The old beat up blue Volkswagen took the last curve a little too fast and the wheels squealed, as the driver desperately fought to control the car. After running the tires on the shoulder for about thirty feet, he managed to get the machine back under control. In the front seat beside him, his wife, the strain eating through her control said, "John, slow down! It won't do us any good to wreck before we get there." John Sabin nodded, and slowed the car slightly. He looked out the windscreen at the lowering landscape under the fast moving squall line with one eye shut, and tried to keep the brim of his hat low enough to the western horizon that if there was another nuclear fireball, he wouldn't be totally blinded.
For John and his family were running, running for the only sanctuary that he knew of to escape the fast moving cloud of fallout particles from what he assumed had been New York City. He knew from his army training that he had perhaps a half an hour to get to a fallout shelter before the radiation reached his town of Newsome, New Jersey, some fifty miles east of New York. He had stopped at the court house hoping to get into that fallout shelter, but, the hundreds of people crowding the entrance told him it was hopeless. Then he remembered this place. He had done some electrical work on it some ten years ago, before he'd tried to make a living in New York City as a contractor for a number of years and for some reason remembered the fallout shelter sign on the front door.
So they were racing, racing to stay ahead of the cloud of slow death looming behind them like some voracious beast, driving a storm front in it's van. Finally he relaxed a bit as he saw the turn off, and braked down to a safer speed. As he turned down the winding lane his face turned into something that was almost a smile, but, was more of a stress filled grimace. Finally he saw the gates ahead, and the welcome letters stenciled in cast iron: "Sanctuary Hill Sanitarium." He slowed as he neared the gates. That's odd; he thought to himself, I wonder why the gates are open? Then he put the question from his mind and drove on. They had maybe ten minutes left to get under cover before the radiation got there, carried down upon the land by the weeping sky.
John saw the main building. The old two story brick building looming against the oncoming sunset. He wondered why there were no lights on, then he remembered, EMP, of course, he thought, electromagnetic pulse. Only the fact that his car was close to sixty years old and had no computers allowed it to run at all. Finally he pulled up near the front door and stopped. "Everyone out!" he yelled, the strain showing in his voice. John jumped out and quickly unlocked the trunk at the front of the car, pulling out packs and boxes.
His daughter Pricilla looked up at the dark looming building and shuddered. Dark haired and dark eyed, she pulled her denim jacked closer around her slender frame. "Daddy," she said, "are you sure this is a good idea?" He looked up at her startled, she hadn't called him daddy since she turned thirteen three years ago. "Why do you ask?" he said. She shuddered again, "You remember the feeling I had that day before the wreck?" John winced, knowing what she was going to say, "Yes, I do honey" he said grimly. She looked at him with her dark haunted eyes and said, "I feel it again."
John shuddered, thinking of the day five years ago when, Pricilla had that premonition. The premonition nobody had heeded. The day when they were in a car wreck and Pricilla's twin sister Catharine had died. He looked up at the silent dark edifice, then bent over and looked Pricilla in the eye, "I remember honey. But, we've got no choice. This is the only shelter we can reach before the fallout reaches us. Now get your stuff." Pricilla looked down and picked up her pink and green pack. Andy her six year old brother, smirked, "What's the matter Priss, think the boogy man is going to get you?" Pricilla swatted at him with her pack but, he easily dodged and grabbed up his own pack, and swung back.
"That is enough Andrew Jacob Sabin!" Mary Sabin said in her best mother is speaking and you're in trouble voice. Andy stopped and looked sullen. John put on his pack ignoring the biplay behind him and looked at the darkened windows, and after a moment's hesitance, pulled the old 30/30 out of the trunk and checked the load. Then he picked up the box of shells he'd hastily grabbed out of the closet and dumped them in his pocket. The wind was gusting and he felt a chill run up his spine as the biting chill went under his ragged t-shirt. He turned to his family and said, "Come on, grab those boxes, we need to get under cover now." And then turned to the front door.
John went up and banged the ornate door knocker on the weathered door several times, but was only met by the sound of the moaning wind. On impulse he reached out and tried the doorknob. To his surprise it turned and he pushed the door open. The screech of protesting hinges was like claws across their taunt souls. John gulped, and turned on the camping lantern, and stepped inside, his family crowding close behind him. The light lit the front lobby eerily in flickering bands of light and shadow punctuated by the lightning flashes through the high windows. Behind them the thunder rolled and it began to rain.
As they walked in John set down the battery powered lantern, and lit the gas lantern. He handed the battery lantern to Mary and said, called out loudly, "Hello!" The only sound that met their straining ears was the rain that was now pounding the windows. "Hello! Is there anyone here?!!" Again there was no response. For a moment no one said anything. And there was another flash of lightning. Pricilla's breath caught in her throat, and her heart pounded in her ears louder than the thunder outside. She'd been staring down a side hall apprehensively, and she had seen, thought she'd seen a figure at the far end. But, she couldn't be sure. She wanted to run out of the building screaming, but, somehow knew she wouldn't get away. She wanted to say something, but, a sense of futility overwhelmed her the way it had the day of the wreck, and she simply stood silently with tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
Mary looked around the lobby distastefully. The walls were pealing like they had some kind of skin disease and the floor was covered with debris and flecks of paint. The whole room stank of mildew and decay. "John" Mary said apprehensively, "This place hasn't been used for years! Look at it!" John surveyed the moldering lobby and said, in what he hoped was a confident voice, "Well, that means we won't have to share the shelter." Mary put her hands on her hips, the lantern swaying back and forth causing flickering shadows to dance on the leprous walls. "John!" irritation for the moment getting the better of her fear, "this place was abandoned years ago! For all we know the shelter isn't even there anymore." John looked into his wife's terrified eyes that were a mirror her daughter's fear, "Hon, you don't just pull up a fallout shelter and walk away. It's part of the building's foundations. And, we have no choice. It's either stay here or face the radiation out there." As if to punctuate his words the lightning crashed close by. Mary put her head on his chest, and he held her close, seeing again traces of the beauty that had attracted him to her so many years ago.
John gently lifted her chin and said softly, "I'm not sure where the shelter was. It has to be in the basement somewhere, but, I don't know where the entrance is, I was running wiring up in the attic most of the time, so we're going to have to hunt for it, right now, OK?" Mary looked at him, too scared to be resentful for once, "OK," she said, her voice that of a little girl, "where do we start looking?" He hesitated and looked down the central hall opposite the front door, and said with a confidence he didn't feel, "That way." He hefted the lantern in one hand and the rifle in the other and led his little group of frightened refugees into the gloom of the building's core.