Swamp Story

Abe knew Bill Younglin was a drunk, but he didn’t know he was such a stupid one. Abe stood on the hitch behind Bill’s four-wheeler as they rumbled down the swampy property line to check out a beaver dam between their farms. He should have made the man sober up first. Then again, if he’d refused to go with, drunken Bill probably would have gone alone, gotten his four-wheeler stuck on a stump, and called him for help anyway.

“This dam is gonna drain that pond,” Bill hollered over the engine’s high puttering and the swishing of meadow hay against the tires. “We gotta knock it apart.”

“Park up here somewhere,” Abe told him, pointing at the edge of the trees. “Let’s walk.”

“No, no, I’ve driven these woods a hundred times.”

Abe clutched the rack tighter, crouched, and clamped his teeth together so he didn’t accidentally bite his tongue off. His and Bill’s hay meadows lay back to back with a shared spine of forested swamp between them. It sprouted young trees and reed canary that made for excellent deer-hunting and terrible four-wheeling.

But Bill drove into the trees anyway, snapping branches, bouncing badly, steering around patches of muddy water filled with plant matter and squishing into the soft ground. This was a bad idea. Abe unclenched his jaw to say so.

Bill paused before a ditch of standing water.

“Couple inches deep!” Bill hollered.

He drove forward. The wheels hit the water and sank so the whole four-wheeler dove downward. Abe scrambled off and landed on a stump. He hissed through his teeth, grabbed at his stinging tailbone, then clambered to his knees and instead grabbed the rack at the back of the four-wheeler. Bill was getting off his seat so damn slowly. He stood. He lifted one leg over. Abe gripped hard, but couldn’t get a purchase on the mud under his knees. The four-wheeler wrenched from his grasp and went vertical. Bill tumbled over the handlebars.

With a great gulp, both disappeared into the water.

“Jesus Christ, Bill!”

Abe plunged an arm underwater. The back tires appeared above the duckweed. The gurgling engine went silent.

Bill! Fuck!”

He had to be underneath. Abe grabbed the back axel. He’d smear Bill across the bottom of the ditch if he pushed it sideways, so he tried to hoist it up, but the handlebars snagged the opposite bank, and it wouldn’t budge. He reached into the water again instead. He felt movement, but no Bill. He had to be at the bottom, pinned.

He grasped the axel again and heaved it sideways this time. He felt the handlebars ripping free of the opposite bank.

Bill burst from the water so coated in swamp muck it was like the amniotic sac over a premature calf. Abe grabbed him under the arms through a glaze of slime and algae and hoisted him onto the shore to lie on his back.

Bill,” Abe said, “you look like a goddamn swamp monster. You alright?”

A mouth hole appeared in the sludge, took some gasping breaths, and spat green water. Bill sat up, rolled over, and spat more. Sluggishly, he wiped sludge from his hair, his hands, his face, finally revealing his puffy eyes and red nose, more puffy and more red than usual.

“You OK? I thought you were a goner.”

Bill spat again, got up, and started wiping sludge from his clothes. He wobbled. Abe grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him out of the woods and onto the meadow. Couple inches deep, my ass, he wanted to say, but he resisted. Drunk-driving a four-wheeler into a swamp had to be Bill’s dumbest stunt yet. In twenty years of neighboring him, Abe had helped Bill chase home his escaped cattle, parked all his machinery safely in his sheds during hailstorms, pulled out tractors stuck in four feet of mud, saved him from rooftops after he’d knocked down his own ladder, and brought him countless gallons of gas or diesel after he’d run out of fuel and stranded himself. Bill’s wife Brenda acted surprised every time Abe showed up to rescue Bill from some dumb disaster, as if she had no idea her husband was the most irresponsible dairy farmer in the county. Abe had to wonder whether he was the only one Bill called on in times of need, or if the whole community was taking turns babysitting him.

Bill cleared his throat. The grunt was waterlogged and phlegmy.

“You sound awful,” Abe said. “Let me call Patty and have her bring the truck down.”

Bill kept hacking, but his throat sounded no clearer.

“You sure you’re alright?”

“Sure. Alright.”

“Your voice sounds like shit. You got duckweed in there? I’ll have Patty give you a ride home. She and I don’t milk until dark. I’ll stay out here and see if Gazelka or Johnson can help me get your four-wheeler out of there before the sun goes down. Alright?”

“Alright,” Bill said.

