After Darkness Deep
Sequels - “The Rest is Silence”
"Oh, tell her, brief is life but love is long" - Tennyson.
As Father limped forward to peek through the hole in the rocks he did not find the image disturbing. Not at first. Peaceful, endearing, but not disturbing. Yet his heart pounded beyond control while watching his son lie there on the ground, a sinister haze of petrol blue and absinth green surrounding him like a bad aura. And Catherine futilely attempting to lift his body, one hand supporting his wide shoulders, the other placed tenderly upon his chest.
He looked at Vincent as if he saw him for the very first time, amazed at his appearance, at the utter wonder of him. Yes, he truly was a miracle: a huge figure, stronger than any man, long blonde hair covering his back, and the subtle features of a predator lingering over his face. Neither beast nor human. A greater miracle even was this beautiful woman holding him in her loving embrace.
These thoughts stayed with him for approximately five seconds: a last attempt of self-denial – maybe Vincent was alright – but then Catherine looked up and all hope died in his soul. She looked broken, lost within herself. Her eyes were gigantic and swollen with futile tears. Her lips, full and sensuous, had parted in a stifled scream of anguish and her hair lay bewildered on her forehead. It took her the last remainder of courage to finally speak, her voice low and thick with tears: “He stopped breathing.”
Behind him Father could sense the presence of many a member of his community. They all stared into the cave, but no one was able to speak.
Catherine gazed at Vincent, lying heavy in her arms, the top of his head still touching the cold bottom of the cave, his eyes shut tight and his mouth slightly open, revealing his lion teeth. She meant to tell him something, but only managed to bring out a tormented mumble, like a sob, and then re-fixated her gaze at Father. Her words seemed to drain her as she suddenly spat them out: “He’s dead, Father.”
“No!” The hysterical cry of Samantha and she rushed past Father, before he had even seen it, dropping the leather-covered copy of Jane Eyre along the way. Catherine just kept staring at Father, as if none of it were happening, as if she didn’t even notice little Samantha throwing herself on top of Vincent, violently shaking him whilst screaming: “Wake up!” with tears continuously rolling down her cheeks.
Father knew he had to do something, but there were no feelings left inside of him. Nothing but immense emptiness and the desire – the burning need – to end it all. Everything: this scene, this community, this life. Instead he started moving forward, leaning heavily upon his walking stick. No one followed.
Almost routine-wise he knelt down beside Vincent, placing one trembling hand upon his neck, checking for the dormant heartbeat of a newly deceased. Oh he had done this before, many a time before, whenever one of the habitants would wake him up in the middle of the night, cold panic deforming their pale faces, stuttering: “Father … please come quickly. Something is not right. I … think … I …” Yes, he had done this before, ‘established death’ as they called it, offered comfort and understanding. Never in a million years had he thought he would ever establish his boy’s death. It … there were no words to describe it.
He pressed his fingers deeply into the flesh of Vincent’s neck, pretending not to notice the faint look of hope on Catherine’s face. Maybe … But there was no pulse and the flesh was cool, although still moist with recent sweat from his fever.
Just as he was about to shake his head and avert his eyes from this sight – baring it no longer – something moved underneath his fingertip. A weak movement, hardly noticeable, yet…
His heart jumped in his chest as he pressed his finger deeper to feel it again. A bit stronger this time. A heartbeat! Feeble to say the least, but it was there!
“He is alive!”
Catherine stared at him as if she were unable to understand the words. She could see his mouth move and hear the words, but they just did not reach her brain.
*** *** ***
Father noticed and abruptly grabbed her shoulders, a weak smile dawning upon his bearded face. As means of emphasis he looked her in the eyes – hers still overshadowed and wet – his soft and brown with newborn sparkles of hope. “Catherine!” he insisted and for the first time she blinked. “I have felt his heart beat.”
Father saw her standing in his room, looking at nothing, her hand held up under her chin in a pointless attempt to do something, but there was nothing she could do, so she nervously rubbed her fingers over and over, until Father coughed and she turned around to face him.
*** *** ***
“How is he?” she immediately asked, her face a mask of pain. “Is he alright?”
Father averted his eyes, which was what he did when he meant to avoid a question. Still, Catherine was entitled to the truth. Throughout her time with Vincent, she had earned that. So he seated himself in his chair behind his desk – his glasses still rested upon the book of poetry he had been reading earlier today – and confessed: “He is still extremely weak. I am not certain he will recover.”
“But he is better?” Catherine pleaded, pulling at her jacket in a senseless attempt to shield off the cold she had been feeling since she found Vincent in that cave alone, scared and delusional with fever.
“He is stable it seems.” Father started playing with his reading glasses. “But he is still unconscious and the fever has not diminished much.” He placed the tip of the glasses against his lip, then looked at her intensely. “Catherine, if his fever does not drop soon he will not survive.”
