ALONE NO MORE

by Karen Morgia


It was probably the complete lack of sound which caused the first crack in the wall of sleep that disturbed him. Even below ground amid the tunnels and caverns where he and his extended family lived, there was always some sound. But not this day.

He awoke into a world of silence; no footsteps in the tunnelway outside his chamber, no echo of children’s laughter, no tapping of the pipes.

His first thought was that there must be an emergency, some task which needed every able-bodied person; but, if that was the case, why had no one awakened him?

He rose quickly and dressed, worry beginning to raise its ugly head. Not only could he hear no sounds in the tunnels; neither could he sense any emotions&endash;something he had been able to do for as long as he could remember.

All his life he had been aware of a constant hum in the back of his head; a warmth within his being&endash;the hum and warmth of numerous emotions of the people he cared for and who cared for him.

This morning, however, that constant knowledge was lacking; it wasn’t there in his consciousness and he felt utterly and truly alone.

His first goal was Father’s chamber…

Striding down the tunnel, Vincent neared Father’s chamber. "Father? What’s…?" He stopped suddenly as he stepped to the doorway.

Nothing was as it was supposed to be…no candles lighting the expanse, no antique oak desk cluttered with books and maps, no stacks of beloved volumes lining the walls and numerous bookcases, no spiral staircase. Only a silent, stone-walled emptiness.

Standing there, looking around, Vincent began to feel the once welcoming walls close in around him. Where was the presence that had nurtured him as a child, guided him as an adolescent, supported him as an adult? There was no feeling in his awareness of any being having inhabited the cold stony space.

He turned from the loneliness the room evoked and began wandering from chamber to chamber, trying to find some indication that someone, anyone, was inhabiting the warren of tunnels where he now found himself.

He found no one.

Supremely puzzled, Vincent eventually found himself back in the room where he had awoke…exactly as he had left it…his bookcases, bed, trunk, even the stained glass window above the bed, all was as he knew it should be. Only the world outside of his chamber had changed.

All during his search, his apprehension had grown, now faced with this further mystery, he roared with desperation. "There must be an explanation," he muttered. He walked to the doorway of his chamber, "There must be," he yelled. The echo just bounced back at him as it traveled down the tunnelway.

"Why?" asked a harsh, gravely voice from behind him. "Why must there always be an answer? Just because you deem it must be so?"

Vincent spun around, mane flying wildly, claws ready to rend, a snarl escaping only to find no one behind him…only the continued emptiness of his chamber. Thoroughly mystified and not a little apprehensive, he began an exhaustive search of every nook and cranny in his chamber. Everything was as it was supposed to be; everything in its allotted space; everything, that is, except his family.

Vincent collapsed on his bed after having searched every chamber within voice range, his voice range. He had gone from one tunnel to another; from one chamber to another searching for as long as he could before fatigue demanded that he rest. He seemed to be the only inhabitant of the tunnel community...none of the chambers that he explored showed any sign of every being lived in…only his own.

He remembered the night before, it had ended pleasantly enough; he and Diana had spent the evening in her loft sharing companionship, poetry and pizza, with a smattering of Chianti thrown it. All in all, a very enjoyable time; similar to many other times they had spent together in the past years cementing a friendship that had developed after she assisted in rescuing his son, Jacob, from the hands of a mad man. He had left her loft around 2 a.m., greeted the sentry on duty at the tunnel entrance, stopped at Father’s chamber to wish him good night and went to bed after checking on his son, who now slept in a chamber with other boys his age. Just a typical evening.

Except when he awoke to silence.

There had to be a logical explanation for this, right? But at the moment, his tired mind couldn’t formulate one. Maybe in the morning. He lay his head on the bolster, too fatigued to even undress and was asleep almost as his head hit the pillow.

 

*****

"Hey…sleeping beauty…time to get up. Get that cute tush of yours out of bed and haul a__ to the shower or there won’t be any hot water left."

Vincent awoke with a start.

Knowing what had transpired when he awoke alone and in silence the day before, he opened his eyes with alacrity as a slight weight sat down beside him on the bed. Soft lips upon his awoke him completely, and he was unable to stop himself from returning the kiss.

