Life on the bog was good. The emerald green carpet was a moss micro-forest. Frogs guarded spawn pearls in sunken pools. Silent birds hunkered in hollows. Life was good, if you kept your head down.
Above, the wind’s fingers bent seedlings sideways. It peeled moss from rocks like a scab off a knee. It roared for miles across the moors before anything stood in its way.
But there, slap bang in the middle, stood a house. It might have looked out of place, unexpected. But its purpose there was famous.
Spindly legs lifted its timber belly from wallowing in the peat-stained ponds. Its walls were a patchwork of fibreglass and portholes, a Frankenstein’s monster of lifeboats and caravans. Atop the low roof were turbines and a single black flag. It contorted under the wind’s command, emblazoned with the white words of protest: OCCUPY THE BOG.
This cobbled-together protest camp was not the wedding venue Carol had imagined for her only son. She pulled the borrowed poncho over her new dress and tried to ignore the buffeted walls wobbling around her. She had dreamed of walking him down the aisle, surrounded by flowers and family. Or perhaps raising a glass after a trip to the registry office. But Elliot always chose the most uncomfortable path in life. What had she expected?
Hopefully the activist community would end their unexpected video meeting soon. She peered into the central glasshouse space. Through leaves and dangling fruits, Elliot’s ginger head and his fiancé’s shining plaits were just visible. The small group took turns to speak confidently to the screen. Carol hoped whatever they had gathered for was worth the interruption of their wedding day.
Right. How could she make herself useful? Carol padded in hiking socks to the kitchen. The hodgepodge was cosy or chaotic depending on your perspective. Carol saw chaos and rubbed her hands together.
She hummed happily, stacking things where she decided they belonged. She cleared the round table of the activists’ detritus. Then filled it with a feast of pantry treats from the hydroponic system. And in the middle, she placed her pièce de résistance.
That it had survived the journey was a miracle. Her heart had raced pushing the trolley along the rickety bog boardwalk. Now she murmured thanks to her guardian angels and strained to lift it from its box. The tower of white, piped icing and sugar flowers was still as perfect as when it had left the bakery. The aroma of vanilla sweetened the peaty air.
She was turning the wedding cake to find its best angle when someone stepped out of the meeting room. But it was not Elliot. Carol morphed her expectant glance into a demure smile. The woman, whom she had briefly met before the meeting was abruptly called, slammed the door and stomped over. Seeing Carol’s buffet, her bushy eyebrows rose.
“Wow. We’re gone five minutes and our guest decides ‘make yourself at home’ means ‘rearrange the bloody place’!”
Carol looked at her watch. “It’s actually getting on for 45 minutes, Sam. Let’s all eat something now your meeting’s finished?”
She snorted. “Finished? They’ve barely started.” She sat down heavily. “The developers keep on talking to prove they’re still ‘in negotiations’ with us. I’m done with their waffling and jargon and time-wasting and… and…!”
Sam hurled her fists down on the table. Carol lunged to steady the cake and shot her a horrified look, but Sam didn’t seem to notice. She hissed, “We’ve sat on top of this bog for over a year. I said we should have camped at their headquarters, occupied their offices, glued ourselves to their sports cars. Then we’d have their attention. But here we are. The sodding ‘Bog-ccupy Movement’! It’s a joke. And they’re laughing.”
The wind vibrated the roof turbines. The light over the table flickered.
Carol swallowed the truth that really she wished she wasn’t here either. She said, “Well, at least you’re trying.”
Sam closed her eyes. “Yeah, thanks.” She took a slow breath, then let out a loud, droning sigh.
Carol hoped the sound would disturb the meeting. It did not.
Sam’s eyes fluttered open. She looked quizzically at the cake, then said in a surprisingly calm voice, “Did you bring that here… for us?”
Carol laughed incredulously. “No! Well, yes… That’s Maya and Elliot’s wedding cake.”
“Oooooooooooooh.” Sam ran her hand over her mouth. “Right, they mentioned they were together. But never made a scene. I had no idea they were so… So that’s why you’re here?”
“Yes of course, Elliot sent an invite… well, a text about a small, special ceremony.”
“First I’ve heard! I can’t imagine Elliot and Maya wasting time on weddings. Preserving the bog is their priority. The rest of us strike a balance. But with those two it’s twenty-four seven.”
They stared at each other.
“You’re telling me I’ve brought a 15 pound cake, a magnum of champagne and ‘His and Hers’ balloons to the bog-end of nowhere for a wedding that doesn’t exist?”
Sam shrugged apathetically. Carol’s insides twisted.
“Oh my goodness.”
“Look, if it’s any consolation, the cake and champagne won’t be wasted.”
“If my son’s not marrying, I am, categorically, not opening that champagne. No no no, this can’t be happening.”
