LOST AND FOUND
by Joanne Grier
(Originally written as J. A. Cliffe)
Three shadows slipped quietly across the wide expanse, moving between the trees, clinging to the darkness. Safety lie yards away, but from beneath the spreading arms of a nearby willow came the sound of voices. Voices that touched fear within their hearts because between the safe haven of the trees a fourth shadow waited; waited to be reunited; a shadow that had purposely stayed behind to assure their safe passage.
They stepped back, merging their bodies deeper into the inky blackness and waited frozen by fear. Fear of what would happen if they were caught and a more frightening fear loomed larger. Father's rage.
Across the moon brightened field a shadow moved, and the air was filled with a steady rapid-fire tapping. The meadow became quiet, the voices stilled. The words, phrases continued to drift then stopped. The tapping was hypnotic, filling the night with sound, raising the taste of fear on the tongue and all while the heart begged the hypnotic sound to continue as it filled them with sweet longing. The voices rose, suspended momentarily then were replaced by the crunch of swiftly moving feet against dry, brittle leaves.
Moving quickly, the shadow left the trees, running toward the welcoming darkness and the safety of home. The hidden shadows began to move, and within minutes, the shadows were rejoined and slid into the drainage tunnel. No sound came as they hurried toward the secret door and the safety of home. Releasing the lever and pulling back the gate they waited as the heavy door rolled back to allow them safe passage.
Chests heaving from the exertion and forbidden excitement, they waited until the large steel door slid into place and then talking in excited voices, they dropped in a tangled heap to lie in the dust. Leaving their shadow counter-parts behind, slowly they sorted out legs and arms becoming four distinct individuals.
They fell silent, then slowly stood and began the long walk. They knew their disappearance had been reported and their return would be broadcast well in advance of their actual arrival in the library. There was no thought of fleeing their punishment, escaping it did not cross their minds. Individually, they knew they had been wrong and they knew they must accept responsibility for their actions. That was a lesson they had learned early. No lectures, no talking had prepared them for the lore of spring--the sights, sounds of the world awakening from a long winter sleep.
The library study was filled, four sets of parents waiting. One person paced, more fearful than the others, for his son was the most unique and the least likely to survive in that dreaded world Above.
Turning as one, they looked up as the rag tag group entered the chamber, feet shuffling. Voices rose, echoing then falling to silence and the faces turned as one voice loudly called for order.
"What do you have to say for yourselves?" The deep baritone voice was edged with controlled fury. The eyes' of the tunnel patriarch swept the perpetrators causing them to shrink back a step as the force of his gaze settled on his young son.
"The park is especially lovely this time of year, Father. Surely you do not begrudge us the opportunity to view the beauty of nature." Clear concise logic, an appeal to the better side of parental authority.
"We are aware of how lovely the park is, Vincent, but the fact remains that all of you were Above without permission. As the eldest you and Pascal," Erica's father deep, rich voice filled the chamber, "know better than to travel Above without first alerting family and the sentries."
"Vincent, Fielding is right. It is not going Above that we object to, though I do have personal reservations on that subject, but the blatant disregard of our rules." Father stared pointedly at his son over his glasses.
"It was not something we planned, sir," Pascal interjected looking at his friend and hoping to relieve the building tension. In delivering messages from his own father to Vincent's, Pascal had overheard several heated discussion concerning Vincent's forays Above. "We were discussing the various types of oak trees and I wished to prove a point to Vincent by showing him a particular tree in the Park. The night was so lovely we decided to walk. It is my fault as I thought we could slip out, view the tree and return before anyone missed us."
"That's right, Daddy," Erica turned toward her father, her face alive with excitement, "we only meant to look at this one tree...but it was so breath taking and the night sky and the moon so beautiful."
"It's late, Jacob. The kids are home safely, they know they were wrong and our continued discussion will not resolve or change what was." His smile warmed as he walked toward his son, "Come along, Pascal, let's go home."
Erica and Laurel were quickly escorted from the chamber and voices of their parents could be heard for several minutes as they nosily moved down the passage toward their chambers.
"Father, I’m sorry for causing you and the other parents worry. Truly we only meant to look at one tree and return. Pascal was attempting to help me prove a point."
"Yes, I'm sure that's the case," he said wearily. "The reasons aren't important, but the breaking of the rules is. If I condone your breaking them, how can I suggest any form of punishment for rules broken by others? And, more that most, you are subject to extreme danger each time you venture Above." Rubbing his eyes, he felt it was a pointless conversation, one he and Vincent had on several other occasions with the same results.
Pascal had elected to remain in the small obscure chamber behind the main pipe chamber rather than seeking a larger chamber. He and his father worked constantly on modifying the codes, improving, revising them to make communications easier. At twenty-five he and Vincent were part of a small hand full of tunnel adults who had decided not to seek chambers in tunnels far removed from their parents. Pascal loved the pipe chamber almost as much as his father, the tapping was an unstructured symphony of sound and he was the conductor.
Leaving his chamber, Pascal walked towards the Great Falls. If he found Vincent there, fine, but truthfully, he wished to be alone with his thoughts. He settled his legs suspended over a ledge beside the Falls. It was a place few others visited, a place he and Vincent had discovered and they often ventured there together. The high ledge, jutting precariously near the top of the Falls was safe, but it was a secret and they preferred to keep it that way. It was their place of solitude.