Catherine suppressed a hysterical shrieking and nodded. After a moment of silence with only the vast ticking of sticks upon the pipes she asked: “You mentioned he had been through this once before and had found comfort in art.”
“Then I will stay and read to him.”
“Catherine…” Father started rubbing his forehead, but his headache would not be suppressed so easily. “… You can’t stay here. You do not have the luxury of simply disappearing like the rest of us. People will search for you.”
“Then I will let them know.” Her voice was determined, her mind made up. Every time he ran into contact with her Father was amazed at her calmness and resolution. He knew he had no means of talking her out of it.
With an indulgent sigh he asked: “What will you tell them?”
“That there is someone who needs my attention,” she replied, “someone I hold more dear than life itself.”
They were gathered outside Vincent’s chamber, reluctantly glancing in, the fear was showing on their faces – a pale glow darkening their eyes.
“We should speak to Father,” one of them said. He was remarkably tall and skinny and his face seemed all bones.
“No David,” another objected. “Father will not listen to us. He is blind to the danger.”
“It’s Vincent,” a third one called out, slight resentment in his voice. He was younger than the other two, barely a teenager even, and had shiny blonde hair, which partly covered his forehead and left cheekbone.
“Exactly,” the other one said and his eyes were big with panic. “We’ve all seen what he can do. He’s more powerful than all of us combined and he’s delusional. Who’s to say what he might do?”
“Yeah,” an older, bald man piped in from behind the small crowd. “I for one don’t want him mistaking me for the enemy. He can bite us all to death in a matter of seconds.”
Some objected loudly, but the bald guy insisted: “Father won’t be able to control him! You’ve seen how he’s been! He didn’t even recognise Catherine. What makes you think he won’t attack us?”
“He wanted to leave,” the first one went on. “Even he was afraid he might hurt us. He can’t stay here!”
Some raised their hands in approval and then everyone started talking, screaming on top of each other until…
Hardly audible with the chaos, but the second time it overpowered all sound. The voice was so angry, so determined it scared everyone:
They all turned around and saw the look on Catherine’s face, that mixture of shock, anger and stunned misappraisal. “Vincent is in there fighting for his life,” she snarled and no one had ever seen her like that before – no one had the guts to speak up and when she started pointing people out individually, they all looked down in shame. “You, Josh,” she said and looked at the bald man, “You wouldn’t be here if Vincent hadn’t risked his life to save yours.”
*** *** ***
She moved on to the next one. “And you, Steven, have you forgotten how Vincent rescued you from under that pile of rocks? You would be paralyzed had he not gotten to you in time.” She could go on, but hadn’t the time, so she concluded: “All of you owe him your lives.” And before she left them to enter Vincent’s chamber: “If you are not here to help, then you have no right being here at all.”
*** *** ***
He looked up from the book he had been staring at to find Mary had entered his chamber. She seemed troubled, her forehead wrinkled and her brown eyes deep with worry. “Are you occupied?”
He took off his reading glasses and swayed them in the air. “No. No, Mary, come on in.”
She complied reluctantly. This whole situation had to be difficult for her as well, Father realised. She had always been like a mother to Vincent. Seeing him in this state had to be upsetting her greatly. “Tell me what I can do for you.”
“It’s the men,” she said, her voice trembling with submerging panic. “They’re afraid.”
When she noticed Father didn’t understand, she swiftly touched her forehead, wiping a loose string of hair towards the thick knot it had escaped from. “They’re ill at ease,” she elaborated, “afraid of Vincent. They think he might awaken and attack them.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Father immediately sneered.
“They sense the tension,” she insisted. “And it’s arousing their aggression.”
Father intended to contradict, but he couldn’t and Mary continued: “Father, they need you to insure them Vincent will be alright.” When he didn’t reply, her face fell and she whispered: “But you can’t. You’re also afraid.”
“Not of my son,” Father objected.
“But of his illness and what it is transforming him into.” She looked away, her eyes scooping the scenery – Father’s messy desk with the wooden globe and the ravage of old books – and concluded: “You aren’t certain how he will come out of this, even if he survives.”
Josh had set out to Father’s chambers to confront him with the situation, but had faltered when he heard Mary’s voice. After overhearing their conversation, he was more alarmed than ever. Last week he had witnessed Vincent grab Father with hands too big to be human and roar at him, his eyes wild with beastly aggression. Now Father seemed to think he might never recover. That meant the entire community would have to hide from him for the rest of their lives. Either that or take him out and Father would never agree to that.
He needed to let the others know - they needed to hear the truth, even if the old man was unwilling to share it with them - because this was their home. This was where they had been living for the past 5, 6, some even up to 20 years.
