Under the visible streets of any big metropolitan area there are two hidden networks of tunnels – a subway system that connects the center of the city with all the outlying suburbs, and a storm drain system that carries rainwater from the entire area to the river or ocean or lake where it is discharged. Under some circumstances these tunnels are used for living quarters. The tunnel systems built by humans have an advantage over the tunnels built by mice, prairie dogs or other rodents. No snakes, weasels or other predatory creatures regularly invade storm drains or subway tunnels. But they are fraught with other perils. Storm drains are less than optimal places to be during storms, and it’s possible to get killed by high-voltage electricity in subway tunnels. And they are occasionally visited by human predators.

For the most part these networks are independent, but as they crisscross the metropolitan area in their characteristic patterns, they often come close to each other, and in some places one can move from one system to the other. These are known by the mole people who occupy these tunnels as “contact points.” Knowing where these contact point are is important to the moles because, during dry spells, the storm drains can provide people with desirable real-estate, where they can establish summer homes. But if they are going to use the spacious storm drains in this way they must keep track of the weather and provide themselves with an escape rout.

It should be understood that storm drains and sewers are, in most modern cities, separate networks because storm drain run-off would overwhelm the water treatment facilities if the two systems of waste disposal were combined. This is true even where both systems use the same tunnels. Sewage pipes keep the sewage out of the storm drains.

The subway tunnels and, to a lesser extent, the storm drains, have provided desirable living options for the homeless. At times the authorities have turned a blind eye on the people who are using these tunnels as places to live. During harsher times they chase them out without providing an alternative. Since the global economic collapse, however, there have been a lot more poor and homeless people, and the authorities have become less particular about how they behave. There are simply too many of them to monitor or to put in prison.

Rumors of War

A man and a boy were negotiating the maize of tunnels with confidence. They knew where they were going. The man was thin but muscular and his blond full beard was neatly trimmed. He wore blue jeans, a striped t-shirt and a plaid flannel shirt. He was thirty five years old.

The boy was thirteen. He wore a dress, a burgundy wide-rimmed Kentucky Derby hat with a big red flower on it, and a flowered sweat shirt. His features were somewhat delicate, so to the casual observer his disguise was convincing. He looked like a small woman. A scar began at the bridge of his nose directly between his eyes and ran down the left side of this nose to his lips.

The morning was chilly.

“I don’t see anything about a war,” he said as he glanced through the newspaper he carried. “Or about me,” he added. He folded up the newspaper and stuck it under his arm. “I wish I didn’t have this stupid scar. It makes me easy to identify.”

But they aren’t posting your picture,” the man said. “The only mention of your disappearance was on one of the back pages the day before yesterday. And that article said they thought you drowned in the river.”

The boy laughed. “Wasn’t it cool the way I set it up? All I had to do is leave a bunch of clothes at the edge of the river. I chose the Park River ‘cause it’s the only one in this area clean enough for any one swim in.”

“Yeah. That was cool,” said the man.

“I thought it was,” Eric said.

For a while they walked in silence. Then Eric looked up at the man. “What’s it going to be like if we have a war, Theo?” he asked.

“It won’t be good,” Theo said.

“Will we die?”

Theo let loose of Eric’s hand and used both his hands to rearrange the backpack he was carrying. He had more cans and heavy groceries than usual, and they were digging into his back. “It won’t be good,” he repeated.

Theo pulled Eric closer to him and put his arm around his shoulders. “We found some good groceries tonight,” he said. “That Kroger dumpster was great. Is your backpack getting too heavy?”

“It’s OK,” Eric said. “You mostly just put bread and light things in it.” He slipped his hand back into Theo’s hand, which was resting on his shoulder, and they continued through the tunnel.

Theo recalled how Eric had come to him and Maggie. He and Maggie had set up joint housekeeping at a contact point between the storm drains and the subway tunnels. The “living room” was in the storm drain. It was quieter there. The clatter of the trains was not so loud there. Whenever bad weather threatened, however, they could retreat to their “bedrooms,” which were in the subway tunnels, by climbing up a short ladder and pushing open a small door that was hinged from above. The door was not easily visible from either side.

One day Theo and Maggie had been eating supper in their “living room” when Eric showed up out of nowhere. “I’m hungry,” he said without even introducing himself.

“Well, then, you’ll have to join us for supper,” Maggie had said. “Pull that box over there up to the table and sit down.” Eric did as she instructed

“Theo, get the boy a plate.” She turned to Eric. “We’re having fish and a spinach patty” she said. “Except for fish, we’re vegetarians. “What’s your name?


Without much discussion Eric, joined Theo and Maggie. He started going with Theo to collect food each night, which Maggie prepared. “That’s how hunting and gathering people would do it,” Maggie said. “The men collect the food and the women cook it.”

After Eric had been with them a few days Theo asked him how he happened to be wandering around in the tunnels.

“I was running away, and didn’t take much food with me,” he said.

“And why were you running away, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I don’t mind. My mother hated me. That’s all.”

“And your father?”

“Never knew who my father was. Don’t think Mom did either.”

“I see.” Theo was silent for a moment. Then he said “And one more thing if you don’t mind. . .”

“I don’t mind.”

“Where did that scar come from?”

“One of the gang members at my school cut me.”

“How did that happen?”

