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It all started when my dad and I went canoeing on Douglas Lake, Michigan. I was proudly named after the lake. It was June, and we had grabbed our paddles, and dad hopped in the rusting, silver canoe. I brushed a piece of dirt from a steel hook on my paddle, used to be hung in the shed.
“I’m gonna head out in a while to see if I can find that bald eagle nest Adam was talking about.” Aunt Kathy said as she gazed out into Turtle Bay, as the late afternoon sun swept close to the tops of the gentle pines, willows, and oaks. Dad and I were going there, for the same cause. I looked over at my siblings, Emily, Will, and Mike as they chatted noisily with my second cousins, Adam, Louie, and Abby, around the roaring bonfire. Our other, older cousins started to gather around.
“Be back soon, Doug, otherwise Louie will eat all of the s’mores.” Will said jokingly, patting Louie’s gut. Louie isn’t that big, we just like to make jokes about him to screw with him due to the fact he is an only child, and he doesn’t seem to have too much fun hanging around adults all the time. I pet my dog, Snoopy, as he trotted toward the smell food.
“I’ll be back soon buddy, behave.” I smiled as he rolled over onto his back. “If you even touch any food that doesn't land on the ground, I swear I’m gonna come back here and kick your…” I trailed off. Snoopy almost seemed to smile and nod. I patted his head and kissed him on the nose. I looked back just as I hopped into the wobbly boat and suddenly felt a wave of sadness, like I would never see the scene again. I shook my head, my bushy black hair scraping my forehead. I would see that all again, I was perfectly healthy, and Death wasn’t ready to take me yet.
It couldn’t have been a better day for canoeing. The lake was so calm, and the early summer sun warmed my wet skin as my dad and I splashed each other as we drifted out toward the bay.
“We have to stay in the center of the river…” Dad said, poking my soaked shirt with his paddle. I glanced at him, confused, raising an eyebrow.
“The slugs will get us from the ferns.” Dad said, holding back a smile. I rolled my eyes. If you’re wondering what I’m even talking about, there are at least three types of monsters said to haunt the swampy river within Turtle Bay. I’ll explain them, briefly.
- Slugs, a race of cannibalistic slugs were made to get rid of a slug infestation at the lake, but the slugs mutated and only three remain, and they prey on humans and other large animals.
- Swamp Boy, a teenage boy whose name faded into history, who went into the river to seek refuge in the middle of a storm, when a tree fell and sunk his boat, drowning him in the leech-infested water.
- Deerians, a murderous race of Indians who could turn into deer at will to escape the White Men.
We began to approach the bay, arguing whether or not the monsters existed. I opened my mouth to say the slugs likely were killed of old age when my dad clapped his big hand over my mouth.
“Look at the deer!” Dad whispered, pointing his big finger. A followed his gaze to see a gentle, red doe lap up water, its cloven hooves prancing delicately on the water, easily keeping its feet from sinking into the quicksand-like mud. I smiled as she snapped her head at my dad as he let out a sudden sneeze. I expected her to dart off, escape into the marsh and never be seen again. Wrong. She stood there, staring at us menacingly. She began to act rabid, shaking her head and stamping her feet, and yelping into the thick woods. Dad and I looked each other nervously.
“Deer don’t act like this.” I mouthed to Dad, me being the zoologist/paleontologist in the family. Dad nodded. The deer was still now, making no movement except for an occasional ear flick. We came within twenty feet before she frolicked off, my mind raced as I thought of what the cause of that strange behavior could be. I was saddened at the thought of rabies, but I tried to keep my mind off of it.
We rounded the first turn, about fifty feet into the river when the current suddenly moved against us, slowing us down so much we couldn’t move at all. We paddled hard, my hands going numb with how tightly I gripped the paddle. Though the birds above screeched loudly, I could still hear the faint sounds in the forest. As I listened closely, a faint whisper came from the tall, tall grass to my right. Like a T-Rex from "Jurassic Park", my head snapped to the right. The creature was still, but still a slight rustling emitted. My head was lowered, my ear pointed to the soft rustling, like Wolverine from X-Men. I noticed a black mass in the water, shifting slowly. It was probably humus, that powdery black residue from decomposition. But it inched closer. Now I focused on the mass. It moved slowly, like stalking its prey. I felt the uncontrollable urge of adrenaline and hit it with my paddle. It swam off quickly. I watched it retreat down the river.
