Thick mud oozed through the window sill while Joey slept. The palm trees danced in the heavy air and crickets chirped a lazy tune in the late hours of the night. Joey’s mother, Keyra, lounged on the couch with a very much needed glass of whiskey in her hand as the mud slopped down the blue bedroom walls, staining the pee-yellow carpet. She didn’t hear her son’s drowning cry as the mud swallowed his small body.

But the condos across the small river heard her scream the next morning. Norm was the first at the lanai screen, his little dog sitting in his large hand and he studied the brown and red sludge leading from the pond to the missing five-year-old’s bedroom. He looked at the shattered, brown window and frowned at his dog, who yipped and struggled in his hand.

“Mud Man, Jakey,” Norm mumbled in his deep, southern accent. “I warned ‘em.”

The Sheriff’s Department arrived shortly after, and after a lengthy debate and heated argument between the sheriff and Norm, they’d decided it was a freak accident caused by a rogue gator. Within a week, two teams of gator control professionals raided the pond and the Condo Association had installed signs reading, “Beware of Gator” with a rough sketch of an alligator with its mouth open. Norm laughed as the two groups of “gator catchers” pulled away from the community with empty nets.

“It ain’t a gator,” Norm said to Keyra as they watched the water sparkle in the sun.

“I know,” she said, defeated. She ran her hands over her face and looked back at the water, her blue eyes brighter with the threat of tears.

“I told ya,” Norm began, but Keyra turned on her heel and walked towards her lanai door.

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“Kids needa behave, Keyra,” Norm continued. The screen door slammed and she disappeared inside the condo.

Norm watched the lanai for another moment, then looked back at the signs and shook his head.


Four months later, Tyler watched the palm trees sway in the hot breeze and snarled. He looked down at his Nook and flipped the page. He leaned back in the borrowed, old beach chair his grandpa had left on the family’s new porch the morning before he and his father pulled into the condo driveway. It creaked underneath his weight, or lack thereof, and he sighed. The humidity was thick, unfazed by the breeze. The pond—or “moat” as his father called it—in front of the condo’s porch was as smooth as his late Uncle Morty’s bald head and the air smelled like soggy grass and rotting wood.

The glass door behind him slid open, the rollers scraping together like sandpaper and Tyler closed the protective cover over the Nook screen. He stared ahead at row of lanais facing them across the pond, only moving as he cringed when his father ruffled his jet-black hair.

“Got to get those doors fixed,” his father said, easing himself into the lawn chair on Tyler’s right. He inhaled sharply through his nostrils and puffed up his chest before blowing it back out through his open mouth. “It smells fantastic, doesn’t it?”

“It smells like the earth is a decaying corpse,” Tyler muttered, running his fingers through his hair.

“That’s one way to put it,” his father said, glancing around. “Humid, though.”

“Uh-huh.” A stronger gust ripped through the trees and the leaves rattled. A small, white bird with a long neck and grey beak stalked by, slinking along the shoreline of the pond.

“Look at that!” Tyler’s father’s eyes lit and he leaned forward in his chair, pointing.

“Oh boy, a bird,” Tyler rolled his eyes and opened his Nook again.

“It’s so nice out here,” he muttered. “Your mother would have loved it.”

“Yeah,” Tyler said. He grimaced and walked back through the small living room to his bedroom. He tossed his Nook on his pillow, flopped onto his unmade aero bed, and listened to the neighbors above stomp across the floor. Groaning, he rolled over and closed his eyes, a single tear slipping down his cheek.

That night, Tyler rolled onto his back, the sheets twisting between his sweaty legs. The plastic aero bed did nothing to help him breathe at night and he cursed himself for allowing his father to pack his sleeping back onto the moving van.

The crickets chirped and the wind chimes hanging in the condos across the moat sang in the night breeze. He yawned and stretched, listening to the new night sounds and thought of the traffic he’d wake up to back in his home state. Slowly, he drifted back to sleep. Just as he began dreaming, Tyler startled awake to a loud groan echoing through the breezeway. He sat up and glanced around his bedroom, listening.

Another groan, closer to the condo’s front door rang and he shot up from his bed, rushing to her bedroom door. He poked his head into the living room and peered around the darkness. The long blinds hanging in front of the glass doors to the lanai trembled and streaks of yellow light from the lamps outside shot in.

Something crept across the grass just by the edge of the water, a thick shadow blocking out the light. Tyler stepped from his room and tip-toed closer to the glass doors, a slopping, wet sound was muffled by the doors, but Tyler shivered, thinking of a spitball hitting a blackboard—or a can of chemically-engineered slime he used to play with as a kid.

