You’ve walked this way hundreds of times, but tonight seems different. You keep your pace brisk and straight.
Two shadows, a woman and her child. She reaches down, ruffling the boy’s hair. That’s when the boy skips off the road, slipping from the woman’s hold. He sinks into the marshland, cries out and is submerged completely.
You rush forward and grasp the child.
It is not a child. Eyes roll back into the skull then flick forwards. Slight hands clamp tight.
“We’re sorry,” the woman murmurs.
One final gulp of air and all three of you sink into the Boglands.
This story was originally a larger piece written by Katie, If I can get her permission I will publish the full version here.
And Here it is. Thanks for letting me put this up Katie
By Katie Clark
The grass grazing your knees waves and whistles as the wind rushes past in one great long pull. Your eyes blink through the dark strands that toss and tangle in front of your face, leaving you blinded in the dusk. A bird screeches in the distance and you shiver against the cold, rubbing your hands over goosebumps. You’ve walked this way from Benny’s place hundreds of times, you know this road like the back of your hand – but tonight seems… Different.
The air is muggy and dry all at the same time, and the lampposts that line the road that cuts through the Boglands flicker and fade, leaving you to try and not consider what’s lurking in the empty darkness. The breeze that whips your hair wild around your face is clammy breath against your neck, and you fight the urge to brush the feeling off with shaking fingertips.
With each step you take you can’t help but feel more vulnerable – the only proof of any life out here is the lights that flutter at you from across the Boglands. In this moment you are the young child your older brothers constantly reduce you to, but icy slush pulses through your veins and you are frightened: you so wish you had listened to your mother when she had urged you again and again to take the long way home.
You are no longer sure what exactly you are so worked up over. Is it the bad men whom your mother had warned you countless times would love nothing more than to snatch away young, helpless children? Was it the large dog-like something that Nicky swore had chased him down when cycling home late one night that had your hackles raised? Or could it be the village legend that made your heart catch in your throat? The old wives’ tale that each dweller along the Boglands were so well-versed in that no matter how you tried to convince yourself of its falsity each word seemed to ring true.
A tale of love: between a poorman’s daughter and an infidel. A tragedy of heartbreak: of a wife so cheated by her husband that his mistress carried his child in her womb. An epic of betrayal: a man in power so frantic to stay there that he would do anything. And no matter who told it, no matter which way the story was weaved – they all ended the same. The man pushed his beloved and their cherubical baby boy into the wetlands and watched as they sunk to their watery grave.
You keep your pace brisk; your eyes squint against the fog from one flickering lamppost to the next, bracing yourself for each time you reach the point where the light wanes just enough for the creatures of your imagination to thrust out an arm and try grasping you with bloody hands and razor claws. You are walking – counting down the thirteen posts left until safety – and then just as abruptly you are grinding to a petrifying halt.
Just feet in front of you are two shadows, a woman and her child. You watch, frozen in fear, as the mother reaches down and affectionately ruffles the stray curls that bob in the wind. Your mind clicks into overdrive as you try to remember – are they vengeful ghosts? Will they try to rip the skin from your flesh and feast on your blood; or simply terrify you to the point of wetting yourself and leave you well alone? Your feet stay planted to the concrete and you try to stifle a sob as you imagine your mother’s face as they fish your limp body from the marsh. The woman hears you, she turns. That is when it happens.
You hesitate, just for a second. You watch as the smaller figure unwittingly skips off the road, slipping through the woman’s fingers and sinking chest deep into the marshland underfoot. You gaze after them for an endless moment: the silhouette, the tiny boy, gives out one last indignant squawk and is submerged completely by the bog.
This finally sets you in motion; you hurtle forward, racing towards the sole shadow who has slumped beneath the lamplight, staring sickened over the Boglands, wailing. You shake off all the ideas that had been rattling around your head, because you were wrong in your first impressions. These aren’t the ghostly apparitions who haunt the Boglands; it’s a girl and her brother taking the shortcut home, just like you. As you reach the girl she blinks at you through glistening eyelashes and croaks out “Theodore!”
You meet her soaked eyes and nod, “I’ll save him!” You kneel, right where the boy had stood before he’d wandered off the road. She pleads with you again, “Please, Theodore! Theodore!”
You go against every instinct your mother had instilled in you since before you could even toddle from backgarden to Boglands and reach one hand deep into the muck. You steady yourself with your free forearm on the pavement and search this way and that through the bog – your limb moving as though in a jar of molasses. It reaches all the way to your elbow when you find him – fingertips brush against tiny, fragile wrist and you grasp on desperately. You pull.
What you wrench up from the wet earth is not breathing, has not been breathing in a long while. You gape, transfixed – you had only seen an image like this once before in your short life, on Lou’s family PC, on a gory website when you were eight after each set of respective parents had barred you from ever viewing it. Its skin had been puffy and bloated just like this. The boy’s eyes are rolled back into his skull and his mouth hangs open as if petrified in that last terror-ridden howl. His hair flops limp and wet across his brow.
You want to let go – you would give anything in the world to be able to just let go; but regardless of how you visualise this thought, your knuckles continue to grip fast in a rigor-mortis hold. You kneel rooted for eternities: feeling the clammy breath of the girl on your neck; watching as the whites of the boy’s eyes stare back at you.
All of a sudden the eyes flick forwards, staring at you for real, and the gaping mouth stretches wide into a grotesque grin. The slight hand clamps onto your wrist in a vice-hold and you are enveloped in a frigid chill as you feel the girl prop against your back, reaching a hand down to fondly brush back a stray clump of his sopping hair.
“We’re sorry,” the boy’s voice was raspy and low, not like a child’s voice at all. His mouth still contorted into the simpering smile even as he spoke. “We have to.”
The girl turned her head and murmured against your ear, her tone husky and gasping, “He did this to us, to me… To our son… And now we must do it to you also…”
They both take one final heaving gulp of air and then all three of you sink down