August 22, 2003
Gertie Higgins looked out the window just in time to see the fog rolling in. She knew fog was evil; it had a way of taking things and people. Gertie’s husband Oscar had been taken in the fog on his way out of town early one summer afternoon back in ’83.
Satisfied that the windows were secure, she wedged rolled towels along the bottom of the door. Then she sat in her rocker, Bible in hand and began to pray. She thanked God for giving her enough time to secure the house and ended with a plea that all those she knew had made it safely home before the fog got them.
These weren’t the foolish ramblings of a demented old woman. Over the years Gertie had seen the town’s population dwindle to 592. Those who left had all disappeared in the fog. Gertie was the only one left who openly spoke about this.
Only two days ago she had spoken to the sheriff about it for the umpteenth time.
“Sheriff, you know it was the fog that took Oscar, those Barnett boys and everyone else.”
“I do thank you for bringing this to my attention Missus Higgins.” As he walked away he muttered, “Lord save me from crazy old ladies who live alone.”
“It’s true I’m old and live alone. Only the good Lord knows iffen I’m crazy or not, but there is nothing wrong with my hearing. You shame your mama talking like that, Bobby Lee Baker.”
Gertie prayed harder as the fog thumped against the windows. She wouldn’t look out; she had no desire to see the fog pressed up against the glass. It scratched along the length and breadth of her door, trying to find a way in. She felt it squeezing the cabin, the pressure made the clapboard walls groan in protest, but they held. This was the devil’s work all right.
“In the name of Jesus, I rebuke this demon… and I order it back to HELL!” Gertie cried out.
The reply was an angry hiss that quickly turned into triumphant laughter.
The scream of terror froze Gertie’s heart. While she thanked the Lord for keeping her safe, she also prayed for the soul of the one who was not as fortunate and wondered who it was this time.
That night her dreams were populated with victims of the fog, as usual.
May 18, 1936
“Mama, why do I have to stay inside? I wanna go out.” The six year old naturally wanted to play outdoors.
“Fog’s coming.” Was the only explanation Gertie’s mama gave, she seemed to think it was enough.
* * *
Fancie Carter and Sparky Holden were finding it harder to sneak away to the lake but they managed to meet for a few minutes.
“Did you talk to my daddy?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“What did he say, can we get married?”
“He said yes…” Sparky was about to say more but her whoop of delight stopped him.
“Thank God.” Tears of relief flowed freely.
“But he said we were too young and had to wait one more year.” It came out in a rush before she could cut him off again.
“Another year? We can’t wait another year. The baby will be here long before then.” She began sobbing harder now.
“I know, I know, please don’t cry. We’ll just run away and get married.”
Fancie stopped crying.
“Can we? Really?”
He kissed the tears from her cheeks and then his lips sought hers. They were wrenched apart mid kiss.
“What the devil…?” The smell was unbearable and all Sparky could see was fog.
The fog coiled itself around him, crushing his bones and forcing the last bit of air out of his lungs. He had no way of knowing that Fancie and their unborn baby were already dead.
The next morning it was all over town about how Sparky and Fancie had run off together because of her delicate condition. Gertie’s mama knew in her heart that it was the fog that took them.
August 23, 2003
Gertie woke up stiff and cold. She could have lit the stove last night, but she wouldn’t risk opening the damper. She didn’t know if fire was stronger than the fog and she didn’t want to pay with her life for guessing wrong.
Hearing the sheriff’s car long before he pulled onto her property she was waiting for him with a mug of coffee, the screen door closed and on the hook.
“Good morning Missus Higgins.” He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose.
“Mornin’ Bobby Lee, what brings you out here to talk to a crazy ole lady so early in the day?”
He reddened with embarrassment.
“While on patrol this morning I found a car near the edge of your property …”
“Patrol nothing… you probably fell asleep at that hussy Bonnie Bradshaw’s house again and found the car on your way home. You’d do well to keep away from the likes of her or you’ll be catching more than a cold.”
Ignoring her tirade Bobby Lee had continued talking, “…she must have taken a wrong turn off the freeway in the fog and there’s no sign of her anywhere. Did you hear anything last night? Is that coffee for me ma’am, sure could use it, thanks. Can I come in?”
“You can drink the coffee out there on the stoop, Bobby Lee. I ain’t never been alone indoors with a man other than my Oscar, may he rest in peace, and I ain’t about to start now.” She handed him the steaming mug and secured the hook again.
“Missus Higgins you’re safe with me, I’m the Sheriff.” He tapped his badge, drawing it to the senile old woman’s attention.
“Bobby Lee, I’ve known you since you weren’t nuthin’ but a gleam in your daddy’s eye. You can have one badge or ten pinned to your shirt, they don’t make you any smarter than you already are. You say she took a wrong turn in the fog. I say she’d have to have made several wrong turns to get lost so far from the Interstate. Did I hear sumthin’ last night? I heard plenty. I heard the fog. You wanna ask questions; go interrogate the fog Mr. Sheriff.”
