Marcia grumbled to herself as she trudged through the sticky, festering swamp. Every time she stepped into the water, her feet sank up to her knees in silt that smelled like manure. The dark muddy water also seemed to conceal every kind of creepy crawly imaginable. She'd already felt crawfish crunch under her boots which only served to discuss her more than she already was. The water of this lowly swamp wasn't very deep, only to her waist at the deepest, but the mud made it almost unbearable. It was absurdly slow going, her legs sinking in with every step. And every time she pulled her feet out the mud released her only after a short struggle and a sickening sucking sound, like a kid pulling a lollypop out of their mouths. The sun had difficulty penetrating the trees here that hung over the water as if they were sad, their long leaves drooping and swathed with Spanish moss. Most trees resided on tiny islands, most no wider than a few feet. It was a sad, mysterious territory. Marcia now wished that she had taken a boat. She'd insisted however on walking in her combat gear. Only now was she realizing how dumb that was. She had a lightweight, but bulky experimental rifle firing 40 caliber explosive-tipped rounds at 1,200 feet per second. It wasn't great for hunting, but was more than suitable for blasting apart flesh, metal, rock and light vehicle armor. On her hip she had a 9mm semiautomatic pistol, and had several knives on her person. One on her ankle, one on her hip, and another on her left shoulder.
She had been called down to these mysterious swamps to find out what had been happening recently. People had been disappearing in this swamp recently. Far too frequently and too many to be a natural phenomenon. Almost 30 people had gone missing in the past month, which was strange in and of itself. At first the local animal population receded. That was curious, but nothing to worry about. Then things began to change. Pets and larger wildlife like deer and boar began vanishing. Slowly at first, then rapidly. No one had seen anything, nothing that would indicate such disappearances. Yet they only occurred near the shores bordering the swamp
People began to vanish then. Some people lived in or near the swamp for many reasons. Some people needed their food from there, others simply liked to explore. Yet experienced people were going missing, people who knew the land and creatures. If this had all been occurring within the nearby down, it would be assumed the work of a kidnapper. But in each case it happened within this swamp region, which was almost seven square miles. Search parties had been sent out but hadn't found a thing. They could only search so far though. Seven miles in this swamp was big. At first this hadn't seemed that bad to her. But after having traveled only half a mile, she now had a sense of just how big and difficult to travel this area was. But Marcia was by no means one to flake out over some stupid mud and mosquitoes. One of her greatest attributes was her tenacity and determination. She'd slog through every square meter of this swamp if she had to. Her mission was to find out why people were disappearing. If it was due to some mad man, she would eliminate him. If it was a natural occurrence, like a sink-hole, she'd report it and have it taken care of. If it was an animal, she'd hunt it down and euthanize it. She just wished she'd taken a boat with her!
Marcia sighed in relief as she spotted a grassy shore nearby. The ground appeared solid and she was gratified as she felt her heavy boots tromp onto the solid earth. She sat down to take a breather on a nearby log, after carefully checking for snakes. Already she'd seen more snakes within this one mile of swamp than every other place in her entire life. Cotton mouths were dangerous, and she was a cautious woman. She sat her rifle down next to her and pulled a canteen from one of her leg pockets, gulping down some of the warm water. She looked around though, realizing that this place had its own strange beauty. Despite all the hardships it offered, it had its own appeal. A mysterious, dangerous place. A place where she could test herself. Nothing was shiny or colorful. All was dull and morose, like a graveyard full of life. She smiled at the contradiction, but found it fitting. This place was full of life, yet it was hard to pick out. Aside from the trees and plants of course, life was hiding all the time. She'd almost stepped on a gator earlier by accident. But her keen vision picked out the tiny movement of it blinking. A lesser woman, or man for that instance, wouldn't have seen it at all. But her sharp senses saved her, as she carefully avoided the animal. She could have blasted it with ease, but she didn't want to give her position away. It was far too ingrained in her to be quiet.
She stood up, ready to move on again when she spotted something through the foliage, on the other side. She picked up her rifle and strode over quietly, and found that it was a flashlight. Not just that, it was a small campsite! Finally, a bit for her to go on!
"Hello? Anyone here? Hey, its dangerous out here!" she shouted, loud enough for anyone nearby to hear. She waited for a minute, listening. Nothing. She was particularly unnerved when she realized that she couldn't hear any swamp noises either. No birds. No fish. No insects. That was never a good sign.
Immediately her senses piqued, examining everything that could be sensed. A tent was nearby, one sleeping bag inside. It was clear to her, from a rodent that scampered out, that this hadn't been used in some time. Perhaps a week
A bag that used to be full of cookies was now empty. She suspected that its contents were now in the stomach of that rodent. The bag had been chewed through. So whoever had been here must have gone missing as well. Very close by, in a small inlet was a metal hulled dingy. Inside were some oars, a double barreled shotgun, and various fishing gear. Now she was sure. No respecting person out here would leave their equipment carelessly lying around like this. Especially not this kind of gear. Campers always kept their guns either in their tents or in their hands. A campfire that moss growing in some places further reinforced her beliefs. This camp had been abandoned for at least a week. But what happened to the occupant? From the smell of the sleeping bag, she would have bet a paycheck it used to be a man. Her eyes searched around for anything that seemed out of the ordinary, and her eyes fell onto a very shallow trench nearby the shore. Coming over, she saw that the trench was a about three inches deep and wide. But what she found strange was that it hadn't been dug out. A shovel or digging instrument leaves particular marks. This looks more like something had been pulled up and out of the ground. Like someone had buried a big rope and then pulled it out. Her brow furrowed in thought as she investigated further.
"This is interesting
What have we here?"
As she looked closer, she saw that there were a few more trenches, accompanied by footprints. From the looks of the shoes she could tell they were worn, heavily used. Most likely from a camper or someone who made their living here. That would explain the well used campsite. On the shore here the ground was more wet, moistened by the nearby water and therefore more soft. The tracks were more clear here. Then she noticed that the trenches exited from the shoreline, which was about a foot above the water and ended sharply from water erosion. Typical shoreline in a place like this. Something was certainly going on here. She didn't think it was a coincidence that these trenches were right where this camper's tracks abruptly ended. As she was musing over this she felt a presence nearby