For: The Writing Assignment, Scenario 1: Global Thermo-Nuclear War. Chapters I - IV
"Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor
March 26, 2002
4:02 p.m., Eastern Standard Time
I’m not sure if I should write this for future ages because I don’t know if anyone will be able to read anymore; well, to read English anyway. I’m not even sure if there will be any people left alive on the planet Earth. I have to do this, though partially because there’s not much left to do. I will address this journal to my fellow survivors, since we could all use reading material.
I’ll start at the beginning. My name is Ger Kychevski, and I was born in the autumn of 1986. I am fifteen years old. I was a junior in West Genesee High School, New York State, but I don’t think there will be any more graduations. Since that world is gone, I won’t describe it here. It won’t ever change, and if you can find any books that haven’t been used for campfires, you can read about it there. If you can’t do that, then read my story.
I’m one of the unlucky ones. We made it into this bomb shelter on the day of horror: March 22, 2002. I came to Highland Forest with my friend, Steve, and his mother, Mrs. Wagner. Thomas Jaymes, another school-mate, also came along. Steve’s mom rented a cabin for us and we were going to go hiking, cross-country skiing, and exploring. We were having an okay time despite the snowstorm, bitter cold, and the absence of the limited comforts of home, which are obviously reserved when one goes “roughing it.”
In fact, we didn’t really listen to the radio and were cut off from “civilization.” Steve’s mom was divorced and often took us on trips in the region: to the malls, the movies, or the parks. My own mother died when I was in second grade, so it was nice of her to bring me along with them. This was our mid-winter break, and now it would never end. So on Saturday morning, as we awoke to the aroma of Mrs. Wagner cooking for us all a breakfast of corned beef hash, the park Ranger came knocking on our cabin’s door.
Ranger Mike told us all to get to the shelter because the bombs were falling. He quickly explained, said to turn on the radio, and sped away on his snowmobile to warn others. At first, I think the other three of us were more excited than scared, but Mrs. Wagner took it seriously when she heard it on the car radio and sternly ordered us to grab what we could and leave. There was no time and seemingly no need to put out the fire in the wood burning stove.
When we arrived at the bomb shelter, which was in the basement of the Ranger station, another group was already gathered there. They didn’t exactly seem happy to see us, but everyone was a jumble of emotions then. Mr. And Mrs. Appleby were a retired couple who lived nearby. Also present was Mr. Evans and his son, Bill, who were on a snowmobiling vacation. We had seen two sleds parked outside. Later, the Ranger arrived with a group of four: Mr. And Mrs. Wilson with their daughter, Ann, and their niece, Carol. Ranger Mike locked the door upstairs and returned to warn us all. As he spoke, I noticed the gun on his belt.
”There’s plenty of food down here, if we’re careful,” he said. “But no one leaves, and above all, no one else enters. These shelters have enough supplies to last ten people for three years, but I think we can stretch them for thirteen people.”
The shelter itself is dark and small and always seems crowded. It didn’t take long for the air to get stuffy and stale from so many people. I want a cigarette, but none of the adults know that I smoke. Besides, there seems to be a limited amount of air in here. I also only have a fixed number of butts left, so I’ll see how long I can make them last before I break my “cover.”
It’s also frigidly cold. The designers probably didn’t plan beyond the many wool blankets provided. It’s also very dark, since we have to conserve batteries. Ranger Mike takes an inventory of all our possessions and assigns jobs to the adults. He puts himself in charge of the provisions. Everyone stays within their original groups for the most part, except for when we listen to the updates on the radio each evening.
It turned out it wasn’t the Russians or the terrorists who started the Global Thermo-Nuclear War; it was North Korea. Most of the United States was obliterated, including our government. The newsmen spouted regulations for the new hierarchy, but we knew who was in charge here in our shelter: Ranger Mike. Mr. Appleby had been an Earth-Science teacher, and he said that, according to the models, it would take two or three years for outside radiation to diminish enough down to non-lethal levels. Mr. Evans doesn’t think our supplies will last that long divided among so many people. They seem to want to argue, but no one has the strength. We are still in shock. I just want to go outside and feel the cold, fresh air on my face and have a smoke.
Luckily, we gathered most of our stuff to bring down here. I had a notebook, so I’ll write in it when the light is on during the day. Ranger Mike checks the shelter door often. He seems worried that others will try to break in. I want to break out. There is one room down here, about twenty feet by fifteen feet. There are two doors: one to the bathroom, which everyone now calls, “the closet” since it’s about the size of a stand-up shower –without the shower and without the water; and the exit, which leads to a stairwell going up twenty feet to the Ranger station office, which though small, seems in my memory like a palace that I will never see again. This room wouldn’t be so bad with just four people, like our cabin, but it is too crowded now. Sometimes I close my eyes, block out the others, and imagine I am here alone, which I am. I wonder if my father and sister are alive, somewhere?
