Short Story: The Devil Was in the Martian Fog

The devil was in the Martian fog that night. He could feel his presence with every gust of wind and slimy, granular droplet of moisture against his face. He could hear him in the oscillating tones as the outpost’s time tower signaled the midnight hour. He could see him as the corner traffic control strobes blinked their warning. He could sense him in the snarling sounds of the Giant Martian Red Armadillos making their nocturnal rounds for refuse control eating the contents of the dumpsters behind the station’s mess hall.

It was a bad night for riding the heated, moving sidewalk across the station’s parade grounds, but he had sworn to himself when he set out on his mission that nothing could make him not complete his hourly rounds. He needed this job to offset his meager early retirement pension from when the rocket factory shut down and they moved the jobs off planet to one of Saturn’s moons.

As he rode the moving sidewalk the sticky goo from the fog was becoming so slimy on him that he longed to get back to the guard shack, shower, and get into a fresh uniform. The temperature continued to drop. His breath’s condensation mixed with the slimy fog and freezing in his mustache and beard. No other night watchman, he thought, dared to brave making his rounds in this weather.  The slimy goo would drive them insane, as it made them feel both suffocated and entombed.  It had happened before to coworkers, but he had learned to tolerate the grainy ooze.

The other two night watchmen on duty huddled around the coffee pot back in the guard shack. They were telling each other lies about what they did in the inter-planetary wars, the evils of multi-universe corporate buyouts and forced retirements and exiles, and what they did with certain Earthling widow women who had retired to Mars to help them not be so lonesome.

In the distance the sound of the of 12:05 AM rocket blasting off to the Martian moon Phobos could be heard. The groans of the tug boats floating out on the hydrargyrum-filled Martian Canals filled the air as they fought their way upstream, against the quicksilver, pushing their barges northward.  The noise became clearer, louder, as he worked his way from the government monitoring station down to the canal front.

As he turned the corner on Jupiter Avenue, he could see two shadowy figures struggling. They were at the door to the Space Traveler’s Relief Center.  Thanks to the light orb over the open door, he could tell this was a life or death struggle. Dang-it, he thought, looks like two drunks trying to kill each other.  I had better go get the Planet Police. Somebody is going to kill someone.  Yet, he stopped.  He was looking, staring.  The devil was looking, too.

Boom! Suddenly, from the Martian Canal was a thunderous explosion.  A ball of fire shot up into the sky.  Burning cylinders of lava spewed from the barge like a giant July 4th fireworks display.  Some went straight up in the night sky.  Some shot up canal from the ship.  My god, one went straight into the pilot’s window on the tug completely obliterating the superstructure. Oh no! One was rocketing straight toward him.

The two drunken men stopped fighting. They yelled inside the Space Traveler’s Relief Center for help. They ran to the corner where the flaming debris hit the man.  The light orb followed them illuminating their each step and bathing them in warmth.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air. The upper body was at least ten feet from his legs. His grayish-purple and pink intestines spread over the distance in-between. His bright red wool night watchman uniform was smoldering.

Moving over to the body, the first drunk stopped. His eyes got wide and fiery. He grew sick to his stomach.  He threw up. He quickly wiped his mouth with his right shirtsleeve. “It cut him in two and almost cooked him at the same time.”

“Dang-it DraYack, any fool can see that.” The second drunk then reached for a silver flask exposed from the rear pocket of the deceased. “Who, who is he?”

The tall, slender Overseer from the Space Traveler’s Relief Center ran outside and down to the corner in answer to the men’s cries and the noise of the explosion. He didn’t see the second drunk grab the silver flask and put it inside his shirt. He heard and answered the second drunk’s question. “Why that’s the night watchman.”

Ka-boom! “Hit the dirt!” someone yelled.  Everyone dropped to the ground.  The Overseer’s helmet went flying as he dove for cover behind the dead man’s body.  Another massive explosion rocked the faltering vessel.

The tugboat was sinking into the depths of the canal fast. There were no more explosions, only flames. “What in the devil was it hauling to explode like that?” asked the Overseer.

They all moved back over and stared down at the red clad corpse. The first drunk broke the silence. “Hey Overseer, I thought someone was shelling us for a minute.” He paused looking around, glancing at the shiny silver of the Canal.

The Overseer was shaking his head right and left in a sort of disbelief kind of way. “Guess the deities have a sense of humor. They didn’t protect this man who had survived the Venetian Wars and his sentence working at the rocket factory. Instead they allow lava cylinders to kill and leave this being’s blood on the streets.”

The few blood curdling cries and screams from the injured in the Martian Canal started reaching their ears. The screams hadn’t lasted long.  The miniature canal gators quickly had entered the canal. They had a feeding frenzy on the injured and dead. They just as quickly moved back to the far bank of the Martian Canal to nap after their meal.

The Overseer was chanting some ritualistic death mantra over the night watchman’s body. He stopped chanting. He looked up saying, “Guess I had better go get the undertaker to take care of remains.”

A man dressed in black spoke up from the back of the gathering crowd. “No need. I’m already here.” It was the Digger Griffin, the undertaker.

All looked at the undertaker. The devil was looking too.  The devil was smiling.  The devil had been in the Martian fog and for the devil it had been a good night.

Author: Jimmie Aaron Kepler, Ed.D.

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a full-time writer. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, to a career military father and stay at home mother. He lived in six states and attended eight different schools before graduating high school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in History with minors in English and Military Science from The University of Texas at Arlington, Master of Arts and Master of Religious Education degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the Doctor of Education degree. Before writing full-time, he worked as a US Army officer for 10-years, religious educator for 18-years, and as an IT software application engineer for over 20-years. He is a widower. He lives in North Texas with his cat Lacey.

One thought on “Short Story: The Devil Was in the Martian Fog”

  1. I wrote this about 30 plus years ago. It was written as a writing challenge on an assigned topic. It is what it is. You can see Ray Bradbury’s influence for sure. I tried several times selling it unsuccessfully, but it was still fun to write.

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