This story is from 4chan's /x/ board. It was posted in an "Australian nope thread" in early 2015. It is reproduced directly from the archived version.
Australia Swamp story.
To start I apologise in advance for the length of this story and want to firmly make sure that I do not care if it is believed or not. If you cannot believe it I can only say I understand and wouldn't myself if I hadn't experienced it.
This was three years ago. I was doing postgraduate study which concerned aboriginal communities. I was allowed a placement in the Yolngu town of Ramingining in Arnhem Land, which is a tiny strip of halfway urbanized land that borders the huge fuck off bog which is rather kindly called Ararfura Swamp.
The swamp is probably one of the most wild places in Australia. Imagine a country-sized swathe of perpetually decaying forest flooded in a stagnant foul-smelling water plain. And with crocs a real danger.
My place was basically a shack and it was right at the edge of the swamp. It was technically not within the town limits and actually sat a good couple of miles away along a dirt road.
It was an abandoned country house and I had it all to myself. The back had a veranda that looked out over the great black swamp (some very impressive views come dusk) and on either side it was enclosed in a dusty circle of eucalyptus.
I knew literally no one out there and won't lie when I say it was pretty creepy those first weeks trying to acclimate to being more truly alone than I had ever been before, in this old rusty tin shed of a house halfway out of town in a clearing at the edge of the swamp.
But adaptiveness is a virtue and I soon found myself spending my spare time fixing up the place and even sowing seed out the front and chopping some littler trees down. I remember my pride as I felled a small tree for the first time, after hours of panting heat. When I went into town and sold off the wood I told the folk there it had taken a lot less time than it really did. They were all well accustomed to hard labour and it was quite a culture shock when I took dinner at homes that didn't have a television, let alone a computer.
The people did not all live in exactly what would be termed poverty as some places were "wealthier" than others in the typical sense and there was a real effort at maintaining a distance from some norms of outer society anyway. For example there was, and remains, a ban on booze that was taken fairly seriously while I was there. So I was sober for a full year, although many hearing the story have suggested I was drunk or high.
The first month or so was rocky but invigorating and really kept me going. As I've said I struggled a bit with the isolation and having to spend my time doing things I never would usually like tilling the soil and chopping timber wood but it was good detox and after a while the smell of the swamp got less shit.
At first the sounds of the different birds and night life damn near kept me up at night but in time I learnt to distinguish the birds and reptile noises and found comfort in them. On two occasions I was lucky enough to hear the booming voice of a croc near the house.
It was real back-to-nature shit and by the second month I really got into the swing of it, and had adapted fully to having long periods of time alone with myself in the bush.
It was some time this second month that it first happened, though at the time I thought nothing of it. I was sitting on the back veranda on a very warm, crisp afternoon. I was reading, I think, when after some time I became aware of a strange silence. I had to strain my ears for a while but soon I could confirm that there was only the sounds of a slight breeze, the soft movement of water and the creak of my rocking chair. The usually all-enveloping choir of birds bugs and frogs had at some point subsided.
As I registered this sudden silence a feeling like no other crawled down me and I actually physically shuddered. It was like my bones were briefly frosted and I was washed over with an internal coldness and a tingle throughout my skin. I became very dizzy and thought I might vomit so I stood up and in the second that I put my head it happened and was over before I could register what I had seen. It's impossible to describe how I must be perceived at the time all I can say is that I saw a nearby tree, a long thin white spear that stood some distance back from and beneath a couple bigger ones. This tree was like many others, it had shed its branches, leaving just the thing trunk standing upright.
What I saw was this tree twitching rapidly, like it was having a fucking seizure, before wriggling into place and going still again.
No other tree nearby did the same. I doubted my own eyes. Dizziness forgotten I stared at it for a long time, not terribly scared but not particularly comfortable either. I could not tell what I had seen and whether or not it was a side effect of headrush or not. The tree just stood there, still as ever and I noticed the bird song had come back and warmth returned to my body and I forgot about it for a long time.
I had gotten in with a school teacher in the area and now spent three weekdays getting to talk to kids at the education center, so I was spending less daylight hours at the house. On those swamplot dusks I would tend to sit on the veranda and have a quiet smoke, maybe read until night came.
As summer was turning into whatever season came next (the cycle was not very pronounced in that region, which remains humid most of the year) I noticed an increase in insects. I don't mind bugs but I think everything is slightly creeped out by those long legged flying "Crane Flies", but which in that area were called daddy-long-legs.
I remember sitting at the veranda and seeing for the first time a great swarm of the things, maybe just hatched, forming great clouds against the orangey light of the sky. The craneflies in that swamp got so fucking big you could hear them rustling against each other and that is no exaggeration. These things could be meters away and you would hear the vibration sound of their wings.
As I say I'm not too afraid of bugs but when I went to take a piss in the middle of the night (the toilet was bit of an outhouse) and find myself in a cramped space with a gull-sized cranefly buzzing around the light, occasionally bumping into me and feeling my body with its long horrible legs I was a tad on edge.
The other bug which began to cause me some anxiety was a kind of mollusc like a barnacle which would appear in clumps on the water edge after it had been raining. These things weren't particularly creepy, but they worried me because they grow rapidly and would often spread to the steps on the veranda. I asked a local fisherman how to remove them and he went into his truck and returned with a metal paint scraper. So I added the job of scraping these little barnacle things off the old wooden steps. It was not fun experiencing their reddish interior bodies, the way they peeled off like a hard-shelled scab and the truly noxious smell.
Aside from the growing presence of the insects inside and around the house I was keeping well. I kept clearing the area of weed plants and chopping down little trees to sell in the town. As well as insects the seasonal change had brought a tide of litter in the water, which I was told happened every year.
