MAY SWAMPS 105 – Short Story Contest

TOPIC OF MISTY SWAMPS

THEME: Corruption

SETTING: Somewhere in a swamp, wetland, bayou, or preserve, your character has an encounter with an old friend. This old friend might be struggling with crime or poverty. This old friend might offer an excellent opportunity for your character such as going on a new adventure or partnering with him or her in some way. You decide how this old friend from the past influences your character.

3 HIGHLIGHTS (include): An amphibian or reptile, a maple tree, and an old friend

WORD COUNT: 750-1,500

DEADLINE: The deadline is always the 25th of the month – Tuesday, May 25, 2021

PRIZE: Winner receives a book!

AWARDS: Each story will receive an award!

SUBMISSIONS: Post your story below in the section provided while the contest is open.

3 PROMPTS TO GET YOU STARTED:

1.) Two police partners started off investigating mafia criminals in New Orleans. Somewhere along the process, they gave in to serving a hitmen for the mafia, participating in crimes such as extortion, racketeering, or obstruction of justice. The two policemen are villains, manipulating the system in order to gain financially. Your protagonist finds a way to collect evidence and convict them.

2.) Your main character works at a Cajun restaurant. He or she must figure out who keeps stealing food and/or drinks and why they are being stolen. He must find out who keeps taking food without paying for it. Several people arrive, but they have all paid for their orders. Soon enough, someone walks in and heads straight for the to-go table. He picks up the bag of food, acting as if it belongs to him. He heads for the door. You decide what happens.

3.) Your character is a wise history professor, chosen to meet with forensics to discuss a swastika that has been seared into a dead man’s arm. Your character happens to know the identity of the dead man, an old friend. Convinced that his old friend is innocent, the professor finds out that the police thinks the old friend was guilty of genocide. He thinks the dead man was killed by a group of vigilantes. Your character must track down one of the vigilantes and decide if the vigilante has been committing genocide. You decide if the old friend is innocent.

WINNER(S) and AWARDS will be announced on June 1 or at the beginning of June 2021.

OPTIONAL RESOURCES:

You can find additional optional conflicts in “Writers 750 Emerald Workbook” written by H.M. Schuldt.

ITEMS THAT MUST BE INCLUDED

1.) An amphibian or reptile

2.) A maple tree

3.) An old friend

Types of Corruption

Revenge, selfishness, weak civil society, no rule of law, bribery, few are willing to swim against the tide to catch a corrupt person

Corrupt Villains

Destroy electricity, manipulate a system, climb the corporate ladder, setting someone up, ruin another person’s reputation, stealing, power hungry, causing oppression, mental illness, narcissist steps on everyone or certain people

Old Friends

Some old friends are gold, but others are not. Bad old friends might include someone from school, your neighborhood, or work.

CONTEST GUIDELINES – Skip over this comment section if you are familiar with the Writers 750 Program.

GENRE: Fantasy, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Crime, Comedy, Romance, or a mixture (No erotica)

PURPOSE –
The main purpose of this contest is to practice the skill of writing fiction, explore conflict and character development, write a new short stories, and receive good feedback.

RULES & DIRECTIONS –
• Type in English – a minimum of 750 words; a maximum of 1,500 words

• Post your title and word count total in the first line of your story posting.

• Writers are responsible for their own copyright. Authors keep all rights. PRIVACY POLICY IS ENFORCED. COPYRIGHTS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS BELONG TO INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS. THIS CONTEST DOES NOT GRANT ANY PERSON THE RIGHT OR LICENSE TO COPY OR USE OTHER STORIES. EACH STORY IS PROTECTED BY THE COPYRIGHT OF THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR.

• ONE entry per person, must be the writer’s original work, a final revision, and a new piece of writing. Please do not delete and re-post since this becomes confusing to the readers. Make sure to post your final revision.

12 replies on “MAY SWAMPS 105 – Short Story Contest”

Someone asked why we have two locations. Here is why: The “Chat Room” is where we can communicate with others in the group, network, say hello, congratulate, ask questions, leave suggestions, etc. Maybe think of it as the green room backstage. The Writers 750 website is where we post stories so that we can find them and read them. Once in a while, the chat room gets really chatty, which means that it takes longer to scroll through the chat to find the stories. At one point, we had twenty to thirty stories each month, and the two locations helped us a lot. It was too ‘laborsome’ to find the newest stories amongst all the chatting. At the website, the stories are much easier to find.

You are all invited to the group chat room at Goodreads.com where we can chat about the contest. You can find the button “CHAT ROOM” if you scroll up.

Thank you to everyone for posting a story in May!

Awards and Winning Story from MAY SWAMPS:

Blood on the Water by Paul Ahnert
Best Redemption

The Red Headband by Cortney Donelson
Best Discovery

Deep Time, Deep Sin by Travis Jackson
Best Thriller

Muddying the Waters by Arthur Chappell
Best Competition

Corruption in the Bayou by Terry Turner
Best Mystery

Heavenly Destination by Glenda Reynolds
Best Tribute

Oggie and Me by Karen Hopkins
Best Rescue

Congratulations, to everyone! You guys did a great job exploring the topic, swamps, along with the theme, corruption.

The winning story from MAY SWAMPS:

Corruption in the Bayou by Terry Turner

Congratulations, Terry, on winning! Your story made a nice connection to the readers. Everyone always loves a good mystery. This mystery was a surprise, the case of a bloody foot. Your story also had a surprise ending. Second place was not far behind. You are invited to the group chat room at Goodreads.com where we can chat about the contest.

Next month, the short story contest is JUNE WEATHER. It will be posted tomorrow.

