I went for a short walk with my husband to a local marsh reservation. I was spellbound by how the winter had covered everything with powder snow, and how the usual green, red, and brown vegetation looked frozen in time, how the water had turned solid. It got me thinking about marshlands and all the folklore about bog monsters and fairy-folk. And then I thought about evolution. Not only about in the usual sense but the evolution of our beliefs. It used to be that humans told stories about how the fairies had kidnapped so and so when they had been walking home near the forest, now those same stories have changed into UFOs kidnapping people at secluded asphalt roads. My professor at the university wrote a book about how UFO recounts have similarities with fairy stories not only with kidnapping but with the sense of lost time, immobility, light, etc. His lectures were one of the most memorable ones. Today’s story is written inspired by those lectures and my morning walk.
It had been snowing a couple of days now, and the usual mushy ground had frozen solid, making it easier to inspect his traps and set new ones. He walked carefully, balancing his weight to both his feet, not wanting to slip or wanting to crack the thin layer of ice separating him from the watery ground underneath him. It only dawned on him when he saw his first trap that the cold nights would have sealed their fate as well. The ice had half-swallowed the first trap he was now looking at. Useless, he thought, shaking his head.
He knelt to see if he could wiggle it free. He couldn’t. Tomorrow he would have to come back with a pick and hope he didn’t damage the trap too much in the process. Most likely, the others had suffered the same king of fate. But he would have to inspect them, anyway. Maybe they had worked before the cold had settled in. He stood up and continued towards the trap in the middle of the marshland, looking around if he saw anything unusual. There was nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual stunted trees, frozen bog kolks, and hay covered with snow spreading as far as the eye could see under the morning gray light. But there was the usual creepy feeling he always sensed here.
He shook the feeling away and walked on, spotting yet another empty trap. This one had snapped shut. Its sharp teeth pressed against each other, devoid of what he hunted. As he lowered down to inspect the trap, he noticed a broken stick next to it. Children or maybe adults who understood nothing that he did, he wondered and pushed the trap open once again, covering it with the marshland that wind had scattered around. There was a quiet rustle of dry leaves being stepped on. He swung his head towards the sound but saw no one. He pushed himself up and once more looked around, making sure he had missed no one. It was not like he was here to hunt foxes. He was here for a far more clever animal than that, the bog monster who took children. Who had most likely taken Mary, the twelve-year-old girl gone missing a week ago. But if there had been anyone, it had been most likely your common mouse or a weasel or bird, making the sound. No one would believe him if he told them what had happened to Mary. No one had. But his father and grandfather had done this before him, and no girls or boys went missing on their watch. Until now. He should have never taken that holiday.
He moved on, inspecting all his ten traps. Some of them had suffered a similar fate as the first one, and others had been left unstirred. He did what he could, leaving behind two new traps before heading to his car. The daylight had already gotten darker, and he wondered where had the time gone. He glanced at his wristwatch and frowned. He was sure he had been here only two hours, but it was well past midday already, and the winter sun was setting down. His father had warned about this — the loss of time. He took his notebook out of his pocket and checked what time he had arrived into the bog — 9:58 a.m. And it was now quarter past two. Usually, laying and inspecting the traps took an hour and forty-five minutes. Something was wrong. He glanced around before heading to the narrow pathway through the forest surrounding the marsh. Nothing had followed him. He saw nor felt an extra pair of eyes looking at him. But the creepy feeling was there.
His heart began to race. Breathe, he reminded himself and stood there, refusing to run unlike his instincts told him to. That was the last thing he would do. Both his father and grandfather had warned against such an act. If someone were watching, it would only get their hunting instincts riled up. When his breath had steadied, he tied his fingers around the knife he always carried with him but kept it in its holster. No guns, they were useless against the monster. He took one last look around and headed to the narrow path when there was no one there. He shut all his inner noise off and listened to the trees moaning in the wind, searching any wet sounds or cracking of twigs and leaves. He was sure the sound of his feet drowned out all he wanted to hear. But now he was sure someone followed him. The pressure was stronger, and the need to run almost took over. He pivoted around to look behind, but the path was empty.
This is silly, he thought, and once again returned to getting as fast as he could to the car. If his father could see him now, he would disappoint him. Back when he was alive, they would have gone back to the bog and searched until the feeling was gone, and they could go back home satisfied no children would go missing. Now he fled. He could already see the outline of his blue SUV. He took up running and fumbled to find the keys from his jacket pocket. The car’s light flickered as he unlocked the doors. He swung the car door open and dived in, locking the doors as soon as he was in.
The turned the engine on, expecting to see a green man-sized monster looking at him, but there was only the darkens of the forest. He sighed. But his heart was still racing, and the earlier feeling was still there. Someone was looking at him. He was sure of it. He reversed the car and hit the gas pedal, but the car didn’t move. The engine shut down on its own, and there came a loud humming noise. Then he could see nothing, only bright light. He could feel his consciousness slipping.
Thank you for reading and have a weird day!
© K.A. Ashcomb