The Lords of Tooth and Claw
by Matt Bissonnette
June 10, 1897
In a remote region of the state of Florida was a vast swampland region known to the settlers as the “Black Swamps” it was completely uninhabited aside from the town of Kensington in the center of this forsaken place. But for the sixty some intrepid souls who chose to call this place home, the only other inhabitants of this place where the countless thousands of alligators that infested those swamps.
Night slowly fell over the town the night it came and changed everything. Rachel White, a handsome young girl on the verge of womanhood, locked up the trading post after she had finished tending shop for the day. She walked home and was in somewhat of a joyous mood since Billy Thatcher had just asked for her hand in marriage.
There where ten homes built on a large circular island which raised them above the vast swamp. A single dirt road cut through the swamp and it was the only means of passage out of this place. As far as they eye could see though there lurked the black night waters of the swamp, it was like being surrounded by a black void of nothingness. Rachel was always was afraid of the alligators since they had been known to attack from time to time, everyone in town was always on edge about that.
She arrived home, a two-story building that was in decline from lack of repair where she lived with her elderly father Jasper. He was on the porch sitting in a rocking chair and smoking his pipe, he was a man small of grizzled features with white hair, dirty and greasy.
He noticed her smile and asked, “and what are you so happy about tonight?”
She replied happily, “Billy has asked me to marry him. He says he take me to the city with him when he leaves.”
He frowned. “You still have your heart set on leaving?”
“Yes,” she told him, “there is nothing for me here.”
He was about to speak when his jaw suddenly went agape and he started staring into the sky behind Rachel then he muttered, “Oh my God.”
Rachel turned then she saw it. A shinning blue light, like a star but much larger, was blazing in the sky. But it wasn’t like light, it was like a ball of blue flame which seemed to be dripping small flames down into the swamp. The two of them just remained frozen and watched with growing alarm.
Now many of the town residents where standing at the edge of the swamp and looking at the strange light. Some where silent, but most where let out terrified gasps.
Then the blue flame plunged out of the sky and crashed into the black waters of the swamp. Then the water of the swamp began to become luminescent and gave of an eerie blue shimmering.
Jasper muttered, “this is surely something evil.”
The entire town watched as the light in the water slowly faded away and then the night was still again. After awhile the town’s people went about there business.
As the town went to bed that night, none of them could have imagined the evil that had been unleashed upon them.
July 23, 2003
Little Italy, New York
Dusk in the city.
Jack Ford was standing outside the small restaurant where his boss, known as Deek, did most of his business from. Jack knew exactly why he had gone there that night, he had the gun in his pocket, he was going to rob his boss of both his money and his girl, whom Jack had made the mistake of falling in love with. But Deek was a powerful man, he was a capo for a major crime family in the city, and Jack knew his actions tonight would be a death sentence if they ever found him.
Jack, a muscular guy with a square jaw, had grown up in Little Italy and had been working for so called “wise guys” ever since his teenage years, now he had made his living by hijacking trucks. But when he first met Linda, his boss’s dame, he knew he loved her. And soon she loved him as well and they had been sneaking out behind Deek’s back. Then they planned their escape, and tonight they set out to liberate themselves from the crime which had surrounded them for so long.
Jack walked into the restaurant. Inside where some round circular tables, but the place was always kept empty when Deek came here to do his business, which mostly consisted with meeting his numerous “lieutenants”. The staff was in the kitchen apparently, so Jack found Deek and Linda sitting at a table, on it where several stacks of bills and some drugs, Jack guessed cocaine.
Linda, a slim beautiful woman with brunette curls and angelic eyes, looked up from the table and smiled when she saw Jack approach.
Deek looked at him and snarled, “what do you want Jack?”
Jack was wound tight, sure he had pulled a gun on truckers before, but Deek was mostly likely armed with the Colt Python he kept under his coat.
Deek noticed Jack’s tense state and he asked, “what is up with you.”
Jack pulled out the gun aimed it right at Deek. Linda then got up from the table and she stood beside Jack, she put her hands on his shoulder.
Deek nodded. “I knew you where two-timing me slut, but Jack, come on, we are practically family.”
Jack ordered, “hands up Deek. Just give us the money.”
Deek seemed upset. “And you two think I’ll let you live?” He started slowly moving his hand towards the bulge in his coat.
Jack said, “Deek, don’t make me shoot you.”
Deek grabbed his pistol and almost had it out when Jack shot him between the eyes. His boss’s body slumped over dead and fell onto the ground.
Linda whispered into Jack’s ear, “let’s go, somewhere far away.”
