On the dawn of the holocaust, no one was prepared to face the end of the world.
In a town called Angel Wood, only one man had an inkling about the looming danger—but that was nothing new. This man, Dorian Levi, wasn’t a reputable expert regarding climate changes, disease outbreaks, or the possibility of a catastrophic war. In fact, according to everyone in Angel Wood, he wasn’t reputable at all. Even Dorian’s own niece could attest to that.
The town didn’t dislike Dorian; quite the contrary. Everyone in Angel Wood had great things to say about his warm, friendly nature and his willingness to help out anyone in need. But if anyone were to ask what Dorian did for a living or what his politics were, the answer would almost undoubtedly be something strange and bizarre, something that would make a stranger gawk at him like a circus attraction, something that would shatter any shred of credibility he might’ve had in the asker’s eyes. Dorian Levi was an outcast of the Levi family, a family that resided comfortably in Las Vegas, a family who had so much money to spare they could probably pay for every hobo in Vegas to eat happily for a week without noticing even the slightest fluctuation in their own paychecks. Unlike the rest of his family, Dorian didn’t spend his inherited wealth on one of the casinos, on a new business, or on any kind of overpriced vehicles or mansions; he moved to the back-roots town of Angel Wood, purchased a house, and lived his life as a doomsday prepper. When his niece, Sandra Levi, was orphaned at age five, he adopted her and took her away from the dangers of Vegas and decided to—in his way, through his own eyes—keep them both safe against any and all odds.
Everyone in Dorian’s family thought him crazy, including Sandra.
Sandra was nineteen years old now, and ever since graduating from high school, she spent most of her time aimlessly wandering around the town and watching movies at the theater, attending fairs and community gatherings, and generally trying to avoid her uncle at all costs. Sandra was a loner at heart, and most of her friends had moved out of town once they graduated high school. Nowadays, she was stuck on her own with only her uncle to keep her company, but Dorian always tried to rope her into one of his projects, or into some fanatical doomsday preparedness lecture. Many times, Sandra would consider taking on a part-time job just to earn her own money and keep herself busy, but Dorian had plenty of money, and with all of his strenuous preparations, neither of them needed to worry about paying bills. Apart from the property tax on Dorian’s land, they didn’t have much to pay for in the way of bills; their water and electricity was taken care of. Dorian had some kind of contraption linking the river to the house, and he had a rain-catching system on the house’s rooftop. He also had solar panels placed along the roof, and whenever he wasn’t occupied by another project, Sandra would often come home to find Dorian tinkering with the solar panels on the roof, sometimes accidently stranding himself after knocking his ladder down.
Today, Sandra had planned to leave and explore the train tracks while listening to her mp3 player. In her room—the attic of Dorian’s one-room house, which he had cleaned up and fashioned into a very nice living space for her—Sandra stood in front of her mirror, making herself up before she left the house. Her bangs flowed over one side of her face. They were the longest part of her hair; she had the back chopped off above her neck, and the rest of it was dyed a deep, shiny crimson color that shone like blood in the light. Her combed-over bangs had three streaks of black invading them, covering half of her face and revealing one of her ocean blue eyes, staring coldly out at the world from behind black lashes and silvery eyeshadow. Her curvy body carried a pair of baggy black cargo pants, a plaid tank-top, and a fitted leather jacket which hugged her stomach so to perfectly accent her hips. The jacket was halfway zipped, open enough to show off her figure and the spiked collar around her neck. Her nails were painted a jet black, and from her one visible ear dangled a skull-and-bones earring. Her uncle had bought her the earrings for her birthday last year, but she lost one of them a long time ago.
For the fifth time this morning, her prepaid flip-phone began to ring from her bed. Sandra snatched the phone up from her pillow, opened it, and closed it. The phone’s battery had turned red, and Dorian was trying to call her over and over again. Sandra sat on the bed and flipped her phone open and closed numerous times, forcing the phone’s light to power on and off repeatedly, until finally, the phone died.
“There,” Sandra muttered. “Now leave me the fuck alone, already…”
Satisfied that Dorian wouldn’t be able to blow up her phone anymore, Sandra stood from her bed, left the house, and inserted her earphones, allowing her favorite rock band to drown her thoughts away. Dorian’s home sat on the top of a hill at the edge of town, overlooking a beautiful horizon and the stretch of road which led north of Angel Wood. The driveway slithered down the hill, and about halfway down, a small dirt path on the left side of the driveway crawled down the hillside. Buried in the hillside was another section of the Levi residence, a place that Sandra never visited if she could help it. The dirt trail led down the side of the hill and curved around to the doorstep of Dorian’s underground bunker.
Sandra kicked rocks down the driveway. She stopped at the dirt trail, glaring down the hill and letting out an annoyed sigh. Her eyes drifted up to the house, and she was able to see Dorian’s gigantic black truck in the driveway. Where ever he was, he was close by—either somewhere in the house, or in the bunker. And if he was calling her from home, it meant that he needed her help somehow. Either that, or he planned to give her another lecture about how to properly handle the bee farm in the back yard…
He’d be upset with her if she ignored him all day. Dorian never got angry at her, really, but his disappointment in her usually resulted in a longwinded lecture about the importance of communication in a disaster crisis, and she certainly didn’t want to deal with that when she came home later. So, hesitantly, Sandra marched down the dirt trail and approached the large metal door imbedded in the hillside. The mechanism on the door was controlled by a computerized lock, and beside the door was a tiny keypad. Sandra typed in the four-digit password, and the door opened itself.
