25/12/2021 - "Living" Town

Never trust strangers, that's what my uncle always said. Frequently burned by others and their get-rick-quick schemes, he came to stop trusting strangers and he stopped going after such schemes. He lived by those rules to the letter ever since. That is up until recently.

I got a call from him a few months back. His voice was bursting with the energy of a nuclear power station and my attempts to calm him down only increased his fervour. According to him, he had finally made it big in botany. A new fertiliser had turned his small garden into a haven for plant life; he was growing plants so fast that it was impossible to sell it all. He even invited me over to go check it out for myself. I told him that I'd come when I had the chance as I still had school and my part time job to sort out. His last words were that I should come down quick because he didn't think it would last forever. How right he was.

The moment I found a good time to visit him, I made sure not to let it pass me by. Within moments, I was travelling up the mountains to the town where he lived. Along the way, my mind drifted to my memories of him. In spite of his dislike of others, he didn't hate me so much as we were kindred spirits. The both of us had a dislike for cities and for crowds which flew in the face of everyone else in the family. He was always friendly to me and I would visit him from time to time. It's unfortunate that I got to visit him less and less as time went on as school and work started to cut into my life ore, but that just made me treasure the moments that we spent together.

When I got off the train, I took a huge whiff of the country air. It smelled nice, almost too nice. I looked around to see snow for miles on end. The air was chilly, but I had wrapped up warm. My spirits were high. With a smile plastered on my face, I started on my way without a care in the world. That all changed when I noticed a poorly person on the platform.

An older lady was sitting down on the train station, coughing up a storm. I walked over to her and I offered her some pocket tissues I picked up back in the city. She thanked me with a smile before indulging in a bit of small talk about her trip to town to see her grand kids. Then she asked me about where I was going. I told her that I was going to a nearby town that was once a mining town. As those words reached her ears, her smile vanished from her face.

She told me to stay away from that place. When I asked her why, she refused to answer. She just kept repeating that I should not go there for any reason. Every moment she remained silent made me more curious, yet simultaneously more apprehensive. This wasn't the first time someone had tried to ward me off going to a town. Suddenly a deadly thought crossed my mind. My uncle could be in trouble. In a flash, I tried to call him but I couldn't reach him. Chills started to run up and down my body as the thought of my uncle being in trouble reverberated around my mind. I had to go in despite the dangers. I told the lady that I'd be going anyway as I had something to do there. Before I left however, she grabbed my hand, looked me dead in the eye and she told me not to go one last time. Shaking my head, I told her that I had to go and I went on my way.

The bus I took had to go up a hill which overlooked the valley where the town resided. From there I could see a noxious green fog lingering between the streets of the town. Already I had a very bad feeling about what I was doing. Something was deeply wrong with the town and I was going to go straight into it. I took a deep breath and I plucked up all of my courage.

We stopped just outside the town. When I looked out the windows, I could see that the fog was made of snowflakes and multiple tiny particles that resembled spores. The bus driver noted how the mist around this area had gotten so much worse over the months and how it never used to be this bad. Within moments, the spores latched onto the windscreen and he flicked on the wipers. I was the only person to get off at that accursed town.

Even though I'm not too fond of masks, I had to put one on the moment I stepped out of the bus. The air was so thick with spores that it choked the life out of me. Visibility was also abysmal. You couldn't see further than a couple of metres before everything disappeared behind a green wall. The foul appearance was matched by an equally fetid smell. Catching a whiff of it was enough to distract me from my own thoughts. A quick shake of my head got rid of the feeling and I quickly went to check my phone for directions to my uncle's place. It wasn't too far. Maybe he would have some answers about what was going on. I embarked deeper into the spore laden mist.

Everything was caked in snow and spores. Cars were hit particularly bad by the stuff. Most of them were completely shrouded and some were even partially buried by it. Even the streets had a faint green tinge to them. I rubbed my finger along one of the cars and I took a closer look. It was thick and coarse like dust. There were a bunch of colours mixed together too, probably bits of pollen that had all clumped together. I also found a frozen stream. Much like everything else, it too was coloured green. Beneath the surface, algae and fish corpses could be made out, but they were covered in spores. Whatever had happened here must have happened a long time before I got here, I thought. I started to pick up the pace.

