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Tales & Wails: The Maiden in the Marsh

ENTRY 1: Unravel the mystery of a body found in an English bog.

The Maiden in the Marsh

Inez Rodk

At the ripe age of 33, Josie Becker was single. Even though she feigned interest in the blind dates her mother arranged and swiped through every dating app, nothing went past the first awkward date. The problem, she was told, was that she was never quite *present*. And it was true. Her mind often wandered to horse rides on rolling hills and stone torrents cutting through the mist. She longed for cobblestone streets and gentlemen who tipped their hats. Not the Coors-chugging and diesel truck drivers who surrounded her.

And then late one night, she got her wish.

A bright pink message popped onto Josie’s phone screen. “YOU’VE GOT A MATCH,” it announced, displaying the name Dorian Harvey, Lindow Common, UK. Her heart leapt into her throat. That was the name of a gentleman, and Lindow Common sounded like the sort of a place with a castle and frilly tea rooms.

From that moment onward, Josie was glued to her phone, lost in long, poetic conversations with Dorian, who spoke of foggy days and walks in the woods. One morning, following a wine-filled night with the girls, Josie found she had purchased a one-way ticket to Heathrow.

A carload of her friends and family dropped her off at the Denver International Airport, waving Union Jacks and speaking like drunk Australians. They waved at Josie as a security guard patted down her burgundy lace blouse and asked her to empty her laughably impractical vintage suitcase.

Josie waved one last time, stepped through the metal detector, and was never seen again.

The Beckers made every attempt to find Josie. Inquiries about Dorian Harvey only revealed a British man who died in 1708. Despite search parties, posters, and interviews, the only clue was footage from a security camera at Heathrow. In the video, the automatic doors swished open and then, Josie was gone.

A few years later, a couple by the names of Alistair and Ellen had gotten lost in the bogs of the Lindow Common while hiking. They hadn’t intended to go to the bogs—who would? They stank of rot, and one could quickly find themselves waist-deep in mud.

“There’s not even a castle or a decent place to get a hot drink,” Ellen screeched as they circled the gnarled branches of a dead tree for the third time. Ever stubborn, Alistair consulted his map again, but when he did, he tripped and landed with a splat in the mud. He looked back, bracing himself for Ellen’s critiques.

But for the first time since their wedding three decades ago, Ellen was silent. Her eyes were as wide as saucers.

Alistair followed her gaze to a lump wrapped in leaves. Where his foot had made contact, the leaves had parted, revealing burgundy lace and a clump of matted hair.

Alistair and Ellen stumbled back to their car and called the police, who showed up with a forensics team. Images from helicopters of a white tent surrounded by fluttering yellow tape flooded the news for weeks. From their living room in Colorado, the Beckers crowded around the television, watching in horror as a reconstruction of the corpse’s face flashed on the screen. It was Josie, right down to her burgundy lace blouse. A leather suitcase, remarkably well-preserved, was found nearby. There were no signs of violence. The only difference between the Josie who’d waved at them at the airport and the body in the bog was a gold wedding ring on her finger.

Finally, a press conference was called.

“The corpse is not Josie Becker,” a harrowed-looking lead investigator said, mopping his face with a tissue. The body had been in the bog for roughly 300 years, he told the shocked audience.

Further searches found another body nearby, this one male, aged about 35 years at the time of death. It, too, was at least 300 years old. He wore a matching wedding band and a handkerchief, almost perfectly preserved, embroidered with the initials DH.

About the story

Josie Becker’s story is entirely fictional but is loosely based on my Coloradoan friend who has always dreamt of a fairytale life in the UK. As those of you familiar with the UK can imagine, when she finally visited this summer, she was in for a surprise. However, despite her disappointment, she was pleased that she was the central character of my story (but less pleased that she ended up dead).

I’ve always been fascinated by the bodies found preserved in Lindow Common because bogs have always been an in-between place, a junction where land meets water, one inextricable from the other. Shrouded in a mystical haze, bogs can seem immaterial and almost surreal. Some say spirits wander bogs because they are beings that don’t fully belong in our world or the one beyond, who are caught in the in-between places of our world, like dirt trapped in the grooves of wood grain. The almost mystical nature of bogs has long fascinated the Anglo Saxons, who are rumoured to have ritualistically sacrificed red-haired humans to the spirits who linger here. The more scientifically-minded say the gases rising from fermenting aquatic plants have a hallucinogenic effect and the same chemicals that persevere flesh dyes all shades of hair a reddish shade. But I’ve never been much interested in science.

Follow Inez

Twitter: @inezrodk

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