More and more clumps of old plastics and bottles and shit was accumulating in a line of detritus outside the house. I started picking it up in the mornings, keeping the water clean while I was there.
It was as I did this one morn that for whatever reason I chose to look directly up at that old white tree I'd briefly freaked out over and saw it was not there.
At first more confused than frightened I paced the waterline, convinced I had mistaken where it was placed. But no, there was no mistake. Everything about the area looked as it always had, clear in my mind from many evenings study. All but that little tree, where now there was just a bare spot of land.
I had no time to think of it but as I spent the day teaching I more and more dreaded the return home. I even tried to arrange for a couple of friends I'd made to come over that night but they insisted on postponing till the weekend.
So I drove home alone that night and when I got back it was full dark. The evening calls of the owls and swamp birds gave me little comfort. I couldn't shake the image of that shivering tree. I had no reason to think anything of it, nor what it might mean but the image, like a horrible glitch in reality, pestered me no matter how much I tried to distract myself.
I'll never forget that night as I lay wide awake in the dark hearing outside my window this sound, this slow drawn-out creak and cracking noise. I'd heard it before, one sound of the forest out of many, but on this night it pierced my frayed nerves. I lay there a long time listening to it. It sounded like some kind of rickety pole were swaying barely inches from my window.
I was too shitscared cowardly to look out the window so I examined the patch of moonlight it cast on the floor. I could see so many moving things - the limbs of the trees in the wind, that it was impossible to make out anything. Then, with total clarity I heard this dreadful noise:
Against the glass. There was no mishearing it, no denying it. As plain as day, there was something tapping the glass just above my head. There was no tree growing near the window, nor even a bush or anything else for that matter. I frantically tried to think up contrived reasons: maybe the guttering had fallen loosed and was tapping the glass in the wind... or it was one of those craneflies hitting the glass...
But I couldn't bring myself to look and lay there, rigid, pretending to be asleep.
I waited like this for about twenty minutes before the noise faded. It took me a while to work up the nerve to look out but of course when I did there was nothing there. After a while it was easier to convince myself that it actually had been something normal, that it was just a minor thing and got to sleep.
The next day was particularly bright. It was that kind of heat which is thick and palpable in the air which is saying something given the usual weather. In a way my memory of the day, revisited so many times is saturated in heat, like a photo gets dimmed over time left in the light.
When first I got up it was just another day. The events of the previous night and the odd tree were forgotten as I went through the automatic morning rituals. It hadn't got really hot yet and everything was nicely lit. The view of the swamp was gorgeous - the sun behind the canopy seemed to frost every leaf with gold. There was an upswell of bird noise and I saw a couple of wading birds out for frogs or lizards, anticipating the heat of the day.
I worked a lot on my study in the morning. After a few too many coffees I came down with that over-stimulated restlessness and couldn't focus on work any more, continuously looking out the window and finding chores to do. The view out the window was especially appealing. The caffeine and the brightness projected everything in rich detail. Seeing some rubbish on the shoreline I convinced myself to dredge it out.
So, happily I went down to the water and mucked about the little islands and rivulets picking up the junk that had floated in overnight (or maybe some had just been bobbing there a long time before I came, it was hard to tell) , stacking it up into a little pile of gunk.
This is when some strange things happened, in one moment. I noticed a bound book, half buried at a detritus bank around the shoreline. Consciously I picked it out of the rest, having a feeling about it.
So I crack it open (it's a bit encased in mud) and opened up a couple of pages. It was the annual collected issues of a business journal. There were lots of different issues with covers and stuff. It seemed business oriented. At the back, however, was a list of the years grants. That included scholarships for university work. Scrolling the list of scholarship grants, I saw my, in plain delight, my name.
I haven't told this story to many people but whenever I do they seemed unimpressed by this fact. Of course it was there, I did have a scholarship and it was a business journal with a list of scholarship grants. I know and I'm not saying it was paranormal necessarily. But understand how weird it felt to be the furthest you've ever been from home, pick a random book out of the water and see your own name in it. Regardless of how stupid it was I fucking shivered.
I closed the book and put it in the junk pile. Then I stood to get up and saw a man standing on the other side of the stream watching me. Already a little unsettled I nearly fucking shat myself when I saw him. It wasn't just that I hadn't seen a single other person on the property since I'd been there, it wasn't just that he was standing there, silently, look at me - he was also standing half behind the trunk of a tree, so I could only see one arm and a leg and one half of his face. But he wasn't hidden at all and couldn't have been trying to be. He was just standing halfway behind a tree. His shirt and pants were a browny grey and pretty faded into the background, but his face and limbs were white and stood out in contrast.
Before I have time to collect myself I see his one arm waving at me, in a friendly gesture not in a threatening way at all. I wave back and then stand there not knowing what to do because he doesn't fucking make an movement he just stays exactly where he is, looking at me.
There's no way I'm approaching this guy so I just wave again, kind of vaguely pointing towards my house to indicate I'm going inside or something. He waves back but *still* doesn't move...
So I head back to the house, trying to carefully to maintain a steady pace, for some reason not wanting to walk too fast to give away how rattled I was. Once I dared a look over my shoulder, and caught sight of his leg, turned back and going into the forest.
Slightly relieved I went back home and locked the doors. I wanted to latch the windows even but the heat contained in the house was already great enough with them open. The wallpaper glue was visible on the walls like sweat.
The isolated events now weighed on me heavily. While previously none of these weird incidents had overwhelmed my experience I was now unable to stop my heart racing, stop scaring myself with thoughts of that fucking man standing behind that fucking tree. With great difficulty I calmed myself enough to decide that heading into town was the best option. Not trusting the security of the place I decided I would bring my laptop and shit. So im sitting at the table, brooding over my breakfast bowl and I become aware of a disturbance of light on my right hand side. I turn and holy fuck there is face right there.
