This is the last episode of the Underground series, if you need to catch up before reading click here.
My husband and I used to love watching the sun rise. It may sound strange to some people, but we’d get up at the crack of dawn and sit outside with a coffee watching the sun creep above the horizon. It was our moment. A moment where we could be alone together, enjoying a mutual love of our beautiful world. This sunrise was different. Rather than the usual pink-to-orange transition that we were accustomed to, this sun was moving from purple to blue. So by the time I reached my husband’s office, the sky was lit by an eerie turquoise glow.
I still hadn’t seen anyone, alive or dead. The world had become a wasteland, a dead expanse floating aimlessly in the galaxy. Probably still following the same orbit, unaware of the death it held.I’d traced the words on the knife sixty-three times, and could easily pinpoint the location of any of the letters, by the time I reached the office. I traced it one last time before approaching the building.
The glass was shattered, a constellation of crystals branching out onto what had been a flawless pane. Inside, a desk had toppled over, yanking wires from their sockets into a maze of veins and arteries, broken on the ground. I pushed open the door and walked into the deserted lobby. A half empty mug of coffee sat on the desk in Reception, ice cold, but not mouldy. It was as if someone had left it there only minutes ago. I shivered and traced the letters on my knife.
The floor was coated in a thick layer of slightly translucent dust. Green I thought, although it may have been the reflection from our distorted sunlight. My feet absorbed the dust, leaving little puddles of cleanliness in my footsteps. I followed the corridor I knew would lead me to my husband’s office, despite a heaviness in my heart which dragged down my every step and told me he wouldn’t be here. His office was empty. Part of the ceiling had crumbled onto the black plastic desk he’d bought to mimic glass. The computer had missed the blow by inches, but the water bottle he always kept to its left had not. Water sat stagnant on the table, not stopping short of the electronics which had fried long ago.
I sat in his chair. The smell of him was long gone, replaced by that of dust and burning. The colour of the chair hidden by the thick blanket of that other-worldly dust. It creaked when I sat down, unused to taking the weight of a human being. I took out the knife and turned it over and over in my hands. Examining every little mark, each tiny scratch. Replacing the knife in my pocket I gently pulled his desk drawer open and began scrambling through the contents.
Beneath the piles of drab paperwork was a tiny piece of notepaper that he’d torn from his diary. The date the bombs dropped was circled in green pen. Buried under that was a key. I picked it up and held it to reflect the light. I scoured the office for somewhere it might fit. Finding nowhere, I left and followed the lopsided sign towards Classified. This time I traced the shape of the key in my pocket. Each ridge and valley became a link to my husband. Something he’d touched, perhaps even more recently than he’d touched me.
The classified office was dark, door unlocked by the power shortage. I stepped warily inside, jumping as I collided with a misplaced filing cabinet. I reached my hands out and walked like I had as a child when I played Hide-and-Seek with my brother in the dark. My fingers caught on a door handle and I felt around it for a lock. Bingo. I slipped the key in and turned it, the door gave way with only the slightest resistance.
A figure shouted and pinned me to the floor. Silhouetted by the light spilling from inside the room I could only see his size, and smell the rotting teeth carried on his breath as he pushed his face close to mine and whispered.
“What have we here.”
It wasn’t a question. He maintained his hold on my body with one hand while reaching the other up to deliver a slap that echoed through the building. My face burned. I’d survived these ten years, suddenly I lost sight of the point in any of it. The burning in my face and the pressure of the man’s fists on my shoulder consumed my thoughts. He moved his hands to my throat and began to squeeze. The corners of my vision blurred. Stars appeared in the centre, speckles of light peppered onto the canvas of the man’s shadow.
“Who is it Jonnie?”
John! The sound of my husband’s name jolted me to life as I realised who was holding me captive. Not that I’d be captive for long. I doubted I had long left. I had to signal to him that it was me – his wife! He’d saved me, he’d waited for me. He was here!
“She was my wife once. Just one more mouth to feed.”
He shouted over his shoulder to the other man. The pain in my heart was suddenly worse than that in my lungs. I gasped for breath but none came, it was getting harder to move or think every second. I felt for the knife in my pocket. Traced the letters. I closed my eyes.
Blood. People still bleed even after everything. Even though the sun is blue and the ground is brown and everything is dead. People still bleed to death. My husband did. I had no choice but to use the knife for protection, as he’d taught me to do all those years ago. I never predicted that I’d have to practice what he’d taught me, on the man I loved with every breath. I never thought I’d kill the man who owned my heart. I never thought I’d run from his body as blood spilled onto the floor in a river around him. I never knew the weird dust absorbed blood into itself.
The world wasn’t really over until then.