Stalker Of The Swamp

 By Lamont A. Turner


lazyllama/ Shutterstock


    I’d been to the States before, twice actually, but that had been to the bucolic fields of the Midwest and the quaint seaside villages of New England. Nothing in my previous travels had prepared me for the primordial wilderness and oppressive humidity of the Louisiana swamps. I started sweating the moment I disembarked my plane at the Louis Armstrong Airport, and didn’t have a dry shirt on for the next two weeks, weeks spent searching the mosquito infested backwaters of southeastern Louisiana for an old woman who may not have existed, said to be in possession of a book of equally dubious authenticity. 

    As I wiped the sweat from my brow, my guide, a long bearded Cajun with a hostile, animal like countenance and a worse disposition, thrust his long pole into the brackish waters, propelling our flat boat, which was little more than a raft, forward. Though the overhanging foliage gave us some protection from the sun, there was no breeze, and that same foliage trapped the heat, forcing it back down upon us. My guide didn’t seem much bothered by heat or pest. His complaint was with cypress stumps that jutted up to block our path, forcing him to stab at them with the pole as he navigated between them.

    I smeared the sweat that dripped on the screen of my phone around with the hem of my shirt and opened my email. There was no signal that could penetrate the swamp, but I wanted to go over my saved messages to remind myself that I had a reason to be there, and who to blame for it. The Messages were from Morrison. Unable to disentangle himself from a case he was working on in Cincinnati, he’d alerted me to the report of a copy of a certain volume thought long destroyed, and suggested I make an expedition. At the mention of the title I was off. How could I do otherwise? The original book had been the key to the door of something far worse than hell. Even a bastardized and incomplete copy was eminently dangerous.

   “Dere ya go,” snarled my guide, pointing at a dilapidated shack perched precariously above the swamp on long spindly posts. “Dat’s far as I go.”

    “You expect me to swim the rest of the way?” I asked with all the indignation the heat would allow me to muster.

    “Dat’s what those waders are for. The water tain’t dat deep here abouts. Ya kin stomp right on through.”  

     I suddenly realized his motive in suggesting I purchase the hip-high boots I’d been cursing since we’d embarked, my legs itching like mad under the thick rubber.  He’d never planned to go any closer to the shack than his job as guide required. I had about 20 meters of reeking sludge to wade through. 

    “Don’t worry none,” he said with a grin, apparently finding my agitation amusing. “I’ll be here when ya get back—so long as ya get back while the sun’s still out.”

     I told him I couldn’t imagine I’d be that long as I slid off the raft, cringing as the water rose up around my waist and seeped into my boots. The Cajun chuckled. 

     “Guess it’s deeper here than I thought,” he said, pulling a cigar from his shirt pocket and lighting it. “Best be heading out if you don’t want ta have ta breathe my smoke.”

      I’d complained about his smoking earlier, though it was scarcely less offensive than his breath which reeked of alcohol.  Now he took sadistic delight in leaning over the side of the boat to blow a white plume in my face. More concerned with the horse flies swarming over the patch of green algae that was drifting toward me, and determined not to give my guide the satisfaction of a response, I turned away from my tormentor and tried to head off, only to find I couldn’t lift my leg. I winced as I thrust my hands into the dirty water to extricate my foot from the mud, to the delight of the Cajun who laughed so hard he dropped his cigar into the swamp. Watching it float off, he shrugged and pulled out another.

     The sun, which was behind the shack, shone through the gaps in the walls, casting the boards themselves in shadow. I thought of the X-ray they’d taken of my ribs after a bad fall from a horse had left me unable to breathe normally. I felt that same pressure in my chest as I trudged through the mire, wondering if my next step would be the one to put me under. Thankfully, the water never got higher than my chest, and was only just above my knees as I reached rotting timber of the skeletal cabin. 

     There were stairs leading up from a dock so rickety I wondered how it withstood the assault of the canoe that tapped against it as it bobbed in the wake I made as I approached. Thinking it incomprehensible anyone could live in such a place, I suddenly suspected the Cajun of playing me for a fool, and whirled around, expecting to see him laughing. He was not there. The boat still drifted on the slowly churning waters, but no one manned it. Had the drunkard fallen overboard? Surely, even as distracted as I was, I would have heard a splash.

