Monday, August 25, 2014


Fog and Fireflies
104,154 words
YA Fantasy

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 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.  Mae and Maya still giggled, but many older children had been quiet and withdrawn recently. The extended duration and malevolence of this fog bank worried them.

For Ogma that worry never left. The pit in her stomach while on patrol became a tightness between her shoulders whenever off. She sighed and rolled over again, cheek resting against the cool, polished wooden rail of the bunk as she looked down at the common room.

One of the youngest children was tugging on the sleeve of the eldest, nearly in his 17th 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.

“Wheeler?! Are. you. awake?!” the little girl whined mercilessly. “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.

“Shadow puppets!”
  “Shadow puppets!”

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 children 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 blissfully asleep, despite the ruckus.

Emma tugged insistently at his blanket. He opened one eye appraisingly and swept it 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. But then, her own experiments had only extended so far as making some very convincing hand-shaped shadow-puppets. To be fair, he did sometimes conscript one of the other children for some of the more complicated scenes.

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, his ready assistant for the evening’s storytelling.

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.  The children had fallen truly silent, in 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.”


  1. I love the title of your story, both ominous and enlightening. Your writing flows beautifully and the descriptions are clear and very well done. In addition, you do a great job of showing emotions rather than telling.

    While I enjoy your writing, and I'm intrigued about a world where children keep watch on a wall, it took a while to hint at what the story may be about. A suggestion would be to provide a few clues earlier on.

  2. The strength of your characters really shines through in these pages! I was also intrigued by the children standing watch on the wall. The descriptions are very well done, though I wonder if they could come a little later, with more action or interaction in the first page or two. Best of luck to you!

  3. I'm also intrigued by this one! I really love the setting you've constructed here. Little details like the wooden bunks and the charcoal drawings really immerse the reader. A tad bit more interaction with Ogma might be nice, but overall I really enjoyed this and would read on.

  4. Lovely start! You set an intriguing scene, and I'd definitely read more.

    You don't need your exact word count and can round it down; 104,000 is fine. You're aware this is little long for a debut author's YA fantasy, right? Consider tightening it to below 100K.

  5. The premise is interesting, and the dynamic between the children is well done. I worried that there may have been too many introductions to characters in this beginning excerpt, and I would have also liked a little more insight into this world, and the fog.

    Good luck!


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