Maiden of the Mist

Olga Pope
24 min readJul 20, 2020

04/09: Day 1

M̶̵̶̵̶o̶̵̶v̶̵̶e̶̵̶ ̶̵̶i̶̵̶n̶̵̶!̶̵̶

I swear, people spend less time choosing a house than I spend thinking of an opening sentence for each new diary. But this one just happened — so here it goes:

Lily and I are now fog dwellers. And this is my Book of Fog.

I’ve picked a grey cover, but that was wrong: fog on Finnan island isn’t grey, it’s white like milk. Full-fat; none of that red-cap skimmed nonsense.

The place looked different in the photos, as they always do. The house looks different too: darker, older — but the main surprise is the temperature. It’s freezing here. Photos (and much less, landlords!) don’t tell you about the damp, cold air that makes you feel slow and heavy, like a big, old fish floating around the house. The fireplace was on in some of the pictures; I’ll have to try it out tomorrow but not now. I’m too exhausted, and Lily is warm enough, sleeping under three blankets; I didn’t even undress her (#goodparenting). I couldn’t have, to be fair — she was out like a light after all that puking. Who needs bedtime stories when there’s seasickness? Maybe we should live on a boat. (business idea no.1,273: live-in boat redecorator. Bonus: boats are harder to set on fire than houses.)

Before I conk out and forget: Agneth said the boiler is getting serviced on Friday morning, so must remember to be home then. At least that’s what I think she said: my ears were ringing from that bloody ferry horn (and still are, actually). We only had five minutes to talk, she couldn’t stay to show us the house because she was leaving by the same ferry we’d arrived on — the only ferry. I still think one a week is ridiculous. Makes you feel thoroughly cut off from land. But I guess that’s exactly what we need right now.

Fuck, it’s cold. Hope I can sleep. SO MUCH to do tomorrow.

05/09: Day 2

sort out fireplace
g̶̵̶r̶̵̶o̶̵̶c̶̵̶e̶̵̶r̶̵̶i̶̵̶e̶̵̶s̶̵̶
unpack

First full day on the island. Somehow even more exhausting than yesterday — or perhaps overwhelming is a better word. Finnan is all Fs: foggy; fishy; and, yep, still freezing. But also: friendly. Particularly to Lily. She was anxious to go exploring with me, especially when I said we’d go to the marketplace, but being left home alone was just as scary. Result: tantrum. In the end, she decided that staying was worse than going. But leaving the house still took half an hour, because she did her favourite ‘human sandbag’ act again, slumped almost to the floor, like in those videos of cats that instantly go limp when you put them on a leash, out of protest, and are dragged across the floor by the owners. And this year Lily has been doing it often enough for me to start a dedicated YouTube channel. (Business idea no. 1,274…) But: 1) digital detox, and 2) not sure my reputation could deal with child abuse allegations. Perhaps next year.

We did get out eventually, after I told her she would be invisible in the fog because they are the same colour. Turns out, I was wrong and it’s the exact opposite on the Isle of Fog: instead of invisibility, albinism seems to grant you universal popularity. Everyone from the shopkeepers to the dustman and his dog.

I bet Agneth has set them up to do it: the village is small enough, everyone seems to know everyone; and I did tell her about how much Lily struggles with people’s reactions. If it really was Agneth who did that, that’s the sweetest thing ever. It’s one thing to ask a whole community to avoid staring at someone (especially the children, who are, of course, absolute monsters), but it seems like she went beyond that and told people to act as if Lily is the most beautiful human being that’s ever set foot on the island. She was a bit freaked out, but soon realised it was a very different kind of attention than what she’s used to. I could tell she’s been trying to process it quietly all afternoon. Anyway — must thank Agneth when she calls.

Unpacking time was taken up by the tantrum — I should start including them in the to-do list.