Linda ran out to the car waiting in the street while Jack rounded up the drugs and cash and soon they where driving away on the interstate. They knew there would be people looking for them who intended to kill them. So they tried to get away.
The sun had just peaked over the east horizon when Jack finally turned away from the passenger’s window and looked longingly at Linda. Six hours of total silence was interrupted when he said, “where should we go?”
Linda replied in a tired voice “somewhere they will never find us.”
Jack looked down at the gym bag lying near his feet, inside it where the drugs and money. He let out a deep uneasy sigh.
Linda asked, “second thoughts?”
“I don’t know if we are ever going to be able to get away. There’s fifty thousand here, maybe twenty grand worth of coke. Is that going to be enough start a new life?”
Linda turned a looked at him with her deep, innocent eyes. “Deek never would let us leave, we had to do it.”
Jack could feel the gun in his pocket, icy steel pressing against his thigh. “We don’t have to worry about Deek anymore, it’s just his buddies we have to watch out for.”
Linda looked ahead. The highway seemed to go on forever. She whispered “They won’t find us.”
But she had doubts. Her former husband Deek was a connected man, and there would be people looking for them. A lot of people.
Jack looked around. “Where the hell are we?”
Linda shrugged. “I think we are in Florida.”
“Maybe we should get off the highway, find some little out of the way place and hide for awhile.”
She nodded. “Ok, I’ll get off on the next off-ramp. I thin-”
Linda stopped talking, put her hand on her stomach and cringed. Jack gasped and said, “is something wrong with the baby?”
Linda slowed the car and pulled over to the side of the highway, a smile forming on her lips. “I think I felt her move Jack, I think I felt her move.”
For the first time since Jack had shot Deek, he felt a little bit of calm. Linda clasped his hand and placed it on her stomach. She turned to him. “Our baby,” she said, tears forming in her eyes.
Jack really thought he could feel the child moving, though he was sure it was just in his head. The baby wasn’t even a month old, but that didn’t diminish the joy the two where feeling at that moment.
For a moment, Jack wasn’t a petty thug now murderer and Linda wasn’t a thug’s moll who went behind his back. They were simply two people who where in love, who where going to have a child.
He kissed her then pulled away. They stared at each other for a moment, each feeling a swelling joy inside them.
“Let me drive,” Jack said, “try and get some sleep.”
As the day dragged on, Jack really started to regret leaving the interstate. He was on a dirt rode that seemed to be getting narrower, vast swamp on either side, now they where lost. Linda had checked the map numerous times but there wasn’t any road listed in the area they where in.
Linda slept peacefully, using the leather coat her bastard husband bought for her as a pillow. Jack took his eyes of the road and looked at her. Even though she was reaching her thirties, she still had the youthful beauty of young woman. She had surrounded herself with the lowest scum New York had to offer, she was still a kind, good-natured person. Jack didn’t even know what she saw in him.
Jack turned back to the road then quickly slammed on the brakes. Everything in the car heaved forward as the tires squealed. Linda flew forward and hit her head on the dashboard. Jack’s eyes where fixated forwards.
“Jack?” Linda said groggily.
He was frozen in his seat looking ahead. Linda looked in front of the car and screamed.
An alligator was lying on the road in front of them, it’s snout pointed right at them. It was motionless, it’s jaws open, it’s bone white teeth gleaming. It must have been at least ten feet long.
Linda started to shake, but only a little. She grabbed Jack’s arm and said, “what do we do?”
Jack shook his head. “Wait for it to leave I guess.”
Both stared at the scaled beast for a couple of seconds in total awe until Jack said, “where’s “The Crocodile Hunter when you need him?”
Linda didn’t laugh. Because she was too scared and because it really wasn’t funny at all.
She whispered, “any bullets left?”
“Five, but it doesn’t matter. It can’t get in the car.”
Suddenly, the alligator lurched towards the side of the road and slipped into the swamp.
Jack looked at Linda. “Well, that was exiting.”
Linda fell back into her seat. “Let’s just go.”
She looked nervously around at the swamp that seemed to envelop them. She began to think of how many other gators where in those murky waters.
Jack said, “my god, that sucker must have been at least twelve feet long.”
Linda sighed. “Did you see those teeth, that thing could have probably of ripped right through this car.”
“I think you’re over estimating the animal just a little. It’s just a stupid, brainless creature.”
A stupid, brainless creatures with some big god damn teeth she thought.
About an hour later, they happened upon a small village of no more than ten buildings, old buildings that could have predated the last century. There was a dilapidated gas station, even though the gas pump looked older then Jack and Linda put together. The town itself was surrounded by swamp, the seemingly endless swamp.
Linda said, “we should get some gas.”
