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A swamp story

By Jay Olivier MorelPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 17 min read
Photo by Arsalan Arianmehr on Unsplash

Through the thick fog and musky air, it glided through the water, eyes glowing bright orange against the pale dark sky with an unearthly determination. This abomination we uncovered continued to haunt me in my sleep. In the dreams, it chased me until I collapsed. Then, it swam right up to me, and I could not move. It opened its jaws as it crawled onto land, hissing a low growl that reverberated through my very core like a drone of constant, loud tones with the occasional neighbouring creature offering its own cry to create an unpleasant harmonic resonance. It was coming for me as it came for all of us. All the ones before me, swallowed by the demon in the bayou. Let me in, it beckoned me softly, let me inside… I woke up from the dream, only to return to the nightmare.

When my father left me that morning from our makeshift camp, I wondered if he knew he would never come back. He gave me a kiss on the forehead and told me to rest. I had no strength left to go with him. Maybe he thought we’d be leaving together after he killed the beast. His boots sloshed through the musty dampness of the bayou as he climbed one of the two canoes. Did he mean to leave me with the best one, the one without a hole? Did he also believe I too could hunt the creature, armed with wooden javelins? Feeling too feverish to ask him to stay, my mouth only muttered an unheard plea. The last image I had was of my father, starving, paddling away through the fog. I remained in my sleeper, surrounded by the humming herons and grasshoppers. Please don’t go, was my last thought, repeated over and over before the exhaustion overtook me.

I heard my father’s scream pierce through my blaring unconscious haze. When I awoke, I knew the creature won. I felt paralyzed, unable to will myself out of my sleeper. My body might have ached all over, but my soul tore through what was left of my body. Without seeing my father die, still I knew that he was gone for good. After all, we had survived. After everyone who helped us get this far but died at the hands of that creature lurking in the bayou, I felt completely hopeless and lost. All I knew was that between here and safety, an enormous prehistoric creature roamed the waters, toying with our lives… toying with me.

Moisture dripped from my face onto the wooden platform we had fashioned from the debris. I could feel tingling in my shoes and across my arms, an itch most likely caused by the ants. My fever subsided, however, I felt sluggish from dehydration. My lips cracked under the light rays of the sun peeking through the leaves. I also noticed a throbbing pain in my left ear for the first time: probably infected. I struggled to raise my head up to inspect my leg wound, my head spun from dizziness. The infection I suffered from the crash put me out for most of the journey. While the scrape still felt tender, the scathing pain had finally stopped. Laying my head back, I fell asleep from the exhaustion. May I never wake up again, I hoped. The campfire was burning out. Hunger was setting in. The frogs grew restless.

My mind struggled to recall why we came out here in the first place. What drew my father and his friends to come out here on this expedition? Why did I even bother tagging along? It was all a masculine dream of mine, I suppose, to be someone my mother would be proud of. To hide my true self and live up to what she expected of me. To hide my “feminine” tendencies, as she called it. During my summer with Sam, I had grown close to him. I still missed him, even with how we left things between us. I wonder if my father knew how much Sam meant to me. I felt miserable without him. I missed his soft lips and their sweet taste of honey.

I woke to the sound of sloshing in the nearby water and the sight of a setting sun. The bright orange sky made way for the dark following behind it. My head was clearer than before, and my body was stronger. Despite my calm, instinct begged me to look out towards the water. Slowly turning my head, I saw it. A shadow right under the surface of the water, the scales and nostrils poking out, eyes glaring at its next victim. It approached with such quiet intent. Slowly, the teeth emerged onto land, followed by the careful crawl of the claws. Its mouth began to open. Its tail carefully slithered behind.

In my moment of complete stillness, I became extremely aware of a mosquito that buzzed onto my eyelid. I tried not to move, but I felt it bite. I reactively swiped it away, slapping the side of my face with a wet clap. It had been such an unconscious reaction, I barely registered it. However, the creature with the long and menacing jaw froze still, unsure of my awareness. It could not have been any more than four meters away from me. Another mosquito buzzed near my forehead. I slapped it away, and this time it brought my senses back to me. Move, my body demanded. My whole being spasmed into action, my soul picking my malnourished body up and sending it climbing up a tree. The creature rushed towards me, snapping at my feet. My legs sprang me upward while my hands clawed their way to the top. I barely registered the scrapes and bruises from the climb when I finally looked down and saw the jaws following me up the tree. As the tree folded from the weight of the creature, I knew to let myself fall into the water. I landed, splashing into the muddy murk, and hurriedly threw two of the javelins into the nearby canoe and pushed myself into the water. I climbed aboard. Without resting, I paddled as far as my body would allow, before exhaustion set in. I turned just in time to see the creature gliding into the water after me. I desperately paddled, never looking back, until I could not paddle anymore. I stopped as soon as it began to rain. Collapsing back into the canoe with my mouth open, I tried to capture the falling raindrops. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ear like a death drum. Thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP.

