I yawned lazily, realizing that it must be nighttime out there. Well, maybe, or maybe not, I mentally debated for a few moments before reverting to laziness. I'm tired which means it's sleep time.
I had been inside the bunker for so long, in this windowless, not too hot, not too cold place, that my body had forgotten all about the rhythms of the outside world. Picking up the metal nail, I climbed up the dangerously positioned ladder I had propped against the wall. It was the end of the world, and I didn't think it mattered if one more human falls and dies.
I climbed up the ladder, heroically beating the apocalypse, and positioned myself. Carefully, I scraped in a neat line.
"Wow," I whistled softly, leaning away gingerly. "That is one incredible line!" I giggled, which was terrifying, but I had stopped worrying about my sanity a long, long, long time ago. Scanning the tally marks nearest to me, I reckoned it had been well over two years. In reality, it could have been aeons; I had no idea anymore.
My brain had turned to mush early on despite reading and rereading and triple rereading the fifty books inside the bunker. Most were engineering manuals, and I fondly remembered how I used to cry over them, unable to understand more than a sentence at a time. Now I knew them better than my own face.
Truth be told, I don't remember why I was in the bunker anymore. And every day was an all-consuming struggle not to just end it. Open the door, and see what happens. Let it end already! I forced myself onto my bed, refusing to give in to the temptation yet again. Dr. Kruller had told me not to, and it would be cowardly anyway.
It was getting taxing to think about the present, so instead, I introspected, hoping to revisit some sweet memory.
No such luck tonight. I remembered Amma, my mother, who had disappeared one day. Since I never found a body in the bunker, I assumed she had left. And then never came back. Slowly, she had stopped speaking to me, even though she used to in the beginning. Amma used to cry and try to produce wobbly words of comfort, but eventually, she couldn't handle it anymore.
Unlike her, I had perfected the art of talking to myself. Every day became a novel, narrated by me, described by me. I was nothing but a character in a story, full of hope.
I put effort into everything, playing the struggling, abandoned Cinderella one day, or the epically confused, struggling, Kafka-esque character the next.
Vaguely, if I tried real hard, I could remember being brought here. Back when there were tons and tons of people here. Annoying, probing people. Full of questions, false concern, holding onto vestiges of humanity.
I sat up in bed, I could remember more than that. Quickly, I ran over to the single music player here, and I played the song as Kruller had taught me.
As the familiar notes hit me, I remembered the massacre again and shuddered, turning it off instantly. No need to recall bloody deaths over and over, thank you very much. That was when I had started tallying the days, even though the other survivors- my mother and my injured father- had protested. There was no one left to remind me of life before, not even that really annoying guy who kept track of every day, every week, et cetera that we had been here.
I went back to my bed and reflected miserably upon the fact that I could not cry anymore. The memory of all those deaths had ceased to bring up any sadness. Probably because there was no one to show my sadness to, nobody who could comfort me. I turned to my decorated wall and began counting. One tally, two tallies, three...and before I got to fifty, sleep enveloped me in its loving arms.
Once upon a time, my mother woke me up like a drill sergeant, and I had to run like a crazy person to get to school. So that I could be yelled at again and get bored. Sleeping in on weekends, snow days, sick days used to be richly satisfying. But now, rolling around got boring when there was honestly nothing to do. So I got up with a groan of protest, rubbing my foggy head, and meandering over to the washrooms.
Conserving water was for people who lived in bunkers with other living people, and I took all the time in the world to make myself ready. No mirror, because some psychopath used the shards to kill people, so one has to assume how they look at times. Through touch, I knew my nose was still a wonky triangle, and my hair had grown annoyingly long. I wonder if wire cutters can cut hair.
Every morning was the same. I always started by pretending to do some exercise. Usually, that was a light jog to nowhere, coupled with random stretching. Then I ate some breakfast and checked on repairs. As always, I read one of the only novels out loud, making sure to laugh really loudly at all the funny moments and force myself to cry when it got sad. That's when I noticed it.
The wall was empty. I ran over to it, feeling my face contort into a genuine frown. "No, no, no, no! What-? What the hell?!”
I rubbed my eyes, resisting the urge to scream or burst into tears. Somehow, each and every one of my carefully made vertical slashes had been erased. In delayed shock, I ran my fingers against the cool metal. Nothing.
Letting out a scream, I flung a nearby stool at the wall. It broke, but I don't feel better. I felt frustration so through that my skin felt like it was on fire, my head itched, my throat dried. Pacing rigidly, I kept turning, confused. How did they disappear? Did I actually even make them? How long had I been here?
