Category Archives: Uncategorized

Return of the Hopeless Kickstarter

Mark is very good to us…

The Passing Place

Its no great secret to any regular reader that I have a certain love for the Island of Hopeless Maine. The fictional collaboration begun by of Nimue and Tom Brown. A collaboration that generously extends to others whom get to play in the danger ridden sandpit of the fog bound isle.

As with most great literary obsessions of mine it began because I was introduced to the isle by others, in this particular case I believe it was writer ‘poet’ and fellow Yorkshireman Craig Hallam who first introduced me to it via the medium of Tom’s art on twitter of all places. For this singular favour he granted me I will even forgive him his poetry…

At the core of the expanding wonder that is the island is Tom’s art and Nimue’s prose which are so interweaved as to be inseparable, and while others do saunter through the fog it…

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Voices from Hopeless

Things we are doing!

Druid Life

On the 22nd of January, there will be an online Hopeless Maine festival, which is an exciting prospect. I’ve already got some brilliant content in from people involved in the project, with more to come. One of the things I love about Hopeless is that it has always been a community thing and that’s very much part of what it’s for.

I had a number of reasons for wanting to do this. One is that everyone being online during the pandemic opened up a great many things for disabled people, and now those things are going away again, which isn’t ok. I wanted to offer something. I also know that in the UK January tends to be a miserable month with not much happening, unpredictable weather and post-festive crapness. So I thought it would be nice to do something fun where no-one has to travel.

The third reason is that…

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Books of the year

There are Hopeless things here, and a number of other people we really like…

The Passing Place

It may be slightly early, as there is a fair chance I’ll read a couple more before the end of the year, but now seems as good a time as any to do my annual Passing Place Blog Books Of The Year Awards. An event that has never been annual previously, as I have never done it before, carries very little prestige, and no prize money… It also don’t have a particular order, but does include all the books I have reviewed on the blog this year as well as honourable mentions for all the books I personally have failed to write this year… So lets start there, as its mildly embarrassing.

At the start of the year, indeed the very first blog of 2021, I presented a list of things to come, the three books I hoped to write and publish this year…

Well, that didn’t happen… However…

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After the storm

After the storm, the sailors saw a lost princess in the ocean.

I filled my dress pockets with stones
Walked quietly into the sea
Nothing but memory remains here
A shadow reflection of me.

I am the mist on the water
The passing outline of a cloud
A touch of sky and the ocean
Wearing the cold sea as my shroud.

Queen now of nothing but sorrow
The mistress of solitude, cries
Gone is the breath from my being
Absent is the light from my eyes.

Spectre of sadness remaining
The echo that once was a life
No peace in the deep my ending
No final escape from all strife.

I haunt myself at the shoreline
Condemned to exist and to be
Trapped for all time recollecting
And never again to be free.

(A collaboration from Dr Abbey and Nimue)

Not for the Faint Hearted part three

Not for the faint-hearted

A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA The Keith Of Mystery)

Part three – a flashback and a finale

Writers can manipulate time you know. Oh, yes, we have that ability. Whether it is the clichéd flashback or the premonition of things to come, writers have been playing with time for centuries. And so now, I am playing my very own time travellers card – I invoke my fictional temporal abilities and take you back to that fateful day when Horace met Flora…

— < ooo > —

Horace had but one thing on his mind, and it wasn’t pleasant. He knew what he wanted, and he knew he was going to get it. Flora was weak – just a girl. He was a man, a strong man, with the power and the strength, the desire and the lust – it all was boiling up inside him as he grabbed at Flora. Even when she went limp his urges did not subside as they might have done in many other men, no, he liked it, now she was totally helpless – a rag doll to do with as he willed.

Except… she wasn’t.

I suppose I should explain. On Hopeless, death was not necessarily the end – many dead people walked amongst the living (I say walked – it was more hovered really) and it wasn’t even particularly rare to encounter one. But Flora was a singular orchid, a mythical beast, an entity as rare as a truthful politician. Flora, through fate and circumstance, had, at some point in her past become one of the part-dead. Dead and living sharing the same body.

And now, in the midst of this turbulent event, the dead was loose. Moments after she went limp, and whilst Horace was deciding exactly how he was going to gratify his carnal desires, a creamy yellow mist formed around Flora’s body. Transfixed by this apparition, Flora still in his arms, Horace watched, unable to move, as the mist coalesced momentarily into the shape of a woman, and then without warning, rushed towards him.

