It’s 1989. It’s cold. It’s almost winter. The grass is dying. The air is sharp and black. Bob is out on the balcony. He looks down at the city. He sees a wogly.
The wogly has the deepest, bluest skin and two winky eyes. It’s shaped like a torus. Inside the wogly it’s empty.
Bob’s never seen a wogly before. He hops up onto the balcony railing. He walks out across the sky. He stands, silhouetted against the stars. He cups his hand under the wogly and holds it up close to his eyes. He listens to it hiss.
“What are you?” he says.
It rotates. “I am a wogly,” it says. “I am devouring the integrity of the world.”
“Ah,” says Bob. He attempts to crush the wogly. It squishes but it does not crush. He grasps the wogly in both hands. His thumbs enter the emptiness inside. They turn cold, and begin to die. He attempts to snap the wogly. It does not snap. He retracts his hands and shakes them.
After a moment, Bob says, “I’d rather you didn’t.”
The wogly rotates again. “Blame the river for its flooding. Blame the thunder for resounding. Blame someone for being born. But you cannot blame a wogly.”
Bob frowns. He grasps the wogly close against his heart. He wraps his coat around it. He walks back through the sky to his home. He knocks on the window of his sister’s room. She answers, opening it wide.
“It’s almost time for dinner,” she says.
“Jane,” he says, “are you happy?”
He sees her smile.
“This world,” he says. “You like it?”
She chews on her lip. “So-so,” she says. “It’s kind of cold.”
Bob smiles. He finds direction. “Then I suppose that we must save it.”
The girl frowns a little. “It’s almost time for dinner,” she says, didactically. “We can’t be late for dinner. Mom won’t like it.”
“It’s a long time off,” he says. “Let’s build a world out of firewood.”
She makes a face. Then she ponders. “There is rather a lot of firewood,” she says.
He looks at her. His heart is growing chill. He sets that concern aside. He gives her his best smile. It catches on her face like a fire, and she smiles back. “That’d be fun.”
She invites him in; and they gather up the wood; and he takes her hand, and they walk into the sky. In the starlight, there’s a nimbus around her, like a flame. “This is your element,” he says. “This is where you should be. Here. You’re beautiful, here.”
She laughs. “Silly.”
In the sky, under the moon, they lay down the firewood. They build a world. It’s five hundred miles long and ten miles deep. It has lots of firewood animals and firewood cities and firewood people.
The girl starts. “Mom’s calling,” she says. “We have to go back.”
Bob hesitates. “Go without me,” he says.
“Nuh-uh!” She shakes her head vigorously. “It has to be both of us.”
“I’ll just be a minute?”
The girl hesitates, then nods. She skips down through the sky; and as she falls into the shadow of the world, the nimbus fades.
Bob takes out the wogly. He sets it down. “Eat this world,” he says.
The wogly considers. It rotates once, twice, thrice. “I’m a wogly,” it says. “I eat whatever world I happen to be next to. But when I’ve eaten all this world’s integrity, you’ll be sorry!”
Bob departs. He knocks on his sister’s window. She opens it.
“We shouldn’t have used all the firewood,” she says wryly. “Mom’s ticked. No dinner for us.”
Bob frowns. “That’s not fair,” he says.
The girl’s eyes meet his. A firelight flickers deep inside them. It wobbles. It moves like a drunk dog on a short leash. It’s sick.
“It’s just dinner,” she says.
Bob hesitates, a long moment, because it’s not. “We’re both her children,” he says. His voice is curiously tentative. “That’s okay, right?”
She sits down on the bed. Then she curls her arms around her legs. She shakes. He moves to touch her, to sit by her, to say something, but she gestures fiercely with her chin and he does not.
“No,” she says. “No. No. No. You’re not.”
A muscle in Bob’s cheek twitches. “I have to be,” he says. “I’m your brother. That’s how the world works.”
She looks up. “Are you real?” she says.
He checks. He is. There are ways and means of knowing such things.
“Yes,” he answers.
She takes his hand. She drags him out the window. She does not fall. They walk through the sky back to the firewood world.
“Here,” she says. “We’ll live here. And we’ll be terrible beasts, and they’ll all tremble before us. All the firewood people. We’ll have seven hundred teeth. We’ll have five hundred claws. We’ll have LAW rockets. And I’ll have the fire around me, and you’ll be my brother, and we’ll be safe.”
He doesn’t tell her about the wogly. He just builds. He creates. He gives integrity to the world. He works, very hard, for a very long time.
Then comes the axe: first for the wogly, and then for Bob.