Finally, we'd been waiting all year. Through the arduous winter, tumultuous spring, and scorching mid-summer, to the temperate late summer stretch. Around this time every year, my wife, Kate and I, along with a few friends of ours, all go up to my friend Tom's cottage. It was the perfect time of year. The days were long, the nights were warm, and the bugs were damn near non-existent. For reasons I won't get into, most of us hadn't seen each other since... almost the last trip. It was a balm to see one another again.
In total it would be Kate, Krystal (and her elderly pooch, Duke), Dennis, Tom, Curt and I. Normally our friend Evan would join us, it was always a pleasure to have him up with us, as he was always down for a long and action packed night. Unfortunately, he was still away, tree planting far out west which he did for most of the summer. Nonetheless, we were all super excited to get together and let loose before the trees began to turn, and the air began to chill.
On Tom's property, there were 2 buildings and an outhouse. One was the main cottage, the other was the A frame, where Krystal, Curt and Duke would sleep. Dennis, Tom, Kate and I would all stay in the main cabin, which was quite spacious.
Our friend Evan would always bring this terrible, piss-water beer called Auspicious Ale. I think the two culminating factors of why he loved it so much were the name (strange as it was) and the price. It was unapologetically dirt cheap. We'd all begin the trip with our own beer, wine and liquor, but in the end, we all ended up drinking Auspicious. We'd also do stupid stuff with them, like launch them from the fire pit, or shotgun them. In Evan's absence, Dennis bought a case of Auspicious, partially as an homage, but more so as a joke, I think.
The cottage week was off to a great start. Swimming, kayaking, and general adventure during the day. Bonfires, board games, and general shenanigans at night. Drinking all the while. As was somewhat of a tradition, we would get the fire really built up in the evening, and find an old log with a rotted-out core to toss on top of the fire. As it eventually caught the flames, and started to burn from the inside out, we would shake up an Auspicious, and drop it in the centre upside down. It was a roulette as to when it would go off, but eventually it would shoot like a sudsy rocket, then we'd scramble to try to find the smoky can and drink whatever hot, hot remnants were inside, depending on how drunk we were already. This time, there was enough for Dennis, Tom and I, and we taped the ceremonial drinking of the smoky Auspicious. We sent it to Evan, to let him know the traditions still lived. We never got a response though.
We had all joked and japed about how much better this was than city living.
“It certainly beats waiting 20 minutes for a bus that may not even really exist every morning” I exclaimed to a group of nodding heads and smiling faces, as we cooked over the coals and pounded through the Auspicious Ales.
Later that night as the wee hours of the morning were approaching, Duke, who's bedtime had already passed, but had found sleep by the fireside, roused in an agitated temper. He kept staring off into the woods behind the A frame completely still for a few moments, before he would huff and puff in a squirrely fashion. Krystal said it was late, passed Duke's bed time, and late enough for her too. Krystal took Duke to the A frame with Curt following shortly after. Kate went inside the main cottage, to get a midnight snack and read a bit by candle light before bed.
Dennis, Tom, and I joked about what was in the forest. Supposing it was some sort of Hodag, Sasquatch, or Wendigo. The idea led us on to start telling spooky stories, trying to freak each other out. It's not always easy to do, especially on the spot, but in the dark and silent night, it wasn't too hard to make anything sound scary. After I had told a story about a shape stealing changeling (which ended with a jump scare) we all had a good laugh. We laughed hard and loud until something big rustled in the bushes. It was that same spot that Duke kept staring at, behind the A frame. The lights inside of it were still on, so we knew Krystal and Curt were still awake, and if nothing was bothering them, it couldn't have been significant anyways. We brushed it off.
The next day we decided to be productive. We all went on a bit of a hike, and cleared an old trail that led to another nearby property. It was a bit buggier than we'd hoped, but there was a small marsh, so it wasn't a big surprise. It was a bit of a roundabout trail, it started to the west of the main cottage, near where we parked the cars, and ended on the northeast side of the property, behind the A frame. Strangely, the path was more and more cleared closer to the A frame, it looked like several trees had been uprooted, then replanted farther back in the brush. Tom guessed it had something to do with some of his family, who had been up recently.
“They probably did some work up here, maybe they started clearing the trail too, but gave up, or decided not to clear the whole way.” It made sense, but the replanting didn't.
“What about this?” I asked as I held up an old can of Auspicious ale, crumpled and muddied from having been weathered.
“Maybe from last year” Tom said uncertainly “Although I remember us cleaning up pretty well, and since then my family has been up, so someone would have picked it up, unless they drink Auspicious too...”
Seemed weird, we only drank it as a joke, but I guess everyone has their own tastes. Still, I couldn't help but think back to how Duke reacted toward that area the night before.
On the last day of our great northern vacation, we were sorting everything out. Packing up, loading the cars, taking the trash to the dump, and cleaning the cottage. Dennis drew my attention to the last few Auspicious Ales.
“I don't really want to take these home, kind of don't want to drink them either, to be honest.”
“Yeah”, I replied “I'm all partied out, now. Maybe we should do something weird with 'em. Why don't we bury them somewhere, and try to dig 'em up next year?”.
Dennis laughed, “That's a great idea, we'll have Evan with us too, so we can show him the Auspicious grave!”
Dennis and I wandered around the property, looking for a good spot to dig a hole. We wanted it to be deep enough so that it wouldn't freeze in the winter, bursting the cans. It had to be close enough to the cottage that we would be able to remember, and find the spot, but not so close as to be in the way. After taking the trail behind the A frame about a kilometre and a half into the woods, we found a perfect spot, where the trail deviated towards the waterfront. We collected some distinct rocks and sticks to put over the 'Auspicious grave' and began digging.
It was harder than you would think. I was surprised how gnarly and difficult to dig down it was. Tom said the land here was hard to clear away, a lot of large rocks and roots. Eventually, just a few feet down, we hit something that made a loud metallic crunch. Dennis and I looked at each other, confused. I sifted through the hole, unearthing a very old and dishevelled can of Auspicious Ale. I began to try to clear away the dirt with my hand, to see there was more in the hole. There was a strange rock, very smooth, with a large hole in it. A chill ran down my spine, and a strange knotting sensation started to build in the pit of my stomach. It couldn't be...
I feverishly cleared away the dirt, clump by clump, pulling some stray roots aside.
“Dude, let's just put it there, that should be deep enough. What are you scrambling around for?” Dennis muttered impatiently.
That's when I cleared enough to see what was really in there.
“It's a skull” I grimaced. We immediately stopped the whole process, and stared into the shallow grave. The remains were not totally decomposed, you could tell because there were plenty of insects scrambling about, now that it had been unearthed.
More than a little freaked out, Dennis and I went back to the cottage. After putting the shovels and Ausipiciouses on the front deck, we told the others what we had found. Our story was met at first with disbelief, but everyone could tell deep down by the manner of which Dennis and I told them, it wasn't a joke. Tom couldn't believe it. At least he didn't want to. We took him to the corpse, to show him.
“We need to call the cops.” We all agreed.
The cops questioned us all, but it didn't feel like any of us were being accused of anything. They were definitely having a hard time believing we were trying to bury a few beers, but I can totally understand how dumb that sounds... We had little enough information to share about it. The cops told us that we had to stick around through the beginning of the investigation in case anything else came up, so we didn't return to the city. Luckily the cottage was far enough from the 'crime scene' that we were allowed to stay there, although the police were constantly traipsing through the property to get from the main road to the corpse. A short while later, in the evening, they asked us one by one to view the corpse, keeping us separated from each other in the meantime. Despite the decomposition, they were hoping we may be able to shed some light on its identity. They said decomposition can be a peculiar thing, by this state it had been at least 2 months, but between Canadian weather, and soil composition of the area, it could have been there for much longer. I was taken over third. They knew it was probably a long shot, but I think they had little enough to go on. There was something about the stature, hair and... the teeth. I recognized the corpse, or at least, I thought I did. It looked just like Evan.
I told the officer. I knew how crazy it was. There was no way! Evan came back with us last year. I've seen him multiple times since then. He'd been in contact, if only loosely. We did all the same things we'd normally have done together since the body was supposedly buried! Gone for drinks, watched movies in my basement, played online games... Nothing added up! We'd even been in (although sporadic) communication with him while he was out west, planting.
They didn't need to bring anyone else over to see the corpse after me. Tom, who was brought up first identified it as Evan the same way I had. They told us, until they checked the dental records, there was no way to know for sure. We gave the officers Evan's contact info, both his and his family's. We were told not to try contacting him, and to stay in the area for the next 2 days. At this point, I don't think any of us were happy to have our cottage stay extended.
After that, Krystal and Curt stayed in the main cottage with the rest of us. There was more than enough room, if not just a bit less privacy all around, but I think everyone was much more content to be staying closer together. The night was eerie. It was colder than it should have been. We didn't have a fire, no one was interested in hanging around outside. There was a stillness to the air, to the lake too. It wasn't peaceful, or serene, it was haunting.
The next day was hardly any better. A thick fog had moved in during the early morning, and there was so much overcast that the sun could hardly chase it away. It sat blanketing the whole area, like an otherworldly cemetery. All of us were torn half way between being in shock, and completely lost in our thoughts. How could that have been Evan? There was no way... Despite all the partying we had previously done, we knew we weren't going home any time soon.
