The fog rolls in, the fog rolls out.
Twelve storeys, here we go. A little scared. The lift to the seventh floor, then the stairs. Dad’s puffing for air. Gotta be careful.
Onto the roof. The other tower blocks surrounding us, trails of mist still lingering. My first time up here. Dawn light. Cold.
The other crews already at work. They have these super shiny nets stretched from post to post, all finely stitched, tightly meshed.
But our net is old and a bit tatty. Got more than a few holes in it. I keep mending them, they keep on breaking. No matter.
I step closer. Never actually seen it in action. Just a bit of cloth before, back in the flat. But now I’m all eyes, really I am.
Reach out. Slowly. Make contact. The surface is warm! Images tremble under my fingers. Oh God. I feel like I’m touching ghosts.
Shapes flicker on the gauze: colours, fragments, whirls of black and white, sudden explosions of numbers, breakage, slivers of code.
Dad tells me to snap out of it, get to work. We have maybe ten minutes before the fade begins. Images die. That’s the thing, see.
So I’m scanning for something good, something we can use. Trying to find little pieces of loveliness in the chaos. That’s my job.
There! A mouth. Looks like. Half a smile. No. No good. Need more. Time is short and my father’s eyes are failing him. Keep looking.
Now I see it. Twin moons. A tower in silhouette. A spaceship landing. Looks like something from an old science fiction movie. Perfect.
I point it out and dad moves in with the lens knife. He peels that shivering image right off the net whilst I watch. Captured!
Here I am. Here I am on the roof of a giant block of flats, feeling like I’m about to dance off the edge with joy. What can I say?
Call me Zee Zee of the Mystical World Crew. (I made the name up. It’s just me and my dad.) I’m 15 years old. I’m a fog catcher.
The fog rolls in, the fog rolls out. And as it passes through the nets, images linger like dew from all the scattered memories.
Edits from film and video, mobile phone footage, digital uploads, all caught in the tracery. Objects, landscapes, people. The dead…
It’s cool. The world before I was born. Way before, most of it. I like that kind of weird connection.
So we head back down, captures in my backpack. Just a single half-decent image, a few other scrapings. But they feel so precious.
And that’s how the story begins. My life. Up early each day, attend the nets, then school. Home, to see dad working on the transfers.
Me helping, learning, getting in the way. Making shimmercasts, smokepods, vapouramas. Anything that could hold an image in place.
And then every Saturday, we’d head down the Sparkle Market, making sales. That’s important. Because that’s where I met Jake.
The market’s abuzz with life, with hundreds of people jostling to sell and to buy: ghost music, image peels, fogscapes, voodoo mixes.
We have a stall set out and we’re doing pretty well. My dad tells me it’s because I’m a natural image-spotter, the best in the game.
I’m not exactly sure about that, but I’m happy to let him think it. Anything to keep him sane, these days, away from the drink.
On my break, I head over to Candy’s Tattoo Palace. Jake is there, and we do the secret smile. He works on Saturdays, running errands.
Candy’s doing the ink-show on a man. His bare arm glows with light, with a little 3D image that rises from his skin, twirling around.
I recognise it. A girl’s face I found on our net two weeks ago, that dad peeled clean and sold on to Candy. Now it’s brought to life.
Makes me feel proud, and I’m smiling at that. But Jake pulls me aside, acting like he’s in a noircast or something, says to watch out.
Why? He says that some guys were asking after me. Fog catchers, rivals. “Rumour is, Zee, they’re none too keen on your expertise.”
Me? But I’ve done nothing wrong. “Well somebody thinks so,” says Jake. “And these are bad guys. I think they’re after hurting you.”
My mum died two and a half years ago. It was the night the screens went dark, and the satellites fell from the sky.
Vision burn of memory. No escape. Dad’s drinking getting worse, fuelled by black moods. Some mornings I couldn’t wake him.
So I’d go up to the roof alone, work the nets, hanging out with the other crews. I’d even do the image peeling myself. Best I could.
I remember the dreams he used to tell, when we first started off catching fog, of netting a famous image-ghost one day…
…Maybe a full scene from some old video, a good five minutes of Lady Diana or Madonna or Brando, names that meant nothing to me.
But dad talking crazy of selling the ghost on for big money, enough for us to start a new life, a proper life. Whatever that might mean.
A week passed by since Jake’s warning. No trouble. I started to forget about it. And then, one sunrise I climbed up to the roof…
And there was our net, the Mystical World Crew net. I felt sick. It was torn, slashed all over, rent in two right down the middle.
Images spin away in dreams and I cannot catch them, not at all, in a fog of dreams rolling in, rolling out, forever spinning away…
Broken, broken nets unravelling, silver threads coming loose, sodden in black rain, tangled underfoot, scattered like spider webs…
My body tightens in the cloth as it winds about me, skin slashed, constricted, fog in my mouth all clammy, wet, and then I wake…
I wake in my bed trembling, tense, breath held tight, aware of every sound in the room, every movement, rain on the window.
I get up. The ruined net lies draped over furniture like ghost skin, lined with all my hopeless stitches, too expensive to replace.
Quietly I open the door of my father’s room, peep in. He lies there sleeping, whiskey bottle discarded on the bed sheets.
