"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
September 30, 2011
Devin grabbed the bayoneted rifles, keeping one and handing the other to Dina, while the rattling at the entrance became more insistent.
While watching the locked metal doors, Devin noticed something dripping from the edges, including little droplets of silver coming from the latch. The sight was joined by the ozone-like smell to be found wherever an arc-welder is in use, like overheating electronic components.
"It's melting the locks and hinges," Devin said, just as the front door was pulled from its frame.
Standing at the entrance was the beast from a psychotic's worst nightmare. It stood nearly five feet tall, although it wasn't really standing. It was hovering six inches off the ground. A curved organic blade about four inches wide extended from the bottom of the body, scraping the concrete outside the entrance. Above that was an amorphous, dark grey torso that appeared to continuously change shape. From the center of the torso extended two four-foot long appendages that appeared to be arms. Although there were no joints, the arms were extremely flexible. The ends of the arms split into three serrated prongs, like sharp, pointed fingers.
When the thing turned in a semi-circle to appraise its new environment, Devin noticed there were two more of the appendages protruding from the creature's back.
Near the top, the torso narrowed to a more conical shape which Dina recognized as the creature's head. Unlike the rest of its body, which was constantly shifting and changing shape, the head was firm and substantial. Instead of sitting atop a neck, it simply sat directly on top of the torso. It was also a much lighter shade of gray.
The couple counted three eyes, including a larger one in the center near the top of the thing's head, with two smaller eyes below and on each side of the top one. Again, Devin saw that there was a similar ocular configuration on the opposite side of its head.
There were no ears, and no nose, which led the former soldier to wonder how or if the thing breathed.
But it had a mouth, one which appeared to have the ability to go from being a very small, lipless opening to a chasm that spread halfway around its head.
As the mouth moved soundlessly, Devin and Dina caught a glimpse of terrifyingly sharp teeth.
Unlike any incisors or bicuspids they had ever seen, these teeth were thin and oddly triangular, like the shape of the blade on an Exacto knife. The sharp edges of the top teeth were all pointing to the creature's left, while the bottom teeth were directed to the right, allowing the top row to mesh neatly into the gaps of the bottom row. It appeared as if chewing involved a side-to-side motion instead of the human habit of chewing up and down.
The couple also saw flashes of a hideous tongue that wasn't a tongue at all, but more of a flexible tube.
At first, the creature seemed not to notice Devin and Dina, instead turning in a half circle to take in the room.
"Identify yourself," Devin said in a commanding and authoritative voice, a remnant from his occasional duty manning a checkpoint in Afghanistan. "Why are you here?"
The alien jerked its head back toward the couple, all three eyes focusing on the humans.
Then, without a sound, the thing raced at them with the speed of a fast, vertical puma, its arms outstretched in preparation of slicing its targets. However, when its ground-dragging blade left the terazzo of the entrance area and came in contact with the carpet, Devin noticed a considerable downshift in speed. It allowed him to bring the rifle from port arms to attack mode, his right index finger reflexively curling around the gun's impotent trigger. When the creature was within reach, Devin thrust forward, trying to channel his long-ago boot camp training and the fighting spirit of World War I doughboys facing a bloodthirsty enemy in the trenches.
The tip of the bayonet struck the creature mid chest, directly between the extended arms. However, instead of stabbing hilt-deep into the thing's body, it came to an abrupt stop about an inch deep. At the same instant, Devin was jolted by a strong electric charge that began at his trigger finger and immediately spread to the rest of his body, paralyzing and electrocuting him with a burst that momentarily stopped his heart.
Devin let go of the gun and dropped to the floor in a heap.
Dina, simultaneously terrified and enraged at the debilitating attack on her husband, let out an adrenalin-fueled scream of anger. With no military training, she didn't know anything about proper combat stance or two-handed fencing. But as an all-conference softball player in high school, she had plenty of experience in swinging a bat.
Holding the wooden stock with both hands, Dina swung the business end of the rifle at the alien's bean like she was trying to find the fence with a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The flat side of the bayonet connected with the side of the creature's head. Dina saw an arc of electricity shoot from the alien to the bayonet before the impact broke the blade loose from the rings that clipped it to the barrel. The blade flew off in the opposite direction, skittering across the carpet.
