Summer 2024

Round Robin

A PART OF US

SUMMER 2024

Practice Round Robin

 

During a recent Writers’ Chat (held monthly on Catherine’s Balcony), several fans wondered about the round robin-writing process. We decided to do a practice version so writers could determine if participating in a round robin was something they would enjoy. We had no intention of posting it when we began the project. However, it turned out to be not just a fun exercise but, after reading the combined result, we knew the story was definitely worth posting! So thank you to those who dipped their toes into the waters of this particular fandom writing project. You help keep The Dream alive!

A PART OF US

 

Chapter 1 … by JoAnn Baca
Chapter 2 … by Tasha Lawson
Chapter 3 … by J.L. Rowan
Chapter 4 … by bat.balien
Chapter 5 … by JoAnn Baca

CHAPTER ONE
by JoAnn Baca

All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.
~ Helen Keller

“Mitch. Mitch!” Winslow shook the young man awake. “You aren’t supposed to nap during sentry duty!” teenaged Winslow growled.

Mitch opened one eye, then closed it again. “Leave me alone,” he mumbled.

“I would, but you’re taking up all the room in the sentry station, and I’m supposed to replace you, not cuddle up next to you.” Mitch could get on his last nerve under the best of circumstances, and his sloppy attention to sentry duty didn’t qualify as the best of circumstances. This wasn’t the first time he’d been found slumped down and sleeping rather than keeping tabs on who was coming and going – not even the first time Winslow himself had found him that way.

“OK, OK, keep your knickers on.” Mitch made of show of rising slowly, stretching his arms and opening his mouth in a wide yawn. He ambled from the hidden seating area behind the false brick wall. “See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Winslow counted to ten while watching Mitch disappear down the passageway. Then he counted to ten again. He was on his third count when he slipped into the sentry station and assumed his position.

A message over the pipes got him aggravated all over again. Father to Sentry Post 12 – two visitors were not announced – see me after shift.

Great. Now he would get in trouble for something Mitch had done…or rather, had not done. Well, he wasn’t going to take the punishment for this infraction. Father hated tattle-tales, but Mitch’s lackadaisical attitude was just plain dangerous. Winslow would remind the Old Man who was responsible for the slip-up this time.

* * *

“Class dismissed.” Old Sam waved his students off. He was exhausted. I’m getting too old for this teaching schedule, he grumbled to himself. Staring at the pile of essays on his desk, his heart sank. No rest for the weary…or those who stupidly assign papers as homework.

“Mr. Sam, may I ask you something?”

Usually, he would be happy to sit and chat with Vincent. The boy was turning into an exceptional scholar, and his questions reflected a keen, insightful mind. But right now…

“Might it wait, young man? I…uh…” He had no excuse, other than he just wanted to read for half an hour before tackling that pile of essays.

“Oh! Yes, of course. My apologies.”

Vincent was so polite, it made Sam feel ashamed that he’d put the boy off. But he was more relieved than anything else that the young man slipped out of the chamber immediately, not even waiting to schedule a time for that conversation. What could a teenager possibly have to ask about that couldn’t wait?

* * *

Rebecca was plaiting Olivia’s long brown hair with ribbons. “It’s turning out really pretty,” Olivia commented as she looked at her hair in a hand mirror.

Smiling, Rebecca replied, “We have to make you look so irresistible that Marcus…well…can’t resist you!”

Olivia sighed. “He’s shy and I’m shy. Between us, we can barely come up with anything to say to each other.” She turned to gaze up at Rebecca. “Maybe I should tell him I’m not feeling good?”

“No way! You like him, don’t you?”

Olivia nodded. “A lot,” she admitted.

“Well, he’s always staring at you, so I think he likes you a lot, too. And people who like each other a lot should hang out together, even if they don’t say much.” She tied off the thick braid that hung down to the middle of Olivia’s back. “Just ask him about…you know…guy stuff.”

“Guy stuff?”

“Yeah, like…sentry duty, or…working with Pascal’s dad in the Pipe Chamber. Guys like to talk about themselves. You know…brag about how great they are.”

“Who does that?” Olivia didn’t think the boys she knew were like that.

“Mitch does,” Rebecca said. “He’s cute, but all he does is talk about himself, so I don’t have to say much.”

