The Only City Left: Part 51

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.

* * *

2/3/13 Notes:

Continue to Part 52.

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!

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.

The Only City Left: Part 50

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.

“Bad people.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.

* * *

Continue to Part 51.

1/27/13 Notes:

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.

The Only City Left: Part 49

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 48, Allin is remembering a fairy tale his mother told him once. In it, a princess was forced to marry a monster, who locked her up when she tried to steal his magic.

The Only City Left: Part 49

Locked in darkness, the princess would surely have gone mad if not for secret and risky visits from the monster king’s younger brother. Each day, he snuck in to spend some time with her and share the light from the orb that had transformed him into a monster. Knowing that the monster king had dispatched his other brother without a second thought, the princess asked the younger brother why he risked seeing her. He lowered his head and did not answer, but it was clear that he was in love with her.

In the times when he was gone and she was alone in the dark, the princess thought of him often. He was a monster and had not stopped his brother from committing countless evil acts. But where the monster king reveled in his crimes, his brother seemed ashamed of what he had become. Despite her misgivings, she slowly found herself coming to love the younger brother in return, for he was the only light in her dark world. Because of this growing love, the princess entrusted the younger brother with the secret she had kept hidden all these months: she planned to have her revenge on the monster king for his many misdeeds.

At first, the younger brother tried to talk her out of her plan, not out of any love for the monster king, but out of fear for the princess. The monster king was too powerful to fight. All who had tried to knock him from his throne had perished in the attempt. The princess would have none of this, though. She would not spend the rest of her life in servitude to the monster king, not when there was any chance of escape.

She asked the younger brother why the king’s magic orb had not worked for her and he explained that the orb alone did nothing. It only worked on those who had been cursed with a monster’s bite. Even then, the orbs would only work for those who know the magic words to unlock their light. The princess asked the younger brother if he knew where extra orbs were kept. As she suspected, there was a trove of them, and the younger brother reluctantly admitted that he could get her one.

“But it will be useless to you, unless…”

“Unless I, too, am cursed,” she said, and bared her neck for him.

When the month was over, the princess emerged from her dark prison as the perfect picture of submissiveness. The monster king was well pleased at the effect his punishment had produced. He would brook no misbehavior from his subjects, much less his wife. She obeyed all his commands and made sure he stayed in a good mood, for she feared him becoming suspicious and punishing her again before she could put her plan into action.

A few nights later, when his younger brother came to visit, the monster king was in such a boisterous state, he invited him in despite the late hour. He ordered his wife to serve them drinks while they regaled each other with stories of conquest. The princess could see how nervous the younger brother was, so she made sure to stay nearby and offer the monster king sweets and heady drinks whenever there was a lull in the conversation. The longer the younger brother could keep him talking and drinking, the better their chances of success would be. Soon, the king began to yawn and stretch his great arms above his head. The princess knew he would next demand that his brother leave so that he could sleep. The time was ripe to enact her plan. She could only trust that nerves would not prevent the younger brother from performing his part in this dark play.

The princess offered the monster king one last drink, and at the same time begged him to tell a story of when he and his brother were young, for she (truly) could not imagine them at such an age. Well into his cups and feeling benevolent, the monster king readily agreed to this nostalgic request, curiously glossing over any reference to their other brother as he told his tale.

While the monster king was thus engaged, the princess took a step back and produced the magic orb that the younger brother had given to her while she was in prison, which she had kept hidden until this moment. Speaking the magic words, she transformed into a foul monster and felt the great power of which the monster king oft boasted.

So shocked was he at his wife’s transformation that he lost the power of speech. Instead he roared in anger and stood up, ready to punish her severely for her crimes. He was in such a rage that he did not notice his younger brother move in behind him until he looked down and saw a great blade piercing his chest. When the blade was pulled back out, he turned around and asked, “What treachery is this that my own brother would wrong me so?”

