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The Others - Chapter 1

PROLOGUE
 

 

I remember my first kiss. Although the kiss was with a boy, I still count it as my first. Now that I know I’m a lesbian, I wish the kiss had been with a girl. But no matter how much I want something different, you can’t change history.

 

Parry Admirer. That was his name. No kidding. We were ten years old, and he was my boyfriend. Although Parry had shaggy blond hair, the kids called us Sonny and Cher because of my long black hair and eyes the color of dark chocolate. I’m not Native American, but my Italian heritage was close enough for the ten-year-olds to make the comparison.

 

Parry’s bold suggestions shocked me. When he said we should hold hands, my eyes grew to the size of saucers. He laughed. He knew what a good Catholic girl I was. But I was also curious and wanted to have new experiences.

 

Across the street from my house was an enormous field that separated my childhood home from the primary school. In the middle of that field was an old bomb shelter. Parry grunted as he lifted the massive cement square that closed off the shelter from the rest of the world. I was scared as I climbed down the metal rungs. An orange stain appeared on the palms of my hands from the rusty steel leading to the dirty cement below. I ignored the cobwebs hiding in the dark corners. Parry had to reassure me he would leave the trap door off and let the sunshine in.

 

I blinked in the sliver of light, sitting across from Parry with my legs folded like a pretzel. He mirrored my pose.
 

 

 


CHAPTER ONE
 

 

I was in another bomb shelter. But this time, I was about to experience a different first. We couldn’t stay inside any longer. It had been several months, and all of our food and water was gone. It was time to take a chance that not every living thing in the world had expired in the craziness.

 

In the aftermath of the US election, the US president had raged against the results and gone on a firing rampage. Every national security advisor, FBI director, or CIA chief who could have made a difference was replaced with his loyalists. The entire world paid rapt attention. The aggressive rhetoric had led to an eventual conclusion. The great superpower that was the USA was vulnerable to all of our enemies. Russia was eager to take advantage of his hissy fit. After all, Russia had sown the seeds of mistrust, and zealously harvested the rewards. They made the first strike, and we scrambled below before the devastating dominos followed, and the nuclear fallout rained on our heads.

 

Em paid attention and had predicted that North Korea and Russia would align again to defeat the US. Both countries had enough firepower to wipe the US from the face of the earth. Our allies had long since abandoned us. We were on our own.

 

I didn’t doubt that others survived. I shuddered to think who they were. I wagered the president endured with his entire family and all the other crazies in his administration. The other likely survivors were undoubtedly the conspiracy theorists and survivalists. They had been licking their chops for this moment to arrive.

 

How did I come to be a survivor with my wife and our two cats? My wife, Em, is a seer and a brilliant scientist. She was the lone voice in our little corner of the world, stating that the unlikely presidential candidate would win. Everyone thought she was crazy. I didn’t. I’d seen her make other predictions that seemed impossible.

 

Six months before the current sitting president won the election, we made our plans. Neither of us was mollified by the light at the end of the tunnel with his loss of a second term. His behavior and rhetoric only worsened with each passing day that brought him closer to when he’d lose power.

 

 

Em and I methodically pulled together supplies and built an airtight shelter we could live in for several months. Our friends thought we were overreacting to the gloom-and-doom hyperbole from the left. I hate that we couldn’t convince them otherwise. Em didn’t have family, and I was estranged from my sister and nieces—my only remaining loved ones after my parents had died in the car crash that was entirely preventable. My father’s propensity for Irish whiskey finally resulted in his downfall, and Mom was collateral damage. The winding road didn’t help. At that point, we were so estranged I hadn’t learned about their deaths until months after the funeral.

 

I hadn’t broached the topic of trying to find my sister and nieces with Em, but in the back of my mind, I wondered if they had survived. Surely an apocalyptic event might change everything, and we’d let bygones be bygones. Yet, even if they had survived, how in the world would I find them?

 

Our shelter was comfortable. I pretended we lived in one of those tiny houses, and that was acceptable to me. Em had engineered ingenious systems that would enable us to push waste outside of the shelter without letting the radiation inside. Without those systems, the smell would have been unbearable, especially with the cat poop.

 

I’d never gone a single day in my life without a shower and insisted that our tiny house allow me to wash my hair daily. Em adapted a solar camping shower to hang from the rafter, using recycled water. I don’t know how she connected the panels without letting in radiation, but she was gifted and had somehow managed that feat. She had attached a shower drain to a pipe that drained far away from the shelter. I became proficient with my use of water. Em had informed me we couldn’t take a chance that piping in water from above wouldn’t also bring in radiation or other harmful particles.

 

Em helped me set up a hydroponic system for fresh vegetables. I wasn’t a big meat eater, and Em was always more adaptable to change, so protein in the form of legumes supplemented with canned goods provided plenty of food to keep us healthy. We knew the first thing we would run out of was water, and then batteries for the items not connected to our solar panels. There is only so much room in a shelter, and we always recognized we couldn’t hide underground forever. Em didn’t even believe it was prudent to stay close, opting to find a society we could integrate into with ease. Toward the end of our stay in our cozy cement domicile, I broached the topic I was most afraid of.

 

“What do you think we’ll find out there?” I asked. There was a noticeable tremble in my voice.