Five minutes after Abe called her, Patty rolled into the meadow in the farm truck and helped Bill into the passenger side. He dripped swamp water onto the mud, manure, and dog hair already ground into the seats. When the door was shut, Patty said in Abe’s ear, “I hope you know Brenda was milking cows alone while you two were chugging Coors.”

No, he hadn’t known that. But he wasn’t surprised. Bill lazed while Brenda slaved. Bill failed at asinine projects while Brenda pretended all was wonderful on the Younglin farm and Bill had been oh-so-silly to call Abe and Patty for help.

Abe leaned into the window and said to Bill, “I bet your swim sobered you up.”


“And Bill? You’ve got algae on your ass.”


Abe got good mileage out of the swamp story. He told it while he and Gazelka towed the four-wheeler out of the water. He had Patty laughing her ass off over spaghetti after milking that night. After a week, he’d told it to the milk truck driver, the vet, the breeder, the mail man, the milk inspector, the feed truck driver, and everyone at church. The only story going around that topped his was from his neighbor to the south, Ryan Cornish, who said his dog switched personalities overnight, moped around for a week, then disappeared and still hadn’t come back.

“Sounds like your dog had a botched lobotomy,” Abe told him in the feed store, earning a lot of laughter from the guys behind the counter and giving him center stage to tell more stories about that damn Bill Younglin

The phone rang in the barn one night, and he prepared to tell the tale again. It was probably one of the kids, asking if they could vacate campus for the weekend and milk cows for Mom and Dad in exchange for some home-cooked meals and a hundred-dollar bill.

Instead, it was Brenda, sobbing.

The fans were on, the milker units were sucking on udders, and the radio was blaring the Twins game. He had to shout to hear himself say, “Brenda. Brenda!It’s okay. You want me to get Patty? Patty! It’s Brenda Younglin!”

Patty wiped orange teat dip off her hands and took the phone. Abe made a quick escape back to the barn aisle to finish cleaning the udder Patty had been working on. In two minutes, she came back to the barn aisle looking pallid.

Bill isn’t milking cows,” she said.

“You know Bill. He always finds something stupid to do instead.”

“I don’t mean tonight. I mean at all. He won’t milk cows. He won’t even talk to her.”

“What, you mean Brenda’s been running the farm alone for a week?”

“When did you last see Bill?”

“When you gave him a ride home after his swim. That son of a bitch. And why the hell did Brenda take so long to call someone if Bill’s acting like crap?”

“She’s scared, Abe.”

The barn was hot and damp, but he shivered, and asked, “Why?”

Patty disappeared between two Holsteins, moved a milker unit from one to the next, and said, “Something isn’t right. He won’t eat. He won’t even have a beer. And he hasn’t talked to her in days.”

“Maybe his accident really scared him,” Abe said.

“What, you think he’s having some kind of crisis?”

“Yeah, maybe. Jolly drunks need a crisis now and then, don’t they?”

Patty leaned on a cow, crossed her arms, and said, “I figure we should help her out, even if it’s just feeding the calves or the youngstock.”

Abe doubted Brenda would accept. The woman acted like farming was all rainbows and field flowers. Never admitted it was tough. Never admitted Bill was probably tough to be married to, either. If she was calling here crying and confessing, it had to be bad.

“Maybe,” Abe said, “I can talk some sense into Bill, that bastard.”


The next day, Abe argued with Brenda, and it reminded him of the exchange between a host insisting on doling out a third helping of food and a guest that was too polite to accept it until it was forced on them. Brenda finally caved, so Abe milked the Younglin’s cows. They were all Holsteins, all suspicious of a stranger in their barn. Then he snuck past wispy Brenda as she fed calves to go pound on Bill’s garage door. Normally he’d find him on the couch watching TV with a Coors. Brenda said he wasn’t eating or even drinking, but Abe suspected maybe he was hitting the hard liquor and had been on a secret bender all week.

But he went inside and found the garage dark, the TV off, the minifridge full of unopened beer, and Bill’s blackberry brandy gathering dust next to the Sprite he usually poured it in after an especially hard day’s work of watching Abe chase his cattle home for him. The workbench and its small engine projects were dusty, too. Somewhere, water was running.

Abe pushed into the house, calling, “Knock knock, Bill, you in here?” He kicked his manure-spattered boots off on their big stained rug and headed through the mudroom into the main room, which was half living room, half kitchen, with a breakfast bar between. Bill was sitting at it with his back to Abe.

