LOST

By Joan Stephens


She was well and truly lost. So much for her misguided confidence in her ability to find her way to and from Vincentís chamber. She had waited patiently for him to come to her after the Outsider affair, and then she had decided to visit with Father. He had confronted her again about her propensity to get into such trouble that it required Vincent to keep her whole and then had told her where he thought his son had gone: the river with no name. She had had no excuse for disregarding Vincentís orders that she stay Above until it was safe; she had willfully entered the tunnels and fallen right into the hands of the Outsiders. And, of course, Vincent had come to save her and been shot for all his trouble. Even now the man she professed to love more than her life was suffering for it. Deep in thought, she had taken a wrong turn somewhere on her walk back to her apartment and found herself in unfamiliar tunnels. She wandered around for what seemed hours, trying to find her way back to any tunnel that seemed familiar. All she did was get herself more lost.

She couldnít count on him to rescue her for at least two days. He would know where she was and come for her. But he had gone to the deepest caverns to sit beside his secret river to heal his battered soul after the deaths of the vicious Outsiders. So, here she was lost in the darkness of an unknown corridor, watching her flashlight grow dimmer by the moment. Why she had absent-mindedly stuffed it into the back packet of her jeans was a mystery to her, but she was glad that she had even thought of it. She knew it wouldnít last until Vincent arrived. Until then she would conserve the batteries by turning the flashlight off at intervals while waiting for him. She stared into the dark tunnel behind her, wondering if she should try once again to find her way back to familiar tunnels. Deciding that it would be better to stay where she was, she slid down the solid stone wall and leaned back, prepared to wait until Vincent came to her. Without the light, it was completely black, but after her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she was surprised to see that she could make out her hands, and she noted a faint glow off to her right, further down the tunnel. Carefully easing toward the faint illumination that brightened in intensity as she neared it, she approached the golden light that spilled from a small cave, illuminating the tunnel floor and opposite wall. She took a quick peek into the interior of the room, quickly pulling back out of sight. She didnít see anyone in the chamber, only a small table and two chairs. Slipping into the room, she was suddenly confronted by a tall, beautiful woman with golden hair cascading down her back and startling blue eyes that reminded her of Vincent. "Oh," Catherine yelped.

"Welcome, my dear," the other woman greeted her with a smile. She was younger than Catherine, dressed in a soft white gown.

"Do I know you?" the startled young woman asked, gingerly accepting the hand that was offered to her.

"No . . . no, honey, weíve never met but I know about you."

"You do?"

"Yes, you love someone very dear to me."

"Vincent?" the young woman guessed

"Vincent, yes," the womanís eyes shone with love.

A flash of jealousy coursed through Catherine as she noted the caressing way the other woman spoke his name.

"Who are you? How long have you known him?"

"My name, dear child, is Madeleine, and Iíve known him for 33 years."

Confused, Catherine said, "But you donít look that old."

"Iím not," Madeleine answered. "Iím 20."

Catherine was getting angry. This woman was playing mind games with her, trying to confuse her, and doing a pretty good job of it, too. Why was she living this far from the home tunnels? How could she be 20 and have known Vincent for 33 years? It made no sense. The young woman decided that she had better be careful; she must be dealing with a mad woman. And she had no idea what might set the woman off or how dangerous she might be.

"Uh . . . I think I should go now." Catherine edged toward the suddenly inviting entrance.

"But youíre lost, arenít you? You have to wait for Vincent to come for you." The other woman took her by the arm and urged her to sit down at the small table. Unresisting, Catherine allowed Madeleine to steer her to the nearest chair. "Are you hungry?" the young/old woman asked solicitously. "I have tea and scones."

"I . . . ," Catherine started then changed her mind. It would be politic of her to humor the other woman, not antagonize her. "Thanks. I am hungry. Iíve been walking for a long time."

"You poor dear, I thought as much," Madeleine sympathized. "You just rest here until Vincent comes." She set a full cup of tea and a plate with two scones on the table. Catherine wondered abstractedly where they had come from; they werenít there a minute ago.

