The night was unusually warm for this time of year, but it felt good. It took the edge off of the brutally cold winter they’d had. Also on the plus side, the humidity had yet to set in, which signaled when spring was about to morph into summer.
Mattias followed the small dirt trail through what was left of the wooded area to the rotting log he’d discovered a few days ago. The lantern he carried gave him enough light to follow the path, but the full moon overhead gave him extra illumination, allowing him to see far beyond the lantern’s perimeter. The glow coming off the silvery-white orb was so intense in the cloudless sky, he believed he almost didn’t need the additional light. At least not until he reached the digging spot.
He turned around to see Jeff running toward him. The six-year-old was panting, which told him his son had probably run all the way from the underground bunker.
“Hey, Papa! Wait for me!”
Mattias waved for the child to hurry up. He was glad that the moon was as bright as it was. Otherwise the boy could easily have gotten lost. “What are you doing out of the bunker?” he scolded the child. “And without a light!”
The youngster skidded to a stop, a confused expression on his face. “I can see fine, Papa.” Mattias concurred. Still…
“Why aren’t you watching after your mother?” he asked in a softer tone.
“She’s asleep. I wanted to come see what you were doin’.”
“I’m going after worms,” Mattias told him.
Jeff screwed up his nose. “Worms?”
Mattias waved at him again. “Come with me. You can help.”
“Why worms?” the young boy asked.
“Because they’re full of protein,” Mattias explained.
“What are you gonna do with ‘em? Are you goin’ fishin’?”
“No, because there aren’t any fish anymore.”
“So whaddaya goin’ to do with ‘em?”
“We’re going to eat them.”
“Eat them?” Jeff wrinkled up his nose. “Why?”
“Because if we don’t, we’ll starve to death. Come on. You can help me.”
Together they reached the area where the trees and plants were naturally decaying, and not because of the massive devastation caused by man. Dropping to his knees, Mattias set the lantern to the side where it shone on the ground and pulled the slotted spoon from the waistband of his jeans.
Jeff settled across from him. “Whaddaya want me to do?”
“Watch.” Shoving the spoon into the loose loam, he dug up a small amount and flipped it over. Two earthworms glistened as they tried to wriggle back into the dirt. He grabbed both of them, dropping them into his palm before reaching into his pocket for the cloth pouch. “I’m going to dig them up, and you pick them out of the dirt and put them into this bag. Like this. See?” He showed his son. “This way we won’t have to stay out here too long.”
He continued digging, tossing the earth over in front of Jeff, who meticulously checked each mound. “Boy, there’s a lot of ‘em,” the child remarked.
“How’d you know we’d find some?”
Mattias pointed overhead. “See that? The full moon in March is called the Worm Moon.”
“It’s named that because people used to believe that the earthworms finally appeared this time of year when the ground began to thaw in the spring.”
“Guess it’s true,” Jeff remarked as he continued to drop worms into the pouch. “There’s a kajillion of ‘em here.”
They labored for what Mattias guessed was a good half hour when they heard the high-pitched bark of a dog. The animal sounded far away, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“We need to go,” he announced, getting to his feet and dusting his hands off on his pants.
Jeff lifted the bag. “Ugh! It’s heavy!”
“I’ll carry it.” He took the pouch from the child, noting it was indeed heavy. “This should do us for a while.”
“How you going to cook ‘em?”
“They have to be boiled first. In fact, they’ll have to be boiled three times to make sure we get all the dirt out of ‘em. After that, we can either make a soup out of them, or roast them over a fire.”
Jeff cast him a wistful smile. “Do we got enough to fill us up?”
Mattias gave him a warm smile in return. “Yeah, son. We have enough to eat on for a little while. Until we need to go hunt for more.”
The dog howled again, this time closer. A second hound answered. It was difficult to tell if the creatures were baying at the moon, or because they’d caught the scent of the two humans who’d ventured out of their bunker in search of food.
Placing a hand to his son’s back, Mattias urged him to go faster. The once domesticated but now wild animals preferred to hunt at night. And anything was fair game, including what few humans were left in the world.
They safely reached their underground home. Once they were behind the heavy iron door, Mattias locked the inner seal to prevent anything or anyone else from getting inside. When he finally climbed down the ladder to the main room, he found Simone lying on the couch, having moved herself there from the bedroom to await their return.
Mattias strode over, dropping to one knee beside her, and gave her a kiss. “How are you feeling?”
She stared up at him with overly large eyes. Their slow starvation seemed to be taking its greatest toll on her after the harsh winter. “Better, now that you’re back. Did you find anything?”
“Momma!” Jeff held up the stuffed bag that wriggled in his grasp. “We got worms!”
“Worms?” She turned to her husband.
“They’re full of protein,” he told her. “There’s lots and lots of them to be found! We won’t be going hungry again any time soon,” he promised her. Down here she wouldn’t be able to hear the animals crying out on the surface, so she’d never know how close they’d come to being discovered.
Simone smiled as she tucked a bit of long hair behind his ear. “How do you cook worms?”
“Papa says you hafta boil ‘em at least three times before you can make soup out of ‘em,” Jeff spoke up.
“Or we can grill them over the fire,” Mattias told her, indicating the small hibachi over in the corner that served as both barbeque pit and brazier when it got too cold down here. “I’ll probably grill this first batch. It’ll be faster than trying to make soup. Jeffrey, go put a pot of water on the stove to boil.”
The child hurried away to get their meal started. Their first meal that day, and their first real meal in three days.
Mattias kissed his wife’s forehead. “You lie here and rest, okay? I’ll fix dinner.”
“Worms, huh?” she repeated, adding a trembling smile.
“Earthworms. Don’t knock ‘em ‘til you try ‘em.” Dropping one more kiss to her face, he got up and went to prepare what would be a feast.