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This pasta got narrated! Check it out, it's really a fantastic reading by the little-known-but-amazing Midnite Marshall!
The screech of the closing vault door startles me. Why is it closing? Shit. I recklessly drop the heavy box of canned foods and rush to the front of the sprawling bunker before pausing. Are the bombs being dropped? Are my wife and daughter inside? Why don’t I hear sirens? I drop the thoughts and continue to the entrance, praying my family is not trapped outside with the threat of nuclear annihilation looming over the United States.
I duck and weave through supplies and boxes, sprinting with fear in my heart. We aren’t prepared. We don’t have even a tenth of the supplies needed to survive the twenty-year lock on the vault door. We will be forced to slowly starve to death in these lifeless, uncaring walls. Twenty years for the fallout to dissipate. Twenty years will go by, and my daughter will grow up without any friends. She’ll grow into adulthood, not even knowing what animals are. And that’s if we survive in the first place, if they even made it into the vault.
I reach the entrance and much to my dismay see that it is closed; there was no sign of my family. Faintly, I hear a rhythmic beating on the door.
“God damn it. Nick, are you in there?” whispers a voice from behind the door.
“Lucy! What’s going on out there? Are- are the bombs dropping?!” I yell as loudly as I can muster in the heavy air, desperately hoping I can be heard.
“Nick, thank God you’re okay! The door malfunctioned; it won’t open! I called the police, they might be able to get you out.”
A thousand thoughts race through my mind. There’s no bomb. The police are coming. Oh God, am I trapped in here? This vault was made to withstand a goddamn nuclear strike; there is no way they’ll be able to get me free by force. I hope for escape anyway.
“Nick, are you still there?”
“Honey, if they can’t get me out of here...tell Lauren I love her.” My poor girl. What must she think of this?
“No no no, don’t say that! We’ll get you out of there, Nick!” She sounds loud and determined even through the five feet of lead and steel.
“Look, it’s just in case. I’ll get out. I swear.”
I faintly hear the sound of dozens of sirens. The police and the fire department, hopefully. The good kind of sirens. I hope against the odds they will find a way, even though in my heart I know it’s impossible. I clutch that small hope in the deepest part of my heart.
“I love you, Lucy.”
I lounge against the heavy vault door, the frantic panic passing, only to be replaced by a deep, soul-crushing dread. Four hours have passed since the police arrived. I spoke with the sergeant through the heavy door, and he solemnly described my situation to me, and confirmed my worst fears. They can do nothing. Nothing short of...well, a point-blank nuclear blast, would force open the door. He tells me he has mechanics and electricians working on the automated system, doing what they can to open the door that way, but they have yet to even find the source of the problem.
I refuse to eat until my body screams for me to do otherwise. I need to conserve my food. I need to prepare for the worst. Eventually, I give in to my angry body’s demands and open a can of beans. Should I heat the food, or conserve the gas? How cold will it get in the winter? Am I overthinking it? I decide to eat the beans cold, using the lid as a makeshift spoon. Giving in to my body’s desires, I shovel it in faster than I should. Thankfully, my body decides it’s satisfied after the meal.
I feel tired, but I quickly realise have no way of telling time. I dig through the supplies, but it is mostly necessities. Food, water, clothes, and hygienic products. Thankfully, I find a battery powered clock to mark the passing of time and I scrawl a calendar on a sheet of paper.
I return to the door and call for my wife. She doesn’t hear me. I remember the programmed lock on the door. Twenty years. It’s my only real hope now.
It’s been three days. Boredom sets in. I desperately want to see my daughter and wife one last time. I dread the day my wife moves on. She’s loyal now, but will that last twenty years? The thought of my wife marrying another man and raising a family directly above me sickens me.
And my daughter. I will never see her grow. She’s only four. Will she even remember my face? Will I just be a voice behind a thick door to her? She will grow into a woman and I won’t be there to see it. My heart breaks at the thought.
“Daddy, are you going to get out?”
Another whisper from the door. Fragile. More innocent than the previous one. Tears slur her speech.
“Honey, is that you? Lauren, it’s okay. Don’t cry, honey. I’ll be out in no time.” I hope that isn’t a lie.
“Will you read me a bedtime story?”
Bedtime? The clock says it is only 3:32pm.
“What time is it, dear?”
She falls silent for a few moments, before answering, “Mommy said it’s 9:10.” I quickly adjust my clock to be accurate.
“What are you doing up so late, honey?”
“Mommy said you would read me a story.”
“One moment, dear.”
I dig through a few boxes, hoping we packed some books for Lauren. I look for nearly ten minutes, and find nothing. Solemnly, I return to the door, piecing together a story in my head.
I return to the door to hear faint tears, and I hope to console my daughter.
“Honey, I’m back.”
“Are you going to read, daddy? Mom said it’s bed time now.”
“Tell her to hold on a moment. I found a story for you,” I lie, hoping I can come up with a story for my little girl on the spot.
I begin the story hesitantly at first, before gaining confidence. I took creative writing classes in high school, although I doubt they will help me now.
“Once, there was an adorable family of moles. A mommy, a daddy, and a cute little girl. They lived a happy life in a big home, until a big old wolf threatened to blow it down.”