Madeleine sat opposite her with her own cup of tea and scones. Watching the other woman carefully, Catherine took a bite. The scones were light and airy, simply delicious, and the tea was Earl Grey. "The scones are very good, thank you," she said.

"I knew youíd like them and the Earl Grey is Fatherís favorite," Madeleine said with a reminiscent smile. "Heís been a good parent to Vincent."

Unable to contain herself any longer, Catherine burst out, "Youíre driving me crazy! You say youíve known Vincent for 33 years but you admit to being only 20? Iím afraid that doesnít add up. Could you possibly have your dates mixed up?"

Smiling blithely at her, the other woman shook her head. "No, thatís correct. You think Iím crazy, donít you?"

"Well, the thought has crossed my mind, but I can see that youíre not," Catherine said, trying to placate the woman.

"Donít worry. Youíre in no danger. I just need to talk with you."

"If youíre going to tell me to leave Vincent alone, youíre in for a big surprise. I wonít and Iíll fight you for his love."

Reaching over and patting her on the arm, Madeleine said, "Youíre the best thing that has ever happened to him and donít you ever leave him."

Thoroughly confused by now, Catherine was at a loss for words. "Youíve really got me confused now," she confessed. "You donít love him?"

"I love him very much, but I am unable to be there for him, and you need to take my place."

"Take your place?" Catherine repeated. "Why canít you be there for him?"

"My dear, Iím dead."

"Youíre what?"

"Iím dead. I died giving birth to him. Iím his mother."

Catherine stared at her in horror. Was Vincentís fear well grounded? Had he killed her while being born? Wait just a darn minute; she didnít believe in ghosts. This was getting crazier by the minute.

"I donít believe in ghosts," she stated emphatically.

"Iím not really a ghost; Iím more of a dream or a vision, but Iíve wanted to talk with you for a long time."

"Youíre telling me that Iím asleep and dreaming this."

"Yes."

Catherine pinched herself as hard as she could. It hurt like hell, but she didnít wake up. She should have as she had used this method before to rouse herself from bad dreams. "I didnít wake up, " she said pointedly.

"Iíve been granted this time to come to you and to tell you certain things that you are to relate to Vincent. Not until that is done, can you wake up."

"What are you going to tell me? That he killed you while being born?"

"Good heavens, no! I died of a ruptured aneurysm just as he was being born," Madeleine explained, shocked that she would even suggest such a thing. "Why would you even think that?"

"You know about Paracelsus?" Catherine asked.

"Yes, he has tried to destroy my son several times." The beautiful blue eyes hardened into twin pools of ice. Turning those icy blue eyes on Catherine, she asked, "Do you believe that he could have done such a thing?"

"No, absolutely not! I know him. Heís gentle and kind, but he is racked with doubts. Paracelsus planted his lies deeply," Catherine replied bitterly.

"Then what Iím going to tell you will ease his mind and heart." The other womanís eyes once more returned to the soft blue of the sky.

"Vincent has wondered all his life where he came from and what he was. And only since we have been together has he ceased to wonder." Catherine glowed with the pride that she felt in being the one who had shown him that he was a man. "Tell me," she said simply.

