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, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part Fifteen, Allin and his parents had found Tyena and she was in trouble. When Allin recklessly goes to save her, Dad tries to take control of the situation.
The Only City Left: Part 16
The confidence and tone of deadly threat revealed yet another side of Dad that I had never known before. His pronouncement had an immediate effect on the thugs surrounding Tyena. The three who were standing dove for cover behind nearby racks of clothing. One of them ended up a few feet away, between Tyena and me. At that distance, I could tell she was a woman, and I thought for sure she’d turn and see me crouching there, but her attention was wholly on Dad’s voice. I froze in place and tried to breathe as quietly as possible.
Unlike the others, the one on Tyena stood up slowly, casually pulling up and zipping his pants, his back to the front of the store.
He nudged Tyena with one foot and said, “You stay there, girl,” and turned around.
“Dylan Arcady, you old dog,” he called out. “I thought you’d be running off with your tail between your legs if you knew we were here. Yup, you’ve surely surprised me.”
“It doesn’t have to go down like this, Grinty. Let the girl go, we’ll be on our way, and you can go tell your master that you were this close to catching us.”
“You came back for the girl?” Grinty asked, genuine surprise in his voice. “What, did your bitch get too old for you? Time for some young blood?”
I tensed and let out a tiny, near-silent gasp despite myself. I will kill you, I thought.
Grinty cocked his head to one side and I was sure he had heard me, although the woman was closer and hadn’t seemed to notice.
“And how’s your boy doing? Doyle is ever so eager to meet the little tyke,” Grinty said, and started to walk toward me. Damn, he had heard me.
“You take one more step and I’ll blow a hole in your chest the size of your ego,” Dad warned.
“I’d like to see you try,” Grinty spat, but he held still. “He’s here, too, isn’t he? Oh, so it’s his little girlfriend you’ve come back for then, is it? She’s a sweet little thing, I must admit.”
He looked back at Tyena, who was huddled on her side in a fetal position.
“Tasty,” he said, and barked laughter.
That did it. I sprang up and launched myself at Grinty, curses pouring from my mouth. Before I had halved the distance to him, his female associate plucked me out of the air and held me tight to her chest.
I heard the sizzling discharge of a gun, Grinty’s laughter, the metallic tinkle of empty racks falling to the ground. I struggled in the woman’s arms and she squeezed me tighter, so I jabbed the magma stick over my shoulder and triggered it when I felt it hit something. There was a sizzle and pop, and she cursed and let me go.
As I fell to the floor, there was a flash of blinding white light and I felt rather than saw something pass over me. When I turned around to see what had happened, the woman was gone but I could see two indistinct shapes about twenty feet away, struggling in the murk at the back of the store. The light was coming from between them, but as they were locked together, it only intermittently escaped, creating a strobe-like effect.
My attention was pulled from that scene when I heard more gunshots. One of the men, not Grinty, fell before me with a cauterized hole in his chest the size of my head, the edges sizzling.
“Allin, go!” Dad called out from somewhere in the store.
I turned to find Tyena but was blinded anew by more flashes of white light. I held my left arm up before my eyes and blinked tears away to try to see clearly.
That’s when the howls began. Inhuman, throaty howls the likes of which I had never heard before, and which made the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand at attention. The howls fought inside my brain with Dad’s orders to move, and I hesitated for precious seconds.
Around me I could hear the sounds of a battle: curses, yells, snarls, the last shots from Dad’s gun, followed by a clank and skitter as he must have tossed it away.
I tried to look around, to understand what was happening, but the bright lights moved quickly around the darkened room, turning it all into a blur of light and shadows.
A weak cry of “Allin” reminded me why I was there, and I turned to see Tyena, still curled up on the floor, with a hand out to me.
I shut out the chaos of the world around me and rushed to her side. I kneeled down and got my arms underneath her, and she limply draped her arms around my neck.
“Allin, Allin, you’ve got to go,” Tyena whispered. “They’re looking for you.”
“I know, shhh, it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” I told her as I stood up.
She felt too light in my arms, a hollow shell devoid of the fierce spirit that once animated it. I hugged her close to me and moved as quickly as I could to the back of the store, toward the Employee’s Only section and the stairs to the roof.
I hoped that in the heat of the battle, the two of us would be ignored. No such luck.
All of a sudden, a towering beast stood before me, panting quick, sulfurous breaths. A glowing oval of white light hung directly before my eyes between the beast’s fur-covered breasts, so bright in the darkness that it hurt my eyes. I squinted and looked up from there to a bared snout full of dirty, deadly-looking teeth and then to its eyes, one of which was collapsed and leaking pus into the fur on its cheek.
“I don’t care if Doyle wants you alive, boy,” she growled. “You’re going to pay for what you did to my beautiful face!”
It was such a ridiculous statement that a sarcastic reply was out of my lips without conscious thought.
“Really,” I stammered. “Looks like an improvement.”
The beast roared an inferno of rancid breath and lifted one fist to dangle something in front of me. It was a lantern coil like Mom and Dad wore, but unlit, hanging from a leather strap. No! It was Mom’s lantern coil.
As if she could read my thoughts, the beast laughed and said, “Don’t worry. She won’t need it anymore.”
And then her other hand came up, empty but for the razor-sharp claws at the tips of her fingers, ready to strike.
* * *
Find out how Allin dodges certain death in Part 17, or read my notes on today’s post first.
6/3/12 News: This is perhaps the darkest TOCL post to date, but it is the story of how Allin’s parents die, so I think it’s appropriate. Note: When I first started writing this sequence, back in Part Four, I had Allin written as being thirteen years old. For various reasons, having Allin be 13 didn’t make sense, so I bumped him up to 15. Either way, this is kind of a lot for a young man to handle. I am such a meanie.
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