March 29, 2002
6:20 a.m., Eastern Standard Time
Often I lay awake at “night,” although it’s always so dark down here that I can barely distinguish night from day anymore. There are only four bunk beds and two fold-up cots, which leaves three people to sleep on the floor. You guessed it: Me, Steve, and Thomas camp in a corner near the, “closet.” We don’t have room enough to move around, and from the lack of food, I feel fatigued all the time, but I can’t sleep. Mrs. Wagner got one of the cots, and Ranger Mike pushed his cot up against the exit door. Ranger Mike said everyone can leave the, “Ranger,” out of his name, and he lets me borrow his watch now and then so I can enter the date and time in my journal. I don’t feel comfortable calling adults by their first names, so I call him just, “Ranger,” and take the, “Mike,” out. He said pretty soon he will have to keep a calendar on paper to conserve the batteries.
We started doing a short calisthenics routine every morning. I notice Bill Evans has his eye on Carol. She is attractive, but she was on the track and field team in college and way out of my league. Her cousin, Ann, is in junior high school, so she’s too young.
One night I heard something through my listless sleep. Someone was making noise in the food supplies. The pitch darkness prevented me from identifying anything, so I did not move. I tried to discern who it was with no success. I’m not sure who I should say anything to. I don’t think it was Mrs. Wagner, and Steve or Thomas was near me, I couldn’t tell which one. I wanted to say something to the Ranger in the morning, but what if it was him?
Eventually, I have time to talk to Steve about it. I don’t think it was him. He doesn’t think it was his Mom or Thomas. I think if it was any of us, then we would share. Steve wants to tell his mom about it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I suggest that he, Thomas, and I keep an eye out or stay awake in shifts to witness the next theft. Even then, we won’t be able to see anything. But I have a lighter that is mostly full of fluid stashed inside my pack of Camels. Only we three know that I have it. We agree to pass it to whomever watches at night.
I awake to the sound of voices hurriedly whispering. At first I think I am dreaming for the first time in days: Some of us are smoking in the school bathroom, but we have to be quiet. There is a teacher in the hall. Just as I put a cigarette to my lips, I heard a familiar smooth, “shhoeck,” sound and there is a dim glow hurting my eyes. Thomas lit the lighter. Bill Evans stood near the provisions along with another figure. He was holding Ann Wilson’s forearm. In her hand she had a bag of freeze-dried food. They were having a disagreement, but they quickly fell silent in the unexpected light.
”Put that out,” ordered Bill. By now Carol had stood up; she had obviously been awake.
“Let go of her,” she hissed.
“When she lets go of that,” answered Bill.
There was a rustle and a moan from one of the adults and the light winked out, plunging the shelter back into darkness. I reached to wake up Steve, but now, not seeing, I only groped at the empty air. I’m not sure what happened next. Ann had slept on the top bunk, above Carol. There was a loud thud. I couldn’t tell if she had overstretched and fell out or if Bill pulled her down. Then there was more noise as we all tried to scamper back to where we were supposed to be. The flashlight soon came on, revealing Ann on the floor. Apart from a ripped pant leg and scraped flesh, she appeared all right. Her mother and father soon came to her aid. The Ranger provided the first aid kit, but then he noticed the package of open food spilled on the floor.
Bill shot Thomas and I a serious look, as if telling us to stay quiet. He was in his twenties and looked ready for trouble.
The Ranger kept the light on long enough for her mother to dress Ann’s wound. After he made sure that everyone was back where they were supposed to be, the Ranger said, “We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
The artificial light heralded another day. Tensions were high. Bill accused Ann of stealing food. She and Carol said that he was the thief. It didn’t take long for their parents to escalate the argument. Mr. Evans almost punched Mr. Wilson, but the Ranger intervened. I wasn’t sure whose side to take, since I couldn’t see anyone the first time; and the second time, I awoke too late to tell for sure.
The Ranger said he will come up with a list of punishments for crimes such as stealing food, but he also suggests that rations will be increased now and then, and that the teens should ask him if they need more food.
April 1, 2002
7:27 p.m., Eastern Standard Time
As terrible as things are down here, today was the worst day yet. It all started a couple of days ago when Mrs. Appleby hadn’t gotten out of bed. She was pretty old I guess, but she was always kind to me. Her husband, Mr. Appleby was caring for her, with the aid of Mrs. Wagner, who was an E.M.T. They said she had a fever and needed more water.