06/09: Day 3

sort out fireplace
p̶l̶a̶n̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶o̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶k̶
̶t̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶‘̶b̶e̶f̶o̶r̶e̶’̶ ̶p̶h̶o̶t̶o̶s̶
̶u̶n̶p̶a̶c̶k̶

Long day! But productive as hell. Got a plan of action for every room, and can start ordering materials. Really excited — it’s going to look amazing when I’m done with it. Only problem will be capturing it. I took the ‘before’ photos of all the rooms, but it’s near-impossible: everything comes out bleak, you can’t see the colours and textures at all. Exhibit A: a very, VERY low-contrast, badly lit photo of the living room where everything looks the same shade of bleh. Agneth’s photos actually looked better than mine — how?! Obviously, I’m fine with the ‘before’ photos looking like crap — the worse, the better! — but definitely need to sort something out for the ‘after’. Of all the makeovers, I can’t let this one go to waste.

Oh, and we have a cellar! Agneth never mentioned it; I guess she doesn’t need it redecorated. I was checking out the kitchen floor (gorgeous wood, but badly in need of some TLC), lifted the rug, and found a rope loop tucked between planks very neatly. Managed to pull it out, and voilà: a trap door. The loop is attached to a square panel, and underneath it is a much heavier one, with a metal handle that slots into a recess and has to be pulled out so you can lift the panel. The slotting mechanism is smart — it leaves no room between the panels, so no hollow sound when you walk over. Proper craftsmanship — most carpenters these days couldn’t do that. Perhaps the demand for concealed trapdoors isn’t what it used to be.

The cellar is less interesting on the inside: a ladder leading into a small space, about 2x2 metres; simple wooden walls; a single lightbulb; cement floor with a couple of old rugs; and a wooden rack with some bottles of drying oil and woodstain. No wine barrels, sex dungeons or skeletons: humph.

Lily didn’t mind going to the marketplace today — I could get used to outings taking less than an hour of cajoling and tears.

Agneth hasn’t called yet, but she’s my new hero for making this a Lily-friendly place.

Still can’t get the fireplace to work — it just fills the room with smoke. Thank god this house has more blankets than it does beds.

07/09: Day 4

s̶o̶r̶t̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶e̶p̶l̶a̶c̶e̶
̶o̶r̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶t̶i̶-̶f̶o̶g̶ ̶l̶e̶n̶s̶,̶ ̶3̶6̶0̶W̶ ̶f̶l̶a̶s̶h̶g̶u̶n̶,̶ ̶c̶i̶r̶c̶u̶l̶a̶r̶ ̶p̶o̶l̶a̶r̶i̶s̶e̶r̶,̶ ̶b̶a̶t̶t̶e̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶
̶c̶h̶e̶c̶k̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶D̶I̶Y̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶r̶e̶,̶ ̶o̶r̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶r̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶i̶n̶e̶

First things first: 23°C IN THE HOUSE!

Lily is getting a lot of attention — the good kind, for once. First there was the boiler man. He basically spent the entire time talking to her, asking what she likes to study and whether she plays any instruments (yes — my nerves!).

I’d never met a boiler engineer who dabbles with the Celtic harp — until today. Apparently, there’s a band playing at the pub twice a week, and he’s in it. He’s invited us both, in a totally non-creepy way, so I think we might do that soon.

Then the neighbours came to say hello — the two houses to our left. Everyone had something nice to say to Lily, and one of the families has a daughter her age called Enid. She brought a rhubarb tart she’d made, and we all shared it over tea. I apologised for the cold, and Enid’s dad Connor managed to get the fireplace going. If we had any champagne, I swear I’d have cracked one open.

I was amazed no one has called me Sheila, or Shauna, or any of the other usuals. Even Enid said ‘Bye, Shola’ at the end. This place is starting to grow on me. And the DIY store is surprisingly well-stocked for a village.

08/09: Day 5

t̶r̶e̶a̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶i̶n̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶d̶e̶w̶
̶s̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶s̶e̶a̶l̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶r̶o̶o̶m̶ ̶f̶l̶o̶o̶r̶̶

You’d think The Isle of Fog was one of those BS nicknames made up by some marketing committee to attract tourists, loosely based on reality, like ‘The sunshine coast’ or ‘Garden city.’ Turns out it isn’t. Now I finally get why you can’t find any good photos of it online: you can’t bloody take them. It is actually foggy the. whole. time. 24/7, 365 days a year — even 366, in this case. No sun, no moon — and no sky, really. When it rains, you can’t even see the rain clouds. Perfect for Lily, zero skin damage or eye strain, but I miss the sunshine and seeing further than five metres away in any given direction, including up.