I swore aloud and stood up, nerves on the edge of actually fucking splitting. The face leans back and I see two arms raise. It's a man, his shirt and whiteness making me instantly aware its the creep from the swamp.
I hear him say "sorry didn't mean to scare ya" or something like that and say he didn't know the place was occupied, that he saw me down on the swamp and was intrigued by a stranger to the place. He asked to come in.
I said yes (what else could I do?) And went to open the front door for him. For a moment he stood on the doorstep, then smiled and gave me his hand to shake and said thanks and nice to meet you and such, then he came in.
Up close the guy looked pretty old. He was encrusted in a tan but clearly white and his skin looked pretty cracked up and wrinkled in places. His face had a spooky quality even though it wasn't particularly fucked up it's hard to explain. It wasn't a major difference or anything but his face and especially his expression just seemed a bit younger somehow than the rest of him. I was probably just dazed off the heat and the days events but this has always stayed in my memory, how his face was just a little "off."
It was sort of awkward, me walking pointlessly into the kitchen and him standing in the doorway between it and the hall, smiling but not talking. I asked if he wanted coffee and he said sure and sat down, then asked about me and what a whitey was doing out in the swamps. I told him about my studies and such sort of vaguely, tentative to say too much to this weird smiling old guy. But as it turned out he didn't seem to be remotely interested in me at all - he just smiled dozily and as soon as I stopped talking started telling me about himself, without any indication of hearing what I'd just said.
I put down the coffees and sat myself at the table as he carried on excitedly. He would sometimes get ahead of himself and just end a sentence with a jumble of gibberish words in this thick bushman accent. He didn't seem immediately threatening but I definitely did not feel he was of his right mind. He said he lived "up north" but "lived off the land" in the swamp most of the time. For a long time he just spoke of tilling the soil and catching his own food, living in huts and shit but then he awkwardly cracked out a peal of laughter and asked loudly: "do ya got a girl here??"
I was pretty taken aback but before I could answer his smile completely flipped and he asked, suddenly stern, almost angry, "is there a girl here mate?"
I shook my head but now the atmosphere had changed completely. He was gripping the table hard.
And then just as quickly as it came on this moment passed and he continued as if nothing happened. It was the most schizo thing I'd ever seen. I can't remember what he said after that but eventually he showed himself out (coffee left untouched) and after walking a while down to the swamp looked back at me and said, as if touching on a shared joke, "couldn't keep a girl safe here anywhere with all them bloody worrigals!" And walked off.
(worrigals was the word used to describe aboriginal people in like the 1800's)
Fairly creeped out I locked up and took my gear and the car out to town. The heat wasn't letting up and the car ride is in my mind a bit of a haze. Outside the school I saw another teacher packing her things into her own car. She waved and I pulled up beside her. I must have looked shaken because she asked what was the matter with me. I told her about the weird man, to which she grinned knowingly and said "did he scare you?"
She said he was mischievous but harmless. I remember her words: "he'll fuck with you but he doesn't hurt a fly, if it is him."
She said he wasn't often seen. It was as if she were talking about a folk tale more than a real man.
Apparently this man had lived near the area about nine or ten years ago. As recently as that he had been a regular visitor to the town and a well-liked guy. She had been much younger then but remembered that he would drive through town and sell vegetables, and home made jam, that he was fondly regarded by most. His wife was typically with him. She described them as "a sweet old couple."
The two were regarded highly enough that when his wife passed away she was buried near the grounds, and some friends from the town helped do the funeral. The guy was obviously distraught and seemed completely shell shocked for a long time after it happened. His trips into town got less and less regular. His demeanour seemed subtly changed, still jolly but in a different, stranger way.
His behaviour was increasingly odd. Everyone understood his pain following the death of his only real close company, so when he referred to her in passing, her daily doings, as if she wasn't dead there was mostly just sympathy, as well as the expectation that with some support he would get back to his old self.
But things were only downhill from there. There were uncomfortable encounters where he asked people if they'd seen her around, to which there could be no easy response. The discomfort was not lessened when he started showing up disoriented, crying, telling people his wife had gone missing and that a search party needed to be formed immediately.
Things came to a head when someone refused to dance around the issue and simply told him the fact of the matter: his wife was dead, buried not far out of town. By all accounts the man's response had been shocked though not as unhinged as perhaps expected. He sort of sadly accepted what he'd been told and wasn't seen around town for a while.
But when next he came back his behaviour was only more fucked. He announced that he didn't trust "a single fucking worrigal" and that he knew they'd done something with his wife. After some drunken spiels against worrigals and anger at their having stolen his wife, keeping her captive somewhere. He was strongly dissuaded by some local leaders from coming to the town as he had used to and seemed to understand because he wasn't seen in the town again.
Word spread from some northern bars that he'd been seen drunk as a fish, telling anyone who would listen the swamp worrigals that tormented his wife in her final days, driving her mad with their mischief and how he hadn't believed her until it was too late. He was now fully convinced that a tribe had taken her away, and were holding her captive somewhere in the swamp. It also emerged that he had lost his house and his car, but he was still seen from time to time at the outskirts of the swamp, hunting. Eventually he wasn't even a regular at any bars and as the years passed faded into a half-mythical figure, the mad old man of the swamp.
Yet he was real. Sometimes hunting parties from the town would see him, even trade with him despite his now full-fledged hostility towards any and all "worrigals" he met.
