October 31, 1988
Even without a sixth sense like Vincent's, Catherine could tell he was waiting for her at the bottom of the ladder. Maybe it was some elusive scent she didn't recognize consciously; maybe all her senses were so attuned to him that his presence telegraphed itself in a million subtle ways she'd never understand. If she never did, it wouldn't matter. All that mattered was their presence here together. In fortunate times like this, when no crisis drove her Below, Catherine was able to appreciate the wonderful strangeness of it all. Especially on a day like today, the feeling of going under the hill to meet a Prince of Faërie was inescapable.
Thoughts of magic in her head, she was momentarily speechless as she turned to Vincent, waiting for her, caught in a shaft of the mysterious light that seemed to inexplicably find its way Below. Just for an instant, it seemed that the golden creature before her was the source of that light, not merely revealed by its reflection. Every time Catherine thought she was getting used to Vincent, some little thing would bring home to her how enchantingly strange he really was.
The undercurrent of concern in Vincent's voice shook Catherine out of her reverie. Smiling, she moved toward him to lay a reassuring hand on his arm. "Just wondering if a hundred years will have passed when I go Above again."
Vincent smiled as he took Catherine's pack from her. "It hasn't yet, but one never knows, especially on such a day as this."
" I suppose to be on the safe side I shouldn't eat or drink anything while I'm down here, but William would be insulted."
"Indeed. Given William's feelings about those who don't appreciate his cooking, I think the chance of a century's enchantment is a lesser risk."
"Well, I certainly don't want anyone Below mad at me," Catherine said lightly," in case Father decides to revoke my passport." Concerned at Vincent's silence, she stole a sidelong glance at his face. Too serious. He must have sensed the constant undercurrent of worry she always tried so hard to hide.
Vincent took her hand as he turned to speak. "Catherine, Father is greatly changed, truly. You've done a great deal for us in the time you've known us. He hasn't forgotten that he and I might be lying dead in a cave without you...or that he might be in a prison Above, or that Mouse might be as well. He knows he would never have had the chance to make his peace with Margaret without you. He hasn't forgotten what you did for Eric, and Ellie, and many others."
"I'll bet he hasn't forgotten that Paracelsus used me to lure you to him, or all the times you've risked yourself for me, or what the Silks did to you. I'm sure he's remembering that I took you wandering all over Big Bad Manhattan a year ago, and that I'm about to do it again tonight."
Vincent shook his head. "It was Bridget that drew me Above that time; Father can hardly lay that at your door...although I would no doubt have come back a great deal sooner if it hadn't been for you." That elusive smile that turned Catherine to jelly transformed Vincent's face. "It was a wonderful night, walking beside you as if I belonged in your world, on the one night I can do so with little fear. No matter what Father thinks, I shall not let him take that away from me."
Catherine sighed. "It's a good thing he's not around to overhear you. It's that kind of rebellious attitude Father will lay at my door. I'll be right there in the same mental doghouse with Devin."
"I've been going Above for years," Vincent replied firmly. "Long after Devin left, and long before I found you. I shall remind him of that if necessary. Besides, attending a Celtic music concert right in Central Park is not exactly wandering all over Manhattan."
"I guess," Catherine agreed. They walked for a moment or two in comfortable silence, until they reached a small room not far from Mary's.
"I hope this chamber is all right," Vincent said tentatively. "I had hoped to find one farther from the Hub, and quieter..."
"It's fine. I like being in the middle of things. Besides, I don't think we'll be out quite so late this year. I don't intend to push my luck with Father." Catherine took her pack from Vincent and removed her costume for tonight. The dress unrolled like a green velvet shadow, with a flicker of gold here and there as the embroidered Celtic designs caught the candlelight. Laying the dress on the bed, Catherine moved over to the small armoire to find a hanger. She turned back to see Vincent staring at the dress, mesmerized. Imagining her in it? She hoped so.
"It's for a special night," Catherine said softly. And a special man, her heart added. "It's borrowed from a musician friend of mine, so after tonight it disappears...like fairy gold." Don't you ever disappear on me, my love...I couldn't bear it. Not only the wall between the worlds of living and dead seemed to be wearing thin tonight, but also the wall Catherine had built between her feelings for Vincent and the way she longed to express them.
