Here are the countdown stories for the 2016 Winterfest:
The Monday Before Winterfest
Catherine hummed nothing recognizable as she worked. She considered the Disney Dwarfs’ recommendation of whistling while she worked, but next to singing, it was the thing she did worse. Still, humming was a pleasant accompaniment to her task.
She was stuffing Winterfest bags of goodies for the Tunnel kids. Smaller age children got a small crayon box, older age children got pens or art pencils. All of the bags got candy of various sorts, and a sunny orange.
Father had admonished her to refrain from gifting everyone this year. Surely he didn’t mean the children, and he could hardly call crayons extravagant. And rather than gift every adult, she had thought of a gift for the community that would be a welcome diversion for their world. She had rounded up some help to pull this one off, but it would be worth it. It was a stereo set that included record and cassette player that could run quite a while on the battery system she was assured would work flawlessly and could be recharged. Cullen agreed to set it up hidden behind some stored items in the great hall and Mouse helped set the speakers up (again, incognito, she hoped!) to spread the sound.
She couldn’t wait to watch Father hear some of the 30’s and 40’s songs and recall fond memories. And she thought the older children could play some more recent music so when (and if) they went Above to make their way, they wouldn’t have to explain why they were unfamiliar with so much of the present day culture.
Catherine was probably more excited by the coming Winterfest than the children. She could hardly wait to see everyone, share the feast that William prepares, and then dance with Vincent. That was the best part. She sat back a moment in her dining room chair and recalled past dances held in Vincent’s arms. Grinning ear to ear, she looked around her at the mess of bags, burlap, twine, and stacks of crayons, pencils and what not, and couldn’t be happier on a Monday evening.
She spent a moment wondering what Vincent was up to before getting back to her task. Only five more days!
The Tuesday Before Winterfest
Vincent sighed. He was wet, dirty, and sore. A pipe had burst near the kitchen storage chamber. What could have been a problem became calamitous with Winterfest less than a week away. The community couldn’t afford any ruined food this close to the biggest event they celebrated.
William came close to apoplexy. Most residents carefully trod the ground around William come Winterfest time. A true chef at heart, William’s expectations for himself were high, and any hiccups to disrupt his plan was taken as a personal insult to his capability of making a masterpiece out of a rag tag collection of food. But the community knew that life in the Tunnels was nothing but hiccups, just a matter of the seismic impact it created on tunnel life.
So Vincent put shoulder to the pipe, and heaved. After about six hours of work, the pipes were replaced or patched, and the mopping up began. Long after he should have been asleep, he headed back to his chamber.
Wearily, he sat on his bed. He did what he had to do. What he wanted to do was work on Catherine’s Winterfest gift. He could feel her excitement, and knew that many schemes from her were afoot. He smiled at the thought. Whatever it cost, he would get her gift finished. The smile on her face, no matter what the gift was, would be genuine, and just for him. And they would dance; often, if he had anything to say about it. Holding her in his arms as they swayed to music was the highlight of his year, and the anticipation had him barely able to sleep.
He stood up and stumbled into his bathroom alcove to prepare for bed. Catherine would be in his dreams tonight, instead of just on his mind, he was sure. Either way, he couldn’t lose when it concerned Catherine.
A brief thought was given to Father, as Vincent was sure the many preparations and peace-keeping sessions were wearing on him. His last thought as his head hit the pillow was if Father possibly thought Catherine would mind his entreaty not to spoil the community.
The Wednesday Before Winterfest
Vincent found Father at his desk, his head in his hands. Oh, dear, he thought, this does not bode well. He approached to see what was troubling the leader of the community.
“Father, are you well?”
Father looked up. “Vincent. Well, I’ve been better. I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a pickle.” He shifted uneasily in his chair. “The flooding did more damage than anticipated.”
Vincent sat down across from Father. “What happened? I thought we got the leak contained soon enough.”
Father shook his head. “William reported that most of the flour was destroyed, and a good portion of sugar and salt we had on hand was also lost.”
Vincent sat quietly, waiting for Father.
“William is beside himself. All the breads, cakes, pastries he had planned are out. Basic seasoning is out.” Father looked into Vincent’s eyes. “And so many of our helpers have already given so much, I can’t ask more of them.” He stood and walked across the rear area of the chamber, then back until he stood before Vincent.
“And I expressly forbade Catherine to donate anything or gift us with anything else this Winterfest.” He played with a fringe on Vincent’s shoulder. “Now, I’m trying to gather my courage and chuck out my pride to ask her if she could find it in her heart to forgive me, and replace the ruined supplies.”
“You know how it pleases Catherine to help us, Father. She will gladly do it.”
Father looked at Vincent hopefully. “I don’t suppose you’d do the asking?”
Vincent smiled. “Father, this is your Rubicon to cross. I’ll leave you to it. I’ve got to check in with Mouse to make sure no other surprises are in store for us at Winterfest.
The Thursday Before Winterfest
Cullen and Mouse were returning from their foray to Catherine’s basement. She had shown them some boxes in the storage area that needed to be lowered into the tunnel access and hidden in the Great Hall. She outlined what she had in mind, and both had agreed to her request, including silence.
The boxes weren’t huge, but Cullen had brought rope and created a sling for the bigger box and another for the two smaller boxes as a pair. This way, each would carry their bundle on their backs using the rope as a handle slung over the shoulder.
