There were signs of life and death waiting for him in the hall. A charred ring on the tile and a scatter of ash marked the corpse of an old fire. The outside of the steel door was lined with scratches and marked with dings. The latter reminded him of his misses during Kick the Can, the ineffectual kiss of bullet against solid steel. Right by his feet, Jimmy noticed a stain on the floor—a patch of dappled brown—that touched some small broken bone deep within his brain. He remembered a man dying there with his father’s face. Jimmy looked away from these signs of the living and the dying and stepped into the hall.
As he began to pull the door shut, something made him hesitate, some worry in the fiber of his muscles, some constriction of blood vessels. Jimmy wondered if perhaps his code wouldn’t work from the outside. What if the door locked and he could never get back in? He checked the keypad and saw the gouges around its steel plate where someone had tried to pry it off the wall. He was reminded how desperately so many others had wanted in over the years. Remembering this made him feel crazy for wanting out. He was wanting in the wrong direction.
Before he could worry further, he shut the steel door, and his heart sank a little as the gears whirred and the locks slid into the wall. There was a hollow
Jimmy rushed to the keypad, his chest pounding in his throat, the feeling of men running down all three hallways to get him, blood-curdling screams and bludgeoning weapons held high over their heads—
He entered the code, and the door whirred open. Pushing on the handle, he took a few deep breaths of home, and nearly gagged on the smell of his own waste warmed by hot and buzzing servers.
There was no one running down the halls. He needed a new can opener. He needed to find a toilet that worked. He needed coveralls that weren’t worn to tatters. He needed to breathe and find another stash of canned food and water.
Jimmy reluctantly closed the door again. And even though he had just tested the keypad, the fear that he would never get back inside returned. The gears would be worn out. The code would only work from the outside once per day, once per year. A part of him knew—the obsessive part of him knew—that he could check the code a hundred times and still worry it wouldn’t work the very next. He could check forever and never be satisfied. His pulse pounded in his ears as he tore himself from the door.
The hallway was brightly lit. Jimmy kept his rifle against his arm and slid silently past ransacked offices. Everything was quiet except for the buzzing of one light fixture on its last leg and the flutter of a piece of paper on a desk beneath a gushing vent. The security station was unmanned. Jimmy crawled over the gate, remembering Yani, imagining the stairwell outside crowded with people, a man in a cleaning suit barging out and wading into the masses, but when he opened the door and peered outside, the landing was empty.
It was also dim. Only the green emergency lights were on. Jimmy shut the door slowly so that rusty hinges would groan rather than squeal. There was a roll of paper on the grating by his feet. Not a roll of paper. Jimmy nudged the object with his boot, a white cylinder the length of his forearm with knobby ends. A bone. He recognized it from the jumble of a man who had wasted away by the servers, dragged close to his piles of shit.
Jimmy felt with keen surety that his bones would be exposed someday. Perhaps this day. He would never make it back inside his sturdy little home beneath the servers. And this frightened him less than it should have. The heady rush of being out in the open, the cool air and the green glow of the stairwell, even the remnants of another human being, were a sudden and welcome relief from the insanity of being closed in. What had once been his pen—the floors and levels of the silo—was now the great outside. Here was a land of death and of hopeful opportunity.