The Swamp

Saved by skunk cabbage in the dead of winter.

EFL Fiction by Matt Suwak

Ron was in the swamp when he decided he wanted to die.

He’d been walking aimlessly through the forest for hours. Something about winter evoked the wanderer from his otherwise civilized soul. Problem was, he never made peace with the conflict between a compulsion to wander and a need for a destination.

So Ron tramped through trails and sometimes made his own in the snow, bent tree branches away from his eyes and shook away the chills when snow fell down his jacket and onto his neck. He didn’t know what he was looking for but he knew he had to find it. That was when he stepped into the swamp.

It wasn’t a mucky swamp, not in February anyway. Most of the pockets of brown water were frozen over and the trees had no leaves so he could see where he was going, and there weren’t any bugs this time of year. And in this place he felt a deep and dark pit grow inside of his stomach. It had always been there for as long as he could remember, but at that exact moment when he looked at the roots of the hemlock jutting into the frozen brackish water he couldn’t take it anymore.

What was the point?

If he left the swamp now and followed his trail back home then he would be standing right where he started. No closer to the destination. No surer on what the destination even was.

On the other hand he could just sit in the swamp and never get up, decide to become a pile of bones some hunter would discover when he took a piss on ‘em. He had nobody at home who would even miss him.

Ron sat on a hump of snowy moss. He sighed.

He looked around at the white landscape, everything dead or so deep in slumber it wouldn’t even know if it died. Ron closed his eyes and leaned his head against the tree.

Minutes passed, and he opened his eyes. A flash of burgundy poking through the snow, something he hadn’t noticed before. He tried to ignore it, but curiosity drove him to shuffle over.

He cleared the snow away from the burgundy shape and found it; a solitary and weird looking thing was growing. Ron examined it closely and a memory rattled itself free from his childhood. He was looking at skunk cabbage.

An old science teacher told his class about stinky-ass skunk cabbage. He literally called it that, and the kids laughed and giggled and that was why every one of Ron’s classmates likely remembered the lesson. Skunk cabbage was one of the first plants to start growing in winter. It gave off a lot of heat and melted the snow around it.

A smirk at the memory, and Ron looked around. He could see funny looking purple shapes popping through the snow, something he hadn’t seen before. Not until he closed his eyes for awhile and opened them up again.

“Huh,” he said.

Ron stood up and wiped the snow from his pants. He looked back towards the trail he entered on and turned away to face the unbroken snow.

“What else is in this swamp,” he asked aloud.

Ron took off through the sleeping trees and over the ice. He still needed to know the destination, eventually, but the gaping pit in his stomach shrunk for the first time in a long time.

He could wander a while more.

 

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors. He is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce and can throw a football ten miles. Matt is performing ground-breaking research for his book "Sixteen Likely Portals to Hell", the followup to his critically panned "Cooking With Bigfoot." Read more on his website heyplantguy.com

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