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Into the Mist


“Is this going to be on the test, Professor Moreland?” a student in the front row asked, her eyes on her notebook and hand still raised.


“Being that this is a course in Arthurian Literature, I can guarantee that there will be questions about the Matter of Britain and what that means.”


The student nodded, carefully writing this down. The class had been going well enough, but two weeks in, Tristan Moreland still felt dissatisfied. The questions students asked were almost entirely practical — questions about homework or tests or whether this course would count towards the English course requirement — and he was never sure if anyone had actually read the material.


The door at the back of class opened slowly. A young man poked his head in nervously. He looked up at the board, saw something he recognized and smiled. As quietly as he could, he slipped the rest of his body into the room and tiptoed to a free desk. Strangely, he didn’t notice that Tristan had been watching him from the front the whole time.


“Can I help you?” Tristan asked.


The student sat up abruptly, caught, and laughed nervously. Clearing his throat, he said with a strange accent that at first sounded Irish, but then faded:


“Ah, so sorry professor. Robert Goodman — I just moved here. It’s my first day on campus and I couldn’t find the room. Very sorry.”


Tristan looked down at his attendance list.


“Your name’s not here, Robert. But we can figure out something after class if that works for you. You know that this is English 2200: Arthurian Literature, right?”


“Oh yes, professor. It’s the first class I signed up for.” Robert smiled. “And please call me Robbie.”


Tristan nodded and continued with his lesson. He’d been asking the class to talk about the relationship between Guinevere and Morgan le Fay in Malory’s Morte Darthur. It was like speaking to a stone wall.


“Anyone? Why is Guinevere so against Morgan le Fay’s love for her nephew?” He paused again. “Did anyone even do the reading?”


Robbie’s hand went up hesitatingly.


“Yes, Robbie? Don’t worry — I’m not expecting you to have done the reading.”


“It’s been a while since I read Malory, professor, but I always felt that Guinevere is trying to preserve Morgan le Fay’s virtue. She’s preventing them from giving into their passions, which I suppose is a bit ironic given what happens between her and Launcelot.” His voice trailed off, suddenly aware that the room was staring at him.


Tristan was elated. “Yes! Wonderful reading, Robbie!”


The class conversation started to improve after that. Students who had never spoken before began to hesitantly raise their hands. It turned out that more of them had in fact read the text than Tristan had realized; they were just too shy to say anything. Robbie spoke several times as well. Tristan was impressed every time. At the end of class, he went over to Robbie’s desk as he was packing up.


“Thanks for your contributions today, Robbie. I think you will be a great addition to the class.”


Robbie smiled, “Glad to hear, professor. Like I said, I was excited to be in this class.”


When Tristan got home, he told Emma about his new student. She was bouncing Thomas, who was fussing, and she smiled wearily.


“That’s great, Trist. Nice to have a kid who’s engaged. Uh, could you take Thomas for a bit? I’ve been holding him all afternoon.”


“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Tristan put down his books and took off his satchel and then awkwardly took Thomas from his wife. She tended to hold him one way, and Tristan had to adjust him so that his hold felt right. Thomas’s fussing escalated to a cry as he was turned around.


“Great. Now he’s really upset.” Bouncing Thomas a few times did not quell his son’s mounting fury. Emma had sat down for about thirty seconds when Tristan passed Thomas back to her.


“I think he’s hungry,” he said half-apologetically. “Sorry. I’ve got some preparation to do for tomorrow.”


“You just got back. And he’s not hungry. I fed him like ten minutes ago.”


“Well, he’s not calming down,” Tristan said, his arms with a wailing baby still outstretched towards her.


“I’m not taking him. Just figure out how to soothe him, Trist. It’s part of being a dad. Here —” Emma reached over to the coffee table and picked up a soother. “Try this. He was liking it earlier.”


Tristan took it abruptly and stuffed it into Thomas’s open mouth.


“He can sense your attitude, Tristan,” Emma said, her increasing frustration matching the growing cries of their child. “Dammit, Trist. Give him to me.”


She stood up, took Thomas and walked away. Tristan similarly said nothing, picked up his books and bag, and stomped downstairs to his basement office.


