Chapter 7 of a multipart fantasy serial, new chapter every week.
Patricia descended the 20' ladder carefully, the tube was wide enough for a person a little larger than herself, but not by much. Especially as she passed the midpoint and felt the heat of the wire caged bulb on her back. A few more steps and Patricia felt the area behind her open up into darkness and saw the ladder now climbed an additional 10 feet or so out of the tube she had been in, and down a flat, concrete wall. Setting one foot down on a chilly wooden floor, and her other onto the pile of clothes she had dropped, Patricia turned around.
The light coming from the tube above wasn’t enough to get a good idea of her space, so she looked around and found a plain gray, and surprisingly normal looking, circuit breaker box. Pulling it open, she hit the biggest breaker on the top and some overhead lights flickered as she turned around. She was in a maybe 20' wide and 50' long half cylinder. The ceiling was corrugated and painted white, the floor was the tan of stained but cheap looking wood.
There seemed to be 3 main sections, the first was a small kitchen and workspace. On the left side, a sink, cabinets, a small table, chairs. On the right, a desk with a rather new looking Bondi Blue iMac (the kind Patricia had only seen in the commercials), as well as a modern looking radio unit. Both with wires running off the desk and outlets mounted into the floor. Past that, there was a “bathroom”: a toilet and utilitarian deep sink on one side, a shower head mounted on the other. Both had plastic tubs underneath them, and rounded curtain rods mounted to the curved ceiling overhead, patterned shower curtains hanging in the open position allowing for visibility into the third section. Bunks on each side, lengthwise with 3 mattresses on each, abutting another concrete wall completed the space.
As she looked around, Patricia felt dazed. It was the smell of the place she was in that brought it all crashing down. The bunker smelled like the family Airstream. She remembered camping and road trips with her parents. Her dead parents. Patricia now knew it was time to cry. But not standing. Not here. Cold air drafting into her hospital gown, Patricia began to walk slowly along the slightly creaky floor towards the back of the tube.
One step at a time. The tears began to form and fall down her cheeks. She could worry about the world later. The smell. Dust and wood. A little bit of mildew from the off season. Another step. Jessica. Mom. Holding the kitchen sink spray handle and spraying the weakly powered water at her while the camper pump whirred to keep up. Laughing. Dead. Another Step. Kurt. Dad. His legs sticking out of the ridiculous closet of a camper bathroom while Mom shouted at him to impossibly close the door before gassing them all. Both Laughing. All Dead. Another step. Seth, James, childhood friends, around the tiny camper table that could be lowered onto the benches and made into a bed for sleeping. Fighting over who had to be the one to pick up a dropped dice in the narrow space. While Kurt suggested again that through the open door that there was more room outside the camper to play. All. Dead.
Somehow she was in one of the compact bunks. Somehow, she had pulled the surplus blanket and sheets over herself. She did not know how long she cried there. But the white pillow case wrapping a firm pillow had been soaked a darker shade. She did not know how she could feel anything again. But she was cold. She could not seem to warm up the weak blanket. She did not know how or even why she should got up and out of the bed. But she did. And she stripped off the inadequate hospital wrap, no concern for her nudity under the harsh light of the bare fluorescents overhead, just a cold shiver. Pushing aside the bag that had miraculously landed safely on her clothing pile, she put on her jeans. Her bra. Her shirt. Another step. Her mind focusing on her new story, the next steps. More than once she froze, as her mind looked backwards. Tears starting again. Another step. Forward. What’s next. Moving again. She found a thermostat near the back wall, its metal needle pointing to the left, below 55. At home, the thermostat had been the battleground of a silent war. Jessica on the side of warmth. Kurt, that of economy. Patricia froze again at this, standing as she sobbed. She pushed the needle to 68. Siding with the forces of economy for the first time. Forward. Popping sounds from the previously unseen floor board heaters as the metal inside expanded. The smell of burning dust.
She looked in the kitchen cabinets. They had sponges and soap, utensils and can openers, plates and cups. She grabbed a cup and turned on the tap. She let it run for a while, letting the water turn from a slightly rusty color to clear before filling the cup and having a sip. Clean, clear, water. She froze again before turning off the water, remember a song that mom had sung to remind her not to waste water. Mom always nagged in song. Patty turned off the faucet. Did her part. She put the half finished cup down. Another step. She completed her search of the cabinets. Forward. There were some that looked like they could hold food, and an unplugged mini-refrigerator. She plugged it in. Next. Eat. For a moment, she panicked. There was no food. Looking around she found a wooden trap door in the middle of the kitchen area floor, and opening it, revealed another ladder and a “cellar” of sorts.
Below was the up-sloped curve of the bottom of the pipe. The floor that she’d been walking on the cellar ceiling, with exposed wires and plumbing ran along the length. There was a mesh wire flooring on this level, like a thick screen door through which she could smell and see some water that was below the bottom lip of a drainage pump pipe. The ceiling was lower in the cellar, and she had to duck a little to see the automatic lights flicker on she oggled a moment at the rows of shelves of various depths, all full of cans and boxes. 50 feet, tube wall to tube wall of preserved food and supplies. A few machines in the back looked like pumps and maybe air conditioning of some sort. She grabbed a can of beef chili and an ammo canister labeled “CRACKERS” and pushed them onto the floor through the cellar entry hole. Climbing up, she had a meal (what time was it when she had come down here? Was this breakfast or dinner?), of the cold but edible chili spooned onto crackers. She washed the spoon and the can for some reason, and put them on the drying rack. Before sitting herself into the surprisingly comfortable chair in front of the computer and radio desk. The steps were coming easier. She had found a goal. Understand.
Patricia turned on the radio, and tapped up and down on the channels until they cycled around to the starting channel 9. Static. She messed with the squelch knob until the static went away. Next. She turned on the iMac. It lit up with a satisfying and reverberating deep chime. The desktop was mostly empty.
Patricia first opened zTerm, as the other icon, “Windfall” sounded like a game or something. It opened a terminal window, and in the list of existing connections she found just one, “Cheyenne Emergency BBS”. Selecting that, the computer made some dialing noises and then connected. A plain terminal window opened and a menu scrolled into view.
Patricia selected the option for BBS, and was presented with a list of posts, most appeared to be reports and status updates. The oldest being from Saturday, the last Saturday she remembered. Tears, for the moment forgotten, Patricia opened the reports and began to read.