Amy was counting her 74th day underground. On the 75th, she would go out, for whatever waited outside.
She counted herself lucky. Amy knew that she was probably among the world’s 1% most-prepared private individuals to hold out in the event of a total world disaster. She also knew that the very fact of her continued existence meant that there was some hope for what was left. Her shelter was basically entombed beneath the basement of her ranch home in West View, PA, but it was far from impregnable. If the world had ended completely, she would have known about it.
Still, Amy was terrified of what waited beyond. Truth be told, she was terrified before she ever built the thing and stocked it. She was terrified back when she bought the house, terrified when she set off on her own, terrified when she graduated high school. Amy derided therapy as a “crock of shit,” but if she’d ever subjected herself to a professional opinion, she may have largely traced it back to a day early in her Senior year of high school. Approximately 9 in the morning on September 11, 2001, to be exact.
Amy was whispering with her friends Josh and Trav, lamenting the choice to take Calculus instead of an extra study hall or a blow-off, when the teacher broke the lesson to take a phone call. Then an announcement of news that made no sense. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Amy almost laughed, the idea was so absurd. This wasn’t a game of Flight Simulator. How could they not miss?
When the TV came on, the news set in. Just like that, Amy’s foundation was shaken, without even fully realizing it. As more news came out over the days, months, and years to follow, Amy changed from an overconfident teen into an adult obsessed with insurgent terror threats, foreign nuclear threats, chemical warfare, and all manner of worldwide tension.
When she found a small home with an unusually large sub-basement fruit cellar, she knew she’d found the perfect place to turn her fear over the state of the world into a plan of action. Over five years, she spent almost all of her not-inconsiderable expendable income on preparing a safe room in the event of total world disaster. She had buckets and buckets of potable water, innumerable canned goods, dry foods, heat, lighting, ventilation, clothes, and even an installed generator system with plenty of fuel and backup batteries. She also had a hand-cranked radio and a collection of books and trivia booklets to tide her over.
When news reports surfaced in late 2018 that North Korea was preparing another round of nuclear testing, not many world leaders batted an eye. It had happened seemingly dozens of times before, sometimes to comical effect. Just one more event of posturing in a long line of them, right? But then a small nuclear bomb killed 20,000 people in Seoul, nearly instantly. Followed by some type of chemical attack on Pyongyang–reports were conflicting and unclear. What is clear is that China blamed the US, South Korea, and Germany for the counter-attack. And these countries blamed 5 others and a handful of groups without national affiliations. On December 5, 2018, 10 more cities of various sizes had taken major hits, and the list was growing. On December 7, after several sleepless days spent watching a TV with two feet in her wig-out hole, Amy’s legs turned to Jello. The moment she had feared for most of her adult life. Breaking report of a projectile estimated to be headed toward Pittsburgh. That was plenty close enough. Way too close, in fact. Amy headed underground.
That was 74 days ago. The first ten days had been okay, if you discount the constant feelings of shitting yourself with fear, or puking, or both. Interspersed through this time, Amy read several novels that were so exciting she thought she could shit herself, and solved so many puzzles she thought she would puke with pride. Her emotions were, understandably, a little muddled at this time. She had electricity when she needed it, and plenty of food and water.
Amy tried to work her hand-cranked radio for news reports, but the reception was either too poor, or there was no radio station operating close enough to pick up. She thought she heard snips of words here and there, but everything fuzzed out almost immediately, and the words that came through were not promising. Massacred. Rioters. Chaos. Bombs. Loss.
Amy felt deep rumbles through the walls of her fortress, and occasional reports, as if from gun fire, but the sounds came distantly, muffled through the layers of steel and concrete surrounding the entrance to her room.
