Journey Through a Child's Eye
by Nancy Lynn Knauff
("Beauty and the Beast" and its original characters are thecreation of Ron Koslow and are owned by Republic Pictures and itsowners. This story is written exclusively for the enjoyment of fansand no infringement is meant in any way.)
"Can we go now, Vincent? Pleeeease?" Little Sherelle jumped up anddown at the front of the chamber she shared with her mother. Her softgreen eyes pleaded further. "Pleeeease?"
Inwardly Vincent smiled. The five-year-old had so much energy,much like his son Jacob. It was amazing to believe that a few monthsago this shining light in his world was a shy, quiet introvertedchild, afraid of almost everyone. How far shes come, hethought. It was a good sign.
To the girl, he only gave her a sideways glance. "We need to meetthe other children in Fathers study, Sherelle. Dontworry," he said as she slid her little hand in Vincents largeone, "Well be on our way soon." She skipped happily as theyheaded off in their new direction.
As the pair moved toward the study, Sherelle steps grew slower andheavier. Vincent noticed this and stopped. They both listened to thesound of chatter from the other children in the study greet them inthe passageway.
Vincent finally picked up his young charge. The girl's large hazeleyes greeted his tourmaline ones with a twinge of fear. His heartwent out to her; he loved her like a daughter. "What is it, littleone?" He asked. She said nothing, but Vincent felt he already knewthe answer.
"Oh, Sherelle," he assured her, "there is no need to fret. I willbe with you, as will the other children. I promise you'll be safe."She nodded her head, her fear dissipating as he continued. "If you'reseparated from the others, stay where you are. I will find you." Heleaned his forehead against the girl's. "I have my ways," he finishedwhile tickling her with his furry nose, much to the child'sdelight.
Some time later the small group were off on their journey. Vincentheaded the group, a few older children bringing up the rear. Theywere on their way to explore some caves that Vincent had found on oneof his many forays deep Below. There were some mineral deposits thatmade a wonderful and rare scientific opportunity. This was the thirdexpedition in as many weeks. So far the trip had met with rousingsuccess. From the hubbub of the children, they were looking forwardto it.
Sherelle was toward the back of the group. As one of the smallerchildren, she wasnt very fast. Also being the youngest she grewtired quickly. "Are we there, yet?" She complained to the nearestteenager.
"No," replied Crista. "We still have a long way to go."
That news wasnt encouraging to the little girl. "Ohh,its such a LONG way," she whined.
"Want a ride on my back?" Crista offered. Sherelle literallyjumped at the chance.
Even the piggyback ride couldnt make the trip any shorter.By the time the group reached the Chamber of the Winds, Sherelle hadused up all her riding privileges among the others. Whiningdidnt get her anywhere faster either. So she retreated into aquiet mode, sulking silently.
Vincent stopped in the middle of the chamber, his wavy fire-blondhair running riot through the gusts of wind. "I thought wedtake a short break," he told the group. "We should reach the cavernin about an hour."
Although it was quite chilly in the vaulted chamber, it was stilla good place to stop. Some children took advantage of the stairwellwhile some wandered around looking at the columns. Vincent wasengaged in conversation with several others pondering how such aplace could have come into existence.
Young Sherelle didnt know anything about architecturalhistory or how the wind currents found their way so far Below. Thosecurrents had uncovered something far more interesting for herdeveloping mind. The child had been standing near Vincent and theothers when the swirling winds moved the sand on the floor of thechamber, catching her eye. She watched with captured interest,following the winds direction as the floor patterns peeked outfrom underneath the sand. Instantly she was on her hands and knees ina corner eagerly dusting away the floor with her hands.
It was hard! Each sweep was countermanded by the offending sandand wind. It made her task difficult. Still, she managed to see partof the pattern before her in pieces. She wasnt quite sure whatit was, and it wasnt very colorful or pretty, but it was stillneat. It looked like a long line with two arrows drawn on them. Thestick line ended with some circles on the other end. Another shortline crossed in the middle. She helped the wind replace the sedimentover the pattern, hiding her newfound discovery.
When she got up and dusted off her jumper, she expected someone toscold her for playing with the sand on the floor. But as she lookedup there was no one there.
The entire chamber was empty! The only sound was the crying windthrough the vault. All of the exits looked eerily still, no lightsfrom any of them. While Sherelle had watched the patterns emerge shehad gotten so turned around that she didnt even know whichentrance they had originally come out of.
The little girl ran to each entrance, trying desperately to findthe light of her companions lanterns. "Vincent!" she yelledinto each tunnel-way, hoping that his finely tuned hearing would hearher. "Vin-cent!" Only the wind answered her, oblivious to herrising fear.
