A Mist Friend
Written by Paul Musgrave
Illustrated by Andy Paciorek
Nothing is black or white. Even night and day are entwined. There is an indistinguishable line between; discovery and theft, preservation and cowardice, innocence and guilt.
Sometimes things are grey; a bit misty.
I am waiting for an old friend which I have not seen for some time. Well at least I cannot recall when I last properly seen him. I have not slept for a while you see. Here I sit in the town square, my hometown of Keswick. I gaze up anxiously at the Old Moot Hall Clock Tower, checking to see if it was closer to the rendezvous time. I drink deeply and ask the waitress for a refill. All around the Northern Fell Mountains sit in attendance; as if awaiting a court in session.
He was never late since the day when we were kids. Only for school, but not for adventure. We were best friends and every weekend we had expeditions to the surrounding massifs. With backpacks filled with none essentials apart from our compasses. The moral ones we would loose in the passage of time.
I can no longer make a distinction between awake and daydreaming. Although maybe a greater distinction can be made in the terminology; replacing day with night and dream with mare.
My eyes were open, but before they were shut. The tourists and people were no more than gliding apparitions. The tangible world around me was merging into a more spectral one. Even the recognition of time as I fixed my gaze at the clock face was seamless with the precognitions. He would be here soon.
Although oblivious to most around me, my eyes descended upon two boys balancing on the steps below. As boys, we would precariously balance on the old dry stone walls which one day would be adventures along the Great Wall of China. I believed our friendship would always be as long lasting and as strong as those walls. It was in Asia where I last saw him.
We had both decided to take an expedition after we both graduated from our respective universities. Although we never excelled at school, we both passed with flying honours in our respective fields. I specialized in Crypto zoology as part of my Zoology course. He took Archeology, and it was definitely the physical excavation he desired, and not the boring pre planning and ploughed fields he was interested in. We were ready for a real adventure.
The legend of Pangboche Hand had always fascinated us. And in our separate fields of expertise, we had obtained from good sources that it was real and still held in its monastery.
It was a long remote journey from Katmandu to the monastery after our long flight. The journey was hard like the weather beaten faces of the Sherpas and ponies. They carried most of the burden of our trip; but not as heavy as the burden I carry today.
In part the terrain was Alpine pastures, a place where the same flowers now grew in the gardens back home. The rope bridges over raging river torrents were harsher, and the freezing higher passes and immense ragged peaks bore no resemblance to the more humble flat tops of our mountains.
Villages lay scattered like our own isolated farmsteads and the children always greeted us. But they were never seen or straying away from them like we did. At every settlement Singh Lion statues stood guard and Nagas sat above every door warding off evil spirits; which showed they feared something more than any bipedal ape man in which we believed.
At the monastery we were met with warmth; a rampart against the cold siege. The monks were hospitable unlike the ensuing elements outside. We would be undeserving of their kindness. We sought to deceive them once we saw the artifact. The discovery excited us more than when we were kids and came upon a colony of carnivorous local plants called Sundew. We would take it. They were a spiritual community who believed in the whole. We believed in the self, the glory.
The time is close now. I can see him coming; but only in my minds eye. A bank of mist had gathered on the top of Skiddaw Pike, and suddenly like a serpent apparition it consciously weaves its way down, through the dark woods and along the edge of Derwent Water. The image made me think in a twisted way of Wordsworth’s poem; I wandered lonely as a cloud. The mist itself was a procession, like Centurion guards before an emperor. An emperor about to pass sentence. An Osprey above screeches and recoils in flight, sensing what lurked within the shroud.
We made it away from the Monastery with our Unholy Grail. No one pursued and we believed we were clear, unlike the darkened nebula sky above. We were out of the woods, but now endured frozen peaks. We would make it in the most severe conditions. We would spur each other on through whipping winds and snow storms.
We came upon a ridge which we needed to negotiate. I was always the stronger climber and was at the top first. He was trailing by a few meters and was having problems with his sling. Suddenly, mist began to rise from below. The slightest touch froze me through my insulated jacket, more than any freezing wind. Then we heard a cry which echoed all around. The superstitious Sherpa guides had previously described such a thing. The fear on his face, his eyes pleading. This was far from the adrenalin rush we got from ranting farmers or compliant rangers who gave chase.
The mist had reached and now encircled the Hanwell Memorial Cross; the inscription read ‘Great Shepherd of the Heavenly flock’. The large, dark, unearthly figure gave no recognition to the monument, not this time. The passage bore no resemblance to itself as it had its own passage; a less celestial one.
I reached as I had done countless times before. My rucksack slipped off, extra rope, webbing and provisions, spilling to the ground, including the Hand of Unholy Glory. He gazed up at me with pleading urgency, his hand imploring for my dependable grasp. The artifact rolled in its casing, about to tumble, never to be salvaged. I turned with immediacy to gather the accursed object to put back into its holding. By the time I returned my attentions to my life long friend, he was engulfed in the mist. I could here his beseeching voice and mumbled payer, but could barely see his silhouette. I fastened myself securely and reached again and felt his gloved hand trembling.