Silent Wish

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

by Judith Nolan

 

Vincent paused in the drainage tunnel entrance. He closed his eyes, lifting his face to the drifting flakes of snow, inhaling deep the cold, crisp air of another Christmas Eve in Central Park.

He dropped his head down again, a rough sigh escaping him. Another Christmas. Soon there would be another Winterfest, where he would once again stand on the sidelines, watching others in both the tunnels and Above making plans and schemes for the festive season. He didn’t begrudge them their fun or love; but sometimes, in moments of breathless stillness such as this, he knew a wish that he could have a measure of it for himself – just a fleeting, fragile dream inspired by observing the happiness of other men.

He raised a denying shoulder. Some things, it seemed, were never destined to be…but surely he could make a silent wish, and hope…just a little. He grimaced, reaching back to raise the hood of his cloak up and over his hair. Concealing his face for the night ahead, when he would once again walk unseen by any lovers in the park and then on into the city. He would lurk in the shadows to watch, sample a little of what it could mean to be happy and in love on such a beautiful night of nights.

But it seemed that this, perhaps, was to be a night full of magic and possibilities. As he moved slowly out into the blanketing whiteness of newly fallen snow, his boots crunching over the surface before sinking in a little with each step, his heightened senses began to roil with expectation.

He crested the rise beyond the tunnel mouth and stared out over the luminous landscape. All around, the great city rose to the sky, filling the immediate horizon beyond the trees — a million lights reflecting through the lightly falling snow. Somewhere in the distance he could hear carols being sung and the sound of laughter. No doubt there was another Christmas party in full swing at the Tavern on the Green.

But he didn’t feel he could be content to remain a passive observer tonight. He started to move on, strangely restless as he drifted down the hill towards the park entrance. Suddenly, in the opposite direction, he thought he heard someone call out. But when he paused, turning to look that way, the sound faded away into silence.

After a few moments listening, he began to walk again. But he had barely gone a few steps when something small and fleeting brushed against his fingers. It could have been the snow, but it felt like a child’s hand, a soft pressure tugging at his. He looked down in puzzlement, but there was nothing and no one there. However the sensation of being touched remained, tingling against his flesh.

He looked around in the muted glow of the park lights beside him, but he could discern nothing out of the ordinary. Any footprints there may have been were quickly filled with freshly falling snow.

“Where are you…?” he asked the silence.

The broken sound of someone calling came again, far away to his right. He frowned in that direction, scanning the trees that surrounded the lake. With his attention distracted, again something tugged at his hand, an insistent pressure drawing him away towards the distant voice.

“What do you want from me?” He tried to close his fingers around the soft pressure, but there was nothing to grasp except the falling snow. His innate sixth sense resonated through his whole body, further heightening his alertness.

He withdrew his hand, pressing it flat against his thigh. “Do you want me to follow you?” As if in answer to his question, something tugged more urgently at his sleeve, urging him forward.  

The sound of crying intensified as he drew nearer. The sound resolved into a woman’s voice, calling for someone. The tugging at Vincent’s sleeve insisted he move closer. He came up silently upon the scene.

A woman was kneeling at the edge of the lake, staring down into the dark waters, wringing her hands. “My baby…my baby…someone help me, please. Help me find my baby…”

The tugging at Vincent’s sleeve became more urgent. He whirled full circle, his cloak flaring out around him, but again there was nothing and no one to be seen.

He turned back to the woman. She was now lying face down in the snow beside the lake, the falling flakes slowly covering her completely. In a few moments she would be almost invisible in her cream party dress. If she didn’t get up again soon, she would freeze to death. Vincent couldn’t see any evidence of a child. He prayed no one had fallen into the icy lake.

As he moved closer, the woman looked up and saw him. She extended a pleading hand. “Oh, please, help me. My baby! My baby fell into the lake. For pity’s sake, come and find her, before it’s too late…”

Vincent’s heart contracted. He well knew there could be no hope for anyone to survive in the frigid black waters. But he hurried forward, bending to draw the woman to her feet, brushing the snow from her thin clothing. She was shivering violently.

He pulled her close to his body beneath his cloak, draping it around her shoulders, chaffing the woman’s icy hands. “Tell me what happened…” he urged. “Where did it happen? I cannot see anyone in the lake.”

The woman’s breath hitched on a ragged sob. “We were walking. Lucy ran ahead. I’ve always told her to be careful.” She sagged in his arms. “But she tripped. She fell into the lake and hit her head. I can’t find her. Where is she? Have you seen her?”

She looked up at him, not seeming to notice his unique face. Vincent was in a quandary. He could see no evidence of a child anywhere. No tracks; nothing to indicate the woman was not alone.

