Rory bit his bottom lip and pulled his eyebrows close together while his pen darted across the paper. He spoke the line aloud. “The dense fog rolled in from the East.”
Ah, what a fun first line; very atmospheric! Rory thought with a smile. I’m finally doing it, I’m becoming a horror writer just like I always dreamed!
“Ah, the glorious first line, where every writer’s journey begins.”
Rory glanced to his left. A middle-aged man wearing a navy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit and three days of gray beard stubble sat bare-foot and cross-legged on the bed. He sighed heavily and lit a cigarette. Rory handed the man an ashtray that was perched on the corner of his desk, half overflowing. .
“I didn’t expect to see you so soon,” Rory said.
The man shrugged. “You called so here I am. Now, let’s hear that first line again.” He took a long drag from the cigarette and exhaled.
Rory repeated, “The dense fog rolled in from the East,” then added, “Articulating the mounting dread of the deepening gloom…”
The man on the bed sputtered and stifled a laugh.
“What?” Rory asked sheepishly.
“Kid, you’re not Edgar Allan Lovecraft,” the man said.
“I’m not trying to be…besides, you’re mixing up their names.” Rory gripped his favorite pen tight and cleared his throat. “If you’re not going to help, please be quiet.”
“Sure thing. Sorry, kid,” the man said.
Rory rolled his shoulders and adjusted in his creaky, antique wooden chair. “And please don’t call me kid, I’m forty-seven years old.”
“Hey, it’s never too late, right?” The man said with a laugh.
“That is right.”
Rory turned back to his paper and began again, reading to himself as he plunged into the story. “…A veil of impenetrable darkness fell over the land and beckoned the pale shroud of mist toward the coastal New England village…”
“Oh my God, I love it! I’m so excited!” The man hollered, bouncing on Rory’s bed, then yelling, “Rory smiled wide and continued to write!”
Rory stopped smiling and glared at the man. “Why did you say that?”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
“That’s why you hired me, kid.”
“No,” Rory said flatly. “I hired you to provide inspiration, not stage direction.”
The man held up his palms. “Hey, just trying to help.”
Rory let out a deep breath. “Okay. Well, please, just…be patient with me and I’ll let you know when I need you.”
“Alright then,” the man said. He lit another cigarette and asked, “But, before you get back to it, answer me this: What’s in the fog, Rory?”
Rory tapped his pen on the desk. “Um, I don’t know. It’s just creepy fog, that’s all.”
“Just good old, creepy fog?”
“Uh-hu,” Rory replied, nodding.
“Like that creepy fog,” the man said, pointing to the bedroom window with his cigarette holding hand.
Rory looked. A thick haze of pale fog pushed against the window like a stranger pleading to be sheltered from the terror of the night. His eyes widened in wonder. His pen trembled against the page.
“You should let it in, Rory,” the man said.
“Why?” Rory asked in a near whisper, still gazing into the swirling fog.
“It’ll be good for the story. You want to do what’s best for the story, don’t you Rory?”
The fledgling writer nodded. “Yes, of course I do.”
“Then open the window.”
“For the story…” Rory whispered as he went to the window, turned the latch, and raised the glass.
Thick, ghostly tendrils weaved their way into Rory’s room. The fog glided across every surface, filling the space and obscuring every object. Rory stumbled toward his desk.
“I can’t see!” Rory screamed.
“Follow my voice,” said the man, his words bouncing and echoing in thin, distant reverberations.
“Why are you so far away?” Rory shouted.
“I’m right over here!” The man called back. “Just a little further.”
Swinging his arms in wide half-circles, Rory lurched forward, crying out against the blinding mist.
A neighbor overheard Rory screaming while another saw him pitch forward out of the bedroom window of his sixth floor studio apartment and plunge headlong into the bricks of the courtyard floor.
The would-be horror writer’s death was ruled an accident. The police only found two helpful clues. On Rory’s desk sat a tattered paperback titled Summoning the Muse, and a piece of notebook paper, torn away from the pad under it, with the question, “What’s in the fog?” scrawled beneath what appeared to be the beginning of a story.