“You’re going to sit over here with Julie and watch.”
“Yes, sir,” Fred said, slowly lowering himself onto the maroon-stained seat beside him, a hooded man grabbing at his wrists. Julie stared past him, eyes empty and motionless.
“Wonderful,” Stan said. He stood up and walked over to the wall opposite Julie and Fred’s chairs and admired it. It wasn’t like the others, those boasting a thickness of over twenty feet of concrete and steel, but a barrier blocking off cans and bottles—food, water, juice, and any other non-perishable Stan could buy. He’d spent well over $400 million on food items alone, enough to last well beyond his own lifetime, and another hundred million to protect it. They’d laughed at him, said he’d gone crazy – that he was wasting his billions building a shelter for something that wasn’t going to happen. They were naïve, or perhaps willfully ignorant. Whatever the reason, they were now dead, and Stan couldn’t help but smile every time he thought about it.
Stan inspected the wall, a clear plastic panel protecting mountains of food behind it. He’d had it specially built and installed before even buying the first canned good. He told the contractors it was to keep out rats—not the animal kind, but the people kind. He didn’t want those he chose to save to completely eat him out of sanctuary. No, it needed to be strong enough to hold off a horde of maniacal people on the edge of sanity and hysteria—although he knew they’d be leaning more towards hysterics. The barrier was twelve inches thick, made from thermoplastic, polycarbonate, and laminated glass – the same stuff bulletproof glass was constructed of. But Stan had the builders add a little something extra: thousands of tiny sensors which, when disturbed, thrust thick, pointed metal alloys—roughly three feet in length—toward the site of disruption. He couldn’t be too safe, and he was damn glad he added the extra layer.
Within the first weeks of the shelter’s use, dozens had come to his feet to seek refuge, to beg forgiveness for casting him off as insane. Oh how their words had changed—just a week prior, taunts and ridicule were all that followed his name. Now, however, he was a god, a hero. He was the key to survival, to escape from what lay above. Stan accepted them in his good graces, brought them the sanctuary they desired. He gave them life, food, shelter, family. He gave them all they asked from the kindness of his heart, even after they had forsaken him. Stan was a forgiving man.
The first person to try to cross him was one of the people he had employed, one of the builders who had helped create his clear wall. Terry was his name. Stan promised him entry when constructing it, Terry laughing as he asked. He’d said he’d take him up on the offer as the world came to its end. They laughed together, Stan slapping him on the back as he walked off. Terry came crawling in a few weeks later, body badly burned from the ash falling and settling outside. His family, the one he’d spoken of so often for the weeks he’d worked, wasn’t there. He was alone, broken, desperate. Stan opened the door and let him in, gave him shelter and food. Within a week, Terry betrayed him.
It was ignorant what he did. Naïve, stupid, illogical. Stan laughed about it later, brought his body to the others to make a point of his idiocy. He tried to sneak some food, to get an extra meal. He knew the consequences. Such stupidity, such selfishness. It was rationed, carefully curated to last as long as possible. What was worse, he had taken from Stan’s personal selection. His own items–candies, sweets, medicine: Treats that were just for him. He’d stuck his greedy little hand against the glass, dug his face against the wall to try to reach through the foot-thick barrier. The sensors, which Terry himself had helped add, worked as intended. His body was impaled against the clear wall for almost a full day before Stan noticed and cared enough to move him. He laughed as he did so.
The others didn’t find it too funny, but Stan assured them it was. He told them to laugh; if they wanted sanctuary, they’d laugh. They’d find humor in the selfishness of one man. It became much funnier then, and the problem seemed to correct itself—at least at first. The wall wasn’t touched, and people enjoyed their allotted can of food per day. Those that complained, had the gall to call error on Stan, were punished. They were refused their meal and forced to sit in a chair opposite the wall. They’d watch their friends, family, brothers, sisters, Stan, enjoy the food. They’d watch them eat, the betrayer’s hands tied down and eyes taped open, and come to understand the error of their ways. Stan gave them that, the ability to learn and move forward as a better person. There weren’t ever any two-time offenders.
