Murder on the Marsh

Murder on the Marsh

A Story by PWyates

A young unwed tenant farmer will go to any lengths to get rid of his illegitimate child.


The baby was born where it was conceived; atop a filthy hay bale inside of my boss’s barn.  Luckily Abagail had not gone into labor until the dead of night.  The townsfolk had of course noticed the pregnancy but wouldn’t acknowledge it; that was until the baby actually popped out.  This was the way these things worked.  As troubled as I was, it was impossible to avoid noticing the stark similarity to the tableau of the famous manger scene.  My Abagail as Mary surrounded by starving animals, as she held our illegitimate child in her pale arms.  Even this dank, dismal atmosphere couldn’t dim her aura of serenity. 

To the contrary she appeared happier than I could recall ever seeing her.  This made the prospect of revealing my plan for the both of us all the more difficult.  Deciding that the ugliness would be better left until morning; I bid my glowing Abagail goodnight, kissed the baby’s forehead, and made my way to bed. 

A heavy feeling of anxiety plagued me as I walked into the shack I worked for the “privilege” to call a home, but never “my home”.  How could a young, unwed couple even dream of raising a child when between the two of us there weren’t two spare schillings to rub together?  No, there simply was no recourse other than what I had planned.  Sitting at my cramped desk, rereading the correspondence I’d received the week before and shuddered at the thought of the day that lay ahead. 

Like everyone else in town I had heard of the old woman and her daughter who lived past the marsh that took such children in for a nominal fee.  Not a place that was spoken of freely, only in the local tavern around closing hours when the real sob stories bubbled to the surface.  Normally I am not one to frequent such establishments, but as skunks are bound to stink; poor men need to drink.  The story that stuck with me most was of the former town Deacon.  He had been excommunicated after it was uncovered that he was having an affair with my boss’s daughter; resulting in the birth an illegitimate child. 

The center of the scandal being the fact that he’d attempted to hide the pregnancy and child.

Naturally it became the talk of the town for some time and all the poor man could bring himself to do was drink to the point of unconsciousness.  One evening in the bar, local loudmouth Mark Fischer bluntly asked the poor man exactly how he’d attempted to cover the whole thing up.  The former Deacon shot up from his stupor and slowly responded that the pregnancy was the easy part, being a naturally petite woman all she had to do was wear over-sized dresses.  After this he went silent for a moment and spoke of an old woman, and her daughter Amelia that lived on the top of the hill who took the baby off his hands.  The whole room went silent, and no one inquired any further.

This recollection chilled me to the bone but I also knew deep down that like the Deacon there was no other option for Abagail and myself.  Even if it tore the two of us apart, there was no way we could nurture a child when we could hardly manage ourselves.  It had to be done regardless of her reaction.  With this definitive thought I was finally able to shut my eyes and lull myself into a sleep riddled with nightmares full of witches, and all too vivid human sacrifice.

The next morning I awoke in our makeshift marriage bed alone, Abagail was in the corner of the room sitting in her rocker nursing the baby.  This was going to be a lot more difficult than I had imagined.  She smiled down at me, positively glowing with maternal pride; it was simultaneously beautiful and horrible to behold.  The onslaught of emotions forced me to blurt out the plan before I could even manage a “good morning.”  As expected she screamed several horrible things at me; mostly muddled through tears and ran out of the claustrophobic room, clutching the baby as if I were giving it up to some unholy deity.

With a sigh of resignation I chased after her to fulfill the duty my beloved did not have the resolve for.  Even though I was wrestling a woman and an infant it was far from an easy task to achieve, both of them fought tooth and nail to evade my grasp.  After a minute or two she had finally tired herself to the point of exhaustion.  I picked up our tiny, wailing mistake as gingerly as possible, after all this was all for his wellbeing.

I placated the child to the best of my ability, creating a makeshift papoose from a blanket of lanolin I gently packed it in the largest basket available.  Initially nervous to exit, assuming the moment I walked out the door everyone would have me figured out.  But to my surprise the infant was silent, and few townspeople I saw didn’t as much as look twice at me or the basket.  So I embarked on my journey.

