Many of my fellow Midwesterners crave adventure. There's something about hailing from a land mostly known for it's vast flat cornfields that instills a gnawing desire to see the world's wonders in the hearty Nebraskan soul. As for me, I wouldn't mind living long enough to see those previously uninteresting fields again.
Just like my classmates, I had grown up imaging all of the other places where I could reside. I stormed Roman Forts in my backyard. I sailed on missions of trade and discovery with my trusty cardboard spyglass. Once, I even flew a hot air balloon around my yard in eighty minutes. While it was easy to play at world travel, the reality is that it is very expensive.
Luckily for me, I had the grades to fuel my passport. After weighing my options I decided to spend a year in Scotland studying literature. Scotland provided both an air of mystery and adventure. It seemed like the perfect place to explore.
From the minute my plane landed my hopes were confirmed. Despite nearly being stranded at the airport for want of a taxi who accepted credit cards, I couldn't contain my excitement. I was now further from my hometown than most of it's citizens could dream. Every cobblestone was both an experience and an achievement.
Initially, all was well. Classes were exciting. The culture was a source of constant bemusement and delightful embarrassment. And most importantly, the people I was meeting were welcoming and friendly. It's amazing how potent a social life can be when staving off homesickness.
One particular night, my classmates and I were celebrating the end of term. Andrew had volunteered to host at his place as he had the largest flat in town. I don't know how it compared to the average flat in town, but compared to my student accommodations it may as well have been a palatial retreat.
I can't recall exactly what spirits were available. I doubt any of us are all that clear on the matter. There were wines, some kind of rum, and perhaps a vodka or two. As the only teetotaler of the group I mostly stuck to Vimto.
By the time the party had died down several of the others were passed out on the floor. David, having mixed his alcohols with reckless abandon should have joined them. However, he was a commuter student and had already rented a room for the night across town. Sometime after 2 a.m. he staggered out the door and declared his intention to get his money's worth by sleeping at the hotel.
Sober, and living near where he had booked his room, I volunteered to go with him. The streets were largely empty by then. Most of the pubs and takeaways had closed already. Surrounded by solitude, we made our way to his hotel.
As we neared his hotel I spotted a woman a few blocks past his hotel. She stood near one of the few pubs still lit. The halogen sign reflected off of her with a pale blue glow. Her pained, melancholy expression subtly beckoned my sympathies. I was tempted to venture over and see if she needed assistance, but I was already engaged in seeing a sloshed friend home.
"One good deed at a time," I told myself
Before I could draw my friend's attentions to the mysterious woman, two figures tumbled out of the pub's front door in front of her. Despite obviously unsteady steps, the shorter individual attempted to brace their companion against gravity's envious pull. Breath held, I expectantly flinched as the duo tilted toward disaster. With a graceful fluidity the woman stepped forward and grabbed them before they fell.
So entranced was I by the proceedings near the pub that I was unprepared when my friend stood in the hotel entrance and declared, "Well, I'm here."
Snapping to reality, I stammered, "I'll be off then. See you next term."
"Thanks for walking with me. "
After ensuring my friend's safe return to his hotel room I stopped at a kebab shop directly across the street for some takeaway. Despite the late hour, my mind sharpened at the scent of the chilli sauce. While I had been enjoying exploring the menu, my time away from home had dampened my pent up need for adventure. Feeling the need for something familiar I split the difference between the comforting pull of a favorite food and the urge to make the most of my time here and ordered a kebab pizza.
As I waited, I returned to the shop's doorway and stared back at where I had seen the woman before. The pub had since closed. Without the light from the sign the darkness had been given free reign in the street. I couldn't see well enough to tell if there really was movement by the alleyway or if it was a trick of the newly arrived fog.
By the time my pizza was ready I had convinced myself that there was no one in the alley down the road. I paid for my food and thanked the clerk. I hurried as I headed home, spurred by the aroma of pizza.
Because I lived on the same side of the street as the hotel and the mystery woman, I once again looked at the alley. Still seeing nothing, I crossed with expedient purpose. With relief I reached the other side.
In a rush of elation I took a victory glance down the street at the alley. Color drained from my face as I once again saw her, only this time she was alone. The tipsy pub patrons had not returned. There was only her, staring at me with a look of slight sorrow.
Her hair, still a slight electric blue, was wild and unkempt. She had a fragile vulnerability to her, yet I didn't trust appearances.
I hadn't forgotten the missing drunks. Her elusive nature had not gone unnoticed. And, I was even more unnerved by her luminous hair now that all external lighting was gone. I considered myself lucky that I lived in the opposite direction of her alley.
We stood and stared at each other for what felt like hours. Eventually The figured vanished, consumed by the rolling Scottish fog. I paused as I peered for the mystery woman to return. She could not have disappeared, which meant it was only a matter of time until she resurfaced from the veil. Yet, she never did.
I slowly stepped away from where I had last seen her. Fog sliding across my skin, I turned back in the direction of my flat. The reassuring clacks of my shoes against the cracked cement and cobblestone help bring my world into focus. I savored the crisp night air as the chill crept up my nose. Each sense confirmed the solid reality in which I dwelled.
Briefly, I glanced at my shoes. I attempted to clack the tune of an old cartoon theme in a bid to amuse myself when I realized there was something wrong. I could hear extra steps behind me.
Embarrassed to be caught in a moment of whimsy I sheepishly called over my shoulder, "They had Ducktales on this side of the pond, right?"
My awkward grin faded to confusion when I was greeted by large horse slowly trotting my way. The fog prevented certainty but it appeared to be a healthy black horse that had gotten loose.
Perhaps some farmer had lost it I thought. Gazing at the creature my skin silently crawled despite my attempts at rationalization.
I took off with a start away from the beast. As I fled, I could hear the sharp sounds of pursuit increase to a frenzied gallop. My heart sank as I realized that I would never be able to outrun it long enough to make it home.