“Okay, okay! Take some deep breaths, yeah?”
“Don’t you patronise me, lass! I’ve been breathing since before you were born!” Carol shrieked. She started hyperventilating.
Sam seemed to disappear. The air churned. Alone in the fog, Carol’s eyes blurred. They were no longer seeing the ramshackle kitchen, but the scene of abandonment that replayed in her nightmares. This could not be happening. Not again.
“Maybe this will help?”
Carol blinked herself into the present. It was like she was seeing through a fisheye lens. Sam loomed into the foreground, holding a teacup.
“Moorland tea. Drink.”
Carol clutched the cup with trembling hands. Petals swirled through the pink tea like dust motes in a sunbeam. She watched, clinging to details as memory threatened to pull her under again.
Inhaling aromas of heather and gorse, her jaw unclenched, then her toes. She eventually sipped. The flavour was familiar somehow. She drank gratefully.
Satisfied Carol was over the worst, Sam sat back. “One of the local old boys showed us the wild ingredients. It’s a wartime recipe, but he reckoned people been making it for centuries. Pretty good for foraged bog weeds, eh?”
Carol nodded meekly, wiping her face with the scratchy poncho. She’d expected tears on her boy’s wedding day, but not like this. She didn’t dare look towards the meeting room.
“Carol, shall we get some air?”
They stepped into wellies, then onto the damp decking surrounding the building. The wind had lulled. Its cool fingers stroked their hair. The expansive, darkening moor was lit only by ponds mirroring the heather grey sunset. Carol leaned back against the wall. But Sam leaned out, squinting.
“What the hell?” She pointed.
A light was bobbing towards them.
Carol pressed herself flatter against the house. “Is that the developers? Oh goodness!”
Sam cackled. “Nah, they got their van stuck last time. They won’t be visiting again.”
“So who is it then?”
Sam lowered her voice as it approached. “I don’t know.”
The green light scrambled over the tussocks. It wasn’t a car or a person. Too fast to be seen clearly. Too large to be a firefly. Carol was reminded of the genetically modified lab rodents that glowed like jellyfish. This was bigger than a rabbit. They craned their necks as it reached the closest pond. But it did not run around it. It skimmed across like a stone. A stone the size of a football.
“I’m going inside!” Carol frantically felt her way towards the door.
Neither dared take their eyes off it.
Sam fumbled blindly in her many pockets. “Where’s my phone? Don’t go! Get a picture… ”
The light stopped. It sank low, 10 feet away from them. Its glow glimmered out.
Neither dared speak.
“Where is it?” Sam whispered finally.
“What is it!”
“Aargh, probably another drone… We’ll have to fetch it, get solid proof they’re sneakily filming us at night.”
“I’m not going!”
“You’ve got your boots on, right? We’ll be fine. Come on.”
Sam stepped off the boardwalk and Carol, fearing being left alone in the twilight, followed.
The sun had set. Spongy moss underfoot silenced their creeping footsteps. Stretched shadows led the way, until they left the halo of light from the windows. Carol was about to turn back. And then she saw him.
He’d been waiting, hunched in a hollow. When he heard Carol’s gasp and Sam swearing, his neon eyes shot open. His beard, claws and skin glowed like nuclear fuel. He spoke through pointed teeth, voice like the whistling wind.
I urge ye not to run in fear
But stay a little while to hear
The message that I have to share
From all bog beings far and near
Carol would have run in fear, if she could move. She managed to whimper, “What on earth was in that tea?!”
“Shhh! Let him speak.” Sam was transfixed, her wide eyes reflecting green. The tiny man’s impish grin widened.
Oft must we faeries mischief make
When travellers this path do take.
With spells to put them ill at ease,
We lure, confuse, frighten and tease.
It may seem tricksy, mean or cruel
To play lost people like a fool,
But all harm here that we may do
Evaporates with morning dew.
We know well that our peatland home
Is at threat when here humans roam.
Man’s greed leaves carnage in its wake,
So we do mischief for peat’s sake.
He stood to his full height at their kneecaps, not shy about his nakedness. He pointed a needle finger towards the camp.
Yes, we have been watching you,
Pondering which curse to use
To calm bog folk and flora’s fears
And send you far away from here.
Yet we’ve seen no cause for alarm,
In fact you all mean us no harm.
To evict you from this house of wood
Would do bog life more harm than good.
So, for the very first time
I’ve used the small power that’s mine.
No havoc on your house to loose,
Yet lend my magic to your use
While you the bigger foe have faced,
I’ve done my best to keep you safe,
To keep your wobbly house standing
Through thunder, howling wind and rain.
Great change is coming in the air,
We feel our fortunes turning fair,
And both our work has now paid off,
That perhaps you may soon bog off.
He fixed them with his phosphorescent stare. In spite of his shark-like grin, his face crinkled with something resembling kindness.
