Lady Alison Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew had a very long name, very long head of hair, two very long legs, and came from a very long line of somewhat eccentric English explorers and adventurers. Her grandfather, Allan Tiffany Addleby Pettigrew, had crossed the artic by balloon, and one of her distant ancestors, one Wilfred Addleby Pettigrew, had discovered the fabled Isle of Black. (Which subsequently disappeared in a rupture of the ocean floor sometime in the Sixteenth Century.) And although Alison shared her surname with her illustrious, intrepid and inspired ancestors, there was one important aspect about her that was thoroughly different – her sex. She was the first of the Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew women to take up exploring. She was a very determined young lady, and despite it being unfashionable and ill-advised, she was heroically determined to outdo all her masculine predecessors, or at the very least, equal their dauntingly impressive list of achievements.
To this end, she spent her formative years pursuing all those pursuits that admirable, well- prepared, professional explorers should. She learnt about geography, astronomy, navigation, survival, baritsu, fencing, horse riding, negotiation and more. She mastered several languages from both European and Eastern cultures, and a number of classical writing systems. She also kept herself physically fit, through hill-walking, cycling and workouts with dumbbells, medicine balls and a fitness instructor named Henry. (She always smiled when she mentioned him – I’m still not sure why).
As you might imagine, all this was wildly unusual for a lady in society, and it was regularly remarked upon with tuts being muttered almost constantly when she occasionally mingled with the country’s social set. Partly because of this, but mostly because she had little time for her fellows, she withdrew early on and kept herself to herself. This was easy enough to accomplish, given that she lived in a large mansion in the English countryside surrounded by servants, landscaped grounds and a certain air of mystery.
As I was her nephew and perpetually intrigued by this “mad” and possibly dangerous lady, I would visit her often. I found her neither mad nor unfriendly; she insisted I called her Auntie Ally, which amused her – probably because she considered herself far too young to be an auntie. (Her brother – my father – was considerably older than she and had married, and then fathered, young).
She liked to tell me of all the activities she had planned, the trips she had been on, the strange people she had encountered and the effective use of a garotte. I was captivated by her.
One hot June day, she told me of the strange rumours she had heard of a mysterious island. No-one was quite sure where it was, but the few scattered accounts she had managed to put together had indicated three things. Firstly, that it was always surrounded by a strange mist. Secondly, it seemed that there were a handful of tales of people and ships disappearing near the Island – but remarkedly – not one of anyone actually returning. Thirdly, a solitary scrap of parchment from a fifteenth-century, fire-damaged collection of
books briefly mentioned a mist-covered island and then one other discernible word had been shakily scrawled in the margin; “Hopeless”.
Whether this was a comment on the search for the Island, the chances of returning from it, or more poetically perhaps, the name of the Island, Auntie Ally really didn’t know. But she became irrevocably intrigued by the possibility of its actual, physical existence.
She was planning an expedition she told me. “Can I come?” I asked.
“No” was the simple, but firm reply.
And that was that.
I was at college by this time and at a crucial stage of my education. So, most unfortunately, it was quite a while before I could find the time to visit again, and by that time Auntie Ally’s disappearance was in all the newsheets.
The following are the collected accounts from her personal papers, recovered from her exploratory vessel. I have omitted the more routine entries and those of a personal nature.
–– •◊• ––
I, Alison Tiffany Hempton Addleby Pettigrew, depart now, on a great adventure. I do so in the spirit of my many illustrious forefathers and the greats of exploration; Columbus, Polo, da Gama and others of their ilk. I would be modest – but modesty has no part in a great exploration; I have studied them all and I know that only through a steadfast will and an iron determination did they manage to succeed in their endeavours.
And so I set off now, my quest fixed firmly in my mind. I was fortunate that a relative owned a number of merchant ships, and a suitable vessel was hired for the conveyance of my very own transport of delight – the submersible, The Prospect of Joy. It had taken three years to build and was designed by the finest submarine builder in Europe – monsieur “Eau” Cousteau. Whilst I had supervised its construction at Chatham and had insisted on some modifications of my own, I cannot claim responsibility for its magnificence. And although it was a one-woman vessel, it was quite large – for I had ensured that plenty of fuel and food could be stored on board. It incorporated a number of truly revolutionary devices – the most impressive of which, was the atmosphere recycling unit – this patented and highly secret apparatus cleaned the air and allowed the submarine to stay in its natural environment under the water for weeks at a time. I am looking forward to seeing if it’s endurance would be matched by its captain. For in maritime tradition I was now Captain Pettigrew – yes, that has a certain ring to it – almost heroic I think!
–– •◊• ––
We have been asea for many days now – I have finally become accustomed to the roll of the ship and the nature of the changing seas. The Captain tells me we are about halfway. Of
course, he doesn’t know exactly what we are halfway to – he only has a longitude and a latitude to work with. Indeed, there may well be nothing there, but the clues I have pieced together point to that spot if they point anywhere at all.
