Fiction Adventure

The fog marked the edge of the world. It marked inexplicable pain, suffering, and certain death. But I’ve touched it now. Why was I still alive?

I was back again, bag packed, standing at the edge. Nobody would notice, nobody would think to notice. I wouldn’t have. Why would anyone think to willingly step into a raging fire or lay face down in the hot spring?

The fog swirled just below my feet. The first time was an accident, maybe I got lucky. The scrape on my leg from the fall still ached.

I was going to touch it again.

It was colder than I remembered. Maybe the anxiety had numbed my body the first time. Now the excitement had enhanced my senses.

The fog was thin up close. From the plateau it looked impassible as stone, but here it flowed like water.

Another step.

The dirt was no different here. The stones still held my weight.

Another two steps.

The fog was at my waist. I held my breath and ducked my head under for a single moment then back up. Should I breathe again? What if the fog stuck to the inside of my body and I couldn’t get it out? I climbed back up until I was no longer touching it and exhaled deeply. The fog didn’t stick, but I tasted it, I smelled it. It smelled like a soft summer shower. Was this a form of summer shower? Was the fog nothing more than an eternal mist?

My heart raced. I was scared, sure, but this changed everything. I could have gone home, I could have told the elders that the fog was just water. But they wouldn’t listen, would they? They’d ignore the discovery and jump to reprimand. I would be punished for going this far from the plateau, let alone touching the fog.

I stepped back in.

Each foot followed just after the last. The fog was thin in front of me but still thick a few lengths away.

I kept stepping.

Stones, branches, plants. Plants? In the fog? The life suffocating fog harbored plants? And not just plants. I kept moving and came to a tree, many trees. So many trees that the fog lifted a little. Was this another forest or was it somehow attached to the sacred forest on the plateau?

I moved more freely now. The trees were bare enough at my height that I could see a clear way down. The fog grew lighter with each step and my pace quickened. Each tree I passed was like a friend encouraging me, telling me to keep moving. I circumvented boulders and fallen logs as I saw an opening in the trees. It was brighter there and I headed straight for it.

My feet stopped cold and I caught my breath. All my thoughts, my assumptions, my laws were broken. My eyes took in a sight that frightened me beyond explanation. I could see what the fog had hidden all my life.

I saw color filled tree tops, magnificent cliff faces, and at unimaginable distances away I saw what must be the bottom of other plateaus cutoff by the fog that now flowed above me.

What stunned me most was that I could see at all. The fog didn’t block the light down here. Was that because the fog was thin? So thin that light was allowed through?

I knew I must go back. I must tell the elders, and if they didn’t listen, I would tell the people. They deserved to know what had been kept from them. There was beauty here; there was life here. But would they listen? Would they understand without seeing it? How many would venture down to see it for themselves? Would the elders allow even that?

Of course not.

My words would be those of a heretic.

I found my footing again and stepped.

I could see a clearing below me. I’d rest there and collect my thoughts. The sun was rising as I left, so I should have plenty of time to rest and make my way back up before dark.

The trees were sparse in this area but the stones had formed an easy path down. The clearing was not far. I took in the sights as long as possible before entering the clearing at last, but it was not as empty as I had assumed it would be.

I was bewildered to see a tatter of cloth and sticks. A collapsed tent, not unlike the one in my bag. A circle of large stones surrounded the cold remains of a fire. Someone had been here. But how?

I presumed I had seen other plateaus but so far in the distance, so far away. How could someone have made it all the way here? And where were they now?

No, this must have been the camp of someone from my own plateau. But who could have left without notice? Well, I had, so maybe someone else had before me. I walked the camp several times, eating a bit of the beans and goat that I brought. There was nothing else here, no trace of who set the camp. But to my surprise, there was a bit of a trail on the downward side of the clearing. An opening in the trees and a dirt worn path lead away from the camp, away from the plateau. I should to go home. It was approaching mid-morning I was sure.

But maybe a few more steps wouldn’t make a difference.

The trail was well formed, but not recent. The dirt was packed down and the branches of the trees were broken, even cut away from it. I’d follow it for a bit and turn back when it ended. Perhaps it lead to a water source for the camp.

