[Original Novella] Come Hell or High Water, Part 1

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An awful lot of money goes into meteorology considering how inaccurate it is. I distilled my feelings about the matter down to that after wondering if “Fuck every weatherman to death” might be an overreaction. I’d been promised a rare sunny Saturday sandwiched between an overcast Friday and Sunday. It had been sunny too, until I got to the forest.

As if on cue, the moment I stepped out of my beat up little Geo, the rain started. Brought to mind a half remembered cartoon where the poor fellow darted inside and outside with the rain starting and stopping accordingly, just to spite him. Normally I wait for Summer for outdoorsy shit. But if you’re into mushroom hunting, Spring and Fall are when you’ll have the most luck.

Spring in this state is a cruel joke. Brilliantly sunny days you’d swear were borrowed in advance from the coming Summer, interspersed with violent rainstorms. April showers bring May flowers, right? Nope, more showers. You’ve really got to savor what little sunshine you get.

I recalled there was a cave network somewhere in the area. This is a hot spot for me as there’s quite a lot to do and it’s relatively unstructured. I found out about it from my sister’s then-fiance. It’s a poorly kept secret in their little town, popular place to come up to camp in some real wilderness with nothing in the way of fees.

I sat in the car, brow furrowed, until I decided if I’d bothered coming out here I was damn well going to pick some mushrooms. Plan A was to head for the caves. I could take shelter there and wait out the rain. Once I was under the forest canopy I discovered it really wasn’t all that bad.

Stuck to the plan anyway as I’d brought the makings of stew and fancied the idea of getting it started in a cozy little cave. The idea was to head out while it simmered to look for mushrooms, then add whatever I found to it when I got back.

I never found the cave. About a mile in, I tripped on something. In one of those fits of pain induced stupidity I swore at whatever it was, as if it’d done it deliberately. I turned back to look, expecting a rock or thick root. Instead, the rusted edge of a round metal lid of some kind. Manhole cover? No, those all look more or less the same.

This was hinged, and slightly convex. Brittle flecks of yellowing paint still clung to it, evidently white at one point. Probing under the rim with my fingers and tugging at it, to my surprise I discovered it was ajar. I had second thoughts just then, remembering what I’d come here to do and wondering what I might find in there. “You just know there’s spooky ass ghosts down there” I muttered to myself. “You just KNOW it.”

No ghosts that I could see. The sunlight reaching down through the open porthole revealed a ladder and a modest patch of the floor. Faded green carpet. Not the sewer I expected. Or tomb. Somehow sufficiently encouraging that I descended the ladder to snoop around a bit. This was really turning out to be intriguing. What exactly had I found?

Groping along the wall in the darkness, I felt the familiar shape of a light switch and flipped it. The lights came on a few at a time. Needed new bulbs, I guessed. But it meant this place was receiving electricity from somewhere. The room was round, like I was standing in a horizontal section of sewer pipe or something. By the ladder was a wooden rack with a jacket and hazmat suit hanging from it.

The back wall bore a large painted logo, “Survive-All”. I began to get an inkling of what this place was built for. “Hello? I don’t mean to intrude.” No response. It was a lie anyway, of course I’d meant to intrude. It just hadn’t dawned on me until a moment ago that there could be anyone else here. As it appeared abandoned, I continued exploring. It’s not every day you stumble across something like this.

The other wall had a door hanging open. Something like the hatches in a submarine, with a big wheel in the center used to seal it shut. And once I was through, another hatch just like it. Some kind of airlock. I closed the outer door and spun the wheel to seal it. Then I spun the wheel on the other door until I felt some give, and swung it open. I was at once struck by a burst of musty air. The smell of a long disused closet.

Inside it was laid out quite like some RVs I’ve seen. Table and seats built right into one wall, and a door which led to what I assumed was a bathroom at the end of it. Between here and there sat a microwave mini-fridge combo, and a bulky antique of a computer. It was difficult to date any of it until I found the shelf of cassette tapes. There was a record player as well, but the only records for it bore the same “Survive-All” logo I’d seen on the way in.

On a whim I placed one of them, set the needle and hit play. Crackling and hissing followed, but then a voice began to speak in that charismatic but corny manner common to radio and television personalities of the fifties and sixties.

“The international struggles of our world may lead to…NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST! Radioactive fallout, that deadly by-product of a nuclear attack, will kill literally millions of unprotected families in the event of an atomic attack. Is YOUR family protected? Do YOU have a fallout shelter?”

I’d heard enough to get the gist. Somebody bought this thing back during the cold war assuming the rest of the world would go up in flames while he camped out in safety and comfort. When the bombs didn’t drop he must’ve moved on with his life and forgotten this place existed. Mystery solved, until I noticed the bookshelf.

“The Late, Great Planet Earth”. “Final Shockwaves to Armageddon”. “Hidden Prophecies in Psalms”. “Christ Returns by 1988: 101 Reasons Why.” Finally, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988”.

Not very diverse taste in literature, it would seem. I searched for anything else. Mystery, scifi, even smut. Only books predicting that the world would end in 1988. Were the tapes also like this? I rifled through them expecting stuff like One Direction only to find they were all blanks, or had been. Each case was labeled with a day, month and year, starting in 1987. The only tape player was hooked up to the computer. I vaguely recalled that these older computers used cassette tapes to load programs. One of my dad’s “back in my day” stories.

I popped that sucker in and hit play, not sure what to expect. A few seconds of silence, then a man’s voice started in, sounding calm and measured. “Everything’s in place now. I wasn’t sure if I’d have time for this degree of preparation. Finances have been tight. Maxed out my cards, took out every loan I could get, and I must admit I feel a bit guilty. They’ll never live to collect on any of it. But they are of the world, and will burn with it.”

I sat back, stupefied. It just went on like that. “As the final hour approaches I feel conflicted. I should be excited for the culmination of history but regret eats at me, because of those I tried to save who would not turn to the Lord out of pride and ignorance. But then, he who is wicked, let him be wicked still. I did everything in my power to rescue them from the fire, what comes next is on their heads not mine.”

The rest of the tape was just the guy singing hymns and commenting on events in the news. In every case certain that said events were predicted by Revelations as portents of Armageddon. I felt I had a better handle on things now. Why somebody would go to all this trouble and expense, I mean. But why a shelter? Didn’t people like this think they’d be teleported away, or rise up into the sky? The next tape touched on that.

“The damned who happen upon this shelter during the tribulation will no doubt wonder why I elected to stay behind. One man sacrificed himself that we all might reconnect with God. How can I do less? I will remain here and minister to the lost, that they might understand why they weren’t taken and redeem themselves by confessing that Christ is God in the flesh.”

As I listened, I turned on the computer. Not expecting much as I assumed I’d have to load everything by tape, but a loud chunky whirring revealed that there was a hard drive someplace in the desk. This was confirmed by the boot sequence which listed drive C as 15 megabytes. I smiled. There are songs on my phone bigger than that.

Then it began to boot something called TempleOS. I cocked my head. Come again? Not Windows? Or DOS? That’s a new one on me. A white screen with black text reading “Temple OS: Divine Intellect, Public Domain, Kept-Perfect Operating System.” came up, with what looked like an MS Paint drawing of a sword laid across a scale. I stared. What the shit? Who ever used this, and for what?

There were numbered menu options on one side of the screen and a bunch of animated gif icons to the left. Stuff like “flight simulator”, “after Egypt”, and a sub-program within that which spat out random sentences when executed. What was this made to compete with? It seemed to have a basic word processor, calculator and so on. Plus something called “Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness”.

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