A Hundred Bad Dreams Marla The green light had been flashing for as long as he could remember, over 56 years, and then it wasn't. The marking read Burial 352. Captain Nelson tapped the plastic and frowned. He leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette. His orders were quietly delivered into the tiny black pearl attached to his collar. He retrieved a file from his desk. “Looks like 352.” He held the paper up before him in the light and touched his cigarette to the edge. “You let us worry about it.” Across town the young man mumbled and pulled his vest tighter. He was in the back row. The corner of North and King was filled with blue uniforms, all gathering beneath tall slabs of glass, chrome, and concrete. Little pieces of neon were popping and shining in the windows. The low rumble and chatter of people bounced and echoed off the concrete. The sound dipped below metal fences and into alleys. More officers were arriving and finding their way into rows. A small group had retreated in the corner to sip coffee. “What's with that guy?” “He's new, that's what's with him.” Private Philips puffed out his chest and then stretched his back. “There’s nothing more to say. I'm just wondering what happened to his sense of pride, his charisma. I guess you either have it or you don’t. Do you know what I mean? Read the fucking manual. If you don’t have charisma to give, how are you going to lend any to these people? To these people that we’re rescuing?” One of the other officers patted the metal stick at her side. "I've got your charisma. All of it. Right here." She pointed at her eyes and directed her fingers back at the others. "Watch." She mouthed silently as the steam came out in a cloud and disappeared into the sky. She vanished somewhere in the back row. “Tough guy.” They laughed and drifted back into their conversation. An arch of yellow light came from across the street as an older man stepped outside to smoke. He leaned against the frame of his door to smoke and watch all of the business happen. The cigarette was spent and he stomped it out on the ground before returning to the staircase. His grandson was propped up against the window watching the action outside. He quietly tapped the window with his fingers. “Soldiers!” He shouted and a little bit of spit landed on the glass. “Owen,” The old man crossed over to the kitchen. “They can’t hear you.” He heard the little boy making machine gun noises from his side of the room. “You watch too much television. Soldiers don’t have guns anymore.” “All soldiers have guns!” “These aren’t those kind of soldiers.” He poured water into a silver container and ignited the gas below it. “They’re just trying to help people.” “Maybe they could help people cross the street.” He sat down in his chair and the boy made one final tap on the window before joining his grandfather. The noise became steadier on the street below. Captain Nelson showed up somewhere towards the front and made his way into the center. He clasped hands and smiled, patting people on the shoulder. His uniform was exactly the same, blue and minimal with the stick to his side. The only exception was a tiny star on his right shoulder. Someone found a table for him to stand on so he could address the rest of the people. She handed the rookie a warm cup of coffee. "New guy." "Thanks. Peter." "Marla. You get nervous before these things?" "We've all been through a lot worse than rescuing people from a hole." "Where were you stationed before North?" "East" "I'm guessing they don't do a lot of digging in East, only because of the smaller population. Let me tell you about your best friend here." She reached out and thumped his chest plate with her fist. A warm, orange glow came from the seams and lit the small distance between them. "Standard ELG, 48 hours of juice. It just looks pretty up here on the surface, but it can save your life down below." She bumped hers as well and the orange flooded the pavement. "I figured the stick would be a better friend." He reached to the piece of metal at his side and his face glowed. "They're not as hostile as you would think. They’re not nearly as hostile as the earlier ones, the ones who were recently locked down there after the flu. Even after five years, I've heard stories about burials being popped open and people fighting to stay. They just thought they were going to get sick. They didn't know it had passed and that inoculation was law." She lifted her sleeve and ran her index finger over her forearm, over the dime-sized piece of scar tissue. "And so now it's not about hostility, but we keep this at our side - " "I get it." He looked at her. "56 years of being down there. Who wouldn't go crazy? Who wouldn't be just a little dangerous?" There was a loud voice somewhere in front of them. The captain began to speak. “So, long story short, 352 has gone dark. As far as I know this only happened a few hours ago. Were going to make this sweet and simple, but we don't know yet what this is regarding. We usually never do until we get down there. You know the drill.” He read from a piece of paper in his hand and flipped it over. “Of course, as you already know. 352 is a Burial within King District, so it falls at our feet. You already know this, but it's standard procedure, and that's how we do things. Because of the depth and certain minerals and their properties, your ELG might not work properly, which means your equipment might short out. Just a warning, probably won't happen. Be on your toes. These people have been down there for five decades, and that's a long time. They might be kind of spooky, but you know how that goes. This is what we do, and we do it well.” The rumble and chatter peaked as the crowd started to move down the street, and the child returned to the window one final time. He tapped furiously and waved goodbye between machine gun noises and particles of saliva. Marla trudged along and noted that the sky was trying its damndest to rain. A cold slab of silver and white was moving in from the west, blocking the moon and painting shadows on the city below. Somewhere