The eerie majestic beauty calmed his troubled heart, easing the tight constricted band that settled over his chest as he thought of Erica. Words burned within him, "You stupid fool!" he thundered, his voice echoed across the Falls. He seethed with anger, chafing at the restraints his manners forced upon him.
He carried the pipe batons with him. To him, they were a simple extension of his hands and seemed to magically appear wherever he was. Thoughtlessly he tapped on the smooth, worn rocks beside him as his thoughts whirled. The sound soared, rising above the roar of the Falls filling the cavern with lyrical notes echoing the despair he felt to the depths of his soul.
Long legs encased in burnished boots swung down beside his shorter legs and he heard a soft explosive sigh. "I thought you would be here."
Turning to face his friend, Pascal asked, "What happened after we left?"
"Father's love and concern for my safety rule his feelings. It was only a short lecture, and then he allowed me to leave."
The silence grew between them, each cocooned within themselves, but aware of the friend who shared the memory of what had been a beautiful extraordinary night for one of them. Pascal sighed, his voice whisper soft, as Vincent leaned forward, head cocked to one side intently interested in what disturbed his friend, "What was it like, Vincent, by the lake when Laurel hugged you?"
Sighing softly Vincent settled himself more comfortably; his senses keenly aware and he felt Pascal's rage mixing with tenderness followed by pain as he thoughtfully studied Pascal. "It was nice, but you known as well as I, Laurel is a friend. Her hug was nothing more than gratitude. She was happy about being selected as soloist for the choir.”
Vincent suddenly felt far older than his twenty-five years. It wasn't the first such conversation he had shared and always, the subject caused intense personal pain. "Does Erica know how you feel?"
An instant fury, rage filled Pascal's face and as quickly vanished. He should have known Vincent would know his secret. "No. She thinks of me as her brother. She has no idea that I think of her as more than a friend." His shoulders rolled forward as his feelings of rejection swelled, consuming him.
"Part of the problem is that we have all grown up together, close and knowing each other far better than those living Above. There are no surprises left, nothing to make me stand out from anyone else in the community. I'm not unique like you, I posses no talents to attract, nor am I handsome or tall--the qualities girls seem to want." Pascal's voice filled with a bitterness that startled and alarmed Vincent.
"Erica sees me, if she even sees me, as part of the scenery--pleasant to be around, but not exciting. The children find me more exciting because I can teach them to communicate on the pipes. I don't wish to spend my life alone, Vincent. I want to share it, have children and teach them my heritage."
"I know," Vincent's voice was low, wistful as he, too, felt a deep sense of loneliness. There was not an extensive circle of bachelors within the Tunnels and their bachelor status seemed to stand out as he and Pascal had witnessed their friend’s marriages in the last few years.
Pascal muttered as he continued his constant tapping. "And, this doesn't help." He ran his hand through his beginning to recede hairline. "I'm just not exciting."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, not if you could have heard what Laurel and Erica said about your drumming as we waited in the Park."
"Don't tease me, Vincent. I didn't do anything, but cause a diversion, allowing us to reach the safety of the drainage tunnel without witnesses. You could have done the same thing: your ability to relay messages with greater speed far exceeds mine."
"Speed yes, but I don't have your delicate touch when it comes to all the intricacies of the new codes. You practice constantly, far more than I." Vincent made no secret of his admiration for Pascal's skills, the level of expertise he had attained in creating and teaching new, improved codes. During a time of crisis he and Pascal had staffed the pipe chamber for 36-hours, relaying messages efficiently but Pascal's light, easy touch, and his speed in translating code caused Vincent many hours of self-doubts.
"What did Erica say, up in the Park, when I started drumming on the trees? Leaning forward, he was eager to hear Vincent's words, but fearful of the truth.
"Vincent, please sit down. There is something of a personal nature I wish to discuss." Father appeared troubled as he paced the study.
Sinking into a nearby chair Vincent waited as Father tried to collect his thoughts. "Have you noticed a change in Pascal lately? He has been depressed for weeks since going to the Park. Do you think he is ill? You’ve been good friends since childhood and I hope you can shed some light. His father is concerned, but when questioned, Pascal maintains he is fine."
"I don't believe he is ill. Perhaps he is attempting to resolve a problem and needs solitude in order to find a resolution.”
"Father, do you know if the chamber vacated when the Maitland's returned Above has been filled?"
"No, it is still empty. It's small, away from the main tunnels and they left an old upright piano there which consumes a large portion of the space. Were you interested in it for yourself?" Father stared intently interested by this unusual request.
"I thought I might use it for a special project. Distance from the main community makes it ideal for what I have in mind."
A mysterious, enigmatic look peaked Father's curiosity, but deciding it would be wise not to press the issue, he steadily returned Vincent's gaze. A sudden smile followed by Father's erupting laughter caused Vincent to smile. "Whatever you are being so mysterious about, I'm sure it won't cause the community or myself the havoc your machinations with Devin caused--those use to strike fear in my heart!"
“Were we really that awful? Vincent softly laughed as he, too, remembered some of their more tame adventures.
"Why did you want me to meet you here?" Stepping inside the desolate chamber Pascal stood, irritated for no reason at being summoned by Vincent.
