She paused under the overpass. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something moving in the trees. The green slimmed water pooled around the railroad tracks in the distance. She started to take off again and then hesitated. She was sure there was someone behind the trees watching her. She squinted into the sunlight shining through the trees. There she saw a head dart in and out. She stepped off the pavement into the grass to investigate. Her heart was racing. She shouldn’t be doing this. What if she fell in the swamp and got hurt? She reached down and felt her phone in the waist band of her running shorts. She would be ok. Her running shoes sank into the muck. Oh what was that smell? She didn’t notice it when she drove this way. Of course she never had her windows down on the way to Greenville, either. This was definitely a bad idea. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. Just then she saw a figure in the distance run to the next tree. The trees shaded the swampy area from any sunlight that would help her see details.
“Hello. Is someone there?” she waited for a response. “Do you need help?” She climbed over a fallen tree to continue down a makeshift path. “Hello. I saw you get my attention. I’m here to help if you need some.” The water was getting deeper and she was afraid that she might lose a shoe if she went any further into the swamp. Beth stopped and shook her head. What was she thinking? That’s the problem; she wasn’t. She turned back toward the tracks to retreat to dry ground.
Beth turned so quickly she slipped and lost her footing. The foul smelling water covered her from head to toe. “Shit. Look what you’ve done.” She slung the water and mud off of her arms and hands. When she regained her footing, she looked around for the person who was watching her. “are you still there? What do you want?” she screamed out of frustration. Obviously someone was playing a prank and she had fallen for it. “I’m leaving and going home.”
Beth felt a gust of wind rush by her sending a chill over her damp skin. She could see a person standing in the distance in the shadow of a tree. “Do you need to talk to me? I’m coming.” Beth worked her way through the overgrowth trying to use the cypress tree knots as stepping stones to stay as dry as possible. As she closed the distance between her and the big tree, she could make out a feminine figure. She hastened her pace determined that her baptism in the swamp muck was not in vain. Oh God I stink. She rounded the huge tree and found no one there. What the Crap? Beth looked around and through the trees she could see the lights of Washington’s waterfront in the distance. The tree was hollow with a hole big enough to hide a person. She ran her fingers over the rough bark along the edge of the opening. She paused watching a boat drift by on the river. The warmth of a hand fell on Beth’s fingers, brushing the skin very lightly, startling her. Beth turned to the inside of the tree and saw her companion clearer now than ever. It was Selah tucked tightly into the inside of the tree hiding from the light. Her wet dress pooled out of the tree like a dark muddy waterfall. She was shaking from the cold breeze. Beth’s own skin had goosebumps as the wind blew off the water whistling through the trees.“What do you need?” Beth knew there would not be an answer because this was one of her stupid nightmares.
“We are in danger. Hide quickly before someone sees you. We have to wait till dark before we cross. I saw you on the road. Why would you walk on the road like that? They will catch you and send you back.” The petite black woman peeked out of the tree surveying the swamp. “Find a tree and wait till dark. The sheriff has his eye on you. We have to be careful.”
Beth blinked listening to the warning from the dead woman. “How do you know about the sheriff?”
“I was there. I saw him. The water has bound us, now I must help you so you can help me find freedom.”
“But you are dead.” Beth shook her head trying to make sense of what was happening. Turning away from the tree, she grabbed onto a stump trying to gain her balance. The stress was making her crazy. That was the only explanation. Stumbling up the path, she noticed the sunlight fading. She had to make it home before dark to run safely along the road. She hurried through the woods trying to avoid the deep holes that had soaked her. She left the girl behind her cowering in the tree. Finally, she made it to the tracks and followed them to the road. A truck blew past her cooling her damp skin. In the wind she could hear Selah’s voice.
“Be careful, they are watching.”
All photos on the website are taken by Tammera Cooper and remain her property.