“Becs…that Mitch…he’s…”

“Don’t you say it, too!” Rebecca was tired of hearing warnings about Mitch. It was true that he didn’t always do the right thing, but she felt he was misunderstood by everyone.

“OK, OK!” Olivia hated confrontation. If her best friend liked Mitch, that was her business. She just didn’t want to see Becs get hurt, that’s all.

* * *

“Do you believe he’s right about what’s wrong with me?” Her examination complete, Sarah was slipping her sweater back on.

“I’m not sure what to tell you.” Mary was uncomfortable with the question. She didn’t want to give a reply that contradicted Father’s diagnosis.

Sarah frowned. “We’ve known each other a long time. I thought you would give me an honest answer.”

Mary straightened her posture. “Father is a doctor. I’m sure he knows more than I do.” She felt a twinge of regret that she was letting her friend down. But questioning a doctor’s judgment to a patient went against all her training. Perhaps she would speak to him privately after Sarah went back to her chamber, and express her reservations…her strong reservations.

CHAPTER TWO
by Tasha Lawson

“-completely irresponsible!”

Father’s dressing down of Mitch and Winslow finished with his voice raised.

While Winslow wanted to argue further, to once again explain how Mitch had been the one asleep on sentry duty, he knew it would do no good. Beside him, Mitch showed no signs of regret over his failure. He had merely shrugged off his falling asleep and he seemed just as disinterested in Father’s displeasure.

Father regarded them both for a moment before determining their punishment.

“As you do not seem well suited to guard duty, Mitch, I’m going to switch you to garbage detail. You’ll do two extra shifts to make up for your lapse in judgment. And Winslow-” He paused, looking at the young man he had known since boyhood. “You’ll cover Mitch’s sentry shifts until a new schedule is worked out.”

“But that’s not-” Winslow began to argue, but Father waved his hand in dismissal.

Mitch glowered at both of them before stomping out of the chamber.

Also angry, Winslow grumbled under his breath, “It’s not fair…” as he took his own leave. Entering the chamber at the same time, a teenage Vincent was the only one to hear him.

“What’s not fair?”

With a sigh, Winslow muttered, “It doesn’t matter.”

He knew that being angry at Father would do no good. The tunnel leader had chosen to punish both of them, certainly, but he had also dealt with the problem in a way that would likely minimize its recurrence. Trash duty was the least enjoyable task in the tunnels, and Winslow much preferred pulling extra shifts in a sentry station.

But he had to wonder – why hadn’t Mitch argued more? It seemed out of character for him to simply accept the punishment. And why was Mitch falling asleep on sentry duty so often these days anyway? He wondered if it had something to do with how often Mitch was venturing Above.

One thing was certain – he planned to get to the bottom of it.

* * *

Vincent noted Father’s agitation as he entered the library, supposing it had something to do with why both Mitch and Winslow seemed so displeased. But he also sensed there was something else, perhaps something even more serious.

“Father,” he said, trying to gain the man’s attention. “I was wondering if I could ask you something-”

Looking distracted, Father glanced up at him. “Oh? Of course, Vincent. What is it?”

But he looked away again just as quickly and Vincent realized that with whatever was preoccupying him, now was not the time for Vincent to ask about what had been burdening his own mind.

“Was…” He hesitated, then switched to something else, “Was that Peter who came Below a few hours ago? I heard someone was with him.”

Father looked far too grave as he responded absently, “Yes, it was Peter. Mary called for him and he brought his daughter, Susan. Mary talked me into getting a second opinion on something. Something I’m afraid I cannot discuss with you.”

For a long moment, Vincent waited for him to say something more, but nothing was forthcoming. “Is something wrong?” he asked finally.

Only then did Father really look at him, and he saw genuine worry reflected back at him. “God, I hope not, Vincent. I truly hope not.”

* * *

While Rebecca knew that some of the young men in the tunnels tended to venture Above in the late night and early morning hours, she had never been brave enough to follow them. Having heard stories from Father and others about the dangers lurking there, the world Above held little interest for her. But on this night, she felt an overwhelming urge to throw caution to the wind and, for once, to not be the good girl who always followed the rules.

It helped that Mitch had invited her.

In truth, his invitation had been a half-hearted afterthought when she’d struck up a conversation with him. But when she had asked who else was going and Mitch had casually informed her it would only be him, Rebecca took it as a sign that he might actually be interested in her.

