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The Fog Rolls In

The Fog Rolls In
by Mathieu Debic

Robert C. Fog, J.D., Esq. looked up from the ratty paperback he was reading and saw a demon. It - he, rather, as Fog soon noticed - was stomping down the aisle of the subway car directly toward him, murder in his eyes. No one else looked up or noticed, which was unfortunate because this particular gentleman demon had a very rare horn pattern.

"Crying shame," Fog muttered to himself. He slid his glasses up on his nose, turned to face the slathering being, and subvocalized on the ether.

"What are you doing here? You know it's rush hour. You'll get sucked into a Low World with all the EM activity out right now."

The demon, clearly furious, shook his head, nearly ripping a gash through the aluminum ceiling of the car and snarled.

"I know what time it is, Fog," he rumbled, "but this can't wait. I have a problem."

"Oh?" Fog dogeared his page and sat back in his seat. "Must be serious."

The demon snorted and pushed Fog's neighbor off the seat next to him. The other passenger, a tall man in an expensive-looking suit but wearing a rather cheap watch, made a surprised "oof," then stood up and held on to the rail on the ceiling. His back had been aching all day, and standing was more comfortable. Fog shook his head. People would come up with any excuse to avoid acknowledging one of the Thinnies, even though every human schoolchild knew they were real.

The demon stretched his long, hobnobbed legs out into the aisle and snorted again in frustration. He fished a folded piece of paper out from...somewhere and shoved it in Fog's hands.

"Read this. Just read this drivel! This slander!"

Fog unfolded the paper. It was an eviction notice from an apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood near sixteenth and Crowley. Fog could only imagine what the rent must have been.

"You forget it was the first of the month or something?" He folded the paper and gave it back to the demon, who snatched it with his clawed hand.

"Not likely," he said. "You know how demons are about lunar cycles. This landlord is a piece of shit who's kicking me out because he wants to hike up the rents and he knows it's illegal. Saints alive, first you get the artists and elves, then some froo-froo coffeeshops, then a couple yoga studios, then the rents are too damn high. He knew I'd get the building syndicate together to report him if he hiked the rents, so he did me rotten on the sly. And now I don't have a place to live."

"So, you want me to help you get back at this landlord? Sue him for wrongful eviction?"

"Yeah. But mortal court's no good. Not like I have a social security number or anything."

"I'm not licensed to practice in your people's court, I don't think." Fog pulled his wallet out of his jacket pocket and looked at the back of his Bar card.

"We don't have a court, Fog." The demon looked at him patronizingly. "We're not vampires or something."

Embarrassed, Fog said, "Well, I'm not good at making people offers they can't refuse." He put away his wallet and watched as the tall man got off the train. A new batch of passengers got on, and not one tried to occupy the seat next to the chubby bald lawyer.

"There's another way you can help me, Fog," the demon said. "I'm willing to pay."

"Oh yeah?" Fog wasn't hurting for money, exactly - he was a moderately successful staff attorney at a small law firm by the harbor that a bit too vehemently insisted on its freedom from "funny business" - but he could use an extra cash infusion. His paychecks, which the senior partner often made out personally, sometimes bounced. "What do you want me to do then, if you don't want to sue him? Intimidate him? Kill him and eat him? Look at me, I'm no good at any of that." At a hair over five foot three and just about as wide around, Fog wasn't kidding.

"You know Demons are vegetarians, Fog." The demon shook his head. "No, I just need you to drive me out past the Circle." Fog's eyes went wide.

"Buddy, I'd like to help you, but that's major bad news. You don't want a balrog or some senior warlock to catch you outside Circle limits. You'll get deported straight to Mars by Circle Authority, if you don't get pitchforked by an angry mob, first."

"I know it's a risk, but I need to get something out there that I can't get inside the Circle for...reasons to do with certain treaties."

