by PearlAnn SnowStar
It could have ended tragically. Why didn’t he listen? Kipper told him not to climb up there. Why did he do it?
She turned and looked at Samantha.
“Can’t do your lessons, either?”
She shook her head. No, she couldn’t. Yesterday was horrid. First Eric fell. Then Father and Vincent got trapped. They nearly died. If it wasn’t for Catherine’s help and Mouse, what would have happened? She and Eric would have to go to another home. She was sure of that.
“Want to play a game?” Samantha was already by the entrance to the chamber.
“No, I am going to check on Eric.”
“Well, he can’t go far, not with that sprain. And unless we have errands to do up top, we were told to stay below and do our assignments or chores. But… we can also play.”
“I think I had enough of playing for a while.”
“OK, but I haven’t.” And just like that Samantha was gone.
Alone with her thoughts. That’s OK. Ever since she could remember, she had to look out for him. She shook her head, not wanting to think about her past. The past before they came here.
That is how she will divide her life from now on. Between what happened before the tunnels
and what happened after they got here, with Catherine’s help. She looked around. It still felt like a dream.
Ellie looked at the books on the table. She could pick one up or do the lesson that Michael gave them to do. No, she should go see what Eric was up to.
She walked down a passageway. Where is he? She had checked his dorm chamber, then the library. But he was not in either place. She started to walk down another passageway, toward where Pascal was. That was when she heard voices. Eric was talking to Pascal. And they were talking about the pipes and the codes. She paused. Should she keep on going towards them?
A memory crossed her mind and she did not want to dwell on that memory. She did not want to recall the time before the foster homes.
She started to walk toward the pipe chamber and felt someone behind her. Turning, she saw Mouse. He smiled at her and mumbled what sounded like, “Got to be going,” as he passed her by and turned down a passageway that was opposite the pipe chamber. He was nice, odd, but nice. Ellie smiled. Mouse had a perfect name. He was like a mouse, always scampering here and there.
She walked into the pipe chamber and an excited Eric called out in a loud voice, “Ellie!” He motioned to her. “Come check this out!” She noticed he was seated in a chair, with his legs dangling down. Pascal was standing next to him, with his sticks, listening to the pipes.
“Hi Pascal, Eric.” She went over to Eric.
“Pascal was teaching me some pipe codes,” Eric said proudly.
“And he is such a quick learner. “ Pascal looked happy. Eric was not bothering him. That was a good thing. Pascal went back to listening to the pipes.
“Eric, are you going to go back to the dorm or…”
Eric cut her off. “No. I’m going to stay here for a while. This is interesting.”
“Well, then, I am going to go find Samantha and see what she is doing. If you need me…”
“I will tap!” Eric was beaming.
She hoped that he would be occupied at least until lunchtime. Giving her brother a quick hug, she started down another passageway. And bumped into Jamie.
“Ellie? Where are you off to?”
“Hi Jamie, I…” Ellie really did not know what to say.
“Going to play with Samantha and the girls?”
Sure, why not. Even though that wasn’t my first choice. She nodded.
“She is with the girls playing down that passageway.” Jamie pointed to her left. “But that is really close to the sectioned off part, so be careful.”
“I will be, thanks.” She headed down the passageway. It didn’t take long for her to hear the giggling girls.
As she got closer, she heard one of them, she was not sure who it was, change her voice and become very serious. She said something that Ellie could not make out and it caused the girls to laugh.
What was so funny? Ellie was curious.
The passageway started to curve and just as Ellie was about to get to the place where they were, she heard a girl say in a somber tone, “Now Eric….I told you no, do not do that.
Ellie felt like someone had hit her. They were making fun of her! Of Eric!
Samantha spoke up. “She is so serious when it comes to her brother.”
Ellie felt terrible. With tears in her eyes, she turned around and went back the way she had come. She wouldn’t play with them, maybe not ever! They were talking about her behind her back. That was so cruel and mean. She wondered if they did this a lot. Talk about Eric and her when they were not around. And Samantha was her friend and did not even speak up for her?
No one understood. They couldn’t.
How dare they?
Well, let them play their silly games. Perhaps it was best that she did not have anything to do with them. After all, they might even get them all in trouble. And she and Eric had caused enough trouble as it was. She would find something else to do.
