The History of the Bog Elf

 

Many spine-chilling stories are told about this bog monster. Nobody knows for sure which tales are fact and which are fiction. Most tales, however, describe in lurid detail how this denizen of the swamp sucks down wayward travelers into the quagmire, where they disappear without a trace. The monster attacks travelers that wander too close to its abode and rips them to shreds, showing no mercy to either women or children. There is another terrible story that is told among peasants, that at one time the slimy green monster even dared leave his swampy abode to enter a house and devour everybody within. The stairs flowed with blood, the nursery was ripped to shreds and all the walls were splattered with evil swamp slime. The story goes that this was how the swamp monster monster took vengeance on his parents. He is rarely seen, and those unfortunate enough have laid eyes on him have not lived to tell the tale. It is difficult to believe, but old people say that at one time the swamp monster was human… or at least, that is how he was born.

The large room resounded with the insistent wailing of a child. Driven half mad by the pain of labor and exhausted from the endless pushing, the new mother tries to lift her heavy head from the pillow to look at the crying child that had just emerged from her body. For nine long months she carried this child under her heart, sang gentle lullabies to him, as her mother had done to her, and she caressed her rounded stomach while thinking about the child growing within. The old women told her over and over that she would give birth to a boy, as all the omens pointed to this: her belly was low, and the oats sank in the pot before the wheat. Maternal instinct combined with ordinary curiosity to give her strength and the woman, with labored and irregular breathing, held out her hand to the noisy bundle. The midwife had already managed to wipe down the child and wind it in a clean, white sheet. The teary-eyed mother peered into the wrinkled red face, which was distorted by the grimace of the newly born. She had only managed to return the child to the midwife when her strength evaporated and she lost consciousness.

Her husband was pacing impatiently outside the door. When the midwife appeared at the threshold with the baby he looked inquiringly into her eyes, unable to bring himself to take the fragile body into his hands. The woman, without raising her eyes, placed the blanket with the child on the table and quietly left the room. The new father took a step and then froze in horror. Nothing could have prepared him for the picture that now lay before him. The corners of the blanket had been loosened, and in the folds of the fabric an odd creature squirmed about, crying desperately: an enormous body was connected to short legs and disproportionately long arms and hands, which looked as if they had been removed from some other creature and hastily connected. A large head shuddered with every sob, threatening to snap off the thin, weak neck. The face was terrible to look at: shriveled and wrinkled, just like an old person, it looked like a piece of meat, the only difference being that it had two dark eyes, devoid of lashes, that stared out with a pained expression. It was as if he already understood that love and tenderness were not to be his lot in this world. When the child fell silent for a moment and closed its mouth, it could be seen that on one side his lip sloped downwards, giving him an expression of fierce displeasure.

This is how the unfortunate child was born into the family of a wealthy merchant. And a mere two weeks later the same child, shivering from cold and hunger, lay in a wicker basket next to a foul-smelling swamp, choking on his own sobs. Unable to accept that their long-awaited heir was a misshapen and weak monster, the parents decided to get rid of their burden: the swamp would swallow their disgrace and forever hide their secret – or so they thought. The neighbors were told that the child had died; the house was shrouded in mourning. But fate had a different path laid out for the rejected infant. The unfortunate child was so eager to survive, and clung to life with his misshapen hands, that when his birch cradle started to sink into the mire, the swamp took pity on the wretch and disgorged him. The green swamp raised the foundling itself. It learned to breathe underwater and to see through a murky layer of silt. The mire did not suck him down, it became his home.

To begin with he fed on small animals that got caught in the insidious trap of the swamp, and later he started to hunt. His outer appearance changed: due to the length of time he spent in water, he developed gills and webs. The damp and constant cold gave his skin a pale green hue. His body was covered from head to toe in long, thick hair. Rough sharp claws on his long fingers helped him trap his prey. His rows of small, yellow teeth easily ground down the brittle bones of young Kretches if they accidentally strayed into the domain of the swamp dweller. His short legs stood firmly on the ground and his disproportionate body stretched out even further, giving him the appearance of an awkward, shaggy giant. He almost never stood straight, only if he had to fight. For hunting it was more convenient for him to prostrate his hairy body and slide noiselessly through the swamp weeds, not taking his sharp eyes off his intended victim.

It was already difficult to imagine that he had at one time been a person. Only his dark, beady eyes flashed from time to time with remembered pain and loss – all other human traits were lost forever. There was no place in his heart for love or compassion. He had transformed into a bloodthirsty monster, constantly on the lookout for lone travelers to devour, and frightening the locals, who called him Bog Elf. Bog Elf took vengeance on every living thing for all the misfortunes that had befallen him and for the fact that when he had been an unfortunate child, nobody had shown him love or compassion. He cursed the world that had been so cruel to him. When he was still young he got caught in a hunter’s snare. The hunter was unable to figure out what he had caught, he had never seen such a strange creature. There were two others with the hunter, a merchant and his manager. People made fun of the ugliness of the young Bog Elf, but when he looked in desperation into the eyes of the merchant, the recipient of this desperate stare was taken aback and something pricked his conscience. The merchant ordered that the creature be released.

The swamp creature remembered this meeting and, more importantly, he remembered the smell of the person dressed in boots made from soft leather, who had been unable to endure his piercing stare. It was by this smell that a few years later the monster found a house standing a little distant from the neighboring houses. He made his way there at night and unleashed a bloody slaughter from which nobody survived. It is unlikely that the young Bog Elf would have been able to remember anything from his short stay in the house of his birth, but the terrible coincidence was frightening. Many years ago all the mirrors in this house had been draped in black, in mourning for an allegedly dead child that had frightened his parents by his appearance. They robbed him of his life as a human, and in turn, he robbed them of their lives…

It is quiet in the swamp, from time to time the mire is disturbed by a heavy gurgling. But this is a deceptive quiet. It is a silence that shrouds the foundling of the swamp, who lies patiently in wait for his next victim.

 



 
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