A/N: Hey, guys! For any of you guys reading this, this story was posted a LONG time ago and was intended to be a 2-3 chapter oneshot piece. Unfortunately, I had never posted the third chapter, and final installment, of this piece so I decided that I'd finish the third chapter, touch up the first two chapters, and post it again so the story would be completed and you guys wouldn't be left hanging because I'm lazy and dumb!
I am SO sorry for the HUGE gap between the second and third chapter! For anyone who's read the first two before my repost, I'd highly suggest that you read it from the very beginning because even though not much has been changed, mostly grammar and wording, a few things HAVE been added in that you'd probably want to take a gander at! Anywho, on with the show~!
Summary: The Lone Wanderer and Charon are taken to Point Lookout to look for Nadine when their mission takes a terrifying turn of events, but offers up an opportunity to Charon that he never thought would be possible. The kicker? If he wishes to embellish in this opportunity, he will have to force his hand and do the unthinkable.
I hope you guys enjoy the story, now that the final chapter's been posted! c:
Happy reading, happy writing!
Black water Hattie lived back in the swamp
Where the strange green reptiles crawl.
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees,
Like sausage on a smokehouse wall.
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes—
An' all of 'em watching you.
Stay off the track to Hattie's shack,
in the back of the Black Bayou.
Charon pulled his foot free of the marshy bog, giving a long scowl as it crept off the toe of his boot, imitating the movements of a fat, black slug, and plopped back into the marsh bed he stepped in with a miniscule splash. He was wading in calf-deep swamp, muck, and mud—and for what?
"Charon! Look at what I found!"
The ghoul gave a long string of grumbles under his breath from deep within his throat as he waded his way out of the marsh bed to come to his employer's side. Emmy was crouched in front of something, her knees folded and held against her chest with an arm wrapped around them, her rump an inch or so shy of the ground as her free hand plucked up what she had called his attention to. Her head twisted towards him, grinning at the mud and putrid swamp gunk that clung to his footwear.
"Go for a swim, big guy?"
He gave an unamused grunt in reply instead of dignifying her question with a legitimate answer. Looking to the item in her hands, he recognized it to be a cloth doll which was covered in dried mud—thick brown yarn adorned it's hair, the purple dress it wore was ripped and horribly stained, and black stitching created a cheery smile and held in place a single black button while its twin hung from the doll's face by a thin line of frayed thread that was obviously close to completely breaking.
"Is that a—… doll?"
"Yeah, it is." Emmy nodded, looking back down at it and brushed a single lock of yawn hair out of it's face. "The swamp folks make figures out of bone and twigs to mark their territory deeper into the swamp. If you get deep enough in, you can even see that they sometimes even hang dolls from them."
"I am well aware of that—you have explained this to me before." He deadpanned.
"But I haven't seen something like this before." Emmy got to her feet and tossed the doll to him with a slight huff at being told that she was repeating information. It was something she did often; whether it was out of habit or if she wasn't really conscious of the fact that she did it, he didn't know.
The doll released an airy noise as Charon caught it. He inspected it with the remainder of sunlight the two had as the sun fell over the flat plains of marsh land that was Point Lookout, and it reminded him that the duo had to return to the Duchess Gambit soon because the swamp was no place that anyone would want to be stuck in during the night. At least back at the paddle boat the worst he had to worry about was Tobar being his bizarrely chipper self (which Charon understood, though it made him uneasy—the bastard ferryman made a killing off of all of the caps Emmy had spent for their tickets to and from Point Lookout). Out in the swamp itself, it was any man's game from the demented locals to a feral ghoul wandering into their camp, and the problem with games out in the Wasteland was that they didn't come packaged with a rule book.
"Do you notice anything… strange, about that doll?" Emmy spoke as she rose up from the ground to her feet, staring at the doll that she tossed to him.
"...Emmy I'm a bodyguard. Not a toymaker. It looks like any other doll we've seen in this swamp."
"Maybe, but this one seems more dressed up then all the others we've seen... the others were so—plain Jane compared to this one."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, look at it!" She cried, pointing down at it. "The yarn for the hair's curled, the dress has print on it, it's got makeup painted onto it… and look! It even has shoes! And a mole on it's cheek!"
