2136 — A Post Apocalyptic Novel

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Heaven is yellow kernels stacked in rows beneath green hairs of paper skin.

I tossed the last core into the brown sac and lied back against the cool wall completely content. I never knew corn tasted so good. No wonder it was used in pretty much everything in the 21st century.It was to die for.Roxx had brought back a small pan and had lit a fire along the base of one of the walls near the black pool. With it being so damp down here, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get the timber to light.That’s another thing. He had wood. And lots of it as it turns out.

Roxx was just full of all sorts of surprises today. First he takes me to an underground storage complex that no one, not even the government, knew about right after a group of Pavers come unannounced to our precinct spitting out accusations that one of us was housing illegal contraband. Then he hijacks said illegal contraband from the nook in his shop, right from under the watchful eyes of the Pavers and anyone else who might have the temptation to turn someone in, I might add. And if none of that were enough, he pulls out sticks from the same brown sac, claiming he had found the timber in one of the barrels in the tunnels.I wasn’t buying it. Too many coincidences in one day normally meant there’s more going on.It was by this balmy fire we were now sitting, starring up into the great hole we had descended from and into the night sky far above. We were too far down to really see anymore than a freckle or two of stars, but that was good enough for us. Safety, with a man you trust as if he were your own father, corn, and now the night sky without any fear of radiation absorbing into your skin. This was the life.What more could a girl ask for?Roxx had spoiled me since the moment he first took watch over me. It was he after all who hadacquiredall my invaluable study material. And the sole reason I was who I was today. Life couldn’t get any better than this.

“That was good,” I said, allowing a small burp to escape my lips.

“Indeed,” he said.

Luckily Roxx didn’t pay any never mind to my unladylike tendencies. I was just another lone warrior resisting the call of death. A comrade in arms in the resistance that I did not know existed as of now. And by which I was being evaluated for membership.

Roxx let out his own burp and tossed the core he had been eating into the flames. A stray kernel his lapping tongue had missed hissed and popped. There we were, two shadows in a pit far below the worries of reality, a secret compartment of hope, a ripple in time. Our own blissful heaven. If only it could have lasted.

I felt the dribble of kernel juice sliding along the rim of my chin. I wiped it with my sleeve. No wonder corn was illegal. The government wouldn’t be able to provide enough of the delicacies to sedate the hunger it incited into the masses. I already wanted more.

“How did you come upon this place, anyway?” I asked. The question had been nagging me for several hours now. Really, ever since we first got to the entrance to this underground sanctuary.

“Your father and I found it,” he said.

“What is it?”

“It’s an old government bomb shelter built in the 60′s. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the U.S. government was in a panic thinking they would be struck by a nuclear bomb at any moment. They had several of these bunkers built all along the eastern coast and scattered throughout the rest of the Midwest and West Coast in case of a missile attack. Fortunately, the scare only lasted about two weeks before the Soviets backed off. But the fear of nuclear and biological attack was still a very prominent reality, so the bunkers’ configuration and construction were continued in secret for security purposes. They’ve been renovated over the years.”

“Lucky for us,” I said.


“So, why haven’t the Pavers ransacked this place? If the government built all these underground silos, wouldn’t they come investigating, or at least gather up the supplies?” I asked.

He was nodding his head as I spoke. He had his fingernail digging at one of the corners of his teeth. He found the piece of corn that had lodged between the lateral incisor and the cuspid. Sorry, I forget that not everyone understands scientific terms. The lateral incisor and the cuspid are the first two teeth on the top row just to the left or right of the middle teeth.

“They did,” he said.

“What do you mean they did? If they came looking for the silo, why didn’t they seal it off or horde all the supplies?”