At the doors, he reached out and parted the blinds, but as he shifted one of the long slats aside, a low grumble tickled his ear. He jumped, his elbow ramming into the creature behind him.

“Aw, dammit, Tyler,” his father said, rubbing his gut. He was hunch in pain, but in the slight light, Tyler saw he was concerned.

“Sorry! God, sorry. You scared the shit out of me.”

“What are you doing up?”

“I heard something,” Tyler said, looking back at the doors. “Didn’t you hear it? It sounded like something was right at the door. And then it was, like, just outside.”

“Maybe it was a gator,” his father said.

“I don’t think gators make those sounds.”

“Well, I didn’t hear it,” his father said. He straightened up and looked outside. All he could see was the lamp and the black moat. He looked back to Tyler and shrugged. “Go back to bed, Bud. Got a long day tomorrow.”

Tyler watched his father lumber back to his room and shut the door, his robe tie trailing behind him like a limp tail. He sighed and glanced back at the glass doors once more before heading back to bed.

“Something made that sound,” Tyler said, closing his door.


“What color do you want your room, Bud,” Tyler’s father asked. Tyler stood facing a wall of paint chips at the Lowe’s just down the road from their gated community. He shrugged and rubbed his arm.

“I was thinking, like, grey and black.”

“In Florida,” his father asked, looking at him.

“Don’t you want something a little brighter?”

“How about bright grey?” Tyler smirked up at his father and lifted a black brow. His father shook his head.

“How about something blue? It doesn’t have to be bright or tropical or anything. Your room back in Jersey was so dark and had no theme. It was sloppy. Don’t you want this room to be nice?”

“The room here is already blue. And I liked my room back home,” Tyler said, reaching for a row of different shades of grey. His father pulled out a row of blue-grey tabs and handed it to him before stepping further down the aisle for brushes. Tyler looked at the shades his father handed him and frowned, reminded of the moat in front of their lanai, but stuck the strips in his back pocket and strolled along, looking at the rest of the samples.

Three weeks later, Tyler lay across his bed, staring at the freshly-painted ceiling. The painters had finished applying the final coat the previous afternoon and since he’d agreed to have his walls a deep blue, his father had left him alone about furnishing the rest of the space with black and grey.

He rolled over and faced the large window beside his unmade bed. He crumpled the blankets under him and peered through the thick curtains at the moat. The humidity had lifted since they had moved in and the sun hung slightly lower in the sky. The rainy afternoons blew away as a chilled wind ushered in a tropical winter.

Tyler startled at the knock on his door and he rolled back over, sitting up. The door opened and he greeted his father with a frown.


“What are you having for lunch,” his father asked, poking his head in. His sunglasses sat on his head, pushing his grey hair back like a headband. “There’s leftover Chinese food and crap for sandwiches.”

“I don’t know,” Tyler shrugged and walked over to his acoustic guitar. He sat on the little stool beside his amp and hung over the instrument in his lap. “I’m not hungry yet.”

“Why don’t you go out for a little?”

“I don’t want to turn to dust.”

“You’re not that pale,” his father said, rolling his eyes.

“I’d rather stay in, thanks.”

“Fine.” His father lifted a hand and shut the door with more force than intended. Tyler hissed at the slam and struck a chord.

A few hours later, his father knocked again, but Tyler had moved on to practicing on the electric guitar and his playing drowned the two attempts his father made to be heard. Instead of knocking a third time, he walked in and crossed his arms. Tyler looked up, frowned, and stopped playing, slapping the strings to mute them.


“Come to the store with me.”


“Come on.” His father tossed him the crumpled list and watched him flounder around for it before it fell to the floor. Tyler sighed, flicked off the amplifier and picked up the list before following his father out.

As the two walked towards the car, a tall man with a buzz cut waved to them. In his other hand, he held a small, black pug. It yipped once and looked around, its ears flopping against its head.

“Hey there,” the man said, lumbering over. Tyler snorted at his thick southern accent.

“Hi,” his father said.

“I’m Norm. I live right across the hall from ya. Well, during the winter, anyway,” he said, extending his hand. “And this is Jake.” He bounced the dog in his arm and it yipped again.

“Oh yeah, nice to meet you.” Tyler’s father said, taking Norm’s hand. “I’m Arnold and this is my son, Tyler.”

