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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Detected

Winterfest Online 2017

Chief of Detectives John Herman descended the stairway, deep in his own thoughts. He shook his head as he surveyed the damage in the foyer and the bodies strewn about on the steps and the floor. A paper sack of grocery staples – a loaf of bread, some cheese, deli meats, and a bottle of wine better than any he’d have been able to afford on his salary – lay at the bottom of the stairs, trampled underfoot by the many crime scene personnel who’d been traipsing through this brownstone these last several hours.

Just as well they’re renovating this place, he thought as he rotated his view around the foyer. They’d have to strip these floorboards anyway, and there’d be no saving the wallpaper here. At least that paneling by the hall bench isn’t damaged. Fine craftsmanship. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

A smear of something – more blood? or just mud? – spanned the shattered doorframe at the end of the hall. Every panel of that door had been decimated; little more than splinters remained. By contrast, the frosted glass transom window above it was pristine. Funny how weird things like that happen at crime scenes.

“So, you got any ideas?” Chad Russell asked him. Russell wasn’t a bad detective; in fact, he’d been pretty good once. That was a long time ago though. He’d changed over the last couple of years, and Herman suspected the guy had developed a problem playing the ponies. He didn’t like it, but he had to protect his brother in blue.

Herman could feel the junior detective’s eyes on him, smell his breath; he’d eaten something like garlic bread for lunch. It turned his stomach almost as much as the scene in this brownstone.

“No.  Looks like they were mauled…by a lion...”  No. That’s just crazy. It can’t possibly be…

He brushed past Russell and strode through the carnage toward the basement door. A pair of young cops went down with him; they were so anxious to get his attention, to do something right, to contribute in some big way and impress their boss. Herman could practically see the waves of ambition radiating off them as they got to the bottom of the rickety cellar steps.  The gaping hole in the wall was just as it had been described to him; man-sized and with a slew of bricks littering the basement floor almost all the way to the hot water heater.

What the Hell?!

Without a word, Herman took the flashlight from the younger of the two young officers and stepped in front of them both. These two knew who the alpha male was here, and they backed up to let him look first. He shone the light through the hole, sweeping it first one way and then the other down the passageway.

“Some pretty strange things going on in this city...”

The walls and ceiling were rough-hewn stone and brick, and the floor was dry and dusty here. Hmmmm. No prints in the dirt here. Nothing to show that anyone walked this way at all lately.

“And, I hear, there are even stranger things going on underneath it.” That was obvious enough. He stepped back from the tunnel and frowned. “I don’t know what happened here, but I’m going to find out.”

“Let’s go, Lieutenant,” the eager young patrolman said. “What are we waiting for?”

Herman pivoted on the rookie. “What do you mean, what are we waiting for? You think I’ve got a miner’s helmet and spelunking equipment in my trunk? Oh, yeah, I never leave home without ‘em. God. Rookies!”

He gave the young man a rude shove, angling him toward the steps to go back up. “We aren’t going in there without proper backup. And a lot of it. Man, don’t they teach you young twits anything at the Academy anymore?”

He marched the rookie and his barely older partner back up and toward the front door. He opened it and stood at the top of the steps, jerking a thumb at the last crime scene photographer who was packing up his equipment. Rank has its privileges, he thought as he watched them all run down to the sidewalk like hares in front of hounds.

“Go. Get back to the station and get all the equipment they use for search and rescue: lights, spare batteries, rope – a couple hundred feet at least – and make sure everyone is wearing heavy boots and warm clothes. It’s gonna be cold down there. I’ll keep this place locked up tighter than a drum. I don’t want anyone screwing anything up, so I’m going to guard this crime scene myself. Get out of here now, the lot of you.”

He re-entered the brownstone and scowled at them through the sidelight of the door while he locked it, making a shooing motion with his chin. They ducked beneath the yellow police tape tied across the bottom of the stairs. The banished pair conferred with the cops in the squad car at the curb only a moment, but then the officer on the passenger side of the car scowled and pointed a thumb at the door.

