s w a m p l i g h t

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La Rue Macabre. Just the place you've been looking for all this time.

The voice whispered to him through the trees in the sound of insects and wet things slithering through tall grass. For a moment, he wasn't even certain he'd heard it right, so lost was it in the nighttime sounds of the swamp. But it was there, all around him.

It breathed at him with the moist heat of the swamp itself, the slow exhalation of someone who has all the time in the world.

Special Agent Robert Craig squinted into the darkness around him, his hand clasped tightly on the butt of his holstered weapon. He wasn't certain how he'd gotten here, alone in the swamp. His three-man team had been assigned to tail a threat entity through the twisting back alleys of the French Quarter, and somehow he'd gotten lost.

Something big, a limb maybe, fell through the lower canopy to splash into the tepid pool behind him. The noise stabbed into his already tight nerves and he spun towards it, pistol already in his hand.

Nothing. Just the spreading ripples on the pool that he could barely make out in the near darkness.

He cursed to himself as he re-holstered the sidearm. No reason to get jumpy, it's only the swamp. Lots of stuff make noises here. He sure wished he could have seen it though.

As he sloshed through the mud, it only seemed to get darker. "Get your shit together Bob, it's just a swamp. You've been in wetlands before, Remember Guatemala? Good times." He muttered to himself as he pushed through another dense clump of palmetto. "Just gotta head north east. Eventually I'll either hit the city or a road."

He glanced around again, trying to peer though the darkness that seemed to close in on him like a living thing. There's a road somewhere.

The heat was oppressive, even now, long after the sun had set. But it wasn't just the heat that made him feel so goddamn jumpy. This swamp wasn't like other swamps. Night ops in wetlands were always a special kind of hell, but he'd been prepared for those.

It wasn't that he was dressed for a city op either that made this trek different. Everything felt like it hated him. His Sense wasn't as strong as some of the others he'd trained with in his GOC SpecOps crew, but it was certainly strong enough to sense the raw malevolence that seemed to permeate even the air he was breathing.

The thought made his skin crawl. He'd heard about Greens that could turn air to acid in your lungs. Blacks that could manifest locusts in your chest cavity, Blues that could-

His ruminations cut off as something big slid into the water off to his right. He froze as he strained to see into the darkness around him. The faint light from the stars barely filtered down through the canopy. Just enough to give him the vaguest outline of the branches that seemed to just appear in his way.

He slowly reached down to his sidearm, a surprising amount of relief flooding him as his fingers found the cool steel and tactical rubber of the grip. He curled his fingers around it and ever so carefully lifted it free from its holster.

Firing it in the darkness would likely give away his position, and the muzzle flash would definitely destroy what little night vision he had. But that was preferable to ending up as dinner.

Immediate concerns, remember your training. He thought to himself as he slowly brought the sidearm into position. Nothing moved around him, just the dense noise of the swamp, the susurration of leaf on leaf, a riotous cacophony of insect swarms, and the low brap of the frogs.

Nothing big, anyway.

What's the matter, Craig? Isn't this where you wanted to be?

The voice whispered to him from the swamp all around him. At first he wasn't certain he'd even heard it, the words seemed to grow out of the ambient chirruping of some bug, the creaking branches of old cypress. But no, he'd heard it before, hadn't he?

Something brushed past him on the left, he could feel the change in air pressure as something big and low slid through the water, the ripples shifting against his calf and sending more ribbons of clammy water into his boot.

He whirled and fired, the concussive report of the .45 sounding like a cannon in the stillness of the swamp.

He tried to not look directly at the muzzle flash, focusing instead on that heartbeat glimpse of the swamp around him. He thought he caught a look at something mottled, the dull sheen of scales reflecting the flash from the gun, and he tried to analyze the snapshot burned into his vision as everything faded to black.

The riot of noise broke, the sudden cessation giving him a momentary sense of massive disorientation as both his vision and hearing seemed to cut out together. He took a step back, and the splash of his boot in the muck filled him with a nearly overwhelming sense of relief as the sound reached his ears.

"Fuck you." He muttered into the dark. "I don't know what the fuck you are, but you're not getting me that easily."

All that answered him was the slow resumption of ambient noise as the swarm took up their chorus once again.

The ground beneath him shifted as he put his weight down on his forward foot, and he crashed to the ground, his outstretched arm sinking into the muck up to his elbow. He grunted as something sharp slid across his forearm, the brilliant lance of pain blasting back the dullness that seemed to be seeping into his mind from the darkness.

He reached up with his left arm, fingers scrabbling for the low-hanging branches of a tree. He tried to pull, but the soft wood of the branch just bent with his force. He dug a furrow in the mud as he struggled for purchase, the ground itself resisting his effort.

With slow inevitability he pushed himself to his knees, foul smelling muck dripping from his hands. His arm burned as he flexed his fingers, and he tried to rub the mud from his left hand so he could inspect the wound.

Not like it matters if my hand is clean or not. He cursed himself for his clumsiness. The wound, while long, was probably just a surface cut, He wouldn't have worried about it anywhere else, but an open wound in a swamp could be a death sentence.

He grunted and pushed himself to his feet and he stared blankly at his arm, trying to penetrate the gloom to see the damage. He rubbed his fingers on his pant leg again, then tentatively ran his fingers along the ridge of torn skin.

The wound responded to his probe with a dull throb of pain, and he cursed again. The tear in his skin was shallow, just a scratch really, but it stretched from just above his wrist all the way up to his elbow. He thought he could smell the blood welling from it, and he shook his head again. "Fuck."