She didnt know what to do. She hadnt been lost sinceshe had been brought to the tunnels. Then she had been found cold andhungry at the top of a half-ruined fire escape in danger ofcollapsing, too scared to move. Now she was too scared to leave thechamber, also mindful of what Vincent had said before the trip hadstarted.
If youre separated from the others, stay where you are. Iwill find you. Vincents words seem to be carried on thewind itself to her. The last thing she wanted to do was disappointhim or Mama. But she was alone with only the sorrowful wind ascompany. Finally, Sherelle sat on the bottom stair of the Chamber ofthe Winds and softly started to cry.
The group finally reached their destination. Quickly the childrenbegan to collect their samples, talking excitedly with eachother.
Vincent watched them with interest for a while. Although hepreferred the humanities rather than pure science, he had to admitthat the childrens enthusiasm was infectious. One child afteranother started coming up to him asking questions and showing himwhat they had found. So far, this was the most energetic group he hadled.
He surveyed the group looking for one particular child. Not seeingher he leaned over to one of the older children.
Kyle, a pre-teen who had come into the community two years ago,quickly took a look around as well. "I dont see her. The lasttime I saw her she was with Anton and Crista in the back. That wasover an hour ago."
A feeling of dread went through Vincent.
They found Anton helping another child with a sample. The youngItalian hadnt seen the girl either.
"Whos her partner?" Kyle asked. On trips such as thesechildren were paired up in a type of "buddy system" to prevent suchan occurrence.
"Jacob was her partner," Vincent replied, realizing his mistake.His son was supposed to join this group, but Mary had asked the boyto run a rather lengthy errand for her. Since Jacob had attended thelast trip no one had objected.
Vincent inwardly groaned. Because of his oversight, Sherelle wasnow lost.
"Gather up the children as soon as theyve finished, thenhead back," he told Anton. When you reach the pipes, have Pascal andFather send a search party." He handed his lantern to the younger manthen took off out of the cavern.
Vincent was frantic. A young child could be lost and not be foundfor days, let alone be in incredible danger this far Below. She hadbeen missing for over an hour; little Sherelle could be anywhere.
He tried not to think of those possibilities as he sped throughthe passageways looking for her.
Sherelle was sniffling, curled up on the bottom step of thestairwell trying to stay out of the wind. She was scared and cold-she thought the wind were ghost voices. She couldnt leave thechamber, though- Vincent and her mother had told her more than onceto stay where she was if she ever got lost. I hope Vincent findsme soon, she thought. I dont like this place.
A gust of cold wind surrounded her. She shivered, curled up eventighter and started to cry again. She felt as if she had been waitingto be found forever.
"Why are you crying, child?" an unknown voice asked.
Sherelle jumped. She hadnt heard anyone approach. Lookingupward before her was a dark-colored woman. She looked even olderthan Grandfather did. The child stared at her eyes- they were white!Sherelle cringed in her position on the stair.
"Oh, dont be afraid," said the woman, backing up her head abit. "I wont harm you." Her voice became lower in the last fewwords, much quieter as well as she continued, but somehow Sherellestill heard her. "This is no place for a beautiful little girl," shesaid to her. "The winds are lonely and cry to be freed." The darklady looked around for a moment. "Where are your friends?"
Sherelle gaped at her some more. The woman didnt seem to beblind, even knowing that she was a girl. The young child hadntsaid a word. This was the strangest stranger she had ever met!Sherelles curiosity was getting the better of her. "I gotlost," she admitted finally.
"Lost? Am I not here? Did I not find you?" the lady saidlaughingly.
Sherelle relaxed a bit. This woman wasnt so scary; just abit different.
"Youre not lost, child," the woman continued. "The spiritssmile upon you. You are destined for great things." The little girlshivered as another gust of lonely wind swirled around them. "Ah, butyou are cold, child! Come, we will get you warm."
Sherelle was not about to move, however. "But I was told to stayin one place of I ever got lost," she told her companion.
Only a chuckle graced the old womans lips. "Veen-cent shallfind you child. Trust in him."
Now Sherelles expression took on a look of pleased shock."You know Vincent?"
The grin that pierced through the elderly face was eerie yetfriendly. "Ah, Veen-cent. Yes, I know him well." She offered a handto little Sherelle, who now took it gladly, her fear forgotten. "Whenhe was a boy, Id catch him playing in the Chamber of theWinds!" She chuckled again as her young charge walked by herside.
The tunnels the group had traversed didnt reveal anything.Vincent was checking them again, trying to find any sign of Sherelle.The other children had left some time ago. Vincent had surmised thata search party would arrive within an hour. He hoped that he wouldfind her by then. Her mother will be frantic, he thought.
