Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | January 3, 2009

The Debt

Andover, MA. August 9, 2008.


Shadows twist and turn on the green glass of the swamp. Sunlight warms my back, baking bright green algae to radioactive shades. Frogs blink and squeak, shimmying away from my flailing arms and leaping legs.


That’s what they told me. Run, and don’t look back.

This wasn’t always a swamp. When we first ventured here a year ago, the land was dry as bone, empty and desolate. The frogs are a welcome change, as are the bunches of green grass and budding branches. But I could do without the thudding of my heart and the hot breath scraping my throat.

I’ve never run so fast in my life.

We studied geological maps and tomes of magic side by side. We did calculus and flipped tarot cards. We were going to change the world: create a paradise in the desert. A world of life out of sun-baked death.

If we could do it here, why not on the moon? Mars? All bleak rocks orbiting distant stars would be ours to have and to hold. Unless…

Unless we messed up.

IT splashes behind me, drowning out the frogs’ squeaks with the slap of tentacles and, I shudder to even think it, sharp teeth sinking into their heads, cutting off their song forever.

Every shadow of a branch mimics those reaching tentacles. Every splash not made by my own feet turns my insides to mush.

Everything seemed to work like magic. Maybe because it was magic. Water bubbled up from the parched land like honey flowing from a wound. Green things grew and flowered and grew again. We laughed and gave high-fives and visions of hundred dollar bills danced in our heads.

But more than water seeped out of the earth. One can’t call forth life without owing a debt of death.

So IT came, to collect one huge, honking IOU.

I guess you could call me the last installment to settle our account. All the rest already paid. All but me.


Something whips against my calves, stinging and burning an inch-thick gash. Miraculously, I don’t fall–only stumble a little, grasping at the shadows. A frog says mee-eep! and is suddenly snatched away. I hear IT crunch down on the hapless amphibian.

This was a desert once. So what I see ahead must be a mirage. A picnic table? A land rover with its engine idling? Or did we bring those things?

I can’t remember, I can only run. Run as slimy, stinging things grasp at my ankles and graze my thighs. Run as the frogs go silent and the shadows lengthen.

You should run, too.

IT’s coming.



  1. scary. how did Steve like having his picture used? dessert means something sweet to eat, desert is a dry land.

  2. Thanks for the “dessert” catch. It’s fixed now! Steve was honored to outrun a tentacled monster in my blog post.

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