Charon knew that from his employer's observations the toy was uncannily detailed when compared to those hung up by the swamp folk. He had once figured that the locals had possibly come across a whole stockpile of them to have so many to make the figurines that marked their territory; but a few days ago, they had been captured by a few who called themselves "poachers" and the two watched from their containment cell as one of them actually made the dolls with scrap cloth, yawn, needle, and thread. The freak actually sewed the doll together and made the clothes… Charon had never seen anything more peculiar in his life—and that was certainly saying something when had had an employer like Emmy. He had been with her since she was attacked by super mutants outside of Underworld and Willow had dragged her half-dead hide to safety within the front entry of their ghoul settlement. He had to leave the Ninth Circle (after Winthrop managed to scrounge up enough caps for Ahzrukhal to pay for the bodyguard's services) and help Cerberus clear out the remaining riled up super mutants who dared to get close enough to Underworld to try and finish what they started with Emmy.
That was… well, almost a year ago, now—and not until a month or so after his contract was bought by her was he told that the only reason why she had been anywhere near the Mall a second time (the first time was something about a relay dish that she didn't talk about in detail) was to deliver to Carol a letter from her son.
Charon hadn't even been aware that Carol had a son—or rather, he hadn't been aware that the hotel owner had 'adopted' Gob. He figured Gob was dead, he had been gone for 15 years.
"What do you think about it?" Emmy asked, biting her thin bottom lip.
"I think you're getting paranoid over a doll that's a little dressed up compared to the others." Charon dropped the toy into the swamp gunk at his feet, stepping onto it carelessly as he walked past her. A familiar pouting whimper emitted from behind him as she gingerly removed it from the mud and tried her best to wipe off the fresh mud it was laced with till it was, somewhat, cleaner.
"I think she's kinda pretty…" She smiled, holding her as a child would have—with a loving light flickering in her wide blue eyes. "I think I'll call her… Estelle." She giggled. "Yeah, she looks like an Estelle to me!"
"Are you honestly planning on taking that filthy thing with us, Emmy?" He asked in a grumble.
"Well, why not? It can be a souvenir from our first trip to Point Lookout!"
"...You know what a better souvenir would be? Finding that tomboy so I can blow her head off for making us come out here."
"Hey! That's not very nice! And besides, Nadine didn't make us do anything. I couldn't just leave her mother hanging on so desperately like that! You coulda stayed home, anyways!"
"My contract states that I am to be within close vicinity of my employer at all times to keep him or her safe unless otherwise told to remain put." He explained, shooting her blunt daggers with his milky eyes. "You didn't tell me to remain home."
"You know, if I recall correctly, you were the one threatening to feed Tobar to the mirelurks nesting near the shore if you couldn't come with me~!" Emmy giggled, recalling the panicked expression the ferryman had made.
"I wasn't going to allow you to travel to dangerous, foreign lands without me where you could be injured, or worse, and without my assistance." Charon snipped. "And "can't make group trips" my decomposing ass. He was lying."
"Oh really? How do you know that?"
"The riverboat's fit to hold more than just him and you—it's well maintained and spacious so he most likely figured that you'd offer to pay extra to bring me with you if you were that desperate for me to come. Not only that, but determining if someone was supplying me with false information was part of my training to become a bodyguard." He explained as she fell into step with him, clutching the doll she named "Estelle" against her practically bare chest. She was currently donning the outfit the crazed, punga-praising Tribals wore. She claimed that it helped to keep her cover with them in case they were watching, but he knew that she actually liked wearing it because she despised wearing armor of any type. She said it made it hard for her to move around and it was heavy. It tired her out easily (which he knew, because she could barely outrun a radroach without exhausting herself).
"So could you tell if I'm lying?" She asked with a grin.
"Is that a challenge?"
"It most certainly is, my big, irritable friend!" She laughed. He sighed grumpily. She continued on. "Okay! For my tenth birthday in the Vault, I was given a job to help make it a better place. I had to help the elderly. True or false?"
"Woah. How'd you know that?"
"I've travelled with you long enough to know your tell." Charon clarified as he glanced up to the sky. "We're going in the wrong direction. The dock is that way," He pointed to the far right of them.
Emmy removed the cloth wrapping she had around her Pip-Boy (another ploy to gain the Tribals' trust, as they didn't necessarily appreciate technology of any sort) and fiddled with the map interface to see where they were.
