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Unknown World- Reedsy Isolation Draft

“Why there are people up top?” I giggle to my dad. He comes down. He cleans the spit on my mouth. It can fall on my jumper if he does not clean it.


I love this jumper. It has koala heads on it. I’ve never seen a koala.


“Whitney, the people up top are living their lives like us…just with more space.” The TV is noisy and a man talks. There are pictures of white, gray, and red boxes. There are big, gray sticks with green on top.


“But, why?” I continue. "Why"


“Some people do not have money to live down below. Some of them don’t want to live like this all the time.”


I stare at him. People like to be up top. Why? What is out there? I like to live down below. It is easy. When I am old, I will live down below. I already have 10 dollars. I will live down below when I am older.


“Do people get tired? If there’s a lot of space, then there’s a lot of stuff to do.” My dad doesn't answer.


My dad is putting red plates on the table. “Daddy, you need to use the purble plates. They are prettier.”


“I do? Whitney, do you want to help me put the purple plates on the table?”


I put a plate next to the fork and knife and spoon. “Daddy, the people up top are tired, right?”


“Yes. They work, travel, study, and do a lot of the things we do. Just up top.”


“They are good people like us. Or they are bad.”


“There are good and bad people.”


I leave. Daddy stops putting plates on the table. He puts cups now. I want to paint. I’m going to paint the things up top. Up top has boxes not like down below. They are gray. It has purple plates like down below.


I don’t like to paint. The color is cold. My finger makes a square. I move my finger to color the square. Gray is ugly. I make a brown stick. It has green on top.


“Are you painting something?” Mommy is behind me. “It looks like a gray box. Is that going to be a tree?”


I don’t know what that means. A tree? It sounds like three. “It’s not a 3. It’s up top”.


“Oh, the box is a house.” She looks at the paper as I make a purple house.


“People up top need purple houses. It’s prettier 'cause gray is ugly.”


“Whitney, up top needs a lot of things. Purple houses would be very pretty up there.”


 

I pause the family video. I was only 4 when I had these conversations with my parents. I am now 17. I’ve learned a lot about the outside world since I first painted it. Most importantly, what I learned is that I don’t want to live “down below” in the bunker anymore.


Twenty-thousand square feet is a lot when you’re not approaching 18 years of exploring the same scenes. The outside world looks wild beyond compare. There is chaos, danger, and mystery. The wildest things I have seen are the vine plants in the growing room that can reach the 10 foot ceiling. They are very paling to the Biąłowieża forest in Poland. This is just one of 20 forests that I have studied using the resources I have. It is possibly the last and largest primeval forests in the world. At least that’s the most recent information I have on it. Maybe the people up top have destroyed it by now.


As amazing as up top appears, I will disclose that the outside world make me nervous. It’s supplies are unregulated. There doesn’t seem to be enough for everyone. In the bunker, no one goes without their necessities, and we follow rules because our survival depends on it. The fact that time moves so slowly down here is also unnerving in comparison to up top. It’s those two factors, supplies and time, that have changed my mind each time I almost left the bunker.


On TV, I have heard that a lot of the people up top do not like people who live below the ground. They think we are privileged and greedy. I have never had the sun touch my skin, a very basic freedom that many of them have. And that’s just the start of how privileged I am.


Life down here is not downtrodden and routine like skeptics had claimed. I have much time to learn from the library and of course the internet. Right now, I am working on finishing my college degrees in sustainable horticulture and sustainable energy engineering. It’s normal for the youth here to graduate high school and college much earlier on average than the youth up top. I have a lot of the applicative opportunities surrounding me anyways so that was an advantage.


I don’t want you to get the wrong idea that we just study and marinate down here, although it is a space for true productivity in my biased opinion. In the bunker, there are specialized rooms for a quarter size bowling alley, a video game arcade, a swimming pool, and a theater. There are also two restaurants that change their menus on a 6-month basis. It’s not like up top, where you can do and be absolutely anything, but there are skills that can be practiced down here as well and perhaps with more focus. For example, there’s a retired 40-some-year-old veteran who was inspired by the films shown in the theater and he now makes vlogs to de-mystify our lifestyle to those up top. I think he is considering producing a film at some point. There is a 20 some year-old transgender woman who desired more entertainment down here and so around five years ago and she took up the cello. Most people down here have expanded on a skill they had above or adopted a new skill.


