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Admin Note: He tried. But Enzo needed more words for this story so we let him have a few more. This is Part One. Part Two will be posted tomorrow.
Meet American Men dot com…
By Enzo Stephens
A woman of minute physical stature moves rapidly along a spongy, mud-caked trail that may have been carved out by human hands or perhaps a parade of wildlife, one year ago or a hundred years ago. Time moves differently deep in bayou country.
The swamp is flooded by the distant Mississippi that seems to deluge the lowlands anytime a drop of rain plops into its swirling, murky depths. The burgeoning swamp oft tickles the edges of the worn trail, lapping at bent grass and algae and turning the path into a shoe-sucking mess of unpredictable bog.
It is still here, the deep, pervasive silence one finds in ancient forests miles deep and endless swamps where noise is nothing short of utterly invasive.
It is here that we find this diminutive woman urgently pushing a baby stroller. An egret squawks in the distance, its peal duly noted by ancient cypresses dripping moss and blotting sun, but it sets the woman on edge.
No sound emanates from the depths of the stroller, which is shrouded in a black mesh covering intended to keep mosquitos away from its precious cargo; the woman plunges on through the squishy path and the torpid viscous air without seeming regard for the welfare of the stroller’s occupant.
She mutters. Often. Angrily, and often accompanied by twitchy shakes of her head, which sends thick, tangled snarls of hair whipping around. A hapless mosquito gets knocked out of its quest to have a bit of dinner from the woman’s head by a whipping tendril.
She stops abruptly, so still she looks to be dead, while several feet before her at the edge of the swamp rests a large alligator, swamp slime oozing off its thick hide as it lies half in half out of the tepid water.
A person less experienced with these beasts would presume its quiescence to be that of a lazy semi-slumber, but the agitated woman is much wiser. Sneaky bastard.
She slowly extracts a long switch from a strap that holds it close to her lean, taut back, her movements slow, precise and gradual, imperceptible to the great lizard. In an eye-blink the switch snaps out, whacking the gator’s left front foot resoundingly, and its response is both violent and predictable. Its head turns to the left with deceptive quickness; cavernous, gaping jaws suddenly snapping down with a booming crack that echoes across the sullen waters of the bayou, and yet the little slip of a woman is already beyond the gator’s reach by several yards.
She chuckles and mutters and sets off again at her frenetic pace, shrouded stroller wobbling over the rough, sodden trail, her old Nikes making sucking sounds that mark her progress. She glances to the west to see the sun dipping low, offers a quick yelp and sets to her stride with increased vigor, her old tattered black skirt billowing out behind her as she’s practically running now.
She thinks back to the time the gator almost won, almost got her, and she only thinks along these lines to avoid the encroaching panic that’s threatening to engulf her in nameless terror that seems to increase exponentially with each passing tick of time that marks the sun’s descent into the abyss.
She has to get home before it gets dark; who knows what’s in the cypress and what nasties come out of the dangling drapes of fetid moss.
The slight woman veers sharply to the left as she spies a dim yellow glow from behind a cellophane window in her home; the glass from that window destroyed long ago when she…
Marny Corozco stepped off the airplane at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on a chilly day — chilly by Manilla standards — in January. She stopped at the end of the deplane lane to get her bearings and struggled to pick her jaw up from the floor as she looked around in wide-eyed wonder.
Sure she viewed pictures of the airport — well, of New Orleans for that matter on the internet back in Manilla, but pictures did not do this … expanse any justice. The place was huge!
Somebody bumped into Marny from behind, grumbled something about something called a ‘rube’ and poked past her, followed by a stream of Americans dragging little suitcases on wheels and pushing baby strollers with no babies in them.
The sight of the empty baby strollers caused Marny’s heart to jolt with a sudden wrench of painful loss. She ached to hold her son Jose and was surprised at the sudden wash of tears dampening her cheeks.
She brushed her face angrily, spied massive signs for ‘Baggage Claim’ and turned in that direction, long ebon hair whipping behind her.
But while Marny was resolute in her stride, she was assailed by powerful, knee-crippling doubt.
What if he wasn’t there to meet her? What would she do? A new country, new city, amid a people she knew little about and barely enough money to buy a large bubble tea. She kept her eyes and heart hopeful that God would see her through this change of life and protect her and her young son who she left in Manilla in the care of her eternally judgmental mother.