"Oh, you're right. Yeah, Tobar is back that way." They turned to the direction he pointed at and made their way through the scrawny trees, their upraised roots littered amongst sprouting punga fruit buds. "So what's a—… a tell?"
"A sort of mannerism that many people have that questions the honesty of a statement that they have given."
"…Ye-aaaah I'm not following you…"
"How do I simplify this?… For example, a woman lies about her birthday. She was born on April 4th, 2253 but tells anyone she meets that she was born on October 20th, 2255. When she gives this false information, her body does something involuntarily that reveals that she is lying. Like her eye twitches, or she licks her lips or flares her nostrils. Sometimes it can be so subtle you don't even see it, other times it's as obvious as a knife sticking out of your back."
"Oh. I see now!" Emmy smiled. "So what's my tell?"
"Supply me with a few more stories and I will tell you."
She huffed. "Fine. Lemme think, now… Hmn. Alright, I got one! My favorite color is blue."
"…Creepy. Okay! I needa think of another one now, don't I? Erm… my favorite food is Insta-Mash."
"These are too simple!"
"I'm not the one coming up with the stories... " Charon shot back with a raised brow.
"Hush. Alright, I've gotta tricky one! Back in Vault 101, I was made fry-cook 'cause of that stupid G.O.A.T. exam. I served chocolate pudding to customers."
"Emmy, what kind of story is that?" He snapped without any actual bite in his words.
"A good kinda story if you haven't told me if it's true or false!" She declared triumphantly. "Give up?"
"False. You served them strawberry pudding."
"…You're starting to freak me out. I was looking more for a "False. You weren't a fry-cook" kinda answer." She admitted, gazing up at him.
"But you were a fry-cook."
"How did you even—?"
"You've told me this story before. Besides, you have explained to me that you are deathly allergic to chocolate. Coming into contact with chocolate pudding would have sent you into anaphylactic shock."
"Alright, alright, you got me." She smiled a little, as if in admiration that he remembered that. "Last one. My full name is Emmalyn Susanne Phillips."
"False. Your name is Emmalyn Mary-Anne Phillips."
Upon hearing her true name pass his lips, Emmy stopped right in her tracks and gawked at him; her eyes wide, thin lips pulled into an 'O' of surprise as her jaw went slack. He halted at her side when he noticed that she had stopped moving.
"Ho- How did you—?..."
"Know? Because I do. As your bodyguard, not only do I need to know the basics about myself so whoever holds my contract knows how to make good use of me, but I need to know the basics about you. Like your severe allergy to chocolate."
She whistled in awe, thumbing Estelle's hair as she continued to gawk at him. "Pretty cool, big guy. So what's my tell?"
"You purse your lips together."
"You purse your lips together," Charon repeated. "You bring them tightly together."
"I so do not!" She cried in embarrassment, pursing her lips together with her bottom lip sticking out in a pout. Her thin eyebrows furrowed down over her big blue eyes, and her petite nose, dotted with freckles, scrunched up as if she had smelled something foul. The whole muddy swamp smelled of something foul—from the gas bubbles to the local wildlife of the "swamp folk," it had a different aroma than the Capital Wasteland. The Capital smelled dry and dusty, while this place smelled damp and muddy and obnoxious with fumes. The Capital had rocky formations and rolling hills of every dead plant you could imagine while Point Lookout was flat plains of swamp land with resurrected shrines of bone intertwined with twigs to make horrifying figurines in the dark.
"You did it, just now." He stated with some amusement in his accented and ruined voice.
"…Shaddup." Emmy looked to the sky. "Sheesh—it's getting dark really fast. That's not good."
"Indeed, it isn't." He scanned his eyes across the swamp plains. "We should keep moving."
"Aye, aye!" She smiled, falling into step with him with Estelle hanging over one arm as she pulled out her plasma pistol.
"The rounds are slow—use that rifle I found you." He ordered, looking to the weapon in her hands.
"They're slow but effective!" She argued.
"Rifle." He replied simply, as if talking to a child.
"Fine!" She grumbled sourly, putting the plasma pistol back in its holster on her hip and removed the lever-action rifle he had found for her from her pack—the butt of it jutting up from the mouth for easy access in case they were suddenly jumped by whatever enemies inhabited the swamp. She pulled it up over her shoulder and cocked it, holding it in front of her steadily. Estelle fell from her arm as she did, and she stopped to pick her up.
