By: Clayton L. Luce
“Only broken people have all of the solutions. That’s why no one listens to them until they’re dead.”
Just as quickly as the dense wood had begun at the edge of the drainage ditch, it suddenly ended. We had come upon a strange, nightmarish clearing in the trees. Beyond us lay a scene from a terrible John Carpenter movie. There was a narrow rickety foot bridge, composed of a single width of 4 inch timber which ran like a single railroad track deep out into the swamp. It would require high wire balancing skills to even cross it.
We must be absolutely sure of our footing.
On either side of this ominous rickety death trap was a foul looking black sludge. It was some sort of poison, of that much I could be sure. But why? There could be no rational explanation for any of this.
Past the horrid tar moat the trees encroached in over the little path, threatening to consume it. They were held back only by the foul sludge and the eerie glow of a dozen torch lights which lined every side at intervals of ten yards or so, going on as far as the eye could see before vanishing into the evil fog.
For the first time, the Colonel seemed to hesitate as he reluctantly teetered a giant foot out over the frail little bridge, peering down into the muck with a face of determined confusion. “Jee Whiz. This looks like some sort of goddamn nightmare. Fuckin commie gooks coulda built a better trail than this with their eyes closed.”
He picked up a rock and tossed it into the black liquid. It hit with a queasy “splotch” and then started to sizzle and hiss as it sank below the impenetrable surface. “Viet-Cong woulda tunneled right under that damn shit like filthy little weasel’s. This footing is all wrong. This bridge is poorly conceived.”
With that the Colonel stepped out and his foot went down onto the wood with a sickening creak followed by a loud pop, but it didn’t give. With amazing grace for a giant hulking alcoholic he stepped forward, foot over foot, with his arms out like some sort of freakishly warped ballerina, as the bridge screamed and moaned beneath him, audibly splintered and bowing towards the murk below. I could see the wood groan!
I waited awhile until the Colonel had become almost invisible in the fog, before finally looking back one last time towards the pitch black trail from which we had come.
Oh well, I thought, and stepped out nervously onto the bridge. It didn’t crack and pop. The Colonel had done all the damage that could be done. I teetered nervously for a minute and then took another step jerking and twitching back and forth with the grace of an electric paint shaker.
The muck below oozed grey viscous bubbles which popped and sent foul gas up and into my nostrils gagging me and sending me into a coughing fit, swaying wildly back and forth. Instantly my damned rubber leg gave way and suddenly I was falling backwards down towards the terrible muck.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for the inevitable wet smack on the back on my head as I went in and under; warm foul sludge engulfing me and pouring into my nose and mouth and filling my lungs until I drowned in the corruption of it.
But alas, instead of sludge I felt a great tug on the front of my red woolen sweater, yanking me back towards the terrible little bridge and towards the Colonel who laughed sardonically and winked, “I still need you to write this damn story, son. Stop fucking around!”
My legs felt extra rubbery now and my spinal fluid seemed to have begun to globulate and rise up through my spinal column, turning my back into a giant bubbling Lava Lamp. The Colonel was looking at me from his third big eye, but I found it odd that the other two were still facing forward.
Jeez, I recalled, that Agent Orange had really done a job on him.
He still held me by the collar, but now he was walking away while his blistered, pale arm stretched until nothing but a long tendril connected me to the Colonel who was soon far off down the bridge, calling back to me in a strange high pitched voice.
“Hurry up you! What are you doing back there! This bridge is no place to stop and collect samples!” He seemed to be giggling a little, “They would’ve never caught us if it hadn’t been for that goddamned purple clown. You remember the one! Hot Damn, he was ugly. And that fucking face growing out of his neck! Jesus Christ! I’ve never seen anything like it. What’re you waitin’ on you damn junkie, these effects are stringing up my amplifier and I don’t have any more grease! Goddamn it bring me those strings!
The swamp had taken on a terrible green hue, and giant festering slugs were trying to emerge from the muck, stretching and twisting and dividing like amoebas just beneath the surface. I could feel them in my skin.
In the distance I could see the Colonel waving his arms madly and shouting something out into the swamp.
He seemed very agitated, I thought. These strings are very poorly tuned.
The Colonel was groaning now, waving his hand back and forth and slapping at the back of his head. “Goddamn it get it off, boy! Get it offa me! Jeez God its pinching the back of my neck. GAWD!” He was stomping wildly now, and the effect was terrifying.
There was the Colonel, that massive hulking beast of a man, stamping his feet while doing a trapeze act on a four inch wide beam, stabbing at the air with strange plastic hands that seemed to be melting and sagging and dripping down into his shirtsleeves while jabbering about his amplifier strings.