She knew it was a bad idea to go Above, especially late at night. And especially with Mitch. But after everyone else in the tunnels had gone to bed, she snuck out of the chamber she shared with Olivia and met Mitch in an unused steam tunnel he had described to her. He insisted it would take them up top without any sentries seeing them.

As she ventured into the tunnel, she spotted him and butterflies in her stomach took flight. Steely-eyed and dark-haired, he looked immeasurably handsome as the steam and amber light framed his tall form.

“You ready, Becs?” he asked. She nodded and he began leading them on a circuitous route, gradually making their way up.

“Where are we going?” she asked eventually, trying to match Mitch’s typically cool and disinterested inflection.

“You can’t tell anyone. Especially Father,” Mitch warned, sounding a bit menacing.

“I won’t.”

“I’ve got a job. Up top.”

 

CHAPTER THREE
by J.L. Rowan

With a sigh, Vincent left Father’s study.  He had questions, and needed answers, but it wasn’t a topic that could be dealt with by someone distracted.  He wandered through the tunnels, descending as he went, with no real destination in mind as he pondered his own thoughts.

After a time, he realized he had wandered farther than he had intended—or had he?  He hadn’t been this far down in the tunnels before, but he knew from listening to Pascal and his father where it was taking him.  He hesitated, unsure if he should continue.  It was late afternoon and it wouldn’t be long before supper was served.  If he kept going, he might not make it back in time. He looked back the way he had come and forward the way he was going.  He had to decide.

He continued forward. He didn’t know how long he would need to travel, but now that he set his mind to it, he wasn’t going to turn around. He made mental notes of what he observed and kept going.

About thirty minutes later, the tunnel opened into a chamber lit with torches and scented with incense. He looked around until—

“Vincent.”

His gaze was pulled to the far corner of the chamber where a middle-aged, half-blind woman moved into the light. “Hello, Narcissa.”

“What brings you here, child? Come in and sit down.”

He obeyed and sat on a rocky ledge.

“What is it that is troubling you?”

Though half-blind, Narcissa saw what many did not. He glanced down at his hands, unlike any others he had ever observed. “In class today, our teacher was talking about families and history, and—” He stopped. Maybe he shouldn’t have come.

Narcissa edged closer to him. “Which do you want to know about, child? Your family, or the history of the tunnels?”

* * *

Sarah accepted the cup of tea from Mary with a smile. “I’m grateful that Father recommended I get a second opinion—and don’t pretend you had nothing to do with that. I know you did, and I’m thankful for it.” She took a sip of the Earl Grey. “I don’t know what you said, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy confronting him.” She set down the cup. “You need to have more confidence in yourself, Mary.”

Mary returned her smile. “Perhaps.”

“No perhaps,” said Sarah. “Especially when it concerns women’s matters.”

Mary leaned forward a bit. It hadn’t escaped her attention that Sarah had come to visit when Father was at his busiest. She wasn’t sorry for that. She searched Sarah’s gaze, but could read nothing good or bad in it, or anything that would hint of the outcome of her newest examination. “So, what did the doctor say?”

CHAPTER FOUR
by bat.balien

What did he want to know?

Vincent looked at Narcissa across the table that was full of strange things he had never seen before. She shoved them aside to fit two chipped cups of tea and some biscuits on it. She gave him time to get ready to speak. He took a sip of the freshly brewed liquid made of different herbs and concentrated on its bitter-sweet taste. It seemed to calm him down.

“Take your time, boy.” She looked at him. “Most questions withhold their answers…”

“I… I don’t know. I feel lost since… since Devin left,” he started, looking to the floor. “Most here have someone they belong to or at least know where they come from… like Pascal or others. I have no one, and don’t know about any either. Not one person that is really connected to me… I’m alone.”

Silence surrounded them, so that the soft sound of the flickering torches seemed to fill the room.

“Are we alone, boy? Are we really alone?”

The question seemed to fill his head. After another sip of the tea, he leaned back and closed his eyes. Pictures appeared in his mind. Sitting on Father’s lap, listening to his stories. Mary, putting a band aid on his bruised knee. Pascal and Devin, exploring the tunnels with him… He felt warm and safe. Was it the tea, or the moments he spent with this woman, listening to her soft voice, taking time for him?