Herman knew they could all see him from there, and was pretty sure they’d be able to read his glower with no trouble at all; they couldn’t know he was secretly enjoying pushing them around a little. This was how it had been decades ago when he was a rookie, and why should it be any different now, anyway? Worked well enough back then, and it still does. You gotta learn the ropes, kids…

People on the sidewalk passed by, glancing up the steps. They were curious to be sure, but only in that oh-some-other-crime-in-New-York-City kind of way. After a few minutes, most of them moved on about their business. Those few that did seem inclined to linger were efficiently chased off by the police in the squad car, and Herman turned back to the scene in the hall.

“I am definitely getting down to the bottom of this.”

***

Catherine had been welcomed into the circle as her first Winterfest drew to a close. No longer outside the circle – neither figuratively nor literally – her heart was as light and radiant as the colorful candles glowing all around her.

The younger children had been shepherded off to their dormitories a while ago, yawning and rubbing their eyes even as they all protested that they were, “not even the least littlest bit sleepy.” She’d had to hide her smile behind a hand to stop from laughing out loud.

There were still a handful of couples, both Helpers and Tunnel folks, swaying to a wordless ballad plucked on a guitar.  Father and Sebastien were loitering over another game of chess, though from the wink he gave her, she was in no doubt that the magician was about to pull a win out of thin air any move now.

Despite the disruption of Paracelsus, the evening had ended on a positive note. After their closing circle, many people had gathered around the largest of the tables and each shared a memory of Lou: the clever way he’d invented to deliver notes from Above, how cash would mysteriously turn up after his visits whenever the Tunnels needed food, a joke he’d told a hundred times as if it were new every telling, and the time he’d shaved a client griping about the state of the city for half an hour, only to find out at the end that he’d been shaving the mayor of New York. The loss of Lou was a deep one, a wound not soon to heal. But the community he’d helped to build and the people there – those he loved and who loved him in return – would keep his spirit alive always.

Catherine looked over when Father grumbled something about castling. Sebastien literally rubbed his hands together with glee and this time she let herself laugh.

Vincent was helping to move some of the heavier furnishings back along the side of the Great Hall. She couldn’t help but notice how broad his shoulders looked under that butter-soft leather vest, the way the folds of his ruffled shirtsleeves stretched taut over his forearms when he lifted a long wooden bench onto a table.

He must have sensed her watching him, because he set the bench down and turned, his gaze finding hers unerringly. He smiled. His smiles were so rare and so precious that she cherished each one, storing it away in a vault of her heart labeled Vincent.

She smiled back, knowing that he knew how happy she was, and loving that he could treasure that knowledge like she treasured his smiles.

While he finished up there, Catherine made herself useful picking up the last few plates and cups in the hall. There was time to kill, after all; she had no intention of leaving here until she’d had a few minutes alone in it with Vincent.

Tonight she would out-stubborn every party-goer until they could celebrate together – alone.

Turning toward the now empty refreshment tables, she saw an older man with pale gray hair surveying the party, or what remained of it. He looked faintly familiar to her, but she couldn’t place him. She studied his face, gaunt and drawn as if he were sickly, but with a definite tan that didn’t come from a New York City winter. He leaned against the tunnel wall, his breath strained as if he were frail from a recent exertion. He was scanning the Great Hall, clearly looking for someone or something.

He panned the room and as he turned toward her, he stopped, his gaze arrested as he met her eyes. He stared at her as intently as she’d been staring at him. Then his eyes flew open in recognition, and so did hers.

She knew who he was.

He stepped backward into the darkness of the tunnel shadows, vanishing from her sight. She turned to call for Vincent, but he must have already sensed her flare of alarm; even now he was at her side. Before she could breathe, his large, warm, reassuring hand cupped her elbow.

“Catherine,” he asked, “what’s the matter? I felt…”

“Police! Get out, Vincent! Before he sees you!”  She pushed his chest with both hands as she looked back over her shoulder toward the archway where she’d seen him, but the man wasn’t there now.

“Police? Down here?” He looked in the direction of her gaze, and she felt a tensing of his muscles beneath her hands.

“Go, Vincent.  Hurry. I’ll deal with him. I know him. Go, Vincent, now!”

“Herm!” Father’s bellow made them both turn. They saw the gray-haired man now standing at the tunnel with a younger woman in her 30’s, the resemblance unmistakably marking her as his daughter. “Marla! We thought you wouldn’t make it this year.”