Tristan set his books down on the desk and gripped the back of his chair, still furious. He stood for a moment before turning around to a bookshelf behind him and taking down a well-worn book of Celtic Mythology. He began to read.


About an hour later, he heard the door open at the top of the stairs. Emma came down the steps softly. She stopped three steps up from the bottom and looked at him. He had his finger between two pages and had closed the book.


“You always do this. Things get hard, so you go and hide. You did this as a kid and you’re still doing it. If you don’t start stepping up, Tristan, I—” she paused, overwhelmed with the fury that still raged within her. “I don’t know what is going to happen.”


She stopped and turned on her heel before he could say anything in response. He didn’t want to respond anyways. He looked down at the cover of his book which bore the image of a regally dressed woman with long black hair and dark eyes. She was lounging on a throne, her head against her one hand. She looked severely unimpressed.



 The Magic Car was an astonishingly unimpressive bar down the street from campus. It was just wide enough to hold a row of stools, with a narrow aisle behind them. A door to a single-stall restroom and a very small kitchen stood at the back of the hallway. The bar itself took up most of the remaining space. Tristan sat on his usual stool sipping a pint when his colleague from the English Department, Professor Mark Williamson, walked in.


“You’re late,” Tristan said. “I thought your class ended an hour ago.”


Mark shrugged. “I thought you were going to be heading home half an hour ago, so hadn’t planned to come at all.”


“No, not tonight. Emma and Thomas are fine without me for a bit I think.” Tristan took another sip of his drink.


Mark sat down at the bar and ordered a Guinness. They talked about how their courses were going. Mark taught 20th Century British and Irish Literature, which Tristan abhorred, although he was polite about it. Mark’s class that afternoon had been talking about James Joyce and apparently there had been a good discussion because he was still buzzing with it.


“Someone made a very interesting observation about how Joyce’s attempt to capture reality through his unique literary technique meant that he had to rely upon artifice even more than usual. I mean, stream of consciousness is a very complex style and is meant to mimic the real ebb and flow of our psychic processes, yet the very work of such a heightened attempt at imitation means that it is that much further at remove from reality than, say, traditional forms of representation.”


“He had to step away from reality to get to reality,” Tristan tried to summarize. “Interesting hypothesis. I suppose that’s all art—or myth. Myth says something deeply true about the human condition by not talking about real humans.”


Mark nodded, “Yes, and I think the Moderns would mostly agree. Lots of obsessing about myth with them, as you know. Yet, I also wonder if there’s something to be said for the fact that so many of my period’s authors were deeply, profoundly unhappy.”


Tristan shook his head. “What do you mean?”


“All of them tried to get to the root of things, tried to depict reality as it was, but in their different ways, biographically speaking I mean, they fled from reality as they might have experienced it.”


Tristan nodded before tipping back his glass and finishing the rest of his pint in a single go.


“Heady stuff. It’s nice when class conversations go in a more fertile direction. I’ve had a breakthrough in my Arthurian Lit course, so I have been feeling it myself.”


Mark smiled and said he was glad for him. They sat in silence and Tristan was about to leave when Mark said, not looking at him:


“You know, every single one of my uncles and my own father died before the age of sixty-five? Five boys altogether in their family—all gone now.”


Tristan leaned back in his chair. He hadn’t expected Mark to get so serious.


“My brother and I have often wondered about it. Probably something in our genetics. He just turned sixty-six and I know he’s been putting his affairs in order. Retired early.”


Tristan looked at his glass, wishing it still had something in it.


“I’m sixty-three next year,” he shook his head. “I appreciate a young guy like yourself having a drink with me from time to time. And I will say that one thing about being face to face with your impending demise on a regular basis is that you start to realize that that so-called ‘reality’ the Moderns—and maybe all artists and the writers of myth—seek isn’t.”


Mark turned his head to look straight at Tristan, “Isn’t real, I mean.”


Tristan raised an eyebrow at this.


“This is, though. Right here. You and me. Back home, with your Emma and Thomas. That’s what’s real. Perhaps there’s a reason Plato didn’t trust the poets.” He finished his drink, put out his hand to shake Tristan’s, and then got up and put on his coat. He said goodbye and headed out the door. Tristan ordered another pint.



