“I just like to feed him, sometimes, when nobody’s around,” she whispered. “But you can’t tell anybody. And you have to promise. Can you promise? Please promise?”
I was only seven years old when my foster sister first ‘introduced’ me to Swamp Thing. She was twelve. But I still remember it well. We were standing at the shore of our foster parents’ vacation house, then, and Alyssia meant business.
A heavy breeze drifted through thinning autumn trees. The cold bit through my thin jacket and my adopted big sister’s green eyes bore hot little holes into my forehead. I was nervous.
“What is it?”
Bilge water drifted in from the docks. The lake churned unevenly. A slithery shape slipped up and under the surface. It looked big, but, I could only see it’s scales.
“IT is a HE and HE has a name,” she huffed. “I met him yesterday.”
“What does he eat?”
“How do you know?”
“Because he didn’t eat my broccoli.”
I nodded and looked over my shoulder. My adopted mother paced about the kitchen back inside. My adopted father shouted to her from the deck. The former was making dinner while the latter ‘watched’ the kids; with a pack of menthols, a das boot full of beer, and a heaving patio chair at the ready. They were talking about the weather, or school, or something, and they weren’t paying much attention to us kids.
“I stole some leftover deli meat from the counter,” Alyssia whispered. “And I took some of the Bruiser and Bully’s leftover bones.”
She tossed a piece of turkey into the water.
“Swamp Thing will eat pretty much anything I find,” she added. “It just has to be meat.”
“You can’t,” I argued. “Stealing is wrong.”
The bait disappeared underwater with a soft suckle.
“Stealing is nothing compared to what I go through here,”
I didn’t know what she meant, then. I was too young to understand the situation in that house. And so I changed the subject to something that made her happy again.
“Is Swamp Thing like a person?” I asked. “Can he talk?”
I was joking. I was hoping Alyssia would let slip with the serious tone and rub my head or some shit. But she just smiled. It was a creepy, shit eating smile, the type that in retrospect suggested something far more sinister than the friendly neighborhood fish. If my new sister wanted to scare me that afternoon, she definitely succeeded.
“Of course he can talk.”
The water splashed at that moment and I jumped back. I asked if she was serious. But Alyssia just laughed.
“Really. Mom and dad can never know,” she chuckled. “You have to promise.”
“Because he wants to wait for the storm,”
She smiled again, ignoring my question.
I didn’t know what to say. I was new here. She wasn’t. All I wanted was a family to call my own. All I had to do was play along.
Alyssia threw a couple more pieces of meat into the lake. The water rippled lazily for a moment. Then it grew still. I wanted to see Swamp Thing. Even if it terrified me, I knew I should see it. Maybe she was just messing with me. Maybe it was all a prank. Maybe it was just a fish. But the dogs wouldn’t stop barking, and our dad started to get suspicious, so my foster sister led me back inside the cabin.
Dinner passed unceremoniously.
We ate dinner through my foster father’s bad jokes and my foster mother’s uncomfortable silences. Dad prattled on about the storm. It would snow this weekend. The lake would freeze. We needed to bring in the boat, we needed to have wood for a fire, and we needed to make sure to enjoy our outdoor time while we could; because we could be trapped for days, if the weather channel could be trusted. We may not even make it home before the holiday weekend ended. We better be thankful for the generator, he reminded my mother with a chuckle, and Mom wryly nodded at all the right cues. But she wasn’t really listening. She never really did.
Snow fell throughout the early evening and into the night.
The power line that connected our cabin to the local town’s grid shorted sometime around seven. The generator failed sometime around eight. Dad got drunk and angry and fell asleep at nine. The rest of us spent the last few hours before bedtime playing board games under candlelight. In a heated game of Monopoly, Alyssia won, mostly because she bought up houses on all of the lucky tiles. Mom let us stay up late finishing the last few rounds. And then we went to bed. I fell asleep to the creaking sounds of the storm, mixed in with my new family’s snoring.
I woke up to the crack of a rusted hinge downstairs.
The paranoia of a little kid stuck in a foreign place grew in my mind moment by moment.I laid awake and waited for the familiar shuffle of my mother, or the awkward gait of my father, or the hurried scurry of my sister. But the door shut quietly with a soft click of the lock. Heavy and wet footsteps marched their way into the kitchen. I sat up on pins and needles and tried to keep my very breath from sounding in any way unusual. Somebody else was inside.
The refrigerator opened and closed. The cabinets tapped softly against their stoppers. The footsteps turned and headed towards the Living Room. They passed by the jewelry and decorations on full display in their cabinets. They passed up any opportunities any normal burglar would have taken. They proceeded up the stairs slowly, one by one, as if taking in the view.
And then they stopped.
Water dripped onto the fresh wood floors.
My foster father stirred. My foster mother whispered something beside him. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. But they seemed to understand that something was going on. Dad sat up. Bruiser let out a single bark, then a whimper, and the next few seconds passed suddenly.
My parents jumped out of bed. The door to their bedroom flew open and shut. There was a brief struggle. Dad grunted. Mom let slip a single shrill shriek. But the fight ended just as soon as it started, with a thud to the floor, and a slam against the wooden nightstand.
The house grew quiet.
And then the visitor started to eat.
The sound was nauseating. A soft moan filled the halls. I could hear my foster parents’ flesh buckling under razor sharp teeth. I could hear limbs breaking from torsos. I could hear bones shattering like toothpicks. The intruder smacked its lips like a fat man at a buffet, gorging itself on bone, blood, sinew and every inch of meat in between. It chewed and ripped at the clothing before spitting it out like stale gum. It slurped down blood and bile like a slushy. The dogs growled sheepishly from somewhere in the corner of the room. But they stayed hidden and unobtrusive, trying desperately to appear as a non threat, and I cowered in my room trying to do the same.
For a moment it was quiet.
Then the door to their bedroom opened again.
Water continued to drip onto the floor.
I hopped out of bed and hid under it as quickly and quietly as possible. I knew hiding was cowardly. I knew Alyssia could be in trouble. But I was a kid. I couldn’t do anything but hide. The door to my sister’s room opened slowly. Her bed creaked. I waited for the monster to attack her too. I waited for the scream. But it never came. A familiar shuffle of footsteps echoed off the walls. An excited burst of giggles filled the halls. I couldn’t understand why. And so I cowered in place all the same.
Alyssia paused outside my door.
“You can’t tell anybody,” she whispered into my room. “Promise?”
Water continued to drip onto the floor.
The dogs growled. But they didn’t attack.
She thanked me and rushed to the staircase before sprinting down it. The creature soon followed suit. Their footsteps retreated down in unison. They shuffled through the kitchen. The front door opened and shut. And then they were gone.
I waited for a moment. Then I went to my window.
It was hard to see. The yard was covered in snow. Wind whipped it back and forth in a blizzard like frenzy. But a porch light cast two shadows on the grass just by the edge of the lake. One was small and wearing pink pajama pants. The other was nearly four times her size.
The power came back an hour later. I called the police from my bedroom. They arrived, almost immediately, to find an empty house and two piles of blood.
I didn’t have any answers for them. At least, none that made sense. The cops launched an investigation into my foster family. My foster father’s hard drive revealed some horrible crimes against children. My foster mother’s complicity suggested she knew something about it.
They dragged the lake for Alyssia. They put her face on every missing poster across the state. But she was never found. I like to think she’s in a better place. Somewhere right below the waves.