Contributor: Peter McMillan

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Ashen cloud banks pile one upon the other in the darkening western sky. The setting sun manages to filter only a few solitary amber rays through the layers of thick cloud. As if pierced by countless pinpricks, the cloud canvas lets through isolated beams of sunlight, refracting the light as the clouds mass and then expand to cover the twilight sky.

The glass of the shop windows catches the rays of sunlight that find their way through the clouds and bounces them back through the sultry air into the hurried eyes of the people passing from their labour to their leisure. The eyes of the crowd do not reflect these chance glints any further but absorb them as charcoal does.

A mantle of gray-black falls suddenly, draping itself across the shoulders of the earth, and instantly there is momentary pitch-black darkness all around. The lights of the village do not anticipate the abruptness of the transition to night. Street lamps begin to hum noisily as their globes gradually brighten, the heavy clicking sound of traffic light control boxes rises in intensity directing the play of colours above the street intersections, private windows begin to emit their light soundlessly, forming rectangular patterns of whiteness on the sidewalks and streets.

The stillness of the brief eclipse quickly gives way to tempestuous gusts of wind, rushing around corners, down the corridors of streets and lanes, whipping about, scattering bits and pieces of trash, and blowing dirt and sand into the emptiness of passers-by's eyes.

The relentless winds blow in a storm of rain, driving the rain like needles into the exposed flesh of the comfort-seeking mass of pedestrians. The faces of the crowd seek refuge behind their buttoned coats and upturned collars. Hats float off into the darkness, away and beyond the village's scattered umbrellas of light. Traffic signals, regulating the movement of human and machine, blink in complete obedience to the prescribed design of their makers, while the swell of the crowd overflows the ordered lines and right angles of the streets and sidewalks. The din of honking horns and screeching tires fills the intersections with a dissonant and unpleasant noise that is from time to time joined by the loud swearing and the banging of fists on metal of pedestrians violating intersections from all directions.

The disentanglement of flesh and metal proceeds quickly and chaotically. The wind and rain and blackness hasten a resolution to the confusion. A few stragglers pass by in obscurity to one another, brushing against one another, plashing through the rivers of rainwater overflowing the sidewalks, gutters and streets. The rain becomes so dense that the changing traffic lights resemble a kaleidoscope--colours flashing, changing, merging. Red, green, yellow, red, green, yellow, flashing faster red green yellow red green, merging redgreenyellowredgreenyellow...WHITE....

One man, indistinguishable from the numbers preceding him to this corner, steps out ... into the street from his curb corner and splashes into the choppy waves of the river coursing through the intersection and is swept away into the black void.

Next morning, the crowd, returning from its leisure on its way to its labour, stops and stares with bloodshot, vacuous eyes at a hat that has found its balance on the globe of a lamppost--but the traffic light clicks and whirs to green and the eyes turn away to face the dawning of a new day.

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The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. In 2012, he published Flash! Fiction, a collection of 34 reprinted stories.
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