For one brief heart stopping moment Catherine stared at Vincent’s face and held her breath certain that if she gasped or if she blinked the image would disappear.
So very, very carefully, because she had to and not because she wanted to do, Catherine exhaled and inhaled a breath but she did not blink nor move her hands to rub at her eyes.
The bond, she was uncertain of. If she clamped down hard on it, even in sleep Vincent would feel it.
He would be alerted enough to open his eyes, and then… then everything would revert back to normal.
Although by now, Catherine was seriously doubting what ‘normal’ actually was.
Perhaps Vincent as she knew him, as everybody knew him was trapped. Trapped in what? A time warp? A sheep in wolf’s clothing and not the other way about?
Very, very carefully, Catherine allowed her eyes to blink. She ignored the urge to hold her breath again and blinked only to clear her vision. But she hoped…God she hoped…that when she focused again the image hadn’t shattered. She desperately wanted to see some more.
When her eyes cleared, it was still there. ‘He’ was still there.
Very, very gingerly Catherine brought one hand from beneath the bed covers.
Her intention? She was undecided. She so desperately wanted to touch that perfectly ordinary, albeit deliciously handsome human face. Her hand hovered over his cheek, unsure…
Resisting the urge Catherine carefully pulled her hand back. She needed proof that what she was seeing wasn’t a dream. She needed to know that she was truly awake, yet nothing short of a quick trip to the basin and splashing cold water on her face would suffice at that moment. And she dared not do that. Any movement, no matter how minimal, would awaken Vincent. He always knew when she left his side.
If only she had a camera tucked under her pillow, or if only she had a witness to see this remarkable, unbelievable thing.
As she speculated on her options, it happened, the thing she’d feared most. Before her eyes Vincent altered. His features altered, he became leonine again. With a sad sigh Catherine waited, but although Vincent reached for and gathered her close to him, he did not wake.
As he slept on Catherine watched him. She began to have doubts as to what she had seen then she began to have hope that it had happened. Though what it meant she was uncertain of, and how it would affect Vincent if he knew she was doubtful.
She wondered why the image had altered. It had come over him so quickly. Catherine concluded that the very moment she had begun to contemplate ways to gain proof she must have transmitted her feelings through the bond that linked them. Deep in sleep Vincent had become aware that she was troubled, and he had reacted to that in the only way he knew, protection.
Does he know? Catherine wondered as she watched him sleep. Was he aware of what he could become? No. She answered her questions, clearly and concisely. Vincent didn’t know. If he did then he would have mentioned it at some stage during the last four years that they had known one another.
Or Father would know, and he would have said something. For what reason would any of them wish to keep it a secret? It was incredible. Amazing. Wonderful. It was also brief and only seemed to occur when Vincent was very deeply relaxed and sleeping heavily.
Knowing she would not go back to sleep Catherine decided she would lie awake and wait in the hope that she would see it happen again. Perhaps witness the very moment when his leonine features turned human - what a sight to behold that would be.
It occurred to Catherine at that moment that what she had witnessed was akin to that of a werewolf, though she shuddered at the thought, and since the image had gone and since she was awake anyway and it was unlikely she’d go back to sleep now, Catherine manoeuvred herself out of Vincent’s arms to get out of bed.
He stirred and in sleep reached for her, his eyelids flickering as realisation told him Catherine had left the bed. His eyes snapped open and he searched for her, sitting up in bed to see that she had padded to the other side of the chamber where her belongings lay.
Vincent roused himself, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Something concerns you?” It wasn’t really a question. Vincent knew the answer. Their connection told him that something was bothering her.
“I just want to check my diary for something. Nothing to worry about Vincent, go back to sleep.”
He watched her, wondering why she hadn’t elaborated, and voiced the only reason he felt she would need to consult her diary. “You’re not overdue.” He told her.
Catherine blushed as she always blushed when he mentioned this. That he knew her menstrual cycle better than she did, was something she had never really gotten used to.
Catherine laughed, deciding to tell him yet fobbing him off with any excuse that sufficed to accompany it. “I wanted to see when the next full moon was.”
“It was on my mind. I have to know. It’ll bug me and keep me awake and besides I needed the bathroom anyway.” Until that moment she hadn’t realised how true that was. Her bladder had obviously still been asleep when she first got out of bed. It was now wide awake and reminding her of its purpose in life.
Grabbing her diary Catherine took it and a lit candle to the bathroom adjacent to the chamber. The men folk had carved out a new bathroom when she and Vincent had married, rather than have them continue to share one with Father.
Relieved and a little amused, Vincent lay back against the pillows, intending to wait for her return. But he fell asleep, and did not stir until he felt her climbing back into bed.
“Ah, yes. Its not for another two weeks.”
