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The Slow Flies of Autumn

by  shellgrip

Posted: Friday, October 7, 2005
Word Count: 2637
Summary: The prologue (?) to a project that's been bouncing around in my head for some months.




After the car stopped, Paul sat for a moment, reflected yellow light pouring through the windscreen, the streetlights bouncing off the snow that draped the road, the pavements, the gardens and their walls. He let his eyes wander across the scene, moving from place to place on this road he knew so well. He had walked this way a thousand times, passing the eclectic collection of bungalows with their individual extensions and improvements. All the time that had passed was now concealed beneath a coat of white, as though heíd driven back into his childhood.
Paul popped the door, cold air swirling into the car bringing small flecks of snow and ice to brush against his face and hands. He stepped out carefully onto the icy pavement, feeling the silence deepen around him, becoming that crushing quiet that only heavy snow can bring about. There were only two other cars within a hundred yards, both deeply softened by the recent fall, the final flakes of which danced in the pools of light. There was no one to see him, which was exactly what heíd hoped.
Retrieving his coat from the back seat, Paul locked the car as he walked away towards the corner. The crust on the pavement was unbroken. There had been nobody on the street for some time but that was hardly surprising. The few that remained in the area would be safe behind their locked doors, lights behind curtains and walls blazing against the dark and those that lived there.
Turning into the side street Paul ran his hand along the top of the street sign. The sign was the first that had been planted by the side of the road, its pale concrete supports rough and solid compared to the modern plastic poles seen elsewhere. Paul bent, brushing snow from the lettering, searching for any remnant of his childish graffiti on the white background but either it had faded or the light was too poor to see and he straightened again, wiping his hand against his jeans.
From the short side street Paul turned again, walking carefully where the wide pavement sloped gently up into the road where he was born. There was still no sign of any other person and he thought briefly that he had been over cautious to park discreetly. He could have driven right up here and no one would have known, or cared. A pressure was building within him, a bloating memory of his first twenty years. Was there any part of this concrete wall on his right that he hadnít touched in those twenty years of running, sitting, cycling and crying? Was there any part of this pavement, hidden now, that he hadnít stepped on? This lamppost on the first corner, a mere handful of steps from the drive of his parentís house, was it the same one he had walked into to gain his first black eye?
As Paul continued to crunch towards the house the presence of these memories became overwhelming and he stopped, resting his hand against the last panel of their neighbours grey concrete wall until it began to numb with the cold. The house was there now, the side wall and roof clear over their wooden fence with the front a tempting perspective shortened sliver. The low wall of the front garden, the bare branches of the lilac tree that brushed against the car as it came and went from the drive. The small, pointless patch of grass that was barely worth mowing. The path that sloped down between an honour guard of the roses that his mother had loved so much and beyond, the front lawn that they had shared with their neighbour for fifteen of those twenty years.
A single deep breath of bitter damp air brought Paul into motion again. The longer he stayed out here the more likely it was that he would be seen. Once he was inside he would be safe; from one threat at least.
Slipping slightly down the path he held out a hand to steady himself against the wall at the end. The rough surface of the brick seemed hot with the summer sun of school holiday and Paul snatched away his hand, turning along the front of the house past the kitchen window to the front door, pulling the key from his pocket as he did so. Unlocking the sliding door he lifted it slightly dragging it open against the stiffness of the runners.
The hall, like the rest of the house was dark but the smell came dashing out to greet him. His smell, the smell of his house where he was born, as distinct as the feel of a favourite sweatshirt or the taste of a forgotten food. The blend of years of their own scents, their own cooking, their choice of deodorant, hair products, household bleach. The impact of how often they washed the dog, the sofa he slept on, the floors he walked on. The slow seep of the varnish his father had used on the kitchen cabinets he had built, the memory of the houseplants that had lived, flowered and died in that space. All of them, all mixed into a single rush of air that swept past Paul into the street then turned and pushed him through the door into his home.
Paul pulled the door closed behind him, struggling slightly as it caught on the last inch. How long had that door been sticking? Twenty years? It had done so for most of his later school years and had done so in spite on the day he left, never to come back. How could something that didnít work properly last so long? With a thump it settled into place and Paul ran the lock up with his finger in a remembered action that he barely noticed.
His eyes were now gathering the light that came through the glass door panels the hall becoming solid around him, empty. Marks in the carpet showed where the coffee table had been, covered with the African Violets that his mother had grown throughout his living memory. Another, lighter set marked the cheap chair that had sat in the corner by the phone, the seat of too many anguished waits for calls that didnít come and too few blushing whispered calls that did.
This wouldnít do.
Memories are like a lake; the deeper you go the harder it is to keep your head above the water. At this rate it would take him all night to reach the weapons and there simply wasnít time for that.
Paul moved towards the shallow stairs that lead up from the left of the hall running his hand up the wide polished banister on his right, ignoring the memory of a child, and once a drunken adult, that slid along the surface. Up to the first bend, then right to the landing. The upstairs of his home was always a place of quiet, distinct from the television watching parents downstairs. A place to read and play, building strange Lego monuments as a child and bizarre sexual fantasies as a young adult.
Right, into his tiny room, the smallest bedroom of the four. The memories here seemed less intense, perhaps less strongly imprinted as his teenage years asked for more and more hours out with friends learning to love or his instructors, learning to hurt. This room was as empty as the others, the thin carpet lifting and buckling from his inept first attempts at DIY.
Stepping into the room and bending quickly, Paul snatched at the corner furthest from the door, the single streetlight showing more than enough light. Perhaps the snow was a blessing, reflecting and splintering the light in through the window. Paul pulled back the carpet, dancing over the edge onto the floorboards before dropping the peeled surface on the other side of the room.
