I FADE AWAY
2009, Sarah Hartwell

This dream happened the morning of Dream 17th November 2009.

A piano recital in the home was an anachronism in those days. It must have been common enough in the days before radio or TV or the other entertainment systems, but now it's just a costume party. Most of us sat in dining chairs around the edge of the room while the baby grand piano had the centre of the room. No doubt the other furniture had been cleared away somewhere. The pianist was a chunky redhead in blue dress, but it was the singer who caught my attention. He was medium height and had dressed the part in a black suit over a white shirt with an old fashioned "stand-up" collar and a black bow tie. It was his face that attracted my attention - the vivid blue eyes and raven-black hair. Surely hair so black should have accompanied a swarthier complexion or shown signs of being dyed! I sensed this was really his show and the pianist, who seemed to be a relative, was his accompaniment. Something about him put me on edge even before he was introduced as Watt.

Not long into the recital (which was in itself not at all bad, although the singer was more accomplished than the pianist) I found the atmosphere in the room unbearable. It was as though everyone were holding their breath, waiting for something to happen. I slipped out of the door into the hallway and continued watching from there. The singer's vivid blue eyes caught and held mine. I heard a voice in my head, my name being whispered and I felt my flesh crawl. I made some excuse and left, as politely as was possible, at once. It was not so easy to forget about Mr Watt though and what I learnt about him shaped my life.

Looking around me more than a decade later I see the bright lights of amusement arcades and brightly lit signs of a shopping centre. It's a coastal resort, a mix of entertainment and shopping, and it could be anywhere on the south coast. I shouldered my pack and kept walking, scanning the fluorescent-lit windows of luxury goods stores and the cosier windows of tea rooms. At this time of year, when shopping was the main attraction, I looked out of place among the smartly dressed visitors. I was a shortish, fairish, scrawny-looking middle-aged women in cargo-pants and jacket with a duffel bag slung over my shoulder though no-one gave me a second glance as I dogded among groups of people and along the pedestrianise streets. Finally I see what I've been looking for.

The woman was in her 40s, a little plump as they all had been. He hovered by her attentively, his hair as black as ever with no signs of grey and his eyes still a piercing blue. They spoke and separated, no doubt to meet up later. She had no way to know she was courting danger. I moved through the clot of shoppers that had hidden me from him and approached the plump woman. Closer up she looked less affluent and a little out of place in the shopping area; middle-aged, middle class and anonymous. She didn't see me at first, of course, though she felt someone pressing against her arm. She didn't hear me either, though she no doubt felt a stray breeze. That was always the first problem - to be noticed.

I exerted enough pressure on her arm to make her turn towards the tea room window. Then she saw me, or rather saw my reflection. Only now that she was looking FOR me could she see me next to her. I've gone so long unnoticed that it's difficult to be noticed now, though mirrors still see me. At least she didn't scream.

"Your companion," I began, "Mr Watt ..."

She smiled. It was the strange, slightly besotted smile I'd seen on the other women he chose.

"...he's dangerous, you need to protect yourself."

But she didn't listen, didn't want to know. I vanished from her perception as soon as she turned away from the window. Some I save, but each time I fail, I fade a little more and one day even the mirrors won't see me. Perhaps it is time to face him directly. I am, after all, a bounty-hunter.

Soon after, I watched Watt and his chosen leave the well-lit streets and move into a quiet district, lit only by pale streetlights. He hurried her along and she, seemingly unaware of the dangers of poorly lit unfamiliar streets, went eagerly. I followed at a distance, my weapon taken from its duffel bag and assembled, now slung on my shoulder. Here, in the twilight, not even windows noticed me. They moved faster than I anticipated and I dared not approach more closely, not yet. Then, to my annoyance, I lost them altogether among tall garden fences. I felt myself fade a little more.

Now with no visible quarry, I continued walking along the back-alley between rows of gardens, overhadowed by larch lap fencing or conifers that screened the gardens. When I heard his footsteps behind me I turned around. Even in the dim streetlights his blue eyes pierced me, seeing me without the need for mirrors. He looked solid, glutted. The woman he'd absorbed had been plump. Moreover he looked no older than when I'd first seen him. I'd always avoided a direct confrontation, but now I heard that silky voice in my head speaking my name: he'd waited so long, hadn't I known we were the same? That knowledge had only come later as I'd begun to fade. The knowledge that now came to me, bright and clear, was that only one, or neither, of us would emerge from that alleyway.

DRAGONQUEEN'S LAIR

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