The Serpent of the Black Swamp

📅 Published on December 5, 2020

“The Serpent of the Black Swamp”

Written by M.M. Kelley
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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I have an obsession with a woman. She’s a wild child. As unpredictable and dangerous as a boar. As potent as a viper. She’s the kind of woman kids and drunks made legends about. The kind that’ll promise curses to those who trespass against her. Hell, I heard the stories when I was a kid, too.

The legend says that in the Great Black Swamp, near Lake Eerie, there’s a woman who speaks with the frogs. The mallards bend to her will. Her clothes are worn and tattered, the old white lace beige and sometimes black from muck. They say the old mud there keeps her young beyond her years, that her shriveled and hunched appearance still belies the eons she’s been present.

I met her over a decade ago. I was surveying the bird populations for an internship with the park service. She danced through the reeds completely unencumbered. Tangled and matted blond hair framed her dirtied cheeks. The stories were wrong; she was the very picture of youth. She had no regard for me or the snakes.

“Hey!” I shouted for her attention.

She bounded and danced away, throwing her limbs and body freely to a song I was oblivious to. I trudged after her. Something about her was entrancing. Maybe it was her stoic determination to her dance. Maybe, I was enticed by her form and appearance. Maybe I wanted to ask her about the local wildlife.

Whatever it was, I drug myself through knee-deep mud to try to catch up to her. I must have worked through miles of swampland, only to find her resting on a small dry island, surrounded by a stream that dumped into the area.

Sprawled on her back, feet in the air and talking to a small frog that was perched on her pointer finger. Rhythmic vibrations rolled fluently from her person and the little frog bobbed its head along, occasionally chirping back to her. I wondered if she was stable as I slowly approached her, my waders squishing with water and mud.

I found myself absolutely enamored. She wasn’t perfect, or particularly beautiful with the maroon birthmark that stretched across the right side of her face, her somewhat crooked nose or her ever so awkwardly spaced teeth. Her amphibian companion seemed to move his head to look to me as I neared closer.

“Who might you be?” she asked without looking at me.

She transferred the frog to her other hand that was gloved with lace and rose to her feet. The strange woman had the eyes of a mustang.

I stuttered. I couldn’t find my name anywhere in my mind. The call of the frogs seemed to be coming from every direction. They were everywhere; clinging to reeds, on the ground around us, in the water with their little eyes peeking out.

“They just want to know who’s trespassing,” she said with a hint of a twang.

“Th-the frogs?” I managed to gather and regurgitate.

“The snakes too,” she shrugged, “When someone comes into your home, you’d like to at least know their name.”

Sure enough, snakes were woven throughout the frogs, which were also peppered with various species of birds. Just staring at me. Some of them cocked their heads, paying no mind to the congregating dragonflies. The woman looked perturbed.

“That’s enough.” she groaned, “If you keep staring at him he’ll never talk. Shoo!”

The critters dispersed like school children after a playground fight, reluctant and disappointed.

“They understand you?” I asked, squinting.

“I’m not the mysterious stranger here.” she reminded me.

“For me, you are. This is federal land, I work here.”

“You first.” she smiled, a grey and black snake coiling her arm from under her clothes.

“I’m Dean.” I relented in my game.

“Rory,” she said, inspecting the snake’s face.

The snake flicked its tongue at her face and shook its rattle in short bursts.

“What exactly are you doing out here, Dean?”

“Population size surveys, checking general animal health so we can watch out for diseases or invasive species.”

She bobbed her head along in acknowledgment of my explanation.

“And what do you do if you find invasive species?” she asked, tilting her head to the side ever so slightly.

“Ahh, it depends. Some species cohabitate well with the native fauna, some do not. The ones that do not are removed, if we can. Removal can be extremely labor intensive, as well as very expensive to not actually solve the problem.”

“What about invasive… people?” she asked, focusing on the snake with such intensity that I wondered which of us she was speaking to.

“I’d leave that to the feds.” I joked.

She grunted, then looked me over.

“Bogs like these eat men, you know?” she asked, her gaze lazily surveying the landscape.

“Peat bogs can, but this is more of a fen,” I explained.

“My land is layer upon layer, floating in the water. I’m surprised it let you this far,” she said without hesitation.  “It’s swallowed many.”

