The electric buzz of the lights was constant, like crickets on a summer’s night. The noise would only stop when the blackouts hit. But these were occurring more and more frequently. The lights would flicker, sputtering feebly in the damp rooms, and then die. Silence would fill the underground world as large white eyes blinked rapidly, adjusting to the impenetrable darkness. Rin crouched by the cold metal wall, her skin blotchy in the cool cavernous hallway. She was not fond of the dark, but she was used to it, having lived underground her whole brief life. As she waited for the lights to turn back on, a cold drop of water landed on her nose. She imagined she was sitting in a warm bath of sunshine, with a mist of rain washing over her. Rin had heard so many stories from the elders about such things. They would tell anyone who would listen, mainly Rin these days, about the soft blue skies and blossoming flowers they adored in their youth.
Soft footsteps padded by her in the dark, bright eyes passing over her petite figure. Rin stood up, walking quickly behind the man. Turning down another corridor, he unlocked a door and strode through it; Rin slipped through it quietly. She liked to come here to press her ear against the metal wall and listen to the sounds of the outdoors. This was the closest to the outside she had ever gotten. It was a forbidden area, prohibited but to the guards of the underground town. Few wanted to venture this close to the surface, and so it was not heavily fortified. Rin would sit outside the guardroom, locked by another door, in a corner, listening to the harsh winds and battering rains of the wasteland outside.
It was uninhabitable, she was told, hot and dry, full of death. But she wasn’t so sure; she had heard so many stories of the beautiful outdoors about birds chirping and the fluttering leaves of trees in the wind. Of course, she had seen the pictures of the desolate wasteland, but she couldn’t help but hope maybe there was something better out there than in the dark, damp place where she lived, down here in the muffled depths, where spiders and insects crawled. Perhaps some new life had sprung up in people’s absence. Maybe the world had begun to heal, and the smoky skies would be blue again, and green swaying plants would spring out of the earth. Rin was tired of eating the food of the caverns. For little grew down here except mushrooms and blind fish deep in the underground lakes. They had tried to cultivate plants at first Rin had heard, but the conditions were too bad, and the lights were too inconsistent and cold.
The underground city’s main power came from solar panels above the shelter, but these were old and often damaged. The power would fluctuate on and off throughout the day and night. Rin pressed her ear to the metal, which was warm; the morning must be near. She longed with her whole being to see it, the sun. It couldn’t be as hot as people said…maybe it was better now outside. Maybe.
Today she was going to find a way to look outside and see for herself what the world had become. Right after the blackout hit, she had damaged one of the light fixtures down the hall. As soon as the lights turned on once again, the damaged light bulbs would start a fire. So, she waited, hoping the lights would turn on soon, hoping it wouldn’t last for days as it had done before. And then it happened; the buzz of electricity permeated the hallway outside the guard room. Rin quickly made herself as small as possible, backing into a corner as the inner door opened and the guards ran out. They walked past Rin, not seeing her, intent on getting to the scene of the fire. She slipped into the entrance room as the door closed behind them. A heavy circular crank sealed the door. She pulled at it, using all her strength to turn the handle, force the door open. After minutes of struggling and blistering her hands, the door budged, opening slowly out into the morning light.
She stood in the shadows of the bunker, watching the door open and reveal the outside world before her. She climbed out into the raging heat; her pale skin was not used to the intensely hot sun. But she didn’t care; she didn’t want to live in the dark anymore. Anything was better than down there. Rin’s grey eyes twinkled in the sun, her long black hair whipping in the wind. Everything around her was a dusty color, the landscape full of red-brown rocks, nothing green in sight. There were some ruins in the distance of once-great cities, crumbling nameless homes. Some dead trees loomed above her, their bark scorched and black. It was nothing like the beautiful garden she had pictured in her head. But the sun, the sun, was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Bright and glowing in the dusty skies, it shone like a beacon in the yellow sky.
Rin walked forward as the sweat dripped off her brow, stinging her eyes. She wanted a better look at the sun. After walking up a slope, she began feeling dizzy and sat upon a patch of withered grass gazing up at the sky. She felt very sleepy and laid down to rest under the bright hot gleaming sun twinkling like a lost friend.
Cecelia Tabor is a senior at Cedar Crest College, majoring in Art and English. She was an editorial intern for the Alliance this summer (2021).