Madeleineís story was like so many other sad and beautiful stories of a great love but with the strange twist of Vincentís birth. She had married Perry Whitefoot, a redheaded, blue-eyed charmer who had swept her off her feet in six short weeks. Happily they moved into a brownstone in the lower east side prepared to spend the rest of their lives there. Six months later she told Perry she was pregnant. Ecstatic at the prospect of becoming parents, they prepared a nursery for their forthcoming child. When she was three and a half months along, she contracted the German Measles. Frantic with fear for her child, she had rushed to the OB/GYN who assured her that as far along as she was it was very doubtful that the illness would affect the child. The rest of her pregnancy was normal but at eight months she suddenly went into labor. Perry rushed her to St. Vincentís Hospital. The maternity ward was chaotic with mothers, fathers, and newborns. Doctors and nurses were rushing everywhere trying to keep on top of the confused activity. She was just about to give the final push when the doctor rushed in. Through a pounding headache, she gave birth to her first child and then asked to see him. The faces of the intern and the attending nurse were carefully neutral as they laid the child on her stomach. Her doctor had been wrong: the measles had affected her child. He looked like a newborn kitten, but unlike a kitten his eyes were open and aware. "Heís beautiful," she murmured, as she was enveloped in a wave of pain as the aneurysm in her brain ruptured at last. Perry stared at his son unable to believe what he saw in front of him. When he looked up at his wife, she wasnít breathing, and he screamed for the doctor. They worked on her for at least half an hour but were unable to save her. The nurse gathered the softly wailing child in a warm blanket and placed him in his fatherís arms. Love for this poor misshapen child flooded his heart, but the thought of living the rest of his life without the woman he loved was almost more than he could bear. "Forgive me, my son," he whispered and thrust the child into the attending nurseís hands. "Do what you can for him. I cannot face this right now," he said, too overcome with grief to think clearly and rushed from the room. Running away from more pain than he had ever thought he could endure, he dashed out into the street, not looking where he was going, directly into the path of an oncoming car. He was killed instantly. His unclaimed body laid in the morgue until it was discovered that he was the husband of a woman who had died in St. Vincentís Hospital. With no relatives to claim their bodies, they were buried side by side in the cityís Potterís Field

"What do we do now?" the nurse asked.

"I donít know. What kind of life would this child have if he lives?" the doctor answered, knowing the answer even as he asked the question.

One of the OB nurses who was just coming on duty rushed in and breathlessly asked if they knew a man named Perry Whitefoot.

"His wife just gave birth," the doctor said, nodding at the still figure on the birthing bed.

"Well, sheís going to have to raise the baby by herself as he was just killed in front of the hospital. I saw the whole thing. He wasnít paying any attention to where he was going," the new nurse said.

"Poor baby," the attending nurse crooned to the tiny baby in her arms. "Now he doesnít have anyone." Suddenly the child opened his eyes, and she looked into the bluest and most intelligent eyes of any baby she had helped to deliver.

"You mean sheís dead too?" the other nurse cried, snapping the attending nurse back to the reality of what she was holding in her arms, and she hastily pulled the blanket over the tiny form, concealing his face.

Wearily, the young intern shoved a lock of hair from his forehead. "Yes, itís not often we have two tragedies in one night but this is three tragedies."

"Well, I gotta go; Iíve got shift change briefing in five minutes." She shook her head at the vagaries of life and, with a last sorrowful look at the bundle in the older nurseís arms, let the door swing shut behind her.

"I guess we better contact Childrenís Protective Services and see if they can help," the young doctor said.

"Do you really think that would be a good idea?" the nurse protested. "Theyíll just send him to a research lab or something."

"Well, have you a better idea?"

Nodding her head slowly, she answered. "As a matter of fact I do. Will you trust me and not ask what I did with the child?"

With a relieved sigh, the doctor said, "All right. I leave it in your hands."

The nurse had made friends with a woman named Anna who had just lost her own child. She would be passing, sometime that night, through the back alley to wherever she lived. It was her regular route, and the nurse had by chance met her while out taking a cigarette break. Often it was days before they would meet and talk. Anna wore the most outrageous clothing made of scraps of material and leather. The nurse thought she might be part of a commune or something like it. If they were anything like Anna, they would be loving and caring people, and she thought the poor child could have at least a safe home if not a rich one.

Wrapping the poor wee thing in as many old blankets as she could, she put him in the trash receptacle and waited in the darkened doorway. It wouldnít do for Anna to know that she had put him there. It could cause complications. Finally, Anna crept into the alley, heard the wailing child and, finding him, held him between her thin coat and warm body. No longer timid, she strode purposefully into the dark, As she watched them disappear, the nurse added her blessing: May you have a long and fruitful life, little boy.

