Zoe’s trips to Grandfather were yet another reminder of how little her parents cared for her. Mother and Father were travelers long before their daughter’s birth and showed no signs of stopping once she arrived. Children were too much trouble, they reasoned, and Zoe was too young to appreciate the exotic sights anyhow. Grandfather offered to watch the girl, and they happily agreed.
That first day, Grandfather tried to find a way to connect with his grandchild, but he quickly realized how impossible a task that might be. Zoe believed she had seen all there was to see. Despite her youth, her cynicism and anger was palpable, sharp enough to cut through even her Grandfather’s patience. After a day of failed attempts, he finally shook his head and walked away.
“There are no locks or walls in this house,” he told her cryptically before leaving her to her solitude. “But mind where you explore. Sometimes journeys end where you least expect.”
Walking back downstairs, Grandfather made a cup of tea and pretended to continue his reading. He could hear her footsteps pacing back and forth above him. A pause, then, he heard the door open and her footsteps as she left the room.
“I don’t know if you’re still watching me,” Grandfather whispered to the empty room around him. “I don’t know if I imagined you. But I hope, Trickster, I do hope you return, not for me, but for her.”
For a few days, Zoe confined her searching to the first two floors of the house. She wandered the library and ran her fingertips over the well-worn books. On dreary mornings, she breathed upon the window glass, making pretty pictures before wiping them away. Grandfather spoke to her kindly during meals, but he pressed her no further. She would have to find her own way.
After three days passed, Grandfather finally heard a crash as Zoe opened the attic door.
“Let’s see if you’re real, then, my friend,” he chuckled to himself.
Hours later, Zoe re-emerged with a blue and orange kite firmly in her hands.
“Grandfather!” she yelled, careening into the library. “It’s broken. Can you fix it?”
“Where did you find this?” he muttered, unable to tear his eyes from the kite that had long ago disappeared from the home.
“Upstairs. Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“Curiosity,” Grandfather smiled warmly, guiding Zoe to his craft room. “My old hands aren’t up to the task. But I can give you the means to fix it yourself. Would that suffice?”
Zoe smiled, a rare, hopeful smile that filled the room with light. Grandfather knew that expression. Many long years had passed since the smile graced his own face, but he could never forget it. He offered his arm to the girl and patted her hand absent-mindedly as they drifted off to his craft room.
“This kite, it was mine. It was part of a tale,” he informed her as they drifted to his craft room. “A most unbelievable tale! But never you mind that. Let’s get that kite flying again.”
Once situated in the room and fussing over paper and paint, Grandfather left Zoe to her own devices. There was time enough for telling tales later. For now, he was lost in his own.
Supper came and went, but still Zoe worked on the kite. She finally emerged with the object patched, painted, and ready to fly.
“It can fly now,” she exclaimed, breathless in her excitement. “Can we fly it now?”
“Oh, it’s far too late tonight for that,” he smiled at her disappointment. “Bedtime for you. Tomorrow, my girl, we can fly it tomorrow.”
Zoe considered arguing, but quickly found herself yawning. Grandfather had a point. He shooed her off to bed and promised to return to tuck her in. She stumbled off in her excitement, leaving the kite in his hands. For an instant, Grandfather imagined the kite shimmered in her hands, a familiar crimson and gold. He shook the mirage away and slowly climbed the stairs to his granddaughter’s room, carefully placing the kite in a corner before approaching her.
“Grandfather?” she asked, sleepily. “Tell me the story? I know it’s late, but. Please?”
He considered arguing but found it impossible to say no to her. Dragging a chair to her bedside, he returned her cautiously hopeful smile with his own.
“Once upon a time,” Grandfather began, a twinkle in his eye. “There was an Innocent that could not see the world in color. And there was a Trickster that could see nothing else.”
The tale finally told, Grandfather left Zoe to dream. He quietly descended the stairs and returned to his beloved reading chair.
“Was I just a story, then?” came a soft, lilting voice behind him.
Grandfather turned, his eyes meeting the icy blue of his former friend. The Trickster had not aged in the decades since their journey together. He stood in the door frame, his casual stance at opposites with the steel of his voice.
“Is there such a thing as just a story?” countered Grandfather.
The Trickster nodded, conceding the point.
“You are concerned I will hurt her,” he accused the former Innocent.
“That is preferable to the hurt she experiences here.”
“That may be so,” agreed the Trickster, finally entering the room and gracefully taking the chair next to his former protegee. “But perhaps, there is another world available to her, and another guide I can send in my stead.”
Above them, Zoe dreamed of a world in grey and blue, steel and iron, guided by a headless man. She dreamed of smoke and shadows. And for a moment, she was content.