“…HELP ME! ANYONE!? ANYBODY…OH PLEASE GOD, SOMEONE HELP ME!!! OH GOD, GET THE HE-”
Another victim to the outside. There was nothing I could do.
I wiped the dirt from my hands over the faucet. I checked the cup to see if the faucet had leaked again. No dice. I had expected as much, my luck reaching a new milestone of terribleness. I walked back into the Big Room, fully expecting the Girls to appear from the darkness. But none came for me. Not yet. I walked over to the airlock and listened closely for any sounds resembling previous life. But I heard nothing except the screams of the damned and the laughter of demons, accompanied by strikes of thunder.
I walked into the kitchen area, plates, dish, and pans neatly stacked by cleanliness, expected durability, and age. On the side was an old microwave, a fridge with a distinctly “50’s” design, and a rusted shotgun lay in the corner, still loaded. I picked it up, knowing that I will use, though it would have to be used for one of two purposes, depending on how optimistic I felt that day, though I would die either way. I put the shotgun down and opened the upper cabinet. I opened up another can of beans, poured it on a green, forest-themed plate, and set the microwave to 50 seconds. I pressed “Start” and I listened to the quiet hum of the microwave, and by listening, ignored the rest of the world around me. Fifty-seconds of peace, of quiet. Once it ended I almost wanted to cook something else, but I couldn’t afford to waste power anymore.
While I had used most of my batteries, the shelter was wired to run on solar power as a last resort, which while efficient, often came with sporadic outages depending on the weather in the region, which I can no way to see or predict. The fallout shelter was the result of a war the United States fought in, and although the war had ended well over 25 years, the shelter remained well maintained by the family that had built it. They even decorated the shelter with a few family photos and drawings, which could be entertaining to watch when I went hours, sometimes days, without anything to do. The shelter was very well thought out; it had the “Big Room”, the airlocks, a kitchen, and a bedroom, and a “family room”, as it was labeled. To mixed fortune and misfortune, the family never got to use.
I turned on the radio in the family room. Not surprisingly, I heard silence, nothingness, static. The radio room is where I last heard a human voice, a government spokesman. He said to “take shelter” against an “unprecedented catastrophe”. Some people over the radio said we were in a nuclear war. I really doubt it though. Radiation kills you slowly, quietly. It doesn’t make you scream out in pain, it doesn’t speak to you. I thought that maybe we were facing zombies, but again, zombie don’t laugh, zombies don’t speak. I don’t think its a matter of vampires or werewolves either. They don’t convert their victims, they definitely kill them. No, there was none of that silliness. No, I hear little Girls. They stalk. They hunt, usually by crying or laughing in order to attract sympathetic prey. I don’t know for sure, but I think they know I’m down here. They hunt around the shelter, knowing that some people know of the shelter’s existence, of its safety, and I have no way of warning them of the danger.
I was once able to talk to a person, a young woman named Martha, just for a second. She was with her daughter, and they were screaming down the depth of the shelter, asking to be let in. Neither of them appeared to be the family in the photo. Yet they were begging, they were desperate, she pointed a flare gun at me through the airlock window (which would have easily resisted any damage the flare gun could do), and she told me her name. I got to say “OK” to her before I peered through the window again, and watched her daughter tackle her to the ground, her eyes now pitch black. As the Girls held Martha down, I quickly re-locked the door, blinded the window, sat down, and watched the dirt settle on the ground. Screams ensued, but at least the Girls never looked at me…well, except for the daughter.
I realized after that incident that I was a dead man. Not because I was near death; I had always been on the verge of dying; one mistake with the “Secu-mod” airlocks, and the Girls would have me…one mistake with organization, and I might run out of rations. No, I was a dead man because I no longer cared who lived or died, an apathy I developed as a byproduct of my own survival instincts. Martha’s death only bothered me because she might of had news of the outside, she might have known what was truly happening. If it was as bad as I imagined, I wondered if I would have kicked her and her daughter out, had she gotten down here; I didn’t have the supplies, even then, to feed them both. Would I have even tried let her had I not heard the distant laughter of Girls? Was I a survivalist or a monster? Or were they one in the same?
The shelter was designed to sustain 4 people for 6 months. I had survived for just over two years, and my rations were dwindling. I had two more bottles of water, one can of peanut butter, and three can of beans, with dwindling power coming from the panels. I guessed it had been overcast as of late, as was only evident because of a large amount of thunder rumbling from long forgotten skies. I walked over to my bed, and slept, as I had for every night before, though not because my body told me to, but because a clock said it was time. I had long forgotten the cycle of day and night.
Bloody apparitions appeared to me in my dreams that night, though not to warn me of my imminent fate, like usual. I was on a road in the dead of night. Trees flanked the sides of the highway, and around 100 meters away from me stood a horse and his rider. He appeared thin, his ribs showing through a thin layer of skin, and his rider simply was that of a skeleton with a small layer of skin. He was suddenly flanked by two other horseman, one with which seemed to give an aura of pestilence around his horse, whose rider wore melted skin and a bird-like doctor’s mask. The other seemed to be filled with bullets and arrows and fire. His horse wore a layer of armor as the rider wore a gas mask, equipped with a pistol on his side. I stared into their empty souls as they stared into mine. One by one, starting with pestilence, then the starved, and then the bloodied, they pointed to the road behind me. And I turned around and saw him. Unlike the others, the face of the entity was that of a man, of a finely complected human being. He wore fine black shoes, slick dress pants, and a suit. He wore a golden, gleaming crown upon his head, and rode a fine white horse. And he looked to the other horsemen. He didn’t speak, but looked at them bitterly.
He expected them to bow, and yet they would not. The other riders nodded their heads, and the king drew his sword. He looked solemnly at them until he realized. But by then his cranium has been dislodged by the Fifth Horseman. The King’s horse bolted deep into the forest beside the road. The Fifth’s horse, The Dark Horse, was pitch black in coat, eye, and demeanor. The Horseman himself wore the same attire as the King, but he had no skin, no skeleton. The crown lay upon the Dark Horse, which seemed to simply be an extension of the Horseman’s will. I looked back at the other three Horsemen, bowing in fear.
The Dark Horse walked up to me and said:
“You are me, but only because I am yours.
Other tribulations are meaningless,
Other pursuits trivial,
But my appearance is merely an extension of belief.
By some axiom,
You are not you.
Flesh and blood, and skin and bone, and dust,
Other suffering does not bring my truth,
How dare you lie to me,
Your truth and belief.”
I awoke to another strike of thunder in the sky, this time it was louder than ever before. I got out of bed at around 3 AM, and decided to listen closer to the it. The thunder sounded with a surprisingly constant rate, and as I listened more closely, I changed my mind about it. I decided it was no longer thunder, but the sound of a thousand horses running at once, and I heard the perpetually silent enigma of the Dark Horse. But I listened again, and suddenly a wave of clarity, relief, and stress struck me; there was no thunder. They were the bombs of a thousand airplanes, roaring across the clear night sky, bombing our fallen cities to the ground. And at last I knew my purpose.
Jeffersonville High School, 2019