Teens & Young Adult Adventure Romance

"Have you ever thought about living forever?"

“Not like this,” I whisper bitterly.

“No, no, not like this, like in the story books.”

Story books? What are we ten? Holding in a frustrated sigh, I wait for Remmy to begin his obnoxious dreaming out loud tangents. He’s always been a dreamer, but lately it’s been over the top, and non stop. It’s like he’s ten and believing these unrealistic things again, like how we’ll get out of our bunker and underground cavern someday. So foolish. I’d smack some sense into him, but I’m afraid it’ll crush his soul.

His chattering continues. “Like the days of mom and dad, before our way of living. People were free to plan trips and travel the entire world.” He pauses for dramatic effect, then continues, “People would farm under the open sky, and die surrounded by those they love, after completing their lists of buckets.”

“It’s called a bucket list,” I correct. Leave it to my brother to over romanticize dying. “You’re free to die down here, with everyone who cares about you,” I remind him, sending him a grin.

He simply shakes his head and continues rambling on and on about the freedoms and all that the earth provided for them, all the people of old.

While he’s talking, we both work hard to scrub our clothing in the stream that runs by our bunker, the key to our survival. It’s the reason our parents chose this location. It provides us with fresh water to drink, to bathe with, and wash our things. It also provides energy to power our bunkers.

I turn from the stream and study each bunker, there are seven. All of our families were ready, despite the rest of the world’s ignorance and carelessness, or so we’ve been told.

Our mother was pregnant with us when they came down here, to escape the sickness the sun was causing.

“Where would you go?” Remmy asks, breaking my train of thought.

“Go?” I don’t mean to sound annoyed, especially since I wasn’t actually paying attention to anything he had been saying.

“Yeah, in the world. Pick one of the locations we’ve been studying about.”

His voice is so cheery, and now I’m wringing my laundry more intensely than necessary.

“I’d love to go to Australia, though if planes aren’t running anymore, I’m sure it’d take a long time from North East America…”

He trails off and I glance at him, he appears lost in thought and I continue working, not wanting to answer any more questions. I’m afraid that if he asks me again, I’ll snap.

Of course I love my brother, but his ideals prick at something deep inside of me, like a thorn on a rose. Or what I imagine it’d feel like. The thorns on mom’s dried roses are fairly withered.

He wonders how something that brings him so much pleasure talking about, brings me such anger and frustration. Perhaps it’s because the cement floors, and dirt walls are all we’ve ever known, and I can’t see that changing. Somehow Remmy is more than hopeful that it will.

“Where would you visit, Till?”

Instead of exploding like I thought I’d want to, I hang my shirt on the clothes rope and let out a surrendering sigh. “I would go to Maine, eat lobster and breathe in the fresh sea air.”

The light in my brother’s eyes brightens in a way I didn’t know was possible. But they dim slightly when we both hear a familiar voice say, “You’d probably have to wear a filtering mask and cover your entire body.”

I turn and it’s Emerson, standing behind us holding a large basket of clothing.

“That’s probably why we’ll never go,” I reply, crossing my arms, glancing at Remmy to see if is crushed by my statement.

He simply shrugs and carefully hangs his clothes over the rope next to mine.

“Need any help?” I offer to Emerson.

“Sure, thanks Till,” he says, fishing through the basket and handing me several generic items, thankfully no undergarments.

Taking them from him, I begin working on the first item, a uniform.

“Later,” Remmy says, heading back to the home, likely going to finish his other chores. Or day dream over that blasted map.

We both nod and continue our cleaning. Normally, each family member cleans their own clothing, to share the load and not have it fall on any one member of the family. But Emerson’s mom has been sick with the wet cough for a few weeks now and doesn’t seem to be improving.

“Your brother seems unhappy,” Emerson comments, while working.

This is how we have our best conversations, talking while working with our hands. Being idle is not the way of our people. Despite him being my best friend, I rarely talk about my brother. My twin, the one I should understand and have a strong connection with, but I don’t. This is another thing that pricks at me deep inside.

“Unhappy? That doesn’t sound like Remmy at all.”

“You’re right, he seems unusually quiet.”

“He’s probably just upset that I finally answered one of his ridiculous questions, and you came along and squashed it. He’s the only one around here who dreams of what was.”

“That’s a funny thought, to miss something you’ve never had,” Emerson says, sending me a confused smile.