Silencing her heart's insistent voice, Catherine busied herself putting away the rest of the necessities she had brought for her temporary stay. It was only a place to change clothes, after all. She had hoped that Vincent would suggest that she stay overnight, at least--but he hadn't, and she was afraid to ask. The pain of their temporary breakup last Spring was still too raw; the terrifying specter of a future without Vincent still haunted her dreams. She wouldn't jeopardize the delicate balance their relationship had achieved, much as she longed to carry it forward.
Vincent had his back to her, seemingly inspecting the appointments of the chamber. But it was a very small chamber, and Catherine suspected that he was really avoiding the frightening possibility of seeing something lacy and intimate emerge from her pack. Firmly preventing that mental image from developing, Catherine cleared her throat and announced, "Ready for duty, Sir."
Vincent jumped a little at the sound of Catherine's voice, proving her theory about just what he was trying so hard not to think about. He stared at her blankly for a moment, until Catherine took pity on him. "I came here to help, remember? That's why I took two days off, after all, which took some doing. I want to be part of everything, not just waltz in at the end and steal you away Above."
Vincent stepped aside and motioned her out the door. "I've promised to spend most of the day helping Cullen prepare the stage and props for the children's performance tonight. They intend to put on a play of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and some dramatic readings, I believe. Father shall do his usual reading of ghost stories, of course. Unfortunately, Cullen and I should be able to complete our tasks without help."
"I don't want to take you away from whatever you promised to do, Vincent," Catherine announced firmly. "Or just stand around like a fifth wheel. We'll have plenty of time together later."
"Well," Vincent suggested, "Sarah and Mary could use help with the children's costumes, but I'm not sure--"
Catherine pointed to the pouch that hung from Vincent's chest. "I'm not a complete stranger to a needle and thread, you know. I admit I'm hardly in Sarah's class, or Mary's, but I can do the basics. I doubt that Halloween costumes call for elaborate needlework. And I can follow orders; Joe gives them to me all the time."
Somewhat sheepishly, Vincent took Catherine to the room where the night's costumes were taking final shape, and turned her over to Sarah. Catherine had been a little afraid of Sarah at first, but soon came to realize she used the same brusque manner with everyone. Catherine quietly set to work, her hands busy with hems and seams while her ears drank in the conversation around her.
Various children popped in and out all morning, checking on the progress of their costumes. When Samantha saw Catherine, she eagerly rushed up to her, waving a small and exquisitely bound book in her hand. "Oh Catherine, this book that Bridget O'Donnell gave you is just wonderful! Vincent's letting me read parts of it tonight, and we're going to act out some parts before the play."
Catherine touched a finger to the book's lovely green-and-gold cover. Legends of Samhain was written in beautiful Celtic miniscule above a triskelion design of stylized ravens. Catherine and Bridget had become good friends in the aftermath of the attempted murder of her father. Catherine had pulled more than a few strings to keep the forces of law and politics at bay long enough for the old man to die in peace. When Bridget left to accompany his body back to Ireland, she had promised to stay in touch, and kept her promise. Their busy lives didn't allow much time for letter-writing, but they did exchange them regularly if infrequently.
Catherine was never quite sure how much Bridget really knew about Vincent's true nature, but suspected little had escaped her. Knowing that Vincent could be reached through Catherine, Bridget sent him letters as well, and made sure he had copies of everything she wrote. Less than a month ago Legends of Samhain had arrived, complete with a Gaelic inscription written in the front. The accompanying letter, addressed only to Catherine, included a translation: "To Vincent and Catherine: May you find the wall between your worlds grow thin; May you find your heart's desire on the other side and a door between." Bridget had added that so few people could read Gaelic it was as good as writing in code. Catherine asked Vincent to keep the book down below, wondering if he were one of those people. Nothing would surprise her, he seemed to know a remarkable number of languages. He never asked about the inscription--because he knew what it said, or because he didn't and was afraid to ask? It was a beautiful thing, anyway, and Catherine wanted Vincent to keep it. A limited edition, it had to be quite valuable. Not that such things mattered to him--but she knew he'd enjoy its content and its craftmanship. It was a generous gift on Bridget's part. Catherine hadn't had a chance to do more than skim it herself yet, but it seemed to be getting a lot of attention Below.
"It says here," Samantha lectured, "that because Samhain was the beginning of the New Year, it was a good time for div--divin--"
"Divination," Catherine prompted.
