Site icon Alexander Hammil

The Swamp

This is a guest post by Marissa. Inspiration for this sketch came from this image.

He came from the Louisiana marshlands and a family with more children than they could feed. When the kids weren’t in school, they hunted the swamps for creatures to add to Ma Rosalie’s stews and gumbos. Only one picture was taken of him as a child for a blurry family portrait. He was the runt of the family, and looked skinny and sickly looking, face covered in muddy streaks. He had probably been stalking toads or hunting nutria through the bullrushes before being called back to the house.

As a young man, he burned to leave the swamp’s soupy air, the endless swarms of insects, the Spanish moss hanging over everything like a deathly pallor. He studied hard, read all the books he could find, and won a scholarship to study law far away in a great Northern city. He never returned to his family home and spoke to his relatives only rarely. They were slow in responding to letters. Neither his parents nor any of his siblings shared his readerly bent. And they were even slower in getting telephone service. Not that it would have mattered. He did not know what to tell them about his life now anyhow.

The city was everything the swamp wasn’t. In every corner of the city, the will of man declares victory over the landscape. Streets and buildings are planned and designed and built, entirely undisturbed by the hungerings of the natural world. For swamp people, nature was the the absolute, savage sovereign. Any attempts by humans to stake their claim on it, or even to separate themselves from the wilds around them, always failed. There was no defeating the creeping moss and ferns and vicious things.

His family could not understand his new life and he made sure that no one in the city knew anything about where he came from. He preferred his solitude. And by the time he retired, he was one of the wealthiest, most prominent attorneys in the state. As his health declined though, recurring nightmares set in that he couldn’t shake.

They started as an ordinary day in his law office. He would be working at his desk in his favorite dark grey wool suit, smoking his pipe. But he would pause in the middle of thinking through some argument he was writing and casually look down at himself. Instead of legs, he’d see a crawfish’s segmented lower half. Spindly crawfish legs would twitch and flail at him. He’d realize that his right arm was now a newt’s, staining the legal documents he was working on with a dark slime.

He couldn’t see his left arm, still shadowed under his desk. He’d try to somehow, however he could, stop himself from looking, but he wouldn’t be able to resist. He’d lift it out of the shadows and where his hand should have been, he’d find a baby alligator’s smiling, snapping mouth.

These nightmares only ceased when he made a final change to his will. When he died, they returned his body to his family. They buried him deep in the swamp behind the house.

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