“Sandraaaaaa!” Dorian’s voice bounced off the metal walls inside.
Sandra stepped into the darkness, squinting and looking around for her uncle, but she didn’t see him anywhere. The bunker was a rounded shape, but only half of it was visible upon walking inside. To her immediate left was a long table, which was built onto the wall and contained a variety of survival gear and other random items. Directly ahead was a twin pair of beds, in between them was a narrow door leading to the bathroom, and around the corner, Sandra knew, was a kitchen with two refrigerators and numerous massive shelves, which were filled with tubs of canned goods, bottled water, and dehydrated foods. The kitchen light bled out from behind the corner, and Sandra was able to see some of her uncle’s foods scattered on the floor.
“Oh, lord…” Sandra sighed. “What happened now?”
“Um…” Dorian’s voice echoed. “Come here, please…”
Sandra crept around the corner.
In the middle of the bunker’s kitchen was a mountain of boxes, cans, and fragments of one of her uncle’s shelves. Dorian was lying flat on his back underneath the mess, and apart from his head and one of his arms, most of him was buried. He peered up at her upside-down, grinning in a dopey way and looking more ridiculous than ever, his wild silver hairs strewn madly about, his wide brown eyes shining and watery, and his free hand raising and waving at her.
Sandra felt her face burn a deep scarlet. Even though no one was around to see it, she became unbelievably embarrassed at the sight of him.
“Your phone started going to voicemail…” he mumbled, nudging his phone with the back of his index finger. His cellphone was lying on the floor beside his hand.
“What…” Sandra breathed.
“Well, um… one of the legs broke on this shelf, so…” Dorian replied. “It came crashing down, and… well, the leg broke when I tried to move it, needed to dig something out of the back… ow…”
“Then push it off you.”
“Can’t… something’s crushing my leg, so… if I move it from here, it’ll put all the weight on my foot… it’s on my bad leg… damn, this hurts…”
“So… what do you want me to do?”
“Lift the bottom of the shelf off my leg, there… please…”
Sandra repressed a grumble and carefully stepped over the mess, grasping the bottom of the massive shelf and heaving it upward. When Dorian’s leg was free, he scooted back and separated himself from the bulk of the mess. Sandra carefully sat the shelf back down, then turned to her uncle, who now sat with his back against the wall, groaning and rubbing his ankle.
“Ouch…” he said. “I wanted to find that portable radio… thought I put it behind the shelves…”
“What do you need the portable radio for?”
“I was gonna take it with me to Sanctum. Carter’s never seen one of them before. It’s got a hand crank, and you can charge it in the sun… useful little thing… wanted to convince him to invest in some, maybe for his friends, so they can hear Sanctum Radio…”
Sandra thought of a barrage of comebacks for this, but she didn’t speak any of them. Sanctum always sounded like a ridiculous place, and it was built upon even wilder ideas. Sandra had never visited Sanctum herself, despite Dorian’s efforts. She didn’t want to hear about Sanctum, Sanctum Radio, or any of the crazier doomsday preppers who lived up north.
Dorian swiped some of his white bangs away from his eyes, gazing up at her with a hopeful look. Sandra recognized that face, and it made an uncomfortable lump form in her stomach. He only gave her that look when he was about to ask her to do something that she, more often than not, didn’t want to do.
“I’m going out there today, to Sanctum,” Dorian told her. “It’s a long drive, but… I want you to see it. I really do. You’d love it there.”
“I was gonna catch a movie today,” Sandra lied.
Dorian observed her silently for a moment. He looked as crazy as ever to her now, his hair screwed up, his shirt torn from the collapsed shelf, and his five o’clock shadow stained and smelling of black coffee.
“Come on,” he said. “You’ve never been there, after all the years of us working on the place… you’ve never even seen it. I want you to see it. I know you like wandering off on your own and listening to music, so… well, there are loads of places you can do that in Sanctum. There’s a river, plenty of woods, a big open field, a flea market…”
“I don’t want to,” Sandra stated, growing irritated.
Dorian sighed into his lap.
“I don’t see the point of that place,” she added. “Why would you work so hard on a town of survivalists if you have a bunker here at home?”
“The bunker is a smaller solution for a smaller-scale disaster,” Dorian told her. “Sanctum is meant to be more than that. If we ever had to rebuild society… Sanctum is where it would start. It’s a well-hidden, self-sufficient community. The bunker is a temporary safeguard, just in case of immediate disaster… but Sanctum is the permanent solution.”
Sandra frowned at him. She knew better than to ask questions about her uncle’s psychotic plans; it always sounded crazy.
“Do you know how that sounds?” Sandra asked. “That sounds insane. What makes you think we’d ever have to rebuild society? What’s the point of all this crap?”
Dorian reached his feet, rolled his ankle around, and straightened up. He stood a good foot and a half taller than his niece.
“No one ever thinks it can happen to them,” Dorian said vaguely. “Every first world country in the world has experienced a downfall of some kind, all throughout history… and of all the first world countries in the world, America is the youngest. We’ve yet to experience our fall. Not to mention… the world has grown a lot. Every established country is armed for war. Think of the weapons our militaries have nowadays. If something bad happens… all it takes is another Cuban Missile Crisis, and we’d have a catastrophe on our hands. What if the Swine Flu actually turned out to be something deadly, something nobody could cure? What if the plague came to America? Who do you think would be prepared for that?”
