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It was a typical morning for Jacob Ayers.
Right up until the moment he died horribly.
He awoke at 5 a.m. No alarm clock needed. He’d always been able to do it on his own. He showered, trimmed his dark brown beard, and commented to himself in the mirror how he didn’t look a day over thirty years old. He kissed his wife, Laura, & two children - Jacob & Amy - on the forehead without stirring them from their sleep, made himself a cup of strong black coffee, and had a frosted chocolate doughnut from the stash that he had hidden behind the refrigerator that Laura didn’t know about.
He trudged out of the house into the cold, dark morning and took in a deep breath of the strong, salt air. Mist formed on the lenses of his glasses and he chuckled, as he did virtually every morning.
Suppose that’s why the town is called ‘Mist,’ he mused. The fresh air was precisely the reason that he had moved to the small, seaport village.
Jacob walked over to his beat up Ford pick-up truck and began planning out the day’s fishing schedule in his mind. He wondered what the seas were like today and if they’d give his small boat, The Anna - named after his late mother - any trouble. He stopped just short of reaching the door handle of his truck’s cab, however, and stood puzzled, staring at the strange sight that confronted him. Hovering above the foot of his driveway was a cloud of fog.
There was nothing unusual about that in a coastal town, but this fog was absolutely still, motionless. Jacob became strangely aware of his surroundings, aware of every sound: the seagulls in the bay, the gentle sound of the morning breeze, the crashing of the ocean waves pounding away at the nearby cliffs. Jacob blinked - and, in that split second that it took for his eyes to close and open again, the strange fog bank had suddenly appeared directly in front of him, and all of the sounds were silenced.
Actually, it was in front of him, behind him, to every side of him, but not on him. It was as if Jacob were standing in the calm spot at the center of a storm. It was quiet, and suddenly much warmer.
“What the hell . . . ?” Jacob said aloud to no one at all. He reached a hand out to swat at the strange formation. As he did so, the fog leaped forward - as if alive - encompassing his hand entirely. Instantly, Jacob’s world was awash in tremendous pain. He watched in horror as the flesh on his hand, then his shirt sleeve, and then his very bones, disintegrated into the fog with incredible speed. And it was moving up his arm! As Jacob opened his mouth to scream, to cry out for help, the fog engulfed his body completely.
The last sensations Jacob Ayers ever felt were tremendous pain, puzzlement, and absolute fear.
If the stocky man only known as Hollis weren’t one of the Undead - a vampire, to be exact - he was sure that he would’ve frozen to death from the cold hours ago.
From the moment that Hollis first entered the small town of Mist - under the guise of an agent of Homeland Security - he knew that the elements, the numbing cold, the salt air, the constant crashing sound of waves hitting rock, were a force to be reckoned with within the seaside community. The long, haggard coat that Hollis wore - more out of habit than need - did little to keep the sea spray from soaking his skin. Hollis had wandered from one end of the town to the other, passing rows and rows of empty houses, abandoned vehicles, and still store fronts, without finding any clue as to what had happened to the its inhabitants. The organization that Hollis actually worked for, The Circle, had intercepted the neighboring authorities’ radio chatter about the weird incident - the entire town going missing - and Hollis was dispatched to investigate. A town whose citizenry suddenly disappears without a word of warning, or cry for help, was exactly the type of situation that The Circle was created to handle, though usually outside of ‘regular’ governmental channels. Hollis quickly took control of the scene, cordoned off all of the town’s borders using that same neighboring police force (from the town of Shelby) in order to keep all others out and free from harm.
But, so far, Hollis could not find any signs of danger, any signs of a struggle, anything to indicate that anyone in Mist put up a fight against an attacker - or attackers - let alone any clues as to what actually had happened there. One hundred and eighty-five people called the town their home and they seemed to have vanished into thin air without leaving behind a trace of how they were taken.
Hollis stopped to rest at the foot of the dirt path that lead to Mist’s small and decaying electrical power plant on the outskirts of town. Being a vampire, Hollis had above-human stamina, but he refused to feed on human blood, to give into the ‘disease’ - the scarlet evil - that turned him into a monster decades ago, so his strength was depleted rapidly during the time it took him to cover the length of the community. As he rested his small frame, catching his breath, Hollis removed his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his shirt cuff. Hollis needed them to see as a further result of his not feeding on human blood. As he returned his glasses to his face, Hollis felt a slight electrical charge run through the air around him. Sensations of this sort were typical for him to experience (again, his senses were more acute than the average person’s) so, at first, he attributed the feeling to his close proximity to the power plant. But he soon realized that this was something far different. This charge wasn’t only present in the air around him, but it appeared to be moving around him, as well! Hollis stood rigid, prepared for an attack - but an attack from whom? From what? There was nothing - no other person - in the area at all.
Hollis saw no one, smelled no one, heard no one.
Then, at once and with utterly no warning, it formed above the dirt road before him - a strange, swirling cloud of fog. Hollis sharpened his vision to analyze the apparition more closely and it suddenly enveloped him. Without seeming to move at all, the fog now totally surrounded Hollis. There was no sound inside of the fog. Hollis felt the electrical charge grow, his skin begin to moisten and tingle. And then he heard a voice inside of his head. A female voice that pierced the silence.
