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by Paul Gray

Eric’s phone lights up but he lets it ring out. A message flashes moments later.

You promised. I want to say goodbye tonight.

The day is nearly done so he packs up his things and leaves the office. He takes an Uber, soaring west on quiet highways. A talkback radio host narrates the journey. People call in with reports of the most magnificent transformations. A man jumped off a building in Sacramento, friends filming below. Halfway down he changed into an eagle.

“My neighbor’s changing this weekend,” the driver explains. “Big party. Giving me his Chevy! You believe that?”

Eric watches a plane sweep up out of LAX.

“You had anyone change, buddy?” asks the driver as the ocean comes into view.

Eric pays and gets out. It’s been months since he came to the coast. Although the sun is setting, the air still simmers and the sky is dusted honey. Abandoned cars face the ocean, coated in salt spray.

She stands by the water. He crosses the hot sand. People sit alone and squint at the sea, eyes glazed by another world.

“You said you’d come.”

“I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“This is important. You’ll … you’ll want to remember this.”

She’s tracing words in the sand with her toes. Waves spill and snatch the letters away. She lights a cigarette, looking at him with a stare of tired defiance.

“Remember that time we found a bird here?” Eric asks. “All wrapped up in plastic … but we got it out.”

She nods and steps out into the dark waves. Eric follows, shocked at the chill. She’s speaking but he can’t quite hear, her words half-stolen by the wind.

“— Dad … — anything you did.”

Tonight he will go to Mescal. He will drink and talk to the bartender and whoever wanders in. It’s a safe space. There will be no farewell parties. No live broadcasts.

“Can you take this for me?”

She dips the cigarette out and passes it to him, their fingers touching for a second. She looks up and he follows her gaze. The first stars pierce through a mulberry blanket. Amongst them, a plane flashes, tracing new constellations.

There is a flash of movement below. Something silver flickers and is gone.

Once there was sunshine and blue water and laughter that echoed like a handful of shells. Eric tries to hold onto the sound, standing half in the waves until all the colors bleed from the sky.

Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Ad Hoc Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, Devolution Z and 101 Words. His novella The Aliveagainers is a featured story on Wattpad. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children. Paul spends his days working in the software industry and his nights dreaming up stories. Follow him on Twitter @paulalexgray or visit www.paulalexgray.com.