It’s been ten years now since the day I last stepped foot past the fence line and into the swamp once owned by my family. The scars from that night have not healed, and I doubt they ever will. My cousins James, Beth, Joshua, and I were spending the summer at our grandparent’s house in Louisiana not too far from New Orleans. We had begged our parents to let us take the old swamp boat out on our own and explore. We begged this every year, but this was the year we turned sixteen, so for whatever reason, they believed we could handle it now and relented. They said as long as we used our heads and were home before midnight, we could go.
The four of us thought we had won the lottery. If we had known how it all would end, I don’t think any of us would have even stepped out of our houses. But we knew nothing – we thought we had the world in our fingers. Lord, we were wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me get back to the story.
My parents left to go out for dinner and James, Beth, and Joshua arrived with their parents. We all grabbed our backpacks, heading toward the back of the property. The swamp boat was sitting where it should be at the end of the dock. Beth untied it as the rest of us got in. I had spent the most time on the thing over the years, so I was nominated to drive the crazy thing.
We took off just after two in the afternoon with a picnic stashed in a basket and a cooler full of drinks. We navigated through the swamp not seeing anything that caught our attention until I turned us into what the locals called gator valley. It was a stretch of the swamp that even most of the locals avoided because of the number of alligators you could find there. That day, however, it seemed empty. As we passed the two massive cypress trees marking the entrance, the water was still as glass without a single sign of alligators or people.
We tracked the edge of the tree line as it snakes through the area, getting farther and farther away from the main paths through the swamp. The idea this might be an awful choice didn’t cross my mind till much later. But at the moment, it was an adventure and one we had dreamed of for so long. Rounding one of the larger curves in the swamp river brought us face to face with something we had never heard of – a swamp shack on stilts. From everything we knew, no one lived out where we were exploring.
Beth had the bright idea of going up and get a closer look at the place. It was overgrown and didn’t look like anyone had been there in years. When she tried the door, it swung open with creepy ease. Almost as if the thing had been oiled. We all followed her across the grounds and up to the door. I was about to enter the building behind Joshua when movement at the edge of the island caught my attention. I turned away from the door and back down the stairs. My eyes tracked across the far edge of the island, noticing something shining in the shallow water.
A shadow moved at the edge of my vision as I walked across to the water. The shadow wasn’t getting any closer to him or his target. It seemed to move in parallel with him. I leaned down and dipped my fingers into the water, wrapping them around the cold metal of whatever was in the sand. Pulling it up, I held the hilt of an ornate dagger. “Hey guys,” I called up toward the shack.
“What’s up?” James responded, sounding like he was back out on the porch of the place.
“Found a knife down here. Anything up there of note?” I asked.
“Not really. Place is kind of just deserted,” James said.
I turned, walked over to the base of the stairs. “Does this all feel off to you?” I asked.
Joshua and Beth stepped out onto the porch. Beth spoke. “You mean past the fact our parents finally let us come out here and we find a house nobody ever talks about.”
I looked back at the boat. “Guys, we need to get out of here.” I slipped the dagger into the back of my jeans.
We all got on the boat. I started the fan on the boat and pulled it away from the island. We hadn’t gone more than a few yards when Beth’s scream cut through the night. She was staring behind the boat. Her mouth was working, but nothing was coming out other than a terrifying scream.
James was looking at whatever was scaring her as he spoke. “Move this thing, Kel. Something is coming.”
I goosed the throttle and moved us a little faster as I spoke, “what’s back there?” Before he could answer, the boat rocked as a wave raced across the river. “What the hell?”
The boat rocked a second time, and I had to pull the boat to a stop before it the waves flipped it. I turned and looked back toward the shack. Floating over the dark water was a shadowy figure of a woman. She was dressed in a flowing gown. I lowered my hand from the controls as she floated closer. Things were getting strange now.