Chapter 5: The Boggart
The slimy brown hand fumbled along the side of the canoe, making its way toward Jenna. Then it grabbed hold of her paddle. Jenna wrestled the paddle away and was about to hit the slimy brown thing with it when a voice said, "Oi. No need fer that."
A seal like creature with slippery brown fur pulled itself up do that it's head was just out of the water. Two bright black button eyes stared at Jenna, who had her paddle still poised in midair.
"Wish you'd put that down. Could hurt someone. So where you bin, then?" the creature asked grumpily in a deep, gurgling voice with a broad marshland drawl. "I bin waitin' for hours. Freezin' in here. How'd you like it? Stuck in a ditch. Just waitin'."
"What is it, Jen?" asked Nicko, who was sitting behind me, probably trying to make sure I didn't do anything stupid. It's not like I could go anywhere or even do anything.
"Th-this..." Jenna pointed at the creature, who looked offended.
"What do you mean, this?" he asked. "You mean me? You mean Boggart?"
"Boggart? No, I didn't say that." Jenna muttered.
"Well I did. Boggart. That's me. I'm Boggart. Boggart, the Boggart. Good name innit?"
"Lovely," said Jenna politely.
"What's going on?" asked Silas, catching up with us. "Stoppit, Maxie. Stoppit I say!" Maxie, the dog, was barking a lot, probably something to do with the Boggart. I heard that dogs used to hunt boggarts down. It's probably still an instinct for Maxie to hunt them down.
The Boggart took one look at Maxie and disappeared back under the water. The Boggart reappeared at a safe distance. "You're nor bringin' that?" he said, looking balefully at Maxie. "She didunt say nothin' 'bout one a them."
"Do I hear a Boggart?" asked Silas.
"Yeah," said the Boggart.
"Yeah," said the Boggart.
"Had she sent you to find us?"
"Yeah," said the Boggart.
"Good," said Silas, very relieved. "We'll follow you then."
"Yeah," said the Boggart, and he swam off along Deppen Ditch and took the next turning but one.
The next turning but one was much narrower than Deppen Ditch and wound its snakelike way deep into the moonlit, snow-covered marshes. The snow fell steadily and all was quiet and still, not to mention cold. Every now then the Boggart would stick his head out and say, "You followin'?"
"I don't know what else he thinks we can do," Jenna said to Nicko. I smiled as she continued talking. "It's not as if there's anywhere else to go."
But the Boggart continued to ask the question until we reached a small marsh pool with several overgrown channels leading off it.
"Best wait for the others," said the Boggart. "Don't want em gettin' lost."
Jenna glanced back, probably to see where 'the others' were.
As Silas propelled the canoe into the pool and wearily laid his paddle down, Marcia declared, "I am not sitting in front of that animal one moment longer. There's dog dribble all over my hair. It's disgusting. I'm getting out I'd rather walk."
"You don't wanter be doin' that, Yer Majesty," came the Boggart's voice from out of the water behind our canoe. "You don't wanter be walkin' round 'ere. You'll start followin' the Quake Ooze before you know it. There's many as had followed the Marshfire and there's none as has returned."
A rumbling growl was coming deep down in Maxie's throat. The fur on the back of his neck stood up, and suddenly, obeying an old and compelling wolfhound instinct, Maxie leaped into the water after the Boggart.
"Maxie! Maxie! Oh, you stupid dog," yelled Silas.
Maxie yelped and frantically dog paddled back to Silas and Marcia's canoe.
Marcia shoved him away. "That dog is not getting back in here."
"Marcia, he'll freeze," protested Silas.
"I don't care."
"Here, Maxie. C'mon boy," said Nicko. He grabbed Maxie's neckerchief and, with Jenna's help, hauled the dog into our canoe. The canoe tipped dangerously, but I had no desire to end up in the water like Maxie, so I grabbed hold of a tree root.
Maxie stood shivering got a moment, then he did what all wet dogs do: he shook himself.
"Maxie!" gasped Nicko and Jenna.
I said nothing. What did they expect? Its a dog and wet dogs have to dry themselves somehow. I didn't like dogs at all. The only dogs I had ever known were the vicious Custodian Guard Dogs, and although I could see Maxie looked nothing like them, I still expected him to bite at any moment. And so when macir settled down, laid his head on my lap, and went to sleep, it was just another very bad moment in my worst day ever. Though I had half a mind to push him off me.