Catherine smiled, she should have realised of course he would know. Not so that he could go and bay up at it, or roar or purr whatever, but because Vincent so loved the moon. He could remember when he very first saw it, and had paid homage to it ever since. But only because he adored the spectacular luminary, and not because he was drawn to it, as a werewolf would be. Catherine had to remember that.
So…if he did not alter due to a full moon…then why did it happen? And more importantly could it be ‘made’ to happen?
Believing that, that first time to have been a trick of the light, she couldn’t remember when it had happened, but this one she had made a note of in her diary. From now on she’d be aware, and she would take note and she would…
‘Oh, by the way, did you happen to know that Vincent can become human without knowing it, that is when he’s relaxed or deeply asleep?’
Like they’d believe her! They’d conclude she’d had received a bang to the head or had fallen off her rocker.
Deeply troubled and unable to sleep Catherine fidgeted enough to wake Vincent. Due to that both were up long before breakfast and Vincent could tell that something was on her mind.
“What’s wrong?” He asked often. Sighing when she replied the same, ‘nothing’.
Finally he pulled her down onto his lap, “Its not nothing. Something troubles you. And when something troubles you, it troubles me. Now tell me, what’s wrong?”
It was the hardest thing she had ever had to do, dismissing his concern as ridiculous, she chuckled, “Nothing’s wrong Vincent. You’re imagining things. I’m okay. There’s no problem. Now are we going to the kitchen for breakfast or what? I’m starving.”
Vincent gazed at her a long moment, trying to see through her. He knew her too well. He knew when she was troubled and he knew when she was hiding something. This morning she was both. But he also realised that she wasn’t going to confide in him, and that troubled him further. He released her and stood up, watching her cross the chamber, and wait for him by the door. The door the men folk had erected for them for privacy when they had married.
Vincent sighed raggedly running over what he did know. Catherine had consulted her diary, early on. Had been unable to sleep, had got up to consult the diary supposedly needing to know at that precise moment when the next full moon was due. Had forgotten that she need only ask him. He wondered again about her menstrual cycle. He was sure he was right, she wasn’t overdue so what was troubling her?
*** *** ***
After breakfast she seemed better. Her mood had lightened, and Vincent prepared for the day’s classes happier of mind. Catherine taught law to the older children, and Vincent thought nothing of it when she went to Father’s chamber to select some textbooks she would need for her class. And as he made his way to his own class shortly after he did not know of the length of time Catherine spent with his father until later when her pupils came to his class looking for her.
It was then he grew concerned again and a little annoyed. Catherine it appeared could consult his father about her problem but she could not confide in him. That to Vincent meant only one thing. Catherine’s problem whatever it was concerned him. It was about him. And it was something that either she didn’t want him knowing she was asking his father about, or it was some doubt she was having about their relationship, their marriage. But he did not pry and he did not go to look, he continued to the best of his ability to take care of his class and Catherine’s in her absence. When she came looking for them it would be as good a time as any to access the situation. The look on her face would give it away.
*** *** ***
It had actually been Father that had detained her. Catherine had gone searching for textbooks true, but her distraction had been what had alerted him to a problem. She was unusually quiet. Apart from one cheery hello, she had dismissed him as she had searched. Usually she would hold a conversation with him while she sought the books she required. She would ask, albeit absently, how he was feeling, were his joints giving him trouble today, was there anything she could get him. But today there was none of that, Catherine was either uncharacteristically absorbed in what she was doing, or something troubled her.
“Something wrong, my dear?” Father prompted gently.
She either ignored or did not hear him.
Father tried again, “Catherine? Is something the matter?”
Again silence. Catherine continued rummaging along the shelves for the books she needed. Though it seemed to him she had passed the ones he expected she needed several times.
“Catherine?” Father spoke more sharply than he intended. Still it had the desired effect. Catherine stopped what she was doing and with one hand hovering over a set of books, she turned to look at him. Her face registered genuine surprise. “Father? Did you speak?”
Despite everything, Father chuckled, “Several times.” He replied.
Sheepishly Catherine smiled back at him as she pulled the required books from the shelf. “I’m sorry, what did you say? I never heard you.” She confessed as she walked to where he sat behind his desk.
“I know. You were miles away. I wondered what the matter was. You aren’t usually so absorbed in the mornings.”
“Oh its nothing.” Catherine ventured, but even to her own ears it sounded like a lie. Guiltily she looked at Father, “Well as a matter of fact…” she paused and then with a heavy sigh, much to his surprise she sat down in front of him and her mouth opened and closed as if unsure what to say. Father waited and haltingly Catherine began to speak.
“Do you happen… to have a… contact number… for Devin?”
Father’s eyes opened wide. This was the last thing he had expected her to say. Though what he had expected he didn’t know. But never did it cross his mind that she might want to contact his eldest son. She never had wanted to do so before, not even when she and Vincent first announced their wedding plans. Had she of asked him the question then, he would not have given it a second thought. But now? Why now? Whatever reason would Catherine need to get hold of Devin?
