by Gary Fincke
‘Your mother’s pregnant again,’ my father told my sister and me. ‘A surprise,’ he added, like the news was part of a riddle. My sister was nine; I was nearly eleven. What we were doing, my father had just explained, was shopping for the future, browsing the options. For half an hour, we’d been following a salesman out into the country, a place so deserted, I thought he had taken a wrong turn. But now, though the world still looked empty, we had arrived.
The houses, it turned out, were bunkers nearly buried in the ground. The agent, after we stood in front of one, mentioned Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kennedy and Khrushchev and Cuba. ‘What?’ my sister whispered to me. ‘Who?’ but I shook my head like she wasn’t supposed to ask.
‘Next time,’ the agent said, ‘things will be worse, the bombs more widespread and deadly, but this home you’re inspecting was built by the government with just that in mind. It’s guaranteed to withstand an atomic blast.’
My mother spoke up. ‘That’s enough about that,’ she said, and pointed at my sister and me. It was early summer, but she tugged her coat tight against her body.
‘Ok,’ the agent said. ‘Just remember, the future will take you hostage. On that, you can count.’ My mother glanced longingly at where our car was parked nearby. She took my sister’s hand and my father stiffened as the realtor boosted his voice a notch. ‘Most folks,’ he said, ‘and maybe the both of you, are more concerned about natural disasters like the pandemic. Things are starting to happen—supply chains crumbling, tens of millions out of work—something, for sure, is coming our way.’ Then he looked directly at my mother and said, ‘Rest assured, this area is connected by one hundred miles of private roads.’
All I could see was an empty plain stretched out in every direction from where we were standing. All over the nearest land, in what looked like straight rows and columns, steel doors were tucked into identical grassy humps that gave away the locations of the bunkers. ‘A house should be a sanctuary,’ the realtor said as we followed him inside one to take a look. ‘This one has room enough for as many as ten, more comfortable, of course, with fewer.’
No matter how roomy that bunker was, even my father had issues at once, reasons for hesitation and doubt. When he pointed out that the interior seemed like a shell, the realtor admitted that electricity, plumbing, and properly filtered air were what he dubbed ‘necessary extras.’
My father frowned. My mother said, ‘We’re through here.’ The realtor didn’t seem discouraged. He reminded my parents of how little one of those bunkers cost. ‘Around $40,000,’ he exclaimed. ‘About the same as a single-wide and a million times safer.’ He thumped the ceiling to remind them that what they were buying was the life insurance of being firmly underground. ‘There is another site a thousand miles east of here,’ he said, ‘but most people prefer the added value of remote land, far north, distant from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and military targets. Once everything is installed, you’ll appreciate the absolute accuracy of the phrase ‘“location, location, location.”’
My parents listened a little longer. They discussed the difficulties of what they called ‘downsizing,’ something, my father said, ‘was as necessary as potable water.’
‘Every purchaser shares your concerns about having too much to carry, the tough choices they need to make,’ the realtor said. When neither of my parents immediately answered, he smiled brightly and said, ‘It won’t be nearly as hard as Noah had it.’
Outside again, the realtor made one more push. ‘Look how the mounds are arranged so geometrically. From far above, if lit, they would look like a postmodern constellation.’
My parents weren’t swayed by what my fifth grade teacher had called ‘figurative language,’ but when they admitted they were interested, but still unsure, the realtor became excited. ‘There are more reasons to buy than I’ve mentioned.’
When my mother said, ‘What else might convince us?’ he smiled and lowered his voice.
‘Once you’re inside, you need protection from those who are outside. The have-nots are going to go after the haves. They will knock on your door. They will be desperate. They will get ugly. But you’ll have apocalypse-protection.’ He paused, flinging one arm back toward the heavy, relocked door. ‘Or, if you prefer, think of it this way: Your family’s safety is what you’ll have in common with the high net worth families who spend millions elsewhere on their bunkers.’
All of us stood there among the bunkers, the wind blowing steadily across the treeless plain. The realtor watched my parents, evaluating. When my mother let go of my sister’s hand, I knew that she was going to say ‘yes.’ That she recognized we needed to move. ‘After the baby is born,’ my father said, as if there was one more border to cross, as if we were refugees.
Gary Fincke’s latest collection of full-length stories is Nothing Falls from Nowhere (Stephen F. Austin, 2021). His collection of flash fiction, The Corridors of Longing, will be published by Pelekinesis Press in October.