The Low

“Enjoy your walk, you’ve got a lovely day for it.”

“Thank you.” Isla replied, having just picked up a selection of picnic food from the nearest shop to their destination she walked outside to where her companion, Eric, stood with a guitar case slung over his back. He was smoking a cigarette and had a face like thunder.

“Why do we have to walk to this place? Can’t we take the car? Why are we going anyway?”

Isla rolled her eyes.

“You said that you would do this for me and with me. It’s important. You know it has to do with the husband that I lost. I need to close that chapter before I can move on.”

Eric shrugged, and set off to follow a pace behind. He was smarting slightly that in the two months they’d been dating she’d never let him get as physical as he would have liked. But she was perfect in every other way, and way out of his class, so he’d decided that he was prepared to wait. Then she’d suggested this walking trip, and hinted at more if he supported her visit to a place that had some relevance to the husband she’d lost two years earlier. He’d agreed reluctantly and was beginning to regret it.

***

They walked for about at hour, first on a flat path then picking their way across some fields and up hill to a dense patch of trees. Finally, having followed Isla in to the trees and around in circles looking at half a dozen places that all looked alike to Eric, she spoke again.

“This is the place”, Isla said, “this is where we have our picnic.”

“Why among all these trees when we could sit over there and admire the view?” Eric asked.

“Because amongst these trees we’re hidden from everyone else, dummy!” she replied, giving him a wink.

Like a shot Eric dumped the guitar and started fumbling with her shirt buttons.

“Not yet, we eat first.” She said, batting his hand away. She took a blanket from her rucksack and spread out the food. “Come on, stop sulking and eat.” She popped open a can of lager and handeed it to him. Eric sat down across from her. “Not there, come and sit here, next to me.”

He drank down the first can in two gulps, thirsty from the climb.

“Did you bring any more?” he asked.

“There’s four. I don’t want one, so they’re all yours.” She turned her back on him to get another can from her pack, pooped the top and very carefully poured in to the lager a small amount of white powder. Eric drank, again taking almost half of the can with his first drink.

Isla picked up her guitar, and checked the tuning. “Eat something,” she said to Eric, “I just want to play a little while before I eat.”

Eric felt drowsy, putting it down to the walk up the hill and drinking too quickly he started in on the sandwiches. Isla was playing a soft song, and had started singing. He didn’t recognise the words. He found himself closing his eyes and lying back trying to make some sense of the song. Before long he was fast asleep. Isla carried on playing. The tune becoming quicker and the words, ones she’d learned from a dusty book found in a library basement, became simpler and simpler as if the song were regressing through language back to the very earliest forms of communication.

A mist started to rise. It crept over Eric; soon Isla could barely see his sleeping body. As she continued to sing and play she could make out what looked like tiny people dancing to her song in the mist. In her nightmares these people were very real, with pointed teeth and tiny swords the size of toothpicks. In her waking hours she told herself that all she could really see were eddies in the mist. But if that were true, her conscience asked, why are you here?

She carried on playing. Tears formed in her eyes and made it even harder to see through the mist as the tiny dancers worked themselves to a frenzy. The words ended, her last syllable echoing as the dancers in the mist all held that note for slightly longer than she did. Still she played, the music getting simpler and simpler until finally she was just tapping a rhythm on the guitar body. And then she stopped. Reluctantly she drank a small mouthful of the lager, lay down and slept.

***

She woke an hour later. The mist had cleared. Eric had gone. She sat up with a start, consulted a notebook and then shouted a few syllables similar to those in the song she had played earlier. A few seconds later a voice replied, this time in English.

“This time we accept.”

Isla started to cry again. From among the trees a man staggered towards her, as if drunk. He was not unlike Eric; tall, good looking with dark hair. But this man was not Eric.

“Tom! Isla shouted, “It’s me, over here.”

The man called Tom staggered over.

“Wow, sorry, I must have fallen asleep while you were playing. That wine we brought for our picnic is stronger than I thought.”

“Did you have any strange dreams, Tom?” Isla asked.

“Yes, I did.”

“Let’s get our gear together and get back to the car, you can tell me your strange dream on the way and I can tell you mine.”

Isla packed the guitar carefully into its case and gave it to Tom to carry. She turned her back on the blanket and food. An observant person may have noticed the rotting remains of another, similar, blanket close by. Careful examination may have suggested a third. Forensic examination would have found two more.

As she turned to leave the copse for the last time Isla smiled her first true smile in two years.

Author’s note: This story is part of a work in progress, a series  stories inspired by the people and places of the Peak District National Park. The Low was particularly inspired by a picture I first saw in The Rook, Hartington. The picture is not there now, it’s hanging up at my home. The Rook is still there, and I heartily recommend it to anyone in the area for food, drinks and snacks and some beautiful art.

There are a number of ‘Lows’ across the Peak District. All of them have some mythical stories attached. This story was not written with any specific one in mind.

(C) Chris Johnson 2015

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