“Ma'at?” he asked, stunned.
Her large wings, the wings of a hawk, fluttered a bit as she came towards him. “I was wondering if you remembered your legends. Who am I the goddess of, Vincent?”
“Justice and law,” he replied. She had been one of his favorites to read about, she and Selket and Sekhmet.
Ma'at nodded. “Very good. Do you know why I'm here now?”
He remembered, with his heart in his throat, that Ma'at was also the decider of souls, the one who determined whether the souls of the dead would pass on into the afterlife. He recalled the story of the scale she carried, the scale that weighed whether a man's heart was heavier than a feather with the crimes he had committed while alive. Yet she had said he was not dead. “To...pass judgment?” he asked with a mouth gone suddenly dry.
“On those who need it, yes. Should I stand in judgment of you?” She folded her arms, the feathers rustling.
“I have killed, Ma'at. Too many times. I have lost myself in it too often. I no longer know if I am anything but a killer.”
Her great gold eyes gazed at him. “You defended the weak, the ones who could not defend themselves. You judge yourself far more harshly than I could.” She gestured with one feathered arm towards a section of the darkness which was growing lighter. “The war you fight inside yourself is what has so nearly destroyed you. Come.”
Unwillingly, he stood. “Here is where you leave,” Ma'at continued. “When your journey ends, we will meet again.”
Vincent awoke to find himself on a park bench in Central Park. In daylight. Instinctively, he tensed, reaching to pull the hood of his cloak up, but there was no hood, because he wasn’t wearing his cloak. Before this oddness could unsettle him, he noticed that the colors around him were even stranger---purple grass, brown trees, a dune yellow sky. “Ah, I see you’re awake, brother,” a voice said from off to his right, and he turned.
It was the Other. Darker than he, and more formidable, but strangely calm. “Why are you here?” Vincent asked, forgetting for a moment all the dangers of being in the sunlight, or the sheer weirdness of waking up here, in a Central Park with purple grass.
The Other hopped down from his perch on a boulder. “Why do you think I’m here?”
Vincent growled softly in the back of his throat, having no patience for riddles. “I was in the cave and…”
“And the lovely Catherine saved you,” the Other finished. “Good work that was, pulling the blow. You’d have killed her.”
“It would have been you who did it,” Vincent ground out, the growl riding just under his words. “I could never hurt her. I was trying to protect her from you.”
The Other appeared utterly unfazed by this display of temper. “So you say. But you nearly died. Chasing me, of all things. Anyone ever tell you that chasing a part of yourself makes about as much sense as chasing our non-existent tail?” His dark counterpart came to sit next to him on the bench and Vincent was able to see that they were, indeed, nearly twins. The Other’s hair, which he’d taken for being dirty, was merely black, if uncombed.
“So what do you want?” Vincent asked.
“I’m not real,” his twin said, serious. “I’m a creation, a figment of what you fear. That’s why you’re here. And that’s why we’re going to take this trip together.”
Vincent remembered the first time he’d sensed this apparition, back in the dark days after Lisa left, and the sick crawling nausea he’d felt each and every time he’d seen The Other or heard his taunting words. But now…he felt no fear of him, no despair. Nothing. “Am I dead?” Ma'at had said he was not, and yet....
His dark alter snorted. “Does this look like paradise to you?”
Vincent had to admit it did not. “Then let that be your answer,” the Other continued. “You’re not dead. Just in the..netherworld. Elysium, if you remember those legends Father read to us when we were ill.”
“I do remember,” Vincent said. “I’m just not sure why I’m here.”
“Because you need to be,” his dark alter said. He stood then and beckoned with his hand, clawed like Vincent’s own, though the fur was much darker. “Come.”
They walked for a time under the yellow sky until the Other stopped. “This is where you go ahead. I’ll be at the other side of the path when you’re done.”
Vincent turned, meaning to ask which path the Other meant---there were many, branching off in all directions---but when he looked beside him, the Other was gone. Walking slowly in the direction his dark twin had indicated, Vincent found that the path behind him was growing darker and dimmer until it was night.
He stepped into a Central Park possessed of its usual colors…or, at least, what he thought of its normal colors: the cool shades of moonlight and night. Stars glittered pale overhead and there was a warm summer’s breeze blowing. A faint smell made his nose wrinkle in distaste; he hadn’t smelled the acrid grass smell since he’d been a teenager walking the park.
Vincent looked down at himself---he, at least, was not changed, but he very much feared the world around him was. He looked closer at one group of students, dressed in bell bottom jeans and tie-dyed shirts and was shaken. This was not his world, his time, any longer. A shadow crept out from behind the trees, a young man dressed in bell bottom jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. “Remember me?” he asked.
From the shadow of his hood (when had he gotten his cloak back again? Vincent wondered) he looked sideways at the stranger. “Should I?” The voice was not at all familiar to him.
“You don’t remember me. But I…I remember you.” The young man turned his attention to a lone female jogger, who waved at the laughing students as she ambled by. “Do you remember her?”
Vincent’s breath froze in his throat. Did he…oh did he? How could he not? And all of a sudden, he remembered the young man, the jogger and the events to come. “It cannot be,” he muttered.
“I want her,” the young man said, sullen in his rage. “But she won’t look twice at me. I have to make her see me.”
