"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
The morning sun sat atop the tall apartment building, looking like the flame on a birthday candle in the middle of a perfect day.
For Devin and Dina Petty, Kansas City was "the big city," full of all the things that were missing from their hometown of Manhattan, Kansas.
Their parents would have opted to vacation at the beach, or in the mountains, or one of a thousand places that offered peace, solitude, and an escape from any kind of crowds.
Dina craved the thriving, pulsating excitement of a city, complete with the busy streets and vibrant night life, which is why Devin arranged for them to spend their first wedding anniversary in K.C.
Here on their first day, the couple had ditched their car in a parking garage and began wandering the downtown area on foot. The plan was to hit a few art galleries before the morning's main attraction, a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum.
Devin could care less about art, and looked forward to the art museum with the same enthusiasm usually reserved for a trip to the dentist and an all-afternoon root canal. But he loved Dina, who had sacrificed and waited for him to return from his year long tour of duty in Afghanistan. His National Guard unit had been assigned the task of helping Afghan farmers set up new farms and establishing the infrastructure of that country's agribusiness, so he didn't come back with the horror stories and nightmares that afflicted so many of his peers. He had seen some action, enough to whet his appetite for excitement and justify the thousands of dollars spent on his training in JROTC at high school and later in The Guard. But when it came time to re-up after his eight year obligation, Devin knew that he wanted to start his new life with Dina more than he wanted to chase the adrenaline rush. He could have stayed with The Guard and returned to the once-a-month routine he had enjoyed in the first few years of his service, but knew that the likelihood was high he would be sent back to The Gan at some point, which would mean another extended separation from the woman who had waited patiently and loyally for her man to come home.
Dina was an attractive woman, with the hand and the heart of an artist. Her specialty was cartoons and caricatures, but her abilities extended far beyond that. After graduating as a Gorilla from Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kansas, she had taken a job in Manhattan as a graphic designer, which is where they had met, dated, and ultimately married.
It wasn't easy for a beautiful young woman in a college town like Manhattan, filled with opportunities and available young men attending nearby Kansas State, to choose to wait for a boyfriend stationed on the other side of the planet.
But she had, and Devin planned to spend the rest of his life rewarding her for that decision and faith.
So the tedious trip through the art venues would be just another minor step toward fulfilling that plan.
While holding hands and walking toward another in a seemingly endless lineup of galleries on Baltimore Avenue, the couple felt the ground rumble beneath their feet, followed by a deafening boom from the east.
"Was that thunder?" Dina asked, looking in the direction where the sound had emanated.
Devin had heard that sound often during his year away from her.
"An explosion," Devin said without hesitation.
While they searched eastward, spotting the column of smoke that looked like its source was miles away, another boom rocked the city from the same direction, only a little closer.
Around the couple, people also stopped to look toward the east. Traffic on the street came to a halt, with a few drivers actually stepping out of their cars to get a better look.
Two more explosions followed, each still a good distance away, but seeming to continue toward their location. Smoke now began filling the sky to the east.
While Dina increased her grip on her husband's upper arm, looking for the source of the explosions, Devin looked skyward. Because the bombs seemed to be moving in a particular direction, from east to west, his training told him that they had to be coming from the sky. He looked for a plane, but couldn't see anything in the glare of the sun.
Three more explosions in rapid succession shook the city, each getting progressively closer. The vibrations shook plaster from a building on the corner. On the opposite corner, shards of glass began hurtling toward the ground from a modern building that was losing its reflective face.
The debris coming from the nearby buildings jump started the people on the ground, who had been stationary live statues staring in the same direction just moments before. Drivers jumped back into their cars and began heading for the nearest intersection where the quickly turned left. Pedestrians began moving finding the corners and moving west as well, heading away from the cascading explosions.
Devin reached into his back pocket and pulled out a glossy tourist map of Kansas City, quickly glanced at it, then put it back in his pocket before grabbing Dina's hand.
"Let's go," Devin said, and began pulling his wife south. It quickly became a trout-like swim upstream against the current of panicking people heading north and west.
Another lineup of three explosions in a row continued the path toward the downtown area, just east of Hospital Hill. The concussions were of identical strength, but felt more powerful as they got closer.
