"Amelia Pond," he said, weighing the name on his tongue as if to taste every letter of it. "That sounds as if it's from a fairy tale."
The young girl smiled widely, nodded. She lead the strange man to her room, showed him the crack in her wall, let him listen to voices on the other side. Amelia had no idea what it was that he did, but a few moments later the crack was closed and a smug, albeit sad, smile was on the man's face.
"Hey," she carefully asked. "You have that machine. You came out of that, I saw it."
"Yeah. The whole of time and space is open to me, thanks to her." The smile grew even sadder. "What about it?"
"Can I come with you?" Amelia glared with wide eyes at the nightly visitor, her childish face not showing even the slightest hint of fear.
The stranger looked at her for a long moment, finding her demeanour quite peculiar. But he only shook his head and simply left without another word.
A name like from a fairy tale.
And this is how it goes:
Once upon a time there was a girl. She lived in a big house with her family. Her mother, her father, and her aunt came visiting them every so often. It was a good time and a great place to grow up.
But the girl named Amelia was not normal.
She had an imaginary friend, whom she called the raggedy doctor. This figure accompanied her throughout her whole life, and no psychiatrist or friend or family member could ever convince her that he wasn't real.
But maybe they were right. Truth be told, Amelia had never actually seen him. Not in reality, that is. He was like an afterimage, a fading dream, a reverie.
Maybe she only held onto that image because she was used to strange things. Maybe it was because of another person that shouldn't exist and did anyway.
Ever since that night so long ago, there was this man. He never told her his name, but, as soon as everyone else was sound asleep, he often sat there on her windowsill. Like Peter Pan. Only that he was no child, nor did he have pointy ears.
Never did he enter her room, never did he take tea or biscuits from her. But the stranger told Amelia stories. And he had so many of them.
It were stories of the countless stars out in the sky, of creatures, horrifying and fascinating and beautiful. He told her of places that were so strange that she could hardly imagine them. He told her of wars and of crimes and of other things that were certainly not meant for a child's ears.
But Amelia didn't care. She loved to listen to these stories. And deep down in her little heart she believed them to be true. There was just something about them and about the man that made it impossible to think otherwise.
Some days he appeared to be incredibly happy, chatting with a smile and laughing a lot about the things he told her. But there were other days as well. Days, where he barely spoke a word, where he didn't want her to make light so he could hide in the shadows.
Only once had Amelia been able to take a peek at him during one of those times. And he had been injured, badly. His clothes shred and blood staining their remains. His eyes had gotten wide in what might have been fear, when he realized that she had seen it.
"Will you be alright?" Amelia asked carefully, and he nodded. It was then that she decided to finally ask the one question that had always been burning on her tongue. "Why do you always visit me?" And a bit quieter she added, "And why today? You should see a doctor."
The man winced at that, then looked confused, as if he had no idea why he had reacted like that.
"I don't know," he whispered. "It makes no sense to me either. I don't even like humans."
"But you like me?"
"I... don't know." He shook his head. "There is something missing. Something that should be there, but isn't. And when I'm here... it feels as if I might remember."
Amelia trod carefully closer and peered up at the man. In a few years she would call him handsome, with his blond, almost white hair, the goatee, the sad, hazel brown eyes and his favour for black clothes.
She stretched out her hands and took one of his into hers.
"Come. I can get Papa's first aid kit."
His eyes bore into hers, confused, hurt and so incredibly sad. With a lot more care than necessary he took his hand back and swallowed.
"I'm only a dream," he said, his voice deep and almost commanding. "I'm as real as your raggedy doctor. Whoever that might be."
"No, that's a lie." Amelia stemmed her fists into her hips. "I can see and touch you. If anyone is real at all then it's you, Mister."
A pained smile curved the man's lips. "I'm a bad person, you know that?" Somehow it sounded as if he was proud of this fact. "I did so many things that would make you hate me."
Amelia believed him. Lot's of his stories had hinted at these things, at a buried cruelty inside him, that he, however, hid from her.
But she wasn't afraid. To her he was nice.
"I'll be alright," the man assured. "And... if I might, I'll come back and tell you more. I see so many things each and every day. Sometimes it's years until we meet again. But for you it was only a day." His eyes closed and the same sad smile from before was on his face again. "No matter how far I run or where I search, there is no place closer to an answer than here."
"Okay," Amelia said nonchalantly. "I don't get what it is about me. But I like your stories."
The stranger looked up and nodded, then left for the night.
It was almost a year before he came back. Amelia had feared he really might be only a dream, like her doctor. But he wasn't. And when she ran to the window to open it, she completely forgot that she wasn't alone in her room this night.
"Hello, Amelia," the traveller greeted happily and took his place on the windowsill. "You grew, didn't you?"
"Yeah, children my age tend to do that," she answered sassily.
