A figure standing silhouetted by the light at the end of an underground tunnel.

The Bunker After the End

I thought I was alone, after the end. Then I found the bunker. Then I realized there had always been people inside. And they were hiding from me.

The few who didn’t try to run away, screaming, donned full HazMat suits before approaching me. I was sobbing by the time they encircled my crouched body in a creaking mass of canvas suits and sheer plastic face protectors.

“I’ve looked for you so long,” I wept. “I have been so lonely! Why won’t anyone touch me? I haven’t been touched since I was a child!”

“You’re sick,” insisted a man in the suit.

I felt wonderful, and I had always felt wonderful, my body functional as any toad swimming downriver, or the birds flapping in the sky, or the other companions I had held dear in my excruciating solitude.

There was nothing but abyssal loneliness in the concrete box where they shoved me.

“What are we going to do with her?” asked a woman outside my door.

“We have to kill her,” said the man. “She came to find us. There’s no more time.”

“Kill me?” I asked, banging on the inside of the door. “Kill me?”

I sobbed that my weakness had sent me to this bunker, into the arms of humans; I sobbed that I had not simply been satisfied in my freedom of the outside world above. Instead of cherishing the grass under my bare feet, I had wondered what it would be like to hold hands with another girl. And now this was my reward for wanting people. This bleak room, these bleak words, my bleak heart.

***

The woman let me out of the cell. “Lisa,” she said. “I’m Lisa.” I didn’t have a name because I’d never needed one. I was simply me.

Lisa felt bad for me. Against everything that the other survivors recommended, she wanted to take me to her room, and feed me, and clothe me, and treat me like any neighbor in their little bunker.

“You’re so small,” she said. “There’s nothing about you that might threaten us, no matter what they say!”

She had never lived in a place with grass or sunlight or toads. She lived in a closet with a mattress, which she was eager to let me rest upon, and a few dirty scraps of cotton that formed her wardrobe. Lisa embraced me with her generosity. I was so pathetic that I loved her for it.

Until the others found my cell empty.

Until the others came running to Lisa’s room, so angry with her that they shoved her – threw her – and her head bounced off a shelf and the life went out of her eyes instantly.

“Kill the outsider!” shouted a man.

They chased me down the hall of their bunker with furious hands groping at my back, pipes swinging at my head. Finally one struck me. I fell to the ground and blood poured out of my face.

“Kill her!” said another. “She’s dangerous!”

The wolves had stolen my food while I was sleeping. The storms had drenched me when it was too cold to be wet. The bees had stung me when I got too near their hive. But they had only hurt me out of the nature of their existence, and there was no comparison to the rain of blows they smashed upon me.

In my anger, I did what the wolves did, and I bit someone’s hand. The copper taste of blood filled my mouth.

“Dammit!” The man jerked back and shook the blood off onto the floor in little drops.

“She got him! Kill him!”

“Get them both!”

“What?” asked the man, turning wide eyes upon his friends as they turned their pipes and fists upon him.

He didn’t let them kill him easily.

He was more of a fighter than I was. He drew more blood. And each time he drew blood, the vitriol spread, the violence spread, and the men turned upon each other to fight and bite and tear.

One of the doctors fell near me, dying with his face halfway crushed. He had enough consciousness to tell me, “You brought the virus from outside, inside. You brought the violence with you.”

“It was always with you,” I spat back as he died.

The killing spread and men fell. The injured ones went on to injure others. They ran into the other rooms to fight, and the infection spread further.

I didn’t wait to watch it. I just picked up what was left of my bloody, aching body and I ran outside, to the grass, to the trees, to the forest, to an unforgiving sky with a blazing sun that never meant to hurt me.

SM Reine is a New York Times Bestselling author of mythpunk urban fantasy romance novels. She is addicted to video games, especially Crusader Kings II, and has too many loud-mouth opinions about movies. She lives in Nevada with a small army of furry monsters.

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