Hailey said don’t let anyone in no matter what. There’s a reason we watch the hatch twenty-four seven and it’s because we don’t need any more problems. We have enough of those already and no, I don’t need to know what they are because if I did I would try and do something to help and we know how that goes. That’s why I watch the hatch. And so far I’ve been doing a good job. Not a single person has come through except Parker.
There haven’t been any new problems yet so I think it’s OK that I let him in. And anyways, everyone knows Parker. It was probably just an oversight that he was left behind. He said Hailey probably couldn’t find him because he was off on one of his secret adventures. Sure, he didn’t stay in the utility closet until I could figure out how to tell Hailey, but it’s really small in there and I’m sure he got uncomfortable. So he left. He left and he didn’t tell me because he knew how much it would make me worry. And I have been worrying.
Parker is probably just sneaking around like always. It might be months before anyone notices him. That’s how it was the last time he was gone on an adventure. He came back and it took forever before any of us knew it.
So, aside from Parker no one’s gotten in and I’m pretty sure he should have been here to begin with so really all I did was fix a mistake. Like I said, I’m doing a good job.
I can’t say the same about Alexis. She watches the hatch while I sleep. She’s never been good at anything including this. She just sits there clutching an old putt-putt golf club. Anytime she thinks there’s someone outside she yells, “Try it and I’ll whack you!” Then she swings at the hatch until she’s convinced she scared off whoever was on the other side. Ten times a day she thinks people are trying to get in. No one wants in. Not anymore, at least not now that Parker is here. Somewhere.
I wish I could just tell Alexis so she would lay off all the banging and yelling and I could get a good night’s sleep. Everyone else is too busy working on the water fountain to even notice. I told Hailey about it once. She said she wasn’t going to tell her to stop because no one was getting in so it seemed to be working. And what was I complaining about anyways? I should understand better than anyone how important it is not to let anyone in.
She’s right. We’re here because of what I saw. I was spending the night at Lindsey’s house. We were asleep in the family room when something outside woke me up. I went to the back door and saw her parents standing in the yard next to a hole. They were holding shovels and arguing about if it was deep enough. On the ground next to them was an old man dressed in a suit. I’d never seen a dead person in real life before, but I knew right away he was dead.
Her dad jumped in the hole and put his arms out like he had just proved a point. That’s when he saw me. He told Lindsey’s mom and she started for the door.
I put on my shoes and took off. I ran down the street to Jenny’s house. I went to the backyard to tap on Jenny’s window and her parents were digging a hole, too. Or had been. Jenny’s dad was wrestling a tarp around something shaped like a person. Her mom was on the phone. She looked up and said, “No, it’s OK. She’s here. I’ll talk to her.” She put the phone away and flagged me in for a hug. Jenny’s dad stood up, letting the tarp fall open enough for me to see what he was wrapping. It was a man. The same man in the same suit, but he looked younger. I ran another block to Tiffany’s house. Tiffany came to the door and let me in. I went through their house to the sliding glass doors. Her parents were just starting to dig. Propped up against the swing set was another body, this one a teenager wearing some kind of school uniform.
Tiffany opened the backdoor and said, “What’s going on?” Her mom told her dad to keep going. She would handle this.
Before her mom made it inside I was back on the street. I cut though yards and ran all the way home. I got the spare key out of the fake rock next to the porch and went upstairs. My parents weren’t there. I went back down and looked at the backyard. They were shoveling dirt into a hole that hadn’t been there when I left. It was a small hole. The size of a young child. Younger than me.
There was only one more place I could go and that was Hailey’s. She was a few years older than the rest of us and pretty much always up on account of not having a dad and her mom always being away for her flight attendant job.
The first thing Hailey did was make me a drink. She said it was probably going to be stronger than anything I’d had before, but she would make it so it tasted good. I calmed down and told her what I saw. She made a drink for herself and said we couldn’t pretend this didn’t happen. We had to do something.