Step inside, closer. His face. Eyes all aflicker with his own dreams – there they dwell under his eyelids, and I imagine…
And I imagine…mother. Dolores. Alive. Her beauty as I recall it, not as vivid as it was, but here, touchable, breathing, here…
A world lost… in my father’s eyes…in dreams…
Dear anybody. Summer here. And my birthday. 16 now. Jake’s helping me with the fog catching. And transferrals. And selling, and so on.
I guess we’re a “thing”. That is, we’ve had some “moments”. But nothing serious. Not yet. Not sure what I want to happen.
Fog in, fog out. Yeah, you know. The night leaving visions on a wounded net, criss-crossed by stitches. Getting by, making good.
Oh. Oh God, I don’t know what to say, or do… something terrible has happened. It’s dad. He’s…
Well. Here I am. Hospital. My father’s in ward 6. Cracked ribs, bruised all over. He was lucky. That’s what the doctor said. Lucky.
The flat was broken into. Two guys. They went on at dad, shouting at him, demanding, threatening. He was drunk, of course, and…
And they beat him up. And then they trashed the place. Everything just thrown around, scattered. A couple of images taken.
Just that. Images. And not even pictures: but words, fragments of text, messages from the past. Why? Why are they doing this?
Leave us alone! That’s all. That’s all I’m asking. Whoever you are. Just… just leave us alone.
Up on the roof. The other crews carrying on around me. And all over Sparkletown, I knew that fog catchers worked their own nets.
But only our crew had been targeted: the only net damaged, the only flat broken into, the only one with images stolen. Why us?
Or should I ask: Why me? Was it to do with my supposed talent? Had I drawn certain images towards the net? Valuable images?
They’d first appeared about nine weeks ago. Letters, numbers. Entire symbol chains. All in the same typeface, all making little sense.
But I knew what it was. I could remember people working on this same language, when I was younger. It was code. Computer code.
I thought nothing of it. Sold some on as decoration, stored others. It just didn’t seem that important. Code was a relic. Useless.
And yet the fogware had floated in. Not every day; just now and again, without pattern. Maybe a dozen examples. And only to our net.
I thought of my father, back in the flat, still in pain. Anger flooded me. I had to find out why these fragments were so important.
I had to find that code for myself, if I could. Piece it together, and try to decipher it. What secrets did it hold? What treasure?
Seven days later I’m waiting here, alone. It’s three in the morning. Darkness. No moon. And not yet dawn. The fog hasn’t arrived yet.
They say to never be up on the roof, not when the fog rolls in. All the crews say that, all the old guys. No fog on the skin.
It’s meant to be dangerous, unhealthy. Makes you crazy. So many stories, rumours. But here I am. Waiting. Waiting for the mist…
We did some searching, but the last week has brought nothing good, re the code. Only a few purchasers to follow, leading to dead ends.
I see it now, the fog. Grey curls, tendrils, black mass at the centre. It’s gathering at the estate’s edge. Creeping onwards.
I’ll bet it’s not another crew, stealing images. It can’t be. Freelancers, probably. Maybe selling onto somebody rich.
But why? The question remains.
I don’t care. They stole from us. They hurt us. Whatever they want, I want it too. I want it before them. So I’m here. I’m waiting…
The fog approaches. A cloud of lost forms. Almost alive, sparkling with colours, flashes of light. Here it comes!
Caught in swirls, in dampness, fingers, skin prickles. Face wet, eyes closed, body at first welcoming the touch of the mist.
Now cold, so cold, ice-tooth grip on neck and around both wrists, something pulling at me. Eyes still shut tight, can’t see, can’t…
Whisper of breath against me, mist talking, murmuring… stop, STOP! Open eyes and see roof-edge beckon, step back, focus. Hold still.
Fog all around, quiet now, clutching, clammy, thicker than I imagined, grey, purple, and darker shapes within it, dancing, moving slow.
Formless, writhing. Strange thin black figures elongated, weaving from mist a shape… of man, a man approaching me. I turn. Run…
RUN! Stumble, shiver, slam, SLAM right into clutching mesh, the net stretching, then pulling up tight at the limits, the poles holding.
My face pressed against gauze, a mask of tiny squares and cold-hot touch, the shape close now so CLOSE! now as I turn, struggling…
The man is there. His face, oh his face is written all over by code that moves along his cheeks and brow and lips in endless sequence.
Symbols scrolling across his eyes as he stares at me, and I glimpse the cipher of night of love of death, of dreaming, of falling…
He stands before me. Just looking at me.
CODE FACE. The mist-bound man who does not speak, not in words, but only in numbers as they travel across his skin.
Numbers, letters, mathematical signs: glowing, known, unknown, and moving across his hands as well, as he holds them out to me.
CODE FACE. A stranger who takes me by the hand and dances with me. Dances! Me. Imagine. Rooftop waltzing in the fog, in the dark.
And his face is the only brightness. I am drawn to the patterns there, as they unfurl in golden lines.
CODE FACE. He’s not alone. Others with him. I never really see them, only glimpse fellow shapes, two or three more, it’s hard to tell.
They go about their own business, whatever it might be, and I am so pleased to be a part of what they’re doing. I have a role to play.
CODE FACE. My partner. Here we are, on the top of the world: I am the dancer who dances with the dancer as he leans in close to…
Whisper. To whisper secrets. To speak at last in words. And his breath on my skin, so gentle, I can hardly feel it. He’s barely alive.