The demon did not visit me that night. Instead, I was visited by the vision of my father’s broken canoe resting overturned on the shore. I was drifting further away from it, even as I paddled towards it. The thickening white fog obscured my vision, but I was sure my father’s arm was being dragged underwater along with the sound of his bones snapping. I woke up to the pouring rain and a lightning strike; the crackling thunder rolled through the crooked trees shortly after. I was alone in the dark.

The canoe, tipped sideways, had drifted up the side of a tree. I had made it to larger lakes. I wondered how I had made it out alive. Was it still after me? I looked around for my paddle and pried the canoe off the tree. The canoe had a small electric lamp that was fixed at the front which I turned on to see better in the dark. I had no real sense of direction in this watery maze. Only the sense in my heart that I would eventually be found if I just kept going, either by people or by it.

My whole body ached from the pain and stiffness of my injuries. My ear still throbbed, my leg still stung, and I felt an annoying bump on my eyelid and manage to remove a leech from my leg. At least the cool rain felt nice. It gave reprieve from the sweltering heat of the southern swamp. I paddled forwards, slowly working through the pain. My thoughts drifted to Sam, and my pain seemed to subside. We had decided to swim in the lake at my uncle’s cottage. It was still late spring, and so the water could be chilly. We both felt brave, daring each other to swim anyway. We climbed out, shivering, reaching for our towels to dry ourselves. We sat close to each other, and he leaned in. I used the excuse of sharing our body heat to warm ourselves up as a way for us to get closer. We leaned into each other, stiffly at first, but grew comfortable with each other. I felt safe, and I’d like to think he felt safe too. My mother spotted us and demanded an explanation. We were able to pass off this instance as a fluke, but she kept watch over us throughout the summer. It wasn’t long until he stole a kiss from me. And another. And another again. It seemed harmless until my mother saw us kiss. The whole time she yelled at us, I froze; unable to move, unable to speak. I still don’t understand why she hated the idea of us being together so much, other than simply saying that we would never be happy together or be able to live a long and fulfilling life. Her words stung, tearing my soul apart. Sam wasn’t allowed at the cottage anymore. I didn’t have the strength to fight back, but I would have it now.

I suppose that’s when my father was brought into it. He seemed indifferent to my mother’s ideas of my masculinity, or whether I had anything to repent for. I should thank him for taking me away from her. We joined his small group of researchers and flew in a red seaplane to the bayou. Packed with provisions and enough food to last us the length of the river, we were to catalog new species rumoured to be discovered. We were to land the plane near the coast and canoe the rest of the way. My father told me what help I would be to the team when we landed. He never forced me to talk about Sam, or told me what I did was wrong. Despite my heartbreak, he saw I was trying to put on a brave face. He sat next to me and told me that I did not need to hide from him, that he would support me in whatever choice I made. He simply asked that I not give up on being who I was meant to be. I wanted to thank him, but the world went dark.

After the crash, he found me bloodied and bruised. The pilot was dead, but the others were alive and salvaging what they could. No one knew why we fell from the sky, nor did we know where we landed. We tried leaving that day in the canoes; we headed north. But… through my unconscious haze, I could not understand why we came back to the plane, or why the others grew scared, or why my father’s voice trembled when he tried to comfort me. I have been lost in the bayou for almost a week by my count, but possibly more.

The lamp only shone bright enough to illuminate a few meters ahead only. The rain fell down like static on an electric screen. My mind was absent. It took a while for me to recognize the pop of red colour that emerged from the shadows. The seaplane. How did I get back to the seaplane? I froze. My heart sank. The canoe became still. I looked over and could not believe it. I am right back where I started. I cannot escape it, I told myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the faint ripple circling the canoe. Even through the rain, it could not hide. It was right under me. It knew I would be back. There is no escaping it. If I die, I die with it, I thought. It ends tonight.

With a startling crack, the creature snapped its reptilian jaws on my paddle and pulled me in the water. The canoe was overturned, scattering the only weapons I had into the murky lake. I was pulled underwater before I could even think of letting the paddle go. I quickly swam back to the canoe, running into one of the javelins, and attempted to climb onto it. I heard the hiss of the creature as it snarled. Its jaws opened, splashing the water as it swam towards me. I dove under, escaping the snap of the sharp teeth. It threw its massive body onto the canoe, nearly snapping it in half. Disoriented, I tried swimming away, unknowingly swimming towards the creature’s mouth. Before I knew it, it had clamped down on me, pinning my whole left arm inside its jaws. The teeth sank into my chest and back. The pain was so excruciating, I cried out, letting the little air I had in my lungs escape. Pinned down, it now had full reign over my body. It began its violent death roll, a deadly ballet that I knew my body would not long survive. I would soon be ripped to ribbons if I could not escape, but the teeth sunk deeper into my skin. As I spun in the water, I guided my right hand towards its eye. I nearly fainted but managed to find the soft organ. I plunged my fingers into the gelatinous flesh, popping through the eye and further into the socket. Before I knew it, I was free.

