23

THE TUNNEL CHRONICLES

Searching for Utopia

By Southofoz

Summary –This is a Classic story rated G

*****

As if all you can do here is leave

And plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

By Wislawa Symborska

In an abandoned warehouse near the docks, a group of homeless people huddled around a small fire. Suddenly a noise, by the loose board a man had entered. He was bearded wore all manner of mismatched clothing, like the watching group. He was breathless and excited as he said, "There's been an animal attack in the Village." He hurried in and came closer to a small fire in a dry section of the floor adding, "But I think it was him."

"Him?" another man, wearing an old Mets cap under all manner of scarves and tattered coats, asked.

"Yeah, you know, HIM!" the first man declared, as he came over to the fire, and crouching before it, he held his hands out to warm them. With that last word there was a knowing murmur among the others gathered around him.

"Who?" a figure, leaning against a nearby wall, asked – it was unclear if it was a boy or a girl under so many layers of clothing, and there was a cap pulled down over a dirty face.

All eyes turned in that direction as though only now noticing that anyone was there and the man at the fire asked, "You aint heard of Him?"

The shrouded figure shook its head.

The man sat down and faced the shrouded youth, and then in a hushed almost fearful tone he began to speak in a stage whisper. Although those sitting around him knew the story, they sat in rapt attention. With little else to entertain them, these people enjoyed telling and hearing such stories.

"There's this place see, way down underneath the city. It's like a maze, with dark passages going every which way. People live there, in a world of rock and darkness. There are places down Below that only a few people have ever seen. Wonderful places, waterfalls and caves more beautiful than anyone has ever seen. The people there have their own rules, no one steals, or kills, or is left to go hungry or to die. It's a beautiful place." Then his face took on a fearful, sad expression, "but there's some kind of monster protecten it."

"Monster?" the soft adolescent voice scoffed from the shadows, unbelieving of such fantasies.

"Yeah, with claws and fangs," a second man declared emphatically to the unbeliever.

"He ain't no monster," an old woman wearing a red wool cap and an old grey overcoat, cut in. "I hear he's just different from normal folk that's all. He was seen a few years back. No one's ever seen his face clearly though, he keeps it hidden under a hood. He's never hurt anyone before though. "

"So if this – whatever he is – is real, and the place is real, why don't you live there?

There was laughter then, and the old woman said, "He's got you there Jack."

"What's your name kid?" Jack asked.

"J D," the youth answered.

"Well Jay Dee its coz no one knows how to get down there?" Jack stated flatly, "you need to be invited and led down by someone who lives there, and everyone's too afraid of this hooded guy to go alone."

The conversation around the fire then moved on to other sightings of this hooded stranger. But in J D's mind an idea began to form.

When everyone in the warehouse had finally fallen asleep, the shadowed figure called J D pulled off the cap, and a mass of shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair fell over thin shoulders. Very wary of everyone, at last the girl could relax.

She was fifteen and until a year ago she had been living with foster parents. She had lived with foster families since she was six, after her mother's death. She had never known her father.

Some families had been very kind, but others like her last family, were not. One night after being beaten for her 'smart mouth' she had decided she'd had enough, and slipped through the bedroom window. J D had found her way to New York and she had been on the streets ever since.

At first she had been very frightened but, her life up until then had toughened her. To avoid being found she shortened her name, which also helped to keep her gender a mystery as well. As the months went by she learned quickly about life on the streets and many of the other street folk. Who would help her and who was dangerous.

She was often hungry, but that wasn't unusual. She'd been hungry for most of her life, and she was always frightened. To protect herself she had an old penknife she had found in the attic of her last foster parents, and she kept it within reach of her hand at all times. She would like to make something better but without the right tools or even a good design she had to be satisfied with the knife, which was a comfort at least.

In summer when the days were hot and the nights just as bad, hunger and thirst were her only care. But in the fall when the leaves in Central Park began to turn orange, she found what it was like to be cold as well. She'd never lived out in the open or on her own before, and her worst fear was of freezing to death in the snow, alone and unnoticed.

That first winter J D had survived by finding a way into the subways but it was often dark and noisy and at times she had seen figures moving through the shadows.

*****

The next morning the streets were abuzz with the animal attack in the Village with three men dead. It wasn't hard to find the building, and when she got there, there was a police car, with flashing lights to guide her, and yellow tape surrounding the sidewalk outside of a dark building.

