A short story

Here’s a short story that I originally posted on my old blog. Enjoy!

Prepared

He looked out at his garden and admired the rough mound of earth and broken concrete that covered the shelter below. The scouting master in his childhood had always taught about being prepared; how it tipped the odds and made a man stand tall when disaster struck, while others floundered and ran. The master had survived the beaches when so many others had bled out in the sand around him, a feat entirely due he’d said to study and training while his lazy comrades smoked cigarettes and boasted to each about the girls they had known in the nearby villages. They had all died within seconds, while the master crouched behind the defences waiting patiently for the machine gun fire to briefly drift away. Preparation gave security he’d told them, and security allowed proper preparation for the next struggle. He’d taken these teachings as gospel; they made far more sense to him than the ravings of the priest in the pulpit about eternal damnation or divine forgiveness. They had shaped his life, aided his decisions and brought him now to this point.

He could see the signs, even if no-one else could. Why? he had pleaded to his wife, Why would a nation with more oil than water need to worry about building nuclear power stations? It had taken weeks of near-constant campaigning, arguing and begging but he had gradually worn her down. She trusted the fake smiles and false promises of the politicians on the television as little as he did since their nephew’s return from the war in a wooden crate. There were medals, salutes and patriotic tears at the service, and strangers had come up to them and shook their hands, saying what a noble sacrifice it was. It hadn’t changed the world, hadn’t made the ungrateful liberated hate them any less. Sacrifice was just an empty bedroom with posters still up on the walls, and a sister so lost in grief she would not feed or dress herself. So the planning had begun, meticulous and exact with nothing left to chance. He studied intensely though books and the computer; how deep to dig down, how to protect, how to secure. Things he’d never have solved of on his own; cleaning the air they exhaled, recycling the water and removing waste, all without letting the toxic air into their protected bubble. The architect the planning authorities insisted he hired once they found out thought he was mad, but took their money nonetheless. Just a big panic room he told them as he took a condescending glance over the rough drawings, but that was wrong. It would be the rest of the world panicking while they sat and watched the end of days safe and sound below.

Construction had begun early one morning with the crash of diggers breaking the earth and patio in the garden. For weeks the contractors dug, poured concrete, drank coffee, swore at nothing and invented new obstacles designed to drain their life savings all the sooner. He could see his neighbours laughing at him from across the street, their derisive comments about sanity and their anger about area house prices – he didn’t care. The shell was finally completed a week behind schedule, the heavy machinery burying it safely under a mountain of excavated earth and shattered paving blocks before trundling away, leaving a trail of mud behind splattered over the neighbours’ cars. Only the entrance and door with its keypad and locks gave clues to what lived below, the aerials and air systems to be safely enclosed behind fine grills at the surface designed to withstand the heat and fire that would surely be soon upon them. Then the internal work started with more contractors, more coffee and more money. A network of cables was laid; veins and arteries to and from the beating heart of the control panels and power sources that would keep them alive as others perished above.

The work was specialised, complex and difficult and he found to his cost that different teams of different experts did not work well together, with frequent arguments and freshly completed work torn out and replaced. Their finances were drained and the bank was asking difficult questions but there was no going back now, and as he told his wife, money would not matter when the time came, only the shelter and what lied within. And now at last it was finished. Packed with months of provisions, medicines, generator fuel and secured with a thick steel door to keep out the gossiping neighbours when they came running, begging to be let in. And of course the rack of weapons to keep it all safe when the ‘civilised’ world was a distant memory and men turned on each other over charred carrion.

He drilled the family once a week, every week, so when the warnings came and the sirens started they would be ready. The entry codes, the radiation protocols, changing the air scrubbers, what to do if fire broke out or a gun jammed. Whenever the news talked of impending crisis or raised tensions in the east everyone knew to stay close to home, just in case. But the warnings never came. There were no sirens, no hysterical news readers screaming at the camera and no time to react.  He was at work when the bombs fell, his wife at the market and the children at school. He never even knew who started it; the lying politicians from abroad or the hawks in his own military greedy to start another war and watch the world burn. Just a flash of white and a searing heat as the blasts mushroomed overhead.

And in his garden, the shelter stood.  Prepared. Secure. Empty. The neighbours banging at the door, begging to be let in.

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