Authors: S.L. Dearing
Tags: #dystopian, #Romance, #post-apocalyptic, #Suspense, #adventure, #Thriller
S. L. DEARING
A Post-Apocalyptic Short Story Originally published in the Apocalypse Anthology by Cynthia Shepp
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by the Author
Cynthia and Cassie, for creating the contest and encouraging the art of writing in all of us.
hannon felt the cold wetness against her cheek as she forced her eyes open, only to close them again quickly as the warm, wet tongue slid over her face.
“I’m up, Max...I’m up.”
The Sheppard/ Lab mix danced excitedly as she rose from the cot, his nails tapping against the concrete floor. Shannon walked slowly across the room of the tiny shelter to her rations bin and opened it.
Inside the bin she saw what was left of her emergency rations: four bottles of water and food enough for three days, at most. She glanced around the room, illuminated by a few LED lamps, and stopped at the calendar. Three weeks. Each day ticked off by a giant X. She had been in this hole for three weeks.
She hadn’t thought about the water. Half of her supplies had been used to flush a toilet that was no longer attached to a working main line. She had thought the power and plumbing would have been restored by now. After all, this was an earthquake shelter...but what if the alert from the EBS wasn’t an earthquake?
“It sure felt like an earthquake, didn’t it, Max?”
He cocked his head to one side, ears up, and wagged his tail. Shannon smiled and turned back to the rations bin. She pulled out a foil package, ripped it open and broke off a piece of rice cake, then tossed it to her dog. Then she placed the bulk of food in her mouth, holding it with her teeth as she reached for a small black radio. Her index finger slid the small button into the on position and her thumb began to rotate the wheel as she watched the needle slide across the series of numbers. There was nothing but static. She switched to her AM channels, but the result was the same. Then she watched as the light dimmed and went out. She banged it a few times, then turned it off and put it back on the shelf. She stood and walked over to her chair, finally biting into the survival ration as she sat down and chewed, laughing to herself. Why had she turned off the radio? It was dead. Dead...
She broke off another piece of food and tossed it Max, who caught it and smacked loudly with each chew. She slouched into the chair looking at the ceiling. She finally let herself think about what might be going on outside. She hadn’t been able to get anything on the radio. The phone had stopped working immediately, no power, no Internet. She had told herself that the moment she had gotten power or plumbing or a radio station coming in clear, she would head for the surface. But none of those things happened. She shuddered slightly as her imagination started to race, but she closed her eyes, pushing the thoughts out of her head. She glanced back at Max and smiled, then tossed him another piece of cardboard rice. She then looked at the wrapper, 3,600 calories and a five-year shelf life. She shook her head and tossed the wrapper on the floor.
“Maybe I should stop reading labels, huh? Time to head out, Maxie... we need more supplies...need to see if anyone else if alive.”
She stood up and looked around her. The shadows of the lamps playing against the grey of the concrete walls, smooth and flat, save for the air vents scattered in the four corners. She stood up and walked over to her cot and reached up. She moved aside a jacket and grabbed a pink and black backpack. The neon pink edges glowed in the lamplight. She turned, then stopped and grabbed the same fleece jacket she had just moved and shoved it into the backpack. She moved back to the rations bin and filled the backpack with the water and food. Then she turned and put on jeans and a long sleeve shirt with the silkscreened Trojan emblazoned on the front, with the words “Fight On!” written underneath. She sat and pulled on her thick socks and hiking boots. The laces worked their way up the hooks and were tied tightly. She then grabbed a hair tie and pulled her long auburn hair behind her head and into a high ponytail, letting the long curly tendrils cascade around her face. As she stood up, she noticed the butterflies swirling in her belly. The nervous energy catching her for a moment, but she took a step forward and breathed deeply. She grabbed up the backpack and started to close the top, then stopped.
“What do you think, Max? What if there’s bad stuff going on out there? We might need something to defend ourselves. And what if we can’t get back here once we leave?”
She frowned, looked around the hole and saw the box of matches she had prepared with a paraffin coating to protect them from wetness. She grabbed them and tossed them in the backpack. The radio? No, the batteries had died and it was just one more thing to carry. What could she use as a weapon? She glanced around the room again. A screwdriver? A knife? Then she saw a box near her cot. The items she had been meaning to use to make the hole in the ground homier. She moved to the box and began to pull out items, a couple vases, a few pictures, some books, and at the bottom, a shelf with two L brackets. She laughed. L brackets, the best weapons in hand-to-hand combat with a zombie. She smiled as she remembered a dream she’d once had, where she was left with no other alternative then to use L Brackets against the walking dead and, to her delight, they had worked beautifully.
“Probably no zombies out there, but these could be beneficial, right?”
Max barked once in approval and wagged his tail. She stood up and looked at her desk. There was a roll of duct tape. She began to wrap the duct tape around the middle of the bracket until it felt soft in her hand and she could get a tight grip around it. Then repeated the process with the second bracket and then placed them securely in her backpack. Shannon removed the remainder of the dried ration of rice cake and took a last bite before tossing the rest to Max. She was about to shoulder the backpack when she looked back over at the box.
She knelt beside the box again and pulled up three picture frames. They were small and silver, each containing a photo, children laughing, a couple kissing, and a group of people at a park. She smiled as she looked at the pictures, then she slid them into her backpack and zipped it up. She turned back to Max, who had been watching her.
“Ok, Buddy, let’s do this?”
