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The Original

My Uncle Wallace lives on a parcel of property bordering a dense wetlands in Georgia. To say that he’s isolated is an understatement. The road he lives on isn’t even paved, and his nearest neighbor is a couple miles away. I remember him once saying his real neighbors were the things living in the swamp.

We never visited him when I was young. He was too much of a shut-in. My father said his house, if you could call it a house, generally reeked of lime and alcohol and there was too much shit cluttering up the place for anyone but Wallace to sleep. Apparently he was something of a hoarder.

I met him a couple times when he came out for family funerals. He drove an old, pale blue Chevy that looked about as haggard as he did. Wallace himself looked like a scarecrow in a suit. Combs and brushes probably ran screaming at the sight of him. The first time I met him, he shook my hand and grumbled a polite greeting. For the rest of the day, our dog would scurry away when I tried to pet it with that hand.

I never asked my father why Uncle Wallace was the way he was. I was kind of afraid I’d get an answer. I just accepted that something had put him there and he was fine with it and just living day by day until the day he wound up stiffer than his sheets. I wondered if anyone would notice when he died, and how long it would take if they did.

After college, I made plans to travel south, stop in Florida and visit some friends briefly while I had the freedom to do so. My father called me up the day before I left and told me he had mailed Uncle Wallace the week prior, informing him that I was going to stop by and visit on my way down.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“The only way to contact your uncle is by mail,” my dad said, “I knew that if I asked you to check on him and make sure he’s okay, you would. So I had to let him know you were coming far enough ahead of time for him to get the word so he wouldn’t panic when you arrived or shoot you for trespassing.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I grumbled. “I guess I’ll have to adjust my route. What should I do if he’s dead?”

“Call the police and let them know. But make sure you’re certain. Don’t just assume he’s dead by the smell.”

“Yeah, great.”

Thirteen hours later, I was bumping and jolting down the dirt road to my uncle’s house. The way was so narrow that if another car had shown up going in the opposite direction, one of us would’ve had to either back up to a place to pull over, or just pull over down the slope and into the bog. Thankfully, there was nobody else that day.

When I got to the house, it was still light, but the sun had started to set behind the trees. The house looked worse than I had envisioned from all my father’s tales. It was a shack, hardly bigger than two college dorm rooms. The windows were boarded up with plastic trashbags underneath. There was a stoop in the front with a warped tin roof held precariously aloft by a thick board on one side and an old ladder on the other. The front entrance had a white screen door with peeling paint. The mailbox was rusted with a big white “36” painted on the side. Its post was propped against a tree stump.

Uncle Wallace’s truck was parked against a tree. There was a pile of torn and moldy cardboard boxes heaped in the bed and a broken wicker chair propped up against the back of the cab. There was a chain wrapped and tied around the trunk of the tree that disappeared underneath the truck.

I parked behind the truck and surveyed the house for a few minutes, thinking about my joke over the phone. What if he’s dead? I really didn’t want to deal with him being dead. The minutes ticked by as I sat there, waiting… hoping he’d come out after hearing me pull up so I wouldn’t have to go investigate and find a corpse.

Finally I got out, went up to the front door and knocked. When no answer came, I called out, “Uncle Wallace?” Still no response. Oh god, please don’t be dead. That was just a bad joke. It occurred to me that maybe if he was dead, the letter from my father might still be in his mailbox, so I went and took a peek inside.

Nothing. Where was this guy?

I put my hands to my mouth and shouted, “Uncle Wallace!”

“What!” came the immediate reply from the other side of the house. I waited a moment, expecting him to come around, but when he didn’t, I walked behind the house to find him.

The back of the house skirted dangerously close to the edge of the swamp. Uncle Wallace was sitting in a tan recliner, facing the marsh, an old shotgun draped across his lap. He was older now, more grizzled and liver-spotted. He had on a filthy, flannel shirt, baggy jeans and a wide-brimmed hat with mosquito netting that obscured his face. An old, black grill was slowly sinking into the ground next to him, and as I stood there, I’d swear it sank another inch.

He turned and looked at me as I rounded the corner, took me in for a second, then muttered, “Oh. Jake’s boy. Friday, is it?” He grunted, adjusting himself in the chair, then scratched an itch.

“Yessir,” I said, remembering what my father had said long ago about Uncle Wallace being particular about manners and respecting your elders. “How are you, sir? It’s nice to see you again.”

“M’busy,” he muttered, “But if yer gonna be a pest, might s’well pull up a chair and chew the fat a while.”

I found a foldout lawn chair propped against the back of the shack, covered with spiderwebs, and cleaned it off thoroughly before settling my haunches on it. We sat there together for a few quiet minutes, both of us just staring out at the marsh as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. The place was ripe with life. I could hear frogs and birds out among the water and trees. The insect life was rampant too, and I had to swat regularly at mosquitos that violated my personal bubble. Finally, as the sky turned dark, I couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“It gets good reception,” I said, trying to break the ice, “But can you get ESPN on it?”

