Over on the far horizon, out where the upper wall of mist shore itself thin in the mid-sun heat, hints of the unknown rolled in grey shapes beyond, curves that could be clouds settling over untouched lands.
Or touched lands. Trampled and lived on.
Like this field before him, pitchfork piercing the surface, breaking apart the dirt, potatoes dug up and placed in sacks to be returned to the community; other workers working rows in the sun day heat all playing their part, contributing their share as though there was nothing else to strive for, nothing else to wonder and dream about. Work from one sun day to the next, to propagate crops, to share the resources, but never to wonder what was beyond.
Did my parents find out? They must have.
He continued to prod and poke at the dirt, pulling and breaking, revealing what lay hidden below, the potatoes fully grown and ready to be bagged and carried away.
This job – like any other job – just a job. A ceiling repaired, a fence installed, a garden tended, trees planted, vines trimmed and thinned. What did any of it mean? Subsistence towards a dim day of rest, games, stages set for children to play on; while the adults watched and were entertained, only to return to their work the next day.
But what was that on the horizon, out there beyond the mist? Was it just more mist, heavier and denser? Was it only clouds settling down into the cold recesses of the waelfog?
Or was it something else? A shape. Like hills. Grey and distant. Too far away to see clearly, but nevertheless there.
Something. Something was there.
He turned around. Meridule was behind him, staring down at his pitchfork. The prongs had pierced through three separate potatoes.
“Not everybody likes holes in their potatoes.”
“Sorry Meridule. I was a bit distracted. Had other things on my mind.”
“Yes, well, you might as well put those three aside for yourself. Better eat them quickly though – with holes like that in them, rot will get in quick if they’re left out.”
“Sure. They’ll be perfectly fine for a potato salad during late quarter before Dark arrives.”
“That’s my boy. Try to be a bit more attentive. We have a lot more work to get through now as a community. Duties have to be moved to take up J’nifer and Sauel’s farming work. Your friend, Sere’aen, is one of those doing extra work over there in fact. She’s a hard worker. You could do well to follow her example.”
He patted Jansuell on the shoulder and began walking away as attention was returned to pulling the potatoes off the prongs and inspecting their holes.
“Jansuell?” Meridule had stopped and turned around, nodding towards the mireline. “It’s just waelfog.” He shrugged. “There’s only death out there. Great bowels of mist too cold for our sun drenched bones.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because if there was anything else, other people – not just your parents, but people before them – would have come back alive to tell about it.”
“Did some of them come back dead?”
Meridule laughed. But it was a condescending laugh and the old adult frame seemed to mock him in the stance it took.
“Jansuell, no one comes back at all.”