09/09: Day 6

s̶h̶o̶w̶e̶r̶ ̶c̶u̶r̶t̶a̶i̶n̶
̶l̶a̶u̶n̶d̶r̶y̶
̶c̶o̶a̶l̶
̶d̶e̶l̶i̶v̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶b̶/̶w̶ ̶1̶2̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶2̶p̶m̶

Lily volunteered to go get some bread by herself. This is unheard of. She returned with two loaves instead of one, and a new white cardigan. Some shopkeeper gave her it; not at the bakery but the store next to it — apparently she looked cold. Not sure I’m entirely cool with this, but I can’t bring myself to take it back: the sulking would never end. Also, it’s beautiful: super-thick, soft, and most likely locally made (no label). I’ll just make sure to thank them.

I’ve put up a new shower curtain, the world map one. The epitome of homeschooling: get them where they least expect it. But education aside, it’s good that she remembers there’s life outside of Finnan — and I could do with a reminder, too, to be honest. Who knows where we might go once this is done — so she might as well look at Poland, Peru, and Palau when she showers.

The dampness in the house is beginning to annoy me — there’s fresh mildew in the bathroom and kitchen after just three days, and a stain on the wall outside the small bedroom that I don’t like one bit. Please please please don’t be black mould.

10/09 Day 7

r̶e̶f̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶p̶a̶n̶t̶r̶y̶
̶b̶u̶y̶ ̶3̶.̶5̶&̶5̶m̶m̶ ̶s̶c̶r̶e̶w̶s̶,̶ ̶s̶e̶a̶l̶a̶n̶t̶,̶ ̶s̶a̶n̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶p̶a̶p̶e̶r̶

I’m pleased to report that I’m not suffering any social media withdrawal so far. The only trouble is, it’s hard to document our new life without a dozen snaps a day. Going to channel my inner 16th century diary writer who would have only had words at her disposal. Today’s snapshots would be:

  1. Four fishing gear stalls in a row. Excessive? You’d think so, but two of them had actual queues. Shopping on Finnan Isle is very slow in general, by the way, because every customer has a conversation with the shopkeeper about their kids and boat and whatnot. And I’m part of the problem, because they all have something to say to Lily. It’s all pleasant and even informative (she now knows a dozen new types of fish, herbs, and birds), but I can’t help feeling guilty for everyone else in the queue. I think I’m the only one who does, though, so maybe I should just forget there’s anyone behind me.
  2. White net huts. They look really odd, sticking out from the shingle beach like rows of long, narrow teeth. I thought net huts were always black, like the ones in Hastings. The locals are obsessed with white paint, in general. I’m keeping an eye out for any splash of colour, but every single building I’ve seen so far has been white.
  3. Lily in her new white cardigan at the end of the stone path in front of the house, just on the edge of the visibility radius (five metres or so), blending with the mist.
  4. The jetties at the end of the harbour. A photo wouldn’t paint the smell, though — they smell of rotting wood, and salt, and bright-green seaweed. You can tell how cold the water is just from that smell.
  5. Street disappearing into thick milkiness. On the walls, there are flowers in hanging baskets, but they are all white too — I’ve asked at the marketplace, and those are the only seeds they sell: white petunias, hydrangeas, and hyacinths.
  6. Local rye bread. Dark, dense, and delicious. Never tried anything like it; it’s got some seeds in, and cardamom. Phenomenal. (bread and me: the only two non-whites on the island)
  7. The well in the main village square. It’s ancient and no longer in use, the plaque says, except once a year during the Fog Festival. Personally, I’m not a fan: it’s quite wide, and not tall enough for a place where you can’t see very far ahead. It does have railings around it, but they look new — not sure I want to know why they’ve been added.

11/09: Day 8

r̶e̶u̶p̶h̶o̶l̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶k̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶i̶r̶s̶
̶m̶i̶l̶d̶e̶w̶+̶m̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶
̶l̶a̶u̶n̶d̶r̶y̶

Had to write this one down straight away.

