A PROMISE LIVES WITHIN YOU

Joan Stephens

"Iíll kill you!" Catherineís voice quavered with terror as she scrabbled away from the monstrosity looming in the doorway. Horrified, she realized that he had called her by name! How did he know? What did he want? She was so frightened that she was sick to her stomach. Not again, it couldnít happen a second time. She would go mad if she was attacked again. What could she do? Tomís gun! The one he kept in the top drawer of the 40's-style chest. Frantically she jerked out the drawer, spilling the contents on the floor. Clawing through the scattered objects, she snatched up the gun and pulled the trigger, not even sure of her aim. He flinched as the bullet struck him in the chest, a look of wounded surprise on his hideous face. Slowly he fell to the floor and rolled over on his back. Catherine took her first real breath since this nightmare started and realized that he was muttering something. When her breathing had slowed down, she could hear him mumble, "Iím sorry, Iím sorry . . . Catherine . . . Iím sorry."

He was sorry? Sorry for what? Sorry for scaring the hell out of her or for trying to kill her.

"Iím sorry, Catherine," he murmured again, fighting to remain conscious.

Gathering a smattering of courage, she leaned toward to him. "How do you know my name?"

"I know you from a different reality," he whispered, as he painfully turned his face toward her. His voice was beginning to weaken as his life slowly leaked away.

Intrigued in spite of herself, she inched a little closer. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"In another reality I found you after you were attacked and took you to my father. We cared for you for ten days, and during that time, a bond developed between us, and we became close friends and then lovers." A thin dribble of blood flowed from his mouth, and he coughed painfully.

She accepted what he said even though it sounded so fantastic. Those dying rarely lied.

"Catherine, it grieves me to see you so frightened and unsure of yourself. Know that you have a deep well of courage within you."

"Oh no, not me," she disagreed. "Iím afraid of everything."

He held his hand out to her. "Take my hand. Let my faith in you bring your courage to life. Feel yourself growing stronger and more confident."

Where the nerve came from to take his hand, she didnít know. But she cautiously edged nearer to him and gingerly took his hand. Carefully, so as not to hurt him any further, she wrapped her small hand around his. This was stupid. Why should she trust this creature? Yet now that she was holding his hand, she had a feeling of security that she hadnít sensed since the attack. Warmth spread through her, and she unconsciously straightened her back and held her head higher.

Once again he coughed painfully and more blood ran from his mouth. Suddenly she felt guilty for what she had inflicted upon him and she asked, "Would you like some water?"

"Yes, please." He licked his lips and watched her clamber to her feet, rush to the bathroom, and return with a full glass of water and a damp washcloth. Raising his head with one hand, she held the glass to his lips with the other. After a small sip, he smiled his thanks.

Gingerly she dabbed at the blood on his cheek and cleaned his face. "Oh, Iím so sorry I shot you," she said, "I was so afraid."

"Donít trouble yourself. I donít belong here; I will soon be gone." He felt himself slipping into the darkness that surrounded him in this world where he didnít truly exist. He had forced his continued existence when he saw how unhappy she was, hoping he could find some way to help this lost and frightened Catherine regain her life, but his strength was fading.

"No, you canít leave, not now. I want to know more; I need to know more." She was kneeling beside him now, gazing intently into his alien face, and she suddenly realized that she wanted to know what to call him. "Whatís your name?"

"Vincent."

"Canít you hold on a little longer?"

Even with this alternate Catherine, he could deny her nothing, and he fought even harder to remain.

"Let me call a doctor?" Her hands fluttered in consternation as she thought of how to save him.

Grimacing a smile for her benefit, he said, "How would you explain me?"

"Oh, I hadnít thought about that." She dropped her eyes, disconcerted.

"Catherine, I donít have much time but remember my words. In my world you are a successful Assistant DA. You are strong, capable, and determined. You know that nothing is beyond your grasp. And I love you with every fiber of my being."

"Oh Vincent, please stay. Donít leave me. I need you."

"You donít need me; all you need is your courage and strength."

She bent further over him and suddenly kissed him.

"Thank you, Catherine." He was beginning to lose substance, becoming transparent. "I canít stay. Be strong; live life on your terms. Remember me."

From her kneeling position, she stared at the spot he had occupied only a nanosecond before. There wasnít a single drop of blood anywhere. Had it really happened? Or was she finally losing her mind? Looking around her room in a daze, only the spilled drawer and the gun on the floor were an indication of what had transpired over these past few moments. But it had happened. He had actually lain there, bleeding on her floor. So many thoughts, all the words he had said to her, all the feelings that she had experienced were now running rampant through her mind. She needed something mundane to do, something to calm herself. Climbing to her feet, she began to straighten up the room. Replacing the contents in the drawer, she returned it to the small chest-of-drawers.

Gazing into the mirror hanging over the bureau, she studied her face. The scars were gone; all of them, but the scars on her soul were still raw and deep. She wondered what that other Catherine had done to heal herself. Of course, she had Vincent to help her. She only had Tom, and he would be no help at all. She would have to do it by herself. Could she do it? She decided that she could only try. But this fleeting encounter with a being Ė she couldnít think of him as a monster anymore Ė from another reality had awakened within her the desire to take charge of her own life. The words of the strange lionman ran through her mind. Courage. Did she really have courage? He was convinced that she did, that she was like the Catherine he loved in his world.

She thought about getting dressed and following Tom to his dinner but decided that she didnít really want to. Climbing into bed, she lay back against a pile of pillows, pulling the covers around her and then went over her options. She needed help to overcome her ingrained fear. She nodded her head in confirmation. Tomorrow she would find a competent psychiatrist. Next: learn how to defend herself. And then . . . find something useful to do to give her life meaning. She didnít want to work for the government, but there were other branches of law that she could practice: family law for instance. With a satisfied smile, she snuggled down into her bed. Tom certainly had a big surprise in store for him tomorrow morning. Somehow she knew that he wouldnít like it one bit. Like a bolt out of the blue, she realized that she didnít care. He could accept it or not; it didnít matter to her. She had a feeling that she would soon be Ďsleeping single in a double bed.í Of course, sheíd been sleeping alone for quite a few nights as it was. As she drifted closer to sleep, she thought about Vincent, recalling the face that she now considered beautiful. If he existed in another reality, surely he must exist in this one, and she hoped to see him again some day. But if for some reason he was not present in her reality, he had started her down a road that she would never stray from. As she slipped into sleep, she thought, ĎGood night, Vincent, wherever you are. Thank you.í

 

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