He stood on the shore and stared into the void. There was a lake out there, the largest in England, but it was hard to tell. A thick mist had rolled down from the fells overnight and the valley was filled with cotton wool. The steep, wooded slopes of the far bank were only half a mile away, but all he could see were the ripples at his feet, then a flat plain where water became air, the join invisible.
The fog had eaten all sound. Gone was the usual bustle – the tourists, the traffic, the ever-hungry swans. In their place, silence. The hush of air through leaves. The faint splip-splip of the water on the shore. Then, weirdly, the calls of birds he couldn’t see.
Geese, he thought. A flock, newly arrived on their way to Scandinavia. A shame they were hidden; he liked to watch the vast vees coming in, keeping their formation until the last possible minute, then peeling off, one by one, to land. Nature’s equivalent of the Red Arrows, but with eons to perfect their skills.
Their calls sounded content, he thought. Friendly feeding noises, the quiet honkings of family life. Are you there? Yes I’m here. Good food here. A useful skill when the mist hid them from each other’s view. But the sound brought sadness, too. A flash, a memory, his own family round the breakfast bar. Bowls of cornflakes, buttery knives, the mindless chatter of two kids getting ready for school. If only. The two most dangerous words he knew.
He picked up a stone and threw it into the mist. Wild indignant squawkings; he’d unsettled the birds. “Sorry,” he called, and hoped he hadn’t frightened them. He didn’t like to hurt wild things, even spiders and toads. Rose had teased him about it often enough.
Rose. If ever a woman was badly named. There was nothing of perfume or flowers about her. Unless it was a Christmas rose preserved by frost, petals perfect until the slightest touch, when they shattered into a hundred tiny shards. And shatter she had. He was still dealing with the shrapnel now.
He wished he could stay here for ever, with the geese. A new family, ready-made, to fill not just the valley but the void inside. But that was impossible. Work beckoned, the dull chores of daily life. The things he kept on doing, even though he had no need, or care.
The mist was clearing where the sun heated it: swirling, lifting, thickening again, then magically it was gone. Water glittered across the bay; the far shore leaped towards him, black and stark. And the birds wheeled above his head where he’d sent them with his stone. He held out his arms to them. The skin prickled, itchy from the thick woollen jumper he’d put on. He rolled up his sleeves. Watched, alarmed, as rows of tiny bumps erupted suddenly. Bumps that grew quills, then soft white feathers hushing through the air. The alarm faded to amusement. He was losing it. Imaginary wings, his brain supplying a fantastical solution to his current concerns.
But the wings felt real. He tested them, tentative at first, then waving up and down. Feeling the play of unexpected muscles beneath the skin. The illusion held. He flapped more powerfully, lifting himself aloft. Circling with the birds, joining their endless dance.
He stared down at the lake, the shore, the people and boats scurrying about. His life was down there. His work, the people he’d loved. So small, so insignificant. He set his eyes to the horizon; joined the newly-forming vee. Called to them. Are you there? Yes, I’m here. And flew off over the northern fells.
Fiona Glass is the author of multiple books on history, time travel and the paranormal. Find out more about her work here: www.fiona-glass.com