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Authors: Joel Ross

The Fog Diver

BOOK: The Fog Diver
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Contents
Prologue

M
Y NAME IS
C
HESS
, and I was born inside a cage.

Imagine a wooden platform jutting from a mountain cliff. Now picture a chain falling from that platform and vanishing into the Fog, a deadly white mist that covers the entire Earth.

That's where I was born: locked in a cage, at the end of a chain, inside the Fog.

And I would've died there, too, if Mrs. E hadn't saved me.

When she saw my face for the first time, wisps of Fog swirled inside my right eye, shimmering white shapes that marked me as a freak. That's why I've spent
thirteen years keeping my head down, staying quiet and afraid—but now Mrs. E needs help, now
she
needs saving.

It's time to stop hiding. Everything is going to change.

1

A
FTER A LONG MORNING
searching the woods, I spotted a school bus through the Fog. The broken windows looked like rotten teeth as I edged closer, hoping to salvage hubcaps or engine parts.

Then a growl rumbled through the swirling mist. A low, warning sound, maybe a mountain lion or a jaguar. Probably just telling me to stay away.

I wasn't about to argue.

My heart clenched and I reached for the hand brake on the harness buckled around my chest. A long cord—my “tether”—rose three hundred yards upward from the harness. If I squeezed the brake, my crew would reel in the tether, heaving me to the safety of our raft, which floated in the clear blue sky high above the Fog.

But when I touched the hand brake, the growling stopped.

Hm. I didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad one. I peered toward the rusty school bus, but even I couldn't see ten feet through the dense foggy whiteness. And the Fog muffled sounds, so for all I knew the big cat was padding closer, paws crunching through the leaves.

People died in the swirling mist, but animals thrived. They ran wild in the forests and the rubble. Packs of ferocious boars and troops of rowdy monkeys didn't even notice the whiteness. Only
humans
were blind and deaf in the Fog, stumbling around like accidents waiting to happen.

Or tasty treats.

Sweat trickled down my forehead and pooled on my goggles. I wanted to squeeze the hand brake and flee, but I needed to stay in the Fog. I needed to stay strong and brave. My crew was counting on me. So I took one slow step backward, then another and another. Two minutes later, I slumped in relief. I really needed to find a better place to search for valuables than a school bus where a jaguar made her den.

My crew and I lived in the slums of a mountain-peak empire called the Rooftop, one of the few places not covered by Fog. We flew our rickety air-raft over the endless white vapor every day. As the “tetherboy,” I dove into
the Fog and searched the ancient wreckage for stuff we could sell back in the slum for food and clothes and rent.

But these days, we needed more. These days, we flew deep into uncharted Fog, hoping to find something big—something
huge
—to save Mrs. E's life. We were running out of time.

I spent the rest of the afternoon prowling through Fog-covered hills, keeping my tether free of tree branches, rummaging in heaps of concrete and searching the husks of pod-cars. I wasted an hour digging through rotting planks, hoping to find pipes or plastic, but all I unearthed was thousands of beetles. Then the hand brake on my tether jerked: three fast yanks.

It was a message from Hazel, the captain of our ramshackle raft, signaling me from above the Fog.
Come back,
she was saying. It was getting late, and nobody survived a night in the Fog—even I was afraid to stay after sunset.

I started to sign back
okay,
then stopped when I heard something in the distance, a muffled
eee-huuurk
.

I smiled at the sound and squeezed the hand brake.
Not yet
.

Come back
.

Not yet,
I told Hazel again.

Not the most fascinating conversation, but cut me a
little slack. We couldn't say much with a hand-brake cable connected to a bell on the raft deck.

After a minute, she signaled,
Okay
.

“Cool.” I peered at the sky. “Dinner's on me.”

I didn't expect to find salvage this late in the day, but I hoped to find food. Meals were scarce in the slum, and that
eee-huuurk
had sounded like a goose. Like delicious roast goose for dinner.

Adjusting my goggles, I headed downhill through the underbrush. Wisps of whiteness surrounded me. The Fog felt like cool breath against my skin, with the faint pressure of air before a big storm. Leaves crunched under my boots, and my tether unspooled with a
whirr-click-whirrr
.

Eyes wide and ears pricked, I stalked through the Fog. I crossed a meadow full of dandelions and smelled water. I listened for the burbling of a stream as I edged past some brambles . . . and an animal lunged at me through the mist.

