The Bog Witch had lived peacefully with the village. A healer, an adviser and fortune-teller, and then a scapegoat. She had warned them to love the land and treat it better, to not neglect it. She had said it would love them back.
The people didn’t listen. They blamed her for the poor crop that year. It was a curse, they said. They chased her from the village.
She arrived at the wetlands with a hurt ankle and a bleeding head, finding comfort in the dense fog that covered the water. If they couldn’t love the fertile land they occupied, The Witch knew they would fear the decaying vegetation and strange animals and plants that lived in the mysterious landscape. It would be her sanctuary.
It would become familiar, in a matter of days. It would become home.
She sat up on the edge of the dry peat, whispering healing spells to herself underneath relieved sighs. Her fingertips glowed and heated, soothing her wounds and easing her pain as her blood mixed with the water beneath her.
Once she was well enough, she set to making a dwelling. A small hut, made up of dried sticks and vegetation from the bog, held up on the oldest and strongest roots of trees to keep it out of the water. Magic refined the edges, using the living greenery to plug holes and hold her new house upright. When it was time to eat, she watched and learned what was safe from the things around her, giving herself entirely to the environment that had saved her life.
The low, white fog that covered the area always and the waters that bubbled with a life the villagers mistook for magic kept the others away. She was safe, and she settled in solitude.
She tried for years to create a companion. She went to a far-off town, a few times, to barter for books and shelves, to study and store the things she was collecting, a cauldron to eat from and for her potions and spells, sometimes fabric for clothes. She filled the notebooks and seasoned her pots as she worked. The land that previously had very little nutrients had been brought to life by her green thumb. New wildlife was drawn to the sprouting greenery and trees that she nurtured. And then one day, finally…
The Green Monster crawled onto her porch like a baby, born from the swampy land. From oxygen and water, it took life. The vegetation of its environment became its flesh. Sentience from The Bog Witch’s magic. She held its wet, slimy face in her hands and whispered words of love and affection to it.
Her spells sunk into its body, lodged themselves there, as it sat halfway in the wetlands, halfway on her stairs, staring into the face of its creator. It felt her power as she touched their foreheads together, a pact made between them as she pressed her lips to its own.
She would protect it.
She would teach it.
She would love it.
“My name is Elaine,” she told the monster.
The Monster needed time to warm up whatever it was that made up its voice, and it was difficult to imitate her. “Ell…. ellllooi…. Lloinee….” came out, its voice a long, accented stutter that bubbled from the back of the throat.
But she smiled like a mother would at a child, lacing their fingers together without hesitation at the mud. “That’s right, Greenie,” she said.
The Monster made a promise of its own: it would love her back.
It would protect her.
And they started their life together. The land that had new value before was blossoming into a home for the two of them. The Bog Witch showed The Monster how the frogs and snakes and fish came back every season, how the land would help them if they helped it. The two sat together on her porch, cooking over a fire that gave them a sense of privacy in the dense fog. While she slept at night, curled up in the fabrics she stitched together in the house she’d built, The Monster settled into the water like a bed and tried to sleep, listening to the sounds of the wetlands around them.
The villagers that had chased away The Witch learned to live on their own, live independently from the advice The Witch had given. The village grew just as her own home did. Some nights, The Monster caught her staring out at them, her eyes wet, a sad smile splayed across her face.
She said she didn’t mind as they moved closer, as they watched her when the light was bright enough to silhouette her to the nearby citizens.
She didn’t retreat when they dared to get closer, to try the vegetation they had been afraid of before. If The Witch they had trusted in the past was eating it, they knew it must be safe. She told The Monster to be careful during the day, to not stray too far from her home. At night, she started asking Greenie to come in with her or to sleep closer to the hut.
The Witch pretended nothing was happening outside the bog. She continued to teach The Monster to speak the best it could with its soft mouth. She taught it to read and do basic spells and magic with the life and love and power that came with that.
“You were not just born from the bog, My Love,” she said one night, her eyes as misty as the air around them. “You are one with it. You are a bit of everything you’ve touched and everything you’ve done.”
The Monster looked at her—large, curious fish eyes staring out from beneath a tangle of swampy greenery.
“I’m afraid you can never return, should you need to,” The Witch said, water dripping off her face like it was the sky. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I will not doom you.”
The Monster reached across the fire and cradled her face in a damp hand, trying to wipe her tears. It smeared mud across her cheek instead.
“Llllove…” it croaked out.
She smiled, nodding, patient.
With one hand on her own chest, she put her other to The Monster’s. “Us,” she agreed.
That night, The Witch gathered herbs and spilled water into the pot they’d used for dinner, muttering spells and curses as she did. There was a fire in The Bog Witch’s eyes that The Monster had never seen before—a fierceness that sent a shiver through the entire wetlands.
It scared The Monster. It felt a pain in its chest. A longing to be held and spoken with. It murmured to The Witch and reached out for her, afraid that she would leave and become a distant shadow beyond the air of the bog.
When she looked at The Monster, her eyes softened. They glistened in the flickering firelight as she looked at The Monster with such sadness that it overwhelmed the fondness that was ever present when they were together.
“Greenie,” she said.
The potion bubbled between them.
“My Love,” she said. The Witch took The Monster’s hands in her own and kissed them, bestowing her own magic and power into its circulation. “My Life.”
She said, “Protect our home as I cannot once I am dead. You have my magic and my power now.”
The Monster tried desperately to take ahold of her hands again when they were dropped, to return some semblance of power to The Witch. She smiled and laughed a watery laugh.
“Live, because I will not, My Love.”
When the sun rose, The Witch took her potion and left.
She did not return.
When the first villager came, a few weeks later, The Monster’s rage and confusion bubbled out of the water. It watched from its spot beneath The Witch’s house as the greenery came to life, slithering behind the villager as he dared to venture into their home. When the man reached for her books, the vines grabbed his ankles.
The shallow, muddy waters swallowed his cries. It held him down, smothering him until he stopped moving.
And then it sent the body back on waves to where it came from. An apology and a warning to never return.
Rumors circulated that The Witch had survived again. That she was still alive, or perhaps her ghost lived on in the bog. Villagers came for vengeance for their brother who had died. The Monster tried to drive them away, but they came anyway, no matter how injured they left. They didn’t stop coming until they stopped leaving.
One night the men came and threw a torch into her home, calling it cursed, trying to purge it of evil.
All of the love The Witch had put into The Monster became a bursting rage as its home and memories started to burn. The Monster warned the animals to leave, to come back once things had settled. Power exploded out of its body with a scream—the water boiled hot enough to melt the skin off the villagers standing in it. The vegetation caught fire, thrashing at whoever was near.
Humans would not come again, and humans would not leave again.
Bodies littered the wetlands.
They would feed the area well, The Monster decided, and climbed onto the stairs of The Witch’s home. It sat there solitarily, surrounded by the life The Witch had given it: the trees that would regrow, the water that would swim again, the animals and fish that would return. It would stay for as long as it could, taking care of the things that had been dear to it in its time with The Witch.
For years, people stayed away. People would hear the howling of its cries at night when the cicadas and the mosquitos were quiet. Legends passed down of The Monster who slaughtered a village. Of the people who entered the bog and never came out.
After long enough, it faded into just that: a legend and a warning.