The SECOND PRIZE of the writing contest and $3000L goes to:
by Gothica Dragovar
you get to a point in life where you begin to believe you've seen all there is too see. a point where nothing feels new to you, just as mundane and unoriginal as ever before, and you dont think youll ever feel something again. its as if your mortality meets your reality, and they have one wild night together, and you realize “this is it.” some would call this a mid life crisis, but i don't understand that because i had that feeling 4 times before i turned 25. and then, it happened again. the world where i lived is too small, the environment i was in was too weak to sustain me. i needed to get out, and since i had no job and no real close friends, no ties to my life, i floated free and floated high, and landed as far away from that city as i could get. i was terrified, but not so much about leaving as much as i was terrified to uproot my life and just move. and then i realized i was terrified, and new that i had to do this. i wasn't even out and i started to feel again. i had to feel again.
to my surprise, i landed in the most backwards town. Brown Bay, Louisiana. i honestly can hardly remember how i got there in the first place. fresh out of college, i was entirely unable to find a job in the field of my studies, (microbiology), so i ended up taking on 3 minimum wage jobs just to keep myself alive. i lost touch with many of my friends from college, most had either found work in town or out of town, and i was possibly the only one who couldn't, so shame drove me to reclusion. then, out of the blue, i saw on add on a site for research assistants in a home driven experiment to supply the body with all the nutrients in need, but they needed a dietary specialist to help in the additions of healthy cultures. it was a little beneath my standards,
but suddenly the smog filled air was suffocating me, and the three jobs left me with little time to even stay home, let alone have any means of a social life. the whole damnable set up was driving me insane, and i decided it was best to get out.
the flight was decent, but it was the bus trip out into the middle of nowhere that got me. i slowly saw mankind recede back into the stone age with every passing mile, until i reached brown bay. the lead developer of this green start up was there to meet me. “hi, hank! yes, harold, we talked on the phone! and emails, all that jazz. but nevermind that, welcome to Brown Bay!” he says, wrapping me up in a half hug and walking me to the
station with the most energy i've ever seen in a man his age. harold was on the older side, maybe early fifties, and was slightly balding. but his appearance clashed with the stamina of a spritely young man, and he swept me up in such a great whirlwind of charisma i completely forgot my bags. we had just reached the door to the station when i began to mutter something about my bags when he turned as well. “oh, your bags, how silly of me!” and with, he took up a sprint. but not only did he take up the sprint, when he got my bags, each individually carrying roughly fifty pounds, he maintained the same speed sprinting back, and the same light and effortless spring, with maybe a bit of a heavier landing. this duper food must be something. if not magic, then some form of miracle. i'm a scientist, and these are my first thoughts. something was off about this man. but i didn't have time to ask any questions before i was swept up in the charisma again, and before i could have a minute to myself, we were on a shuttle to their ‘base of operations’. “base of operations? i thought this was just some green vegan start up? what do you need with a base of operations?” “lets just say that our kickstarter reached the right kind of eyes, and ever since we’ve had the ability to expand. how do you think a ‘green startup’ could afford the consultation of a microbiologist?”
“well, i...” i began, just as we turned the corner onto a dirt road that led through a swampy pass. the spanish moss was so thick, it almost covered the leaves. the reeds that sprang from the water were tall and brown, like the rest of the landscape here. everything was in a constant state of decay, and you could smell it in the little tin box of a car we were in. the air smelled fresh, if a little TOO fresh, and my blood started to buzz as a smile crept onto the corner of my face. the corner not facing harold. the i smeared it off and left it with the landscape as i turned to him.
“...i couldn't really care less, actually. when are we arriving?”
“lucky you, mister eager beaver, were pulling up now.”
i glanced into the sparsely wooded area and saw a claering up ahead. in the center was a sizable steel building, enough to house a small production site. as we pulled up, the metal door raised, and i had just started to smile again when i saw armed guards by the entrance. its been a few weeks since i moved down, and research is going slow. my work was not fully explained to me until i was escorted to a room by harold, the guards staying in place, though menacing enough to scare em straight.
“we want to synthesize the live cultures in side the dietary organs of humans,”
i remember, so clearly, that i scoffed in his face. “thats adventurous. how do you suppose i go that?”
