Thump-thump, thump-thump. The window of the bus felt cold against Dan’s skull. His head pounding against it reminded him of the punch line of a joke he had heard once about a guy who was pounding his head against a brick wall; It felt so good when you stop.
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Thump-thump, thump-thump. Dan could feel every bump in the road as it was translated into icy cold thumps to the his head as the bus droned on at its steady pace of 65 miles per hour as it wound its way down that endless black ribbon of highway. It would be perfectly all right with Dan if the bus never reached its destination, as long as the fog didn’t catch up to him. Thump-thump, thump-thump. As long as he didn’t have to stand there as that eerie layer of heather crawled its way over the cornfields. Thump-thump, thump-thump. As long as he didn’t have to stand there in the middle of night, goose flesh creeping over his skin like a colony of army ant. As long as he didn’t have to see “her” again. To feel the icy cold touch of death upon “her” lips. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
He couldn’t help but be mad at himself. What a fool he had been! All the decisions that led him here had been his. He could see it now. Thump-thump, thump-thump. How fate had bated him into this trap. This noose. It was like being on a deserted rock of an island that the rising tide was threatening to wash off the face of the earth. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
It was his ideal to marry Heather. Yeah, so he had thought at the time. Heather had been his dream. She had been everyone’s dream. Thump-thump, thump-thump. His driving inspiration. It was his love for her that made him want to be a better man. It was his love for her that drove, drove himself to excel at work, to make Partner. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
He bought her that car, that beautiful car. That old, classic car. How sleek it looked; a mid 50’s black Cadillac station wagon. Thump-thump, thump-thump. He had picked it up for a song and a dance from one of the senior partners whose wife had died. It had been a hearse at one time; back then it was the only way to get a Cadillac in a station wagon. It had been converted into a station wagon for his wife’s use. He had her driven to the cemetery in it. It was the last time it was used as a hearse. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
Heather had hated it at first. “It feels like she’s still in it.” She had squawked. She would protest. Eventually, after she saw all the looks she got parading the car around town, and after she saw how luxurious and practical the car was and how smooth it ran; it practically floated down the highway. How powerful it was, that big V-8 responded instantly to the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. But she could never shake the feeling of someone else being in the car with her. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
Then there was the house. Yes, “the” house. It was right across the river from the cemetery, the cemetery where Agatha Harkness was buried. What was he thinking! The house was 100 years old Victorian that had recently been restored to its original condition by the previous owner. Heather loved the woodwork, its intricate detail and crown molding. Except she kept seeing shadow figures in the mirrors behind her. Not all the time, but as she would walk by she could almost catch a glimpse of someone’s shadow passing by. The house was dirt-cheap. The previous owner had used the last of his savings on the restoration and couldn’t find a buyer. While everyone loved the house, especially the woodwork, the eerie creaking and groaning noises in the unoccupied areas of the house drove off almost everyone. Everyone except Dan, who knew a good deal when he saw one. “Our people don’t believe in ghosts.”
One restless night Dan had awakened from his sleep. He thought he had heard someone walking around down stairs. He stepped out on to the terrace off the master suite on the back of the house. He watched in silence as the fog rose over the cemetery. . The river seemed to represent a spiritual barrier. It started on the far side of the river near the cemetery and snaked its way across. The fog rolled up the riverbank to the pole barn they used for a garage. Dan heard the blaring of the horn of Heather’s Cadillac blowing.
He had run down to the garage in his bare feet. The wet grass soaks the bottom of his silk pajamas. The fog swirled about his feet, fleeing from the warmth of his body leaving footprints in the fog. As he approached the barn he could hear the horn blaring wildly and the lights were flashing like a strobe light at Denny Tario’s Dance Fever Disco Studio. Dan had thought it was just a bunch of local farm kids pulling a prank. He thought that they probably got tired of cow tipping and needed something else to do. Dan yanked the door open expecting to find a couple of giggling teenagers, but to his surprise all he found was a garage. A garage that had suddenly gone deathly still and dark. Everything was completely still in the darkness except for a wisp of swirling fog that wound its way out of the garage as he held the door open. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
Heather hadn’t wanted to drive the car after that. She kept saying, “She won’t let me.”
