A Dark Spring
From the dregs of a cold and bitter winter came the promise of new beginnings. Springtime was now upon both worlds. Flowers were gently emerging from their hiding places deep beneath the soil. Tender green sprouts reached for the light and warmth of the sun to begin their new life. The brown, matted grass in the park now had emerald spikes everywhere reaching toward the sky. Soon it would be a blanket of lush green, pleasing to the eye and soft underfoot. It would invite children to play, picnic blankets to be spread, and lovers to stroll and talk of their future.
Above, the spring also brought forth the rains that gave life to the thirsty entities of the earth. The wet season helped clean away the dreary remains of winter.
When it came to spring rains, Below, it was a totally different story. These heavy downpours brought about multiple tunnel leaks, some slow and easy to control, others causing large and difficult repairs. The community was quite adept at fixing these liquid intruders, even saving the Above world from major damage. There were times when repairs were done to keep those Above from coming into the drainage system and discovering Below. A delicate balance was the goal to keep their secret world safe and dry.
The men and older boys did the heavy labor; younger boys and some of the women the lighter work. Still others assisted the workers by cooking or delivering the food when the work site was far from the hub. Extra laundry days were always needed to keep the crews in clean, dry clothes.
As always, Vincent and his sons were in the mix of things in one way or another. Jacob was now a third-year med student and helped Father in the hospital chamber when possible. Between the two of them, they took care of any work injuries plus the normal medical problems of any community.
Charles and Joey worked with their father as often as they could. Only school kept them from being with their father all the time. They lived half the time in the Above world, going to school and general social activities. At times when an escort was needed to a social function, one of their sons would accompany Catherine. This was important to Vincent - that Catherine maintained some part of her world always. Their children felt it was their honor and duty to their father’s world to help whenever or wherever they were needed. They were part of both worlds, as was their amazing mother.
Jacob, Charles, and Joey had inherited their father’s height and broad shoulders. There was, of course, the ongoing argument as to who was taller or who was stronger.
Vincent made it a priority to stay out of the good-natured teasing lest he get caught in the middle. He would just smile with fatherly pride at his male offspring. He thanked the gods of destiny often for giving him Catherine to love, and her, for giving him so much more than he could ever dream of having.
This year the rains were intense. Most of the small leaks were repaired quickly, only to have new ones start somewhere else. Daily patrols helped keep track of any problems old or new, usually one man and one boy. This was their way of teaching the younger ones how and what to look for. Living Below was an ongoing education for all.
It was late Friday night, and the rain had been falling on and off all day. Even some of the city drains were having trouble keeping up with the deluge.
“Vincent, if this keeps up much longer, I suggest an ark may be in our future,” Catherine whispered, as she snuggled closer to him. They were laying back against big pillows in front of the fireplace in the study. She had been reading to him, letting him relax from his long day of supervising and working on repairs all day.
“Catherine, I believe this year the rains are more intense. Father is worried – as am I – that something will give soon. I’ve actually doubled the patrols just in case. If we’re lucky, it will all be for naught.”
She was smiling. Her hand was inside his shirt letting her fingers run though the still damp, soft fur on his chest as she read. He had only come up from working and bathing Below a short time ago.
“Charles and Joseph are taking an extra shift on patrol tonight. This will give some of the men needed time with their families,” Vincent said, as he pulled her closer and started trailing kisses down her cheek.
“So I see. You must be one of the men who needed some...ahh…quality time?” She asked, mischievously dropping her book.
“Oh, yes, my love. I’m in need of some serious quality time,” he whispered, as he nuzzled her ear. He tensed and looked through the study to the secret door in their bedroom.
“Vincent, what is it?” she asked, looking up and seeing concern in his eyes.
“Someone is coming up from the tunnels quickly. A little too quickly,” he said, rising up to go meet the messenger.
“Vincent! Vincent!” a young voice called out. It was Timmy, one of Catherine’s history class students. Vincent opened the hidden door and caught the youngster as he tripped coming in their room. He was out of breath and frightened.
“Vincent…Catherine, there’s been a collapse in the lower tunnels! Charles sent a message over the pipes. He said Joey is trapped and water is coming in!” the boy said, gasping, trying to relay the message to them.
Without a word, Vincent threw Timmy up on his back, grabbed Catherine’s hand and started down the back stairs to the tunnel entrance.
