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 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 37, Allin and Tumble exit the elevator into a strange suburban wonderland, where what look like mannequins are posed all around enacting scenes out of times long-past.
The Only City Left: Part 38
I stepped out onto the asphalt road and took in the sights, as if it would all make sense if I paid more attention. Besides the birdsong, which sounded canned and repetitive, I heard a low thrum of some sort, possibly from the ventilation system. Other than that, it was silent except for the usual creaks and moans of the city settling. The road I stood on T’ed off about fifteen houses down, so I couldn’t tell how much more of this strange town there was from my current perspective, and when I looked behind me I saw that the street ended abruptly at the wall in which the elevator stood.
“Should we stay or go back down?” Tumble asked from inside the elevator.
He had one foot holding the doors open, evidently not trusting the elevator to stay put if he exited. I looked back at the quiet street before us. What bothered me was how perfect it looked. Nothing in the city should be so pristine and yet vacant at the same time. Add to that those strange, posed mannequins and I could understand what had spooked Ballister.
“We’re staying,” I decided. “It’s creepy, I’ll admit, but this is the highest I’ve ever been. For that, I can accept creepy.”
“Very well,” Tumble said and stepped out next to me.
The elevator doors closed behind him. I wondered if they would open again if I tried, but I didn’t put it to the test.
“Let’s see what these mannequins are all about,” I suggested.
I chose the nearest one and walked over to inspect it. From a distance, it appeared to be a businessman dressed in a gray suit and brimmed hat and carrying a tan briefcase. It was looking down at its other arm, which it held before itself at chest level.
I hoped it would be nothing more than it appeared to be, a dressed-up mannequin in an elaborate fake neighborhood. Maybe it was part of some ancient art show or museum. Maybe all the mannequins dotting the landscape weren’t sinister at all, and Tumble and I were freaked out over nothing.
Or maybe it’s worse than I could have imagined, I realized when I was close enough to see more details. It was not a statue or a mannequin. It was a skeleton.
Its clothing hung limply on its frame without the requisite skin and muscle on which to rest, and its exposed bones were held together with wire and a dark green putty. A gold watch on its wrist had slid around until the face pointed to the ground, leaving the skeleton to eternally check the watch’s band with sightless eye sockets.
“Tumble, have you ever seen anything like this?” I asked. “Tumble?”
I spun around in a panic when he didn’t answer, afraid that he had been swept away behind my back while I was distracted.
“Tumble!” I repeated more loudly, my voice echoing in the silence of the bizarre neighborhood.
“Over here,” came his voice, and I followed it to the front yard of a nearby house.
Tumble had gone in through the gate and was kneeling down on the grass. He hadn’t been catnapped, I just hadn’t been able to see him behind the fence. This place is making me jumpy, I realized, and let out a big breath. Calm down.
“What are you doing?”
“This grass,” Tumble replied, running the palm of his hand over a patch of lawn. He came up with a handful of cut blades. “It’s real, and it’s been mowed recently. So who’s tending it?”
“Him, maybe?” I joked, pointing to another skeleton, this one in shorts and a flowery blue shirt, who was leaning against a lawnmower. “Wait, that’s weird. Look.”
Past the lawnmower and on the other side of its blue-shirted owner, the grass remained uncut, as if the skeleton had paused mid-job.
“Are you sure the grass is real?” I asked.
“I’m certain of it.”
“Then how do they keep half of it cut and half wild?”
“Perhaps someone comes around to maintain the illusion.”
“Let’s not be here when that happens.”
“Agreed. So where to now?”
“Let’s follow the road and see where it takes us,” I said.
As we left the half-mowed yard, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, but when I swung around to catch it, everything was still. Meanwhile, Tumble had continued on without me. Spooked, I hurried to catch up to him.
When we reached the end of the block, I saw only more houses along the street in either direction. With still nary a clue as to how far this faux neighborhood extended, I turned onto the left-hand street. More skeletons were frozen mid-activity on this block, some sitting in cars that were stopped in the middle of the road. Particularly chilling was a pair of children on a teeter-totter in one front lawn, one child down nearly to the ground, its legs splayed, the other raised up in the air, one skeletal hand gripping a handle, the other held above its head as if in greeting.
Despite the bright lights shining down from above, I clicked my wristlight on and off as we walked. The only way this place could be any creepier would be for the lights to suddenly turn off, and I felt better knowing I had my own light source if need be.
“Well, there’s a sight,” Tumble said, pointing across the street.
Another skeleton, whom I would describe as harried if it didn’t sound ridiculous, held several leashes in one hand and seemed to be in the middle of being tugged along by a half-dozen tiny dog skeletons. Where the human skeletons were clothed, the dogs had fur somewhat haphazardly glued to their backs.
Tumble approached a white-haired dog that stood in the middle of the street, its leash trailing behind it in a straight line that pointed to the dog walker. He lifted up the brim of his hat to inspect the dog more closely, then turned to me and said, “Whoever is responsible for all this has paid incredible attention to detail, wouldn’t you sayYOW! It bit me!”
“What?” I said, running up to Tumble, who had taken a step back. “How could it?”
Tumble held up his hand and showed me the blood on his finger.
“I don’t know, but—”
Tumble stopped as a low, tinny growl sounded from the skeleton dog’s throat. I looked down and saw crimson orbs light up in its eye sockets. It snapped its teeth together once and tentatively lifted one paw.
“Tumble, shoot that thing,” I suggested with some urgency.
He didn’t argue, just pulled his gun from its holster, aimed it at the dog’s face, and pulled the trigger. The dog barked once, a mechanical arf, before Tumble’s energy blast hit. Shattered bone and singed fur flew in all directions.
Across the way, a chorus of low howls sprang up, eerie in their synthetic sadness. The dogs clacked and twitched to life, as the skeleton who held their leash slowly turned its head to stare at us, its eye sockets glowing.
“I think we should run now,” I said.
* * *
11/4/12 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!
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.)
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.