Vincent blamed himself. This was Sherelles first trip out ofthe tunnel proper. He had promised her that shed be safe. Nowthe five-year old was lost! There were hundreds of turnoffs and deadends; she could be anywhere. To make matters worse there were nopipes in this area. Even little Sherelle know to bang on the nearestpipe of she needed to. He was looking for the proverbial needle in ahaystack.
Please, he pleaded in his mind to whoever might belistening, watch over her. Let her be well
Sherelle looked around in awe at the chamber from her seat. Theold woman had draped a warm flannel blanket around her. A steamingmug of something warmed her hands. It had a spicy orange flavor toit; the young child was happily sipping away while watching hernewfound friend.
The elder woman was crushing leaves into a finer powder. Sherellewatched her intently for a few minutes until curiosity got the betterof her. "Whatcha doin?"
The elderly woman looked up from her task with a small smile. "Itis a powder, my little friend. A powder from my herbs."
"You collect herbs? Like William does?" The young child had helpedWilliam and her mother several times in the kitchen. "Are you acook?"
Another chuckle came from the woman. "No, child, that is not mytask."
Something told Sherelle not to ask anything else. She hopped offher chair and wandered around the chamber, her still-wrapped blanketin tow. The woman kept watch.
Everything in the chamber was fascinating. Knickknacks were placedcarefully everywhere. Baskets of all kinds filled with herbs or driedflowers hung wherever there was space. It looked cluttered yetorganized. The many candles gave a mysterious glow to the room.
The woman left her table and followed Sherelle. She seemed to beas fascinated as the little girl.
Sherelle found a bowl full of water. She hesitantly skimmed herlittle index finger against the surface. "Whats this for?" sheasked. It didnt look like a wash basin to her.
"Careful, Sherelle," said the dark woman. "You may see somethingyou are not ready to receive."
The girl frowned. "You know my name? Howd you know that?"The older woman said nothing. "You know Vincent, you know my name,but I dont know yours."
"There are those who call me Narcissa."
Sherelle smiled as she pondered the name. "Narcissa." Then shefrowned. "What do other people call you?"
Narcissa leaned close to the expectant child. They were almost eyeto eye when the elder laughed. "They call me a crazy old woman!"Sherelle burst into laughter as well.
"Sherelle!" Vincent heard the cries of the search party in thedistance. They were getting nowhere fast. There were two groupslooking for the girl- one was searching from Fathers studydown. The other group had started from the cave the group hadtraveled to. Vincent was still trying to find her alone- he wasbetter at tracking than most of the search party members anyway.Still, he had been unable to find her, and even he was beginning tofeel exhausted.
Lying against a nearby tunnel wall, Vincent thought back toearlier events of the day. Searching his memory, Vincent visualizedhis groups respite in the Chamber of the Winds. It had beengood for the younger children. Besides, he loved to visit thatplace.
His thoughts traveled back to when he was a young boy and howNarcissa had first caught him playing there. How he missed herenigmatic smile and her uncanny insight into-
Of course! He remembered now! The last time he had seenSherelle had been in that chamber playing in the sand just as he hadlong ago. He had watched her for just a moment. With everyoneclamoring for his attention, Vincent hadnt been able to seekout every child.
We most likely left her there, he thought. His heart sunk.I broke my promise to her. He pushed himself off from the walland began to run back in the direction he had recently come. Silentlyhe prayed she would still be there. I hope shell forgiveme.
Sherelle and Narcissa were playing a wonderful game. Narcissa hada handful of shells that she would toss onto a carved wooden block.The old woman was telling her a story based on how the shells landed.What delighted Sherelle the most was that it was a story about her.The child sat in her friends lap with her hands closed over hermouth as she giggled.
"Why do you laugh, child? Do I not tell the truth?" Narcissa toldher.
"But boys are yucky!" protested Sherelle.
"And Jacob, too, is " the older woman paused for a moment foremphasis, "yucky?"
"Thats different. Hes my best friend."
"Ah," replied Narcissa in such a way that the young girl gave hera very puzzled frown. The elder caught Sherelles gaze andproceeded to tickle her, the child squealing with laughter.
Exhausted, young Sherelle finally squirmed out of herfriends lap. She fingered the sparkling shells inside theblock. "These are so pretty," she said with a sigh.
Another small smile graced Narcissas weathered face. Shereached into a pocket and placed its content into Sherelleshand.
Sherelle stared at the shell in her hand. It was exactly like theother smaller ones, except this one had a streak of silvery purplerunning through its body. Unlike the smaller shells, this onesflecks of glitter seem to be imbedded just underneath it.
