February 8, 2011 by markstani
I’ve always wanted to write a story about this, and this isn’t it. Over time, my recollection of the exact events may have changed, with a view to the story. But it’s basically true. (I’ve highlighted possible exaggerations with *).
A few years ago, I visited my friend Paul in Stockholm. It was the onset of winter. We went on a boat trip through the Archipelago.
We got off at an island called Finnhamn, because it was the furthest we could go at the time of year. It was pin-prick sized and densely wooded.* It was uninhabited, bar a handful of holiday chalets. They’d long since been boarded up for the winter.
The five o’clock boat back was the last of the season.* We walked round the island and picked wild mushrooms to cook later. I remember being slightly concerned what would happen if we missed the five o’clock boat.
Three other people had got off the boat with us. One was a middle-aged man who wore an anorak that was way too light for the time of year. He carried a plastic shopping bag. He looked like he’d just popped out to the Swedish equivalent of Kwik Save.
At one point we came across him in the middle of the woods. He was walking round in tight circles, mumbling to himself.* He affected not to notice us.
A pair of teenage girls also got off. They were slight and buxom, wore mini-skirts and darted from tree to tree, giggling and eyeing us like mischievous wood nymphs.* There was no reason to think anyone else was on the island.
In the middle of the forest, just as the sun bled out, we found a tiny shed. It was windowless, barely six-foot square,* and built of dark, lichen-covered stone. It had a red door. Paul wanted to have a look. He pushed the door and banged it. It was locked. As we half-turned away, it began creaking open from the inside. A wizened* old hand appeared round the frame.
We ran into the forest, gulping shock and laughter, not looking back. We never found out who it was, stooped in a tiny locked box-shed on a desolate island on the last day of Autumn.
We caught the five o’clock boat with the strange man but not the wood nymphs, who had completely disappeared.* We took our bag of mushrooms, which we never cooked. We looked them up when we got back, and found they were most likely deadly.*
It was a weird day. I often wonder what happened to the wood nymphs and the owner of the wizened hand. Or what if we’d missed the five o’clock boat and had to spend the night – or maybe even the whole winter – there with them and the strange circling man, with only deadly mushrooms to eat. One day, I’ll write a story about it. I’ve never written horror, but it kind of lends itself.