So this was the story she told me. She stressed, as I will here, that she couldn't confirm any of this, having only memories of his happy years and having not seen him since. Some of the tale probably was just the garnishing of legend.
But that he was out in the swamp for long periods at a time was certain. And the hunting parties which came across him always reported that he was convinced of his wife's continued existence, as a captive to some unknown tribe somewhere in the swamp.
Now this tale left me feeling overwhelmed, exhausted but nonetheless a bit relieved. The frightfulness of this man was cut down a fair bit by the patheticness of his story and I felt a bit sorry for him. But I didn't want to go home for a while and spent some time alone in the town before heading back out.
I got home just past dusk, when there was still a faint light about things. But as I tentatively looked around the house half expecting something to pop out and spoop me I was aware of a greater darkness than usual. It took me a while but I investigated the windows and found that on those facing the swamp there was a growing layer of those fucking barnacle looking molluscs.
It's hard to describe what it was like seeing a cluster of these cramped up on the glass but if you've seen the inside of a rock-clinger, the fleshy part under the shell, you've got a good idea. I almost gagged. I didn't much want to, but I worked up the nerve to go out and scrape them off. Well, the whole bottom part of the wall was practically packed with them. A lot had been there a long time or maybe had dried up and hardened in the sun because scraping them off was like pulling teeth and when they finally fell down they took a wee bit of splintered wood with them.
Darkness settled and I was still going, working by the indoor lights and my torch. It was only once I'd finished, leaving a sickly smelling pile of the things at the base of the wall, piles of husks I couldn't be bothered to do anything with, that I realized how late it was and the deep silence that permeated everything. Little sounds were painfully heightened, enhanced by my frayed nerves, like the tiny drops of water somewhere nearby as a bird or a fish or something moved about, and the slight rustling of leaves on a mostly still night.
I had the feeling of being watched. Now I was well aware that was just my mind playing tricks on me, but after the days events couldn't be fucked putting up with this "mischievous" old cunt, so I quickly shone the torch across the tree line, fast enough to catch him if he tried to run away. But there was nothing. So I dragged the light along the bank slowly, scanning carefully for any signs of movement, every sound I heard was him fucking with me, and I shook a little.
Then, as my grip steadied a little I saw it: a cluster of dead vines, or a tree maybe, half-slumped half-wrapped around the base of a big old conifer. For whatever reason I couldn't help but focus on it, something about it seeming distinctly out of place. Remember I'd had a long time to get to know the panorama of the swamp and something uncertain struck me about this white clump...
Then, in one horrible movement, it pulled back back and went behind the tree.
For a moment I could do nothing, paralysed by fear when the silence was broken by a loud series of creaking and cracking sounds, and I knew something large was moving through the bush. Wasting no time I bolted indoors and you can imagine the sleepless night I spent there, damn near pissing myself every time I heard an owl or the house creak.
The smell of those fucking barnacles had permeated the house...the smell alone, like sulphur, could've kept me up.
The tapping from my room resonated into the living room where I huddle on the floor like a paranoiac.
Somehow the craneflies were getting in, and now and again one would land near me and I'd have to crush it. I remember hearing a sort of clicking sound and looking up to see my ceiling coated in the fucking things. As I looked at their black mass of bodies the tapping seemed to register my pulse, getting louder and faster.
I was sweating profusely, scared to look at the windows, trying to ignore the heat and the bugs and the tapping until it was too much and I switched on the television, an old set that still had rabbit ears and picked up barely the glitchiest signal but at least it drowned out the tapping.
The screen just showed static and the vaguest forms of what looked like an infomercial or something but the sound quality was perfect when I heard, within seconds of switching it on: "-annual scholarship grant has been awarded to Anon Anonymous, who will be doing field work up in Arnhem. Congratulations Anon!"
The words just registered dimly and I couldn't be fucked any more, so I just left the set on and the sound worked for a couple more names before giving out and giving way to a soft static which I turned up to full volume. The tapping noted this and got louder, beating like a metronome. At this stage I was almost laughing. I felt a bit delirious and couldn't get a grasp on if this was really happening or not.
Then a different sound beat down the corridor: a hard loud knock, at the front door. I waited in terrified stillness. There came another knock. And then a voice:
"Hey anon, you home??"
The voice was familiar...my friends from the town, I'd forgotten they were coming over on the weekend...
"Hey anon, we're meant to be hanging out remember!"
But why was he over at 3am??
"Come on man, I can see you through the window!"
I looked up at the big windows but could see the dark night outside...maybe I could see some vague thing? My friend waving? Or just trees brushing against each other, or bugs at the window... it was impossible to tell. The thought of letting another person in made me realize the state I was in, the number of bugs on the walls and the ceiling and that godawful smell...
I shouted out that I was going to let them, just be a minute. No response. As I scaled the corridor I noted I couldn't hear the tapping any more. I flicked on the outdoor light but couldn't make out a thing through the dappled glass window on the door.
I took the handle and cranked open the big front door then looked out onto an empty deck and the barren front section. I called out if he was out there or not.
Them, from *behind* me I hear the reply: "the other door, anon!"
What the fuck, I think, I definitely heard him calling out from the front. But at this stage I can't be sure in my own senses... so I just call out that he shouldn't be a lazy cunt and should just come around the front.
A long pause, as I stand at the open door, then: "come on anon, don't be a lazy cunt come around and open the door."
At this stage I feel barely awake, hardly registering my steps as I move back down the corridor. As I near the side of the house where I scraped off all the barnacles the rank smell increases steadily and I approach the back door, and look through the window to see if there's anyone there.
For a moment I see nothing, just the bare swamp on all sides, then I turn to look onto the side of the door and see looking back at me a face so fucking horrible I don't like to even think of it today. The only thing I can compare it to is pic related.