A little sharply than intended Father replied, “Of course I do. He is my son after all.”
Fidgeting in her seat Catherine looked down at her hands deliberately avoiding his gaze. Father apologised, “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.” Still he had a right to know why she needed to contact Devin, didn’t he? It was his son after all. “Why do you need to contact Devin?”
Startled Catherine looked up. Father thought he was looking into the eyes of a terrified deer. It concerned him no end. “Catherine.” He stood and reached forward and plucked her hands from her lap, holding them in his, sitting down again and asking, “What is the matter? Something is wrong, and don’t try telling me otherwise. You are not yourself, and needing Devin’s contact number is unusual. I can only conclude one thing.”
He knows! Catherine stared at the old man. He knows and Devin knows, and no one has ever told me! Her mouth opened and closed and her eyes looked on accusingly and as Catherine whispered, “what?” Father fumbled for a reply.
“You have a problem with Vincent, and you think Devin might be able to throw some light on it.” Catherine swallowed with difficulty. Anger was swift and she snatched her hands from Father’s. Why had no one told her? It would have made all the difference. Why she wasn’t completely sure of, but had she of been told that Vincent could change from beast to human, things would have been different. And she had had a right to know! God damn it, she was his wife and she had had a right to know!
Did they think she would never notice? Did they not realise that in his most vulnerable moments, when Vincent was completely relaxed that she would not see it, when laying beside him as his wife?
For God’s sake!
Furious, Catherine stomped around the chamber unable to speak unable to do anything but let her thoughts fly. Father watched her, he was agitated, she was agitated, but he did not understand why.
“Catherine?” He spoke gingerly, and then a little louder with more courage, “Catherine!”
She turned and faced him and in her eyes he saw a million accusations and understood none of them.
“What is it?” He asked, “Tell me, please! Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a mind reader.” He hoped that comment would make her smile. It didn’t. Well not at first, he thought maybe he saw a hint of a smile, but it was gone in an instance. Instead Catherine marched over to his desk and blurted angrily, “Why didn’t you tell me? What did you think I’d do with information like that? Think he could conjure up a circus act for me anytime I wanted? Father, it only happens when he’s asleep…as far as I know…unless you tell me otherwise?” she asked accusingly. Dumbfounded, Father could only stare at her. What on earth was she ranting on about? Something pricked at his consciousness. A memory…dredged up from long, long ago.
“What are you talking about?”
Catherine stared down at him, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Only when she was sure that he didn’t know anything after all did her breathing falter and sighing heavily she flounced back down opposite and stared at Father, her mind in turmoil.
“You don’t know?” She asked at length.
Father, not certain what it was he should know, despite an inkling he’d just had, could only shake his head. He didn’t like to say anything, unsure of what to ask. He feared he may be right.
Raggedly, Catherine sighed. She knew her outburst warranted explanation. But doing so rankled. All she had wanted was Devin’s contact number. If anyone had witnessed before what she had then likely it would have been him. He may never have said anything about it for fear or reprisal but likely it wouldn’t be a thing he’d forget.
Now she had gone too far. Her actions, her behaviour spoke volumes. Something was wrong, something was terribly, terribly wrong, and Father would push and pull until she gave in. He would feel he had a right to know. And he did. That was the whole crux of the matter. Father did have a right to know.
Taking a deep breath Catherine launched her first question, “Father…did you know…are you aware…Father…have you ever seen…” Catherine shook her head knowing she couldn’t say it that way. She took a deep breath and as he watched her she told him, “Father, this morning I saw something. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it. Only when it happened that first time, I’d passed it off as a trick of the light…” was it her imagination or had Father’s complexion paled as she had said that?
She went on regardless, “Father, I know this sounds crazy…” again she was sure his pallor waned, “But I know what I saw, and it happened. Father…” she took her deepest breath now, preparing to speak of the matter, unsure of the outcome, “Father, when Vincent is asleep, he alters. His face alters.” She didn’t know about the rest of him, and until that moment hadn’t even thought about it. Did all of him alter? She didn’t know.
“Alters? How do you mean?” Father voice cracked a little.
This was crazy. Catherine took a moment to reflect. She needed proof. It wasn’t something she could blurt out, and certainly not to Father he’d have a heart attack. And he wouldn’t believe her anyway. He’d take her temperature and when that appeared normal, if not a little high in the circumstances, he’d conclude she’d been drinking.
“Forget it, Father. Forget I said anything. Its crazy, I must have imagined it.” She knew she hadn’t but then…
Standing Catherine picked up her books and intending to leave the chamber she stopped short at the exit when Father announced softly, “I think I know what you mean…I too have seen it.”
When she turned to face him the look on his face was one of incredulity…neither spoke…it was enough that both of them knew…
It happened…it did happen…the question now?
What were they going to do about it?
*** *** ***
It seemed, that once the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, which was probably more literal than anyone realised, everyone knew of it. As Father called a meeting one that did not involve Vincent, he said just enough to enlighten the tunnel members of the matter and let them inform him if they knew anything.
“A strange thing happened earlier,” he said by way of passing and with as much humour as he could muster, “Catherine thought she saw Vincent’s face alter and become human…if only that were so…huh?”
He didn’t really expect any of the faces around him to show any sign of knowing anything, so when people appeared decidedly uncomfortable or downright shocked he knew…that they knew…what he and Catherine already knew…
“You’ve seen it?” Father stated incredulously. Slowly almost every person sitting in front of him nodded. Those that didn’t looked from one to the other totally perplexed.
Bit by bit, the experiences unfolded. For some it was years ago, and not since, for others it was recently…but always, always the story was the same, it had occurred when Vincent was asleep or deeply relaxed knowing that Catherine was safe and close and he had nothing to trouble him.
“This is incredible.” Father stated, “And we have to make him aware of it.”
The others agreed, albeit reluctantly. They knew Vincent, they also knew he would not believe them. He might want to do, but because it was something he had always wished for he might conclude that it was some cruel joke they had rigged for their own amusement. Though he should know them better, that realisation wouldn’t come before he let rip. And in that time he could do a lot of damage to himself and his surroundings. Not to mention anyone that got in his way.
“We have to be tactful.” Father went on. “Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.”
Many people were still in awe of the situation. It really was too incredible to be true. Things like this didn’t really happen did they? They occurred only in the fantasy realm, not in real life. It was hard to believe it was true.
A dreamlike state settled over those in Father’s chamber and repeatedly he witnessed them shaking their heads and rubbing their eyes as if to clear themselves of a foggy substance that had enveloped them. He understood how they felt, but it didn’t make it any less unreal. Vincent, his son, the leonine one, could, though he was unaware of it, alter his features from one of a lion to one of a very handsome and perfectly ordinary human being. It was how they could tell him that was the problem…and then…once he knew…
Father sighed heavily…once he knew…then what?
What if, it only happened when Vincent was sleeping? Or when he was so relaxed that he was completely out of it as much as if he were sleeping? Wouldn’t that be too cruel?
If Vincent could never see what they had seen, wouldn’t it be better that he didn’t know?
Father run that possibility by the members congregated in his chamber. He’d provided food for thought, and Catherine was very much concerned by it.
Finally she spoke truthfully, “I’d want to know. Let’s face it Father, if you were terminally ill and knew that you were going to die, had accepted your fate, and then someone you loved and trusted discovered that there was a slim, albeit very slim chance of you becoming well again. Wouldn’t you want to know?” Father could not deny that would be so. As painful as it might be, he’d want to know and he’d want to try and make it happen, just as he was sure that his son, when he knew and he believed, would want to try and make it happen.
“We have to tell him.” Father said at last, “There is nothing else we can do. He has a right to know. And we must be there for him with whatever he decides to do about it.”
One by one, people saw the sense in that and agreed. Even so Pascal reluctantly got up and went to a pipe to call Vincent to the meeting. Then everyone held their breath as they waited for him to arrive.
*** *** ***
Vincent roared. Just as everyone had expected, they covered their ears and ducked low in their seats afraid of flailing and powerful arms and lethal claws that Vincent tore through the air as he pranced and paced the length of Father’s chamber.
“You are joking?” His blue eyes flashed red. “You expect me to believe that I…” he faltered unable to even voice what had been told to him, then lashed out, “How can you be so heartless!” He yelled before fleeing from the chamber roaring angrily as he went.
“That went well.” Father half chuckled.
“I’ll go after him.” Catherine announced and shook off all the hands that tried to stop her do just that.
“Leave her.” Father told them, “She knows what she’s doing. Out of all of us, she alone can calm him down. We know that. Have we not the proof?” They all remembered the terrible time when Parcelsus had tricked Vincent and through it all Vincent had killed him, sending him headlong into madness. Only Catherine had brought him back from the brink, only her courage and her love had been enough to bring Vincent back to them.
Running after him Catherine stopped short when yards ahead she heard him stop and knew he was waiting for her. His blue eyes punctuated the darkness ahead, and she walked right up to him and touched his face with one hand. “My love…” she began, “We did not lie to you. Vincent, I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it.”
His gaze met hers a long moment before he slipped to the ground his body shaking, his head bowed low, “ How can it be?” He asked raggedly. “My deepest wish…how can it be that I did not know?”