“Nobody, because it won’t happen,” Sandra griped. “It’s a waste of time, worrying about that kind of stuff. Nothing like that is gonna happen. I mean, seriously… what’re the odds?”
“Nobody really knows,” Dorian replied. “That’s just the thing—statistics are drawn up by biased organizations, and some folks are overly paranoid while others aren’t worried at all. Everyone’s got a skewed perspective on this whole thing, so nobody really knows how likely it is for us to face a disaster. That’s precisely what makes it so scary. No one knows what could happen. So… it can’t hurt to prepare for everything.”
“But that’s crazy.”
“The world is crazy. Just because we have a comfortable society doesn’t mean everything is okay. One day, we might not have all the luxuries we have now. Oh—here it is!”
Dorian reached behind a box of cereal on the nearest shelf and retrieved a black, rectangular radio. The radio was about the size of a very old walkie-talkie, but it was shorter and fatter.
“See the crank on the front?” Dorian said. “You can power this thing even if the grid goes down. It’s perfect! Oh—guess what I bought yesterday! Look!”
He turned and pulled a drawer open from the counter, yanking out what looked like a plastic cube with a cord attached. The end of the cord would fit the ports for both of their prepaid phones. The cube had a dark bluish coating on the top, similar to the back of the portable radio.
“A solar phone charger,” Dorian grinned. “We can charge our phones in the sunlight.”
“What good would that do?” Sandra huffed. “If the grid went down, the phones wouldn’t work anymore.”
Dorian’s smile faded. “Uh, well…”
“There’s no point,” Sandra said. “There’s no point in preparing for everything. Nobody knows what will happen—well, yeah, that’s true. I could walk into town and get hit by a car today. How would I prepare for that? I wouldn’t. Shit just happens. You can’t prepare for everything.”
“Sure I can,” Dorian replied with a smirk, opening his arms and gesturing to the bunker around him. “And I am.”
“But it’s stupid!” Sandra snapped. “Why would you waste your life prepping for some imaginary holocaust? Why not just go outside, and… and live!”
“No—I’m tired of this! I’m tired of you dragging me into all this crazy paranoid bullshit!”
“I don’t care!”
Sandra’s chest rose and fell with every frustrated breath. Her icy blue eyes rested on her uncle’s saddened brown ones, and she hated seeing that look on his face. Dorian always looked so hurt, so defeated whenever she’d express her disapproval of his fanatical lifestyle—but that wasn’t fair, was it? Why should she feel guilty about hurting his feelings? She wasn’t wrong, was she? Bunkers, solar panels, talking about rebuilding society—it was all crazy, and it wasn’t something any normal person should have to deal with. No—she was justified in being angry with him. She was certain of it.
“Come to Sanctum with me, please,” Dorian said weakly. “Your Uncle Carter hasn’t seen you in years, and…”
“No!” Sandra hollered. “Sanctum is stupid—the whole thing is stupid! I don’t wanna waste my time on this prepping shit anymore!”
“It’s not about that, it…” Dorian murmured. “I… It’s not about prepping, it’s just… I don’t get to spend time with you anymore.”
Sandra bit her lip. “But you have a bunch of friends who’re into this stuff. You don’t need me around for it.”
“But I wanted to…”
“I just wanna be left alone, okay? God…”
“Just leave me alone!”
At that, Sandra spun on her heel and stormed out of the bunker. Dorian watched her sadly until she was out of his sight.
As she climbed the hill and headed for the town’s main road, Sandra placed her earphones into her ears again, shaking her head and wondering where she ought to go first. Rather than going to the train tracks, Sandra decided to take the stairs up to the roof of her old school. She used to skip class on this roof all the time before she graduated, and even now, she’d visit the school just to sit on the roof’s edge and watch over the town. The view was absolutely stunning.
Sandra sat on the edge with her legs dangling over. It was always unnerving, hanging over the edge of the roof, looking down five stories below and watching the cars drive by and the people walk around. Still, it was the most isolated place in Angel Wood, and it had the greatest view while at the same time keeping her a safe distance from everyone and everything that annoyed her. It was the perfect spot.
Time passed, and Sandra’s mind drifted away with the music; she leaned back, rested her head on her folded arms, and gazed thoughtfully up at the sky. It always left a sinking feeling of guilt in the pit of her stomach whenever she’d snap at her uncle, but this time, she didn’t regret it. It was different when she was a kid; back then, it seemed more like a game to her, like every emergency drill and every survival lecture was a fun little adventure enacted in an apocalypse-themed game of house. But as the years passed and as Sandra grew older, she took notice of the way the other towners looked at Dorian, and she began to understand that his behavior wasn’t normal, that it wasn’t typical for your parent or guardian to have you versed and prepared for every large-scale disaster conceivably possible. It wasn’t normal to teach your child how to stealthily evacuate their home in the event of a military raid, and it wasn’t normal to have a survival bunker buried under your home. It wasn’t normal to be given a 45 pistol for your tenth birthday, and it certainly wasn’t normal to build an entire community of self-sufficient doomsday preppers for the sole purpose of rebuilding a society that hadn’t fallen.
