The rusted bogies were scattered like confetti at the path's end. Mounds of bricks and sand, abandoned boxes, stray dogs, and a crisscross of rail tracks. The world ended here. I was a little girl then, frightened of shadows, but I decided that running away from home was the only way to salve my wounds.
On a winter night as such, evenings were bypassed. It was day one minute, night, the next. The boy squeezed my hand tightly and led me to the nearest bogie. He was precocious, mischievous, everything I was not, and it was his idea to run away forever. He was handsome too, with curls like Clarke Kent, and in his eyes -- the dotted swirl of the Milky Way. I gaped at his strange eyes. I wondered what they harbored.
“Come on,” he began to climb the bogie, pulling me up behind him. “I want to see what's on the other side!”
We sat on top of it - looking out to the city. The stars were already out and the dull haze of the horizon was a disappointment. I didn't think there was any more of the world left. The boy just smirked in silence.
“Why are you smiling?” I asked.
“No reason,” he said, and then, sullenly, he whispered, “I'm sorry.”
I looked into the galaxy of his dusky eyes and for the first time that night, the air felt chilly.
“I get hungry,” said the boy. “I have to eat. I can't help it, can I?”
“Can we go home?” I asked. “I don't like it here, and besides it's too cold.”
He shook his head. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, again.
There was silence again, punctured by the shrill horn of a distant train. The mist covered up half the horizon, and the other half was a splash of ink.
“I will only eat your heart,” he said excitedly despite himself and remembering his manners, he added, “It's only because I have to, really. I promise I won't like it too much.”
I motioned to get up, to run the hell away from there, but his firm little fingers gripped my hand tightly, reassuringly.
“Just your heart, nothing else.” His voice had all the melancholia of a sacked civilization.
“Please, I just bought a book! I haven't even read it yet!” I fought back the tears. How foolish I must have sounded!
“I know,” he sighed. He pulled out an ivory knife from his bag, the color of his smile, and placed it next to him. “It won't hurt that much. It'll feel like a hornet's bite, I promise.”
“Hornets don't bite,” I croaked, wiping tears from my eyes.
“The point is...is it won't hurt too much. And it won't go on for very long.” The boy looked away from my eyes.
“Here,” he fished out a stuffed animal from his bag, a white teddy bear. “This is for you.” He looked pleased with his generosity.
I took the bear from him and clutched it tightly. The smell of salt was so heavy in the air that it felt like we were huddled by the sea. I closed my eyes as he drove the knife through my chest; and the night swirled and melted away, and it all became pitch black. When I woke up next, I no longer had a heart.
In my old age, when visions of that pale knife lurk in my mind like vague, shapeless dreams, and I start hearing the sound of trains rumbling by in distance, and I see the dogs, unbothered, scrounging for food in that cool winter night—when I get a sudden chill where my heart used to be—I look around until I find that old white teddy bear, and I clutch it tightly like I did that night, before my chest was carved open, and my heart was ripped out, and for a brief moment—an infinitesimally small moment—I feel whole again. For a flicker of a moment, I feel like I still have a heart.
Mosfequs Salehin is a stock broker in Indianapolis. In his free time, he enjoys reading, moaning about the weather, and telling stories to his unsuspecting friends.