Fair warning: this one’s gonna be creepy. The images are gonna be scary. Too much? Message me I’ll send it to you without the pics
It wasn’t the Hawthornes out in the mist.
It was a stranger, walking so unevenly that he kept banging his left shoulder along the window on his way by.
I nudged Rook awake.
“What’s wrong with him?” Rook whispered as this man leaned so clumsily against the window that he was smearing his cheek against it. He exhaled a thick plume of fog, but it wasn’t a cold morning.
I thought of that empty dog.
“Maybe we should go hide in the back,” I said but before I could even get all the words out, a second person hit the window with a loud thump. Which would have been bad enough, I definitely jumped. Instinct had me out of my chair and cowering towards the back wall before I even realized that when he hit the window he sort of flattened against it. He sagged, face squashing where there should have been bones. His eye sockets were empty but for fog, which streamed out between his eyelashes.
I was frozen, useless with terror. Another body slapped against the window, this one even more boneless than the last. Where his shinbones should have been there was nothing but swollen-looking, strangely curved skin. This one was wearing a cop uniform and had a gun wedged in it’s hands.
“I don’t think they can see us,” Rook whispered.
Indeed they didn’t seem to be able to tell anything that was going on around them.
“What the fuck are we going to do,” I said as another person, a woman, slapped so hard against the window that I saw the mist leave her body and she sank onto the pavement like an empty wind sock.
“I guess now we know what prolonged exposure to the mist does,” Rook said.
My fight or flight instinct was having a fit. “We have to get out of here,” I said. Another body hit the window with an ominous bang.
“Yeah,” Rook agreed. “Do you know where we are?”
I didn’t. I’m no good at navigation even without an impenetrable fog.
“Me neither,” Rook said. “I got turned around when the gunshots started. I wonder if that’s why the opened fire — if they thought we were… these things.”
One of them sagged, his legs scrunching up like an accordion. I fought nausea.
“We’ll have to figure out where to go on the move,” Rook said as another body hit the window. “The glass can’t take too much of this.”
Luckily there was a back door. We checked each other’s masks and goggles and ducked outside. There was no way to know where we were. We pressed forward blindly until we hit a brick wall. An alley. We followed the wall to the right.
I honestly don’t know how long we wandered in the fog. It must have been hours. Eventually we found the grocery store, but it had been looted at that point. There were signs of struggle everywhere. There were at least three bodies. I couldn’t look closely at them — one was weirdly half puffed, not even human shaped anymore. The other two were just deflated, empty skin bags.
We filled our pockets with whatever cans we could, but we needn’t have bothered. As we were turning around the bell on the door rang and three people in scrubs ducked inside.
“Damn doorbell,” said one of them, and I recognized her voice immediately from the hospital. I came around the corner at once, which startled them. All three pointed guns at me.
I held up my hands. “It’s me! It’s Shiloh! We’re just lost!”
I couldn’t see their expressions behind their masks, but they dropped their guns. “Oh thank god,” said the nurse, who’s name was Elaine, I’m pretty sure. “They’ve been looking for two all night.”
We helped them put random food stuff into the wheelbarrow, and they explained everything that happened overnight. Which was, by the way, a lot.
Apparently after the shootout and they ended up capturing a few of the cops. They brought them back to the clinic for observation and Dr Wash studied them overnight while the rest of the team stayed out all night hunting for us. When they couldn’t find us all night, they were forced to go back to the clinic, where they discovered that, as Rook and I suspected, prolonged exposure to the fog hollows out your insides.
“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Elaine said. “It was like the fog was eating them from the inside. They weren’t all there when they came in mind you — they were violent and unreasonable from the moment they arrived. But as the night went on they became entirely unresponsive, and then finally they were just bloated, empty, bags of fog.”
As we we searched the shelves for anything edible, she went on to tell us that some point in the night, apparently the power went out. Rook and I hadn’t noticed. We must have fallen asleep before the streetlights went out. But according to everyone that was a very bad sign.
“It means they’re shutting us down,” Elaine explained. “Luckily, we haven’t heard from those damn cops lately. Between them being missing, and the group at the library clearing those road blocks, we have a shot to get out of here. We’re all gonna run for it. When we get out we’ll have to quarantine ourselves for a while, but we’ll deal with that when we get out.”
Apparently, after the lights went out, Lana decided they needed to prioritize sealing up the well, which rationally I knew made sense. Rationally, I had seen these terrifying empty fog people and understood the stakes. Irrationally, my stomach was in absolute knots that the Hawthornes would leave me for any reason, even if that reason was the potential end of the world.
We helped Elaine and the others bring whatever food we could scavenge back to the clinic.