"This way, come." Vincent turned, giving Pascal no opportunity to speak, and walked into the small adjoining chamber. The space was dominated by a gleaming antique piano, the patina bestowing a rich umber in the dazzling light of the array of candles which bathed the chamber in light. Several chairs in varying styles and sizes were strewn between patched music stands.
"I need your assistance. Your gift for perfect pitch will help." Seating himself before the gleaming piano, Vincent fingered the notes of an old classic. "Sit in different places and tell me if the pitch sounds right. I have moved the piano several times, but to my ear, the notes don't seem true. The piano is tuned, but something is wrong."
Ignoring the frown on Pascal's face, Vincent turned to devote himself to the music he played. The shuffling of feet followed by the creaking protest as Pascal dropped none too gently into one of the rickety chairs. After several minutes Vincent changed the tune to something more lively giving full range to his considerable talents as a pianist.
His large hands surprisingly provided a light, delicate touch to the keys. He had studied intently because he liked the music, found it beautiful and wished to be able to create it for his own enjoyment. He refused, however, to share his talent with the community, never joining the talented chamber music group. After months of begging and pleading, Father had finally realized no words or logic would change his mind.
"Play something with lower tones, notes," Pascal ordered. He moved about the chamber and just as Vincent had anticipated, he was fascinated by resolving the sound problem. He smiled to himself.
The music filled the chamber, weaving a magic all its own; echoing, surrounding and enfolding softly as it continued without ceasing. Vincent seemed lost within the confines of the lofty sounds as Pascal continued to seek the elusive mystery of less than perfect pitch.
Frustrated, he pulled a chair closer to Vincent, pressing his ear against the lustrous wood as the music swelled. Abruptly, Vincent turned to gaze intently. "Do you know this?"
The pipe batons flashed quickly against the chair seat before him, as Pascal picked up the rhythm. Changing the timing, Pascal challenged Vincent to follow his lead. A hint of a smile played at the corners of his distinctive mouth and Vincent nodded, racing on to another more difficult melody.
Later as they strolled toward the upper levels of the community, the conversation was warm and lively. "I could help you again tomorrow after classes. I agree there is something less than perfect about the pitch." Pascal's smile spread reaching his eyes causing a merry soul satisfying twinkle as the smile turned into a low, happy laugh.
Returning a hint of laughter, Vincent draped his arm over Pascal's shoulder. "If you would not object, I would appreciate your help."
Pascal hurried from the teaching pipe chamber, biding a fond farewell to his always eager students and sought his own chamber. Rummaging through an old trunk he found the bag he needed, and calling a hasty goodbye to his father, he headed to the classroom where Vincent was teaching.
Finding the classroom empty, Pascal whirled, heading toward the nearest short cut to the Maitland's chamber. Passing Winslow with a quick smile and nod, he remembered next week was his turn to lead the exploring class. As he walked, he mentally decided on which tunnels he would use for the educational game of lost and found. He and Vincent had developed the serious efforts of teaching the younger children safety as they explored and played in the tunnels into a course which required Vincent, Pascal or Winslow to become lost and the children had to find them. Discovering Vincent's hiding places, which he never repeated, was graduation for a child.
Mentally plotting his route as he walked, he was surprised to discover the piano unattended and no sign of Vincent. Removing the covering from the bag, he withdrew a large flat stone and realized he still carried the wooden practice pipe batons from his classroom in his hands. He placed the stone against one of the chair seats as he dragged a chair opposite it. He walked over to the piano struck a note, listening to its echo. The purity was slightly off to a degree which was so minor only he and Vincent would notice.
With practiced ease born from early boyhood, the pipe batons flashed, striking the stone like the caressing kiss of the wind. The baton arched again and a purity of note flew to join the echoing sound as the notes shimmered, joined and vibrated in the cool air.
His foot pressed back against the rock where he leaned, Vincent silently watched. A slow smile flashed and he quietly left, lopping easily up the trail then breaking into a full run.
Concentrating deeply, Pascal was unaware of Vincent's arrival, nor his silent departure or his return. He looked up as Vincent entered, arms filled to over flowing with William's largest soup kettle packed with cardboard cylinders. Watching in amazement, Pascal waited as Vincent arranged the chairs in a tight semi-circle, packing the cylinders in a snug configuration. He accepted, with shocked silence, the largest cylinder which Vincent shoved between his knees.
"Let's get started," Vincent tossed over his shoulder as he dropped onto the piano bench, his fingers already flying over the keys.
"Get started with what? And, what the heck are these suppose to be?" Indignation tinged Pascal's voice as he continued to stare at Vincent's broad back.
"They're drums. You indicated we need tones in the lower register and your tapping on that chair isn't going to make it last very long, so I got the boxes from the kitchen shelf. Let's play, come on." His voice and tone were strangely dominating, commanding, allowing no rebuttal and totally unlike Vincent.
The chamber filled as long, elegantly tapered fingers swept the keys in a lively up tempo melody. The notes soared then dipped as Vincent called over his shoulder. "Why are you so reticence? Surely you haven't forgotten all your musical training? You take," he suddenly swung around to face Pascal, his hands braced against his knees, "the piano if you are reluctant to play those."
