There is a world out there. There is a world, even if I haven’t seen it.
I know, because I see proof inside the Bunker. Framed pictures of Grandma’s childhood home, and trips to vacation spots, and Fourth of July parties hang on the walls as a sentimental reminder of what the world used to be like before we were forced to hide from the Ruthless.
My Mom and Dad are young, so they don’t remember much of the world, either.
As far as I’m concerned, the Bunker is my world. It’s not so bad—it’s large enough for us to have everything we need. And it even connects to my best friend, Lavish’s, Bunker, so it technically doubles in size if we open up the Divider.
I’ve been living in here since I was born thirteen years ago. Believe it or not, I’m one of the lucky ones. The alternative to living in a Bunker is living in a District run by the Ruthless—to be slaves for labor, or to be cattle for much worse. The Ruthless don’t know the Bunkers exist. Apparently, they were built before those soulless zombies ruled the earth.
I hear my Dad’s footsteps thump against the titanium floors behind me.
“That’s a good tree, kid,” he comments, glancing down at the Techpad I’m drawing on.
Trees. I’m honestly a little obsessed with them. We have a few acres’ worth of them growing in the Arboretum, for oxygen and wood and anything else we might need.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Shouldn’t strain your eyes though. You’ll go blind by the time you’re my age.”
One of the reasons I like the Arboretum so much is that the light panels up on the ceiling actually change color and dim as daytime fades into nighttime. The rest of the Bunker lights are switch-activated, and so it gets a little difficult to tell time unless you’ve got a clock handy.
“Come on, Rekill,” Dad says, his thick brow creasing. “Dinner’s ready.”
Mom says that I look like a younger version of Dad. We’ve both got shaggy, sandy blond hair and gray eyes. But unlike me, my Dad has also got a full beard and a big scar on his forehead from when he fought off an R-Zomb back before I was even born.
That’s a pretty big deal. Very few people manage to fight R-Zombs and live to tell the tale afterwards. R-Zombs, or the Ruthless, are pretty much humans that have evolved to be leagues smarter, stronger, and quicker than any normal person. They’ve got a grey pallor to their faces, and their skin is stretched gruesomely over rippling muscles. I’ve only ever seen pictures of them before, but even that alone is the stuff of nightmares.
“Rekill,” Dad says again, harsher, “Dinner.”
My stomach rumbles. I abandoned my drawing for the call of my Mom’s cooking.
Mom likes to say that if the Bunker is a kingdom, the kitchen is her castle. It’s not a very large room, especially not compared to something like the Arboretum, but out of the entire bunker, it definitely feels the most “homey.”
The kitchen is split into two sections. The section adjacent to the dining room is where my Mom actually cooks, and the other section is where we store our food supply. Everything we grow, including what few livestock we’re able to keep, ends up going in the deep freezer, where it can be kept until we’re ready to eat it. Dad says that outside the Bunker, in the Districts, people have to leave their homes and walk outside to get anything to eat. He says that they live in boxes, and that they don’t have enough space to grow their own food.
I’d rather live in a Bunker than a box. But that’s just me.
When I arrive at the dining table, the food’s already been set out on the table. Lavish and his parents are there, too.
“We’ve been waiting on you, slow-poke,” Lavish hisses at me.
“Sorry,” I feel sheepish, “I got carried away drawing.”
“Well, I wanted to talk to you about something before dinner, but I guess it can wait,” Lavish sighs.
Dinner is one of my favorite times of the day. My family and Lavish’s usually alternate who’s bunker we eat at, and we usually eat together about four or five days throughout the week. I’ve never said it out loud, but I like it more when we eat at my Bunker, because I think my mom is a better cook than Lavish’s.
Dad sits at the head of the table and has us all hold hands and bow our heads.
“Thank you,” he says, slowly and clearly, “for this wonderful food, and for the blessing of life. Grace.”
We tuck in.
After dinner, Lavish takes me through the Divider to his Bunker and into his room. He shuts the door as soon as we’re inside.
Lavish’s room is a bit bigger than mine, and it’s full of old war memorabilia that used to belong to his grandfather. Guns, dud-grenades, riot gear—you name it. Lavish kneels down and opens up the bottom drawer of his clothes dresser.
“Rekill, are you ready for this?” Lavish asks.
“I don’t know. What am I supposed to be ready for?”
“This.” From beneath his socks, Lavish unearths two strange-looking helmets. Each one has a long, flared cylinder on either side of the mouth, and a glass shield that protects the eyes. Lavish doesn’t give me a moment to ask questions, “They’re gas masks. Found them in my Dad’s storage room. I think they’re from when he was our age, because they’re kind of dusty.”
“That’s cool,” I say. I’m not quite sure what to make of them.
“I can’t believe you don’t understand,” Lavish rolls his eyes, “Look, Rekill, why do our Dads always tell us not to leave the Bunker?”
“Because it’s dangerous.”
“And why is it so dangerous?”
Lavish looks like he wants to wallop me. “Besides those.”
“Because… we can’t breathe in the air?”
Lavish smiles mischievously. “Exactly. But not anymore.” He taps the gas-masks cheerfully. “Not with these. Get ready, Rekill. We’re going outside.”