“From what I can tell, they either forgot this bomb shelter was even here or thought it had collapsed from the missile attacks. I’d assume it was the former as this bunker was constructed more than one hundred and seventy years ago. If it had even crossed their minds, I doubt they would have put much effort into locating one so small. Especially considering that they have newer multi-level shelters buried deep beneath the surface in the mountains. Cities beneath the surface. Fully equipped with nuclear power, cycled air, and food and water. There are blankets, generators, cooking utensils, medications and medical equipment and supplies, and even iodine tablets and sacs of lime in case things got real hairy. One of these multiplexes could self-sustain for over 100 years before even thinking about breaching to the surface for more supplies. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one several hundred feet under D.C. or even in the ocean somewhere.”

“How do you know all of this?” I asked.

“I read a lot,” he said, and flicked another stick onto the dying fire. The orange coals hissed as they welcomed their new comrade.

He reads a lot. Uh huh. And I’m just a toad crawling out of its cesspool it has known as home for the lasttwo months of metamorphosis.

“And all of these barrels?” I asked, indicating back towards the center room behind us. “What are all of those for?”

“Supplies,” he said.

“What kind? There’re a lot of barrels.”

“Judging from the amount of supplies here, I’d say roughly 100 days worth of food and water and medical supplies. Give or take a few weeks,” he said.

“Why a hundred days? Wouldn’t they need to stay down here longer to avoid the radiation?” I asked.

“Not necessarily. Oftentimes, the radioactive fallout recedes to survivable levels within the first month or two. If you’re within the first two miles of the blast radius, you have no chance of survival. But the farther out you are, say past ten miles, the blast wave dies down to less than 10 mph. The only way to survive a nuclear attack is to be far enough away from ground zero to react. Every second is valuable. The government likes to plan for the worst and overestimate. In this case, stash enough supplies to last three to four months. More than enough to outlast the radiation before coming back to the surface.”

“Does anyone else know about this shelter?”

He shook his head.

“The only people I know of who knew of this place are dead,” he said.

My eyes squinted as my forehead furrowed. I didn’t even need to ask.

“Your parents,” he added. “Naturally, your father and I were together when we first found the entrance we came through.”

He pointed up with his finger to indicate the shaft we had come through ourselves not more than thirty-six hours prior.

“We were with a group of Sifters looking for anything we could salvage from the wreckage in the fairgrounds when I tripped. Had your father not grabbed me, I would have tumbled a hundred feet to my death. After he helped me out, we were curious to see what lie below. Since the light was quickly fading, we vowed we would come back later to investigate. A week later, we brought a rope and went down. We thought we had found a crack in the earth’s surface where two plates had pulled apart. We fully expected to find a large underground fresh water lake. Instead, imagine our surprise when we discovered there were manmade tunnels that branched out into all different directions around the precinct and the surrounding area, and diverged into one focal point. We found the crates and opened one of them. There were clothes, shoes, reading material, first aid kits, lots and lots of bandages and swabs. It took us three barrels before we found food. Thousands upon thousands of canned food; sealed and packaged dehydrated fruit, nuts, vegetables, and more. There were also a surplus of MREs.”

“What did you guys do?”

“Nothing. We climbed back up, covered the hole as best we could and never spoke of it again.”

“But why?” I asked. “Why wouldn’t you want to tell anyone about this place? Why wouldn’t you come back?”

“We did tell someone. Your mother.” He shifted to a crouched over position. The fire’s light bounced across his face as he spoke.

“Your father met your mother not too long after we discovered this place. We had vowed to never share it with anyone, but as time went on, their relationship built until your father proposed and they got married.”

I was leaning in, hanging on every word. I hadn’t heard any of these stories about how my mother and father had met. Come to think of it, I knew very little about my mother and father’s past. They were just as much a mystery to me as the universe. And the more he spoke, so was Roxx. My mind wandered off into another fantasy dreaming up what former life Roxx had before he was assigned as a Metallic here in Precinct 11. He was one of the originals. Sent by the government to colonize the area. You know, like I mentioned before, the new slave trade: cheap manual labor for the nearby Proc 1 construction.

“Your father urged me that we needed to come back and fully investigate the tunnels. I tried to dissuade him saying it was too dangerous. Not because we’d get caught, but because we knew nothing about the structure and stability of the ground. He insisted that we at least give it a thorough walkthrough to see if there was anything of value to us beyond the clear stockpile of untainted food preserves.”