“Hesh up,” Uncle Wallace spat back. He started stroking the barrel of the shotgun, which I realized was laid across his lap pointing at me. Nervous, I shifted back a couple feet to get out from in front of it.

“I really just came to see if you were okay,” I said.

“Ya mean to make sure I weren’t did.”

“Did?”

“Did. Pushin’ daisies. Worm food. DID.”

“Oh, yes. Did. Well, I see you’re not did, so–”

“I tol’ ya to hesh,” he grumbled, shaking the shotgun at me for a moment. I was feeling a might anxious with him waving it around. There was no telling whether he was even sober or not. He smelled like rotten vegetables mixed in burned gravy. If there was alcohol in him, it probably couldn’t find a clean pore to seep out of.

I sat there, silent, watching him watching the bog. Sometimes I’d lean close, just for a moment (longer and I might pass out), to try to discern what it was he was looking at. The sun was set by then, but the trees and the water seemed almost to glow from the moonlight.

I was about to speak again, saying my goodbyes, when I heard the sloshing sound of water lapping against tree trunks. Then again. Something moving in the weeds and the muck. Uncle Wallace’s arm snapped over and gripped my wrist faster than I expected for an old man. He leaned around the edge of his chair to look at me, then put his finger to his lips. My stomach went into knots.

The splashing continued. I tried to figure out which direction it was coming from, but it reverberated off the trees, making it difficult to determine. After a moment, the echo was off sync. I realized I wasn’t listening to one thing moving, but two, from different directions. Two somethings, sloshing through the swamp right in front of us.

“Is it a crocodile?” I asked, not bothering to lower my voice. Uncle Wallace turned angrily at me and hissed through clenched teeth, but it was too late. A low groan suddenly emerged from the direction of the bog. It was like the sound a large tree makes as it topples over. The groan was repeated in the other direction, sending shivers down my spine. As I listened, the groan seemed to turn into a slow laugh, like a “HHUUUUUUUHUHUHUHURHURHUR.”

“Ya confounded idgit!” my uncle spat at me. He reached down the other side of his chair and pulled out a massive flashlight strapped to a car battery. He tossed it violently in my lap, then thought better of it and clasped his hand over top of it.

“Don’cha dare turn this on, ‘less I says so!” he pointed his gnarled finger right in my face and accentuated his point with a shake of the hand holding the shotgun. He turned back around, hefting the shotgun up and angling it toward the groaning. I heard him mutter under his breath, “Sum’bitch retarded kin, showin’ up tonight of all nights!”

My hands were shaking. I wanted to run to my car and just go, but something inside me said to stay and help my uncle. He was already angry at me, how would it look for me to flee like a sissy when I didn’t even know what was going on?

The groaning and laughter got closer, and I heard the first heavy footfall of something stepping up out of the murky water.

“LIGHT!” my uncle shouted suddenly, and I panicked, realizing I didn’t know where the button was to push. I started pushing all over the massive flashlight, anything that felt like a button. It was taking too damn long, and “LIGHT, DAG NABBIT!” Uncle Wallace shouted. Something gave way under my thumb and I pushed it. The flashlight lit up in my face, blinding me for a second, and I hurriedly swiveled it around in my lap and shone it out into the swamp.

“Holy shit.” was all I could say.

Right in front of us, not more than an arm’s reach away, was something I can only describe as a monster. It was hunched over like an ape, with flesh looking like it had peeled a man and draped it over itself like a child drapes a sheet over itself on Halloween. The flesh around its eyes was sagging and it’s mouth hung open, a long tongue lolling around inside over two rows of giant teeth. Its body was covered with vegetation and mud and glistened like it was wet. I didn’t have time to look much lower.

In the moments the flashlight came on and I turned it around to illuminate this horror, the thing groaned, saw us in the second it wasn’t being blinded by the light, and broke out into a horrifying, twisted grin. It leaned its head back, its eyes widening and threw both arms up, reaching out toward my uncle. It gave one burst of grunting laughter, lurched maybe a step forward, and then there was a snick-BOOM and my uncle’s shotgun lit up like a firework.

The ape-thing tumbled backward, arms flailing. The two of us were splattered with ooze and filth. I shouted in horror, nearly dropping the flashlight as muck and possibly blood spattered my vision. I went backward myself, tipping over the foldout chair and falling hard on my back.

Uncle Wallace started yelling at me to get back up while I heard him opening the shotgun to pop out the shells and reload. My ears were ringing though, and my head was spinning, and the flashlight was heavy on my chest. I kicked my legs for a second, trying to right myself.

Another groan from deeper in the swamp told me there were more of those things present, probably approaching. I stupidly threw the flashlight off and it went out with a loud crack. Uncle Wallace was up out of his chair by then, rooting through the cushion and swearing loudly.

“What the fuck was that!” I shouted.

“Git inside and find me more shells!” he yelled back.