Suddenly he sensed a new presence behind him. He looked up to see a man hurrying down the hill from the direction of the Christmas party at the Tavern. Drawing back, Vincent kept his face averted within his hood, but the man’s attention was all on his shivering companion.

Emma! Thank God!” He drew her away from Vincent’s slackened hold, placing the heavy evening coat he carried around her shoulders. “You shouldn’t have wandered off. I knew tonight was a mistake. It’s all my fault, all my fault. We shouldn’t have come. No job is worth it.”

He glanced back at Vincent, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. Emma just can’t get past losing our daughter, Lucy. They were playing in the park last summer and Lucy ran away out of Emma’s sight. We didn’t find her until it was too late. She’d drowned in the lake. My wife…she blames herself.” The man looked down at the crying woman. “We should never have come back to the park tonight. There are too many bad memories.”

“Lucy…” Vincent glanced down at his hand, even as he drew back into the shadows. “Look after Emma. I am sorry for your loss.”

Wait!” The man put out a detaining hand. “We haven’t thanked you for saving Emma. If you hadn’t been here tonight...if you hadn’t found her in time…I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d lost her too.”

“Then I am glad I was here.” Vincent shook his head. “Take Emma home and look after her. Keep her warm and tell her how much you love her…”

“I will, but…” The man frowned, suddenly realising he was talking to silence. The stranger had melted away as if he had never been there. “Come on, Emma. Let’s get you home…”

Vincent watched from the hill as the couple hurried away into the distance. Again there was a soft insistence against his fingers. He looked down, not sure of what he would see. But as before, there was nothing and no one there.

“What do you want with me…?” He extended his hand in front of him. “Show me what you want me to do.”

The sensation of touch came again, urging him to follow. Intensely curious now, he began to walk, the small touches of his unseen companion directing his path. He was soon in the city, following a route of blind exploration. The snow was easing, and somewhere a distant clock chimed the midnight hour as he was finally drawn to one of the city’s cemeteries. Through the gates and along a path, the soft touch drew him ever onwards.

It was several minutes before the gentle contact urged him to a halt. He looked down to the grave at his feet. It was for a child, a five-year-old girl named Lucy. The grave was more than six months old.

“This is your grave…” he said to the surrounding silence.

Chill fingers gripped his hand. Vincent shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lucy…”

Silence greeted his words. There was now no further sense of anyone beside him. He stared again at the grave, saying a silent prayer for the little girl he couldn’t save...

rose

Vincent walked slowly up the hill towards home. The early April night was cool and clear.

It was after midnight, and the park was still and silent except for the sound of a car door slamming and a vehicle accelerating away in the far distance. He paused, glancing in the direction of the noise, but there was nothing to see. No one challenged his progress.

He was about to move on again when a slight pressure against the palm of his hand stopped him in his tracks … then a small tugging at his sleeve.

“Lucy…?” he questioned the ensuing silence. A more insistent tug urged him back towards the hill he had just crossed. “What is it? Is it your mother again?”

The tugging on his sleeve increased. Intensely curious now, Vincent followed the little girl’s unseen urging. Once again, his innate sixth sense made the hairs on the back of his neck rise with premonition.

Cresting the hill, he could see a dark shape sprawled on the grass below the roadway. It looked like a body, but he couldn’t be sure. The tugging at his sleeve urged him down the hill. He approached with silent caution, finally going down on his knees. He turned the body over, lifting it into his arms.

He gasped with shock. It was a young woman, and she was bleeding heavily from several bad cuts to her face. Quickly removing the scarf she was wearing, Vincent bound her slashed face as best he could, without too much restriction, allowing her to breathe. Scooping her up, he surged to his feet, turning back to the drainage tunnel, hurrying towards home and his father’s medical care – the only possible option he knew to be safe, given the seriousness of her wounds...


 

Vincent stood looking down at Lucy’s grave. The snow was falling all around. Soon it would be Christmas again, and he had a very large debt to pay.

He leaned down to brush the snow from the child’s gravestone. “Her name is Catherine. With your help, I was able to save her that night. And now, I believe she has saved me…from my aloneness…”

A soft pressure against his hand urged him down, tugging him to his knees before the grave. Then he felt small arms linking around his neck and a cold, feather-light kiss was pressed against his cheek. He turned his head to talk with her, but Lucy was already moving away. A sudden flurry of snow began to dance on the grave. It spiralled up to become the unmistakable shape of a small child, with one tiny hand raised in farewell.

“Goodbye, Lucy. Thank you. I will never forget you…” Vincent whispered.

The snow child nodded and appeared to smile before the shape drifted down, settling softly on the grave and there was nothing but silence…


 

 

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