I have always liked walking in the mist. It feels like walking inside a story. I love the way it can soften the world and make the most mundane corners magical.
It was more than mist tonight. It was a heavy, swirling, writhing fog. Local radio had put out weather warnings and the police had recommended that if there was any choice, people should stay at home. It had been taken to heart. The last few hours of my shift at the store had been extremely quiet.
Mum had rung as I was dragging on my coat. “I’m sorry, love, but I don’t think it’s safe for your dad to come and pick you up. You can’t see across the road. Will you be okay walking if you go past the church and stick to the main road? It shouldn’t take you long.”
“I’ll be fine walking home.” I said, wrapping my scarf firmly around me. “I’ll cut down the back of the estate.”
“You can’t do that!” My mum had been horrified. “Not at this time of night!”
“Mum, it’s only 9pm and no-one is out.” I peered through the back window as my boss pulled down the shutters. You could barely see the edge of the pavement. “Besides, I don’t think any attacker would be able to see me in this murk.”
“Go past the church and stick to the main road.” Mum said firmly. “It won’t take much longer and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“Okay.” I said, picking up my bag and heading for the door. “I’ve got to go now, Mum, see you in a bit.”
I nodded goodnight to my boss who was locking the shutters and headed carefully along the pavement towards the estate. If I cut through that way, I could get home almost half an hour earlier. Besides, I couldn’t see how much safer I would be on the main road. I would be risking walking next to a road that drivers could barely see.
I strained my ears as I reached the main road. I couldn’t hear anything. I’d never known the town centre so quiet. I could hear the faint hiss of the traffic lights as I got close to the crossing, but there was no other sound. I couldn’t hear any cars, or footsteps or any sign of life at all. I paused and felt the water droplets settling coldly on my skin. Crossing the road was a step into the unknown.
It wasn’t so bad once I got away from the glare of the streetlights on the main road and into the shortcuts. The estate was normally a hive of activity full of small businesses and traffic no matter what time it was. Even this late there was usually a mechanic working late or the carpet firm stacking their vans for the next day. Tonight, however, it was silent.
I walked briskly down the alleys and shortcuts, past the rag people and the appliance repair centre. The usual scatter of half-finished washing machines was there under their plastic covers, misted by water droplets and barely visible as I walked within touching distance. I looked around to get my bearings. All the landmarks had disappeared. On my left should be the main road and that meant that I needed to go straight and cut between the empty unit and the double-glazing place. I tilted my head and pulled my scarf loose. I couldn’t hear anything, and I didn’t want to miss my turn. I pulled out my phone to see if the maps were any use, but I couldn’t get a signal.
This is what it felt like to be truly lost, I thought, as I made an educated guess and headed across the road, tripping on the kerb. But if I squinted then I could just see that the fence had the double-glazing advertising on so I must be in the right direction. I heard a growl.
I wasn’t good with dogs. I wouldn’t hurt one, but they scared me half to death. Even my auntie’s elderly westie made me nervous and the growl ahead of me was low and menacing. I leant forward into the fog. “Good boy…” I took another step forward and the growl intensified. I wasn’t ready for this. I tried moving to the right a little and I heard paws pad on the cracked concrete. “Good boy.” I said with as much conviction as I could manage. I tried moving straight ahead again but once again I was met by the ominous growl.
I froze. I could just about make out the shape a few yards in front of me and it was huge. It seemed nothing more than a shadow against the fog, but it was shaped like a large Doberman, long legged and fierce with pricked ears. I backed away a few steps, stumbling again on the kerb. I watched the dog pad unhurriedly behind me with a faint rumble of threat in his throat. I tried to take another step back towards the way I came, but the dog was not tolerating that either.
My hands were trembling so much that they could hardly hold my phone as I tried again to get a signal. There was nothing, and the great beast slowly approached me, cutting me off from the town centre and the road curving left. “You want me to go right, boy?” I said. The words hung in the damp air. The dog took another step towards me and I could see cold light reflected in his huge eyes. “Okay, good boy.” I stumbled towards the right.
