The Marshes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Us locals know to steer clear of the marshes but some newcomers seem to think they know better.

Submitted: August 27, 2016

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Submitted: August 27, 2016

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The Marshes.

 

We all know that it is best to avoid the marshes whenever we can. We have grown up with them, with the stories and the warnings. Maybe none of it is true but then again maybe all of it is. It is just something that we have never thought to question. But that only applies to us locals. On the very rare occasion that an outsider moves in, they have not listened to those stories all the way through their childhood. They might scoff, sneer, laugh it off as superstition; but there are stories about them too – the outsiders who never stay here for long.

 

The first thing you notice, approaching the marshes, is the smell. It is thick, cloying, musty. As you get nearer it becomes one of those smells that seems to worm its way down your throat to settle inside you like some sort of pungent sickness. It is a smell that you can taste, and the taste is one of rot.

 

You can hear the wetness as it sinks and slurps its way down in to the ground, only to seep back up elsewhere. There is a constant dull squelching sound and the occasional ‘pop’ as air forces its way through the scummy surface to make an escape, a bid for freedom. We have all heard the tales of the cries that echo around the marshes during the night hours. None of us have heard them for ourselves but it never occurs to us to doubt their existence.

 

The marshes are there, a part of the landscape, as off limits as if they were the middle of a lake. We all accept that without question.

 

When Bailey and Hugh moved in we could see they were going to be trouble. They were big city boys who were now being forced to slum it with us poor country folk. They made it very clear that they thought themselves superior to us in every way.

 

Hugh was young enough to be attending the local school. His enrolment increased the number of students at the school to forty-one, less than in one class of his previous school. He would find it hard for a while, having to adapt, but if he made the effort to fit in he would be okay.

 

Bailey was entirely another matter. He was fourteen, the same age as me. He would be travelling on the bus in to the town with me and my mates. He would probably be in some of my classes and I was expected to make an effort to be friendly, to make him feel welcome. This thought did not make me happy at all. There was something about him that shouted, ‘Keep away!’ There was something that screamed of danger. I wanted to keep my distance and have as little to do with him as possible.

 

The first time he went on the bus Bailey pushed his way to the front of the queue. He either didn’t care or didn’t notice how he knocked Amy’s lunch all over the ground then proceeded to walk all over it. Of course, he headed straight for the back seat where we normally sat. None of us felt like joining him so we spread ourselves out at the front instead. That was the moment that he made sure that he would never fit in with us locals – we always looked after our own.

 

Bailey did make friends though, and quickly too. There were plenty of bullies and they were the ones he wanted to fit in with. The rough kids who would pick on anyone, look down on everyone, take advantage whenever they could – he’d always be found hanging around with them. And he very soon became one of the most feared.

 

Of course, when the holidays came round it was a different story. His friends were all in the town so he had the choice of sticking around with us or of being alone. I know which option we all wanted him to take; we’d all been victims of the bullies in the past.

 

It was a shame for Hugh, really. He’d made a few friends locally, had made an effort. It was glaringly obvious that he was scared of his older brother though. Hugh would do whatever Bailey told him to. Whatever friendship and trust he had managed to build Bailey would soon see it gone.

 

We told them the stories about the marshes. We did not lecture, made them fun, interesting, but they just mocked and jeered, called us all fools, cowards......Hugh’s voice became as loud as his brother’s.They had no sense about country life at all. Now we were not only lowly peasants in Bailey’s eyes, but superstitious ones as well. Bailey announced to anyone in earshot that there was no such thing as a place that should be avoided. He would show us up as the fools that we were.

 

Bailey decided that he and Hugh would go out on the marshes. Even during the day when the safe paths were visible to those who knew what to look for, it would have been both dangerous and stupid. But no. Bailey and Hugh would set off at sunset and wander around in the darkness.

 

We tried to reason with them but Bailey just laughed in our faces. We tried to reason with Hugh alone. He wanted to stay, to say no to Bailey. He wanted to listen to reason. But he could not do it;

his brother’s hold over him was too strong for him to rebel against.

 

We watched as they left. Several of us trailed behind, as far as the stench. We watched as Hugh stiffened, no doubt hit by the smell and fearful of just what might have caused it. We saw Bailey grab hold of his brother’s arm and drag him forwards. He knew we were watching and he was not going to let us see him hesitate. And his brother was not going to be allowed to show any sign of weakness either.

 

We stood watching until their torches disappeared from view. Was that a scream we heard? Was that a shout of alarm or was it just the hoot of an owl? How long should we wait for them to reappear before raising the alarm? We were worried for Hugh, but for Bailey? No.

 

Time passed. We stood there, staring into the gloom, straining our ears to catch any sound. People arrived with torches, with powerful spotlights. Someone must have raised the alarm or perhaps it was just that we were all missed. The searchlights were useless: the moist air that rose above the marshes blocked out their beams, blanketed and smothered by the thick mist. All they managed to light up was the first couple of feet of pathway.

 

Nobody would actually venture out there, not in the dark. None of us were that stupid. We waited, we listened. We called and shouted, our voices becoming muffled, swallowed up and silenced by the stagnant air.

 

How long did we stand there before we heard it, a sobbing sound coming from the darkness? I don’t know, it could have been fifteen minutes or it could have been four hours. A figure appeared, stumbling forward, trying to keep on his feet. It was Hugh, covered in muck and clearly terrified. He was taking tiny hesitant steps, sinking up to his knees, wanting to rush but not daring to. When he reached a pair of outstretched arms he collapsed into them, sobbing.

 

There was no sign of Bailey. Hugh, clearly shocked, kept rambling on about arms reaching, voices calling. The words he said made no sense at all so we assumed that he was talking about us and our rescue efforts. No, Hugh had insisted: the voices were coming from under the surface of the marsh, the arms were reaching up to grab them and to pull them down. They had caught Bailey, pulled him into the marsh. Hugh had been unable to help and had been left to find his own way out.

 

When daylight arrived the search party set off. My father was going and so was I. The progress we made was painstakingly slow, each step having to be carefully assessed before taking it. Hugh refused to come. He would not have remembered the directions they had taken the previous night anyway. The marsh in the dark would have given no clues to the direction they were taking. Even though they had not gone far it took us half the day to find Bailey.

 

We came upon a foot, so covered in muck we almost missed it. If it had not been blocking the path in front of us we almost certainly would have. That was all of Bailey that rested on safe ground. We could make out the back of a head, the face beneath the soggy, slimy surface. When we released him from the marshes sucking grip we uncovered an expression of total horror – terror caused by the fate he had brought on himself. One of his arms and one of his legs were so firmly entangled in roots that we had to cut them away.

 

Bailey has now become a part of those stories that he had shown such scorn towards. He has become a character in the tale of the nightmare of the marshes. His name will be handed down to generations yet to come.

 

Hugh has gone, along with his parents – just more outsiders who did not stay long.


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