Ethan clutched a liquor bottle and skulked by the bedroom door. He watched his wife Annie O. squeeze into a red dress that hugged her curves and pushed her breasts together. She powdered her pudgy mole-covered cheeks and painted her lips crimson.

Ethan had known for a week, but he’d been too afraid to ask. He took a swig of bourbon.

“Gotta skedaddle,” Annie O. said. “Don’t drink yourself to death.” She shouldered past Ethan and snatched her purse off the cluttered kitchen counter. She pushed out the swamp cabin’s rickety screen door, and it cracked shut behind her.

Something inside Ethan cracked too. He stumbled to the window. His scarecrow legs wobbled. It was 7PM, but already his head spun with booze. His yellow fingernails dug into the rotted windowsill. The brights of a rust-crusted blue pickup flashed past the cabin. Tires crunched gravel.

Annie O. squealed with delight and climbed into the passenger seat. WKLZ Honky Tonk Radio blared for just a moment before the blue pickup rolled away.

It was Cliff Howel’s pickup. Old Cliff with the sallow cheeks and the lazy eye. He had money from an industrial accident that scarred up his arms. He had Annie O. now too.

Ethan wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. All week, he’d kept to himself. Tried to deny it. But seeing the blue pickup made it real.

A month ago, his wife would disappear one, maybe two nights a week. She’d bop back in the following afternoon and feed him lines about how she’d stayed at her sister’s and the battery on her phone kept dying. She wasn’t even trying to hide it anymore.

Ethan’s hand trembled. He squeezed the bottle and hoisted it to his lips. Then he smashed it against the windowsill. Glass exploded like dynamite. Bourbon dribbled onto Ethan’s work boots. Blood ran down his wrist.

He dropped what remained of the bottleneck and took a long, controlled breath. In the bedroom, Ethan wrapped his hand with cloth strips torn off an old T-shirt. Blood soaked into each layer of cloth as he wound his wrist.

Bury it, bury it, bury the blood, something inside him whispered. Strangle your wounds under the old T-shirt. He laughed. Smother it away for another day.

Once his wrap was nice and tight, Ethan stumbled back toward the screen door. He almost tore it off its hinges as he lurched outside. Cliff Howel’s tire tracks had worn fresh grooves in the gravel. Ethan followed them.

He trudged down Clemmens Road. Hot coals burned inside his head. An army of crickets flanked him. Their shrill screams cheered him on. They were Ethan’s only friends in the world, a dark orchestra of invisible allies, screaming his name. Eeee-thn. Eeee-thn. Eeee-thn.

Pain bolted up his wrist, but he couldn’t see any blood in the dark, so he guessed the bleeding had stopped. It didn’t much matter. The crickets weren’t concerned about buried blood. They’d seen the blue pickup come this way, heard Annie’s screams of joy as she rolled by with her new man, windows down, cigarette smoke billowing behind them.

Eeee-thn. Eeee-thn.

He marched on. The crickets were so loud, their shrill cries grated against his brain. They must have burrowed in there somehow, worked their way into his limbs. They crept and jumped under his skin. Fueled his anger.

Within an hour, Ethan spotted a neon green gator. It was the billboard for Dave’s Dive, the local watering hole for local scum. The gator’s bright green jaws clamped open and shut once a second. It’s laughing, Ethan knew. Everyone in there is laughing at me.

The buzz of the electric sign grew louder as Ethan crossed the parking lot. Two leathery-skinned old barmaids smoked outside the entrance.

“The way he tosses money around, you’d think he owns the place,” one said.

The other laughed. “Honey, he can toss anything he wants, so long as…”

Ethan grinned at them. “Evenin.’”

Their eyes widened. Ethan stalked through the open door.

Dave’s Dive reeked of urine, body odor, and cigars. Barflies laughed and wheezed over glass ashtrays and scuffed-up cocktail tables. Packs of rowdy regulars clustered toward the less rotted end of the L-shaped bar. Red lights flickered on Dave’s old Wurlitzer jukebox as it pumped Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” through muffled speakers.

