Russell likes everything in his life perfect and planned. A road trip with his wife results in an encounter with a strange fog. When Janice disappears, leaving him alone in the strange environment, Russell's orderly way of life begins to crumble. What he doesn't know is that there is an order to what's happening, but somebody else is in control. A short story from our Spectres horror line.
When Russell drove, he fixated on cars immediately in front of him. He kept a safe distance with adequate space for braking between him and the car ahead. Through faded brown irises overhung with drooping lids, his eyes seldom looked away from the car in front of him or the white-lined road. He did not see the varied stronghold of red barns set back from the road or the unison swarms of swallows in the sky at dusk. A parade of antique cars driving the other direction on the divided highway went by without a glance from Russell. Roadside signs advertising cheap smokes and fireworks at the next interchange were only a blur in his peripheral vision.
Janice saw it all from miles away. She peered through glasses that rode low on her chubby nose while she pointed out this and that. She averted any danger ahead with a series of direct questions, and she expected answers from Russell. Russell did not always have answers for her.
Russell’s hands gripped the steering wheel, always at ten and two o’clock. His right foot was tensed and on call at any moment to switch from the gas to the brake. When speeding cars came up and nosed his rear bumper, his eyes darted back and forth from the road to the rearview mirror. He worked to move the car a few inches to the right to give them more room to pass. He slowed as they swerved back into his lane with only inches to spare. He inched the gas pedal down and resumed the legal speed limit.
Russell’s driving gave their Sunday trips a dreamy speed up, slow down rhythmic quality. This ribbon of road was their Sunday pastime; Russell did not want to venture too far from home or use too much gas. Janice looked to the far edges of the fields, she turned her head to follow a side road’s traverse of the land; she looked to the boundaries of sight, as if, after being cooped up in her clerk’s cubicle all week, she needed more. She marveled at the change of seasonal flowers at the roadside and remarked when a car with an out-of-state license plate passed them. A heat-induced shimmering optical illusion in the roadway made her wonder if she would ever see a true oasis in the desert. The perspective of converging road lines miles ahead was a wonder to her. She saw it all and imagined more.
What she now spied appeared as a low, yellow-grey bank of cloud, darker than the few puffs in the sky, but not as ominous as saturated rain clouds. It had a roll to its front edge. It seemed to touch the distant roadway, and it stretched across all lanes and off into the trees to the left and the farmer’s fields to the right. “Russell. Russell, do you see that? What is that? Where did it come from? Is it clouds? Smoke? Is it fog?” Each of her questions was like a shotgun pellet fired into his daydreaming mind. She squinted and leaned forward against the pull of her seatbelt strap. “Is it moving?” “Are you pulling over? Pull over!”
He blinked twice and looked in the direction her finger wagged.
Russell did not say anything as he eased off the gas and studied the phantasmagoria headed their way. He sucked in air from between his parted lips and his knuckles turned white against the shiny black wheel.
“Do you think something is on fire? Is that dust from a farmer’s tractor? I think it is coming toward us!” Her voice was now in a counter alto’s range. Either they were going to drive through it or it was going to overwhelm them in less than half a minute.
Janice’s right hand clutched the vinyl door grip, her voice ascended to soprano status; it demanded, “Russell, is your window up? Roll up your window! Pull off the road for heaven’s sake! Russell, what is that? Stop the car!”
The car’s speed had dropped and Russell’s eyes had a hard time breaking free from the sight in front of him to scan the roadside. He heard and felt the bumpity-bump of the rumble strip under his right tires. The fog overtook them that quickly.
It had traveled fast and cut down the distance between them in a matter of seconds. Russell noticed the brake lights of the vehicle in front of him glare on as that driver attempted to stop and then they disappeared.
Russell sensed the tires move off the noisy strip. He waited for the driver side tires to start their rumble. He looked quickly into the rearview mirror once, but did not see a car behind them. There was nothing but gray. His foot was on the brake hard but he could not tell if they were stopped.
His mind raced. Am I still driving? Did I pull far enough off the road? Why didn’t I hear the left tires hit the strip? I should be off the road. If I drive any further I’ll put the car into the ditch. I’ve never seen anything like this before!
He realized the fog was inside the car despite the fact that he had rolled up his window. Did I have the back windows down too? He could not remember. The car filled with thick mist the color of old muslin and there was a white sound that upset his equilibrium. A soft hum, something a tenor would sing, but with a monotonous tone filled his ears. His head wobbled slightly trying to identify it. It was as though he could not find his balance, his place in space, there was no equity for him in nothingness.