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         Part #2 of Silo series by Hugh Howey
Page 51


  Donald seethed with renewed rage. His hands trembled more than hers.

  Anna leaned forward. ‘I couldn’t stand the thought of you dying over there, alone. ’

  ‘I wouldn’t have been alone,’ he hissed through clenched teeth. ‘And you don’t get to decide such things. ’ He gripped the edge of the pod with both hands and squeezed until his knuckles turned white.

  ‘You need to hear what I have to say,’ Anna said.

  Donald waited. What explanation or apology was there? She had taken from him what little her father had left behind. Thurman had destroyed the world, and Anna had destroyed Donald’s. He waited to hear what she had to say.

  ‘My father made a pact,’ she said, her voice gaining strength. ‘We were never to be woken. We need to get out of here. I need your help—’

  This again. She didn’t care that she had destroyed him. Donald felt his rage subside. It dissipated throughout his body, a part of him, a powerful surge that came and went like an ocean wave, not strong enough to hold itself up, crashing down with a hiss and a sigh.

  ‘Drink,’ he told her, lifting her arm gently. ‘Then you can tell me. You can tell me how I can help you. ’

  Anna blinked. Donald reached for the straw and steered it to her lips. Lips that would tell him anything, keep him confused, use him so that she might feel less hollow, less alone. He had heard enough of her lies, her brand of poison. To give her an ear was to give her a vein.

  Anna’s lips closed around the straw, and her cheeks dented as she sucked. A column of foul green surged up the straw.

  ‘So bitter,’ she whispered after her first swallow.

  ‘Shhh,’ Donald told her. ‘Drink. You need this. ’

  She did, and Donald held the Thermos for her. Anna paused between sips to tell him they needed to get out of there, that it wasn’t safe. He agreed and guided the straw back to her lips. The danger was her.

  There was still some of the drink left when she gazed up at him, confused. ‘Why am I . . . feeling sleepy?’ she asked. Anna blinked slowly, fighting to keep her eyes open.

  ‘You shouldn’t have brought me here,’ Donald said. ‘We weren’t meant to live like this. ’

  Anna lifted an arm, reached out and seized Donald’s shoulder. Awareness seemed to grip her. Donald sat on the edge of the pod and put an arm around her. As she slumped against him, he flashed back to the night of their first kiss. Back in college, her with too much to drink, falling asleep on his frat house sofa, her head on his shoulder. And Donald had stayed like that for the rest of the night, his arm trapped and growing numb while a party thrummed and finally faded. They had woken the next morning, Anna stirring before he did. She had smiled and thanked him, called him her guardian angel and had given him a kiss.

  That seemed several ages ago. Aeons. Lives weren’t supposed to drag on so long. But Donald remembered as if it were yesterday the sound of Anna breathing that night. He remembered from their last shift, sharing a cot, her head on his chest as she slept. And then he heard her, right then in that moment as she took in one last, sudden, trembling lungful. A gasp. Her body stiffened for a pause, and then cold and trembling fingernails sank into his shoulder. And Donald held her as that grip slowly relaxed, as Anna Thurman breathed her very last.


  2318 – Year Seven

  • Silo 17 •

  SOMETHING BAD WAS happening with the cans. Jimmy couldn’t be sure at first. He had noticed little brown spots on a can of beets months ago and hadn’t thought anything of it. Now, more and more cans were covered with them. And some of the contents tasted a little different too. That part may have been his imagination, but he was for sure getting sick to his stomach more often, which was making the server room smell awful. He didn’t like going anywhere near the poop corner – the flies were getting bad over there – which meant defecating further and further out. Eventually he would be going everywhere, and the flies didn’t carry away his waste as fast as he made it.

  He knew he needed to get out. He hadn’t heard any activity in the halls of late, no one trying the door. But the room that had once felt like a prison now felt like the only safe place to be. And the idea of leaving, once desirable, now turned his insides to water. The routines were all he knew. Doing something different seemed insane.

