“Working on completing her ecology graduate degree, Bernice is doing invasive species research in Cleary Swamp when she is confronted by a mysterious hag who says she is the swamp’s caretaker. When Bernice discovers that the hag is actually a woman named Rebecca Hallett who disappeared in the swamp decades before, she attempts to remove the strange old woman from Cleary Swamp, but little does Bernice know that Rebecca has a mystical bond to the area—one that possesses a human host and bonds them to it. One magical hallucinogenic powder cocktail and a space opera spirit journey later, Bernice’s life has changed forever. The swamp wants her for its new caretaker, and it won’t take no for an answer. ”
This was a nice, atmospheric start to my October reading! Come Back to the Swamp is a novella clocking in at around 110 pages, which makes it a perfect one-sitting story if you’re looking to settle in and get immersed. Our main character, Bernice, is a nerdy student who is working to remove invasive plant species from her local swamp as part of her ecology degree. But one afternoon as she hacks away at a particularly stubborn plant, she is confronted by an angry and disheveled old woman who claims that she is the swamp, and she doesn’t appreciate being assaulted, thank you very much. When Bernice tries to brush her off, she realizes that the woman is unnaturally strong and fast (and could probably kick her ass), so she retreats. Weirded out but determined to get back to work, she returns the next day, but again, as soon as she starts chopping at plants, the old lady appears and starts yelling at her to leave. Worried that the woman may be homeless and mentally ill, Bernice begins to do some research on how to help her. But what she finds is far more disturbing.
To go into detail about what happens next would be to ruin what is, after all, a short story. But what I can tell you is that as a SFF fan I found much to enjoy in Bernice’s character and the strange, tense journey she is forced into. It’s one part smart and witty urban fantasy, but with a building tension not unlike Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. The swamp is ever present in Bernice’s thoughts, and when a classmate gets tangled up in events, things become increasingly dangerous for both of them.
I found Come Back to the Swamp to be a well written, creative and atmospheric story, and a great example of the novella format. Bite sized, self contained and thoroughly enjoyable, like a modern day episode of The Twilight Zone. The ending features a jump forward in time that some may find a little abrupt, and the open ended nature of the story and moral ambiguity of the choices made might not satisfy everyone. However, if you like your characters a little grey, I think you’ll be well pleased.
Score: 6.9/10 (4 Stars)
Bingo Squares 2018
- Published 2018
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings