The Fog, Your Heart, Our Teeth, Hannah Madonna
No one comes back from the fog. That’s what they murmur, what they tell the girls who wander too close to the edges of the forest, who dare to stray beyond the watchful eyes of their elders. The swamp is filled with the fog, with soft, crawling fingers that creep across the marshy ground. It is not dangerous, though, no matter what those sharp-eyed old crones say. We are not dangerous. Because it is not danger we promise with the whisper-soft curl of fog around your ankles; it is something much, much sweeter.
They built a church near the swamp many years ago, a small wooden building with walls painted the color of a clear sky. They thought it would keep them safe, that it would stave off whatever evils were lurking beneath the shadow of the trees or under the murky leaf-strewn waters. The church still stands, though it is bigger now and the paint has cracked and peeled, so stained with age that the blue has become a dark, mud-flecked gray. The shadows are still there, too. Held back. They have not yet breached its walls.
The fog is thick and warm and sits heavy near the ground in whorls of haze. It invites you in with cicada song and the humid, sticky heat of a summer night. You want to step off your porch, walk through the patchy expanse of grass and into the heart of the swamp. You want to feel the mud squelch and give beneath the warm soles of your feet, feel the thick curtains of moss brush with gentle, grasping hands across your shoulders. We know you want to see what lies beyond the boundaries of your home, what everyone your whole life has warned you to stay away from. We sing for you every night, and we know you hear. We know you want to step into the fog, the harmless warmth of the fog, and we so want to be there to meet you, to let our fog-wet fingers wrap endless around you.
The old women who warn you, who teach your Sunday school classes and who look through you with their ocean-black eyes full of foolish worries: theirs are not the voices that keep you away from us. They do not persuade. These are old cowards and they are wrong. The words they hiss at you from clenched teeth are not what sits heavy in your heart. It is your mother whose words you really fear. And we understand. We do not fault you, child.
But we know you wonder.
We know you wonder why they tell you to stay away, if lost in the fog there is something terrible and wonderful and beyond their understanding. And we know you wonder if your mother knows what is waiting there and that is why she warns you to stay home. We could show you, answer all your questions and tell you the secrets that lie in the shadows underneath the trees bent thick with a mossy crown. There are those same secrets in her eyes, you think, something deep and dark and hidden.
We are so close if you would only be brave. If you would only ignore what the adults around you, cowed and unimaginative, say. We sing to you every night, and our song is only growing louder. We know that you hear us, even in your dreams, and we know that we will not have to wait much longer. We listen when you try to sing back, and we bask in the soft, reedy music of your voice. And we listen when you sigh out your window, staring with desperate longing into the swamp, your breath as thick as the misty tendrils of the fog.
Your mother instructs you to stay away, her mouth stained red from her lipstick, and her feet bare on the weathered boards of your creaky porch. Streaks of silver are threaded through her hair, strands thin as spider’s silk falling out of the heavy braid she’s plaited it in. We hear her heartbeat run rabbit-quick in her chest as you won’t meet her eyes, as you shift and fidget and move towards the steps that lead to the yard. Always further from you, and always closer to us. We know the fear that springs up inside her before you take that final step, because we know her, child, the same way we will one day know you.
She asks if you are just curious. Or, she continues when you don’t answer, if you are planning to ignore all their warnings and venture where everyone who knows and loves you has told you that you must never go. Your gaze shifts away from her, falls, and you stare at the ground. You take one more step, farther away from your mother. You already know what you are going to say, and you already know it is a lie. No, you tell her. You will not go into the fog. We hear you, and in the deep, deep dark with a thousand, thousand teeth, we smile.
Hannah Madonna is a writer currently working as a reference librarian. Her work often explores themes of nature, identity, and mental health. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming from The Carolina Quarterly, Capsule Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine and elsewhere. Find her on twitter @hannahwritegood.