The lights of a passing car briefly lit the old man's face. His eyes glimmered, restlessly scanning the circle closing on him. The street toughs moved slowly, with unusual quiet, their pace put off by his lack of fear, his intent searching regard. They fidgeted as if their skin continued to itch under his stare, even after the alley darkened again.
Tom remembered when he first saw it, in Seattle. He was rubbing down a fresh-washed car and keeping an eye on passing customers for any useful sign. A man getting into his BMW flashed it. Just for a moment, among all the expecteds swirling about him, of skis and fancier cars and lovely women and giant office buildings, floated the shadow of a great bird, flying.
The BMW's license plate said Idaho. After collecting his pay for the day, Tom went straight to Greyhound. He watched people buying tickets. One woman in the line had the image of a large far bird circling her head. She ordered a round-trip ticket to Boise, Idaho.
Tom bought a one-way.
He scanned the crowd in the Boise station. In the cloud around one cabby flew a bird with wide white wings. Tom got into the cab and asked to go wherever the man recommended.
At the club where the driver dropped him off, Tom could not see the bird on anyone entering the front door. He walked all around the building, looking. The wolf-pack cornered him in the alley out back.
As they closed in, Tom's eyes focused on one boy, and brightened. The great snowy owl now looked full at him, dark eyes endlessly deep. Smiling in anticipation, Tom stepped forward.
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This story was previously published in Total Obscurity Magazine