Three months worth of rations; three knives, a 9mm handgun, and a box of pepper spray canisters; water and a supply of sanitizer tablets; navigation equipment; flares; working air filtration and septic systems; hand crank radio; five gallons of gasoline; and a few books for the alleviation of boredom.
Arnold Zimmerman took another survey and, although not quite finding the provisions as stocked as he would have liked, found himself satisfied for the week’s trial run. He had saved, spent, read, sorted, and stacked. All boxes sat in neat rows; each container of supplies and was in its place. This was the one area of Arnold’s life that was so perfectly in order that he almost hated to sully the bunker with a non-emergency stay. Ideal conditions for testing the safe space would not come often, and he could not waste the opportunity.
Of course, his wife hated the idea of his having a bunker in the backyard almost as much as she hated his decision to take his vacation separate from her and his step daughter. Like most people who prefered to live in denial of the need to protect themselves from statistically inevitable disaster, Gail thought that he wasted too much time and money on prepping the bunker. His reasoning was sound and much more practical than the wasteful spending of most Americans, but she always seemed to pull rank, at least in arguments.. Since she made more money, her voice was loudest, but she and her daughter from a previous marriage lived in his house. He would spend his money as he saw fit, and she could get manicures and play pointless games on her phone as much as she liked so long as he was given the same courtesy with regard to his survival planning.
“Arnold, we’re almost ready. Are sure you want to do this?” It annoyed Arnold that Gail already smelled of coconut sunblock before she had even left the house. She and Stephanie were flying to Malibu for the week. He had chosen to test out the bunker instead. Arnold thought that his reason for the dry run made more sense than tagging along on a beach trip that he found to be boring and wasteful, but his decision was only won when he offered to pay for the girls’ plane tickets. It irked him that he could be conned out of even more of his money, but it would be worth it to know that he and his bunker were ready should the need arise.
“I’m sure, Gail.” He stroked his full moustache as was his habit when he voiced a decision. “You girls go have fun. I’ll protect the homestead.”
Gail sighed and pursed her lips. “Alright, then. The cab’s on the way. I’ll call when we get to California. Bye, hon.” She offered her cheek for him to kiss, and he breathed deep in relief and anticipation as she turned and disappeared through the back door. Trip or no trip, he’d take a summer in his native Meridian, Idaho to a sweaty week spent in the excesses of California anytime.
Arnold looked at the sun lording over the Idaho sky. It would be a hot week. He’d go ahead and use the climate control. That made it less of a true test, but it was his vacation, after all. If the thermostat in the house was a point of contention on most days, then his bunker would be cooled and heated at his discretion. He jangled the keys and loose change in his pocket and set off to make a final sweep of the house before locking himself in the peaceful security of the small, backyard fortress.
Gail had arrived in California safe and sound and filled with a vapid to-do list that would cost more than they could afford. He wouldn’t have to hear an itemized listing of every wasteful expenditure during the week since he would be leaving his phone charging on his nightstand, in the house. Arnold frowned to himself at the thought of Gail’s and Stephanie’s spree as he shouldered the small tote bag of extra supplies for the week. He locked the house and marched to the bunker with the pride in his gait of a man who had built something of his own design. To stay in the bunker was a privilege, as was its protection with whom he would decide to share.
He cast one look at the exterior of the house and the small, manicured backyard before sealing the heavy door of the bunker. The long shadows of the late afternoon leaned toward the bunker, and Arnold liked the idea of something, even shadows, coming toward him and his safe space. He had out-prepared man, nature, and all their worst. Let them come.
“See you in five days, you sitting ducks.” Arnold smirked, smoothed his palm against his moustache, and settled in for the week.
He did pack a few items that were not absolutely necessary for an actual disaster, but he wanted to have a few creature comforts during the next few days. The bag of cheese puffs were a reward for the work in putting the bunker together. The World War II memorabilia pins, chevrons, and propaganda pamphlets were part of his collection that he enjoyed admiring in private moments, with the fear of judgement helping him to keep the collection small. The music player filled with a handful of bluegrass and country songs was to be used only as an emergency distraction in case the isolation started to get to him.