The worries of this jilted bride
Will turn this night to glowing pride,
And this activist whose hope’s lost
Will see it has been worth the cost.
The women were dumbfounded. The will-o’-the-wisp folded forward, bowing. His mossy beard touched the mossy ground.
And so all this has been to say,
From bog beings here and far away,
A thanks for all that you have done,
Without you, surely we’d be gone.
The darkness closed in.
After what seemed like an age, the door opened and Elliot stepped out. When he spotted them in the shadows, his freckled face cycled through worry, surprise and relief. It settled on pure joy.
“Mum! Sam! We’ve done it!”
A space tourism launchpad had been planned for the moors. The hypocrisy of such lavish, destructive developments, while everyone else strived for greenhouse gas drawdown, couldn’t be green-washed away.
‘Occupy the Bog’ had grown a loyal following online. Something about their pictures and livestreams stirred deep feelings. Something raw, primal, magical. People genuinely wanted to protect this blustery wilderness.
Impromptu camps emerged around the moor’s boundary, blocking the path of caterpillar trucks and diggers. The developer’s sugar-coated publicity stunts were interrupted and critiqued tirelessly by campaigners. Movie stars, models and influencers began to show their disdain for the project by wearing Bog-ccupy movement T-shirts. A feature-length documentary on the protest, to stream on the biggest platforms, was in the pipeline.
That night, as their last investor threatened to drop out, the developer’s priorities shifted.
How about a low-impact, off-grid, world-class well-being centre on stilts, modelled on the Bog-ccupy camp? It could tackle nature deficiency and qualify for subsidies under the government’s Natural Health Service scheme. Local representatives steering the project would be guaranteed. Restoring the peat would be written into the agreement.
They were definitely not out of the woods yet, the activists’ work was not done. But this was the first proposal that didn’t destroy the future the protestors dreamed of. That was worth celebrating.
And what about Carol’s dreams? The bog no longer needed the core team continuously occupying it, so Elliot and Maya could go to the city to make their marriage official soon, in between their rallies and speeches, of course. But the small ceremony they had quietly planned would still go ahead. Reassured, Carol allowed the champagne to be popped that night.
The following morning was a groggy one.
The cake was butchered for the camp’s midday breakfast. Cups were rinsed of the sticky dregs of bubbly, then filled with highland tea. Yawning, laughing and joking, the community followed Maya and Elliot away from the camp. They meandered and stopped near a muddy scar of tyre marks. Carol opened her mouth to suggest another spot would be better for photographs, but Elliot spoke first.
“I was assigned the task of restoring this spot, where we helped the developers with their stuck van. And in the spirit of solidarity, I’ve tricked you all into helping me!” He grinned at their theatrical moans. “No, seriously. I thought, ‘Let’s make a ceremony out of it, to mark the occasion,’ you know? And after the news last night, even better.”
He turned to Maya. “When I came here, I was motivated by anger. I was angry at everything the developers stood for. So angry I was almost blind. But meeting Maya changed that.”
Maya beamed. “Love is the strength to persevere, to achieve what you couldn’t do alone. Love means seeing others fully, whether we agree or disagree.”
“Aaaw!” Sam crooned. She didn’t seem entirely sarcastic.
Maya continued. “What really united us was the raw nature of this place, its magic. Maybe you feel it too? And by soaking up carbon and floodwaters, the bog loves us back. Full circle, right?”
From the deep pocket of his waxed jacket, Elliot held out a handful of spongy green wisps. “This sphagnum moss we propagated is ready to heal the land. When it has lived its life, it will sink down to be preserved for millennia, laying the next layer of peat, the next store of carbon. With just a little help from us. Now, really think about that…”
The couple looked long at each other. Then, together, they threw their handfuls upwards. The group joined in, and moss cascaded like confetti. In the spirit of the moment, everyone cheered.
Elliot turned, eager to see Carol’s reaction. He gently picked a stray piece of moss from his mother’s hair.
He looked so like his father sometimes. But his father hadn’t cared enough to be there to brush confetti out of her hair on the steps of the church, all those years ago. He’d chosen another path.
Seeing her tears welling up, Elliot held her. And in his arms, she was not reeling backwards into memory. History was not repeating. She stood right here. In the moment. On the bog.
Over Elliot’s shoulder, Carol spotted something green bobbing away over the moors, a piece of moss caught by the wind perhaps. It glowed in the daylight. And when she blinked, it was gone.
Emma Brown UK Emma is a student, writer and illustrator from the south east of England. She joined the Cli-Fi Meetup during the 2020 lockdown, fresh from reading Rob Hopkins’ “From What Is To What If” and keen to find a creative community online. While studying sustainability, she finds exploring positive futures through Cli-Fi radically illuminating. View all posts