"And thatís the way it happened," Madeleine said.

"Then Vincent has relatives somewhere?"

"No, Perry and I were both foundlings. I think that is what initially attracted us to each other. If there are relatives, there is no way to get in touch with them."

"You said there were things you needed to tell me."

"Yes, things he needs to know to ease his mind. His doubts and fears are always close to the surface."

"I know. Itís a constant battle for him. What more is there?"

"Well, you know how he was born. He needs to know that he was loved, that he was wanted. Oh, how he was wanted. He would have made us a family, something we both yearned for. The first one we had ever known. He wasnít abandoned; he was never abandoned. Itís just that circumstances got in the way. We both loved him from the moment he was conceived. Our one regret is that one of us was not there for him, to love him and to raise him."

"Luckily, Father was there to raise him."

"It was more than luck; it was foreordained. I couldnít have asked for a better parent. He truly loves Vincent."

"Yes, he does. Sometimes too much." Curiosity was getting the better of her, and Catherine glanced around the chamber. "Is he here: your husband?"

"Heís waiting for me. We thought two . . . ghosts? . . . might be too intimidating," Madeleine chuckled.

"Youíre probably right," Catherine agreed with a laugh.

The two women talked on and on about their favorite subject. There were strange gaps in Madeleineís knowledge about her son. She explained that she was not able to watch him every moment of his life. She avidly listened to all that Catherine had to tell her.

Finally, Madeleine smiled at her guest and said, "Thank you, Catherine. I can tell from your words that you love him deeply. Itís time for you to sleep. Vincent will be here soon."

"Iím really not sleepy. Thereís so much I want to know."

"I know but that is all I can tell you. It is all up to you now."

"I understand; I think. And I will care for him and love him forever."

Madeleine reached across the table and took one of Catherineís hands. "I know you will. My son was fortunate in finding a woman like you." She patted the hand she had captured and, releasing it, stood up. "Youíre tired. Thereís a bed in the alcove where you can rest."

Catherine looked over her shoulder and, with no surprise, found that there was a bed in an alcove where a moment ago there had been nothing but a rocky wall. "Is there anything else you can tell me?" she asked.

The other woman shook her head and led her to the small cot, urging her to sit on the edge.

"Can you tell us about our future? Will we ever truly be one? Will we ever have children? I have so many questions to ask you," Catherine asked in a rush, fearing that she may not have any more time to find out what she wanted to know.

Vincentís mother shook her golden head once more. "No, I canít tell you anything. Even if I knew I wouldnít tell you. You deserve the chance to live your love as it grows."

"Then it will happen."

"I didnít say that," she replied with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "Now, lie back, go to sleep."

Catherine felt like a six-year-old, being tucked into bed.

"Oh, before you fall asleep, I have something for you to give to my son when you see him again." The other woman pressed a photograph of herself and a smiling, blue-eyed man hugging each other into Catherineís hand.

Catherine fought a valiant battle to stay awake, but her eyelids slowly began to droop. Before she succumbed to sleep, she murmured, "Will you be here when I wake up?"

"I am never very far away. Now close your eyes," she commanded. Catherine complied and was soon asleep.

Gazing at the young woman on the small cot, Madeleine brushed her honey brown hair back and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "You, my dear, have a long, exciting and happy life in front of you with my son. You will, each, make the other extremely happy. Sleep well, my daughter; my son will be here soon." With a fond smile, Vincentís mother faded into the sudden darkness of the tunnels.

*************

When Vincent came upon his beloved, she was sound asleep, bespeaking the absolute trust she had that he would find her. She was sitting with her back against the tunnel wall, her head resting on her drawn-up knees. Kneeling beside her, he softly touched her shoulder. "Catherine?"

"Mmmm."

"Catherine, wake up. Iíve come to take you home."

