The locals say strange things happen when the fog comes out. The line between reality and unreality is blurred.
John and Blake sat on the deck sipping bourbon out of plastic cups. The fog rolled in eclipsing the sun.
“I’m working on a new book,” said Blake. “I think I’m on to something big.”
John had heard this time and again but Blake was his friend so he listened. The fact was, Blake hadn’t published a thing in years. He got lucky with a first novel after college and it spoiled him. He won a prize and there was even talk of a movie but that didn’t pan out. As the years moved along without another success, Blake grew increasingly bitter as the literary world moved on without him.
“What’s it about?” asked John with feigned enthusiasm.
“I’m not going to jinx it,” said Blake. “I’ll tell you more when I’m further along. You know, I think it’s good but the market is fickle, John.
Morgen and Catherine were inside making salad and pasta. A neighbor, Billy, had given John and Morgen a salmon he’d caught. He always gave them little surprises, especially Morgen.
“I think Billy’s sweet on you, honey,” John had said when Morgen told him. She laughed, secretly pleased at the thought. They invited Blake and Catherine for dinner and told Billy to come over to join them after work. Billy worked at Rossi’s Building Supplies but his passion was fishing.
Blake had finished his bourbon. John reached for the bottle and offered him another.
“Why not?” said Blake. “Bourbon’s the first line of defense against this fog that’s creeping in on us.” He held out his cup while John poured.
“Yea, it’s getting colder than I hoped. We may have to eat inside.”
John looked through the window into the kitchen. Billy had arrived. He was giving Morgen and Catherine hugs. John tapped on the window and motioned for Billy to come out and bring a glass.
“Hey,’ said Billy. “Looks like you two are one up on me. How’s it going Blake.”
John poured bourbon into Billy’s glass. “Blake’s working on a new book.”
Blake cringed. “It’s just a story. Probably won’t go anywhere.”
“I thought you said you were on to something,” said John.
“Hey, you want some help with that salmon,” said Billy.
“It’s all ready. Here come the girls. I’ll put it on now,” said John. “Hey, babe. Can you setup the table inside. The fog’s coming in and it’s getting cold.”
“Already done,” said Morgen, smiling.
“So Blake, tell me about your story,” said Billy.
“I’m really just getting started,” said Blake. “I haven’t got it all worked out yet.”
“Come on, Blake. At least tell us what it’s about. Is it about me?” Morgen laughed and Blake blushed.
John poured them all another drink and emptied the bottle. He went into the kitchen to get another. Just as he walked out the power went off.
“Here we go again,” said Billy.
“What’s with all the power outages anyway?” asked Morgen. “It’s a good thing we’ve got everything ready for dinner. I’ll light the candles and turn on the battery lights.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” said Billy who followed her inside. Billy had given Morgen a bunch of battery operated LED shimmer trees he bought using his discount at work after she said how much she liked them. They were festive and provided just enough light for dinner.
Catherine held a flashlight over the grill while John tended to the salmon.
“I wish you hadn’t mentioned my book, John,” said Blake. “I’m uncomfortable talking about my work while it’s still in process. Besides, the emphasis today is on women and ethnic writers. I haven’t got much of a chance even if I come up with something great.”
“So, you’re a sexist and a racist now,” laughed John.
“You’re on the verge of pissing me off,” said Blake who sucked down the last of his bourbon and poured himself and John another glass.
“Come on, boys,” said Catherine. “It’s Friday night. Don’t ruin it.”
John took the salmon off the grill, carried it inside and they all sat around the table. Everyone had another drink then they passed the food around.
“Come on Blakey,” said Morgen. “Tell us about your little book. I’m dying to know what it’s about.”
“You know,” said Blake, his voice elevated but shaky. “It’s not about you, Morgen. It’s not about any of you.” He looked around the table but not at anyone. “It’s about … about.”
Blake’s face contorted into a smile. “It’s about ghosts.”
“Ghosts?” said Billy who was not yet as drunk as the others. “You mean a real ghost?” Billy ate a piece of his salmon.
“You don’t mean a real ghost Blake, do you? You’re thinking of something like the Winchester Mystery House, right?” John didn’t believe in God let alone ghosts. John was a practical man, an attorney. “Does anyone believe ghosts are real anymore?”
“I do,” said Billy. “I’ve see them out on the ocean at dawn or dusk sometimes when I’m fishing.”
Morgen swooned at Billy. She reached across the table and held his hand. “I’ve seen them too,” she said.
Catherine, usually quiet, grew animated. “I’ve seen ghosts at work in the hospital. I mean, not walking through the halls or floating around. Not anything like that, but human essences. You know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t,” said John. “I give up. The world as I know it has completely disappeared.” In one sense he was right. The fog now surrounded them entirely blocking any view of the garden outside.
Blake allowed himself a few moments of self-congratulation, but just a few. He poured himself another bourbon. “I told you I was just getting started. Even if I manage to pull this book off no publisher probably will touch it. A good agent is impossible to find today and publishers give very low priority to someone they haven’t already published.”
Everyone was well on the way to drunk by now. It grew quiet around the table while they all focused on the food in a vain attempt to sober up. Suddenly the lights came back on.
“Jesus,” said Blake. “It’s way too bright in here. Turn the lights off John.” John turned the lights off and the room returned to the dim state in which they had started dinner. John poured another round of drinks while Morgen and Billy cleared the table.
“I made a cake for dessert,” said Morgen. I’ll bring it out with some plates and you can each cut yourself a piece when you’re ready.”
“Have any of you actually seen a ghost? I certainly haven’t,” said John.
“You wouldn’t,” muttered Morgen but John didn’t hear her.
