Updated: Jan 19, 2021
I built on the dream cited below for my story Broken Hearts of Queens but decided to cut the sequence and rework it instead. So without further ado...
It all began with a dream—a vision of how quickly we can self-destruct; how the fibers of pain are intricately woven into our bodies.
My dilapidated boat drifted along a swampy reservoir at a snail's pace. The paint-worn timbers creaked like arthritic joints. Weary trees sagged along the edge of the marshland, dressed in Spanish moss and overgrown vines that dipped into the putrid water. Who knew there could be beauty in the decay? The sky thick with yellow smog gave a deadly hue to the dying landscape.
As I traveled further, the stench of stagnant water and rot gagged me. I held my nose and settled my gaze on the barren land around me.
A rundown shack fitted with rotted boards, broken windows, and a door-less entryway planted along the left bank swayed in the gentle breeze. I scanned the building for signs of life. The second story window framed a solitary face like a picture. It was a little girl with somber eyes, a dirty, sunken face, and dark, wild hair. She waved at me, desperate for my attention as if I could overlook her.
“Hello,” I called, clinging to the hollow rim of my rickety boat.
Without a word, she shrank away and disappeared into the shadows of her house.
I blinked. Was she real or only a mirage, a side effect of my loneliness in this alien place?
I stared into the inky water below and tuned in to the eerie silence when an ear-splitting shrill replaced the quiet. It was my mother’s voice. As an expert on her every fearful gasp, painful moan, or mournful cry, I knew at once that Death lurked close-by.
I spotted her, kneeling at the base of a twisted tree. The low-bearing limbs umbrellaed over her head. Mom’s chest caved in sorrow as she wept over the child I had seen in the window moments ago. The little girl lay sprawled across her lap with eyes closed, still and deathly pale. Her frail body withered to half the size it was since the first time I’d noticed her.
Mom stroked the girl’s hair with trembling fingers. There was something strangely familiar about that little girl. She was me.
“Mom. I'm here. Mom!” I screamed, desperate to be seen. I was alive.
As I leaped from the boat, the swamp met me. Like a living trap, it clung to my skin through my clothes, crept up my hips, and glued me in place. It was cold and slimy at first, then adhered to me like reinforced concrete, squeezing and wringing my bones.
“Help!” My voice splintered with the strain for my desperate cries to be heard.
I screamed through the pain until my voice reduced to a whisper and fought till my legs turned numb.
Hopelessness enveloped me. This was what my life amounted to every time: give my all and fail anyway.
I succumbed to defeat. And only then did Mom’s gray eyes dart my way. As suddenly as all hope had departed from me, it was rewarded to me again.
Abandoning the child’s corpse, Mom watched me in wonder. Blood tears drained from her eyes and stained her cheeks. I wrestled again with my unbreakable binds, but couldn't break free. Squeezing my eyes shut, I erupted in frustrated tears. The rawness in my throat burned again. Mom could see me. Yes. I wanted her to see me. But now, she would witness the death of a child a second time.
The faint whisper of my name floated in the air. I opened my eyes and smeared the tears on my arm. Mom stretched her arms out for me to come to her. The thick marsh softened around me at her command, approving of our reunion, my resurrection.
I waded through the swamp, my heart pounding with relief. Broken logs hidden in my path snagged my feet. I stumbled and splashed and stumbled and splashed again until finally, I'd reached the bank’s edge.
The black water trickled down my clothes as I tried to climb out. But I was too breathless and weighed down to do it alone. Mom encircled me in her arms, pulled me onto the soggy terrain, and held me. Before I could relax in comfort, the warmth and breath left her body in a flash. She stiffened against me. I glanced at her and found myself in the embrace of a bronze figure. Scurrying away in a panic, I nearly tumbled backward into the swamp.
“No, no, no.”
I crawled to the statue to examine it. The metal corroded rapidly before my eyes. Within seconds, the figure disintegrated into dust and blew away with the wind. My mom was gone forever.
I buried my face in my hands. Home. I wanted home—that comforting sense of the familiar.
The gentle touch of my hair startled me. I jumped back in fear and stared wide-eyed at the child. Her features looked exaggerated up close—warped, brown, doll-like eyes, beige, jaundiced skin, full parched lips, and dark matted hair.
Cuffing my wrists with her tiny hands, she forced me to my feet and dragged me to the swamp’s edge. My heels trod mud, but her strength left me powerless.
“No. Please. Stop!”
I watched in horror as she sank into the muddy water with a bleak look on her face. The whites of her eyes drowned in black. Murky bubbles replaced all sight of her. Still, she anchored me to my death.
Knowing my end had drawn near, I screamed with what little voice remained. Terror coursed through me, heightening and prolonging every horrible sensation.
Death swaddled me like a newborn, wrapping his tentacles around me tighter and tighter. The frigid, slimy water pricked my skin, the putrid smell stung my nose, and panic strangled my chest. The more desperate I grew, the swifter I sank. I choked and gagged, straining to keep my head above water and ushering the toxic air into my lungs. The swamp took me over.
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