    I shouted his name, but my only answer came from the splash of a water moccasin falling from a branch into the water next to me. As it swam toward me, I pulled myself up onto the dock and raced away from the edge. After catching my breath, I looked again in the direction of the flat boat. There was still no sign of the Cajun. I gazed up the stairs at the crooked, termite eaten boards that served as a door to the shack, and shuddered to think that was the only path open to me.

    Testing each step with the toe of my rubber boot before putting my full weight upon it, I ascended until I reached the door. Deciding the door wouldn’t stand up to my blows, I tapped upon the frame, used my sleeve to wipe the mold off my knuckles, and waited. 

    “Come in, Mr. Jasper,” said a voice like the gurgle of a drowning child. High pitched, but with unnaturally slow intonation, it seemed to come from a dream, and I wondered if I’d actually heard it. Nevertheless, I pushed open the door.

     Dust motes battled with smoke in the light seeping in between the boards. Other than these stray shafts of yellow, there was only darkness, the windows being shuttered. Seeing no one, I called out, and was answered by a cackling from the far corner.

    “I know what you came for, Mr. Jasper. I’m afraid you wasted a trip.”

   “How do you know, and how do you know my name?” I asked, trying to make out the figure in the wicker chair. I took a step forward and saw it was an old woman, puffing on a clay pipe. Her long white hair was matted to her head and seemed to merge with the tattered shawl she wore over her hunched shoulders. 

     “I know a lot, Mr. Jasper. The book talks ta me. It said you were coming.”

    “Where is it?”

    “Where you can’t get it,” she said, pulling the pipe out of her mouth to flash a toothless grin. “You’ll never get it.”

     “I’ll tear this place apart if need be. You might as well make this easier on yourself. There are things in it that cannot be read.”

    The old woman clutched her stomach and burst out into a fit of laughter.

    “You’re worried about me read’n it are ya? Guess ya ain’t that smart after all.”

   I gazed into her upturned face and saw the milky white film over her eyes. The woman was blind.

     “I see. Then of what use can the book possibly be to you?”

   “Its presence keeps me safe. It wards off the stalker an’ keeps the door closed. It ain’t bold enough ta cross over all the way if it thinks I might destroy it.”

     “You have it all wrong. The book opens the door that let’s these things in. They can’t get here unless someone uses the book to purposefully let them in.” She stopped puffing her pipe, regarded what I had said for a moment and then threw her head back and laughed.

     “It’s already here. There’s  holes here in the swamp it can poke its fingers through. That’s the stalker. It’s used its fingers to stir up the muck and crud ta make itself a body ta walk around in. It won’t bother me though. If it does it’ll never get the rest of the way in.” 

   “You haven’t thought this through. If what you say is true and it has penetrated into our world, its power to influence the weak minded is all it needs. It will send its minions to kill you and take what it wants, it…” I paused, suddenly realizing why the woman had formed her conclusions. She was guarding the book for the entity without realizing it. Of course it could take the book from her at any time. It didn’t want that. It was waiting for something, probably the proper alignment of the stars. I tore open the shutters, flooding the room with light.

    “Ya won’t find it,” the woman said. “Ya don’t even know what yer look’n for.”

     I flung open the cabinets, finding nothing but some cobwebs and a few old pots. I flipped over the table and ripped apart the old woman’s bed. Through it all, the woman cackled and cursed me as a fool. Exasperated, I grabbed her by the shoulders and shouted into her face. 

     “Maybe it’s up on the roof,” she said, laughing as she pointed at the celling. As she did so the sleeve that had concealed her arm slid down revealing a forearm covered in ink. Realizing her mistake, the woman sought to conceal her arm under her shawl, but I grabbed it and rolled up her sleeve. Astonished at what I saw, I repeated the action with her other arm, finding it too covered in tattoos. She was the book!

     I staggered back, numbed by the realization of what I had to do. I remembered the cast iron pots and pans in the cupboard. One blow would suffice to dispatch the crone, leaving me with the odious task of destroying the body. Its obliteration would have to be thorough. No trace of her accursed flesh could remain. While I made my plans, I failed to notice the woman’s lips were moving. As I advanced toward the cupboard I heard the sound of boards creaking beneath heavy feet.