Hiding in the basement stairwell J D heard, "the Lieutenant said it looked like some kind of big cat or something. It messed em up pretty bad."

"And what's with the hole in the basement wall?" the second man asked, "Is that how it got in?"

"Looks like it," the first policeman said, "the Lieutenant wants to send a team down to investigate, but it's unlikely with the manpower shortage."

A woman's voice came from the car radio and after answering it one of the uniformed men signaled the other and they both got into the patrol car and drove off.

After they had left, the girl in the stairwell turned her attention to the door to the basement. J D had learned how to pick a lock when she was eight and when she got through the basement door; she saw a flight of old wooden steps leading down to the sub-basement. When she reached the bottom she saw what the men had been talking about. There was a huge hole in one wall, with bricks scattered all over the floor, as though it had exploded inward.

She went to the opening and looked through to where a long tunnel led into the darkness. The darkness beckoned, but she decided against it. The rumors about the mysterious protector gentle or not, were more than she wanted to chance. Not to mention getting lost down there.

J D was about to leave when she noticed something caught in the shattered bricks. She bent and took hold of a piece of material, it was about the size and shape of a dollar bill, and it was black and thick. It had a tattered edge as though it had been torn from a larger piece of material. She lifted it closer to her face and caught the aroma of smoke and dust and something else, a warm smell that conjured visions of a cozy fire and a comfortable room. Disregarding such fantasies and instead of throwing it away, she tucked the scrap of cloth into the pocket of her jeans and left the crime scene, hoping to find a better way to the world below the city.

******

The next few nights J D spent in the subway, down one of the service shafts, where the sound of the trains was not quite as loud.

One night in the deafening silence after the passage of a train, she heard a noise. She sat up as a shadow slipped across the tracks a short distance away. She had seen lots of things in her short life but this shadow was something she had never seen before, so she followed it.

It was a large figure, shrouded in a flowing black cloak, with a hood pulled up over its face. It moved fast, but she was able to stay only a short distance away, then it stopped at a wall and looked back. She dashed behind a concrete pillar, and when she peeked out the figure pressed a section of the wall and it slid open with a loud grinding sound. Then with a flash of black cloth, the large figure slipped through, just before the door closed again.

As J D was about to follow, a smaller shadowed figure, perhaps a child, came out of the darkness, and ran over to one of the down-pipes against the wall, and began tapping on it with a stone. After several taps and pauses the child ran off down the tunnel.

When she was sure the other child had gone J D ran to the hidden door and began searching for the switch that opened it. The cloaked figure had been much taller than she was, so she felt around, pressing stones and then suddenly one moved under her fingers and there was a 'click' and the door slid open.

A muted light came from far ahead, then the door began to close and she was just in time to slip through. At first fear struck her as she thought she was trapped, until with searching fingers, she found a lever set in the wall and pushed it up. The wall slid open again, and satisfied that she could get out; J D turned her attention to her surroundings.

She dug her hand in the pocket of her old coat and took out a throwaway lighter, the stub of a candle, and a piece of chalk, her most precious possessions. They were only for emergencies, but this was an emergency, so she lit the candle and lifted it high.

By its feeble light she saw a basement of some kind. She feared getting lost and so she put an arrow on the wall to her right, pointing toward an opening in the wall, and went in the direction of the light.

She went down a passage that seemed to go on forever and for some time she wandered, with growing fear that even her chalk arrows would fail her. Then after backtracking she came to a flight of stone steps leading up, and began to climb them. Expecting to find some kind of door, she was surprised when she came to a solid looking wall, then she heard voices...

A man was speaking. "Don't make this difficult, Cathy. There's no need for melodrama. I'm not going to hurt you."

A woman's voice interrupted. "Did you know when you bought the building?"

The same man again." No, we were doing renovations and stumbled on the tunnels …"

As her mind conjured up the fairytale world she was searching for, she missed some of the conversation.

"… Side tunnels … dead ends …so old you can't imagine." The man said and the woman answered with irony.

"Can't I?"

"The story – the demon protector – the angel from Below, the city needed him."

J D was shocked. So was this man the one she'd been looking for? But his next words made her wonder.

"The deaths weren't important. The legend was…"

"And what about the policeman, he's in critical condition!" Cathy said, sounding very angry.

"Legends never make mistakes. They never miss or stumble or strike out in panic," the man said

J D heard a chair scrape on the floor, before the man spoke again. "And they never hurt those who don't deserve to be hurt."

