"Back World" is a serial thriller about a young couple facing an apocalyptic future.
A different segment will be published each week.
October 7, 2011
All three of the strangers jerked around to look after a pop and sizzle erupted from the alien's smoking body. The thing's organic blade started sliding sideways, as if in search of something. A renewed fireworks display started pouring out of the ragged hole in the torso, which had already started closing and almost healing itself as the trio watched. More sparks like minature bolts of lightning began shooting out of the top of the torso, where the head had previously been before Dina's Babe Ruth-like swing.
The body moved as it tried to change shape, though its arms remained still. The movement inside its elastic skin became more frenzied, creating the appearance that the creature was vibrating.
Devin quickly but clumsily got to his feet, then hurried to help Dina get up as well.
Whatever the thing was, it wasn't dead.
"It smells...electrical," Devin observed, taking his wife by the arm and guiding her backwards away from the torso. The man with the mustache kept pace with the couple, walking backwards next to them. While backpedalling, he broke open the shotgun and removed the two spent shells before reaching into his pocket to bring out two fresh red plastic cylinders that he plugged into the twin barrels. Once reloaded, he put the gun back together and raised it to his shoulder while the nearby creature continued to spark and shudder.
Then the blade found what it was seeking; the ground.
When it touched the grass and dirt, the torso arced. Fingers of electricity shot out of its ruptured front and top, seeking more connections with the ground.
The trio turned and began running in earnest, rapidly putting distance between themselves and the resurrecting being.
The light show was now joined by more sound as the bolts of electricity made their own sizzling noise as they struck the ground. The outpouring of energy was like an out of control electric turbine racing toward overload.
Then the torso shattered in a flash of brilliant white light, its gelatinous skin vaporizing in the immense heat that rivaled the connection point of an arc welder touching metal. There was no boom of particles instantly exceeding the speed of sound as the body seemed to explode without expelling any remnants or shrapnel.
The three survivors stopped and turned just in time to watch the organic blade waver as if suspended in air for an instant, then fall harmlessly to the ground.
Other than that, not a single trace of the torso remained.
Devin took his first tentative step toward the spot where the creature had been just seconds ago. Three steps in, Dina and the white-clad rescuer joined him, quickly catching up as he reached the dismembered blade.
The former soldier took a knee on the flattened grass and waved his downward facing right palm just inches above the article in a move that oddly resembled a religious gesture.
"It's not hot," Devin said, his palm not sensing any heat emanating from the remaining limb.
Laying on the ground, the curved blade was about 18 inches long and four inches wide.
Getting a chance to look closely at the only surviving evidence of their attacker, Devin and Dina thought it looked like it was made of hardened keratin, the same substance as an animal's claw.
Devin cautiously touched it with his index finger, subconsciously bracing for the shock that had flattened him just minutes before. The thing was inert. Devin tentatively picked it up, surprised at how heavy the blade was. While it looked like keratin, his fingers told him this was something altogether different. It was rippled and unpolished, not a manufactured device.
He couldn't explain why, but he sensed it was a body part instead of a piece of equipment.
Devin stood up and handed the blade to his wife, who was also caught off guard by its weight and heft. After running her hands over the surface, she offered it to the man with the shotgun, who gave his head an almost imperceptible shake as he declined to touch it.
Devin stepped toward the man.
"Devin Petty," he said, extending his hand to the shotgun-toting man from the pizza shop who had just saved their lives. "This is my wife, Dina."
"Giuseppe DiMario," the man replied, shaking hands with each. "Everybody calls me Joe."
"Thank you for saving us," Dina said, still a little unsteady after taking the strong electric jolt from the now-vanished alien. She handed the blade back to her husband.
"Yes, thank you," Devin added.
Joe waved away the thanks.
"I was wrong the way I treated you when you were at my shop," Joe said, his nearly-perfect English betrayed by the staccato accent of his Mediterranean roots. "I was ashamed, and wanted to apologize."
"I'd say no apology is needed now," Devin said, offering a small, welcoming smile.
"You two have met?" Dina asked.
"Long story," Devin replied. "I'll tell it walking."
"Where?" Dina replied, looking back at the museum and tower. "Without a front door, I don't know that the museum is the best place to hole up."
"You got a problem with your front door, too?" Joe asked, presenting a mischievous grin as he glanced at Devin.
"Sorry about that," Devin said, his own smile getting bigger. It was a comforting feeling, although he sensed that smiles felt foreign in the current circumstance.
Dina tried to smile, but it melded into a grimace as a spike of pain from her shoulder caught up with her.
Devin caught the look that his wife tried to hide by looking off toward the surroundings.
"Hurting?" Devin asked.
"I think I may have opened it up again with that batter-up routine," Dina said.
For the first time, she also became self conscious at the fact that she was wearing nothing more than a light blue sports bra, her shirt a torn rag back on the floor of the empty monument.
"Hold this," Devin said, handing the blade to his wife as he went around to check out the patch job on her back.
As she feared, it was leaking blood.
"We need to head back toward the city center, try to find better supplies," Devin said. "Maybe a doctor."
Devin saw Joe's face blanch.
"Is that really the best place to be right now?" Joe asked.
"To be honest, Joe, I'm not sure where the best place to be is, other than back home in my living room," Devin said. "But I don't see that happening anytime soon."
Suddenly, the Liberty Memorial tower behind them roared as an explosion rocked its base.
The three spun and looked at the point of detonation, seeing the demolition's handiwork coming to life. Devin looked up and caught just a glimpse of the outline from one of the nearly invisible hovering craft that had earlier blazed a trail of devastation through the heart of Kansas City just a few hours before.
It had arrived silently and was taking out the monument.
The walls of the museum beneath it heaved and bellowed as if engaging in a final gasp of breath before pieces of Kasota stone began firing outward in every direction, the walls collapsing.
"This way!" Devin shouted, heading in the general direction of the boulevard where Joe's wrecked pizza store stood.
The giant 21-story tower began to sway back and forth in a heartbreaking final death dance, as if trying to decide between dance partners on either side.
Then, as if making its decision, the tower started to topple toward Grand Boulevard. On the ground, its shadow started to move, mirroring in black the path of the falling monument. From above, it looked like the shadow was chasing the running trio as the tower gained momentum, teetering toward the three freshly minted acquaintances.
It was going to fall on Devin, Dina, and Joe.