by Andrew Openshaw
Momentary blackness, followed by a bright flash, then Henry became aware of himself again.
His damaged eyes meant he couldn’t focus, but he could make out a faint outline of his surroundings. That was enough; Henry knew exactly where he was. “Oh, God. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.”
In his right hand, he was holding on to the stick. With his left hand shaking uncontrollably, Henry reached up to touch his face. He felt scabs. So, they had drawn blood, this is really happening. “Oh God.”
Then he was moving, not of his own accord, but because his body seemed compelled to move. Henry was weak and again the stick became a necessary aid for walking.
There was only one way he could go and that was along the street. As much as he tried, Henry couldn’t turn and go the other way. Nor could he cross the road on his left to the pavement on the other side.
To his right, with his impaired vision, he could make out walls and hedges with houses behind them. And in the distance, traffic was moving along the adjacent main road. Henry was sick to the stomach.
After a few difficult paces, the sun beating down hard on his frail and shuddering frame, Henry heard the first squawk, then a flutter of wings. “No!” he cried, as he started waving the stick around in the air, trying to bat away his two winged tormentors.
Soon the birds were circling him, squawking in unison now, one after the other.
Henry continued stumbling forward, dragged by an unknown force. “…and buy some fucking milk on your way home”, one of the birds screeched. That was the last thing Gillian had shouted to him before he left the house.
“Oh, Gillian”, Henry whispered, and he began to sob.
The birds’ wings were beating faster now; they were rushing at him and trying to get him to fall over. A searing pain entered Henry’s head. He dropped the walking stick and bent over, instinctively covering his face with his hands. In his mind’s eye was an image, crystal clear. It was Toby’s toy giraffe, smiling back up at him.
A bird squawked, “Aw, what’s Mr. Giraffe’s name, Toby?” But Henry knew that it was the girls speaking to him now.
Without the stick, there to give him balance, Henry soon found himself down on the pavement. The birds began swooping and pecking at his legs, arms and face. The pain was relentless and Henry couldn’t do anything to stop them. He wailed in agony.
When the birds finally eased off, Henry fumbled around and found the walking stick again. He leveraged himself back to his feet. He could hear the birds flapping up ahead, and knew that his journey had nearly come to an end.
Henry could hear the traffic on the main road now and could make out the blurred outlines of people over the other side, near the shop.
When he reached the corner of the street, his eyes finally cleared and he could see again. Henry couldn’t close his eyes, though, not even to blink. All he could do was watch.
Above him, the birds began twirling around each other in an upward spiral, like a hurricane. Faster and faster until the swirling shape they had created split apart and two forms unwound their way to the ground.
Two girls stepped forward and walked around the corner of the street.
Henry looked to the road in front of him and there he was, guiding Toby’s pushchair to the edge of the path and waiting for a gap in the traffic so he could cross.
The scene pulsed like a heartbeat and Henry was back in that moment.
He and Gillian had been arguing again, so Henry had decided to get out of the house on this hot day and take Toby, who had another dreadful cold, out for a walk. He had crossed the road and was heading towards the Dene when two girls approached.
The girls, from the local university, were wearing skimpy shorts and low cut vests. They were like the girls from his fantasies.
Life had been difficult at home since Toby’s birth. Henry and Gillian hadn’t planned to get pregnant and neither of them was emotionally prepared to be parents. Or ready for the impact a new baby would have on their lives.
As their relationship gradually deteriorated during Toby’s first six months, Henry had begun to imagine himself with other women. He’d also found that the older he got; the younger the girls that he found attractive had become.
When these nubile freshers started coming towards him, Henry couldn’t believe his luck. Something within him snapped.
The girls were gushing over cute little Toby in his pushchair of course, but Henry was sure he could avert their attention to him instead. He was still quite attractive at forty-two; he could easily use Toby as a way into their affections.
Henry was nervous and excited, desperate not to let this opportunity slip away. He was absolutely going to go through with this, the wheels were set in motion, nothing could stop him.
As the girls played with Toby and his toy giraffe, Henry began telling them how pretty they looked. He asked if they had boyfriends and then acted shocked when they both giggled and said no. He enquired about where they were going; they said, “Home, to sunbathe in the garden.”
Henry couldn’t stop himself; he said: “I’d very much like to see that.”
The girls giggled again and then one of them eventually replied, “Well you’re welcome to come over if you like. There’s only us in.” They both said, “Come on”, at the same time and began walking down one of the side streets.
Henry noticed they were holding hands.
His heart now racing, Henry instinctively followed, intently watching the shape of their tiny hips and the bulge in their shorts as they walked in front of him. He was thinking of bikinis, and ice cubes melting onto soft skin.
The sounds of the road behind him grew dimmer.
Suddenly the girls both turned to face Henry. Their pretty freckled faces had melted away into frightening demonic scowls. Their eyes were now swollen and red, their teeth elongated and discoloured and their once beautiful and tanned skin had become sallow.
They were both laughing and pointing over Henry’s shoulder. As Henry turned around to follow their gaze, everything seemed to start moving in slow motion.
Henry felt his mood drop; his excitement had turned to dread and his perverted smile reversed into an expression of fear and helplessness.
Across the road coming out of the shop, he noticed a woman had thrown her bags into the air, grocery items slowly spilling down around her. Her mouth was wide open, her eyes wild.
When the number 38 bus struck Toby’s pushchair, which had rolled into the road, Toby, ejected from his seat, began sailing up into the air. His toy giraffe following the same trajectory.
Henry remembered thinking how strange it was that Toby’s blanket had stayed wrapped around him, even though he was in flight. It made him look like a large grey bullet.
Things began speeding up again as Toby’s tiny body descended; he landed with a thud around ten meters away from the bus, which had come to an abrupt halt.
Sound flooded back into the scene. Henry could now hear the woman over the road screaming; horns were blaring, the frames and windows of cars caught in the resulting pileup were crunching and smashing.
There was, however, no sound of a wailing baby.
Henry tried to run towards Toby but found he couldn’t. An imperceptible force pulled him back into the street. He could hear the squawking of birds’ and then momentary blackness came followed by a bright flash.
And Henry, walking stick in his right hand, became fully aware of himself again.
Andrew Openshaw is a copywriter from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK. An avid reader of fantasy and horror, he is now taking tentative steps into the world of speculative fiction. Married to Josephine, he is also proud parent to the world’s noisiest cats: Maxwell, Molko & Bodhi.