The following 15 days were a little less constantly panicky. Amy had whole moments when she thought she might be bored. These thoughts were quickly replaced with feelings of guilt and shame. She never really knew her mother, and her father died of a heart attack three years earlier, but her brother was out there, somewhere. Amy hoped. Jake lived with his wife, Carrie, and two kids in a cabin in the hills of southern WestbygodVirginia. Amy prayed that his cabin was remote enough to survive whatever was happening out there. She’d never been there.
On day 27, Amy was no longer able to pick up any radio snippets at all. She told herself it was the cheap manufactured-in-Taiwan radio.
On day 46, Amy decided she needed to stretch out her food. She started reading her favorite novels for the third time. She was hoping that his time Pip would not be such an insufferable twat to Joe. It wasn’t looking good.
Amy ran out of power, apart from her flashlights and backup battery stockpile, on day 57. Despite her room’s location under the ground, it became very damp and bone-chilling without the benefit of any added heat. Amy bundled up in her blankets the best she could. She had to balance her needs to conserve energy, food, and water with her desire to keep the shivers away by moving around.
On day 72, Amy was down to two cups of dry Oatmeal. Her stomach was a constant gnawing ache of hunger that eating seemed only to make worse. Amy was not accustomed to going short on food. Prior to going underground, Amy padded her generous bodily portions with constant helpings of carbs and cheap fast food. If nothing else, her time in the room had eroded her weight somewhat, although Amy judged that the pallor of her skin would make her no more appealing to the opposite sex.
Amy hadn’t ever had much time for the other sex anyway, at least since high school. The few men who actually made it to her house were slightly weirded out by her obsession with “prepping.” She did her best to expound upon her fears, but they largely fell on deaf ears. Amy was very familiar with the clouded, distant expressions that dawned on her friends’ faces as she explained her habits. Even Jake had reacted dubiously the first time he stepped into her home. He observed the threadbare carpets, the garage sale TV, the flimsy kitchen table, the handful of Goodwill furniture. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. Jake and the others just didn’t understand how someone could have a great job like Amy, and pour it all into a basement freakout room.
Jake hadn’t called in about a year. She supposed that was her fault. The’d never been the friendliest brother and sister in the world, but their last meeting wasn’t exactly acrimonious. At dad’s funeral, Jake implied that Amy’s lifestyle was harder on him than it should have been. Or maybe he was really only saying Amy should take it easier on herself. Either way, Amy responded by telling Jake in no uncertain terms that he was not properly looking out for the future of his family. At that, Jake scoffed and walked away. They hadn’t passed more than perfunctory greetings and “how are you’s” since.
Why did I do that? She asked herself. Did I really expect him to say, Gee, sis, you’re right on the money, there. I do need an escape room, just like almost no one else in the country. It all makes sense now.
She guessed it was some mixture of the emotion of the situation, her pride, and her constantly fragile state that made her lash out. She really wanted Jake closer, not farther away.
Amy wondered how many of her so-called friends were okay. It seemed that no one had come to check on her, but she wasn’t really close enough with anyone to expect such treatment. Amy resolved that when this was over, she was going to track Jake down and make amends. She felt she owed it to him, and this extended time in solitude had brought it fully into focus.
It was about 20 days since the last of the eruptions of sound outside, but she was still scared. Not just of what might happen to her and who may be laying in wait, but because she wasn’t sure anymore what the world might look like. In a way, silence was far worse than noise, even bad noise. Amy decided she could wait, just a little bit longer. She pulled her blankets closer and stifled a shiver.
On day 74, Amy drank the last of her water. She was starving. She was thirsty. She was god-damned tired of being in this fucking room. She was terrified, yes, but she had to go out sometime. But day 75 sounded better. 75 is a nice, round number. Never mind that 75 days has no real meaning as to relative safety following a massive world war. She went to sleep that night, and slept fitfully and in starts, dreaming for the umpteenth time about bombs falling with nowhere to run.
Amy woke on day 75 feeling weak, but ready for whatever lay beyond. She packed up Great Expectations, a few items of clothing, pushed her small antique .32 revolver into her jacket pocket, and shouldered open the door.