The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Gator Bait

The Chinese scout knew something was wrong.  His fellow scout had disappeared – without a sound as far as he could tell.  It hit him the instant that he began to zag back toward their center line.  His senses picked up on his counterpart’s absence as much as anything else.  Alert and ready, the scout froze in position.  He crouched with his rifle at port-arms.  His finger slid inside the trigger guard as he scanned the trees and water for his brother in arms.

An alligator glided quietly into the water from a few yards away.  It was a big bull – easily twelve feet long from nose to tail.  It’s tail swung in an almost leisurely manner propelling it through the water with hardly a sound.  Only its nose, eyes and a few of the scutes on its back protruded from the murky water.  Despite its lack of speed, the gator obviously swam with a purpose.

The scout was not entirely unfamiliar with terrain similar to that in which he now found himself.  He had grown up in the wetlands along the middle Yangtze River.  The area, along with its plant and wildlife populations, was similar, if not identical, to the Okefenokee.  Chinese alligators were generally smaller than those of the Okefenokee but they were no less of a danger.

The American, who had grown up in the Okefenokee, slipped behind a tangle of exposed tree roots for concealment.  He was covered in mud and green slime from his foray to the bottom of the swamp with the first U.N. scout.  The natural camouflage hid him perfectly.  Only his eyes would give him away if the second scout got close enough.  He had noticed the big bull basking in the sun just before he took the first scout.  Now, as he hid, his ears, accustomed to the near-silent sounds of the swamp, picked up the almost imperceptible splash as the gator slid off the bank and into the water.

As a man who grew up in the swamp, the American knew that an alligator’s first food instinct was triggered by movement.  Although the first scout was no longer moving, the American had pushed the dead body in the direction of the alligator.  Pitcher, as his young friends had nicknamed him (for the Pitcher plant native to the swamp), also knew that gators were opportunistic feeders –  they would eat pretty much anything that looked interesting as long as it was easy to catch.  Pitcher hoped the dead body of the scout would provide just such an opportunistic meal for the nearby bull.  He needed a few more minutes of time, un-interrupted by alligator attacks, to take the second scout alive.

The big gator dove stealthily under the water.  The Chinese scout advanced cautiously in the direction of a large old Cypress tree with a massive tangle of exposed roots.  Pitcher, unmoving and consummately camouflaged, simply waited for his prey.

A loon called and another answered.  There was a quiet murmur of water trickling in a tiny waterfall over a series of fallen logs.  A softshell turtle as big as a turkey platter warmed itself on a flat rock in a dappled beam of sunlight.  A lone white-tailed deer flicked its ears and tail as it turned to watch the man with the blue helmet.  An insect crawled into the pitfall of a Pitcher plant.  The U.N. scout wiped sticky sweat from his brow with his uniform sleeve.

Yards away, the water boiled as the old bull found the floating body of the first scout.  The second scout snapped his head in the direction of the noise just in time to see his fellow scout’s body drug under the water in the gator’s death roll.  The scout’s rifle moved to his shoulder almost without thought.  Pitcher tensed his muscles in preparation for his attack.

The Chinese scout swung his rifle slowly back and forth as he tried to spot the gator.  As he swung to his right, the exposed roots of the tree to his left seemed to explode in a blur of movement.  Before he could swing his rifle back to his left into position to defend himself, the scout caught a flash of muddy green rising from the waters of the swamp.  Like something out of a bad movie, the slimy monster sprang at the scout clubbing him on the side of the head with a knotted Bay tree branch.  The scout collapsed like a rag doll into the few inches of water in which he stood as the wily old bull surfaced to check on the action.

The mutilated and bloody body of the first scout popped to the surface near the old gator as the slimy, green Pitcher scooped up his prey.  Pitcher tossed the much smaller man in a fireman’s carry over his left shoulder and snatched up the man’s rifle in his right hand.

Noting the speed at which this more active meal disappeared into the distance, the massive bull returned his attention to the body of the first scout.  Grabbing the body in his massive jaws, the gator used small, quick tosses to position the head of the Chinese soldier in his throat.  Within moments, the entire body had disappeared into the belly of the gator just as Pitcher and his prey had disappeared into the belly of the swamp.

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16 thoughts on “Gator Bait

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  1. I am currently watching the TV series LOST for the first time. It tells a story with sub plots as well. and I’m pretty sure that’s what has me coming back for more! Keep up the good work.

