Is it better to remember something as it was before, or to be born into the change, and never know the difference?
by: Chris Thompson
“Do you think it will happen today?”
“I don’t know. The weatherman on the television said it would.
“My dad said it will happen after lunch.”
“Oh yeah, well my dad says it will happen before lunch!”
“Did you see it the last time it happened, Teacher?”
“Yes, Teacher! Tell us what it was like!”
The Teacher, doing her best to ignore the onslaught of questions posed by her curious students, finally raised her head from the day’s lesson plan and addressed the class. She paused for a moment before speaking, a look of amusement upon her face as she watched the youngsters jockey for positions at the classrooms tall, curving window.
“It was before your time, children. Before you were born, and before I became a Teacher, but yes, I did see it. I was only a child then, about your age when it happened.”
“So you did see it! Mommy was right!”
“What did you see?”
“Yeah, tell us Teacher. What did you see?”
“Alright children. If you promise to move away from the windows and return to your seats, I will tell you what I saw.”
There was a rushing of tiny feet and a flurry of colors and one or two lighthearted shrieks as the bubbly children of Classroom 405 scurried towards their seats. A moment later they sat in rapt attention, the silence expanding rapidly to fill the room as they awaited the Teacher’s words.
The Teacher, unaccustomed to such silence and attention from her normally rambunctious class, walked slowly around to the front of her desk. The sound of her footsteps on the polished concrete echoed about the long room, and she sat on the rounded edge of the metal desk, smoothing her grey skirt with her hands as she settled in to face them. She was a young Teacher. And pretty. Much younger and prettier than her more experienced colleagues, and some would even argue that she was too young for such a responsibility. As she scanned the faces of the children before her, she searched out that spark in their eyes that she had given up at too young an age. Finding it everywhere, she was transported back to her memories as a child when the first Parting occurred. The memory was tucked in a safe place she kept reserved for fond thoughts of her parents, of her imaginary friend Otto, and the warm summer days before the Fog arrived. She cleared her throat before she spoke, the staccato sound reverberating off the walls of the unadorned classroom.
“Like I said, I was young, not even ten, when it happened. At first I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real. I had been so used to looking out the windows and seeing nothing but blackness and the Fog, that when I finally did see something, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. It was a tree that I saw first. It was old and weathered, its trunk and limbs all twisted and bent back by the blowing winds. But it was a tree. Or at least, it had once been a tree.”
“I’ve never seen a tree!”
“What’s a tree?”
“What else did you see Teacher?”
“Yeah, tell us more!”
“Well, just out beyond the city walls, as the tendrils of blackness continued their retreat, I saw a long sloping hill with a shimmering river cutting through its center.”
“Was it Bradlocke River?”
“No stupid! That’s too far south. I bet it was the Kanoi River.”
“Was that it teacher? Did you see the Kanoi River?”
“If you would mind your manners and stop interrupting my story, Jonathan Tully, I will tell you which river I saw. But only if you agree, if all of you agree, to not interrupt me anymore.”
“Sorry Teacher.” The students, especially Jonathan Tully, chimed in unison.
The Teacher was taken aback by the focus and unity her students displayed. She made a mental note to try and use what she was learning here in the future. Any victory with these lively children, even one as small as this, was something she could learn from and use to her advantage.
“As I was saying, I saw a river cutting through a hill. And yes Samantha, it was the Bradlocke River. Excellent guess. The river was purple like all the books said it would be and like I remembered it before the Fog arrived. It glittered as the fast-moving waters cut through the hill and reflected the light of the now visible sun.”
“You saw the sun!!!”
“Yes, I did see the sun. Only for a few minutes, before the Fog returned, but it was more than enough for me. It was dark and fiery, like someone had placed a burning coal in the sky and to look at it directly hurt my eyes.”
“What did you see after that?”
“Well that is where things got a little strange. I saw the river, like I mentioned, and the hill it flowed through and the skeletons of the ancient trees dotting the lands. But as my eyes roamed further, I spied high atop a hill a uh. I saw a….a, um. I saw a….”
“Yes Teacher. Tell us pleaseeeeee. What did you see?”
“I saw a great winged dragon. It was albino white with wide, tattered wings and was devouring some poor, six-legged animal.”
The assembled children gasped and erupted in all manner of responses simultaneously.
“What’s a dragon?”
Half of the students were scared and the other half, mostly the boys, flew from their seats and drew closer to the classrooms window, pushing their faces up against the thick, windproof glass, craning their necks and squinting their eyes, trying to see their teacher’s dragon through the thick, black fog.
“Children, look all you want but you’ll never be able to see through all that blackness. If the dragon wants to be seen again, it will let itself be seen. Then you will know whether or not your Teacher tells the truth.
“But dragons aren’t real Teacher,” Billy Thirteen, one of her more confident and ambitious students exclaimed. “My father told me that the only life left outside our walls are tiny creatures that live and die in the pools of water that form out of the Fog, and the purple moss that covers every surface of the lands.”
“There is more to this world than what your father knows Billy.”
“My dad’s right about everything Teacher. He’s the smartest person in the city. That’s why he’s the Chief Engineer.”
“We all know who your father is Billy. And there’s more to being smart than just a fancy title after your name. Now go back to your seats children. All of you. It’s time to say our multiplication tables. Sonya, tell me the tables for five.”
As the Teacher recited the multiplication tables with her students, a lesson she did every day, week in and week out, for all the years she had taught at Grammar School Eight, the Fog outside the school’s thick walls roiled and churned with the force of the perpetual wind. It wasn’t immediately noticeable to the students and their Teacher, but the Fog was beginning to slowly pull away from the lands. The planet’s twin moons, Drypso and Smug, had reached their apex, aligning perfectly with the axis of the planet, and the three body system was in turn making its nearest approach to the sun. And as the celestial bodies moved into alignment, combining to exert a maximal pull on the Fog that so thickly enshrouded the planet, the inky haze began to slowly dissipate, hauled up from its smothering of the lands by the combined tidal pull of the star and moons.
Greta Krysto was the first to notice the change. She was sharp and the Teacher liked to think that she would one day replace her once she became too old to teach.
“Oooohhhh….look at that!” Greta exclaimed, pointing her pale finger in the direction of the window.
Like soldiers in formation, twenty one heads turned at once, the Teachers included, to take in the landscape slowly emerging from beneath the blackness.
“Is that….is that another building I see? Alfonso Dre asked.
“No, that’s just the enormous generator that powers our great city,” The Teacher replied. “Remember we took a field trip there last month?”
“I can see the purple moss! It’s purple, but not the purple I imagined!” Jonah Carlitos exclaimed in wonder.
“That’s because you have never seen it before with your eyes Jonah. You only have the pictures the first settlers who came here before the Fog took to look at. A picture is a poor substitute for the reality of your own two eyes.
The Teacher joined her students at the window. It had been twelve years since the last time the Fog parted and she was just as eager to glance upon the lands as her students were. The wind made a great shrieking sound as it came up against the walls and windows of the squat building as if to greet the Teacher. The children paid it no mind, having grown up with the sounds of the winds, but to the Teacher, who had only come to these lands as a child, and who could remember, if only briefly, a time before the winds and the Fog, it was a sound that she could never get used to. It crawled up her spine and nestled at the base of her skull, sending icy shivers down her limbs every time she heard it. It represented fear to her. And the unknown. A reminder that the existence they managed in these lands could be taken away in an instant by the ever blowing winds and the inky blackness of the Fog. Or, dare she think it, that great ghostly dragon she had seen all those years ago on this day.
Header art by Laurent Rossett.