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Fall Fiction: The Trembling Part Four

While Mark struggles with an unidentified black object, Glen comes down sick and is in a fight for his life.

Craig James | November 3, 2021

Blackwater Bill was sitting on his porch in his weathered rocking chair when Glen and Mark turned off the dirt road and headed down his driveway.

“How are you doing there Blackwater Bill? I reckon rocking chairs and retirement go hand and hand,” Glen said with a laugh.

“They do, as long as you keep a good cold glass of tea close by,” Bill said, raising his glass and giving it a shake.

“I can’t argue with you there. Bill, I’d like to introduce you to my good friend Mark.”

“Pleasure to meet you Mark, if you’re hanging around with this character, it tells me all I need to know about you,” Bill chuckled.

The three men stood talking for the next 15 minutes with Bill, as he filled them in on stories from his latest fishing trips, and his plans for a fall garden.

“ Well Bill, I will go ahead and cut to the chase. We’ve got some questions for you about the refuge. Being as how you ran the place for nearly three decades, I’d hope you could give us some inside information.

“Well they don’t call me Blackwater Bill for nothing. Heck, I’ve paddled and wandered my way thousands of acres through that swamp. I’m happy to help any way I can.”

“Take a look at this,” Glen said, passing a picture of the buck Mark had killed.”

“Where did he come from?” Bill asked, perplexed.

“Perch Island,” Glen said.

Bill stared into the photo for several seconds.

“It can’t be, I just don’t believe it.” Bill said.

“Can’t believe what?” Glen asked.

“Right when I started at the refuge, almost 40 years ago, some researchers from Kansas came and wanted to do a study on how well Midwestern deer could adapt to a totally different environment. It was approved for them to release one doe and one buck on Perch Island to see how they would fare. Then the drought hit,” said Bill.

“Wait, what drought?” asked Glen.

“For nearly five years the swamp received extremely low amounts of rainfall, and the place nearly dried up. The research team had no way to access the area during the drought, and by the time it ended, their funding had been cut.

“They never came back to complete their project. We figured the deer more than likely weren’t able to populate, especially with the extreme heat, and all the gators back there,” added Bill.

“Did anyone from the refuge ever go back to Perch Island to check and see if there was any sign the larger deer may have made it?” Glen asked. 

“No. Some places are best left alone. Perch Island is a place where if something goes wrong, well, you’re a dead man walking.” Bill said.

“Long before it was known as Perch Island, Creek Indians referred to it as ahwoillu buea swen frou… translated to our language,  it means Land Of Black Giants,” Bill added.

“Now Blackwater Bill… I know you’ve got more sense than to believe Big Foot is living on Perch Island!” Glen replied sarcastically.

“Honestly boys, I don’t know what I believe, but I can tell you this, Indians set up small villages on nearly every island in that swamp, except that one. There had to be something on Perch Island that they didn’t want to be near.”

Bill’s house phone started to ring just as he finished his sentence.

“I hate to cut things short, but I better go catch that phone. I know it’s my daughter calling to check up on me. Y’all boys stop by anytime, and be careful in that swamp,” Bill said.

• • • • • • •

As Glen drove Mark back to drop him off at his house, his mind pondered Blackwater Bill’s words. Up until this point, he’d been convinced that the stories in E.R.s book were nothing more than good swamp fiction, and the things that had been happening to him and Mark were no reason for alarm. 

“You’re pretty quiet over there Glen. Still thinking it’s bears back in the swamp, Mark grinned.

“Of course it’s bears. They ain’t nothin else it could be,” Glen said, not believing his own words as he spoke them.

• • • • • • •

Between work and family obligations, the month of October flew by, and before they knew it, Glen and Mark were making the long dark drive to the refuge.

“Well, anything goes this weekend, bears are on the hit list, and I sure hope we cross paths with one,” Glen said, taking a long sip of coffee.

“Yeah I was surprised when they said they were legal to shoot for this October hunt. I’m sure there’s gonna be some big boar bears killed this weekend. There’s nearly as much bear sign as deer at the refuge,” said Mark.

Once the hunters arrived at the refuge and got checked in, they loaded their gear and headed off into the darkness. After several days of unusually warm weather, a breeze in the air let the men know that cool weather was on the way.

“Thank goodness all that wind is at our back. It would be mighty hard to have to paddle into it,” said Mark.

“Tell me about it. With this wind pushing us we’ll make it in no time,” Glen said struggling a little as he talked.

“You OK buddy?” Mark asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a dang old cough. Must have a head cold or something. I’m sure when the sun comes up, I’ll get to feeling better,” said Glen.

