Old Tom, hunched over in a seafront shelter of baby blue wood and stippled white concrete, stared over the salty flats. An ancient beachcomber, familiar, picks over the graph of flotsam hurled onto the dirty sand by a long-forgotten storm.

In his solitude, Tom wonders; if I disappeared, would anyone miss me?

A seagull offers a squeeee of mourning by way of reply, but soon that joins the white noise of the sea’s constant building and collapsing.

Once again, alone.

Alone, but not. Like that day in tea-time October rain, waiting in the toy shop’s doorway for the N1 bus. He, a young teen, more worried about his violin getting wet than his feet, wondering what the hunched giant in oilskins could possibly want as he scoured the kerb gutters on the far side of a glossy Monet road.

Old Tom finally accepts his legacy; after all these years, all these men: the man on the roof, the rower in the skiff, the beggar in the rain, the shape on the golf course, and on and on, till now, the beachcomber who approaches.

‘Whosoever walks the shores of Nok,
There shall stay to light the Dark,’

Words come from the pitch of the cowled face to his mind, and Old Tom feels nothing so completely that the nothingness seems to have a purpose. And finally, the man is gone, leaving nothing but his mantle.

The eternal footman has passed on his coat.

No one to share the sun that brims over the sea in morn, or douses and melts at dusk thereon, and though the souls who come his way are often looking for company, it’s never his.

Alone, he carries the beachcomber’s torch.

Neither dead nor alive, just a corpse with a beating heart.

And a scythe.

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