"Right! Vincent says that means telling the future. Each person would put a stone in the bonfire, and leave it in there until the next day. If your stone was gone in the morning it meant you'd die before the year was over!" Samantha's voice spoke of death with a relish that only the voices of the young, secure in the certainty of immortality, can achieve.
Samantha, have you come here for some practical reason?" Sarah asked.
Speaking in her most grown-up tone, Samantha announced that she was merely making sure the costumes for the play would be ready.
"Well, I'm sewing the last button on Kipper's, and Catherine is almost finished with the hem on yours. Those are the last ones. And," Sarah added pointedly, "we'd finish much faster if we weren't interrupted so often."
Gathering her adolescent dignity about her, Samantha thanked Sarah with exaggerated politeness and flounced off. As soon as she was out of earshot, Catherine let out the giggle she'd been holding in with great effort, and a second later Mary joined her.
"Girl seems to think she's in training for Queen," Sarah huffed.
Catherine smiled, wishing she'd had half Samantha's gumption at that age. The sewing continued for another half hour, until the last stitch was finished and Mary announced it was certainly time for lunch. Catherine's stomach agreed wholeheartedly. The three women walked together to the communal dining area where William and his kitchen helpers were dishing out bowls of a barley-and-vegetable soup that smelled delicious. Baskets of bread, still warm from the oven, were being passed around the tables amid a muted din of talk and laughter.
Mary directed Catherine's attention to the far side of the room where Vincent was trying to pay polite attention to a voluble Kipper while keeping one eye on the door. "We appreciated your help this morning, Catherine, but I think you should go sit with Vincent. It looks like he's saving a seat for someone." Mary looked at Kipper. "Besides, I think he'll appreciate being rescued."
Flashing Mary a grateful smile, Catherine made her way toward Vincent, winding carefully among chairs, diners, servers, and excited children. Vincent took advantage of a brief lull while Kipper stopped for breath to rise and guide Catherine to the chair on his other side. Kipper fidgeted while Vincent asked Catherine about her morning. Catherine drew it out, giving both him and Kipper a chance to eat their soup while hers cooled a little.
When she reached the place in her tale where the redoubtable Samantha's name entered the narrative, Kipper piped up again. "Samantha! Her and her stupid ideas! Why can't we just do the play and forget about that other junk?"
"You agreed to that 'other junk' quite readily when Samantha told you there was a big part in it for you," Vincent reminded him.
"Well, she never told me about all that mushy stuff!"
"Did you ask?" Kipper decided to look at his soup bowl instead of Vincent. "Perhaps you were a little too eager for fame to ask for details. But you made a commitment, and must honor it."
Catherine pulled her attention from William's quite delicious soup for a moment. "What 'mushy stuff' can there be? I thought you were supposed to be dramatizing the legends from Bridget's book. I don't remember anything particularly mushy about it." Even by the definition of a boy your age, Catherine added to herself.
"It's all that stuff about the nuts and bowls and stuff." Kipper moaned.
"Nuts and bowls..." Catherine tried unsuccessfully to remember that part.
"One of the questions commonly asked in divination," Vincent explained, "was whom one would marry. Samantha seems determined to demonstrate many variations of this.."
"I remember now," Catherine exclaimed. "You were supposed to blindfold a man and set three bowls before him. If he picked the bowl with clear water he'd marry a virg--uh, maiden. Muddy water meant he'd marry a widow, and an empty bowl meant he wouldn't marry at all." Catherine frowned. "Pretty sexist symbolism if you ask me." She hadn't appreciated being made to feel like a bowl of muddy water, which she supposed was the closest to her category. "What about the nuts, though? I can't quite remember--"
The silence had almost become uncomfortable before Vincent replied, buttering his bread with exaggerated care. "A woman would put nuts into a fire, one representing herself and another representing the man she was interested in. If the nuts separated, it meant there was no future for their love. If they burned up quickly, what was between them would be passionate but brief." His voice quieted for a moment, then resumed in a near-whisper. "If the nuts burned together quietly, their love was true and would last."
Oblivious to the small drama being enacted beside him, Kipper noisily slurped the last of his soup, generating a scowl from Father, a pained look from Mary, and a look of ill-disguised satisfaction on William's face. There was a clatter of dishes and scraping of chairs as those served earliest began to leave.
Catherine and Vincent finished their meal quickly, with only the most desultory conversation. As they rose to leave, Rebecca approached Catherine. "Sarah tells me you were so helpful this morning, all the sewing is finished. How would you like to help me supervise Jack-o'-Lantern carving?"
