Beast at the Beach
(Originally published in 1999 conzine A Kingdom by the Sea Revisited)
"Time to wake up!" he heard a voice say. Vincent tried to ignore it, but the voice was insistent and followed by a firm hand gripping his shoulder.
Strange... his bed seemed unusually firm. He cracked his eyes opened and gasped. A feline-looking man was looking back at him. And the lights... where were the candles that normally illuminated his chamber?
"Nap time’s over. Go get in line with the others!"
"Who are you?" he managed to ask despite his disorientation.
The cat-man grinned. "I’m the nice guy getting you in line for the costume contest. I’ll see you inside!" he said and left Vincent alone to gather his thoughts.
Vincent looked around and saw immediately why his bed had felt so firm. He was not in his chamber, though someone had gone to a great deal of effort to recreate the illusion of his chamber in the corridor to.... to whatever place this was. His "bed" was really a board covered by a quilt. Most disturbing of all, he had no sense of Catherine.
As he got cautiously to his feet, he noticed the message coming over the pipes that dinner was ready, though the message kept repeating itself. Nearby, someone had cleverly recreated the waterfall from the Chamber of Falls.
"Hey, Vincent, come on!"
He looked to the source of the voice and saw a woman waving for him to join her and the others she was with. He felt the color drain from his face when he realized that another "Vincent" was included in that number. It was no wonder then, that his own appearance had given no one pause. Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to do as these people asked, until he could determine where he was, and how he had come to be there. He studied his twin carefully and recognized that makeup had been used to achieve the effect, which only puzzled Vincent further. Why would anyone choose to look like him?
The room he had been guided to contained a large gathering of people, the majority of them female. Many of them wore shirts with his image on them while others had Catherine’s image on them as well. Someone pushed him gently towards the stage and he moved forward reluctantly.
The cat man looked down at his note cards, then back at Vincent. "I don’t have a card for you. What’s your name?"
The man turned to the audience and raised his eyebrows conspiratorially. "Right," he said in a tone that indicated his belief that this person was either delusional or determined to stay in character. Laughter rippled through the crowd and the man let it die away before he continued, "We have Vincent, portraying Vincent." The man addressed him and gestured for him to join him on stage. "Well, come on up here."
As Vincent obeyed, the man was forced to tilt his head back some to maintain eye contact. "I’ll bet you’re as tall as Ron." The man looked at a woman sitting in the front row. "What do you think, Margaret? Is he the right height?"
"Who is Ron?" Vincent asked softly.
There was a collective sigh from the audience, and one of the women called out, "He has the voice!" This set off a barrage of requests from the crowd. "Say ‘Catherine!’" "Recite one of Shakespeare’s sonnets!" "Say, ‘Tell me.’"
The man on stage looked sideways at him. "Well?"
"Well what?" Vincent replied, confused as to what was expected of him.
"Do you know any sonnets?" the cat-man clarified.
Vincent nodded and allowed himself to be guided to the microphone. "‘When in disgrace..."
There was another collective sigh as he began. The audience listened, rapt, and gave him a round of applause when he was done. The cat-man stepped forward and bowed in mock-homage to him.
Vincent hardly noticed. He had been too stunned at first to pay much attention to the faces looking back at him, waiting for them to realize his appearance was not due to makeup. Instead, they seemed to regard him warmly. No one was looking strangely at him. He began to relax and make eye contact with the audience when his gaze fell upon Joe.
"Joe! Joe Maxwell!" he exclaimed, stunned to see a familiar face in this gathering. Catherine had shown him a photograph of Joe once when telling Vincent about a particularly dull office party.
Joe snapped him gum and looked sideways at the man sitting next to him before answering. "Yeah?"
"Where is Catherine?" His growing concern for her was conveyed in his voice.
"I gave her a few days off," Joe retorted with a grin. He leaned back in his chair and pantomimed snapping a rubber band at the cat-man. "Hey, Myhr! Didn’t she say she was going to see her girlfriend for a few days?"
Myhr looked at Joe and waved his finger warningly. "If you hit me with that, you’ll be sent to your room!"
Vincent moved closer to Myhr to get his attention.
Myhr looked startled and took a half-step back. "Meow!"
Vincent persisted. "Where is Catherine?"
"How should I know? Ask Dave," Myhr said and pointed to the man sitting beside Joe.
"Her name is Nancy Tucker, Jay. How can you forget that? The show’s only been off the air for seven years!" Dave met Vincent’s worried gaze and winked at him. "Cathy’ll be fine once she recovers from the shock of actually getting a vacation! Nancy will take good care of her."
Vincent failed to see the humor in this and was mulling over the audience’s laughter as Myhr gently led him from the stage. He was immediately stopped by a touch on his sleeve. Turning, he saw it was the woman Myhr had addressed as Margaret. "Yes?"