"Emmy, we need to keep moving." He said as he stopped again to wait for her, looking to the rapidly darkening sky. What was it with this place? It was getting darker and darker at an alarming rate, and it sometimes rained while in the Capital they had rad-storms.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'! Don't get your knickers in a knot," She murmured as she brushed more mud off of Estelle and jogged up to him. "I wonder why she's prettier than the others…"
"It is just a doll, Emmy," If he had a nose, he'd be squeezing the bridge in irritation right now. "Let's just keep moving. The path back to the fairgrounds should be past this tree grove."
"Really? That fast?" She asked in surprise as she removed the flap of cloth from her Pip-Boy and activated it, fiddling with the map interface. "My Pip-Boy says otherwise."
"My apologies. How much further?"
"It… ot says we're going the wrong way," Emmy murmured, squinting at the glowing green screen as if she couldn't see it properly with a frown pulling at her lips.
"The wrong way?" He looked back at the thin outlet of scrawny trees they passed to arrive in the small patch of large trees with low, hangings limbs—flimsy and dancing in the breeze to whistle amongst the thin leaves. No, they had walked straight—this was the right way. Emmy even confirmed it with her Pip-Boy map before they went in the direction only moments ago. How could they have been going in the wrong direction?
Maybe she got it wrong… then that would mean I was incorrect as well. But, deep down, he knew he was going the right way… he could have sworn he pointed them in the right direction… didn't he?
"Here, see for yourself!" She hoisted the Pip-Boy up into his face unceremoniously and he pushed it back with a throaty growl, looking back into the screen. It stated that they were going too far right. The arrow was pointing left, now—as in back in the direction where they had come.
"…Fine," Charon finally snarled. He didn't want to have to argue with an inanimate object when they were running out of time to leave. "We need to hurry. It's going to rain soon."
"You're worried about the rain?"
"I'm worried about what will happen if it starts to rain and we are caught by the swamp locals." He explained, turning to the direction the Pip-Boy stated they had to walk. She followed close behind him with Estelle in her arm, her rifle held in front of her as before. "The bogs become slippery—and it could suck you down below."
Emmy shuddered at the thought of suffocating under the swamp gunk. "That'd suck."
"I never thought I'd say this—let's just get back to Tobar."
"Aw, do you miss him?" She teased.
"As much as I miss the deathclaws and yao guai back in the Capital," He deadpanned, eyes flicking around. The full moon above was casting eerie shadows amongst the trees, barely illuminating where they walked amongst the swamp. Bone and stone figures, hanging dolls like that of a disturbed child's recreation of the gallows, the dolls swung back and forth in the gentle wind—almost making it sound as if they were laughing.
Laughing? He pondered, immediately halting his walk so Emmy slammed against his backside unexpectedly. He swiftly caught her by the arm before she even had the chance to lose her footing. Yes, there's laughter—somewhere nearby.
"Do you hear something?" She squeaked, gripping his forearm to better steady herself. Estelle landed in the mud, and Emmy innocently cursed under her breath ("Crud," she muttered) as she bent over to pick up the doll.
"Don't. Move." Charon hissed, and she immediately stopped, half-way bent over with her arm outstretched to the doll. She snapped her head up to him, causing her thin, pale brown hair to fall into her wide blue eyes.
"Wha- What is it?" Emmy whispered to him, still making no attempt to move.
"Laughter." He whispered back, straining his hearing. He heard nothing this time.
"Heh. Getting paranoid in your old age now aren't you, Charon?" She giggled quietly.
"I'm not that old," He shot back. Nor am I that stupid—I know what I heard. He tacked on mentally.
"How old are you, anyways?"
"Sixty-two and still counting."
"You were sixty-two when you turned into a ghoul?" She asked with wide eyes, bending over more to pick up Estelle from the ground once Charon had given her the 'all clear' gesture.
"No. I am sixty-two now. I was twenty-one when I turned into a ghoul—we don't stop counting the years after we endure ghoulification, Emmy."
Emmy gazed up at him with wide eyes as she brushed Estelle clean. Again. "Wait, so… you're not a Pre-War ghoul?"
