Lorient, France, 1973
That morning, the phone rang twice at the Veterinary Clinic of Lorient, and years of hoping and waiting finally paid off. It was like the ending of a good movie. Shouts of joy all around, the workers gave each other hugs and friendly kisses on both cheeks. The excitement was confusing at first to the customers in the lobby, their pets of all shapes and sizes becoming frazzled by the noise and displays, especially when the secretary, who had been fanning herself with a paper in vain, fell over unconscious. Even the two newest members of the workplace 'family' were caught up in the clamor. Yet no one in the lobby truly understood the situation until the boss came out with a large red marker to the bulletin board, scribbling the word 'Captured' over the police sketch of a wanted criminal, and 'Found, Alive' over the information for a missing person on a paper next to it.
Then it was understood, and everyone that day had a word of congratulations for the clinic workers. When one of the assistants went out to announce their good fortune in giant letters on the light board, people were coming in simply to give them their kind words. For the past seven years these people had held out, hoping, wishing, waiting, and no one had the heart to tear down the missing person ad that adorned many of the clinic's doors, inside and out.
But the day he came back, things were more sober.
A man had come in to explain the circumstances their friend had gone through over the last seven years. They were all crying as he spoke, no one could really help themselves, even the two that had not known him. The infamous serial killer had kept him in a cheap motel room most of the time, beating him and raping him on a regular basis, sometimes forcing him to watch as he murdered his victims, proclaiming to his captured prey that it was all his fault. He had never been allowed to leave without his captor. Many times he would be restrained, starved, whatever the sick killer could come up with to torture him. And with his explanation the truth came out.
The night one of the clinic's doctors was murdered, he'd been at the home of the kidnapped veterinary assistant. It was believed by everyone else that the two had a close, loving relationship and a bright future together. No one understood why the assistant's roommate would murder the doctor and kidnap his supposed friend.
But... he hadn't been just a roommate. He was the assistant's lover... for six years, apparently, before things went wrong. Their kidnapped coworker had been hiding their secret, and the doctor had simply been the victim of the assistant's naïveté and the killer's severe jealousy.
So, more confused and saddened than they had been for years, the clinic workers prepared to meet their lost coworker again. The police officer that had given them the explanation told them he was far less psychologically damaged in the long run than they thought he would be, and had eaten candy and chatted with his liberators on the trip back to France from the Netherlands, where he'd been found. The killer had been anticipating the authorities, it seemed, he'd tied and beaten the meek assistant nearly to death in the motel room, and the little man was almost catatonic and suffered from hallucinations for a few days. But separating him from his oppressor had done the trick.
The taxi pulled up in the late afternoon, near closing time, on a particularly rainy day in October. Josaine Simoneau, the clinic's owner, looked up from talking to one of her departing customers and her poodle to see the yellowish headlights glaring in the semi-tinted window, a single figure in the back of the automobile with his head lowered just visible. And when the diminutive figure with long blonde hair, long enough to conceal his face, emerged, her heart nearly skipped a beat.
Turning about and sending her elderly customer off with another thanks and goodbye, she gave a loud whisper across the room. "Aimèe..."
The secretary, in the midst of combing through her fire-colored hair, gave a small sound of acknowledgement, her eyes locking onto her employer's. "Oui?"
'Look outside', Josaine mouthed at the receptionist. Aimèe did so, her eyes trailing to the thin blonde outside handing a sum of money to the taxi driver. Her breath caught in her throat, emerald eyes becoming wide as she looked back to her boss with a mixture of anxiousness and fear.
"Go on, go tell the others," Simoneau whispered. "And don't make a big fuss, okay, Aimèe?"
The rather chubby woman stood from her chair, stumbling over it nearly as she made her way into the back hall. Her entire body visibly trembling, she could be heard running into various objects in her path, doors and walls included.
Josaine turned her brown, aging eyes back to the figure outside, who stood under the covered entryway, staring at the door as if in some contemplation. She could see him, true, but he could not see her through the window's tinting. His hands fidgeting in front of him, can't hold still, that's the Alden I know, she thought. On his wrist was a bracelet that looked to be made of paper, a hospital band most likely, considering the multiple bruises on his arms.
When he gave another nervous shifting, the woman could clearly see the multiple cuts along the tender flesh of his wrists. Darkened scars, bearing testimony to the unimaginable pain he had felt these long seven years, on all levels. Josaine couldn't remember Alden's hair ever being so long, it hung a little past his shoulders now. Whoever had taken care of him after his captor had been arrested had obviously given it a good, even trim, so he didn't look quite as abused as Simoneau expected to see. Yet when the lightning overhead struck again, illuminating his face for just that split second, the French man's face was a mess of bruises and the occasional bandage here and there.
What is he doing just standing there? Is he afraid to come in? What does he think we're going to do to him? Then she remembered; he must still think, somehow, that Jean-Jácques' death was his fault. He's afraid we're going to accuse him of that.
Of course, it was a belief that was probably pounded into him by the monstrous killer Klaes Rozemond, that the doctor's death was his own fault. That it was his fault, solely, that he was killing all these people.
