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The swamp is never silent. No matter where you are, you can always almost hear it; the far off cacophony of insects, the sludgy lull of slow-moving water, or the cries of birds. It’s always there, and it’s just natural. So when it stops…

It’s the loudest thing you’ve ever heard.

In a small house, overlooking the sog that overtook most of the landscape; was a girl, resting her head on a desk. Groaning against the screaming of cicadas, she turned to face the screened window, and glared out at the natural world, before widening her eyes at what she saw.

A horse. A wet horse.

Why is there a horse here? she asks herself, before standing up to get a closer look.

The cicadas have stopped, the world was completely silent, and when her foot hit the creaky floorboard, she felt like she had committed an affront to all that is real.

Ignoring the ringing pain in her ears, she stepped out the sliding glass door, and walked across the damp grass to see the horse, which should NOT have been there. Wracking her brain for an explanation, she gave up when the horse looked at her. Not the absent, slightly offended gaze that she’d associated with horses; no; this felt more focused, like the horse was studying her.

She shifted on her feet, more uncomfortable now than overtaken by wonder. She took a step back towards her house, and the horse took a step forward. Glancing down for a second, her blood ran cold when she saw the three webbed toes in place of hooves, and all of the warnings came back at once.

“Don’t go in the bog, children!” called old Mrs. Callahan from her porch, as the gaggle of children ran by with model boats, before stopping. All of the children on this block had been instructed to listen to the one-armed woman, as doing otherwise wouldn’t be polite.

“Why? It’s perfectly safe! Winnie said it was safe, right Winnie?” The little girl nodded shyly.

“My mum says it’s fine as long as we don’t go too deep.” Mrs. Callahan scoffed at that statement, as our protagonist looked on in wonder at the old woman; Winnie’s mum always knew what was best!

“Did I ever tell y’all about how I lost this arm?” She pointed at her stump. The children shook their heads, and came closer to the porch. “Gather ‘round, it’s time you learned why to avoid that there swamp.”

As had happened a few times before, the children sat down in Mrs. Callahan’s front garden, and listened to the wizened old woman tell stories.

“Well, children. When I was your age, there was more swamp than houses in this neighborhood, and there was a river that ran under the bridge on third street.” All of the things she described had changed since Mrs. Callahan was young. The river had dried up, and humans had pushed the swamp out of the town.

“When I got to fourth grade, like some of you, some of the children started to go missing. This was when the mayor decided to expand housing into the swamp.”

“Did they find them?” asked a boy in the crowd; before being shushed by the others.

Mrs. Callahan let out a dour laugh, full of pain. “ No, child; I don’t think they ever did, officially. They found what they think WAS the children, but it was never confirmed…” She sighed, before continuing,

“The thing was, that whenever a child would disappear, the swamp would go silent. And whenever that would happen, our mothers would call us in, and call all of the other mothers to make sure all of us would be accounted for. And always, one of my friends’ mothers would come on the line crying hysterically. And we would know that they were gone.” A chill ran across the crowd of children, looking at their friends, and some held hands both to grant and receive comfort.

“And then, one day, I was playing in my backyard with my best friend, Elle Louise, and our ball rolled towards the swamp. She went to go get it, when she stopped, and walked back to me, without the ball. I was annoyed, until she told me that there was a pony in the woods, looking at her. She said it had black fur, and green hair, and it looked friendly.” Mrs. Callahan paused; “I told her there was no way, until the pony walked into my yard.”

Some of the children squealed in delight, but they too were shushed.

“Elle Louise walked straight up to that pony, and petted it, before it bent down to her height. Oh, I can still remember the joy in her eyes as she looked at me before climbing onto that damned three toed horse, and prancing around my yard. I was overjoyed as well; neither of us had seen a real horse before. And then that pony came over to me, and stopped.” She looked down at her stump, frowning.

“I only had time to put my hand on its flank before it took off towards the swamp. My hand was stuck, and Elle Louise was screaming. I was whipped around by trees as we went deeper into the bog than even the contractors.” She took another deep breath as the children shivered, terrified.

“Lucky enough for me, I grabbed a sharp stone while I was being stolen; and did the only thing I could think to do.”

“What’s that?” Winnie asked, interested, and with a shaky voice.

“I cut off my own arm.”

Silence ran over the crowd. Complete silence; even in the swamp. Mrs. Callahan looked up in horror, and sent the kids home, counting all of them. Two of them were missing. The remaining children cried as they walked home sullenly, fearing the death of their friends.

When she came back to the present, she was greeted by the musty scent of the horses’ breath on her face. It was right in front of her, standing and studying her every move.

Overcome with fear, and in desperation, she started to cry silently, willing the tears to stop. They wouldn’t. The horse bent down in front of her, beckoning her to climb aboard. Instead, she sat down on the damp grass, and buried her head in her hands, crying loudly now. She could feel the warm, damp breath on the back of her neck and hair as she sat there, praying to every deity she had ever heard of, for something to happen. The sound of hooves on grass left her, and the sounds of the forest returned.

She looked up, just in time to see her son riding the horse into the swamp, giggling happily. Stopping just by the trees, it turned to face her, and blinked once, seeming to laugh in its slowness.

She stood up quickly, running after the horse and her child, but was too slow.

By the time she had gotten to the treeline, all traces of the horse were gone.

And inside, the phone rang. In an anguished cry, she sank to her knees, and screamed in anger and despair.

There’s a reason we don’t go in the swamp.

Because silence is deadly.