Short Story

The Car in the Fog

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Ah, the life of a college student. It makes it a lot easier on me to have someone with whom I can share the workload. My sister is great – she’s much more organised than me, and she helped me more than once organise myself, while I help her with memorization. Unfortunately, we can’t share the exam questions, so we still have to study, and study we did.

Every student has his or her own way of learning – my favourite one is the all-nighter. I can’t study for an hour or two and walk away – I like to sit and really study. I like to sit for six to eight hours non-stop, with a bowl of something or other at my side and a glass of something or other at my other side, and read my entire book – notes included – all over, once or, ideally, twice. That’s the best way for me to do it.

The best time to do so is at night. Nothing interesting to watch on TV, no one else awake to call you, no one on the internet to tempt you with emails or instant messages. The night belongs to my books, and with the proper amount of caffeine, nothing can stop me.

At first unconvinced, my sister soon started to see the wisdom in my studying techniques. I think what she really realised was that my marks were a lot better than hers, and she began to question why. After all, she is much more organised than me. So she started giving my technique a try, and found out that it worked. She shared it with her friend who talked to her friend, and the next thing I know, we were having weekly all-nighters. Some things are too good to keep to oneself, I guess.

I wasn’t too sure about studying through the night with a bunch of other people – after all, the whole point of studying at night was to make sure everyone else was asleep and out of commission to come between me and my studying. But I found that I became even more efficient with other people around – it made me want to show them that I could study without daydreaming for hours at a time. It became a matter of honour – I started the trend, so I had to show that it worked well. My marks really skyrocketed after that.

So my sister and I got into the habit of doing these all-nighters, and every once in awhile we’d host one. We had found a good 24 hour café and sometimes did it there – but it was so much easier to be at home, where coffee or water or anything for that matter cost a lot less than at the café. But that night we had decided that since it was the last week we were going to be pulling an all-nighter – it was our final semester, we were graduating next month, pending good grades – we decided to have our last one at the café.

The owner, Mr Manganese (yes, like the element), was sad to hear that we wouldn’t be coming anymore – he saw me as an honoured customer, who, once a month, brought over ten people to spend the night (and money) in his café. We actually started a trend – people I don’t know started staying later and later, and, after the first year, we were a group of around thirty people who stayed up all night at least once a month at the café. The owner told me that there was a big group at least twice a week. Maybe I had chosen the wrong field; should I have gone into marketing instead?

Mr. Manganese had every reason to be grateful, and I think that’s why he gave me and my sister all these free coffees tonight.

“I have to treat my favourite customers like they deserve.” He said it at least twenty times. Kimmy swears he said it more.

“He said it every time he came to fill our coffees up, and I had at least thirty cups,” she said.

“You can’t physiologically handle thirty cups of coffee.”

“I feel like I have had at least a hundred. I have never been this awake in my life.”

I knew what she meant. I felt so full of energy – like when you feel great about yourself, life and the whole world, and on top of that you receive good news – do you know how that feels? Well, that’s how I felt. Like nothing could stop me, like I could do anything, like I was superhuman and didn’t need any sleep for the rest of my life. It was kind of scary.

“I am never having this much coffee in one sitting in my life again,” I said.

“Me neither. Even if it’s free.”

“Next time we’ll bring a Thermos and keep the coffee for a later date,” I grinned.

Kimmy grinned back, then started hopping towards the car. I shook my head – we could just stay at the café, we were so energized we could probably put in another couple of hours of studying. I flirted with the idea for a brief moment before shaking my head. I wanted to go home and take a hot shower, which would hopefully make me drowsy enough to sleep.

I was actually glad that I was wide awake – there was so much fog that morning that I could barely see ten meters around me. I love fog, but had I not been this awake, I would have been lulled into slumber and gotten into an accident. Fog does that to me. It wraps me in a comforting hug and makes me want to snuggle up in its embrace. People often say they love to snuggle in a warm blanket by the fire in the winter to read a book – I’d much rather snuggle in a warm blanket in the middle of a swirling fog and read a book with a flashlight. And I will do it one day, when I move out of my house. My Mom would not like me sitting in the middle of the lawn, reading with a flashlight. She might force me to see her therapist and I really don’t like him at all. I would do anything not to ever have to sit in the same room as him let alone talk to him, even if that means not reading in the fog.

There was something even more magical about driving in the fog as the sun was rising. It reminded me of going up an overcast sky in a plane, watching as one by one, the rays made there way through the dense clouds. It was as if the sun was being reborn through the thick mounds of white dunes rising from the ground, a battle between heaven and earth, good and evil.