Oggie and Me
Karen Hopkins 811 words

As far back as I can remember, every school morning I walked out my door and down the hill to where my best friend Oggie waited under the maple tree in his front yard to walk with me to school. Everything was more fun with Oggie, even that walk. We detoured to chase lizards, climbed trees to inspect a robin’s nest, stole juicy red pomegranates, and splashed through dark puddles in our rubber boots.
One day we took a short cut along the train tracks down by the bay and that became our preferred route home. The tracks skirted the mudflats, smooth and shiny after a rainstorm, but crusty and curling in the sunshine as summer approached. Of course, Oggie decided to see how far out he could walk on the boggy crust.
Before he was even halfway out to the water he broke through and started to sink into that thick, smelly mud while I stood on firm ground watching in horror. Up to his waist in mud, Oggie called out to me in desperation, “May, come quick, help me. I’m sinking.”
“Noooo.” I yelled back. “I can’t.”
“You can, May. You’re littler than me. You’re lighter. You won’t sink. Help me. Pleeeease save me.”
But I was terrified. There was nowhere to run for help and my feet felt as firmly stuck to the ground as Oggie’s were stuck in the mud. Still, I couldn’t allow my friend to sink into that sucking mire and disappear forever, could I? What to do? I spotted an old 2 x 4 about 4 feet long and I dragged it out onto the flats toward Oggie. When I couldn’t take another step, I stopped and flung that board with all might in his direction. It fell short.
“May, what are you doing? He screamed. “I can’t reach that board. I’m stuck, I need your help.” I took a tentative step toward him, and then another. The crust started to crack under my feet and I stopped. “Oggie, you’re going to have to reach the board,” I yelled back at him. Stretch out, swim through the mud. It’s only like two feet from you if you reach out far enough. Come on, Oggie; you gotta try.” Tears ran down my face.
“Are you outta your mind?” Oggie shouted back. But he leaned forward and stretched his arms out for all he was worth. And as he did his legs came up a little. He was kind of floating now, right there in that slimy mud. Not quite swimming, he managed to pull himself through the mud over to the 2 x 4. It felt solid under his chest and he just lay there for a minute or two letting the sun dry the mud caked on his legs and arms and back.
Finally, I crept forward, one tiny step at a time and tugged at the end of the board. I don’t think I really moved it much, but Oggie crawled toward me, and eventually we made our way back to shore together. Oggie had lost a shoe in the mud but neither of us wanted to look for it. We followed the tracks, cut across a field and came out at Oggie’s house.
We went straight to the backyard, turned on the hose and I squirted him from head to toe, watching that black mud run off his face and hair and clothes and into the grass before I ran the rest of the way home. I don’t know what he told his mom about his shoe, but neither of us ever breathed a word about our mishap on the mud.
It was ten years before I mentioned that day to Oggie again, “Remember that day you went out on the mudflats?”
“I’ll never forget it.”
“I was such a coward that day. I always wanted to apologize; I should have been braver. But I just couldn’t force myself to walk out into the mud. I know I let you down and I’m sorry.”
Oggie looked at me in surprise, “Let me down? I was stupid; the mud let me down—literally.” He laughed, “You saved my life. If you’d walked out there when I was panicking we could have both sunk to the bottom. I was always amazed at what a cool-headed little kid you were.”
I gulped and nodded, feeling like a seven-year-old again. Oggie’s words gave me a different perspective, and I felt as if a weight were suddenly lifted, as if it had been me that was bogged down all these years, and now I was free. I wasn’t a chicken. I was brave! I was a cool-headed little kid, about to graduate from high school.
I smiled, “Your words are a lovely graduation gift, Oggie.” He smiled too and together we stepped into the future.

My story gives tribute to fellow writer & friend Shae Hamrick (who loved dragons) and my cat Opie. Opie passed on May 3rd this year; Shae passed away on Mother’s Day May 9th. R.I.P, – you are loved and missed.

Heavenly Destination (927 words)

What a contrast to experience beautiful spring weather in the month of May while a 9-year old cat lay up against the house among the filth, his hours of life counting down. In his weakened condition, he couldn’t even muster enough strength or interest to chase the pigeons that flocked by the dozens to the backyard to devour the birdseed scattered on the ground. Not so with Mr. Squirrel. Once Mr. Squirrel was settled at the bird feeder, the orange and white cat named Opie would chase him up the palm tree. The squirrel artfully made his lightning-fast exit down the palm and to the privacy fence with plans to visit another day. Opie knew that something was wrong with his body, especially when he was forced to go to the veterinarian the day before. The bad news was given to his owners that he had an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs. If only cats could talk, it wouldn’t have been such a shock. How could such a beautiful cat that was counted like a family member, that provided emotional support to his owners, slip through their fingers with his quickly declining health?

Opie felt a need to visit the old bayou where he spent many a day chasing lizards and green frogs and whatever else gained his interest. The bayou served as a disconnect from the world which meant no loud vehicles or rap music from obnoxious neighbors; no electronic devices, just nature. His eyes squinted against the bright sun as he crawled through the hole in the fencing and slowly made his way to Pilgrim Bayou just a few acres away.

When Opie arrived at the Bayou, he saw his neighbor Sharna sitting on the ground with her knees drawn up and crying uncontrollably. Even though she was in her early sixties, Sharna needed a walker to get around. It laid on its side to the right of her. She had been fighting cancer for a long time; the cancer was winning. Her once creamy skin was now tinged with yellow. The pain was too great to bear. Her treatments and medication left her bank accounts drained. She considered selling her property. Some friends chipped in some funds to ease her burden. It was a miracle that she even made it to Pilgrim Bayou. Opie came to rub his face against her leg as he offered her comfort. Her heart was warmed as she ran her fingers through his thick fur.

