Ray of Light
Vincent found himself humming as he walked the tunnels that night. Beethoven's Pathetique, the first movement. Heavenly, he mused. He smiled to himself, thinking of the time he and Catherine had heard this piece in the park, months ago. She had never heard it performed in concert and was entranced. Vincent had loved watching her—her excitement, how the music affected her. He knew she understood the beauty and power of music and felt blessed to share that love with her.
He was deep in the tunnels, walking off some extra energy, and was lost in his thoughts when his senses alerted him to an irregularity in the environment. He immediately stopped walking and cocked his head. All was quiet; he took a step to resume walking when he heard a sound. He couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from; the tunnels here were numerous and intricate.
Another soft sound urged Vincent forward into the next tunnel, which forked. He paused again and strained to listen. He was beginning to get frustrated when he heard a louder sound, most definitely human. He immediately veered left and almost stumbled over a body that lay in the middle of the pathway. Instantly, he jumped back. Slowly, cautiously, he bent down and put a hand on the figure, who moved away from him, moaning.
Vincent stepped away and paused, unsure of what to do. His senses were telling him there was no threat here. Finally, he spoke.
"I won't hurt you. Are you ill? Injured?" he asked, staying where he was.
"I can help you. Please talk to me," he said.
Again … silence.
His sense was one of, what was it? Sadness? He slowly walked toward the figure and once again put his hand on what he perceived to be the shoulder.
"Are you hurt?" he said, keeping his voice low.
He heard a whimper, but again the person shrugged him off.
She was female—Vincent was sure of it. Now, he was concerned. How did a woman get down so far into the tunnels? And so obviously injured?
"Please," he implored.
"Go away," she said, flatly.
"I can't do that," he said, gently. "Please, tell me what's wrong."
She didn't answer.
"Won't you say anything?" he asked.
"I'll leave in a minute. I just need ... to rest," she broke off. He could hear that her breathing was labored—almost wheezy.
"My father is a doctor," Vincent said, quickly, silently cursing himself for revealing anything to this stranger. "If you are hurt, he can help you. Please, let me get you to him. I can carry you if you can't walk."
"I don't want your help!" she tried to scream, though it came out rather weakly.
He froze, surprised.
"I'm sorry, but you have no choice. I doubt even if you were healthy you could find your way out of here again. You are trespassing; I cannot allow it," he said firmly, hoping to reason with her.
He paused then; she was crying. He frowned; he hadn't meant to further upset her.
"Just tell me what's wrong," he tried.
She didn't speak for a while, but when she did, it was softly.
"I'm sorry I'm trespassing. I ... I didn't mean to. I just needed a place to hide, where no one would find me. I had to be alone ... safe ... I'm not a bad person. I would leave right now if I could, but I'm ... I'm hurt. Just let me rest and I'll be gone as soon as I can."
"Tell me your name, at least," Vincent requested.
"Look, I'm sorry," she whispered. "I came here because ... because I want ... I found a door in the basement and I came down here and just kept walking. I just want ... I want to be in the ground. I ... I want to die. Please leave me alone. Please! It's what I want."
He was shocked by her words. He wanted to reach out to her and offer some comfort, but he knew she would only get upset, so he stayed where he was and sat down on the floor about five feet from where she lay, still turned away from him. He didn't know what to say—he wished Catherine were here.
"I am Vincent," he said. "Please, your name ..."
He thought she might have passed out, she took so long to answer him. He heard her sigh.
"Ray, I am very worried about you. I wish you would let me help you. No one here will hurt you. This is a safe place. Please, just tell me how you are injured."
"Please ..." she replied. "Please leave me alone."
"I can't do that. I know your name; you are not a stranger to me. I cannot stand by and do nothing while you are suffering. I promise I will not touch you. Just tell me what's wrong."
Again, she lay silent. He found he was holding his breath.
Suddenly, she heaved herself over, rather violently.
"Fine," she said. "Here ..."
He was devastated to see a knife sticking deep into her ribcage, on her right side. It wasn't a big knife, but it was big enough. He saw a small pool of blood surrounding her and was horrified.