 

Em pushed my bangs aside. “Lise, I do hope a hairstylist survived because you’re way overdue for a haircut.”

 

I used my arm to wipe the tears away. “Nice try, Em. I need to know what you believe waits for us on the other side. I can handle the truth.” The quiver in my voice betrayed my false bravado.

 

Em quirked her eyebrow and grabbed my hand. “Oh, Lise, I know you’re scared, and that makes you angry because you think you’re weak. You’re not. I know you can handle the truth. There may be armed militias settled into distinct territories, but I hope most squabbles are already resolved.”

 

“I don’t know how to use a gun, and neither do you. How will we fight the crazies?”

 

“Don’t worry, Lise, we won’t have to because we’ll find our people. We have a lot to offer.”

 

“You have a lot to offer. Every single dystopian novel I’ve ever read reveres the brilliant scientists.”

 

“Oh hon, plants mock me as they shrivel and die—no matter what I do. You have a green thumb. You’ll be invaluable to whatever new society we fold ourselves into,” Em soothed.

 

“Can we look for a hippy commune with lesbians, please?”

 

“Of course, but you need to be the one to judge when we’ve found nirvana. You know I don’t have a single strand of gaydar in my DNA.”

 

I laughed. Em was right. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was a militant lesbian who wore T-shirts and rainbow bracelets proudly announcing my love of women, she might not have made her move. Although my finely tuned gaydar had been intact, I dismissed her repeated attempts to woo me with offerings of lemonade, and lunches she happened to prepare too much of. I assumed she was merely a friendly sort who offered those things out of kindness and exceptional manners while I worked on her place in Seattle. I was so enamored with Em that I eagerly accepted her hospitality. She finally had enough of my total oblivion and made her move.

 

Back then, I had a great deal of bravado and swagger at the bars, especially after several drinks. Alcohol was my saving grace to enable me to step out of my shell. But not with Em because, deep down, I couldn’t believe this accomplished woman would want to become involved with a lowly landscape artist who worked part-time for a garden center to make ends meet. I suppose opposites attract, and we fell in love despite our differences. Em always made me feel a lot smarter than I am. Next to her genius, I felt profoundly unintelligent. I was so far beneath her. I had no business conversing with a genius. Em insisted I had a unique perspective on life, and not all learning happened in college.

 

 

I underestimated the brightness of the sun. Squinting to protect my sensitive eyes, I got my first look at the outside world. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the greenery. Before settling into the shelter, I had spent several days clearing the brush around the entrance before spraying chemicals and covering a twenty-foot radius with gravel. I hated using the poison on any plants, even weeds, but the hard work paid off. We quickly removed the heavy cement door without the excess foliage making it impossible to push aside.

 

“The plant life survived,” I exclaimed with excitement.

 

“Did you know that after Hiroshima, the first plant to bloom was an oleander? Mother Nature has an amusing sense of humor since the oleander is also one of the most poisonous plants on the planet.”

 

“How do you know that? For someone who kills plants by looking at them, I am constantly amazed by your vast knowledge of so many topics.”

 

“Book knowledge is a far cry from real-life experiences.” Em lifted her shoulders in that familiar way she had when she tried to pass off her braininess as no big deal.

 

“Do you think it’s safe?” I asked.

 

“I do. We’ve allowed for enough time. Remember when I explained how radiation dissipates more rapidly than reported? The recent growth shows how life survives despite the insanity of humans.”

 

“It’s just so hard to push away those old notions from the horror movies back in the fifties. I still remember that movie, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

 

Em laughed. “Only you, Lise, would think of that movie. As I recall, it was aliens, not radiation, that caused her to grow.”

 

I shrugged. “The doctor thought it was radiation. Do you think we have enough supplies in our packs?”

 

She nodded.

 

I stood half out of the shelter, my waist leaning against the opening. I set one pack on the ground and then pivoted to peer into the hole and accept the other bag from Em, placing it next to its twin in the tall grass. Finally, I was ready to take Sonny from Em’s hands as she lifted him to me. He was squirming, but of the two, Sonny was more malleable than Cher. Cher could be a right pain in the ass when she was scared. Who wouldn’t be frightened? Cher could sense my mood and would follow suit.

 

“You better bring Cher outside. She’s more likely to mold into your shoulder and not scratch the shit out of you than me.”

 

“Good plan.” Em retrieved the sling and placed Cher inside. At first, she meowed pitifully, and then Em kissed her head. “It’s okay, my sweet little baby. We’re going to see the world together, and you’ll end up loving the adventure.”

 

I wasn’t sure if Em said that for Cher’s benefit or mine. Probably both of us.

 

Em surfaced and crawled from our temporary sanctuary. I looped the other sling she had handed me over my head and placed Sonny inside. He lifted his head and looked at me with such admiration and trust.

 

“Your idea to use those baby slings for Sonny and Cher was so inspired. They’ll be happy to cling to us while we adapt to the new world order,” Em said as she reached into my sling and scratched Sonny’s head.

 

Sonny and Cher were our cats, and there was no way we would leave them behind. They’d adapted well to the shelter, but would they do okay now that we were emerging from our tiny home?

 

I was glad we saved our babies.

 

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