“She, who?” Dan had asked, shaking his head incredulously. He knew who the ‘she’ was; it was Agatha. He stubbornly denied it. “I paid for it, and damn it, you’re going to drive it!”
There were other incidents as well. A few at first, then with increasing frequency. In the beginning Heather was more unnerved by them as he was,.. Until the accident.
“Yeah,” Dan thought, “the accident.” Thump-thump, thump-thump.
That had been his fault, too. It was early morning when Heather called him at the office she desperately wanted to got to town, to get the hell outta that house. She wanted to run some errands and then meet him for lunch.
“I can’t come get you.” He told her sternly. “I’ve got a meeting going on! If you want to get into town you’re going to have to drive that car yourself!”
“I can’t!” She screamed. “There’s somebody in there!”
“Well, tell ‘em to scoot over!” He had hung up the phone on her. He knew he was going to here about that when she did get to town, but he thought that then at least she’d be in town. What else was he supposed to do? She had to get over her fears, face them, and get over her silly superstitions. ‘Our people couldn’t afford to let silly things like “ghosts” hold them back.’ That is what he had told her time-after-time. He didn’t have a meeting; he did have time to run back and get her wasn’t the point. He was a busy man, an important man. His time was precious. If he caved in to her fears he would be driving her around all the time. That was the last time he had spoken to his wife before the accident.
With tears in her eyes Heather made her way threw the fog down to the pole barn they used for a garage. She inhaled deeply, stifled a sniffle and steadied her nerves. She opened the barn door. The fog swirled around the car, to her surprise the door was open, ready for one last ride.
“Hafta’ get over to get over these silly superstitions.” Heather quoted her husband out loud “Superstitions are for ‘those other people’.” Her knit skirt slid smoothly on the plush leather seats. She stuck the key in the ignition; the car seemed to start before she turned the key as if the car anticipated her action. She put her bejeweled hand on the gearshift lever and it shifted to reverse before she pulled. Heather looked over her shoulder; the shiny black Cadillac began rolled back with ease. She drove up the old gravel access road, the tires grinding loose gravel under their weight, a layer of fog still hovered over the surface. She followed the access road to the old river trail. The car seemed to want to go this way, “She” had always like to go that way, it was very scenic.
Heather was rounding the blind part of the bend. She was fiddling with the large chrome knobs on the radio, for some reason the only station she could get was a local station that boasted it had both kinds of music ‘Country & Western’, when a tractor came from out of nowhere with a load of hey bails. The load was wide and across the centerline. Heather swerved onto the shoulder. The white-walled tires bit in to the soft gravel and headed straight for the guardrail. The aluminum guardrail. Against a contemporary car an aluminum guardrail might have been sufficient, but it proved no match for a head on collision with the V-8 powered Detroit steel.
The car burst threw the guardrail like a hot knife threw butter. Heather slammed on the brakes to no avail. If anything the car seemed to pick up speed and sailed over the embankment. The car turned into a battering ram and tore threw trees and whatever else got in its way, finally coming to rest in the dense undergrowth. When Heather came too? She had a bump on her head, and the door was open and the fog swirled about her.
Then “she” came. Someone called out to her; it was a female voice. If she squinted she thought she could make out someone, someone with long flowing hair beckoning to her. Motioning her to follow them threw the woods, threw the fog. She stepped out of the car, the fog made a carpet along the path it was soft and warm. She followed the fog threw the dense underbrush until she came to a clearing.