He forgot his promise and immediately lunged to her side. He placed his hand over the wound to see if he could stop the bleeding. Thankfully, it was slow—steady, but slow. He was running all of his options through his head when awareness slowly dawned on him. In his concern, he had forgotten his caution and revealed himself—to a stranger.
He could feel her eyes on him and he braced himself for her fear, her disgust. He made himself look down at her.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
She was pale, her blue eyes very dull. She had bruises on her face and her lip was bleeding. She was probably about eighteen. Her dark, long hair was all over the place. She was very thin; he could see her ribs through her t-shirt.
But he saw all that after. It was faint, and she appeared very near unconsciousness, but she was smiling at him. Once he stopped reeling, he realized he was smiling back at her. He tried to compose himself as he looked down at her.
She reached up and suddenly grabbed a handful of his hair and clung to it.
"I have dreamed about you ..." she whispered, relaxing.
"You have?" he replied, finding himself almost delighted.
His excitement crashed when he quickly remembered how injured she was. Her hand dropped and her eyes closed and he immediately went into action. He picked her up with one arm, his other hand still on her wound, and ran as fast as he could to Father.
Father was dozing in his chair when Vincent rushed in.
"Father! Quickly, please!"
Vincent waited for Father to push the books off the table and then laid her down. Father came to her side, pulled out his stethoscope, and immediately listened to her heart.
"Well, what happened? Who is this, Vincent?" He sounded annoyed, but he was worried.
"I found her very deep in the tunnels, about halfway to the Crystal Cavern. I have no idea how she got there. She said she had found a door in a basement and just started walking. I can't imagine how she got past all the sentries."
Father nodded as he continued to examine her. Jamie suddenly came into the room, there to return a book.
"Go get Mary, Jamie. Please! Now."
Jamie turned and ran out of the room.
"Continue ..." Father said.
"I was on a walk and I stumbled upon her. She was ..." Vincent paused, thinking maybe he should keep some things to himself.
Vincent felt Mary at his side and stepped back to let her take his place.
"Vincent, we need to get her to a hospital. This is a very serious stab wound; it must be hours old. She has lost a lot of blood. She needs a transfusion. She will die unless we get her to a hospital."
"How, Father? I can't take her. She will surely die before we can come up with a plan. You have to do what you can. You must!"
Father shook his head angrily, frustrated.
"Okay," he said after a moment. "Get Peter down here, immediately. Tell him what we are dealing with. We will stop the bleeding and keep her comfortable until he can get here. Then, we will take it out."
Vincent had left at the word "Peter."
Peter and Father were able to remove the knife and close the wound. They were concerned about infection and knew she needed blood, but she had pulled through so far. She was sedated and resting peacefully, though her breathing was shallow.
While Father, Mary, and Peter sat resting at the table in the hospital chamber, Vincent watched Ray for any sign of trouble and tried to process all he had witnessed in the last few hours.
The stab wound and the bruises on her face were the extent of her injuries—otherwise she would have died from the loss of blood. They had found some cuts on her arms; they were faded, but to all of their great sadness, most definitely self-inflicted. Her clothes and hands were covered with grime and blood. Once she was stabilized, they would bathe her, but they couldn't move her now.
Vincent hesitated, but ultimately decided that he should look through her bag. He felt terrible for the invasion of her privacy and the violation of trust, but they needed to know as much about her as they could—for her sake and theirs.
He had found a wallet with her ID and a picture of a dog. She was from South Carolina—she was seventeen. There were some extra shirts and socks, a worn and marked copy ofRomeo and Juliet, a binder with lyrics and chords to songs she had written, a pack of cigarettes, pens, and a muffin rolled in a napkin. There was no money, no keys, and no other personal information. They had to search for a few minutes on a detailed map before they could even find the town she was from. Her clothes were of semi-expensive quality, but they were too big. The bag had a keychain on the zipper—it was a picture of a lion.
Vincent had started at that, remembering her reaction to him. He still hadn't spoken of it to any of the others.
Vincent sat down in a chair beside her bed and took out her book of songs. He read a few and was moved. She could write. He didn't understand all the chords—they were more scattered about and seemed to be in shorthand most of the time. They looked like guitar chords. The words, however, were thoughtful and poignant, expertly crafted. Vincent made a mental note to borrow one of the children's guitars for her.