“oh, dont worry Hank! you wont be alone! we’ve got a team of experts!”
i groaned internally, but simply smiled on the outside.
and with, i was whisked into a life of work and study and synthesis that began to consume my life. but i did enjoy living out here in the country. at the end of the day, i would go out and fish in the swamp. the locals went hillbilly hand fishing often, but also had a high number of missing digits and limbs as the water was also home to gators, so i took a more traditional approach and bought myself a rod. while at the shop, and in town in general, i got quite strange looks from the locals. not much hatred, but also not very welcoming looks, almost i was some creature not native to that land, so they were cautious, but at the same time couldn't care less. one lad in particular decided to break the silence in exchange for conversation.
“didn't know city boys like you could throw a line, though the only water you had up there
came from taps?”
“i traveled a lot when i was younger, and took up fishing down in florida.”
“oh, that open water fishing? you could do much better up here, get yah somethin to eat
without travelin’ out for miles to get it.”
“well, its just for fun, to pass the time, not much about eating,”
and to that he gave me a right foul look,as if he just stepped on the fattest cockroach in a sewer.continuing to gather some tackle and bait. i idly looked around the shop, and then looked out the window. the sun was high in the sky, and it was muggy living right next to a great body of water. i just began to turn my head when i saw some missing posters on a lamp post outside.
“missing kids? in such a small place like this?”
“yup. but to tell ya the truth, those darned kids were always runnign off into that swamp alone. we checked their hideout, and the were there, but a while ago. the place was untouched by human hands for days. were gonna give it a week, and if nothing comes up, we’ll start guttin’ gators.”
“seems a bit drastic, don't you think?”
again, the same foul look, but this time he slammed a bucket of putrid worms onto the countertop, shaking the other merchandise on it.
“not when you've known those boys since they were a thought on a drunk night.”
with that i let it drop. i took my fishing supplies and drove to the motel i was being put up at, complimentary of the start up. then slid on my boots and went out for a spell. i parked at the edge start of a 5 mile trail, and began hiking in the woods. the same fresh decay smell intensified, and the cicadas were clicking away wildly in alternating patterns of chirps and tweets. the sensations the air felt was so much more than i ever got in the city. everything was alive, awake, and right in your face, sending its tendrils up your nose. i was on edge for some reason, maybe i was excited, maybe i was nervous, i had no idea what i was feeling. and then, i
get into a jog, going on into a run. it was so unlike anything i've felt before that i couldn't help but smile. my pack was as light as air, it was as if i was toting nothing at all. and before i knew it i made it to the end of the trail. wasnt much water around, though, which was strange for the swamp. i disobeyed many a sign and continued on foot through the brush, moving one branch over at a time and being extra vigilant, until i came upon a large watering hole type pond. it looked like a fine place to fish. i laid my chair out and my gear, and sat down after the run. i admit, i was a little winded, but for almost 3 miles of pur running, my body was remarkably at rest. and the sun had barely gone down any. but that was to be expected of those long summer days.
the cicadas sang sweetly, and the plop of the lure into the water plucked a string in the great symphony of nature around me. the tune was so melodias it had only been a few minutes that id been there that my eyes were drooping. the constant research had kept me up later than usual, and i could barely keep my body up as i nodded off into oblivion
“mister, please, you’ve gotta get up, they're coming!”
a young boys voice woke me. the night was pitch black, and my position was almost exactly as it was when i nodded off, save that my fishing pole was nowhere to be found. the terror in the boys voice alerted me, but in my slightly delirious state, i thought i was jsut dreaming him and waved the vision off.
“mister, wake up!”
a slap broke the night sounds and i was awake, wide awake, and clutching my face.
“WOW! JESUS! your sure slap good, for a twer...”
as i looked at his face in the lamp light, for just a split second, a line of recognition crossed my face.
“no time for introductions, or your stuff. get up, we need to run!”
i didn't know what he was talking about, but i got up anyways, and started following him, running through the brush. i could just barely see his slim, short frame ahead of me, like a nimble sprite flying through the woods. what did i think i was doing falling asleep in a swamp?
thank god i only lost my gear,and not my life. more so, what was i doing running through a swamp with a ten year old? i had no answers, so i just followed with the express intent to find out more. we ran for a good half mile, until i stopped.
“what in the world is going on right now?”
“what in the world are you doing? we need to g...”
