Whenever I passed the bog, I made sure to avert my eyes. Made sure to walk quietly, move quickly. When possible, I avoided the bog. Skipped that part of the woods altogether.
No one told me that it was dangerous. Nobody explained what lurked in the water. What kind of things belonged to bogs. No one had to. I just knew:
I didn’t want to find out.
When they came to pillage the village, that was it.
There was nowhere else to go.
Nowhere but the bog.
Cursing everything to hell and back, I ran. Sprinted through the familiar parts of the woods until my feet found that softer path. That sinking place. Rot and muck filled the air, giving off a scent that surely made my pursuers gag. A scent that overwhelmed physically, adding to my fear because it also meant that I was close.
It was just ahead.
Without slowing, I steeled myself. Mentally braced for what was to come. Did my best to prepare myself for the worst.
For jumping in.
Plunging into the bog. Diving into stinking, muck water. Swimming for all I was worth. For the sake of my life, I steeled myself, and then I plunged.
Right into the bog.
Immediately, I was grabbed by the foliage. Fuzzy moss latched onto my arms while wiry weeds reached to grab at my legs, my feet. The water here was thicker than normal water. Like how I’d imagine swimming through syrup would be. As I began to gag—suffocating under the duress of the rank smells, the gripping vegetation, and the feeling that something was brushing against my leg—my mouth opened, and that was a wretched mistake.
The taste of the bog water was worse than the smell.
Far, far worse.
Spitting, I felt the urge to vomit punch up my intestines. Demanding that I release the water from my body.
I did so gladly.
Finding a half-sunk log, pulling myself up so I was leaning over the wood, I let it all out.
Acid splashed against the water as my bile stung my throat. Giving me a sense of relief, somehow. As if I’d managed to dodge a bullet by expelling the acrid water. Relieving myself of that immediate worry.
Which is, of course, when I came face to face with what I’d been avoiding. With the thing my instincts told me was out here, while my mind had never had any words for it.
It was here.
Just like I’d always known it was.
It was here.
Not more than twenty feet away, it rose up out of the water. The murky black water draining off the scales of the beast as it stood. Its head scraped the bottom branches of the nearest trees, foliage finding sanctuary against its scales. Finding a place to rest against those green, sticky plates of armor. Against the top of that hardened head. Away from those sharp, yellow eyes and those gnarled teeth that protruded up and down from the snout of the beast. It rose, imposing. Clearly the king of this bog—the king of anything and everything as far as I was concerned. He was far too big, far too intimidating, for me to deny him anything.
As he rose, I was speechless. Stunned. Certain that this was it. This was what I’d been sensing, what I’d been fearing, all along. All this time. All these years.
It was him.
I had no words for it.
As it rose, I recognized it to be something akin to a gator. Something akin to a dragon, or a dinosaur. Yet, I knew it to be none of those things. No one had ever needed to tell me it was the ancient thing that we carved into our rocks, painted across our caves. No one told me the origins of this great monster, if it was friend or foe. No one told me, but I knew.
I knew what it was.
Beast of the Bog.
We never spoke of it. We only knew of it.
Because he’d been around longer than we had. Far, far longer.
Sound jolted me out of my numb state. Bringing me back to the present moment—a moment in which I realized I was trapped between a rock and a hard place. Between a gaggle of monstrous men, and a real monster.
I heard the shouts of them, those gruesome men. The ones who were chasing me. I heard them go back and forth, trying to decide if it was worth it to enter the bog. If it was worth it to hunt down every last member of my tribe, or if it’d be good enough to get the majority.
And, as they argued—my body slung over the log, a tree hiding both myself and the beast from their view—I could see it working in his mind.
He was… listening.
Just as attentive as I was. Just as present. Eyes swiveling to log the sounds, find their source.
And then, he looked back at me.
And I swear—
He got it.
The Beast of the Bog. The old guardian. Ancient protector.
He retreated back into the water. Sinking, somehow, back down, into the muck. As if the depths of the bog were as he willed them to be.
They probably were.
Such an ancient creature—such a powerful creature…
I had no doubts the bog listened to his will. Morphed to fit his desire. The beast sunk back into the depths.
And that was that.
My encounter with the bog beast.
My realization of fear, itself.
And, as I heard the screaming of the intruders—the way they shouted still brings me to my knees sometimes, still haunts my dreams, the roar of the beast often accompanying—I realized that it was smart to fear him, yes.
As I heard the men screaming, heard their dying cries and as their fear became flesh before them—as I heard the beast free me from their bloodied hands, I realized.
Fear is smart, yes. There are things that ought to be feared by all, yes.
The fear that lives in this bog? That dwells within these weeds? That stinks to the heavens with the rotting vegetation?
I never wanted to find out why I was afraid of the bog. Never wanted to see the beast face to face. Never wanted my fears to take on the form of flesh, of scales.
I never wanted to know what it was that had me scared.
But, now that I’ve faced it…
There was nothing for me to fear.