Written by Keith ‘Doc’ Raymond
The day after the fog settled on the world, it seemed it had never been any other way. The sun became a memory, diffused in haze. The fog hugged the earth, or floated high above, out of reach, but always there. Jets could not fly above it, and we did not have the will to leave the atmosphere.
Satellites returned images of the blanket over the globe. ‘Gray soup’ one talking head declared it. Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, the fog cast a pall over everything bright and cheerful. Folks didn’t have the energy to be depressed about it after a while. It defied explanation and wouldn’t lift. Neither science nor religion could shift it. That was years ago.
Explanations abounded, but answers remained absent. ‘A post-pandemic deliverance from light,’ whispered in hushed tones we heard everywhere people gathered seeking an explanation.
Deidre headed south from Ireland and Gerald headed north from South Africa both seeking the sun. They converged in Marseilles, elbowing each other, attempting to see a witless speaker at the port. It ended abruptly, when a woman used her broom to shove the man into the bay. Those gathered didn’t laugh, nor even react.
As people dispersed, Deirdre offered the hungry looking black man she elbowed a coffee and croissant.
“I’d love a bouillabaisse,” he answered.
“So would I, but it’s a bit early in the day for that, mate,” she responded.
“How can you tell?”
Deirdre watched the woman that had brushed the guy off his soap box . She returned to sweeping the floor at her cafe. She was muttering curses to herself, Deirdre suspected, as she popped her ‘P’s. “I go by looking at the restaurants around here. C’mon, there’s a boulangerie up the street.”
He followed her like a lost puppy, and in a way he was. He was just off the boat from Africa. “Your English is good,” Gerald noted, sparking up the conversation as they walked in silence.
Deirdre smiled, “I’m not French. I came from Ireland.”
“Looking for the sun?” he asked. It was a common question.
“Thought I might find it nearer the equator, maybe in the Sahara where it’s hot.”
“Sorry to disappoint. I just came from there. More gray soup. Save your time and money.”
Her look of despair was plain. The grass was no longer greener, only a uniform brown everywhere, or gray rather. Even colors were bleaching as people entered monochrome. Fishing around for something to say, she offered, “I’m Deirdre, you?”
“Gerald, just Gerald, no Gerry.”
“Right then, Gerald. Here we are. How do you take it?”
“How do I take what? The weather? This fog?”
“Nay, your coffee, ya dosser.”
“Black like me.”
“You’re a cheeky bugger!”
Gerald smiled; his first time in Europe. He rethought her command of the language with all her slang. They were two folks cast adrift. Both seeking the sun, both disappointed. Meeting at the edge between two continents. As they sat with their coffee and croissants, they both wondered which way to go next.
“It’s a zombie apocalypse,” Gerald said, glancing around at all the blank faces slurping and munching. Even those in conversation seemed to murmur conspiratorially and shift their gaze when the foreigners looked back at them.
“Effects of the after party.”
He looked at her funny.
“The pandemic, the dumbing down. You know, this fog has seeped inside us. It swamped us. A brain fog inside and out.”
He nodded. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Deirdre,” she answered, flipping her hair like she used to when she was a teen. She didn’t mean to flirt, maybe it was an act of despair. “So where to?”
“Find a hotel, check-in…”
“No, I mean, long term,” she said blushing, thinking he had ulterior motives.
“What do you say? We go East? Maybe out to the islands?”
“We are looking for the same thing. Sunshine. Why not?”
Her mind was going several places at once. He watched the play of thoughts roving over her face. “I dunno. I’m a loner.”
“Me too. Loners together alone.” His white teeth gleamed as he smiled. “Maybe save some cash. Two alone is cheaper than one.”
Deirdre looked out the window, thinking. A ray of sunlight burst through the fog. She pointed, and soon everyone else pointed at it. They pushed and shoved, getting out the door to track it across the sky. People raced after it, their faces staring upward, hoping to catch some on their faces.
Gerald and Deirdre ran down to the port. People were shouting and pointing. It wasn’t much. A strip of sunlight drifting west to east. Cars crashed into each other, trying to catch up to it as it moved across the field of fog. A cacophony of horns and raised voices. Old folks grabbed their chests, gasping, falling to their knees. Kids danced joyously. Then it was gone.
The pall of fog fell back across the city. Cars stopped, people froze. They willed the rays of sunlight back. Prayed for it. It was a tease, a broken promise. All the while, a news bulletin blared out into the street from TVs talking about the freak incident. The sunlight started in France, crossed the border into Italy, then vanished.
“The sun moved the wrong way,” a mother uttered in French.
“No, no, always west to east.”
This led to arguments and yelling while Deirdre and Gerald watched, amused. Their hearts sank, feeling the loss of the sun once more. Not willing to fight over it like the others.
Gerald turned to Deirdre, “It’s a sign. We go East.”
“East might be okay. The sun rises there, right? It may rise for us.”
“I like the ‘us’ part.”
“I do too,” Deirdre answered, and flipped her hair, feeling girlish.
Dr. Raymond is an Emergency Physician. He practiced in eight countries in four languages. When not writing, he is scuba diving. In 2008, he discovered the wreck of a Bulgarian freighter in the Black Sea.