Dina wound up after the foul tip and swung again. This time, the barrel itself crashed against what passed for the thing's skull. The makeshift bat continued on its path through the place where the head was, like the textbook follow-through of the bat chasing a softball that was on its way to the left field bleachers. The head snapped off the torso with the sound of a wet cornstalk being broken in half. The detached appendage rolled across the floor, its teeth biting harmlessly at nothing but air before coming to rest against the reception desk.
Dina waited for the thing's now-headless body to drop to the floor. However, it was going to be a wait to rival eternity.
Not only did the torso not topple over, it began moving again. At first, it turned in several different directions.
While the thing tried to get its bearings, Dina grabbed her husband, who had started struggling back to his feet.
"Let's try to get outside while it's still dazed," Dina told him, taking Devin under the arm and trying to direct him toward the door with one hand while holding the rifle with the other.
The alien was on the move, working its way toward the reception desk. Once there, the torso shifted and bent, lowering itself closer to the detached head resting next to the desk. It reached down and grabbed the head with a surprisingly adroit grip, its scissor-like fingers grasping without cutting into the skin. It held its head gently but securely with one hand, then turned to locate its prey.
Devin and Dina had nearly reached the door when the alien once again zeroed in on them and began giving chase.
On the carpet, it wasn't able to make much speed, but kept pace with the ambling couple as they went through the doorway.
However, once it reached the entryway, and the thing's blade connected with the marble-like surface, it became much faster.
By the time the couple reached the top of the steps, Devin had regained most of his motor skills, although not all of his strength. He was able to negotiate the stairs under his own power, running next to Dina.
As they reached the bottom of the steps, Dina hazarded a look over her shoulder.
The alien was at the top of the steps and gaining quickly.
Instead of the jerky motions of something going down concrete stairs, the alien began floating down the angle smoothly, although its organic blade scraped and clicked against each of the steps like the sound of a playing card against the spokes of a kid's slow-moving bicycle.
Dina and Devin turned right, heading across an expanse of grass toward the now-empty street, and the wreckage of downtown Kansas City beyond. Behind them, they heard the clicking sound end. The alien was on the grass, and it was catching up.
Devin couldn't see the creature, but sensed it. The hairs on the back of his head stood on end, not in fright, but almost as if they were the subject of a Van de Graaff generator, the plasma ball used to demonstrate static electricity.
"It's catching us!" Dina yelled, running less than a yard ahead of her husband.
One of the alien's hands reached out to grab Devin by the neck.
Dina came to an abrupt stop and wheeled on the creature. This time holding the gun by the barrel, she wound up into her familiar batter's stance and swung away at the alien's torso.
The back of the rifle, including the bolt and chamber, connected with the thing's skin just below the spot where its arms were located.
Dina was instantly lit up with the voltage that had earlier downed her husband as the creature came to a halt. She released the gun and collapsed onto the grass.
Devin hurried to her side, hoping to shield her body with his as the alien turned and began moving toward them.
While trying to protect her, he thought about grabbing the gun that lay nearby.
As the alien approached, it passed close to the rifle. It reached down with one arm and touched the barrel. The gun's blue-black metal arced, then began to melt. The heat from the melting iron caused the wooden stock to smoke, then erupt in flame.
The headless torso then resumed its approach to the downed couple.
Covering his wife the best he could, Devin prepared for the creature's lethal touch.
Just as the three-pronged claw brushed against the collar of Devin's shirt, a small explosion erupted behind the shape-shifting body. Devin felt what seemed like firm silicon gel slatter across his back as the front of the creature blew outward. The alien's body then emitted a sound like a circuit breaker box shorting out on the side of a house. The torso then toppled over sideways.
Devin released Dina long enough to roll over and look in the direction of the alien. It was then that he noticed a short, mustachioed man dressed in white approaching from the sidewalk next to the museum. The man was carrying a familiar looking double-barreled shotgun.
"You said you were at the museum," the man from the pizza shop said in a heavily accented voice. "I'm here to help."