“You’re different from the rest. I can taste it in you.” The voice echoed in Hollis’ mind. It left him with a slight headache. His eyes began to water. “This language of yours - your words - are clumsy, but I had to know more about you.”
“Who - what - are you?” Hollis answered.
“You don’t need to know about me. Out of all of the others that I’ve consumed in this town, you are different. You taste sour. I like it. Tell me, what are you?”
Hollis didn’t respond.
“I asked, what. Are. YOU?” This time the voice invading his consciousness caused Hollis’ entire skull to vibrate. He lost his balance, staggered, and could feel blood drip from his nostrils. Through all of this, however, Hollis continued to remain silent. He didn’t utter a sound.
Then the fog closed in around Hollis so tightly that he could no longer see anything before his eyes. His field of vision turned grey and then the fog began to devour him alive.
The strange fog slithered its way beneath Hollis’ clothing and began to eat away at his flesh. Strangely, Hollis’ clothing and other possessions were undamaged by the mist. Perhaps it was more interested in the man this time.
Hollis’ face and hands began to burn as if on fire. If he were a typical vampire at the apex of his strength, Hollis’ unique physiology would have begun to repair the damage being wrought upon his body almost instantly. However, Hollis was weak from his refusal to drink human blood, and his healing powers were slowed significantly. They were strong enough to keep him alive, but in excruciating pain. He felt the fog’s grip on his body slack slightly and Hollis collapsed onto his ravaged knees. His bones were so brittle from being consumed that his left kneecap shattered upon impact. Hollis grunted, but refused to cry out.
Then the voice of the cloud filled his thoughts once again. “You do not die as easily as the others in this town. You should prove an interesting experiment. After all, we came to your plain of existence to learn more about you, our neighbors. Your ways. Your weaknesses.”
The echoing voice scrapping against the corners of Hollis’ mind, combined with the seething pain of his body being eaten away - yet failing to yield to the release of death - was almost too much for Hollis to bear. But he was of strong will. While the fog engulfed him, it continued to lower its defenses - to underestimate the vampire - so, Hollis, with all of the strength that he could raise, slowly began to move a hand inside of his coat; he then slowly managed to reach an inner pocket, and to finally grasp the polished metal cylinder resting within that pocket.
“How long will it take for you to perish? We must know! How many more are there like you?”
“Oh,” Hollis uttered through gritted teeth. “I’m one. Of. A. Kind.”
He withdrew the cylinder and pressed down on the small button resting on its top. A vent, running the length of the cylinder’s side, opened. The silence inside of the mist was shattered as the tremendous power locked within the tiny metal device escaped outwards, away from Hollis, and into the alien fog. A tremendous force sucked away what little oxygen there was inside of the confined space. Hollis felt his flesh again being ripped from bone, this time being taken by the black hole-like vacuum generated from within the cylinder. Sunlight began to break through the mist in patches as the cloud, helpless and powerless, was also sucked into the cylinder.
The voice inside of Hollis’ skull let out an unholy, inhuman cry. Hollis felt his head tremble, could feel blood drip from his eyes and ears, and he slumped to the ground as the mist-cloud fully released its grip on his body.
“What is this?! What is . . . ” the alien voice now trailed away, as if being dragged free from his mind and out of this reality, “happening . . . ?!”
The vent closed as the mist was instantaneously packed and sealed within the powerful device - which now seemed to hover above the ground of its own strange will. The screaming stopped. There was now only pain. The sounds of crashing waves against rock, the distant cries of seagulls, were the only sounds. The cylinder fell harmlessly to the ground a few inches away from Hollis’ feet. Hollis tried to reach for it, only to find that his right arm was missing from the elbow down. He was also missing both legs and the skin atop of his head. The cylinder had taken away more than just the other dimensional fog.
Hollis breathed deeply and rested what remained of his body in the dirt. Already he could slowly feel his body beginning to repair itself: a strange itching followed by the sensation of all of his muscles being tugged in all directions at once. He grimaced, knowing it would take several hours, perhaps the rest of the day, before he could leave the town of Mist on his own two legs. Hollis scooped up the cylinder with his left hand, placed it back inside what was left of his now torn and tattered coat, and then clawed into the dirt with his fingers. Hollis then began to tediously drag his torso towards a patch of bushes alongside the road. A nice place to hide, to sleep.
As he closed his eyes, Hollis realized how lucky he was that he had visited The Circle’s armory before leaving on this latest assignment. How lucky it was that he had the forethought to bring along the cylinder on this mission.
“Always be prepared,” Hollis whispered, and he laughed aloud. The action hurt incredibly, so he stopped and closed his eyes, and thought of the strange cloud now trapped inside of the container. Perhaps Xavier or the specialists at The Manor - The Circle’s base of operations - could provide some answers as to what exactly it was.
One thing was very certain in Hollis’ mind as he drifted off to blissful sleep - this was far from the end of the story . . .