Dad shut himself inside his bunker at the start of the pandemic. Three months ago, we lost contact with him

Dad shut himself inside his bunker at the beginning of 2020. He said the world was about to end and when we didn’t believe him, he told us to wake up. It was raining that day. I remember focusing on the water hitting the windowpanes while my sister tried to change Dad’s mind. I knew it was no use. He was too stubborn to listen to anyone except his favorite conspiracy theorists. WHO had just declared that COVID-19 had pushed the world into a pandemic. Dad wanted us to join him and when we told him no, he called us brainwashed.

He purchased the land before I was born. Only because of the dilapidated military facility that came with it. It was abandoned sometime in the 60s, I think. My sister was there from the beginning, even before Dad’s obsession pushed Mom away. It’s hard for me to imagine what he was like back then. Mom says he was a gentleman. But they married young, and a person can change a lot during those years. And so did Dad. All I remember from him during childhood are the weekends at the bunker. Constantly renovating it and stockpiling it with everything he would need to survive down there.

We couldn’t stop him. He wasn’t the best Dad, not even a good one, but it was sad to see him go all the same. He was excited, even though he thought that civilization was about to collapse. I guess that happens when you’ve spent your entire adult life preparing. We had to set up an old radio to keep in touch with him. He didn’t trust mobile phones. We didn’t hear from him often, just once a month, sometimes less. The last time he radioed in, he said he had found a hidden door. He was going to see where it went. That was three months ago.

“You think he’s okay?” my sister said. “He wasn’t in great health. I told him.”

We sat in the car, on our way to check up on him, driving through the heatwave.

“His radio might have broken down,” I said. “Let’s not assume the worst.”

But I felt worried too. There was something strange about that hidden door, and his tone when he mentioned it. It didn’t sit right with me. But maybe it was just the heat and the endless desert around us that played tricks on my mind. I couldn’t really tell.

***

It was dark when we arrived. Dad’s truck stood where he had left it, beneath some tarp that blew in the chilly, sand-carrying wind. We turned on our flashlights and walked to the cliff above the bunker. The steel door was made to withstand a nuclear blast. Luckily, I owned the only spare key in existence. Before I used it, I banged on the door as hard as I could and yelled for Dad. I worried he would mistake us for intruders and shoot us. If he was confused, and if it was dark, it was a real possibility. I banged again and yelled at the top of my lungs:

“Dad, are you there? It’s me, Josh! Eveline is here as well!”

“I don’t think he can hear you,” Eveline said.

I nodded. “Dad! I’m going to open the door now!”

I was seventeen the last time I was here. Back then it was the Muslims that were going to end civilization as we knew it. Before that, it was the Russians. Now it was China. There was always something threatening his beloved freedom, and yet he was never truly free. My sister put her hand on my wrist just as I was about to unlock the door.

“You know,” she said. “Maybe we should just call the authorities after all and–”

“No,” I said. “He’ll fight them.”

I unlocked the heavy door. A rancid smell escaped the darkness inside. It was the odor of death. I recognized it from when Dad tried — and ultimately failed — to learn how to hunt and let a reindeer carcass rot on the property for weeks. My sister had already stopped visiting him by then. I didn’t tell her what the smell reminded me of. She covered her nose with her shirt. We descended the spiral stairs. It creaked for each step we took, almost as if it was about to fall apart.

I tried the light switch at the bottom. The click echoed throughout the long corridor leading to the living area. Nothing happened.

“Hm.” I realized that the batteries, which he charged by the use of an old exercise bike, were dead. That meant he was most likely dead as well. “The generator could be broken,” I said. “But… Maybe you should wait back here, just in case… you know.”

I pointed my flashlight in front of me. The light was too weak to reach the end of the corridor. On the way here I had felt ready. I felt sad, the kind of empty sadness you feel after the death of a parent that was never any good, but I didn’t feel worried. Now, on the other hand, while staring into the dark corridor that I used to run through as a kid… I was afraid. The fear reminded me of how my childhood night terrors used to start. They always crept up on me in the darkness, grew with the grotesque shadows on my bedroom ceiling.

“I’m not letting you go in there alone,” Eveline said. “We stay together.”