Any doubts the younger brother had were erased upon hearing those words from the mouth of a fratricide. Both the princess and the younger brother took their revenge upon the monster king. They fatally wounded him, but before he succumbed to his many wounds he managed to call out for his guards. The princess and the younger brother were forced to flee before they could watch the monster king die, but as the princess was now a monster, too, they blended in with the other monsters and were able to escape the Garden unmolested. The End.

Mom didn’t like interruptions during the telling of tales, but once the story was over, I was allowed to ask all the questions I wanted.

“You didn’t say they lived happily ever after.”

“No.”

“Well, did they?”

“More or less.”

I was old enough to know that meant “not really.”

“Did the princess stay with the younger brother after they escaped?”

“Yes, I believe she did.”

“Why? I mean, he wanted to lock her up in a dungeon at first, too, didn’t he?”

“He did, and that wasn’t the only terrible thing he had done or would do, but the princess fell in love with him anyways.”

“I don’t think she really loved him.”

“No?”

“Sounds to me like she needed his help. Which is cool. But if it were me, I would have split after they escaped. All the brothers were messed up.”

Mom smiled and looked at the door. Still no Dad. She looked back at me and said, “Maybe that would have been the smarter choice, but things aren’t always that simple, Allin.”

She grabbed her backpack, stood up, and said, “Now let’s go find your father. I’m tired of waiting for him.”

* * *

Continue to Part 50.

1/20/13 Notes:

I printed out the first complete draft of The Only City Left recently and am in the midst of doing a red-pen edit and then making those changes in the master file. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time to be in this phase of the project. I’ve also started throwing out ideas for Books 2 and 3. Fun times.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.

The Only City Left: Part 48

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 47, Allin is lost in memory again. This time it is of a fairy tale his mother told him once. But is there some truth hidden in this story?

The Only City Left: Part 48

The princess could not believe her eyes. Gone. Everything she had known was gone. Her husband could only stand by and watch as she kneeled in the ashes of the Garden and wept. When she had cried herself out, her husband suggested that they return to his home and inquire of his brothers if they knew aught of the Garden’s fate. Numb, she let herself be led away.

Upon returning to his home, however, he was astonished to find that it too had been transformed. Unlike the princess’ home, it had not been destroyed, though. Instead it had been turned into a mighty fortress that was patrolled by monstrous guards. In fact, everyone seemed to have become a monster. Seeing this, the princess and her husband sought to flee, but before they could do so, they were captured and brought before the fortress’ ruler. This turned out to be none other than her husband’s older brother, who had become the most powerful monster of them all.

“Welcome home, Princess,” said the older brother.

“I have no home,” she said.

“And yet I have named my kingdom the Garden, in honor of your town, which I destroyed.”

This only confirmed the princess’ suspicions, for who would destroy a peaceful town except for a monster?

“What has become of you, brother? What madness has seized you?” said her husband.

“No madness, only power. The power of the Fifth House,” the monster king replied. “I offer this power to you as well, brother, but in exchange, you must give me your princess.”

“Never,” said her husband, which was an act of defiance at once valiant and unwise, for the monster king lashed out at him and in the next instant he lay bleeding on the floor.

“Dispose of him,” the monster king said to his nearest guard.

As he knelt down to drag her husband away, the guard caught the princess’ eye and she saw in that monstrous face a hint of familiarity. This was the younger of the three brothers, she was sure of it. Once the two brothers, one living and one now dead, were gone, the monster king made the princess an offer: “You made the wrong choice when last we met, your highness, so let me make my intentions plain this time. You can become my bride now or you can share the same fate as your husband, your parents, and everyone else in your town.”

The princess considered his offer carefully, for the monster king was obviously a cruel man and life with him might be worse than death. In the end, she accepted his offer, vowing to him to ever be faithful while on the inside promising to have her revenge on him. The monster king cackled in glee and pulled the princess to him. She found him repulsive but hid her true feelings behind a mask, and the monster king was pleased.