One man made the same mistake as Terry, running his hand against the wall as he passed by. He told Stan he didn’t realize what he was doing, that it was an accident. His hand just so happened to scrape the plastic holding the key to their survival. He said he was confused, it was a simple accident. Stan laughed. The man’s selfishness, it was obscene. He asked the children of the shelter, those younger than the age of ten, to join him in the dining quarters. He had them sit and watch as the man slowly died. Some of them cried, and when the tears welled in their eyes enough to cloud their view, he had them move closer.
It had been a few weeks since anyone had shown up at the shelter; the constant crashing from above had become an occasional pop, followed by long periods of silence. Stan hadn’t gone up to look at the wreckage, the carnage brought down upon the planet that had mocked him. He stayed in the confines of his sanctuary. The others spoke in hushed whispers about the world above, or what it once was. The later arrivals tended to be quieter; to only speak of family and friends, not of the destruction and chaos overhead. When they did eventually break, it was often to recall of the hostility above—people killing and maiming for simple items, like cans of food and bottles of water, or the widespread disease proliferated by the countless bodies and inconceivable heat. Leaving the shelter would surely mean death. Stan would overhear them occasionally and laugh. Sometimes he’d remind them of the ignorance of their families, of those who mocked him. He’d tell them they were gone, that they weren’t coming back, and then he’d laugh. They refused to embrace him and his knowledge, and now they were dead. Yet these chosen few were saved, brought back to life by Stan.
Stan was accepting, he was welcoming. He allowed people entry to his sanctuary; he fed them and clothed them. If they were hurt, he’d allow them time to heal. All he asked in return was servitude. If he needed them, if he called upon them, he expected them to answer. He expected them to be ready and willing with whatever he asked. Why shouldn’t they be? Stan was giving them life, giving them hope. He didn’t ask for much. He’d need the occasional help fixing something old, building something new, carrying someone, hurting someone, breaking someone—it wasn’t much. He simply needed them to be there for him. Many refused at first, and it made Stan upset. He wasn’t an angry man, he was a giving, accepting man. He had brought sanctuary to these people. If they wanted to survive with him, they needed to follow him. To listen to him. To worship him.
Stan didn’t want to hurt many of the people that he did, but those who spoke against him, those who tried to do him wrong, they were removed. So many refused at first, so many had to be made examples of. The first that spoke out were chained up and left to rot in public, to make true his threats and inspire his followers. Stan had given them life, hope, a future—if they wanted to continue, they needed to adhere. Punishments became more and more severe for those that questioned him, and the numbers of those that did so quickly plummeted. Food was revoked, clothes stripped, limbs broken, families torn apart. If a brother misbehaved, his sibling was beat; if a mother questioned Stan, her child was killed. A punishment for one became a punishment for all in due time. Friends were chained to enemies, forced to work as one; a single can was split between two, while watching Stan gorge himself on anything he wanted; movement and discussion were restricted to specified times of the day. The more often people acted out, the more severe the punishments got. Followers began to aid in punishment, survivors torturing survivors; parents torturing children as they laughed.
Stan turned back around and stared at Julie, Fred sitting next to her. His eyes were now taped open, hands latched to the seat beside Julie. She still looked pretty, her left hand dangling motionless over the edge of the folding chair, head propped up against the concrete wall. She was one of the first he’d welcomed in. She was pregnant when she arrived all those months ago. Helpless, alone. She gave birth in the shelter, the first to do so. Stan liked her, said she would be his bride. She refused, crying some nonsense about her husband, that he was still out there waiting for her. She was so ignorant, such a fool. Stan had given her life, given her child hope at a future, and she rejected him. Her empty, still eyes gazed at the unattainable wall of food behind Stan, a motionless child sitting silently on her lap.
Writing Prompt: A billionaire builds an extensive underground bunker anticipating nuclear war. Before that can happen, judgement day occurs, and his bunker becomes a haven for fleeing sinners. Due to his interference in the proceedings, he becomes the de facto Satan.