“Bogged Down” creepypasta by Jason Norton ― Chilling Tales for Dark Nights
Chilling Tales for Dark Nights Bogged Down. Written by Jason Norton. Narrated
by Jeff Clement. What began as a wretched weekend for Preston
Alstodt was turning out most glorious. His elation would have invariably been lost on
the casual observer who did not share his passion for botany. But knee deep in the brackish
muck of the Everglades—leeches, gators, and fist sized mosquitoes aside—he was reborn.
Preston had woke on the last day of class, planning to work through spring break. His
Friday morning took a turn for the worse when he discovered a pipe in his kitchen had burst,
his car would not start, and then he learned Harvard no longer required the talents of
two fellow biologists in the upcoming year. With untold semesters to go before he could
even hope for the security of tenure, Preston thought his position was threatened. He needed
to publish or at least contribute to some credible research to bolster his resume if
he were to have any chance of staying with the university. But he had no idea where to
begin. It was all too much. Preston had to get away.
He called his contractor, worked out where to leave the key, and taxied to the airport.
Five hours later, he was on a redeye to Florida. Preston considered calling his research team,
but the trip was supposed to be a casual getaway, not an expedition.
Janie, he thought. She should have been part of his team, but
she’d refused to accompany him on the last leg of his doctoral pursuit, choosing to stay
in Ithaca. By sophomore year Janie told him that she would always be his second most loved,
carbon-based life form. They still talked once per month by phone, but hadn’t been face-to-face,
or body-to-body, in over six years. Ever since, Preston was married to his work,
and he made no apologies. Human relationships had always been too difficult. Plants were
easy. They lived and died. In the interim they waged a silent war for survival, doing
their damnedest to choke out competitive species for territorial dominance. Emotions were never
involved. There was no need for conversation or compromise. Plants were content to be alone.
Six years hadn’t helped him forget. Preston was still thinking of Janie as his plane taxied
the tarmac. #
Preston took full advantage of the hotel’s continental breakfast, then showered, and
slathered on sunscreen. After grabbing a folder full of ungraded midterms, and the complimentary
Miami Herald, he headed to the beach. It was Spring Break and the college tourists
that had bombarded the city still had a few more hours before they would depart, zombie
like, from their hotels, leaving the ocean front suspiciously devoid of sunbathers.
An hour later, Preston had only trudged through three midterms. It was difficult to focus.
Peeling himself from his chair, he waded into the blue-green Atlantic.
Diving under the waves, Preston made his way past the breakers. He allowed the tide to
buoy him as he lay backward. Eyes closed, he floated, mentally riffling through rare
orchid species. It was a form of yoga he’d first utilized years ago.
Cymbidium Sinense: indigenous to India, Taiwan and Thailand. Found in cool climates, and
requires ample light with lower temperatures. Thrives in an ideal humidity between forty
and sixty percent. Cattleya Schilleriana: Brazil. Grows in cool
to hot temperatures on cliff faces and in rivers anywhere from sea level to eight hundred
meters above. Often used to create hybrids in attempts to breed ‘super orchids’.
Dendrophylax lindenii: first found in Cuba in 1844, discovered in south Florida fifty
years later. Commonly known as the Ghost Orchid due to its billowy white appearance. Two thousand
known to exist in the state. Their location mostly kept secret by researchers and horticulturalists.
Considered the most sought after orchid in the world.
Preston opened his eyes at the realization, losing the poise of his float posture.
South Florida. He was in South Florida. Within forty minutes he could be in the heart of
Big Cypress Swamp. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it sooner. He could find
a Ghost Orchid. Bringing one back would be tantamount to sacrilege, but if he got the
chance to study one in the wild—to even see one—it would spark inspiration for his
next project, and save his position at Harvard. Preston dug his cell phone from his bag. Dialing
information, he asked for airboat companies. He stopped the operator at the third listing.
The operator connected him directly. “Fandango Airboat Tours, best gator gazing
getaway in the Glades,” the gravelly voice on the other end extolled. “Moe speaking.
May I help you?” “Do you have tours going out today?”
“Sure do,” Moe replied. Preston waited expectantly. “What time?” he
asked, realizing Moe wasn’t volunteering additional information.
