The motorboat rumbled as Clyde cut through the swamp. It was nearly night, the last rays of sunlight an orange smear on the horizon, the moon hidden behind dark clouds. The lights on his boat shone on swamp grass and water lilies, reflecting off the eyes of gators that watched him from the water’s surface.
The island was in its usual spot, (Sometimes it moved, so that was lucky.) and Clyde slowed the boat as he navigated around large cypress trees. It wasn’t much of an island, small enough to walk across in a minute or two. Trees covered it, Spanish moss hanging from their limbs like ratty curtains, their trunks strangled by vines of poison ivy.
Clyde drove the boat around it twelve times. On the last go around, her dwelling appeared. With weathered wooden walls and a rusty tin roof, it lurked on the edge of the water as if waiting. Having seen it many times before, Clyde didn’t waste time feeling surprised as he pulled up to a dilapidated dock. As soon as he cut the engine, the music of the night returned: frogs croaking, bugs buzzing, and water lapping against the shore.
He tied off the boat and stepped carefully onto the dock. His joints ached, and his knee had gone bad about ten years earlier. He was no longer the foolish young man who’d first come to the island. According to local rumor, the swamp witch only accepted souls for payment, but he had still sought her out to get what he’d wanted—and what he’d felt he deserved.
He’d gotten something else instead.
His offering in hand, he walked toward the door. The dock creaked ominously beneath his shoes. Wind chimes made of small animal bones rattled in the breeze, and a snake slithered across the front porch before disappearing into a crack between the floorboards. Then she stepped out of the house.
Her frizzy gray hair was braided and tangled with leaves. Tattered skirts swished around her ankles, and dried mud caked her bare feet. Her posture was stooped with age, her face wrinkled and nose large, and her eyes, green as algae, watched him curiously as he stepped forward.
He raised his offering: a bouquet of bright flowers.
“Happy Birthday, Sally.”
She broke into a wide smile that was missing several teeth. “Well, ain’t you sweet. Come on in.”
A bounce in his step, Clyde followed her inside. The local rumor had been wrong. She had never asked for his soul as payment. She had never asked for his heart either, but he’d given it to her all the same.