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📅 Published on June 19, 2016


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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes


The old woman had said that nothing was beyond the reach of the Overmorrow. She had said that if you earned its favor, you would be handsomely rewarded.

All you had to do was bring it gifts. But Kaylee didn’t have any money, and, besides, it was hard enough to know what anybody would like as a present, let alone a … something … that lived in a swamp. Kind of a swamp. More like a pond. A wet, swampy pond out in the woods, down a long path that Indians used to use, and now only deer did.

Luckily the old woman, old Nan, she was called, had told Kaylee what to bring, and when. At the rise of the full moon, she must bring, first, a thing of BEAUTY. Then, at the next full moon, something PRECIOUS. The next, and final time, she must bring a thing of INNOCENCE.

Kaylee didn’t like this idea. The whole reason she was doing this, talking to a creepy old lady who hadn’t left her house since the TVs were black and white, was to GET things she wanted, not give them away!

So she compromised, and for its first gift, brought things that were essentially worthless, but that a thing that lived in a pond might find beautiful. A bag full of carefully cleaned jelly jars, which where quite pretty, in their way. Their labels were, anyway, and the clean glass was sparkly. She was supposed to have taken them to the recycling, but she took them to the woods, instead. Wrapped in a plastic bag and thrown in the swamp, ploosh! She said the words she was taught as they sank:

“Overmorrow, Overmorrow, all Knowing and Generous Power! The Breath of the Wind, the Giver of Life; Fire, Water, Day, Night! Be my Guide, accept my Gift. My heart, my soul, for this my Wish!”

Then she was supposed to list the things she was asking for. Which were, essentially, to be rid of everything she hated, and to have all the things she loved. To live in a mansion! That was first. To own treasures, and not have to share. And, above all, to never, ever have to see her parents again. All they ever did was try to make her feel guilty and unappreciative. Stand around and look at her with disappointed faces … she was sick of it. She couldn’t help it if she liked nice things. Was that such a crime?

The second gift was somewhat harder. It had to be something “precious”. She wasn’t sure what that meant. So she looked it up:

precious [pre-shes]
1. costly, or of high monetary value.

Kaylee was disgusted. If she had anything of “high monetary value”, she wouldn’t be trudging out to the woods to ask the magical swamp monster for more, would she? She kept reading:

2. beloved, dear:
Memories of my grandmother are very precious to me.

Kaylee thought for a long time about what she might have that fit that second definition. She did have some things that were very dear to her, mostly from when she was little. Stuffed animals, dolls, other toys. But one, in particular. A pink, plastic pony toy, with a purple mane and tail that shimmered like silk. It had come with a comb set. How many hours had she spent combing its hair until it glowed … she had lost count. Peggy, she had named the toy.

The night of the second full moon, Peggy was taken to the woods and tossed into the pond. Tears flowing down her cheeks, Kaylee watched it hit the surface of the black water, but it didn’t sink. It bobbed back up, her gentle smile still intact on her delicate pony muzzle. The glitter stickers Kaylee had decorated her rump with winked like crystals in the moonlight. The toy rotated lazily, like a leaf, on the surface, and Kaylee didn’t know what to do. Was the Overmorrow rejecting it? Should it have been something that fit the first definition? Like her cell phone (NOT a smart phone!), or her new sneakers? Just as she started to worry that she had made a mistake, the water found some way into the sealed plastic shape, maybe from the hair follicles of the mane and tail, and it began to fill, and sink.

Kaylee watched while the toy slipped gradually beneath the surface, and she imagined it sadly biding her adieu, but understanding, all the same, with the terrible, patient understanding of toys. You’re selfish and you’re mean, Kaylee, Peggy was saying, as the film of muck closed her blue eye forever, but I love you. I’ll always love you.

The third gift was even harder than the second. Innocence. What did that mean? She knew what the word meant, of course; she didn’t have to look it up. But what was a THING of innocence? She had a month to think about it, and as it got closer and closer to the next full moon, Kaylee still had no clue what to bring the Overmorrow. She knew, Old Nan had told her, that if she didn’t get the gift there in time, her first two gifts would be forfeit; the whole process would have to start all over again.

