Title: Graveyard School #19 – The Gator Ate Her, a.k.a. “When The Alligators Cry”
Author: Tom B. Stone, a.k.a. Nola Thacker, a.k.a. D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Mark Nagata
Summary: What’s Big And Green And Mean All Over?
Algernon is about the find out. He’s spending summer vacation with his relatives, the “Swamp People.” They live near a swamp, and Algie hates swamps. He htes the smell. He hates the insects that hover aroud. But mostly he hates the dark, murky water. Below the muddy surface, Algie knows something is lurking. Something wicked… watching… waiting. He’s right!
It had to end someday guys, and we’re down to the last five books in the series. If all goes as I hope it will, the last book, “The Spider Beside Her” will be done in time for the next Halloween Extravaganza.
Algie Green returns after having a co-starring role in “The Dead Sox,” but is back to being a main character. Continuity problems persist as Algie plans to spend the summer visiting his cousins in the South, despite having just spent the entire summer playing baseball and under the ghostly possession of Coach Geist.
This was one of the last books I needed to complete my collection after acquiring most of them in 2004. Thankfully, Thacker doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator by shilling out a bunch of hillbilly jokes with Algie’s cousins like A.G. Cascone did with “Grandpa’s Monster Movies,” and she’s back to drop some hard environmental truths via Algie’s Great Aunt Marie.
[Wing: I’M NOT READY FOR IT TO END. I love the Graveyard School; I’m surprised by how much, actually, considering I’m only vaguely fond of Goosebumps. It’s the characters here, really. They’re G R E A T.]
Algie Green is not a happy camper, and he’s not even going to camp. No, he’s being forced to spend part of the summer visiting his relatives down south, or as he calls them, “The Swamp People.”
Despite that he somehow spent an entire summer being possessed by the ghost of a bitter baseball player. [Wing: Spooooooky time warp.]
Mrs. Green wishes Algie wouldn’t refer to their relatives by that name, especially since they’re the relatives on her side of the family. Algie makes a smug comment saying she should be the one to spend the summer with them if she feels that way, earning a sharp reply from his dad. As his parents drive him to the airport, Algie thinks about all the cash he won’t be making on his paper route and all the baseball he won’t be playing with his friends. Reaching the airport terminal, Algie feels that perfectly sums up his vacation. Terminal.
Algie wasn’t prepared for the slap in the face the hot Southern humidity would grant him once he got off the plane. Nor was he pleased when the entire Broussard Family was calling his name and waving like he was some big celebrity. The entourage that awaited Algie’s arrival consisted of:
- Uncle Jim Broussard, his mom’s enormous younger brother.
- Aunt Lib, Mrs. Green’s large first cousin, who smothered Algie against her big chest and was the first to get the sense he wasn’t happy to see them. When he muttered something about “Jet lag” she thought that was funny.
- Aunt Leesie, the redheaded wife of Uncle Jim, who welcomed Algie in her soft voice.
- Gordon, the oldest of Jim and Leesie’s kids. 16 years old, big, long dark hair, dark eyes and brown complexion. Always easygoing and polite, never nasty or mean.
- Louisa, Gordon’s 14 year old sister, who twice made up for what her brother lacked in nastiness. Piercing green eyes and short cut black hair that made her look mean. Her smile reminded him too much of Dr. Morthouse’s grins, minus the silver fang.
- Joseph Maximilian, a.k.a. “Joe Mac,” who was only a few months older than Algie yet they got along great
Algie knew better than to start an insult war with Louisa. His experience at Graveyard School taught him such behavior at the start of a vacation spelled doom, and he had no desire to experience a repeat of Jason Dunbarr through Louisa.
After retrieving Algie’s luggage, the Broussard Family made their way to Uncle Jim’s big car to head home. The ride was more like being in a boat for Algie and he felt like he was going to be car sick. Louisa jokingly asked if Algie was using his X-ray vision to watch the sights since his eyes were closed.
Uncle Jim explained he’d allow Algie’s aunt Marie to give him the tour. That is, Great Aunt Marie LeBeau. [Wing: …Remy? You around here somewhere, cher?] Algie only met her once when he was really little, since she moved away for a while. But now she’s back and she’s made a business giving Swamp Tours. Joe Mac adds the kids help Marie when she gets busy, but Algie’s incredulous anyone would want to take tours of a swamp. Gordon explains she calls them “Eco-Swamp Tours,” which stands for Economic and Ecological. While she’s busy in the summer, Gordon says the best time to take the tour is during the spring when everything’s in bloom.
Of course, Algie was more focused on the paid part of the explanation. Joe Mac adds he can probably make some dough if they ask Marie to let him help out. The idea of compensating for his lack of paper funds overcame Algie’s apprehension at spending time in a swamp.
