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A thin fog hung over the high iron gates of the isolated estate on Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco. The night was chill and silent, and for a long time nothing moved among the trees and the dark, distant buildings behind the high fence. The only sound was the muffled churning of surf on rocks far off in the fog.
Somewhere the faint chimes of a clock struck ten times through the mist, when a pickup truck came out of the fog along the narrow dirt road and screeched to a halt outside the high iron gates. A small Chinese man jumped out. For a moment he stood there between the pickup and the high gates as if not sure what to do next.
He wore baggy old corduroy pants, a denim shirt, a dark blue windbreaker, and worn, dirty sneakers. There was something vacant about his smooth Oriental face, which had the almost puzzled expression of a child, but on the thin body of a man in his early thirties. He carried a brass-bound chest of dark wood, about the size of a bowling-ball bag, and he looked around apprehensively.
Suddenly his head cocked like a nervous bird ready to fly. He seemed to hear something in the night; blinking down at the small chest in his hands, he ran to a small side gate beside the high iron gates, unlocked it with a key, went through, and slammed it shut behind him.
Once more he stood and listened, smiling broadly as if all at once feeling happy, and he began to walk up a curving gravel drive toward a large fog-shrouded building some half a mile ahead. He walked in quick, short steps, half-running with one leg almost dragging in a sideways movement like a hurrying crab.
The building loomed before him. Oneof three structures scattered some distance apart on the wooded grounds, it was nothing at all like the other two. Where they were ordinary two-story yellow stucco buildings in a Spanish style, this one was all dark wood and tile with an open porch that ran around all four sides. Wooden pillars held up a high red-lacquered roof like a curved pyramid whose the corners had been turned up -- a Chinese pagoda in the mist of the California shore.
Eagerly, the small Chinese man hurried toward the tall pagoda with his crab-like steps. Then he stopped.
His child-like face became a mask of sheer terror. He stumbled backwards in the gravel drive, still clutching the brass-bound wooden chest.
They seemed to rise up out of the ground, out of the fog itself, between the small Chinese man and the dark, eerie pagoda. Six shapes like wraiths in the mist, blending gray into the swirling night, faceless and silent, gliding soundlessly as if their feet did not touch the earth.
With a low, moaning cry, the small Chinese man turned and ran toward where the trees thinned. He fled wildly, in panic, not looking back. As he reached the last trees, the fog thickened, and he began to stumble over hummocks of grass. Twice he fell, but he got up and ran on, still clinging to the brass-bound box.
A new sound filled the night.
The sound of the ocean on rocks.
A close sound growing louder.
The fleeing man stopped.
He looked behind him in fear -- and ahead of him in terror.
The hooded figures drifted around him, closing in on all sides. Ahead of where the small Chinese man stood shaking, the dark, surging ocean broke on a rocky beach.
The small Chinese man's childlike face collapsed into something not quite human. The brass-bound chest slipped from his fingers to the rocks and sand. The inrushing tide lapped closer.
Whimpering like some small, hopeless animal, he began to back away from the water. Then he turned and saw the six demonic shapes encircling him.
He stood as if paralyzed, only his mouth moving, making low, animal moans of fear.
The six hooded figures closed around him, and he screamed.
Copyright © 2002 by David Linds