Out from the green fog emerged a small convenience store. The lights were off and the entrance was partially blocked by snow, but the door was open so I thought it was open. I thought I'd stop in there for a moment; maybe someone would have an answer to why the town was being plagued by the mysterious mist. As soon as I walked in however, I regretted it. The mist was far thicker than whatever was outside. The displays which once housed goods were now completely covered in spores, pollen and dust. The resulting mix was appalling, both in appearance and smell. The air was much colder than outside too. The counter remained unstaffed but I noticed a small basket for a cat. Something was still in it. I went over to take a closer look.

A dead cat occupied the basket. I didn't need to poke at it to verify that, the rotting smell was enough to dissuade me from investigating further. A strange vine came out from underneath the body. I could only query as to what had caused this. I left the shop in a hurry but there was one thing that gave me pause. I heard some snapping sounds come from the shop as I left, as if a twig had been trodden on. I turned around briefly to see what had caused it. Nothing had changed from the outside at least, so I shrugged and threw my concerns to the wind.

The wide open streets of the town were the most unnerving places to be. Suspicious shadows would dance on the edge of the mist, just far enough to obscure their details. As for what those shadows were, I had no idea. Being surrounded by those shifting shadows started to drive me a little crazy. The shadows in the sky swirled around in strange patterns that left me dizzy while the shadows on the ground pulsed at random intervals, leaving me wondering if I was in the company of ghosts and spirits. I never let my eyes off them no matter where I found myself. I was always watching them just in case something was actually there.

As the streets got narrower, the mist got thicker. Things took a turn for the worst when I heard a terrible crash as I was trawling through an alleyway. I was startled for a moment but soon curiosity overtook me. I ran out to the street to see that a building that had collapsed. A huge amounts of spores leaked out from the wreckage while something hidden by the mist towered over where it once stood. Everything got darker and harder to see as a result but even despite this, I noticed a human hand sticking out from the wreckage, or at least something that looked like one. It was hard to tell as there were so many extra appendages attached to it. Rattled and disturbed, I continued to make my way through the town.

Weaving through ever narrower streets, I made my way to the outskirts of town. The green mist was incredibly thick, so thick that the sky appeared to have darkened. The distance that I could see was greatly reduced too. My hand almost disappeared when I stuck it out. When I looked up, I could still see bizarre patterns swirling above my head. At times I thought I could see them move but they remained perfectly still when I looked straight at them. I was starting to get the feeling that I was going crazy. I sped things up considerably. Maybe I could outrun the feeling, I thought.

The sight of my uncle's place was a great relief. The sight of the open door vanquished that relief. Seeing that made me feel like I was being invited in by something. I started to dread what lay inside, but I had already come so far. My uncle was close and there was no turning back. I took a deep breath before I entered the building.

Everything was much the same as the convenience store. Nothing was untouched by the foul mix of dust, pollen and spores. The only difference was that there was so much more of it there than at the store. The foul mixture was so thick that I found myself trudging through it like the thick snow that blanketed the town. There was an old newspaper lying around, one from many months ago. I checked around to see if there was a more recent paper, but there was nothing of the sort. Gloom started to envelop my soul as I realised that the chances of my uncle surviving were next to zero, but I still believed that there was a slim chance that he was alive. I had come so far and I was determined not to leave without closure. I searched through every room only to find that, in some rooms of the house, I spotted what looked like roots jutting out from the windows, cracks in the walls and anywhere the sewage would run through. It was as if the house was being invaded by plant life. Still, my uncle was nowhere to be seen so I continued on until I got to the garden.

Just seeing my uncle's garden brought me anguish. Whenever he called, he went on all the time about how much care he put into it and how much it had rewarded him for it. The thing he took great pride in was now left in a sorry state. All the plants had been replaced by weeds and wild plants of varying sizes. His shed had been destroyed by a huge plant and his tools were scattered all over the place, some of which jutted out beneath the spores, pollen and snow. Then I saw the man I had come to see.