But then Louisa HAD to mention the ghost alligator of Howling Swamp. [Wing: Damn it, you can’t just go around calling things Howling [Location] without giving me werewolves, STONE.]
Algie demanded clarification as Louisa explained Marie’s business has boomed ever since the ghost alligator started haunting Howling Swamp. She says it’s enormous. It’s faster than any boat. It’s teeth are big as butcher knives. Uncle Jim kindly asks Louisa not to start with her ghost alligator nonsense. Gordon adds Marie only put that stuff in with the tour to liven things up. Give a thrill the customers expect.
While Algie insists he doesn’t believe in ghosts, inwardly he knows better. He’s had more than his fair share of ghosts back in Graveyard School. And here he thought at least he’d get a break from that during his vacation out-of-town. Oh Algie, once you’ve been to Graveyard School you’re marked for life.
Anyway, Louisa claims even if ghosts aren’t real, there’s definitely a big gator in the swamp. And she means BIG. Big enough that when it’s through with you, you’re just a slick of blood on the water. Gordon asserts this is all due to the power of suggestion. Once you expect to see or hear ghosts and gators, that’s what you see and hear. Gordon’s never seen a ghost or an alligator in the swamp because he doesn’t expect to. Louisa silently responded by raising an eyebrow to imply she knew something Gordon didn’t. Her smugness didn’t need words.
The Broussards finally reach their neighborhood, Holly Bayou. Aunt Lib explains Marie started calling it “Howling Swamp” to spice it up for the tourists. At the very least, seeing the Broussard house hadn’t changed much since his last visit put Algie at ease. He was starting to remember the stuff he did like about visiting his cousins. Without any siblings of his own, he liked sharing a room with Joe Mac. Staying with them gave him a sense of being part of a big, easygoing family.
It sort of made up for dealing with Louisa.
Maybe this vacation wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Of course that night Algie woke up because of all the croaking noises. He wasn’t used to sleeping in a house that had so many noisy, nonhuman neighbors. The bullfrogs outside. The insects pelting the window screen vainly trying to get in. Thankfully the late night breeze made the house cool enough even if there was no air conditioner on. Aunt Leesie claimed she couldn’t stand them, that they made her feel like she was buried in a fridge. She said they only use the A.C. when it’s REALLY hot. Algie had no desire to find out what they considered “Really hot.”
Listening to the breeze through the palmetto leaves outside, Algie looked back on his first dinner with his Southern cousins. Louisa joked about them eating “Real” shrimp gumbo, and got a rise out of Algie saying you could use anything to make gumbo. Like possum, or rattlesnake. Aunt Lib confirms rattlesnake tastes just like chicken, while Leesie assured him there was none in tonight’s meal.
Louisa added they didn’t use GATOR either.
“You can eat alligator.” She leaned forward to stare at Algie. “Unless, of course, it eats you first.”
[Wing: Alligator is kind of delicious.]
Algie grimaced, but the rest of his extended family ate like normal. He asked if alligators ever really ate people. Uncle Jim thought for a moment and said he hasn’t heard of a gator eating a person, but they CAN and sometimes WILL attack someone. It’s entirely likely gators will eat anything. Even marshmallows. It’s Gordon’s turn to snark as he suggests Louisa can bait her beloved ghost gator with marshmallows. Louisa gets huffy and figures she may just do that. And then he’ll see. Then they’ll ALL see!
Aunt Leesie explained to Algie that yes, he may have to watch out for alligators, but they’re territorial creatures by nature. Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you. Algie started to ponder what might happen if he wandered into the wrong part of the swamp? Fell into a gator’s waters? He’d be dead in seconds. Could he ever outswim an alligator?
And that’s when he heard the roar.
Algie tried to wake up Joe Mac, asking his cousin if he heard that roaring. Joe Mac arose, mostly asleep, and said he didn’t hear anything. Something moved across the window screen and Algie panicked; he didn’t want Joe Mac to go back to sleep, but Joe Mac had other plans. Just as his cousin began to snore, Algie heard yet another roar coming from the swamp. This was the first time he’d ever heard such a sound. Algie continued to make Joe Mac get up to prove he wasn’t imagining things, but once his annoyed cousin got up the two heard nothing but the usual nighttime swamp symphony. Convinced Algie was dreaming, Joe Mac quickly returned to slumber.
After a while, Algie tried to believe Joe Mac was right. He was imagining things, or dreaming. This was a long, busy day, and Louisa had gotten under his skin with her ghost stories. Gordon was right about the power of suggestion.
Which is also probably why Algie was seeing a pair of glowing red eyes watching him from the win-whaaaaaaaaaaaaa????
