.
“Patient demonstrating… violent behavior,” the young doctor heaved an exasperated breath, brushing a sweat-dampened strand of hair from his forehead, “recommend four-point restraints and dose of 25 mg Chlorpromazine.” The sound of hurried, methodical footsteps. A tangle of different voices, some tense and others calm in their experienced, clinical tone. A frantic beeping alarm sounding off in the faraway distance—and then silence.
BRYN COULDN’T REMEMBER how long he'd been walking and the clothes and shoes he now wore looked unfamiliar and strange. When he finally paused to catch his breath, the sun was already low on the horizon—how long had it been since he’d escaped that hellish hospital? Now, surrounding the spot where Bryn found himself standing were dead trees and bare swaying limbs, a mosaic of pine and bald cypress reaching up their waterlogged trunks from the green waters of a swamp. The night near imperceptibly crept out from the sinking shadows of sunset, and Bryn felt the prickling sensation at the nape of his neck, warning him that someone or something was with him in this swamp, watching him nearby.
As the night unfolded, hours crept by and soon Bryn lost track of time and the passing of days altogether beneath the mournfully dense canopy of trees and beastly branches. Crippled by confusion and fear, Bryn laid among the swamp’s ancient layers of marrow, with the insects and mice who made their homes in the crevices of dead trunks. Despite the swamp’s slithering dangers and the waters that festered with life and rot, more and more, he came to dread venturing beyond its shrouded safety back to the outside, back to where he first saw those piercing eyes.
THOUGH HE COULDN’T be sure, the touch of cold in the air told Bryn he had been in the swamp for what felt like an eternity now. Brought by winter’s approach, the swamp’s gloom of green along with the once suffocating humidity now wilted, and the murky swampland waters were beginning to dry up and retreat. Bryn thrust his spear forward into a clump of crumbling brush, piercing between a small armadillo’s bony plates with a weapon he’d crudely fashioned from a rusted pole and railroad spike. “Come here little pig,” he said in a hushed voice, reaching into the brittle underbrush to retrieve his kill. A short walk away, he deposited the armadillo carcass near a pile of other meager provisions—a half-empty box of children’s cereal, cookies, and corn he’d scavenged from nearby wild turkey traps.
That night, Bryn kindled a small fire to cook his armadillo meat. The temperature had dropped uncomfortably low, even for a Florida winter evening, and it occurred to him that living in the constant damp was causing his clothes to cling to him in a cold embrace. The smell of gamey meat and campfire smoke drifted through the swamp's corpse as Bryn held his hands to the fire, staring idly at the licking flames. At the edge of the thicket of trees, just beyond where his fire’s glow touched, it came and stood and watched Bryn. From behind the flickering flames, Bryn distantly stared at the two monstrous feet on the edge of the darkness—it stood there still and watching. Those two glowing eyes now bloodred and unblinking. Taller than any man, its inhuman limbs hung long and strange alongside a beastly body. Bryn felt the silence like a presence there, until it was broken by a familiar voice all too near to him: “I am the one who is lost.”
Then, as mysteriously as it had arrived, the looming figure withdrew back into the pitch-black forest, leaving a stench, not unlike rotten eggs, that snaked across the swamp, mingling with the damp, worm-riddled earth and moss rot.
Until the last of his fire’s embers died, Bryn sat gripped by paralyzing panic and staring spellbound at the spot where those horrid, clawed feet stood. Why had it spoken to him and, more disturbingly, why had the creature imitated Bryn’s own voice?
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, Bryn woke stiff and cold, the left side of his body had sunken into the swampy muck which now clung to his skin in half-dry clumps. He wriggled free from his sleeping place as the morning’s brisk wind began to carry away the ashy remains of last night’s campfire in billowy gusts. In the weak, growing light of day, the swamp’s charcoal waters and knotted tree limbs once again took on their ordinary albeit bleak appearance. With slow, deliberate movements, Bryn stood and readied himself for a day of scavenging, grabbing his makeshift spear from inside the hollow of a fallen tree. As he set off into the swampland, footsteps squelching through the mud and dew-laden grasses, he recited the creature’s mystifying message under his breath like an incantation—“I am the one who is lost.” His rhythmic chant carried through the hushed green swamp like a drumbeat in time with his heavy footsteps and soon, Bryn could no longer discern if it was his own voice he heard, or the beguiling monster’s voice following closely behind him.
Bryn aimlessly walked a winding path through thick, rambling brush until a clearing appeared several yards ahead of him. There, the thicket of trees thinned, and in the center stood an ancient bald cypress tree, soaring magnificently above the swamp canopy, her trunk so wide and scarred by millennia of exposure that Bryn abruptly stopped along his path to admire this hidden treasure. Unexpectedly, as if drawn by the same fascination, a lone male deer walked into the sun-soaked clearing and pawed at the few green sprigs sprouting through the layers of decay. Bryn, from his hiding place in the trees, tried his best to hold still and not make a sound as he watched the young buck lazily walk to the swamp water edge. The sunlight caught and brilliantly reflected a silvery-gray mark just between the buck’s budding antlers as he sunk his snout into the algae-covered water.