I was becoming very poetic. I guess studying all night for an exam on World Religions and Spirituality could do that to the most rational of minds.

Although I enjoyed the drive, I was grateful when our exit finally came up. Kimmy had put music on really loud and was bouncing around in her seat, rocking the car. I didn’t like it when she did that – I was driving Mom’s SUV and was always worried it would tip over. I looked for something, anything, to busy her up enough to stop bouncing.

“Have you noticed how there is no one on the road except up?”

That did it; Kimmy stopped bouncing and looked all around. “Hey you’re right. It’s actually pretty creepy.”

“I know. And it sucks because I can’t speed.”

“Why?”

Kimmy didn’t drive a lot – she didn’t like it. And somehow, she was smart about everything except driving – and asked the dumbest questions. “Because the fog is really thick; I wouldn’t be able to see a car in front of me in time to pass him safely.”

“That’s why we are going so slow.”

“I’m going well over the speed limit.”

“But well under Mandy-speed.”

I laughed. Trust my sister to find the one funny thing about a situation.

“Hey, Mandy… We aren’t alone anymore,” she suddenly said as I eased the car through the exit.

I looked in the rearview mirror; sure enough, there is was, appearing out of nowhere, although I knew for a fact that for the last ten minutes there hadn’t been a single other car in the road. A black SUV, its lights off, was right behind me, maybe 50 meters away. I realised the fog was clearing between our two cars, but not anywhere else.

“This is really creepy,” I muttered, bringing the car to a stop at the sign.

“Skip the stops,” Kimmy said. “I don’t want to be anywhere near that car.

Right before turning, I looked in the mirror again to spot the driver – and noticed, to my shock, that there wasn’t anyone in the driver’s seat. I pushed the pedal down and screeched around the corner.

I sped up the little hill and through the second stop sign, Kimmy’s eyes peeled on the road behind us.

“Stop!” she suddenly said.

I stomped on the brake and whirled around. “What?” I said, noticing nothing.

Then it dawned me: there was nothing behind us – no car, no fog, no nothing.

“Does fog disappear just like that?” Kimmy whispered.

“Does a car stay in an exit just like that?” I whispered.

We stayed there for a good five minutes, staring, but nothing appeared.

“This is so weird.”

“I know.”

“What do you think it was?”

I sat back down, shrugging. “Probably just a car that came the wrong way. We must have missed it going by.”

“I was looking the whole time.”

“Then it probably just backed up into the highway.”

“Why risk an accident when you can just come to the bottom of the exit and go back out?”

“I don’t know!”

Startled silence fell.

“Did you notice the driver?”

My heart stopped. “Yes.”

“What did he look like?”

“I didn’t look carefully.”

“Are you sure?”

I frowned. “Why do you want to know what he looked like?”

“Because… Because I looked at the driver, and, well… He didn’t look like anything.”

My blood froze over. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but if Kimmy meant what I think she meant… “He was plain looking?”

“No. He just… Wasn’t there.”

I met Kimmy’s wide eyes. “I thought I didn’t see well.”

“I saw well. And there wasn’t anything.”

“Kim… Have you noticed where we stopped?”

She followed my gaze and paled. “The Grant House.”

The Grant house was notorious in our neighbourhood. We lived in a nice community, where nothing ever happened – at least, nothing other than what happened at the Grant House.

“Look…” Kimmy suddenly whispered.

My throat dried up in an instant when I noticed the car parked at the side of the house. The black SUV!

“How did it get there?”

“What if it never left there?”

“And why are the lights on in there? Wasn’t the house condemned or something?”

There was something weird going on – and I wasn’t one to just sit by. I reached into the glove compartment and took out a flashlight.

“Are you crazy?” Kimmy screeched.

“What if the criminal is back?”

“Exactly!”

“What if we can catch him?”

“It’s the police’s job. Let them do it!”

“What if he gets away before they get here?”

Kimmy hesitated.

“Don’t you want to know? Don’t you? You know Mrs. Grant would have wanted to.”

That did it – Kimmy grabbed the flashlight from my hand, resolve hardening her face. “Let’s go. And bring your cell phone.”

We stepped into the backyard, hearts pounding. Kimmy kept the flashlight off; there was just enough light for us to pick our way in a yard we knew very well.

“Mrs. Grant won’t like us traipsing in her yard this early in the morning.”

“Mrs. Grant will understand why we did it when we explain it to her.”

“You’ll be in charge of doing that,” Kimmy muttered.