“Time you wanna leave?” Moe asked, after an audible sip and swallow.
“Aaahh, how about around noon?” Preston suggested, caught off guard at the man’s nonchalance.
He wondered if all the natives were as casual. “Nah, noon’s no good. Too damn hot. How about,
let’s say, four? Sun’ll be lower,” Moe countered. “Four it is,” Preston agreed. “Listen, is
there any chance this could be a private tour?” “Hell, they’ll all be private today. Spring
breakers don’t care about airboatin’. Ain’t no sex or booze in it.” He paused. “Well,
no sex anyway. ‘Less a couple of them coeds show up and play their cards right.”
# Preston arrived at Fandango fifteen minutes
early. There wasn’t much to the place. The tiny shack had an attached pavilion that barely
covered two picnic tables, an old cash register sat atop a weathered bar. Two t-shirts—one
red, one black—hung on coat hangers dangling from the rafters. The sun-bleached shirts
proudly displayed the white Fandango logo: an airboat driven by an oversized, bespectacled
alligator, sunglasses resting on his snout. A graying, rotund man wearing a trucker’s
cap with the same logo emerged from the shack. His name was embroidered on his black polo:
Moe. “Howdy, friend. You must be my four o’clock.
Mister…?” “Doctor, actually,” Preston corrected. “Doctor
Preston Alstodt.” “My apologies,” Moe said, extending his hand.
“M.D.?” “Professor of Botanical Sciences at Harvard,”
Preston said, shaking the large man’s hand. “An ivy league plant man. Funny.”
“I suppose so,” Preston agreed, surprised he’d never made the same connection.
“You must be here on business, considerin’ your request for a private ride,” Moe surmised.
“Correct. I’m hoping to find–” “A Ghost Orchid?” Moe finished for him. It
was quickly becoming apparent that despite the man’s yokel appearance, he was no dummy.
“I can probably help you with that. But it’ll cost a little more. How about we say a hun’erd?”
“That won’t be a problem,” Preston assured him, pulling his wallet from his back pocket.
“Card reader’s on the fritz,” Moe said when he saw Preston thumbing a Visa.
“Oh, sure.” Preston fished out the cash. “Alrighty then,” Moe said, pocketing the bills
as he headed back inside the shack. He re-emerged with a hefty red and white cooler in his right
hand. In his left, he carried a bag of jumbo marshmallows. “Okay, professor, let’s ride.”
# Fifteen minutes later, they were speeding
through the swamp. The boat tore through a swarm of mayflies. The insects peppered Preston’s
face like scattered buckshot. He’d never been so thankful for sunglasses.
“Sorry ’bout that doc!” Moe yelled over the sound of the whining propeller. “Tryin’ to
avoid some brush on the left.” Stilted red mangroves threw roots in intricate
patterns across the swamp floor. Preston was impressed at how well Moe was dodging the
trees. “We only need a couple inches of water, but
we can still snag anything too stout or dry,” Moe called out.
The combined speed, gas fumes, and frequent zig-zagging weighed on Preston. “How much
further?” he yelled. “Half hour, maybe a little more. Your thumb
ain’t the only thing green right now, doc. Here, I’ll pull over for a sec. Let you get
your gut right.” Moe killed the throttle. Turning the propeller
handle, he guided the boat into a culvert. The fan blades whirred to a stop as the boat
drifted slowly. “Thanks,” Preston said, his stomach appreciative.
Examining the perimeter, he spied bladderworts, water lilies, and spatterdocks.
Preston saw a trickling ripple swirl to the left of the boat. “What was that?” He asked
anxiously. “That,” Moe said, leaning over the side of
the boat, “is Big Al. He’s a local legend in these parts.”
“Al? As in…?” “You came by that doctorate honest, by God”
Moe said, opening the bag of marshmallows. “Yep. Old Al is about eighteen feet worth
of gator. Most folks figure he’s about sixty years old. Most gators grow to about eleven
and check out. He’s what a fella like you would probably call an anomaly.”
Preston craned his neck. He watched Moe, trying to follow the older man’s searching eyes.
Something so large should’ve been easier to find. Staring off the rear of the boat, Moe
plucked a marshmallow from the bag and held it out over the water.
“You may wanna scoot back, Professor,” Moe said.
