August 1995 (backdated). First discovered the island. Noted presence of strange mists. Island not shown on my 1:50,000 scale map, so I inked it in.
George wrote in a neat script, always in black. The journal was slightly smaller than a standard paperback and about ¾” thick. The pages were lined, and he always skipped 2 lines between entries.
1995—2001 (backdated). Passed by the island perhaps a dozen times. Mist is always present.
8/15/2001 (backdated). Fishing bad, sun brutal. Happened by the island, which looked shady and beckoning, so I landed to check it out. Strange peaceful feeling just being there. Found path to the top, which is bare. Thought I might go back sometime.
8/17/2001. Can’t stop thinking about the island. Bought journal to record thoughts and observations.
Adeline and I had found a deserted little café, the lunch crowd long gone. Ordered wine, which they brought with a dish of olives and a glass of those tiny bread sticks. We were sitting close, leaning over the little book as if it contained the secrets of the universe. Maybe it did.
George visited the island three or four times a week for the next few weeks, noting nothing unusual except that somehow the island felt ‘different.’
9/4/2001. Have decided to paint the island, although I’m not sure how it will turn out. From a distance the only unusual feature is the mist, which will be impossible to capture, at least with my skills. Spent the day making sketches and taking photographs.
9/5/2001. Picked up the blowups I’d ordered of some of the photos today. The mist does not show up in any of the photographs. Strange. Need to buy a digital camera and investigate further.
“I’m definitely going to think more seriously about finding that geophysicist. Why in the world wouldn’t the mist show up on a photograph?”
The idea of inviting a scientist to explore our island shocked me. “It doesn’t show up because it’s not a natural effect. It’s . . . um, magic is the only word I can think of. Although it seems so inadequate here.”
“Magic.” She shook her head. “I was going to say that I don’t believe in magic, but I guess I do. Now.” She turned back to the journal.
George continued to visit his island, do the studies and sketches we’d found in his sketchbook, and turn them into a handful of paintings through the next nine months. His interest waned slightly, but he made the trip at least once a week except for a short stretch in early January where he noted that the weather was atrocious. All of that changed in May.
5/9/2002. Was walking the clearing today when I discovered a bronze brooch lying on the ground. I am absolutely certain it was not there the last time I was. I quartered the area carefully but found nothing else.
An internet search turned up similar items. It is a cloak brooch, Celtic in design. If not a reproduction, it dates from around 800AD, although could be a couple of hundred years each way.
I cannot even imagine how this object got here. I can only suppose another visitor dropped it, but why would they be carrying such a thing, and how could they be so careless?
So I had been wrong in my earlier speculation that this artifact had been left for George by the golden-haired woman. If it had been hers, leaving it was either unintentional—perhaps it had been dropped during the Beltane festivities the previous week—or she had powers way beyond what I’d encountered so far. But what exactly had I encountered? Was there some way she was manipulating things, or was she also a mere fellow traveler on this strange journey?
“Wonder why he never showed the brooch to me?” Adeline wondered. “I was there in the cottage a number of times after he found it. But he never even hinted.” Adeline seemed beyond tears at this point. Wasn’t sure if anger had replaced them or if she had cried herself out. Or maybe she was just making a long list of things to ask her father.
George related that he began to order books about Celtic history and religion. I couldn’t be sure if his studies had changed his patterns for visiting the island, but for the first time he began to motor by in the evening. Or perhaps that was just more subtle manipulation. I began to feel an uneasiness that I’d not felt before.
8/1/2002. Tonight there was a fire burning on the island. I felt disappointed that others were sharing my special place, but didn’t feel like exploring further so I just went home.
8/2/2002. Went to the island to see if the campers had left a mess. Not only was there no mess, there was no sign that anyone had been there. No fire ashes, no disturbance on the ground. I searched for at least an hour.
What I did find is holes spaced around the clearing. They were pretty filled in with leaves, but when I’d cleared the leaves out, I could tell that they formed a circle spaced around the middle of the clearing. Very strange.
I pointed out the passage to Adeline. “This is exactly what I did eleven years later. Searching for traces of the fire I’d seen, I discovered the holes, cleared them out, and marked where the stone circle stands on sabbats.”
George’s interest in the island was rekindled. On the basis of nothing more than the depressions and his growing collection of books, he’d not only speculated about the existence of a circle of stones, he’d painted it. Almost exactly like it would be when he first saw them. And on that basis, he’d named the island.
8/29/2002. Started a painting of the Isle of Avalon showing the standing stones as I see them in my mind.
“Very curious that your father didn’t say ‘in my dreams,’ but rather ‘in my mind.’ I guess it’s possible that’s what he meant, but he seems so careful with his word choices, I can only conclude that he imagined the stones before he dreamed about them.”
