The familiar sound of the dial-up modem bleated into the kitchen from across the house. Emmitt turned the volume knob up on the small countertop Zenith TV. He’d carried this set with him for almost 20 years since his freshman year at State College. The bone white casing had jaundiced some in the preceding years, but the picture quality remained outstanding. No distortion of video or audio on the news broadcast coming out of Atlanta. Even with the strange overnight weather and the dense morning fog which hadn’t burnt off quite yet.
“This is CNN,” the booming reassuring voice spoke.
Emmitt turned the volume back down.
“This is CNN,” offering his best mimic. Damn he couldn’t get enough of that. So much so he’d noted to his buddy Stephen while seeing that new baseball film: “That’s the CNN guy. The voice.” Most people would have gone with Darth Vader.
He picked up his coffee mug, intermittently cooling and sipping as he remained at the kitchen counter standing before the sink staring out the foggy pane glass window. From this view he could see two neighbors' backyards and a good portion of the lake on a clear morning and surely that would be the case soon enough now that the sun was rising higher. Emmitt nodded at this thought and took his coffee to the small cubby office he’d made the superfluous second walk-in closet into.
The monitor’s screen read: No Internet Connection.
Typical, was Emmitt’s only thought. He clicked through the appropriate sequence of keys, waited for the honking dial tone to begin, and walked back to the kitchen. Outside of the few familiar sounds of his typical morning the house was still, calm, quiet. He thought both cats must be outside, or they would be mewing and persuading breakfast bowls from him by now.
“Late nights make for late mornings even for Tomcats.”
He smiled and chuckled to himself as he placed the mug exactly where he’d picked it up moments before. The dewy kitchen window slowly dissipated as he stood there but the fog outside had not. Additionally, Emmitt found the quality of the fog odd for there was a touch of shine to it. He believed if he looked long enough, he would see spectrums of light twinkling about or even a rainbow stretched within. Once more he picked up his mug, only this time he went for the kitchen door leading outside to the small porch and backyard.
The air quality was as expected; cool yet muggy with no breeze. Typical for any foggy morning. The coffee steamed from the cup he raised to his lips, burbling before sipping. It smelled wonderful, tropically rich, almost enhanced by the dewy morning around him. The notes of Honduran fruits, plants, soil, elevation of the mountains flashed on his tongue and nose. Wonderful.
“Where are those damn cats?”
He whistled and kissed several times.
Whistled and kissed again.
Burbled and sipped coffee again.
Emmitt stepped to the edge of his deck upon the scene before him. His neighbors' yards off to the right appeared as perfectly painted Americana landscapes on the cusp of the fog and lake. His own modest patch of grass sloped mildly to the lakefront some ten yards out. A pair of thin-trunked sabal palms skirted by a hibiscus bush stood off to his left. Beyond that a mixture of dirt, soil, mulch piled high ran the remaining length to the water. It had been left by old neighbors that had vanished some two years ago. And there it remained still. Their house fell into probate and there it remained as well.
Only once had the police come by posing questions to Emmitt about the couple’s frequencies, habits, or comings & goings. Evidently, the wife or girlfriend, the woman anyhow, had an older sister who came by, but he’d only seen her once.
He watched her one morning from a different glass pane window in his house while sipping coffee. He remembered it being Ethiopian as this particular occurrence was about a year and a half ago during his Ethiopian phase. The spices and fruitiness were wonderful.
The sister was tear-assing back and forth from the house to the trunk of her car with cardboard boxes like she had a fire on her heels. Emmitt stood in his window and watched for close to ten minutes, by his watch, as she went to and fro, disappearing into the open garage and returning with another box until she seemed satisfied with her haul and stopped. The sister stood before the open trunk panting heavily enough to make the heaving of her chest visible to Emmitt. He stood watching as she stood thinking; neither aware of the other’s inner workings or motivations.
The purple SUV with Georgia plates turned out of the drive and accelerated up the road. Emmitt turned away and walked to his kitchen where he thought about calling the police but did not.
Off to the right side of his yard, two wooden garden boxes marked the perimeter. In them, points of pride, multiple tomato plants grew tall and plump. He enjoyed the time he took manicuring the delicate stems, pruning leaves and carefully binding kitchen twine to secure each plant on wooden framework that safeguarded against the ripening fruit's weight. Under the kitchen sink, he kept an atomizer filled with a mixture of water, fertilizer, and marigold petals he sprayed daily. No one knew that he also added a handful of his former neighbor’s long forgotten soil mixture each week to his garden boxes. It was a rich blend, undoubtedly expensive, and although he did not want any trouble, he also could not help himself. After this fog lifted, he would tend to his tomato plants.
