“Hudson, school’s been cancelled.”
Hudson walked out of his room with his Pokemon shirt half on and no pants. “Why?”
“There’s fog today.”
“That’s dumb,” he said, putting his arm through the sleeve. “Chase and me were going to be captains at kickball today.
“At least you have an extra day to practice your spelling words.”
“Mom!” he said angrily.
“Don’t yell at me, young man.”
“I wasn’t yelling. I’m just mad. It makes me so mad. I never get to be captain ’cause Donnie and Cliff always hog it. Except today. Who cares about fog? It’s dumb.”
“It’s not dumb,” his mother said. “The school’s concerned about your safety.”
Hudson made a face and slammed the door to his room.
A moment later, his mom was standing in the doorway. “Come here.”
Hudson studied his Pokemon Encyclopedia. “Why?”
“Come here. Now.”
Hudson sighed, bookmarked his place and came, staring at her defiantly.
“Put your shoes on.”
“You heard me. Get some pants on, and then go put your shoes on.”
“I don’t wan–”
He finished dressing and then walked downstairs to the front door and slid his flip-flops on. His mother called down from upstairs. “Your real shoes. Not your flip-flops.”
Growling, Hudson kicked off the flip-flops and put on his gym shoes. His mother came down the stairs with a rope in her hand. “Arms up.” He obeyed and she tied the rope around his waist.
“I’m not going outside, mom.”
“You said it was dumb,” she said. “Time to go outside.”
“I don’t want to go. I was reading.”
She knelt down to his level and looked him in the face. He looked away. “Everyone goes into the fog sometime. It’s your turn. I want you to go to the end of the block. Then you can come back. Out you go.”
She flipped on the porch light, unlocked the front door and walked out with him. (In her flip-flops, he noticed). She held the coil of rope and tied it to a post. “You’re a big boy. Go on. It’s just fog.”
The dull white wall waited at the first step. He could not see beyond. “Fine.” He walked down the steps. He could no longer see his house or his feet. When he put his arm in front of him, he could not see his hand.
“Keep going,” his mother said. She sounded three houses down.
“I am!” he shouted.
It was different from being in the dark, this fog. It seemed he should be able to see. Sometimes, he thought he did. That black shape was their minivan. The sidewalk started just beyond it.
Something–someone–was standing there, waiting for him.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“My mom sent me out. She’s trying to make me mad.”
Hudson stepped closer. The boy was about his height. He could not see him clearly. “I just have to go to the corner.”
“Lucky. Can I come with you?”
They started walking together.
“It’s not that bad,” Hudson said. “You just have to go slow.”
“Where do you think the houses go?”
“What do you mean? They’re there. You just can’t see them.”
“That isn’t how this works. If you walk across the street, you might end up in another state when the fog lifts. Another country. MY dad told me. And my aunt said she saw her dead husband in the fog. She talked to him.”
Hudson said nothing. His aunt had said something like that, too. He had forgotten it until now. “It shouldn’t be long to the corner,” he said, half to himself.
“Why not?” asked the boy.
“My house is halfway down the block.”
“So?” The boy grabbed his hand. “Come with me. Let’s explore.”
“I–I have to get home. My mom’s waiting.”
“How long?” the boy asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How long has it been? An hour? A day?”
“We just left my house.” But when he tried to recall the time, he was not sure. He may have walked for ten minutes already, or twenty.
“We can go anywhere, do anything,” the boy said. “As long as we have the fog. Come on. Let’s have fun. You ever been to the ocean? The fog rolls in there all the time.”
Hudson stopped. Something stopped him. He reached down and found the rope around his waist. “I need to go home.”
The boy tugged his arm. “Come on. She’ll just yell at you. She’ll never find you until you want her to.”
“No,” Hudson said. He was really scared now, but did not want to cry in front of this boy. He was sure the boy would hear him cry even if the boy could see him.
“My mom tied a rope. I have to go back.”
“I’ll cut you loose. I have a knife.”
Hudson heard the blade. He heard almost nothing in the thick wet air, but he heard the slide of metal as he opened the knife. “No!”
“Come on. Don’t be a baby.”
Hudson grabbed the line of the rope and began to follow it back, walking fast.
“Where are you going?”
Hudson did not answer.
“Hey, come back here.”
Hudson began to run, pulling himself along the rope as fast as he could. He stumbled over the uneven ground. It seemed to be rock, or sand, or sometimes a hill of loose dirt. The boy called for him, very near, but he didn’t look back. Even if he did, he knew he wouldn’t see the boy, not until the knife cut him free.
He fell as his foot found the first step. He scrambled up the next two and was on the little front porch where his mom waited, the porch light struggling against the fog. She wrapped him in her arms and he cried a little, hoping she didn’t notice.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It was just your imagination. I’m here for you. I’m here.”