The fog rolls down the hills and into our village. It winds through our streets and gathers in the square. It reaches out with thick tendrils through open windows into careless homes.
Whoever it touches turns to stone. Just for a while, until the fog retreats and returns to the hills.
The fog avoids me. It parts and forks around me, coming back together in my wake. I wander untouched through its denseness. To the birds safe in the sky, I am a blot of oil in a milky soup.
I have always been drawn to the living statues. They suck at the air around me, trying to draw me in. Each year, I let them take a bit more. First just a fingertip, then a hand, then an arm.
The deeper I go, the more clearly I hear their whispers. They are the mutterings of dozing minds. They speak clearly only of the things they know best. The rest is half sentence and lost words.
Today I let myself be taken in whole. I choose the baker and soon I am absorbed in his world. Between fragments of thought, I hear of rising bread, of kneading and heat. I pull myself out before he wakes, brimming with new knowledge and curious desires.
The next day, his customers complain of unrisen loaves, brittle and tasteless. Through his window, I glimpse his panic. The sweet scents from my kitchen in the afternoon bring knocks at my door. First they beg, then they thrust coins. Within a week, the baker’s shop is closed, never to open again.
For years, I resist the statues, even after the baker dies. The memory of the man slumped in the street, cup in hand, eyes lifeless shackles my longing for the thrill.
One day the fog parts before me and there is the moneylender. He sits in the square, head down, a coin of stone in one frozen hand, others, still shining, piled carefully. I circle his statue, imagining the good I could do with the tools of his craft. I see our village made prosperous. I see my mistakes atoned.
His pull is so strong; the air around him tugs so greedily at my body that eventually my resistance breaks. Inside, I’m tossed around by a gale of unrelenting desire. He knows already how he will spend every penny owed to him, when he will call in every favour. He pictures a place at the centre of power, surrounded by cringing servants. I try to pull away; I stay until I see the fog depart.
After that, each year I pick someone new. By the time I am old, I am master of a village of walking ghosts. My neighbours wander the streets in endless loops, forgetting their destinations at each turn.
When the fog comes for me, it is no surprise. I have always known that someday it would take back all it has given. Instead of branching around my body, it seeps through my skin, freezing my tired bones, and suffocating my thoughts.
As I stand frozen, I watch it carry our knowledge over the hills and away.