Clang! I jumped, frantically looking for the source of the noise.
The nail. The nail I had used for so long was here. "Okay," I cleared my throat, waving my hands. "If the nail is here, the marks were here. If the marks were here, somebody removed them..." I spoke the last part in a horrified whisper. For some reason, it was more terrifying that whoever did this would know that I was aware of their actions. I felt like they were hunting me, smiling, and if I gave myself away, they would kill me.
It felt crazy, but I had been alone for far too long to trust anyone anymore. All those freaks back in the early days, any one of them could have killed me first.
I pressed my back against the wall, staring out into the empty bunker. The shelves were dark, and the bathroom door was closed. Oh shit, oh shit, how long had they been here?!
My heart plummeted as I remembered the kitchen. The knives, the fucking blender, anything, anything could be used to kill me. My hands started shaking.
I ran my hand over the scars on my left arm, rubbing soothingly and grabbing one of the broken stool legs.
Slowly, I moved towards the kitchen, turning wildly every few minutes to check for approaching murderers. I finally reached the granite counter, but I cannot make myself check behind it. What if he was there, lurking, grinning maniacally?
I would have cut off my finger to have someone here I trusted. Amma, why did you leave? She hated it here, but I needed her. It was cruel to do this.
Trembling, I took a breath and quickly looked over the counter, throwing myself back when I was finished.
Nobody. I shot forward to the drawers, ripping them open. The knives were gone, I realized, with a sinking dread in my stomach. Oh, god, I'm going to die. I don't know self-defence. I don't know anything, oh shit.
I heard a noise from the shelves, and my heart stopped. Time to curl into the fetal position and hope it was fast.
Slowly, I approached the shelves, knowing that there was nowhere to hide. Just like last time, there was one psychopath hunting.
I trailed my stool leg against the shelves, hoping to unnerve this freak just as much as they scared me. Holding back tears, I called out, "Come on out, I know you're there!" It would have been a remarkable display of bravery if it didn't come out broken and scared.
Rustling sounds made me whirl around, and I slammed my stool leg into something. There was a satisfying hit, and I swung again, frantic.
"Please, please, stop!" The person yelled, scooting backward on his hands. White lab coat, badge, he was one of the people from earlier.
I held up the leg, fighting the urge to scream and run. "How long have you been hiding here?! What are you doing?" I shouted, glancing back to see if there were more.
"I'm n-not hiding here, please, I j-just came to restock everything." He stammered, clutching his shoulder.
I stared at him in total confusion. "What the hell are you talking about? It is the end of the world, where did you-?" I glanced back again, and this time I saw it: the cart full of supplies.
I had never questioned why they never ran out. No, wait, I knew why. "Wrong! There is supposed to be enough here for fifty humans for a hundred years! While the apocalypse goes on, yeah, you're a thief!"
"No, please! I know what it looks like, but Doctor T. Kruller sent me! I'm so sorry, I didn't know you would be awake! You must be developing a resistance to it." He held both hands up, his face contorted with fear.
"Resistance to what?" I asked, my arms shaking from the effort of threatening him. Even the adrenaline was beginning to ebb away.
For a moment, it looked like he was thinking. Then he said, "You're one of the last surviving humans, okay, and we need to make sure you stay healthy. You keep trying weird things, like, why do you tally the wall? And-and, you keep remembering the massacre, even when we try and free you from the trauma."
I felt confused, and I dropped my arms. "What? Kruller gave me that music player, and-" I rubbed my face. "Where is my mother? And how do I get out of here? I want to speak to the doctor." Yes, Dr. Kruller would give me the answers.
The man in front of me made a strange face. I had no idea what his expression meant, and I felt afraid again. Backing away, I bumped into the cart and heard the jostle of knives.
Nobody restocks knives. I turned to look at him, my mouth dry.
The guy on the floor smiled, and I snapped, throwing the stool leg at him and fishing out a knife.
He had dodged and was running. Running for the door. I chased after him, holding the knife carefully.
I felt a rush and slammed him against the wall, holding the knife to his throat. "Tell me, now!" I pressed harder when he didn't answer, seeing a small, red line appear. "Or, I'll slice your throat," I warned and adjusted my elbow when his badge got in the way.
The badge..."Dr. Theille Kruller?" I pushed away from him, confused. "What the hell? I-I don't-"
He sighed, checking his watch. "Here we go again. It's getting faster each time."