Jack looked down at the gauge, the needle was barely above E. He turned the car and parked next to the pump at the gas station. He turned to Linda and said, “is it self serve or what.”
Suddenly, a man walked out of the gas station. He looked old, really, really old. He had stringy white hair that was creeping out from under a dirty old cap he wore. His face was wrinkled and misshapen. He limped a little, but Jack noticed something. Even though there was an old man walking towards the car, his eyes seemed strangely out of place. They didn’t have that worn glare Jack usually saw in the eyes of the old, no, more like the eyes of a used car sales man when you pull into the lot Jack thought.
Jack rolled down the window as the old man came around the front of the car.
“Good day,” the old man said in an oddly low voice.
Jack replied, “good day, ugh, could you fill her up please.”
The old guy snickered and pulled up the brim of his cap, revealing his truly ugly hair. “There ain’t going to be any gas till tomorrow, trucks coming tomorrow noon.”
Jack looked at the gas gauge then looked back at the old man. “How far is it to the next gas station?”
The old guy cackled, a frightening cackle, it sounded sort of sinister. “Ain’t any station for at least another two hours.”
Jack sighed. “Is there a place we can stay for the night here?”
The old man scratched his head. “Well, park your car behind the station, then walk to the green house at the end of town. Knock and say Garland sent you.”
Jack asked, “is this a bed and breakfast or what?”
Garland smiled, showing his yellow rotten teeth. “Of kinds boy, of kinds.”
As they walked through the town they seemed to get a lot of attention from the townspeople. Every house they passed, the door would open just a crack and the residences would just gaze at them. Some snickered things, some laughed, and other’s where silent. In the exact middle of the town, a large rusty pole with a sign on top sat at the side of the rode. The sign read “Kensington”.
Jack supposed it was just the name of the town. On the other side of the sign though, words had been written across the wood. There where lots of illegible phrases, he could only make out two. “The Lords of the Tooth and Claw” and “The Great Fire”.
Linda held Jack, a deep fear growing inside her, unsure why she was feeling such dread.
They felt a little relieved when they reached the house Garland had directed them to. They stood on the porch and Jack knocked on the door.
The door opened just a crack and an eye peered out at them. “Who’s there,” a girl’s voice suspiciously asked.
“Someone told us there was a place to stay for the night here,” Jack replied.
The door opened completely. A brunette girl, no more then twenty stood there in front of them in a fading blue dress. She was a handsome young woman.
“Why the hell did you come here then,” she asked bluntly.
Linda said, “Garland said there was a place to stay.”
The girl giggled. “My father said that, well ok then.”
Linda and Jack looked nervously at each other.
Despite the fact that Jack and Linda tried to decline, they ended up having dinner with Garland and his daughter as night fell over the town.
They sat around a small circular table in a poorly lit kitchen; a single, low watt light bulb hung directly over head. They all ate quietly until Garland finished eating.
He looked at Jack and asked, “so, see any gators on your drive?”
Jack wiped his mouth with the dirty rag he was supplied with and said, “what?”
“Gators boy, scaly bastards.”
Garland’s daughter, her name was Ally, looked at Linda. “Yeah, there are a lot of gators around here.”
Linda nodded. “Yeah, we saw one coming here, it was pretty big.”
Garland pulled out a cigar and lit it. “Gators have been known to snatch kids away from us, now and then. You should be careful.”
Linda asked, “why do you live so close to the swamp?”
Garland chuckled. “Because, this is a good place to live. Far away from the world and its corruption, just us and the gators.”
Jack shrugged. “Don’t see what the big deal is. Just like any animal, shoot it and it’s dead.”
Garland smiled a horrible smile. “But, they’re quick, and smart and the-”
Ally nudged her father with her arm. “Dad, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this.”
Garland yawned. “Maybe your right dear, I think I’ll retire. Show them to there room.”
Jack and Linda lay in each other’s arms for a couple of hours. Both awake, both not saying anything. They had been given a cot in the attic of the house, they could see the moon from the window that overlooked the town.
Suddenly Linda sat up and asked, “what should we call the baby?”
Jack laughed. “What about Garland?”
Linda giggled. “That old guy was pretty weird, but it was nice of him to let us stay here for the night.”
“This whole damn town is weird. Did you notice that there were no children playing outside? I didn’t even see any cars.”
Linda frowned. “Know what else, there are no pictures in this house.”
Linda lay back and held Jack tighter. “I want to get out of here Jack.”
Jack gasped and sat up. “Listen, I need some air. You stay here and get some rest.”
Linda seemed fearful. “Jack, stay inside.”
Jack shrugged. “Listen, it is OK.”
