What with the very wet and misty March we had this year, we decided that our prompt to share for the first meeting in April (and to go with those April showers) would be ‘mist’ and we have produced quite a varied collection. We hope you enjoy reading them!
Long Exposure, by Michael Bailey
The light was fading so I had to work fast. I was alone in the old house. I knelt outside the locked wooden door and worked carefully at the loose panel. The house was silent around me. The noise I made as I eased the panel free sounded very loud, amplified by the almost empty room inside so that it echoed back at me. As I lifted the panel away a rush of stale air blew past me carrying a locked up smell and also something sharp and animal. I pushed my camera into the gap putting one foot of the tripod through the hole so the Nikon was suspended in the plane of the door that had not been opened for more than 60 years.
Click, the camera shutter closed as I took the last of three very long exposures using a wide-angle lens to capture the scene of gloom and dusty shadows. Then the light was really gone and it felt suddenly cold. I withdrew the tripod and camera and carefully replaced the panel. It looked slightly loose, shrunken with age as it had when I first noticed it but there was no sign of my intrusion.
Earlier in the day Peter recounted the history of the house to me when we were looking round choosing locations for the architectural shoot I had come to do. He said his family had lived in the house for six generations and that his great grandmother had died in the room. On her instructions, the door had been locked and nailed shut after her death. He said that If anyone had had any idea why the old lady had stipulated this bizarre measure in her will it had long since been forgotten.
I had been left to lock the house up as Peter was due back in town for an evening appointment. That had left me free to indulge my guilty passion for snooping and photographing long undisturbed rooms. I was excited by the thrill of chance discovery, the drunken pleasure of prying, looking behind the curtain. It was almost sexual, like voyeurism.
I’d already taken several other black and white pictures of the cellar and attic earlier in the day. I was using a long expired roll of HP5 negative film which might give interesting results. The pictures stolen through the door were the last three exposures on the roll so I rewound the film.
When I got home I couldn’t contain myself. Without even taking off my coat I went straight into the darkroom and pulled out a developing tank. Click, I pulled the cord to switch off the light. Now, in complete darkness I took the cassette apart, found the end of the exposed film and pushed it into the developing spool, feeding the film so that it wound itself between the wire spirals until it was fully loaded. I put the spool into the developing tank and screwed the light tight lid on. I pulled the cord again, closing my eyes against the sudden burst of light.
I made up developer solution and warmed it. After checking the developing time for pushing the film from 400 to 1600 ASA , I poured the developer into the tank and started the timer. I agitated the spool in the tank and drained the developer away when the timer rang. Quickly I added fixer in to stop any further development. When it was done I washed the spool and film under the cold tap.
Now for the moment of truth. Breathlessly, I pulled the wet film out of the spool, snapped a metal clip on each end and scanned the small oblong negative frames. I had to hold the dripping film above my head but I couldn’t wait to see those three long exposures at the end of the film. I could see the last one was fogged but the previous two looked OK. Actually the second one was a bit fogged as well, old film is unpredictable. I had to dry the film and then take a contact sheet to see what the pictures were like as positive images. I hung the film in a drying cabinet and went out into the studio for a much needed glass of wine.
Click, the red safe-light in the darkroom let me see what I was doing as I loaded the contact maker. I cut the negatives into strips and slid them into the contact maker then closed the glass down on the photographic paper. I exposed the negatives and paper under the enlarger. The paper went into a bath of developer and in less than half a minute the rows of minute photographs started to appear. When the blacks were fully rich I transferred the paper into a bath of fixer and then into the sink to wash in cold water. I hung the wet paper on a washing line stretched across the darkroom, checked I had closed the box of unexposed paper and switched on the full light. I felt suddenly tired. Darkroom work can be frustratingly slow when you are anxious to see your results.
My hand shook as I used a lupe to magnify the images and got my first real look at the long sealed room. In the first picture I could make out a sturdy chair next to a low table in the middle of the room. There appeared to be a cage made of strong metal bars on the table. The second picture showed the same scene but the centre of the frame where the cage was seemed slightly fogged. The fogging in the third frame completely obscured most of the picture with only the extreme edges showing any detail. Intriguing. I wanted full size pictures now. I took the strip with these final three shots and fed it into the negative holder of the enlarger.