It was then that he came upon a letter. It was short:
Ray, I'm sorry, I can't. I'm just not as strong as you. Please don't hate me. I love you.—Allison
Mother, sister, friend all passed through Vincent's mind.
But as he re-read, he felt such desperation in it—a desperation that could only be caused by love. He laid the letter back down and closed the book.
Nearly three hours later, Vincent was roused awake by a slight movement. His eyes flashed open.
"I can't sleep on my back," she said. Her voice was even, but he could tell she was in pain.
Vincent stood up. Her eyes were barely open, but she was squirming. He laid his hand on her arm.
"You mustn't move," he told her, gently.
She stopped moving. He heard the slightest sigh come from her.
"I told you I wanted to die, but you saved me. Why, Vincent?"
He was surprised at the directness of the question.
"Ray, you are so young—a child. You have your whole life ahead of you."
"I'm old enough to make decisions for myself," she replied.
"Yes, of course, but ..." he faltered.
Her strong will reminded him so much of Laura. How he missed her. That kind of iron will had seen Laura through many trials. It was a rare thing to possess. It saddened him that someone with that will could be so ready to give it up.
"You said you dreamed of me, Ray. What did you dream?" Vincent asked.
Ray's eyes were closed, but he saw a weak smile.
"I dreamed you saved me."
"What do you mean?"
She smiled again—she was losing consciousness.
"The dreams ... I've had them forever. I'm dying and you save me," she muttered.
Vincent watched her, his heart racing. How was it possible that a young woman from South Carolina had ended up in the tunnels, dying, and then rescued by him—and she had dreamed it all?
Vincent turned away from the bed and began pacing slowly. This was an extraordinary experience for him. To find a person who did not cringe at his face, but actually smiled. He felt clearly that this was meant to be. Maybe he was here to help her; maybe she was here to give something to his world. He didn't know.
But somehow, she had found a way to reach deep inside his most private place, his aloneness, and heal some small part of it. To be accepted immediately, without question, without discomfort or hesitation—it was so simple, but it resonated so soundly within him.
He decided at that moment that he would help Ray; whatever she needed, he would help her achieve. He would give himself as a friend, a brother, and be the one person she could trust. How many people had done that for him? Many. Father, Devin ... Catherine.
He smiled then and sat back down in the chair beside her bed. Catherine. She would be touched by this girl's effect on him. He sighed wistfully—he wanted to go Above and tell her right now. He knew she would be so happy if he did, so happy if he did something spontaneous, like coming Above without a date; he knew his excitement and elation would elicit that warm smile, the one that made him forget every single thing in the world but her.
But he held back, as always. He sighed.
Though both of them suffered for his denial, he could see small parts of her fading every time he disappointed her. The last time he had seen her, Catherine had hung onto him when he pulled away from their embrace. It was slight, but he felt it, and he continued to pull away even as he sensed her deep sigh of resignation.
He didn't want to slowly chip away at her hope and optimism. He didn't want to bring her any pain, much less dim the light she radiated. The sad and brave smile she gave him as she turned to the ladder was—a dagger.
He should have stopped her from going up that ladder, pulled her back into his arms, and held her tightly, cherishing her presence in his life. But he didn't move and she ascended into the light. She belonged there. He belonged here, in the darkness. How could she belong to him? It was impossible; he had to maintain what they had.
He shook his head. Love was pain, but also the sweetest joy. It was so fragile and precious, yet he let more and more of it slip away every single day.
And now, this young girl in front of him, suffering from a knife wound, alone, hungry, and terrified. He knew that despite all of that, she was probably suffering the most because of the woman from the letter. How can we die from physical injury, but not die from the pain of love? He had felt both—and love had cut him deeper than any injury.
He nodded off, dreaming of lions.
Mary came in early to check on Ray. Vincent stood up and gave her room. She took her temperature and checked other vital signs.
"Did she wake up at all, Vincent?"
"Yes, Mary. Maybe four hours ago? We spoke briefly."
"Did she complain of any pain?"
He smiled. "She does not like to sleep on her back, but she was reasonable and gave up on the idea of moving."
