Vincent halted inside the cave, frozen, the scents, the sounds capturing him in a thick, dizzying wave. The drumbeats…the heartbeats….the dancers…they were here, now, in front of him…alive once again. Alive. His left hand closed on a protruding quartz crystal embedded in the rock; it cut him but he didn’t feel it, the pain distant and somehow unimportant. The blood merged, mingling with the ochre painted on the walls.
This is the womb of the earth. They come here because the rains have failed and the people are dying. They dance to live, to bring life back. The heartbeats echo the rhythms of the drums….calling….calling…calling…
“Come, you must dance with us,” one says, tugging on his hand. Vincent pulls back from that touch and the quartz cuts his hand again. These are not his people, this is not his time.
“You’ve been watching us,” another says. “You know why we’re here. Help us.”
Vincent opens his mouth to speak to the shadowed figures but the words are dry and parched in his throat. What can he say, truly? Can he tell them that it’s not their dancing that will bring the rain? That no help of his will cause the grey clouds to gather? Before he can think of something, anything, to say, there is another presence, and if he was not afraid before, he is now. There is raw power here, something he can neither explain nor fully understand.
“It’s you we need,” the presence says. “We’ve waited for you. We called you here.”
“I can’t help you,” he finally says. The quartz bites deep into his hand but some deeper wisdom warns him not to let go; it’s a part of his world, his time.
Vincent’s breath chills in his lungs and he remembers Catherine, on the other side of this cave. And no sooner does he think it than she is there with him, anchoring him, another link to his time and his world.
He will ask her later what it is she saw in the cave and as with all waking dreams, she won’t remember. But she’s fierce now in the face of all the danger, the uncertainty. “You can’t have him--- he can’t help you! Let him go!”
The wind gathers as the dancers swirl and twist….the presence is confused, waiting. Needing. “We saw you. Why won’t you help us?”
Vincent wonders what they saw, in what shamanic vision or dream and why they are so certain he can help them. In the space between one breath and another, he no longer has time to wonder even that. The voices are gathering, the dancers calling, their heartbeats echoing in a persistent dark rhythm that will take him under if he can’t free himself.
If Catherine can’t free him.
There is a great and mighty pull, an earthshaking roar that didn’t come from his throat and then complete and utter darkness.
Later, Catherine would wonder how she’d managed to get Vincent out of that cave by herself. As it was, her knees gave way just as she crossed the threshold and she stumbled and fell. Scrambling over to Vincent on her hands and knees, stirring up little torrents of red dust as she went, she noticed he was cold under her hands. “Vincent,” she muttered, feeling his exhaled breath, shaking him gently. “Wake up, love.”
There was no response for what seemed an eternity, then he coughed and opened his eyes. “Catherine, am I…?”
“Alive? Yes,” she replied, sinking back onto her heels in relief. “Though at the moment I don’t see how. Vincent, what the hell was that? What just happened?”
He reached up to touch her face though it seemed to take a great deal of energy. “You don’t remember?”
The impressions were fading even as they spoke. Catherine supposed she should be grateful for that small mercy because what little she did remember was terrifying. “You were trapped by…something,” she said. “I came in after you.” Her hands were shaking. “And I pulled you out. Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know.”
“All right, I won’t,” Vincent responded dryly. She heard the wheeze in his words and remembered that he’d hit the ground pretty hard. The air must have been driven out of his lungs by the fall. He glanced around. “Where are we?”
“Just outside the cavern entrance,” she replied, rubbing her hands and trying to shake off the lingering chill. “I couldn’t make it any farther.” She studied his face, seeing the faint lines of worry around his eyes. “What?”
“I think…there was a very good reason for those boulders.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I was beginning to think the same thing. Not to keep someone out, necessarily, but whatever that was, inside.”
“I agree,” Vincent said. He sat up with some difficulty and Catherine wrapped her arm around his shoulders. “We should leave this place as soon as possible.”
“Not so fast, love,” she replied. “Should I call Father?”
He sighed. “And tell him what? He’ll say we were hallucinating, overcome by cave gasses, and in the end, he won’t believe either of us.”
Catherine bit her lip. “Vincent, you’re bruised and scraped up and you were unconscious just a few minutes ago. Don’t you think that warrants being examined by a doctor?”
“It would take Father two days to come down this far, probably longer. We’re below the level of the pipes,” he reminded her gently.
“All right,” she said, not liking their utter lack of options but knowing there was nothing else to be done. “Can you stand? Because I think I remember an outcropping not too far away from…that…where we can rest and make camp for the night.”