Horace found himself laying the lifeless body of Flora carefully in a chair. Then he turned around and walked towards the door – except he didn’t, it wasn’t him, he wasn’t walking, his body was. Or something? In any event, his body seemed to be moving of its own volition. His brain lacked the ability to comprehend what was happening, to understand the nature of the fate that had befallen him. He walked through the open door of the cottage and up the path, then stopped, returned a few steps and carefully closed the door. Horace at this point was worried – he couldn’t seem to control himself, he seemed trapped in a body he no longer had control over. He felt a rising panic as his body marched along the coast road in pitch-black darkness. A few moments later, somewhere inside his head, he was screaming uncontrollably as he headed inexorably towards the sea.

Back at the cottage around an hour later, and you would have seen Flora up and about, laying out the clothes she needed to iron in the morning, making a small hot drink and then getting ready for bed.

— < ooo > —

If this were a film we might switch from black and white to colour, or have rippling waves across the screen, or perhaps a montage of newspapers whirling in and out of view. But as this is merely the written word, we shall keep it simple and just write: Let’s return to the present and Mr Forager’s quest for the truth.

— < ooo > —

It was a modest dwelling that Flora lived in – a well-worn paved path led to a wooden door with a small catch and a simple knocker. Clement raised the knocker and let it go two times. There were small noises inside and then the door swung open and Flora greeted him. For a moment the two regarded each other. Clement noticed her long blond hair neatly tied back in some way, the symmetry of her face and the grace in her fingers as she moved them unconsciously to flick back a stray strand of hair. Flora noticed his piercing blue eyes, his strong jaw and above that – a disarming smile. There was a slightly uncomfortable length of silence before Flora said, “Good day sir, what can I do for you?” Despite the woman’s innocent appearance and complete lack of any characteristic one would associate with danger, Clement, almost by force of habit, replied with a well-rehearsed white lie, “My name is Clement Forager, and I am looking for someone to do my laundry on a regular basis, and I was informed that you might be able to fulfil that role?”

“Of course, sir” replied Flora courteously, dipping slightly, “Do come in”.

Clement was ushered into the front room and a large chair set across from a smaller, less comfortable chair. He sat down and Flora settled opposite. Clement started by asking Flora some questions of her services, what services did she offer? How much would she charge? How long do things take and so on? He kept noticing her exquisite hands, the smoothness of her pale skin, and the engaging way she smiled at him every time she answered calmly and professionally. Then he asked how many others used her service and were there any customers who failed to turn up when they said they would?

She looked bemused but answered him; yes, occasionally customers would fail to turn up when they said they would, but then, that was the way of the world.

Clement changed tack and asked if she was married or did she perhaps have a jealous boyfriend. Suddenly Clement realised he was in trouble, Flora was clearly a very perceptive lady, and now her clear eyes were eying him carefully, reading him for any signs of his intentions.

“I am single Mr Forager, with no current entanglements. Perhaps I should be asking you these very same questions?” her eyes twinkled, “But I would mainly like to know why it is you ask?”

The intensity of those beautiful eyes made him pause. “I’m sorry, I suppose I should be honest with you – whilst you can probably tell I do need to find someone to do my laundry,” he glanced down at his clothes, whereupon she nodded and smiled, “…I have another reason for visiting you miss Flora.”

She leaned forward slightly, “Oh, and what would that be?” She seemed more curious than wary.

“I wanted to ask you about a number of young men who came to visit you” Clement began falteringly.

“What do you mean?” asked Flora with a somewhat cheeky smile, leaning back in her chair watching his reaction.

“No – not that, I mean…” Clement was flustered. He did not do flustered. What was going on? He composed himself. “A large number of men seem to have committed suicide over the past few months – and the one thing they all had in common was either visiting you or heading in this direction. I’m looking into the matter for… a… friend”

“Lots of men – and ladies, visit me – I do their laundry after all.”

“Well, obviously” continued Clement – why couldn’t he concentrate – this was so unlike him. What was it about this Flora? “But these men were not seen alive again.” That seemed to touch a nerve.

“Are you suggesting I murdered them?” her voiced raised ever so slightly.

“No, no, of course not” Clement blustered “But perhaps you could tell me when you last saw them and if they said where they were going?”

Flora studied Clement carefully for a moment and conflicting emotions welled up inside her.

