"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
December 2, 2011
The pressure built until it blew up in a violent flash of light and sound as the tanker blasted open, shooting flames and heat in every direction. Underneath the fuel trailer, the asphalt melted at the same time the tanker's metal housing shot skyward.
As with the other aliens, the heat did not seem particularly harmful to the two remaining invaders pursuing Devin and Dina.
But the flying steel was.
The intense heat and burning metal engulfed the two remaining aliens, with pieces of flat ruptured tank colliding viciously with the floating beings like a pair of flying insects splatted by enormous flyswatters. The roiling outpour of flame and shrapnel happened so fast that the flashes of disjointed sparks and fire flying out of the crushed alien bodies were enveloped and obscured.
Horizontally, the shockwave of the explosion blew the truck's cab and crash-connected SUV forward as if fired across a croquet yard by a well-swung mallet. The abandoned cars closest to the obliterated tractor trailer were lifted and shoved backwards like Tonka toys scattered by an invisible, petulant child.
Further away, the power of the blast rocked and pushed the delivery truck into Devin and Dina, who were still using it for cover when the explosion came. The couple was flung forward by the force of the now-moving truck, as if they had been hit by a low-speed vehicle while crossing the street. Fortunately, the bulky vehicle shielded the two survivors from most of the raging heat from the explosion.
The windows and glass doors of the bordering buildings weren't as lucky, with the expanding shock wave of the bomb-like gasoline tanker shattering panes up and down the sidewalks on both sides of the street.
Once the flash of heat passed, Devin was up and helping his wife to her feet.
"Inside," Devin said, directing Dina toward a nearby consignment store that was now involuntarily open. Before scrambling toward the glass-strewn sidewalk, Devin picked up the shotgun that had been forced from his hands, while Dina picked up the organic blade she had been carrying, a macabre souvenir and clue from the first alien the couple had encountered face to face.
Devin helped his wife reach up and through the missing plate glass window, watching as she carefully stepped over the prostrate bodies of mannequins outfitted with eighties-era clothes that were working their way back into style. The plastic models had been toppled by the explosion. Before following, he scanned up and down the street looking for any sign of more aliens. He also made sure to look up, scanning for any floaters.
Inside, the store was dim, empty, and lifeless without even the normal "breathing" of a building's heat or air conditioner.
Devin took the moment of quiet to quickly inventory his wife's battered body, the top of which was still naked save for the now dirtied bra. There was no fresh blood leaking through the bandage still mounted on her shoulder blade, but there were plenty of fresh scrapes in addition to the bruises gained from the buffeting and tumbling of a day filled with explosions.
"While we're here, you might want to pick out something," Devin said.
"I'm hardly in the mood for shopping," Dina replied, a half smile flashing across her face.
"Yes, but I'm not thrilled with the idea of everybody on two planets seeing my wife's goods," Devin joked back.
Then it was Dina's turn to check out her husband's battle wounds.
"You look kind of roughed up yourself," Dina said. "Your face makes you look like a comic book villain, half white and half red."
Devin ran his hand over his face. The left side felt fine, though grimy. When he touched the right side, it was like scraping a nail file over sunburned skin. He quickly found a full length mirror next to a rack of dresses.
"Must have been from the flash of the explosion," Devin said, remembering that he was trying to peer around the front of the van when the tanker let go.
Once finished with his inspection, he pulled out his wallet. Beside a collection of credit cards was a lone one hundred dollar bill, which he pinched from the leather folds. He knew he had another one secreted in a compartment behind his driver's license, but he still hated using up his currency without knowing how long it might be before banks and businesses reopened.
"Whatever you pick, make it expensive," Devin said.
While Dina began rifling through the racks in search of a top, Devin worked his way behind the cash register counter. There, he found a pen and an envelope, on which he wrote his name and address and a brief explanation that he and his wife had been forced to take some clothes. He stuffed the $100 bill inside the envelope, then began his own hunt through the racks.
"I don't know how cold it's going to get, and I can't promise we'll be indoors tonight, so I would say to pick out something warm," Devin said before pawing through a collection of jackets and windbreakers.
By the time they were done, each had put on fresh jeans and flannel shirts. Dina added a hooded University of Missouri-Kansas City sweatshirt, while Devin picked out a well-worn imitation leather bomber jacket. He also managed to find a small nylon backpack favored by high schoolers. He pulled the tags from each of the used garments, did some quick math in his head to figure out that they were still below the $100 dollar limit, and stuffed them into the envelope before sealing it and placing it on the cash register keyboard.
