Walker in the mist
It was dark, the smell of the darkness choking us in the small cottage. Our lungs burned as we tried to hide from what was outside, pouring into our home through every crack in the whitewash bricks and door hinges. We were as rats trapped in a cage. I turned to the small infant on my right to wrap a cloth about its mouth, trying to keep the blackness from its lungs. Even inside it was almost too hard to see, but I'd not let little Cara fall to the fate that I knew waited for us all if we let the dark putrefact air fill our lungs.
In these moments, my mouth hiding in my own shirt, I tried to recall the sunnier days of the spring and summer, the rolling green hills and pastures about us, holding on to the memories of color that once held no meaning to me. But in the smoggy gloom of death they became as a shield to me, holding my mind in a place I could go to while trying to keep the littler ones alive. They would not live long in this.
The elders of our family coughed in their beds, the covers over their faces. There was little more we could do for them but pray and hope. We'd all made it through these dark as night days together before, but had lost many along the way.
We now lived in the seconds that we had left, not sure if any of us would swoon to the effects of the air, the dark poisonous tendrils prying through our nose and mouth to ravenge our lungs like the many before us. I knew our family was not the only one in the township to be huddled under cloth for minimal protection from the toxins. Other families would cling to one another like survivors of a shipwreck praying for rescue. But for the survivors of a shipwreck, help could come. For us there was naught to do but sit it out and pray that the fog would lift soon.
I could hear grandmother's muttered prayers to God, begging for the safety of our family and household, but if He should take us please bring us to his heavenly paradise. I wasn't sure how much good it would do us, but I crossed myself as well, taking protection in the form of a faith that I didn't truly with all my heart subscribe to.
As I motioned for Danielle, my older sister, fifteen to my twelve, something outside the window caught my eye. If only for a moment I'd seen something, or someone outside. This was lunacy. All of us in the township knew to stay indoors when the skies turned blacker than London smoke towers; who and what had I seen? I pulled out my handkerchief to tie about my face. Looking back at the others, all 12 of them hidden in the home of my family, I searched their eyes, looking for any sign that they had seen what I'd seen. Each and every one of them, from my brothers and sisters to my mother, looked back at me in wide eyed horror. The grandparents and infants were unreadable as they were hidden or covered in some form. We were all refugees in our home.
While I tried to find something in our home untouched for the little ones to eat, my thoughts turned to how life used to be, when we weren't afraid of the dense clouds rolling in and destroying our town for days at a time; leaving graveyards filled with the elderly and young, though sometimes a parent or adult was taken in by the death. I'd never known such a time, my parents neither. My grandfather vaguely recalled one year where he was certain the clouds never came, but there were tales of it from before his time. Many of the townspeople thought our village was cursed and had many legends as to why the darkness came, taking the lives of others in its wake.
As I worked to find the food, but found nothing, my mind kept turning to the thing outside; what had it been and why was it out there? I looked at the others, still nothing. I was the only one who had seen whatever it had been dart in front of our window. Putting the smoke-soaked bread down I turned to the door. I wanted to see what was out there. If it was nothing, I was young and strong; death wouldn't come to me so soon. If it was a person or animal I could tend to it, saving its life.
I pulled another scarf over my mouth, just to even out my chances, and moved to the door, grabbing the handle and turning it. I heard my mothers muffled scream beneath her own cloth protection fighting with her own to get them off to yell at me. I darted through the door, slamming it behind me. I was nigh to full grown: too old for mother's concern. I darted out into the darkness.
Innocent fogs will sometimes rise in our village; the skies gloomy a gloomy shade of grey. Things become hard to see, but you can still make things out so long as they are within a 10 foot distance on a good day. Its cool, eerie, a reminder of what plagues our village.
This was not the innocent fogs of autumn: This was oppressive, dark as night and thicker than soup. I couldn't see in front of myself in the inky hot darkness. I could feel my skin sweat as I moved through it. It was as if there was a fire and we were trapped in the plume of smoke. The whole village was darkened, my eyes watering and breath rasping. I couldn't see my home anymore, the white washed walls of cottage and thatched roof somewhere behind the dark curtain of air.
I walked down the dirt road, stumbling as I went, wishing for a light. Dimly I could make out the shadows of the other cottages, other families I'd grown up with my entire life huddle in them. We were all hiding from something no one could fight.
As I passed the church, which was dark, I thought: not enough air about for the alter candles to burn with a steady flame of faith. The last pastor had died last darkness. I could hear the new pastor chanting in the language of god to turn the darkness from our land. He had heard that his new parish had a monsterously dangerous looming disaster that killed many in its wake; and yet he came with the belief that his God would save our town.
Not many come here at all; we are a cursed village.
I wandered past the village church and on to the green, a shared communal patch of land, no one had claim to it. There I looked back. Some villages believed that the village was being punished by god, for the sins of the lot; some believed it was cursed. A few of the younger adults talked of it in terms of the modern world: science was the answer to our problem, our own miniature plague that never ended. They say “You can't fear what you understand.” What a load of shite. You fear what you fear, not because you understand it or not. I understood what this blackness was: it was death come riding through our town.
On the green I saw someone.... or what I thought was someone. I took steps forward and gave a muffled “Hullo...” The fog seemed thinner here, my field of vision deepening to an extent where I could almost see 15 feet in front of me.
The shape turned as I got closer; a woman in profile. She was bare but for a cloth wrapped about her lower half, skin white even against the dark murkiness that swirled about us both. “Hello” She answered in reply. Her voice had an odd quality to it, as if the words danced about her mouth before she opened it. Her dark hair fell about her in waves, dancing about her body much the same as the oppressiveness about us.