We had all spoken fairly little. The meals we had were uninspired, and listless (highly irregular for Curt, Kate, and I, who did most of the cooking). Everything we did felt like we were merely going through the motions. Some of us, myself included, found ourselves overindulging in the remaining alcohol we had. Perhaps to try to avoid the issue, perhaps as just something to keep ourselves occupied. No matter, it led to us trying to call Evan eventually, despite what the cops told us. No answer. We called him several times that night, with no luck. I sent him a few texts, hoping that he'd see them soon and explain that he was fine, just out in the boonies with no reception for the past week. It wouldn't have been uncommon while he was off planting, I rationalized to myself.
It was the early evening on the last day we were stuck up there that things started to turn grim. It felt like we hadn't seen the sun all day, and the fog was even thicker. Everyone seemed even more sapped, but we dragged ourselves into action, and had everything packed and ready to go as soon as possible. Krystal stepped out the front to take Duke for a nature call, when we heard him starting to go wild. He was barking up a storm, hopping around and freaking out. I'd seen him bark before, but I'd never seen him get wild like this. For an old dog, he was as close to being a savage wolf as I'd ever seen. He ran toward the A frame, pulling the leash out of Krystal's hand. Curt and I ran outside to see what the commotion was. As soon as Curt saw Duke running off into the fog, he sprinted after him, telling Krystal he'd be right back. By this point we were standing on the wraparound porch of the cottage, yelling for both Curt and Duke. We all hopelessly scrambled, unsure of what to do, unwilling to get lost in the fog.
Duke stumbled back to the front steps of the cottage what felt like an eternity later, shivering. The wolf in him was gone, and like the rest of us, he was uneasy. Unlike the rest of us, he'd seen something in the fog... We all expected Curt to come wandering back right behind him, but we weren't so lucky. I felt that same knotting sensation, a growing hole in my stomach eating away at me. Telling me it was the last I'd ever see him.
Tom was sitting on the couch, with his head in his hands.
“There's never been a fog like this. Not here, never.”
Dennis suddenly jumped up in a burst of courage, “I'm going to drive into town and get some help. We'll find Curt, and then we'll all get out of here. To hell with the fog, to hell with the cops!”
The rest of us looked at each other, uncertain. As much as we all wanted to be out of this hellscape, there was no way ANYONE could drive in this.
“I know what you're all thinking. I won't make it back, but I have to try, we have to do something!” In that, we all agreed.
"I'll go with you, I piped up, regretting the offer as soon as it had left my lips.
"No, I'm taking a risk here, it's not worth any more of us getting lost. You're all better off staying here, see if you can get a hold of the local cops in the meantime.”
Kate had been trying to call them since Curt first ran off into the fog, but kept losing signal. Alternating between using each of our phones with no luck.
We stood on the porch as Dennis prepared to dash to where he remembered parking his car. None of us had dared to set foot any further. Not without a damn good reason.
He turned to the rest of us, “I'll be back in no time. Stay safe”.
The hole in my stomach grew. I felt it again. I was going to lose another friend.
“Don't...” I spat out.
He ignored me, and started jogging off into the fog. We heard a car door open, and slam shut. A small relief... Until a huge crash split the silence, then the alarm on Dennis's car began blaring. Tom started towards the car, but Kate stopped him.
“He'll be fine, I'm sure.”
“...And if he's not!?” Tom blurted out angrily.
“Then you won't be either, if you run headlong into the fog like an idiot!” Another huge crash followed, silencing the car for good.
20 minutes had passed since Dennis ran to his car. We never heard the engine start. Hope was failing.
“I got through! It's ringing!” Kate exclaimed. We sat in suspense, wide eyed as she turned on speakerphone.
"911, what's your emergency.”
"Hello! My friends and I are trapped in a cottage west of Bracebridge. Two of them went out into the fog and have gone missing! We need help!”
“Ma'am I'm going to redirect you to the local law enforcement, can you please tell me the address of the cottage?”
“What's the address?” She yelled to Tom.
"It's..” A huge crash, sounding like a tree being felled could be heard from a distance outside the cottage, then the line cut. Tom stopped. We all couldn't believe it. Immediately she tried redialing, but there was no service, again.
In the middle of the long, sleepless night, I was startled by Kate shaking me out of my false sleep.
“I heard something in the living room!” she said, reaching for the hatchet we decided to keep next to her side of the bed.
I grabbed the machete on my side, and we slowly crept out of our first floor room. It was Tom. Standing by the front door, staring out into the fog. We slowly walked up, closer to him before he spoke, as if he was expecting us.
“We have to go out there. We have to go after them...”