Both of them got aware of the third person the same moment. Amelia squeaked with her hands covering her mouth and let her eyes rush between her friend and the stranger, who glared at the second girl.
"Oh. I have a guest sleep over tonight." Amelia took down her hands.
"Hey!" the other girl chirped. "Is that the man you told me of?" She flung away the blanked and ran to the window to stretch out a hand. "Hello, I'm Geneviere Arkerson. But everyone calls me Gin!"
Perplex the man took the small hand and shook it slightly. His eyes wandered over the girl, her short, dishwater blond hair, the bright green eyes. A through and through unremarkable appearance. Only the fact that she didn't seemed to be afraid of him at all astonished him a little. But then again it was no wonder Amelia would befriend someone like that.
And then he felt it. The same weird sensation he always had around the red-haired child. As if there was something tingling inside his mind, waiting to burst to the surface, but with that second child it was even stronger than it had ever been with Amelia.
The stranger jumped from the windowsill and into the room, grabbed the blond girl by her arm and drew her close to glare into her eyes.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"Ooow! Let me go!" Gin whimpered, then swiftly stomped on his foot.
It didn't have the intended effect, but the stranger let go of her anyway when he noticed Amelia's shocked face.
"Gin's a friend," she told. "We go to the same school and she lives only a few streets away. That's all, really."
He shot a venomous glare at the blond girl, inwardly blaming her for everything that was missing from his mind. It was stupid, and he knew it perfectly well. But he just couldn't help.
From then on the visits got less and less frequent. The older Amelia got, the more it dawned on her how weird it actually was to have a stranger visit her in the night so often, even though he had never harmed her.
What Amelia didn't know was that the traveller now visited another child. He never sat on her windowsill though, and never told any stories. He only watched from the outside and wondered why the effect was so much stronger with this human. It could only mean she was connected to whatever was missing from his memory.
But, weirdly enough, something kept him from going too close. So he watched from the distance. Watched how the girl grew up with her younger brother,whom she seemed to love dearly. With a mother, who seemed a bit distanced, but friendly nonetheless. And with her father, who laughed a lot and looked so familiar to someone the stranger couldn't remember.
When the blond girl was maybe twelve he observed an occurrence where a bunch of older kids gathered to throw stones at her, steal her backpack and hit with fists. Gin fought hard. She was brave and fast. But they were many and they did not like that she was a friend of Amelia. The weird kid was not supposed to have friends. But Gin had never cared about that.
Now she sat on the street, nose bleeding, knees skinned, but still holding back the tears. Only one stubbornly rolled down her dirty face and she wiped it away angrily.
The stranger had decided to only watch, but somehow the sight made him feel uneasy. He made sure no one was around, hastened over and dropped to his heels in front of her. Only then did Gin flinch away and her eyes widened surprised when she recognized him.
"I can get you some revenge, if you want me to," the traveller offered. "They'd deserve it."
With every word he spoke the strange feeling grew stronger
He should remember!
His whole being was screaming at him.
But he couldn't.
A chuckle made him look up and into a dirt and tears smeared face. This girl there was actually smiling widely at him, mischief in her bright green eyes.
"I'm the one who got beaten up, but you're the one who looks as if the world went down." She giggled again as if this was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. At the same time tears rolled down her cheeks, leaving traces in the dirt. "Ooow, ow," she whimpered in between laughs. "Ooow, damn, everything's hurting."
"Then why the heck are you laughing like an idiot?"
"I don't know. Honestly, I really don't." Gin took a deep breath and calmed down. She shook her head and glared at the man in front of her. "I just feel happy right now. It makes no sense, does it?"
"No... it doesn't. But nothing seems to make sense at all."
The girl lifted herself up from the ground and reached a hand down to the stranger. "Why were you visiting Amy so often? And why did you stop?"
The man looked at the hand, ignored it and rose to his feet.
"That's none of your business," he grumbled and turned away.
He didn't get far, a tug on his coat holding him back.
"I think it is." It was strange how this dirty face could look so serious and as if in charge. "It feels weird to be around you. And Amy is my friend. I will protect her."
"Will you now?" An amused twinkle wandered into the travellers eyes, and he decided to give it a try. "Alright. Get cleaned and bandaged and all that." He pointed at her wounds. "I'll visit when the others sleep."
"Okay. See ya!" The girl waved as if this meeting was totally normal and stormed away to collect her backpack from a bush.
He waited on the windowsill when Gin entered her room. How he had gotten inside was a mystery, but she didn't bother to ask. Instead she trod over and pushed a cup of hot chocolate into his hands. In opposite to Amelia she didn't leave him a choice in that regard. Wordlessly she stepped to her desk and took her own mug, before she smiled at the man.
"So... first things first. What's your name?"
"What makes you think I would tell?"
Gin shrugged. "Because if you don't tell me I'm going to call you dick-face."
The man laughed out loud and almost spilled the contents of his cup. "Well, why not. Call me... uh... Emil Keller."
