From The Mist - a short story

He’d seen mist like this before. A high desert snow storm was coming.

Something’s…different tonight. What is that? Midway along the horizon, between the clumps of sage, something was moving. Coming toward him, in fact. Despite the bitter cold seeping into his bones as darkness settled in and the snow began blanketing the chaparral — he waited and he watched.

As he stood in the gathering gloom, with snow piling up all around him, they emerged. It was like a slow-moving wagon train. The sort of thing he might have expected to see here 150+ years ago. In fact., just south of where he stood were the ruins of the earliest attempt to settle this desert, rusty wagon wheels and all.

But this was different. These certainly weren’t wagons emerging from the ethereal glow of the gathering storm. As they approached, a silence fell. He was used to the desolate, eerie stillness of the desert. But this silence contained the lyrical whispers of a distant past.

Before long they began to circle up. Slowly snaking their way into a rough ring around a small open space among the rocks. All the while the whispers grew louder and started sounding like a voice, like a grizzled uncle telling stories around a camp fire.

As he watched and listened, a fire sprang to life in the center of the clearing. At the same time the murmur grew to a low roar that competed with the incoming storm for his attention. Something nagged at the edges of his consciousness. He still couldn’t make out a distinct shape amid the motion. No people making camp. No dogs patrolling the perimeter. Not even a clear outline of that perimeter.

“…that perimeter…”

As he listened for clues, clear words started forming out of the din. A cloud here, snow there. Several weathers and a rock over there. Were they talking about how long they’d have to hunker down to outlast the storm before moving on?

“…the storm before moving on…”

That’s when he heard it. The exact sentence he had just said to himself bounced off the rocks and made its way back into his head. What just happened? How did these visiting strangers know what he was thinking? How did they even know he was there?

“…even know he was there…”

He risked being seen to move closer. He had to know what the hell was going on here.

“…what the hell was going on here…”

With the accumulating snow silencing his foot steps he was able to halve the distance without raising alarm. What he saw was unlike anything the desert had ever prepared him for.

“…prepared him for…”

There in the clearing, building a fire and setting out dinner — were words.

“What emerged from the mist that night was this story.”