The man always stands at a distance. Every day on my walk to the job I see him across the street, staring at me like I’m an experiment. He squints, as if he is waiting for something to change.
But nothing has. I am just as I was yesterday, and the day before, and all of the days before that.
I have never heard his voice, but from his towering stature I assume it is deep and husky. I figure he is slender rather than scrawny, but I cannot be sure as he invariably wears an oversized trench coat that matches his briefcase. I would focus on his face, but my eyes are always drawn to his hands; they must be larger than my head.
I noticed him first on a busy morning, the sun peeking over the horizon. He was stark, initially appearing in grayscale. The rest of the world kept moving while he and I stood still, observing each other. I wondered how he became so faded.
I’ve seen the man every day now for as long as I can remember, and over time, his color has returned. It was subtle at first, slowly transitioning from black and white then standard fleshly hues. Some days he even blended in with the common work person. It often took me a great deal of time to find him, but he was always there, eyes peering, mouth shut, briefcase in hand.
One time, I tried to near him. I wanted to ask what was inside the briefcase; I wanted to hear his voice, see him clearly, catch his scent, but each time I reached the man, his figure skittered back a few yards farther than he was before. I tried to yell, hoping my message would reach the mind behind those eyes, but the man never heard. Eventually I abandoned all attempts to contact him. It was apparent that we would not interact unless he felt it was the right time.
But in this moment, he appears across from me, long legs stretched across the chaise lounge, feet dangling over the side. We are in my office, and his briefcase is on the floor, so close that I could grab it, open it, and reveal its contents. I would, but I fear he might leave, and the man has never been this close before.
I see more color than ever. It’s like a child dipped his fingers in acrylic paints and smeared them all over his face. Neon shades spatter across his enormous hands, and the pigment is so strong that it seeps through his coat into the seat. Ink disperses through the cushions, shooting spider veins through the upholstery. Sunshine yellows blend into forest greens, mutating into bright cyans and fuchsias.
I know that this is the only time I will ever be able to speak to him—my sole chance to ask all the questions that have formed since I first saw the man. My irises are drawn to the briefcase, pupils glued to the smooth leather panels, elegant brass buckles, sophisticated grip. I cannot look away no matter how hard I try.
“What’s inside?” I ask him, still gazing at the bag, hoping that maybe if I stare hard enough I will be able to see through its sturdy exterior.
“In the case?” the man asks. I am taken aback. Still, I nod to hide my shock. His voice is significantly different from what I predicted—it is high, like a child’s.
“The contents are not important. You are too busy concentrating on what is inside the case. You should focus on your surroundings instead.”
I bat my eyes a few times in attempt to break my attention, sending flickers of light over my retinas.
Once regaining my focus, I glance to my hands. They are not like they were before. I look around the room, but everything is wrong. The walls are a stark black and white, as are the windows, the bookcases, and my desk. I shut my eyes and shake my head to fix it but nothing changes.
I stand and make my way to the mirror. To my surprise, my skin has dulled from its rosy flush to a solid gray. My hair is charcoal and my eyes have faded to a deep ebony.
The man looms over my shoulder, and his pigment is more vibrant than ever—so bright that after studying him for a few seconds, my eyes begin to sting and the room starts spinning.
I stagger, squeezing my eyelids shut tight until the dizziness goes away. As soon as they open, the man is gone. The briefcase is gone. The color is gone. All that remains is me.
Elise is the Director of Creative Publications for The Weekly Cad.