Days passed and turned into months, and all the while the princess pretended to be a dutiful wife and servant to the monster king, who was either blind to the revenge that burned in her heart or did not feel threatened by it. She spent every minute of every day searching for clues as to how the older brother had become the monster king, but even though she was a princess and his bride, she was treated as the lowliest of servants and no one would speak to her of matters of import. She would have gone mad during this time if not for acts of kindness from an unexpected source: the king’s surviving brother. He had vowed to protect her if she chose him as her husband, and even though she had not, he was not angry with her.

The younger brother found moments throughout each day when the monster king was away or distracted, and he used these to talk to the princess. Each of these moments became a light in her otherwise dark existence. Eventually, she convinced him to reveal to her the secrets of how he and everyone else in this new Garden had become monsters. He spoke to her of powerful beings that had visited his older brother and made a bargain. The beings, who belonged to a distant kingdom called the Fifth House, gave the older brother a magical orb that allowed him to change into a monster, and more orbs to change others as well. In return, he and everyone he transformed would owe the Fifth House a favor, to be collected at a later time. The older brother accepted this bargain and, with his new monstrous powers, forced everyone he knew to accept it as well. The younger brother explained that without the orbs, the monsters would appear human again, but that the monster king had forbid them to change back unless under his direct orders. Not everyone agreed with the monster king’s rule, but he struck such fear in everyone’s hearts that no one defied him.

There was no room for fear in the princess’ heart, however, as it was already full to the brim with her plans for revenge. Armed with the knowledge shared by the younger brother, she set out to procure one of the orbs for herself, for what chance did she have to fight back against monsters unless she was as powerful as them? The orbs proved to be difficult to obtain, however. Each person who had one guarded it closely, and though the princess suspected there must be a trove of them somewhere, she was not allowed to explore the Garden on her own.

One night, while the monster king slept, she risked taking his orb, which he wore on a necklace. She slipped it off his neck and he became human once more, but when she put it on, she did not change.

The monster king awoke to find her wearing his treasure, and he might have killed her there and then were it not for her quick tongue. She convinced him that she was only fascinated by the beautiful light the magic orb gave off and had wanted to wear it to look more beautiful for him. He accepted this, and in his benevolence he chose not to kill her. Instead her punishment for stealing his light would be thirty days spent locked in a lightless cell. Her screams and tears as his guards carried her away pleased the monster king greatly.

* * *

1/13/13 Notes:

Continue to Part 49.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.

The Only City Left: Part 47

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 46, Allin’s grapple gun jammed (remember the nutrient jelly in the backpack?) and instead of heroically flying up into the air and away from danger, he fell into the dark, watery abyss.

The Only City Left: Part 47

Memories are funny. Some that you wish you could forget are always popping up to remind you of something stupid or embarrassing that you’ve done. Others slip through your fingers like water, and no matter how tight you grip them, they dribble away and evaporate. Sometimes, like when you’re plummeting blindly to your death amidst a deluge of water, they return.

Much of my childhood seemed monotonous. I had no friends besides my parents, and the three of us were always on the move: a never-ending family hike. For Dad, this was simply The Way Things Were, and he didn’t allow me to complain about it. Mom at least recognized that for a little kid it was a dull existence. She would sometimes tell stories to pass the time, and I would hang on her every word.

One time, when I was about 8 or 9 (age being a fuzzy concept in a dying city with no night and day), Dad was away on some mission of his, so on top of the normal boredom, there was the added dullness of staying locked in the same room for days on end, waiting for him to return.

“Mom, tell me a story,” I asked for probably the hundredth time in half that number of hours.

She sat on the floor facing the door, the lantern coil on her chest providing the only light in our cupboard-sized room. She rubbed it absentmindedly and hummed some private tune to herself, nodding her head to a beat only she could hear. She had been doing this for hours, lost in her own world, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I would burst out of my own skin if something didn’t change soon.