Tristan was on his way home after class. Conversation had turned to the origins of some of the cultural context surrounding Arthur, including Tristan’s true passion: Celtic mythology. Robbie had asked many questions about the Celtic pantheon and bestiary that made Tristan suspect he had something of an interest in the subject himself. He had been enjoying the dialogue when Robbie had suddenly said:


“Do you ever think it’s all maybe just real?”


Tristan had stopped with his hand in midair, about to respond to Robbie’s previous comment about the relationship between the Irish goddess Medb and the later idea of a fairy monarch named “Queen Mab,” who sometimes appeared in modern Arthuriana. But Robbie’s follow-up question had surprised him.




“I mean like fairies and the like. Icelanders believe in them.”


Tristan didn’t respond for a long moment. He didn’t respond first because he wasn’t sure what Robbie was actually asking. And the second reason was that he felt silly vocalizing something that he had always kept to himself: that he did believe.


As he made his way home, the question continued to ring in his mind. He could see himself as a child — no more than 10 years old — reading a book of English folk tales. The shouts of his parents resounded from downstairs. Cruel words drifted up like a kind of noxious gas and Tristan covered his head with a blanket.


There, under the covers, he had read of people like Thomas the Rhymer, who had disappeared from this world and found a new life in Faerie. It was dark and uncanny and dangerous, but it somehow had called to him as he sat beneath that blanket. He’d decided he believed in it from that moment.


It had given him a place to go—never the true realm of the Fae, but nearly. He could hear his father shouting at his mother, but his mind was far away. And as a teenager, when he had discovered that people could get paid to read stories as academics, he had begun to work in that direction. The truth of it had been something of a bitter pill to swallow—more analysis of stories than reading and living within them, sadly—but at least he was formally expected to give time to this fascination. He couldn’t live there, but he could dream about it and no one would care.


Well, almost no one. Emma’s words the other day had been a reminder that she saw through it. She knew how much of a crutch Faerie was for Tristan. And she would call him on it without a second thought.


“Tristan—now is not the time for that book.”


“Please, Tristan, Thomas would like to visit with his dad, not with whoever is on the cover of what you’re reading.”


“Come back, come back, my bonnie man, come back away from Faerie.”


Sometimes it was endearing, especially early on; at other times, it felt like talons gripping his ribcage so that he couldn’t breathe or move.


He had only told Emma once about his belief—or perhaps his hope—that the realm of the Fair Folk existed. It had been near the end of his doctoral studies in England. They had gone for a walk in the country, which always served to stimulate his longing. Trudging along an abandoned stone fence, running his hand over the top, he had asked her not to laugh and then said:


“Did I ever tell you? I believe in fairies.”


Emma had snorted and laughed heartily until she realized he was serious. Before she could recover and ask him about it more seriously, Tristan had flushed and started walking faster, away from her. This had precipitated into a fight that lasted until they got home. Without either of them saying it, they agreed not to speak of it again.


Robbie’s question to him in the middle of the class had been a kind of tearing away of a mask, and it made him feel vulnerable in a way he had not felt in a long time. He wondered at his own response, in the midst of the students chuckling at the strangeness of what Robbie had said.


“Ah, no, no. I’m afraid not, my friend. Too bad, eh?”


Some part of him recognized that this had been a betrayal.




“Is that all, sir?” The police officer’s voice was kind, but formal.


Tristan closed his eyes, wondering if it all might just go away. Wondering if he could close his eyes and then open them and instead of a balding man in a uniform he would see Emma and Thomas.


“We’ve got your statement, Mr. Moreland, and we’ve done a sweep of the residence. You’ve got a list of people to call, and we do as well. We’ll coordinate with you later this evening.”


The man patted Tristan on the shoulder and headed out of the townhome where Tristan and Emma had spent the last five years. Tristan waved and then turned and collapsed on to the couch. He had already called many of the people on his list—in-laws, friends, coworkers. Had any of them seen Emma? Had she said anything to them about going away? They needed to let him know if they heard anything.


She’s gone, he’d said. Thomas and her both. They’ve vanished.




“Uh, Professor Moreland? Would you be willing to write me a reference letter?” Robbie, now a senior, was standing in the threshold of Tristan’s office.


“What’s the job, Robbie?” Tristan said. “And yes, of course, I’m happy to write you a reference letter.”