    “Who’s out there?” I asked, backing away from the door. I leapt at the woman and clamped my hand over her mouth, but the boards of the steps leading up to the shack continued to creak. “Damn you! What did you do? What did you summon?”

     I could feel her lips moving against the flesh of my palm as the door started to rattle. Grabbing her head between both hands, I twisted with all my strength until I heard the bones in her neck crack. I stood there, holding her head, staring at the door, my breath frozen in my chest. For several minutes, every splash and gurgle and buzz of the swamp reverberated in my ears, but the boards did not creak and the door remained closed. 

    Letting the old woman tumble out of her chair unto the termite eaten floorboards, I grabbed an oil lamp from a hook on the wall and a box of matches off the stove. My hands trembled so that I could scarcely hold the matches, but I finally managed to light the lamp. A few minutes later, I had a fire raging in the stove. I dragged the remnants of the mattress to the stove, laid the corpse of the old woman upon it, and, using a long- handled ladle wrapped in rags as a torch, set the mattress ablaze. Certain the conflagration would consume the body; I hurled the oil lamp at the far wall and leapt out the window as the entire room filled with flame.

     I hit the water with my lungs full of smoke and came up gasping, but I didn’t have the luxury of resting. As the shack shed flaming timber and the smoke reached out to choke me, I half ran, half swam through the pungent water heedless of the slimy things stroking my bare arms and the roots jutting up to ensnare my feet. The Cajun’s raft had drifted but a little from when I’d last seen it and I made for it. Pulling myself onto it, I lay on my back, panting as I scraped the moss from my face and attempted to disentangle myself from the vines clinging to my limbs. I heard a terrific crack, like a peal of thunder, and looking back toward the conflagration, saw the remnants of the shack had come crashing down into the water. Satisfied I had achieved my goal, I surrendered to the darkness welling up behind my eyes. 




     For a moment I was in my flat in Kent, my electric razor humming in my ear as I prepared to embark on my journey to Louisiana, but a sharp prick on my cheek jolted me to the present. I bolted up, the swarm of mosquitoes enveloping my head coming up with me, and tried to make sense of the silver veins trembling in a sea of black blood in which I floated. The silver faded and then returned as a cloud passed before the bone white orb above me and I realized I was seeing the moonlight reflected on the branches. Suddenly remembering where I was, I looked for signs of the destruction I had wrought, but was unable to penetrate the darkness. For all I knew I had drifted far from the locale of the shack, though the lingering odor of burnt wood suggested otherwise. 

    I itched all over. Running my hand over my forearm, I found it covered in welts. Feeling feverish, I longed to tear off the shirt that clung leechlike to my back, but, loathe to surrender more flesh to the mosquitoes; I fell back, rolled over on my stomach and hung my head over the side of the raft to vomit.

   I choked the bile gurgling up my gullet down and jumped to my feet. Staring up at me from the murky water, the moonlight turning his pale face into a skull, was the Cajun. As I gaped at him his dead eyes rolled back in their sockets and his jaw fell open to emit a mass of vines. The vomit came up. 

     Wanting to be rid of the ghastly sight, I grabbed the pole at my feet and brought it down on the Cajun’s chest. The vines writhed like tendrils as he sank from view and I heard a long low howl reverberating through the trees. I gripped the pole, holding it before me to ward off any attack, but I was assailed only by a hot breeze laden with the stench of decay. 

     I had to get out of that pestilential hell, but had no idea where I was or how to navigate the swamps. As long as it was night I had no options other than to surrender myself to the denizens of the swamp and hope I still had enough blood left in the morning to affect my escape. I was, for all practical purposes, blind. 

    I fell down upon my back and gazed up at the moon which peered down at me through the skeletal branches intent on preventing it from coming to my aid. It sought to light my way, but was held in check by the web of decay interposing itself between me and the heavens. Afraid to expose my manhood to the pests, I released the contents of my bladder without attempting to undo my fly. It hardly mattered if I pissed myself out here where civilization meant as little as pound notes would to a Neanderthal. I considered plunging myself into the filthy morass to escape the heat and the insects, and would have had not the thought of the Cajun, rotting just below the surface, made any notion of going into the water unbearable.