I stop scrubbing and think about his comment. Our eyes meet, then he asks quietly, “Do you think he’ll ever leave?”

“What? No, there’s nothing to leave to,” I rely, anger boiling inside of me. “He’s never mentioned leaving.”

I continue working, trying to push away any doubts I have about this subject.

Laughter from children playing on the other side of the fence carries to us. There aren’t many children, but the fence is to prevent them from falling in the stream.

Emerson apologizes. “I wasn’t trying to upset you, but some have spoken about going above ground.”

Shocked, I plop back on my bottom, the wet uniform drenching me. “Why?”

He simply shrugs in response. 

Sure, this isn’t a beautiful place, but keeping us alive and safe is a beautiful thing, and a good enough reason to never leave.

I wring out the uniform over the water and hang it on his family’s clothing rope.

Despite our clan's best efforts to survive, people have still gotten sick and died. One child even fell into the stream and was carried away, which is why we have a fence. But we all know it’s safer down here then up there. At least I thought everyone knew and appreciated that fact.

Kneeling down to start on the next item, I ask, “How do I stop this?”

Emerson stands and I can’t help but appreciate his sturdy frame and handsome face, even if he is the same height as me. “I don’t think we can stop any of them, but hopefully, my father can talk some sense into them.”

My heart flips and an uneasy feeling swells in my stomach. He must sense my dread because he adds, “Don’t worry, my father is going to address this at the meeting tonight.”

His eyes are hopeful, but I know he doesn’t fully understand. His siblings are level headed, like us, unlike Remmy, who seems to live elsewhere.

We continue to work, but my mind drifts to a few weeks ago to the lesson our mother taught us. It was one of those lessons that seem to come from memory, instead of fact. Her eyes lit up the way my brother’s always do.

The bunker had been unusually cold, so she made us do several exercises to keep us warm while she made tea and biscuits. Once they were done, we sat down with our treats and she told us of “college kids” and all they would do. It’s the kind of lesson I hate the most, learning what people did, things we’ll never do.

These kids would backpack across Europe and hitchhike across the US.

Rem was obsessed, pestering our mother with endless questions. She finally had to tell him to let her move on, which led to her pulling out old photos and showing us her and dad in college. She had long, fake blonde hair, and makeup caked onto her face. In one photo, her and dad were in swimsuits on a beach in Mexico.

It was all so outlandish. It truly seemed like a fairy tale.

Remmy had asked what age children went to college. Mom had told him that 18 was the normal age, though some started their college courses at 16 or 17, while still attending high school.

Fear starts to swell in my heart, at realizing why he had that last, very specific question. Why he’s been so extra obnoxious and cheerful the last few weeks.

“We turn 17 soon,” I blurt, blinking away tears. “He wants to go to college.”

“College?” Emerson frowns but chuckles slightly.

I hang up my last piece of clothing and sit near Emerson. “Not actual college, but the college days kids used to have. Don’t your parents ever talk about them?”

He thinks for a moment, then says, “I guess once or twice. But my dad was a military guy. It was his whole life. My mom only took a few courses before marrying my dad and having my oldest brother.”

“Well my mom mentioned how much travel her and my dad did, as well as other college kids and now Remmy won’t shut up about it, about traveling.”

He scoffs, rather loudly and says, “There’s nothing to see. I don’t understand the pull.”

Relief lightens the heavy weight on my chest. He gets it, there’s nothing but sickness and danger above. Surely no one has survived the sun sickness, no one except our clan and any other that was smart enough to go below ground, where the sun can’t seep into your bones and poison you.

“It’s nice to hear someone speak realistically,” I say, standing up.

“Anytime, sunshine.”

He winks and I laugh, throwing back my head. Only Emerson can make me laugh like that, especially calling me a nickname we both know isn’t anywhere near accurate. Remmy is the cheerful sun, and I’m quiet and solemn, like the moon, as my dad says. Dark and gloom is how I interpret it.

“I’ll see you tonight,” I reply, heading toward my bunker.

He nods but when I’m a few feet away, he calls out my name. “Till?”

Turning slightly to see him, I reply, “Yeah?”

“Sometimes people make decisions we can never understand.”

What can I say to that? He’s right, everyone our parents left behind thought they were nuts, to bring a pregnant woman into the middle of the ground with only a month until we were due to enter this strange messed up world.

Yet here we are, safe and sound.