"No. I was born in the Capital Wasteland. I'm considered to be "young" compared to some of the other ghouls that hung around Underworld."
"What is?" Charon turned over his broad shoulder to look down at her. She shrugged.
"I dunno. I've talked to ghouls who were born after the bombs fell…" She looked down at Estelle in her hands. "I just never expected you to be—eep!" She cried with her eyes snapping wide open as she dropped the doll back onto the mucky ground in a muddy puddle, causing it to splash up onto their boots.
"What? What is it?" He stepped towards her hurriedly.
"E- Estelle… the doll…" Emmy muttered, shaking her head as she stared down at it with wide eyes of disbelief, a shaking hand clasped over her mouth.
"What about it?" He asked, picking up the doll from the ground. The mud dripped from its curled, yarn hair and down its legs.
"She—She frowned at me!"
"…That's it. No more punga fruit for you." He declared, turning the doll over to have his own eyes widen in disbelief, brow furrowing. "What the—?..."
Estelle's other black eye was coming loose, so both of them hung from her face by thinning thread while the black stitching for her mouth, that he was positive was a smile when they first found her, was turned down into a frown and ripped open—almost as if she were trying to scream. Soiled cotton stuffing spell from the deformed orifice in tufts while mud streamed down from her plush cheeks from where her eyes once were, and in the moonlight, it made it look like blood—like she was crying blood from her missing button eyes.
That fruit… now I'm seeing things, too. Damnit. I knew we should have bought more boxes of food from that woman at the carnival boardwalk instead of eating those damn things.
"You still want to take her?" He jabbed.
"N- No fucking way!" Emmy cried, shaking her head quickly. "Just—! Just get rid of it! It creeps me the fuck out, now!"
Charon immediately spun on his heel and pulled his arm back the moment she shook her head, pitching the toy across the plain so it landed in a thatch of shrubs over the trees before turning back to her.
"Are you alright?"
"N- No! I just wanna get back to the fucking docks!" She shrieked, coming closer to him with her rifle pointing down at the ground. "I'm scared, Charon—the swamps freak me out at night! I don't wanna get ambushed and dragged away again! Can we please go now?"
"Emmy, I won't allow that to happen again. We'll be out of here soon, so don't worry." He assured her with a hand clapping down on one of her shoulders. It was rare when Emmy swore, and the only instances where the profanities dribbled from her lips was when she was starting to become terrified and was beginning to break down. He had to get her out of the swamp—and fast—because when she got to a certain level of terror, she would just start screaming and sobbing. It would attract any damn thing around them in a two mile radius with how the echo carried in these parts.
"Pr- Promise?" She choked, looking around nervously, chewing on her bottom lip.
"I promise. Come with me—we just need to get out of the trees where we can see the dock. I know that there's an open grove that we passed through just beyond the path that leads back to the fairgrounds. Turn off your Pip-Boy, or put the cover back over it or something. The light is going to attract something that I would prefer wouldn't follow us."
Emmy nodded and secured the cloth over it quickly, then checked over her weapon with trembling hands as she followed him—always one step behind him but never at his side or in front of him. That was a problem. When she walked ahead of him, it meant that she was in her "A-Game" and she was determined and confident. At his side, it meant that she was comfortable and had nothing troubling her and was relaxed. But when she walked behind him—it signified that she was worried, nervous, scared, anxious, angry, sad, or even all of the above. She was falling into the pit quicker than he expected. He had to keep her calm and quiet.
"Come here," Charon demanded. Her eyes snapped up to him—his sudden words in the midst of long silence had startled her. She scurried closer to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and buried her head into his ribcage. He found that having Emmy hold something, or someone, always made her come back down quicker then trying to talk her down—he didn't understand how physical contact assured her more than words did, but he understood that people dealt with fear using different methods.
"Watch your step." He cautioned, helping her over a dead log in their path. Her boots sunk into the muck and she pulled them out quickly to continue holding onto him. Her breathing was returning to normal, her eyes weren't rapidly darting around, and she was beginning to hum "Butcher Pete" to herself quietly.
But right when he thought that the method was working, he heard it—singing. It was faint, but it was undoubtedly there. He didn't want to say anything to Emmy since she had just calmed down, but as he discreetly pulled for his combat knife that was strapped to his thigh, it was too late. She heard it, too; her humming hitched in her throat and she clung onto him tighter.
