by Pam Sears
What does the fog hide?
|It was foggy again. Tom hated foggy days but even more he hated a foggy twilight. There was something chilling to the soul about a foggy twilight in London. You could just feel that something was in the fog with you. Reaching for you.
His friends laughed at his unease. Told him there wasn’t anything there that wasn’t there in the full light of day but Tom had heard stories. Tales of the lost souls who wandered the dark streets of London on foggy nights, ready to snatch up the unwary.
The clip-clop of hooves sounded in the distance, muffled even as they grew louder. Soon what appeared to be a donkey cart passed by, the animal’s head drooping in weariness from a busy day. Its master was walking by his head, one hand gripping the animal’s harness and one holding out a lantern, trying to discern the way as they plodded by.
Tom squinted at them as they passed. Were they real or some lost souls doomed to tread the streets, forever lost in the fog? He determined quickly they were real. Surely no ghost could leave such a stench as a filthy donkey dragging a refuse cart. Faugh!
Giggles, next. Some women headed home from their stalls on the square, ready to fix supper for their families. Hard to see them until they stepped through the fog, nearly on top of him. Were they real?
“Oi! Watch were y’re walkin’, boy’o!” One snapped.
Tom bobbed his head and moved aside, scruffy cap clutched in his hands. He couldn’t quite resist reaching out to touch one woman’s basket as she swung it past him, checking that they, too, were real. Ow! Yes, the splinter was real so they must be as well. Good. No ghosts troubling him yet.
The streets slowly darkened from twilight to true night and street lamps were lit as the lamplighters finished up their business. Seeing them move through the dark, lights bobbing at the end of their long poles, continued to add to Tom’s feeling of eeriness. That there was something just at the edge of his vision he couldn’t quite catch. He felt chills creeping up his spine that had very little to do with the cold night air.
Quiet weeping reached his ears as he passed a darker area on his left that could have been an open door or an alleyway. No way to tell without stepping through and he wasn’t about to. His mum had warned him to be careful at night in London, filling his head with all sorts of frightful tales. Weeping women often figured in her hair-raising stories of those out to trap the unwary.
Up ahead he saw another series of bobbing lights as a lamplighter finished lighting another streetlamp. He could see the streetlight up high, and the light pole the lighter used as he lowered it from the lamp.
Tom frowned. It seemed like there were a lot of lights right along this area. Had he gotten into one of the high class neighborhoods by mistake? It was easy to get lost in the fog so it was possible he’d gotten turned around. He hissed through his teeth at the thought. Now it would take him twice as long to reach his lodgings and the landlady wasn’t always understanding if you showed up late. She locked the doors to the boardinghouse at 8pm sharp.
Deciding to see if he could find out how much time he had to make his way home Tom called out to the lamplighter.
“Sir, could you tell me the time and where I am? I seem to have lost my way. I need to get to 15 Grisham Street.”
The dark figure of the man Tom had called out to paused and half turned toward him but didn’t reply. He merely waited.
“Sir?” Tom tried again. He was closer, now, and could see the shape of the man better. Dark suit, lantern he apparently used to light the streetlamps from, bowler hat… but no ladder. That was odd. They usually had ladders for those lamps that were taller than they could easily reach.
Tom slowed down then stopped several paces from the man. He noticed a number of other lights bobbing behind the man, as if other lamplighters were nearing them. Tom swallowed heavily.
“S-sir?” He squeaked.
The man turned fully toward him and Tom nearly fainted. Where the man’s face should be was just a swirl of fog. No eyes, nose or mouth. Not even the outline of a head. Just the tie, shirt, and jacket and, floating freely above that, his hat. How the man could look at him with no eyes Tom wasn’t sure but he knew the man was staring straight at him.
Slowly, out of the fog behind the man, the lights bobbed closer and Tom realized there was no one holding any of them. They simply floated through the fog to join the man. In spite of that, the area around Tom and the man remained dark.
“Ne-never m-mind.” Tom stammered. “I’ll g-go b-back this w-way. Th-thank you, s-sir.” And he took a step back.
The man’s hat moved like he’d tilted his head. He took a step toward Tom and held out his hand to him, as if asking Tom to take it and go with him. The lights continued to bob slowly around them.
Frantically, Tom shook his head and turned to run, not caring that he couldn’t see past the wall of fog. He just wanted away from the fog-faced man and the floating lanterns.
They found Tom the next morning, huddled next to some crates behind the local tavern. He shivered uncontrollably and had twisted his hat to uselessness. There were white streaks in his hair at his temples and his eyes were fixed in the distance as his mouth worked soundlessly.
No matter how they questioned him, the only the words Tom would utter were “The fog. The fog’s in ‘is face.”