Bill,” Abe said.

Bill didn’t turn around. Abe breathed through his teeth. He was probably supposed to be concerned, but he spat, “Do you know I just milked your goddamn cows for you? When are you getting back on your feet? Do you want to farm, or not?”

Bill turned. His plump lower lip hung like it would peel right off his saggy face.

“Is that look supposed to be guilt?” Abe asked. “What are you doing in here?

“I don’t know.”

“Are you feeling alright?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you drunk? On something?”

Bill said nothing.

“Hello? Anybody home upstairs?” Abe said, tapping his own temple.

Bill just spun halfway around and looked desolately out the window.

“Listen, if you need to talk to someone. Patty’s always got an ear for that sort of thing. You know, feeling down. Bad. We all go through shit and have bad days.”

Bill’s eyes drifted to Abe, then the ceiling, then his own hands, then the window.

“Or you could talk to Brenda. She needs you to talk to her, Bill.”

Abe stepped forward. His socks hit water. The laminate floor was flooded with a paper-thin puddle that pooled a little deeper where the floor of the old house warped.

He tuned out Bill’s quaky breathing and listened for the running water. His socks were already soaked, so he walked on, past mournful Bill, toward the bathroom. 

The bathtub was overflowing. So was the sink. Both faucets still ran.

Abe shut them off just in time to hear another faucet start. He rushed back into the main room and found Bill standing before the kitchen sink, staring at the running water.

Abe opened his mouth, but had nothing to say.

“I don’t want to be here,” Bill said.

Like in the barn when Patty had said, She’s scared, Abe, Abe shivered despite the warmth. Didn’t want to be where? The house? The farm? Alive?


The next week was filled with discussions of Bill, and this time, the story wasn’t funny. Abe and Patty discussed him during milking. They discussed him over dinner. They discussed him in bed. They whispered about him in church. Twice, Abe dropped in on the Younglin's for fabricated reasons when he really wanted to spy and find out whether Bill was milking cows and doing field work again yet. He always found Brenda doing chores, and he always found Bill hiding in the shadows inside.

“I wish I’d driven him to the emergency room instead of home that night,” Patty said.

“You think he’s got a concussion? I almost think he’s depressed.”

“Maybe a concussion. Maybe some kind of parasite. Abe, babe, sit down and eat.”

He was pacing the kitchen with a bowl of buttered elbow macaroni. Thunder rumbled outside. No rain yet. Maybe he needed to kidnap Bill and take him to the doctor himself. Brenda was so scared of rocking the boat she’d probably get Bill killed avoiding—

The phone rang. Abe slid his bowl onto the counter and answered.

Brenda cried through the earpiece, “Have Patty come pick me up.”

His heart plunged into his stomach.

“Come get me,” she cried. “I need a place to stay.”

“What’s going on?” he sputtered.

Bill’s scaring me. He keeps flooding the house and soaking in the bathtub with all his clothes on. He never eats or drinks or changes clothes or sleeps. All he ever says is that he doesn’t want to be here. Just now, I went out to the barn to shut the lights off, and he followed me outside saying it again and again and again. I just ran. I’m in the milk room. I can’t stay—”

“OK, OK,” Abe said, exchanging startled stares with Patty. “We’ll be right over. Patty will bring you here tonight. I’ll take Bill to the hospital. See you soon.”

He hung up. Patty eyed him hugely, mouth open, pasta paused on her fork. 

“What did he do?”

“Followed her around. Creeped her out. You bring Brenda here. I’ll take Bill to the emergency room. You might be right. Maybe in that swamp, he picked up a parasite. Remember that kid who died from a brain-eating amoeba he got in Lake Darling last summer? Hell, what about Ryan Cornish’s dog that switched personalities overnight and then crawled off to die somewhere? Bill’s got to go to a hospital.”

“Abe, babe, I’m spooked. I don’t want you alone with him.”

“What do you want me to do, call the cops? Call an ambulance? I can just drive him.”

“You know how Brenda is. If she’s asking for help, it’s even worse than we’re picturing. He followed her around? If he seems threatening.”

“I’ll bring the cow zapper.”

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s not a joke.”


Of course rain started pouring once they hit the road. Patty drove so Abe could focus on his memories of that swamp. The four-wheeler had tipped right over onto Bill. Was there enough force for a concussion? Was that water an amoeba hotbed? Or did nearly drowning give him some kind of psychotic break?