I’d noticed that the ground had become easier to travel in other ways, too. It was no longer steep and rocky but covered in dirt and brush. I was stepping on moss and leaves more than stone now. The smell of the air was different too. The sap of the trees seemed to flow more willingly here and it filled my nose with a peculiar sweetness I quite enjoyed. It was warm too. I found I had to remove my coat after awhile. This place was exotic, and I was an outsider. Though that was a familiar feeling on the plateau.

The trail had guided me to water after all. A small stream flowed here from the ground. I had filled my goat bladder as I’d only just noticed that it was nearly empty. Then another question came. Would there be goats down here? There must have been, as new ones tended to arise from the fog every so often. The elders called the goats a gift from the fog god Aero, but now I was not so sure. Could they have been living their lives down here and accidentally gotten themselves caught on our plateau? Did we take them from their homes to keep them for our own? Could the goats have made the trail? Maybe, but not the camp.

Thinking of the trail, I noticed it continued on the other side instead of ending at the water.

I stepped carefully across the shallow water and continued down the trail. Occasional gaps in the trees revealed that I had traveled much lower down the plateau than I realized. I would stop at the next clearing and prepare myself to return home. This world was pulling me deeper in.

A horn in the distance suppressed my awe. I was silent and still.

The horn blew again. It was distant but clear. I was not alone in this forest. Now was my chance to turn back. I had come too far down from the plateau and now I was given a sign by the gods to leave this place and return home.

The horn sounded again, but more distant this time and lower. Maybe they were fleeing, whoever they were. Could there have been a group of people down here, not living on a plateau but in this underworld? The trail was leading towards the sound. I may regret this decision, but I must see just a bit more. At the worst I would return home at dusk now.

The trees had grown a bit thicker but the trail was alive and I followed it closely. It held my hand alone in this new place and I trusted it with my life. Each twist and turn I followed. Every root worn down and stone pushed to the side told me to keep going. This trail wanted to be followed, I would not forbid it its purpose. I twisted around a thick bush and bumped into something as tall as me, as strong as me, and as human as me.

I acted fast and grabbed at the man’s unusual cloth top with my left and raised a fist my right. I knew only one way of defense, and that was to strike fast and first.

I see now this was my fear’s way of consoling the fact that I was about to hurt a man. I had learned punishment from the best.

We stood frozen together in that moment, before I saw his eyes. He was frightened of me. He had made no effort to defend against my grip and just stood, hands back by his head. He watched me.

“Who are you?” I requested.

“Jim,” he pleaded, “My name is Ranger Jim. Please, I’m not going to hurt you.”

I was still holding the man by the top. I watched his eyes for any sign of his intended movement. He only looked back at me.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Landi,” I answered.

“Are you coming from the camp?” he asked again.

I was. Maybe I shouldn’t be holding him as tight, there seemed to be no intention of harm.

“Yes,” I replied. I loosened my grip on the man’s top. He took a breath of relief.

“Are you from here?” I hesitated, “From the forest?”

“From the forest? No, of course not. This time of year I’m from Tranquility. I’m stationed there.”

I didn’t know that word stationed. I think the man could see the confusion on my face as he said it.

“Do you know where you are? Do you need help? You’re pretty far up the mountain and not carrying very much.”

Mountain. Another unfamiliar word. Did he mean the plateau?

The man took a step back, finally realizing what he was looking at.

“Did you come from the top? From the plateau?” the man whispered.

I thought carefully. Was it wise to tell this stranger where I was from? Would he find a way to my people and hurt them? Would he tell them that I had ventured below the fog? Would he be able to convince them that this world existed?

“I have,” I whispered back, ashamed of my secret. Ashamed of the rebellion of my elders.

The man looked at me with thoughtful eyes.

“Come with me,” he requested, “let’s get you to a station.”


“Yes, it’s somewhere safe where we can help take care of you.”

“I do not need to be taken care of. I will return to my people.”

“Landi? It’ll be very dark by the time you make it back to the plateau. Please, let me help you. This mountain gets dangerous and cold at night. Let me and my friends keep you safe and warm. We can feed you and then you can return to the top in the morning.”

April 24, 2024 21:59

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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