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The original story can be found here.

The events I am about to describe may sound far-fetched and surreal, but please keep an open mind. There’s a reason I am drawn to horror stories and to places like this. It’s because I’ve experienced things in my life that convinced me that the origins of horror have one foot set firmly in reality. I’ve only told what I’m about to tell you in its entirety to one other person, and that was only because I married her. No, this isn’t a proposal. Any unnecessary embellishments are purely for entertainment value, because I’ve given up convincing most people that this actually happened.

When I was five years old, my family moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to a small town in the middle of Vermont. The place we moved into was an old Victorian, turn-of-the-century house, painted an odd shade of green I can only best describe as falling somewhere between olive and pine. Many of the houses in town had titles, possibly carried down from long ago when they belonged to the local college (a military school my father had accepted the position of Dean at, which is why we moved in the first place). Our house had a small plaque by the side door that read, “Spider Hall”. It was a rather daunting name, and my siblings and I all expressed our concerns about living in a house with such a title. Fortunately, the house never really lived up to the name, but it helped add to the atmosphere that surrounded that place.

The house was situated on a hill upon another hill. The street, Spring Street, was so steep that for years I wasn’t strong enough to pedal my bike more than twenty feet up the slope before I had to hop off and walk the rest of the way. Our driveway was halfway up the street, even steeper than the street itself, which made parking difficult. I remember once, the parking brake on my sister’s VW Beetle failed and we found it the following morning in the ditch across the road.

There was a flat part to the land the house was built upon, but all of that flat area was occupied by a massive, wet, boggy marsh, thickly settled with reeds, ferns and frogs. There was a small tree with a tire swing right at the edge of the swamp, but we learned days after moving in that the rope had rotted away when my older brother tried it out and ended up flying, tire and all, into the muck. The vegetation of the swamp was so thick and tall that if you stood at the edge of the water, you could not see the other side, despite there being a sheer rise and a rock wall that marked the edge of the property.

Jump ahead three years. I was 8 and it was August. The days was downcast, heavy cloud cover, with the type of drizzle that felt more like a layer of slime covering you if you stood out in it. I had a friend over, Christopher, and between he and I and my two brothers, we were driving my mother insane, so she stuck us in our raincoats and galoshes and kicked us out of the house, telling us to “go burn it off in the yard.” It was my older brother, Jack, who came up with the idea of exploring the swamp. Since we were already decked out in gear made to protect us from the wet, we thought it was the perfect chance to traipse into the reeds and ferns and see what all was in there.

Jack lead the way. Armed with a heavy stick he swung back and forth in front of him like a machete, he snapped and tore a path for the rest of us to follow. Chris was ahead of me, and my little brother, George, was last. We marched straight into the center of that swamp like jungle explorers, the muck and ooze sucking at our boots and trying to pull us down with each step.
15 minutes into our adventure, my boot got stuck pretty solid. The mud squelched and slurped but refused to let go and I just did not have the strength to pull my foot free. Jack and Chris trudged on ahead, oblivious, and George shuffled past me with a curious glance but silent diligence. As they disappeared into the scenery, I reached down and tried to get a grip on the wet, rubbery surface of my boot, but couldn’t find a handhold. I ended up stuffing my hand up to the wrist beneath the surface of the muddy water and grabbing up the laces. A good yank freed me, but set me off balance and I fell backward onto my ass in the water. There was an instant sharp pain in my leg causing me to yell, and when I arose I found that my pant leg was torn by a snapped branch and I was bleeding from a nasty-looking gash.

I didn’t think it would be wise to continue playing in the dirty swamp and possibly get some sort of infection. I struggled to turn around and find my way back to the edge of the swamp, yelling for the rest of the group to let them know I was hurt. When I finally got back to the house, my mother was on the side porch, waiting for me, having heard my cries. The cut wasn’t deep, but due to the rain, it had gotten my pant leg good and bloody and looked awful at first glance. I was treated to a hot cocoa with marshmallows after a painful cleanup with rubbing alcohol, and eventually the rest of the troupe came back inside, having no clue that anything had even happened to me until they found their way back out.

I don’t know what I would have seen that first night, if anything. Or the second night for that matter. But the third night after our jaunt into the swamp, it was unbearably hot, which lead to my parents opening the windows in our bedroom to cool things down. It was late and very dark when I woke up suddenly. The house was quiet, indicating my parents had gone to bed. I could hear noises from outside through the open window, frogs and crickets mostly. I wasn’t sure why I had awakened, so I just lay there in the darkness and listened to the sounds of the night and tried to get back to sleep. Then I heard the sound of water sloshing.

