Tuesday, June 27, 2006


0800 hrs. Nathan Bedford Forrest State Recreation Area and Horrible, Pestilent Swamp.
I waded waist-deep through the filthy black water, the Falcon following alongside in our inflatable. It was already sweltering hot, and after fifteen minutes in the swamp I was sweating like a black man at a south Georgia cattle auction. Screw it, though--it had to be done. A mercenary just keeps going, despite the heat and the bugs and the filth.
"Let's take a break," I said, a few seconds later. Josh--the Falcon--landed the rubber combat raft on a clump of mud and grass, the closest thing to dry land to be found in this watery hell. I heaved myself up on the bank beside him, my boots leaving the swamp bottom with a sucking, squelching sound that I found vaguely arousing. I took off my combat pack and joined him in the shade of a swamp oak.
"Oh God, Randy," Josh gasped, his face red with exertion, "this sucks."
"That's just because you're really, really fat," I said, reassuring him.
"Can't I just use a paddle instead of...This?" He held up the toothpick I had instructed him to use as an oar.
"Sure, Josh. Use the paddles. And maybe you'll be the first to die when he hears us coming."
I let him consider that while I slipped out of my gear. I hadn't had the money or time to get the SEAL inflatable combat vest I would have normally worn on an op like this, so instead I was making do with a flotation ring around my waist, a pink plastic number shaped to look like Dino the dinosaur from the Flintstones.
I could see Josh was still out of oxygen and ready to throw in the towel, so I decided to give him a little extra time to recover. "Josh," I said, "Why don't you relax while we fill in some back story?"
He nodded, thankful.

Like most mercenaries, I am by nature a hunter. Whether it's animals, men, or pets, I find the challenge of tracking and killing to be the highest expression of my being, after Jazzercise. And I always get my trophy. Well, almost always. The creature I most wanted to behead and mount on my bathroom wall had eluded me for over twenty years.
They called it Swampy Monster Thingy, or Swampy for short. The creature was like Bigfoot, only scarier and less of a hippy. The first man to spot the demon was Amos Anandee, a local farmer. To this day, his 1976 account is considered the most reliable and difficult to dismiss.
"I was tripping on acid, " Amos told the local paper. "I went into the swamp so I could huff some spray-paint in peace, and all of a sudden...I heard it. It sounded like a long, drawn-out fart, and if I hadn't have been drunk I would have ran away right then."
Amos eventually fled after shooting up some crystal meth, and when he looked over his shoulder he saw what he described as "a pear-shaped silhouette, like some sort of trippy, scary, swampy monster thingy." The name stuck.
After that, the sightings multiplied, and Swampy was blamed for the numerous goat-rapings that plagued our town until right about the time my dad disappeared. No one ever got a good look at the creature, but all witnesses agreed that it smelled horrible, farted a lot, and had long glowing fangs like a vampire or democrat.
Since the very first sightings I had been committed to killing the monster, and went into the swamp once or twice a year to try to take him out. I was hoping this year would be the one, and I felt good about my chances since I had both the Falcon and a twelve-pack of Zima with me.
"Weapons check, then we move out," I said, rising. Josh just lay there, still panting. "Falcon!" I barked. "No one said this would be easy. C'mon, soldier, who dares, wins. Follow me. Blood makes the grass grow. De Oppresso--"
"I get it," Josh said, and struggled to his feet. He bent over our combat raft to verify the contents as I called them out. Double-checking is what separates the pros from people who haven't read action books.
"Zima," I said.
"Wire, snaring for the use of."
"Uh..." He rummaged around. "Do you mean the...this Viewmaster?"
"Goddamnit, call it binoculars!" I hadn't had the money for a real pair.
"Sure. Binoculars, check."
"Yeti, Nessie, and Other Weird Shit-- a Field Guide. Transworld Publishers. One copy."
"Barrett .50 calibre sniper rifle with attached scope."
"Uh...Do you mean..."
"Yes, goddamnit, the pellet rifle. Look, forget it," I said. Josh obviously didn't understand how things are done in the spec ops world. "Let's just get back in the water. We've got a long way to go to base camp."

1300 hours. The heart of the swamp.
I was dizzy with exhaustion, and Josh had been reduced to laying down in the raft and leaning his head over the side to paddle with his tongue. The water I waded through had deepened to chest level, and I could see no dry land. We had already encountered a hungry alligator, and would have been killed had I not brought along a neighbor's poodle for just such an emergency. In case you're wondering, they do scream in French.
"Randy," Josh mumbled, his voice cracking, "I don't feel so good. I think this water"-- he licked the surface a few times to propel the raft forward--"isn't healthy."
"Suck it up, soldier," I said. "Goddamnit, not literally!" He spat out the mouthful of swamp water he had slurped. "We're almost there. Old Man Mitchell's place should be--there it is!"
I had chosen the abandoned Mitchell place as a base camp due to the shelter it provided. Mitchell had been a bootlegger back in the twenties, when he lived hidden in the swamp to hide his illicit wine-cooler operation. While the original wooden shack had long ago disintegrated in the wet, moldy environment, the brick outhouse Mitchell had built still stood. That's where we would sleep.
I helped Josh pull the raft onto the little island, and we both sat down in the mud to survey the site.
"My God," Josh exclaimed, "that brick shithouse is built like a beautiful woman!"
"And so are you," I said, "but we've no time for that. Let's make camp."

2300 hrs. Base camp.
It was darker than a Red Lobster on Martin Luther King boulevard on a saturday night. We could see nothing beyond the pale glow of the fire between us, a meager affair I had improvised with my water-proof matches and a Barry Eisler novel.
"Randy," Josh said, sipping his third Zima. "Do you think we'll ever find chicks again?" His moon-shaped face seemed even more other-worldly in the dancing shadows of the fire.
"Shit, man," I said, finishing my fourth. "We kill Swampy, hell yes! I mean--you won't, obviously, but I will."
"And if you find a girl..."
"Yeah," I said. "You can watch." We both started thinking about our ex-wives, and the crying had just started when we heard it.
A fart so powerful, my bunghole twitched in sympathy as it happened. I grabbed the pellet rifle and laid out prone on the mud.
"He's here!" I shouted. "Josh, get the urine-filled water gun and cover me! I'm gonna fire wildly in all directions!" Like a trained operator, I sprayed the area with pellets, too courageous to open my eyes while I fired. I rose to a half-crouch to reload and heard it again.
Poooofffftttt. My God, it stank. "Josh! Throw me a cyalume stick--I need some light here!"
I caught the plastic light stick and bit it in two to mix the chemicals. It always tasted funny, but I never had time to just bend them like a civvy. I stood to change position and heard it again.
"OH, man," Josh cried, "I'm gonna be sick...That freakin' stinks like..." He paused. "Randy, did you just bite into a cyalume stick?"
"Yeah, so?" I turned to face him, my teeth glowing yellow-green.
"And how often do you shower?" he asked, not making any sense.
"Every time the U.S. beats England at soccer, as you know, " I said. "But I don't see--"
"And how long have you been hanging out in this swamp, biting light sticks?"
"Oh...I dunno...Twenty years or so, started when I hid my porn out here. What the hell are you getting at?"
Poooofffftttt. That time I really felt it.
"Oh my...no...no," I said. "It can't be."
"Randy," Josh said, "you stink. You hang out in this swamp occassionally, and when you do your teeth glow. You also fart when you drink Zima. And you're...Well, pear-shaped."
"Nooooooooo!" My scream reverberated through the swamp as I collapsed into the muck and filth.