Priscilla Sabin was frightened, but she didn't know of what. On the edge of her mind she felt some unseen threat lurked, watching, waiting, like some malevolent python watching a helpless mesmerized rabbit blunder closer and closer. She looked around constantly as her dad searched for the bomb shelter in the building, but, nothing showed itself in the flickering lantern light on the faded pealing walls. They had passed perhaps twenty doors when the hall ended in a large space. They stopped on the edge of this void for a moment close together, waiting for what they didn't know. Then an errant flash of lightning illuminated the room for a brief instant showing ghostly chairs around tables covered with white cloth, waiting for a banquet that would never come.
Priscilla jumped with a shriek as a cold hand ran up her back. Everyone turned, startled at the noise that broke the sudden silence. Andy started laughing. He'd run his fingers up Priscilla's shirt. No one else laughed. John grabbed Andy's coat and yanked him in front of him and said with his voice trembling with rage, "No more games boy, you understand me! If we don't find that fallout shelter soon, we could all be cooked by radiation! We could all die! No more!" Andy was almost on the point of tears with fear. His dad never got this angry. "Yes sir." John released him, and reddened slightly as he caught Mary's eye. "Later" was all he said. For a moment an uncomfortable silence held them in it's sway, and then John's eyes lit up with recognition, "Hey, if this is the dining room then the kitchen must be near here. The basement entrance is probably somewhere near it." Nobody said anything as he held the lantern as high as possible and saw dimly to the far right a pair of swinging double doors. He smiled and said a little more confidently, "Come on, we're getting closer." He strode off toward the doors with his family trailing behind.
As they all trailed close behind, Priscilla noticed something odd. One table they passed had no table cloth, and as they passed Priscilla touched one of the chairs and looked at her fingers idly. There was no dust on her fingers.
Meanwhile, unseen by the explorers at the front of the house there was a flash that was not lightning that shone into the ruined lobby from outside, held steady for a moment then died. For a few minutes the dark and silence of the lobby was unbroken. Then, for a few minutes the rain died off to a mist, and a weaker light flashed across the windows and the front door opened and a flashlight beam flickered across the lobby. Then the door shut again. The young woman lowered her umbrella and looked down at her daughter thankful that she was asleep for the time being. The young woman shook her long brown hair and swept the lobby with her flashlight. The big police flashlight was more than powerful enough to pierce the shadows.
"It's so different" she said sadly through her dust mask, remembering it as it was in her childhood, covered with gleaming white paint, and green trim. To see it in such ruinous decay made her sad. She sighed and turned to the right, her light flashing around as she made her way down the hall. So sad, she thought. It had almost been beautiful when her mom had worked here. But, she didn't have much time to reminisce, she didn't know much about radiation, but, she was frightened for her baby's safety and that drove her to move quickly, she needed to get to that fallout shelter.
John pushed on through the kitchens trying to ignore the feeling that something was very wrong here. As they walked through past the old enameled sinks he had noticed that the basins and counters were free of dust. And that one long enameled counter had chips and long narrow scars in its surface. He kept telling himself that some homeless person must have been staying here and had carried water in from the small lake that was down the long slope behind the house. But, the nagging uneasy feeling kept gnawing away at his consciousness, like a rat trying to gain entry. Finally, they came to another double door, and pushed through and found themselves at a junction. One hall stretched away to their right, and two double doors secured by a padlock and chain sided their left. And right before them was a set of stairs, going down. The lanterns flickered off bare brickwork and the bare concrete stairs, going down. John gave a sigh of relief, smiling he pointed to a rusty sign that bore a dust covered fallout symbol saying, "I told you we'd find it" his voice echoing of the unyielding masonry. "Let's go."
As they started down Mary saw something in the swaying lantern light. "John!" She grabbed his arm pointing. On the floor impressed in the dust, were the unmistakable traces of multiple footprints. John handed the lantern to Mary and brought the lever action to his shoulder. He indicated silently to lower the lantern and Mary complied. There was no mistaking it, multiple footprints going down and coming up. He couldn't be sure, but, some looked fainter than others. Older he thought? Then he indicated for them to follow him down and for Mary to get on his right side. He cocked the hammer back, and they crept nervously down the stairs. The passed the first landing without incident, but, as they turned the corner to come down the final flight of steps a light shone in their faces. Without thinking John raised the rifle aiming just below the light. Loudly, his voice quavering with tension, he said, "Hold it! Put the light down, slowly! The light slowly lowered and the figure holding it emerged in the glow of the lantern light. Everyone relaxed and John let the muzzle fall to the floor, and sagged against the wall and breathing out a ragged breath as the tension left him.
The figure was that of a young woman in her mid twenties who was about 5'7" and a slightly chubby build, with long brown hair. In the crook of her left arm was a little baby. Both of them wore dust masks. The girl was trembling slightly. John understood, and uncocked the gun carefully where the girl could see it, and held it with his left hand around the receiver. He said, "I'm sorry, but," he looked sheepish, "I guess this place is getting to us. Who are you?" The young woman was still a somewhat frightened, but, was recovering rapidly, "My name is Jasmine DuPree, and this is my daughter Carrie. We just want to stay in the bomb shelter. I've got food." She added quickly looking at the gun, "I'll share." John smiled, "That's OK, we've brought food too." He smiled gently, "It's OK, really." Mary was smiling too and stepped forward, Jasmine looked uneasy for a moment, then saw the motherly look on Mary's face and managed a weak smile in return. "Honey, it's really OK," Mary said, and looked mischievously at John, "my husband is always like this when he's wandering through a deserted sanitarium." Everyone laughed, in spite of themselves and the tension finally dissolved completely.
John smiled took the lantern back from Mary as she and Priscilla stood and made the usual fuss over the baby. John caught Andy's eye, and turned to Mary and the others, "I'm going to go ahead and get the shelter opened up and see what we need to do to make it habitable, come on son." The two walked off their boots grating on the concrete floor. The basement was huge, and littered with debris and ancient rat droppings. The unpainted brick walls and arched columns were spanned by cob webs in the corners, but, main passage was unobstructed. John made a mental note to ask whether Jasmine had already been in in the shelter.
As they went deeper into the cavernous basement John saw several large boilers lined up along the right hand wall, and the shelter door beyond. He smiled. He pointed to Andy, and said, "That's a good thing, the boilers for the steam heating probably have water in them, we can use. He knocked on several and was rewarded with satisfyingly solid noises
The last one in the row gave a hollow sound back no matter how far down he tapped. John was thinking about how to get the water down into the shelter when Andy said, "Hey, dad, what's this?" John turned and stopped suddenly, icy chills running up and down his spine and his hand tightening unconsciously around the gun. On the floor near the opposite wall, half hidden by several packing crates was six foot wide circle, with an arcane design drawn in it in some dark red pigment and a series of twelve weird archaic looking symbols drawn around its perimeter. In the center was what he guessed to be a dog's skull with a black candle melted onto the top of it.