Chapter 13: For the wicked

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There was a story. A story I told myself a million times, until it was all that filled my thoughts and dreams. I repeated it over and over lest I'd forget, because forgetting was what I feared the most.

I don't quite recall that story now.

It was the story of a man, that much I remember: a man who'd lived a whole life on the other side of the fence, away from the cursed, never-ending morass I dwelt in. The man had come to the swamp one day and died there, somehow. Perhaps that was meant to be, but I wouldn't have known; I couldn't even remember his name.

But that man… That man mattered, because he'd been me. Me, before I was doomed to restlessly wander this wretched swamp, my spectral body glowing a soft blue like a candle. Corpse candle. Had those words ever meant something to me? Anything at all?

How much time has passed since I became this haunted spirit, I can't say. Time flows differently on my side of the fence. So does space. One of the few things I knew when I was the nameless man. One of the few things I still know now.

I know the morass, the swamp, shadows crawling over me, and restlessness. Restlessness… and the shadow lady.

The shadow lady resides in this godless place; she has to. She invades my thoughts as if to taunt my already tormented soul further, and I know she is the axis of whatever has transpired. In the swamp, she rules supreme. It's her domain I traverse while it's dark, right up until the sky turns red as the blood staining my spectre. The cycle repeats itself and time passes.

It's exhausting. Miserable. Rest. I need rest. And she can give it to me. She has the power to free me from this hellish existence, the power to let me rest. But she doesn't appear to me; not even in a dream.

I have to find her.

My time is spent searching, all on my own, though others help me sometimes. Occasionally, I reach the fence, and when I get lucky, I can venture to the other side. The people I find there are intriguing; they're the night travellers, lone wanderers in quiet fields, and I target them. I lead them back to the swamp with me, in hopes they can help me find the shadow lady, so she can put me to rest.

Most of the time, those kind souls simply meet their doom. Or their destiny. Perhaps both. But I have to keep searching and wandering, and I'll take all the help I can get.

I met a woman once, stopped by the side of the road. She was the most peculiar potential helper I met.

The woman's hair was as red as the swamp's bloody dawn, and an almost familiar air of danger hung around her as she leaned against her car. The gold and silver jewellery she wore indicated she was wealthy. She'd stopped to smoke; a lit cigarette slowly burned out in her hands.

When I wanted to lead her along with me, approaching from the shadows, she reacted fast: the sight of a silver knife drove me back. Silver hurt, and I didn't fancy getting close to it. But what confused me wasn't her weapon: it was the recognition I saw in her eyes, and the words she spoke next.

"No rest for the wicked, is it, Jack?"

Jack. The name rang a bell, somewhere far away. Was I Jack? Had that been my name? And who was this lady? Why did she know me? Did it matter? She'd spoken of rest.

"Rest…" I repeated, my voice thin and weak, soft and distant. The voice of a ghost. "Put me to… Put me to rest, if you can…"

Perhaps that silver knife could be my way out. Perhaps, if I endured the pain, that would be enough, and I wouldn't be doomed anymore. But it wasn't that simple. Couldn't be that simple.

"I can't," the woman told me, calm, stoic. "Your last words… They were directed at Harris, Jack. It has to be him."

"Har…ris…?"

The woman nodded. "I don't know where he is. Ran off not long after you took your last breath and I haven't seen him since. Probably thought I'd kill him and take his sword without you around to stop me. And who knows? Maybe he was right."

She was terrifying, but she knew things I didn't. She knew there was someone out there, somewhere, who could help me. Someone who could put me to rest. It rendered me speechless; so speechless, in fact, that I couldn't bring myself to lure the woman into the swamp with me, where she'd inevitably drown like those before her.

I couldn't speak, couldn't move. All I did was watch as she got back into her car.

"If you and him were connected through that shadow lady like you thought," she said, "there's a chance he'll come back to give you that rest you want. If your fates were tied together, it's a possibility. If he's flesh and blood and still alive, of course." I thought the woman would smile then, but she didn't, though her tone did grow somewhat softer. "I'll help you hope he remembers you."

There was nothing else for her to say. She drove off into the night and left me where I stood. I watched her go and thought.

The shadow lady. I had to find her. Her, and that boy the mysterious woman had mentioned. That Harris, who was connected to me, who had the power to put me to rest. My infamous last words had forged chains that bound me to him, and all I could do was hope he'd return to shatter them.

And so I went back to the wretched swamp, to wander and to wait; laying my heart in the hands of a lady, and my soul in the memories of a boy.

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Total word count: 30.778!

And with that, the story's over. Big thank you to everyone who decided to read 'til the end! If you're still here, take a moment to tell me your final thoughts by all means; all feedback is useful feedback. For now, I'll sit back and enjoy the ONC entries I'm reading, and I hope you all will go on to read more stories!

Best of luck to those of you who are participating in ONC as well, and thanks for reading once again!

-AJ

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