Authors: K.D. Kinney
High Pressure System
© K.D.Kinney. All Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted.
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I suppressed the panic that continued to grip my chest when everyone in the city was ordered to evacuate a few days ago. Chaos reigned ever since the announcement. I did a good job keeping it together, but if I had been told to leave my Chiweenies behind, I would have totally lost it and not followed orders. Dobbers and Yodel were all I had since I couldn’t go home to my family. I loaded them in their pet carrier, covered it with a blanket just in case I needed to smuggle them on the bus, and only brought whatever else I could carry on my back.
Even though I lived off campus, I had been stuck in my apartment for days at the university with all the other out-of-state students. Might have been a blast if it wasn’t for the doom that gripped us all, especially during internet and cellphone blackouts. It was as if we were sitting in the dark not knowing what was going on. Now that I could finally leave, I didn’t want to.
I paused wondering whether it really mattered if I locked my door. Locking it anyway, I left along with all the other freaked out, wide-eyed students I had been crossing paths with in the halls for months. For once, we were all headed in the same direction.
“Where’s your evacuation location, Rachel?” Corbin asked. He was delicious with his unkempt brown mop of hair and dark brown eyes. He was like World Class Chocolate ice cream from Baskin Robbins. White chocolate skin swirled with rich chocolate brown hair, something to savor. Apparently I was tired of ramen noodles and power bars for dessert.
“I’m supposed to go south.” I checked the paper I printed out that I had been rechecking every five minutes as if it had changed from last time I looked. However, Corbin could make me forget what color my hair was whenever he spoke to me with those long, dark eyelashes. He could hypnotize me when he blinked. We were just starting to get to know each other since we couldn’t leave the state to go home. I never had a chance with him before everything changed. I hoped he was assigned to go with me.
“This sucks. Who figures this stuff out anyway?” He frowned as we walked down the hall together to the elevator. “I’m west.”
There was such a large crowd waiting for the little moving box that I decided to go to the stairs. I got a little head rush when Corbin followed me.
“What if I said I was your boyfriend? You think they’d let me on your bus?” he asked, passing me as he jogged down the stairs.
I stopped for a moment in disbelief. “I don’t know. Would you want to try it?”
“Anything so I don’t have to go alone.”
That was a little disheartening. He just wanted to know someone. It didn’t have to be me.
He babbled on as we exited the building. I kept wondering if he was going to go with me to try to get on my bus. Once we were on the sidewalk, he looked over the bobbing heads of the crowd and stopped once he saw what he was looking for. “Good luck. I guess I’m heading that way.” He pulled me into his chest to give me a brief hug. “Hopefully it doesn’t last long and we will have some cool stories to tell each other once it’s over.”
I could only smile a little and nod. I really didn’t want to be on my own either and considered following him to try and act like his girlfriend to get on
bus. But I stayed put. Always the conformist, never one to rock the boat. He waved and disappeared into the sea of people.
It was creepy, a mass exodus of people like I had only seen in movies. I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps the ones that promised us safety were actually shuttling us to impending death. Rumors were flying that no one had a clue if sending everyone to underground bunkers would guarantee survival for long. As soon as I approached the street, I was sucked into the massive school of sardines that migrated to their designated evacuation location for departure in a tin can with wheels. Yep, impending doom.
Clear blue sky was overhead. If it hadn’t been, no one would have been going anywhere. That much I knew. The beautiful, warm, spring day wasn’t enough to settle anyone’s nerves. Not even mine. Families joined together in tight groups and I struggled to maneuver around their slow moving knots that tied up the flow of traffic. Armed National Guard troops lined the street. They really didn’t need their guns as they gave directions to distressed evacuees. I was one of those distressed, helpless people that needed directions when I got turned around. I was terrified I’d miss my bus. There was no backup plan for people who didn’t heed the order and make it on time. All the landmarks I was used to looking for were impossible to find with the people that filled the streets. A nice guardsman showed me where I took a wrong turn. I had to backtrack against the current of people for an entire block before I found my way again, rejoining the stream until I found
South Evacuation Lot 73
“Rachel Gardener,” I muttered, gripping the dog carrier handle tight, almost afraid to look the woman in the eye that asked for my name. She could have stopped my dogs from leaving with me. She nodded, allowing me to join the people in the parking lot waiting for the buses.
