|Third Times the Fall
Author: Jecir PM
It all started with a riddle. One lousy riddle. One riddle that opens the door to lives past and a future unknown. Marie had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted a challenge from the mysterious Vladimir St. Jude.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Drama - Words: 2,651 - Published: 05-29-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2368691
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Third Time's The Fall
Disclaimer: I don't own the novels mentioned in this story.
It all started with a riddle.
"Two in life, one in death. One lives, one lies. One suffers, one thrives. Both die. Both search but never find. Both seek but never claim. Both see darkness in their name. Yet as the cycle spins, in a third, united. Who am I?" He leaned down, a smirk pulling on his thin lips and stretching across his pale face. Lanky black hair fell like a curtain around his narrow jaw, casting a shadow over his dark blue eyes. "Answer that and I'll tell you what you want to know." With a swish of his long black coat, he walked away.
She stared after him, shocked. What had just happened? She had simply asked him if he wanted to be interviewed for the school news paper.
"What for?" he asked in a most aloof manner.
She sat down in the vacant seat across from him. They were alone on the top floor of the library, surrounded by hundreds of books and absolute silence. "You're the campus mystery," she said with barely concealed excitement. "Dark, elusive Vladimir St. Jude, stalking about the campus like a walking corpse, never once hinting at your intentions. You are practically a living legend."
He smirked at that, his eyes dancing with some secret amusement. "A legend, huh? Interesting."
"Yeah, and I thought, what a chance! Let the legend tell his story to the entire campus!" She pulled out a small steno pad and a pencil. "I mean, you're graduating in the spring. It's my last chance." She pressed pencil to paper and looked up anxiously. "So…"
He didn't look at her. His eyes gazed out into the empty air, watching it intently as if seeing something fascinating in the vacant space. After a few moments, curiosity got the best of her. She looked but didn't see anything. Annoyed, she snapped her eyes back around. He was looking at her with one raised eyebrow and the start of another infuriatingly arrogant grin twitching the corner of his mouth. His expression inquired after her reasons for looking at nothing while his eyes danced merrily with the victory of making her look. She glared, embarrassed.
"Have you ever read Notes from the Underground?"
"No," she said, her embarrassment increasing.
"It's by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. F-y-o…why aren't you writing this down?" He motioned lazily towards her pencil. "I'm not spelling it again."
With a huff, she began to write.
"—e-v-s-k-y. Did you get that?" She nodded. "Good. What about Albert Camus's The Fall?"
She sat back, irritation straightening her spine. This was not what she had wanted. She narrowed her usually soft green eyes and was about to demand how this was relevant, but his penetrating stare stopped her cold. Something within her prickled at the familiarity of the intense look. He wanted an answer. She blinked. "Um…no, I haven't read that one either."
"Pity." He sat back, once again relaxed and finding the air to the left very fascinating. "It would have helped you crack the mystery, as you call it." He swept from his chair in long strides to the door.
"Wait!" she cried.
He turned, head cocked to the side. "Yes?"
"That can't be all," she whispered, hating how weak he made her feel. She pushed back the unexplainable rush of vulnerability brought about by once more falling prey to his inhumane gaze. "Don't you want to tell your story?"
He laughed, a low, deep, cynical chortle that shook her to the core. "My dear Liza—"
"My name is Marie, not Liza."
He looked puzzled. He studied her face as if seeing her for the first time, his eyes narrowing in confusion for a few seconds. Their eyes locked, and for a moment, she wondered why she had protested the name. The confusion retreated behind the icy shields of his eyes and he smiled softly. "Of course, my apologies. Marie. I've already told my story."
He was smirking again.
What an infuriating man! She thought angrily. "You aren't making any sense!"
One long, cold, boney finger pressed against her lips, demanding silence. She froze in her seat. How had he moved so fast? And why was he leaning over her? She looked up, fear gripping her. In the back of her mind, she could hear him sneering, "Yes, be afraid of me." She was very, very frightened. That is when he had spoken those cryptic words.
