Faded Light

Henry sat on the bench overlooking the bay; the seat beneath him was warm, but either side water saturated the wood. As he saw the wreckage of American Airlines flight A728 sink into the bay, an unnerving calm fell over him. On the road below, the blue and red emergency lights reached through the mist that hung low over the scene; rescue boats fanning out from where the fuselage had submerged. The mist swirled and eddied in the distance over the city, following unseen paths as it danced around the sky, sometimes a clear sky suddenly became a whirlpool of white, before dissipating again. After a while he could see the boat crews dragging bodies out of the water, and decided it was a good time to leave.

Behind him down the hill, the harbour continued with business as usual, the dock workers seemingly uninterested in the commotion and calamity that had occurred just around the river bend. He wandered down to where a man sat eating a sandwich, his lunchbox perched by his feet, on a conspicuously cracked hard hat.

‘Hi, sorry to bother you, but I think I need some help. Can you tell me where I am?’ Henry asked

The man looked up, his eyes narrowed, and his lips pursed ‘Centralia hat? Is a restricted This you’re dock Where’s your in area’

Henry felt the back of his head, although the words were right, the order disjointed, ‘I think I may have taken a knock to the head. Is there a medic around here?’.

Still holding his sandwich, the man stood up and Henry was astonished by his bulk. He was easily a foot taller than Henry, with biceps the width of girders and a muscular neck like a cresting wave, he replied in a raised voice ‘you security I before leave I need call to think’

‘I’m going to find some help’ Henry murmured before walking back up to his vantage point on the hill. Standing next to the bench he surveyed the now empty bay below him. The water beneath, completely barren of boats, the road, empty. Confused he looked back to the dock, to find it equally stark. The throng of people now relegated to one or two, standing still or moving slowly, seemingly unconnected, and lacking purpose.

                                                                light slowly sombre,
                                                                fading warmth enters his bones,
                                                                road below darkens.

The sun was resting just above the tall buildings of the city, the warm orange glow contrasting with the goose bumps on his skin. As the lights in the buildings started to appear, he instinctively knew that somewhere in the city, Wilsons Café was waiting for him. Perhaps it was a habit or a memory, but he had a sense of the smell of pancakes and the sweet taste of maple syrup. The thought was making his stomach rumble, but there was no urgency driving him forward.  

He ambled down the path towards the bridge, as the gradient increased and the gravel turned to sludge, he trudged through the damp mud, slipping, and sliding. Completely exposed on the hill, the cooling air danced on his face as the wind whipped up off the water, the smell of the sea filling his nostrils with the familiarity of years spent by the water. Henry tried to remember where the memories stemmed from, but they muddled between concrete images and vague notions. He tried to hang on, but they flew away like the seagulls being flung about in the clear sky above. Confusion and hope gripped him as truth and lies emerged together, he clung to a life that he knew and a life that he imagined.

The path led down to a wide six lane highway, yet after looking both ways, he noticed that the only cars he saw were stationary. The road ran parallel with the river that fed the bay, but after cautiously walking out into the centre and waiting for some time, still no cars came. He walked down the centre of the road towards the bridge that spanned the river and as he passed the stationary cars, he noticed that they all contained people. Whether there was a singular driver or packed with people, none of them were moving or talking, but the engines were all running.

As he reached the bridge, he saw crowds of people, clustered near the stone barriers, all facing the water and ignoring each other. As he approached them, he felt uneasy, something about their dress wasn’t normal and then he realised. None of their clothes matched, there were people in t-shirts and shorts, full winter jackets, flowing summer dresses, and suits. It was as if they were a set of extras from a hundred different films, all clumped together and waiting for the director to call ‘action’. The mist here was vastly different to the scene over the city, it stagnated, the denseness like a veil that sheltered the bridge from the sky above. The sunlight struggled to break through the opaqueness, which left the scene illuminated with a stifled darkness.

Despite the stillness of everything and everyone around, none of the people on the bridge turned when he passed them. He reached the middle, then abruptly stopped, remembering he wanted help, he approached a woman in a red summer dress, a red bow in her hair, mobile phone in hand, ripped tights, and no shoes.