Click. I pulled the cord and the dim red safe-light replaced the brightness making me blind for a moment. I used the focus finder to get the first image sharp then made a test exposure of the first frame on the strip. I decided what the ideal exposure was and made a proper print of the first frame taken through the door into the sealed room.
Again I hopped round in small circles as I waited for the image to appear in the developing bath, fixed and washed it then hung it up to dry. I moved the negative strip along one frame and made the next print. When the image appeared in the developer I thought it looked just the same as the first one. Odd but it’s sometimes it’s difficult to see properly in the safe light. I moved to
the final negative and made the exposure. I could immediately see under the enlarger that the whole room was sharp in the picture. I developed and fixed the print and switched the light back on as soon as the last print was washing.
The three prints were the same and when I looked at the film strip, three identical negative images of the dusty room. I went back to the contact sheet but now there were three clear pictures, no sign of the fogging I had seen earlier when I viewed the negatives and the freshly made contact sheet.
How odd. I got the lupe and looked closely at the prints. Actually there was a slight difference between picture one and the subsequent two. In the first the cage on the table in the middle of the room had its metal door slightly ajar. In the other two it was wide open. I was just wondering where the fogging in the negatives had gone when something wet and deathly cold wrapped itself tightly across my face and the light went out.
Keep Walking, Don’t Listen, by Richard Foreman
I didn’t take him seriously. I mean, come on… Sentient mist! Pull the other one. Stuff’s just water, tiny droplets of it hanging in the air.
He was a wind up merchant. Saw me in the pub, rucksack beside me, Peter Storm jacket draped across it, as I necked a quick shandy before hitting the hills. Thought he’d spook me. Sidled over. “Out walking, are you?” Seemed friendly enough, local accent, might have something useful to say. I smiled and nodded. We got talking. Told him I was planning the circular walk, taking in Great Fell.
Big bloke, very red face, mutton chop sideburns. Cable knit sweater and jeans. He gave me the standard warning first of all, how when you’re up there it can be blue skies and clear one minute, then in rolls the cloud. “You want to keep to the path. Don’t go strayin’.” Standard stuff, well meant, but I knew the drill. Except then he leaned closely toward me. “An’ if you ‘appen to notice a patch of it that’s got a sort of a greenish, mossy colour to it, then you keep walkin’. Don’t stop, whatever you do. An’ if you hear it – don’t listen.”
“Sorry.” I laughed uneasily. “ ‘If you hear it’?”
“That’s right,” he nodded, ignoring my incredulity, “In your mind. That’s where it speaks. And it’s got a bit of the devil in it, that mist. So keep walkin’. Don’t listen. Just remember that, you’ll be alright.”
I gave him a thumbs up. “Gotcha. I’ll be watching out for that.” I drained my glass, hastily. “Ought to be off now. Thanks.”
“Remember,” he said as I grabbed my gear. “Mossy colour. Keep walkin’. Don’t listen.”
Three hours later I was on the ridge track that would take me to the topmost point of the Fell. Here and there, the path came close to an edge, with more than one precipitous drop down a cliff face best left to climbers. The view was something else. To my right the range, of which I was on the highest, stretched out – each successive ridge concealing deep valleys – fading in aerial perspective to the point where I could see no more. To my left the foothills and the ensuing plain, where I could just make out the skyline of Bledgeley in the distance. I was exhilarated, high on altitude – though beginning to tire also. It had taken longer than I’d expected.
Skies had stayed clear thus far, but I could see cloud rolling over the tops of hills within a mile or two. I’d forgotten the warning but it came back to me then. I knew well enough I could be in that cloud within minutes if it continued to roll towards me. Started thinking that I should have got a bit more detail from the guy. I’d just wanted to get out of the pub, but up here, on my own, the warning somehow took on more credibility.
With a strong head wind the cloud moved quickly. It enveloped me before I reached the peak. No matter how familiar it can become, the feeling is always strange. From absolute clarity to this shrouded view, the vapour twists and coils around you, sometimes thickening, sometimes dispersing. Even the most well walked routes seem to lose their familiarity when only the nearest objects are visible. At times even they become hazy. Here, it was an absolute relief to know I was on such a well-defined track. I just had to keep moving along, trusting that it would soon take me down to a lower level, below the cloud layer.
