Swampy Jack’s Swamp Ape Adventure
The musky scent of decaying vegetation permeated the humid air. Bullfrogs croaked in the distance, crickets chirped, owls hooted, and other night creatures chorused, as another vibrant sunset diminished. The atmosphere brought with it the eerie feeling of being watched. Alligator, panther, all sort of elusive swamp life lurked in the darkness. Swampy Jack’s boots sank into the mushy turf as he high-stepped through the marsh, his machete in his grip and Takeo by his side.
Jack was back in his homeland after decades of roaming the world. “Welcome to America, boy,” he said to his Japanese Akita. “How are you enjoying your first days on American soil?”
Takeo responded with a narrowing of his eyes as he shook mud from his paw and panted his contentment. Jack chuckled. “I thought you would enjoy the Everglades.”
“You speak to your dog as if he understands.” The voice came over Jack’s shoulder, the words laced with amusement.
Jack glanced back. Garrett Young, the reason he found himself here and in the heart of these wetlands, had caught up with him. They had met only a few weeks ago in Cuba, Garrett having chartered a flight on Jack’s Air Wongo charter service. The Army veteran, with a full head of grey hair and thick-rimmed glasses, hurried his step to reach Jack’s side.
“He’s been my travel companion for so long we just understand each other,” Jack replied. He watched with pride and amusement as Takeo jumped over a log, then huffed as his paws sank again into the mire.
“I see. So, what do you think of our mission so far?” Garrett queried.
Jack had been caught up in several adventures where he’d had to contend with dangerous predators; so a search and destroy operation of the Burmese Pythons plaguing the Everglades felt like a normal day’s work. It was work, in fact. He’d been invited by a team of men sanctioned by the state to eradicate, or at least to control, the invasive python population. These snakes grew so large there were no natural predators in the Everglades to control their numbers. When hungry the python could consume any animal it was large enough to wrap around and suffocate. This was having a devastating effect on the native wildlife population.
They’d been in this sector of the Everglades for almost a week and had managed to destroy numerous rather typical pythons. None of the incidents had been spectacular, and Jack was becoming rather bored.
“Well, I think it can be productive, but we’ve yet to see much action,” Jack replied to Garrett’s question. “I’ll let you know when something interesting captures my attention.”
Garrett chuckled noiselessly. “We Swamp Apes not entertaining enough for you? Well, maybe we’ll run into something interesting yet.”
Jack grinned at the mention of the Swamp Apes. The men called themselves the Swamp Apes, playfully named after the mythical Swamp Ape of the Everglades. They were a gregarious bunch with their loud rock music, playful zeal, and dedication to a pristine Everglades.
They continued maneuvering forward, now through a dense tunnel of vines and thick brush, flashlight and eyes directed forwards and towards the ground, ears open, all senses on alert. The team emerged from the tangle into a small clearing.
The now hidden sun, reflected off a huge rising moon. The moonbeams diffused through the moss-covered branches to give everything a dreamy reddish glow. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by Takeo’s deep, agitated growl. Jack looked ahead to see his dog crouched, hackles raised, staring into a thicket ahead. “What do you see, boy?” he asked as he covered the distance. He reached Takeo’s side and peered into the dense brush.
He saw Garrett ready his double snake hoop. “Could be a python.”
A putrid smell, mixture of damp animal fur and swamp gas, assaulted Jack’s nostrils, “I don’t think so,” he replied skeptically.
Jack knew. It definitely wasn’t a python. Carefully, he searched the brush, his excitement rising. At that moment, Jack heard heavy breathing. Quickly swinging his flashlight towards the sound, Jack’s eyes lit on a pair of fluorescent emerald orbs. The animal, startled by the light, straightened from its crouched position to tower over Jack; it then turned swiftly and took off. “Swamp Ape?” Jack asked himself.
He didn’t realize he had voiced his thoughts until Garrett shone his light towards Jack and said, “No way. I’m sure it was a bear. Perhaps a panther.”
Careful not to speak this time, Jack thought, “Panther run on four legs, and they aren’t covered head to toe in thick dark fur. And bears’ eyes reflect blue, not green.” Had he really spotted the cryptid of the Everglades, the Swamp Ape? Only one way to find out.
“After it, boy!”
Takeo barked and shot out in front of Jack. Garrett had no choice but to follow.