“Well, it was like this. There was a little gang at my school that was taking the lunch money from smaller kids. They threatened them with a knife. I ratted them out. The principal, like an idiot, let it slip where he got the information. Namely, from me.

“So they found me one day after school, and after pushing me around, the gang boss slashed my face with his knife. Said he would do worse if I told on them again.”

“What would be worse?”

“He said he would cut off my balls.”

“And you believed him?”

“I believed him.”

“Sounds like things were bad both at school and at home,” Theo observed.

“You got it. That’s why I ran away.”

“If they find you with Maggie and me, we’ll be in trouble. They will call it kidnapping.”

There was a long silence. Finally Eric said, “if they find me with you, I’ll tell them you were just going to turn me in.”

“It’s OK. You can stay with us as long as you need to. We’ll take that chance.”

“I won’t cause no trouble. And I can help you look for food.”

“If you go dumpster picking people will see you’re a kid. They might turn you in.”

“I’ll wear a dress. In the dark they’ll think I am a woman.

“That’s a deal,” Theo said, and he gave Eric a hug to make it official.

Eric slept in Theo’s bedroom area. They found him some foam rubber to use as a bed. Maggie preferred to sleep alone. She said she had bad memories of sleeping in the same bedroom with other people. But she was glad to have Eric join them. “We’re a family now,” she said.


“The hunters return,” Maggie said as she saw Theo and Eric returning from their journey to gather food.”

“We killed many mastodons, “Theo said.

“Yeah, and some Saber-toothed tigers” Eric added.

“Ah, those pesky saber-toothed tigers,” Maggie said.

“For real, we found some excellent eggs this time,” Theo said. “Three dozen where only one or two eggs are broken.”

“Did you get a newspaper.”

“We did,” Eric said, holding up the paper he was carrying.

“What’s the war news?” Maggie asked. “Are we going to have one or not?”

“The newspaper didn’t have anything new,” Theo said. “What about the radio?”

“Nothing new there either,” Maggie said. “It’s very tense, but you already know that.”

She went over to the propane stove that she used for most of her cooking. “Let’s eat breakfast before it gets cold.” she said, dishing them out some hot cereal.


Theo had come down into the tunnels alone, and had settled into a niche not far from Maggie. He was attracted to her from the first time he saw her. She was an Afro-American of about his age. She was heavy set, but not really fat. She didn’t talk much. What appealed to Theo was that she always seemed self-contained.

She held him at a distance at first. Theo went by her area almost every day but didn’t push himself on her. He followed the advice of the fox in The Little Prince – about the need to tame potential friends gradually. At the end of one month he nodded and smiled at her as he walked by. By the end of two months he was making one syllable grunts that passed for friendly greetings.

One day after about three months a second chair appeared in her living area. She invited him to sit down if he was tired. He did so, but did not stay too long the first few times he visited. But after they both decided they were safe with the other one, they began talking – at first a little and then a lot, and Theo learned why she had come to live in the tunnels.

“I studied philosophy at a small liberal-arts school,” she explained one day. “And I got a B.A. degree. But I didn’t know nearly enough philosophy to teach it. All I could to with a B.A. in philosophy is think about profound things. I liked doing that, but nobody wanted to pay me for it. There’s not much of a market for profound thoughts. Finally I was able to get a job driving a cab. I landed that job more despite my degree in philosophy than because of it. I studied the layout of the city and convinced the taxi-cab boss that I could drive. And he thought I might give him a little sex on the side. After all, I was a woman and a Black. I mean, you know how Blacks are. They’re good at basketball and sex. When he found out that I wasn’t going to put out, he cooled off. He didn’t fire me but he saw to it that the dispatcher didn’t give me the lucrative jobs. Mostly I drove women to their grocery stores. These were short trips and the women never tipped me more than a dime.

“One day I got what looked like a better job. It was a nice long trip from the suburbs to the airport. People who took airplanes to places had money – and they usually tipped well. But as it turned out, he pulled a gun on me and took all the money I had. Then he ordered me to go to an obscure place in the woods. Instead I drove up in front of a police station and I said, “You can kill me if you want but you’re not going to rape me.”

“He decided not to kill me, and left with my money.

“After that I bought a gun. But one day I pulled the gun out of my purse and stared at it. I asked myself, “Am I actually going to kill somebody?”

“I knew some kids when I was in grade-school who would have grown up without being able to get a decent job. They might have bought guns and robbed cab drivers. Was I going to kill them? I had no appetite for it. In fact, as I reflected on it, I realized that I had no appetite for life as it is lived on this earth. So I decided to withdraw from the world.

“Schopenhauer was my favorite philosopher,” she continued. “In his philosophy the ‘will’ was central. He believed that all sentient beings will the impossible – which is to remain alive forever. This will-to-live brings us all into conflict with others just as it does for ants, or birds or squirrels or wolves. It brings us into conflict with other people, but also with all other beings.

“We are all hard-wired to exploit other living things for our own benefit. In some cases we even kill and eat our fellow inhabitants of the earth, such as cows and pigs. And there are beings out there that would do that to us if they got a chance. It is important to realize that this struggle for existence is a struggle against others. So its a ‘dog eat dog world,’ as the saying goes.”

