Carl Jordan was chuckling to himself. He marked off the twenty-first day on the calendar. Three weeks of this fog now ! He hadn't minded at first, although certainly aware of the curiosity of a heavy, lingering fog, covering the desert. Especially for so long. But - he'd had plenty of supplies in, and had come here for some time to sort out his head.
He'd bet there was some groaning going on in Arrowhead Springs though. Arrowhead Springs was the full name of the small town, but the locals just called it The Springs. This irked Carl - more than it should, he knew. He quessed it was the still clicking journalist in him, always aware of the fine points that add color to a story. Carl had traveled for most of his life, and had always found the historical source of locale names to be an intriguing aspect of their background, giving them a unique quality.
As with all towns in desert, or like this, semi-desert, settlements had arisen according to proximity of water. In the rambling expanse for miles in all directions, the waters of Arrowhead Springs offered the only break from sand, and sparse, prickley plantlife. The first settlement had been named by early settlers who had found numerous artifacts in the area; chief among them were primitive arrowheads. An ancient people had drunk of the cool spring waters. It was this bit of early history Carl felt was ignored by the local people. It seemed to him like ignoring the town's special individuality.
Yet, in the eighteen months he'd been here, he'd come to appreciate the town, and the predictable patterns of its lifestyle. After all - he'd come here seeking a place on the shelf for awhile. The frenzied pace of the city, and the possessive hold of his career, had drained him. Finally, the divorce had left him feeling shipwrecked in a once-familiar sea, which had suddenly turned hostile. So - the predictable, quiet pattern, was just what he was looking for when he'd selected this location.
Carl had affinitized with the terrain. He felt as barren and dry as the desert, and as bristling and defensive as the desert vegetation. He had yet to find the cool, replenishing springs in himself. He doubted if such were even there. Unlike the town, he felt uninhabited by energetic life pursuits. He felt there were no light-filled rooms in him. No schools. No shops. No churches.
Laughing at the trend of his thoughts, he wondered if there were not at least an asylum, with an attending psychiatrist. Self-search had been his main occupation since his arrival. Even his concourse with the people had only prompted him to study his responses; wondering why they were what they were.
Gradually, he'd stopped questioning,demanding nothing from the town, or from himself. Bit by bit, he'd stretched out and unfolded, letting the town resonate through him. He'd come to understand it, sort of by osmosis. There was something gallant about the town and its people, he'd decided at last, observing the quiet, unhurried way they pursued its steady endeavors. There was something that spoke of humanity's continuance.
His years as a journalist had ingrained in him a keen ability to catalog impressions, but he was a bit surprised to realize how deeply embedded it still was,despite how much he thought he had changed. One would think that after all these months, during which he had carefully excluded T V , radio, telephone, PC, or anything to link him with the old life, it would have faded away. But no, like a thwarted stream it had only trickled into another channel. Here he was, busily noting his impressions with the same old instinct. He quietly pondered the thought. Was that the problem ? Was he always just the observer, never the participant - even in his own nature ?
A fleeting remembrance of Julie's misty grey eyes haunted him. He could almost hear her frustrated tone -
Maybe that was the problem. The mental exploration was groping and frustrating. No clear assessment emerged, so he abandoned the effort for the moment. He breathed deeply, exhaled heavily, and collected his attention into the present. Supplies were now getting low. If the fog didn't clear soon he'd have to head into town anyway. Even if the truck wouldn't start, and he had to walk, feeling his way through the fog with his fingers. He didn't even have a compass. He'd hate to get lost in that soup out there. The thought triggered an eerie little shiver. Any desert fog of this duration would be strange. But there were other oddities that made it even stranger !
When groping around the truck and shed, gathering items which might be needed in case of a power failure, he'd noticed a syrupy distillation that had clung to his fingers when touched. In the shed, he'd seen thin hairlike tendrils of green, threading through the floorboards, and under the door. When he'd returned to the cabin, he noted the same unfamiliar substance while at the window searching for sight of town lights, desert brush, anything other than fog. It was around the window-sill, where light of the table-lamp caused it to glisten. Must be something like moss, he thought. Must have sprung right out of the fog, and was living on this puree the air had become. Of course, he knew that was all guesswork.
After drinking about two-thirds of a pot of coffee, he could plainly see this was another morning that offered no break in the fog. He went back to the shed, and brought in a coil of rope and some thin wire. The green stuff was even thicker out there now. However, there was no trace of it on the truck. As he re-entered the cabin he noticed a slight showing around the door frame. There seemed to be a soft, spicey scent to it. He guessed it preferred wood to metal. He had no satisfactory explanation for the oddity. It made him feel itchy and crawly, but he was sure that was self-induced. It was good to get in to the comparative dryness of the cabin, and the warm, yellow lamplight. He decided it would probably all disappear when the fog vanished, and the wood dried.
