Amilie’s house was one of the larger ones, paneled with white wood, the wide yard strewn with soccer balls and dog toys and sleds. She lived near her husband’s family, Lena remembered, in the valley where he had grown up. Sure enough, the moment her car stopped moving, a handful of kids ran out of the side door, laughing and shoving each other, waving at her. Amilie followed, with her husband, Halston, at her side. “Lena!” she said, laughing. “I’m so happy you’re here! Don’t mind the children,” she added. “We so rarely get visitors around here; they’re very excited.”

“It’s no problem,” Lena said with a smile. She knew Amilie and Halston’s two kids, and they greeted her between laughter, as if trying to make up for the chill spring air by being as energetic as possible.

“I’ve got a magpie this week,” the young boy, Travis, said.

“Oh, a new stuffed animal? What’s its name?” Lena asked. Amilie started bundling the children inside, out of the cold. Lena grabbed her belongings and followed.

“Not a stuffed animal,” the boy corrected with a child’s indignation. “It’s a sigil.”

“Travis,” said his mother sternly. “Come inside.”

In the warmth of the foyer, Lena was finally able to stretch her legs. It had been a long day of seemingly endless travel. “What inspired you to come up to the mountains?” Hal asked. His smile, and Amilie’s, seemed genuine, as if they were sincerely happy to see her, yet unused to putting on a show for company.

Lena answered evasively. “Amilie suggested it at the family reunion in June. She mentioned that it’s quite remote, but I didn’t expect to be driving for so long!”

“You’re just in time,” Amilie assured her. “The pass cleared of snow last week, and the weather down here is warming up.”

Liz bounced in her seat. “What’s your sigil?” she asked.

“Liz,” Amilie said. “I’m sure you’ll find out if Lena stays. You must be tired, dear,” she added, before Lena could ask what a sigil was. “You’re in the spare room; Hal will help you with your belongings. Dinner will be in an hour.”

Lena returned to the kitchen an hour later, just as the sun was beginning to set. It was still close to the equinox, which meant that dinner was rather early. The fare was clearly locally grown, simple but well seasoned. “Not even the supply trucks can readily make it here in the winter,” Hal explained. “Many of us have greenhouses so we can have fresh food to last until spring.”

Amilie leaned forward. “You should know, Lena…” She looked hesitant.

Lena swallowed a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “What? Is something wrong?”

“Not at all!” Amilie exclaimed. “It’s just that this valley can be a little strange, at night. If you’d rather not see… anything you can’t explain, stay inside after dark.”

The evasive explanation sparked Lena’s curiosity, the first time anything had done so in… almost a year now, since the very reason she’d decided to escape her daily had occurred. “Is it dangerous?” she asked.

“No,” Amilie assured her, glancing at the children. “Be quiet, Liz, Travis. Let it be a surprise for Lena.”

The two kids, practically bouncing with the secret, nodded and glanced out the window. The sun was just scraping the lowest point between the mountains to the west.

Amilie and Hal shared the washing up, while Lena regaled the children with stories about life in more populated areas. Travis and Liz listened with wide eyes as Lena talked about her job and the people she knew, more than the children had ever seen. Their little village wasn’t exactly badly off, just really, really isolated.

“What is it you do, Lena?” Hal inquired. “Amilie hasn’t said.” He elbowed her in mock accusation, and Amilie shoved him with her shoulder.

“I used to have an office job,” Lena explained. “Supervisor. Now, I work at a day care.”

“Do you like it?” Liz asked.

Lena paused. How to say that she did love her job, and loved the kids, but she didn’t want to? It was supposed to be a duty, a penance. “It’s… more exciting, for sure,” she said at last.

They continued to chat, about the drive through the mountains, their families, simple things like that. Hal served apple pie, and they all laughed about Amilie’s inability to bake. They finished clearing the table as the shadows settled over the windows.

To Lena’s surprise, Hal started turning off the lights. “If you want to stay in your room, please close the blinds,” Amilie requested. “But you’re welcome to come outside with us, if you want.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “When I first moved here, I thought it very strange. They don’t appear anywhere else, you know. But they’re harmless, and it’s a ritual of sorts, going out to look at them.”

“Look at what?” Lena asked, mystified, but Amilie was already herding the children to their winter coats. Curious, Lena joined the family as they made their way outside.