at the edge of town they found a large opening in the ground. Marla could tell the machines had just left. The smell of sulfur hung in the air from the recent heat. There were tire marks and the distant clink of metal hidden in a grove of pines. She squinted to see beyond them but it was no use. The hovering clouds had made quick work of the moonlight. One of the officers a few rows back made a childish “bye-bye” noise and waved to the surface. They made their way through the cracked rock, lines of red clay, mud, and deeper through the spot where the heat had seared through the concrete and metal. Marla didn’t mind being underground. She thought for a moment and wondered if any the others felt the same way. Private Philips was trailing somewhere behind her, and she shouted over the dull thud of boots. “It’s kind of cozy under here.” “Maybe we should all try spending more time in this hole.” He responded and chuckled. Someone behind him replied with another giggle. “But maybe they had it right. Maybe they didn’t know why they were coming down here. Could have been only curiosity. That’s why we left the trees. Where would I be without curiosity?” Perhaps if it were not for curiosity, they wouldn’t be there. Nobody would have built these shelters, and nobody would have made the shelters a home. And if that were the case, these people wouldn’t have the need for a rescue. She thought to herself that if it were not for curiosity, she would have stopped moving a long time ago. It was an interesting thing, but not something you would mention on duty. If they had better medical for these kinds of situations, she would have been reported for something like that. And not reported in a malicious way, she thought. It just seemed like people noticed words like that, abstractions. Her mind drifted and reeled with these things. And the walk. It seemed as if the walk, a downward slope and very taxing, had gone on for hours. But she was trained for that kind of thing. She was trained to endure. Marla kept pace with the captain. “What kind of situation are we looking at? Do you know what to expect?” She asked as they made their way deeper down into the slope. “These places are old, older than the flu. They go really deep underground. I’m not even sure how long they’ve been down here. They were built for the possibility of Russians shelling our cities during the 1980s. That never happened, but you knew that. Somebody found a good use for them much later on. And the engineering is old. If they’re still alive down there, the people are using oil and coal to power things. That’s why I was a little concerned with our equipment. We’re not going to find an easy power-source down there if things go to hell. Almost like a miniature energy crisis for the squad. It’s kind of unspeakable in this time. What do you think? “So what’s with the special caution on 352?” She said. “Special?” “Two things.” “I’m listening.” He stared ahead as he listened and walked, squinting his eyes to see into the darkness down the slope. “Prep time for these things is usually two weeks at the least. We had a day’s notice on this one. And the second thing is there’s no manifest.” “The manifest cannot be accounted for, and I have no answer for that. We’re both in the dark on this one.” He stopped for a moment. “Like I said, this place is much bigger than you think. Just don’t get lost when you’re down there. Remember to report. Why am I telling you this?” “No idea, sir.” They both laughed and continued to walk. Marla thought of the vast space beneath that held so many people. It made her dizzy to think about, but she shook it off and kept walking. The captain began to speak again, in a softer tone this time. “Just try and follow me for a moment.” “Sir?” “We’re in a different time now, and you know this. It’s just that - human rights are a top priority, and how that came about is irrelevant. It just matters that we’re here now, and most of us can behave in a humane way. We don’t have to treat each other like garbage.” “I’m not following you, sir.” “I told you these were shelters for Russian shelling, and then closer to your time they were flu shelters. Burials.” “And here we are.” She held out her hands as she walked. “I can handle it. Throw whatever it is out in the open.” “I’m not trying to be vague or difficult. I’m sorry. I’m being abstract about things that you probably already know. I’m talking about Burials being Burials for other people, people that wound up on the wrong end of threat assessments. Maybe threat assessments that would have happened right around the time of the flu. Isn’t that convenient?” “What kind of threat assessments surpassed the flu?” “It’s a case of classic misdirection. We did it to the Japanese, and we did the same thing to Muslims. And then we ended up doing the same to the precogs and TKs.” She shook her head. “I always figured it was something like that, but I could never put my finger on it. We really did a number on those guys.” Things were different by the time she had the ability to remember. The world was moving ahead. Most of those hate crimes were rare, but they still occasionally happened. She didn’t realize until that moment that she never had an opinion on them. They were just another group of people for her. They were a group of people that garnered a bit more sympathy in her mind, if only because of what most of them had been through in the past. “Your generation holds no responsibility for that. We’re the ones that ostracized those people and drove them to dark places.” He was looking at the ground as he walked. “We put them down there in the Burials with the regular civilians. It was a very subtle thing, but it was definitely noted on the manifest with number coding. PCX for the precogs, and TKX for the TKs.” “How many were locked down there in 352?” “At least one, but I have no idea of knowing for sure. As I said, the manifest was misplaced, or lost. I’m not sure. I just wanted you to be aware of the situation.” “You think this is something that warrants concern?” She asked. “Were they notoriously hostile?” “They