I cringe at my own lack of originality.
“But the moles were warned by a kind old man named Uncle Sam, and they dug an enormous hole to be safe in. One day during the digging, the daddy mole got stuck inside, and couldn’t get back out. His family grew very worried, and did everything they could to get him free. Eventually, the mole mommy and mole girl dug the daddy out.”
I close the story.
“See honey? If the daddy mole could get out with the help of his family, so can I. You should get to bed now. School starts in a few weeks, and you need to get used to going to bed early.”
“Love you, daddy.” Her tears stopped.
“Love you, too.”
“God, I love you Nick.” A second voice whispers through the door.
“Take Lauren to bed, hun, but come back. I...I need to talk to you about some things.”
I silently wait against the cold and heavy steel for my wife to return, dreading what I need to tell her.
I hear Lucy knock on the heavy door.
“Lucy? That you?”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Lucy, I need to talk to you about something. About the vault. About me getting out.”
She says nothing.
“The door is programmed to stay closed for twenty years. The electricians couldn’t bypass it. It’s my only hope to get out of here.”
I hear her choke back tears. She thinks the same thing I do. Twenty years.
“If I ration the food, there might be enough until then. It’s going to be tight. We only have a tenth of the food in here, but it’s only me. Take the extra food to the public fallout shelter. If the sirens go off, go there with Lauren as fast as possible, understand?”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Nick.”
“I’ll try. But I need to think about Lauren. She’s only four, for Christ’s sake.”
“I know. Just...just do it for me, okay? I love you, Lucy. And Lauren, too.”
I talk to the door for ten minutes before I realize Lucy left.
Twenty years of this.
I count the cans of food and catalog everything. I plan meals for the next twenty years. Routine will get me through this. Two cans of beans on Mondays - one at noon and one at 8:00pm. One bag of saltine crackers on Tuesdays, snacking throughout the day. Canned peaches on Wednesday. Jerky on Thursday. I splurge on Friday and eat an extra meal.
I ration out a bottle of water a day, despite having more than enough. Water was the first thing we loaded, and there is enough for three. The vault was built over a small aquifer, and we have running water. I take consolation in the fact I will at least be able to take a shower, albeit a cold one.
I draw on a sheet of paper. I've always been an artist, ever since I was four, and I got a drawing book for my birthday. I sketch ovals and angles, layering lines and value, piecing together a face I recognized as Lauren’s. I stroke her graphite hair and pixie-like face, marking the page with my tears. I stare at it for a few more moments before hanging it on the vault door with the others. It’s already been three weeks. I make a vow to not forget the faces of my wife and child.
Lucy used to come talk to me every night. That stopped after the fourth month. After the ninth, she stops coming completely. It’s the thirteenth that breaks my heart.
I hear a distant rumbling, but know it is much closer than it sounds. The uncaring lights flicker as the bunker shakes. The pages that line the wall flutter around the room, a tornado of faces and tears.
I don’t know which number is more painful.
I feel eyes staring at me. They are nothing new. They’ve been here longer than I can remember. It’s sixty-seven now. They can’t be as bad as what happened on thirteen. I pause. What happened on thirteen? I rake the knife across the walls, carving a face that doesn’t have a name anymore, along with another set of eyes.
I follow the rules of one pair of eyes. They tell me I can’t eat when I want to. They tell me beans on Monday. Jerky on Thursday. One bottle of water a day. I’m hungry. Why won’t they let me eat?
I look in a cracked mirror. My naked body is emaciated. Ribs show through the skin. Hair comes loose in clumps. Starving. But still alive.
One hundred and twenty. Halfway. Halfway to what? The eyes judge me for doing nothing. So I start to draw them.
I fill the walls with all four hundred and thirty six of them. The eyes lining the walls judge me. All of them attached to a beautiful pixie face that I don’t recognize. Eyes from my nightmares. Two hundred and eighteen pairs silently judging me. The walls are lined with them. The metal hidden by paper. When I run out of sheets I carve into the walls. When the knives dull and my nails fracture and bleed, I continue my art in feces and blood.
Two hundred and eighteen.
The ungodly screech startles me. Did I upset the eyes? I hope not. I skitter quickly to one of the many dark corners, fear deep in my bones. The screeching refuses to stop. I yell out to it.
“Shut up, shutup, shutupshutupSHUTUP!”
Surprisingly, the screeching complies. A chill goes down my spine, and I realize it’s not from fear.
It’s a breeze.
I force my decrepit body out of the corner and hesitantly head towards the source. I reach the rusted doorway with the faded sign that once said “Entrance”, and duck through it. Before it is an unimaginable sight. The vault door lays open, revealing a sprawling desert with hesitant life poking through the cracks of ancient concrete and flattened homes.
I take a few steps into this new world before tripping on a branch. Only it isn’t a branch. It's a charred bone. A charred bone connected to a charred skeleton. Two of them. One much smaller than the other.
I drop to my knees and remember the name of the nameless face. Tears drip down mine.
The four hundred and thirty-six eyes scream desperately for me to return.
Written by Ecuinach