"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A new episode will be published each week.
1 - Arrival
Sept. 21, 2012
"C'mon," Devin whispered to his compatriots. "We need to eat. It might be a while before we see food again."
As the small band of five headed to the trays near the end of the gym, they were greeted by hard stares from those all around.
"They're blaming us for that guy getting killed," Dina said in a low voice.
"They're wrong," Bear replied, offering the response in a louder tone than was necessary, wanting the glaring survivors to hear it.
The group quickly gathered the unbunned burgers and orange juice and found an empty spot near the double doors leading to the locker room. That empty spot quickly got bigger as others moved away.
"They're shouldn't be mad at us," Dina said once everyone had settled onto the floor.
"They aren't," Devin answered. "Not really."
"I've seen it over and over," Bear said. "People mad at something they can't control, can't influence, can't punch, so they take it out on the innocents around them. It's like a twisted version of domestic violence. Husband gets pissed about being broke, about being fired, about being picked on, about an indifferent government. Nothing tangible he can smack, so he unhinges the first time his old lady says something brutal and incendiary, like 'how was your day?'"
"You'd never get the bastard to admit that's how it went," Squeak added. "And these people will never get it, if you tell them until your hair falls out."
"So whatever we do, we'll be doing it alone," Celia said. "Fuck 'em. It's just the way I like it."
"Not exactly alone," Devin said. "Even sheep can be useful, mostly because they're easy to direct."
"Sounds like you have something in mind," Bear said, looking directly into Devin's eyes.
"Being in here isn't fixing what's going on out there," Devin said, returning the unflinching look. "I'm not saying that being on the outside will be any better. It won't. It will be more dangerous. But sitting here waiting for our own date with the sippy straw isn't going to turn any tides."
"That is, if there's a tide to be turned," Squeak said. "I don't want to be the wuss here, but what if this is our Kobayashi Maru?"
Dina, Devin, and Bear looked puzzled.
"Didn't figure there'd be any Trekkies in this bunch," Celia chimed in. "It's a Star Trek reference. Wrath of Khan. It means the no-win scenario."
"There's no such thing," Devin said. "Even when you're destined to lose, there are battles within the battle, small victories always within your reach. Sometimes the win is going out on your own terms instead of surrendering. Sometimes, just taking another breath is the win, when someone's trying to take it away."
"One of those Sun Tzu soldiers, eh?" Bear said, the corners of his mouth turning up slightly. "Comes down to it, life itself is the whatchamacallit Maru. Ain't none of us getting out alive. Just a question of the when."
"And the how," Celia added. "If it's all the same to you guys, I'd prefer not to go out like a fat kid's milk shake, somebody sucking out the last of my innards."
"True dat," Squeak agreed.
"So what's your idea?" Bear asked.
"Basic combat 101," Devin answered. "When you're defenseless and facing a superior enemy, you use their own weapons against them."
"Which weapons?" Celia countered. "We gonna make some brick-smashing fireballs appear out of the sky? Yoke one of those pliers off their arms and pinch 'em to death? Suck the chewy caramel centers out of 'em with McDonalds straws?"
"Didn't you notice?" Squeak asked. "At the food trays, where they had the orange juice. Karmic irony. No straws."
"You're overlooking one of their other attributes," Devin said. "I know I got my ass zapped when I tried to hit them with something that contained metal. Celia, you witnessed the same thing."
"Yeah," Celia said, remembering her encounter in the sporting goods store and her friend Marvin's expression as the electricity blazed through his body. "Damn aluminum bats. I've always said they would be the ruination of the game."
"So we use their own electricity against them," Bear said. "I like it. Poetic. Got a feel for how to go about it?"
"One thing I know about electricity, as powerful as it can be, it's actually kind of fragile. It doesn't take much to cause a short. Ever stick a paper clip into a wall outlet?"
"Only once," Celia said. "Okay, maybe it was twice. I've been told I can be hard-headed."
"Even big electricity-producing generators can be shorted out under the right circumstances," Devin said. "I remember thinking about it when I visited the Hoover Dam a few years ago; the fact that the turbines generating electricity inside the dam were being powered by the very thing that could destroy them."
"Water," Bear said.
"Exactly," Devin replied. "I'm thinking we can plug the drains, turn all the showers on, and wait. Let the water overflow into the main part of the locker room, covering the concrete floor. As soon as a couple of roly polys come in, their grounding blades hit the water, that should do the trick. Once they're disabled, we climb on top of the lockers, break out a couple of the windows up high and head out."
"Won't work," Celia said. "I'm just a car mechanic, but my understanding of electricity is that the grounding is actually a sort of safety mechanism. If that thing dragging from under its ass is what you say it is, the water will be just as good a ground as the dirt or concrete."
"So we have to get some other part to come in contact with the water," Dina said.
"How do you knock over something that's basically round?" Squeak asked.
"Yeah," Celia added. "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down."
"So we have to put the water on them," Devin said. "Splashing, maybe?"
"Even better would be the old water bucket on top of the door edge trick," Bear offered. "Might be enough water to cause the short."
"Sounds screwy, but also plausible," Devin said. "What do you think, Celia?"
"Might do it," she said. "If we use enough water. And if we had a bucket."
"There are trash cans in the main gym," Dina said. "They should hold plenty. The hard part will be getting a half-full garbage can to stay put on top of a door."
"We'll let Bear's big butt handle the heavy lifting," Celia said. "One thing we need to worry about is if it works. That thing hits the water, anybody standing in a puddle is likely to get the Ol' Sparky treatment."
"In between the rows of lockers, I noticed the wooden benches," Devin said. "We can stand on those."
"Being careful not to lean on one of the metal lockers when the juice is running," Squeak said. "The water will conduct the electricity right into the base of those metal boxes."
"Agreed," Devin said.
"So, how do we get the roly polys to drop by for a locker room chat?" Dina asked.
"That's where our friends the sheep come in," Devin said. "We start clogging up the drains and backing up the water, we'll have a gym full of Dorothy's witches out there acting like they're melting. In fact, if we keep people out of the locker room while we're working on the drains, it should create a line that's sure to get somebody's attention."
"And if that doesn't work, we can always start shouting that the sky is falling," Celia said. "Damn Chicken Shits."
"I think that's 'Chicken Littles,'" Squeak replied.
"Not where I went to nursery school," Celia fired back.
"So, we're going to do this?" Devin asked.
The rest of the group nodded in agreement.
"Last thing: is there anybody still out in the gym that might want to come along?" Devin asked. "Somebody that deserves a chance?"
"You mean the ones that would have happily pounded you into dog meat just a few minutes ago?" Squeak asked.
After a brief pause, Celia answered for the rest.