No one said a word all the way to Father’s chamber. When they reached Fathers’ chamber, Vincent immediately put Timmy in Mary’s hands and started toward the tunnels. “Catherine, please wait here,” he said, as he started for the main tunnel.
“Not on your life, Vincent! They’re my sons too! I’m coming with you,” she said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it hard. Together they raced toward their sons. Their Bond was filled with fear of the unknown and the terror only a parent could know.
They passed others on the way bringing tools to help, blankets for warmth, and a stretcher just in case. As they rounded the final bend, voices and digging could be heard.
“Dad, hurry!” Charles yelled. “Joey’s caught under a large stone from the collapse. The water level is rising around him. I tried! I can’t pull him free! I’m sorry, Dad…Mom. I can’t get him out!” Charles stopped to take a breath and collect his thoughts, and then he continued on.
“Joey heard a crackling sound and pushed me out of the way. Then the wall collapsed, and he was caught. Not me! He got caught! It’s my fault he’s in there hurt. I should have heard it too, but I didn’t.” Charles was more scared than he had ever been in his entire life. His brother was trapped, and he couldn’t free him. Tears were rolling down his mud-streaked face. Catherine took him in her arms to help him calm and comfort him.
Vincent crawled through the opening and into the area where his youngest son lay pinned to the tunnel floor in cold rising water.
“Joseph, I’m here, son.” He knelt down in the water that was ankle deep and gently raised the boy up into a better sitting position.
“Hey, Dad, I’m a little scared. I can’t move my right leg at all, but it doesn’t hurt much,” he said with a weak smile trying to be brave.
“Don’t worry, son. I’ll get you out of here,” Vincent said, quickly scanning the area of the collapse.
Charles came back through the opening with a blanket to put around his brother’s shoulders to help keep him warm. “Dad, Mouse and Kanin are digging a little further down the tunnel to get the water draining as quickly as possible,” Charles said.
“Good!” Vincent continued to look for his options to free his son. He stood and moved toward the large rock that trapped his son’s leg. He put his back to it and tried to move it. Even with all his strength there wasn’t any movement at all. Again and again he tried to no avail. Vincent finally pressed his head against the stone and roared in total frustration. He knew that only heavy equipment could move the stone that was holding his son hostage. He also knew it was impossible to get any in there.
The water level that had risen knee-deep was slowly starting to subside. The drains being dug by Mouse and Kanin were dropping the water level at last. Vincent turned back to Joey and noticed the boy was shaking and looking pale. He knew his son was going into shock and needed warmth and medical attention. Now! Quickly he crawled back out to the tunnel entrance where Catherine was standing with Charles. She was praying for good news, but felt in their Bond it wasn’t coming.
“Catherine,” he said, taking her into his arms to steady both of them. “We need Jacob and Father here, warm liquids, and more blankets.”
“Vincent, please. I need to see him, just for a minute. Please. Only for a minute,” she begged.
He nodded and released her to go to their son. He immediately sent a message over the pipes for Jacob, Father, and the supplies he wanted.
Vincent crawled back in where Catherine was embracing their son and surrounding him with her love and strength. She was telling him it would be all right and they would get him out. Their Bond was consumed with fear. And the fear and pain it was causing Catherine was crushing Vincent inside. He knew he had to set his own pain and fear aside to be able to think logically to save his son.
He started moving rocks and clearing the area around the young man. He noticed blood coming from under the stone settled on his son’s lower right leg and foot. He tried to dig around and under the stone to no avail. Desperately afraid for his son, Vincent took off his belt and applied it as a tourniquet below Joey’s right knee to help slow the bleeding.
“Catherine, get a folded blanket, fold it over again and bring it here,” Vincent said. He moved back and gently lifted Joey a little for Catherine to push the thick blanket under him to keep him away from the cold wet ground. He grabbed another blanket and wrapped it around the boy. Vincent then squeezed in behind him and wrapped his arms around his son to give him heat from his own body.
Jacob came quickly with the supplies his father had requested. He handed his father a thermos of hot tea, and Vincent in turn held it to Joey’s lips for the boy to drink. Joey was shaking too much to hold it himself.
