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The Tale of Forlorn Swamp (Super Short Story)

Forlorn Swamp

Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin. 2016; Copyright © Jerry J.C. Veit

A great battle was fought a long time ago in this swamp; a battle in which five thousand young men and boys will never leave the bog. Some skeleton remains of these victims still occupy the marsh while other corpses rest more preserved under the muddy goo and still water; corpses with rotting flesh, empty eye sockets, teeth, but no lips, and long twisting fingers reaching out of the swamp grass and ooze. It is a most unpleasant and cursed area expanding far beyond the lush forest that boarders it. The foul stench of decomposition taints the air and patches of ground fog floats above the peat. It is home to giant insects and bugs, reptiles, and amphibians; all of which will deliver an infectious bite or make one feel uneasy at their appearance alone.

Visitors to Forlorn Swamp are uncommon, however, every once in a while an unwary traveler will venture through it, or in this case, a man on the run. His simple attire, torn and grimy, indicates a profession that of a farmer. He frantically sprints through the wild weeds and hops over dead tree logs with coiled millipedes the size of an adult’s foot. He glances behind his shoulder periodically as he continues his frenzied run. The cause of his anxiety reveals itself in the form of two men on horseback. They have just cleared the forest, but stop their beasts almost immediately as they watch the man they were pursuing run farther into the mire. Their refusal to advance may be their willingness to allow the poor farmer to escape or perhaps their belief in the tales of the swamp.

The farmer is more concerned with the two men watching him from a distance than the wiggling fingers of a decayed hand protruding out of the muddy water. The man unknowingly steps too close and is quickly grabbed. He lets out a blood curdling scream as the body, belonging to the hand, rises out of its grave. The cadaver’s scalp has long unruly hair with leeches nestled on top. Its skin is wrinkled and pale from decades of being submerged. The unsettling gaze from its partially decomposed eyes sends the helpless farmer into a fit as he desperately tries to free himself by prying the cold, clammy digits from his leg. Giant mosquitoes fly out of the corpse’s mouth before it chops down on the man’s arm. The farmer begins to sink into the wet ground as the undead militiaman pulls him downward. When the man has sunk chest deep the cadaver places its hand on the unfortunate’s head and pushes him under the muck. The farmer’s screams disappear with both his body and the corpse’s, leaving only tiny bubbles popping to the surface, before all becomes still and silent once more.

The horsemen turn their steeds back around towards the forest and retreat from the scene without a word. Their business with the farmer is finished. Whether they desire justice or to fuel their wicked intentions does not matter; for the swamp cannot tell the difference between citizen and drifter or the respected verses pariah. It claims all who are foolish enough to trespass. What lives infects with poison and disease. What dies awakes to become death. That is the tale of Forlorn Swamp.

 

Words: 550
Copyright © 2016, by, Jerry J.C. Veit

The Spirit of the Cabin (Short Story)

Spirit of the Cabin

Maritime Museum, Washington Island, Door County, Wisconsin. 2016; Copyright © Jerry J.C. Veit

The old man died this morning, ten days after his wife. Aside from the coroner who confirmed his death, and the paramedics who wheeled him into the ambulance, he died alone. With no living relatives or offspring, his few remaining belongings went up for sale. Among them was a tattered journal. It was a modest item easily overlooked and not one that people would pay much attention to. Most of those who attended the auction were looking for rare bargains to profit from or perhaps a trinket or two to adorn themselves with.

It would be an amateur historian curious about the past and excited by all things literary who would claim this relic. He carefully opened the journal and unexpectedly discovered a secret the man had kept until the end of his life.

The journal had this to say…

What follows is an extraordinary story concerning an event that I have never spoken of. Not to my friends, my neighbors, or my colleagues. Not to anyone. It is the account of how I met my wife. Now in my old age and with my days numbered, I feel the need to document the truth in this very journal. A truth that I wish not be known until after my death. I warn you that what you are about to learn will be hard to believe and even harder to understand. Many of you have met my loving wife and have fallen in love with her just as I did all those years ago. I tell you now the peculiar circumstances that led me to my meeting with my love.

