"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
July 20, 2012
Celia came alongside the couple, accompanied by the two men she had been talking with on the other side of the gym.
"Devin, Dina, these are a couple of my bowling buddies. This is Bear," Celia said, introducing the large, furry man who reached forward to shake hands.
"Good to meet you," the man said, looking directly into Devin's eyes with a clear and serious gaze.
"Same here," Devin answered, returning the firm grip and unwavering glance.
Celia turned in the opposite direction to introduce her smaller, tattooed acquaintance.
"This is Squeak," Celia announced. "We used to work together in the garage at the Auto Torium, a car dealership over on West 103rd."
The man was thin, almost anorexic, but he offered a powerful handshake.
"So what are we up against?" Devin asked the two men.
"Hard to know where to start," Bear said.
"We were, I don't know, put to sleep I guess is the best way to phrase it," Dina said. "You?"
"Most of the folks were, although not all of them," Squeak said. "You can pick out those who were awake. They're the ones with blood running out of 'em."
"I know I was out," Bear added. "Was brought in yesterday afternoon. They took my gun while I was asleep."
The man lifted the leg of his well-worn jeans, revealing an empty ankle holster.
"You always carry a gun around KC?" Dina asked.
Next to the large man, Celia began to smile.
"Bear's an undercover cop," she said. "Anti-fun squad."
"Or as it's known among the law-abiding citizens of our community, the narcotics division," Bear said, elbowing his mischievous friend. "Gun wasn't doing much good anyways. I tried to use it on a couple of the rounders. Like shooting at smoke."
"When they got us, there was a homeless guy with us," Devin said. "Have you seen him?"
Both Bear and Squeak shook their heads.
"Any idea where the kids are?" Dina asked.
"Separated out before the adults were brought in here," Bear answered. "Effective. You'd think the parents would be the ones storming the doors trying to get to wherever their children were taken. Unfortunately, they're the lead sheep, convincing the others that we just need to sit tight and wait. They figure if we don't stir up any trouble, their kids will be okay."
"Is that what you think?" Devin asked, watching the large man closely.
Bear paused before answering.
"I drove a truck one summer, before I was a cop, hauling cattle to the slaughterhouse. I remember seeing all the cattle in the holding areas outside, behind these rickety fences, waiting for their date with the bolt gun. I never understood why they didn't get together, knock the fences over and take off. Were certainly big enough and strong enough. And with as many as they jammed into a holding area, they would be hard to stop. I figured the cattle never bothered to resist because they didn't know what was waiting for them inside. They'd been rounded up and corralled before and nothing happened to them, so I guess they weren't worried about one more fence. Somehow they never put it together, the fact that other cows were herded down the chutes and into the building but never returned." Bear stopped to look over the mumbling and milling crowd. "The similarities here are too close to pretend they don't exist."
"We're not going out that way," Squeak said in a low voice.
Devin lowered his as well.
"Just a suggestion, you might want to stay keep your current occupation on the down low in here," he said.
"You noticed," Bear answered, his eyes taking a turn around the room. "Feel like the Lone God-damned Ranger in here."
"Usually you can't sling a dead cat around KC without hitting a cop," Squeak said. "In here, it's like there's a fire at the Dunkin Donut shop on the other side of town. Not a policeman in sight."
"I don't think it's a coincidence," Devin said.
"Neither do I," Bear confirmed.
The two men seemed to come to a silent agreement.
"So what's security like?" Devin asked.
"We don't see any guards," Dina added.
"Don't need 'em," Squeak said. "Somehow, the bastards can see us without being in here, you know what I mean?"
"The double doors on each end are metal," Bear said, lowering his voice further. "Electrified. First two people to try 'em were lit up like forks left in a microwave. The high windows are reinforced with wire inside, courtesy of the local school district. Couldn't break through, even if we could reach them."
"Which we can't," Squeak added.
"The building is concrete block, floor is probably cement under the wood," Bear continued.
"That door between the bleachers," Devin said, nodding subtly toward a pair of swinging doors that bisected the long brown rows of retractable seating. "Where do they go?"
"To locker rooms. One for the boys, one for the girls," Bear said. "Also has showers and toilets. Water is still working for now, although I doubt that will last much longer with the electricity out around the city. No way for pumps to refill the water towers."
"A couple of people took showers last night, but it was a miserable experience without the water heaters," Squeak added.
"No windows in the locker rooms, and the two exit doors leading outside are both metal," Bear continued. "Nobody's volunteered to try them."
"What's the lighting like?" Devin asked.
Bear and Squeak both looked at Celia, silently asking if her traveling mate was so mentally unbalanced as to actually care about decor.
"In case you hadn't noticed, all the lights are out," Squeak said.
"Exactly," Devin replied. "So how do you see in there?"
"Well aside from the emergency lights, which are about dead now, there's some light coming through the ceiling panels," Bear said. "Same as out here."
"The roof in there is a lot like this one, except lower," Squeak added.
A commotion at one end of the gym created a wave of sound that washed from one wall to the other as the double doors opened from the other side.
"Morning meal," Bear said. "Unless I miss my guess, you're about to experience a hamburger and orange juice breakfast."
"It's what was for lunch and dinner yesterday," Squeak said, watching the crowd move toward the doors where a line of eight men and two women were busy pushing a series of wheeled stainless steel carts into the room. Behind them, just on the other side of the doors, were two Zydebins serving as sentinels.
Piled in deep trays on top of the carts were stacks of cooked thin hamburgers without buns. On shelves underneath were plastic gallon jugs of orange juice, joined by tall stacks of paper cups marked with familiar golden arches.
"Why hamburgers and OJ?" Dina asked.
"For starters, it's easy to cook," Squeak said. "Any teenager wanting to buy his own car knows how to flip burgers. And you can cook them over any open flame, so you don't need special tools or equipment."
"I'm afraid there might be another reason," Devin added. "Beef's a good source of iron. The juice helps it metabolize faster into the blood. The iron is what gives blood that coppery taste."
The five of them stopped and let this sink in.
"Grub up," Bear said solemnly, taking the lead toward the forming lines of people. "You're going to need your strength for what comes next."
"Which is?" Devin asked, taking Dina by the hand and falling in step behind Celia and her friends.
"In about 45 minutes, they're going to drag two poor souls out of here," Squeak answered.
"And I think you already know," Bear added. "They won't be coming back."