Dear Diary,

Our vacation may end up sidetracked by FOG. The SUV is apparently not enough to compensate for dad's poor judgement in retracing the old Route 66. Rain it can handle, but low visibility is all him. Well, him and his misspent youth, or something. Mom is searching for radio stations again, but I don't think we're close enough to Oklahoma City. She's just trying to distract herself from the pointlessness of this. Hopefully at some point it'll sink in with dad, and we can take real roads west. Then we can get the Grand Canyon visit over with, drop off the tinsel tyke in LA, and maybe end up back home in time for some actual relaxation before I have to go back to school. But now I'm just trying

"Holy balls, is this a freeway now?" Her cousin's west coast accent was even thicker when he wasn't paying attention.

"Language, Travis."

Sarah hit the U to both save and "lock" the diary entry, and looked out the window on her own side. Sure enough, the simple road had given way to a concrete wall. Peering over Travis, through the rain and fog, there were two more lanes before a serious-looking concrete divider. "I think he's right, though." As she watched, a fourth lane was added, dimming the center divide in the fog.

"Maybe this is the I-40?" Sarah's dad remained hunkered over the wheel, understandably reluctant to take his eyes off the road.

"We haven't gotten within radio range of Oklahoma City, dear." Sarah's mom gestured helplessly to the dash, but the soft static was around all of them.

"The I-40's a dinky little thing." Travis finally paused his game — he was better at multitasking than his tablet was — to fiddle with his browser, and likely pull up pictures. "This is more like the I-5 or… something."

Sarah sighed and started recording video of the concrete wall on her side; hopefully she'd be able to shop it enough to make out the countryside from the fog. "So we're extra lost."

"We are not lost." Her dad gritted his teeth, but probably wasn't convincing himself. "This has to be the 44 or the 40."

Sarah happened to be scanning ahead of them when something appeared from the fog, and whizzed by. "Oh hey, a sign?" She stopped recording and backed it up, showing something that looked like a beige tombstone, with an angled top, a strange symbol… and text too blurred to read.

"It's a sign of doooom!" Travis giggled as Sarah elbowed him off her shoulder and back over to his side.

Sarah laid her tablet on the center console so everyone could see. "I can't make it out, though."

Travis did a quick search and laid his tablet next to hers, showing a similar sign, except on grass. "Well, the good news is it's an Oklahoma historical marker."

"We aren't lost!"

"Well, this ain't the 40 or the 44." Travis went back to his image list, and swiped back and forth between images of a simple road, like they'd been on… and one raised, but otherwise similarly rural.

"Oh, do you kids have GPS?"

"Yeah, but it's not working any better than yours." Travis shrugged.

Sarah took her tablet back and specifically checked. She hadn't noticed GPS data… and sure enough, it was reading NO SIGNAL. Somehow her cellular Internet connection was working without it, though. "No signal. Freaky."

Then her dad stomped the brakes, and she needed both arms to hang on to her tablet. She then needed to grit her teeth to keep in some choice commentary.

"Holeeee…"

"Language." Sarah's mother had whispered it, riveted to the sight ahead.

Sarah risked a glance, and then was gaping. A dozen big cats were climbing over the concrete wall, crossing the road as casual as you please, then climbing over the center divide and into the fog. Every one had black fur with a few striking white markings, an extra pair of legs in the middle of their considerable length…

…And a bright blue T-shirt wrapped around their head, with a big dark spot over each eye, and the neck opening at the mouth.

"…awesome." Travis had apparently settled on a bowdlerism.

Then one of the cats broke from the line, approaching the SUV and sniffing at the front, especially the headlights.

"Shoo, kitty, shoo…" Sarah's dad was also reduced to whispering by the sight.

"Maybe you should back up, dear…"

He nodded, put the SUV into reverse — and gunned the engine. The front of the SUV slid easily out from under the strange cat, and it backed up, but instead of showing signs of leaving it was crouching to pounce, backing up slowly as if compressing a spring, its mouth lolling open in a big, friendly smile.

Except most species interpret bared teeth rather differently.

"Oh, shitfucks…" Sarah's mom had quite the command of "language" herself, when she wasn't paying attention.

Her dad was backing up slowly and steadily, trying to avoid repeating the impression of a sudden growl, but the cat wasn't buying it. It crawled forward, keeping pace, grinning wider, and bringing its backside in to compress that spring spine even harder.

Then another of the big cats broke from the line, and dope-slapped the one ready to pounce-joust the SUV.

A wave of relief washed over Sarah. Then it was replaced with a stomach-churning clash of emotions when the second cat spoke… no, sang, in a haunting purity of tones that cut right through the sound of rain and through the hull of the SUV and through Sarah's bones and she had to squeeze the tablet to her chest with both hands just to keep one of them from opening the door, so she could charge out into the rain and fog, to do who-knows-what to that cat. It didn't really matter, because if she gave in to the impulse it'd probably just eat her.

Her dad had stopped the SUV, presumably gripped by the same sensation.

"…Dear?"

"Right, right…" He caught his hand over the shifter, so ready to put it into drive, and resumed steadily backing up.

The fact that the second cat wasn't even trying for the effect, and was apparently just bitching at the first, just added to the need to flee. Sarah spared a glace at Travis and he was rocking, his hands balled into fists near his shoulders, an unspeakable expression on his face.

"That's it, we're… we're heading back to Chandler, and staying the night there for this fog to clear!"

"Chandler's pretty small." Travis was strangely detached, as if he was resisting the call by keeping much of his mind elsewhere.

"It… has six churches."

"One of 'em's jehova's witnesses."

Sarah snorted. What was that even supposed to mean? As her dad turned the car around without another word, she tapped the diary app, entered her password, and started a new entry.

Dear Diary,

You're not going to believe this…