"Ummm! Now that’s more like it." she said, as her arms wound their way around his neck. "I may let you sleep late more often." She placed another small peck on his lips and sighed, "But, as much as I know we would enjoy pursuing this, you’re supposed t join the others on the work crew…that collapsed tunnel won’t clear itself."

"Diana?"

"Yes, dear…what is it?"

He sat up quickly and held her tightly. "Where have you been? I searched for you, for everyone, there was no one here."

"What do you mean? I’ve been right here. So is everyone else. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Vincent."

"Yesterday…when I awoke…there was no one here. No one in the tunnels at all except myself. The tunnels and chambers were deserted. I searched for hours, by the time I returned here to this chamber, I was so exhausted, I fell right to sleep. But yesterday, this was the only chamber that showed that anyone lived down here at all…and there was only me."

"Oh, my sweet darling…your worst nightmare come true…to be truly alone. Vincent, that’ll never happen; I’ll never leave you. I’d have thought that after all this time, you’d have begun to believe that."

"That is not the worst of it…I heard voices as well. One voice actually…HIM."

"Him? What do you…? Oh, you mean your alter-ego." Her brows furrowed in confusion. "But you haven’t had any trouble with him since before our marriage; what do you think brought him out again now?"

Before Vincent had a chance to answer her question, in the blink of an eye…she was gone…and so had the background noise of which he had become unconsciously aware.

"How ya like my world, Bub?"

This time, when Vincent peered into the shadows of his chamber, he found what he was looking for…or rather, what he was afraid he would find.

"How ya doin’, fuzz-face? Long time, no see. It’s about time ya came to a visit." A face the twin of his own…a face of malice and hostility appeared from out of the shadows. "How do you like it? Huh? One minute your surrounded by your friends and family and the next…here, isolated and alone." The voice, at first antagonistic, had changed, softened. "Now you know how I feel, every time you shut me out."

"What are you doing this to me?" Vincent demanded, angrily.

 *****

"Why am I doing what to you, Vincent?"

The voice of a cherished, lost love broke through Vincent’s anger. "Vincent? What is it, beloved? Shhh! There’s no reason for this. Be still, my love, or you’ll tear the stitches again. You must be still."

Vincent thrashed around on the bed, trying to see the face of the one next to him on the bed. His senses told him that she was there, his mind refused to accept the possibility…she was dead; she’d died in his arms…but he wanted very much to believe his senses.

Unbelieving sapphire eyes opened slowly, to be embraced within a gaze of sea-green foam, soft and warm. "Catherine…" He reached for her in desperation and encompassed her slight form in a frantic embrace. "I thought I had lost you forever," he gasped. "Where have you been all this time?"

"Vincent, I don’t know what you mean…I’m right here…I’ve been right here at your bedside for the past three days. Don’t you remember?" Her puzzlement was apparent to him, so he began by recalling his memories of the past years for her. Since she had no memory of the events he was relating she became concerned for his state of mind. She tried to soothe his fears, but for her, all that he related was nothing but illusion. He became more and more agitated by his inability to convince her, and his frustration only added to his feelings of inadequacy. He began to groan softly in defeat, to toss and turn. His true physical condition became apparent; however, when the mental and physical exertion took its toll. He began to lose consciousness once more. His eyes closed in exhaustion as he slipped across the threshold of blackness.

 

*****

"She sure is a pretty one, ain’t she?" Vincent opened his eyes only to be greeted by the leering face of his darker brother grinning down at him. Maybe I should pay her a visit myself. You never left me alone with her…AND I LOVED HER, TOO!" The apparition shook an angry fist at Vincent, then hung his head and turned away to slink from the chamber.

"Wait! Please…where did Catherine go? What is going on here? Where am I? Why are you doing this to me?"

Dark Vincent stopped in the doorway and turned back. "I’m not doing nothin’…you are." He shook his head in despair. "Why don’t you just go away and leave me alone so I can mourn her in peace."

As he left the chamber, Vincent could hear him add, "She was my last chance, and now she’s gone." The statement was followed by such a roar of grief, reverberating through the tunnel, that Vincent almost believed that his darker other-self had loved Catherine as well.