The Ranger was willing to donate an extra ration to her, but Mr. Evans said we should just eat all the food now if the Ranger was going to start making exceptions to his rule. So Mr. Appleby and Mrs. Wagner began sharing some of their allotment with Mrs. Appleby. Steve, Thomas, and I also wanted to donate, but Mrs. Wagner said we needed all that we could drink. No one was getting enough of anything as it was, and the water was required to re-hydrate the food as well as for drinking. When the Ranger found out they were giving Mrs. Appleby some of their share, he told them to stop because they could become ill, too.
Then Mr. Evans’ panic overwhelmed him. “What if she’s contagious?” he roared. If she were conscious, Mrs. Appleby would have heard even a normal tone in the confined space of the shelter, but Mr. Evans wanted everyone to hear him. Mr. Wilson seemed to take notice. He agreed that if someone was sick, we probably should not deprive healthy people of their shares, placing them at risk.
”What if one of your girls gets sick?” Said the Ranger. “You would want to help her.”
”Maybe you should add some more rules to that list of yours,” said Mr. Evans, “Like bootin’ out someone who’s diseased!” He stood with his son, Bill, on one side of the room near the Wilson family. Mr. Wilson had an odd look on his face, like someone who took a bite of the same old freeze dried peas, expecting them to taste good for once, but resulting in the same blandness as usual. Mrs. Wilson’s brow wrinkled. Behind her, Ann and Carol sat up in their bunk bed.
Slowly and deliberately, the Ranger spoke. ”You boys get behind me,” he motioned to us with one hand, while for the first time, his right hand drifted toward the firearm at his side. Now he addressed Mr. Evans, “Like I said before: ‘No one is leaving.’”
”You don’t need your gun to fight me, Ranger,” said Evans, stepping forward. “Let’s settle this now, once and for all.”
The sound of the Ranger unsnapping the black leather covering on his holster echoed through the still chamber.
”Alright,” breathed Mr. Evans, throwing up his hands. “You win. Give the old lady a bath if you want.” He turned and slipped into his bunk.
That was yesterday. Last night, someone was shuffling through the foodstuffs. I think everyone heard the package rip open. When the Ranger shone the light, it revealed Mr. Appleby.
“She’s dying,” he said, and he began to cry.
Mrs. Appleby didn’t last long and she died today. Mr. Appleby hasn’t been the same. I’ve barely had a girlfriend, and only for a couple weeks, so I can’t imagine how badly Mr. Appleby feels to lose his wife. They were married for thirty-eight years.
We held something of a funeral for her today. There were two radiation suits down here, so the Ranger and Mr. Appleby put them on to bury his wife outside.
While they were gone, Mr. Evans made his argument for us to follow him. He even suggested that we barricade the door so there would be two less people to feed in here. He said that with ten of us, we could afford to wait three years for the radiation to go away. I think Mr. Wilson liked the idea, but he would have liked it even more if Mr. Evans and his son Bill weren’t the ones staying. Still, he seemed to really consider it.
I was thinking of going outside for a smoke and not coming back.
The pair returned after a long time. It was getting dark outside, they said, so they were gone for hours. Luckily, Mr. Evans didn’t try anything.
April 10, 2002
5:52 a.m., Eastern Standard Time
Before Mrs. Appleby got sick, Mr. Appleby used to instruct us about radiation and geology, but now he doesn’t. I hope he’s not getting sick. It’s probably due to his wife’s death and not from venturing outside in the radiation. I’m starting to think that if they can pop out for an afternoon, maybe I can go and take a look, but I doubt it. If he was in charge, Mr. Evans would let me, I bet, and he also wouldn’t let me back in.
Last night, the Radio America announced the New United Government was in charge of North America, replacing the United States of America. It didn’t seem like they had the authority to do that, but who was to object? For all we knew, the announcer could have been the last Army private just making stuff up, but since he had the microphone, we had to listen. I liked the way they conquered Canada and Mexico with just a sentence or two. Maybe if North Korea had tried saying, “We now own the world,” I wouldn’t be in this place.
The radio said it still wasn’t safe to venture topside and to stay in our shelter for as long as possible. The minimum time before surfacing was to be three years. I’ve only been down here three weeks and I can’t take anymore. Even when we do leave, what kind of life can there be left? Maybe it would be better than this tomb we all share. I’m starting to wonder what is the difference. The irony is that all the dead people killed in this “war” are now up top in the world, and we “survivors” are buried in these mass-graves below ground. It’s backward and upside-down.
