Drawing: a person walking along a bush path in a thick fog. Caption reads: "People who get lost in the fog don't get found."

Fog short story by Iris Carden

Settle in dear reader, while I tell you the strange tale of Carmel, who loved bushwalking, sadly, she didn’t love taking expert advice.

Carmel loved bushwalking. It was her favourite passtime. When the opportunity to buy a house adjacent an rainforested national park, she jumped at the chance.

The day after moving, she put on her walking shoes and went next door to the park. At the entrance she saw a notice which said: “Do not enter this national park during fog. If fog arises while you are in the park, do not move. Stay in position and wait for the fog to clear.”

She’d never seen a sign like that before, and she’d visited a lot of national parks.

The park was a large one, large enough to have an actual ranger station and amenities a couple of hundred metres in from the front gate. Beside those was a camping area, with electric barbecues. No open fires here.

Carmel decided it would be polite to stop in and introduce herself as a new neighbour, and while there ask about the strange notice near the front gate.

A ranger named Charlie advised her there were about six rangers rostered on at different times, partly to manage the park, but mostly because someone had to be available to patrol the camping ground. Charlie told her very dense fogs were a regular occurrence in the forest. “The fog comes up during the night, or sometimes late afternoon. It’s dangerous, people get disoriented, get lost. Sometimes we don’t find them for months. If the fog comes up while you’re walking, it’s serious. Just accept you’re probably staying there until late morning when the sun burns the fog off. Don’t think you can follow the path. We’ve found enough bodies to know it can’t be done.”

Charlie seemed serious. Carmel, an experienced bushwalker, wondered if perhaps the bodies they’d found were people who didn’t know the bush at all well, foreign tourists, probably.

Over the next few months, Carmel made a habit of walking one of the park’s many bushwalking tracks after work each day. On weekends she walked the longer tracks, taking her lunch and water bottle. This was exactly the life she wanted. She’d often say hello to Charlie or one of the other rangers, as she met them along the track.

Occasionally she dropped a home-made cake or biscuits in at the ranger station, because she did appreciate how well-maintained the park, and particularly the walking paths, were.

At night, Carmel could look out her window, and see the fog coming in, not as far as the camping area and ranger station, but covering most of the deeper parts of the rainforest.

As the year moved toward winter, the fog came up earlier and earlier in the evening.

On Saturday morning in late May, with winter just around the corner, Carmel packed her backpack with sandwiches and fruit, and her water bottle. It already contained a first aid kit and a silver emergency blanket, not that she thought she’d ever need them.

When she arrived at the park, the fog was just lifting. Not only was it arriving earlier, it was leaving later. She said hello to Charlie, who was repairing a picnic table, as she walked past.

“Don’t stay out late,” he told her. “Fog’s coming in early now.”

“I’ll be back in time,” she answered, and she really intend to be back well before dark.

Wasn’t there a saying, dear reader, about a road paved with good intentions?

Carmel walked four hours along the path to her favourite waterfall. She sat on a big flat rock in the middle of the shallow creek, with sparkling trickles of water rushing around her and over the edge of a cliff face. She ate her lunch and packed her food away.

The warm, but not too hot, late autumn sun, and the bubbling sound of the water running and falling, made her feel sleepy. Carmel stretched out on the rock for a short nap.

When she woke up, the sun didn’t seem to be up quite so high. Carmel looked at her watch. It was three in the afternoon. With four hours to walk back she wouldn’t be at the park entrance until seven. Could she cut that time?

Half walking, half running, Carmel followed the track back. Hurrying took all her energy, and soon she was too tired to do more than her normal walk.

After a while she stopped for a drink, finishing the last of what was in her water bottle. She looked at her watch. It was four-thirty. Looking around, she realised she was almost halfway back.

She picked up her bag and set out again. It was around five-thirty when the trees started to look out-of-focus, and the air began to feel damp. The fog was coming in, but she still had reasonable visibility, so she continued walking.

The fog thickened quickly. Soon she couldn’t see more than a metre in front of her face. She gave in and decided she would have to wait until morning. Feeling uncomfortable in the clinging damp, Carmel pulled the emergency blanket out of the backpack and wrapped it around herself. She sat down, and propped herself, and her backpack up against an ancient tree right beside the path. Searching the bag, she found she still had an apple, which she ate, deciding it was dinner.

She pulled out her phone, thinking she would call the ranger station and let them know she was spending the night out on the path. The phone had no signal, which was strange. Previously, she’d been able to find a signal anywhere in the park.

With nothing else to do, Carmel decided to go to sleep, even though she was not in a comfortable position. She napped fitfully for a while, then was pulled to full wakefulness with a sudden jolt. She’d heard a noise, not the usual rustlings in the underbrush and birdcalls in the canopy she expected in the rainforest. She was sure what she’d heard had been human.

The sound came again. It was definitely human; a woman, calling for help. Then she heard a man yelling. The woman’s voice called again.

Carmel was fairly certain she could tell what direction the sounds were coming from. “Hold on! I’m coming!” she yelled.

Leaving the backpack behind, Carmel took the first aid kit and her phone, which she used as a torch to try to see through the fog. After a few steps she dropped the emergency blanket which she’d been wearing like a cloak.

So, dear reader, that’s where we leave Carmel. In the morning the rangers will find her backpack and the emergency blanket. A search party will be called which will find her phone and first aid kit. In two months’ time, rangers will find what’s left of her body. Her essence, her soul, that part that makes Carmel herself, well: if you go bushwalking in the fog, you might hear that part calling out to you.

I invite you, dear reader, to look out for more:

Strange Tales

While you’re here…

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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