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June 24, 2024

Deer Hunting in the Province of the Damned

By Lamont A. Turner

Eager to test his new night vision goggles, and just a tad bit drunk, Remy set out with his rifle, wandering amongst the cypresses of the Honey Island Swamp well beyond the hour when more sober men would be in bed. Ignoring the mosquitoes that swarmed about him, attracted by his sweat, he had guided his pirogue to the shore where he had earlier set up a deer stand. Lacking patience, as well as aim, he had failed miserably throughout the current deer season which was soon drawing to a close. With the advantage of the goggles, he’d hoped to bring home a buck, restoring his stature within a community of men who took pride on living off the land.

His feet sunk into the muck as he climbed out of his boat, the mud oozing up over the rims of his rubber boots to add extra weight and make his trek to the stand even more uncomfortable. Later, he could hose the boots off, but he would probably chuck the socks rather than subject his washing machine, already on its last leg, to the mud.

“What the hell is this?” he asked aloud as his flashlight illuminated some tracks leading from the bayou to the woods past his stand. They looked a bit like coon tracks with the hand-like impressions featuring a separate toe, but they were huge, bigger than the tracks a man would have left, and there were only four toes. It was possible the elements had worked on the tracks to distort them, but he’d never seen the weather make prints larger. Usually, the wind and the rain chipped away at them, shrinking them and softening the details. These tracks looked fresh.

Looking at the tracks, he recalled the legends of the monster haunting the Honey Island Swamp. His mother had often evoked the beast as a means to curtail her son’s wanderlust, substituting the local legends for the more generic boogey man, and it had worked. Fear of encountering the moss incrusted beast had kept him out of the swamps at night.

How did the story go? A bootlegger with whiskey so good the other bootleggers couldn’t compete with him ended up murdered, his assassins slipping off into the swamps never to be caught. Later, apes with a traveling circus were set loose when a hurricane tore through the cages. The vengeful sprit of the murdered man combined with the bones of those apes and the muck of the swamp to form a monster, intent on slaughtering all who crossed its path. Boars the size of compact cars were often found with their throats torn out, and many a hunter was forced to abandon his prey when a hulking figure clawed up from the mire to claim it.

Such tales might prey upon the imagination of children, but Remy was a man now. Stories of Swamp creatures and loup garou meant as little to him as the tales of Voodoo and the zombies that the old folks claimed still worked the fields on the outskirts of New Orleans.

“Probably gator tracks,” he said to himself as he mounted the rickety ladder of his hastily constructed deer stand. He was no carpenter, and had used the cheapest materials he could lay his hands on, but the stand was solid enough. It would hold him, his rifle and his backpack full of beer long enough for him to achieve his goal, so long as the deer took the bait and his goggles lived up to the hype in the ad.

Removing his cap, he stretched the band on the goggles around his head and was pleased to see the night light up. Everything shimmered in a green hue, but he could make out every twig scattered about the mossy earth once his eyes adjusted. Now he just had to wait for his prey to show.

As the night wore on, and the supply of beer and beef jerky in his backpack dwindled, Remy was beginning to think he would be going home with nothing but mosquito bites and a hangover. His bladder full, he stood to relieve himself over the side of his stand when he noticed a pungent odor, like the stench of rotting vegetation and heard something thrashing about in the woods beyond the edge of the clearing. That’s no deer, he thought, dropping down and scooping up his rifle. It sounded like something heavy was crashing through the brush, not bothering to let the limbs and brambles distract it from its course. As the stench grew stronger, he pulled his t shirt up over his face and tried to keep from gagging. It was worse than the time he’d surprised a skunk and ended up leaving his jeans in the woods rather than bring the stench into his truck.

Lying on his stomach with his rifle aimed at the tree line, he wondered if he had enough firepower to take down a boar. If he didn’t score a kill with the first shot, it would be likely the boar would wander off, back into the swamp, and only a lunatic would follow it. It had to be a boar, and judging by the sounds it was making, it was a big one, possibly big enough to impress the boys at the bait shop. He might even finally get his picture on the trophy wall, or, even better, have his kill displayed on the wall with Billy’s buck, or put out front, replacing Big Joe’s gator. That would be something!

Branches creaked and snapped. The brush parted disgorging a dark shape larger than the biggest boar. It was a man, but a giant, at least eight feet tall. As it stomped into the clearing, Remy saw he seemed to be wearing a ghillie suit, but the best ghillie suit Remy had ever seen. Designed to look like moss and weeds, ghillie suits were also bulky and hot, definitely not something people wanted to wear in Louisiana in the summer. This one seemed to cling close to the skin, allowing Remy to see the outline of the man’s massive musculature. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, filtered through the goggles, but pieces of it seemed to fall off as the man ambled forward as though it was composed of actual moss. Remy also noted the giant didn’t carry a gun or any other equipment.

