Heaven Below a Scorched Plane

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Chapter 4

I often get the sensation that I deserve more out of life than this. More than a cramped bedroom and a notebook. More than blocks of vitamins and protein. More than a treadmill and three different weights.

It's times like these when I reflect on 1984. That used to be my favorite book. My girlfriend had even gotten me a first edition copy of it for my birthday. I think about Winston, and how he felt he deserved more. In his case, he was denied basic human rights because he lived in an oppressive regime. I am denied human rights because they simply don't exist anymore.

I saw an older gentleman in the cafeteria today. He walked with a noticeable hunch and his feet shuffled very loudly as he slowly shambled along. What struck me about him was his uniform. Well, calling it a uniform is kind of overselling it, it's just a starchy set of gray pants and shirt that everyone has access to. Everyone had already packed clothing, but the washers and dryers weren't really designed for anything except the uniforms, so eventually everyone gave up and adopted it.

Anyway, what was unique about his uniform was the front pocket on the shirt, which had a medal pinned onto it. It looked like something from the military, though what it represented I couldn't tell you. I figured he must have been a veteran, and that was one of the possessions he brought with him.

I watched the man eat his processed blocks, slowly and methodically as if he were enjoying a high class meal. I wondered about who he was and why he was here. My neighborhood didn't have a lot of elderly people, and when it came time to divvy up the bunkers it just became a matter of which one was closest. I guessed that he must have been in the middle of a check up at the nearby hospital, and he just ended up in this bunker. Then again, why would he have the medal? Did he just keep it in his pocket for some reason? Was that his only memento from the surface world?

I couldn't help but wonder what he thought of the whole ordeal. He could have died defending his country, and would never have known the ultimate fate of the world. He could have had a soldier's burial, with all his family there mourning. Now his family probably doesn't even live in this bunker. They don't know if he is or isn't dead. Maybe they've already grieved for him, moved on without him. If so, they still live in his footsteps, eating the same processed blocks, shambling about the same mass produced corridors. If they have, then he'll die without pleasantries. No one knows him here, and those that do have already compartmentalized the memories of him. He's essentially just a walking corpse, a person who continues to exist past the point where others bother to acknowledge him.

What if his family died without a bunker to escape into, without a way out of the death sentence humanity was handed that day? Does he know? Has he grieved? Will we ever get the answers we want? Will we ever be able to unlearn the answers we already have when we cry out when and why?

Despite all this, he carries that medal on his chest, hanging at an incline from his drooping posture. Maybe at one point that medal carried meaning. At first, someone in this bunker might have asked him what it meant and how he got it. Now no one would bother asking. Now it's just a medal, pinned to a shirt draped over an old man. Someday it won't even be that, just atoms and molecules stuck in a bunker locked behind an iron behemoth.

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