With the wind steadily picking up, the hunters made it to Perch Island with little effort by lunch.

Mark sipped on the last of the coffee he had in his thermos, while Glen took a bottle of DayQuil from his jacket pocket and took a swig. 

“Buddy I’m really worried about you. You don’t look right. You don’t think we might need to head back?”

“Nope I’m feeling a bunch better. Just got to try and keep this cough under control so I can kill that big buck,” Glen smiled.

The men finished off a couple cans of pork and beans and set up camp before heading off to hunt around 3 p.m. The temperature was sitting at a crisp 54 degrees, almost 20 degrees cooler than it was 24 hours earlier.

Glen decided to hunt from the ground in a hardwood bottom. Not feeling like climbing, he tucked in behind some palmettos and did his best to keep from coughing.

Mark was hunting about 150 yards away overlooking a persimmon tree that still had a few fruits slowly rotting on the ground underneath it. No sooner than 15 minutes after getting settled in, a small 6-point came trotting in and began to feed 10 yards away. After a few minutes the buck suddenly shot to full attention, sticking his head up and flicking his tail. The buck instantly bolted into the bushes, obviously terrified of something.

Sensing a big buck was about to make an entrance, Mark stood up and readied his bow. A few moments later he began to hear loud crashing coming through the bushes. Mark struggled to make out what was coming toward his stand. 

Finally he began to make out patches of black between the bushes and trees.

Bear, Mark thought to himself as he drew back his bow. Mark watched as the creature skirted around roughly 40 yards from his stand. With a tiny opening coming up in the bushes, Mark readied for a shot. 

Just as the animal came into view, Mark couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Expecting a bear on all fours. Mark was shocked at the bits and pieces of the animal he could see standing 40 yards away.

Standing on two feet Mark could make out long black hair covering its body. As Mark tried to make sense of what he was seeing, the giant animal suddenly stopped, obviously sensing Mark’s presence.

After 30 seconds the unknown animal grunted loudly before disappearing into the swamp. 

Mark sat down trembling at what he had just seen, trying to make some sort of sense of it.

Too tall to be a bear. But what was it? Decades of experience in the woods, yet Mark had no logical explanation for what he’d just seen. He sat in the silence of the woods, as the sun began to slowly set.

• • • • • • •

Glen had a situation of his own unfolding, with a big bear closing in at 60 yards. Glen used all the energy he had to hold his bow at full draw, knowing he couldn’t hold on much longer. He watched the 450-lb. bear slowly close in, keeping his 50-yard pin just behind the bear’s shoulder.

After a few more moments the bear suddenly stopped, sticking his nose up in the air. Exhausted and weak, Glen hit his release. His arrow whistled through the darkening woods connecting with the bear with a loud smack.

The large boar bear spun around and then took off, crashing through the bushes as he went.

Glen laid down his bow, struggling to catch his breath and coughed loudly.

Depleted of energy, Glen was beginning to realize his health was declining rapidly. He took another long swig of DayQuil and laid back on the ground.

When Mark climbed down and headed to their meet-up spot, he was concerned when Glen wasn’t there. Immediately, he headed to where Glen was hunting. 

Where are you at, Glen?” Mark shouted.

Napping on the ground, Glen heard Mark’s shouts. 

“Over here over here I’m fine, just fell asleep,” Glen said as he struggled to get to his feet.

“You don’t look fine. You can’t even stand up. We got to get you to a doctor, Glen,” Mark said.

“I’m fine. Even got us a bear,” Glen said wheezing as he spoke.

“How in the world did you manage to shoot anything in this condition?” Mark asked. 

• • • • • • •

The pair of hunters spent the next half hour trailing the bear. Finally they found it where it had crashed a few yards from the main canal that circled Perch Island.

Glen was excited but obviously depleted of all energy as he examined the downed animal.

“Glen, I’m gonna head back to camp and paddle around here, so we can get him quartered up. You stay here, and I’ll be back in 45 minutes or so,” said Mark.

Glen didn’t like the idea of staying behind, but he knew in his condition he couldn’t make the walk back to camp.

Mark quickly made his way back through the dark swamp. Putting what he had seen earlier in the back of his mind, he knew he had to move quickly, as Glen’s condition was declining.

Half an hour later Mark paddled up to where he’d left Glen with the bear. We was not surprised at all to see Glen working on skinning the bear, despite his weakened condition.

“Glen you need to sit down, you can’t even hardly breathe,” Mark said.

“He’s halfway done now. I reckon you can handle the rest.” Glen said, struggling to talk between coughs.  