  2. Great writings bring great critiques….. As those from grits…. I know that it is just part of the territory for you Toby. If folks didn’t like your writings, they just wouldn’t come back to read…. Seeing these reviews means people are taking notice of your skills and want to see more!!

    I certainly do.

    While I will partially agree that sometimes I am distracted and curious as to how the whole General Wei and Xu Guan story will tie in, i DO know that they at some point will.

    My other comment is a request: Could you elaborate more on David Johnson’s farm and family and how they are set up and what their days look like? You did a GREAT job back in your November journals describing the farm, but I would like to see more on their day to day livelihood….i.e., how are they provisioned with regard to propane stores? Do they get a hot shower once a week with their tankless water heaters? How much of the “old” comforts do they enjoy with their solar power? Is their refrigerator going to keep their deer meat cool this summer?
    Some good meat and potatoes writing on the life and times of the Johnsons would make for more great personalization of their story.

    Thanks again for the GREAT storyline….(s)!

    JD

  3. I’m enjoying the series, and I think your writing is quite good.

    That said, these diversions of sub-plots are distracting. They take my emotional energy away from the main plotline of David and what is going on at Union Creek. What is going on with Xu Guan in Arizona, and what is going on here don’t seem to fit into the fundamental narrative arc, and while we may be provided with shreds of character (Pitcher was named for the Pitcher plant), there is little reason to care what happens down here because it is so disconnected from the main plot-line or the main characters. Really, from what I can discern, the only relationship this piece has with Union Creek is that the Georgia contingent are ex-military, they resist the Chinese, and the are wily Americans. (And those are all good things, but they are not enough.)

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this part could work as a device for building complexity into the story if there were more “up front” connection to the main plotline, or if there was a strong relationship connection to people in the Union Creek community. But there is not. That connection has not been established, though it may be lying in wait. But until that happens, especially in this online episodic serialization method that you are using, it just seems like a lot of meaningless action, and I find it distracting from wanting to know what is happening at union Creek. I think there are plenty of plotlines possible there from the numerous characters that you have introduced, and the complexity of the tasks before that community, including preparing for (or not) the uncertainties that lie outside the community.

    The one sub-plot that I believe that you handled most effectively was that with Ariele. The events were proximal to Union Creek, and she was someone that you had provided enough characterization that I had begun to care for her and wonder what would befall her. Of course, she is now integrated into the Johnson compound, but we’ve not heard much about her since then. Nor have we heard much about Pete and his family: I also want to find out more about them and how they are holding up.

    Given that the initial narrative device was the journal (which works excellently, by the way), I personally believe that whatever venturing that you would do outside that device should be closer perspectives on David from the people around him…maybe from the journals of other members of the community? Again, I’ll re-state that the conditions themselves are novel (collapse of the U.S. as an economic force) and the requirement to rebuild a community (society) from the ground up is such an interesting focus. And of course there is plenty of opportunity for the mischief caused by desperate circumstances and the temptations of a community living on the edge of civility. These themes seem to me to offer you plenty of opportunity for extensive action, even as you build characters that we care for.

    I know this is a long rant, but I’ve been reading since shortly after you began posting, and I had a few minutes to give you some feedback. Take what you want, throw out what doesn’t suit you. I only offer it so you have some sense about how one reader thinks about what you are doing.

    Best wishes for fantastic success!

    • First, thank you for the feedback. That’s a big part of why I like this format – the opportunity for immediate feedback from my readers.

      Second, this is all an experiment. It is also my first serious work of fiction. It is unedited. You’re probably seeing a few wrinkles related to all of those factors.

      Finally, you’re looking back on characters that were introduced in sub-plots and saying that you would like to hear more about them. All of these sub-plots will eventually knot together. I suspect, at some point, you will look back on Xu Guan, General Wei, Hood’s militia and the folks living in the swamp and say, “Give me more.” They may seem disconnected, but the connections are there. If you look hard enough, you’ll see them (maybe). :D

  4. Now we’re talking, Americans kickin butt! It took the Americans a while to learn how to fight in Viet Nam and Afganistan<sp?. It will take the Blue Hats a while to learn how rural Americans fight. I think it's time the American government learns the same lesson, before this journal becomes a true story and Americans are forced to live the journal's new normal.

    Great entry again.

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