Born of Muck’s Terrible Hunger
A folk tale of the Booley Swamps, as recorded by Leandro ‘ja Alba
The good old folk of the Booley Swamps tell a tale of a web-footed fiend, a hopping, slurping, green-gilled creature called Born of Muck. As the story goes, Born of Muck is harmless most days, an oddity glimpsed from the corner of the eye, a warty nothing to be ignored. But when the night is dark and the moon is new, Born of Muck hungers for young flesh. Born of Muck must feed on the bodies of those limber lads and lithe lasses, villagers in the first bloom of adulthood. Born of Muck’s hunger is insatiable.
As the story goes, when young lovers are sick at heart with longing for one another, Born of Muck listens from the rushes, great ears pricked, for every whispered nothing and sweet encomium. The flowers’ pungent perfumes in spring cover the stench of lurking Born of Muck, whose bulbous eyes spy from the mud upon those unwittingly in first love’s grasp. Once sun has set and the young lovers toss and turn in the sheets, unable to sleep as painful longing makes long strides upon their minds, they will hear a whisper sighing through their open windows, the voice of their lover carried on sultry air — an aphrodisiac unlike any other.
Imagine, then, the young man, the young woman, stirring from bed, creeping to the window, looking out for the other, straining to hear the whispers of love once more. Then, see it there, dancing in the dark. Is it a lantern? A burning brand of love? A signal fire beckoning the heartsick forth into the night in search of dark desires?
As the story goes, the young man and the young woman leap from their windows, padding across grass until their bare feet meet mud. Then, deeper still, see them wade into the swamp, following always the floating, flickering lights of love.
Imagine she hesitates. Why does he lead me thus into the mud, between gnarled branches hung with moss, along pathways narrow and twisting where the serrated edges of palmetto and sago prick and cut at my fair skin?
Then, listen, a whisper once more upon the breeze, sighing, sighing, sweetly in her ear: Come here my love, come here my beauty, come here my one and only. And on she runs through the grasping swamps.
Imagine, then, he hesitates. Where is she? Why can’t I see her, wondrous to behold, the inhabitant of my dreams? Why does she hide so in bowers rotten and bogs so sodden?
Then, listen once again, a whisper cuts through his doubts, leaves the throbbing pain of love behind, moves his mind and his heart to overcome all fears and doubts. It is a test, he will tell himself, she whispers so tenderly that I may prove my mettle and display my courageous plumage. And on he runs through the grasping swamps.
Then, at last, the two lovers meet, face to face, in the dark, deep embrace of the swamps. As the story goes, they find each other’s embrace, and notice not the orbs of glowing, yellow eyes, the webbed fingers flexing and stretching, the sucking sink of the mud as it rises about their ankles, their thighs, their tender torsos, until nothing remains in the fresh air but their faces, lips locked and eyes shut in the ecstasy of a final embrace.
Imagine then, as the story goes, those webbed fingers finding their place about supple necks. They squeeze and clasp until the last dying gasp. Then those teeth, sharp and hungry, tear at the limp forms drawn forth from the mud, as Born of Muck sates aching hunger at last. Then, the slaughter done, as dawn’s tears fall dewy upon the rushes, Born of Muck sleeps once more, beneath some log or on some tussock.
And the bones of young lovers lie, bleaching in the sun. Soon, soon, the rains come, and the waters rise, and those bones too sink into the swamp.
And as the story goes, when the night is dark and the new moon hides from sight, Born of Muck’s new sister and new brother rise from that moldering grave newly born of the mud and the swamp’s byways. And Born of Muck hungers once more.
Or so the old folk say.
Ballads of the Distant Reaches is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, become a free or paid subscriber today!