"A fire took his house," Alex said. "When we didn't hear from him, everyone guessed the worst, but when the fire department went through the rubble they didn't find his body. But we didn't hear from him, either. So, seven years go by, and he gets declared legally dead." Alex shrugged. "There wasn't much to distribute."
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"You seem pretty unmoved by it all," Deborah said.
"Weirdness in my family is like a sport," Alex said, and rolled his eyes. "At reunions, we all get together and compare horror stories. Whoever has the best one gets to eat the pig eyes."
Deborah took a sip of her drink. "What do you think, then?" she said. "About everything?"
Alex shrugged. "Could be him. I guess. I mean..." He shrugged.
"Did he have a lot of friends when he disappeared?"
"I doubt it."
Deborah frowned. "No wife, either."
"No. He never married."
Alex crossed his arms. "Look. I was twelve. I have no idea. Uncle Silas didn't get close to people."
She blinked. "He got close to me."
"Okay. So. Maybe ten years of being dead changes a person. I don't know." Alex sighed. "Tell me what he looked like."
Deborah did the best she could to describe Silas as she had last seen him. It took her a good ten minutes, and she only cut off when she realized she was beginning to repeat herself. "Is that anything like how he used to look?"
"No," said Alex. "That is EXACTLY how he used to look. Right down to the damn shirts. At least as far as I can remember."
"That doesn't make any sense, though."
"No," Alex said, and she could hear the annoyance in his voice. "It doesn't. I guess you don't have a picture of him or anything like that?"
Deborah shook her head. "No. Why?"
"Just curious. Is there anyone else who can verify your description."
"No...the groundskeeper never saw him..." Deborah paused. "Wait. Are you saying that you don't believe me?"
"No. But science always looks for the most obvious explanation."
"You're a scientist, are you?"
Alex looked away. "Not yet," he said, and sighed. "I almost wish I smoked, sometimes."
"There has to be a reasonable explanation," said Deborah. "Something..."
"No. There doesn't have to." Alex looked at her once more.
"What do you mean?"
The young man shrugged. "Sometimes things just happen. People insist that everything has to make sense, which is really pretty silly, all things considered."
"You've been living in this world, right? You should know by now it doesn't make any sense."
"I..." Deborah began. She stopped. She looked down at her hands and saw that they were shaking. She tried to set down her glass, but her hands wouldn't let her, and the glass tipped over, spilling water over the edge of the table. "I'm sorry-" she said, and moved to mop up the water."
"It's okay," Alex said. He got up, left, and came back with a thick handful of napkins. He used them to mop up mess, then set them aside. Then he righted the tipped-over glass.
"Thank you," Deborah said. She was hiding her hands in her lap.
Alex held on to the glass for a moment, his eyes focused on it. He looked up at her.
"What have you seen?" he said. "What happened? You look terrible- have you seen yourself lately? There's something more than just my missing grand-uncle behind that, isn't there?"
"I..." She put a hand to her temple. The hand shook. "I'm afraid I might be losing my mind."
She told him everything; everything she could remember, from the beginning of the summer to her sleeplessness of the night before last. Most of the dreams she left out. They felt foggy and unreal in the light and life of the restaurant, and she didnt want to seem like too much of a madwoman in front of this composed young man.
When she was finished, Alex looked more worried than ever. For a moment, she was absolutely certain that she had scared him off.
Then he said: "I don't think you're losing your mind."
She let out a breath she felt she had been holding for hours...maybe even days. Thank god!
"What do you think this all is, then?" she said. "Is someone- your grandfather, maybe- doing something?"
"I doubt it. Or at least, I doubt that that is all of it."
"Then what?" She watched his face. "Is there something you aren't telling me?"
"A lot of things, actually." Alex looked uncomfortable. "A lot of them require...a bit of faith."
"What do you mean?"
"Look," said Alex. He held up his hands, as if for emphasis. "Do you think of yourself as a religious person?"
"I was raised Catholic. Why?"
"Are you still Catholic?"
"I don't suppose so..." Deborah said. "I'm not really anything now."
"There's nothing that you believe in? God...gods...anything at all?"
Deborah shrugged. "I don't really know," she said. "I haven't given it much thought lately. I guess I haven't decided."
"I see. Well, do you believe in ghosts?"
"I really don't know..."
"How about magick? Demons? Faeries?"
"I...probably not, I don't know. Mr. Parish-"
He waved a hand at her. "I'm probably ten years younger than you. Call me Alex."
"Alex, then. What is all this getting at?"
Alex put both his hands down on the table. "Ms. Wilson-"
"Deborah. It's only fair."
"Deborah, then. If we're going to get any further in this conversation, I have to ask you to make a very big leap of faith."
"I have to ask you to trust me. Do you trust me?"
"I've only just met you," said Deborah. "But I trust you as far as I can with that, yes. I have no reason not to."
Alex frowned. "I suppose that will have to do."
"Whatever it is, just tell me, please." Deborah leaned forward. "I am not closeminded. I promise."
Alex nodded, said nothing. He took a sip of his water, appeared to steel himself, and looked up at her.
"Deborah," he said. "When we are young, and our parents put us to bed, they tell us that we are safe. They tell us that there are no ghosts, and no bogeymen, and no monsters in the dark. They believe this. We believe this."
Alex leaned forward. He fixed her with an intense, desperate stare. In the low light of the restaurant, it made him look almost feral.
"They tell us all of these these things. But they are wrong."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.