It wasn’t even obvious at first. I heard it but thought nothing of it. But as I lay there, the sound became more deliberate, like something was moving through the swamp. I climbed down from the top of the bunk bed I shared with my little brother and went to the window, which looked out toward the driveway and down the slope beyond it to the swamp. I couldn’t see anything, I could just hear the water splashing as something moved among the vegetation. It sounded too big to be a frog. As I stood there, listening, straining my eyes to see anything, the sound of the actual frogs very suddenly stopped. And then something stepped out of the swamp.

It was large and dark. That was about all the details I could give for it at first. Was it a person? It looked like a person; man-sized, broad from the top all the way to the bottom. I was looking down at it from an angle, but I thought I could see a head. It just strode forward slowly to the edge of the swamp, then stood there. The way the moonlight reflected off it, I could tell it was wet all over. I watched it, holding my breath, not even sure what it was, and as I watched it, I realized there was another one, further along the edge of the swamp, that had been standing perfectly still the entire time and I just hadn’t noticed it. Two human-sized things standing down at the edge of the swamp, not moving.

The one that had been there all along suddenly seemed to shift, like it was kneeling, then I could make out a soft, greenish light at its feet (or where its feet should be). There was an arm, I could see its arm, bathed in that sickening green light as it lifted what looked like some sort of lantern up off the ground. I was certain now that it had to be a person. Then it lifted the lantern up in front of it and I saw its face.

It was like a rotted vegetable. The nauseating green light made it hard to discern the color, but it was mottled and pale. Its face was swollen and smooth-looking, with hair (I think it was hair) hanging down off its head in greasy strands all over. Its mouth was open like a giant O that seemed to stretch the contours of the rest of its face… which was completely blank. As I stood there, feeling the wrenching horror of what I was seeing, I realized that it was holding the lantern out toward me. I started screaming, which woke my little brother who also started screaming because he didn’t know what was going on. As I continued screaming, the second thing lifted its arms out toward me as if to embrace me. I got dizzy and fell over from all the screaming just as my parents came busting into the room afraid someone was hurt.

You know how this works. I woke up the next day in my own bed, having been put there by my father. I went downstairs and told my mother what I had seen and she told me I’d had a nightmare. Nobody believed me. That’s one thing I’ll never do to my kids. If they say there’s a monster, I’ll do more than a cursory glance and brushing off. I know there are monsters.
I was scared to go to sleep the next night. Even if it had been a nightmare, it was a pretty realistic one. I’d never had a dream like that before. I lay there, listening to George snore, thinking the things I had seen were going to come into the house and get me. Maybe they were already in my closet, waiting for me to drift off and then cover my mouth with their hands and drag me away.

Eventually, I did fall asleep. You can’t fight it at 8 years old, no matter how hard you try. And when I woke up, and it was dark and the house was quiet, I clenched my eyes shut and tried to go back there. I didn’t want to be awake now, I knew what was going to happen. It hadn’t been a dream. It was happening again. The sloshing, the water splashing, the sound of frogs quickly going quiet. I knew they were out there again, and I was not going to look. And then the moaning started.

It wasn’t loud moaning. I thought at first that George in the bunk beneath me was sighing. But then it picked up, like someone else was joining in. And another one. And another one. I had to know… were they coming toward the house? I was shaking so bad I nearly fell off the ladder getting out of bed. I went to the open window and looked out and as I got there, the moaning picked up even louder and more obvious… and more joyous. I looked down into the swamp and nearly choked. There were five of them now, at least. The one with the lantern stood out on the grass, slowly waving its other arm back and forth like it was beckoning to me. The rest stood in the water, arms outstretched, moaning from their gaping mouths. Their bodies and arms were black and slimy-looking. I couldn’t make out actual hands. There was stuff hanging off them, dripping and gross. I didn’t move or scream, just stood there in horror and watched as each one at its own pace started rocking back and forth, still moaning, and moving its arms out toward me, then back toward its cavernous mouth.

Well finally the scream came, and I grabbed the window and slammed it shut. George started crying, Jack started yelling from his room in the back, my father burst in again and started shaking me, thinking I was sleep walking. I just kept screaming and pointing at the window, but he ignored my wild gestures and grabbed my head and tried to make me look at him. It wasn’t until he realized I was awake that he finally looked out the window. And he frowned. I was so ecstatic by that frown. I just knew it meant that he had seen them, and that his brow was furrowed as he tried to figure out what they were. My mother came in and he told her to stay with me as he went to check outside. I wanted to jump with joy.

