That was what they called it. The fog that rolled in from the hills some nights and sent everyone to sleep. When the sun rose, so too did the citizens of Glothe. Under the shroud of retreating mists, they picked themselves up off the street or wherever they landed and carried on with life as though it had never been so rudely interrupted. But there were some who never woke.
Tehra was immune to the duskhaze. She didn’t know why, but she didn’t sleep like the others and instead spent the nights patrolling the streets. Glothe had not been attacked in all her fourteen years but as the only one still conscious, Tehra felt responsible for the township’s safety. And so, on nights when the mist fell, she walked: one end of the village to the other.
She could always tell the ones who wouldn’t wake. Their poses were rigid, arms straight by their sides, ready for the coffin. Tehra found tonight’s victim in the narrow alleyway behind the tavern, a man stiff as a board, propped against old kegs like a ladder. She placed a finger under the man’s nostrils. He was breathing, like the others, slow and shallow.
Tehra circled the man as she examined his precarious balance against the wooden keg. He was much larger than her—in girth and in height—but she tried her best to move him gently. Despite her efforts, the man slid sideways from his perch, landing in the dirt like a sack of grain. Thankfully, he didn’t burst and spill his contents.
He was dressed surprisingly well for a pub rat, Tehra noted. His carefully mended jerkin shimmered with a glossy sheen from the moisture brought on by the duskhaze. He had a wife somewhere, but she wouldn’t remember him now. No one noticed the ones who didn’t wake. The duskhaze erased them as if their conscious state was inextricably linked to their existence. But Tehra never forgot. She made sure of it.
Grabbing the man by the ankles, Tehra dragged him through the streets back to her parents’ farm. It wasn’t a dignified way to move the victims but it was the best she could do on her own. Setting him down outside the old barn, she unbolted the heavy plank keeping the door in place. The wood groaned on its hinges to reveal sleeping bodies lined in rows on the straw-covered floor.
Tehra pulled the man into place and brushed the dirt from her hands. She stepped over his body, and around the many others, to pause at the couple laid closest to the entrance. She placed a kiss on each of their leathery faces.
‘Good morning, Mama, Papa,’ she said.
They didn’t respond; they never did. Tehra pulled the door back into place and bolted it behind her. Dawn broke and pierced the quickly thinning duskhaze with its golden rays.
Tehra looked to the sky and smiled.
The morning was always glorious. So glorious.
This was written for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly Furious Fiction competition: a 500-word writing challenge to be completed in no more than 55 hours utilising the supplied prompt.
February’s submission had to feature a GUARD of some sorts; have an opening and closing sentence of just two words; and feature the following words: NARROW, GOLDEN, LEATHERY and GLOSSY
(c) Jessica A. McMinn 2020
Comments and critiques are welcome and encouraged.