Pulling a long screwdriver from his coat he knelt again running his fingers over the boards, looking for the right one. Here; no, here, this one, the pattern of marks on the edge was plain to see and he let a small puff of disgust loose at his own weak attempt at concealment. If he hadnít got here in time this would have been quickly found.
The board lifted easily, the nails tired and weak from the constant work. Paul plunged his hands into the dark below to lift out the canvas bundle.
As his hands touched the canvas the room and the world around it shifted. The memories fled and it became a cold dark house on a winters night with none of the comfort and protection of earlier times in warmth and light. Fresh spits of ice spattered against the window, the crushing silence seemed to shift, small sounds tickling at the limit of hearing.
Paul stood and opened his coat, tucking the long bundle into the pocket he had made for the purpose. It was time to leave, and quickly.
Moving out onto the landing Paul paused, looking towards the bathroom, wondering if there was time for one last memory, moving in that direction without making a decision. The room was small and functional but it was the window that drew his eye. A thousand years before, his father had installed a new double-glazed window into this room, frosted with leaves in a beautiful pattern. Right into his teens Paul had been fascinated by the play of snow on the far side, lit by the light from within. The same flakes would strike the other windows but this one changed them, hid their size and form, turned them into something magical. He had spend many winter evenings staring at the window, waiting for the snow that sometimes never came, just to see those first white flecks dance among the leaves.
Now, in the dark, the light from the black-eye streetlamp threw shadows into the room but the dancing flakes were there, and for a moment he smiled.
The pistol shot cracked into the moment and Paul swung around and down onto the floor, reaching for the bundle in his coat, waiting for the next shot. In the silence that followed he shifted on the floor to look up at the window and saw that there had been no shot.
The window with the leaves, installed by his father and the focus of so many cold nights, was cracked. From top to bottom through the centre of the frame there was now a gap in both panes of glass a few millimetres wide. Paul stood looking out at the snow and the night, feeling a new breeze of cold damp air squeeze itís way into the house. Then he turned and ran.
Jogging down the stairs, familiarity guiding his steps, he reached the front door, unlocked it and yanked it open in a single movement, pushing himself through the gap as he did so.
Outside the change was more noticeable. What had been a Christmas card scene of peace and tranquillity was now the bitter cold danger of a night lost on a mountain. The air pushed at Paul in gusts, stinging icy shards into his face, making him squint. What had seemed an unnecessary precaution of parking two streets away now seemed like a bloody stupid idea.
Pushing away from the front door he began to retrace his steps back to the car. Not running, attracting attention, but walking briskly, as a man anxious to get in from the cold. Onto the pavement, towards the streetlamp at the corner, past the concrete panelled wall.
Through his early childhood Paul could not see over this wall, could only guess what lay beyond. At some point he had grown such that he could pull himself up to peer quickly over the top at the vegetable patch beyond, then, during a later Summer he had suddenly realised that he could now see past it without effort.
As he glanced to his left now, it became clear to Paul that he was not alone.
The space beyond the panels was rough and heavily shadowed. Vague lumps and mounds ran into each other, blended by the snow and further back there was a dense impenetrable shadow cast by a large shed. There was no light, only a thick deep blackness but within it a darker shadow moved and a soft hiss carried across the distance to where Paul stood.
He ran now, the time for caution long past.
Passing the lamp post the hiss came again, louder and keeping pace with him on the other side of the wall. Turning to the sound, Paul narrowly avoided another bruising contact, slapping his hand against the cold metal of the post as he slipped past, bouncing off the wall.
Down to the corner and out onto the next street. The hunter would have to cross out into the road now, he could no longer follow Paul without doubling back through the gardens.
Paulís feet went from under him on the wide pavement of the bend and he came down on his hip, punching the wind from his chest, numbing his left leg instantly. Sliding for a few feet he struggled to get up but could only roll onto his hands and knees, shuffling forward, bunching snow around his frozen hands while trying to draw a breath. For agonising seconds he could move no further then he pulled his right leg up and stood, swaying uneasily and breathing. His hip was still numb but it would not be long before it began to stiffen and pain became a factor.
Where was it? Surely it could have taken him then, ripping the bundle from his coat and his life soon after. Yard by agonising yard, Paul made his way towards the car, leaning on the walls and trees as his hip began to blaze and seize. Slipping again, he grabbed at a tree and looked up towards the corner.
Three figures stood at the end of the road, one running his fingers lightly over the street name sign that Paul had passed not half an hour before. Lit from behind and misted by falling snow they had no features, silhouettes with shadows stretching in front of them.
Turning back to look for the hunter, Paul saw only the empty street and his own frantic tracks, already being blurred by the fresh snow that was now falling more heavily. A cat yowled off to his right and he grabbed at the bundle beneath his coat, the sound cutting off suddenly as his fingers brushed the canvas.
The wind died, and silence returned to the night.
Paul turned back to look at the figures, knowing they would be gone. He watched the empty street for a few seconds, gathering one shuddering breath after another until his stomach settled and he could move again.
Unlocking the car, Paul fell into the drivers seat, gasping at the pain that shot through his hip as he tried to bend his legs into the footwell. Gathering his coat around himself, he pulled the door shut, locking the doors.
The big Volvo started first time and as Paul began to pull away he glanced down at the path by the window.
His own footprints were there, the arrival now softened and indistinct, the return still clear and uneven where he had collapsed in through the door but around his own marks there were others, clear and deep. In the headlights Paul could see that they covered the road, overlapping and spread across the width of the carriageway. At some point while he had been away, others had been here, had waited for him, stomping up and down around the car, their horses leaving deep imprints in the white snow.