We watched him through the window, flashlight in hand, step out into the driveway and then make his way down the hill to the swamp. I could see the beam waving around, looking at the ground, then he came back up the hill and inside. I was calm now. My father would believe me after what he saw. But when he came back into the room, he was frowning in that “I’m not happy with you” way. It was a trick of the shadows, he said. I was imagining things. No more watching The Twilight Zone for me. If I wake everybody up again, I’ll be grounded. All that good stuff. His rational adult mind must have seen them going back to wherever they came from, given me the benefit of the doubt, then gone outside and found nothing.

The next day, I was in a daze. My brothers gave up trying to include me in their games because I was too busy trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to go look for proof of what I had seen at the edge of the swamp, but I didn’t want to go anywhere near the swamp, because I knew they were in there, wanting me to come to them. And their gestures that night was perfectly clear to me: they wanted to eat me.

In the end, I did nothing. I chickened out. When it was time for bed, I begged my mother to leave the windows closed. George complained, but she agreed to keep them closed. With the windows closed, I couldn’t hear them coming, couldn’t hear them calling. I actually slept the entire night. And the next night. And the next. I started convincing myself it had all been a dream again. What else could I do? I believed in monsters, I was 8 after all, but you still try to convince yourself that there’s nothing there because otherwise you live in constant fear.
It rained again, cooling things off. We didn’t need the windows open to keep the house from getting too hot, so I slept a good couple weeks. It was all forgotten. I wasn’t even thinking about them anymore… which is, of course, when you are almost guaranteed to have something happen. When I woke up that night, it wasn’t because of any sound, I just had to pee. I came back from the bathroom and started to climb into bed, but then I remembered. The waking up, the open window, the things in the swamp with their bloated heads and gaping mouths and the sickly green light and… oh God. I spooked myself. I was shaking again just from thinking about it. So I had the dumb idea that the only way to make myself feel better was to go take a look and prove that it wasn’t real. I went to the window and looked outside.

They were standing at the edge of the swamp, a good two to three solid rows of them. They were standing in the grass beyond the edge of the swamp. They were standing at the bottom of the hill. I pressed my face to the glass to look down. They were standing in the driveway. Shambling, rotted horrors, every one of them. A hundred shiny, wet, bloated heads with empty black mouths stuck forever open. Greasy, black arms hanging off massive, wet bodies, covered in slime and draped with weeds and mud. Their moans carried through the closed window, a chorus of horrible, glee-filled hunger. Somewhere in the crowd, I could see the dull green glow of the lantern, and then it was hefted up above the heads of the rest and the moaning seemed to turn into a roar. My eyeballs said, “let’s look at something else” so they rolled up into the back of my head which hurt suddenly as it struck the floor. The muffled moaning filled my dreams.

It was morning, and I was being shaken awake by George who found me on the floor when he woke up. I sat at breakfast, spooning my cereal, not hungry, scared shitless. Would they eventually come inside? Could they? If they came in, my parents would hear them, but by then it’d be too late for any of us. As I sat there, my mother came inside to get a dustpan and broom and told us that the cats had left a gift for us on the porch. I got up and went to look. There was the remains of some small animal on the porch. Our cats sometimes would try to bring things they caught inside, and when they couldn’t, they’d eat it by the door and leave the entrails for us to tread in. This animal, however, had simply been torn apart. Guts, limbs, head, all strewn about and in the process of being swept into the pan by my mother. When I went outside to play later, I found more dead animals in the yard beyond the driveway. Frogs, voles, mice, birds, just splattered. This is what is going to be left of me I thought.

I’d like to say that there’s some climax to this tale, that I faced off against the things in the swamp and persevered, but there isn’t. I kept the window shut, never had the circumstance where I woke up and happened to go look out it again. More small animals were found on the porch and steps and driveway every day. I knew a trail of them could be traced back to the swamp, but said nothing. Maybe the things were satiated by these small sacrifices. Eventually the weather got colder, the swamp froze up and everything got covered in snow. I never found tracks in the snow from the swamp. Animals stopped dying a few weeks before the temperature dropped below freezing. Winter came and went, Spring came, things thawed out, and still no more fatalities among the wildlife. Perhaps they moved on, perhaps they passed away, perhaps they just forgot what I had introduced to them. All I can say for certain is I knew from that day forth that monsters exist, and I never set foot in the swamp again.


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