Adam wrapped his sedan around a telephone pole on his way home from O'Reilly's. After the last week's rains and the deep freeze the spider-webbed cracks in the road had opened up into a small washed-out sinkhole, leaving a foot-wide pothole halfway through the turn.

The windshield, webbed over with intricate network of cracks, had not busted out, and stood in warped defiance of the wreckage around it, steadfastly protecting its charge from wind and rain, even as the windshield wipers jutted out at odd angles. Adam wasn't found for over an hour, after a passerby called in the wreck anonymously. The first responders were the EMTs servicing the nearest hospital: 20 minutes away. They hesitated to approach the wreckage because, although the passenger windows had broken out completely, they could not immediately see inside. Between the shadow of the telephone pole and nearby tree coverage they couldn't make out the inside of the vehicle despite the clear day and high sun.

The inside of the windshield was coated with a thick layer of black, tenebrous fluid that clung tenaciously to the cracks in the glass. The inside of the vehicle was stained solid black and a thin layer of the substance clung to every surface, yet not a single drop fell on the ground outside. Lying in the back seat was a large five-gallon plastic oil jug, itself stained deep black.

After a moment's hesitation the paramedics pulled Adam's quickly cooling corpse from the wreckage. There was no question that they were too late. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Officer Abrams immediately knew something was wrong when he looked inside the vehicle. The oil that coated the inside of the car was a thick black, and the odor was chokingly acrid. The oil jug burst in the back seat was brand new, and only a thin sheen of golden-clear motor oil clung to the inside of it. Could this mean foul play? He didn't know what it meant, but he knew something was very wrong here.

Seventeen days later a call came into the station. The owner of an area complex had entered the apartment of a delinquent tenant. The 911 call was a little distressing: all she could talk about was the horrible smell.

Mrs. Eda had opened the door to find the tenant's wallet and keys lying on the kitchen counter by the front door, the television was on a dead station, and a light shone from under the door of the bathroom.

"Hello? Mr. Scarbury? It's the landlord, are you here?" She called out to the apartment. Only silence responded. She moved to the bathroom door and knocked twice, lightly, politely, embarrassed to even be in such an awkward situation. The door was not completely closed, and it drifted back a half-inch and a small gust of air blew out of the bathroom. Fifteen seconds later Mrs. Eda was vomiting violently on the living room carpet while desperately trying to dial 911.

Officer Abrams was the third on the scene. Even though the windows and doors had been opened for over an hour by then, the strong smell of methane and hydrogen sulfide still permeated the area. The Stench of Death.

"What is it?" Abrams asked the officer standing outside the door.

"You should probably go see for yourself... Cover your nose."

Abrams walked inside, retching once or twice before regaining his composure and covering his nose and mouth with a handkerchief. He turned to corner to the open bathroom door and there, lying in the bathtub, was the EMT from the wreck three weeks earlier. His stomach was bulging out obscenely; a few maggots circled just inside of his mouth. The bathtub was filled to the absolute brim with thick, black oil. Not a drop had spilled to the floor below. Abrams walked out immediately.

Abrams was not a detective. There wasn't even a useful crime lab in the city. He sent a sample of the oil to the New Orleans lab. There was a long backlog, so he wasn't expecting results soon. He didn't even know what he was looking for, so he just requested identification. In the meantime, he started looking for a pattern.

Auto repair shop records turned up what he was looking for. Adam James had visited a shop on the border of the marshes with some damage to the undercarriage of his car. They had done some some spot welding, repaired his damaged oil pan and gas line, and scheduled him for a second visit to finish up the repair work. There was something out there. He had to know what it was. He filed a quick report, grabbed his keys and headed toward the marsh.

Twelve hours later a manhunt was organized. Officer Abrams was missing and the entire police force, fire department, and county sheriff's staff were looking for him. His car was found parked on the side of the road next to an old abandoned gas station and the volunteers began fanning out to look for him. The search focused on back-roads and the many abandoned homes in the area. They were waiting for something a little bigger than a tin rowboat to show up before they risked their lives in the marshes.

Sheriff Dylan's two sons were in the car, listening to the radio as their father stood outside organizing the effort. He turned around, facing them through the open window.

"Stay right here, I'm going to get some flashlights from the cruiser. It's getting dark soon." He said, walking to the end of the street to gather the supplies. His kids, mischievous as hell, tore off immediately to "help." At nine and eleven, they didn't understand the dangers that the marshes posed now. They had grown up playing in or near the shallows and they knew that this area did not have any alligators. They had heard that the marshes were dangerous now, but they didn't really comprehend the deadly importance of the thin rainbow-like sheen on the water, or the small, sticky lumps of leaves and vegetation that sometimes washed up on land. The trudged through at the labored run that is only possible in a foot of water, laughing as their clothes were instantly soiled beyond help.