Yet she could not contain her anxiety as her feet found a down escalator. She kept her eyes focused on her feet, afraid to look up at the expanse of milling people and not see him.
He was so different from all the other men Marny had known to that point in her life; he was kind, his big brown eyes expressive, yet penetrating, and though Marny’s English was terribly broken and well sprinkled with Tagalog, she could always find a connection with Lee through his eyes.
He radiated warmth, which was incredibly surprising considering the couple had only communicated virtually. Funny how that happened. Marny remembered the first time they’d chatted; it was a little flirtatious at first, but then Lee punched through the silliness of first meetings between a man and a woman and touched her heart by asking her how she really felt about — well, whatever. Marny’s experience with men up to that point simply didn’t involve exploration of her thoughts and feelings, merely exploration of her body.
And the means that made this meeting, this major life-change for Marny come about, was through a website that seemed pretty stupid to Marny at the time, although her best friend swore by it. MeetAmericanMen dot com.
And yet it seemed as though God led Marny straight to the site because within minutes she found Lee, and in so doing Marny found her new life.
He was always so easy going, so easy to talk to. He looked a little odd; a little older, long hair with blond mustache and beard and wide eyes that seemed to be touched with a hint of sadness that Marny instantly fell in love with.
She told him about Jose, her son. She told him about Jose’s father, how he used her and threw her aside. About how the Philippine culture casts a dark eye on contraceptives, leaving a young Marny burgeoning with child at the age of sixteen and not even out of high school.
She was disgraced in the eyes of her family, and even though she bore a beautiful boy, her beautiful boy was all she had, and so she was desperate to change her lot in life and the sooner the better.
Time wore on, jobs got shittier and shittier until she was practically hooking, and yet through it all was Lee. Ten-thousand-miles-away Lee, encouraging her, gently nudging her to make the move, step out of her comfort zone and come to America.
Manilla was no comfort zone.
When he displayed a pre-paid ticket with the words ‘Japan Air Lines’ (from Manilla to New Orleans via Tokyo and New York City), well that was all she wrote. She begged her Nanay to take care of Jose until she could send for him, packed clothes and a few possessions and set off to change her life and her good fortune, fully confident that God was finally smiling on her.
Marny stepped off the escalator, meandered her way to the appropriate baggage carousel and scanned the milling crowds again for her Lee, and then she saw him, striding purposefully through the door. Marny suppressed an overwhelming urge to go to him as a part of her tended to shy away from public displays of affection.
Instead, she watched him, her luggage completely forgotten as she studied him; his lean frame, long, wispy hair; tattered, worn denims topped with a black tee shirt and bottomed with a pair of sandals. The tee shirt displayed the words ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd,’ something that had no meaning whatsoever to Marny.
He stopped inside the entrance to the terminal, his eyes bright, so blue they seemed to glow, and scanned the crowd alertly, roving, roving, until they landed on her; their eyes locked across the crowd, smiles bloomed and they rushed to meet each other in crushing hugs and passionate kisses. Public Displays of Affectation be damned.
Marny was struggling.
She was trying to make catfish adobo in a cast-iron skillet on a rickety old propane gas stove that made her pine for the stove she had back home in Manilla. In fact, Marny was missing home in a big way, mainly because every day spent in this hell-hole with Lee was pissing her off more and more.
Catfish adobo! Yuk! The honeymoon was over.
The beautiful meeting they had in the airport morphed into silence for the long drive to Lee’s house, which was plopped at the end of a miles-long rutted path that veered off a winding two-lane blacktop. Marny was fine with the quiet as she was trying to absorb the alien landscape in this place.
Everything was … wet! Not dissimilar from the land around her childhood home in Ilagan, except for the huge, old trees and the creepy-assed moss that hung off of everything in sight.
There was a smell here too … rot! She glanced at Lee, noting the long, lean, sinewy arm covered with fine blond fur that clamped loosely on the steering wheel of the jostling pick-up he was slinging around with ease. Marny wondered if he smelled it. His eyes seemed a little … vacant. That gave her a little jolt of fear.
“What is that smell, Lee?”
