"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
Once past the trailers rear wheels, the creature compressed itself, flattening to less than two feet tall, then careened sideways to squeeze under the trailer. Once on the other side, it stretched back to its original height, then rose until its lower half couldn't be seen.
Devin knelt to try and find where the being was located, and whether it was still moving. Unable to see even the thing's blade, Devin took a few steps back, giving him a broader view. He looked toward the top of the trailer, anticipating that his opponent might be trying to rise and attack from above.
"See anything?" Devin asked of his wife, who was also scanning the periphery of the trailer from her vantage point near the front of the crashed truck cab.
"Nothing," she answered.
Because their pursuer was completely silent, without even the whisper of an exhaled breath, the moment's silence wasn't an ally or foe to either adversary.
Devin nodded his head sideways, a silent signal to his wife that she should join him. Once she arrived, the couple started crabbing to their left, continuing to face the trailer while scanning above and below for any sign of the alien.
When they reached the back, the two began working their way around the trailer, Devin in the lead. He pointed at his wife, then at his feet, telling her to stay put. Easing part of his head around the butt of the trailer, Devin prepared to scan the area for any trace of the alien, aware that their roles had now reversed; he was the hunter, the interloper the prey. He finally turned the corner and looked the length of the trailer.
The alien was gone.
Devin's visual search became more intense. He knew that the original alien craft which had destroyed most of downtown Kansas City was clear, almost invisible. He now wondered if the smaller versions possessed the same capability.
He looked beyond the trailer, taking in the scene of abandoned vehicles and silent buildings nearby, searching for any sign of movement.
As his training had taught, he then expanded his visual grid, looking progressively further out in calculated sweeps seeking targets or threats. His search came up empty, until he actually turned around and took in the roadway behind him.
Coming up the street from the intersection he and Dina had traveled less than 15 minutes before, Devin spotted a line of at least six aliens. They were scattered from one side of the road to the other, weaving around the abandoned vehicles.
Six targets. One shotgun shell in the pipe and four in the pocket. The math wasn't going to work this time.
Devin scrambled back around the trailer to rejoin his wife.
"They're coming," he said, his voice tight but strong, showing none of the fear he felt.
"I've been thinking about something," Dina said. "Follow me."
Reversing roles for a moment, the soldier followed his wife, who came to a stop halfway down the trailer to what appeared to be a rectangular metal cabinet hanging from the tanker's underbelly.
"Notice we're sort of going up a hill?" Dina asked, as she removed the clip that held the hasp closed, then opened the double doors. Inside was the tanker's piping that terminated in a place where a large hose would ordinarily be coupled in order to empty the fuel from the tanker to a gas station's underground storage tanks.
From his days overseas when he would occasionally work a fueling detail, Devin immediately recognized the knobs and handles that controlled the flow.
"Hold this and keep sharp," Devin said, handing the shotgun to his wife while guiding her off to the side of the cabinet.
With Dina serving sentry, Devin removed the cast metal cap from the largest pipe, which dangled from a chain when released. He then grabbed an attached lever and pulled it toward him, stopping at the halfway point.
A torrent of liquid shot out of the pipe and onto the pavement. At first, the harsh smell of gasoline accompanied the jet of liquid as the fuel splashed to the ground and roiled about 10 feet away. Then the slight slant of the hill began cooperating with the pull of gravity, leading the gasoline to reverse directions and begin rolling back toward its source and under the trailer.
Within moments, hundreds of gallons had rolled and spread along the street on the other side of the tanker, offering a multi-colored sheen that made the blacktop glisten and sparkle as the fuel raced toward the oncoming aliens.
Devin and Dina began walking backwards away from the trailer until they were just beyond the spot where the first burst of gasoline had reached. Once there, Dina handed the shotgun back to her husband. Re-armed, Devin bent down to try and see under the trailer, hoping to catch a glimpse of the approaching intruders. His view was too narrow to see them all, but he could spot at least three of the floating aliens approaching the crash site.
Devin reached into his pocket and pulled out the lighter he had cadged earlier from the museum, the same one he had used in the tower's stairwell.
"Since it was your idea, would you like to do the honors?" Devin asked, holding the lighter toward his wife.
Instead of grabbing the lighter, Dina's eyes grew wide.
"The trailer!" she yelled.
When Devin turned around, his eyes immediately caught what his wife had seen, but his mind refused to believe.
Near the top of the trailer, a curved appendage was slowly sliding down the rounded surface of the tanker. Once it reached the midpoint, it began to pull away from the steel. The body of the alien began reforming below the organic blade as it came further from the surface of the tanker. It was as if the body had joined with the tanker's metal, but was now leaving it to rejoin and rearrange itself into the being's shifting body.
"It's the one from before," Dina said. "The one you shot."
Once completely clear of the tanker, the body rolled over to take its normal alignment, with the organic blade pointing down and what passed for a head regaining shape at its top. The two arm-like appendages emerged from the torso. The body then began drifting downward in front of the cabinet from which gasoline was still pouring in a powerful stream.
When the blade touched the wet pavement, the alien began moving rapidly toward the couple.
Devin handed the lighter to his wife, then brought the shotgun to his shoulder again, taking careful aim, but refraining from squeezing the trigger.
