hollow of the cliff face, in the dark hidden pool below midnight rocks
a mirror whispers silver. Stars shimmer as wind ruffles the surface.
Crags lacerate the sky. A spittle of foam borders the pool, delicate as
lace. I ache to scoop it up and watch it dissolve in my hand.
A long shadow sculpts the cliff as it
reaches, then falls away toward the lake. The rocks glisten and run
with moonlight. So my shoulder would have looked, young and smooth in
an evening dress as I walked along the beach, the contours of my body
curving, falling away into mystery.
I am here but I am sadness. I am rage
and tears that never fall, and I am glass. Nothing reflects me. I am
hollow, a trick of moonlight.
You have come like an irony, now that time means nothing. And you don’t even know that you came to find me. . .
“If there’s any trouble, call me.” Peter Alcott got into his car and drove away down the dirt road toward the highway.
Catherine turned on the flashlight and fitted the key into the cabin
door. As they stepped inside, she turned to Vincent. “I can’t believe
we’re really here.”
“I never dreamed such a thing was possible.”
“Wait, let me shut the curtains.” Catherine made sure all was secure before flipping the light switch on.
Vincent blinked in the unaccustomed brightness.
“It’s just like I remembered it.” Catherine looked around the room.
There were old-fashioned chairs and a couch in the livingroom.
The kitchen had a gas stove and wooden cupboards that were stained to
match the log walls. "We
used to sit by the fireplace and my father would tell stories.”
Vincent appeared uneasy.
“Come on, I’ll show you the dock where we used to swim.”
Outside in the cool night air, she felt him relax. He sat down on the
rough wood and gazed at the night sky. “So many stars. . .”
“No light pollution from the city up here,” she said unnecessarily.
“It’s magical.” He looked around as though he could not get enough. “I’ve seen them in the mirror pool, but this. . .”
Vincent tried to decipher the mountain sounds and smells; the lake
lapping gently against the dock, the woods, animals moving quietly in
the darkness. He wondered if they were Catherine’s deer. He suddenly
felt exhilarated and more than a little overwhelmed.
Catherine sensed his discomfort. “I brought plenty of food. Shall we go have supper?”
While Catherine busied herself in the kitchen, Vincent proceeded to
build a fire in the fireplace. Someone had thoughtfully provided wood
and piled it on the side of the hearth.
Catherine watched him. “I’m glad the Nichols family still owns this
place. Jim Nichols remembered my father. I think that’s why they let me
come up here off-season. Plus I paid extra for just the weekend.”
Vincent watched the flames grow and began to relax again. Flames were
familiar. He noticed Catherine setting the table and placing candles.
I’ve dreamed of this my whole life. I’m here with Catherine.
What was the source of his unease?
At supper, Catherine told him stories from her childhood memories of
the lake. The pictures her words painted were of an idyllic time before
she lost her mother.
Afterward, while she did the dishes, he was drawn back outside to the dock.
Catherine stood at the window and watched him. This had seemed like
such a good idea, but now she was unsure. Was it fair to bring him
here, to show him a world he couldn’t have? To give him a taste of the
life that could never be? Had she done a good thing after all?
Catherine tried to imagine herself in his place. Would it be worth it
to see the real world, to lie in green grass under the warm sun--even
just once. To have that experience, that memory to keep with her the
rest of her life.
In spite of everything, she had to answer yes
Vincent listened to all the sounds around him. Light footsteps–probably
deer. Small sounds in the grass. Ripples in the water. Crickets. The sounds of evening.
Suddenly, he felt something else, something out of place. Something
that did not belong. Vincent pulled the hood up over his head. “Who’s
there? Who is it?”
No one answered, but the feeling did not go away. Alarmed, Vincent left the dock and headed for the cabin.
Catherine met him at the door. “What is it?”
“I felt a presence.”
“Someone saw us?”
“I don’t know. I felt someone, something out there.”
Catherine turned the lights off and locked the door. They sat together
on the couch watching, listening. But there was no sound.
“What do you sense now? Do you hear anything?”
“We were so careful. How could anyone know?” Catherine peered out through a tiny opening in the curtains.
“I don’t feel it now,” Vincent said, puzzled. “Just at the lake.”
“We have to keep watch tonight, just in case.”
At dawn, Catherine was asleep with her head on his lap. Vincent leaned
back on the couch and dozed. He woke when the first light touched the
Catherine felt him stir, and opened her eyes. “What is it?”
“Morning.” He went to the window and saw the first rays of sun sending beams of light through the branches.
