This was the dream that Katya always had. The world was spread out below her: fields, roads, towns, cities. The green breadth of nature punctured by the red and grey staccato wounds of civilisation as it pumped poison outwards on throbbing black veins. It was all nature, of course; man was a part of that, nature had always adapted to the dominant species, the dominant conditions. Man was both, now, and the rest of nature was struggling to keep up. In her dream, as she fell, that was important.
Her friends told her that everyone dreamt of falling, and woke with a start before they hit the ground, heart pounding, sweating, afraid of the impact. It’s just fear, they said, of things beyond your control. Katya never told them that she felt no fear. It was exhilaration that set her heart beating wildly as she awoke.
She never mentioned the wild thoughts that accompanied the whirling world below, man versus nature, man beyond nature. They were out of character, she was not the philosophical type, such things would just raise eyebrows amongst her friends and colleagues.
That morning she woke up on the sofa, to the letterbox chatter and soft tumbling thumps of new mail. Ever since Larry dumped her a week ago something had gone wrong with her head. She was having difficulty sleeping, and she was seeing things, colours, auras around people. When she did sleep the dream was waiting for her, and when she woke, after barely an hour or two, there was a sense of disappointment, of something she was about to remember, lost now, stolen by the rough, high winds.
Not to mention it was her birthday in two days. Thanks Larry. Thanks a bunch.
Today was Monday, her day off, and she had resolved to stop moping. She had planned to do things, make a start on all the DIY Larry had always promised he would do; write a long overdue letter to her mum; buy something special for herself... but she felt so weary.
She got up and went to the door. The usual suspects waited on the mat with smug inevitability, a bill, not yet red; a letter from her mother, who would also have emailed her to check she had received it, and make amendments; a catalogue offer from a company she had ordered a pair of knickers from, once, ages ago and a hearing aid brochure addressed to the previous owner, a man named David Krapowski who had died here eight years ago. Katya sighed.
Tea, that was the answer. She shuffled through to the kitchen, putting her fingers through her long black hair, trying to make something of the tangle. She listened to the excited pop and bubble of the water as the kettle began to do its thing and rubbed her eyes, not needing a mirror to see the dark bags underlining her dark pupils – her boring, dull pupils. The kettle climaxed and as she poured the steaming water into her Hello Kitty mug the letterbox clattered for attention again.
Postie must have missed a letter. She was surprised he hadn’t just put it through a door further down and relied on neighbourly charity to see it home safe. Then she told herself off for being uncharitable.
Leaving the tea to brew, she went back into the hall. How unusual, a black envelope. She turned it over, no address window, no writing, no stamp. Some gimmick then, some local business. Still, the paper of the envelope felt thick and textured, expensively tactile, as paper goes. The seal opened with a satisfying crackle as she slid her finger under it. There was no letter inside. She looked deeper, spreading the envelope wider. There was definitely something in there. She pulled it out.
Feathers. Small, black feathers about the length of her fingers, with downy tufts at the base. Five of them.
Something throbbed in her brain, a thick jab behind her left eye. Her vision doubled and she dropped the envelope as she put an arm out to steady herself on the wall. She screwed her eyes shut, unable to stop a short, breathy moan of pain fluttering out from somewhere inside.
She opened her eyes and the corridor swam. She focussed on the feathers. Black feathers. She felt cold suddenly, unsteady, then sweat prickled her skin and a wave of nausea broke over her. She gagged, dropping the feathers as she dashed for the toilet below the stairs.
The feathers drifted downwards, wafting a little, spinning and spiralling.
As the last one settled gently, tentatively, on the carpet, Katya retched, and vomited. It felt as if the world were shifting beneath her, as if the floor, ceiling, walls had become fluid and interchangeable. She clutched tightly at the white porcelain lest she be flung about and injured by a world suddenly unreliable, treacherous.
Fifteen Feathers is a short (6 part) serial. Come back next week for part 2! =)