A blanket of fog fills the forest, reducing visibility for Grant and Tessalyn as they hike deep within. The dense haze piques the curiosity of the newly-dating couple, so they trudge on. But their enthusiasm soon turns to trepidation as they realize they’re lost.
Grant treks alongside Tessalyn while observing the invasive murk; it conceals the tops of the tallest trees and obscures the forest floor. And the profuse moistness causes him to cough and become short of breath, so Grant emulates Tessalyn and pulls his sweatshirt up high to create a filter for his mouth and nose.
“Come on,” Grant calls over his shoulder. Cough. Cough. “Let’s keep going. We’ll find a way out of this.” The murk masks several rocks obstructing their pathway, and Grant trips then runs into a tree. “Shit!”
“You okay?” Tessalyn asks. She halts, then places a hand on his back.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Grant bends over and chokes into his sweatshirt. Why the hell did I let her convince me to hike in this stupid, unfamiliar forest? He straightens, adjusts the sweatshirt over his nose, then searches their surroundings but is unable to see beyond a few feet.
“Let’s take a break before we move on.” Tessalyn slouches against a tree, then drops her head between her knees. Her auburn ponytail flings over her head and dangles just above the surface of the ground.
“So, you like outdoorsy things?” Grant begins. “I mean, I like fishing and camping, but I probably should have been honest with you. I’m not much of a hiker and my sense of direction sucks.”
Tessalyn lifts her head and laughs. “Well, I wasn’t interested in dating you because of your hiking skills–or lack thereof.”
Grant gestures with his thumb. “Good to know.” He reaches up with a muscular arm and scratches at his buzz cut.
Tessalyn looks to her left, and her eyes widen. “Grant, look!” She points into the fog.
Grant reels around and gazes in the direction of her pointed finger. Unable to see anything, he squints to sharpen his vision, then spots a faint silhouette. “What is that?”
“I think it’s a house.”
“How the hell can you tell?”
“Come on!” She heads toward the silhouette. “Let’s go have a look.”
They take cautious strides through the fog while making their way toward the large, dark shape. Grant stumbles on several large tree roots, and Tessalyn grabs ahold of his hand.
The fog diminishes, revealing a brown-shingled house. “It is!” Tessalyn yells. “It’s a house!”
Grant halts. “Wait, something’s not right.” He extends an arm in front of Tessalyn’s mid-section.
“What do you mean?” She looks at Grant with furrowed brows.
“Tessa, look.” He points at the house. “There’s fog insidethe house.”
She looks at the top level, and the blackened windows appear fogless. Then she shifts her gaze toward the bottom floor and notices smog oozing out from every opening.
“It looks like someone is running a fog machine or something.” Grant mumbles. “Why would they do that?”
“Who knows,” Tessalyn mumbles. “Come on, let’s just go have a look.” She pushes past his arm and steps toward the house.
Grant grabs the back of her sweatshirt. “Wait! Tessa, we can’t just nose around someone’s property.”
“Don’t be weird, Grant.” She begins. “It’s fine.”
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
Grant whips his head around and observes the surrounding forest.
Snap. Crunch. Snap.
His eyes widen, and he turns toward Tessalyn. “Someone is out here with us,” he whispers to her.
He detects vibrations underfoot, then spots movement just beyond the edge of the forest. The tree-sized shadow moves and emits a deep snarl, causing Grant’s heart to pound inside his chest.
“Uh–more like something is out here with us! Come on, Tess!” He pulls her along and heads back into the woods, away from the house and the unknown creature.
“Grant,” Tessalyn begins. “I really think we should try to find shelter insidethe house.”
He coughs and ignores her plea. The fog thickens, and they galumph through the woods in search of a place to hide.
A cluster of pine trees grabs Grant’s attention, and he heads toward the mass to seek cover. He opts for the largest one and climbs onto its low limbs. After making his way up several thick, needled branches, he reaches for Tessalyn. “Come on, we can hide in here.”
She releases a long sigh, then climbs up to join Grant inside the tree. “I really don’t think–”
Grrrr. Grrrr. Grrrr.
Grant places a finger over her lips to shush her. Chills run down their spines and their hearts race. The creature’s footsteps cause vibrations that shoot up the tree’s trunk. Holy shit! What the hell is that! A mountain lion? A Bear?
Pine cones burst underfoot as the creature moves toward them. The air smells of damp, rotting flesh, and forces Grant to tuck his nose into his arm.
Grrrr. Grrrr. ROAR.
Grant’s heart skips a beat, and he fights off the urge to retch. Tessalyn closes her eyes, lifts her face toward the sky, and maintains a firm grip on the tree.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Grant whispers. He looks around and notices the fog continues to thicken. Tilting his head sideways, he listens with intent for movement. He tries to peer down through the pine branches, but can’t see beyond a few inches.
“I–I think it’s moving on,” Tessalyn whispers.
