His bare small feet in the mud, razor grass and wire weeds scrape his calves and his rolled-up overalls slap again and again, hot with his heat in the dark.
He crushes mosquitoes on his naked shoulder, black smears of their bodies, streaks of blood in a fang of moonlight. Two men in front of him giant shades, their feet sucking in the mud and he feels for the toed craters they make.
"Thow me some light," says one of them.
A weak beam of yellow catches mammoth cypresses jutting out of the water, grey moss smothering stars. Moths and flies spin in a knot in front of the light, throwing shadows. Smells of the furnace of creation seep off the black water that does not move.
"I can't see him," says the other man, easing along the bank with a rope coiled around his shoulder.
A limb flares yellow, arcing out over the water. The rope throws itself over and the man grabs the end and pulls out the slack.
The flickering circle of waxen light hangs from the other man's neck by a length of twine. The barrel of his rifle shines blue-black. He grabs a lever on the side and pulls back, a bullet gleaming in the steel throat. He grins.
"Come here, boy," he says, pointing to the folds of mud along the bank. Tracks of raccoons, deer, tiny bones bristling from the slimed earth in which he sinks as the man winds the rope around him.
"Hold your arms down straight," he says, looping and tying off. "All right. Take him up."
The rope bites into the tree until his back is against the limb.
Two small yellow flares on the water, then nothing.
"There he is," says the man holding the rope.
"Get ready," says the other.
He drops screaming, tearing the water into white froth. He comes up choking, water streaming from his chin and spraying from his mouth and his eyes shut tight. The rope snatches him up, trailing spinning tendrils of whiskey-colored water.
A long snout slips out of the pond. The mouth opens,
the rows of crooked teeth, the pale back of the throat, white tongue and black hide, knobs and scars covering the wide head. Eyes burning in the light like brimstone.
The boy shrieks, pulls his knees to his chest. Crack of rifle, tongue of flame stretching out and mirrored wider and blurred by the torn-up pond. The spent shells land hissing in the rippling darkness.
The man with the rifle tight against his shoulder stepping in the water, smoke streaming from the barrel. Fat leeches crowd his foot as he rests it on the ribbed back floating in the water.
They take the rope off him and he sits in the bushes shaking. Grunts and curses in the night as they drag it onto the bank, wrap the rope around it. Mud swallows their feet and they grit their teeth and dig with spread toes until it slides, the dim yellow disc of light wallowing in the path ahead.
He walks behind, watching the mouth flap as they drag it. Flashes of moonlight show the trail of blood mixing with the mud, making a soup all over his feet. He walks through it, staring at the teeth jutting everyway wild like Satan himself come to swallow
Jordan Fennell is a senior at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, majoring in Creative Writing. Jordan said, “I had the privilege of studying with Mr. Eric Nelson, and the honor of studying with the late Peter Christopher.” One of his short stories was published in “Miscellany”, Georgia Southern’s literary magazine. “Baptism” is Jordan’s first non-collegiate publication.