The rest of the day, he busied himself fashioning a net bag from the wire and rope. If he had to go to town on foot, he could carry supplies back in it. The truck had shown no willingness to start when he'd tried it. Dampness and long idleness, he assumed.By evening, he had finished the bag. After a light snack, he turned off the lamp, and stretched out on the bed, fully clothed. Letting his mind drift where it would, almost at once he fell asleep.
Around midnight, he awoke suddenly, hearing a strange sound. A window-blind, where he had left a window cracked, was flapping erratically. At first he wondered if an owl or such were in the room. Recovering from the thought, and identifying the source, he fumbled his way to the window, muttering -
There hadn't even been a twitch of air moving in three weeks. Just that hovering fog ! It felt like something pulling at you when you tried to walk in it. He closed the window. It was chilly and damp in the cabin. But, he was too sleepy to tend the wood stove, so just went back to bed. His last thought before sleep, was something like - Aah-aah-ah - creature comforts - a full belly and a warm bed. He pulled the covers over his head like a kid and snuggled in.
Sleep was uneven. It seemed to come in waves; a roller from the deep, and he, like a surfer, riding the peak in to gurgling wakefulness on the sand. Finally, he decided it was more tiring than restful, and got up. Stumbling across the room, he fumbled for the lamp. He could almost feel the warm glow emanating from it when it clicked on. He was relieved to see that the cabin wasn't rocking like a boat.
His watch reported it was a little after 5 AM. He lit the little wood stove, filled the coffeepot, and set it to do its thing. Sitting at the table, he peered through the window to see what was there to see . Light in the room intensified the darkness of window-square, but, as he absently watched, a faint rosy area began to emerge. He turned off the lamp to see the outer view better. Yes ! There was a reddish tinge in the direction of the town.
The words escaped him unconsciously. Then he noted something he'd overlooked. His vision had been extended into the distance. Bringing it in closer, he could now make out outlines of trees and brush. As his eyes adjusted, he could even see an outline of buildings, and low in the East, a thin, pale crescent moon. It was close to sunrise, and the fog had cleared !
Carl had been so matter-of-fact about the siege of fog. Now he was amazed by the surge of joy rushing through him at these familiar sights, as if every avenue of his senses announced an advent. He opened the window. A mild breeze came into the room, like a welcome old friend, shaking off the dampness, exuberant and laughing. He heard a faint call and looked up. Overhead, four soaring birds climbed the cool, pearly wash of daybreak.
Never before had the glory of sunrise found him so keen and aware. As the fresh morning air breathed through the room, his eyes feasted on events framed by the window. He poured a cup of coffee and watched the steam emerge like fantasy's genie. The hovering fog had at last opened like a chrysalis. His senses had emerged keener and fuller for their long isolation.
As for fantasy, what was unveiled before him by the rising sun certainly appeared a fantasy ! The sandy desert, before broken only by scrawny desert brush, and sparsely scattered trees, had now a carpet of velvety color, with highlights of silvery green, bright emerald, and deepening in hollows to lavender-blue. The fragile growth he had seen before was now luxuriant and widespread, extending over the gently rolling hills like a sea. Instead of bristling clumps, bushes and trees were softly draped symmetries, in places bending gracefully like miniature willows. A desert chipmunk scurried by; paused to sniff and nuzzle the new discovery. It seemed to slap its tiny paws together in glee.
On the window-sill, the green cover was beaded with dewy substance. Air had a fresh, herbal scent. As Carl pressed his fingers into the green growth, he was surprised to find that it was firm and springy to the touch, and had a penetrating coolness. Finally, he turned from the window. He decided to have a light breakfast, and then head out for town. He was eager to investigate this strange new landscape.
As before, there was none of the coating on the truck. Such moisture as was on it was true morning dew. He wasn't surprised that the truck wouldn't start. He had anticipated that. He went into the cabin to get the make-shift bag, change into his boots, and slip his handgun into his jacket pocket. No telling what mood the long fog had left snakes and coyotes in, not to mention mountain lions, which might have wandered down bewildered. He decided binoculars would help too, and popped them into the other pocket. Finally, he stepped out into what seemed a dream adventure, quietly closing the cabin door behind him.