"Cha- Charon! I hear singing!"
"Stick close to me, Emmy." He demanded, his lips pulling back in a snarl as he sheathed his combat knife and pulled his combat shotgun from his back over his shoulder, scanning the darkness for any source of movement. The singing continued in the distance, almost as if taunting the both of them… he didn't know what it was, or who it was, because he knew the locals didn't sound like that with their strange way of talking, and how they slurred and drawled over each word with their hick-like accents. The singing sounded scratchy and choked, but somehow… mesmerizing and melancholy.
"Whe- Where is it fucking coming from?" Emmy squeaked, clinging closer to him with her rifle shaking in her hands. "Charon, let's just make a run for it!" She pleaded.
"Keep your voice down." He whispered, turning to look at her from the corner of his eyes. "Which way do we go?"
She carefully peeled up a corner of the cloth covering her Pip-Boy and flipped to the map interface. Her eyes drew wide open in the ominous green glow, and they began to water up out of fear and panic.
"Cha- Charon-…" She pounded her fist against it desperately and looked up at him. "It- It's not working!"
"What do you mean it's not working?" He hissed, before inwardly reprimanding himself for not whispering any longer.
Charon stepped back and grabbed her arm by the wrist, pulling the Pip-Boy up to his face to look at it. The map was present—the same grid with all the marked locations, but the triangle that symbolized herposition… it was spinning in fast, erratic circles, as if she were just twirling around in the middle of the swamp. The marker that represented him was absent, as if he wasn't amongst her.
"What the—?..." He let her arm drop from his hands and gazed around at the surroundings. The singing lingered amongst them, like the fog that clung low to the ground in the midst of the night. He felt the first cool plop of rain land on his forehead to run down between his eyes and down his cheek. He looked up to the sky.
Something must be interfering with the Pip-Boy… Charon tried reasoning, looking back at her. Something in the swamp. Who knows what's been sucked down into the bog over the years?
"Cha- Charon please! Let's just run!"
"We can't without direction, we might just run deeper into enemy territory that way." He explained strictly, looking back around them as he tried to make out their surroundings for something familiar, the thin drizzle of the first coming of rain pattering on the shoulder pads of his armor. He didn't see anything that looked remotely similar to anything he had in his vast databank of memory, and then it hit him. It hit him like a power fist right to the fucking head.
We haven't mapped this area yet.
He began to feel uneasy but made sure not to display it because it would scare Emmy even more. She knew that when he got nervous, the shit really hit the fan and that it was the right time to scream bloody murder. The only section of Point Lookout we haven't mapped is deeper in—anything north of the poachers shack hasn't been catalogued… damnit! Have we really walked this far in?
He tried to recall the last marker they hit. He and Emmy had gone to the sacred bog to check out the Mother Punga plant (as the Tribals had told her that she need to become 'enlightened' in order to gain entrance), but they had been warded off by swamp folk that had horded themselves around the to the plant's location entrance. Instead of fighting him, Charon had mentioned that it'd be a bit of a walk back to the docks and that they needed a resupply soon so they were in no shape to fight five of the well-armed locals. So they left and travelled… south-east.
But that can't be right! If we're this deep into the swamp, we must have gone north. We couldn't have been going the wrong way all this time!
"Charon?" Emmy squeaked. "I think you should come take a look at this…"
"What is it now?" Charon turned to her. "Is your Pip-Boy working again?"
"N- No…" She looked up at him with tears streaking down her face while her breathing came shallow and quick, and her face paled in the eerie green glow of her Pip-Boy screen; causing the freckles that dotted the bridge of her nose and her cheeks to look darker than they normally were. Her bangs were matted to her forehead and the curves of her jaw and neck from the rain.
"What's wrong? Emmy?" He grabbed her shoulders to get back her attention. "Emmy, what's wrong?"
"We—… we disappeared… from the map…" She choked out, staring up into his face blankly. Her face began to contort into the face she made right before she began wailing in her frightened state. "We're not on the map anymore!"
Charon grabbed her Pip-Boy and held it up to his face again. It was still on the map interface tab, and he stared with his wide eyes focused on where their location arrow had once been spinning round and round was gone. The map markers were gone, too. They didn't know if they were near any sort of building or civilization, they didn't know how far they were from the dock or even a little nook to make camp in. They didn't know where they were at all.
