Good news: I’m not dead yet!
It was looking like we were going to have to fight our way out of there though for a few minutes. Neal put a gun in my hand everything.
But then we heard sirens, and a whole scuffle broke out, and a few minutes later someone banged on the hardware store door and shouted, “This is Officer Terrace, we’re going to come in. We’re not going to hurt you.”
Everyone looked to Lana, who gestured that we lower our weapons. She led the way out of the office into the store, where a small squad of police officers were waiting. They were all wearing masks.
It was a tense few moments.
“Are you from the government?” Officer Terrace asked.
“No, we’re from Palefish Academy,” Lana replied. Obviously none of them knew what that meant. “We specialize in inexplicable incidents like you’ve got going on here with this fog.”
“Scientists?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” Daryl said.
“You seen anything like this before?” Officer Terrace asked.
Lana didn’t miss a beat. “Not like this exactly,” she said. “But we’ve seen phenomena closer to this than you have, and we want to help you get out of here.”
Officer Terrace shook his head.
“We were told to keep everyone in town,” he said. “Quarantine. We don’t know if it’s contagious.”
“Is there any evidence of it being contagious?” Lana said.
Officer Terrace shifted uncomfortably. “We don’t know what this thing is about, but we gotta play it safe. That means keeping everyone in town.”
There was something about his tone that made my skin prickle. Evidently it set off Lana’s bullshit alarm too, because she said, “We need to speak to the medical professional in charge.”
And that’s when things got really awkward, because that’s when they had to admit that the medical professionals had barricaded law enforcement out of their facilities.
“Why?” Lana demanded, and her tone was not that of someone trying to keep the peace.
Officer Terrace squirmed and mumbled something about insurrection.
“Insurrection?” Lana repeated, with this tone of disgust and disbelief that I could see digging under the cop’s skin. “No, that’s not gonna work for me. I need to see the doctor.”
“I’m going to need to see some identification,” Officer Terrace said, raising his voice, going full intimidating cop-man.
Lana laughed in his face. “To see a doctor? No, I don’t think you do.” When she turned to address us, it was like Officer Terrace no longer existed, which he must have felt because the rage flashed across his face and he reached to grab her shoulder. Lana must have seen the movement because she turned to fix him with a look so cold that his hand froze in the air between them. She said, “Are you going to escort us, or shall we go on our own?”
Officer Terrace withdrew his hand. “You’re on your own,” he sneered.
“Fine, that’s probably faster,” Lana replied. When he didn’t immediately walk away, she added, looking down her nose, “do you mind?”
Look, if Lana looked at ME that way, I’d have self immolated, so the fact that Terrace just walked away is actually to his credit. But that’s all the credit he gets.
It wasn’t far to the clinic, but in the fog it felt like miles. Everyone moved in tight formation, which I of course didn’t know, so I just had to stand in the middle.
I swear there were figures out in the mist. I thought it was in my head but then I saw Neal nudge Julian and point. Neither of them said anything, but they both drew their weapons.
The clinic was boarded up. We had no choice but to bang on the doors and hope for the best.
It took twenty full minutes before someone finally shouted at us from inside: “Alright, christ, hang on. Who are you?”
We could hear chains rattling from the other side of the door.
“My name is Lana Taylor, and this is my team. We’re from Palefish Academy and we’re here to help.”
We didn’t waste any time when we got inside. The nurse who answered the door checked Lana’s ID, couldn’t make anything of it, and brought us to Doctor Wash anyways.
She was a woman in her fifties, with black kinky hair that was just starting to gray at the temples.
“More cops?” she asked, barely looking up from her computer
Lana smiled. “Not exactly,” she said and the doctor jumped.
Introductions were brisk and professional.
It was Doctor Wash who, in clipped tones, explained the situation, which I’m just going to list here for simplicity’s sake.
1. The first thing anyone noticed about this strange phenomenon was that the Fredrickson family disappeared. The kids didn’t show up for the first day of school, neither of the parents arrived at their jobs. When the phone calls were made and no one picked up, the police went out to poke around. Except the police didn’t find anything out on the Fredrickson property, except that it was awfully foggy. The Fredricksons are yet to be found.