"Boggart? Where are you Mr. Boggart?" Jenna called out politely.
There was no reply, just a deep silence that comes to the marshes when a blanket of snow covers the bogs and quags, silences their gurgles and gloops a sends all the slimy creatures back into the stillness of the mud.
"Now we've lost that nice Boggart because of your stupid animal," Marcia told Silas crossly. "I don't know why you had to bring him."
Well said, I thought.
"I can see a light!" said Jenna suddenly. "It must be aunt Zelda coming to look for us. Look over there!"
I followed her finger. A flickering was jumping over the marshes, as if bounding from tussock to tussock.
"She's coming toward us," said Jenna excited.
"No, she's not," Nicko said. "Look she's going away."
"Perhaps we ought to go and meet her," said Silas.
Marcia sounded unconvinced. "How can you be sure it's Zelda?" she said. "It could be anyone. Anything."
Everyone fell silent as we watched the light coming toward us, until Silas said, "It is Zelda. Look, I can see her."
"No, you can't," said Marcia. "It's Marshfire, like that very intelligent Boggart said.
"Marcia, I know Zalda when I see her, and I can see her now. She's carrying a light. She's come all this way to find us and we are just sitting here. I'm going to meet her."
"They say fools see what they want in Marshfire," said Marcia tartly. "And you've just proved that saying true, Silas."
Silas made to get out of the canoe, and Marcia grabbed his cloak.
"Sit!" she said as though she was talking to Maxie. But Silas pulled away. He climbed out of the canoe and stumbled off toward the flickering glow.
"Dad!" yelled Jenna. "Can we come too?"
"No you may not," said Marcia firmly. "I'm going to have to bring the silly old fool back."
As Marcia drew her breath, Silas tripped and fell headlong onto the boggy ground. Silas laid there for several seconds until he raised his hands to his head. He looked like he was struggling to free himself until he started to sink. It was Marshfire.
"Dad!" yelled Jenna, getting out of the canoe. "I'll help you, Dad."
"No!" Marcia told her. "No, that's how Marshfire works. The bog will drag you down too."
"But-but we can't just watch Dad drown," cried Jenna.
Suddenly a squat brown shape heaved itself out of the water, scrambled up the bank and, leaping expertly from tussock to tussock, ran toward Silas.
"What you doin' in the Quake Ooze, sir?" said the Boggart crossly.
"Whaaa?" Silas mumbled.
Silas was slowly sinking into the Quake Ooze. Suddenly Jenna sprang up again from the canoe, and Nicko went to follow her. I heard all about the Marshfire from the only survivor of a platoon of Young Army boys who had gotten lost in the Quake Ooze a few years earlier, do I grabbed Jenna and tried to pull her back into the canoe. Angrily, she pushed me away. I decided that would be the last time I willingly help her.
Great, I thought, I'm stuck with, not one idiot, but two more of them. The only sensible one seems to be Marcia.
"Stay there, miss," he said urgently. I gave another hefty tug on Jenna's sheepskin jacket, and she sat down in the canoe with a bump.
The Boggart leaned over Silas and breathed on him. Silas was free. The Boggart helped him up and rubbed the mud from his eyes.
"I told you Marshfire would lead you to the Quake Ooze. An' it did didunt it?" remonstrated the Boggart. "Yer all right now, sir. But it were close. I don't mind telling you that. Haven't had to breathe on a Brownie since they ransacked the cottage. Ah, Boggart Breath is a wonderful thing. Some may not like it much, but I always say to 'em, 'You'd think different if you was got by the Quake Ooze Brownies."
Silas mumbled something while the Boggart carefully led him back to the canoe.
"You'd best go in the front, Yer Majesty," Boggart said to Marcia. "He's in no fit state ter drive one a these things."
Marcia helped the Boggart get Silas onto the canoe, and then the Boggart slipped into the water. "I'll take you to Miss Zelda's, but mind you keep that animal out me way," he said, glaring at Maxie. "Brought me out in a nasty rash that growlin' did. I is covered in lumps now. Here feel this." the Boggart offered his large round tummy for Marcia to feel.
The look on her face made me want to laugh out loud.
"It's very kind of you, but no thank you, not just now," said Marcia faintly.
"Another time, then."
"Right then." the Boggart swam toward a small channel I had not noticed before. "Now, you followin'?" he asked, not for the last time.