The Fog Bastards, Part 1Chapter 1
© 2012 Bill Robinson
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Little cat feet. What kind of stupid shit is that? Fog is cold. Cold and damp. Get caught in it going up Cajon Pass headed for Vegas, or coming down the Grapevine and fog is plain terrifying. "Two dead as little cat causes 60 car pileup, film at 11." Right. Never happens.
I'm standing in some serious stuff. Can't see 10 feet in front of me. It's dark. Bad B movie dark. But more wronger than that. More wrong? Wronger. Sticking with that. It's warm fog, and there's no moisture in it. Should be smoke, given it's feel, but I know it's fog. Not sure how I know, I just do.
A year of college physics assures me this can't be happening, that fog has to be cold, a cloud at sea level, but I'm warm and wrapped in the blackest white I have ever seen. Hints of light float through the swirls as if the sun was eye level, not high above, but they only add to the "ambiance," (yes, sarcasm) not make me think something better is around the bend.
I decide I should be going, then I get the second bad B movie thought. I don't know where I am or how I got there. I can see my feet, Nike Air's ready to rock, which are on a path. I know it's a path. Not dirt, but not concrete either, nor yellow bricks, not straight, not wide, not anything that gives me a hint about where it leads. It's a path, or a trail, or a.... ok, I'll check the thesaurus when I get the chance for a third choice, but it's not a sidewalk.
There's grass to the left of me, grass to the right of me, but I also somehow know that my choices are front and back. It's evil grass, I'm sure of that, though it looks like Kentucky Blue, not the stuff you smoke.
I spend the next few moments desperately looking through the gaps in the fog, though there really aren't any. I search my back, I search ahead. I remain clueless. I need to chose, though procrastination is my best skill. As a super power not too useful, but if it's ever in the Olympics, I am golden.
Then the fog chooses for me. Someone is there, footsteps on the path, definitely in front of me. I think maybe that behind me is the place to be, but it just as suddenly occurs to me that more people die in movies running from the gun fire than running toward it. Real life might not be that way, but I don't think the current situation constitutes real or life.
Boots. Heavy boots. Someone bigger than me, walking with a purpose. It could be Serena Williams in UGGs, but I'm not holding my breath. Then I realize that I am, and force myself to exhale. The fog, which a second ago I was praying would part, is, and I am suddenly praying whoever listened to that first prayer will listen quicker to my new one.
He's at least six foot five. He's from Star Wars or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. He's wearing a black cloak and a hood, sewn, or maybe molded, from heavy cloth, not quite touching the ground, the soles of his boots visible beneath. The sleeves are long, longer than his arms, his left hand invisible inside one dropped parallel to his body. The whole outfit is loose on him, fluffy almost like the fog, no way to discern his shape beneath it.
A really old, gnarled right hand grasps a heavy wooden staff which reaches from the ground to several inches above his head. Some kind of hardwood, maybe oak. It's rough, as if it was cut from a living tree and taken as is, though it's hard to believe a branch would grow nearly perfectly straight to that length. My brain, panicking, still thinks "cliche."
Small puffs of fog circle around him. Whoever he is, he brought his own wind. Three or four fog puffs never leave his side, his pets perhaps, swirling in miniature about his legs. I can't see his face, but at least there is no long white beard poking from the hood, nor an empty skeleton face, nor any hint actually of what painful way I'm going to die.
I'd run, but my feet have forgotten how.
I expect some deep reverb enhanced voice, or heavy machine enhanced breathing, or just a plain machine, but I get gentle, undeniably human, just a hint of grandfatherly.
"I'd tell you not to fear, but I don't think that would help, and, in truth, that would not be true to what I have to say. We have a proposition for you, which, if you accept, will mean your death."
He pauses for a second, seeming to think. I was trying to recite the mind killer speech, "Fear is the mind killer, fear is the mind killer," except that I couldn't remember any more of it. My mind was already dead, and nothing helpful was passing through it.
Then the fog changes. It's wet. It splashes across my face and rolls down my cheek on to my pillow. I open my eyes to glance at the clock which says six in the frickin' morning. Halloween wanted to play and she had, after making sure it was properly covered in cat spit, dropped her ball on my face to wake me up. I'm so happy with her that instead of my usual grumpy ignore I gladly toss it across the room for her to chase.
I feel completely gross. My body took that dream far too seriously, generating a coating of sweat commensurate with a long run on the treadmill. I will need to wash the sheets before I sleep in them again.
The alarm does what it is supposed to do and insults my wide awake brain. I hop (well, crawl) out of bed, perform my morning magic trick of turning a bed into a lumpy sofa, get my naked ass into the bathroom, and then into the kitchen, where Halloween is already whining for her breakfast. Nothing that weighs five pounds should be able to yell that loudly.
A can of catfood salmon for her, and a glass of orange juice and a muffin for me, served spatially oriented so we can sit and watch SportsCenter together. The frakking Angels lost again last night, and I vent much of my displeasure at the anchors, who do their best to ignore me, seated as they are on the other coast. It's only May, and the season already seems a lost cause.
