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.
If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 38, Allin and Tumble found that the creepy suburban landscape filled with posed skeletons could be even creepier: the skeleton of a tiny dog bit Tumble. In return, he blasted it, and that’s when the rest of the skeletons began to wake up.
The Only City Left: Part 39
As we ran away from the sizzled fur and bones that used to be a vicious, undead dog, the town slowly came to life around us. Motors began to run, music drifted out of windows, bells tinkled, doors shut, and dogs barked a jagged chorus of accusation and grief. It was as if Tumble’s blast had set off a shock wave that rolled out in a circle around us, waking up the somnolent inhabitants of this crazy ’burb.
The skeletons that were creaking to life around us seemed to know that we were trespassers in this macabre realm. Maybe the presence of my skin gave it away. Besides turning to watch us, though, they stuck to their routines and left us alone. A blue-uniformed skeleton carrying a bag slid tiny rectangles of paper into metal tins on stakes outside of each house. Another skeleton drove a white van that played tinkly music and had faded pictures of sweets plastered all over its side.
“It seems a bit mechanical, doesn’t it?” I asked Tumble between pants of exhausted breath. For all our running, we had not found anything substantially different, including a new exit, from one street to the next, so we holed up beside a parked car to take a break. “It’s like the birdsong. They’re all on a loop.”
“Yes and no,” he said, fanning himself with his own hat.
As he said that, the blue-uniformed skeleton stepped around the side of the car and into my view. I gasped and Tumble lifted his gun, but other than giving us a passing glance, it let us be. Instead it walked to the next house, opened the metal box at the end of the drive, removed the paper from it, and lowered the red flag attached to the side of the box.
“I don’t think the dog that bit me was on a loop,” Tumble replied, donning his hat again. “Or that.”
He pointed up to the roof of the nearest house, where the skeleton of a cat, the traditional, non-bipedal kind, peered down at us, its head cocked. The “fur” on its back looked more like a piece of russet shag carpet.
“What about it?”
“It’s been following us.”
My heart, which had started to calm down a bit after the run and series of frights it had been subjected to, wedged its way into my throat and sat there, a painful lump. Those four simple words demolished my newborn hope that, despite the presence of undead automata at all points around us, we would likely be okay. Our chances to likely end up as wall decorations in a skeleton’s living room, on the other hand, had greatly improved.
“Enough resting, then,” I sighed, standing up. “Let’s get going.”
“Fine. But we could be running around forever. I think I’ll take a page out of my skeletal cousin’s playbook and see how things look from the roof. Maybe spot a way out.”
I didn’t like the idea of splitting up, even momentarily, but it was a good idea so I didn’t argue. We both made our way into the house’s front yard and Tumble lent me his gun while he scampered up the wall to the roof. He said, “Scat!” and I heard a crackly hiss followed by the retreating clicks of tiny bones on shingle.
For my part, I stood with my back against the wall, swinging the gun from left to right. More skeletons strolled by, eyeing me (socketing me?), but they moved on without incident.
“What do you see?” I whispered as loudly as I could, tilting my head upward for a second.
He leaned over the roof and replied, “This level is huge. I can see the wall we came from but not another one. There’s a bell tower that way.” He pointed away from where we had entered. “Maybe I can get a better view from there.”
He dropped down beside me, his poncho fluttering, and retrieved his gun. We left the yard, Tumble in the lead, but we hadn’t gone far before noticing that the skeleton cat was following us again, and this time he had friends.
“Maybe if you blast a couple of them they’ll go away?” I suggested.
“They’re not bothering us. It’s not worth wasting the ammunition.”
I started to argue the point when I noticed that the skeletons around us were no longer content to simply stare as we passed. Instead, they stopped what they were doing and turned to follow in our wake. We quickened our pace but continued to attract more human and animal skeletons with each passing minute. None of them made an aggressive move, but their sheer numbers were a threat.
“I liked it better when they were only watching us,” I said. “What happens when there’s so many of them we can’t move?”
“Let’s not stick around to find out,” Tumble replied.
Rather than follow the streets to the tower, Tumble took us on a straighter course, which meant hopping fences and cutting through yards. This shook off the human skeletons but served as no deterrent to the smaller animals. What’s more, it seemed as if the skeletons shared some sort of unspoken communication, because the human ones started to gather in our path ahead of our arrival.
“Okay, I’ll be the first to say it,” I panted as we dodged through the growing horde of skeletons. “Ballister was right.”
As we hopped the fence from one yard into another, I heard a wild growl and Tumble yelled, “Allin, duck!”
Whether I ducked or simply fell in a timely fashion, I narrowly escaped being tackled by a leaping skeleton dog. Tumble neatly shot it out of the air and the huge beast fell to the ground beside me with a thud and rattle. The light in its eye sockets dimmed and it loosed a clicking, electronic whine that made me almost feel sorry for it. Then Tumble was pulling me up and our mad dash continued. Since running through yards was only slowing us down, we returned to the streets.
The downside to this was that behind us, a veritable army of animal and human skeletons marched ever closer. It felt less like they were following us and more like we were being herded toward the tower. That feeling only intensified when we rounded a final corner and caught sight of our destination. The street leading to it was blocked by another group of skeletons. At the center of this new group, I saw a man swinging a club to keep the skeletons at bay. It was a losing battle; soon they would close in tight on all sides, penning him in.
“Only one thing to do, then,” I said, nodding at the sight.
Tumble hefted his gun and said, “Let’s go save a life.”
We moved in close enough for Tumble to take careful aim and blast one, two, three skeletons in quick succession. This was enough to create a narrow gap in the wall of bones surrounding the beleaguered man, and he did not hesitate to sprint through it towards us.
I started to ask if he was all right, but he cut me off.
“Are you the idiots who woke up the dead? Thanks a lot!” he yelled, shaking his club at us. Up close, I saw that he was young, maybe my age, and that his club was actually a spinal cord with its skull still attached.
Before I could respond, I saw his eyes widen as he looked over my shoulder.
“Oh great, you brought friends,” he said, and then took off running to one side where the wall of skeletons had not yet firmed up.
“Rude, isn’t he?” Tumble complained.
“Forget his manners,” I said, turning in circles to eye the coming horde. “Maybe he knows a way out. Follow him!”
* * *
11/11/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!
If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)
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.