Preston inched back as far as his seat allowed. He tensed, feeling sweat drip down his back.
The sun may have weakened, but the humidity was thick as ever. He’d forgotten it while
the boat was cutting through the swamp, the headwind drying his skin.
Moe clicked his tongue as casually as if he were summoning a house cat. “Here, gator,
gator, gator.” With a violent splash, Big Al broke the water,
lunging upward for Moe’s outstretched arm. The gator’s moss green head was easily the
size of a curbside garbage can. Its yellowed teeth, thick as fingers, gnarled like splayed
barbed wire. Big Al unhinged his bottom jaw, so wide that
it looked as if he could swallow Moe whole. At the last possible second, the old boatman
dodged backward, letting the marshmallow fly. The gator snatched it from the air and fell
back into the water, sending a swell under the boat that nearly capsized it. Preston
pitched backward on the vinyl seat, clutching it tightly.
Moe cackled. “Ya’ alright, doc? Man, you shoulda’ seen your face!”
Preston couldn’t speak. He really wanted to, so he could ask Moe just what the hell was
wrong with him and why he would endanger both their lives for such a stupid stunt. But his
lips wouldn’t work. Moe offered the bag to Preston. “Your turn.
Give it a shot?” “N-no. No th-thank you,” Preston stammered.
His eyes were wide as he frantically scanned the water.
“Suit yourself,” Moe said. “Don’t know what you’re missin’.”
“Is…is he coming back?” “Not unless I offer him another.”
“Please don’t,” Preston begged. Moe chuckled. “I’m sorry, doc. It’s just a
gag I use with the tourists. They get a kick out of it. Course I usually don’t do it with
Al. He can be a little intimidating.” “Genghis Khan was little intimidating. Big
Al would’ve made him soil his fur-lined panties,” Preston said dryly.
Moe grinned, reached into the cooler, and popped the top of a beer, shoving it at Preston.
“Have one. It’ll calm your nerves.” Staying low, Preston took as few steps as
possible to accept the offer. “Thanks,” he said.
“Don’t worry, she ain’t gonna’ tip over,” Moe assured him. “Tell ya’ what. I’ll get
us back out into the main and we can troll a bit before we pick up speed again.”
“Great.” Moe fiddled with buttons on what Preston recognized
as the engine. Pulling a ripcord, the fan blade spun to life. He reached for the rudder,
gently guiding the boat into the open swamp. Preston sipped his beer. It was bitter. He
studied the label: Swamp Ape IPA. “It’s brewed up in Melbourne,” Moe said.
“It’s good,” Preston lied. “Bet your ass it is. Just like everything
in Florida, ‘cept the damned Cubans.” Preston shot him an uncomfortable glance. “No offense,”
Moe quickly added. “None taken.”
Preston pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Eleven minutes after five. “How long until
the orchids?” he asked. “Depends how you’re feeling,” Moe replied.
“I’m good. We can pick up speed anytime.” “Relax, doc, enjoy the scenery. You ain’t
payin’ by the hour, and you’re still looking a little green.”
Preston swatted a mosquito from his neck, wishing he’d stopped for repellant.
“The Spanish were the first to ever map the ‘Glades, though they hadn’t even seen it,”
Moe began, in full tour guide mode, speaking just loud enough that Preston could still
hear him over the sound of the engine. “They knew there was somethin’ between the Gulf
and the Atlantic, but they didn’t know exactly what. They named it ‘Laguna del Espíritu
Santo: Lake of the Holy Spirit.'” “Right. I read that in the brochure,” Preston
said. “The primary vegetation here is obviously
sawgrass, which has some interestin’ characteristics. For example, sawgrass leaves will burn–”
“But not the submerged roots,” Preston said. “It’s how the sawgrass survives all the fires
caused by lightning strikes.” “Sharp cookie,” Moe said.
Preston smiled. “That is kind of my area of expertise,” he said with an air of pride.
“How about a little history lesson then?” “Please,” Preston said, less anxious.
“I’m sure you are familiar with the Lost Colony of Virginia?”
“Sure. They were the last members of modern day North Carolina’s Roanoke Colony who disappeared.
When other settlers came looking for them, they found all their homes and buildings dismantled.