‘Excuse me, I was hoping that I could borrow that?’ Henry asked timidly, pointing to the phone in her hand. She continued to stare over the water without uttering a noise.  

He stood back and looked again at the people around him and the woman. Nobody stirred or acknowledged him in any way. ‘Can I just…’ Henry said as he gently held on to the edge of the phone that was sticking out of her hand and tugged. She contorted her body to face him and emitted a deafening scream.
Putting his hands to his ears, he stumbled back, tripped over the edge of the pavement, and went hurtling to the ground. For the second time he re-emerged from unconsciousness, this time prostrate in the road, blood dripped from his forehead. But still, nobody had come to help, nobody had turned around, nobody had seemingly even noticed, the woman had returned to starring ahead, oblivious to the result of her scream.

flesh statues,
eyes still as water,
breaking tides.

Henry stumbled off the bridge and made his way in the direction he thought the café lay, he was sure there would be help there and hopefully a first aid kit. Leaving the bridge behind he walked between empty, lifeless office buildings, occasionally seeing people sat or lying on the ground. Some replied when he questioned them, but all in various forms of garbled English, some sentences he almost recognized, but a few words out here and there.

The mist in the city seemed to creep and crawl around his peripheral vision, a malevolent force testing his boundaries. At times the mist enveloped people, one moment someone was there, still and silent, then they’d vanish as the mist stole them away. Henry walked into the silence as the glow of twilight continued, unconsciously drawn through the streets, dirt where there should be trees, empty skies and empty eyes as the darkness clung to his heart.

For the third time, Henry woke again, but this time he was still walking, his feet and head hurt, and the moon had risen high in the sky. The mist diffused the moonlight, eerily illuminating the streets, ahead of him. Between the buildings the faint glow of the sun remained, a midnight twilight echoed around him, ahead the glowing green neon light of Wilson’s Café finally beckoned.

As he approached, the door opened, and a man stepped out, dressed in chef whites, his fuzzy hair as pale as his clothes. The man offered Henry a wide, toothy smile that creased his face and Henry’s shoulders relaxed, his walk turned to a stroll and his heart slowed. Henry smiled back, and the man said ‘Hello Henry, so you’ve had quite a day, come in, take a load off’

dark,
felt embrace,
melts.

Without feeling the need to reply, he walked through the door into familiarity, the tan leatherette booths surrounded by wood panel walls, strewn with colourful team flags, some he recognized, others he didn’t. He noticed a woman sitting at a booth at the back and he instinctively reached for his ringless wedding finger. She was wearing a gold Elizabethan dress, as wide as the booth, he turned to Henry with a look of surprise and was met with another smile. When he turned his head back, she was wearing a white floral dress. Each time they repeated this process, she was wearing something new, a new hair style, sometimes tattooed, others her skin colour differed, but always her eyes remained the same.

‘I know you, don’t I?’ he said reaching his hand out to the middle of the table, next to where hers were already waiting.

‘Yes, darling. I’ve been waiting for you a little while now’ She smiled at him and held his hand.

‘I can understand you. Where am I? Why can’t I understand anyone else other than Wilson?’ he reached for the coffee that had appeared next to him, eagerly gulping down the contents in the hope to ride himself of the headache.

‘It seems everyone understands Wilson, but nobody can talk to him, try’ she replied as the man in chefs’ whites appeared by his side.

He thought of the words and the questions he wanted to ask, but every time he opened his mouth nothing happened. After a while, he grabbed a serviette to write on, but couldn’t find a pen. Wilson took one out of his pocket and handed it to him, but Henry drew a blank. No matter what he tried, something stopped the exchange, he started to get frustrated and began to scowl.

Wilson continued to smile at him, then slowly nodded his head and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Henry smiled back and turned to look at the woman opposite, ‘Lucy’, he remembered. ‘Yes, Lucy, I’ve been Lucy and many others. Just as you’ve been Henry and Tom and Ezra and Sabra and many others. We’ve always been able to understand each other, but not everyone is so lucky’. She looked out of the window at the people standing motionless and alone, their shadows harshly outlined by the stark white streetlights.