Ripples in the water got their attention as Big Bertha, a 13-foot alligator swam to the edge of the water to greet them. In the past, Sharna often fed Bertha chicken scraps while Opie looked on. After all, Opie was a curious cat, always checking out new things. But unbeknownst to Sharna and Opie, a Burmese python had quietly made its way behind them. Sharna screamed with fright as she stumbled backward toward the water, the python following close behind. She grabbed Opie in her arms. She found herself on uneven stubby ground. She looked down in horror, seeing she was now on the back of Big Bertha. As if on cue, Bertha wheeled around and headed into deeper waters.

“This could be worse,” she said to herself. And then it was.

It would seem that the python put out a “hit” on the human and the cat. Boa constrictors and yellow and green anacondas began to slither to and over the banks of the bayou. She had never encountered a single snake in all her years in visiting Pilgrim Bayou. What was so special about today? It was as if these snakes were indeed demonic beings, sent there to drag her body and soul down into the murky waters. Bertha did a sweeping motion of her tail when the snakes got too close. The iguanas flicked their tongues out as they looked down from the branches of maple trees. Until now a flock of pristine white egrets were feeding in an adjoining waterway. More anacondas and boa constrictors sent them to flight. Big Bertha kept them at bay with her huge tail.
Up ahead there was a strange sight: a tiny island with a layer of clouds and a colorful bridge. Bertha swam over to the edge. The small island “called” to Opie. He willingly jumped from the alligator to the island. He looked back only once. With slow steps, Opie crossed the Rainbow Bridge and was gone forever. Sharna looked on in awe. A tear slid down her cheek. She was jerked back to the present when Bertha continued through the bayou.

The number of snakes increased as they continued their assault on the frail human. There was unearthly hissing. Despair filled her heart. This is not the end that she imagined.

A stream of flaming fire startled her. There was a dragon in Pilgrim Bayou. It was burning up the demonic snakes and alligators. Other snakes and reptiles retreated to the shadows beyond. The dragon lowered its head and blinked at Sharna. She placed her hand on its face as a way to thank it for saving her.

Up ahead there was an angel standing near a golden chariot and white-winged horse. Bertha came to rest at the bank. Sharna made her leap onto dry land.

“Your chariot awaits you, my lady,” said the regal angel.

Without words or hesitation, Sharna boarded the chariot. She held on tight while the winged horse made them airborne to the heavenly realms, forever in the presence of God.

Blood on the Water
Paul Ahnert
1430 words

BLOOD ON THE WATER

“Dude, the mosquitoes are brutal tonight”, Chaz complained, for about the hundredth time in the past hour. “Yeah, you’re in the swamp, man, and you asked to come out here so just deal.” Chaz and Andy sat in a jon boat in the Florida Everglades doing some night fishing and drinking more than a few beers. Andy spent most of his spare time in the everglades fishing and generally hiding from the mess of a life he created for himself. Chaz couldn’t even remember why he wanted to go fishing. “At least the beers are cold,” he thought as he swatted yet another annoying mosquito buzzing around his ears.

Up until now, the conversation had been light and inconsequential, just two lifelong friends who hadn’t had much time to hang out together catching up with one another. Andy cast out, lit up a cigar and with a serious look in his eye turned to Chaz and said, “Hey man, you know, Lenny’s back in town.” Chaz, mid sip, spit beer all over Andy’s tackle box. “Nice,” Andy said with a smirk and an eye roll. Chaz, wiped his mouth and with wide eyes replied. “Do you think he’s still holding a grudge?” “I don’t know, bro, but if I were you, I’d be watching over my shoulder.” Andy punctuated his last statement with a large plume of smoke from his cigar.

A loud splash to the right of the boat caught the two men’s attention and they turned in time to see a twelve foot alligator glide by in search of a late night snack. “You know dude, we shoulda fed that guy to a gator that night, it would have saved everybody a whole lotta hassle,” Andy reflected. “Yeah,” Chaz agreed as he chugged his beer with one hand and reached for another with the other, suddenly having an overwhelming desire to go from pleasantly buzzed to solidly drunk.

Twenty-three years and a handful of months earlier, Chaz, Andy, Lenny and Lenny’s soon to be ex-best girl Marina were hanging out at a party in Everglades Holiday Park, blowing off steam, drinking and getting high after senior year finals. Imbued with liquid courage, Chaz called over to Marina, “Hey baby, when you get tired of babysitting Lenny, I know a real man who will love you like you deserve.” What neither Chaz nor Lenny knew was Marina had been getting tired of Lenny and Chaz’s offer was exactly what she had been waiting for. Just high enough to cast caution to the wind, Marina sauntered over to Chaz, positioned herself so she could stare Lenny in the eye and planted a wet kiss on Chaz’s mouth. Many of the party goers erupted into cat calls, adding to Lenny’s humiliation.

In a blind rage, Lenny hopped in the pick up truck his parents bought him for his eighteenth birthday, only two months earlier, and sped out of the park onto U S 27. Through angry tears and, drunk well beyond the legal limit, Lenny never even noticed the minivan traveling in the opposite direction as he crossed the center white line. Convicted on three counts of vehicular manslaughter, Lenny was sentenced to three consecutive ten year stints in the state pen. Now, a little over twenty-three years later, due to time off for good behavior, Lenny was out on parole.

Lenny’s first few years in prison were exactly what one would expect for a scared, scrawny, eighteen year old, a living hell. Tall, but thin, Lenny hit the weights and before too long filled in his six foot two frame with impressive bulk. Lenny transformed from bullied to respected when he brutally beat one of his worst tormentors. Gone was the shoulder length blond hair, replaced with a shaved head accentuated with tattoos readily identified as the homemade jailhouse variety. No one who knew Lenny from high school would have recognized him now. Fueled by hate, he became one of the most feared residents of his cell block. For the next eight years, Lenny enjoyed the fear he instilled in others and enjoyed the pain he inflicted on those he perceived as disrespectful.

