"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
June 1, 2012
The newly formed trio stepped through the shattered display window at the front of the store and onto the sidewalk littered with the detritus of previous explosions. Devin scanned the street and sky to make sure no surprises awaited them. Once again, no aliens were in evidence, a fact that bothered him. By now, word must have gone out among the invaders that at least a half dozen of their "ground scouts" had been killed.
Devin was also troubled by the scene before him. He had seen this kind of damage and devastation before, with shattered buildings and fire ravaged automobiles littering pockmarked streets. The visions of it occasionally joined him in his sleep. It had been in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan. The signs of death and destruction drove home a jarring reality -- that war had come to his homeland's soil.
The only things missing were the body parts that usually littered his dreams.
"Which way?" Dina asked the newest member of their collection.
"Follow the damaged black road," Celia replied in a singsong voice before turning right and stepping around the debris along the sidewalk.
"I would tell you to be quiet so we can hear if any of the little electrical bastards are around, but they're like golf carts," Celia said, taking point in the march up the battle scarred shopping district. "You can't hear them until they're right on top of you."
Devin thought about that, and realized that it was a strategic disadvantage for the group, or for any other survivors trying to figure out how to take on the floating orbs of electricity. Unlike traditional armies on the move, with their mechanized transports and helicopters and fighter jets, these adversaries were completely silent except for the occasional sound of the scraping blade that he had begun thinking of as their electrical ground.
"Yeah, but can they hear us?" Dina asked.
"I don't think so," Devin answered his wife. "At least, not in the way we do. I'm just guessing, but I suspect they can sense us, the electrical signatures our bodies put out. Otherwise, how did that roly-poly find us in the delivery truck? Smell?"
"Well, it has been a while since you've seen a bathtub," Dina said with a grin.
Devin smiled back, pleased that the woman he loved could still keep a sense of humor in the midst of all the injuries and insanity. And had anyone suggested the idea of electrical beings invading Kansas City, "insanity" is precisely the word that would have ensued.
Off to the left, a noise caught Devin's trained ear.
"Hold up," he whispered barely loudly enough to be heard by his traveling companions. He swiveled the shotgun toward the direction of the sound, while Celia tightened the grip on her bat.
"A dog, maybe?" Dina asked quietly.
Devin looked up and down the street, searching for the source of the noise which had stopped again.
"Now that you mention it, we haven't seen any dogs since this thing began," he answered.
"Since dogs are usually smarter than most humans I've met, do you think it's because they had enough sense to skeedaddle?" Celia asked. "Or is there a more ominous reason they're all gone?"
"Dogs put out an electrical signature. And they have blood," Devin replied. "I hope that doesn't really answer your question."
"Sucking the blood out of innocent dogs," Celia said. "As if I needed one more reason to hate these fuckers."
The trio heard the noise across the street again. This time, because he was listening for it, Devin was able to pick up a few characteristics.
"It's metal banging against something," Devin said. "Coming from that alley next to that hardware store."
"Of course it's coming from the alley," Celia said, sarcasm permeating her low voice. "We couldn't have a nice, simple noise right out in the open where it's safer. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me to find Jason or Michael Myers waiting back there."
"So, do we check it out or sneak on by?" Dina asked.
"Sneaking on by might be the more prudent answer, but I don't like the idea of having a potential enemy at my back," Devin replied. "I'd feel better if I knew what was over there."
"Yeah, that's the kind of answer the two necking teenagers down by the lake would give just before the scary music came up," Celia added.
Devin checked the street in both directions, internally noting the irony of taking the deeply-ingrained precaution that was drilled into him as child against oncoming cars, knowing that this time it wasn't a moving automobile that he was guarding against. He also cast a glance skyward one more time before beginning a low-profile creep across the avenue. Dina trailed just behind her husband, with Celia taking up the rear.
The sound was intermittent and not particularly loud. If Celia's sardonic movie references were right, he hoped they'd find an unfastened shutter banging against a window pane. But since there was no wind at the moment, that seemed an unlikely scenario.
The group crept along the front of the hardware store, trying to avoid the bigger pieces of shattered plate glass that covered the sidewalk. On the other side of the empty window frames, plastic barrels filled with discounted leaf rakes, shovels, and garden hoes stood sentinel. Devin paused to reach through the empty window and grabbed one of the hoes, handing it to Dina so she wouldn't be completely defenseless.
"Great, all we need now is a pitchfork and a couple of lit torches and we can start our hunt for Dr. Frankenstein's product," Celia offered.
Devin eased past the store front and stopped at the building's corner. He turned to prostrate himself against the wall, then tilted his head to the side just far enough to allow one eye to clear the brickwork and look into the alley.
About 20 feet back, he spotted a picket line of shiny silver galvanized trash cans that stretched from one side of the alley to the other. Behind them, a bone-thin man in stained khakis and a ripped nylon windbreaker was arranging the lidded cans so that they were touching. His tangled, shoulder-length hair and unkempt beard were shot through with streaks of white. It looked like he was talking to the cans, but Devin couldn't hear the words. Another 40 feet behind him was another line of carefully aligned trash cans cutting off the rest of the alley.
Motioning for Dina and Celia to come on around the corner, Devin lowered the shotgun to a less threatening angle and began to approach the man, whose continuing conversation with the trash receptacles had left him unaware of the trio's presence.
"You okay back there?" Devin said, trying to find a reassuring tone.
The man looked up, surprised but not started.
"I'm not stealin' 'em, I'm borryin' 'em," the man said without a trace of guilt, as if explaining a simple math problem. "They was on sale anyways."
"On sale?" Celia answered, coming even with Devin and Dina, who were still walking slowly toward the can stacker. "Damn things ought to be free. Who still uses metal trash cans?"
The man stopped and looked at her as if she were imbecilic.
"They're the only kind that'll work," he explained, his voice taking on an impatient edge. If he saw Devin's shotgun, he didn't appear to be concerned by it.
"Work for what?" Dina asked.
"Keeping the zydebins out," he said, his tone softening as he addressed the smaller woman.
"Zydebins?" Devin responded.
"Yes, dammit!" the man said, as if addressing the dumbest people he had ever met walking the planet. "Zydebins. Those hoojits what's been stirrin' up all the mess this morning. Course that's not what they call themselves back on their own planet. I can't pronounce it the way they say it. My tongue dudn't work the way theirs does."
By now, the three had reached the line of trash cans. Dina and Devin exchanged a quick glance.
"You say you've been to their planet?" Dina asked.
"Great. Fucking nutter butter," Celia said, rolling her eyes.
The man shot her a cutting glare.
"Screw you, Big Tattoo," the man spat.
"How does this keep them out?" Dina asked, trying to regain the man's attention and focus.
"What, did you miss electricity day at kindergarten?" the man fired back. "They're made of electricity. Well, maybe not made of it, but it's a big part of what they are. They try to cross the trash cans, the electricity hits the metal and they short out. At least, as long as the cans are touching each other and stay grounded. I nailed a spike through the asphalt and attached a wire to that one on the end," the man added, nodding to the can sitting closest to the hardware store. "Again, just borryin' that stuff."
"You get the idea from the back of a Popular Mechanics wine bottle?" Celia asked. "Why are we even listening to this streeter?"
"You better hope I'm Nikola freakin' Tesla," the man replied, looking past Celia toward the place where the alley emptied onto the street. "Here they come."