by Doc Quantum
Omar had lived in the bayou all of his natural life. He had never known anything else, except for what he saw on cable television. Of course, he was only ten years old, but he knew that one of his relatives had traveled quite a bit, and he wondered what other places were really like. Uncle Jeff sometimes came to visit him and his family at the resort, and he would regale the boy with tales of far-off places like Atlanta and San Antonio, and even as far away as Wyoming. He had the feeling, though, that Uncle Jeff had far more interesting tales in him that he couldn’t tell. Sometimes Omie, as he was known by his friends, believed that his Uncle Jeff was a secret agent man, like the old song his friend Darryl liked. That was probably the reason he couldn’t tell him the really exciting stories. Yes, Omie decided that must be it.
Today Omie sat at the end of a dock and tried to catch himself a monster fish. He knew there were monster fish in these waters; there had to be. He and Darryl had read about them in the National Enquirer, and the newspapers never lied. Besides, even some big city reporters came by once in a while to interview people about the sightings of the monster fish. Sometimes they even mentioned monster reptiles. Omie wasn’t all that particular; he just wanted to see some kind of monster before he got too old to appreciate it. His older cousin Gabe was already like that. He kept telling Omie all the time, “There ain’t no such thing as monster fish, kid!” Omie knew better, though. He had already figured out that, as folks got older, they became kind of blind, in a way, to things like monsters, and magic, and even miracles. He was very determined to never become blind like his cousin and his parents.
It was funny, though; Uncle Jeff didn’t seem to be the same way as the other adults in his life. Omie figured it must be a secret agent thing. That gave him hope; perhaps, if he never lost his vision for the wondrous things in life, Omie could become just like Uncle Jeff when he grew up.
What was keeping Darryl, though? Gabe sometimes made fun of him for hanging out with that chubby honky, as he called him, but Darryl was easy to get along with, and Omie could always get him to do what he wanted.
“Darryl, where are you, you freckled tub o’ lard?” shouted Omie, the sound quickly disappearing in the thick swamplands. “Darryl?” His friend was supposed to have brought his dad’s camera with him so the two boys could take photographs of all the monster fish they were going to find this day and get that big reward the Enquirer had advertised. Well, it would be Darryl’s fault if a school of monster fish came floating by, and Omie didn’t have any camera to take pictures with, that was for sure.
His eyes opened wide in wonderment as he saw a huge shape floating underwater. A monster fish! Omie realized, regretting that Darryl still hadn’t arrived with the camera. At least he did have his fishing pole and net with him. He was ready.
Omar picked up the slack on the fishing line and dug his heels in as he began to feel a slight tugging at the line. Man, this fish was big. Omie kept a tight hold on the fishing line but found the pressure growing. Soon it was too hard to hold on.
“Omie! Omie!” shouted Darryl, a short, chubby, red-haired kid as he ran up to his friend at the end of the dock. He stopped as he saw Omar struggling with the fishing pole. “Omie?”
“Don’t just stand there, Darryl — help me!” shouted Omie over his shoulder.
“What is it?” Darryl asked excitedly as he ran up and grabbed part of the fishing pole and helped to keep it from getting away.
“What do you think it is? It’s gotta be some kinda monster fish! Gimme the camera!”
“You better not get it wet!”
“Just give it here!” Omie shouted as he grabbed the camera with one hand. Unfortunately, the tug at the fishing line proved to be too much for Darryl alone, and the pole fell into the water. “Aw, $&^#!”
“Take a picture!”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Suddenly, the water seemed to bubble and churn, and a split-second later, a huge creature like a monster alligator-man burst out of the water.
“Aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa-aaa!” the two kids screamed in unison, completely forgetting about the picture contest.
The creature roared back just as loudly as it climbed onto the dock and began to race after the boys. It looked like a cross between an alligator and a man, except that its flesh was completely green, like the leaves on the trees above.
Omar got away in time, but Darryl tripped on his untied shoelace and was unable to get up fast enough due to his girth. “Get up, man! Get up!” Omie shouted from behind a tree at a distance.
The alligator-man dived toward the boy on the ground, who seemed to be paralyzed with fear. Darryl had closed his eyes and begun muttering, “I’m sorry, God, please save me; I’ll never look at those Playboys or Penthouses ever again or anything else, just save me, save me, please,” when he realized that he was still alive. He opened his eyes and looked up. Then he began screaming again.
The creature known as the Swamp Thing wrestled with the fierce alligator-man as the pudgy little boy beneath him kept on screaming and screaming, his friend shouting at him to get away from there just as loudly. Strangely enough, he began to feel a sense of déjà vu. He had encountered a creature like this before, many years ago in a place not far from here, at that time saving Matt Cable and Abby Arcane’s lives in the process. (*) Why had he only now remembered?
He finally overpowered the alligator-man, and the two fell down in a crash against the dock, shattering under the force and causing them to propel into the water.
Darryl finally stopped screaming and got up to run away. He got as far as the place where Omar was hiding behind a tree until his friend stopped him by grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him back. “What’re you doin’, Omie? Let’s get outta here!”
“Wait one sec, Darryl,” said Omar, carefully watching as the water churned from the fierce battle between the two creatures. “That other one saved your life! Maybe it’s that Swamp Thing creature we heard about.”
“No way! He’s dead, ain’t he? We saw him get cooked on TV!”
“Maybe they didn’t get ‘im, after all.”
“Who cares? I’m gettin’ outta–”
Darryl’s next word got stuck in his throat as the two boys saw one of the creatures rising from the waters. To their great relief, it was not the alligator-man, but the one who looked like the legendary Swamp Thing.
“Get the camera! Get the camera!” whispered Omie to the wide-eyed Darryl.