Algie screamed at the sight of those blood-colored eyes. Joe Mac awoke and soon the rest of the house followed suit. At the sound of the footsteps coming down the hall, the eyes in the window vanished. Joe Mac explained to his familial entourage that he has no idea why Algie was suddenly screaming. Aunt Leesie inspected Algie’s forehead to see if he had a temperature, but Aunt Lib thinks indigestion gave him bad dreams and headed back to her room. Algie tries to explain he saw red eyes staring at him from the window, and now Aunt Leesie thinks he had a bad dream from dinner too. Gordon figures it was probably a raccoon or something and assured Algie IT was most likely more scared of HIM.
Algie numbly insisted he knew what he saw when Louisa commented he doesn’t even have his glasses on. Joe Mac was no help, pointing out Algie kept waking him up over every slight sound he heard. He told Algie he was safe in an effort to make Algie relax, and Leesie agreed with him.
Louisa lingered after everyone else retreated to their rooms, telling Algie maybe he really DID see a pair of ghost eyes as Leesie keeps calmly but firmly telling her to go back to her bedroom.
“Think about it,” Louisa said. She laughed. “See you later… alligator.”
His cousin’s words lingering in his mind, Algie lay awake trying to lie to himself. He didn’t believe in ghosts. But of course he did. He went to Graveyard School. And despite that Graveyard School was miles away, Algie found himself dealing with another ghost. And this one’s hungry.
Algie woke up to Joe Mac asking why he was sleeping with his glasses on. He soon recalled he kept them on in case he saw the red eyes again. Joe Mac told him to hurry up or he’ll miss breakfast. Before he went downstairs, Algie looked out the bedroom window. There were no tracks from any late night visitors, but Algie knew that ghosts didn’t leave footprints. He quickly headed for the kitchen, figuring you don’t fight ghosts on an empty stomach. [Wing: I love his pragmatism. Welp, ghosts on vacation, better have a hearty meal first.]
After breakfast, Algie decided to join Gordon and Joe Mac as they went fishing in the swamp. Louisa mentioned she was helping her mom in the garden (and was getting paid for it), but Algie decided to stick with the guys. While some extra money would’ve been nice, Algie felt he needed space from Louisa. Especially after she asked if the boys were going alligator hunting. But on a full stomach, in the daylight, with both Gordon and Joe Mac by his side, Algie started to think maybe last night had been a bad dream like everyone said.
And who says denial’s just a river in Egypt?
Gordon guided a flat bottom boat through the swamp, looking for the places to fish when it’s hot out. Algie surveyed the swamp plant life, the water hyacinths and snake lilies, as well as the ratlike nutria that are supposedly a menace. Gordon recalls some people make fur coats out of them. Blech. The boat was eased under the shade of a tree dripping with Spanish moss, and Algie’s told Aunt Marie mentioned some people once used the moss to stuff furniture. Gordon explains the plant’s actually a tree-killing parasite, but it always grows on the north side of the tree and can be handy in figuring out how to navigate out of the swamp.
Baiting his hook and letting it float in the water, Algie wondered if he could snag an alligator. Did alligators attack boats? One could probably bite through the boat like it was a toothpick. But seeing how relaxed and easygoing Gordon and Joe Mac were, Algie tried to loosen up. The more he relaxed, the more he realized how peaceful the swamp was. Well the insects were kind of annoying, but Algie was enjoying himself.
Even when that clump of vines shifted on the tree branch.
Even when the vine fell into the boat.
Even when it turned out the vine was really a SNAKE!
Algie screamed and Gordon leaped to protect his younger cousin, swiftly and smoothly using the boat paddle to pick up the water moccasin and fling it into the water. Gordon apologizes, saying he should’ve recognized the snake’s presence sooner even though they don’t normally appear in trees this time of year. Algie can’t believe shit like this happens, but Joe Mac explains how snakes like to climb onto branches and sun themselves. Sometimes they fall into boats. It happens.
[Wing: True. They end up in the water while you’re swimming, too, if you grow up swimming in lakes and creeks and rivers, etc. Same old same old.]
Algie can’t believe how calmly his cousins are taking this, but figures this is normal for them. So far, snakes hadn’t fallen out of the sky while he was at Graveyard School. So far.
And once again I have to point out that ALGIE.
YOU ARE DONE.
WITH SIXTH GRADE.
YOU TRANSFERRED TO GRAVEYARD SCHOOL IN THE SIXTH GRADE.
YOU ARE FREE.
Jesus Christ I really think these kids are trapped in a time warp. How long until Algie looks back on when he moved to Grove Hill a year ago and fails to realize he’s still in sixth grade?
Or OH SHIT WHAT IF THEY’RE ALL DEAD AND THEY’RE ACTUALLY TRAPPED IN GRAVEYARD SCHOOL? WHAT IF THAT’S THE REAL REASON THE BOOKS ARE CALLED “GRAVEYARD SCHOOL?”
