The tiniest drop of condensation fell from the side mirror of the sedan. It was fascinating. Only a lunatic, I suppose, would marvel at this. But if I could have stood up, I would have jumped for joy. Maybe not. With a fat lip, an eye swollen shut, and a broken femur; my grunt would have to suffice. I lay there propped up on one elbow looking around, hopelessly searching for anyone else that could share in this joy with me. Alas, no one.
Who cares though? I thought. Change. Blessed change. Surely it must be over.
I pushed up from my sprawl to a sitting position.
Three hours prior, I had created a splint for my leg. The cold had kept it, as well as my other limbs, numb and less affected than they would have been otherwise. But at this point, noticing that the nightmare was soon to be over, my consciousness became aware of the pain all the more. I could no longer sit and wait for the Vapors to inevitably attack me again. There was hope now. I had to get up and move. But where to? I wondered. The gas station was the only building left uninhabited by the noxious haze and no matter how much hope built in me, I would not venture again into those prisons. The gas station though? I questioned, ...too risky. Surely they knew that I would get desperate and go for a phone or at least a weapon. No. I would head for the crimson line.
I reached for the side mirror of the sedan, which had previously owned the departed droplet, but I fell back down when it broke from my weight upon it. My grunt, audibly no different than that of my joyous outcry prior, seemed loud in this silence so impenetrable by nature's common sounds. Death is silent. But there was a renewed hope that I was not yet among those lost. I pushed up from the ground and dragged my right broken leg, straightened within its splint, around so that I was balancing on my left knee with my right leg jutted out for support. I pushed up from the ground with my hands. I am sure I would have looked comical to any passerby who saw a man in his thirties doing what probably looked like a yoga stretch in the middle of the street. It's funny how embarrassment can creep in, even when no one is watching. In this case, no one was alive to watch. Death and silence ensued and thus my pause did not grip for long. I slowly brought my right leg towards my left and I was at last standing.
I made my way up the road in the direction that the abandoned sedan had once trekked towards. The Vapors first order of business had been to eliminate any communication with the outside world. The second was to remove any possibility of transportation.
"The prey must be confined."
That is what I had overheard them say and, actually, it was the only thing I had ever heard from them. The emanation of the sound was breathy and even resembled hissing. It was this eavesdropping that had caused me my existing infirmities hours ago. Why they left me alive I cannot say. But as I limped slowly along the road, I could not help but ponder the possibilities. I had not seen anyone survive an encounter with the Vapors. In all truth, I had not seen anything after an encounter with the Vapors. For, with each attack and accompanying every scream came the victim’s disappearance. There was no doubt in me that they were dead. The sounds that emitted from the victims breached the bounds of what natural vocal cords can do. It was as if the screams were dragged ruthlessly out of them from the deep recesses of their souls. No, there could not exist in me any hope that any of my fellow prisoners were alive. Hope was costly and I would only rest on it in the empirical.
While I did not endure their screams and howls, personally, I did taste the sharp bite of the greatest pain I had ever encountered in my life. The blows I had received all occurred within the short span of a few seconds. It all happened at once and, of course, I did not see anything. I only felt it. But "only felt" is a poor description. What I felt was unlike anything I had ever felt. The intensity of pain was unimaginable. The lingering pain, though somewhat numbed by the cold, only intensified the sense of vulnerability I felt. It was a shock of pain one cannot psychologically come back from all of the way I suppose. At least the irritation and itchiness of my face had subsided.
I stopped moving. Something was wrong. I cannot say how long I was being watched. All I knew was that my thoughts were interrupted by the certainty that I was not alone.
Obviously, the Vapors could not be seen. However, I can only describe my perception as that which comes from seeing things in a marriage of spirit and imagination. It was like driving in your car at night and glancing in your rear view mirror, startled by the thought of someone being there. But of course, no one was there. However, the mind's eye gave features likely drawn in recollection of a thousand images from movies and television. And yet, even as an antiquated adult who lives beyond the confines of childish imagination, one still may find himself with shivers on the back of his neck. This was what I felt. I saw nothing. But with each glance from left to right, my mind conjured an image.
