by Kathy De
Jacob Wells woke slowly. His first waking thought was of his long lost wife. He sighed as he opened his eyes and blinked as his vision adjusted to the dim candlelight.
He rolled onto his side and frowned as he looked around the room. He once owned a huge house with his beautiful bride and it was filled with the nicest things. Now he glanced around the rock chamber that he called home: he had a double bed that he slept in and a small table he used as a desk. Across the room was a wardrobe that contained a few pairs of pants and shirts for himself, as well as a few clothing items for his son.
He thought of his son with fondness, then sat up in bed as he glanced towards his son’s bed. He rolled his eyes when he saw it was empty. “Where has that boy gone off to now?” he grumbled as he got out of the bed and quickly dressed in the cool air.
Noticing that his hip was sore today, he grabbed for his cane and headed out into the tunnelway to find his son. He headed to the chamber they used for a dining area, and he felt relief wash over him when he saw his son sitting with the other children who lived Below.
“Devin,” he greeted as he walked to stand behind him.
Devin whirled around. “Morning, Fadder!” he said excitedly.
Jacob ruffled his son’s hair and smiled. “Good morning to you. Did you perhaps remember the rule we have about leaving our chamber?”
Devin’s face screwed up in concentration. “I’m ‘posed to tell you.”
“Yes, that’s correct, and did you?”
“Um…no….I forgot!” Devin said sadly. “I sowry, I came over and whispered, but you still slepted.”
Jacob sighed. “Yes, well, perhaps it is partly my fault. I worked late last night. I guess I was tired and didn’t hear you.”
Devin shrugged. “I twied to waked you, but you snored like this…” His snore drew chuckles from the other children, so Devin became more animated with his imitation.
Jacob grimaced at him. “That’s enough, son,” he said before he walked away and sat with the others in the community.
“Would you like me to get you something to eat, Jacob?” a petite sandy-blonde woman asked.
“Don’t be silly, Marlene, you’re hands are full with young Pascal. How is your baby doing today?”
Marlene smiled. “Much better, thanks to you. Pascal was able to go Above and buy the diaper cream you recommended. Baby Pascal slept through the whole night last night.”
Jacob grinned as he bent over and lovingly ran a finger down the side of the baby’s face. “I guess your little bottom was making you so cross, huh?”
Baby Pascal gave a big toothless grin as he stared up at Jacob.
Jacob walked over and started to spoon food out onto a plate. “Carl, this meal looks delicious.”
Carl grinned at him. “You say that about every meal I make.”
Jacob shrugged. “When you’ve been hungry, any meal is welcomed.”
Carl nodded. “That’s the truth!”
A man walked up and Jacob grinned. “Good morning, John.”
“What is so good about it?” he drawled.
Jacob chuckled. “Did the baby keep you up all night?”
“That creature has done nothing but cry since Anna bought him Below.”
Jacob frowned as he shook his head. “He’s a baby, John, that’s what they do.”
“For two days?! Jacob, there is something drastically wrong him.”
“Has Anna given him the new formula?”
“Anna has followed all of your instructions! Nothing is working. She hasn’t set him down once, yet all he does is cry. He exhausts himself then sleeps in her arms for an hour or two, then the second he stirs he’s back to screaming.”
Jacob frowned. “I’ll stop by after breakfast and give him another exam. Perhaps…”
“Perhaps this is why he was dumped with the garbage. I should take him back there and let nature run its course.”
Jacob swallowed down the lump that had formed in his throat at his friend’s cold tone. “You don’t mean that, John, you’re just tired. Why don’t I go and check on the little one right now.”
Carl had overheard everything. “I’ll keep your meal warm for you, Jacob.”
Jacob smiled weakly at him as he quickly left and headed to the chamber that John and his wife stayed in.
“Anna?” he called from the doorway.
“Come in,” a weak voice called out.
Jacob walked in and looked with sympathy at a bedraggled woman holding a sleeping baby. Her hair was in strings around her face and she had deep dark circles under her eyes. Her clothes were stained with vomit, and he sighed as he looked at her. “Anna, you’re exhausted.”
“I …” Tears pooled in her eyes as she nodded. “… haven’t gotten much sleep. The baby isn’t very happy.”
Jacob placed his hand on the boy’s forehead and frowned. “He’s still feverish?”
“Did you give him the medicine I sent?”
She nodded. “Yesterday afternoon I gave him some and he vomited about twenty minutes later. Then last night around midnight…the same thing: I gave him a dose and he vomited again.”
Jacob frowned as he thought. “His body is rejecting the medicine,” he muttered to himself as he slowly walked in a circle and his mind raced through the years of medical studies and training he had received. “Anna, I think we may have to get him to a hospital.”
“No!” she refused adamantly. “They won’t be able to help! All they’ll do is conduct test after test and poke and prod him until he’s dead! They’ll treat him like a creature, and he’s just a little boy!”
