CABB’s

WFOL 2024 Challenge

Winterfest Guests

ALTERED FATE

by Paula

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.

~ Marcus Aurelius

It had been several years since Linsy left New York. Her old apartment was waiting for her, dusty and small, but this is where she felt most comfortable. As soon as she crossed the threshold, joy filled her heart. I’m finally back!

Before she had time to unpack, her thoughts began to revolve around the inhabitants of the world Below. She wondered if they still remembered her, and she really missed her friend who had found a new home there. Every day she returned to that moment when she saw the place and its residents.

Will they invite me now, too? It was only her innate modesty and shyness that made her apprehensive.

Later that evening, a knock on the door filled her with hope…and when she opened the door, any doubts she had disappeared.

Zach smiled broadly while holding candles in his hand.

They remembered…Right here in front of me is proof I’m welcome at my second Winterfest. The enjoyment she felt in her heart was immense.

Linsy had participated in only one Winterfest. She was enchanted by this celebration and sincerely missed it. How good that Eleonore had found a safe haven there. Images of memories began to fill her thoughts…

She had met her friend while working at a glass factory. There they were involved in the production of drinking vessels, tableware, vases, and glasses used in catering. It wasn’t the height of her dreams, but she was happy and grateful to have a job.

Linsy often sang songs during work. Everyone said she had a beautiful and melodious voice, and as a result, work time at the factory passed quickly and pleasantly.

From the very beginning, they enjoyed each other’s company. In New York Linsy lived alone. Her father died when she was a child, and her mother passed away much later, quietly in her sleep. She could always count on the support of her older sister, who lived in Newark.  The developing friendship with Eleonore gave her a lot of happiness and she did not feel lonely at all…. two kindred souls and understanding without words.

Eleonore often invited her to the modest apartment she shared with her husband Jim…and she loved spending time there and having conversations about how they would one day start a business together and become successful. Big dreams and plans that were thwarted by fate.

An insidious disease afflicted Eleonore’s husband. Their battle against the cruel adversary lasted a long time. In the meantime, there were job cuts at work. Both friends were left without employment. Before Eleonore could find another job, Jim was defeated. Her world collapsed. The debt to pay for treatment had grown incredibly.

Linsy sympathized with her a lot. She saw her struggling with her thoughts not to join her husband…and wanted to be her strength and support.

Eleonore sold everything she had, but it was not enough to cover the arrears.

This was the moment when Linsy began to worry about her much more. She offered to share her apartment and tried to convince her that together they could handle the debt. She always had a lot of hope and faith in her, and she wholeheartedly wanted to pour these feelings onto her friend…. But Eleonore had her own plan…

One day she disappeared, leaving only a letter. Great sadness emanated from the few words of farewell.

For a long time Linsy had no news from her. This lack of knowledge tormented her constantly.  She wanted to find her, she even considered looking for her street by street, but she didn’t know if Eleonore was still in New York; yet the hope that she was alive never left her. Then her hopes  were thwarted by unexpected news about her sister’s impending surgery.

My sister needs me and counts on me. I can’t leave her alone. I have to move to Newark for a while, but how to do that when I don’t know what happened to Eleonore? These disturbing thoughts became her daily companion.

She was already close to losing hope when one morning she found an envelope under her door.  She opened it with trembling hands and read the words she had waited so long for.

“I’m safe in the place where I can heal my heart and soul. We will meet soon. E.”

She exhaled with relief. These were the words she had been waiting for. Feelings of gratitude and joy flooded her heart.

Several days of patient waiting passed before she received an invitation to her first Winterfest. What she experienced then is difficult to describe in words. She saw another world and many good people living in unison in love, surrounding each other with mutual care, a wonderful place where no one is alone.

The underground world delighted her. She went downstairs in her cloak and modest cream-colored dress. She held onto the wall with her hand, her curly brown hair was blown by the wind, and her grey eyes widened at a sight not of this earth.

Suddenly she heard a familiar voice. “Linsy! I’m so happy to see you!”  A slender figure with short blond hair, dressed in an elaborately tailored gown, ran up to her and hugged her tightly.