Lily, cleaning the mirror: ‘Mum, the mirror makes seagull noises when you rub it.’ I just love how her brain works. I must have cleaned a thousand mirrors, and never noticed.

The mildew keeps creeping back. Fuck you, mildew.

Speaking of: Lily heard some Very Bad Words today, thanks to that blasted ferry horn. I swear I’ll be left with PTSD. I’ve actually set an alarm for next week, so at least I’ll be expecting it.

Agneth still hasn’t been in touch, so I called her myself and left a voicemail. Just an update on the work, and on how lovely everyone has been.

12/09: Day 9

p̶a̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶k̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶n̶̶

Writing this from the future, because Me From The Past was in no state to write in the diary post-pub. I blame the local cloudy cider: it tastes like apple juice, you can down a pint without thinking, and the next thing you know, you’re telling your whole life story to the old landlady.

‘Interior design influencer’ caused a blank stare; so now I’m officially a ‘live-in house redecorator.’ Really shouldn’t have told her about the fire, but to be fair, she didn’t seem phased. ‘Don’t you worry, love, I’d be amazed if you could set anything on fire around here. You could squeeze a glass of water out of every log.’ So only feeling 3/10 on the scale of regret. Still: gotta be careful with this cider.

Our boiler-man-slash-harpist didn’t lie: the music is actually good. One of the songs must be local, they played it twice (from what I remember, anyway — the last hour was a bit of a blur). It’s quite melancholy, but in a sweet way. Does it mention fog? Oh, yes it does. Can’t remember the lyrics, except ‘the maidens of the Isle of Fog’, and the bit about a warm coat being better than a silk dress. I can confirm this to be accurate: the suitcase with all the summer clothes is yet to be unpacked, and I can’t see that changing.

Oh, and the sign on the pub doors says ‘Welcome back. We mist you.’ Surprised it’s the first and only fog-related pun so far, really.

Lily had a sleepover at Enid’s. At last, I’m living the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ dream.

13/09: Day 10

f̶a̶r̶m̶
̶s̶a̶n̶d̶+̶s̶e̶a̶l̶ ̶k̶i̶t̶c̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶f̶l̶o̶o̶r̶
̶m̶o̶u̶l̶d̶+̶m̶i̶l̶d̶e̶w̶ ̶t̶r̶e̶a̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶

It says something about a place when the main attraction is an animal farm. But Lily has supreme pester power, so now we’ve been. Enid came along. She seems really smart and creative — I can see why they like each other. She talks a lot, but mostly at Lily rather than me, so it’s survivable.

The place has been turned into a museum of sorts, so you get to learn a bit about the island as well. The only vaguely interesting thing about the farm is that all the cows are pure white, except the nose and ears. The breed is White Park (there’s a theme here, isn’t there… hmmmm, can’t put my finger on it yet. nope — nothing). Both heifers and bulls have long horns — yes, I read all the information panels. There was a painting showing that huge well in the main square and a young girl peering out of an enormous pail, with a dozen white cows next to her. Basically, paganism to the max. The painting’s title is Maiden of the Mist, and the plaque says that ‘every year, a young local girl would be symbolically sent down the well and back up again, in the belief that it would help keep the fog over the island for the year to come’. So many questions.

It’s not the worst attraction, but it is odd. You get to walk through the barn and stare at the cows while they stare back at you. They smell warm and sour and blameless. A lot of ‘awww’-ing from the girls when we got to the calves. At the end there’s a little gift shop — unmanned; you just put the money in a box. Lily wanted a cowbell, which she didn’t get — there’s a direct correlation between noisy toys and infanticide, and I don’t want to go there — so she got a cow plushie. God knows how they survive here — they’re not exactly drowning in tourists, and surely as a local you wouldn’t come here more than once in a lifetime, unless you’re Enid. We got a whole lecture on the way back, so now I have more vital information, namely: 1) Fog Festival is the week after next 2) it’s really fun and you get to go to bed late 3) they bring eleven cows down to the well and you get to milk them if you want 4) the Maiden of the Mist that goes down the well is now just a doll.

The girls wanted to play some more, so they stayed at Enid’s — hurrah. Wine o’clock, I say.