If he could smell the blood, then there was bound to be something else out here that could smell it too.

He was definitely being herded. He knew the signs, could tell when he was being pushed. Hell, he'd done it often enough. The last time he was in a swamp, in fact. His team had been assigned to clear out a nest of Greens in Punta de Manabique that the fucking Jailers had just decided to leave there.

"SCP-whatever has been contained to the peninsula of Puta de Manadick, where they will be kept under obser-fucking-vation." He muttered to himself in an ugly tone as he navigated around the edge of a tepid pool. He'd gotten better at not falling into the water since he fell. Maybe his eyes had gotten used to the dark, or maybe the moon had come up, he wasn't sure.

"They were fucking greens, and they needed to be put the fuck down. " He spat a wad of phlegm into the pool before walking back into the palmettos.

They were people. Just like me, just like you.

There it was again. The voice that spoke in the ripples of water lapping against the mud, the soft sucking noises from his boots as they pulled free of the muck, the incessant whir of insect wings. He hadn't decided yet if it was real or if it was just his imagination. His Sense told him the truth, nagged at him.

To acknowledge that Sense would be to acknowledge that he was different. That he was infected. For the briefest moment, his own inner voice wondered if maybe he was wrong, that he'd made a mistake. Maybe the GOC had lied to him.

"No, they weren't people. They were greens, and they deserved to be burnt out like a sickness." He grinned maliciously at the thought, enjoying the metaphor, using the image of huts burning amidst the trees to quiet his thoughts. "We're just the remedy, the fever flush that rinses clean the contagion that is the thaumaturge, the bender, the goddamn unclean."

Something hissed at him in the darkness, and he took a rapid step back, his pistol once more finding its way to his hand. His arm burned at his movement, and he had to grip the weapon tightly to prevent his hand from shaking. He held it before him as he tried to calm his heart rate.

The darkness around him was still, whatever threat that sat out there content to simply mock his perceived helplessness. But he knew it was there, and he could wait it out. Catch the fucker when it thought him weak.

This ain't Guatemala, Bobby boy.

He didn't know how long it'd been, slogging through the marsh. The oppressive heat of the swamp wasn't natural, as if none of the warmth from the sun had been lost since it had disappeared behind the trees.

He cursed again, as another hidden root caught his footing and he had to catch himself against the bole of a nearby tree. His hand had long since gone numb, and he'd had to cut off his watch to prevent the swelling from cutting off his circulation.

As he looked at the hand in the dim light from the moon that had finally risen, he wondered if maybe he should have just let it. His fingers looked like fat little sausages, and the skin around the wound was flushed with the dark stain of necrosis.

He coughed, and spat something dark into the water. The ache in his chest had been growing for some time, and he doubted it had anything to do with his exhaustion.

At least he'd made better time through the swamp once the moon had finally given him enough light to see. Even being unable to use his right hand hadn't slowed him nearly as much as whatever was following him had probably anticipated. He figured he had to be nearing the edge-

He paused his ruminating as realization slowly dawned.

"Ha ha, motherfucker! I'm gonna beat you at your fucking game!" He looked back out into the trees, and he thought he could just make out a clearing just a few steps away. The edge of the swamp? A road? It had to be.

With a groan, he pushed off from the tree and pressed on towards the clearing.

By the time he made it the hundred or so feet to the tree line, it had grown bright enough to see clearly. He stepped out into the opening and took a deep breath, relief shuddering though him as he glanced about.

It was then he noticed the tall, thin man leaning against the stump of a tree at the center of the clearing. In the dim light that seemed to radiate from everywhere, Craig could clearly see the reflection off the mirrored aviator sunglasses the man wore.

He tried to take a step closer, and a wave of dizziness overtook him, forcing him to his knees with a grunt of pain. The agony in his chest flared to life, pulsing in time to the same fire burning in his arm.

Tsk. Tsk. So close, yet so far.

Craig looked up to see the man straighten and shake his head, his long dirty beard swaying with his movements. He tried to push himself back to his feet, but his legs didn't seem to want to work anymore.

"F… fuck you. Now you show yourself?"

I try to be there for everyone who dies in my swamp. Even the assholes.

The man crouched next to Craig and laid a surprisingly gentle hand on his shoulder. The pain seemed to recoil from his touch, and clarity slowly overtook the dizziness.

Craig slumped to the ground in relief, taking deep gasping breaths as he looked up into the sky. "Well…" He panted, trying to frame his words. "I beat you. I ain't dyin' here. I survived your goddamn swamp. I just… gotta catch my breath. I can't be far from the city now."

The man laughed at that, a wet sound not unlike something heavy rolling into bog water.

The man pointed, and Craig struggled to focus in the direction that he was pointing at. It took him a few moments before he realized that he was looking at what had to be street lights, shining between the trees.

La Rue Macabre. Just the place you've been looking for all this time.

It was so close. So… impossibly close.

Cotton Eye Joe stood from the corpse that had once been Robert Allan Craig, Special Operations Agent in the Global Occult Coalition. He shook his head with a sigh before making a strange gesture above the gocker's body, and it slid noiselessly into the soft loam of the swamp.

The Fonteyn's were never a fan of this kind of justice. Nancy and Legba understood, they'd been powerless too often as their children were hunted through the swamps by the plantation owners and their dogs.

Not here. Not while Joe was around.

Eventually, maybe, the gockers would realize they weren't fucking welcome.

Not in La Rue Macabre.

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