The only clue to their disappearance was the word ‘Croatoan’ carved into a nearby tree,”
Preston said, as if he were lecturing back at Harvard.
“What happened?” Moe asked. “Well, there are two theories. Some scholars
believe the group was signaling that they were relocating to Croatoan Island, what we
now know as Hatteras Island.” “And the other theory?”
“The colonists were trying to point to a tribe that abducted them. That’s highly unlikely,
though,” Preston said, leaning into the boat as it cut to the right.
“You think so?” “How would someone have the wits or the time
to carve something like that into a tree during a mass kidnapping?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised what fear can do,” Moe said, finishing his beer. “What if I told
you we had our own little lost colony right here in the ‘Glades?”
“I didn’t realize there were colonists here.” “Not colonists, per se. Indians. I mean Native
Americans.” “Go on,” Preston said, setting his empty Swamp
Ape bottle in the bottom of the boat. Moe tossed him another.
Moe cleared his throat. “Initially, there were two major tribes in the ‘Glades: the
Calusa and the Taquesta. The Calusa were the big boys. Several thousand of them lived here.
But they suffered attacks from an invadin’ Yamasee tribe from the north. Less than a
thousand survived. Most fled with the Spanish explorers who relocated them to Cuba. But
when disease started killing them off, they moved to the Keys.
“The Taquesta were supposedly a peaceful bunch. But the Spanish were scared shitless. Said
the Taquesta ambushed their sailors who ran aground in the ‘Glades, and would torture
’em to death. Half a decade later, Spanish priests tried to build missions along the
coast, figurin’ they may be able to convert them. Turns out, another invading tribe—the
Yucchi—took care of that problem, instead. Between them and the Seminoles, the Taquesta
were nearly wiped out. ‘Round 1770, a British historian found most of their villages leveled.
Legend has it that the final thirty surviving Taquesta were deported to Havana. Most folks
around here don’t believe that though.” “So what do they think happened?” Preston
asked between swallows. “Nobody really knows. But this flower you’re
looking for? The old timers ’round here swear those dead Indians’ spirits are what gives
those things life.” “So you’re saying the Taquesta put the ghost
in the Ghost Orchid?” Preston said, feebly suppressing a grin.
“I’m just tellin’ you what folks believe. That’s why they say those orchids are so rare,
so special. They think the Taquesta’s spirits inhabit the orchids and protect them. Sort
of the last piece of their property that they don’t want to lose,” Moe explained.
“Well I’ve heard some interesting theories on plant development, but that’s a new one
to me.” Moe revved the throttle gently and motioned
for Preston to ready himself. “All I know is that you don’t get to be old by being stupid.” # As the time passed, the beer proved to be
a double-edged sword. It undoubtedly helped make the trip more enjoyable, but it seemed
to have stolen Moe’s recollection of the orchids’ location. Preston cut himself off at three.
He wanted to be lucid when—if—they found the orchids. He’d lost count of how many Moe
had finished, or how many times he’d followed dead ends. Still, his control of the airboat
seemed unfazed. Preston took out his cell phone to check the
time, but the battery was dead. The last thing he’d seen on it was a notification of a voicemail
from his contractor. He’d simply replied ‘fix it’ in text. He estimated that it was close
to eight o’clock. The sun had set about a half hour earlier, and twilight streaked the
sky. “How much longer?”
“I’m pretty sure they are just up around that bend there.”
Preston followed Moe’s gesture, spying the outline of a tiny outcropping.
“Yep, won’t be long now.” Preston restrained his anticipation. Though
Moe had been good company, his navigational track record had proven less than stellar.
The time hadn’t been a total waste. Talking about the everglades history was the lengthiest
conversation he’d had with anyone. Not even talks with Janie. And there she was again–right
where he’d left her. Waiting in the back of his mind.
Moe idled the boat into the cove. “We’re here.” He gestured toward the sawgrass before them.
“May I present the Florida Ghost Orchid.” Hundreds of Ghost Orchids—as white as they
were in every picture Preston had seen—danced in the gently lapping water. He was moved
to tears. “You okay, professor?”
