Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
The Girl and the Busker
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
In a corner of the square outside the cathedral, dwarfed by the gray stones that had been stacked high into the sky centuries ago, stood a man with a guitar. Despite the cold, he wore no coat, only a shirt, white flowers on blue. As the last people trickled out of the shops along the street and hurried past him, he strung the first chords of a song. None of them paused to listen, let alone toss him a coin. None of them even turned their heads. It was as if they did not hear the tune that reverberated in the failing day.
The busker sang softly while his fingers danced over the strings and yet his voice filled the square. The wind blew his shaggy hair into his face, but he didn’t care or perhaps didn’t notice. He finished his song and listened to the last sounds fading. When he was about to begin another song, he spotted a girl in the center of the square. She could be no older than seven or eight. Her dark curls were tied back in a braid, only a strand that had escaped it had gotten stuck in one of the buttons of her green winter coat. She looked around, searching, lost, wide-eyed, and pale.
There was something strange about her. The busker frowned—his hand still pausing on the strings of his guitar—and narrowed his eyes trying to put in words that which struck him as odd. It was at the same moment that the girl turned her head and locked eyes with him that realization found him. She was somehow fuzzy around the edges. A faint black glow engulfed her. Almost instinctively, he dropped his gaze so that she would not see the sorrow that washed over him.
The girl walked over to him with slow and hesitant steps. She stopped in front of him and looked up into his face and he tried his best to give her a reassuring smile.
“You can see me. You can see me, can’t you?” she asked.
He noticed that he was still holding his guitar close to his body like a shield between him and the girl, his grip tight around its neck. He lowered the instrument and nodded.
“Why can no one else see me? Or hear me?”
Her lower lip quivered, and tears brimmed in her eyes. The busker lowered himself to his knees to be at the girl’s eye level and gently asked for her name.
“Jae,” the girl managed to mutter. With her hand, she wiped the tears from her eyes leaving wet traces on her cheeks.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jae. I’m Matthew.”
He hesitated and shifted the weight of his body uneasily before he continued to speak. “Well, you’re absolutely right.” He paused. For a moment that lasted an eternity he did not say a word but then he resumed, “I can see you—and hear you—perfectly well. Others cannot. But don’t worry, they don’t notice that I am there either.” He paused again, observing the girl. “You see, it’s a little like standing behind a window on a bright day. The people on the other side, they might not see you because of the sunlight’s reflection in the glass.”
“So, you’re on my side of the window? But why?”
“It’s a long story. Things happen sometimes and people get stuck in this place, on this side of the window.” He gave her another smile and shrugged. “Can you tell me what happened to you?”
Jae pulled on a thread that had gotten loose from her coat sleeve. She wrapped it around her finger, and felt it dig into her skin until it tore.
“I don’t really know,” she finally admitted. “There was this man. He was scary but I don’t know why. And then I couldn’t breathe and then there was a lot of light but it… it was black somehow. I didn’t know light could be black; I don’t think it should. Should it?”
“Alaister,” Matthew murmured.
“The scary man. His name is Alaister. There are quite a few who are here because of him.”
Jae gave him a quizzical look. “What does that mean? Are there more people no one else can see?”
“Oh, yes. They’re all around but don’t worry, you’ll figure out eventually who’s on our side of the window and who’s still—who’s on the other side. But how about you stay with me for now?”
Matthew sat down on the ground and motioned Jae to follow suit. He wiped a fleck of dirt off his black leather work boots and placed his guitar on his knee.
“How about I show you some chords? If you place your finger here, on the third string, your middle finger here on the first, and your ring finger on the second, like so, you have a D-chord. There. Have a go!”
As the evening grew darker and faded into the night, the glow of the streetlamps cast the shadows of the buildings, and only the buildings, on the square; as the moon rose and was swallowed by clouds, reappearing only when the night grew pale, not too far from the cathedral and Matthew and Jae, Alaister stumbled through the near empty streets.
He knew that somewhere above him the fissure was widening, spitting black light into the sky. He could sense it. And no matter how far he went, or how fast, the light only got closer. Closer and closer until it touched his skin, and they would reach out of the fissure, reach for him, find him, and hold him. He could hear their voices calling for him. Whispering. Murmuring. A humdrum of multitudes that became ever more distinct as the fissure grew and blackness bled into his consciousness.
Alaister whimpered and pressed his hands on his ears. But the voices were still there—growing louder with each moment that passed.
They would find him.
Take hold of him.
Never leave him.
Read Part V here.
Written by Merle Emrich.
Cover photo by Merle Emrich.