I took a step, and a twig broke, shattering the stillness and making both of us jump with colourful curses.

“No swearing,” I told Kimmy.

“You did it, too.”

I ignored her – I was just making chit chat because I was so nervous. I knew I had sworn – but saying something, anything, was better than the silence that surrounded us. I gripped my cell phone more tightly, then dialled 911 and kept my thumb on the send button.

We made our way to the side of the house – we didn’t want to go in through the front door, which was probably locked anyhow. But the side door was always open. The kids around knew that at any hour – well, any reasonable hour – they could come through the Grants’ side door for a game of pool and a drink. It was a sure way in, and without saying a word, both Kimmy and I headed towards it. She reached out and turned the knob.

“It’s locked,” she said, shocked.

I frowned, pushing her gently to the side and reaching for the knob myself, certain she was pulling my leg or trying to freak me out. But she was not kidding; the door was, for the first time ever, locked.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered.

“Maybe, ever since… You know… They have kept the door locked.”

I stare at the door, still shaken. “I would have never thought that this door would one day be locked.”

“Come on. Let’s try the back door.”

We went around the back, and found the back door ajar.

“This is definitely weird.”

“Are you sure you want to go in?” Kimmy said, some her initial doubts returning.

“We have come this far. We might as well.”

She nodded, pushed the door open and stepped inside. I went in after her, heart pounding.

“Mandy,” she whispered, pointing.

I looked but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “What?”

“Can’t you see it?”

I shook my head. “What are you seeing, Kimmy?”

Kimmy had never had a history of psychosis or delirium, and I was hoping that she wasn’t going to start on me now when I needed her the most.

“Nothing,” she said after a few moments before taking another couple of steps inside the house.

A loud clanging noise made both of us jump; my scream stayed lodged in my throat.

“Only the dump truck,” Kimmy said.

I nodded. It was trash day after all. We were now standing in the kitchen, and I took a look around. Nothing was out of place; the kitchen was, as usual, impeccable, except for a couple of missing items.

“They took some stuff.”

“Probably for the investigation.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone.”

“Maybe they left and forgot to turn off the lights.”

“We should go check.”

I started forward, but Kimmy grabbed my wrist. I looked back at her; she was very pale.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go there,” she panted.

“Are you OK?”

She started nodding, then shook her head. “I am seeing things, Mandy.”

“Seeing what?”

“I’m not crazy. I can see… Red marks everywhere.”

I looked around. Everything was spotless, not a single red mark anywhere. “Are you sure?” I said, looking back.

Kimmy’s eyes were dilated, and small beads of perspiration were running down her face. “It’s everywhere, Mandy. Everywhere. I think… I think it’s blood. Her blood.”

I suddenly realised what this could be, what it implied, and it shook me to the core. “Where is the blood, Kimmy?”

She was in a trance; she was only seeing what the horrible vision was showing her. “There are hand marks everywhere. A woman’s hand. There is one on the counter there – one of the knives is missing. They first thought he took it – but she did. She was trying to defend herself.”

“Can you see where the knife now is?”

She shook her head. “She took it with her. She was bleeding, but she kept her cool. She always did.”

I silently nodded – one thing for sure, Mrs. Grant never lost her composure. That’s what made her a great ER nurse.

“He came in through here,” Kimmy said, turning towards the door we had come in from. “The door was locked – this one always is, not like the side door – but it was so easy for him to force his way through. He didn’t know what he was doing, Mandy. He was crazed – he had an instinct he needed to fill.”

The words were horrible to hear; through them, I was feeling what had happened, in more details than any journalist had put on paper, and each little bit was very much like a shard of glass – small but extremely painful. “What did he do when he came in?”

“He’s strong – very strong. He didn’t need anything. He could hear her humming – in there.” Kimmy walked – no, stumbled – into the sunroom. “She was working on a painting, her latest, one she was proud of – many thought it was done, but she was a perfectionist – she had a couple more details to adjust.”

In the sunroom, the painting was still there, on its easel. It was a beautiful painting, homage to the kids of the neighbourhood who came to her house. All of us were depicted sitting around a campfire very much like the one she had hosted two summers ago, laughing and fighting playfully over marshmallows. It had been taken out for the funeral. It always made tears come to my eyes. “Go on,” I urged Kimmy.

