Miasma | Ilan Jones

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“Are you coming tonight?” Allison’s voice crackled over the receiver. “Or what?” The frustration in her words accented by a heavy electric buzzing. David thought for several seconds about how to tell her but there was no easy way around it. She was going to be mad either way.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” Came his timid reply. “I mean, have you looked outside?” Before the words had fully left his mouth he could hear her heavy sigh. A burst of static blared over the receiver forcing him to hold the phone away from his ear. What the hell is going on? He wondered as he tapped on the cell phone screen to see if he could determine the cause of the madness outside. Surely, there would be some sort of notification or public safety announcement. One would think that the police or the government would, at the very least, want to warn people to stay indoors.

“Are you kidding me?” Allison’s distorted voice squawked out of the hovering phone. I knew she’d be mad. She’ll only get angrier if I don’t respond and then she’ll get mean or worse start crying, he thought, whilst fumbling through his phone’s display. After finding nothing of value to aid his situation he placed the phone back up to his ear.

“I can’t believe you David! I told you months ago that this dinner was coming up and now you’re trying to back out? You know, sometimes I wonder if-” her tirade carried on and on, answered only by David’s halfhearted “I know”’s and “I’m sorry”’s. He knew this script and all of his lines. She would carry on about the importance of herself, and her job, and her friends, and her boss, and just how bad he was making her look in front of all of them. When she tired of that she would assuredly move into pointing out his faults and why he didn’t deserve her. She offered no surprises tonight. Under ordinary circumstances he would listen for an opening to issue one of his rehearsed apologies, but as he stared out the window of his apartment he was finding it exceedingly difficult to keep track of all that she was saying.

The scene on the streets below was something he never could have imagined, nor was it something he was comfortable admitting was real. Though, in light of everything he was witnessing, it was impossible to deny that the rules of reality were no longer discernible. Here it was supposed to be five in the afternoon on a once sunny summer day and yet, the city was completely dark. It wasn’t merely dim outside. Not like the passing of a cloud over the sun’s face. No, it was dark, dark as night. The city was devoid of light, save for the smattering of lights shining from apartment windows and the ghostly orange glow of street lamps.  It was as if the sun itself had been consumed by some creeping malignancy. He hated thinking about things in such terms but that’s exactly how it had been.

David had only just made it home to shower and change his clothes from his jog, when the fog or smoke or whatever it was had descended suddenly upon the city. In an instant the world outside had gone completely dark. The moment the curtain of false night had fallen he heard the collective screams of the crowds of people who had been milling about the streets only moments before rising up to an agonized crescendo. He raced across the room to see whats was happening, but by the time he had made it to the window all he could see were the silent streets below littered with the ashen shapes of fallen bodies disintegrating slowly into the gentle wind outside. The glittering embers at the edges of their crumbling forms made him think of the white line silhouettes one would see at a crime seen.

“Are you even listening?” Allison’s harsh voice pulled him back to the present. Despite her fury, he still could not tear his eyes away from the slow moving chaos outside.

“Yes, of course I am.” He said, watching the little pulses of light erupting here and there in the thickest parts of the fog. Ranging from lavender to crimson, the crackling bursts of light seemed to materialize out of thin air and reminded him of thunderstorms when seen from far away. Entranced by the macabre beauty, his heart nearly leapt from his chest when the bright lights of a yellow taxi came creeping out of the black fog and meandered its way through the lines of abandoned cars. It was the first movement he had seen outside since all of this had  begun.

“Then you’re coming, right?”Before he could answer his attention was drawn to a flutter of movement out of the corner of his eye. Glancing upwards, he saw it was the cute girl who lived in the apartment across the terrace. Bianca? No, Bridget He remembered as he watched her looking down from her window with her phone pressed against her ear. The taxi must be for her he thought as the car pulled into the loading zone out front. He watched her hurriedly throw on her coat and shoes then immediately disappear from sight. In the next moment the light from her window snapped off as she ran out her door. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I thought.

“David?” Allison’s voice had grown shrill “David, are you there?”

“Yeah, babe. I’m hear.”