“Bus four fifty-seven. You might want to let your dogs walk a little. You have a long ride.” She gave me a pained smile. Obviously this wasn’t any easier for her. I let out a long slow breath of relief when I didn’t have to make a scene.
The dogs romped around in the grass briefly as the rapidly expanding crowd filled the parking lot. I found the sign for bus four fifty-seven and waited at the end of the line as our group was herded onto the bus by more armed guardsman. I smiled at the young girl in front of me that was trying to calm her yowling cat in a cardboard pet box. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one bringing my pets along. I also spotted a birdcage, a couple more pet carriers, and a beta fish in a bowl being carried by a kid with a wet shirt.
I muttered soothing words to the dogs on my lap even though I gripped the handle tight with sweaty hands and my shoulders knotted up as the overcrowded bus took me with one hundred fourteen strangers to
Underground Bunker 3897
. The more time we spent on the bus traveling further away from the city and heading deeper into the desert, the more I dreaded arriving where we were all going to live together.
We were all bewildered when we exited the bus into the middle of what looked like the remnants of a massive dirt moving operation. Far from civilization, perfectly landscaped mounds dotted the desert with newly constructed dirt roads winding around them and the piles of excess dirt, rocks, and concrete debris. We were led to a perfectly manicured grassy hill circled with newly planted trees that seemed totally out of place.
It looked as if we were all walking into a hovel in a hillside. However, I was pleasantly surprised once we entered through the heavy metal doorway. The building entry was brand new and the lobby looked as if it was from a high-rise apartment in downtown with rich wood accents and fake ficus trees in the corners. Where there should have been elevators, another set of heavy doors opened to basic concrete staircases leading down.
A young man stepped into the lobby from the stairwell and he waited until all eyes were on him before he spoke. I wasn’t the only one still in shock. The mood in the room was already somber even with the frazzled parents attempting to console their fussy children, and some cranky, well-dressed couples with more luggage than they could carry whispering unhappily to each other. Mostly all the others were quiet and appeared to be a bunch of conformists like I was.
“Rather impressive.” A man that was close to my dad’s age nudged my elbow with his and gave me a reassuring smile. He only carried a single suitcase and stood all by himself.
I nodded politely in agreement and gripped the handle to the pet carrier tighter after wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans, making mental notes on everyone in the room as the young man waited patiently for silence.
I wasn’t the only single person there, but it looked as if the only single male that wasn’t underage or too old for me was the one in charge. He was good looking with his short dark hair and bright blue eyes. I noticed them even through his thick-framed glasses. His build was average, but I liked average and smart. If I wasn’t nervous and so freaking scared about what my new home was going to be like, and how long I would be alive to care if it turned out to be a craphole, I would have been plotting for a way to grab his attention. Not that I was good at that sort of thing. Almost twenty years old and I still had a tendency to blend in with the scenery even when making a spectacle out of myself. It took until second semester and the world had to fall apart before Corbin noticed me.
“Welcome to Bunker thirty-eight ninety-seven. I’m Brandon Taylor. I hope you all find the accommodations here adequate considering the circumstances and how fast we prepared the building for residency. I have your apartment assignments. I am also the one you come to with any issues. Kind of like the apartment manager. We will progressively restrict time outside so I suggest everyone acclimate to indoor residency as soon as possible.”
“What was the point of all that ridiculous looking fancy landscaping then?” The man next to me asked to no one in particular. “I’m Jim, by the way.” He stuck out his hand
“Rachel,” I said and politely shook his hand.
“You look like a deer in the headlights. You don’t have anyone with you?” he asked.
I almost teared up when I shook my head.
“Me neither.” He squeezed my arm lightly. His eyes were watery too.
