What’s your favourite sci-fi film/show and why?
I was on my way to the pharmacy to pick up some paracetamol for Miriam when I met the old man. He was sitting on a park bench, staring into the white sky, watching flocks of swifts play patterns in the air. As I passed, his roaming eyes fell to me, and a gnarled finger curled and uncurled in beckon.
‘Say, young man, what brings you into the park on such a cold morning?’
I stopped on the balls of my feet, hovering, hoping I wasn’t to be held hostage by the musings of a stranger. I told him my business, and he smiled creakily.
‘What’s your name?’ he asked.
‘Well Frederick, do you know what I’m doing here?’
I shook my head.
He leaned forward conspiratorially.
‘I’m levitating the birds.’
My bemusement must have been evident.
‘See.’ He nodded upwards with his whiskery chin. ‘They seem to be flying, but every now and then you see them jump, startled in the air as if an invisible hand has given them extra lift. That’s me. I have powers, you see. I can move things with my mind.’
I nodded, looking away to the road and the pharmacy, not wanting to encourage him.
‘You know why I beckoned you here, Frederick?’
Again I shook my head.
‘Because you have the same power. I can sense it. You can reach out and grasp things with your mind.’
I smiled awkwardly. In my head I pictured Miriam, half-asleep in bed, plagued by migraines.
‘You may not realise it yet,’ continued the old man ‘but you will begin to notice, that the leaves move more when you look at them, that the birds seem more weightless when you’re around.’
‘Ok.’ I smiled again, and turned my feet towards the pharmacy. At the edge of the park I looked back over my shoulder, and saw the old man watching the sky.
Miriam was asleep when I returned. Quietly I began to make lunch, chopping carrots by the sink. Through the window swifts winged in the sky.
In the muffled Winter light I noticed beads of water on the lettuce. Convex white droplets, patterned with reflections of the window. As I stared a droplet slid down, quicker than seemed natural. I shook my head to banish the thought; a trick of the mind, nothing more.
Now when I walk to work in the morning, I watch the leaves and wonder if I have a hand in the way the wind picks them up and sends them skidding across the pavement. I stare up and see clouds expand and break, faster than seems natural, malleable to invisible winds. They seem not to move at all when my attention is elsewhere.
Sometimes I think about the old man and wonder who he was. I watch the flocking birds above the park, winging in the Winter sky, and it seems they slip occasionally from their wheeling trajectories.
“Levitate the Birds” was originally published on Needle in the Hay (needleinthehay.net) on 12 April 2016: needleinthehay.net/short-story-flash-fiction-lydia-trethewey/