“It’s an internship with a publishing house in New York City, if you can believe it.”


Tristan smiled and shook his head. He could believe it. The boy was brilliant. He jotted down the details, which Robbie said he would email him.


“How many exams left?”


“Including yours, just two. And a final paper—sorry, two final papers.”


“Well, you’re in the home stretch.”


“It’s amazing. I never thought that any of this would be possible.”


“You know, Robbie, I think you’ve been in three of my courses, and I’ve never asked you about your family. Do they live in town?”


Robbie blushed and shook his head. “No, sadly, it’s just me.”


Tristan paused to see if he would say anything further. When he didn’t, he said, “Well, you’ve done a great job. You should be proud. I hope your parents know what you’ve been able to accomplish.”


Robbie’s face dropped slightly, although his smile remained. “My mother—well, I think she might be. It’s been quite costly to us both. And I’m not done paying, sadly.”


“I’m sorry, I wish I’d known. I could have helped you track down some bursaries.”


Robbie laughed at this and his face regained its prior affability. “We’ll be okay. Thanks Professor. We all have to pay for something.”


Tristan chuckled with him at this. They shook hands and both made to leave at the same time. Tristan was heading over to The Magic Car for his weekly drink with Mark. He asked Robbie if he wanted to join them and, to his surprise, he agreed. They cut through the quad and arrived just one minute before Tristan’s friend did.


“Mark, your retirement is showing,” Tristan said, gesturing at the older professor’s jeans and zip-up hoodie. “It doesn’t officially start until the end of June, doesn’t it?”


“Yes, but I’m moving boxes of dusty books now, so no need to get my suits dirty—I’ll need at least one of them soon enough!” He laughed darkly at this.


The three of them sat in the professors’ usual spot—Robbie had met Mark before, although it had been quite a while, so while they caught up, Tristan ordered drinks. He came back with them as Mark was saying:


“We’ve been doing this every week for quite a while now—eh, Tristan?”


“Oh yeah, it’s been at least a couple of years now regularly and then pretty often before that too.”


“Before what?” Robbie said.


Mark and Tristan looked at one another. Mark laughed nervously and said, “Well, before we started meeting more regularly, I suppose.” He paused for a long moment and looked up at Tristan.


“I’m sure you have probably heard, Robbie, about my wife and son.” Tristan’s voice was quiet, but kind. “Mark really helped me out after they disappeared. We’ve been meeting regularly to chat ever since.”


“Oh, Professor, I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to pry.” Robbie’s eyes had widened.


“It’s okay. I’m able to talk about it now.” Tristan sighed. The bartender had brought over the drinks for the three of them, and they sat and sipped in silence. “We just passed the three year anniversary last month, actually.”


“You’ve never had any news of them?”


Tristan shook his head. “Nothing directly. About three days after they disappeared, the police got in touch with me to say they had heard from Emma. She and Thomas were fine, but they weren’t coming back. I tried to find out more, tried to get the courts involved, tried to find her, but—” Tristan raised his arms helplessly. “Nothing came of it. The police weren’t much help after that. Emma’s family wouldn’t return my calls or pick up.”


“That’s awful.”


“Well, I’m glad they aren’t dead.” Tristan took a large swig of his beer. “I’d be grateful to hear what I did to be abandoned like that, though. Someday.”


Mark spoke up, “Well, here’s to Someday.” He raised his glass. “To the Someday that exists Somewhere when all our dreams and hopes and fears will come true.”


“It’s a bit lofty, Mark,” Tristan said, “but I’ll drink to it.”


“To Someday!” Robbie cheered.


No one was sure who suggested it, but after the first toast, more drinks were ordered, most toasts were made, and the night proceeded from there. Several hours later, Mark’s head was on the bar, asleep, and Tristan and Robbie were laughing about some incident from the previous year involving a student that had only shown up three times during the course of the entire term.


“And then on the fourth time he came -- this was about a month before the end of term -- he stood up in the middle of class and said, ‘Aw, crap! This isn’t Art History!’ And he got up and left.”


Robbie laughed hard at this. “Well, Professor, this has been a slice as they say, but I am going to turn into a pumpkin if I stay out much longer.”


