May 29, 2011
By , Sandy, UT
Five years. It’s been five years since his eyes caught a glimpse of the sun. Five years since he’s took a deep breath and tasted fresh air. It’s been too long. He sits in the shelter, surrounded by near empty shelves. Used cans cover the floor. His mind starts to wander…

“I think I’ve almost forgotten what wind feels like! Wouldn’t that just be awful if I did, Bernie?” he looks down. “Are you giving me the silent treatment? Bernie…this isn’t the time for that!” Bernie, a small stuffed fox, lies as still as ever. “Oh well. Let’s see how much longer we have!”

He stands up, groaning as his weak bones creak under his weight, and walks to the calendar. It’s riddled with X’s.

“Why, Bernie, it’s April 22, 2056! Do you know what that means?” he pauses and looks to Bernie, still hoping somehow his inanimate companion will respond. “I’ll refresh your memory: it’s A-day! And I think it might be the fifth one too!”

He pauses as his cheery, somewhat insane disposition leaves him. Reality hits him. All of a sudden, fear, hope and confusion wash over him like an all-consuming wave. He looks to the door, unopened for five long years. He’s avoided it as if it was a beast that would strike if he got too close. Thick layers of dust have found themselves comfortable in the area surrounding it.

“That means we can go out there now, right?” attempting to confide in his only friend, he says, “Bernie, what do we do? What if everything is gone? What if the radiation is still too high?” The radiation, the bombs, the loneliness, he shudders.

“The men on the radio said it would be safe to come out after 5 years. Wait, they could be the enemy. They could be the ones who did this, the ones who ruined everything! No. No, no they can’t be. Stop it! Stop…” his voice trails off as he starts gathering some supplies. He goes to the automatic food dispenser. The government had these installed in all the bomb shelters so food could be sent to those who need it in case war actually happened.

He stumbles around the shelter, knocking over shelves and tripping over cans. He knocks over something and hears glass break. His breathing stops, slowly he turns around and finds the picture frame on the floor. With Bernie in hand, he picks up the frame. It’s his family. Bernie falls to the ground. He runs his fingers along the edges of the frame, wiping off dust and grime from it. He removes the broken glass clumsily, cutting himself on it. Careful to not get the blood from his fingers on it, he stares at the photograph longingly. Tears fill his eyes.

“Look Bernie, it’s you,” he says through his tears. His six-year-old daughter Amelia holding her favorite stuffed fox, smiles up at him from the picture. His eyes move onto his wife. She’s wearing that beautiful white skirt he used to love. She smiles up at him with her deep blue ocean eyes. The picture’s edges covered with blood and tears, he folds it up and puts it in his pocket. Grabbing Bernie, he heads to the door.

He takes a deep breath, grasps the metal door’s handle, and opens it. A bright light blinds him. He staggers backwards as if he’d been shoved. He shields his eyes and squints to see outside. As his vision starts to adjust, he’s horrified at the sight before him. Everything is different.

The world he once knew has been morphed into an arid wasteland, depleted of all color and emotion. The sky mirrors the appearance of the earth, blank and lifeless. He starts walking, what else can he do?

“Well Bernie, we’ve really done it. We’ve ruined everything!” He starts laughing uncontrollably. He falls to his knees, his figure hunched over from insane cackling.

The withered remains of his house collapse. He turns around and looks up, tears streaming down his face. Forcing himself to stand, he makes his way to his backyard. He climbs through the ruins of his home, his eyes set on one goal. After a seemingly endless journey, he reaches Amelia’s favorite place to play. He sets Bernie on one of its weak branches. It’s died, but continued standing, as if it was awaiting his arrival. He runs his hands along its trunk. He winces and pulls his hand back, only barely noticing the cuts and splinters in his hands from climbing through his destroyed home. Tears return to his eyes as he tries to remove as many of the splinters as he can. He rips parts of his shirt off and wraps them around his hands. He takes one more look at the tree, and sees Amelia. She climbs up the trunk and reaches the first branch all on her own. She smiles proudly and looks back to her father for approval. As she attempts to continue, she slips and starts to fall off. He rushes forward to catch her and right as she falls into his arms, she disappears.

Desperate, he cries out, “No! No, no, no!”
Desperation turns to frustration as he slams his foot into the tree, cracking its frail trunk. He watches in horror as the tree falls to the ground, crushing Bernie. Ignoring the gashes already on his hands, he claws at the fallen tree’s remains trying to save Bernie. He pulls the stuffed fox out and brushes the woodchips from his fur, replacing them with blood.

“I’m so sorry, Bernie! It’s going to be alright. I just…I thought I saw her.” he stares into the fox’s black eyes. “What should I do? What would she have wanted me to do?”

He looks out on the horizon, hoping for…something. Dead trees and ruins lay scattered across a place he knew once before, before the war.

“Wait a minute, where is everyone else? It’s the fifth A-day, shouldn’t everybody be coming out now?” he scans the areas he can see again, looking for a sign that someone else came out too.

“That’s what I’ll do, Bernie. It’s all I can do, I might as well, right?” he looks at the fox again. “I think she would’ve wanted you to stay here Bernie.” He sets Bernie down on the fallen tree.

He smiles fondly. “You liked this tree too didn’t you?” He bends down and pets the blood covered fox. He starts to bawl.

He turns around and looks out on the desolate land that is now his home. He gazes down at his hands, the blood now soaking through his makeshift bandages. He doesn’t care anymore. Taking one step, he embarks on a journey in a new world.

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