Demon in the Mist
Laura gazes into the forest and her sight tries to pierce through the thick branches but sees nothing beyond the trees. She’s been at Rainier’s cottage for days, though for her it feels like years. He’s been absent just as long, a wanderer in the thick forest mist.
In the morning she collects eggs and milks the goat and remembers her teenage self, always wishing to leave farm life behind her. Live in the city, be someone. Promises her devil made and… well, no, he kept. He gave her money and social status. Too late she realized what he expected in return; stupid girl.
In the evenings Laura listens for Rainier, but only the sounds of the forest enter the window. Some nights she hears a bear or a wolf pacing. She lights the oil lamp Rainier left by the nightstand. Laura closes the chicken coop and brings the goat in, her only companion.
Laura sits by the window and listens to the forest animals, while a fire crackles in the hearth. She doesn’t need it, nights are mild, but the warmth and flickering light comforts her; pleasant company, fire and goat. An owl hoots and the sound travels from the treeline where she suspects it lives in a hollow trunk.
The owl quiets and a chill crawls up Laura’s spine. She peeks out the window and sees nothing by a dank, thick mist. Neither moonlight nor starlight pierce the fog and Laura finds herself plunged into a strange world of darkness and silence. It’s a dead darkness with a coffin-like silence. She fixes her gaze on the fire, but its waning flames flicker with a warning hue.
A change in the air; Laura’s nostrils flare as the pungent yet sweet smell hits her. It’s a scent meant to intoxicate, to obfuscate, to immobilize. She realizes the mist is not natural but man-made; someone has poured venom and evil into the fog. Someone wants to harm her.
“Laura,” a voice whispers in the night.
Laura glances around the room for a weapon to defend herself from the enemy lurking beyond the cottage. The poker; she attempts to reach for it but finds herself immobile. Panic rises and she wants to scream but cannot open her mouth.
The goat places its head on her lap and consoles her but does not break the spell.
“Laura,” the voice taunts, “I see you.”
Laura watches through the open window as a figure emerges from the fog. It’s tall and clad in a black suit and hat, like the gangsters of old. Like her devil, though she knows it’s not him. Not for the first time, she wishes she hadn’t dropped her gun as she ran out the door the night she killed him. She’d once found the vintage clothing endearing, but now she realizes it’s a uniform of sorts; a way to identify them.
The figure approaches, then stops at the fence. Laura knows it won’t stop him and glances at the door, wishing for Rainier.
A barn owl soars through the mist; its vibrant white cuts through the black and Laura realizes the fog itself is black, not the world. The owl flies and swirls around the homestead and disperses the mist. Laura hears the flapping wings and with each flap her heart settles and the spell loses its hold. The barn owl lands on the windowsill and faces the man at the fence. Its screeches cut through the night and break the enchantment.
The man sniggers.
“I’m not finished,” he whispers and his voice snags Laura’s brain.
She shudders. He vanishes into the night.
The barn owl turns its heart-shaped head to face Laura, a creepy, yet comforting gesture. It hoots and flies away. The crescent moon shines in the sky. Laura gazes at a bright star and wonders whether it’s the same star she prayed by that night as she lay wounded on the riverbank.