When I was a child, I lived on an island off the coast of Scotland. On an ordinary day, it took about ten minutes to cross on foot. Except when the fog rolled in. On those days, when I could barely see two feet in front of me, I could wander across rolling hills, dense forests, and rocky beaches for hours. Occasionally, I would stumble across places I’d never been before – an intricately carved stone archway, an enormous tree hollowed out into a shelter, a deep hole that stretched into oblivion. I can remember these places clearly, but they can’t have been real. It’s interesting, the tricks memory can play.
One day, when my parents had gone to the mainland, the fog rolled in, thicker than I’d ever seen. I was playing in the woods when my grandfather came up to me.
“Your parents are late,” he said. “They’re lost in the fog.” I nodded. Somehow, that seemed inevitable. I followed the old man up to the edge of the island, where a cliff dropped sharply into the crashing waves below. The air smelled of salt water and lightning.
Grandfather tied a rope around my waist and handed me a burning oil lantern.
“Hold that up high,” he said. “They’ll need the light to find their way.”
I lifted the lantern aloft, higher and higher until my toes left the ground, higher still until I could feel the tug of the rope tethering me to the ground.
“Not too high, now!” he yelled as I passed over the edge of the cliff. The waves below growled and raged like a hungry beast. “You might get lost!” Above me, the fog whispered. It called to me. The lantern burned my hand, begging me to drop it. The rope seemed to loosen.
Memory is a tricky thing.
I remember holding tight to the lantern, resisting the call of the fog, until I saw my parent’s boat come into the harbor. Grandfather reeled me back in. As soon as my feet touched the ground I ran to meet them. I couldn’t shake the feeling they had avoided a terrible fate.
We moved back to the mainland shortly after that. Grandfather stopped living with us. I grew up, went off to university. Still, the island rarely left my thoughts. I asked my parents if we could visit, for nostalgia’s sake. They were confused. According to their version of events, we’d never lived on an island, and Grandfather had died long before I was born.
This didn’t bother me.
Memory is a tricky thing. More than one truth can be reality.
Because as much as I remember returning to the ground that day, I also remember letting the lantern slip from my grasp to be devoured by the waves, letting the rope drop from my waist, and floating up and up and up, until all that surrounded me was fog and wind and whispers.
I’m still up there now, even as I write this.
Memory is a tricky thing.
Grace Jenkins is a writer, lover of stories, and a student at the University of British Columbia. Her short story “The Ones Who Never Were” has been published on the UBC AMS Writer’s Guild website as the runner-up for their March contest.