“It happens when you’re sleeping, though Kanin said he saw it once when you were deeply relaxed. You’d been at the way station and I had been in your chamber awaiting your return. You knew I was safe in your world and nothing troubled you. Everyone was well, there were no problems awaiting your return, nothing to worry about. You were sitting, resting, leaning back against a rock and Kanin looked up and could not believe what he saw. Vincent…his eyes beheld a man…a very handsome man…”
“If it’s true…I want to see it.” Vincent told her raggedly.
“Of course you do. And its true, believe me, it is. Only when it happened this morning…” he looked up stunned. “This morning?” Catherine nodded, “Yes…” her smile wavered as one step ahead of his thoughts she became concerned, “And you thought it had something to do with the moon?” his voice had a dangerous edge. When she could not reply, he cried, “What do you think I am? A werewolf!”
“No, no…Vincent!” As he started forward, Catherine grabbed at his sleeve while angrily he tore her hand away and ran from her. Catherine followed and caught him up at the falls. He would not look at her, just sat in his usual place staring out at the cascading water.
He mumbled an apology as Catherine sat down beside him - for a while neither spoke.
“It’s always been my greatest wish.” Vincent admitted at last, though she had known that.
“For years I dreamed it was so. I would peek into a mirror, though I detest those reminders of what I am. I would stare at my image and wish with all my might that my reflection might show me someone else. Once…” Catherine perked up, holding her breath, and Vincent looked at her, really looked, his gaze holding hers steadily, “Just once…” he whispered, “I thought I saw something…” he gasped recognising now the possibility…what he had once concluded as a flight of fancy, might have been…possibly could have been…his face changing shape…
“Oh Catherine…” Hope shone from Vincent’s eyes…he pulled her close and he hugged her tight…and she was glad in that moment that they had told him.
*** *** ***
The transition, such as it was, wasn’t easy. Knowing and doing were very different things. Vincent spent hours gazing at his reflection in a mirror, willing his features to change. They never did. He despaired, Catherine despaired, Father despaired they all did. They all wanted it so badly, yet every suggestion failed.
And it never happened when he slept. Now he was aware of it, he slept fitfully, he ground his teeth, he was awake the moment Catherine stirred beside him, Their nights were constantly broken by him suddenly sitting up and asking ‘did it happen?’
His disappointment broke Catherine’s heart every time she told him, ‘no’.
“Got an idea.” Mouse announced one day at breakfast. Catherine and Vincent looked up from a pile of muffins that were set before them. “What?” Catherine asked albeit tiredly, ideas were wearing thin.
“Hypnotism.” Mouse replied beaming.
It wasn’t such a bad idea…Catherine decided…the thing was…who was capable of doing it?
“Sebastian?” She asked Vincent as they left the dining room, “Can he do it?”
“Not that I’m aware.” Vincent replied. Mouse trotted behind, “Me” he told them happily, “I can do it.” Despite the seriousness of the matter Vincent laughed. “You? Mouse I don’t think…”
Mouse sounded hurt, “Why not? Can so do it. Did it already.”
“With whom?” Catherine laughed.
“Arthur.” Mouse told them proudly. “Come see.” He took Catherine’s hand and pulled, she had no choice but to go with him. Mouse knew Vincent would follow. No choice. Where Catherine went he went, no choice.
At Mouse’s chamber, they found a very subdued raccoon. Arthur was not a critter that could sit still. He was always shuffling here and there, and twittering in that way raccoon’s do. But now he was silent. Not only silent but exceedingly still…almost as if…
“Is he alive?” Catherine asked uncertainly.
“Course!” Mouse chortled, and then walked up to his pet and to Vincent and Catherine’s amazement Mouse clicked his fingers and the animal moved from animated suspense to full-scale raccoon mode. Mouse raced behind and clicked his fingers again behind the animal’s ear and Arthur stopped and hovered there, one foot raised as if caught suspended in mid stride. Another click of the fingers and the raccoon was off again as if nothing had happened.
Vincent and Catherine could only stare open mouthed with utter disbelief at what they had seen. Finally Mouse nudged them, “Haven’t done it yet.” He giggled, at his friend’s curious stare, he added, “Hypnotised you. Haven’t hypnotised you yet.” They understood that their actions had made it appear he had, even so…was it possible…or had he very cleverly trained the raccoon to act on command?
Doubtful, but intrigued nonetheless Vincent decided to give it a go. He had nothing to lose did he? And what if it worked?
“Okay Mouse.” Catherine looked to Vincent startled. “You’re not going along with it?” she asked aghast.
“Why not?” Vincent shrugged then looking to his friend asked, “Where shall I sit? Should I make myself comfortable and take off my cloak?” Mouse grinned. “Sit here.” He slid a pile of newspapers off a chair offering it to Vincent.
To Catherine he said, “Come back later?”
“No way!” Catherine exclaimed. “I’m stopping right here.”
