Wicker pg. 4 - Bones in the Mist

We began the expedition in jovial spirits.  Henry trudged on ahead through the tall grasses, and Ethan and I enjoyed the sunshine as thoroughly as though on our way to a pic-nic.  Henry was almost desperate in his eagerness to find what lay within the marshes, which I attributed to a childish impatience he had never fully lost.  Recognizing this and other residual juvenile characteristics he retained, I sometimes felt that my own maturity had come upon me too quickly and all at once.

As our party drew within shouting distance of the marshes, we all three unconsciously slowed our pace.  Our conversation became subdued as our attention was absorbed by the impossibly high expanse of mist before us.  Even at such proximity it appeared a wad of soiled cotton, which would swallow up forever any shouts we dared to throw at it.  We now walked in the shadow of the marshes, where the temperature was perceptibly cooler.  We were shortly overtaken by a dismal chirping which quelled whatever flickers of conversation remained.

This was the chirping of the crickets which, the legend says, are the only living beings to exist within the marshes for any length of time.  (The witches’ existence as living beings is always cast in a doubtful light.)  The crickets’ longevity is attributed to their Heavenly origins.  The chirping is said to be their incessant prayer for forgiveness for the sins of man in general, and for the sins within the marshes in particular.  Their divinity qualifies them for the additional distinction of being the only force of goodness in the marshes.  The resulting tension of contrast is said to be an integral part of the force by which the marshes retain their form.  Standing at the outskirts of the marshes, engulfed by prayers for forgiveness, it struck me that the dolorous tone of the crickets’ song, coupled with the idea of an eternal prayer for forgiveness, did but augment the hopeless aspect of the marshes rather than create any tension of contrast.

Henry, swinging his scimitar before him, was the first to enter the fog.  After he had taken three or four steps, I lost sight of him altogether.  However, the sound of his voice issuing from the marshes provided the direction in which Ethan and I aimed our steps.

“It’s certain that it’s wicker,” Henry had said; and wicker it was.  I had not actually expected to find wicker at all, and certainly not as it surrounded me at that moment.  I was engulfed not only by the crickets’ singing, but also by the fog, which was a tremendous hindrance to visibility.  And behind the roiling mists I beheld, circling the spot where I stood, monstrous bleached skeletons of all the creatures whose lives the wicker marshes had claimed.  Toe-nails and tendons and eye-sockets, all transformed into wicker!  Tonsils, and lemurs’ disjointed femurs, and emaciated stick-thin rib cages!  The ghostly wicker, so cleverly camouflaged in fog, spiraled up and away in an unending menagerie of waves and Christ’s-crosses, so that I fancied I saw not only animal skeletons, but also occasionally parts of furniture, table-legs and bed-frames, protruding into my hollow of the decalcified jungle.  The word “dead-wood” rolled in on the mist, bringing with it a whiff of rain and mildew.

My surroundings were clearly visible for only three or four feet at a time, before the mists weaved themselves into the spaces in the wicker, sewing me in.  My clothes hung heavily on my bones, having absorbed the surrounding humidity.  I often found it necessary to wipe condensed droplets from my lashes and brow.  Beneath the wicker, the ground was either damp or muddy or a full-fledged puddle, and sometimes threatened to suck the boots clear off our feet.  However, it was not difficult to find some means of circumventing the truly wet spots by clambering among the tangles of wicker which were readily at hand.

The swish of Henry’s scimitar slicing the mists, the crack of wicker bones under our feet, the sibilance of my own breath, and the reverberating staccato of the crickets, all combined into a frenetic arhythm as we stumbled through the marshes, guided by touch more than any other sense, craning our necks for a glimpse of far-off wicker momentarily discovered by the shifting fog.  Curling around our ears, was it reading us our fates in its own wispy tongue, or peeking into our heads for news to take to other parts of its ethereal empire?

Henry stopped short, causing me to collide with his back.  I had been walking in physical and mental fog for hours.  The moment my feet stopped working, they began to complain of their soreness. I groped in the fog behind me for assurance that Ethan had not turned to wicker.

“It is too dark to go any further, forward or back,” said Henry.  Indeed, so entranced had we been by the phantasms half-seen in the duskiness, that we had not noticed the filtered light of the outside world extinguish itself, and darkness envelop us to the extent that it was now as hindering to our vision as the mist.

“Push on to some ground drier than the rest, where we may stop till dawn,” I suggested.  My voice felt alien in my throat.  Grimly Henry set to slicing the air before him again, until we found a place where we would not fear sinking.  Ethan produced a small oil-lamp.  By its light, we devoured our bacon and bread in silence, having eaten nothing since dinner.  There was no sound now save the crickets’ fervent prayers, and an occasional settling of wicker in the distance.  Shortly, Henry laid his head upon his hand, and Ethan and I made what bed we could of the leathern sack.

The End

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