Kaylee didn’t think she could go through with that again. She had seen Peggy, sinking away, into the slime, every night since it happened … no, she absolutely could not go through that again.

So when she happened to notice the neighbor’s little boy, Hunter, playing in the yard behind his house, she realized what the thing of innocence could be. Hunter was eight, just a few years younger than she. Because of that age difference, she’d never paid any attention to him. But now … but HOW to do it? He was a chubby kid, whose mother was always pushing him to play outside. Get some sunshine, she’d say …

It was easy to make friends with him; all she’d had to do was offer him candy. Once, she even gave him a fudg-sicle. The best part of it was, he wasn’t supposed to have treats, because of his weight, so they had made a pact not to tell their mothers, or anyone, about their clandestine junk food binges behind his back yard shed.

Talking him into sneaking out at night was a little tougher. The moon was full again at last, hanging in the sky like a bloated bullfrog’s belly. The woods were still, the black branches of the trees were grasping, twisted fingers; a light mist hanging just above the ground. Hoots, cries, and sudden scurryings of night creatures sounded all around them as they made their careful way.

“Jeez, Kaylee, what’re you thinking, hiding candy down in a place like this?” Hunter complained, following along behind her, kicking at things, coming in and out of the blue-black shadows.

“I had to,” Kaylee said, in a quick whisper. “I don’t know about YOUR mom, but mine finds EVERYTHING I try to hide. I really wouldn’t be surprised if she’s found THIS, either,” she added darkly, for good measure.

Hunter said: “I hope not. I don’t wanna have come all the way out here for nothing. This place gives me the creeps. Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” answered Kaylee.

The trees cleared ahead of them, and the moon, bright enough to read by, shown on them like a spotlight. They walked down to the edge of the pond, strong, earthy smells, mossy smells, emanating from it. There was a short, rotting, wooden dock, who knows how old, that jutted into the water. Kaylee lead him out onto it.

She started the incantation. The boy interrupted her. “What are you doing?”

“Shh!” she ordered. “This is how I always do it.”

“Oh,” he said, glumly, and was silent.

She said:

“Overmorrow, Overmorrow, all Knowing and Generous Power! The Breath of the Wind, the Giver of Life; Fire, Water, Day, Night! Be my Guide, accept my Gift. My heart, my soul, for this my Wish!”

She repeated her wishes, and then turned to face Hunter. He was scratching his elbow, looking around, frowning impatiently.

“Okay, Hunter, come here.”

He walked to her, and she pointed at the end of the dock.

“It’s all there, tied under the dock. It’s sealed up in Ziploc bags,” she said, when he looked skeptical.

“Geez, you sure are serious about hiding stuff,” he said, and went down to the creaking edge. Kneeling, he felt around underneath the boards.

“I’m not finding anything. It’s really gross under here. Are you sure this is where …?”

But he didn’t get to finish, because Kaylee had picked up the biggest rock she could lift, and brought it down on his head.

The rock bounced off the pier and plunked into the water. It had been heavy, and hard for her to handle, and she had lost her grip on it just as she hit him, but it had done what she’d hoped.

His body slumped against the planks, his head hanging out of view. She went to him and pushed, but he was solid, weighing the same as she did even though she was nearly a foot taller. He didn’t budge.

She sighed, blew a loose strand of hair out of her eyes, and got down on all fours to get more leverage. She planted her hands against his side, and she saw his face now; blood was running down the side of it. She saw it drip steadily into the murky water in heavy drops.

What could she do? How could she get him into the pond?

It was then she saw a black, thin shape, some sort of vine, shiny with water and ooze, uncoiling itself over the edge of the dock. It crept nearer and nearer, closer to Hunter, reaching out for him … The Overmorrow, she thought. The Overmorrow had come to claim its last gift, and reward her for her faith …

“Just hold still, Hunter,” she said quietly to his inert form, watching the snake-like thing in fascination as it slid toward him, as though seeing him, as though it had eyes …

To her surprise, the vine passed the boy and twisted around her own ankle. She tugged her leg, but it held fast. A shadow fell over her and she looked up quickly. Up, and up, at the shape that blotted out the moon.