Jacob knew she was right, as that’s exactly what he would have done if he was still Above and living his life as a scientist. “I have a friend who’s a doctor. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time but if I can get him to take a look at your son, will you allow it?”
“I thought you were a doctor,” a voice drawled from the doorway.
“I am a doctor but quite honestly, John, your son’s illness is highly unusual. I think if we have any hopes of saving him, we should get a second opinion!”
“Please, John, let him try. He wouldn’t ask his friend if he didn’t think he could be trusted. I don’t want to lose him!” Anna begged her husband.
John looked at her with disgust. “Do what you need to do but save the boy!” he said as he whirled around and walked away.
Jacob frowned at his friend’s behavior but Anna just shrugged. “He’s just tired,” she mumbled as an excuse for her husband.
He placed his hand on her shoulder. “Yes, you both are. I’ll leave right now and bring my colleague down. I shouldn’t be gone more than an hour.”
Anna looked relieved. “Good, because that’s about how long this little guy will sleep.”
Jacob left immediately and went Above. He walked to a phone booth and luckily found coins in the slot. He called his friend and explained what he needed and was relieved when he said he would come. It was mid-January but luckily it was a fairly mild day so he sat on a nearby park bench to wait.
Within fifteen minutes, a man walked up. “Jacob?”
“Peter!” Jacob said as he shot to his feet and hugged his friend.
“Can you sit?” Jacob asked as he took a seat on the bench.
“Of course.” Peter nodded as he patted his friend’s back. “Tell me, Jacob…all of it!”
Jacob sighed then told his friend the entire story.
“Wow…” was the only reply Peter could say as he shook his head in disbelief. “Okay…look…you already know I would never tell anyone about any of this, so tell me about this patient of yours.”
Jacob nodded and he told him the story about the unusual child in his care.
“Well, I want to see him. Can you bring him to me, or can I come with you?”
“Will you come with me?!”
Peter was in shock as they made their way Below, but he held back on his questions and followed Jacob deep into the tunnels he was told about. They both heard the screams of a child as they walked closer to Anna’s chamber.
“Those are the cries of a very unhappy child!” Peter observed as he followed Jacob into a candlelit room.
Jacob walked over and looked at Anna as she cried. “Can we take the baby?”
Anna nodded as she handed him over. “Yes, of course. He just woke about ten minutes ago and vomited up the new formula.”
Anna raced to light more candles and place them close to the only table in the room. Jacob walked over and nodded to his friend as he placed the baby on the table and started to undress him. Peter walked over and gasped in surprise at the boy’s unusual features then quickly took over from Jacob.
“Well, hi there, little guy…how are you today? Are you an unhappy baby? Now, I know you can’t talk and tell me what hurts, but I’m going to try to figure it out so we can make you a happy baby,” Peter cajoled as his hands flew over the baby and he examined him from head to toe. “Now, I forgot to tell you, my name is Peter, and did your Mommy give you a name yet?” He glanced up at Anna with a smile.
“Vincent! I decided to name him Vincent because I found him in the trash behind St. Vincent’s Hospital.”
Peter nodded as he looked back down at the baby. “Well, there, little Vincent, do you know you have a regal name?”
Jacob nodded as he, too, addressed the child. “Yes, Vincent the Conqueror.”
Peter chuckled. “Conqueror is what you’re going to need to help us help you get through this,” he said as he lovingly patted the baby’s stomach. After a few more minutes, Peter looked at Anna. “Can you dress him again, please?”
Anna came over as Peter turned to Jacob and the two of them discussed everything that Jacob had done to treat Vincent.
Peter blew out a long breath as he shrugged. “Short of taking him to the hospital, I’m not sure I would’ve done anything differently.”
Anna cried out, “But he’s not getting any better!”
Peter saw her desperation and looked to Jacob for help. “I….”
“Are you the doctor who was brought down to save the child?”
Everyone turned to see John enter the room. Jacob rushed the introductions. “John, my colleague Peter; Peter, my friend John.”
Peter blinked at the man’s superior attitude but remain passive. “Jacob asked me to consult so… yes.”
“So what did you find?”
Peter turned to Jacob who frowned. “Nothing yet, but…”
“So that creature will continue with his endless crying until he just…what? Dies?!”
Anna gasped as she held the baby close against her protectively. “No!”
“My wife has duties to perform and that child has already cost her two nights of sleep! Fix it, please, so I don’t have to take matters into my own hands!”
John spun and left the room as Jacob and Peter turned to face Anna.
She had gone pale and looked down at Vincent as tears poured from her eyes. “Jacob, I’m not sure it’s a good idea that I keep Vincent. Will you take over his care?”