During the summer of 1973 I was able to save enough money for a small cabin nestled in the woods about two and a half miles from the small Colorado city where I worked for the daily newspaper. Late one night I heard a quiet moan near my bed. Half asleep and half awake, I easily dismissed the sound. I awoke the next morning thinking it was just a dream and I went through my normal routine.

The following night in my twilight sleep I heard the moan again along with the sound of a woman crying. I unwittingly found myself whispering the words, “don’t cry.” I was unable to make any sense of what I was hearing or why I was responding to it.

Just then I felt a light touch to the lock of hair over my forehead. A breeze from an open window maybe; at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Next morning I once again dismissed the events that took place during the night and busied myself with getting ready for work. The thought may have crossed my mind that perhaps my new home had come with a spirit unable to leave her earthly prison, but by the third night it had become more than a mere fleeting thought.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the day or even when I first laid down to sleep. It started when I was no longer self-aware. A gentle caress of fingers through my hair. A vision of a beautiful woman with lonely, longing eyes. As a solitary man with no female companions for the entire thirty-five years of my life so far, I found comfort in these images and embraced these dreams wholeheartedly.

“Do you want me to stay with you tonight?” she asked.

When I replied, “yes” I felt the side of the bed next to me sink down as if someone had just climbed in. Her female warmth nestled close against me and an arm moved across my chest. I slept peacefully like this until the morning light.

That day at work it was impossible for me to concentrate. I couldn’t think of anything other than the compassionate woman who visited me in the loneliness of the night. You can see why I have never mentioned this strange event until now. How would it be perceived by those around me? My integrity and reputation would be forever jeopardized. All day I longed for the coming of the night when I will, once again, be visited.

I learned her name was Elizabeth and that she lived her last days in 1922. She told me she had a love for theater and getting dressed up, in her evening gown, and dance on Friday nights. She didn’t live in the cabin I reside in, but rather vacationed here. It was on one of those vacations when she was stricken with an illness; an illness that would soon claim her life.

I have to admit I felt sorry for her. Here is a kind, loving woman in the prime of her youth. A woman who wanted to marry and have children; and a darn good wife and mother she would be. A traditional dame; a lady, who would, most likely, drink from her wine glass with her pinky sticking up.

Part of the reason for my fascination with her is due to the fact that I myself am a bit more old-fashioned that what society currently considers popular. The idea of a classy broad who will welcome her man home with a kiss and a hug is replaced by women who drink and are promiscuous to prove how empowered they are, but still want their dates to pay for everything.

The perplexity of this situation is about to heighten, when her request will lead me to contemplate my very life. I wondered if the feeling of her presence would fade if I opened my eyes. What if someone had been looking at us at that very moment? Would they see anything out of the ordinary? When she spoke was I the only one able to hear her? That night she was more vocal than before, as she lay by my side rubbing my chest lovingly.

“I wish we could be together,” she began.

“I have never felt love before, but now that I have, I never want it to end,” I replied.

“I can’t come to you, but you can come to me.”

“You mean…”

“Yes, I long to be with you — completely.”

“I cannot deny that I desire to have you in person, but do you really want me to do such a thing?”

“I wish no harm to you. But it is the only way we can be together.”

“I cannot deny my desire for your companionship. Curse the fates for dividing us like this.

“Oh, my love. You do not need to decide tonight. Hold me for now and I will watch over you as you sleep.”

At work I find myself deeply affected by my memories from the night before. I become antisocial and distant, completely spaced out most of the time and forgetting minor details or simple tasks. My employer questions me about a possible drug problem. A drug, yes, her name is Elizabeth, I think to myself. The love I searched for my entire life is also the love I cannot have in this earthly realm. Would I, could I make that ultimate decision to be with her forever?

I find myself languidly going about my responsibilities and unconcerned with all other aspects of my life. My mind is filled with Elizabeth and the desire to be with her again. The once unthinkable act to be with her is now, I’m sad to admit, being seriously considered.

On my days off I do not even bother to shave or dress myself. Nor do I shop or leave the cabin. The shades remain pulled down and I keep the lights dim, hoping it will make Elizabeth think it is night so she will show herself to me. I sit in this artificial night like a man who has lost his mind or one who is afflicted by demons.