Marie blinked once, twice, a third time before her mind snapped back to reality. Mechanically, she wrote down the riddle. She read over it, brows creased, a frown of concentration on her flushed face. What did it mean? If she figured it out, she could finally get the interview of the year, the one that would mark her as a hero on the campus. No more getting swallowed up by all the other non-bland athletes and school leaders who soaked up the spotlight like drug addicts. Soon, she would shine. All she had to do was solve a riddle.
The task turned out to be much harder than she originally anticipated. Three months went by, and still, she couldn't make heads or tails of what he had said. No matter what she tried, it didn't work. Nothing made sense.
"Arrogant jerk," she hissed one cold December night. Two weeks left in the winter semester. If she didn't figure it out soon, her chance would be lost. But she refused to panic. She had until March. If she figured it out by then, she'd still have time to finish the interview and submit the article to her editor. She still had time.
But she didn't have a lead.
For the millionth time, she read the riddle. "Two in life, one in death. One lives, one lies. One suffers, one thrives. Both die. Both search but never find. Both seek but never claim. Both see darkness in their name. Yet as the cycle spins, in a third, united. Who am I?" She slumped back against her pillow and stared unseeing at the ceiling, her mind trying to wrap around the words in some way that would make sense. She sighed heavily, blowing her chocolate-colored bangs out of her face as she lamented, "Figuring out The Waste Land is easier than this."
She looked back at the page. Her eyes lazily scanned the riddle. She had written over it a few times because the pencil stared to fade. It was now in bold lines that mocked her from the worn yellow paper. Above the harsh words were two lines of fading script that she had forgotten where there.
Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Albert Camus's The Fall
His words echoed in her ears. "It would have helped you crack the mystery…" His cruel, smirking face floated across her mind, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to bristle. "I'll show him!" she swore. She studied the titles for a few minutes, mulling over why they were important. Was he implying that the answer was hidden somewhere in those two books? She tossed that idea around in her head. It was worth a shot.
She borrowed the books from a friend, promising to return them at the start of the next semester, and spent her break reading and rereading the short narratives in search of an answer. Yet, as she read, her need to figure out the riddle became less and less important. The moment she closed one book, she immediately picked up the next, devouring page after page with in unexplainable hunger that drove her to find something beyond the answer to the riddle.
"I don't understand, I don't understand, I don't understand you!" she yelled, flinging Notes from the Underground across her messy bedroom. It hit the wall with a satisfying thunk. She curled up on her bed, tears pouring down her eyes. "Why the hell didn't you go after her, you cowardice little twit! Jack ass of a man, I hope you die a miserable death!" The moments those words left her lips, guilt flooded her mind. She dove off the bed and scooped the book up into her arms. "I didn't mean that!" she sobbed. "Live, ok? Live!"
She slid to the flood and sobbed into her trembling arms, frightened and confused. What was wrong with her? It was just a book. Why was it affecting her so much? Why did she care what happened to that pathetic excuse for a man?
"Because…he was mine…" whispered a voice in the back of her mind.
Marie looked up into the darkness. Across the room was her grandmother's full length mirror. She stared, transfixed, at the image reflected in the glass. Looking back at her was a ragged, thin, sickly woman with dirty dark hair and grave eyes full of sorrow. Instead of a cotton night gown, rags covered her shaking form. Instead of plush carpet on the floor, there was wood. "Liza…" she whispered. She blinked and the image was gone.
"Oh God, what's wrong with me?" Slowly, she crawled to the bed and switched on the lap, suddenly afraid to be left in the dark. Notes from the Underground remained on the floor while The Fall called to her from her nightstand. She hated herself for picking it up and opening it to the first page.
January came. She walked onto the campus, miserable in her triumph. She had figured it out.
"You're comparing them, aren't you?"
He looked up at her, truly surprised to see her again.
She met his gaze with her own wild-eyed accusation. "One lives, one lies. One suffers, one thrives. The underground man and Jean-Baptiste Clamence. Both die, eventually, and…and both are looking for forgiveness which they never find nor would they accept it if they found it, AND both hate themselves for it! There, I've answered your stupid riddle!"
"No, you haven't."
"What?!?" All the anger and stress and confusion and fear came crashing down at those three words. "Yes, I have!" she snapped, tears burning her bloodshot eyes.