Gertie shut the door leaving Bobby Lee standing on the stoop; slack jawed and stuck for an answer. He stumbled down the steps, got into his car and sped off. Gertie chuckled to herself; she’d struck a nerve all right but the exchange had worn her out.
June 9, 1940
Gertie was 10 years old before she knew she’d had an older brother. She had come across a faded photograph and kept asking her mama who it was. The first few times she asked, her mama would only look at the picture and cry. Then one day Gertie’s mama sat her down and told her straight out it was her brother Henry.
“Where is he now Mama?”
“In heaven, I hope.” Her voice was thick with pain.
July 17, 1933
Henry had been doing chores all morning and every time he turned round Gertie was standing there watching him.
“Go inside.” He told her.
“Peas.” she pointed, expectantly.
“Okay, but then you have to go inside.” He split a couple of pods open and she quickly gobbled up the sweet green goodness.
“Now git,” he ordered.
Gertie scampered off and he picked peas for another five minutes before sneaking off to the outhouse for a smoke.
When he opened the outhouse door there stood Gertie.
“Henry… Henry… Henry.” She giggled gleefully.
“Stop bothering me. Mama,” he hollered, “will you please call Gertie.”
“Henry you know how much she likes you and she’s not hurting anything.
“But I can’t work with her always following me ‘round.”
“Let her be for another five minutes then it’ll be time for lunch and her nap.”
“Henry… peas!” Gertie demanded.
“No more peas.”
Henry noticed the stench and turned to see the fog rolling in. Mama always said to get inside right away iffen you saw fog.
“C’mon Gertie, it’s time for lunch.” He grabbed his sister’s hand and pulled her toward the house. When she stumbled he scooped her up and ran.
“Fog,” he bellowed.
His mama had the door open. She saw the fetid mist swirling around his feet.
“Run faster,” she yelled.
Henry felt something grab his ankle.
“Oh God, no,” his mama cried.
Struggling to remain upright, he hurled Gertie toward the house.
The toddler landed in a shrieking heap on the porch. Knowing her son was lost forever Gertie’s mama dragged her daughter inside and slammed the door.
June 9, 1940
“…and that’s why you can’t be outside when the fog comes,” her mama warned.
“Why, because it’ll take me too?”
“Because it’ll take anyone who’s out there.”
* * *
Gertie grew up with a healthy fear of the fog, knowing it was behind the disappearance of so many townsfolk.
When she was only fourteen the fog had changed the direction of her life.
June 29, 1944
It was the second last day of school and everyone was anxious for summer vacation to finally begin. The Barnett twins were no exception.
“Let’s go fishing,” Peter tempted his brother.
“We should go to school. There’s only two days left.” James reasoned.
“We should do a lot of things that we don’t. Besides all the lessons are over, we won’t miss anything.”
They agreed on that and snuck down to the lake.
When the fog came Emily Barnett was grateful her boys were safe in school. But at five o’clock she was ready to wallop them both for dawdling on the way home when there were chores begging to be done. At six that evening she knew she would never see her boys again.
* * *
Gertie had a huge crush on both boys. She just knew she was going to marry a Barnett twin but on a day-to-day basis her mind would change as to which one it would be.
On that last school morning she’d brushed her hair an extra fifty strokes. The result was well worth the effort. She secured her shiny chestnut locks with a red ribbon and pinched her cheeks to create a pleasing blush. She was certain that one of them would walk her home today and she hoped there would be a kiss or two along the way.
When the morning bell rang Gertie and all of her classmates were devastated to see two empty chairs were the Barnett boys normally sat.
Though no one said a word Gertie was sure that the fog had got them.
On the way home Oscar Higgins caught up to Gertie.
“You look very nice today Gertie. Would it be okay if I walked you home?”
“Why thank you Oscar. I’d like that very much.” She offered him her best smile knowing that the Barnett twins were forever out of reach.
August 22, 2003
Jennifer knew she had taken the wrong cut-off five minutes after she left the Interstate. Because of the fog she had no idea if it was safe to try to turn around, or if she should just keep going. After a half hour she thought she saw a light in the distance.
“Great, maybe Ma and Pa Kettle can put me up for the night.”
The right front wheel slid off the road. She tried steering to the left but ended up putting the entire car in the ditch. Jen hated the idea of walking in the fog but knew she had no other choice.
“Good thing I wore flats!” She opened the door and stepped into the mist. It was a few seconds before she saw what looked like glowing red eyes. Jen screamed as she was lifted off the ground. Her body was crushed and then the fog consumed her.