Shannon slipped her arms into the straps of the pack and secured it comfortably on her shoulders, and then she took a deep breath, walked to the door and slid the bolt back with a loud clang. She pulled the door towards her and blinked as she covered her eyes; the sunlight filled the stairs that led to the surface. Slowly her eyes became accustomed to the brightness before her and she stepped out onto the stairs. The soles of her boots thudded against the stone steps as she ascended higher and higher, the light increasing with each step. She covered her already squinted eyes a little more.
“Why is it so bright?”
When she reached the top of the stairs, she blinked again and looked around. Her house was gone, nothing but a foundation remained. She stepped forward and stifled a groan. Everything was gone. Memories gone, food gone, transportation gone, clothes gone...everything was gone. Tears ran down her face as her heart twisted in her chest. It wasn’t the house or the things that had been destroyed that caused her grief, she knew that. It was what she could see. The entire neighborhood was gone. The silence was deafening. There were no birds in the sky, no trees, only broken trunks and scattered rubble and cars. Everything and everyone was gone.
Shannon looked out into the distance and wiped her eyes, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly, trying to regain control. She looked behind her to see Max making his way next to her, also squinting and blinking his eyes.
“I didn’t think it’d be this bad.”
He pressed his head into her hand and she felt the warm softness of his fur on her fingertips as she instinctively scratched behind his ear. That familiar warmth, he was all she had left. In the moment, she was comforted and she felt her lips turn upward as she stepped forward. She had known in her gut that something was wrong, but she hadn’t dreamed that it had come to this. She began walking slowly down the neighborhood road, Max at her side. In every direction she looked, she saw ruin. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t contain her sadness. Tears flowed silently down her face as she took in all the destruction, hoping to see someone...anyone.
After having walked for several hours, Shannon began to notice that the evening sun was hanging low in the sky. She didn’t even know where she was anymore. The destroyed suburban homes had given way to the remnants of businesses and skyscrapers and still not one person. She began to quicken her pace as she moved down the rubble-strewn street. In the distance, there was a building still intact, a restaurant. As she walked closer she noticed a sign, The Blue Turtle.
“Stupid name,” she said. “C’mon, Max. Maybe there’s some food left inside that’s not spoiled.”
She pulled the door and it opened easily. Max scampered inside as she slipped into the dimness. The heavy wooden door closed behind her as she took several steps into the darkness. Suddenly she felt she wasn’t alone.
She put out her hand and felt the dog’s cold nose and muzzle against her skin. She grabbed his collar and tried to take a step back, but stopped. She felt the hard circular object against her side as a hand grabbed her upper arm.
“Stand right there, sweetheart, and keep quiet.” the deep voice quietly commanded. Max began to growl.
“Shut him up, now!!”
The dog quieted, but Shannon could feel his muscles still tense under her fingers.
“What do you want?” She asked.
“I want you to be quiet. Don’t move and don’t make a sound. I’ll explain after.”
“Seriously, shut the fuck up.”
Shannon was about to speak again when she heard the motors. A low rumble moving closer, then snapping and crushing sounds that got louder and louder. She felt the rumble start in Max, but sensing the need for silence she wrapped her hands around his muzzle, his muscles going lax under her physical command. The man behind her let loose of her arm and glanced through a mostly covered window. She looked over at him, a shadow mostly, but she could see he was tall and muscular with long, shoulder-length hair. He lightly put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her down in a crouching position, placing his finger against his lips. She glanced down at Max, his brown eyes afraid of the noise, but still staying silent in his mistress’ hands.
The grinding of the motors and crunching of stone and steel became deafening, but they remained silent, waiting for the barrage to pass. Just when she thought she could take no more, the last of the vehicles passed and the motors faded into the night. Silence once again filled the night and Shannon felt the stranger’s hand lift from her shoulder.
“Sorry about that. I can’t believe you were running around at dusk. They always come at dusk. Where have you been...in a hole or something?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she replied.
She took her hands from Max’s nose and rubbed him behind his ears, praising him for being such a good boy. She turned when she saw a dim light appear from behind her. There was the stranger.
He was a man in his late twenties with long brown hair and a stubble-strewn face, full lips and a strong nose that framed sad brown eyes. He looked at her and then looked away.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“An earthquake shelter under my house...under what was left of my house. What the hell happened? Three weeks ago I’m deciding what to wear to work the next day, eating a bowl of pasta, and then an EBS warning lights up the TV telling us all to find secure shelter so I go to my hole in the ground. Then nothing! No power, no water, no radio, nothing. Where is everybody? What happened? And what was that outside?!”
He sighed and sat down on a table, pulling his knees up to his chest.
“Well, that...” he motioned towards the street, “was a roundup committee. I don’t know who or what they are, just that they’re looking for survivors. I’ve run into a few people out here and several have been taken. Most I never see again, but the one I did...he was changed...different. Like he was...I don’t know...a Stepford, you know? Like the movie...he kept trying to tell me how great it was and how happy he was...all the food they had and...I don’t know...it was weird...creepy. I ran. I saw him once again, leading a roundup. He had become one of them.”
“Who’s them? What happened to everyone? Why is everything destroyed?”
“Honestly, no one knows. What time did you go into the shelter?”
“I don’t know...9 or 9:30 that night... It took me like three hours to find some batteries to put in the radio and by then, there was nothing but the EBS message. Then silence.”