“Some help would be nice.” Dad said. I suddenly forgot about the creatures. As I began to paddle, I struggled to remember what I was thinking about. It took me five seconds to remember. A low pitched sound, like stiff rubber was being stretched, suddenly came from the same place the whisper was from. I did the same thing, my head snapped to the right. There was a faint pluck, and something snapped on the shore nearby, across the river. The beast darted off, making little noise as it ran. I strained to look over my shoulder to see a dark red feather, no three, lie on the nearby shore of the river. Like an arrow.
Now, I can be slow to figure things out at times, but I was able to put two and two together to figure out someone, or something had shot an arrow at Dad and me. That sent ice cubes down my spine. I quickly pushed that aside, and kept my mouth shut.
The birds, like chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, seagulls, and ravens all screeched loudly above our heads, and swooped down close to our heads, both their songs and eerie cries echoed through the swamp, brightly lit with beautiful rays of sunlight that poked through the immensely tall trees, which swarmed with vampiric mosquitoes. It was mostly fine, except for the homicidal birds and occasional unrelenting current.
“The birds are the monsters’ lookout.” Dad said as swatted at a mosquito with his paddle, me dodging a chickadee that dove uncomfortably close to my left ear. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I thought about how ridiculously Dad was acting, though I was still shaken by the creature and the arrow. We stopped where Swamp Boy supposedly drowned, by the fallen tree. I poked the rotting boards with my paddle, swarming with leeches, diving beetles, minnows, and other small, water dwelling creatures. I looked closely at the planks. I heard footsteps in the reeds. I looked up. My mind raced through animals. I thought birds, bears, even Bigfoot. Eventually my mind settled on a hiker or a hunter. I barely caught a glimpse of blonde hair.
“Whattaya think the others are doing?” I yawned. Dad shrugged. I opened my mouth to say Louie was probably eating everything when Dad stopped me. He pointed up. I shrugged, shaking my head, honestly confused.
“The birds.” Dad said, “They’ve stopped.” I gave Dad a sarcastic look. Heck yeah, I heard the birds had stopped, but that just meant that a predator had entered the area. I thought it was probably just a coyote, fox, puma, even a bear, but then I realized something. The bow and arrow. The black mass in the water. The figure in the reeds. The birds stopped screeching and diving us. The insects around us mysteriously disappeared. I glanced into the water; all the animals swam toward the lake, in a heaping, black, squirming blob in the river. I looked at Dad, my eyes widening and narrowing. A faint rustling burst from my left. Then right. Then forwards, backwards, then all around us. I felt like a gazelle being stalking by a pride of hungry lions. A soft wind pushed the grass and the rustling was lost in the breeze. Dad turned pale. I saw the fear in Dad’s eyes, and him fighting the urge to puke, and realized it was all real.
“We have to get out of here!” We said in unison. Dad started to row. I tried to lift my oar, but something prevented me from pushing us away from this Hellish place. You remember that was used to be hung in the shed? Well, that was caught in the boards.
“My oar is stuck!!!” I screamed. A murmur slipped from the air around us. I felt a wave of panic as voices and deer-like grunts burst from the grass. Some of them spoke English, others in a language I couldn’t understand. As the voices started, the forest came to life, all its attention focused violently on Dad and me.
“I’ll get the big one.” One grunted.
“The smaller one saw us, kill him first!” Replied another.
“Which one should I kill?”
“The white skins will not see their tribes after this!”
“The small one seems to be having some trouble! He will be most easy!”
“The big one looks sick! Let him suffer! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!”
I heard the last one and totally lost it. The paddle didn’t seem too important, and I let out a lion-like yell that I didn’t even find remotely human. It echoed menacingly, and the forest fell silent, even the wind seemed to stop at its presence. The voices shut up immediately. With a burst of adrenaline I ripped the oar away and hurled a piece of wood that was stuck to the hook at the grass. The adrenaline subsided, and Dad and I began to paddle as fast and hard as we ever could, though it wasn’t that easy because the sudden loss of adrenaline felt like how I imagined a hangover. The voices started again.
