Despite all his disaster planning, and the bomb shelter he built under his shed, Mario Scietto was not prepared for the apocalypse that hit Monument, Colorado. A series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a terrible chemical weapons spill that affects people differently depending on blood type, has torn the world as he knows it apart. “What Mario Scietto Says” is set in the world of Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14. The final book in the series, Monument 14: Savage Drift, goes on sale May 6th.
This short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Feiwel & Friends editor Holly West.
October 12, 2024
I guess that’s about enough of that. Come on, now. Enough. Enough!
Well, dammit, Annette, they was the first people I’ve seen in two weeks since the godforsaken nightmare began! I know, I know what you’d say, but no. You are my wife and I won’t be parted from you. Period. Final. Hey, I can’t dig a grave! I’m not going to burn you! What am I supposed to do with your body?
If your body starts stinking then I guess I’ll smell the stink!
So yes, I’m a stupid old man. An old fool. I chose your dead body over the live company of five perfectly nice children.
They had to go on eventually. They’d use up all the power. Eat all the food in the whole shelter.
Oh, hell, that would have been fine with me. You know it would have been.
Yes, yes, I’m stupid.
Anyway, they wanted to leave. That boy Niko had purpose all right. Going to get the little ones to Denver and find their parents. Heroic. Nice to see a teenager with some steel.
Down to 138 amp-hours. See? What did I say? They did use a lot of power. And aren’t you glad we invested in the Xantrex? It saved our butts, that’s what it did. Saved the butts of those kids, to get to come in from that NORAD poisoned air into a nice clean shelter underground with filtered air and hot water.
They loved the shower. And did they need it! Out there walking in the pitch-black, trying to make it to the airport, coming across all manners of crazy people out for blood. They stank of fear, Annette. Fear has that taint to it. Smells like what comes right before vomit, don’t it?
They’re gone and now I got all the power I need. To sit here. To warm up my little meals. To lie in the dark and think about those kids on the road. To be alone, Annette, with only your voice in my head and your stiff, heavy body for company.
Enough, for God’s sake. Quit. This. Blubbering! Or pull the trigger, if you’re so miserable. Go ahead and be done with it!
Can you imagine our own neighbor Brad Landry trapped those kids? He and his son, that little snot—the one who burned Bubba’s tail, the two of them set a trap out in that empty foundation next to their lot and then those kids fell in it.
Served him right to die for that one. A girl that was with them, a girl with blood type O who had lost her mind, she killed Landry. I saw him out there, mouth open and gray like marble. Like a statue. All bled out. Never saw anything like it before in all my life.
If I hadn’t seen a flare those kids shot up, they’d be dead by now. Make no bones about it, Annette.
So now we know why, don’t we.
When we was called to build this place, Annette, I knew it was the right thing to do. You went along with me, God bless you, and we built it! And Susie laughed at us. Lots of people did, I think. But we didn’t care, did we? It was a hobby, we told people. We’re “Preppers,” we joked. But did I install a cut-rate purifier? No. Did we skimp on the solar cells and the generator and the batteries? No. Because all along I knew there was a reason we were building it and dammit, saving those kids was the reason why!
So that’s it, then. The shelter’s served its purpose and that’s the end of it, Annette. I’m going after them. I’m going to leave! I can’t just sit here anymore. Who cares about the shelter and the upkeep and how well it works? It served its purpose and now I don’t want to sit around no more. This story’s over.
Protein shakes and bars, flares, matches, emergency blankets, first-aid kit, some oatmeal packets, two gallons of water, chlorine tablets, iodine drops, extra socks, and the handgun. Pack’s heavy, but once I drink the water, it’ll lighten up.
Can’t bring a tent. Too heavy. One night sleeping out won’t kill me and if it does, then there’s that. Got a face mask, too, but that’s just for barter. Or I can give it away, if I have call to. How’d they come up with that nasty idea about the blood types? Sick business, Annette. Look what it wrought. Supposed to be used on an enemy and now their chemical weapons tossed us into hell itself.
Walking sticks, two of them, for stability. Last thing I need is to break a hip! I’m slow, I know. But I’ll make it if I just put one foot in front of the other. We all do, don’t we?
Two headlamps and a lantern.
And yes—maybe, maybe, I’ll meet up with the kids. That would be a good surprise. Maybe they’ll be resting and I can find them.