“Then be quiet.” Mouse told her then as Arthur was making a God-awful noise rummaging around in one corner Mouse trotted over to the animal clicked his fingers and the raccoon stopped dead in its tracks. It appeared to Catherine like a taxidermist had gotten a hold of it and she giggled despite herself.
With Vincent sat waiting patiently and Mouse holding up a fob watch on a long silver chain, the hypnosis began.
Swinging it from side to side, Mouse told Vincent, “Watch the watch. You are feeling sleepy.” Vincent rolled his eyes in Catherine’s direction. She stifled a giggle with one hand. Mouse shot her an irritated look and told Vincent sternly, “Got to concentrate.”
“Sorry.” Vincent replied.
“And not talk.” Mouse admonished.
Mouse growled. That surprised Vincent, Catherine too. She was finding it difficult to keep a straight face.
“You are feeling sleepy, very sleepy.” Catherine wondered how Mouse had done this with the raccoon. Did Arthur actually know what the word sleepy meant? Did he actually know that the swinging watch was inedible?
Vincent began to snore.
Catherine giggled loudly.
“Quiet!” Mouse hissed, “He’s sleeping!”
“Get out of here!” Catherine laughed and looked toward her husband. He did appear to be sleeping. But then he should have been an actor she had often thought so.
Mouse continued to talk evenly to Vincent, swinging the watch to and fro.
Catherine pursed her lips waiting for Vincent to do smile. In expectation of him doing something funny Catherine started to giggle. She clamped a hand to her mouth and that didn’t make the situation any better. She wanted to laugh out loud. Vincent was playing this so well…
However, having actually got his ‘victim’ to this position, Mouse wondered what he should do next. With Arthur it had been easy, he’d just stopped the animal from messing up, with Vincent it was different. Mouse turned to Catherine for guidance, “What should we ask him to do?” He mumbled almost apologetically.
Still believing her husband was feigning sleep Catherine stood up and whispered, “Oh I don’t know…how about…asking him to…to…I know! Ask him to take all his clothes off!”
That’ll teach him. Catherine smiled, Vincent might well strip so far but he’d never go commando in front of an audience.
“Nah, “Mouse shook his head, “Vincent won’t like it when he knows we made him do that.”
For the first time, Catherine looked sceptical. Mouse truly believed he’d put Vincent under. And Vincent was playing it to the letter. That could have disastrous consequences to Mouse’s belief in himself when he discovered his friend was only tricking him.
“Got it!” Mouse suddenly announced, and returning to stand by Vincent he told him, “You have nothing to worry about, Vincent. Everyone safe. You can relax now.”
Whatever Catherine had been about to say, she would never know…instead her eyes and mouth opened wide…as before her Vincent’s face began to change. Mouse gasped and held on to Catherine for support. He’d been one of the few who had never seen this metamorphosis occur. He didn’t really know if he could believe it, but anything important to Vincent, had been important enough for him to try and help. And now that he’d succeeded he wasn’t certain that he ought to have tried.
Spellbound, Catherine stared as the leonine features faded away, and there before her, in full view Vincent became a man. Her eyes glimmered with unshed tears, and she wished she could capture the moment. Vincent should see this…yet she knew, as Mouse seemed to know, that to try and wake him now…might be disastrous.
“Get Father.” Mouse edged passed and hurried from his chamber. From a distance Catherine heard his announcement on the pipes and a subsequent reply. Vincent didn’t move. Deeply asleep, his transition complete, he had no way of knowing he would soon have an audience…people would witness in full candlelight…this spectacular event.
Whether or not that was right or that was wrong, Catherine couldn’t decide…her husband ought not be made a spectacle of, yet on the other hand…people needed to see this.
One by one they assembled, they gasped and held hands over their mouths, but no one spoke. Finally Father hobbled into their midst, if he was stunned when Mouse had announced that he’d hypnotised Vincent, but this topped that. Looking down at Vincent, seeing before him a man, whose hands bore no sign of fur or claws, whose face looked similar to any other face of any other person living below, albeit framed by the familiar long golden hair and relaxed in sleep…was almost Father’s undoing. He wept openly, and reached out a hand to touch his son, pulling it away just in time as he realised the futility of doing so. Even in his natural state, whatever that now was, Father knew full well that Vincent should not be woken from sleep.
“Mind, mind…” someone was pushing from behind the speechless crowd that had gathered in Mouse’s chamber. They let the person pass. It was Jamie she’d been one of the first to arrive yet no one had seen her leave. They only noticed she was back now by the camera she held in her hand. Motioning to Catherine, seeing Catherine’s nod of approval Jamie set it up.
When the flash went off, everyone jumped but Vincent did not awaken. Neither did his features alter he remained in perfect ignorance…unknowing of the beautiful sight he presented his friends.
