The Fading Tracks of Migration

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I find myself called upon to provide a valediction for David Sarfo, now that so few of his colleagues recall ever having met the man. It appears that his piecemeal erasure from existence has extended retroactively into his past, removing all but small traces of him from the minds of his family and close friends.

He was a man who, out of professional necessity, perceived the world in terms of stark dualities: On or off; black or white; dead or alive. It is unfortunate that this blunt perspective followed him home from the laboratory and resulted in difficulties in his personal life, sometimes causing his loved ones great distress. In my 2016 copy of Maidment's, his slowly-fading photograph is captioned: "There are only two possibilities: yes or no.”

More recently, he uncovered a third option that is probably best defined as “neither.” Where the discovery took him exactly; whether it led him to personal salvation or onward to some other fate, I feel that I am not qualified to say.

I knew him when we were both employed by Graseman, at the company headquarters in Chicago. The best research spaces occupy the three basement levels. As a junior member of staff, whose work was not regarded as a priority, I was given a bench in a partitioned corner laboratory, on the top floor, coincidentally directly underneath my space in the rooftop car park.

One morning there short but violent hailstorm. In the aftermath, the elevators and stairwells were briefly flooded with people travelling up to the roof to assess whether any damage had been done to their vehicles. To everybody's horror the bodywork and windows of the cars, along the underlying asphalt, were pitted with small, smooth impressions, similar to the dimples in the surface of a golf ball, only larger; maybe a centimetre in diameter. There was no residual dampness or puddles, such as one would expect to find following precipitation. A badly-backfiring prank was suspected. A few hours later a stern email was circulated, advising us that the incident was under investigation and that anyone with information should contact Pamela Tegg directly.

A couple of weeks later I had cause to go up onto the roof to check the particle traps. I found David Sarfo standing in the middle of the parking lot, staring into the heavens.

“I've been giving some thought to the origin of our recent hailstorm and I believe I have alighted on a possible explanation,” he announced. "What do you see up there?”

“Blue sky. Cirrocumulus. A few birds that I think might be swallows.”

“I awoke the other night and I immediately recalled an anecdote that was told to me by a former colleague of mine – an avian biologist: Swallows sometimes expel pellets of mucus, which are thought to be the result of the birds ridding their bodies of viruses and internal parasites. The trigger for this regurgitation is a call that stimulates the saliva glands of the animal that is making it, but also incites regurgitation in other birds of the same species around it. Where there are flocks of migratory swallows, as is common at this time of year, they can create a phenomenon that is similar to a hailstorm.

“There was a British man, named Denis Court, who claimed to have identified traces of antimatter in some of these fast-dissolving pellets. He was mostly ignored, however his findings are borne out by the experiences of my friend who had a very expensive camera lens ruined in the exact same manner as our cars were the other week.”

“I would be very careful who you share this with,” I told him. “Reputations have been ruined by less.”

“Hear me out. Perhaps the migratory routes taken by the swallows move them through streams of anti-matter in the air. Maybe it's how they navigate. They use the currents of anti-matter like roads. On the journey, they take some of it into their bodies, which they need to get rid of...”

“Surely inhaling anti-matter can't be good for the long-term survival of a species?”

“Maybe they have evolved to cope with it. Perhaps they have some tangible existence in alternate dimensions. It could be that, in addition to migrating back and forth through space and time, they are also gradually migrating out of our universe.”

“I would have thought that if there were streams of anti-matter in our atmosphere, then we would see its impact on aviation.”

“Okay, well what if the anti-matter is diluted in matter to an extent that it doesn't have much effect, apart from inflicting general wear and tear. But in the stomachs of the swallows, the anti-matter concentrates. Then, when it leaves the bird, it is able to cause damage in the short time before the prevailing matter breaks it down.”

The next time I saw David, he had a small, smooth, shallow depression in his left cheek.

“It was a strange feeling when it first made contact with the skin,” he said. “I don't know how to best describe it. It was as if something that was there, in this case a small piece of my body, was now elsewhere, and in fact had always been elsewhere. It wasn't wiped from existence exactly. It was just suddenly inaccessible to me, caught in a purgatorial state, between being and non-being.”

Afterwards, I would see him sometimes, exploring the depression with his index finger. He told me once: “I've thought about the use of targeted anti-matter in the treatment of tumours.”

“You'll kill us all,” I said, half joking.

The weekend after Graseman let him go, he drove to a well-known flyover point for flocks of migrating birds. Many damaged vehicles are found abandoned there by owners who are usually impossible to trace. I must assume that David has joined the ranks of these individuals, neither dead nor alive, but in his own words “inaccessible.”

About the Author: 
Mark Sadler lives in Southend-on-Sea, in England. His stories have appeared on the Smoke: A London Peculiar website and have performed by the Liar's League. He is halfway through writing a boring novel about a civil engineering project in London.