Jacob pulled the stereoscope from his bag and started examining his youngest brother. He listened and nodded his head. Next he checked his brother’s leg, as much of it as he could reach. He saw the blood his father had seen. He knew Joey was in danger of bleeding to death if the stone wasn’t moved or even if it was. He tightened the tourniquet a little more to further stem the flow of blood. Jacob smiled at his little brother and said, “I bet you could use something for the pain about now.”
“Really Jake…it…doesn’t hurt…much at all,” Joey stammered through his chattering teeth. Even with his father holding him, he couldn’t stop shaking. It wasn’t as much from the cold water, but from the blood that was slowly seeping out of his body.
“Charles, can you take Dad’s place a minute? Jacob asked his frightened brother. I need to talk to him.”
“Yes. Sure. Anything I can do…please just tell me!” Charles said, quickly crawling in behind Joey and putting his arms around him tightly. His feelings of guilt were overwhelming.
Father had finally arrived at the cave in site and was waiting for Jacob to come out and tell him about Joey’s injuries. Jacob and Father conferred for a few minutes, then Jacob nodded at his grandfather and turned to his parents. “Joey’s lower right leg and foot are crushed, and he’s losing too much blood. Time is of the essence,” Jacob said in a quiet professional tone.
Vincent and Father dropped their heads and sighed. Catherine looked at them, not understanding what they seemed to know. Vincent pulled her tightly to his chest. He would tell her what the only choice would be to save Joey’s life. “Catherine, Joseph is in imminent danger of bleeding to death; he needs emergency surgery now,” he forced himself to say calmly.
“Well, let’s get him out of there and to a hospital now!” she said, frantically. trying to pull from his arms.
Vincent held her tightly to himself. “Catherine, there is no time! It must be done now. Father and Jacob will have to…amputate the lower part of his leg and foot. If this isn’t done, we will loose our son!” He searched her eyes for acceptance of his words. “Catherine, do you understand what I am telling you?” He held her tight as she sobbed into his shoulder, his own eyes filling with tears.
“Oh, Vincent, please…no. He’s so young. Is there no other choice?” She asked, looking first at Jacob, then Father, and then back into Vincent’s blue eyes that were swimming in tears.
“There is no other choice if we are to save him. Catherine. I would gladly trade places with him and cut off both my legs if I could spare him this anguish.” Vincent’s voice held such pain that he could only speak in a whisper.
As the decision was made, the work party was desperately widening the entrance and clearing as much room as possible for Father and Jacob to operate.
“Catherine, we must tell our son together. I need you by my side or I’ll surely fail,” Vincent whispered in her ear.
“Yes, Vincent. Together. He needs us to be strong for him. No matter how much it hurts us, it will be his life affected the most,” she said, gaining control and hugging him tight for strength.
The workers who had enlarged the opening stepped aside as Vincent and Catherine went in to talk to their son.
“Charles, would you please go and help your grandfather and Jacob? We need to speak to Joey,” Catherine said softly.
“Mom, Dad, please let me stay with Joey. Please. I need to help him,” Charles pleaded.
“It’s ok, Mom, Charles needs to be here with me, and I need him here too,” Joey said, looking at his brother and then back at his parents.
“Dad, Mom, I think I know what you need to talk to me about. There’s no way to move the stone. My only way out is to…to cut off part of my leg, isn’t it?” Joey asked, looking at his parents with tears starting to pool in his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, Joseph. It’s the only option,” Vincent said, kneeling beside his sons with a hand on each of their shoulders.
Charles hugged his brother even tighter and buried his head in the blanket surrounding them. “I’m sorry Joey. It should have been me, not you!”
Jacob came in and touched his father’s shoulder; he was in doctor mode now. “Please, we need to get started. Mom…Dad, can you take Charles and wait outside? Grandfather and I need room, and time is only slightly on our side.”
They kissed their oldest and youngest sons, telling Jacob and Joey they loved them and started to leave, taking Charles with them.
“Mom, Dad, it’ll be ok. I promise!” Joey said looking into their eyes and trying to smile. This tore at their hearts – their son was being strong for them.
Jake set up a sterile field with supplies he had brought with him, knowing infection was always possible. Father’s cane wedged between the rocks would act as a pole to hold the IV solution and blood that was needed for the surgery.
“Charles, I need your help,” Jake said.
“Anything Jake, anything I can do. I want to help. Just tell me what you need,” a relieved Charles answered.
