CONNER SUTTON - SWAMP BONES
Conner Sutton is an English major and writing tutor at Kennesaw State University. He is also pursuing a master’s degree in Professional Writing. He loves the art of storytelling and leads The Write Place, a creative-writing club at his university. Sutton can usually be found with a Stephen King novel in hand, and he enjoys writing thrillers, horror, and fantasy.
A search team of thirty members spread across the Okefenokee Swamp, all of them but one trying to find the missing thirteen-year-old girl, Molly Sanders. Most were on foot, but a few slowly surveyed the area from small boats in the murky waters. Molly went missing ten days ago when she visited Okefenokee Park with her father, and this was the tenth consecutive day that friends, family, and park rangers had dedicated to her search. Most at this point had given up hope of finding anything aside from a pile of bones picked clean by animals, but her father had known this to be true for far longer.
He told the park rangers that he had simply gone to relieve himself, and when he came back, his daughter was gone. None of this story was true, but the men never second-guessed the account given by their fellow ranger. Molly’s bones lay right outside of the swamp water, surrounded by shrubs and sinking down into a mound of saturated earth. Under the mound, over a dozen alligator eggs incubated in the damp, warm ground, their mother guarding the nest from the water below.
Molly saw the search team as they walked by every day, and she tried to scream at the top of her lungs. I’m right here! Over here! Nothing would come out. She vaguely remembered the day of her death: her father, the serrated knife, the mix of animals that fed on her flesh. On the fourth day of the search, a mother alligator crept out of the water towards Molly’s mutilated remains. Molly jumped out of her non-existent skin, but was relieved when the scaly beast simply nudged the bones, almost saying, “I’m sorry.” Over the course of the afternoon, the alligator relocated the bones a mouthful at a time until they all lay in a pile on her swampy nest. Molly grew accustomed to the alligator, and she decided to name her Ripples after the way she distorts the water when she comes and goes. Molly felt safer when she was around.
The search continued, and with each passing day Molly’s bones sunk deeper into the nest until they joined Ripple’s eggs, completely covered by a mix of mud, sticks, and vegetation. On the last day of the search, Molly’s father sat on the edge of the dock while others desperately searched for his “baby girl.” He lit a cigarette and puffed away, lighting a new one every fifteen minutes.
Buried deep within the nest, Molly could still sense her father’s presence nearby. Again, she wanted to scream, It was him! My dad killed me! and again, nothing would come out. Her bones began shaking violently from her rage, tapping, then beating the alligator eggs. One by one, the eggs hatched, mixing with the warm brown earth and Molly’s bones.
From the nest, Molly rose, her once pale skin now substituted for a thick black armor. Patches of scaly olive skin patterned her body like rashes, and her sage-colored hair climbed down her shoulders like Spanish moss. She felt new. She felt alive. She felt her father nearby.
Ripples swam up to the nest, and gently rubbed her nose against Molly’s leg. “You’re one of us now,” she said to Molly, but her snout remained closed.
Molly looked down to Ripples. “Can you hear me?” she thought.
Ripples replied, “We all can hear you.” Dozens of gold, beady eyes emerged above the water’s surface, and each pair was fixated on Molly.
“Go to my dad,” she commanded the group, “and get revenge.” The sets of eyes lowered into the water, and the alligators swam towards the dock where Molly’s father smoked his sixth cigarette. Molly stepped down from the nest and followed the army of scaly beasts. They all huddled around her father’s legs that were dangling from the dock, but they waited, either for permission or a command.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Ripples asked.
Without saying a word, Molly swam directly below her father’s feet. She shot through the surface of the water and gripped her claws into his calves. He let out a cry of agony as his daughter whipped him into the water. Her job was done. She swam away and turned around to watch her new family dismember her father. His blood filled the already-cloudy water as he was torn apart and consumed.
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