I don’t think I noticed exactly when the tint of green began to become visible. I was in denial. I didn’t want to see it. The whole concept had seemed quite ridiculous when told to me by the ruddy faced, whiskered man, in the warmth and safety of the pub. Yet now,
that I’d not stopped and found out more from him seemed a grave omission. All I had was the advice. Keep walking. Don’t listen.
Don’t listen to what? There didn’t appear to be any sudden intrusions into my thoughts. There were no ‘voices’ in my head. But when you are told not to listen, and when you don’t know what it is that you shouldn’t be listening to, how can you avoid listening? I needed a hint. Some idea of what it was, so that I would know what to ignore. Yet there was nothing save thoughts that I could easily identify as my own. I kept telling myself it was madness, I should not take it seriously. That guy. Wind up merchant. Nutter, even.
But there was this mossy pallour to the mist that surrounded me. As if it carried some kind of spore, I thought. Perhaps I needed something to cover my mouth and my nose – to filter out these mist-tinting particles. That scarf in my rucksack. I almost stopped to dig it out, but then remembered: keep moving. Instead I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket, folded it to a triangle and – walking on all the while – tied it around my head, closing up the neck poppers of my jacket to tuck it in. My breathing was filtered. Except, of course, for that which I might already have ingested.
Then I stumbled, my boot colliding with an up-thrust of rock. I looked down and realised I was on rough ground. In fiddling about with the handkerchief, I had strayed off the track. I’d had to bend my head down to ascertain even this, as the greenish mist was thickening, becoming fog-like.
At this point my thoughts told me to stop, get the compass out of my rucksack, orient myself, and edge back slowly until I could be certain I’d relocated the path. It was wide enough and flat enough and I could not have strayed far. Yet immediately I wondered: could I trust this thought, when it appeared to contradict the only certain advice I’d been given? I had to keep moving, I had to be wary of any thoughts – even those I was sure were mine.
Compromise. I slowed my pace and slipped off one shoulder strap of the rucksack, until I could reach into the pocket and pull out the compass. Bledgely was to the north, my left when I’d been on the path. I was pretty certain I’d strayed to my right, southwards. I had to raise the compass closer to my face in order to read it.
Even as I did so, I took one footstep into thin air, immediately losing my balance and toppling forward.
And in those last moments of conscious existence, I heard it with certainty at last. I heard the voice of the mist, loud and exultant, suffused with malevolent bliss, over and over in my mind.
“Keep walking,” it said, with a distinct local accent. “Don’t listen.”
Within The Blue, by Becky Bye
The veil descends;
A fine cloak of grey,
Smothering the sun,
Attempting to light the way.
Tall shadows loom,
From a time long before,
Portals to the underworld
Or perhaps something more.
Five thousand years
Of mystery surrounds
These iconic pillars
Rising from the ground;
Stones so sombre
Keeping secrets at bay
Whilst quietly shrouded
In mists of grey.
Profane, by Alex Chase
The winter sun set over the giant stones, its cold light glistening in the icy air. The frost hung heavily on the ancient monument, matching the white fields surrounding it. In the distance, the beginnings of a mist gathered on the hills, covering the slopes with an ethereal vapour. The tourists had long since left, shivering despite the thick clothes that enveloped them; even the site staff had escaped the icy plain in favour of the warmth of their own homes. Now only security guards were left on duty, their lonely vigil enacted bravely from the warmth of the staff room and in the company of enough coffee to fill a small oil tanker. Soon, the only light on prehistoric man’s greatest feat was the full moon and its garland of stars.
Lizzy clambered up the hill, stealthily in case the security men had changed their minds and decided to patrol after all. It seemed unlikely, well, who’d know? The stones themselves weren’t about to tell any tales, and it was incredibly cold. To her right, Beth and Mandy were also making the ascent, and squabbling by the sounds that drifted across from them on the night air.
“I did so tell you, you just didn’t listen.”
