Daily Archives: August 2, 2017

The Fog

fog

“Hereabouts, fog can come suddenly, with little warning to those who don’t know the signs. It rises from the boggy moorland, wrapping the unwary traveller in a damp mist far deeper than that which exists between waking and sleeping, and a silence drops. This silence is eerie, but you should be glad of it, for it is far safer than the sweet songs of those devils who live within the fog, stealing their sense of direction and leading them astray. You may think yourself too familiar with the landscape to be fooled, but you are wrong. Many have made that mistake, to their cost. Dan, over at Bolden farm – his folks had lived hereabouts all their lives, worked the land, knew it like the back of his sinewous hand, never strayed further than Bodmin, and yet last October he drowned in the bog just ten minutes from his home. It was a horrible sight; some animal had found him and ripped out his heart, right through his rib-cage. I tell you, he knew his way blindfold.”

While vague pictures form in my mind of the last time I saw Dan alive – on a night rather like this, in this same bar room – old Albert pauses for another sup from the tankard which has been refilled and laid quietly on the table. A creeping unease causes the landlord of The Shrinking Fox to keep Albert’s tankard filled to the brim. There’s no charge, no comment from the landlord, and no thanks from Albert.

Although Albert is undoubtedly old, it’s hard to fix my mind on his likely age, since his features seem to change, his wrinkles blurring and travelling across his face, his nose growing bulbous and then shrinking in the dimming light. Whenever I try to focus, it feels as if the fog of which he speaks has entered my brain.

Seems like I’ve been hearing his stories ever since I was old enough to drink in the Shrinking Fox, and yet when I try to remember the last time I saw Albert, my thoughts slip away from me. He draws me back into this story and I’m unsure of whether I’ve heard it a hundred times before, or if this is the first telling.

Albert slowly puts down his drink, and glances at the eight men in the room. All eyes are on him, as his listeners wait. Satisfied that he has our attention, he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

I feel a chill, and glancing toward the window, I see the grey fog swallow the world outside. Even the stunted apple tree whose closest branch scratches at the flyblown glass is concealed, save for one immobile twig which touches the glass, pointing, like a warning finger, towards the listeners inside. I briefly focus on that word, ‘warning’, before turning back towards Albert, who’s gone silent. He’s looking at the fog, and the other watchers have followed his gaze. A dismayed “Oh,” comes from the youngest man in the room – he’s only a boy, really, and I fancy I see Albert eyes flash, hungrily, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

Again, I wonder why I know so little about this man who is so familiar to me. Where does he live? Does he have family, and have I really seen him before, or only dreamed of him? His voice brings my attention back to the present.

“They’ll be out tonight,” he says, gruffly. “It’s a good thing you all live in the village, where you’ll be safe. They never venture this close to human habitation.”

We must all have been holding our breath. The quiet room fills up with relieved sighs, then we look at young Cyril, catching his pale face, hearing a strangled sound issue from his throat. We look away quickly. None of us wants to offer to walk with him to his home. It’s almost two miles away, and Albert’s talk has us all on edge.

Albert is the one brave man among us. Putting us to shame, he turns a gnarled, but kindly face in Cyril’s direction, and says:

“Come on, lad, I’ll get you safely home. I’m the oldest person hereabouts. I’ve heard the devils that live in the fog. They’ve not harmed me, and I have no fear of them. They’ve given up on these old bones.”

Albert is right; we’ll come to no harm as long as we’re in the village, but all the same, to a man, we stand up and follow Albert and Cyril out through the door, and walk close behind him until we reach our homes. By the time I get to my place, there are only the three of us left. I say goodnight and go quickly indoors, before Albert and Cyril have had time to walk away.

The next day, Cyril’s mother finds his body in a boggy area near where she lives; a bloody hole where his heart should be. I keep running through the events of the previous evening, and every time, self-disgust washes over me. I don’t remember much, but I know that we all left the Shrinking Fox together, and I clearly recall everyone else going into their homes, until only he and I were left, then young Cyril walked all alone into the murderous fog. I should have gone with him. I could have steered him safely home – although, with his knowledge of the moors, I can’t understand how he got lost.

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Cyril’s been gone for over a year now. For a while people stayed indoors in the evenings, huddled safely away from their superstitions, but the landlord has whitewashed the bar-room in the Shrinking Fox and it looks more cheerful these days. Maybe that’s why he has more customers. It’s back to the way it used to be, with Albert sitting at the table, reeling out yarns, making us all uneasy. Seems like I’ve seen him here a hundred times before, but I can’t remember when. He takes a drink, surveys the room to make sure he still has everyone’s attention, and he continues:

“Even dogs get lost in the fog. Next day they’ll be found with their hearts ripped out – always the hearts, never any other part. It’s the work of the Devil, I tell you.”

The room dims. Looking through the window, all I can see is grey fog. All eyes follow mine.  One of the men, James – who lives way outside the village – gulps nervously. I fancy I see a hungry look in Albert eyes, and the hint of a cruel smile… but no, it’s my imagination.

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Written for The Daily Post #Foggy

©Jane Paterson Basil

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