Safety

Just a little short story.

“This was once a busy marketplace, remember?”

He looked down at the slender hand he held in his own, smiled, and gave it a squeeze.  He leaned back on the steel bench, and took in the scene around him.

Corners of ruined buildings thrust their way into the dust-filled sky.  Crumbling walls exposed the remnants of floors that looked as if they may still support the weight of a man, but would more than likely crumble under him.

“That was a shoe store, just over there – next to the greengrocers – and then there was… I think it was a hardware store.  Most of the grocery store is still standing.  We should go check later for tinned food, it’s probably still edible.”

“Five years ago – is it really that long?  I remember my last day at the office, when the news came in.  When they told us about the war.  I ran straight to my car, and went to get you.  The roads were in utter chaos, but somehow I made it home in time.  Remember how you screamed at me for not letting you pack a bag first?  I just dragged you into the car and headed straight for the mountains.  You were crying because I’d made you leave your jewellery behind.”

“Then we hit the freeway.  The traffic just wasn’t moving at all.  Couldn’t even drive around it, everyone else was already trying that.  So we left the car and started running.  I suppose they had us down as a secondary target, because if they’d launched at us at the beginning we’d never have gotten even that far.”

The wind whistled eerily through the broken buildings.  For a moment, there was a glint of sunlight through a crack in the overcast sky, but it disappeared a second later.

“You always told me I should have quit my job.  Taken something in a big corporation instead.  Told me your parents had always warned you about marrying a public servant.  But then we wouldn’t have been on the list, we’d have been left outside with everyone else.  All those rich families living in their big houses, we’d have died along with them.”

“I half-carried, half-dragged you that last mile to the shelter.  Remember how you asked me why it was so far out there?”  He laughed.  “You said ‘why couldn’t they have put it in the middle of town where we could get to it in time’, and I told you it was because of the minerals in the mountains, something in there made a natural radiation shield, and the tunnels were there already.  All they really had to do was build a door on the front, and they had a ready-made shelter.”

He glanced over to a stone plinth surrounded by rubble.  A pair of feet marked all that remained of a statue.  “Poor old General Carlton.  He stood there all through the rain and storms, through snow and sleet, through the protests and the riots.  Then he gets blown up by the very people he fought to liberate all those years ago.”

Scattered debris flew across the ruined town square as the wind picked up again.  A street sign finally fell from its crooked post as the final rivet gave up after holding on for so long.

“We assumed we would be living down there for ten years.  That’s what they told us, at least.  Enough food for the first five years, and everything we would need to start growing crops outside after that, assuming they hadn’t targeted the mountains themselves.  Such perfect planning.”

“Pity it all got ruined by a defective reactor.  Most of them didn’t know what that siren even meant, they just assumed whatever it was they’d be safe in the bunker.  Good job I’d read the safety manual.  I knew we had about ninety seconds to get clear before the blast doors came down.”

“So I grabbed you and ran, just like all those years before.  This time running in the opposite direction!”  He started to laugh again.  “Oh, everyone was looking and staring as I screamed at them to run, but we just didn’t have time to stop and explain it if we were going to get out in time.”

“We reached the entrance just as the door started coming down.  I wasn’t sure we were going to make it, but that last sprint got us clear.  I rolled under with only inches to spare, and pulled you to safety.”

Above, the sky started to creep ever darker.  It was near impossible to tell the time of day with the sun hidden as it was behind the smoke-filled stratosphere.

“I guess we had better get moving, before it gets too dark to see what we’re doing.  Let’s go see if we can find something for dinner, eh?”

He rose from the bench, looking towards the ruined grocery store again, and lifted the severed arm that had lay next to him.

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