“How rude of me Mr Forager” Flora suddenly said and stood up – can I get you a cup of something or a drink perhaps?

Clement instinctively rose up at the same time as Flora, and almost as instinctively replied “No – I am fine, thank you”. He was not just being polite – when offered a drink in Hopeless, Maine you never could tell what you might end up drinking, but in most instances, you would probably end up regretting it.

“Are you sure – I have some lovely sloe gin I made myself?”

Now that was an offer he found incredibly tempting but he was supposed to be getting answers here. “No, I am quite sure. I hope you won’t think I am being impolite.” He added.

She stepped towards him – “No not all. Perhaps if you let me have the names of these young men I might be able to tell you something about them?”

“Of course,” said Clement and dug the list out of his pocket, then handed it to her. Suddenly, he was very much aware just how close he was now standing to her – she smelt vaguely of violets, and lily of the valley, and lavender and sloes. It was a heady, almost intoxicating combination, and breathing it in, Clement was beginning to understand just how much he desired this angel, this beauty.

Flora noticed his gaze and then turned away quickly and read aloud from the list, “Horace D’Arblay?”

“Yes” replied Clement, “Bit of a bully by all accounts, seemed to drown himself after visiting you”. He stared at her intently, watching her eyes for any reaction. For a moment he thought he saw them grow in intensity, fiercer, keener, sharper – and then they just disappeared behind slowly lowering eyelids as her lifeless body fell towards him. He caught her in his arms and then… and then…

— < ooo > —

Perhaps at this point, I should talk about the weather in Hopeless, Maine which is wild, various and worthy of much study. We could discuss the unusually and specifically cruel breeding cycle of the Gnii or the best way to cultivate night potatoes and remain relatively sane. A long discussion of the geology of the island might prove informative don’t you think? Oh, and it never ceases to amaze me just how many types of cottage industries you might find on such a small island – I’m sure there is a book in there somewhere?

But surely, you would like to know about the sixth book across, on the third bookshelf up – in the bookcase on the left, in Reverend Davies study? Or perhaps the intimate details of the interesting way Mrs Beaten relaxes on the weekend? Or maybe, you’d be fascinated (or, more likely, appalled) to know just what is in Doc Willoughby’s cellar?

What’s that? You want to know what happened to Clement? Oh, I am so disappointed in you – wanting some sort of resolution – some sort of ending. Oh, alright then, I’d really hate to disappoint.

— < ooo > —

Clement awoke and rose from the bed, he felt completely refreshed, he couldn’t remember the last time he had slept that well. He dressed and went down the narrow stairs to the kitchen. His nostrils twitched as the smell of coffee (the good stuff) and some kind of bread reached them.

“Good morning Clement – I trust you slept well?” Flora greeted him with a warm smile and handed him a hot mug of brown heaven.

“Hmmm, like a log” Clement replied smiling back. “Thank you, for everything” he added.

She smiled sweetly and gave a little laugh, “I should be thanking you – it’s been a long time since I’ve had company. And such good company too!” Her eyes drifted away for a moment. Then she spun around and attended to the oven. “Sit down and I’ll bring you some food” she instructed.

Clement sat. He was happy. Happier than he had ever been. The funny thing was, he wasn’t really sure why. He wasn’t even sure how he got here. But he didn’t care – why question a good thing – a very good thing.

“Just think Flora,” He said and she turned to look at him as he continued, “Just think, if you hadn’t fainted, we would never have…” he didn’t finish, he couldn’t finish. He just couldn’t quite remember exactly what happened – only that it had been the experience of his life, and he smiled once more.

“A faint?” she responded laughing, “Oh my darling, that wasn’t a faint – it was a swoon!”


Not for the faint-hearted

A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA THE KEITH OF MYSTERY)

Part two – a statistical anomaly and an investigation

Simon Stewell was a young teenager obsessed with the births and deaths on Hopeless, Maine to a quite irrational extent. He was a quiet boy – but studious and possessed of an unnatural intensity when it came to maths and numbers. And so it was that these two passions came together and triggered something in young Simon. He realised that something odd was going on.

No wait, that’s probably not helpful, something odd was always going on in Hopeless, so I should say he noticed something out of the ordinary extra-ordinariness seemed to be occurring.