“I’ve studied this area.  It’s not a blanket bog.”

“Child,” she groaned, sweeping a snake wrapped arm in front of her, “This is my ancestral Homeland. Passed down from an ancient ancestor. There isn’t a soul who knows it better.”

I began to correct her again, but she shot her hand up with an outstretched pointer finger.

“No. My family was granted domain here.” she snapped curtly, the mark over her eye burning bright red.

Rory snapped her arm out sharply to her side and her fingers shot out straight with the horizon. She snatched her hand back to her chest and howled a single syllable. It was meaningless to my mind, but it resonated throughout the swamp. It resonated in my bones.

The stench came first. Moldy, musty. Death. I’d smelled it dozens of times coming across old animal carcasses. Rory kept emitting the syllable like an Opera singer. The soggy ground shifted and what I thought were snakes pushed up through the gurgling moss.

Then, they curled back like they were going to burrow back into the earth. More of the apparent snakes pulled up out of the ground, then a larger hunk of meat that connected them.

Hands. There were hands coming from the peat.

I don’t know what surprised me more, the fact that I was standing in a peat bog in Ohio, or the fact that hands were sprouting out of it.

The hands didn’t stay hands, though. They reached and pulled, black arms following, then the crown of a head. The smooth forehead gave way to a twisted expression that had persisted from the moment of his demise, the terrified twist of his lips and shock in his eyes forever frozen in ancient human leather.

I stumbled and stuttered.  Three of them had risen immediately around us. I tried to run. Who wouldn’t? The land below me was suddenly too soupy and I found myself unable to make any meaningful distance.

They stared at Rory like the constant noise was a conversation. They didn’t sink. They didn’t fidget; they simply stood and watched her.

She fell silent and strutted through the musty men.

“Go. Go and do not return.”

The snake uncoiled from her arm and struck at my face. I woke up back at my rusted out s10. No signs of snake bites. My clothes were completely dry. I didn’t mention the incident to my supervisor. She wasn’t going to believe me, and I had at least a few more weeks’ worth of work left at the site.

I was back the following Monday. I dreaded my arrival the whole way, but I needed the money and only got a small portion of the area covered the previous day. I convinced myself on the drive to the Black Swamp that I must have hallucinated. Too much sun, not enough water, and maybe some swamp gas?

Even through the terror, I couldn’t get her out of my head. Was she real? It felt like a real memory. Something inside of me needed to know.

As soon as I got there I checked. No peat bog, just regular old Ohio wetland. I chalked it up to dehydration delirium and went on with my work. None of it looked even remotely similar. The vegetation was different, the insects, the color of the water. I brushed my health concerns aside and kept cataloging.

I saw something moving in the water, so I took a step forward to investigate. As I sloshed forward, I could have sworn I heard the rattle of a rattlesnake. I searched the immediate area, but came up empty handed.

I jerked around as the rattle sounded behind me. Nothing. Then, in the distance, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. A large black tree. I had to investigate; it was my job to catalog as much of the flora and fauna as I could.

What I found was not a tree. Up close it was a writhing mass of branches and snakes. After rising approximately fifteen feet a hollow bulb sat.

“I told you to stay away.” Rory’s voice warned from inside of the bulb.

Her head appeared from the top of a previously hidden opening. She climbed out along the walls on all fours like a gecko. I started running back toward my car. She swam alongside me in a canal.

My heart tried to stop, but I didn’t let it. She was twisting and thrashing. Swimming with her arms pressed to her side and feet together, moving through the water like a snake. Our eyes met, I knew in that moment of staring into soulless reptile eyes, what a gazelle feels like before a lioness pounces and latches on.

She smiled at me with an inhuman grin. It was wide; the teeth were hooks that turned towards her throat.

“I was generous!” she hissed, “I tried to let you go!”

I was running too hard to respond. If I could make it to the truck, I’d have a chance. Then I noticed it. Rory’s twisted mass of snakes and vegetation loomed in front of me.

My brain stopped working. My legs did, too. I simply stopped.

The shadow that replaced the warm sun shook me from the stupor. I twisted to look behind me. She was looming over me, mouth opened wide enough to accommodate my shoulders. She struck downwards at me.

I stumbled forward and then flew forward from the strike to my back. While I was scrambling on all fours trying to get back to my feet, she rose back up covered in scales and was absolutely enormous. I put space behind me, but she swept her arm in front of her and the ground under me gave way to more water.