Speechless, the child glanced up at the older woman. Narcissaclosed her charges hands around the gift. "This will keep youprotected from the evils you will face. Good fortune will befallyou." She raised a finger before Sherelle. "But be forewarned! Greatresponsibility lies with its possession," she warned.
Her soft hazel eyes as wide as saucers, Sherelle nodded solemnly."Ill take good care of it, I promise," she said before shethrew her arms around her benefactors neck. "Thank you somuch!"
After a moment the elderly woman broke away. "Listen," shesaid.
The little girl had very good hearing, so it didnt takelong. "It sounds like the winds callin me."
Narcissa only smiled. "Go, child, find out what it wants," shetold her. Sherelle only stared at her friend in confusion. "Go," theold woman repeated. Shrugging her blanket from her shoulders the girlstarted to venture out of the chamber. Quickly she looked back.
"Arent you coming with me?" she asked.
"No," Narcissa replied. "Im old and slow. Besides, child,"she said with a knowing smile and a gleam in her sightless eyes, "thewind does not call for me."
"Oh," Sherelle said. "Ill be back." She started off againand didnt hear Narcissas soft sigh.
Cautiously young Sherelle retraced her steps back toward theChamber of the Winds. Again, she looked behind her, the light ofNarcissas lair inviting as before. She suddenly wished herfriend had indeed come with her. But the girl only clutched her shellin her hand, squared her shoulders and stepped out of the passagewayinto the wind swept chamber.
Almost at the same spot she had last seen him stood Vincentyelling her name at the top of his impressive lungs.
He didnt see her at first, still calling her from the centerof the chamber. But when she squealed out "Vincent!" and ranpell-mell to him, he turned just in time to catch her from crashlanding into him.
Picking her up in his arms, Vincent held little Sherelle in agrateful bear hug. "Sherelle," he whispered, while thanking God,Catherine, and whoever else had a hand in the childs return. "Iwas so worried." After a long moment, he held the girl so he couldlook her over. "Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked when he didntfind any evidence of trauma on her.
Vincent hugged her again. "Im so sorry, Sherelle. I broke mypromise to you. Please forgive me."
"Its okay," Sherelle said. "You didnt do anythingwrong. Mama told me to stay close to you. Im sorry Ididnt."
"As long as youre all right." Vincent put her down on thesand-swept floor and squatted in front of her eye to eye. "Where haveyou been? Everyones been looking for you for over an hour."
"Im sorry. I tried to stay in one place like you taught me,but it was so cold. Then Narcissa came and made me some-"
"Narcissa?" Vincent asked. "Howd you know her name?"
"She told me. She said that other people call her-"
"Sherelle," Vincent interrupted, shaking his head, "Narcissa diedyears ago. Before you came Below."
His statement only brought confusion to his young companion. "Butshe played games with me, told me about you, and gave me this." Sheheld up her shell to Vincent. He immediately took it, standing againas he examined it.
"Where did you find this?"
"Come on," she told him, grasping a furred hand. "Ill showyou." She dragged him along into the passageway.
Vincent didnt let go of her hand as Sherelle slowed down."Theres supposed to be candles," she said as they neared herdestination. "I could see the light when I left." They finallyentered another smaller chamber. It was empty, save for what littlelight the wind chamber offered from afar. Sherelle whimpered. "Whereis she? She was right here. There was all sorts of stuff everywhere,and candles," she looked up at him. "She gave me a blanket to keep mewarm. She was right here, Vincent!"
Poor Sherelle was about to burst into tears. His heart full ofsympathy for her, he again squatted to eye level with her. "Narcissawas very mysterious when I knew her," he told her. "There were alwaysthings she did that no one understood, not even I."
It was the right chamber- Vincent himself had visited the womanfrequently enough through the years. Pondering this, he looked oncemore around. "Perhaps you did see her." He looked back at Sherelle,still confused with tears of frustration coursing from her eyes. Hesoftly smiled and caressed her head reassuringly. "Lets gohome." Agreeing silently, she wrapped her little arms around his neckas he lifted her and placed her head on his shoulder.
She was asleep in his arms before he was a third of the way there.Still deep in thought, Vincent inspected the shell once more. Itlooked vaguely familiar- almost like one Narcissa had given him as aboy the first time they had met. He still had his- on the same shelfas the one Catherine had once sent from California years ago.
Silently, he chuckled. Stranger things have happened. Iwouldnt put it past her, he thought to himself. And as thepipes sounded with their return to the tunnel proper, Vincent foundhimself thanking Narcissas spirit for watching over his youngcharge and himself that day.