As soon as he calculated it, he rushed around town telling people about it. “There’s been a 52% increase in the suicide rate” he would shout at a random stranger, “strange rise in the people killing themselves” he would remark to a passing child, “worrying levels of suicide this month” he would say, loudly, to a cat sleeping in a window. Eventually, it occurred to him that this knowledge should more usefully be passed on to the appropriate person. But who?

— < ooo > —

Clement Forager was, by all accounts, a very handsome man. Given to moody silences and cryptic looks. He was well-built – but lithe with it. Whatever exercise regimen he utilised – it was definitely working. His face was rugged, chiselled and guaranteed to catch the eye of anyone present. An intelligent and well-studied man, he made a modest living finding things for people or helping them with minor disputes. In Los Angeles, he would likely to have been a private eye, in London a plausible detective, but here, he was just Clement who finds things.

Sitting at his desk one afternoon drinking a glass of something to bide the time, he was suddenly interrupted by a young man bursting into his makeshift office.

“You gotta do something mister” an adolescent voice demanded.

“Simon isn’t it?” (You see, Clement knew things, and that’s why he was good at his job).

“Yes sir, you have to do something”

Clement smiled – he liked the earnest tone of voice this young man projected. “Indeed, and what is it that so demands my attention?”

“Death sir. Death.”

Well, that certainly caught his attention and he raised an eyebrow. Without waiting, Simon continued almost breathless, “Yes sir, people are dying, lots of people. More people than before.”

“Sit down, young man – you’d better explain yourself.”

And so Simon did just that. He sat and ran through his findings – the number of suicides you would normally expect and the number that were occurring now.

Whilst Clement agreed it was unusual and Simon’s figures and methods were impressive, he didn’t really see how he fitted in.

“You have to… in-vest-i-gate” Simon had pronounced the individual syllables to give the word the emphasis he thought it deserved.

“Ah, right” replied Clement. He thought for a moment. It was clearly a wild goose chase, but he could see how agitated the boy was, and he seemed a good lad. He wasn’t snowed under with tasks at the moment so it wouldn’t hurt to ask a few questions as he carried out his other work.

He addressed the lad, “Okay – I will ask around and see what I can find out – see if I can find some reason for this…” he hesitated, just what was it exactly?

“Statistical anomaly” filled in Simon helpfully.

“Right. But I am not promising anything mind you. I’ll simply do what I can”.

“Thank you, sir!’ Said Simon. And to Clement, the boy seemed genuinely grateful.

As Simon left Clement, Simon thought to himself, good. That’s dealt with then. I’ve passed the problem on to the relevant person. He nodded and promptly forgot about the entire subject.

And as Simon left Clement, Clement thought to himself, ‘Well, I’m not sure what I’ve taken on here – but asking a couple of questions will keep the boy happy’, and he reached for his amber glass.

— < ooo > —

Over the next few weeks, Clement was kept busy with various small enquiries tracking down items and returning them to rightful owners. And whilst he did so, he asked about the missing people on the list that Simon had supplied. Like with all his work, he was methodical and meticulous, noting down everything and missing nothing. The point came when on another afternoon whiling away the time with a glass when Clement decided to lay out all he had learned about the unusual number of suicides. He was intrigued, that was indisputable – there were elements of each death that were very strange. He noted the facts. All the suicides were male. Which was odd, because although male suicide was more common by a ratio of 2:1, there should still have been some female suicides over that same period of time. Secondly, they were all young males – and seemed to be of a certain type. By the accounts of their acquaintances, work fellows and even friends, they were all bullies or thugs to a greater or lesser extent, nasty towards their fellow man and vindictive towards women in particular.

Several had been in trouble for beating their wives or girlfriends and some had even been accused of murder or manslaughter. Very few seemed to have been on the receiving end of justice though – but that wasn’t unusual for Hopeless, Maine, where the law was notional at best and justice tended to be delivered via firebrands and pitchforks.

They had all died in different ways – one had died from drinking household bleach, one from attacking a glass heron nest (who in their right mind would do that!) and so on. The causes of death seemed to get more and more… inventive?… as time went on, with one man even strangling himself – which seemed impossible, but then when he spoke to Doc Willoughby about it the Doc informed him it was surprisingly common. In fact, the Doc himself had even been personally involved with one or two cases where self-strangulation was pronounced as the cause of death.

