She woke up to the sight of gray walls, the same gray she saw every morning. She never could get anything to stick to it, no matter how hard she tried; not that it stopped her. On the floor lay several paper turkeys and cornucopias, clumsily cut from notebook paper, which she’d taped up the night before, wanting to make the place appropriately festive for the day ahead. It didn’t surprise her to see her work on the floor, but it did disappoint her a bit.
No matter - she rolled off the cot sleepily, padding over and picking a piece of paper up, sticking it back up at eye level. As she finished, she realized what the very fact of being able to notice that right off meant, which brought a smile to her face, and she quickly flounced over to the kitchen area.
“Mornin’, mama,” she smiled. “Daddy’s got the generator running!”
“It’s a big day,” her mother reminded her, kissing her forehead and pulling her into an embrace, patting her bottom. “Nice and dry, huh?”
The girl had learned not to blush, though it had been difficult at first. You could get used to most anything eventually.
“Why don’t you go wake up your lazy brother?” suggested the girl’s mother, waving off towards the beds, smiling as she watched her little girl obediently run off, back the few steps to her bed, and up the ladder to the bunk above.
“Come on, get up!” she told him, bouncing lightly beside him.
“Don’t fall off and break your neck,” her mother reminded her, before going back to removing the top from the can of corn wistfully. If she had to choose just one thing the holiday made her miss, it would be mashed potatoes. Corn was all well and good, sure, but it was no substitute.
“Go away, you little freak,” groaned her brother, rolling over into the wall, holding his pillow over his ear to block out her out of tune chorus, an improvisational song about the importance of waking up.
“Don’t call your sister a freak!”, called their mother. “All right, sweetie, I think he’s had enough. Why don’t you get dressed?”
The girl nodded, half-pouncing her brother one last time before hurrying back down the ladder, kneeling down under her bed to pull out her suitcase, old and battered, but big enough that she’d managed to stuff a reasonable amount of stuff in on short notice. She slipped out of her nightshirt, not even thinking about whether her mother or brother were paying attention, and pulled on a light green blouse in exchange, followed with a denim skirt that threatened to slide back down over her diaper until she wound her belt through the loops and cinched it.
“Where’s daddy?” she asked as she worked at it.
“He’s up getting us some pork. Won’t that be nice?” Back before, they had lived right down the road from a pig farm… The girl had never been interested in visiting, though now it sounded like a veritable theme park. Some of the pigs had wandered into the main part of the house, and her daddy and brother had built a little shelter - a trap, really - for them up there, in what of the house had remained standing. For a long time, they’d been scared to try to eat them, but after a while, their desperation for anything fresh had outweighed their worries, and they’d given it a try. As of yet, none of them had died from it, though they still only had it once in a great while.
Sometimes, even through the several feet of earth that separated them, she could hear the pigs squealing above her. As long as it wasn’t in the middle of the night, it amused her, thinking of them running around in her home, while she was stuck down in this hole. She always imagined them in aprons and gloves, or top hats - they were apparently rather sexist, though it really was a handy way to figure out their gender at a glance. She was sure they were very nice pigs; sometimes, their squealing almost sounded human. The first few times, she was sure that’s what it was, waking up her daddy to get him to go out, bring in whoever it was, just so she’d have someone new to talk to for a bit, or at least so she knew there were still people around, other than her family. She knew now that there -were- other people, though for the most part, they didn’t seem the kind she wanted to invite in.
Of course, when she thought of the house, she thought of it like it used to be. She knew it was nothing like that anymore, but she hadn’t seen the damage for herself, so, despite having been trapped down in the shelter for however long it had been, it didn’t quite seem real to her. She preferred to think of it as it had been, even if the pigs were the only ones who got to enjoy it. It had been a nice old house, though it had taken her awhile to let herself admit that. They’d moved there while she was in the middle of sixth grade, pulling her away from all her friends, everything she’d grown up knowing.
The shelter had been something of a bonus. None of them had expected to need it, so they hadn’t paid much mind to it. At first, the girl had thought that she could use it as her own little hideaway, to get away when her big brother was being annoying, and her parents just didn’t care. Her mama hadn’t liked the idea - said she didn’t want her climbing up and down the big ladder, so the girl had only ever done it once, and got a spanking for it. After that, she’d mostly forgotten about it, except when her parents were trying to decide where to store the Christmas decorations every year, and it came up. Of course, they never used it for that, because of the ladder, nor did they use it to store anything else, or check to see what all was down there already.
And now, everything that hadn’t been down there was gone. It didn’t feel like it to the girl, but in the back of her head, she knew it was so. It had all happened so fast… That last day, she’d barely had time to get some clothes together, between the screaming of the sirens and the time her daddy came, practically dragging her and her suitcase out of the room, down to the basement. That had been the second time she’d climbed down the ladder; she had yet to climb back up. Some days, she wondered if she ever would.
“Mornin’, squirt,” her brother ruffled her hair with a grin, suddenly out of bed and beside her, getting out his own suitcase. “What’s got you so deep in thought?”
The girl shrugged. “Just thinking…” she mumbled.
“She’s probably wet,” their mother suggested.
The girl did blush a bit at that, or perhaps her brother flipping up her skirt and gently feeling her diaper. It was hard to tell which, exactly, since they both happened so close to one another.