Goddamn hope. Makes a fool out of old men who should know better.
Goodbye, my darling. I’m all ready to go. I guess the whole bunker will be your grave, Annette. I am burying you, burying you here, in the shelter we scrimped for and saved for. I guess we loved each other pretty good, when you add it all up. I don’t think we could have loved each other more or better.
I never guessed I’d be having any more adventures, in my life, at my age. But it turns out I am. Goodbye, my wife. I’m sure I’ll see you soon enough. I love you my sweet old girl. Goodbye.
Hey! Now! Who’s there? Who is it? I have a handgun. Be warned, you.
Wait now . . . You’re the girl. Jessica! No . . . Jamie. Josie! Wait!
I will. I’ll stay away. But, hey, Josie, I have a note for you. Niko left me a note for you. You put on this mask, here. Wait, I have it. This mask. It will filter out the poison. Poison in the air’s what’s making you feel so crazy.
You put on the mask, I’ll give you the note.
Do it! Put on the mask. You’ll feel better if you do. Don’t go!
Oh, Lord—hey, honey, I’m back! I know. It’s embarrassing—I just left! But that girl’s up there. She’s was digging in the trash. The girl Niko was so torn up about. O type blood so she’s just about feral, now. She’s the one that killed Brad Landry.
Dear God, my heart’s beating fast. Gotta sit down a second.
Gonna make some hot cocoa. Try to lure her down here. Yep.
Josie! You smell this? Mmmmm. Hot chocolate! And I got more downstairs!
Are you there, girl? Come on. I’m old. I can’t wait forever. It’s real good! Hot cocoa!
I put the cocoa on the ground, here, Josie. I’m nowhere near it so you’re not going to hurt me. There!
Lord. All right. All right. That’s the way.
Say, now, all you have to do is put on that mask there. You take it and put it on. Then I give you more. More yummy hot chocolate. All you want. Food, too. I got lentil soup and other stuff. And that note I told you about before.
Grab it up. Go on. Do it. Grab up the mask and put it on. Then you get more. Do it. Go on, now.
Good. Good. Okay, now breathe. Breathe in long and hard. You’ll see. You’re going to feel better.
I ain’t going nowhere, girl. Just breathe.
Niko and Max and Alex, they all stayed with me. Right in the shelter downstairs.
It will take a few minutes, but the mask will filter out the poison in the air. The warfare chemicals. Remember about all that?
God help me.
There, there. Okay. Stop crying now. It’s okay. You’re all right, Josie. It’s going to be all right. I’m Mario Scietto and I’m your friend. Niko and the other kids trusted me and you can trust me, I guess.
I got a bomb shelter downstairs and there’s food, hot water, everything you need to feel better. I’m not playing any tricks on you. I’ll tell you one other thing which is that my dead wife’s body is down there. Now you know. No secrets. She’s wrapped up in some bedsheets and PVC. Now you know.
Sure. I understand that. Look, here’s the note your friend left for you. See that?
Stop crying. It’s okay. You’re going to feel better when you get clean and get out of the air. So come with me now. That’s the way. Come on. I’m going to open the door then you gotta go in real fast, because the bad air will get in and we gotta try to limit it, okay? You ready?
Josie, are you ready to go in?
In you go. Down the stairs. Good girl. Watch your head. Good!
I know. The lights come on automatically. And that sound, hear that? That’s the sound of the air filters. They’re automatic too. That means the faster we get you cleaned up, the better. Would you mind a shower? The door locks. You’ll have privacy. And I’ll set out some of my wife’s clothes for you.
I’d kill for a shower.
. . . Okay then. Here you go. You can have two minutes. Maybe more. You know what, take all the time you need. Screw it.
Hey Josie! I put the clothes outside the door for you! I think my wife was bigger than you, so I just put out some of my extras
Well, now, you look better.
I feel better.
Here’s some soup. It’s that kind with the hamburgers in it, which is my favorite. Some crackers. Stoned Wheat Thins. Also my favorites.
There you go. Good. I can see you’re starving.
Oh, you don’t need to thank me. We built this stupid shelter just for this kind of situation. ’Course, Annette and me didn’t really ever think things would be this bad.
