Mr. Wilkes gave him back the money he’d paid for the groceries. “You saved me a hell of a lot more than that. You’re my hero, son.”
Brian got on his bike and headed home. He was nearly there when the storm broke. Freezing rain fell in big, fat drops. They slashed in his eyes and trickled down the back of his neck. No matter how he wiped and blinked, it made no difference. He could barely see. Unfortunately there was no really good place to stop. Ditches on both sides of the road were deep and wide. Water ran high and fast in them both. The trees sat far back from the pavement, hunkering in the mud of the swamp.
As he passed, Brian remembered his experience the night before. He thought he saw more of the wraiths forming in the fog, but convinced himself it was his imagination, until the fog started moving toward him. He’d seen fog move before. That was nothing new. But it moved in a column, condensed and with a purpose.
Pedaling faster, he prayed he’d get home soon. Splashing through puddles, hitting bumps and sliding in mud, he continued. The column of fog was closer. He imagined he could see faces in the gray cloud, writhing with pain and fury. He sped up only to hit a giant pothole.
He flew over the handlebars of his bike, landing on the pavement in a heap. He didn’t have time to prepare for his fall and hit hard, taking the impact on his forearms. Gravel dug into his flesh and he lay on the ground, screaming in pain and fear. The column moved more quickly closing on his position. Brian curled in a ball, calling for help.
From out of the woods, a pale body ran. Thinking it was another wraith, Brian cried out when it came at him. At the last minute, he realized it was the dog from the night before. She stood near him, bravely facing down the column. Brian picked up a downed live oak branch from beside the road and held it in front of him like a staff. The column hesitated.
The dog growled low in her chest. It was like thunder rumbling. The hair on her back stood straight up and she lowered her head preparing to spring. With a loud growl, she launched herself at the column, jaws wide. Brian was sure she’d pass through the cloud, but she didn’t.
The cloud staggered back, the weight of the dog forcing it away. She ripped and tore with her teeth, tearing pieces from it. They drifted away like smoke, but the faces screamed as if they were wounded. The dog didn’t stop.
Brian joined her, whacking at the cloud with his stick. To his surprise, it met with resistance. He could see where he’d wounded the hazy substance. Large, black rents appeared and the column of fog continued to dwindle.
With a roar, Brian hammered at the cloud. The dog beside him continued, relentless. With a hissing bang, is disappeared, leaving a foul stench of swamp gas behind. Panting and gasping, Brian patted the dog on the head. She licked his palm, smiling up at him.
“Thank you again, girl. I couldn’t have done it without you.” He picked up his groceries, thankful that nothing was breakable. The plastic bags were muddy and wet, but he could manage.
His bike, on the other hand, was destroyed. The front wheel was bent and broken, the handlebars rested at an angle the manufacturer never intended. The chain was off and the seat askew. Knowing he’d never ride it again, he left it by the road and picked up the groceries.
The rain had dissipated slightly, but still the chill water wriggled down his neck and trickled into the top of his boxers. Squelching with each step, he made his slow way home. Going in through the back, he left his muddy shoes by the door. He couldn’t do anything about his jeans except roll them up and pray he didn’t make another mess on his mother’s floor.
She must be lying down. She wasn’t in the kitchen when he dripped his way to the laundry. Stripping off his clothing, he put them in the wash and got clean things out of the dryer. Dressed once more, he headed upstairs to the sanctity of his room.
Finally, settled with his laptop, he sat on his bed and started looking up things that he’d seen. He started with the dog and found that she was a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a line originally bred in South Africa to fight lions. From what he could determine, the female he’d seen was not only taller than the average Ridgeback, her color was out of the norm. She was a creamy white, while the majority of the breed were shades of brown.
Next, he searched for some of the strange phenomena he’d been experiencing. The fog column didn’t get any hits, but the wraiths emerging from the woods, did. He read page after page of blogs done by a girl in Washington state. He read more from a young man who lived in Louisiana.
“It was like the bayou came alive. Not only did I have fog creeping up on me, but these creatures of muddy water emerged from the swamp and followed me home. If it hadn’t been for this big dog, I think they would have got me.”
© 2016 Dellani Oakes