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     Juan and Maria Armenta stood side by side at their front gate as they had done thousands of times before, and watched the sun set over their home, the Gabilans, a range of mountains in central California. The fog was coming from the mountain above them as it had done for years, moving with the cold viscosity of old porridge. They watched their daughter Theresa playing in the rocks which covered their mountain, and were neither happy, nor sad.
     They had lived in the same small home, five miles from the nearest town, for many years; and for all they knew, they would continue to live there, neither happy nor sad, till they died.
     The fog descended around them; Theresa was put to bed, and Maria was sewing, when there was a light that seemed to penetrate the back wall of the cabin, and a sound that she felt rather than heard. Both sensations were so intense that the house shook. Maria closed her eyes and breathed "Jesus, Maria," before even getting to her feet. Juan ran in from the front porch to see that everything was all right. Theresa had stayed quietly asleep through the flash and the roar. Maria grabbed a shawl to keep out the chill of the fog, and she and her husband ran up the hill to see what had happened. The air smelled burnt, as if a fire had just been put out. The fog was thicker than usual, and its color was yellowish, as if it were partly smoke. As they walked farther up the hill, Maria clutching Juan's arm, they heard a silence that was not quite a silence, for it seemed they could hear tiny clickings and whisperings---as if the earth itself were alive. It was like a forest where the birds suddenly stopped singing, or like a filled theater with everyone trying very hard to be quiet: there was the sense of pause, of expectancy. Juan had the feeling that the air should be filled with unearthly noises, yet all he heard was the sound, coming from his open mouth, of his beating heart.
     The smoky fog seemed possessed of a life all its own; it writhed and curled menacingly when not a breath of wind blew; it remained motionless, as if poised or coiled, when it seemed that there was surely a breeze blowing. The path they were following turned a corner, and the burnt odor burst strongly upon them. It smelled like a smoldering pile of wet leaves, but the strange thing was that the hillside was quite dry: a spark would have started a holocaust.
     Flatly refusing to go any further, Maria released her grasp on Juan's arm and ran down the trail toward the cabin. She felt pursued and ran faster. She glanced behind her only to see the fog closing in with swift finality. Breathless she reached the open door of the cabin. A second later her scream told the fog and the mountain that her daughter, Theresa, was gone.
      Juan walked farther, and noticed a faint red glow ahead of him. As the light grew redder, the fog grew denser until it seemed almost as if he were underwater. Though the night air was damp and cold, his feet felt strangely warm. A brush of his hand on the ground told him the reason: the rocks were hot. He shivered, and, afraid to utter a sound, he turned and ran down the mountain. His wife's scream slashed through the fog toward him. He wanted to shout back, but a feeling of the imminence of danger stopped him. The rocks on either side of the path seemed to spring to life in the dark fog. He stopped short in front of an indistinct shadow in the middle of the path below him. As he stared at it, it seemed to enlarge and fill his entire scope of vision. When it became more distinct, he was reduced almost to insanity by the sight, and he fell on his face and began to weep and plead.
      Her shawl lost somewhere on the mountain, her hair streaming free, Maria struggled back up the path, looking for Juan. She kept her teeth clenched tight. No matter what happened, she would not cry out. After her scream, she had that strange feeling people have when they are positive that someone nearby is watching their every move. She felt oppressed, as if a force which had once been generalized had now been concentrated on her since her scream had pointed her out. Her reasoning powers practically gone, she acted on instinct. She had to find her daughter; she had to find her husband. Then she stopped.
     From only a few feet in front of her, she heard her husband's voice speaking very softly. She could hear no words, but she was amazed at his tone. He sounded almost dead with fear and agony. Then she forgot everything in a sudden joy: she heard Theresa's voice. As she was about to run toward the two voices, Juan's became muffled, as if he were speaking from under an unbearable weight. Then the voices stopped and there was only the semi-silence of the smoke and the fog, and the pungence of a smoldering fire. The feeling of crushing forces redoubled. She staggered a few paces forward, and through the fog she could see the form of her husband's body: a body which no longer had a head! She bit her lips until they bled; she pressed her hands on her temples until darts of pain numbed her senses. She mustn't make a sound; she mustn't make a sound. The feeling of force and pressure about her increased. She could scarcely breathe. Through the swirling mist she saw an indistinct shadow in the middle of the path in front of her.
     Incapable of movement, Maria watched. A shape, wavering beside Theresa, grew in size and distinctness. "Mama, Mama, look who I found," Theresa said, looking up at the ever-clearer shape.
     Maria, in utter despair, groveled on the ground, pleading and weeping. Then she stopped, lay very still---and waited.