The Black Fog by Newton Webb

Updated: Oct 20




Grimsdyke, 11th October 1958


The town of Grimsdyke slumbered. An ancient fishing village, its population, had aged and dwindled. The brick buildings remained as a hollow shell for a diminished community.

Ted lay on the bonnet of his father’s car. Next to him, Sue was decanting cider into two tin mugs. She pulled a face as some splashed onto her blouse.

Pulling out a fresh cigarette, he lit it and took a long drag. The tip flared with more energy and enthusiasm than he could ever remember feeling. Numbly, he accepted the mug with a grunt of appreciation.

He hated this town.

‘Look.’ Sue pointed at a roiling fog bank, dark in hue. It swept in from the sea and enveloped the lighthouse. The blazing fury of the bulb, guardian of the seas, was quenched, shallowed by the thick, black shroud.

Ted sat up, for once interested in something other than his dismal life. ‘Isn’t the whole point of lighthouses that they can pierce fog?’

Sue offered her mug to Ted. ‘I want to go home. I don’t want to get caught in that.’

Drinking the last of his cider, Ted gazed over at the fog. ‘It’s stopped coming in.’

‘Ted!’

‘Fine, get in the car. I’ll drive you home.’ Leaping off the bonnet, he tossed the butt onto the damp grass. Clambering into the car, he checked his hair, made some adjustments to his pompadour before pursing his lips with approval. The radio crackled with the tail end of “Louie Louie” as the ignition fired.

The road rumbled under their wheels as they crawled through the narrow streets. Ted parked outside Sue’s house and they shared a lingering kiss before she ran to her door and began the slow process of creeping silently inside, back to her bed.

Lighting another cigarette, Ted drifted home, listening to music and dreaming of escape. It was early in the morning when he finally parked up. Taking a beer out of the fridge, Ted sat down on the floral patterned sofa his mother had been so proud of and took a long swig. Lurching forward, he turned on the television and adjusted the dial until the plum tones of the BBC wafted over him.

His barely touched beer lay bereft as the velvet darkness of sleep enveloped him in its dark veil.


* * * * *


He was woken by his dad crashing about in the kitchen. Jumping up, he saw him filling the kettle.

‘Sit down Dad, I’ll make you some tea and toast.’ Taking the kettle off him, he ushered his dad to the sofa.

‘Mum’ll be back soon. She’ll do it.’ His dad settled his gaunt frame enveloped in an oversized, crème woollen jumper onto the sofa.

‘Yeah, course she will, but let’s treat her, eh?’ Ted shook his head. His mum had been dead for the last year. Gathering up the cups and saucers from yesterday, he filled the sink with hot soapy water.

As the kettle began to whistle on the stove, he filled a teapot and swore softly. The toast was burnt. He scraped off the black and then covered it with a thick slather of butter.

‘Did Mum get any biscuits?’ His dad called from the sofa.

‘No, Mum didn’t get any biscuits, Dad.’ Ted looked at a photo on the wall of the three of them. Even after a year, he still thought of his mum every day. He looked down at the burnt toast and smiled. She had always burnt the toast.


Then anger flowed through him. If you’d hadn’t killed yourself, then I’d be out of here. Free to escape this cursed town. Instead, he was left looking after his shambling wreck of a father. Since she had been found dead on the beach, his dad hadn’t been able to work, barely ate, just drank tea in front of the TV and rotted.


Ted didn’t have that privilege. Instead, he had a job. In Grimsdyke that was a privilege in itself. Munching on a slice of buttered toast, he carried over his dad’s breakfast.

‘There you go, Dad.’ Ted slapped it down without ceremony on the side table.

‘You are a good kid Son.” His dad looked up at him with watery eyes. Then munched on the toast.

Ted didn’t respond. Still in yesterdays clothes, he brushed his teeth, corrected his hair and then left for the harbour.


***


His manager, Bill, nodded at him with approval as he took up his station. Ted kept himself to himself but always arrived early and worked hard. Anything to get out of that coffin of a house.


The others complained about dwindling fish stocks and about foreign imports taking their jobs. Ted didn’t. He just kept his head down. As the others were let go one by one, Ted survived, day by day repairing boats, fixing nets and scraping barnacles off hulls. He took a grim pride in his work, he couldn’t bring back his mum or fix his dad, but he was good with the boats.


As Ted worked to recork, pitch and debarnacle the Ocean Ghost, he overheard Old Pete talking about the lighthouse. Downing tools, he wandered over.


‘Both dead, how?’

Old Pete took his time, unused to this much attention he was savouring it. He’d lost his job years back but kept coming back out of habit to sit and smoke his pipe, drinking the odd cup of tea that Bill allowed him for old times sake.

‘The Black Fog claimed them last night. It rolled over the lighthouse and swallowed their souls.’ Old Pete took a deep drag from his pipe.