“How much farther, I will have to pee!”
And that was it for the rest of the bumping, tortuous ride.
Lee’s beat-up truck’s brakes squealed as he brought the truck to a halt facing a rambling, ramshackle one-story clapboard house that sprawled out in a way that gave Marny a headache.
Lee opened the front door after disengaging a complex series of locks and showed Marny the bathroom which Marny utilized with blessed relief. Lee then gave her a quick tour of the house; it was clearly in need of a woman’s touch!
But not until Marny caught up on some sleep; jet-lag and all that, so Lee trundled her off to his huge bed (California King?), left a small night-light on for her and then sequestered himself away in his ‘Money Room.’
“Lee, what is this Money Room? You are in there so much.”
He sat at a battered old Formica kitchen table smoking a cigarette, staring out the window over the kitchen sink. “Nothing for you to be concerned about. Never go in there.”
Marny wasn’t satisfied with Lee’s response. “But I am concerned; you are in there so much. What is in there for you that is taking you away from me like that?”
Lee stood abruptly; his chair clattering to the floor. He turned to face her across the large room. “I told you … it’s. None. Of. Your. Business.” His tone was low and almost a growl and Marny shrank back from his ferocity and his blazing eyes.
She backed up a step. “Okay, it is nothing!”
He glared at her, fury and hatred naked in his eyes, then just as rapidly the fire in Lee’s eyes extinguished; he waved long fingers in the air in her general direction, a gesture of dismissal.
Marny’s curiosity was a force within her though, and Lee’s dismissiveness caused painful memories of her father doing the same. Marny’s tongue grew bold. “Is it the pornography, Lee? Is that what you are doing in there?”
Lee DuClair strode to a battered steel kitchen sink, his back to Marny. She yearned to go to him, to let him know that she loved him regardless of the pornography. It was a bad thing, soul-sucking and destructive, and men usually needed help to get away from it. Marny vowed to help Lee in his plight and then they could grow together and Jose could finally be with her and maybe they could have their own babies, regardless of the forbidding swampland.
She stepped up behind Lee and circled her arms around his waist, his back towering above her, and she nuzzled her face into his tee shirt.
Only to find herself sprawled out on the floor several feet away from him, stars reeling against encroaching blackness in her head.
He hit her, so fast she had no idea it was coming, and it was difficult to comprehend. As she struggled to raise her stunned self from the floor, she heard Lee talking, his body turned sideways, and in his hand was a black hunting knife that seemed to suck the light out of the room.
“You poor little Asian women from all those shit countries — the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, whatever. You’re so damned easy.
“Idiots pony up whatever shekels or pesos or whatever other kind of garbage currency you pin your vapid hopes and dreams on and shell them out to people like me, people who see and smell your desperation from half a world away.
“Meet American Men dot com.” He snorted in derision. “Pure genius on my part.” He glanced at Marny trembling in a pile on the floor.
“You’re not the first, you know. I’ve had other women like you, brought them over here without a pot to piss in, gave ’em a roof over their head and screwed their brains out, though that last part got boring. One of ’em I knocked out and tossed her into the drink and watched her wake up screaming and sputtering only to watch her get eaten alive.
“Boy once you see that, you’ve seen it all.” He looked wistfully out the kitchen window, then, “You dipshits made me rich.” Lee dragged the edge of the wickedly-curved blade across the shirt sleeve of his tee-shirt, leaving a thin diagonal slice in the material. “That is one sharp mutha.”
He chuckled, and it sounded dirty, feral, guttural, and everything inhuman about Man that Marny could imagine in the one or two seconds she had to contemplate the escalating situation she found herself in.
Panic kicked in, a blast of adrenaline surged through her veins, propelling her to her sandal-clad feet and into a full gallop in a split-second. Marny slammed her shoulder into Lee’s side, knocking him into the side of the sink, the side of his head taking the brunt of the impact. He tumbled to the floor, knife clattering beside him.
Marny didn’t wait around to see what would happen next; she snared the knife, bolted to the door and flung it open hard enough for it to crack off the opposing wall, and she raced out into the bayou night, terror kicking caution in the ass.
She ran full-bore, stumbling over tree roots and mud that threatened to send her sprawling face first into the dank, stinking and pervasive mud. But Marny held her balance and tore off into the night, her senses focused intently on what she hoped was Lee’s house far, far behind.
