Red Skies, Until Further Notice

Submitted by Bree Kokiri to Contest #23 in response to: Write a short story about someone experiencing their first winter.... view prompt

The sky above Untergang Falls was veiled in a rich blanket of reds and purples. It was a brisk December morning, just like the one before, but this one felt different. Oskar Fredrikson pulled back the curtains of his son’s guest bedroom window, and stared up into the clouds. 

“Dårlig. Veldig dårlig…” He mumbled. 

“What’s bad Farfar?” His granddaughter, Sophia, climbed up onto his lap. 

“See those clouds over there? See the deep red? Bad. Very bad. Means evil is afoot. When I was a boy, my village in Norway was attacked by one of the last of the Scandinavian Vikings. The sky was bright red that day, just like now. My mother said it was red with our people’s blood. Red sky in Nordic folklore means døden kommer…death is coming”

Sophie winced and ran over to her mother, who had appeared in the door way. She clung to her leg, and dug her face into her extended belly. 

“Sophie please be careful, the baby is already restless this morning. What’s Grandpa Oskar been telling you now?” Sophie scrunched her face, and gave her mother a shrug. Lindsey shot her father in law a piercing gaze, and he directed his attention back to the window, casually ignoring her. She sighed, and ruffled Sophie’s hair. 

“Come on little one, breakfast time.” She hobbled slowly and carefully down the stairs, one foot at a time. After going through the pain of several miscarriages, Lindsey took no chances. She was part of a community of people called the “Downwinders”. These people lived in northern Nevada at the time of nuclear testing in the 80’s, and had a world of health problems from the fallout, including cervical cancer. Lindsey was among the lucky. They caught it in its early stages, following her pregnancy with Sophie. While they were able to save her cervix, children were unlikely following the chemo. This child would be a rainbow baby. She was already 8 months along, and was determined to keep it safe. 

 Lindsey’s father had left her his house when he passed, including the fallout shelter he had built, just in case the mushroom clouds came back. As much as she feared another blast, she felt safe here. This was her home, and she never would have moved her family here if she didn’t think it was the best possible place to ride out the impending war. Oh yes, there are whispers. Talk of a draft, talk of reopening the nuclear testing site that caused so much damage to so many people. But this time, they would be ready. The shelter had food and supplies enough for years. She just hoped they wouldn’t have to utilize them any time soon.

Lindsey reached the first floor, and waddled into the kitchen. She loaded the coffee pot, poured Sophie some cereal, and put Kris’ toast in the toaster. “I’ll be right back. I have to talk to daddy. Stay here please.” She called to Sophie. But her daughter was already entranced by cartoons. She knocked on the door of her husband’s study. The door opened a crack.

“Kris? Honey, can I talk to you please?”

A low grumble came from behind the door, and Lindsey pushed it open the rest of the way. 


“Little longer, please. I’m almost done.” He mumbled into his notebook. She watched as his pen tore furiously into the pages. Kris was a writer. Not of novels or poetry, but he journaled often, and liked to jot down ideas for stories, even though he rarely committed to them. He’d done this ever since he was a child, when a therapist recommended it as a coping mechanism following his move from Norway to America. It always seemed to calm him when he felt uneasy. Lindsey saw the hurricane brewing in his eyes and knew today was no exception. She gently placed her hands on his shoulders, and kissed his head. She hesitated to add to the tornado in his head. 

“Honey…I’m concerned about your father. This morning he was going on to Sophie about his certain doom nonsense again, and he scared her half to death. Now she’s going to be terrified to go outside every time the sky is red because of his….”

Kris’ head shot up and his wide eyes glared at her in panic. “The sky is red?”

“Good grief not you too!” She cried, throwing her hands up. He softened and took her hand.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Dad takes those old wives tales very seriously and honestly, it’s hard for me not to too. Plus I think you may be a little bias toward him after that…incident after Sophie was born.”

She glared at him. Oskar flew in when Sophie was close to her due date, just as he had for this baby. Per tradition, he believed the whole family should be there to welcome a baby. Though this time his stay would be permanent given his old age. He had walked in on her as she was staring at her post-pregnancy belly with condemnation. She had never been “fit”, but she had been loathing the extra baby weight as a likely permanent fixture, untucking her midsection from her sweatpants, and poking at her stomach with a deep sigh. She hadn’t noticed Oskar come up behind her until he grabbed her sides. 

“Good birthing hips!” He announced, trying to comfort her clearly soured expression. She jumped, yanking her t-shirt over her exposed belly, and pulling her sweat pants up. “Excellent for beautiful grandbabies. Skinny girls are the last to be wives in my village. Boney hips no good for baby.” She knew he was trying to compliment her, that he would never do anything to make her uncomfortable and Europeans were notorious for having zero personal space, but the comment stuck, and she had looked at her “good birthing hips” with distain ever since.  

“I am not bias. I just don’t think they are appropriate stories for a 4 year old.” She scoffed. 