“Then why won’t you answer me? You know sometimes I don’t even think you care about me. Is that it, huh? You don’t love me anymore?” Were Allison to have had anything new to say he may have found it easier to take his mind off of the troubles outside. As it was, he could do nothing but fixate on the entrance to the building across the way, wondering when next  Bridget might appear again. He had only spoken to her a hand full of times but every encounter they shared left him reminiscing for hours about what it would be like to be with someone who always had a smile for him. When Bridget spoke, however brief their conversations had been, he would hang on her every word, preferring her melodic, lilting speech to Allison’s constant complaints and put downs. Afterwards, he always felt bad for comparing the two in his head but as circumstances were none of that mattered. Right now he could only hope for the girl’s safety. If she took the elevator she should be out any second, he thought watching the swirling mists. It was becoming harder and harder see through the sooty gray vapors and the rapidly increasing flashes in the dark did little to ease his anxieties.

“I swear, David. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in this relationship! Is that how it is David? Are you no longer in love with me?”

“Allison, no! Its not that! I just. It’s just, I’m…” There she was! The door of the opposing building flew open. Through the dark he could only just make out the figure of the young woman as she ran towards the glowing beams of the taxi’s headlights. What was that? Had the wind shifted? No, the fog was moving of its own accord! It was was gathering in the wake of Bridget’s every step and moving fast. Faster than her! If she didn’t run faster it would soon overtake her! She passed out of view of David’s bedroom window. Running to the kitchen window, he nearly crashed through the glass trying to get a better view, but she was not there! Had she made it to the taxi? Was she safe somewhere else? Desperately he scanned the courtyard for any sign of life.

There she was. “Or that’s where she must’ve been” he muttered, staring at the hovering cloud only a few yards from the awaiting taxi. Low to the ground and flashing with all the intensity of an electrical storm, a pitch black mound of fog enveloped an area about Bridget’s size. Her escape had been for nothing. He knew what would follow. He didn’t need to wait at the window to know that in the next instant the cloud would dissipate leaving behind only a charred pile of ash like it had done for all the others. Slowly the taxi pulled away. Its glowing red taillights disappearing into the dark like the eyes of some beast dragging away its prey.

“Excuse me?” Allison’s static filled voice burst its way over the receiver. “Do you mind telling me who “she” is?” Every word she spoke dripped with caustic accusations. He couldn’t think. Why couldn’t she shut up for just one moment? This is why he kept silent most of the time. It had always been easier than to argue.

“Where are you?” He said ignoring her question.

“Where am I?” She scoffed “I’m at the restaurant, where you promised you would be! Look everyone else will be here soon, you need to hurry! I don’t want everyone to think I came here alone. Do you understand? You owe this to me!”

“I can’t Allison! Have you seen the weather outside?” He could feel his pulse rising. She didn’t like when he snapped at her. He would really be in for it now.

“The weather?” She said, somehow ignoring his slight. Maybe the poor signal had covered it up? “David it’s a beautiful seventy five degree day. What are you talking about?” Why would she say that? How could it be just fine? The restaurant was some twenty blocks away. Could it be this “event” was local to his neighborhood alone? He couldn’t comprehend what he was hearing.

“You’re saying there’s no fog there? Or smoke? No tiny lightning? What about people? Are their people still out on the streets?” Hearing the desperation in his own voice scared him even more. How could something like this have gone unnoticed in other parts of the city?

“David,” She said “Is everything okay?”

“No everything is not okay! Answer my questions!”

“Sweetheart, everything is fine here. Seriously, what is going on with you tonight?” Her voice sounded strange, almost sympathetic, for her anyway, but strange none the less. Like it had been layered or mingled somehow with the voice of another. He couldn’t quite place why it sounded so wrong. Was it deeper or, perhaps, echoed? Whatever he had heard was undoubtedly foreign to the Allison he knew.

“What’s wrong with your voice?” he asked, finding his own voice quavering. He could feel the invisible hand of some nameless fear creeping up his shoulders to grip around his neck.

“My voice?” She said sounding genuinely confused “Nothing is wrong with my voice. Its probably just the signal. Where are you? The reception has been horrible this entire phone call.” She had a point.


“Yeah?” He said after a long moment. He no longer knew what to believe.

“I’m worried.”