Easing along, he observed everything acutely, trying to find clues that might explain the nature and cause of these strange changes. In his mind, he was trying to work out theories that might account for such an uncommon fog in the desert. Ideas of shifts in air currents, strata of varying pressure, unusually low pressure, were the best he could manage. These were unsatisfactory though. Even if they did explain such altered patterns, they did not explain why they had so altered. As for the strange green covering the desert, he would have to study that much more before even attempting any theories, even wild guesses. It had no precedent at all, as far as he knew !
He saw no more animal life than usual; nor any less. A few scampering desert chipmunks, a racer gliding silently by, a few birds, mostly high, on their way to somewhere, were normal sights for the desert. The odd intermingling of the strange and the usual, enhanced the perplexing nature of the situation. He noted, in the colored mat under his feet, tiny starlike blossoms of white, and here and there the familiar cactus. There were a few wispy clouds, high, riding a current. Morning was as still as most desert mornings; only the calls of passing birds, and a whispering desert breeze, broke the silence. Air was clean and sharp with the spicey scent he now identified with the new greenery.
Ahead, he could see the outlined town. It was awash in the rose-gold of early morning, basking in the peaceful benediction of a new day. As he passed, the green carpet sprang back from his weight; no mark of his boot-print remained. In fleeting flashes, he had a strange sense of unreality, and wondered if he were deep in some dream. Yet, his sense of being alive was keenly enhanced. Air felt refreshing after all the days of physical inaction and sense sedation, cloaked in the fog. Now, he felt life surging through him more consciously than he could recall from all the previous years.
What a remarkable creation: the human body ! Perfectly engineered to carry him across this unaccustomed newness, and with observation windows to examine the passing scene. Carl smiled to himself at how many taken-for-granted things suddenly had greater value and intensity for him. Heightened awareness made the journey exhilarating.
Swiftly and easily it seemed the distance between him and the town was lessening. He could now see a vague, dome-shaped play of prismatic color surrounding the town. Some magic woven of air, light, and moisture, he assumed. When he surmised he was close enough to the highway, he paused, scanning carefully for signs of traffic. It would be comforting to see the regular activites of human living, which he had once found so monotonous.
Suddenly, anticipation fell back in him with a thud that jarred his senses. There was no sign of anything moving ! The early morning rolling of big rigs wasn't there ! The town, thinly veiled in an opalescent shimmer, resembled a mirage. No doubt the misty light obscured his vision more than he realized, he reasoned. The highway traffic just wasn't close enough to be visible ? Yet, by now, in the stillness of morning, he should at least hear the steady drone of the big trucks passing. He stood breathlessly still, listening. No such sound reached his ears !
What had been a joyful reaching out toward familiar contact, withdrew. Exuberance recoiled, and he began to feel a hesitant wariness alerting his senses. Something primitive. Something very akin to the instincts revealed in the slow rise of hairs along an animal's neck. In the same sense, he pricked up attention, and lengthened his stride, glancing about for objects to hide his presence as he moved,allowing him to sneak along, covered by camouflage of this strange terrain.
Moving in a zig-zag, haltingly from brush to brush, he slowly threaded forward. His movements were caricatured motion; exaggerated as a cartoon. Something that the once suave Carl would have been appalled by, had he realized it. But now, he was unaware of this appearance, moving somewhere in the more primitive layers of ancient instinct, and there were no apparent observers.
Squinting, and shading his eyes with his hands, he strained to peer through the irridescent shimmer. Suddenly, he froze ! Stupified ! Mouth open. Eyes blank. The buildings ! The buildings weren't shaped right ! Instead of sharp-angled squares and rectangles, he saw curving domes, and spires ! The highway wasn't there with its gas stations and cafes ! There was a winding, wandering, ribbon of white curving around the town, glistening in sunlight, as if made of glass.
This couldn't be happening ! Was he deep in some fantasy ? Was he disoriented from long confinement ? Was he, for some unknown reason, hallucinating ? He examined the crude rope bag, fumbling his fingers into it anxiously. It was solid. He could recall exactly how he'd tied it together. That was no hallucination. The gun in his pocket felt cool and hard. A small furry animal moved sharp and firm against the earth as it slipped beneath a nearby bush. The ground beneath his feet felt firm and solid, even if appearing different. A tiny cut on his finger, caught on a wire-end as he examined the bag, bled normally.
How long he stood there, watching for changing of the scene, he couldn't be sure. His mind was too engrossed with wondering. No matter how many times he looked away, and returned to examine, it was the same. His sense of unreality grew.