Subterranean Love

Marla Callahan arrived with her family, her hair tossed, spun across her face like a net as the drones were falling from the plum bruised sky. Everything had been upended, infrastructure and screens going dark as every major city on the planet erupted in chaos.

But even without the dire newscast and network warnings there was no reason to scramble. My father had prepared years ago, and the result was a nearly two thousand square foot bunker he’d surgically cut into the old rock quarry with the same precise engineering he employed whether at work or toasting bread.

Marla caught me staring at her and I blushed. Even on the verge of World War I couldn’t believe my luck. Locked away with the hottest girl on the planet, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her track meet legs and those sparkling eyes. Brown or amber depending on the light, like the bourbon in the bottle hanging loosely from her father’s hand.

The analysis and predictions kept changing in the days leading up to launches. Countries siding with each other like sports teams. No one knew what would happen. I guess global annihilation is an un-exact science.

There was no pageantry to sealing ourselves in. Mrs. Callahan held back sobs while Dad took a business approach to the procedure. Testing generators and air capacity. Mom brought plants and tried to spruce things up a bit. Food packets and water was already stored.

Of course Marla Callahan was devastated, she had so much to lose. Endless supply of friends, boys, a world that bent and obliged for the beautiful. All of it was about to be wiped out. Gone. I wiped a hand over my hair and suppressed a smile.“Hey Marla.”

She rolled her eyes, turned away to sulk, sitting curled in a chair for weeks. Only the glow of the auxiliary lights on her shoulders. Cold shoulders, she wouldn’t speak to me or anyone else. She missed her Oculus. Her automation pilot. She wilted without the sun, her bronze skin paled and her blonde hair darkened.

I read. Slept. Not much changed in my life. But down here it didn’t matter that I was Elliot Hartwell, stumpy son of the crackpot, nerd extraordinaire. Status had been obliterated by those sweet, sharp, nuclear warheads. Only heroes remained, so I made my move.

“Oh my god what are you doing? Get off of me!”

I would need some time. And that was fine, nothing like a romantic nuclear winter to bring us together. My father stayed busy with the network, monitoring reports of other survivors. AI, kept things running above ground but Dad was sure there human survivors.

Dark, day-less months consumed Marla, until one day she let me massage her feet. Circles, up her calves but only to the knees and absolutely no further. But that was enough, I was touching Marla Callahan, she was coming along, things were perfect…

Dad discovered something in the network, intelligence, things breathing above. Whispers of resurfacing between the adults.  I kept this news from Marla to prevent false hope. She continued to thaw, letting me take her hand, tolerating my company. Only a week before resurfacing and two weeks before my seventeenth birthday, I finally kissed the soft, full lips of our Homecoming Queen. My world was beautiful.

Surface Day reared up like a cockroach. Marla bit her lip as we took the passage, squeezing my arm with fear. Dad warned of radiation and fallout, of soot and debris, but even my father’s normal calm was replaced by a boyish hope. I yearned to stay in the darkness, to stay hidden with my Marla. But the test were out and the levels were safe. Against my will we broke into the light where I knew everything would change.

The world had survived. The grass shimmered and the leaves flickered from strong branches of healthy trees. That stubborn star had broken through the dust. Marla took off, shedding her fear and doing cartwheels in the field. Mother and father kissed. The kids laughed and we heard the call of birds not far away.

A village. Two miles up a grassy highway. Shelter and food, boys with broad shoulders who’d lost their shirts in the apocalypse. Dad hopped right in and humanity took hold. I cursed the nukes, watching Marla, a flower in the sun who would never cast another glance my way. A town would be rebuilt and status reclaimed. Again I was Elliot Hartwell, nerd, dork, a chubby, broken-hearted survivor.

Oh well, I thought, grabbing a book and finding some shade, we’d always have the thermo-nuclear fallout shelter.



–Pete Fanning/2016



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