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Coming of Age Speculative

For someone who has never taken a breath of fresh air, my sister is very upbeat.

But she doesn't even know. She doesn't even know that there's something besides this life.

Something other than the musty air that we breathe from below the surface.

I wasn't supposed to know either.

But I found out.

I don't know why anyone found that a surprise. I was bound too.

I always wondered how those worlds described in the books I constantly devoured were created. I had always thought Wow, these writers really have imagination.

But the whole time the truth was lying right there in front of me, right under my nose, since the day I was born.

I’d just been too blind to notice.

I sucked in a breath, the air smelling of cardboard, and tasting like muck. An air vent that led to the surface, disguised as a sewer drain, allowed fresh air to travel down to us, but it wasn't too fresh by the time it reached us. Other than that, we breathed in everything around us.

My room was small. A cot was in the center, a basket of clothes next to it, a trunk of sheets, blankets, and a few spare clothes placed in front of it. There were only a few inches between the trunk and the wall.

I had a few stuffed animals and a pink bedspread. Under my bed was a library of scattered books. Thick, juicy volumes, most of which I already read. Fiction and Nonfiction alike were hidden under the covers, with amazing stories and new, imaginative worlds to explore.

Or maybe not imaginative, in some cases.

Real.

The real world that no one spoke of.

I knelt down and pulled out a thick novel from under my bed- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. One of my favorites, second only to the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

I flopped on my cot, wincing as my foot sank through the mattress and banged against the metal beneath. I opened the book and flipped to my favorite part- I mean, what can beat Hermione punching Malfoy in the face?!

Books were the only way I could escape this life. Living right under a paradise above us. A life of yearning to go above, and always disappointment.

My door burst open, and in pranced a small girl with unruly auburn hair and bright green eyes. She was carrying a small doll and a colorful box. Probably a game.

"Deirdre!" Hannah said loudly, plopping down on the lid of my trunk. "I brought Life! You wanna play?"

I set down my book, stealing a glance at my energetic little sister. The only reason I have to play Life is because I don't have one of my own, so I have to settle for playing a game.

I looked at Hannah. "M-maybe later. I'm not in the mood right now. Do you-"

I glanced at my doorway and saw my father watching us intently from down the hall. I didn't know why. I gulped.

"Um, maybe..." I looked at my dad again, hoping he'd clue me in on what he wanted. He didn't.

Then again, I had raised my hopes in even assuming he would.

"Look, Hannah, do you want to ask Tony to play with you?"

Tony was another kid in the bunker, belonging to the Hams', and was Hannah's age.

Hannah shrugged and nodded. "Okay. Later though, right?!"

I nodded, giving her a sad smile. "Yup."

Hannah hopped off my trunk and scuttled out, running down the hall and banging on Tony's door. I watched her. My dad wasn't in the hall anymore.

I went to my heavy metal door and shut it. I grabbed my book and settled down to start reading again.

Bangbangbang!

I threw my book down. "Hannah, I already said late-"

"It's not Hannah."

My eyebrows shot up. I gave a hysterical laugh and opened my door. "Look who finally decided to visit me."

My father glared. I shrugged. "I'm pretty sure this is the first time you've ever stood in this position, let alone knocked."

"Well, there's a first time for everything." My father's stern, cold accent drawled out. "May I come in?"

"Wow! You asked! I figured I had no other choice."

"You don't. Let me pass, Deirdreth."

I scowled and stepped aside, turning my back to my dad as I went back to my usual seat on the cot. My father looked for a place to sit, but found none, so he simply stood awkwardly in the corner. I smirked. Serves him right.

"Deirdre, you and I must discuss something."

"Must is a strong word."

"Precisely why I used it."

My eyes narrowed and bore into his icy-blue ones. He didn't as much as blink.

I turned away.

"What do you want?" I asked coldly.

"I am aware that you know that there is a world beyond this bunker," my father started.

Of course he knew. No one forgets a screaming match you have with your kid when they figure out that their parents have hidden them from another world.

No one usually has that conversation.

No one’s supposed to have it.

Yet there we were.

And here we are again. Discussing the outside. A secret between us and the other parents hiding in the bunker.

But why hide it?

-"and I understand your mistrust of me."

"Oh, that's not new. That's not from figuring out your little secret. You and I both know that existed long before I found out. You just gave me more reasons to hate you."

My fathers gaze shifted and he hesitated. "Deirdre, you must understand that we are under this kind of lockdown for a reason. There is something beyond our control-"

"So what?! All I can think of is the beautiful descriptions of scenery and life that these books that you have me describe! I know that you hate me for finding out, but we both know that it's YOUR FAULT!! You wanted me to read, so I read. Then you regret it the moment I sense something is amiss! I figured it out because of YOUR BOOKS. And now, I know, because you clarified, and I'm helping to keep this stupid secret alive! But to not tell anyone has a huge burden on me. KNOWING has a huge burden on me!! Because I know that there's some place besides this stupid hole in the ground! I don't care if there's something above that's not controllable! I just want to live a life! A REAL LIFE! And part of living a life is dying! DYING is part of life!

