WONDERLAND

by Joanne Grier

 

The tunnel world seemed particularly quiet to Vincent as he moved along the passage.  The pipes weren’t echoing with rapid-fire daily chatter.  In many ways it seemed as if the citizens had taken flight from their safe haven.

Vincent strolled into the dining room, stopped abruptly as he realized the lack of citizens eating lunch.  He saw Elizabeth and Mary sitting together; so after getting his tray, he took a seat at their table.  “Where is everyone?  They didn’t all eat earlier, did they?”

“Oh, no, dear, they didn’t,” Elizabeth offered with a warm smile.  “I believe most of the children went Above and their parents have gone with them.  Quite a few of the teens have gone along to serve as chaperones.”

“And to play,” Mary added softly.

Clearly puzzled Vincent looked from Elizabeth to Mary.  “There was a record snow fall last night, something like twelve inches; and so many wanted to go Above that Father declared a break in the school routine for the morning classes.”

“You know how the children are drawn to the park after a snow fall, Mary reminded him.  They are eager to play . . . build snowmen, and forts.  Rather than having them not pay attention to their classes, Father and the council thought a break would be nice.  He even plans to have an impromptu hour of telling snow stories by the children this evening.”

Vincent smiled, as he knew the snow stories would last much longer than an hour; and like the rest of the adults, he, too, would be eager to hear of the adventures in the park.

*************

By the time everyone returned from Above, all the entrances they had used were snow packed, and the trail of snow carried in on so many feet had become a danger to security.  Vincent dispatched several teams of men to the entrances to disburse with the telltale evidence. 

Winslow partnered with Vincent to clean one of the entrances, and the closer they got, the stranger the foot prints became.  When they discovered perfect circles impressed into the deepest snow both of them shook their heads, but upon finding clear imprints of tennis racquets, they both burst into laughter.

“Mouse,” they said together.

“Where do you suppose he found those?”

“Obviously it had to have been in the trash from the holes in the racquet strings.”

“And what do you think these are,” Winslow queried as he pointed at the perfect circles.

“I’d say William is missing two trash can covers, wouldn’t you?”

He and Winslow laughed as they worked clearing away the snow as  Winslow began telling stories of Devin having sneaked them into the park and the fun they’d had playing in the snow covered wonderland.

***************

Slowly the library began to fill, and soon there wasn’t a vacant seat to be found; even the spiral stairs were filled.  The upper level was also packed, as most of the citizens were eager to hear the stories of the first winter snow fall.  The children were all clustered on the floor on either side of Father’s desk; and he had cleared a space on the desktop for the story teller to perch, enabling all to see and hear the teller.

Story after story was told to the delighted audience.  Mouse and Jamie drew the biggest laughs as they shared the details of their adventures in the twelve inches of new snow on their improvised snow shoes.  Mouse showed them how he had tied the broken tennis racquets to his shoes while Jamie demonstrated how easy it was for her to slip her shoes into the handle of the trash lid.

Kipper surprised them all as he told of using a plastic three-ring binder as a sled on the hill.  “I beat a kid who was using a shovel as a sled by at least twenty seconds!”  His friends broke into cheers in hearing his defeat of a topsider.

As predicted, the stories took well over the allotted hour; and even though it was nearly bedtime, both Father and Mary agreed that the children could stay up to have the cookies William had prepared.  Gaiety and laughter filled voices continued as they all trooped to the dining hall.

The children were in such high spirits that Vincent and Father were jointly called into service, and both of them were ensconced in the rockers in separate dormitories to read the children to sleep.  Even their melodious voices failed to immediately calm their audience so instead of the one chapter night reading, this time it took nearly two full chapters to settle the children.

******************

Smiling to himself, Vincent lit several candles in his chamber and he was just about to pull off his boots when he heard Winslow’s voice from the outer passage.  “Come in.”

Winslow stopped at the antique wardrobe, opened it, and removed Vincent’s cloak.  “Come on, we need to get going.”  Without offering any explanation whatsoever, Winslow simply held the cloak waiting for Vincent to slip it over his shoulders.  Seeing Winslow’s mysterious smile, Vincent took the cloak and started toward the passageway.

They had traveled past the library, when from one of the side passages, Pascal joined them; and like Winslow, he was dressed in his heavy coat, hat, and gloves, as well as a scarf around his throat.

“What about his face?  It’s well below zero up there.”

“What to you take me for, a fool?  I thought of that.”  With that Winslow drew a wooly scarf from his pocket and handed it to Vincent.  “This should keep your nose and mouth from getting frost bite.”

“Am I to assume we are headed for the park?”

“Of course.  You didn’t think the kids were gonna get to have all the fun, did you?  There’s enough snow up there that we can surely find enough fresh powder for our use.”  His grin was wide and his eyes sparkled in anticipation.

Vincent’s laughter echoed as they came in sight of the park exit.

“It’s been years since we last did this.”  Pascal’s voice was filled with joy as they opened the door.  Cautious, despite knowing that Vincent could sense if anyone was inside the drainage pipe, they silently slipped out into the darkness and within moments, they were staring into a breathtaking world of white.

Vincent wrapped the scarf around his nose and mouth and then drew his hood over his head.  “If anyone should see you, all they would think is that you were bundled up against the cold, just like everyone else is in this kind of weather.”  Pascal’s hand lightly touched Vincent, urging him forward and the three men stepped into the whirling snow.