“Maaaaahhhhhmmmmm.”

“Huh?” She seemed genuinely surprised to hear my whine, as if I had woken her from a deep sleep. “What is it, hon?”

“When’s Dad coming back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then tell me another story. I’m bored.”

She looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and for a moment I thought I was in trouble. Then she smiled and patted the floor next to her in invitation.

“So you want a story?” She looked at the closed door across from us for a few more seconds and then turned to me. She rested her arms on her knees and her chin on her arms and said, “Have I ever told you the story of the Princess and the Three Brothers?”

“A princess? Why can’t it be about a prince?”

“Because some stories can’t be controlled, and this one wants to be about a princess. Do you want to hear it or not?”

I did, even if it was about a princess. Anything was better than slowly going insane while she sat humming that tune.

You’ll be happy to know, this was no ordinary princess. She didn’t live in a castle, and nor were her parents the rulers of a vast kingdom. But that was okay, because the days of rulers and vast kingdoms were long past. The princess was happy to live in her own modest corner of the city, where her parents led a small but happy community in the day-to-day tasks of ensuring that everyone had enough food, water, and light to survive. It did not escape her parents’ notice that people now needed the same type of tending as the plants they grew, so they called their small community the Garden.

For many years, life was simple and peaceful in the Garden, and the young princess grew to be a young woman whom many thought beautiful. Word of the princess must have spread beyond the Garden, perhaps spoken of by one of the many traders who passed through hawking their wares. One day three brothers came to the Garden to meet her. They were known to the people of the Garden by reputation only, through tales told by those same traders. So it was that the princess and her parents knew that the brothers were a disreputable bunch, rowdies, trouble-makers. The princess was none too happy to learn, then, that each brother intended to ask her hand in marriage. Her parents, however, counseled her to hear the brothers out and see what they could offer her (and by extension, them) in exchange for her hand.

The oldest brother vowed to take her away from her tiny, provincial town. He promised that if she married him, she would never have to work for anything ever again. He boasted that he was strong enough that he could take whatever she wanted from those who were weaker.

The middle brother vowed that if she married him, he would take her on a tour of the world that was so thrilling and far-reaching, she would never wish to return to the insignificant portion of it she once called home.

The youngest brother vowed that if she married him, he could protect her from any danger, but he would need to keep her locked away in his dungeon to make sure she stayed safe.

Her parents urged her to pick one of the brothers as a suitor, for they feared that the brothers would not be pleased if they were denied, and would take their displeasure out on the Garden. The princess was terribly upset that her parents were willing to trade her for the safety of their town, but she obeyed their wishes. Since she was angry with her parents, she chose the middle brother, since his promise was to take her as far as away from her town as possible.

The oldest brother and the youngest brother were not pleased with her decision, but what could they do? She had chosen the middle brother and that was that. They returned to their territory, the princess said a terse goodbye to her parents, and the middle brother whisked her away on the honeymoon he had promised. It was an exciting trip, but also a sad one, for though her husband was more kind to her than she expected, she did not truly love him and he could not help but realize this. He asked if she would prefer to return to her home, and in a fit of homesickness, she said that she would very much like that. But when he brought her back to the tiny portion of the city she had once called home, they were both astonished to find that the town destroyed and its people vanished. The Garden was no more.

* * *

Continue to Part 48.

1/6/13 Notes:

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.

The Only City Left: Part 17

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.

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.)

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The Only City Left: Part 16

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.

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Kevin for sharing TOCL on Facebook last week!)

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.)

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The Only City Left: Part Fifteen

If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Fourteen, Allin had reunited with his parents and gotten them to agree to return to Glin’s Rising with him to rescue Tyena, the love of his 15-year-old life. Let’s see how that goes for them, shall we?