“Nah, she’s fine,” he reported, before grabbing out a pair of jeans. While she might have a hard time remembering - and lucky her for that, he thought, since you couldn’t miss something you didn’t remember - there had been a time she’d actually filled out those clothes, and those diapers would hardly have fit. She had been thin then, sure, but in a way that he knew the other boys at their school found attractive, as much as it irked him. He’d had to chase a few of them off her scent, but he was always worried that he’d missed a few. He still worried about her, but for different reasons. She’d get that lonely look in her eyes every once in a while, and he was always scared she’d try to sneak out one day, scared of what she’d see if she ever got outside.
“Your daddy could probably use some help,” her mother told her brother. That got him moving a little more quickly.
“What about me?” asked the girl. “I could help, too, y’know.”
“Why don’t you stay and help me?” her mother replied. “You could go get the place-mats out of the storage room.”
It wasn’t a particularly thrilling assignment, but it was about all she’d expected, so she nodded, shuffling off towards the only other room in the shelter, only to stop at the faint, but unmistakable, sound of a gunshot aboveground. All three of them froze for a moment, their eyes drifting upwards, as if they could see through layers of steel and dirt. The girl thought she heard some kind of growling, low and sinister, in her very bones.
“Hurry,” her mother said quietly.
Her brother nodded, pulling on his boots as he half hopped, half ran to the ladder. She watched for a few moments as he climbed, each rung clanging beneath his feet, echoing through the room, until he was up, beyond her line of sight. But still the sound of his ascent came, fainter and fainter, until at last it stopped. There was a moment or two of silence at the top, while he got into his outer clothes, then the screech of the door, accompanied by the howl of the wind, growing ever louder as the door slowly opened.
Then it began to fade again, more quickly. She could hear the growls more clearly now, mixed with screams, almost human, yet not quite. There were more gunshots, and her daddy yelling something, and then it went quiet.
“Go fetch the place-mats.” Her mother’s voice was nearly silent, and tinged with the fear she thought she was hiding. The girl heard her, but that didn’t make her move from her spot, staring wide-eyed at the ladder that had taken her father and her brother from her. “Go get the place-mats!”
Her mother sighed immediately upon her exclamation, hurrying over to her youngest child and giving her a hug. “Just go,” she said.
The girl nodded slowly, jumping at the sound of another shot. She told herself it would be okay, that they’d come back to her, just like they always did. But one of these days, that wouldn’t be true… But surely not today - it was Thanksgiving!
The storage room was a much bigger room, one that seemed to stretch on forever, at least compared to the main room, with thick metal poles running down the center, every few feet. At first, the girl had wished it had been the main room, but then they wouldn’t have had so much food, and everything else. Whoever had built the shelter, and stocked it, was in it for the long haul, apparently, and despite their lengthy stay, there was still plenty of food left, even if it was just more of the same. The original owners had apparently also had a baby, one they expected to still be quite young when whatever catastrophe they’d built the shelter for occurred, as there were plenty of diapers as well.
The first few days had felt like a long dream - she’d never in a million years expected any of it to really happen, and the surreality of being trapped in the shelter with her family, which just so happened to be stocked with the thing she secretly desired, was too much for her brain to handle. It wasn’t until her parents asked her what she was doing wearing a diaper that she woke up. Of course, if she’d been thinking clearly, she would have realized that trying to keep that a secret like that in such tight quarters was a ridiculously difficult prospect.
Back then, the diapers had been a tight fit, with just enough room for her to squeeze in. She’d felt like such an idiot, standing there, her whole family staring at her. But perhaps living in such tight quarters, with no immediate hope of rescue, had made them all a little more tolerant. Or maybe her fears all along, ever since she’d felt that first strange desire, were baseless. Before long, it seemed as if they were even happy about it, having no problem with changing her from time to time, or, as the days and weeks went by, all the time. It felt like growing down to her, and she wasn’t sure it was quite what she wanted…
But it was what her family had seemed to need. She supposed it reminded them of better times, back before everything had ended. Though she wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone before, back when they’d first moved into the house, she’d wet the bed for a few months. As humiliating as having to wear them had been, that had been what awoke the desire in her. And, at least in her theory, that was what her family was re-living. It was almost as if they’d fallen into a new routine, taking care of their new baby. It was just what they needed, the girl had realized. So she continued to play her part.
Finally, she found the box, marked in neat hand-writing that belonged to nobody she knew, “Place Mats”. There were five in there for just about every holiday the girl could think of. When they’d first found the box, the girl had thought it was silly, a waste of space, but now she could understand it a little better. They couldn’t do a lot by way of decoration, so every little bit counted; even after the end of the world, you still had to be able to celebrate -something-. Otherwise, what was there to look forward to?
Her mother was still alone back in the main room when the girl came out, setting the place-mats down on the counter, until they folded the table and benches out from the wall. Her mother half-heartedly smiled at her, the best she could muster, and the girl pretended not to notice that she’d gotten the revolver out of its hiding place with the pots and pans and set it on the shelf above the stovetop.
The girl looked back at the ladder, her feet slowly carrying her over to it, despite knowing she could get in trouble for it. She didn’t hear anything now, but whether that was a good thing or a bad thing was hard to tell. For a long time, she stared up the ladder as far as she could see, just waiting.
That was the hardest part of her life nowadays - waiting. And yet, it seemed to be the thing she did the most. There wasn’t much else to do down there.
At last, the door above began to swing open, the sound of the wind starting to fill the shelter. She held her breath and crossed her fingers, and waited.
Behind her, a paper turkey fluttered to the floor.