Hear how the air filters went off? Everything’s automatic. They come on when there’s some certain amount of contamination in the air. I got your old clothes bagged up while you were in the shower. Air’s clean now.
You’ve been through a lot. Maybe, um. Maybe you want to rest for a while? Lie down? You know, you can cry all you want. I’m not afraid of ladies crying. My wife Annette used to cry all the time. Never bothered me. Oh, she’d see some bit on YouTube and cry and then play it back and cry again. You just go on and have a rest. I’m not going anywhere.
Say, Josie, I brought you some more hot cocoa.
Thank you. I’m really . . . all of us were really lucky that you took us in.
Do you remember anything about what it was like . . . to be like that?
Maybe that’s a rude question to ask. It is a rude question to ask. Pardon my manners. Annette would have shot me a good elbow to the ribs. I guess somehow I forget she’s not around to reel me in.
Say, I was thinking you might want to hear that we got Max’s feet patched up real good. I have some top of the line medical supplies stocked in here. We used dermaknit, you ever heard of it? That poor kid, he was a real mess, but by the time they left, he was doing better. And I got to thinking that you might have some scrapes or cuts—just let me know, if you do we can patch ’em up.
So I also had the thought, just to tell you, that I figure you might need a few days before you feel better. You’ve been through a lot. You were outside for a good long spell. More than a day. And that damn chemical poison they unleashed . . . well, the effects wear off once you’re out of the contaminated air, but you know, there might be some damage done. You might not feel like yourself. We’ll just take it easy.
I can see you’re not much in the mood to talk, but I just thought I’d tell you that when I saw you out there by the trash, I was getting ready to leave here.
Your friends got me wanting to get to DIA to catch up with them. That’s the truth. A real nice bunch of kids. I’d probably have done just about anything to keep them safe—me, myself. I just wanted to say that.
What I’m trying to say is that I’d have done the same if I were you.
But you should rest.
Dinnertime, Josie. Wake up if you can. I made spaghetti and meatballs. From a pouch, but it’s decent. And I opened some fruit cocktail. Figured we should celebrate.
I know you’re feeling blue, but I gotta say, I’m pretty optimistic. I figure, we give you a day or two to rest—take as much time as you want, then we’ll zip on down to DIA and get ourselves evacuated.
It . . . it wouldn’t be safe.
It’s full of murderers and thieves out there, I know. But as long as we’re careful with a mask for you, and we will be, I give us pretty good odds, with the two of us. I’m relieved not to have to travel alone, truth be told.
I could hurt you. I could easily have hurt you before.
But you didn’t.
But I wanted to.
Well, we all want to hurt people sometimes—
I killed three men. It’s different.
Yep. You’re right. So what?
I killed three men. Three human beings.
Yep. I got that. And so now we move on.
To living again. It’s not such a crazy thing to say. It’s the truth. Awful things happen. Terrible losses crush down on us. And you lay there, flat on your back, for a good long while. And then you get up.
I don’t think I can.
Fake it till you make it, sweetheart.
I can’t. I just want . . . I want to sleep and never wake up again.
You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.
You gonna clam up on me now, huh? Well, Crunch ’n Munch.
Crunch ’n Munch. Ever heard of it?
Crunch ’n munch? Yeah. It’s, like, popcorn.
Ever had it? Yeah? Then you know it’s delicious. Buttery toffee and popcorn and some nuts glommed on in there. When I say Crunch ’n Munch, do you want to eat it?
Tell the truth.
That’s it. The will to eat Crunch ’n Munch is the will to live, just on the tiniest, most superficial scale. Get me?
We start with Crunch ’n Munch. Food. Sweets. Pleasure. Make that animal part of your stomach happy. What calls next is laughter. That’s the next step to regaining your will to live. Making someone laugh. Laughing at any old thing.
And after that?
I see you don’t believe me but I’ll tell you anyway. The urge to help other people. That’s it’s own reward. And by the time you’re helping other people you’re really rolling. You help other people and you’re living again.
Do you have any?
Crunch ’n Munch.
No . . . but I got Fiddle Faddle.
Ha! See there. I got a smile out of you! We’re already on our way to step two.
Jesus Christ Almighty, what was that?
Oh, my God.
It’s bombs, Josie.
Must be. It’s the only thing I can—Whup! There goes the electrical.
Where are you?