The Only City Left: Part Fifteen

The sense of wrongness only intensified as we approached. Dad led the way, his gun drawn. I knew then how seriously he took the threat of attack; the gun was down to half-charge on its last power cell and might as well have been locked behind a glass case that read “For extreme emergency only,” for all that I had ever seen him use it. Mom followed close behind, a knife ready in each hand, and I trailed them both, weaponless. Feeling a bit defenseless, I stopped and kneeled down to rummage through my cocoon bag.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Mom whispered, looking back when I caught up to them.

“Magma stick,” I whispered back, holding it up for her inspection. It was a screwdriver-shaped tool I used when tinkering. The tip was hot enough to solder components together, but at most it would be a minor annoyance to be stung with it. “Better than nothing.”

She nodded and we continued on. We made our way down alleys and side streets rather than use the main road, but all three of us knew that if anyone had been watching closely, they could have seen us already at the top of the utility platform.

Once we were inside the town proper, we stopped a few blocks away from the main intersection where the Glinites held their swap meet.

From a distance, we could see that it was abandoned, tables overturned, produce scattered. My stomach tightened into a fist, tugging on my insides until I wanted to cry out.

“Where did they all go?” I whispered.

Glin’s Rising wasn’t the largest community we had ever passed through, but there had been at least a hundred people making a life here and it had only been a couple of hours since I had seen them last. Now, Glin’s was a ghost town.

“I don’t like this at all,” Dad declared. “Even if they culled Glin’s Rising, they’d have left a group behind to follow us. Let’s keep going, but be careful. It may be a trap.”

I had so many questions for him, but it wasn’t the time to get into a long discussion, so I forced them down and kept quiet.

We slunk along abandoned storefronts, small businesses turned into apartments for the current residents. There was no sound of life in the town, no sense of presence that you get from the inhabited portions of the city. Where is everyone?, I wondered again.

In my darkest moments on the run back to Glin’s, I had steeled myself for the death and devastation I might confront when I returned. This absence of any presence felt much worse.

A firm hand on my shoulder broke into my thoughts. Dad pulled me to a stop around the corner from the department store, a finger to his lips.

He stood still, listening, although I could hear nothing but the stirring of wind from the ventilation system far overhead. He nodded and then turned to me, nearly backing me up against a brick wall.

“They’re in the department store,” Dad began. I tried to interrupt, to ask how he could possibly know that, but he cut me off. “Allin, you have to do exactly as I say. You were right, Tyena’s in trouble. There are four of them with her. When we go in there, your Mom and I’ll deal with them. I want you to get Tyena someplace safe. Someplace you can hole up until we’re done. Can you do that?”

Eyes wide, I nodded. The roof of the department store, Tyena’s hideaway. There was only the one door that let out onto it from inside and Tyena had all sorts of things up there that I could use to block the door.

Dad turned to Mom. “You’re sure about this?”

She nodded, head held high, a wistful look on her face.

“This is the man I remember,” she said, and I had to look away as they shared a moment.

“Let’s do this,” Dad said after that was over. “Allin, prepare yourself. This will not be pleasant.”

We rounded the corner and crept past the ancient ads and decrepit mannequins that filled the darkened window displays. Before we reached the front door, Dad stopped us and listened again.

“They’re… distracted,” he whispered. “Allin, we’ll draw their attention. You get Tyena and don’t look back. Got it?”

I nodded twice and goose-pimples rose on my arm at the thought of what lay in store.

“Allin, we love you,” Mom added, but before I could reply to her, a muffled scream came from inside the store.

It pierced my heart and brain with one shot, erasing all plans, spurring me into action.

I pushed past my parents and tore open the door, which protested with a shriek of metal on metal. Inside, the abandoned store was dim and murky, the only light that which filtered through the grimy glass of the front doors. As I stumbled toward where I thought Tyena’s scream had come from, jumbled silhouettes blocked my path, the detritus of another civilization.

“Shhh, someone’s here,” a man said, his whisper carrying like a shout.

“Those idiots,” said another man. “They probably forgot how to get back.”