Shit, Fog thought, I thought it might come to this. Under the Peaceful Coexistence Treaty, Thinnies and humans had agreed to live side by side on Earth, humans agreeing not to try and drive stakes anywhere they shouldn't be, and Thinnies agreeing to not, well, do anything untoward. Fortunately Fog was a licensed Go-Between, otherwise this conversation would have been majorly illegal and he'd have had a warlock at his door the minute he got home ready to hypnotize him into oblivion. One of the main elements of the Treaty was that Thinnies who chose to live on Earth would be confined - ostensibly for their own safety - to Circles, magically drawn borders usually centered on large cities where they could be assured a safe place to live among humans without fear of exorcism, holy water balloons, angry mobs with torches and pitchforks, or Twilight Fans desperate for bloodplay. For a demon to want to leave a Circle, it must be pretty serious.

"I have cash, Fog. Gold, if you want it. Asteroid gold, untraceable." Now that was interesting. Fog slid the ratty paperback into his jacket pocket and adjusted his glasses again.

"Let's talk at my apartment."

* * *

Fog's apartment looked like a crumpled Ikea catalog with jaundice. The demon sat down gingerly on the couch, careful to avoid the most fresh-looking of the stains. The law of hospitality required Fog to offer the demon a drink, which the horned Thinnie accepted but didn't touch.

"So, about this asteroid gold." Fog sat in a recliner of indeterminate age and structural integrity and sipped at three fingers of bottom-shelf “scotch" in a chipped jam jar with a handle.

"I can give you a sample in advance, if you want. Have it tested. My cousins on Mars run a mining operation. The kobolds they employ out on the rocks are good at sniffing out precious metals."

"How much?"

"Five hundred thousand dollars."

Fog chocked on a mouthful of scotch. "Jesus, God! For that much, I'll take you straight to Purity City!" The demon made a face.

"I don't want to go to that racist shithole, Fog. And please don't blaspheme. I just need to go about ten miles beyond the Circle."

"What for?"

"That's my business. That's why I'm willing to pay you. You drive me out there and back, and you don't ask questions." Fog emptied his jam jar and poured three more fingers.

"For that money, I'll deny I've ever even met you. In fact, I don't think I even know your name."

"You don't need to," the demon said, and grimaced as he felt his leg brush something soft and damply furry under the coffee table.

"Just tell me when and where," Fog said. "You'll have to hide in the trunk, and it won't be comfortable for you."

"Tomorrow morning. 4 o'clock, before it's light." The demon fished something out from...somewhere and laid it on the table. "Here's your deposit." The soft, thick sheen of the gold nugget made the apartment, unbelievably, look even shabbier. "There's a lot more where that came from." Fog smiled and swirled the amber liquid in his jam jar. It smelled like a nail salon full of grass clippings.

"Meet me downstairs by the garage entrance at four. I'll get you there and back." They shook hands, and the demon left, but didn't look convinced.

* * *

Fog couldn't see the demon's scowl in the twilight, but it was even deeper than the night before.

"You can't be serious. My horns'll rip right through that thing!"

"It's bigger inside than it looks," Fog said. Selena, his on-again off-again girlfriend and an amateur witch had enchanted it with a Bag of Holding spell, but he wasn't convinced it had worked. She was a great pole dancer, Selena, but not so great a witch. The demon shrugged.

"I guess with all the gold I'm paying you, you could just get a new car."

"And replace my beloved Pearl?" Fog gasped, "Never!" The demon shook his head and contorted himself to fit into the trunk of the tiny car. It did turn out to be roomier than it looked, but not by much. After some shoving and cursing, he finally found a position that was almost exactly unlike being comfortable.

Later, as Fog approached the edge of the Circle, he began entertaining second thoughts. Pearl was chugging along, making all her usual groans and clunks, and Fog was mentally listing all the laws he was currently breaking.

"Contribution to the delinquency of a Thinnie, conspiracy to commit dimensional trespass and violate Treaty statutes. Probably driving without current registration. Pearl made a loud bang and a thick, viscous cloud of smoke rose behind her. Definitely not meeting emissions standards. He hiccoughed and belched. Better add driving while under the influence as well, just to be safe. He slowed down as he approached the immigration checkpoint and prayed to whatever god was around that the checkpoint officer on duty wasn't one of the young, gung-ho variety. Those crew-cut types were remarkably immune to bribery, full as they were with Honor, Patriotism, and Doing the Right Thing. He pulled forward into the checkpoint and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Cornwallis.

