The cool, milky-white fog enveloping the little island seemed impenetrable.
It stood in front of the small ferry, which moved across the water's surface at a lazy speed, as a solid wall.
A sudden gust of wind made it shift slightly, trying in vain to disperse it. Now it changed, it was more like an ancient, rugged veil, its loose, torn edges reaching out for the ship, pulling it inside. We were swallowed by it, finding ourselves in a cold, humid cloud of thick sea fog. It felt like being lost in a batch of sugar floss with a hint of salt.
The island where the ferry was taking us, couldn't have a more appropriate name. Eilean Ceòthar. The Foggy Island. It lay in the north of the British Isles, off the shore of Scotland, one hour ferry ride from Stornoway, a town situated on Lewis and Harris, in the Hebrides.
"Look Liam, we're nearly there!" My father's excited voice disturbed my train of thoughts. His unruly black hair was in a complete disorder, all damp from the fog; his brown eyes were full of boyish happiness. He looked like a mad scientist, which he, in a way, was.
My father. A member of our family because of whom we were all moving from Edinburgh to Foggy Island. A wildlife photographer, an animal lover who now put it in his head to write a book on otters.
Where was the largest number of sea otters in the UK? In Eilean Ceòthar! That was the reason why we were all coming to live in this precious little gem of the island, in the middle of a freezing sea.
The summer temperatures here rarely reached the low twenties, and the place was covered by fog and flagged by gale-force winds for the most part of the year.
All summed up, a paradise. For my father, at least.
I looked up to see what Dad was pointing at. There was a ray of bright light cutting through the fog in front of us. A lighthouse.
Mum, standing between me and Dad, had a huge smile plastered to her lips. There was the same sort of youthful excitement lurking in her green eyes, as in Dad's. She kissed him and stroked my damp hair.
Mum would do anything for Dad. Moving out here didn't feel like a huge sacrifice for her. Being a teacher, she had easily found a job in Stornoway. She didn't even mind that it would mean a couple of hours spent on the ferry every day from September on, when the school would start again.
Two hours spent on the ferry daily, for her and for me. I would be attending the Nichols Institute in Stornoway like the majority of local kids. I was almost seventeen, this would be my last year of high school. It wasn't the easiest thing to do, moving and starting a new school now. But my parents both were so excited about the idea; I would never spoil it for them.
They promised that if this adventure would not turn out like the right thing to do for all of us, we would just move back to Edinburgh as soon as possible. We left our old flat there, waiting for us.
The house my parents bought out here, on the island, was completely furnished. This way we avoided the complications of moving all of our things. Now, we only carried one piece of luggage each. It didn't feel like such a huge step this way.
The lighthouse my father was pointing at became more visible as we approached the rugged coastline, and the tall cliffs of Eilean Ceòthar. The fog had thinned a great deal and finally I could make out the shapes of the seagulls flying above, following the ship, screeching and crying for our attention. It was amazing to watch how they hurtled themselves suddenly, with their wings tightly packed around their snow-white bodies, into the frothy water left behind the ferry. They would hit the sea with a great splash, that I could imagine rather than hear, over the constant noise of the ship's engines. The birds would disappear under the surface for a while, and then, after a few moments, emerge with a small stunned fish in their beaks.
My parents, leaning into each other, admiring the spectacle and whispering like two teens in love, were a picture of complete happiness. They were both adventurers at heart, having travelled a lot before I was born. Then they settled down and I had never noticed how much they missed an occasional adventure. Until today. I was hoping that moving to Foggy Island was a crazy enough thing to do to keep them satisfied for a while.
The little blue and white ferry was finally coming out of the fog entirely, the smoke from its red funnel was fully visible, distinguishable from the fog for the first time in the last half an hour or so.
We were leaving the cloud of the thick fog behind for a while, like a curtain; it seemed as if the ship was coming out on a theatre stage.
But the real spectacle lay ahead of us. The water around the ferry was flat and calm, only a few ripples here and there disturbed its smooth surface. The sugar-flossy fog was hovering behind us, perfectly still.
Spread in front of us, was the most picturesque place I had ever seen.
The island was one huge, mountainous rock, full of tree-less, stony slopes and cliffs. There was a little semicircle of a bay, with many small, brightly coloured fishing boats moored at the dock of a tiny port, rocking gently on the quiet sea. The summer afternoon's sunshine was making the bay water sparkle like millions of shiny stars. A few stray rays of the sun found the little harbour, apparently the biggest town of the island, making its white stone houses with red roofs look more beautiful and lively that they would look shrouded in the fog. The town, or rather the village, was called Cala. Which meant, unsurprisingly, harbour.
Above Cala's rooftops, there was a large lush pasture land, a valley sloping gently upwards, full of white, grazing sheep. To the right, slightly higher than the village, I spotted a small, ancient-looking church, painted in shadows falling on it from the surrounding cliffs. Not far from the church, perched on top of a tall cliff, stood the lighthouse that we could see through the fog before. To the left, there were some more red-roofed houses scattered at the foot of a naked rocky cliff, high above the green valley dotted with the white sheep. They seemed quite distant from the little harbour.
"Liam, that's our new home," Mum informed me, pointing to the very last house on the left, high above the village.
I wondered silently what lay behind it, beyond that solid rock wall that towered around those houses. From where we stood on the ferry, it looked that behind our house there was nothing more. Just cliffs.
I would definitely explore the other, invisible side of the island. There would be enough time to do that over the rest of the summer, I thought, wondering how the teenagers of the place spent their free time here. The water looked too cold to bathe, even in the middle of summer.
Soon, our ship reached the harbour and stopped, leaving the loud engines on for its next journey. We picked up our luggage and got off the ferry, climbing carefully down its slippery metal steps, covered in patches of rust and sea salt where the white paint had peeled away.
As soon as I put my foot on the land, a strange cold breeze hit my neck. There was no wind, it felt more like a breath...
I looked at my parents and noticed that they had felt it too. Mum shivered, fastening her jacket and dad was looking around uncomfortably, suspiciously even.
No one said anything though, and so I just shook the feeling off my mind. We made our way to the silent little harbour, followed only by a handful of other people.
The sun was starting to set behind the island and the fog was slowly returning, snaking its way rapidly upwards from the sea. It looked like long, silvery-white ribbons weaving through the boats and the houses, climbing all the way up on this side of the island, and then, most likely, descending back to the sea on its other side.
This was Foggy Island, faithful to its name, welcoming us.
The magic of first love, set against the backdrop of a small island hidden beneath a mysterious fog.
At first sight the tiny Foggy Island promises Liam an uneventful summer, with the haunting prospect of starting a new school at the end of it. But does this magical, sleepy place hide something else? Is there something, someone lurking beneath the fog, expecting him? Maybe an old mystery waiting to be solved?
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