Kristoff smiled and kissed her hand. “I will talk to him, and Soph. But for now, I’m starving!” He stood up with one of those famous dad groans, and pecked her cheek. 

“Coffee is brewing, toast is toasting, and eggs will be on in a jiffy.” She replied with a confident smile. 

He grinned mischievously back at her, titillated by her ability to read him so well. He pulled in her plump figure with one swoop, and kissed her neck. 

“Hey now!” She cooed, playfully protesting. “That’s how we got into this mess and why I haven’t been able to tie my shoes or have a cup of coffee for that past 8 months!” He smiled, and knelt down to kiss her belly. 


“I can’t wait to meet you, little one. I’ll teach you to play baseball, to fix up a car, to pick up girls to ride around with in that car…” Kris laughed, pinching Lindsey’s rear as he stood up. She glared at him and sarcastically replied “And what if it IS a girl?” “Hm…Same deal!” He retorted. “Now let’s get some breakfast.”

Kris helped his wife back into the kitchen, just as Grandpa Oskar was finishing another story to Sophie. 

“And that’s why you never get caught in the rain after midnight. Now finish your juice before the Nökken jumps out of it!” Oskar chuckled, and Sophie stared into her cup uneasily, before dumping it into the sink. Lindsey buttered toast for Kris and herself, and took the dirty cup from the sink to get her own, Nökken-free juice. 

“Sophie, stop shaking the table please.” Kris and Lindsey both eyed their fidgety munchkin across the table. 

“Daddy I am NOT shaking the table!” She protested. 

Lindsey brought her attention back to the juice, and the liquid was vibrating in the cup as she poured. 

“Kris…KRIS!” She held the cup up in a panic, and the color drained from his face. 

Oskar leapt up and peered out the curtains just in time to see the bomber jets approaching with their roaring engines shaking the house. Not now. Not so soon. Not when everything was going so perfectly. He wipes the fear from his face and turned back to his family. “Kristoff. It’s time. They are here. Døden kommer.” He said in a shaky voice. 

Kris stood up calmly. “Lindsey. We have to go. Sophie, go upstairs and get the bag under your bed, and toss down the one under ours for your mother please. Dad, help gather the supplies we packed from the baby shower and get your bag. I need to go out and secure the bunker.”

Lindsey stood carefully, holding on to the counter. “And I’ll…” 

Her husband sat her back down. “And you’ll stay right here in your seat, away from falling objects, protecting our baby.” She had never seem him so level. She wanted to close her eyes, and go back to eating breakfast like nothing was wrong. But this was happening, and she had to focus on the precious lives around her. Inside her. Kris raced for the door, and Sophie upstairs. The poor thing thought it was time for the baby to come. “Oh!” exclaimed Lindsey. She got up, making her way to the living room, much to Oskar’s protest. She staggered over to the couch, unstable with the quaking ground, like a drunk college student. But she was determined. Patting down a cushion, she pulled it off the couch and walked back to the kitchen, handing it to Oskar. 

“The cushion is for me to carry, in case I fall. But our family album is inside. Our photos, Kristoff’s green card, Sophie’s birth certificate…and our ultrasound photos. They’re all in there. Our life is in here.” She wept. 

“Understood.” Oskar nodded. He too, had gone soldier on her. She had just been thinking it was a good thing he and Kristoff had both been trained for survival before, when he came back in the house. 

“We’re ready. Dad, do you have the baby supplies?” Oskar handed him the bag, which was filled to the brim, Tetris style. Kris called up the stairs to his daughter. “Sophie, are you ready? Please come down.” A large brown duffle bag came tumbling down the stairs, followed by a pink bag, and their little girl. 

“Sorry daddy. I was deciding. Do you think baby would like to meet Mr.Floppsy, or Olaf first?” She held up a rabbit in one hand, and a stuffed snowman in the other. 

“Bring them both if you like, sweetheart. I’m sure he’ll love them.” Lindsey cooed, taking her daughter’s bag. Kristoff opened his mouth to protest, but she shot him a glare that made him back down. He then turned to his father. “Dad, where’s your bag? Why aren’t you packed?” 

“Don’t need all that junk Kristoff. Just my family, safe and sound.” Kris nodded. There wasn’t time to argue. They opened the door and filed outside. The sky was painted dark, with streaks of red bleeding through. Kris opened the door to the underground bunker, and took a deep breath of fresh air for what may be the last time, before descending. He took his wife’s hand, and helped her down the ladder. Oskar picked up Sophie and hugged her tightly, kissing her cheek. “Farfar loves you so very much liten en. Always remember that.” She hugged him back, saying she loves him too, before being handed off to her father. The girls stepped away from the ladder, so Oskar could climb down, and Kris extended his hand to help him.

