Cranston felt the weight of the storm moving in. Autumn was a time of year he looked forward to, yet this year he found himself overwhelmed with a dark melancholy. In the past few years he felt the edge creep in over him. He was one who usually did not shy away from being alone. Large gatherings made him uneasy and relationships were where he had a hard time keeping up his end of the bargain.

It was a little more than that. He used to find this world an easy place to live, This was no longer the case. He was a scientist by trade and an artist when he could find the time and energy. He remembers summer being a time of comfort and and joy. The breezes were forgiving, and one rarely needed air conditioning. This was what a lot of people were now referring to as early autumn. To the non believers this was a season to be ignored, and it is god’s will. And to others they called it wildfire season. It just blended in.

Cranston spent the last half hour walking up and down the banks of the mighty river that roared over rocks and boulders with late summer muted enthusiasm. His mission was to shake his recent innui and he could vaguely feel it working. His thoughts were of crisp days and getting back to things he rather enjoyed. He picked up little clams that were left behind by the receding tide. Instinctively, he observed them and he was mildly surprised of the clearness of the water. For minutes at a time he could forget that climate change was a way of life and death. That is the down side of being educated and empathetic. With empathy comes great responsibility. It is easier said than done. He spotted two young women walking slowly toward him.

Maria and Polly walked this section of the river often. It was not well travelled and the dogs could play in the clear cool water. On most days they rarely encountered all that many people. The temperature dropped quickly in the last quarter hour and fog started to build on the water and began creeping slowly inland. And by definition, does the difference really matter, There may have been some fog but there was definitely smoke from nearby wildfires mixed in.

The man walking the other way emerged slowly out of the fog . They could make out, he was wearing blue pants and was of muscular build. He sported a well trimmed black speckled beard and a porn star mustache. Polly, per usual, pointed out to Maria that the approaching man was extremely good looking. Maria crisply snapped back, that she knew she was going to say something similar. Polly unbuttoned one button on her shirt for reassurance.

As he came near Polly extended a wave of her hand and a sly seductive wink. The man gave them a non-plussed nod of acknowledgement . He tipped his hat, then stopped and waded ankle deep into the tepid water with his back facing the two women.

“Nice day for a swim” one of the woman said with a rise at the end, indicating it was more a question than a statement . The day had grown suddenly chilly, making the words a tad more misdirected than initially intended . Cranston then waded another ten yards out into the water and stopped once more. This time the water came up to his navel. Forty yards out, a large pleasure boat bounced swiftly on the water heading back to the nearby marina.

This sent small ripples across the water amd a few seconds later angry waves pounded the sandy beach. Polly was distracted by the boat, the fog and the waves. She looked away from the magnificent man standing in the water and when she looked back to find him she no longer could see him. By now, the fog was that much thicker in places. It moved up and down the river with varying viscosity. The next minute the sun briefly made its way through the pea soap shedding light at where she thought the man once stood. All she saw was a hat floating in the water.

Polly sat and stared at the hat floating on the water. It was a curious sight as by now leaves and occasional twigs floated down stream while the hat remained in the same position in the water. The hat soon faded from view as the fog thickened once again.

A wind picked up from the west and and a splash of water could be heard from the beach. It was difficult to locate exactly where the splash came from but it seemed to come from where the hat hung in the water. The afternoon was getting stranger by the moment and the fog seemed to separate another hundred years out. It was like looking though a tunnel and there was light on the far side. The light did not shine back rather it radiated as if was was part of another dimension. The water sparkled of yellows blues and grays. The smog took on an ethereal splendor. The hat remained bobbing in the river waves. A warm rain began to fall.

Polly stood transfixed at the sparkled wet stream that fell. It was a magical rain, one like she had never seen before. Transfixed, she waded into the water up to her knees just like the majestic man had done ten minutes previous. She wasn’t even sure she was going in the right direction. She winced as a clamshell cut into the heel of her foot. She simply ignored it and walked out another seven yards. The sandy river bottom was rather easy to navigate.

Through the fog, sat a brown fedora bobbing in the water. The water was now fairly placid. She stood and stared once again as the sparkle faded in the fog. The fog thickened once again. She started wading toward the floating hat and suddenly the water grew deeper. She had to tread water over to the suspended hat. None of this made sense to her and she could not remember the last time she swam.

She was afraid for what she would find. What was happening under neath the water below the hat. It was then that she realized it was just a hat. The hat was held in place by a rope snagged on an under water branch. Briefly she lost the memory of what brought her here in the first place. All she knew, was she needed to get out of this murky mess.

She paddled frantically for a what seemed like minutes until she realized she could now walk to shore. She did exactly that as a ferocious chill overtook her body. Maria wrapped a wool blanket around her as she emerged from the water. Polly, earlier in the day, insisted on a wool blanket to sit by the beach. She was glad that she did. She sat on the beach cold and disheveled as Maria started a fire on the beach. Polly was disoriented and time made little sense.

After what could have been a minute or an hour she started to feel toasty warm. A certain calm came over her and she flashed a smile of appreciation in Maria’s direction. She embraced her in a warm appreciated hug and looked over her shoulder. She brushed away her corn silk hair and focused for a second, She thought she saw a bearded man turn and walk up the path leading away from the beach. His bald head had an orbit of its own.

And he once again disappeared into the fog.

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