DAWN OF THE END
“It’s drying up!”
“I know that Shirley. There is nothing I can do about it.” Dustin’s flashlight focused on the slight silvery stream of water as it trickled through the narrow v-shaped channel that had been carved into the concrete floor.
“Can’t we dig any deeper?” Shirley’s creases in her face showed an age older than her fifty years.
“We have no tools to go deeper. It is what it is. I know this wellspring is our source of life, and it seems to be running out.” Dustin’s bony left hand turned the flashlight off. “We have to save the batteries. We have a few left, but we will need the light. We can light a couple of candles. Meanwhile, keep collecting as much of the water as you can – like we always do.”
“Can’t we use the kerosene lamps instead of candles? We still have two barrels of the stuff.”
“It’s too calm outside, Shirley. The smoke may give our position away. You know Marauders are always watching.”
Shirley pulled her parka up around her neck. “It’s so cold in here.”
“Be thankful for this bunker. Great-Grandfather Bert built it back in 1960’s thinking it would protect his family from the Russian communists. It was never used for that – now it is being used to protect us from something even more deadly.”
A man came slowly out of another room. The top of his dark head was covered with a miner’s hat; a dim light shone from it. He was reading his notes as he walked.
“What did you find out, “Deacon?”
“If we ration what’s left, we can last maybe three months. We have no more fresh fruit or vegetables and that worries me. We are down to cans and bottles.”
Deacon turned off the miner’s lamp. Even in the soft candlelight, his eyes were wrapped in circles. Samuel had been nicknamed “Deacon” because of his care for others and his propensity to pray when it looked bleak, which was often. He could have been a minister in a previous life.
“Nothing’s out there.” A cheery voice spoke through the darkness. Sarah entered the room. She was the oldest of the group in the bunker at the age of sixty-five.
“Explain further, Sarah,” Dustin ordered.
”It’s quiet, only a breeze. The sun is blazing down as usual, though. The temperature outside is 110 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.”
“It’ll get hotter and the wind will howl – just like every day,” Dustin added.
“There are no signs of life – bad or good.” Sarah’s perky attitude evaporated. “God, I wish we could see something good.”
A cough was heard from a room off to the left.
“Sarah, see how Teddy is doing. I think his fever spiked last night and then dropped, hopefully for good.” Deacon reached out and patted Sarah on the shoulder.
The bunker was home to the group of five survivors, Shirley, Dustin, Deacon, Sarah and Teddy. It was large for a survival bunker and consisted of five rooms. There was a central living room, where the group, minus Teddy, was congregated. The other rooms were spun off of the living room like spokes on a wheel.
These rooms consisted of, in a clockwise rotation, a bedroom, a kitchen which housed the pantry, a recreation room and a bathroom. The bathroom was little more than a latrine. Two deep holes had been dug into the floor. Chairs with openings were placed over the holes. At the end of each day, one of the five survivors would throw a measured amount of lye into the holes.
Dustin’s Great-Grandfather Bert had spared no expense in the construction of the bunker. People in the area thought the old man’s mind had fallen off a cliff when he built it, but Bert was a visionary. He knew the bunker would have a purpose, if not short term, then long term. He would have been pleased to know it had a long term value.
Sarah returned frowning. “Teddy’s fever is not going away like we thought. I have him at 103 degrees. He is delirious, saying Marauders are in the bunker and will eat him. What can we do?”
Deacon spoke up, “I still have a couple doses left of the medication that may reduce his fever. I will give it to him now.”
Deacon started to move to the bedroom, but was stopped by Dustin.
“Do you think it is contagious, Samuel?” Dustin whispered. “Because if it is, we are all in real trouble, and there are only a few doses left. There’s not enough for all of us.”
“I don’t know about being contagious. I am hoping it is the common flu. If it is the Plains virus, we are all dead anyway. But I don’t think it is.”
“Give him one dose, Samuel. I am counting on it to reduce his fever.”
Deacon slipped into the bedroom carrying the bag of medicines. When Dustin turned around he could see Shirley’s thin shape in front of him.
“I heard what you said to Samuel. I think I have a fever, too. Can’t I have a shot?”
Dustin reached out and put the back of his hand on Shirley’s head. It was warm, not hot. He smiled in the faint light.
“Shirley, you’re wearing too much clothing. Take off that parka or a layer underneath. You won’t feel so warm then. It’s actually quite comfortable in here.”
“Okay, I’ll do as you say, Dustin. But I am watching myself for the signs.”
“Shirley, instead of worrying so much, why don’t you make us a late breakfast? I know I am getting hungry.”
Samuel returned and whispered to Dustin, “I need your help. Teddy is beginning to flail about and I am concerned he may start screaming.”
“Give him a strong sedative, Deacon. Let’s strap him down as well and cover his mouth. I don’t want Marauders to pick up his cries and give away our position.”
The two men quickly conducted their work and returned to the living room. Shirley had made a snack with an assist by Sarah. They sat at a small wooden table. As usual, Deacon said grace.
“We’re going to die here. Die in this hole in the ground, aren’t we?” Shirley moaned.
Sarah interrupted Shirley, “I think we will be all right. I know something good is about to happen.”
“I don’t think so,” Shirley frowned. “Our water supply, the spring, is dwindling by the day. We have a limited amount of food – and that isn’t even good. The earth has dried up and it is getting hotter as we sit here. I heard there’s still water in Canada, but Canada is two thousand miles away. Outside, it’s going to be almost 140 degrees today. We would burn alive if we left the bunker during the day. And it gets so cold at night.”
“We don’t know what’s up in Canada anymore,” Dustin said as picked at his food. He continued, “Old Professor Wittington said Earth would become the new Mars, if we don’t get ahold of our climate.”
“And we didn’t do that, and this is what we got,” Deacon sighed as he left the table and sprawled on a couch.