Rising, Pascal moved to the piano bench as Vincent curled his large frame into the protesting rickety chair, thrusting the cardboard cylinder between his knees. Flexing his fingers, Pascal slowly began picking up the disrupted melody. The sounds coming from behind him were grating at best and painful to his sensitive hearing.
"That is worse than any four year old beginning pipe student," Pascal thundered as he rose from the piano, storming across the chamber to snatch the pipe batons from Vincent's hands. "Get up and let me do it! At least I am able to follow a beat and your drumming is like a game of pick-up sticks played with lead sewer pipes!"
Walking back to the piano, Vincent suppressed a silent chuckle, smiling to himself and again began to play. The sound began immediately to improve, soothing rather than grating. Remembering a lively show tune from a park concert, Vincent eased into it, increasing the temp, glancing over his shoulder, as Pascal's batons began to rise and fall as he easily followed.
"You play the next chorus, while I listen," Vincent’s voice rose over the sound as he stood to move across the chamber. He appeared to be listening, but beneath his deep set eyes, he watched with tender affection as his life-long friend fell captive to the magic, pride swelling as his wrists flexed, rising to send the batons flying over the cylinder’s tops. Muted, ethereal waves of sound floated as Pascal slowed the tempo to a haunting pace of longing and suppressed dreams.
Seeing Vincent's intense gaze, Pascal flashed a smile and shrugging his shoulders, sent the notes soaring again in double time. "How do you do that?" The awe clearly evident on Vincent's face startled Pascal and he abruptly ceased playing.
"I just did. I don't know how, it flowed from me and I was as amazed as you by the sound." His face flushed warm under the steady gaze of appreciation, envy and awe he saw in Vincent's eyes.
"Do it again, please." Straddling one of the chairs, Vincent watched as Pascal picked up the batons.
The library filled swiftly as the community gathered to hear the council debate solutions to a series of problems which plagued them. Pascal stood opposite his father's chair, hidden by the circular staircase and from there; he was able to observe Erica.
She stood, her hands flying as she signed an animated conversation with Mr. Albertson, the tunnels' senior deaf resident. Her dark eyes sparkled and as she tossed her hair, the candle light caught the raven tresses as they glistened with silky highlights of red and flecks of midnight blue. Seeing Pascal, she waved, then excused herself and came to stand beside him. "I'm supposed to try to worm the location of where Vincent is going to hide next week from you. Gerald is determined not to fail the course this time."
"Perhaps your younger brother would best be served by a serious commitment to learning the safety rules and not assign his sister to a role that is sure to bring failure." His smile was warm, but his eyes spoke of the seriousness and dangers involved in failing to follow the safety rules. "Failing the safety course is serious."
"I told Gerald it was useless to ask the location and to get him off my back, I said I'd do it. I never expected you to divulge the secret. You are too honorable to do anything of that nature." Hearing Father's call to order, Erica impulsively hugged Pascal. "Bye and thanks," she whispered then dashed back to Mr. Albertson's side.
Murmuring apologizes as he slipped through the crowd, Vincent moved to stand behind Pascal hidden in the deeper shadows. Sensing his friend's mixed emotions, he wanted to offer some words of solace, but as he moved forward to speak, he heard Father call his name. Later, when he looked up, Pascal was no longer in attendance.
"How is your special project progressing?" Father and Vincent had settled over the chess board after the council meeting.
"Oh, it's coming along nicely. Father, do you feel the community could benefit from a recital? In my wanderings I have heard a most unusual sound; one I feel would bring joy to the whole community."
"The musical talents of our community are varied and if you feel it would gladden the hearts of the community, by all means, arrange it and I will announce it at the next general meeting. Who is this gifted artist?"
"A member who wishes to remain anonymous as their talent is untried. Someone who would benefit from encouragement to try their wings, receive the admiration and praise of their peers. And who will impress the community with the proper setting and accompaniment." Vincent glanced from the chess board and his mysterious look told Father he would divulge nothing further.
Vincent left the classroom, tucking a flask of water into his cloak and set off at an easy lope down the trail. Pascal continued the classroom instructions, checking the small packs of each student, and as he called out their names, they lined up in groups of two. "Each of you knows the rules, no searching alone. Vincent is hidden within the tunnel areas we have explored over the last weeks; he has left clues, markings all of you have learned.
"Winslow is stationed at the outer perimeter and you have three hours in which to search. When you find Vincent, he will give you a token and you are to quietly walk to Winslow, giving him each token. Everyone who receives a token then moves on to the next phase of training. Okay, as I call your names, you may leave the room and begin searching."
Swirling dust rose from the tunnel silt as the eager students filled the passage way, quickly breaking into smaller groups becoming shadows disappearing into various openings in search of the elusive target. Their laughter could be heard echoing distantly, then the silence settled over the empty classroom.
Pascal knew from experience to be prepared for any emergency during the search test and he began re-checking the medical kit he kept. He cleaned and straightened the chamber then hoisting the kit to his shoulders, he headed toward his observation point.
Climbing easily to an out cropping that gave him an uncluttered view over the largest tunnel areas, Pascal settled to wait. He never knew where Vincent hid and was always surprised when the first of the children returned proudly bearing their tokens to disclose where they had discovered Vincent.