“I know the one you’re speaking of,” Vincent said, coughing again but with a little less roughness to his breathing, she noted. His color, the bronzed rose color she loved, was beginning to come back.
Vincent clambered to his feet and rested one hand on the wall to steady himself. It was then that she noticed the lacerations on his left hand. Seeing her gaze, he closed his hand into a fist. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing,” Catherine replied, shaking her head, exasperated. “It’ll need to be cleaned out too. Those cuts look pretty deep.”
“They are,” he replied, wincing a bit as he unclenched his fist. “But it’ll keep until we get to camp. Truly, Catherine, it can wait.”
“If you’re sure,” she said. Without knowing precisely why, she glanced over her shoulder. “Vincent, look.”
He followed her gaze. Where once there had been an entrance, there was no longer. Even the boulders were gone. The rock wall was sealed up, seamless. “Well,” Vincent said, “I guess that’s settled.”
“You were worried,” Catherine guessed, “about someone coming back down here, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “Even if I’d marked it as a dangerous spot on the maps, one day, someone would have returned. Now we won’t have to worry about it. I hope.”
They made camp on a level area nearest the creek, well out of sight of the cave. Vincent built up the small fire as Catherine filled their one cooking pot with water and set it to boil. “I’ve got some iodine in my backpack,” she said, “but that wound will have to be rinsed out first.
Vincent nodded and inspected the lacerations, wiggling his fingers experimentally. “I don’t think I’ll need stitches.”
“I hope not,” Catherine replied, frowning. She came to sit beside him. “Let me have a look.”
Vincent held out his hand. It ached fiercely, but Catherine’s touch was gentle against his skin. “You were lucky,” she said. “There’s a lot of damage but it’s mostly shallow---I think it missed the tendons.” She pulled out the iodine from her backpack and a clean cloth from his. “I’m sorry, I don’t know of any gentle way to do this.”
He smiled at her. “You sound like Father.”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “I do?”
Vincent nodded. “When Devin and I were boys and got injured in our scrapes, he used to tell us that the only way to be gentle with iodine was to be quick about using it.” He took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”
She dampened the cloth in the water. “Tell me if it’s too hot,” Catherine said, rinsing the blood and dirt out of the wounds.
“I’m fine,” Vincent replied, drawing a bracing breath.
“Uh-huh,” Catherine said, daubing at the last of the blood. “Did I ever tell you that you’re an awful liar?”
He chuckled. “No.”
“Well, you are,” she replied, drying the wounds and uncapping the iodine. “This is going to hurt.”
As soon as the liquid touched his skin, he bit his lip against uttering several of Father’s more choice oaths. Vincent watched as his wife covered the injuries in a rough but competent field bandage and the stinging sensation began to fade. “Where did you learn that?” he asked.
“Gertrude,” Catherine replied. “She was worried about Jennifer and Gracie---her two daughters---and me getting hurt while we were out hiking and insisted we all know some basic first aid.” She looked at him and Vincent could feel her regret that she’d had to hurt him. “Did you know you’re my first patient?”
He looked at his hand and smiled back at her. “I think you did a fine job.”
She wrung the last of the moisture out of the cloth and placed it on a flat rock to dry. “Well, let’s hope I never have to do this again.”
All at once, the flood of her emotions crested over and through him, her worry and distress, feelings that she’d clamped down upon to better focus on what she had to do. “Come here,” he urged, gesturing with his uninjured hand. The warm scent of her rose as she settled against him. “It’s all right, Catherine. It’s going to be all right.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, brushing her tears aside with an impatient hand. “I don’t know why---“
“Don’t you?” he replied, drawing her closer. “You didn’t expect to be tending my injuries on our honeymoon, did you?”
She gave him a tremulous smile. “No, but…honestly, Vincent, you could have been killed and here I am crying over a few scratches. How stupid is that?”
“Not stupid at all, if you ask me,” he replied. “It’s been…quite a day, hasn’t it?”
Catherine laughed through her tears. “You have a talent for understatement.” She settled against him again and he felt her tumult subside somewhat. “Vincent, what—who---do you think that was? Ghosts?”
“Perhaps,” he said, “though that wasn’t my sense of things.” He shrugged, wincing as the sore muscles in his shoulders protested. “It felt more like a scene from the past. If they were ghosts, they didn’t know it.”
She absorbed this in silence, content merely to rest against him. He leaned his head against her, breathing in that indefinable essence that was Catherine---mate, woman, wife, lover---when a motion out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.
Catherine had opened his pack searching for first-aid supplies and in the process had unearthed Narcissa’s mirror. As he watched, it began to spin on its pivot, coming to rest with the dark polished side facing them. “Catherine,” Vincent said, his voice hushed in wonder and awe, “look.”
