by Doc Quantum
The Challenger Jet arrived back in the same field outside Houma, Louisiana, which the group had left that morning. It was now late evening.
“The offer is still open, Alec,” said Ace Morgan as he shook the swamp creature’s hand, a most human gesture. “You’re welcome to join our number for as long as you wish to.”
The Swamp Thing smiled his strange smile at the four men who awaited his answer. “That is… a most gracious offer, Challengers… but I believe I must now… challenge the unknown… on my own.” He paused for a moment. “You will see me… again soon, though… that is a promise.”
Rocky Davis walked up to Swamp Thing and shook his hand as well, giving him a quick nod. Red Ryan followed suit. Prof Haley took the Swamp Thing’s hand also and shook it, giving him a serious look of admiration.
“I’ll never forget how you saved my life all those years ago, Dr. Holland,” said Prof. “Know that you’ll always have my — our — assistance whenever you need it.”
“Likewise…” replied the creature. He watched as the four men turned and went back into their jet and quickly flew away westwardly, as if into the stars themselves. The Challengers of the Unknown, while their adventures had not been very public for some time now, were legends in their time. They were respected by all for their skills and effectiveness like few other non-powered heroes were. And while their glory days were behind them, they were most certainly not ready to throw in the towel. The Swamp Thing knew that he would see them again soon.
The only one that still remained was John Constantine. “Don’t let me hold you up, mate,” he said to the swamp creature, who nodded appreciatively and walked away. “Poor bastard,” Constantine mumbled under his breath as he watched him move out of view.
“I hope that we have done the right thing,” said a voice behind him.
“Hm? Oh, sure, sure, Stranger,” said Constantine. “Abby was holdin’ the swamp creature back. The only way to free them both was to give ‘er hubbie a nudge in the right direction. Better that ‘e gets his heart broken sooner than later.”
“True,” said the Phantom Stranger. “And Matthew Cable’s ability to make his dreams come true has been made more… bearable for him, and for his bride. He will no longer succumb to the temptations once presented to him by his power. Matthew and Abigail Cable will prove a formidable team now, like they had never been before.”
“What do you think will become of the swamp creature, though? He was really in love with that bird.”
“I suspect, as you do, Constantine, that he will finally find his true destiny. And his true queen.”
“We can only hope,” the Englishman said as he extinguished yet another cigarette on the ground. “Say, Stranger, can I bum a fag?” He turned to look at the Phantom Stranger, but the figure had already gone. “Humph. You’re not the only one who can pull that disappearing act,” he said to no one in particular. And if anyone were to look over that wide, flat field at that moment, no one would have been seen.
The Swamp Thing wandered back into the old bog where he and Abby had spent so many spring and summer days together two years previously, and where they had first expressed their feelings for each other and made love in their own unique way. It was hard to say goodbye to all those memories. But he knew he needed to. His fortunes had truly been reversed upon his return to Earth, in more ways than one, and a new chapter in his life was just about to begin. It was time to say goodbye and turn the page on this chapter, and everything that went along with it.
The swamp creature that had once been Dr. Alec Holland slowly walked into the bog, submerging himself underneath the surface of the water. Here, suspended under water, he was free. Here he felt as if he belonged to the world. That was no surprise, considering that he had been reborn in this form underwater in a bog very much like this one. It was more than that, though. He was the master of this domain, not like a god of power with control over everything green around him, but like a king who commanded respect from all living creatures. He had long ago realized that he did not need to breathe air as he did when he was human; as a form of plant-life, he received oxygen in other ways, even while underwater.
The Swamp Thing remained beneath the surface for several hours, until the break of dawn shed its light over the good earth, breaking through the surface of the water and creating shafts of crystal and pearl to greet him. Life was in evidence all around him, and he knew it was truly good to be alive. He also knew that it was time to leave. This had been his way of saying goodbye.
He began to rise to the surface, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow across the water. He moved to avoid it, but stopped as he heard a familiar voice call out to him.
“Alec? Alec, are you out there? It’s me… Abby.”
Abigail Cable stopped and listened, trying to see a familiar figure among the shadows of foliage and trees. Nothing. Why did she think she would be able to find him here, now, anyway? She knew he was coming back soon, but why did she think he would be back now? She called again, “Alec! Alec, where are–?”
“I’m here, Abby…”
Abby turned, startled by the voice behind her. It was him. She had not seen him for almost a year and a half. “Oh, Alec!” she squealed as she ran to him and embraced him with a hug. “I knew you were coming back. I knew it.” She squeezed him tightly as she kept her eyes closed for that long moment. Then she let go of him and stood back. Although she found it difficult to do so, she forced herself to look him in the eyes.
His dark, expressive red eyes told her a million tales. In them she saw understanding and wisdom gained from worlds beyond this one — and pain. There was deep, deep, pain that had always been within him but had resurfaced. She did not want to speak, but she knew she had to.
“Somehow, I… somehow, I think you already know what I’m going to say.”
“Abby, you don’t have to… I… understand,” Alec said. “Matt is… very lucky to have you.”
She looked in his sad eyes and then turned away, tears welling up in her own. “Oh, Alec. I wish things were different. I wish… I didn’t have to hurt you like this. I–”
“Shh… shh, it’s all… right, Abby…”
“It’s not all right. Alec, I — I love you. I still do.”
“But… I love him, too. And he needs me, now more than ever. If you could see him now, Alec, he’s changed. He’s like the man I married again, except… better. He’s somehow gained wisdom while he was in that coma. Something happened to him. I don’t know exactly what, but he’s not the alcoholic he was when everything went so wrong back then. And the thing is… I need him, too. I never realized how much I did until now.” She stopped and looked up at him, tears streaming from her eyes. “I’m sorry, Alec. I’m so sorry.”
Alec brushed the tears on her cheek away with one finger and smiled gently. “It’s all right, Abby… I am… glad that you two have finally… found happiness in each other. And I am glad… for the few brief moments… of our own happiness… as well.”
“I will never forget you, Alec. And I will… always love you.”
No more words were spoken. No more needed to be. The swamp creature who had been Alec Holland leaned down just as Abigail Arcane Cable reached up, and the two kissed one last time. It was not a wild kiss of passion as their last kiss had been, nor was it an awkward kiss like their first. It was a kiss of remembrance of lost love, a kiss borne of mature decision and thinly veiled regret, a kiss different from that which they had waited for during all those months of separation. It was a kiss of farewell for departing lovers.
They parted from each other for the last time, gazing at each other one last time before moving on with their own lives. They did not say goodbye to each other, but parted in silence.
The Swamp Thing turned away as Abby Cable walked back toward her car and her waiting husband, and he could see her no longer. Then he turned and walked determinedly into the deep swamp. For better or for worse, his new life had begun.