"The Path to Fogstorm" is one of those for me. Incomplete, it was originally written in freehand on lined paper, dated November 28, 2006 - only months after I resolved to try writing things seriously for once. Then, as now, I didn't have any idea where I was taking it; at the time, I was planning on having it be a part of some "future Earth wrecked by a magical apocalypse" setting, before I ditched that sort of concept back in 2007. When I rewrite and complete it, I've been thinking of setting it on a habitable red dwarf planet - one of those worlds where the plants are all black and the sky is perpetually a ruddy twilight. Atmospheric, I think.
"The Path to Fogstorm," Zeroth Draft
by Andrew Barton
"The Path to Fogstorm," Zeroth Draft
by Andrew Barton
They say I'm the best lightman that's walked the path in years, but I'm not too sure what to think about that. Little Sis says the old boys are trying to feed my ego and make me feel part of the gang. Might be that, but then she's never known any other lightman than me. The way I've been figuring it, they all say that so I'll work all the harder and let 'em all slack off back safe in town.
When I'm out on the path sometimes I wonder if I'm crazy, doing so much of what I do. Isn't hardly no justice for a kid like me to have to do most of it all, just because I'm not scared of the dark like they are. Or maybe it's because I know deep down, not really wanting to, that I don't have all that much to lose. Whatever it is, I've never had so much as a hair twitch in all the days and nights I've walked that path.
At least it's quiet. Feels like sometimes the lurkers are scared of me just like all the old boys are scared of them. me, I've never seen one, and if it wasn't for the way the forest acts out past town I might not believe they're even there. The lights keep them in their shadows and away from decent folk, and it's every lightman's job to make sure they never go out. Little Sis says it's like what priests used to do before the world tried to kill itself, but I've never felt very much like God was ever watching me. I don't think even Heaven has stuff that can look through that cloud.
Doesn't matter if anyone's watching us in the end, be 'em lurkers or angels. We get by.
You didn't have to walk far past the stockade to not be able to tell that Fogstorm was there at all. If it was up to us we'd probably have retired the last lightman before I was born and to hell with the whole business, but Fogstorm wasn't the kind of village that could stand all on its own. We had traders roll up to the gates every once in a while, but only if all the lights were kept burning. Those old boys back behind the walls were fearless next to someone who hadn't grown up in our endless twilight.
So it wasn't all that much of a surprise when I came round a bend to see some wild-eyed outlander huddled next to one of the light standards with a brandished, nasty-looking gun. He was shivering like he was freezing to death, but if he hadn't spotted me yet I don't know how he figured he'd keep some really brave lurker at bay. It was lucky for him that those lights can shine forever if you treat them well. When I first started out as a lightman, I heard tell that some were from the Old Times, even.
I must've stepped on some loose pebbles or something, because all of a sudden he jumped like there was a spear being jammed in his ribs. He pointed his bang-bang at me, the muzzle dead black, and it took all my lightman's training to keep from shooting him down for being such a terrified idiot. Fear's no excuse for stupidity, not when it could get you killed.
"Don't come any closer!" he yelled in a trail-worn voice, probably loud enough that every lurker for two miles around heard. If that's how he acted, he was damn lucky the light hadn't gone out. "I'm armed and I will defend myself! For the love of God don't come any closer!"
Fear and stupidity all in one sack of flesh. Did he really expect even a genius lurker to understand him, or pay him any mind if it did? Sometimes those idiot outlanders are more trouble than they're worth.
"Calm down, fellow," I said, not moving a muscle. Didn't really want to try my luck, and setting him off might mean a light gets broken from a bullet gone astray. I'll be the first to say I'm one of the worse shots in town. "I'm not a lurker. I'm a lightman, come down the road from Fogstorm."
Now that |I could get a more careful look at him, that outlander was obviously just a hop away from losing it completely. There was no telling how long he'd been out in the dark, but a day or so sounded right. To someone used to seeing the sun, it must be torture.
"Fogstorm!" He shouted hte name like it was a length of string to lead him out of the forest's maze. Little Sis told me a real old story about that once. "Thank God! I was thinking I'd die out here in this forsaken dark!"
Couldn't disagree on that count. I've been looking for seventeen years now, and I've never seen something to have the signature of the Almighty in it.
Then he slumped like all his energy had left him. His gun fell otu of his hands and clattered against the stones. First thing I did when I walked up to him was kick it away, further down the path. No point in taking chances with a man who might be seeing demons hidden in the dark.
"Careful now," I said, unhitching the canteen from my belt and offering it to him. When he handed it back, seeming like a man asleep, it was drained empty. It made me remembr that my own throat would be dry soon, but then nobody ever said that charity was painless.
"Thank you," he wheezed in a hoarse voice, but it didn't sound so dusty anymore. "I'm sorry. I thought you were one of the shadowfiends, that you were about to tear me apart."
"First time on the path's never easy for anyone," I said. Just because I didn't appreciate his fear didn't mean I couldn't understand it. "Things get better, by and by."
"I was hoping I wouldn't be so transparent," the outlander said with a chuckle. "Guess I thought too much of myself."
"There's no way to get ready for walking the path except by doing it," I said. "No abstract learning on this road, by God! So what's your story, fellow?"
and then the entropy of their universe reached critical mass and everything came to a halt, forever locking them in mid-conversation
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Previously on Common Words
- #16: Just Like Real People
- #15: Passion Before Reason
- #14: Alpha Pavonis
- #13: No Regrets
- #12: Pattern Recognition
- #11: A Scene from the West
- #10: The Ossuary
- #9: Tranquility's Prologue
- #8: Corona
- #7: The Tragic Myth
- #6: The Platinum Desolation
- #5: The Worlds Machine
- #4: Tranquil Fragments
- #3: The Software Market on Rainier
- #2: Sixty-Ton Payload
- #1: To the Gallows