“He needs your blood. Jenny’s would be best, but she’s not here,” Jake said.
“Sure, take as much as you need. Thank you, Jake. It makes me feel like I’m really helping him instead of standing around doing nothing.”
“Ok, let’s get started. I’ll get the supplies ready, and you, little brother, sit down here. Needles don’t scare you, do they?” Jake asked in a teasing tone to help Charles relax.
The surgery took a little more than an hour. Jacob and Father emerged exhausted and drained. Mary went in to sit with Joey until he was moved. Vincent and Catherine looked at the two physicians. “Please, can we see our son now?” Vincent softly asked.
“Yes, you can see him now. He’ll sleep for while yet. Vincent, we need to move him to the hospital chamber and get him out of those wet clothes. We can better treat him and make him more comfortable there,” Father said leaning wearily against Jacob.
The parents and physicians hugged each other for a moment. There were no words spoken by any of them.
Vincent entered to see Mary cradling his son’s head in her arms. She was running her fingers through his dark wavy hair just like she did when he, himself, was a baby. He knelt down beside her. “Thank you Mary. Has he awakened?”
“No, not yet, Vincent. It will be a little while, Father said.”
“I’ll carry him to the hospital chamber now. He’ll rest better there,” Vincent whispered.
“Vincent, get a stretcher. It’s a long walk back, and he’s not a little boy any more,” Mary entreated.
“No, Mary, I need to carry my son. I know you understand,” he said as he reached down, picked up his son and cradled him in his powerful arms.
Mary only nodded, as Catherine came in and helped her up. The two women embraced each other. “Thank you, Mary, for being with our son.” Catherine went over and kissed Joey on the cheek, then tucked a dry blanket around him as he lay in his father’s arms. Charles walked beside his father carrying the IV and blood supply.
They all walked back together to the hospital chamber. Vincent gently placed him on the examining table. Vincent and Charles removed his wet clothes, dried him off, and put on a warm thermal nightshirt on his chilled body. They moved him to the bed that had been set up for him and gently place a pillow under his injured leg. Catherine covered him with a flannel blanket and a soft tunnel quilt that had been warmed in the oven by a tearful William.
Father sat down beside him on the bed and checked his vital signs. “I was going to give him some more blood. But I don’t think I’ll need to by what I’m hearing and seeing. Jacob, can you double check for me, please? Maybe I’m just too tired, but he sounds strong.”
It was the first smile on anyone’s face since the accident. Those were the words they all needed so desperately to hear, not just his immediate family, but the whole tunnel community. Vincent and Catherine’s children were special to all, gifts none of them had ever imagined.
“No, Grandfather, you’re correct. Joey is young and strong. I guess he has some good genes,” Jake said, smiling and winking at his parents. Vincent and Catherine hugged each other and then Father and Jacob.
Father looked at Jacob with love as only a grandfather could. “My boy, you make me so proud. You did one of the hardest things any doctor ever has to do. You did it with courage, strength and love. You’re truly a credit to the profession, but more to all of us.” With that he hobbled over to embrace his grandson. More than a few people cried.
Vincent and Catherine knew there would be many battles for their son, but he was already fighting and winning.
Charles came in to the hospital chamber with his arm around his sister, Jennifer, Joey’s twin. She had been out with friends and knew instinctively something had happened to Joey. It was that twin thing, as Joey liked to refer to their connection. It was different than the Bond with their father, and not quite as strong. It was unique only to them. Charles had told her what had happened and what had to be done to save her twin.
Jenny hugged her parents and brothers, then went over sat gently on Joey’s bed. She took his hand in hers and softly called to him, “Joey,” then waited for him to open his eyes. He slowly opened his baby blues as she called them and gave her a weak smile, then drifted off again. She smiled and looked up at the family standing all around the two of them.
“Mom, Dad, you and Charles need to get out of those wet clothes. Maybe get some rest. I’ll sit with Joey for a while. Grandfather said he’ll sleep for a few hours yet,” Jenny said, as she pulled a chair next to his bed to sit and continue holding his hand. “He’ll need you more when he’s awake.”
“You’re right. Thank you, Sweetie. You’ll call us as soon as he wakes up, ok?” Catherine said, kissing their daughter on top of her head. Jenny only nodded as they went down the tunnel, weary, wet and a little relieved.
