Everything was silent. I stood by the front window, staring outside at the neighborhood.
Something happened to the southwest, instantly appearing, as if a nightmare. A horrifying ashy explosion followed by a resounding crack. It reached up, gargantuan, through the sky, a slim brown spire of ash surrounded by a grey dusty pillar. The top of the cloud spread out suddenly and boldly into a shape resembling a mushroom.
The type of fear it created was not just physical, it was existential and undeniable.
My best friends, Ryan and Rinzal were in their house just across the street. I rushed to the front door, flung it open and yelled to my friends to come quickly. I could see through the window that Ryan heard me, and made a hand signal saying “one minute”, disappearing into the back of his house.
Thirty seconds later, my friends ran frantically across the street, briefly looking back at the explosion several miles away, which was now spreading up and outwards even more. With a momentary relief, they were safely inside my house. Ryan had brought a slingshot and Rinzal carried a set of poker chips under his arm.
“It’s not safe here. The radiation is going to go right through these windows,” I stammered.
“We should take a roll of that black plastic and tape it over them,” suggested Rinzal. He was thirteen years old, shorter and slightly younger than his brother and more cerebral.
I rushed to reply. “No, we can’t do that right now. Lock the front door.”
Rinzal ran to the front door and speedily spun the lock, making our house a step more secure.
“Come on. We need to get the supplies,” nagged Ryan worriedly.
“I have a bucket in my room,” I shouted, running towards it. “Go, get everything out of the cupboards.”
We worked very quickly to scavenge together food and other useful items. I brought an orange supply pail prepared for emergencies, and my friends took almost everything out of the kitchen. Nonetheless, we forgot a number of things in our haste.
“The only safe place to go is in the basement. It will protect us from the radiation. Even if someone gets inside our house they probably still won’t find us there.”
My friends were worried.
“Are you sure?” asked Ryan. “Isn’t it just dirt down there?” He might as well have said it was too creepy for his taste.
“It’s the best spot,” I replied. The trapdoor to the basement was in the kitchen, covered up by a rug. I removed the cover and got a screwdriver out to pry open the trapdoor. Rinzal filled glass jars up with water and laid them next to me as I worked. Finally, the trapdoor popped open and I removed it, setting it to the side.
In front of us was the old wooden staircase leading into the basement. There were cracks in some of the steps, and they did not look absolutely reliable. At the bottom was a plain white wall. It looked as if there were no rooms in the basement, but once we descended to the bottom, we saw identical rooms on either side of the staircase, both rectangular and the size of the inside of a bus, between the two of them. We unloaded the supplies on the right side of the landing. There was a huge, black millipedal bug with ten body sections on the wall across from me. I gasped, horrified.
“Ryan, will you please get rid of that bug?” I asked nervously. He looked at me dumbly.
“No! Rinzal, won’t you kill it?” he asked. Rinzal shook his head. I cautiously approached the monstrous insect, thought about cutting it in half, but couldn’t stomach the thought of actually doing it.
“Please, Rinzal! I can’t…” I whined. He looked at the ground and thought for a moment.
“Ok,” he conceded. I backed off and sat on a creaky step as Rinzal got rid of the creature with his slingshot. Afterwards, we went back upstairs to dispose of its body and get the rest of the supplies. I rummaged around the kitchen for a moment for a deck of cards and jug of water, took one more quick glance out the front window at the grey wintry street, then descended down into the depths, putting the trapdoor on top, slightly ajar. The stairs groaned as I descended them and felt the heaviness that often comes along with going further underground. A miniature version of the bug I had just seen, about an inch long, crawled on the floor, but I ignored it this time and it moved away and disappeared into a small nook.
I turned right at the bottom of the stairs into the room where Rinzal and Ryan sat. Its central feature was a red plaid couch, next to which were two square coffee tables. At the furthest part of the room, where the trapdoor would be if the wasn’t a dividing wall between the room and the staircase, was a flatscreen television on the wall. I pressed the button on it, but it would not turn on. It was impossible to tell if it was because of the bomb or the faulty electronics, but the situation would not be changing any time soon.
It was encouraging to be with company in this room, and it made me feel less lonely. Rinzal mumbled something to his brother. He nodded.
“You should have brought your supplies over. Did you lock your door?” I asked Ryan.
His face showed guilt. “Yeah I locked it. We can get the stuff sometime later.”
“Hopefully,” I replied, not wanting to think much about it. “Good thing you brought those chips and slingshot, though. We’ll be using them a lot.”
“I got that little Nerf gun too,” said Rinzal.
“Cool,” I replied. “Good to have stuff to do. What about the rubbing alcohol and soap? Those were in the bathroom.”
“We’ll get it later after things calm down,” said Ryan, face serious. I nodded. Risking any more exposure at the moment would be extremely foolish. Silence reigned while we stared at the walls and breathed nervously. I felt a vague weight pressing down on me from up above.
Having never seen the other room before, I stepped over the bottom landing of the staircase to it. It was identical to the first, except it had a dirtier carpet and no furniture except a counter and small freezer at the far end. Something about this room on the left felt isolated and quiet, and it was filled with a cold grey, spacious energy. I stood in the center of the room for a few moments, not thinking at all, just doing nothing. More time passed, during which I heard Rinzal and his brother quietly conversing. For the first time since the bomb fell, I felt a sense of space, similar to the feeling of being alone in the countryside on a winter’s night.
For a bit, I just wanted time to think. I sat down, back against the wall. There was a newfound sense of freedom, of imprisonment. Thoughts, worries, and quiet passed through my head. In the air I could barely hear a sound. Slowly getting back up, I inspected the two pieces of furniture in the room, seeing if anything inside them was useful. We had brought a few things, but the more I thought of it the more it seemed there was almost nothing in the basement. After eight hours, we could perhaps take a speedy run back up to get clothes and books, the previously-forgotten supplies.
I went back to the first room, where Ryan and Rinzal sat uncomfortably. They were obviously not used to doing nothing or being so confined. We surely had things to do, many of them, but it somehow felt sacrilegious to entertain ourselves at such a dismal time. I sat on the couch as well, pleased to find there was room for three people on it.
“I’m going to take a nap,” declared Rinzal.
“Where?” I asked, realizing that there was nowhere to sleep except on the couch only after I said it. “C’mon, Ryan, let’s go in the other room.”
We grabbed up the poker chips and cards, turned the light off in the right-side room and settled down for some poker on the floor in the other room. Now, it felt possible to do something aside from sit quietly. The chips went back and forth until I eventually lost, and by then we had slowed down a lot and become quite distracted. In the bucket was a bag of crackers which we munched on, happy to finally hear some other sounds from breathing and silence.
Rinzal manifested from the shadows of the right room, rubbing his eyes.
“I can’t sleep,” he complained.
“I know,” I said. He never usually slept during the daytime anyways.
“Why don’t you play a hand or two?” I asked. Time flew by as we played round after round of many variants of the game. Later, after an improvised dinner and some conversation, it started to get dark out. I decided enough time had went by for us to take turns quickly blacking the windows out, barricade some weak points, and get clothing and reading material.