“In the human sphere this brutal struggle is covered over with dishonesty. We convince ourselves that we are motivated by compassion for all living beings. But in reality we are always trying to claw our way to the apex of some hierarchy at the expense of others. And this leads to a life that is suffering. Just like the Buddha said. He was convinced by old age, sickness and death that life is suffering. Little has changed since the Buddha’s day. We might add war and exploitation to his list and that would give us an even more powerful argument. Life is, indeed, suffering.

“In any case, that was my experience of life. I wanted to escape from that.”

“I see,” Theo said. “So what is the solution?”

“There is no solution,” she said. “Schopenhauer recommended suicide. I didn’t like that. So I decided to simply base my life on the law of love. Not because it was reflected in the universe. As far as I could see, it wasn’t. At least not in any basic way. But I was going to do that just because that’s what I wanted to do. I would withdraw from the world, and within the tiny little sphere in which I then lived, I would try to establish the law of love. I was going to be a little mini-Jesus.”

“So how did you get set up as a mole person?” Theo asked. “I didn’t find it an easy thing to do.”
“One day I stopped to talk with a man who collected cans,” Maggie explained. “And I asked him how he survived. He taught me two occupations – collecting cans and raiding dumpsters. He also showed me where the food cupboards were to tide me over in an emergency.”

My can-collecting friend was a mole-person. He lived in the tunnels. I helped him collect cans and food in exchange for his teaching me the ropes of living as a mole-person. I didn’t want to do any sex with him and he didn’t push himself on me. We’re still friends, but I set up housekeeping in a separate place.”


Maggie kept a distance from most people, but she liked Theo – who shared with her an interest in philosophy. So they became a couple, in a platonic sort of way, and when Eric showed up, they became a family.

Theo thought a lot about Maggie’s explanation of why she ended up as a mole-person, and a couple of days later he re-ignited the conversation. “There is truth in what you say about suffering,” he said. “But I think you overstate the case. As we discussed before, we have both known what are called “unitive” or “”mystical experiences” – especially in our adolescence. And the glow of these experiences continues to illuminate our lives. We now know reality not as flashes of wonderment, as we did when we were kids, , but as a constant sense of the holy – more intense experiences which are triggered by all sorts of things. In addition to these experiences we see examples of creatures showing concern for other creatures – not only for their own kin and offspring, but even for other species. I remember a video I saw of a hippopotamus coming to the aid of a juvenile antelope that was being dragged into the river by a crocodile. Also we see incredible beauty in nature: the symmetry of a spider’s web or the plumage of birds. And at night, who is oblivious to the wonder of a starry sky?

“Life is by no means only suffering. We see beauty and altruism and wonder all around us. Not to mention simple bodily pleasures.”

“True,” Maggie conceded. But even if that hippo saved the antelope, the crocodiles are still infesting the waters, waiting for their next victim. One way or another death and suffering always have the final word.”

The were silent for a while while they weighed the merits of each other’s arguments.

Finally Maggie put her hand on his. (They were sitting close together). “I am reminded of two images that I ran into in William James Varieties of Religious Experience,” she said. Both stories are far-fetched – but they serve as good pictures of what he is saying. (I don’t recall where he found these images.) The first one is simple. He compares our lives to the life of ants on a beach that consists of a mixture of sand and sugar. The ant tries to eat it all, a grain at a time. Sometimes sugar and sometime sand.

“The other image is even more far-fetched, but it is also more to the point. We are like a person who has fallen off a cliff, James says. But we have grabbed a small tree that is rooted in a crack in the face of the cliff. For the moment we are able to stop our fall by clinging to this young sapling. But when we look up we see that a termite is eating away at the base of the tree. It goes around and around the tree, chewing off some the the wood with each trip. Before long the tree will give way. But then the man sees a drop of honey on one of the leaves on the tree—and he strains to reach it with his tongue.”

Theo smiled. “That is pretty far-fetched,” he said.

“It is,” she agreed. “But it makes the point. It describes our condition. These positive things in our lives are drops of honey that we lap up as best we can before the final fall.”

“Yes,” Theo admitted. “It makes the point.”


Eric and Theo were in the habit of sleeping next to each other in a section of the tunnel they called their “bedroom.” The obscure corner where they shat and peed was close by (but not too close) so it was convenient when either had to get up at night to relieve himself. Eric didn’t like to get too far away from Theo at night. They slept on two foam rubber mattresses Theo had found in a dumpster. They kept the mattresses close to each other and Theo would give Eric a back-scratch each night to help him relax and go to sleep.

One evening while Eric was getting his “scritch” as they called it, he said, “So how come you’re down here, Theo?”

“Down here?”

“In the tunnels.”

“Oh. That. Well, it seemed like a good place.”

“No. I mean how come you’re not up there living like normal people?”

A pause ensued.

“You don’t have to say,” Eric said.

“I don’t mind. Not really.” The tension in his voice said that he was not comfortable with this conversation. But he continued. “I was in prison for five years. And after that it was kind of hard to set myself up as a normal person living a normal life.”

“What were you in prison for?” There was a touch of anxiety in Eric’s voice.

“Well, you see it was for doing something like what I’m doing now.”

“What’s that?”

“I gave a couple of boys back-scratches.”

“That’s all?”

“I included their butts. And in one case I even played with his dick.”

“Oh.” Another pause ensued. Eric was thinking things over. Finally he said, “Still, it was just back-scratches.”