What I wanted to do was dig up one of the bodies and go to the press. Hailey said that was out of the question. If we did that, we would somehow be guilty, too, because that’s the way the system worked. It had been set up that way a long time ago for someone and it wasn’t us.
We had to leave. That was the only option. I saw something I wasn’t supposed to and now all of us are in danger. Our parents will try to convince me I was wrong about what I saw. They’ll try to convince all of us. And they won’t give up. And once we believe that lie, we’ll believe anything else they want to tell us.
I asked her where we would go. She said we’re going to get the other kids and go to the Underwater City.
When we were babies our parents were convinced that the world was going to end all at once and they had to do something to protect us. They held meetings and pointed fingers and argued about how everyone was somehow failing everyone else because no one was coming up with any good ideas. It got so bad that hardly any of the grown-ups were speaking to each other any more. Even the moms and dads. Then an old man who lived alone heard about what was going on and he said he had the answer. We would be safe as long as we were under water, no matter when or how the end came.
They thought he was crazy until he showed them his blueprints. He made them after his sons died, and then he moved here because the lake is so close. Each family would have their own submerged housing pod connected by way of a tube system to a main building that would contain a city hall, food storage, dining hall, and common area. In the middle of all this there would be a water fountain spouting filtered, ready-to-drink water. The only way in or out would be through a pressure-proof hatch in the main building.
They had finished the main building and started work on the pods when the old man died. The best anyone can figure is that he slipped in the shower, was knocked unconscious and landed on the drain. His house flooded and no one found him until the next day. The parents took that as a bad sign. They called the whole thing off and the main building and unfinished pods were hauled away and dumped on the lake shore.
The dining hall has been converted into sleeping quarters. From the bubbled-out windows we can see our unfinished homes and imagine the lives we would have had if things were different and everything had ended.
Our parents knew they couldn’t get in, so they would come at night and hold candlelight vigils. Not like the ones on TV. They didn’t contact the press. There were no Samaritans from neighboring towns. It was just a smattering of locals rocking back and forth on the mucky shore in the dark, drinking coffee and making small talk. Every once in a while a few of them would organize and yell something like, “We love you.” Or, “You’ll never make it in there without us.”
But we are going to make it. They didn’t clean out the building before they moved it. There’s enough food in here to last us another eighteen months.
As time went on their numbers dwindled and after a few weeks, they stopped coming altogether.
The next night when I went to start my shift, Hailey and Alexis were waiting for me. Hailey was telling Alexis if anyone tries to get in to swing the club as hard as she could until she was sure they were gone.
Before I could ask what was going on Hailey said we needed to talk. I followed her to city hall where we have all of our important talks. Hailey sat up front at the long wooden desk like she always does. Behind her on the wall, hung the portrait of the old man, the man our parents were trying so hard to bury. I’d asked if we could take the picture down after we first got here and Hailey said no. He might be the reason we are here, but he’s also the only reason we had somewhere to go.
She put a sheet of notebook paper on the table between us and told me to read it.
My stomach sank. From the red marker around the border I knew it was a Problem Report.
Mercedes had seen an outsider. Not only had she seen an outsider but she knew who it was and she caught him creeping around her sleeping bag, going through her things.
Hailey wanted to know if I had an explanation.
I told her Parker said it was an accident he was locked out in the first place and he isn’t upset about it. And sure, sometimes he acts a little strange but that’s just how he is. He’s harmless.
She said, “It wasn’t an accident and he is not harmless.”
Hailey told me about the bad thing Parker did and that’s why he went away the first time. It wasn’t on a secret adventure. It was a detention center for juvenile perverts. And we didn’t see him when he came back because no one wanted to see him and he knew it. His parents knew it, too. And they were right. And if I had run to their house in the middle of the night I would have seen them sitting inside watching TV. Not out in the yard, waist deep in a hole trying to bury their fears and failures. They weren’t trying to protect anyone.