The first thing she noticed was that the streetlights were off. So were most of the house and porch lights. The only light came from the full moon and the stars, more than Lena had ever seen, stretching across the sky. She could see well enough in their silver glow, reflected off the clean white of the snow.

“Me first!” Travis called, running ahead. “Is it still here?”

When he jumped off the little porch, Lena noticed a whisp of mist appearing over his shoulder. It twisted and coalesced, like it had a mind of its own, and suddenly took on a form – a magpie, fluttering around the child’s head. “Yes!” Travis said, waving at the bird. “Hi, magpie!”

Liz ran after her brother. The mist, appearing from nowhere on the clear night, took form into a strange creature – a rabbit, with what appeared to be antlers sticking out of its head. “What’s that?” Liz asked, pointing at it.

“That’s a jackalope,” Amilie explained. “It’s a mythical creature, so what do you think it says?”

Liz considered that. “Maybe it’s because I’m reading those books about the magic place. The fairies and dragons!”

“That’s right!” Amilie said. She turned to Lena. “Liz has been reading these little fantasy books for weeks now. It’s so nice to see her interested in reading, at her age.”

Lena was still stuck on the appearance of the mist creatures. “These are… what are these, exactly?”

Travis followed Liz as she chased the jackalope down the road. Amilie smiled indulgently at them. “They’re names.”


“Some say they show themselves to tell people what they need to know about themselves. Others are secrets that need to be told, and some are just emotions. Children are changeable. Travis threw a fit at the toy store last week, that’s why he has the magpie. Adults usually settle on a few sigils that are common to them.” She stepped away from the porch, and a silvery thrush appeared behind her.

Lena hesitated beneath the safety of the porch overhang, suddenly nervous. “Do newcomers get sigils?” she asked.

“Not for a few days,” Amilie said. “You won’t see anything following you, don’t worry.”

That was a relief. Lena didn’t need her secrets told.

Hal clapped her on the shoulder. “Creeped out yet? Lots of visitors are. Come on, we’ll miss the gathering.”

Lena followed him off the porch, sidestepping the elk that manifested behind him. She wasn’t quite quick enough, and her hand passed through what felt like cool mist. The animal didn’t appear to notice.

More people were filling the snow-laden streets, each with a surreal shape behind them. They were gathering in the central square that Lena had driven through earlier that day. “They’re not ghosts,” Hal explained. “At least, we don’t think they are. There’s a story about a sacred pond on the hillside that is the source of them, somewhere on the north end of the valley. But they’re a nice tradition. People make announcements this way, sometimes. Look.”

Sure enough, the crowd formed a circle around the center of the square. A young couple stepped out, smiling and calling to familiar faces. A heron swirled into existence behind the woman, and after a moment, Lena spotted a squirrel on the man’s shoulder.

The crowd rioted, clapping and cheering. Amilie clapped along with the rest. “A heron is one of the universal ones,” she explained. “It signifies a mother’s excitement. They’re going to have a baby!”

With matching smiles, the couple melted into the crowd. A moment later, a young man stepped forward, followed by a buck with strange markings, like dark scratches on its flanks. He extended both hands to the crowd. “He doesn’t know what it means,” Amilie explained. “He’s asking us.”

There was silence, the crowd jostling one another as people pushed to get a look. A few tentative guesses were shouted. Danger? Hunting accident? Fear? Then a woman’s voice. “It’s a secret spirit! Dangerous carelessness!”

The man blushed, shrinking under the accusation, but he accepted it. People murmured their curiosity, but did not demand an explanation.

“You know what?” Lena said quietly. “I’m getting a little cold. I’m going to go inside.”

Amilie and Hal murmured a goodnight and pointed her in the direction of the house. Lena hurried back inside, glancing around for traces of mist, nervous. Coming here had been a bad idea after all. She had to go home, before the sigils took her secrets into her own hands.

She had nightmares, that night, of headlights and dented metal and a child’s face. Dangerous carelessness. But when she woke up, Amilie’s children were running about the house, shouting about spring snowfall.

At breakfast, Amilie broke the news. “It snowed all night after you went to bed, Lena. You’ll have to wait a few days before you can get through the pass.”

Lena laughed and agreed with Hal’s comments about enjoying their company a little longer, and vowed not to go out that night.

But after dinner, Travis dragged her outside long enough to see that his magpie had transformed into a bear cub. Lena examined the creature with fascination, then retreated back inside.