“The butt and the dick are not-all-right places,” Theo pointed out.

“I guess.” Eric paused again. “I wondered why you didn’t scritch my butt with the rest of me.”

“That’s the reason.”

After another pause for thought – longer than any of the previous ones – Eric said, “I don’t have no not-all-right places.” He laughed. “And I wouldn’t tell,” he added.

Later on Eric told Theo that he had a boyfriend once, and that they “did stuff.”

From that time on Eric’s butt was included in the scritch.

Another night Eric asked Theo what it was like in prison.

“Pretty awful.”

“Did they beat you up a lot?”

“I got hit and pushed around a couple of times – not often, but they called me names all the time. I was excluded from their games and they ridiculed me. And when I got out, there were other problems. I can’t live where I want, its hard to get a job, and I must always let the cops know where I live.”

“Do you?”

“Do I what?

“Tell them where you are.”

“No. I ran away, like you did. They wouldn’t have let me live with you.”

“It’s none of their business.”

“That’s the way I feel about it.”

They talked with each other every night before going to sleep. It was a time of happiness for both of them. When Theo was first caught by the police he had believed that happiness would never be possible for him again. But now that he was outside of society, it turned out that some real happiness had caught him by surprise. Of course he realized that if he were discovered this happiness would come to a screeching halt.

Theo recalled reading about a woman who had a massive aneurysm break in her head, incapacitating the whole left side of her brain. Surprisingly, this was followed by a period of intense happiness. It had a similar effect as achieving Samadhi. It would seem, Theo concluded, that we are made unhappy by our societies and by our brains. Our capacity for unhappiness was developed through a long process of evolution. A simpler creature – a mouse for example, appeared to be very happy as it went about its daily business right up the the moment of being nailed by an owl, and there was some evidence that animals that are captured by large predators faint and experience the horror of it less than one might imagine. But all that was just idle speculation. He felt he had told enough to Eric. He thought he might tell Maggie about his summery of happiness. Then the three of them could discuss it in more detail. For now he felt the need to sum it up.

“I’m happy here with you,” he said to Eric. “I will continue to be happy so long as they don’t catch me and put me back in prison.”

“Same with me,” Eric said. “They might put me in kiddie prison. They’ll call it a “hospital” and say it’s good for me. They did that before when I got in trouble.”

Theo scooted over so that he could be touching Eric while they slept, and they fell into a contented silence.


The dump pickings had been good. Theo and Eric were in high spirits. They ate the supper Maggie had fixed and Eric said he was tired and was going to bed.

“I’ll be up in a few minutes,” Theo said.

“Don’t be too long,” Eric said. He climbed the short ladder to the bedroom area.

Theo had noticed that Maggie had hardly said a word since he and Eric returned from their food gathering expedition.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

She shook her head. “It’s happening,” she said.

“What is?”

“War. The big one.”

“Is it certain?”

“I don’t mean that it’s going to happen. It’s already happening.”


“A bomb is expected to hit our city before the day is over.”

“Should we leave?”

“There’s no place to go, Theo. Even if we managed to get to some obscure place and survive a few days, the nuclear winter would get us. The northern hemisphere will no longer sustain human life. Maybe some people in Africa or S. America will survive to preserve the human race. Maybe not. The people I listened to on the radio are unsure about that. But they said that in our territory the majority of people will die quickly and only a minority will last for a month or so, not including people in fall-out shelters.”

“Some big cities avoided the first strike. They are expecting them to be hit during the second wave.”

“When will that be? Later today. Or maybe tomorrow. They don’t know.”

“We might survive down here.”

Maggie shook her head. “Probably not. But even if they miss our city entirely we won’t survive the fallout. Radiation sickness will probably kill us. Of if we survive that we’ll get cancer or freeze to death or die of starvation. Nobody’s going to be able to grow and transport food during a nuclear winter.”

“So it would seem.”


Eric waited for Theo to come up to bed. He didn’t like being in the train-tunnel by himself. Rough looking types were roaming around in those tunnels and he was afraid of them. He peeked into the main part of the tunnel and could see that there were a more people there than usual. Their “bedroom” could easily be found. Finally he got up and returned to their main living area. There he found Theo and Maggie. The were just sitting and staring at each other.

“You were coming up, Theo” he said.


When Theo didn’t offer any explanation as to why he hadn’t come up, Eric came over to where he and Maggie were sitting and stood next to them. “What’s wrong,” he asked.

Theo shook his head. “It looks like the war has begun,” he said.

Eric stood there without moving for some time, letting this sink in.

Finally he said, “So are we going to die?”

Theo motioned him to come over to him. When Eric did, Theo gathered him in his lap. “Maybe not immediately,” he said. “They seem to have missed us.”

“So we will live?”

“Well, they may hit us later. And there is the radiation and the nuclear winter to deal with. It doesn’t look good.”

Maggie had always been the leader of the Maggie/Theo/Eric family, though it was hard to see how this leadership was exercised. But it seemed that whatever she willed, however quietly, would become the law of this little group. But now she was visibly taking charge. Theo and Eric had no ideas regarding how to cope with a nuclear war, so they accepted her direction.

Two days after the announcement of the beginning of the war she moved her mattress in with theirs, so that Eric was between the two adults. Until then she had preferred a modicum of privacy and distance.