14//09: Day 11

l̶a̶u̶n̶d̶r̶y̶
̶d̶o̶w̶n̶l̶o̶a̶d̶ ̶s̶t̶u̶d̶y̶ ̶m̶a̶t̶e̶r̶i̶a̶l̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶n̶e̶x̶t̶ ̶3̶0̶ ̶d̶a̶y̶s̶

Never thought I’d say this, but Lily might be enjoying it here too much. I’d rather she wasn’t getting all these compliments. She’s used to people staring and children pointing, but here they pretty much worship her, and that’s creepier. When people were being rude or mean, at least that pushed her to come up with witty comebacks, stand up for herself — and now all she’s getting is praise and admiration. She’s not ready for it, she’s not processing it very well, and I have NO IDEA how she’s supposed to transition back when we leave this place.

But: god, is she clever. ‘Mum, what do all mistakes have in common?’ — ‘I don’t know, what is it?’ — ‘They all start with mist.’ Then, ten seconds later: ‘First comes the mist, then comes the ache.’

Does island life inspire poetry?..

On my part, I’ve come up with a slogan for their festival: ‘For fog’s sake’. Felt extremely lonely when I realised I can’t share this with a single person on the island — when it comes to their precious fog, their sense of humour seems to evaporate (oh yes, I went there). It’s fine, I can be my own audience.

15/09 Day 12

c̶a̶r̶d̶i̶g̶a̶n̶

Popped into the shop next to the bakery to thank them for the cardigan. It’s called Maiden of the Mist (no puns in sight); a knitting store with some ready-made clothes on the side. I was greeted by an ancient but imposing woman who seemed to instantly know who I was (small island, not much to gossip about). She brushed away my gratitude and said — no, recited: ‘A woollen cloak is a better gift than the prettiest dress of silk.’ Yes — from that song. Starting to feel like a local… (no, not really) Was tempted to ask her for the full lyrics, but that would have threatened to take the situation to a level of cliché I couldn’t deal with: a knitting matriarch singing a local ballad to a curious outsider… Nope nope nope.

I chose not to check how much Lily’s gift would normally go for.

16/09: Day 13

p̶a̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶c̶u̶p̶b̶o̶a̶r̶d̶s̶
̶w̶a̶s̶h̶ ̶c̶u̶r̶t̶a̶i̶n̶s̶
̶c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶d̶l̶i̶n̶e̶n̶

Had a weird moment today. The realisation that I can’t just snap out of this. It’s hard to describe — a bit like the moment you quit a game, or finish a film. Just this brief instance when you go ‘okay, this whole island adventure has been scenic and dreamy and all, but it’s time to wake up’, and then realise there’s nowhere to wake up to. We’re actually here. Along with two hundred people and a thousand seagulls. The ferry comes once a week. Christina’s house is still burnt down. The articles, comments and memes are still up. Searching my name will still put most people off hiring me. So we wait. It might be a while. At least Lily is loving it, as is her skin. First fortnight without any sunscreen since she was born, come to think of it.

There are dark new islands forming in the middle of the Indian Ocean on the shower curtain. Miseducation by mould?..

17/09: Day 14

r̶e̶a̶r̶r̶a̶n̶g̶e̶ ̶b̶o̶o̶k̶c̶a̶s̶e̶s̶
̶b̶l̶a̶c̶k̶ ̶m̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶t̶r̶e̶a̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶

Lily’s all excited about the festival — it’s all that she and Enid will talk about, while I cringe every time one of them yells ‘in goes the miss, out comes the mist’. The shopkeepers aka Lily’s Fan Club keep asking if she’ll come. Her, not us. Nobody cares if I’ll be there. The ginger guy selling antiques has tried to give her a pocket mirror — really ornate, ivory by the look of it — I politely declined, saying she’s too young and it’s too expensive. Cue sulking.

P.S. That mildew. I have no words. This is war.

18/09: Day 15

p̶a̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶r̶o̶o̶m̶ ̶w̶a̶l̶l̶s̶
̶m̶e̶a̶s̶u̶r̶e̶ ̶a̶r̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶r̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶f̶r̶a̶m̶e̶s̶

Not my proudest day as a parent. Have used all my mindfulness tricks but still half-angry, half-sad.