Amid the crowd, Annie O’s meaty arms hung on Cliff Howel’s shoulder. Her crooked teeth were pulled into a wide, satisfied smile. Her eyes were full of stars.

“Whoa!” A strong arm caught Ethan’s shoulder. “Hey there, Ethan. Hold up a moment.” It was Sal Johnson. One of Cliff’s cousins. A good guy, Ethan had thought.

By now, more people were staring. Cliff’s face was silhouetted by a blazing Coors sign. His lazy eye glinted in the soft bar light. Pale scars criss-crossed his wrists.

Annie O’s face melted into dread. “Ethan, no.”

“Ethan, no?” Ethan wrenched out of Sal Johnson’s grip and lurched forward. More men intercepted him. “Ethan, no! Ethan, no?” His screams drowned out the King.

“Come on, Ethan. Let’s take this outside,” Sal urged.

“Ethan, stop! You’re drunk!” Annie O. pleaded.

“Ethan, no!” he repeated.

Cliff Howel’s jaw hung open. His good eye tilted down in shame. “It’s not what you think,” he finally said.

Ethan plowed forward. He dragged the two men. Wooden chairs clattered to the floor as he broke free and charged across the room. His wiry arms groped for Cliff Howel’s neck. Annie O. got between them. She screamed and screamed. Her nails dug into Ethan’s chest.

The crickets shrieked his name inside his skull: Eeee-thn! Eeee-thn! Eeee-thn! Eeee-thn! The world turned black and white. Time seemed to slow down. All around them, men shouted. They grabbed at Ethan’s arms and torso, yanked him away.

Someone punched Ethan’s jaw and time quickened right back up again. Blood pooled between his teeth. The crickets stopped cheering his name.

The green bar lamps swirled. Ethan hurled on gray floorboards as the locals dragged him. Hot summer air swooped over him, and he collided with the concrete parking lot.

He managed to flip himself over. Stars circled above his head.

Voices pulsed and garbled from the entrance to Dave’s Dive, but Ethan couldn’t understand. Where are the crickets? he wondered. How come I can’t hear the crickets no more? “They had my back,” he whispered.

Finally, he made out Annie O’s voice. “It’s all right! He won’t hurt me! Step aside!”

Ethan sat and spit blood.

Annie O appeared over him.

He tried so hard to smile. She cares. She’s comin’ to see me cuz she cares.

“What did you do to your hand?” Annie O’s voice trembled.

“Cut it.” He held it up. The blood had dried dark red on his t-shirt wrap. “Don’t hurt much.”

“I’m sorry, Ethan,” she said. “About all this. I’m sorry.”

“S’okay,” he mumbled. “We’ll fix it.”

“No.” She shook her head. “No, we won’t. I only mean, I’m truly sorry about how this must feel for you.”

Ethan’s mouth felt like blood and mush. “How could you do this, Annie O?”

“I didn’t do anything, Ethan. Cliff didn’t neither. It’s just one of those things. It just happened.”

Ethan’s face flashed cold. “Things don’t happen. People do things.”

Shudders crept up his skin. Ethan felt like the crickets must be leaving his body. Worming through his limbs and escaping out his fingers and toes. Hopping off into the darkness.

He choked out a sob. Annie O’s mole-covered-face blurred through his tears.

“Things do happen. And it ain’t no one’s fault,” she continued. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow. Go home and sleep, Ethan. Just get home, okay?”

“I love you, Annie O.” Ethan attempted to stand. He collapsed onto his hands.

Annie O. backed away.

“I love you more than anything. Can’t you see that?”

“You don’t love me, Ethan,” Annie O. said. “You don’t never even touch me. It’s real with Cliff.”

Two blurry men appeared in front of Annie O. She turned and headed back into Dave’s Dive. “Go home, Ethan!” she called. “Go home!”

“You heard the lady,” the men said. “Go on home.” They roughed him to his feet and steered him away.

