The absolute totality of the darkness surprised her. She’d spent most of her life in the city under a dome of light pollution, hiding the true night from her. But out here, there wasn’t a light source for miles other than the stars above. She stared deeply into them. There were more than she could count in a lifetime. What if each one of them had its own system of planets around it, and its own Earth? How many different versions of her were there, all staring up at the sky together, sharing in this moment of awe at the sheer infinity of the universe.
A flame leapt out from the wood next to her, startling her. “That should do,” the old man said, backing a few steps away and sitting on a rock.
She moved closer to the fire. The temperature had dropped faster than the sun did. She went from sweating through her shirt to freezing in less than an hour. “Won’t they be able to see this?”
“Most certainly, they will.”
“You seem a lot less concerned about being noticed than earlier,” she noted.
His reply was gruff and somewhat ominous. “No point in hiding anymore.” For the first time since they’d come out here, she felt a bit anxious.
She adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and held her hands up to the fire. “Why not?”
He looked up at her and met her eyes. “They know.”
She felt a chill that had nothing to do with the cold air. There was a coalescence of lucidity in his blue eyes that she hadn’t seen in years, yet here it was, penetrating deep into her soul. He looked focused, conscious. Maybe even prescient. For a minute, she really believed that there was someone else out there, and that her grandfather wasn’t leading her on some wild manifestation of his own mental deterioration.
She looked away from his gaze and back to the fire. She knew better than to get sucked into the fantasy. It was dangerous for him to be out here alone, and he needed to get back to the home. She’d agreed to let him play out this reverie while gently nudging him in the right direction out of a sense of respect for the man. It seemed more humane than to simply demand that he drop it and go back to that place he hated so much. That, and it didn’t seem particularly likely that she’d be able to force him into doing anything he didn’t want to.
The fire crackled gently as they both sat in silence.
“What are we going to do for foo…” she stopped short as she looked up and realized he wasn’t sitting across from her anymore. “Shit.”
She stood up, throwing the blanket down on the ground and looking around desperately. He was gone. “Shit shit shit.”
She trotted down the trail in the direction they had been headed before stopping. “Grandpa?” She shouted into the dark. “Grandpa where’d y-“
A hand covered her mouth as she was grabbed from behind. “Quiet now,” her grandfather’s voice said as he pulled her against a rock face off the side of the trail.
He held her close and pressed his back against the stone, turning to look back at the trail. This is too much, she thought. We need to go back, now.
On the trail, a shadow passed by slowly. It was heading towards their fire. She felt her grandfather’s back stiffen as he held her tightly against the wall.
The shadow passed them. There was nothing casting it.