He got out of the cot and started putting his clothes back on. The gun was still in the pocket, though he took no notice of it as he put his clothes back on. He looked down at the bag with the money and drugs under the cot.
Linda said, “be quick.”
“I’ll be fine, promise,” he told her.
Then he left her and walked down through the house and out the front door. He entered the warm, moist air of the night and he started walking down the street.
He first became aware that someone was looking at him from the window of every house he could see. They where all smiling at him, he remembered that smile, like there was some gag he wasn’t in on and was about to be the victim of.
Then a terrible cry filled the night air, a ferocious roar that rattled Jack to his core. It came from the direction of the swamp.
Jack slowly approached the edge of the swamp and his feet her near the blackish water. The full moon cast a surreal night and the swamps surface was very visible. Shapes, several shapes where swimming towards him. His first assumption was that it was a pack of alligators. He started to back away from the swamp.
Meanwhile from the attic of Garland’s home, Linda had heard the cry and had gone to the window. She looked at Jack as he backed away from the swamp. Then she saw him raise his gun and start firing at the swamp. Though she was to far away to see what it was, forms, the forms of men emerged from the swamp and rushed Jack and grabbed him. He dropped the gun and the individuals who attacked him carried him into the swamp.
“Jack,” Linda screamed.
She turned then quickly made her way through the house, before he ran out the front door Ally appeared and grabbed her.
Ally pleaded, “don’t go out there, they’ll kill you.”
Linda tried to break free of her grip, she muttered, “Jack, Jack.”
Then Garlands voice yelled out from somewhere in the house.
“Let her go.”
Linda broke free of Ally’s grip and she ran towards the area she had last seen Jack. The gun lay on the ground, covered in blood, Jack’s blood. She picked up the gun and faced the swamp and then it emerged.
At first she thought it was a man because it stood on two legs, terror filled her when she realized it was reptilian. It looked like an alligator but it also seemed to look like a man. Its head was elongated and had a mouth fool of needle like teeth. It arms hung at it sides, its scaly hands had black claws on the end of each finger. It looked at her, and Linda knew that it was thinking.
More of these horrible creatures started to emerge from the swamp. There must have been at least six of them. They all looked at her, it looked like they where grinning at her.
Linda screamed then started to run towards the gas station, the creatures chased her. As Linda ran with all her might, she could her the foot falls of the creatures. Everybody in town was laughing into the night. She reached the car behind the garage and hopped inside, Jack had neglected to lock the door. Linda was going to start the car when the grim reality set in that Jack had the keys.
The reptilian creatures surrounded the car and looked at her through the windows. Linda raised the gun, the things recognized it as a weapon and backed away.
“Get away,” Linda screamed.
Then one creature charged the back of the car, broke through the rear window and now was crawling through the car towards her. She aimed the gun and shot it, it stopped moving and she assumed that she had killed it.
Another creature smashed through the passenger window with its arm, Linda shot at it and it backed away. She went to fire again when pulling the trigger only succeeded in making a metallic click, the gun was empty.
Then the creatures surrounded the car and picked it clear off the ground, Linda realized with terror that they where carrying the car towards the swamp. Linda screamed as they carried the car into the brackish water which filled the car. Linda last moment, she felt the arms grabbing her in the water. She screamed and then felt her lungs filling with the water.
The next day in Kensington, daily business had gone on like nothing had happened. All the blood from the night before had been washed way, no evidence that Jack and Linda had been there was left.
Ally walked trough town, feeling guilty. She had gone through this many times before, she never could absolve herself of the guilt. But her masters needed to be appeased.
She came to the gas station and found Garland manning the pumps. Ally approached her father.
He didn’t look at her, then said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Is it really worth it,” she asked.
“You know the pact,” he said, “and what happens it we don’t honor it.”
She new the pact. How more then a hundred years before the fire had fallen from the sky and changed the waters of the swamp. Now they effected anything it had come into contact with. It had changed the alligators of the swamp, now they had the partial form and intellect of men who devoured anything. Though the towns people where changed to, though the where granted virtual immortality from the waters of the swamp. The towns people where granted to live here in safety, though there was two conditions. Any outsider would be sacrificed to the scaly beasts, as well as any children born in that town.
Ally, whose birth name was Rachel, thought that immortality came with to high of a price. Sure she never aged, yet she had sold her proverbial soul. For the past hundred years this had gone on, and Rachel had grown weary and longed for escape. Some had tried, yet the reptile lords of the swamp killed them.
Still, soon, she might take her chances.
Rachel left her father and planned her escape as Garland tended gas pumps that hadn’t had gas in them for over eighty years.