The sight of my uncle brought me down to my knees in utter despair. I saw his body lying limp beneath a tall plant, his face hidden by his favourite cap. A huge mass of plant matter was attached to his back. I wanted to yell, to scream at the top of my lungs just to get this awful feeling from my body. I hated myself as I felt like I had betrayed him. He had waited all this time for my arrival and I let him down. Then I started blaming myself for what was in front of me. This would not have happened if I had come earlier, closer to when he first called, I thought. Maybe I would have been able to help him if I had responded to his call earlier. Whenever my eyes graced his corpse, the feeling of self loathing came back in full force. Eventually I broke down and I started apologising to the body of my uncle. Those apologies came to an abrupt halt when I heard footsteps behind me.

Running along the wall was a cat. When our eyes met, it stopped moving. I stared at that cat for what felt like an age before it opened its mouth. I was expecting either a meow or nothing but instead I got a yell that sounded more like an elephant's trumpet which had been heavily distorted. I was so alarmed, yet so scared that I couldn't even move. My heart raced as my mind tried to make sense of what was up with that cat. My thoughts were interrupted however by the sound of cracking much like what I heard at the store. Only this time it was much closer to me. I spun around.

My uncle was moving like a puppet on a string. With every movement came that cracking sound. Huge chunks of fungus flaked off as he rose to his feet. It looked like I was watching some ancient machination come to life. When he stood upright, his face could be clearly seen. His tongue had been replaced by a thick thorn and his eyes dangled out from their sockets like a slug's eyes. Much of the fungus had fallen off, but there were still various pieces of it protruding from his clothes. Despite seeing his heavily perverted appearance, I had a tinge of hope that maybe my uncle was still in there. I asked for his name but he did not respond to it. He grabbed my shirt with one hand in an instant before he went straight for my face with the other hand. More accurately, he went for my mask.

He tore it off at breakneck speed before he started choking me. I tried to push him off but he wouldn't let go. Then I tried kicking at him, but he did not respond to any pain. Breathing started to become more difficult and I my struggle grew more violent as he opened his mouth. Whatever he wanted to do, I wanted nothing of it. As I struggled, I got my foot caught on something, one of my uncle's tools, and I stumbled and crashed into my uncle. The two of us fell but his face widened the moment he hit the ground. Numerous garden tools protruded from his body. My uncle refused to stay dead however. He tried to pick himself back on his feet and I didn't want to stick around to see if those tools would hold him back or not. It was time to leave.

The narrow alleys and streets I had travelled along earlier were even darker now. The shrieks of that cat continued to echo for miles around, so much so that I wasn't even sure if the cat was the only one making those noises. They were coming from all around me. In between the chorus of screams, I also heard the sounds of creaking wood, snapping plants and other sounds that indicated that the town was coming back to life, albeit in a twisted and abnormal way. I just wanted to get out of there.

When I got to the convenience store, I could see people coming out from their houses. All of them had become something other than human. Some people had some of their skin replaced with what looked like tree bark. Their faces all lacked visible eyes and some of them had no faces. Others had green skin and branches and leaves of varying sizes protruding from their bodies. Both types of people had one thing in common and that was that they all of them bore great spore spewing spheres which were stuck all over their bodies. As soon as they saw me, they would scream at me in the same way that the cat did before lumbering towards me. The more of them I saw, the more I started to cough. Without my mask, I was certain that the spores were affecting me somehow. I had an idea of what was to happen, but to think about it caused by body to shiver. I tried my best to keep such thoughts at bay but there was only so much I could do about it.

Open roads are usually a spot where I can relax. Being free of the crowds and being able to take a quick breather is something I treasure greatly when I can. Surrounded by the mist that blocked out the sky, the open road brought none of the feelings that it should have. Instead claustrophobia and paranoia were the only things I could feel as I could see shadows emerging and encroaching all around me. I checked the timing sheet for when the next bus would appear. Just looking at it dissipated all sense of hope I had for getting out alive. It would at least be fifteen minutes until the next bus would come. I was stuck in the town with those people and their spores. That wait finally caused my mind to succumb to the desire to announce my fate. I would become one of them. The realisation sent my hopes for survival falling through the snow.

