The Unbelievable Truth
by Alyssa G.
I know we don’t normally do the whole e-mailing thing, but I wanted to tell you what happened to me today, before I had the chance to change my mind. You’re going to think I’m nuts or drunk, but I hope you’ll read this whole thing through before you decide to dismiss my story out of hand.
For the past few weeks I’ve been flying around the country promoting my newest project. As I was leaving my hotel in midtown Manhattan today, I was approached by a guy who said that he was a huge admirer of my work, specifically the project you and I had worked on together back in the 80’s. He also said that he gives tours of an old underground tunnel that the subway used to run through and that he would love to give me a private tour, free of charge. I figured he was counting on snapping a few photos at the end and using it for publicity for his company, but, hey, when was I likely to get a chance like this again? I’m usually too busy with work, and besides, you and I had so much fun back then, I have to admit that the idea had real appeal.
We grabbed a cab and headed for Brooklyn, where we descended down a manhole cover into an underground passage. We walked through a stretch of tunnel, with my guide pointing out stuff along the way. Normal so far, right? Well, when we got to the end of the tunnel, he told me that he usually just tells people that this is as far as the tunnel’s been cleared, and then leads them back out the way they came. In my case, however, he said that he had received special permission to bring me further in. He banged hard on a section of the brick wall on our right, and it swung open! We walked through and were greeted by a man carrying a long, thick piece of wood over his shoulder. He said his name was Winston, and that he was going to take us to meet the guy in charge of this place. What I saw next shocked the hell out of me.
I was brought into an area filled with torches and candles, and was greeted by an older gentleman named "Pops", who said that he had an extraordinary story to tell me. As he and the rest of the Assembly sat around a large table that looked straight out of the 1800’s, he explained that what he was about to tell me was a secret, one which I would be permitted to share with you, but no one else. It seems that, during the Red Scare of the 50’s, a group of people started an underground community. They needed a place where they could be safe from persecution, where they could lead a "normal" life, or at least as normal a life as you can have half a mile or so below the city streets. They have no lights, electricity, phones, or modern conveniences, but they also have no muggings, murders, or homelessness. Everyone pitches in and does their part to help the community at large. For some people, this means handling housework, repairs, cooking, or security. For others, teaching and taking care of the kids is the priority.
It’s scary, Lin. You hear all the time about kids who’ve run away or just disappeared. No one knows what’s happened to them, and most people don’t even care. If you’re a good person, maybe you’ll shake your head and worry a bit about them, or, if you’re the religious sort, maybe you’ll say a prayer for their safe return. But, these people? They go out into the parks, into the streets, and they find those who are lost, and they do what they can to help. Some are led back to their families, others to the police, if they’ve been hurt or kidnapped. And the ones who have no place to go? They’re brought here, to live below the streets of New York, in a place of safety and warmth. They won’t get designer label clothes or the newest video games, but they’ll get food, shelter, an education, and as much love and guidance as they could ever need.
I got a chance to talk to a few of the people who deal with the kids. Marie is the one who mothers them all, kissing boo-boos, wiping tears, hugging them when they’re scared and taking pride in everything that they do. Pops, besides acting as the unofficial dad to all the kids down there, teaches everything from music appreciation and Shakespeare to chess. His son, Vinny (short for Vincent – no, I’m NOT kidding!), also teaches, though I think half the kids down there see him more as a big brother, the kind of guy they can turn to for advice whenever life goes wrong.