"Mmmm ..." Mary replied, pausing to listen to her heart. "She is stable—all her vitals are rather strong, actually. And look—she has some color back, don't you think?"
"Yes," he agreed.
"We really need to clean her up," she said.
"Of course," Vincent replied.
Mary prepared bowls of hot water with clean towels in them.
"I think we should just get her out of these clothes ultimately. I will have Jamie help me do that when you leave. Why don't you clean her face? Make sure there are no cuts and get that terrible grime out of her hair, poor girl."
Vincent set about his task, but in a heartbeat, his mind flashed back to the time he was tending to an injured Catherine. He remembered wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve, brushing tears away so he could finish washing the blood from her face, all the time horrified that someone would do this to her, feeling a lump in his throat when he thought about how broken she was, and vulnerable, only consoled by the fact that he had found her. Even at that dark moment, he had felt their connection.
Father had been pacing about the room, running his fingers through his hair, mumbling to himself, trying to determine the best course of treatment. Vincent had been staring at her face, his heart sick with worry. He remembered holding her in his arms as Father examined her and lifting her, as gently as he could, while Father bound her ribs. He remembered pausing, considering, and then proceeding to remove her clothes and check her entire body for injuries, forcing himself to concentrate on the inspection and forcing down the concern, the love, he felt rising in him. He remembered brushing some hair from her face, his thumb glancing her lips, his heart beating harder than he ever remembered in his life.
He remembered holding her face as Father stitched it back together and then wrapping her face in the bandage and carrying her to his bed, despite Father's protests, and, in meticulous detail, making her as comfortable as he could. He remembered taking books from the shelf and settling in his chair and he remembered waking up countless times, a book still open in his hands, after having spent the whole night there, and starting to read where he had left off, never leaving her side.
Never, in all the time he had known her, had he let himself think about that moment.
Why? Because at that moment, he would have done anything, promised anything, faced anything, to have her in his life. It was before he had built all the walls, when he wasn't mired in the obstacles or their differences, when he didn't even think about who he was and the limits to what he could offer to her, when he simply loved, without thought, without reason.
If he had let himself think about that moment, how he felt, the spaces she filled in him, without ever having said a word, if he had allowed himself to re-live the first moments in the creation of the Bond, he would never be apart from her. He never thought about that moment, because if he did, Catherine would be here, with him, always, and he would never let her go.
He finished washing Ray's face and was relieved there were no more injuries. He was working on her hair when she woke up.
"What's your name?" she asked Mary.
"I'm Mary. I'm taking care of you. Would you feel better if you were bathed and put into clean clothes, dear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Ray replied immediately, reverently. Vincent smiled—everyone was Mary's child; she just had that effect.
"What happened to you, Ray? Who hurt you?"
Ray closed her eyes.
"I'm sorry, but is there any way I could have some kind of pain medication?" Ray whispered.
"Oh, child, of course! Can you swallow something or would you prefer an injection?"
"I hate needles and I'm thirsty anyway," she replied.
"Vincent, go get her the pill that Father left out last night. It's there, on the table."
Vincent went to retrieve the pill. Mary looked down to find Ray looking up at her.
"Who are you? Do you guys live down here? Are there more people who look like Vincent? This place feels so surreal, though I do like the candles. I think everything looks better in candlelight."
Mary nodded then grimaced when she saw Ray wince in pain.
"Never mind, Vincent," Mary called out. "She needs something faster."
Vincent returned. Ray was slowly shaking her head back and forth across the pillow; her fists were opening and closing. She was in pain.
"Ray, I promise you won't feel this needle and you will feel better immediately instead of waiting for a pill to work."
Mary was already at her arm.
"Yes, I promise you, child."
"Okay, then ... go ahead."
But Mary was already done. Ray closed her eyes.
"Will she sleep now?" Vincent asked.
"Yes, soon. But many times, people respond to the drug like they would a truth serum. It might be a good time to get some answers from her. She's a tough little thing, isn't she?" Mary whispered.
"Mary you never cease to amaze me—caring and clever."
Mary laughed and resumed washing her.
Ray stirred again.
"My dear, who hurt you? What happened to you?" Mary asked her.
Vincent saw Ray's eyes go dark, like a shadow had passed over her.
"I was in a fight ... and I lost," she said matter-of-factly.
"With whom, Ray?" Vincent asked.
"Some guy. He was just this guy I met and I was staying with him after I left home ..." she trailed off before continuing. "I did something for him and he was supposed to give me some money and he didn't and I fought back and then he pulled out a knife and it was in me before I knew it ... it happened so fast ..."
"What did you do for him? For money?" Vincent asked, concerned.
"Nothing scandalous," she giggled, obviously from the drug, before getting serious again. "I helped him write a letter and fill out a couple of job applications. He promised me ten bucks. He refused to pay me and tried to bully me out of his place. But I needed the money and it wasn't fair, so I wouldn't leave. He just pulled it out and stabbed me. It really hurt."
"Is the pain better now, dear?"
"Yes, Mary," she answered, visibly groggy now; she was about to fall asleep.
Mary lay her hand across Ray's forehead.
"Dear, we just want you to know that you are safe here. No one will harm you. Know that, child," Mary told her.
Ray nodded and fell asleep.
Once Jamie had come to help Mary, Vincent headed toward his chamber to bathe and change. He sat down with his journal for a moment, but realized he needed to talk, and set out for Father's study. He instead ran into Father, who was on his way to breakfast. Vincent helped Father to the dining room.
Once they were seated, Vincent began.
"Father, what is your impression of Ray and her appearance in the tunnels? Do you have any theories about her life, what might have happened to her?"
Father put down his mug of tea, but kept his hands on it to warm them.
"My theories? Well, I wouldn't call them that exactly, Vincent. More like impressions."
"Please tell me, Father; I am anxious to know your thoughts," Vincent told him.
"Well, to start off, I talked to Mary about what the girl told you and I see nothing that would suggest she has misled us in any way. She has obviously left home, but she's old enough to do that. She's just gotten into a big city and knows no one and got into some trouble. The same thing happens every day in this city."
"What about the cuts on her arms?" Vincent asked immediately.
"What can I say, Vincent? She has obviously tried to injure herself. It may or may not be suicidal behavior—some people cut to relieve emotional pain. The markings were more along those lines—shallow and systematic. They are maybe two months old."
"Father, I have to tell you something," Vincent said in a low voice.
"It was the most amazing thing. The moment she saw me, she ... there was not a moment of fear or rejection on her face. She actually smiled at me ... smiled! She told me she had dreamed about me, that I am here to save her life."
"And you believe her, Vincent? I mean, how is that possible?"
"I believe her and it is possible, though impossible to explain, I know. It is a sense I have, a feeling. Ray has been brought here for a reason. I do not know what the reason is, but I feel strongly that it has to do with me in some way."
"Well, Vincent, I have never been one to question your empathic powers. Your 'feelings' are quite dependable."
Surprisingly, Father changed the subject.
"And how is Catherine?" Father said, looking down at his plate.
Vincent looked at him to ascertain his motives for that question. The last time they had spoken of Catherine, they had argued. Vincent had stayed out especially late one night, on a night he had promised Father a chess game. Though he was truly sorry for forgetting their appointment, he did not appreciate being treated like a child late for curfew. Father thought he was too preoccupied with Catherine; Vincent didn't think it was his concern.
He had, in fact, been with Catherine, but not the entire time. He had left her balcony around midnight, after they had finished another chapter from Dante's Inferno. The ninth circle—the traitors, the worst of them all, the circle of treachery, fraudulent acts between people who share special bonds of love and trust. How could that be any different from what they were doing, what he was doing, by constantly denying his feelings and dismissing hers?
He had closed the book and jumped up quickly.
"What is it, Vincent?" she had asked.
He had barely uttered a goodbye before he had left her that night, distracted and distraught. Again, he should have stayed, comforted her, opened up to her—stayed, instead of leaving. But he was overwhelmed. He spent the whole night on the roof over Catherine's balcony. It was torture, but he wouldn't leave. He had to give her something, even if it was only his silent sacrifice. He had been agitated and exhausted when he came home around dawn. Father had been sleeping in Vincent's chair and launched an attack the moment he had returned. They had exchanged words, and had not discussed Catherine since.