She was getting angry. I am not that serious. Or was she?
Something chittered and she noticed the raccoon. Mouse’s Arthur was scurrying along the passageway. He looked up and quickly turned from her and went to wherever he had come from.
She felt all alone. And now horrid memories of the past came into her mind. Thoughts that twisted her insides. Things that made her afraid.
Eric. He was another one that did not understand. He kept acting so….what was that word?
Irresponsible. Acting like a baby most of the time, those times when she had to be the grown-up. And he hated her when she started to scold him. He sometimes fought with her and refused
to obey her. And of course, that was when things went from bad to worse. He never learned to keep quiet.
The memory came back. A memory from before the foster homes.
Just try to forget those horrible memories. Must try to forget. This is an OK place. We have food and we are together and no one is hitting us. Or locking us in a closet. Or worse.
But that could all change. Father could easily decide they were too much trouble and not let them stay here anymore.
Then again, Eric told her that Vincent said that they can stay here for as long as they’d like to.
But would that change? Adults do change their minds. A lot.
What would have happened if Vincent and Father had died? Maybe Catherine, the others would never have forgiven them and would have sent them away. Or would they?
She tried to fit in with this place. It was so much nicer than anywhere else that she and Eric had been.
The persistent memory that would not go away. She started to remember a time when she was about five. She was on a small bed and her face was hurting, because her dad had hit her hard across the face. Just for saying something and crying. She knew it was going to leave a red mark. Eric was crying loudly. He was in another room. Her mom was sitting next to her, with a nasty bruise on her cheek and a split lip. Mom was hugging her very tightly. She did not like that. Mom kept squeezing and squeezing her. She was squirming, trying to get away from her.
Finally, Mom let her go. Mom could barely talk, but what she said put an unfair burden on her. “Honey, you got to keep an eye on Eric. And you must not say a word to anyone at school. You know how angry your father gets when people interfere in our business.”
“Mom, the teacher asked me about a bruise on my arm. And she asked why Eric looked like he was going to cry. What was I supposed to say to her? Why was it wrong to tell her that it was just an accident, that Dad did not mean it?”
Her mom started to cry. “Just say it was an accident, but never mention anything about your father, OK?” Mom looked at her. “Please, try to keep quiet. It will get better if we keep quiet.”
After that, she did keep quiet for a long time. Suffering in silence, like her mom, like Eric.
Then, one day, when Dad was not around, Eric quietly told her that he had talked to his 1st grade teacher about what was going on at home. She remembered getting mad and asking Eric why he did such a thing. What was his reply? “She was concerned.”
A few days later, at school, she and Eric were taken out of their classrooms by the history teacher. They were told they were going to the principal’s office. Ellie had a bad feeling. She knew that Eric had said or done something that was going to get them both in trouble.
It was much worse than she thought. When they got to the principal’s office, she noticed a woman that sat in the chair by the office. Next to her was a policeman. The principal said the woman was a social worker.
She forgot the woman’s name, but remembered that she explained to Eric and her that Eric’s teacher was very concerned about what Eric had told her. The teacher voiced her concerns to the principal and he contacted social services. Social services had started an investigation.
The social worker then explained that when they came to their home that day to talk with their parents, something had happened that caused them to take drastic action and pull them out of school. It was decided by the department that checks into bad situations at home that the best thing to do was to have them placed in temporary housing until a judge decided where it would be in their best interest to live.
Ellie remembered being in shock. Eric looked like he was going to cry. Then the principal told them they had to obey the social worker. That things would get better afterwards. But it did not.
Ellie recalled how the social worker and policeman took Eric and her from there to the foster homes. Telling them as they were driving to the homes that they were going to places much safer than it was at their home.
Eric asked where Mom was, but there was no answer to that question. Ellie felt that Dad did something to Mom. Something so bad no one wanted to tell them what it was. That scared her.
Eric started crying. The social worker reassured him that this was temporary, so Eric finally settled down. But not for long. He started to ask questions. Over and over he kept asking why.
Ellie remembered that she just wished he would shut up and be quiet.