Distantly she heard a door slam. Lee! She found a thick bole shrouded in Spanish moss and ducked behind it
“Marny?” Distant, muffled, but then Marny’s head was still reeling from Lee’s punch. A light breeze rippled the obfuscating moss and tickled her shoulders. Something landed on top of her head; she yipped and swiped at it in a panic; something furry and about the size of her hand flew off her and Marny found herself on the run again.
She raced away from what she thought was the direction of Lee’s house; images of him creeping stealthily through the night chasing her. Her foot caught on a tree root and she sprawled into the muck, her left hand landing on a wonderful round rock. Crazily Marny thought that it would make for a good weapon to use on Lee; inflict some blunt force trauma.
But the rock moved, and before she fully processed that event, a ripping searing pain shrieked out from her left hand and she bolted to her feet, backing away from whatever it was that did whatever it did to her. She turned to face dim moonlight and held her hand up in front of her face, only to discover the pinkie and ring finger were … not there.
Shock was setting in as she turned slowly to see what ravaged her hand; she saw the ever-present stinking water ripple and saw that moving rock that was no rock but what looked to be a turtle. Where are my fingers?
Panic kicked in again and she applied the knife to her cotton skirt, slicing a strip of material that she wrapped around her suddenly throbbing left hand, clamping pressure down on the place where her fingers once were.
Marny wasn’t aware of it, but she became aware of sitting in the middle of a swatch of thick, stinking muck when the moisture seeped through her skirt and underwear. She struggled to her feet, then turned in a full circle, wondering what in the world she was going to do next.
Despair washed over Marny, thoroughly inundating her. Why bother getting up? Why bother running, fighting? She was done; may as well have a seat and let the bayou fold her lifeless self into its deep, dank depths.
Just kill me now.
Then, far off in the distance, “Well fuck ya then, bitch. Let the swamp have ya. You ain’t worth the chase!”
Marny’s teeth flashed in the moonlight. A nameless, faceless rage surged within her and she seethed inwardly. She looked at her mangled hand, then at the knife clutched with a death grip in her other hand — she’d forgotten about that knife.
Her hand throbbed, but the pain pushed her to move, to get busy making sure she would survive this night and then the next day and so on.
Marny wobbled slightly as she made her way back to the cypress that hid her before, struggling to hold an encroaching fog of weariness at bay. If she failed, the swamp would have her and she’d be unable to fulfill her new mission in life…
Ay may masamang masira! Marny has an evil to destroy, and she’d not be able to destroy it if she were swamp-fodder. Kailangang mamatay si Lee. Lee has to die, and it would be by Marny’s hand.
First things first. Need the following to survive: fire, water and food. She chuckled to herself; just a few hours ago Marny was complaining about catfish adobo. Now she’d kill for it.
Marny slams the door against the setting sun. She moves to the broken window patched haphazardly with a sheet of plastic wrap that flutters in the slight evening breeze, and presses the lower edges of it against strips of double-sided tape to shut out the night. Marny has no idea of how to replace a window and has no intent of bringing a handyman out to the house to put a new one in.
No one from the outside can be allowed to see how she lives.
She peels back the black shroud from the baby stroller to reveal several fat, dead catfish. She pushes the stroller to a freezer chest, pops the lid and transfers the dead fish into the freezer. They stink, smelling like fetid, odiferous swamp water, but they’re food, and the more food she has at hand, the less she has to go out in public to get it.
She wipes her fish-smelling hands on her long, tattered skirt, then moves to a small vanity with a speckled mirror, picks up her hairbrush and tackles the tangles and snarls therein with an angry vengeance, muttering curses with each stroke. Finally satisfied with the lustrous sheen of her mane, she leans forward to wipe her face clean, then reaches for a few cosmetics; eye shadow, lip gloss, a simple foundation, and then sets to making herself appear pretty.
Satisfied, she pulls a simple tee shirt from a drawer, unclips her tattered bra and slips into the tee shirt, shaking her hair free to give it a nice, tousled appearance so it looks like she just climbed out of bed. A quick scan in the mirror and Marny concludes that yes, she is indeed extremely hot.
