The Shelter

The Shelter

A Story by Stanley R. Teater

A Cold War Nightmare


The house at 714 Red Oak Trail was the showplace of the neighborhood. It was the first house Ellis Mumphrey had ever owned and he took great pride in it. In winter he would rise before dawn to scrape the snow and ice off the sidewalk. At Christmas time his decorations were so dazzlingly bright and elaborate that people would come from all over town to drive slowly by oohing and aahing. On weekends in the spring he could be seen feverishly planting, fertilizing, weeding, trimming and mowing. His yard reminded people of pictures they had seen of English manor houses �" stately, immaculate, regal. During the dry summer months he watered secretly at night in order to get around the city law that restricted watering to two days a week. This embarrassed his wife Janice who spent her summers expecting the house to be raided by goons from the water department, but she didn’t complain. She wanted to, but she had known Ellis long enough to realize it would do no good.

They had married in 1955 and bought the house a year later. In October of 1957 they heard the unsettling news that Russia had successfully launched a satellite that was circling the earth sending out radio signals. It was about the size of a basketball and they called it Sputnik. That night Ellis grabbed his binoculars and he and Janice went into the backyard and searched the blackness, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sputnik as it passed overhead. At last they saw it, a dim speck of light tracing a path of American humiliation. Ellis said he could almost hear them laughing in Moscow.

“How could the communists have done it?” Janice asked. “I’ve heard Russia can’t even properly feed its own people. But they beat us into space? It doesn’t make any sense.”

 Ellis put down his binoculars and shook his head. “I know what you mean. And what’s even worse is that that bit of light could just as easily be a missile. With a nuclear warhead.”

Shivering, Janice said, “The world has become a very scary place.”

The next day Ellis rented a backhoe and started digging a giant hole in the backyard. A month later that hole was filled with a fallout shelter. It was basically a box with 12-inch thick walls of reinforced concrete.  It had room for two cots and storage space for two weeks worth of water and non-perishable food. It had a hand-cranked ventilation system that could filter out radiation particles as it brought in fresh air. When he was finished Ellis covered it over with dirt and then replaced the grass. Within a month the only sign that anything was there was the air vent. He had hidden the steel hatch underneath a planter box. In the spring he planted an azalea bush in it. If the unthinkable happened, Ellis and Janice Mumphreys were ready.

On another October evening just five years later it looked like the Mumphreys might actually need their shelter.  That night President Kennedy addressed the nation, saying that he had demanded that Russia dismantle and remove the missiles they had placed in Cuba. He also announced a quarantine of the island, ordering the Navy to stop and, if necessary, board any Russian ships bound for Cuba.  America was preparing for war and the world watched and waited, eyes turned nervously toward the sky, looking for distant contrails that trailed behind winged angels of death.

Ellis and Janice decided not to wait. The shelter was already fully stocked with food and water. They gathered a few mementos and valuables and headed underground. But then, just before he closed the steel door, Ellis paused. “What’s wrong?” Janice asked.

“Nothing. I just forgot something. I’ll be right back.” A few moments later, carrying a shotgun and a box of ammunition, he reentered the shelter, locking the door behind him.

“Is that really necessary?” Janice asked.

“Probably not. But desperate people sometimes do desperate things.”

Janice stared at the gun and felt a cold shiver.

“People have laughed at us and our shelter for years,” Ellis said.  “They know it’s here. They might just try to break in.”

“But would you really shoot someone?”

Ellis looked at his wife and shrugged. “Dangerous times,” he said.

For several days Ellis and Janice listened to the radio, played cards or board games or slept. They said very little. Then the radio fell silent. Ellis dug out some fresh batteries and put them in. The radio was still silent. No news, no music, not even static. Absolute silence.

“What do you think?” asked Janice.

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ve dropped the bomb, maybe they haven’t. Maybe the radio’s busted.”

“But wouldn’t we hear or feel something if an atomic bomb went off?”

“Not necessarily. It might have happened miles and miles away, too far away to hear it.”

“Should you take a peek? Just to find out for sure?” Janice tried, but failed to tamp down the panic in her voice.

Ellis shook his head. “Why take that chance? Maybe everything’s fine. But there might also be radiation raining down out there. If I opened the hatch, even just an inch or two, it’d be committing suicide.” Janice started to sob. Ellis walked over to her and hugged her tightly.

“Why didn’t we have children?” she asked.

“The time never seemed right. You know that. We’ve talked about it a hundred times. And we decided to wait”

Pulling away from him Janice said, “You decided. Not we. You. And now it may never happen. We may die all alone.”

“We still have each other.”

Janice wiped away her tears. “I wonder,” she said. “I wonder.”

Two or three times a day during the next week Ellis would go up the ladder to the steel hatch, put his ear up to it and listen. There was always silence. He would glance over at Janice’s hopeful face and shake his head. Inevitably, she then turned away from him.

Ellis counted the days by keeping track of the food and water they had left. Morsel by morsel, drop by drop, the days passed. Finally, there was nothing left. “It’s time,” he said as he climbed the ladder to the hatch. He put his hand on it, paused, and looked back at Janice. She was staring at the floor. He opened the hatch.


                                © 2016 Stanley R. Teater

                                      All rights reserved

© 2016 Stanley R. Teater

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register


Oh boy do I remember that era and all the stories that were written. The ones from "Twilight Zone" are most memorable, but there were many others. It seems you're going to leave us hanging, which is fine, but the little boy in me wants to know more. It reminds me of one of the segments in "The Illustrated Man" in which the world was to have ended, but ... ? Great stuff!

Posted 3 Years Ago

Well done. This reminds me a a Twilight Zone episode 'The Shelter'. I use to have a recording of it and it was about how friends and neighbors become a mob when threatened by a nuclear attack and there's only shelter in the neighborhood. Very good and I look forward to reading more. Dave

Posted 3 Years Ago

Trying to find something of yours I haven't read. Please send a review notice when you do. I owe you. Valentine

Posted 3 Years Ago

This is a brilliant piece - the suspense and fear grew with every single description. You portrayed the characters very well, showing how people at that time would have acted. You succeeded in capturing history with words.

Posted 3 Years Ago

very well written. I really liked it.

Posted 3 Years Ago

Nice job capturing the fear of that time and the lengths people would go to for protection. I liked the emotion of the characters. They realized what anyone would...die by the blast or the radiation or die of starvation.

Posted 3 Years Ago

this has to be continued right? i mean i need to know what happens, what do Ellis and Janice find? its an intriguing story, well written.

Posted 3 Years Ago

Stanley R. Teater

3 Years Ago

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis ended peacefully, what they find is the world exactly the same as bef.. read more
costa siwale

3 Years Ago

In Arkansas the call them, 'fraidy holes', and have them for shelter when the tornados come. You have me wondering something perhaps silly...but, do they ever get around to having children? Your language skills are really good. Valentine

Posted 3 Years Ago

this was a trying time for a lot of americans,enjoyed the story

Posted 3 Years Ago

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


9 Reviews
Added on October 5, 2016
Last Updated on October 5, 2016


Stanley R. Teater
Stanley R. Teater

Cedar Park, TX

Writing fiction has always been a dream. After 36 years working in television station marketing and advertising I grew tired of writing 30-second commercials and promos. I retired and I now write fict.. more..


Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..

Anniversary Anniversary

A Story by Woody


A Poem by Ellen Hammond

The Mask The Mask

A Poem by Colton Warr