I am a reasonably intelligent man. My mind tells me I’m losing my sanity, but my heart longs for her company. I cry softly, unsure how to solve this dilemma.

That night we talk again as she begins speaking quietly. “My dear, oh my dear. How I wish I lived to meet you on the street.”

“I would take you into my arms and ask you to marry me.”

“I would say yes and I know I would never be lonely again. My soul would be satisfied.”

“Elizabeth, I cannot live without you. I want to be with you.”

“I want nothing more than your love, but my love for you cannot allow you to follow through with my last request.”

“I long for an everlasting night. I wish to sleep with you forever.”

“You have my mind and soul, but I wish to love you fully with my body. I desire to have you without restriction; to explore all of my fantasies with you.”

“I wish to know every patch on your body and every inch of your mind. I would satisfy all your desires and demands.”

Needless to say, that morning at work was one of my least productive. So much so that a woman named Becky, the company’s psychologist, paid me a visit. For an hour she counseled me, trying to uncover what it was that ailed me. She asked about my childhood, my relationship with my parents, my school years and my hobbies. She asked if I was prone to mood changes or depression, but it wasn’t until she asked me about my “romantic situation” that I began to crack. I took a deep breath and told her I was in love with a ghost. Surprisingly, she believed me.

“I will tell you that I am able to sense spirits who linger,” she said. “I can even commune with them most of the time. I picked up right away that you have two auras around you. But only one of them is yours.”

“But what can I do? Should I find another house?”

“She has attached herself to you, so that wouldn’t help. She would only follow you. This is going to be hard to accept, but she needs to move on. Even you know this love is unnatural and can never be. I can help her to pass over to the other side.”

Tears filled my eyes upon hearing these words. My heart and mind are at war. I can never be whole again. Becky insisted on meeting me at my home in two days to perform, what she called, a “cleansing.”

That night I suspected Elizabeth knew something was unfolding. I could feel her eyes intensely focused on me as I slept. She lay by my side without a word, like a betrayed wife pondering what to do with her unfaithful man.

The day came for Becky’s arrival. I hesitated when I heard the knock on my door. Was this what I really wanted? Was there any other way? However, Becky was right; a love affair with a ghost could never be real. In the end I wanted Elizabeth to be at peace and it was this thought that motivated me to answer the door.

Becky walked around the cabin with her hands extended. She called this, “feeling the air.”

“Elizabeth, it’s okay. I’m here to help you move on. Do not be afraid,” she gently said.

I saw Elizabeth for the first time with my waking eyes as she materialized in the corner of my bedroom.

“You know nothing of love!” she hollered at Becky. There was a rustle of wind and a picture of wolves fell from the wall, the glass shattering as it hit the floor.

“I feel your pain, but your hope cannot be achieved. If you ascend you will find warmth and love. Perhaps reborn into a world that blesses you with real love.”

“You do not want this, do you, my love?” Elizabeth gave me an imploring look.

I was overwhelmed with emotion. My knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor.

“Let him be free to find a woman as caring as you. All you are doing is holding him in this eternal limbo,” Becky continued.

Elizabeth reaches for me with tears running down her face. I cannot hide my grief as I reach out for her as well. I see a light glowing above her that slowly becomes larger and brighter.

“No, I don’t want to leave you! Tell me you love me. Let me hear it from you now if it’s true,” she cried.

How could I not say it? Nothing spoken from my lips could be truer. “I love you, Elizabeth. Always and forever,” I replied.

Elizabeth’s image starts to become transparent. I see her reach for Becky’s hand and they exchange smiles. The light engulfs them both as I shut my eyes from the brightness. I lie down on the floor as the room becomes dark once again. I fear to open my eyes knowing I will never see Elizabeth again. It is Becky who shakes me lightly.  “Open your eyes,” she says softly. I do and sit up. She wipes my tears away and smiles.

“It’s okay, she has ascended.” Becky puts her arms around me and I feel comforted. “It’s all okay now. She can never get in between us again.”

I pull away from her a little puzzled. “What do you mean, Becky?”

She looks at me smiling. “Becky has ascended. I’m Elizabeth. And I accept your wedding proposal.”

Words: 2,240
Copyright © 2013, 2014, by, Jerry J.C. Veit