A young couple is just getting started and they are happy to find an apartment with more amenities than they expected, and in a more central location in the city. The rub is that it's an underground fallout shelter. The landlady, a widow who lives in the house above, explains that her husband built it during the Cold War; it even has its own air recycling and an automatic lock on the door that activates when radiation levels increase outside. The apartment has no windows, but it's very comfortable otherwise, and the two move in.

And once they are settled in, there's a muffled boom and the door locks. Evidently the city overhead has been destroyed. They are horrified, but remain safe in the shelter. The air continues to be purified, but food is going to be a problem eventually. Ugh, was that a roach? As the days pass, roaches become common, and then abundant, and food is running out. The husband reasons that the couple can survive by eating roaches, but his wife gags at the very thought. And she is growing more anxious; there is absolutely no news and she thinks the locked door may be some kind of mistake. He forbids her to open the door; that would admit radiation to the shelter. Eventually, in a tense argument, he kills her. Left with only regret and the swarming roaches for company, he despairs and commits suicide.

The landlady, who has been watching all along through hidden cameras, cleans up the apartment to ready it for the next set of tenants. She has a heck of a time exterminating the roaches.

I don't remember when I read this short story. It was in an English-language science fiction anthology and could date from the 1950s through 2010s.

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    ... I'm not certain of the sci-fi levels of this.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 14:09
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    It was definitely in a science fiction anthology, though technically the story could be happening right now in your own city... Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 14:21
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    IIRC it was also made into a half-hour TV episode of some thriller series, I forget which one. (It had some even darker and more disgusting elements too). Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 14:22
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    @InvisibleTrihedron Teresa (Terry) Champagne was Spinrad's girlfriend for a time. She once made a comment "Why are all science fiction fans so fat and ugly?", or something along those lines. Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 18:07
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    Homebrewing, or in a pinch Movies & TV, they kinda go together anyhow. @Daevin Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


This sounds very much like Surface If You Can, a short story by Terry Champagne, first published in the July 1969 copy of New Worlds, and later collected in The New Tomorrows, edited by Norman Spinrad.

It deals with a young married couple, Pam and Allan, and the plot is almost exactly as you've described. A nice summary confirms:

A young and loving couple take an atomic bomb shelter as their first married home, and then the bomb goes off, trapping them in a claustrophobic relationship and space, slow starvation inside or certain Radioactive Death outside. Or does it? As the landlady has been watching them on TV all the time, a woman who gets her jollies by regularly repeating this scenario with a new ‘cast’ each time.

A copy of magazine the story appears in is available at the Luminist Archive. The penultimate paragraph indeed begins:

She [the landlady] had a devil of a time getting rid of the cockroaches, and finally had to fumigate before she could run the ad again.

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    A mind like a steel trap! Yes, thanks, this is the one. I even remembered the cup of tea at the end, though I forgot many of the details. ("Roach clip," ha ha.) I read it, after all, in Norman Spinrad's 1971 anthology The New Tomorrows, whose cover I recognized among those in its ISFDB page. It was a long time ago. Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 15:25

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