From up here, Sandra could see the flaws in Dorian’s paranoia as plain as day; all the buildings of Angel Wood were still standing, just like every other building in America. All the town’s people were in their cars, cluttering up the small roads as they shuffled off to work, and students continued to arrive late to school down below. Despite Dorian’s crazy plans and delusional fears, everything in Angel Wood—and the rest of the world—was perfectly okay, just like it was any other day, just like it always would be. There was no reason to become swept away in fear and anxiety regarding whatever was to come; Sandra had been living with Dorian for fourteen years, and in all that time, no disaster fell upon Angel Wood, or the rest of the world. Every day was the same as the last; they started with a sunrise, commenced as people moved through their routines, and ended when everyone came home at the end of the day, ate dinner, and went to bed. Everything was as peaceful and boring as it always had been. Perhaps one day, Sandra would run away from Angel Wood and find a more exciting life, somewhere near Vegas, or perhaps somewhere up north. There was a whole world out there, full of beautiful, horrible things. One day, Sandra would leave to start her own life, make friends, develop relationships, get a job, pay her own bills, and she would have her own little life story to tell, just like everyone else. It was safe and dull, but that’s how the world worked, and that wasn’t going to change no matter how hard Dorian tried to wish a monumental worldwide change into existence.
Maybe he was disappointed in the world, and that was why he was so adamant about preparing for a new one. Maybe his life hadn’t turned out the way he wanted it to, and he liked the idea of starting his life over from scratch, just so he could get everything right the second time around. Then again, Sandra didn’t think of Dorian as the sulky woe-is-me type. He didn’t mope around or complain about his life at all; in fact, he always seemed strangely happy about his projects and obsessions. He always had a sense of satisfaction about him, like he was incredibly proud of everything he had accomplished, and even though Sandra found most of it crazy and unnecessary, she understood why he felt that way. It might’ve been excessive and fueled by paranoia, but everything he had accomplished truly was admirable, to say the least. He was incredibly competent and driven, if nothing else, and whenever he set his mind to something, nothing could stand in between him and his goal.
Nevertheless, Sandra was losing her patience with the doomsday training and disaster preparedness. Ever since graduation, she’d been wondering what she ought to do with her life, and she was sure that whatever her ambitions would become, it would have nothing to do with preparing for the apocalypse. The town below glistened in the strengthening sunlight; car horns honked, engines roared, and Sandra removed one of her earphones so she could listen to the sounds of the world, a world she’d yet to explore. One day, she would be out there, discovering new sights, meeting new faces, and living a real life away from this hidden town, away from her uncle’s bunker…
Tonight, she would go home and drudge into her house, hesitantly opening a conversation with her uncle and listening to him explain himself to her. She would give him a half-assed apology, and then she’d hide away in her room and sleep until dawn so they could repeat their daily routine. People would drive to work in the morning and go home in the evening. Sandra and Dorian would bicker about the importance of self-reliance, and nothing would change.
Sandra yawned at the sky, drifting into a lazy sleep.
For a while, the sounds of the cars and the atmospheric noises from the plane flying over Angel Wood invaded her dreams. Sandra dreamed of a fanciful disaster, something Dorian probably dreamed about every night; her mind painted up a vivid picture of a red sky, and German WW2 planes whizzed over Angel Wood, dropping bombs on the town and shooting down the American opposition. Eventually, the military arrived to Angel Wood and began firing their rifles into the sky, and Dorian charged out of his house with a rocket launcher…
Dorian shot one of the German planes out of the sky, and Sandra heard a distant, rumbling boom. She felt the building give a slight tremor under her; just then, the dream ended, and Sandra blinked herself awake. The sky wasn’t red, and there was no firefight ensuing in the town… but she had felt a rumble, and she had heard a distant booming noise.
The sun shone brighter now, and Sandra guessed that she had accidently fallen asleep for a bit too long, perhaps a couple of hours. Her eyes narrowed at the town below; the morning traffic was gone, and the town was relatively empty. Now would be a good time to browse around in the stores at the shopping center, while the traffic was minimal and the stores weren’t crowded.
Just as Sandra reached her feet, stretching and wondering which store to visit first, something caught her eye in the desert outside of Angel Wood.
It was far south, whatever it was; there were no trees or mountains obscuring her vision. Sandra had a clear view of the strange shape. Whatever it was, it was many miles away, stretching into the sky from the ground. It took the shape of a slightly misshapen mushroom.
Was it a building? No, she’d never noticed a building down south before, especially not one so big and strangely shaped. Besides, it was moving… growing… reaching into the sky…
“Nah,” Sandra scoffed. “That’s not…”
It couldn’t have been what it looked like.
Sandra had seen pictures of them on the old posters in her uncle’s bunker; Dorian had numerous doomsday propaganda posters, many of them displaying outlandish depictions of bombings and numerous versions of an oncoming apocalypse. Some of them looked like old posters from the second world war, and others looked like movie posters advertising for some crazy zombie-themed film or television series.
As the mushroom cloud continued to steadily grow many miles south, Sandra pulled out her phone and flipped it open. She was about to call her uncle, but she’d forgotten that her phone was dead. So, she pocketed her phone and gulped, forcing down a brewing panic and letting out a long, tense breath.
Her fingernails dug into her palms. She tightened her hands as much as she could, wincing as her nails cut into her skin. Yes, she could feel the pain; it wasn’t an illusion. She wasn’t still lost in a dream. Sandra was awake, standing on the rooftop of her old school and staring at a mushroom cloud.
“Don’t look directly at it,” Dorian had told her about two years ago during one of his lectures. “If you ever see a mushroom cloud—don’t look directly at it. Hold up your thumb to the mushroom cloud. If the cloud appears bigger than your thumb, then you might be in the blast zone, and you’d need to get out of dodge. Understand?”