Saving that thought for another day, the Broussard boys went back to fishing but Algie was on the lookout for any other snakes. Or gators. They returned to the house and told Louisa about Algie’s adventure with the water moccasin. Her eyes glittered with excited malice the moment she heard. Algie tried to play it cool so Louisa wouldn’t have new material to work on. Joe Mac picked up on Algie’s silent glare and kept his mouth shut. He had no desire to aid his sister’s teasing.
While Louisa asks if Algie saw any man eating alligators, Uncle Jim told everyone to get washed up since they’re going out to eat. Tonight the family’s eating at the Baithouse, an eatery on stilts out in the bayou. Joe Mac promised Algie would like the place.
At the entrance to the Baithouse, waiting for Algie and the Broussards was none other than the legendary Marie LeBeau herself. She was a small woman with black and silver colored hair, and eyes that were practically black. Uncle Jim made a joke about Marie and Algie both being a lot younger the last time they met. Marie’s got no time for jokes and wants to eat, having had enough of “Gator Bait” for one day. “Gator Bait” being whats she calls tourists on a bad day.
Inside the restaurant, Algie looks out the windows overlooking the bayou and in the afternoon fading sunlight he notices for the first time how dark the water can get. Dark enough that anyone or anything could be lurking underneath it. Living things. Dead things…
Algie’s snapped out of his thoughts when the waitress asks his order. While waiting for their food, Marie asks if the kids want to help her with tomorrow’s tour group. She’s expecting a bunch of city people who’re hoping for the “Swamp Special.” That means “Smaller boat, fewer people,” which’ll require more than one boat. Gordon, Louisa, and Joe Mac are all for it, but Marie needs to inform Algie he’ll get paid for him to agree. The moment he does, Louisa asks if Algie’s too afraid of alligators to go into the swamp. Louisa can’t help but smirk at the way Algie shouts “No.”
Once again Leesie shows sympathy to Algie, saying a healthy respect for alligators is a good thing. On the subject of trying to outrun a gator, Marie informs the group one would do better to make it up a tree because gators are fast and will eat anything. But no matter how many times she tells her tour groups, the morons keep trailing their hands over the water. She’d probably let them lose a few fingers if she didn’t have to worry about lawsuits.
[Wing: I love Marie.]
The moment Algie mentions the ghost gator, Marie’s zeroed in on him and refers to him by his full name. Algie recaps what Louisa’s told him and asks if Marie’s ever seen anything resembling the supposed apparition-gator. Marie’s silent for a moment before she explains that there’s certainly something out in the swamp. She doesn’t know if it’s dead or alive, but it’s big, it’s old, and it’s hungry. It’s been here her whole life, most likely longer, and whenever it gets a craving for something it won’t stop until it’s satisfied. [Wing: C R E E P Y. I love Marie even more. I’m also hoping she’s the hungry thing in the swamp, but I’m betting no.]
Ignoring Uncle Jim, Marie recalls her childhood run-in with the alligator. One day she’d been fishing in the swamp and was on her way home after it got late. She only realized she wasn’t alone when it dawned on her how quiet the swamp became. Like all the other creatures were holding their breath out of anticipation. Or fear.
The story’s briefly interrupted by the arrival of everyone’s food, with the waitress’s return unintentionally jolting Algie from his focus on Marie. He asks Marie to continue with her tale. She says when she saw the ripple of water underneath her boat, she at first assumed it was a muskrat or something taking a shortcut beneath the water. Then she saw the gator swimming alongside the boat, nostrils above the waterline, a head half as long as the boat. And those eyes.
Algie’s attention is all on Marie as he dumps ketchup onto his food, as she explains her boat back then was a flat-bottom pirogue you move around with a pole. She started pushing the boat faster and faster, but the alligator stayed with her. And then her pole broke and she fell into the water.
RIGHT INTO THE ALLIGATOR’S JAWS.
Algie demands to know what happened next, but Marie says when she fell she fell into the water, the alligator was gone, vanished. Marie got in her boat and headed home, shaken and soaked like a rat. Maybe the alligator didn’t eat her because she didn’t taste right. Who says an alligator can’t be a gourmet? Joe Mac than assures Louisa she’s got nothing to worry about since she’s probably rotten to the core, while Uncle Jim tells Algie people run into alligators all the time around here. But there’s no way an alligator that big would exist. Marie calmly but stubbornly insists that gator is real and it’s out there.
And then the rest of the Broussards started eating while Algie’s attention was back to the windows. What was that dark shape moving in the water? Could it be-
ALGIE’S BEEN POISONED!
