By W. H. Pugmire
Note: “Cool Mist” first appeared in DEATHREALM #2, 1987. This version has been revised by the author.
Night seeped into the early evening sky and made it black. I remember wandering that realm of ink in search of perfect solitude, hunting for one uninhabited place where I could sit undisturbed and weep for the soul of my young lover, dead by his own hand. Finding my way to the waterfront, which was near to the punk artist’s co-op that was my unruly home, I walked in wind that pushed the stink of Puget Sound into my sensitive nostrils. I heard the plash of waves on rocks and approached that liquid song. The somber expanse of water spread before me, seeming like some living thing, reminding me of the mortal elixir that once flowed within my lover’s veins, those vital stems into which he pierced a needle and heralded his junky doom. He had mocked my quaint abhorrence of drugs and booze, and I suppose he would laugh to know that I had procured some outlawed absinthe from my Autumn Sister and drank the brew in bitter memory of our love.
Night’s chill shook me from my morbid reverie. Shoving hands into pants pockets, I felt the chunk of cheese that I had wrapped in plastic. It had been Todd’s habit to feed cheese to the waterfront rats, and I had decided to continue this tradition in his memory. As I began to unwrap the substance, I heard a human sound above the wind and waves. A voice of song. I hesitated, not wanting to meet anyone, but as I listened, something in the sound beguiled my senses and seemed to beckon. My boots crunched on pebbles as I trod upon the path that led beyond the rocks and water, and my footfalls must have carried to the singer, for suddenly the song went false. I looked and saw a shape kneeling on the ground, a blanket enshrouding its shoulders. It rocked to and fro, and as I cautiously approached, I could detect the soft singing of an esoteric melody.
His small face was that of a child, but his eyes were not young – they gleamed with hostility as they held my own. His dark hair was kept short except for two tufts dyed red and shaped into horns. Spiked dog collars choked his throat. His face contained a kind of ravaged beauty, and it terrified me. There was something in his dark, sparkling eyes, a weird kind of crazy rapture that chilled the heart of he who looked upon those slanted orbs.
I knelt a few feet from him. Fearful as I was, I wanted to listen to his tune. The guttural language that he softly uttered was like none I had known; it amazed me that a human mouth could shape such alien words. He turned away from me as I listened and sang to distant water. Trying to think of something to say, I held to him the chunk of cheese: “Care for some? I like feeding the sewer rats; they get so hungry this time of year.” I thought I detected a sort of smile. And then he turned his merciless eyes toward mine and opened his mouth in song – a loud wailing sound. I felt stabs of icy terror creep into my flesh. Those weird words of his cacophony filled me with a kind of panic. I leaned upon my hands so as to push myself erect and stalk away.
His singing stopped and he gazed toward the water with frantic eyes. I followed his gaze and at first saw nothing – and then it was there, a patch of mist that floated toward us in dark aether. I thought at first that it reflected moonlight, but then I realized that its odd illumination came from some other, some unknown, source. But what kind of light could form such outlandish hints of hue in the body of dull mist? And what were those colours that writhed obscenely, that shaped themselves outlandishly?
Once more the child-like creature sang. The mist wormed nearer. It pulsed inches from my face, and a wisp of it drifted to me and smoothed itself against my brow. Vision blurred and blood thickened. My skull throbbed with pain. The boy’s decadent singing sounded as though it emanated from some other place, some other time. Cold oppression seethed inside my skullspace and spilled toward my heart. Like a drunken thing, I tipped and slammed against the ground.
Awareness came as an ache and sense of dull fear. His strong hand helped me find my balance. How unyielding was the hand that held my own. He sidled nearer and pressed his body against my own. I could taste his rancid breath on my lips. And then I noticed, floating above his head, the patch of mist, that monstrous substance that spilled toward and enveloped our conjoined hands. His fingers tightened in their clutching. I could just make out the muted image of our joined hands as the boy opened his mouth in chanting. I watched in horror as the flesh of our locked hands began to ripple and discolour, how it began to shred and dissolve. The mist grew opaque with crimson cloudiness.
Overwhelmed with searing pain, I shut my weeping eyes and tried not to lose consciousness. Lips kissed my hair and pressed against my ear.
“It does get hungry this time of year,” a little voice mocked. That was when my mind snapped, and I lost myself within a hysteria of screaming as my companion sang and sang.
Bio: Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire has been writing Lovecraftian horror fiction since the early 1970s. His work has appeared in such magazines as Weird Tales, Deathrealm, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Fantasy Macabre. These past two years have seen him writing like a lunatic, and his four books to be published this year are The Tangled Muse, Some Unknown Gulf of Night, Depths of Dreams and Madness, and The Strange Dark One – Tales of Nyarlathotep. He is working on his next two books.