Sandra held up her thumb. The mushroom cloud was barely bigger than her thumbnail, and slowly but surely, still growing.
“What…” Sandra gasped.
That couldn’t be right, could it? Perhaps it was one of those nuclear test sites. Sandra had learned from her uncle that Nevada played host to places like that. But she’d never seen a mushroom cloud before. If someone was regularly using a nuclear test site near Angel Wood, Sandra would’ve noticed it a long time ago, wouldn’t she? Besides that, the road south of Angel Wood didn’t simply lead to an open desert that would be fit for nuclear testing. No, the road south led…
“Straight to Vegas,” Sandra uttered.
That mushroom cloud—it couldn’t have been.
It couldn’t have been in Vegas.
Why would there be an explosion in Vegas? Was it some sort of accident? It couldn’t have been an attack, could it?
“That’s stupid,” Sandra argued with herself aloud. “Who would attack Vegas?”
At the roof’s edge, Sandra peered into the town again. There were almost no cars anywhere within eyeshot. Deeper into town, Sandra spotted a couple of vehicles on the road, but they were all driving away from the heart of town, towards the road north.
“But that’s…” Sandra murmured. “That can’t… that’s…”
Her heart pounded behind her ribs, her stomach tightening, her breath slowing. It would all be okay, once she got home and her uncle explained everything. It would all be okay once the authorities sorted out whatever had happened. Once she got home and talked to her uncle, she and Dorian would be fine, sitting beside each other in the bunker and watching the news from her uncle’s ancient television. The news would explain what happened, and the military would fix it… everything would be fine… everything would work out…
“Get home,” Sandra ordered herself, trying to force her rigid legs to move. “Get home. Get home… get home…”
Forcefully, she resisted the temptation to ogle at the mushroom cloud and made herself move. Sandra pulled the stairway door open and thumped down the stairs, marching outside and reaching the empty street. She speed-walked all the way home, not looking back, not facing south no matter how tempted she was to gaze upon the mushroom cloud again.
Sandra marched up her driveway with a pep in her step, and her heart sank when she saw that her uncle’s truck was gone. Still, she went inside and searched through the living room, the bathroom, the back yard, the basement, and her room. Dorian was nowhere to be found.
Figuring that he might still be in the bunker—and possibly unaware that anything had happened—Sandra walked down the driveway and followed the dirt trail down to the bunker’s entrance, stealing a last glimpse of the empty town before pushing the metal door open and stepping into the darkness. To her despair, the bunker was empty. Her uncle was gone.
“Fuck,” Sandra spat, digging her phone charger from her bag and plugging her phone into the wall.
As her uncle had instructed in his many disaster drills, Sandra locked the door, pulled out the thirty-year-old television from under the pile of junk on his work shelf, plugged in the power cord and the cable cord, and powered it on. Once she found a news channel, Sandra went to her phone and turned it on, hoping it had enough power to make a call.
Sandra tried to call her uncle, but the call went straight to his voicemail. She hung up and searched through her phone for new calls or texts. Dorian had left her three voicemail messages. Sandra listened to each one of them.
“Sandra, where are you? Listen, I went to Sanctum, and I’m coming home. I just heard about what happened—something’s going down out there. Go to the bunker and don’t leave. Lock the door. Wait for me. I’ll be there in a flash.”
“Sandra—are you getting my messages? Turn your phone on! Go to the bunker!”
“I’m on my way home, honey—I’ll be there in a couple of hours, tops. It’s a long drive, but I’m going ninety on the backroad. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Stay in the bunker. Lock it up. I’ll be there soon. I love you.”
Sandra exited the voicemails and tried to call him again. She tried several times, but none of her calls went through.
“Son of a bitch…” Sandra growled. “Hurry up and get home, already…”
As Sandra sat hunched over her phone, the only sound in the bunker was the frightened voice of the reporter woman on the television. Sandra stood and went to the shelf, standing over her uncle’s half-finished cup of coffee and observing the news program closely. Instantly, she noticed that something was off; usually, when the news would cover dark topics regarding terrorism, they’d speak as if reading off of a script, as if it was as normal as any other news story. The anchormen and women never stuttered, never got tongue tied, and never showed much emotion when they broadcasted. Now, however, Sandra noticed a difference. The blonde woman on the screen wasn’t calm and collected—her hazel eyes were widened, and her voice shook more and more with every word she spoke.
“Y-yes, we have confirmed that D.C. has been hit, as well as Las Vegas… New York… and… yes, Chicago, Detroit… both have been… both have been hit, yes… there are other confirmed hits… in… T-Texas, Dallas, Houston, Austin… yes, Canada has been struck as well. Toronto, Vancouver, and…”
The blonde woman was repeatedly adjusting her earpiece, apparently listening to someone off screen who was feeding her news. Sandra felt sicker and sicker the longer she listened. She found herself focusing less on the news, and more on the black coffee in Dorian’s white coffee cup. The smell of it nauseated her. She always hated black coffee… the bitter taste… the harsh smell…
“Boston… c-confirmed, yes, Boston has been struck… we advise you to stay in your homes, contact your loved ones immediately… and…”
Sandra turned the television off. Her eyes were lost in the black coffee. Maybe if she focused on it hard enough, she wouldn’t think of all the cities that were destroyed, the millions of people who had died…
Without realizing it, Sandra stopped breathing. For several long minutes, she glared into the cup, holding her breath and refusing to take in the gross smell of the black coffee. The scent of it, the sight of the food in the bunker’s pantry, the voice of the news reporter woman… any of it would set off her gag reflex, and she was trying with all her might not to vomit.