Tristan nodded and tipped his own cup up, wondering whether he should do one more. As Robbie slung his bag over his shoulder, Tristan reached out and fumbled to grab his sleeve.


“Hey, before you go.” He knew he was slurring words a bit, so tried to speak slowly. “I should tell you that I lied that one time.”


Robbie chuckled, “What one time, Professor?”


“I told you that one time that I didn’t believe in fairies, but that wasn’t true.” His eyelids were getting a bit droopier as he said this and the seconds between them being open and being closed were lengthening. “I do believe in them. I have to.”


Robbie padded Tristan on the back, “You probably won’t remember this, but for what it’s worth, I believe in them too, sir.” And he laughed softly.


He trudged out into the night, leaving Tristan to join Mark asleep on the bar counter.


But Tristan did remember what Robbie had said. He thought of it often in the days that followed. And he began to wonder something that had only crossed his mind once before about a month after Emma and Thomas had disappeared when, in the throes of a drinking binge, Tristan had taken a knife from the kitchen and gripped its handle with a determination he had not realized he possessed. Turning it towards his chest he had wondered if he might have the strength to press it inwards. The tip of the blade scratched the surface of skin — when a brief, quiet laughter stopped his motion.


Returning to his senses, he had at this moment allowed a thought to pass through his mind that he had somehow heard the voice of the Fair Folk. The dissonance of his despair and of the possibility of encountering that enchanted world beyond that was so dear and had rescued him so often overcame him, and he lay down in the middle of the room, undone.


Now, nearly three years later, the moment came freshly to his mind again. He had heard anew that gentle laughter, covering over a much deeper cruelty for which the Fay were well known. Robbie’s confession, paired with a laugh not unlike the one he’d heard as the knife scratched his chest, though perhaps with less cruelty, had caught Tristan’s attention even in the midst of his drunken rock and sway. It echoed even now as he stared at an email newly opened in his inbox. It was from Robbie, reminding him about the reference letter and providing him with the details he would need. Robert Goodman. Believer in fairies. More than just a believer.


“The fairies, the fairies, the fairies,” he mumbled to Mark later that evening as they walked across campus. The night air was cool, but the buildings all around them were lit with warm orange lights. Tristan had drank quite a bit at the end-of-year department party, but was still walking straight. “I’ve been thinking about fairies, Mark.”


“That can’t be good for you,” Mark said with a chuckle. He had planned all along to drive his friend home that night. “Have you started working on your book again?”


Tristan laughed hard at this—too hard, Mark thought—and replied, “Oh no. Something a bit more important than that.” He grew quiet and his pace increased. Mark was having trouble keeping up.


“I’ve been thinking about fairies—did I ever tell you that I believed in them? A little secret I’ve kept tucked away. A dear secret that’s kept me going.”


Mark laughed nervously again. “Well, we all have secrets,” he said. “I actually don’t really enjoy James Joyce that much! There: we’re all sharing secrets. Alright, my friend, slow down a bit for me, would you? Also, my car is this way.”


“Emma knew it, even before I told her I did,” Tristan said. “But when I told her—well, I should have kept quiet about it.”


Tristan stopped abruptly and looked at Mark with wild eyes. He gripped Mark’s arm and whispered: “Robbie Goodman is a great student, you know. I’m writing him a reference letter, but—I am not sure that he is who he says he is.”


Mark didn’t know what to say, “I’m having a hard time following, Tristan. I think we just need to get you home. What do you say?”


Tristan smiled, but he was not looking at Mark. Instead, he turned and broke into a run, calling out loudly so that his voice echoed off the dormitories: “For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand! Come away! Come away!”


Robbie opened his eyes.


“Merry wanderer of the night!” Tristan said with an empty laugh. “Did you sleep alright?”


He tried to move, but found himself bound tightly with what seemed to be a steel cord. He looked up at his professor in horror.


“What are you doing, Professor? How did I—” The previous hours were swimming now, and he realized he’d been drugged. Dr. Moreland showing up at his dorm room unannounced, insisting on a drink at the Magic Car. He’d held his gaze, jammering away about his latest research into the Tuatha de Danann—Celtic fairy lore. He’d gone to grab the drinks. They’d laughed and spoken more about his plans for New York. And then the words had all started swimming together.