As he sat, his hands silently drummed the hypnotic music which seemed to fill his soul. The time spend in the piano chamber, as he had come to call it, was a place of peace. It was a place where, while they played, he was free from the constant thoughts of Erica and how lonely his own life had become.
The sound of a failing stone alerted him as he heard his name called. "Pascal, where are you?"
"Up here, the out cropping to the right of where you are standing."
Peering down, he drew back sharply as Erica's face appeared inches from his own. She stretched out her hand and he grabbed it, helping her over the last rock. Perching on the rock beside him, she smiled and asked "Have any of them returned?"
"No, it's far too early. They have only been gone not quite an hour. Vincent will lead them over as much of the trial as possible, doubling back on them, attempting to confuse them before any of them finally locate him. It's a hard, difficult program but happily none of the children who have graduated have ever gotten lost.
"I can remember spending hours searching for a certain almost grown up young lady who went exploring and couldn't find her way home." He smiled warmly in remembrance. "It was after that, we started the search and explore program as it is known today."
"Yes, I can also remember how scared I was. And how warm, safe I felt when you found me, gathering me in your arms while I sobbed. I had such a crash on you for months afterwards. You were a bigger hero to me then Vincent. All the kids worship Vincent and the girls all want to grown up to marry him!" She smiled warmly.
Pascal realized Eric was staring intently at him and that she was waiting for his response. He had heard nothing after her words about having a crush on him. "Oh, I'm sorry, what did you ask?"
"I asked if you wanted a bite of apple? I brought it along--William just put them out and I remembered you were fond of them. I could only get one and I got hungry so I ate a few bites." Her eyes gazed warmly at him as she held out the apple and started to laugh.
Accepting the apple, Pascal took a bite then handed it back. "Thanks, but if you are hungry, go ahead and eat it."
Between bites, Erica talked of her feelings at being lost so close to home and how she never thought she would be found. "Do you suppose I could help with the classes, the pre-school kids, learn the codes for help and their names? I know," she paused breathlessly before rushing on, "I'm not as good as you and I could never hope to be that good, but I have a way with little kids and maybe I could help."
Taking out his batons, Pascal tapped out "fine and when?" in code and handing her one of the batons, he waited.
Her quick, effortless response surprised him. "There is," he explained, "a newer code father and I are developing. It's designed to short-cut a lot of the more common words. Would you like to start learning it? We are hoping to introduce it to the community within a couple of months, so it would be especially expeditious if you started the children learning the newest code."
"You mean, you'd teach me? Really, you would?" Her enthusiasm bubbled forth, her large eyes becoming iridescence. "Oh, Pascal, that's great. I’ve wanted to be of more service to the community."
Reacting to the warmth, vitality radiating from Erica's happiness, Pascal couldn't help the smile he knew was spreading across his face. He started laughing and it seemed to begin in his toes, working upward until it sprang from his lips in mirth filled thunder.
"What was that you were tapping just before I called out to you? It was very lovely, like the sound you created in the Park? I heard the sound echoing above me when I came looking for you and I knew you were close by. No one," she exclaimed softly, "could create such beauty but you."
"I wish I knew. There is no conscious knowledge of it, rather it flows from me, holds and haunts me." His demeanor was like the shy look he gave her, unsure of his role and aware only of how his heart pounded at her nearness.
"Would you consider playing it again? I'll be very quiet, won't disturb you. It's so haunting."
Her request surprised him, shaking him and caused his hands to tremble. Pascal hesitantly picked up the batons then, closing his eyes, he took a slow calming breath and allowed the music to flow. The sound changed, seeming harsher to his sensitive ears as he drummed against the rock. Striking a smaller stone, he found a sound less grating to his senses.
Looking up sharply his face registered his surprise as he had been lost within the music, to become aware of the shrill sound of his name being called. "Pascal, Pascal, where are you? I found him, Harry found him, too!"
"I'm coming! Wait where you are, I'll be there in a moment." Smiling, Pascal reached out to Erica and together they climbed down. They were immediately surrounded by two giggling, completely happy children. Digging into their pockets, they produced their tokens.
"We passed, didn't we? We passed! You said we had to find him and we did, we found Vincent!" They jumped up and down in their glee and Pascal unconsciously reached out to brush the hair from Becca's forehead. Surrounded by the laughing children, he shared their excitement and happiness.
"Mark in the book, mark the book," Harry called excitedly. "I want everyone to know I passed the first time."
Pascal withdrew his book and with a great flourish, painstakingly placed a bold "C" beside their names. Giggling with excitement they dashed toward home to share their glory with their happy families.
"Is it always like this?" Erica looked at Pascal as his smile lingered on the disappearing figures.
"Always! Finding Vincent is the high point, it will be a story told and re-told for months," he said shaking his head in amazement.
Vincent stood listening as the sweet sounds filled the passage way. He slipped into the chamber, silently moving toward the piano and sat down. After several moments the sound and pattern of the notes became familiar and he placed his fingers against the keyboard, instinctively following where Pascal led.
They played unaware of the passage of time. The chamber grew dim and still the music poured into the growing darkness. They had been weary when they entered, but the music refreshed them and they continued as the darkness closed around them.
"Pascal, would you consider performing a recital, sharing your talents, with the community?" Vincent's rich, smooth voice filled the chamber as he paused briefly.
