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Rodney Ronquillo Behind You
“We’ve been walking for an hour now. My feet are killing me. Can we stop a minute please?”
“We’ve got to keep going”
“I can’t. It’s alright for you. You’re not a smoker. My lungs feel like they’re going to burst if I don’t take a break soon”
“Why don’t you give up smoking then?”
“That’s easy for you to say. Typical non-smoker’s response. If I could then don’t you think I would have done so by now?”
“Well that’s not my problem”
“That’s where you’re wrong see. You’re responsible for getting me home in one piece. That’s the joy of being a big brother”
“My cross to bear”
“Whatever. But I tell you now I am not taking another step until we take five”
Ellie was regretting agreeing to chaperone her brother to the bunker. He had boasted that he knew its exact coordinates but that had been a little white lie as they hadn’t managed to locate its whereabouts and she was convinced that they had just traveled in a complete circle around the marshlands behind their house since setting out. She stopped and lit up her last Marlboro Light, searching for somewhere to take the weight off her feet but being left wanting.
“Five minutes. Tops”
“Fine with me. Maybe you can spend that time working out where the hell we’re supposed to be going”
“It’s nearby. I remember the patch we’re on now”
“That’s funny. It looks exactly like every other patch we’ve visited. When are you gonna come clean that you haven’t the faintest clue where we should be headed?”
“I do Ellie. I’m telling you we’re close”
There was no way Andy was going to admit that he was, in fact, hopelessly lost as he knew what that would do for his sibling’s already flagging morale. The truth was, he had even begun to question himself as to whether he was wasting both their time. It was there as clear as day earlier but a damn sight easier to spot during daylight hours. It was currently ten to midnight and they didn’t have the luxury of illumination at their disposal. If he was honest with himself, everything had begun to look only too similar and his faltering flashlight just wasn’t cutting it any longer.
“Turn it off and save the batteries. If that packs up now then we’re in deep shit Andy. I can’t believe I actually let you hoodwink me into coming out here”
“It’ll be worth it when we find the place”
“Will it? A shitty bunker in the middle of limbo. Not exactly the Ritz is it?”
“You have seen it yet”
“That’s the point I’m trying to make. I’m beginning to wonder whether you dreamed this place up”
“Ye of little faith. Ten more minutes alright? If we don’t find it by then we’ll head straight back I swear”
“Ten minutes. Then we’re outta here”
Ellie summoned the energy to become upwardly mobile once again although she didn’t hold out much hope for success at this point. To make matters worse, it had just begun to drizzle and, considering they were deep in quagmire territory, this didn’t bode well for the journey forth. She had done some pointless shit in her time but wading through the marshes at midnight was potentially the clincher; even if they found the bunker there was no guarantee they would be able to gain access. Andy may have located it earlier but he hadn’t stepped foot inside so it wasn’t offering the most bankable shelter from the impending rain.
“Aha. Found it”
“I can’t see anything”
“That tree. I remember that tree. It’s nearby”
“So you haven’t found it then. You’ve actually found a tree. If you’d let me know I would’ve bought my sketchbook and we could’ve done some etchings”
“Look at that beast”
Ellie glanced over at the contorted willow and admittedly there was no mistaking it.
“Looks like its screaming”
“I know right? That’s one creepy-assed tree”
“I don’t like it Andy. it’s freaking me out”
“The bunker is directly behind it”
“Oh joy. A dilapidated bunker located within a few meters of that eyesore. I think I just pissed my pants in anticipation. Can we just go home now please?”
“You do what you want sis. I’m checking it out”
Andy ran off to marvel at the bunker, leaving a bemused Ellie behind soaked through to her skin and not best pleased.
“That’s right. Just fucking leave me!”
She considered her slender list of available options and, without her brother’s still questionable navigation skills, she would likely be traipsing through mud until dusk. The downpour was beginning to worsen and he was in possession of their only light source so she decided it was better the devil she knew on this occasion. Regardless of where she pledged her current allegiance, she was seething at her brother for suggesting such a harebrained scheme in the first place and at herself for allowing herself to be worn down to his incessant pleas. “It’ll be monumental” had been his exact words. Monumentally stupid more like. Time and time again she had fallen for his misguided enthusiasm; he was like a dog with a bone when he got an idea in his head and no wasn’t in his one-strong shortlist of answers.
“Wait a minute Andy. We don’t know it’s safe inside. Fuck, we don’t even know if we can get inside”
“Where there’s a will there’s a way”
“I half expected you to say that. Just wait for me. I don’t like this one bit. You owe me big!”
Ellie cast her eye over the mass of bramble beneath which laid the bunker.
“Help me clear this Ellie”
“If you expect me to lend a hand then you are clearly delirious. You’re on your own brother dear”
Using his Swiss army knife to sever any decorative bloom from around the iron manhole cover, he eventually cleared a path to a rusted lever which presumably would enable the pair access. A content grin spread across Andy’s face.
“Tell me you’re not curious”
“I’m not curious. I can see how thrilled you are but funnily enough the excitement hasn’t set in just yet. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m pretty sure hypothermia is setting in. Or maybe it’s because I’m a girl and there’s better ways we can spend our time than freezing our tits off in the middle of nowhere”
“Oh. You mean like the mall?”
“You’re such a loser. At least the mall has a restroom”
“I’m sure this does too”
“Of course yes. It probably has an en-suite too and lavender-infused hand towels. You really are disillusioned”
“No I just have a sense of adventure”
“A sense of adventure. Yes, that’s what it is. It has nothing whatsoever to do with blind stupidity. Lead the way, let’s get this over with so we can get back before I die from pneumonia”
“Well I’m going to need your help to get this open”
“I knew there was a reason why I spent thirty bucks on that manicure”
“Stop complaining and help me out will you? I’m getting sick of your constant whining”
Ellie mumbled some vague put-down under her voice and joined Andy at the entrance. It took both their accumulative might to get the rusted handle to budge but, after a monumental effort, they began to make headway.