And: “Shut up, you,” from a third voice, a woman, followed by a meaty smack and the sound of Tyena sobbing. “We won’t let them have you. You’re all ours.”

While they spoke, I dropped to all fours and crawled closer to where the voices were coming from. Toward the back of the store, I found them. In the tenebrous light, I couldn’t make out their features, but I could see Tyena pinned to the floor beneath someone, and three others loitering around them.

Fountains of rage coursed through my veins and I gripped the magma stick as if it were a sword out of legend. I was ready to throw myself into their midst, despite the odds, when Dad’s voice boomed out across the room.

“Step away from the girl, you mewling pukes. This ends now.”

* * *

See how the mewling pukes react in Part 16, or read my notes below first!

5/27/12 News: Go Allin’s Dad! (Huh-what? Fifteen parts in and Allin’s Dad doesn’t have a name yet? You’ll have to wait one more week to learn it.)

Note: I only today realized that I am losing italics when I copy from Scrivener into WordPress. Wonderful! I’ll have to go back and check all my previous posts to see how often that happened (I know some posts were copied from Word…).

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Jande and Jorine for spreading the word last week!)

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The Only City Left: Part Fourteen

If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents. Also, in case you missed it, I had a The Only City Left: Behind The Scenes post on Friday that you might be interested in.

At the end of Part 13, Allin started to retell the story of his return to Glin’s Rising, the story of how he killed his parents. Let us enter “flashback mode” for the rest of the story.

The Only City Left: Part Fourteen

It was easy enough to retrace the path we had taken from the utility door. Even if I had not marked the way for Tyena, I was pretty good with directions and landmarks. Mom and Dad had drilled that into me: be familiar with your environment, even if you’re only passing through. The whole time I ran back along our route, I warred between believing I would meet up with Tyena on her way to find me, and worrying that something bad, something really bad, had happened to her and possibly all of the Glinites. With each passing minute, my worry grew stronger.

When I reached the utility door that would open onto the platform that overlooked Glin’s Rising, I put a hand against the wall and leaned over to catch my breath. Frenzied thoughts filled my head. No Tyena. She was right behind us! She’s in trouble. Maybe she got lost. She couldn’t have gotten lost. She’s in trouble. Glin’s Rising is in trouble. I’m in trouble.

My parents had said that the people following us were dangerous. If they had already reached Glin’s Rising and I returned there, I would be throwing myself right into that danger. It went against everything I had been taught. But there was nothing else for it. If Glin’s Rising was in danger, if Tyena was, it was because of us. I had to do something.

Sufficiently recovered from my run, I stood up straight, took a deep breath, and pushed the utility door open a crack. All was silent except for the usual background hum of air being circulated. I half expected someone to be lying in wait on the other side of the door, but the platform was empty when I stepped outside. My growing sense of foreboding did not lessen, though. If anything, the area was too quiet, too still. Which is why I should have heard someone sneaking up behind me, but I didn’t.

All I knew was that all of a sudden a hand was clamped around my mouth and an arm around my chest and arms, and I was lifted up and carried backward into the utility tunnels. Once inside, I saw Mom easing the door shut and I relaxed my frantic struggling, at which point Dad, for it had to be him, loosened his grip on me a little.

“What do you think you can accomplish back there, Allin?” he whispered in my ear from behind me. “If they are in danger, and we don’t know that they are, what can you do except die with them?”

Dad’s voice was cold and hard; I barely recognized this new version of him.

“Lemme go! Tyena’s in trouble,” I spat out from behind the palm of his hand.

“Hon, what makes you think that?” Mom asked gently.

“Let. Me. Go,” I insisted, tired of being restrained by my own father.

He did, but not without moving around to block the door first. Once out of his grip, I stumbled forward and then turned on him, tears in my eyes.

“She was going to follow me. Us. I saw her running, waving. I thought she was excited. But now, now—” I couldn’t finish the sentence. My nose was full of snot and my vision was blurry and my father stood between me and the door, his face set. I could tell I wasn’t getting through to him.