Alden was staring at the door, in fact, his eyes scanning over and over again on the now-modified list that had been put on the door when the place first began. But instead, his name as well as Jean-Jácques' were crossed out, not completely erased, and the new names of Xavier Legrand and Odette Bauchet beside them.
It felt like being replaced, seeing your name crossed out and another's in its place. They could have had the sign redone when the new employees came, but for some reason, no one could bear to remove Alden and Jean-Jácques' names from the door, no matter how long it had been since they had either vanished or died. Even though the names were crossed out it was somehow comforting to see them still written there, a reminder that though life is fleeting and all humans are mortal, memories and the laughter still ringing in your heart... that is eternal.
At long last, the figure behind the tinted glass gave a weary, drawn-out sigh, pushing the door open.
The only audible sound was the noise of his footsteps as Alden entered, the low chime of the door as it signaled his entry, and the tall woman's somewhat nervous fumbling with her lab coat and glasses. His eyes lowered to the tile almost immediately as he saw his former boss, her eyes fixated on him and starting to fill with mixed tears, tears of sadness as well as joy. She knew he didn't intend it, but the simple sight of his face brought back her memories of her long-dead friend and fellow veterinarian, the man who she had considered, for years, to be the best friend she had ever known.
He stopped a meter or so in front of her, and in the dead silence Josaine heard shuffling behind her, most likely the other workers and Aimèe gathered behind the receptionist's desk.
"Josaine..." Alden said in a soft tone, this even sounding loud to them all. "I'm... I'm-m..." he stuttered.
Simoneau's hands went to the man's shoulders, and Alden finally tore his gaze from the floor.
Strange, he thought. It's only been seven years, but Josaine looks like she's aged twice that much.
"You're home. That's all that matters, Alden."
Overflowing with held back emotions, the little man's eyes filled with tears. His eyes don't hold the same light they used to. They used to shimmer like water under the sunlight... but something's different about him now. It was true. La Vella's stare was no longer lively as most remembered him being, but glazed over, like someone who had died with their eyes open.
The regret he had entered the clinic with vanished. One look into his old boss's eyes told him everything he needed to know. It was not his fault... and even if it had been... it was all forgiven years ago. His hand tightening on the sleeve of his deep green sweater, Alden leaned forward and was taken into Josaine's strong arms in a tight embrace.
Light clapping was heard from behind them, and all but the two workers that had replaced La Vella and D'Auteuil came out from behind the desk into the lobby as the embrace broke, each of them giving Alden their own kind words and the like. But Legrand and Bauchet remained, retreating into the back rooms to finish up their work for the day, concluding with a glance into each other's nervous eyes that they should stay away.
The roads were terribly slick that day. Long trails of rainwater formed only for a second and were swept away by the windshield wipers of Josaine's auto. For most of the drive so far, Alden had been silent in the passenger seat, simply staring at the road ahead. They were on their way to La Vella's old home outside of town, the lonely house by the cliffside that she used to call 'the edge of the world', to see his parents. They'd not gone back to Tibet once during the seven years (though they were French natives as well), waiting in their son's home patiently for his return. What's going through that mind of his, she asked herself. Memories of Rozemond?
"Not really," Alden muttered. Did I say that last part aloud?
"Sorry," the older woman humbly said. "Thinking aloud again."
"You picked that up from Jean-Jácques, didn't you?" a dry laugh from him. "He used to do that. Couldn't keep anything he was thinking to himself."
Simoneau faked a smile for a moment, even thoughts of how annoying her old friend used to be caused pain. Alden's finding and return to Lorient only opened up fresh wounds in the veterinarian's mind, no matter how good it was to have him back and alive, after all this time. Silence reigned for several minutes.
Alden spoke at last, his voice quivering. "I think... I still love him."
"Klaes?" She asked, the name causing her hands to tighten on the wheel, trying to suppress the flame of hatred the man's mentioning sent coursing though her body.
"No," the man corrected. "Jean-Jácques, actually."
"I thought the reason you stayed with Klaes was because you loved him. The reason they told me you gave them, the reason you didn't run away..." Josaine trailed off, suddenly seeming to notice the pain she was causing her poor friend. "Sorry..."
"I may have loved Klaes once, but... I don't think I do anymore. When they took him away in that police car, I think I finally realized he wasn't the person I had fallen in love with anymore. He'd changed into something horrible. Something impossible to love."
The silence again.
"But Jean-Jácques was so... different," he continued. "Even when Klaes was still sane, he never made me feel as special as Jean-Jácques did. He was always telling me how beautiful I was, and how much he wanted to make me happy. He would always hold me when I needed someone to be there for me."
"So what are you going to do now, Alden?"
A short smile. "Rebuild myself... and go back to the way I was. Even before Klaes."
"Can you?" Josaine inquired, in somewhat disbelief.
"I don't want to let all this kill me. I can become better, because of it, right?"
The roads were terribly slick.
Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1974
The tall, blonde prisoner on the other side of the table sat catatonic, staring at the table before him, lengthy bangs hanging in front of his glassy, dull eyes like willow branches. His handcuffed arms came to a rest in his lap, and as per usual, he sat unmoving. They were in a cubicle-like room enclosed with concrete and mirror glass so the security personnel could watch them, but the two could not see anything but their own reflections.