After a few hours getting used to the small quarters, Arnold tested the toilet, did a few push ups, and read himself to an early sleep. There was safety in the bunker beyond the physical protection from outside catastrophe and contagion. There was safety in knowing that he built this. It felt like the first night in a new treehouse, like a sleeve against the summer evening elements.
As Arnold lay on the fold-out cot, he mused and relaxed himself. He tried to imagine that this was not a test but an actual, necessitated use of the bunker. He imagined dangers both environmental and social against which he was insulated in the small, reinforced enclosure. He pictured the spread of disease, quick and virulent. Men and women dressed in their casual jeans and professional long sleeves, out for the evening, stricken with boils and dementia. The survivors would become feral and rapacious, perhaps ransacking his house and murdering the neighbors. All the while he would stay immune, drowning out the din of collapsing civilization with his books, old country songs, and ordered living, and his supplies stacked neatly on shelves and in corners. He might save those who begged for help and showed signs that they had not been infected by disease or madness. All those who had mocked his bunker, everyone who dismissed his hobby as less than a middle aged, baseball card collector waste would have to prove themselves worthy to enter and receive his aid.
Arnold flickered his eyes in the dark of the shelter and noticed his hand had found its way to his groin in his pre-sleep imagination. He stroked himself, and he started to imagine a naked woman that would normally accompany the act. He trained himself from the typical fantasizing of sex and steadied the image of himself as a survivor and selective benefactor of aid. He was rock hard and in the full throngs of masturbation. No pornographic imaginings were needed, just the idea of his order and authority over disaster. He would rise above the stupid masses, and they would beg him for help. They would beg for his aid and the use of his safe place. They would beg him.
He finished in the waistband of his white briefs, embarrassed. If he were in his house, he would scramble to hide the traces of his maturation, but this was his place. He pushed the shame away. He was a man, and this was a place built by a man. He was the sole lord and creator here. He would do as he damn well pleased here with no apologies. He smirked, wiped his hand on his shirt, pulled the sheet under his chin, and drifted to sleep.
Arnold woke on the first morning in the bunker disoriented and sore. It took him a few minutes to recognize that he was in the bunker and not in his bedroom. A bulging knot had swelled just under his right shoulder blade, and he felt slightly nauseated.
Arnold mumbled in his deep morning voice. “I’ve gone too damn soft.”
He resolved to toughen up while testing himself in the bunker with exercise and a schedule of activities to keep himself occupied. He found that a tight schedule could clean up most messes. He learned to increase his inbox in the accounting office where he worked during times of malaise that crept into his psyche. Those down times came almost in monthly intervals, so the timing of his mild depression worked serendipitously for the department. Arnold enjoyed saying yes to more work. He felt superior in finding new ways to get more through the pipeline. That resolve in work would be just the thing to get him through the next four days in the small confines.
“See you in five days, you sitting ducks.”
The pain in his back kept Arnold’s second night in the bunker free of fantasies of an ordered work, home, or sex life. Thoughts of any of those three left him feeling frustrated and alerted him to the pain in his back. He tried reading, but found more comfort in amending the next day’s routine.
Allowed only a night of restless sleep by discomfort in his mind and back, Arnold woke in stiff irritation. His frustrated inner dialogue would have trickled down to impatience with his wife’s and stepdaughter’s lack of understanding and cooperation had this been a normal week. It was best that he had solitary grousing this morning. The pain in his back had worsened, and the lump of knotted tissue had swollen and grown misshapen in the night.
He began to think of calling off the rest of his trial run in the bunker. What if the lump in his back was cancerous? If it had been a regular work week, he would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment during an extended lunch hour or in the evening. But, this was not a normal work week. This was his vacation and his test.
“Come on, Arnold. Be a man about this, in the spirit of survival.” It was comforting to hear a voice, if only his own.
He did a few pained stretches and inventoried his remaining supplies. Gail and Stephanie were probably just waking up to an unhealthy breakfast in his absence. They’d probably lather themselves is tanning oil and waste copious amounts of time and money. The thought of the summer sun outside the artificially lit bunker made him feel worse.