Fiction: “The House in the Ground”
Ra'saan Stevens | On 08, Nov 2019
It’s been about seven months since I’ve written to you from this journal. The one you gave me before you passed. I can’t believe I left in the car before going into the bunker. I missed it terribly. The girls tried to persuade me in writing in one of the spiral notebooks, but it didn’t feel the same. Without the journal, there’s no connection between us. It’s just me writing to my dead mother on various sheets of paper. Thank goodness I can write to you properly this one last time. Let me tell you everything.
It first started with sightings all around Europe. A bunch of wavy, gray rectangles in the sky. I remember it being all over Twitter. People were calling them “the chips” because of how thin they were. They would disappear, then reappear in different regions. When they finally reached us, it occurred during the night. People claimed to see them quickly traveling across the horizon. The government was making statements. The Airforce was desperate to find the intruders, but they were gone without a trace. No one took the situation seriously, and kind of brushed it off. All except for Mr. Wegner, who began working on his bunker intensively. Kate barely housesat anymore. She was pretty much his assistant in creating the thing. Inay, you were so mad at her for helping him. “Silly white man influencing my daughter!” you’d scream. But Amy, Olivia and I didn’t care. We knew Kate cared for Mr. Wegner. She couldn’t go to nursing school, so he was the next best thing for her. And the three of us respected it. We just perceived Mr. Wegner as this crazy man our sister looked after– until April 12, 2020.
I’ll never forget where I was during the first spray. Olivia and I had just picked Amy up from her friend’s house. We were having our casual, sister talk. I was upset about missing the Jon Bellion concert. Olivia was complaining about her new job, as usual. Amy was gossiping about her fellow sorority sisters. All is well. Then it started to rain. Light trickles. It was strange; it had been warm and sunny all day. We checked our phones and they all failed to warn us about the rain. Then Kate called. She was out getting groceries. Her voice was frantic. She was screaming at us to stay inside. We told her we were driving. I’ll never forget what she said next. “Go to the bunker! The rain is killing people! It’s burning them!” It was an instant revelation. Before we knew it, people were running down the streets. Cars were flipping over. Screams were heard everywhere. I couldn’t believe such a calm rain was causing all of this chaos. It took a second, but I felt my fight or flight sense kick in. I could feel the adrenaline pumping all throughout my body. I remember speeding down the street as Amy cried and prayed. Olivia was yelling at me to slow down. Kate was still on the phone, trying to calm us all down. She already made it to the bunker. The only thing on my mind was getting my sisters to safety. Everything from that point was a blur.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wegner was visiting his grandchildren during the spray. All that money, planning, constructing, was wasted. He didn’t even get to use the thing that would protect him from what he had been warning us about. A terrible coincidence. Kate told us he was visiting his grandchildren. We hoped he was okay.
The first week of living in the bunker was hell. Olivia and Kate bickered like an old married couple. There wasn’t a day where Amy didn’t cry. I was always the middle man. Breaking up fights and giving advice. Internet connection ceased to exist. No television, laptops, or phones. Nothing. Luckily the bunker had electricity, so we did have record players, a microwave, and other appliances. We occasionally heard radio chatter, informing us about the world’s state. Apparently, the rain wasn’t rain at all; it was some sort of acidic, poisonous spray coming from the chips. Those who come in even the slightest contact with the rain perish in minutes.
Somehow, I was fine with this so-called apocalypse. “You’re the weirdest of the batch.” you would’ve said, Inay. I would’ve agreed. I didn’t have much going on before the sprays. Working that dead-end job at Walplex wasn’t much for me. I never really liked any of my friends. They carried so much drama. You and the girls were my life, Inay.
Surprisingly, the next couple of months were fine. Mr. Wegner and Kate had stored the bunker with hundreds of board games, puzzles, vinyls, you name it. We had all the entertainment we needed. Kate and Amy cooked. Olivia and I cleaned. It was pretty much our lives at home. We might’ve gotten along better, too. Oh Inay, you would’ve been proud.
Kate died on July 11, 2020. She would’ve been thirty the following week. A part of the filtration unit had become unstable somehow, and our water was coming out brown. She was the only one who knew where the system was and how to repair it. It was the first time Amy cried in a while. Olivia was begging to go with her. I just remember feeling neutral. I knew Kate would come back. She was leaving the bunker for five minutes. Besides, the hazmat suit Mr. Wegner bought would keep Kate protected from the sprays. I had faith in my older sister. We all watched from the window as Kate stepped outside for the first time in months. The rain hadn’t changed a bit. As soon as she was out of my vision, I felt waves of anxiety. So many questions began to race through my mind. All I wanted was to see my sister’s face again. And I did– for the last time.
As Kate began approaching the bunker, a man tackled her to the ground. I never got a distinct look at his face, but he was clearly infected from the rain. I remember Amy screaming. Olivia was trying to open the door, but I couldn’t let her risk infecting herself. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Kate fought the stranger like a mad man. She kicked, punched, and screamed, but it was clear the stranger was stronger. I remember her yelling at us not to come outside. I told my younger sisters to get the second hazmat suit to help her, but I was too late. Somehow, Kate had been brought to her knees while fighting the man, and he broke her neck. It was a sickening crack. I remember it distinctly. Like a thick branch being snapped. I sank to the floor. I couldn’t look at her body.
“He’s taking the suit!” Olivia screamed, running outside in the second one. I felt so powerless, Inay. That moment haunts me. I remember hearing white noise. Time had slowed. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would burst through my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was too paralyzed by my own fear to stop Amy from seeing her sister’s body. Her wails were incredible. I could’ve saved my sister. I should’ve gotten the second suit quicker. I wasn’t the only one blaming myself, though. Olivia made it clear that I let my sister die.
