I was driving through the woods one night and a flickering light caught my eye; orange primarily, with tinges of green. I wasn’t in any hurry to get anywhere, and the foxfire phenomenon sparked a strange curiosity inside me. I parked on the shoulder to check it out.
I found a dirt road just on the treeline. In the distance, past a fork, I saw a farmhouse and barn. The area was a thick marsh, and I idly wondered what kind of farming could be done in such a swamp. The green-orange light was closer now, and was actually several globes of light now, wavering in the trees — up and down, left and right. It reminded me of handheld lanterns from days of yore. Crickets and cicadas serenaded me while I trodded on the muddy path.
My heart caught in my throat and I jumped into the trees. Just in front of the barn were two men and an ambulance. Besides the shaky foxfire in the distance, the only light I could see was the glow from the back of the ambulance. The light illuminated the two men, both of whom wore orange prison jumpsuits. They were dragging and undressing two unconscious paramedics. I got a little closer, hiding behind a chipped white fence so I could hear the two escapees.
“This one doesn’t have the keys either. Now, can we get these chains off?” said one of the convicts — the shaggiest and most feral of the two. He had a gleam in his eye, a kind of flicker, that scared the hell out of me. He rattled his handcuffs angrily.
“Sure we can, Brady,” said the other man, a more refined-looking criminal. His black-gray hair was slicked back, giving him an antiquated look. “Calm down. I see an anvil near that stable. I’m sure we can find a hammer.”
Brady looked up at the moon and grinned wildly. “Man, I can’t wait ’til we get these off, and I can go see Maureen and Jimmy again. They’re gonna flip out when they see daddy’s home 20 years early!”
“Now, Brady, I hope you are not planning anything foolish,” said the other man.
“Man’s gotta right to see his family. And what do you care? You ain’t gonna see me again after this anyway. ‘Sides, we’re way past ‘foolish’ ain’t we, what with these two,” he said, giving one of the pale paramedics a kick to the ribs. Brady leered at his partner. “You ever killed a man? Huh?”
The foxfire lights in the woods got more intense now, and closer.
“Look at that, man…” said Brady the ruffian. “Kind of freaking me out. My grandma told me stories about them lights in the swamp, Will-o-the-Wisps she called ’em.”
The refined one looked into the woods. “Shut up and help me,” he said, losing his patience. He found a rusted blacksmithing hammer and was pounding at his chains, using a spike to get between links. Before long, all the chains were broken, and the men had switched clothes with the still-unconscious paramedics. I heard indiscriminate whispering from the gnarled treeline, not ten yards away.
“You know, on second thought, maybe we should cut through the swamp, towards those lights,” said the well-manicured prisoner, quietly, as if in a voice that was not his own.
“Yea, you’re right,” said Brady, scratching idly at his bushy black beard. “Could save some time that way.”
The two walked into the marsh at a brisk pace, fearing nothing, when not moments ago Brady trembled at the sight of the ghostly globes of light. Unlike the two convicts, I felt a sense of foreboding. Something was telling me not to follow them into the marsh, but I decided to anyway, just for a while. I looked behind me, noting the rotting, abandoned barn as a landmark.
As time went on the couple sped up more and more. The lights shifted to-and-fro, playfully drifting away just out of reach.
“Damn it!” said Brady. “Why the hell does it feel like we’re not gettin’ anywhere?”
“We should turn back,” said the gentleman-convict, and I could feel the horror shared between the three of us.
I heard a loud click like a switch, and all the lights went out. Laughter, mirthless and horrible, echoed from the deepest reaches of the marsh. Then, silence, followed by a sudden, persistent hiss like boiling water. I turned to run. Looking back, I saw arcs of flame slicing across the air, and I heard screaming — pleas for mercy cut short. I nearly made it to the treeline, when someone appeared to my side.
I looked into its eyes; terrible, smoldering, dread orbs, filled with hunger.