by Roger A Wilbanks
Kyle pounded his fist into the same spot on the metal wall of the bunker. He did this often enough that, with time, he actually dented the metal, forming a fist shaped depression in the steel. He hit it just hard enough to feel it but not to break a bone. It was his way of dealing with the stress of being locked in this bio-sealed coffin for three years.
The other families in the bunker had their own ways of handling the stress. Some drank the gutter vodka distilled from extra potatoes. They would play pool, but the stress broke every cue stick. OK, not the stress, Carl broke them. Carl lived in the last room in the bunker. He hated being shut in as much as Kyle, he just didn't handle it as well. He got drunk. He broke things. Broken things here didn't get fixed. There was no “I'll go down the street and get a new one.” They were locked in this 27 room underground complex. There was no street to go down. They were buried alive.
The plague that drove them here was one nasty hombre. It killed 2 out of three people it touched in the first month. It's often said they were the lucky ones. The rest scrambled and clawed their way towards survival. They locked their doors. They taped their windows shut. They stayed away from everyone and closed the world out. The only thing they succeeded at was dying alone and shut in. The others burned the bodies. They dug deep pits and dropped steel tubes attached to airtight containers in the ground. They installed elaborate greenhouses that used actual sunlight to grow food 50 feet below the ground. They did all this and they hid. Those unhealthy enough to pass the test were left topside to die in the dead world. Only the healthy were allowed down.
It wasn't so bad at first. It was like camping out. They had electricity powered by solar, they cooked with a geothermic pipe sunk deep into the earth. Their air and water were filtered and scrubbed. They had a jukebox. They had all the stored food they would need to ride out the expected life cycle of the virus. 4 years. The only thing they didn't plan on taking down with them was patience.
Within the first year, 30 people committed suicide. They hid in a corner where there are no corners, out of sight just long enough to drink the bottle of poison or cut themselves where it couldn't be repaired and they dies. The bodies were dumped without ceremony topside for the vultures by some brave idiot protected in a bio-suit who stayed up just long enough to throw them down and scramble back into his hatch. His suit was burned, he was locked in a quarantine box with a rabbit for three days. The virus showed signs after 1, but the rabbit was a precaution in-case he was just a carrier.
Kyle was the idiot today. He had just tossed Shelia topside. She gave him no indication she was finished. They were together last week. 3 days ago, she ate a Brillo pad. The metal and the poison killed her in three hours, but she suffered. Kyle held her through the entire trip. When she went away, no one had to ask. He began putting on a suit.
He took his time with this one. He placed Shelia down beside a tree in the shade. He couldn't bury her. There were no tools. The best he could do was cover her and say a quick prayer. He mouthed the words. God had been dead to him for a while now, but he knew she would have appreciated it. He turned at movement in the distance. It was a person walking. He fought the instinct to dart down into the hole. There were survivors, people immune to the virus. In the early days of the plague, the government touted these people as the saviors of the human race. They were wrong. Their immunity was a one off. Their offspring died. They were just lucky. He saw this shadow on the horizon disappear into the trees and then hopped into the hole. As he tossed his suit into the incinerator and scrubbed himself, he wondered what that person out there felt. He always pictured himself a prisoner, trapped in a 27 room cell but that guy was free. He wondered what that freedom meant. He pictured that fella digging the earth and planting crops in soil that was warmed by the sun. He imagined him doing this bare chested and tan. He imagined sweating at the effort and wiping his brow with a rag shoved into his back pocket. He imagined taking a sip of cold water from a canteen. He imagined all of this for three days. With a healthy rabbit as his key, he reentered his prison, went to his room and began pounding on the wall again. He hit the same exact spot, just like he did last week.
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