"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
December 17, 2011
Devin and Dina crept to the doorway leading from the storage area to the main part of the store to get a look at the source of the voice, with Devin bringing the shotgun up to a business elevation. Looking toward the front, they saw a heavy woman about 35 years old carrying a wooden baseball bat on her shoulder, ready to swing for the fences. Her short auburn hair was disheveled, and her face bore several deep scratches. The light blue button down Oxford shirt she wore was pockmarked with tiny burn holes along both long sleeves, which covered a variety of colorful tattoos. There were hints of more body art peeking out of the shirt's collar.
"Back here," Devin said, lowering his weapon as he and Dina came out from behind the wall.
"Just the two of you?" the woman asked, coming to a halt in the middle of the store.
"Yes," Dina replied.
"Shit," the woman said quietly. "I was hoping to find a battalion holed up in here. Or at least enough people to put up a decent fight."
"We're more into stirring up trouble, then running like hell," Devin said.
The woman smiled slightly at that, then resumed her slow pace toward the couple. She switched the bat from her right shoulder to her left, then extended her right hand.
"Celia Marx," the woman said.
"Devin and Dina Petty," Devin said, taking Celia's hand. The woman had a strong grip, and gave a good shake before releasing and shaking hands with Dina.
"The blown-up gas truck - your handiwork?" she asked.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Dina answered. "Had a few unwelcome visitors trying to drop in."
"Fire do them any good?" Celia asked.
"Didn't hurt them," Devin answered. "Can't say the same for flying car parts. Took out four of them before the tanker blew, which wiped out the last two."
"That's good to know. Found out the hard way that bullets don't bother 'em much," Celia answered, raising her shirt to display a Glock .40 caliber pistol tucked into the waistband of her jeans. "It was the explosion that drew my attention. Had a different sound than the bombs the tall bastards use."
"Are you hungry?" Dina asked.
"No, but I sure could go for a drink right about now," Celia replied.
"Well, we can offer you a scotch and water, without the scotch," Devin said. "You two head back to the break room while I reset the alarm."
The two women worked their way toward the back area of the store while Devin went to the front, reconnecting the chain of plastic hangers that had alerted him of the new visitor's arrival. While working near the window, he continued to scan the street in search of signs the other "visitors" were back. So far, the street and skyline were clear.
He returned to the break room where Celia was finishing her second bottle of water after chugging the first.
"Have you heard any news since all this began?" Devin asked once the second bottle was empty.
"I've seen more than I've heard," Celia said. "The downtown TV and radio stations went down right away. I was in my car on the way to work when the first explosions hit. Idiots in the cars ahead of me abandoned their vehicles and took off on foot, as if they had a better chance of outrunning flying aliens in their Nikes than in an automobile. Never underestimate the power of stupidity in large groups. I tried to drive around as far as I could, but making your way around downtown is a hassle on a good day. Today ain't one of those."
"How about broadcasts from outside K.C.?" Devin asked.
"When the local stations disappeared, I found pieces of broadcasts that sounded like they were from far away. Didn't sound like anything out of the norm. Muzak and what passes for classic rock these days. But after a few minutes, the whole thing went haywire with a kind of static I'd never heard before. Then the car suddenly died altogether. Hit the key, not even solenoid rattle. I work at a garage, so I knew the battery was fresh. That's when the tall bastard started unleashing hell with the bombs."
Devin was absorbing every word, seining the story for nuggets of useful information.
"So the radio went squirrely before the car died. Could it have been an EMP? An electro-magnetic pulse?" he asked.
"That's what I
thought," Celia said. "We've actually received technical bulletins over
the years on how to handle that. What to look for, what parts will need
replacing. I didn't get a chance to check my own car, because I was too
busy trying to get the hell out of there when the bombs started dropping.
But I've been able to look at a few engines since then. Have you tried to
start any cars this afternoon?"
"If you tried, you would find that nothing will start," Celia said. "In fact, nothing electronic will work."
"So we're back to EMP," Devin added.
"No, it's something else," Celia replied. "When I looked at those engines a few hours ago, nothing was fried. No arcing, no black marks, no burns like when something electronic gets overloaded. It's actually the opposite. It's like the tall bastards have sucked all the juice out of everything. Usually, even if you run a car battery down, it will charge itself back up if it's relatively new, has enough acid, and you leave it alone long enough. None of these batteries are coming back. And it's not just car batteries. I've found C and D batteries still in the pack that are dead. I don't know how they're doing it, but they're pulling electricity out of components without even touching them. That's a neat trick."
"Everything seems to be revolving around electricity," Devin observed. "I think that's what destroyed the ones we've taken down, or were taken down by the car parts. It's basically shorting them out. It also seems to be one of their defense mechanisms."
"Hence the wooden Louisville Slugger," Celia said, nodding toward the wooden baseball bat. "I ran into a home boy stocking up at a sporting goods store after I left the car and started looking for a place to hole up. After we each grabbed a couple of pistols and some ammo, we were trying to figure out how to cut the cable holding the rifles in place when one of the little 'soldiers' showed up. We went through two clips apiece trying to stop it. Didn't do shit. Then Marvin, that's the guy's name, grabbed an aluminum softball bat and took a big swing at what looks like the thing's head. When that metal connected, it lit him up like a Christmas display."
Celia stopped for a moment, her eyes staring at the floor but actually seeing a scene that played out hours ago and miles away. When she started talking again, her voice had dropped to barely above a whisper.
"The thing started using those metal appendages to pull Marvin's arms off. Then it stuck its tongue into each of the arms, sucking the blood out of them like it was sucking the sweet meat out of a crab claw. Wasn't in the least bit interested or worried about me. After it was done with the arms, it started pulling Marvin's legs off. That's when I found the rack with the wooden baseball bats. I was able to hit the bloodsucker hard enough to get its attention. Made it quit working on the guy's legs, anyway. But then it turned on me. I managed to break off one of its arms with a few more swings. Made me feel like it evened the score a little bit for Marvin. But I wasn't hurting it in a serious way, and I knew I'd run out of gas before it would. So after one last pop to the head, I bolted."
"Have you seen anyone else?" Devin asked. "Any military, anyone fighting back?"
"Saw a jet get knocked out of the sky," Celia answered. "Nothing since then."
"So now we're back to the question of the day," Dina said. "What next?"
"We can't stay here," Devin said. "I'm surprised we've gone this long without the next batch of roly polys following up on their friends. The good news is that we've learned they can be killed, for lack of a better word. Bullets don't do much good, but shotguns seem to have an effect at closer range. Unfortunately, we're almost out of shells. Celia, how far away is the sporting goods store you were in?"
"About two miles," Celia said. "Some of it is rough going, but if it means I get a chance for a little payback, I'm in."
"Then let's go," Devin said.
1 - Arrival