Suddenly, the screen changed in the middle of him inspecting it. It flipped over to the interface that gave a radius of their surroundings—which was effective for detecting hostiles. A lone square, signalling that someone was just past the thick grove of trees ahead of them, was moving. It wasn't red, meaning that it was a neutral party.
But for all we know it could be someone who is hostile, but isn't aware of our presence.
Charon was pulled from his thoughts to look at Emmy, who was hiccupping and trying to stifle her cries. She slapped at her eyes with the back of her hands, trying to wipe away her tears but it smeared dirt on her mousy face instead.
"Emmy, you have to keep quiet. There's someone just ahead of us," He pointed through the grove of trees. "I don't know if they are ally or enemy, so you need to keep quiet and follow me so we can find out, alright?"
"Wha- What if it's an enemy?"
"We kill whoever it is and loot their stuff. Who knows—they could have shelter for us."
"I am not st- staying out here for the night!" She struggled to keep her voice in that hoarse whisper. She griped her rifle so tightly, her knuckles turned white.
"We have no choice. We don't know where we are, it's dark, it is now raining and we need to find shelter or the swamp people will find us—alright?"
Emmy sucked in a deep breath which caused her to choke on her stifled sobs. She nodded her head.
"Your Pip-Boy says that they are just ahead of us, past the grove of trees and—" He looked back down at the Pip-Boy, his cracked lips clamping tightly together when his eyes focused on the location of the lone, neutral square. It was gone now, and her triangle and his custom radius marker had returned.
"Where- Where'd they go?"
"I don't know…" He froze up when he scanned the magnified radius of their location once more. The lone square was gone from beyond the grove, but was back as well, and was now positioned…
"Emmy—do not move." Charon hissed through clenched yellow teeth.
She looked like she was going to be sick—and in her effort to stay still, her body began to tremble as she stared up at him with her wide blue eyes overflowing with tears.
"Wha- What is it?"
The enemy radius showed Emmy's triangle, his square standing on her left, but another neutral square was standing with them. Right behind Emmy. He carefully shifted his eyes over her head—as she was several inches shorter than he—but no one was there, even in the darkness, he could see that it was just the two of them alone. No one was amongst them.
Something is really screwing with her Pip-Boy… He growled. Or maybe it's a bug or something…
"We need to go. Now."
"I'm all fucking for that!" She cried, looking down at her Pip-Boy and her mouth dropped open when she saw the lone square that accompanied them. She spun on her heel and began to shoot her rifle wildly.
"Emmy!" Charon exclaimed, grabbing for her arms to keep her from shooting anymore. "Stop wasting your rounds! There's no one there!"
"My- My Pip-Boy said there was!" She croaked, spinning around to face him. "Cha- Charon I'm scared… I'm so scared!" She dropped her gun into the mud and flung her arms around him to bury her face into his chest. "I ju- just wanna go home! I don't wanna fucking be here anymore! I—"
She stopped when her Pip-Boy made a quiet beep. She pulled back from him to look down at it in alarm.
"It—... the life marker… it's gone now." She said with some relief, and gave him a nervous smile. "I—… I think my Pip-Boy's broken. Or it's the punga we ate… probably a bad batch… yeah, that's it! None of this is really happening! None of it's real, it's all just hallucinations!..."
Charon looked down at her Pip-Boy to see if she was right—and she was. The lone square that was with them was now gone, and no longer behind her. He was about to allow himself a deep sigh of relief despite their situation, when it got worse. Another lone square flickered on the interface, just appearing out of nowhere on the screen to the very far corner of the grove as the rain continued to pound down on them. He wiped the droplets away from the screen and concentrated his milky eyes on that one square. Another appeared on the other very far side of the grove, out of nowhere, like the first one. Then another, and another, and another—all frantically dotting along the screen like the drops of rain that were beginning to fall from the dark sky in thick sheets. Thunder boomed overhead, causing Emmy to cry out and bring herself closer to him. The squares were pushing up like daisies all over the interface, all in clusters of three or four or even five around them. They were suddenly surrounded—and they didn't know by what.
This can't be right—this can't be happening.