Suddenly a foul feeling in my stomach caused me to lurch forward. Within seconds I vomited all over the floor. There was no doubt in my mind that this was the result of hanging around the fog for too long as my vomit was the same colour as the rest of the town. It melted the snow with ease. I leaned down against a lamp post and I slid down until I was sitting on the snow covered ground. It was so cold, but the sheer hopelessness made me not care about it one bit. Even that brought a sense of dread as I could feel all kinds of things shaking and crumbling through the ground. Multiple buildings were falling all around me, probably crumbling under the weight of the plants that were spewing out from their pores. It was as if an earthquake was raging. All I felt I could do was await my fate; the amount of shadows in the mist was increasing and my cough was growing ever more violent. I regretted not heeding the lady's words and I cursed myself for continuing on. My mind started to wonder if these feelings were the same ones that were felt by the townsfolk when this thing all started, but it all couldn't help me come to terms with dying and having my carcass paraded around to ensnare others.

Just then, I heard the sound of a car engine. My head perked up immediately. I started screaming at the top of my lungs but my energy had been sapped by trying to hold my breath to stop breathing in the spores. Eventually I could not keep it up. The coughing grew more violent and the cold started to bite more and more as my consciousness started to fade. I collapsed to the ground as white lights started penetrating the mist. Just before everything went silent, I heard the sound of gunfire.

When I woke up, the first thing I saw was a little girl. She looked elated when I asked her who she was. I never got an answer as she ran off. A large gruff man accompanied her when she came back, his clothes partially covered by snow. He crouched down and told me how his wife alerted him of someone who looked like me trying to enter that accursed town. He then asked if I had seen anyone else in that town that needed help but I shook my head. I told him that the only people there had been turned into something else. He let out a small chuckle when I told him that and he commented that I was lucky that he was coming back from a hunting trip. Had he not had his rifle, my fate would have probably taken a different turn. Then he asked me what the hell I was doing in that place, to which I replied that I was looking for a relative who resided there. "My condolences," he said, followed by a heavy sigh. I then turned the tabled and asked him a question. What happened there?

The man ushered his little girl out of the room before taking a seat in front of me. He went on about how strange men visited the town, advertising a new miracle fertiliser for plants. Most people refused their offer but there was one man who could not. That man was swept up by the idea of plants growing at an alarming rate and he made no secret that he planned to make tonnes of money from it. His plan worked. A grocery shop was eager to accept and sell his merchandise but this also had the add-on effect of drawing more people to the strange fertiliser.

This all lasted until the money hungry man fell ill. Eventually people stopped seeing him. This fate befell the staff of the grocery shop too and then it started spreading around town. When the sky started turning green, the gruff man thought that something was amiss and he started trying to get people out of the town. Many people didn't heed his warnings however and eventually he found himself ostracised. "Turns out that most people don't like it when people make a fuss," he commented. In the end, he and his family left. Better to save himself and his family, he thought. Eventually the mist grew thicker and the noises from the town ‐ happy noises from a simpler time ‐ were replaced by sounds of pain and anguish before everything fell silent. Ever since then, he says he, and the rest of his family, tried to dissuade others from entering that town as they've believed it to be cursed. A warm smile came up on his face as he said that he wouldn't have to do that any more. I asked him why and he told me the town disappeared. The mine shafts below crumbled and the town sank inside. As if to firmly end the legend, the earthquake triggered landslides that had pretty much buried the town. The Earth had swallowed it up. His smile disappeared when I asked him if the plant life could re-emerge from the ground. He had no answer to my query.

He rebuked me for not heeding the warnings before giving me the directions to the train station. As I left however, I had one final question. What happened to the guys selling the mystery fertiliser? He shrugged. After the people started getting sick and the sky turned green, they stopped showing up. He also mentioned that they came around with business cards but chances are all of them were stuck in that town. I had no plans of returning there. I thanked him for helping me out before I made my leave.

Now that I'm back in Tokyo, I spend my days wondering if I'll ever get a fateful knock on the door by travelling salesmen. If I'm ever offered a special fertiliser, I know to refuse, but I have no idea if anyone else will. The nightmare that befell that town could happen anywhere else, even here. I just have to keep my eyes out and ward people off from it. I had already lost one family member to it and I don't want anyone else going through the pain I did. Most of all, I don't want the tragedy to be repeated, but there's no guarantee that that can't happen. This knowledge fills me with dread like nothing else.

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