"Catherine is well, Father. Thank you for asking. I will be seeing her tonight for a concert. Would you please sit with Ray in my absence? I will come to the hospital chamber after I have escorted Catherine home."
"Yes, yes, of course, Vincent. Maybe I will have a chance to talk with her myself."
"Thank you, Father."
"Yes, well, let's finish up here and see how she's doing. Peter will be coming down before he goes into his office," Father told him.
"That's good to hear. I am so relieved she has survived the night."
"Well, she's not out of the woods yet, but yes, it's a good sign."
Peter was already there when they returned. Mary was brushing Ray's hair; the girl was quiet, but awake. She was watching Peter examine her wound, but closing her eyes slowly every once in a while, obviously enjoying Mary's touch. Satisfied with the look of the wound, Peter moved to set up an IV and Father took his place, wanting to check his stitching.
"Are you Vincent's father?" Ray asked as Father examined her.
"Well, yes," Father replied. "I am."
"But everyone else calls you Father, too, right?" she followed.
Father chuckled. "Yes, that's true, too."
"Are you anyone's real father?"
Father winced. "Well, if you mean biologically, yes, I have a son."
"Vincent?" she asked.
"No," Father continued. "My son is named Devin. He lives Above now. However, I have raised Vincent since he was an infant, so he is very much my son. Mary is my friend, and so is Peter—we went to medical school together."
They were all a bit stunned with her directness—it wasn't exactly sharp, rather, pointed. She asked in a way one wouldn't even hesitate to answer. It wasn't rude; it was endearing. They knew the next question before she even asked it.
"Then why does everyone call you Father?"
No one had ever asked Father that—Vincent smiled. He saw a brief grin on Mary's face, though she quickly buried it. They knew the story, but the words that Father would choose would certainly be interesting.
"Well, Ray," he began. Vincent smiled again—the storybook voice was out. She was in for an earful.
"I was one of the founders of our world—our society. In the beginning, it was very rough and ... uncertain at times. I was the eldest male in the group, and a doctor, so I helped lead the group and ... well, the name just came up ..."
They jumped when Mary laughed loudly, startling them.
"Father," Mary said kindly. "Why are you lying to this child?"
Ray laughed when Father blushed. He cleared his throat. "Ray, I apologize, that is not the whole story," Father sighed, glaring at Mary. "I ..."
Mary quickly jumped in. "In the beginning, we had a teenage couple with us and well, one night they wanted some privacy, so they went somewhere else for the night. Father was frantic, worried that something had happened to them since no one had spoken to them before they left. When they finally came home, Father, well ... he scolded them—in front of everyone."
Vincent was transfixed; he did not know this part of the story.
"The whole time, under their breath, they were saying, 'Yes, Father. Yes, Father. Of course, Father,' and all of us were giggling."
"Mary, please ... can we do the IV?" Father interrupted.
Mary winked at Ray and moved to help Peter.
"Father, is this true?" Vincent asked.
Father glanced up at him with a look that begged they not continue this conversation. Convinced that this might be the only chance to get the real story, Vincent held his gaze until Father dropped his eyes.
"Yes, it's true. I suppose I went a bit too far," he conceded, securing the bandage. "Still, the name stuck. Once they started calling me that, others did, and then children did, and then everyone. It's an honor and a role I take very seriously down here."
"I can tell it means a lot to you," Ray told him.
Just then Mary appeared at her arm with the needle and Ray reacted by jerking away from her, which pulled at her side, and her wound. She cried in pain.
"Vincent, hold her still," Father ordered. Mary was talking to Ray softly. Vincent reached around Mary and held Ray down. He tried not to show his worry when he saw blood beginning to soak through the bandage.
"She cannot afford to lose any more blood. Ray, please calm down and stop moving," Father said loudly.
Ray immediately stopped moving. "The needle ... it scared me and I jumped, I'm sorry ..."
"It's okay, dear," Mary soothed her.
She was about to say something else when she fell asleep. The drugs Father had administered had taken effect.
"Well," Father said. "Let's see what damage has been done."