First day of the month. Everything changes, but nothing does, not really. Different month, different day, same people. Or different people but they're all the same. I see them and then they go and I don't remember. So I don't look at their faces too much. Then I don't have to forget.
I see how they walk though and I feel it, how they are. Sometimes it's more than that, but only sometimes. They never tell me, but I know. And they'd never believe me. Dreams and whispers and it's all just broken glass, sticking under your skin until you can't feel it anymore.
And my birds come, my grey birds. They have colours on them too, but no-one sees the colours, green and purple in the grey. No-one likes the grey birds, but I do. I like the black ones too, but they don't come around as much. The birds know.
It's cold now and the sky's getting darker. Dark, dark days. Beginnings.
And I'm sitting here on my bench, not bothering anyone, just being on my own, and he arrives. The storm comes. The grey birds go away when he gets here. Because he gets here.
"Do you mind if I sit?" he says, and I say, "Sorry, I'll move," but he says, "No, I didn't mean that. Stay where you are." He says, "I meant, do you mind sharing the bench?"
I didn't know what to make of him because they always want me to move, not to be here. They don't look at me or talk to me, but here he is, wanting to sit. So I say, "OK," but I don't look at him. He kind of looks at me. The others don't look at me, but he does. The others aren't a storm though.
It's cold, but he's carrying his coat over his arm like he doesn't feel it. His shirt's white like snow, like a blizzard or an avalanche. White like a fresh start. White like bleached-out blood stains. I think he knows so I say to him, "There's a storm coming."
He says, "I know. I saw the warnings. Do you have somewhere to go?"
I don't, not really, but I don't want to tell him that, so I say, "Yeah, I got a place. Saw the warnings too. Heard them. Felt them as well. You like the sea?" I can see the sea on his skin, on his arm. He has big arms. He's getting nervous. I'm making him nervous. I say things and I make people nervous. I don't mean to, but I do.
He says, "What? Yeah," and he asks me how I know.
I say, "Ink on your arm. Through your shirt." I point at the top of his arm, where the sea is. The ink and the sea. "Full of secrets though."
He says, "What is?" and I say, "All the waves and you never really know what's under there. Dark, dark waters."
It. He. I thought he knew, but he doesn't. Him, with the sea on his skin and he still doesn't know.
He says, "I guess it is," then he asks me, "You got any tattoos?" like he's just talking to me, like we're just people. I don't know what to do because no-one ever does that. And he looks at me, right at me, right in my eyes. It feels like dark in my soul, dark in his soul. Storms.
I say, "Nope. Always meant to, but never got to it. Got these though. Good as tattoos." I take my coat off one side and pull my sweater down over my shoulder. Show him the scars, like trees on my skin. Not the sea, or storms. Just trees.
And he says, "How did you get those?" and I say, "Hit by lightning." He looks freaked out again. I always scare people when I tell them about the lightning, so I don't usually tell them.
He says, "Jesus, really?" and I say, "Twice. For real." He says, "Twice?" and I say, "Yeah, twice. First time was like turning around, you know? Second time was just...I don't know. Messages, I guess. You ever get those? It tries to tell you something, but you don't know how to listen?"
He looks all confused and he's quiet, still. Dark, dark waters. He says, "I've never thought about it. I don't know."
I say, "But that's why you got the sea on your arm there. And why you quit. What did you quit? You miss it?"
He's getting real shaken up now. He starts looking all round him like he's waiting for something to happen and he says, "I have to go. You should go too. Before the rain starts. Before the storm." I think I've said too much, but how does he not know? I say, "Storm's already here," and then I ask him, "You a soldier?"
I figure maybe he is. Has that look about him, that feeling, like he walks into things other people are scared to look at.
He says, "No. I have to go," and he says, "I'm sorry," and then he gets up.
He's tall with big shoulders for carrying big, heavy things. Shoulders like that got the world on them, you know? Life and death and everything, all pushing down on those shoulders and there's no getting away from it, not really.
He starts walking and he's looking at the ground. I don't know what he's seeing, what he wants to see. The storm. I shout after him, "I'm sorry too, man. It's all storms and thoughts and memories. You keep looking," because I know he's looking for something. He hasn't lost it, but he hasn't found it yet.
He goes away and the grey birds come back and one of the black ones too. This one doesn't say anything. It just looks at me, like the storm looked at me. But it isn't a storm. It's just a message.
YOU ARE READING
Winter FollowsGeneral Fiction
One month, one city, five lives colliding with the forces of fate. A thrill-seeking tech genius with an appetite for dangerous extremes. A retired contract killer fighting to escape his past and himself. An underworld driver tempted deeper into a li...