Dr Wash was happy to see us. “You two had a lot of people very worried about you,” she said, but that was the extent of us. Now Rook and are sitting down to eat a can of something real quick since we haven’t in like over 24 hours, and then we’re gonna go help everyone load up. It’s a whole bustling production in here, with everyone frantically trying to gather up whatever possessions and supplies they can.
Hopefully next time I talk to you this will all be over and we’ll have moved on to the laughing about this later portion of the mission.
A thing I am very purposefully not thinking about: what if I never see the Hawthornes again?
I’m back. It’s late, but I wanted to make sure you get the update.
By the time the light was starting to fail, the group from the library had joined us and was all ready to head out. Rook and I were the only ones properly geared for the trip, so we both took off our shirts and cut masks from the charmed fabric, and when that wasn’t enough we cut the legs off our pants too.
Still no one had come back. We’d had no word from any of them.
The group at the clinic wasn’t big. People had either succumbed to the fog, or simply refused to leave their homes. There were only fifty of them, and they were all eager to get out of there, especially with dark approaching.
“They’re going to meet us out of town,” Dr Wash said when she caught me peering out into the fog, waiting desperately.
But when I asked if they’d agreed to that, Dr Wash was a bit shifty on me, and I knew they must have promised to be back before it came to leaving them. She didn’t tell me they were probably out looking for us, and that’s what was taking them so long, but they didn’t have to.
“We have to go,” Dr Wash said. I knew she was right.
“I’ll wait,” I said, which was stupid, but I was beginning to hyperventilate. “They wouldn’t leave me here.”
“Absolutely not,” Dr Wash said. “No way in hell. I’m not leaving you in here.”
She was talking to me like I was a little kid, which was about to make me dig my heels in, except that then there was a series of horrible slapping sounds against the wall and window of the waiting room. When I looked, all I could see through the window was a vague human shape and knew it was one of those horrible, fog-filled people.
Rook took the interruption as an opportunity to talk sense into me: “Where are you supposed to meet the Hawthornes if everything goes wrong?”
“The rabbit,” I admitted. That’s been the rule since the beginning. Anything goes wrong, we meet at the car.
“Alright then, come on.” He offered me his hand. His fingernails glittered.
The drive out of town was tense. We rode with Dr Wash in the first car, inching along the road, the cars behind following right on our ass so they could keep track of our taillights in the fog.
Everything was fine at first. It was honestly supposed to be a short drive — we really weren’t far from the edge of the fog, just a few miles, and although we were moving slowly, we were on track to be out of there within half an hour of getting in the car. The few figures we saw, we only saw very vaguely. They were deep enough in the fog that I was able to almost pretend I didn’t know what they were and keep my eyes on what little of the road I could see.
But then, behind us, the earth buckled.
I’ve never felt or heard anything like it. The road under us shuddered and tried to shrug us off, and the bang was deafening.
“What the fuck,” Dr Wash gasped. The car behind us hit us hard, pitching us forward a second time, and before we had time to recover, we hit someone standing in the road.
“Just keep going!” someone in the back of the van wailed.
“I’m a doctor,” Dr Wash snapped back, but literally as she stopped, a second explosion sounded behind us.
“They’re bombing us,” Rook realized. “Holy shit.”
Dr Wash stepped on the gas again. Rubble rained down on the hood of the van. Whoever we hit I couldn’t see through the fog, and if I’m honest at that point I didn’t care.
Where in the fuck were the Hawthornes?
“We’re just going to hope they keep up with us,” Wash said and floored it.
It was honestly comical how close we were to the edge of the fog. We burst into the dusk like we were breaking through cobwebs and suddenly I could see. Claustrophobia lifted instantly, it was such a relief — but it didn’t last long. Facing us maybe 100 yards down the highway was a whole blockade. There were fucking tanks. Soldiers. The whole nine yards, and they were all pointing guns at us.
Dr Wash swore and slammed on her breaks. The ambulance behind us swerved hard so as not to hit us. A third bomb went off.
“What to do we do,” I said. I was maybe a little shrill.
“We get out,” Dr Wash said. “Everyone put your hands up, they won’t open fire on their own citizens.”
I glanced at Rook. The US military was bombing one of it’s own cities, it didn’t seem like they weren’t going to let us just leave. But on the other hand, what choice did we have exactly?
We got out slowly, hands in the air. Someone with a megaphone said, “everyone lay down on the ground!”
We did what we were told. I watched the fog billow to our right.
“And here I thought the government was ignoring our problem,” Dr Wash said.
Everything was chaos for a while. People in hazmat suits — the real, ugly kind — approached us, turned us over, patted us down.
“My name is Dr Helen Wash,” she said as she was manhandled. “We have been exposed to this mist in a limited capacity, and need to be —”
No one was listening to her.
They rounded us all up and began shepherding us towards the back of the squad cars. I glanced at Rook and even he was beginning to look alarmed.