“I always listen, and you didn’t say anything about that!”
Lizzy sighed, so much for being stealthy. At least they knew there wasn’t a guard around though, there was no way they’d have missed that tiff if they’d been anywhere within about five hundred yards.
The three met up at the circle. The massive trilithons towered above them with the grandeur of ages, glaring down at the fleshy intruders. Lizzy suddenly felt very small surrounded by these calciferous monsters. It didn’t help that a chill breeze had started to blow. Somehow the stones seemed to channel it right through all the layers of clothing that she had on, right into her bones. The distant mist was also rolling gradually towards them, and she didn’t fancy getting caught up here in that. Already its smoky tendrils had reached the road and were stretching, grasping, the field below. Her friends also clearly felt uncomfortable.
“I don’t like this very much, maybe we shouldn’t have come up here.” Mandy always was the “sensible” one of the three. Lizzy privately thought there was a bit more cowardice than good sense sometimes. This time though, Mandy might be right.
“It is a bit cold Liz, but wow! Look at this place!” Beth was much more reliable, if occasionally a bit impulsive.
“I wonder if I can get on top of one of the big ones.” Lizzy shook her head, she’d been expecting this. Beth was nothing if not predictable.
“I really wouldn’t, there’s no way up anyway. And we’d get in enough trouble already just being here.”
She’d barely uttered the words before she knew they would be ignored. The clue was in Beth trying to jump and grab one of the lintel stones. It was too high though, and as hard as she was trying, she couldn’t get a handhold on the massive stone post so that she could climb up.
“Well I can at least lie on the altar! Come on Mandy, you can be the high priestess doing a sacrifice!” Mandy hesitated,
“I’m really not sure Beth. It’s a bit spooky here already.”
“Oh come on! What’s going to happen? If the stones were haunted someone would have noticed by now!” Beth grabbed Mandy’s arm and dragged her to the centre of the circle.
“Actually, why don’t you be the sacrifice? You’ll only mess up the words if you’re the priestess.”
Beth pushed Mandy on to the stone and stood above her, arms outstretched. At that moment, the breeze picked up and flung her hair skywards and for just one instant the effect was of some strange and terrible priestess conducting a forbidden ritual. She lifted her face to the sky and raised her voice,
“Great goddess of the stones, hear my prayer! Accept this sacrifice of blood and grant my heart’s desire!”
“Steady on!” Lizzy heard her own voice over Beth’s screech and Mandy’s whimpering,
“You’ve really scared her. What did you think you were doing?”
Before Beth could reply, the ground shook and Lizzy could have sworn she heard the whisper of a voice,
“Who dares profane the sacred stones?” It was gone before Lizzy could be sure she heard it, but then she saw the mist creeping in. It was no longer just an ordinary winter mist. Now it boiled around the stones, surrounding them, cutting them off from the outside world. It hissed as it touched first one stone, then another. The stones themselves shimmered and shone with an icy blue light as they appeared to grow, looming monstrously over the three girls, leaning inwards and threatening to topple, crushing anything beneath them. As the stones leaned ever closer, shards of icy mist crept between them like tentacles seeking prey to ensnare. Lizzy snatched her arm away from a patch of mist as it started to wrap itself around her wrist. This was all too much for poor Mandy, she screamed and darted under one of the great trilithons and into the mist. The scream cut off abruptly as she vanished.
“Mandy!” Lizzy screamed at the top of her voice, but her shout only echoed around the great stone circle.
“Profane, profane, profane” the whisper returned. The voice now seemingly taunting its helpless victims.
“I’m going to find her!” yelled Beth, “She can’t have gone far!”
“No! You’ll get lost, or worse. We don’t know what’s out there!” Lizzy was unable to keep the terror out of her voice now.
“Well I’m not waiting in here! Don’t worry, I’ll be back!”
“Beth, no!” But it was too late. Beth rushed through the same gap as Mandy and was swallowed up by the swirling mist.
“Profane, profane, profane” The voice once more sounded around the stones as Beth disappeared.
“Beth! Mandy! Answer me!” Lizzy screamed as the tears flooded down her face. But there was no reply. She knew she was alone.