Vincent, Catherine and Charles slowly walked up the tunnel to their chamber; nothing was said by any of them. Catherine simply sat on their bed to wait. She knew Vincent wanted to talk to Charles alone. He went to his dresser and pulled out a change of clothes for himself and Charles. Together, father and son headed for the bathing chamber to get out of their cold wet clothes. Catherine changed in their small bathroom next to it.
“Charles, I know you think this is your fault. You must understand it isn’t. If Joseph hadn’t heard the crackling sound, both of you would have been trapped and drowned. We would have lost both of you! By his pushing you ahead, don’t you see, it made it possible for you to send for help. In that way both of you were saved. Joseph will have some difficult times ahead of him. I know you’ll be there for him,” Vincent said, as he embraced his son with love and the hope that he would understand.
“I think I understand what you’re saying, Dad. Thanks. If it’s ok with you, I’ll go see if I can help finish up the repair. I really need the physical labor to work off the tensions. Mom said that’s what you always did.”
Vincent smiled at his son with love in his eyes and heart.
“Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll be ok, I promise,” he said. He finished changing
and left for the repair site.
After a quick bath, Vincent came back to their chamber where Catherine had waited patiently for them to be alone. In their Bond she could feel the pain he was trying to hide from her.
His back was toward her, and she could see by the way he stood looking down the tunnel that he was lost in that pain. “Vincent, come sit beside me, please?”
It took a few moments before he responded and came to sit at her side. She could see his eyes were misty with tears, and his breathing was ragged trying to contain his emotions. “Catherine…” he whispered, shaking his drooping head slowly back and forth.
She could feel all the raw emotions colliding in their Bond. She knew what his thoughts would be. That this was my entirely fault. If she had a husband from Above, this would not have happened to Joey. He would never have been in this type of danger. How could I let this happen? I sent my sons on that patrol.
Catherine took a few cleansing breathes to calm herself. She hoped this would enable her to get through to him and make him let go of his guilt.
“Vincent, look at me. Look into my eyes. Tell me what you see? Tell me what I’m feeling?” she implored.
It took a minute for him to do as she bid. She waited, knowing he was trying to process what he saw in her eyes and what he felt in her. She also knew she would have to be very patient to help him deal with and accept her petition of truth. This was not your fault! Anymore than it was Charles’s.
He kept his eyes on hers, seeing and feeling only love coming from this extraordinary woman, the woman he loved more than he could ever begin to tell her.
“Vincent, I know what you’re thinking – that I should have found someone Above to love. First of all, that isn’t even possible! I could never love anyone but you. If I had stayed Above, there wouldn’t even be these four beautiful children.” She took his hands in hers and brought them to her lips, kissing them tenderly.
“Vincent, after all this time I don’t believe you can still question what we have. What you’re feeling is a father’s natural remorse for his child being injured. None of this is your fault. Please stop telling yourself that. Children are injured Above everyday. Our children are actually safer here.” She watched his eyes, looking for understanding and acceptance of her words.
“Yes, you sent them on patrol. Vincent, Below is their world too. Haven’t you said, ‘Each day comes to us with its gifts, its joy, and its pain?’ Well today, we’ve received its pain. But also its gift, when Joey smiled his understanding as we left him in that tunnel.”
Catherine could see his eyes searching hers; he needed to be sure she also was accepting her own words and not trying to comfort only him. “Vincent, Joey could have no finer example than you. He’ll go forward in his life with the strength and courage he sees in you. You were denied so much in your life, yet you overcame it. The way you live your life is your priceless gift to Joey. Our son will take all life can offer him and proceed uninhibited by this ordeal. My Love, you must believe me.”
Their Bond was slowly starting to flow again with love and hope,
replacing the pain and despair. He pulled her to him as they lay back
against the pillows on their bed. They held each other tightly, feeling
the tensions starting to wash away and understanding taking place.
Several months later, Joey was walking in the park with Jake, Charles, and Jenny. One of Jake’s classmates was the son of an orthopedic doctor who specialized in prosthetics. Through months of intense rehab and pure orneriness on Joey’s part, according to Jenny, he could now walk without a limp. Joey worked hard, and each day when he was done and exhausted, Vincent would go with him to the warm springs to ease his sore muscles. This not only helped ease Joey’s pain, but also that of his father.