Life does seem good enough for living in an empty missile silo, so why would I want to explore up top? Well, maybe I could agree with the people up top when they remark that I am privileged in one aspect. I don’t know how to live any other type of life outside of being in a bunker. There’s not a lot that can go wrong in this system with proper maintenance. I guess I just want to experience a little mayhem. It’s another way to grow. I can’t help but feel that only a portion of my senses, emotions, intelligence, physicality, and social ability are being tapped. But would it be worth it to lose what I have here to tap them in a part of the world where nothing is guaranteed? I haven’t decided. But maybe…


 

“Whitney, are you coming?” My girlfriend shouts from the rooftop as I slowly make my way up. Some months have passed so let me catch you up in four uncomplicated words. I left the bunker.


“This view reminds me of the cityscape I saw from the top of Cathedral Basilica of St. Jacob in Szczecin,” and all the while she is gushing at the painted town. Her name is Tey. I met her when I went to see Biąłowieża last fall. She speaks Polish and English, as well as common phrases of many European languages, and has lived up top her whole life.


At this moment we are on at the top of a three story building in Sighisoara, Romania. This journey started because I reached my limit with reclusion. It was a do or die decision to experience the world. I couldn’t just read about it nor degenerate my maculae with a digital “open window” screen. These were only tools to fake that I wasn’t living like a mole rat. While everything about the bunkers was luxurious, it was a metal can. An un-poppable bubble. Even though I might not find what I need up top, my brain was desiring fulfillment for the intuition of “there’s got to be more”.


A few days after I said goodbye to my parents and bunker family, I got on a plane to Poland. It’s been about 6 months since that day. Last week, Tey and I arrived in Romania. I have been waiting since my first cultural course in college, age 14 mind you, to see where my ancestors had lived. It’s not like the bunkers. It won’t be. I am thankful to have Tey with me. I may be bright, but so are the people up here and they become impatient when I don’t understand exactly how life works out up top. Even opening and closing doors is frustrating—they all have their own nuances to solve. It’s just little things like this that make delving into the up top more intense.


“Maybe we should get some dinner?” Tey asks, interrupting the peristalsis of my stomach and small intestines. The muscles have nothing to push and the grumbles are louder than usual.


At a small corner art café we fill ourselves with vegan Sarmale and discuss the day.

“What do you think those mounds dotted over the fields were from? Maybe from World War II?”, I inquire. Beyond the painted city, that many artists surely had sat and illustrated, I had seen structures that looked familiar. They were a little eerie.


“I must have missed them Whitney. Did you take a picture?”


As soon as she sees the image, I already know that Tey wants to check the field out. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head with amazed shock.


At seven the next morning we are wandering around on that field. In about 200 yards we will reach the first mound and I feel the same uncomfortable, but familiar feeling I had the night before. Eerie was the word in the left side of my brain. Another couple minutes and there are only fifty yards, but Tey starts running to the small brown hill. Mid-way to the top of the mound, she suddenly halts and then returns to the base of the mound. Crouching down, I can see that she found something on the ground. I hurry to her.


Lightly hidden in the grass is a flagstone that reads: Our City. Bunkers, I think. They are exactly what I wanted to escape. She stands tall and then hikes to the top of the mound. Before I have a chance to rise, I hear her shriek. Cautiously I rush to the top and find a four-foot diameter hole in the earth flanked with long, dead grass. Shining a light down into the darkness, I see Tey on a metal floor. I jump down looking around at the dirt walls, but there is nothing else in the space.


When I look at Tey, she is yet again staring at something, another flagstone, on the ground. When she notices me, she speaks in an undertone, “This place used to be a home. To the Cel Tradat. Isn’t that your family name?”


I simply cannot handle the tension that is coming over me. It’s not a 15 story “mantle scraper” like what I lived in—it’s literally a hole. My ancestors may have lived in a hole?! To reach a conclusion like this I am nonetheless subdued.


Like a two-cheerleader team, we use each other to climb out of the chamber. Sitting on the mound, I see Tey watching me, unsure of what to do.


“Tey, I think I have a lot of searching to do.” Even if my family’s past strikes a painful resonance to the mundane life I have lived, I still what to know more of who they were.


“I want to join you,” she answers. Being that I have no one else with me, I do not protest. All I know is that the days, weeks, or possibly months ahead are going to be the most illuminating or regretful in terms of personal discovery. I can only place a lousy bet that this is a path worth following.

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