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.

<> <> <>

Written for The Daily Post #Foggy

©Jane Paterson Basil

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46 thoughts on “The Fog

          1. Wow … Nut burgers. They are, it seems, a uniquely British thing. Is Cranks still around? I make rice and lentil burgers, or patties. Nuts are a bit difficult to eat these days. Though cashews in the rice, are quite good. Mint sauce? A long while since I had that. Living in a world, where everyone eats animals … is quite difficult. One day they may all rise up and take back their rights? [Joke] Cheers Jamie

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            1. The last Cranks restaurant in London closed about fifteen years ago, but there was still one in Dartington, Devon – although it was no longer own by the founders – until last year, when it finally closed its doors. I still have a copy of their cookery book, dog eared and covered with the smears of dozens of dinners…

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                1. It’s called The Cranks Recipe Book. The recipes are great – they don’t pander to the taste of those who wish to feel as if they’re eating meat. I have a vegan brother who lives on chunks of stuff that he proudly claims are just like meat. They’re not, and why would I want them to be? I know I spoke of pretend lamb, but I didn’t mean it – it’s just that I love mint sauce…. and proper food that is made from natural ingredients which haven’t been plasticised. My bro’s current passion is a gluten-based meat substitute. He sneers dismissively when I say that gluten isn’t good for the gut.

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                  1. I completely concur. I haven’t had mint sauce for years now. My sister, [God bless her] serves something like fake meat over pasta, for me. My sister is a wonderful gal and tries very hard to please the different diets of all, around her. It cannot be gluten? For her hubby is celiac. I don’t mind, it’s only once in a while when I visit.

                    I bought some rice lentil burgers in Costco. I make my own but it’s wonderful to have something like that in the freezer. As, stated. I don’t do fake meat either. It’s not like I want warm blooded mammals in my gut, anyway. The thought is abhorrent.

                    I often shape my rice/lentils into triangles, because they fit in a pan quite nicely, like that. Yup I found a number of Crank’s books on Amazon.ca and ordered one.

                    I usually don’t do cookbooks much, anymore, either. Though if am unsure? Look them up on internet. The one I bought seems to be the first one in the series? $15 CA. Shipping free.I live in an apartment now but I had a house in Nelson BC. I deliberately never planted mint, for it can take over a small garden. However I can buy fresh mint at the store. Perhaps I will, next week? Sounds yummy! My favourite cook book, is the Tassajara Bread Book. I found it in a PDF format. Cheers Jamie

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                    1. There’s mint in the garden outside my apartment block. I took on the job of looking after that garden, but I hate it, as it’s planted so badly, and they won’t give me the money to rip it apart and start again.
                      I rarely look at a cookery book, either. I know Crank-style cookery inside out, but I won’t let rid of the book. I go to Google occasionally for special cake recipes – I’m thinking of making vegan cakes, and I don’t know much about it… only that they can be amazing… but bread – I used to bake bread two or three times a week. An interesting bread book appeals. The only thing is, I can’t spare the time to knead dough on a regular basis. I’ve thought about getting a bread maker, but I’m not sure if the resulting bread would feel authentic…. what do you think?

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                    2. Two three times a week? Must have been feeding an army? I have used a bread machine. While I also used the full cycle, mostly I just used the dough cycle. Then baked it in the oven. Hey, bread is bread. It’s real enough. I find the time spent kneading is negligible. It’s the time taken between each part of the process, which can take up the time. I do it because the commercial bakeries all use the Chorleywood process and it becomes obvious with the huge holes inside. I use real yeast, not dried and although it does add to the overall time, prefer the taste and smells from it. The other way to avoid the kneading process is with a food mixer like Kitchen Aid? I have one bought for the chore but my son snagged it from my storage. … sigh! While many do have celiac disease, those who complain of bloating from bread are blaming the gluten when it’s likely the yeast, at fault? Cheers Jamie

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                    3. Thanks for that – I was hoping you’d say bread makers were kosher. There’s a charity shop down the road that often has them, otherwise I wouldn’t consider it. I have an ethical aversion to new stuff –
                      although I draw the line at regurgitated food 🙂
                      I had a fantastic mixer (Kenwood Chef) which I was given second hand as payment for a dressmaking job I did over 30 years ago. It finally packed up last year, and I’m unlikely to replace it, as items of that quality rarely reach the charity shops.