Quickly they moved up the embankment and were immediately struck by the beauty of the park dressed in its finest winter coat.  The trees were coated with several inches of snow and the bushes were the perfect counterpoint as their rounded shapes became globes of brightness.  Most of the area that led toward the drive was filled with imprints of snow angels, forts, and snowmen.  It was obvious that a mighty battle had taken place as several of the forts had apparently been breeched by the opposing army.

The three men smiled in seeing all the activity that had taken the children hours to create.  “They surely had a great time, if this is any indication of their efforts.”

Knowing their friend well, Winslow and Pascal headed up the bank, turned left, and began walking toward Central Park West Drive.  The trees along this section were huge, old growth oaks and their mighty limbs were the perfect illustration of a master painter.  The lights from all the buildings surrounding the park twinkled brightly against the blinding white.

“Should we go get Catherine?”

“No, she is safely tucked in for the night and is sleeping soundly.  I wouldn’t wish to awaken her as she had been working on a difficult case.”

“It would have been nice if she could have joined us.”  Winslow smiled as they veered off the path that would have taken them to Catherine’s, and they headed toward another large collection of snowmen.

They had been walking for almost thirty minutes when the first snow ball hit Winslow.  Laughing he stopped, scooped up a handful of snow and quickly formed a snowball.  He took aim and sent it flying toward Vincent.  Soon the fight became war as the adult men were once again small boys.  They ran, ducking for cover behind trees, while the steady barrage of flying missiles continued non-stop. 

Just as two large balls struck Vincent, they heard laughter coming from the drive.  They all stopped, turned, and saw a mounted policeman sitting astride his huge horse.  “Oh, don’t stop on my account.  You look like you surely are having fun.  I can’t help but be jealous that I can’t join in your game.

“Don’t stay out too long.  This cold can be deceiving.  You gotta look out for frost bite.”  He waved and then set the horse into a trot, moving toward the opposite end of the park.

He had gone several hundred feet, but Vincent still was looking at him.  “What a beautiful animal.  I could hardly keep focused on what he was saying; I was so obsessed by his horse.”

“Every horse I’ve seen in the park patrol has been magnificent; and over the years, I’ve seen quite a few.”  Pascal’s hand settled on Vincent’s arm and his quite strength clearly spoke of his understanding as Vincent continued to stare.

Winslow found a clear spot of snow, dropped to the ground, and immediately began to make a snow angel.  His laughter echoed as he vaulted up and turned to look at his perfect angel.  “Betcha you can’t top that,” he challenged.

Never one to let a challenge go unmet, Pascal found a clean patch and threw himself into surpassing Winslow’s efforts.  Knowing that he didn’t want to be called upon to judge the winner of this contest, Vincent found his own clean area and dropped to create an angel of his own.

Leaving their art work, they walked on, enjoying the crisp air until they came to a large area of virgin snow and immediately began to roll snowmen.  They rolled huge balls, and the second ball took the combined efforts of Winslow and Vincent to lift it atop the first.  Pascal returned with sticks and small branches from the pine trees to create the proper facial expression.

They worked steadily until their snow family was complete; and stepping away, they all agreed their creation closely resembled a family of three very large polar bears.  They dug out sockets of snow for the eyes and filled them with crumbled pine boughs to give the proper effect of cold black eyes.  They broke the sticks into shorter length to create noses.  Carefully they used a stick to carve what appeared to be paws and used smaller sticks to create claws.

“Perfect.”

“Yea, it’s almost as good as the last one we built.”

“No, this one is better.”

They laughed and talked of the bears they had created over the years as they made their way slowly back to the culvert.  Once inside, they retrieved the two sections of roped two-by-fours, and began to smooth away their footprints.  The area beyond the entrance was cleared of any telltale evidence and then they worked on covering their trail inside the culvert that led to the secret door.  After a careful look to be certain they had missed nothing, they closed the door, scraped the snow from their boots, and started the walk home.

****************

The citizens once again gathered to hear of the adventures in the snow, as Father had dismissed school at three in order to allow the children to go Above to play in the park. 

The three friends knew they didn’t dare sit where they could see each other’s faces for they knew they would be unable to keep from smiling.  Old memories and activities were best kept secret.

The children told stories of the gigantic bears they had found in the park and how lifelike they were.  “One of them was even taller than Vincent!” exclaimed Kipper.

“There are claws on their feet,” Eric shouted.

The voices grew in volume before Father was finally able to regain order.  The stories continued until there was nothing more to be told.  Once again Mary asked Father and Vincent to read, hoping their voices would calm the children.

***************

Together Vincent and Father walked back to the library after the children were asleep.  Settling to enjoy a cup of tea, they talked and laughed over the children’s adventures.  “It’s marvelous seeing the world through their eyes, renewing the innocence in which they view the park.  Imagining them conceiving of a polar bear created in snow!  It would be a sight to see?”

Carefully Vincent tried to control the smile that tugging at his lips as he cautiously replied, “Yes, that could be enjoyable.”

“Perhaps then I should join you, Pascal and Winslow for such an adventure.” Father’s eyes were filled with mischief, yet never revealing how he knew of the secret adventures, leaving Vincent only to ponder in silence.

 

The End

 

Return to the Stories and Poems Index

WFOL Logo