"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
Dina was doing hand-to-hand combat with Death, a fight Devin couldn't join or predict. All he could do was hope.
And try to contact help.
Kissing his beloved on a pale and cold cheek, he left her side to try and find a way to summon assistance. He knew that to move her might push her over the edge and into the eternal abyss, a chance he didn't dare take.
Returning to the offices behind the reception counter, Devin began trying the phones. Each offered the same silence as the room beyond.
Without electricity, the computers in the office were as useless as the century-old war equipment in the display cases.
Running out of options, he went back to the main area of the museum, checked his wife's shallow but steady breathing, and began hurrying from display to display in search of anything that might help. Unfortunately, unlike the introduction of walkie talkies in World War II, the first Great War came during the infancy of radio. There were no communication devices on display.
Devin returned to his wife, checked her pulse, then put his ear to her chest to check her heartbeat and lung sounds. The lungs sounded clear, which meant the shrapnel didn't reach that deep.
With her condition not getting any worse, Devin sat down in a chair next to the table, continuing to hold his wife's hand. He tried to think of his next move, but came up empty.
It was then that he realized just how quiet it was. The museum was silent as a tomb, which is what would be expected in such an institution. But there was something not quite right about the silence.
No bombs. No explosions.
He had seen the Air Force disable the hovering bomb machine just before the runaway missile decapitated Myron and injured Dina, but the elimination of the alien craft hadn't really registered.
If it was true, then this was over. People would be coming out of hiding, returning to the bombed out sections of downtown Kansas City to help with rescue and recovery efforts. Police, emergency, and probably military crews would be on their way. Devin realized that all he had to do was flag one down.
It would mean leaving his wife for a few minutes, something he was reluctant to do. He didn't want her to wake up and find him gone, alone. He also worried that she would be vulnerable if someone stumbled in from the outside. But he would have to take the chance if it meant he could get her some help.
Taking another pen from the display on the counter, Devin jotted a quick note on the back of a nearby brochure and placed it on the table next to his wife. The note explained that he was searching for help, and would be back soon.
Taking vital signs one more time, then kissing his wife again on the cheek, he headed to the front door while carrying the chair he had just occupied. Pushing on the door's bar, Devin opened it wide then set the chair in place to keep it from slamming shut. Once he was sure the door would remain open, he took a moment to look around and assess the destruction.
His first glance was to the headless body just outside the door. Without the head, unlike other bodies he had seen, Devin couldn't make a judgement on whether Myron looked peaceful.
He turned his attention to the front lawn, where an enormous crater now filled what was previously a grassy expanse. Bomb fragments had scattered in every direction, wrecking cars that had previously sat passively in a nearby parking lot, and shredding trees that had served as organic sentinels lining the grassy field for decades before the bomb's fury.
Looking north, the sky was filled with smoke from the buildings that had been destroyed and toppled. Through the smoke, Devin could barely make out the top of the now-still form of the alien craft. The bat-winged B2's were gone, the sky empty save for the growing haze of smoke.
Lowering his gaze, he began to search the nearby street for signs of life, or a moving car. He found none.
Devin began descending the steps which led from the museum down to the now-pockmarked lawn, his head swiveling in every direction in hopes of catching movement. Once at the bottom, remembering the location of the eateries Myron had mentioned earlier, Devin turned right and began walking carefully around holes and pieces of debris scattered by the bomb. He headed toward Grand Boulevard, which was at least a half mile away, but was reluctant to go the distance because it would take him too far away from Dina. If she woke and he wasn't there, even with the note, he didn't want her to panic, didn't want her to feel alone. However, if help was on the way or available, that's where he expected to find it.
In less than five minutes, he was within sight of the shops and eateries that Myron had mentioned. However, the storefronts appeared to be closed up tight, the sidewalks in front of them empty.
He looked up and down Grand Boulevard, surprised that the street didn't have a single car moving on it. With no traffic, he didn't bother with a crosswalk and simply cut across the street to reach the row of stores.
At the first one, a pretzel shop, he knocked on the glass door. Using his hands as blinders, he peered into the store in hopes of seeing movement inside. Nothing.
He walked next door to a pizza place, probably the one Myron had mentioned. When he grabbed the door handle and pulled, he was surprised to find it unlocked. A little bell wired to the door closer rang, announcing his entrance.
"Hello?" Devin said. "Anybody here?"
"We closed," a muffled male voice replied from behind a swinging door that appeared to lead to the kitchen.
