Meg needed money. She had graduated in the spring with a degree in journalism, and though she had been on more than a dozen interviews, stiff competition was making it tough to land even an entry-level position. With dwindling options, Meg took a short-term, temporary assignment filing reports, test results, and memos in a cramped, windowless storage room at a local research facility, Sidero BioLabs, Inc. There was nothing exciting about it — until she discovered a handwritten note stuck to the back of a report.
Heart pounding, Meg raced home that evening and booted up her laptop. Still trembling from her earlier discovery, she opened a search engine and typed “Bayou Galafete news articles.” The results included various human interest stories, articles on local history, and reported ghost sightings. However, two stories in particular looked promising. In the first, nearly a decade before, residents reported strange activities in and around the bayou including unmarked vans coming and going in the middle of the night. Others stated seeing fish disfigured and five times their average size, birds with only one eye, and aggressive behavior in animals typically considered docile.
The second, more recent article — dated two years earlier and buried in a small-town online newspaper — reported that evidence of illegal dumping in several waterways pointed to members of the Gedeon Clan, local swamp folk going back generations. Men further down in the clan pecking order were arrested and charged, but when questioned about dumping into the Bayou Galafete, a high-priced lawyer materialized arguing that the evidence was circumstantial at best and proclaiming his clients’ innocence. He brushed aside all of the accusations as unfounded ramblings by local drunks. He was quoted as saying, “The Gedeons are upstanding citizens with legitimate business interests in the community. They stand firm that these allegations are baseless and only meant to tarnish their reputation.” The judge quickly dismissed the charges and the clansmen were released.
Meg’s journalistic instincts kicked in.
“You want me to do what?” Jack said.
Meg had briefly explained her concerns about what she found but felt it best not to go into too much detail with her anxious roommate.
“Aren’t you overreacting just a bit?” Jack added.
“No, I’m not. Something weird is going on out at Galafete. This could be the break I’ve needed. If there is something to that note and I have the exclusive on it, then the sky’s the limit. Please, Jack. I don’t want to go by myself,” Meg pleaded.
“You know I would do anything for you, but that place freaks me out just thinking about it. Besides,” Jack said with a flip of his hand, “I’m busy tonight.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll have you back in time to watch ‘Housewives of Atlanta’,” Meg replied, rolling her eyes.
“Hey, that show happens to be an important sociological commentary on women’s role in a male-dominated culture.”
“Of course it is. So will you go?” Meg persisted.
“Fine, but you owe me. Big time,” Jack said.
The soupy bayou, entangled in ghostly vapors, slithering evil, and the raucous cacophony of bullfrogs, cicadas, and screech owls unnerved the young couple. Sunset was still an hour away, but deep in the bayou, darkness was already upon them as they wound through towering bald cypress and ancient oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
Meg’s flashlight beam caught on the weather-worn cottage as they made their way down the overgrown path. “Just a little further,” Meg whispered.
The crumbling stucco and rusted tin roof were clear indications the small house had been abandoned long ago. They stepped inside through a collapsed wall. The current residents — cockroaches and a family of mice — shared the mildew-covered room with containers of various sizes labeled SIDERO BIOLABS, INC. and marked with a crudely drawn skull and crossbones.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said, backing straight into a spider web. “Eew!” He screamed, flapping at the sticky tangle wrapped around his head.
“Shhhh. Be quiet,” Meg said.
“I’m outta here,” Jack huffed.
“Let me get a few pictures first.” Meg pulled her phone from of her back pocket and snapped photos of the containers.
A loud splash drew their attention.
“Omigod, was that a gator?” Jack said.
“Mmm, probably,” Meg replied, heading out through the hole in the wall.
“Meg…Meg….” Jack called out in a hoarse whisper.
“Not so loud,” Meg said. “Come on, just a quick look and then I promise we’ll leave.”
“Two seconds, that’s it,” Jack said stomping after her.
They crept onto the wobbly wooden pier, conscious of their every move as it swayed beneath them. Meg skimmed the water with her flashlight. A large shape breached the still surface twenty feet from where they stood, its disfigured tail fin slapping the water as it dove out of sight.
“What the hell was that?” Jack whispered, stepping forward.
Meg grabbed his arm. “I don’t know, but stay back.”
“Man, that was no gator.”
“Do you still think I’m overreacting?” Meg said.
“We need to call… Wait, who deals with something like this? EPA, FBI?” Jack said, watching for signs of the creature’s return.
“EPA I guess,” Meg replied. “But we have a problem.”
“What now?” Jack said, his voice jumping up an octave.
“No reception,” she replied, turning in circles, tilting her phone. “But I’ll get a few photos of this area, plus I have you as my witness, in case—”
“In case what?” Jack demanded.
“Never mind, let’s just get out of here.”
They turned. A dirty bearded man, menacing in head-to-toe camouflage, with his pistol drawn, blocked their path.
“You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on August 31, 2016.