Curiouser and curiouser

All the inspiration for my stories comes from the writing group that I attend and we had the interesting idea to use the title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but replacing the word “dog” with whatever we wanted. This led to a variety of stories with some that rhymed (cod, frog and bog) and some that didn’t (twins, spider and old woman).

Some of you might be noticing a supernatural theme to most of my stories and this is because that’s what I read in my formative years and continue to read. Although the main character isn’t me, there are some semi-autobiographical elements in this story.

The Curious Incident of the Bog in the Night-time

A young woman drives, tapping the beat of the music out on the steering wheel and singing along. She shakes her head vigorously in time to the music and her blonde ponytail whips around, flicking each cheek in turn. It is a sultry, late summer’s day so the windows are wound down and the sun roof is open. There is a haze in the sky which she knows means it will get hotter still before the day is out. She has seen few other vehicles around and the main highlight of the journey so far was overtaking a tractor a few miles back.

Ariadne is the woman’s name. She is named after the daughter of the Cretan King Minos who was instrumental in the Minotaur’s downfall by giving Theseus a sword and a ball of thread so he could find his way out of the labyrinth. Her unusual moniker comes from her father, a well-respected expert on Ancient Greece. It could have been worse; she could have been lumbered with Persephone.

As a child, instead of fairy stories, she was lulled to sleep by myths with their fantastic tales of heroes, trials, monsters and power struggles between the gods and man. The names of the Greek gods are as familiar to her as the firemen in Trumpton, another childhood favourite.

She would lie on her back in the garden and imagine that the fluffy cumulus clouds floating above her formed the shape of the nine-headed Hydra and Medusa, with snakes for hair, instead of more benign creatures. As she grew older she realised that being told bedtime stories about Prometheus, whose punishment for creating man from clay and pinching fire from the gods was to have his liver eaten by an eagle, only for it to grow back and be pecked out again the following day, for all eternity, probably wasn’t that normal.

The song Ariadne is enjoying finishes and the tape automatically starts to play the second side. She’s so pleased she chose that option on her new car stereo as it’s such a pain to have to eject the tape and turn it over.

Now singing along to Ride on Time, Ariadne realises she’s close to her destination and glances at the map on the passenger seat. After a couple more miles, she slows down a little so as not to miss the turning, she reaches the track and steers the VW Golf onto the rutted surface.

A few hundred yards down the track, she pulls into a lay-by and turns the engine off. Ariadne gathers her equipment from the back seat, puts her baseball cap on, yanking her ponytail through the hole at the back, and starts walking. Relishing the opportunity to stretch her legs after the long car journey, she takes long strides while singing the chorus from Ride on Time. To her ears she sounds pitch perfect; to anyone else’s it could be mistaken for a high-pitched keening noise of an animal in distress. Ariadne wears a long sleeved cotton shirt and trousers despite the heat, to protect her pale skin from the fierce sun. Eventually she stops and looks out over the bog.

Studying for her MSc in Botany, Ariadne is researching sundews for her dissertation. They have long fascinated her as they look so delicate but are in fact carnivorous; they ensnare insects with sticky, sweet secretions and then slowly digest them.

Picking her way across the marshy ground, Ariadne curses her wellies for making her feet sweat. Reaching the area she’d earmarked last time she was here, she rummages in her backpack and pulls out her quadrat, the one metre square which she will use to calculate how many sundews are in the bog.

Working methodically and making careful notes, Ariadne doesn’t notice the sun moving across the sky and the light start to change. It is only when standing up to stretch that she realises she now has a giant’s shadow. Keen to find her way back to the main road before nightfall, she starts to gather her belongings together when she notices a blue glow out of the corner of her eye. Turning to look, she finds herself staring at a will-o’-the-wisp.

Ariadne knows that it is only marsh gas, not a hinkypunk or the lantern of a malevolent goblin intent on making her lose her way, but she is taken aback by its ethereal beauty. The blue ball hovers above the marsh, its light pulsing slowly. She takes a step towards it and it moves away the same distance, she repeats her move and again it retreats. She takes a step back and it advances towards her. Ariadne starts to get a strange feeling that it is sentient. While puzzling this over, she becomes aware of a low humming sound. The noise surrounds her and, to her surprise, she can feel it in the core of her, like the bass at a really loud gig.

The will-o’-the-wisp starts to drift across the bog and she feels a tug which she attempts to resist at first but when it starts to feel uncomfortable, Ariadne has no choice but to follow. Waves of elation wash over her, convincing her that she will find something wonderful if she just follows the ball. The sun gradually sets as Ariadne continues to trek through the bog.

Several days later, the farmer who owns the land adjoining the bog finds Ariadne’s car. She left the windows and sun-roof open and it has rained so the seats are soaked through. Worried that if it is found the freaks and weirdos will trample his crops again in their search for the unexplained; he fetches his tractor and tows her car next to all the others in a dilapidated barn, away from the other farm buildings, where no-one will ever find them.

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