“Here’s a book for tonight,” she said. It was The Little Prince. When they settled down for the night she read it to them by candle-light.

A hush came over the little group as she read about the death of the Little Prince:

There was nothing there but a flash of yellow close to his ankle. He remained motionless for an instant. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a tree falls. There was not even any sound, because of the sand.

“That flash of yellow . . . Was that the snake?” Eric asked. He was trying,with little success, to hold back tears.

“I think it must have been,” Maggie said.

“Why did he let it bite him?”

“I think it was the only way he could get back to his home.”

“I see.” Eric wiped his nose on his sleeve.


The second attack didn’t come. The radio station stopped broadcasting after two days so it was difficult to form any idea of what what happening in the larger picture. They received some news during the next couple of weeks from refugees from areas that had been bombed. The picture painted by the refugees of the world outside their city was dismal. It appeared that Most cities were totally destroyed. There was no food. The landscape was dark and desert-like. Those who had not been killed by the initial blast were dying from radiation poisoning. Dust clouds began to cover the sun.

On their hunting and gathering expeditions, Theo and Eric were able to confiscate some warm clothes for themselves and for Maggie. They continued to gather what food they could find, but by the end of a week there was not much to find. Maggie had some food stashed away so starvation was not an immediate threat. But her stash wouldn’t last that long. And each day they saw the sky darken and it got colder.

Then they began to feel nauseated from the radiation. That was the turning point. They realized that they really weren’t going to survive.

With Maggie they went into a drugstore which had been raided – mainly for narcotics. Maggie recognized a drug that was an anti-nausea medication. They started taking it and that helped some, but they realized that this was only a stop-gap measure.

When they returned to their home Maggie said she had something that a friend of hers who was a veterinarian had given her. She showed them five syringes that she kept in a shaving kit. “My friend thought that if there was a war people should have a way dying painlessly,” she said.

Eric didn’t feel the need to be in hiding any more. “Nobody is thinking about a runaway boy at this point,” Theo had said, and Eric agreed. So he started wearing boy clothes again. Also they went to a clothing store and got some warmer coats. Maggie went with them, and while they were out she grabbed three headlamps and some batteries from a hardware store.

Then one night they heard a bigger boom than any before, and felt the ground shaking. It woke all of them. “That was a close one,” Theo said.

“I thought the war was over,” Eric said.

“It is,” Maggie said. “Maybe someone didn’t know that. Or maybe is was just a bomb that delayed exploding.”

“I need some light,” Eric said.

Theo lit a candle and for some time they lay in their dimly lit little bedroom without talking. After a while Maggie said, “Tomorrow will be our birthday.”

This was such a strange comment that for a moment Theo wondered whether she might be becoming psychotic, but only for a moment. She was, after all, the only one of the three that had a clear vision about how to cope with the situation.

The next morning she rose early. “Rise and shine,” she said to the other two. “This is our birthday.”

“That’s crazy,” Eric said.

She smiled. “Well, it might be,” she said. “But it might not be.”

She had the shaving kit with the syringes with her. “This may help us celebrate our birthday,” she said. “As you see, there are five of them. That’s two more than we need. It would be a shame to waste them. I’ll keep three of them for us. I’d like the two of you to go out into the main station area and find two people who look like they might be in need of something like this. Make it clear to them that it is irreversible. It will end their lives in this domain.”

“You mean it will kill them?” Eric asked.

“It will help them go on the next place,” she said.

“You’re keeping three of them for us,” Eric noted.

“We are faced with a great deal of suffering,” Maggie said. “I don’t believe in suffering that doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Theo and Eric, following Maggie’s instructions, climbed up to their bedroom area and, careful not to be seen so that someone might learn the entrance to their living areas, they entered the main train tunnel. They did not want other people invading their living space. The “mole-people,” with whom they were accustomed to dealing, would not have bothered them. They knew and honored the unwritten laws that governed life in the tunnels. These laws had to do mainly with respecting other people’s space. Ignoring these laws could get a person into serious difficulty. But since the announcement of the beginning of the war, a lot of new people were occupying the train tunnels, and using them as bomb shelters. Many of these new people did not understand that the spaces that people had designated for their use were as private as houses in the above-ground world, and that you shouldn’t trespass into someone else's space any more than you would barge into someone’s house in the above-ground world.

It was like rush hour in the main tunnel, except there were no trains. As they began looking around, Theo reviewed with Eric what all the people who survived the first attack were facing: a worsening of the radiation sickness, cancer, freezing cold and/or death from starvation.

Most of the people in the tunnels were in small groups composed of families and friends. Some were sleeping; some were just sitting and watching the others come and go; a few were crying. Most were not talking. There didn’t seem to be a lot to say.

Eric drew Theo’s attention to a mother and child who seemed to be having even more problems than most. The child, who was dressed in girl’s clothes, was hardly more than a baby. The mother was dressed in overalls and a work-shirt. She was thin. Her face was pale and full of tension. The baby was crying and she couldn’t comfort it.

“I think she’s hungry,” Eric said.

“Probably so,” Theo agreed.

They went over to the mother and child. The mother looked up at them with an expression of alarm when she saw them approaching her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t get the baby to stop crying. I know it must get on your nerves. I don’t have anything to give to her.”

