Heaven Below a Scorched Plane

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Chapter 10

Sometimes I wonder if I'm a good person. Certainly, I'm not evil, for whatever that term even means. I don't act maliciously towards people I have no qualms with. I behaved according to what I believed were moral values.

But when I think of those whose lives were lost, the potential billions that didn't make it to there little steel burrows, I can't seem to summon up much empathy. The sheer size of that loss, and the distance I have from it prevents me from feeling real genuine pathos. Sure, I can talk a big game of my sadness at the reality of the situation, but those would just be words. Am I a monster for feeling this way?

Today at the cafeteria there were three middle-aged gentlemen making a little bit of a stir. Well, I say stir but really they were just having a louder than normal conversation. One of them kept looking down one of the hallways, with a somewhat nervous expression.

Suddenly, one of them hailed me over and asked me to check on their friend Emerson in Room 175. I didn't think much of it; I'd already finished my food and wasn't planning on doing much else before I slept, so the request seemed fairly reasonable. I agreed and started down the hallway they pointed to.

The door to his room was closed. The room doors didn't have locks, but it was considered rude to enter uninvited. Not that there was ever much of a reason to enter someone else's room, invited or otherwise. I knocked, calling out that Emerson's friends wanted to see him in the cafeteria.

No response. I assumed he was either sleeping or at the exercise room. I figured I'd just peek in and check, and report back to his friends. After all, I didn't have much obligation to go search every corner of the bunker for him.

I looked both ways to see if anyone was coming, and cracked open the door and stuck my head in.

"Emerson?" I asked somewhat sheepishly. I was a little afraid that he'd be awake and give me a dirty glare.

He wasn't, thankfully. He was just dead, suspended by a noose tied to the fluorescent lamp on the ceiling.

I opened the door fully and stood there, somewhat dumbfounded. I licked my lips nervously, thinking through what I'd just seen. Even before the bunker, I'd never really been in any sort of situation like this. Even writing this now I'm at a loss for words. I didn't really feel sad, but seeing the body lightly swing from a rope made from a pair of jeans and strips of a t-shirt gave me this ethereal feeling. I didn't feel there, like, physically. I was floating out in the great nowhere, lost.

A man passing by came up to me. "Is something here the matter?" he asked gently before actually looking into the room, "Oh... I see. Don't worry, I'm in charge of this. Maintenance staff."

I didn't look back at him. "Yeah... Right,"

He walked into the room, pulling out a knife and setting it to the rope. "Mind giving me a hand here?" he asked nonchalantly. I walked over and grabbed Emerson's torso, letting him down gently as the rope snapped. Once on the ground, the maintenance man asked me to wait there as he rushed out of the room.

Emerson had dirty blond hair, unkempt as if he'd just woken up. Had he planned this before sleeping? Had he set up this noose and slept soundly knowing what hung from the fixture? He knew his fate and still could lay his head down and drift off? It's... baffling, to say the least.

The man came back with a stretcher and a long black bag. Following his instructions, I put Emerson into the bag, and placed it on the stretcher. As we were about to leave, the man stuffed the makeshift noose in the bag as well. Following the man, we reached a steel door, actually locked this time. He swiped his card and a light next to the door turned green while a latch clicked.

"Should I be here?" I asked.

The man looked confused for a second before realizing my concern. "No, it's fine, This area's closed to keep the bodies separate. No problem with you coming in for a second."

The room was a long hall of what looked like big metal file cabinets. The man moved to the first one to the left of the door, and opened it up. It stretched out far enough to fit a human body laying down. I think you get the picture.

Once Emerson had been filed away, the man wrote down his room number and name on the cabinet, and turned to me.

"Anyone asks, you tell them he died of a heart attack," he said sternly, pointing his finger at me.

"You want me to lie?"

"We're here for the long haul. Imagine the people in the rooms next door. Imagine his friends and family. When they're lying awake at night thinking of him, which death will let them fall asleep faster?"

I stood there for a good minute, as did he. He knew what I was thinking, he knew the world above. He also knew the world below, and this was the game we had to play to survive, to live with ourselves.

I nodded slowly, and walked back to tell Emerson's friends the news. They took it solemnly, hesitantly. They sat together, quietly, in sudden but respectful mourning. Each got up and went their separate way, until only one man was left. That was when I left, leaving only him.

Later I took a walk. He was still there when I was walking out, but not when I returned.

I'm writing this because I can't sleep. I'm not sad, I didn't know Emerson. Maybe I stay awake for Emerson, as the only one who will contemplate him as he deserved to be contemplated. There are those that knew him, and will mourn who he was, but I will be the vigil that observes his death, his end. I guess we all deserve at least that.

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