“Stupid,” she snarled. “Stupid fucking bullshit…”
It was stupid, wasn’t it? This wasn’t something she should’ve expected to happen. No, this was something that would happen in a zombie apocalypse movie, or in one of those conspiracy documentaries that her uncle so adamantly abided by. Even the worst disasters in history didn’t compare to this. Bombing every major city in America… the scale of such an attack, it was… unbelievable.
Sandra remembered when she was in elementary school, back in 2001. The day of the 9/11 terror attacks, the news reporters had a similarly shaken disposition about them, and everyone in the country was terrified. She remembered vividly how grim her teacher looked as she watched the television in the classroom. The class of hyper, usually loud children had fallen deathly silent on that day. Now, her uncle’s bunker had filled with the same terrible silence, but it wasn’t due to the horrible news lamenting everyone into a quiet state of dark realization; it was simply due to the emptiness. Sandra was alone, her uncle was gone, and millions of Americans were dead. It wasn’t just a classroom or a bunker that was eerily silent now. It was the entire country. Nobody could process what had happened. Nobody could comprehend it, the scale of it, the consequences of it, the reality of it.
But it wasn’t real. It was straight out of a movie, or one of her crazy conspiracy-fueled dreams.
And yet, here it was, on the news for her to see, just outside of Angel Wood, and she’d witnessed it with her own eyes. Her heart was really racing, and her town was really empty. America was really under attack, and her uncle’s conspiracy theories were really coming to life. It wasn’t on a television screen or in a movie theater. It was here, now, in real time, unfolding before her and destroying the world around her. America was falling.
No—it wasn’t just America. The news woman said that Canada had been hit, too. And if Canada had been hit, then perhaps Mexico had as well.
It couldn’t be happening all over the world, could it?
How many people were dead? What started this catastrophe? And where the hell was Dorian?
Sandra paced up and down the bunker, forcing herself into an unnatural calmness. On the surface, she appeared as normal as ever, but her heart hammered faster and faster as her mind ran rampant, and finally, she yanked her mp3 player from her pocket and plugged it into her uncle’s old computer speakers, cranking up the music and hoping to drown out her thoughts. The music calmed her nerves, but her brain continued to pester her with a million horrific thoughts and questions she couldn’t hope to answer. Who was bombing America? Who else was being attacked? Were the attacks still going on? How many people had died? Was Dorian alright? What was going to happen now?
After half an hour of frantic pacing, Sandra suddenly stopped. She wouldn’t last if she kept herself in a panic like this. Her uncle wouldn’t be home for another hour or two, and she had to keep it together until then. She needed something to calm her, something to pass the time…
So, Sandra positioned the television on the edge of the shelf, facing the two beds. She hooked up a VCR, rifled through her uncle’s old movies, and picked an old western tape. After starting the movie, Sandra searched through the kitchen for a snack, but nothing looked appetizing. If she were to eat right now, she’d likely get sick. She grabbed a bottle of water and curled up in one of the beds, mindlessly watching the movie and hoping that she would fall asleep.
After a while, the movie ended. Sandra turned on another movie, cuddled into the bed again, and watched it. Time passed. She felt more and more nauseated with every passing minute. Two and a half hours came and went, and still, her uncle wasn’t here. It was becoming increasingly difficult to focus on the movies as the afternoon went by; Sandra couldn’t distract herself from her thoughts anymore. Where was Dorian, and why wasn’t he home yet? Even if he was in Sanctum this morning—which was somewhere in north Nevada—it shouldn’t have taken him this long to get back home.
After the third movie ended, Sandra stayed in bed for another hour, trying desperately to fall asleep and failing. Frustrated, she stood and checked her phone. The battery was fully charged now, and the time displayed; 5:45 pm. She’d been in the bunker for six hours. This was maddening. There was no way of knowing if Angel Wood was still intact outside, what was going on outside, or where her uncle was. She didn’t want to turn the news back on, but it might’ve been her only option. Leaving the bunker wasn’t a good idea, and she couldn’t get a hold of her uncle…
Sandra tried to call Dorian again, but this time, it didn’t go to his voicemail. Each time she tried to send the call, the phone displayed: Call Not Sent. She examined the screen closely, noticing that the bars, indicating the strength of the phone’s signal, were gone.
Phone lines are down. No way of contacting anyone now.
Sandra threw her phone into the wall as hard as she could. The phone broke into three pieces and flew across the room.
She stormed over to the television and turned on the news channel. Instead of the blonde news woman, Sandra was met with a black screen. She surfed through the channels, but all of them appeared the same way. Nothing was on television.
“FUCK!” Sandra bellowed, lifting the small television and slamming it onto the floor. The plastic casing shattered at her feet, and she heard the glass screen crackle apart, but she didn’t care.
This was too much. The phones were down, the television stations were gone, and Sandra was stranded alone in her uncle’s bunker after some massive terrorist attack had destroyed the country. And to top it all off, Dorian Levi—the only person in the world who Sandra would trust to handle such an unthinkable situation—was missing in action.
What was she supposed to do now?
“He’s on the roads, so yeah, he’d get held up out there… naturally,” Sandra rambled madly to herself. “There’d be chaos on the roads right now. That’s why he’s taking so long. I just have to wait. I just have to wait…”
But Sandra wasn’t sure she could handle any more waiting. Leaving the bunker would be a stupid thing to do, but what was she supposed to do until her uncle turned up? Sit in silence while the world came to an end outside?