“Vincent, boy… it’s late. You are part of all of us – we are part of you. We are our history, our past, our present, our future. Start exploring yourself and you will find every truth you are looking for…”

Her voice followed him into the tunnels when he left. He needed to be alone, think, while he was walking a path he had never taken before. He didn’t know how late it was, but he guessed it was late at night and would be morning soon.

* * *

Rebecca tried to keep up with Mitch, who obviously knew these dark empty tunnels.

If he was honest with himself, he never intended to ask Rebecca to join him. The invitation had just slipped out when he was bragging that he would never, even once, do the trash duty. But since it happened, it gave him a wonderful chance to see how much this silly girl would do for him. This would be his last night down here anyway. He had earned enough to get him out of the tunnels, out of the city, to finally be free of this darkness, the regime of the old man, free of these boring people.

He stopped for a moment to wait for Rebecca to catch up. He pulled her into a little cavern he had used as his hide-out for a while now. With a charming smile, he invited her to sit down on a mattress in one corner and served her a colorful drink she had never seen before.

“Mitch, is this alcohol?” Rebecca looked at him, puzzled.

“It’s Long Island Ice Tea, Becs. I learned how to make it in my job up top. It’s very good. Try it,” he stated. He smiled at her, irresistible.

She gasped and tried to quiet the butterflies in her stomach by taking a big sip of her “ice tea.” She giggled when Mitch put his arm around her. “No, Mitch…” she muttered, when he started to kiss her wildly.

* * *

Susan and Mary were enjoying spending the evening together. Thank God Sarah’s condition wasn’t serious, since Mary had noticed the symptoms early. After the information they got from Father and Peter, they all discussed the schedule of the treatment with Sarah. As time flew, Susan decided to stay the night in the tunnels in one of the cozy guest chambers.

* * *

When Winslow’s double shift at sentry duty ended, he wasn’t tired at all. He checked on Mitch, only to find the chamber empty. “Where has this bastard gone?” he muttered to himself, turning towards some unused tunnels he had seen Mitch take some days ago.

CHAPTER FIVE
by JoAnn Baca

Ruminating on Narcissa’s words, Vincent let his feet lead him where they would, paying little attention to his surroundings. He had a well-developed sense of where he was in the tunnels at all times, and it was nearly impossible for him to get lost. So when his keen hearing picked up the barest hint of a voice in distress coming from a level far above him, he took stock of his position and determined the quickest route to the owner of that voice.

Along the way, he heard another set of feet rushing down an unused passageway. He turned the corner and nearly ran headlong into a frantic Winslow.

“You hearin’ that?” Winslow demanded. “Sounds like someone’s in trouble. Can’t find where though.”

“This way.” Vincent charged into a dark tunnel with Winslow close behind, his torch providing what light they had. As they ran, Winslow huffed out a word or two between breaths. “Mitch…didn’t show…for kitchen duty. Called on…the pipes for him… Unanswered. He’s not…in his chamber.” He slowed to a stop and leaned forward, hands on his knees, his breathing labored. “Gotta…catch…my breath.”

Impatient, Vincent turned. “Someone’s in trouble.”

Nodding, Winslow said, “Becs. She’s…with him. Heard Livvy say…on a date.”

“A…date?” Vincent was confused. “He was supposed to be on duty all evening.”

“Blew it off.” Winslow indicated with a wave of one hand that Vincent could start running again. “For the date, I guess.”

The sound of a woman’s voice grew louder as they turned into another corridor, one Vincent knew would lead Above, although it was rarely used.

“No! Stop, please! Nooo!!!”

They both recognized Rebecca’s voice, even altered in a high-pitched scream.

Barreling into a small chamber that appeared on their right, they were confronted with the sight of Rebecca splayed on a grungy mattress with Mitch looming over her, holding her arms.

“What the…?!” Winslow bellowed and ran full speed at Mitch, pushing him away from Rebecca and into the rock wall behind him.

“Oof!” Mitch had the air knocked out of his lungs by the force of Winslow’s shove. He apparently thought the bigger boy was going to punch him, so he raised both arms to protect his face. But as much as Winslow wanted to, all he did was grab Mitch’s his quilted vest and shake him hard.

Vincent knelt by Rebecca. She was sobbing, her hair a wild nest of curls, her dress torn at the shoulder. When she realized help had arrived, she threw herself into Vincent’s arms, crying so hard she began hiccupping.