I tumbled over myself, shoving my way through the back door and into the dark clutter that was my uncle’s house. How the fuck was I supposed to find anything in there? I fell over a table, slamming my shoulder into something hard. Frustrated, I fumbled around with my hands until I found a chain hanging from the ceiling and pulled it, turning on the lights.

Fuck! What a mess! Even with the lights on, the shack was so trashed and messy that I had no idea where to begin. Outside, I heard my uncle start shouting.

“TURN THE LIGHTS OUT, IDGIT!”

“I CAN’T SEE IN HERE!” I responded. I started throwing things around, looking for anything that looked like shotgun shells. How had I gotten into this mess?

My uncle kicked through the door, brandishing the shotgun with both hands and a look of rage on his face. He marched across the room, shoved his hand into a pile of books, and came back with a box of ammunition. He marched back across the room, grabbed the chain and turned the lights back off. Taking a moment to set the gun down, he startled me, grabbing me by my lapel in the dark and jerking me so close to his face that I was tasting the bugs on his mosquito net.

“Ya just showed ’em where the DANG BLASTED HOUSE IS!” he hissed. Oh god, he had been drinking.

“What the fuck are they?” I stammered. I was too terrified to try to not sound ready to piss myself.

Uncle Wallace threw me back, causing me to fall against a shelf of stuff that came crashing down over me like a landslide. I could hear him load the shotgun as efficiently and naturally in the dark as if he was born with it in his hand. He stomped to the door, kicked it open again, turned, silhouetted against the glowing backdrop of the swamp and the last thing this man who according to my father had never cussed a day in his life said to me was:

“FUCK IF I KNOW!”

The door swung shut behind him, but I could hear a cacophony of groans and horrible laughter echoing through the bog before it did. This man didn’t need me. I was a nuisance to him. I dug my way out of the rubble and crawled in the opposite direction until I found the front door. I didn’t even bother to dust myself off, I ran straight for my car. All around, from both sides of the road, I could hear that haunting sound of groaning and deep-throated chuckles.

Another shotgun blast came from the other side of the house, lighting things up for a second. I climbed in my car, locked the doors and unlike in the movies, got my key in the ignition in one fluid motion. It started up, I backed out, barely remembering to look over my shoulder to make sure I didn’t doom myself by crashing into anything, then spun my tires stepping on the gas in a hurry.

I started to breathe easier once the car was in motion. The bumps and jolts of the road almost seemed to relax me. Then, to my horror, one of those things stepped out in front of my headlights and I struck it going probably 30 or 40 miles per hour. It exploded on contact with my car, like a giant balloon full of shit. My windshield went brown and I almost screamed, turning on my wipers before I crashed. I didn’t slow down at all. If anything, that made me speed up.

When I reached a filling station about 25 minutes later, I popped the door open and wretched onto the asphalt. A service attendant came out (it was full service) and walked around my car, scratching his head under his cap.

“The fuck happened to you?” He asked. I had no answer for him.

“Do you have a phone I can use?” I said, my throat hoarse.

I stood inside the gas station, waiting for my dad to pick up the phone, watching the attendant futilely swabbing at the rancid filth that had streamed up over my hood and windshield and coated nearly the entirety of the top of my car. When he picked up, before he had a chance to say anything, I shouted.

“What the fuck, Dad!”

“Huh? Who is this?”

“Who do you think?! I just left Uncle Wallace’s, Dad!”

“Oh! So he’s alive? That’s good. How is he?”

“I don’t know that he’s still alive right now! He was shooting fucking swamp monsters when I left!”

I went on to explain exactly what I had seen. My father remained quiet the entire time, just listening. When I was done, he acted as if I had just told him Uncle Wallace had been sitting around in his underwear watching Judge Judy.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Your uncle Wallace is a bit odd.”

“WHAT WERE THOSE THINGS?!?!” I yelled.

“How the hell would I know?” Why was he acting so casual about everything?!?! “Look, just go get a motel room and sleep it off and enjoy the rest of your vacation.”

Needless to say, the rest of the trip sucked. How exactly does one go from sitting in the swamp with a hermit blowing up ape-creatures with a shotgun to relaxing on a beach in Florida? It’s just not possible, let me tell you. I found what I think was a flap of skin stuck to my rear antenna.

My uncle survived the night, to those who were wondering. Apparently the whole event was more of a bother to him than a nightmare. He wrote my father an angry letter that got there weeks later, telling him not to send his idiot brood by anymore. He had nothing to worry about. Between the shit I saw that night and other things I’ve got to deal with, I don’t plan to ever go back there.

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2 Comments

  1. I have some odd family members, but none as odd as Uncle Wallace. Although he’s pretty kick ass, not many people can take on swamp monsters and live to tell the tale. The one thing I spotted is that you have “against the tree” repeated quite close to each other.

    • Hmm. Good catch. Even though one instance is a tree stump, it’s close enough to sound awkward.


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