Joseph drew an outline of a rectangle in the air with his fingertip. Seren stared in amazement. The line not only formed in the air despite everything she knew about the world suggesting that was impossible but also looked like Joseph was cutting the air, revealing a dense black void behind the world she could see and feel.
‘What’s that?’ she asked, pointing to the thin expanse of dead, black space inside the line.
‘That’s the Void,’ said Joseph. ‘The world of Carcer Ridge is only as real as you want it to be. If you crumple it up and throw it away, the Void is what is left over.’
‘The Void…,’ said Seren, rolling the concept around in her mind. She did not understand what it was but she knew it was important.
Joseph could see the young girl was having trouble with the concept of the void and stopped what he was doing. He knelt beside her and drew a rectangle in the sand.
‘See this rectangle? That is the Void.’ He drew a circle inside the rectangle, and two stick figures inside the circle. ‘This is the island we are standing on right now, and those are us. Now if we decide to throw away the island…’
He brushed out the circle from the sand as he spoke.
‘…Then we are left standing in the Void. It is all around us. We can walk on it just like we can walk on the sand.’
‘Is it like a carpet?’ Seren asked.
‘In a way. It’s also like the sky. It’s all around you whether you can see it or not. You can use it to build things, like the balls we made. They come from the Void and when you want to throw them away, they go back into the Void and you can make them again later, if you want.’
Seren thought this concept over for a few minutes before saying: ‘I think I understand. It’s like my toy box, only bigger and we can climb in it.’
‘That’s right,’ said Joseph. ‘Now would you like to see your mother?’
‘Yes!’ shouted Seren, bursting with excitement.
‘Okay,’ said Joseph. He pointed at the lines floating in the sky. ‘Look at the rectangle I drew here and concentrate really hard for me. Try to turn the rectangle into a phone.’
Seren scrunched up her face as she concentrated. The lines in the sky began to glow a faint yellow, then a bright yellow, then turned white. Inside the rectangle, a two-dimensional screen flickered into existence.
‘Yaaay!’ shouted Seren. ‘This is easy now!’
She half walked, half skipped over to the screen and put her hands on her hips. ‘Phone my Mummy, please!’ she commanded.
The screen flickered with mock static. A bleep-bleep rung out from it. It took three more rings before a heavily bruised woman with barely focussed eyes and a bandage around her head appeared. The name “Matsumoto Riko” appeared in the bottom-left corner of the screen, along with the woman’s location.
‘Mummy!’ shouted Seren, jumping up and down with delight. ‘Ogenki desu ka?’
The woman on the screen looked surprised but managed a smile nevertheless. ‘Okagesama de, Seren-chan. But you should speak English in front of your friend.’
‘Sorry, Mummy. Sorry, Mr Joseph.’
Joseph smiled. ‘There is no need to apologise, Matsumoto-san,’ he said, in perfect Japanese. ‘I understand what you are saying. We can translate all languages here.’
‘Ah, of course,’ said Riko. ‘I forget that you all operate differently over there. How is she settling in?’
Joseph looked down at Seren, who was stroking Freddie and appeared to only be giving the barest attention to the screen now she knew her mother was alive and as close to being well as she could be under the circumstances.
‘I think she’s going to be fine but it will of course take a little while to adjust.’
‘How are you feeling, Seren?’ Riko asked.
‘I’m okay, I guess,’ said Seren. ‘When can I come and see you?’
‘I’ll come and visit you soon, darling. Just as soon as I get out of hospital, okay?’
‘Okay. You have to get well soon, Mummy. I miss you.’
‘I miss you too, sweetheart.’
Joseph stepped away from the conversation and turned his attention to Freddie while mother and daughter chatted for a while. He lost track of time while playing fetch with the dog, who never seemed to tire of chasing a ball across the tiny island.
It was only when Seren started to scream that he snapped back to the task at hand. He ran up to the young girl and dropped to one knee beside her.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
Seren pointed at the screen. ‘Mummy! They’re hurting mummy!’
Joseph looked up at the screen. It was blank but he could hear sounds of a struggle coming through it.
‘Matsumoto-san! Can you hear me?’ he cried. The sounds from the screen did not change.
Joseph turned back to Seren, who was staring at the screen and crying. ‘Seren? Seren!’ He shook the girl to get her attention. ‘I need you to show me what you saw. Look at me, Seren. Try to picture sending me a video of what you saw.’
‘I don’t understand,’ the girl said between tears.
Joseph put together a brief information dump about what he needed her to learn.
‘Look at me, Seren. Concentrate on me.’
He pushed the information into her mind. She stepped back in shock.
‘Do you understand now?’ he asked.
‘Then show me what you saw.’
The images hit him like a wall of terror. It was all he could do not to scream in transferred dread. While Matsumoto-san had been telling Seren about the zoo they would go to when she came to visit, three hideous figures appeared on the screen. They did not walk in, nor were they simply not there one moment and there the next. They seemed to melt into view, taking shape as if they were being moulded from hot wax.
The figures descended on the stricken woman without a word, tearing into her flesh and rummaging around in her insides as if they were searching for something. Matsumoto-san shrieked and tried to fend the creatures off as best she could but the three of them easily overpowered her. She kicked and bucked, catching the video screen with her foot and sending it tumbling to the ground. The screen went blank and Joseph pulled himself back out of the vision.
Seren stood in the sand in front of him, shaking in fear and blubbing the largest tears Joseph had ever seen. He hugged the girl tight and tried to shush her. She ignored him and continued to cry on his shoulder.
Joseph willed a connection to the French embassy to Carcer Ridge. Now running at his own preferred speed rather than the standard time he had adopted to interact with Seren, it felt like eons before anyone answered.
‘Bon soir. Français Ambassade. Je vous aidez?’ said the man on the other end of the connection.
‘This is Introducer Joseph Dexter of Carcer Ridge. You have an incident at Hôpital privé La Louvière in Lille. A woman has been attacked.’
‘We will send police to investigate. Please transmit any corroborating information you may have on the incident.’
Joseph packaged the vision he had received from Seren and sent it across to the Embassy. After giving his contact details, he closed the connection.
‘It’s going to be all right, Seren.’
‘What’s happening to my Mummy?’ Seren sobbed.
‘I don’t know,’ said Joseph. ‘But I know how to take the pain away.’
He looked Seren in the eyes and explained how to delete parts of her own memory.