* * *
Getting ready for bed, Susie Reynolds thought she heard screaming, again. On most nights two glasses of wine and a couple of sleeping pills worked enough magic so that her sleep was both dream free and scream free. Clearly she needed more wine. Like most survivors, Susie felt guilty for her survival even though she had prayed so hard for salvation during that terrifying sprint home. Echoes of Ginny’s screams filled Susie’s head as she chanted her mantra, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
July 4, 1955
Susie wasn’t supposed to go down to the lake but she promised her friends she would for a while. By the time she got there only Ginny, Geoffrey and Kenny remained. They were skinny dipping and dared her to join them but she knew that would lead to nothing but trouble.
“I can’t, mama will skin me alive because I’m already late.”
“If you’re already late, what difference does it make if you’re a little later?” Ginny teased.
“C’mon chicken,” Kenny wanted Susie to stay. When Ginny and Geoffrey went off in the woods he’d be alone. Maybe he could convince Susie that they could just touch each other without going all the way.
“Sorry, can’t.” Susie turned her back on their laughter. When their shrieks turned into screams she spun around to look. All she saw was fog rolling across the lake.
Susie prayed as she raced home. “Please God, let me see my mama again, I’ll be good from now on, I promise.”
Her mama was holding the door open.
“C’mon child, hurry.”
Susie’s mama slammed the door after her and held her tight. Susie never told anyone what happened to the other three.
August 24, 2003
Susie slipped into church late. The intensity of last night’s dreams and the extra wine made it hard for her to get up this morning. Reverend Johnson finished with a prayer for the missing traveler. Susie saw Gertie and offered her a ride home.
“Appreciate it, my hip’s been actin’ up again.”
Susie waited until they were in the Chevy before speaking her piece.
“Gertie, I heard that woman screaming the other night. You know, during the fog.” Even though they were alone, that last bit was said in a whisper, like the kind people used when they talked about cancer.
“Susie, how on earth can you hear anyone else screamin’ over your own carryin’ on?”
“As the crow flies your place ain’t that far from mine. I hear you. It ain’t my place to say, but iffen you were to talk about what’s been hauntin’ you, maybe you could get a good night’s sleep. Come in for some coffee.”
“Gertie, it’s the fog.”
“Shoot woman, I know it’s the fog, but it didn’t get you.”
“It got the others; I ran off and left them.” Tears of relief and shame flowed unchecked.
“Everyone knew the fog got them. You couldn’t have helped and if you stayed with them you’d been taken too, you know it.”
“I know, but I still feel bad.”
“It’s time to let it all go. You’d best finish your coffee and get home. I don’t like this feeling I’m getting.”
“Okay but remember, I’m coming back in the morning and we’re leaving. We can go to Florida or up north.”
“I’m thinking somewhere landlocked and drier would suit me better.”
“Then we’ll go to the desert.” Susie promised, hugging her old friend.
Gertie started her lock down ritual. This feeling was more powerful than any other she had before. She said every prayer she had ever learned and then some that were made up just for the fog.
“Dear Lord, iffen you have time to listen you know I’m only askin’ that you help those who are too foolish or too slow to get indoors. And please give Susie a good night’s rest. You know she couldn’t have helped the others.”
Even with the windows rolled up, Susie could smell the fog’s approach. She booted the Chevy up to 70; it rattled but didn’t resist. Soon her front gate was in sight. It was closed and she wasn’t going to waste time opening it. The pick-up crashed through sending splintered wood flying. Heedless of the walkway and the flower border, she drove straight up to the front door. Once on the other side, she threw the deadbolt.
Though not much had been said, it felt good to talk with Gertie. Susie’s thoughts turned to one other summer, the one that had briefly offered so much hope.
August 17, 1958
Timmy, Art, Susie and her brother Jessie were all leaving Huxley’s Corners and moving north to Jonesboro.
“We’re just going to the pool hall to have a beer and say goodbye to the guys. We’ll pick you up around five. Be ready.” Jessie warned her.
Susie was packed and ready to go. Soon she’d leave her mama and Huxley’s Corners for good.
On their way to pick up Susie they were talking a mile a minute about their big plans. No one was paying attention to the road when they ran over something.
“I didn’t see anything.”
“Maybe whatever it is was already dead.”
“We better check.”
When the three boys got out of the vehicle to look the odor hit them.
* * *
“Honey, shouldn’t they be here already?”
“Mama, they’re more than an hour late. Maybe they decided to go without me.” If Jessie allowed the other two to leave her behind she would never speak to him again.
“Nonsense, they’re probably all still at the pool hall. Good thing you can drive, Lord knows how many beers those boys drank by now. You better go and drag them outta there.”
It was two hours before Susie returned.
“Honey you look awful, what happened.”
“The fog got them. Danny said it got foggy shortly after the boys left the pool hall. I found the car parked on the highway, the doors were wide open.”
“Hush child, let me fix you somethin’ to drink.” Henrietta poured a liberal shot of whiskey into Susie’s coffee. Her daughter choked on the first sip but then drained the cup.
