I sat at the pew; my hands grasping the back of the bench in front of me, my head resting between my arms and my tears falling to the floor. My thoughts were bent on a single purpose as I sat and whispered my prayer over and over again. It was well into the evening and for the past hour I had been mercifully alone in the church and could unburden myself without restraint.
I gasped when a cool hand was unexpectedly laid over mine. I turned and looked up into a pair of eyes an impossible shade to discern peering pitifully down at me. My heart skipped a beat as I brushed my tears away and I could distinguish the face they belonged too. It was so serene; peaceful and with an unearthly beauty.
"I'm sorry," my words trembled out, "was I disturbing you," I sniffled as I tried to stifle my grief. I imagined how I must look and how unsettling it must be for a stranger to have to witness my unbridled sorrow.
"No," he shook his head and handed me a kerchief and graciously looked away as I dabbed at my face and blew my nose.
"Thank you," I smiled weakly and folded the cloth neatly and offered it back to him as I stood up.
"You hold onto it," he insisted and took my hands. When his fingers wrapped around mine my mind went wild with image after image in rapid succession of him, of me; it was as though I were being bombarded with a thousand memories and in every one of them I had the distinct impression that we were lovers.
It was very unsettling and I tried to shake my hands free and pleaded with him to let me go, "Please," I whispered unable to say or do anything more decisive. He looked into my eyes and for a dizzying moment I was certain I knew him…knew everything about him. Momentarily forgetting my fear I asked him, "Have we met before?"
He smiled. He didn't answer but instead, "I can save them, I can save them both for you."
My knees buckled, "I…I…," the church seemed to be spinning.
"Three days," he continued, "you don't need to decide now. I will ask something in return, and you will have three days to consider it."
"How…what?" I was shaking and shivering, wondering if there was any chance in the world that he could be speaking the truth and that he could save my husband and my son. "Are you a doctor?" I pleaded.
"No, Vivienne, I am not."
"Vivienne," I thought to myself, "he has me confused with some other person." I shook my head, "I'm sorry, I think you have mistaken me for somebody else," and again I tried to turn away.
I saw his jaw clench with pain or some other unwanted emotion as he took in what I said. Suddenly I was aware that I was alone in the church and vulnerable. I knew I needed to get away from him as quickly as possible.
"Don't go, please," his voice utterly distraught, "don't go. I want to help you…I can help you…Let me show you," he implored as he took my hand again.
My eyes went wide and my body tensed; I felt unable to do anything but watch as he drew a tiny, intricate knife from his pocket. He ran the razor-fine blade across my palm making an inch long incision in the middle of it. The blood began to pool and he brought my hand to his lips then delicately, intimately licked it away. He put the knife back in his pocket and exchanged it for a small vial that he uncapped. As he tilted it over my palm a drop or two dribbled into the wound he had created and he smoothed it over the open cut with the tip of his finger. My palm turned to ice then to fire and while it glistened in the dim light my mouth fell open as the slit seemed to fold back in on itself and healed into a perfectly flawless layer of skin.
I had never seen anything like it and knew there was nothing natural about what I had just witnessed, "Oh, God," the words came out in a breathless whisper. I turned in sudden awareness and tried to run away. He reached the end of the pew before I could and prevented my escape.
"It works on the inside too," he stated. "I can save them, Vivienne…Vivienne you can save them if you'll let me."
"No, no…It's not right. I can't, you can't…I won't let you." I turned and ran in the opposite direction.
He caught me before I was more than a few steps away. He took my chin and gently forced me to meet his eyes.
"Oh," I sighed and all my resistance faded to unimportance. I closed my eyes and felt his lips against my neck. The world slowly fell away. Time seemed to stand still; my heart stopped beating and all the air seemed to rush from my lungs. As he held me I could feel something filling my mind and an understanding crept into me of what it was he planned to do and what it was I would need to do in exchange.
He pulled back, "Three days," he reminded, "if you are here in three days I will know that you have made your choice."
"Yes," I mumbled and suddenly I was alone and standing in a sea of disorientation in the middle of the church.
I wrapped my coat around myself and hurried to the door. As I made my way home every step I took seemed to erase the events from my mind and by the time I was there my visit to the church was all but forgotten.