smoke and shadow

Up there is a world K has never seen and a world that humans choose to forget. An existence in a bunker isn't a life a teenager wants, but she hasn't realised how much it has protected her until now.


1. Out there

The bulb fizzled with its dying energy and then popped, leaving the section of the corridor in shadow. Some yellow light from the other naked bulbs reached towards the shadow but fell short.

At the end of the corridor, a small figure stood in front of a steel door. One dirty hand pressed against the dark green. Muscles flexed as she tried to push. The door remained shut.

“K! Get away from there. Now.”

There was no disobeying those snaps of noise. K turned and walked back towards the tall, emaciated figure. Her bare feet slapped their way down the concrete until she was standing in front of her mother. In this light, the hollow curve to her mother’s cheeks was even more noticeable than normal.                                                                                                                                    

“If you step out of that door, you will die.”

“I’m never going to get a chance am ? Don’t worry, I’m safe locked up in here like every other boring person.”

A claw shot out from the bundle of blankets and fixed around K’s wrist. K looked up through the strand of greasy yellow hair to catch wildness on her mother’s face that these days seemed to be more frequent.

Mother dragged her unresisting daughter under the row of lights and through a doorway. The room was lit with the same useless light as the corridor. Its rays fell over a row of ten bunk beds. Some bulges marked the presence of humans, whilst others were sat on their beds, staring ahead. An old woman turned at the newcomers and then quickly lost interest, the spot on the wall becoming fascinating once more. K wrinkled her nose at the sourness that hung in the air; the bitter smell of humans.                                                                                                                                   

“Sit down and read your book. They’re feeding us in an hour.” Her mum shoved the battered copy into her daughter’s hands and then climbed onto a top bunk where she sat in complete silence. K opened the present her mother had given her and a page broke free, drifting onto the floor. She left it. It wasn’t as if she had read the book fifteen times.  Sometimes, another book would surface from somewhere and she would pour over it until the story was as clear as a painting in her head.   

A book didn’t make up for this life. Her eyes scanned the room and then looked up to the corrugated metal ceiling. Above it was a world she had never seen, only heard about through stories. There was a whole group of children who spent their time wondering and were never satisfied. K sighed, and climbed under the pile of dirty blankets. Closing her eyes, she started to dream of the world beyond the four walls.


A harsh klaxon sounded down the corridors. The sluggish atmosphere was broken by people tumbling out of the doorways and into the corridors. K’s mother was down from her perch in seconds, grabbing her daughter and yanking her into the tide of people. Bodies pressed into each other like they were trying to complete a puzzle made of ill-matched pieces.  A finger ended up poking K in the eye and she yelped, blinking furiously to stop the water leaking down her face.  If she had managed to pinpoint the assailant, she would have swung a punch. As it was, her arms were glued to her sides.

Swept into a huge room with cheap plastic furniture, K was manoeuvred into a queue.  In an action that meant nothing, she reached out for the bowl. Tonight it was the delights of a watery soup. Those lumps she presumed were meat. Her mum pushed her forward so she fell into a table. There were a few mumbles of protest before she sat down. Unable to find a seat, K’s mother stood behind, slurping down the food.

K chewed on the wet gristle. It was weird that this room was so silent. It was filled with people who had nothing to say to each other and yet they had spent the last ten years living, breeding and dying together.  She herself had been born in these metal walls, in bed k, and she had never known any different.                                                                                                                         

The green door came back into her mind. Maybe the adults were lying when they said the monsters were out there? Perhaps there was no such thing as monsters. After all, she had never seen one so why should she accept they were real?

Pushing her bowl away, still dotted with bits of bright veg and hunks of meat, she knew that a few more weeks here would make her like her mother. The sobs in the night were getting worse. So was the sleepwalking.

A jangle, music, rippled through the room. K watched a man walk by; his heavy boots slamming down onto the floor. Jake. One of the ones lucky enough to have been named back when people mattered. His greying hair was just as greasy as everyone else’s around him, and his arms were stained with dirt. K sat up. He had been outside. Those keys dangling from his belt had recently been used. K followed him across the room. She had never seen those keys leave his side.  He probably slept with them by his side, or under his pillow.

“What’s the point in them anyway?” she muttered under her breath. To pretty much everyone else in the room, the keys meant power, and not what she saw them as. Growing up with parent’s tales of horror, of lost families, of lost worlds and a planet that had turned its back on them had left most people here quietly discontented. She had seen pictures of rebellions, where people had fought for their beliefs; anger like art on faces and violence brewing. It was hard to imagine that sort of behaviour looking at these people around her.                                                    

“Ouch,” her mum hissed as K’s chair ran over her foot.

“Take my seat. I’m done.” K stomped off, leaving the room where watching paint would have been better.

Somehow, she had to get those keys. 

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