were not hostile. I don’t think there were any legitimate claims of violence. Of course the media cooked up certain stories to put these people where they wanted to be, which was a few miles underground.” “All of that aside, that’s why we have these nice pieces of metal.” “Sometimes you don’t even hate people because they’re different. You’re just genuinely afraid and you need to make that fear go away. You’re concerned with you and what’s yours. Everything else is secondary. Does that make sense?” The captain was rarely this open and she felt it would be criminal to take advantage of this moment. “Aye.” She simply agreed and moved on with the conversation. “You want me to keep an eye out for the manifest?” “It’s not a priority.” “Aye.” And suddenly the ground leveled out and the hole opened up into a wide space. They kept walking for a moment and heard the clink of metal against boot beneath them. "We're looking for a hatch," Nelson halted and searched the ground. "Some kind of door. Just keep your eyes open and watch your step. They thumbed around the walls and the floor with their boots and their hands. It was much darker and their lighting equipment seemed to fade a bit. Marla thought of the dark, and only the dark. She took in a deep breath for courage. Her foot trip over a larger piece of metal and she bent down to examine it. "Here!" She ran her fingers over the cold seams until she found a latch, and then she pulled. The hatch creaked and the hiss of air came from below. Her equipment dimmed considerably, and the same thing happened to the others when they joined her. The captain leaned over her shoulder and peered into the opening below. “I don't think this stuff is going to do a damn bit of good down there. That's the bad news. Good news is I don't think oxygen is going to be a problem for a good while. Either way, somebody has to head down there and flip the power back on. Get me?” “How about a whole bunch of somebody's?” A voice said in the back, raising his head above the captain's shoulder and eyeing the black hole. “No,” The captain replied without looking. “There are 35 of us, and if we all go stomping down there at once we are going to scare the shit out of these people. They probably don't even think we are alive, you know? They think, probably, that the flu got the best of us all. That brings me to my second point. If one of them was sealed in down there with a germ, and it's managed to last that long, we will know immediately. And we can fix that immediately, but it's going to be tougher if there are 35 of us heading back up to medical. Clear?” “Aye.” Any volunteers? There was laughter from the back. “Then I guess we can proceed as normal. You're all such gentlemen. Marla, since you're the bravest one here - ” It's just a hole, sir. Cigarette? “Not this time, Marla. 352 has a special regulation since it was built close to a gas main.” He yelled so the back could hear. “Nobody is smoking in there, and just to be extra careful, nobody is smoking out here. You know how much that kills me, because you know how I love my smokes.” “Aye.” It was much louder this time. Everyone was in agreement. She looked at the hole sideways before leaning down to crawl in. The captain held her hand and lowered her gently until she touched the ground. There was another considerable drop in her equipment output. "I can't see shit down here." "You want me to hold your hand?" A deep voice came from up above the whole, and she calculated that it was probably Reider. "I'll pull your ass down in here with me, and I'll leave you." Her voice echoed and barely came out of the hole, but everyone laughed. There was only a low glow from her equipment, but she had a sense for the angle of the tunnel, and she began to walk. Flip the switch, and this place becomes a bit friendlier, she thought. But where is the damned switch? The captain shouted something, "Just follow the conduit lines and you'll find the breakers and the switches." Easier said than done. The glow had dropped as the angle became steeper, and now it was almost back. The light from the hole in the distance looked so warm and inviting, almost humming for her to come back. She got lower to the ground for the sake of balance and used her hands against the wall. She had the conduit line in her right hand, she was certain of that. The standard measurement isn't more than a few hundred yards, but she remembered from training how those things twisted and turned, especially the older ones. Don't know what the purpose of that structure was. The light was now gone as she rounded a corner and she made a large mental note in her head, written in sloppy red marker, “DO NOT LET GO OF THE CONDUIT LINE. " She said it aloud to herself once to make it stick. “How the hell else would you find your way -" The ground sloped and dropped before she could get a better grasp, and Marla went tumbling through the dark. It was only a change in the angle, and she reached out for the conduit line again. It was dead and cold, which was probably a bad sign, she thought to herself. The situation reminded her of games she would play when she was a kid. Stumbling through the woods with her cousins and her friends, playing hide-and-seek in the middle of the night. She continued to crawl along and follow the twists and turns of the conduit line. Down the hall and to the right as the tunnel turned. This is total darkness, she thought. She waved her left hand in front of her face and there was nothing. It almost seemed as if she couldn’t even sense it. And the other thoughts from before came storming back into her mind, accompanied by the darkness. Is this the final consequence to curiosity? Deathless death? How would it feel to die, but to be completely aware of one’s death? Without sight, how could a person really know anything? “Quiet!” She said to herself. That seemed to do the trick. She was coming into a larger room now. She could tell this by the sound of her boots echoing off the wall. Hopefully there was a switch or some kind of breaker just up ahead, but she wasn’t holding her breath for