It was almost studying time. Momma made me sit and read these things called encyclopedias at least once a day. I grabbed my stuffie, Clunk, and pulled him close. His raggedy ears started tickling my face like they always do. Momma told me that he was what was called a rabbit. She had even shown me pictures of rabbits in one of the encyclopedias one time, and they looked so small and cuddly. I want to see one for real, but that was never going to happen. Momma says that they likely don’t exist anymore. She says there is probably nothing on the surface anymore. Momma, Daddy, and I live underground. Daddy built this place for us to be safe.
Momma says the air on the surface is poison. She said that a long time before I was born, some grownups weren’t getting along, and they threw something called atom bombs at each other. I don’t know what those are, but they killed a bunch of people. That’s why the air is full of poison, and we have to live here, under the ground. My picture books have some photos of what things used to look like on the surface. Everything looked so green and pretty. Our house is just a dreary gray. I wish I could see all the colors that used to exist.
“Katie!” My daddy was in the next room calling for Momma; I wasn’t allowed in there. It wasn’t safe, or so they would tell me all the time, “Katie, come here.”
“Coming, Hun,” Momma called out to him, she was cleaning her hands in the kitchen where she was cooking lunch. She patted my head as she passed me. “Clean up your toys, Peach. It’s almost time to eat. After that, you know that it is study time.” With that, she entered the other room. I could hear their voices faintly, and Daddy’s voice seemed excited. I edged towards the door, straining to make out their conversation.
“…Outside….clean….snow..” I could only catch a few words. What is snow? I don’t remember Momma ever talking about snow. I was so distracted thinking of what snow could be that I was almost knocked over when Daddy came charging back into the room.
“Baby girl!” He grinned as he picked me up and spun us around. “I have wonderful news!”
“After lunch.” Momma interrupted after following Daddy out of the room, “I want you to rerun the tests, and we are going to need our strength if we are going to do this.”
“Ah, you are such a worrywart, Katie. I have run the tests a dozen times already.”
Momma glared at Daddy over the rim of her glasses. Her brown eyes firm. “Aleister, rerun the tests. We need to be safe.”
Daddy ruffled my hair as he set me back down. “Ok, ok, Katie. I will.” With that, Daddy ducked back into the other room.
“Momma?” I looked up at her, “What tests is Daddy going to run? And what is snow?”
She just gave me a small smile. “You just may be able to find that out today. Now go clean your hands for lunch.”
I dragged Clunk with me over to the sink. Why wouldn’t Momma answer me? What is going on?
Momma went to set our small table, the plates clattering together as she carried them over. She had a faraway look on her face, and she was chewing on her bottom lip. After I cleaned up, I joined her at the table. “Will you tell me what snow is now?” I gave her my very best pouty face.
She ignored my pouted lips and dished me out some of the brown slop that was for lunch. I hated the brown goop. We had it for every meal, and it tasted like feet and smelled even worse. Daddy got this stuff from where he worked before the air turned to poison. He said that they are called MREs. I just call them gross.
I pushed the slop around my plate and watched the door to the other room. What tests could Daddy be running in there?
“Eat your lunch, Peach.” Momma lectured me. But I could see her stealing glances at the door too.
I wrinkled my nose and forced down a bite. I wish we could eat the food that was in my books. It all looked so good compared to this smelly stuff. Oranges, green beans, or all the other different colored foods all looked like they would be delicious.
I had almost cleaned my plate of the slop when Daddy finally came back into the room and handed Momma some papers. “See? All clean. Like the last dozen tests.”
Momma’s hand was shaking when she took the papers from him, I looked up at her, and her eyes were filling with tears. “We can see the sun again, Aleister.” Her voice was small and broke in the middle of her words.
Daddy’s smile creased the sides of his eyes. He didn’t say anything more. He just reached out and grabbed Momma’s hand.
After a long moment passed, I couldn’t take it anymore. “What is going on?” My eyes darted between my parents, hoping for some answers.