2. The fog spread. It took literally a week before anyone could agree that there was something wrong.
“We thought it was just strange weather,” Dr. Wash explained. “But it was so strangely localized, and it wasn’t going away. But none of us thought to actually worry until it had seeped into town.”
But what were they supposed to do? There’s no fighting a mysterious fog.
3. People started getting scared when the fog had shrouded the whole town, and hadn’t cleared out for a five days. The official direction was to shelter in place, but obviously everyone panicked and started buying out the grocery store. Fights started breaking out. People began to get lost in the fog. The police found they were understaffed. They started taking volunteers to patrol. Literally, within a week this small town went from normal to weirdly apocalyptic.
4. When it became clear this wasn’t just strange weather, but rather an observable bizarre natural phenomenon, scientists realized they’d like to have a look. And when the scientists started rolling up, in their hazmat suits with their beakers and test tubes, people decided it was time to leave. People piled into their cars, or commandeered school busses and started going for it.
No one made it out. Scientists had discovered unidentifiable elements caught up in the fog. The police set up barricades immediately.
“We didn’t see barricades,” Lana said. “We pulled in here no problem.”
Dr. Wash hesitated. “I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “I haven’t been outside this clinic in two weeks.”
“What do you think the fog is?” Julian asked and Dr. Wash shrugged.
“My best guess is that it’s coming out of some kind of geyser,” she said. “It seems like this fog is emerging from a fixed location, as it gets denser as we approach the Fredrickson farm but all of this is well outside my area of expertise. All I can tell you is that it does seem to have an affect on human physiology.”
“…what kind of affect on human physiology?” I asked.
Which is exactly the kind of question that gets you into a room you really wish you’d never seen.
In our case it was a back room of the clinic. In it, a man was strapped to an examining table. Dr. Wash made us put on our masks before we were allowed to go in.
“How are you doing today Howard?” Dr. Wash said as we entered. His eyes swiveled to see who had come in and at first I didn’t notice what was strange about his gaze.
“Oh, you know,” he said. “A little stiff, but not bad. Has backup finally arrived?”
Dr. Wash answered smoothly, “That’s right. We’re just getting them all caught up about our situation. Can you take a deep breath for me?”
When he exhaled, a faint billow of mist escaped between his lips. Even I, at the very back of the pack, peering between everyone else, could see it.
“As you can see,” Dr. Wash said, “the fog has a way of lingering inside the human body. When this situation was first beginning, Howard made repeated trips into the fog, to bring injured people to us for treatment, or fetch us necessary supplies. We had no reason to suspect that it was anything other than a thick fog then.”
“And now look at me,” Howard said, grinning despite the strap holding his head in place. “Practically belching the stuff.”
“Why the restraints?” Julian asked.
“This stuff makes ya jumpy,” Howard answered. “I don’t know my own strength. Kept flying off the handle for no reason.”
“He tore ligaments in his knees and shoulders lifting a car off someone,” Dr. Wash corrected him pointedly. “He’s more danger to himself than anyone else. But we thought he’d be safest like this until we have a better understanding of what’s happening here.”
I was still looking at Howard, trying to understand what was so strange about him. It wasn’t until he looked towards me that I realized that the whites of his eyes were moving, just slightly, shifting under the surface.
That all happened on Wednesday. Since then we’ve pretty much been just doing whatever we can to fulfill some of the basic needs for people living in the clinic. They haven’t been able to fetch groceries in weeks, so we did a run for them.
The cops didn’t quite dare stop us getting food, but we could feel them out there, partially concealed by fog, tracking our movements.
Yesterday, Neal, Julian and I ventured out into the fog to take samples at various points in town. It’s really strange stuff — you can literally fill jars with it. Our samples are sitting on a shelf across from me as I write this, swirling and billowing behind the glass.
“Those cops are fucking breathing this stuff,” Neal said as we collected a particularly thick sample from nearer the Fredrickson’s farm.
“It’s only been a few weeks,” Julian said. “Hopefully there aren’t any lasting consequences.”
But Howard seems like pretty solid evidence to the contrary.
This weekend we’re doing a collective excursion to the Fredrickson’s farm to see if we can figure out where this stuff is coming from.