Shining Stone

The swamps and the lowlands of southern Georgia and northern Florida, like that of Cherokee Bayou, are places of rugged beauty and quiet menace. The hanging strands of dark gray “Spanish Moss” drape from the cypress trees like tastefully strung garlands or carefully arranged feathers. The wide canopies of the tall cypress trees come together far overhead to create a leafy green prism through which the sun’s bright rays sparkle intermittently.

The waters here are murky and scum covered. The dark tannin from the trees tints most things with a swamp-brown coloration. Water bugs skitter across the murky surface and dozens of airborne insects skim just above them. Birds of all types feed heartily on the many species of insect life here in the swamp. You can hear the lilting cry of the whippoorwill far off in the trees, or the harsher cry of many other things a bit closer. The alligators slide along through the dusty water, slithering, submerged predators, looking, always looking for prey whose attention has wandered, even for the briefest time, in the mist and murk of their primitive home. These creatures are water-born, saurian, hunting machines whose menacing shapes have changed little in many millions of years.

There are flowers scattered here and there though, splashes of bright color amidst the dim light and dark waters of the hot and stifling swamp. And there is food here, to those who know how and where to look for it. One such hunter, Pelican Bay, was even now scouting the swamp, paddling his small canoe, seeking fish and game for his family.

Just above him, the sharp crack of splintering wood echoed across the quiet expanse of Cherokee Bayou, like a loud clap of thunder in a rising storm. The noise startled into flight a whole covey of snowy white egrets that had been nesting in the branches of nearby cypress trees. In a rapidly descending arc, the tall and weathered ponderosa pine fell with a thud onto the bow of his small birch bark canoe, fracturing the left and right femurs of the young man paddling the craft. He cried out, both in pain and surprise. The weight of the fallen tree pinned him to the soft bottom of the muddy swamp beneath him, half filling the canoe with murky water.

In great pain, the young man used his powerful arms to roll the heavy log from across the canoe. His legs hurt too much to put any weight on them. Grimacing in pain, he dragged both himself and his craft to a nearby hummock of tufted grass. The brief spasm of effort left him sweat faced with exertion. Though his fractured legs ached painfully, he did not surrender to panic. For in the swamps, panic could be fatal. He said a brief prayer for help to the Spirit of the Pelican, his namesake, and then thought about extricating himself from the unexpected predicament. He calmly removed the shells from his gun. Then, he thoroughly cleaned the dirt and slimy water from his prized Remington shotgun. He inserted two new double aught shells into the empty chambers of the magazine, and snapped the gun shut. He pointed the shotgun towards the clouds, pulling first one and then the second trigger. The throaty roar of the firearm echoed across the expanse of swamp in a spasm of sound that startled all manner of animals, both flighted and waterborne. He repeated the procedure several times, hoping that his mother and sister would hear the shots and come seeking an explanation. In the swamps, all things had a sound and rhythm to them. The noise of his shotgun, fired repeatedly, he hoped would be a signal to them that he needed help.

He loaded his Remington a last time and then lay back against the stump of a fallen cypress tree. He looked anxiously at the surrounding stand of trees and into the water for any creature that might seek to take advantage of him in his injured state. The swamp was neither sympathetic nor merciful. The code here was kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. He had no plans to end up in the belly of a crocodile, or to serve as food for a pride of young panthers.

Continue reading this story in “Christmas Comes to Kevin O’Leary”, available in Kindle and Nook format.