Why a submarine I hear you ask? After all, it would surely be easier to discover an island in a boat? Well, the tales I read spoke of many shipwrecks, some quite ancient, and I wanted to see if I could find these and use the submarine’s equipment to recover whatever treasure was still extant. And the number of shipwrecks suggested treacherous waters for a surface vessel, and likely hostile natives – it was a matter of record that savages in war canoes had caused the fateful end of many a sea-going expedition. I shiver now, even to think of it – tall, strong, muscular, dark-skinned natives attacking the ships and dragging the helpless passengers into their canoes and then doing who knows what to them, whilst fires rage, native drums beat and strange substances are inhaled. I often lie awake at night thinking of it…
A submarine, on the other hand, may well be able to investigate the seas around the island whilst remaining undetected by local miscreants. And there was yet another reason – the sketchy accounts I had read spoke of strange sea creatures like none seen anywhere else on God’s Earth. Perhaps I could become the first to discover a new species – to document them and classify them. I must admit, the prospect filled me with an almost sensual feeling of anticipation. But the final reason I chose a submarine was simply childish fun – travelling under the water like Verne’s Captain Nemo would be immensely exciting!
–– •◊• ––
Finally, oh finally, we are here. As much as an empty patch of ocean can be a here. There is nothing on the Captain’s charts. I am suddenly reminded of Melville’s Moby Dick; “It is not down on any map; true places never are.” But, there is a curtain of mist in front of us – halfway to the horizon. The Captain has become quite agitated and is insisting we turn back. “There is nothing here!” he protests – but I assure him, the mist is the sign that I have been seeking. He refuses to lower the submersible into the water citing my womanly frailty and delicate beauty – why, I do believe he is sweet on me! I remind him of his contract, the money accorded to his account and afford him a kiss on the cheek and with that he orders his men to do the work whilst hiding his blushing cheeks from them.
–– •◊• ––
At last, it is time and I climb down, through the hatch and into my new temporary home, waving cheerily to the assorted sailors watching bemusedly from the rail. I reduce the buoyancy, throw the lever to disconnect the cradle and drift off into the unknown – free of all restraint and feeling a truly unique freedom to explore.
–– •◊• ––
It’s the end of the first day – a routine day. I have been spending most of it ensuring I was fully familiar with all the submarine’s systems, equipment, layout and living arrangements. It goes without saying that I had trained for this – I am not a foolish person, and proper planning was a topic close to my heart, but truly nothing can prepare you for an actual expedition – no matter the circumstance or mode of transport. I surfaced to signal to the ship that had so recently been my home and that I had now left a short distance behind – letting the captain know I was fine and everything was as expected. I took the opportunity to prepare a simple meal and sat carefully on the deck of the Prospect to eat it under the darkening sky. Later, I submerged, anchored the vessel in the currently placid depths and repaired to my cosy berth.
–– •◊• ––
Today, I had planned to skirt the mist covered area – looking for any signs on the ocean floor or in the undersea fauna and maritime life that the environment was changing and an island might be nearby. I rose early and manoeuvred my craft to run parallel with the edge of the mist. And here was my first surprise, the water in the distance was noticeably darker than that I was currently travelling through. Whilst ahead of me the visibility was good – here a shoal of small fish, there a solitary squid, below some modest coral; to my right side – starboard if you will – there was only an inky black greenness with occasional swirls of lighter grey-green water. The difference was striking.
–– •◊• ––
I had travelled around the misty area for three days, and I hadn’t been able to discern a shape to my path. By always keeping the mist on my right, I imagined I would circumnavigate the area in two days at most – given the lack of any landmass on the charts of the area, any island would surely have to be correspondingly small.
–– •◊• ––
It is now the fourth day of my trip around the island – for I am now convinced that an island does indeed lie at the centre of the mist, although, truth be told, I cannot place a finger on why I feel that so strongly. Navigation has proved difficult. At first, I thought only to circle the area of mist – feeling sure that I would return to the start and find the ship waiting for me. And although I have steadfastly kept the mist on my right, I have not returned to the ship’s position, or if I have, then the ship is no longer there. Perhaps an emergency has compelled them to return to the nearest port. I was not worried, the ship’s captain was beguiled enough to return for me, I had plenty of supplies, and if I was in real trouble, there was always the Island…
–– •◊• ––
Waking up this morning I found to my astonishment that the misty area was now to my left. I checked my instruments, but there were no signs that my little underwater ship had been turned around in the night. (My compass had long since proved useless – which would help to explain why so many vessels ran aground in this area). I resolved to surface that evening and check the stars.
I had been inching closer to the edge of the darker waters and occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a mast or a fragment of broken hull. Indeed as I am writing this, I can espy a piece of rudder just visible in the murk. It seems I would have to leave the safety of the clearer waters and venture beyond if I wanted to seek out ancient treasure. I would not be long – just a quick dip in. But I probably shouldn’t, something there is not quite right.
–– •◊• ––
Night-time – I have surfaced, but the night sky is full of constellations I do not recognise. Admittedly, there are wisps of cloud – or is it mist? – obscuring parts of the sky. I tried to force the stars into shapes I knew – but they did not oblige. I could not explain this, and I was struggling with it, but then – The Plough! Yes – a constellation I recognised – the first I learnt as a child. I hung on to this, despite the lack of other signs, I let the familiarity of the Plough reassure me, and I retired to my berth and slept.
