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 and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 31, Allin had fallen into one of the many traps in the maze of ductwork surrounding Pudlington.
The Only City Left: Part 32
I screamed as I careened down a nearly vertical metal chute, a sound I could no more control than I could my descent. I kicked my legs and scrabbled my hands, but could find no purchase on the slick metal walls. Some part of my panicked brain did note, though, that when the soles of my cling-tight boots connected with the chute, I slowed down the teensiest bit.
Without a second thought, I bent my legs, slamming my feet into the ceiling of the chute and my knees into the floor. Now my screaming was only partly due to hurtling to my doom; it was also because of the intense burn where my knees scraped against the side of the chute. I didn’t let that stop me, though, because it was working! The longer I held my boots against the surface of the chute, the more they slowed me down. I was almost at a standstill when I ran out of chute and my hands flew out into empty space.
It was at that point that my boots locked into place, having finally gained the advantage over the slippery metal wall of the chute. I jerked violently to a stop and swung backwards, thwacking the back of my head against something hard and unyielding.
“Yow!” I yelled, or something equally high-pitched. As I swung back and forth like this in diminishing arcs, the beam of my wristlight traced a path over a floor covered with sharpened spikes some distance below me. I shone the light up and saw only inches of space between my boots and the end of the chute.
“Holy Ancients, that was close,” I gasped between breaths.
A second later, I heard a bumpa-da-bumpa sound and something slammed into my legs and then fell past me. I yiped in fright and waved my left arm around, trying to aim my light onto whatever it was that had been following me. In a moment I saw it, impaled on a spike.
My cocoon bag.
“Now that’s just unfair,” I moaned, already thinking about how I could get it back. It contained everything I needed to survive; abandoning it was not an option.
I switched the wristlight to full illumination and was satisfied that the light just reached the edges of the room. The spikes below me looked to be about waist-high if I was standing next to them. From my upside-down perch they were still two or three arm-lengths away from my outstretched hands, so there was no way I could get my bag without being down there. Luckily, there was space to move around in between the spikes if I could get down to the floor.
I pulled one foot off the wall of the chute and felt the strain on my other ankle. As fast as I could, I moved my free foot to the ceiling of the spike chamber and made sure it was secure. I groaned in agony as I pulled back on my other foot. It felt like my ankle was going to break before the seal did, but it finally came free and I was able to stomp it into place on the ceiling.
All this hanging and swaying upside down made my vision swim and stomach churn, and the walk to the wall was terrifyingly slow. With each step I wondered if my boots would finally lose their grip or if I would slip out of them. When I finally made it across the ceiling, I turned around to face away from the wall and made my way down it in a sort of upside-down, reverse crab-walk. By the time I reached the bottom and slid into a clear patch between spikes, my ankles and legs felt like stone weights and I was ready to pass out. I sat up slowly and gave my head time to adjust to being right-side up again. Once I felt better, I stood up and gingerly threaded my way into the center of the room to retrieve my bag.
“Oh no,” I moaned, examining it. It wasn’t the holes in either side of the bag that bothered me, because once I held the fabric together it bonded back together just fine. The contents of the bag were another matter. The spike had pierced a food-pack I didn’t even know I had; one of the cats must have provided me with it. Thoughtful of them, but now there was nutrient jelly over everything in my bag. What a mess.
What’s more, there was a nice hole through my towel, which could not be as easily repaired as the bag itself. Needle and thread were not amongst the tools I had thought to bring.
I shoved everything back into the bag in disgust, dropped it unceremoniously to the ground, and wiped my hands on the front of my pants.
“Okay, now what do I do?” I wondered out loud, eyeing the square opening in the ceiling. I had used my only glue grapple already; the rest were clawed and would likely prove useless in this predicament.
While I considered trying one anyway, a grating sound from behind me set the hairs on the back of my neck a-tingling. I very nearly fell backwards and impaled myself in my haste to whip around and determine its source. A small portion of wall along the floor was sliding to one side. I heard something padding towards me from inside the opening, but it was still out of view.
I glanced quickly to the left and the right, searching for some improvised weapon, but this death trap was surprisingly clean of any debris. There wasn’t even a bone I could wield as a club. As a last resort, I kneeled down, plunged my hand into my bag and came up with the grapnel gun. Sure, it was unloaded and sticky with jelly, but the possible intimidation factor was all I had going for me at the moment.
I remained kneeling, gun pointed at the opening, until a creature stepped forth from the darkness. A small creature. A familiar creature.
I lowered the gun and cried out, “Tumble!?”
* * *
9/23/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!
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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.