Will O' The Wisp

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 12, 2018

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Submitted: February 12, 2018

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Will O’ The Wisp.

Paddy O’Sullivan had lived next to the marshes all of his life. The safe paths were known to him as well as he knew the streets in his town. In fact, he mused, since the redevelopment he knew the marshes better. Every day he’d take a walk along one of them, rain or shine. The only time he kept away was during fog.

He’d been fed the tales of the Will O’ the Wisps all through his childhood. How many hours had he spent trudging his way through the densest part of the marshes in search of one little fire sprite? Too many for his aged mind to ever admit to now. And he had never even seen one tiny glimmer.

Could it be that they knew he would not be taken in? Perhaps they were only interested in those that foolishly wandered the marshes without a clue of where they should go. For a while he had taken people across, as part of the folk-lore tourist trade. He still would, if he was asked, but it seemed as though not many people were so interested in the old tales now.

Bryn, his red setter was not allowed in that area. Paddy would take him for long walks and let him run free in the fields but when he set off on his marsh strolls the dog would be left safely indoors. The strange thing was that the dog had never tried to go that way; it was as though his canine senses warned him to keep away.

Paddy did not really believe in all this folk-lore stuff, thinking it more a way of entertainment in the days before televisions than anything else. He’d heard the more scientific explanation of these lights being caused by gas and the ignition of tiny flames in the air. He wasn’t too sure of that either, for wouldn’t he have come across it many times over the years if that was the truth. He tended to think that perhaps the story originated from someone who walked the paths rather the worse for drink, who had imagined seeing things, spoke about it and the idea had taken hold. Whatever, it was not superstition that kept him away during fog but plain and simple common sense.

It was a fine drizzle when he set off in the afternoon. He put on his waterproofs, his waders, and set off towards the bogland. There was plenty of daylight left, and besides, he could find his way in the dark. Should he take a torch? He thought of it but the one that hung by the door was low on battery power and barely gave out any light at all. Deciding it was not worth the bother, he told Bryn to stay, that he wouldn’t be long, and off he set.

The paths through the marshes would run straight, then meander one way, then another, before heading straight again. Paddy navigated his way by counting. Forty footsteps forward, ten to the left, five to the right and so on. He knew them all.

But what was that in the distance...a child, an animal....it was too far in front of him to make out properly, but there was something there in front of him and whatever it was, it was in very real danger. The marshes were so much worse than water; they would suck you down and hold you there, maybe one day allowing a body to float up towards the surface. He’d seen the corpses of the animals that it had caught. No human though, not yet.

The chase was leading him in to places that even he had not ventured to before. He’d have to turn back, maybe call around, see if any children were missing. If so, he’d lead a properly equipped search party out, with high-powered flash lights; if not, well, there was no point in him risking his life any further. Paddy turned to go back, then stopped.

There was a wall of fog behind him. And it was still moving further his way. Three choices; that’s what he had. Paddy could carry on forward, although the fact that he did not know the paths in this part made this a less than attractive idea; he could head back, trusting himself to find his way back to better-known areas, or he could stay where he was until the fog began to clear.

Wouldn’t it make sense to wait it out? Sometimes the fog would coat everywhere in a thick blanket for hours, but there were others when it would clear almost as quickly as it had arrived. He’d wait, for a while at least. There was a good chance that he’d be lucky.

The fog grew denser and denser. It seemed to clog his mouth, his nose; even his ears felt wrong. And that set off alarm bells in his head. Ears were crucial to balance. He lifted his cold, wet hands up to his ears, hitting one then the other, trying to clear them. The shivering began too. He was sopping wet, frozen through. Hypothermia was as much a danger as the marshes now, he’d have to move.

And then he saw it, a light in the distance. Dan, his neighbour, must have noticed the fog. He knew Paddy would tread the marshes. He’d have gone round, found the house shut up and put two and two together.

“Dan!” Even his voice came out thickly. “Dan, I’m over here!”

Nothing. No answering call, but the fog tended to stifle it, the sound, stop it moving as far as usual. He’d try to get nearer, take it slow. So long as he was careful he’d be okay.

The light moved, flickered, then disappeared. Dan must be heading in the wrong direction. But then another light appeared in the distance, too far from where he’d last seen it. There must be a few of them searching for him. Foolish really, because they did not know the marshes half as well as him.

Again it flickered out but then they began to glow together. Those lights were all around him, beckoning him forward, promising safety. But whichever he followed just seemed to vanish.

Paddy felt his foot sinking, pulled it back quickly. His quick reaction saved him from falling but lost him his boot. Now what? The lights were surrounding him, pressing forward, pulling back, extinguishing all together.

Crawl, his brain screamed. Shut your eyes and inch your way forward. Don’t look at them, don’t let them drag you forwards. Those lights are nothing more than a pathway to death!

Paddy reached forward with one hand, then the other, gingerly feeling around before letting the rest of his body follow through. So slow, painstakingly slow. He was now so disorientated that even if he made it back to a familiar area he’d not realize. His fingers made their way into a soggy morass too many times for him to count, but he was still there, still moving.

He should not have given in to the temptation to open his eyes. They were everywhere, flashing, swirling; he leaned to the side and vomited, quickly shutting them away from his sight. For a few seconds they continued to flicker through his eyelids. And there were voices too. Faint, ghostly, calling out his name. What could he do? There was no way to crawl and cover his ears at the same time.

This was no marsh gas, no search party. Will o’the wisps were after him now, trying to suck him under, steal his life. He wanted to run, to get to his feet and make his escape as quickly as possible, but somehow his brain took control, let him know that that was exactly what they wanted.

Paddy did something that he had not done for ages; he began to sing. Quietly at first, but he had to drown them out. No one would hear him anyway. What did it matter that it had more likeness to cats fighting than to real singing? His eyes remained closed and slowly his heart-rate slowed, his panic abated, and he continued forward, one hand at a time.

And then, when he fully believed that it would never happen, Paddy’s hand reached solid ground. Not a pathway, but more, so much more. He’d made it!

Inching onwards until he was sure every bit of him was safe, he finally dropped to the ground and lay still. He waited for the dizziness to pass, then waited some more, finally risking a glimpse towards those marshes that had almost claimed his life. The fog was lifting. There were no lights...yes, just one, far in the distance, moving rapidly away from him until it vanished.

Could he walk? Paddy got stiffly up on to his feet, one boot on, the other lost. He hurt! His muscles cried out in pain as he tried to get them to straighten up enough to let him lurch his way back home. Bryn was ecstatic when he made his way through the door, jumped up and they both landed in a heap. Food, warmth, a hot bath, that’s what he needed.

Paddy slept a deep dreamless sleep that night, and in the morning woke up sore, aching, but glad to be alive. He took out an old notebook that he’d kept for ages, as yet unused, and he began to write. He’d still show the marshes to any who wanted to see, but he’d not set foot there ever again. He would tell the story though, knowing that everyone who heard it would think it nothing more than an old man’s foolishness. More fool them.


© Copyright 2018 hullabaloo22. All rights reserved.

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