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"Seven days ago, I ran away from home."
The girl's voice is steady and matter-of-fact, in sharp contrast to the nearly panicked tone I heard only a few minutes earlier. She draws a breath, and I lean forward in my chair, for some inexplicable reason very eager to hear her story. Perhaps it is because I have not been in real contact with other human beings for years, have not spoken to anyone; I always figured I don't need anyone.
"My parents had been fighting again for the whole day. They always fight when they're both home. Me and my brothers all hate it, but whenever we ask them to stop, they just tell us to shut up... So I left, because I'd had enough. I packed my bag while they were in the kitchen, shouting at each other, and made sure no one saw me.
I'd really had enough."
Only now do I notice how young she sounds - she cannot be more than twelve years of age. I cannot even be completely sure she truly is a she. I feel a wave of sympathy for her wash over me. I know what it is like to have a family being torn apart from the inside.
"I didn't really mean to go away for a long time, I just wanted them to know how much their constant fighting hurts me. I realise now it was probably pretty silly...
"It was late in the evening when I left, around 10 PM or something. Our house is near a forest, so I ran there. It's deep, so I knew I couldn't be found very easily."
Smart kid, I think, smiling. She is quite intelligent for someone her age. I think back to my own past and laugh bitterly at my stupidity. How can a child be so ignorant and cruel...
"Sir? Sir, you're still there, aren't you?"
The girl's urgent question cuts through the haze of my reminiscent state, and I hasten to assure her that I'm still listening. How stupid of me, to let myself be taken away by memories when there is someone who so direly needs me.
"I thought I knew that forest like my own pockets - I'd adventured there along with my brothers ever since I was old enough to walk. But when I woke up in the morning after getting a few hours of sleep, I realised I didn't know where I was.
"I wasn't really worried, not yet - I figured I'd find my way around if I just followed one of the trails crisscrossing the forest floor.
"Well, turns out I couldn't have been more mistaken."
I blink and find myself wondering just who this child is. Is she really even a child anymore? She sounds so unlike any other little girl I've ever come across.
"I walked forward on the path I chose, ever forward - I think I walked for hours without stopping for once. I wanted to get out of there. But I just got deeper and deeper.
"It was getting dark when I came to a some sort of clearing. Nothing really special about it, except for a pond in the middle. I doubt it's really usual. I felt a bit tired, so I decided to wash my face.
My third, and worst, mistake. After splashing some water from the pond on my face and risking to drink a sip of it - I was too tired to bother rummaging through my bag for my bottle - I felt...weird. I can't describe it in any other way. Just plain disoriented. I passed out."
She sounds frustrated, as if angry with herself. I, on the other hand, have begun feeling puzzled. Where is the story leading? What is with all this mysticism? I do not understand her.
"When I awoke, I was dizzy and nauseous. I threw up, after which I decided I should probably go back home. It wouldn't have been very wise to stay in the forest when I was ill, after all. And I figured my family would be worried sick by then...
"I found my way back very easily. It was, in fact, too easy, now that I think about it. Upon my arrival home I called out to my family, receiving no response. That was odd. Everyone was home, I knew because their shoes were all there. I went to the kitchen. They were all sitting around the table, looking stricken and sad. I called out to them again - but they didn't hear me."
I feel my brow furrowing. What is this child going on about?
"At that point, I started to panic. I rushed outside, into the streets, and tried to talk to everyone I encountered. None of them saw me. I didn't stop trying until nightfall - only then did I return home. I went through all my bedtime rituals and slept in my own bed. I thought that perhaps all would be back to normal in the morning.
"Again, I was mistaken. Nothing had changed when I bounded downstairs from my room and chirped a good morning to my parents.
"I've never felt more alone. Of course, I've felt lonely pretty often, but at least other people still acknowledged my existence. At first I thought it was some really bad joke, but apparently they truly couldn't sense me in any way.
"After realising that, I dug our old radio transmitter up from the attic. If I couldn't get through to anyone physically, perhaps I could do it otherwise... I don't know what the logic behind that thought was, but it worked. I tried different frequencies for four days. Then you answered.
"I don't even know whether we live in the same reality or not. Maybe I'm stuck between parallel universes, which was somehow caused by drinking the water from that pond. I can't find any other explanation to this all."
My face is a mask of furious disbelief. How dare this child try to trick me into believing this sort of fairy tale?
"Now that you know... Can you please help me? I miss my family so much. I want to talk to them again, I want to tell my parents how much I love them despite their arguing. Please, anything..."
I stand up from my chair, snarling in anger. Does she think she can really fool anyone into believing what she has just told me? This is ridiculous. I tell her exactly what I think of her story, and to stop fooling around if she doesn't want to get into trouble. Then I switch my radio off, ripping the headphones from my ears.
What a waste of time.
In the dusty attic of an old wooden house, a small huddled figure lets out a choked sob.
"Now, nobody will talk to me."
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