I surfaced and her scaly form plunged through the peat and into the water. Before I could even try to lift out of dark waters my entire body was bound tightly by cold reptilian scales. I worked and worked, trying to slip something free. I exhaled, she squeezed tighter. I sucked in as much air as I could as she jerked me under. The thick vegetation seemed to cover us.

The only thing I could manage to do was to dig my fingers under her soft belly scales and start ripping them off. I bit into her and ripped them off with my teeth, too. She shrieked as much as she could in the water and released just enough for me to get hands tree and claw at one of her eyes.

The peat was thick, but I managed to tear and wiggle through it while trying not to inhale too much water. She burst through the blankets of vegetation and water. Still abnormally large, but much more human. The mark across her face burned a hateful hue, blood leaked from the crater where her eye had been.

“Into my collection!” she shrieked, plunging a clawed, half scaled hand into the peat.

The rotted shells of men burst from the swamp. I ran for it. Through the slop, through the sharp aches that filled me. They tried to grab me. They tried to pull me under. I slipped out of their slimy, algae-covered hands.

I ran. Away from that spire. Away from whatever that thing was. Away from her, “collection”.

Snakes, men, turtles. Everything that she had in the swamp she threw at me. I dodged, slipped and ran my way through all of them. Eventually, though, my legs gave out. Between the struggle of fighting her off, and running in this soup, I simply could not go on any further. I braced myself.

Nothing came. I rolled over. The leathery men were standing in a line, like a wall mere feet from me. They scowled and snarled, but didn’t encroach.

Rory approached from the rear, holding her eye. She was silent, but the eye she had left burned with every word her throat couldn’t muster as it burned with rage. I grabbed my primitive camera phone from my pocket, hoping to get a picture or call for help. It was waterlogged. I eventually found a small house to call for a ride from. I was on the opposite side of the county from where I’d parked my truck.

I was reassigned. I told them I had a violent allergic reaction to something in the swamp, but that the allergen panel didn’t tell me what it was. I noted that it may be related to a toxin of some kind in the swamp itself. I hope they don’t send a replacement. I wouldn’t go back, and I didn’t want anyone else to run into her, either.

Even if I wanted to return this eyeball to her, to make it stop watching me from the little antique jar I’ve been keeping it in. Returning to the swamp would never be in the cards for me.

That isn’t to say that Rory did not stick in my mind. I became obsessed with what she was. As the internet became more and more prominent I dug my heels in researching cryptids and fanciful monsters, witches and demons. I never found much that seemed to actually apply to that wondrous prancing monstrosity, though.

I stayed in the general area, moving for work. I listened to a police scanner at night as I read and tried to pry stories out of people about the area online. Leads were usually dry, other than a few people who remembered the stories school children told. The ones I parroted as a child.

After what seemed like eons of searching, I came across a very concerning call on my police scanner, originating out of Cleveland. The damsel in distress the responding officers found had the same voice, and seemed to match her description, though without the age that had surely followed me over the years since our last encounter. I had to know, so I contacted one of the responding officers. Though uneasy and recovering, he recounted his story.

“Car 3, you there? Over.” dispatch asked over the radio.

“Car three here, over.” I responded.

My rookie, Darren, was bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for action.

“Head over to 117 Apple Lane, that new subdivision off the freeway. We got an anonymous tip about some commotion. Could be domestic, could just be some spoiled rich kids. Over.”

“Roger that. We’re en route. Over.”

When we pulled up, the porch light was on, and the large window that looked over the lawn was lit up behind the curtain. It was identical to every other house in the cul-de-sac.

“Alright kid,” I told my rookie, “It could be ugly, but you gotta keep it together. Be professional, not angry.”

“I’ll be fine, Jasper.” he assured me, “I saw a lot of documentation in the academy.”

I shook my head and we walked up the narrow cracked sidewalk to the small porch. We rang the doorbell and waited. Darren jabbed the button impatiently. I firmly grabbed his shoulder.

“You gotta be patient, people move slow. Especially at night.”

We waited for a few minutes, with no apparent stirring. Darren gave the door a few firm knocks.


He knocked again, this time calling out, “D.P.D., we’re here about a disturbance.”

