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 50, Allin’s mom ordered him to hide in a locker while she confronted two tough-looking punks.
The Only City Left: Part 51
“Mom, what’s going on? Are you okay?”
No response. Only the sounds of a scuffle, flesh hitting flesh, screams. I yelled and fought against the constraints of the locker. Something was happening out there. Mom needed me, and I was trapped, helpless.
More sounds. Whumps and thumps and slithers and screams. Without a clue as to what was going on, my mind provided the worst imaginable visuals, and tears began to pour down my face.
“Almost done, Allin,” came Mom’s voice from outside the locker. She sounded different, like she had been hurt maybe, but before I could question her, she was gone again.
I heard more of the same sounds, further away. I threw myself against the locker door repeatedly with what little room I had to work with. Forget Mom’s orders, I couldn’t stand to be locked up for another second while she was getting hurt out there. The door seemed to be giving way a fraction more each time I hit it, until finally it flew open on its own and I fell into Mom’s outstretched arms, crying.
“I’m sorry, hon. I’m sorry,” she said, holding me tight and patting my back. “It’s okay.”
I sniffed back my tears and pulled away.
“Why did you do that to me?”
“I couldn’t risk you getting hurt, Allin. But it’s okay now. The bad men … left.”
I looked around and saw that the relatively clean path was now strewn with garbage from the surrounding areas. It was not strewn so evenly, however, that I could not see streaks and pools of blood beneath it. I looked at Mom and saw that she wasn’t injured, so she must have really done a number on those guys before they took off.
“Come on. Your father’s over here but I wanted to get you first.”
She led me deeper into the locker room and around a corner into a room full of toilet stalls and showers. Dad rested on the grimy, tiled floor below one of the shower heads, shirtless, bleeding from cuts on his face and chest, his wrists bound with rope. He gave me a crooked smile as I knelt down to grip him in a fierce hug.
“Thanks for coming, guys, but you shouldn’t have. I would have gotten out eventually.”
Mom cut his bonds with her knife and then walked over to a nearby folding table that was covered with various nasty-looking instruments. She picked up Dad’s lantern coil from amongst those and handed it back to him.
“I’m sure you would have,” she said as I helped Dad to his feet. “But you can only keep a girl waiting for so long before she gets antsy. Did you at least get what you needed?”
“Pretty much. Dig that ad,” he said, nodding at the table.
Mom picked up a piece of paper, examined it and then crumpled it up and threw it into a waiting toilet bowl.
“Doesn’t do you justice,” she said. Then, “So they know. I took out seven. How many did you see?”
“I don’t know. A dozen? More? You stay here. I’ll do a sweep and make sure we get out clean.”
He put his lantern coil back on, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “You did good, Allin. Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said. “She stashed me in a locker.”
Mom and Dad made eye contact and Dad looked down at me with a wry smile.
“Your mother’s a smart woman, Allin. I’m sure she did what was best to keep you safe. Now sit tight. This won’t take long.”
With that, Dad left. I turned away from Mom and looked around. More blood on the floor in here.
“You were frightened in that locker,” Mom said. “It’s okay to be scared, but you need to trust that your father and I know what’s best.”
I turned around to face her. “I couldn’t move. And it was dark in there!”
“The city’s a dark place, Allin. You can’t let that scare you or keep you from doing what needs to be done. When everything is dark around you, that’s when you need to shine the brightest.”
“Hard to do that from inside a locker,” I said half-heartedly. “Mom, what’s this all about? Who were those guys? Why do they hate Dad?”
“It’s complicated, Allin. But you don’t need to worry. Dad’s chasing the rest of them away and then we can keep on going.”
True to her word, Dad returned shortly and announced the way was clear. We left the factory behind and neither of my parents ever again spoke of that day, the day I had gotten a glimpse behind their veil of secrecy. Nor did Mom repeat that particular fairy tale, perhaps for fear it would dredge up forbidden memories. I wouldn’t see that side of my parents’ lives again for years, by which time I had forgotten the factory incident.
When this dream or memory or end-of-life vision ended, I was no longer falling, but I couldn’t tell if I was asleep or awake, alive or dead. I was fairly certain my eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t see anything. Rationally, I knew I should be dead, but my body told me otherwise. I could feel that I lay on a bed of objects, some painfully hard and others disgustingly soft, and that my legs were submerged in some clinging, viscous goo. There was a sick-sweet odor of rot and salt in the thick, moist air and I could hear myself moving and breathing, but beyond that I existed in a void that led me to believe I was either blind or in complete and utter darkness. Thinking to test which one it was, I felt for my wristlight, only to be rewarded with a sliced finger. The wristlight was cracked open, its algae long gone. The pain of the cut told me I was alive, at least, but I was clueless as to how I had survived.
All I knew for sure was that I was cold and alone in the darkness, and despite what my mother would have had me believe, there was no light to be found.
* * *
And so the flashback comes to an end. In the present (mine, not Allin’s), I am reading through the completed book for a third time, and still catching errors. This may be my last read-through before I offer it up to some beta readers. I’m looking forward to being done with editing and started with writing Book 2!
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