anything. Her hand stopped at something that felt very much like a handle. It was flat and metal, protruding out of the wall, and there was a rubbery tip at the end with grooves for a hand to fit. She hurried forward and braced herself in front of it with both hands to pull. It wouldn’t budge. “Maybe I’m pushing the wrong way.” She said to herself. Her voiced vibrated and bounced around the room, like she was an empty swimming pool. She tried a different direction. No luck. She attempted to stand and push down, but there was no change. “Okay.” Those last words were for her own sake, for encouragement. She reached out again and pushed all her weight on the handle, even though she wasn’t very heavy. Suddenly, the handle bent and snapped. Marla went backwards and down on the floor. She was on her back with her eyes closed for a moment, and realized that it made no difference, open or closed. “We’ll just roll back over and find the conduit line again. Not a problem.” She tried to calm herself by whistling, and quickly realized that she was a terrible whistler. She pulled herself to her feet and sat crouched in the dark for a brief moment. “Forward.” She spoke quietly this time, trying to avoid the betrayal of an echo. She thought it could mess with her sense of direction. She put her left foot forward very slowly, and then her right hand down. She would crawl to find the conduit line again. She would continue to crawl until she found light again, just to be sure. “Just to be safe.” She spoke again. “Just to be sure. Slow and steady paves the way for - ” She was tumbling and falling again, and this time she was sure it was not just the slope of the tunnel. She felt her hand smack against a series of steps as she rolled down. The more she tried to steady herself, the more violent things seemed to get. Finally she bumped her head and that was the last thing Marla remembered for a very long time. And the darkness for her then became to swim, and it grew impossibly black. She was propped up against the wall when she woke up sometime later. In the dark the sound seemed to be so much clearer, and she felt her other senses trying desperately for her lack of sight. There was the sound of dripping water somewhere off in the distance, and from it she could tell that this room was significantly larger than where she was before. Had she blacked out and crawled some distance? Her sense of smell had picked up somewhat too. There was something stale in the air, something very old. Every horrible thing she had ever read told her corpses surrounded her. Any minute now she would strike a match to see the terror. She turned her head to the side. Something else. There was the faint flowing and scraping off air through a vent on the far side of the room. She held her breath to hear more clearly. There was another vent was beside her as well - "Had to be sure you weren't sick - " Marla was screaming at the sudden sound of another voice, so very close. "Which is why I left you alone for so long. You weren't coughing or nothing and your breathing was normal - " "352," the jolt had sent her straight into work mode, and her own voice sounded like a machine being thumped back to life. "Casualty status." "Pardon?" "Ah, Jesus, I'm so sorry. That just came out of me." "Your shoulder is pretty bruised up after that fall, at least I would imagine so." The voice belonged to an older woman, and her drawl came out quietly. "Like I said, I had to be sure - " “I think I'm okay. It doesn't feel broken or anything, and I don't believe it was much of a fall. How did you find me? Did you hear me?” “It's certainly a breeze. More noise to catch than you think without your sight, but you get used to it these days.” “Oh, then it's been out for longer than I realized. Why don't you flip the breaker? That's what I was trying to do when I had the fall. It’s just a matter of finding that switch. Since I don’t know my way around this place, you could probably help me.” “Well, the conduit lines aren't going to do it. It's been out for a couple of years and it needs repairing.” “A couple of years?” She made a face in the dark and then remembered that her expression was completely useless. “You've been in the dark that long?” “The dark. It's not so bad. I've still got running water and food. It’s easier to eat that packaged stuff when you can't see. That's how the pirates did it a long time ago. They eat their biscuits in the dark so they wouldn't see the bugs and the maggots crawling through their food.” Silence. “Sorry. It has been a little while since I spoke to another person. It's not that bad down here. I mean, I'm not eating bugs. 15 years is a long time, but not long enough to eat bugs.” “Ah, Jesus.” Marla thought. She has no idea how long she’s been down there. Her mind rocked back into procedural mode for a second, tracing the bits of some manual she had read in training. Time management and stress relief: Notification to Burials about duration of time. The safe assumption is to always divide the number of years in half.“I’m sorry, but it’s been a bit longer than that.” She braced herself against the wall. “You see, the year in which you were buried –“ “I found your inoculation scar. That’s how I knew you were definitely okay. You know I had one too, even though I ended up down here. I just wanted to be sure. It doesn’t hurt to be sure.” “Yeah, I get that.” Marla began wondering what the woman looked like. She tried her best to peer through the dark, just to get the idea of some facial features. The woman must have sensed her thought through the silence. “You’re wondering what I look like. That’s probably a good question.” “I’m sorry?” Marla responded. “It’s a good thing to wonder what I look like, because I sure as hell don’t know anymore.” Marla heard the woman scratch her own face. “So you’ve been okay all this time? You’re alone?” “I get along just fine. The water still runs and I still have food and supplies. So that means staying cleaning and brushing my teeth. Two of my favorite things.” She laughed but nothing came from Marla. “Sorry again. You’re