Cullen had in mind where to hide the stereo system in the Great Hall. Mouse had two tasks to accomplish – figure out how to extend the speaker wires so that they were spread out to best advantage, and purloin Father’s record collection. Nobody slipped in and out of places like Mouse. Neither task would press the young men too much to accomplish.
It was the record collection that Vincent found when he went to check on Mouse. Mouse sat at one of his workbenches, sorting through wires and gizmos on a hunt of some sort. The box of records sat on another table pushed to the middle to balance it.
“Mouse, why are Father’s records sitting on your table?” Vincent inquired.
“Can’t say. Secret.” Mouse got up and picked up the box, placing it under the table away from sight. “You never saw. Keep secret.”
Vincent stood mulling over Mouse’s command. He knew a box of records was a strange thing to hang onto, but Father obviously had some attachment to them or they wouldn’t be Below. So Vincent decided to pry a bit and make sure that nothing would harm the collection.
“Mouse, can you tell me if Catherine is involved in this secret?”
“No, can’t. It’s a secret.”
Vincent bowed his head to Mouse’s logic, having the answer he needed. He smiled as he walked out, anticipating Catherine’s presence and her presents that she obviously ignored Father’s edict in getting.
The Friday Before Winterfest
The tunnels hummed with anticipation. The attention spans of the children were shorter than William’s patience. Adults scurried to and fro like little mice, attending to last minute details.
Food stores miraculously restored themselves and William was humming in the kitchen, literally and figuratively. A case of wine also appeared, much to the pleasure of the cook. An excellent addition to the evening!
Mouse had made the necessary configurations for the speakers and hid the box of records beside the player. All was in readiness for the next day.
Catherine laid out her dress for Winterfest, making sure everything she needed was ready. She wanted to look her best. She wanted Vincent’s eyes to change to that deeper blue when his eyes drank in the sight of her. She held the dress up, and admitting to a bit of vanity, swirled around in front of her dressing table mirror. It would look lovely when dancing.
Vincent went to Mary to pick up a new vest and shirt. The vest was leather, hugging his chest and waist. The shirt was cream, with billowing sleeves gathered at the wrist. The collar was open at the neck, overlapping the vest. It reminded him just a bit of a pirate, from the books he read as a child. With his long boots, he knew Catherine would be pleased by his look. His arms itched to hold her in dance.
Father made his rounds, checking that all was as it should be before tomorrow’s walk down to the Great Hall. He felt sure that everyone would enjoy the evening. William was in rare form; the menu was truly something to behold. He knew he had Catherine to thank for that. She had been gracious, and chided him for thinking that she would do anything else but want to help. She did mention a price to be paid, and he paid it willingly. He kissed her cheek and smiled. As he made his way to her door to leave, she did mention that there might be an “extra treat or two in the delivery and he would not say a word about them if he knew what was good for him.” He had smiled, tipped his head to her, and told her he expected no less. And he had seen the “Goodie bags” loaded in boxes, waiting to be taken down later, no doubt. He smiled again. Her generosity was genuine, as was she, as he had lately come to learn.
Yes, all Below were anxiously awaiting Winterfest. And Helpers Above were no less expectant about the next day.
But to all of New York City, it was just another day.
The couple walked slowly hand in hand, although in truth, floated on happy memories would be more accurate. It would soon be dawn, and another Winterfest successfully came to a close. Vincent was escorting Catherine back to her threshold.
They danced most of the evening. Both cherished those feelings of being in one another’s arms, carefree for at least one evening. Already, Vincent was wishing that the coming year would pass quickly, so he might hold her in his arms again. Catherine relived each dance, the way he pulled her close, the way her head rested on his shoulder, no longer any pretense of distance between them. She also plotted how to get them dancing together again long before the next Winterfest. After all, the community now a music source that could be used anytime and not require musicians.
The couple lingered at the threshold far longer than necessary and not long enough to suit either of them. With a tender kiss, Vincent finally left Catherine, and each turned to go their separate ways to dream of the other as soon as their heads hit their pillows.
Father and Mary walked slowly back to the main hub. Father reflected that he thought it was perhaps the best Winterfest celebration so far; Mary couldn’t disagree. Seeing the tables full of food, including a variety of sliced sausages and wursts made into appetizers that he knew came from Catherine, made him grateful that he could admit to her his stubbornness was needless. He knew the community would eat well in the coming dreariest months when it was important to have something positive to keep spirits up. Yes, Catherine had more than replaced ruined foodstuffs, and he was happy, and grateful, that she did.
Mary hugged her memories of dancing with Father close to her heart. The moment that music from the “golden age” had poured out into the Hall, everyone looked astonished and happy, and poured onto the dance floor. Father even taught the dances to willing younger residents, albeit a very toned down jitterbug and jive. And when his special song began, the one he and Margaret counted as their own, he closed his eyes in sweet reverie. Catherine had done it again. Gotten the community something that, try as he might to fault, he didn’t have the heart to truly object.
Mouse thoroughly enjoyed the evening. His dancing was less refined, but dance he did with nearly every female in attendance. Mouse would not stand for wall flowers at Winterfest. He positively beamed when Catherine thanked him for his work on the surprise. Vincent had even winked at him! Even Cullen had danced with several of the community women, moved by the spirit of the music and the evening. Hauling down the bulky box was definitely worth a sore shoulder.
And Above them, New York City just turned another day, unknowing of the merriment that occurred beneath them as they slept the night away.
Messages from past years will be moved here.
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