Hideo listened to the gulls cry as the sun came up. He heard the lapping of waves, the quiet conversation of morning fishermen, the faroff rumble of a boat starting up. His eyes were useless though. Try as he might, when he looked out to sea there was nothing but a field of grayish white. The fog was too thick even to see the rocks of the seashore, and the warehouses shoreside were nearly formless masses of gray.
It didn’t matter, Hideo knew where he was going. He turned away from the invisible beach and pilings, even as he breathed in the seaweed scented, creosote-tinged, mud-daubed air. The fog was usually gone by now, but he knew it would burn off in another hour or so. He still had time before reporting to work at the importer’s shop. Now, though, he guarded the time for his walk as jealously as some guarded their morning cha.
The streets were narrow here, barely the width of a cargo truck, and paved with ancient cobbles. There were no stoplights, nor need for them. You’d have to be a dock worker, a fisherman, or a wayward tourist to be walking these narrow ways. Still, Hideo relished the uneven feel of the road surface, the damp feel of the air close around him, the foggy, indistinct shapes of the buildings.
Oddly, impossibly, the fog was thickening. He thought briefly of a short story by the American author, Larry Niven, that had been about a fog this heavy. Could I just step into another world, so simply? he wondered. And if I did, where might I end up? he mused.Would it be another place entirely, or just another time here?
He shoved his hands deeply into his pockets. The chill air wrapped around him. Just as he was about to cross a small street, he heard something. He cocked his ear, listening. It was music, barely audible at first, then getting louder. He recognized the song. Tinny and faint, the notes of “He who is fortunate will cross” drifted through the misty air.
Hideo shook his head and crossed. It was the same tune that played at large intersections when the light turned, to signal that it was the safest time to cross the street. It was entirely out of place here. The closest main thoroughfares were far away and there wasn’t any need for a crosswalk this near the waterfront. Where is it coming from? he wondered. He looked around, seeing no sign of a speaker, nor traveler, nor even a cast off cell phone that might ring at an odd time. Even stranger, the music seemed to be coming from the air itself.
He stopped short, his heart pounding, when he heard the rummer of a crowd in motion, echoing footsteps, and distantly, the sound of engines idling. A horn honked. The song ended. Then he heard engines revving as if cars were driving down the tiny street he had been about to cross. “Where is this coming from, really?” he asked aloud. “What…” but he never finished the sentence. The sounds were fading, as if a door was slowly closing. A little light was coming down through the fog. In a moment, as if it had been a dream, the sounds were completely gone.
Hideo looked down at his boots, at the cobbles he stood on. Here, the streets weren’t even wide enough for a sidewalk. The cross street was empty, the stop signs faded their familiar shade of pink. Nothing stirred. The same old warehouses surrounded him, everything looked completely normal. A bit more light shone through the clouds, that was all. He started walking again. It was nearly time for work, after all, and he didn’t want to be late.
Perhaps if I stepped through a hole in the air, Hideo thought, I might not go to the past or the future or another world. I might just slip into another place, just like this, but not exactly the same. If I did slip into another universe, though, how would I ever know that had happened?
With these thoughts, Hideo continued on his walk until he reached the import store. He looked up then his eyes widened. He was looking at the Nakano Imports sign. Nothing unusual about it, really. It was a blue sign with black lettering. Still, the blood ran out of his face.
Yesterday, the sign had been yellow.