And then, a familiar, accented voice: “Ah, there you are!”
It was Protsman. It took everything in me not to cry. He looked hilariously out of place in his tweed and his spectacles, but when he flashed his badge, the swat team let him through. “Thank goodness,” he said loudly. “These are students of mine, part of MY SPECIAL TEAM.” This to the skeptical army men. “Do you still have all of the samples we sent you in to get?” He turned us by the shoulders and peeled us away from the crowd. In an undertone, he said, “You two have caused quite a fuss I’ll have you know. We barely got the team out of there before they started bombing.”
“What happened?” I demanded, very loudly, in front of all these suspicious military dudes.
“In good time,” Protsman said. He looked like he was about to clap a hand over my mouth. “First we have to get you out of here.”
I of course was stirring up to make a scene: “ARE THE HAWTHORNES ALIVE?”
I know better by now than to shout at the people trying to help me. In theory, I know better. But like, in this situation, how do you not OPEN with everyone is alive and well?
Protsman flashed his badge at someone else, and then a few more people, some of whom weren’t even looking at him. There was a whole command station set up right there on the highway, and it was bustling with people in authoritative uniforms.
Apparently you don’t bomb a Stateside town without serious government oversight.
Protsman pushed us past all the bustle and finally into a crowded little tent. Lana looked up from the paperwork she was pouring over and literally slumped against the table for a moment in relief.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she gasped. She came around the table to embrace us. You don’t really understand super strength until it’s hugging you. “I’m sure you two have a story to tell, but I’m so sorry, I have to ask you to tell us later. We’ve got a lot of cleanup to do and —”
“Lana?” The tent door swung open, and it was Knock. “We have reporters incoming, the military is about to start triple checking IDs—” He stopped when his eyes fell on Rook. A smile broke out across his face. “You,” he said. They hugged hard for a long time. Knock only pulled away to call for Daryl, and when Daryl joined us in the tent he straight up burst into tears.
I wanted to scream. Daryl grabbed Rook by the shoulders, and seemed to be inspecting him for damage, while Rook half-heartedly tried to shake him off.
“Where are the Hawthornes?” I demanded.
But before anyone could answer, Lily came into the tent, looking harried and exhausted.
“If we’re going to do this we need to start now.”
“Is Celeste here?” Lana asked.
“She just arrived, but the bombs are already spreading the mist, we need to get moving.”
“Celeste?” I asked.
“Yes, we need to contain this fog, and unfortunately only magic will be able to do it,” Lana said. “Believe it or not, explosives are not always the answer.”
“What happened?” Rook asked, as we were bustled out of the tent and towards the van.
“The Scelerats got word that the government had figured out how dangerous the mist was and they were going to start dropping bombs. When our phones weren’t working, Lily came in to track us down herself. Once we had her sorcery, everything went a bit more smoothly,” Knock explained, hurrying us. Daryl had one hand on Rook’s shoulder, the other on mine, and was steering us with some weight towards the van.
We got into the van, waited for Lily’s signal, and when she gave us the nod, we left. Simple as that. I assumed there must be some magic involved for us to just drive away from a whole ass military encampment.
“Did you get the rift closed?” Rook asked. I wanted to scream. I didn’t care about the damn rift, all I wanted to know was where the fuck the Hawthornes had gotten to.
“We did,” Daryl assured him. “You don’t have to worry about that. Lily did herself, sealed it up tight. After that we spent as long as we could looking for you —”
“Damn near had to drag the Hawthornes out of there by their ears,” Knock said. He was driving infuriatingly slowly. “They’d be dust and rubble by now, if it was up to them.”
“We were in the nail salon,” Rook said. “We waited all night. But then we saw the fog people and we knew we had to get moving.” He told them our half of the story as the countryside rolled by, oblivious to the nightmare it had narrowly escaped.
Eventually I couldn’t wait another moment. The countryside seemed to be getting less familiar, and I couldn’t see the rabbit, and didn’t know where we were going. Rook was telling them about shredding our clothes for masks, and I just snapped right over him: “Where are the Hawthornes?”
But as I said it, the rabbit came into view, and there they were. Julian was leaning against the door, and Neal was pacing. It looked like Cara was in the back seat. They all looked up when we pulled up. I didn’t even wait for the van to stop before I dragged open the door and they were already running. I was pretty much immediately a blubbering mess as I ran out to meet them.
I crashed into Julian so hard I about knocked the wind out of myself. We all three held on tight.
Neal said into my hair, “I swear to god, I swear I thought you were dead.”
Over our shoulder, Knock was shouting from the van that we had to get moving before Lily’s spell wore off, but listen, for a sec there I really thought I lost them and I wasn’t ready to let go yet.