Swamp Rat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic


If you know what's good for you, stay out of Tate's Hell.

Submitted: June 03, 2018

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Submitted: June 03, 2018

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Elgin Lagniappe, a Louisiana native whose father had often taken him bass fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin, had grown up to be a microbiologist earning a six figure salary.  Far from his rustic place of birth, the economically successful Elgin toiled earnestly in the smoggy pollution of the noisy industrial sector of New Jersey.  Late one rainy afternoon in the steamy fumes of August while on coffee break in the dreary employees’ lounge perusing the glossy pages of a tourist magazine, he read an obscure article about the unexplained occurrences going on in and around the mysteriously ill-shadowed Tate’s Hell Swamp.

An odd quirk in Elgin’s personality that his few friends could not understand at all was that though he was a sober-minded adult exhibiting qualities of no-nonsense professional integrity, he was nevertheless fanatically preoccupied with conspiracy theories revolving around proof of the existence of the paranormal.

Professor Elgin Lagniappe was convinced that the Ritz crackers logo, when viewed upside down in reverse, was the secret occult symbol of an enigmatic race of star travelers who were hiding from a persecuting force by camouflaging themselves in an undisclosed location here on planet Earth.  The alien alphabet, as seen in the Ritz crackers brand, was the key that would open the door to understanding Linear A, an undeciphered ancient writing system rumored to be of extraterrestrial origin - the script of which can be seen in ruins of the Minoan civilization located on the fabled isle of Crete in the blue Aegean.

Fancying himself as knowing something about swamps, the professor immediately dove into further investigation concerning the eerie events spawned by Tate’s Hell.  To his indescribable pleasure, he found the cult underground full of legends about the witch-haunted primordial swamp.  In growing excitement, Dr. Lagniappe was overflowing with certitude that he had finally, in his twenty-seventh year of consuming obsession, discovered the secret hideout of the fugitive alien colony.  This prudent scientist, esteemed by his worthy colleagues, took an ill-advised leave of absence from commercial application of his shrewd intellect to embark upon a deep-probing investigation of the occult happenings way down south on the Florida gulf shore in the remote gloomy cypress bogs, piney woodlands, and coastal marshes of the fearsome Tate’s Hell wilderness.

Professor Lagniappe was absolutely positive that evidence of the elusive alien presence could be found everywhere in the dismal morass, from the loftiest hardwoods to the lowliest varmints.  So, his first plan of action was to analyze blood samples from Tate’s Hell swamp rats, all of which were ominously iron-gray in color and of unusually prodigious size and furriness.  The vicious rodents were hazardously aggressive.

After the exhilarated professor had set up his sleeping quarters and research laboratory in an abandoned warehouse he rented from an old widow woman in the nearby lonely fishing village of Carrabelle, he ventured into the saw-palmetto thickets and thorny vine tangles of Tate’s Hell to collect specimens.  When he had enough rats for his purpose, Professor Lagniappe made preparations to begin his experiments.  He locked the door of his makeshift laboratory and left the premises for an early supper at Crawldads where he would watch Lem Tharp unload another bountiful catch of gulf shrimp onto the dilapidated village dock.  The ruddy golden sunset over the wide vista of the sparkling brackish water of Shark Bay Dr. Lagniappe would take in on the back deck of the little seafood eatery while thrilling his taste buds with a delicious Captain’s Choice - a Grouper Po’ Boy accompanied by Cajun tater logs and a dozen salty oysters on the half-shell all washed down with ice-cold homegrown pink lemonade.

It was nearly an hour after sundown when the professor departed the quaint dockside eatery to grope his way in grim darkness through the unfamiliar twists and turns of the side streets and back alleys of the antiquated coastal village.  He seemed to be the only one about, the locals eerily quiet behind the safety of locked doors.  The pungent odor of raw seaweed lying exposed on reeking mud beach at low tide wafted into his recanting nostrils.  Strange sounds borne on the mysterious currents of the salty sea breeze whispered warnings into his alert ears.  The warm muggy dampness of the night air strengthened unexpected atmospheres.  Crossing the rotting planks of a small bridge that spanned the murky water of a narrow bayou, Elgin jerked his hand away from the rickety railing when his clammy palm came into abrupt contact with the cold slimy skin of a salt marsh snail.  

Several times during his solitary walk back to his rented lodgings, the wary professor paused to listen into the cryptic darkness.  Had he heard footsteps behind him?  Were his movements being stalked by an unknown pursuer concealed in the encroaching nocturnal shadows that crowded in on all sides?  Nonsense!  His nerves were addled by being alone so far away from home, stimulating his active imagination into suspecting creeping things that weren't really there.  All the same, rounding a corner as the warehouse came into view, Elgin was glad to see that he had remembered to leave the outside light on.  He breathed a sigh of relief which spontaneously deteriorated into a gasp of alarm upon perceiving the door to the shabby building slightly ajar.

Cautiously entering his lab, the good professor was shocked to discover that an unnamed intruder had broken in and stolen all his swamp rats from their cages.  Dr. Lagniappe viewed this as merely hazing or harassment by backwater hick locals who didn’t like a big city PhD interloping in their little neck of the woods.  This suspicion, he estimated, was confirmed when a broken chunk of red firebrick came flying through the dingy window to land with a heart-rending thud amid the shattered glass that now littered his meticulously swept laboratory floor.  A threatening note was tied to the dangerous projectile, “If you know what’s good for you, stay out of Tate’s Hell.

Understandably, this troubled the intrepid professor.  Crumpling the crude note and tossing it into a nearby wastebasket, Dr. Lagniappe, in growing nervous anxiety, began to wax philosophical.  Smart people cannot be in the company of others, he concluded.  Only dumb people can be around people.  Smart people cannot be around dumb people.  Smart people can’t even be with other smart people.  Truly smart people have a difficult time being with themselves.  

Not one to be easily thwarted in his quest, the determined professor spent the next four days braving the suffocating heat, humidity, sharp lightning of afternoon thunderstorms, stinging biting insects, and deadly pit viper moccasins of Tate’s Hell to rebuild his supply of test subjects.  When each of his cages once again contained a fat ugly strongly malodorous ferocious swamp rat, Professor Lagniappe, for the second time, set about commencement of his peculiar experiments aimed at generating proof that the alien exiles are here among us, but there was another break-in at the age-worn worm-eaten warehouse.  This time the rats weren’t the only ones to go missing.  Since that fateful evening thirteen long years ago, no one has seen or heard anything of the unfortunate Professor Elgin Lagniappe of Millville, New Jersey.

What the Carrabelle constable released publicly was that the professor had apparently vanished without a trace.  What the constable did not disclose publicly is that there was in fact some evidence at the scene of the mysterious disappearance - evidence in the form of bloody footprints, or, more precisely, tracks.  On the floor of the impromptu scientific laboratory near the ripped-open rat cages, broken microscope, scattered beakers, test tubes, Bunsen burners, and notebooks were several patches of smeared dried blood in an eerily foreboding pattern which could only have been produced by the gnarled feet and clawed toes of a gigantic Muroidea, a/k/a swamp rat.


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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