She studied his face carefully and even turned his head from side to side with a gentle touch to his chin. Finally, she nodded to herself in apparent approval. "You did an excellent job, as good as I would have done," she told him before she turned and headed back to her seat.
As soon as the crowd’s attention was directed to the next person on stage, Vincent slipped out one of the doors on the side of the room. He went back to his "chamber" and looked at the different props someone had gathered. A Winterfest candle lay on a small table, next to a photograph of Catherine and a volume of Great Expectations.
The sound of laughter drew his attention to a nearby doorway and he moved in that direction cautiously. What he saw in the room beyond was stunning. All four walls were lined with tables, in addition to the tables clustered in the center of the room. Amazing! There were drawings, sketches, paintings... all of him or Catherine. Some were even of the two of them together. And there were books everywhere! Curious at some of their titles, he picked one up and read the first passage he saw when the book fell open in his hands.
He read only a few sentences before he felt the blood rush to his face. Hastily, he set the volume aside and picked up another. Again, the text gave him cause to blush. Only in the darkest hours of the night did he allow himself to think, very indirectly think, of becoming intimate with Catherine. Usually he forced his mind to other topics if his imaginings went much beyond a kiss. Yet on these pages, someone had described his deepest desires in mortifying, vivid detail. What would Catherine think?
Still blushing, he moved to another display. Small crystal pendants lay on dark velvet. Key chains with his own image... Vincent shook his head sharply, trying to clear his head of whatever hallucinations were plaguing him, and headed back into the hallway.
People were going in and out of another room. He was almost afraid to join them, for fear of what he would find, but decided to yield to his curiosity. The experience of mingling with strangers was too precious to be discarded lightly.
Drawings done by children were displayed inside the doorway and they brought a smile to his face. Wherever he was, it was obvious that children were appreciated by these people. He examined each work of art carefully, seeing promising potential in several of them.
When he had given each piece his full attention, he turned to see if anything was displayed on the wall to his right. What he saw there made him gasp.
"I know, it gives me goose bumps, too," a woman beside him said. "Did you see how tiny Linda’s waist is? The mannequin is too big for them to fasten the dress in back! It’s so neat to actually see the costumes used on the show. Look, they even have Pascal’s pipes with the outfit Armin wore!"
Vincent was speechless, but nodded once. He was relieved when that seemed to satisfy her and she left him alone to look at the clothing. That was his shirt, though he had no memory of receiving a chest wound while wearing it. How had it come to be here? The sight of Pascal’s pipes was unnerving, but the dress...
He knew Catherine had purchased the dress she wore on their first Halloween together from the rental shop. She had shown it to him the next day, telling him she hadn’t been able to part with it after wearing it on such a magical night. Yet here on this mannequin was the very same dress. He was certain of that much. The hand-sewn beads, the fine lace.. he had memorized every square inch of that gown, storing the image of Catherine as she had looked that night in the most precious corner of his heart. He leaned over the rope and inhaled deeply, only to discover that her scent was absent from the fabric. Even if she had taken the dress to be cleaned, he had expected to detect a hint of her perfume. How could this be? And what had that woman meant when she called it a costume for the show?
There were too many things to think about, too many questions that remained unanswered. He resolved to find Joe Maxwell and ask him about it later. First, he wanted to see if there was more artwork on the back of the display panel where the children’s drawings hung.
Paintings of Catherine. Drawings of Catherine. Some were so life-like he almost expected them to move, smiling at him as he drew near. He was humbled by the love put into the art. Even the ones of his own face had such love and warmth he wanted to weep. There was no hint of the Beast in the images looking back at him, and he imagined that this was how Catherine saw him as well.
He reached the end of the row and turned so he could continue along the back wall of the small room. His heart stopped and he forgot to breathe for a moment as he stared at the first painting. He blushed deeply but couldn’t force himself to look away. Someone had portrayed him taking a bath in one of the tunnel pools! At least they had been kind enough to place him in water up to his waist! His bond must have alerted him to Catherine’s need, because he was turning his head, searching with his inner sense as his eyes lost their focus. She was calling him!
Vincent finally tore his gaze away from the painting and forced back tears. How he yearned to feel her in his heart once more! Blindly, he carefully made his way towards the exit, only to be stopped by a cluster of women that blocked his path. He forced himself to breathe slowly, wait patiently... surely they would disperse shortly.
While he waited impatiently, he looked at the object of their attention. Tears threatened to spill onto his cheeks. Someone had painted Catherine in his embrace. In her hand, she clasped a red rose and a Winterfest candle. Her back was to him, but she was turning into his arms, her face stretching up to meet his in a passionate kiss.
"How much do you think that one will go for?" one of the women asked.
"More than I brought," another answered. "I wonder if my husband would mind if I sold the house so I’d have enough cash for the auction?"