Jacob gasped. “Anna…once we get Vincent over all of this he’ll…”
“Still be an unusual child!” Anna interrupted. “I love him too much to have him subject to John’s attitude. I…don’t think I can provide him with a safe loving environment as long as John … Look, Pascal Jr is still so young and the other kids are already older. I know it’s a lot to take on, but you adopted Devin and he’s such a beautiful boy, and you are raising him with such love. He’s already three, so if there is any way that you can see into your heart and take on Vincent…I’ll help in any way I can but…please?!” she said as she broke down and cried harder.
Jacob’s heart broke to see the young woman so broken. He didn’t have it in his heart to deny her. “I’ll take Vincent to my chamber and in a few days we’ll talk about all of this again.”
“I won’t change my mind. The child won’t be safe with me.” Anna handed Vincent to Jacob, and Peter nodded as he followed Jacob to another chamber.
Jacob saw Peter’s reaction to the sparse furnishings and shrugged. “Welcome to my home.”
Vincent started crying again and Father started to walk around the chamber as Peter frowned. “Jacob, why?”
A young dark-haired boy suddenly ran into the room. “Fadder?”
Jacob smiled at the young boy. “Devin, I’d like you to meet a good friend of mine. His name is Doctor Peter.”
“Hi, Doctor Peter!” Devin smiled as he held out his hand in a very adult-like manner.
“Peter, meet my, umm…” Jacob faltered then smiled weakly, “…Devin.”
Peter glanced quizzically at his friend but shrugged as he turned to shake Devin’s hand. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Devin!”
“Your fwiends with Father?”
“I am, we went to doctor school together.”
“Oh.” Devin looked unimpressed, then looked back at his father. “Can I pway with Winslow in his chamber?”
“MAY you play…”
“May I pway…” Devin scrunched up his face then started again. “MAY I plllllaaaayyy at Winslow’s?”
“Yes, you may.”
Devin started to run out, then stopped and headed back towards his father. “Is that a baby?”
“Yes.” Jacob chuckled that Devin had finally paid attention to the baby’s crying.
“Can I see it?”
Jacob frowned uncertainly as he glanced at Peter, who shrugged. He sat down on the bed and pulled the blanket back so Devin could see. “His name is Vincent.”
“Hi, Vincent!” Devin said as the child suddenly stopped crying and looked at the new voice. “Don’t cwy…cwying is for babies.”
“Vincent is a baby.” Peter smiled.
“Oh, yeah …” Devin started to run from the room again, then came back. “Does Vincent want to pway with me at Winslow’s?”
Jacob’s heart melted. “Well, Devin, that is a very fine gesture, but Vincent is just a baby and is too small to play right now.”
Once again Devin ran from the room and Peter turned to Jacob. “The innocence of the youth, he didn’t even flinch at Vincent’s unusual face.”
Jacob smiled, then frowned when Vincent started to choke. He and Peter quickly turned their attention on Vincent and for three hours discussed different options.
It was early afternoon when a young woman called into the room. “Father?”
Jacob and Peter both turned to see a young woman walk into the room.
“Excuse me?” Jacob asked.
The woman smiled as she walked over to the table and laid down the bundle she carried. “A young dark-haired boy ran past and told me your name was Father.”
Jacob laughed aloud. “To him, it is.”
“Well, it suits you. My name is Mary, and Sara asked me to bring your clean clothes and sheets to you.” She glanced at the bundle in his arms. “Is your baby teething?”
Jacob stepped away from her. “No, he’s only a few days old.”
“Oh, he’s the one that Sara said she didn’t think was going to make it?”
“I…don’t know. He’s weak…”
Mary pulled back the blanket and stared at the face of an unhappy baby as she heard his pathetic cries. “He’s starving!”
“He’s vomited every formula we’ve given him, plus regular milk and…”
“Goat’s milk,” she suddenly interrupted. “Give him goat’s milk.”
Peter stepped forward. “Mary, hi, my name’s Peter. Why goat’s milk?”
Mary shrugged. “My Grandmother raised fifteen babies and said her milk wasn’t always enough. She said goat’s milk soothed their stomachs and helped them sleep.”
Peter shrugged. “It’s worth a try. Can you get someone to lead me back up, then wait while I buy some to bring back down?” he asked Jacob.
“Yes! Mary, would you hold Vincent for just a few minutes while I…”
Mary grabbed the baby happily. “Of course I will,” she said as she started to soothe and rock Vincent in her arms.
Jacob walked out and saw Sam, another resident, and begged him to help Peter. He was only gone a short while when he came back to find Mary talking to a quiet Vincent.
“Thank you, Mary.”
“Anytime, Father.” She smiled as she handed the baby over.
She started to walk from the room and Father cleared his throat. “Um, Mary…”
“If you need any help with…” He nodded towards her bruises. “…anything, I was a doctor before I came Below.”
