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Black Birds

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John steps out of the saloon into the cold crisp Colorado air. He is 'Doc' here, almost anonymous with the weight of his reputation. There is no one to call him 'John.' It is the twelfth of October but, still thinking of his lost Georgia, he dubs it midwinter. Although he has ostensibly risen from his poker table to take dinner, that is only an excuse. He has often played through until dark morning before dawn, and it is an easy matter to arrange supper at the table. He has been winning gradually from skill rather than any great run of luck, so there is no imperative to remain. There is a feeling drawing him, almost restless, into the night. Outside, he leans against the rail and risks a deep breath. His ragged lungs fill carefully with air that somehow manages to be both thin and rich, the pine almost reminiscent of metholatum, soothing and cleansing with a slight causticity. He is alone in a motionless town, the noise of the saloon muffled behind him. If he felt less charged and vibrantly alive he would wonder again if he were a ghost. Despite the stillness, there is something wild in the night that inspires John to stand straighter still and to want to search out adventures, though there are none tohand. Everything is touched with silver, like a photograph washed in blue-black ink. The light shines in the threads of his brocade waistcoat and winks from the diamond below his throat. John turns to the full moon and gasps, startled by the presence of the still life it silhouettes on a bare tree. Crows for death. He counts to ten - one for sorrow. The perched forms exude an almost palpable aura of anger and relentless patience, but something still draws John. Something feels familiar. They have an awareness of him that emanates inexplicably. He is known and recognised. And watched, if not exactly watched over. Out here in the wild silent silvered dark, he is somehow 'John.' He stays a moment, then walks with his cane to the hotel, as he had stated that as his intention. Something feels incomplete, leaving the birds without acknowledgment, but he can think of no reasonable word or gesture.