I was unsure what to say next, I had only thought to find whoever was out there, not what I'd say and do next. “Um,” I started, still muffled “What'ra you doing ou' 'ere” I started then changed my mind, that sounded too rude. “'ean 'ith t'e weather being like it is...” I trailed off once more, everything I said just didn't sound right. The words seemed forced, false and condescending. “Come on... 'ets get you inside....” was flushing from the effort of breathing, and the fact she was bare.
She shook her head slightly, hair moving about her face. “No I am fine... more than fine. But I thank you for your concern.” She looked at me, never turning her head to see me though. “Shouldn't you be inside? 'Weather like it is?'” she smiled, throwing my words back at me.
I had nothing I could say to that, I'd no idea why I'd come out here, risking my life to find someone walking out in the deadly weather. “Yeah, I should... Why are you out here anyway?”
“I'm waiting...” she said flatly, trailing off her words, looking away from me out into the inky blackness.
“Waiting? For what? None go outside in this...”
She looked at me again in that strange sideways way, never turning her head. “We are out here aren't we?” she looked me over. “You are not whom I'm waiting for, who are you?”
“Oh, right, names...” I started awkwardly through my bandanna “‘m Cyrus. If you don't mind me asking yours”
“Morgan...” she said slowly. Closing her eyes a moment. She just stood there, and I with her, watching her just stand there. After long moments she opened her eyes again. “ I hear them...”
I heard something too, muffled in the darkness, the sound of shuffling feet coming down the dirt road towards us. I turned to face it, the scraping of feet on the ground, the shambling shapes as they moved down the village way, and it sounded like more joining them as they went. I could barely make them out from this distance. It looked like a group of shadows, darker than the darkness about them, a parade marching in a shuffle towards us. I was never sure the number, but it looked and sounded like hundreds following one another down our village streets. Small shadows, bent shadows for the most part, a few taller ones as well. “Who who are they?” I asked through my bandanna to the woman, Morgan not turning to her.
“They are who I am waiting for... “She said slowly, and I turned to look at her, her face meeting mine. I had to hold back a scream. Half of her face had been just as I saw, pale features, round face, dark hair and eyes the color of the fog about us. The other half though, was nightmarish. White pale skeletal bones were exposed on her right side, nothing in between them but the darkness about us. The white of the bone shinning in the darkness. Rib bones, and spine glowing with the same pale light as the skull. Hollow eye socket staring at me with the same intensity as the left dark eye. “You are not among those I wait for.”
I stood there, then turned to the shapes of the others, the ghastly Morgan at my side. Shambling towards me, they were a mass of people. The ones in the front crashed upon me like waves, walking about me as they followed one another down the green and far away into the dark fog. Nothing about most of them caught my eye, no faces distinguished from one another, their shapes and sizes being the only difference for the most part. I thought I saw a few familiar ones though as one bumped into me with a murmured “sorry” in a voice I could almost recognize. Another was stooped in a manner I recalled, and touched me on the shoulder as it passed. It was like this for what seemed hours, the sea of people walking past. A few touching me, a few apologizing. Most though were silent shapes, wraiths just walking past. Towards the end, there were fewer and fewer to pass me. I could see the fog was starting to wane slightly, but this parade was not over.
Far from it in fact.
I saw shapes leaving homes of the cottages about us, indeterminate of who they were, shades stepping through walls and onto the streets. One of them came from my own home. One of the last wraiths in passing moved to a cottage and through it, then out again, holding a small shape in its arms. These shapes followed the others slowly, with the same resolve as the others, their destination unknown to me. I didn't look at Morgan, not wanting to see the truth of what she really was, happy to live with the original lie, “Who, who were they?” I asked, though I had a good idea.
I could almost hear her smile whom I was waiting for. I looked over as she turned once more, just a face and body in profile. The illusion, though, was gone. She turned to me again, the skull transfixing my gaze. “Till I come for you Cyrus.... “And she began to walk away, and then turned back, “also you’re... “ and motioned with her skeletal hand to her neck and spinal cord area.
I reached my hand to the same area and found my bandanna loose about my neck, instead of over my nose and mouth. Wide eyed in horror I began to cough, deep and rasping, it was as if I would have been fine if she hadn't informed me and only now did the symptoms of my prolonged outing in the inky death kick in. I continued to cough and wheeze, my eyes watering and my lungs straining for air in the peasoup fog. Collapsing to the ground, I saw only her bare feet as Morgan walked away. Striving for air, I wondered where I'd heard that name before. I closed my eyes, falling into darkness only slightly more solid than the one I'd been in.
I awoke some time later on a coat in the church that was serving as infirmary for the sick or those with the lingering effects of the fog. The sunlight danced through the stain glass windows on my weary eyes. I'd fallen at the tail end of the fog, my lungs infected, but my young age and strength had been on my side. The new village pastor left the next night, claiming no exorcism on earth could rid this village of the devil. It'd be some time till another one came, I knew. six people had died that night. An infant from one of the families and my own grandmother were among their number. I remembered her praying that night, and felt like a fool for not staying with her in her last few hours, but then recalled I had more closure than anyone else in the family. I'd seen her leave.
I never said what I saw that night. I claimed instead that I'd thought I saw someone in the outside, as I had, but collapsed before finding them. Everyone believed me. I was but a lad of 12, and known for my foolishness at times. My mother wept as she held me to her breast, crying about how she thought she'd almost lost her third man, after grandfather passed in an accident and my father died in a foreign war. I just nodded, saying I'd never, never do it again. I lied.
Every time the fog came down after, I snuck from the Cottage to wait with Morgan, watching the parade of the dead as they passed. She and I would swap stories over the years, and became friends in a time when others huddled in fear.
I wait with her to this day. Waiting for the time that she too will take me with her.
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