“Eleonore, how good that you’re okay. You look so beautiful.” Tears shone in their eyes. “What is this place?” she asked, delighted.

“Wonderful, where the pain passes and you can be born again. Come, let me show you around. Just remember, it’s all a secret you have to keep for the rest of your life,” Eleonore said frankly.

“I’ll keep everything I see here today to myself,” she replied with seriousness, and squeezed her friend’s hand, feeling grateful that she had found this place of solace.

“I knew about it, that’s why I wanted to share all this with you. I told the residents about you and your kindness. I said that you can be trusted, that you will not betray the secret. I convinced them, and that’s why you received an invitation, and Zach was happy to provide you with our special candle.”

Her eyes sparkled with emotions. “Thank you for your confidence. Zach surprised me tremendously. I already felt that something extraordinary was about to happen.”

Eleonore smiled at her with a gleam in her eyes. “It’s true, something amazing, and now I will tell you about this place.”

There was still some time left before the Opening Ceremony began, so Eleonore told her friend a bit about the history of the place, the network of helpers, and how to communicate.

The Great Hall was filled with guests of the residents, and after a while, when it lit up with candlelight, Linsy noticed the mysterious tapestries adorning the rock walls.  Is this really happening? She couldn’t shake the feeling of being in some incredible dream.

She was very impressed by a dignified man whom everyone called Father.

Cullen captivated with his talent for carving. Pascal talked so beautifully about the Pipe Chamber, and she was amused by the resolute man with the curious name Mouse… but what she experienced next would always remain in her memory.

She was enchanted by a man named Vincent. His extraordinary beauty, sensitivity, and kindness emanated throughout the room. And at his side, his beloved Catherine. She didn’t know if she’d ever seen two people so in love and so attuned to each other. It was as if light was radiating from them.

After moments spent with new acquaintances and learning about the history of the place, reassured her that her friend had found a safe home, she was able to confide her plans. They sat at a considerable distance from the playing children and dancing couples to immerse themselves in quiet conversation.

“Eleonore, I know we have just reunited after a long time, but I have to go to my sister in Newark. She is going to have hip surgery and needs my help. She lives alone and I need to help her.” Eleonore’s happy face turned sad, but then she squeezed her hand and smiled.

“I will miss you, but I understand that you need to help your sister. Let’s spend this time as well as possible. Come, Matt, a member of our community can play the guitar, and you sing beautifully. He is your age and can play so many songs…Sing for us, please.” Her eyes were full of hope.

“I don’t know, I feel a little awkward. It’s one thing to sing in a small group at work and another to sing in front of such a crowd…Maybe one song I’ll dare to sing later, but right now I want you to tell me more about your life here and how it started.”

And so she learned that it was Jamie who noticed Eleonore, exhausted, hungry, and resigned to the hopelessness of her fate. She was returning Below with her food supplies when she saw a huddled figure in an alley near Columbus Avenue. Great sadness emanated from her eyes. Jamie, sensitive to human suffering , stopped to talk to her and share her food.  She was moved by her plight, so for the next few days she supported her with food and gave her encouragement with kind words.

One day she came to Eleonore with an offer she couldn’t refuse. This was her chance at a new life, and since she can sew beautifully, she helped Mary create new clothes for the residents. She also learned the codes necessary to communicate. She spent a lot of time in Father’s library, and reading was a great pastime for her, an escape from the fear that ruled her when she lived on the streets.

Linsy listened to her enthralled, then she squeezed her friend’s hand. “You’ve been through so much, but I’m reassured that you’ve found your place here.”

A smile lit up Eleonore’s face. “Yes… and I’m extremely grateful for that. And now it’s time for your song.” Her friend reciprocated the smile and timidly got up to perform the song that had long ago stolen her heart.

Candlelight heightened the appropriate mood.

Those gathered in the Great Hall sat and waited for the performance. Matt began to play a romantic melody on his guitar, and after a while a soft voice spread through the hall along with the words of the beautiful song, “The Power of Love”.

