by Susan Anwin
Maggie saw the old geezer first on the mist-ridden streets of a
nameless Scandinavian town during one of her predawn wanderings. He was
some kind of hobo dressed in a motley of assorted rags, scavenged from
a range of countries and centuries. He had an antique looking pince-nez
hanging from his neck, although he didn't seem to be in need of any
kind of seeing aid. His glance had none of the glazed over look of the
chronic alcoholic or junkie. The eyes above the shaggy beard, under the
matted strands of steel-gray hair were crystal clear and piercing as he
passed her by, walking tall and rod straight.
She saw him again on her way to the train station two days later.
Maggie only took notice of him when she heard a metallic clank on the
ground behind her. She turned and saw the pince-nez lying abandoned on
the concrete. The man was nowhere to be seen. After a bit of debate –
afterall he could have all sorts of diseases, (except she didn't think
he did) Maggie picked up the pince-nez and went into the station to
look for the lost-property desk. She realized how much time had already
passed only then; she had a couple of minutes left to catch the train.
After a breathless rush of her rucksack bouncing on her back she
managed to get on board in the last minute, panting like an Olympic
sprinter. She completely forgot about the spectacles.
She was back home unpacking her bag, when the spectacles fell from some
hidden nook. Maggie lifted them. "Sorry, old man." She had a pang of
guilt as she found herself contemplating what a fun accessory it would
be for a steampunk party. It looked like the real deal, not some cheap
modern day replica. She tried it on and giggled at herself in the
mirror. It didn't affect her sight in any way, which was kinda weird.
It must have had those cheap drugstore lenses in the frame.
She went down to the bank to take out some money. There was one man
ahead of her in the line, and as she waited the strangest idea came to
her mind. It was more a series of numbers; 3-4-9-7, flashing in the
darkness of her mind to the rhythm of the beeps as the man pressed the
Maggie stepped to the ATM when the guy left and took out her wallet.
She got her card in hand, ready to slip it in the slot, when the
message on the screen stopped her. It wasn't the normal 'please insert
your card'. It said, 'please enter your PIN and press OK', as if the
machine thought it was still the previous card inside. It must be some
kind of malfunction. Should she inform the bank? Following some kind of
crazy hunch, she punched in 3497.
It listed the possible amounts, all multiples of five, and 'other
amount'. Maggie chuckled. Definitely some kind of malfunction. She
chose the smallest amount just to be on the safe side; 5000.
'Your request is being processed.'
'Please take your money.'
She felt her grin fade as the fiver appeared in the slot.
'Do you wish to make another transaction?' Definitely not. What if this had some kind of legal repercussion?
She walked past the lottery office on her way home. 'THE WINNING
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK ARE...' the shop window screamed above the blank
space. The numbers were supposed to be drawn the next day. Maggie
"Twenty seven, twenty eight, nineteen, thirty," she whispered. She saw
an elderly neighbor inside, a sorry looking fella she ran into
sometimes in the elevator or on the corridor. He'd always linger in the
park near the chess tables watching the game, arguing loudly about
politics. He was living in one of the musty little flats on the 5th
"Oh, hello Miss Fletcher? How goes it?"
"G'day Mr. Anderson. I'm alright, just back from traveling. What are you up to?"
He laughed and waved with one veined hand. "Just the usual. Paying this week's tax of fools."
"Try these numbers." She scrabbled them down on a scrap of paper.
He cast her a sly look. "Do you know something I don't?"
"Just try them. For me."
The old man shrugged. "Not like it makes a difference..."
She wasn't even remotely surprised when she heard about Mr. Anderson's
unbelievable good luck. As she learned later he bought a decent house
with a fenced off garden in one of the hip suburban areas.
"Something is happening to me," she confided in a friend she invited
over for a tea. She'd been frantically searching for the spectacles for
days, but they seemed to have vanished off the face of the Earth.
Sylvia sipped from her tea and tried to act like she cared, while
thinking about meeting the guy she kept on the side next to her hubby.
"You know you can tell me anything, dear. Just spill it like cheap
Maggie hesitated. The words turned sour in her mouth. Sylvia was one of
her oldest and closest friends, an epitome of sober, virtuous domestic
life. Maggie actually used to think she was a little too goody two
shoes, actually. "Who is he?"
The saucer rattled in Sylvia's hand. "Who is who, dear?"
"Never mind. I'm sorry I dragged you here, I'm not feeling too well. Do you mind...?"
