Word Count: 999: FCA Beware Aniwye
Set on a slight oversized forehead with a balding top, Russell’s roundish gray-blue eyes peered through the driver’s side window. With an index finger aimed at the approaching Gator Bait Bar, he said,
“Gotta get beer anyways,” said Edmond who then proceeded to slow the vehicle and its following boat trailer.
The thirtyish-aged men of similar slender build and dress of ragged edged blue jeans, white tank top undershirts, and checkered flannels, passed through the screened-door entrance. Inside, they sat at a high top table across from a group of native men playing cards. Edmond’s slim pointy chin ran up the sides of a narrow face and disappeared into a matted bowl of black hair. His eyes squinted above a short nose at the map that Russell unfolded.
“Moccasin road takes you back to the spot,” said Russell, pointing. A native from the game rose to his feet, stumbled across the room, and steadied himself on a stool. Staring with glossy red eyes and a leathery weathered face, he blew a foul odor of rotten teeth, tobacco, and liquor,
“Aniwye … beware Aniwye …”
“Excuse me?” said Edmond.
“Get back Crazy Joe,” said the elderly bartender, “natives believe the swamp to be haunted by a giant man-eating skunk monster. Load of horse manure. It’s the real-life gators that I’d be looking out for.”
“We ain’t scared no gators,” said Russell.
“Still there’s been some unexplained deaths,” said the barkeep, “best to stay clear.”
Russell held the aluminum boat’s side and guided it from the half submerged trailer into the river at the end of Moccasin road. Like a routine act in a play, he felt the scene repeating itself for they had poached together numerous times in the course of their two year friendship.
In an hour after sunset, moon-glow made dark shadows of the trees and river banks and lured the frogs and crickets from their slumber. Spray from Russell’s insecticide attempted to repel a mosquito swarm while he flailed with his flashlight.
“Shine that out the front,” said Edmond. His counterpart directed the beam and panned left to right and stopped. Two red embers like hot coals hovered as the swamp looked back at them. Edmond put his paddle down, picked up his rifle, and fired. The discharge sent a shockwave through the wilderness.
“Holy moly that’s a big gator,” said Edmond when the boat reached the spot where it floated. After a scuffle with the rope, they heaved it into the craft.
“Too easy,” said Russell.
“We’re going to need another boat if this keeps up,” said Edmond, rolling up his soaked sleeves. Russell noticed that Edmond became harder and harder to see.
“Seems like the moon is going behind a cloud,” he said. Edmond trembled from a chill.
“What?” said Russell.
“I don’t hear a single frog, bug, gator, nothing.”
“That blast woke half the place,” said Russell.
“Shhh.” A low intense growl like a raging dog flooded the trees, its volume increased with each second but then dissolved into an echo and then to silence. The gator’s armored tail smacked Edmond’s leg causing his hand to flinch and fire off a round into the boat. In that instance Russell half-stood, lurched backwards, caught his foot on the seat, and catapulted overboard into the murky abyss. Russell’s head broke the surface and he screamed for help. “Something’s pulling me under!” Edmond grabbed a paddle but Russell was nowhere to be found. While the boat filled with water Edmond rowed to the shore and leaped into the soggy mud. From downriver came a voice,
“Edmond!” The rifle man hurried inland through the brush.
When Edmond reached Russell he found him lying on his side.
“Gotta catch my breath.”
“I thought you a gonner,” said Edmond.
A screeching roar seized their attention and they stiffened with fear.
“What do you suppose that is?” said Russell.
“Maybe a panther. I still got the gun.” They heard branches cracking and a tree fall.
“It’s coming and we can’t see a damn thing,” said Edmond. They heard a rumbling angry snarl.
“It’s very close,” said Russell who searched with desperation for some branch for a weapon. In the near total black they waited for the impending arrival of the adversary and then they saw its red violent eyes darting between trees moving closer until it was upon them. Resembling a giant shaggy bear it opened a rodent-shaped massive mouth full of razor-teeth. Its eyes were angry flames. Edmond took a shot and then another until the gun clicked out of ammo. The beast stretched out two enormous, hairy, animal paws and invoked a rushing wind. Edmond fell on his back convulsing and vomiting after which he crumpled into a fetal ball. Russell ran through vines, between pine trees, and then burrowed through thick undergrowth in a mad-scramble to get away, but with every step of progress his feet slipped on dry leaves. Tripping and tumbling, he landed in dense saw grass that sliced his flesh. He lay on the plants screaming and then heard the gurgling howl of the beast. Upon bounding to his feet, he ran most of a mile before diving face first into a pile of dirt. While trying to gather strength, there was a sharp pain on his face and then another. In moments he was covered in a viscous frenzy of ants. He smelled a sickening odor and heard a haunting wail. To his feet again, he hobbled forward, wavered, and fell unconscious.
A morning bird’s song woke Russell. He rolled from his stomach onto his back and sat cross-legged. He watched the silent woods and tried to sort out the night. Even in daylight the dense vegetation and close-fitting trees made it seem more like a cave. A breeze fanned his ear and its wisp brought a faint echo and an unexplained shiver when he heard a distinct whisper,
“Russell … help … me … help … me …”