He growled, “What, no more peas?”
“Harvey, the last can. We’re out of food.”
“Nonsense. There’s at least another two boxes back there.”
“They’re empty. Or, rather, they’re full of empty cans. There’s not much in the way of drinking water, either. The raincatcher must be blocked up…”
“I’ll check it.”
“And the food? You’re going to have to go out and—”
“I’m not going.” He said it with an eerie finality.
“Fine, I’ll go.”
“You won’t make it ten steps out that door.”
She stared at him, arms crossed.
“Fine. I’ll go in the morning.”
“It’s not looking good for you, there, Orville.”
Orville reached out with both arms, tried to get to his feet, but was pulled off-balance by the chains, falling heavily back onto his rear. He hissed in anger.
“Not good at all.”
Orville moaned in hunger, mouth agape, black tongue hanging dry and bloated against his torn bottom lip.
“I had it all worked out, Orville. They was gonna let me keep you down here, chained. But then you had to go and bite the little girl, Orville.”
Orville hissed again, unrepentant.
“Not cool, Orville.”
At night, or underground, they cut through us like a harvester through wheat. If they’d landed during the winter, with shorter days, we might already have lost everything.
We’re booby-trapping underground areas as we fall back, but our most precious weapon in the struggle to retain Earth might just be the sunlamp.
The old wizard concentrated with his eyes closed, ignoring the world around him; after not too long, he could hear the whispering distinguish itself from the breeze. He never caught every word, or even most. Some days he was lucky to pick out a word here and a phrase there.
Today it was as if they wanted him to hear. “High grounds. To the hills.”
He thought of farm animals predicting earthquakes, inclement weather. He put the old fedora onto his head, stood creakily up from the park bench, and hobbled over to the sidewalk to flag down a cab.
The alien leaned over him, smelling faintly of nutmeg. “Can you understand my speech?”
Groggily, he answered, “Yes.”
“You are human Christopher Patrick Torolevsky.”
“I… am. That’s me.”
“And you came to this planet for what reason?”
“I… I’m on vacation. With my wife. With… is Mary Elisabeth all right? Is she ok?”
“Do not excite yourself, you are still week. Your mate is alive and uninjured: the Make-haste did not strike her.”
He coughed. “Lucky.”
“Yes. You were very difficult to put back together. It was most challenging. Though, we are fairly certain everything is where it should be.”
Our first clue was a frayed wire in D section, that Applebaum ran across while doing routine maintenance. It wasn’t frayed, of course, it was chewed, but we didn’t know that then.
Then we started finding droppings and tiny pieces of shredded paper in the crawlspaces. That was enough for the Cap to order a stem-to stern eyes-on.
The nest was in one of the engineering spaces. They were all through the food stores, too. This far out from Sol, with compromised food, we started to panic.
The doc suggested we get used to thinking of the rats as ‘livestock’.
She felt a cold chill again, raising goose bumps on her skin and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. She muted the television; though he never spoke, it helped her to concentrate.
“Bob?” She could feel him. She couldn’t describe how, no matter how hard she searched for the words when skeptical friends asked. There’s a difference between an empty house and a house where someone is in the next room being very, very quiet. You just feel them.
“Bob?” She could hear kids playing in the street, on an unseasonably warm late-fall day. '”I miss you…”
It had been building for weeks, in a look, a sigh, a reproachful silence. Finally, over dinner, she looked up while he was chewing a spoonful of peas and said, "Our son has never left this room. He's never seen grass. Or the goddamn sky or a tree."
"I understand that, Cecily." Wendell didn't bother laying out his argument. She already knew it: what if they're still out there?
“He’ll be walking soon. When we run out of food—”
“Running out of food is years away, I did the math.”
She ate quietly, for a while, before pointedly observing, "There should be a way to look out without opening the doors."
"There isn't." When she started shaking her head, started to open her mouth, started to go on, he added by way of reminder: "It was built as a shelter from nuclear war, Cecily. They were gonna be in here for years. There would have been radiation from fallout. There would have been no reason to look out, all they would've seen would've been ashes and snow. And for that matter, all we’d see is zombies. So why bother?"
