The sentinels of the lost swamp

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foto: forum.termometropolitico.it

I had never enjoyed working at my uncle’s tavern except for the fact that it gave me the opportunity to listen to the sailors tales when they stopped off after months at sea. I was always at their tables, on the alert, ready with my greedy ears and punctually my uncle would call on me: ”William! Stop hanging around the tables!” How impolite of me, let me introduce myself, I am William Eckart and I am tired of spending my time in this inn, serving beer and rum to these sailors that I hate but at the same time that I admire. What is my only fault? The biggest of all, to want to change my life… or at least to try. We all know however that these occasions occur when we least expect them and mine arrived one evening when a certain gentleman arrived in search of a crew. Mr. Finley (this was the sip owner’s name) started beating his cane on the counter and turning towards everyone in the room said out loud: “ So young men who would like to spend a few months on vacation in the Caribbean’s for scientific purposes.” The more I looked at him the more it seemed to me that he must have been a naval official and in the end I was convinced. The way he spoke, his posture and most of all his eyed as cold as ice and as blue as the sea he had sailed but just the same I found the courage to speak to him and obtain the permission to go on board. I told my uncle about my plans and in a dismissed tone he said,” I knew that sooner or later this day would have arrived and that you could not have stayed here forever. Every man has the right to follow his dreams and if they come true, well…all the better. If I am blocked here it does not mean that it must be the same for you too…I envy you my boy. Now, prepare your things and go straight to bed, you must get up early tomorrow morning” The next day I was on the pier proudly looking at what was going to be my home for the next few months: the “Explorer” a three master sailing ship. Life on board was not very comfortable but I was satisfied just the same. I had been assigned to work in the kitchens together with old Sam that told me his tales. One evening when he was more drunk than usual, he told me about a ship that had disappeared along with its crew. I was immediately taken by his story so I carefully listened to every detail that came out of his mouth. Sam kept on drinking and talking as he was reliving every moment of that adventure that had taken place who knows where till he burst into tears and yelled while he covered his face with his hands: “What have I done! I am a murderer! I do not deserve forgiveness no, I deserve the eternal curse!” “What is the matter Sam? What are you talking about?” I asked him. “Look… it comes from down below.” Sam replied indicating the golden coin around his neck. “Down below where?” I asked. “Enough! The Captain is making a grave error in wanting to return!” Sam replied frightened. “Return where?” I continued with my questions but he left maundering incomprehensively. I had never seen Sam in such conditions. Something he had considered buried forever had come back to mind making him relive the agony of the past. Now I understood that Mr. Finley had other projects and not just a science expedition in mind. Fine, I decided to find out as much as I could and the occasion arrived when I was asked to reorder the Captain’s lodges. As I was clearing his desk I noticed some maps but what really caught my eye was an old captain’s log dating 1740 entitled “Loyalty”. I was amazed by what I read: it was ship that had been transporting gold to finance the war against the Americain colonies and to my surprise, the captain of that ship had been Mr. Finley. The chronicles of the time talked about a shipwreck confirmed by the testimony of the only survivors; the Captain, three Officials and a member of the crew. The next evening I told Sam about what I had discovered but the more I spoke the more his look became absent and his face changed expression as if something I had said had disturbed him profoundly, “I knew it! I knew… the past returns with the ghosts of old friends that have been deceived! Dead because of this cursed gold!” Sam said indicating with disgust the golden coin around his neck. For a moment I did not know how to respond to Sam’s reaction even if I must admit that for some reason…I had expected it. “Sam… you were there weren’t you? You were one of the survivors.” I said looking at him in the eyes. “Yes damn it ! I was there and after all these years believe me boy, I have never forgotten! Every evening I have to get drunk in order to be able to sleep.” said Sam quivering. “Who saved you? What really happened?” I asked and Sam holding his head in his hands began to free himself from the burden he had bared for years. “There was no shipwreck, there never has been. The sea was calm and we were sailing normally as usual. The only dangerous storm was the one Finley had in mind. Sam told William about Finley’s plan to run ashore the ship in a swamp