"Good evening, and welcome once again to our gallery of the grotesque and the macabre. We begin tonight's exhibition with an offering that evokes a sense fear, of something that lurks in the mist that conjures up primordial memories of the things that haunt our nightmares. For tonight's painting, we invite you to step into the fog."
It was another strong Nor'easter, the kind that blanketed the Northeast in snow. That was what the weather reports on TV said was coming their way. Butit wasn't the approaching storm that had Jake Johansen mulling over his beer as he looked at the gathering darkness outside his bar.
It was what came before the storm-the fog that was coming in off the Atlantic and already filling the town's small harbor.
Jake had seen it only once before in his lifetime. When he was a boy, his father, who'd been a fisherman at the time, had told him to stay indoors when it came. Years later, when his old man had come down with the cancer, Jake had asked him about it.
"It's death-that's all you need to know," his father said as he coughed up junk in his lungs. "No man will go out to sea in it. It only happens once every fifty to a hundred years. But when it comes…you don't go out into it-ever."
The town of King's Point was situated on the extreme corner of the Massachusetts coastline. Its history dated back to the 1600s, when it had been an offshoot of the original Plymouth colony. Everybody in town knew the old story of the curse that was supposed to have been placed on the colony by a local Indian chief. The first recorded instance of the fog had been in 1725 and was duly recorded: "The Mist came up from the Sea with its Tendrils and there was none who were spared in its Path…farmer and fowl alike were swallowed in its Wake, never to be seen again…"
There were still a few customers left by the time Jake announced he was closing up. One of them, an old-timer named Walter, seemed to shrink inside his winter clothing as he headed for the door.
"You want me to call a taxi?" Jake offered with false good cheer.
Walter shook his head. "Only delay the inevitable. Might as well take my chances the way they are and get it over with."
Jake nodded. Every few years there were some hardy-more likely, foolhardy-souls who were willing to risk going home in the fog. Once, about ten years back, two local college kids who'd never believed in the curse had laughed as they walked out into the night. The next morning, their bodies-or what was left of them-were found. The official explanation was that they'd been attacked by wild animals, but those who knew the truth understood what had happened.
"I'll be all right," Walter assured Jake. Then he was out the door and gone.
Jake was alone now. The darkness was definitely settling in as he stacked chairs on top of tables and cleaned up. He'd have to spend the night here. Jake called his wife so that she wouldn't worry.
"You just be careful," she told him as the phone hissed in his ear. Yes, it was time. Jake turned off the phone and turned down the lights. Then he went into his office-which had no windows-and waited.
The ominous silence came first. It was like a living thing, surrounding the bar, turning the downtown area into a ghost town. Jake could imagine people going into their storm cellars, or hiding in their rooms, waiting for it to pass like he was.
A splattering sound tapped on the roof. It sounded like rain, but Jake knew it wasn't. He sipped at his coffee as he tried to focus on the mystery novel he was reading. The sound became heavier, like somebody slopping paint. Something scraped at the brick walls outside. It sounded like somebody dragging a heavy stick. That was followed by a low whistle, like a tea kettle. Then more silence.
Jake looked at the walls. There was his Small Businessman's Award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hanging over his desk. A photo of Jake as a teenager with his father hung below it. A calendar opened to the current month showed a photo of the Boston skyline at night.
He turned on the radio, keeping the volume down low. A classical music station from Boston was playing Brahms. A turn of the dial took him to a talk radio station. The host was giving some caller advice on how to weather-proof her windows. I wish that was all I had to think about, Jake thought. We don't have the luxury of the ordinary here…
Something hissed outside, making Jake jump. Not because it was coming from beyond the wall-but because it came from right outside his office door. That was different-and it unnerved him so much he nearly spilled his coffee.
"What the hell…" Jake wasn't foolish enough to open the door to find out what it was, but he did wonder how it could have gotten inside. He'd locked all the doors…then he remembered. Walter had been the last one to leave, wanting to brave the fog on his own. It had already been getting dark by then...something could have come in past him as he was leaving…
"Dammit, Walter…" Jake put his desk chair up against the doorknob as the frame shuddered. He could hear chairs being knocked over; the sound of glass breaking as something large and heavy moved around outside like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Then Jake heard something he wasn't expecting. It was almost too low to hear, but as the thing came back to the door it echoed in his mind.
I am hungry. Let me in.
"No, sir," Jake whispered. "No way."
I smell you. I smell all of your kind. I'm hungry.
"Go eat somewhere else," Jake insisted. "You don't want me anyway. I'm too old and my skin's all thick and wrinkly."
Jake looked at the clock that was shaped like a barometer that hung next to the door and was relieved to see it was almost sunrise.
I'm hungry, the voice said again. It sounded more desperate this time-but not like a hungry animal-more like an angry, spoiled child.
Is that what you are-something's baby? Jake shook his head. "There's no food for you here," he said in a voice that sounded loud and stern, even though he was shaking inside.
The creature hissed again, but it sounded like it was in pain. Jake heard it move away, knocking over more tables and chairs as it went. When it was quiet again, Jake dared to open the door.
The bar was a mess. Furniture lay scattered everywhere. The front door was wide open. Jake carefully stepped over broken glasses and mugs as he went to close it. Outside, he could see the light of the early morning sun burning away the fog, and the things that had come with it.
Jake sighed. He picked up a broom and began to clean up when he heard someone moving behind him. Jake turned around.
"Walter! Damn, you scared the bejesus out of me. I thought you went home."
Walter shuffled forward. "I got lost, so I came back." Jake noticed something odd about Walter's speech and looked at his face. His eyes didn't seem to want to focus on him.
"Walter, are you sure you're OK? You looked kind of peaked."
"I'm hungry." Something in Walter's voice made Jake's blood freeze. Aw no, he thought. Not you, Walter…
"Can you give me something to eat?" The thing that had been Walter slurred. "I'm really hungry."
Jake nodded. "I'll bet you are." Jake had known this might happen one day-he just never expected it to be one of his own customers, let alone a guy like Walter. Maybe Walter figured his time had come and had allowed this to happen. Whatever the reason, Jake knew what to do.
He reached inside his shirt pocket and took out a piece of beef jerky. "Walter's" eyes lit up, but with an evil glow. He reached out to grab it.
The expression on Walter's face changed instantly as he held the beef jerky. His face contorted in ways that would have been impossible for a normal human as he stammered and tried to drop the stick but couldn't.
"I wanted some food," "Walter" said. "What did you give me?"
"Only something you couldn't take from us." Jake's expression was grim. "Sanctified blood. You know what that is, don't you? I had this dipped in some of my own blood that I said a prayer over." Jake held up his hand where a scar clearly showed on his palm. "You should be more careful around glass. People can cut themselves on it."
Walter cried out in anguish-both his and that of the thing that had taken him-as he dropped to the floor. His eyes glazed over and turned white as he fell on his back. Jake felt something move past him as Walter's body became an empty vessel.
Jake sighed. "I'm sorry, old friend. Maybe you don't have to be afraid anymore."
He went to the phone to call for an ambulance, and the police. Walter was old; they'd buy a heart attack story. Jake told the 911 operator what happened, picked up one of the overturned chairs, and sat down. He waited as the light of dawn shone down on Walter's body.