The first house they stopped at was a bit run down. The social worker got out and told Eric to come with her, which he did. As she took his hand, Ellie was about to follow, when the policeman, who had also gotten out, told her to stay where she was.
The social worker was telling Eric this was his temporary home. But he turned and noticed that Ellie was not following. He asked why Ellie was not coming and tried to get the woman to stop. Ellie wanted to run up to him, but the policeman was standing by the back door of the car, blocking her from getting out.
That was when Eric started to scream Ellie’s name. The social worker continued to pull him with her to the front door of the house. Ellie saw how strong she was. Eric was trying to get away, but he could not. When the front door had opened, Eric was dragged into the house.
Ellie was terrified. She wanted to help Eric, but she couldn’t. She remembered wondering what was going to happen to her.
When the social worker walked out of the house, she did not have a pleasant look on her face. She looked mean. Ellie watched her get back into the car.
“Why can’t I go with my brother?” Ellie asked her. But, the answer she got was that this was what she was told to do, and that Ellie would see her brother again, in court.
On the way to her own foster home, Ellie kept quiet. She tried to memorize her surroundings and the street names. They were going further and further away from Eric’s house.
When they stopped at another home, this one looked a little better. It was, however, three stories high. The social worker got out of the car and told Ellie to come with her.
Silently, she followed the lady into the house and noticed that there were only girls living there. And they looked scared. The lady was talking to some woman who looked like a witch. And she was one. Once the lady left the house, the witch woman meanly told her the rules. “You don’t obey, you get punished.”
That was a horrible place. Some of the girls were mean, teasing her and telling her how ugly she was. That she was so poor and that no one wanted her. It was a good thing she only stayed there for a few weeks. Then she was moved to another home, then another. All the time wondering, where was Eric?
The day came when she had to go to court. Eric was there, too. She and Eric sat behind a guardrail. In front of them was Mom sitting and looking straight ahead. From what she could see Mom was all bruised up and her right arm was in a cast. Eric had reached out to Ellie and tightly held her hand. Next to Mom was a sharply dressed man. What struck her was that the man acted and spoke so coldly.
Eric was frightened. He looked at Ellie then reached out to touch Mom, calling out to her. But Mom did not pay any attention to him. Ellie told Eric to be quiet, but he asked her why. That was when the man, who was next to Mom, turned and told Eric to keep it down. That the hearing was about to start.
Eric got so scared he did keep quiet.
It all went so fast. The man made a request not to separate the children again and the judge agreed. The judge decided that Mom did not have a safe place to raise Eric and her. Ellie never wanted to see Dad ever, so she was happy about that. But leaving Mom? Once again Eric caused a scene, carrying on like a baby. The judge kept insisting that he be quiet.
It was then that Mom turned and looked at them. “Eric, shush now. It will be OK. Ellie, quiet your brother down, please.”
Ellie hugged him and Eric stopped.
“Be brave, both of you, it will be all right. Ellie, take care of your brother. You are in charge now.”
That was the last time both of them saw Mom.
Some elderly woman came into the courtroom and took Eric and her out of the courtroom into a hallway. “The social worker will take you to your new home.” She was so matter-of-fact and there was no expression on her face. When the social worker came, they were taken to another foster home. At least they were not separated.
They did not stay long at the place, but went to another home, then another one. Then they went to Ridley.
She found herself back in her dorm and absent-mindedly picked up a book. Any book. She walked out. Deciding she would go to one of the guest chambers that were empty, so she could read in peace.
She would try to keep those sad memories away from her mind by reading. Yet her fears about what could have happened scared her. Her stomach felt as if she had knots in it. Or was that cramps?
Ellie, get a hold of yourself. You are a big girl now. You got to take care of your brother and yourself. Remember after that day in court, when both of you were in that foster home, Eric begged you to never leave him. And you promised you wouldn’t.
Ellie was furious at Eric. At lunch he took the other children’s side and laughed with them at her “seriousness.” Mary tried to get them to change the subject by talking about what was going to happen for the rest of the day. How there was going to be a reading session in the library for the children. The book was going to be Anne of Green Gables.
Too bad there was no TV down here. The books they had were so old, sometimes it felt as if this place was another world. Yes, it was separate from above, but she felt like she was Alice in Wonderland.
