On a Michigan highway, thirty minutes away from Harmony County - 8:30 p.m.
FBI Special Agent Audrey Buckley was driving forty miles over the speed limit despite the disapproval of her senior partner, Marcus Davis. He had done nothing but complain for the past two days since she received the mysterious call. Audrey had urged Marcus not to come but he would not hear of it. In truth, she was happy to have the backup. If what the caller had told her were true, she would need it.
Marcus glanced out the window as the green city limit sign for Harmony County came into view. Audrey had no need to look up at the sign. Despite the lack of visibility of the highway, she knew exactly where she was. Audrey had been traveling these roads most of her life. It was only eleven months since she left Harmony County for the first time to join the FBI. A field agent less than four months, Audrey never imagined she would return home so soon—and not quite for the reason she had.
The caller had ordered Audrey to return to Harmony County to face her punishment or her father would take her place. She had not placed much stock in the warning at first. Audrey’s dad was the Sheriff after all. He knew how to take care of himself. No, it was when she tried to call her father that Audrey began to panic. Each time she phoned Harmony County, she would receive strange static and behind that in the background an eerie laugh. Even her emails were bouncing back to her stating that the recipient could not be reached.
When she told Marcus about the situation, he’d called in a few favors owed to him. The next thing Audrey knew, she and Marcus received official orders to investigate. Since then, they had taken two planes starting from California and arriving in Michigan, rented a car and been on the road for the past four hours. Harmony County was in the middle of nowhere. There was no easy access from airports, trains or bus stations. If this turned out to be no more than a prank, this could prove to be embarrassing for both her and Marcus. Deep inside, Audrey had a gut feeling that something was wrong.
As soon as the rented Saturn L200 drove into the city limits a thick mist formed. It was as though a blanket had suddenly been thrown down on top of them. Marcus had never seen the likes. He craned his head around to view the fog through the rear windshield. The nighttime scenic backdrop slowly began to be shallow into a gray smoke as they drove further inside. He was struck with the thought of a ravenous mouth of an animal closing its jaws down on its prey. Turning back, he glanced at the digital temperature gauge mounted on the dashboard. When he began rolling down the side window, Audrey threw him a confused look. The air conditioner was running full blast.
“What are you doing?” she finally asked.
“It’s strange. I’m no meteorologist but I know enough to know that conditions aren’t right for a fog. Especially not as thick as this one,” he answered.
He stuck a hand out the window and watched it disappear. It looked like his hand had been cut off leaving only a headless stump at the end of his wrist. It unnerved him and he started to reel it back inside when his palm slowly began to come visible. At first he thought the fog was dissipating but as he looked up and peered through the front windshield he realized the car had only driven through. A thick gray wall of mist remained at their rear.
Audrey had to agree with him. In the entire twenty-two years she spent in the small town, she never remembered a fog forming quite that way. She stopped the car in the middle of the road. By the time Marcus had turned to look at his partner, she was already on her way out of the Saturn.
She gazed at the thick gray mist behind them. It did not seem to be progressing forward or backward. The fog seemed to form into a solid unmoving wall of smoke. Marcus exited the car. He too, stared at the strange phenomenon. She could tell by her partner’s expression, he didn’t like what he was seeing. He held up a hand telling Audrey not to move. He started toward the fog. While she waited for him satisfy to his curiosity, she grabbed the cell phone from her purse. Surely, she would be able to reach the Sheriff’s station from here.
Up the road, she saw two bright lights moving fast in her direction. She heard the roar of a powerful engine. It was some type of vehicle. She looked in Marcus’ direction to see if he had seen the same. She could tell he had not. He was too focused on the strange mist. The headlights to the Saturn were on and she hoped the looming vehicle would slow as it approached. But it had done the opposite. It sped up.
Marcus had started back for the car and was still oblivious to the danger. Audrey called out to him. When his gaze came to hers and then seconds later beyond it--it was already too late. The vehicle was almost on top of her. She whirled back around and faced the danger. The glow of heavy headlights suddenly appeared out of the darkness. The lights seemed to be staggered somehow, disjointed, as though whatever was coming her way was splitting apart.