The girl cocked an eyebrow and took a sip from her chocolate. "Sounds fake. But okay, better than nothing. So, tell me, Emil, who are you?"
"Boooring," he drawled. "At least ask interesting questions if you have to probe me."
Gin nodded and thought for a moment, before she asked, "Why do I feel weird around you? It' as if... as if I knew you. But that's not possible, right?"
"I don't know," Emil admitted. "There is something missing from my mind. It always has. But when I was around Amelia it felt as if I might remember. It's a lot stronger with you."
"It always has felt that way?" Gin repeated carefully.
"Yah... makes no sense, right? It's as if I grew up with a gap in my head." He stared up to the ceiling and clutched the warm mug. "Whenever I turned around I was convinced there was supposed to be someone standing next to me. And later it was so... boring. Conquering planet after planet, doing whatever I wanted. But no one there to... I don't know... stop me? Fight me? Try at least?" He shrugged. "I ran from a noise in my head. I did some pretty horrible things. Not regretting anything, but it still felt... off that no one was there to do something about it."
"Ha! So you're a bad guy," Gin stated with a smirk. "What's with that noise you ran from?"
"Gone. My people tried to... long story. One day I was captured and then forced to build a machine. Then I learned it were my own people who tortured me and I decided to let them suffer for that. Destroyed the machine, sent my home planet back to hell... well... long story. But that's all."
"I see..." Gin sighed and glared into her mug, strangely unfazed by the prospect of her opponent being not from earth. "But if you always felt that way it can't be me whom you forgot. Well... in case your story is true at least. I'm rather sure I didn't grow up on your planet."
Emil grumbled something inaudible and placed his empty mug on the floor. Never did he leave the window, as if he was afraid entering the room further might get him stuck.
"What now though?" Gin glared at him, let her eyes wander over his appearance. "Seems like you don't age like us, seeing you look the same as years ago."
"Ah... no. First of all, I'm a time traveller. What is years for you could be minutes for me. But my kind also ages a lot slower."
"If you say so. But what are your plans? Hanging around me and Amy just because you hope to solve this puzzle?"
"I don't know." He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest, pursing his lips sulkily. "It's the only clue I ever got."
Emil stopped visiting Amelia - or Amy, as she called herself now. But therefore he now came to Gin almost every evening. She had demanded to hear about his travels, about the universe and its wonders. And Emil found himself enjoying it so much more all of a sudden. Now it weren't only fairy tales, it were true events, and he saw that Gin believed them all. He also saw that she never judged his behaviour, no matter how bad it had been. Here and there she only raised an eyebrow or made a face as if to say, my, you really need another hobby.
But she never scolded him, never tried to convince him to act less violent. And therefore he stopped on his own. Not entirely. But it was suddenly less fun to be all mean and nasty, and he was more on the lookout for really intriguing things he could then tell her.
Time passed. Gin was sixteen now, but never grew tired of Emil's stories. Only one evening he waited in vain. She never entered her room, but also hadn't told him she would sleep somewhere else, as she normally would.
He waited almost the whole night and shot up when the door finally opened. Gin entered slowly and dropped onto her bed immediately. And then he heard sobs.
For the first time since he had started his visits, Emil moved from the windowsill and sat next to Gin on the bed. She shot up surprised, her tear swollen eyes wide. And before he could react, she had already flung both arms around his neck and buried her face in his shirt.
"What happened?" he asked carefully, his voice unfamiliarly soft, while he hesitantly wrapped his own arms around her slender frame to hold her tight.
"My brother, Josh... he... he's gone," Gin sobbed. "The police questioned us the whole time. We were all suspects. But... but..." She took a deep breath and retreated a little. "I've done nothing," she whispered desperately, her eyes begging him to believe her. "I would never..."
"I know," he assured softly and wiped some tears away with his finger.
He hadn't thought about it for a long time, not even for a second. But now that he was so close to her, the weird feeling grew a lot stronger. As if the missing pieces in his head would snap into place at every moment. And it wasn't only that, he realized confused. His hearts suddenly beat so much faster when he looked at her. How weird. It didn't make any sense to him.
He stayed with her, sitting on the bed and holding her hand, while Gin slipped in and out of nightmares. Eventually he tenderly pressed his thumbs against her temples, whispered some words she never remembered and made her sleep properly for the rest of the night.
The boy was never found, the investigation dropped eventually. Life returned to normal and somehow also didn't. There is no such thing as normal when a child goes missing. Gin and her parents learned that the hard way, although they all did their best to try.
The only thing that prevented Gin from going nuts during the first weeks were Emil's visits. Ever since that night she looked forward to see him a lot more than ever before. Maybe because he had been with her to chase away the nightmares. Maybe because in this short moment, when he had hugged her so firmly, something she couldn't name had changed. It had been the only time he had ever left his spot at the window.
And from then on he never did it again.