Adeline kept her eyes on the journal. “I never saw him as an imaginative person at all. He seemed so . . . plodding, deliberate, grounded in the real world. But that’s not who he was at all, is it?”
“Maybe that’s who he was when you were growing up, long before he encountered the island. It seems perfectly capable of changing someone for life.”
George began to make regular passes by the island at night, almost every night, watching for the fire. But of course it never reappeared. On what would have been his next opportunity, a heavy rain kept him from going. A week later he made the connection and lamented that he hadn’t discovered it earlier.
11/07/2002. Read a passage today about the Wheel of the Year and the Pagan Holidays. The night I saw the fire would have been Lughnasudh, one of the fire feast days. Could it be possible that’s what I saw?
If so, I missed Samhain because of the rainstorm last week. So now I must wait until Imbolc, around February 1st, to see if my theory is correct.
George was much more prepared for Imbolc than I was. He purchased a small tent and set it up on the edge of the clearing a couple of days before, stashing some non-perishable food, water, and a lantern there. To make sure he didn’t miss it, he went out every night starting on January 30th. It had never occurred to me that Imbolc might be on a different day in the Otherworld—dates for the feast days vary a day in either direction depending on the year, but I’d blindly assumed that Imbolc would be on the same day then as now. And fortunately it had been. But George had figured that out and allowed for it.
2/1/2003. The fire was burning tonight. Went ashore, made my way up to the clearing. There were people there, or maybe they were spirits. Seven women at first, later joined by others. They reacted to my presence in a way that clearly showed that they could see me, but I could not hear them although they were obviously speaking. The stones were standing in their places but I could not touch them; the fire was burning but I could pass my hand through it without harm.
I attempted to photograph the stones, the women, and the fire. But the pictures showed none of these things, just what would be there on any other night.
Adeline reached that passage before I did, because I heard her suck her breath in loudly. Twenty seconds later the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I read the words. In retrospect, I can’t say why I was affected that way. Just something about it.
I was astonished by how unemotional George’s descriptions were. Surely he was moved beyond the dry, detached descriptions he penned.
The people drank and danced for several hours, and then disappeared. I spent the night, and searched the entire clearing in the morning for some sign they’d been there but found nothing. The fire left no ashes.
George went to the island at the spring equinox and saw the same vague shapes that I had at Midwinter. So he set up camp and was ready for Beltane.
5/1/2003 (Beltane). I felt the heat of the fire tonight, and touched the stones. They appeared to be rough limestone. I probably could have touched the people as well, but that would have felt irresponsibly invasive so I didn’t attempt it. Photography still does not work, even with the sensory changes. Very similar to Imbolc, except the people were quite libidinous, with much kissing and pawing before pairing up and disappearing into the forest. This was not totally unexpected from my reading, but their unabashed frankness was a little surprising.
“That’s when we’re going to be there, on Beltane. Do you anticipate that we’ll be quite libidinous, Rick? Think you can restrain yourself?”
“In front of your father? I certainly hope so. Plus you’ll still be my boss, at least for one more day.”
“Unless my father is off in the underbrush with that woman.”
I recalled Chai and my simulated Beltane. If that was any indication, the real thing would be . . . memorable. Adding in that Sabrina might invite herself along as well, and Mr. Lust was licking his chops.
George was back on the island for Lughnasudh, with nothing new to report. Samhain, however, changed his life. Even he could not keep his narrative distant.
11/1/2003 (Samhain). The seven women who officiate at ceremonies are uniformly stern and forbidding. The villagers, which is how I think of the others, arrive in a festive mood, but in their drab garb are by and large unremarkable. But tonight a new woman was at the festivities. Her hair color was somewhere between sunshine and fire, and I was quite struck by her. Not just her beauty, although that was truly remarkable, but the quiet power beneath her unpretentious demeanor. She was very pregnant, perhaps 7 months, but in no way awkward or clumsy. She wore a white robe as do the seven, and a simple circlet of flowers and leaves set off her hair perfectly.
My normal practice has been to stay well into the background, coming only close enough to be able to watch without disturbing the people. But I could not resist moving nearer to this woman. Her face seemed to show a deep sadness that drew me even closer.
When she saw me she started, and then peered at me intently while I stood motionless. Then she reached out and touched my face, a touch as light as a feather.
I have no idea what she saw there. But her face lit up like it had caught fire from her hair. She covered her mouth with her hands, turned, and scurried away.
After she left, I didn’t even stay the night. I just made my way back to my boat and went home to think and remember. And hopefully, to dream.