situated in a bay he knew because he had been born nearby and with the excuse of not being discovered by the Americains, he sailed up an inland river that brought into the bay and then continued towards the swamp where he ran the ship ashore. He explained to the crew that they would be safer there till the English troops arrived to save them and the cargo. Sam was upset, the ghosts of the past had returned calling him by name. “And then what happened?” I asked Sam. “And then the worst form of treason. I poisoned the food and we waited until its effects began and as they yelled for the pain Mr. Finley and the other three Officials finished them off using their sabers and guns. Now our lives were tied because of a terrible and unbreakable bond.” was Sam’s answer. “But why? For Heaven’s sake why?” I exclaimed. “For the gold. For all that gold that still lies in the hold of the “Loyalty”. “You wanted to know why I wear this coin around my neck, well it is to remind me that I have a debt…but I do not know if it is even enough to pay the one that brings the souls to the other side. Now the Captain wishes to return down there but he has no idea of what is in store for him .” said Sam. When the ship was near to the bay, Mr. Finley, the three Officials, Sam and I, set out in a launch in the direction of the swamp. I had convinced them to take me along and now we were navigating long a large canal of turbid, salt water where high plants grew and weaved together at the points so fit as not to let much of the sun’s light in giving a gloomy aspect to the landscape. We were all very quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts and only the sound made by a cayman as it threw itself into the waters brought us back to reality and as we arrived at destination, what I saw both frightened and amazed me. In a swampy bay hidden by a dense and ghostly vegetation lay the object of our desires. “It is there! It is still there!” exclaimed Captain Finley while Sam made the sign of the Cross. A strange calmness surrounded the bay like the silence of death but….there was no turning back. The vessel lay on a side partially covered by the vegetation as if the vessel had become property of the swamp and a natural part of the surroundings and I could never imagine how true it could be. Once on board, the Captain and the three Officials immediately went down into the cargo bay while Sam and I remained where we were. “Go away! Now!” Sam yelled at me frightened when all of a sudden he was interrupted by the most terrifying sound that was anything but human. Then came another and another after that. “It is them! They are seeking revenge!” Sam said yelling. “Them who? Who are you talking about?” I asked scared. Then I saw Mr. Finley coming out from the hatchway with his uniform full of blood stains and a big saber stuck in his belly. He was holding a coffer under his arm as he staggered towards us and said with difficulty: “They are many….go away….the curse….it was all true.” Sam could no longer keep his calm and I understood that he had gone completely mad because he took out his gun and shot himself. He had left me alone to face all the horror that was coming out from the depths of the vessel. I stood still as a stone and then… there they were, coming out of the hatchway, fleshless men with hollow orbits instead of eyes like decomposed bodies wearing uniforms torn to shreds; I recognized Captain Finley’s hat and pieces of what once had been one of the Official’s uniform. They moved slowly in my direction, in silence, as their bony hands pointed their swords at me. I drew back till I felt the side of the ship searching for a way out but they were everywhere! I grabbed my saber and tried to defend myself as best I could but to my surprise they did not attack me; they took a step backwards treating me almost with respect and making signs as if to show me something. What a strange situation, I was no longer afraid. I went down into a cabin and looked into the mirror and what did I see? My face was no longer the one I remembered, it had been replaced by a fleshless and bony one and that is how I was finally able to remember that cursed voyage; of how Captain Finley had murdered us all for the gold and the promise I had made to come back to life to get my revenge on the assassins in the same place that had become our grave. Finally…the circle had been closed, I had gotten my revenge and I had returned to where I had come from. Now…I would never have had to serve in a tavern again.

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Francesco Grazioli è nato il 19 novembre 1964. Geometra, dopo le scuole fa alcune esperienze di viaggio prevalentemente negli Stati UNiti: a New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia e Los Angeles. La città di Saint Louis in Missouri lo conquista definitivamente (è la città natale dell'attore Vincent L. Price, interprete di molti film di Roger Corman, ispirati ai racconti di E. A. Poe). E' appassionato di Archeologia, Esoterismo, Filmologia e letteratura Horror Gotica. E' inoltre esperto di Uniformologia d'epoca.