MARCH OF THE MONSTERS: "SWAMPJACK"
Midnight. One boy who thinks he's a man, one girl who's been a woman since she was ten, one little boat that cuts through the water leaving no trace. People in town later on will say the kids disappeared. They will say Jack got them. Everyone knows what happens to people who go into the swamp in the dead of night. No one cares too much if a couple of lowlife kids get eaten by the thing in the swamp. Official investigation? Yeah, sure. We'll get right on that.
“Do we have to go so far in?” Rose asked.
“We're not that far in,” said Ant. “What are you, afraid of the dark?”
“No. I just want to smoke, not spend the whole night paddling.”
“You aren't even paddling. I'm doing all the work. Here, be useful. Roll up.” Resting the paddle on his legs for a moment, he pulled a package from the pocket of his cut-off denim jacket and tossed it to her. “Don't make me any of those tiny little Jew rolls, either.”
“You oughta know about tiny rolls, Ant.”
“Aren't you the funny girl? Shut up and roll. Couple of minutes we'll get to my spot.”
Jack watched the girl swat at the bugs that circled around them, then open the little package and start the delicate work of rolling a fatty. Memories churned laboriously through what was left of Jack's brain. He had known another woman who liked to roll and smoke these things. Jack remembered the smell of the smoke. He had not liked the smell. He had not liked the woman either.
Jack remembered hitting, and screaming, and sweet nauseating smoke. He melted slowly into the water, translucent membranes sliding up over his big yellow eyes as they went under the waterline. With a casual flick of his tail he slid through the water after them.
It was another fifteen, twenty minutes at least before they got to the little hummock of land Ant called “his spot.” Fucking liar, thought Rose. Goodfornothingsmalltownswamptrashhorndog liar. Just like all of them. He'd built a little shack there, a place to stash his drugs and crash if he needed to let some mess in town blow over. Seemed like that happened a lot.
“Very classy, Anthony,” she sneered, with a scornful look at a foot-high stack of High Society and Hustler magazines next to the inflatable mattress.
“How many times I gotta tell you not to call me that?” he snarled, ignoring the jibe. He wasn't ashamed of his collection. Guys like him never were. “Here, gimme one of those.”
Jack stood in the water, one hand on the gunwale of the boat, and watched the window glow yellow. He waited for the light to go out. He didn't like lights. The woman he remembered had not wanted any light in his room. She didn't want the light to shine on his goddamndemonmutant hide, she had said. She had put boards over his window, and black paint on the glass, and when she brought him food she had only opened the door a crack, not enough to let the light in.
But sometimes she had acted differently. Sometimes she had come in to his room with a lamp lit and called him mysweetfuckeduplittlegatorboy, and sat on his bed and breathed that sweet smoke at him while she touched his plated hide softly. She always smelled strange when she did this, part of it the sweet smoke smell and part of it something else. Both smells made him want to vomit. Even now, the memory of them made him think of spewing. She always walked funny on those nights, too.
She walked exactly like the girl that Jack watched now, coming out of the shack singing about dancing with Mister Brownstone, sort of rolling side to side as she circled around to the back of the shack, peeled her jeans down and squatted at the water's edge not twenty feet from him. She smelled the same as the woman he remembered, too. The only difference, as she wiped herself and pulled up her jeans, was that the woman he remembered had always been singing about the fortunate son running through the jungle with a bad moon on the rise.
He wasn't hungry. He had eaten a pig less than a week ago. But he wanted to kill now, even though he didn't need food.
“Didn't you ever think about getting out of here?” Rose asked, waiting for Ant to light the second joint. For half a second while he inhaled, his gunmetal eyes darted towards the corner of the shack.
“Where the hell am I gonna go?” asked the great swamp philosopher. “Where would you go?” His eyes were back on her.
“I don't know. Anywhere. Anywhere but here. New York.”
“You. In New York. You watch too many Reese Witherspoon movies, Rose. Ain't no place for us in New York.”
“Well, L.A. then. I don't care. Hell, if I could save up the money I'd go to fucking Timbuktu.”
His eyes flicked again, to the duffel bag that was all he owned aside from the Hustlers and the boat.
“Sure you would.”
“I would, asshole!” She took the joint again and let the smoke sweep out the memories.
“Then why ain't you done it yet? How come you still live with that loser? He ain't any real family of yours. Your ma ain't there anymore, what's holding you?”
“Couple of things. I don't have the money, for one.”
He rolled his eyes. “So who does? Come on, baby. You know as well as I do you're never going anywhere. So quit acting like you're the god-damn queen of England in exile and live here with the rest of us.”