I swallowed the lump in my throat when I gave him a weak smile.
Everyone began to mutter in distress to one another. I had to dry my cheeks before anyone noticed.
Brandon’s eyes met mine for a brief moment before his attention dropped to his tablet. “I will announce names and apartment assignments on each floor. Later we will gather for a more in-depth tour.”
He descended the stairs and the group followed with only whispering and our footfalls echoing off the walls in the stairwell. I shivered as the air chilled more with each floor we passed.
We had gone down five floors when Brandon called my name and told me my apartment number. He was still engrossed in his tablet, but I hoped he would look up at me. I nearly touched shoulders with him when I passed by. However, his attention went to the little boy that tugged on his arm. That didn’t surprise me. My friends back home use to call me wallflower. I always thought they were being kind by not calling me wallpaper instead.
The ones assigned to the fifth floor with me quietly made their way down the halls to their apartments. Mine was at the very end of the hall with no neighbors around me at all.
I fumbled with setting up the fingerprint recognition system. Once it finally approved that the thumbprint was really mine, the lock finally unlatched. I pushed the door open slowly. The scent of fresh paint and toxic cheap furniture assaulted my nose. It wasn’t any warmer than the concrete stairwell. The room with bare white walls was sparsely furnished with a small sofa with an end table on one wall and a dining table for two next to the tiny kitchen in the main living area. A small bedroom was off the living room. After the latch clicked when I closed the door, the silence was almost unbearable. The quiet felt like pressure building in my ears. The brightly lit room had no windows at all. Of course, I knew I was underground, but the lack of windows really got to me.
I let the dogs out of their carrier and sat down on the floor. They climbed on my lap, licked my cheeks as they sought attention and affection from me. They only did that for a moment before they investigated the unfamiliar floor with their noses. Tears filled my eyes. “Well guys, I guess this is home.”
The entire apartment was stocked with necessities and things I had never seen before. I flipped through a binder full of information on how to use the closet full of baking soda, vinegar, and Borax. I chewed on my lip. I had never been very domestic. I had no reason to be and now it looked as if I would have to become one of those happy homemakers that made everything from scratch. Or maybe I was about to become Old Mother Hubbard. Well, I wasn’t old. But I was a lonely young woman with only some sad little boneless dogs to keep me company. I wondered if I would have to make treats for the dogs too.
I tossed my backpack and suitcase up on my bed. Pulling out the one framed picture I brought, I looked around the apartment searching for the perfect spot to hang it. Thank goodness the thumbtack was still stuck in the hanger. I placed it on the wall across from the sofa where there should have been a flatscreen television. The picture looked miniature on the expansive white wall. It wasn’t that big of a wall. The picture was just that small. I stood there for a long time gazing at the only thing I had left to remember my family. My mom with the same brown hair as I had, looking far younger than her age, my dad with his warm smile and shiny gray hair. My little sister and brother, always a nuisance, what I wouldn’t give to hear my sister scream at me for no reason or have my brother lurking in my closet to scare me for the thousandth time. I pressed my forehead against the wall when I couldn’t look at them anymore. It was too unbearable. Hopefully, they were safe in a bunker like I was. I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself.
Brandon called everyone back to the lobby when I was trying to figure out if I could make myself something to eat with the basic staples in my cupboards. I also needed to find out what I was supposed to feed my dogs once my plastic zip bag full of dog food was gone. That stupid Old Mother Hubbard nursery rhyme kept running through my head.
Still entranced with his tablet and the corners in the far reaches of the room, Brandon never would look at me directly, or most people in the group, when he spoke. He droned on like a monotone tour guide in a museum as he led us on the grand tour. Mostly mundane information that had little to do with how we were all going to get along in this bottomless basement for forever. And we were only on the third floor.
“This is my control room. One of only two locations where computers are permitted for now. Everything is hardwired here. Radio frequencies of any sort are banned. Just a warning, anything like a cell phone or any electronics with wi-fi capabilities must be turned in. You are risking everyone’s life if you choose to use anything of the sort. Seriously, I am not exaggerating by any means.” He swung his pointer finger at us all. “We will be doing thorough checks in the coming days. You might as well turn it in now before we inevitably find it.”