"It's too bad your legend doesn't exist," the woman said.

J D was shocked. She had been searching for this 'Legend' and now he didn't exist? But then the man in the room beyond said, "Oh, but he does, and you're going to tell me all about him. Aren't you?"

An argument followed this comment and the woman called Cathy, kept denying knowing anything about this 'Legend' but the man would not believe her.

"Cathy, you're trying to protect him. Fine I admire that, but it's pointless. Red saw you together. He watched you for more than twenty minutes," the man said and J D's heart leapt in her chest.

He did exist! And this Cathy knew him.

J D then heard Cathy say, "I've had enough of this! Am I going to be allowed to leave?"

And the man answered, "If you insist."

J D heard the wall moving and she ran back down the stairs. She hid in the shadows and watched what happened next.

By the light coming from the room above she saw four people come down the steps; a tall dark skinned man, two women and another man. The dark skinned man went into the darkness, and returned a short time later dressed in the black cloak with the hood covering his face.

When he came into a beam of light J D saw that he had a mask on and fur on his hands with long claws. For a moment it looked like he was going to hurt Cathy, who was being held by the other two people.

Suddenly, something large and also wearing a cloak came bursting through the entrance to the tunnels. He let out an almighty roar and the other man attacked.

Cathy took this opportunity to get free from the two who held her. After a few blows they ran off.

J D watched in awe as the two beasts, the real one, and the pretend one, fought, and then ran off into the tunnels. Cathy, began to follow but in the end she made her way slowly back up the steps.

J D was afraid to go into the tunnels or up the stairs. It had sounded as though Cathy worked for the police, and if they found J D she'd be put back in Care, an orphanage or Foster Home. J D was sure that the tunnels were the only safe place for her. She was disappointed, but she'd learned that 'the protector' did exist and that's all that mattered.

******

She was on the Lower East Side one night some weeks later when an explosion woke her from a sound sleep, as she huddled in a doorway. She hurried to a smoking building on Broome St, and Old Charlie told her he saw the Silks bundle a large, unconscious man, wearing a black cloak, into the trunk of their car.

J D hid in the shadows when the police came, and later when a taxi pulled up, she watched from inside the building. Taxis didn't come down here often.

Someone came out of the shadows and met a burly looking black man as he stepped out of the cab. In the light of the streetlamp J D saw that it was the woman, Cathy from some weeks earlier. J D crept closer and watched from the shadows, hoping to catch what they were saying.

Cathy hugged the man, "thanks for coming."

"Friends do for each other," the man said, "That's what it's about. Now, what can you tell me about this friend of yours?"

"He's very special to me Isaac. I know this is strange, but I can't give you more than that."

"You can trust me," Isaac said.

'I know I can trust you; I just can't explain." Cathy said with regret.

"Then don't. He's your friend that's enough." Isaac conceded.

Isaac then went over to Charlie, and asked him a few questions, Charlie told him about being woken up by the explosion and that the Silks had thrown a man into the trunk of their car. J D was frightened then, as she suddenly realized that the unconscious man was the man she had begun to call the 'Protector'.

"The Silks, my God!" Cathy gasped.

"I know their turf," Isaac said calmly, "If your friend's alive, we'll find him." And they both climbed into the taxi and drove away.

J D knew where the Silks hung out, and she also knew that if they had 'the Protector' he was in big trouble, so she hurried to where they would be this late at night.

*****

By the time she got to the Silk's hideout the place was crawling with police, and Cathy and Isaac were in the thick of them. J D had noticed long ago that no one paid any attention to a kid, especially a street kid, so she was able to get close enough to hear what they were saying.

Crouching over a body bag, Cathy's face was fearful, until she lifted the flap and sighed.

"Well, at least he ain't dead, that's something," Isaac said.

Cathy, looked up at him, and then to the damaged wall and the chains on the ground.

"He's hurt Isaac … I know it. He's hurt and he's alone," the last word was said as though she was going to cry.

J D hadn't had a family for most of her life and had considered herself alone, but obviously this 'friend' wasn't used to being without the protection of a family, or the walls down below, around him.

"Well, we'll just keep looking till we get to him," Isaac said.

"We've got to," Cathy declared desperately.

"I know. I'm not going to ask you any questions, alright. But if there's anything you can tell me about this guy?"

"Isaac I can't. I would tell you if I could," Cathy said tearfully.

