I don’t write much horror fiction, so I wanted to come at this idea for a story from a different angle than I’d originally planned. And yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of creepy podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. See if you can spot the points of reference!
Foghorn Man, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 1,496
The call came into the station late on a muggy Friday night. Deputy Nate Rogers had been sitting in his chair, staring into the rotating fan, zoned out on the constant rush of cool air and the zany fistfights of a Jackie Chan movie on TV. As soon as the phone rang, he swung his legs off the desk and snatched the receiver to his ear on a awkward jolt. He’d tried to pull it off so many times, yet he never looked as smooth as Jackie did in the movies.
“Shimiya County Sheriff’s Office,” said Nate, “how may we help you?”
Only static answered him.
With a shake of his head, Nate lowered the phone. Another prank call, another slow Friday night in the town of Odyssey.
He was mere seconds away from hanging up when he heard a hiss from the other end. When Nate lifted the phone again, he listened carefully.
“Hello?” he said after a moment.
This time, someone did answer. There were no words. Instead, what he heard was a faint, unmistakable growl.
Nate went completely still.
“Sir?” he asked.
The voice on the other end growled again. Meaning trickled directly into his brain. Images of a chain-link fence being cut. Rapid footsteps scurrying behind the beam of a flashlight in the dark.
Nate shivered. “Yes, sir. I-I’ll be right there.”
When the line went dead, Nate slammed the phone down. He grabbed his jacket off the chair and raced for the door, late August heat be damned.
Breaking the chain-link fence had been easy. All he needed was a pair of side cutters from the local hardware store, where he’d bought the flashlight and the duffel bag. Smuggling several hundred dollars’ worth of equipment out of the weather station had been not so easy. Especially when Sidney was begging all his coworkers to leave early and join him for karaoke at the Indigo. Fortunately, old Sid’s watery eyes passed right over Kevin Lamarque’s head. He’d shoved a book of litmus paper and other office supplies into the duffel bag below his desk, then strolled out with the rest of the research staff.
No one even noticed that Kevin turned the other way when they all left the building.
He knelt down beside a massive concrete structure, squat and gray like another brick in the wall. Four massive flue gas pipes stretched out like the fingers of a hand, grasping for the night sky in vain. Kevin had been quick to don a breath mask the moment he snuck onto the premises. Despite what the auto plant’s owners claimed, he’d recorded an absurdly high level of sulfur dioxide being pumped out of the factory. Even with his flashlight, Kevin could barely see more than a few feet ahead of them. He swam through a brown haze, his skin prickling even with the protective layers he wore.
No lights were visible in the windows of the factory, nor could he hear anything moving within. Even the background hum of electrical generators had vanished, leaving only an eerie silence.
“No sign of night patrols by local security,” Kevin muttered into his tape recorder. “It’s a miracle that the EPA or the FBI haven’t already shut this place down.”
He extracted a strip of litmus paper from his bag. A quick rub against the concrete wall left the red paper with a viscuous blue stain. Kevin frowned. There were clear signs of ammonia—and some other fluids that made his stomach churn. He’d been smart to wear a breath mask tonight. But what did it mean?
He was about to stand up when he heard the growl.
Kevin’s eyes bulged. His hand fell to the Taser on his belt.
The growl came again, louder and closer than before. And now he could hear footsteps padding over the asphalt-covered ground.
“St-stay back,” Kevin whispered. “I mean it.”
The creature behind him stopped moving. Its growl became a low, suspicious rumble.
White light flared from behind him. Kevin turned around, drawing his Taser. Ready or not, he would strike. He would kill this thing. This monster that had ruined the town—
“Kevin, I told you not to get involved.”
When he turned around, Kevin saw that he wasn’t alone with the creature. Nate stood beside it, pointing his own flashlight into his boyfriend’s face. He wore his ten-gallon hat and his jacket, the glare obscuring his expression. Yet Kevin didn’t hear any terror or apprehension in his voice. Even when Nate stood not five feet away from the monster.
