Even before the alarm blares across the compound I’m moving to the safehouse. After years of living in fear, my eyes can spy the faintest hints of the mist as it starts rolling in and my body aches with a phantom memory of where the left arm should be.
The water gives us forewarning and allows us to survive.
They might look like harmless tendrils of fog, but just one touch and the skin melts from your body. Trust me. I know. It took my limb, and only luck let them drag me away in time to save what was left.
It took over a decade to find this sanctuary – to find this perfect piece of land that gives us fair warning. As far as we know, we’re the last people left. Mist can be tricky like that. And this lulls you into a false sense of security. We learned fast to assume that all mist was dangerous.
We’ve grown adept at this race against the roiling clouds. Practiced at gathering the children and marching them down below into the air tight, poorly ventilated space we’ll have to spend the next twenty-four hours.
Every time I see those clouds, my mind wanders. To me, with searing agony burned in memories, I’ve always had a fear that it somehow knows. That it watches us. That it’s waiting for something none of us understand.
That it’s more sentient than not.
“Hayley?” My older brother’s eyes are filled with concern he refuses to voice. “You ok?”
“Yeah,” I answer, “Just cold.”
Every person in the compound is assigned a shelter and I watch them as orderly lines stream toward their designated safe areas. Shivers lurch down my spine and make me convulse, just a little. I wish I still had both arms. The need to hug myself is suddenly overwhelming.
Slowly, I turn around. Surely I’m seeing things?
Had I not changed directions at that specific point in time, I don’t think I’d ever have noticed. But it’s too coincidental to not be deliberate. The dull throb in my arm might as well be laughing at me. There is no gap anywhere in the fog as it rings around us. If I listen closely, I can almost hear it cackle with glee.
Any doubts I had of sentience vanish as I hear a straggler screaming in the pain I know all too well. It lingers in my ears as the stone gates close me underneath the earth in our imagined protection.
Just like the doors, it all clicks into place. The fog waits outside our compound, chasing us into our rabbit holes for fun when it needs sustenance – snapping us like a chocolate bar.