Suddenly, Bryn was at once amazed with the tranquil beauty of the moment while crushingly overwhelmed with the pain of humanity... the unwanted madness he had come to discover in this forsaken wilderness. A choked gasp escaped him as he blinked away bewildering, hot tears. When was the last time I cried? The buck, startled by the sudden sound, lifted his head from the murky water and gazed directly in Bryn’s direction with his black almond eyes. The two, in their respective, solitary places, lingered for a moment—staring intently at the other. And Bryn felt an unspoken yet shared understanding in that moment, just before the buck disappeared in a flash back to wherever he had ventured from.
‘WILD MAN’ SEIZED IN FLORIDA SWAMP
SUMTER CTY, Fla., May 17—A kicking, ranting 'wild man,' dragged from the Central Florida Green Swamp by sheriff's deputies today may be an escapee from Tampa General Hospital where he was admitted mid-September last year after…
By mid-1975, three counties surrounding Bryn’s refuge in the swamp had received reports of a “wild man” in the area who was pilfering small items of food. Finally, one early summer’s day, a manhunt descended on Florida’s Green Swamp, drawn by the siren song of smoke left by one of Bryn’s campfires burning on the small island he used as a dry oasis in the midst of the wetlands. That morning, the rising sun burned in the blood waters of the swamp, casting a crimson hue across Bryn’s sleeping face. The stench of rot woke him first—it wasn’t the foul smell of the swamp’s ebbing waters. No—Bryn knew this familiar smell, this uneven silence. The spindly arms of lifeless tree limbs seemed to rouse and gesture to the monster, Bryn’s chronic visitor. He avoided looking directly at it, focusing instead on the foreground nearest him.
A slow, snarling groan broke the silence, as if freed from the depths of the monster’s belly. Step by agonizing step, it approached Bryn until its grotesque, four-toed feet stood squarely in front of him. For some reason this morning, perhaps compelled to finally face this mind-numbing fear, Bryn lifted his head to meet the dreadful glare of the shadow looming directly over him. Its two eyes were red devouring infernos, plagued and desolate. Without warning, the beast reached down with one of its horrid limbs and took Bryn’s entire face in the palm of its massive hand. A suffocating heat devoured the air in Bryn’s lungs the instant the monster’s hand wrapped around his face. Its serrated claws only crept deeper into the skin of his scalp with each of his lurching flails as he tried to escape the crushing grip. He could feel the fabric of his body and mind burning at the seams as the monster tried to fight its way inside of him.
IT TOOK JUST one man to tackle and subdue Bryn when he was found, deluded, frail and frantic, on his remote swamp island. As they escorted him out of the Green Swamp, through the jade-tinged waters, away from the cover of cypress trees, and back to civilization, Bryn continued to chant in a muted, monotone voice—“I am the one who is lost.”
THE SUMTER COUNTY Sheriff’s Office felt alien to Bryn with its manmade materials. The hard edges of the aluminum desks and the gurgling sound from the hallway water cooler were strangely distressing to him. Though the officers had persisted in their questioning of his activities in the Green Swamp, Bryn had not spoken a word since his arrest aside from his disturbed chanting. Even though his body was a mess of seeping wounds from exposure and infected mosquito bites, the only pain Bryn could feel was the gnawing ache within his skull leftover from the monster’s clutch. For two days in his sequestered jail cell, the ache swelled and breathed, materializing at times into the voice and form he’d come to know out there in the world of the swamp. The Sheriff’s Office continued to search for answers about Bryn’s background yet failed to convince him to leave the confines of his cell or break his silence. If there had been an opportunity to witness the monster in Bryn’s cell, the officers never happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The Man Who Sold The World [cover] by Nirvana - Suggested listening for the final moments of the story
The evening of the second day, however, Bryn’s head had cleared just enough for him to prop himself at the edge of his cot. He closed his tired eyes, feeling them sink deep inside their sockets, and with a harrowing breath flashed his eyes back open and fixated on the jail cell wall. The industrial, white bricks began to reverberate with a quaking terror until the snarling growl cut through the chaotic rumbling, growing louder and louder, drowning it out. Bryn allowed the white brick walls, the walls he’d built to keep the monster out, to crumble and collapse. He knew, they couldn’t keep it out any longer. And he knew, his body was its home. Bryn saw the lacerating claws reaching for him once again, and they pierced through his very flesh and bone. As the monster tightened its powerful grip one last time, Bryn felt that something dark inside him had finally died.
In Dedication to Hu Tu Mei, The “Wild Man” of The Green Swamp