"I need some help," Devin said, starting to come around the counter. "It's my wife. She's at the museum. She's hurt."
A few steps from the door, a double-barreled shotgun pushed the door open slightly. As it continued into the room, it was followed by a short, dark-haired man with Mediterranean features and an improbably long mustache.
"Can't help you," the man said, his accent thick. "Go."
"Mister, we're all in this together," Devin said, showing his empty hands but not giving any ground. "I'm asking for help."
"Ask someplace else," the man said, coming to a stop with the barrel less than a foot away from Devin's midsection.
"You're the only one I've found," Devin replied. "For all I know, you may be the only one left. You have the shotgun, you're in control. All I'm asking for is a kindness."
"Phone's out. TV's out. Radio's out. No police. No help. Go now."
Outside, an explosion erupted from the north side of the city. The unexpected sound caught the shop owner off guard, and a frightened look skittered across his face as he looked skyward.
Almost as a reflex, Devin turned sideways, moving his torso out of the shotgun's path. In the same motion, he grabbed the barrel halfway down and jerked it forward. A second explosion roared, this time inside the store as the surprised man's finger grazed the trigger as the gun was being pulled from his grip. The front door and the picture window beside it blew outward, spraying diamond-sized chips of tempered glass on the sidewalk and street beyond.
Devin took control of the weapon. Instead of turning it on the pizza maker, he pressed a lever on top that released the gun's twin barrels and removed both the spent shotgun shell and the one still intact, placing them on the counter next to the cash register.
The look on the shopkeeper's face transformed from one of terror to one of timid curiosity.
"I'm not a thief," Devin said, stepping backward toward the ruined door. "I'm going to leave this on the sidewalk across the street. Once I'm out of range, you can retrieve it. Before I go, I want you to look closely at my face. You see me again, I want you to remember I didn't kill you when I had the chance."
Another explosion north of town put an exclamation point on the moment. Devin turned and pulled the door from its frame, the bell on the door closer still intact and ringing its absurd greeting. He went back onto the littered sidewalk, took one last look up and down at the closed shops, then crossed the street. Once there, he laid the opened shotgun on the ground and continued hurrying back toward the museum.
A series of three concussions ripped across the city from the north side near the river. Devin turned around but continued walking backward. He spotted the fresh plumes of smoke heading skyward, emanating from a place he estimated to be the location of the Chouteau Trafficway bridges. It was too far away to see the source of those explosions, but the power and consistency told him what his eyes couldn't:
There was another hovercraft at work.
Devin continued his march back to the museum with renewed vigor. At the time he left Dina, he believed the "war" was over and that things might be okay. Now, with the attack resuming and the battle plan of isolating Kansas City from the rest of the world on the other side of the Missouri River continuing, he believed there wouldn't be a quick resolution. Which meant he needed to get back to his wife and figure out how to take care of her the best way he could, since the resumption of explosions signaled they would continue to be on their own for the foreseeable future.
As he neared the museum steps, Devin heard another familiar sound from overhead.
The B2 was back.
He stopped and turned his eyes skyward, scanning for the flying black image. He spotted it arcing south, then steadily turning north. Once it was on beam headed in the direction of the most recent explosions, the bomb rack again descended from the black beast's belly, exposing two fresh missiles.
Devin watched the aircraft line up to take its double-fisted shot.
Then, as if frozen in flight, the plane came to a dead stop mid air. The black bat hung in the sky for an instant, all forward motion coming to an abrupt halt. The plane didn't disintegrate like it would have after hitting some sort of invisible wall. In fact, it didn't seem to sustain any damage at all. It just...stopped.
As Devin tried to wrap his head around this inexplicable turn, the plane started moving again - straight down.
The black aircraft fell out of the heavens like a large stained penny dropped from the top of a tall building.
With no forward motion at all, it hit the ground somewhere near the center of the city and exploded in the largest fireball Devin had ever seen in his years of battle, knocking over buildings that had only been damaged in the first round of attacks.
The boom pushed Devin back into motion of his own, ascending the steps two at a time to get back to Dina and make sure she was okay, and was still alive. He didn't want to contemplate his existence without her waiting at the other end of a day, much less a lifetime of it.
Clearing the top step, he hurried through the still-open door and into the museum to make sure his wife was still breathing, still keeping his heart with her.
Three steps into the room, Devin came to a stop every bit as abrupt as the one experienced by the B2 bomber just moments ago.
He looked at the empty table.
Dina was gone.