"Okay. Hey it's cool," he soothed.

She was silent for a moment then she sighed and said, "His name is Vincent."

"Vincent," Isaac repeated.

J D's heart pumped excitedly, and she whispered. "Vincent." He had a name now. He was a Legend and a Protector but his name was Vincent.

Cathy was speaking again, "I owe him my life."

"Come on." Isaac stated firmly, "If he's out there, we are gonna find him." And then he led her to the cab and it drove into the night.

J D's mind was spinning. If Vincent had gotten away from the Silks, they'd be after him in their Cadillac. Vincent seemed pretty well able to look after himself, from what she'd seen in the basement and the wreckage about her, but if he was hurt, where would he go? He couldn't be too far away, so J D began looking in corners and basement entrances, and doorways all along the side-streets.

She heard the screech of brakes, and a loud thump and ran onto the runaway where she saw the Silks Cadi smash into a building. Then she saw a cloaked figure crawl into an alley. She ran to the alley and followed Vincent, as he stumbled against a wall with a grunt. He looked really badly hurt, and he obviously couldn't see very well. But it was a blind alley and the Silks could catch him there. She ran to where he leaned against the wall panting, and stood looking at him, seeing him properly for the first time. Even though his hood was up and he was hunched over in pain, she could see his long blond hair and his unique features. He must have felt her there and he lifted his head, his eyes squinting up at her.

"Don't be afraid, Vincent. I won't hurt you," J D said softly, keeping her distance.

Breathing heavily, he said softly, "You know my name?"

"Yeah I've been lookin fer you," J D asserted.

He slipped down the wall and grunted in pain, one arm across his chest. Broken ribs probably, J D thought, but in pain or not, he needed to be taken out of this alley before the Silks found him. This was really no time for social introductions so she said, "You've gotta get out of here. I know someone who might help you it isn't far."

Vincent looked up at her and J D saw his face clearly for the first time. He wasn't so bad. In fact he reminded her of a stray kitten she had once.

He looked up at her, but he didn't speak. His face was wet with perspiration, and his jaw was clenched against the pain.

"Let me help you? You can lean on me," She said, gently putting an arm out to him.

Vincent, nodded and put out a hand, and she saw his claws, but they didn't frighten her either. He put his right arm over her shoulders, and groaning softly, got to his feet. He leaned heavily against the wall, as though afraid to put too much of his weight on her, since she came just under his arm.

"Lean on me. Come on. It's not far, but we'll get nowhere if you wanna take the wall with you," She complained.

Despite his pain and the situation, Vincent laughed softly at her wit, "You're right, I'm sorry. Are you sure?"

"Yeah, sure, I'm stronger than I look – or feel in your case. I used to carry fifty pound bags of potatoes on the farm and you've got legs to take some of the weight."

As they began to move slowly out of the alley, Vincent asked. "What's your name?"

"J D, Jamie. Jamie Douglas."

"Thank you Jamie," Vincent said his voice deep with gratitude.

"Well, maybe you can pay me back someday," Jamie answered, expecting never to see this man again.

"I would like that," he said, his breathing loud in her ear.

She led him to a doorway and encouraged him to sit against the wall. "Here, now hide in there and wait till she comes home. It won't be long now." When he was safely in a hidden alcove, Jamie began to leave.

"Jamie," Vincent called softly, stopping her.

"Yeah,"

"I will find you."

"You take care of yourself, Vincent. Your friend's gonna find you." She didn't really expect to see him again but she hoped, and she could dream, then she heard Lucy coming. "See ya, Vincent," she said and hurried away.

*****

Jamie stayed nearby watching as, Lucy helped, Vincent into her apartment and then later when she led him to the old Beaumont Hotel, but the Silks were close behind. She watched, Vincent rip the heavy bars off the front door and throw it on Python. She was pleased watching the thug wriggle under the heavy weight. At the same time she was shocked at how strong, Vincent was, even with broken ribs.

She saw a taxi passed by her with Cathy and Isaac in it, and she waved it down. A worried face looked out and Jamie yelled, "He's over there in that old building!"

Cathy, wound down the window, "Who is?" she asked with an innocent look that Jamie knew was more to protect, Vincent than help him.

A little angry by all the secrecy, when Vincent was in danger of being shot, Jamie said, "Vincent! The Silk's have guns, so you better hurry."