Ted was unimpressed. ‘That is great Pete, but what did the police say?’

Spitting a gob of saliva onto the harbour decking, Pete snarled. ‘The blue bottles? Buzzing around, knowing nothing. They don’t listen to the old tales.’

‘No Pete, they don’t. They look at the evidence instead. Now, what did they say.’

Pete wafted a gnarled hand at Ted as if he was a foul stench. ‘They said it were death by misadventure because they found an empty bottle of whisky with them. Natural causes, my arse! They want a coroners report. Waste of time! It were the fog I’m telling you.’

‘Sure it was Pete.’ Ted walked back to the Ocean Ghost.

Old Pete, less than impressed by his dismissal, bellowed after him. ‘It were the fog, I tell you. It used to claim fishermen, but there isn’t enough for it anymore, so it’s coming to the land.’ Standing up, he shouted across the harbour. ‘Do you all hear me? It is coming to the land!’


Bill turned around, annoyed. ‘Shut your trap, you crazy old coot or I’ll kick you off my dock, you hear me.’

Grumbling Old Pete returned to his seat and sucked angrily on his pipe and watching the sea. Ted could see him mumbling but thankfully could no longer hear him.


As six o clock came around, Bill counted out Ted’s day wages into his hand. Nodding his thanks, he strode off. It was getting colder, so Ted quickened his pace. Stopping by the harbourside shop, he went up to Sue, who sold him some smokes and a bottle of local cider. He remembered his dad’s request this morning and picked up a packet of biscuits.

‘Shall I wait for you?’ He leaned over the counter and gazed into her eyes.

Unimpressed, she pursed her lips. ‘No, go home, bath, change your clothes and pick me up at eight when you don’t reek.’

‘Do you want dinner from the chippy?’

Sue shrugged. ‘It isn’t like we have any other options in this town.’ She bagged his purchases for him.

Taking the bag from her, he gave her his cheekiest grin and leant over to kiss her cheek.

‘Get off with yer. I’m working, you scoundrel.’ She softened the blow with a wink then sniffed. ‘And you stink.’


***


Refreshed, clean, wearing a rusted iron red shirt, he applied some expensive pomade to his hair and checked the mirror. Looking sharp. He tilted his head to a few other angles to be sure and then slung his leather jacket over his shoulders.

Driving to the chip shop, he picked up three fish and chips.


Dropping one newspaper-wrapped parcel of food off his grateful dad, the other two sat in the passenger seat, filling the car with the scent of salt and vinegar. He swung by the harbour to pick up Sue. She was waiting for him in a powder blue blouse and was waving happily.


They drove to their favourite viewpoint overlooking the sea, climbing onto the car bonnet they sat munching on on the salty chips and drinking cider. Sue was burbling on about the lighthouse, Ted tried to block her out. The deaths at the lighthouse reminded him of his mothers. He drank deep and reflected that they should have bought a second bottle.

‘Ted!’ His eyes snapped open in annoyance as she pointed. The black fog had returned and was rolling in again. It had enveloped the lighthouse and showed no sign of stopping.


‘Get in.’ He jumped down from the bonnet. Sue followed anxiously.


By the time he reached Sue’s house, the fog had enveloped the streets. Forced to park up, he walked Sue to the door and then began the slow walk home.


His hand out, he could only see a metre in front of him. The town was silent. Everyone was inside, he guessed. It wasn’t far to his house, but as street lamps and bins loomed out of the fog at him, he was forced to slow his pace. The fog tasted of salt. It was getting thicker.

When his front door appeared from the mist, he chucked his cigarette but onto the floor and breathed a grateful sigh.


He walked into the front room.

‘Mum?’

From the sofa, his mum turned around from where her arm was around Dad.

‘What are you—’ Ted blinked. ‘Is Dad ok?’ He moved forwards to check his dad’s pulse.

His mum laughed with the same musical tinkle he remembered so painfully. ‘He is alright. We’ve just had a celebratory drink, is all.’

Dad opened his eyes and smiled sleepily. ‘Hello Son, your mother is back, isn’t it wonderful.’


Ted looked back at his mum. ‘They said you were dead. We saw the body.’ He stepped back. ‘Dad, shouldn’t you be in bed? You don’t look well.’

She kissed the top of Dad’s head as he gently nodded off. ‘He is fine here, Ted. Come and join us. It’s been a long day for all of us.’


Ted backed away.


Gesturing again, she patted the sofa next to her. ‘I haven’t seen you in a year. Sit down. I’ll explain everything.’


Overloaded, Ted made for the door.


‘Ted? Ted. You get back here this instant. Don’t be rude!’ The screeching tone echoed after him. ‘Ted!’


