by Alex Rinehart
Sometimes it was just fog. That was the thing about the mists. You never really knew whether it
was normal, everyday fog, smoke drifting in from the perpetual wildfires, or something else.
I trusted it that day. August 16th, a Thursday. If the thick clouds looked like smoke, I’d grab a mask. Otherwise I’d just drive to work, same as anyone else.
That day it felt like fog, so I went out in that mist completely unprotected. After seeing what I
saw then, the idea that a simple hardware store face mask would protect me seems laughable. But then,
the truth wasn’t exactly believable either.
I’d heard about the cloud in the ocean, sure. Some sword-rattling near the Philippines. If it was
some kind of bioweapon, either we’d made it, or China had, and it wasn’t like them to stay silent when a
threat would do. And if it wasn’t a weapon, we’d use that fear, same as China, same as anyone in a
standoff. You know you didn’t do it, so it must be the other guy. The way I saw it, either it was our
weapon, or no one knew what the hell it was.
In either case, that kind of thing was a thousand miles away, and not remotely my problem. If
someone wanted to destroy Seattle, you’d think there’d be easier ways than to deploy some mystery
cloud. But you can only hear about being on the verge of war for so long before the whole thing becomes
somewhat blasé. I had bigger things to worry about – things that impacted me. I had a job and unless war
broke out on my doorstep, I was expected to get it done. I’d only called in sick one day in the past eight
years, for an emergency appendectomy. I had no plans to spoil my record now.
Looking back, war would have been easier. War has a face. War is enemy soldiers taking lives,
making it personal. War is dropping bombs and leveling buildings. It’s UN sanctions and treaties backed
by force. War is old men flexing, tossing billions of dollars’ worth of engineering and thousands of lives
across the globe to fight equally far-removed surrogates for an equally abstract cause. War was and is
business. And business can be reasoned with.
What rose out of the Sound that day in August was none of those things. It enveloped the road.
If you’re attacking a civilian population, you’re doing it to send a message. You annihilate the city as a
sort of ultimatum, saying “You can stop this. You have the power.” This didn’t send a message. No
videos of the mist would make for Pulitzer-winning prizes the way a picture of a scorched woman holding
an emaciated child would. The mist was silent. And unlike napalm, it discriminated.
When the mist covered the road, some people slumped over. That’s how I first knew something
was wrong: the car in front of me veered out of its lane, tires thumping against the raised lane markers. I
didn’t know it was an attack. I honked, thinking the driver had lost visibility in the cloud, some Midwest
transplant still learning how to drive in a real city or a teen distracted by the newest app on their phone.
When the car didn’t react to my honking, I thought the driver might have had a stroke.
Then I saw it: a woman was standing off to the side of the road, her car abandoned. She was
young, in her early twenties. The constant wind made her yellow dress into a sort of triangle in line with
the bridge. As I watched, she tumbled forward, pitching herself over the guard rail and down into the
ocean below. She did it so elegantly, one smooth motion, like a trapeze artist’s glide. I was transfixed, and
I thought I understood why the driver in front of me was so distracted.
But then my car jolted, struck by a tiny electric car. I swore and pulled over to check for damage.
It saved my life. Half of the cars on the bridge lazily collided as their drivers collapsed. Most of the rest
pulled sharply to the side, tearing through guard rails and plunging into the Pacific. Then there were the
ones like me. The ones who weren’t affected. I saw one man climb out of his car, ready to fight some
“yahoo numbnuts” who’d hit him. He’d barely opened the door when he was clipped by a Prius and
carried over the side.
My stomach twisted, and I felt a sharp, tingling pain from within my abdomen. At the time, I
attributed it to panic, though I’d always been one to keep my nerve.
I called out of work. Told my boss to turn on the news. It was all I could stammer. I sat on the
bridge for the next hour, afraid to move. Waiting for the police to come. They didn’t. Finally, I convinced
myself to leave, to drive away from the ocean. I fell asleep almost as soon as I got home, not even making
it to my bed.
When I awoke, I had a massive headache. The world seemed blearier somehow, like it had been
drained of colour. Not drained, exactly. Just muted.
Why me? Why had I been in the middle of a massive suicide and not been affected? I laid on my
couch and held myself until I gathered the nerve to check my phone. Missed calls. Four of them. All from
my boss. I called him back.
“What’s going on with you?”
“I was on the bridge, Tony.”
“What bridge? What the hell are you talking about?”
“The Five! Turn on the news.”
“I’ve been watching the news. It’s just market speculation.” He sighed. “Look, if you need to take
a sick day, take one. Lord knows you’ve got plenty. If this is some pride thing, swallow it. We’re all
I swallowed my pride, though not for the reason Tony thought. I had to suppress the urge to insist
that what I saw on the bridge was real. I’d seen it, and it would either be the biggest story by nightfall, or
the biggest cover-up in history.
And he was right. We were all human. Right?