The Shelter

 By John McNeil


The reactions of three survivors of a nuclear attack - sheltering in a fallout shelter - to the disaster which has just entered their lives.



Voice of radio announcer




A fallout shelter in the inner city. Dave is pacing up and down the cramped space. Sally is curled up in a foetal position to one side, rocking back and forwards. Steve sits reflective.


RADIO ANNCR: And that ends this special news flash. In a few minutes we'll cross to the Prime Minister's bunker for the Government's latest moves in the crisis. Stay tuned and we'll keep you up to date as further developments occur. least, for as long as our transmitters and emergency power hold out.

FX: Music

DAVE: (Goes to radio and switches it off.) Well, that's it then.

STEVE: What do you mean?

DAVE: Aw, c'mon!

STEVE: No, I'm serious.

DAVE: You think I'm not! Half Auckland and most of Wellington wiped out, a radioactive cloud being fanned in our direction by a convenient northerly - and you ask what do I mean?

STEVE: Okay, the situation looks bad, but does that mean we throw in the towel?

DAVE: We have some other options? Our foresighted leaders provide us with a fallout shelter, but carefully omit to provide any protective gear for afterwards.

STEVE: They didn't really think it would come to this. And not every employer took any action, despite the inspectors and the hefty fines. We were lucky.

DAVE: This is lucky!! Being able to choose between being cooped up in here with your unrelenting optimism and walking out there into oblivion.

STEVE: My "unrelenting optimism" as you call it does have ...

SALLY: (Screams) Will you stop it, you two! I can't stand it any more. We're faced with the end of the world and all you can do is bicker! You're mad, both of you. (She collapses into uncontrolled weeping.)

(Dave is at a loss what to do. Steve goes to try and comfort her.)

STEVE: Sally, please try and calm down. You don't know for sure what's happened to them. They might be okay.

SALLY: (Violently shrugs him off.) Their home's right in the middle of Khandallah. Right in the middle!

STEVE: But Greg and Katie weren't necessarily at your parent's place. They might have...

SALLY: They were all due there. It was going to be a surprise.

STEVE: Perhaps they heard the warnings... (he reaches towards her again).

SALLY: (Screams) Shut up! I can't stand it! Leave me alone. (She shrugs him off again, then after a brief pause throws herself against him, clings to him.) What am I going to do?

STEVE: (Cradles her as best he can.)

DAVE: What's there for any of us to do?

STEVE: For heaven's sake, Dave! Why are you giving in so easily? We're nearly 300 kilometres from Wellington. The worst effects of that cloud ...

DAVE: Worst effects! What do you know ... (Pause - barely suppressed anger) I saw a documentary on the aftermath of Hiroshima. You know when I was in Japan early this year? Some film footage just declassified 50 years after the end of the war. It was awful. Stuff they never showed here. Those poor wretches.... It was all I could do .... (Convulses slightly. Pause) And you heard the radio! This one's a hundred times the size!

STEVE: And I still say, there's still a chance...

DAVE: (Let's it all hang out) You still say... ! You and your precious Jesus, I suppose. Oh, you make me sick with your righteous optimism. (He convulses again, and suddenly dives for the rear of the shelter and a paper bag.)

STEVE: (Torn between not wanting to desert Sally, and wanting to do something for Dave.)

Dave (not unkindly), I think you're making yourself sick. (He disengages from Sally, goes to a basin of water, wrings out a cloth, takes it to Dave and helps to wipe his face. He then goes to a pack, takes out a thermos, and pours 3 tumblers, offering one each to Sally and Dave.)
Here, try this, both of you. (Sally takes the cup, but Dave waves it away.)

DAVE: We need something a damn sight stronger than tea.

STEVE: I'll think you'll find that this is.

DAVE: (Surprised, tries a sip.) Good grief, you surprise me. What else do you have for the condemned man's last meal?

STEVE: (Sighs) Dave ...

SALLY: (Hysterical) He's right! Condemned. That's us. Out for the count in our little made-to-regulations coffin. (Scrabbles in her bag.) But I have an offering to contribute to our last supper. (Draws out a piece of cake. Offers it around.) Take a piece, go on. Maybe there'll be 12 basketfuls left over after we've all eaten. And then Steve can read the last rites over us while we wait for the end. (She breaks down in hysterical laughter.)

STEVE: (Goes back to cradle her.) Sally. Sally. Oh God, please help us!

DAVE: Fat lot of good he's done for us so far.

STEVE: We don't know what he's done ...

DAVE: It's ironic, know. I emigrated here from England because I didn't like the way things were headed in the cold war. Thought the other side of the earth would be safe. (Laughs) I read somewhere that just before the Second World War there was a fellow in America who could see war was coming. So he decided to run as far away as he could. He got out his atlas and chose what he thought would be the safest place in the world to hide. And you know where he picked? Honiara. The Solomon Islands. The Japs marched in soon after and took it over as their South Pacific Headquarters.

STEVE: I think we've got to get out of this shelter. Cooped up in here, we're becoming victims of our imagination. We need to get some real information, and see what we can do.

DAVE: No way. You want to go help, you can help by seeing what Civil Defence or Red Cross is planning. If they still exist. I'm not shifting unless they can give some guarantees of protection against radiation.

STEVE: Don't you want to check on your house?

DAVE: What use is that to me now? You can't radiation proof it.

STEVE: So you're just going to waste away in here?

DAVE: (Very determined) I won't waste away!

STEVE: (Worried) What do you mean?

DAVE: I didn't come completely unprepared. I'll wait till evening for you to come back with some concrete plan. After that, I'll organise my own exit.

STEVE: Why are you so defeatist?

DAVE: grandfather was a prisoner of war just south of Hiroshima. I saw the photographs and the medical records. There's no way I'm going to go like that.

STEVE: I can't let you do this to yourself.

DAVE: You can't stop me. Unless you can guarantee a safe haven somewhere else.

STEVE: There are people out there who will be needing help. And Sally needs some proper care, too. Give me a hand to find somewhere for her.

DAVE: You go, Boy Scout. I've told you my plans. I'll keep Sally company. And maybe the radio will throw us a lifeline. (He turns the radio on, but now there is only static.) Then again....

STEVE: (Gets up) Sally, come with me, so we can find some accurate information about your family. And you need better care than we can manage here.

SALLY: Greg ... Katie ... Have you heard from them?

STEVE: No, but if we get to Civil Defence headquarters they might have some communication links going. Come on.

SALLY: (Slumps back) Oh, I thought you'd heard.

STEVE: Sally, please, come with me.

SALLY: I'm not sure I don't prefer Dave's plan. There's nothing out there for me now, either.

STEVE: (To Dave) You wouldn't...

DAVE: (Shrugs) She's a free agent. I won't offer her anything she doesn't want.

STEVE: (Decided) I know there are better choices. But we won't find them in here. I'll get back as soon as I can. Please wait till you hear from me.

DAVE: Till evening.

(Steve looks at him in anguish, then exits.)



© John McNeil 1999
All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged.
In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed.
He may be contacted at:
Or at: 36B Stourbridge St, Christchurch 2, New Zealand.