"And if you think I'm going to die without seeing this...this universe above us, then you're outta your mind! I'm going to see it! I don't care if I die within a second of setting foot on that ground! I DON'T CARE! I just want to take one breath of fresh air! That would be enough! SEEING would be enough!"

Tears brimmed my eyes and my face burned, but I didn't care. Whatever my father was going to tell me, I didn't care. I didn't care.

“I’ll get straight to the point then,” he muttered as I cursed under my breath. “Don’t tell Hannah.”

I closed my eyes. “Why?”

“Why not give her a little bit of hope?”

My father looked slightly guilty for a second. But it was enough.

“She needs to know.” I pressed.

“I’ll tell her soon,” he said quietly.

“No, I will,” I stated rather fiercely. I couldn’t trust my father wasn’t lying. He’d proved to be untrustworthy in the past. I couldn’t let him give Hannah a lion only to tell her it was a sheep.

There was a deafening silence between us. My father broke it when he gestured to the door. “I-I should go.”

“Yes, you should.” I said stiffly.

He left.

I buried my face under my pillow. This was too much. Too much to take in. I underwent this weird mood last week too. When I found out.

My whole life has been a lie, lie, lie. A lie! All of it. And Hannah’s was too.

My door creaked open. Hannah peaked in.

“Dede? Daddy said you wanted to see me.”

I sniffled and sat up, rubbing my red nose. “Hannah. Hey kiddo. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

I slowly pushed my door open. I cringed when it made a slight creaking sound, before closing it shut, locking myself in the hallway. I quietly sprinted down the hall, turning left at the end and entering the main room. I crossed into the kitchen and looked around.

Aha.

I walked over to the heavy metal pantry door that no one ever let me look in. Once when I was on kitchen duty, I needed salt and Tony’s mom had freaked when I went to try and open the pantry door.

Yet something told me now that it wasn’t a pantry behind that door.

I walked up to it and grabbed the handle. I gave it a light tug. It didn’t budge.

“Huh,” I breathed. I tried again. No such luck.

Maybe if I pushed it…?

I pushed. The door swung open.

That seemed so… easy.

There was another door, heavier and bulkier and bigger. I turned the wheel placed as the doorknob. I spun it to the left.

The door creaked open, revealing a small circular room. There was no floor, no walls, just dirt. Like a big hole had been carved into the earth.

I glanced up, but all I saw was darkness. I dug into my purple backpack and pulled out a flashlight.

I flipped the flashlight on and shined the light above me. It was… quite a few yards up. There were ladder rungs on one side of the circle. I gulped, clamped the flashlight between my teeth, and started to climb.

I coughed as the rusted rungs scratched my hands. Some dirt trickled down, not used to the weight placed on the ladder.

I reached the top, cursing as I saw a trapdoor, designed like the one I had just opened, except circular.

I turned the wheel to the left and the trapdoor fell open. I screamed as it fell to the other side, the heavy metal narrowly missing my head. Dust and dirt fell out and I hacked, breathing in the muck.

My flashlight fell out of my mouth and dropped down, down, down to the bottom. It landed on the dirt with a small thunk, a single light in the darkness.

I covered my mouth, both to stop myself from screaming again and to swallow the bile in my mouth. I took one terrified glance below me and quickly turned back to what was above me.

I coughed as I heaved myself up, observing my surroundings.

I was in an old, dilapidated building. Chunks of wood and stone littered the floor, broken windows were scattered, and the walls had wood planks missing, letting in light from the outside. The bunker was built below a building. Or a building had been built on the bunker.

Either way, the building was long gone.

That was evident.

I gulped and looked around. My first time setting foot on the surface was not exactly what I had planned.

I saw a small doorway (without a door) and walked over to it, picking up my pace until I was running. I sprinted over the rubble below me and exited the abandoned building.

I caught my breath.

Long grass grabbed at my legs, tickling me. Above, millions of stars danced, daunting me, their bright shine reflecting off my glassy eyes.

And the moon.

It was just like all the books described.

Big, round, white, bright, beautiful.

I was silent as I collapsed on the ground, letting the grass scratch against my skin. But in a nice way.

And then I took a breath.

The air.

It was… amazing.

The crisp, fresh, clean air filled my lungs, swirling around inside as my body screamed More! More!

It was so… clean. And new. And fresh.

I took another breath, closing my eyes and letting this new world take over me. I knew I’d have to go back to the bunker after this. But I also knew that this wasn’t going to be the last time I visited this paradise.

And I would take Hannah to visit too. Maybe even live.

But for now, I gazed longingly at the sky, the stars and moon sparkling in my eyes, the fresh air filling my body with a cool, tingling sensation.

Harry Potter, Sophie Foster, even Draco Malfoy- they’d all been here before.

Now I was.

And it wasn’t just better than the bunker in every way.

It was enchanting and quiet and beautiful.

And that was enough for me.

March 10, 2021 18:38

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1 comment

Moon Lion
01:09 Mar 19, 2021

This was beautiful, served the prompt extremely well, and honestly was almost magical to read. I loved the references to books, the literal exposure to another world the books gave the character. Your style of writing is amazing, and I'll be sure to check out your other works too! Sincerely, Moon :)

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