probably not in the mood for jokes. That’s understandable. I wasn’t really in the mood for humor when the lights went out, but it would have done me a great deal of good, to laugh. If I just to have a moment to rest and catch my breath.” “So you’re okay?” Marla asked. “In what way?” The woman responded. They both looked around for a moment, taking in the absolute darkness and the endless possibilities of what could be in front of them. They considered the situation and laughed. “You’re from up top?” The woman spoke up after a moment. “That’s right. I was sent down here with a crew of 35 to check on everyone, and to see what kind of shape everyone was in.” “I see.” “If you’re rested up, we should take a walk -” “Where is everyone else?” “We’ll get to that part, as soon as we take a walk. Sound like a deal?” Marla was a little surprised to be told what to do, with this stranger in the dark. But she didn’t see many other options. “How about you tell me your name first?” “Dana.” The woman said. “And you?” “Marla.” “That’s a beautiful name. I had an aunt named Marla a very long time ago, and I didn’t see her after we came down here. She stayed up top and most of my family scattered. I always remembered her name though. It had a beautiful sound to it. Just a compliment. Sorry to ramble. It’s been a long time.” “Thank you, Dana.” Marla said. She didn’t bother to smile. She was very tired at this point. “Do you mind if we get moving? Maybe you could show me where everyone else is hiding, if you know they wouldn’t mind.” “Oh, I don’t think they’re going to mind. How is the shoulder now?” “Still hurts, but I’d say it’s seen worse. “We will take it slow and easy then. You can grab my hand and I’ll show you what you want to see.” Dana reached in the corner and produced a thermos. Marla could hear the water sloshing and Dana head it up to her mouth. “It’s clean, I promise. Quite possibly cleaner than the stuff you’ve got on the surface. And speaking of that, I’ve got to ask how many perished in the flu? We never had a count down here. We never had any.” Marla drank cool water slowly and rested the thermos on the floor. Her mind drifted to lying and the military manual answer again, but she thought the woman would find out soon enough anyway. Half is what the manual would provide for an answer, and the same thing came out of Marla’s mouth. “Half.” She said, and she tried to read Dana’s voice for a response. “Half?” The tone of her voice was flat. “Half of what?” “I’m sorry for being so blunt, but it’s just easier for both of us that way. At the time of your Burial, the world’s population had peaked at around 9 billion. Does that sound right?” “I was a little girl, and I didn’t know very much at the time, but that sounds about right.” “Right.” Marla said. “So, half. 4.5 billion people.” There was a silence after that. “I’m sure that’s very tough to hear, and I’m sorry. It’s just that we don’t try to sugar these things up anymore. Flu was serious, it’s still serious, and inoculation is law now.” “I can show you my scar, if that’s a concern of yours - ” “Dana, I’m not concerned. You wouldn’t have survived down here this long if you weren’t inoculated. I believe you. However, I don’t think that it’s such a wonderful thing for you to be down here in the dark. I don’t think that’s a wonderful thing for anybody. So how about you show me where everyone else is and we’ll both leave together. Deal?” Dana nodded in the dark, and then remembered that nobody could see a thing. She made a grunting noise, as she often did when she was alone in the dark, just to remind her that she was still there. She wondered if Marla had started to do the same. She pulled the girl to her feet and heard the clinking of metal beside the girl’s hip. “Well, that’s where we’re headed. I’ll show you what you want. Just hold my hand and you’ll be fine. I know my way around the dark pretty well, like a rat.” Marla laughed. “You’re not a rat.” “Rats are quick in the dark. I’m quick in the dark. I don’t really see a difference.” “You’re a person.” “I could be a rat. You don’t know. You haven’t seen me. I could be a giant snake and you would have no way of knowing.” Marla squeezed her hand. “But I’m holding your hand. Snakes don’t have hands.” “Maybe this one does.” Dana replied. There was another period of silence. “Ah,” Dana felt funny. “I’m sorry about that. You’re down here so long and your sense of humor gets kind of twisted.” “No need to say sorry.” Marla said, and she felt them taking steps down instead of up. “We’re not going up?” “What you want to see is on the lower levels.” Dana shifted the conversation. “I’ve got two questions for you.” She was leading Marla around a corner and the girl could feel the wind shift with more vents in a smaller room. “I guess we’ve got plenty of time for questions.” Marla said. “Good.” Dana replied. “First, I just want to know how old you are.” “Why do you want to know?” Marla tried looking around her again as she sensed another turn. It was useless but her eyes persisted. “I’m 24, so I guess I don’t know anything about the time you came from.” Dana pretended to be hurt only for sake of humor. “Marla, I’m not a dinosaur, but I’m older than you think.” “I know, but I don’t see what my age has to do with anything. I’m capable.” Dana moved a bit faster and Marla tried to keep the pace. “And this brings me to my second question,” She stopped walking and Marla bumped into her, a little bit dazed. “What’s with the walking stick?” “Ah,” Marla looked around for a moment at absolutely nothing. “Dana, it’s not for you. Trust me. We just had some trouble with previous Burials. And by WE I don’t even mean me. It’s just in the past, and they’re standard issue. I’m not cracking you over the head with this thing.” “That’s good for both of us. I think you’d be hopelessly lost down here.” Dana seized Marla’s hand and they began to move again. Marla was being shuttled through the darkness and her mind followed Dana’s voice which rested somewhere just ahead of her. Dana I’m older than you think, and I was only 10 when I came down here with my