“Yes worried. All this about fog and tiny lightning, are you sure you’re feeling okay?” He didn’t know what to say. He had felt perfectly normal just a few hours before but now he was doubting his sanity. Never before had he heard her take an interest in his well being. He didn’t know what to make of it, but at least it gave him a moment to breathe.

“I… Yes, I’m feeling okay. Its just…” He heard her sigh through the phone as he struggled to find the words to explain.

“Its okay, I get it.” She said. The caring tone of her voice made her sound even more alien than before.

“You do?”

“Yes! You’re overworked!”

“I am?”If he was, he hadn’t noticed. The bank hadn’t been anymore busy than usual, his bosses were pleased with him and in general he had never found his role as a loan officer as anything but boring.

“How else would you explain all of this David? If I didn’t know you like I do, and let’s face it I know you better than you know yourself, I’d say you’re starting to go a bit nutty.” He let the condescension wash over him while watching the flashes of electric light outside that seemed to pulse and dance in time with her every syllable. “Who can blame you? You’ve been working non-stop to pay for our wedding and the honeymoon and everything else. Sweetheart, you need a break!”

He sat down at the kitchen table thinking about all she had said. He couldn’t speak a word. He could only listen to the warbling signal coming over the call while staring out the kitchen window. The wind parted the now very dense fog exposing the cobbles of the courtyard below. Black streaks were all that remained of the ashen piles of people he had seen. Or, at least thought he had seen. A shiver ran down his spine. Maybe she’s right. No, he decided she’s always right.

You know I’m right.” Her voice broke through his thoughts. So often was she right, that at times he swore she could read his mind. “I tell you what, let’s skip tonight’s dinner.” His breath caught in his throat from disbelief. He wasn’t sure which was more shocking, the murderous fog outside or Allison’s new found demeanor.

 “Are you sure?” He asked timidly. “What about your work friends?”

“I’ll just make something up. You’re more important.” He couldn’t respond, he had never heard her say anything like this before. “You know what, meet me at my place, and I’ll do the cooking. I’ll have to stop at the store, so just let yourself in.” He felt sweat welling up on his temples. How could he refuse her? He couldn’t her remember the last time she had been this kind. It was a reminder of all the reasons he had fallen in love with her in the first place and yet, what if she was wrong? He couldn’t ignore the gnawing feeling that everything that he had witnessed this night was real. He could not explain how any of it could have been possible, but the truth of what he had seen was undeniable.  What if the moment he stepped foot out of the building the fog found him and reduced him to a pile of smoldering ash just as it had done to Bridget? What if this is all a fantasy, a delusion? The fear of falling into madness scared him most of all, twisting his stomach into painful knots. Should he leave or should he stay? It was either Allison’s wrath or potential death. He found it hard to breath.

“I…I don’t think I can leave here.” His throat felt dry.

“Nonsense,” The voice spoke. It didn’t sound like her at all. It was metallic and cold, almost physically so. “I’ll call you a taxi.”

“But-” He swallowed hard against his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.

“No, no. You can thank me later. Remember all that I’m sacrificing for you tonight. All you have to do is climb in a cab and come over.”


“I’ll see you soon, David.” The line went dead. She was no longer there. Panicking, he tried to call her back but the call refused to go through. In the silence of his apartment he closed his eyes as hard as he could. He hoped that when he opened them again it would all just go away. When he finally did the world was still dark. There had been no change at all. He watched out of the kitchen window at the soot stained world outside wondering just how long it would last. Maybe I should just stay here tonight. Maybe it will all be gone in the morning. Maybe sleep is all I need.

Contemplating his options he realized there was only one left to him. He had only ever had one option. He knew this as he watched the sickly yellow glow of the taxi’s headlights pierce the miasma just as it had done before. Lazily creeping through the graveyard of derelict cars, the taxi swung in to the loading zone, and parked, waiting for David to come down. His hands shook, he could feel his stomach lurch as if it wished to leap out of his mouth. I’ll be alright. It’s just in my head. Allison was right. She’s always right. I just need a rest. She just wants what’s best for me.

As he left the apartment he stopped and cursed himself, turning around only to turn off the light.

Ilan Jones is a horror author that lives and writes under the shadow of the mountains near the Salish Sea.

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