The atmosphere for the next two months was tense and strained. Amy, who was able to fix the filtration system by crawling through a vent and resetting it, was now the middle man. Olivia and I only spoke when needing things from one another. One night at dinner, things became heated somehow. It was the worst argument Olivia and I ever had. I’ll never forget what she said to me. “Her body is still there! In that same spot, Joan! Naked and rotting! All because you were too cowardly to do anything! You let that man kill our sister and steal our property! You never do anything! You’re weak! I hate you!” It was the first time in a while that words brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t even defend myself. She was right, Inay, and you would have agreed. There was so much more I could’ve done. I shouldn’t have let Kate leave the bunker on her own. She died because of me.
Olivia died on October 23 of the same year. Today. An hour ago. She was twenty-three. It all started around four in the morning. I awoke to incessant banging. It was coming from the exit door. None of us had been there since Kate died. Amy had reached the door first. I could hear a man yelling.
“Ames, what’s happening? Get away from there!” I whisper shouted from below the steps. She turned towards me, mouth agape. I could almost see the worry in her eyes.
“Joan… It’s a couple. They’re hurt.”
But before Amy could reply, the man began wailing.
“Please! Let me in! My husband! The rain got him!”
I couldn’t let my sister contract infection. I felt awful for abandoning the man, but I refuse to let any of my other siblings die. All I could think about was Kate.
“Amy, get away from the door. Don’t let him in.”
The man’s hollers got louder, but I saw Amy mouth an apology and race downstairs. Before I could even console her, I felt something hard strike me in the temple. Inay, remember Tom and Jerry? Whenever Tom got hurt he’d see stars? I swear Inay, I saw the same thing. I couldn’t even stand. When I finally looked up, I saw Olivia running up the steps. In her custom-made hazmat suit.
“Liv! No! Stop!” I cried. I turned to see Amy, lying on the floor, muttering with her eyes closed. Olivia had knocked her unconscious. I raced up the steps, trying to catch up with my sister. I reached the second door right after Olivia closed it in my face. I could see her face through the box-shaped, glass pane. It was a look of determination. She was another door away before coming in contact with the infected man.
“Don’t open the door! Liv! Olivia” I yelled.
“No!” she screamed back. “You don’t get to let other people die! We can help him!”
The man nodded vigorously from the first door’s pane.
“Please! I just need to come inside!”
I shook my head, tears welling in my eyes. I couldn’t lose another sister.
“He’s infected! Don’t open the door! Olivia!” I pleaded.
Suddenly, the same feeling of revelation I felt in the car during the first spray returned. I raced down the steps and retrieved two more custom-made suits. I threw one at Amy before making it to the second door again. I could see Olivia outside.
“No!” I screamed.
The man was succumbing to his infection. A bit further, I could see their car. Another man, his husband I presume, was laying haphazardly outside of the car. I felt the fight or flight risk adrenaline pump within me a second time. I didn’t even check if my suit was secure. I unlocked and raced outside. Olivia was hyperventilating, having moved away from the man. I didn’t look directly at him, but I could tell he was dead. I saw Kate’s body too, but I refused to look. I couldn’t let my older sister’s corpse be my last memory of her. I grabbed Olivia’s arm, desperate to get her back inside.
“Joan!” she shrieked, tugging away from me. Before I could even react, she turned and revealed three long claw marks on the side of her suit. Her skin was exposed and already blistering. She was infected.
“No!” I hollered louder, yanking my sister again.
“Why would you do this?!” I screamed. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Olivia was wailing at this point. Then I felt the adrenaline kick in even harder. Everything became a blur. I remember Amy crying as we stripped Olivia from her suit. Amy laid her in the bed as I fetched as many first-aid kits as possible. The blisters had blackened and were oozing out a tar-like substance. I watched as the boils gradually make their way up to Olivia’s chest and face. It was all happening so fast. Soon, my younger sister became almost unrecognizable. I remember Amy’s hazmat-mask becoming fogged from her cries. I injected Olivia with almost every needle I saw. I popped blisters, used gauze, I did it all. I just couldn’t let her die. Then I heard her mutter her last words.
“I’m becoming one of them.”
Then she died. Right in front of me. I watched her breathing slow. I felt like the walls were closing in on me. I fell to my knees and blacked out. Inay, I’m sorry I couldn’t save her.
Now It’s about five o’clock, and Amy and I are driving in our hazmat suits. We’ve stopped crying. The bunker is no longer habitable. When we stripped Olivia, she potentially infected everything. So we took the radio and left. Hopefully it can be useful for someone else.
Mr. Wegner is speaking to us through the radio, now. He just reached a shelter downtown and knew we were going to use the bunker. Amy and I have unspokenly decided not to tell him about Kate, yet. I’m glad he’s okay. Can you believe that the crazy man actually kept us alive all those months? Oh Inay, you’d be punching the air right now. Amy and I have armed ourselves with kitchen knives and other make-shift weapons. My littlest sister looks so grown up driving. You should see her, Inay. I can’t believe she’ll be twenty this week.
That’s everything, Inay. Again, this is the last time I’ll write to you. They won’t let me have this book in the shelter; it bears the infection. But, it will always be a part of me. You know I’m terrible at goodbyes. I’ll make this quick. Thank you for being the best mother a person can have. I hope that you’ve met up with your beautiful daughters in heaven. Don’t watch too much of the Real Housewives up there without Amy and I. I love you. See you soon.