We don’t go outside at night because that’s when the fog comes. It rolls in low and thick from the mountains, milky-white and merciless. There’s no ground it doesn’t cover, no house it doesn’t penetrate, no sound it doesn’t swallow. Not even the pines stand untouched, rising through the heavy mists like ghostly sentinels, all but their tips obscured.
I remember the first night I saw them creep down, vaporous tendrils sliding between the trunks towards the water’s edge. That night Josh and I had been making our own fog on the windows inside his car and hadn’t noticed until he’d rolled one down to let in a little cool air. The fog had glided over the ceiling in wisps, but thin as it was, we still noticed the strange patterns it danced out above us.
When he drove me home, the fog had grown thicker, and I’d run from his car to the front porch. He’d laughed at me the next day, but I remember his anxious expression as I waved at him from inside. There was something about the heavy white blanket that made every hair on the body stand on end. A few days later, he tried to talk me into a few beers on the beach after sunset. I was too frightened, and he laughed again.
People began to disappear. The tourists were leaving, that was true, but this was something different. Locals of all ages, men and women who’d never set foot outside of our beloved little haven, were suddenly gone without a trace. Lights were left on, cars idling, meals half-prepared. One house burned to the ground because the stove was left on all night.
When the bodies began to appear, Josh stopped laughing at me. They were found in their usual places, returned in the night like broken dolls no longer wanted.
There was panic, of course. There was grief and anger, and not just in our town. It seemed like there were dozens of places where this was happening, and every day brought more stories about the spreading fog and the bodies it left behind. The federal government issued a national curfew, talked about bringing home its troops to guard its own cities, and enlisted scores of scientists to figure out what was happening. There were theories of every kind: global warming, biological warfare, the end of times, aliens, and other conspiracies. The disappearances continued regardless.
Noises had begun – random, shrill whistling sounds that would pause outside a window or door and catapult your heart right out of your chest before they moved on, fading quietly into the night like they were only a dream.
They say cockroaches are the only things that survive nuclear holocaust. I would like to add politics to that. There were daily arguments between the parties about who was to blame, what should be done, and who ought to do it. The result was that nothing was done. It seems to me now that the riots were inevitable, but I never thought they would happen so close to home.
Our mayor had held out for military involvement, but when the big cities became as shrouded as our own, there was no hope for help of any kind. Like so many residents before him, he and his family began to pack. Those who had vowed to stay and stand with the town were enraged anew – this was another Washington betrayal, but it happened right on our lawns. And this, unlike the troops or the scientists or the fog, was something to which they could respond. Their anger bloomed, large and vibrant, spreading through the leftover residents like any good epidemic would, and what used to be a sleepy, mild-mannered waterfront town became a hotbed of disorder. People began to die during the day in sprays of blood as the bullets ripped through them.
I wish I could say ours was the only town, but there were others. We kept hearing about them, right up until the televisions went black. The grating, staccato static on all of our TVs and radios only seemed to punctuate our anger.
I remember when Josh’s brother died. I remember Josh stumbling up the walk, shell-shocked, his shirt and face splattered with blood. He was muttering, his eyes glazed, and when he collapsed on the porch, he took me with him. The fog was coming down the mountains before I could convince him to go inside.
There weren’t many of us left before we realized we were going about things all wrong. Deputy Winston – the only man with a badge left alive – put together a survival plan and began assigning tasks. Who was left? What houses were empty, and what of the provisions left behind? Where were the safe places, and how many did we have?
Basements became precious commodities; proper insulation was key. We became slaves to the hours, counting the minutes between sunset and sunrise. I’d never looked at a farmer’s almanac before this, but it became my bible. In the day we foraged, looking for supplies and other survivors, for information about what was happening to us – for any reason in the madness at all. But by nightfall we were tucked underground once more.
No one slept well for those first few months, but as we continued to live through the nights, we began to settle. Not fully – not when you could still hear something rattling through the houses above, something more than weather, yet so very far from human. Not when we still found bodies, though the numbers were cut drastically thanks to our already decimated population.
It was enough to grow restless again.
I don’t have to glance at him to know that he’s pacing. Josh paces a lot these days, so much that the trek he makes has worn the carpet thin. He maps out his frustration on our bedroom floor. I turn pages instead, but tonight I’m too wound up to read.
I threw up earlier. I’ve been nauseous off and on for two weeks now, but only Tricia has noticed. She’s the only other woman in the house, apart from the Deputy’s twelve-year-old Melanie. While she hasn’t said anything to me yet, I know it’s only a matter of time before we have a conversation about my monthly.
The soft thud of his footfall is almost unbearable. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Talk about what?” he asks. He’s irritable and terse with me when he used to be so patient.
“You’re making me nervous,” I murmur. I catch him roll his eyes as he turns away, and my stomach drops. This is what our relationship has become – a twisted marriage of bitterness, anxiety, and shortened tempers. I put the book aside and shift in bed so that I don’t have to see the evidence of that. A warm bed and a safe place to sleep at night should be enough. It shouldn’t make me feel cornered and alone, but it does. More and more this basement is a prison, not a haven.
I turn off the light, and in the darkness of the room he relents. “Amy, I’m sorry,” he says, and then I feel his weight on the bed next to me. His arms circle around me and his lips touch my shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m so wired lately. I keep thinking that one day we’ll wake up and find a way to fix things. Make things normal again, you know? But nothing’s changing. We’re not doing anything.”
“What can we do, Josh?” I ask, though I know better. This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation. “We can’t touch it. We can’t go near it. Everyone who’s tried has died and we still don’t know anything about it.”
“I know. I know all that,” he says, and his arms tighten so much that his embrace is no longer comfortable. “But is this it? Is this what we have to look forward to for the rest of our lives?”
“At least we have our lives,” I whisper. “At least we have each other.”
He pauses for too long. “Yes,” he murmurs, and it takes everything in me to believe that. “I love you, Amy.”
“I love you, too,” I say, trying not to cry.