Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2319647-Bunker-Kitty
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #2319647
In a post-nuke survival Bunker, a widower gets a strange visitor...

He woke that morning, as he had for the past month: drowning in great memories that echoed now with pain.

He woke alone.

But it had not always been that way.

His wife had been with him for 40 years, in this shell in the ground they called home. Early on, they would laugh when they used such a word as that for such a place as this.

Yet when James woke up, when he pulled himself free of the great sagging mattress dragged down from the surface and squeezed through the air-tight door 40 years ago, he looked around and felt the word.


Memories scattered about the place. Metal walls painted with talentless but heartfelt portraits of each other, a large wardrobe that had belonged to his wife's mother and had been insistently carried down into the shell, the laundry trough that saw little use and doubled as a bathing station. The water recycler/dehydrated machine that always kept them just beyond the edge of thirst.

The stocked pantry, called in good humor for it was actually a vault dug deep and walled against poisonous airs. Cans and dry-seal packages of foodstuffs had always kept them alive. As did the little closet where special lamps kept a small garden of fruits and vegetables thriving, year after year.

She was a genius, James thought, not for the first time. How will I live without her?

But that was the whole point, wasn't it? His wife, the scientist, using the nuclear apocalypse as a means to test her theories of below-ground living. Someday, my dear, I'll join you in heaven and tell you all about it.

He crossed to the closet holding the plants, glancing as he always did at the door leading out. Out into the irradiated world above.

He tended the plants instead. Lovely little tomatoes growing big and red in baskets of soil beneath his wife's odd lamps. He was ever the layman, and understood little of why her contraptions worked the way they did.

He gave the plants (tomatoes and more besides) their sprinkling of recycled water and left the closet behind.

Well, that was his task for the day. What now, with nothing to do and nobody to talk to?

Then, from the Opening….


James paused. Oh my, I'm getting old and it's catching up to me….

Then again, from behind the metal door: meoOW! And then, with more fury: meow! Mowow! Mrrow!

And then James flinched as his father roared out of the past with that age old command: let that damn thing in and tell it to shut up!

And then, as James always did as a frightened child in the days before the world exploded, his survival instinct kicked in.

Do not let Dad get mad.

So his hands flew out of their own accord, inputting the proper codes into the computer powered by the self-propelled generator, then gripping the vault rotator and spinning it counter clockwise.

The vacuum seal broke and ancient air hissed into the Bunker.

Only at that sound did James come back to himself.


He shoved himself against the door, pushed it back closed, even as something brushed against his leg and pattered past him.

The door sealed itself once more, and the air trapped in the Bunker did not feel horrible. It did not smell or taste bad. It felt fresh on his sweating skin.

He laughed then. The bombs killed my father. And my father has killed me….

He laughed until tears bunched up behind his eyelids. How did he have any tears left, after his wife's death?

He turned to face the Bunker, to gaze upon the artistry of her creation…

And saw…

A cat.

He flinched when the creature’s yellow eyes met his. It was real! The sound...a real cat…

That, or his vision had failed him as well.

The cat stood there, eyes locked on James. It seemed calm, for its long tail curled about its white paws, and its fur of orange and black and white did not ruffle. He remembered that much about cats.

He also remembered the name for these types: calico. So it was probably a she.

“Hey girl,” James said. His own voice startled him, after a month alone. He held out his hand. “Come here, come!”

Wait, that wasn't right. That was dogs. He did miss dogs. Will I hear barking at my door next?

And if he did? He'd grown up without dogs. His father never yelled at him to let the dog in. Would he keep the vault door shut if he did hear one?

The cat took several steps forward. She certainly seemed cocky, with a sure footed step that seemed almost predatory. Her tail lashed back and forth in the air, then.

She rubbed against his leg, back and forth, purring all the while. He'd forgotten to put his pants on, and so felt her fur against his skin. In the quiet of the Bunker, the cat’s purring sounded like his memories of old world's thunder.

He bent down and ran his hand along her back.

So soft, the cat leaned up into it, standing on the tips of her white toes to do it. The purring got louder.

He remembered...distantly...that cats liked being petted about the ears. So he ran his hand and his gently scratching fingers from the black and orange splotches of fur on her back,up the white bridge of her neck, and across one orange ear, one black.

Then she turned and swatted his leg. He jumped back, and she took off running.

Using curses pulled out of memory, words his wife had never let him use, he looked down at his stinging leg, to see a single pink mark. A line,short but swollen, and almost itching. His voice seemed to push away the silence like a physical thing.

“I don't think it works when you do it, cat.”

The cat did not answer. She only stood on his pillow, watching him. Her yellow eyes in the dim light seemed to glow, and even as she took a step toward him, the plastic green cup on his fine glass nightstand yanked her attention away like a fishing hook.

Where did all these memories go? So long underground, even in such loving and lovely company as his wife, had stripped away what he remembered of his old life, in the old world.

The cat’s voice had brought his dad's voice. Thoughts of his dad brought to light the old house and the yard and the safe street with its basketball hoop that no animal dared go near when humans gathered to be loud and frantic. Energy and movement that James had not known for several decades, here beneath the scorched earth.