Clement prided himself on being open-minded and liked to explore all the possibilities – a trait that had served him well in the past, often people didn’t find things because they simply weren’t prepared to consider the improbable or unlikely. He entertained the idea that these were all the work of a serial killer and, if so, what connected all these young men? Just today he had discovered one rather curious fact, all the men had spoken of visiting Flora the laundry maid or were seen heading off in the direction of her cottage. Perhaps the answer to what Clement now considered as a bona fide mystery lay somewhere in that direction. The killer’s lair must be nearby – or maybe it’s a jealous boyfriend? Although that still didn’t explain the manner of death.

Clement resolved to speak to Flora – maybe she knew something? Maybe these young men never reached her? Or maybe they were attacked on the way back to their homes? He set off with his characteristic purposeful stride to speak with Flora.

Our tale continues in Part three…

Brief reviews of wonderfulness #1

Lovely reviews for Hopeless things…

The Passing Place

I have been known on occasion to promise to write a review for fellow authors. I have some fair firm rules on these promises, in that I don’t write a review unless I genuinely like what I’m reviewing. If I don’t like a book I won’t write a review, because there is enough negativity in the world and frankly just because I don’t enjoy something doesn’t mean someone else will not love it.

There is however another reason why I occasionally fail to write a review, sometimes while I intend to do so I get swamped with other stuff and the review falls off my list of things to do. (reviews are not alone in this, I forgot to cancel my sons mobile phone contract for over a year, because it kept dropping off my radar) What I mean by this is I am exactly as organised as the average…

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Diswelcome part 6: HURRY SKURRY

I was thoroughly exhausted after my odyssey through Hopeless’s tidal plain, but determined to get as far away from it as possible, by following something resembling a path which winded into a gloomy forest.

The trees were all the same, they had smooth bark, purplishly moist, and a few scant leaves clinging to their skeletal branches and twigs. The leaves seemed to pulsate, but looked wilted nonetheless. They were the colour of rotting liver. Coincidentally, that was the fragrance released by the awful trees as well. Long urine-yellow lichen clung to a lot of the branches, either swaying in a breeze I couldn’t feel, or else wavering slowly of their own accord, so I stayed clear of them, having no desire to lose my cap, or even my head, to their clutching fronds.

Despite the apparent deadness of the place, the wood was teeming with wildlife, in all shapes and sizes.

For this, at least, and in contrast to the hostile vegetation, I had come mentally prepared. When Gammer had heard of my assignment to Maine, she had taken me to visit a friend in the Sussex Weald before I left. The friend had been an alluring red-headed woman who lived in a solitary cottage deep within the woods. The cottage was named The Owlery. Gammer had told me the woman was the Wise Woman of the Wyrde Woods, and I had witnessed a Pook Dance on a moonbathed clearing around a stone circle.

I had grown up with the notion of Pooks, of course. It is nigh impossible not to be aware of their existence in Sussex. As many children do, despite all remonstrations to stay well away from Pooks, I had attempted at times to catch sight of them in and around the coastal village I grew up in. I might have even caught a few glimpses, but that was always hard to determine.

Not in the Wyrde Woods though, where Pooks swanned about openly on certain nights, leaving me wide-eyed, bewildered, and beguiled.

None of the creatures here, in this gloomy Hopeless forest, resembled any of the Pooks I had seen, other than that there was one notable commonality; namely that the diversity was so overwhelming it was near impossible to focus on one species long enough to apply individual descriptions. All the more so because not only was my body fully fatigued, but my mind was all a-whirl, and somehow Hopeless seemed to be absorbing my vitality, sapping at my very soul.

Instead of focusing on the individual, I accepted the collective. Like I had been during my brief sojourn in the Wyrde Woods, I was much minded of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market.

Flying, running, leaping,

Puffing and blowing,

Chuckling, clapping, crowing,

Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and moping,

Full of airs and graces,

Pulling wry faces,

Demure grimaces,

Cat-like and rat-like,

Ratel- and wombat-like,

Snail-paced in a hurry,

Parrot-voiced and whistler,

Helter skelter, hurry skurry.

My tired brain resolved to call the creatures ‘skurries’.

Although some of the skurries displayed some curiosity towards my appearance, none appeared aggressive. Most paid me no heed whatsoever, for which I was grateful, still reeling from my fight with a bloody plant of all things.

Through the vagaries of my thoughts, I heard my Gaffer’s voice speaking of essential basics. I recognised that as a sign that I was in urgent need of rest and respite, before my mind became so befuddled that it would direct my body to stroll into the huge, gaping, and tooth-lined maws of whatever land-predators roamed these parts.