They exchanged another look, and Momma wiped her eyes. “We are going to the surface, Peach.” Daddy finally answered me.
The surface? “But what about the poison?”
“It’s fading away. It is now safe for us to come out of this bunker.”
My heart started beating faster at the thought. I am going to get to see the surface! The sun. The trees and maybe even some bunnies! I clutched Clunk closer in excitement. “Let’s go!” I jumped to my bare feet. Daddy looked down at my feet and laughed.
“Shoes!” He exclaimed, darting over to our tiny closet, “You are going to need shoes. What do you think, Katie? Will a pair of yours work?”
Momma hesitated then nodded. “Just for a short trip, they should.”
Then Momma and Daddy were a dizzying twirl of movement. They were darting from one end of our house to the other, grabbing different things. Every few seconds, one of my parents would pause and put a new piece of clothing on me. I was soon covered in what felt like everything I owned.
“Momma, I’m hot.” I tried to take off some of the offending clothes, but Daddy stopped me.
“Now, Peach, it is cold on the surface right now, so you are going to need these layers.” He grinned down at me. “Are you ready?”
My excitement banished discomfort from my mind, and I nodded over and over. I stopped and looked around. “How do we get to the surface, Daddy?”
Daddy grabbed my hand and led me to the other room, the one I wasn’t supposed to enter. When he opened the door, I could see that it was a tiny room, on the far side was a ladder that reached up into the ceiling. Other than that, the only thing in the room was a small desk with a computer and some more sciencey stuff on it.
“You are going to need to leave Clunk down here,” Momma told me when she followed us into the room. “You need two hands to climb the ladder.”
I didn’t want to leave Clunk down here, but it would probably be safer for him. I set him on the chair by the desk and patted him on his head. “Be good, Clunk!”
Daddy climbed up the ladder and starting struggling with something at the top. He was grunting, and I heard him mutter a bad word. A few minutes passed, and then something clanged from the top. White flakes floated down from the opening. I tried to catch them, but they disappeared as soon as I touched them.
“Come on up.” Daddy called, “Everything is ok.” I stood there for a moment, frozen. I was about to go to the surface. This bunker has been all I’ve ever known for all my ten years. Terror was anchoring my feet to the floor. The touch of Momma’s hand on my shoulder calmed me down.
“It’s ok, my sweet Peach. Go ahead.” She whispered to me.
Momma’s encouragement made me reach out and grab the ladder. I carefully climbed it with Momma close behind me. Daddy helped me off the ladder when I reached the top.
Everything was so bright. It hurt my eyes to look around. I had to blink a few time to clear my vision. The surface is unlike anything I thought it would look like. Everything was white! There was no green anywhere. There were trees all over the place, but they were all brown. Momma must have seen the disappointment on my face.
“This is winter, Peach. That’s why there are no green things for you to see.” Momma explained when suddenly, something white hit Momma on the shoulder. Daddy was grinning at her and had another ball of the white stuff in his hand.
“Aleister!” Momma laughed, “Snowballs already?”
Snowballs? I looked at the white stuff covering the ground. I reached out and touched it.
“That’s cold!” I could feel my eyes widen with wonder. “Is this…snow?”
Momma nodded, “It is frozen water.” Before she could explain more, Daddy threw another snowball at her. She let out a shriek and then started to pick up her own snowballs and to throw them back at him. I grabbed my own handful of snow to join in the fun. The next few minutes passed with plenty of laughter.
Daddy was rearing back to throw another snowball at me when he froze, his eyes focused somewhere behind me.
“Peach, look!” He pointed toward the big group of trees.
I turned and looked, “I don’t see anything.” There was just more white snow.
“Look closer!” He had a giant smile on his face.
I squinted at where he was pointing, and then I saw it. Right at the base of the tree. A Rabbit. A real-life rabbit. It was chewing some grass, and at my loud gasp, it hopped away into the forest.