Alden watched the man's facial expressions intensely, his hands tapping timidly on the table out of habit. The room's design absorbed any sounds made, his own voice seeming to die in the air as he spoke.
"It's good to see you again, Klaes."
The only answer to this was a subtle shaking of the serial killer's head.
"Can you speak to me?" Silence. "Will you?"
"G-go away," Rozemond stuttered at last.
Alden sighed. "Please. Don't send me away--"
"You can't be here!" Klaes screamed in interruption, his entire frame coming suddenly to life as he slammed his hands on the table, rage-filled eyes locking with Alden's only for a second, before the man diverted his gaze. The sight of Alden was causing him some kind of mental injury. "You're dead... dead. I killed you."
"No, Klaes, you didn't... they stopped you..."
"I hate you!" came the murderer's barbaric voice.
Tears were rolling down Alden's face now. "Don't say that... please. I know you don't... I love you so much, Klaesi..."
At the sound of the old nickname, the mental state of the prisoner seemed to snap completely, and despite the handcuffs he darted forward, leaning over the table he grabbed his ex-lover by the throat. Alden gave a scream of horror and desperation, his hands going quickly to Klaes' own, trying to pry him away. He was only given a second, though, before the armed guards burst into the room, taking the blond killer by the shoulders and proceeding to drag him from the solitary confinement cell while he tried to keep strangling the thin air.
"All right, Rozemond. That's enough of that fussing," said one of the guards. "It's the meds and the good old jacket for you."
Once the door was shut to the empty room behind them, the second guard spoke up also. "I keep trying to tell Chief that putting this psycho in Solitary like this isn't doing him any good."
Yet the tall, ox-like Klaes had practically give up fighting with them, his laughter turning sick as he let himself be dragged down the hallways. "I killed you! And I can kill all of you! I am the all-seeing, Manjushri, the enlightened!"
Like a picture damaged and faded by time and weather, any images my mind attempted to create, for any reason during the last few years, have been unrecognizable... shrouded by darkness, a fog that nothing can clear.
But as I sat in that automobile, my fingers chasing the paths created by the raindrops streaking across the glass, something came to me. I was almost sure this image was not one I had created. It was a ghostly film opening its story before me, an almost painful sensation, I felt myself falling into a trance.
Re-living my life.
In Belgium. All those years ago, while I was still studying to be a veterinary assistant. When I had first met the people that would be my coworkers... through the recruiting operation.
I saw a glimpse of my much younger, naïve self. Just fifteen years old.
A firm hand took 'mine', leading 'me' down a hallway somewhere in the administrations building.
"I have many things to tell you, Alden," said the significantly older male voice, I assumed to be the owner of that kind yet protective hand. "Yet there are things to be considered, and I must reveal them to you only in secret."
The image faded as instantly as it had appeared in my mind-- only to be replaced with another.
I saw myself yet again, through a circular, beautiful stained window of some expensive home. I could not have been much younger than I was currently. Nevertheless, my hair, strangely enough, was longer than I have ever worn it.
At first I thought I was unaccompanied, but further inspection revealed a tiny Tibetan infant cradled in my arms, wrapped in a crocheted blanket I knew to be my own handiwork. Two additional forms moved about on the floor, children I guessed, playing excitedly near the rocking chair I was in.
Another flash of light, another transition of images. A grand ceremony was being held, and two of the Tibetan children, grown, stood next to me as if we were waiting for something. My hair was all the way down the length of my back by now, and there was evidence of age, already well-instituted, along the lines of my face. Toward us, in a black graduation gown that flowed over her slender body like silken waves, came the third Tibetan child, no longer a child, and she caught me, and her siblings, in a tight embrace.
It switched again.
The beach by my old home. Sunset. And I was in the sunset of life. My hair long since turned white.
The children were gone. I was alone... was I?
The voice was speaking again.
"I don't have to hide the feelings of my heart anymore." It said. A figure next to me took my hand in his own, and in a mannerism I knew all too well he raised my hand to his lips in a fluid, flawless move and kissed it. "I am very glad of that."
The sunlight glinted from a golden ring on my own finger.
And I saw no more.
It must have only taken seconds, for when I came back to my own reality, the rain was still falling, the windshield wipers still ticking like clock hands, and Josaine had not noticed my temporary hypnosis.
Is that what could have been? How I could have lived my life... what I secretly desired all along? A life with Jean-Jácques. For some reason I have no doubt that what I saw is what I could have had.
There is a difference between the life you could have, and the life you want. And in any case, it was far too late for me... to take either path.
For you see, I was part of something great. A perfect harmony known as the Yin and the Yang. I was the Yin... dark, submissive, effeminate, and creative, and Klaes was the Yang, the light, dominance, masculinity and destruction. This is why he did not kill me... he knew he couldn't live without me. And that is also why I didn't leave when everyone around me says I should have. I couldn't live without him.
So am I to try to start a new life alone, without the other half of my soul? Am I to wait in comfort as he is put to death?
I'm so sorry, Josaine.
That's why I had to grab the wheel.