“Dad and I wouldn’t miss a Winterfest after all these years, Father. You should have known better than that. Our flight was just delayed.”

The man turned his gaze finally from Catherine and reached out to shake Father’s hand. “You thought a little thing like retirement and a thousand-odd miles were going to keep us away?”

Catherine looked up at Vincent and was graced with yet another of his grins; they seemed to be her Winterfest gift, each of them wrapped up in his unique golden glow.

“Catherine,” Vincent began, “allow me to introduce you to John Herman and his daughter, Marla. Though, I gather you’ve already met Detective Herman.”

“Not Detective, Vincent. Just Herm. That’s me from now on, Ms. Chandler. Just Herm. I’m not a detective anymore. I retired last year and moved down to Fort Myers to be closer to Marla. But maybe you remember that? Didn’t you and Joe Maxwell stop by my retirement party for a slice of cake?”

“Of course I remember. You were on the force for what? Thirty years? But I had no idea that you
she gestured to Herm, then repeated the motion to Vincent and Father, “that you— know each other?”

“That was my doing,” Marla said. “I ran away once when I was a kid, and I stumbled into the Tunnels. They helped me get my head on straight again, and then I went back Above. I started helping out whenever I could, and then, well…”

She looked up mischievously at her father.

“Marla came to me one night telling me how a friend of hers, some kid named Devin, was caught trespassing in the park, and would I help him, since he’d helped her… Well, you can imagine the rest of the story.”

“Herm and Marla have been Helpers ever since, Catherine.”

“I covered up the tracks of this fellow,” he pointed to Vincent, “many a time, I can tell you.”

“You have?” Catherine asked.

Herm nodded. “Including not looking all that hard for what exactly happened in a certain brownstone a few years back…”

“Of course,” Vincent said, “by the time Herm and the rest got there, we’d long since removed the footprints and false walls were already in place. We created an exit into the basement of an abandoned restaurant a few doors down, so that when the police followed the tunnel, it led them up and out the other building.”

“There was never any reason for the police working under me to think that whoever’d been there hadn’t escaped through the other exit. Trails can go cold so quickly, you know,” Herm shrugged. “But before then, we did do our very best to find you while you were missing, Ms. Chandler.”

“Catherine,” she corrected just as Herm had a minute before. He responded with a nod of comprehension.

“I swear we did look for you. I promised your father I would, and I did. I had no idea then to suspect that you might be down here. Why would I? And once you turned up, you swore to us all that you remembered nothing, months went by, no other evidence surfaced, and eventually it became a cold case.

“It wasn’t ‘til months later when I started getting wind of some interesting goings-on in connection with you; they all seemed to have some unusual – but familiar –” he looked pointedly at Vincent, “things in common… ”

Father sighed in that pained way he managed so expertly.

“It took me a while to get Below here and talk with Father – and it took not a little bit of arm-twisting,” Herm tilted his head with a wink, “but eventually I beat it out of him.”

“But we worked together on half a dozen cases,” Catherine marveled. “And you never said a thing to me.”

“Well, that’s the rule, isn’t it? Helpers only need to know about each other on a need-to-know basis. I never thought you needed to know. I hope you won’t hold that against me, Ms.
— I mean, Catherine.”

“Of course not, Herm,” she mimicked his slight emphasis of the name.

“Well,” Father interjected, “William’s already moved all the food and drink back up to the kitchens. You both must come get something to eat after your long trip. There’s plenty left and we’ve got so much to get caught up on.”

“Nice to meet you, Catherine,” Marla said.

“Perhaps we can visit some tomorrow?” Herm asked.

“Absolutely. I’d love that.” Catherine sighed as they left. “Proverbial small world, isn’t it, Vincent?”

“Yes, very small. And suddenly…” He paused, looking around the Great Hall. “Very quiet as well.”  

The dancers and guitarist were gone.

The candles were mostly dark.

They were alone.

“Can you hear it, Vincent?... The music… You can hear it, if you try.”



 



Monday, April 11, 2016

April 12 2016 Anniversary

A Very Silly Micro-Drabble
for 
The April 12th Anniversary BBTV Challenge



One night that first frozen winter Below...