I shuddered in the fear of my foes. There was no running. There was only the vain attempt of pressing on and hoping that their earlier halt of my murder would somehow extend to the present. Maybe they were amused by my weakness. Maybe they simply enjoyed the sport of watching their broken prey suffer. One thing I did know was that their words, "The prey must be confined" ensured that at some point my attempt to cross the crimson line they had drawn around our town would be challenged.
It had been forty-three days since the fog and chill descended upon our quaint town. I can only assume that targeting a hick town with a population of one hundred and nine was the best way to avoid attention. Over the course of those forty-three days it became more and more absurd to me that the outside could know nothing of our town’s siege. My analysis had turned to mere pondering as the certainty of my own personal hopelessness enveloped me. I think it must have been about two weeks into our imprisonment that I no longer looked out the windows for hope of rescue.
When driven from our homes by the noxious fumes that corrupted the very tissue of our lungs, we became nomadic and then eventually solitary. Our inability to speak to one another, a side effect of the fumes, made our scattering and division inevitable with each subsequent attack. Thus, at this point, I had felt certain that I was the only one left alive. It had been at least a week since I saw anyone scurry among the brush. Crawling toward the sedan in the middle of the street had been, what I thought was, my last effort before they would come and finish me off. But then there was the dewdrop.
In the entirety of the last forty-three days the fog and chill had been unnaturally stagnant. While fog can often linger in the air, it always subsides. But this fog was like a gloss over all things in view, like a plastic fog. And the chill was even worse. It was like stepping into a commercial freezer. The air was cold. It was as if my town had been born cold. However, when I saw the droplet, I knew something had changed. Change had to mean that the nightmare was almost over.
I quickened my pathetic pace. With a broken leg, that didn't mean very much. What else was I to do but hope that at least confronting the crimson line would enable me to leave the perimeter should it be true that somehow their power had weakened. Others might not have jumped at such a thin thread of hope. However, when deprivation is your closest companion, any form of hope can seem a worthwhile and grandiose endeavor.
At this point, I was functioning on pure adrenaline. I was certain that they had surrounded me now. I sensed them along both sides of the road. Each time I glanced to the left I would see a blurred figure in my peripheral on the right. And the same was true on the other side. But I was seeing them! Surely this was evidence of their weakness.
Then the hissing came. No discernible words registered. The sound started out low and grew rapidly. My eyes went down to the road at my feet. My heart was beating almost out of my chest. If I could speak I would have yelled in protest to what seemed to be taunts. The sound grew into a roar. I put my hands to my ears and tried to muffle it but to no avail. I fell to the ground groaning in agony as the hissing tore into my eardrums. I could not think. I only felt pain.
Through squinting eyes I looked up from the road and saw a crimson powder just a few feet away. I pushed forward with my elbows and one knee, still clutching my ears. I reached out towards the line extending my fingers upon the line of powder.
It was in this moment that in spite of the excruciating pain of my ears a new feeling emerged. Warmth. Yes, warmth began to emerge from my broken leg and my face. Quickly the pain, not including my ears, was overcome by a warmth I had not felt since before this nightmare had begun. Then the pain in my ears subsided. My vision started to change. What was white fog transitioned to a rouge. Everything except for the once crimson line of powder became red tinted. The line itself transformed into the brightest and purest white I had ever seen.
My horror had changed to wonder in but a moment with all that was occurring around me. My inclinations changed too. I no longer wanted to leave. In fact, I found myself determined not to. This was my town. I was here first.
"We all were." I heard from everywhere and nowhere.
I shook my head experiencing a fog of my own within the confines of my mind. Then I realized that it was in fact I who had spoken.
Why would I say that? I thought.
“…and how am I finally able to speak?” I asked aloud.
My hands began to tingle. I raised them in front of me with palms up only to find that they were beginning to shimmer in a ruby light. Just as I was turning them over the light faded and they became translucent. I would see them no more. Yet I was gaining a new sight. And then it all became clear.