It was then that I saw a tree unlike all of the others, with dry, soft bark, sheltered beneath a rich spring-green canopy, its great roots sinking beneath a mass of soft moss. No skurries crawled, hopped, levitated, flew, or otherwise lingered here, and the branches were mercifully free of the disquieting lichen.

Having lost my suitcase, I didn’t dare to disinvest myself from my satchel and knapsack, or even cap for that matter, but just lay down on a bed of soft moss embraced by two of the tree’s mighty roots. Part of my mind resisted, calling for caution, but I was simply too tired, and the moss felt finer than a soft goose-down mattress,  cajoling me into a deep sleep.

The Murk

Obadiah had forty different words for fog. From his fishing shack on the waterfront, he watched various fogs come and go, ebbing and flowing around the town. He needed every one of the words to describe the varied types that ran their blurry touch over the island.

There was the mist, the slight tendrils of cloud just barely wrapping around the houses. That one was so omnipresent that folks rarely even bothered to note it. Most of the town was mist-touched at any given time. The moments where you could see clearly end-to-end were the real rarities. Obadiah had no word for that kind of weather. It had never seemed worth it.

There were the pea-soupers, the thick deep fogs that ate the sound and blocked out all sight more than an arm’s length away. They rolled in on the regular, removing the rest of the town from view and giving Obadiah the impression that he lived on an island the size of his three rooms. If the windows weren’t sealed it was even less than that, as the fog seeped in through cracks and hid even the corners of his own house from him.

In between the two extremes were the mousters, the corrywinders, the bell-smiths and dozens more. Obadiah knew every sort of fog the sea could cough up and had names for them all. Seventy years of waterfront living would do that to a man.

Which made this fog all the more unusual. It wasn’t like any other he’d ever seen. It crawled along the ground in slow waves, gently rolling along paths and around corners like it was looking for something. It didn’t spread out evenly, either, but clumped together in great dense folds. Parts of it were nearly transparent, while others seemed almost solid.

Despite its intermittent thinness, it muffled sound as well as the thickest fog Obadiah had ever seen. The whole house felt wrapped in cotton batting. The lapping of the sea, the creaking of the dock, the mournful calls of the birds—all of these, the background of Obadiah’s life, were gone. It was this sepulchral silence that kept him staring out the window. He told himself he was just casually watching, but the truth was that he needed to keep an eye on the world to reassure himself that it was still there.

A booming knock sounded at the front door. Obadiah startled from his chair, the sudden sound no less concerning than the silence that had preceded it. He craned his neck to try to see along his front porch, but the drifting fog and awkward angle kept him from getting a good view.

The knock came again. Obadiah headed for the front door, taking up his stout oaken stick as he did so. If it was a neighbor who needed help outside, he’d be happy to have the extra support to keep his footing in the thick fog. And if it turned out to be someone who meant him ill, he could still hand out a pretty good wallop.

A third time: the knock. “I’m coming!” called Obadiah, his voice abnormally loud in the silent house. “Who is it, anyway?”

“Me, Obie,” came the muffled reply. He cocked his head. Sounded a bit like Isabel, the neighbor woman. Nice woman, lovely young mother, but not the sort to just drop by randomly. Especially not in weather such as this.

“What do you need?” he asked, opening the door. To his surprise, the battered wooden porch stood empty. The rocking chair creaked gently next to the door, but only the wind was stirring it.

“Your help.” Isabel’s voice drifted up from the bottom of the steps. Obadiah squinted into the fog. It was swirling thickly here, obscuring even the railing posts beside the stairs. He could make out a humanoid figure, but no more.

“What is it, Isabel?” Maybe she needed his help finding a lost animal. Maybe she’d gotten lost herself. “You need to come in?”

He took a step back, holding the door open, but the fog-shrouded figure shook her head. “No. I need your help. Can you come down here?”

Obadiah hesitated. Something was off about her voice, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Still, if she needed help, he wasn’t about to turn her down.

“Let me get my coat,” he said.

“You don’t need it. Please, hurry.”

The air was chillier than he liked, but if Isabel was that desperate, he could handle the discomfort. Surely she only needed him for a short time if she was encouraging him to go out coatless. With a sigh and a shrug, he stepped onto the porch and closed the door behind him.