I fucking scream and fall back, and it fucking bolts it.
The shock left me dizzy and I thought I would vomit. The smell reeling together whatever sanity I had left I knew I had to board up the windows, lock the door and wear out the night.
As I regained my senses I had to hold onto the wall, grab onto things to pull myself up onto two legs. Once I did I was still wobbling on my ankles, like seasickness when I heard the unmistakable scatter of pots across the kitchen floor.
I turned and realized I'd left the front door wide open.
And the heaviness of the heat in the air seems to sink into my pores and I'm weighed into the corner against the back door. The chills that ran down my body were palpable.
I couldn't have made a sound if I wanted to. I was entirely fixed on stilling myself and listening with an almost morphine clarity, the adrenaline I guess.
Then again: the clash of disturbed cutlery, and a slow wheeze like a choked inhale: "hhhhh"
When it was silent and still I could barely contain body shivers. My mind wasn't processing a thing but for any noise from the kitchen. I registered the cold impression of the door handle in my palm, but wouldn't dare turn it. If it creaked.
Then: a soft crunch, like of skin pressing on the floor. I saw something white breaching into the corridor, and again the low wheeze. Leisurely the small round eyes swivelled around and looked right at me.
Fucking bolted it through the door - a flash of white through the windows - running for the open door?? I burst forward blindly and ran, not know which direction or where.
I couldn't afford to care that I was heading straight into the swamp. The idea of turning back for the car, of going around the house was, once I'd started running, a debunked option. It didn't even occur to me.
The feeling of mud permeating and squelching in your shoes and the knowledge of it caking there, making every step painfully loud. More than once my foot caught a tough root and I fell ass over tit, but again I just couldn't afford to recognize it and just got back up every time.
There was no visibility even by the time my eyes should have adjusted to the light, any moonlight was totally obscured by the overcrowded canopy.
As I ran there were no sounds but by the time my body had run past its limit and I was drunkenly heaving through the trees, sweating I heard a lot of bug noise on the water and occasionally snippets of bird wings shaking off nearby, and weird croaks. Frantically I tried pick out that awful wheeze but couldn't focus on this for any extended period, because doing so seemed to make the experience into a practical reality, instead of a fever dream as I could only bring myself to process it as.
There came a time when I wasn't even moving at speed, was a sweated-out mess, borderline unconscious and soaked in mud. There was no sign by which to gauge where I was, only the huge figures of the trees around and the lumpen masses of the swamp.
My knees started slipping under me and I heard a splash that silenced all the bugs as I slumped into the water, my entire body succumbing to that "pins and needles" numbness all at once.
Face half buried under the waterline I only jerked my head up with difficulty, and the brackish water smelled richly off that sulphurous reek. For a long time I lay there, in a small pool to myself, my skin sensing nothing around it. Gradually the bug noise returned on the water surface, and it seemed like I could hear the distinct clicks and water plops of each one...
Nothing of the light nor sound changed. If there was a moon it was lost under layers on layers of branches and clouds. It was impossible to tell how much time had passed. I couldn't even guess how long it had been till this weird noise emerged, slowly, from somewhere to the east of me. Immediately I knew it was no animal or forest sound because it was the sound of television static. The bug life went quiet and even the sound of the water and the canopy seemed to die out as this thick white noise spread out and neared.
It took all my strength to muster just one arm. There was now the quiet splish splosh of feet in the water, growing louder. Outstretching the arm it felt like every sinew in my shoulder would snap. My fingers gripped the first thing they found and I sensed my body being pulled forward. Somehow, mud-covered, shivering like all hell, and every joint burning I slumped into the upturned husk of a log and, out of the bare scraps of energy left in me pulled myself fully into the dark tube. This muffled the dim splish splash of footfall.
There I sort of fell limp like a ragdoll, unable to exert any more. Somewhere nearby I heard a faint: "hhhhhh"
Now I couldn't control my breathing or stillness. I could see nothing but for a crescent slither of the log opening near my feet. The inside of the log was very cold and clingy, but my discomfort meant nothing as I strained out onto the little crescent slit of visibility.
For a moment it was blotted out by something big and white. The sound of static was overwhelming, as if a television had been dumped in the bog. But then the thing was gone, and in time the noise faded. And in time the bug noise picked back up.
I don't know when I passed out.
My clothes were wrapped on my bones and had dried there - this was the same for the mud in my shoes. For a moment I thought I was paralysed - then an inch of crushed log under me gave way and I realized I was half-fossilised into the shit.
My eyes were so encrusted with dirt and gunk that at first they wouldn't open and there was a dull stinging as I peeled my eyelashes apart and the full light of the sun burned through, overwhelming my senses.
It took me a little while to realise I was awake, and where I was. The compost odour of the logs interior and the brushing sense of things moving around under me and certain wet objects winding slowly through my hair alerted me to that.
The feeling of worms feeling across my scalp, curling at the roots of hairs should've made me want to carve all my hair out but there was no way to think about this which made sense to me anymore. I wanted only to pull myself out of the husk and back to the house.
I knew I had to pack my things and not return. There was no recovering from this. Yet at some level I knew how truly lost I was, already, and how hot the day was and how parched my throat and mouth.
My retina's were burned ragged with heat and too little sleep. As I lifted myself up, bending my knees and dragging my body out bottom first, I noticed something different under my arm, a distinct lack of feeling in my armpit...
As I peeled myself out into the shallow pool of last night, shedding spiders and worms falling out of my hair, I examined myself. There were a lot of cuts on the arm, when the mud was scratched off.
