Story Info: Each image you will come across in this story is a photograph of the land outside my house. I live on a 20-acre property (about 8 hectares) consisting mostly of forest, with a creek wrapping around the west and north side. When it rains here mist rises among the trees and raindrops decorate the leaves and branches.
Early that morning, as the rain nestled into the background of wake and dream, the spirit of a household dog chased the mist into the woods. The dog belonged to Esther, who lived in a small wooden house with light walls and gentle sounds. The mottled arms of the hinterland embraced the house’s outer structure, its leafy landscape as wild and expressive as flicked paint on water-soaked paper. Esther dreamed of strange creatures that sung and hissed and growled and sobbed and said absolutely nothing at all.
The dog spirit had left an old body behind on the living room rug named Sol, his fur golden like sunshine and other warm things. Yet his warmth had faded with a sleep that could not be unslept, his peaceful eyes far, far—very far—away.
Esther’s two parents watched the world through the steam of their mismatched coffee mugs, waiting for Esther to rise and greet them, waiting to sigh and speak of the body with sadness. However, one moment they could not wait for was that of their own understanding, because only Esther had understood the spirit of the dog that had chased the mist, and only the dog spirit had understood Esther. Together they were understood, and together they had lived until early that morning.
The scent of fresh rain drifted into Esther’s bedroom on a tide of simple memories, coaxing her awake as if there were all the time in the world. It felt different to how Sol usually woke her – distant instead of messy, cool instead of sweet, blank instead of vibrant.
The softs waves in her hair slipped off the pillow as she stirred. The rhythmic tapping of a thin tree branch against her window alerted her with some sense of urgency, lifting her upright. With sleepy eyes and heavy raindrops, she failed to grasp the news the branch tried to inform her of. Only later would she wonder, with quiet self-disapproval, whether she could have prevented what was to come by understanding the branch better.
Esther wrapped her bed blanket like a cape when she stood, the lowest edge dragging across the floorboards behind her bare feet. The house hallway smelt of dampness.
A tit bird bounced along the outer windowsill of the kitchen, perplexed by its reflection among the clouds and tangled impressions of the woods. The world was slow to wake.
Upon seeing the golden body on its side, Esther raced out of the house to the edge of the porch, blanket flapping in the momentum she imprinted on the air behind. Naked toes curled over the drop between the porch and the untamed grass, she searched over and between and through the trees for any traces of mist or dog spirits. Hair and blanket and nightgown danced around her figure.
Not a single spirit to be seen.
A terrifying monster stirred in the pit of her stomach, eerie and black like the deep sea. It was the monster of Grief and Loss, and it opened its wide mouth – an even darker void, about to suck out her insides until there was nothing left but a fragile shell. But wait, Esther thought, and the monster paused to listen, if I follow the direction of the mist, and if I follow it very soon, I can reunite with the spirit of Sol. The monster closed its mouth slowly, encouraging her to continue. And when I find Sol’s spirit, I will bring him back home, and it will be as if none of this happened.
The monster nodded its approval.
Esther dashed back inside the house, past her parents and the body of Sol, her bed blanket flailing. “Esther, what in the world are you in such a hurry for? Aren’t you going to mourn Sol’s passing with us?” asked the blur of Esther’s mother, as Esther swooped into her bedroom.
On came her warm coat and her lace-up boots. “I’m going to look for the mist,” Esther called out in response. “It took Sol away from me, and I’m going to get him back.” With one long, twirling movement she tossed a knitted scarf around her neck and turned from the room. The bed blanket lay crumpled on the floor.
“Don’t be silly, Esther,” said her mother from the living area, again visible to Esther. “Sol can’t come back. It wouldn’t be right.” The shapes her mother's face took were kind ones, but her voice sounded an awful lot like the black monster.
Esther felt more alone than she’d ever been before. The walls and the furniture had changed somehow, as if she were navigating another universe. The black monster in her gut crept towards her chest, wrapping its clawed fingers around her beating heart. Are you afraid? It asked in a purring voice.
Esther made a concerted effort not to look at the body on the rug as she made for the front door. Her parents watched her through the steam of their mugs.
Outside the kitchen, the tit bird pecked at the windowpane.
“Esther, don’t leave." Her father's voice carried over to Esther. "We need to bury Sol’s body before it starts to smell.”
The monster chuckled.
Esther stepped outside.
Mist swirled on her breath on the other side of the door. Above the porch roof smoky clouds monopolized the sky, stretching into a vast canvas no one had bothered to illustrate. Esther wondered how far Sol had run to within the mighty wall of trees.
She could hear her father’s footsteps looming behind, wanting to reach out and pull her back to that body on the rug. They didn’t understand the spirit of the dog who chased the mist, or the spirit of the girl about to chase the dog. She would bring Sol back to the house.
Esther dropped from the porch and hurried towards the trees. Leaves and branches wrap layers around her, swallowing her up in emerald. The calls of her two parents drowned into bird calls the further she ventured into the woodland.
Occasionally a glimpse of surrounding hills revealed the direction of the nomadic mist, slinking its way across the lofty terrain. On and on she trekked, her scarf pulled high around her neck. It wasn't until she'd stopped by an uprooted tree that the extent of her aloneness appeared. Her home was a long way away; she was in the mist's territory now.
Esther scanned the area around the fallen tree. The day was still young, yet she had travelled quite a distance already.
It was then she came across her first unusual spirit of the forest.