    I must have drifted off again, for when I opened my eyes I was shocked to see two muddy black boots less than a meter from my head. They belonged to the Cajun who had climbed up from the muck to pilot the raft. If he heard my gasp he paid no attention. He stared off into the darkness, the bones showing through the pulpy flesh of his hands as he manned the pole. I crawled to the farthest corner of the raft and sat hugging my legs to my chest, praying he wouldn’t turn and subject me to the sight of that ravaged face again. 

     A gap in the trees allowed the moon to taint the water before us, turning it silver like the scales of a fish rotting in the surf, and the stench of putrefaction hung in the air. We stopped. The Cajun, who had allowed the pole to slip from his hands stood ridged as though waiting for an order from some unseen master. Alerted by a gurgling from below, I moved away from the edge of the boat as the water began to boil. The boat swayed as the swamp bubbled and belched up geysers of sulfurous sludge. A shadow appeared on the water, and then slowly expanded upward. 

     A cloud passed before the moon, mercifully sparing me a better look at the monstrosity before me. A great undulating mass, it towered over me, constantly shifting and oozing as though struggling to maintain its form. Part of it shot out, enveloping the Cajun who instantly became a part of the thing. As it churned I would occasionally get a glimpse of the Cajun’s hands, or his head, though these parts weren’t positioned in normal relation to each other. 

    Emboldened by the seeming hopelessness of my situation, I railed at my tormentor: “You might be able to get far enough into this world to destroy me, but you’ll never get all the way though! The book is gone! Nobody can open the way for you now!”

     The thing trembled so I thought it would shake itself apart and there was a bellowing that came, not from the amorphous monstrosity before me, but from the stars, bending the branches of trees and knocking me off my feet with the force of its breath. A tendril whipped out from the monster and ensnared my arm. It had the consistency of, and burned like, hot tar as it tightened around my wrist. To my surprise, it crumbled as I yanked my arm away, allowing me to dive into the water. As I paddled furiously, expecting the thing to rise up around me and suck me into its maw, the roar from the heavens increased in volume and fury till I feared my ear drums would explode. Reaching a cypress stump, I wrapped myself around it and screamed to ease the pain in my head.




     As the sun rose, its rays poking tentative holes in the dense foliage, I found myself half in the water, half on the muddy bank of a grassless slope leading up to a trailer. I pulled myself to my feet and stumbled past the stacks of tuck tires and rusted out husks of ancient autos to stand on the aluminum stairs leading to a battered screen door. My knocking produced no result, so, assuming the trailer was as deserted as it looked, I went in. It was hot, but it was dry, and there were screens on the windows to keep the mosquitoes and gnats at bay. Springs protruded from one of the cushions on the sofa in front of a television with a smashed screen, but I dropped down onto it anyway, and would have fallen asleep but for the burning sensation in my wrist where the thing had touched me. I raised my arm to examine it, and saw a swath of black lines extending up the back of my forearm from my wrist to my elbow. Unable to wipe away the offending marks, I took a closer look. Arranged in neat lines, were characters—words! It was as if they had been tattooed on my flesh. Worse, they were spreading! I watched in awe as they traveled like blood poising up to my shoulder, and then began to appear on the front of my arm. 

     I hadn’t won. The entity from beyond had reached across the eons to transcribe a new copy of the book that would, when read under the right conditions, allow it to traverse the dimensions and gain entry to our world. My first impulse was to destroy myself, but I knew the thing would never allow me to perish. It would sustain me as it had done the old woman. All I could do was blind myself as she had done so I could never be used to read the blasphemous incantations etched on my skin, and hope that eventually someone came along to render onto me the same service I had done for her. 


The End 


About the Author: Lamont A. Turner is a New Orleans area writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online venues including Mystery Magazine, Mystery Tribune, Cosmic Horror Monthly, Dark Dossier and others. His collection of short stories, “Souls In A Blender” is available on Amazon and Godless Horrors. He can be found in Twitter @LamontATurner1.     



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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