Simone followed the boy towards the woods, dogs at his heel, seemingly oblivious to the world. Although she knew better than that, now, thankfully. As they got into the woods, trees closing in, fear swept up Simone’s neck. The boy suddenly clicked into gear and pricked up. He knew the dangers of a crowded wood. Why had she thought them so safe, she wondered. The car’s protection, perhaps. A steel and glass illusion of safety behind which she made poor decisions. Like all cars, really, but in a world where poor decisions meant something else. You can’t smell the death in a car. In the woods death carried on the breeze.
With an expressive but controlled gesture, like an orchestra conductor, the boy sent the dogs off ahead. They sniffed the floor and air hungrily, hyper alert in an instant, back in work mode after the joy of their earlier kill. Simone saw the brilliance in keeping these creatures, not only are they defence and attack, they were early warning, the dead stink and dogs could probably sniff them from miles. The boy kept silent and looked at Simone to say to do so too. At a fast pace they carried on together through the wood, undisturbed, until seemingly out of nowhere a small building appeared. It was half buried in the slight hill, grass covering most of the concrete beneath.
The structure they approached was clearly old, and had slots for windows, with one larger horizontal slot across the front. It dawned on Simone that the building was a World War II bunker. Thick walls, designed to stop shells, would certainly hold off dead and probably unwanted living people. It looked too small, even for a short man like this boy, to be a good home, though. The dogs hurried round to the side of their hideaway. The boy turned to Simone and whispered.
“Quickly please. Round the side.”
Simone obliged and hurried round to a steel door the dogs were waiting at, still in work mode guarding and on look out. The boy had a look around the immediate area, giving it an ocular pat down, carefully checking there was nothing in the surrounding woods. Everything about the way he operated was practised. Thought out. It put Simone to shame. He then slipped back to the door and opened the padlock on it, going through and stepping down a few stone steps into the bunker which was lower inside the hill than appeared from outside it. He ushered the three in. Once in he quietly pulled the door shut and bolted it with a big iron bar.
The inside was dark and damp. It also smelled of dog shit. Bluntly. The smell was admittedly understandable, given the dogs. Despite that, Simone wanted to ask questions, but wasn’t sure where to start and was fairly certain “How do you live with the smell?” would not go down well. There was the front defensive room to their right through which the light came. Not enough light that a shitty boot wasn’t a concern. The worry struck her as absurd, given the more prescient dangers, and she smiled. Then she smiled more at noticing she had smiled They walked left through a narrow and short corridor to an almost pitch black back room. The dark flashed a vision of why she shouldn’t smile at Simone, but only a brief one. Then the boy flicked on a torch which lit the room up, just slightly, enough to remove that image. There were two furry blankets. These were presumably, hopefully, the dog’s beds. Strangely there was no faeces obvious in this room; which Simone had been expecting enough to have still watched her step. It made the prospect of the blankets more appealing, though still unpalatable.
“Oh.” Slipped out of her mouth.
“No, sorry, I was just expecting there to be. You know, the smell?”
Simone winced nervously as if expecting a torrent of abuse.
“Is it that bad? I clean it all up in plastic bags and bury them. Can’t have them living in filth. Also I’m worried the smell will attract unwanted guests. Could you smell it outside?”
“Oh no, no I couldn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be rude.”
The boy seemed nonplussed.
“Nah, don’t worry. I may have been lax in my attention to detail last time anyway.”
“Look, I want you to know, I’m not going to rape you.”
The thought had not crossed Simone’s mind. Except for just then. She blinked, trying to take in the full gamut of consequences to what she, they, were doing. None had come to her before. Her previous primary worry had been that he might have seen her arse while saving her life. Which, at the time she dismissed as irrelevant given the situation. He continued,
“It’s just, stuff like that has been happening, so I heard, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to get you into my lair. You can stay a night or two, if you want of course, then I’ll point you in the right direction and give you what help I can. Sorry.”
The boy was as nervous as she was. He’d switched out of a focused hunting mode and in his shelter was just as uneasy around her as she was around him. It made Simone feel a lot more comfortable and suddenly they were equals again, she didn’t feel like she was under his wing, or a burden.
“It’s fine, I hadn’t even thought you might. Do that, I mean.”