“That’s it. It’s coming. Keep pulling”
“I am pulling”
“Well pull harder. Put your back into it”
She didn’t grace him with a response. Instead she continued to heave until which time as the handle freed up in their hands and access was finally enabled. Andy shone his flash light down the hole and it revealed a handful of precarious looking thin metal rods forming a makeshift stairwell to the bottom. Not that he could see that far, his fading light hadn’t the range to offer any real enlightenment and it would require something of a leap of faith to make it down there without sustaining injury.
“Hold this for a second”
Andy handed Ellie the flashlight and tested his weight against the top step.
“You aren’t seriously going down there?”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. Gimme that”
She handed him the light and he began his descent.
“Oh my God”
“What is it? What’s down there?”
“I don’t know yet but it don’t smell so good. It’s making me light-headed”
“Well get down in one piece before you decide to pass out. It really doesn’t look safe from where I’m standing”
“Made it. It’s not that bad actually. Seven foot, maybe eight. Watch the last three steps and mind what you grab when you come down. There are some rusted nails sticking out of the wall here”
“You take me to all the best places. Right, shine that thing. I’m coming down”
Ellie had made it to around the halfway point without incident when suddenly the cover began to slide across above her. After a few moments of shouting at the top of their lungs, the eclipse was completed and their increasingly frantic cries sealed in beneath the surface. Ellie panicked, immediately forgot her sibling’s warning about any loose footing, and landed in an awkward heap at his feet. She managed to snag her ankle as she plummeted and received a deep four-inch gash for her troubles. Ellie had never been a fan of pain; never less so than when trapped in an abandoned bunker miles away from anything.
“It’s alright. You’re okay. Just stay there alright. I’ll get us out”
“Andy I’m scared”
Ellie was sobbing uncontrollably now and Andy wasn’t feeling particularly chipper either in light of recent events. He put his own feelings to one side momentarily and scuttled back towards the summit. Locked tight; whatever had forced the cover across had evidently secured it in place. This left them with no way out and he wasn’t relishing breaking that news to his sister right now.
“It’ll be alright. I’ve got my cell. I’ll call mom alright. We’ll have you out of here soon don’t worry”
He clambered back to the cold concrete beneath and fumbled his mobile phone from his pocket. There was a signal but it was decidedly weak and the last bar of battery was all but depleted. To his relief, it started ringing.
“Where are you two? You were meant to be back an hour ago? It’s twelve o’clock Andrew”
“Mom. Ellie’s had an accident”
“It’s fine. She’s just cut her leg. But we need you to come and get us”
“I’m leaving now. Where are you?”
“In an old war bunker in the marshes behind the house. Before you say anything, I’m grounded. Alright. I get that. But we need help mom”
“You stupid boy”
“Not the time mom”
“It’s never the time is it? How the hell am I supposed to find you?”
“There’s an old willow tree a couple of miles out. The bunker’s right behind it”
“When you’re dad finds out you’re for the high jump buddy boy”
“Mom. Fuck. Can you just get here please?”
“Don’t you raise your voice to me. I didn’t raise you to use that language”
“Ellie’s hurt. What part of that isn’t sinking in?”
“I’ll be there as quick as I can. You’re in so much trouble”
“Whatever. Just hurry”
What should have been a simple exercise ended up a slanging match; which was no less than Andy expected from his vaguely neurotic mother. However, despite her launching into a full-blown verbal assault with the boy, he knew she would move mountains to find them. She’d just spend the remainder of eternity reminding him of his indiscretion. Right now, that didn’t matter. As older brother, his duty was to keeping Ellie out of further harm’s way. He’d deal with any repercussions later.
“She’s on her way. We just have to sit tight”
“My leg. Andy my leg really hurts bad”
“I know sis. Look it isn’t that bad. You’re gonna be fine. I’ll be back in a minute alright?”
“Where are you going? Don’t leave me”
“I’ll be close I promise. I’m just going to look for a first aid box or something. Sit tight. I’ll get us out of this”
Andy left his sibling temporarily while he explored their nearby surroundings.
“One minute. What the fuck is this place?”
He was careful not to distress her any further so posed that question to himself in as low-key a manner as possible. His light was providing precious little insight but what it did relay back was anything but encouraging. Whoever had been here last may well had been a practicing physician but it was unlikely they held a license to operate. The spread of instruments on the metal gurney to his right looked more akin to medieval torture weapons; there was certainly nothing here which could be considered sterile or, indeed, have a place in modern medicine. Most disconcerting of all was an oversized bone saw, covered from blade to handle in what he could only assume was dried blood.
“What is it? What have you found back there?”
“Nothing much. Still looking”
Andy had told some whoppers in his time but this was potentially his magnum opus. Whatever operations had been performed in this bunker had evidently not been with the intention of saving lives or making for a comforting stay. If the selection of ominous tools were disenchanting, then the pickle jars of meticulously-labelled body parts behind them were reason to start saying his prayers. Much as he desired to look away and forget what he had just been made privy to, Andy stood transfixed by the most sickening sight he had ever so much as considered imagining. Just when things appeared to have reached a portentous plateau, a grim audio rang out just a few yards from his position in the darkest recess of the chamber, to chill the blood in his ventricles further.
Truly, Clearly, Really, Sin-cerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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