“So, tell me, John,” Jacob asked, “do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“A half-brother. I do not," Pater eyed him narrowly, “speak of... him.”



(Author's Note: Please forgive me - 
watching To Reign in Hell in Sunday Chat
this week, it suddenly occurred to me who 
Gru from Despicable Me reminded me of!)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Taken... Out of Context Video

A fun little something I made for WFOL a few years ago. :-)


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Owl Woman



Owl Woman
A Fable for Children
by Brigit O'Donnell 
Winterfest Online 2016

There once was a land on the far side of yesterday during the time when magic was young.

In those days and in that place, on the top of the highest mountain, there lived a woman of such surpassing beauty that the stars themselves wished that they were as lovely as she.
Catherine from Masques
The stars could not be jealous of her, though, because her goodness and kindness were as great as her beauty.

One spring evening, as the sun disappeared behind the high peaks of her home, the woman heard a voice she had never heard before.  She felt it calling to her in a language that had never been spoken. In a way she couldn’t explain, she knew it was calling her by the name she had been given before she was born.  

She left her home behind and followed the voice all through the night. When the sun rose the next morning, the voice became silent and she slept.

The next evening, as the first starlight began to shine, she heard the voice again. Again she followed it through the night, her path lit by all the stars above. The following morning, as the last star vanished into the dawn, the voice became quiet and she rested.

For ten long nights, she journeyed in this way, following the voice by night and sleeping by day. She traveled down the mountainside until she came at last to the shore of a lonely river.

River and path from Masques

The river had spent its whole life wandering the world, trying to go to the woman, but she lived in the mountains, and the river could not travel up the steep slopes to her. Trapped below in the valleys of the enchanted lands, all it could do was wish and dream of finding her, calling to her in the night.  

While the rest of the world slept, the woman would sit in the darkness under the stars and listen to the river’s song as it tumbled over its stones and down its channels. With each passing night, the woman loved the river more and more. She loved it when it was calm and deep. She loved it when it raced feral and free. She loved the river when it was jewel-blue and when it was onyx-black.  

The woman loved the river, but the river was unable to stop running away from her. She could touch the river, of course; she could even cup a piece of it in her hands. But it is the nature of a river that it cannot be contained; always the river ran on and on, escaping from between her fingers. All the woman could do was wait patiently on its shore, loving the river in all of its moods, listening to its song beneath the starlit sky.

Each and every night, in sorrow and in sadness, the stars circled above, watching the woman and the river. The moon waxed and waned above them, over and over again, through long years during which the woman and the river were together, but still they were apart from one another.

Moon and Stars from Brothers, etc.

The stars knew that this was not the way it was meant to be. And so, on the longest night of the year when the moon was full, when the stars’ power was its strongest, the infinite orbs left their paths in the heavens and came down to where the earth was blanketed in shimmering snow.

The stars danced and whirled around the river and the woman, drawing them ever closer together.  The water of the river was drawn up and spiraled around the woman until they were both enveloped in a swirl of stardust and snowflakes.

As the last glittering spark of this magical mantle vanished, where the river and the woman had stood a moment before, there was now something that had never been before. 

The woman was transformed into an owl of silver-white and the river was an owl of amber-gold.

Still to this day, because the river’s magic was born in the darkness, and to honor the stars that brought them together at last, owls are the guardians of the night. Their song is forever sweet and sad because they always remember that long ago time when they were separated, even though now, they will never, ever be apart.


The Beginning

Vincent and Catherine from Masques with van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888)




Monday, January 18, 2016

Peace Talks


written with CyndiD
for the 2015 Calgary Conzine

Devin advanced toward the outermost row of carousel horses. “What is this supposed to accomplish?” he asked without any real expectation of a satisfactory answer. 

“Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it will make you hate me even more. But whatever happens, I think you deserve to know the truth, Devin…” Father paused, as if unwilling or unable to finish whatever thought he’d begun.  Devin watched the old man look down, half-raise his face, and take a rallying breath. Finally Father met his gaze again as he said, “…my son.”
 
Those two words hung there in the air. Devin stepped down off the carousel platform, closing the distance between them. Father looked away again, clearly unable to meet his eyes.