“I also would like to see if Canada has water,” Sarah piped-in optimistically.
“You know that is a rumor based on old information,” Dustin argued. “Besides how would we get there? We have no car, no plane. We don’t even have bicycles. There’s no way we can walk that distance. The Marauders would pick us off before we travel ten miles.”
“Perhaps,” Deacon noted. “But I am praying our climate returns along with the rains. There are so few of us left now that maybe, maybe the climate will reverse itself and start to return to the way it was – at least partially.”
“Wittington said that once the line is crossed, the change is irreversible and what we are currently living in is the new normal.” Dustin lit another candle as he spoke.
The living room fell quiet; the only sound was muffled coughs coming from the bedroom where Teddy had been placed. Each member of the group pondered how bleak their situation was and whether there could be a possible positive outcome.
Dustin broke the silent despair. “Sarah, take a look outside again. See what’s the temperature and anything else of note.”
Sarah was glad to be given this task and free herself from the gloom of the others. The periscope was located in the rec room. The scope was a camouflaged in the ground surface. When extended, it could rise twelve inches above the ground and rotate three hundred and sixty degrees. Because the area around the bunker was flat, the periscope could see several miles in all directions on a clear day. It was the window to the outside for the survivors in the bunker.
After a few moments, Sarah returned to the living room gasping. “They’re here.”
Everyone in the room knew what Sarah meant.
“How close are they?” Dustin inquired.
“Close enough,” Sarah answered.
Dustin waved his hand for Sarah to provide more information.
“They have one of those armored vehicles. They’re about a quarter mile away going west, but not in a hurry. They are looking for someone or something.”
Dustin stood up. “I am going to take a look myself.”
Dustin walked into the rec room. He positioned himself by the periscope and slowly raised the scope so that it extended four inches above the ground surface. He turned the scope slightly to the left and froze. He held his position for a few seconds and gently lowered the periscope back into the ground. He turned and motioned the three others to follow him into the kitchen.
Dustin murmured, “There are four of them wearing black coverings and respirators. One is waving a type of rod back and forth over the ground.”
“God, I hate Marauders,” Shirley shook her head. “We don’t know if they’re human, some sort of mutant, or aliens. They just appeared one day and our living hell became even worse.”
“I believe they are human, survivors like us,” Deacon countered. They’re just different than us. I pray we can share this planet with them. We just don’t know.”
Dustin shrugged. “Perhaps, but that doesn’t matter to me now. It’s us or them, and we know they can die. Deacon, retrieve our weapons. The bunker is lined with lead so they shouldn’t be able to detect our presence, and there is no door to open from the outside to get inside. Everything is controlled from inside. Still, we will arm ourselves in case they somehow penetrate the bunker.”
Deacon left for the rec room. In an old oak chest, he found what he was looking for – several automatic rifles. He pulled the rifles and the ammunition clips from the chest and carried them into the living room.
As he gave a rifle and one clip to Dustin, Shirley and Sarah, he added, “Remember your training with these weapons and hit your targets when you shoot.”
Dustin put his rifle aside and retrieved a remote control from a drawer. If the bunker was entered by an enemy and the situation was hopeless, he would press the center button and all in the bunker and in its close vicinity would be blown up. The group had made a pledge that dying in an explosion was a better alternative than becoming a prisoner of the Marauders.
A loud thud was heard near the bunker.
“They think we are somewhere near them. Remember our pledge.” Dustin maintained a fierce resolution in his voice. He tensely clenched his rifle in his hands.
A long period of silence followed. There was no sound of anything or anyone trying to access the bunker.
Finally, Dustin said, “I know it is a risk, but I want to see what’s out there.”
No one objected. Dustin went to the rec room and took a deep breath, trying not to think about staring into the face of a Marauder as he raised the periscope. He sent the scope up a few inches. He did a scan and lowered the scope.
He returned to the living room expressionless. “It’s a full storm out there. The wind and the dust drove those Marauders away; maybe even wiped them out.”
“We can only hope,” Sarah added.
A piece of metal hurtled by a massive wind gust crashed on top of the bunker. Sarah froze at the noise and her heart jumped. They’re back, she thought.
Sarah’s eyes popped open. The sound of brass wind chimes clanged outside. In one second, she left her bed and hurried to the window pushing aside the sun-blocking curtains. To the east, the sun was emerging from the cover of the city’s skyline. It was a deep orange and the area around it glowed with a reddish hue. To Sarah, the sun seemed angry. A dust devil skirted the deserted gravel parking lot off to the left. To the right, vehicles lunged in fitful bursts on the large freeway system.
“What’s wrong, Hon.” The voice called out behind her.
She turned to the voice. “I had a dream, a very unpleasant dream. Call it a nightmare.”
“What was your nightmare about?”
“Our future; I fear for our future and our kids’ future – if we even have children.”
“Relax, the future will be fine.” The voice tried to be convincing, but contained doubt. “What makes you think this? Bad dreams are not reality.”
“I dreamed our world as we know it will soon cease to exist. I know this will come to pass. I have felt this way for some time. I know you have the same feeling. The world needs to change. It has to before it is too late. We can start now. Get dressed. We are going to walk to that workshop my friend Dustin is sponsoring about saving our world, one step at a time. We can pick up tips there.”
She dressed and returned to the window. The sun was higher in the sky, orange and ominous. A massive dust cloud kicked up by a belligerent wind powered its way into the city causing traffic to become snarled. The now-stopped vehicles’ headlights pleaded to get away from the dust and their own cannibalistic emissions.
Sarah closed her eyes and imagined the headlights were Marauders emerging through the dust clouds.
She shuddered, knowing that a comfortable life can turn into a reality of terror.
Copyright 2020 by Scott D. Prill; all rights reserved.