He halted his steps abruptly and stilled all movement in order to listen, his brow furrowed and ears twitching this way and that. At their father’s sudden stillness the four turtle children, who had been trotting happily stopped as well, a strict upbringing making it unnecessary for Splinter to tell them to quiet down. Their smiles faded and eyes grew wide as they tried to decipher what had caused their father’s sudden alarm.
A slow creaking and the sound of rushing water made Splinter’s heart jump in his chest as a fear for his children seized him. He sensed more than consciously knew that they were now in danger.
“Run! Hurry my sons!” Splinter yelled as he dropped the bag of supplies he’d been carrying and scooped his youngest up into his right arm while using his left to pull Donnie by his wrist, sure that Leo and Raph would follow right behind him.
The five ran down the dark and unfamiliar sewer tunnel, turning first right then left, instinct their only guide. Donnie, Raph and Leo moved as fast as their shorter legs would carry them while Mikey clung to his father’s neck and buried his face in the now wet fur. Water seemed to be splashing from everywhere, as Splinter’s eyes whipped desperately back and forth looking for something, anything to save them. Then seeing a rusted ladder he dashed toward it, practically dragging Donnie with him. Praying the ladder led to a higher level and safety, he first lifted Donnie onto it, then ordered, “Climb!” Looking behind him he saw his two oldest had fallen behind, unable to keep pace with his longer gait. Pealing Mikey from his body he reluctantly also put his youngest on the ladder and told him to follow his brother. Mikey was scared but knew better than to argue and instead did as he was told.
Running back toward his other two sons, Splinter watched in slow-motion horror as the tunnel where his sons had just been began to collapse, the destruction quickly gaining on his children. Suddenly very calm and exceedingly focused Splinter called on his ninja skills as he moved with stunning speed to grab both Leo and Raph, tucking them under each arm like footballs and ran back toward the ladder. Depositing each turtle on the ladder he stood his ground as he bid them to climb as fast as they could. His focus then, entirely on his children and not on the lead pipe running along the brick wall that had begun to bow at the internal pressure that was building inside it.
The pipe suddenly split spewing filthy water everywhere, the pipes hard edge catching Splinter on his temple and cutting a nasty gash. His head whipped violently back and to the side as he was knocked off his feet and into the rising water on the tunnel floor, bricks from the continuing collapse dropping like raindrops around him.
“Noooooo, Father!”, Leo screamed. He had been last on the ladder and looked back just in time to see his father fall face down in the water. At Leo’s scream his brothers also stopped and looked with consternation. Without thinking, Leo yelled frantically up at them, “Keep going, keep climbing,” seeing their indecision he added forcefully, “Raph get them up to the top, go!” He then jumped down into the water, dropping to his knees beside his father who was also now kneeling and struggling to stand. Putting his arm, which only reached half-way, around his father’s waist, Leo struggled to lift the weight of his father’s tall frame.
Dazed and unable to completely focus, Splinter caught a glimpse of blue bandanna tails and muttered angrily, “No, go, leave me, go hurry!” To which, Leo only grimaced as he continued to try in earnest to lift his father to his feet. “No, climb, I am your Master! Listen to me!” Splinter continued with a bit more force though his voice was much weaker than normal.
“Please Father, help me, you have to get up! Please! I can’t leave you, I’m sorry, please, you can do it!” Leo pleaded tears streaming down his face while he tugged relentlessly at his father’s drenched kimono. Finally finding some inner reserve, Splinter groped for the ladder and grabbed tight once his fingers made purchase. Willing himself to ignore the waves of pain that shot through his skull as he moved, he used the ladder and regrettably Leo’s shoulder as leverage to thrust himself to his feet.
“Alright, I am fine,” he lied between breaths as he leaned against the tunnel wall “go up my son, I am right behind you.”
The slurred and breathless rhythm of his father’s normally commanding voice, wasn't lost on Leonardo and for a moment he considered insisting his father go first but did not want to waste time with the argument. Reaching for the ladder he quickly climbed to make room for his father, looking back every few seconds to make sure his father was indeed still climbing behind him.
It took every bit of his drained strength for Splinter to cling to the rungs of the ladder, to force his exhausted muscles to pull him up one by one. He was also finding it increasingly difficult to coordinate his limbs, resorting to giving himself mental instructions. Hand-hand-foot-foot-pull. Hand-hand-foot-foot-pull. Finally almost at the top, he heard his children sobbing for him.
“Almost there, please Father!”
“Just a little more, Father!”
“Ahhhh”, the turtles screamed in shock as one of the bolts holding the ladder to the wall shot off, denting the opposite wall before whistling the long way down to the tunnel floor.
SCREEEECH! Sparks flew as the ladder’s right side dropped a few inches and scraped against the brick wall.