“What if it’s over? What if they found a cure and it’s over and done with?”
“We’d be picking up radio, and we’re not. I put up the antenna and check every day, Cecily; nobody’s transmitting. We haven’t picked up anything since week three.” He took a bite of Spam, chewed it, swallowed. He’d gotten to like it, actually. He said with finality, “We stay inside until we know it’s safe.” Unspoken: or until the food runs out and we have no choice in the matter.
She went back to eating in silence.
After dinner, they watched the baby play with a die-cast metal car in the middle of a throw run on the floor, and when he finally nodded off to sleep, they laid down on their cot — forced by its size into an unwelcome intimacy — and did the same.
Later, Wendell woke up in the darkened shelter, sweating and gasping in the dry, stale air. He felt Cecily’s absence from the cot and rolled over; there she was, dressed, hand on the door latch. "Don't. Honey, don't. It's not worth it. Leave it a while."
"I can't. I can't just stay down here without knowing. I have to know." She didn’t pull at the lever, didn’t defy him, but neither did she let go. Who knows how long she’d been standing there, waiting for either the courage to do it or for him to wake up and realize she had meant business.
He sat up, ran his hands slowly through his hair. He knew her too well, knew she wouldn't let it go. Eventually she would pull the lever and throw the door open. "Let me put on my shoes and get the gun." He'd been down to eight shells when they'd reached the concrete steps down to the shelter door, months ago. There were still eight now.
“What time is it? Do you think it’s light out?”
The clock on the wall had stopped weeks ago: he didn’t have the right batteries. “Dunno. It’ll be spring, though. Warm probably.” He didn’t bother with a coat; he put his hand on the lever and pulled the latch open with affected calm.
“Be careful.” She glanced back at the crib in the corner, as if only now counting the risks.
He pulled the heavy door open and looked up the stairwell. The surface doors, regular old wood like a storm cellar door, were closed and intact. Beams of sunlight full of swirling dust streamed through the cracks. “So far so good. Stay here.”
He walked up the steps and, after listening for a moment, slowly pushed open first one side of the door and then the other with the muzzle of the shotgun, revealing a blue sky almost devoid of clouds. Once his eyes adjusted, he stepped up almost to the top and looked around.
The house was still there, though the doors were gone, kicked in, and some of the windows broken. Doubtlessly it had been ransacked. The neighbor’s house, just down the street, had burned to the ground. Both cars had been left in the driveway, but were nowhere to be seen.
He had expected grass grown tall from going un-mowed for so long, but it was close-cropped, and soon he saw why: there was a family of deer moving casually across the backyard, near the wooden fence.
“Shh! Stay there…” He stepped up onto the grass. He’d killed three zombies on the lawn, before, on the way to the shelter, but nothing was left of them, not even bones, at least not that he could see. “I don’t see any. They could be inside the h—”
She brushed by him, already nearly at a run. She had the baby wrapped in a blanket in her arms. “Cecily! Where—” He started to run, stopped, looked back at the shelter doors hanging open. “Cecily!”
She kept going, around past the front of the house and into the street. She had their son. “Cecily, come back!”
His voice would be attracting any zombies nearby. He took a step back towards the shelter doors. “Cecily!”
They’d been married six years. He knew her. He knew her. She wasn’t coming back. This was her escape, and she either didn’t want him coming with her, or didn’t care either way.
Mrs. Parkhurst from across the street appeared at the corner of the house, dead, staring blankly, moaning. Six months ago, on the way to the shelter, he’d blown Mr. Parkhurst’s head apart very near where his late wife was now standing.The baby — then a tiny newborn — had slept through the noise while his mother had almost dropped the car-seat in her panic.
He aimed, fired, and Mrs. Parkhurst dropped. He turned and stepped down into the darkened stairwell, closing behind him first the storm cellar doors, and then the fallout shelter door at the bottom.