“Did he…hurt you?” Vincent asked, paying no attention to the commotion going on in the back of the chamber, where he assumed Winslow was explaining to Mitch in terms the boy would understand how he should not have treated Rebecca as he had.

She shook her head. “I’m…OK. Just scared. He was so…rough.”

“Let’s get you to Father so he…”

She reared back with a frightened look on her face. “No! Not Father!” She shook her head wildly. “Please don’t tell him!”

“All right,” he answered. “Mary, then?”

Rebecca considered his suggestion then nodded. “OK. I’m fine, really. But…yes.”

He helped her up and together Vincent and Rebecca left the chamber.

Winslow let go of Mitch’s vest and slapped him across the face. “Trying to hurt Becs…what’s wrong with you? When I tell Father…”

Sniffling, rubbing his hurt cheek, Mitch managed to plaster a sneer on his face. “Go ahead, see if I care! I’m outta here! Screw you and Vincent and Father and…and everyone in this hole!”

Winslow stared at him for a moment, hoping what he said was true. It would be no loss for Mitch to disappear. “Then go,” he urged him. “And don’t even think about coming back!” He shoved Mitch in the chest once for good measure, then turned and stalked out of the little chamber.

Mitch coughed and wiped at his eyes and nose with the back of one sleeve. He began to laugh. “Like I’d ever come back to this place in a million years!” From under the mattress he pulled out an old, patched duffle bag containing most of his worldly goods – a pair of sneakers he’d bought to wear when working Above and a change of clothes. In an inner pocket was his stash of cash. It wasn’t a lot, but was enough to make him smile, enough to give him the courage to brush the dust of the tunnels off his jeans, enough to begin a new life…somewhere else.

He left, never once looking back.

* * *

In the pre-dawn hours, the Hub was quiet. Vincent guided an exhausted Rebecca towards Mary’s chamber. Susan, having awakened very early to go back Above, saw them and took over for Vincent. She asked no questions, simply put one arm around the disheveled girl’s waist and walked with her the last few steps toward Mary’s. Within lay the woman who could keep a girl’s secret, a confidant and healer. Susan, although not part of the tunnel community, felt a communal affinity for the place, truly her father’s daughter. If needed, she would keep Rebecca’s secret, too.

* * *

Winslow caught up with Vincent as the latter was heading back to his chamber. “She OK?” he asked.

Vincent nodded. “Shaken up. A little bit drunk, I think, from something Mitch gave her. But he didn’t hurt her.”

“You sure?” Winslow’s brow furrowed, his eyes narrowing. “’Cause I’ll go find that little weasel and do more than slap and shake him this time.”

“Yes. I…I would have known.”

That was enough for Winslow. He had a lot of respect for Vincent’s gifts. Still, he shook his head, his anger at Mitch unabated. “Stupid guy. Supposed to treat each other like family down here, like sisters and brothers.”

Vincent halted his stride and turned to Winslow. “Is…is that how you feel?”

“How I feel?” Winslow looked quizzical. “That’s how it is! You’re my brother, and I’m yours, right? Becs is our sister. So’s Livvy. Least ways, that’s the way I look at things.” He frowned. “Don’t you…feel the same way about me?”

Surprised, Vincent nodded. “I do.” He smiled. “I do!” He slapped Winslow on the back, causing the young man to grin in relief.

“Good! For a second there I wondered! Shoulda known better. You’ve treated me like family my whole life. I appreciate it, and return the sentiment.” He slapped Vincent on the shoulder as Vincent had done to him. “’Night, bro!”

The sentry tapped the 5:00 a.m. wake-up call.

Winslow chuckled. “Guess I shoulda said good morning!”

Vincent watched as Winslow turned and headed back toward his own chamber.

Narcissa’s words came back to him. Are we really alone? He hadn’t known what to answer her just a short while ago, but now he could.

He wasn’t alone. He had a family – not one of blood, but a true family nonetheless. One that had found him and embraced him. Took him into their hearts as well as their midst. He was a part of them . . . and they of him.

Smiling, and with a lighter heart, he returned to his chamber to begin a new day.

1 Comment

  1. I loved this. And Mitch attempting to get Rebecca drunk and take advantage of her. Yeah just like him. I love how Vincent and Winslow got even closer as brothers. And Narcissa truly had words of wisdom. Are we truly alone. Never. To all the writers fantastic story Thank you

    Reply

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WATER FUN

by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”

“Okay.”

“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.