They made it all the way to the old fence. It was a patchwork chain-link and barbed wire contraption meant to warn sightseers of the limits of safe travel. Beyond the fence the water got deeper quickly, and the rare alligator was know to wander. When they reached it what they found was that one of the large metal posts that had been planted (regular fence-posts didn't stick too well in marshland) was folded over about two feet from the ground, the bent edge mangled and the surrounding wire splayed open in all directions. Deep tire ruts were visible on the higher ground. Someone had been foolish enough to drive back here.

They saw a large white shape rocking slowly past the fence, and decided it would be best to check on it. The two boys walked a hundred yards until they were standing at the wreckage of a small sailboat. There were large holes in the hull from running aground and the muddied, stained sail rocked slowly in the breeze. It was starting to get pretty dim, but that's when the boys noticed the figure lying on the ground by the boat. A set of blackened bones surrounded by a dead patch of ground. Gobs of viscous tar remained in a few spots. They screamed in terror, and turned to run back to safety, but instead they met the body of Officer Abrams.

Abrams was suspended on the low branch of one of the short, sprawling trees that survived in the swamp. His body dripped with oil, which pooled below the tree, spawning rainbows across the water in the dying light. His open eyes were completely black, and tar oozed from his mouth. Perched above him, in the tree, five large cranes coated in thick black oil peered down at the terrified children, shifting restlessly between branches, and back into the water around them.

Four hours later Sheriff Dylan, armed with a shotgun and an industrial floodlight roared through the swamp in a shallow motorboat while other officers carefully navigated the dry paths, searching. He found his sons collapsed in a heap together. Thick oil covered their hands, feet, and legs, but they were alive. At the scene police found the body of officer Abrams and five dead cranes, soaked in oil, floating in the swamp. Nearby the body of a fisherman, who had been reported missing months earlier was found, identified by dental records and the registration information from the boat.

The boys were hospitalized, and recovered. No further deaths were reported in the area. Officer Abram's test came back a week later, identifying the substance as crude oil with traces of ocean water.

Yesterday it rained
drenched the iron feathers of the cranes.
Today the sun rose
they shook off diamonds on rusting containers.
Tomorrow, the fog will rise
they will bed down in cold winter saltwater,
Rocking to sleep on the harbor
in their nests of cloud and currents.

I used to be my lady's maid,
At her beck and at her aid.
I used to be my lady's maid,
In her skirts and in her shade.

(I was my lady's maid, she said,
in her bower, in her bed.)

Flowers for her ribbons winding,
Blossoms for her charms beguiling.
Trinkets for her bed and bower,
Lips to hers in rose-bound tower.

(I slept against her, she then said,
cheek to cheek in lover's stead.)

And, oh my lady was fleet and fair,
With emerald eyes and golden hair.
And oh, my lady was sweet and wise,
With ready laugh and pretty smiles.

(I loved her as my own, she said,
and followed swiftly where she led.)

But then there came a lord in armor,
With steely sword and burning ardor.
Then there came, a lord, a wager,
A golden ring and heart to capture.

(I was my lady's maid, she said,
warming blankets in his stead.)

And so I burned and so I withered,
Cold and spurned and full of anger.
And so into the woods I wandered,
For roses sweet and river heather.

(I was my lady's love, she said,
and for this crime, I've paid and bled.)

I made a flask, I filled it brimming,
With ready heart, and full of singing.
I made a flask, I crushed the flower,
Mixed with wreaths within the bower.

(I loved her as my own, she said,
but her own true love, I wanted dead.)

He had his wine each day at dawning,
His cup he filled to flow and brimming.
He had his wine from a flask at dawning,
By noon his stomach set to snarling.

(I hated as a witch might hate, she said,
I laughed to hear his mortal dread.)

By eve he lay arraigned in honor,
With sun-kissed flesh now reft of ardor.
By eve he lay, a corpse in armor,
Lost to mortal hope of succor.

(I smiled to see him still, she said,
The spirit from his figure fled.)

But by the midnight, she was raging,
Her eyes in anger, burnt with hatred.
A flask within her hand to breaking,
A curse between her lips to making.

(I wept to see her howl, she said,
and cried I'd drink the poison red.)

My course was clear, the goblet silver,
No light of love to thus remember.
I sipped the flask and wept in ardor,
At her emerald eyes and burning anger.

(I swallowed swiftly then, she said,
for love had withered, broken, fled.)

But hellebore and witch's brew to mix,
From my lady's hand, a subtle curse.
From poison, my form did swiftly shift,
A feathered spell and well-made hex.

(White as ivory, I came, she said,
and folded wings and bowed her head.)

And from her window, moved to sailing,
Her laughter, mocking, cold, and fading.
Far from lady, hall and bower,
Far from love and withered flower.
And in the rivers, set to seeing,
The face my heart is swiftly fleeing.
The lady in her tower, poisoned, dying,
From hellebore and mortal sorrow.

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