“Guess you're right,” she whispered, her hair hiding her face.
“You know I am. Now, are we ever gonna do it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know damn well what I'm talking about. You think I brought you out here just to talk about New York?”
“Ant, I ain't in the mood for that tonight.”
“No, I didn't really figure you were, the way you yap on about going to Timbuktu. But still, you're here, and I'm here, and I shared my damn weed with you. Hell, we're practically married by this town's standards.” His hands were on her now, under her dirty Linkin Park T-shirt and fumbling at the button of her jeans.
“Ant, I been trying to tell you all fucking night, I don't LIKE this town's standards!” She shoved him away, but he didn't go far. He rocked back and squatted, looking at her. Calculating.
“Rose...” he started. But she didn't let him finish. She hadn't been sure about what she was doing, not until his hand touched her breast, but now she was convinced.
“Oh, hell. Let's just get it over with. But turn out that light.” She pulled her shirt over her head, acquiescing to the inevitable course of her destiny.
Victorious, he smiled. “Sure, honey. Whatever you say.” He turned the knob on the oil lamp. He didn't really need to see her. He knew where everything went.
Jack saw the window finally go dark. He grunted. He dug his claws into the mud and stood. Four hundred pounds of armor-skinned swamp thing rose out of the black water and started to splash quietly towards the shack that smelled like a childhood of misery. Towards sounds that he had heard through the thin wall every night until the woman he remembered finally released him into the swamp with the words dontcomebackneveryouhearmegatorboy? Towards the grunts of masculine pleasure and the soft, protesting breaths of the girl who reminded him of the woman he remembered.
He could barely fit his shoulders through the door without wrecking the shack. His tail stuck out in front of the little building as he stood crouched, waiting.
Ant was groaning so loudly he never heard Jack, barely registered it when Rose said, “Ant....” He just kept going.
He opened his eyes. “What, god damn it?”
“You remember when I said there were two things keeping me here?”
“Christ, what's with you tonight? We gotta talk about this now?”
“Yes. He's here.” She looked over his shoulder.
Anthony whipped around, hurting her as he slid out sideways, reaching for the shotgun, expecting her stepdad or some old boyfriend carrying a torch, ready to play hero. But it was neither of those. It was her brother.
Jack struck. His jagged teeth clamped down on Ant's shoulder, tearing through muscles, cracking bones, and incidentally crushing Ant's windpipe. Blood went everywhere as he tugged hard, shaking the swamp man like a doll. His tail battered the front wall of the shack. Rose screamed.
“Jesus Fucking Christ! Do you always have to make such a mess?”
Jack looked at her with hurt in his blazing yellow eyes. She sounded more like the woman than ever before, and he was disappointed in himself for upsetting her again. For a moment he was afraid he had misunderstood her, maybe he wasn't supposed to kill this one after all. He knew he wasn't very smart, the woman he remembered had told him that so many times.
Rose relented. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you. It's a bad night for me. I thought you were going to come earlier.”
He grunted, and she said, “yeah, I know. You don't like the light. I couldn't do anything about that. I'm sorry, okay?”
Jack was happy again. He pulled what was left of Ant out of the shack and slithered back in to be alone with her. Rose was looking in Ant's duffel bag. Her face lit up as she pulled out a thick wad of green paper.
“Holy shit,” she whispered. She didn't fool herself that Ant had come by the money honestly. Ant wasn't the work hard, save your dollars kind. He was the breaking and entering, buy weed with the money kind. It was blood money, most likely – now doubly so. But she didn't care.
“Must be seven, eight hundred dollars in here. Damn, I could go to New York with this!”
Jack grunted. She looked around. “Of course not, don't be stupid.”
He nudged her softly.
“Do you really want me to?” I don't want to leave you. But this place is killing me, you know?
Then go, the swamp thing's grunt insisted. You were never meant to stay here. Don't worry about me. I have to stay. I am the swamp.
I am Swampjackgatorboysecretfamilyshamesignofsin.
Dawn. A pickup truck heading north slows and stops on the shoulder, and a woman who was never really a child runs to it and hops up on the truck's bed, helped up by a couple of pickers with rough hands. “How far?” the driver calls back through the window. “Far as you're going,” she tells him, pulling her hat down to shadow her face. The driver laughs. It's the same old story. Swamp children, tired of the hand life dealt them, heading north and leaving no trace. Hell, he'd do it himself if he was twenty years younger... and didn't have his whole damn family here.
Back in the swamp, Jack bellows in misery.