Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
“Mom…dad…is it over?”
It was pitch black and silent for a moment after…
“I don’t know, son.”
Then woman’s voiced quivered…
“Henry, how will we know?”
It was then Henry switched on the lantern. He was a blinded momentarily and when his sight came too he saw his wife and son huddled in front of him; tears rolling down their cheeks. He had wiped off his own tears earlier. Having illuminated the lantern, he proceeded to direct the light around the room. The surrounding area was small and lined with metal walls; itself, lined with lead thick enough to block out radiation from the outside. Boxes and shelves of canned food products hugged every corner. At the far end was a large water purifier. There was a single door in the shape of a vault. He wondered how long they had been waiting in the darkness.
“Henry, how will we know?”
Henry pointed the light back at his family with a dumbfounded look on his face and said nothing.
“I don’t know. I didn’t…I mean, I don’t have any way to tell if it’s safe out there. Where’s the radio?”
He found the radio behind him and channeled through the stations, hoping to pick up a signal. At first, there was only static…
“Mom, is it the end of the world?”
“No baby, we’re still alive.”
“I mean outside.”
“That’s what your father is trying to find out.”
“Shh!” Henry held out his hand, he was trying to listen. He thought he had heard something.
“Mom, that earthquake…was that from the bombs?”
“JONATHAN!” Henry hushed his son and held the radio to his ear. He had definitely heard something. Someone was singing. It was faint; hidden in the static. Jonathan opened his mouth, but his mother smothered him.
“There…” Henry jolted, “THERE! You hear it?”
They all drew closer and a faint singing emerged. The tune was familiar, though the words were still obscured.
Catherine made a confused face, “Happy…..holiday?”
“What is it Catherine? Is that what they’re saying?”
“I think so. I think it’s the Happy Holiday song?”
Henry gave an odd expression, “You mean Bill Crosby ‘Happy Holidays’?”
“Bing Crosby. Yes, definitely.”
The static cleared and the song could be heard much more clearly; Bing Crosby’s “Happy Holiday” was playing.
Their son whimpered, “Does that mean nothing happen?”
“I’m not sure, son”
“but..but what about…what about the shaking earlier? The Earthquake.”
“Calm down, son. We don’t know.” Henry turned to Catherine and motioned to the vault door, “Honey? Should we?”
“I don’t know, Henry. We don’t know what this means. What if the signal was still running in the air before it … happened… and we’re just picking up residue?”
Henry lowered the volume, “That’s true. Also, it’s a strange thing to play after what happened; even if nothing happened. You’d think there’d be a national broadcast signal directing us what to do next.”
There, they waited; hoping for some sign from the outside world; a radio signal with instructions, some knock from the other side of their vault, reassuring them the outside world was okay. Anything. They waited for days, but there was nothing but the same song playing over and over; “Happy Holidays”. In a fit of desperation, they eventually decided to open the door, realizing whatever reality existed outside the room they would have to face it sooner or later. Henry had a shot gun just in case. If it were only radiation, he thought, then the fallout should have settled. He told his family to move to the back of the room behind the water purifier. When they did, he reached for the door. As he began to turn the wheel lock, “Happy Holiday” ended and there was a momentary silence.
“Henry?” Catherine yelped
Henry looked at her, then the door, and opened it. A bright light shot through the entrance and they all covered their eyes. It was too bright. When his eyes adjusted, Jonathan saw his father disappear into the light and began to walk towards it himself. His mother held him back, but he pulled her forward. “Happy Holidays” began to play again. Jonathan slipped out his mother’s hand and continued into the light. She ran for him and before they reached the door, a large shadow overcame them.
“Son, Catherine. Everything is alright.”
They were outside, just having emerged from underground. All around them was green grass, and trees, and their house. Everything looked in place. Up ahead, they could see the town. Nothing had been disturbed.
“Henry, HENRY! Everything is fine!” Catherine cried. She was overjoyed.