He stood and stretched, his pale complexion seeming out of place in the day light. He was a creature of the underground. He should only be out at night. Stop that! she mentally snapped.
"You figured out most of it, I commend you, but that is not all." He met her fierce glare with a calm, steady gaze and quoted, "Yet as the cycle spins, in a third, united. What of that? You do not answer the end. Who am I?"
He was so sincere. He truly wanted to know.
She laughed, a dark, biting laugh. "What the…are you the underground man, then? Are you Jean-Baptiste?" His eyes darkened at her mocking, silencing her rambling. She gaped at him, swallowing the tears that threatened to choke her, and gasped, "You are?"
He slumped back onto the bench and looked away.
"Whatever!" she snapped. "You are crazy! I can't believe I spent a whole semester on that stupid riddle just for this."
"You wanted to know," he said with a shrug. "And now you know."
"But that's impossible! There is no way," she muttered, slumping down onto the bench and laying her head into her hands. She was losing her mind.
Silence hung between them like a wet blanket.
She shook her head, moaning, denial racing through her mind. He was not the underground man. He most certainly was no Jean-Baptiste Clamence! He was absolutely insane! And what was worse, she was insane for wanting to believe him. Everything in her wanted to believe him. If he was truly who he said he was, then…then…then what? Men don't change, Liza. "Marie! My name's Marie, damn it!" She sat up and began to laugh again. "God, I'm going insane."
"It isn't as bad as you think," he commented lightly.
"Shut up!" She stood and turned on him, fury in her eyes. "Don't you dare talk to me like you know better, you fucking coward! You think this is a joke? You...you…you wasted your life in a hovel and bitched and complained about a life that you screwed up, and then you did it all again in fucking Amsterdam! You have no right to tell me how to take this! You," she screamed as she thrust her finger into his face, "are ruining me!"
"That was not my intention," he whispered.
"Bull shit! You wanted this to happen! Or else you wouldn't have called me Liza in the library! You wouldn't have forced me to read those books! Damn you! Why would you do this to me? Why!?!" She began to sob, the pain of three lives ripping through her body, exposing her weakness. "Damn it, why didn't you come after me!" She clamped her hands over her mouth, fear, shock, and pain racing through her. She hadn't meant to say that.
The shock on his face showed that he had not expected to hear it.
She turned and ran. The tears blinded her, the sobs chocked her, and the confusion drove her further and further into chaos. "I am Marie! Marie! My name is Marie!" she chanted under her breath.
"Liza!" His voice tore through the chaos. That frighteningly familiar hand—so long, so boney, so cold—wrapped around her wrist. He pulled, turning her back to him.
She met his gaze and whimpered, "My name is…"
And she fell, forward, into darkness.
She remembered. She remembered all of it. Leaving his house, her heart shattered beyond repair. Catching a chill that never left her bones and, after years of misery, finally claimed her life. She remembered lying on her death bed in the brothel, wondering if he would come rescue her. He never did. She remembered being born into a new life, one ruled by an acute despair that strangled what little happiness she could have experienced during that dark time. She remembered staring out over the frozen river, ready to jump. That stranger walked by. Had she known it was him…what would she have done? Would it have stopped her from jumping? She didn't really know. She didn't know anything anymore.
The haze of sleep slipped away. She opened her weary eyes and looked around. She was lying on his bed in an ill-lit dorm room. The curtains were drawn. No sunlight fought the covering, symbolizing the presence of the night. He was sitting at the desk, his back to her. She smiled, a spark of happiness cutting through the sorrow. After two miserable lives without him, he was finally here. She sat up, the thin blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and studied him. He didn't look very different. Younger, less fierce but still the same. Had his second life changed him much? She hoped to find out. Standing, she slipped behind him and wrapped her trembling arms around his shoulders. She buried her tear-stained face in the back of his neck and breathed deep his scent. He still smelled like rain and stale air. She giggled, convinced she was insane. He laid a hand on her arm and squeezed gently.
"What have you done to me?" she asked.
He turned his chair to face her, drawing her against him. "Nothing you didn't want," he murmured as he pulled her down into his darkness. This time, she knew she would never escape.