They drank shakes, had pizza and pie, until their stomachs felt fit to burst, then she rose from the table, bent over, and kissed him. As they both headed towards the door he clung to her hand and Wilson uttered jovially ‘See you both again soon’  Outside the moon had disappeared and the mist shone like a halo that hugged the city in a cool glow. They walked away from the café and could see their breath as it mingled together in front of them. Henry followed her down streets and alleys, sometimes jogging to catch her determination. After a while, the buildings began to thin, and the roads began to narrow. They were banked by trees instead of concrete and the faded people became fewer and further apart. Henry had a vague memory of birds and wildlife, but he felt so disconnected in the silence, it was like walking with a thick glass wall surrounding him, just beyond his reach was the world he knew.

They walked through forests of pine, with bracken tripping them as they went. Lucy’s dress tore, and her legs were cut, but she didn’t seem to notice the trickles of blood. The sun shone down directly above them and the mist lifted, with merely a trickle dispersed through the undergrowth. As the warmth enveloped them, she cheerfully announced ‘We’re almost there’. Henry realised they’d been walking in silence, comfortable and content for hours. Ahead was a glade, bordered by flowers, wild and free, in the middle a house sat, bathed in light, and surrounded by manicured green. She turned to him and in that moment, as he walked into the glade the feeling of glass melted away and he could hear birds tweeting and singing.

They found an easy rhythm as the weeks, months and seasons ebbed by. Feeding themselves from their garden, they’d picnic on the grass under the open sky, sunning during the day and losing themselves in the stars at night. They were alone with their lives and their memories, making love with the warm ground beneath them. Occasionally, Henry remembered the bench and the bay but was met by a comfortable haze he didn’t attempt to clear.

From time to time the layout would change, rooms would disappear, and others would take their place, sometimes the house felt larger, others smaller, but it always felt like home. The time slipped rooms reminded Henry of the bridge, of the silent people that haunted the world and his nightmares. His waking life was paradise, but something gnawed at his sleep; an untold truth lay in his mind and wouldn’t settle.  

‘You know what happened, don’t you?’ he’d ponder, vaguely aimed towards Lucy, but with no real hope that she’d provide him with answers.

‘Of course, I do darling, so do you’ she’d murmur, never with more details and always looking away.

Every morning he would glance out of the window from their bedroom in the eaves, and every morning the mottled green forest beyond was clear of mist and people. One beautiful morning, there was a band of light grey between the green forest and blue sky. Day after day the haze drew over the forest, until one morning it blocked out the trees completely and a small figure stood at the edge of the glade. Silent and unmoving the child looked towards the house, then held out his hand and waited. Henry heard the door open and stood in disbelief as Lucy approached the figure, knelt, and took his hand. He could see her lips, but he was too far to hear her words. After a few minutes, the figure nodded, turned and walked back into the trees. As the child disappeared the spell broke and Henry rushed downstairs and out into the clearing.

little prince stands still,
grey eyes hide lightness recede,
cornfield turns brown

‘Who was that? he urged while grabbing Lucy’s shoulders.

Lucy’s usual smile had broken, and a frown drew in her lips and eyes. ‘I thought we’d have more time. I’m Henry, sorry’ He starred at her and his heart sank.

He gently placed his hands on her shoulders ‘Say that again’

‘I’m Henry, sorry’ she repeated.

She held his face with her hands and looked into his eyes ‘I don’t long Henry. have I love you’

Henry could feel his legs start to buckle and the sky above him start to swirl with eddies and currents of mist. He drew Lucy into a tight embrace and held her while she desperately tried to hold his weight in her arms.

Time passed, her words slowly drifted, their meaning faded, and silence enveloped them. In their eyes they understood each other, knowing that the unsaid future was near. Gradually the mist got thicker around the house until they could barely see outside. They would take it in turns to gather food from the garden, calling out to each other to not get lost. He felt safest when he was out in the haze, with Lucy safely tucked away at home. As he was picking food for that night, he realised that the mist had gone from above his head, turning the house was white and Lucy was silent.  

fading winter mist
                                                                veils plain of luscious green
slowly rises moon

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