She stepped out of the trees and unto the fog. She saw something threw the swirling haze. It looked like a building. She thought maybe she had walked to town, that the fog had lead her to the city. She could see the form taking shape as she approached. It was small, possibly a fire hydrant but it was small, possibly stone? Yes, definitely stone! She was standing almost within arms reach when the fog cleared away lifted like a veil to reveal a cross. A stone cross with the R.I.P. engraved in the center. Someone’s head stone. The cemetery, she was in the cemetery. Across the river from her home. All she had to do to get home was cross the river. But how had she gotten there? She didn’t remember crossing the river. She looked toward the river in the direction she thought her home would be in and began walking toward a faint glow in the fog.
The fog had played another trick on her. The building was a lot closer than it had appeared. It was a crypt. It was “Her” crypt. Agatha Harkness. Heather had often seen the light of the crypt form the safety of her balcony and had felt a cold chill run down her spine. It was if Agatha was watching her from the grave, jealous of her driving her car. Heather had noticed how the fog seemed to billow up around the crypt, as if the fog originated from there. The light shinning out like a lighthouse on a lonely shore of the river styx, beckoning to lost souls over looking the river of the dead. Now she stood before it. Its never blinking cycloptic eye staring at her from a myopic haze. It reminded Heather of the look people get when they die, right before they give up the ghost and close their eyes. Yes. It starred at her with Agatha’s dead eyes from the grave.
She touched the cold, rough-hewn brick. They were moist to the touch. From out of the fog something guided her arm to the engraving. It read: ‘A tribute to my loving wife Agatha Harkness, may we meet again.’
Heather felt something closing in on her, tightening its grip on her. Her feet were soaking wet. She was chilled to the bone. She turned to run, tripping on some shrubbery. Heather fell to the ground. Mud splashed in her face. The taste of wet, gritty dirt filled her mouth and nose. There was not time to spit, or clean herself. She was filled with a sense of urgency. She swallowed dirt and all. She tried to get to her feet, but they slid out from under her landing he backside in the mud. She turned over in the mud she crab-crawling away as she tried to see threw the mud that covered her face. Nothing. There was nothing there. She stood up, clenching herself. She was cold and clammy to her own touch.
The fog swirled around her again. Closing in on her. The only sound Heather could hear was the heaving over her own breath. The sound was everywhere so loud in her own ears she couldn’t her herself think! It was deafening. From somewhere deep in side her, from that place were grown ups suppress all those childhood fears, she let loose a scream. A scream of the frightened, a scream of the damned, a scream of the dead. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
Dan had gotten the call later that afternoon. He had been expecting to hear from Heather some time that afternoon, but she hadn’t called. It was had been hours since he had spoken to her last, and she was long over due for lunch.
“Is she trying to punish me? Giving me the ‘ol silent treatment for hanging up on her?” The phone rang. “Hmph ..,” he said to himself, “I knew she’d cave-in and call.” He was fully expecting to hear his wife’s voice and was taken aback when he heard a man’s voice identify himself as a State Trooper. His heart sank as the Trooper told him in an ice-cold tone that his wife had been involved in an accident. Apparently, she had lost control of the car and went over the embankment, and off the road and down a hill were they found the car,.. but it was empty.
The car was fine they said. Incredibly, they didn’t find a scratch on it. It wasn’t even dirty. But his wife wasn’t’ in the car. She had apparently been thrown or had jumped out of the car and apparently walked off. The officer stated that they didn’t know what condition she was in. There wasn’t any indication of injury. No blood dislodged body parts,.. or footprints leading to or away from the scene of the accident. In a pale attempt at comforted Dan the officer said that sometimes people who have been in accidents go into shock and wander away from the accident sight, (but there weren’t any footprints). He said that they would “presume” she were still alive and would continue the search for her as long as possible, and that he should notify them if she turned up.
“Yeah, right.” Dan thought. Thump-thump, thump-thump. The bus sent another set of cold jolts to Dan’s head as it droned on. “If she turned up? She turned up alright.” She showed up late that night, followed by the fog. She had a little bump on her forehead and a weird look on her face. Like she had just taken the most delightful walks through the woods, as if nothing had happened. Her story was exactly as the trooper had said. She said she had lost control of the car and had gone over the embankment and hit her head and had been walking around in a daze, lost and confused, (‘But that didn’t explain why there weren’t any footprints’, Dan thought).
