THE KILLER FOG • by Carlos Navarro

The stench roused him from a deep sleep. Pulse racing, he rose from his bed and went to the open window. The myriad stars shining earlier that night had all disappeared. He closed the window and, for a long while, stood looking down at his sleeping wife, her firm, youthful body dimly lit by the glow of the digital clock on the bedside table. It was 3:35 A.M. Come morning, he knew, his wife and their toddler in the next room and the tranquil life he had so long strived to achieve would succumb to the fog.

He went out to the porch and sat on the steps peering into the gloom, waiting for the inevitable. At dawn, the fetid, yellowish fog came billowing up from beyond the horizon, killing every living thing before it–the corn crop, the vegetable garden, the chickens in their coop, the hounds in their kennel. Steadily, inexorably the fog approached the farm house.

He rose to awaken his wife and child, see them alive one more time, embrace them in a final goodbye; but then, on second thought, decided it would be best for them if they perished in their sleep. He, though, would not allow the fog to defeat him again, as it had before, in an earlier life. So he went into the barn and hanged himself.

The nurse on duty found his corpse dangling by the neck from an extension cord affixed to the ceiling fan in his room.

That afternoon, the head psychiatrist was discussing the case with an intern.

“What happened with this patient was very unusual,” the head psychiatrist explained. “Unpredictable. We expected him to experience some difficulty coping with the new treatment, but certainly not to the point of committing suicide.”

“Heard from his family yet?” inquired the intern.

“No. As far as we know he has no close family, or next of kin. Or friends either, for that matter.”

“No family or friends? What kind of man was this? Who was he?”

“A highly successful futures trader on Wall Street, one of the best in the business, a genius by all accounts, but an eccentric loner in his personal life. Eventually he became delusional, to the point of being a danger to himself and others, and had to be committed. That was two years ago.”

“What kind of delusions did he harbor?”

“Only one, actually: That he had bought  a hundred  acres of land somewhere out in the Midwest, planted crops, raised animals, with his own hands built a house and a barn, married a local woman, sired a child, and settled down on the farm with his family.”

“Quite a break with his past life on Wall Street.”

“Yes, all he was and did back then he left completely behind. Here at the hospital the everything around him–the halls, the cafeteria, the plants and decorations, the furniture in his room, the room itself, he regarded as part of his farm. Even the staff and me–to him we were nameless strangers who came to buy his crops. That farm in his mind was the only reality he recognized.”

“A interesting case, to say the least.”

“For two years we tried to reach him, coax him back to the real world, but to no avail. Then last month we tried a different drug cocktail, and it seemed to work wonders. For the first time since he arrived he started seeing and asking questions about his real surroundings.”

“So he was actually improving.”

“Well, yes and no. In his delusional state, he was content, even happy, but when he started coming out of it, he became increasingly apprehensive and  depressed.”

“Not quite ready to leave his delusional world, I suppose.”

“We figured that with the right medication and therapy he would eventually make the adjustment, as have many of our patients with similar conditions, but, regrettably, it didn’t work out that way in his case.”

“Seems that the cure was too traumatic,” conjectured the intern. “Couldn’t take it emotionally.”

“Yes, it would appear that we erred in that regard,” admitted the head psychiatrist. “We should have been more cautious.” Then, musing for a moment: “Ours, as you well know, is not an exact science.”

Carlos Navarro, retired math professor, U.S. Navy-Marine veteran.

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