Over here. On the couch. Careful! Follow my voice. Watch for the—
That’s the table. I know, it’s got that sharp edge. Down here. Here’s my hand.
Lord, you’re shaking like a leaf, Josie. It’s all right. We’re in a bomb shelter. It’s made to last through this kind of thing.
It’s so loud!
You’re scared. Me too.
And that’s good. Shows you got your will to live, Josie! Hear me?
I’m scared. It’s hot. It’s hot!
God, we’re scared down here. Me and Josie are scared down here and we want to make it through. It’d be a pretty rotten trick to kill her off at this point.
Mario, the floor is burning hot.
Water. We’re gonna wrap ourselves with towels soaked with water. Here, from the tank. The sink won’t work.
I don’t know. I don’t know, Mario. Oh, God, we’re going to burn up.
We’re not ready to die! Say it!
We’re not ready to die.
I want to live.
I want . . . I want to see my friends again! I want to see Niko!
She wants to see Niko!
I want to find my parents!
She wants to find her parents!
I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die yet.
Hear that, God?
They’re slowing down.
It’s so hot.
They’re slowing down, anyway. Put some more water on you. We gotta keep wet.
Are you okay? Mario?
Give it to me. I’ll do it. You sit down.
Mario, drink this. Can you breathe? Breathe through the towel. Good. Good. It’s okay. Just breathe slow.
Lord, it’s hot.
Mario, do you think we’re going to die?
If they’re done bombing upstairs, then everything should cool down. I don’t know why it got so hot. It’s not supposed to. I have a radiation detection system. It’ll tell us if it’s safe to go up. Now let’s be quiet for a minute.
Don’t go to sleep. Oh, God. Wake up, Mario.
I’m not dying. I’m just tired.
Please don’t go to sleep.
Okay. I’ll try.
Tell me about Annette.
What was she like?
Funny. Lord, she was funny. Had a way of looking at me. She’d cock her eyebrow and I’d know just what was on her mind. She was classy but she never held it against you. From an upper crust family. Manhattan Park Avenue crust Her mother had this ancient sprawling apartment and it was like a museum. Smelled like old varnish. How’d they like it when she and I met—I am not kidding you—on a dude ranch? Not very much. She married me as a rebellious act. Dropped out of Smith. But we got lucky. It was love and it lasted.
Her hair was this copper color. Like. Oh . . . like chocolate if chocolate was red.
Don’t go to sleep.
I’m old. Old people get tired. This is a lot of excitement for me in one day.
What happened to her?
She was like you. O. And when the chemicals hit the air, she—Lord, it was awful, she turned purple and started shaking. She was in a wheelchair. Had arthritis that bad and she got up and started clawing over to me, dragging herself along the kitchen counter sideways. I was watching the news, hearing about the leak, and I turned to ask her what type blood she had and she was making her way to me, pure murder in her eyes.
I tried to talk sense into her.
Her heart must have gave out on her, because she fell over then.
I’m sorry, Mario.
She didn’t mean it. I promise you she didn’t.
I know. Think of how strong those chemicals must be, if they could make an eighty-year-old lady who loved her husband a hell of a lot try to kill that same husband.
We’re gonna have to leave sooner than later, you know that, right? I mean, the air filtering . . . without the filter, we really can’t stay. And you know, they may have eyes on the area—looking for survivors, that kind of thing.
How about I make you a promise: I do everything in my power to help you find Niko and your family.
And in return?
In return you forgive yourself for what you done up there.
Mario, it’s not that easy.
That’s my deal. Take it or leave it. You didn’t want to kill them. You weren’t in control of your actions! I know you weren’t! You were like Annette. And she was insane. She was gone.
But I could have stopped myself. I could have. Maybe not other people, but I could.
I don’t believe it.
I’m just saying it’s not that simple.
You’re not going to punish yourself for doing something you had to do to keep your friends safe.
We’re going to go and find them. And they’re going to be so happy to see you, Josie. Of course they will. I mean—can you imagine Niko’s face when I show up—with YOU? He’s gonna kiss me right on the mouth. He’ll probably break all my ribs hugging me. Loving me.
Come on. Yea or nay. What do you say?
Yea, Mario. I say yea.
“What Mario Scietto Says” copyright © 2014 by Emmy Laybourne
Art copyright © 2014 by Gregory Manchess