As she walked through Amilie’s yard, a cloud of mist congealed beside her. She froze as it swirled, taking on a muzzle and baleful eyes and claws before it faded away.

The next day, Lena pondered her predicament while playing with the children. Staying inside would keep the spirits away, but she couldn’t trust that the sigil wouldn’t stalk the house where she couldn’t see it, or that she wouldn’t be forced to go outside.

She’d handled all the legal trouble herself, and hadn’t told her family or friends of that night when a speeding SUV had flown across an intersection right in front of her car. Hadn’t questioned the verdict that wrote down the other driver’s fault, but had taken the job at the day care to look after the woman’s daughter. Only Amilie had seemed to notice that something was wrong, and had suggested that Lena visit her in the valley.

That, Lena knew now, had been a mistake.

She remembered, suddenly, what Hal had said. There’s a story about a sacred pond on the hillside that is the source of them, somewhere on the north end of the valley. Maybe she could get something, someone to make an exception for her.

When darkness fell and her sister’s family went out, Lena threw her coat on and left the house through the back door. Her flashlight cast long shadows as she swung it through any whisps of fog that seemed too close. The woods were a silent maze of slopes and skeletal trees, cold and filled with snow. Lena lost the path within moments of entering.

She searched for over an hour. Just when she thought that Amilie would soon start to worry about her, Lena noticed a patch of deeper darkness in a small hollow.

Sliding down the slope, Lena came upon a small, clear pond, the water iridescent black in the dark of night. Mist rolled and roiled across it, blurring its edges, a piece of landscape trying to hide. But it was still somehow moving, full of living presence, and Lena was not as surprised as she thought she should have been when the mist coalesced into the shape of a woman.

She was less… formed than her counterparts in the village. Her features shifted, and her skirt was obscured by fog. But her voice, when she spoke, was clear. “Why have you come?”

Lena’s foot crunched against the snow. It was far too loud. “I want to ask you to keep my sigil from following me.”

The spirit’s expression did not change. “They exist to tell us what we need to hear. But you do not need to listen.”

“I just don’t want everyone else to hear,” Lena explained. “What I… what it represents is unforgivable.”

“It represents a mistake you made. Perhaps dire consequences were involved, but the wolf does not appear to people who have no more work to do.”

“Then can you tell me what it means?”

“No. You must listen to it, and to those people who know its secrets.”

Lena shook her head. “I can’t have it following me. I’ll consider what it means, just make it go away.”

“I do not have the power to command the wolf,” the woman said. “However, I could make you nameless, if that is what you wish. The spirits of names will not follow you then.”

“It’ll banish the wolf?”


“Then do it.”

The woman only nodded, then faded away. Lena returned to the village as quickly as she could, feeling colder than ever.

She did not encounter Amilie or her family that night, but in the morning, they were all present for breakfast.

“Good morning!” Amilie said cheerily to Lena when she entered the kitchen. She was making pancakes. “Did you go for a walk last night?”

Lena saw no point in denying it. “Yes,” she said. “I was – ” She stopped. Cold, she wanted to say. “It was cold out,” she settled on instead.

Amilie raised an eyebrow. “It was night in the early spring. I’m sure you – ” Here her voice cut off too. “Hm. I don’t know what you – ” Again she paused. “Never mind.”

Travis and Liz ran through the kitchen, shouting excited greetings. Liz stopped when she smelled the pancakes. “Liz, say hi to – ,” Amilie began when her daughter finished celebrating their breakfast. She couldn’t seem to finish the sentence.

Liz seemed to get it anyway. “Hi,” she said happily.

Little children, Lena recalled, could be forgetful of things like relatives’ names. “Do you remember who I am?” Lena asked teasingly.

But Liz just tilted her head. “No,” she said. “You were a lot of things. They’re all gone now.”

“Liz,” Amilie warned. “Remember? She’s my… ” My sister, she was going to say. Lena watched her in confusion. “No, you’re right, dear,” Amilie told Liz. She did not specify what Liz was right about, and went on to ignore Lena.

It took Lena a long moment to recall the mist woman’s words. I could make you nameless, if that is what you wish.

Travis appeared from the next room. “Liz, you ruined the game,” he complained. “Ooh, pancakes. Can I have two?”

“Good morning, Travis,” Lena said. She spoke gently, but she was troubled. What did this mean? She had accepted being nameless as a solution without asking what it was.