They were at the edge of a forest now. Tristan’s car was a short distance away. It was still a couple hours until dawn, but the moon was full and lighting up the mist so that it shimmered like a crystal cave. Tristan was looking at his student sadly.


“It’s a damn shame, Robbie. We could have been friends.”


Robbie shivered at the way Tristan said this, and replied, “I don’t understand what is going on. Why are you doing this, Dr. Moreland?”


Tristan got up and pulled Robbie to his feet. He came around behind him and gave him a small, gentle shove.


“Are you going to kill me?” Robbie whispered.


“Of course not. But you are going to show me the way in, Robin Goodfellow. You’re going to get back my wife and child.”


“I thought you said—”


“They’re in Faerie, you know they are. Quite the coincidence for you to appear so soon before they vanished, to befriend me, to do the work of your queen.”


“I am your friend, Dr. Moreland, and I didn’t—”


This time Tristan pushed Robbie hard from behind so that the latter fell forwards with nothing to stop him. His hands bound behind his back, his face crushed into the gravel and his nose began to gush red immediately.


“Don’t lie to me, you bastard,” Tristan shouted. “I checked the school records—you just appeared out of nowhere. You didn’t fill out an application; you just suddenly started getting added to the class roster. You only took classes from me, at least in the first year. You targeted me. And then Emma and Thomas vanish.”


Robbie had awkwardly pulled himself up to sitting. He was unable to stop the flow from his nose so he just tilted his head back. He squinted up at Tristan. His eyes were full of tears, but he also looked angry.


“I wish you had never lost your family. But I was your friend.”


Tristan did not move to help Robbie, but looked at him pleadingly and said, “Then show me where they are. Take me to the other side with you. Take me to Faerie.”


Robbie’s eyes did not soften nor did he look away from his former teacher’s face, but something like a smile cracked across his bloody chin, revealing a row of teeth that gleamed white in the moonlit mist. It was a slight smile full of bitterness.


Tristan moved to help him up again, when he heard a sound coming from a fair distance behind him. It was a car rushing across the gravel road at a great speed. Soon the mist and trees around them began to be lit up in blue and red beams chasing each other into the crevices of the forest and lighting up both Tristan and Robbie’s faces. Tristan tried to catch Robbie’s eyes as the car approached. “Please,” he said, before the roar of the engine and the brief, piercing siren overwhelmed the night-time quiet.


The police car came to a stop behind where Tristan had parked his car. A door opened abruptly and a woman’s voice ordered Tristan to step back from the boy and raise his hands. He did. Robbie’s smile faded as Tristan allowed his hands to be handcuffed behind his back and was roughly moved towards the car. The officer pressed Tristan against the side of the car as she reached to open the door.


“You’re fortunate your friend Mark thought to call before you did something even more rash than kidnapping,” the officer said. Her slightly accented voice was deep and cold. Just before she pressed his head down and with great strength pushed him into the car, Tristan realized he’d heard it before. He realized now also that she had come alone. The doors locked with a loud snap.


From his vantage point through the car window, he could see her returning to where Robbie still sat. He was weeping. She sat next to him and gently removed his bonds. Robbie turned towards her with his head against her, like a child. She whispered something to him, and he nodded. He rose, got into Tristan’s car, and started it.


The woman walked back slowly towards where Tristan sat. Her long black hair was streaming behind her now, and he realized that he had been mistaken to think she was wearing a uniform. The flashing lights had gradually changed to shine greens and golds and purple lights along with the red and blue. They lit up everything around the woman, but seemed to have no effect on her—especially on her dark eyes, which gazed directly into Tristan’s. He nodded his head slightly, acknowledging their long acquaintance.


The car—less a police vehicle now—moved to give Robbie space to reverse Tristan’s vehicle. He glanced towards them, and then the vehicle turned around to head back into the city. Only the woman and her captive remained now. They did not follow, but instead turned in the direction of the forest, pressing slowly ever deeper into the rapidly gathering cloud that rose from the base of the dark wood. Although it sparkled with moonlight, he could not see to the other side.



Jeff King lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his family, six chickens, and six rabbits. He holds a PhD in 19th-century British Literature, which focused on the literary history of sympathy. Nowadays, he spends his days working with civil engineers.

© Into the Mist | Jeff King


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