“you're a child, you don't tell me what i need to do. answer my questio-”
“fine! we’ll take a shortcut, but after that stop talking!”
and came upon a shanty shack on a little island of its own, connected to the other land via a small jetty. inside, there was an old tv, a couch, and some end tables with assorted amenities on them. it was one of the oddest encounters yet, but i didn't question it. the boy grabbed a small candle a crawled behind the couch back, waving me over.
“what do you want to know?”
i had so many questions on my mind, they were all stumbling to get out first, and i just simply drew a blank.
“hurry, we don't have much time! this is putting us behind enough!”
“alright, alright! first of all, who are you?!”
and then a cog clicked into place in my head.
“the missing Skip Dares? people are going crazy out there! where have you been?!”
“sometimes you have to hurt those you love temporarily so you can keep them safe,”
and then i could see it. something in his eyes was broken. he had seen so much in his short life. the recognition i felt was not just with the missing kid poster, but with the pain he felt, though this kid knew so much more pain than i did. i felt no want to badger him any more than i had, but i needed to know what was happening.
“why are we running through the woods in the middle of the night?”
“why were you sleeping in the woods in the middle of the night?”
he’d gotten me there, but i gave him a stern look.
“this is my last question. is your life in danger?”
in the candlelight, i could see tears well up into his eyes as i remembered he was only a child. the single tear that fell from his face dropped right onto the candle, and without pause, he scurried out from the couch, and without question, i followed. this kid brought me along because he needed me. for what, i wasn't sure, but he needed something from me, and i wasn't about to turn down a kid in the middle of the swamp in the witching hour. we needed to get out of these woods.
we ran for another solid 45 minutes before i needed a break, and we only stayed about 30 seconds before the jog started up again. i was so thirsty since i woke up, and the foam lacquer that layered my mouth was a bad sign. my breathing was becoming deep and my breathing heavy. Skip noticed, and urged me on, prodding me in the side and then violently hushing me when i protested. all the trodden foot steps, heavy breathing, and blood rushing to my ears had deafened me to a sound spreading through the forest. a humming, melodic and soft, but deep and moving at the same time. in my weakened state, i was susceptible to its lul, and my eyes began to droop. Skip was pushing me and prodding me, then hitting me as he cried out.
“no, no, no! you cant leave me here alone! first they got tony, and now theyll get me!
please don't do this mister! you've gotta help me!”
his cries were for not, as my body felt like it was a thousand pounds, and my eyelids felt like half the weight. i could not help myself, and i was lulling to sleep. as my eyes closed, i had just enough willpower to keep them open for the last seconds that i ever saw skip. the wind kicked up out of nowhere, and something bright shown in the sky, bright and purple and full of sound. full of vibrations. full of promises of something new. i was scared, but i don't think i could ever be as terrified as Skip was. right before this thing touched down, were the last second i was conscious.
when i awoke, it was still dark, but the sun was rising lightly, turning the sky a brown green hue. i was covered in bug bites, and scratching like mad, until i noticed my surroundings. i was on the outskirts of a clearing. a clearing that wasn't here the night before. the earth behind me was lush, green brown, and decaying like all the rest of the swamp. but the earth before me was flat and dead. bout out of that death cam rebirth, as the air was alive with... little flecks of glowing purple. they didn't quite follow the rules of gravity, lazily suspending in the air and slowly making their way around the center.i couldn't quite make out what they were, but i didn't look closely. in the center of this clearing was the source of the purple flecks, and was it a sight to behold. the hum from earlier was permeating the air, but its sleeping effect had worn off, and all it was now was a musical memento of what had past. the light it emitted was blinding, but comforting. it was like looking into the sun while looking at your mother, and all i wanted to do was hold it. i approached the center, and immediately was met with an opposing force pushing my up and back, landing flat on my face. some kind of force field was surrounding it. and rather than be a rational person, i dove head first, wanting so bad to claim my prize. boy, was i wrong in that.
i was thrown across the clearing and into the water of the swamp, and it was deep. i couldn't find hold, and my swimming lessons at the Y were failing me in this time of panic and confusion. i had just managed to find purchase, when the teeth snapped onto my leg and i realized i didn't step onto a log. the alligator jerked me down into the water, and i thought in my last moments about how unfortunate i was to go this way. and about how lucky i was to have lived my life in the last few weeks. lived it to the fullest.