Something very strange lives in the marsh...
|Just south of Boston are hills of old growth forest, numerous wetlands and former farmland overrun by nature. Native brook trout still inhabit several streams, and timber rattlesnakes warm themselves in the sun on rocky outcrops. Stone fences, some over two hundred years old, run in lines unchanged since their creation, and at least two puritan graveyards are said to lie within the range.
Unless one is looking north from the peak of one of the hills it's easy to forget that Boston is so nearby.
For as long as anyone can remember tales of strange occurrences have arisen from the area. To me they were just ghost stories. They certainly weren't on my mind when I chose to live in those hills. With my world falling apart I was preoccupied with other things.
I had been a professor for almost a decade. For most of that time I was content with my profession and my life. In the last year, however, something changed. At first I thought it was just stagnation: of being burned out, as they say. Outbursts which seemed uncharacteristic at first had become commonplace. I began to drink heavily and miss work. Eventually I was told I had a breakdown, and I know now that it was true. But when the University dismissed me I was irate, confused, and lost.
I rashly chose to leave everything behind. I told myself I needed to clear my head. I purchased the equipment needed to live in the woods and, almost before I knew it, that's what I was doing.
I chose a spot as far from the nearest trail as I could find. It was thick with Birch and Alder trees and next to a marsh full of cattail and frogs.
I was not entirely new to the outdoors. I had been camping a dozen times or so. But revelations learned from weeks as opposed to days in the woods awaited.
Owls were more abundant than I could have imagined. The most common was the screech owl, which contrary to it's name, sounded a ghostly whistle.
Flying squirrel were also seen, and one morning I found the tracks of a bobcat along the edge of the marsh.
The stars when one is away from man made light and the night is cloudless seem like they could be plucked from the sky.
Other discoveries were less enamoring. I never realized how much water a human being consumes. At first I filtered it from a nearby stream, but my pump would clog very quickly. Even though it meant dirt and other particles in my drinking water I eventually chose to simply boil it.
Mosquitoes were another concerns. On the worst nights they appeared as clouds, and hungry ones at that. To keep them away I would make a small fire and then smother it with leaves. I discovered this would produce a slow burning smolder which burned relatively little timber but produced generous clouds of insect deterring smoke.
I was tending to one of these fires when first I saw the strange thing. It appeared as a slender, greenish yellow form hovering above the marsh.
For several nights afterward I would wait for the peculiar light, which I assumed it to be the 'will-o-the wisp' phenomenon which occurs near wetlands.
Unlike the flashes of illumination of that condition, however, this was constant. It flickered like a flame but never disappeared.
I also noticed that the creatures of the night reacted strongly to its presence. The frogs would cease to call when and where it appeared, and once a raccoon which had been wandering nearby followed its motion with a concerned gaze before scurrying away in apparent fear.
Still I felt little alarm, even as the 'wisp', as I came to think of it, seemed to be getting nearer with each visitation.
It was a very warm evening in early July when that emotion changed. I awoke, jarred from my sleep by strange dreams filling my head, to what I thought was sunlight. To my shock I realized it was in fact the wisp hovering directly above my tent.
Frozen in fear, I finally gathered the courage to step outside. Thankfully it retreated to the marsh. Perhaps, I told myself, it was as wary of me as I was of it.
I concluded from the experience that it could think, but I was unsure at what level. I decided, too hastily it turned out, that it was probably akin to that of an animal.
The next night I was looking out on the marsh pondering that strange experience when I saw it approaching.
Unlike that instance, however, there was no retreat. It was as if a net of blinding light had been thrown around me.
The next memory I have is waking up in an unfamiliar place in the woods. Tall pines rose in every direction and the mosquitoes were innumerable and rapacious.
I followed a single star, reasoning that if I went in one direction I would at least avoid the worst of situations, travelling in a circle. Finally I came upon a familiar path and made my way back to the marsh.
It was two nights later that the strangeness took a terrible turn. Again I came to my senses in an unfamiliar place, seated on a rock beside a stream. A large bump throbbed over one eye, and more distressing, my hands were covered in blood. Later, perhaps as adrenaline wore off, I discovered a bite mark on my shoulder. In my ignorance I thought I must have been attacked by some animal and managed to fight it off.
It wasn't until late the following afternoon as I listened to my radio that I learned the truth. An assault had occurred in a neighborhood which bordered the woods two miles from the marsh. The man survived but had been hospitalized with severe injuries. I tried to tell myself it was a coincidence, that it had been the act of another, but I knew better.
'What came over you?' I asked repeatedly. Then I recalled, as if retrieved from deep in the subconscious, that before the episode I had again awakened with the light of the wisp enshrouding me.
I should have left the marsh, those hills as a whole, then and there. How I wish I had, for but one night later the worst that could happen came to be. I emerged from my trance to the sound of a police siren. I was on a residential street I had never seen before. As I ran into the nearby woods I could see the flashing lights. While I'm still not sure, I don't believe I had been seen.
It took hours to find my way back to the marsh, and only there did I discover I was covered in blood, including around my mouth.
When I learned the details of the killing, I wept for hours. It had been a hideous attack, savage and animalistic in nature.
I pondered turning myself in, only to learn what a coward I truly was. I decided I would return to the city. I would sleep and eat in the places where the homeless do, far removed from the marsh and the strange demon who drove me to malevolence.
Quickly someone was arrested for the crimes. His had been a life of transgression and this, along with being in the wrong place at the time of the murderous attack, were all that was needed to justify his apprehension Two weeks later I learned he was released due to lack of evidence. I'm ashamed of myself that I did nothing to help him: I, who was so critical of mankind, simply let another answer for the crimes while doing and saying nothing.
Now I wander in a world of concrete and soot covered brick, with its ceaseless noise and movement. No sense can avoid intrusion and sleep is rare if not impossible. I have become part of the sea of tattered and often broken souls alive only in the physical sense. My appearance has changed so dramatically I'm sure I would not be recognized by former friends and colleagues should they walk right past me.
Of late my sanity must be eroding as well, for I have been thinking of returning to the marsh. Every day the want seems to pull a bit harder, and I wonder: 'did the devilish wisp plant some kind of seed in my soul?'
God have mercy on the next innocent who becomes my victim! I know I should confess the whole of the strange experience. I know that I should render myself harmless to the world, caged in some prison cell, where I could then tell my story. But who would believe me?
How could I convince anyone that it had been the visitor from the marsh who drove me to the terrible acts, and that I hadn't even been aware of my actions as I was committed them?
Who would even think there could be such a strange and evil thing as the wisp?