When her head cleared it was dark and she was lost, and didn’t know where she was. She had mad her way back to the road and started walking but having been in an accident and tossed around as she had been, she didn’t know which way to go and had just started walking and as it turned out she walked away from the town instead of towards it. She said she didn’t know where she was. That’s the story she told the police.
After the accident she was no longer afraid of the car. Indeed, she wasn’t afraid of anything anymore: not the car, the shadows that moved behind her in the mirror, not the house’s creaking, or the cemetery, or the fog. In fact, to Dan it seemed like if she were afraid of anything it seemed to be the warmth of the sun. It was always too hot, the sun too bright during the day, yet she blossomed in the cool breeze of the night. She looked forward to the fog, she reveled in it. She frolicked in it in her sundress like she was dancing with an old friend at a family reunion. Her barefeet dancing in the wet grass. She went for long walks in the middle of the night through the densest parts for the woods surrounding their house.
Dan could hear strange noises, but could see nothing for the fog. Always, Heather would come back with the most peaceful and serene looks on her face. Yet her skin would be deathly cold. Dan would find dirt and grit amongst the dew on her feet and deep in her nails like she had been clawing to get out. He was scared. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
Heather had begun trying to lure him into the forest, into the fog. One night, the last night. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
They had been out late that night at a party at the home of one of the senior partners. Heather was absolutely radiant in the moonlight near the pool. It had almost been enough to convince Dan that everything was O.K. and that all his fears were just the workings of his imagination.
The moon had been playing peek-a-boo with a thick bank of dark clouds when Heather, at least Dan had thought it had been Heather, had lead him out to the pool. Heather had been marvelous she had greeted the their hosts, the Contreras’s, in Spanish. Dan looked at her.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“A little something I picked up with all that free time I’ve had while you were working.”
She spoke Italian to the Spagnuolo’s, Japanese to Mr. Hokono, and even corrected Mr. Adatsi in his native African dialect. She had been a whirlwind all night in her purple velvet dress with her pearl earrings and necklace.
The Moon was hiding behind the cloudbank when they walked out hand-in-hand for a breath of fresh air. The Contreras’s pool was built onto the back of their home. It had a stone tile. Dan was holding Heather in his arms. He gazed into her eyes. They were perfect round orbs of black. They were so bright and clear he could see the reflection of the moon as it slipped out of its cover. Her body went cold. She let her hair down, instead of the its usual black curls it fell in gray streams. Her eyes that were so clear turned cloudy, like day old coffee rings and sprouted cataracts.
Dan gasped as he released his hold on her, involuntarily backing up. He tripped over an urn and fell over the pool furniture. He was sprawled over the stone tile looking up at Heather with the moon behind her. Gray hair flapped in the breeze. Her full cheeks were now sunken and hollow; her beautiful skin was gone, replaced by wrinkled and mottled flesh. The image that looked down on Dan wasn’t his wife Heather’s, but that of Mr. Harkness’s wife Agatha. It wasn’t even old Agatha, but lying in the grave rotting Agatha that extended her arms loving to embrace Him.
Dan squealed like a five-year-old girl. He hit a pitch so high it nearly cracked glass.
“What’s the matter, my love?” It was Heather’s voice overlaid with an unearthly voice. “Let me help you.” It reached for him. Dan scrabbled away in revoltion.
“Get away from me!” Dan cried as he scrambled away from the out stretched arms of the hag.
“I knew this would be hard for you. If only you would have let me take you in the fog sooner,..” Indeed the fog began to role in from over the balustrade.
“No, no, no!” Dan screamed. He grabbed his head, hoping against hope to keep it from exploding of his shoulders. He ran threw the house screaming, “Gotta’ get away! Gotta get away from her!” Was the only thing he said that anyone could recognize. Dan jumped in his car and tore off as fast as he could. He didn’t know which direction he was going. He didn’t really care. As long as he was getting away from here, getting away from her.
