23:55 Thu 05 Jul 2007. Updated: 01:30 06 Jul 2007
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It started with the cats. Two cats, on his way home one night. He’d always been good with cats, and stopped to say hello to these two. But they wouldn’t come near him.

He didn’t understand, and the encounter disturbed him. He decided that his clothing must have smelled funny, that he’d been near a dog, something like that. But it kept happening. Cats wouldn’t come anywhere near him, would run away if he approached them.

He’d never been good with people. People were confusing and often unfriendly. Cats were friendly and straightforward, a comfort. Or they had been. His evening walks became longer, lonelier, less predictable in their routes. Maybe it was his neighborhood, maybe he could get far enough away to shake it off.

It didn’t work. Worse, dogs started avoiding him as well. It was more subtle, they wouldn’t flee like the cats did. They would just try to keep far away from him. He wasn’t a dog person, but he’d occasionally been friendly with them, without problems. Not now.

He washed obsessively, tried different body sprays, even changed his clothes and dyed his hair. None of it made any difference. Animals avoided him now.

Not all animals. He didn’t notice them at first because they were so quiet, but eventually he realized that wherever he went, there were birds.

Many birds.

Many birds, all silent, all watching him. All the time, except when he was inside. But if he opened a curtain, there they were, on the phone lines. On the branches. On the buildings opposite. All kinds of birds.

He yelled at them, knowing he looked crazy. He waved his arms. He tried to scare them away. Nothing had any effect.

At work, they were there. Other people in the office talked about it, saying they’d never seen that many birds, that they were acting weird. Nobody connected it to him, of course, and then they got back to their lives.

At home again, they were still there. He threw open his window, and started yelling at them again. He hefted a mug, sure he could knock one off the lines. But as he pulled back his arm, he felt the weight of all the thousands of bird stares. He couldn’t throw it, couldn’t do anything. He closed the window and the curtains, sobbing.

The next morning, when he peeked out, they were on his windowsills.

On his way to work, they lined his route. All the branches, utility lines, signposts, even some cars. On his way home, same again.

That night he went for his walk, the first time in days. They lined his route again, a route that took him down to the warehouse district, to older, deserted parts of it. Down past disused warehouses until he came to stairs on the outside of one.

He walked up the stairs, birds on each handrail, birds very close now, so close he was almost brushing them with his shoulders. Up onto the roof, where they gathered in their thousands, leaving a narrow path down the middle. He shuffled along it until he came to the edge. He was at the edge, looking towards the center of the city, its lights just beginning to embrace the gloom. He stepped forward.

For a moment, he soared.

(550 words)

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