Mary lowered her face with shame. “No. I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“You didn’t.” She smiled weakly as she left.
About an hour later, Peter came back down and they quickly warmed a bottle.
Jacob held Vincent as he gulped down the four ounces. Jacob burped him and was relieved that he burped normally. He pulled back and cradled Vincent to his chest and smiled when the baby just looked at him.
“So, now we wait.”
An hour later, Vincent still hadn’t vomited and was starting to fuss again. “Do you think his stomach hurts or do you think he’s hungry?”
Mary came in and set down a tray laden with food for the two men. “Hungry.” She smiled as she left the room.
Peter grinned and heated another bottle, then watched in fascination as Vincent gulped that one down too. Jacob set Vincent down on his bed, then he and Peter ate lunch and talked about their lives.
An hour and a half later, Vincent woke and Jacob went to get him. Peter followed and wrinkled his nose. “Someone needs a diaper change!”
Jacob grimaced. “Can you go out into the tunnel way, then walk about fifty paces, then turn left in…” He stopped and rolled his eyes. “Can you clean up Vincent while I get some diapers and a change of clothes for him?”
Peter laughed. “Yep, that sounds like an easier task!”
Jacob left and Peter stripped Vincent down, then quickly cleaned his bottom. He was amazed at the thin coating of hair that covered his entire body, and he leaned forward as he looked at the unusual fingers and toes. “Wow, you are an amazing little boy, aren’t you?”
Vincent puckered his lips and started to cry as Jacob came back into the room. Peter quickly laid a cloth across him as Vincent started to pee and his urine shot into the air. “Ugh, boys!” he grumbled as he cleaned him again, then quickly dressed him while Jacob warmed another bottle.
“May I?” Peter asked as he reached for the bottle, then sat down and watched while Vincent ate. “Jacob, I think the goat’s milk is the ticket. Even with his unusual mouth, he seems to be able to eat with no problems. He’s obviously able to urinate,” he chuckled, “and his bowel movement was normal. His lower abdomen feels normal to the touch; his screaming has stopped … Why don’t I have Sam take me back Above and I’ll send some more milk down? If he’s not better tomorrow, I’m not sure that we can keep him here. We’ll have to look into hospitalizing him and getting bloodwork done.”
Jacob shook his head. “No, this is going to work! Peter, I can’t thank you enough!”
Peter waited for Vincent’s burp, then handed him back to Jacob. “It’s no problem, Jacob. If you ever need anything, please call…um…reach out to me.”
Jacob walked with Peter and found Sam, then went back to his chamber with Vincent. Jacob sat back down and talked to Vincent, who was awake and staring up at him.
Devin ran into the room. “Hi, Fadder!”
Jacob realized he hadn’t spent any time with his son today and grinned at Devin. “Devin, you’ve been gone all day! Did you at fun at Winslow’s?”
“Good. Were you a good boy?”
“Yep! Winslow had to go to bed, so I had to come home.”
“Yes, well, it is about that time, isn’t it. I’m so sorry I was busy. Did you eat dinner?”
“Yep. Sarwa said you had a pasent and made Winslow and me take a baf together. She gaveded me these new clothes.”
“So you’re ready to go to bed.”
“But I’m not tired,” Devin complained as his lip stuck out.
“I know. Maybe if you lie down, I can read a story to you and Vincent.”
Devin looked at the baby and shrugged. “He’s not going to cwy, is he?”
“I don’t think so. Doctor Peter found some milk that Vincent can drink, so I think he’s going to be happy from now on.”
Devin glanced at the bottle then frowned. “He eats like baby Pascal?”
“He does; he drinks it out of a bottle.”
Devin frowned. “But his mouf is different.”
“Yes, it is.”
Devin climbed into his bed and Jacob set Vincent down next to him. “Do you think you can watch Vincent while I clean out that basket over there so he can sleep in it?”
Devin talked to Vincent about his little red car and then showed him his brown plastic toy dog as Father quickly emptied out a huge basket that was filled with their clothes and bed linens. He took a clean blanket out of a chest and set it inside the basket, then walked over to Devin’s bed.
“Father, Vincent can stay here while you read to us, right?”
Jacob blinked as he nodded. “Why…yes, he can.”
He began to read and it wasn’t long before Devin was fast asleep. He peeked over at Vincent, who yawned, then slowly closed his eyes before he too fell asleep.
Jacob got up and prepared a few bottles of milk for overnight, then settled Vincent into his basket. He carried the basket over by his bedside, then shrugged as he placed it against the wall on his bed.
He settled down to read, then fed Vincent a few hours later when he woke. After he ate, he changed his diaper, then settled him back into his basket.
He changed quickly into his nightclothes, walked around the room and blew out some candles, then climbed into bed and glanced at the two children in his chamber.
“My sons …” he said in wonderment.
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