"It has to get closer this time," Devin said, knowing that he had to make the shot count with a concentrated blast in the middle instead of the more scattered pattern that had had no effect the last time around.
Dina went to her husband's side and took a knee while holding the lighter, preparing to flick the button in an instant so she could ignite the gasoline.
It turned out that her effort was in vain.
When the thing was within 10 feet, reaching the edge of where the gasoline had sprayed before, Devin finally squeezed the trigger.
The compacted eruption from the shotgun's barrel hit its mark, blowing a hole the size of a teacup saucer in the front of the creature's body. The exiting hole was more like that of a dinner serving plate.
The impact didn't knock the alien's amorphous body backward, the way a shotgun blast from that range would have affected a human or animal. However, the creature stopped its forward motion.
Sparks and tiny bolts of purple lightning erupted from the hole, which was trying but not succeeding in closing and healing itself. Small slivers of flame began to leak from the edges of the hole as the electrical charges disrupted inside began sizzling in erratic patterns.
The alien then toppled over, its body barely making a splash in the half-inch of gasoline that covered the tarmac.
Then one of those escaping arcs of electricity shooting out of the creature touched the liquid.
The powerful whump of igniting gasoline filled the air with red and orange, the explosive displacement of air knocking Devin and Dina onto their backs.
The fire raced back to its source, turning the spout that had previously been spewing a stream of fuel into the nozzle of a blowtorch.
The trail of liquid leading under the trailer and the widening creek of the roadbed on the other side, immediately became a lake of fire as the flame shot along its wet path. The result wasn't an explosion as much as it was a shockwave heading skyward trailed by a tail of flame.
The racing fire reached the empty automobiles, at first setting the tires on fire, then spreading to the car interiors on those with open doors.
The fire river also reached the approaching aliens. However the amorphous bodies, devoid of any flammable material, or actually any material at all, did not catch and burn. Instead, each of them began rising, hovering a few feet above the flaming pavement, their blades dangling in the air below them.
After struggling to his elbows, able to see the creatures rising but not burning from his low vantage point, Devin started scrambling to his feet.
"Gotta go," Devin said, taking his wife's arm and helping her to get up from the street.
Once vertical, the couple turned and started running up the gentle slope of the paved hill, dodging around disabled cars. Once they reached another delivery truck, Devin led the way behind the front, putting the heavy vehicle between him and the fire still burning but beginning to dissipate about 100 yards away.
It was then that the explosions started on the other side of the tanker.
The flames burning under the abandoned cars had served as Bunsen burners under their gas tanks. After the heat built pressure inside those tanks, the flames from inside the cars finally found a way into them. The result was a series of four-wheeled bombs going off in the street.
Hovering above the pavement, the half-dozen aliens were safe from the flames. However, when the cars began exploding, they weren't immune to the rain of flying shrapnel and car parts that now filled the air.
A car mirror blasted through the center of the alien closest to the tractor trailer, drilling a hole through its torso that was much neater than that made in one of its brethren by Devin's shotgun, but every bit as lethal. The alien dropped like a stone into the still-burning street.
A few feet away, a piece from the trunk deck of a Chrysler 300 flew flat through the air like a spinning four-edged knife, slicing through the center of an alien. The creature's shifting body didn't separate, but still began arcing and sizzling as it tumbled lifelessly to the ground.
A third alien met a similar fate after a large piece of rear fender from an exploding Toyota Camry ripped into its midsection, punching a hole that nearly took off the upper third of the creature's body.
When the large back window of a Pontiac Aztec exploded, thousands of shards tore into the torso of a fourth alien. It was almost poetic, as the flying squares of glass served in a similar capacity as the miniscule pieces of concrete and brick from the buildings destroyed by the larger alien craft just hours before which had taken the lives of hundreds of humans when the invasion first started downtown.
Unfortunately, the non-metal pieces didn't have the same effect on the alien as the other metal parts. While the pieces of tempered glass had riddled the alien with hundreds of tiny holes, they weren't fatal wounds.
It appeared the creature was going to survive, as its shifting body began coalescing around the wounds.
A nearby alien wasn't so fortunate. A spinning hubcap blown off of an old Ford Escort whistled through the smoke like a lethal Frisbee. Instead of striking the torso of the alien, the horizontal buzzsaw sliced into the spot where the creature's organic blade attached to its body, neatly severing the two. Both the blade and the alien tumbled to the ground, with a steady shower of sparks pouring out of the prostate alien body's bottom wound like a sideways Roman candle.
The two remaining aliens, including the one recovering from the window shards and one completely untouched by the cars exploding around it, began moving forward toward the wrecked tractor trailer.
Instead of returning to the ground, the pair hovered over the top of the tanker, one toward the front and the other toward the rear. Once it cleared the top of the truck, the two began approaching the delivery truck from opposite sides in a classic pincer move to trap the humans hiding in front.
Glancing from behind the truck, Devin saw the two interlopers approaching. With practiced hands, he quickly broke the shotgun in half, pulled the spent shells from the twin tubes, then reached into his pocket and extracted two shotgun shells. In less than three seconds, with fresh shells in the double barrel shotgun, Devin bent the two pieces back together and began to take aim at the nearest alien.
He never got a chance to squeeze the trigger.
1 - Arrival