Monday, June 25, 2012

Novel Entry 5 - Chapter 2 (1 of 2)


2
The muddy waters of the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers converged just north of Mt. Vernon.  The recent heavy rains in upstate Alabama had caused the rivers to swell well past flood stage much earlier than normal this year.  The rivers were set to crest two days from now; most of the logging roads that dutifully followed the ridges of the river swamp had several feet of water over them already.  The deer, hogs and other wild game had long since retreated to higher and drier grounds.  Of all nights, this night deep in the backwoods of the river swamp should have been the domain of croaking bullfrogs and grunting alligators, but not tonight.

A hush rolled across the cutoff between the two rivers, interrupted by the ascending groan of a distant but approaching outboard motor.  The low groan had little to do with the unnatural hush across the swamp; it was the blood curdling howl that emanated from somewhere within it.  Immediately after, a second, more primal howl answered; finally, they cried out in unison.  This strange chorus of animal and mechanical baffled the lords and princes of this natural kingdom; they felt compelled to their silence as they waited in anticipation of this strange midnight wayfarer.  

  
Clayton threw his head back once again and let out a howl befitting some mythical beast, to the untrained ear at least.  He knew it drove Moses crazy; he was already bounding to and fro in the custom-built, shallow draft aluminum boat.  Moses could abstain no longer as he put his front paws on the bow and offered up his interpretation for any lycanthropes that may have been confused by Clayton’s less than perfect rendition.  Clayton let out a bellowing laugh at Moses and then leaned forward to bang the drywell in several quick successions; Moses instinctively crawled into the bottom of the boat just as it performed a perfectly timed “S” motion.  The two stumps were not visible even in the daylight hours, but Clayton knew exactly where they were; this swamp was his. 

An onlooker would be convinced of his lunacy, if not because of the spectacle of his howls, then absolutely because of his choice to brave the unpredictable floodwaters at near-full throttle by only the light of a full moon that was all but hidden by the thick canopy of willows, maples and Spanish moss above.  Clayton was no fool though; his homemade apparatus of a motorcycle helmet and night vision goggles transformed him into a backwater demigod of sorts, and he reveled in it.  This night was his. 

As they emerged from the darkness of the cutoff and into moonlit river, he twisted the throttle as far as it would go; they both ducked low as the boat cut a diagonal path across the 700’ wide river to the small tributary, commonly called a slough locally, on the other side.  In less than thirty seconds, they were back in the welcome confines of darkness and cover. 

They braved one final bend and before he yanked kill switch from the “mud motor”; he leveraged the boat’s momentum to push it through the thick wall of vegetation and trees that grew along the submerged banks and drift into a clearing a couple hundred feet beyond.  An alligator snapping turtle on a nearby log dove into the murky depths to avoid their presence. 


Clayton crawled to the front of the boat, grasped the damp bow rope and tied a quick clove hitch to a nearby cypress tree.  As they waited and listened, he quietly opened the cooler and retrieved two biscuits and some rope sausage.  He tossed one of the biscuits to the Catahoula Cur dog and he caught it mid-air.  He flicked his folding knife open and split the sausage into two even portions; Moses appreciated the gesture of equality; he licked Clayton’ hand before taking the cold meat.  As they enjoyed their snacks and listened for the sounds of any would-be followers, Clayton grabbed a wooden paddle and shoved it down into the black water to determine a depth.  The depth check was more of an old habit than a necessity; his boat could take off from nine inches of muck without any problems.  Once on plane, he needed less than a half inch of water over soft mud to navigate the swamp.  Clayton finished his biscuit and leaned back in his seat to take in the wonder of his artificially green hued surroundings.

Spanish moss and thick, gnarled vines hung from the cypress and white oaks that surrounded his hidden enclave.  He counted six giant fox squirrel nests that dotted the nearby oak trees.  He noted several pairs of widely space eyes on the water, staring back at him.  The alligators’ curiosity was emboldened when Clayton made his night runs without lighting; often they would drift within several feet of his boat.  Their presence did not bother Clayton or Moses, as long as he was safe in the boat and they were in the water.  The cool night air was a welcome relief from the southern sun’s relentless barrage.  Clayton hoped the flood was a herald of an early frost that would usher in a short reprieve from the horde of insects that had started to swarm their enclave.

They waited a half hour and failed to detect any indication of human life.  Satisfied that they were indeed alone, Clayton tugged the knot loose from the cypress tree and eased the boat to an idle as they slowly continued on their way.  They idled down the slough for another half hour and then killed the motor again.  Clayton grabbed a long wooden pole and quietly pushed the boat through the thick vegetation at the slough’s edge until he could see through the cover on the other side.  He peered through the leaves and across the empty lake to the shore beyond. 
  
Sodium-vapor and halogen lamps pierced the darkness on the opposite shore, reflecting off the lake’s water like a poor substitute for the starless sky.  Dozens of small camps supported by weathered timber piling towered over the surrounding cypress knots; their roofs extending increasingly higher into the night air as they continued up the gentle slopes.  Many of the closest camps already had several feet of water beneath them.  


Clayton scanned the shore by the landing for any signs of movement, but found none.  He scratched Moses’ head and whispered “See anyone, boy?”  Moses turned around and climbed over the drywell.  “Me neither, maybe next week; let’s head home.” 

2 comments:

  1. Hi.
    I was reading pt 1 of chap 1 and when I tried to pull up part 2, I was unable to do so.
    It just hung up and would not load.
    I was looking forward to reading the rest of your novel
    Chris
    Mack, Co.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for the inconvenience - I tried all the links on the side bar and they worked.

      Try this direct link:

      http://acotwf.blogspot.com/2012/06/novel-chapter-1-2-of-2.html

      Let me know if this helps
      W.F.

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