The Scarlet Haired Girl
A large painting hung from one of the walls of a small church. It depicted a vast, barren wasteland and about ten faceless men and women standing on it, all huddled around each other.
“Out from the faraway ocean of stars, the gods descended on the wasteland.”
A young girl stood in front of that painting, gazing up at it. Her bright scarlet hair resembled a lively flame, and her body frame was typical of a girl in her mid-teens. But her innocent, enraptured facial expression as she stared at the painting on the wall almost looked like an infant’s.
“Upon seeing the empty, bleak plains, the gods were filled with sadness. They split off small portions of their souls and gave them to the wild beasts which crawled on the land. Carrying the soul fragments within them, the beasts gained intelligence and started to walk across the land on two legs. That is how the race known as humans came to be.” The old man who ran the church finished his explanation and stood next to the young girl. “You seem to be studying the painting quite intently, young lady. Are you interested in the legend of the Visitors?”
“Mm.” The girl nodded slightly. “I’ve never seen my father or the others.”
The instructor seemed pleasantly surprised. The story of how the Visitors created the humans which the Church of Holy Light taught was not widely believed amongst the commoners, so a person so passionate in their belief that they referred to the Visitors as their parents was quite rare. Or at least, that’s what the old man thought when he heard the girl’s remark.
“There is no need for lonely thoughts. The souls of us humans were given to us by the gods. As long as we are here, so are the souls of our distant ancestors, the Visitors.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” the scarlet haired girl said with a sad smile. “The soul fragments from the Visitors were limited. But the humans grew in population too fast. The fragments within each individual began to weaken and lose meaning. Am I wrong?”
The instructor frowned. The girl’s comments contained some beliefs which contradicted the Church’s teachings. He thought about pointing them out to her, but something else caught his attention.
“Why do you speak in past tense?”
“Even though those events are the present for you, for me they’re the distant past.”
She didn’t seem to be joking or playing dumb. The girl had the transparent and empty expression of one who had given up on everything, an expression completely unfitting for a young girl.
“What are you ta–”
“Ah.” The girl suddenly cut off the man as he started to question her. “Sorry, I have to go now. Carma is calling.” She turned around sharply, causing the hem of her travel clothes to flutter slightly. “Goodbye. I really liked that painting.”
“W-Wait one se… eh…”
The instructor thought he had heard a tiny footstep, but in the next instant the girl’s figure disappeared completely from his view. He drew back the hand which he had stretched out to grab the girl’s shoulder with, and stared at his palm.
His memory rapidly grew cloudy. Someone had been here just now. He exchanged words with that someone. He was so sure of that, yet he couldn’t recall what that someone looked like, what that someone’s voice sounded like, or what they had talked about. It felt almost as if he had been tricked by a fairy in the foggy darkness of night.
“What just…” he muttered, but no one was there to answer.
The old man shifted his gaze to the painting hung on the wall. Of course, the Visitors trapped within the canvas couldn’t speak to him. Yet, for one brief moment, he thought he saw lonely smiles on their originally undrawn faces.