“I mean actually seen one, not just some phantasmagoric reflection, some holographic image. The mind sees what it wants to see.”
Everyone was quiet for a minute or two then Billy spoke up.
“What I saw … out on the ocean … it was real, real to me anyway. Whether you call it a ghost or not doesn’t matter. I saw it. It was real.”
“Was it?” asked John. “How do you know that it wasn’t an illusion, a very real illusion but an illusion all the same?”
“Don’t try to explain it away, John. Your always doing that. You’re so rational. Why must everything have a rational explanation?” Morgen set the cake on the table and sat down next to Billy.
“I think,” said Catherine, “we are here for a reason. I think the world needs us to make our mark, just once. If we fail, some version of us returns to set things right.”
“If you look at all the evidence,” said John, “nature doesn’t care about us at all. Natural disasters happen willy nilly and people die and nature doesn’t even blink. This idea of ghosts and the supernatural is what brought us religion. I can do nicely without any of that, thank you.”
“You’re such a nerd, John! What about love? What about emotional connection? Maybe ghosts exist to remind us that we can’t explain everything and shouldn’t try.” Morgen’s face flushed as she spoke.
Blake seemed to be enjoying the moment. “Exactly! What about love? The ghosts I’m interested in are the ghosts inside us, not the ones outside. We all have these interior lives that no one knows about. Not even us most of the time.”
“Okay,” said John. “Okay. What about love? What’s it anyway? I mean, people … women especially … I’m sorry if this is out of line … people, some people talk about their soul mate. Personally, I think that’s a bunch of hooey. If your soul mate died, you’d be devastated, of course. You’d grieve, but for how long? Here’s the point, eventually you would, most would anyway, find another soul mate. I mean, that’s how it works, we’re programmed to love. This person, that person. Does it really matter?”
Morgen turned bright red. “No, John. It doesn’t matter at all to you. Have a piece of cake.” She got up from the table, poured herself another bourbon, and walked outside onto the deck. Soon she had disappeared into the fog.
Catherine got up. “I’ll go out to settle her down. Sometimes you’re a little too direct, John.” Catherine went outside.
“What the fuck,” said John. “What’d I say? I was simply making a point. It’s not like I said I didn’t love her or anything.”
“What you said is that love, like ghosts, is not real for you,” said Blake.
“I didn’t,” said John. “I didn’t say that. I just said there isn’t such a thing as a soul mate. We fall in love, sure, and that love can be great but under different circumstances we could just as easily fall in love with someone else. What’s so out of line about that?”
“I don’t think that’s what women want to hear,” said Billy.
“How the fuck would you know Billy? You don’t have a girl, do ya? And it’s about time I told you I don’t like you hanging around with my wife. You’re just a little too friendly. She’s married. To me. Got it?”
“Got it,” said Billy. He got up and went outside.
“Come on, Blake. Let’s have another drink.”
“I’ve had enough. And, so have you John.”
“Bullshit! Go on, leave like the rest of them. Leave me alone. Fuck your damn book. All you do is bitch about the publishing industry and revile the authors who actually get shit done. You know it even if you won’t admit it. Success breeds success and failure breeds failure. It’s the way life works.”
John poured himself another bourbon. Blake didn’t say a word. He simply got up and left. John realized he was way too drunk but something had snapped inside him. He didn’t care. He drank his bourbon down, then another. When he finally got up, he was unsteady on his feet. There was still a little booze left in the bottle. He put on his coat and stuffed the bottle into his pocket. He almost fell but the wall held him up. He shuffled to the door, opened it, and walked out on the deck. He managed to maneuver the stairs, walked into the fog and soon found himself in the woods.
“Morgen,” he yelled although it came out more like a whisper. “Morgen … please … I’m sorry.” He stood quietly and waited for a response but none came. He walked further into the woods.
As his eyes adjusted he began to see better in spite of the fog. He was following a deer trail that turned and twisted in the underbrush. He hadn’t realized how scrambled the woods were, trees leaning this way and that, some fallen or leaning against others. Mounds of leaves, vines, hidden holes. He tripped and cut his hand on a broken limb.
He pushed forward without any idea where he was going or why. In the distance he saw a light. He walked toward the light but it disappeared before he reached it. Then he saw it again and he kept pushing forward. It wasn’t the moon or the stars but there definitely was a light visible through the fog though it wasn’t anything he recognized.
“Billy, you out there? Hey, I didn’t mean what I said in that rant. You’re a good friend, a really good friend. Hey man, talk to me. You there?”
Nothing but the silence of the dark woods.
John walked and walked but the light eluded him. Finally he was too tired to walk any further. He sat on the ground and leaned against a tree. He pulled the bottle of bourbon out from his coat pocket and took a long swig.
Shit. I really fucked up this time. Pissed off every one of them. What is it about the irrational that holds such power over people, over women particularly? Tell me, what is it?
“Blake! I’m sorry Blake. Tell me. Tell me your story, right now. I wanna hear it. All of it. Even the part about the ghosts. Especially the part about the ghosts. Blake? You there?”
It had grown very cold. John finished the last of the bourbon. The light was still visible but he’d lost interest. He threw the bottle toward the light but it landed well short with a thud. He curled up, pulled the coat around him, and went to sleep.
Morgen found him the next morning.
“Jesus Christ, John. We’ve been up all night looking for you. How the hell did you get so far away from the house?”
John was not completely awake. He was still half drunk.
“Come on. I’ll help you up. Let’s go home.’
John stood still and stared into the woods.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Morgen. “What are you looking at?”
It took a long time for John to answer.
“Nothing,” he finally said.
She pulled on his arm and he turned to follow her.
“You know I love you, Morg, don’t you?”
She didn’t answer, just pulled him along behind her.