VIII. The Serpents

He awakes in the swamp but it is not the swamp. The rider wipes from his mouth a poisonous green substance and staggers to his feet. Essence fills his eyes with clouds.

Where is the road?

Where is the horse?

The gun, still at his hip, he smells the bullets and the gunpowder.

Where is the road?

There is no road the trees are higher and higher. No, he clings to his heart and slumps against the slime coated figure of a tree.

He’s returned to the swamp. Someone has poisoned him. The cabin, in his mind, is a horrid visage. He tried to gather the terrain, the rider weakly trekking through the humid air. His knife is drawn to cut through the thickness of it like passing through a spilled drink.  His mind is turning inside out, pictures of skinned cattle filing the back of his gaze. Screeching cries and metal against metal.

There is a chicken dancing in circles, headless and alone, so he draws his gun and fires at it but it doesn’t die, because it isn’t there.

Then they appear. His eyes take in the horror and he drops to his knees to scream and slam his fists into the mossy floor. He cannot comprehend these visions…

You have insulted my home, the cosmos beneath the swamp screams.

Snakes,  snakes a thousand feet long and a thousand feet wide, god-snakes, with stars for eyes dying, dying, collapsing inward in violent cosmic orgasms reaching distant specks of dust where the bacteria trembles beneath the sovereign germ, snakes, snakes butchered by machetes and red teeth under the dark sun of swamps, under the canopy arms.

You have killed the guardian, the moaning agony of the saint of toxins.

The swamp, basking in his fear in the shadow of the snakes whose yellow adamantine fangs dig volcanoes of putrid lava onto the earth, whose yellow adamantine fangs bring geysers upward and melt his flesh, bending prostate to the god-snake eyes, hailing their malevolent hiss, hailing their sadistic forked tongues which are alive like arms, which embrace him like a mother, which devour him into the swamp.

You have undone the weave, the empty vessel, the turning of the spinneret.

The rider is overcome and his skin flayed out to fill the void of the empty pool. He is the swamp and it soaks into his skin like a thousand hungry teeth. Beneath the crust of the earth god-snakes slither without purpose but purposeful. Beneath the crust of the earth they call to the rider, the swamp, they reach for him and he loves them.

Stay with us, forever, the wrinkled gray fingers of the witch.

He reaches for this hand and his arm is living in the murk, his skin is the unfathomable depths of the swamp. Though, he sees a pair of golden eyes. What is this?

The road, the reason.

He abandons the fingers to their dismay and shifts his direction to seeking these mystic glowing spheres. They move farther and he follows, the gray fingers reaching out to him but he keeps moving forward. Those eyes, they are brilliant, and cut through the unseen of the swamp.

His hands reach for them and close around them. The water pushes back and he emerges from the deep the air filling his lungs. He swims ashore and crawls along the ground soaking wet, his hair of veil of brown curtains. Poison is plunged from his stomach, warm and disgusting vomit splashing along the muck.

Something threw him out of there and he turns to see the fading bubbles from the water. He understands what he has to do and gets to his feet. The gun is soaked and the powder useless, but he has his knife, and there is time until he can reach the cabin again. Time to regain his strength.

Relentless and vengeful determination carries the rider toward his destination. It is as he left it, a ramshackle, haunting assembly of wood. Wood made from the swamp trees, wood dragged through the mud, and weathered by the storms. He sees beneath the door candlelight and draws his knife. Nearby, the appaloosa is hitched to a tree.

The rider kicks his way in.

Dark, dreaded hair frames the fiendish old and leathery face of a crone. She is hunched in brown rags and her long, gray nails are familiar to him, like a bad dream. She stands by the candle which is hardly illuminating the room, by a bowl of something foul, and a dead rat hanging from the ceiling by its pink tail.

He notices her eyes; one is simply black like his own but the right is afflicted with a strange iris pigmentation that makes it bright lavender and deformed, shaped like a butterfly. She screams and attacks him with a broken antler.

His arm is cut and he stabs the knife into the crone’s forehead, above her brow. She chokes and blood runs down the line of her ugly features, between the cracks of her filed teeth. The rider stares into her butterfly eye, grabbing her body as it begins to fall and easing it to the wooden floorboards.

He says his prayers like a good man and cleans off the knife on her rags like a bad one.

Stepping outside and mounting his horse, he follows the northern star from the swamp, nursing the wound on his arm. Behind him snakes drape from the trees above the cabin, many snakes, thousands of snakes, slithering in pursuit of an ancient promise.

They go beneath the crack of the door and the broken windows; they go along the crone’s corpse, into her mouth, into her body. She drowns in the blood and the snakes.

And the swamp is fed.

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