*** *** ***
“Be in advance of all parting,” Catherine read out of the leather-covered book resting on her lap, “as though it were behind you like the winter that is just going. For among winters one is so endlessly winter.” She glanced at him, lying on his bed. He was lying face towards her, breathing through his sharp teeth, his face contorted from the struggle inside. He seemed so beautiful to her, the soft glow of the candles on his face, thick locks of straw-blonde hair overshadowing his eyes and one large hand placed upon his chest. She couldn’t even think of what might happen should he not … It wasn’t an option.
She swiftly caressed a stray lock of his hair back and continued reading in a low and southing tone of voice: “… Here, among the waning be, in the realm of decline, be a ringing glass that shivers even as it rings. Be—and at the same time know the condition of not-being, the infinite ground of your deep vibration, that you may fully fulfill it this single time.”
After she had finished reading and had put the book aside, she leaned towards Vincent to take his hand – a large man’s hand covered in blonde fur and with sharp claw-like fingernails. Only a couple of minutes later did she notice Jamie standing by the entrance, and willed a warm smile on her face. There was no need to worry the children any more than necessary.
*** *** ***
“Hello Jamie,” she said. “Come on in.”
“Is it alright?” Hesitant. “I’m not … disturbing him?”
She vastly shook her head. “You could never disturb him, you know that.”
The girl in the thick mauve robes seemed somewhat relieved, but not nearly enough. Catherine could see she was worried sick.
“I wasn’t sure what to do,” the girl confessed, slowly coming closer. “Mouse told me he was …” She sighed, twiddling her fingers, not knowing what to look at. “…well, that he’d tried to hurt Father and hadn’t recognised you and I thought…”
“It’s alright,” Catherine softly said, reaching out her hand to her. “It’s because of the fever. It’s making him see things.” Jamie accepted her hand and was now standing beside Vincent’s bed looking down on him. “They scare him. Like nightmares. It will pass once the fever drops.”
It remained silent for a while. In the distance they could hear a tram rushing by, the sound melancholically echoing across the tunnels. When it had fully faded away, Jamie suddenly asked: “You aren’t afraid of him, are you Catherine?”
“No.” The answer came quicker and with more passion than she had anticipated. They looked at each other for a while, unsure what to say next, then Catherine looked back at Vincent, still sleeping like he had been, it seemed, for the past two days. “He will recover,” she assured Jamie and herself. “He’s strong. He will make it through this.”
“What are you making?” Matthew asked. He was one of the older children, already quite tall, but with a young, fresh face.
Mouse looked up from his desk, the small lamp on his cap lightening up Matthew’s dark hair and slim face. “Making new lamp for Vincent,” Mouse replied with a quick nod of the head. “Smashed first one.”
Matthew stared at him for a while as he laboriously continued working. He’d always thought Mouse was funny … well he was actually … but lately he had gotten to appreciate him. He didn’t know how it happened, but all of the sudden he realised who Mouse was: this really simple, nice guy. He’d grown fond of him, which was odd for Matthew because he didn’t like people much.
“Need any help?”
Mouse looked at him: big, innocent blue eyes in a chubby face. “ok,” and Matthew approached him with a contented smile.
At that time, they heard the crowd.
They were coming from the Whispering Gallery and moving towards Vincent’s chamber and there were many of them – close to ten it would seem – all revved up, walking vastly like an army. Also like an army, they carried weapons: sticks, ropes, stones. And they made this collective humming sound, a mixture of their combined voices. Scared, angry, nervous voices, all having one word in common: ‘beast.’
*** *** ***
“We’re not letting him drive us out of our homes, Father,” Josh objected, his face red with excitement.
*** *** ***
Father groped at his heart. “He is the pillar of this community,” he snapped breathlessly, “If we drive him away we will have failed at everything.” Gasping for air he turned around to face the entrance to his chamber, welcoming the indigo light. “All we have tried to accomplish will have been in vain!”
“He’s become a danger to us, Father,” Josh insisted, speaking softly, persuasively. “Surely you see that? Look, we all owe him, but he’s not the man we know. He’s a stranger, an animal, he…”
“How dare you call my son an animal,” Father interrupted, his eyes gigantic in his pale face. For a moment Josh feared the old man would get a heart attack, but then he seemed to calm down a bit and continued: “If we abandon him now we will be the animals. I will not let my son die a prisoner in some distant, damp cave.”
Speaking the words he suddenly realised it had already begun. The understanding hit him straight in the face. “Dear God,” he mumbled and watched Josh avert his eyes in shame. “Where are the men?”
When Josh didn’t answer, he grabbed him by the arms – it hurt – and panted with clenched teeth: “Where are the men!”