  He put it off for two days by making a Project out of preparing. He took his favourite rifle apart and oiled all the pieces before putting it back together. There was a box of lucky ammo where very few had failed or jammed during games of Kick the Can, so he emptied two clips and filled them with only these magic bullets. A spare set of overalls was turned into a backpack by knotting the arms to the legs for loops and cinching up the neck. The zipper down the front made for a nice enclosure. He filled this with two cans of sausage, two of pineapple and two of tomato juice. He didn’t think he’d be gone that long, but he couldn’t know.

  Patting his chest, he made sure he had his key around his neck. It never came off, but he habitually patted his chest anyway to make sure it was there. A purple bruise on his sternum hinted that he did this too often. He placed a fork and a rusty screwdriver in his breast pocket, the latter for jabbing open the cans. Jimmy really needed to find a can opener. That and batteries for his flashlight were the highest of priorities. The power had only gone out twice over the years, but both times had left him terrified of the dark. And checking to make sure his flashlight worked all the time tended to wear down the batteries.

  Scratching his beard, he thought of what else he would need. He didn’t have much water left in the cistern, but maybe he’d find some out there, so he threw in two empty bottles from years prior. These took some digging. He had to rummage behind the hill of empty cans in one corner of the storeroom, the flies pestering him and yelling at him to leave them alone.

  ‘I see you, I see you,’ he told them. ‘Buzz off. ’

  Jimmy laughed at his own joke.

  In the kitchen, he grabbed the large knife, the one he hadn’t broken the tip off, and put that in his pack as well. By the time he worked up his nerve to leave on the second day, he decided it was too late to get started. So he took his gun apart and oiled it up one more time and promised himself that he would leave in the morning.

  Jimmy didn’t sleep well that night. He left the radio on in case there was any chatter, and the hissing made him dream of the air from the outside leaking in through the great steel door. He woke up more than once gasping for a breath and found it difficult to get back to sleep.

  In the morning, he checked the cameras, but they were still not working. He wished he had the one of the hallway. All it showed was black. He told himself there was no one there. But soon he would be. He was about to go outside. Outside.

  ‘It’s okay,’ he told himself. He grabbed his rifle, which reeked of oil, and lifted his home-made pack, which he thought suddenly he could wear as clothes in a pinch, if he had to. He laughed some more and headed for the ladder.

  ‘C’mon, c’mon,’ he said, urging himself as he climbed up. He tried to whistle, was normally a very good whistler, but his mouth was too dry. He hummed a tune his parents had used to sing to him instead.

  The pack and the gun were heavy. Dangling from the crook of his elbow, they made it difficult to unlock the hatch at the top of the ladder. But he finally managed. He stuck his head out and paused to admire the gentle hum of the machines. Some of them made little clicking sounds as if their innards were busy. He’d taken most of the backs off over the years to peer inside and see if any contained secrets, but they all looked like the guts of the computers his dad used to build.

  The stench of his own waste greeted him as he moved between the tall towers. That wasn’t how you were supposed to greet someone, he thought. The black boxes radiated an awful heat, which only made the smell worse.

  He stood in front of the great steel door and hesitated. Jimmy’s world had been shrink
ing every day. First he had been comfortable on these two levels, the room with the black machines and the labyrinth beneath. And then he’d only been comfortable below. And then even the dark passageway and the tall ladder had frightened him. And soon, he had limited himself to the back room with all the beds and the storerooms with their funny smells, until the only place he felt safe was on his makeshift cot by the computer desk, the sound of the radio crackling in the background.

  And now he stood before that door his father had dragged him through, the place where he’d killed three men, and he thought about his world expanding.

  His palms were damp as he reached for the keypad. A part of him feared the air outside would be toxic, but he was probably breathing the same air, and people had lived for years out there, talking now and then on the radio. He keyed in the first two digits, level twelve, then thought about the next two. Eighteen. Jimmy imagined going home and getting some different clothes, using a toilet in a bathroom. He pictured his mother sitting on his parents’ bed, waiting for him. He saw her lying on her back, arms crossed, nothing but bones.

  His hand trembled as he reached for the 1 and hit the 4 instead. He wiped his hands on his thighs and waited for the keypad to time out with a buzz. ‘There’s no one on the other side,’ he told himself. ‘No one. I’m alone. I’m alone. ’

  Somehow, this comforted him.