My pulse rocketed. I yelped and leaped straight upward—eight feet into the air—and spun like a bat chasing a moth, feeling the world slow down around me.

On the raft or in the slum, I moved like an ordinary kid, but inside the Fog, I was
fast
. Rattlesnake fast. I jumped like a kangaroo, tumbled like a monkey, and climbed like a squirrel. That was me, a rattlaroo squirbat.

My body felt weightless as I flung myself through the
mist, tracking the dark shape of my attacker with my gaze. Then I fell to the ground in a crouch and saw it clearly. It wasn't a mountain lion or bear or baboon—I'd been assaulted by an angry goose.

“Okay, feather-face,” I said. “Come and get me.”

The goose glared with beady eyes—it didn't even notice the billowing Fog—and made a hissing sound like a broken valve:
hhhhhhh, hhhhhhh
. Uncoiling its neck, it beat the air and snapped at my face.

But this time, I was ready, and I trapped its long feathery neck under my arm.

The goose struggled and thumped my chest with its wings.
Mee-hurrrrk-ee!

“Ha!” I clamped its wings tight. “Gotcha.”

It hissed and wriggled, and its webbed feet pedaled in the air.

“Sorry,” I said as I started to wring its neck. “But we're hungry, and you're dinner.”

Then I heard a faint
eep
.

Eep eep eep eep!

I looked down and saw four fuzzy little goslings waddling toward me through the haze. The one in front tilted its downy yellow head upward and stared at me with big eyes, like it was begging for mercy.

“You're out of luck,” I told him, gripping the mother goose's neck harder. “We've got to eat.”

Eeep,
he informed me.

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. “Shoo!”

Eeep,
he repeated.

“Go away!” I stomped, trying to scare the goslings off. “I can't do this with you watching!”

Honk,
the mother goose cried.

Eeep eep eep!
the little ones said, bumbling closer like puffballs on webbed feet.

The crew needed food—we
always
needed food—and we never ate anything as tasty as roast goose. But something about four defenseless babies who needed a mother stopped me cold.

“Fine!” I sighed, loosening my grip. “But if we starve, it's your fault.”

I set the mother goose down near her babies, and she said
hooooork!
and whacked me so hard with one of her wings that I fell on my butt. Then she led her goslings away, honking and hissing.

“You're welcome!” I called after her.

I sat there feeling like an idiot. We were hungry all the time, and I'd let a perfectly tasty goose get away. I didn't even want to
think
about what Swedish—our raft pilot—would say. And I couldn't stand the thought of watching Bea—our mechanic, and the youngest member of the crew—go to sleep hungry again.

After a while, I pushed to my feet and started plucking dandelion greens from the meadow. They were bitter, but they'd fill our stomachs. I was shoving one last handful
into a sack when a breeze blew a perfumed scent toward me.
Flowers? Maybe roses
.

A grin tugged at my lips. I'd learned that roses meant fancy gardens and houses, which were good places to scavenge.

I followed the scent uphill, and a shape loomed through the Fog: dark bars in the whiteness. I edged closer and saw an iron gate, a row of black posts with sharp points. Good, thick, valuable iron, only slightly rusty.

I smiled. “Now we're talking.”

I reached for the hacksaw in my leg-sheath, and the hand brake on my tether jerked three times: Hazel was saying
Come back
.

Not yet
.

Come back,
she signaled.
Come back, COME BACK!

I frowned. That was pretty bossy, even for Hazel.

Then I noticed the Fog darkening around me. I'd lost track of time. Dusk was falling and long shadows were creeping across the field.

“Yikes,” I muttered. Hazel was right, of course. Sometimes she was more “boss” than “bossy.”

I signaled back:
Ready
.

A moment later, my tether straightened in the air above me. With a tug at my harness, it lifted me off my feet and reeled me upward.

I rose into the air as white clouds billowed around me. Higher and higher until finally, in an instant, the Fog fell
away and my full weight returned. The harness dug into my chest, my arms and legs turned to lead, and even my boots felt heavy, like they were suddenly filled with mud.

The endless Fog spread below me, touched by the rays of the setting sun. It looked more like a cool mist than the plague that had almost destroyed humanity. And that still hid the treasures we needed to survive.

BOOK: The Fog Diver
2.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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