“The small one hit me! KILL HIM!!!!!” A furious voice said. The voices whooped and the swamp came to life twice as violent as before. The fish and leeches reappeared, and slammed against the canoe, normally not doing much, but with how many there were the canoe began to rock and sway. In fact, with how much the canoe swept in the current we went into a sandbar, and we were sitting ducks. Dad threw down his paddle, leaped out, and began to push.
“Stay in the boat!” Dad hollered.
“STAY IN THE DAMN BOAT!” Dad said. I nodded, disappointed but relieved. He pushed, but nothing happened. The voices laughed, and something slammed the canoe, and felt a slight pain in my leg. Glancing into the water, I saw another huge, black mass. I swung my paddle. The creature retreated once again. Dad continued to push, relying on brute stregnth. My mind raced for answers. I murmered to myself under my breath.
"Caught on a branch? No, no, no, just ferns. Uuuuh, rocks? No, I don't see any. Wind? No wind. THE FISH ARE HOLDING ITS BACK! What?! No! Dammit, maybe something in the sand? No. Wait... SON OF A BITCH!!!!!!!!!" The solution hit me like a fucking brick, we were stuck on a suction in the wet sand beneath the canoe, like what happens to beached whales all the time. I set my paddle in the canoe and began to dig in the sand. Water began to flow beneath us and the canoe suddenly jolted forward. Dad hopped in and began to paddle. The voices intensified. I waited for Dad to look away.
“Go fuck yourselves you little pricks!” I mouthed many swear words to the reeds. “I won’t hesitate kick your asses. Go to hell.” My threats got more and more gruesome. Like I said, I loved and I hated that feeling with everything I knew. The figure with blonde hair appeared again, moving at the most unbelievable speed. I bared my teeth and growled.
“DOUGLAS, START PADDLING, DAMMIT!!!!” Dad howled.
Dad and I paddled and paddled until our arms were stuck like that and did nothing but propel us forward. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, a figure came into the distance. I held my paddle like a sword. I couldn’t see from the extreme distance that well, but I could make out a handsomely carved paddleboard, and a long, elegant paddle. I distinctly saw a feminine figure.
“Aunt Kathy!!!!” I screamed, relieved. My dad’s cousin’s presence seemed to drive away the figures, their grunts and howls echoing through the woods. I snarled, fear and hatred churning within my body. The pain came back, and I realized the creature had cut my leg, but I didn’t care. It was only a nick in the skin.
“Hey, Doug… Donald.” Aunt Kathy smiled, but that smile faded away fast. “What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I just wanted to scream.
“…being followed by a herd of deer, and Doug screamed like a little girl.” Dad sputtered, cutting me off.
“But…” I began. Dad shot me a look.
“Don’t make me look bad.” He mouthed. He made up lies. He said there were only deer, foxes, and canaries. He denied everything I said. And you know what? AUNT KATHY ACTUALLY BOUGHT IT!!! I wanted to just whack Dad in the back of the head as hard as I could with the paddle, but I didn’t. Out of seven billion people, I was stuck with this guy who had seen what I saw. Dad finished his little web of lies, and Aunt Kathy asked if the eagle nest was anywhere to be found.
“No,” I said, “but we saw something other than eagles.” Dad shot me a look once more, and I stared at him with total frustration. As we paddled from the bay, a small voice in my head said:
“Don’t turn around.” But an even louder voice drowning out the little voice said:
"TURN AROUND YOU FUCKING JACKASS!!!!!" Upon doing so, I saw another arrow hit the water, and a deer disappear into the brush...
Dad denied the entire thing, until he was drunk by the fire and a buck acted strangely, similarly to the doe earlier that day. He told everyone everything. The next day he tried to deny it, but everyone heard him, and almost the entire family was up that year (the only people not up there was Grandma and Grandpa, because grandpa had died that day in the hospital from mustard gas from the Vietnam War.)
You can go ahead and say that I’m full of it; I’m making it all up. Go ahead. Say that. I know what I saw, and it’s true. All of it. I don’t scare easily, but that scared the living crap out of me. While I’m not totally scarred for life, I will have occasional nightmares, hallucinations, and flashbacks. It's caused anxiety. Sometimes it's hard to sleep. You can ridicule me, tease me, and point fingers… but let me just say this: stay out of the swamp.