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WFOL 2024 Challenge

Winterfest Guests

PIPE DREAMS, PART 1
BRUCE’S STORY

by Tunnel Writer

 

Bruce was twirling his wife Stacey across the floor. The Winterfest music was just as lively as always. Before they knew it, the song ended.

 “I need a rest,” Stacey said, laughing breathlessly.

A young couple approached the older couple. “Hey, Dad, you should tell Brooke how you became a Helper. As the Tunnel historian, she’s trying to get down as many eyewitness stories as she can.”

“I’m putting all the stories in journals for future generations.” She smiled as she placed a hand on her growing abdomen.

Bruce grinned at his son and daughter-in-law. “It started while your mom and I were just dating.” Bruce got a faraway look in his eyes as he traveled back in his memory.

“Hey, Bruce, quit daydreaming about your girlfriend and give me a hand,” Scott shouted.

“Give me a minute, and I’m NOT daydreaming about Stacey,” Bruce said as he stood and gulped down the last of his cold coffee.

“Sure, you’re not. When are you going to propose anyway?” Scott asked as he put another pipe into place.

Bruce opened his mouth to answer when Scott’ s radio went off.

“Code red. Corner of 65th and Central Park West near the Carousel.”

“Roger. On it,” Scott replied back.

“Copy.”

“So much for a slow day,” Scott said as walked toward the van.

They arrived and found the ground saturated with water. Before they could investigate, a backhoe arrived.

“Hope you guys don’t have any plans tonight. We have no idea where the water is coming from, or how far it goes.”

Both men groaned. “Do we have a map of the pipes?” Bruce asked with a frown.

“Boss will be bringing them.”

“Stacey isn’t going to like this, but it’s my job”, Bruce whispered to himself.

Four hours later, Bruce and Scott were walking the tunnels, checking the pipe.

“Man, this is going to take weeks. Do you see how weak some spots are? This whole pipe is going to need to be replaced. I guess we may as well prepare to work twelve-hour shifts for the next couple months,” Scott said as he hit a pipe with his fist. “OUCH!”

“Breaking your fist isn’t going to get you out of work. We may as well get started.” Bruce sighed.

They worked silently. Occasionally Bruce would see a shadow move out of the corner of his eye. I’m just tired and seeing things.

“Hey, Bruce! It’s lunchtime. Let’s go back up and refill our thermos and get some food.”

“Great idea. What time is it anyway?”

“Half past noon.”

“Stacey should be at work. I need to call her.”

As the men disappeared, eight other men stepped out of the shadows. “How much time do we have before they come back?” one man asked as he picked up a wrench.

“It’s a good twenty-five minutes to get Uptop. I’d say a good hour before they come back, but let’s get out of here in forty-five minutes. Grab some tools and get to work,” the other man yelled to the crew.

“I want to help,” a small voice piped up.

“Winslow, you’re too young. When you’re older, you can help.”

“But, Dad, I’m already seven.” Winslow pouted.

“Son, we don’t have any time. We have to get as much done as we can before those men come back.”

“But, Dad…” Winslow whined.

“James, I’m sure there’s SOMETHING Winslow can do. We need to accept help as well as give it,” Jacob said. “Winslow, come here for a minute.” He then motioned to the young boy.

Winslow ran over to Jacob, who started measuring a pipe. “You can be our lookout. As soon as you see those men, give a tap on the pipe. Your job is the most important.”

Winslow grinned, showing a couple of missing teeth, and took off running in the direction the men had left.

“You know, Scott, I think we need to tell the boss that we’re going to need more help.” Bruce stopped at the sound of a tap on a pipe. “Did you hear that, Scott?”

“It’s just steam built up. Nothing else. Now we have to get to work.”

“Like I was saying, I think we’re going to need he…lp.” Bruce stopped dead in his tracks.

Scott picked up his tools and got to work. “Bruce, why are you just standing there? Get to work.”

I could’ve sworn we were ten feet back. Bruce shook his head and went to work. The rest of his shift, he couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.

“Let’s call it a day,” Scott yelled.

“Sounds good.”

“Man, I hate the thought of dragging all our tools back and forth,” Scott stated as he started packing up.

Bruce caught a glimpse of another shadow passing by an entrance. Now I KNOW I’m not imagining things. “Hey, Scott, why don’t we just leave the tools here? I mean, no one is going to steal them,” he said as he stared at the empty tunnel entrance.

“Great idea. Let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”

Next morning when Scott and Bruce arrived, they noticed the one hundred feet of new pipe.

“Good thing the boss brought in another shift last night. I know we’re shorthanded, but even I knew there’s no way only two guys could do this job.”

Bruce looked quizzically at his tools. Nothing missing. “Uh. Yeah. It will make our job easier.” He smiled toward the entrance. He noticed that, for the first time, there weren’t any shadows passing. Bet he or they are asleep. They must’ve worked all night to get this done. Wonder how many workers there are? They did a great job, he thought as he inspected the work.

All day he kept an eye out, but there was no sign that anyone else was around. I’m pretty sure they don’t work for the city.

At the end of the shift, the men headed back Above.  “Oh, I forgot my thermos,” Bruce said.

“I’ll wait for you.”

“No need. It’s already past 8 pm. Go home. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“All right, see you.”

Bruce snuck back to the work site and waited out of sight. It wasn’t long before the whole community showed up. Men went to work while women fetched tools, water, and even food. Even children were helping to hold pipes into place.  Bruce was amazed at how quickly they worked.

Bruce silently stepped out of his hiding spot, calmly walked over to a spot, and started working with the people. He was so busy he never noticed that everyone had stopped, and they were whispering among themselves.

“Who are you?” one man said.

Bruce stopped working. “I’m Bruce. Please, don’t leave. You’ve saved us HOURS of work. I am forever in your debt, so I promise I won’t mention anything to Scott.”

The men looked at each other and went back to work. They were working until Bruce ran into a situation.  “I need an elbow pipe, and we don’t have any. I need to go Above and get one,” he said to no one in particular.

“No, you don’t,” James said.

 Bruce frowned. “Yes, I do. I need one and we don’t have any left. I need to go get one.”

James laughed and grabbed Bruce’s sleeve. “Come with me.” James dragged him over to all the old pipes they had taken out. “Waste not, want not. There’s plenty of good pieces here. All we have to do is find a piece that fits and is still in great shape.”

“Useful and thrifty. I like it. I bet I can save the city money by reusing the perfectly good pipes we remove. James, I’d love to work with you. Maybe we can learn from each other,” Bruce said as they found the perfect piece to drag back to the worksite.

By the time the project was finished, Bruce had not only made friends with the tunnel community, but was included in all their major repair projects. He also taught the community what problems to look out for to avoid employees snooping around.

Having a city worker as a Helper was very resourceful. They had a great system. When a problem arose, someone would automatically send a message to Bruce.

“OK, Dad, so now we know how you became a Helper, but what about Mom?”

Bruce chuckled. “Son, that’s her story to tell,” he said with a wink.

3 Comments

  1. Great, I really liked it, a social worker as a helper, what a necessary and important thing for the community. How good that Bruce turned out to be such a trusted and kind person.

    Reply
  2. Great to get a city employee to become a helper, quite ingenious .

    Reply
  3. Your trilogy of stories about this family really shows the importance of the relationships between Above and Below. They — and we — are all in this together, and we need to reach out to one another. Thanks for writing it!

    Reply

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