One fateful, rainy, Saturday afternoon, unable to lift in the Yard, Lenny wandered past the lunch room where some fellow inmates had gathered to listen to Chaplain Jack. Chaplain Jack had once been an inmate in this very prison, but after turning his life around through the power of faith in Jesus Christ, he dedicated his life to serving the Lord. Chaplain Jack looked like he still belonged on the inside, and caught Lenny off guard when he waved over to him and said, “Hi, I’m Chaplain Jack, come on in friend, and have a seat.” Lenny skeptically went in but decided to listen to what the man of God had to say.

Weekly, Chaplain Jack came and ministered and Lenny found himself, on more Saturdays than not, sitting in the lunchroom listening, and eventually, not just listening, but asking questions and interacting. Within a few months, Lenny prayed with the chaplain to receive Christ and entered into a discipleship program. Lenny soon became a model prisoner and began ministering to other inmates.

The day Lenny was released he reached out to some contacts given him by Chaplain Jack and soon found himself in a welcoming community of believers who loved him for who he was and helped him get re-acclimated to society. Encouraged to make peace with his past, Lenny decided to reach out to the one person he would have happily killed with his bare hands twenty-three years ago, Chaz Lewis.

The day Lenny contacted Chaz, Chaz contacted Andy and together they hatched a plan similar to what they had discussed on fishing night. “I’m not really sure if this is cool, man” Chaz told Andy as they discussed killing Lenny and dumping him in the swamp for gator food. “Course it’s cool, bro, the dude wiped out a whole family and now he’s coming for you.” “Yeah, I guess it’s either me or him, then, right?” “Exactly!” Andy said with a wink.

Chaz and Andy found out where Lenny lived and staked out his apartment. When Lenny returned home from a church meeting, Andy was waiting for him with an aluminum baseball bat. After knocking Lenny out, the two smaller men wrestled his unconscious body into the bed of Andy’s pick up truck and headed out to a secluded boat ramp on U S 27. What neither man noticed was the surveillance camera attached to the apartment building, placed there due to the high crime rate in the immediate area.

The men, with great effort, transported Lenny from the pick up truck to the fishing boat and headed out to back channels where they would not be disturbed. Neither man was expecting Lenny to wake up so soon. Only halfway to the pre planned killing spot, Lenny woke up and lunged for Andy. Before Chaz could grab the nine millimeter handgun from the tackle box, Andy was being lifted from the boat seat by his throat. Eyes wide with terror, Andy gurgled, “shoot him man!” Chaz aimed and fired, but at such close range, he managed to kill two men with one bullet. Terrified, Chaz did the only thing he could think of, he dumped both bodies overboard and hoped the alligators would do the rest. Not knowing what else to do, Chaz drove back to Andy’s place, where he had left his car earlier in the evening. Chaz didn’t think anyone could connect him to the night’s events and decided to leave Andy’s boat and trailer in his driveway and head home and try to forget about what happened.

Meanwhile, the night manager at Lenny’s apartment building, having watched the attack take place on his CCTV, notified the police. Able to identify Andy by the license plate on his boat trailer, the police sent a car to stake out Andy’s house. Chaz never even noticed the police car parked at the end of the street as he pulled into Andy’s driveway. Before he could get into his own car and speed home, the police were on him.

Three years later, Chaz Lewis was walking past the prison cafeteria when he noticed a small crowd gathering. Standing in the front of the room was a rough looking guy in civilian clothes who looked like he was no stranger to a prison jumpsuit. The man waved over to Chaz, “Hi, I’m Chaplain Jack, come on in friend and have a seat.”

The Red Headband – Cortney Donelson – 776 words

The pull of her grin beckons me closer. Her teeth seem to glow in the moonlight—particularly the front left tooth, which has been crooked since the days of our youth, when we’d romp through our neighborhood, swim in her family’s pool, or ride the bus together to school.

Now, she sits with her knees pulled tightly to her chest, and wet streaks cover her cheeks, evidence of recent tears. A red headband keeps her long, dark hair out of her eyes, just like when she was a kid.

“Come here,” she whispers. “Sit.” She pats the flat rock next to her that borders the edge of the murky waters of the swamp. Low-hanging limbs brush my face as I make my way to her—slowly. I anticipate the tension and am fearful of the other emotions that will surely rise up from deep places.

A frog croaks, igniting a symphony of nocturnal noises—as if the entire wetland is anticipating this reunion and wants to be a part of it.

Carrie watches my timid approach. Her grin turns sour, the sight of me reminding her of the brokenness we both carry. But she waves me forward nonetheless.

I come alongside her and sit down, wrapping my arms around my own knees, mimicking her position. My bare toes dip into the lukewarm water. Staring at the center of the watering hole, where the moon’s beams highlight a decaying log, I think back to the last time we had interacted. It has been a long time.

Carrie breaks the silence, throwing us into the middle of the tension without any pleasantries or small talk.

“Don’t look at her, and maybe she won’t st—stop?” Carrie asks the statement as a question, her voice cracking with the words won’t stop. “That’s what you think I said all those years ago?” She sniffles.

I nod, at a loss for words. That sentence had broken eleven-year-old me. I had been riding my bike down the hill on her street, toward her blue house with the oak tree in front, when I spied Carrie standing with her neighbor at her mailbox. As I drew closer, I heard her words.

“Don’t look at her, and maybe she won’t stop.”

I didn’t stop. I pumped my tiny legs even harder, aiming the bicycle’s wheels for home, where I hid in a neighbor’s bush and sobbed for hours. Shame will do that to you.

Carrie and I never spoke after that day, and for decades, I was left unwilling to trust another friend.