“It’s OK,” Theo assured her. “I’m not here to complain. Do you have anyplace to go?”

She shook her head. “Nobody. Nothing. And nowhere,” she said. “That’s my situation. One way or another this war will kill us. I saw a video on Youtube about all the ways people would die in a nuclear war.”

She turned to her baby who was squirming on her lap. “Hush,” she said. “I can’t help you.”

“We can get her some food, Theo,” Eric said. “We’ve got some.”

“I have a little bit of food,” she said. “But that won’t help. It’s radiation sickness. That’s why she’s so miserable. She can’t hold anything down that I give her. Now she won’t even eat. I’m nauseated too. And I’ve got a headache. I imagine she does too. But thanks anyhow. You’re a doll.”

She tried to balance her baby lightly and play with her, but the baby just screamed more. “That last big explosion – did you hear?” The woman said. “It was just a few miles away. We were closer to it.”

“I thought the war was over, and that nobody won,” Eric said. “That’s what I heard.”

“That’s true. But somebody was still dropping bombs. I heard that a submarine that hadn’t heard the war was over was getting rid of its leftover bombs. Who knows? But sure enough there was an explosion – a nuclear one. My baby and I got a big blast of radiation. Saw the cloud billowing up into the sky. Oh my God, what a sight that was.” She put her hand on Theo’s arm. “This is hell. . . what did you say your name was? And your son?”

“I’m Theo, and he’s Eric.”

“Samantha. And Jenny. The baby is Jenny. So that’s what I thought when I saw it, Theo. I thought ‘this is hell.’ The people who make these bombs and drop them are devils. I thought we might find some food in the City so we walked here. But we’re too nauseous to eat the little bit of food we do find. ”

“I do have something that might help,” Theo said. He pulled out the shaving kit which contained the two syringes. “See these?” he said opening the kit.

“Drugs?” Samantha asked.

“It’s an end-of-life medication,” Theo said.

“You mean something that will put an end to you? Like what they give a dog or a cat when it’s too old to go on?”

“Exactly. But these are human doses. They’re yours if you want them.”

“That’s amazing. Just this morning I prayed to my guardian angel. Please, I said. Help me find a way to end this. Without too much pain.”

“I’m assured that this won’t hurt. It will take the pain away and then you will drift off. Just like that. In five or ten minutes or so.”

“You must be angels,” she said. “To answer my prayer like that.”

Theo gave her the syringes in the kit. “Don’t let other people see this,” he said. “They may think it’s a narcotic and try to take it from you.”

“I’ll guard it with my life,” she said. She picked up Jenny and said, “I need to find someplace private.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

She nodded.

“It’s permanent, Theo said. You can’t turn back after you shoot yourself. . . or your baby. You sleep forever. Or whatever happens when you leave this body.”

“I understand.”

Theo and Eric watched her start down the long tunnel. She walked with a purpose in her step. Soon she was lost in the crowd.

Before they started back to their living area, Theo and Eric found some stairs to the street. They climbed up and looked around. It was the same city that they used to live in, but nobody was around. They saw a flash of light in the distance. And after a bit they heard a low rumbling noise. “We need to get back before dark,” Theo said.

Maggie was waiting for them. “Success?” she asked.

“We found two people who will probably make good use of them,” Theo said. “Eric picked them out.”

“A lady and her kid,” Eric said.

Maggie nodded. “A good choice,” she said.
“And we saw some heat lightning,” Eric said. “It’s going to storm.”

As the sun went down and it grew darker in the tunnels, Maggie joined Eric and Theo in their sleeping area.

“I have a bedtime story for tonight,” she said.

She took two candles out of a box and melted some tallow from them with which to paste them to the floor. When Theo and Eric were settled, she took a book out of the shopping bag she used as a purse. It was Remember the Dream by Kubler-Ross: the story was about a little boy who was dying from cancer. He was visited by two angels who explained to him that death was nothing to be afraid of. He dies. There was a picture in this book of the little boy and a friend of his – a girl – who were swimming naked in a beautiful pool on the other side of death.

“Are we going to die?” Eric asked when the book was finished. “I mean real soon. The mother we gave the shots to said there’s no way to escape from dying in this war.”

“She might be right,” Maggie said.

They could hear the storm outside.

“Can I have the book?” he asked.

“Sure,” Maggie said, and she handed him the book.

“Thanks.” He slipped it under the folded up blanket that served him as a pillow.

“Here’s your pee-jar,” Maggie said. “And here’s a flashlight. Just in case. But there’s no need for any of us to go off to the shit-house – or anywhere else. We’re all just going to stay right here.”

None of them slept well, but they did at least doze off a bit.

When their living area began to brighten from the morning sun, Maggie took charge. “Our best clothes are clean,” she said. “I washed them the day before yesterday. Theo realized that she had very definite plans for them. She appeared to have been collecting clean clothes, books, extra food, flashlights and things of that sort for some time. “We’re going to take them to the shower and put them on after we shower.

The thunderstorm the night before had not raised the water in the storm drain to a degree that threatened their home.

The “shower” was a crack in the ceiling of the storm drain where a spring gurgled into the tunnel with sufficient force that it could be used as a shower. In the past Maggie had never showered with Eric and Theo. This morning, however, the three of them undressed and got wet together. They soaped each other up and helped rinse the soap off. Maggie gave each of them a hug before they got dressed. Then they all returned to their living area.