In the space of a heartbeat, Vincent remembered how this scene had really occurred. Time snapped, and rebounded back...
“I'm going to walk in the park,” Vincent had said, gathering up his cloak. It was stiflingly hot, even in the tunnels, but he needed the cloak's protection.
Father turned to look at him. His hair and beard were dark; there was not a single strand of silver. “Vincent, I know I don't need to tell you the dangers, but must you? Especially with the attacks in the park; our helpers haven't been crossing through the park in weeks since these murders occurred.” He laid down the newspaper that he'd been reading; Vincent didn't need acute eyesight to see the headline that blared: FOURTH VICTIM FOUND IN CENTRAL PARK.
“I'll be careful, Father,” Vincent said, seventeen and impatient to escape the close, heated confines of the tunnels. The heat-wave above was making everyone below tense and nervous with the unaccustomed heat and Vincent thought that if he didn't escape the collective irritability of his tunnel family for a few hours, he might lose his mind.
“'Careful,' hmm?” Father said, scathingly. “And if the police are chasing this criminal and they see you, what then? Do you know what they'd do to you above?”
Vincent barely refrained from rolling his eyes, but it was a near thing. “I know, Father. But I have to get out of here for a little bit.”
“It's not much cooler above,” Father said, trying one last time.
“I know,” Vincent said. “I won't be gone long.”
“See that you're not,” Father replied.
Vincent had left the tunnels then, anxious for the cooler air and the calmer minds above. He had dodged the small groups of drunk and stoned students who were hanging out in the park, unafraid because they were young and they thought nothing bad could happen to them. He managed to hide in the shadows when a prostitute and her john came within a few feet of his hiding place and he was able to leave without their noticing.
But he hadn't counted on the lone female jogger. She passed within inches of him near a heavily wooded trail and he'd had to stand stock still and hope the shadows obscured his face. “Who's there?” she asked uncertainly.
Vincent held still, holding his breath. If she came any closer, she might be able to see him, cloaked or not. She stared into the shadows of the trees but didn't see anything and slowly, she picked up her pace again. Vincent breathed out in relief and emerged from the trees and resumed his walk. It was a few minutes later when he heard the voices ahead on the path. The female jogger and someone else, talking.
“What are you doing out here, Jesse?” she asked.
“Oh, you know me, I love a walk in the park,” her companion returned. He was a young man, dressed in bell bottoms---how do they walk in those? Vincent wondered---and a grubby t-shirt.
“Sure you do,” the woman said. “If I didn't know better, I'd think you were stalking me.”
“Nah, not me,” the man replied and Vincent shivered at the hate emanating from him. How could she not sense it? Vincent wondered. “I just want a date, that's all,” the young man continued.
“And I've told you 'No,' a thousand times,” the jogger said, finally becoming annoyed. “I'm engaged, you know.”
“He can't love you like I do.” The obsession and longing emanating from the other man was nauseating in its force and Vincent began to wish he'd stayed below.
“Jesse, come on, let's just....don't touch me, you asshole!” The man grabbed her arm and the jogger tried to free herself, her panic beating against Vincent's mind like the flutter of bird's wings.
It all happened so fast; later, Vincent would see the precise sequence of events over and over and not be able to think of what else he might have done different. The young man had grabbed the jogger roughly, intending to force her off the path into the woods. There was a struggle and the ripping of cloth and the silver light of a knife and Vincent had known he couldn't stand by and let the jogger be raped and killed. Instinct had taken over, overriding everything he'd ever known or been taught. All he'd known was that he'd had to protect.
When it was over, when the man Jesse lay in slaughtered ribbons, bleeding his life out into the woods, the jogger had looked up in her terror and screamed, backing away from him. “You...you're a monster! Get away from me!”
Vincent had stood, hands and face and fur covered in blood and left her, as she'd asked.
“That was rough,” the Other said, appearing at his shoulder. Time had, apparently, reverted to its normal form, Vincent thought dully. “That was the first time we killed and she didn't appreciate it, did she?”
“I terrified her,” Vincent said, turning away from the scene, frozen like amber in front of him.
“Sure,” the Other agreed equably. “But you saved her, too. I'm sure when she thought it over, she'd much rather have been alive to be terrified.”
“Perhaps,” Vincent said.
His dark twin came to stand in front of him. “You still don't get it, do you? We don't murder. Jesse killed four women and would have killed a fifth if you hadn't stopped him.”
“I know,” Vincent replied. “But Father's reaction---”
“Father's reaction was overdone,” the Other said. “He saw us when we came back and thought we'd been hurt. And when you told him what had happened, his next thought was that you'd risked the discovery of the tunnels by saving a topsider. So you were never able to talk to him about what you felt when you killed Jesse.”
“He didn't wish to know,” Vincent replied.
“He didn't wish to know,” the Other said, “because that side of us has always frightened him. He's known we were capable of such things ever since Devin, since Lisa. But he doesn't want to see it.”
“I don't want to see it either,” Vincent growled.
“It's who we are,” the Other insisted softly. “But it's not all of who we are. It's your choice, brother. You can accept it, or be destroyed by it.” He paused. “Hasn't there been enough destruction?”
Click here for Chapter 3....