When we're done, I stand up, scratch my still naked ass, adjust some other body parts, carry her bowl and my cup back into the kitchen, stuff them into the dishwasher, and head off to change. I'm already sweaty, so I throw yesterday's dirty running clothes back on, grab my "running key" on its plastic wristband and head out the door. Into the elevator (yes, I understand that it's illogical to ride the elevator and not take the stairs when the point of the exercise is to exercise), exit the building, jog the block to the beach and start running.
If you've never been to Long Beach, there really is a long beach that ends in a grassy (it's green, not evil, unless someone didn't clean up after their dog and you happen to be barefoot) park with a lighthouse in the middle. It's almost exactly three miles from my front door down the beach around the park and back. I not only have the ocean and Queen Mary to keep me company, there's always the early morning sounds of boaters heading out for a day on the Pacific, fishermen trying to use the early worm to catch the bird (or something like that), and a general stirring as the houses along the route wake to the morning sun. The run, the sand, the primordial ocean sounds and just the right mix of human noise always relaxes me.
I drop into the cloud of the mind, feeling the contact of my feet with sand and the breeze in my face, hearing the sounds, seeing the sights, making them a part of me, and me a part of them. I'm not thinking, I'm knowing, if that makes sense. My body runs the 3 miles, my mind is somewhere else, everywhere else. There is no better way to start a day.
For the first mile of the run, it's beach houses to my right, ocean to my left, then the beach takes a little jog to the left and ends, dumping me onto a sidewalk. From there, it's harbor and restaurants to the left, hotels to the right for 200 yards until I reach the park, which is where the Los Angeles river meets the ocean.
I slow for the uneven transition from sand to sidewalk when half a dozen sea birds erupt noisily to my right. I turn my head 90 degrees to see what startled them, and I see him, black cloak and staff, standing on the patio of the last beach house. I start to do something, what I'm not exactly sure, when my foot catches on the edge of the sidewalk, my knees give way, and I go flying into the concrete. My hands hit the hard surface first, protecting my head, but losing some skin. The concrete is less forgiving of my legs. I hear cloth rip, and feel a sharp pain in my right knee.
My immediate concern though is that staff, so I turn my head back to the house, except now there's a 700 year old man on the patio, hanging out of a totally gross Speedo, bent over picking up his copy of theTimes
. No cloak, no staff, no shit (but still scarey). I gather myself for a second, trying to regain both my dignity and my sanity.
A 900 year old woman stops her morning run to help me up. She's got an amazing steely grip for someone born, I'm sure, before the advent of flight. I tell her I'm fine, but she wants to check my knee anyway. She makes me promise to clean out the wound, and I mumble something, which she probably can't hear anyway. Off she runs, while I decide to take the better part of valor and run home as fast as I can.
Halloween is perturbed by my return. She's up on the kitchen counter checking for leftovers, knowing I won't be back yet. She gives me the look only a cat can make (it says, "yeah, you caught me this time, but just remember you're gone a lot"), and jumps down in a way that makes me believe it's my fault she was up there.
I hit the bathroom, start the shower, and remove my clothes. My shorts are ripped down the side, they go into the trash. The shirt, underwear, and socks find the laundry basket.
The shower is warm and welcoming, until the first wave of steam floats toward me and gives me an unpleasant fog flashback. I clean my knee and hands, wash my hair, scrub my body, and get the hell out of there as quick as I can. Halloween is sitting in the doorway as I push the shower curtain back, looking at me. She's never done that before. She's brown and orange, not black, she's not wearing a cloak, and she's not holding a little tiny staff, but I'm still creeped out.
I don't have time to ask her about it because I'm running late. I grab the bag I packed last night, throw on my uniform, top off Halloween's food and water, remind her to be good while I'm gone, check that everything's turned off that should be, and head out. Something makes we want to double check the door to make sure it's locked, when I already know it is.
Down the ten floors to the ground, out the back door this time to the parking garage. Starbuck is waiting for me. Not the coffee house, the Viper pilot (google Galactica or Katie Sackoff). She's black, beautiful, and starts every time (the car, not Katie Sackoff). We're quickly out of the garage, onto the 710, then northbound on the 405. The signs say 65 is the speed limit, but really we never get above 35, and we never need 5th, much less 6th.
Pop onto the 105, off at Aviation and pull into the employee lot. My card opens the gate, I acknowledge the guard, park, and just like that I'm walking toward the dispatch facility. I recognize a couple of flight attendants heading in, and secretly hope they are working my flight.
Speeding up to get the door for them, ignoring my knee's request to slow down, I catch the eye of the nearest one and ask, "Kona?" I don't remember her name, but I have seen her naked so it's probably not a good time to mention that.
"I wish. Shuttle." The shuttle is the LA to San Francisco run. You spend your day short hopping business folks who want everything and are happy with nothing. I wish her well and we headed for our respective counters.
The room is huge. Just inside the door is a circular work area, surrounded by a counter. This is the dispatch desk for pilots. To the left against the far wall is a matching desk for the flight attendants. The rest of the space is taken up with tables and conference rooms, all of which are glass enclosed so that it is easy to see out and in.