“My real name is Jacob Wells. I first met your mother in the early fifties…”

My son. Devin heard Father’s words; he heard the explosion they made in his mind with perfect clarity. They echoed in his ears, the barrage of sound they made growing tinny and hollow. My son?  Why’d he say that? What’s that supposed to mean? He can’t mean

The carousel, the horses, the huge pipe organ, Vincent…all of it faded to darkness around him. Father seemed to still be talking, but in the wave of shock and disbelief, Devin could make no sense of the words. He could hear his own breathing, could feel the pulse of a heartbeat in his head and the tingle of the cool night air as it evaporated a sheen of sweat he hadn’t felt break out on his face, but the noises Father made held no meaning for him.

“You’re my father?” The question barked from his lips.

Whatever he’d been saying, Father stopped mid-sentence when he interrupted. “Yes, Devin. You are my son. Truly. You are.”

“You’re my father.” He shook his head and repeated the syllables again, as if this time they might cease being nonsense. “My real father?”

“I am.” Father opened his palms to face Devin, like a man trying to prove his lack of weapons to a potential combatant. 

Devin felt the numbness wearing off, replaced now with a tremble that quaked through him and made his stomach grind against itself. When the tremor spiraled down his legs, he staggered backwards and felt the whole carousel shudder as his calves struck the platform. The world tilted and heaved, sending his full weight collapsing onto the metal surface. Over his shoulder, a black horse with a shaggy forelock and glistening, chestnut eyes grinned mockingly down at him.

“I’m your father, Devin,” the Old Man inched closer, “and I hope you can forgive me, son, for not telling you this many years ago.”

Devin looked at him just in time to see Father’s hands coming toward his face as if to cup it between his fingers.

Without thought, Devin parried the gesture with a forearm. He scrambled to his feet and moved backwards in full retreat. He turned on his heel and charged the gap at the base of the corrugated metal door.  With his heart drumming a tattoo in his chest, he escaped into the mists of Central Park.

****

Jacob watched Devin’s flight and leaned more heavily on his cane. His free hand rasped across his scalp where a thousand more gray hairs were surely sprouting. What did you expect to happen, Jacob? That he’d welcome you with open arms, like some kind of Prodigal Father? When he turned to his other son, he saw Vincent looking worried as Catherine stored a thick envelope in her purse.

“I believe that could have gone better,” Jacob said ruefully.

“There was no way for a revelation such as this to be anything other than a blow, Father,” Vincent replied. “The shock will wear off, in time. We must allow Devin a while to process…everything.”

“He’s right, Father,” Catherine said. “This was something of an ambush, after all. Give him some time. It’ll be all right. You’ll see.”

Jacob nodded in rote agreement and slouched toward the exit, but not before he saw Vincent and Catherine share a look, one of those looks wherein entire conversations are held in a glance without a word needing to be spoken. 

No, I don’t believe it, either, Jacob thought, but what good will it do to talk about it? 

****

Devin stood at the top of the spiral stair. He gripped the wrought iron railing with freshly bruised knuckles and stared down at Jacob where he sat entrenched behind his desk. The older man removed his spectacles, folded their spindly metal arms, and set them onto the scratched wood. He held a fist to his lips and closed his eyes, sitting there for long minutes in solitude and silence. Devin leaned against the balustrade until Jacob startled as if he’d sensed he was being watched. He looked first to the tunnel entrance; seeing no one there, he scanned the chamber. Finally, when there were no other options, he looked up.

Their eyes locked. The d├ętente was broken.

“You must have stood like this,” Devin said, pleased to hear the emotionlessness and control in his own voice. He held the high ground in this moment; he knew it and planned to use it to his advantage.

“Stood looking down on me while I lay in my crib, watching me as I slept…watching me while I played and learned to walk…watching me when I didn’t know you were watching… But you knew. You knew when you held me, fed me, took care of me… and all the time— All that time, you knew. And you denied that I was yours.” Devin stopped.  Breathed.  Swallowed. “Why?”

“Devin…” Jacob sighed.

Devin pushed off from the rail. Pivoted. Marched to the coiled steps.

