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 16, Allin was trying to bring Tyena to safety when a slavering beast blocked his path and raised her claws to strike him down.
The Only City Left: Part 17
Stunned by the sight of Mom’s lantern coil in the she-beast’s hand, I couldn’t even move out of the way to save myself as her other hand came down to eviscerate me.
Before her claws could reach me, someone flew out of the darkness on my left and tackled the she-beast to the ground.
“Mom!” I yelled, relieved and horrified at the same time.
She was bleeding from innumerable cuts and her clothing was torn. She didn’t look back at me as she lifted a dagger in either hand and yelled, “Run, Allin!”
As she plunged the daggers down, the she-beast fought to push her off, her clawed hands a frenzy of death. Blood made black in the harsh white light of the beast’s pendant sprayed from Mom’s throat and she collapsed forward. The she-beast, one dagger through her eye, the other through her throat, struggled ineffectually to push Mom off of her as her lifeblood flowed out. She managed to raise herself up on one elbow before she fell backward, unmoving. Mom’s necklace fell from her limp hand.
My world shattered. This could not be happening. In this brackish nightmare of shifting lights and dancing shadows, surely my eyes had tricked me into believing that Mom had been killed. Because it simply could not be.
I realized I was screaming my throat raw and clutching Tyena so tightly to my chest she would have protested if she had been conscious. But scream all I might, it did not bring Mom back. What it did do was make me a target.
Someone struck me a blow to the back of the head and I went sprawling forward, Tyena spilling out of my arms. I couldn’t get my hands in front of me before I landed, and my face planted onto some thin industrial carpet that covered a hard, unyielding floor. I heard something crack and felt the most unbearable pain I had ever experienced as my nose broke.
I turned over and writhed silently on my back, fighting to catch a breath, unable to see anything beyond the pain. I could hear a heated struggle nearby, though, all growls and roars and the sound of flesh colliding with flesh.
My sight returned in time for me to see a massive hairy body falling toward me, lit by the same white-light pendant that all the beasts had around their neck. I scrambled backward on my bottom until I backed into something that felt like a body and my hands slipped in something wet and viscous.
The beast transformed as it fell, snout shortening to a normal nose and mouth, hair receding into skin, limbs shrinking back to human proportions. By the time it hit the ground, head smushed sideways against the carpet, I was clear of it and could see who it was.
Grinty. The bastard had gotten what he deserved.
I looked up and saw my father, the yellow light of his lantern coil illuminating his grim face. His breast heaved with exertion as he reached down to offer me a hand.
“Allin, where’s your mother?”
His head was suddenly limned in a white corona and his shadow fell across me. I saw the beast towering behind him, but before I could warn him it had reached around and, with one hand, tore him open from neck to groin.
He continued toward me, falling into my arms, and his head came to a rest on my shoulder.
He whispered his last words into my ear, “Keep the coil. Stay alive. Always. Stay. Alive.”
With a final effort, he broke the necklace that held his lantern coil, found my left hand, and closed my fist around it.
Beyond tears, I hugged him close to me until he was completely gone. It happened from one heartbeat to the next.
I looked up and saw the lone surviving beast, illuminated by the light on his chest, inspecting the dead bodies strewn about the room. The first one he checked was the one Dad had shot at the beginning of this mess, all of maybe five minutes ago.
The beast snarled and kicked the body, clearly frustrated, before turning back around toward me.
I looked around for something to protect myself with and came face to face with Mom’s still face staring at me. She lay on top of her murderer, who in death had become human once more. I swallowed, reached out with my free hand to close her eyes, and then fought to pull her knife out of the woman’s throat. As I struggled to free it, a great hairy foot stamped down on my arm, pinning it in place. I cried out in pain.
“Nuh uh uh,” the beast growled from above me. I didn’t look up lest I stare right into its blinding pendant. “None of that, kid. Play nice.”
The beast leaned over and picked Mom’s necklace and coil off of the floor. It was only when he retrieved necklaces from Grinty and the woman, too, that I realized that each of them had the same coil as my parents did, for all that theirs had given off white light instead of yellow. I gripped Dad’s coil tighter in my fist.
He pulled back on Dad next, letting his corpse fall backwards onto the floor. When he didn’t immediately see the necklace and coil, he stepped off of my arm and kneeled down for closer inspection.
The second my arm was free, I pushed backwards and grabbed at the knife again with both hands this time, the coil pressed between my palm and the hilt. The knife slid free and I held it before me as the beast turned its head to stare at me.
“Don’t be stupid,” it growled. “If I’d wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.”
I stared back, saw that its fur was matted with blood, that it held the necklaces in its left hand while its right arm hung limp at its side.
“Then come on and finish me, you bastard,” I whispered.
The beast bobbed its nose in the air a few times in what I realized was its version of a chuckle. Then it stood up, holding up the three necklaces it had scavenged like a trophy.
“Fine, keep it. We’ll be back for you anyways, and without Mommy and Daddy to protect you, I don’t think you’ll be so lucky next time.”
The beast turned away from me and walked toward the front of the store, leaving me in near darkness. I continued to hold the knife before me.
“See you in your nightmares, kid,” the beast said, his parting shot.
I heard the scrape of metal on metal twice, the front door opening and closing, and then the darkness surrounded me completely.
* * *
Exit flashback mode and head back to the future in Part 18!
6/10/12 News: Okay, if last week’s post was dark, I guess this one is a black hole in comparison, but it needed to be told.
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