He took a single bite of his food and fell out of his seat, clutching his throat and trying to grab his glass of water. He can only halfway blurt out he’s been poisoned when Joe Mac hands him his glass and tells him to drink. Louisa dryly informs Algie he wasn’t poisoned, he just wasn’t paying attention. It turns out the bottle he used on his food wasn’t ketchup, it was hot pepper sauce. Aunt Lib finds this hilarious, exclaiming if Algie could survive that shit he can survive anything. [Wing: I’m laughing so hard at this. Oh, kid, embrace the heat.]
Embarrassed as he gets back in the seat, figuring the whole restaurant his its eyes on him, Algie demands Louisa explain why she watched and let him dump all that pepper sauce on his meal. Louisa shrugs, figuring he knew what he was doing. Sure. Turning to the rest of the patrons, Algie meekly holds up the bottle explaining he used hot sauce by mistake. A few folks innocently laugh and then turn back to their own orders.
Sipping his water, Algie realizes once again that his life was no longer normal. Not since his first day at Graveyard School, when he’d been humiliated in a similar manner because he was the “Weird new kid.” But then Algie thought, what if making a simple mistake with your condiments IS normal? What if being stuck in Graveyard School for so long has left Algie unable to recognize what true normalcy in the world outside of Grove Hill is?
Gordon asks if Algie’s okay while Algie reads the ingredient label on the sauce bottle. Hot peppers, vinegar, salt. Three ingredients that, mixed together, made Algie think he was going to die. Uncle Jim advises Algie the best way to get used to hot sauce is to use it in small doses to work on your tolerance level. As far as Algie was concerned he never wanted to see another bottle of hot sauce.
So far, in the last two days he’d been stalked by a pair of red eyes, assaulted by a snake, and almost committed accidental suicide via hot sauce. Boy it sure makes you wish you were back home playing baseball under the possession of an undead coach.
That night in the Broussard house, while Joe Mac slept, Algie struggled to figure out the best way to convey in letter form how his parents better get his ass out of here. He went for the diplomatic approach reminding them it’s hurricane season, and hurricanes are even worse in the South annnnnnnd boy this part didn’t age well without making you think about Hurricane Katrina or any of the other tropical storms that have decimated the South in the past two decades.
Putting the letter in an envelope, Algie turned off the light and lay down listening to the insects do their nightly bombardment on the window screen. The room wasn’t entirely dark as Uncle Jim left the light above the garage on. It was some time later when Algie awoke, but he wasn’t sure why. Then he noticed the night was quiet. Too quiet. As quiet as the way Aunt Marie described the swamp in her sto-
AND now Algie’s hearing something large and heavy making a “Swish swish” sound outside the house.
A soft, sibilant sound. A scary, sinister susurration.
[Wing: I love the words susurrus and susurration. They have such a pleasant sound and feel.]
Algie shook and sweated but tried not to breath, but the moment he had to there was a scraping sound against the side of the house. Did the house shudder? That’s when something huge blotted out the garage light. Something big with bumpy skin and a long nose. And butcher knives for teeth. Sharp enough to RIP THROUGH A SCREEN.
Unable to scream, Algie lunged for the light and turned it on. Not realizing the shadow disappeared in the light, Algie chucked the bedside clock at the window. Speedy, but not accurate. He hit the window glass instead of the screen. Both clock and glass shattered. Joe Mac woke up and only Uncle Jim entered the room, asking if Algie had another nightmare. Seeing the broken glass and window, Uncle Jim asks what his nephew’s been doing, but is surprisingly patient. At this point in the story you’d expect him to get on Algie’s case and tell him to stop getting worked up over nothing but in a way that makes him seem like a douche. Instead, Jim figures Algie’s nightmare must’ve been pretty bad yet is impressed Algie got the screen AND the window in one shot.
[Wing: Summer baseball, yo.]
All Algie can do is say he missed.
Algie asks if Joe Mac saw it too while Jim covers the hole in the window with tape and cardboard. He advises the boys not to go near it until he can sweep up the broken glass. Algie insists the ghost gator from Marie’s story came back, but Jim assures Algie that’s just a story she tells tourists. For a moment he wonders if maybe Algie and Joe Mac are trying to prank him, but the boys insist they aren’t. With that settled, Joe Mac’s dad goes back to his room to get some sleep.
Once Jim’s gone, Algie explains he was wearing his glasses the whole time, but Joe Mac thinks they only saw a shadow. Algie still claims it was an alligator when Joe Mac asks why, exactly, would this ghost that’s supposedly been around for who knows how long be after Algie of all people? Why now? Why are they only just seeing it when he arrived? Algie doesn’t have an answer so Joe Mac wants to go back to sleep, thinking this whole thing’s impossible.
Algie wondered why the gator disappeared in the light. He knew for a fact ghosts could come out at any time and light didn’t necessarily banish them. Unless this really is a living, HUGE alligator. But that doesn’t explain why it singled him out over everyone else. Why was the Ghost Alligator of Howling Swamp after Algernon Green?