Marny strides across the main room of the house to another room closed off by a door. She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, her eyes glittering as a predatory smile settles on her face; a smile of superiority; a smile of knowing that she’s about to reel in something much more dangerous than catfish.
Marny strode out of her tiny warren built of tree-fall and brush and held together with strips of bark, a tiny wisp of smoke from her perpetual fire trickling into the still air. It would be a beacon were it not for the ever-present cypress trees and the disgusting shrouds of moss.
Morning in the bayou was when it was at its freshest, and it was the time of day Marny enjoyed the most.
She wandered several dozen yards to a latrine ditch she dug out by hand and used the ‘facilities,’ scowling as she came to acknowledge that it was almost time to bury this one and dig another one; something else to curse at Lee about.
It was time to see about food and water for the day, and so Marny set out carrying an old helmet she’d found to the edge of the water where she took a healthy scoop and trundled back to her warren to pour it into an old iron pot she also found in an abandoned hut some few miles off. Marny repeated this several times, and then set to banking the fire to boil the water. She then arranged the tree-fall to help dissipate the smoke, and then set off along an old, barely discernible trail.
There were times when she truly missed the last two fingers of her left hand; there were times when they felt as if they were still there. And then she’d curse the snapping turtle that violated her hand roundly. Lately her curses had been intermingled with laughter, and not for the first time did Marny wonder if she were going crazy.
She also found herself keeping a running dialogue of chatter that she was unaware of giving voice to. Didn’t matter, Marny rationalized the need for that chatter to keep from going crazy.
“Here little fishies, time for you to come to your nanay so I can eat you up, you know you wanna feed my belly to make me strong to kill that evil…”
And so it went as Marny went, stopping now and again to pull at some lines along the water’s edge that were held in place by very heavy rocks. She arrived at another such ‘fishing station’ and was rewarded when one of the lines she pulled went taut. Dinner! She pulled and pulled and finally a hefty catfish broke the surface; Marny yanked violently on the line and the catfish plopped and flopped on the mucky trail. Marny took a thick stick that was attached to a makeshift belt at her waist and whacked the head of the fish until it quit moving. Satisfied, she replaced the stick and set to freeing the hook…
Something powerful yanked her off her feet by her skirt. She whipped her head around to see a fat gator clamped onto her long skirt, backing up into the water, and panic surged in Marny; she had to get free before that thing submerged or it would take her with it and then she was done.
She scrabbled at her belt as the monster heaved her along with it, its thick tail breaking into the fetid water and she knew her time was running out. Her hand landed on the black-bladed hunting knife she stole from Lee and she wrenched it free then buried it in the snout of the beast with a scream.
The thing started whipping its head from side to side, at first hauling Marny along with it, but she managed to cut and rip her skirt until she tumbled free of the wounded beast, taking the knife with her. She bolted to her feet, skittering backwards, the realization what she just survived slamming into her with the force of an emotional wrecking ball.
The ’gator slipped back into the water, a piece of her skirt hanging out of its mouth. Marny watched, her chest heaving, trying to settle her fluttering heart, when the still water before her erupted in a churning fury of converging ’gators, all hungry for a bit of cannibalism.
Marny raced back to her warren where she huddled for long and long, catfish and dinner forgotten, but her smoldering rage against Lee newly stoked.
Days flowed into nights and back into days and Marny lost count, and the amount of time passed didn’t seem to matter. Life was survival, but it was becoming a bit easier for Marny.
She explored, finding another shack with passable relics of women’s clothing that she had to shake vermin and spiders from, but skirts and shirts were there to be had.
Marny kept her warren and continued to improve on it, patching and solidifying the makeshift roof and building up a wall of stones for more protection. No ’gators wandered into her lair, but other creatures found it enticing; all ended up as cooked meat for Marny’s dinner.
She also kept watch on Lee; it became the high point of her day when she could sneak around his house without him knowing. See him. Hate him. And when Marny saw him…
A torrent of emotion would burst and she’d be assailed by so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that it took everything in her power to hold herself in check to wait for the ‘right’ time. Everything, including giving herself a quick slash on the forearm or thigh just to steel her focus. Marny knew God would tell her when the time was right, and on a particularly dreary, rain-soaked day when the swamps threatened to extinguish her permanent fire, God spoke to Marny.
