“I’m unsure how best to explain it, that’s all. Inter-dimensional travel isn’t just like eating a fly, you know.”
“Jeez, mister, who’d want to eat a fly, anyway?”
“Forgive me, old habits and all that. It is always hard to find appropriate comparisons.”
The ragged old man shifts in his flea-bitten shawls, a haze of dust lifting into the wan light only to disappear like stars behind cloud. He shifts his weight, the stumps that might once have been his legs dangling above the trash-ridden concrete just that touch more precariously than before. Once readjusted, he settles back down to comfort.
The children, two young boys, three young girls and another boy in his early teens, the leader and chief questioner, eye the man who, in their eyes, is easing into the realms of fraudulence.
“Promises are promises, mister,” the teen presses.
“Well, I did say I’d tell you, I suppose. Alright, come a little closer and I shall do my best.”
The ragged man beckons the children in who oblige by finding seats from strewn boxes and an upturned bin; the teen’s new throne.
“Right, settle yourself,” says the man retreating into the shadows like a cutpurse at work. “You will be aware of our Earth, our galaxy and the universe it resides within.” A series of nods rattle around the alleyway. “Well, there are many such universes held together by a cosmic web of starlight and moonbeams. It is these strands, or pathways, as some call them, that grasp everything we know and everything we don’t and hold them in place. This includes the places within places.”
“Places within places!” sniffs the teen.
“Yes, places within places. If one turns a bag inside out, it is still a bag.”
This seems to have the desired effect in shutting the gangly urchin up.
“The correct term for these paths, these inter-dimensional strands of glue, are the Gossamer Lanes.”
A rumble of thunder echoes around the alleyway startling all the children and making one little girl cry. The ragged man ignores her.
“If one is pure of heart and has a good soul, they can traverse these ways that others will never know, these Gossamer Lanes, these byways. This is what I do.”
“You don’t look pure of heart,” the teen huffs, puffing out his chest as lightning illuminates the now dark sky.
The ragged man eyes him but continues. “Those who travel the Gossamer are called Time-Spiders, and like all spiders they must hunt.”
“What do they hunt, mister?” says one brave, little boy.
“Why, those of pure hearts, of course, the innocents and unsullied. They must feast with a regularity that others would class as an obese obsession.”
“What do these Time-Spiders look like?” says the teen with less certainty than before.
“Just like me, I suppose.”
“But you haven’t even got any legs?”
“I don’t need legs,” he says, a flare of purple, forked lightning making demons of his eyes, “when I’ve four pairs of arms.”
The thunder covers the sounds of a shawl being removed, of the ensuing screaming. The blazing lightning dazzles eyes that might have seen more than they wished. But almost as soon as it has begun, it vanishes, replaced by the sun. All is silent. All is calm.
If one ventures to look down this alley where once were stars and the stale tang of midnight, they might see shadows etched into the ground, six shadows. A group of children and a ragged man sat here not so long ago, but now it is full of nothing but cobwebs. Like gossamer strands in moonlight, though there is none, they glitter before falling apart at the seams. Now there is nothing but a story that may or may not have taken place. And you who have heard it. For now.