The small group erupted in laughter. "Yeah, right," one said. "Just be glad he doesn’t make a fuss about you coming to the con!"
"He knows better! ‘Touch my ’zines and die!’- that’s my motto!"
"I’m sorry, Vincent, we’re blocking you!" one of them said when she finally noticed him standing there, waiting to get through.
The women moved to allow him to pass, and one added, "Put a painting like that in front of us, and we don’t see anything else! You have to speak up!"
"Although, if you quote Shakespeare again, you might get more than you bargained for!" another said, evoking more giggles.
"Hey, why don’t you come outside with us and we can get some pictures on the beach! I’d love to get pictures of ‘Vincent’ with the ocean! The screen captures from A Distant Shore are not enough!"
"The beach?" Vincent parroted dumbly. Never in his live had he seen a real beach.
"This is Virginia Beach! And the hotel is on the coast," the tallest woman said as she looped her arm through his. "Is this weekend your first time to see the ocean?"
Vincent nodded, his mind fastening onto the name she had given this place. Virginia Beach. He had seen the word on maps before. Was he really in Virginia?
He allowed them to lead him downstairs and out the back of the hotel. The sunlight hurt his eyes and made him squint, but he didn’t care. Never in his life had he seen anything that could compare to this.
Tears streamed down his face but he paid them no mind as the women led him down the sidewalk, down the steps, onto the sand. He knelt and scooped up handfuls of the fine grains and watched them spill through his fingers, weeping quietly at the experience. His escorts watched him from a few feet away, seeming to sense what a wondrous moment they were witnessing. Vincent heard hushed whispers and the click of camera shutters, but they let him be.
Finally, he got to his feet and walked slowly to the ocean. He watched, entranced, as each retreating wave was merged into the wave forcing its way towards the shore. A few steps more, and he was standing in the water. It soaked through his boots, and he reveled in the sensation though it was surprisingly cold. He closed his eyes and absorbed the feel of the sea with his remaining senses. The smell of salt water, the sensation of vast space spread out before him, the hypnotic soothing sound of waves lapping at the shore&endash; each was a treasure in itself. Gulls flew overhead, swooping and circling as they called out to each other and he recalled Catherine’s letter to him, written on a distant shore.
Catherine! His heart ached to share this with her! The images she had painted in his mind with her letter couldn’t begin to compare with the reality. If only he could feel her though their bond, his joy would be complete.
When he opened his eyes and looked at the ocean before him, he realized that the tiny specks on the horizon were ships. Never in his life had he been able to see objects at such a distance, other than by gazing at the night sky. Skyscrapers and city lights had their beauty, but never before had he been able to look at the world like this. The vastness of Earth humbled him.
At long last, when he felt he could absorb no more, he bent over and touched the ocean with his hand. Cupping some water in his palm, he brought it to his lips and took a cautious taste before letting the rest run down his fingers and drip back into the sea.
He carefully walked back to the boundary between two worlds and knelt once more, one foot in the reach of the waves, the other on dry sand. He placed one hand in each element...
Vincent woke in his chamber, in his own bed. His sense of Catherine had returned, and he sighed in relief and contentment. The dream had been so vivid, the experience so real... he didn’t want to let the joy fade too quickly. Candlelight cast dancing shadows on the rock walls. Nearby, Catherine was sitting in a chair, quietly reading.
His sigh must have gotten her attention, because she put down her book and came over to the bed. She perched on the edge and smiled at him. "Are you feeling better? Father told me you were up all night."
"The children like it when I read to them when they are sick."
"I’m sure they do. You are very caring and I know your presence comforts them, especially when they are ill. How many still have the flu?"
"Four." Vincent rolled onto his side and bunched the pillow under his head with his right arm. He was in no particular hurry to get out of bed. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long. Is something wrong, Vincent? You seem..." Her voice trailed off when she was unable to find the words to describe the subtle difference in his demeanor.
"I just had the strangest dream, Catherine. It was so real... confusing but wonderful..."
Catherine took his left hand in hers. "Can you tell me about it?... " Her brow furrowed and she look down at their entwined fingers. "What were you doing earlier that your hands got covered in sand?"
He looked down and saw the grains stuck under his fingernails, the fine powder residue that clung to his palms. ‘Impossible!’ a part of his mind said. But another, quieter voice wondered...
Author’s note: For any reader who has been away from the chatter on the main pipes and doesn’t realize it, this story was inspired by the Virginia Beach B&B convention. Jay Acovone (Joe Maxwell), David Schwartz (executive producer), Margaret Beserres (Vincent’s makeup artist), and Jamie Murray/Myhr were all in attendance and a delight to talk with. The two paintings described in the text are She Calls by Jamie Murray and A Moment by Kevin Barnes.