The next morning Algie discovered a huge, flattened path wider than his and Joe Mac’s body put together. The ghost could’ve swallowed the entire house and finished the whole thing, but it chose not to. From past experience Algie knew ghosts didn’t leave footprints, but he also knew ghosts could do whatever they wanted. As Algie inspected the trail left by the ghost gator, Joe Mac’s exit from the house coupled with dawn’s early light quickly made the path vanish.
Some time later, Algie was helping his cousins and Aunt Marie with the next Eco-Swamp Tour. Marie owned a big, square flat-bottom boat dubbed “Swamp Lady” with white-and-green stripped awning. Pretty much all the tourists in the boat were either garishly dressed or badly sunburned. In another smaller boat sat Gordon and Joe Mac with two smiling, kissing couples. Algie decided to stick with the main group and Aunt Marie, even if it meant spending more time with Louisa.
Algie’s job on the boat was to hand out sunscreen and binoculars, make sure everyone was wearing a life vest, and to pay attention if any morons stuck their hands in the water or stood up. He also had to pay attention to anything worth mentioning on the tour. Louisa sat at the end of the boat on the last bench, more interested in napping since she’s heard Marie’s routine before. Algie was all ears as Marie brought the swamp to life, going into exquisite and intriguing detail about the swamp’s ecology.
One tourist lady got excited and stood up (despite Algie telling her not to), as she pointed to an alligator. Algie’s heart stopped until he realized the woman was talking about a normal-sized gator sunning itself on a nearby bank. The tourist calls the gator a “Crocodile,” annoying Marie as she explains there are a number of differences between the two species and crocs don’t live in swamps.
Marie explains the gator they see now is George, and is further offended when another tourist asks if George is her pet. She clarifies she gave the alligator the nickname “George” because she’s frequently seen him in this area of the swamp, so she recognizes him. He is NOT a pet. While Algie stared at George’s short, stubby but powerful looking legs, George stared back at him. It’s not nice to stare, Algie.
A tourist asks if they can feed George. Louisa bluntly says they’re free to stick their hands out so George can indulge in some finger food.
(So wait if George is a normal part of the tour you’d figure Gordon HAS seen him, so why in the beginning did he say he’s never seen a gator in the swamp and doesn’t expect to? Ohh bad editing, Thacker)
When George was out of sight, someone asked about the old urban legend regarding alligators living in the sewers of New York. Marie lividly explains that’s not true. She says morons like to buy baby alligators as pets and bring them home to the cities where they aren’t suited to live, and because they’re so incompetent they flush the gators down their toilets when they get too big or become too much of a hassle. It’d probably serve such people right if alligators DID swim up the toilets and eat them as payback.
“Alligators belong in the swamp. The only thing that belongs in the sewer is…”
A woman gasped.
“..the people who treat alligators, or any animal, that way,” Aunt Marie finished smoothly.
Algie smiled, but the smile was short lived when the boat turned down another channel and he picked up a smell. A smelly smell. A rotted smell. Algie turned around.
Trailing a few feet behind the boat, with its enormous jaws open, was the ghost alligator with the red eyes.
So the mental image of the gator following the boat with its mouth open makes me think of the crocodile from “Peter Pan” that was always after Captain Hook.
Algie wants to scream but realizes if he causes a panic, the tourists might fall out of the boat and into the water. Instant Gator Bait. Algie is left in mute horror staring at the size of the gator’s mouth and teeth, but tries to get Louisa’s attention. Of course the moment Louisa finally looks, the gator slinks back into the water and vanishes. Louisa can still smell the rotting stench, assuming the boat passed by something dead. Algie has no choice but to admit he thought so too.
For the rest of the tour, Algie was on edge and twitching. Back at Marie’s house, while she counted the money Algie told Joe Mac what happened. Joe Mac could hardly believe the gator appeared in broad daylight. Marie didn’t hear them and was more focused on what her old radio had to say. Whatever it was makes her glad the tour ended earlier than usual.
Having paid the boys, she tells them to get a move on with Gordon and Louisa. Algie and Joe Mac would rather walk instead of getting stuck with Louisa’s constant griping again. Marie advises them to head home now, because the radio says a storm’s on the way. It’s gonna be bad. Maybe even a hurricane. Joe Mac thinks that sounds cool. Oh Joe Mac.
Before they leave, Marie gives the boys some bonuses. She hands them some packaged chocolate snacks called “Swamp Patties” and hot sauce bottles labeled “Gator Breath.” Algie stuffs some of the sauce bottles in his pockets and tries one of the Swamp Patties. Though smushed, it’s a delightful mix of chocolate, caramel and nuts.