Vinny’s wife Katie deals with the kick-in-the-gut stuff we’d all like to pretend doesn’t exist. She’s a lawyer, so she deals with any legal issues that come up. For these kids, that can range from pressing charges against their attackers to custody fights and restraining orders. She’s got loads of contacts in the court system, and believe me, she knows how to put them all to good use. You see, before Katie came to live Below, she worked in the D.A.’s office, busting bad guys and fighting the good fight. She and Vinny met up one night when a couple of guys jumped her and left her for dead in the park. Vinny carried her Below, Pops treated her injuries (he was a doctor before he was blacklisted), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Katie and Vinny have been married for just over twenty years, and they say that they have us to thank for that. You see, Vinny was born with severe birth defects. His health and mind are fine, but his appearance is different than that of most of the people around him. His eyebrows grow at a weird slant, his nose is flat and covered in hair, he has a cleft lip, and his skin color and texture are "off". Add to that the fact that his hands are hairy and you get a pretty strange picture. Anyway, Katie and him had been dating for a while, with her pushing for a more committed relationship, and him just waiting for her to jump ship and go after a more normal guy. Well, this back and forth had been going on for a while, with the two of them even breaking up a couple of times and then getting back together, determined to somehow make their relationship work. They had a lot to deal with – she didn’t mind how he looked, but he had always figured that he’d live his life alone, and his behavior was turning that into a real self-fulfilling prophecy. There was also the fact that she lived Above and he lived Below, and finding a balance for that was hard for them. It took a long time for her to feel ready to turn her whole life upside down by moving to his world, and even then, he just couldn’t imagine her being willing to give up her normal life. I guess it was a case of the-grass-is-always-greener...he had always wished that he could live an ordinary life Above, so he just couldn’t see that someone would choose to live Below. And she saw so much crime and pain in the world Above, that she couldn’t understand why he didn’t believe her when she said that she wanted to live Below.
All of that changed in the late 80’s when you and I teamed up.
Suddenly, their whole way of life was on display, and people liked what they saw. They appreciated the values and warmth of the world Below, and they treasured the special bond that Vincent and Catherine shared. Vinny stopped seeing himself through his own eyes, and started to see himself through the eyes of everyone who fell in love with what we were presenting to the world. Shortly thereafter, Vinny asked Katie to marry him. She moved Below three weeks later, and their first child was born eighteen months after that. Their oldest son, Ronald, is a cop and their second son, Hamilton, is studying to be a teacher. Then there’s Hope, the baby of the family, who was born six years after her brothers. Katie says that if they had known they were destined to have a daughter they would have saved your name for her. Since, however, their son was already using part of it, they decided to name their daughter "Hope", because hope is what they found in each other’s arms.
I tried to ask them how a secret society ended up on national TV, but I didn’t get too straight an answer on that one. The only thing they would tell me is that some of the people who grow up in the Tunnels eventually move Above, and that one of them had a connection to our show. This person had been careful to change any identifying information or names that were used, so Marie became "Mary", Pops "Father", and Winston "Winslow", to name just a few. I asked if they had a Paracelsus as well, but they just laughed, and said that Johnny had been very strict with that particular child, so it wasn’t surprising that she had turned him into an evil villain to plague and frighten the children of the fictional version of Below.
About an hour after I arrived my tour guide led me back Above. Before I left, Katie and Vinny both asked me to thank you for the role you played in helping them to finally build a life together. They’ve given me a number to call the next time I’m in NY, and they say that they hope you’ll be in touch as well.
Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you the best part. You know how the fans write stories continuing where our show left off? Well, Hope has aspirations of becoming a professional author someday, and she’s decided to take the old adage of "write what you know" to heart. She writes stories about her family and friends; things that happened back when her folks were dating, as well as things that are happening today. She’s a writer, Lin, and the web is where she writes the stories that you and I helped create. She, and others like her, is the reason that something we worked on a lifetime ago will live on long after you and I are gone.
I’ll probably be in your area next week. Think you can make time to see an old friend? I can’t wait to hear your take on all of this.
See you soon –
Author’s note – credit where credit is due...the idea for this fanfic came from a Star Trek story entitled "Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited" by Ruth Berman, which was published in the anthology "Star Trek: The New Voyages" (edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, through Bantam Books).
About that tour – it actually exists! The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association has been running them for years, though they’ve been suspended due to government bureaucracy. For information about these tours, as well as the fight to get them reinstated, check out this linkhttp://www.brooklynrail.net/bhra_events.html
Sorry, no doorway to our Tunnels, at least none that I’ve ever heard of, but then again, who knows?
Comments happily accepted. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org