There were figures dancing in the mirror, dancing in celebration and joy. As they watched, the image began to blur and streak---rain falling, Vincent realized---and the dancing continued. He could almost…almost…hear them, singing, shouting in a language he’d never heard before and would never hear again.
“That’s….” Catherine began to say but trailed off. Vincent understood; how could mere words define what they had just seen?
The image began to fade. The last thing they saw was the beaded rain, salvation from another time, sliding down the front of the mirror, before that, too, disappeared.
Catherine made dinner that night: sandwiches, dried fruit and cheese. “How are we doing on supplies?” Vincent asked after they ate, unrolling their sleeping bag as best he could one-handed.
She peered inside her backpack. “Trail mix, oatmeal, some more cheese, another jar of stew, some peanut butter and the last of the bread. I think we’ll be fine on the way back.”
“It sounds like it,” he replied, unbuttoning his shirt without thinking until the throb in his hand brought his breath up short.
“Wait, love,” Catherine said, setting aside the sandwiches she'd been making and walking over to him. “Let me help.”
He nodded. She unbuttoned his shirt with quick, deft motions and then looked at his hand. “I'll change the dressing before we leave tomorrow; the bleeding has slowed but I don't want you getting an infection.” She tilted her head. “Is there anything at all you can take for pain?”
“No,” Vincent said, “at least, nothing I'd trust this far below the pipes. Most pain medications make me drowsy and groggy the next day.” At her look of concern he reached out with his good hand to touch the silk of her hair. “Don't worry, Catherine. I heal very fast as you know.”
“I do,” she said, “but you're going to be in for a few rough nights until it does, aren't you?”
“Perhaps,” he replied, “but it won’t hurt for long. Just itch.”
He was startled to feel her hands at the worn fabric of his jeans. “Vincent,” she said, laughing, “you're going to need help with this too.”
Vincent drew in a quick breath that had nothing at all to do with the ache in his hand. “You’re a temptress,” he murmured against the sunshine of her hair.
Catherine chuckled. “Guilty as charged. But your hand doesn’t hurt quite as much now, does it?”
Afterwards, they had lain together, intertwined, his head resting on her chest, the wild mane spread out in a river of golden amber. “What are you thinking?” Catherine asked, stroking his hair.
“The cave,” he said. “Narcissa didn’t warn us that there was danger.”
“Maybe she didn’t know,” Catherine said, glancing uneasily at the mirror where it rested against his backpack, the dark side of it turned away from them. “But… is that likely? I thought she knew…”
“Everything?” Vincent asked, chuckling, the rumble of his laughter reverberating along her skin. “I thought so too, when I was a boy. But she’d be the first to tell you---as she told me, once---that she only knows what’s meant for her to know.”
“And the cave…was meant for you?” Catherine asked, feeling out of her depth at such metaphysical leanings, but unable to dispute the reality of what they’d experienced.
“It’s possible,” Vincent said. “I don’t understand it myself. What I found in the cave, what we saw, makes no sense.”
“What did you see in there?” she asked. “I can’t remember anything except a few feelings---power, need, desperation. And fear, fear that I wouldn’t be able to rescue you, that whoever…whatever…was in that cave wouldn’t let you go.”
“There were…people in the cave, the people in my dream. They thought I could bring on the rains. You saved me; I would have been trapped by their need if you hadn’t pulled me out. You have no memory of this?”
“I remember pulling you out and doing a lot of yelling at…someone, someone who wanted you to stay there, but I don’t know how we got out of that cave.” She bit her lip. “It all feels like a dream, but it wasn’t.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Vincent said.
Catherine sensed a quality to Vincent’s thoughts that she recognized as a deep pensiveness tinged with uncertainty. “What, love? What is it?” she asked, rubbing his shoulders.
“I think what we saw in there was real for someone, sometime,” he finally said. “What we saw was a rip in time, events from thousands of years ago.”
It should have sounded like science-fiction, and not to be believed, yet she was here, now, married to a man whose very existence she would once have doubted. “It’s as good an explanation as any,” she said.
He was tired and aching; she could feel that through their bond. Catherine bent down to kiss him. “Will you sleep now?”
His eyes, when he gazed up at her, were soft with something she couldn’t name. “What?” she asked.
And then it hit her, the wave of emotion, of things he felt so deeply but could never discuss with anyone else because they were too near  “’Somewhere I have never travelled,’” Catherine murmured against his hair and, feeling his answering smile, knew he was at peace.
Click here for Chapter 19...
 “I carry your heart,” by ee cummings
 “Somewhere I have never travelled,” by ee cummings