We were about a mile and a half from the asphalt of State Highway 192, a long and winding stretch of road originally built in 1918 and running to what was then bunch of orange groves called Kissimmee. Much has changed since then, the fishers and farmers gone; now a life is made by hawking theme park tickets or designing death machines for Harris and Northrop-Grumman.
Huddled, herded, people everywhere in a rush to hurry up and wait. Going nowhere in particular, really doing nothing, no time to be anything but what the clock demanded.
Our camp might have well existed on another planet, miles and miles of nothing but marshland and pine trees fencing us in like fort walls from that deary world. Given a temporary reprieve of “progress” this territory was as wild today as it appeared to the Ais and the Jaega who were all wiped out over 250 years ago. In these untouched places you can still get a sense of what Florida is really about, what lies beneath all the concrete and neon signs. For now anyway. The hotels march ever inward, the suburbs continue to grow, and one day perhaps not a single orange grove will be left in a state that was known for them. That or we’ll drown.
But as long as these places remain so too will all the weirdness associated with them. It is said by the country folk that traverse these waters and forests many an odd beast still stalks and swims the hinterlands just like this, things that don’t quite fit the mold of “modern living:” Skunk Ape, two-headed birds, super hogs that stood as tall as a grown man’s shoulder and could rip his guts out in less than a second, all rumored to lie just beyond the edge of my fire.
I wasn’t worried. I doubt they were as deadly or dangerous as the beast I’d been tracking.
The one that was waiting at the pavement and would not leave me alone.
I could feel its eyes on me, even now, as I threw another palm frond on to the burning coffee branches and patted the .357 resting snugly in my pocket. Twilight was approaching and above the pine trees I could still hear the whisper of the highway and the anonymous souls traversing it. I tried to focus on anything at that point: the sound of the wind running through the pines, the hum of dragonflies and the treading of nearby deer. I thought about joining my wife in the camping hammock, resting under the blue tarp and swaying in the breeze. Out here so much of the what was “important” drifted away.
But every time I tried to lose myself, drifting into Things As They Were, the… thing… would make a noise, snapping my head back to the road where I could make out its hairy shadow. Yes, it was out there, prowling and sniffing at the trail head where our jeep was parked, buzzing like a hive of angry bees.
“Look.” I regained focus to find my wife now out of our hanging home and pointing to the edge where tree met sky. “All that light pollution. That’s coming from town.” I stood, brushing the dirt onto my pants and nervously popped in a toothpick.
“Really? This far? That’s… Jesus, what? 20 miles?”
“No wonder you can never see the stars.” I nodded, torn away from thoughts of doom to marvel at the symbol we’d become. Behind us was nothing but inky darkness, the jungle and pines now claimed by bobcats, mosquitos, and bull gators; in front of us the mechanized world of human society, its masks, roles, and social engineering. Here we were, creatures torn between two poles of evolution, making camp between the atavistic shadows of animal instinct and the bee-hive techhell of light and sophistication.
“The border,” I whispered, “that’s all I want; the frontier between the two.”
“Hm? What’d you say babe?”
“N-nothing. Nothing.” My gaze once again drawn towards the highway. From a distance I could pick up the sound of metallic teeth gnawing on the tires of my jeep, a dull grind I had heard echo in schools and prisons.
I patted the revolver, wishing I had packed silver bullets, but even then I knew I stood no chance. I made my peace with my ancestors and made a promise to go down defiant till the end.
Things that Bite
The world is much more savage than Sunday school would lead you to believe. It is filled with killers, liars, hustlers, pimps, and that’s just the folks that make the laws. Beyond the seeing eye, invisible save for the sensitives, lie the swarms and packs of negative entities.
Legends abound as to what and why these creatures are. No one can say for sure, though the magical record shows human beings have been cleansing, warding, and blessing everything in an attempt to keep them at bay. For better or worse they are a simple fact of life and, if shades questioned under full moons are to be believed, they might even hound beyond the grave.
These creatures range from hostile gluttons who hunger for suffering to mere bundles of blind motivations, but through it all the breed can be immediately recognized for its parasitic existence. The living must suffer for them to live.
The blessed can sense these creatures when a thought unlike their own takes up residence in the aura while the doomed seem oblivious to the constant sound of burrowing and munching.
“I had no idea what came over me,” says one woman. “I just kept thinking god wanted me to kill my son until finally I had to do it.”
“The house, it was always the house,” says another, “whenever we went inside we just felt sad and depressed. I kept drinking and smoking and crying but I couldn’t shake it. I knew I had to die.”
Stock and trade for the average Conjurer is chasing out evil spirits or breaking their bones; fevered words stained with Rue Water and sage smoke increase the spiritual heat until nothing negative can remain. Old school practitioners used to pop red pepper, cayenne, and sulfur in a glowing cast iron skillet to really lay the heat on thick, carrying the pan and its toxic plumes of smoke from room to room until no spirit or person could stand it any longer. You can’t kill the things of course, only chase them away and build fences to keep them out.
But how can you ward against the future?
Weird shakings had been reported near the Gods & Radicals Astral Office and as chief correspondent of the Cataclysmic Affairs section it was my job to lead an inquiry into what the fuck was going on. Reports were sketchy, rushed and hazy: some new creature had been seen grappling with the probability clouds that bring manifestation to The Ten Billion Things, a sure sign that whatever it was would soon rewrite our own plane of existence. It was big, ugly, and overwhelmingly negative; witnesses reported it had tentacles in almost every home in America and was soaking small children in ectoplasm. As the resident Hoodooman my assignment was to track the beast for a bit, to study its maneuvers and habits in the hope that it might better be killed. On the advice of my editors I made a living will in case I died during the course of my investigation.
If I die, the legally-binding scrap of napkin began, in the journalistic service of Gods & Radicals, or barring that in some low-down Reporter of Fortune capacity that walks the fine line between investigation and criminal activity, I desire that my body be left near enough to the Everglades to be feasted upon by the wild critters therein. My bones however, stripped and cleaned, are to be kept and passed to my kin and comrades as tools for summoning. My skull and hands, mask and jacket, are to be incased in some secret shrine where those seeking necromantic aid might petition favor and spectral assistance to insurrectionary activities with Sailor Jerry’s, bullets, and alligator jerky. Also please riot.
Legally secure I set out to track a creature that had no name, could change shapes, and would no doubt eviscerate what most of humanity thought “the future” was going to look like.
What I found was ghastly, horrid, and made me seriously question the idea of bringing kids into the world…