"A recital? I don't know, Vincent. I don't know if I want to play in front of others. I'll think about it, but don't be disappointed if I say no."
"I won't. I thought your music would brighten the community with its haunting beauty."
Their speech interrupted the sound, breaking the magically spell, and with a slight rolling flourish, Pascal took the music soaring into a fast tempo, pushing Vincent to keep pace. The faster they played, the more they laughed and the laughter seemed to dispel the darkness.
The music ended as they convulsed in laughter, which suddenly died in their throats as the sound of applause echoed from the passage way.
"Who's there?" Pascal called.
The soft sound of padding steps reached them, a shadow loomed in the entry seemingly large and foreboding, then Erica's lithe form was fully visible. Her large eyes swept the chamber as she gracefully crossed to stand before them.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to eaves drop, honestly. I had been visiting with Rebecca and in walking back; I heard the sound and was drawn to follow it. It was delightful!”
"You both are so talented, I envy your skills. Could I...no, I won't ask that, I would be intruding, something I have no right to do. You go ahead, continue and just, well, just pretend I was never here." She turned to go.
"Erica, please, won't you sit down?" Vincent's voice sought to ease her nervousness, calm and reassure her of their acceptance of her presence in the chamber. "If I remember correctly, Erica, you have considerable talent with the piano yourself. Would you consider playing? I’d like that very much."
The directness of his appeal and soothing sound of his voice made Erica forget her nervousness in being alone with her two heroes. One she had worshipped since childhood and one who currently caused her heart to flutter.
"Oh, could I? I mean, well, I had such trouble keeping my fingers still this afternoon when you...," her gaze rested heavily on those warm brown eyes before she forced her own away, "you were drumming while we waited for the children. You should have heard it, Vincent, it was so lyrical!"
"Yes," he said softly, "I'm sure it was." Vincent rose from the piano bench. Extending his arm, he bowed slightly, as his eyes encouraged Erica to sit in his place.
Erica crossed the chamber quickly and seated herself at the piano, looking expectantly at Pascal.
Pascal started then shook his head, assuring himself she was there, and picked up on the batons and began to slowly play. He closed his eyes, allowing the magic to consume him.
Vincent stood beyond the candlelight, smiling as he watched the serene look of happiness which transformed Pascal, easing the tense tight posture of the last weeks. Sighing softly to himself, the thought filled him that perhaps one day he, too, would know such a happiness and as the thought was formed, he pushed it away knowing it was not possible. Melting further into the shadows, he quietly slipped from the chamber and silently made his way toward home.
The last candle sputtered, surrendering its last burst of energy then died leaving the chamber in blackness. "Pascal!" Her voice echoed in the abrupt stillness.
"Sit still, Erica, I have a stub in my pocket, just a moment." Seconds passed, then a dim soft glow filled the chamber with eerie shapes and shadows. She straightened her shoulders, forcing back the childhood fear of the dark which had suddenly consumed her, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
"Perhaps it’s time we left and journeyed toward our respective chambers. The hour is late and I have early duty on the pipes in the morning." (‘Please, he prayed silently, don't let my voice truly sound as strange as I think it does!’)
"Yes, it is late. Thank you, Pascal, and you, too Vincent....Vincent, where are you hiding now?" Her rhetorical question and the ensuing silence caused her to laugh. "When did he leave?"
"Quite sometime ago. I didn't see him, I just heard the sound of his feet striking the stone outside the entry way."
Shaking her head she turned to stare at him again, "You never cease to amaze me."
Pascal rose early, long before necessary, fixing a mug of tea and moving to stand in the vast cathedral of pipes. His ears attuned to the early chatter as daily activity was planned and gossip exchanged. Wrapping his partially gloved fingers around his mug, seeking the warmth that lingered, he settled comfortably on a restored stool which had seen life Above in someone's kitchen. By his own internal clock he had roughly thirty minutes before the activity reached full volume.
He felt rested in spite of his lack of sleep. After walking Erica to her chamber, he retraced his steps and headed toward the underground spring. He had stayed in the lake, swimming for hours, floating and thinking about Erica and Vincent's request. Vincent found him there floating and they had talked of life until late.
Tilting his head toward one particular pipe, a smile began spreading and he found himself laughing. He was still laughing when his father entered.
"Ah, so it begins! Each unique story of finding Vincent will reaffirm their rite of passage into the next level of training. By night fall, there will be no one within the community who will lack the salient points." His rich voice warmed Pascal as did the smile which gladdened his heart.
"You are proving to be an excellent teacher, Pascal, and I am very proud of you. Before the creation of the lost and found classes, there was a residing fear in all our hearts where the children were concerned. The heartbreak of losing one child, finding them too late, has been eased because of your dedication and teaching skills.”
"The problem--the one you vehemently deny exits--is easing. Oh, you don't," he waved his hand dismissing the already forming protest, "need to worry, I won't pry. I can tell by your posture, the problem is resolving itself.”
"Time heals much in our lives, Pascal. The passage through time may be difficult, impossible during its passage, but the gift of pleasure it gives far outweighs the pain."
Silently, they walked toward the deserted chamber and Pascal stepped inside, lighting fresh candles, then returned to escort Erica inside. "It's much smaller than I remember from last night." She walked into the larger chamber where the piano dominated the largest wall and stood in stunned silence.
