Excerpt for Marshland Stumble by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

MARSHLAND STUMBLE

Nátchez Jones

This book is work of fiction. Any reference to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by J.J. Chilé Martinez

Copyright © 2018 by Nátchez Jones

Published by M.H. Dartos

at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All rights reserved.



*****


The woman's body lay on the floor cold and unmoving as the three paced around the tiny room. She had been dead for some time. But now the annoyance of her lifelessness was getting to Frank.

"Jesus Christ!" he said. "Does she have to keep looking at me like that?"

"She's dead Frank," Lena said. "What do you want me to do, tell her to look the other way?"

"I don't know. But shit!! She's getting on my nerves."

"Why don't you just go outside?" Walter said, standing with crossed arms, staring Frank down with flat and mocking eyes.

Frank tore into Lena.

"Why the hell did you have to involve him?"

"You know why. We've been through this before."

"Yeah, yeah. Maybe you should go over it again."

"Oh please do!" Walter said, clapping his fat hands like a toddler. "I just love it when you tell the dim one some stories."

"Goddammit that’s it!!" Frank said, rushing across the room and lunging at Walter.

"Two dead bodies won’t make a difference."

He knocked the fat man to the ground, pouncing on his chest and grabbing him around the throat. "Say goodbye, Walter", he said. "I'm gonna enjoy this!"

Walter flailed and slapped at the hands of iron that were squeezing his throat closed, but it was no use. He could not break free. His mouth moved, making no sound and his eyes rolled up. His face turned from red to blue to gray.

"Enough, Frank!" Lena shouted.

He did not stop.

"I said, that's enough!!"

She jammed her leg up between his from behind, landing with a loud thud as she hit the mark.

"Son-of-a-bitch!!" Frank yelled, letting go of Walter and falling to the floor. He rolled around, his hands clutching at himself, screaming in pain.

Walter sat up choking. He straightened his collar and fixed his hair.

"You could've waited a bit longer, you know,” Walter said, coughing.

"Oh shut up," Lena said. "You deserved it. You know you shouldn't egg him on like that."

"I know," "But it’s so much fun to see him snap."

Frank rolled and howled like a sick dog, the whole time keeping his hands on his groin for protection.

"Oh get up," Lena said. "Quit being a baby."

Frank leveled a stare of absolute contempt her way.

"Look. I already told you. We need him. Without him we'll never make it out of this town. Got it? Any killing will have to wait until afterward."

Frank stood slowly, keeping his eyes on her for safety.

"Yeah," I got it. "Just shut him up okay?"

"I'll do what I can."

"Yeah. You do that, jefe."

There was a pause.

"So, what's your plan now?" Frank asked.

Lena looked over at the body of the old woman. Her blinded eyes, with their dull, yellowish-white color, stared ominously at them, like an indictment from the grave.

Walter was the first to voice it.

"Maybe the big dope has a point. Her eyes are giving me the woolies. Maybe you could…you know. Cover them or something?"

Lena looked up and cursed at the ceiling.

"I ask for two of your best and this is what you come up with?"

Frank and Walter looked at each other.

"Don't bother yourselves," Lena said. "I'll take care of it myself."

She walked over to the corner of the room and picked up a page of newspaper from the stack. She laid it over the dead woman’s face.

"There," she said. "Now she looks like Frank after a busy Friday night."

"Very funny," Frank said. "Now if you could only get rid of the smell."

They had spent the better part of the hot afternoon in the airless room, and now, after the punishment of the brutal, Florida heat, the stench was suffocating.

"Look. We're here in one small room. What do you want me to do with her, huh? Take her for a walk?"

Frank hung his head, almost as if he were in mourning.

"I don't know," he said. "She just bugs me."

"I know," Lena said. "You've been there already."

Walter spoke up.

"I don't mean to change the subject here, but how and when are you planning to get out of this…place?"

"I'm figuring tonight," Lena said. After the heat is down and the excitement is passed. Then, we can get to our shed in the woods, change into our gear and hit the road. Like we planned."

"How do you know everything's still there?" Frank said. "What if they found our stuff?"

"What do want, huh?" Lena said. "Guarantees?? We got what we came for."

"And a dead body to boot," said Walter.

Come nightfall and marshland fog they made their move. They cautiously descended the narrow stairs that dropped from the little shack into the depths of the glades. A small boat lay nestled in among the reeds.

"Toss me the bag," said Frank.

"Not on your life," Lena said. "I'll manage."

She stopped to look behind her. "How are you doing Walter?"

Walter was taking his steps slowly, fearfully. His teeth chattered as he moved down the rickety steps.

"Oh I'm just fine," he said, keeping his eyes on the step before him. His white-knuckled hands were glued to the railing. "It’s a fabulous night for a stroll."

"Don't fall," Frank said. "Those steps are awful slippery."

Walter stopped.

"Shut up Frank," Lena said. "We’re having enough trouble."

She pushed off the small dock and stepped into the boat. It rocked and she lost her footing. She seized the railing for support.

There came a rustling through the reeds.

Walter's eyes grew wide and he looked around quickly. "Did you hear that?" he said. "Just now? That…noise?"

"It’s nothing Walter," Lena said. "Just the wind. Now get your butt down here before I drag you down here."

The full moon light filtered through, casting an eerie shimmer across the murkiness. They knew they were only about one hundred yards from the beach. From there, it was just a short run through the trees to their stash of gear and weapons. But time was running out.

