“It’s a simple question, cousin. Don’t ignore the woman trying to help you,” Ariadne said reaching over to give Andrei a little smack to the back of the head. He’d missed the gypsy’s question because he was caught up in another daydream brought about by the scenery outside the window. Winter had blown in on a tattered crimson leaf that clung to its branch until the last day of October. Andrei watched it fall that morning and his thoughts had been fluttering along with it since, away to the East horizon and the life he left behind.
“I’m sorry,” he timidly replied, rubbing the back of his head. “What is it you want to know?” Andrei asked, climbing out of the window sill.
“What do you need, child?” the gypsy asked in a hoarse voice that carried a slightly Hebrew accent, with her shaking, feeble arms outstretched. “Your kin has brought you here in hopes of healing you but I must know what it is that ails you – my magic is not for the faint of heart.” The gypsy hobbled closer. Her shuffling feet occasionally got caught on the robe draped over her, and she kept one wrinkled, bony hand clutched around her shawl as the other reached out for Andrei’s face. Her leathery fingers curled over his rosy cheek. “Such turmoil behind those big, blue eyes,” she said with a furrowed brow; “but from where does it stem?”
Andrei looked down ashamedly and put his hand over the gypsy’s. Ariadne rolled her eyes and hopped to her feet, shoving her hands deep in her coat pockets. “Kiddo can’t seem to remember where he’s been. I’d like you to jog his memory so I could find out where he got this guitar,” she said with a tinge of annoyance in her melodic voice. Ariadne was impatient, eager to get to the bottom of the secrets hidden behind the veil of Andrei’s memories.
The gypsy shuffled over to Ariadne and sharply poked her in the shoulder. “You do not understand,” the gypsy accused. Ariadne remained completely stone faced, save for an eyebrow raised in sarcastic disbelief.
“Really now?” Ariadne tilted her head down to look right in the gypsy’s face. “Enlighten me.”
“I know the child is lost. Look at him,” the gypsy said under her breath. The women both looked over to Andrei as he leaned against the wall. His eyes wandered back and forth from his worn out boots to the starry night on the other side of the window pane. Andrei’s arms were crossed but he was hunched over in a way that it appeared he was holding himself in comfort. “He does not belong out here in the wilderness. You left the safest civilization this woodland knows and I need to know what is so damn important that you left it behind!” the gypsy exclaimed through gritted yellow teeth as she grabbed Ariadne by the collar and pulled her even closer.
“Strength,” Andrei stated, catching the attention of both women. “I need strength.”
“I see,” the gypsy replied, letting Ariadne go. She paused, considering his answer and for a while, the trio simply stood in silence until the gypsy spoke again: “Then I think we can begin.” She gestured for Andrei to come over and with a wave of her hand over his eyes, the gypsy put him to sleep and he collapsed to the ground.
“Impressive,” Ariadne joked. “Care to teach me that little trick? I might want it later.”
The gypsy briefly shot her a dirty look and continued with her next spell. She unwrapped her shawl and as it unfurled, the women were consumed by a cloud of smog that carried them on its whirlwind into Andrei’s mind.
“…Well, where is everything?” Ariadne asked half in anger, half in confusion as she stared into the dark, black abyss that was left surrounding them when the dust settled.
“Patience,” the gypsy said.
Ariadne sighed. She began to undo her jacket as she talked. “I did not drag his whiny, red headed ass all the way out here just to wait again.” She threw the jacket on the ground and unsheathed her claws. Ariadne held a pointed finger of accusation to the gypsy as she stormed over. Ariadne was screaming, “Now you’re going to tell me exactly where – “
The gypsy put a hand to the air, cutting Ariadne off. She was listening to something echo through the blackness, and Ariadne heard it too.
A child’s tears.
Some distance behind Ariadne, a little red headed child came into focus through the darkness. His knees were pulled to his chest and his breath was barely a whimper.
“Who is that?” Ariadne quietly asked, not fully turning to face the child. It saw her and bolted off, startled, into the darkness.
“That’s Andrei,” the gypsy answered. “Oh, and so is this,” she said with a little lighter tone as she looked at another boy that sat on the ground between the two women, fiddling with a guitar. Yet another red headed adolescent ran by and brushed Ariadne’s shoulder as it passed. Many more just like them faded in and out, like pictures… or memories.