Desperately, Sandra pulled boxes, bottles, and cans from the kitchen shelves until she found a stack of cardboard boxes at the back. The three boxes were for bartering, or at least, that’s what Dorian always told her—but right now, she had a much better use for those bartering beverages. She pulled the lid off the top box and took a bottle of amber whiskey from the collection of liquors, screwed the lid off, and began gulping the sour liquid as fast as she could, nearly puking it all out at once. Though somehow, Sandra summoned the strength of a seasoned alcoholic, and despite her nausea, she managed to guzzle down half the bottle of whiskey. It left a terrible lurching in her stomach, but that didn’t matter. If it would make her sleep, it was worth it.
“Come home already…” Sandra chanted, wandering around the bunker and repeatedly taking swigs of the whiskey. “Come home… come home… come on… come home…”
Within ten minutes, Sandra emptied the whiskey bottle. Soon after, her overwhelming feeling of sickness was replaced with one of heaviness. Her thoughts faded away one by one, leaving her mind in empty, drunken bliss, and in no time, she found it difficult to walk in a straight line.
“Come home, fucker, come home… Uncle Dorian… I miss you… come home, fucker, come on… come home already… fuck…”
Her foot hit the edge of her uncle’s bed, and Sandra collapsed sprawled crookedly overtop of it. Tears ran down her face, smearing her makeup and staining the white blanket under her.
“Hurry up…” she moaned weakly. “Please…”
As Angel Wood succumbed an empty silence, and as the rest of the world faced the disaster before them, Sandra remained locked away from the danger, slipping into a deep, saddened sleep. The hours went by, and there were no dreams plaguing her mind as she remained lost to her intoxicated slumber. It was one in the morning before her eyes opened a crack, and instantly, she felt two surges of pain pulsating in her body; one of them was her head, her skull pounding and feeling like it was about to split open, and the other was an intense pressure in her bladder.
Sandra groggily sat upright, trying to ignore the stars in her vision and the searing pain in her head. She quickly slipped into the bathroom, did her business, and observed herself in the mirror. Her hair was askew, her makeup smudged on one side of her face, and her cheeks were wet with tears. After a moment of hating her reflection, she left the bathroom and glared at the contents of the bunker, not knowing how long she’d slept and wondering why her uncle still hadn’t shown up.
Usually, this bunker brought about some longwinded lectures and excited rants from Uncle Dorian. Now, the posters hung in silence and the broken television didn’t make a sound. Dorian wasn’t here, talking her ear off and working on his gadgets. The bunker harbored a loud silence, and Sandra wondered how far the silence really stretched, if the entire town was just as quiet, if the towns surrounding Angel Wood were all deadened and vacant, if the entire country was lost amidst a deafeningly quiet aftermath of funereal bereavement.
On the kitchen counter, something caught her eye.
Sandra picked up the portable radio, the one Dorian had planned to take with him to Sanctum. Apparently, he’d forgotten to take it. As well as the hand crank and the solar charger, this radio had a number of ports on the side, making it compatible with numerous cords. Sandra plugged her phone charger’s cord into the radio and powered it on. She sat cross-legged on the floor, adjusting the knob and surfing through the static, hoping to find a radio station still on the air.
Scattered through the static, Sandra heard bits and pieces of a man’s voice broadcasting live. Carefully, she fixed the knob to get the clearest signal possible, then listened closely.
“… encourage all patriots to resist these attempts to the fullest of their abilities. I repeat, we have confirmed strikes on all the major cities on the east coast, and some on the west. D.C. has been hit. New York City has been hit. Boston has been hit. Miami has been hit. Houston has been hit. Chicago has been hit. Kansas City has been hit. Los Angelus has been hit. Las Vegas has been hit. Dallas has been hit. No word yet on Austin or San Antonio. No word yet on Albuquerque. No word yet on Denver. No word yet on Phoenix. No word yet on Seattle. No word yet on Portland. No word yet on Oklahoma City. Smaller towns are in panic. Some are being forcibly detained and evacuated. Others are being left to their own devices. We advise all patriots to resist these attempts to the fullest of your ability. We advise all who fight for freedom to keep the spirit of 1776 alive. Those close to home—follow the spade to sanctuary. Follow the spade to sanctuary…”
“What…?” Sandra mumbled. “Follow the spade to sanctuary? What the hell does that mean?”
“Yes—our good source, Marcel, has just informed me that our sister station on the east coast has confirmed that we are not, in fact, the only country experiencing this. China, Russia, and the United States traded fire for nearly four hours. It’s unclear how the smaller countries of the world have been affected, but we’re seeing firsthand how catastrophic it is for the rest of us. Stay faithful, good citizens of America—this is the day we’ve been preparing for our entire lives! Resist the men who come knocking at your doors! Find your way to your fellow patriots! Those close to home—follow the spade to sanctuary!”
“Preparing for our entire lives…?” Sandra muttered.
The way this guy spoke… it sounded like a patriotic rant that her uncle would approve of. Whoever was sending this broadcast had prepared for this, and they weren’t alone. This must’ve been Sanctum Radio.