“You think she was running away from someone?” Mom asked, glancing back and forth between my father and me.

“Of course I do!” I yelled, and she winced. “Otherwise where is she?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Dad said. “We’re going. It’s not our problem.”

“How many?” Mom asked.

“What?”

“How many more will have to die so that we can survive?”

“You never complained before. Should I have left you there for him to play with until he killed you?”

Mom gasped as if Dad had struck her, and he instantly looked regretful, but the hard mask returned to his face. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, watching my parents argue like this, hinting at a past to which I had never been privy.

Twin tears glided down Mom’s cheeks. “You don’t get to throw that in my face. You know I’m grateful. But it was your choice. We’ve been on the run his entire life! When is it going to stop?”

Dad started to reply but I interrupted, loudly.

“Shut up!”

Both of them turned to me with shocked looks on their face. Dad started to speak and I cut him off again.

“Enough! Stop! While you’re fighting, Tyena’s in trouble. So get out of my way and let me go help her!”

“Allin, wait,” Dad began.

“No! I’m not a little kid anymore, Dad. You can’t stop me from going back. You can only delay me. And if Tyena’s hurt because you slowed me down, I’ll hate you forever. Both of you!”

I seethed with frustration, not sure what my next move would be when Dad refused to budge, which seemed likely.

Mom moved in close and put a gentle hand on Dad’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and sighed, then re-opened them and stared at Mom and me in turn.
“It’s a bad idea,” Dad insisted. Before I could argue more, he said, “So stay close to me and do exactly what I say. We’ll try to rescue Tyena, but if she’s… if we can’t, we get out of there and don’t look back.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I threw my arms around him and squeezed him as hard as I could, and he squeezed back. Mom joined in on the group hug and then we each stood apart.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Dad said, his voice wary.

Together, we made our way back to Glin’s Rising.

* * *

Continue to Part 15, or read my notes below first!

5/20/12 News: Whoa, Part Fourteen almost didn’t get posted on time, not because it wasn’t written but because I forgot what day it was! I blame Diablo III for distracting me.

Thanks to everyone for reading. Comments are always appreciated; I’d love to know who is reading and what you think. For my new readers, welcome! Care to let me know how you found The Only City Left? Finally, if you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. 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.)

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The Only City Left: Part Seven

Read Part Six first if you need to. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Seven

We trudged through utility corridors for at least half an hour before I worked up the courage to ask my parents, “What did you mean earlier? About someone being on to us. Did you do something bad?”

Without stopping or looking back, Dad replied, “Never mind, Allin. It’s none of your concern.”

“I think it is,” I surprised myself by saying. It must have surprised Dad, too, because he stopped in his tracks and swung around to face me.

His face looked angrier than I had ever seen it before. Instinctively I flinched and stepped back, expecting to be hit even though Dad had never and would never do such a thing. Mom put a hand on his arm, lightly, and he seemed to deflate a little bit. I took that as an opening.

“I have friends back in Glin’s Rising,” I said. “If you stole something from them….”

I trailed off as Dad’s face changed from angry to weary. He looked to Mom, they shared some of that telepathic adult-speak that was all glances and subtle nods, and he turned back to me.

“Let’s sit down, we’ll talk about it.”

We loosened our packs and sat uncomfortably against the assorted pipes that ran along both walls.

“First, we didn’t do anything to the folks back at Glin’s Rising, okay? That’s not who your mother and I are concerned about.”

I nodded, already relieved, but eager to hear where this was going.

“I’m sure you’ve wondered why we keep moving, why we can’t settle down someplace like Glin’s and just live out our days farming. Fact is, even though there’s not a lot of people left in the city, there’s still people out there who just want to destroy life when they find it. We, we got on the bad side of some of those people and now they won’t leave us alone.”

“So why can’t we fight them, pick a place, set up some traps, and take ’em down?” I asked.