While next to the register, he picked up the multi-line phone and started pushing buttons in search of a working line, but the phone was as dead as the building.
With one of the basics taken care of, Devin returned to the front of the store to check and see if anyone had ventured into the streets, or if any more aliens were on patrol.
"Anything?" Dina asked from the middle of the store.
"Not yet," Devin answered. "So we need to stock up, if we can. I'm going to hit the head. Recommend you do the same. Then we need to check the stock room, see what's there, and if there's any food to be had."
Before heading to the dark restrooms, the couple hugged and exchanged a quick kiss.
Afterwards, they rejoined in the back room. While searching for more supplies, they located the back door, which opened onto another alley like the one behind the pizza shop they had fled earlier.
Dina then found a tiny break room with a silent refrigerator. Inside, they discovered some bottled water, a few unopened diet sodas, and a half-eaten birthday cake.
When their reconnoiter was over, they returned to the front of the store and checked to make sure the street was still empty.
"Where are all the people?" Dina asked. "Surely there are others like us."
"Either on the run or in hiding," Devin answered.
Looking at the mess of tumbled mannequins and one overturned clothes rack, Devin got an idea.
"Help me with these mannequins," Devin said, grabbing a pair of the plastic clothing displays and pulling them to their feet. He then uprighted the fallen clothing rack and began pulling the clothes from the plastic hangers. Dina quickly caught on and began helping her husband empty another rack. Once bare, they positioned the racks a few feet apart on the floor lining the display platform in front of the missing windows, as well as two more racks right in front of the shattered door. Then they put the mannequins on the platform, hiding the racks from anyone passing by. Once they were in place, Devin started connecting the hangers like odd-shaped Tinkertoys, creating a plastic chain from one rack to the next.
"It won't stop anybody, but we'll hear it if anyone comes in," Devin said.
Once the makeshift perimeter alarm was in place, they returned to the break room where they each drank a soda and shared the remains of the cake.
After finishing the sweet but filling meal, they stuffed the rest of the water bottles into the backpack, which Devin slung over his shoulders before exiting the closet-sized room and moving toward the back door.
"So what's next?" Dina asked, finishing the last of her diet soda.
Devin had been pondering that exact question.
"I don't know how these things communicate, but you can bet someone knows that the last batch got wiped out. When they come back, there'll be more of them, and maybe better armed. I suspect they'll also be meaner."
"So staying here is out of the question?" Dina asked as they reached the back door.
"Afraid so," Devin said, settling onto a pile of unsorted clothes sitting on the floor next to the door. "You're not going to like this, but I think our best bet is to head back toward the damaged part of downtown."
"You're right," Dina answered, joining her husband. "I don't like it."
"It would make sense that they've already checked off the destroyed area from their to-do list," Devin said, turning a thousand thoughts and strategies in a cerebral chess game with an opponent he could neither see nor really comprehend. "They'll be working their way around the rest of the city, gathering up survivors or at least keeping them in check. And tamping down hot spots."
"So you and I are hot spots now?" Dina said, again offering a half smile.
"That's us," Devin said.
"I feel like I'm caught in a sci-fi movie, or a bad X-Files rerun," Dina said.
"Yeah. The truth is out there," Devin joked.
"But I don't want to believe," Dina countered, twisting one of the TV show's old catchphrases. "So do we have options?"
"Not many," Devin
said. "There's so much we don't know, beginning with the simple things
like who they are, where they're from, and what they want. The good news
is that they're not invincible. The bad news is, we don't know how many
of them there might be, or their capabilities."
"And shocking the shit out of us," Devin added. "I think that's an important clue. They pack a lot of electricity. And we know now that fire doesn't bother them."
"They seem to be allergic to flying car parts," Dina said.
"I'm not sure about that," Devin said. "Remember when the one got hit by glass? The glass didn't really seem to hurt it, even though it was just like getting hit by a shotgun blast."
"Speaking of, it doesn't seem to react well to lead injections, either," Dina pointed out.
"Sometimes," Devin answered. "It survived a long distance blast that poked a few holes in it. Even caused some of that sparking. But it took a close blast to really short circuit the thing. And I think that's the key. A concentration of lead, a car mirror, a metal hub cap...all of those things had an impact, almost like doing exactly that - creating a short in the wiring."
"So we have to figure out how to reverse the polarity or mess up the circuitry," Dina said, her brows furrowed in concentration. "I'm usually really good at frying electronics, like that Droid phone I dropped in the toilet last month."
With the sound of her words still hanging in the air, another sound interrupted from the front of the store.
It was the sound of plastic falling on broken glass.
1 - Arrival