“Pray for America, folks. Pray for David Peck, who’s still out there looking for his two sons. Pray for Alex Jones and his family, who still haven’t made their way here yet. Pray for Dorian Levi, who left early in the day to find his niece. Pray for Mandy Johnson, who’s still looking for her husband…”
“He left early in the day? My ass,” Sandra said. “He should’ve got here a long time ago, then…”
“Pray for those of our loved ones who we’ve lost today… and pray for the ones who still might be found. If any of you can hear us here at Sanctum, we encourage you to follow the spade to your sanctuary, and you’ll be safe!”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Sandra grumbled.
Follow the spade to sanctuary? What kind of cryptic code was that? It sounded like a very vague set of directions to Sanctum, but what did a spade have to do with it? How was that nonsensible code supposed to help anyone find Sanctum?
Perhaps her uncle had taught her about this code, and she’d simply tuned him out, as she often did. That was entirely possible. Maybe she’d understand it if she had listened to Dorian when she had the chance…
The voice from the radio faded from her attention, and Sandra’s eyes moved around the bunker again. She couldn’t deal with this… not without her uncle. The world was being bombed into oblivion, and all she could do was sit by herself in a hole in the ground, hoping not to be found, hoping that Dorian would come home…
Sandra went to the boxes of liquor again, grabbed a bottle of vodka, and held it to her lips. She wanted to drink all the liquor she could get her hands on, wanted to pass out, to stay asleep, to never wake up…
There was nothing left outside. Everything and everyone was gone. She didn’t have a chance… not alone…
There was no point in waiting any longer. Her uncle was gone. Whatever had happened, it had stranded her here, alone, with no family, no friends, and no hope. Why shouldn’t she drink herself into a coma? Why shouldn’t she give up? Why wasn’t she upturning this bottle and inhaling it like she’d planned to? Why was she standing stock still, staring into the transparent bile and refusing to drink it despite how badly she wanted to?
A sob escaped her, and the bottle slipped from her grasp, hitting the floor and shattering at her feet. Sandra cried, and once the tears started, she couldn’t stop them. She wailed, fumed, and screamed as she threw punches at the boxes of dehydrated foods on the shelf, knocking most of them across the kitchen. Once she ran out of energy, Sandra fell onto Dorian’s bed again and cried into his pillow.
No… she couldn’t give up. Because, no matter how hopelessly lost she felt now, no matter how certain she was that her life was over… it wasn’t just about her.
It was about Dorian.
There had to be a reason he didn’t come home. Something must have held him up. Maybe he ended up getting carted off by the government, or he ran into trouble with some lunatics on the road, and maybe he was lying injured in a ditch somewhere. Something had happened to him, and no matter how desperately Sandra wanted to sleep it all away, she wanted even more to see Dorian again, to know he was alright, and maybe to apologize for treating him like garbage all the time…
“God—” Sandra sat bolt upright and launched the pillow across the bunker. “FUCKING DAMMIT!”
Her despair quickly warping into anger, Sandra shot off the bed and began storming around the bunker, rummaging through her uncle’s belongings and searching for anything that might help her. In one of the kitchen drawers, she found her 45 pistol, the one she’d gotten for her tenth birthday. She grabbed a box of ammunition, dumped it into her bugout bag, and started digging through the contents of the backpack. There were two bugout bags in the bunker, one intended for her, the other intended for her uncle. Sandra didn’t know what was in them, and she hadn’t cared to know until now.
Her fingers wrapped around numerous things, and she pulled out a handful of items; the strap attached to a pair of binoculars, a small combat knife, a bottle of water purification tablets, and a gold plated compass on a thin, chain-like necklace. She was about to dig deeper into the backpack, but she froze when she spotted the face of the compass dangling from her fingers. The arrow was bobbing around, and it was a short, fat arrow, a black one. It wasn’t in the shape of a needle, as most compass arrows were. This one looked more like…
“A spade,” Sandra uttered.
All at once, the sadness, rage, and frustration melted away as Sandra’s oceanic eyes rested on the wobbling spade-arrow. It wasn’t just a coincidence that it looked like a spade, was it? No, it wasn’t just a fat arrow… it was exactly the shape of a spade, identical to the symbol on an ace-of-spades card. It even had the tiny square piece poking off of the back. It was intentionally fashioned into a spade by whoever had made it.
Follow the spade to sanctuary.
Sandra placed the compass around her neck and put the rest of the stuff back into the bag. Then, she went to the kitchen, grabbed bottled waters and stacks of canned sardines, and she crammed them into the bag until she couldn’t fit any more. She yanked the solar charger from the kitchen drawer, snatched up the portable radio, shoved them into the bag, and zipped it tightly shut. Lastly, she found her uncle’s pistol holster and wrapped it around her waist, loading her gun’s clip and placing her pistol in its pouch. With her bugout bag on and her pistol on her hip, Sandra headed for the door. She stopped, took her uncle’s cup of cold, black coffee, turned it up, and chugged it.
After placing the empty cup on the shelf again, Sandra marched out of the bunker and into the night.
“Follow the spade to sanctuary…” she said, gazing into the compass.
It wasn’t much of a lead, but it was a start.
The town of Angel Wood sat silently in the darkness, shrouded in fog and black clouds. Nobody was in the town now, and none of the stars were visible in the night sky. Perhaps it was due to the fallout in the atmosphere. It looked as though all the stars had simply disappeared, as did every light in the town, and every car that once sat on the streets or in the driveways. There was no telling what awaited her outside of Angel Wood, but nevertheless, Sandra took to the road north, giving a final glance at her house up the hill before setting off on her journey.
And what a long journey it would be.