Lost in the Mist
by Daniel Kaye.
The morning had started so well. I had lived in this part of Ireland now for a few years and today was the first time I was going hiking over the Ballyhoura Mountains.
I was a confident walker, usually trekking eight to ten miles daily and was looking forward to my planned hike. My wife laughed at me as I checked and double-checked the contents of my backpack. Map, compass, sandwiches and two bottles of water.
“You’re like a boy scout,” she said laughing, “be prepared,” she continued mocking.
‘Be prepared’, is right, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
The walk was going well. It was warm but a light breeze that shook the leaves, brought a gentle relief to my sweat soaked arms and legs. It must have been at least two hours since seeing another person, I remember thinking I could have been anywhere in the world as I walked through the trees and along the trails. There was of course the usual rustling you get in any woods, caused by the small animals as they foraged for food.
I remember swinging my backpack off my shoulder and taking out a bottle of water. I wiped the cold bottle across my forehead; the condensation that had formed, bringing instant relief. I opened it and taking a long refreshing mouthful, I looked out at the scene, the fields swept out far into the distance below me. It was then I looked over to the west; I could see a mist forming and moving in towards me. It swallowed up the trees as it rolled through the forest. I had read about these fast-moving mists on mountains many times. I knew they could be dangerous to those less experienced with their surroundings, those like me.
I looked at the sky, I knew there was still hours before the light of the sun would fade. I watched as the mist grew nearer, I have to admit I was amazed at the speed it travelled. I remember looking at my surroundings, just before it swallowed the area in which I stood. To my left were more trees, to the right the steep path I had just climbed. I decided to see if I could sit it out, to see if it will move off again as fast as it had moved in.
Sitting on a tree stump, I decided now was as good a time as any to tuck into my sandwiches. An hour passed, and the mist looked as though it was not giving up the grounds it had taken. I sat and listened, but the noises of the animals were gone, there was no sound to accompany the lonely whiteness that surrounded me.
It was then that fear started to creep into my mind, at first, I could ignore it, but soon like the mist, it covered all of my thoughts. Had I made the right decision to try to sit it out? Now doubt was joining in on my fears.
Sitting there was no longer an option. I made my way slowly back down the steep path. I could only see a few feet in front of me, so I moved cautiously, afraid that I could trip over an exposed root or a rock.
It was then that I saw her. At first, I thought it was a tree trunk, standing upright. I took a few more cautious steps nearer. I was right, it was a woman.
She was standing there looking in the opposite direction, but as I looked, it dawned on me how out of place she was. She was wearing a long black dress; my first impression was how much it looked like a wedding dress without its veil, only black.
“Hello,” I said nervously, “are you lost?”
The figure of the woman turned to face me; she was like one of those porcelain dolls you see with bright lips. In all the stark whiteness of the mist that surrounded us, and the blackness of her long hair and dress, her lips were the brightest red I had ever seen.
Her smile was warm, but her eyes were cold and as she looked at me, I felt as if she was looking into my soul.
Sitting on the branches above her were three black crows, their eyes were like the woman’s, cold and piercing.
I took a step backwards, and the woman stared, we stood in silence looking at each other for some time, until one of the crows screamed.
I turned and ran; the branches whipped my face as I fumbled through the trees, no longer sure, where the path was.
I could hear the flapping of wings above and behind me.
I screamed as I ran, but no matter which way I twisted or turned I could hear those wings right behind me, and I could feel the woman’s breath on the back of my exposed neck. I turned trying to glimpse at my pursuer, she was there and not there, her body seemed to float behind me, her black dress sprawling out behind her like wings. Her breath was hot and rancid, the bright red lips and the warm smile I had witnessed earlier, now replaced by a twisted evil grin.
Everything faded to black.
I do not know how long I lay there, but as my eyes opened and I looked around, convinced I was still surrounded by the mist. As my consciousness returned, the fogginess left my brain, I knew I had run full on into a tree. I looked around in every direction, the woman was gone.
I stood up leaning against the tree, my head thumping from the whack it had taken. I slowly leant down and picked up my backpack, and started to walk back down the path in the direction I had come.
As I left the shadows of the forest, the sun’s rays were a welcome warmth from its coolness. My mind was clear now and I did start to wonder, was the woman real or had I just panicked in the mist and ran blindly into a tree?
I opened the boot of my car to throw my backpack in, when a scream pierced the silence. I looked up to the tree line, three black crows sat on a branch staring at me. Their cold black eyes sending a shiver down my spine, staring, mocking me, just as that woman with the bright red lips had done.