“Dad, I may be a little crippled, but I’m not handicapped. I can do most anything I want too, because you taught me to be strong. For that I will always be grateful to you, all of you.” Joey said doing a backward flip into the water and nearly giving Vincent a heart attack.
orthopedic doctor was well pleased with his patient and wished all his
patients worked this way to truly help themselves more. In fact he asked
Joey if he would like to help with some of his younger patients. He felt
Joey being closer to their age might give them the extra incentive to
work hard and improve their abilities. Joey was excited to help others
like himself go forth in their lives with hope and courage. In his mind
it was simply the right thing to do. He started with a young girl who
had lost a leg from cancer and had totally given up learning to walk
again. She said she’d just use a wheel chair and basically had stopped
trying. Joey was working hard to understand her mindset and failing
“Hey Dad, can I talk to you about something that’s bugging me?” Joey asked Vincent one evening as they sat in the study alone. Everyone else was out or busy in some other part of the house.
“Joseph, you know you can ask me anything, anytime. It seems to me you have something on your mind that is unsettling. Please tell me what it is that is taking away your smile. You know I’ll help you any way I can,” his father answered. Vincent picked up his mug of tea and waited patiently until his youngest son had gathered his thoughts.
“Down at the clinic, there’s this girl who won’t try to walk and just sits in her wheelchair all day. She’s had a bad time with cancer, and I think just gave up. Her parents just let her go and don’t try to urge her to try to walk.” Joey got up and started pacing, much like his father did when he would try to work things out in his mind. “I don’t understand why. You’d think her parents would give her encouragement to at least try. Am I wrong about this Dad?”
“Joseph, perhaps her parents have been through so much with her disease, that they are just happy that she is alive and with them. The trauma with their child had drained them emotionally, and their daughter also. I’m sure the girl has had to fight many fears through her illness and maybe she is just worn out right now,” Vincent said, trying to give his son some perspective into the situation.
“Dad, I need to do something to help her. I understand what you’re saying. I just can’t let her give up on life and wither away. Joey said quietly and then sat down across from his father.
“Start slowly, Joseph; help guide her easily through the process. Don’t expect miracles quickly. Support her with your friendship. Help her when she needs it and let her find her own strengths. I’m sure then she will walk by herself and be able to go on with her life.” Vincent put his arm around his son’s shoulder to give him the confidence to be patient.
“Thanks, Dad. I guess since I had so much support from all of you, that
I just figured it was the same way in all families. I’ll be patient and
help her and her family if they’ll let me,” Joey said, sitting back and
smiling at his father.
Two months later, Vincent was coming up from the tunnels and hoping to beat Catherine home for a change. She had been to visit Joe at his office. She sometimes helped him with a tricky case just to keep in touch with the ever-changing ways of criminal element. As he was coming up the last leg of the tunnels to the secret door, he heard it open and someone approaching. He checked the Bond and realized it was Joey coming to meet him.
“Dad, she did it! She actually did it. Wow, it’s wonderful! I knew she could do it. You were right Dad. Just be patient and let her know I had faith in her. I just left her with her parents, and they were all crying and thanking me. I told them it wasn’t me. It was all Julie’s hard work and courage that made it happen. I’m so happy for her and her family. I couldn’t wait to tell you, Dad,” he said with tears in his eyes.
Vincent hugged his son. “Joseph, I knew if you gave her your friendship and strength, she would overcome her fear. I’m very proud of you, son. You have made a difference in her life. You yourself overcame your loss and have found a way to help others. That, my son, is a wonderful gift.”
They walked together the rest of the way home, smiling and savoring the feeling that comes from helping someone help themselves. Joey was his father’s son, not letting himself give up on his dreams and never limiting the possibilities.
They all arrived home at the same time. When Joey told his mother about Julie’s triumph, she hugged and kissed him and told him how proud she was of his efforts. “Maybe you’ve found a calling there. Helping those that don’t know how to help themselves,” Catherine said with a wink and a smile.
Joey had told his parents he was going to start running and training for a race. Catherine and Vincent were sure this could only add more gray hairs.
Catherine was correct, Vincent reflected. Each day comes to us with its gifts, its joy and its pain. Yes, they had their share of pain, but that was outweighed by the all of the joys and gifts they received.