Beset with angry twitches, Marny felt fire and power within, and it fueled her the distance to Lee’s rambling house, and when he stepped outside, shirtless, well then it was time.
Marny snagged a low-hanging cypress tree branch and swung up to the roof, then crept to the front of the house where she crouched down to watch him stand outside and stretch expansively and then scratch himself.
She remembered the one time they were intimate, and she was utterly disgusted with herself. Suddenly an image of her son Jose floated before her mind’s eye, and then she had to drop to her belly in fear of him looking up and seeing her crying like a baby. Jose!
She silently sobbed because she’d forgotten what her child looked like. How was that possible?
There was a deafening crack that came from … right beneath her body! Then another and finally one more before the patch of roof she occupied collapsed into the main room of Lee’s house.
Several things happened at once; Marny tried to roll away, and as she did, she dropped the knife; a stray chunk of roof fell in and slapped her on the side of the head, knocking her to her back on the floor; and Lee burst in through the front door, yelling “What the f—?”
Marny’s senses sharpened and time slowed to a crawl. Detached, she watched herself snap to hand and feet and skitter away from Lee, who strode across the floor to where she was just a moment ago, a roar sounding off in the distance. His eyes were wide and blazing, red rimmed, and then Marny paused, watching him closely with her back against the wall.
He stopped and studied her. “You’re alive!”
“You figure that out all by yourself, Lee?” She barked his name as if it were profanity. Two sets of eyes found the knife simultaneously. He lunged for it and…
Marny let him. He stood brandishing the blade proudly, and Marny swept in, low, hands formed into talons, and she swiped with one hand to his exposed calf and the other toward his testicles. She scored with both and scampered out of the way of the downward arc of the swinging blade.
Lee howled, suddenly bent over at the waist. “You bitch!” he snarled as Marny skittered against the wall behind him, faster than he could turn his body, and Marny leapt landing on his back. Both combatants plummeted to the floor and the rage of centuries boiled forth from Marny.
She screeched over and over, her hands curled into claws, ripping, gouging, shredding, pummeling, thunderous blood rushing until her hands ran red and grew sticky with Lee’s blood, and still it wasn’t enough, but she pulled herself away, rolling off his back.
She gained her feet, breath heaving, adrenaline surging, and stared at the mess that was once Lee. Her eyes grew flat, emotionless, watching him, taking in the carnage and destruction of what was once his head. Marny didn’t want to see what was left of his face. She snatched the knife from his flaccid grip, then sank into a cross-legged seat.
Breath whistled in and out of him and she saw his chest move. Marny smiled, tucked the knife into her belt and darted into the bedroom, returning with a sheet. She laid it out and rolled him onto it. Then, with energy and strength borne out of insanity, she dragged his moaning self out of the house and across the trail to the swamp. Marny hauled him to the edge of it and dropped the sheet, now sodden with his blood, then backed to a cypress tree and settled down to catch her breath and watch the show. It wouldn’t be long. Marny hoped he would awaken soon, and then…
A groan, loud, and Lee’s long, inert body began to move. He turned his demolished, ruined face to Marny — she smiled when she saw that she did indeed claim an eye, and groaned again. Then, “You bitch—”
Just as a mammoth ’gator slammed behemoth jaws down on everything north of his navel; the sound of crunching bones would accompany Marny to her last breath. And Lee was gone in a froth of fetid swamp water.
Marny changed the studio, getting rid of all the manly trappings that Lee once used, and replaced it with a spare bed and candles and decorative Christmas lights, drapes and crisp sheets.
The desk chair is immensely comfortable, and Marny sits in it now, checking electronic boxes with blinking lights, and then she presses the power button to the powerful computer system she now commands, and it switches on and boots rapidly, flawlessly. She glances at a small table beside her in full view of the camera where a colorful array of ‘toys’ sits; everything is in order.
Marny taps a button and the mic activates; another button and the cam switches on, just as a picture of a Filipino swims into view, a man named Romeo. He is young and earnest and still just a man, a man that wants only one thing, and he is her newest subscriber. Marny smiles and…
“Welcome to Meet American Women dot com, Romeo.”
Please visit Enzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011