In about twenty minutes she had a very ample, if simple, breakfast prepared. The main dish was oatmeal with maple syrup and dried fruit. They could eat the dried fruit either by itself, or cut it up and eat it in the oatmeal. Clearly, Maggie had been setting aside for special occasions some of the plunder that Theo and Eric brought back from their hunting and gathering expeditions. It had been a couple of weeks since they had brought in the can of bona-fide maple syrup. It had been discarded by the grocery store because its metal container had somehow been bent out of shape.

After breakfast Maggie sent Theo and Eric back to the shower to wash the dishes while she straightened up their living area.

When they returned she said they were all going to play a game. The “game” was simply that each of them was to tell about the happiest moment of his or her life. Eric went first. He told about receiving a bike on his eighth birthday. Sam’s happiest memory was about a big snow that was perfect for making snowmen and other snow sculptures. With Margie it was a three-day visit she made with her family to a beautiful state park that was not too far from her home.

Maggie then gave them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to “tide them over” until supper.


A three-block’s walk from the exit of the storm drains brought the little makeshift family to a small city park that was complete with a playground and some picnic tables. The storm the previous night had freshened the air to some extent. One could almost forget that there had been a war. A couple of tents that served as homes for some people who had been evicted from more conventional housing were set up not too far from the picnic tables. Three of the tent-people – all adults – were lying under a large maple tree. Two of them seemed to be asleep. The third one – a somewhat overweight middle-ged man – was still awake. He scrutinized Eric, Theo and Maggie, and when he was satisfied that they represented no threat, he welcomed them with a friendly smile. Theo, Eric and Maggie placed the supper items they carried on one of the picnic tables.

Since that last unexpected bomb struck nearby there were all sorts of rumors that another bomb was coming to finish off the city, so not too many people remained outside the tunnels. Also the fallout clouds were creating dark streaks across the sky, and one could feel just a slight chill in the air – as though fall were coming early. Despite that, there was still a lot of sunlight and blue sky. It was a deceptively beautiful day.

Supper was an elaborate meal that began with soup for an appetizer, continued with fried fish for the main course and ended with big slices of spice cake. It was served with plenty of champagne which Eric shared with them, until he began to get tipsy, and Theo suggested that if he kept on drinking, it would become unpleasant. When they finished the cake, Eric went to play on the jungle-gym while Maggie and Theo sat and talked more about the memorable events in their lives – both happy and unhappy. Eric was too tipsy to do his jungle-gym tricks. When Theo saw how awkward Eric was due to the champagne he became afraid he would hurt himself and gestured to him to come back. When he did so, the three of them reminisced about the good and bad times of their lives.

When the sun was only a short distance from the horizon, Maggie said that they needed to be going back soon, but first she had something to say. And she gave a little speech:

“As you may have guessed,” she began, “our ‘birthday,’ as I have called it, is the day we end our lives on this planet. I have spent all my time trying to solve the problem of evil and suffering. We live in a creation. Where there is a creation, there is a creator. Why would a creator of such obvious brilliance and ability create world of so much suffering? Of such evil? The Buddhists and the Hindus take suffering seriously. They see this world as a veil of tears. The Hindus believe that we go through many incarnations of suffering – beginning as lower animals until finally we go through one or more lives as a human being and are finally released. But into what? And why is all this suffering necessary? Are we created banging our heads on a wall just so it will feel so good when we stop? It seemed to me that a really brilliant creator could simply leave out the head banging part. So those are the two questions: why the evil and suffering and into what, if anything, are we released? I finally came up with an answer that satisfies me, and I wanted to share it with you. I think that the earth (and there are almost certainly other planets like it) is a workshop in which souls are brought to maturity. We are baby-souls when we are created, and we must be shaped by the events of our lives in order to become mature, fully grown souls.

Or, to put it another way, we are living sculptures and we feel it as we are chiseled into shape. It hurts.

For some reason both pain and pleasure are needed in the maturation of souls.

Then, when we are ready, we are born into the real world. The one Plato talked about. Or the kingdom of Love that Jesus talked about. Our death, then, is our birth into a world we know no more about than an infant in the womb knows about the world he or she will enter at birth. That is what I have come to believe. Our death is also our birth.”

Do I know all this for sure? Not at all. Philosophy teaches us to live with doubt and uncertainty – on the basis of probabilities.”

She paused to collect her thoughts, and then continued:

I have decided to leave this world. This was an easy decision for me. To take one’s own life is an awesome thing, but we are faced with a succession of possible deaths if we do not use the syringes that I have. First there is still the possibility that a bomb will land on our city. We do know that this metropolitan area was a target. We also know that some incoming missiles were intercepted and their target cities spared, at least temporarily. That must have happened here. We also know, however, that there are submarines out there that were probably not hit. They may be programmed to take out the cities that were at first spared.

“Whatever the case about cities like our own that were spared, a second death awaits those of us who were not directly killed by the heat and blast of bombs: radiation. A high percentage of survivors of the first blast will die of radiation. We are already feeling nauseous. And the two people that you gave the other syringes to were quite sick with radiation. Should we survive the radiation the next death that awaits us is cancer. Then, after all those probabilities of death, we will have to face the nuclear winter. When it hits we may die from more cold than we are equipped to cope with. If not we will die from thirst and/or starvation. Food cannot be grown in a nuclear winter. The water will not be safe to drink. Finally we might be killed by others who are fighting for their own survival.

