Discover more from William Shunn’s Main Wish Null
Root: Part III, Chapter 8
Hasta reluctantly joins forces with her father to infiltrate the Bunker and improvise a rescue plan.
For more on this project, please see “This Year a Serial Takes Root.”
Hasta and her father stood in the middle of the unshoveled sidewalk near the front door to Mr. Sunshine’s so-called bunker. “Are you sure you remember the plan?” she asked.
“Yes, flower, of course,” her father said. He seemed as giddy as a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. “Stop worrying.”
“I can’t help it, Raj. It’s not as if we hold the fate of the world in our hands or anything.”
He put his hands on Hasta’s shoulders and stared into her eyes. His cheeks were bright red, burned by the cold. The snow was petering out, but the wind had worsened. “I always felt the gods had a plan for you, a purpose,” he said, his brown eyes fervent. “I just never thought we’d hear about it firsthand. We’re going to be fine.”
Hasta sighed sharply. “It’s you I’m worried about,” she said. Her father had accepted her rundown of all that had happened with incredible equanimity. She wanted to bring up his stats window, like Ivan had shown her, and find out if he was an operator too—but she feared learning that he wasn’t. “Vishnu didn’t say anything about you coming along for the ride.”
“Hasta, I am the ride. And he also didn’t say I shouldn’t come.”
It was the kind of argument her father would have demolished had she tried it on him, but this was neither the time nor place for a philosophical debate. “Fine,” she said. “But please try to remember how dangerous these people are.”
“I won’t forget,” her father said grimly.
There was plenty of reason to feel grim. As they’d heard on the radio on the drive over, the major routes out of the city were jammed tight. Mayor Alfonsi was asking people to sit tight in their homes and leave the streets open for emergency vehicles, though new enlistees were still welcome at Army recruitment centers.
The unprecedented cold weather was also worsening, according to the radio, and churches were being set up as warming centers. From elsewhere around the globe, reports of earthquakes, cyclones, and volcanoes were filtering over increasingly spotty communications networks. When the announcer began relaying unconfirmed reports of nuclear detonations in India and Pakistan, Hasta’s father had gone pale and switched off the radio.
Now Hasta flattened herself against the brick wall beside the building’s front entrance. Her father slipped through the unlocked door and jammed a corner of the welcome mat into the gap to keep it from shutting behind him. A moment later, Hasta heard the sound of frantic knocking somewhere inside.
“Please, hello!” her father shouted. “We need help, please!”
Hasta took the comm window out of her pocket and held it at the ready, cupped in her left hand. A few moments later she heard a second voice from inside, indistinct.
“Oh, thank God!” her father responded, loudly enough for Hasta to understand even without cupping her hand to her ear. “Please, you must help me. It’s my family!”
The codeword family meant her father was speaking to an old Black man. Ideally they would have found the building empty, but this was the next best possibility. Hasta twirled her finger in front of the comm window, then held it to her ear.
The connection clicked open. “Girl, this had best be important,” said Cory’s creaky old-man voice. “No way are you at the bus yet.”
“No, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Hasta said, shoving her way through the front door. At the end of a short entry hall, her father threw himself flat on the floor. In an open doorway behind him, Cory whirled toward her, raising his left hand. His right was pressed to his ear.
But Hasta was faster. She halted Cory with her open palm. “The game’s freeze tag,” she said. “And you’re it.”
Her father pushed himself to his knees. Hasta hurried over to give him a hand up. With an incredulous look, he waved a hand in front of Cory’s motionless face.
“Amazing,” her father said. “Hearing about your abilities is one thing, but seeing them in action is something else entirely.”
Hasta plucked Cory’s comm window from the hand near his ear. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” she said, putting the two windows away in two different pockets.
She went around Cory and through the inner door with her father right behind her. She paused at the verge of the dazzling forest of bead curtains.
“Stay close,” she said. “Let’s not get separated in here.”
The beads swayed in a cold draft, throwing rainbows of refracted candlelight every which way. With her right hand on the wall, Hasta led the way around the perimeter.
Her father tagged close behind. “Rather whimsical decorating choice, wouldn’t you say?”
Hasta looked back, frowning. “I’d call it sinister,” she said. “Keep your eyes open for stairs. I think the room where they had Ivan is on the second floor.”
“And I thought your mother and I had a difficult night. I can’t imagine what you children have been through.”
Hasta gritted her teeth against the urge to sob. “Do you have to call us that, Raj?”
Her father sighed. “I suppose you are beginning to—”
From somewhere ahead came a sound like a dump truck dropping its load. Amidst otherworldly screeches and yowls, a voice cried, “Ow, ow! Get off me!”
Hasta whirled to meet her father’s startled gaze.
“That’s Ivan!” she said. √
To be continued…