  He entered the two digits again for school, and then the digits of his home.

  The keypad beeped. The door began to make noises. And Jimmy Parker took a step back. He thought of school and his friends, wondered if any of them were still alive. If anyone was still alive. He hooked his finger under the strap of his rifle and pulled it over his head, tucked it against his shoulder. The door clanked free. All he had to do was pull.


  2318 – Year Seven

  • Silo 17 •

  THERE WERE SIGNS of life and death waiting for him in the hall. A charred ring on the tile and a scatter of ash marked the corpse of an old fire. The outside of the steel door was lined with scratches and marked with dents. The latter reminded him of his misses during Kick the Can, the ineffectual kiss of bullet against solid steel. Right by his feet, Jimmy noticed a stain on the floor – a patch of dappled brown – and remembered a man dying there. Jimmy looked away from these signs of the living and the dying and stepped into the hall.

  As he began to pull the door shut, something made him hesitate. Jimmy wondered if perhaps his code wouldn’t work from the outside. What if the door locked and he could never get back in? He checked the keypad and saw the gouges around its steel plate where someone had tried to prise it off the wall. He was reminded how desperately so many others had wanted in over the years. Remembering this made him feel crazy for wanting out.

  Before he could worry further, he shut the steel door and his heart sank a little as the gears whirred and the locks slid into the wall. There was a hollow thunk, the sound of awful finality.

  Jimmy rushed to the keypad, his chest pounding in his throat, the feeling of men running down all three hallways to get him, blood-curdling screams and bludgeoning weapons held high over their heads—

  He entered the code and the door whirred open. Pushing on the handle, he took a few deep breaths of home . . . and nearly gagged on the smell of his own waste warmed by the hot servers.

  There was no one running down the halls. He needed a new can opener. He needed to find a toilet that worked. He needed overalls that weren’t worn to tatters. He needed to breathe and find another stash of canned food and water.

  Jimmy reluctantly closed the door again. And even though he had just tested the keypad, the fear that he would never get back inside returned. The gears would be worn out. The code would only work from the outside once per day, once per year. A part of him knew – the obsessive part of him knew – that he could check the code a hundred times and still worry it wouldn’t work the very next. He could check for ever and never be satisfied. His pulse pounded in his ears as he tore himself from the door.

  The hallway was brightly lit. Jimmy kept his rifle against his arm and slid silently past ransacked offices. Everything was quiet except for the buzzing of one light fixture on its last leg and the flutter of a piece of paper on a desk beneath a blowing vent. The security station was unmanned. Jimmy crawled over the gate, remembering Yani, imagining the stairwell outside crowded with people, a man in a cleaning suit barging out and wading into the masses, but when he opened the door and peered outside, the landing was empty.

  It was also dim. Only the green emergency lights were on. Jimmy shut the door slowly so that the rusty hinges would groan rather than squeal. There was an object on the grating by his feet. Jimmy nudged it with his boot, a white cylinder the length of his forearm with knobby ends. A bone. He recognised it from the jumble of a man who had wasted away by the servers, dragged close to his piles of shit.

  Jimmy felt with keen surety that his own bones would be exposed someday. Perhaps this day. He would never make it back inside his sturdy little home beneath the servers. And this frightened him less than it should have. The heady rush of being out in the open, the cool air and the green glow of the stairwell, even the remnants of another human being, were a sudden and welcome relief from the claustrophobia of being imprisoned. What had once been his pen – the floors and levels of the silo – was now the great outside. Here was a land of infinite death and of hopeful opportunity.


  2318 – Year Seven

  • Silo 17 •

  HE HAD NO great plan, no real direction, but the tug was upward. His flashlight was running out of juice, so he knew to explore the levels cautiously. Groping in an apartment, he fumbled for a toilet, relieved himself the way God intended, and was disheartened by the lack of a flush. The sink didn’t run either. Neither did the wash nozzle beside the toilet, which left him using a bedsheet in perfect darkness.
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