When Sully Michaels woke up, the clock on the wall was radiating its message in a brilliant neon green: 8:25 AM. Sully rubbed his eyes and sat up.
“Never get up on time,” he muttered to himself. It didn’t matter. It was true, but didn’t matter. He had no windows to brighten his room and wake him up early. He also had nothing to wake up early for.
Is there a sun left to fill the room, even if there were windows?
It was like this every day.
The room was really two rooms; three, if you counted the latrine. There was the bedroom, and a sort of kitchen-living room hybrid. He spent a lot of time in there, sitting on the couch-cot. He read a lot and he slept a lot. He hated both. Sully had read every book, magazine, and can label multiple times. He had slept so much that by now he must’ve dreamt every dream his mind could produce. The two familiar rooms (three if you counted the latrine) bored him, and he hated them, hated the repetition of every day, the redundancy of waking up at all.
He had prepared enough supplies to live for years. Sully regretted it now, though. Was it really worth it? He thought he had anticipated it all. People had called him mad, crazy, insane, but he had built this underground shelter anyway. He had always known he was right, and even as the bombs hit dirt and made every living thing and every dead thing disappear, he was sitting on his couch-cot reading a book. Things were good, then. Things were hell now.
Sully had food, shelter, water; probably the last of these in the world that remained untouched by radiation. But he never planned for the boredom, the repetition, the sheer loneliness.
If only I had brought someone with me, if only anyone had wanted to come.
He got up, went to the couch-cot, and sat down, breathing a heavy sigh. He looked at the kitchen part of the room, the cases and cupboards and pantries full of food and water.
Why can’t you just run out already?
You could end it all.
No. I put myself here, in this hole, so I could live.
The radiation kept him from wanting to be on the surface, the loneliness kept him from wanting to be in this room. He looked back at the clock on the wall. 8:29 AM.
It, too, was beginning to betray him. He had no friends in this place.
You could’ve stayed on the surface and died with your friends and family instead of dying alone down here.
What’s the difference?
One was painless.
What had it been like? One second everything’s normal: People have jobs, money is in circulation, kids go to school, everyone buys food and eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is war and crime, but there is also peace and quiet. The next moment there’s nothing.
What was it like now? Was there ruin and rubble, the frames and skeletons of buildings and playgrounds, a ghost of what once was; or was even that reduced to ash, left to blow away in the wind, return to the Earth from which it was created, which it was beginning to destroy?
Did it matter?
Sully got up, opened every can of food he had, and set them all on the counter. He shut off the heater, then went to the latrine and opened the tank that held his fresh water supply. He urinated into it, then went to a cabinet and took a revolver from it. Sully entered what couldn’t be considered a fourth room, a small area that he hadn’t set foot into in a very, very long time: The elevator that led back to the surface.
I put myself in this hole, I can dig myself out.
He pressed one of two buttons. Some gears began to rotate and pull on chains and cables, and the elevator went up.
Aren’t you a little late to die with your friends?
That’s not what this is about.
Sure it is.
The elevator reached the top, and Sully Michaels stepped into another cold, metal room. This one housed the generator and the air pump, which Sully shot several times each with his revolver. The slow, steady whirring of the two machines died, along with any possibility of returning to his hole.
Sully looked up at the valve on the door in the low ceiling, reached up, struggled to turn it. Rust had built up over so many months of non-use, but after the first few tantalizing rotations it got easier, and finally there was a click and the door fell down, nearly hitting Sully in the head.
He looked up through the door and saw metal. He hadn’t expected the small metal shed over the entrance to withstand the blast. Sully climbed up through the opening and stood in a tiny metal chamber, and now all that stood between him and the outside world was a door. What was beyond it? Had someone survived, cleaned up the radiation, rebuilt the world? If he had seen the end coming, surely someone else had?
Sully Michaels opened the door and stepped outside. The sun was shining, a warm breeze whisked around him. The rest of the world was a gruesome contusion of its former self. The buildings were now piles of broken rubble, of garbage. Worst of all was the silence.
Nothing had survived.
Sully looked around, anticipated his next move, half-heartedly hoped to see movement, some sign of life. There was none. No birds in the sky, no bugs in the air, no people on the streets, or in the field where he now stood next to the metal shack. Sully thought about the radiation that must be soaking into his skin. He put the revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.
Empty, like the world.
Aren’t you a little late to not die alone?