They both jumped out of the taxi and with a hand on Jamie's shoulder, Cathy said. "Thank you," and then ran off toward the building, with Isaac close behind.

******

Jamie knew there must be an entrance to Vincent's world somewhere in the building, and when the shooting had stopped and only Isaac came out, she ran up to him.

"Is he okay?" She asked desperately.

"What?" Isaac asked confused.

"Is Vincent okay?"

"Ah …Yeah I guess so," Isaac said. He seemed distracted as he walked down the street, looking for a taxi, and Jamie followed him.

"Did he go home?" she asked, not letting him go.

"Who,"

"Vincent, did he go home?"

"Oh, yeah he went home … "Then Isaac stopped walking, "Say what's a kid like you doin here this time of night anyway. Ain't you got a home to go to?"

Jamie smiled, "I hope so."

Ignoring that, Isaac demanded, "How do you know about, Vincent?"

"It's a secret," Jamie said with a smile.

"Yeah and there's too damn many o those going around tonight," Isaac complained as he saw a taxi. "See ya round kid," he said as he ran toward it.

"I don't think so," Jamie said with a smile. All she had to do now was wait. She didn't really expect it to happen, but it was fun to dream.

*****

It was Halloween and everyone was out in their costumes. Jamie made her way uptown, where a lot of people were celebrating. She was lucky; many of the party goers felt generous and gave her money or candy – probably thinking her scruffy clothes were a costume. She smiled as a woman dressed like a skeleton gave her a pumpkin shaped candy.

Close to dawn she saw a man and a woman climb out of a carriage at Central Park. They looked familiar; the man was unmistakable in his black cloak, the hood thrown back and his long golden hair flowing down his back. Not hiding tonight of all nights, she thought, and so she followed them, keeping her distance. They seemed like any two lovers taking a walk in Central Park, both dressed like they had come out of some fairytale.

As the sun began to rise they sat on a park bench overlooking Brooklyn Bridge. It had been weeks since he'd been hurt and even though he'd been beat up pretty bad, Vincent looked okay. Cathy, looked very pretty in the pink light of the morning, reflected on her pink and white gown.

Jamie stayed in the bushes just out of hearing, not wanting to eavesdrop on their conversation or let, Vincent know she was there. She just enjoyed watching them talk, heads close together. And she thought they were going to kiss until a man came jogging by and said something to Vincent, and then jogged away again.

Vincent stood and pulled up his hood, he shrugged, and with a sad look at his companion, he walked away and was soon lost in the shadows.

Cathy, watched him go with a sad expression on her face, and then she watched the sun rise. She looked so lonely that Jamie came out of hiding and said, "He shouldn't have let that jerk chase him away."

Cathy turned with surprise and asked, "What, what are you doing there?" She sounded like most adults when they were surprised by something a kid did.

Jamie smiled and came closer. "Watching you moon over, Vincent."

"Moon over …Who are you?"

"J D." the girl said not quite ready to trust Cathy, as she did, Vincent.

"Well J D, you should be in bed. Do you know what time it is?" Cathy got to her feet and stood beside the bench.

"Its daylight, and it was just night. Who needs to know the time?" Jamie said with simple logic.

Cathy's expression changed and she said, "I know you? I saw you the other night when …"

"When, Vincent was being chase by the Silks," Jamie finished for her.

Cathy looked down at her feet, as though unsure what to say, so Jamie reassured her, "Its okay, I won't tell anyone about him."

"About whom," Cathy asked,

Jamie, laughed softly and said, "That won't work with me either."

"You either? What do you mean?"

"It didn't work with that guy in the fur mask. It won't work with me either. I've seen Vincent up close. Although he was half blind and hurtin at the time, he probably doesn't remember."

"That was you, you're Jamie?" Cathy asked with surprise.

"I knew Lucy would help him."

Cathy sat back heavily on the bench. "Vincent told me that Jamie had helped him." And then she looked up at Jamie. "He might have been half blind, but he still remembers what you did for him."

Jamie's heart skipped a beat, "He remembers me?" She asked incredulous, and afraid to believe too much.

"Yes," Cathy said with a soft smile, patting the bench beside her. "Come, and sit down."

Jamie sat in a daze, surprised and happy. After everything he had gone through and must have been feeling that night, he still remembered her.

"I'm Cathy."

"Yeah, I heard that karate guy talking to you," Jamie said, seeing Cathy's face darken.

"And that's not all you've heard either," Cathy added with suspicion.