Another clap of thunder boomed over their heads, illuminating the grove surrounded by a circlet of trees with a strike of lightning.
Dolls. All around.
The strike of lightning revealed that they were surrounded by dolls hung on figures of bone intertwined with sticks. Each doll was intricately detailed—some had peeling cloth skin, some were smooth and in different shades with different articles of clothing, their button eyes different colors, their yarn hair in different styles… all smiling, but no two were exactly the same.
Just like Estelle.
Charon stood in place, eyes darting around to each figure of bone and stick and doll while Emmy twisted and turned to face every which direction in a frenzied panic—her wide, horrified eyes gazing back into the faces of the dolls, pelted by the cold rain. Various laughter of all voices raised up from the bog mud, looming into the air as if weaving around each figurine to come for them, reaching their ears in a taunting melody when Emmy's Pip-Boy began to sound off in a desperate attempt to get her attention. It turned into a symphony of beeps as on the interface, each of the neutral squares turned bright red around them, working in wave after wave till it finally reached the middle where they stood together in the grove. Only her triangle and his neutral square remained in the sea of red squares, and when lightning struck again, the dolls became hideously deformed. Hanging from their gallows with scowling faces and torn apart mouths, looking as if they were bleeding out from their button eyes, some missing arms and legs and a few were actually missing their heads. Buttons lost, their faces pulled into gruesome screams of agony and horror, thick strands of yarn for hair missing from their grimy scalps.
And then the laughter turned to horrified screams and yelps and wails from every direction all around them.
"—didn't mean to!"
"I thought this was what you wanted!"
Emmy screamed as she darted past Charon in terror, tears streaming down her face while the rain pounded down on her.
"Emmy!" Charon boomed with the thunder and took off after her, his boots sinking into the muck before being pulled up to take another step forward. She wove through the grotesque forms of the dolls that continued to scream, and he followed her, only about a meter or two behind when she suddenly disappeared from his sight. Just—disappeared. Like she never really existed.
"Emmy! Emmy!" He roared, skidding to a stop in the mud to bring up his shotgun, looking around for anything that would suddenly dart out at him. "Emmy answer me, God dammit!"
"CHARON!" She screeched from somewhere behind him. He turned around and ran towards her screaming. "CHARON!" She screamed again.
"Shit!" He called out, skidding to a halt and landing flat on his back in the muck when a giant hole in the ground loomed in front of his feet, suddenly appearing. Gaping wide, sprouts of tall, broken weeds circled the mouth, almost like teeth. He saw fingers digging into the mud from the edge, clasping onto a thick root.
"Charon! Help me!"
Charon got to his knees immediately and crawled over, grabbing her arms at the wrist to pull her up. It was hard to get a good grip on her—her arms were slippery from the mud that coated it. It didn't help that he was covered in the slick swamp gunk, either.
"Grab onto me!" He roared, and she immediately wrapped her thin fingers around his thick wrists. He began to pull her up, removing one arm to wrap it around her torso under her arms as he continued to pull to try to hoist her out of the hole.
But then, he felt a pair of hands upon his back and he was pushed before he could counteract—and the muddy edge of the mouth of the hole gave out underneath him. He went tumbling in after Emmy, pulling her to him and she curled up in his arms as her scream echoed out into the darkness around them. Charon kept her close, arms wrapped tight around her trembling body, and he closed his eyes; falling to the scratchy and choked but mesmerizing voice singing;
"Don't you ever laugh as the hearse goes by—for you may be the next to die! They wrap you up in a big white sheet, from your head, down to your feet! They put you in a big black box and cover you up with dirt and rocks—and all goes well for about a week, but then your coffin begins to leak! The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out! The worms play pinochle on your snout! They eat your eyes, they eat your nose, they eat the jelly between your toes! A big green worm—with rolling eyes—crawls in your stomach, and out your eyes! Your stomach turns a slimy green, and pus pours out like whipping cream—you spread it on a slice of bread, and that's what you'll eat when you. Are. DEAD!"
Way up the road from Hattie's Shack
Lies a sleepy little Okeechobee town—
Talk of swamp witch Hattie lock you in
When the sun goes down.
Rumors of what she'd done,
An' rumors of what she'd do—
Kept folks off the track of Hattie's Shack,
In the back of the Black Bayou.