Sidra closed her eyes as she listened to the story being told by Marcus, one of the other residents of the hardened shelter on Patrick Air Force Base. His deep voiced resonated through the main hall, no doubt carrying through the dimly lit corridors beyond. Tonight’s tale was a favorite of hers, a story about Old Earth like her father used to tell.
Her mind focused on the image of sidewalks bustling with people while the horns of passing cars honked a merry tune. It must have been beautiful once, on the outside. Sidra tried to picture a blue sky arching over tall buildings made of reflective windows that sparkled in the sunlight. She couldn’t hold the image. The picture kept changing to grey skies meeting grey land. Soon her thoughts strayed to the day when winter came too soon, and never left.
She and her father were living in a home about five miles from the base. They’d spent most of their time in separate rooms on separate data screens, until the first nuclear bomb detonated; the first of many according to her father.
They’d taken shelter in the basement which her father had specifically designed for this purpose. Sidra felt lost without internet access, but she did have all the books, music, and videos she’d downloaded. She chewed her nails down to painful nubs worrying about the friends she could not contact.
After a month of isolation, Sidra thought she might go insane.
“Sidra, I have to go out. I’m going to go to the base for supplies and news.” Her dad stood by the main door, hand poised to hit the release.
“I want to go with you. I can’t stay here alone,” Sidra insisted.
“Not this time, it’s too soon. It’s too dangerous. You wait here and I’ll be back by nighttime.”
“Dad, please, I need to get out of here.”
“No, Sidra. If it’s safe, if the base has room for us, we can go back there to stay but I need to find out first before I risk your life.”
He was through and on the other side of the closed door before she could respond.
Tears of frustration, of panic, welled in Sidra’s eyes. She hugged her knees to her chest and watched the door for hours.
Time seemed to stop. Her only proof it had not was the digital clock on the wall that ticked off the minutes at an agonizing pace.
When the clock read seven p.m., she began to pace. At eight p.m. she began to panic.
Throughout the long night she alternately dozed and then woke with a start, sweating and panting. At six a.m. she could no longer wait.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she pushed the button to open the main door and stepped into a small chamber which housed two hooks, but only one suit. With shaking fingers Sidra slipped into the suit, adjusted the helmet, and flipped on the oxygen tank, just like her father had taught her.
Her breath came in ragged gasps as she exited the chamber and walked through the short hallway which her father had turned into a decontamination area between the shelter and the exit.
Another door led to a vertical tunnel with a ladder. Sidra climbed to the top and twisted the wheel to open the final door built into the floor of the utility room.
Sidra climbed out, shut the door behind her, and walked through the eerie stillness of the dust-covered house. The only sound she heard was her own breath and the rush of blood in her ears as her heart pounded. Her home looked like an abandoned building, one whose occupants had died long ago and no one had come to claim any of the belongings. The thought made her shudder.
The sight of the garage finally brought the tears to her eyes. This had been her father’s refuge, his joy. All of his tools remained neatly in their place but a thick layer of dust covered everything. It must have broken his heart to see the mess.
Two tracks were visible in the layer of grime on the floor. Her father had taken the car, the car that he’d insisted on fixing up and keeping the fossil fuel tank. The solar car remained, which of course wouldn’t run after a month of no charge. That left the motorcycle, also with a fossil fuel tank.
Sidra smiled, remembering how much grief she’d given her father over his out of fashion and completely environmentally irresponsible toys.
I guess he knew what he was doing after all, she thought.
Dredging up her final reserve of courage, Sidra climbed on the bike and opened the garage door. It took her a few tries to get the thing started, only to discover she could barely keep it upright. The first mile would have been funny if she hadn’t been so damn furious.
She finally figured out how to balance on the straightaways and gave the machine a bit more gas.
She could see the clear dome of the base in the distance, lights from the inside shone through the protective cover, beckoning like a warm hearth on a cold night.
A mile from the military check point she slowed to navigate the debris littering the streets. Suddenly she felt the bike lurch before her body sailed over the handlebars. Sidra turned to see another suited figure climbing on the motorcycle. He released a hook from the back tire and sped away before she could even shout. A figure materialized out of the shadows and approached her slowly. He or she had coverings, random strips of cloth wrapped around its head and limbs, but no suit. He came close enough that Sidra could see raw flesh on one exposed cheek.
She stood and ran. She never looked back.
Sometimes she wondered if she should have tried to help. Sometimes the figure had her father’s eyes.
A tear escaped from Sidra’s tightly closed lids and then she felt reassuring pressure against her fingers.
“Sid, are you all right?”
Sidra opened her eyes and took a deep breath. She was in the shelter, on Patrick Air Force base. She was safe, but her father wasn’t here.
“Fine…just…memories,” she said. She tried to smile but it felt forced.
Carl slipped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer, then kissed the top of her head.
“Yeah,” he replied.
Thanks to Vaughn Roycroft, fantasy author and friend, who came up with the line that inspired this story. His response to my “What if” question posed on Facebook was, “What if winter came early and never left.”
I hope you enjoyed the story and have a great weekend!