Prologue

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I'm walking down the streets of a city that is not my own. On the surface, every city seems the same, but it's the small details—the narrow, claustrophobic roads, the cramped buildings, the cracked pavement—that tell them apart. This city, this unfamiliar landscape, is deceptive in its similarity to my home.

Ahead of me by maybe fifteen paces, I make out the figure of a man. He's wearing heavy work boots, baggy pants, and a thick sweater. Aside from him, and me, the street is empty. In the distance, a dog howls.

The night is cool, with a strong breeze that whips my hair into my face. I wish I had a hair tie to pull it back, but when I check, my wrists are bare.

It's dark out, the streetlights casting eerie shadows that climb up the red-brick walls of the surrounding buildings. I follow him into one such building, waiting patiently as he unlocks the front door and heads to the staircase beside the elevator. The elevator, I notice, is out of order.

As we walk up eight flights of stairs, I realize that I'm not wearing any shoes. Upon further inspection, I find that I'm still in my pyjamas—pink-and-black checkered shorts and a ratty Nirvana t-shirt.

"Can you hear me?" I ask the man as we step out onto the eighth floor, but I can't even hear myself. I try to speak again but, still, no sound comes out.

The man fumbles with his keys as he unlocks one of the off-white doors that line the hall. I shift from foot to foot, the carpet scratchy on the soles of my feet. My legs are unshaved, but I don't think anyone else can see. This must be a dream, I realize.

Inside, the apartment is desolate and heavy with a funny smell. The man shrugs out of his sweater and deposits his keys and wallet onto a table by the entryway. I follow him into the kitchen, where he flicks on a burner on the stove and pours oil into the pan sitting atop it.

Into the toaster go two pieces of bread before he cracks two eggs into the hot pan, stepping back as the oil hisses and pops. He grabs jam from the fridge and spreads it thickly onto the toast when it jumps from the toaster, before sliding the eggs from pan to plate.

This is routine for him, I realize. Something about it makes my heart ache. He eats standing up at the counter, no kitchen table in sight. He's got red hair and a farmer's tan, a hooked nose and dark freckles. His nose has been broken, maybe more than once. On one forearm is a huge tattoo of a Celtic cross, the ink green and faded.

He's familiar, but I can't place him. He's too old for me to have ever gone to school with him but too young for him to have ever taught me. Maybe he used to box with me—it would explain the nose— or maybe I saw him in passing on the bus one day. That's happened before—strangers showing up in my dreams, unannounced.

Through the small window above the sink, I can see day start to break. It must not be late, like I thought, but rather very early. The man at the counter lets out a sigh, and when I turn, I see that he's crying.

When I wake up, I'm crying, too. 

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