"I'd love to, but it sounds like way too much fun to count as work."
"Just wait," Rebecca laughed. "You keep losing your carvers to other things and end up finishing a lot of them yourself. Your hands will turn orange, you'll never want to see another pumpkin seed, and you'll be lucky if you don't cut yourself."
Catherine smiled. "Now that sounds sufficiently like work. You're on."
Rebecca's prophecy held true at first. Supervising groups of children at a task requiring the use of knives wasn't easy, requiring all one's concentration and eyes in the back of one's head. The older children helped, putting the young ones to work scraping out stringy pumpkin innards and keeping the knives out of their reach. However, they were constantly excusing themselves to try on costumes, find a story that Father just had to read tonight, help Mouse concoct some mysterious stage effect, rehearse the play, ad infinitum.
Catherine was kept busy preventing bloodshed and offering aesthetic advice on whether fangs or square teeth were more appropriate for a truly scary face. Catherine's reaction to fangs these days was hardly fear, but neither was it something she could share with innocent children, so she tried to be objective. Catherine liked Rebecca, and would have welcomed the chance to talk--actually, to pump her about Vincent's youth--but almost every conversation had to be interrupted by sudden admonitions to put that knife down; don't eat the pumpkin seeds raw; no, we have no red paint so you can't make it look like a severed head; and don't you dare rub the squishy orange stuff in her hair!
They seemed to have collected an awfully large number of half-finished pumpkin heads at one point, and Catherine had begun to despair. Later in the afternoon, though, a number of the young thespians began to drift in from the final rehearsal of Samantha's Samhain vignettes. From their conversation, Catherine gathered that the rehearsal ended rather earlier than expected, mostly because all the rest were getting rather tired of Samantha telling them what to do. When Ellie referred to some crisis about a three-legged stool, Catherine begged for an explanation.
"In Scotland," Ellie explained, "they believed if you took a three-legged stool to a crossroads where three roads met, and sat on it Halloween night, you could hear the fairies talk about who was going to die during the year."
"But," Eric broke in, "if you brought a bunch of clothes with you, and threw a piece to the fairy who said that name, the fairy would be so happy the person wouldn't die after all."
"Samantha got real mad," Pablo said solemnly, "because the stool had four legs, not three."
Big deal," Kipper snorted. "Four legs, three legs, who cares? You can still sit on it."
"Now Kipper, you know it does matter," Brooke insisted. "Three was a very important, magical number to the Celts. Three legs to the stool, three roads crossing--it meant something to them. Samantha can be a pain, but she was right about that. Four legs just wouldn't do."
"So what happened?"
Ellie replied absently as she carved a precision set of wicked fangs into her Jack-o'-Lantern. "After a lot of yelling and running around, Mouse came up with the right kind of stool. Don't know from where."
Brooke grinned. "Don't want to know."
With the unanticipated increase in helpers, Catherine began to feel that two adult supervisors weren't really necessary. Brooke and Ellie were mature enough to keep the young ones from disaster. "Looks like you've got things pretty much in hand here, Rebecca. Maybe I should see if they need help in the kitchen."
"Are you sure? You've been working hard all day."
"I want to make myself useful," Catherine said. I want to belong, her heart pleaded. The understanding look on Rebecca's face made Catherine afraid for a moment that she'd said that last unvoiced plea aloud.
"Go ahead, then, and thanks. "I'm sure William can use the help. We got a lot of produce from our Helpers and foragers this week, and he's been frantic about doing something with all of it before it spoils."
Catherine left amid shouts of "Bye, Catherine!" and headed toward the kitchen. Controlled chaos held sway there as William directed what appeared to be a small army of workers. There seemed to be plenty to do, but Catherine couldn't imagine where they'd fit in another body.
William spotted her standing by the door and boomed out, "Got a message, or here to work?"
"Work, if you can fit me in," Catherine replied uncertainly.
"Help Miyoko pick apples; she'll show ya where." He tilted his head toward the small woman who seemed about to lift an entire bushel basket of apples.
Catherine rushed over to help the woman before she hurt herself. Seeing her consternation, Miyoko smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, I'm stronger than I look. I'm used to lifting things."