"You hear a lot on the streets. I've been lookin for Vincent. He's a … Legend."

"He's the most wonderful man I've ever met," Cathy said dreamily.

Cathy's expression became centered on somewhere far away as she said softly. "He comes from a secret place, far below the city streets, hiding his face from strangers, safe from hate and harm. He brought me there to save my life, and now wherever I go he is with me, in spirit. For we have a bond stronger than friendship or love. And although we cannot be together we will never ever be apart."

"Wow, that's real corny," Jamie said with a grin, "but nice too I guess. You really love him, don't you?"

Like coming out of a dream, and just realizing who she was talking to, Cathy said. "Yes I do. He is everything to me."

"So why can't you be together, why don't you live in his world with him?" Jamie was young and to her the answer was simple.

"It's complicated …" and then Cathy became defensive. "And why am I telling these things to you?" with a laugh she said. "Come on I'll buy you breakfast."

Over breakfast they talked about lots of things. Cathy wouldn't let her ask anymore about Vincent, and Jamie wouldn't tell Cathy about herself. When they parted, Jamie had a feeling that it wasn't over.

*****

She was searching through a trash can in an alley on Bleaker one night, just after Halloween, when she heard.

"Is Jamie Douglas your real name?" spoken in a soft, gentle voice.

Jamie looked up, and a tall cloaked shadow was standing in the entrance to a nearby alley. She straightened and leaned on the can. "No," she said with a grin. Cathy couldn't find me in her records could she?"

She heard a soft laugh, "No,"

"Good."

"How have you been Jamie?" he asked with a note of true concern.

"Fine, how are you?"

He nodded, "Better, thanks to you."

She snorted. "I didn't do anything, that friend of yours, she's the one you should thank."

He came out of the shadows. "She said … you were helpful to her too."

"Yeah, well I admit I did a little bit. She's nice your girlfriend."

Vincent leaned back against the wall and bowed his head, his face hidden in the folds of his hood. "She is everything to me…"

Jamie came closer to him and he didn't move. "You talk like she's your girl, she talks the same way, so what's wrong?"

He sighed, and looked up at the buildings around him. "This is where the wealthy and powerful rule. It is her world, a world apart from mine. Her name … is Catherine from the moment I saw her, she captured my heart, with her beauty, her warmth, and her courage. I knew then, as I know now, she would change my life forever."

Even at her tender age, Jamie could tell the story of, Vincent and, Catherine was sad and complicated. This poetic way they talked about each other was kind of nice, but she couldn't understand what the problem was. Yes, he was different, but it seemed more than just how he looked that made, Vincent unhappy, but she didn't want to ask. She'd learned a long time ago that some things were none of her business.

So she thought a change of subject might help. "So, what are you doing down here anyway?"

The question brought Vincent out of his somber mood, "I came to see if you were well, and to ask you a question," he said smiling.

"Well I'm great; I think there's a half eaten pizza in this trashcan. It might be almost eatable," the last word came in an echo as Jamie stuck her head in the metal can, as did her next question. "What's the question? Is it food related coz I'll be missing out on an almost fresh pizza," she added, trying to brighten his mood and it worked.

Vincent laughed, and when she looked his way he was gazing down at his feet, "I would like to invite you to come to my world Jamie. I think, I can guarantee you something a little better than stale pizza."

"Better than stale pizza?" she asked smiling broadly.

"Yes," he said with a soft laugh and a twinkle in his blue eyes. "Will you come?"

With a beaming smile, Jamie said, "Sure,"

With a smile, Vincent turned and began to walk slowly down the alley and Jamie followed.

"This is a dead end you know," she said

"Not really," he answered, letting her catch up with him.

He stopped at a manhole cover, bent and lifted it, then turned to her and nodded to the opening.

"This is where my world begins."

She hesitated, "Who else lives in this world of yours?"

"Kind, people," he answered softly.

"They won't send me to school or another foster home, will they?"

Vincent straightened, and looked Jamie in the eye, "No one will make you do anything you don't want. You are welcome to come to my world and to leave it whenever you wish."

Jamie smiled with relief. "You know I have ideas for making my own weapons, I only need the tools. So I can help you protect everyone." She couldn't wait to see this amazing world she'd heard so much about.

Vincent reached out his hand and said, "Will you come?"

With her heart pounding with excitement Jamie said, "Lets go." And she took his outstretched hand.

******