Gasping for air, I aimed for the canoe, the only source of light still shining underwater. I could still hear the beast thrashing around and knew it wouldn’t be long until it tried for me again. The canoe had drifted too far away, and so I swam towards the makeshift camp. Climbing onto shore, I found the last of the javelins. I saw somehow that the campfire was still hot, even if the flames were out; protected from rain by the overhead trees. Scavenging through the wreckage, I found a cloth that was still dry and wrapped it around the end of the javelin. Dipping the cloth into the embers, the cloth caught fire and lit up my surroundings. The creature was nowhere to be found, although I could still hear it thrashing in the water. All around me, I could hear the buzzing drone of the bayou. Insects, birds, and otherworldly creatures screamed from all directions. It was at this point that I realized just how much blood I was losing. The buzz grew louder and louder. Standing near the shore with my flaming javelin, I fell to my knees. I wanted to lay down and rest. Despite forcing myself to stay alert, it was not long before my face hit the sand, and darkness overtook me.

Through the thick fog and musky air, it glided through the water, its eye glowed bright orange against the pale dark sky with an unearthly determination. I used to think this part wasn’t real, simply part of my dream. But the creature existed here just as truly as it was thrashing in the water, snarling in pain. Somehow, we were linked, both physically and spiritually. A creature from before time began connected with me in the here and now, as it has done with all its past victims. Even in my mind, I could see it, with its bright orange eye and sharp white teeth, creeping back onto shore. I froze; my body, unable to move, my lips, unable to scream. As the creature’s claws dug deeper into the muck with every step, I heard the familiar drone and throbbing of the ear. Thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. Let me in, it cried with teeth bared, let me inside. Soon, I hoped, my body would sink into the sand and be swallowed up before the creature could devour me. If I laid still, I would not have to confront the beast. But my thoughts drifted to Sam, and the fire inside grew hotter and hotter with each step it took. I should have fought for Sam. For us. For myself. The eye… the bright orange eye… move, I demanded myself, move!

I woke to the smell and heat of the creature’s breath. My nostrils filled up with the deep smell of death and guttural gases. I pushed myself upward just before its jaws shut on my neck. I rolled to the side as it snapped in my direction. In my hand, the flaming javelin rose up and shot down right into the creature’s eye. Its whole body shook violently, slamming into me and sending me rolling towards the water. I could see the lamp of the overturned canoe approach the shore. The creature hissed and snarled in every which direction, now blind by sight, but not by smell. Its tail pounded and thrashed as it chased me into the water. I grabbed the javelin and flipped the canoe, climbing in. No sooner was I in the canoe, the creature slammed its body on the boat, trying to tip it over. I needed one more shot. I steadied myself and waited for the next attack. Through the raindrops, I could see the ripples of the creature’s dorsal fin surface from the water. I jumped onto the back and plunged the javelin right through the skull again and again. It finally pierced through and I pushed it further in. All thousand kilos of muscle from the creature seized, stiffened, and then relaxed. The body sank down. I crawled back into the canoe and fell apart inside. The rain stopped and the chorus of insects sang louder than before. Dawn arrived.

When I came to, I woke up surrounded by the white morning fog. Without a paddle or direction, I trusted I would be guided home or be lost forever. My pain was gone, my hunger absent, my ear no longer throbbing. I felt safe. Soon the fog lifted, bringing the canoe with it until I floated above the trees. The birds flew underneath me while the sun rose up. It felt peaceful over the bayou. It was bringing me home. Through the clouds, I saw the faint silhouette of a man walking towards me. While I hope to see my father again someday, I know that Sam is the one walking towards me, ready to kiss me with honey lips, holding me close.

Author’s note:

Normally I wouldn’t be writing an author’s note for a short story, but this is an exception. This story was inspired by a short horror video game called “Bayou” in which the premise of the game follows similar plot points to this short story. The game was also made for a competition several years ago by an indie game developer, named dreamfeeel, and can still be found online today. It’s about a person on a boat, in a bayou, collecting javelins, and hunting down a creature in the water. It is very short, but the ending itself felt to me, a spiritual experience. When you defeat the creature, you and your canoe rise above the trees and spot a silhouette of a person. Despite its simplicity, words cannot describe the emotional experience I felt when I played this game. However, this short story is my attempt at capturing that feeling. I needed to know: who is this character? Why are they hunting this predator? Who was in the clouds? I wanted to write that story myself but worried about the logistics of doing so. So of course, I reached out to one of the game’s developers and got their blessing for writing this story. I want to thank them for making such an inspiring game and for inspiring me to write the story!


About the Creator

Jay Olivier Morel

He / Him

LGBTQ writer with ADHD

A fan of Queer stories, cosmic horror, science-fiction, and contemporary literature.

Also a fan of non-fiction, history, science, biographies, and wellness.

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