Swamp surrounds the village, dirt little more than sponge, sopping up so much water even the slightest of us must strap net stretched across stiff wooden slats to our feet or else risk being swallowed whole. Too many have become meals, preserved in the muck for unsuspecting outside-dwellers to stumble across on one of their daring jaunts to our reaches.
It’s why we’re called the People of the Mud.
Big sister, unruly and untamable, always donning a reckless sort of snaggled smile, became one such meal.
Hushed me in my hammock when climbing down from hers disturbed me. Told me, in a conspiratorial whisper, “It’ll be our little secret little sister, yes?” and vanished into the fathomless void our world is once nights descends. Her muck-shucks remained, I noticed at daybreak.
She never returned for them.
Blood, an elder in the hobbled hut stilted beside ours said when it was clear big sister was gone for good. The mud demands blood.
Mother and father said nothing in response to the elder. Nodded, yes, but kept their mouths sewn shut. I followed suit.
Said nothing when no vigil was held. Nothing when big sister’s hammock was filled not a year later by another child. Nothing when big sister’s muck-shucks were pried from my protective hold and broken
like mother and father’s stitches. Remade, so carefully, for a smaller pair of pitter-patter feet.
Silence would mourn silence.
Would mourn a farewell never voiced. A closure, unsatisfied.
In the swamp, the mud is not the only thing that makes demands. That requires sacrifice. The water–there is ritual that must be performed before it will accept our dead.
Touch. We must bless the passed with one last memory of our touch. Must comfort them a final time, skin to mud-stained skin, or else risk their disgruntled spirit coming back with a vengeance for what was denied.
Flesh swallowed by the murk without lasting comfort never satisfies.
Is never satisfied.
It slithers out of the murk and into your hut at night. Up into your hammock. Coils ’round and ’round you till its smooth, scaly touch is all you can feel. All you will remember.
It sneaks up on you while you’re muck-shucking at dusk. Watches you with beady eyes from razory reeds, saw-tooth grass, biding it’s time till you tempt fate too close and then it is tusks through your soft tissue. Skin separated from stained skin. Cloven hoofs crunching bone so you’ll never forget.
It is a jagged-jawed maw lying in wait in the shallows’ shadows. Scaled hide shades of void and muddy murk. Eyes dim until the moment mother leans too far for the laundry line and topples into the drink. Till father wades too deep to rescue her.
Then, those dull eyes sheen blood-red. Like mine and baby sister’s in our murky reflections from our perch above.
Mud people? More like Blood people.
Blood and bone and fleshy parts people. So easily made. Easier torn apart. Swallowed. Blood and bone and fleshy parts a delicacy our world delights in dishing out almost as much as it does in devouring it itself.
After, when the red goes ruddy, Its eyes flat like void-night again, there is an acknowledgement.
A looked shared between It and me.
Fully satisfied. Appreciative.
Accentuated by a toothy, reckless curl of Its vicious maw. Gone in an instant. With a single thrash of its reptilian tail, back into the murky depths it disappears. Finally able to rest.
Baby sister wriggles in my arms.
“Ma? Da?” She mumble-grumbles, pointing a pudgy finger at the settling murk. “Go?”
“Shhhhh….” I soothe her struggling, her searching, my voice less than pacifying from long disuse. “It’s a secret.”
I glance down at the red streaks still swirling in the murk, the bone fragments floating like the broken bits of an old pair of forgotten muck-shucks. They weren’t forgotten.
“Our secret, yes?”
Wrote this while I was pissed because I missed my train. Decided to make my frustration productive. Hope you enjoy~~
***Be sure to check out the Killing It if you do***