“They’re all Andrei?”
“Yes. That’s all that’s in here. Portraits of the artist as a young man – every version of him there has ever been, now presented before us as static memories.
Ariadne stood awestruck for a moment, humbled by her cousin’s entire history presented before her. But she quickly tensed up in anger when something unexpected appeared before her. “If Andrei is the only thing in here, then how the Hell do you explain that witch?!” she demanded, pointing to what appeared to be Dawn, Andrei’s beloved. She was dressed in scarlet cardinal feathers for Halloween, wandering from one corner of his mind to the other. “And why does it seem like she can’t see us, even though all the Andreis can?”
“Because she’s not really here. The only reason the children can react is because they’re captured frames of consciousness – capable of interaction but quite limited. I presume she and him were… intimate?”
“You might say that,” Ariadne sighed with annoyance, brushing a strand of auburn hair out of her face.
“Then she must’ve made some sort of lasting impression to his mind. I’ve seen it before,” the gypsy explained.
“Then never mind her,” Ariadne scoffed. “One of these Andreis must know where the guitar came from.” Ariadne blindly looked around trying to discern which Andrei acquired the guitar with the D’Evreaux signature. While the gypsy waited on her, she watched the echo of Dawn’s memory. She was wonderfully beautiful, gifted with a youthful disposition, the delicate shine of a fall sunset in her golden brown hair, and a searing jaded passion behind her glowing evergreen eyes.
The gypsy noticed that, strangely, Dawn appeared to occasionally follow the voice of a young Andrei, maybe only 4 or 5 years old, as he chirped for her to follow this way or that. The gypsy’s eyes widened in surprise. “This girl, is she a child of the orient?”
“What do you mean?” Ariadne asked.
“Magic. Does this girl possess magical abilities?”
“Unfortunately. Why do you ask?”
“It’s possible the imprint in the boy’s mind is more than just a memory. There’s a part of her in here and a part of him with her,” the gypsy marveled with stars in her eyes.
“So?” Ariadne asked with a harsh tone as she dropped an Andrei she had picked up by the shoulders.
“Under the right circumstances… two minds become one. Which is what I believe we’re seeing before our eyes now.”
Silence briefly fell as the Andreis all froze, tense with fear. The young one guiding Dawn screamed for her to escape quickly, scampered away. The others followed in the same direction – some sprinting for their lives, expending energy they did not have, others, sunken with defeat, could barely hobble. Every face of Andrei, of every age, flooded past the women, trying to escape.
“What’s going on? What are they doing?” Ariadne asked confusedly.
“I don’t – AAAHHHHH!!!!!” the gypsy screamed as her heart burst through her chest with a geyser of blood and smoke. Her body disintegrated and as the smog peeled away, a dark figure emerged, holding the gypsy’s heart. It’s presence struck fear in Ariadne’s heart. With the gypsy gone, she was trapped in this space. She ran with terror from the figure but despite her speed, it encroached on her, reaching out to take her. The situation seemed hopeless but a familiar face lay on the ground ahead of her: the Andrei she knew, the Andrei of the present. Perhaps a long shot, but maybe he held her key to escaping.
She was but a few feet away when the figure seized her by the collar and swallowed her with all the other children, unable to escape. She screamed for it to stop, and to let her go but her piercing melodic voice was smothered behind the shadows.
The present Andrei came around and turned to face the figure. His voice was tired, defeated. “No, not you. Not again,” he whispered, shaking his head as he stood up.
The figure looked back at him like a mirror. “I exist to protect your innocence and your sanity.”
“I know,” Andrei admitted.
“Then let me save you from yourself,” the figure invited with an outstretched hand.
Andrei hesitantly reached out with a shaking hand. He looked up, into the figure’s light blue eyes. Their hands were close to touching. Then, like a lighting strike before their eyes, Dawn’s psychic imprint flashed a smile and vanished.
Andrei bit his lip… then pulled his hand back, “Not this time.”
“You will never know peace – you’re letting yourself be led into a life of pain,” the figure insisted.
“You’re right. I’ve been caught on the wind for as long as I can remember. Fragile and quickly blown away by the slightest gust of hope or fear. It’s about time I finally land.”
Andrei’s eyes slowly opened. He was woken up by a young voice and a small hand on his arm.