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Image by Jannic Bohme
“Hallo. Hallo!” Was that how she was supposed to make contact? She pressed the volume button.
“Hallo! Is anybody there?”
There was crackling and hissing, faint voices. Hope began to rise within, her mind still refusing to believe it had happened despite the deep shuddering of the earth. It was a joke, she convinced herself. The kind of joke her husband Toby and two sons would play on her. Laughing at her stupidity. She was sure now, the steel door would open, their faces would appear, grinning.
“This is bunker twenty-nine.”
Lori wanted to cry with relief. A female voice, perhaps the woman she had met earlier, unloading her car. They had smiled and nodded at each other in the morning sunshine.
“This is bunker sixty-seven. I’m on my own.” Lori hated the quivering in her voice that sounded like defeat. “I didn’t hear a siren warning, but the door automatically closed.”
Another voice, deep and sharp.
“Bunker nineteen, is this an air raid exercise do you know? We can’t get information. I’ve got my parents here, my mum didn’t bring all her medication, we only came for the weekend practice drill. What should we do?”
“This is bunker thirteen. Just stay put, if I get any information I’ll pass it on. I’m turning off, want to save batteries. Save air.”
Lori switched off the battery phone that connected the bunkers through underground landlines. She clutched herself in the dimness of the low wattage bulb. It was her husband who had insisted. He liked the idea of owning a bunker ‘in case’. For him it was an adventure, an extension of the computer games he played with the boys. Not real. She had gone along with his wishes as usual. There were seventy bunkers within this area and there had been a holiday camp feel, when they had first arrived a few months ago, to view the vacant bunker sixty-seven.
A cold icy fear spread from her inner organs, reaching like tentacles throughout her body. Was she supposed to change the filters in the air vent daily? She couldn’t remember. Were there instructions? Should she save the power, turn off the bulb? She switched the phone battery back on, she couldn’t stand the silence, craving the sounds of other human beings.
“This is bunker sixty-seven. How long do we wait here?”
More crackling, hissing and popping.
“Bunker twenty-nine here. The manual says thirty days at least.”
“Bunker nineteen. Do you know how I can get my mum’s meds?”
The various voices continued to crackle and hiss, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet ghostly whispers. In the background she heard soft weeping, then realised it was coming from her.
Lori couldn’t bring herself to think of her family, above ground. They had jumped on their bikes with their fishing rods, her youngest son’s freckles sharp and jagged on his face. The red hairs on her eldest son’s head glinting like fireworks in the hot afternoon rays. Her husband’s tanned muscular legs pounding the pedals, as they waved a final goodbye, racing along the wooded path towards the lake.
“Bunker forty. My skin is very itchy, is that normal?”
“This is bunker twenty-nine, the manual says to close the air vent and seal with tape. Wait for the fallout cloud to pass over.”
“How long will it take, for the cloud to pass over?”
“I don’t know.”
Lori looked with shock at the open air vent. She should have read the manual. Stumbling across the room in semi darkness she pulled the metal shutter across the gaping hole with trembling hands. Where was the tape? She began frantically to rummage through boxes, pulling out items; tins of food that fell with a clunk to the floor, first aid kits spilling open, tea bags. Why were tea bags in the box of essentials? She almost laughed hysterically, then feeling disorientated, forgot what she was searching for. Wrapping a blanket around herself, shivering with cold, yet hot and itchy, she sat on one of the narrow bunks in a state of shock. She had no idea how long she sat, rocking slightly. Minutes? Hours? Days? The crackling and hissing had continued in the background of her mind, although the questioning voices had grown fainter, sadder. Terrified.
Overcome with sudden nausea, she pushed herself from the bed, heaving and choking, not reaching the chemical toilet in time, vomit spilling down her dress and onto the concrete floor. The ladder rungs leading to the steel door in the ceiling seemed to beckon her. She imagined the softness of the green grass beneath her bare feet, the abundance of leaves that quivered in the summer breeze, the lake beyond the trees, shimmering and cool, aqua blue beneath the turquoise skies The freckles, the red hair, the muscular legs, as if time stood still. They would laugh at her. Did you really believe it was the end of the world? Oh..Mum!
Eager and confused, she pulled herself painfully from one rung to another, reaching for the override button that would open the trap door; climbing out with a sense of befuddled joy before the door had fully opened. Her body collapsed onto the grey dust that covered the now barren landscape. Her stomach retched in painful spasms, but she had nothing left to bring up. She lay, weak, the sky a metallic yellow through the swirling grit, and saw her father approaching along the now naked earth, his arms outstretched. But her father had passed away many years ago. She closed her eyes tight, stinging now, on fire, then opened them again to see the stub of a solitary tree, stripped bare of leaves and bark, blackened; two spindly branches reaching out like the desperate arms of a lonely corpse.
“This is bunker sixty-seven,” she whispered to the tree, the dust clinging to her lips, filling her mouth and lungs. “I think I’m dying.”
Julie Dron lives in Taiwan and started writing in her sixties. Shortlisted with commendation Scottish Arts Trust flash fiction awards, published in their anthology Beached, Blink-Ink issue 50, Secret Attic volume 2, Wicked Shadow Press anthology Abominable and CultureCult magazine anthology Cosmic Contact. Also published in online magazines Flash Fiction Magazine and Syncopation Literary Journal (volumes 2). She believes you are never too old to follow your dreams.