And now, here we sit, among the swamp life, revisiting that pivotal day in my life. My childhood best friend and me. We’re now grown, but it’s as if we’re kids again, sitting by her pool and trading secrets like we used to do.

“That’s not what I said,” she continues. The frogs’ crescendo amplifies, as if they, too, know we’re reached the climax of the first act of some dark play.

I try to swallow, but my mouth is dry.

“What did you say then?” I manage to ask as my stomach curls at the sound of those words, spoken again through Carrie’s lips. The heartache, the years without closure, and the betrayal had decimated my relational security . . . It had taken twenty-five years to recover.

“I said, ‘Don’t look at her like that, or she won’t stop . . . I was sticking up for you.” I can sense her peering at the side of my head.

My gaze shifts from the swamp to Carrie’s eyes. They are desperate. My hand moves involuntarily to my mouth, covering the newly widened opening. The weight of the misunderstanding pushes down on my lungs, cutting off words. All these years . . . our broken friendship . . . the trail of relationships I had sabotaged as I attempted to protect my hurting heart . . .

Without warning, Carrie stands up and dives into the black water, her tall, thin body disappearing beneath the topside foliage. Nature’s noises become silent. Her red headband floats to the surface, and I scream in desperation, wanting more details, more closure. More anything. I want my friend back.

Then, I wake up. My bedsheets are wet as if Carrie’s splash has washed over them. I look toward the window where the moon is shining through the leaves of the giant maple tree in my backyard. My pillow, where my head was resting a few seconds ago, is awash in its light. I’m back in the home where I grew up, visiting my parents. Back in the home that sits six houses away from Carrie’s old blue house.

It was a dream.

“Deep Time, Deep Sin” by Travis Jackson, 1445 words

“Congratulations, partner. Millions of dollars’ worth of drugs and prostitutes down the drain.”

Twisting the top off a whiskey bottle, Mayor Earl Hughes took a long swig, ignoring both the thumb-sized flies and the body parts floating nearby. As the wind shook the Lycopod trees, all of which were mostly bark instead of wood, he lowered the bottle, sweat staining his khakis and gray polo shirt.

“What…an…accomplishment. Don’t you think, Cyrus?” Mayor Hughes said, turning to a middle-aged man in a flannel shirt and torn jeans, his brown snakeskin boots pressing into the body of his top enforcer.
Raising his eyebrow, Cyrus spat.

“It’s not as bad as it seems.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Cyrus…”

The mayor turned and took two steps, rubbing his eyes as crickets-or something similar to crickets-sang. He flinched as an eagle-sized dragonfly flew passed his head.

“I’ve been through this kind of problem before.” Cyrus said, looking up at the night sky,
“Hiding valuables in the past has its uses, but also its risks.”

Cyrus motioned to the waters, to the man-sized red fish that were eating the bodies. As he continued, Mayor Hughes took another swig.

“I’ve lost two million in cocaine trying to hide it in the old Aztec Empire, lost another million hiding tiger skins in ice age Australia. You sometimes lose product in the past, including human product, mayor.”

“Also lose men, too…”

Cyrus nodded.

“Yep. These were taken by the same critter that took-

“How?” Mayor Hughes said,

“Have you ever stopped to think how a bunch of good old boys with shotguns could be taken by one oversized…”

The mayor froze, hearing a boat engine. He turned, seeing a light in the distance, hovering over the algae coated water. The fish parted as the boat approached. As the mayor’s eyes narrowed, Cyrus sighed.

“The only survivor. Over here, Dawson.” Cyrus said. The boat slowed, gently touching the shore. Dawson, the six and a half feet tall, bony man controlling the boat, rose, rubbing his blood-stained denim shirt and nursing a bite wound. Wheezing, he walked out of the boat, slightly shaking.

Who wouldn’t have the shakes after seeing all of this go down, the mayor thought, looking once again at the body parts. As a head floated by, he focused on it, seeing that it was of a very young woman.
More like a teenager, he thought with a moment of guilt.

“I tried to find Leroy, Biggs, Jacob…” Dawson said, wheezing with almost every word. He looked back out at the swamp, his eyes contemplative, almost sorrowful.

“…no one else made it. Not one.”

“Tom Pritchard wasn’t with you boys, was he?” Mayor Hughes said. Dawson looked down, then nodded.

“…The head of the city council…” Mayor Hughes said.

“Everyone in on it, everyone in the fine town of Sacredville, Texas who knew about this operation…all gone.” Cyrus said, spitting into the swamp. Mayor Hughes cussed, then pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. As he lit it, Dawson sat on a patch of grass, shaking slightly more. Cyrus put a hand on his shoulder.

“Ease up there, buddy. We have damage control to do, and I don’t need you weirding out on us.” Cyrus said. His eyes tearing up, Dawson nodded.

“Damage control? Nobody knows about us being here, or why.” The mayor said, taking a few puffs,

“The moment we flipped that switch the first time and dropped in this here swamp, we made two timelines; the normal one that we go back to…and another. That’s how all time travel works. We can’t change the past, only make another universe with a different history, one we can never go to. It causes so much temporal anomalies and what not that the boys in Washington can’t track what we do. They have no clue when and where we go back, and it’s not like they can send a single person to every single moment and place in history, to see what’s being stored in the past. It would be an issue if we had hidden these girls and drugs in our modern world, where we’d run a risk of them being found, but here? In the Carboniferous period? Hundreds of millions of years ago? What damage is there to control?”

“I’m not talking about being discovered or news stories; I’m talking about salvage.” Cyrus said. The mayor snickered.

“Salvage what? It’s all gone, don’t you know that?” The mayor said, inhaling. Cyrus shook his head.