“You should bring him out now.” Catherine whispered to Mouse. The young man nodded, and one by one people took the hint and departed. Jamie gave the camera to Catherine, knowing she would hasten to have the photos developed. Catherine gave it back, thrust her hand into her jeans pocket and brought out a twenty-dollar bill, “Up top now.” She told the younger woman. For a moment Jamie hesitated, then she turned and ran, of course…what problem was there in having the photo developed above…all it was, was of a man…
“Vincent…Vincent…its time to wake up…” Mouse cooed. There was a moment of panic when Catherine thought that Vincent might be hypnotised forever, that Mouse as a novice hypnotist had done something wrong, but slowly as Vincent came up to consciousness his features reverted back to what was normal for him, and he awoke, his blue eyes snapping open to gaze around the chamber, before he asked one question, “Well, did it work?”
The look on Catherine’s face gave him his answer, not only that but his father stepped into the chamber, followed by a few members of the community. All were smiling…Vincent’s hands rose to his face and dropped away with dismay…”What happened?” he asked at length.
“It did, Vincent.” Catherine told him honestly, “It worked. But the moment you awoke…”
“It went.” Vincent added flatly. Catherine nodded and as his face fell she told him, “but Jamie took a photograph. She’s gone above to have it developed. Hopefully it’ll be ready before the day is out.”
Vincent gasped, “A photograph, of me!”
“Yes…of you…you as a man…”
Vincent understood then, but said nothing. It was all too incredible for words.
*** *** ***
A photograph never lied. But then Vincent had no experience of that. No one had taken one of him before, and this one…the one he held in his hands now…well it was him…but then it wasn’t him.
The mirror images Vincent had seen over the years told him only what his hands told him every time he touched his face. This photo was contradictory. He recognised his clothing and Mouse’s chamber, he even recognised some members of the community that had been captured standing in the background. In all honesty, he couldn’t doubt that what he was seeing was him…but there was nothing else for it, he had to. This man, this stranger peacefully asleep, oblivious to all that was happening around him, it had to be him.
For what other explanation was there? He knew his friends wouldn’t rig something like this to fool him, so he had to believe, and he placed the photograph on his desk and looked at it often, over the next couple of weeks touching his face as he did so, and sighing heavily. It was true, behind the mask of the beast lay a man a real man. If only he could be conjured up at will.
In Father’s chamber, and still mystified in Mouse’s abilities as hypnotist, Father was interrogating Catherine on what had happened that morning. He couldn’t believe that Vincent would succumb just like that. It was too impossible to accept. “And he just fell asleep? Just like that?” Catherine nodded and Father looked perplexed. Though over the past couple of weeks he’d flogged the experience to death, he couldn’t take it in. there was nothing else for it… “I need to see it with my own eyes. Call Mouse here.”
Catherine obeyed, tapping the message on the pipes, and waiting for the answering reply. “Coming.” That was Mouse, his message straight and to the point.
On impulse, Catherine tapped back, “And bring your fob watch.” From where he was, Mouse doubled back, he was a little worried now he knew what Father wanted.
Still he arrived some ten minutes later and flounced into the chamber, Jamie in tow.
Father set about his query without preamble. “Mouse. I want you to hypnotise Catherine.”
“No way!” Catherine backed off.
“I’ll do it Father.” Jamie offered.
“No. You might be an ally.”
“Father!” Both Jamie and Catherine exclaimed, only now seeing what was going on. Father wanted proof, as if seeing Vincent hadn’t been proof enough already.
“Mouse, its not that I don’t believe it happened, I just want to see the master at work. Let me call someone else.” Father leaned down to a pipe and asked for anyone nearby to come to his chamber. Then he added to be hypnotised by Mouse.
Of the multitude that heard the first half of his message and had begun to respond, over half turned around and went back to their business when they heard the second half of the message. It took a repeat of the message before Geoffrey dragged his feet in. He’d apparently drawn the short straw.
Father had Mouse perform the miracle on Geoffrey. He almost laughed out loud at Mouse’s method.
Swinging the fob watch in front of the teenager, Mouse told Geoffrey, “You are feeling sleepy.”
“You are feeling sleepy!” Mouse snapped.
“Am not.” Geoffrey rebelled.
“Watch the watch.” Mouse told him. Geoffrey giggled. Father giggled.
“Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…” Geoffrey repeated with a grin as the watch swung to and fro.
“You are feeling sleepy.” Mouse continued a little aggressively.
Geoffrey feigned a yawn. “Am not.”
“Are so!” Mouse seethed between his teeth.
“If it helps…” Father yawned loudly, “I am.”
Catherine giggled loudly.
Mouse swung the fob watch faster, “Careful you’ll send me dizzy.” Geoffrey wailed. Jamie started to laugh. “I think the game’s up Mouse. I would quit while you’re ahead if I were you.”
Everyone froze. Now it was one thing to believe that it was all a fluke but quite another knowing so for definite. “You mean he can’t hypnotise anyone?” Catherine looked from Jamie to Mouse and back again, she was disappointed. “But what about the raccoon.”
