He was certain that what he was watching was real. The day had been pretty ordinary, just another day at work, with the same ordinary Kansas wheat fields flying by as he drove home, but there was something surreal about what was happening now. His car’s engine had died at roughly the same time that a young girl appeared, and a thick, white fog surrounded everything. He had seen hokey fog effects in too many scary movies. He could recognize the real from the synthetic. This was authentic, and it was happening whether he let himself believe it or not. It was definitely a genuinely disturbing moment.
He felt a wave of unease as he turned the ignition and his car wouldn’t start, but that’s not what held his attention. The fog is what really spooked him. He had watched it roll in behind the girl and engulf his car. He couldn’t see more than twenty feet, if that, in any direction. The day had been clear not five minutes before. The girl in the field wasn’t facing him, and he was beginning to think that he should go to her and ask if she needed anything. He was nothing if not a good Samaritan.
His car broken down, a wall of fog, and he was worried about the kid he had watched materialize out of nothing in a wheat field. That was Donald, all right.
“My mommy’s over there.” The child’s voice seeped softly through the glass. It took just a moment for Donald to realize she was no longer in the middle of the field – but was somehow standing outside the driver’s side door. And she was gorgeous, for a kid anyway. She was the kind of child one expected to see in those exploitative pageants and doll commercials on Saturday mornings. “Will you help her?”
Donald slowly opened his door and stepped out. He wasn’t a tall man, but he towered over the girl. She couldn’t be much older than eight years old, but her eyes gave him the impression that she was much older. “What happened, hon?” He kneeled in front of her. “What’s going on?”
“My mommy’s over there, and she won’t come home. Can you help her?”
“Where’s home, sweetheart?”
The girl just shrugged and said nothing.
“Well, I can’t help you without knowing what’s going on or where you’re from. My name’s Donald,” he said as he stood back to full height.
“I know. Donald Carithers, and you’re a teacher.” Genuinely disturbing moment, the sequel.
“Yes,” he said. “I am.” He was choosing his words carefully. There was something certainly “off” about this encounter, but he couldn’t put his finger on it despite what he had just witnessed. “But I just teach English at a high school. I don’t think I can be much help to you here.” He opened the car door and got back in. “I’m going to go back to town and call 911 and get someone who can really help you and your mom, okay, sweetheart? Why don’t you get in and let me take you to get some help for your mommy.” He was trying to be soothing, but each passing second brought with it another surge of anxiety; he needed to get out of here. The thought that his car would not start never crossed his mind.
“No,” the girl said. “You need to come help my mommy.” She grabbed his wrist, encircling it as far as her fingers could reach. Donald felt peace, as though the most pressing worries of his life were nothing more than irritations. The anxiety passed, his unsettled feeling was gone, and everything was right. He had to help this girl and her mother.
So he got out of his car, keyed the remote to lock it, and began to follow the girl as she led him by his arm toward the field where he had watched the white fog roll in only a few minutes before. As he walked, he realized he wasn’t exactly moving. It was a sensation he would have likely screamed at if he hadn’t been pacified by the odd security of the girl’s touch. He was moving into the fog. His legs were moving him forward, and he had the sensation of motion, but strangely, he hadn’t left the side of his car. Donald was growing no closer to anything the girl had mentioned. And yet, suddenly, he was there, wherever there was.
He could now see the woman the girl spoke of. She was just as beautiful as her daughter, and she was standing in front of an old, Southern plantation house. Looking around, Donald found himself standing in a driveway lined with willow trees at least a hundred yards back. There was no sign of his car, the field, or the road. But the fog was still there. It was everywhere. None of this really mattered; the girl still held his wrist.
“This is my mommy,” she said, pointing.
“I see,” said Donald. “What do you want me to do?” The words coming out hardly sounded like his own voice, but he barely noticed. The girl led him up to the woman, and he noticed she was much more beautiful than her daughter. There was a family resemblance, but the mother was picturesque. He didn’t know if he had ever seen a woman so exquisite. If Donald were asked to describe her, the details would seem blurry, and he wouldn’t be able to tell even the shape of her nose, but at that moment, he considered himself in the presence of perfection.
The girl passed his wrist to her mother, who took it and smiled. “I see you have met Loraine. She has a habit of bringing me help when I am in need. I do hope that she has said or done nothing to disturb you.”
Donald could barely speak. He wanted to tell her that Loraine was his wife’s name, but his tongue refused to cooperate. Seemingly in response to his thought, Loraine’s mother said, “I understand that is also your wife’s name.” His mind reeled, and he could barely stand. She left it at that.
The difference in the girl and her mother’s touch was as different as their beauty. The girl had commanded him softly, but her mother had power, and he began to fear. But it was a sublime fear, one of anticipation and delight, and it threatened to overwhelm him at any given moment. He thought that would be okay.
“I, uh, no. She’s fine. Wha-what, what can I do for you? She, um, said that you…” he said, stammering, yet sounding suave and eloquent to himself, “needed some, umm, help?”
The woman smiled and turned, leading him by the arm toward the mansion, which was out of time and place by a few centuries and hundreds of miles. Donald’s car had stopped in northwestern Kansas, and plantations were certainly not a mid-western staple. “I think you will like it here,” she said with a soft command in her voice that escaped Donald. Despite having heard her voice already, he noticed she spoke in a language he had never heard before, but he was sure he knew what she said. He would like it here. Yes, he was sure he would.
“Will you miss your family, teacher?” Her words were soft and romantic, and if Donald had been fully cognizant, he would have heard them edged in malice; they rolled off her tongue with an ease Donald could not mimic. He grunted in response, and she laughed, and again her laugh was ecstasy for Donald. He wanted more; no, he needed more.
