Kage Baker was not frightened of very much. Really. She was shy and reserved and suspicious: but she just wasn’t scared of much.
She disliked crowds and strangers, refused to answer the phone at home, would avoid any business where a clerk had ever been rude or clumsy. She preferred not to go near anyplace that had changed too much from how she remembered it – when our High School was torn down and rebuilt (and it really needed it; it was 90 years old and seemed to have been made of moldy gingerbread), Kage declined to look upon the new building – at all. We spent years taking a two-block dogleg around the corner of Franklin and Western, so she wouldn’t be traumatized by the lack of crumbling grey battlements.
Nonetheless, it couldn’t be called fear. If she had to face these things she disliked intensely, she did so with no hysteria. She was just incredibly good at avoiding them in the first place.
Kage was not afraid of dogs, cats, the dark, being lost, property lines or fences. She had no fear of fire or loud noises or deep water – one of her life goals was to be the gunner on a pirate ship. Spiders reduce me to gibbers; Kage would catch them in her hands and toss them out the door (not without a scornful lecture to cowardly-custard me …). Triassic-sized dragonflies sometimes hit your windshield on I-5 – I would pull over, shrieking in horror, and Kage would climb out and dispose of the giant monstrsosity with sarcastic sangfroid.
She was fascinated by the paranormal and just plain weird, as well, but that didn’t frighten her either. (Except King Kong – see Monsters III: 10/22/2010.) No matter how late we stayed up watching monster movies, she’d fall right asleep when we went to bed. A whole evening of “real” ghost stories or Sasquatch hunting or alien abductions would send her to bed with giggles, happily debating the unlikelihood of each eldritch encounter. Me, I’d be up half the night with the lights on, resolutely reading something exciting like a study of post-Permian herbivores.
It took things she made up herself to really scare Kage.
Her story “The Ruined Vacation” (Fictionwise, February 2001) was inspired by a nightmare that wouldn’t let her go. So was the central image of the monster in “Facts Relating To The Arrest of Dr. Kalugin” (Asimov’s, March 1997). A lot of the villains and monsters in her stories began in her nightmares – when they had disturbed her nights for long enough, she’d exorcise them in writing and condemn them to a life as ink and paper. Then they didn’t bother her anymore.
She never wrote down any of the Fog King stories, though. That was something she came up with in early high school, when the Anvil universe was really taking shape. As I said, we grew up in one of Los Angeles’ fog zones: dissolving distances and blurred horizons were familiar to Kage. The first time I remember her talking about the Fog King, we were whiling away a grey afternoon in the empty Hollywood Bowl – it was early June but the season hadn’t begun yet, and the stone amphitheatre was literally full of mist. You could see it tumble and drip over the Shell in surreal slow-motion; it hung in curtains in the middle air above the boxes, sweeping up to drown us where we sat in the cheap seats at the top. Kage looked like an ember in this crepuscular setting – bright red hair, her favourite red plaid scarf around her neck, an appalling old yellow and orange poncho clutched around her.
The Fog King (she told me then) was someone moderately big and bad in the Otherworld of the Children of the Sun. Not quite a demon, not quite a ghost; but he traveled with a court and a host, and his outriders could infiltrate any wall with the least chink in it. He loved most what he could not create: warmth, light, clear air. It was his curse to be drawn to them like a moth to a flame (Moths aren’t attracted to flames, I said. Shut up, said Kage.); but his approach destroyed what he most craved. Fog thickening round lights in the twilight, obscuring them – dripping sadly on the cold wood of quenched fires – darkening lit windows: these were all because the Fog King was seeking warmth, but killed it with his embrace.
Look down there (Kage said, pointing into the great hollow of the Bowl); see how the fog collects under the shell, how it hangs from the lights like curtains? Those are the knights of the Fog King. When they get strong enough, he’ll come and wrap his long pale hands around the lamp, and all the lights around the Bowl will begin to fail … he loves the Children of the Sun (she said) and their cities full of sunlight and white stone; they keep building them by the sea, and so he can come and go as he pleases, filling the bright hot streets with his armies whenever he gets lonely.
And he especially likes the Runners, the swift red girls who carry the messages of the Children along the red roads. He lies in wait in low places for them (she said) and he raises white walls across the roads. His minions line the way in ambush for miles and miles as a runner goes speeding past: and then – just when she pauses to catch her breath – the Fog King will step into the road beside her and wrap his long arms about her … and he’ll suck all the fire in her blood and bones right into himself with a long, cold kiss. It doesn’t hurt, it’s bliss and a sweet darkness, but his arms can’t keep what he craves – and when he moves away, weeping slow cold tears, the runner lies on the road like marble, like porcelain, like a statue of white stone …
We were sitting very close together down in the parking lot, when Momma finally came driving in to get us.
Thank you, Kate. I will be at the Bowl this Sunday night for ‘Turandot.’ I’ll keep a weather-eye open for extra royalty.
But wait… there’s more stories?! Pleeeease…
More? Yes, then, more if you please.