“You think it’s safe to go out?”
“I don’t feel any presence now. It was only at the lake.”
“Maybe we should go back–“
“Catherine, we’re here. I don’t want to waste a moment of this day.”
In the morning light they walked out into the woods watching, moving cautiously from tree to tree.
We are like the deer,
Catherine thought. Staying hidden, unseen. This is his world–always.
Vincent bent down to look at something in the tall grass. “An aster!” He touched the purple flower.
“How do you–“
“I found a book in Father’s chamber about plants I was likely to find up here.”
Catherine smiled. Like an explorer in a new land studying unknown flora and fauna with the wonder of a child.
“I never dreamed I’d see such colors.” Vincent looked around at the red
and gold oak leaves that littered the ground. The fragrant pine
Catherine was absorbed in his delight at every new discovery, and
almost missed the sound of an engine coming closer. She turned to see a
white SUV approaching the cabin.
“Vincent, hide! I’ll go see what they want. Go!”
She tried to walk casually back the way they had come, her heart pounding in her ears.
A young man got out of the vehicle and she recognized Jim Nichols.
“Hi. I just wanted to see if you had everything you needed.”
“Yes, thanks for the wood. It came in handy last night.”
“Yeah, it was a little chilly. I could bring you more if you want–“
“No, it’s fine. I think it’ll be enough. I was just taking a walk, remembering the places I used to go when I was a child.”
“I remember your dad took me fishing out in the boat one summer. We had a great time.”
Catherine smiled at him. “My father loved to fish.”
“Well, I just wanted to check and see if you were doing OK. You’re sure there’s nothing you need?”
“I’m fine. A friend’s picking me up on Sunday to take me back.”
Jim got into the SUV. “OK, well enjoy the weekend.”
As he drove away, Catherine thought her knees were going to collapse.
She turned back to the woods and tried to walk slowly, admiring the
flowers until he was out of sight.
Vincent watched as Catherine neared the SUV. He sensed no fear in her.
Still, he stayed motionless behind one of the great trees and listened
to the conversation.
Once more, he became aware of the same presence he had sensed at the lake the
night before. It was a strong feeling and he whirled around, barely
suppressing a roar. This time he was determined to find the source.
Something in his mind said this way....
Vincent intuitively followed the voice deeper into the woods. He did
not know what guided him, but he felt he was on the right path. He
found himself before a large rock formation at the base of a hill, and
he stopped. He listened for the voice, tried to sense the presence but
it was gone again.
Vincent cautiously approached the rock formation and walked around it.
On the far side there was a hollow place in the rock, not quite a cave
but a shallow depression.
There in the leaf litter, half-buried he found a doll. The arms and
legs were rubber and one of the eyes still blinked when he lifted it
out of the dirt. Part of a dress remained, and he saw that what was
left of the hair was sandy-colored.
Investigating further, Vincent saw something else sticking out of the
leaves. He picked up a piece of a leather dog
collar. Inexplicably, he began to understand something. The
presence was a child–a very lonely one. What had happened to her?
This was her hideout.
He didn’t know how he knew this, but he was certain.
It was Catherine’s voice calling softly.
He emerged from behind the rock. “Here. Come look at this.”
Catherine listened as he told her how he found the cave. She looked at
the doll in his hands. “You think a--ghost--led you here?”
“Catherine–it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“And this is what you felt at the lake.”
“There's a great sadness in this place. She hid here from someone she
feared.” Vincent smoothed the doll’s dress, touched her hair.
Catherine took his
hand. “Whoever came here, it was obviously a long time ago. Come on.
I’ll show you the glen where I used to watch the deer.”
As Catherine showed him the world, Vincent marveled at how the daylight
changed everything, changed them. He walked in a new dimension, was
himself renewed. He saw Catherine as she was in this new place, this
different reality, and he knew he had never been fully alive
before. He had lived half a life, and this realization brought both
exaltation and grief, as he saw the magnitude and the dearth of
The deep green of meadow grass nourished him as it absorbed the sun’s
rays. He saw the natural world around him living in the sun as everyone
should and he drank its warmth, its light, tasted the day, smelled the
pine needles roasting in the afternoon.
Catherine watched him and wondered again if she’d done the right thing.
How could he ever go back to the dimness of the tunnels and be happy
there? He now had a huge reconciliation to make with himself. This had
seemed like such a wonderful idea–something he’d dreamed of all his
life. And now. . .