She waited for Catherine to help her with the basket, but from the smooth way she hefted her side, Catherine decided she probably co could have lifted the whole thing herself after all. Going through what seemed to be a well-stocked pantry, they emerged into a room crowded on all sides with somewhat battered but intact furniture--tables with chairs stacked on top, mirrors, chests, bedsteads. The middle of the room had been kept clear, and Catherine and Miyoko put the basket down there.
"We got a lot of new furniture when some developer bought an old apartment house to tear down and just dumped all this stuff. Haven't had time to sort it out yet. Let's grab ourselves a couple of chairs," Miyoko suggested, pulling a sturdy one off the top of a table as Catherine helped herself to another. They put an old tarpaulin on the floor under the basket of apples, and a tin tub for the peeled and quartered apples next to it.
Miyoko handed Catherine a paring knife. "Just let the skins fall onto the tarp; I'll collect them up for the compost bin later."
"You're the gardener!" Catherine suddenly realized. "Jamie's mentioned you several times but I've never seen you around."
"Well," Miyoko replied as they began peeling in earnest, "I don't spend much time around the Hub. I'm either working in the gardens below or up top."
"You have gardens up top too? Mouse told me at length about the ones you have Below; he's rather proud of how he's diverted the electricity for the lights. I assumed those were the only ones."
"I've set up gardens for a lot of our Helpers--rooftops, vacant lots, windowsills, whatever they've got. You'd be surprised what you can do with a little space if you know how. At harvest time, there's always something you've got too much of, so we get whatever they can't use. That's my fee." Miyoko grinned at Catherine.
"Too bad you don't have a branch in Connecticut," Catherine said wistfully. "My father has a house there we don't visit much anymore. Not since my mother died. I remember she always had a garden when we spent the summers there. Lots of herbs--every time I see an herb garden I think of her."
"You never know," Miyoko said gently. "Someday we may have somebody who wants to go up top but not to the city."
"Maybe," Catherine smiled. They worked in companiable silence for awhile. The basket of apples diminished as the piles of apple skins on the floor grew. They were about two-thirds of the way through when a handsome young man in his twenties came looking for Miyoko.
"What is it, Julio? Is there a problem?"
"I hate to bother you, but--Ian and I have got most of the vegetables picked that you wanted, but we're having a major disagreement on whether or not the rest are ripe enough yet. We need your expert advice."
Miyoko turned apologetically to her peeling partner. "Catherine--"
"Catherine?" Julio asked. "The Catherine? Vincent's Catherine, as Mouse would say?"
"Guilty on all counts, I guess," Catherine replied.
"Wow--I wasn't absolutely sure you were real. I'm Julio. I'd shake your hand, but I've got dirt under my fingernails."
"And I've got apple juice all over mine, so it would be a real mess. Pleased to meet you." She turned to Miyoko. "Go ahead, I can finish up here."
"No problem. I'm in the peeling groove now."
The silence that descended after they left seemed strange at first. Once in awhile Catherine would hear someone pass across the open door to the corridor behind her, or see a quick reflection in a mirror or glass-fronted door of a cabinet. Only the faint faintest of kitchen sounds came through the pantry door in the other wall. She was alone with her thoughts for the first time since coming Below. It was a little frightening to her how much she wanted to be a part of this place, these people. When Vincent had gently but firmly put her out of his life last Spring, she hadn't known what to do. Her flight to Connecticut had been an unthinking reflex, like pulling one's hand away from the fire that gave it pain. Once there, it became increasingly clear that although her friends were essentially the same, she had changed forever in some profound way. No matter what Vincent might think, that road was closed to her now. Amid everything that should have been familiar, comfortable, she'd felt adrift, a stranger in a strange land.
Not only had she missed Vincent, she'd missed his world. That inexorably closing door had cut her off not just from Vincent but from Mary, Mouse, Jamie, Pascal, Rebecca, the children--people she had grown to care for deeply. Even Father. Being part of their world, even in her small way, had filled places in her heart that she hadn't known were empty until it was all taken away from her. She found she needed Below almost as much as she needed Vincent.
She couldn't go back, but Vincent seemed inexplicably reluctant, even afraid, to go forward, and she didn't understand why. After that flight back from Connecticut that ended in his arms, how could Vincent have any doubts that she loved him? She'd literally thrown herself at him, after all. Surely he must realize that what he looked like, where he lived, meant nothing to her? At least he hadn't tried to push her away again, but neither had their relationship gone forward as far or as fast as she had hoped it would. Something more was at work here, and she didn't know what it was. He always seemed happy to see her, and obviously missed her when they were apart, but didn't seem to want her to spend too much time Below. She hadn't stayed overnight since that long-ago time when she was recovering from her attack. What was he afraid of? What could she do? Afraid to risk losing all this, she could only love him with all her heart and let him set the pace.