"Pascal, are these what you were playing last night?" Her eyes flashed in merriment.
"Yes, why? What's wrong?" Seeing nothing wrong as he peered about the chamber, he was puzzled by her question.
"I thought, well, I mean," she stammered realizing from his quizzical expression that she had blundered, deeply hurting his pride and wounding his ego, "well, just skip it."
"No, tell me what you mean, why are you hiding, finish your thoughts." He stared feeling that somehow, in some way he had failed; that he had misled her.
"I thought you had real drums, not those."
"They work, don't they?" Abruptly he turned on his heel, spinning as his legs carried him from the chamber.
Hurrying after him, calling his name Erica found only an empty passageway and no sign indicating where he had gone. "He disappears as fast as Vincent," she muttered. She went back inside, wiping the tears with her fists, determined that she wasn't going to cry, she just wasn't!
Looking closer at the cylinders, she realized to her amazement they were old oatmeal boxes fitted with abandoned canister lids from Above. Upon closer inspection she saw a couple of them still contained oatmeal having their original soft cardboard lids. Sinking into one of the chairs, she realized how remarkable the sound created by this strange collection truly was and the talent of the man who created it. She never knew the community had such a collection of oatmeal boxes, but then she remembered how William recycled everything until there was nothing left to use.
Blowing out the candles, she made her way towards her chamber, wondering how and when she would find Pascal to apologize for her inadvertent blunder. She suddenly broke into a run as an idea formed and she rushed to find Mouse.
"Here someplace. Saw it sometime, know it’s here." The young man was only ten, but already his genius for inventing was well known. "Mouse help you fix, Rica, fix good."
"If you can find the stuff, I think I can do it myself. Honestly, I'd rather do it because it is, well, I hurt someone's feelings and I hope this will somehow let them know how sorry I am." She smiled. "You understand, don't you, Mouse?"
"Yeah, hurt, make better. Father says so." He rummaged in his growing collection of odd bites of stuff then giggling, he produced the requested items.
Thanking him, Erica prepared to leave and as she reached the entry, Mouse rushed toward her thrusting several things into her hand. "Best take, you might need."
She hurried back along the way she had come, stopping at her own chamber to retrieve several things she thought she might use. Reaching the piano chamber, it was, as she expected, empty. Lighting the candles, she spread the things and began working.
Flexing her shoulders, she tried to ease the cramped muscles as she realized how long she had sat bent in one position. Bending again to the task she concentrated trying to hurry her fingers. "Oh, damn!" Realigning the pieces she again struggled to position them correctly.
"Perhaps another pair of hands would help." Startled, she looked to see Vincent standing over her, his eyes smiling as he sat down. "Do you think it would work if I held this?"
They worked silently for several minutes and Erica's happy smile rewarded Vincent for his few minutes of work. Sensing her unhappiness, Vincent did not question, but sat silently looking at her creation. "He will be pleased."
"If he ever sees it," she sighed softly. "I hurt him badly by speaking without thinking or realizing how it would sound. I didn't mean to ridicule his invention.” Tears brimmed her lashes and her fingers flew to brush them away.
"Pascal is a fair man. Give him time, Erica. He will realize you meant no pain by your remark. Time heals even imagined wounds."
Picking up the cloth, she polished the area and packed up her things. "I hope you are right."
Later that evening Vincent returned to the piano chamber, finding it
empty. He checked the lake
and, finding it deserted, he traveled toward the
Pascal looked at him, acknowledging his presence, but remained silent. They sat without speaking, a comfortable silence, born of long association and shared friendship.
A whispered voice drifted toward them from below. "Come on, Erica, it can't be that bad. So you blundered. If Pascal is as sweet as you say, he will realize everyone commits a slip of the tongue at some time in their lives. Let's go, it's late and I’m exhausted."
The sound of voices faded and only the thundering Falls remained.
"I'm such a fool, Vincent, such a fool." His voice shook. "I knew even before now, that I was wrong to react as I did. And why I did it is more important because I can't figure out why I reacted as I did!”
"I’ve always been a fair man, never judging people and have always been mild tempered. My actions were out of proportion to what Erica actually said and my behavior was inconsiderate and rude."
"Perhaps, Pascal, you allowed fear to govern your action." Vincent's expression was filled with concern, his focus upon the anguish he felt rising within his friend.
Seeing his puzzled expression, he continued. "Fear is basic to all of us, the fear of ridicule and rejection. Whatever Erica's words were perhaps the fears of ridicule caused you to strike out, rejecting her and allowing you to escape from feeling foolish?"
"What am I going to do?"
"When you have resolved your feelings and have forgiven yourself, you will be able to seek Erica's forgiveness, easing the pain you both feel so deeply.”
"Would you prefer I leave, allowing you to be alone with your thoughts?" His own need for privacy was strong and Vincent was never sure if others needed solitude in order to resolve life's challenges.
"No, don't go. Stay. Yours is the only sagacious, rational voice I have heard since my brains left my body early this morning, leaving a buffoon in control."
In spite of himself, Vincent found he was smiling at Pascal's sharp wit and he knew his friend would not tarry long in the valley of self-doubt.