He stumbled through the cold fog once more, nearly tripping over a bin. Around him, he could hear rustling. It could be anything in this damned weather. One hand stroked the wall to guide him through the streets. He nearly tripped over a second bin, then his shoulder smashed into a lamppost, causing him to hiss with pain. Without hesitation, Ted pressed on. His mind was locked up, unable to process what was going on at home. I saw her dead. Dead. Who was that at home if it wasn’t Mum? Could it have been someone else in the mortuary?


His breath was short, the emotional and physical stress getting to him. I need a drink. Finally, he reached Sue’s house. He banged on the door with his fist. Then, without waiting, he went to the living room window and gasped.


‘What the—‘ Jack was sat on the sofa with a gently nodding Sue. Jack. Jack, her eight-year-old brother. The same one who disappeared four years ago. He hadn’t aged a day.


This isn’t right. Without thinking, Ted kicked in the front door. It took three attempts.


Racing into the living room, Sues head was nodding dreamily. Her eyes slowly blinked open. ‘Jack came back, isn’t it wonderful?’

‘Where are your parents?’ His heart thundered.

‘Sleeping upstairs, why?’ Sue looked confused. ‘What’s wrong with the front door?’


Instead of answering, Ted stormed upstairs. Jack was screaming at him to stop.


The bedrooms and bathroom were empty. Ted tore downstairs. Jack bellowed at him. ‘Stop, stop! Sue, stop him. He is jealous!’ Sue couldn’t do anything but cry. Her head flopped down, exhausted.


Ignoring the little snot, he stormed into the kitchen to find the bodies of Sue’s parents. They were collapsed on the floor with looks of serene euphoria, arms around each other.


‘I told you to get out.’


He turned slowly to see the tiny form of Jack staring at him with malice. ‘You are ruining everything.’

Ted started forwards, then stopped as Jack’s body shifted and twitched, the face contorting grotesquely.


Ted stopped in his tracks. He stared with horror.


There was a savage rip as Jack’s shirt tore, a coiled mass of scales writhed in a coil through the rent fabric. His face seemed to shimmer.


“Jack” launched forwards, his sinuous body slid across the floor. Its jaw snapped, flashing serrated teeth, its huge eyes rolled back in its skull in anticipation of the kill. A sibilant hiss escaped before—


BANG!


Ted smashed a ceramic kettle into the creatures head.


BANG!


As the creature fell, a long slender tongue lolling out. Its tail continued to convulse. Ted didn’t stop hitting it until the skull was shattered and the beast was very, very dead.


A long, loud scream came from the front room. Sue was slumped against the wall, her face pale. The body of the giant eel-like creature slowly morphed back into the form of young Jack.

‘I can explain—’ Ted started dropping the kettle and holding up his hands.

‘I saw the fucking snake Ted,’ Sue snapped.

Ted breathed a sigh of relief, then suddenly rummaged through the kitchen drawers until he found a cleaver. ‘I have to go. Dad is with one of those things. It is pretending to be Mum.’

‘What are they?’

‘Who gives a shit? I have to go.’

Racing to the door, Ted was halted by Sue grabbing his arm.

‘Not without me, you aren’t.’

‘My mother has returned as a giant eel. You are staying here!’ He tried to shrug Sue off.

Sue clung on. ‘You want to me to stay alone in a house with that thing? You can sod right off, Ted.’

Supporting her, he relented and they both stumbled through the fog. The rustling sound was back. Sue gripped his arm tighter. He shook her and pressed a finger against her lips. It wasn’t rustling he had heard earlier. It was slithering.


Peering through the windows of the houses they passed, they saw happy families all on the sofa watching the TV, mostly dosing. Still, there was always one family member awake. One family member that turned to look at them with a blank expression on its face.


They arrived at his front door to find his father was asleep on the sofa. Ted through open the door. A big smile crossed Ted’s face. ‘How about that hug, Mum?’ She beamed at him and patted the sofa.

The cleaver thunked right between her eyes. An inhuman scream burst from her lips.


Her body didn’t change.


They waited for a moment. Ted shrugged hopefully. ‘Well, I guess Jack turned human when dead—’

‘—It wasn’t Jack, Ted,’ Sue said. She raced upstairs for a blanket to place over his dad. She tossed a second on over to Ted, who wrapped the corpse of the creature in it, his mums face still looking up at him.


They stayed watching the front door until the mist receded and the sun started to come up. The morning air was cool as he loaded the beast’s body into his car and drove it down to the wharf. He broke into a supply closet and wrapped the body in tarpaulin, tying chains around it.


Loading the body into a boat, he sailed out into the deeper water. When he got far enough out, he grunted with effort as he dumped the body into the sea.


Exhausted from his exertions and a sleepless night, he flopped back and throttled the motor to head towards home. Looking over his shoulder, his blood ran cold and he cursed. The fog was rapidly returning.


He heard a sound and turned to see his dad was in the boat with him.


‘I’m very disappointed in you, Ted.’

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