Journey Through a Child's Eye
by Nancy Lynn Knauff
("Beauty and the Beast" and its original characters are the creation of Ron Koslow and are owned by Republic Pictures and its owners. This story is written exclusively for the enjoyment of fans and no infringement is meant in any way.)
"Can we go now, Vincent? Pleeeease?" Little Sherelle jumped up and down at the front of the chamber she shared with her mother. Her soft green 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 months ago this shining light in his world was a shy, quiet introverted child, afraid of almost everyone. How far shes come, he thought. It was a good sign.
To the girl, he only gave her a sideways glance. "We need to meet the other children in Fathers study, Sherelle. Dont worry," he said as she slid her little hand in Vincents large one, "Well be on our way soon." She skipped happily as they headed off in their new direction.
As the pair moved toward the study, Sherelle steps grew slower and heavier. Vincent noticed this and stopped. They both listened to the sound of chatter from the other children in the study greet them in the passageway.
Vincent finally picked up his young charge. The girl's large hazel eyes greeted his tourmaline ones with a twinge of fear. His heart went out to her; he loved her like a daughter. "What is it, little one?" He asked. She said nothing, but Vincent felt he already knew the answer.
"Oh, Sherelle," he assured her, "there is no need to fret. I will be 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're separated from the others, stay where you are. I will find you." He leaned his forehead against the girl's. "I have my ways," he finished while tickling her with his furry nose, much to the child's delight.
Some time later the small group were off on their journey. Vincent headed the group, a few older children bringing up the rear. They were on their way to explore some caves that Vincent had found on one of his many forays deep Below. There were some mineral deposits that made a wonderful and rare scientific opportunity. This was the third expedition in as many weeks. So far the trip had met with rousing success. From the hubbub of the children, they were looking forward to it.
Sherelle was toward the back of the group. As one of the smaller children, she wasnt very fast. Also being the youngest she grew tired quickly. "Are we there, yet?" She complained to the nearest teenager.
"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 literally jumped 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 had used up all her riding privileges among the others. Whining didnt get her anywhere faster either. So she retreated into a quiet mode, sulking silently.
Vincent stopped in the middle of the chamber, his wavy fire-blond hair running riot through the gusts of wind. "I thought wed take a short break," he told the group. "We should reach the cavern in about an hour."
Although it was quite chilly in the vaulted chamber, it was still a good place to stop. Some children took advantage of the stairwell while some wandered around looking at the columns. Vincent was engaged in conversation with several others pondering how such a place could have come into existence.
Young Sherelle didnt know anything about architectural history or how the wind currents found their way so far Below. Those currents had uncovered something far more interesting for her developing mind. The child had been standing near Vincent and the others when the swirling winds moved the sand on the floor of the chamber, catching her eye. She watched with captured interest, following the winds direction as the floor patterns peeked out from underneath the sand. Instantly she was on her hands and knees in a corner eagerly dusting away the floor with her hands.
It was hard! Each sweep was countermanded by the offending sand and wind. It made her task difficult. Still, she managed to see part of the pattern before her in pieces. She wasnt quite sure what it was, and it wasnt very colorful or pretty, but it was still neat. It looked like a long line with two arrows drawn on them. The stick line ended with some circles on the other end. Another short line crossed in the middle. She helped the wind replace the sediment over the pattern, hiding her newfound discovery.
When she got up and dusted off her jumper, she expected someone to scold her for playing with the sand on the floor. But as she looked up there was no one there.
The entire chamber was empty! The only sound was the crying wind through the vault. All of the exits looked eerily still, no lights from any of them. While Sherelle had watched the patterns emerge she had gotten so turned around that she didnt even know which entrance they had originally come out of.
The little girl ran to each entrance, trying desperately to find the light of her companions lanterns. "Vincent!" she yelled into each tunnel-way, hoping that his finely tuned hearing would hear her. "Vin-cent!" Only the wind answered her, oblivious to her rising fear.
She didnt know what to do. She hadnt been lost since she had been brought to the tunnels. Then she had been found cold and hungry at the top of a half-ruined fire escape in danger of collapsing, too scared to move. Now she was too scared to leave the chamber, also mindful of what Vincent had said before the trip had started.
If youre separated from the others, stay where you are. I will find you. Vincents words seem to be carried on the wind itself to her. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint him or Mama. But she was alone with only the sorrowful wind as company. Finally, Sherelle sat on the bottom stair of the Chamber of the Winds and softly started to cry.
The group finally reached their destination. Quickly the children began to collect their samples, talking excitedly with each other.
Vincent watched them with interest for a while. Although he preferred the humanities rather than pure science, he had to admit that the childrens enthusiasm was infectious. One child after another started coming up to him asking questions and showing him what they had found. So far, this was the most energetic group he had led.
He surveyed the group looking for one particular child. Not seeing her 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 last time I saw her she was with Anton and Crista in the back. That was over an hour ago."
A feeling of dread went through Vincent.
They found Anton helping another child with a sample. The young Italian hadnt seen the girl either.