But then I lifted the arm up and this time there could be no calm, and I screamed aloud, again and again and again when I saw the hole of my armpit overfilled with a great hardened cluster of barnacles.
I screamed so much I was dry-heaving, and fell onto my knees in the water.
In a moment of panic distraction, I forced myself to notice how the pool reflected the blue of the sky exactly. Without the blackened trees the scene would appear like two intersecting planes of sky and glass...
But the feeling of all those thousands of little shells forming piles in my pit and the little islands of them that filed down my arm and in the dips of my ribs. Concentrating myself, improvising a gross curiosity I took my hand to the rock-like outer surface of the main lump and gritted my teeth as my nails scraped down, catching on some gaps and then prying as hard as I fucking could.
There was a loud crunch and a lightning bolt of pain struck my side causing to reel over once more. A crack had appeared in the lump, under which was the pinky end of the inner goop...
But I couldn't shake the awful source of that pain - the feeling of the their thin little roots pulling and popping in my skin.
Finally I vomited.
The numbness of it was now overcome by a hyper-awareness of all the little roots spread out in my meat. It took my all just to push past the sensation to find a rock.
With the rock firmly in hand and sweating hard I brought it down once, twice and again on the mass, each time it crack and popped but the pain worsened and the throbbing horrible awareness of all those roots only increased, like they were clinging harder in there.
Somewhere through the trees.... The smell of smoke... and I'm moving towards it full speed, delirious. There's the whisper of a crackling fire and all I can do is follow, desperately.
The emerald light of flames burned through the air and the rich smell was so reassuring that for a moment I forgot about the horrible things in my body...
I stumbled out of the conifers into a small clearing, which looked like a drained patch of bog, where could be seen a crude sort of timber hut, looking hastily assembled from a few small trunks, offering little cover. The fire was burning only a few meters off, un shielded, from a pile of dry twigs and leaves, with no regard to the hut.
Then my eyes were drawn to the outer rim of the clearing, marking its boundaries against the water, where had been erected several sharpened pikes, each adorned with the black faces of rotting animals.
They mostly seemed to be dogs or possums but it was impossible to tell the degree to which most had rotted away. The sight of these things, intermittently swamped by the smoke, was something to behold.
"Who is it?" Came a voice and it occurred to that a figure was moving somewhere inside the wall of smoke.
"Please" I blurted, hardly coherent, "I'm sick I need help."
The figure was still a while then moved forward, unshrouded by the blackness. I recognized immediately the bushmans old young face, at first unsmiling, squinting, then beaming, alert and wide eyed on seeing me, as if to say "I'm so glad you could make it."
Here my memory falters. I know I collapsed a few times, maybe fainted, because the guy told me so. To this day I can't remember how we got into his hut, where I was splayed on an unstable stretcher bed and told to be still while he got something. Next thing I know his dry old fingers are pressing something into my mouth - pills- and I swallow automatically. Then while his fingers are in there he sort of wriggle them about (they taste like shit) and starts hooting with laughter. Then a drink bottle nozzle, a drink of water to wash them down.
I asked what it was and he busied himself with something in a bag for what seemed like minutes before announcing "tramadol."
As the painkillers took effect I drifted in and out of sleep. When once or twice I woke, it was to see the man crouched at my side, working hard on the armpit, and a dull scraping noise but no feeling whatsoever. At his side I caught sight of the ugliest looking dog I'd ever seen in my life. It looked like it had crawled, full formed out of the swamp matter, its body either wet or hairless, looking like black mats of folded leather.
There was a loud noise of blunt objects grinding against each other, a sick pucking sound and then the slow, slow "schlupp" of the length of roots being dragged out, some snapping off halfway out, where they dangled limp from bloody little holes under my arm. The sight made me nauseous and I looked to the dog, its grisly mouth unfolding in a friendly smile, as he dropped the bulk in his hand into a bucket, where it hit with the soft/hard wet sound of a hammer on a bunch of eggs wrapped in a wet towel.
Promptly, tail wagging, the dog dipped its snout into the bucket, emerging seconds later, panting here, with the the limp threaded mass in its jaws, its thick saliva running in with the blood as it crunched it up and in painful looking gulps began to down it. As it did so I noticed how its gums were crowded with little, dried out hole scars. I passed out.
I came to sometime later that day. The shadows were slanted at a new angle, making deeper shades. It seemed to be late afternoon. The day was still boiling but a strip of gray clouds hung in the otherwise abandoned sky. A constant stream of wetness poured out of my bare chest and arms and I could feel it pooling underneath me. Groaning I moved onto the one arm and nervously looked at the end results.
There was a lot of blood and dirt, and no bandages. There was also a series of small, black holes crammed in my flesh under the arm (the hair, it seemed, had been uprooted with the stuff) each leaking a little stream of blood, baked into a light crust in the heat. A couple still had small roots hanging out of them. Teeth gritted I pulled these last remaining ones out. All too sensitive to the feeling of their wet length peeling out, and the cold of the air on nerve endings and exposed meat in the newly excavated hole. As I leaned on the arm to sit up I felt the ungodly sensation of all the holes stretching open and taking in a collective gasp of cool air.
But the fever seemed to be fading somewhat. I wanted to thank the man. He was nowhere to be seen and I was too weak to call for him, but I saw that the prehistoric looking dog was still at my side, panting happily. I put my hand down and rubbed the side of its face, then when it moved closer I patted it slowly. It panted and salivated.
The shadows grew longer and I managed to put both feet of the bed, leaning at the waist to pat the dog, which was loving it. It was the closest I'd had to a normal experience in so long, that this simple activity felt like the greatest comfort in the world.
Then the man stooped in, grinning madly, and asked how I was doing. I told him good and thanked him profusely. As with the previous time he seemed to zone out, just waiting to say his piece.
