Swamped Chapter 10 Page 5

“So, what exactly is muckweed? It’s that stuff that was on you, right?”

“Yeah. It grows pretty deep in the swampwater, deeper than we usually go. It’s a lot like seaweed, but the big thing about it is that it’s really sticky. Easy to get tangled up in it, and pretty sturdy too. I’m lucky it snapped; last time we had to rescue someone from some, we pulled it right out to the root.”

“Strong stuff?”

“Very. I think this one wasn’t quite mature. But Dean would know more about that stuff than I would.”

You have to agree there. Still, something else is bothering you.

“Why did the greatrat dig through the walkway? There’s just water under there, couldn’t it have just jumped off?”

“Well, they aren’t very bright. My best guess is it smelled something on the underside, and looked for a weak spot to dig through for it. There’s always some boards that are weaker than others.”

“But they can swim? That’s nasty.”

“Oh, yeah, they can. But they’re not good at it. It’s way easier to fight them in the water, provided you’ve got a bit of aquatic combat training.” He looks a bit sheepish suddenly. “Maybe I could use a bit more of that, though. Just ’cause I hear the call of the swamp doesn’t mean I’m a natural.”

This is the second time he’s mentioned that, and you’ve heard about it before. Maybe this is a good time to clarify.

“I, ah. I haven’t heard the call myself,” you say, unsure how he’ll take it. “But, well. What was it like?”

“You haven’t heard it? Then what the hell are you doing in this dump,” he says, slapping your back playfully. “Seriously, though, most of us have heard it. I don’t know how well I can explain it. It’s like, one day, I knew I had to go to the swamp. Like I was needed here. Damned if I know what I’m needed for, but ever since I got here, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. Am I making any sense?”

You can’t really see what he’s getting at, except by contrasting it with how you’ve felt since you arrived.

You’ve spent much of your time here feeling lost. Like you were an excess part in a machine that was working just fine until you came along. You’ve been trying to fit in, and you’ve made friends – better friends than you had in the outside world, anyhow – but the feelings haven’t really gone away.

You don’t feel like you don’t belong, exactly. But you’ve definitely been lacking what Walter’s just described.

He turns to you suddenly. This is the first time you’ve really seen his face since he took off the breather mask, and you can’t help but notice he’s rather handsome.

“You okay?” he asks. “You’ve been quiet all of a sudden, and you look a little pale.”

“Sorry,” you say. “Just, lost in thought.”

“Does it bother you that you didn’t hear the call? I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“No, you didn’t. I just… Well, I’m still not quite used to how they do things around here.”

“Ah, gotcha. Well, if it makes you feel any better, the call doesn’t help much with that sort of thing. Ho, I could tell you some stories about my early days.” He suddenly looks a bit embarrassed, which you can’t help but find cute. “But not right now. We’re here, at the East Tower.”

The “tower”, as it turns out, is more like a treehouse. You know better than to go up the ladder, so you call up.

“Orders from the night medic!” you shout. Someone comes down soon after, and you promptly recognize him as Nathan Grinnes.

“Well, if it isn’t my new friend whose name I don’t think I actually caught!” he says, smiling. “And my old friend Walter, to boot. My, what happened, Walter, you’re looking awfully wet.”

“Followed a stray greatrat into the water,” he mutters. “Marshall here helped me out.”

“Marshall! That’s your name, yes, I knew I’d heard it going around. Couldn’t quite place it, though. Well, Marshall, what news do you bring me?”

You hand him the note.

“Pest Control took out a lifeboat last night and had to abandon it. There’s a sketch of where it should be, you’re to tell us if it’s there and retrieve it if it is.”

“Right. I’ll just head back up. Walter, why don’t you come along, if it’s there I’ll need someone to look, and our dear friend Marshall doesn’t seem to be in much shape to climb a ladder.”

You can’t deny that. Walter and Nathan climb into the tree, and you find yourself looking at Walter a little more closely than you were before.

Damn, he’s cute. It’s been a while since you found yourself feeling this way about someone.

But you also remember all too well what happened the last time.

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Your ex girlfriend disappeared on you without a trace right before you had a chance to propose to her. You were worried at first, but her parents told you that she was fine and simply went off to travel… without you.

You’re honestly not sure what you did wrong to this day, and it’s made it hard to get attached to anyone since.

I wonder if there’s some sort of curse associated with being in the swamp without hearing the call…Walter doesn’t seem to be aware of it, so it’s probably fine.

No. It won’t happen this time, and it’s almost certain nothing is going to get burnt down this time.

Author’s Note:

I don’t write romance very often (and I would not be at all surprised if this was apparent from the text) but I thought I’d take this opportunity to challenge myself a little. I had a suggestion to ask Walter on a date, and while being that forward seemed out of character for Marshall, being attracted in the first place was something I could work with.

More on this next update. For the moment, I’m just going to note the minor inconsistency where Nathan doesn’t think he caught Marshall’s name, but it was said right at the end of their conversation. This is, of course, easily explained as a simple failure of memory.