The Wall Between the Worlds, indeed. There was not only the wall between the living and the dead, that wall which rose between her and her mother all those years ago. There was a wall between her and her friends and family Above, a wall built of her promise of silence, her vow to keep her knowledge of Vincent and his world secret. There was that wall between her and Vincent, that let her get close but not too close, that kept her from giving him all she wanted to give him. And lastly, there was that wall between Above and Below, that "my world-your world" dichotomy so fixed in Vincent's mind that it had almost kept them apart forever. The Wall Between the Worlds wasn't an abstraction, a symbol to Catherine. It was where she lived.
Looking down, she was surprised to see the basket of unpeeled apples was almost empty. She'd been peeling mindlessly all through her reverie. Miyoko had informed her this batch was going to become applesauce. The fattest and roundest had already been taken out for use in the traditional bobbing for apples. She'd been startled to read in Bridget's book that the apples-in-a-tub of the familiar children's game represented souls in the Cauldron of Regeneration. Sometimes it felt like that's where she'd spent a lot of her time lately, from meeting Vincent until her nighttime flight from Connecticut. Her little round red soul bobbing along, being regenerated into the person she had now become. Was still becoming. The person who loved Vincent with all her heart and soul, and wanted to love him with more than that.
Catherine sighed as she dropped a peel onto the floor. A lot of those Samhain beliefs seemed to have something to do with apples. If you dropped a piece of apple skin on the floor, it was supposed to fall in the shape of a letter, the first letter of the first name of the person you would marry. Catherine didn't think this particular legend was very fair. What if you were madly in love with an Egbert, say, or a Harold? Or Barbara, or Rebecca, or Walter or Theresa? It seemed to favor people like Oscar and Charles overmuch; maybe Linda or Irene. It would be a little too tempting to cheat a bit when you peeled, besides--bend it or nick it a bit so it fell into the letter you wanted--a "V" would be easy, for example.
Shaking her head, Catherine reached for the last apple. As she peeled, she looked up and gasped as Vincent's face appeared before her, surrounded by a halo of light. Both apple and knife dropped from her nerveless hands as she stared in astonishment, half rising from her chair.
The world righted itself as Catherine turned to see Vincent enter the room from the door behind her. "I'm all right--I just saw you in the mirror and it startled me for a moment, that's all. I thought for a second there I was hallucinating." She laughed a little sheepishly. "Too much Samhain spookiness for me, I guess--and Father hasn't even started the ghost stories yet."
Vincent lifted the tub of peeled apples off the tarpaulin as if it were empty. "Speaking of starting things, dinner will be ready soon, and then we'll need to change into our costumes. Let me help you clean this up."
They folded the tarpaulin carefully, making sure none of the peels or cores escaped. "Where does Miyoko have her compost piles?" Catherine wondred. "Don't those need to be outside?"
"Not necessarily," Vincent explained. "Worms turn organic waste into compost very effectively in a closed container."
Catherine stared at him. "Worms to Shakespeare. Your mind is like Father's study--a person never knows what she might discover in there."
Vincent smiled. "Living as we do, we all need to know a great many practical things. Shakespeare for love, worms for survival."
Still shaking her head in wonder, Catherine put the folded tarp into the empty basket and followed Vincent back into the kitchen. The basket was tucked into a corner for Miyoko to pick up later, and William pounced on the apples. "Good! Now I get this going so it can cook down during dinner."
At last there seemed to be nothing to do. Vincent and Catherine strolled to his chamber where they got further into the Halloween mood by reading Edgar Allen Poe aloud, trying to outdo each other in portentous spookiness. Dinner was over quicker than usual, as those who usually lingered to talk ran off to change into costumes, run over their lines one more time, or set up a scary booby-trap for some unsuspecting friend. Vincent and Catherine joined the exodus, agreeing to meet in Father's study for the reading.
On her way there, Catherine ran into Jamie, disguised as a very convincing elf. Jamie's eyes widened as Catherine emerged into the light, a vision in gold and green. "Wow--that dress is really beautiful--where did you find it?"
