This was originally written for a prompt on Tumblr. Prompt: Separated from the tourist group, you find yourself in a marsh. Soft lights glow in the distance. Is it a town?
When she had been a small child, Becky’s parents had labelled her ‘inquisitive’. Out of the five children they had, she had always been the one to wander off – sometimes taking another sibling with her. In supermarkets, they would find her eating sweets from the pick ‘n’ mix section. At fairgrounds, she would make her way over to the bright lights and enchanting music of the merry-go-round. Come Christmas time, she would always go to Santa’s Grotto, wherever they happened to be. Getting into trouble had never deterred her: there was still so much out there to explore.
It was therefore of little surprise to her when, distracted for some time by the beauty of the natural world around her, she was left behind by her tour group. As if coming out of a trance, she slowly returned to her present and, upon realising that she was alone, looked around for any sign of the other tourists or their guide. There was nothing to suggest where they were and wherever that was, it was too far away for her to hear them.
She made the decision to go on alone, confident that she could find her way. She was used to travelling on her own; she could get back to the group before the guide totalled up the number of people following him and realised that he was one short. Becky was regularly lost in unfamiliar places, after all: it was a consequence of being so inquisitive.
It did not become immediately apparent that she was heading in the wrong direction. There was not, in fact, a lot of places for her to explore. The tourists had been brought across to the island on a boat, and it was the only way that they would be able to get back to the mainland. It was only a small island; if all else failed, she could always make her way back to the boat.
When she took a step without looking where she was going and her left leg sunk a couple of feet into the ground, Becky realised that this was definitely not the way that the others had gone.
Her leg was soaked. Water rippled around it playfully and she was about to pull it out of the marsh to head back the direction she had come when something on the other side of the marsh caught her eye. Three lights flicker at her, hovering at about waist height. It wasn’t too far away from her position and it could have been a small village or a resting place, but she couldn’t tell how deep the water got between the land on her side and that on the other. Torn, Becky paused, one foot still in the marsh as she considered her options.
She could have turned around, gone back and continued to look for the tourist group, which would have been the sensible option. On the other hand, those lights across the marsh could be coming from inside buildings, where she would be able to telephone for help.
The seconds ticked by. Becky felt herself sink a little further. The longer that she hesitated, the more confident she became that she could make it. She glanced backwards over her shoulder, listening for any sign of anyone who might be looking for her, but on encountering only silence she decided to take the plunge and swung her other leg forward into the marsh.
She waited until she stopped moving before pushing forwards, her arms held above her to keep her balance. The lights, which had seemed so close when she had been stood on solid ground, did not seem to be getting any closer as she made her way through the water. Thankfully, she sunk no deeper and it was this alone that encouraged her not to turn around to go back.
Once she was halfway across the marsh, it became apparent that the lights were somewhere further off in the distance than she had originally predicted. Becky stopped and stared at them, blinking furiously; from this position, they were brighter than they had previously been. As she watched them, she noticed that there was something strange about the lights: one of them blinked slowly at her, gradually becoming faster until the others followed suit.
For a few moments, she thought it was the marsh. The absurdity of her situation, stood with her legs deep in the muddy water, was causing her to imagine the lights as unwelcoming and even sinister. She knew that if she could only get across to the other side then she would discover a building or perhaps even a village where she could get warm, a change of clothes and access a telephone.
These thoughts were ripped from Becky’s mind when a low, long sound came from across the marsh. It was a single hum that echoed around her threateningly; the lights moved upwards, beginning to spin in the sky. Her breath caught in her throat: she could not breathe. She heard the noise again, and with it came a powerful wind that knocked her backwards into the water.
Her head was immersed under the dirty water. She splashed uselessly, flapping her arms in an attempt to surface. Once the initial shock had worn off she was able to gather together enough sense to push herself up and climb out of the water. Soaked, she spluttered and coughed, her head moving rapidly back and forth as she attempted to figure out which way was which.
There were lights on her left and her right now. The ones on her right were advancing; she moved as fast as she could away from them, tripping over her legs in her hurry and landing on her face in the water again. Even through the water, she could hear that awful humming sound. Becky splashed and flailed, swallowing mouthfuls of the filthy liquid.
In the middle of her panic, something grabbed her on the back of the neck; she fought against it, taking a hold of it and attempting to tug herself away from it. She was dragged backwards out of the water, a light shining in her face as she gasped for breath, panting heavily.
The light was lowered; once her eyes became adjusted to the lack of light, she could see her tour guide leaning over her, his trousers and shirt covered in dirty water. Becky span around frantically, trying to locate the lights that she had seen before, but there was nothing within sight and the sound had gone.
‘What – where –’ she asked in an attempt to string a sentence together.
‘Don’t wander off,’ the tour guide scolded her. ‘We almost left without you.’
‘Did – did you see them?’ she asked him. ‘Did you hear the noise?’
He pulled a face at her, disbelieving. ‘You can play games when you get home. Come on.’
Becky did as he instructed: she didn’t want to be left behind again.