"Whos her partner?" Kyle asked. On trips such as these children were paired up in a type of "buddy system" to prevent such an occurrence.
"Jacob was her partner," Vincent replied, realizing his mistake. His son was supposed to join this group, but Mary had asked the boy to run a rather lengthy errand for her. Since Jacob had attended the last trip no one had objected.
Vincent inwardly groaned. Because of his oversight, Sherelle was now lost.
"Gather up the children as soon as theyve finished, then head back," he told Anton. When you reach the pipes, have Pascal and Father send a search party." He handed his lantern to the younger man then took off out of the cavern.
Vincent was frantic. A young child could be lost and not be found for days, let alone be in incredible danger this far Below. She had been missing for over an hour; little Sherelle could be anywhere.
He tried not to think of those possibilities as he sped through the passageways looking for her.
Sherelle was sniffling, curled up on the bottom step of the stairwell trying to stay out of the wind. She was scared and cold- she thought the wind were ghost voices. She couldnt leave the chamber, though- Vincent and her mother had told her more than once to stay where she was if she ever got lost. I hope Vincent finds me soon, she thought. I dont like this place.
A gust of cold wind surrounded her. She shivered, curled up even tighter and started to cry again. She felt as if she had been waiting to be found forever.
"Why are you crying, child?" an unknown voice asked.
Sherelle jumped. She hadnt heard anyone approach. Looking upward before her was a dark-colored woman. She looked even older than 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 a bit. "I wont harm you." Her voice became lower in the last few words, much quieter as well as she continued, but somehow Sherelle still heard her. "This is no place for a beautiful little girl," she said to her. "The winds are lonely and cry to be freed." The dark lady looked around for a moment. "Where are your friends?"
Sherelle gaped at her some more. The woman didnt seem to be blind, even knowing that she was a girl. The young child hadnt said a word. This was the strangest stranger she had ever met! Sherelles curiosity was getting the better of her. "I got lost," she admitted finally.
"Lost? Am I not here? Did I not find you?" the lady said laughingly.
Sherelle relaxed a bit. This woman wasnt so scary; just a bit different.
"Youre not lost, child," the woman continued. "The spirits smile upon you. You are destined for great things." The little girl shivered as another gust of lonely wind swirled around them. "Ah, but you are cold, child! Come, we will get you warm."
Sherelle was not about to move, however. "But I was told to stay in one place of I ever got lost," she told her companion.
Only a chuckle graced the old womans lips. "Veen-cent shall find 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 yet friendly. "Ah, Veen-cent. Yes, I know him well." She offered a hand to little Sherelle, who now took it gladly, her fear forgotten. "When he was a boy, Id catch him playing in the Chamber of the Winds!" She chuckled again as her young charge walked by her side.
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 that a search party would arrive within an hour. He hoped that he would find her by then. Her mother will be frantic, he thought.
Vincent blamed himself. This was Sherelles first trip out of the tunnel proper. He had promised her that shed be safe. Now the five-year old was lost! There were hundreds of turnoffs and dead ends; she could be anywhere. To make matters worse there were no pipes in this area. Even little Sherelle know to bang on the nearest pipe of she needed to. He was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Please, he pleaded in his mind to whoever might be listening, watch over her. Let her be well
Sherelle looked around in awe at the chamber from her seat. The old woman had draped a warm flannel blanket around her. A steaming mug of something warmed her hands. It had a spicy orange flavor to it; the young child was happily sipping away while watching her newfound friend.
The elder woman was crushing leaves into a finer powder. Sherelle watched her intently for a few minutes until curiosity got the better of her. "Whatcha doin?"
The elderly woman looked up from her task with a small smile. "It is a powder, my little friend. A powder from my herbs."
"You collect herbs? Like William does?" The young child had helped William and her mother several times in the kitchen. "Are you a cook?"
Another chuckle came from the woman. "No, child, that is not my task."
Something told Sherelle not to ask anything else. She hopped off her chair and wandered around the chamber, her still-wrapped blanket in tow. The woman kept watch.
Everything in the chamber was fascinating. Knickknacks were placed carefully everywhere. Baskets of all kinds filled with herbs or dried flowers hung wherever there was space. It looked cluttered yet organized. The many candles gave a mysterious glow to the room.
The woman left her table and followed Sherelle. She seemed to be as fascinated as the little girl.
Sherelle found a bowl full of water. She hesitantly skimmed her little index finger against the surface. "Whats this for?" she asked. It didnt look like a wash basin to her.
"Careful, Sherelle," said the dark woman. "You may see something you 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 she frowned. "What do other people call you?"
Narcissa leaned close to the expectant child. They were almost eye to 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 the distance. They were getting nowhere fast. There were two groups looking for the girl- one was searching from Fathers study down. The other group had started from the cave the group had traveled to. Vincent was still trying to find her alone- he was better at tracking than most of the search party members anyway. Still, he had been unable to find her, and even he was beginning to feel exhausted.
