By Trisha O’Keefe
We Southern women are tough as nails on the outside, but marshmallows within. Therefore, it follows the males should be square-jawed versions of Clint Eastwood: gun-toting, spitting accurately, and cussing a blue streak.
This describes my male cousins which is why this story is all the more believable.
So when two of them took it in their heads to go hunting one night down in a swamp, where I wouldn’t even set foot in the daytime, no one thought they were crazy. Nobody but me. Not even if someone told me there was buried treasure three feet inside the tree line, would I go there. I told them so.
See, this swamp is the site of an old Mississippian burial mound and rumor has it some funny things have happened there.
Undeterred, they left their truck at the trailhead, and hiked to the first deer stand, about a quarter of a mile into the woods. They had miners’ lights on their hunting caps; their knapsacks held sleeping bags and beer. They both carried their rifles in case of snakes or meth dealers.
The bolder of the two, I’ll call him Robbie, went on to the second deer stand about a mile and a half further into the swamp. He told Len, the less experienced hunter, to stay where he was and if there was any trouble, fire two shots in the air. They agreed to meet in the morning back at the truck.
Robbie continued on, deeper into the swamp. At some point, a branch cracked behind him and, thinking it was a deer, he turned around. Taking his flashlight from his belt, he scanned the woods behind him. Seeing nothing, he continued on, concentrating on negotiating the forest floor. He had been here in daylight enough to know there was a stream somewhere up-ahead… with alligators. They didn’t snap at humans unless stepped on, but he was careful not to risk it.
Then he heard it again—a snapping twig, a crunching of underbrush. He stopped, and whatever was making the noise stopped. Robbie went a few more steps and hesitated. Whatever it was stopped, too, but not without taking another step.
Robbie figured whatever was following him couldn’t really see through the massive foliage. It was following the sound of his footsteps.
“Len, where are you, man? I’m over here, you idiot!” Just like Len not to follow my directions, Robbie thought. Probably got scared staying by himself and thinks he’ll scare me. Only the throbbing of the frogs and cicadas answered him. “Len, that you?” He shone his light through the bushes. That’s when he smelled the peculiar odor of chinaberries. Robbie felt the hair on his head and back of his neck stir.
He knew one thing. That wasn’t a deer over there, or anything walking on four legs. Whatever it was walked upright. Robbie took the safety lock off his gun and, treading as quietly as he could, moved on down the trail at a brisk pace. He wasn’t far from the deer stand now, only a few hundred yards.
That’s when both his lights went out—simultaneously.
Shoving his flashlight in his belt, and holding his rifle chest-high in case he tripped over a root or fell in a hole, Robbie began to jog. He was sweating now, not from the heat—it was a cool night—but from fear. The footsteps increased their pace, too, but always staying just parallel with him, shielded by the thicket.
Following the trail by moonlight wasn’t easy, but fear heightens all the senses. Now as he neared the deer stand, he knew there was a creek just thirty feet away. They had built the stand with that in mind; knowing deer drank there at night. He knew the creek curved inland a little way upstream, so whatever was stalking him would have to cross the water ahead of him. By that time, he would have reached the deer stand. Sure enough, he heard a splash as if something heavy had plunged into the water.
As he reached the safety of the stand and climbed up, he heard his stalker wading through the creek, heading upstream. As Robbie tells the story, “it” was taking steps, not as an animal would, but like a man.
Then, as the footsteps faded, both his flashlight and miner’s light came back on.
In the morning, the two hunters rendezvoused at the truck. “You see any deer?” Robbie asked, trying to see if Len had been playing a trick on him.
Len yawned. “Hell, no. Not a one. Finally gave up and went back to the truck to sleep. Damned mosquitoes were killing me up there.”