Before the Shelter (Short Story)

“Your father is home!” The woman exclaimed from the front of the dismally lit house. The teenaged boy scurried down the steps and peeked around the corner.

He would never forget the horror that overcame his mother’s face as his father entered the front door. His face bloodied and developing bruises, tears welling up in his eyes.

“We have the last of it,” he said. “It’s all gone now.”

His father had left in search of gasoline which was now a difficult to find commodity. All of the taps had been shut down leaving many in desperate need.

The woman took her husband by his arm and gently escorted him to the kitchen gesturing to her son to return back upstairs.

Aaron solemnly walked up the creaking stairs to the room he shared with his younger brother Dominic. He sat down at the tattered desk and buried his face into his mathematics book.

“Why are you bothering to do your studies?” a voice ascended outside of the door. Aaron diverted his attention from the textbook to see is older sister Chloe standing against the doorframe. Arms folded. “Well?”

“Because it matters,” he defended himself.

“How? Why?” she raised her voice. “In a matter of days, nothing will matter. We will all be dead or living underground. So what use will your school work amount to?”

Aaron sat silently. Chloe did have a point. It was, after all, the impending “end of days” according to every news account.

Finally, he managed to spew out a few random unintelligible words. “Something. I don’t know. Just it does.” His sister shrugged her shoulders and walked away leaving Aaron staring at the paint that was slowly chipping from the wall. Maybe things will get better. Just maybe.

Later during dinner, the woman asked her husband what actually had happened. The father recounted the riot that broke out at the pumps. But he was successful in securing two full cans of gasoline. Young Dominic nodded proudly at his father. “You done good Daddy!” he beamed. His father gazed at the 6 year-old sadly realizing that the boy was so innocent to the world around them and what was yet to come. But he relished in that innocence and just inhaled that moment.

After dinner, Aaron assisted his father with loading the cans down into their fallout shelter. The two newly claimed prizes were stacked among the other four cans that were already tucked away from the world to see.

“This is all we have. That’s it,” the man told his son. “We need to conserve this to get by.” He put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “We will survive this. I promise.” Aaron nodded as if in agreement but doubts invaded his mind like looters perpetrating closed down shops.

The man signaled for the boy to follow him as he shone the flashlight amongst the stock pile of reserves he had been storing for the past 18 months. He hoped they had enough. Only time would tell.

Quietly the two crawled up the steps from the underground dwelling to the open cold night air. The father quickly snapped off the light for fear someone might discover their shelter and ransack it of its entire precious inventory.

Once they were both standing upright the father gazed toward the sky. The stars dancing bright. I wonder if they will still be here when it’s all over, he thought. Tears began to grow in his eyes as he stared at the dark curtain pierced with numerous bright pinholes. Silently he grabbed his son and hugged him ever so tight shivering in the cold.

“Dad?” Aaron finally asked after what seemed an eternity of silence.

The father pulled back with his hands clenching his son’s shoulders. “When will we know it’s time? Will there be warning? Will there be noise? How? How will we know when to go underground?”

“I think there will be no noise, no sound. Just a whimper.”