“Kristoff.” He sighed. “This door. I’ve looked at it many times before on my last visit. It’s why I chose to move here when I found out there was a possibility of war. It latches only from the outside. Kristoff…I am staying behind. I have to latch the door. What you’ve built…this family. It’s worth so much more than the few years I have left. Please go. Please keep your family safe. You have grown into an incredible man and I am so proud of you.” He handed Kristoff the cushion. His son stared at him completely lost for words, tears streaming down his face. Oskar bent down and hugged his son as he did his granddaughter, and closed the door to the bunker, locking it tightly. 


The following are journal entries retrieved from the same bunker, found abandoned 50 years later. 


December 29th, 2019

The radio down here still works, on a single station, reporting from a “secured location”. The surface has been declared unsafe. Radioactive until further notice…whenever that is. Which bring me to the reason I’m writing. For anyone that might read this, my name is Kristoff Fredrikson. I am in a fallout shelter with my pregnant wife, Lindsey, and our daughter, Sophia, following an attack made by the Middle East. My father, Oskar Fredrikson, chose to sacrifice himself and stay behind, for which I am eternally grateful. It has now been a week since the bomber jets let their atomic bomb loose. We know now they were targeting the Nevada nuclear testing site. Aim with the intent not just to kill, but destroy. I am so grateful our family is still here…even if we might not see the sun for quite some time. 


January 1st, 2020

Lindsey went into labor today. Between the stress and limited resources, it’s no wonder it came early. Through a considerable amount of effort, quick thinking, and resourcefulness, at 7:32 this morning, she delivered a healthy, beautiful, 5 pound, 4 ounce, baby boy. Our baby New Year. After months of arguing for name, it was completely unanimous when we saw his little face. Happy Birthday, Oskar Fredrikson Jr.


April 16th, 2020

Typically, fallout from radiation disperses in 30 days following a nuclear bomb. That’s what Sally Ruther-whatever on the evening news report said. But we’ve been down here for 4 freaking months now, and the radiation levels are still too high to even think about coming out, let alone going home. It’s because they hit the reactors too. You know, the ones we were told we inactive for months now? Turns out the government was cooking something up under the radar. Surprise! We don’t even have a home to go back to. Miss “coming to you from a safe and secured location” made sure to remind us of that. “Government agents in protective gear analyzed the situation on the surface, and while they were only able to withstand the fallout for 15 short minutes, results are looking bleak. Anyone listening, we urge you to stay sheltered until….” I shut the shit off. “Until further notice. Until further notice.” Will we even LIVE to see “further notice”? The devil himself has taken over the entire state of Nevada, and “results are looking bleak.”


September 30th 2020

It’s dad’s birthday today. I wouldn’t feel right not writing about him. Every time I feel like I want to snap, I think about dad and the second chance he gave us. Far too busy with our bundle to write most days, I’m afraid. Kudos to the cave men, because this has been a nightmare. Oskar is using cloth diapers that have to be cleaned, which is a responsibility we divide. The water reserve is limited down here. A single person, or even two, might survive for years, but a whole family and a baby…well, I just count the time we do have. I would give anything for my wife’s home cooking right now. A juicy steak with baked potatoes. MREs have their place, but that place is in a dog’s dish, not my dinner plate. Especially incredibly old ones from when the bunker was stocked. But we make due. We always make due. Until further notice…

 

January 1st, 2021

Happy Birthday, my Oskar the grouch. You are so smart. When mama teaches your sister, I see in your face that you’re trying to follow, that you understand the words as your tiny mouth tries to form them. So full of life and promise. I am so sorry about the way your life has been so far. Your mother and I wanted so much for you. For both our babies. My Sophie girl… there is so much in this world you haven’t experienced. I’d give my all so you both could have it. I’m sorry. 


October 27th 2021

The unthinkable happened last month. A rat has been living among us. It’s got into all the food we’ve been eating, contaminated it with trace amounts of radiation. We have very little left. Lindsey and I have been cutting our rations. Some days when Sophie is hungry I know Lindsey skips meals entirely. I see her once ripe figure starting to fade away. Her cheeks have hallowed and her eyes sunk in. We can’t live like this much longer. We can’t live much longer…


December 25th 2021

“Safe from a secured location” announced today that they are no longer safe in their secured location. The radiation has not improved as they expected. Their ETA for a safe atmosphere is over fifty years. We are on our last weeks worth of rations. My wife is skin and bones. It’s killing me to see her look so lifeless… we talked last night. We won’t watch each other starve, nor the children. We are going to the surface. We won’t die down here like animals. We know our fate. Thank you, my leatherback friend, for all the years of solace. Until further notice -Kristoff Fredrikson


Mr. Fredrikson closed his journal and nodded to his wife. They gathered the children, wordlessly hugging them, and kissed each other through tears before ascending the ladder of the bunker. Kristoff pushed it open. The air burned, and the sun was black.

“Look Oskar! This is called snow! Your very first snow!” Sophie exclaimed. The family looked up, and snowflakes hit their faces, falling from the scattered clouds of a blood red sky. 


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