“You should be more careful. Not only with your choice of transport and toilet but company.”
This miffed Simone a bit, she hadn’t actually chosen to be his company, but then if he and the dogs… No point getting upset. A polite response.
“Thank you, I will. Maybe we can talk some more tonight about that kind of thing. I’ve been a bit, sheltered.”
“Yeah. Some of it. Sure.”
The boy swung round and pointed the torch at a circular metal grid in the corner. He got down on his knees, turned the mechanism and lifted it up. Hattie and Jake scampered over to him wagging their tails. He nuzzled his face in theirs and let them lick him.
“Good boy, good girl. I’ll bring you some food later.”
Simone was overjoyed they weren’t in the blankets and dog shit for the evening. She and her rescuer climbed into the hole, Simone first so the boy could turn the lock under the entrance. The metal rungs sticking out of the concrete, damp, wall were small and a bit slippery and without the torch light she had to descend carefully.
“Wait at the bottom.To one side.”
Echoed her orders.
Simone obeyed. Unthinkingly. Not a great trait to have suddenly adopted; naivety. After finally reaching the last rung, never knowing which was the last in the dark, an ancient floor greeted her nervous foot. She stepped aside as ordered.
A torch came on, fast and not illuminating enough. All Simone could really register was the cold, dank air of the room they were in. It did smell lived in, though, which made it better, more human. Humanity was apparently lost in the outside world, but as the boy finally found what he searched for the room swelled dimly. Simone felt properly safe for the first time since before all this had happened. It made her feel safe, despite the mention of sexual assault.
“Wow. How did you set all this up?”
The boy, who was busy packing, repacking and checking things, turned around, bent over from his work.
“Planning. Luck. I don’t know really.”
“But how did you find this place?”
His chain of thought unbroken from her previous question, he continued. He was a talker, apparently, this odd little guy who’d sprung into her life.
“Planning. Really. It was that. We knew about it for years, my friends and I would come here as kids, too scared to come down, scared of dead soldiers or tramps or something. But y’know, needs must. There’s something about it I like. The concrete womb, I call it.”
Concrete womb. Simone liked that.
“It seems safe, yes. Which is great. And, everything else?”
Simone gestured to his keep, which was certainly stocked for a siege.
“Uh, unwillingness to leave the past behind? Haha. But this is my home, I mean… With the lock underneath no one should be able to get down, and the padlock on the main door keeps it safe while we’re out, and the dogs safe when I’m in. I hope”
It was basic, Simone could see that, but it was sufficient. A generator, a small one. Electric lights, mattress, cooking equipment built for camping and a few rooms which lead out of the obvious main one. The main room was maybe ten meters long and four wide, big, really. It had a fairly low ceiling which was a nuisance to Simone but the boy only stood five feet six maybe, albeit with broad shoulders for his height. Like everyone still breathing, those shoulders would need to take a lot of metaphorical weight. The low light made everything murky, but visible. Shadows were cast everywhere which would have egged fear on except this room was so clearly a safe haven, that fear felt out of the mind’s eye..
Simone had to ask,
“Why are you here alone?”
“I’m not. I have those two upstairs.”
“Yes but surely you have family? You came from somewhere. But I mean, I don’t even know your name.”
The boy sighed and looked at the floor, a withdrawn, melancholy self he’d not shown. Simone realised she’d delved too far; everyone still able to talk was harbouring both guilt and sadness. He responded downbeat.
“I don’t want to talk about the past if that’s Ok. The now and the future are fine. But how and why I’m here... No.”
He stopped still. Staring at the floor. Thinking, it seemed to Simone.
“My name is Linus, for all it matters. I won’t ask you anything either, along those lines. If that’s OK?”
Simone’s despair flowed through her again, like a wave of emotional vomit attempting to escape her physical being.
“I’m sorry. I’m Simone. Linus is unusual.”
Linus nodded with a pained smile, not looking at her.
“That would be the past. Sorry Simone. Too much.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll show you around if you like? Traditions must be upheld.”
Linus spoke with a sardonic tone which was clearly playful, and his mood altered in an instant. Feeling tired and disinterested, upset and guilty Simone unhappily agreed. It’s a bunker, I’ve seen it. How exciting can bunkers be?