Erica sat against the furthest wall, away from the other early risers who were gathered in the community dining area. She had purposefully selected this place, as she needed solace and time to regain control of her wavering emotions. As she stood waiting for tea, the talk had been of the children's graduation from the lost and found class and her memory of Pascal flowed quickly to the surface.
Looking up, she saw Pascal enter and then watched in fascinated terror and fledgling hope as he strode directly toward her. As his legs carried him closer, she felt panic rising and wondered where she could hide from the determined man who rapidly approached.
Standing before, her he noticed the unshed tears that wet her lashes, the way her lower lip trembled and his shame was deeper. Taking her hand, Pascal pulled gently and she rose to stand facing him. "Come," he said gently, "we must be alone.” Turning, Pascal started across the chamber, his hand securely holding hers, his shoulder riding comfortably close, touching hers.
They walked silently through the main tunnels. Pascal's face revealed nothing to Erica and she felt her stomach flip as her fears mounted. They had almost reached the piano chamber when the sound of her no longer silent tears halted Pascal in mid-stride.
Seeing her standing closely beside him, her body shaking and the tears splashing down her beautiful face broke Pascal's heart and he tenderly drug her forward putting a hesitant arm around her. Willingly, she stepped the rest of the way, her head pillowed against his neck as his arms gently enfolded her.
"Forgive me, please," he whispered against her hair. "I was wrong. I behaved badly and I know your words were not intended as they came out. I allowed my own insecurities to hurt you."
"I never meant to hurt your feelings, Pascal, or make you feel foolish. Just being near you makes me...makes me disconcerted and I can't talk straight."
“Love does that to people," he said softly as he moved to tendered kiss the tears from her face. "I felt like a shy, awkward school boy while we waited for the children to return.” His lips traveled lightly across her face as he spoke, caressing her cheeks and eyelids. He felt her trembling as her eyes fluttered open. Her gaze traveled to his lips, lingering, entreating him, then swept upward seeking his eyes. Holding her closer, Pascal tenderly kissed her and felt his heart soar as her lips welcomed him.
Shakily, they drew apart, smiling shyly as their arms intertwined in a mutual embrace. Slipping her hand into his, together they walked toward the piano chamber.
Pascal entered, striking a match and finding the candle, he lit the taper, filling the chamber with a soft glow. He returned to take Erica's hand then gently tracing her lips with his, "You need not fear the dark," he whispered against her mouth.
The community gathered, seating themselves in the chairs and benches placed along the tunnel way outside the piano chamber. The older children perched on rocks, while the younger children sat at the feet of their parents, playing in the soft silt as they waited. Candles pushed away the traces of darkness and warm friendly voices filled the stillness.
"Friends," Father's voice called them to order, "we have gathered in less than our usual place to hear a recital tonight. We have come to share the talents of someone who has never performed for us." He peered seriously over his glasses. "It seems my own son holds the key to this mystery and in his absence, I will ask for your kind attention." Rising his voice slightly, "Shall we being?"
The coughing and settling of the crowd was finally complete. Faintly, a sound drifted out to them, rising, soaring filling the air as the air drafts, currents, carried it aloft. It rose to fill the passage, catching itself against the rock walls, shimmering back against them to haunt, tease and echo its magic.
A hushed stillness lay over the enthralled community as the waves of sound poured over them touching, moving and rendering them mute with its beauty. Climbing, it carried them, lifting them away and settling them in a peaceful place of happiness. It dropped then rose again, carrying them higher as its gentle wings beat steadily against hearts, entreating entrance and once inside, the joy, majesty of it cradled them within its soul.
Held within the lyrical sound, moments passed before they realized the sound had faded and slowly they stirred, then erupted in thunderous applause and cheering.
As their approval faded Father again stood and his voice filled the stillness. "Please, won’t you come out, so that we may all properly thank you and express more personally our pleasure?" He turned, looking into the dim recesses of the chamber and saw figures moving slowly toward him.
Erica and Pascal stood before their friends as the waves of love washed over them and they were surrounded by the press of bodies moving to encircle them. The circle parted, leaving only two people, eyes commanding as he strode forward. His arms enfolded in an embrace of love which spoke more than word, silently telling his son of his joy and pride. "Pascal, my son, my son."
The community slowly drifted up the passage tunnel, the sounds of their voices echoing as they headed toward the library where William had set out refreshments. "Dad, would you take Erica to the library? I need to speak to Father for a moment. I won't be long."
"All right, come along, Erica." He slid his arm through hers, walking on, but paused to call over his shoulder, "Pascal, don't be long."
Father paused, leaning heavily against his walking stick as Pascal spoke softly.
Vincent sat against the great stone wall, his head resting on his arms, listening to the sound which played within his heart. Smiling, he rose to retake the seat he had recently vacated and ran his tapered fingers over the keys. Hushed sweet sounds filled the chamber, floating freely drifting to fill the passage way. He played from the depth of his heart and the happiness he felt for Erica and Pascal, rejoicing in their newly discovered love.
Time lost all meaning as the music flowed, filling the night. Realizing he would miss their party if he didn't hurry, he rose and walked toward the entry. He stopped seeing the figure there and then walked quickly into the out stretched arms. "Father, please, you must not cry. We must rejoice."
Worn hands caressed his proud features as dry firm lips reached to kiss his cheek. "My son, in you I have found my greatest joy."