“It’s a Céline Dion song,” Catherine whispered to Vincent. He nodded and closed his eyes, moved by the words of the song. After a moment, he put his arm around her, and she laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, listening to the amazing sounds.

Kanin and Olivia sat close to each other in a tight hug; Mouse and Jamie listened to the words as if enchanted. Some magical force was floating around. Everyone was moved by Linsy’s beautiful, gentle voice and Matt’s playing, which was a wonderful complement.

Eleonore knew that the performance of the song would set the right atmosphere, as many eyes welled up with tears and many hands joined together.

Applause resounded in the hall…words of admiration for the voice and the beautifully chosen piece were also heard.

Matt looked in amazement at her. “You have a poignant and wonderful voice.” He said with a gleam in his eyes.

“Thank you. Your beautiful music added magic. We really made a harmonious duo.” Linsy felt warmth around her heart and looked at him for a moment.

He bowed his head at this compliment, and a soft blush colored his cheeks. “Maybe we’ll play again someday, a joint concert?” he asked shyly.

She smiled sadly as she remembered her departure. “I would love to play with you… someday.”

He nodded and began preparing to entertain guests with his music…

Linsy returned to joyful celebration. She played checkers with Samantha and tried to learn to play chess, however with poor results. She never imagined that Father would be so happy about her losing the game.

Like a child she enjoyed Sebastien’s tricks…and Matt invited her to dance…and then she felt like she was in a fairy tale…However, the winter festival passed all too quickly, but it remained a beautiful memory, carried in Linsy’s heart.

Her stay in Newark was prolonged. She found a job there in a fabric store, and in the meantime took care of her sister. She regularly sent letters to Eleonore. She often sent packages with pieces of material to use in the tunnels. On the occasion of Winterfest and the holidays she sent small gifts for children.

Not a day went by that she didn’t remember their world.

Years passed and the day came to return to New York. Emotions flowed through her at the speed of light. Excitement, anticipation, and even a little nervousness. Her return coincided with the upcoming winter holiday; she’d planned it that way, hoping in spirit for an invitation, wanting to feel that joyful candlelight celebration again…

And dreams often come true…

She wanted to give them something more from herself. This time she prepared a list of songs that she would sing, and she hoped that Matt would be present and take care of the musical setting. She planned to discuss the performance with him beforehand so he could prepare properly.  She felt a smoldering flame of hope in her heart that perhaps he would be interested in joint concerts Below later. He had won her sympathy with his naturalness, and his music made her heart flutter.

She looked closely at the songs she chose. Hopefully the listeners will like them.  Among the ballads selected were Céline Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”, “Alive”, “A World to Believe In”,  “Power of Love”; Joe Cocker’s “Tears in Heaven”, and Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”.

I think that’s enough for my first Below concert, and if they want more, we’ll come up with something with Matt. And again she felt a flutter in her heart when she thought of him and a gentle smile adorned her face.

For rescuing Eleonore and for the wonderful reception and acceptance of me, I would like to do something more for this special evening.

Her thoughts galloped…

Baking cakes didn’t work out well for her, so she didn’t want to experiment with it, but when she lived with her sister, she learned to bake cupcakes. She thought it would be ideal to make some with vanilla cream, and others with strawberry cream and a few with chocolate. They would taste good not only to the children. Surely she would have time to bake a lot and let everyone have a chance to try it!

With renewed energy and enjoyment she got to work…

Oh, it’s going to be a great Winterfest!

 

6 Comments

  1. I love stories about people who are able to go home again. Thank you for writing this.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind words and reading my story, it means a lot to me.

      Reply
  2. A beautiful story of compassion, exceptance and a budding chance of new love

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ingrid, for seeing what I wanted to show in this story and that you wrote me about it. It encourages me to continue creating.

      Reply
  3. Paula, what a beautiful story of the healing and renewal the tunnel community offers to those in need. Thank you so much for writing it!

    Reply
    • Linda, you know perfectly how to support me, thank you so much for that from the bottom of my heart!

      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.