The animal’s path was obvious by the huge footprints left in the mud. “Is that only three toes?” Jack thought to himself, the mud sloughing back into the footprint too quickly to be sure.
Several hundred yards later they reached an expanse of ankle-deep water populated with large cypress trees. They had lost the trail of the creature.
Suddenly, an eruption of shouts from their right assailed their ears. They immediately headed through the water in that direction. Had the other men spotted their namesake, the elusive Swamp Ape, as well?
Takeo splashed to a stop ahead of him, and Jack stepped onto a fallen tree nearby. The men weren’t struggling with an ape. Jack was half disappointed and half relieved. Bent over, Garrett wheezed beside him after he caught up. They gaped at the site of the team surrounding a massive tan spotted python.
“That’s the biggest I’ve ever seen. It must be over twenty feet long.” gasped Garrett.
“Quiet!” Jack shouted. If the ape—or whatever it was—was still around, he didn’t want it scared away.
The racket ceased, and Jack lunged towards the giant python, wielding his machete, which through practiced repetition appeared in his hand as if by magic. Sensing the threat, the python turned and hissed, sharp gripping fangs ready as it launched itself at Jack. Jack’s trusty partner snarled and sprang into the fray, leaping on the snake’s tail and sinking his teeth deep into the constrictor’s flesh. The python hissed again and turned its attention to the dog.
The hypnotic eyes seemed to gleam with malice as they focused on Takeo, who, jaws locked, held his end of the serpent. The diversion gave Jack a chance to jump astride the python’s muscular body and grab it just below the head. Jack wrestling to keep a grip on the thrashing head, shoved his machete into the sheath on his thigh so he could use both hands.
“Grab the tail!” he shouted to Garrett, who was immediately galvanized into action.
“Let’s see if we can take this one alive,” suggested another member of the team. “It’s the largest we’ve ever seen,” another yelled as he arrived with a cage from one of the nearby skiffs.
The others joined what became a wrestling match. In much the same way ‘gator handlers wrestle their animals into confinement, they finally got the snake into the cage and latched the door in place. It took all six men to hoist the cage into the boat.
“That was incredible,” Garrett said. “I think that’s enough for the night. I’m beat. Besides, we are a long way from camp, and maneuvering a skiff with two men and a snake of that size will be demanding.”
“The ape,” Jack turned to again scan the surroundings, certain the creature he had seen was nearby and watching them.
Garrett laughed, “Swamp apes aren’t real, Jack—unless you mean these cahoots with us. What you saw was likely some large mammal. The glimpse I got looked like a bear. The swamps once were full of them before the python invasion.”
Jack thought again, “Bears’ eyes reflect as blue, not green.” He knew what he had seen, and he was not one to make many mistakes of observation or react emotionally.
Mention of the ape had enlivened the mood as the band of Swamp Apes joked about such a creature. In a jovial mood they began to load the skiffs.
Jack was still on guard. His instincts were rarely wrong, and his instincts told him they were being watched by something. His mind stayed on the creature as the other men chatted about the way he had wrestled and constrained the python. Jack remembered to give credit to Takeo. “I couldn’t have gotten to its head if Takeo hadn’t distracted it.”
The men, having recently learned of Jack’s reputation and having now witnessed his prowess, fired questions about his world travels in rapid succession. Jack answered each question with brevity, but to the satisfaction of the questioner. Garrett asked “Your charter service, Air Wongo, what does Wongo mean?” Jack, struggling to explain something of such deep personal meaning instead diverted to a story of another large snake he had come across in the upper Amazon Basin and elaborated that it was at this time that the machete became his constant companion and tool of choice.
But through all this Jack’s eyes were trained on the darkness surrounding them, straining to see what the darkness and the swamp growth were hiding. The atmosphere became hazy as a light fog drifted in. Garrett again suggested getting back to the camp. The other men murmured their agreement. One of the men cranked up the rock music on his portable speaker, and a flurry of activity indicated their preparation to leave. Jack’s attention shifted from the darkness around them to the captured python. It had begun writhing frantically and hissing, its head raised. He noted Takeo’s ears twitching and saw him sniffing the air repeatedly, his head tilted as if listening intently to or for something. Jack eased his machete from its sheath as the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention.