“How come you have that?” the little girl that brought the yowling cat asked, pointing at his tablet.
“It has my lists on it. There’s no internet. I hope to get something like this available for all of you soon, but in the meantime, these restrictions will be strictly enforced.”
Several people started to mutter their complaints and distress. Brandon was unwavering but still said nothing while he waited. The muttering started to build into full-blown anger while five people handed over their phones.
“Thank you. Later the patrol will be going from apartment to apartment to do a search.” Unmiffed from the contention in the room, Brandon stuffed the phones in his pants pockets. They bulged out, exaggerating his hip line.
“Who is part of the patrol? Do we have a say in who is in charge?” a well-dressed man protested. He was the one that struggled with a ridiculous number of suitcases getting off the bus.
“You aren’t the only residents. I already have a patrol, a construction crew, and their families are already in residence along with the animal tenders, food growers, and health care providers.”
So Brandon might not be my only option for a potential boyfriend. It didn’t send my hopes soaring though.
“We aren’t the only residents? How are we all going to live here for a long time with so many people in one place?” Rich Guy’s wife chimed in. She must have been worried she wouldn’t get her fair share in the future.
“There is plenty of room. You’ll see. Let’s move on.”
In the stairway, Brandon briefly opened the doors to show us the halls of the floors with no residents. Probably to reassure Rich Guy and his pampered wife. On one of the floors near the bottom, we toured a large cafeteria. Also on that floor was a large growing facility. All lit up with LED lights and stacks of growing trays with little buds of vegetables lined up in some weird gel.
“I hope you all like your greens. We will be having lots in the coming months,” Brandon said with great pride once we finished the tour of the long rows of growing racks. The tour reminded me of field trips back when I was in elementary school except the kids on this one were far from entertained. The prospect of lots of greens didn’t go over well judging by the groans, scrunched noses, and faces they made.
The lights in the room flickered from a rumbling high above. The little ones started to squeal when the room went dark for longer than a second. Dim emergency lights turned on with only enough light to find the door.
I wanted to cling to the nearest adult myself as the rumbling grew louder and lightly shook the dangling light fixtures. I looked for Jim, but he was too far away.
“Everyone, please stay quiet while the storm passes over.” Brandon’s tablet eerily illuminated his face. “We are safe here.”
I wasn’t reassured. The storms had everything to do with why we were evacuated to the bunkers in the first place.
“My dogs.” I headed for the door, but Brandon grabbed my arm to stop me.
“They’ll be fine.”
“But they’ll bark.” Tears welled up in my eyes. “Will something bad happen if they bark?”
“The patrol can access your room if there’s a problem.”
“They’ll bark even more at strangers,” I whispered as I tried to hide my trembling hands.
“They will let me know if there’s a problem.” He met my gaze and held it until I relented. His grip on my arm released to a gentle hold that was somewhat reassuring. When he was convinced I wasn’t going to run off, he let me go. I swallowed the lump in my throat and waited uncomfortably with everyone until the storm passed.
Parents whispered to their children to shush them. Everyone stayed silent until the rumbling passed.
My nerves were on edge, all I wanted was my dogs after we began our tour again, but I said nothing. I didn’t want to miss out on important information, like when to show up at the cafeteria so I wouldn’t have to make everything I wanted to eat all the time.
On the bottom floor was where the animals were kept and I was ready to quit the tour before we finished descending the stairs. It was like driving past a dairy when the smell fills the car, but it was an entire floor of stink. But the calves were cute, the baby chicks I held in the palm of my hand stole my heart even though my eyes watered from the enclosed stench and maybe it was also because I knew some day they would be our dinner. I liked my chicken much better when it looked like it never had any feathers.
I glanced up and caught Brandon’s eye before he looked away. He had been watching me. The only good feeling I had all day fluttered in my chest for a moment.