Dad and I found it in late summer of ’72, in a grove of quaking aspen near the Canadian border. After he was sent home from Nam, after Mom disappeared, after we’d been riding the rails for a year.
The old fallout shelter was fitted with a door on one end and windows on the other. There was just enough room for an adult and a 10-year-old to sleep.
After about a week I was nearly at the shelter’s door when I heard a branch snap behind me. Three thin young men lingered in the trees.
Dad crawled out and stood, bare-chested and grimy. You could see all of his tattoos of naked women and charms, the bullet scars across his ribcage. He’d been whittling and had a hunting knife in one hand and a rough little wooden rabbit in the other.
“Friend or foe?” Dad wore his dented combat helmet like a crown.
“Sorry, man.” The tallest one began backing away.
“Wrong answer!” Dad hurled the knife, which landed in an aspen near the man’s head. The three strangers bounded like deer through the trees.
A couple days later we found the shelter spray-painted with curses. Our sleeping bags, the best things we owned, gone. Dad went to town and came back with old blankets and a new lock. “33-5-12. Home protection.”
In summer, the trees’ leaves shone like a fortune in gold coins. In winter our home was a snow cave, and we were two hibernating bears. At night the stars stood guard outside our windows.
I thought the place was magic. Someone told the sheriff about us, but that good soul spent an afternoon talking about Nam with Dad, then later found him odd jobs. A hippie girl from the bakery left rolls at our door.
As for my father, he took his meds. Made an outdoor shower. Taught me math. We had three years there before he got sick and died in the VA hospital, while I went to foster care. People are surprised when I tell them that my childhood home was a fallout shelter—but we had been a family pursued by bombs.
writing has been published in literary journals including Tin House, The Sun, and Five Points. Her work has placed in the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions short and long lists and earned the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Lynn is co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story. Her chapbook Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us is forthcoming from Yemassee. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.