Meanwhile Splinter simply clung tighter trying not to make any sudden moves. With a deep breath, slowly he continued to climb, his head finally emerging in the upper level where the brothers were kneeling around the hole the ladder opened into. Swinging one arm and then one leg over the edge he grabbed and clawed, making his way completely over just as the ladder broke free and crashed to the water below. Raph, Leo, Donnie and Mikey uselessly yanking on him the entire time.
With his last bit of energy, Splinter used his arms to pull himself up to lean seated against the nearby wall, wrapping his arms around his sons who enveloped him and cried into his chest, he breathed deeply and squeezed their shells to him as much as his exhaustion would allow. Pushing aside their current predicament and the problem of getting back home, he instead could only focus his cloudy thoughts on his overwhelming gratitude for his son’s lives.
“Stay close Yoshi”
“Hai, Okasan” Yoshi answered his mother.
The two carefully traversed down the mountain path that split the woods that lined their small village. Mrs. Hamato carrying two bundles of wood sticks strapped to her back and anxiously eyeing the dark clouds that were beginning to form.
Suddenly huge strings of lightning streaked across the sky prompting Mrs.Hamato to grab Yoshi by his wrist and quicken her pace, fully aware of the danger of flash flooding in the mountains. Moments later the crackling boom of thunder reached their ears and she was off, all but running, Yoshi’s toes barely making contact with the ground as his mother dragged him behind her.
In the next instant the sky opened unfurling waves of rain like a heavy cloak across the mountain. The dirt turned soft and muddy under their feet, trickles of water quickly becoming rushing torrents. Recognizing that they were still too far up the mountain to get down in time, Mrs. Hamato dashed laterally toward one of the tall Japanese pine trees. Blinded by the rain, she tripped and stumbled the entire way twisting her ankle in the process and covering one side of her once blue and fuchsia kimono in a soppy layer of black mud. Finally, reaching a tree with reachable lower branches, she yanked at the rope around her chest freeing the bundles of sticks on her back and letting them fall to the ground around her. Then bending down she looked into her son’s eyes, and spoke calmly, “You are always climbing like my little monkey, now you climb up for mama, Yoshi-kun.” Even though her delicate features were smooth and creased only with a small smile, Yoshi felt the distress coming off his mother and could not help the tears the began to well in his eyes. “Yes, mama, I climb”.
Tying the rope around her son’s waist she put Yoshi on her back and leaned against the tree, letting him use her as a step stool to reach the lower branches. Once she felt his weight lift off her she straightened and watched as her boy climbed expertly to the higher arms of the tree. Then reaching up herself she grabbed hold and tried to pull her own body off the ground. With much effort she managed to situate herself on one of the lower branches, her sprained ankle preventing her from going any higher. Looking up she smiled at her son who was clutching the tree. “Hold tight, my little monkey, do not let go. You must not let go!” she called to him over the clamor of thunder and rain. While she herself held a vice-like grip on the rope, the lifeline between them, determined to keep her son from washing away should he lose his grip.
It was only moments later that one of the smaller trees beside them succumbed to the rising rush of water and slammed into their tree, testing both their grips with the impact; the tree’s detached roots creating a new powerful wave of water that flowed toward them. Yoshi watched in terror as the wave came crashing into his mother’s small body. Mrs. Hamato struggled to breathe as the water rushed relentlessly across her body. Feeling her hold on the tree slipping, she uncurled the fingers of her right hand and let the rope, and her hold on this world go, only seconds before the water washed her body downstream and under the waves, out of Yoshi's sight…forever.
Desperately clutching the tree, it seemed like Yoshi sat there for hours as the rains finally dissipated. Confused at what had just happened but intent on following his mother’s last directive. “Hold tight… do not let go, you must not let go”
“Hold tight” he whispered to himself “Don’t let go, don’t let go” he chanted like a mantra as he squeezed and sobbed.
But wait... there was someone else crying too. Who was crying? Who was here with him? He squeezed his eyes shut to listen and in the darkness the tree vanished.
Snapping his eyes open Splinter woke startled to find himself clutching his sons to his chest.
“We won’t let go Father, we promise”, Leonardo reassured him as he tried to breathe through his father’s unintentionally strangling embrace.
“Yeah, never!” Raph added.
“I’ll never let go, I love you Father, please be ok.” Mikey sobbed.
Coming into consciousness slowly, Splinter shook his head to clear it, but was rewarded with searing pain that made him sorry he had moved. Releasing his sons he let his head rest on the wall and took several deep breaths. It was coming back to him now, mixed with the memories of his own mother’s passing he remembered the tunnel collapse and eventually the sobering realization that he had all four of his sons with him, he was injured and was a great distance from the lair.
“Father, are you alright? You’re…..bleeding”, Donatello observed timidly.