With new eyes I gaze up at the night sky. These eyes are young, sharp. Much better than the festering doe eyes I wore previously. It’s been ages since a man wandered into my swamp, I will take much from him. Old roots and sinew creak as I pick though the remains, choosing the best parts to replace what I have lost. Again I was too gluttonous. So many good parts ruined by my claws or devoured in a frenzy. I really need to practice more self control, this new brain meat should help with that. He was a clever one. Seems he had a family too, shame. For a short time his memories are mine as his gray matter intertwines with my own, then atrophy sets in striping away all that he was.
The morning grows near, I feel a burning grow within me as a dim orange glow, like that of a single smoldering ember flickers from between my cracked ribs. The sun is coming. Immortal though I may be, the purity of the morning sun is poison to souls cursed as I. To shelter myself from its burning rays I must submerge myself in the mud that was once my prison and wait for nightfall. The bones of my stolen coyote legs click and clatter as I move through the swamp on hoofed feet and a single fresh human hand, sans a finger or two. I make my way to the sink hole that would be my grave and sink myself in the mud. The cold water feels good on the burning embers that the sun set in my heart. It’s ironic that this mud would become my sanctuary. There was a time, a very long time, when I would have given anything to escape it. I have few memories of when I was a man, the rot took that from me, but I will never forget his face. The face of the shaman that doomed me to an eternity as a rotting scavenger of carrion.
I was part of a Choctaw raiding party. One of the swamp tribes to the south had been hunting our land... or maybe they had stolen our crops, I can’t be sure anymore. My memory is hazy and as a man I fought so many battles, the only thing to set this particular conflict apart in my mind is that it was the end of a tribe and the end of my life as I had known it until that day. Our party was meant only to kill a few of their warriors and steal a portion of their goods as a warning, but my brothers were carried away by the thrill of the slaughter.
They killed everyone, the sick and the old, even the children. The women were raped and their homes were set ablaze with them still inside. There was nothing left, only smoke and embers. As we trekked back though the swamp we crossed paths with a hunting party of the tribe we had just destroyed. We did not know how to fight in a swamp, we stood no chance. In an attempt to flee the carnage I found myself trapped in a quicksand bed. I fell onto my back and began trying to gently swim my way to solid ground, but as I neared the shore I saw faces looking down at me, filled with hatred and sorrow. I did not beg for mercy, I knew I would find none.
Among the men was their shaman. In his right hand he held what appeared to be a hot ember. I could hear his flesh sizzle and hiss as smoke rose from between his fingers. As the smell of his burning flesh brought me back to the slaughter of his village, I knew where it must have come from. As I struggled to escape the muck, he held the ember high in the air and began to chant in a language I didn't recognize. The swamp grew silent as he finished his chant and stretched his arm over my chest. I struggled as hard as I could to move away, but it was too late. The coal dropped. I screamed as the glowing hot ember seared my flesh. The longer it burned the brighter and hotter the ember became, until it finally scorched a hole through my rib-cage, and into my living heart.
I should have died, but I didn't. I tried to scream, but I couldn't. My voice had failed me, screams were reduced to whispers. The hunters left and before he followed, the shaman cursed me to live forever in agony, my heart forever burning with the atrocities I had helped to commit. I began to struggle against the quicksand once again when two of the men returned, carrying between them a great stone. Their hateful scowls against the darkening sky was the last thing I would see for hundreds of years. The stone pushed me down and pinned me at the bottom of the pit. I was trapped.
I spent days gasping for air before my lungs failed me. I spent weeks screaming silently into the muck, not creating so much as a bubble or ripple. After what may have been a month, I accepted my fate. I laid in my muddy tomb for years, just thinking. I could do little else. It’s amazing the theories, philosophies, angels and demons one creates when confined to their own mind for a life time or two. I quickly realized that while I could not die, I could still age. Living in the bottom of a swamp does nothing to help one age gracefully. I couldn't see myself though the mud, but I could feel the roots of trees and other swamp life growing into my limbs and between my bones. I could feel the worms as they past though my body, feeding on my flesh.
Joints would become stiff, then seize, and eventually cease to be. I feared that I would waste away to nothing, just a soul trapped in the mud for eternity, but my decay became my salvation. After what felt like lifetimes, something gave way. I could no longer feel the weight of the stone on my stomach. My spine, it broke! I was no longer pinned down, or at least my top half wasn't. I swam. I swam as quickly as I could. This was more motion than my body had made in over a century, I was concerned I would fall to bits before I breached the surface, but I made it. I couldn’t see anything, my eyes turned to mush long ago, but I could feel the cool air on what remained of my now brown leathery skin. I also felt that wretched burning. It had been with me all this time, but it was now stronger than ever. I sank back into the sand and felt the cool waters sooth my burning ribs. I realized then that I would never truly be free.
Over time I learned to bare with the burning in my chest, I could spend many hours on the surface before returning to my grave, so long as it was night. The sun seemed to agitate and intensify the burn. Any water or mud could sooth the burn for a time, but none worked as well as the muck I had slept in for so many years. Within a few days I rediscovered my hunger and so I began to scavenge, and then to hunt. Some time after, I realized that the flesh of my prey could serve me as more than simple sustenance.
I have “renewed” myself many times since then, with both animal and human, living and dead flesh. Very little of my original body remains, just some bits of hard blackened brain tissue, bits of a spine, and a still beating heart with a single cauterized hole in the center. Even my head was robbed from a stray dog. Strange to see a dog out this far into the swamp, but then I have noticed many strange things In recent decades. I've stalked more men in recent months than I have seen in centuries, and the distant glow of civilization I see from the tree tops seems to be growing brighter with every passing year, growing closer. Maybe soon I’ll be more man than beast. With this new hand I can almost use a spear, but I suppose a knife is fine for now.