“Hey. Good to meet you, too,” Norm said, then offered his hand to Tyler, who took the hand and offered a half smile, eyeing the dog.

“What’s wrong with his eyes,” Tyler asked, nodding to Jake.

“Oh, he’s blind as a bat,” he said, patting the dog’s round stomach. Its nose worked furiously, sniffing the air in Tyler’s general direction.

“What happened?” Tyler’s father shifted his weight, stuffing a hand in his jean pockets.

“I dunno,” Norm shrugged. “He was just born that way.”

“Huh,” Tyler said, watching the dog. He looked towards the moat; a couple of birds pecking at the grass near the water waddled by. Norm turned and spotted them, then smiled.

“Yeah, they’d better hurry along” Norm said. “They don’t wanna be caught around here after sundown.”

“Why not?” Tyler’s father looked at Norm.

“Gators’ will get them. Remember we saw one,” Tyler asked, his voice rising impatiently.

“Nope, not gators,” Norm said, lifting a brow. His free hand rose and scratched his head.

“Then what?” Tyler frowned at him.

“Mud Man,” Norm said. Tyler narrowed his eyes and snorted. But Norm continued, “I’ve been living in that condo for five winters and I’ll be the first person to tell you the god’s honest truth. There is somethin’ fishy goin’ on in that stream, and it ain’t fish.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, losing interest. He looked back to where the birds had been, but they’d flown away. The sun sank behind the condos across the water.

“I know, it’s crazy. But there’s somethin’ in there that scares the shit outta the gators, even. You’ll see a slime trail o’ mud leading from the water to the parking lots and through the halls sometimes. No one knows where it comes from or why.”

“From a gator,” Tyler huffed. “It’s got to go through the banks before hitting the grass.”

“Don’t you think the grass would wipe the sludge off?”

“Well, we’ve got to get to Publix before they sell out of the barbeque chicken again,” Tyler’s father said, clapping his son on the shoulders. “It was good meeting you, Norm.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Norm said, waving as they turned and headed for the car.

“I can’t believe or neighbor is certifiable,” Tyler grumbled as his father closed the driver door.

“He was just trying to have fun with you, Ty. Lighten up.”

“Mud Man? What am I, eight?”

“Maybe he thought you had a sense of humor. I don’t know why.”

“I have a sense of humor.”

“Yeah,” his father scoffed, throwing the car into reverse. “And there’s a real Mud Man.”


Tyler sat on the lanai, watching the families move around in the condos across the way. Their lights glowed like fireflies and he thought of the shadows as puppets. Every now and then, he would look back down at his Nook and read a couple of pages, then look back up and watch scenes unfold in the large windows.

In the distance, he heard a gurgle rise from the water and he leaned forward in his chair. His father came out and stood just behind the screen, then turned back to Tyler, eyes wide. He lifted a hand over his mouth and cowered like a little girl.

“Oh goodness,” he said in a falsetto voice. “It’s the Mud Man.”

Tyler rolled his eyes and sat back in his seat, returning to his Nook, as his father lifted his hands like ET and ran back inside screaming. Shaking his head, he listened to the fountain on the far left side of the pond. After reading a few more pages, another growl broke the babbling water. Tyler looked up again and saw two glowing eyes sitting in the middle of the water. He leaned forward, squinting at the far-set eyes.

“Dad,” he called over his shoulder, afraid to break eye contact with the yellow orbs. Footsteps came up behind him and he pointed towards the darkness.

“Oh wow,” his father said. “That’s a huge one. The eyes are, what, a foot apart?”

“I’m going in,” Tyler said, flipping his Nook cover closed. The eyes blinked twice and then disappeared into the blackness the two locked the glass doors.

The following morning, Tyler stumbled out of his room, struggling to keep his eyes open enough to make his way into the kitchen and over to the coffee machine. But as he turned to face the rest of the condo, his heart skidded and flipped. His father stood on the porch, staring at a gaping hole in the screen and demolished flower pots. He walked around the kitchen counter and to the glass doors, but stopped mid-step. He felt his face grow cold and his fingers prickled with nerves as he stared at the thick, brown sludge running from the water and into the porch—covering his shredded chair.

“What the hell happened,” Tyler asked, tugging open the door. His father turned to face him. The wind whipped through the lane of condos and the water stirred, small waves lapping at the shores.

“The gator,” his father said, turning back to the hole. “We already called gator control.”

“That’s a thing?” Tyler frowned, his hands trembling.

“Down here, yeah,” he said. “Did you have any food out here last night?”

