never happy to see us

We pulled up to the town I’m going to call Fog Town at about 11 am yesterday.

We were driving through unremarkable hill country, occasionally glimpsing train tracks and the river weaving along below us. And then abruptly, we crested a hill and below us was an expanse of thick fog through which we could see nothing.

Neal reached over and switched off the radio. Everything felt serious all of a sudden.

We pulled over and Knock pulled their car — a big, old-school van— up alongside ours and rolled down their windows.

“Whaddaya think?” Daryl called through it. Lana was in the back seat closest us, but I could see Rook beyond her, looking on down the hill into the mist.

“We should leave one car out of the fog, just in case it fucks with machinery,” Julian called.

“It’ll be a bit cozy but we can all fit in here. Are we going in full hazmat?”

Lana answered for us. “We have to,” she said. “We don’t know what this shit is made of.”

Full hazmat ended up meaning something a little different than I expected. Turns out magic has been employed in the creation of our hazmat suits — and thank goodness for that because I was not looking forward to dressing up like a damn space man in this warm ass September weather we’ve got.

Not that the full body, long sleeves, gloves, boots, leggings, goggles, bandit mask, hood situation was much cooler. I mean it was cooler in the sense that we all looked like a bunch BADASSES, when we emerged from behind the van in our full on apocalypse gear. But relief from the hot, hot sun it was not.

We left the rabbit on a dirt road off the highway with a note assuring anyone that it wasn’t abandoning and we’d be back soon and not to fuck with it or there would be consequences.

Then we headed into town.

We drove slowly as visibility lessened. None of us spoke, just peered out into the fog. It was a bit like driving along the bottom of the ocean, looking for a ship wreck — we squinted, trying to be see indistinct shapes in the depths.

The first we saw was a refrigerated truck, parked on the side of the road, slightly off kilter with two tires hanging off the road into the dust.

“Is anyone inside?” Lana asked as we all leaned to look. There was no one.

The next was a school bus, parked slightly askew across the road heading out of town.

No one was in there either, and that time we stopped so Neal and Julian could hop out and check.

The third site we came across was a news van. The camera and all the equipment were lying helterskelter on the pavement.

“It’s like they just dropped their shit and ran for it,” Rook said as we rolled by.

“That’s exactly what it looks like,” Neal said. “Let’s stop.”

This time the Hawthornes picked through the equipment, started fussing with the camera. They gestured we join them after a minute and we all piled out to peer into the little camera playback screen.

There was no sound, but we watched as a woman with a microphone stood in front of a wall of mist.

“That can’t be wise,” Lana said.

“Just watch,” Julian said.

Some ten seconds later I saw her expression change, saw her point, and then world tilted as the camera fell. The image went black for a flash, and then all I could see in it was fog.

“What the fuck,” Daryl sighed.

We took the camera with us and kept driving.

It felt like it took hours to make it into town proper. We couldn’t have been going 10 miles per hour the fog was so thick, and the closer we got to town, the more cars there were scattered on the highway.

“Where is everyone?” I whispered. It didn’t seem right to say anything aloud in that pressing quiet.

“If there’s anyone in there, we’ll find them,” Daryl replied. Daryl’s a big guy with locks and the calmest eyes I’ve ever seen. He’s Rook’s groups Julian — he’s compulsively trustable. If he wants to reassure you, you will be reassured.

Until we got to Main Street we didn’t see any evidence of looting, only the same eery abandonment we saw at the news van — car doors left open, baggage dropped in the middle of the street, that sort of thing.

Main Street was different. We heard the crunch of broken glass under our tires before we saw anything through the fog, but once we’d understood what we were hearing we knew what to look for, and indeed — the shop windows were all open and gaping, the buildings full of fog.

“Alright, so apparently it went sour somewhere along the line,” Neal said, nose practically pressed to his window.

“What’s that?” Knock said from the passenger seat.

“I see it,” Daryl replied.

Lana leaned up between the seats to squint out the windshield. “That’s a barricade,” she said. “Stop the car.”

But it was too late.

“Behind us,” Julian said, and we spun in our seats to see figures silhouetted in the back windows of the van.

“What do we do?” I said.

But no one seemed to know because we were all quiet for a moment before someone approached Daryl’s door and tapped on the window.

“Masks on,” Lana said.

I reached up to check that my nose was fully covered.

Daryl rolled down the window.

“Hi there,” said the man outside. “You don’t look like national guard.”

“Nope,” Daryl said in his deep, calm voice. “Just passing through.”

The man outside laughed.

“Yeah, and how’s that working out for you?”

“Well it was better before we ran into you,” Neal replied and Lana, who was still leaning up between the front seats, used her right leg to knee him neatly back into his bucket seat. Julian fought down his amusement.

“My name’s Lana,” Lana said. “We’re here to help you.”

There was a long moment of silence as the guy behind the sunglasses regarded us. All round the car I could see the barest suggestion of other people in the fog.

“And how exactly are you planning to help?”

“We don’t know yet,” Lana said. “That’s what we’re here to find out.”

There was a long moment of quiet while he considered us. And then, “Alright. Get out. Come with us.”

Lana began to protest, but he said, “listen, you can either come with us because I ask you or you can come with us because we drag you, either way. It’s no skin off my back.”

Behind her back Lana signed something, and Neal gestured me forward. He whispered in my ear, “keep that mask on, follow me out, and stay close, alright?”

Someone dragged open the van door, and when they reached in to grab Julian, who happened to be sitting on that side, Neal opened the van door on the other side so that Lana could reach back, grab the stranger’s wrist, and with a jerk tossed him in one door, over Neal’s lap, and out the other like he was a napkin.

That was how it started. I’m not entirely certain what happened next, because it was all really fast.

Lana was an explosion of badassery. In like two seconds she’d taken out the guy with the sunglasses and like five other people besides him, shoving them back away from the car and out into the fog.

I thought we were good to go at that point, but Neal must have seen something I didn’t because he swore, tugged me hard towards the pavement and then shoved me towards the nearest building. I heard them shouting for Rook and Lana as I scrambled on all fours towards the nearest building. I heard Lana scream behind us, but Julian pushed me forward when I turned back to look.

The closest building was a hardware store. The windows were broken and the shelves had been ransacked, but there was a closed office at the back of the store, and we all rushed in and closed the door behind us.

“They’re strong,” Lana said. She was breathing hard. “They’re stronger than they should be.”

“Yeah, and vicious,” Daryl added.

“They were setting up to start shooting,” Neal said, affronted. “Shooting! In the fog!”

Daryl shook his head. “Here I thought the locals would be happy to see us.”

Knock rolled his eyes. “Rook, what’s the first thing we taught you?”

Rook looked up from under his hair and maybe almost smiled. “The locals are never happy to see us.”

Julian sank into a chair.

We’ve been in here for like 20 minutes. No one knows what to do, but the guys who ambushed us aren’t leaving. We can still hear them shouting back and forth to each other, surrounding the building.

I guess the current plan is to wait and see if we can get the van back. I feel like we accidentally walked into the end of the world. Oh shit, that was a gunshot. Hahahahahahaha if I don’t write Friday assume I died

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