Two motorcycles rocketed past the Saturn just missing it and her by inches. She spun in Marcus direction. He stopped moving and stood there calm like a deer caught in someone’s headlight. She could see he was unafraid as though he encountered this type of danger everyday. He remained motionless between the two motorcycles as they swerved at the last second and shot by him.
Audrey instantly knew who the drivers were; the Dahlmann brothers. Those two were the only ones foolhardy enough to drive their cycles so crazily giving little concern for the safety of themselves and others.
Marcus was shaking his head as he watched the motorcyclists drive directly into the thick fog. Audrey was about to join her partner when she heard the sounds of metal scraping against a hard surface, followed soon afterward by horrendous screams. They were coming from the inside the fog. On instinct both federal agents drew their weapons running as fast as they could toward the cries. Marcus reached the fog first but when he tried to run through it, he bounced off the mist as though he ran into a wall. He made a whompf sound as the rush of forced air escaped his body.
Audrey figured there must be some type of unseen obstacle hidden behind the haze. She reached her partner lying dazed on the road. Bending over him, she did not see any visible bruising. Marcus was only stunned. The Dahlmann brothers’ screams were still being carried across the wind. She never really cared for either them; both bullied her and many others when they were children. Still, her heart ached for them and she couldn’t even imagine what would cause them to so much pain.
She stood and headed for the fog. Stretching her hand out ahead of her, she felt for anything inside the thick vapors that might block her passage. When her fingers touched the mist, Audrey instantly realized that it was not something behind the fog that knocked her partner senseless. It was the fog itself that was the barrier.
As uncanny as it was the Dahlmann brothers’ needed her help. She would not let the strangeness of the situation stop her from doing her job. Audrey walked the perimeter of the fog trying to feel for an opening in the mist. When she heard an animal like howl come from within the fog, she stepped back. The Dalhmann brothers’ screams became even louder. She heard the sound of clawing—gnawing teeth tearing into flesh and then silence.
Marcus got to his feet, staggering over to Audrey.
She gave him a once over with her eyes ensuring he was all right.
He had one hand pressed against his left temple. “What happened? Why haven’t you gone in to help them?”
“I can’t, the fog won’t let me,” she answered.
“Won’t let you? What do you…?”
The howl came again—this time moving toward the FBI agents. They held the weapons up pointing into the fog. Heavy footsteps lumbered loudly, getting closer. Instinctively, Audrey and Marcus backed away. Whatever was in the mist was big--maybe too big for their guns to take down. She wondered if the animal would even be able to breach the mist. Perhaps the fog kept things in as much as it did out.
Marcus did not wait for an answer. He tugged at her shoulder. In a whisper, he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“What about the two trapped inside?”
“Audrey, we both know they’re already dead. Do you want us to end up the same way?” he explained.
He was right of course and she knew it. She nodded and they moved further away from the fog keeping their guns trained in its direction. They could hear that the animal within the mist was moving slower, heading in their direction. A cat stalking her prey just before the kill flashed through her thoughts. Audrey did not think they would make it to the car. Marcus must have thought the same thing because he fired a shot into the mist. An ear piecing guttural shriek emitted from the thick cloud.
The scream sounded like nothing either of them had ever heard. They bolted for the Saturn. At the car’s door Audrey froze and stared out at the fog. The animal had stopped its scream and the sounds of heavy footfalls began to recede. Whatever was inside was backing away. The bullets may not have been enough to kill it but obviously enough to do some damage. Jumping inside, she put the car into drive. Marcus had his arm hanging out of his window, his gun trained toward the fog. He did not retract his arm until the Saturn was at least a mile later.
“Do you think that was some type of bear?” he asked.
Audrey did not answer. Her thoughts were on the Dahlmann brothers. Yes, their family had always been troublemakers in town but they did not deserve to be torn apart by some vicious animal. She also wondered if it was really Marcus’ bullets that chased the beast away. Harmony County was within a valley and there was only one road that led in or out. Had the animal retreated only because they moved away from the road leading out? Was the animal some type of sentry? If so, they were trapped along with everyone else in Harmony County. Audrey’s hometown just became their prison.