They pulled into the long driveway, headlights sweeping over glistening mud. The house and barn were both lit up. Patty went to the barn for Brenda. Abe headed for the house, clutching the cow zapper in his pocket.It was just black plastic the size of a TV remote with two metal prongs. Ridiculous that he’d brought it. What was he going to do, startle Bill into the car with it like he startled stubborn cattle into trailers? Using a cow zapper on Bill would have been a much funnier story if he were drunk instead of brain-damaged. He’d have to tell it at Bill’s funeral if he didn’t get him in front of a doctor soon.

The garage was dark. The rain made a high, thunderous ruckus. In the house, he left his boots on. The floor was already flooded. 

He called for Bill. Silence. He checked the couch. The bedroom. The bathroom. He opened the basement door and found it dark. He shut off all the running faucets as he went. Then he grabbed a huge flashlight in the mudroom and sped through the garage and outside.

He came face-to-face with Bill. His eyes were puffy and his skin looked pallid and squishy. His thin hair was plastered to his forehead with rainwater.

Trying to swallow the nerves in his voice, unable to stop himself from stepping backward, Abe asked, “What are you doing out there? You’re scaring the shit out of everyone. Have you had a stroke? Did you drink too much of that damn swamp water?”

Bill didn’t look right. It was like his skin was spongy and barely clinging to his frame. Like if Abe grabbed him, he might rip some of it off.

“I don’t want to be here,” Bill said.

“Good, because I’m taking you to a hospital.”

“I don’t want to be here.”

“Let’s take your van. You go towel off. I’m going to talk to Patty. Bill?”

Bill stood unresponsive, so Abe steered him inside by the shoulders and walked past him, out into the rain and continuously rumbling thunder. He sloshed through puddles, squinting at the headlights, and met Patty coaxing Brenda into the farm truck.

“I’m taking him to the emergency room,” Abe said.

“He’s falling apart,” Brenda said, voice wobbling.

“Abe, not by yourself,” Patty said. “Not in the dark. Leave him until morning.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, we have to milk cows in the morning.”

“Don’t be obtuse. Just come home with us.”

“Brenda, are the keys already in your van?”

Before Brenda could answer, Patty shut her door and gave Abe a fiery look.

“It’s Bill. He’s harmless,” Abe said, though he shivered.

“Don’t do this, you stubborn—”

“He’s hurt and we should have figured out—”

Lit by the green dash lights, Brenda tapped on the window. Patty pulled the door open.

“He says,” Brenda blubbered, “he doesn’t want to be here. He sits in the tub in his clothes. And he wanders around in the rain. He acts like he wishes he’d drowned in that swamp!”

“Get her out of here already,” Abe said under his breath.

“See you soon,” Patty said, more a demand than a goodbye.

The rain weakened as Patty drove off with Brenda, headlights flashing on puddles and streams. Lightning lit the clouds up like cotton. The storm paused and hovered overhead, maybe waiting to rain again, maybe waiting for a burst of atmospheric wind to bring it somewhere else. The truck’s taillight disappeared through the trees, and Abe went back into the house. But there was no sign of Bill, not even muddy footprints to follow.

He says he doesn’t want to be here, Brenda had said.

Bill Younglin, jolly drunk, wouldn’t go kill himself, would he? 

He turned on the big flashlight and swept its beam across the yard. Empty. He aimed it at the open shed door. Bill and Brenda’s minivan, their truck, the sludgy old four-wheeler, and the shiny new four-wheeler Brenda had bought, already adorned with fence posts and barbed wire, all sat dormant.

“Bill?” he hollered through cupped hands, but he knew he’d get no answer.

He actsBrenda had said,like he wishes he’d drowned in that swamp.

Abe shone the flashlight down the muddy road that went past the barn, past the pasture, and eventually out to Bill’s meadow.

Patty was going to kill him for this.

He hopped onto Bill’s new four-wheeler and drove by the barn, past sheds of youngstock, and onto a road between field and pasture. He shone the flashlight all around him, and the reflective eyes of huddling cattle shone back. Otherwise, all was dark but for soft flashes of lightning. The road took him to lower and lower ground, into the meadow and to the line fence, where he drove on soggy land, praying not to get stuck, toward that patch of marshy woods where their properties met.