His beloved voice finally pierced the sleep-fog that surrounded her. Her eyes snapped open and she cried, "Vincent," flinging her arms around his neck and toppling him over on top of her. Still in the grip of her dream, she smiled vaguely at him.

Grasping the torch he had dropped, he scrambled to his feet and, giving her a hand, helped her to rise. "Are you all right?"

"Oh sure, Iím fine," she answered offhandedly. Glancing around, she noticed that she was not on the cot or even in the small cave but in the tunnel where this had all started. "Where is she? Whereís the cave?"

"Whereís who?" he asked with a puzzled frown. "What cave? Thereís no one here but us."

Paying no attention to his questions, she scampered further down the tunnel and began to run her hands over the rocky wall, muttering, "It was here. I know it was here."

Vincent followed after her, wondering what was happening. "Catherine?" he called.

"Huh?" she answered absent-mindedly, still caught up in her dream.

"What are you doing?"

"There was a small cave here. Your mother was here."

"My mo . . . ? Catherine!" His heart lurched, and he grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her to stop and face him. "What are you babbling about? We donít even know who my mother is."

"But I know," she sputtered. "I met her in the cave. Sheís young and very pretty. And she loves you." She was talking wildly and, wrenching her hands from his, rushed further into the dark.

Vincent hurried after her and pulled her in to him, holding her tightly. "Shh, everythingís all right. Iím here." Then he lifted her face to his and, speaking very slowly and distinctly, said, "There is no cave in these tunnels, Catherine. I know this area very well and there are none."

"But there has to be. I saw her; I spoke with her, and she told me so much about you." A deep sadness gathered in her eyes and tears glistened on her eyelashes as she realized that what he had said was true. "Oh Vincent," she moaned, "it was only a dream."

"I know, but how dear of you to dream about me. Now, tell me."

As she related her dream, he had the strangest feeling that it had actually happened, as if she had really lived it, so strong was her conviction. He had felt her fright that lent wings to his feet, her confusion, and then her joy and contentment. For a dream it was extremely vivid.

"So it seems that in my dream you are completely human."

"How I wish it was true," he commented, sadly. "Come, letís go back. Youíve had a long two days and you should be hungry."

"But Iím not. Isnít that strange? In my dream we had scones and Earl Grey tea. Maybe thatís why Iím not hungry," she chuckled.

"Thatís a possibility," he agreed.

Looking behind for the telltale golden glow even though she knew it wouldnít be there, she slipped her hand into his and followed him. Carefully watching her step, she spied a square white, glossy piece of paper reflected in the torchlight. She bent and picked it up. Turning it over, she gulped in astonishment. It was the photo that Madeleine had given her to give to Vincent.

"Vincent, look at this." Her voice quivered with excitement as she handed him the snapshot.

He took the photo and gazed at it wonderingly. "Do you know these people?"

"Yes, Madeleine gave this to me. Itís a picture that was taken of your parents in front of the brownstone they bought. If all this was only a dream, how did it get here? It wasnít here when I fell asleep."

Tenderly, he ran a clawed finger over the faces of his mother and father, for he was absolutely certain now that that was who they were. An empty place in his heart was slowly filling with the knowledge that he had had parents, that they loved him, had wanted him, had never abandoned him. His motherís bright blue eyes bored into his, warming him with her love. He grabbed Catherine and spun around, laughing.

When he set her on her feet, she staggered slightly. "Well, was it a dream, a vision, hallucination . . . what?" she asked, leaning breathlessly against him.

"I donít know, Catherine."

"I think it really happened. The proofís in your hand."

"Does it really matter? Somehow, my mother made contact with us, wanting to ease my mind." Contentment and a feeling of completion flowed over him like the weight of his heavy cloak as he flung it over his shoulders. Looking one more time at the photo, he carefully slipped it into a vest pocket. He was part of a familyĖunknown that was trueĖbut that family had a line of ancestors that stretched into the past. He was no longer lost.

Fini