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 51, Allin woke up alone in the darkness after falling into the abyss and his own memories. Where is he now and how did he survive?
The Only City Left: Part 52
Wherever I was and however I had gotten there, I took solace in the knowledge that I had escaped the clinkers. I only hoped Tumble had been able to get away from them, too. At least that part of my plan had seemed to work. The part with the grapple gun: not so much. I began to laugh as I realized what must have happened. The nutrient jelly, loose in my backpack, had gotten into the gun and gunked it up, preventing it from firing. Thanks again, Tumble.
I continued to laugh in the darkness, a cackle tinged with hysteria, verging on sobs. Suddenly, the thought of what else might be in the darkness clamped my throat shut. My laughter turned into a choking fit, and when I got that under control, I held very still and listened carefully for anything that might be sneaking up on me. Besides my breathing I heard nothing, not even the sound of water falling that I would have expected if I were at the bottom of the abyss. Complete silence. If something were ready to pounce, it wasn’t betraying its presence in the slightest.
Maybe the things that live in the dark don’t make sounds. Maybe you don’t know they’re there until you feel their long, cold teeth separating your head from your neck in one go. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe if I didn’t stop thinking such thoughts, I would scare myself to death before anything else had a chance to kill me.
I took a deep breath of salty, slightly rotten air, choked back a gag, and resolved to get up and quit being frightened. Since the ground beneath me was unstable, I crawled rather than walked through a silty, slimy concoction that I was glad I couldn’t see. To protect myself as best I could, I moved slowly and kept my head down. Despite my best efforts, I soon had innumerable tiny cuts stinging my arms and legs.
I whimpered as I moved, a primal sputtering born of pain and panic and the belief that I would soon be dead in this dark, hellish underworld. There was a pleasant thought: maybe I was dead already and this was my personal hell. No, my hell would involve crawling through ducts for all eternity. This was just damned scary.
I pushed on despite the bile rising in my throat and the imagined creatures about to lunge at me. Left hand, left knee. Right hand, right knee. Repeat. I thought of my parents, who had fought so hard to keep me alive, who had given their lives for mine.
Always stay alive. Dad’s favorite bit of advice for me. His last words to me, in fact.
You’re a light in the dark. Mom’s wisdom.
I used their words to keep me moving.
Always stay alive. Left hand. You’re a light in the dark. Left knee. Always stay alive. Right hand. You’re a light in the dark. Right knee. One after the other after the other as I crawled over and through and between who knows what, headed who knows where. To their wisdom I added my own. Never stop moving. Since Mom and Dad had died, that more than anything else had been my motto.
Mottos. Words of wisdom. Something about Mom and Dad’s advice suddenly struck me as having a deeper meaning than that. I stopped in my tracks and hovered there in the darkness as my mind raced through memories to test this insight.
Professor Copper trying to figure out how to switch the lantern coil to moonlight mode: “It’s like there’s a password…”
Mom’s oft-repeated refrain: “You’re a light in the dark.” That was the last thing she said when she left me in the locker. And then there was a flash of white light.
“Always stay alive.” Dad’s last words to me. One final bit of fatherly advice? Or, as he wrapped my hand around his lantern coil, was he was giving me the passphrase to unlock it. And maybe “You’re a light in the dark” was Mom’s passphrase! If I was right, I had had the key to unlock Dad’s lantern coil the whole time, without ever realizing it. Poor Professor Copper. I hoped she wasn’t banging her head against the wall too much trying to figure it out. I doubted that she would happen across the proper passphrase by chance.
I was distracted from this train of thought when I noticed a hint of illumination to my right. It wasn’t a distinct light so much as a less-inky black, but since I had no better destination, I turned toward it and continued my trek through the sludge.
It might have been minutes or hours by the time the world began to slowly reveal itself. I crawled over broken machines, dead fish, and jagged chunks of concrete with steel rods dangling from them like giant eyelashes. There were lengths of twisted metal and viny tangles of sodden foliage, pools of multi-colored slime and chunks of decayed dreck that I couldn’t begin to identify. I had ended up in a junkyard.
There was enough light now that I could stand up, trembling from cold and exhaustion, and take my final steps toward the white light. I wasn’t too surprised when I shambled over a pile of rubble and saw a werewolf on the ground, the white light emanating from his coil. His left leg was bent at an improbable angle, a jagged white bone sticking out of his thigh. I recognized Matthias. He looked dead.
Serves him right, I thought, and knelt down to remove the coil from around his neck.
As I grabbed the necklace, his hand shot out and gripped my wrist.
“I think not,” he growled.
* * *
- I have secured a cover artist for the eBook and Print-on-Demand versions of The Only City Left. He should be getting back to me with some thumbnails this week and I can’t wait to see them.
- I will be seeking the input of one or two beta readers in the meantime. If you’re a long-time reader and would like to read all of The Only City Left in one go and provide me with some constructive feedback, let me know in the comments. I would be looking for readers who have enough time in their schedule that they could get notes back to me within one month (mid-March).
- I am in brainstorming mode for Book 2 right now, and to a lesser extent Book 3, insofar as I need to know some general details from the last book in order to pace the second book appropriately. I do have ideas for more stories in the same universe after that, but I have other stories I want to write as well, so I will likely take a break from the TOCL universe after Book 3. (My, don’t I sound ambitious?)
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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.