They had entered their house and noted the electricity still ran. Henry began to make some phone calls; Catherine turned on the television and Jonathan ran upstairs to his room. Henry held the phone to his ear while examining the interior of his house, checking for damages the eruption or earthquake, or whatever it was that happened earlier, might have caused. There were none that he could see.
Catherine turned to Henry, “Honey, anyone answering?”
“No, no one. They’re probably still hiding in shelter. What does the news say?”
“Nothing, none of the channels are working.” She was flipping through static.
Henry was still waiting on the phone when he said, “Maybe the stations are all down. Check the radio again. See if there’s a national broadcast or something.”
She did as he said and walked off. He had dialed a couple of different numbers, to no avail. He called the police. Called City Hall. Called the hospital. Called neighbors and friends and his boss. Nothing. “Honey, anything on the radio?”
He heard “Happy Holidays” getting closer and closer and his wife stood with a handheld radio. “Henry, this is all they’re playing.”
“What about the radio in our room? All the channels?”
“Yes, all the channels. I tried the other radios; they’re all playing the same thing. There are no other signals. They’re all only playing this. It’s looping over and over.”
Concern swelled in Henry’s throat. “Um…no one is answering. Honey, I think maybe the stations are all down. We might be among the first to emerge. I need to go town and see if anyone else is out and about. Hopefully the National Guard is around. I’m taking the truck, you stay here with Jonathan. Do not. DO NOT. Let anyone you don’t know in here, unless it’s the police or the Army.” He ran to his room and came out with his shotgun and pistol. He gave the shotgun to Catherine and stuck the pistol in his holster. “Baby, no one. I need to make sure it’s safe first. Stay with Jonathan.”
She nodded and locked the door after he left. She looked around and noticed she had not heard from Jonathan for some time.
No response. She made her way to the stairs, into the second floor hallway. At the end of it her son’s room door was wide open. She walked to it, calling his name one last time. She entered his room. A scream of horror and a shotgun shot reverberated through the house, but Henry had already driven too far to hear it.
Henry was driving slowly through the neighborhood. He was deciding whether to meet his neighbors at their vault (or whatever area of precaution they took) or go straight to town hall, where the police station and Army recruiters’ office could be reached. He decided on the latter. He had to make sure everything was safe before pulling anyone else out. There wasn’t a single soul in sight. It unnerved him, despite understanding the circumstances. He turned on his radio, but it was all static with the exception of the one station looping “Happy Holiday”. He turned it off and he thought to himself, “Those goddamn Soviets”.
The town was empty. Nervous, he drove faster. He began to think about the impeding war. He thought about having to hide in the vault and the massive eruption earlier that surrounded them. What was it, he wondered? What caused that eruption? It felt like an earthquake. The buildings in town are still standing; it must not have been that strong. Maybe it was a natural earthquake. Maybe that’s what scared everybody enough to remain in their vaults. Maybe that’s why everything is so quiet. Was I the only one brave enough to venture out? He let out a nervous laugh. He thought of his family. He thought of the day before the sirens rang; how he had gathered his family in his sons room upstairs, huddled them together and promised them he would take of care. He remembered his shotgun in hand. He remember the tears on his wife fa…
Henry then slammed his brakes. The brakes let out a loud screech as the tires scraped across the pavement, then the truck shot its nose forward and then violently shot back. Henry bounced and swung violently on his seat, but in that whole time, he did not blink. A hundred feet ahead of the truck, Henry saw something beyond comprehension. He could not have uttered a word if he tried. There was no way to describe it. Terror beyond words. He immediately turned his truck around and sped off; hoping whatever they were hadn’t see him.
There was a single truck on the road, its tires screaming and swerving. It ran straight towards the Mercer’s residence; a small family of modest means. The man of the house, Henry Mercer, worked for the government in a classified capacity, and met his wife, Catherine, at one of the departments New Year’s Eve party, in Wilmington, Delaware. They conceived a child three months later and produced their son, Jonathan, on December 25, 1958. Two years earlier General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, threatened western sovereignty. The threat of nuclear war cast a shadow across the American landscape and families prepared for the worst. When the sirens rang, everyone ran for shelter; the Mercers where never heard from again.
