This story is by LJNewlin and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
For the first time in almost three years, the hatch to the bunker opened. The sun filtered in, hurting her eyes, then the door sealed shut. Alone sealed in this coffin. Alone with her thoughts and fears. Barb went over to the table, pulled out the journal and wrote:
Alan left the bunker to find supplies. If you’re still around God, will you please protect him?
Earlier that day, Alan prepared his list at the only table in the dimly lit room. Barb leaned over her husband and ever so gently lifted the headset from his left ear. “You’re not wearing those when you go out, are you?”
An old Buffalo Springfield song, “For What it’s Worth,” wafted through the air.
“Too risky. I have to keep my wits about me, and that includes my poor hearing. Did you find the sunglasses?”
“Uh huh, I put them with your ball cap, on top of the backpack. I wish you didn’t have to go, or I could go with you.”
“Barb, we talked about this. I can be out and back much quicker if I’m not worried about protecting you or waiting for you to catch up.”
Barb’s face turned forlorn, it crushed her to think her husband of 34 years would consider her a burden.
Alan cupped her face with his hands, “Ah, come on. You know what I mean. I know you’re scared, but we are low on supplies. Plus, we need to know what’s going on. Is it safe? Did they burn it all down? Has the violence stopped? Has order been established or is it “Lord of the Flies?”
“My head understands the necessity for all of this. It’s just that I haven’t been scared once during this whole ordeal, but you have always been with me. You know there’s gonna come a time we will have to leave and just take our chances. What if you don’t come back? What do I do then?”
Tears rolled down her cheeks, wetting Alan’s fingers. “We’ve talked about all the options. After 60-days if I haven’t returned, it’s a safe bet I won’t. There are enough supplies for one person to last twice that amount of time. You’re the strongest woman I have ever known, you’ll know what to do.”
A weak smile crossed her face, “I wouldn’t mind a bottle of Merlot and a chocolate bar placed on that list you have. Come back my love, I can’t imagine a life without you.”
He wiped the tears from her eyes, “Nor I without you!”
I wish Rufus was still alive. That way, at least I’d have some companionship.
Rufus was an old cattle dog Alan and Barbara brought with them when they first entered the bunker. He didn’t do well and died before the year’s end. He became part of the compost system set up to dispose of bodily waste. Alan’s boss, Jim, had thought of everything. When Jim abruptly stopped showing up to work, Alan knew that something was horribly wrong. Working in positions requiring security clearances, they knew they were being monitored. His boss even more so. Somehow, word had leaked out that Jim was a survivalist. As far as the government was concerned, he was in the same category as the Taliban. In his job, he was privy to intelligence most did not have access to, and it gave him the heebie-jeebies. Jim gave Alan instructions to open the safe, remove all its contents, and leave immediately if anything happened to him. And so the adventure began.
In all our years together Alan and I have never been apart this long. I don’t know what to do with myself. I find myself pacing back and forth, vacillating between panic attacks and crying through my prayers. I worry, even if he does come back, I’ll be batshit crazy.
The bottle of Valium sat on a shelf near a small cooking stove. Barb was a fighter but if something happened, where her body and mind failed her, Alan was to let her go into that long goodnight. She counted the little blue tablets and determined that there was still plenty left to do the job if need be.
I tried reading but my old glasses no longer help much. My eyes tire and my head starts to hurt. The ibuprofen was long gone. I hope that’s on Alan’s list.
A shoebox rested in her lap. It was full of pictures taken over the years. Most everything was digital, but Barb had always kept actual pictures. She had a collage of them taped to the side of her refrigerator. Since no electronics were allowed to come with them, she tore them off their place of honor and hauled them to the bunker.
“Absolutely no WiFi bearing instruments,” Alan demanded. He even disconnected all the computers, TVs, Google Home devices and the GPS in the SUV before they left.
“They are always watching. They are always listening,” was his retort.
“What about the kids?” Barb lamented as she caressed the cell phone to her chest. The phone had become ingrained in her daily living. She loved seeing pictures of her grandkids posted on Facebook.
“With them being so far away the best I could do was leave them a message saying, ‘It was raining in Prague.’ They know what it means, and they know what to do.”
He took the phones and removed the sim cards, threw the cards down the garbage disposal and flipped the switch. He placed the phones, along with all the other electronic equipment, in a large rubber trash bin filled with acetone.
Now, all she had were old pictures and faded memories. Barb ran her weathered fingers across a picture from the last family reunion. They were all in God’s hands now. She breathed a deep sigh of despair.
