[Flash fiction] Between Shafts of Sunlight

Between Shafts of Sunlight Cover PhotoTim stood at the cliff’s edge looking out over the water. A sharp wind gusted at his back, flapping his jacket’s lapels softly at his chin. A voice blew a soft ‘boo’ into his ear.

“Christ, Lisa!” He said, turning around. “Don’t be doing that, I could’ve…”

“Ah, relax, you’re miles from the edge.” Lisa said through a smile. “I’m glad you came, wasn’t sure if you would.”

“Messaged you back to say I would, didn’t I?”

“Aw, did you? Sorry, didn’t check my messages after, was deep in research, you see.”

“So, why am I up here?”

“Why? Because there’s something in the air up here. All my time spent seeking out the weird and the wonderful on the web not knowing it was here all along, right on my doorstep. Or cliff top I suppose I should say.”

“What?”

“Sheesh, Tim, didn’t you read the stuff I linked you?”

“Lisa, I don’t have the time to read half the odd junk you send my way. I remember reading something about strange lights over… Peru, was it?”

“Oh, yeah, that! Aliens, I’m certain, though might be willing to consider the possibility of ghosts.” Lisa said, her eyes lighting up. “We’re not in Peru though, are we?”

“No. So, c’mon, what did you drag me all the way up here for?”

“Couldn’t take five minutes to read the bloody…” She muttered to herself, took a deep breath and laid it all out for him. “Right, short version, so there’s this Australian girl, Kristi, that I know from this message board I’m on, well she messages me out of the blue and goes, “Oh, my God, so you’re from that Blackwater village, with the cliff and the wind that blows from another world.” So I was all, ‘What?’ Then she launches into this big thing and I’m thinking to myself if this was for real I definitely would’ve heard this before but later I asked my granddad and it’s all true!”

“Ah-huh.”

“So I jump back online, chasing leads and posting questions when up pops this email from Lucy.”

“The Australian girl?”

“No, that was Kristi, she set me on to all this, then Lucy saw something I posted somewhere and sent me on even more details. Really interesting stuff. First off there’s the Soft Man.”

“Soft man?”

“Yes, the Soft Man, who walks the cliff’s edge wrapped in colour and light with a voice that’s as the whispering of the wind.”

“So that’s who you’re up here looking for.”

“No, not really, I’m after the ballroom. They say the Soft Man comes to show you where blows the wind from out this world. Find him, find the wind, find the ballroom.”

Wind, ballrooms and soft men, Tim thought, if there was a way they were all meant to fit together he couldn’t figure it.

“Okay, well whatever about your soft man but there’s no ballroom hiding about up here.”

“Ah, but there is. Somewhere. The entrance is at least, trapped between shafts of sunlight or hidden behind a breeze.”

“If you want to go dancing I know plenty of clubs.”

“The dancing days are long gone,” Lisa intoned gravely. “The party ended, ages past, and empty now stands the hall. Only one soul still roams… You know I really wish you’d read the article.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t. So who is this soul?

“The Veiled Mother in White.”

“And who’s she when she’s at home?”

“The woman who weeps and never sleeps,

The woman who seeks yet never speaks,

Forever nursing to an empty carriage,

Forever minded of an empty marriage.

With…”

“Alright, alright, I get the idea. D’you learn the whole thing by heart or what?”

“Yeah actually, I did.” She said, folding her arms defiantly. Her eyes held his, then bulged wide and lifted over his shoulder. “It’s him! Look, it’s the Soft Man.”

Tim looked to where she pointed. In the distance an old man was ambling along, head bowed into the wind. Lisa gripped Tim’s arm and started to walk. He held his ground and took hold of her shoulder.

“Hold on, you can’t go bothering some poor old chap.”

“That’s no poor old chap, that’s the Soft Man. He’s…” She frowned. “He’s gone!”

“Ugh, he’s not gone.” Tim said, turning again to look. “He’s…”

Tim couldn’t see the old man now. He ran his eyes along the horizon again. Where had he gone? Behind that boulder maybe, he thought, or… Behind him Lisa talked excitedly.

“Soft Man shows the way. See the Soft man, see the way, so they say, hee hee!! Well, I saw him. Is it enough just to see him? Hmm. I wonder if…”

“Ha. Hey, this is like a real life Where’s Wally.” Tim said. No reply. He turned. “Did you hear that, I said…”

Lisa was gone. He spun in a complete circle. She was still gone. That was impossible, nowhere for her to go except… Of course. She always pushed a joke too far, took stupid risks. He hoped there was ledge on the cliff side, that she wasn’t just dangling over the edge by her fingertips, afraid that’s exactly what she was doing.

“Not funny, Lisa, pull yourself up already, I’m not laughing.”

No answer. He took a tentative step towards the edge. The wind gusted against his back, nudging him onward. He heard Lisa’s laughter. His head turned at the sound. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again. He was sure he had just seen her laughter dancing on the air. He swallowed deep. The wind came again at his back, he dug his heels in but still that incessant force pushed him on. He threw his right hand back and felt resistance. Slowly he turned, staring at his hand in wonder. He raised his left hand beside the other, both resting on nothing yet something. Stretching out both arms he felt something give a little. He shook his head and bit at the corner of his mouth. Then he pushed as hard as he could. He pushed out, parted the wind and stepped on through.

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

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