It is part of my Stranded World series.
There was a knot sitting on the skein of reality, a heavy knot with complex weaving that spoke of intentional tying and tangling. Winter walked away from the camp of trailers and RV’s, walked to the small town’s corner store, and passed his suit jacket to the old man sitting at the picnic table there.
“That’s a nice coat.”
“Custom tailored. But I don’t need it where I’m going. I need something less obvious.”
The old man’s bleary eyes turned sharp for a moment. “Son, you’re going to have to change more than the coat for that.”
Winter undid his tie and added it to the sportcoat, then pulled the elastic out of his ponytail. He unbuttoned the first two buttons of his shirt and untucked it, so that it hung sloppily over his belt, then ran his hands through his hair until it was no longer tidy.
The old man nodded slowly. “It’s a start, at least.”
Winter nodded. “And a jacket?”
“You wanna borrow mine?”
“Consider the suit coat collateral.”
The old man nodded slowly, and slid out of the old denim-and-flannel, with its even older veteran patches and the three bike sigils. “You run into someone from the old gang…”
“I understand. I won’t claim those false pretenses.” Winter coughed. “That is, I ain’t gonna pretend to be something I’m not.”
The man squinted. “You do that better than you ought. And with your white hair, might ought to be older than you look.”
“Younger, usually. But I thank you. I should be back within the hour.”
Thus armed, Winter bought a 40-oz bottle of beer and tucked it, wrapped in its paper bag, loosely into a pocket. He scuffed his perfect shoes in the mud and carefully removed, as Spring would say, the poker from his ass.
He shuffled into the edge of the trailer camp, his head down and his shoulders hunched. The lines of the strands were twisted here, the rope-work turning into a complicated macramé pattern.
“Hey! What are you doing about here?” Not the Tattered-coat one, at least, probably not. This was a woman, with dishwater-hair and a jaw that spoke of poor dental work, blue jeans and three flannel shirts.
Winter raised his head slowly to her. “Looking for…” He blinked, blearily. There were panhandlers on the street, on the way to his office, back in the clean city where he lived (so far from Autumn’s raucous world). He imitated the oldest of those on a bad day. “Looking for… someone.”
“Well, you ain’t gonna find them around here. Get on with you. Go.”
Winter shuffled forward, took a messy swig from his bottle, and moved closer. “Looking,” he insisted. The strands knotted and twisted around her.
“And they. Ain’t. Here.” She reached out towards Winter.
He grabbed as if reaching for her hand, “missed,” and stroked his hand through her strands. The knots were tight, but he was the one who smoothed chaos lines straight. “Looking for you. Looking for Tattercoats.”
She froze at the name, then shuddered as he found and untied a knot. “Tattercoats isn’t…. isn’t…” She slumped to the ground.
Winter caught her on the way down and set her, carefully, on the stairs. “My apologies.” He had the scent now, though, in the knot he’d unhooked from her agency. “Sleep calmly.”
Winter himself was… not calm. He grabbed the strand he’d untied from the woman, and pulled.
He would be meeting this Tattercoats. Very soon.
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