We broke into teams and did a sweep of the building. When everyone came back empty-handed, I thought maybe I’d be off the hook. But no one felt better. There was no way out except the hatch. Parker was either still here or he found a way out we didn’t know about and that meant he could come and go whenever he wanted.
Hailey decided she would have to go out and find him to make sure he was gone. If she didn’t find him then she would get Big Rick. Big Rick is the only person Parker listens to. I don’t know if it’s because of his size or because Big Rick has done even worse things than Parker. The problem is that Big Rick also happens to be in love with Hailey. Or at least what Hailey said Big Rick’s version of love was which wasn’t very good on account of a bunch of things I wouldn’t understand yet.
Hailey said she’d be gone for two days, three at the most. If she came back and she hadn’t found Parker or she didn’t have Big Rick with her, to not let her back in. She could take care of herself, but it was still dangerous and I had to be ready to make that decision.
Hailey had tried to explain what was going on the night I slept over at Lindsey’s. She said that after our parents abandoned the Underwater City, they were haunted by the old man. And when someone haunts you; you aren’t just haunted by who they were when they died. You’re haunted by their whole life. That was the hardest part. Our parents had to keep burying him over and over until his whole life was underground.
It was the same way with Hailey’s dad even though he wasn’t dead. Sometimes he would show up at the door and he wouldn’t be like she remembered him. He would be younger or older. Sometimes he looked like other people altogether. Sometimes he looked like Parker.
After three days, Hailey still wasn’t back. And she wasn’t back after four or five days. The other girls started coming to me about issues with the plumbing and I found out we were running low on food due to an error calculating our daily rations. And there were more problems. Many more. Little things were falling apart all over the place. Things that no one had been working on. For some reason Hailey had everyone working on the water fountain.
I made a list and assigned tasks. The water fountain could wait.
Hailey showed up a week later. She was on the shore waving her arms. Word she was back spread like wildfire and everyone was rushing me to look and confirm it was her, and it was, but there was something different about her. She was wearing new clothes, things she didn’t have before we came here. And she’d gotten a haircut and added highlights, curled it under at the ends and used some kind of treatment to make it shiny. She looked like she should be on a TV show. A nighttime TV show. With bad lighting.
I gave her a nod and made my way to the hatch with everyone following behind me. I told them to remember that she had been out there for longer than we expected. We had to make sure everything was OK before we let her back in.
I yelled for Hailey to get back and opened the hatch.
She said she didn’t find Parker or Big Rick but she talked to our parents and they explained everything. They said they underestimated us and we should come out so we can all talk. She said they were just trying to protect us and things would be different from now on. And if we aren’t going to come out then we should at least let her in so we could hear her out.
The other girls looked at me, hoping she was right.
I wanted her to be right, too. I wanted to let her in and I wanted to go back out, but we couldn’t do either of those things. I looked back at the girls, shook my head and told Alexis to shut the hatch.
Hailey ran up and tried to force her way in. It took three of us to keep it shut and get the wheel turned and locked.
We could still hear the muffled sound of pounding fists and yelling. Hailey didn’t sound like she wanted us to listen. She sounded like she was angry. She sounded like she knew exactly what she had done and we all heard it.
Everyone backed away. Alexis stood up, squeezed the putt-putt club in her fists, swung it against the hatch and yelled, “Try it again and I’ll whack you!” She hit the hatch over and over until it sounded like a bell ringing out a strange, new hour.
One by one the girls went back to their assigned tasks and tried to pretend this didn’t change everything.
Alexis stopped swinging and I heard a voice outside say, “Come on, Hailstorm. Let’s go. It’s not working.” There was only one person who ever called her Hailstorm and that was Big Rick.
Before I fell asleep, I thought about Parker. He’s still in here somewhere. Once we find him, I know he won’t leave on his own. There’s only one way to solve this problem for good. We’ll bury him on the shore and then we’ll have to move again. To where, I don’t yet know. There aren’t any other underwater cities waiting for us. But once we get there, I won’t make the same mistakes Hailey did and we won’t let anyone in.