Lily was still sulking in the morning, I asked if it was about the mirror, she said yes, and I explained — pretty well, I think — why I’m a little worried about all the attention and compliments, and that I don’t want her to think that her appearance is the most important thing about her. I talked about looks VS inner qualities; self-esteem; objectification; external validation, etc. (not in those terms)

Her response:

‘You’re just jealous because you’re not white like me.’

WTF do you say to that?! And WTF has happened to her?

Not proud of how I replied, but at least I didn’t shout (that took some doing).

‘You’re not white, you will never be white. You are an albino black.’

She screamed ‘I hate you’ and stormed out. Not the first time, not the last. Thing is, I don’t think she picked that up here: no one seems to be phased by me, there’ve been no whispers or stares.

Feel like I’ve betrayed both her, and myself.

She’s been crying in her room, and I in mine.

19/09: Day 16

d̶r̶i̶e̶d̶ ̶g̶o̶o̶d̶s̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶o̶ ̶j̶a̶r̶s̶;̶ ̶p̶r̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶l̶a̶b̶e̶l̶s̶
̶t̶o̶i̶l̶e̶t̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶o̶ ̶g̶l̶a̶s̶s̶ ̶b̶o̶t̶t̶l̶e̶s̶;̶ ̶p̶r̶i̶n̶t̶ ̶l̶a̶b̶e̶l̶s̶

The boiler man came again, this time as a plumber. I used the opportunity to compliment his impressive harping (never thought I’d write those words, truly) and ask him about song lyrics. Fortunately, he must be as allergic to musicals as I am, because he asked for some paper instead of breaking into a song. So now I have them:

Don’t bring me roses and gems, my love,
Gold lockets or silver rings.
The maidens of the Isle of Fog
Don’t care for shiny things.

The colours are lost on me, my love,
The fog here is thick as milk.
A woollen cloak is a better gift
Than the prettiest dress of silk.

Don’t ever pray for clear weather, my love,
For a sun in a clear blue sky.
Don’t wish for bright stars and rainbows
Pray instead that the fog stays high.

Lily got back from Enid’s later than usual, and was very quiet. Probably needs some more cooldown time — she and I both.

20/09: Day 17

r̶e̶f̶r̶a̶m̶e̶ ̶a̶r̶t̶w̶o̶r̶k̶
̶l̶a̶u̶n̶d̶r̶y̶
̶c̶l̶i̶p̶ ̶h̶e̶d̶g̶e̶s̶

Lily stayed in all day, for the first time since we got here. We only saw each other at lunch, she ate in complete silence — but she seems to be deep in thought rather than sulking. I didn’t want to pry.

Evening was even stranger: she didn’t want any dinner (that’s a first), went to bed herself (also a first), and then, around ten, she crept up on me as I was listening to a podcast (kids are scary as hell, that’s a fact), wrapped her little arms around me, and just stayed like that for a while. I guess I’m forgiven.

21/09: Day 18

f̶i̶n̶i̶s̶h̶ ̶l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶i̶r̶

Lily and Enid have been sitting in the garden all day like two little ghosts, not even playing, just talking.

I watched them through the window while scrubbing away mould and mildew in the upstairs bathroom — perfect metaphor for this new life.

I’ve finished all the upholstery work — finally. Fingertips all covered in needle pricks, but at least it’s done.

Another surprise long hug from Lily before bed. Don’t know why, but it made me sad.

22/09: Day 19

b̶l̶a̶c̶k̶ ̶m̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶t̶r̶e̶a̶t̶m̶e̶n̶t̶
̶s̶a̶n̶d̶+̶s̶e̶a̶l̶ ̶p̶a̶n̶t̶r̶y̶ ̶s̶h̶e̶l̶v̶e̶s̶

Day before the Fog Festival. Lily wants to go with Enid and her parents, because ‘it won’t be fun for either of us, knowing that you’d rather not be there.’ When did she grow up so much?

I really don’t want her to go, but feel like she might just drift away completely if I don’t give her this. At least she’s talking to me again.

Today’s homeschooling was all about paganism, with a strong emphasis on scientific knowledge being the antidote. She seems to get that it’s just a tradition, that fog isn’t actually controlled by people, and that nothing bad will happen if one day it disappears (except property prices going up, because the place will become more inhabitable, and you’ll be able to take decent photos of it!)