The next morning Susie went to see the sheriff and learned that he had already filed an official accident report. It stated that in the fog, the boys drove over the embankment.
“How on earth could you report that when I’d seen their car up there on the highway?” She was livid.
“Susie you’re upset and don’t remember what you saw. I’ve already filed the report. It was an accident in the fog, understand?”
“I understand all right. I understand we’ll all die from accidents in the fog. Who’s going to write the official report when you have your accident, Sheriff?” She drove home.
“Honey, leave this place like you planned. Just go.”
Susie had been unpacking and her mama’s words caught her off guard. “Mama, I can’t go on my own. I’ll just stay here until the fog gets me too, but it’ll have to wait until I’m good and ready.”
Henrietta hugged her daughter and prepared fresh coffee.
August 24, 2003
The two couples were heading off on a long promised vacation. It seemed like every time Cindy and Mark tried to make plans Jackie and Darryl had commitments they couldn’t get out of. More than once Cindy suggested they just take off on their own but Mark insisted it would be more fun if his best friend and his wife came along. Having nothing in common with the superficial clothes horse, Cindy found that hard to believe.
The fog reduced visibility and Mark didn’t see the guardrail until too late. The van crashed through and rolled down the embankment.
“Is everyone okay?” Mark prayed everyone was safe.
“What’s that gross smell?” Jackie struggled out of her seat belt.
“Cindy’s not moving.” Darryl told Mark.
“We need to get out and away from the van.”
“Is it going to blow up?” Jackie wished they’d taken a pass on this vacation too. She had wanted to go to Paris again for crying out loud, not on some lame road trip.
“I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure.” Mark was about to unbuckle Cindy’s seatbelt when the screaming started. He shut the door on reflex and turned back to the other two. “Oh God…” What Mark saw in the final seconds of his life horrified him.
Cindy heard screaming but couldn’t see anything because of the fog. Occasionally something bumped against the van, terrifying her.
She searched for a weapon; the best thing she could come up with was a large can of aerosol hairspray.
“God bless Jackie’s vanity.”
August 25, 2003
Susie was on her way to pick up Gertie when she saw the broken guard rail.
“Is anyone down there?”
“Help me, please…”
Susie spotted a young woman half-way down the seventy-five foot embankment.
“Hold on, I’m getting a rope.”
Susie secured a rope to the bumper and started the climb down. It wasn’t an easy task for the sixty-three year old, but she persevered. The young woman’s arm was hanging limply at her side, which made the climb up even harder.
When they made it to the top Susie untied the rope, reached into the glove compartment and handed the other woman a flask.
“Take a good belt; you look like you need it.” Susie removed her sweater, fashioned it into a sling and helped the injured woman secure her arm inside. “You’ll be okay, it isn’t broken. Is anyone else down there?”
“There were four of us. I’m the only one left.”
“Only you, they’re all dead? If you survived the crash maybe the others did too.”
“We all survived the crash. I’m still alive because I was in the van and it couldn’t get me. They were screaming. It was awful. This morning there was no one out there. It was like they all just… disappeared.” Her voice faded as the words tumbled out.
“You were alone here all night, in the fog?”
Cindy nodded, “Can you give me a ride to the Sheriff’s office?”
“Won’t do any good, I passed his car a mile back, the door was open but he was nowhere around.” Susie indulged in a little smile before adding, “I’m going to pick up a friend of mine and then we’re heading west. You can come with us or I can drop you off anywhere you want, as long as it isn’t anywhere around here.
Horn blasting they pulled into Gertie’s yard.
“Expected you earlier Susie, thought you changed your mind. Who’s that with you?”
“I’ll explain on the way. Let me get your bag, we’re leaving.”
Susie opened the truck door but froze in her seat as Gertie stared beyond the pick up. She turned to see what caught Gertie’s eye.
“Forget your bag, get in,” Susie insisted.
But Gertie was already shuffling through the cabin door. The fog inched closer. Gertie came out and stood on the stoop with her Bible held high
“Hightail it outta here,” Gertie demanded.
“Not without you.”
“Go!” She turned to face the fog as Susie pulled the door closed and stomped on the gas pedal.
“The Lord is my Shepherd…” Gertie began. Her voice was clear and unwavering.
The horrific laughter threatened to drown out her words but she continued.
“I shall fear no evil…”
In an instant lightning flashed all around them.
“Lightning in fog, is that possible?” Cindy shivered.
Susie caught the flashes in her rearview mirror. It was odd, but everywhere the lightning struck the air immediately cleared. She had never seen anything like it.
“Shouldn’t we go back to help her?” Cindy didn’t want to go back but would go along with whatever the older woman decided.
“No honey, she has the best help available.” Susie watched her review mirror until Huxley’s Corners faded from view.