 

*****

There was bird song. Why would he be hearing birds singing? With that thought another sensation became apparent…there was moisture on his face…soft and delicate. He opened his eyes slowly to be greeted by the sight of a tiny, six-legged creature walking up a blade of grass and just as the spotted, red carapace opened to reveal the tiny black wings of a ladybug, he realized where he was…laying face first in the dew-kissed grass of Central Park. Panic set in immediately. It was dawn and he was in the Park. The sun was just coming up and he was in the Park laying in the grass. It was morning and someone was walking toward his location humming; he would be seen…the panic building in his mind was interrupted by a familiar voice. "Beautiful mornin’, ain’t it, Bub?"

"You! What are you doing here? Why do you keep doing this to me?"

"Doin’ what to you? I’ve done nothin’ to you.

"I cannot believe this. Where did you go?"

"When?"

"The last time I saw you, you were leaving my chamber…where did you go?"

"Ohhh! Well, I decided to go see our girl. Why? Do you have a problem with that?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I want you to stay away from her."

"Who?"

"Catherine."

"What makes you so certain I went to see Catherine?"

"You said you went to see ‘our’ girl, that is Catherine."

"Oh, so what’s Diana…chopped liver?"

"Diana? Who said anything about Diana?"

"I did."

"This is getting very confusing."

"Yeah, it is. Ain’t it?"

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you don’t seem to be able to decide one way or the other who it is that means the most to you…Catherine or Diana. Don’t you think the ladies deserve some kind of resolution to your wishy-washy attitude toward them? Besides, whichever of the ladies loses you, gets me. Interesting’ proposition, huh?"

"I want you to stay away from both of them."

"Why? The way you’re acting you don’t want either one of ‘em. Is that fair to those beautiful ladies?" Decide, brother…or I will. Decide…" The demanding voice faded away into nothingness, as Vincent lapsed once more into oblivion.

 

*****

This time when he awoke, Vincent was in his chamber in his own bed, covered warmly with blankets and quilts. The sounds and sensations of an occupied tunnel community had returned…or he had…it was all very confusing. Another presence was in the chamber with him. The familiar voice of Father was near, a comforting presence. He seemed to be reading aloud, something he had not done in years…not since Vincent’s illness as an adolescent. Reaching out a hand…Vincent found he was unable to do so…his wrists had been tied to the bed by cloth-wrapped ropes. He was a prisoner in his own bed. A snarl escaped as he struggled to rise…

"Vincent." Startled, Father rose from his chair, dropping the book he had been reading. "You are awake at last. I…we have been so worried about you."

"Why am I restrained, Father? This is unnecessary, please, release me."

"It was for your own protection, son," Father replied, untying the knotted ropes and laying a calming hand upon Vincent’s brow. "You have been violently delirious for days. It was the only way we could keep you from doing yourself harm and still be able to treat you. You fever is down, that is a good sign. How are you feeling?"

"I feel quiet well. What is the reason for this? Why have I been tied to my own bed?"

"You have been quite ill, my boy. Don’t you remember? It happened not long after I told you about Lisa leaving to go Above to learn dance; you became quite agitated. You ran to her chamber and when you found her gone, you accused me of sending her away. The next morning I found you lying in your bed feverish and delirious. As your fever developed you became…it was dangerous for those of us trying to treat you." Father hesitated to continue knowing that what he had to say next would upset Vincent greatly. "You struck out at us, Vincent. You narrowly missed slashing Sam as he helped get you restrained; but I was not able to move out of the way fast enough."

"What do you mean?" Vincent demanded. He took a closer look at his father and was shocked at what he saw. Father had a yellowing bruise along his left cheekbone and another healing bruise along his right temple. The largest shock was the crutch Father was leaning upon. Shame filled Vincent’s heart as he realized he must have injured one of the most important people in his life.

"There is nothing for you to be ashamed of, Vincent. It was your illness. You did not know what you were doing; I will be fine. Just a few bruises…already healing."

"Father…if you are fine, why are you using that crutch? What is it that you do not want to tell me?"

"Please, Vincent…everything is fine. Do not worry yourself…"

"Father!" Vincent’s tone was quite adamant, he would not be denied.

