Chapter Nine

Dawn came, the time announced on the pipes, and Vincent was still, miraculously, alive. Winslow had returned, replacing the bags of ice that had melted overnight. Vincent's fever had declined a bare two degrees, but was still far too high for him. Father changed the IV a couple of times, but then he went back to his book and read on, finally finishing with Aeneas' defeat of Turnus at about the same time that Elijah and the younger Pascal brought him his fourth---or was it fifth?---cup of tea and a light lunch. Vincent had stirred restlessly at their presence but still, did not awaken.

“Will he be okay?” the younger Pascal asked. He and Vincent were almost of an age; the younger Pascal had been a toddler when Vincent came to the tunnels and they'd been nearly instant friends.

Father had answered in the only way possible. “I don't know. I hope so.”

Vincent, for his part, was aware of their words, but on a distant level that seemed far removed from the warm, dark place he now drifted. There was a person who touched him, but he was known and nothing to fear, so Vincent didn't even respond at his presence. There were others who came, friends that he knew, but their fear---of him? for him? he didn't know---flared sourly in the darkness and he tried to flee from them.

It seemed he was traveling down a long, dark tunnel, bare of sound and the mental presences he'd sensed since his earliest days, the sensation of other minds surrounding his own. For the first time in days, or weeks, there was no more pain, no fever, no nightmarish visions to be dealt with. At length, Vincent came to an empty space and stopped, weighted down by the sudden need to stop and rest. Another presence announced itself, a female presence that was both foreign and familiar. She was a tall column of light and Vincent felt nothing but calm in her presence. “You have a choice,” she said, kneeling beside him where he slouched on the ground.

“What choice is that?” Vincent asked, looking at the presence, but the light shimmered exactly where he tried to focus and so, he could not see her clearly. “I hurt Lisa.”

The presence nodded. “You did. But no more than she hurt herself. She ran from you as she will run from everything until she, too, finally finds a need to rest.” The presence shimmered slightly. “Your choice is to stay here or go on.”

“Go on?” Vincent asked. “Go on to where?”

“If you go on, you will suffer much pain, much sorrow, but there will also be much joy, in a form which you cannot even dream of now. Or you can stay here, and exist where there is no pain, no sorrow. It's your choice.”

“Is it? Really?” Vincent asked. Choices were like what option you got for breakfast, like between William's oatmeal or toast. It wasn't all that often, or at all, that you got to choose whether to live or die.

The presence seemed amused. “Yes. Really.”

It was warm here, and safe, and it was nice not to have his dark apparition clinging to his every shadow, but it also was without Father and Pascal and Winslow and the chess game he'd begun with Father just before he became so ill. Vincent feared the illness, which he knew, in some deep unnamed way, had not yet run its final, horrifying course, but he feared the lack of life more. “Let me go on. Please.”

He had the distinct impression the presence was pleased. “You'll see me again,” she said, “when you need me the most. Goodbye, young Vincent.”

And Vincent was released back into the confined horror of the dungeon where he'd been trapped, listening to Father read—was it Homer?---and closing his eyes in the darkness, he slept.


The sounds of snarling rage shocked Father out of a deep sleep. Vincent had torn out the IV and was now crouched in the corner, glaring ferally. Blood welled and dripped from the IV site as Vincent howled his fury. His eyes darted for the door a bare instant before Father realized what he was going to do. “Winslow, grab him!” Father called and watched in mute horror as Winslow caught the struggling Vincent, but not before Vincent landed a wicked blow that send Elijah crashing into the rock walls.

This time, there would be no reprieve, no soothing. The Beast had fully surfaced; Vincent was lost in his madness and until it passed, they were all in danger. Father rushed towards Elijah and was relieved to find no serious damage; the young man was just stunned. Father helped Elijah outside, then banged an emergency message on the pipes. The makeshift harness and the chains were just outside the door, but they were more than any one person could handle alone.

Winslow's struggles with Vincent ended briefly when Vincent saw the chains and the harness. A ghastly look of utter terror crossed his face as he saw the younger Pascal, Allen, David and the elder Pascal coming near him to force him into the chains. The growls intensified, then, and the struggles began anew. Vincent did not intend to go easily; he turned and snarled and hissed and made even the simple act of grabbing one of his wrists to fit them into the manacle nearly impossible.

“Winslow, can you---” the younger Pascal said, trying to reach an arm that was twisting out of his reach.

“Just what do you think I'm trying to do here?” Winslow gasped, only barely holding onto Vincent.

Father stepped into the chaos. I hope he forgives me, one day. With his own hands, he snapped the edge of the manacle around his son's flailing wrist. Startled, Vincent stilled for few seconds and that was enough for the other men to attach the rest of the restraints. Father stepped back and watched as they carried his son to the bed and attached the chains to the hooks in the walls. Vincent's back arched in fury but the chains held firm.

Vincent's eyes turned and met his own. They were mute, anguished, pleading. Free me, they said, and Father knew his own eyes said, Forgive me.

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