Mrs. Thornwit put her eyes forward and kept them forward; she could ill afford to let them fall upon little Bethany, whose moist and plump hand she clutched firmly in her own. She kept a brisk pace – at times almost dragging the girl. Beth giggled and chattered merrily away to an unseen companion and several small animals on the path.
“Mama, dress! Mama, dress dirty!” she squealed and pointed to the border of her walking skirt and to that of her mother’s. They were near the swamp now, the mud and decaying mulch kicked up into rough smears on the light woolen panels. ”Mama, DRESS!”
“It’s all right, Bethany; it’s all right,” Alice said, squeezing her eyes shut for but a second against her perspiration and her tears. ”It will be all right.” “Mama … dress!” Bethany cooed in a gleeful half-whisper, as if they were co-conspirators in a summer picnic game. They were near the edge of the water and dusk had turned to night.
They stopped and Beth followed her mother’s gaze out into the water, where a dark shape was rising from the murk. Loosely the shape of a man but twice the size, it oozed across the stagnant surface towards them. When it stopped, towering over them, Alice thought she could see two darker pits that might be its eyes. She bowed her head quickly.
“S-say hello to the swamp man, Bethany,” she said tersely, before her voice caught in her throat. Gazing up, shy but curious, Beth gave the thing a tiny smile and said sweetly “Hello, man.”
Alice Thornwit stumbled back to the main road alone, struggling to retain her composure. She clutched a lock of brown hair in her right hand, holding it away from her filthy skirt to keep it clean and safe. She would burn the clothes immediately after she reported back to Willem. And, if the harvest did not come in as he promised, she would kill him in his sleep.
(This piece was originally composed for another fiction blog and posted in the summer of 2009; I’m moving it to avoid losing it as that site comes down.)