I’m happy to stay home, to be honest — a bath and a book sound much better than forced fun and crowds.

23/09: Day 20

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

We’re in the cellar. It’s around 1AM. No clock, so that’s a guess.

This seemed safer than hiding somewhere on the island — we don’t know it as well as they do.

Okay. Breathe. I’ll just write it down. One thing at a time.

I heard soft knocking downstairs a couple of hours ago while I was finishing the upholstery. It was Enid, barefoot in her pyjamas, shaking. I brought her in, wrapped her in a blanket, didn’t wake Lily.

Enid came to warn me. She’d made a promise, but she likes Lily too much so she was breaking it.

It’s not a doll that goes down the well. It’s a girl. And she doesn’t come out.

The milk from eleven white cows is collected in the pail. Then the girl’s head is kept under until she drowns. Then the pail goes down, and up again. They do it so that the body stays down in the well. They believe it will make the fog stay for another year.

The girl has to be fair-skinned and blonde. An albino, ideally.

They always find someone with no links to the outside world. Someone people won’t go looking for.

So Agneth found us.

And now Lily is that girl. The Maiden of the Mist. She didn’t know until three days ago, when Enid’s parents sat her down and talked to her. “If the mist disappears, we disappear,” they said. They told her that I would disappear, too. And that she is the only one who could stop it from happening. So she thought about it, and decided she would do it. She didn’t want me, and everyone else, to disappear.

Enid doesn’t know what really happens if the festival doesn’t go as planned. It always does: there’s a girl each year. But she’d never been friends with them before. So she had to sneak out to tell me what Lily is planning on.

Had to think fast. I asked if she knew about the cellar — she did not, but her parents might. I don’t think they do. So that’s where we went.

We went up to Lily’s room. She was awake, sitting upright in her bed. She froze for a moment when we came in, then her whole face crumpled up, and she started to cry.

I left her with Enid and got to work. Brought some food and water down into the cellar, and all the blankets and pillows I could take without making it obvious. Took both our coats off the hooks, to make it look like we’re outside. Purposely left the laptop out and switched on, as if we’d rushed out unprepared. Grabbed a few of Lily’s books, and a couple of mine. Diary and pens. A bucket with a lid. Then I went upstairs and carried Lily down in my arms, like when she was little.

I showed Enid how to hide the loop between the planks. Then I closed the heavy lower lid above us, and she did the upper one. I could hear her fiddle with the rope loop, then drag the rag above us.

Thank you, Enid.

* * *

It must be early morning. Lily is asleep. And I just keep going over the events, trying to reconstruct how it began. What an idiot.

How did I never think it odd that Agneth ‘liked’ a dozen photos of Lily before she even started following me or commenting on house photos? If a man had done that, I’d have been freaked out. It’s not like I post about Lily often, clearly she went through everything else to find those. Then followed me. Messaged. Gradually befriended me. Offered support when the fire happened. Called me once, then again, then almost every day. Was so kind, telling me it could have happened to anyone, and doesn’t make me any less of a professional. Listened to my whining. Offered us to wait it out with her on the island. And when I turned that down, she offered to leave the house to us, so I could do a makeover and start rebuilding client trust again.

How. Fucking. Selfless.

And she made sure no one would know we’re here.

Deleting social profiles? Agneth’s idea. Digital detox? That was her suggestion, too. And getting rid of my phone to ‘really switch off’? Same again.

Oh, Lily. What have I done.

* * *

They left about an hour ago, but my hands are still shaking. Can’t tell how many they were — at least five, I think. I could hear doors open and close, steps up and down the stairs, brief exchanges: questions, commands, voices becoming more urgent.

Lily and I were holding each other under the blanket. I’d never been more scared in my life, not even in that ambulance. But then they left, and all we could hear were muffled seagull screams — or mirrors being cleaned?

Need to switch off the light again — the last thing we need is for it to go out completely.

* * *

I thought Lily was asleep — hard to tell in the dark — so she spooked me a bit when she spoke. ‘So they all lied about liking me?’