Bill?” he bellowed over lowly rumbling thunder. “You out here? Bill?”

He parked by the trees, and after a glance toward the distant yard light of home, where Patty was probably feeding Brenda pasta and tea, he grabbed a rebar fence post off the back of the four-wheeler. He used it like a walking stick as he went into the woods and its glistening brush and reeds. The stretched shadows of slim trees swung side to side as the flashlight bounced with his steps. The sodden plant smell was sharper than ever thanks to the rain.

He came to a flooded ditch, poked the heavy fence post in it, and barely tapped the bottom. This was the one. He shone his flashlight up and down the ditch’s shore until he spotted that stump he’d fallen on when he jumped off the falling four-wheeler, and the scraped earth where he and Gazelka had hoisted the sunken four-wheeler to land.

Bill?” he called again. “Bill, pal, please be out here somewhere.”

Wincing, he got on his knees on the soaked foliage, propped the flashlight up as a lantern by the stump, and poked the fence post into the black water. It hit the squishy opposite bank. He reached farther. He submerged his arms up to his elbows before the fence post hit the bottom.

Every breeze and bird that rustled made his heart fall into his belly. This was outrageous. Drowning himself out here was too poetic for Bill, even if he really was somehow suicidal. Bill was probably back up by the pasture somewhere, confusedly checking on his cattle in the storm with his concussion-addled brain.

But then Abe’s post hit something hard. A rock? The cause of Bill’s head injury? He tapped at it again. It was softer than a rock, even one covered in algae. He poked around the shape and felt for the edges.

It was a head. Neck. Shoulders. 

This had to be a nightmare. He called, voice cracking, “Bill? Bill, are you out here?” Just thunder. Squirrels in the brush. A whining animal groan, coming from him. “No, no, no, Bill….”

Maybe it wasn’t too late. Abe reached deeper into the balmy water and tried to pry the form up with the fence post. Bill, or Bill’s body, moved a little, but he didn’t have the leverage to hoist, so Abe slid off his boots, threw his phone and cow zapper in them, and went legs-first into the ditch. Water flooded his clothes and his socks sank into silt. He could barely stand with his head above water, but the post was still useless.

He groaned, filled his lungs, and went underwater. He lifted against the fence post from below, scooping the form upward out of the muck, so he could come up for a gasp of air and then rush down again to grab it with his bare hands. He felt flannel, and underneath, flesh like slime. He kicked the bank hard to make footholds and climb out, dragging Bill with him.

But the person in his arms was limp. Doughy. Cold. He let go halfway out of the ditch and reached for the flashlight, but knocked it over, so its beam fell on Bill’s face, eye sockets empty, flesh soggy and falling away, jaw hanging crooked.

Bill,” he cried. “Buddy. Mother of God.”

The body looked like it had been rotting in the water for weeks. This didn’t make sense.

Unless Bill had been dead in the water this whole time.

So who or what had been living with Brenda?

Abe crawled away from Bill’s corpse and grabbed his cellphone. He dialed home as he shone the flashlight in sweeps across the woods.

“Hello, Abe?”

Bill is dead,” he told Patty with a crack. “Mother of God, he’s been dead for weeks. I thought he was headed for the swamp and came out here to find him. I poked around the ditch where he fell in with the four-wheeler. He never came up. He drowned two weeks ago.”

“You found a body?” Patty said like she couldn’t say it fast enough.

Bill’s body, with weeks of decay.”

“That can’t be Bill,” she said in a high voice, her panic voice. “We drove him home. We’ve seen him. Brenda has been living with him.”

“When he came out of the water after his swim, he looked like a swamp monster. But that’s because it wasn’t even him. It was some kind of… unholy….”

“Abe,” Patty cried, “get the hell out of there and come home!”

Lightning flashed, and through the trees, the whole tan meadow lit up golden. Thunder crashed. The unholy replica, the demon, the marsh monster shape-shifter that took Bill’s place, was out there somewhere, maybe still in search of the swamp.

He lied, and told Patty he was going to call 911 and come straight home. The rain started coming down hard again, so he tossed his phone back into his boot to keep it dry. He shone the light once more on the real Bill’s mottled face and then sped out of the woods in his socks for the four-wheeler. He leaped on, started it, and turned on the headlights.

Pale Bill, demon Bill, lit up in front of him.