“No, I don’t. The cocaine was in plastic bags. We should be able to get to some of it-

“In that water? With all of those poisonous red fish? You just go right ahead, Mr. Foolhardy.”

“I have swim drones with me. They can go in and get it all for us.”

The mayor thought for a moment, looking at his cigarette. His nostrils shooting white smoke, he flicked the cigarette away.

“Then go do it.” Mayor Hughes said, walking away.

As Cyrus bent down and whispered to Dawson, the mayor stopped and squatted down, looking once again at the carnage. He spotted that same head again, pressed against a rotted log sticking out of the water.

“25 armed men, the best thugs could buy…all taken down by a 20 feet long salamander. A giant saber-toothed salamander to boot, one not known in the fossil record.”

As he shook his head in lingering disbelief, the mayor continued to study the floating head. He felt a sense of unease.

“I played the game. I’ve made a pretty penny over it, that’s for sure.” He said, hearing Dawson wheeze. His unease continued to grow as he stared at the head.

“You went through purgatory, little lady, after Cyrus’ boys kidnapped you, but…I didn’t mean for you to go through this. Didn’t mean for any of you to. This has all been…too costly. Way too costly.”

Trying to ignore the wheezing, the mayor cocked his head. He was sweating more now, more than he usually would even in this heat and humidity.

“You weren’t going to a country club, girl, but you weren’t supposed to find yourself in the belly of a…”

The mayor froze, save for his shaky hands. Closing his eyes and then opening them, he looked at the side of the girl’s head, studying something that he had missed, something that the girl’s hair had obscured.

“Bullet hole. Must have been hit in a crossfire…”

Someone fell behind him. Startled, the mayor rose and turned. At first seeing no one, he slowly looked down, seeing a body lying in the grass, a knife sticking out of its back.

“Cyrus.”

A gunshot rang out. Mayor Hughes pulled a pistol out and fired in the direction of its sound, seeing nothing but bushes and darkness. He shot seven more times, checking himself for wounds. Pausing, he heard a wheeze.

“Dawson? Daw-

Another gunshot rang out. This time, a bullet ripped through the mayor’s right shoulder. He twirled in the air, firing two more times before falling to the grass, his blood leaking into the water. He managed one more shot as three more bullets punctured his flesh, one smashing his left wrist.

“Dawson! Dawson, go back to Sacredville, go get…”

Coughing, Dawson walked out of the darkness, holding a small black semiautomatic pistol. Raising an eyebrow, he aimed it at the mayor.

“There was…no giant salamander.” The mayor said, realization hitting him like a football lineman,

“You…killed them all, hacked them up-

“There was a giant salamander, but it didn’t kill a soul. It just ate everybody that I killed.”

Dawson looked at the bodies, tears falling down his cheeks.

“How we beat those women, starved them. All the dad-gum times we had them sleep with the highest bidder. Those girls…weren’t human anymore. They lost that divine spark, the image of God…just like we did, only they didn’t have a choice. We did, you and I…”

“Now, Dawson, this is madness now, don’t-

“They had to be freed, just as you and I need to be freed.”

“Dawson-

Dawson put the gun to his own head.

“Free.”

Another gunshot echoed through the swamp, sending giant dragonflies into the air. Dawson fell, his arms outspread. For almost a minute, the mayor looked at his dead body, speechless, almost breathless. As another huge dragonfly flew over his hat, he looked at his busted wrist, at his other wounds, feeling blood leaving his body.

“Time ship…a short walk away.” The mayor said, eying the north side of the swamp,

“First aid kit inside it. Going to have to crawl-

Suddenly, the water behind him sloshed. A huge, wet tongue touched his neck.

CORRUPTION IN THE BAYOU
by t. turner 1485 words

At sunrise, George Doucet stood on the porch of his old swamp shack that sat at the edge of the Louisiana bayou. The day promised to be a hot one. Apple green algae floated across the surface of the brackish swamp water. The warm humid air was pleasant, like satin to the skin and the sweet smell of flowering vines streamed under his nose. Birds could be heard in the distance and thousands of unseen eyes peered out from deep shadows. In the distance, bald cypress trees loomed up like crooked skeletons clawing skyward. Spanish Moss swayed gently in the breeze, hanging like bridal veils from their long bony limbs. Rising from the dark waters, curling tendrils of mist swirled around sodden trunks of trees among the rotting vegetation.

His eyes scanned along the bank of the slow-moving stream that flowed past his wooden swamp shack and around the broom-swept yard for any sign of danger. For there in the backward swamps lived a dangerous threat to human life; a man-eating predator in the form of a large territorial alligator.

George had moved back to the bayou after retiring from a warehouse job of forty years and quickly became a recluse. He was raised in the bayou as a child in an abusive home where he witnessed his parent’s constant rows whenever his father returned drunk from the Bayou bar. Little George would crawl under his bed and fall asleep with his hands over his ears. He swore he would never grow up to be a drunkard but, alas, he had spent the night in his shack drinking moonshine.

George stepped unsteadily off the porch and onto the path that followed the stream to the Bayou Bar located about a mile away. He knew there would be no one at the bar at that time of the day. His reason for going there was to comb the parking lot for anything the drinkers might have dropped when leaving the bar the night before.

He stopped at the edge of the empty graveled lot and breathe in the warm humid air, sensing something to be amiss. It was unusual for the bar owner to be there so early in the day but he saw his Volkswagen Bug was parked under the old Maple tree next to the bar.

With his legs still a little shaky and his head somewhat fuzzy, he pushed open the door to the bar and called out to Rumbolt, the owner. He had been dubbed Rumbolt years ago when he was a heavy rum drinker and became abusive on the stuff. When the police were called he would bolt and his friends gave him the name Rumbolt.