“I’ve been walking through the park and the city all night… all morning…” He descended, turning his head again and again to keep Jacob in his sights. “And I kept asking myself that question. But you know what, Old Man? You know what?”

Devin stopped at the base of the stair, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and stood with his back against the riveted steel pillar. “No matter what scenario I imagined, I couldn’t really conjure up any good answer to the question, why?

Jacob opened his mouth but Devin gave no quarter.

“No, that’s not exactly true. I did come up with one answer. Not exactly a satisfying one, true.  But it’s the only one that fit the facts.  I know I did a lot of things that disappointed you through the years; I’ll give you that one. But when I was that brand new, tiny baby lying in his crib, I hadn’t done anything yet to disappoint you. I was as perfect and innocent as anyone else then.” Devin felt the burn of tears threaten and cleared his throat with a growl.

“So it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me, Father.” Devin didn’t expect the venom he heard in that name until he said it, but it was the truth, so he pressed on with the assault. “It was you. That newborn lying next to his dead mother hadn’t had time to disappoint you yet. No. No, you were disappointed in you.”

The look between them lingered, the silence stretching across decades of ache.

Then Devin heard something he couldn’t recall Father ever saying before.

“You’re right, Devin. You’re absolutely right.” Jacob heaved a shuddering sigh. The darkness beneath the old man’s eyes as he closed them had nothing to do with any candle shadows. He bowed his head, baring his neck as if to the guillotine. “I’m not proud of— No. I am deeply ashamed of how I behaved after your birth. I would change…so many things…if I could go back… If I could do it all again…”

He seemed to age right there in front of Devin’s eyes, shrunken and withered in defeat.

The anger that had been his ammunition through the uncounted hours of pacing Above was spent now, Devin found. A no-man’s land in the center of the chamber loomed between the two men, but he made no move to cross it.

Father pulled himself to his feet and held the edge of the desk as he circled it, using the massive piece of furniture to steady his steps. He paused at its far corner, and then toddled toward Devin. He’d left his cane behind the desk, and his footfalls were unsteady and halting as he approached the pair of chairs beside the hexagonal table. He lurched the last half step and caught himself on the high back of one of them.

I’m sorry is insufficient, I know, Devin. But I am most truly, truly sorry.”

Devin’s arms fell to his sides. “Did you love her? My mother?”

“I cared for her. She was a good woman. A very good woman. You look so much like her.” Father sighed. “She saved my life when she brought me here. I was nearly dead physically by then…and inside I wished I could just die and be done with it. I was married before Grace brought me Below.”

Devin cocked his head at this news.

“Margaret. She left me. I lost everything. I lost my job, my reputation…lost my home, my self… I had nothing left to live for. And then Grace brought me here. I found a life, a purpose again, thanks to your mother. One night, she and I…” He pursed his lips and turned away as he sank into a chair. 

Devin waited for him to speak again, but Jacob only stared off toward something unseen. He took one small step toward the older man.

“Father, that’s no big deal. People have sex. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“There was. Of course there was. There most certainly was,” Father retorted. He brushed a hand through the air between them. “Oh, I read the papers, Devin. I know that times have supposedly changed Up Top, but… It was wrong. It was wrong of me. Not wrong of Grace, though, no. It was wrong for me because I was the one who was still married. In my heart, if not in the law. I still belonged to Margaret, but I betrayed that vow with Grace. It was wrong of me. But your mother… She paid the price for my sin.”

Father covered his face with his hands.

Devin, moved beyond imaging by the words of this man he’d known all his life yet never truly known, closed the gap between them and sat in the chair flanking his side. He sought something to say, but as Father had pointed out at the carousel, they’d never learned how to talk to each other.  He listened to Jacob’s quavering exhalations until the Old Man was able to look up again.

“It wasn’t your fault. I know it wasn’t.” Devin’s whisper was so faint that he thought Father might not have heard it had there been more than a few inches between them. “You’d have saved her if you could. I know you would have.”

Jacob reached out a hand toward Devin’s sleeve, but withdrew it again without touching his son.  “I did everything…everything I could. It simply wasn’t good enough.”

The young boy still living in the grown man's heart pounded his fists against Devin's chest, screaming a lifetime’s worth of questions unasked and pain unspoken. He shook his head, trying to still that inward child. His voice fell to a whisper even fainter than before and he stared at the floor at their feet.