He focuses on the hand fastened around the pine tree and realizes the vibrations are lessening. “You’re right. It’s moving past us. Let’s get out of here and head further into the forest to see if we can find our way out.”
“That didn’t work out so well the first time. I think we should head back to the house and see if someone is home.”
“I don’t know, Tess. Something is weird about that place. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and there’s not even a driveway leading to it. I think it’s best if we head in the opposite direction.”
Tessalyn and Grant climb down from the tree. He coughs into his sleeve to mute its noise. She dusts herself off, then looks at Grant. “Fine. Don’t come, but I’m going to the house.” She takes off and scurries through the fog, leaving Grant behind.
“Tess! Tessa! Wait!” He sighs, then runs after her. Grant scans his fog-filled surroundings while tromping after her.
“Relax,” she suggests. “We’ll feel the vibrations of its footsteps if we get too close.”
“We don’t know that, Tess. If it stands in one place, we could end up walking right into the damn thing.”
Tessalyn ignores him; she continues on without uttering another word. Her hiking experience has given her a better sense of direction, so Grant follows her lead. They walk a short distance, and the brown house comes into view.
“Come on,” she motions to him, then heads for the backyard. She walks over to an opened window and begins climbing inside.
“What are you doing? Don’t be stupid. We don’t know whose house this is.”
“Well, I’m going in. Feel free to wait here.”
With hesitation, he follows Tessalyn into the house. Damn it! This is crazy! He slides through the window and drops onto the floor. Dense fog inside the house prevents the couple from seeing their surroundings, and each other.
“Tess? Where are you?” Grant stands, throws his hands into the air, and attempts to gather his bearings. He hears movement in a nearby room and his body tenses. Relief floods him when he realizes it’s Tessalyn moving around.
“Hello?” Her soft voice calls out.
“I’m here, Tess. I’ll make my way into that room.” Cough.“Damn! It stinks again.”
“I’m not talking to you, Grant,” she begins. “Stormy, where are you?”
“Stormy?” Grant asks. “Who’s Stormy?”
She ignores his question. “Stormy, I’m home, and I brought a fresh meal for you.”
A snarl resonates within the house.
Home? A fresh meal? Oh shit! Grant steps backward and smacks into a wall. He edges his way along in search of the window to escape.
The strong vibrations and pungent smell inform him of the creature’s close proximity. He gasps, then finds the opened window. He propels his body through it, but something snags his leg and pulls him back inside.
Dense fog prevents a clear image, but Grant detects a silhouette of the creature. Its height reaches the ceiling, and it appears to have a wingspan nearly as wide as the room. He feels several sharp objects sinking into his leg, and his screams of pain fill the room.
“Stormy!” Tessalyn shouts. “You know better than that. Take your damn meal to your room, and don’t get blood anywhere else in my house!”
The creature obliges, then drags Grant out of the room, and down a hallway.
“Tessa!” Grant screams. “Please, help me. Why are you doing this?”
The creature drags Grant into a foul-smelling room. The diminished fog allows him to see the source of the odor; unconsumed bloodied bones and human remains occupy space at the back of the room. Grant’s heart races and he shifts his gaze toward the massive creature and finds its red eyes glaring back at him.
Stormy opens his mouth, reveals a set of long, sharp teeth, then releases a menacing roar. His rancid breath rushes toward Grant, causing him to gag.
He looks toward the doorway. “Tess! Tess!” Cough. Cough.
Grants realizes his hollering angers the beast, so he stops hollering for Tessalyn in hopes of calming Stormy. He looks in one corner of the bedroom and finds a substantial structure consisting of branches and dead leaves, and realizes it serves as Stormy’s lair. Grant dares another glimpse of the winged creature, and he spots blood-tinged mucus hanging from the corners of its mouth. His stomach churns, and he looks away before the growing panic consumes him.
Movement grabs his attention, and he looks back toward the door. He notices Tessalyn stepping into the room. She halts in the doorway, closes her eyes and lifts her face upward, similar to when they hid in the tree. Fog spews from her hands and fills the room.
“Ok, Stormy, you’ve got plenty of mist to keep your skin moist and a fresh meal, too. I’m heading out for a few days, but will have another meal for you when I return.” She turns and closes the door behind her.
“Please, Tessa. Help me!” he begs. “Don’t…”
His plea is interrupted by a searing pain in his leg. Stormy’s teeth are deep inside his flesh, and the snapping of his femur bone resonates throughout the room. His leg is torn off, and his eyes fly open with horror. Grant’s mouth opens in a grimace of pain, and his throat releases a howl of anguish. He digs his fingers into the floorboards and tries to crawl away from the creature, toward the door.
Stormy swallows his leg in one gulp then lunges downward for another mouthful.
Darkness closes in on Grant, and he senses warmth around his head as it becomes engulfed inside the creature’s mouth. A moment later, he succumbs to eternal silence and darkness.