Michael Cornwallis was an old friend of Fog's from law school. Fog had finished last in his class (which, as his dear mother pointed out, still made him a lawyer), while Michael had washed out after his first year. Michael had taken a job in Circle Authority because he liked the uniform, and Fog didn't mind having a friend on the force who recognized that some wheels benefitted from the occasional greasing.

"Morning, Cornhole." Fog rolled his window down and handed Cornwallis his Go-Between card.

"Foggy Bottom, my good man," Cornwallis flashed a smile with too many teeth at Fog as he swiped his card. "Up to your usual no-good, dirty tricks?"

"You could say that," Fog said, and winked.

"You wouldn't object to a cursory inspection of your vehicle, sir?" Cornwallis winked back.

"Of course not, officer." Fog killed the engine and, with grace remarkable for a man of his girth, heaved himself out of the driver’s seat. Cornwallis walked slowly around the old car, and paused at the trunk.

"May I search the trunk of your car, sir?"

"The trunk doesn't open, I'm afraid." Fog stuck his hands in his pockets and joined Cornwallis behind the car. "She was stolen a while ago, and the vandals responsible welded the trunk shut, presumably just for laughs. Pain in the ass for grocery shopping, I can tell you." Cornwallis smiled again.

"Well, I'm sure as a Go-Between there's no need anyway." Cornwallis stuck out his hand. "You're free to go, Foggy. Drive safe." Fog shook Cornwallis's hand, leaving a crumpled wad of bills in his palm.

As Pearl chugged and banged past the boundaries of the Circle, Fog felt the strange, prickly heat of non-Thinnie air. It always bothered him to come out here. His mother said their family had Thinnie blood from way back, but Fog thought it more likely that he just didn't like the country.

He drove on for about ten minutes while trying to decipher the demon's chicken-scratch directions. Finally, he pulled in at a motel just off the highway. He parked behind the row of disheveled rooms, maneuvered himself out of the car, and opened the trunk.

The demon glared up at Fog before de-contorting himself and getting stiffly out of the back of the car.

"Had an ok ride?"

"The Bag of Holding enchantment stopped working once we left the Circle," the demon snarled. "Your girlfriend is a terrible enchantress." Fog nodded.

"Yeah, she's not the best witch. Great legs, though."

"Well, I'm glad you like them," the demon said and stretched. A variety of pops issued from his back and shoulders. He looked out at the scrubby woods behind the motel.

"Stay here," the demon said. "I'll be back in about an hour."

"Suits me," said Fog. He had brought the crossword. The demon set off into the brush, and Fog settled back into the car to wait. He fell asleep after solving the first clue.

* * *

Some time later, Fog was torn from a very pleasant dream involving Selena and a decidedly unconventional application of whipped cream by a loud banging on the hood of the car. The demon was back, now with what looked like an old duffel bag. Fog carefully folded the crossword - he was reasonably certain he would attempt more of it later – yawned as he moved to open the trunk. The demon handed him the bag.

"Don't let this out of your sight," the demon said. "I get back into the Circle with this, and you get the rest of your hundred thousand."

"What's in it?" Fog hefted the bag, which was heavier than it looked.

"What's my name, again?" the demon gave Fog a sarcastic look as he folded himself into the trunk.

"Right." Fog addressed the shabby motel building. "What demon? Who are you talking about?" It didn’t respond. The demon snorted and finished squishing himself in. Fog shoved the bag under the passenger seat and brought Pearl back to life, much to her dismay.

The drive back was uneventful. Fog waved at Cornwallis as he passed back into the Circle, and the prickly heat of out-Circle air refreshingly transformed into the smoggy cool of the city. He pulled in to his parking spot in the garage, grabbed the bag from the floorboard, and popped the trunk. Out of the trunk stepped a tall man wearing a red velour tracksuit.

Fog, who had seen a great many strange things, backed away as the man stood up, adjusted his tracksuit, and snorted.

"What the...? Who?"

"It's me, Fog." The man's voice was deep and grumbling, with an unplaceable accent.