The fog had thickened again. Everything was a uniform shade of grey. Even the bottom step was hidden from view now. Obadiah gripped the railing with his left hand and his walking stick with his right, stepping carefully down the weathered steps.

“Isabel?” he called, unable to see her through the fog.

“Right here,” came the reply. He took a few tentative steps toward the sound.

“No, over this way.” Her voice was to the left of him now. He edged forward again, but still saw nothing.

“Where are you?”

“I’m here.” Her soft tones came from the right of him now. “I can see you. Just walk toward me.”

Two more steps, and there was still nothing there. “Girl, are you playing games with me?”

“Never, Obie.” But there was laughter in her voice, and not the kind sort, either.

“All right, enough of this. Nothing better to do than taunt an old man? I’m going back inside,” he grumbled.

“How do you plan to do that?”

Obadiah took several steps forward, expecting to see his house swim into view. It did not. There was nothing but an endless grey wall. He stopped, befuddled. “Musta gotten turned around in this.”

He turned back and tried the other direction, but found nothing there either. The fog swirled hungrily at his legs, hiding his feet from view. Isabel’s voice rang out from all around him, laughing gaily, shifting positions with every sentence.

“This way.”
“No, over here.”
“You’re close.”
“Right here.”

“Obie.” This one practically a breath in his ear.

“Enough!” He whirled, striking out with his walking stick, but the heavy wood swooshed uselessly through the air. Obadiah staggered and nearly fell as the momentum tugged him to the side. The fog fluttered in its wake, forming curlicues that winked and smiled before vanishing into the main mass.

“Try again,” whispered Isabel’s voice. Clearly mocking though she was, Obadiah settled his grip on the cudgel and took her advice. He struck out blindly, swinging from shoulder to hip in a repeated X-shape. The laughter rose around him, mocking as he hit nothing but air over and over again, but Obadiah gritted his teeth and continued.

With every strike, he took a small step and made a quarter-turn. Swoosh, swoosh went the stick, and the circle Obadiah walked in grew steadily larger. He might not know which way his house was, but he knew it had to be close. If he just maintained the pattern….

Suddenly, the stick collided with something solid with a resounding crack. The impact jarred the walking stick from his hands, sending it spinning off into the fog. Obadiah reached out with desperate fingers and grasped the wooden ball that topped his porch’s newel post. He wrapped his arms around it, grabbing it like a drowning man seizing hold of a piece of floating wreckage.

“Wait!” called Isabel as Obadiah hauled himself up the three stairs to his porch, one hand always maintaining a strong grip on the railing. “I’m still out here, Obie. I still need your help.”

He shook his head. “No, you aren’t.”

“Look.” And then, in a voice quieter and more tremulous than before, “Obie? Is that you?”

He looked over his shoulder. Behind him, a path had cleared in the fog, the mists shifting aside to make a brief corridor. At the end of it, fifty yards away or more, stood Isabel. She looked confused and afraid. She appeared to have been crying.

“Obie, help!” She took a running step toward him and then the mists fell over her again, consuming her.

“See?” Isabel’s voice again, though Obadiah knew well it was not her. “She needs your help.”

Obadiah shook his head once more. “All I can do if I go out there is give you another voice to play with. And I don’t even have my coat.”

“Wait!” called the voice once more, but Obadiah was already at his front door, opening it to step into the safety of his house. Fog swirled in with him, but it dissipated quickly when the solid wood slammed shut behind it, tiny wisps of cloud vanishing against his carpet runner.

The knocking started again, loud and insistent. Obadiah, ignoring it, walked slowly around the house, checking the latch on each window and then pulling thick curtains to block out the view and muffle the sound. He turned on the record player, settled into his chair and let the scratchy sounds of a trumpet flow over him. He could still hear the knocking in the background, but he figured it would give up soon enough when it realized he couldn’t be lured back out.

Soft cries could be heard behind the trumpet now, the sounds of a young woman in distress.

“You can still save her,” whispered a voice clustered outside his windows.

Obadiah dragged his chair over closer to the record player and increased the volume. He’d seen too many men swept overboard in storms to wonder if Isabel could really be rescued. All you could do by jumping after them was add another death to the tally.

“A murk,” he said out loud. “That’s a good name for it. A murk.”

The fog would pass. They all did, eventually. He’d go find Isabel after that. If there was anything left of her to find.

By Micah Edwards, with art by Tom Brown.

Micah and Tom have collaborrated before and it is likely that they will do so again.