by Doc Quantum
Terrebonne Parish General Hospital, Houma, Louisiana:
Abby Cable sat by the side of the body of her husband. By now she had long since ceased to believe that he still existed somewhere in that weakened body. Matt Cable had gone into a coma more than two years ago, when the evil Anton Arcane, her own uncle, had possessed his body and tried to kill her and destroy Alec.
Matt had been a good man when they were married, but things had begun to change in the last year of their marriage. He had been sent on assignment from the government agency he worked for — the DDI — to South Dakota in order to meet a special courier there, or so he was told. The so-called assignment, however, had actually been a trap. Dwight Wicker, head of the DDI, wanted everyone who ever knew or heard of Alec Holland neutralized, and they hired Sunderland Corporation to do that for them. If killing the party in question would prove too risky, they would settle for the next best thing — inducing amnesia through electroshock. Upon Matt’s arrival in South Dakota, he was captured and put into a straitjacket, and then he was subjected to relatively large quantities of electricity at a special clinic set up for this purpose.
This crude attempt at brainwashing was mostly unsuccessful in removing Matt’s memories of Alec Holland and the Swamp Thing he had become, but it had effectively reduced him to such a state that he was unable to continue in his career any longer. He was brought back home to settle back into the family life with Abby, but he had changed. They had taken away his dignity and almost everything else he had once prized in himself. Gone was the brilliant investigator and proud secret agent man he had been trained to become; gone was the Lieutenant Matthew Cable of yesteryear.
Matt and Abby soon found that the DDI had surveillance teams watching them everywhere they went, so they effectively dropped out of the life they had built together, left their home, and moved from city to city, each time hoping to start new lives. It was then that Matt began drinking. Everything he had lived for, except his beautiful Abby, had been taken from him, and he attempted to drown his sorrows in booze. He ended up having to take a succession of menial, poor-paying jobs, each one worse than the next, just to survive, and he was successively fired from each and every one of them due either to his drinking habit or to other effects brought on by his treatments. The couple was mostly forced to live on whatever meager income Abby could make from the jobs she could get.
The once-proud Matthew Cable found himself at a low point in his life. He was no longer an agent. He could no longer be a providing husband. He no longer even believed himself to be a real man at all anymore. They had taken it all away from him. At the time, Abby believed this to be their lowest point ever and hoped that things could only get better from here on in. Life would prove her wrong.
She and Matt were reunited with the Swamp Thing once again after more than three years since they had last seen him, a time not long before Matt and Abby were married. Alec Holland, the Swamp Thing, was having some troubles of his own from Sunderland and the DDI. It was soon discovered, moreover, that the electroshock therapy Matt had received from DDI and Sunderland had somehow had an unexpected and bizarre adverse effect. It had caused his deepest fears and raw emotions to manifest themselves in the form of monsters from the id via some kind of telekinetic ability, and it wasn’t until this was discovered that Matt was able to stop drinking and stop these manifestations from happening.
The craziness of those days continued without respite, however, as the Sunderland Corporation and the DDI then firebombed the Cables’ house and supposedly killed the Swamp Thing in order to dissect him. The Swamp Thing proved much harder to kill than believed, however, and he survived, only to discover that he was likely not Alec Holland at all, but a plant version of a planarian worm — a creature that takes on the characteristics of that which it eats. The very idea was horrifying to all of them, Alec most of all, but they were his friends, and they stayed there in Houma to be there for him, setting up house in a hotel there.
That was when things got even worse for the young couple.
Matt started acting very strangely. When Abby took a position at a school for autistic children in Houma shortly after she and her husband arrived there, Matt began to behave irrationally, jealously, and not like himself at all. He would erupt into sudden, lustful rages that startled her at first, but soon began to get her Transylvanian blood boiling, causing her to stalk off in anger. She found herself spending less time with him and more time with Alec. Finally, he began drinking once more, and one night he drove their car straight into a tree while completely drunk. She knew nothing of this at the time, however.
The next day she saw a new Matthew Cable, one pleasing to her eyes. He had obtained a well-paying new job and had put a downpayment on a huge house in the country. Everything seemed perfect. At least on the surface, though something still seemed a bit off, somehow.
The truth came out all too soon. It turned out that Matt had been possessed by the spirit of her uncle, Anton Arcane, who, although dead, still survived on the spiritual plane. He had been slowly taking Matt over for weeks until the car crash, when her husband surrendered completely, no longer able to fight Arcane’s control. Arcane used his possession of Matt’s body and her husband’s powers to make his dreams and nightmares a reality for his own benefit.
And then he killed Abby, flinging her soul into Hell itself. The Swamp Thing saved her and brought her back, of course, after defeating Arcane for the final time, but Matt himself was gone. He was not dead, obviously, but was reduced to the state she now saw before her. He was in a coma, with little hope of recovery.
Abby stood up and pulled her jacket closer to her. The nurses had told her that patients sometimes responded if they were talked to, but she still could not bring herself to say anything. What could she say? That she had taken the Swamp Thing as a lover while he was wasting away here in the hospital? She had hoped that her time on Grimoire Island would be therapeutic for her, but the very opposite was true; it had reminded her too much of her brief time in the infernal realm, strangely enough, even though she could barely recall any of her time there. She did miss Rose Psychic and the kids, though. But she knew her decision to leave had been the right one.
She walked away from the bed and toward the door, but something stopped her. Abby looked back at Matt; he was still unconscious, and the harsh, throaty breathing still came from his mouth. She came closer to him and finally gave him a kiss on his thin cheek. “Goodbye, Matt.”
But as she walked out into the hospital corridor, she could have sworn she heard someone breathe her name.
The Brazilian rainforest:
The Parliament of Trees was unlike any other governmental institution on Earth, and its name was something of a misnomer. In truth, the Parliament consisted of a group of ancient erl-kings, plant elementals, and elder trees that had gathered together and rooted themselves into the ground after their short, early years of wandering. Many of them were hundreds of years old, and a few of the elders were even thousands of years old. They had spent most of that time here, near the source of the river Tefé in Brazil, guarded by a tribe of jungle-dwelling natives who held the Parliament as utterly sacred.
Their government over those in their dominion was not often seen, since trees and plants had rarely needed leadership, and they preferred not to do things as the meat-creatures did, who hurried about and died before they had a chance to live. They were erl-kings, and they operated under different rules than humankind.
The Parliament had rarely held what one might term meetings, and had only held a small handful of those in the last few hundred years, which was what made it so remarkable that they were now holding their third meeting in two years. Some of the older erl-kings — those who had no use for an audible voice any longer — complained about this, citing the influence of all the youthful trees, those under the age of five-hundred, who had not quite shrugged off their former lives as men just yet and spoke audibly sometimes, as well as still hurrying a bit too much for the older ones’ liking.
Nevertheless, the newest erl-king in their line had played a crucial role in recent events, and although he had been missing from the earth for a short time now, he was still being discussed — not in audible, physical voices, but in the communion of thoughts, which was the preferred method of communication among the erl-kings. Today, however, would prove to be a monumental day in every way.
“The young one… is returning,” said Alex Olsen, who had once been called the Swamp Thing himself. He had joined the Parliament over seventy years ago after his time of wandering and was thus quite young in the greater scheme of things himself. “He has… found his way… home… at last…”
“Finally, an end to this episode,” said an elder slowly through the communion of the minds. “It has been too long since we have been able to rest… There. It is done. We are ourselves again.”