Years of working and living in dangerous conditions had sharpened Jack’s senses to anticipate approaching danger. The other men, good hunters all, remained oblivious to a potential threat until the python began to slam its body against the cage. Startled gazes snapped to the serpent, but Jack’s eyes stayed on their surroundings.
The cypress grove surrounding them distorted all lights and sounds. That same rank animal odor wafted across Jack’s nostrils.
Something moved in the dark, so swiftly Jack wondered if it were simply an illusion. A loud splash. Something huge was moving rapidly through the water. Then a bang against one of the skiffs, a bang that rocked the occupants. Beams from several flashlights were directed out of the skiffs and bounced off the water’s surface.
“What was that?” several men asked.
Another said, “Where is it?”
“An alligator, probably.”
“Man, it must be a big one!”
One man, in his excitement, accidentally switched his flashlight to strobe, then dropped it in the skiff. Another shot off a flare. In one man’s effort to turn off the music, the controller was fumbled to full volume then dropped.
A deafening roar—and another skiff was hit, almost tipping it. Flashlights clattered to the boat’s bottom or splashed into the water. They were plunged into semi-darkness. The moon, hidden behind clouds, didn’t provide enough light for any clear vision.
Jack blocked out the rocking of the boat, the rattling of the python’s cage, Takeo’s guttural growling, even the putrid animal stench, and focused still and completely on his surroundings. He caught a glimpse of the man-like shadow and the reflecting green eyes as it sinuated through the fog and shallow waters, edging around the skiff.
“It’s the ape,” he stated out loud. “It’s after something.”
“Impossible!” Garrett’s round eyes jerked to Jack’s.
Another violent bang and a much louder splash—as horrified gazes latched onto the empty cage.
“Uh, oh,” said Jack.
The door to the python’s cage was dented and swinging unlatched. The men watched, fascinated yet frozen, some horrified, as they discovered the snake winding its body around the figure in the water. Sharp hisses and guttural grunts, splashed and thumped against the skiff’s side, ripples thrumming across the water.
The creature stood erect holding the snake over its head. Suddenly, the “ape” began swinging the snake around and above its head as if to slam it against something. An angry snake in an overloaded boat was not something any of these men wanted to experience. They ducked low to avoid the impact. Jack and Takeo held their ground. Jack stood as the python passed overhead, readied his machete, waited patiently for the next pass, and swung. With a wet plop, the snake’s body fell into the water. The creature then let fly the portion with the head, which flew over and landed beyond the skiffs.
Stunned silence was followed by shuffling splashes. Jack’s head snapped up to witness the mysterious creature disappearing into the darkness of the swamp.
Questions raced through Jack’s mind: “Why had the ape approached the group? Was the ape’s presence what caused the python to hiss and strike its body against the cage? Why did the ape attack the python? Were they somehow natural enemies, or was the ape on it’s own search and destroy mission—a friend and defender of his fellow swamp creatures?”
Finally, Jack let out a long breath, resigned to the disappointment of not knowing or even clearly identifying the enigmatic and musky creature. Yet he knew he had met the Swamp Ape.
Garrett found his voice. “All of you saw that python struggling with a bear—right?” He panted as he looked from one man to another.
Jack lifted his brow at him. He knew it had been no bear. Garrett knew as well, as did the other men. But the others, to a man, would deny seeing anything that might be called a Swamp Ape. They didn’t want to be seen by others as either fools or phonies. They would retrieve the body of the snake for its bounty, which would be hefty given that the larger the snake the greater the bounty.
None of that mattered to Jack. He knew he had again experienced something most people could only imagine. Suddenly, recollections of other incredible experiences he had had and sights he had witnessed, flashed before his mind’s eye. Then a recent, nagging thought returned: “Now that I’m home, I need to give these memories an outlet. Record them, write them down, maybe even share them. I’ve spent over twenty years working my way around the world. How do I even begin to share with others what I’ve experienced? Maybe the next few months on Dog Island, reading, reflecting, and thinking, will give me an idea what comes next.”
“What do you say, boy? Maybe write a screenplay?”
Takeo barked, and Jack laughed.
Gradually, as the clouds parted and the fog lifted, the darkness gave way to a vibrant glow. As Takeo, Garrett, and the Swamp Apes loaded into the skiffs, Jack reached into his pocket and gripped the arcane Gedi Stone and thought to himself, “Another wongo adventure.”