It was one of those days when I felt the need to get away and spend some time alone. Completely alone without a soul anywhere near me. I needed to think and to take some precious relaxation from pressures that had been slowly building into a mountain that I was afraid might become too high for me to conquer.
I had driven all through the night well off the beaten track and finally stopped on the edge of a forest in the early hours of the morning. There I rested and fell asleep in the driving seat of my car.
When I awoke the weak autumn sun was just beginning to spread a little light across the sky. I had no idea where I was but one thing I did know. I was alone. I smiled to myself and reached for my thermos flask. The aroma of the steaming coffee was very welcome as well as its flavour as I sipped slowly. The two muesli bars I had were ample to satisfy the little hunger that I felt as I surveyed my surroundings.
This was truly a beautiful spot and well suited my desire to be alone. I listened carefully for any sound but all I could hear were the early birds searching for food and the faint rustle of the trees as they swayed to a slight breeze.
I decided to stretch my legs and take a walk into the fringe of the forest. I became fascinated by the beauty around me. The musty smell of moss on the ground and fungi clinging to the trees filled my nose. The damp peat-like soil added its own smells as I walked examining all that I could see and marvelling at creation.
I wandered here and there through the trees and shrubs touching and looking at whatever caught my attention. The sun had begun its rise above the horizon unseen by me due to the tallness of the trees. I looked skywards and saw that the lightening sky could be seen through the parts where the leaves were thinner than other places. It was then that I realised I had wandered too far. I had been careless and had become lost. Lost amid trees that all looked alike.
I panicked and began to try to retrace my steps but nothing seemed familiar that I could say I had passed that way. I tried to think where the light of the sun first appeared so that I could use that to give me some idea of direction but I had begun my walk too early.
I stood still and looked around me. That was when I saw it. I thought I imagined it at first and blinked my eyes but it was still there afterwards. A wisp of mist no more than three feet long and looking like a snake was hovering between two trees about fifty feet ahead. I felt as though it was examining me. I waited for it to disperse or drift away but it did not move. The very stillness of it made my heart pound a little faster and fear began to creep up on me.
Had it been vertical it would have made me really frightened but it was horizontal and about four feet from the ground. I told myself that it was just the stillness of the air that kept the mist in one place but the slight breeze on my cheek would not allow me to believe such a thought. My heart felt as though a cold hand had suddenly gripped it and I began to back away.
At my first hesitant backward step the wisp of mist moved. Slowly and gracefully it curved and snaked towards a tree and disappeared from sight. I turned and ran in the opposite direction blundering through low shrubs, tripping over roots of trees that seemed to grab at my ankles as I went. I ran until I was exhausted and sure that I had left the strange mist behind.
I sat on the ground, trying to catch my breath as I realised that I had no way of knowing whether I had ran deeper into the forest or towards its edge. I held my head in my hands as I gulped air into my lungs until my breathing began to be easier.
I looked up and cried out. It was there in front of me. Still some distance away and still just hovering. My cry made it move from a shallow “S” curve to a straight horizontal line.
“It’s alive,” I thought, “Oh God; it’s alive and followed me.”
I jumped to my feet and turned to run again and froze as fear overcame me once more. There was another wisp behind me. I turned back to see if the first had somehow moved with lightening speed and anticipated my turning but it was still there. There were two of them. Then I saw another and another. I was surrounded by wisps of mist.
My mind raced. What were these creatures of the forest? Were they beings from anther planet or were they an unknown earthly species of life that had yet to be discovered? I did not want to stay to find out. I ran to my left to get away but several appeared in front of me preventing me. I turned again and ran to my right but the same thing happened. They were not letting me go.
In desperation I looked all around and saw only one place that did not have these creatures and ran towards it keeping my eyes open for any that might appear in front of me. I ran as fast as my legs would take me and finally had to stop for breath. As I gasped for breath I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked behind. They were still with me, waiting.
“What do you want?” I screamed at them. One or two snapped into straight horizontal lines at the sound of my voice. Others edged towards the left and right of me. They seemed to be trying to encircle me. I didn’t dare let that happen and stood up and again took flight in the direction where none of the creatures were. I was too tired to run fast and kept looking back to see if I had left them behind. I was shocked to see that there were about a hundred of them now and keeping pace with me. They were on either side and behind me, snaking along three or four feet from the ground, curving around trees that came into their path. I stopped again and turned to them.
“Go away!” I screamed, “leave me alone.” But they just kept their distance and waited. I wondered what they were waiting for. Were they waiting for me to drop from exhaustion? Would they then pounce and smother me? Perhaps eat me? How can a wisp of mist eat flesh?
I was tired and could not run anymore. All I could do was walk, dragging my feet and stumbling along. I could not even see where I was going. I moved to the right and several of the wisps darted in front of me, barring my way. Then I realised they were guiding me to where they wanted me to go. When I stopped to rest, they waited patiently on three sides of me, always leaving one side open for me to continue where they were guiding me.
“All right,” I shouted, “I’ll go this way.” I tried not to let the fear I was feeling sound in my voice. I could not even guess what plans they had for me once I got to wherever they were leading me.
I walked wearily for what seemed hours and then noticed that the forest was getting thinner. I could see through the trees and see open grassland ahead. I moved towards it but they blocked my way once more. I wondered if I could make a run for the edge of the forest but I knew I could not run anymore.
Suddenly, I saw my car. The wisps of mist had formed themselves into a narrow avenue that led directly to my car that was parked on the track where I had left it.
I went up to the car and opened the door expecting then to prevent me. When they didn’t, I turned to look at them. They were still amid the trees hovering, slowly moving as mist that had been disturbed by a current of air. My one thought was to dive into my car, start it and drive away as fast as I could before they could stop me. I decided to do it slowly so as not startle them.
I slid into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut. I looked at them triumphantly as I felt safe once more. They were still there but the numbers had swelled to what seemed hundreds and they seemed to blend into each other like a floating carpet amid the trees. I realised that they were waiting for me to leave. I fired the engine and put the car into drive and moved slowly forward. The mist drifted back into the forest.
The nervous laugh of relief that came from my lips was almost hysterical.
“All they wanted was to show me the way out of the forest.” I laughed, “They were helping me!”
© 2000 Johnny Gregory
Footnote: The first part of this story is based on fact. I was observing the early morning ground mist amid the trees. It was that that inspired me to write this story.