Unceremoniously he thrust me a plate of ill smelling meat chunks, as if to shut me up. I was and am to this day a vegetarian yet that rancid meat will probably always stand out in my mind as one of the best meals in my life.
"Glad I found you," he said, more than once.
He spoke in the same hurried pace as last time, if not more. He seemed to not want to discuss my health or how he removed the barnacles, opting instead to give me a long spiel on the fucking worrigals. However as he went on it was clear he considered the barnacles just an extension of the worrigal phenomena, some kind of tactic they used or form they took. But it wasn't even that clearly defined - he connected patterns with all the enthusiasm of a conspiracy theorist, all the time chucking his dog little chunks of his plate, eating none himself.
Somewhere in the distance a series of "whoop" sounds hollered, my ragged nerves demanded I jarringly stick out my head in that direction, the old guy just went on talking. I observed that the sky was quickly becoming more overcast.
They were getting trickier, he said, but the end was so near. I asked how far it was to town. He didn't hear or care and gave me a stern look as he said he knew he was close now. He'd found pictures of her, he said, and his eyes lit up - he pulled two mud-caked volumes from his bag, and with practiced flipping opened them both to the pages he wanted to show me. I examined them. One was an old etching, or photograph, it was hard to tell, the other a woman's weekly magazine from a few years ago. In each he had drawn a hard circled around a face in the background, in both a woman...though clearly not the same person.
But I nodded regardless and said, "This is your wife?"
Now he stood up, his plate crashing onto the floor.
"How the fuck did you know that, aye??" he yelled.
The dog released a low whine, recognising the change in atmosphere. No the sky was pocked with light patches. Drizzle was beginning to fall.
Improvising out of fear I said that he'd told me all about it at my house the other day, and repeated what I'd heard from my friend in town but as if I wholeheartedly believed it.
As he listened he seemed confused, then weakened, almost apologetic and sat back down, picking up the plate and continuing to feed the dog half-heartedly.
"Yeah, I did, didn't I..." he mumbled, convincing himself as he spoke. I realised he did not know how many days had passed since we'd met and struggled to bring the memory into clear focus, his face a picture of frustration.
Then a light moved across his face and he was back to the big smiles and frantic speech.
They had her in a glass vault, he said, in the middle of a carving out in a dry patch of woods. They used rituals, didn't play "by our rules". They were, as he said, "disgusting, so disgusting." As he said this he threw pieces of meat into the dogs mouth faster and faster.
"At first I thought she was just getting old, seeing things," he said, "but then we found footprints heading to the house...none leading back. That's when I knew they were coming for her. And now they want me! They want to draw me out, luring me with these pictures!" He produced more magazines, with almost every page showing a circled woman's face.
He went on and on. About how they disgusted him. About how the only way to get her back was to play their game, however long it took. But he kept returning to disgust, how much they disgusted him. The rain beat harder and harder, dripping through the wide spaces in the "roof" of the hut, and it seemed to push him deeper into the spiral he was on, of talking about his disgust. Once he'd said it he couldn't shake it, and seemed to be unable to contain his disgust.
Then he grabbed the dog's snout hard and yanked it head first towards me.
"See that??" he shouted over the rain, thrusting the whining dog forward, "see what they do??"
Forcibly, impervious to its attempts to wriggle away he pulled its lips up and pointed out the hole-ridden gums.
"SEE?" he screamed, more worked up than ever. The rain was splashing through quite strong now.
His eyes were furious, he seemed not to notice as the dog cried and dug its claws into his hands, hard enough to draw blood.
He had gripped its top and bottom lips hard and was screaming more and more, as if to drown out its cries: "SEE WHAT THEY DO??" As he pulled the top and bottom jaws wide, wide open.
"No..." I said weakly as there was a little crack and the dog gave a long howl of pain and began wriggling harder and faster, batting its masters hands incessantly for him to stop. But he only pulled harder.
"HOW... DISGUSTING... IT IS..."
Even as I limply raise an arm to protest a line of blood was forming at the sides of the dog's mouth. Its big wet eyes filled with pain as the edges of its mouth ripped and split further and further...
It was going nuts now, howling for its life and striking over and over. But he lifted it off the ground and with a face of furious effort slowly wrenched the jaws apart until - suddenly they snapped fully apart, spread out broken revealing its raw gagging throat, slick with blood, which released an unearthly, gurgling moan.
With that he dropped it to the floor but the poor thing wouldn't stop making that noise, and thrashing, beating its skull against the hard floor over and over with bloody thumps, splintering the jaws even further, until finally it must have just given up because it lay there moaning softly, its little chest raising and lowering with pained breaths.
Wasting no time to collect himself he picked up an already sharpened pike and, in what seemed like one movement had picked up the dog and dragged its entire body through the pike, so only the tip announced itself above the split jaws.
I wanted so badly to believe that it was dead but as I looked I saw one wet eye flick down to meet mine and had to look away.
As if reading my mind he said, with a gradual return to his vaguely sad confusion, "They have to be alive...for the rituals..." he shuffled out of the hut, bearing the pike on his back. I knew I had to escape, but the rain was only getting worse. So I went out, foolishly to observe his efforts in clearing the ground and drilling the base of the pike into the ground, establishing one more totem.
But I noticed a sense of something about him. He let go of the pike and, rain running through his scruffed beard, stared out into the forest. I followed his gaze, past the lines of conifers and the overlapping walls of mist just in time to see it: a huge old pine, bending at the middle, shaking slightly, move, almost bounce back into place, shedding a coat of water into the air. Then the tops of the trees, huge trees, rustled with the movement of something pushing them apart. As we stood under the fresh pike there was roll of thunder from the woods.... Not thunder, a higher noise, like metal plates ground against one another followed by a set of huge impending thuds that sent vibrations up my legs. Under the noise of the rain I was aware of the sound of thick static and started backing into the hut.