“My God, there’s so many. There were only supposed to be two thousand in the state,”
Preston said, his attention unwavering. “Well that may have been all they’ve found,
but that don’t mean that’s all there is. When you’ve been running the ‘Glades as long as
I have, you learn a few secrets.” Moe eased the boat closer, allowing Preston
a better look. “There’s enough ground there to walk right out and touch one.” He pointed
to the twenty feet of mud-covered bank in front of the boat.
“Seriously? Aren’t there gators out there?” Preston asked, captivated by the opportunity.
“Hell doc, there’s gators everywhere around here. Just don’t stay too long. I’ll keep
the light on and holler if I see anything.” Preston tossed his wallet and phone in the
boat, then eased his way out onto the marshy beach. He swapped his vision between the orchids
and the watery slop that came up to his knees in case Big Al, or his cousins, chose to make
an appearance. But there, that close, he was more excited than afraid.
He reached out and cradled an orchid. Its petals, sepals, and lobes all fluttered in
perfect unison. Its fluted stigma stood proud, displaying elegance amongst strength. “My
God,” Preston repeated, laughing joyously. “Moe, you have got to come see this up close!
This is unbelievable!” “No thanks,” Moe said. “I’ll pass.”
Preston heard the boat’s motor start back up, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the
orchids. “Alright, doc. It’s been real. Second thought,
stay a while. I think you’ll like it here,” Moe called out as he opened the engine full-bore.
Preston turned. The shrill hum and sudden gust of the fan disrupted his stupor.
He lunged after the reversing boat, taking two steps, and then plummeted face first into
waist-high water. Panic and confusion overtook him. He tried to swim after Moe but was tossed
aside by the boat’s churning wake. Preston screamed, begging Moe to return, until he
lost sight of the spotlight. Terrified and alone in the blackness, he slid back through
the ooze to the company of the orchids. Scratching blindly in the muck, Preston scrambled
as high on the bank as possible to escape the reach of any gators. He found the root
of a mangrove and held on for dear life, trying to get his feet on land.
A guttural murmur came from the left. He froze and listened. A moment later, it warbled again,
louder. An echo answered from behind him, followed by another. Within seconds, terrifying
sounds surrounded him. Preston tried to run but tumbled back into the marsh. He stayed
under for as long as he could, hoping the noise would be gone when he surfaced.
For a moment, the noises sounded like a language. An ancient, lost language unfamiliar to Preston.
He rose from the water, working towards the shore, then stopped dead in his tracks. The
glow of tiny red dots danced in the darkness. They bounced within yards of him before disappearing.
Suddenly the small pair of lights came back, joined by other pairs.
Eyes, Preston thought. He stood, water seeping into his very core. Dozens of different colored
eyes stared at him– glowing yellow, orange, and red.
Something brushed past his legs, snapping him back to reality. He thrashed in the water,
trying to find the mangrove to back against. Silence and stillness returned. All the eyes
disappeared. Taking a deep breath, Preston clambered up
onto the roots of the tree. He had imagined it all. It had just been some type of a fish
against his leg and fireflies in the trees. Moe’s stories had gotten the better of him,
but it wouldn’t get the best. He was a man of science, after all.
Suddenly, dozens of moss covered hands reached up, took hold, and pulled Preston beneath
the liquid black. He thrashed, kicking and screaming. His bubbling voice sounding much
like those of his now screaming tormentors. Reds, oranges, and yellows flashed around
him as he was pulled into the bowels of the swamp, mud and water filling his nose, eyes,
and lungs. Preston ceased struggling as the strong hands
gently guided him deeper into the mud. When he opened his eyes, he could see clearly.
Everything was in shades of yellow. Vines snaked around him, piercing his flesh
in excruciating precision. Slimy vegetation slithered down his throat, nesting his organs
in floral incubators. Roots slowly replaced his bones.
Preston heard the process in his mind—the sentient screams of his dying cells and the
triumphant battle cries of the new organisms conquering his body. Then came the voices
of his brothers, warm and inviting, as they began to hoist him from the murk. He finally
understood them all. Still, he tried holding on. He tried salvaging
what was left of himself–of Preston. Why resist? he wondered. All his fears were
fading. This was everything he had ever wanted. Preston wasn’t alone anymore. But then he
thought of Jennie…Jamie…Janet… Jan…what was it again?