Walking through the swamp with Joe Mac, Algie tries to make his cousin believe him while the boys see the dark clouds on the horizon. Joe Mac says the clouds look bad, but they’re always saying storms will become hurricanes down here. The worst that’s ever happened is the swamp fills up with water, a couple of trees fall, and once someone’s boat landed in the Broussards’ yard.
Joe Mac asks again why the gator is after Algie, but Algie didn’t want to tell Joe Mac about his poltergeist experiences back home. He didn’t want to seem like a ghost magnet.
SHIT WING IS THAT IT? Once you live in Grove Hill you become a magnet for this stuff? Does Graveyard School taint you and turn you into a beacon for supernatural phenomenon? [Wing: That is an excellent theory.]
The boys reach a fork in the road and Joe Mac says they have to use the left fork. He explains the right one’s been closed forever ever since a bridge washed out and the channel filled with muck. But Algie’s getting jumpy when he hears a number of branches snapping in the swamp. Joe Mac tells him to cut it out since Algie’s nervousness might be contagious.
Algie wished he could convince his family of the gator’s existence without being eaten, but then Joe Mac stopped and told his cousin to listen. That’s when the wind began to pick up and Joe Mac thought Algie really was making him jumpy. Several more branches snapped; Joe Mac realized he had indeed heard something in the woods. It sounds big. And loud. Loud as a truck. A tree falls. A familiar stench returns.
Quickly the boys begin to run and Joe Mac stumbles when he looks behind him. The boys are frozen in fear as the massive gator emerged on the road behind them. Joe Mac can’t move, but Algie tells him to get up as the gator sniffs the air. Algie wondered how fast an alligator could run. As if it read Algie’s thoughts, the gator lifted up its massive body and started moving towards the boys on its stumpy legs.
As Algie and Joe Mac ran, the earth shook beneath the gator’s steps. It wiped away trees with its massive tail. Algie grabbed Joe Mac and ran down the right fork of the trail. A gnashing sound made Algie turn his head to see the gator had EATEN one of the DANGER signs they passed. At last the boys reached an ancient bridge made of rotted planks. The gator was trying to follow them on the bridge, making it shake and buckle under its weight. When the gator lunged at them, Algie used all his strength to push Joe Mac off one side of the bridge into the muck facing the direction of swamp underbrush.
That gator roared in outrage as Algie landed on his hands and knees in the muck, which cushioned the fall. He was able to watch the gator fall off the bridge and flounder in the muck. Algie feared Joe Mac was engulfed by a wave when his cousin emerged. The boys had to hurry before the gator got free from the muck. They struggled to reach an embankment and then find the energy to keep moving before the gator was on them.
Algie and Joe Mac ran as the roaring continued, but it wasn’t the gator’s roaring. It was the sound of the wind as the hurricane arrived. The boys made it through the undergrowth and found the clearing where the Broussard house stood. They burst through the kitchen door to Louisa’s welcoming snark about how much they stink. Leesie assumed her son and nephew were in this state because of the storm, telling them to wash up so they could help hurricane-proof the house.
High on adrenaline, it seemed like a blur as Algie washed, dressed, and helped with the shutters and furniture and anything that could be blown away. Uncle Jim was stuck at the office, which was safer than trying to make it home in this weather. Algie was impressed by how calm Leesie sounded, figuring this was normal for her. Gordon commented how the storm came out of nowhere, to which Lib mentions these types of storms are always the worst. The ones that start small and blossom into nightmares.
Louisa was in the kitchen checking the batteries on all their flashlights when she asked if Algie and Joe Mac took all of Marie’s Gator Breath. Algie flashed back to the ghost gator when he realized Louisa meant the hot sauce bottles. She snidely informs Algie not to drink it all at once, because Marie’s sauce can blow a person’s head off with one drop. Algie glared and stuffed the bottles back in his pockets. Louisa’s SO relieved he’s well stocked for emergencies and hands him a waterproof and floatable flashlight.
Joe Mac arrives with life jackets, figuring better safe than sorry.
Leesie reminds everyone not to panic since they’ve been in this situation before and have survived. After making a quick supper of sandwiches everyone hunkers down in the family room with the supplies. With no reception on the TV, Lib and Gordon play Scrabble while the others play Monopoly. Algie looks forward to bankrupting Louisa when some time into the game, the lights go out. The Broussards aren’t disturbed and continuing playing via lantern.
But then something hit the side of the house.
And then again.
Concerned, Leesie got up and left the room.
Algie and Joe Mac exchanged looks, wondering if that was the gator waiting for them outside. Algie wanted to believe not even a ghost would be out in weather like this when Leesie calmly suggested everyone head to the attic because the water’s rising. When they were halfway up the stairs the kitchen door burst open and water flowed in. The stairs and house shook from the force of the storm, and before Algie knew what happened he fell into the water!