“How was it?” I asked. “Was it scary walking around in the dark in a place you didn’t know what lay around the next corner? Did you ever think the roof would collapse and you’d be trapped?”

“All the time,” he said right away. “The ceiling falling in on us wasn’t my biggest fear, though. What really worried me was if the ceiling collapsed and we got trapped. Having no way out and dying slowly from suffocation scared the hell out of me.” He rubbed his arm.

“No one, besides the three of us, even knew the place existed. Let alone that we were down here. No one would have known to come looking for us. We would have died under several millions tons of rock, along with its secret, and no one would have known otherwise.”

His face looked like a child then, lost in fearful thought and hypotheticals.

“I get nervous still just thinking about it,” he said.

“And here I thought you were the toughest man alive.” I smirked.

He didn’t even crack a smile.

“When you have over a million tons of rock, dirt, and stone resting on top of you, pressing down every second, reducing the tiny space you’re enclosed in...” he paused and took a few deep breaths as if he was already suffocating. “No one is tough in a situation like that. And if they are, they’re either lying or they’re delirious.”

“Does that mean I’m delirious, then?” I asked. I tossed a pebble at his feet, trying to lighten the mood with playfulness.

“Are you saying you’re not afraid of being trapped down here?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I’d probably be afraid, but for now, I can’t really say that I would be. It feels like I’m free down here. Not being contained to the world above, consumed with worry over water and food, not getting lost or blown away in the next sand storm, or when the next solar peak will take place and if I’m locked up somewhere safe beforehand. Yeah, I’d have to say I’m not afraid.”

He was staring at the fire, not responding.

“I don’t know. What do you think?” I asked. “Am I crazy for thinking that way?”

My questions hung in the air unanswered for awhile. I didn’t push the issue and just enjoyed being alive and away from it all. His low voice startled me as I was daydreaming about lying beneath the stars forever, never concerned with radiation, or the government, or anything ever again.What a life that would be.

“No,” he said.

“No?” I repeated.

I had forgotten our conversation from earlier.

“No, you’re not crazy for liking it down here,” he said. He looked up at me, and I met his eyes. There was softness there, gentleness and compassion.

“You’re just like your father,” he said. “He always said the same thing.”

“He did?”

“I never understood why he always wanted to come down here. I was always nervous every time we came down. Wondering when we’d be going back to the surface. Wondering if the rope would fail us this time and we’d go tumbling down. If today were our day when the ceiling would cave in. Lots of ‘what-if’ scenarios. Never a good thing when you’re underground. I don’t know why I was so jumpy back then. Maybe I was just young and gullible.”

“I doubt that,” I said.

He shrugged.

“I might have been,” he said. “I was weaker back then. But your father, he was the tough one.”

I saw the flash in his eyes as a good memory shot through.

“Nothing scared him. There were many times he walked through the tunnels without a light all because he said he liked it that way. It made him feel as though he was walking somewhere for the first time, that not even light had touched it yet.”

He didn’t say anymore after that. I watched as his face contorted from cognitive thought and recollection to a stoic nothingness. A blank slate, emotionless, and immovable once more.

I don’t know how long we were sitting there listening to the sound of the crackling fire and the thrum of the earth as the wind whistles down the shaft. It was eerie, yet absolutely beautiful all at the same time. I had to admit, I loved it here. I didn’t think I’d ever feel that way about a place. Not in a world like the one I was living in. But, the fact that this hidden place had made it all these years gave me hope. Not everything had been tainted or destroyed in the war. And that was worth holding onto.

The soft guttural gurgle of air escaping the esophagus danced in the night. Roxx’s snoring instantly made me sleepy. I lowered myself onto the ground and held my arm under my head as a cushion. I fell asleep looking up into infinity. Not a worry on my mind for the first time in all my life, with my newfound friend lying right beside me: peace.

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