father. He was a chemist and so he was a high priority, high on the lottery. I believe he was a good person if only because he let me be afraid. The other children were not really aware of why we were here, but I was. It felt like a secret that I had to keep, and I kept it well. He said I was strong enough to know the truth. Our neighbor had died right there in our living room, rather violently. That was the flu, and that was when my father’s decision was made. “A hundred bad dreams above.” My father would say to me. Even then, as we were riding down into the earth, I was aware of the manifest list, and the only thing I cared about was that there was another little girl on there. We were born in the same month! How was that possible, I can remember thinking. She and her father were Korean-American. I asked my father where the country was located. “They’re American. Their country is here.” “But where is Korea?” “Other side of the world.” And that was all I cared about, that she was 10 and maybe she was like me. There were bunches of numbers to the right of her name that I didn’t bother with. You’re very aware now that Burials were not just flu shelters. Some people didn’t have a choice. They were removed from the surface for the safety of others. If my father had seen the list, being a chemist, he would have understood. The two of them would not have lived next door. My father was a busy man and he only paid half attention to what I was saying, but he did see that her father was a doctor. He was high priority as well because of his training in inoculation, which was particularly tricky and painful at the time. This is especially true for newborn children, and that was his main reason for being down here with us. That was all the reason you needed if you didn’t read the manifest list, and most people didn’t. His daughter’s name was Doris. She was a very quiet girl, very small and calm. I didn’t think I was ever going to get a conversation out of her the first day we met, but I told her my father was a chemist. She was fascinated with chemistry. Something the way things mix, just like people mix, is what she told me. We would walk to class together and walk back home together. This place is bigger than you think. A few floors below us there’s a whole wing just for school. It hasn’t been used in a long time, but you know what I mean. It’s just impressive, what was built. All of this. And it was so bright! We had a Thanksgiving holiday the week we all arrived down here. Dr. Hall and his wife had prepared it because they had been down here quite longer than we had, just preparing things. There was a small farm for a garden and some livestock that we kept. Most of us were vegetarians simply because of the situation, but we had meat for special holidays and birthdays. That’s how Doris and I became good friends. We shared her birthdays together because her father wasn’t fit to do so. He was always busy doing something, and if he wasn’t busy, he was drinking. I don’t believe he was a very happy man, and sometimes he blamed Doris for that. We were right next door and we could hear them yelling at each other sometimes, later at night when everyone was done with work. My father would cross the room to turn on music, just to drown out the sound. “A hundred bad dreams next door.” You hear me say his words, when you’re considering Doris and her father and all of their problems. Maybe you think my father was apathetic with that phrase. But it’s not true. If you had seen his eyes you would know that it’s not true. It was a way he reached out to me, to remind me that even though the rest of the world was dark, I was still his bright spot. I discovered Doris’ secret by accident, which is what drove me back to look at the manifest. It was her eleventh birthday and I wanted to give her something special. There were a few things I had brought from the surface down below, one of which was a bottle of disappearing ink. I just thought the chemistry would fascinate her. It’s extremely stupid, but I was a little girl. That’s my excuse. I don’t know if you have that anymore. You spill the ink on something important, like a paper or a dress, and people think the item is ruined. But the ink vanishes! It’s great! I wish I still had some. That was the only bottle. So I walked into Doris’ apartment and she was sitting on the rug in the living room. Her father would be gone for the entire day, and so it was okay to be there. Otherwise I wouldn’t be caught dead. I joined her on the rug, this immaculately woven thing with flowers running from the center to the frilled edges, and then back again to the center. It was beautiful. Even as a little girl I knew that it was special. I produced the bottle of ink from my pocket and pretended to have trouble with the lid. I was trying so hard not to smile, I remember. And the ink just fell out from the side, spilling over the edge, raining down on the carpet. Doris didn’t move and she didn’t say anything. I had this stupid look on my face that said “oops” waiting for the rest of the prank to unfold. I looked down and the ink was just swimming through the air. This black glob of a cloud was hanging above the surface of the carpet. I don’t know how but I knew it was because of Doris. It was just the look on her face. I think she would have been special, even without this gift. Even without the ability to make all of these things hover before her. A lot of people are very special and they can’t do a thing like that. That’s what I believe. “Please keep quiet about this.” She had told me. “Okay.” That was the only response I could come up with. And that was the start of our birthday friendship. I would share a secret with her and she would share a secret with me. Between those 365 days we would meet in the halls and talk. The same thing would happen after the lights went out, and we would sneak into the auditorium far below the apartment wing to just sit and speak for a while. We became extremely close. Nothing was kept secret. “Is this something you’ve ever tried to practice?” I asked Doris a few weeks after