“He trained him.” Jamie replied. “Took a long time, a lot of bribery with food and scolding but he got there in the end.”
“But the creature didn’t move. He just stood there in mid stride.”
“Yeah afraid for his life if he misbehaved.” Jamie chortled. Mouse looked sheepish.
“Wait a minute…” Catherine went on, “If you can’t use hypnosis, then what about Vincent?”
Mouse shrugged. He’d been wondering about that – a lot.
“What did you actually tell Vincent?” Father asked. Catherine and Mouse filled him in. Father rubbed a hand across his whiskered chin thoughtfully, “Doesn’t add up.” He said at length. “Have Vincent come in here will you, Catherine?”
While they waited Father gave Mouse a lecture on lies and cheating. Mouse had a lot to say for himself. “Worked on Vincent, must be able to do it.” He shrugged.
“That’s not the point Mouse. You deliberately set out to trick Vincent. I’m surprised at you. I thought he was your friend?”
“Is.” Mouse answered irritably, no one should question that. He loved Vincent like a brother.
Father was about to say more when Catherine returned with her husband in tow. She had filled him in on Mouse’s hoax. Vincent was mystified. If Mouse hadn’t really hypnotised him, then what had happened? He could remember nothing between Mouse swinging the watch and waking up with his friends around him.
For an hour they discussed the possibilities, they got nowhere. Other people wandered in and out and gave their two cents worth, to no avail. Somehow, for some reason it appeared that Vincent had trusted Mouse and really had become hypnotised. It was cause for concern.
On the other hand…
Once Vincent gave consideration to what had taken place that morning he realised that much of it had been Mouse’s tone. The soft way he had spoken, the repetitive approach, even the watch swinging back and forth had made Vincent relax. Not only that, but he had been so damn tired after all those fitful nights, that he was ready to fall asleep atop a matchstick. The atmosphere in the chamber had been quiet, and after the initial fun with Catherine as onlooker, Vincent had settled down, relaxed and let it happen. He’d fallen asleep, pure and simple, and because he trusted Mouse and Catherine to keep him safe, he’d had nothing to worry him. He had been asleep so fast he had not heard Catherine mention about taking off his clothes, truly he hadn’t. He only knew that from afterward when he and Catherine had discussed what had happened in his chamber.
“So…this is what I think.” Father decided when it appeared no one was going to offer an idea. Though to be fair they’d conjured up every conceivable idea from there to Mars and back in the past hour. “Vincent?”
“There’s nothing to worry about. Catherine is here, no one is sick, the children are happy, Devin called Peter this morning to say he’s having a ball in Tahiti, and so you can go to your chamber, read a book, cuddle up with your wife and enjoy yourself. Not only today but tomorrow, and the next day and the next day and so on. Is that understood?”
Vincent grinned. He knew what Father was doing. He’d been trying it himself these past two weeks, but strange how telling oneself something and hearing those same things from another had a different result. Vincent sighed heavily, Father was right there was nothing and no one to worry about. He offered Catherine his hand, and with a soft, “Thank you Father.” Vincent led Catherine back to their chamber.
They did as told, selecting books to read and snuggling close on the ottoman, Catherine tucked close between Vincent’s legs his arms draped over her shoulders. They were warm and content and as Vincent began to read aloud, Catherine imagined the places he read about, the characters and the experiences they endured. It went on like this for a while until the tone of Vincent’s voice altered…the slight lisp Vincent always had when speaking vanished and Catherine held her breath. Without altering his stride Vincent continued reading though he could see beneath his eyes, his cheeks change shape. His whole face seemed to be stretching and altering as he spoke and his teeth receded, his fangs disappeared. Vincent hardly dared breathe and continuing to read was almost impossible. Still he went on, ignoring what was happening afraid to break the spell…until before them they saw the fur on the back of his hands turn into hair and the claws become nails, and when that occurred Vincent stopped reading and swallowed slowly and with difficulty telling himself to breathe.
Slowly he dared to move, lifting his hand to touch his face, smooth fingers touching smooth cheeks, nose, brow, chin whiskered naturally, the contours of his face different. He longed to look in a mirror, but didn’t dare do so yet. That day would come, he knew it would but for now he was content and certain that from now on the transition would only get easier. He had only to relax and be at peace.
Catherine turned to him, gazing up into his eyes. They were the same beautiful blue as they’d always been yet what shone from them now was pure and brilliant hope, amazement wonder…happiness. They made Catherine’s heart rejoice.
“You are so beautiful.” Catherine whispered gently, tears bedimming her eyes.
Vincent bent his head and kissed her, a long and lingering kiss full of love and promise.
Blissfully Catherine sighed, “Truly, Vincent…you are so beautiful…but then you always were.”