Seeing the intruder seemed to be human, Remy lowered his gun, but pulled his camo blanket over him. Nothing about the situation seemed right. At best, the man was a game warden, disguising himself to catch poachers. At worst—what? A giant maniac? He certainly didn’t move like a normal man as he swung his long arms and stopped on the ground with his huge feet like he was trying to crack the Earth open. And those feet! Remy suddenly noticed they were bare. Worse, he only counted four toes, one of which was splayed out reminding him of the foot of an ape. As the man threw back his head to howl, the moss fell back from his face and Remy saw he wasn’t a man at all. No human face looked like that. With its sloping brow and extended jaws, the thing resembled an ape, yet the deep set eyes and gaping nostrils also reminded Remy of a skull, an old skull encrusted with mud and patches of leather skin.

Remy shrunk back, praying the thing wouldn’t see him and that the deer spray he’d applied would cover his scent. Then he remembered the gun in his hands. Bagging a beast like that would be sure to bring him renown. He’d be famous, not just locally, but probably across the globe. Remy Fotenot, the man who killed the Honey Island swamp monster! People would notice him then for sure. Women would notice him. He lined up his shot and pulled the trigger.

The monster reeled with the blast that tore a chunk out of its shoulder, scattering chunks of whatever it was made of across the clearing. Remy aimed again and his second shot hit it square in the chest. The monster staggered back, but stayed on its feet. Something was wrong. The moss that covered the beast had already spread out to fill the gap Remy had left in its shoulder and the hole in its chest was shrinking even before the smoke cleared. Remy fired again, this time tearing off a chunk of the thing’s head, but still it stood. By the time it reached the deer stand it was again complete, and full of rage. Remy jumped to his feet and tried to aim again, but the beast’s huge claws were wrapped around one of the support beams, shaking the entire deer stand so Remy stumbled back. A second later, the platform he was standing on was tilting, sending Remy sliding into the open arms of the monster. Remy screamed as the massive arms encircled him, crushing him into the foul smelling moss clinging to the monster’s chest. Remy could hear his bones cracking, and wondered why he felt no pain as his spine snapped.

Remy awoke to see the full moon peering down at him through the branches in distain. What an odd notion, he thought. The moon wasn’t alive. Why should he get the impression it, and everything else around him, considered him something unnatural, something that didn’t belong. Why was he outside, looking up at the moon at all? He sat up and looked around. He was in the swamps. Cursing himself for all the liquor he must have drunk, and wondering what kind of mess he’d gotten himself into this time, he got to his feet. Up and up he went until his head was level with branches he shouldn’t have been able to have reached without a ladder. He looked down and saw his body was covered in layers of stringy moss. He looked down at the huge paws that now served as his hands and suddenly remembered his encounter with the swamp monster.

He tried to ask the night what was going on, but all that came out were grunts that caused the frogs to stop croaking and the grasshoppers to stop chirping. The swamp fell silent as it retracted from him. Able to see clearly in the dark, even without his goggles, he rushed to a spot where the bayou cleaved the clearing and gazed down into the water. Two red eyes gazed back at him from within deep sockets under a heavy brow.

As he stumbled back from the water, he knew. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew the legends of the swamp monster were true, and knew why it had to kill everything it encountered. He understood that he would be trapped in that misshapen, bestial body until he could find a soul to replace his, tearing through the boar and the deer and the gators, looking for a replacement until some foolhardy hunter stumbled into his path and he would be free. But would he? He wasn’t the invisible Remy Foetnot anymore. He was the famous Honey Island swamp monster. He wasn’t weak and small and something to be ignored. He was huge.

He slammed his massive shoulder against the bark of an old cypress tree and heard it crack. As it toppled into the water, he threw back his head and let out a howl of elation. Two more trees followed the first. This wasn’t a curse, it was a gift. The Honey Island Swamp Monster stomped off toward the fishing camp he remembered seeing earlier that night, eager to add to his legend.

Nobody ever found out what had happened to Remy Fotenot, but then nobody put much effort into finding him. People are still searching for the monster, hoping to secure fame by facilitating and documenting its capture.








Article © Lamont A. Turner. All rights reserved.
Published on 2024-06-10
Image(s) are public domain.
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