MAD, they called it; mutually assured destruction. It was mad, alright. According to the reports that came through at the time, the Eastern Bloc, led by North Korea, was pretty much totally destroyed, as was a lot of North America.
Those of us away from the areas that the blasts flattened had to find whatever shelter we could. My father had to deal with a lot of ridicule in the 60s and 70s because of the shelter system that he’d built under our land. It was the height of the cold war, and lots of people reckoned we would be destroyed by Russian missiles before long. Never happened, though. Mind you, the very people who pilloried him then were calling him far-sighted, visionary and prudent when they realised that his underground shelter system was big enough and stocked to support all eight local families for at least ten years.
And it did. Ten years ago, fifteen adults and eighteen children, ranging from two to sixteen years old, descended into our shelter. We fired up the generator, with its massive fuel tank, and the place came to life. It was a bit cramped sometimes and we were all living in each other’s pockets, but it wasn’t too bad, considering. In the ten years we’ve been here, five adults and one child have died, three couples got married and five children have been born. Today, our population is thirty-two. Considering we had no medical know-how among us, I reckon we’ve done well. The old family medical dictionary has certainly been well used. The grown-ups have been using encyclopaedias and other books, too, to make sure all the kids could read and write and have a bit of knowledge, ready to face the world when it was ready to be faced. It may not have been to the proper State standards, but it has been as close to an education as we kids would have, and certainly better than none.
Ever since the day we came down here, we’ve been monitoring radio broadcasts so we’d know when the land in our area of North America; part of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania; was clean enough for us to risk going back to the surface. Yesterday evening, the President, Hachi Henderson; incidentally the first Native American woman to have the job; told the nation that the drones the agency had sent up had determined that all land within a 250-mile radius of the capital was deemed to be safe enough for people to roam again, so this morning, we’re going to try.
My name is Alan Mulder. I was just nine when the missiles came, ten years ago. Today my father (well it’s his shelter, so he’s bound to be the boss, isn’t he?) unsealed the lower hatch and sent me and my friend Aiden Hunter up to survey the land and report back.
“Be careful,” he said, “We don’t know how much wildlife survived or how the radiation may have changed it. Hell, we don’t even know if any vegetation made it. Just go up, take a quick look around, and come straight back down again. Okay?”
“Okay, Dad; c’mon Aid,” I replied.
We climbed the ladder through the lower hatch and then hauled ourselves up through the hole in the rock until we reached the top hatch, about twenty feet above. I gave the wheel a spin, threw the hatch back and was blinded by the unaccustomed light.
“Let’s stop here for a mo, Aid,” I said, “give our eyes chance to get used to the light.”
Aiden and I had grown up together in this small, tight-knit community, and we had learned to trust each other implicitly through years of backing each other up, lying for each other and generally doing whatever we had to do to keep each other out of trouble. Ours was a friendship that would last the course, even though I did once, quite recently, give him a black eye for coming on to my little sister May-Beth, who was (and still is) two years our junior.
After a minute or so, I started to climb the last few rungs and we emerged into the first daylight either of us had seen for a decade. The view was staggering; green as far as the distant horizon, except for one brown area where nothing had grown for a long, long time. There was no wind, and no sound. The silence defied description without using old clichés like ‘deafening’ or ‘palpable’. I could see no movement; none at all. Aiden gave a tug on my pony-tail (I wish he wouldn’t do that), pointed to the horizon and said, “Is that a government drone in the distance, Al?”
“Never mind that,” I replied, “look at the state of everything. It looks like nature has reclaimed the entire Blue Mountain Ridge area. Look how lush and green it is. Did you bring the binoculars?”
I turned my gaze back to him. He was seated on a rock, the binoculars pressed to his eyes. “I’m just scanning the area now, to see if there’s anything living there.”
“Nothing as far as I can see. Mind you, with this many trees, I’d only see big stuff, and only then if it’s close.”
I looked down through the hole we had climbed up, and saw Dad and some of the others huddled around and gazing up at us.
“Looks okay, Dad,” I shouted down. I took the rope from my backpack and extended it down the hole. “I think we can hoist the cages up now,” I said.
Dad attached two cages to the end of the rope; one housed a pair of canaries, the other a small group of mice. Once I’d pulled them up, I gave the canary cage to Aiden.
“Put that on a plain rock, Aid, and I’ll pop this one over there next to the bush, so the mice can be in contact with it. Then we should go back down; we’ve been exposed for ten minutes, probably long enough for a first trip.”
We put the cages out and then descended through the upper hatch. We closed it behind us and went back down to the shelter.
When we arrived, we found pandemonium. You’d have thought we’d just climbed Everest, or set foot on the moon or something. Questions came at us from all directions at once, thirty voices clamouring for attention. Dad stepped in.
“Okay, folks,” he said, “one at a time; me first. What’s it like up there, boys. Tell us what you saw, heard, smelt, felt, everything.”
Aiden and I described the lush green, the blue sky, the clear air and the eerie silence. We held nothing back, left nothing out.
“Looks promising, lads,” Dad said. “Stay here for now, and go back up tomorrow morning; see if the mice and birds are still alive.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 25, issued on this site earlier this week.