The bar was dark and empty, the way George liked it. There was no sign of Rumbolt so he went behind the bar and poured himself a double shot of whiskey. Rumbolt still had not appeared so he left some money by the empty glass and wandered out to the parking lot. The hot humid air was suffocating and hit him like a sledgehammer. After finding a couple of coins on the ground, his body stiffened when he felt a strange silence surrounding the area.

Scanning the edge of the parking lot something unusual caught his eye. ‘Could be worth a bit of money, enough to buy another drink,’ he thought. However, upon closer inspection, he shrank back in horror with his hand over his mouth. He was shocked to see a blood-covered foot inside a sneaker.

George didn’t know what to do. There was no way he was going to get involved in a lengthy police investigation because of the brewing of illegal moonshine in his shack. However, he knew the incident had to be reported. Then an idea formed in his mind. Hurrying down the path toward his shack, he mulled the idea over and over in his head. As soon as he reached his shack, he jumped into his swamp boat, cranked the motor, and headed to see his old friend, Gabe, who lived in a small town not far from the swamp. He was hoping Gabe would report the incident for him.

What George didn’t know was that Gabe was involved in corrupt business dealings with a shady crowd and the FBI had cleverly infiltrated the syndicate with an undercover man. George’s quiet, secluded world was about to be turned upside-down.

After tying his swamp boat to Gabe’s jetty, George encountered joint police and FBI roadblock where he was asked to show his ID and state his destination. During the questioning, George learned that the police were looking for an undercover agent who had disappeared.

When George got to Gabe’s home, his old friend started to behave a little strangely after George asked him for help in reporting the shoe with the foot still inside.

A burly Cajun came into the room and conversed with Gabe out of earshot of George. While the two were talking, George noticed packages stacked in a dark corner of the room bound with duck tape which he suspected contained drugs. George noticed Gabe and the Cajun looking in his direction. There was more whispering after which the Cajun abruptly turned and hurried out the back door. George began to feel uneasy.

When Gabe returned, he put on a fake smile and told George he would take care of the matter of the shoe and that all would be well. George told Gabe he only wanted him to report the foot to the local sheriff and keep his name out of it. Gabe again assured George that he would take care of it, walked him to the porch, bid him a farewell, and closed the door behind him.

By this time, George became quite suspicious and convinced that Gabe was involved with drugs again and may have had something to do with the missing FBI agent. He wondered if they had discovered an informant in their midst and dumped his body in the swamp knowing the gators would take care of it.

Passing again through the roadblock, he handed one of the local sheriffs a note and told him to give it to the person in charge. The officer told George to stay there while he delivered the note but as soon as the officer was out of sight, George high-tailed it to his boat.

On the way back to his shack, George noticed two men in a speed boat following him. He suspected them to be some of Gabe’s men so he decided to take a back-way home hoping to lose them in a confusing maze of twists and turns through a remote part of the swamp. Growing up in the bayou, he knew the area well but strangers would have a hard time finding their way. As he started the turn, George cut the engine abruptly because he happened to remember that a dark-skinned old woman, known to practice black magic, lived in the area. No one knew her name but everyone called her witch Hazel. All the locals steered clear of the area including George.

He looked back and saw the speed boat closing fast as a bullet from a gun hissed by his left ear. He quickly revved the engine and disappeared into the heavy undergrowth of the maze.

After several left and right turns, George was sure he had lost the speed boat. However, he suddenly realized his maneuvers had taken him directly in front of Hazel’s hut and she was standing on the porch looking in his direction.

When their eyes met, George’s heart skipped a beat from fright and he sunk low in the boat just as the motor went dead. Turning the switch did nothing and George thought he was a goner. Then, another bullet passed over his bow. He now realized the speed boat had found him.

He tried the motor again but still nothing. He noticed witch Hazel looking in the direction of the two men. She raised her arms and a huge alligator of prehistoric proportion appeared in front of the speed boat. It grabbed the front of the boat in its humongous jaws and flipped it over. The two men raced to dry land and ran like scared rabbits through the dense undergrowth.

George lay shaking in his small boat looking at Hazel. She smiled, turned and disappeared into the hut. George tried the engine again which started with a jolt leaving the forbidden area behind.

The next morning, George went again to the Bayou bar and found it roped off with yellow police tape. There was no sign of the shoe and he assumed the police had taken it for identification. Walking over to a newspaper box, he peered through the glass and read the headline:

REMAINS OF A BODY FOUND IN THE SWAMP. POLICE AWAIT IDENTIFICATION FROM CORONER.