Mark helped Glen into the canoe and got him covered up with a hunting jacket and began to finish skinning and deboning the large bear. Forty-five minutes later he was paddling back to camp.

“I’m ready for some shut eye,” Glen said as their tent came into view.

“Well you may as well lay back and get comfortable, you’ve got plenty of time to rest while I get us out of here,” Mark replied.

“What are you talking about Mark? I’m fine,” Glen said, barely able to finish his sentence.

“Buddy you’re far from fine. I’m certain you have a bad case of COVID-19 and your gonna need to get to a hospital soon. If I paddle through the night, we can make it to the gate by morning.”

Mark hurried and took down their tent and grabbed their gear, knowing that time was of the essence.

While Glen rested in the front of the canoe, Mark paddled by the eerie moonlight. Looking at the large bear head in the floor, Mark thought to himself about the big buck creature he saw while hunting. He was trying to convince himself that it was a big bear on its hind legs, maybe even trying to climb a tree.

Despite Mark trying to make sense of what he’d seen earlier in the evening, deep down in his gut he knew it wasn’t a bear he’d seen. But what was it?

Mark was exhausted and tired, but he continued to push through the night. He was filled with adrenaline, knowing that his good buddy needed urgent medical care. 

Just as the sun was beginning to break the horizon, Mark regained cell signal about a mile from the refuge entrance.

He immediately called Glen’s wife to let her know of his condition. After a quick conversation with her, he decided to call 911. 

Thirty minutes later Mark pulled the canoe onto the bank and collapsed on the ground, exhausted and beaten, but he’d made it back. By the sound of Glen’s breathing, it was evident he was just in time. 

A few minutes later, Mark heard sirens coming down the road. Relieved, Mark stood to his feet and waved them over.

Mark could tell by the urgency from the paramedics that his buddy was in bad shape. He saw them attaching oxygen just as the ambulance door was shut.

Meanwhile 20 miles away, deep in the swamp, the old buck was battling a sickness of his own. Two days earlier he’d received a bite from a brown recluse spider and the swelling around his nostrils was making breathing difficult. To make matters worse, something was hunting him.

• • • • • • •

Mark made it home where his wife immediately rushed him to the hospital, and he tested positive for COVID-19. On top of that he was suffering from extreme dehydration, as well as exhaustion. After a transfusion of antibodies, and eight days in the hospital, Mark was finally released to go home.

In the critical care unit, Glen wasn’t faring as well. On the ventilator and fighting for his life, doctors felt his chances of making it were slim at best.

Mark spent the entire month of November at home recovering from the virus and praying that somehow, some way his buddy would make it.

Finally on Dec. 3, he got a call from Glen’s wife.

Mark, Glen’s suddenly improving. They are going to start to wean him off the sedation this afternoon, and I want you to come up here and talk to him. If anyone can help him pull through, it’s you,” she said.

Mark spent the next week alternating shifts at the hospital with Glen’s wife. Mark spent his time with Glen talking to him about all the hunting adventures they’d been on and funny stories from years past. Doctors told Mark that though he wasn’t responding yet, they were certain Glen was listening.

Finally, on Dec. 20 Glen began responding to doctors, indicating he could hear them. On Dec. 23, a nurse asked if he needed anything, and in a struggled whisper he said, “Mark.”

The nurse immediately contacted Glen’s wife, who called Mark. Mark sped to the hospital and hurried down the long corridor and up the elevator to Glen’s room.

When he walked in, he was excited to see Glen awake and lying propped up in the bed.

“There’s my old buddy! Your looking good, Glen.

Obviously still weak and barely able to speak, Glen murmured words that Mark struggled to understand. Leaning in, Mark listened intently.

“Go to Perch. Bring back buck,” Glen struggled to say as his oxygen levels declined on the monitor.

“Glen we had a good run out there, and now we got to focus on getting you better. We will have plenty of time to hunt next year, Mark replied.

After a minute or so of silence, Glen raised his thumb, giving Mark a half thumbs up.

“You got to finish it, Mark. For me,” Glen said in slow, struggling words.

The pair sat in silence another minute or so and Glen drifted off to sleep in his hospital bed.

Mark sat with Glen while he slept, until later that evening when his wife got back to the hospital. Walking across the parking lot, Glen’s words still spun in his mind. 

The stage was set, and Mark knew what he had to do. He was going to go back to Perch Island to finish what he and Glen had started. 

And remembering what he’d seen on his last hunt on the island, he knew he wasn’t going to be alone on Perch Island.

Part 5 of “The Trembling”

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