My Holiday in the Peak District, Day 17

Dark-clouds-over-Chrome-landscapeDay 1234am4pm7, 11.

Mankind’s greatest folly is, it seems, to hope.

The fog has neither lifted nor even retreated.

Charteris and MacReady have twice now tried to reach the farm. Both times they returned empty-handed and clearly shaken.

Dyson can barely even bring himself to look in the direction of the orchard, yet as another day dawns without the prospect of food, it is he who suggested trying to make our way through the fog to the village.

At first I resisted taking part their expedition but, as they equipped themselves to leave, the prospect of being abandoned here filled me with a dire foreboding. They had the decency not to comment on the haste with which I join their preparations. We roped ourselves together as best we could with belts and ties, with Charteris in the lead position. He handed each of us a heavy duty flashlight. ‘We need to preserve the batteries,’ he said, ‘just in case, so let’s see how far we can get with just my torch.’

The fog was like a shroud. I could feel it tightening around us, almost. I could barely make out Charteris ahead of me, or Dyson behind me. MacReady brought up the rear, invisible to me.

Charteris set a careful pace, occasionally straying from one side of the lane to the other, and pressed doggedly on.

Time descended upon us like a cerement.

I have no idea how long we had been walking when Charteris abruptly halted. We clumsily concertinaed together. A car angled across the road blocked our way, its front doors wide open. It took a few moments for us to recognise it as the one in which Dr Raymond had driven off in search of a phone signal.

‘Why are both doors open?’ MacReady asked. ‘Did he have a passenger?’

The answer was not long in coming.

We snaked cautiously around the obstruction. The irriguous grass at the edge of the road was slippery underfoot; waterlogged nettles and stubby branches reached out of the hedgerow to sting and graze.

The fog blunted Charteris’s torch-beam, diffusing and curtailing its reach, but even in its feeble glow we could see the bodies lying in the road. Sprake, who the doctor must have found shortly after leaving us, his pasty body now almost blue, his skin mottled with the strange fungus that contaminated everything in this damned valley, and Raymond himself, as naked as his erstwhile charge, his jaundiced flesh bruised and bleeding. The broken corpses were arranged, as if by some seedy maniacal godling, in a sordid tableau of joyless copulation.

Nausea and unreason swept through me, unhinging me briefly.

Sickened as the others were, they were all for pressing on towards the village, but nothing could compel me to take another step in that direction. MacReady bristled and, when I would not bow to his threats of violence, he urged Charteris and Dyson to just leave me there in the road. ‘Let him keep the cadavers company,’ he snarled.

Eventually, Charteris agreed to return with me to the cottage while MacReady and Dyson continued on in search of help or haven.

That was four days ago.

The fog remains impenetrable, the transitions between day and night almost indiscernible in the gloom. Sometimes I imagine our timepieces running down, and I am filled with trepidation at the thought of being trapped here with no certain way to measure the passage of time.

‘They will return,’ Charteris says several times each day. ‘They will bring food. We will be rescued.’

Such pathetic hopefulness makes him seem small. He is shrinking in significance.

I have not told him that sometimes, through the fog, I hear Dyson and Macready calling out. Begging for us to help them find their way back to this paltry shelter.

They are lost.

Their voices are the voices of the damned, and with each hour that passes they grow weaker.

Day 21

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