It was everything that Kevin had feared. From a distance, it looked like a man. But upon closer inspection—when he got too close one fateful night—he saw the truth. The baseball cap and red flannel shirt couldn’t cover up the unnatural gray leathery skin, the ridged brow, the slack, saliva-dripping jaw. And those teeth—dear God, those teeth. Numerous, yellow, and sharp, like a shark who was also a chronic smoker. Nothing about the beast moved right either. It didn’t walk or run, but shuffled around in a constant lurch.
The monster let out another growl, low and long like the blare of a fog horn. Fresh puffs of ammonia drifted out of its open mouth. Kevin winced, but Nate didn’t react. He seemed almost bored by the whole scenario. Irritated. Kevin literally could not believe it.
“You knew,” he snarled. Waving the litmus paper in Nate’s face, he added, “You could’ve stopped this from the beginning, Nathan!”
“Could’ve done lots of things, sure,” Nate replied. He shrugged. “Could’ve gotten myself dead. Could’ve gotten you dead. But I didn’t, so you ain’t.”
“I don’t need your protection—”
“It’s ain’t just you, Kevin.” Nate lowered the flashlight, and Kevin finally saw his face. He saw faint, glistening streaks racing down the deputy’s cheeks. His whole face was scrunched up, even when his voice came out nice and smooth. “It’s the town. I swore an oath. I swore an oath to protect the town, and that’s what I’m goddamn gonna do.”
Kevin pointed at the creature standing between them. “You’re not protecting it from that thing!”
“I don’t have to,” Nate insisted. He gave the gray-skinned beast a brief look before continuing. “You’re not from around here, okay? It’s different here. Always has been. We got ourselves a deal. And if we give him what he needs to live, then the Foghorn Man’s gonna take care of us.”
“It’s a deal with the devil,” Kevin challenged. He waved the stained litmus paper again. “And I will expose it—”
Nate cut him off with a single step forward. He snatched the litmus paper from Kevin’s hand and crumpled it into his fist. Letting the paper fall to the ground, he stared down the shorter man until Kevin swallowed and backed up a few paces. He didn’t stop until his back was to the wall of the factory. His eyes stung with tears, and they weren’t just because of the sulfur dioxide in the air.
The sheriff’s deputy lowered his voice. “You do anything like that, and we’re done.”
Kevin blinked. “You can’t be serious.”
“I sure as hell am, Kev.”
“This isn’t about us! It’s about the safety of the town!”
“You’re damn right it is. And you’re the one putting it at risk.”
Nate’s inflection left no further room for argument. Kevin stared. For the first time, he felt like he was truly seeing the other man. All those months together, curled up in front of the TV, taking long drives up and down the Interstate, sharing nachos and beer on holidays, were all dissolving in an instant. More smoke and mirrors in this stupid funhouse of a town.
Kevin said, “Nate… I can’t stop this. I just can’t.”
He didn’t try to hide the sob in his voice. Or the tears.
Nate stared. Behind him, the Foghorn Man said nothing. It never spoke. Instead, it tipped its cap at Kevin, revealing layers of blank gray flesh where there should have been a pair of eyes and a nose. The creature’s jaw still hung slack, but the corners of its mouth lifted in what could have passed for a friendly grin on a normal person.
Then it turned and lumbered off to some other end of the factory grounds, disappearing into the smog like another bad dream.
The next morning, Kevin sent Nate a single text message around 9 a.m. The message simply read, I’ll miss you.
Nate stared at the text for a moment or two. Then he hit DELETE and shoved the phone back into his pocket.
On the wall of the Sheriff’s office, the clock ticked. The American flag in the corner fluttered against the breeze coming in through an open window. It was muggy in the morning, and Nate had a pile of paperwork to finish up before he was due out on patrol with the rookie Emilio.
Just another happy Saturday in Odyssey.
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