"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
August 17, 2012
As the quintet approached the line for breakfast, Devin continued twirling some ideas around in his head. Recounting what he knew about the electrical beings, he thought he could figure a way out of the gym. The problem was that an escape meant only more pursuit, not true freedom. That concept wasn’t a possibility until the intruders were defeated. Looking along the line at the dozens of people ahead of him willing to surrender in hopes of mercy, he wasn’t sure that was a realistic expectation anymore. You couldn’t win when most of the participants hadn’t yet awakened to the fact that they were at war.
But if there was a glimmer of hope, it could be found in people like the burley biker-looking detective and his anorexic tag-along, Squeak. With his experience overseas, Devin suspected it had always been this way; a courageous few securing freedoms enjoyed by the rest.
He didn’t like thinking this way. Devin didn’t consider himself a hero. In war, he had a job to do, and he did it.
This time, the stakes were higher. His wife wasn’t safe at home, a half a globe away. She was a participant, a fellow combatant at risk. And maybe that was enough to make the difference. This time he wasn’t fighting for a flag or an esoteric philosophical imperative or even his own survival. The woman he loved was in danger. That meant more to him than any calling or cause, as if ensuring her safety was the same as protecting the future.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Celia said, suddenly coming to a halt. “Eating food provided by the enemy? Fuck them. I’d rather starve than give into them.”
“It’s neither,” Bear said gently, trying to nudge her back into step. “For starters, it’s not ‘their’ food, it’s ours. They stole it from us. Remember that. And it’s not giving in. It’s biding our time.”
“But it still doesn’t feel right,” Celia said, reluctant but slowly resuming her pace. “Like a barnyard hen grateful to scratch some farmer’s scattered ‘gift’ of lunch off the dirt five minutes before becoming the bastard’s dinner.”
“I know what you mean,” Squeak offered from behind. “Reminds me of the Englishman, Frenchman, and American captured by pygmies in Africa. The chief explained that the captives would be cooked and eaten, then their skins would be used to make canoes for the tribe. As a show of honor, each of the condemned would be allowed to choose their own way to die. The Englishman was first. ‘My pistol please,’ he asked. When he got it, he yelled ‘Long live the Queen!’ before shooting himself in the head. Next, the Frenchman said ‘My sword, please,’ then yelled ‘Viva la France’ before committing hari kari. Finally the American says ‘my fork, please.’ Once he had it, he began stabbing himself all over, shouting ‘Screw your canoe!’”
Devin, Dina, and Bear let out a laugh. It sounded foreign in the large hard-walled gym, almost as incongruous as Squeak's joke. Several people in line stared at them, as if an important sermon had been interrupted by unruly children in the back row.
A man at the back of the line turned and took two determined steps toward the fivesome.
“What’s so funny?” the man asked with a snarl. “You think this is a joke? The aliens get the idea you’re laughing at them, they’re liable to kill us all!”
“If the aliens wanted us dead, this would be an empty building right now,” Devin answered. He understood that tempers would be short under these conditions, and the last thing he wanted was for the captives to turn on each other. But he also hoped that a little discussion might show them that passivity wasn't going to lead to a happy ending.
“You don’t know that,” the man fired back. “We can just ride this thing out, find out what they want, and give it to them. They’ll probably leave us alone once they get it. But if we piss them off…”
“Seen anything that makes you think they have any kind of emotion?” Devin replied, trying to lower the tension. “This isn’t about anger or revenge, any more than your TV can love or hate you. It’s about resources, pure and simple.”
“Oh, the new guy is Mr. Expert, huh?” the man said, advancing another step, his hands clenching and unclenching. Two other men came up behind him, more curious than confrontational.
A few others began drifting over from the now shrinking food line, unconsciously forming the kind of semi circle that was familiar to anyone who had witnessed or participated in a schoolyard fight.
Emboldened by what he interpreted as support, the man took another step forward, bringing him face to face with Devin.
“All we have to do is sit tight. Either they’ll get what they came for and move on, or our military will show up and get us out of this. We don’t need wannabe heroes like you messing it up,” the man said, a statement that was met by a few murmurs of assent from the gathering crowd.
“Then you’ll die like sheep,” Devin said coldly. “The cavalry ain’t coming.”
A ripple of dissent hissed from the growing collection of spectators, accompanied by a few shouts of "No!" and "You're wrong!"
“It’s assholes like you that are going to get us all killed!” the man yelled, then took a wild swing.
Devin stepped smoothly to his left, avoiding the punch. The man’s momentum carried him almost completely past the former soldier, but it was a trip cut short by Devin’s quick right that landed dead center in the man’s face. The crack of his shattering nose reverberated off the hard walls as his head snapped back, sweat spraying off the ends when his neck reached the limit of its bend. From the front, a cascade of crimson began pouring from the ruptured nose and onto the shiny wooden floor. Within a second, the man joined the growing pool, collapsing to his knees.
Behind him, one of his two impromptu “seconds” took a tentative step back. The other took a step toward Devin, a path that was quickly cut off by the man called Bear.
“Is that really the team you want to join?” the detective said, his demeanor calm but his look menacing as he nodded toward the bleeding combatant now lying on his side.
Without another word, the man turned and rejoined the queue, which was rapidly reforming in the direction of the wheeled food trays stacked with hamburgers.
As the crowd dissipated, Dina sidled up next to Devin.
“Was that necessary?” Dina asked.
“Yeah,” her husband replied. “It really, really was.”
He took a few steps away then looked down on the bleeding man.
“The people needed to see this,” Devin said.
“What?” Squeak asked, a half smile still on his face. “Another mouthy bleeder?”
“No, this,” Devin said, just as the double doors on the near end of the gym swung open. A pair of roly-polys hovered directly to the crumpled man, the people in line cringing away from the approaching aliens. Devin and the others on his side dropped back a few more steps.
The man on the floor rolled over to look up at the first floating form to reach him. He dropped his hands to the floor in an attempt to get up.
Before he even reached his knees, one of the being’s appendages shot forward, burying itself straight into the bleeding center of the man’s face. The other pincered appendage reached down and grasped the man by the throat, positioned at an angle that was careful not to put any pressure on the man’s carotid artery. It then lifted him until he was nearly standing, although his lifeless legs were now incapable of supporting any weight.
The people closest to the scene could hear the sucking sound made by the appendage as it hosed up the blood from inside the man’s head, and saw that even some of the red liquid from the victim’s face was now disappearing into the appendage.
After a few seconds, the being withdrew its appendage from the cratered face, only to be replaced by a similar appendage from the second alien.
The horrified crowd watched as the color drained from the man’s skin like a thermometer in a snowstorm; first his face going white, then his upper arms, followed by his lower arms and hands.
Within a minute, the body was completely drained. The alien turned, the man’s body hanging limp from the pincers like a smelly bag of garbage on its way to a receptacle, and headed for the double doors.
The moment the two aliens cleared the threshold, one of the female spectators turned and vomited on the hardwood floor.