“No…” said the Swamp Thing, to the boys’ great surprise, his voice a low rumble, “…they didn’t… get me…”
The two boys were speechless as they stared in awe at the large, man-like creature. Somehow they knew, as they looked at him, that there was nothing to fear.
Omar, the bravest of the two, came out from behind the tree and spoke. “Are you… are you Swamp Thing?”
The creature nodded, seemingly amused.
The boy reached for the camera on the ground and managed to voice the words, “Uh… you mind if we take your picture? It’s for… uh… a science project!”
The creature was silent for a moment, but replied after a while, “Yes… but… only if your… friend… stands next… to me…”
Omar looked at Darryl and gave him a slight push. Darryl wasn’t afraid of the Swamp Thing like he had been of the alligator-man — he knew he wasn’t in any real danger — but the sight of the huge, green swamp creature had him tongue-tied and caused his knees to shake. Reluctantly, he slowly made his way over to the Swamp Thing’s side and stood next to him as Omie held the camera with shaking hands and prepared to take a picture.
“Oh, heh, forgot about the lens cap,” Omar laughed when he realized why it was so dark. “Uh… smile!” He pressed a button on the camera. This photograph was sure to win them that prize.
The Swamp Thing then turned and left, continuing on through the swamps to his destination.
“Wow,” Darryl said when he finally got his voice back.
“That was great!” Omie shouted. “We gotta take this film in right away!”
“Yeah, the film in the camera…” Omar stopped and stared at the gulping Darryl. “You did put film in the camera, di’n’t you?”
“You never told me to get film, just the camera!”
The two boys began to argue excitedly as the Swamp Thing moved off. The alligator-creature would not threaten anyone again, but the question of its existence was very disturbing. It was not merely an alligator transformed with anthropomorphic features, but it was formed of the same plant material that made up his own body. It appeared to have been the alligator equivalent of a swamp creature like himself. That brought many questions to Alec Holland’s mind, but he had no time to entertain them at the moment. He had to get home.
Abby Cable tried to sleep as she sat curled up in the chair in Matt Cable’s hospital room. They had been talking for many hours before they realized that it was well past visiting hours. The nurse had allowed her to stay in Matt’s room overnight, however, on the condition that the two would end their conversation and let Matt sleep.
The strange thing was that she didn’t want to go to sleep.
The first few moments with Matt had been very awkward, it was true. She had cried. He had cried. But somehow they had gotten through that. Their conversation went on from there. Abby had been through a lot since Matt had gone into a coma. He listened to her very intently, like a young man did with his girl, not in the disinterested, pretending way the husband of an old married couple would. She took her time explaining everything, and Matt would stop her once a while, asking her to go back to a certain detail he hadn’t quite caught, or having her pause her story in order to laugh his old, carefree, masculine laugh once more. She had never realized until that moment just how much she missed that laugh, even though that very same laugh had infuriated her at one time. Matt had such a way about him that put all her most trivial female concerns — important as they may have felt to her at the time — into perspective. And he had always been able to make her laugh at it, despite herself.
She squirmed now, a smile on her face as she made a half-hearted attempt to give in to her body’s exhaustion. She couldn’t sleep, though. She was too restless.
The couple’s conversation had drifted on to many different subjects throughout the evening, some serious but most of such little importance, apparently, that she could hardly remember what was said. It wasn’t important. Not at all. The conversation was the thing. Each conversation seemed to take on a life of its own. It usually began with a simple question or statement, which could turn into a topic. That topic brought to mind a number of other subjects, which kept the conversation going as the two conversationalists invested themselves in it. The conversation between the Cables was no different. Except, perhaps, that the two wished it never to end. For the first time in months — no, years — they were oblivious to the outside world again, completely happy just to be talking with the other.
Abby laughed quietly to herself as she remembered this evening, the things Matt had said, the old, familiar smile on his face that was just like the smile he had worn when they’d first met in her homeland of Romania. She had been a mere twenty-year-old young woman, and he already an experienced man of the world at twenty-nine, and a secret agent, no less.
Over the course of the evening and their conversation, Abigail finally began to realize something about Matt that she hadn’t perceived at first. He was different, somehow. When the two had first met, Matt Cable was literally her hero. He had saved her life on more than one occasion in those early days. More than that, he was unlike any man she had ever known, except perhaps her father, who had died shortly after her tenth birthday. Yes, Matt was something of a father figure in her life back then, and she was willing to follow him to the ends of the earth if it meant being with him forever.
Later on, things changed, though. She didn’t know exactly when things began to change, but it must have been a year or so after they were married. Things began to equalize, somehow. Matt seemed to have fallen off the pedestal she had put him on, and the two were on even footing. If it had stayed that way, it would have been fine, but things continued to change. Slowly, ever so imperceptibly slowly, the roles began to reverse themselves. By the end, she realized that she had become something of a mother-figure to him. She was the one leading the charge to help Alec, while Matt followed her at first, grumbling every moment, but then finally keeping to himself and sulking. And by that time, she had already fallen out of love with him, though she didn’t realize it at the time.
Now, however, the Matthew Cable who slept soundly in the bed only a few inches away was not the man who had fallen into that coma. It was the man whom she had married — the hero. As she thought this, an image of Alec came into her mind. Abby resisted any temptation to compare the two, as it would have been wrong, but a pang of hurt came to her for the first time in hours. She almost felt the hurt and loss that Alec must have been feeling at that moment. The rage at the men who had taken him away from her. This hurt was tempered by the joy with which Matt had greeted her upon his own return to consciousness.
There was no avoiding it. She had to eventually choose one of them. And she knew it would be cruel to both of them to keep them waiting for too long. But of course, Alec was still away. She knew he was coming back, but the thought of this was no longer joyful to her. For she knew that by that time she would have to make an irrevocable decision about her future. And one of the two men in her life would have to walk away with a broken heart.