Henry nearly ran the truck into his house. He shot out the vehicle and slammed through the house entrance door. He began to call his wife and son, screaming their names. The house was filled with Bing Crosby’s “Happy Holiday”, playing on the radio and even through the static of the television. He took out his pistol and negotiated his way through the house; periodically looked out the window, hoping to God he wasn’t followed by whatever it was he saw. Seeing nobody downstairs, he made his way up. He found himself at the end of the second floor hallway where his son’s room door had been shut. A horrible smell emitted from behind.
The door was locked.
“I’M KICKING DOWN THE DOOR! JOHNNY! CATHERINE! ARE YOU IN THERE?!! I’M KICKING OPEN THE DOOR!”
Henry stood back and made a start at the door, kicking the wood around the doorknob into a dent. The wood had broken. One more kick should do it. He stood back further this time and charge the door, kicked the same area, and the door busted open.
Earlier that day, Jonathan ran into the house. He could hear his parents discussing what had happened. He was walking up the stairs when he saw his father reach for the phone. He was in the hallway when he heard his mother carrying around a radio playing “Happy Holiday”. He liked that song. Then he froze in his steps. He thought he had seen someone running inside his room. He should of ran back downstairs and told his mother and father, but he continued forward; cautiously.
He approached the door and slowly peaked inside. Then he saw them and they saw him. They were shaped like humans, but that was as far as the similarity went. Everything else was completely inhuman. Jonathan was paralyzed in fear and could barely call for help above a whisper.
Soon afterwards, Catherine made her way inside the room. At first, her mind could not make sense of what she was looking at; then seeing Jonathan’s body lying at their feet, she screamed, aimed the shotgun, and shot.
Sometime later, Henry returned. He could be heard screaming downstairs. Then he made his way up and into the room. The door was initially closed and when he kicked it in, he fell into an empty room; just four walls and a floor and window. He was stunned in disbelief. Where had they gone? What happened to Jonathan’s room? He heard a noise outside and ran to the window. Looking out, he saw those indescribable horrors making their way into the house. They had followed him. He shut the broken door as well as he could and welded his pistol. Panic overtook him and he rushed to the furthest corner from the door. He could hear the doors and windows downstairs crashing open. Those things were inside the house. Their crawling and scratching could be heard between the walls and a horrific scream emitted from them. Henry could hear them making their way upstairs and at that moment, he kicked open the window and tried to escape, but the horrors, these beings beyond description, rushed into the room and smothered his screams. He didn’t even get a single shot out.
Ultimately, nuclear war was dissuaded and both superpowers reached an agreement. The Soviet Union later dissolved. Today, no such looming danger exists on that level. Neither do the Mercers exist anymore. There’s another family there now; The Mores. Frederick More had purchased the house from the government at a reasonably cheap price. It was a single story home, though a shallow alcove near the entrance was evident that a staircase once stood there. The roof was brand new. Outside, a large patch of grass was discolored. The ground sank when you watered it. Frederick asked the neighbors if anything was once buried there. They were hesitant; asking Frederick if his Realtor had explained to them the houses history. He shook his head, so they proceeded to tell him. Story was….and Frederick realized why the house sold for cheap… the previous owner committed a murder/suicide along with his family and they were found buried there with some cans of food and a radio.
Frederick reiterated for clarity sake “So, the previous owner killed his family and then himself. And they were found buried here?”
“That’s what they say.” His neighbor shrugged “It was just a giant hole burying that poor family and a couple of cans and a radio.”
“God, that’s horrible. I’d rather my family not know about this. I’d rather not know about this, but who buried them?”
Nobody knew, but it didn’t bother Frederick. It had happened decades ago; before the much of the town was destroyed in that earthquake and rebuilt. He returned home to his wife and son, poured himself some coffee, and turned on the radio. At first, there was only static…
Credit To – ghostmetalblack
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