I was always told never to run from a dog, and it wouldn’t be safe for me to try. I felt the awful cold sensation of the great dog’s gaze settle between my shoulder blades as I headed right, away from the town and away from my route home. I tried to catch my breath and slowed a little. Once again the beast growled, low and purposeful. His breath was warm on the back of my head, and it stank.
I quickened my pace a little, but the fog was too dense to move at any sort of speed. The dog seemed satisfied, though, and apart from the hum of the intermittent street lights, all I could hear was the pad of his paws and his even breathing.
It seemed to take forever before we moved directly under a street light, although it was only a few minutes. I recognised the corner. On the left was a sign writer and on the right was some sort of storage. If I made a run for it, I could race down the alley behind the sign writer and reach the town centre in only a few minutes. I glanced back and stumbled in shock as I saw the beast properly. He was huge, his head nearly at the height of my chest, with staring eyes that gleamed in the reflected light. His jaws were large with a tongue lolling incongruously over oversized, gleaming teeth. I froze.
For the longest minute I just stood there, trying to keep my stomach inside, trying to just to keep breathing as I stared at the monster in front of me. I couldn’t make sense of it – it wasn’t a Doberman or a Rottweiler or anything I recognised. Perhaps it was one of those ‘part wolf’ breeds that were cropping up. Whatever it was, it was terrifying.
He gave a low ‘woof’ and padded forward. The thing may not have spoken, but it was clear – I needed to keep going in the right direction. I stumbled forward, loosening my scarf as I tried to scrabble my wits together while what looked like a hell hound padded gently after me.
Where were we going? I didn’t know this part of the estate well, but we seemed to be heading towards the edge near the motorway. I could see the faint gleam of the lights in the distance and the sound of cars, muffled through the damp air. I swallowed and stumbled, catching hold of a wall looming out of the fog to keep my balance. There was a cemetery the other side of the motorway. Was that where I was being herded? Another low ‘woof’ reminded me to keep moving. I kept going.
The great beast started shifting a little, moving up on my right-hand side and guiding me left as I shied away from him. I could hear his breathing far too close as I rounded the corner near the tyre storage, smell his stinking breath and hear the relentless pad, pad, pad of his great paws. Maybe I should try and make a break for it or maybe I should try and find a weapon in the rubbish strewn across the path.
Then I forgot everything. The fog thinned in the air from the underpass and through the mist I could see the remains of a van. It had crashed down the bank from the motorway above us and landed awkwardly in the middle of the road. The windshield was smashed, and the glittering shards were stained with blood which trailed from a broken figure that had been thrown across the path and landed across a low wall. I raced over, oblivious to what the dog wanted.
He was only young, younger than me, with his shock of brown hair matted with blood and his eyes sunken in his pale face. I caught hold of his hand. It felt icy.
“It’s okay, I’m going to ring for an ambulance now. We’ll get you sorted out.” I frantically looked over him. There was blood everywhere, seeping through his thin t-shirt and trickling out of the corner of his mouth.
There was a faint pressure on my hand as he tried to squeeze it, the strength fading from him. “It’s okay. I just didn’t want to die alone.”
“No, you are not going to die.” I heard my voice break. “I’m going to call the ambulance, it’s going to be okay…” I stopped. The light had gone out of his eyes and something indefinable had left. I fumbled for my phone, and finally I got a signal. I was just too late.
I looked around for the dog, but there was no sign. As the fog turned to rain, I thought I could make out some faint paw prints in the blood that had splashed across the street, but they faded and before I could be sure they were being washed away.
Welcome to the second day of the October Frights Blog Hop! I hope you enjoyed my contribution and will look out for another story tomorrow.
And why not dip in to the giveaway of great stories at Story Origin? You can find them here. It’s a selection of free stories from some of the people taking part in the October Frights Blog Hop and you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.
While I am talking about the goodies going on, there is the panel taking place today which you can find here where some of the authors who are part of this amazing event will be chatting
And speaking of authors, here they are!