She had a choice: go with the older children, who really did not want her tagging along, or go with the younger children to the library and listen to the story. She never heard of this Anne of Green Gables.
“Hey, Ellie.” She heard Samantha’s voice behind her. “You’re not mad, are you, about what happened at lunch?”
“No,” Ellie lied. But that was not the whole of her lie. Samantha did not know that Ellie overheard her talking with the other girls and making fun of her. Lunch and earlier. Like she was the joke of the day.
“Look, sometimes you take things way too seriously,” Samantha said.
“And sometimes you take things too un-seriously.” Ellie snapped back. Wait, was that even a word?
“This is going to be fun. I heard that Vincent may be finished working on a project with Winslow and the others in time to join us for some of the reading session.” Samantha grabbed her hand. “Wouldn’t that be great?” Looking at her, Ellie just nodded her head yes.
Vincent, despite his lion looks, was nice. And gentle. No wonder Catherine loved and trusted him. But why did Catherine stay up top for so long? Even if she had to work, couldn’t she try to come down a lot more and spend time down here? Vincent’s face always lit up when he saw her. Usually. Sometimes there were times after visiting Catherine that he was sad.
If she had a special boyfriend, like Vincent, she would try to be near him always. Then it occurred to her. He would probably have to put up with Eric. She had to always watch her brother.
Most of the children were sitting on the floor, gathered around where Michael was standing. Ellie let Samantha lead her to the front of the group, sitting down on the floor. She looked around and saw that Eric was sitting on a chair and had one leg, the one with the sprained ankle, propped up on a small stool. Mary, who sat in a nice chair next to him, gave him a gentle hug.
Eric looked around the room and noticed her. Eric and Ellie both smiled at each other. Eric turned his attention from her towards Michael, who was in front of the group. Ellie did the same.
As he started to read from the book, her mind drifted away. Anne was in so many ways like her, yet not like her. She wondered. Am I pretty like Anne, with her red hair and freckles? How would I look with red hair?
Ellie looked around. Everything was the same as the day she came. No one was yelling at her for not keeping an eye on Eric. No one was sending her to a closet for a time out. No one was hitting her. It was as if what happened yesterday was just an accident. Well, it was, wasn’t it? But Eric did not listen. Yet no one was yelling at him or threatening him.
This is all a dream and I will wake up and be back at the house, where Deb did not keep quiet as Catherine came by to free her. Deb could have come with Catherine and her. But Deb did not keep quiet. Deb called out for Noj and things got scary. She and Catherine ran out of the building. She could remember the screaming and the roar. That roar.
Yes, Vincent could get angry. Really angry. But that was only when someone was threatening the ones he cares about.
Sometime later, Vincent came in and walked up to Michael. Michael showed Vincent what chapter he was on and gave the book to him. Vincent began to read the next chapter.
Ellie thought that Catherine was lucky. She was kind, beautiful, and Vincent loved her. Would she also be lucky like her and find someone who would love her just as much? Someone who would not beat her when he got angry? Someone who would think she was beautiful?
Vincent’s voice made her pay attention. She started to really listen to the story. Anne was an orphan. And not wanted, they wanted a boy and by mistake Anne was sent to the siblings and their farm. It seemed to resonate inside of her. All too soon, though, after reading a few of the chapters. Vincent mentioned that it would be continued tomorrow.
There were a lot of protests, but supper was coming up. Ellie got up. She looked at Vincent. He looked back and quickly Ellie went over to Eric. Vincent walked over to them.
“What is it, Ellie?” Vincent studied her.
“She is scared that we may have to leave, “ Eric said.
Ellie shot him a look. Who told him? How did he know? Why doesn’t he think before he speaks?
“Ellie, is this true?” Vincent asked.
She looked at him. “We, well, Eric, was responsible for you and Father, getting trapped in the cave-in and I thought that we would not be allowed to stay here.”
“But you told us that we could be here for as long as we like.” Eric looked at Ellie.
“I did not know if everyone would be upset because we caused such trouble,” Ellie quietly said.
“It was an accident. Everyone knows that. “ Vincent looked at her. “There is no need for blame.”
