Imagine being held against your will in a mammoth swampy area with little access or no way out. A legendary demon mule lurks behind loblolly pine and the remnants of forests long dead.

You were brought in through darkness so rich and deep that it feels more like traveling in a different space as you cannot determine sky or land. Walking the treacherous ground feels like you are entering a dangerous abyss.

You don’t know where you are, and if you try to escape, you face vast, treacherous ground, or the risk of being absorbed into a marsh hole. Even the forests have drowned here, losing their grip on the land through brackish water and changing tides.

The smell of death, and struggle is all around you, with muskrats, mosquitos, snakes and the like. This can be a hostile environment.

This is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, with its 28,000 acres of brackish wetlands and ghost forests holding a gloomier story of untold mystery and menacing despair.

Blackwater embodies a darkness that earns its namesake. Waters blackened with tannins, dying forests, and black marsh mud that can swallow someone in just a few unfortunate steps make this an unfortunately perfect place to go and never be found.

Blackwater’s mystery is found in a network of hiding places for those escaping the law or toward freedom. Places to hide are abundant for hunters, trappers, and criminals alike, and it’s easy to imagine entering the dark vastness to hold someone hostage, for example, or to disappear from the public eye.

This includes people living in the horrors of slavery and seeking their freedom by using the area as part of the Underground Railroad. Dressed in disguise, people who were enslaved covertly traveled at night through snaking creeks into the deep darkness of the area, careful to avoid slave hunters and their dogs.

It’s not hard to imagine a cold, stark winter here, with the blackness of night covering a ghostly stillness that envelopes the loblolly pine and cordgrass, only to be interrupted by the sound of a bat flying overhead, or the black water’s subtle movement as a muskrat swims to its burrow on the marsh’s banks.

The area’s marshy guts are also home to bald eagle, peregrine falcon, Sika deer, fox, coyote, vole, and rats. Once a great source of timber, Blackwater’s wetlands, fields, and meadows are now interrupted by hammocks of loblolly pine and salt encroached forest, with mosquitoes and fireflies abundant in the heat of summer.

Blackwater makes the perfect backdrop for my second book in the Rita Mars Thriller series, Objects of Desire, being published in late 2022.

You can learn more about release dates and more of the series’ perilous plot twists and turns at