Lying against a nearby tunnel wall, Vincent thought back to earlier events of the day. Searching his memory, Vincent visualized his groups respite in the Chamber of the Winds. It had been good for the younger children. Besides, he loved to visit that place.
His thoughts traveled back to when he was a young boy and how Narcissa had first caught him playing there. How he missed her enigmatic smile and her uncanny insight into-
Of course! He remembered now! The last time he had seen Sherelle had been in that chamber playing in the sand just as he had long ago. He had watched her for just a moment. With everyone clamoring for his attention, Vincent hadnt been able to seek out 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 wall and began to run back in the direction he had recently come. Silently he prayed she would still be there. I hope shell forgive me.
Sherelle and Narcissa were playing a wonderful game. Narcissa had a 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 her mouth as she giggled.
"Why do you laugh, child? Do I not tell the truth?" Narcissa told her.
"But boys are yucky!" protested Sherelle.
"And Jacob, too, is " the older woman paused for a moment for emphasis, "yucky?"
"Thats different. Hes my best friend."
"Ah," replied Narcissa in such a way that the young girl gave her a very puzzled frown. The elder caught Sherelles gaze and proceeded to tickle her, the child squealing with laughter.
Exhausted, young Sherelle finally squirmed out of her friends lap. She fingered the sparkling shells inside the block. "These are so pretty," she said with a sigh.
Another small smile graced Narcissas weathered face. She reached into a pocket and placed its content into Sherelles hand.
Sherelle stared at the shell in her hand. It was exactly like the other smaller ones, except this one had a streak of silvery purple running through its body. Unlike the smaller shells, this ones flecks of glitter seem to be imbedded just underneath it.
Speechless, the child glanced up at the older woman. Narcissa closed her charges hands around the gift. "This will keep you protected from the evils you will face. Good fortune will befall you." She raised a finger before Sherelle. "But be forewarned! Great responsibility 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 she threw her arms around her benefactors neck. "Thank you so much!"
After a moment the elderly woman broke away. "Listen," she said.
The little girl had very good hearing, so it didnt take long. "It sounds like the winds callin me."
Narcissa only smiled. "Go, child, find out what it wants," she told her. Sherelle only stared at her friend in confusion. "Go," the old woman repeated. Shrugging her blanket from her shoulders the girl started 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, "the wind does not call for me."
"Oh," Sherelle said. "Ill be back." She started off again and didnt hear Narcissas soft sigh.
Cautiously young Sherelle retraced her steps back toward the Chamber of the Winds. Again, she looked behind her, the light of Narcissas lair inviting as before. She suddenly wished her friend had indeed come with her. But the girl only clutched her shell in her hand, squared her shoulders and stepped out of the passageway into the wind swept chamber.
Almost at the same spot she had last seen him stood Vincent yelling her name at the top of his impressive lungs.
He didnt see her at first, still calling her from the center of the chamber. But when she squealed out "Vincent!" and ran pell-mell to him, he turned just in time to catch her from crash landing into him.
Picking her up in his arms, Vincent held little Sherelle in a grateful bear hug. "Sherelle," he whispered, while thanking God, Catherine, and whoever else had a hand in the childs return. "I was so worried." After a long moment, he held the girl so he could look her over. "Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked when he didnt find any evidence of trauma on her.
Vincent hugged her again. "Im so sorry, Sherelle. I broke my promise to you. Please forgive me."
"Its okay," Sherelle said. "You didnt do anything wrong. Mama told me to stay close to you. Im sorry I didnt."
"As long as youre all right." Vincent put her down on the sand-swept floor and squatted in front of her eye to eye. "Where have you 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 died years ago. Before you came Below."
His statement only brought confusion to his young companion. "But she played games with me, told me about you, and gave me this." She held up her shell to Vincent. He immediately took it, standing again as he examined it.
"Where did you find this?"
"Come on," she told him, grasping a furred hand. "Ill show you." 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 her destination. "I could see the light when I left." They finally entered another smaller chamber. It was empty, save for what little light the wind chamber offered from afar. Sherelle whimpered. "Where is 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 me warm. She was right here, Vincent!"
Poor Sherelle was about to burst into tears. His heart full of sympathy for her, he again squatted to eye level with her. "Narcissa was very mysterious when I knew her," he told her. "There were always things she did that no one understood, not even I."
It was the right chamber- Vincent himself had visited the woman frequently enough through the years. Pondering this, he looked once more around. "Perhaps you did see her." He looked back at Sherelle, still confused with tears of frustration coursing from her eyes. He softly smiled and caressed her head reassuringly. "Lets go home." Agreeing silently, she wrapped her little arms around his neck as 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. It looked vaguely familiar- almost like one Narcissa had given him as a boy the first time they had met. He still had his- on the same shelf as the one Catherine had once sent from California years ago.
Silently, he chuckled. Stranger things have happened. I wouldnt put it past her, he thought to himself. And as the pipes sounded with their return to the tunnel proper, Vincent found himself thanking Narcissas spirit for watching over his young charge and himself that day.