Travis looked up at her. “Hello,” he said with none of his earlier enthusiasm. As if talking to a stranger.

Amilie served breakfast, but didn’t seem to remember that Lena didn’t like maple syrup. Liz and Travis ignored her unless she addressed them directly. Lena watched in mounting horror as the smiles on her family’s faces went from wide and familiar to the kind of sideways quirk of the mouth one would give a pleasant stranger. Not once did they say her name.

They couldn’t even say, She likes maple syrup, Lena realized, because that would make her The One Who Likes Maple Syrup. She couldn’t say she was cold because then she would be The One Who is Cold. Amilie, who regularly complemented Lena’s fashion choices, couldn’t say, I like your earrings, because that was something to know, something to define her – The One With Nice Earrings. In fact, when Lena asked Liz about the pattern on Lena’s jacket, Liz couldn’t seem to form a description.

As a test, Lena put the jacket on a chair for Liz to examine. Only then did Liz say she liked the color.

When they again gathered for dinner, Lena was thoroughly unnerved. She had to intercept the salad as Hal passed it to Travis; no one seemed to notice that she needed to be served. “Amilie,” she finally snapped. “Bring the pasta over here, will you?”

Amilie blinked as if suddenly realizing Lena’s existence. “Hm?”

“The pasta, Amilie. I – ” She was going to say something about needing to eat, too, but the words wouldn’t arrive. She struggled not to curse her luck in front of the kids.

Amilie looked puzzled. “Remind me again who you are?”

Lena stilled. Her sister. Her own sister had forgotten her. “Excuse me,” Lena said quickly, rising, heading for the door.

The family barely looked up.

Lena found the pond soon after the sun set. The woman appeared, just as she had before. “Undo it,” Lena begged. “Undo the namelessness.”

The spectre looked almost smug, if that could be said of a being of mist. “The wolf will return. You must listen to it, this time, or you will be nameless once more.”

Lean hated the thought of people seeing the wolf, but she couldn’t allow this to go on. “I promise.”

The spirit nodded once and disappeared. As Lena left the pond, the wolf appeared behind her. It was dark-furred and brindled, all teeth and claws, but it followed her quietly out of the forest.

When she returned to the village, the people were still out in the streets. They had gathered in the square, an old woman with a dove on her arm in the center of them.

Lena tried to slip past the gathering, but the wolf ran in front of her, its mouth open in silent barking. Hurrying around it prompted even more agitation.

Listen to it, this time, or you will be nameless once more.

Turning toward the square, Lena watched the wolf settle down and lead her forward with many backward glances. She stopped at the edge of the crowd, next to Amilie.

“Oh, hi Lena,” Amilie said, smiling. “I thought you weren’t going to join us.” Lena let out a sigh of relief. The wolf ran around in circles, barking silently.

Amilie examined it without seeming to recognize any meaning. “Your sigil wants to be interpreted, I think. Some of them just do.”

Lena shifted uncomfortably. “That’s not going to happen.”

But Travis and Liz had heard, and suddenly there were small hands dragging Lena into the center of the square. Tonight, Travis had his bear and Liz had a small gray fox. They pushed an unwilling Lena out of the crowd.

The wolf ran in circles around her, as if trying to keep her in place. There was no going back now. Lena extended her hands to the townspeople. Asking for their assistance, or their mercy.

There was a low rumble of guessing. Danger seemed popular, as did anger and grief. Secret spirit, people mused.

Lena expected to hear it any minute. Careless. Dark secret. Deadly accident.

Then one voice rose above the rest. “It’s not a secret spirit. It means regret. Guilt over something unchangeable.”

“An inability to move on,” someone added.

No one asked any questions. They simply accepted that it was there. The wolf settled down, and Lena retreated back to Amilie as quickly as she could.

The wolf laid down at her feet. Amilie said quietly, “I knew something was wrong in June. I didn’t know what it was, and I won’t press now. But the sigil is telling you to come to terms with it. If you stayed longer, it would only linger until you do.”

“What if I deserve to have it?” Lena asked.

“No one knows if the sigils have a sense of justice. They tell you what you need to hear.”

Forgiving herself wouldn’t come easily, Lena thought. But she could try. She could return to her job at the day care, and it this time it would be moving forward, helping people, rather than penance. She could stop blaming herself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The wolf nuzzled against Amilie’s hand as if it liked the explanation. It stood and trotted into the shine of a porch light, and disappeared.