"Everyone else is heading in the opposite direction," Dina yelled while continuing to jog next to her husband.
"I know," Devin answered. "They're wrong. The bombs are heading toward the population center, where there are more people, and moving toward the river. The people heading west are going to bottleneck and get trapped at the Missouri. We need to move toward less population. Liberty Park won't be a target."
It wasn't just his training. Devin had always been a decisive man, which is one of the things that had attracted Dina to him in the first place. That lack of hesitation made the decision to follow him an easy one.
"Is it a terrorist attack?" Dina asked, picking up speed.
"I don't think so," Devin said. "Seems more militaristic and mobile than a series of planted bombs. The explosions are going in a consistent direction, like the source is on the move."
Two more explosions erupted, with the second one actually flaring at the top of Hospital Hill. Buildings didn't flame and break apart as much as they seemed to simply evaporate. Instead of large chunks of concrete, brick, and mortar, the exterior building materials and the contents of the buildings turned into billions of tiny particles about the size of small pebbles, firing outward in every direction from the center.
Unlike clunky showers of debris falling on people below like victims in cheesy earthquake movies, the building particles became projectiles in their own right, piercing neighboring buildings like blasts from a shotgun loaded with tiny number nine shot.
At the street level, the horizontally flying particles traveled at a velocity that ripped through scrambling pedestrians like sheets of needles, tearing thousands of neat little holes through flesh, in one side and out the other. The lifeless bodies that remained after the particles passed through didn't fall and tumble. Instead, they neatly collapsed into disconnected piles of bone, sinew, skin, cloth, and blood. All of this happened in less time than it took for the explosions' echoes to rumble back.
The particles higher up shattered the window walls of steel and glass buildings nearby. The shards of glass from those buildings, a secondary casualty of the disintegrated adjacent structures, did become the horror-invoking instruments of death depicted in the movies as they fell on the people in the street below. Larger chunks of jagged glass impaled people from the crown of their heads and down through their torsos, coming to rest in the concrete sidewalk and pinning people in place like insects on an entomology board in a science project. Smaller pieces of glass became vertical cutting devices, slicing off hands, arms, noses, faces, anything extending out from the body of the running victims.
The stronger concrete buildings fared better, with the particles pitting and knocking loose the plaster facades which fell to the ground below. Some of the particles were able to pierce even thick concrete blocks or bricks, continuing inside to perforate and kill victims within the neighboring buildings who thought they were safe indoors.
Within a radius of four blocks from the initial blast point, almost no one survived.
Just when the death seemed finished with those blocks, another explosion would erupt, and the scene would replay a few hundred feet further west.
As the explosions got closer, Devin and Dina gave up any pretense at jogging and clicked into a full run, blasting through knots of other people who continued to migrate west in their own mindless race.
By the time they reached the tree-lined border of Liberty Memorial Park, the crowds had thinned. In fact, no one remained on the grassy park spreading out in front of the World War I monument and museum.
The couple raced up the steps to the front doors of the museum built at the base of the monument.
"It looks like it's closed," Dina said as they neared the bronze double doors.
Devin reached the entry first, and pulled on the right door.
Another explosion ripped through the downtown area, just three blocks from Baltimore Avenue, where they had been barely two minutes before. Debris from the evaporated buildings didn't quite reach the monument stairs, but pieces did fall on the grassy area spread out in front of it.
"Where now?" Dina said, panic finally reaching her for the first time.
Devin scanned the area, looking for a solid place that might provide some shelter from the next blast. He estimated that, if the pattern held, the next bomb would strike close enough to reach them if they remained on the steps, but there wasn't enough time to run around to the back of the monument, which might provide some protection.
Instead of running blindly, Devin simply turned to his wife.
"I love you," he said.
She blinked, realizing that his simple statement meant their luck had run out.
"I love you too," she said, reaching out to him for a final hug, grateful that they would be together at the end.
Just then, the left door opened, and a smallish man with round glasses timidly peered around the frame at the couple on the steps.
Devin and Dina didn't wait for an invitation, and instead darted into the darkened entryway. The heavy door clicked shut just as the next explosion obliterated the lineup of art galleries on Baltimore Avenue, and just about everything else they had touched and seen that morning.