“No,” Tyler shook his head once. “Just the Nook.”

“You didn’t leave anything out?” His father’s brows furrowed, lips pulled down.

“I said no. God,” Tyler said. He turned back towards the condo and walked back in, stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets, trying to steady them.

After hours of searching, the gator control group found nothing but fish, a couple of ducks, and several turtles. They’d told Tyler’s father that there was no sign of the alligator.

“And to be honest, sir, I doubt that a gator would do this without prompting,” one of the members said. He rested a long pole on his tan shoulder.

“Well, what do you think it was,” his father asked. He glanced back at the shredded chair.

“Beats me,” the man said, shrugging. He sighed and stuffed a hand in his shorts pocket. “Look, sir, I don’t know your son, but maybe ask him again about last night. Maybe he decided to come back out and antagonize the gator.”

“You said you guys didn’t find anything.”

“There are other ponds for him to live in around here.”

After the crew left, Norm poked his head out from his screen door. He gave Tyler a goofy smile and waved him over. Tyler’s father followed and nodded to Norm.

“What the hell happened there,” Norm asked, scooping up the small pug as he wandered over to the door.

“Gator crashed right through the screen last night,” Tyler’s father said. “We didn’t even know until this morning.”

“You didn’t hear it?”

“Nope. We should’ve. The damage is horrendous.”

“I see that,” Norm frowned. “You know, you should be careful around here. I think it was my first year here, a few condos down, a tenant lost her dog ‘cause of a gator. They took that thing away quicker than a scalding haint.” Norm laughed. Tyler glanced at his father, who smiled politely.

“Oh?” Tyler’s father frowned.

“Yeah. That’s bound to happen now and then. But the most recent thing was just before I left for the summer, the tenants who had your place got struck, too. One night, the lady’s kid went missin’ in the water. She was on the couch, drinkin’ and her little kid was sleepin in the next room over. Somethin’ got ‘im and now they can’t even find ‘is bones in the water. Maybe a gator, maybe Mud Man. Alls I’m sayin’ is you oughtta be careful around here.”

“I knew the kid went missing, but the realtor spared the details,” Tyler’s father said, eyes wide. He looked at Tyler, who shrugged. “You keep away from the water.”

“I didn’t even do anything,” Tyler said.

“I’m just warning you. I’m not going through gator turds to find your smelly remains.”

That night, Tyler had perched himself in one of the new arm chairs in the living room, staring out into the dusk. Lights flickered on in the condos across the moat and the shadow puppets resumed their shows from the previous night. He sighed and checked his phone. His father had gone to pick up dinner twenty minutes earlier. He looked back at the porch and slid off the seat, pulled open the glass doors, and looked around before walking out towards the saran-wrapped hole in the screen. He bent over, examining it, and frowned. The hole sat two feet above the floor. Sighing, he knelt and fingered the plastic, trying to pick at the dried sludge coating the shreds of screen. Little red-brown flakes fell off, scattering in the wind on the other side.

“This isn’t mud,” Tyler said, cocking his head to the side. The light in the porch above him flicked on and he looked out at the water, just realizing how dark it had gotten. He shivered in the wind. But as he turned towards the condo, he heard groaning and thick bubbling rising from the water. Chills swept over his spine and he looked back over his shoulder. He caught a glimpse of a yellow eye wink at him and before he could reach the glass doors, the eye lunged for him.

A wet, sharp grip wrapped around his ankle and he shouted as he went down. His fingernails scraped at the tiles on the lanai floor, but the strong hold dragged him through the grass and to the shore. Tyler spun on his back and screamed at the mound of sopping brown and red mud hovering over him, the glowing eyes peering down.

To the right, he heard his father’s car pull into the parking lot and he yelped again, pleading for him to come to the rescue. But the car’s motor kept running. Soft bass lines of a Doors’ song drifted and Tyler sobbed again for help.

The car door slammed shut and he heard his father shout. The bags dropped. Feet pounded against the pavement and then the grass. But mud and water gushed into Tyler’s nose and mouth. His eyes lolled back and he disappeared into the mud as it oozed back into the water. A bloody bubble foamed at the top of the moat. And the wind slowed; the water black and smooth like a polished casket. Earbuds lay tangled in the muddy grass, the music still blaring from the tiny speakers. Jake’s yips echoed through the night sky and Norm shuffled around his condo, whistling with the news blaring as Arnold sat on the banks, trembling, covered in mud, staring into the water.