"All right, Vincent, if you must know. When you struck at me, it was with some force. I landed wrongly…on my hip…it was dislocated. Everyone was so involved with helping you, myself included, that it was not treated right away. There was some difficulty getting it back into place." He gave a little chuckle, "That is one procedure I would gladly have foregone, but there is nothing further for you to be concerned about. It is healing fairly well, although slowly.

"Oh, Father," Vincent moaned, closing his eyes in shame.

 

*****

"See, even you are capable of violence."

Vincent opened his eyes to be greeted by the sight of his darker brother sitting calmly in the chair that had just been occupied by Father; clawed hands folded serenely across his massive chest, a large sneering grin upon his face. "Isn’t this fun?" he inquired.

Vincent threw aside the covers, swung long, lean, leather-clad legs over the side of the bed and sat up to confront his mirror self. "No, this has not been what I would call fun. How are you causing these occurrences from my life? Why are you doing this?"

"I told you before, brother; I am not causing these things to happen…you are. Interesting, huh? All the years I’ve known you, and you’re always complaining about being alone. Well, for a while there you were…did you like it?"

Vincent didn’t answer, just shook his head.

"I didn’t think so. Now you know how I feel…brought out to do your dirty work and stuffed back into nothingness when I’m not wanted. Well, I don’t like it, either. What say we call a truce, huh? You let me out once in a while to share some quality time with the ‘family’ and I won’t give you such a hard time about the ladies. What d’ya say? Deal?"

"How do I know I can trust you?"

"You’re just going to have to chance it, Bro, and follow your heart… you heart…your heart." The voice faded as…

 

*****

…Vincent awoke to the voice echoing through his mind. Though he couldn’t understand the words, the sense behind them seemed to be important.

"Vincent, are you there, son?"

"Yes, Father, come in."

"I was wondering if you would like to take up our game where we left off last night? I realize that I am probably setting myself up for another defeat, but I am confident that one of these days I shall be victorious."

"Thank you, Father, but perhaps later. There is something I must attend to Above. I promise not to be gone very long. We can finish the game when I return."

"Vincent, I do wish you would not insist on these nightly forays Above. It is dangerous for you up there."

"I know, Father, who better, but it is the only semblance of freedom I am allowed. I cannot deny myself that freedom."

Father sighed deeply, regretting the first time he had ever given his permission for his most unusual son to go above into the night. "Be careful, my boy. If anything were to happen to you…" The thought remained unspoken.

Vincent placed a kiss on his father’s head as he passed through the entrance of his chamber and into the tunnel beyond. "I shall be watchful. Do not worry. I will be back soon."

The night Above was clear and cool; there was no moon, so the stars seemed to sparkle with an extra brilliance. Vincent had been restless all day; not aware of any particular reason, but sensing that something of great importance was about to happen…something that would change his life for all time.

The sound of a car engine cut through his enjoyment of the surrounding beauty, as he ran to hide from its approach. It halted not far from where he was hiding in the trees, the side door slid open and something was unceremoniously dumped on the roadside. The door had not even slid shut before the van sped into the night.

Vincent drew near the mound that now lay unmoving in the wet grass. He sensed life, but was hesitant to move closer. Carefully, he knelt beside what appeared to be a pile of rags, but as he reached forward, a soft moan escaped the mound. It was all that was needed for him to act.

The fabric was rich, plush, and felt like velvet. "Expensive," he muttered. Drawing the material toward himself, Vincent turned over the body…a woman’s body…unconscious and bleeding. The sense of her life-force was waning rapidly, and for some unknown reason, it was very important to him that she survive. As he hoisted her slight form over his shoulder and started for the tunnel entrance, he heard a voice…a voice he recognized…

"I’m glad you finally made up your mind. Now, neither one of us will ever be truly along again. That wasn’t really so hard, now, was it?" The voice began to fade away, "See ya around, Bro…take care of her…this time."

 

*****

Dreams…dreams of the future, dreams of the past, dreams of what would be, what might be, what could be. Who can say what it was that Vincent experienced, he certainly couldn’t; but as he continued down through the tunnel system that housed the hidden community of his extended family, he realized how right the voice was…there would always be someone there for him, no matter what the future might hold…he would never really be alone again.

 

 


Written December (?) 1997. Submitted/published - Flame and Shadow XIV, April 1998, by Flame and Shadow Press, Gloria Handley, Editor.