I grumbled and grabbed the door knob. The door wasn’t locked.

“Police, we’re entering the building.” I called out, both as a warning and a courtesy.

The smell took Darren aback.  It was strong and exacerbated by the hot and humid air that had been held back by the door. The walls were lined with plastic tubs, stacked and labeled with things like “emerald tree”, “Mojave”, “king”, and “anthaxic”. Mesh crates filled with vegetation, and the source of the smell in the back, tubs and tubs of rats.

“Are they hoarding snakes?” Darren asked.

“I guess that’d explain all the rats.”

I inspected one of the mesh cages. “Emerald Tree” was written on a piece of tape at the bottom. I leaned in close, trying to see what was inside through the thick vegetation.

I nearly shit myself when a bright green snake struck the screen hard enough to also hit me.

“Let’s get this settled and get the fuck out of here, D.”

The house itself was pretty quiet for all of the life it was brimming with. The rats scratched around, and once we heard the telltale rattle of a rattlesnake. The door to the basement was open, and there was a light out of view of the staircase.

“Is someone there?” a frail voice with a southern twang called from the basement.

“Dispatch, car 3 here.”

“This is dispatch. Did you find the house?”

“We found the house, but the only answer we’re getting is from the basement. We’re going to enter the basement. I have kind of a bad feeling about what we’re going to find.  Nothing good comes out of basements.”

I turned the radio off before they could reply. Something told me we needed to be quiet.

I motioned for Darren to stay put and started to creep down the stairs, my hand on my holstered weapon.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of snake skins hung from the beams above. I could see more boxes of snakes through them.

“I heard the steps creak,” the soft voice called out again, “Could you kindly come give me a hand? I had a spat with my boyfriend and I’ve found myself in quite a predicament.”

Darren came down the stairs in a flurry of footsteps. The chance to be the hero fresh in his mind. He rushed across the cement floor, through the curtains of discarded skin.

He found her like he’d navigated that means of a room a thousand times. He knelt down with her, a hand on her shoulder. I followed through the trail of swinging paper-like tubes. She was lying on the floor, a mess of tubs, aquariums and shelves laid across her lower half.

“What’s your name, Ma’am?” Darren asked calmly.

“Lucy,” she wheezed from behind a thicket of blonde hair.

I quietly radioed for EMTs to assess her.

“Lucy, what happened down here?”

“We were fighting about how he was treating my baby.  He shoved me into this shelf and it all came down on me.”

“Where’s your baby now? Did he take it?” I interrupted.

“She should be upstairs, the first door on the left.”

I started to turn to go up the stairs when Darren shot past me.

“I’ll go check it out, I’m faster.” he said as he took the stairs three at a time.

“Did he leave that scrape on your face?” I asked

“Oh dear,” she said with as much of a laugh as she could without coughing up a lung, “That’s just my birthmark. If my hair wasn’t in the way it would take most of the right side of my face.”

I knelt down near Lucy to keep her company. I didn’t notice any blood, but, procedure was to wait for the paramedics in these situations and not lift objects off of someone until medical professionals were present. I could hear Darren’s footsteps crossing the living room above us.

“They shouldn’t be too long, Miss.” I reassured her, “Why’s it so warm and humid in here?”

“It’s for all the scale babies,” she said, motioning around us, “Most of them are tropical and need high humidity and heat levels to be healthy.”

“Does your daughter like reptiles?”

“She loves them.” she said with an awkward smile that was just a little too flat.

“Are you feeling alright?” I asked, “It looks like the color is draining right out of you.”

“Oh your eyes must be adjusting, I’m as pale as the moon.” she said, her reply punctuated with coughs.

Her left eye started to get hazy, like it was covered in an oily blue. I turned slightly and hit my radio.

“Car 3 here, can I get an ETA on the crew? She’s not looking good down here.”

The basement was so quiet I could hear the button on my radio click when I released it. I heard a quiet rip, and the sound of someone peeling sunburn. My instinct screamed that she was being crushed, so I whipped around and found her mouth frozen in an impossibly wide scream. The flesh tore at the corners of her lips as a scaly white dome crowned.

I grabbed and drew my side arm, as I was raising it to aim at her, a series of thuds and yells came from upstairs, the final one sounding like a large man landing at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The voice of the woman called out in a tongue older than any temple. Something large and white rushed up the stairs, mostly obstructed by the clutter in the basement. I grabbed my radio.

