I was swaying as I walked down the stairs onto the platform. It was the last train, and revelling Friday night commuters filled the station. I leaned against the wall, watching the boisterous young crowd; for a grey dog like me, the party was over. “You look happy,” said the man standing next to me. I looked up; he was incredibly tall. I guess I was smiling.

“Got a promotion at work,” I said, “Been out drinking with friends.”

“Alcohol is one of the slow poisons,” he said, looking down at me with cold, burning blue eyes. “It’s for those of us with patience.”

“I’m going to Havana,” I said, “Gonna leave in two weeks.”

“That’s nice,” he said. I got the most peculiar feeling standing next to him, that deep gears and clockwork turned inside him. His voice sounded metallic, too; not harsh, but bright, immutable. I blamed it on the drink.

“International head of sales,” I said, “Quite the title, huh?”

“Would you like to see something cool?” he said, turning his laser blue eyes on me. I nodded. He stood up straight and I noticed his walking stick. It was long, made of a solid dark wood with a large round brass knob. It was old and well used. He took two steps around me and, with the tip of his stick, effortlessly pushed the guy sitting to my left off the bench. He landed with a meaty thump and a crack on the grimy tiles. A man came running over, shouting his name, “Geoff” or “George” or something like that, knelt down, and then exclaimed, “Holy crap! He’s dead!” I stood there silent, staring at the middle-aged corpse on the ground. “He had a bad heart,” said the man to the group of people that had gathered. I looked around for the tall man, but he was gone. I didn’t say anything about him; nobody saw anything. So I moved away down the platform and got on the train when it arrived a few moments later. I didn’t want to get embroiled in anything and lose my ticket to Cuba.


I returned home three months later; the Cubans weren’t interested in overpriced vacuum cleaners. I was back in my old job, beating the street. The best I could hope for now was to become the regional head of sales. So I hit the streets hard. If anybody in the district bought a high-end vacuum cleaner, they bought it from me. I saw the tall man again. It was in the afternoon, one of those bright days in autumn that gives false hope, makes you believe it’s spring and that winter has taken the year off. The sun filled the streets with its warm touch and people jammed the pavement, enjoying the respite: jackets unzipped, scarves and hats stuffed in pockets. An old man shuffled down the road with the laughing children, heading to the park. I stopped to let him pass; I was in no hurry. I had already made three sales. He smiled and his eyes glistened with joy as he watched the kids push past him. It was then that he appeared and, with the slightest flick of his walking stick, sent the old man falling to the floor. People rushed to help, lifting him up, but I knew he was dead. The tall man walked past me and winked. I pushed through the throng and strolled towards the park, my jacket slung over my shoulder.


The next time I saw him, his eyes, like blue beacons, beckoned and pulled me through a crowd of people. He put one long arm around me and led me away. We walked through walls; we slipped through time; we were nowhere, but around us shone a light like brightly polished brass in the sunshine. He threw his arms into the air and unfolded his black wings. They arched out over his head; the tips reaching his feet, every feather perfection. He looked at me and smiled, his eyes bluer than before; his voice, brighter than a thousand swords, pierced my body.

“There is a Reason You Do Not Fear Death.”

He flicked his wings and shot up away from me, light streaking behind through the dark. I started falling, spinning through the black, sliding back through the cracks in time. Screaming, I thought I was in pain. I landed hard on my side in a green field. The sun shone down on my face, but that light could never compare to the light that had streaked through the nothing. Standing up, I raised my arms and rounded my back, unfolding my wings. They were beautiful and black and perfect. I slowly ran my hand down the soft plumage; it felt like they had been there my whole life. I saw him then, sitting under an enormous tree that mushroomed out of the field; his eyes drew me once more inescapably towards him. A heavy book lay in the grass, the gold-gilded pages flapping in the breeze. His cane lay on his other side, blinking in the sunshine. Withered hands reached out, and a smile cracked a face that had lived a thousand years. He was looking at me, tears streaming out of his blue eyes. I picked up the stick. I knew what I had to do.