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Short story: <i>The Swamp</i>



Not so far from here, there’s a town that’s horseshoed by swamp and marshland, weighed down by dark undertows, strangled by deep roots from the mangrove trees that thrive on the blood and flesh of lost souls and shades.

This town wears sadness like a cast iron ball chained to its neck; one that’s been there for so long that nobody even remembers that the extra weight wasn’t there originally. It’s so weighed down that nobody even remembers the name of the town, least of all the people that live there, kept, as they are, by the sinuous tree roots and branches from leaving after the swamp swallowed the road.

The folks in the town don’t live so much as quietly die by inches; the overwhelming despair layers the streets like a fog and if the sky was blue and the sun was shining none of the folks would know; who has the strength to raise his head to look at the sky when his head is bowed by the weight of the tears leaking from his eyes? These wraiths have no colour, no colour at all. If a man in a roving frame of mind could get through the swamp, on the road that’s been swallowed by the grey water, into the grey town and the fog of despair, they might see a slow grey shadow slowly and momentously stepping round the place as though each footstep required the kind of thought one usually puts into life changing decisions. They don’t have troubled minds; though, no matter which way they step, it’s always towards the seductively thick waters of the swamp, whose roots beckon with crooked fingers to the flesh and blood of the townsfolk. I’ll tell you one thing, though, there certainly wouldn’t be an opening for the position of a town realtor, with lacquered hair and nails and an officious clipboard and nice hair. The only place of value is the place where everybody ends up, and there’s not much returns, fiscal or otherwise.

There may be turmoil beneath the waters of the swamp when folks, suspecting or unsuspecting, get pulled beneath the surface. Folks may struggle, may gasp the soupy silty water into their lungs, may thrash around wildly, may wonder if that’s all there is, sadness then food for the carnivorous dark trees feasting with the intensity of witches. But on the surface, everything’s calm. A humble death, an unresistant death, a welcome death.

And when it was my time, I went to the chest at the foot of my bed, grey and pregnant with misery, and pulled layer upon layer out until I found my funeral shroud. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, a silk dress, shot through in red and yellow and looking for all the world like a shimmering ball of fire. When it was given to me I knew I had to hide it from the darkness and the swamp, to wrap up my happiness and cover it up. I didn’t begrudge my life here, didn’t remember anything different, much, had forgotten everything except my sadness and my silk dress. And as I walked, in the direction all the townsfolk take, sooner or later, I looked up, into the layers of thick despair, and tried to remember what a blue sky looked like. Around my dress the air was thinning up. I was going into the swamp, but I wasn’t going in grey. I was going like sunshine and when my bones sank to the bottom at least I would know that I had sunk dressed in a warm feeling.

This is the result of a thirty minute writing exercise. The only constrictions were the time limit and five randomly selected words from the dictionary. Today the words were: swamp, roving, turmoil, realtor, and begrudge.

Image courtesy of Miss Lauralee.

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