“Just like that, eh?” the old man sighed.
“Just like that.” the little girl repeated.
“It’s just a story, who cares right?” the old man walked back to collect the little girl’s empty mug and headed over to the kitchen. The separation between the kitchen and the living room was paper thin.
“No, it’s not.” the little girl argued, “Janesha says the boy was actually crazy. Her mother told her that.”
“How old are you?” the old man returned from the kitchen and looked at the little girl with genuine curiosity.
“I am eleven.” the little girl grinned.
“I see.” the old man murmured. “You think the boy was crazy?” he added.
“I don’t know.” she mused, “at least, I didn’t…” the enthusiasm from the little girl’s face disappeared remembering where she was and how she got there. She said in a grave voice, “but then I saw it. I, I think it tried to lure me in.”
The old man’s shoulder tensed. This was the moment he never thought would come.
“You believe me, don’t you?” the little girl frowned.
“I do.” the old man replied calmly, “because I am the boy in that story.”
The little girl didn’t immediately understand what he said. The old man silently stared at her, unsure of what to expect. Then her eyes widened as the meaning of his words slowly sank in.
“What? Really?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Don’t worry, I am not crazy.” the old man laughed at his own joke.
“I know you’re not. I told you, I saw it.”
For a moment the little girl and the old man stared at each other. There was a mutual understanding between them. Their shared grief of discovering something no one will believe.
“What is it?” the little girl asked, breaking the silence.
“What is what?” the old man quickly recovered from his confusion, “You mean that shapeless hole beyond the line?”
“No one knows for sure.” the old man replied, “but since you’re asking me, I will tell you what I think it is.”
The little girl leaned forward eagerly.
“It’s a tear.” the old man began, “in the fabric of the thing on which the earth and the planets swim in. You learned about the stars and the planets, haven’t you?”
“Just a little.” the little girl answered, visibly dissatisfied at her lack of expertise in this area.
“If you stepped inside, you’d become one with the stars.” the old man informed.
“Really, will I fly? Will I sparkle?” the little girl’s eyes lit up with hope.
“Sadly, no.” the old man chuckled, “You’d die one way or another and your body would disintegrate into very small invisible things that comes from stars.”
“Oh…” the hope eluded her eyes, “How do you know this?”
“I spent my life chasing after it. Trying to find out if anyone knew anything. But no one did. I travelled further and further only to be disappointed.” the old man paused then added, “except this one time.”
“I was travelling to a city and had to cut through a small village. I stopped to rest in an old friend’s place there and he had a library full of books about unexplained phenomena all around the world. After searching for two days straight, I found the first book that remotely had any information about this hole and went on from there…which lead to here again, where it all began.”
“So, you didn’t really disappear?” the little girl raised her brows.
“No, that’s just some tale.” he replied, shaking his head. “I came back around noon, after losing my way in the forest. The hole disappeared with the moon and the flowers wilted and crumbled right there and then. Some of the villagers thought I was possessed but soon we moved on to a town. My mother couldn’t take it anymore. The whispers, the gossip…” he finished with a sigh.
“That’s really sad” the little girl mused, “what do we do now?”
“Nothing.” the old man said in a casual tone, “I will take you home tomorrow, your aunt must be worried sick by then. You won’t mention any of this to anyone or they will drive you out, like my family. Not even to that friend of yours”
“Oh, okay.” the little girl gulped.
“Alright, that way is the bathroom and you can take the bedroom upstairs when you’re ready. I will get you fresh blankets and I will sleep on the sofa tonight.” he said, walking up the stairs.
The little girl stood up and sighed.
“And kid, be careful not to get lost in that cursed forest again.” he added, before disappearing completely in the unlit room.