Definition of will-o'-the-wisp
Ignis fatuus: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.
a delusive or elusive goal.
The fog rolled in deep and thick, quickly enveloping every object within five feet. Liam slowed his pace, his barely worn hiking boots rubbing a sore spot on his heel. It hadn’t been a long walk in the glens, but long enough for the new boots to find the tenderest of spots on his feet and toes.
Liam was in the north just for the weekend. He’d set out earlier that day only with the intention of breaking in the new boots. He carried a bottle of water and a granola bar, thinking a short hike might be best in case the boots took their time breaking in. Leaving his car at the side of the narrow, unpaved road, he’d followed the road steadily up into the glens, to the trail head that would take him higher into the mountains.
His feet had already started to hurt and he was determined he could make it back to his car. And then the fog rolled in off the Irish Sea. Thick and fast. Liam had been at the cusp of the glen, about to head back down. As quickly as the fog rolled in, he became disoriented, yet aware of his predicament. Moving slowly, he tried to see the trail ahead of him.
To his right, he caught a flicker. Shifting his gaze directly, he searched the deep shroud to see what it was. The fog gave up nothing but a damp cold that settled in his bones.
There it was again. Maybe the fog is clearing, he thought. I’m sure I’m seeing the light of a closeby farmhouse. Turning to follow the flicker, he stepped carefully, noting the water oozing up around his soles. He knew he’d find hospitality at the dimly lit buildings toward which he headed. A welcome dram of whiskey, perhaps.
The dogs’ incessant barking drew O Malley deeper into the blanket bog. The parked car he’d just passed had been sitting on the road there for days. He’d lived his entire life in these glens, O Malley had. Walked the dogs here every day, and knew these meadows and peat bogs better than he knew his politics. And he was no slouch when it came to politics.
The dogs must have found an animal. They give me no peace when they’re on the scent of something, he thought. He stepped over the peat hags and minded the sodden ground as he made his way to the two collies, which were gathered around small shapes on the ground. An empty water bottle, that’s all it was. And a boot, a new one, by the looks of it. Where’d the other one go? Who did it belong to?
O Malley squinted, and scanned the broken land around him. The peat hags cast shadows in the pale sunlight.
Not a footstep, nor a broken twig on a bush.