"I loved you so much, Father. I loved you like a father…even though I knew you weren't mine.” He swallowed and forged on.  “And I wanted so much for you to be proud of me. I studied music and math and Shakespeare ‘til I could beat all the older kids’ tests... But it was never good enough for you.”

He could sit there no longer.  He had to get up, had to move, had to do something.  He scarcely saw where he paced but maneuvering the chamber helped.

“If I missed even one point, you'd dwell on that single mistake instead of all the things I got right. I loved you so much, but I thought you... I could tell that you—” Devin stopped at the brazier and looked into the smoldering coals there.  “I could tell you didn't like me. No matter what I did...or didn't do...you just didn't like me. It made me not like myself much, either... I think... I think that's why I kept becoming other people when I left... I kept hoping—hoping that eventually…I'd become someone that you could like...”

Devin hadn’t meant to say so much; he wasn’t even sure that he himself had ever realized any of that was the truth until this moment. When he turned, it was to see an expression of unspeakable horror and hurt on Father’s face. The boy in his heart would have expected to feel victory in that, but the man recognized it as purely Pyrrhic.

“I'm sorry, Father. I shouldn't have said that.” He half-extended his arm, but it was too meaningless a gesture to complete and he abandoned the movement.

“Dear God, Devin!  Never! Never—not for one moment—did I think I had hurt you so cruelly.  I did see all that you accomplished; I was quite proud of you.  Proud of you then—and proud of you now—for telling me these truths. I needed to hear the hurt I caused you.  It’s—It’s painful to see one's self through the eyes of another, but it is also necessary at times, as well.”

Jacob gestured to the chair at this side; a request, an invitation, an overture. With the barest nod, Devin accepted the proffered truce.

“I am shamed, my boy, and most profoundly sorry. I have made any number of excuses—to myself and to others—to try to justify my actions. And my inactions. But please believe me when I tell you, Devin, that there has never been one moment of your life that I didn't love you. I swear that’s true. And until Vincent pointed it out to me, I didn't even realize that I had been harder on you than all the other children.

“I should have been gentler with you, son, and sterner with myself.”

Devin had never known Father to fall on his sword at all; he certainly could never have dreamed that he could do so, so completely.

“Can you find it in you, my son, to forgive an old fool of a man?”

Father held his hands outstretched again, the same gesture of supplication Devin had rebuffed at the carousel. Devin leaned forward into his father’s touch. Soft fingertips and thin-skinned palms cupped themselves against his cheeks and then suddenly, Father pressed a kiss onto his forehead.

A visceral memory erupted from the depths of Devin's soul. It was a living thing all around him—
 
Devin was in the Great Hall, that first Winterfest; an exciting and unprecedented celebration in his small, young universe. The brightly colored candles were burning low as the festivities drew to a close. The last two dancers lingered to a languid violin. Mary stood behind Father, her hair darker and face less careworn. In her arms slept baby Vincent, his limp limbs dangling bonelessly with the exhaustion of an over-stimulated infant. A couple of other tunnel women were ushering the children off to their beds like a pair of kindly shepherds. 

Devin scurried over to Father and crawled onto his lap; his arms barely fit around the old man’s shoulders. His beard felt soft and scratchy all at the same time.

"Good night, Father! Love you!"

Father held his face between both hands and kissed his brow.

"Good night, my boy. I love you, also."

Devin longed to keep savoring that long ago moment, so vivid he could still smell the spicy cologne of a Helper wafting through the Great Hall. But as Father broke the kiss, the memory burst like a soap bubble in the grass.

It was the last time he’d said that to Father. The last time he’d heard Father say it, too. Devin opened his mouth to speak, but choked on a lifetime of unspoken words.

“I love you, son.”

He took Father’s hands into his own and squeezed them. Then letting go, he placed his own on either side of Father’s face, and returned the kiss.

“I forgive you,” he whispered against his father’s forehead. “I love you and I forgive you.”

Father and son, smiling through their tears, rested their foreheads together. The wounds they never suspected were still unhealed suddenly didn’t hurt either of them anymore.