Vignette #3

by Cindy Rae

 

But What of April 12th?

The day had been long. Vincent was tired, and made his way to his chambers on April 12th. Just another day that felt blessedly far from winter, but not yet close enough to summer, to suit him.

 'Spring' had only so much meaning, in the tunnels, where nothing grew but lichen. He felt so tired that movement felt like sleepwalking.

He reached the Whispering Gallery, not even knowing why he'd come this way; he had not specifically recalled the decision to head in this direction. It had been a wanderer's route, made with wandering feet.

He looked across the bridge that spanned the abyss. He knew that to step onto the bridge meant the sounds that swirled there would be his to enjoy, at least for a while. They fell down, or 'fell through,' from the world above. Sometimes, he swore they fell through time, as well, but that might just be a radio on an oldies channel, or re-broadcasting a bit of history or a famous baseball game. The tunnels had their mysteries. The Gallery was one of them.

Still, he'd not meant to come this way. His fatigue meant that the hot springs made more sense, or even his own chambers. In his tired inattention, he had meandered as if sleepwalking. He was startled that he'd done that. 

Startled more by the vision before him, on the tattered bridge. Shimmers of broken sounds swirled around her.

She was no more than forty. And she was dead. Those two things about the apparition before him, Vincent knew. He knew nothing else. Nothing save what his eyes told him: she had been lovely, in her life. Sandy hair cut so it swung around her shoulders. A kind face, though lined from the illness that had taken her. Her name was Andrea. He wasn't sure how he knew that, other than that it was an impression from her. 

Then his name. Spoken by her. “Vincent.”

 She meant him no harm. Indeed, quite the opposite. She needed his help. He didn't know how he knew. But he did.

"How are you here?" he asked her, beyond curious.

"The sound falls through." She raised an elegant hand, indicating the space around them.

"Sometimes other things, as well," she said, explaining her presence. "But that's not important, and I do not have time to explain.” She seemed agitated, but clearly meant him no harm. Her hands spread out, a supplicant's gesture, encompassing his world.

"You stay here. Live here. Hide here. Hiding your face from strangers. Safe from hate. Safe from harm." She gestured to the walls.

"Yes. It is my home,” Vincent replied.

"She is not safe from harm. Not safe from it. About to encounter it. Be consumed by it." The beautiful woman's face grew sad. "If only I could stop her from going... make her safe. Keep her... no. Even if I could... “ She shook her head and closed her eyes as twin tears fell down her cheeks. She wiped at them with a be-ringed left hand. Diamonds flashed. A rich woman, then.

"I'm so sorry. My baby. My little girl. It will be so bad. Hurt so much."

Andrea's gaze pinned him, a mother's protective fire in her eyes.

"I need you to have courage. Need your strength. Need your spirit. She needs them. Or hers will fail her. Do you hear me? Hers will fail." Her voice cracked on the last word.

Vincent had no idea who this woman's child was. And no idea why she had come to him. Had this been her only way? Through the Whispering Gallery?

He marveled at this thing he did not know and could not define, before him.  Though his life had been full of mysteries vast and deep, this was by far one of the deepest. She required his answer.

"I hear you. I do not know that I understand your words, completely. They have no real meaning to me," he confessed.

"They will, before this night is over. Before it is over, they will. In an hour, no more than two, Tom's insensitivity, his vanity and his hubris will push her out the door." Vincent knew no one named 'Tom.'

 "Fleeing his ugliness, she will encounter something worse. Something so much worse." The woman gasped on the last word, sorrow lining her face and frame.

"Am I to save her? Save her from this thing that is worse?" He did not know who 'she' was. Did he?

The vision shook her head. Her honey-colored hair swung in soft waves. "Alas.  Not even you can do that. Where she is, you will not be. It's where they take her, you must go."

"Then... she is to suffer this... attack? There is really nothing I can do?"  Vincent riled at the limitations of his life. If this woman who was no longer a woman would only tell him where to go! Where he could be, before the attack occurred...