"What are you talking about?" I snapped, rubbing my temples. "Doctor, you told me I was here-"
He shushed me, "I can explain everything, as long as you-"
That was enough out of him, I slammed him in the head with the hilt of the knife, and quickly removed his lab coat and badge. Something strange was going on.
I threw the coat on and ran for the cart, emptying it all over the floor. This couldn't be the real Theille Kruller, and I needed answers. I pushed on the door, then swiped the badge against the black box.
It opened, and I walked into a clean, bustling hallway. I joined the stream of lab-coated people pushing empty carts, and smiled at a few of them, easily assimilating. Glancing back, I was apparently in room P-10.
I deposited the cart with the others and then peeled off from the group, walking purposefully and mimicked the rest of them, pressing my finger against my ear. Eventually, I entered a giant room full of computers and a man and a woman.
The woman was entering something on a computer, while the man gazed at the cameras. Those were all bunkers.
"Oh damn! Room S-77 has had its initial kill, knock out Barley." The man said, spinning around in his chair, and spotting me before I could shrink away. "And who might you be?"
I smiled hesitantly and spoke in a slightly higher voice. "Hi, I'm new, oh sorry, not new, I'm Theille." I took a chance, my mind spinning.
The woman finished clicking buttons and turned to survey me. "Tuh-heel? Is that French? You don't look French."
"Nah, my mom was. Uh, what's going on, here?" I asked, coming forward and squinting.
The woman smiled up at me tightly from her typing, "Sorry, pass me the bag?"
I passed her the purse and turned to look at the man.
He yawned lightly. "Well, these are the S-Levels, the newbie killers we brought in. You know, for the study Doctor Wasu is running. 'We are at the forefront of understanding psychopaths and murders! We will change the world!'" He said, obviously imitating someone.
I chuckled, winning a smile from him, but the girl tutted. "Shut up Devon, this is important research. Understanding how they tick means we can catch them before they kill. See this?" She angled her computer toward me. "Ninety percent of them with the inserted gene variant end up killing everyone in their bunker. It is fascinating." She smiled, and I was sure she was a psychopath.
I felt my blood run cold. "Oh." Did they edit these poor people?
"There's no one here for you to kiss up to, Liza." Devon laughed. "I mean, if you want to see something really cool, you should look at the permanent residents, they're in the P block-"
"Don't use my real name around here!" Liza snapped, rummaging through her purse.
The P's, that was me! "Hey, hold on, what do you mean? I missed orientation," I said apologetically, shrugging.
Liza huffed, "Great, another one for us to coddle. I wish they were better at this." She sighed and looked at me. "Okay, the doctors have anagram names, it is a private joke. They're all fake, and P-blockers are confirmed killers, we just keep them in amnesia states until extermination day."
"Oh, that explains it!" I laughed, even though I had no idea what they were saying.
"Yeah, so Theille Kruller, would be something like-" Devon scrunched up his face. "Ah-ha! U-R-THE-KILLER. Basically, what we do here, is we simulate situations where they kill, other prisoners, so don't worry-"
Liza picked up from there, typing with one hand. "And then we analyze them for gene markers and personal history-"
"And there's a database. And we enter that stuff and catch peeps in the real world who wanna kill-"
"So the apocalypse?" I asked, feeling feverish. "And the parents?"
"Cover story, y'all!" Devon whooped. "It's kinda complicated, but, uh, I don't know, reasons. And some parents visit, I don't know, it's kinda weird."
"Okay, moron, why don't you check the P rooms, and I'll explain. Also, newbie, it isn't orientation, it's called initiation."
I decided as Devon clicked the button, readying the knife to slit Devon's unprotected throat.
Devon clicked the button, I moved forward, and Liza sprayed me in the face.
"Ah!" I shouted, stumbling back.
"Every time!" Devon howled with laughter. "This never gets old!"
I blinked rapidly, rubbing at my face, swaying.
"Oh don't worry, sweetheart, you'll forget everything again. Check on Dr. K, please Devon. For some reason, you are the only special cookie who remembers how long she's been here, despite the resets. But we'll get to the bottom of that!" Liza murmured, and the world tilted as I crashed down.
I woke up in a room full of murmuring people, and I knew we were in the apocalypse. Dr. Kruller had told me the world had ended, and this bunker was for my safety.
They are all looking at me, and I know that they will kill me unless I take care of them first.