He was more restless this evening, although still not fully awake. Catherine continuously glanced at him while reading and found him rolling his head, sweating, and softly moaning. It scared her although she rigorously shielded her fear away, concerned he would sense it through their bond. Yes, he had told her their bond had been lost, that he no longer felt her soul within himself. It had scared him, as if it were a bad omen, predicting the end of all beautiful and safe. But it was his illness, she presumed, leaving him weak and emotionally drained. There was no reason to believe it could not be restored, so she needed to be cautious in her thoughts, optimistic and gentle, like a candle in his mind, guiding him home, back to himself.
“Among the rafters of dark belfries,” she whispered, “let yourself ring. What preys on you will…”
He roared - angrily, wrinkling his furred nose, and abruptly throwing his head away from her, leaving his long blonde mane moist with cold sweat.
*** *** ***
“What preys on you,” she resumed, louder than before, “will strengthen from such nourishment. Come and go with metamorphosis … in this huge night become the magic at the crossways of your senses... And if the earthly forgets you…”
He threw his head back in her direction as she came closer and touched his arm. “… speak to the rushing water – say: I am.”
Then he opened his eyes, for the first time in two days, and saw her. Her heart jumped in her chest and she hoped – so painfully, so intensely she hoped – but there was only darkness. She found nothing of his softness, nothing to indicate he even recognised her, only anger and burning, all consuming fear, and it tore her apart.
As the men came bursting in, bearing all sorts of improvised weapons to protect them from the mad animal their friend had become, Catherine knelt down beside his bed. As if she hadn’t noticed his fangs shining underneath his trembling upper lip, she squeezed his hand tight and said: “I love you.” With so much feeling it even stopped the men at the entrance.
It took Vincent approximately five seconds to recognise the soft face with the big green eyes and slightly drooping lower lip as one that gave him warmth and joy.
The first man came in, hesitantly, lowering the iron bar he had carried, when Vincent whispered: “Catherine.” It was a hoarse and faint sound, but everyone heard it.
He stood in Father’s chamber, a huge wide-shouldered figure dressed in thick grey cloths, much like a beggar or a character out of an 1800’s novel. His back was covered by his wavy hair and was coloured ginger by the candle-glow. He had his head slightly tilted, concentrating on Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma:” A warm woman’s voice singing with so much retained passion it immediately touched Catherine’s soul as she arrived.
“I never cease to be amazed at the pure beauty of this song,” she said and Vincent turned to face her, startled. She looked astonishing: gentle and innocent and beautiful, and he couldn’t help but smile even though his heart was still aching.
“It speaks of a strange and complicated love,” he said, whilst looking at her with eyes full of longing. It was so strong it took her by surprise and she averted her eyes, smiling dreamily. When she returned to look at him, he stood near Father’s desk, touching the shiny surface with one furred hand, pondering.
She followed him until she was close enough to touch him, but decided not to. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
His answer was swift: “Overwhelmed with love I do not deserve.”
“But you do, Vincent,” she insisted, touching his shoulder. “You deserve everything and more.”
He turned to look at her, calmer than she expected. “I needn’t tell you what I am capable of doing,” he said. “You have witnessed it yourself.”
“Yes,” she said, her touch steady, “I have.” He knew she was talking about the lives he had saved, not the ones he had wounded, like he was.
“Catherine …” he started, but she intervened: “How can you still doubt yourself?”
How he loved the melody of her voice, like a warm song of summer. And he could feel her heartbeat, fast with love for him. He could feel it through their renewed bond.
“How can I not?” he asked, calm still. “I have just spent a week in utter delirium, fearing everything and everyone.” His eyes darkened. “Even you.”
She remained silent for a moment. Then she said: “There was no fear in me, Vincent.” He meant to intervene, but she was faster: “Fear for your life, yes, but not for you. I could never fear you.”
He closed his eyes – subtle blonde eyelashes on harsh skin. “I’m not certain that’s wise, Catherine.”
He intended to turn away, but she stopped him with one firm grip on his upper arm. Her eyes were piercing, burning it seemed and he hadn’t the strength to fight them. “You are the man that I love,” she whispered deeply.
Against himself he slid his hands onto her back and pulled her into his embrace. He would have doubted this: his being here, his relationship with this remarkable woman, his sanity, but she gave him no chance. “Tell me of this song,” she asked, carefully letting go of him. “Come. Come sit with me. I long to hear your voice. It’s been so long.”
He took over her enthusiastic smile and allowed her to guide him across the room, to Father’s antique armchairs, where they sat down, Catherine holding his hand.
“It speaks of a beautiful princess,” he said and the love sparkled in his eyes while he looked at her. “Her heart chilled with loneliness. And of a magical spell that would enable her to recognise her true love.” His voice was low and purred pleasantly. She placed her head on his shoulder, feeling his hair soft on her cheek. “The man she loves means to sacrifice his life for her happiness.”
She sighed happily. “What is she singing?” she asked and he smiled at her spontaneity.
“My name no one will know,” he translated. “But on your mouth I will speak it, and my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine.”
© Anita Meuris 2003