Smiling inwardly at the assumption that clothes were something found or made, not bought, Catherine answered. "It belongs to a friend of mine, a Celtic harpist. She usually wears this on stage. She was the one who told me about the concert tonight."
"How come she isn't playing?" Jamie asked. "It sounded like this concert tonight is a pretty big deal if you play that kind of music."
"Normally she would be, but she's very pregnant right now--with triplets yet. I told her that was carrying the Celtic triad thing a little too far, but she doesn't have much of a sense of humor these days."
"So I guess there's no way she could fit into it, then. It fits pretty close."
Catherine smiled. That was one of the reasons she jumped at the chance to wear it. "Mary found me a nice cape to go with it, in case it gets really cold tonight. I was surprised that anyone would have a concert in the park this late in the year, but I guess the whole point is to make as much like a real, primitive Samhain celebration as possible. They do have big tents in case it rains, but it's not supposed to. Either they got lucky or those Celtic gods are looking out for them."
"Is there going to be a bonfire?" Jamie worried. If Mouse heard about that, she'd have to sit on him to keep him out of trouble.
Catherine shook her head. "No way. The City of New York draws the line at that. Discreetly placed propane heaters, maybe."
Vincent had reached the study ahead of them, and was seated next to Father with a pile of books between them. Catherine and Jamie took their seats, and soon afterwards most of the lights were extinguished and the reading began. Father and Vincent were such good readers, Catherine felt her practical, knowing adult self disappear. When Father cried out, "For the love of God, Montresor!" she shivered, even though she'd read the story more than once before.
After the ghost stories, there was a brief intermission while the study was rearranged for Samantha's dramatic vignettes. The play needed more elaborate staging and would be in another room. Catherine enjoyed the view as Vincent came to meet her. He was dressed as an ancient Celtic warrior, but one wearing trews rather than a kilt. Too bad. Catherine would have prayed for a good stiff wind. Naked and painted blue would have been even better, but Catherine hadn't dared to suggest it, even in jest. If she knew what was good for her, she'd stop thinking about it right now.
"You look like a Celtic goddess," Vincent breathed as he reached Catherine.
"And you make Cu Chulainn look like a wimp," Catherine responded.
Holding hands, she and Vincent moved to seats in the back, so they could slip out quietly later. In order to experience as much of the concert as possible, they'd need to leave about halfway through the vignettes. Catherine wanted Vincent to get as much out of his annual escape as possible.
The lights dimmed again as the second presentation of the evening began. Despite all the protests earlier in the day, the performance was quite good. Samantha may have been a hard taskmistress, but she got results. Various cast members would take turns acting out the old Samhain customs and legends as they were read by Julio and Samantha. Despite his earlier complaints, Kipper was quite effective as the old man sitting at the crossroads, throwing clothes to the fairies. When Ellie mimed discovering her stone missing from the morning ashes of the bonfire, Catherine actually felt goosebumps.
During a brief change of scene, Vincent gently touched Catherine on the arm. They slipped out quietly, a little disappointed to miss the rest of the children's presentations, but eager for their special night to begin--a night when magic was afoot, and all things were possible. A new year beginning...Catherine wondered what it might hold. She walked beside Vincent, determined that no matter how long it took, no matter how hard the road, she would find that door between their worlds. Her only road to happiness led through it. Would she ever convince Vincent of that?
Back in Father's study, Brooke sat on a chair, in front of a mirror, peeling apples into a bowl. The audience gasped when Stephen's image appeared before them, as if suspended in air. Mouse had been very clever about angling the mirror just right, and concealing Stephen's entrance from the audience.
Samantha's voice filled the room. "It is said that a girl who peels an apple in front of a mirror on this magic night--will see the image of her future husband reflected in the glass."
Somewhere, down a long, hard road, the faint image of a door glimmered.
"The Wall Between the Worlds" © 1996 by Edith L. Crowe
Comments & questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in Sanctuary 1 (Fall, 1996)
About the Author: Edith Crowe is an academic librarian who has been involved in various fandoms (starting with Star Trek) since 1972. Beauty and the Beast, however, is the one she's most emotional about and the first (and so far only) one to inspire her to write fiction. She had seven "continuing classic" stories published in the late 80s and early 90s, in zines now out of print. Newer stories include the rather racy "My Furry Valentine" in the A Kingdom by the Sea conzine (July 1996) and others in several in issues of Sanctuary.