"It is not preventing the attack that will change her. It is the healing from it."  Andrea Chandler's voice grasped the one soothing note, the one note of hope he had heard in her entire speech.

"You must find her. Rescue her. Save her from the great evil that threatens to destroy her... and from the shallow evils that are doing that, now."

"Where will she be?" Vincent needed to know.

"Near," was all the vision would say. Perhaps all she could say.

"My ... range, for lack of a better word, has its limits,” he warned.

"You must take her Below." Andrea ignored his words.

"Father will never allow---"

"Father will help to save her life. Even though the two of them will spar, he is needed, Vincent. You must find her. You must bring her here. You must let your Father help her. A woman he loves in your world may see him again, one day, if this is done. If not..." Her voice drifted, until she sobbed.

"Then my child will be here ... with me," she concluded, beyond grief-struck.

Vincent knew she did not want that. Knew that this was her child, and Andrea wanted her child to live a full life.

"You must heal her,” Andrea said. "Show her the strength inside her. I left before I could do that, before she could remember me well enough. She only remembers me the way a child does. She had to grow up without me. So many lessons I needed to help her learn..." The vision shook its head with regret. Her sandy hair swung against her chiseled cheekbones.

"She needs her life, Vincent. Needs her chance at it. I left too soon. I didn't want to, but I did. It left... empty places, inside her. Places she hasn't filled with useful things, yet. She needs her life to fix it, Vincent."

Vincent nodded, understanding. Yes. A life needed repair, sometimes; and for that, it needed the opportunity for that repair.

He was an opportunity, for someone?

The mind boggled.

 "She can be so much more, to the world. To herself. To you. She can be everything to you. Know now: she will change your life, forever. But you have to find her."

"Where? Where must I go?"

"I am forbid to guide you, even that much. And you must forget me. It is part of the magic. Forget what you now know with your mind. Only feel it with your heart. With your instincts."

"You set me an impossible task," he charged her.

"Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Everything is everything."

The image grew more transparent.

"Where must I go?" he demanded again.

"Go where your feet take you," she said cryptically, fading.

He looked down at his booted feet, felt the air shimmer and shift, around him.  She was gone.

He looked up. Blinked.

Gone? Who was gone? He looked up. He was facing the wrong way. He had been going to his chambers.

"Go where your feet take you."

He turned, and his feet now pointed back down the hall he had come. Out. Out to the passages. Walking seemed right. Stopping seemed wrong, so he didn't.  Out to the passages past his chambers. Instinct. Go on. Just go.  

Something... something of disquiet stirred inside him. Walking toward the hub felt right. So he simply did that, trying to let his heart take him where his ears and other senses would not help him to know. He went down none of the tunnels to the other chambers, not to Jacob, nor William, nor Rebecca nor Pascal.

He kept going until he went out. Out into the night inside the drainage tunnel.  The chilly April night. He would have run, had he but known where to go. He didn't. He didn't even know why he had come here, for certain. He only knew that it felt 'more right' to be out than in. So he was out.

Lifting his hood for anonymity, he ventured near the culvert exit of the huge drain, feeling the dampness on his skin. Cold. Wet. Misty night. Dew on the grass.  Not cold enough to freeze to ice, but cold. Not a night for walking. The park would be all but empty. Whatever it was he was supposed to find, it should be easy, at least.

The Park. The Park was huge. Massive. Though, for all its size, only so many places he could go. He had to stay to the shadows, to the tree line, and high shrubs, at least until he reached the first edge of the first building. From there, he could climb, could run, could travel up high, if he needed to.

No. That felt wrong.

He did not want the buildings, did not want the fire escapes, even though they would give him the advantage of height, for him to see, and for searching, that made sense. 

What he sought was at ground level, or would be. He felt it in his heart. He could explain it no better than that. 