They had a picnic by the lake and Vincent watched in fascination as an
eagle swooped down and caught a fish in its talons. They walked in the
woods and in the meadow examining practically every flower. Vincent
caught a frog by the lake and smiled at the feel of its cool, wet skin.
That evening in his journal he wrote about everything he’d seen and
touched and felt. About the colors and the light, the sun shining
through leaves, so he would not forget.
Later, Catherine found herself falling asleep on the couch and she
retired to the bedroom, leaving him alone with his thoughts and
Vincent sat at the table in the cabin. In the window the moon
hung shaggy in the boughs of the pine tree. This was real
life. Almost. As close as he could ever come to a real
life. This day had been more than he ever could have hoped for or
imagined. And yet. . .
He looked toward Catherine’s bedroom door and wrote in his journal: I
am not permitted to touch you, as the moon is not permitted to touch
the earth. Only in tides and eclipses and wistful silver.
There is no earthly song for what the moon feels. She makes
the water bright and drinks shadows.
Vincent rose and stood before the window. One more day. One
more day of sunlight and then back to his life–to their lives. He
opened the cabin door and went down toward the dock.
neared the lake, he saw the doll he’d left by the water while
they were having their picnic. He picked it up and went to sit
and listen to the night. He still felt the radiant warmth of the
afternoon pulsing through him and he lay back while the stars wheeled
slowly, imperceptibly above him. He closed his eyes.
The dream came quietly, stealing into his subconscious like a distant
memory. He saw a white house and an apple tree in the yard, and
he knew she had climbed this tree many times. There was a garden
and a strawberry patch, and an old rusted oil barrel from years ago
mounted on wood blocks. There was a cottonwood tree shading the
house and a large porch with pillars and paint peeling off.
He felt her presence–almost saw her, but it was more of an
impression, a feeling of someone being near. Startled, he
woke. He sat still listening to the lapping of water, watching
the path of the moon on the waves. He was not afraid. He
knew now that she meant him no harm. Her sadness was
overwhelming, and it spoke to his own yearning.
Vincent rose and returned to the cabin.
Catherine tossed restlessly, unable to sleep. She had heard
Vincent’s movements and knew he was writing in his journal. She
wondered what he wrote–maybe she didn’t want to know. Would his
words be filled with the ache of having to go back? She wondered
again if she really had been selfish to do this.
She had heard the door close as he went outside. Should she go
find him or give him some privacy while he dealt with the reality of
going home tomorrow night? She was about to follow her instincts
and look for him when the bedroom door opened slowly and there he stood.
Catherine waited, not speaking. He came forward, letting his
cloak slide to the floor, and sat on the edge of the bed. He took
her hand gently. There were questions in his eyes and longing;
there was uncertainty and resolve. The moonlight made a slow, dim
path through the
As if he had read her mind, he said, “Regret nothing, Catherine.”
Of course he would have felt her trepidation through their bond.
“I would have given my life for this chance to be with you in the real world.
I had a dream. She said one word to me. Live.
Because she never got a chance to. And I realized that regardless
of our circumstances, the differences in our lives–we are here and
alive. We must be
no matter what. Catherine, for these few days we have lived.”
On Sunday, they walked hand in hand in the sunlight. Life was
made of moments and they embraced each one. They lay in the warm
meadow grass and flowers.
Catherine chose to take it as a promise. This was not the end,
but a beginning. The dawn of a new existence. There were
possibilities and they would find them. When Peter came with the
van that night, she felt the darkness was no longer oppressive, no longer filled
with doubt and worry and the scarcity of their time together.
Back in the tunnels, for the first time their parting was filled with expectation.
The next day, Catherine came to his chamber with a manilla envelope in her hand.
“Her name was Rhonda Christine Powell. Her father was a brutish man. He
came home drunk one night when she was fourteen and assaulted her. She fought
him. She fell and hit her head and died. He maintained until his death in
prison that it was an accident. Her mother and younger brother
abandoned the house and moved away.”
Catherine brought out the pictures in the envelope and Vincent saw the
white house from his dream, the apple tree, the oil barrel.
He touched the barrel in the picture. “It was her horse. She pretended she could ride far away from her life there.”
That night Vincent put the doll on the shelf with his treasures. “I will never forget you, Rhonda Christine.”
I can go now. I don’t have to stay here anymore.
This was my place by the lake, my
sanctuary, my safe place–always. It’s pretty here, but I think
there’s a beautiful light on the other side of the moon that I have to
You cared that I lived. Now I can go.
(In memory of Rhonda)