We walked into the darkness. The foul smell intensified for every step we took, and so did my heartbeat. I was glad my sister didn’t stay behind. The bunker seemed so much smaller than I remembered it, much more cramped. The asymmetry between my memories and reality made everything feel off somehow, just as if the bunker was merely a model of the real thing. But it wasn’t. I had just grown up.

The Confederate flag greeted us at the end of the corridor. It hung on the concrete wall. It looked pale in the hotspot of the flashlight, almost like a phantom. And, of course, in many ways it was. A ghost from a time long ago. Or perhaps a corpse brought back to life. An abomination. It reminded me of Dad more than anything else.

“You have to be seriously confused to praise freedom as much as Dad and hang that symbol of lesser freedom in the world on your wall,” Eveline said.

“He wanted to protect his freedom so much that he built a prison for himself.” I removed the light from the flag, leaving only darkness. “You bet he was confused.”

We entered the main chamber. It was overfilled with litter and clutter. Empty cans — both the food and beer kinds — lay scattered across the sticky floor. We had to take large steps not to step on any of the trash.

“That’s weird.” Eveline pointed her flashlight at the small dining table. “Look.”

My hair stood up on my neck before I even realized what she meant. The table was set for three people. I didn’t say anything for a moment, trying to process what I was seeing, and just when I was about to speak my sister interrupted me:

“Who the hell was here with him?”

“We don’t know–” I began. “I mean, he might have left the old plates on the table and–”

A sound of something falling to the ground came from one of the other rooms further into the bunker. I pointed my light in its direction but couldn’t see what made it.

“Dad!” I yelled. “It’s me, Josh! You there?”

No response.

“I’m afraid,” Eveline whispered. “Something isn’t right.”

I only vaguely heard what she said. My focus was on something else. Something on the wall on the other end of the room.

“That’s not supposed to be there.” I slowly walked toward it. “That must have been what he talked about over the radio.”

Dad had hacked away a layer of concrete, for whatever reason, and uncovered a rusty, metal door behind it. It stood ajar. A lukewarm, musty breeze came out of it. My sister walked up to me as I carefully pried the door open with the back of my flashlight. I felt my heart in my throat. I could hear my sister begging for us to leave, almost in tears. But I needed to know what was behind that door. It was imperative to understand what had happened here. I needed to know. I needed closure.

“What in heavens name…” Eveline looked over my shoulder. “Why is this here?”

Behind the door was a room about the size of a broom cupboard. It was unremarkable except for a circular hole in the middle of the floor. I shone my light into it, but I couldn’t see the bottom. Just as I thought it was big enough for a person, my sister said:

“Do you think he fell?”

Drops of sweat from my forehead fell down the pit. I felt dizzy and stepped back, afraid I would fall inside. My sister picked up a can filled with some rotten beans and threw it down the hole. It clattered against the walls as it bounced from one side to another. The sound faded away until we couldn’t hear it anymore. There was no indication it touched down at the bottom. I stretched out my hand and held it above the opening.

“It’s warm,” I said. “The air, I mean.”

“Maybe he fell.” Eveline stepped back, almost as if she were convinced. “Can we please get out of here?” She reached for my arm. “We can return with the police. Please… Josh?”

“It wasn’t dark when Dad found this,” I said. “He would have seen the hole.”

“Josh? Please.”

“Just give me a moment to think.” I walked toward the hallway that led to the other rooms, desperately hoping to find him. For some reason, it was important for me to see him. To be able to leave without wondering. I needed to know that he was truly dead. “I just want to–” I stopped myself after I accidentally pointed the flashlight on the floor in the middle of the hallway, revealing a pair of feet. “I think I found him!” I ran up to the body.

“Wait!” Eveline yelled and reluctantly followed me to avoid being left alone.

It wasn’t Dad. I screamed upon the realization. My mind couldn’t comprehend what I had just seen. I spun around and tried to run away, completely acting on instinct, and crashed into my sister. She grabbed me, kept me still, and as she looked behind me, down at the dead body on the floor, she began to cry while her hands trembled uncontrollably against my shoulders.

“Oh my God,” she said. “How… how is it possible? It’s you!”

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said. “Move!”

There was nothing that could explain this, and the more my mind tried to — moving in an endless loop doing so — the dread grew inside me. I only got a glimpse of the body before I panicked, but my sister was right. The half-rotten face was the same as mine, with a bullet hole in the middle of the forehead.