“It’s not that easy, Allin,” Mom cut in. “They’re dangerous. Very. And there’s more of them than there are of us. Your father and I know what we’re doing. Trust us.”

“Dangerous?” I squeaked. “So you’re saying these very dangerous people are following us, and we’re leading them through town after town? What happens after we leave? Did you even warn the Glinites?”

My voice rose higher and higher as realization set in. In my mind’s eye I saw Tyena running toward me, waving. Was she running toward me, or away from someone else? I jumped up and slung my backpack over my shoulders, and Mom and Dad stood up, too.

“Allin, we have to focus on our family. Everyone else is on their own.”

His words were like an icy knife in my heart. This was a side to Dad I had never seen before, and instead of refuting him, Mom stood at his side in silent agreement.

“Tyena’s back there. She’s in danger. I’m going back to help her.”

“Allin, you can’t. Our family—”

“Screw our family!” I yelled, and in the shocked quiet after that, the only sound that could be heard was my hurried footfalls as I ran back the way we had come. Back to Glin’s Rising. Back to Tyena. Back, back.

* * *

I came back to consciousness with a coughing sputter and found that I was slipping off the ladder back into the water-filled tunnel below. As I struggled to get my bearings I slipped under and swallowed a mouthful of that cold, foul brew before I shot back up and latched on to the ladder again.

Needless to say, I spent the next minute coughing and retching, trying uselessly to get every bit of the water out of my system. As it was, if I made it out of these ducts alive, I would need some Restorit if I didn’t want to catch some nasty disease.

Satisfied that I had done as much as I could, I let out a huge sigh and forced my tired muscles to pull my sodden mass up the ladder. It was only a couple of stories later that I hit the top of the circular shaft, which was closed with a hatch secured by a wheel lock. By the light of my coil, I could see writing on the hatch, “HAB-221-X” something or other. The rest was obscured, but it didn’t matter. HAB would hopefully mean habitat, and somewhere I could rest and dry off.

Then I heard something that sent a new shiver up my already shaking spine. Deep, booming sounds coming from below, and getting closer.

I looked down and although I couldn’t see him yet, the water below was lit by big and ghosty’s blue glow.

“Doesn’t this guy ever give up?” I asked through shivering lips, and then turned my attention to the hatch above me.

Keeping my legs on the ladder, I grabbed on to the wheel lock and tried to turn it. I could barely feel my hands after my swim through the icy water, and the lock probably hadn’t been turned in ages, so I wasn’t surprised when it refused to budge. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t start to panic. A lot.

I could hear the thum-thum-thum of the monstrous ghost bashing his way through too-tight ducts, and the circle of water below me started to brighten noticeably. All I could think to do was try harder. I knew I had to open that hatch or say goodbye.

I held on to the wheel and walked my feet up the ladder to the second-from-top rung, so I was scrunched up nearly sideways at the top of the shaft. With all my might, I pulled on the wheel and pushed against the ladder with my feet.

Nothing happened.

The light grew brighter.

I gave it one last try.

The wheel spun suddenly and my legs slipped, leaving me hanging from the wheel over a two-story drop to a few feet of water. As I kicked my legs to grab at the ladder, I saw the ghost rise out of the water below me and squeeze himself into the shaft.

* * *

Go straight to Part Eight (or read my comments below first if you can stand the suspense).

4/1/2012 News: Two things: I hope you don’t think I’m being too cruel, returning from the flashback without resolving what happened to Tyena and the rest of Glin’s Rising? Rest assured, I know what happens there and you will find out, but now is not the time. The second is, I feel a little bad about ending another post with Allin running from the big blue ghost. In the final version of this story, these posts will all be part of larger chapters, so instead of cliffhanger-cliffhanger-cliffhanger, Allin’s flight from the ghost will be one long chase scene with a flashback in the middle. I promise you that we are almost done with big, blue, and ghosty for the time being.

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