Acid adrenaline shivered through him. He squeezed the throttle, rammed into the creature, and drove over it. The four-wheeler bobbed under him as the tires climbed over limbs and torso. Then he threw it in reverse and did it again. He rocked back and forth over the creature again and again, turning the wheels a little each time so no part of it went uncrushed, until he felt the front tire go over its head.

He braked and got off. The creature looked boneless. One leg had popped like a juicy June bug, and writhing muck spilled out. Abe grabbed it by the ankles and dragged it out from under the four-wheeler. The face was still Bill’s face, and the burst parts of the body were smoothing and sealing again into flesh and skin.

He grabbed it under the armpits, hoisted it onto the rack so its limbs dangled, and drove the whining, rumbling four-wheeler back into the woods, following Bill’s path, holding one arm behind him to press down hard on the squirming torso. The yellow headlamp illuminated the real Bill still lying halfway out of the water.

He hit a stump hard and got thrown against the handlebars. The creature tumbled off the four-wheeler sideways, landed on its back, and tried crawling that way, head limp and dragging. It pulled itself aimlessly away from the water, and Abe couldn’t help but cry, “Bill, you idiot,” as he grabbed it by the head and tugged it to the ditch.

Abe pushed its head underwater, then its shoulders, then sat on his ass and shoved it with his legs all the way under the surface.

He scrambled to the real Bill, pulled him the rest of the way out of the water, then sat back against the four-wheeler next to him. The water looked as still as it could in the rain and the wind. He wiped his hands on his soaked pants again and again and again.

He got up and reached for his boot to grab his phone.

Fingers clutched his ankle and the ground swept out from under him. He wheeled and kicked his legs, but the grip was like a vise, and it dragged him into the ditch. Water soaked his socks anew, then his pants. His shirt rolled up and the soggy bank scratched his belly. He reached for the stump, and his fingers brushed it, but—

He was underwater, mouth and nose full of it, spinning and kicking and punching and finding nothing, just swirling water and soft ground and that grip on his ankle, a grip that was growing, spreading, crawling up his leg.

His lungs burned. The creature had hated being Bill, hated being human, but it must have had an instinct to become whatever it got ahold of. Patty would come looking for him and bring this monster home with her while he rotted in the water just like Bill. 

He couldn’t reach the shore, so instead, he let himself sink until his legs, both wrapped in living putty, hit the ground. He crouched and sprang to the surface.

He sucked in fresh air and clutched at the shore, then the stump, trying to scrape the creature off his legs against the bank as he pulled himself up and out, but its grasp wouldn’t let go, and Abe couldn’t get a grip, just kept slipping back.

He knocked one of his boots over, and out tumbled the cow zapper. He grabbed it, switched it on, and plunged the dull prongs into the greenish mess growing up his legs. The jolt shocked him too, and he cried out.

A human hand—a replica of his?—reached from the wriggling mass.

Abe’s own eyes swirled by.

He’d thought Bill had wiped muck from his face when he came out from under the four-wheeler. But instead, he’d been transforming from muck before his eyes.

Abe jabbed the creature again and again and again, until his own leg vibrated electrically.

The putty went limp and melted into sludge so fast that it splashed. The pieces of the puddle dripped back together like raindrops down a windshield. It crawled to the edge of the water and slid back home.

Abe dropped the cow zapper, scooted away from the ditch, and grabbed the four-wheeler’s handlebars to pull himself to his feet. He clutched his buzzing leg and stared at the water. The surface wobbled in the wind. The rain had slowed to patter instead of a downpour.

Bill lay before him. Stringy flesh dangled in his eye sockets. 

Abe bent over the seat and vomited. A quaking sob got out of him. He let himself lean into it and cried for a while.

Then he donned his boots. He called Patty. He called 911. He only told them he’d found Bill Younglin’s body, and that he’d meet the first responders and police in his driveway soon to lead them to it. He couldn’t yet describe the night, nor the last two weeks, but he would have to soon, not just to explain how Bill had been home on his farm and rotting in this swamp at the same time, but because his neighbors needed to know that something prowled in these waters, something that perhaps preferred to be a squirrel or a raccoon or Ryan Cornish’s dog, something that did not want to be human, but could not help itself. His last Bill Younglin story would be a warning and a prayer that whatever the creature was, it would stay in the water a while.

JESSICA STARICKA grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. She earned her BA in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and is earning her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Fiction Journal, the Ninth Letter web edition, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found drawing or exploring.