Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Slough

by Kent Alyn

The slough was as murky as Dave’s belief in humanity.

In winter, when the brown water was deep, Safeway bags and toilet paper dangled from the briars; in summer, when dried hard like concrete, the place was a junkyard of beer cans, rusty appliances, and cat skeletons. The water was home to larvae, frogs, salamanders, and snakes; the muddy bank was home to skunks, possums, raccoons, and rats. Only nasty critters lived in the ugly slough.

Dave Franks hated the slough, though the waters called; if not the slough calling—the boy: Matty, the kid with the oversized hat and tight sweatpants that always waited for his mom after T-ball practice. After the last game ended, after the last hot dog sold, after the last car left, he sat against the cinderblock restrooms, hoping the next, or the next, or the next approaching car was his ride.

Three years later, Matty was forgotten, erased. The “Breaking News” moved on. The police did, too. Judging the way parents left their kids—waiting alone the way Matty waited—it was obvious the town forgot. Matty’s mom, Donna, did. She moved to Colorado with her newest boyfriend, Methhead Hank.

Dave, a detective at the time, found Matty’s Ken Griffey Jr. glove in the slough—nothing else. When the police gave up, Dave quit the force in protest.

With no steady paycheck, no self-control, and no self-esteem, Dave’s wife filed for divorce.

Finding Matty was all that was left.

__________


Early spring, the slough was still deep enough to paddle. Dave hunted the slough on and off, usually alone. Equipped with a half-rack of Pabst he conned Pete Sanders into coming along, not so much to paddle, but to offer a second pair of eyes. The last time, Dave saw something unexplainable.

The baseball glove was at his feet, beside the camcorder and the beer.

“Damn no-see-ums,” Dave said, slapping his arm.

“Stinks out here,” Pete said, and then tossed an empty can into the water. “What’s another can, anyway?”

Dave shook his head. That summed up Pete—didn’t care much.

Pete stuck out his tongue and panted. “How much further?”

“Not much.”

The stars and moon were out. Frogs croaked. A bat dove and touched the water. The raft cut through the ripple.

“Okay,” Dave whispered, grabbing a low-hanging limp to stop the raft. “Over there, Pete.”

The spotlight shone on the cock-eyed, clothes dryer across the slough.

“Last week I was right here when I heard a voice, saying words I couldn’t understand.”

“Bullshit.”

“I ain’t shittin’ you. My neck hairs stood up. And then, I looked over at that dryer and saw a face, inside that dryer. Bulging, wide eyes, sharp cheek bones, and black teeth. It looked at me and then slithered out like an otter into the slough. The body—naked, yellowish— and the spine like row of rough knots. It went under and never came up.”

Pete downed his beer. “What the hell?”

“Do you want to paddle over to there?”

“That thing live inside?”

He shrugged.

“Hell-no.”

“You rather wait on the bank or come?”

Pete looked at the dryer, then at Dave. “Shit, I ain’t stayin’ here alone.”

“Okay, let’s keep it quiet,” Dave said, and then handed Pete the camcorder. “Know how to use one of these?”

Closer, they paddled and then drifted, paddled and drifted. Dave kept the spotlight on the machine. Pete recorded.

They coasted. Grass stuck out of the open dryer. Something pale jostled. A hand crawled out.

Then, the creature looked into the light. A dead rat fell from its mouth.

Pete screamed as the creature climbed out and scurried behind the machine.

Dave shushed him, turning to see Pete ready to swing an oar.

A heavy rock sailed through the darkness, splitting a bloody gash in Pete’s forehead. The big man teetered, and then splashed into the slough.

Dave hurried to the rear, the spotlight aiming up at the stars. “Pete!”

The raft rocked over the waves. He couldn’t see. Turning to get the light, he saw the creature crouching at the front of the raft—the light angling upward at sinister eyes.”

Dave surrendered his hands. He squinted and his eyes blurred. “I’ll be damn, it is you. Just wanted to bring you something.”

The creature’s head tilted.

“There, buddy, by your feet. Ken Griffey Jr.”

Matty picked up the glove, looked at Dave, and then leapt from the boat, escaping into the darkness.

A tear slid down his cheek. Lost.


__________



Kent Alyn is a Seattle-based fiction writer, husband, and father of three. Just like his website, http://www.kentalyn.com/, he’s a continual work in progress.

2 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

What a startling story. Totally unexpected.

Doug Murano said...

Haunting, grotesque--and very well done.