Sylvia put down the cup. "Don't you want me to call a doctor for you?"
"Nah, I'm good. Thanks, though."
She saw the first of them while shopping for groceries. It was a young
girl, standing at the checkout till just staring at her. She was still
there as Maggie was paying and packing her stuff, staring a hole into
the back of her head.
"It's not nice to stare, you know," Maggie said in passing. The cashier
turned and looked at her startled. The girl said nothing.
The next one was an old man on a street corner, oblivious of the
passersby or the cool weather as he stood in nothing but a pair of
dirty briefs, glaring at her, his fish-white belly hanging down on the
stretched rubber band. The woman in the hairdresser's window, the twins
in the bank, the young guy in the doctor's office. They were at her
workplace, crowding around the water cooler. Maggie took the day off.
They were gathering outside her 4th floor window staring in, following
her with their eyes as she moved about in the flat. She snapped, when
she found a disgruntled young man in the living room.
"What do you want?" she screamed at him. The man said nothing. Nor did
the multitude outside. Blood oozed discretely from the slit on the
Maggie reserved an appointment with her therapist, then turned on her
heel when she saw the bloated kid in the waiting room, water dripping
into a puddle impossibly on the ceiling above his head.
She hurried home and made another desperate, frantic search for the
pince nez. She was convinced they had everything to do with what was
going on. She even went to the local library to search about the
possible symptoms of schizophrenia. She couldn't do the research at
home with that guy standing in the corner. The carpet started to
discolor at his feet. So, the library it was. Maggie headed to the
gallery, then stopped, library card, mobile, purse spilling from her
numb hand. Shiny dots danced in front of her eyes and she thought she'd
faint. Three women were dangling from the crossbeam above the stairs in
various stages of decomposition. The ones that still had at least one
eye left kept it fixed on her even as they rotated slowly at the end of
the fraying ropes.
Maggie bolted from the library, startling the passersby with her screams.
She went straight to the airport and booked the first flight north. She
lost the spectacles apparently, but she was desperate to find the old
hobo. That, or completely lose her mind.
She headed to the same nameless Scandinavian town, trying to ignore the
scores of silent watchers wherever she went. There seemed to be more
and more of them as she neared her goal. She walked around the city
hoping to find the old man, looked for him at the same hour of the day,
yet all she found were the eternal scraps of fog drifting on the
deserted streets in the predawn murk. Maggie watched and waited. Day by
day there were more of her eerie companions. They were gathering for a
specific date, she was sure. Every day she'd go out for a walk at dawn,
watched the sea on the misty/red/rainy mornings, the streets empty of
living, breathing people or near enough to make no difference. Weeks
came and went.
It was nearing the end of October. "Where are you?" she hissed to the
pewter colored sky, her breath swirling in the chilly air.
The drifter was nowhere in sight, only the specters heard her plea.
"Look, I don't know where your spectacles are. I seem to have lost it,
and I'm sorry." she was aware that she was talking to herself but she
was past caring. "Please, take them back, I know you have ways to do
it. Please." There was no answer, just the whoosh of salt-scented wind
from the sea.
Maggie ran out of ideas how to lure out the old bastard. There was a
mound, a group of rocks outside of town she knew of, ornate with the
carvings of a lost people. She sat there among the rocks in the hazy
light on the last day of summer, in a ring of silent spectators with a
blade in hand. As the last rays of the sun peeked in through the pine
branches she cut into the soft flesh of her palm. She watched but only
the shadows of trees and bushes moved among the drifting scraps of fog.
With a sigh she set to put bandage on the wound. Looking for a band aid
in her bag she nearly missed him. She caught movement from the corner
of her eye and snatched her head up, band aid and bleeding wound
In his colorless garment he seemed to be just a slightly denser patch
of fog. He was pointing at her, his mouth open in silent laughter. The
next moment the veil of mist hid him from her.
When she next looked around, she saw she was alone on the hill, accompanied only by the cawing of invisible ravens.
© 2017 Susan Anwin
Bio: Susan was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Her
flash-fiction Talk of Armadale trees was featured in the anthology My
Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012, and her
short stories Fog-People, Eddie's lousy Saturday, You'll die as fish,
People of the Green Cloud, Dragonfly-man, Daddy is Driving the Car,
Soul for Sale, Dark Sister and The Man Who Broke Time were published by
Aphelion in 2016 and 2017. She's been featured on the cover of Aphelion
in March and July 2017.
Website: Susan Anwin
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