Walter teetered on the dock as Lena reached up to help him into the boat. Frank clutched him by the collar, pulling him off balance, almost toppling the small craft.

Lena shot him a cold stare.

"Okay," she said. "Everyone sit down. Frank, you row from the rear. I'll take the front. Walter you sit still."

"Fine with me," Walter said. "Let the ape row."

The paddle came up, hit Walter in the back of the head and swung out, pushing away from the dock. The boat glided through the water with a gentle swishing sound. The reeds parted and crunched as they mowed them down. The long stalks glowed like torch-heads in the moonlight while through the lower blackness, the boat edged forward causing the reeds to bow and swoon as they opened a wedge of passage.

Walter dragged his hand along in the water, softly humming to himself.

"I wouldn't do that Walter," Frank said. "This is gator country."

Walter sniffed.

"Oh, what do you know. They won't come near us with all that racket you’re making. Besides, we are the more intelligent species. Well…except for you."

"Shut up," Lena said. "Just shut up!"

They had not gone more than ten feet when the boat listed against a thick patch, sending Walter tumbling into the water. Lena and Frank pushed against the oars and righted the boat while Walter thrashed about in the water, screaming like a plucked chicken.

Lena held out her oar.

"Grab onto this Walter. Hurry!"

The fat man reached for it, missed, went under and came back up.

"Come on," Lena said. "Move it!!"

"I can't," he wailed. "I think I'm stuck in the…AAARRGGH!!!"

The scream pierced the night sky followed by the struggled breaths as the man fought for life. He went down, came up, gasped for breath, then went under again as the monster's tail roared above the waterline, coming down with a loud slap. Lena stretched to reach him, but it was no use. The creature was dragging him down and away in a death spiral. The man’s hand broke the surface once more before slipping under the water. And as the rings of water glittered from where the hand had vanished, the sounds of the marshland returned.

Frank reached into his vest, removed a cigarette and lit it. Lena stared at the dead-silent water, following the disappearing rings.

"Shit!!" She said. "Goddammit!! The fat schmuck!!"

"Now what?" Frank said, calmly taking a drag.

"I don't know. But we gotta get out of here. It may already be too late. Row Frank!!"

They shoved off from their position, now moving at a frantic clip. Desperate. Breathing fire. Racing to the shore for all they were worth. Lena’s mind raced with this and that and that and this. Coming back in a confused spiral of how to escape now that the engineer of the plan was dead. Her mind spun wild as her eyes kept focused straight ahead and her arms pushed to exhaustion against oar and water.

Lena jumped out at the shore and reached into the bag.

Frank stood up in the boat. Lena turned to face him.

"Goodbye Frank."

"What the--- " The words died on his lips as the bullet tore through his chest and sent him reeling backwards into the marsh.

"You're just extra baggage now, lover," she said. "Say hello to Walter for me."

She had reached the cover of the trees when she heard it. The distinctive dull and sharp sound of helicopter blades. She looked behind her and saw the searchlights falling from the sky, raking across the misty glades. The chopper was close, hovering like a vengeful spirit. Too motivated to wonder how they found her, her legs sprang to action. She ran through the pitch as in a dream, her legs flying but her forward movement impaired, lumbering through the muck, tripping over the brush, crawling and gasping for breath. She ran until she felt her chest would collapse, then she stopped, looked back, and seeing that she was now well concealed beneath the cover of trees decided to catch her breath a moment before continuing. She reviewed the details in her brain: The shack is just twenty-yards from the beach, Walter had said. Straight out from the shoreline. She had come at least that far now. Where the hell is it?!

A voice boomed over a megaphone calling for surrender.

She panicked. She dashed into the thicket, making it a few yards before slamming into a low lying branch. The blow knocked her to the ground, her back smashing against a fallen tree. The sharp pain coursed through her. She brought her hand to her face, and came away with the wet, stickiness of blood.

"Shit!!" she said. "Shit!!"

Again the voice boomed over a megaphone.

She labored to her feet, fighting the blurred vision of the blood running into her eyes. The darkness sparkled as life rushed to her feet. She ran without direction. Urgency enveloped her. All plans were off. Now only escape---any escape---was key.

In the distance, she could just make out what looked like flickering lights cutting through the haze. She wiped at her eyes and looked again. The realization struck her.

The highway, she thought. Yes!

She ran with renewed vigor as her mind put it together. Lonely trucker, beautiful hitchhiker. She thought of pausing to reapply her lipstick but knew she couldn't. "Yeah. Shit yeah. I'm outta here. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!"

The edge of the highway was now within easy reach. She raced to the asphalt at top speed, eyes blind with fear and blood.

A car sped around the blind curve, slamming into her and sending her over the hood, her beautiful face crashing into the windshield, leaving a bloody lipstick smear as she rolled off.

The car screeched to a stop. A man jumped from the car picked up the bag and ran into the trees. A moment later, a dark van roared onto the highway, stopping to pick the man up.

"Couldn't have happened to a more deserving person," said Frank jumping in and raising his chin towards Lena, nothing now but beautiful road kill. "The nerve of that double-crossing cunt, shooting me in the chest! Good thing I thought to load the bitch's gun with blanks."

"Hidey ho, Frank. She's tits up now," said Walter. "You did get the bag, yes?"

"You know I did. I'm no fool."

"Don't be so tough on yourself, Frank," Walter said, as he pulled the Ruger's trigger, hitting Frank between his shocked eyes. "You're a tremendous fool."



Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-7 show above.)