Water dripped heavily on the right side of the drainage pipe. Dripped down, bearing its chill to the ground. He turned from it, instinctively, so his shoulder would not catch the damp.

Instinctively. There was that word, again. He looked down at his feet, again. They pointed left.

Right was better cover. A thicker, closer stand of trees. Left was more open, and more travelled. Toward the carousel, toward the band shell. Toward the road the people used, eventually. He rarely went there, any other way but beneath it.

Go where your feet take you.

He went left, stepping cautiously up the embankment, and into the wet grass.  He would leave a clear trail, as he walked. He should get to the trees on his right.  Better still, he should simply turn back, and go inside. It was not a fit night out for man nor... his mind let the thought wander, then drop.

To the left he stayed, heading for the distant copse of trees. He remained at least partly covered by the damp mist and deep shadow of a moonless night.

He saw not so much as a single star to light his way. 

A dismal night, and an increasingly late one. A night of sorrows, for some. Its somber tone belied any other mood.

It was a night fit for the indoors, for a warm fire, or introspection. Discovery, if fate was kind, of some long-ago memory or half-forgotten dream.

His dreams. He had so many. And so few that felt attainable, any more.

The trees. Green by day, black by night. What was this? He bent down. Petals.  Someone had been here, a while ago. Scent cold. But there were rose petals, scattered across the grass. White ones. Someone had carried a rose, here. Used it as a place to steal a kiss, or maybe more. 

He was too far from the path where the wedding carriages sometimes rode, their occupants casting petals to the wind. To him, the petals now looked like a marker. He was going the right way. Wasn't he? He must be.

Only a few petals, stuck to the grass by the dampness, not spry enough to rustle in the wind. Also, not plentiful enough to make a clear arrow for him. It was all right. The trees themselves did that, in their own way. He wound his way toward the copse of pine and spruce, hearing sounds on his left. Road sounds.

Distant, yet, but close enough for discernment. In spite of his surroundings, he was fairly near the road. Concrete and asphalt. This was New York. One was always near a road, if not on one.  

Or under one, he thought.

Or being thrown out of a van, on one; the fourth possibility amazingly played out, before his night-adjusted eyes.

Headlights. A van. Fast, first, so no reason to notice. Slowing for the curve in the road, but not appreciably so. The curve that had no fence, no need for one, if reasonable care was used, while driving. A steep hill, down to an open field sprawled near the tree line. Empty, mist-covered ground. Remote, for a place near the road. The door to the van was open. It barely slowed as she was cast out. 

Her body tumbled down the hill, rolling. No one would see her from the road, or find her before morning.

They had not even bothered to get out, barely bothered to slow. She rolled, hard with momentum and dead weight. A dead body, he thought. Blood stained the night-swept greensward, leaving a wide trail of... passing.

In more than one sense of that word, more than likely. 

Even from here, he knew he would be too late. Too late. The van moved off, fast, door closing. Sounds from inside it. Male sounds. Malevolent sounds. Laughter.

The grass was soft, the incline down the hill steep enough to carry her far from the asphalt. He dreaded finding this woman too late, finding this woman he somehow felt fated to find. Fated? Why? Why 'fated' to find her? 

Simply to make sure she was decently buried, by someone else?

He bent over her, her head in a bloody bag that used to be white, but now was stained with so much crimson it looked black. A flour sack. Nothing more elegant.  His fingertips went to her throat. Cold. Wet with blood... alive? Alive.

Sparing not a moment for concealment or investigation, he scooped her into his arms and ran, ran straight across the open ground, exposed. 

I need you to have strength. Need your courage. She needs them.

He did not know where the words came from, but he ignored them as he leapt a bench. The opening was not far, if you ran straight as an arrow. It was only distant if you travelled safely, around the edge, in the shadows.

She was light. Slight. Bleeding to death. Freezing from both the temperature outside and the loss of warm blood in her veins. Her body, beneath his arms, felt whole. It was her face they had savaged. Deeply.