“Car 3,” I panted, “Need back up. Everything.”

My gun was hard to find, but fortunately it didn’t go far. I started to creep up the stairs.


A shot rang out.


Another. Followed by even more. I started running, taking the stairs as many as my legs would stretch. Darren let out what I can only describe as a battle cry into cramped house. Upon clearing the doorframe, I saw what he’d been shooting at. It was the resident of the house. Tall, white with black markings racing down her long, scale-covered back.  She was hunched over for the ceiling. A smaller version facing down Darren just feet away from her.

I shot right in the center of her back, where I guessed her head would be. The bullet vanished into her. No hole, no blood. She noticed, though. She twisted and slithered rapidly to face me, the skin on the sides of her head expanded out into a cobra’s hood. Crooked, jagged brown horns jutted from her head, the arms and curves of a woman still present on the abomination. She screeched at me loud enough to shake the windows in their frames. She curled back then lunged at me, her mouth tearing open and revealing curved needle like teeth. Her back jaw split down the middle, opening her mouth wide enough to fit my shoulders in.

I fired two shots, right down her gullet. She grazed my arm, but missed her mark. I ran for Darren. The little one had the same ripped jaw as the big one, and little nubs for horns. I shot it right in the eyes, and jerked Darren up to his feet.

“GO!” I screamed from the bottom of my gut.

Back in the squad car, we locked the doors and Darren got on the radio.

“We need back up!” he sobbed into the radio, “We need it now!”

“What car? Is there an officer down?” dispatch asked, trying to hold back their panic.

“Car 3, we went in and there’s some fuckin’ giant snake bitch or-or-”

Darren’s side of the car was smashed into. It wasn’t hard enough to flip it, but it pushed our car from the curb to the middle of the street. The street lights and lawns vanished as the windows were covered by a massive body. The metal body of our car crunched and strained against her coiled body. The windows cracked then buckled under the pressure.

Teeth erupted through the roof and her two piece jaw slammed a half through both of the windows on the driver’s side. She tore the roof from the car like the lid on a can of spam. Talons snatched us both by the throat and flung us like rag dolls back into the yard. The baby was on Darren before I could do anything. Her unholy maw had already taken in his head, curved teeth dug into his torso.

Sirens echoed across the neighborhood from the distance.

The thing shook its head and wagged a digit at me disapprovingly. There was a sick joy in the one eye that peered at me from her face. Darren was still fighting, punching and trying to get the thing off of him. She lunged again; the needle like teeth scraped my side and took my pepper spray from my hip.

The can erupted in her mouth, throwing a hateful cloud of irritant about the yard as she slung her body trying to dislodge it. In the confusion I darted for Darren. I grabbed the pepper spray from its holster and sprayed it into the little one’s mouth. It released him and I drug him back to the smashed squad car. The sirens were getting louder as cars neared the cul-de-sac.

Lucy snatched up the smaller creature and barreled through the front door of her house. I stayed with Darren. He was still breathing, although nonresponsive. The paramedics took him, and I followed back into Lucy’s den. The upstairs and ground floor were clear, but no one wanted to check the basement. I went first. I wanted blood.

When my flashlight hit the floor, it was writhing. She had released all the snakes and somehow brought them all to the basement in mere minutes. A muddle mass of noodle like creatures completely covered the floor, almost to the top of the first step. We called in animal control, but something was off. I still couldn’t see her anywhere. Was she hiding in the snakes?

It took an entire day for them to clear the snakes. They found the skin of a blonde haired woman trapped under fallen debris as I had reported, though it was dry as if pulled off smoothly and naturally, rather than cut off. In the far corner, they found a hole about a foot and a half wide. Lucy was nowhere to be found.

The pieces started falling into place as I listened to Officer Robbins tale. Shedding a human skin, the V birthmark on the right side of her face, the missing eye. I knew somehow, from miles away, that eye was staring right at me, through structures and nature. He had found Rory.

“I guess its wild,” Officer Robbins said with a little bit of shame.  “They say the house had a gas leak and we were going crazy in the yard from it.”

“I believe you,” I said with a nod, “I’m the one who took her right eye.”

Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by M.M. Kelley
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: M.M. Kelley

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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