The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny

ONE

Into the Dragon’s Mouth

I was out and about that night, taking my trench coat for a walk, when a sudden fog came rolling down the street towards me like a grim grey tidal wave. I stopped, and studied its progress cautiously. We don’t get many fogs, in the Nightside. We get lots of rain, and thunder-storms, and the occasional hail of frogs, but we don’t really do weather, as such. Weather and seasons are part of the natural order of the world, and we don’t really do natural either. So a sudden fog always means trouble for someone.

People on the street were already running ahead of the fog, or disappearing into sheltering doorways, as the thick pearl grey wall rolled relentlessly on, enveloping clubs and shops and soaking up the neon light, till only the merest Technicolor glints showed through, like so many half-blinded eyes. A growing silence moved with the fog as it ate up all the life and laughter in the street. I could see dim shapes moving, caught in the thick mists, struggling slowly like insects caught in hardening amber. The fog smeared itself across shop-windows, filling the night and hanging heavily on the air, surging forward in sudden, billowing clouds. Up close, the pearly grey mists were full of shimmering sparks and uncertain shapes that came and went in a moment. I seriously considered running.

This had all the makings of a flux fog.

Such things are dangerous. A flux fog means the corners of the world aren’t properly nailed down any more, and reality is up for grabs. Inside a flux fog, all certainties are thrown into question, and all the possibilities that ever were are suddenly made equal. Take the wrong turning, in a grey world where every turn looks just like every other, and you could end up walking out of the fog into a whole new place. With no guarantee you’ll ever find a way home again. Everything looks blurred and out of focus in a flux fog because you’re seeing a dozen different dimensions, a hundred possibilities, for every object or person or direction. People and places can change subtly even as you approach them; familiar faces can become strangers, and in the blink of an eye you’re trapped in a world that never knew you. The only real defence against a flux fog is not to be there when one manifests.

I should have known better than to be out and about on such a night. The weather forecast had been Changeable, with a side order of On your own head be it. But I felt the need to go out, to walk up and down the Nightside, to see what there was to be seen and think a few very private thoughts. Some thoughts can only be properly considered when you’ve removed yourself from your comfort zone. A melancholy had come upon me over a period of weeks, and I wasn’t sure why. Things were actually going well, for a change. I was wealthy enough that I could pick and choose my cases, pursuing only those that interested me; and I was respected enough that no-one had tried to kill me in weeks. And Suzie and I were ... closer than ever.

I had everything I’d ever dreamed of So why was I so restless ? Why was I waiting... for the hammer to fall?

Suzie was out pursuing a case of her own, hunting down some poor bastard for the bounty on his head, and the house had seemed very still and quiet without her in it. I’d felt strangely agitated, disturbed, uneasy ...