“Father and you could have died.” Ellie returned his look. All she saw was gentleness and understanding.
“We didn’t.” Vincent gently touched her shoulder. “We would never blame you or Eric. I am sure that you now understand the importance of staying away from the maze or any other section of the tunnels that is dangerous.”
“We will, “ Eric said.
Ellie nodded yes. She wanted to change the subject. “I liked the story that was read.”
“Then I expect you to be on time for the reading lesson tomorrow.” Vincent had a gentle smile.
“Of course!” Eric spoke up. “Anne is amazing!”
“We will be on time,” Ellie said.
In the dining hall, Eric was chatting with Kipper. Ellie was her usual quiet self, despite Samantha rattling on about the games they played, the book they read, and that one of her chores was to wash and dry the dishes for William, along with her. She was still amazed at the whole community. Yes, there were mean kids and people did yell and fight, but people eventually forgave one another and continued to help and love one another. And the adults. None of them, so far as she could see, ever hit any of the children, whether they were their own or not. Everyone seemed to really care for each other. Look out for each other.
This is still a dream and could end someday. But for now, the day did not go as she expected. She and Eric were still here and that was a good thing.
“Hey, thinker. “ Samantha gave her a nudge. “Time to help with the dishes.”
“Why did you call me that?” Ellie asked her.
“Well, you don’t appear to be dreaming and you really are so serious.”
Ellie let it go.
“It’s my turn to help, too.” Eric joined them. “And my ankle doesn’t hurt so much. I can stand a little more on it. Look.”
“Eric, don’t do that.” Ellie looked at him. “Why don’t you sit at a table and Samantha and I will wash the dishes and rinse them? Then we will bring them over to you to dry. OK?”
Moments later, Eric was standing next to them. Ellie sighed. He was going to be her biggest problem for the rest of her life, it seemed. She gave him a look and he went and sat back down at the table. She started to recall the book that was read today. The way Anne felt when she first came to the farm. But unlike Anne, she felt loved and cared for immediately when she got here. Maybe she was home, finally. With Eric. Home in a warm loving place.
Ellie smiled and Samantha noticed.
“So, you can smile after all!” Samantha giggled.
Ellie felt a little embarrassed. “Come on, I want to finish this up.”
“Ellie, I just got to teach you to have more fun,” Samantha said.
“Agreed,” said Eric.
Getting ready for bed, Ellie looked around her. Home. She and Eric were going to be loved and cared for. And maybe, just maybe, Eric would grow up. Ellie blew out the candle next to her. As she started to fall asleep, she felt so wonderful. Even if she did get teased now and then. She was no longer mad. She felt hopeful. And that made her smile.
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PearlAnn – Where to start. You made me cry. 🙂 I love Ellie. She was such a tragic figure, but it is important to remember she was a girl too, with a voice and feelings and story of her own. Thank you for bringing her to life. While our show was a fairytale in many ways, the reasons that many of the Tunnel community would have for being below were all too real. You thread the needle very well, I believe.
Thank you for writing this.
P.S.: I think your tie-in to Anne Shirley was wonderful. <3
Thank you Karen
What a good story, PearlAnn! You captured Ellie’s spirit so well, the hardships she endured, the tentative happiness she was almost afraid to enjoy.
I laughed at this delightful part: If she had a special boyfriend, like Vincent, she would try to be near him always. Then it occurred to her. He would probably have to put up with Eric.
And teared up at this: This is still a dream and could end someday. But for now, the day did not go as she expected. She and Eric were still here and that was a good thing.
Thank you so much for writing. Young Ellie’s Tunnel story arc was sad, but her life before Ashes, Ashes needed to be explored. I was right there with her in your story.
Thank you Carole
PearlAnn, I love the way you portrayed Ellie, a character with so much potential, one we never really got to know. Because of your story, I feel like Ellie has become so much more real and that we finally know who she is.
You’ve given us a wonderful look at the child she was — a survivor whose sense of self was shaped by the horrific conditions she and Eric had to endure — and the young woman she might have become someday — still able to hope, still able to find her happy life.
This story has it all — humor, pathos, reality, and possibilities, so very poignant and touching. Thank you for that and for being part of the A Day in the Life project again this year!
Thank you LInda