Bay of the Dead - By Mark Morris

'Mike's funny, isn't he?'

Joe Hargreaves glanced at his wife, Jackie, who was sprawled on the passenger seat next to him, bare feet tucked up under her thighs. She had kicked off the high heels which made her legs look fantastic, but which she always complained were crippling to wear, and had released the clip which had been holding her carefully sculpted hair in place all evening. Now, with her blue silk dress shimmering in the light from the dashboard and her mahogany hair tumbling about her shoulders, Joe thought she looked gorgeous. He smiled teasingly.

'Funnier than me?'

'Don't be daft.' She matched his smile with her own. 'Funniest man in the world, you are.'

His smile widened into a grin. 'It's a natural gift,' he said.

'Course,' she murmured nonchalantly, pretending to examine her fingernails, 'I meant funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha.'

He adopted an expression of mortification, and a voice to match. 'Oh, now I'm hurt. I'm cut to the quick.'

She arched an eyebrow. 'The quick? Where's that then?'

'Dunno,' he said, shrugging. 'Opposite the slow?'

They laughed together. It had been a good night. They had spent it visiting their best friends, Mike and Sue Roach, in Llandaff, and were now on their way home to Cowbridge, full of good food and – in Jackie's case – good wine, both of them buzzing from an evening of friendship, laughter and great conversation.

The night was chilly but clear, silvery moonlight edging the trees, fields and hills that rolled gently outwards on either side of the hard grey artery of the A48. During the day this was a busy road, but now, on the wrong side of eleven o'clock, the twin headlamps of cars heading back towards the bright lights of Cardiff were few and far between.

Cocooned in the susurrating warmth from the heater and serenaded by the mournful beauty of Elbow's music drifting from the car's sound system, Jackie felt her eyelids drooping closed. She knew that uncurling herself from her seat and stepping out into the cold when they got home would be doubly horrible if she allowed herself to fall asleep, but she didn't care; she was warm and cosy and tired, and right at this moment that was all that mattered.

She was three-quarters asleep, the soft roar of the engine and the swirling music becoming part of her dream, when Joe said, 'That's strange.'

Reluctantly she opened one eye. 'What is?'

'This fog. It's appeared from nowhere. Look at it. It's like a barrier. Weird.'

Jackie had slumped down in her seat. She struggled upright and peered out through the windscreen. Blinked.

'That is weird,' she said.

The fog, thick and grey and impenetrable, seemed to stretch in a perfectly straight line across the road ahead. It stretched, in fact, as far as the eye could see in either direction, a smoky wall that bisected the landscape to left and right before dissolving into the darkness.

Almost unconsciously, Joe slowed the car to a crawl.

'It is fog, I suppose?' said Jackie. 'It's not something. . . solid?'

'Course it's fog,' Joe snapped, then flashed her a look of apology. 'Sorry, love, it's just. . . I'm a bit freaked by it, that's all.'

Jackie peered out of the passenger window, knowing that a few miles beyond the night-shrouded landscape were the even darker depths of the Bristol Channel. 'Maybe it's come in off the coast,' she said.

Joe made a non-committal sound. It was no kind of explanation, and they both knew it.

'Oh well,' he said, 'it is only fog, I s'pose. What's the worst that can happen?'

Without waiting for a reply, he pressed gently down on the accelerator and the car rumbled forward.

Entering the fog was like having a thick grey blanket thrown over them. Jackie tensed, clenching her fists, holding her breath. The light from the headlamps bounced back, as if from a mirror, dazzling them. Instinctively, Joe braked.

'I'm not happy about this,' he said.

'Just keep going,' said Jackie. 'It's a freak fog bank, that's all. Cold and warm air colliding or something. Just take it slowly and we'll be through it in a minute.'

Joe nodded, and for the next few minutes the car crept forward at little more than twenty miles an hour. All the while, the fog rushed and swirled towards them like something furious and alive. Mesmerised and unnerved, Jackie forced herself to blink, told herself she couldn't really see shapes trying to form from the muscular grey vapour. Her brain was simply trying to make sense of the constantly shifting shapelessness of it. It was a