Another problem is our food supply. It seems we have been consuming too much, and we were already over stretching our supplies. This means that we will have to leave here sooner than what will be safe. It’s a tough choice: dying of hunger or dying of radiation. I think I would have preferred to go out all at once in the mushroom cloud, but the nearest one hit too far away anyway. That means there are people up there dying by inches and probably fighting each other for what’s left. The Ranger says we need to prepare for when they find us.
I’m ready to light up a cigarette. I found the exhaust vent that carries air out of here, and I think if blow the smoke into it, no one could object. Sometimes just taking a whiff of the package is a refreshing change from the stale, stagnant air down here. I don’t see how it matters if I smoke. The radiation kills your lungs a lot worse. Besides, I think everybody’s life expectancy went way downhill on March 22. The problem I have though, is that there probably aren’t any factories still making cigarettes, and that won’t be a production priority if things ever get rolling again. The “New United Government” will likely rush the manufacture of bullets. I prefer these white bullets -at least they have a filter.
So even if I quit smoking, I’m probably not going to live to be Mr. Appleby’s age. I don’t want to quit, but there aren’t many smokes left, so I will have to eventually. Even if I find some topside in two or three years, they will be stale or radioactive. So maybe I should smoke all I have left at once and get it over with, but I think I’ll save them.
Bill Evans has been asking us for my lighter. No one has told him that it’s mine, but he can seem pretty scary. I don’t think there’s much he can do without everyone else taking notice since it’s so small down here. So I let him talk tough and make threats. I told him it’s Mrs. Wagner’s, and now he wants me to, “get it,” from her. I told him to get it himself, but he keeps bugging me about it.
April 12, 2002
10:46 p.m., Eastern Standard Time
Mr. Appleby has disappeared, back into the world. The Ranger was in the closet at the time. No one could stop the old widower. Mr. Evans and his son, Bill, practically helped him out the door, or rather, prevented us from stopping him. Poor Mr. Appleby had been wandering around the shelter saying, "Mavis," his wife's name, alot. He also hadn't seemed to be sleeping much.
Last night Bill had tried to get my lighter, but he had to back off because Mr. Appleby showed up. We thought he was sleep walking at first, but I doubt if he has slept since his wife died. He just shuffled his feet around slowly.
The Ranger was going to take a radiation suit to go after him; but since Mr. Appleby didn't wear one, he would contaminate us all even if he did come back.
So I think the Ranger really wanted to help him, but he knew he had to help all of us more. He took this frustration out on Mr. Evans. They shouted at each other for a long time. The Ranger was smart to stay in here for whatever his reasons were, because I know this time he wouldn't have been let back in. He even considered going out to bring Mr. Appleby what would have been included in his share for future provisions, since he didn't take anything with him.
It's quite a shock to everyone. It's really weird because it's what I was thinking of doing. I had wondered how everyone would react and what they would say down here once I was gone. Now I know that I would have left, never to return.
It may not matter. I feel really sick. I don't know if it's withdrawl from not smoking, or because of what happened to Mrs. and now Mr. Appleby, or from the food. I really don't feel like writing anymore.
April 28, 2002
11:18 a.m., Eastern Standard Time
I've been feeling better, but I still don't feel the same. I guess living down here, no one can expect to ever get back to the health they had before. The food is bad, the air is worse, and the company is too much. It's probably a good thing that I haven't smoked in over a month, but I still think about it.
Something strange is going on. I noticed Mrs. Wilson, her daughter Ann, and her niece Carol all huddled in a dark corner. They were whispering together. So instead of minding my own business as I would normally do, I approached them and loudly asked what they were doing. I did it mainly because they were staring at me, as if that would make me go away.
That just made them mad, though, and Mrs. Wilson told me to get lost. Yeah, right, where am I going to go? I'd love to get out of here. Instead of starting an argument, I backed off. Something is going on with them, I am sure of it.
Some good news is that Mr. Evans and the Ranger seemed to have cooled their aggressions toward one another. I think it's because now there are only eleven people here to divide the supplies. It's probably also because Mr. Evans knows he was wrong this time, and if he messes around again, the Ranger will be glad to shoot him.
There was just a thud on the shelter door. It sounded like something fell on it from the other side. I hope it's just a chunk of ice falling. We can tell the ice is melting because one of the shelter walls has become damp. I hope the water is not radioactive.
It's been very quiet. The Ranger has put on a suit, and he's going to check it out.
He was gone a while, but when the Ranger came back, he looked sweaty and tired.
"It was Mr. Appleby," he said. "He's dead. I buried him up near his wife." He stared coldly at Mr. Evans. "I think he was stabbed to death."
( I would like to recommend the movie, “ Lifeboat ,” starring Telulah Bankhead, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; I suddenly notice this tale is beginning to unintentionally take on a similar theme. )
"Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor