It was David’s intention to make it through his year in Decorah with as little damage to his mind and body as possible.
This intention, devised by David shortly after accepting the one-year position of visiting Writing Scholar in the Luther College English Department, was proving difficult to accomplish.
For one, there was the fog, or The Fog, as the locals had insisted on capitalizing.
Decorah, and much of the surrounding community, for three months—day and night—had been enveloped in fog. Beginning in late August, shortly before David arrived in Decorah, The Fog was a weather phenomena that baffled experts and was becoming a boon to local tourism.
The Fog began three months ago with a snow storm one afternoon in late August. Classes had started at the public school and the mixture of fog and snow was met by the townspeople with a mixture of dismay, wonder, grace, and apocalypse. For some, liberal and conservative, the dip in temperatures was a welcome excuse to begin sweater season early. The local Norwegian-American Museum’s gift shop unloaded a wealth of Norwegian sweaters on a large group of tourists stranded overnight during the snowstorm.
Soon the temperatures reverted to normal, the last of the snow melted, but nevertheless the fog remained and soon, as its presence became more permanent, townspeople began referring to it as The Fog, as if it had some sort of agency or volition.
The capitalizing, to David, seemed a tad idolatrous, and though he was mystified by its presence, the more pressing matter was the metaphorical fog hanging over his mind.
Since the minor success of his collection of essays three years prior, David’s writing had been hollow and uninspired, lacking the life and vulnerable urgency of his earlier work.
His life, it should be added, was also somewhat “hollow and uninspired, lacking the urgency of his earlier self”—that’s what Rachel had said, his ex-wife, one evening last year. She’d said it not, he sensed, out of spite, but simply because she was observing a fact.
So here he was on Thanksgiving evening, standing in his office on the top floor of Old Main, looking out over the broad spooky campus shrouded in fog, and he was utterly stymied.
He was working on a story that simply wouldn’t take shape and, after reflecting on this problem for some time, it was clear to David that a walk was the only way he was to get any work done.
He scooped up his coat, donned his cap, and as he locked his office and walked down the quiet, darkened corridor of the Old Main’s 13th floor, David, in a soft baritone, began tentatively humming an ABBA melody he couldn’t remember the name of.
He took the elevator down, and, still humming, strolled across a dark and empty lecture hall, beyond the door of which there flitted discreetly the gaunt—almost porcelain-like—face of a young woman.
Ah, reader, note must be made here of the first strange occurrence this foggy evening.
Though usually very observant, David failed to notice this young woman.
So, with hurried steps David shuffled out the building, no longer singing the ABBA melody—which he finally remembered: “Take a Chance on Me.”
He was reflecting on the day he’d spent in Rochester. He’d taken a train early in the morning, arriving in Rochester a little before the 10:10 a.m. showing of Knives Out, the new Daniel Craig whodunit from writer-director Rian Johnson. He paired the murder mystery with the wonderfully weird South Korean film Parasite.
He enjoyed the movies, he’d go so far as to say he enjoyed the day, but he couldn’t scrap the feeling that his Thanksgiving was somehow…lacking. There was the absence of his wife—ex-wife—Rachel, his parents had been gone for years, and his brother, Richard, was in…come to think of it, he couldn’t remember where his brother was. He decided he’d look into that tomorrow. He was ruminating on all of this as he walked off campus and strolled down College Drive.
No cars or pedestrians interrupted the hazy form of The Fog, only the muted glow of the street lights.
The Fog obscured the view of the river, but as he turned onto Ice Cave Road, David could hear the din of the rapids, the churning of the water, and the mixture of the sounds momentarily pressed upon him a feeling of calm.
David doesn’t know it yet, but this night will go on and on in his mind for years: the fog framing the scene, the pale outstretched hand, feeling in his heart a delicious knock (like rapping on a old wood door) and the release (like a door springing open) of his self.
But right now—as he stands before the entrance to Dunning Springs and listens to water run over rocks—he’s the most content he’s been since he dipped into this foggy valley three months ago.
He heard rustling from the path leading to the spring. A gust of wet wind slapped his back. Another rustle.
He was squinting now. Off down the path, David could faintly see the form of a young woman walking towards him.
As she walked nearer—and as The Fog between them seemed, to David, to vanish—he was momentarily paralyzed with a deep feeling of recognition he couldn’t quite decipher. There was something familiar in her gaunt, almost porcelain-like features, in the way her eyelids sloped sadly like a cocker spaniel, the broad aristocratic forehead, the sharp chin.
In looking at her, and in feeling an eerie sense of recognition, David couldn’t help but feel as though he was borrowing a memory.
To be continued…