Ethan sobbed and stumbled back down Clemmens Road. The neon gator buzzed over his shoulders. “There’s no home,” Ethan whispered. “There’s no home to go back to.”

Ethan fell. Cold concrete caressed his cheeks. His head swam as he pried himself up. He slowly trudged back into the dark. Soon the stars stopped swirling. The liquor drained from his brain. He stopped at the side of the road to piss into a tuft of weeds and tall grass.

“There’s no home,” he whispered. “No home without her.”

After he made his way back up the gravel drive, Ethan passed the old swamp cabin without so much as a glance. He lurched toward the rickety dock. A breeze rustled overgrown fronds and cattails. The familiar scent of swamp gas and lily pads calmed his mind. Stars shimmered like gemstones, and fireflies blinked green over the water.

Ethan’s fishing boat rocked as he stepped down. He found his electric lantern in the supply chest. In the blue-white glow of his light, he untied the mooring. Then he paddled into the open swamp. Bullfrogs croaked. Insects chittered. Ethan’s arms strained against the water. He made his way around shadowy inlets through murky creeks and passageways.

He found a dark cove where he’d trapped crawfish hundreds of times. Then he hunched over and stared into pitch black waters.

Green eyes shimmered in the lantern light. Gator snouts skimmed the surface. Ethan’s thoughts wandered back to the neon green sign chomping outside Dave’s Dive. Laughing. Not sure why you ever settled down with that old scarecrow, Annie O! the local scum were all saying. Thank God Annie and Cliff finally found one another!

The fishing boat banged against a floating log covered in white moss and green mushrooms. Tiny larva wriggled in the festering wood. Ethan stared at his gaunt hands. He was decaying like the log, only from the inside out. “That’s why the crickets left,” he whispered.

Gator eyes glided back and forth, but something was wrong. The gators were swimming in a pattern, in sync with one another. Something else was moving in the water too. A V-shaped ripple started to appear. It carved a path right for Ethan’s boat. A dome-shaped object broke the surface.

It was a head.

Ethan leaned over the edge of the boat, mesmerized.

A grinning green skull, dripping with algae, broke the surface. Bony arms, runny with slime, rose from the water. A gaunt, skeleton torso followed with black muck caked between its ribs. Ethan’s heart shuddered.

The gators avoided the skeleton-man. Their shadowy snouts coasted back and forth in two curved lines, encircling Ethan and the slimy swamp being.

The skeleton-man’s torso rose higher, revealing a spindly spine and crooked, mossy hips. His bony fingertips reached for Ethan. The man said nothing, but his sunken eyes oozed with primordial sadness.

The skeleton-man waded closer. Ethan reached out. Bony skeleton fingers pricked Ethan’s hand.

Sharp pain jutted down Ethan’s spine, right to his toes. It was a cold pain from the bottom of the swamp. A feeling that only existed deep in the murky nothing.

The skeleton-man beckoned him with its finger. It slowly backed away and started to dip back into black water.

Ethan reached. He wanted to feel it again. That icy prick. But the skeleton was already chest deep. Ethan’s heart hammered. He climbed over the side of the boat and splashed into waist-deep muck. He struggled forward. Mud sucked on his shoes. Thick water clung to his clothes.

The skeleton was just two dark eye sockets now, sinking into the murk.

Ethan wanted to join it down there. There was no home now. Only the swamp.

But the swamp man sank too quickly. He was already gone.

The gators stopped circling. Their glowing eyes tilted in Ethan’s direction.

Ethan felt how cold the water was. A truly unpleasant chill burrowed into his bones. He couldn’t believe he had followed the skeleton.

Gator snouts glided forward. Ethan’s heart pulsed with fear. He twisted and struggled toward his fishing boat. He grabbed the edge. His lanky arms strained. The boat rocked with fury, but he managed to pull himself safe inside. His mud-caked boots thudded against the wood.

Ethan took a long, controlled breath. His hand wrap had come undone in the swamp. The reopened cuts bled onto his wet flannel. Blood mixed with swamp water.

The stars gleamed. Crickets chirped.