“She heard something, knew someone was in the house, and decided to pretend she didn’t know. She walked through the back door,” Kimmy followed, “and went downstairs. She wasn’t scared, just angry that someone would trespass in her domain. She came back up to the kitchen, and that’s when she grabbed a knife.” Kimmy’s hand lingered a moment on the kitchen counter, where I remember the butcher’s block to have been. “He was still in the hallway, was about to go into the sunroom, when she called out to him. ‘What are you doing in my house?’ He jumped and turned. He looked frightened, but then there was something else in his eyes – and when she saw it, she knew.”

A chill crept up my back into my neck. “What did she know?”

“That she wouldn’t make it out of here alive.”

My heart clenched. What a horrible way to die – knowing you are going to suffer. I put a hand on Kimmy’s shoulder, but she shrugged it off. She wanted to do it alone – so be it.

“Keep going.”

“He walks towards her. He’s saying something. She isn’t backing away – she doesn’t want to give in without the fight of her life. She waits for the opportune moment to lunge… No! No!” Kimmy spread her arms out, hands fisted, warding off an invisible attacker. “Don’t do it! Why? Stop!”

Her screaming was reaching ear-shattering levels. I put my hands on her shoulders, but she threw me off. “Kimmy!” I screamed at her. “Kimmy, don’t get sucked into your vision! Get out!”

Then the scariest thing happened. Kimmy’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she started jerking, as if she was having an epileptic attack. But the thing is… Kimmy doesn’t have epilepsy.

I grabbed her as she was falling to the ground and jumped when the back door slammed open. A cold breeze engulfed the kitchen, and the fog invaded it. I drew my sweater off and covered Kimmy – she was still shaking uncontrollably, it was terrifying, would it ever stop? A screech started, at first low, then progressively louder until I had to cover my ears, screaming.

Then everything froze. The fog, the sound, and, I swear, time itself. I’m sure I entered another dimension at that moment. I wasn’t in the kitchen anymore, I wasn’t even in the house. One section of the fog parted, making way for a woman that I knew very well.

“Mrs. Grant,” I breathed.

She was serious – I had never seen her look this serious. She was always laughing or smiling when we came over. It was unsettling. “I have something to show you,” she said, before a painting materialised in her hands.

It was the portrait of a man, a plain looking man with a full head of hair and no particular feature. He had an oddness about him, something that made me shiver. I knew who he was – but I was sure that I couldn’t describe him for the life of me. “I need more, Mrs. Grant.”

She nodded, and waved her hand above the portrait. At the bottom of the frame, a small plate appeared, and on it I read George Dobson-Finch. I nodded. “I know. I will tell them.”

Mrs. Grant smiled at me, a small, sad smile. She waved her hand over the portrait again. The man disappeared, and, in its stead, I saw us around the campfire, roasting our marshmallows.

“You will know what to fix,” she said.

“I am not going to touch your painting. It’s perfect!”

She just continued smiling. “You will know,” she repeated, before setting the portrait down and stepping back into the fog. “Take care of everyone for me, Mandy.”

“I will. But… What about Kimmy?”

“She’ll be fine.”

And she disappeared.

The fog disappeared, and I was back in the kitchen. But there were other people there too – as soon as I came back, a police officer burst in, gun drawn.

“George Dobson-Finch,” I said, startling him.

“What?”

“He’s the one. He’s the one who killed her.”

“Mrs. Grant?”

“Yes!”

“How do you know?”

“It’s not important. You have evidence, I know you do – you have DNA and fingerprints. Go find him and run his DNA and fingerprints against the ones you have. Please. There is not time to lose.”

I don’t know why, I don’t know how a police officer chose to believe a half crazed looking person over his own good sense – but, his glance never leaving mine, he picked the radio clipped on the front of his coat, calling the name in.

Kimmy never “saw” anything again, and I never saw Mrs. Grant – or any other dead person, for that matter – again. It seems that the special connection we had with the late Mrs. Grant allowed us to enter her mind and share her memories, thus unlocking the key to the name of her killer. He was arrested a day later, and the tests all came back positive; he was the culprit.

He was a plain man, ordinary, nothing criminal about him. He pleaded for mercy, saying that it was a spur of the moment act that he regretted. But his history of animal mutilations and mental instability told another story. He might not be evil, but he definitely had a compulsion for killing. Last I heard, he was in a special program designed to help such people resist their impulses and live normal lives. I hope he never gets out – he did kill our beloved Mrs. Grant.

As for Kimmy and I, our encounter with the ghost of Mrs. Grant might not have unlocked a door to the other world like we would have, but it did unlock a definite interest in criminology. We are both now enrolled in a college and studying once a week all night at the same café, to the joy of the café owner. And to this day, on our way home after a full night of studying, at our exit, we both still look behind us for the car in the fog.

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