I said they probably did like her, but superstitious people aren’t reasonable, and their beliefs are stronger than their feelings. No, she said. They lied. All I could say was ‘Enid didn’t lie.’ She was quiet for a long time after that. Or maybe she fell asleep.

She’s reading now, and I’m wondering what our plan is. The ferry comes on Monday. Today is Saturday. I need to try opening the trap door from down here — safer to do it at night, if I can guess when that is. If I can practise opening it quickly, and we time it well, we can make a dash for it. I don’t see how else we could get off this island.

Wish I could sleep, but mostly I wish I could wake up.

* * *

It’s evening, I think. The festival would be in full swing now — I’d say I wonder what’s happening there, but not sure I want to know. Some other poor girl murdered? At least Enid has dark hair, which I hope will keep her safe. Or will they have to skip the sacrifice, and finally find out that it doesn’t change anything, so they’ve killed who knows how many children for nothing? And once they realise, will they collectively throw themselves into that well? I hope so.

I’ve tried lifting the trap door: heavy as hell, but I think it can be done. I’m just too scared to do it now — no one to close and cover it up now, and what if they come back? We’ll have to wait for Monday afternoon.

24/09 Day 21

I’ve been interrogating Lily about everything she knows from Enid and her parents.

Children are only told that if the fog disappears, everyone will disappear with it. Enid thinks they know much more, even though they never talk about it. She once tried tricking her dad into telling her when he got home from the pub. He suddenly went from floppy and cheerful to cold sober, squeezed her arms so much it hurt, and said: ‘Child… You think you want to know, but you don’t. I thought I did, and now I curse the day I was told. if you knew what is waiting to feast upon us and how, you would rather lie at the bottom of the sea than live on. You were the only thing that stopped me from finding safety in the waves.’

Lily thought I already knew about this, because she’d heard me humming that song about the maidens of the Isle of Fog, and that’s what the song is about. It must have been written on my face that I had no idea what she meant, so we compared notes. Turns out I wasn’t given the full lyrics: there is one more verse she’d learned from Enid. Now I’ve heard the whole ballad.

Don’t bring me roses and gems, my love,
Gold lockets or silver rings.
The maidens of the Isle of Fog
Don’t care for shiny things.

The colours are lost on me, my love,
The fog here is thick as milk.
A woollen cloak is a better gift
Than the prettiest dress of silk.

Don’t ever pray for clear weather, my love,
For a sun in a clear blue sky.
Don’t wish for bright stars and rainbows
Pray instead that the fog stays high.

Pray instead that we never see the sun,
Or the flowers in the tall grass.
For, if we can see nothing through the fog,
Then nothing can see us.

‘Are you sure it isn’t “then no one can see us”?’ I asked. It must be. Two lovers hiding from prying eyes…

“No. “Nothing.”’

I don’t like that, not one bit.

Still no sounds outside, apart from the gulls.

25/09 Day 22

It’s Monday. Ferry day. Not sure what time it is — my brain has switched to snoozing for a couple of hours at a time, and no more. From the moment we hear the horn, we have about seven minutes to open the trapdoor and make a run for it. It’s a five-minute walk to the harbour; so a three-minute run — perhaps four with Lily. I’m shaking again, this time from the adrenaline.

* * *

I nearly had a heart attack when an alarm went off in the house. Took me a while to realise it’s my laptop — the ferry horn reminder, set for two minutes before the ferry: 15:58. Extra time, I thought — great! I was struggling with the lid, but about to lift it high enough above the floor to shift it when Lily said, ‘Mum, the ferry isn’t there. No horn.’ I don’t know why that was so crushing, but I almost fell back in. It could have been any number of reasons. Maybe they skip it sometimes. Maybe they are late. So we waited and waited. Nothing.

The fear I feel right now is hard to describe. Either I have betrayed science and logic, or they have betrayed me.

Day 25?

I’m not sure what day it is: feel like I’m stuck in a bad dream, when you wake up into yet another layer of the same nightmare. We need to leave. I don’t know what’s waiting outside, but we are running out of water and we need to get out — now.

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Olga Pope

Creative consultant + strategist on a mission to take the BS out of branding. Born in the Arctic Circle. Party trick: two spleens.