The old man stayed out in the mud and the rain, and began shouting things I couldn't hear. There was another deafening groan, and a dark shaped brushed through the highest tops of the trees momentarily. The old guy was at the wall now, picking something up - a rifle. There was a click and then immediately he fired.
"COME ON!" he was screaming, "COME ON YOU FUCKERS!"
There was another shot, and another. The tectonic groans came more and more, and the trees were being bent and pushed by something massive behind them.
And the old man, screaming at them in the rain to show themselves.
"WHERE IS SHE!" he screamed, face red and wet and saliva streaming from his scarred mouth as he hollered, releasing a volley of shots in all directions.
I moved to the edge of the door, slipping behind him in the frothing mud, all the while keeping my eyes on the forest line, transfixed in a sort of horrible wonder by the huge things in the pines.
"WHERE IS SHE?? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HER YOU FUCKING CUNTS!"
Through his screams I could hear the wavering vibrato of tears.
Then I saw it, if only for a second, this enormous black shape, moving back behind the trees, then a long, tree-like limb stretching out and wobbling forward, testing the air like a feeler.
The static sound and the sulphur smell were richer than ever now, the air felt electric. And now two more stood and full height and were taking ground shaking strides towards the hut. One snapped its lump of what I suppose was a head right around, and I caught sight of two white eyes.
Too much for me, I turned and fled. I stumbled in the rain and cracked my bad ribs. Pulling myself up I hobbled off as fast as possible, hardly able to see through the rain, as volleys of faraway bullets exploded against the deep tectonic scraping of the huge fucking things.
And over top of it all, the man's wild voice, screaming its lungs out:
"WHERE IS SHE, WHERE IS SHE!"
I ran for I don't know how long, splashing face down in every other rivulet, getting mangled by every other thorny bush.
The landscape was totally changed in the rain, overflowing with little waterfalls and the nervous swaying off old trees in the wind. The commotion was overwhelming and as I crashed my way through the dense brush I became alerted to some calls coming for not far off - it was my name. In my friend's voice.
Fuck this, I thought and turned to run in the opposite direction, foot snagging on a collapsed branch. I yanked desperately at it, the voice getting closer and closer until finally it broke apart and I sprint forward - directly into the fucking thing.
I screamed as its arms thrusted out of the trees and grabbed me by the shoulders and tried wildly to escape, until I was looking at the terrified, confused face of my friend from the town, and his two buddies trailing not far behind.
I will keep the rest of this brief. Needless to say I refused to return to the house, so was driven by my friends back to one of theirs.
They reckoned I was suffering from exposure and got me a change of clothes and things.i Was either unable or unwilling to tell my story in full. To this day I remain quite unwilling, for obvious reasons. I only showed them the holes in my armpit, and the parts about the mad bushman.. I deliberately excised everything else. Back in the comfort of a lit, warm room, with the storm rattling the windows outside as if taking place somewhere far far away, I no longer trusted my own experience and fell into a sort of waking lucid dream state, not quite conscious and rational but nonetheless aware of the impossibility of my own experience...
But how had they found me, I asked.
They exchanged odd, worried glances.. Then I was told this story:
"We went to yours at the arranged time. When we got there we saw all the windows and doors were locked, even though it was sweltering. So we knocked at the door - no reply.
We figured you had just gone for a walk or something, so sat on the front porch smoking durries, and cracked a few beers. A full hour passed and we decided to get up and go. Right as we did so, though ... (here he paused, obviously uncertain about how to retell this next part) ...well... someone shouted out from inside the house, saying you weren't home."
I was awash with full fledged body shivers as he said those words.
"Well, we thought 'what the fuck', seeing as wed been there for an hour and only now this guy decides to speak up?? So we ask who it is - no reply. So we knock again and this voice, coming from directly behind the door, says that you've gone into the swamp. We keep asking questions, asking to be let in knocking at the door but... got no more responses. At first we thought, well you know, that it was just you pulling a prank. But as the rain came in, figured we ought to at least check, just in case.
I let this information sink in. Then I asked, why did they think it was me pulling a prank? Why would I do that?
Now the mood got really awkward and many more glances were exchanged.
"Well..." said my friend slowly, looking right into my eyes, "well the thing is... it was your voice"
The next few days were spent recuperating. My friends said they would put me up until I found a different place. But it was clear now I couldn't continue there. I was no longer myself, didn't act the same, seemed rattled out of my own persona. And I knew the popular consensus was that I had gone mad. I got looks in the street. And I didn't blame them. When I resigned from the teaching position it seemed a relief to the other staff. I guess word of my descent into madness spread fast.
Only my friends, who heard for themselves that unexplainable voice believed me. They were good to me in the following days, returning to the house I was never to go back to and collecting my stuff.
Three weeks later I was driving back home, to a family who cried a lot and kept saying I would get better, more for their own sake than mine.
But I did get better, in time. I kept in touch with the friends I made there and completed my thesis on the back of the short experience I'd had. I won't bore anyone with the details of my re-integration period, except to say that it was hard and ongoing.
There is only one more thing to add. It happened as the place was being emptied of my stuff. One of those people who helped was the schoolteacher who'd been so kind to me, and like the blokes who found me out in the woods didn't treat me like a nutter. She said it almost in passing for some reason, though I am certain she was aware of its full meaning. She said:
"You know... it's no wonder you came across the old swamp bloke. That place you were staying was the house where he and his wife used to live."