"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
November 11, 2011
"Where are the people?" Dina asked from her place behind the dividing wall.
Feeling as if he had been running an imposed day-long marathon, it hadn't registered that the streets and alleys he and his wife had been hurrying through were completely devoid of other humans, aside from the rescuing pizza maker Joe who now lay dead in the back of the delivery truck.
Devin poked his head out from behind the other divider to take a quick look through the front windshield. Ahead of the truck, the road was littered with abandoned vehicles, some with their doors still open. At the nearest intersection, a crash between an Escalade and a crossing tractor trailer hauling gasoline blocked passage beneath a dark traffic light. While both the passenger vehicle and the truck were severely damaged, the 8,300 gallon tanker trailer remained intact. It was too far away to tell if anyone remained in the SUV or truck, but there were no rubberneckers or bystanders on the sidewalks or street. There also was no sign of a police car or emergency vehicle.
On each side of the street, the stores and offices seemed similarly empty. No lights or lit signs were visible from his vantage point.
"Stay or go?" Dina asked, after her husband had finished his visual assessment.
"Stay, catch our breath, and figure out a plan," Devin answered. "How many rounds are left in the shotgun?"
Instead of checking, Dina handed the gun over to her husband, who clicked the switch and broke the weapon in half.
In each of the barrels, the smaller bulls-eye in the center of the round brass cartridges were undimpled, meaning the rounds had not been fired.
Devin felt almost a measurable sense of empowerment and what he knew to be false security, the kind of reassurance that can only come from a fully loaded weapon. But he also knew that two rounds would buy only a very brief ride through whatever came next. They needed more shells.
Keeping watch through the windshield, Devin eased back to the warm body in the back of the truck that he had been carrying just minutes ago. It was a distasteful task, but survival trumped courtesy at this point. Devin eased the man to the floor of the truck and began going through Joe's pockets in search of more ammunition. He found four more shells, which he quickly transferred from the dead man's pockets to his own.
Before returning to his spot behind the divider, Devin unbent the hinged shotgun back into a single lethal weapon.
While heading back to his perch, Devin's eyes caught movement in the passenger side rearview mirror.
It was one of the amorphous alien creatures approaching the rear of the truck, its organic blade dragging against the asphalt.
Devin pulled behind the dividing wall and signaled his wife with his index finger against pursed lips. The couple remained silent, staring at the back up door of the truck, hoping the creature would continue its search elsewhere.
Outside, the alien began unhurriedly circling the truck.
Devin tried to do an enemy assessment in his head, but found the task nearly impossible because he knew so little about their adversary's capabilities.
The alien could hover. Could it fly? Could it shoot projectiles the way the larger alien craft did? What other weapons did it possess?
Thinking back, he recalled how he had been nearly electrocuted the first time he tried to impale the creature with the bayoneted rifle back at the museum grounds. His mind wasn't altogether clear about his failed attempt at previous-century hand to hand combat, but he remembered that the creature seemed to be completely electrified. The colorful and smoky short circuit when Joe's shotgun blast ripped through the being's torso confirmed that the alien was electrical in nature. But Devin wasn't convinced that electrical meant the attacking alien was mechanical.
He also thought about the thing's organic blade dragging the ground. It didn't appear to be the appendage upon which the alien moved. He remembered that the creature seemed to slow when the blade reached the carpeted area of the museum. Was it possible the blade was some sort of electrical ground?
A noise outside the back of the truck interrupted his assessment. Then a noise began inside the truck, accompanied by a light waft of smoke and a growing smell of cooking meat.
The husband and wife watched in horror as Joe's body began to vibrate and writhe. Sparks and smoke rose from his hands, the skin melting against the metal floor. Smoke and sparks also rose from the amputated section of his leg where it brushed against the truck's bottom.
"The floor is electrifying," Devin said. "Don't touch anything metal."
The roll-up door was suddenly thrown upward, banging hard against its stop.
"Out the front," Devin yelled to his wife, who was already on the move.
She reached the driver's side opening first, thankful that the driver had left it open. Most of the vehicle's shell was fiberglass, but the floor of the driver's compartment was encased in aluminum diamond plate. Dina nimbly leapt to the ground, careful not to let her exposed torso or hands brush the floor or metal steering column. Her husband jumped out right behind her, carrying the shotgun. Once clear of the truck, the couple ran toward the wrecked tractor trailer in the intersection.
The creature rose vertically, then quickly floated into the back of the UPS truck. The first thing it encountered was the now smoking and lifeless body of Giuseppi DiMario.
One of the two appendages on the alien's front shot out toward the body on the floor, piercing the once-white clothing and through Joe's flesh. Without effort, the appendage slid up, slicing open the back of the body. The creature's other front appendage then plunged into the wound. The blood released from the incision began to feed into the appendage, which simultaneously worked as a sponge and straw, drawing the red liquid from inside the body and into the alien.
In less than half a minute, the remaining blood that hadn't already leaked from Joe's head wound and missing lower leg was drained from the carcass of the man that had earlier saved Devin's life.
Sated, the being continued through the delivery truck and reached the driver's area. The gelatinous-looking body narrowed, allowing the creature to easily slip between the steering wheel and the seat, and out the open doorway.
Once outside, it immediately turned toward the intersection where the couple had headed.
Unlike most earthbound life forms, which used sight, sound, or smell to track its prey, the alien instead sensed their movement through an electrical signature produced by the humans, a much more efficient method of identifying its fleeing targets.
Back on the asphalt, the hovering being continued its pursuit.
On the other side of the wrecked tractor trailer, Devin and Dina hid behind the mangled mess of the truck's cab.
"It's coming," Dina said, spotting the alien moving quickly up the street.
"We can't outrun it," Devin said. "We're going to have to take it down."
Carrying the double-barrel shotgun at port arms, Devin found a spot between the crashed tractor and the undented tanker attached to it where he could set up a good sniper post, though he knew that the limited distance of his weapon made it a poor choice for sniping.
Keeping as much of his body behind a shiny chrome vertical exhaust stack as possible, he brought the gun to his shoulder, beginning to site in the moving alien.
As he tracked it with the shotgun's twin barrels, the creature disappeared behind a pair of nose-to-tail mini-vans about 30 yards away. However, it didn't reappear along the path Devin had anticipated. Scanning the area around the two vehicles, he thought he saw movement, but couldn't tell if it was the creature or something else.
From the front of the wrecked truck, where it had meshed into the SUV, Dina whispered loudly.
"It's turned around," she said. "It's leaving."
Devin climbed out of the killing spot and rejoined his wife. Once there, he looked around the front of the truck. As Dina had said, the thing was moving away, weaving through the abandoned cars.
Within a minute, it had reached the end of the block at the next intersection and turned the corner.
Devin was relieved at the thing's departure, but confused and concerned about what had led it to abandon its chase.
"It doesn't make sense," Devin said. "It knew we were here, was zeroing in on us, yet turned away."
"Do you think it saw the gun?" Dina asked.
Devin thought about it.
"I'm not sure the thing can actually see as much as it senses. But it wouldn't be a good tactical move to give up the chase when it's identified a target's location. Take cover, reassess, reposition, or call in reinforcements. Giving up just isn't logical."
With his own words still hanging in the air, the explanation hit him with a jolt.
"Get behind me," Devin yelled, using one arm to guide his wife toward his back while swinging to his left and leveling the barrel to parallel the tanker trailer.
Just beyond the end of the trailer, another alien was closing in.
With the speed and precision that can only come from years of training and drilling, with the results of that repetition making the difference between taking, defending, or losing a life, Devin brought the gun's butt to his shoulder, drew a bead and fired.
1 - Arrival