The first leg was astonishingly easy, emptying the basket; as I reached the outskirts of town it seemed safe enough to gently remove the infant.   But I was far from prepared for the march through the marshes while holding the baby.  Slowly and steadily we made our way through the muck and a seemingly endless curtain of fog that blanketed everything within five feet.  Finally after passing the worst of the terrain I saw the cabin in the distance, and found myself subconsciously moving even slower the closer I got.

Finally after several minutes of dragging my feet I reached the doorway.  Carefully resting the nameless child in the crook of my good arm, with the other I wrapped softly three times upon the door.  It wasn’t long before I heard the pattering of footsteps, and about ten seconds later a middle-aged woman opened the door.  I was taken aback by the hollow, penetrating glare she met me with; introducing herself as Amelia.  It took all of my intestinal fortitude to resist taking the child back home instead of instinctively smiling and returning the pleasantry.  The place stank of rot; appearing even worse than my indentured home, and that look she gave me could have scared off the Devil himself.

She obviously knew why I’d come, and rather than indulging in small talk she began rattling off her rates and fees.  After finishing her spiel Amelia mechanically extended her arms to take the child from me, momentarily I was unable to relinquish him.  She pressed on as if nothing had happened, beginning to give me a tour of the meager shack.  Horrified by the lack of instruments for infant care, the place had all of the warmth of the South Pole.  Again it took all of my resolve to avoid turning tail and exiting the way I had entered.  But before I got the chance something stopped me, an even softer set of footsteps prefacing the entrance of another woman this one elderly, and kind looking.  This must have been the mother; Amelia gave her a glare that made the one she gave me seem downright friendly.  The other woman took her cue, and gave me a far more agreeable tour of the house; showing me the ice box that was filled with Amelia’s bottled breast milk.

This was the first relief I felt, as dangerous as this place looked; at least there was the certainty that one of the babies if not more were kin.  Finally they showed me the nursery; fifteen or so cramped children who seemed small but at least fed.  At this I was finally able to hand the infant over to the elderly woman hoping he would see as little of Amelia as possible. 

Moving homeward this hope was the only consolation that allowed me to keep my head forward and continue home emptyhanded.  Knowing nothing of the Hell I’d just sent my son into.

 The return trip seemed far shorter with these heavy thoughts weighing down on my consciousness.  When I arrived back home it was no shock that Abagail was absent, along with all of her things she kept at what we’d seen as home.  The only solace I could find was in praying that she could bring herself to forgive me, and maybe someday soon we could see our child again.  Regardless she would need some time away from me, this I knew.

Before there was a chance for any of this, something happened that would make any attempt at redemption utterly useless.  A few days after my trip through the marshes the local constabulary had ordered them dragged; in a last ditch attempt to find some missing Count.  What they found was something much more ghastly, dozens of lifeless infant bodies weighed down by rocks in the sludge.  Naturally upon hearing the news I was compelled to give some form of testimony, although the back of my mind hoped this was all coincidence.

I arrived at the police station the day after news had broken of the horror in the marshes.  Sheepishly I asked one of the officers if I could see the bodies; as I believed one of them belonged to a close friend of mine.  Upon entering the room I almost instantly doubled back, it was worse than I could have imagined.  Tiny lifeless bodies filled the room all of them decomposing at different rates.  Needles ran through my spine as I saw the freshest victim.  It was undeniably my boy, my boy whom I had selfishly thrown to the wolves.

I gave the constables all of the information I could give knowing full-well that it would ultimately lead to nothing.  Those old ghouls had undoubtedly found another town, and as I write this are surely perpetuating the horrors they conducted less than a kilometer from my own doorstep.  Worst of all, I can never look my beloved Abagail in the eye again; as we both know what I have done.  As evil as that pair of hags are, who am I in to pass judgement as the selfish monster that left my one and only son in the care of these monsters?


© 2017 PWyates

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Shelved in 1 Library
Added on September 28, 2016
Last Updated on April 27, 2017
Tags: Horror, Thriller, Historical Fiction



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