Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)
At the end of Part 49, Allin’s mom finished her fairy tale and decided it was time to go search for her husband.
The Only City Left: Part 50
It had been a couple of days since Dad headed off on his own to do whatever it is he needed to do. Leaving for days at a time was not unusual for him. Nor was it unusual that I was kept in the dark about the details. Adult stuff was always the explanation. Dad would usually come back with supplies of some sort, food or clothing or another clip of ammunition for his gun. Sometimes he would return and simply say something to Mom like, “I spoke to them,” or “They confirmed it.” When I would ask what he meant, I got the look, the one that meant, “You’re too young to understand, Allin.” While I may not have known what he was up to, Mom seemed to be working under no such limitations. Once outside of our hiding spot, she chose her route without hesitation.
On the way, I pressed her for details, hoping that she would be distracted enough that I could get some real information out of one of my parents for once. But when I asked what Dad had gone off to do, all she would say is: “Talk to some people.”
“If he was just talking, why didn’t we go with him?”
“The people he’s talking to are not very friendly. If they saw that he had family with him, they’d use it against him.”
“So shouldn’t we be staying put?”
“He wasn’t supposed to be gone this long,” she said. “Something’s not right. Anyway, I can more than take care of you and me, don’t you worry.”
I tried to get more information out of her as we walked, but she remained silent. Before I could devise some clever new way to ask the same questions again in the hope of a different answer, Mom shushed me and pronounced that we were near our goal. How she knew that this grey, dreary, run-down corridor was the one we wanted, when every corridor we had trudged through looked the same, I had no idea. Sure enough, though, this one was different in that it opened up onto a huge factory floor, derelict of course. Dim white strip lighting on the ceiling provided an anemic glow that limned the tops of the great machines and rows of conveyor belts while leaving the floor in perpetual gloom. My imagination populated the shadows beneath the gargantuan machines with all sorts of incredible beasts just waiting for me to stroll by so they could grab a snack. It didn’t help to allay my fears when Mom extinguished the yellow glow of her lantern coil, leaving us to make our way across the floor in near darkness.
“Mom, who lives here?” I asked in a whisper.
“Why does Dad need to talk to bad people?”
“Because sometimes bad people have the best information.”
She picked her way across the factory floor, unbothered by the poor lighting, and I moved carefully alongside her. A burst of laughter erupted somewhere in the building and I almost yipped in fright, but Mom anticipated this and placed her palm firmly over my mouth before I could give away our presence.
She brought her mouth to my ear and whispered, “There are probably guards. Be quiet and do exactly as I say. Okay?”
I nodded fervently and she let go of my mouth. We made it to the far side of the floor and were heading toward a wall that had two doors set near to one another when Mom suddenly stopped. She glanced to either side and yanked me into the tight space between two large, metal contraptions. A second later there came the sound of a door opening, and a sickly yellow light spread out along the pathway we had tread a moment before. Unquiet footsteps echoed as a shadow partially eclipsed the light. The footsteps moved away and the door whined as it started to close. Mom tugged on my hand and we slunk out of our hiding spot. After a quick glance to check that no one was nearby, we crossed to the closing door and Mom held it open. She looked inside, waved me in, and came in after me, easing the door shut behind her. We were in a fairly large room with rows of tall, thin lockers with long, wooden benches in front of them. Some sort of changing room for the factory workers in days past, I guessed. The floor was covered with the garbage of ages past, that was certain, except for a mostly cleared path that led further into the room. From somewhere down that path, out of sight past the lockers, voices murmured.
Mom pulled one of her knives out from its sheath on her hip and we proceeded along the path when suddenly the door behind us opened again. We turned around and saw two tough-looking guys come in. They looked surprised to see us.
“Who brought the presents?” one of them asked.
The other grinned and pulled a foot-long knife of his own from his belt.
Mom stayed calm. She scanned the nearby area and said, “Allin, get in a locker.”
“Do as I say!”
I did. It was a tight fit and I couldn’t move once I was inside. Mom closed the door on me and I heard her jam something through the handle. I pushed against the door and it wouldn’t budge. There were horizontal slits in it, but the ones at my eye level were angled up. All I could see out of them was the ceiling.
“Mom?” I half-cried, half-yelled.
“Mom, mom, help me, mom,” one of the jerks outside mimicked me cruelly. “You want us to help him, mom?”
“I’ll take care of this, Allin. I need you to stay safe in there, hon. You’ll be okay. You’re a light in the dark.”
There was a flash of white light that washed out the yellow of the ceiling lights for a moment, and then I heard curses and shouts of surprise from the men who had been taunting us.
* * *
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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.