Getting into the vault wasn’t so bad, it was the getting out I was most worried about. The heavy roll as the door CLICKED into place, the fear pounding in my ears. Vault 66 was dark, and I lit my flashlight up, leaving a circle of light on the wall. The light shakily moved until I found the power switches.
I hurried over and flipped them. A soft growl emanated from the next room.
I spent my childhood among a labyrinth of decaying library books, running through the St. Louis County Headquarters library on Lindbergh as my mom worked as self-appointed librarian. This was not my stomping grounds. I looked at my arm. It had a rare radio-watch from the time before the war. Mom called it a Pip-Boy. It smelled of electricity and oil. It detected a fair amount of radiation from inside the vault, ticking and hissing.
I reach cautiously for my weapon, a steel bat. A feral ghoul rushes at me from the dark and I sidestep it with a “k’bonk” upside its head. It was probably a female, formal dress and shaggy long hair.
It was a routine supply run, but mom had fallen ill so she couldn’t come with me to look for medication and food. I adjusted the sack on my back and sprayed “Route 66” on one staircase in white and black paint. If I was going to be locked alive in here…
Another ghoul, no, two were shuffling toward me. Their breath was not as labored as the feral female who had attacked me earlier. I put up a hand, calling, “Don’t come any closer. The… the paint’s wet.”
“Listen, Neighbor. You’re that librarian’s kid. We don’t show up and paint all over your nice clean brick walls.”
“Well… well maybe you should. Sometime. Like, not today. But maybe later.”
His cheeks were sunken, and her mouth had a hole through which I could see her teeth. The male broke the tension with a gravelly laugh. “Sure, maybe. Tell me what brings you here.”
I was sheepish. “Stimpaks, medkits, and general scavenging.” After the words were out in the open, I realized I hadn’t introduced myself properly. “You know my mom? Daisy Barnes? She named me Astaroth. Roth for short.”
“That’s a ten-dollar name you got there, son.”
“Tell me about it.”
As the conversation flowed, the male who appeared to be in charge gave his name as Gadsby.
“As in ‘The Great’?” I asked. He chuckled, patting his friend on the shoulder with a sinew-visible hand.
“HA! HE’S HEARD OF ME!” The two of them laughed, and in a soft voice she said her name was Lenore.
When they got to the medical room, they noted that their supplies were low. “I really only need a stimpak. Maybe two. Mom has a cold. And maybe a medkit if you can spare it.”
The ancient couple looked at each other. “Well, now that we won’t have to stay on our toes around Rebecca,” Lenore said.
“Was… was that her name? The feral? I’m so sorry.”
“It couldn’t be helped, dear, she had been wandering the vault since she was on the edge, but things changed. She got aggressive, didn’t want to hold still or eat, and eventually she gave me this.” Lenore touched the empty spot on her cheek. “Gadsby was good about making sure wherever she was, I was not, after that.”
They handed me a cloth pouch. I glanced inside. “Rad-X? Radaway? Mentats? Are you sure? And three stimpacks?”
They walked me back to the front of the vault, telling me about the vault dwellers of 66.
The short story was that they were not given a creation kit but were used for an experiment on engineering. I was enraptured. “Tell me more?”
“We’ll stop by the library sometime soon. Maybe with paint. I used to be good about making Trompe L’eoil murals in my prime,” remarked Gadsby.