He drove till his care ran out of gas, and then he hitchhiked as far as he could. Then he caught a bus, sat in the back and let the icy cold window pound some sense into his brain. All of this to stay ahead of the fog. Thump-thump, thump-thump.
The small bus stop was no more than a scar cut out across the stark landscape; beneath a pitiless sky. Dan sat alone in a both next to a window, steam wafting from his cup of black coffee as it tap danced on the saucer as Dan tried to lift the white container to his lips. Streams of the black liquid streamed down the sides as it did a jig on its counterpart. It dropped in great black drops that pooled in the age stained rings on the saucer.
Dan tried to steady his hands as the mug neared his lips, the burnt smell of day old, bottom of the jug coffee filled his nostrils in anticipation, but a single sip of the precious black liquid eluded him. He ran his fingers through the days old grease in his short-cropped hair. Dan took a long drag from a cigarette with a long trail of ashes on its end that dangled precariously from his lip, hoping that would steady his nerves long enough to sip his coffee.
“You can’t smoke that in here, Hon.” The waitress admonished. “It’s a smoke free facility. I ‘m going to halfta’ ask you to put that out.” The waitress looked into his face. His eye sockets were apaulingly hollow. Pitying him she added, “If you want to finish it you’ll have to take it outside, at least fifty feet from the door.”
Dan looked out the window at the cold, dark, starless night that awaited him. He weighed staying inside with out the cigarette against facing what might be waiting for him outside with the cigarette. As all smokers do he choose the cigarette.
“Maybe the fresh air 'ell do ya’ some good? Help ya’ steady yer nerves?” The waitress added.
“Yeah, sure.” Dan answered with all the conviction of a doomed man on his way to shake hands with the executioner as he wiggled out from under the hard yellow booth. The door slid open with its electric eye and automatic hinges. “Fifty feet, huh?” Dan asked as he tried to discern if the light from the caffe extended out to fifty feet.
“Yep, ‘fraid so.” Said the waitress. The executioner might have said ‘Nothing personal,’ It felt the same.
Dan flipped the collar on his dinner jacket and shoved his hands deep into his pockets as the cold air from outside met him. The sky was dark and overcast. Dan was greeted by the faint scraping of his feet in the gravel that had coagulated and bonded by the iron-cold of the air. The breath from his nostrils mixed with the heavier smoke of the cigarette and rose into the dark abyss of nothingness above. Dan moved to the edge of the light that reached to the shoulder to the edge of the road.
On the far side of the road Dan thought he saw something, something that crouched under the dark sky, something that waited to engulf him. The faint echo of the cold wind plucked at the hem of his jacket. He paused as though a chill engendered not only of the physical conditions of the night had entered into his already shaking body. Dan’s heart thumped uncontrollably, his nerves screamed. Dan lifted the cigarette to his lips with a palsied tremored hand but didn’t draw. He didn’t have any breath.
Not a bird sang, no scutter of any living creature broke the deadness of the scene. Merely the soft rasping of the cornstalks that swayed in the wind that blew in fitful gusts under a pitiless sky. Dan involuntarily stepped backwards; he threw down his useless cigarette and ground it under his heel as he began his trek back to the café’. His retreat was cut short by what he saw. She was there. It was the body of his beautiful wife Heather, but the essence of Agatha Harkness. Dan starred into the eyes of the woman he had loved; the hollow sockets of the long dead Agatha Harkness starred back.
“Come to me, give yourself to me.” The apparition said threw Heather’s lips with Agatha’s voice. It glided toward Dan on the fog with dead arms outstretched embrace him. His blood ran cold; his heart froze at her touch.
“No, no!” Dan screamed thru trembling lips one last time. She pressed her cold, dead lips to his. His screamed died away until there was no sound left, until his scream was swallowed up by the fog.