"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
September 16, 2011
It was barely above a whisper, but the sound from the open door below carried up the concrete-entombed stairwell. Devin couldn't see the source of the voice, but it sounded far friendlier than what was descending from above. He turned and hurried down the stairs two at a time. As he neared the open door, he slowed, looking cautiously for the person who had called his name.
When his foot hit the landing, he could finally see the hunkered form of someone standing in the daylight just outside the door.
It was Dina.
Devin rushed outside and embraced his wife, hungry for the feel of her arms around him.
"Ow! Watch the bandage!" Dina replied, simultaneously trying to lower her shoulder to avoid his grasp while squeezing him around the waist with all the lessened strength her small body could muster.
"We have to go, now!" Dina whispered.
Devin released her from his embrace.
"First, we have to try and stop whatever is coming down those stairs," Devin said.
He turned and grabbed the edge of the door which had slammed open just moments ago. This time, he slammed it shut, making sure all edges were completely flush and sealed in the frame. He then closed the hasp where a padlock would ordinarily secure the door. Unfortunately, the lock at the end of a serpentine chain attached to the hasp was closed, awaiting a key that would never come again.
"We have to find something to hold the hasp in place," Devin said over his shoulder. "A piece of steel, a small bar, anything."
The couple looked around the monument's landing, Devin holding the door and hasp in place, but could find nothing that might work.
Out of options, Devin reached into his pocket and pulled out the souvenir pen he had used earlier to leave his wife a note. He slipped it into the loop and pulled the door back slightly. The pen's clip kept it from slipping through the loop.
"It will work, but it isn't going to hold for long," Devin said, taking his wife by the arm. For the first time, he got a chance to look at her. What he saw made him go almost as pale as the woman he was holding.
Despite the exertion, Dina's face was almost completely devoid of color. Her eyes were open, but they were filled with pain and exhaustion.
"You okay?" Devin asked, worry filling his face.
"I don't have time not to be," Dina answered. "Let's put some distance between us and...whatever it is."
Devin nodded once, then took his wife by the arm, leading her to the concrete steps that would return them to the museum landing. Before they had taken their first step, the tower's metal door behind them rattled.
"Gotta move!" Devin said, taking his wife's arm and wrapping it around his neck while he slipped his arm around her waist, taking her weight while propelling the conjoined couple down the stairs with more haste.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, the couple had a decision to make: take cover inside the museum, or continue trying to outrun whatever was behind them?
door of the tower exploded outward, once again slamming back against the
concrete wall. Whatever was in there was now out.
"Thank you, Myron," Devin whispered, expressing appreciation for the now-dead clerk who had made the decision hours ago to lock all the doors.
Dina had continued into the museum and found a comfortable chair. She leaned forward, her head on her hands to avoid rubbing her shoulder against the chair's back.
"Stay right there while I try to come up with some weapons," Devin told his wife, who nodded her understanding.
From his earlier conversation with the museum clerk, Devin knew that none of the rifles and pistols enclosed in the glass cases would fire. However, he knew that World War I wasn't only fought with bullets and projectiles. He found what he was looking for in a collection of foreign rifles.
Again finding himself without a key to a lock, this time a device which secured the case, Devin picked up a nearby chair and swung it into the glass. The front of the display exploded, raining shards of glass into the case and onto the floor. Devin reached in and grabbed a pair of British Lee-Enfield rifles that were equipped with bayonets on the guns' business end. He took a quick, longing look at the French Berthier, a much longer rifle that would have put more space between him and whatever he would need to battle, but the long gun wasn't equipped with a bayonet.
Checking to make sure the bayonets were properly and securely mounted, he returned to his wife, who remained almost motionless in the chair.
"You okay?" Devin asked, setting a rifle down at his wife's feet as he took a knee in front of her.
"Weak, but working," Dina replied.
Devin got up and went behind his wife, checking the bandage covering the wound. The bandage had darkened with blood in the center, but not enough to start leaking. For now, the bandage was holding.
"What were you doing outside?" Devin asked.
Dina opened her eyes momentarily, then closed them again.
"I woke up and you weren't here," she answered. "I waited for a few minutes, then started getting worried about you. I decided to try and climb the tower, thinking I might be able to see where you'd gone. I started going up the stairs inside when I found...what I guess you found on the steps."
"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry," Devin said, taking his wife's hand. "Looked like the arms and legs had been bitten off. Did you get a glimpse of what did this?"
Dina opened her eyes slowly, her mouth falling open at the same rate as her eyes.
"What do you mean they were bitten off?" Dina whispered, horror filling her now wide eyes. The look of shock caught her husband off guard.
"You saw it," Devin said. "They were gone."
Dina slowly shook her head, a hand coming up to cover her mouth.
"Devin, when I found the man he was dead, but he was intact," Dina said, her voice louder but shaking. "I checked for a pulse in his left wrist myself. Are you saying his arms were missing?"
Devin looked into her terror-filled eyes, seeing the truth in them, and nodded.
She stopped to consider this.
"That means, whatever killed him was still in there," she whispered.
"And it was on its way back down when you opened the door to find me," he added.
"After I found him, and figured out it wasn't you, I didn't want to...step over his body," Dina continued. "So I went back outside to look for another way into the tower. I was just coming around from the other end of the landing when I saw you going inside. I wanted to warn you, but there was another explosion. I couldn't yell loud enough."
"I'm glad you came when you did," Devin said, squeezing her hand. "Whatever it was that tore that man apart was strong. I didn't want to meet up with it in a dark alley. Or a dark tower."
Dina took a moment to giver her husband a curious once-over, including a glance at his shoes.
"You don't have any blood on you," Dina said.
Devin nodded again. "Whatever did that to him, it didn't leave a trace of blood anywhere. It was like he had been drained before the thing started feeding on him."
At the front of the museum, the front doors rattled.
Dina looked at her husband, the whiteness of her face going another shade lighter.
"It's here," Dina whispered.