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                    4. I am a little flattered that you would consider my opinion on bread makers important. I would also say we are very different people, not just with our sex. You follow your heart Jane, as do I. Though I would point out, there is a reason people do not keep their machines? So that they are in the goodwill. At least the price is right … There are several different designs with the machines. Black and Decker can be iffy? Then there is one paddle or two? Upright or horizontal. Good luck … Cheers Jamie

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  1. “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. ” Oh Lord! You had me at that sentence! This was an absolutely perfect tale. LOVED the way you ended it almost back to the beginning. Well done!

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        1. Funny you should mention Stephen King. Just for fun I went on a site that asks you to copy and paste a sample of your writing, so it can analyze what whose work your writing resembles. the first time I tried it, I submitted an angry rap, and it claimed I wrote like Shakespeare. I can’t remember what I submitted the second time, but the site came up with Stephen King.
          Here’s the link if you fancy playing: , https://iwl.me/

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  2. So sorry I missed this when you posted it.Love the spell you weave with this, the mystery of old Albert and how he casts his own spell on all who listen to him. Love your early description of his face, as if his features are as misty as the night. Truly creepy, Jane and with more than a little hint of the Slaughtered Lamb from An American Werewolf in London. Truly lovely atmosphere

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    1. Thank you Lynn. I take that as a great compliment, coming, as it does, from an aficionado of things that creep in the night 🙂
      I think I enjoy writing this kind of stuff more than any other, but it doesn’t seep through very often. I’m ignorant about slaughtered lambs and American werewolves roaming the streets of London – never read the book or saw the film.

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      1. It’s a great film – dated now, but very good. The atmosphere in your pub scenes reminded me of it, huddled inside to keep away from the thing that will surely get you … You created something truly creepy here Jane. Maybe you ought to think about writing more of this kind of thing

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        1. Some time back I wrote a short story about a man who was hanged for a murder he didn’t commit. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote the plot for a novel around the idea. Maybe I should work on that. I could always bring it out as a series,..

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          1. Yes, you definitely should. You have a knack for the dark side of things. I have a first draft of a novel centred around an innocent girl who was hanged and the struggle to clear her name. It’s a terrifying, fascinating theme and not one without real life precedent of course. Probab;y what makes it interesting. The idea would make a great serial Jane

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            1. Your novel sounds very different to the story of my hanged man whose ghost didn’t want his name cleared until the real perpetrator (his lover, predictably) was dead. I’m wondering if I could present it as a series of short stories, each one appearing fully contained – it may be the only way I can stay interested in it.

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              1. That sounds interesting, though – a series of self contained shorts linked by a theme. I read in a novel writing guide once that you should think of a novel as a series of 30 + short stories – they just have to be linked. Sounds like a good idea to me

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                  1. You’re right there. Useless and damn confusing. Sorry if I’ve told you this before, but I read one that told me to plot the highs and lows of my characters on a graph to see how they were distributed. So I did. And ended up with a piece of paper resembling a seismograph reading … and no clue whether that was good thing or a bad thing! Didn’t help at all. A beginning, a middle and an end are the basics – I don’t think I’ve gleaned much more than that in my studies. But yes, if a novel sounds daunting, think of it as lots of short stories and it doesn’t sound quite so bad

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                    1. You hadn’t told me that.
                      It’s all too easy to get caught up in the theory, but it you follow their advice you’ll end up writing a book that you wouldn’t want to read, and losing respect for yourself – although it may make you some money 😉
                      You can spot a formulaic book a mile off. Ugh.

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                    2. Well, I guess a lot of stories naturally have a formula (an inciting incident, a quest, highs and lows before a triumphant outcome.) Perhaps the bets we can hope for is to make the story interesting enough so that readers don’t notice 🙂

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                    3. Yes, true. A fine line to be walked. My son is only 13 and yet already he’ll say when watching a film, ‘no, they can’t find the cure / solve the puzzle / be at their lowest ebb yet. We’re too early in the film.’ The pattern of story telling has already imprinted itself on his brain.

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