The Mists of Volhouden

Excerpt from Addleberg Lang:

This story also needs a lot of explaining. I have a series I’m working on (very, very slowly. I have to finish other books first.) called World Jumpers. The World Jumpers are a group of people who have devoted their lives to visiting other worlds through portals. And they’re not trying to figure out how to do that; they’ve been crossing dimensions for decades. They visit other worlds in order to collect tech, medicine, and other research. Of course, there’s another, larger reason that they keep visiting other worlds, but you’ll have to wait until the books come out to know what it is.

The World Jumpers have their base on a planet called Volhouden, one they believe entirely uninhabited except for themselves. It’s a very strange planet, and people who stay there for an extended amount of time become just as strange. The main character in World Jumpers doesn’t stay on Volhouden very long, so the reader doesn’t get to find out much about it. BUt the planet is really quite interesting, despite being completely covered in mist with no discernable landmarks except for the World Jumper compound. (Maybe it’s interesting because of that.) I felt that the world needed to be explored more, but not in World Jumpers. The characters in the series are little too tied up in other worlds to visit their base. So to make up for their absence, I wrote this short story. I hope it’s just as chilling as The Mist is.

↢▲↣

Maggie shrugged on her coat and grabbed her coffee mug. She gave her pistol, resting on her hip, a reassuring pat and then walked out the door for patrol duty. It was chilly outside, as it always was, the sky a dark grey, as usual, and the land was swathed in impenetrable mist that had been there since the very first World Jumper visited Volhouden.

“I hate this world,” Maggie grumbled as she started her slow walk around the compound. Her footsteps were almost silent, muffled by the springy turf that covered every part of the world that they had seen. “If it wasn’t for this stupid shoulder injury I’d be somewhere like Amentia, or Skahlwik, Ha’Addehngish. But noooo, I have to stay here for recovery and do stupid guard duty.”

“Well someone has to.” Maggie jumped at the voice and whirled around, reaching for her pistol. She relaxed when she caught sight of the familiar World Jumper emblem, a portal with six planets around, emblazoned on the man’s jacket. His hair was grey, his eyes were grey, and his skin was beginning to take on that color as well. An Old Timer. Maggie was instantly wary again. The Old Timers on Volhouden were strange. If someone stayed on the planet for too long, their minds became addled and their features slowly started to shift to something other than human.

“I haven’t seen you around here before,” she said, trying to remember the names of the Old Timers on the compound.

“That’s not surprising, I spend most of my time down in the research labs.” Maggie waited for the man to tell her his name, but he said nothing more.

“Why do we even have patrols?” she asked. She had posed the same question to several of her superiors and never received a satisfactory answer. The man blinked at her once and started walking. He passed her and was a few feet away before he turned and motioned for her to follow. Strange as he was, Maggie was grateful for the company. The mist unnerved her, though she couldn’t quite say why. Nothing had ever come out of it.

“Have you ever gone into The Mist before, Maggie?” the man asked. Something about the way he said it made Maggie sure that he spoke of the mist with capital letters.

“No,” she replied, speeding up to match his rapid pace. “And how do you know my name?”

“There are things out there; creatures and such. No matter what the commanders say, the Jumpers aren’t alone on this planet.”

“But it’s not even a full planet, just the remains of one. What could live out there?” Maggie stared at the mist, no The Mist, her sense of unease growing, wriggled in her stomach like a trapped serpent. “Is the creatures who used to live here? The natives?” They had found old pieces of technology, buried in the ground, and immense ruins carved with fantastical patterns and writings. Writings no one had been able to translate yet.

“They are native creatures, but they’re not the ones who built the ruins or made any of the other artifacts that have been found.” The man stopped walking, and Maggie realized that they were standing on the very edge of the compound. There was nothing before her but a vaporous grey wall.

“Then what are they?” she asked in a hushed voice.

“They’re the creatures who destroyed this world and killed every living thing on it.” He turned in a too-quick movement and held Maggie’s gaze with his sharp grey eyes. His Mist grey eyes. “They don’t like sharing this world, and they view the Jumpers as invaders. They’ll get rid of you, one way or another. Even if they have to lure you into the mist, one foolish trainee at a time, they’ll do it.” He kept his voice totally level, absolutely calm, as if he was just telling her the weather. “And see your compound? Your magnificent base? Your home away from home?” Maggie turned and gazed upon the base, it’s edges blurry, it’s structures dark. “They’re going to tear it down. Brick. By. Brick.” There was a soft whooshing noise, like someone exhaling a deep breath. When Maggie turned, the man was gone.

Maggie didn’t know how she made it through her whole patrol, but by some miracle she did. Shaking and breathing in uneven gasps, she stumbled down the flights of stairs that lead to the record room. She leafed through files as fast of her numb hands would let her; searching, searching, searching. At last, she found it. She pulled the file free of the drawer and flipped it open. There was a series of photos of the Old Timer on the front page, one from every year of his service; twenty three in total. She turned to the next page. Travis Leedson. MIA. Disappeared during patrol on the planet Volhouden. Assumed dead. The last photo taken of him looked just like the Travis Leedson Maggie had met. But it was taken forty years ago.