The vibrations were really going now. I wasn’t sure why we were here anymore, but the whole scene terrified me and I had to crouched down until I could prostrate myself onto the beam.
Must expand the surface area of my body to fit the grain of the wood. Otherwise I will certainly sink like a stone.
The bridge was no longer stable. Everything in me was screaming for me to find another place to hide, but the whole mood was changing too fast and the Colonel was no longer anywhere to be seen.
“Oh shit!” I creaked. “Ohhhh God. Ohhh God, What is this thing in my shirt. Tiny little legs scuttling over the skin on the back of my neck, pricking me and forcing me down into the sand.
Fucking hermit crabs! Nasty, ugly little buggers with big tumorous claws with little sprouts of hair and tiny little black organisms that seemed to be carrying little buckets of water across the thinly veiled veins. The sand was too hot now and it was getting in my mouth. The waves were crashing, but I couldn’t enjoy sunbathing in this state. I had total credit here. They would usher me right through.
I knew I needed something important, and this beach seemed out of place on a bridge out in the middle of the swamp.
The sun was burning now and I fumbled into my pocket for my tea-shades.
The Colonel must have taken all of the lotion when he ran off with that shifty little Arab.
Arab? The Sheik maybe? Had he given the Colonel that goddamned bird as part of some sort of code? Were they plotting against me?
The shots seemed to jolt me out of my nap. I scrambled to my feet, before remembering my rubber leg and crashing back down again, recovering with a perfect barrel roll. A fine execution for an old acid freak, and suddenly I felt a little better about the day.
I knew I was out in a swamp, but that part didn’t bother me. It was the hazy recollection of something else.
BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!
This time the shots felt like they were exploding in my head and I felt sure that I had been hit. I wailed and threw the open can of mints towards the sound trying to optimize the spread of the candies, hoping for maximum damage at whatever they struck out there in the darkness.
“Back! Back you fucking Gook bastard!”
Suddenly the Colonel was standing there, just past the focal point of my vision which seemed to be changing with the gradual crossing of my eyes. He had no shirt on and was covered from head to foot in the black sludge. It was smeared across his face and neck like war-paint, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, shoulders sagging and a big silver .45 was dangling from his fingertip.
He seemed to be fading in and out and shifting back and forth, and suddenly he was gone again.
I felt it didn’t really matter anyway. The Colonel was surely on some far corner of the earth blowing up a Mosque or burning down a farmhouse full of trapped rebels. This swamp is no place for a man of the Colonel’s stature. He wouldn’t have lasted one minute out on that bridge.
Then as quickly as the thought passed before my eyes in a flash of color I woke up. Everything was moving with a strange unnatural motion. I was looking up through the gnarled trees at the dull, silver glow of the moon far beyond the trees somewhere above the fog.
I had apparently made it to the other side of the bridge. The acid had really done a number on me. The spike had been a terrible nightmarish trip, and I wondered how I had survived the bridge crossing. I was in a small clearing now, the bridge behind me lay ominously still.
The Colonel was nowhere to be seen. Jesus! The Colonel!
In the midst of the trip I had completely forgotten about him. He had slipped away undetected and was now certainly running amok out in the swamp with that nasty .45 and a head full of acid and a serious case of PTSD.
I scrambled to my feet. My bag was gone. Lost forever I was sure. Probably at the bottom of that filthy swamp tar pit.
Suddenly I was aware that the drums had started again. Close now. I could hear strange shrieks and cries rising up from the fog somewhere just ahead. I could see the orange glow again just through the trees. There were strange clashes and clicking sounds and suddenly what sounded like a hissing cat and then another loud shriek followed by unnatural silence.
I looked back towards the bridge and considered fleeing back to the Cadillac and out of this terrible swamp. This is no place for a man of my condition, I thought. My skin is too brittle for human sacrifice, and my blood was surely so toxic that it would kill whomever drank it.
Nope, I thought, even the Zulu’s know better than to eat the heads of rattlesnakes, or lifelong dope-fiends for that matter.
This inspired me with an irrational confidence. Deep down I knew that these bastards might string me up and castrate me, despite my useless condition but I thought about the Colonel and his Marines, raping the weak and pissing down the throats of the poor while the President hosted massive sacrificial orgies at the White House and ate the flesh of young boys.
If I turned back now, the American Dream was doomed. Perhaps it already was, but I had come this far out into this God-forsaken swamp for a purpose, for good or ill, of that much I was sure. I couldn’t turn back now and let the Colonel murder the Voodoo Priest and drink his essence, or steal his collection of souls, or worse yet, obtain the curse.
Ye Gods, I thought. It was too terrible to imagine.