No one, no one between him and the prize of the culvert. He splashed his shoulder as he entered it, lowering down over her, protectively. Irony. The stream of water that had directed him to the left no longer mattered, to him.

Inside. Racing. Shouting for Father, shouting at the sentries to send a message on the pipes. Emergency. Hospital chamber. Now.  e ran through the round hallway, not even panting. No time to breathe. Must... save... her.

Father in the hospital as he laid her on the table. Pulse. There still was one. Mary, gasping at the damage, at the savagery. Holding a towel to her. Trying to stop the bleeding. Jacob rolling back his sleeves. No time. No time. The bag was soaked.  Fair skin gone several shades paler, where the blood hadn't covered her arms.  She would die. She was dying. Shock. Whiter still as her vital organs tried to hoard the blood she still had. Vincent held her forehead together as Father stitched. Held her cheek, her chin. Deep gash in front of her ear. Hard to hold it close enough, there, for Jacob to sew her together. So glad the gash had stopped at her jawline. Lower, and he'd have caught her jugular with the knife.

Panic, breathing. Hers. His. Jacob working, always working, stopping the blood flow, saving her life. Mary sponging blood off the dark sutures. White bowls of water turned red. Again. And again. A bruise on her ribs. Kicked. Broken? Maybe.  Maybe not. Alcohol along the dark lines of hate that crisscrossed her fate.  Cleaning. Helping. Trying to keep infection away.

Blankets to wrap her. Warm her. Get her blood moving again, in her body, now that it could no longer leave her through the rents in her face. Jacob with a hypodermic. Antibiotics. More precious than gold, down here. Mary, wrapping her in dry clothes to warm her cold skin. A tunnel gown. Her evening finery sliding off, underneath. Bloody. Cut across the neckline. Velvet. Ruined.

"She will sleep.” Jacob checked her eyes with a pen light. "But she will live.”  Father wrapped her face, gently, in gauze. Vincent lifted her head, as Father worked, cradling the soft, sandy blonde hair in his unique hands. Sandy hair.  Where had he last seen hair that color? It didn't matter.

"She is young, Vincent, and strong. Still. I shudder to think what would have happened, had you not found her when you did. And shudder to think what will happen, now that you have," Father eyed his son.

  Vincent had eyes only for her. The bandaging was complete. Her honey hair, her wounds, even her eyes were hidden from the world. Her soft mouth remained, the bottom lip cleft by stitches on one side.

"She has an evening bag,” Mary said, picking up her coat to lay it with her dress.  The small velvet clutch had been in her coat pocket. "This was not done for money?" She gave the wallet to Jacob, who opened it.

"She lives not far from here." Jacob plucked her identification from the contents of the clutch. Cash was inside. A gold credit card. A silver house key. "In one of the apartments off Central Park West." A rich woman, then, or a rich man's kept one. Her address was as expensive as her ruined clothes, as elite as the velvet bag, trimmed with jet.

Jacob handed her license to Vincent. Green eyes and a stubborn chin stared back at him. She was beautiful. Or she had been. Still was, his mind amended. He felt her fighting for her life, fighting to stay with him. Felt her reach out to him, inside. Felt her still. Something strong, within her. Strong, between them.  Stronger than friendship. Or love.

Vincent saw the address, memorized it. There was a tunnel close to her building, some distance from the hub. He would take here there, when she was strong enough. Days from now. Weeks, if he was lucky.

He handed the card back, pulling the quilt up a little higher, touching the bandage near her temple, so gently.

"Vincent,” Father’s voice warned. "You cannot be... together."

We will never, ever be apart, his mind whispered to him, feeling her.

"Her name... is Catherine,” his voice whispered, reverently.

Then more words. His. Hers. Andrea's. Maybe.

Know now. She will change your life. Forever.

---Another end… of the beginning.---

 

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