I’m not sure… I’m not sure, but I think I hear something scratching at the hatch. Even in solitary confinement, the prisoner had someone to bring the food. At least they knew they weren’t completely alone.
A CB radio sat in the corner of the room gathering dust. Alan refused to use it. He said it used too much battery, and the military monitored them.
“A far easier task than monitoring cell phones since there are far less of these things.”
Even though she had no reason to doubt him, Barb made him show her how to use it, just in case.
She picked up the timer. Although, she couldn’t remember how long he said to set it. So, she chose ten minutes. Scrolling through the channels, she heard nothing but static. The loneliness and despair swallowed her up.
It’s getting dangerously close to that 60-day mark and still no Alan. I climbed the ladder to the hatch and listened for hours. Why not, what else was I to do. I could hear the wind kicking up and the scratching noise again. It’s probably just a branch. With the shotgun to my right and my little blue pills to my left, I sit in my chair waiting for Alan to return.
I decided to wait as long as I could. What the heck, I still have some food left. I was doing fine until I heard a deafening sound above. All I could think it could be was a herd of deer running away from something, but what? Then the next sound shook the very ground I stood on and a horrendous thud cracked above me. I ran to the hatch. Throwing all my instructions to the wayside, I used all the strength I could muster to open the hatch. It wouldn’t even budge. Alan said I was the strongest woman he knew. He was wrong. I’m overcome with fear knowing I am indeed entombed.
The bottle of little blue pills is empty now. I’m letting the CD player scream over the speakers. Who cares if they find me. Ha, this song is one of Alan’s favorites by the Animals, ‘We Gotta Get out of This Place.’
At least he got out of here.
When the temperature inside spiked, I finally realized why the animals were running over the bunker. There must be a massive fire out there. The last time I checked, it was ninety-six degrees and rising. I’m too old, I’m too tired to fight anymore. Without my Alan, there is no reason to go on. It’s getting harder to breathe. Ah, there it is. I feel my final goodnight coming to take me.
Donna K Wagle says
well written and kept my interest
Cathy Ryan says
Poor world. Poor Alan. Wonder if he tried to get back. You kept me wondering and hoping until the end.
Thanks for your review. If only I had a larger word count i could have resolved so many questions!
Jennifer O'Rourke says
Your story is so well written, it kept my attention from beginning to end. I could hardly wait to find out what would happen next. Would Alan return? Or was Barbara destined to spend the rest of her days (and eventually die) in the bunker. You placed me in Barbara’s head from the beginning and I thought the journal entries were very powerful. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. Best of luck in the contest!
Linda Newlin says
Thank you so much for your review. Now that the comment section is here, off I go a reading.
John Hughes says
I enjoyed your story. It caught my attention from the start, and held it all the way. You have a good balance of description, conversation and thoughts. The ‘journal entry’ format worked well.
A minor disappointment: the ending was not a big surprise or twist. But it was still a good ending – the ‘Get Out of This Place’ song, the ‘final goodnight coming to take me’.
Overall a great story!
Linda Newlin says
Thank you, John, for taking the time to read my story and for your kind remarks.
Sue Moreines says
Hi Linda! Hope you won’t mind a bit of a running commentary and questions/thoughts I had as I read the story.
First let me start with an overall summary: Loved the idea of the bunker, use of the journal with the Days identified (of course it made me go back to see how many days/weeks went by) and thought Alan would be back to bring supplies, updates, etc. I didn’t expect Barbara to take her own life. However, great ending just the same.
The details in the first paragraph confused me at first (first time hatch was open in 3 years then soon sealed shut) but caught on after learning that was when Alan left.
I assume you’re an expert (or did much research) on surviving in a tightly sealed bunker for that long (ie enough food, water, air…) since you did offer some hints along the way. Then the topic of secret government matters was revealed, which intrigued me. Alan and Barbara had to disappear, but I thought their family was going to find refuge from whatever was going to happen. That didn’t seem to happen, and wondered how they would even know that since they were in the bunker.
You made me imagine what was going on outside the bunker, noting scratching, a deafening sound, a thud from above and being trapped. I assumed there wasn’t a nuclear attack since the deer were still alive. All that being said, you made me wonder why they had to go to the bunker in the first place and stay there for so long.
Looking forward to reading chapter 2, when Alan finally makes it back and the truth is revealed.
Mary Patrick says
Awesome! I enjoyed reading the finished version. I thought the beginning really set the scene. Good luck in the contest.
Thank you Mary for your kind words.