At first she thought it was a tree, but, squinting at it, she saw it was only the general shape of a tree. A huge, vertical, black shape, that, instead of being one solid hulk, was actually a collection of branches, webbed with moss, and spackled with a patchwork of dead leaves. Water streamed down off its sides in a spraying, cascading waterfall, and she realized it was rising out of the pond.

Peering at it, she saw things trapped in the spidery grip of its boughs—things not found in nature. The bent front wheel and rusty handlebars of a bicycle, an old carpenter’s saw, a bit of tread from a huge tractor tire, the faded chrome of an antique car bumper. Many of the things were very old. Some she recognized, like a Victrola, complete with horn, and the remains of a Revolutionary War era musket, but other things, she didn’t. Moonlight glinted off smaller items, too, carried aloft and nestled in the spirals of branches and gnarled roots. A child’s doll, plastic body smeared with muck; a toy fire truck with a ladder. A silver tea pot, now mottled with lichen. A pair of ladies pumps from a by-gone era, their in-soles curling up and water spilling out …

She could only stare, wanting to scream, needing to, but her throat had closed on itself, and nothing could be forced out.

“Kaay-leee .., ” came a voice, saying her name slowly and deliberately. Her eyes jerked up, to the top of the Thing that waved with moss-covered twigs. “Kay-lee … we are pleeeeased with your gifts … ”

She could not speak, could only stare into the slick black faceless clump.

“We are pleeeeased and wish to give you all that you desiiiire … ”

Kaylee felt the thing around her ankle tighten, and begin to pull. She looked down—the vine had wrapped itself around her leg, up to her knee, like ivy around a pole. It was pulling her toward the pond …

“Let me go! It’s him you want!” she screamed at the thing, trying to free herself. It just clutched tighter.

“You’ve won your reward, Kaay-leee,” The voice was deeper now, wet sounding, like an old man with a mouth full of spittle. The vine pulled and pulled, steadily, unhurriedly, forcing Kaylee nearer. “You asssked for riches and comforts … As you see, we have riches—all the precious things anyone could want!”

The Thing wagged itself, horribly, to show off all those items which had once seemed so precious, but which were now only so much sodden trash.

“But I—”

“And our mansion,” It interrupted. “ … has many, many rooms, all the luxury you would ever neeed!”

“What ‘mansion?’” Kaylee demanded shrilly, with fear and revulsion. “Where?”

“Down … there … ” said the Overmorrow, pointing toward the surface of the water with a squiggly root. “All you could ever want is down there, Kaay-leee … and we promise, you’ll never, ever have to seee your parents again. Never … ever … ”

“Wait!” the girl screamed, as the vine dragged her over the ancient planks. Her feet were in the water now—it was cold and cloying. She felt it filling her shoe … “Wait! I don’t want it anymore, do you hear me? I don’t want—ANY of it! Let me go—!”

“Of course you want it, Kaay-leee,” said the horrible voice, in its slow, horrible way. “You wanted it so much, you offered us an innocent’s blood … No one ever went that far before, Kaay-leee. No one had your will, your … desire … Truly, you belong with usss, Kaay-leee … Come down with us. Come down … ”

She screamed and she fought, but it didn’t stop the vine from dragging her into the water up to her knees, then to her hips, then to her waist. She held onto the dock as long as she could with a desperate grip. She was completely in the water now, which was shockingly cold, and slimy against her skin. Her arms flailed as she slid all the way in, splashing, panicked; terrified. She could feel other things coiling around her limbs. Some of them felt like more raspy vines, but others felt like slithering things, scaly, even tentacled, things …


Hunter woke up slowly, a sharp pain in his head. He rubbed it, and his hand came away wet, with something dark smeared on it. Then he remembered—Kaylee. Kaylee and her dirty tricks. She had hit him with something when his back was turned. Told him to dig around for the candy and then, pow! He sat up and looked around. There was nothing but the moon, lower now, settling into the crowns of the black trees, casting its slightly wobbling brightness on the surface of the pond. He called out for the girl, but there was only the steady chirp of crickets in answer.

His head ached. She was probably home right now, having a good laugh at him, he thought angrily. Probably never had any candy anyway. What a dirty trick.

Hunter picked himself up, holding his head, and started back through the trees.


Credit: J.Faunch

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