I nod and continue toward my bunker, the uneasy feeling rushing back into my heart.

I consider preparing a speech to give Remmy, to kill any foolish notion he may be nurturing about going above ground. I quash that idea when I remember that Emerson’s dad, Phil, will give that speech and move any doubter to stay in the safety of our clan, and our bunkers. He could convince anyone to do anything.

Tunnel digging is grueling work, but all of the men who worked on them sit alert at the meeting this evening. Anxiously, I glance around at faces in the meeting place. It’s just our open space between the bunkers and the stream, but it takes on a special vibe when everyone is gathered together, united.

Emerson gives me a wink from across the meeting circle, and I roll my eyes at him. He smiles, then fixes his attention straight ahead, sitting stoically with his two older brothers and their wives and children.

A silence falls over the group as Phil stands at the open space in the circle, beside his family. “Thank you everyone for coming, I know many of us are tired from our hard work, but the hard work is appreciated and so is your attendance. Tonight, we are meeting because Kash and I have met with several other family heads, and come to a conclusion about some rumors and talk going around.”

I glance up at my father, and he stands, a strange expression on his face, his light brown eyes appearing darker than normal. My mom reaches over and grabs my hand, and when I look into her face, I see something I’ve never seen before, fear.

Phil continues, “Some wish to know what the state of the world is, and we have spoken and decided that perhaps it’s time to find out.”

Gasps escape around the circle, even murmuring. My jaw falls open and I turn to my brother, who is on the other side of our dad, with a smile so big, I imagine lunging at him and slapping it off.

Phil gestures to our dad who says, “It’s not worth risking everyone’s lives, so we will allow a few volunteers to go out into the world. That is after we send a drone to do surveillance. Now some may wonder, why have we not used a drone before? Because the batteries are not only old, but the technology to run them longer than 10 minutes simply does not exist. So one volunteer may go out to retrieve the drone once it dies and inform us of any dangers they see that the drone did not capture.”

Emerson and I lock eyes from across the circle. We know who the volunteer is. There’s no one else willing and hopeful to see a world that is full of infinite possibilities, at least in their mind, to Remmy.

Questions are asked and answers are given, but all I hear is buzzing in my ears. I can’t look at my brother, or my father. How could they not only speak of such things, but already have  a plan to do so?

Later, that evening, I’m laying in my bunk, propped up on an elbow, staring at words on a page of a book.

Remmy enters our room and closes the door.

“Can we talk?” He asks, his expression somber.

I set aside the book I wasn’t actually reading. “What’s there to talk about? Your suicide mission?”

He rolls his eyes and leans against the wall, which is only a few feet from our bunk. “Till, this is serious.”

“You don’t think I know that?” I hollar. Part of me wants to listen, to understand, to be happy for him, but I’m not.

“You know how I am, and I’m not the only one.”

I interject right away. “Oh yeah? I bet you’re the only one who volunteered to go outside with the drone.”

He shook his head, disappointment showing on his face.

Frowning, I shimmy to the edge of the bed and move to lean against the bunks. “What do you mean?”

“Till, I’m not the only one who knows we can have a better life than this,” he whispers, glancing back at the door.

Does he fear our parents will hear? Hear the lack of appreciation for saving our lives?

“This isn’t right, us living under ground. Sure, people were sick and dying, and moving underground was the right move. But, staying down here for seventeen years? That’s just insanity. We can’t stay down here forever.”

Words flee from me. I can’t think of anything to counter him with. Does he have a point?

“Well, who is going then?” I finally ask, crossing my arms.

Remmy bites his lower lip and his gaze lands on the floor.

“Who, Rem?” I ask, unsure of why he’s behaving strangely.

He swallows hard and finally says, “Emerson.”

The name is like a punch to my gut, and my head feels dizzy. Emerson? My best friend? The one who told me just earlier that leaving was foolish and out of the question?

I’m ready to shove Remmy out of the way to go question Emerson, when my brother says, “He offered a valid reason, Till, you’re not going to change his mind.”

March 09, 2021 22:08

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Raymond M
17:45 Mar 18, 2021

Awesome story! You did a really great job painting the scenery for the world and gave the characters so much life! Great stuff


Scarlette Ash
22:03 Mar 18, 2021

Thank you so much Raymond, I’m glad you enjoyed it 😊 I truly enjoyed writing this one!


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