I didn’t think much of the mist as it climbed over the distant hills. I hiked this trail often, and the fog usually burned off by the time I would get that far.
It was a cool day, but the humidity and light breeze were nice after the hard ascent. As I began to walk back down toward the foggy trail, I wondered if I should put on my lightweight jacket.
It was a thick fog for so late in the morning. It clung to the curves of the land like sprayed-in foam insulation, but at the fine edges the gray mass coiled and rolled around the tree trunks like a thick jungle vine. I’d always felt a strange sinking in my stomach and fluttering in my chest when I walked into a fog this thick, or flew into a fog bank that looked solid. I wondered if all humans do, and if so, where does that unconscious fear come from? The unknown, I supposed.
Instead of burning off or receding, the fog’s center hung in the low parts of the valley in dense velvet puddles, even as its expansive serpentine wisps slithered out to acquire new territory.
For a moment, I thought about all the horror stories I’d read about monsters hiding in the mists. As I drew closer along the trail I tried to laugh off my visions of ghost pirates hell-bent on retribution emerging from the fog, or the suddenly appearing claw of a laboratory-created pterodactyl escaped into the world in a mysterious cloud. I tried to focus on the peaceful calm that blanketed the valley instead.
The sun was high as the late morning turned to afternoon, and the light on the other side of the valley brought me back to reality. My trepidation was palpable, but the branches of oaks reaching up out of the fog was a comforting sign of life. Trailside brambles and vines changed to thick fern fronds as I sank deeper into the valley toward the trail fog. I reminded myself I was being ridiculous. I’d be lucky to even see a small animal, let alone a monster or zombie. This late on a chilly day, the worst I was likely to encounter would be human.
Suddenly, the tendrils of fog slithered over me, and time seemed to stop. I don’t know how long I was there.
It was cold. It felt like.
I don’t know.
It sounded. I can’t. Sounded like.
A million voices? Dead, cold whispers, languages I didn’t recognize, millions of people I didn’t know. I didn’t know if they were real, ghosts, or my mind playing tricks on me. Voices, so many voices all at once I collapsed onto the ground. Was it the whole of human existence? Human tragedy? All at once, like all of the languages and words at once, splintering into fragments in my eardrums.
purple the grabbing hands the light slivers falling needles like snow everything tastes like licorice do you love yes i love they’ve got a hell of a band in einen abgrund as that great patriot once said they called me the hyacinth girl la culpa es de los tlaxcaltecas say it ain’t so vidi in ampulla pendere full of stars but baby where are you sing sin thin gin it wasn’t me these fragments i have
I screamed in agony, not because the sound was painful, but because the hissing was excruciating. So many whispers. My brain tried to find a thread it could hold on to before it wriggled away, writhing in a nest with the others. Some voices were just out of earshot and filled me with the sense of dread that accompanies the muffled murmurs from enemies in another room. Others were in my ear, desperately hungry for attention and acknowledgement.
never forget semper fidelis adeste allons y along about the way the time the place the what is this is necessary one more cherry tree chopped dropped stop rock and roll raspberry swirl raspberry beret call now act now live in the moment while supplies last bodhi buddha baddha bandha lock shock and awe struck
Whose voices? Were these past victims? Would I become one of them? Was I already?
The fog of static and noise filled my mouth and choked off my scream. I tried to breathe but it was like inhaling a snowstorm, and my lungs froze as they strained to expand and contract. The fog filled my lungs and permeated my body, pushing my blood, pressing my chest, vibrating across my vocal chords, even my own skin. My own nervous system sent an electrical shock through my body in protest at its inability to act as I shook in a seizure of resonance, as though my abdomen were a dried catgut string on some other instrument, played by all of humanity’s sorrows and horrors, triumphs and warnings.
it’s like i always say for want of a nail the kingdom was lost por una sola miel derrotados he had set the timer ahead no more than a minute i am become death her walls are high and hard to climb ye mighty and despair qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto ogni viltà convien che qui sia morta there’ll be no next time she smells like trees why where did you go the icicles why does everything have rosemary in it a wooden horse a real boy and when i’m dead if you could tell them this echoviral spread torn apart and broken down stoop to conquer shanti shanti shanti
I came to on the side of the trail, perhaps having been rolled or flung there by my own body. The sky was perfectly clear.
By the time I made it home again, it was late into the night.
According to the evening news, the weather had been clear all day. There was no sign of fog, or even humidity, in the weather reports from earlier in the day, nor any reports of seeing a fog on social media. No one else had experienced or even seen the fog bank.
I am haunted, not by the fact no one else saw it, but by the questions that disturb my sleep. Where did it come from? Where did it go? Is this the source of fog unease, some unconscious memory of condensed human experience, human suffering? When did it let go of me? Could it have killed me?
Would it kill me if I ever walked through it again?
And by then would I welcome death?
I’ve made my peace with the lack of official reports or formal warning. It was an ominous haze, but no more or less so than any other coastal mist or deep forest fog I’ve seen. In my dreams, I try to find something remarkable, some sign that this cloud was different from all the other harmless mists of the world. No matter how many times I run through that day in my head, there was nothing to distinguish that fog bank from any other. Not until it was too late.
Nothing at all.