"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
Once inside the shop, Devin put Joe down on the counter where pizza orders were once placed. Throughout the scrambling trip, Joe never complained once. However, looking at the pizza maker, Dina could see that the man's face had gone white.
She looked at her husband, who had crept back to the plate glass window in front to check on the approaching alien craft.
"Devin," Dina said quietly, approaching her husband.
Devin looked back at his wife.
"Shock," he replied to the unasked question. "You okay, Joe?"
The man hesitated, but answered with a strong voice.
"Sure. No problems."
"Is it still moving in this direction?" Dina asked, referring to the large hovering craft that was continuing its trek up the street. The craft seemed to move effortlessly, and was completely silent.
"Yeah," Devin said, his voice tinged with the sound of someone trying to figure something out. "Stay here and let me know when it reaches the cross street at the end of our block," Devin said.
He went to Joe, who was sitting on the counter with his eyes closed, a small pool of blood dripping on the floor below him. The formerly white belt circling the upper part of the white pants leg was now like a band of maroon, like an out of place Ed Hardy decoration. The cotton belt had sponged up blood leaking from the wrecked leg, and was now smearing the pants with the red contents of its absorbent fabric.
"Joe, we should release the tourniquet a little bit to allow some blood flow to your knee, but I'm not sure you can afford the blood loss," Devin said. "Which way do you want to go?"
Joe thought about it, his teeth clenched in pain.
"I lose the knee, it's not much more than losing the leg. I lose more blood, a knee isn't going to matter one way or the other," Joe said, his accent thickening. "Leave it for now."
"Where's your phone?" he asked, beginning to look around the counter. He knew that the phone was likely to be just as useless as the ones back at the museum, but Devin was operating by the numbers - find refuge, summon help, reassess.
"In the back, on the wall next to the prep counter," Joe answered.
Devin pushed through the swinging port-holed door into the cooking area.
The kitchen was orderly and as clean as an operating room, complete with a stainless steel table and counters, shining metal bowls suspended from an overhead rack, and silver pizza trays stacked neatly next to a bank of unstained pizza ovens.
He picked up the receiver of the phone and found what he expected - silence.
Continuing to assess the room for anything that might be useful, Devin extended his unguided tour into a storage room. There he found foodstuffs and supplies, including five gallon pails labeled with pictures of tomatoes on them. It looked like the only useful weapon in the building, aside from the intimidating array of sharp but impotent knives back in the prep area, was already in play and in the other room.
Looking at the supplies, for the first time Devin realized he was hungry. However, there was nothing in the storage area that would lend itself to a quick, unheated meal.
Coming out of the dry storage room, closing the door behind him, he moved to the walk-in cold box next to it. Inside, he found more fresh vegetables. He also found blocks of lunch meat, carefully wrapped in plastic.
Devin started to grab one of the blocks of ham when he heard his wife from the other room.
"Devin!" she shouted.
The former soldier dropped the meat and raced into the other room.
"Is it almost here?" he asked, reaching the plate glass window.
"Worse," she answered.
Looking outside, he instantly spotted the hover craft, but it was no longer hovering. It had settled on the pavement at the end of the block. Now that it was on the ground, it was no longer invisible. Its rectangular grey width filled the street from sidewalk to sidewalk, extending into the intersection to block the nonexistent traffic.
At the bottom, level with the street, a door about the size of a two-car garage had opened. From the opening came a half dozen creatures like the one the couple had encountered on the museum lawn, each dragging their organic blade on the ground.
"We've gotta go, now!" Devin said, turning from the window.
On the counter, Joe opened his eyes.
"There's a door in the back, opens onto an alley," the man said.
Devin squared himself in front of the amputee and stooped down to again bury his left shoulder in Joe's midriff. He lifted the man off the counter, then turned to the swinging door where Dina was standing, the shotgun in one hand and the organic blade in the other.
"Go," Devin said, and followed his wife into the prep area.
Against the back wall was the metal door Joe had mentioned, secured with a bolt halfway up.
Dina tucked the blade under her arm and opened the bolt, then pushed the door open.
"Don't race right out," Devin said, reaching his wife. "Check first to see if anything is waiting for us."
Dina did as
instructed, carefully poking her head through the doorway and checking in
"Left," he said calmly.
The trio hurried down the alley, which emptied onto a larger thoroughfare. Not quite running, they had gone about 100 feet and were preparing to turn the corner when they felt a rumbling.
Then the sound caught up.
The pizza shop exploded behind them, along with the attached stores on either side. The shards of concrete had been reduced to pieces no larger than a quarter, like millions of odd-shaped bullets flying out in every direction. The buildings on the other side of the alley became pockmarked as the projectiles drilled into their brick and concrete surfaces.
Dina was around the corner when the first tiny pieces of deadly shrapnel reached the end of the street. Devin was just reaching that corner when he felt what at first registered oddly in his brain as a snake bite in his right thigh. He then sensed a push just below his left shoulder blade. It wasn't sharp, and it didn't actually hurt. It was just a sudden pressure that was gone as quickly as it had come.
Once around the corner, the group found a line of empty, stalled cars in the street in front of another line of shops and stores. Pieces of concrete ripped into the passenger sides of the nearest cars, the stones tearing into metal and leaving patterns that looked like a regiment armed with scatter guns had opened up on the unoffending vehicles.
Since the invaders were back to blowing up buildings, Devin didn't want to chance going into another store, even if he could find one without locked doors. However, Joe was getting heavy, and they needed a chance to figure out a plan.
Devin also felt a wetness on his lower back, which made him think that maybe he had actually sustained an injury that wasn't registering pain yet.
"The truck," Devin said, indicating a large brown UPS delivery vehicle with the back door still open.
Dina cleared the back bumper in one giant step. It took Devin a moment longer as he stopped to balance Joe on his shoulder, then hoisted himself into the back of the truck using one of the hand rails mounted on the door frame.
When Devin turned to pull down the overhead door, Dina let out an interrupted scream.
The door down, Devin turned and unloaded the pizza man onto a waist-high stack of boxes that crumpled but didn't collapse.
Above Joe's neck was a mangled mass of skin, bone, blood and black hair.
One of the projectiles had struck the man in the skull, crushing the back of the head and forcing pieces of bone forward through Joe's face. The wetness Devin had felt was Joe's draining blood.
Dina buried her face in her husband's chest, allowing sobs to escape that had been pent up since this ordeal had begun. A different kind of sob came out when her right hand tried to circle her husband's body and landed in the goo on Devin's back that had once been Joe's brain."He did it again," Devin said quietly, coming to grips with the fact that the concrete projectile would have gone through his body like a sniper's bullet if it hadn't struck the pizza maker's head first. "For the second time today, Joe saved my life."
1 - Arrival