We stumbled our way through the living area, tipping over chairs and kicking cans all over the place, and just as we were about to get out of the mess a familiar voice echoed through the hallway we had just escaped.

“Josh!”

It was Dad. We both stopped in our tracks.

“Is that you? Josh!”

“Dad?” I yelled back. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Don’t worry!” It sounded like he was at the other end of the bunker, possibly inside the storeroom. “I killed the son of a bitch, put a bullet right between his eyes!”

“Come out from there!” I yelled. “We have to leave, it’s not safe here!”

Silence.

“Something is wrong,” Eveline said. “I don’t think–”

“Dad!” I yelled. “Come out!”

“I can’t move!” Dad said. “I’m stuck under a shelf! I’ll need your help, son!”

I turned to my sister. “Go back up. I’ll get that old bastard out of there. We’ll be right behind you, okay?”

“Think, Josh!” Eveline begged. “You think he’s been stuck under a shelf for–”

I should have listened, but even after what we had just seen I just couldn’t bring myself to even consider something as outlandish as what my sister was suggesting. It was simply too far-fetched, too unbelievable to penetrate all my layers of presumptions about reality. It couldn’t be, it just couldn’t. Hence, I ran back to the hallway, yelling for my sister to get back up to the surface and wait for us there.

“I’m coming, Dad!”

I only slowed down to carefully step over the corpse that bore my face. Perhaps, I thought, it was just a coincidence. A burglar that just happened to look like me. After all, the face had begun to rot. It wasn’t obviously me. I felt stupid and I almost convinced myself that it was just my childhood fear of the dark coming back to life down here. And then, just as I was about to walk past the small composting toilet that stood inside a small room at the end of the hallway, I stopped. Shivers spread across my entire body, paralyzing me. Dad sat on the toilet. His gun still hung from his trigger finger and his brain was splattered across the wall behind him. He had his journal in his lap, covered in blood.

“Josh!” Dad yelled from the darkness. “Help me!”

I was frozen in place, both by fear and confusion, unable to make any decisions.

“Come on, Josh!” Dad kept yelling. “I need your help, son!”

My mind was racing. There was no way of knowing who was who. When I heard Dad’s voice yelling for help while watching his dead body, nothing but absolute terror revibrated inside me. I slowly reached for the journal in Dad’s lap and grabbed it, hoping it would shed some light on the situation. I was just about to open it when my sister screamed. I ran back, this time jumping over my doppelgänger’s body, and found her looking at something at the corner of the main chamber.

“I told you to–” I said, but changed my mind. “Are you okay, what happened?”

“It’s–” she cried. “It’s me.”

Crawled up in the corner was her naked, dead body. Her head had been twisted in such a way that the neck had been broken.

“There’s something seriously wicked going on here,” I said. “Dad shot himself in the head, a long time ago by the looks of it, and yet he keeps yelling for help. Let’s get back to the car, now!”

***

We drove away from the bunker as fast as we could, leaving whatever was still alive down there yelling for help. My sister insisted on staying at my place for a few days. I didn’t mind having her around. We shared an experience no one else could relate to, and we needed each other to overcome the trauma.

It took a day for me to build up the courage to open Dad’s journal. It began with his usual deranged conspiracy theories. I flipped past them. At the end, he had only made short notes.

Found a hidden door.

Deep pit, possible the remains of some old black project.

Eveline and Josh woke me up. A “surprise visit”. Didn’t hear them enter. Strange.

Had dinner with them, something seems off.

It isn’t them! They tried to make me [Illegible]!!!

God help me, it isn’t them!

I shot the son of a bitch right between the eyes!

Hiding in the bathroom now, this will probably be my last entry.

God forgive me.

Chills went down my spine as I read the last entry on the blood-drenched page.

I never got the other one. She’s still out there somewhere. I only got one bullet left. I won’t allow her to do that abhorrent thing to me. Forgive me.

My sister has been cooking for hours. She just called for me from the kitchen:

“Josh? Come here, I want to show you something!”

AUTHORS NOTE:

Thanks for reading my story! If you liked it, please consider following me to help grow my author platform. /Tobias Malm

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I’m a digital content producer by day and a writer by night. I write within the horror, weird fiction, or dark science fiction genres.

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Tobias Malm

Tobias Malm

I’m a digital content producer by day and a writer by night. I write within the horror, weird fiction, or dark science fiction genres.

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