A rather apt story for these times, maybe
There was a slight fog up ahead. The sun, still hidden below the horizon, was barely lightening up the sky as dawn approached. This wasn’t the usual December fog which blankets the valleys and low-lying fields with dense clouds that lay in drifts almost like snow – but perhaps a suspicion of a fog, a hazy ghost of a fog, always hundreds of metres ahead but dissolving into clear air as the car approached. Just as well, I thought, hating those thick rolling clouds which can be so treacherous on my early morning runs into Perigeuex. As you leave Campsegret the trees surround you like a cloak and you are almost in a tunnel, then as you crest a hill and the windey road twists and turns, especially in this early morning half-light the road can be deceptive at the best of times. No traffic at all for miles today; too early for the lorries trundling down to Spain, and only a smattering of cars occasionally passing by on their way into Bergerac.
After a couple of kilometres though the road straightens out and you can see it rising and falling up ahead. The fog had practically disappeared now, the sun peeping over the Eastern horizon, but up ahead there was still a patch on an upward sloping section of the straight road ahead. Strangely, as I got nearer it seemed just as dense, just as white. I slipped into a dip and lost sight of it, then as I rounded the next hill, there it was still ahead and just as white, just as dense. I wondered if it were some sort of optical illusion, a reflection of the bright morning sunshine perhaps. The nearer I got I expected it to thin out and dissolve, but no; it was still there even at just a hundred metres away, and to my eyes just as dense, just as in-penetrable. I slowed down and stopped maybe twenty metres from the strange gently swirling white mass. It certainly looked like fog, but almost the densest I had ever seen. And there had hardly been a trace before; it wasn’t as if this were just a slightly heavier mist hanging in some valley, besides it was half-way up a slight incline. I sat for a few moments wondering if I should just drive through it. I had seen no cars coming the other way for some time but assumed the few I had seen earlier must have passed safely through this strange mysterious bank of fog. I started the engine up again and drove slowly towards it. Even on the edge it seemed just as thick and I was a bit nervous as the car and I both slipped silently into this shroud-like mystery.
Everything went dark as I became enveloped in this dense white cloud, and silent too; I couldn’t even hear the purr of my Citroen’s engine. It was the strangest feeling, almost like flying, when you take off and are suddenly wrapped in thick clouds, a surreal feeling comes over you as your senses adjust to this nothingness, then suddenly you burst out and are looking down upon fields of snowy cloud rather than up at them. In a couple of minutes I was out of the dense foggy cloud and back into sunshine; looking back in the mirror this strange cloud still sat on the road like a fat white toad, squatting, waiting, so surreal – yet only too real.
Well, I thought – how strange. As I rounded the next hill, I looked back but couldn’t see the misty apparition at all; maybe the slope of the hill it was sitting on had obscured it. When I got to Perigeuex I asked everyone I met for a couple of days if they too had witnessed the strange bank of dense white fog. But no, nobody had seen it or even heard of it, same with the radio and the local Sud-Ouest, no mention of it at all. After a couple of days I let it go, and wondered if I had been imagining it anyway – but it had been so dense, so white, and yet dark within, that it had to have been real.
Two weeks later and a sunny Sunday morning, I decided to wash the car. Passing the sponge over the roof I noticed small flakes of red paint in the water. I looked more closely and there was definitely blistering on the bonnet and the roof. Very small blisters and the undercoat was bleeding through in a few patches. Damn, I thought, the car wasn’t that old. And didn’t they say that cars nowadays will never need a re-spray. A bit peeved I took it my local garage.
“Acide”, old Antoine declared “You must have sprayed some acid on the car, quite strong too” he said. ”Look here, and here too, the bare steel is showing through”
“No Antoine”, I replied. “I have not put acid on my car, why would I do that?”
“Maybe someone, some, how you say – Vandale? has sprayed something corrosif on your car. But it looks like everywhere. I am sorry mon ami, but this needs a complete stripping down and re-painting. Leave it with me and I will get it done in a week or two.”
He kicked the front tyre “This need replacing too, look the tread is almost gone” he walked around the car “Same with all of them. Didn’t you have new tyres last year? Must have been a bad batch, I will check.”
Frustrated and quite worried I drove home in the old Renault Antoine let me borrow while he fixed my Citroen. I was feeling pretty wretched as it was; I’d been suffering a bad dose of diarrhoea, and the headaches I had suffered with as a teenager had returned now in my late fifties. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep; my skin felt as if it were on fire, I was itching all night. I rung in sick the next day and took myself off to see Doctor Leonarde. He said I was rundown; and gave me some ointment for my sore skin. Complete rest he prescribed. And I was all too happy to agree.
I took to my bed, which I haven’t left since. The car is actually a complete write off. Antoine phoned and said he had resprayed it, but it was still blistering even through the new paint.
They are taking me in for tests for cancer later today, I have lost two stone in weight and my skin is peeling so badly I am bleeding in several places, I even have blisters bursting through blisters. So painful. And my vision is completely blurred; my headache is now a perputual hammering in my brain, I just want to sleep all the time. I am really quite ill. I can’t help feeling it must have been that strange bank of white fog. Maybe it wasn’t fog at all – but what else could it have been? There are no chemical factories anywhere around and no-one else seems to have even seen it. Whatever it was, it is the only explanation I can come up with. Why else would my car have corroded so badly? Why else would I have been struck down with this sickness so quickly. Maybe it was just co-incidence, but I don’t really believe in co-incidence. It is possible I have been carrying this peculiar cancer for a few years and it has only just shown itself – but how do you explain the car; even after a respray the paint is still peeling. So, what could it have possibly been, that patch of fog? No-one else has seen it or been affected – a complete mystery. But more urgent is my constant pain, I really hope they find a cure soon, I cannot take much more of this.
I am almost carried into the ambulance car by the paramedics, I am so weak I can barely walk. Doctor Leonarde is extremely worried, he has never seen anything quite like it; he doesn’t think it is cancer but wants me to see the Specialists in Perigeuex.
I nod off in the back but wake as the car brakes slightly and I hear the driver mutter in French “What is that just ahead, it looks like a cloud of white fog, but it is such a clear day, how strange.” The other paramedic says “Ah Emile, it is only a slight fog, nothing to worry about. Drive on.”
I try to knock on the glass dividing panel to warn them, I raise my arm to the glass. But I am too weak. I slump back exhausted. The car drives on and suddenly everything goes dark. I doze off once more.