“I thought so. No worries, teacher. You will be well-taken care of here. The few who care for your absence will come to deal with it in their own time. And I do not think you will miss any of them at all. You will be far too busy with your work here.” She led him through the house to the second story. The further he got inside the house, the fuzzier his head became. He had a little trouble climbing the steep staircase, but his guide was always there to steady him when he stumbled. He wanted to ask what he would be doing there, how she was so sure that people would be able to deal with him being gone and how he would deal with being gone from them, but he couldn’t. He could grunt, but even that was now almost beyond his capacity. He allowed himself to be led into a room as splendid as his hostess. A canopied four-post bed sat in the middle of the room.
“This is yours,” she said. With an unheard command in her voice, Donald undressed and lay on the bed, her delicate fingers maintaining contact with him all the while. One could say that what happened next was love-making, but in Donald’s stupor, he wasn’t sure. He just knew it was more perfect than anything he had ever experienced. He had never been happier. Every care he had was washed away as he watched the statuesque beauty. The fog which had seemed so unnatural before was rushing in through the open windows of the room, circling her body and his, and it felt good, natural. His mind was too far gone to realize he should not have been able to feel the fog, but its velvet texture combined with the feel of her skin drove all thoughts from his mind. She leaned down to him, placed his arms above his head, and kissed his forehead. She then left the bed, leaving Donald lying spent and naked.
His senses rushed back into him as soon as her lips broke contact with his skin; her hand was no longer around his wrist. The old Southern house he was in had vanished, the bed which had been so soft before was now a slab of rock beneath him. The pillows on which she had rested his hands were now shackles holding him prisoner on the rock. The fog still surrounded him, but through its haze he could see orange light and hear noises, and he could just make them out to be screams. He was sure his voice would join them soon enough.
Through the fog, he could see Loraine and her mother standing side by side. They were no longer the exquisite beauties he had met, but twisted, almost deformed mockeries. They stood at what seemed to be the doorway to the chamber in which he found himself chained, and they laughed, their voices mingling with the soft screams through the fog to all but tear apart Donald’s ears and mind.
“Thank you for your help, Donald,” said the elder. This time, there was no hiding the sarcasm in her voice. Donald watched the older and younger abominations walk from him that day. He never saw the younger again, but the older one would come back to quiet his screams with a kiss or a session of lovemaking. And each touch, each kiss, would quiet his screams and place him back in that place of perfect happiness long enough to momentarily forget the misery and pain before it began again. She would entertain his addiction to her, which kept him barely alive and even less sane.
He would occasionally recall where he had been before the fog and the girl in the field, and he often pondered between bouts of ecstasy why the fog stayed circling him long after the beautiful people left. When he was not being pleasured, Donald’s mind sometimes wandered home to keep from dwelling too much on the constant pain he experienced. He would see his wife and two sons not in his mind, but in the room with him. It went past a mere hallucination. The only thing that stayed the same in the room was the slab to which Donald was chained; the rest of the hole turned into his home in Kansas.
The slab he lay on seemed to be in whichever room of his house that Donald concentrated on, and that was, without fail, wherever his family sat. He could see the sofa on which he would sit with Jeremy and Kevin and watch television or a movie. He could see the yard and the flowerbeds, which had been kept manicured despite his absence, and the kitchen was off to his left. His wife would be sitting at the table, writing something, perhaps a bill or a letter, while the boys sat in the middle of the living room floor, playing one of their many games. Nothing had changed in his absence; Donald knew on some level that what he saw was actually happening. Donald noted that in addition to his family, his attention often rested on photographs littered around his old home. He could at least see reminders of his past life; it was only during these periods of lucidity that Donald realized the direness of his situation.
The only difference in how he remembered his life and how it was presented to him now was the fog. The thick, white fog which had come from nowhere permeated even his family’s home. It dulled the colors and the sounds, but he had grown so accustomed to its velvet texture, that he barely noticed it being out of place among his family. They did not notice it.
He wanted very much to speak to his wife or his sons, but whenever he opened his mouth, no words would come out. He knew these interludes were temporary and rare, and he did his best to make the best of them even though he was incapacitated. Once, he was able to position himself near his wife, and he thought he was finally going to make contact. His wife raised her head, looked directly into Donald’s eyes, opened her mouth, and screamed, not in fear, but a shriek of desperation and intensity. Donald immediately shut his eyes, releasing himself back to the agony of his reality, and saw the elder thing standing at the entrance to his chamber.
“You see, Donald, they do not need you anymore. They are happy, and so are you.” She walked to his side, and caressed his thigh with one finger. Donald’s back arched sharply, causing his head to slam against the rock behind him. He could feel the skin split open from the impact, and the blood begin slowing trickling under his body. He didn’t care; she was touching him. “Why are you so intent to remember people and a life not available to you anymore?” As she spoke, her hands would break contact with him for seconds at a time. He struggled, and he found enough of his voice to gurgle his…displeasure? Gratitude? Donald could not tell which.
“You need to let that part of yourself go, teacher.” These words were the first vocal command she ever gave him. “You will not see those people again.” Donald did not know if she was telling him he could not, or that he simply would not. Either way, Donald Carithers’ family never appeared before him again. His days were spent either longing for the elder thing’s touch or that of his wife. The absence of both caused pain; his very existence caused agony, yet the few moments of pleasure he was able to garner when his hostess visited gave him enough strength and kept him sane enough to not waste away.
His life was one of extremes: of pain, of screams, of caresses, of perfect pleasure, and there was white all around him, as the fog brought new days, new hours, and new seconds, but they never seemed to matter. Time would pass with desperate touches and the pained desire caused by their absence, but Donald knew through the blurred and dulled edges of his mind that the fog would always be there. And so would he.
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