her eleventh birthday. “I can already do it. Why would I need to practice?” She looked confused at the idea. “I just mean,” This was new territory for me. I had no idea what I was talking about, and I stumbled upon this by accident. “Maybe the more you try, the stronger the ability becomes. The ink was very light. How about something a little heavier?” Doris had her back against the wall with her knees pulled up close to her chest. “You don’t think this is dangerous? You don’t think I’m scary?” “You’re my friend, Doris. Friends aren’t scary.” Curiosity peppered with kind words, but I meant it. I swear I did. I cannot be blamed for curiosity. I produced a pencil from my pocket and held it in front of Doris. “I’m going to let go.” I said, and I let the pencil roll out of my hand. It fell to the ground and Doris stared at it. “I don’t think it’s safe.” She said. She was right, but I kept encouraging her. I came into her apartment again for her twelfth birthday and she was sitting on the rug again. I shook her head as I pulled the same pencil from my pocket. It had been such a long time. I suppose she thought I had forgotten. But she took it right out of my hand, no questions asked. Her hands were crossed in her lap and she followed the thing through the air, spinning it and letting it hover higher and higher. “Sneaky.” I said. This became our birthday event, something that I would look forward to very much. It gained weight over the years, just as her technique grew stronger. From the ink in her eleventh birthday to the vase in the corner on her fourteenth, our goals grew larger. She had the coffee table down by her fifteenth birthday, and as soon as that was done, we were planning for the next. This is all we would really talk about, to our own social detriment. Most of the other children avoided us and spoke to their parents about how strange and isolated we were. It mattered little to us. Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, my father and I heard her fighting again. From the slurring of the voice, it was clear that he was drunk. My father put on the music again to drown out the sound, but I sat on the floor and rubbed my hands together for most of the night. It got so loud and violent at one point that I got up, but my father shook his head from the couch, if only to say that it wasn’t our business, even if she was my friend. I saw her in the hall the next day. She had a white bandage across her right hand, and I immediately assumed the worst. I’ll always remember that. She looked like a completely different person walking down the hall, so much older, just because of that bandage on her right hand. There were terrible things beneath the white paper, terrible things before it and terrible things in the future. “It isn’t what you think.” She told me. “There was a glass in my room that shattered. I guess I was just angry because of him and it came out of me, out of my mind. I’ll try and be more careful next time.” I was unwrapping the bandage as she spoke. It was a very nasty cut, very deep. Even as young as I was, I knew that it would leave a scar. Everybody has scars, right? Except this little girl had two scars. One for inoculation and one because of her stupid father. She spent her sixteenth birthday alone. I can tell you that things started to slide after that, but I had made her promise that we would spend her 17th birthday together. We would continue our experiments. I told her that it was important to me. We became a bit more socialized directly after that, and we even made some friends in class. I suppose people were intrigued by our oddities. Not the deepest oddities of course. They wouldn’t have the slightest idea about that. One of those people happened to be Lee Randal, who was an asshole. That’s all he ever aspired to be, and he was okay with that. Nobody else was, but he was a large boy and you can’t argue with size. He went after Doris and began to try and flirt with her, in his own way, which amounted to something you would find on a K-12 playground. Not exactly sand in the face, but more of the same. He could never say anything nice to her. That always fascinated me that he just didn’t have it in him to be kind. But you know those kinds of people. They’re everywhere. She ended up giving him a little bit of attention, if only because she felt sorry for him. That’s how I saw it at least. I didn’t mind because I was too busy with schoolwork to hang out with Doris much that year. I wouldn’t say we had drifted apart, but I her relationship with Lee confused me. Maybe I was more of an outsider than she was. I don’t know. We would still meet for her 17th birthday. That was the plan. Dr. Hall had set up a large get-together for Doris in the auditorium when her birthday came around. We didn’t mind. Pretty much everyone was there, even her father, who wasn’t too drunk. I suppose that was a plus. She and I both agreed to meet directly after the party below the auditorium for our annual birthday celebration. I was probably more excited than she was. Lee was there of course, mostly stuffing his face and being grotesque. I’ve heard that people who eat compulsively are very sad. Lee must have been extremely sad. Doris had been talking to my father in the corner of the auditorium for a little while, something about chemistry. That was her passion and that’s what she planned to do after school. She was determined to become something. I could see Lee eyeballing her and my father from across the room. The kid was stupid to realize who my father was, and that he was simply having a conversation with the girl. I don’t really know what happened, but it upset him. Dr. Hall had decorated the place with balloons and his wife had prepared most of the food. There were streamers and banners that hung in the archways. