Here’s a Halloween piece to get you in the mood for the creepiest night of the year…
I never drive anymore. I rarely leave my parents’ house. Not since Andrea and Janie disappeared last May; not since the swamp.
I know disappeared isn’t the right word. They weren’t whisked away like rabbits from a hat. They were eaten.
But no one believes me when I insist Kroger’s swamp ate my friends. They just exchange worried looks and cautiously change the subject. So, I keep quiet, spending hours alone in my room, trying not to think of my senior prom or the fatal drive that led us to the mouth of Kroger’s swamp.
It had been my suggestion. “Let’s take a little drive before heading to Jason’s party,” I said. “It’ll be fun.”
Janie rolled her eyes, smoothing the puffy folds of her pale green dress. “You’re too obsessed with that car of yours, Kit. The rest of us are so over it.”
“Agreed,” Andrea chimed in. “Let’s go to Jason’s and skip the joy ride.”
I pouted at my friends until they conceded and we all piled into my black Ford Mustang. “Thanks you guys,” I beamed. “You’re only young once, right?”
Andrea laughed and yanked a bottle of whiskey out of her purse. “That’s right, Kit. Let’s drive!”
We went north, following meandering roads through a dense pine forest. I took the corners much too quickly, making my friends shriek and giggle as we passed around the Jim Beam. I remember taking a slug, tilting my head back for a second, and when my chin leveled out again, two glowing yellow eyes hovered enormously over the middle of the road. I screamed and swerved, sailing off the road and screeching to a halt in a patch of blackberry brambles.
“I knew this goddamn joy ride was a terrible idea!” Janie yelled, storming out the door.
“I’m sorry!” I cried as Andrea glowered at me and followed Janie. I rushed after my friends, feeling the thorns tug and rip my prom dress. I adored the dress—its draping and soft gold sheen reminded me of a Greek goddess—but I didn’t give it a second thought as I tore through the thicket and ran to the edge of a foul-smelling swamp.
We stood by the calm, black water for a few moments, scowling at each other. Then, the music started—softly at first, barely a ripple across the water, but crescendoing dramatically. We turned toward the black swamp. It bubbled with the haunting melody.
Andrea tiptoed forward, eyes distant, and stepped into the brackish water. We hardly noticed as the churning liquid began gnawing at her skin like stomach acid. We were too busy listening to the mournful song, and stepping toward the swamp ourselves.
Janie went next, dress billowing as she walked straight into the swamp’s belly. The music spun around me like thread wending through a loom. I dipped one toe into the water, simultaneously feeling an acidic burn and the tug of something around my torso. An arm. I looked up into the bearded face of an ancient-looking man and screamed. I wanted to feed the swamp! I wanted to sooth its aching heart.
The man tossed me into the trunk of my Mustang and took off. I barely remember the trip back to town or being deposited at my parents’ doorstep, but I do remember a raspy voice whispering in my ear as I clutched my body in an embryonic ball. “Stay away from Kroger’s swamp,” it whispered, beard brushing against my cheek. “There is only death there.”
When I opened my eyes, the man was gone, and I was left with only hazy memories of that night, and the burned remnant of a half-eaten toe.