The fog’s appearance had not changed much, if any, during Emmitt’s moment of reflection. He looked once more over the almost idyllic replicant of yesterday’s morning save for the fog bank that was not abating. He wondered how far across the lake he could see and where had that prismatic light gone too. He thought this and stepped off the deck.
His left foot sank ankle deep into lawn-covered muck and mud.
He did not take another step but instead stood stuck between strides. The water level rising this dramatically had not occurred to Emmitt because such a thing had never happened before. He could not remember hearing or being awakened by a storm of any significance and certainly nothing that would create such an increase either. In fact, last night’s weather was so peculiar precisely because the rain was merely a steady mist accompanied by howling wind. The howl seemed to fall into a rhythmic drone becoming quite soothing. He himself had fallen asleep in his recliner to the whispers and howling rhythms while reading the new Stephen King novel. Apparently, today he had awoken in a Stephen King novel.
Emmitt smiled and chuckled.
He shrugged and stepped forward with his right foot.
Immersed within the burgeoning swamp, previously his backyard, Emmitt could now see the ubiquitous watery muck floating below the top layer of grass blades. He slogged forward, towards the fog bank, one waterlogged step at a time. He must be a ridiculous sight, to any curious neighbor, with his morning breeches, white sleep shirt, coffee mug and mud-covered calves lurching into the fog. Just a few steps shy of the bank he paused to catch his breath when he noticed his arm was covered in spilt coffee as too were his breeches. He knelt to dispose of the mug until later and that is when the spectrums of light returned. Not deep within the fog or somewhere out over the lake water but directly in his immediate vision. A rainbow stretched and coiled like a spring or a Slinky inches from his face. The colors popped and snapped as they refracted around his head. His vision went swimmy, but the muck held his crouched stance in place. A faint smell rose to his nostrils before vice-gripping his nose with intensity. He recognized it too. It was the scents and notes of coffee, Honduran Coffee precisely, only now they were all rotten. Toxic soil, foul air, fallen mountains, soured spices, decayed fruits, rotted Honduran corpses. Emmitt wanted to faint but the sludgy earth held him upright. He felt trapped as if he’d gazed upon Medusa now stoned to this spot for eternity.
The rainbow blinked out of existence. The sensory overload of foul rot, gone. He stood upright within arm’s length of the fog-covered shoreline. In silence. Although dazed, he was aware of his surroundings and circumstance even if he did not understand them. To his left the minutely diminishing mound of forgotten soil and to his right the two garden boxes of beautiful tomato plants. Dazzlingly red tomatoes hung from almost every green branch; their weight creating oddly human curvature to the branches. Emmitt became momentarily absorbed in thoughts of plucking ripe tomatoes to be stewed down into a thick rich red sauce for canning. He felt his hands tightening mason jar lids to exhaustion. He saw his mud-covered feet walking downstairs to a fruit cellar he had no memory of. The watery sludge made each step extremely difficult to navigate without slipping, falling, destroying the precious jars of tomato sauce. The wooden staircase descended to finality within a dense fog bank. Upon this sight, Emmitt’s hand became clammy with sweat causing his grip to loosen. The box he carried fell forward, launching mason jar after mason jar airborne. With a pop and snap they exploded into blood red clots adrift in the fog. Emmitt’s mouth filled with the taste of iron. His teeth loosened from his gums. Tears welled in his eyes before streaking down his cheeks and pooling in the stubble of his chin.
He wiped away the tears and no more fruit cellar stairway. Only the soft sandy shoreline and the fog bank surrounding him. The fog embraced him with security and gentleness. It felt and looked like cotton now that he was within it.
He looked down at his feet. Both crusted over in black muck stood in stark contrast against the white lake sand. The thought of cleaning them with bits of the cotton fog floated through his mind before the stinging sensation shocked that from existence. Fiery pain engulfed his feet and legs. A dozen or more severed catfish heads swam about his ankles. Although they rotted before his eyes, the whiskers sparked jolts of pain across his skin and body. Tufts of fur sprouted like roots from the bloated fish lips. The black and white hair twisted and twirled about Emmitt’s ankles. Again, tears welled as he recognized the fur as his own two cats’.
Emmitt whelped each name out.
He anguished in loneliness, in overwhelming pain, in complete incomprehension. Here he remained, held by Medusa’s gaze, embraced within the fog in perpetuity.
Two black and white tom cats purred and circled their master’s legs. Each one nestled close to an ankle, crouched low and began chewing on the lips and eyeballs of a catfish head.