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Hall, I’ll tell you, that place would have been cold and metallic. We would have lost our minds. It’s amazing what he did. I managed to catch Doris before she made her way back over to the table, to confirm our plans. “10:30.” I said as I passed by, like it was a death-sentence for anyone else to hear or understand. She understood and saluted me back. Lee looked on, as confused as ever. I left around 9:00 with my father to walk back to the apartment wing. “You’re very lucky to have Doris as a friend.” “Are you making a pass at her?” I laughed at him. “Is that what her boyfriend thought? Is that why he was giving me the eye of death? Does he know how old I am?” “I don’t know if he’s actually her boyfriend. I think she just has sympathy for him. I think she feels sorry for him, but he’s so frustrating sometimes. I can see it.” He looked over at me as we were walking. “Does Doris ever get frustrated? Does she ever get angry?” “I think everybody gets angry sometimes. Why does it matter?” I stopped and looked at him. “It doesn’t matter. I was just curious. That’s the whole thing, I promise.” He opened the door to the apartment and walked in. “I know you’ve got some sneaking out to do tonight, and I figure I’ll go on to bed and let you get to it, you being 17 and all.” He smiled like he had just unfurled some massive secret. “I’m just going to meet Doris downstairs.” “Well, you both be careful then.” He shut door and I went for a walk to kill a bit of time before 10:30. I could hear her father next door, already inside the apartment stumbling around and looking for some place to fall. I almost felt like I needed to go in and speak to him, but I didn’t. I should have but I didn’t. The auditorium was dark and cold. The charm of the balloons had vanished without the light. The tables and chairs had been folded up and a single bulb was burning in the corner. The metal gleamed around it and I sat in the corner to wait for Doris. If she had gone home before meeting me her father could have caught her, and he would have kept her inside the whole night. But I didn’t think that happened. One of the doors to the kitchen was opened in the back. I hadn’t seen it when I first arrived, but now my eyes had adjusted to the light. I heard a pan fall to the floor from behind the door. I thought maybe it was rats or something, and I walked in below the burning bulb. Doris was seated on the table next to Lee. He was trying to hold her hand, and she let him. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear because it was so dark and they were so far. It was really just two shapes in the distance, a very large shape and a very small shape. I didn’t want to intrude on their privacy, but you know that I didn’t trust Lee. Not one bit. I was more concerned for her safety than I was for their privacy. There was a loud noise and Lee had swished some pots and pans out of the way. I could see her face from where I was standing, but I didn’t say anything. The first thing I thought of was to run upstairs and get my father, but it was a long way. I didn’t want to leave her alone. Maybe he would calm down. He was obviously angry about something. It was all so frightening, and there was so much noise. Lee was getting closer and closer, louder and louder, thundering his way across to the corner where she had retreated. Honestly, at first, I thought he had stepped on a pot and it had cracked. But he was screaming. I’ve never heard anybody scream that loud in my life. Doris was huddled in the corner and Lee’s leg had just split. And then he was down on the ground. I still didn’t understand. Later I would know that he was dead before he had touched the kitchen floor. His chest was caved in. Doris was crying and I was crying as people were pouring into the kitchen. It only took them a moment to get there because the scream had been so loud. Their eyes drifted from Lee’s body to the tiny girl sitting in the corner, the birthday girl. I put my arm around Doris and whispered in her ear. “A hundred bad dreams.” She didn’t hear me. Too busy trying to survive the moment to perceive anything else, my father would say to me later. He believed Doris’ side of the story. He and I were the only ones. Marla Dana had led Marla deep into the Burial, and they had finally stopped at a door. Marla reached out and felt through the darkness. The door was closed and the lock felt twisted and contorted. “It would have been simple and no more, but files had to be examined in the event of a death. One of those files included our manifest, and everybody saw the TK next to Doris’ name. It was unquestionable then about what had happened to poor Lee. He became a victim, and Doris was the monster. You know, I think they were all a little scared to confront her, after what she did to Lee, after all of that. Perhaps she could have taken care of everything right there in that kitchen, all of those people gawking. But she was so damned timid in the face of all of it. They ostracized her from the apartment wing and she had to live with her father somewhere down below. Somewhere far below here.” “I’m sorry, Dana.” Marla said. “I’m sorry you had to see all of that, even when you knew she wasn’t a monster.” “Yeah, nobody bothered to believe me. But it turns out that the TK wasn’t really what they had to worry about. Just as they had ostracized the doctor, a terrible sickness had swept through. Wiped out the older people and some of the really young. It made living down here for a large group of people considerably harder, and everybody eventually passed, except the one you see standing here.” Dana drummed her knuckles on the door. “I don’t know if you need some kind of paperwork or anything for this, but they’re all in there, accounted for, 120 bodies. I suppose that’s a different kind of manifest.” “Ah,” Marla was shaking her head. “Just, what a fucking tragedy for all of these people to pass. I’m sorry. I think we should go.” They didn’t speak when they left the door, the one that, if the light had permitted, would have read Auditorium 352. Dana drummed her knuckles on it one last time. She found herself down at that particular door many times. She mumbled something to herself for the hope of forgiveness and the passing of tragedy. She reached out, rubbed the scar on her right hand, and began her way upstairs with Marla.