My name is Sam Good Man. By rights, I could use the name Sam Baahuhd. I can claim that name because I am the oldest descendant of the original Sam Baahuhd, the headman of the village when we had to go underground to escape the atomics. I am the headman now, one hundred and five generations later.
Legends are told of lives like mine, but my life doesn’t seem legendary to me. It seems normal. Even ordinary.
Well, perhaps a bit more than that.
I was born in the underground shelter and escaped from it in its darkest time. I was badly wounded when I escaped and am alive only because Jeremy Edgarton—known by my people as the Great Tek—and his mother, the lady, Veronica Edgarton—saved me.
We found ourselves living on a great stone cliff over a river valley. We were joined by those who had gone to the angel Eliana’s planet to escape the great atomic war: Jeremy the Great Tek, Eliana herself, Henry and Lena, and Mel and James. We had many adventures. The battle for the underground when we saved the children was the greatest. I’m not going to talk about those times. I’m going to talk about what started it all.
To understand this book, you need to know that I have another name. I am Sam of Emily. I am the last of the line of Emily born in the underground shelter. Emily is the woman Sam Baahuhd carried into the shelter just before the bombs went off and sealed us down there forever. I carry inside of me Emily and Sam Baahuhd and Arthur Romero and so many more of the first ones. They sing in me, telling their tales.
Every story has a story behind it. This book has one, too.
After the battle for the underground, we went back to the cliff by the river with the children we’d saved. When we got things squared away so that no one was near dying, we started having campfires every night. We laughed and had fun—the best times I’d ever had.
At the campfires, the children sang the way we did underground, humming and warbling deep in our throats. The lady said our songs reminded her of the way the monks in Tibet sang. I don’t know about that. It’s just how we sing. Our voices sounded good in the shelter, bouncing off the cement walls. The sound carried a long way, too. You could put different meanings into the sound, if you wanted to sneak a message past the Bigs who enslaved us down below.
The first time I told a story, I started at the beginning, telling about Sam and Emily and Arthur and all the first ones. I didn’t think it anything special until I looked up and saw that everyone had tears about to spill out of their eyes.
When I’d been telling a little bit every night, Mel Abrams started teaching me to read. Mel was a teacher and a revolutionary before the world blew up. He was Jer the Tek’s teacher and friend. He teaches everyone here, whether they like it or not.
After I had told stories for few weeks, Mel got the “wonderful idea” that I should make the stories into a book.
“How can I write a book?” I said. “I cannot write.”
“This is what we’re going to do,” Mel said. “I’m going to record your stories and transcribe them. When you can spell the words from hearing the sounds, you’ll do it yourself. Then we’ll start polishing.”
I would write a chapter or two, and then he would read it and say, “Yes, but your POV”—that means “point of view”—“jumps here, and this goes on too long. You need to watch your punctuation. This doesn’t move the story forward.”
Somewhere along the way, I learned to use a computer. That made it easier. Then I wrote this story on the computer, instead of telling it at the campfires at night.
I’m glad of that, because I didn’t want to tell parts of this story around the children. There’s nothing wrong with people knowing that their ancestors were real people and went to bed with each other and made mistakes. But the kids ought at least to grow up enough to read about it, rather than hearing it by accident at a campfire. Some bad things happened down there. I’d just as soon not tell anyone about them, but a record should be kept. Maybe people will learn from it.
In the end, I wrote this book because my ancestors wanted me to do it. They’d come to me, raucous like a flock of crows, and flap around in my head until I wrote what they wanted. Whatever Mel thinks, I expect that my stories and this book will die on this ledge with me. But, even if they do, those who came before want those who came after to know what happened.
I offer you this story with love in my heart and gratitude that I have the life I do. I survived when so many others didn’t. This is the story of my ancestors, Sam Baahuhd and Emily, who loved each other beyond death.
Sam Good Man
Who is also Sam of Emily, the last Sam Baahuhd, the headman of the village and the people who live on the cliff by the river. I am the man who wed the lady and will love her forever.
* * * * *
The First Year Underground
* * * * *
“GET OUTTA MY WAY, YE DUNG-EATIN’ NINNIES!” Sam took the stairs down to the lower level of the mansion two at a time, clutching the naked girl to his chest. He had thought everyone would be safely in the bomb shelter by that time, but they weren’t. The huge room outside the shelter’s round steel door swarmed with villagers who’d snagged one last treasure from the big house.
A long sofa with a hump in its back was stuck in the shelter’s doorway. Two men carrying a grandfather clock screamed for someone to move the sofa so they could get through. Others holding fine wooden tables with curved legs bellowed, “Hurra up! Hurra up!” Women clutching clothing and dishes shoved each other.
“Drop that shit and get in the shelter!” Sam cried. “Yer s’posed to be down there now.”
“Ye weren’t here, Sam. We didn’t see ye nowheres. Everyone thought ye’d gone up in the ball o’ light wi’ Jeremy an’ Henry and them. Gone to anuther world. We thought we better get it all,” said Cooty Gill, the barrel maker.
“Ye couldna think to save yer ass, Cooty. Ah did not go up in the ball o’ light. Get inside! We have to get to the bottom before the bombs go off!” Sam threw the girl over his shoulder. “Get in the shelter, y’ idjits!”
No one responded. Then the image of Jeremy Edgarton appeared on the wall, bigger than in real life. His family owned the estate and he had created the fallout shelter. The image screamed, “The bombs are going off in three minutes! Get in the shelter!”
Sam leapt on top of the sofa in the doorway, ducked his head under its round steel lintel, and jumped over the arm on the other side. He was inside, but couldn’t get far. The first of the six staircases leading to the shelter’s depths was clogged with more villagers and their booty. Shouting and kicking, he shoved the girl and himself past the people and furniture.
“Get outta ma way!” Sam roared, scrambling through another door and sprinting down the steps on the other side.
That did the trick; if Sam Baahuhd was running for his life, the villagers knew this was for real. They dropped their treasures and bolted.
“Clear the doors so they can shut!” Sam yelled over his shoulder. “If even one door canna close, we’ll fry.”
They cleared the doorways and ran. Once the rout began, the villagers followed on Sam’s heels, but being careful not to touch or push him. They held back as though jostling him would cost their lives, which it might. Sam was headman of the village because his father had been headman, yes, but mostly because of his ferocity and cunning. He would kill any who interfered with him.
He galloped down all six levels, the girl bouncing on his shoulder and the looters following closely. When he got to the bottom, Sam stepped aside so the others could run past him.
They weren’t able to run very far; the area just inside the door was jammed. They’d been transferring the contents of the mansion to the underground since before dawn and had done a pretty good job of emptying the place. Piles of household goods and furniture were dumped where villagers had left them as they sprinted back for another load.
His people pressed around Sam, pushing each other and howling. The reality of their situation was dawning on them.
“Shut up! Get away so ah can think!” Sam felt like a cornered bear.
He saw Arthur standing by the bottom door, waiting for him.
“Art’ur, shut ‘er down!” he screamed.
Arthur was from New York City—the only one down there, besides the girl, from outside the village. Arthur had been Jeremy Edgarton’s protector for years, a commando masquerading as a driver. His presence was crucial: Arthur was the only person there who could read. He was also the only one who knew about computers and could run the systems for air and water, waste disposal, solar power, and all the rest.
And he was the only one who could close the shelter’s steel doors.
“Shut ‘er, Art’ur.” Sam was almost hysterical. Arthur had shown him a number of things the night before. One was how to read a digital clock. Sam stared at one on the wall in front of him.
The bombs were supposed to begin detonating at 7:35. It was 7:35.