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Image by Nathan Anderson


with the martello journal

The Lost Man

by rory millench

Footsteps crack against the mountains and rattle the trees. The seated rambler looks up for a
moment. His lungs feel carved open by the stony air. He is feeling the exhaustion others had
warned him about on Mount Errigal. “It’s almost like the fatigue is carried in the air and sets in
against your eyes” the people had said. His right eye feels close to crumbling. He was rubbing
around in the socket when he heard the thick noise, which sounded like an avalanche howling
through the forest.

He'd heard all the tall tales about the place. The fairy lakes at the foot of the mountain, which
locals still made generous offerings to. The peak of Errigal, across which uncategorisable
mammals traversed with ravenous hungers.

The rambler walks over to the edge of the ridge he was sitting at and peers into the setting
darkness. Soon enough it will be nightfall. If solitude has a colour it is deep black. The rambler
curses himself for miscalculating his route. He has ample supplies, but the ebbing light is a
problem. He does not feel brave enough to use his pocket torch to guide himself home, in case
he tumbles on an unseen rock. He is stranded for the night.

The noise reverberates again. Is this an echo or the rumble of a new iteration? He cannot be
sure. But he can detect motion. The image his mind conjures is of a fallen tree rolling itself out
of the wood towards a town to be cut up for kindling.

He is on high ground at least. He feels that offers him some protection. Some sensation
suddenly fills him, giving the feeling that he knows how to defend himself against primitive
threats. He can make a competent shelter for himself; of that he is certain.

He finds a clear tract of ground and clears away the loose debris. He pulls off thick boughs
from a nearby tree and stands them up in a triangular formation. He supports them with rocks
at the base of this structure and covers the frame with foliage from the surrounding trees. He
suddenly wonders if Ireland is full of men and women hidden in the darkness somewhere, in a
makeshift shelter, hoping the sky doesn’t open over them. Maybe there are not as many
people in homes as we think. Maybe the land knows the company of disparate faces, muddy
from the dirt, who find the company of others something to flee. The woods can tell.

This sequence of thought is broken by a new series of sounds. It sounds like the animal has
grown teeth and is pricking its ears to hear the rambler make his next move. He stays stock-
still. He feels a level of protection inside his hut which he knows to be absurd and mistaken. He
knows that whatever the outcome of this impending event, it will be a historical one in the
story of his life. It will not be easily forgotten.

The rambler thinks about the aftermath of the attack. He doesn’t want to survive it as some
maimed, half-alive thing. He hopes the end will be swift and automatic, like the clicking of a
finger. But who will find him, he wonders? Who will even raise the alarm? He didn’t tell any of
his friends about the trip. He hasn’t heard from his estranged wife in eight months, so she
won’t be looking for him. Perhaps just those locals he had met in Letterkenny, who’d warned
him about the marauding power of Errigal. Maybe someone will fasten a printed photo of him
to a wintry lamppost in weeks to come and their memories will be stirred. Or maybe, he
thinks, as the noise reaches a feet away, the monster is something like himself, a person lost in

life and lost in the wilderness, who’d tried to find shelter from a world that would not let him

Rory Milhench grew up in Belfast but moved to
Dublin to pursue his Ph.D in History at Trinity College. He graduated in 2015
and he is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. His
fiction has been published in A New Ulster, Books Ireland Magazine and is
forthcoming in the University of Ulster's New Worlds, New Voices: A Books
Beyond NI Anthology

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