Introducing our final New Voices story of 2019: “The Basement Beneath the Basement” by Dale Gregory Anderson. Beneath the basement lies a fallout shelter, with a bottomless well. In this flash, the two young boys our story follows find the basement beneath their basement offers something a little more than safety from a nuclear fallout.
Finn never cried when he was getting it. He looked me straight in the eyes and didn’t make a sound, and in that way he was stronger. But watching Father hurt him unleashed something wicked inside me.
We lived then on the Mesabi Range in northern Minnesota, in a house with two basements. Finn said the sub-basement was a fallout shelter for a nuclear war that could happen at any time.
“If they bomb us,” he said, “we’ll bomb them right back.” He called it mortally ushered destruction.
Our town, Hibbing, was sure to get hit because it was home to the world’s largest open-pit iron mine.
“Iron makes steel,” Finn said. “Steel makes bombs.”
“And Ferris wheels,” I said.
A stout lady from Minneapolis who claimed to be our aunt said the shelter would make a nice wine cellar, but she only stayed with us once and didn’t seem to know Father never drank alcohol, except for the shallow chalice of communion wine he swallowed the first Sunday of each month.
“If she’s our aunt,” Finn said, “how come we never seen her before?”
She said we were too skinny and made a big pot of spaghetti with pepperoni that fed us for days after she was gone.
The door to the shelter was in the basement, under the stairs—solid, with five horizontal sunken panels, the white paint flaking away to bare wood. Father warned us never to go down there—it was off-limits—but Finn said the symbol on the door meant safety: a black circle set against a yellow background, with three yellow triangles pointing down. When he turned the tarnished copper knob, the door swung open, hinges creaking, onto a small landing. The light switch flipped on with a heavy click. Together, we descended the steep, rickety staircase, painted scarlet and lined with rubber slip- resistant treads so old they’d all but crumbled to dust. Finn had to duck because he was as tall as Father now, but a hundred pounds lighter, and with a backside so bruised he could barely sit down.