–– •◊• ––
In the morning I realised that I still did not know where I was exactly. It was strange – part of me found that disconcerting – almost frightening, and yet a part of me found it exciting, after all, I could always land on the island and gain directions. Hopefully it will not come to that.
–– •◊• ––
There were things moving in the dark. Curious things. Strange things. There would be a flash of serrated fin or a brief sighting of a split tail, and even now – a dark mass, which as it came closer, was revealed to be hundreds of small fish I think. Yes, fish. Let’s say fish. I was very close to the dark water now, and as the fish turned I saw a rippling glitter which I thought most beautiful. That was, until I realised that it was hundreds of sets of wildly angled teeth that caused the effect. I wanted to see more – to know more. They looked dangerous. But you must take a risk to learn, must you not? Surely the risk is too great? But science! I should venture in for science. No, no, I should be cautious, history tells us that many an expedition failed through rash decisions.
–– •◊• ––
I feel I must learn more, the tantalising impressions of wrecks and strange, odd, well, weird really, marine life seem to be exerting a strange pull on my intellectual self, my curious self. I was suddenly reminded of a cat one of the servants had, many years past. It was forever chasing and catching frogs, and one day it had decided to investigate the well in an exploration that did not end favourably for the poor cat. Yes, my feeling self is ill at ease in these waters. I sense a sadness, a foreboding, a dark presence. But that’s just nonsense. I must investigate – after all, I’ve come all this way…
–– •◊• ––
I realise I have lost all track of the days that have elapsed since I launched from the ship, I can’t even bring myself to surface to gauge the time of day. The Prospect of Joy is touching the darker waters now on the starboard side, creating weird little eddies in the murky wall of water. Water which even seems physically different, exerting a greater drag on that side of my craft, so I am having to compensate in the trim and the heading to keep the Prospect from spinning around. I am strangely torn – half wanting to end the suspense and sink into the velvet green black darkness, half wanting to run away. Although, there is precious little space in the submersible to get very far on foot.
–– •◊• ––
I have not slept well. Strange dreams have been visited upon me and haunt my waking hours too. I am not a religious person, but I found myself praying last night. Praying. Preying. Preying on my mind.
I need to pull my self together and be the great explorer that is my destiny… or leave. Yes, I must leave. I don’t want to be a cat. My mind feels so woolly – what is wrong with me?
…Or soon at the very least…
…But not before I examine, capture, erm… take a sample of the water, it is in my head I think, therefore I am Ishmael. Sorry? Who said that?
Is it too late? Can I still go? In. Out. Where is my hat?
Onwards. Away. To the Island or to my home? Where was my home?
The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. I must anchor, go full speed, dive, surface. Swim, relax. Oh – I just don’t know anymore? So difficult to think. In two minds. To decide. Today. Too much. I must get a grip. A moment of clarity…
…So can I escape?
Or is it hopeless?
–– •◊• ––
That was the last entry in my Aunt Ally’s notebook.
At around the same time, I had received word she was missing, and immediately mobilised the family’s resources to find her. There was no trace of the boat that had given her submarine a ride, but by chance, they had encountered another ship the day before my aunt had launched into the sea, so we managed to determine a start point for our search.
After three days we found The Prospect of Joy. It was bobbing on the surface just in front of a wall of mist. I was a most superstitious person, and so arranged to have the vessel grappled from a distance and then reeled in. Once we had lifted it on board I wrenched open the hatch, expecting the worst. And the worst was what I found.
At this point, you may be forgiven for imagining that we found a ravaged body, some inhuman horror, or no body at all. But what we found was far worse.
Aunt Ally was lying in her berth – apparently asleep, the picture of peacefulness, not a mark upon her. We brought her out and laid her on the cot in the Captain’s cabin. It was a while, but eventually, she opened her eyes and I breathed a sigh of relief. That feeling quickly drained from me and became deep dismay as she turned to look at me. Her face was entirely blank, her eyes devoid of the normal human spark. She sat up and we fed her, but she said not a word.
It has been six months since that fateful rescue, and Alison’s condition hasn’t changed. She breathes, eats, sleeps – the basic movements of life, but there seems to be no-one there. I cannot look her in the eye – the emptiness chills my soul. Her body is physically present – but there is no Aunt Ally – she is simply not at home.
Having read her account and being close enough to that mist to feels it’s power, I have my own fanciful ideas of what has happened. I am no scientist, and I fear if I fully state my thoughts out loud I would be laughed at. But even so, I will say that I just have this feeling that Aunt Ally was left behind that day we rescued her. Where she is, I do not know. What form she now takes, I can only fantasise.
I am having The Prospect of Joy refitted to my own design – for I am resolved one day to return and search for her – no matter the personal cost.
But, whatever has happened to her, I just pray it’s not Hopeless.
Written by Keith Errington who has joined us on the island for the first time with this fine piece. (we hope he will return as soon as may be)