She attempted to glance around without being obvious. It was a wasted effort since there wasn't anyone to see. The thick forest behind her was devoid of any human presence as far as she could tell, but the wildlife seemed to be very vocal. Birds chirped and warbled and squirrels chattered.
She wasn't used to the forest. A city dweller since birth, the sounds of the forest were alien to her and gave her chills. The gravel of the shoreline crunched beneath her foot as she stepped onto the pier. She felt better with some distance between her and the forest.
There weren't even any cars around except her own yellow VW, the only bright spot in sight but the smiling face on the hood seemed to be mocking her today.
Emily took a deep breath, sat her suitcase down on the rough boards, and peered toward the end of the pier. The fog was impenetrable, just like the forest that lay behind her. She glanced again over her shoulder.
In the same moment, birds and squirrels fell silent. She went still as well, her instincts telling her this was not normal. She scanned the surrounding area, seeking the source that would cause such silence. She was the only living thing as far as she could see in any direction.
With one hand, she rubbed her neck and swiped it on her skirt. She was sweating. It wasn't hot, perhaps a bit humid but not really hot.
A crunching noise caused her to jump and whirl around to her right. She tottered as her foot slipped over the edge of the pier, but she caught herself and stepped back to the center. There was no one there.
"I don't know why you're so jumpy, girl. You came here all on your own. It was your idea. People told you not try this."
The sound of her own voice calmed her a bit. Rubbing her hands together and then up her arms in a hug, she took a deep breath and let it out. It trembled as it left her. She repeated the process as her counselor had taught her. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. In a few moments, she felt her heart slow and her trembling cease. She nodded.
"See, it does work."
I know it works. Stop talking to yourself.
She walked a little farther onto the pier and squinted into the fog again. "I don't think I've ever seen fog that thick. It looks almost solid."
A few more steps and she halted. The fog had moved.
She shook her head. That's silly. She chuckled but she didn't feel amused.
"No, look. It's moving, like ... almost as if it's boiling."
Emily leaned forward, straining her eyes to break through the gray soup. It was impossible. But it was true. The fog undulated. She could see it bulging and swirling and whirling in strange contortions, as if ...
She stepped back.
"May I help you?"
She screamed and would have jumped off the pier if he had not caught her arm.
"Do be careful, my dear. We can't have you falling in."
With a gentle jerk, she extracted her arm and stepped away from him, careful to stay in the center of the pier. "Who are you?"
"You were speaking to someone." He wasn't asking her.
With a vehement shake of her head, she stuttered her answer. "N-n-no. I was merely observing and talking to myself."
He smiled and clasped his hands before him. "I see." He looked past her. "As if what?"
She frowned. "What?"
"As if what? The fog. What were you comparing it to?"
Emily blinked and tried to reorient herself. "I'm not sure.. I don't understand."
He closed his eyes and chuckled and then looked at her with eyes the color of the fog behind her.
She took another step back. She hadn't realized how very tall he was, a good foot taller than she. The clasped hands were merely skin-covered bone. Shoulders beneath the black jacket seemed more like a stick holding the coat up.
Emily started. Like a scarecrow. He looked like a scarecrow.
Breathe in, breathe out.
"You seem nervous. Why?"
Her laugh seemed very brittle and loud to her own ears. "No, no, I'm fine. What time will it arrive?"
He shrugged. "Oh, any moment. But really, I was curious to know about the fog. Your analogy seemed as if it were going to be very picturesque."
A quick look behind her and she turned back, her heart pounding and sweat beading her brow. "I was thinking ..."
He leaned forward slightly, his eyes boring into her own. "Yes?"
She couldn't breath. Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out. "I was thinking it was bulging and swirling and whirling as if ...." Her eyes wide with terror, she looked once again at the bulging, swirling, whirling mass of fog. "As if someone was trying to get out."
She faced him. He leaned forward, grinning with large, pointy teeth, and his breath was fetid and she cringed away.
"Yessss, it does, doesn't it?"
And then he reached for her.
Larry slammed the car door and walked to the edge of the water. "What we got, Bernie?"
Bernie turned, writing something on the notepad he held. He pointed with the end of his pen. "Abandoned VW." He turned back to the pier and pointed again. "Suitcase. No name on that but we haven't unpacked it. Registration on the car says Emily Brown, Las Vagas, age 23."
"What's she doing way out here?"
Bernie shrugged. "No idea. This is the fifth one in as many months."
Larry scratched his head and looked out at the placid surface of the lake. The day was sunny and the reflection of the blue sky was disorienting, causing a rounded sensation. Were it not for the forest on the opposite side of the lake, he'd think he was in a snow globe. He turned in a circle, studying the layout. He hated this lake.
"I hate this lake." Bernie echoed his thoughts.
"Yeah. Me, too."
"Larry, where'd she go?"
Larry shrugged. "Maybe she got picked up."
Bernie stared at him. "Man, this lake is 15 miles from anything on a dead end road. No one comes here. Locals won't set foot past the turnoff. Who'd pick her up?
"We got five cars and five suitcases and no bodies."
Larry stared at the lake. "I know."
"Someone knows something."
Larry threw up his hands and turned away, headed for his car. "Only happens every ten years for 12 months, Bernie. We only have seven more months to worry about it. Send me the family info and I'll inform 'em."
"Inform them of what?"
The car door slammed and Larry headed back to civilization. Bernie scowled and turned to stare at the lake. He hated this lake.
He picked up the suitcase and turned toward his car. "Hook up that car and take it in, boys. You don't want to be here at sunset."