WFOL 2024





by Ruby

Agent Owens paced the basement lab in Columbia. He had come on a hunch. The space was still empty, a dismantled cage leaned against the wall, but he walked around the room trying doors. One gave and it led to a small sub-basement. Paydirt. He smirked. Quite literally, as the only disturbances in the packed earth floor pointed to a stack of boxes with a tarp hastily thrown over it. He moved the boxes and found a hole in the wall. Just big enough for a person to squeeze through. He smirked harder. You got the what-is-it in the cage to safety from here, didn’t you, Chandler? He was going to be a famous man.

He pulled a flashlight from his pocket and took a few paces inside. He took a left and started walking. He had been walking for twenty minutes when he came to an alcove. He saw movement in the shadows and reached for his gun when he felt the tell-tale point of a knife in his back. The figure stepped out of the shadows. All six lanky feet of Samuel Alonzo stepped a few feet away from Owens, his own gun in his hand.

“Drop it, or my friend there fillets you like a trout.”

Owens dropped his gun. “You’ll never get away with this. I know Chandler is protecting you and the thing down here. Help me, we could make a fortune, move up in the world. That bitch is trying to get you too-” He stopped as Alonzo cracked him hard across the mouth.

“Her name is Catherine and she is Vincent’s woman. And you already know too much. Step aside, Kady.”

The figure behind Owens moved and he just had time to widen his eyes as the silenced gun in Alonzo’s hand put one right between his eyes and he crumpled to the ground.

Kady looked down at him. She was seventeen going on forty and her expression was as smooth as the faceted crystal around her neck. “You should have let me do it, old man, a knife can make it look like Vinnie did it if they ever found the body.”

“They’re not going to find the body. And Vincent isn’t like us, he wouldn’t kill a man like this.”

Kady looked at him with as much softness as she was capable of. “You’ve really fallen for these people, huh?”

“You got to be careful who you’re pretending to be ‘cause it might stick. They call me Walker now.”

Alonzo had known of the tunnels as one of the open secrets of the criminal underworld, a mutual pact to never tell anyone about them as it was understood how useful they could be as a hideout. After Miller had turned the heat up a bit too much in his impulsiveness, Alonzo had presented himself to Eli as a homeless man who was searching his trash cans for food. He had made sure Catherine had never seen him and he had learned the tunnels like the sinews on the back of his hand. And he had tried not to fall hard for the soft woman who made the candles that kept his new home in pools of golden light. He had tried not to get pulled into reading stories to the children, and bringing food and company to Helpers. He had tried, and failed. And Kady knew it. He wondered why Kady hadn’t put a knife in him yet.

Kady seemed to read the question on his face.

“I guess you’re the thing I’m dumb and soft about. Now help me.”

They carried Owens’ body to an oubliette in the rock.

* * *

Meanwhile, in Thomas’s shop, Robin knelt by Thomas’s body and pleaded with him to open his eyes as two EMTs poured in from the door. They attended him but shook their heads at the end of their efforts.

Robin wiped the tears from her eyes as they carried the body away. Why did you have to throw away your medicine? She began to look through his desk for a number for any possible family when the part-time girl walked in. Robin looked up.

“Oh, Kady! I’m so sorry but Thomas…passed away today. Could you please put the closed sign up and go? I’ll pay you for the day.”

Kady was surprised by the pluck of regret she felt. Alonzo had told her to get a job at Thomas’s store to keep an eye on him as his memory failed, and to take care of Miller if he showed back up. Kady figured Miller had been smart enough to skip town. And now it didn’t matter.

She was placing the closed sign when a well-dressed woman walked up. Robin spoke to her. “Oh, Ms. Chandler, I’m so sorry but…”

Catherine cut her off. “I heard over the police scanner. I’m so sorry for your loss. I thought I should come by and see if there was anything I could do.”

“I don’t think he had any family. I would like to make arrangements for some kind of service.”

The two women busied themselves with looking for numbers for florists and undertakers as Kady slipped away, feeling strangely melancholy. You do have to be careful who you are pretending to be.

* * *

In a college’s cavernous theater, Iain and Michael ran lines.

“You’ve got the gift, Mike.”

“You mean I’m a natural ham.” And the two men laughed.

“I bet your family will be thrilled to see their boy on opening night.”

Michael got cagey in that way of tunnel children when that subject came up among top siders. “Hmm. Yeah. It’ll be a fun night.”

Iain didn’t miss that. He didn’t miss much about Michael. He ran his fingers through his sandy blonde hair. “Your old man ain’t worth a tick, eh? Mine neither.”

Michael watched him carefully, trying not to lose himself in Iain’s blue-gray eyes. Iain seemed to be looking at something far away.

“Might as well tell you, my dad was a yank, a gangster. Samuel “The Fixer” Alonzo the papers called him. Don’t know if he’s still alive, don’t care. My mum took me back to England when I was seven and that was that.”

Michael took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. My biological father wants nothing to do with me. So no, he’s not going to be there on opening night.”

Iain smiled a sad-happy smile and walked over to Michael, cupping his face gently.

“To hell with fathers.” And he kissed him.

Michael breathed in the salty-sweet smell of Iain’s breath. “To hell with fathers,” he replied. And kissed him right back.

* * *

Several days later, a small party gathered around Thomas’s grave.

Robin was surprised Kady had come, but not as surprised as Kady was.

The minister read his verses and Catherine tried not to feel the sense of relief that Thomas had not told too much. They began to mill away from the grave when Catherine spotted Agent Johnson waiting by a car.

He was grim and to the point. “You’re a very lucky woman, Ms. Chandler. My partner has vanished and, with Mr. Anderson’s death, our case against Miller evaporated. I’m being reassigned. I guess this is goodbye, Ms. Chandler.” He got into his car, but before he started it, he delivered his parting shot. “But we will meet again, Ms. Chandler. Everybody’s luck eventually runs out.”

Catherine jumped back on the curb as the car grumbled to life and sped away.

He’s right. But for now, I will treasure being able to go Below again. She smiled. She would bring another box of odds and ends…from Russ & Daughters…to them tonight. She thought of the beautiful fruit markets. And a box of tropical fruit: papaya, starfruits, mangos the size of footballs. She remembered Rebecca particularly loved mangoes, a rare treat in the rock walls of her home. Yes, the biggest mango for Rebecca. And maybe I’ll finally get to meet the mystery man she talked my ear off about the last time I was there…




CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose







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?”


“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.