All of it washed away in nuclear fire…

Except for this cat, who extended her neck to sniff at the rim of his green plastic cup. Then she reached out with a white paw…No way she will grab and drink it, the radiation doesn't seem to have mutated her at all, let alone for that!...and then she batted the cup off the table.

It fell and hit the rug laid over the concrete. Recycled water spilled out to darken the fine geometric patterns.

James stared at the stain. A whole glass of water, wasted….Not unless he carefully squeezed it from the rug could he hope to reclaim any of the water for the cycle machine.

A whole cup of water….

He looked at the cat. “Why would you do that!?”

But the cat only looked at him, not understanding.

“I could have drank that water! You could have drank that water! And now...my God, why!”

The cat kneaded at his pillow, and the purring began anew.

Overwhelmed with the frustration of losing precious resource, James dropped down onto the bed and wept into his hands. Somehow it seemed a betrayal on his part that all his wife's work would be undone even by so much as a glass of water. I could have lived longer on that glass. Recycled again and again I could have lived longer. Now I must go to heaven one day and say to her “Sorry honey, I won't ever know how long your systems could have supported me. A cat knocked a glass over.”

Even as he wept he laughed, but it did nothing to dispel the hurt.

Finally, as the minutes passed and the tears began to dry, and he rested his face in the crook of his arms and imagined better days, a great wall of fur brushed against his face.

He looked up, and saw the cat’s rainbow face hardly half a foot away from his own. The yellow eyes watched him, until they closed again and the cat brushed her face against his head. Back and forth she did this, leading with a rather aggressive headbutt before softly rubbing her cheek against his head.

He rolled over onto his back and peered at the cat, easing a crook in his neck. The cat, still purring,climbed onto his chest, and folded her limbs beneath her to lay down. She was right in his face, breathing his air.

Somehow he didn't mind.

What he did mind, though, as he stroked her back and smoothed her fur, was when she stretched her paws out and dug her claws into him. He winced as the sharp killers cut through his shirt and skin, but whenever he stopped putting her, she'd ram her head into his own most insistently. So he continued to pet her, and tried not to cry.

He dozed off at some point, and the lights on their timers had turned off. The cat shifted many times, never stopping her purring.

And sometime later, when he lay in the dark, tired and displaced, the cat meowed in some far off place. But the dreams beckoned him back.

“Let the cat out, please, Heidi.” But his wife did not answer.

He drifted off to sweeter dreams and stayed there for another few minutes.

A horrible smell woke him up.

He sat upright in bed, nose wrinkling, and fumbled for the lamp. Soft yellow glow washed out over the room to reveal the cat sitting on the counter, not looking at him. That spot...that was right where his wife liked to sit when he cooked…

But the smell, had he soiled himself while sleeping? Surely he wasn't that old!

And then he saw it. A nasty pile in the corner, right in front of the garden closet. Too small to be his own, so he had not walked in his sleep.

He stood up, glaring at the cat. “You could have warned me! I would have let you into the bathroom!” Now he'd have to put it in the incinerator.

The cat only blinked at him.

Then she stood and stretched on her toes, showing pointed teeth in a fierce yawn.

She jumped down to the floor with a heavy plop, then walked to the door. The vault. The Opening.

And started to meow.

“I can't let you out.” James crossed his arms. The cat persisted. “It's dangerous out there! Poisonous!”

The cat only walked in circles, meowing.

James looked closer at the animal. How had she even survived out there? He was quite convinced she was no hallucination, else she might have vanished when he fell asleep. And how would he dare hallucinate that horrible smell?

But there she was, pleading in a powerful voice to return to the surface.

Walking on strong legs, fur gleaming. And she trusted him. She approached him and lay with him and now spoke to him in her own cat way.

She knows humans. He began to shiver with excitement. She survived on the surface and she knows humans. She looked at the door...and he looked at the door…

Well Heidi? he asked his wife, What would you rather know? How long this Bunker can last, or what's on the outside?

He waited a long moment, hoping some sense of surety would come to him.

For a long moment, no sound but the hum of the various machines dared disturb.

Then the cat propped her forefeet up on the door and meowed once again.


He smiled. So it would be.

He skinned the pillow of its sheet and rushed to the garden room, sidestepping the cat's pile with breath held.

He stuffed all the ripe food into his sack, moving to the rhythm of his own hammering heart. He got dressed in his warmest clothes, reckoning the time to be somewhere in December, grabbed the knife off his end table, and all the while the cat sat patiently by the Opening. Yellow eyes watched him dart back and forth as he gathered up anything else he might need on the outside.

I can always come back.

The cat brushed his leg as he approached the computer. She purred as he entered in the password, and gave a soft meow as he spun open the vault door.

The vacuum sealing air hissed again, and James closed his eyes, even as he pulled the door open.

The cat did not dart out, as she had darted in. She waited for him, purring all the while.

The tunnel led upwards toward the surface, and a bright light waited at the top.

The surface of the world...

Well Heidi, this was your idea. He looked at the cat. “Lead the way.”

She did, and he followed.


(2,272 words)

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