Fog and Fireflies
No one knows why children are immune to the fog-phantoms’ touch, but they must guard the village against the fog which carries it through a changing landscape and crashes against its walls like a stormy sea.
Ogma has seen fear in the face of the boy who leads them. He’ll be too old soon. But when he offers her leadership, she refuses— afraid to grow up.
A break in the fog brings a festival, cut short when the village is attacked. Ogma’s friends are kidnapped and she finds herself lost in the fog, alone.
The fog carries strange flotsam: beasts, Caravanners, and the temples of ruined gods now slumbering. With the aid of new companions, as friendly as they are inhuman, Ogma finds the missing children, but discovers to her grief that they are captives of a trusted friend. To save them, she must learn the difference between growing older and growing up.
First Five Pages:
Ogma woke, as she always did, with a start and knot of tight fear in her stomach. Eyes closed, she strained to catch the echo of a bell tolling - unsure if it was heard in waking or dreaming. She wrapped her arms around that tight pit of fear, as familiar in its own way as the stuffed animals the youngest children slept with. She breathed in the clean scent of rain, pattering on the roof. The rain was good, a respite: it would tamp down the fog.
The fear subsided.
Ogma lay in one of the many wooden bunks that ringed the interior wall of the watch house. It was warm, and for a moment she did nothing more than burrow further into her blankets, sliding her legs beneath the sheets and snuggling her face against her pillow. Upon waking further she frowned and rolled onto her back. She was definitely too old to snuggle.
It was still deep night outside, probably only a few hours after she had stumbled into the watch house and climbed into her bunk. A charcoal drawing was dancing on the rafters; Ogma hadn’t noticed it when she’d climbed wearily into bed after returning from her patrol on the wall. She could picture some enterprising child teetering on tiptoes atop the bunk to draw the strange-looking bird. Ogma tilted her head. Or is it a mule? Probably the work of the acrobatic and determined Ambrose. It did not bode well for his future as an artist.
The murmur of the children in the watch house, most of them younger, was a reassuring noise. It was… tiring, and irritating, and loud, and sticky, and sometimes smelly, Ogma thought, but also comforting.
“How is it tonight?” A quiet voice whispered from a bunk below Ogma’s. Ogma could hear the leather creak as Rora laced up her boots.
“Mm- the fog?” Ogma sighed, the pit in her stomach retreating to a tension in her shoulders. “About the same. Lapping right at the edge of the rampart.”
“It’s been whispering… making faces.” Ogma raised a hand to the bells around her neck.
“It’s got to break soon. It’s been days and days…” Rora waited, as if expecting a reply, but Ogma didn’t know what to say. “It’s got to.”
Ogma sighed and rolled over, cheek resting against the cool, polished wooden rail of the bunk as she looked down at the common room. She watched Rora stride confidently to the door, and into the night, chiming her own bells softly as she left for her patrol.
One of the youngest children was tugging on the sleeve of the eldest, nearly in his seventeenth season and their de-facto leader, draped as he usually was across one of the low bunks nearest the fire. “Wheeler? Are you awake?” Wheeler was face down on his bunk, and having grown almost to his adult height, his feet hung off the edge and his arms down either side of the child-sized bunk.
He’ll have to leave us soon, Ogma thought in sudden anxiety. She shoved that icy bolt of fear away to deal with later.
“Can we have shadow puppets?” Emma was only 5 seasons old, but she was an expert at wheedling her own way out of the older children, especially Wheeler. Even the other children who were sleeping, or trying to, after long shifts on the wall, were getting up and adding their voices.
Wheeler didn’t even roll over.
“Yeah, c’mon Wheeler! Do the shadow puppets.” Cole, about Ogma’s age, was one of the older boys and styled himself Wheeler’s lieutenant. A beat later he added, “You know how much the younger kids like it.” Ogma threw him a look. The youngest were all beginning to gather by the fire, laughing and hooting while the older ones sat up in their bunks.
Wheeler, for his part, was still stoically pretending to be asleep.
Emma tugged at his blanket. He swept an appraising eye around the room, then closed it again, rolled over, and gave a terrific snore. The younger children gave a collective groan of frustration. The older ones chucked their pillows at him.
“Wheeler, wake up! Shadow puppets!!” Emma’s voice increased in pitch, that slight edge of a child about to get very frustrated and very loud. There was a breath of silence, while the children waited for Wheeler’s reaction.
He burst up from the bed, firing off pillows of his own at his tormentors and pawing back his unruly bed-head. He tossed little Emma over his shoulder, the toddler now giggling madly, and grinned at the cheering faces.
“Alright you rascals! But you’d better not wake up anyone who’s been on the wall tonight.” And with a wink, he shot a look up at Ogma’s bunk.
—Just in time to be hit in the face by her pillow.
“Just get on with it, you big lump!” She grinned. The other children back from patrol, all wide awake and bright-eyed, whistled their agreement.
“Phah. And in my own house.” He put Emma down gently, turning up his nose and stalking over to the fireplace. The children’s hubbub devolved into the sound of their loudly hushing each other.
Wheeler carefully pulled a carved screen in front of the hearth, dimming the glow in the room until Ogma could see only silhouettes. He lit the end of a stick of kindling from the fire, and used it to light a dark lantern, sliding the metal hood around to focus a single square of light on the wall. Cracking his knuckles and narrowing his eyes in concentration, he grasped at the narrow beam of light with his hands, molding the shadows to his design like so much clay. He warmed up with a few basic shapes while the children looked on: first a bird in flight, next a dog barking, and then a goose. Each shadow cast on the wall looked more motive and more lifelike.
Wheeler had a talent.
Ogma had never been quite sure how he managed some of those shapes with only two hands. She was fairly confident that some of the ones he could make had more legs than he had fingers.
Having limbered up, Wheeler made a horse gallop across the wall and leap into the air to become an eagle. The children gasped in delight. He gave a grunt of satisfaction, and a nod to little Emma who stood solemnly by his side, eyes shining.
He put a small wooden frame in front of the dark lantern, one that he had carved himself, casting the silhouette of a rampart onto the wall. He had many: freestanding silhouettes of castles and towers, trees and fantastic mountains, caravan wagons and beasts, some on sticks he could hold between his fingers, or short poles he could prop against his knee. A few were on the ends of string so he could hang them from the rafters. His props in hand, he then carefully reached behind the fireplace screen with the tongs and took up a smoldering coal, which he then carefully dropped into a tin bowl below the lantern. He had the children’s rapt attention. A couple drops of water and a cloud of steam billowed from the bowl, casting a formless, shifting shadow that drifted across the silhouette of the wall, laying siege.
Ogma shivered as Wheeler, whispering, began. The beginning of every story was the same.
“This is why we watch the fog.”