“I think you should try to get some rest dude, we'll sort all this out in the morning...”
“No!” he snapped. “We need to go now!”.
I heard the rhythmic tapping of Duke's paws on the wooden floor. Krystal was standing a few feet behind us, staring sombrely. “It's obvious we can't go out there. There's something seriously disturbing going on here.” she said “It's important we don't lose anyone else.”
She was right. It was a foolish notion. I'm not even sure what crossed Tom's mind.
“We're going to run out of food eventually, if not before potable water. Would it be better if we die a slow death, trapped inside, or attempt to find our friends and put this all behind us?” he retorted.
Somehow, I didn't feel like he was being truthful, I didn't believe he really wanted to go out there after Curt and Dennis.
“Why do you really want to go out there Tom..?” I asked, but was met with silence. He simply put his hand up on to the glass of the door, still staring into the fog.
“Let's all just sit down for a second, I'll make us some tea, or coffee, or something...”
As I reached for his shoulder, he turned around and pushed me back with primal strength, I fell to the floor. I heard Kate scream “No!” When I looked back up, Tom was gone. The door was ajar.
We all sat vacantly around the dining room table. We didn't speak. We couldn't even look at each other. We'd decided to just try to stay inside and hold out until the police came back. What other choice did we really have? After about an hour of silence, I decided to go boil some water for coffee.
“What about when Duke has to go to the bathroom again.?” said Kate.
“We can't go any further than the porch. None of us can..” I hastily responded.
At this point it was about 6 am. We'd pretty much stayed up all night. Other than Tom running off, it was probably the quietest night there had been. Almost suspiciously so. I'd noticed at this point the absence of sounds of the forest. No rustling, no birds, not even sounds of the water lapping gently on the nearby shore. Then, as if answering my thoughts out loud, there was a loud crunch, then creaking. At first, I had no idea what it could have been, then the creak grew into a groan, then a crash! It was obviously very close, a tree had fallen, and a damn big one by the sounds of it. Looking out front we could see it had landed right over the fire pit, toward the cottage, destroying the front stairs.
“Luckily it didn't land any further...” I muttered. Then another crunch. Then nothing.
At about 7, as the sun should have come up, there was a slight lift to the fog. We could now just barely make out the way down to the fire pit. I went on to the porch to see if I could make out Dennis's car, and see if there was any sign of him.
“Hey, guys!” I heard from the direction of the A frame. The voice... It was Curt!
“OVER HERE!!!!” I hollered over.
Finally, the first bit of good news, the first bit of luck we'd had! Maybe he'd been hiding in the A frame the whole time, and decided to try to make it back to the cottage with the fog clearing up!
“Guys, where are you?” He yelled again.
Krystal came running out, tears in her eyes. Until now, she'd done a remarkable job of keeping her composure since his disappearance. “Curt, thank god!” she almost unintelligibly wailed out as she ran just ahead of me on the edge of the porch.
“Hey guys! Guys, where are you?” we heard again.
Something wasn't quite right…
“Curt, over here man, where have you been? Follow the sound of my voice!” silence once more.
“What are you scrambling for?” we heard yelled from the same direction... It sounded off though... it definitely wasn't Curt…
“Dennis, is that you!” Kate asked back.
“Stay safe” silence again. It was definitely Dennis's voice.
“I don't think it's them..” I said softly. We all stared off into the fog in horror.
We backed toward the door, not wanting to turn away from the fog. Just as I, the last one, was entering through the doorway, I heard the most bone chilling phrase.
“Try to dig 'em up next year..”
It was what I had said to Dennis before we decided to bury the Auspicious Ales. It was in my voice. We closed and locked the door behind us, and tried to cover the windows and doors with curtains, sheets, and cushions, so nothing could see in. I don't know what the hell was out there, but it was sure as shit not our friends.
About an hour had passed since we heard the calls. None of us had eaten. I don't think we could have if we tried. Probably for the best anyways, to help conserve our food. I stood up to go over to the bathroom when I felt a painful feeling in my gut. That hole, that disturbing sensation that told me I'd never see my friends again, was back. Stronger than ever, it felt almost like I was sinking. We could hear scraping from just outside the front door. I peeled back the sheet we had used to cover it, just an inch. I first noticed the glint of the empty beer cans, gleaming in what little light there was to catch. Something had drank the Auspiciouses we'd left on the porch... I turned my vision up to scour the landscape. I could see the outline of a person, someone familiar, someone I knew... I covered it back up and retreated from the door. Kate and Krystal looked at me, wondering what I'd seen. As the lock started to shimmy, and release, the door handle turned. I looked at them, almost unable to speak, I told them what I saw.
It was Evan.
Written by Tewahway
Written in 2021, in memory of Evan