At that last shack, a burly man with a thick beard sat on a chair of branches and logs. His beard hid his mouth completely but that didn’t stop him from spitting some tobacco as Percival and Vicki approached.
“Can I do fer ya?” The man said with a tone that indicated he had little interest in doing anything for them.
“We’d like to use a pirogue to go out to an old sugar plantation. Can you help us?” Vicki asked.
The man stood up with a solemn expression. “That place ain’t right.” He said it with a tone that was cold and flat. It made Vicki’s heart skip a beat.
“It’s very important,” Percival said.
“Folks come sometimes to rent my pirogues. If you want one, it’ll be a hunnert dollars.”
“That’s really expensive to rent a pirogue,” Vicki said.
“So’s replacin’ ‘em when they don’t come back.”
“Why don’t they come back?” Vicki wondered more and more what she got herself into, but was too stubborn to do anything else.
“You got the money?” The man didn’t flinch at her question.
Percival handed him a gold Civil War coin. “It’s authentic and worth enough to buy ten of your pirogues.”
The man raised an eyebrow as he studied the coin. He nodded, put the coin in his pocket and gestured to the dock.
“But why don’t they come back?” Vicki pressed the question again.
“Jus’ you remember it’s his swamp.” The man went into his shack and abruptly shut the door.
Percival walked to the small dock and selected a pole and pirogue. He opened the blanket and put on his gun belt. As Vicki stepped into the pirogue, Percival took her by the arm.
“This is where we part company,” Percival said.
Vicki jerked her arm away. “Heck no! I’m coming with you. I’ve come this far after all.”
“I can’t guarantee your safety. Furthermore, I couldn’t forgive myself if anything happened to you.”
“I can take care of myself just fine! Like it or not, you’re stuck me Captain Louis Percival, and I won’t take no for an answer!” Vicki sat down in the pirogue and refused to move.
Percival sighed in defeat and grasped the pole to push them out on the water. It was no use arguing. He just hoped he could keep her alive. He stabbed the pole into the muddy bottom of the swamp and with a heavy shove, they were on their way.
Drifting into the swamp was fairly open at first, but soon they had to navigate between the wide trunks of the cypress trees. Once they were well out of view of the shack community, Percival paused to set his pistol on the bottom of the pirogue. As it did back at the bar, the pistol spun and finally pointed a direction further south. He holstered his weapon and returned to pushing them across the water. The sun shone through the branches in cascades of bright light that enhanced the natural green beauty of their surroundings. Life teemed around them. Small turtles jumped off floating logs with splashing echoes. Tree frogs watched them go by from tree trunks and reeds. Even the spider webs shined in the scattered beams of sunlight. Vicki flinched as a Copperhead snake gracefully glided by on the water. Percival ignored it, focused on the mission ahead.
They lost track of time as they drifted. It could have been an hour or two when they could see a decrepit rooftop just over some high foliage about a hundred yards ahead. No clear path to it could be seen for land yet. Percival could tell, they would have to circle around in the swamp to find their way.
“You’ve been pushing us a long time,” Vicki said. “Would you like me to take over?”
“I would never put man’s job on a woman,” Percival said, believing he was being chivalrous.
“Oh you really are from the Civil War!”
“You have a lot to learn about the ways of women today! I’ll have you know…”
She was interrupted by a loud splash and the pirogue flipping into the air. Percival and Vicki were tossed opposite directions into the murky water. Even with his head submerged, Percival could hear Vicki’s screams of terror. He struggled to get his head above water and stand on the slick mud below. Percival managed to cling to a tree trunk and pull himself up. He wiped the muck away from his eyes frantically.
Seeing the massive body towering over them, Percival instinctively drew his pistol. As his eyes started focus, he stared in disbelief. It had arms and legs like a man, if any man stood 14 feet tall. It was green and scaled with moss hanging from prehistoric plates going down its back. Its head was that of a giant alligator; big enough to snap an average alligator in half. Its mouth was open to show off rows of dagger sharp teeth.