“I was not never compatible with the kind of life the was possible in our society. That’s why you found me here. Suicide is not a new thought for me, but until now, I chose withdrawal instead.

“There may be some places in the southern hemisphere where survival really is possible – at least for a time. That’s not a sure thing. But there is no way for us to get there.”

They were all quiet for a short spell. Maggie looked at Eric. “I’m afraid my speech was too complicated,” she said. “That’s what studying philosophy will do to you. What I am am saying is really simple. We are faced with a whole bunch of really horrible ways to die because of this war. If one way doesn’t get us another will.”

Eric nodded. He understood. He began rocking slightly with his hands folded across his chest as though he was holding something in.

“I can’t decide for anybody else,” Maggie said. “ I can free you from this life of suffering with my syringes. But if you want to throw yourself into a struggle for survival which you are are almost certain to lose, that’s your choice.”

During the silence that followed her statement they were startled by two more flashes. But those really were just lightning. Another storm was approaching.

“I have no doubts,” Theo said. Schopenhauer and the Buddhists are right. Life is suffering. Even without the bombs, this insane war, the nuclear winter and all that – life is suffering.”

“Do you think it has to be?” Maggie asked.

“Humanity would have to change deeply ingrained habits of thought and action,” he answered.

“But could they?” Maggie persisted. “Perhaps human beings are as committed to their war-like ways and their habits of exploitation as much as lions are committed to eating zebras. Perhaps it is just in our nature, our genes. Will the survivors of this holocaust, if there are any, decide to do things differently?”
“I don’t know.” Theo said. “I doubt it. If the elite survive when they come out of their shelters, they will, I think, start it all over again. Or some of the poor may become rich and want to continue in the same way, except with themselves on the top? We need to change the game. That is very different than just putting someone else at the top of the heap.”

“True enough,” Maggie said. And she turned to Eric. “What about you,” she asked him. “What do you make of all this?”

“What do you mean?” Eric asked.

“Do you want to get a syringe?”

He was shocked and said nothing at first. Finally he looked at his two grown-up friends with a hint of panic in his eyes. “You wouldn’t go without me, would you?” he finally said.

“No. Not unless you wanted us to,” Maggie said.

“Give me my shot when you take yours,” Eric said.

The storm was getting closer. “We need to be getting back,” Theo said.

They gathered all their picnic things together and stated back. The tent dweller who had waved at them before sat up and waved goodbye to them when he saw they were leaving.

“I wish I had something for them,” Maggie said.

When they got back to the tunnel they put on their headlamps. It was getting dark.

Eric threw up, but it didn’t seem to bother him that much. He was still happy drunk.

They went up to their sleeping area and Theo sat down and leaned against the wall. Eric crawled into his lap.

“Here, this will make you sleep,” Maggie said, giving him a couple of pills and water to wash them down.

The sleeping pills worked fast. “Don’t put him down yet,” Maggie said as soon as he was sleeping. “We need to give him his dose now.” She took out a syringe.

“Shouldn’t we have told him that now would be the time?” Theo asked.

“He’s not stupid,” Maggie said. We cleared it with him that he would take his dose, and he understood what it was for. I think it might be a little more merciful if he doesn’t know the exact moment.”

“I guess that right,” Theo said. He hugged the boy a little tighter and kissed his forehead.

Maggie pulled his sleeve up. “We can use his arm. He has enough flesh there.”

Eric winced slightly in his sleep as she gave him the shot, but he didn’t wake completely. “My friend who put this together said it wasn’t quite the same thing they use with animals,” Maggie said. “She said that it would take about ten minutes-- depending on body weight.”

Theo began crying quietly as he waited for the medicine to do its work. It took almost twenty minutes for the life go out of Eric. Theo laid him down on his bed. “We can put ourselves on either side,” he said. “It’s my turn now.”

They heard the rumbling of thunder. The storm had hit. “I always liked storms,” he said. It made me feel that it was cleaning the world.” He lay down on his bed next to Eric and asked Maggie to give him his shot. She did so.

Then, much to his surprise, Theo felt a great happiness. He realized that this was the only way he was going to escape the suffering of seeing what humanity was doing to the natural order. In the minds of the powerful elite there was no natural order from which to deviate. There was only their order. He saw in his mind’s eye images from a video he had watched on how nature was re-claiming the land that humanity had abandoned around Chernobyl. He thought it was beautiful. All the plants and animals began living lives that were normal to them. Suffering was still a part of that order, but there seemed to be a point to it.

The Earth was recovering from the disease of humanity. He no longer had to be a part of that disease. He thought about Maggie’s idea that this life was a womb and that our death was also a birth. That was why she concluded that meal earlier in the day with a birthday cake. In another half-hour he would be either a new being or nothing. He didn’t feel that he knew which. But the happiness that was expanding in his body or his soul was telling him that Maggie was right, and that Kubler Ross’s story was a true one. In any case he was being cured along with the earth. He was coming home, wherever that was.

After Maggie could see that Theo had died, she arranged him neatly beside Eric. Then she positioned herself on Eric’s other side and pumped the contents of the third syringe into her arm.



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