Muddying The Waters – Arthur Chappell 1,497 words

“What’s bog-snorkelling?” I asked, never having heard of it, and half expecting it to mean shoving your face down the toilet bog while breathing through a tube.
My ‘do it or we stop your benefits’ work coach told me. “It’s a sport, albeit rather an eccentric one, like cheese rolling. It involves swimming, which you obviously love, having added life-guard work to your resume, but the competitors don’t swim in water. They swim in a trench of peat bog mud. They win prizes for getting from one end of their little swamp to the other fastest.”
“You want me to jump in artificial quicksand?”
“Only if one of the aquanauts gets stuck. You have to be there to fish them out, just as you would if anyone got into difficulties in a municipal pool or in the sea.”
“And these idio… These brave sporting souls: they wear swimming trunks or bikinis, do they?”
“Some might do, but most prefer full wet suits, dry-dive suits and a few go in wearing fancy dress costumes. I’m assured it is great fun. Sadly, I can’t swim, or I’d give it a go myself.” He chortled forcedly at his own lame stab at humour. I pictured him drowning in a bog, the flushable kind.
So, here I am in Hull, on a windswept day on a bleak desolate moor beside the Humber. I am being sucked down into a parody of my lifelong Baywatch hero’s ambition. BEWARE OF THE DOLE signs should replace the WARNING – DEEP MUD PITS signs round the Somme re-enactment trench.
The ground round the straight track is quite firm and solid. The warnings deter spectators and passers-by from stumbling into the mud being tanker-piped into the six-foot-deep hole, gouged out with a JCB bulldozer just before my arrival, creating an instant grave for a tall thin corpse. The slimy thick mud smells like they got it from the local slurry pits. I was thinking how glad I was not to have to get in, just as my boss turned up to invite me (a you’ve no choice in the matter type of invitational summons) to go in. The smell of corruption is a cruel parody of the corruption of the welfare austerity that brought me here.
I’d barely uttered the first ‘But’ when Mr Cushell told me it was my duty to check the course was safe by swimming it. He rather too conveniently had a wetsuit ready for me. (I’d wondered why my height, weight, and inside leg measurements were requested on my application forms).
Despite the diving gear, I was freezing even while still dry. Like the twenty competitors expected the next day, I was told not to jump in but use the steps at the ends of the slime tube as entry and exit points. Also, like the masochists doing this by choice, I was not to wear flippers, which might have got me through the filth quickly and help me get this over and done with.
I had thick rubber socks on as part of the legs of the wetsuit which was a little tight on me as I had understated my weight on the application form. I wish now that I’d claimed to weigh twenty-three stone.
I moved gingerly down the steps to the last one above the bubbling muck. What the hell was making it bubble? Could there be fish, worms, or something worse in there? My next step would put me in there too. I was struggling not to gag. They say don’t eat right before swimming, but did that apply to swimming in a quagmire too?
Cushell was filming me and cheering, as I was a finalist in the competition which he was apparently judging along with a few local celebrities, the kind no one remembers or recognises.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” He told me. “Everyone loved it last year, well except for …. Oh, never mind. I’ll tell you later.”
Something was wrong. He had a distinct ‘told you too much already’ expression. I froze on the iron rungs of the rickety rusty step ladder and demanded a full explanation. “You’ve run this competition here before?”
“Yes, for three years in a row now. It’s extremely popular. We might not get it into the Olympics for a while, but everyone loves it, the swimmers and spectators alike.”
I cut to the chase. “But something went wrong didn’t it? Did someone get hurt?”
He sighed. “Yes, regrettably, last year, a competitor drowned. He died near the start line. He just sank without trace; quite horrible. You were hired as part of our health and safety enforcement measures after the council nearly banned us from ever doing this again. A few protesters still want the show stopping. You’re here to save our bacon as well as the aquatic athletes braving the dirty waters tomorrow.”
“How come someone sank? Was there no lifeguard on duty then?”
“No, we never thought of it, and poor old Tom went down before any of the other swimmers could get in to drag him free from his sorry doom.”
“Who was he?”
“Our postman, Tom Meegham, lovely chap, forty-two and always up for a laugh. He said he’d try anything once. Obviously he never tried bog snorkelling a second time.”
“Did he get a decent funeral?”
“No funeral at all I’m afraid, said Cushell sombrely. “They never found him.”
“What?”
“Exactly as stated. His corpse is still in there. We stopped the races and drained the mud right after he vanished, but there was no trace. I hoped they might find him re-digging the pool today, but no, he’s been swallowed rather deeper than we imagined. “
I wanted to protest more, but my cheery boss clapped his hands. “Just water under the bridge really. Let’s not dwell on it. I’m getting cold so if you would swim your length, we can both get a nice hot cup of tea when you shower and dry off. “
“You provide showers?”
“Cold hosepipes are the best we can do sadly, but you’ll soon dry off. Now get in.”
His sudden burst of impatience freaked me. I really wanted this finished. I counted to three and stepped down the last few rungs into clammy clinging porridge sludge. It gurgled as if it was swallowing a stick of living liquorice. It was extremely cold despite my wet suit being marketed as capable of withstanding Arctic ice-hole plunges. The mud was viscus with a film of water on the surface, and swimming was sluggish with a disturbing downward drag.
Cushell was yelling at me with everything but encouragement and morale building. “Go faster, and put your face in. All I should see is your plastic snorkel. “
I put my face down, and realized the mask only served to protect my eyes, Visibility was literally zero. The toughest part of the swim for the racers would be going in a straight line, as they were not supposed to look up.
I lifted my face up sharply when something vile wriggled against my cheek. My ears were blocked with mud seeping under my balaclava section, so I never heard the Cushell above a dull mumble, but I had ceased caring what he was calling out now.
I thought I must be at least halfway along the course, but I’d barely moved. The treacle thick ooze was impeding me. I decided getting sanctioned and living off food banks when my Universal Credit got crunched was better than this, so I started turning round.
“I just heard “What the Hell are you doing?” as my left arm struck solid material.
“There’s some sort of obstacle here,” I shouted. “Feels like steel plating. Must be something the JCB and mud pouring vibrated and dislodged out of the underlying soil.”
My employer looked faint. I dreaded him swooning as he was quite close to the mud pit and I doubted if I could swim to him quickly if needed. He pulled himself together as I reached and started hauling myself up the steps.
I thought he might shout at me to get back in but even he realized the contest was off now before the tape-lines were ever put up to keep the madding crowd back from unwittingly joining the competitors. Instead he lamented, “I think it’s Tom. You’ve found Tom.”
“What do you mean I said, dragging myself out of the crap that was so reluctant to let me go. “I hit metal. Are you saying Tom was some sort of robot?”
“Good Lord no. It was a fancy-dress charity dip, just like this year’s. Tom turned up as Sir Lancelot, in a full suit of armour. Thinking about it, I’m surprised he made it as far as he did.”
I phoned my work coach with the news that I had quit about the same time as my replacement, a giant electro-magnet on a crane, fished Tom from his muddy penultimate resting place.

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