Call of the Wasteland

Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash

Bump, bump, bump, the incessant beat travelled down the walls in a tremor. The walls in question were thick steel and reinforced concrete, designed to weather a nuclear blast . . . nothing . . . nothing . . . could cause the sound.

Yet here we were. Every night for the past fifty three days the torment started . . .

Bump . . .

Bump . . .

Bump . . .

“Steph!” she jolted as Michael shouted her name.

How long had he been standing there? “Yes?” she snapped back.

“You all right? I’ve been trying to get your attention for a few minutes now.”

“I’m fine,” she huffed, “Just . . . you don’t hear that?” she gestured from her post to the airlock.

Michael cocked his head, “No?”

“Never mind,” Steph sighed and massaged her throbbing head, “What do you need?”

“Pipes are leaking in section eight again.”

Steph rolled her eyes and pushed up from her chair. One of the benefits of guarding the only door in the facility that no one would dare open, was that you got sequestered for a whole bunch of odd jobs. She marched past Michael and across the curved hallway that was lined with the facility’s only window, a curved, yellowed reminder of the danger they had been spared from.

The scene outside was once a green hillside, now it was a cracked wasteland. The only standing tree was a petrified husk of life. As Steph marched down the hallway she nodded to her friend, as she always did—the corpse that sat against the tree. It had a dirty skull that peered through the yellow, irradiated dust cloud in judgement of those who did not let him in when the bombs fell.

Only the corpse wasn’t there, instead there was a depression in the dry dirt against the tree.

Steph stopped with her heart in her throat, “Michael!” she sprinted back to the airlock where Michael looked at her sheepishly. “Michael!” she grabbed him and dragged him back down the hallway, pointing to the tree with a quivering hand.

“What?” he said.

“The . . .” she looked more closely, “The corpse was . . .” it was slumped right there against the tree where it had always been.

“Are you okay?” Michael asked.

Steph took a shaky breath, “I just . . . I guess I haven’t been sleeping much lately.”

She shoved Michael away and went to do her task, keeping a wary eye on her “companion” in the wasteland.

That night, the bumping started again. It was louder this time, and it travelled down the wall past Steph’s post. She stood and followed it this time, the bumping leading down to the hallway, to the window with the irradiated yellow wastes beyond.

She tentatively peaked around the wall by the window and sought her corpse friend again—he wasn’t there. The bumping intensified, and on the other side of the window a decrepit hand shot out from the rim.

Steph did not jump in fright, did not scream or run, her head throbbed too much for any of that, she simply asked, “What do you want?”

The hand dug into the thick window pane and pulled around the rest of the corpse, the dirtied skull pressed itself into the window with a clunk.

“Steph,” its husky voice called, “Come out Steph . . . there is no noise out here . . . Steph.”

It started beating on the window now, each concussive beat sending throbs through Steph’s head, her eyes strained so much she felt they might burst out of her sockets . . . she just wanted the noise to stop.

The sirens as she opened the inner airlock door were piercing, but a welcome pain compared to the continued beating she had listened to the past months. So was the click clack sprint of guards as they rushed from the other hallways. That didn’t matter to her though. Her friend was outside, he was angry that he had been abandoned, but the wastes were quiet now, better. He would let her stay with him.

Michael rounded the corner and shouted her name as she unlocked the outer door and pulled it open, flooding the sanctuary with irradiated gas, and finally, silence.

There were two corpses nestled against the tree now, two dirtied skulls that watched the quiet yellow wastes, propped against the petrified husk of a tree.

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