"What?" The man stepped closer to Fog and picked up the duffel bag.

"It's me," he said. "The demon."

"Oh, gods no," said Fog, "No, no, no, you can't be serious. Do you know how illegal a skinsuit is? Impersonating a human is a major felony! You're not just looking at deportation to Mars, you're looking at eternity in ultra-max on Ganymede."

The man took something out of his pocket and handed it to Fog. The gold nugget was the size of a goose egg and glinted in the semi-dark of the garage.

"Thanks for helping me get out of the Circle. I'll double your fee, and you never saw any of this. My hyper-Swiss will contact you this afternoon." Fog gulped and stared at the gold's soft sheen.

"Asteroid gold? Really untraceable?" The demon nodded. Fog stared thoughtfully at the nugget for a moment, then looked back at him.

"What demon? Who are you talking about?"

The demon smiled.

* * *

Two weeks later, Fog was sitting in the Grumpy Gremlin down the street from his apartment. Newly flush with untraceable gold in a hyper-Swiss account, he had treated himself to a second scotch from the second-to-bottom shelf. He told himself he wouldn’t make it a habit. As he flipped through the newspaper in search of the funnies, his eyes lit on a headline: "Landlord Arrested Under Suspicion of Anti-Thinnie Tech, Illegal Surveillance."

As he read on, Fog's eyes went wide. The landlord, a human, had allegedly used anti-Thinnie tech from a Human Purist terrorist cell to bug the apartments of his Thinnie tenants. The bugs, undetectable by magic, slowly drained Thinnie power, making them incapable of remaining in the human world. One of the landlord's tenants, a demon named Ignacio J. Beelzebub, had discovered a bug by accident while cooking an extremely spicy Thai curry. The capsaicin vapors from the peppers had shorted out the bug's circuitry, and it fell right into the pan. The landlord denied all the accusations, of course, and the paper mentioned that he had no known connection with Human Purism, but the evidence was still pretty damning. Fog felt a slightly queasy feeling rise in his gut as he read the article. There was no picture of the demon in the article; it had to be someone else. Right? The queasy feeling insisted for a moment, but Fog’s buffalo wings arrived, as did a third second-to-bottom-shelf scotch, so his stomach calmed down as he continued to the funnies.

Later that day, Fog coaxed Pearl through her usual bangs and clanks to his third-favorite adult novelty store. He had already stopped at the grocery for whipped cream (fat-free, like Selena had asked). Encountering some road construction, he was forced to take a slight detour and found himself, by chance, passing an old but beautifully maintained building at the corner of sixteenth and Crowley with a large banner hanging in the doorway. "Under new management," the banner declared, and below it, he saw a tall gentleman demon with a very rare horn pattern. As Fog drove past the building, the demon noticed Pearl’s vociferous approach, and made eye contact with Fog. Ignacio J. Beelzebub, gentleman demon and now landlord, raised a finger slowly to his mouth with a wry smile. For a brief moment, Fog’s single scruple, which he kept on a keychain, issued a complaint - clearly some “funny business” had taken place - but the delicious golden hue of untraceable asteroid gold sang much louder than that lonely scruple. Fog gulped and nodded at the smirking demon as he continued to Sex Puns Unlimited. Maybe he would think about replacing his beloved Pearl after all.

* * *

Mathieu Debic is a writer, teacher, and doctoral student in Dallas, Texas. He is currently working on a short story anthology series as well as his first novel, volume one in a trilogy of space operas. Mathieu's fiction has previously been published in anthologies from Z-Publishing, and his academic writing in Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies.

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?

I get ideas from everywhere, all the time. Chance encounters, things I read or see. Sometimes snatches of dialogue or powerful lines just find their way into my head, and then onto my paper. Many of them show up an inoportune times, like when I’m trying to sleep or in the shower. I keep a way to take notes on me at all times, just in case something sneaks up on me, but a lot of what I take note of doesn’t actually get worked into a story. It’s a question of volume. The more writing you do, the greater your chances of stumbling onto something good. Good writing is knowing when you have a fertile accident, I think.