Tribes

Saturday on Market Street. The tribes were out. The Scally Army, all chavy jewellery, black nylon and gaunt anaemia. Collectors, students fetchingly fancy dressed shaking buckets that clunked with goodwill. Fans, some team, from somewhere, with a game in town today. You always looked around for the Police shadow when there were more than six together. Five tweenie girls with red peasant headscarves rode the escalator to the Food Court.

Sam had spaced out. On a normal day he could slalom along this street, cutting across the gaps in the lee of slow moving groups, going with the current. Years since he’d canoed, he still thought of it in those terms. Today the flow was too heavy. The lee gaps had all filled with their own debris and Sam, Sam felt less and less like he was there at all.

There was a filter over the scene. Gaussian blur and maybe a little watercolour. The people, the shapes, softened at the edges. The edges passed through each other. Sam was watching it all through a long lens, feeling ever more like he was above and back from it. All too weird. He had the sense not to say anything. To comment was to become one of those guys who talks to God on the street. Everyone ducks their head and walks on.

Fighting the urge to hold up his hand and try to stare through it. Was this how Uncle Ted had felt? Mad Uncle Ted, Music Force fly-poster and LSD casualty, who had disappeared under a bus on Oxford Road chasing a door to another world. He’d spent the last three days reading and re-reading the news report, Mad Uncle Ted’s letters, all the things his mother had kept Grandma from burning and finally turned over when asked about the family tree.

Sam had pretended he didn’t remember Mad Uncle Ted. But there was this image. A straggly, strange man with a beard and red, red eyes. Who’d only visited the once and never returned because he was fated a meeting with the number 42.

But Mad Uncle Ted had been on acid. Sam had never touched anything stronger than dope and absinthe, and those not for an age. Could reading about trips trigger the same effects as taking them? He had to get out of the crowd.

There was a side street, partially blocked by the coffee cabin. Sam stepped out, a piece of flotsam washed by the current against the wall. He looked back. The filter was still on the crowd. It would pass, this was just an after effect. There. One figure came back into sharp focus.

Except, he hadn’t been there a moment before. And there was the strangest tone to his skin. Blue, almost. His long thin face made the Scallys look chubby. The crowd didn’t notice him, standing stock still amongst them, just flowed around this new obstacle without a thought.

The stranger strode out of the flow into Sam’s refuge street, looked at him, made a “Tt” noise and walked off. Sam looked back at the crowd. Normal, unfiltered, weekend shoppers. Back again. The stranger had disappeared.

Originally published in Cycling on the Pavement. Based upon feeling very weird walking down Market Street one day and some ideas I’m kicking about for an alternate world fantasy.

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