Friday, June 28, 2013

The Swamp Spook

We were down by the great Salahatchee Swamp in Southern Florida a couple years back, hanging with a guide named Skidmark Pete who we'd hired to take us deep into the swamp to help us locate a legendary gator down in those parts. We'd heard of him at many a bar in the Southern Florida region. They called him "Big Pierre" because he was the size of a damned Volkswagen Minibus and had an affinity for Frenchmen (the two confirmed kills attributed to him were a couple of French tourists but I'd bet he ain't that picky). Of course I had my tackle box with me and was hoping to land some Bass on the way. I believe I was using a Pork Plugg (God Bless You, Maynard...wherever you are) and as it turned out, the fish in the Salahatchee Swamp go absolutely nutso for that lure. 

We'd started out at about 9am which was a little late for me but Petrus had "gotten into some white" (that's moonshine, boys) the night before and I could have stuck a cherry bomb in his butt and he'd have still been sleeping at 8. That "fro" of his was all cockeyed and he was chumming the fish all morning. Maybe that helped. Anyway, I was nailing the bass left and right.

It was a banner day and I guess I got carried away because it was getting into the afternoon when old Skidmark told me I'd have to put my rod away if we were going to get serious about finding Pierre. The day had turned a little foggy and the heat sat on us like a damp blanket as we got down to business, winding our way through the maze of cypress and general swampweed.

I remember thinking "This Skidmark fella must have an internal compass lodged in his grape." as he navigated the place like the aisles of a supermarket. Boy was I wrong.

Turns out, Skidmark had been "into a bit of the white" the night before as well and, waking up feeling much like Petrus did, he got BACK into some first thing in the morning. I thought he was running some high-test in his outboard but the fumes I was smelling were his breath. Skidmark was drunk as a swamp-skunk and we were lost.

Now, a swamp is a funny thing in the pitch-black of night. Downright creepy actually. Especially if you know there's a gator out there who could eat you, your catch, your cooler...your boat. I was a little worried. Well, moving forward was useless. We'd just end up deeper and deeper into the swamp, so we found ourselves a little cove, dropped anchor and tried to catch some sleep on the deck. The night was buzzing with a million mosquitoes and the whine of cicadas created a drone that seemed to mute the terror of it all and I guess I dozed off.

At 3am, things changed. A fiendish cackle burst out of the night just beside the boat and jerked us all out of our sleep in an instant. I remember opening my eyes and being disoriented...I was staring up at the night sky through the cypress branches and wondering where the hell I was when that cackle erupted again and sent an ice cube straight into my right ventricle.

It was otherworldly. Sitting up, I bumped my head against the seat and was wincing when I looked over the starboard and was met by a bluish glow surrounding bright yellow eyes. White teeth flashed out as the thing lunged at the boat, cackling and cackling like a damned critter straight from the bowels of hell. Thinking fast, I reached into my cooler and grabbed one of the bass I had stowed on ice and tossed it to the shore. The thing wheeled and tried to catch it but, missing it, followed it to shore where it began to devour it. This allowed me a chance to get a better look at whatever it was. Damned if it wasn't a raccoon! Not your everyday 'coon but more scraggly and larger. It glowed an eerie blue and as it turned to look back at us, it's yellow eyes made me say "What the..??!!". It waded into the water, glaring at us, it's mind obviously made up that it wanted the rest of my catch. Petrus' camera clicked away as the engine roared to life. Skidmark was hitting the road, directions be damned!

We wandered through the swamp as the sun rose. Never did get a look at Big Pierre. By the time we'd found our way out, it was hot as hell and twice as bright. As Skidmark stepped off the boat onto his rusty-ass pier, I could see where he got his nickname.

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