[Wing: Pretty sure there’s a movie out this year with a similar premise: hurricane, alligator, house invasion…]
Submerged in darkness, Algie felt himself getting pulled deeper before his life jacket brought him above the water. His glasses gone, Algie heard Louisa’s voice and swam towards it. She was floating on the front door. In the distance she thinks the house is standing, but the water’s receding which makes no sense. The hurricane’s still going so why would water be moving AWAY from their house instead of getting higher? Unless…
Something was sucking the water up.
Louisa thought they were in a current, but it was worse. Much worse. They were being sucked right into the mouth of the ghost gator! They screamed and screamed all the way down…
Algie awoke to a smell that put the Graveyard School bathrooms to shame. He was in a dark cave filled with putrid water. Holding onto the flashlight before he lost it again, Algie surveyed the area and found Louisa holding onto his calf. She had no idea where they were. He couldn’t make out anything but darkness all around them. Louisa looked around and thought they were in some sort of weird, pink ca-
OKAY THEY’RE INSIDE THE GATOR CAN WE MOVE ALONG LIKE WE DIDN’T KNOW WHERE THIS WAS GOING???
Louisa refuses to believe it even though she was the one who told Algie about the gator.
“You said you believed in it,” Algie reminded her.
She narrowed her eyes. “Well, I don’t believe everything I say, okay?”
Algie had to make Louisa understand they were in the gator’s throat. Louisa babbled they were in a cave as Algie inspected the door lodged in the throat. Algie could make out the backs of the gator’s knife teeth. Thank God it didn’t chew its food. Algie tells Louisa to let go of his leg and she says she’s allowed to since she saved his life earlier. He’s legit grateful, but her clinging’s making it hard to think.
Algie didn’t want to think about being digested when the gator opened its mouth and more water came in. The cousins had to hold on to the door. As the two spun around Algie could make other shit the gator had eaten, including car parts. The two struggle to figure out how they can get free of the gator’s throat when Louisa propose kicking the gator to make it vomit. They try and it does nothing, they’re not strong enough.
Nearly giving into despair, Algie rolled on his back and sat on something hard. A bunch of somethings. The bottles of sauce from Marie. Algie figures rescue workers can use the bottles to identify his remains when it dawns on him they have just one chance for freedom.
Algie notifies Louisa he has the hot sauce bottles, reminding her she said they were really hot.
“‘Liquid fire. Exercise extreme care. Will melt your teeth,'” Louisa quoted. “That’s what it says on every bottle. I helped Aunt Marie think of the slogan.”
Algie figures that’s something Louisa would say, but Louisa wants to know what’s the point. When she finally realizes Algie thinks they can use this shit to make the gator puke, she believes it’s brilliant in an utterly twisted way. Well, if it works. Otherwise they’re dead.
The two have to be careful to angle off the door as they head for the gator’s mouth. Algie’s worried when the flashlight flickers but Louisa tells him to focus. By the time they reach the tongue the gator opens its mouth and clicks its teeth. The cousins drop to their knees and quickly start dumping Marie’s hell sauce onto the gator’s taste buds.
The alligator goes fucking berserk. The kids are thrown up and down as the gator roars and thrashes about in sheer agony. And in a few moments, the gator horks up Algie, Louisa, and everything else it ate. The kids are thrown so hard they land in the branches of a tree, while below the gator rolls about in pain before throwing itself into the bayou. As it does, the resulting wave knocks the tree down. The alligator stuck its head out of the water once, and then was gone.
Algie and Louisa are found by a boat containing the Broussards, followed by a boat driven by Aunt Marie. Louisa and Algie get into the Swamp Lady and are greeted by their family, extremely pleased and relieved to see they’re okay. Louisa loudly declares she didn’t think they could stay in that tree ALL NIGHT, and Algie was smart enough to not bother telling the adults what really happened.
Algie only told Joe Mac what had happened to Louisa. Specifically that, well, [INSERT TITLE HERE].
Marie overheard and started laughing as she welcomed Algie into the family.
Meanwhile, a couple of tourists were being hurried along as they tried to take pictures of the damage caused by the storm. One of the tourists, a woman, picked something up and hid it in her purse. Inside their car, she told her husband she found a great souvenir for the kids. She quickly put the thing inside a plastic picnic basket.
Inside the basket was a tiny baby alligator.
With hungry red eyes.
Hopefully it would eat in its new home.
[Wing: OH LADY NO. Damn tourists.]
You can never get a break from Graveyard School huh? Sorry this portion’s rushed by join us next month as we see the triumphant return of Alex Lee.
Activities Section: A summer crossword, which is honestly rather disappointing as I feel Thacker could’ve included a recipe for Swamp Patties or Gator Breath.
Polly Hannah’s Wardrobe: