Posts Tagged ‘suburbia’

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 41, Allin took advantage of the perfect recreation of suburbia by stealing a car. While he tried to figure out how to make it go, Tumble released the emergency brake and Allin ended up bursting the car through the closed garage door.

The Only City Left: Part 42

The skeletons didn’t stand a chance. I plunged the car straight into their ranks and scattered their bones in a wave of calcified shards, then braked to a skidding stop in the middle of the street.

“Did you see that?” I whooped. Not bad for my first time behind the wheel!

“Do you see that?” Guppy countered, pointing to the clinker marching toward us. “Go!

So I went, swerving the car wildly as I figured out exactly how much I needed to steer and accelerate to stay in control. My rookie mistakes worked in our favor, though, as I crashed into many a hapless skeleton as I got used to driving.

“Allin, he’s catching up,” Tumble informed me calmly.

I looked into the mirror attached to the front window and saw the clinker running behind the car. Sure enough, he was closing the gap. I blinked and he disappeared from view.

“What the—?”

The car shook under the impact of something hitting the roof. A second later, the upside-down, leering face of the clinker slid into view before me.

“Please drive more carefully. This is a vintage vehicle,” it said as it brought one of its fists down against the window. Spider-web cracks radiated out from the impact, fracturing my view through it.

I braked hard and the clinker flew forward, but it twisted in mid-air and grabbed the car’s hood, tearing into it like ripe fruit. Then it launched itself toward us and head-butted the front window, finishing the job it had started.

Guppy screamed and I winced against the shower of broken glass, but Tumble remained calm and loosed a series of blasts from his gun straight into the clinker’s torso. The first shot stripped the stitched flesh from its frame, the second pushed it back a bit, and the third sent it reeling. It tried to keep its hold on the hood but only managed to tear a strip off as it flew backwards. It landed on its feet and cast the ragged strip aside.

“That was not very neighborly of you,” it said in a condescending tone, picking torn flesh off of its body.

Except for the ruined skin and some scorch marks on its metallic chest, it seemed remarkably unharmed. The tools at the ends of its extra arms whirred and buzzed to life and it said, “I can no longer promise you a house or career, but I assure you, your skin will be put to good use.”

“Still using it, thanks,” I said, and floored it.

The clinker sidestepped, but not fast enough. I guess it only had itself to blame for providing me with such a nimble car. I clipped it and sent it sprawling to one side, but a check of the side mirror showed that it was immediately on its feet and back in pursuit. One leap and it would be on us again.

“Tumble, can you buy us some time?” I yelled over the rushing wind.

“Five shots’ worth, that’s all I have left” he replied.

He climbed into the empty window and leaned out of the car, his poncho whipping around in the wind. In the mirror, I saw the clinker leap to one side to avoid his first shot. I cheered. Anything we could do to slow that relentless robot down helped.

“Guppy, I can’t drive in circles forever,” I shouted. “You know a way out?”

“I think so. Turn left here. Wait, I meant right!”

I jerked the wheel to the right to adjust to Guppy’s quick direction change, and Tumble nearly lost his grip on the window frame.

“Sorry!” Guppy and I both yelled.

The clinker, meanwhile, took advantage of my dip in speed and closed the gap in one great bound. Tumble took a shot at it and then dived into the car. The clinker landed where Tumble had been, one hand gripping the window frame and the other sunk into what remained of the hood, while its legs hung down and dragged along the road. It looked in at us and said, “Please step out of the vehicle.”

Guppy roared and smacked at its face with his purloined skull. The clinker brought one of its extra arms up and smashed the skull to pieces, then shot another arm forward. Guppy turned sideways and plastered himself against the side window, and the clinker’s deadly arm buried itself in the seat in an explosion of foam stuffing. Tumble fought off another clinker arm with his gun held sideways before him like a shield.

I couldn’t look away from the life and death struggles taking place next to me, which meant I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention to where I was driving. When I felt a bump and the car tilted slightly to the left, I snapped my eyes forward and saw that I had veered to the right and was half driving on the grass verge that paralleled the sidewalk. Not ten feet ahead, the thick trunk of a tree loomed.

“Hold on!” I yelled.

I gunned the accelerator, aimed for the tree, and at the last second turned the wheel a fraction to the left. The car narrowly missed colliding with the tree. The killer robot hanging onto the side of the car was not so lucky. He was knocked off and left like so much garbage on the side of the road. The last I saw of him in my mirror, he tried to stand up but his crushed legs wouldn’t support him.

Tumble and Guppy were unharmed except for the damage to their weapons. They congratulated me on my quick thinking, and I didn’t disabuse them of the notion that it had been my plan all along.

I followed Guppy’s directions until we pulled up to where the road ended in another wall. “It’s on foot from here,” he said, still holding on to his broken club. For his part, Tumble inspected the wreck of his gun and threw it to the ground.

We followed Guppy along the wall until, in the middle of someone’s backyard, we reached an unassuming door set into the wall. Once we went through, he locked it with the spin of a wheel set into the door.

“This way,” he said, leading us through a maze of industrial-looking hallways. There must have been some sort of heavy machinery nearby, because we had to talk over a loud thrumming noise the entire way.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I’m going to meet up with my friends,” Guppy responded. “You guys are welcome to come along, but I don’t think they’re going to be too happy with any of us.”

“Look, I’m sorry if we put you in a tight spot,” I told him. “We didn’t mean to wake those skeletons up and get you into trouble. What were you doing there, anyway?”

“I was supposed to be bringing back supplies. The skeletons keep that place in good running order for the clinkers, so you can usually get some really nice equipment. So much for that!”

I considered splitting off from Guppy now that we had escaped Clinkerville, but I hoped that maybe Guppy’s friends knew of another way Up, one that didn’t lead into worse danger this time. I told Guppy we’d stick with him for now and he shrugged like he couldn’t care less. We walked for over an hour until Guppy found the door he wanted. He knocked out a code and a series of knocks came back. Guppy rapped out a reply and the door opened a crack.

“Who you got with you?” came a suspicious voice.

“Friends,” Guppy replied. “Hey, Crow, let us in. There’s trouble.”

The door opened the rest of the way and revealed a bald-headed hulk of a man in ratty-looking, sweat-stained clothing. His neck was massive and he wore a leather necklace around it that fell under his once-white shirt. I thought that if he flexed, the string would surely snap.

“Any friends of Guppy’s are friends of mine and all that,” said Crow, waving us in and closing the door behind us.

I guess Guppy wasn’t lying about his name, after all, I thought as we walked down a short hallway and into a room set up with some cots and a table. Two men were sitting at the table playing cards, while on one of the cots a large, brown dog lay sleeping under a blanket. Like our thick-necked greeter, the card players also looked worse for the wear, as if they had been cooped up in this room for days. It smelled like it, too, a sweaty musk that teased at my memories.

That’s when I saw that the guys playing cards also wore necklaces, with familiar oval pendants hanging from them. My throat constricted and I made a gasping “Urk!” sound. It felt like someone had gripped my heart and squeezed it tight.

The thing I thought was a dog sat up suddenly and said, “Hey, do you guys smell cat?”

My blood turned to ice in my veins. It wasn’t a dog, after all. It was a werewolf. They were all werewolves.

* * *

Continue to Part 43.

12/2/12 News: I successfully used NaNoWriMo as motivation to write the rest of The Only City Left. Parts 43-90 ended up being about 58,000 words, but that is all first draft and the final number may change. Now, of course, I need to get to editing, since at a minimum I need to have Part 43 ready to post by next Sunday. My goal is actually to have it all edited by the end of December, and then start work on converting the serial to a novel format. If all goes according to plan, it will be available as an e-book months before the free, serialized version is completed. Thanks for reading!

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

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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 40, Allin, Tumble, and the rude young man named Guppy are trapped in a house that is surrounded by a dozens-deep wall of skeletons. Guppy warns that they should try to escape rather than wait for the clinkers to arrive, but Tumble suggests it might already be too late.

The Only City Left: Part 41

Guppy and I took our places at the window again to see what Tumble meant. The crowd of skeletons waited patiently about twenty feet away from the front of the house, but one section made way for someone to move from the back of the crowd to the front. No, not someone. Some thing.

“That’s a clinker,” Guppy whined. “We’re dead.”

Guppy might have thought we were dead, but the clinker actually looked dead, like a corpse that had been stitched back together and re-animated. The various pieces of flesh covering its body like some bizarre puzzle were of all different shades, and its hair, which sprung up in odd patches over its entire body, was likewise many colors. The overall effect was that of a sad, grisly parody of a human being.

It wore no clothing and had no distinguishing male or female body parts, but when it spoke, it was with a slick, masculine voice.

“Greetings, visitors, and welcome to Humanton, a pleasant suburban oasis,” its voice boomed out. It put on a big smile full of metallic teeth.

“Is that…?” I began.

“A robot, yes,” Guppy said. “Clinkers like to play at being human, except their idea of dressing up is wearing human skins.”

That explains all those “naked” skeletons out there, I realized with a shudder.

“Hey, I’m serious, let’s split up and get out of here,” Guppy repeated his desperate plan. “There’s only one of them right now, so two of us should be able to make it. I’ll take those odds!”

Tumble and I shushed him at the same time.

“Visitors! Our citizens have registered several complaints against you, including harassment, assault, and destruction of property,” the clinker continued in a slimily cheerful tone of voice. “Although this is frowned upon, if you leave this residence immediately with no further desecration of our homes or peoples, you will not be charged for your crimes.”

“The longer he talks, the more of them are gonna show up!” Guppy warned, looking back and forth between the window and the back of the house. “I’m telling you, we have to run for it. Now!”

“Go ahead,” I replied. “See how far you get through those skeletons.”

Guppy’s only response was an inarticulate moan, which I took for acknowledgement that I was speaking sense.

“So what’s your plan, Allin?” Tumble asked.

“Let’s see if we can talk our way out of this.”

Guppy put his head in his hands and repeated idiots, idiots, idiots under his breath, but didn’t stop me when I unlocked the window and slid it open a fraction.

“We didn’t mean to cause any harm,” I yelled outside. “If you clear a path for us, we’re more than happy to leave you in peace.”

The clinker’s smile grew improbably larger, straining the seams of the skin on its face, and it replied, “I sure am glad to be dealing with reasonable people. Please step outside so the immigration procedures can begin immediately.”

I yelled back, “Who said anything about immigrating?”

“Well, if you’re going to live here, you’ll have to immigrate, of course!” the clinker said. It tilted its head back and released a series of barks that I supposed were supposed to be laughter. When it looked at me again, the skin on its face was askew and the eye-holes did not line up correctly. It tugged down on its nose-skin and shook its head to fix itself. I turned away, bile rising in my throat. “I assure you the process is painless. Once complete, you will be assigned a house and receive gainful employment in one of many exciting careers, such as postal technician or shrub groomer!”

“Um, yeah, that sounds great,” I said, stalling for time while I racked my brain for a way out of this mess. “So what’s the process exactly?”

“I’m glad you asked,” it said, holding up its hands. “Immigration is much smoother if you understand the process.”

As it spoke, two extra pair of arms swiveled around from behind it. Instead of hands, each arm ended in an array of scalpels, drills, needles, pincers, and tiny, whirring saws.

“First off, I want to reassure you that the procedure will be so quick and efficient, you won’t feel a thing.”

Guppy whined and I could only stare, momentarily at a loss for words.

Tumble summed up my thoughts neatly: “I think perhaps we do need to attempt an escape.”

“I tried to tell you. I did,” Guppy said, while outside the clinker droned on about the latest advances in immigration technology. I did my best to ignore them both.

There was something nagging at the back of my mind, an idea for a possible way out.

“They’re insane. This is like their little human playhouse fantasy world,” Guppy babbled.

“Without the baggage of self-determination,” came part of the clinker’s spiel.

Something I saw when we searched the house. What what what?

“Allin?” Tumble asked quietly. I held up one finger and shook it. Wait.

“I’m so stupid. I never should have let them talk me into coming here.”

“Recycle your flesh, a small price to pay…”

C’mon, c’mon, Allin. Think!

“Oh man, he’s driving me crazy!” Guppy cried. “You, short guy, if he comes in here, shoot me first, please!”

“Will you shut up?” I hissed through my teeth. “You’re both driving me crazy!” I stopped then, and repeated the phrase in my head. Driving me crazy. No. Could it work? The ones outside do. It’s at least worth a shot.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Let’s go to the garage and check it out while he’s busy yapping away out there.”

“Got it, boss,” Tumble said with a nod of his hat. Guppy remained silent but followed along in a sulk.

“Brain stored in a safe container…” was the last I heard from the clinker as we made our way to the garage. Once inside, I flipped on the light and admired the sleek, midnight-blue, two-door car that I had first seen when we were checking the house earlier.

“Let’s see if this thing works,” I said.

Tumble opened the passenger-side door and looked around. He turned back to me and said, “Push-button ignition. If it will even start, though, does anyone know how to drive it?”

No one did, but now seemed like an excellent time to learn. Seconds later, I was behind the wheel, Guppy was in the passenger’s seat, and Tumble was jammed in between the two of us.

The car purred to life when I pressed the ignition. I guess in a town of mindless skeletons, theft is not a big issue. Well, that was about to change.

One pedal did nothing. The other revved the engine, which probably meant the end of any grace period we had been enjoying.

“Ready? Here we go,” I warned, and floored the second pedal.

The engine revved angrily, but the car didn’t move.

“Oh crap, is this thing just for show after all?” I asked. I pushed the pedal down as hard as I could, hoping it would make a difference. The car roared and rocked from side to side, but wouldn’t budge.

“Maybe this,” Tumble said.

I didn’t see what he did under his poncho. I simply heard a click. I still had the pedal to the floor.

We screamed in unison as the car shot forward and exploded through the flimsy garage door.

* * *

Continue to Part 42.

11/25/12 News: As this page goes live, I am 151 words short of meeting my goal of 50,000 words in November for National Novel Writing Month. That has brought me to Part 86 of The Only City Left and I expect to need another few thousand to finish the first draft, so it looks like it might end with Part 90 as I predicted a long time ago. I can’t wait to finish up the first draft and get to editing!

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

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 39, Tumble blasts some skeletons to rescue a stranger from a horde of skeletons. That young man turns around and blames Allin and Tumble for waking up the skeletons in the first place. How rude.

The Only City Left: Part 40

We followed the ungrateful punk through the break in the skeleton’s defenses, while behind us both groups of skeletons merged and shambled after us.

“Hey, wait up,” I called ahead, but other than a rude gesture, the punk ignored me and kept running.

“Are all humans like this?” Tumble asked. “Since I left Pudlington, they’ve either been trying to kill me or insult me. Or both.”

I didn’t have the breath to spare for a witty rejoinder, especially since I needed to put on an extra burst of speed to keep from losing the punk when he cut between two houses.

Besides the skeletons following us, more of them were filtering in from all around. What they lacked in speed, they made up for in numbers and tirelessness. Visions of them swarming over me and tearing at my flesh kept my legs pumping long after I normally would have flagged.

The punk didn’t seem to have any endurance issues, though. He kept a good distance ahead until, after we followed him through a backyard and around the corner of one house, I spotted him at another house across the street, kneeling down by the front door.

“There he is!”

Before we made it halfway to him, he got the door open and rushed inside. Wait for us, we’re almost there, I willed, and felt a brief flare of hope when he turned around and made eye contact. My hope fizzled when he smiled and callously slammed the door shut.

“He seems to have found a hiding place,” Tumble said and then checked back over his shoulder. “Perhaps we should do the same.”

I followed his gaze and saw the skeleton horde funneling between the two houses behind us. Apparently they weren’t letting fences slow them down anymore.

“A hiding place, yeah,” I said. “I see a good one.”

I ran to the same door that the selfish punk was hiding behind and pounded on it with both fists.

“Let us in!” I demanded. “We can work together.”

There was only silence in response and I thought, What if he scampered out the back door? But I could almost feel his presence on the other side of the door, so I persisted.

“We’re about to get skinned alive out here, pal!”

“Allin,” Tumble whispered urgently. “They’re almost here!”

Still no response from inside. Was I only imagining he was still there?

“Okay, you asked for it,” I shouted. “Tumble, blast the door open.”

Tumble looked up at me from beneath his hat, and I nodded at him curtly. Do it.

He raised his gun, but before he could pull the trigger, the front door swung open.

“So get in here already, you freaks,” the punk relented.

We sailed through the door and he closed and locked it behind us.

“Thanks for leading them right here,” he cried. “What’d I ever do to you?”

“You didn’t help us out after we saved your life, for one thing,” I returned.

“Saved my life! You think I couldn’t handle a bunch of deadheads?” he asked, shaking his makeshift mace for emphasis. “They wouldn’t have even been awake if it weren’t for you two!”

Tumble shushed us both. He had pushed aside a curtain and stood looking out the front window. “They’re stopping,” he said.

I joined him and saw what he meant. The skeletons were in the front yard, but instead of breaking down the door and windows and pouring into the house, they were forming a wall, dozens deep. I smushed my face to the glass and looked both ways.

“It’s going all the way around the house,” I reported. “Why aren’t they attacking?”

“They don’t have to attack us, you mudge,” the young punk said. “They just have to keep us penned up until the clinkers arrive.”

I turned around and assessed this guy who seemed to know so much more than we did about the area. As I had noted earlier, he looked to be about my age, but with blonde, almost white, hair and a more muscular frame. He wore a thin white shirt and dark blue sweatpants, both threadbare.

“What do you mean, ‘until the clinkers arrive’?” I asked, jerking my thumb toward the window. “Aren’t those the clinkers?”

He laughed and said, “Oh man, what’d I do to deserve you two? No, those aren’t the clinkers. If they were, we’d be dead already. Now help me make sure this place is locked up tight while I think of a way out of here.”

Out of spite, I didn’t want to follow his orders, but since our goals were aligned for now, I joined him. We made sure the back door was locked and checked the windows to see if the wall of skeletons completely circled the house, which it did. Worried about skeletons that might already be inside with us, we searched the entire house: bedrooms, kitchen, living room, garage, even the bathrooms. The home was ready to live in: the beds were made, the medicine cabinet was stocked, the cabinets held cups and dishes, and there was a car in the garage. Luckily we didn’t find any skeletal occupants.

“What’s your name?” I asked when we returned to the front room. “I’m Allin, he’s Tumble.”

“Guppy.”

“Okay, Guppy,” I said, not pushing him about that doubtful name. “So what’s the story on those skeletons out there?”

He took up position on the opposite side of the window from Tumble and peered outside.

“The dead out there are what we’ll become if we’re still around when the clinkers arrive. They strip you down to your bones and wire you up to be their playthings. Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, they work as an alarm system, too.”

He dropped the curtain back and said, “We have to split up. It’s the only way one of us might survive. I’ll take the back door, you guys go out the front.”

“Nice plan. And what are you going to do, bash your way through a hundred skeletons with that skull?”

“Better to try that than wait for the clinkers to arrive!”

Tumble, still looking out the window, cleared his throat and said, “About that. I think the wait is over.”

* * *

Continue to Part 41.

11/18/12 News: As this update goes live, I am working on completing the first draft of The Only City Left in its serial format. To that end, I have been using National Novel Writing Month as an excuse to put my TOCL writing into high gear. I am writing Parts 73 and 74 this morning, so I guess it’s working.

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.

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 38, Allin and Tumble found that the creepy suburban landscape filled with posed skeletons could be even creepier: the skeleton of a tiny dog bit Tumble. In return, he blasted it, and that’s when the rest of the skeletons began to wake up.

The Only City Left: Part 39

As we ran away from the sizzled fur and bones that used to be a vicious, undead dog, the town slowly came to life around us. Motors began to run, music drifted out of windows, bells tinkled, doors shut, and dogs barked a jagged chorus of accusation and grief. It was as if Tumble’s blast had set off a shock wave that rolled out in a circle around us, waking up the somnolent inhabitants of this crazy ’burb.

The skeletons that were creaking to life around us seemed to know that we were trespassers in this macabre realm. Maybe the presence of my skin gave it away. Besides turning to watch us, though, they stuck to their routines and left us alone. A blue-uniformed skeleton carrying a bag slid tiny rectangles of paper into metal tins on stakes outside of each house. Another skeleton drove a white van that played tinkly music and had faded pictures of sweets plastered all over its side.

“It seems a bit mechanical, doesn’t it?” I asked Tumble between pants of exhausted breath. For all our running, we had not found anything substantially different, including a new exit, from one street to the next, so we holed up beside a parked car to take a break. “It’s like the birdsong. They’re all on a loop.”

“Yes and no,” he said, fanning himself with his own hat.

As he said that, the blue-uniformed skeleton stepped around the side of the car and into my view. I gasped and Tumble lifted his gun, but other than giving us a passing glance, it let us be. Instead it walked to the next house, opened the metal box at the end of the drive, removed the paper from it, and lowered the red flag attached to the side of the box.

“I don’t think the dog that bit me was on a loop,” Tumble replied, donning his hat again. “Or that.”

He pointed up to the roof of the nearest house, where the skeleton of a cat, the traditional, non-bipedal kind, peered down at us, its head cocked. The “fur” on its back looked more like a piece of russet shag carpet.

“What about it?”

“It’s been following us.”

My heart, which had started to calm down a bit after the run and series of frights it had been subjected to, wedged its way into my throat and sat there, a painful lump. Those four simple words demolished my newborn hope that, despite the presence of undead automata at all points around us, we would likely be okay. Our chances to likely end up as wall decorations in a skeleton’s living room, on the other hand, had greatly improved.

“Enough resting, then,” I sighed, standing up. “Let’s get going.”

“Fine. But we could be running around forever. I think I’ll take a page out of my skeletal cousin’s playbook and see how things look from the roof. Maybe spot a way out.”

I didn’t like the idea of splitting up, even momentarily, but it was a good idea so I didn’t argue. We both made our way into the house’s front yard and Tumble lent me his gun while he scampered up the wall to the roof. He said, “Scat!” and I heard a crackly hiss followed by the retreating clicks of tiny bones on shingle.

For my part, I stood with my back against the wall, swinging the gun from left to right. More skeletons strolled by, eyeing me (socketing me?), but they moved on without incident.

“What do you see?” I whispered as loudly as I could, tilting my head upward for a second.

He leaned over the roof and replied, “This level is huge. I can see the wall we came from but not another one. There’s a bell tower that way.” He pointed away from where we had entered. “Maybe I can get a better view from there.”

He dropped down beside me, his poncho fluttering, and retrieved his gun. We left the yard, Tumble in the lead, but we hadn’t gone far before noticing that the skeleton cat was following us again, and this time he had friends.

“Maybe if you blast a couple of them they’ll go away?” I suggested.

“They’re not bothering us. It’s not worth wasting the ammunition.”

I started to argue the point when I noticed that the skeletons around us were no longer content to simply stare as we passed. Instead, they stopped what they were doing and turned to follow in our wake. We quickened our pace but continued to attract more human and animal skeletons with each passing minute. None of them made an aggressive move, but their sheer numbers were a threat.

“I liked it better when they were only watching us,” I said. “What happens when there’s so many of them we can’t move?”

“Let’s not stick around to find out,” Tumble replied.

Rather than follow the streets to the tower, Tumble took us on a straighter course, which meant hopping fences and cutting through yards. This shook off the human skeletons but served as no deterrent to the smaller animals. What’s more, it seemed as if the skeletons shared some sort of unspoken communication, because the human ones started to gather in our path ahead of our arrival.

“Okay, I’ll be the first to say it,” I panted as we dodged through the growing horde of skeletons. “Ballister was right.”

As we hopped the fence from one yard into another, I heard a wild growl and Tumble yelled, “Allin, duck!”

Whether I ducked or simply fell in a timely fashion, I narrowly escaped being tackled by a leaping skeleton dog. Tumble neatly shot it out of the air and the huge beast fell to the ground beside me with a thud and rattle. The light in its eye sockets dimmed and it loosed a clicking, electronic whine that made me almost feel sorry for it. Then Tumble was pulling me up and our mad dash continued. Since running through yards was only slowing us down, we returned to the streets.

The downside to this was that behind us, a veritable army of animal and human skeletons marched ever closer. It felt less like they were following us and more like we were being herded toward the tower. That feeling only intensified when we rounded a final corner and caught sight of our destination. The street leading to it was blocked by another group of skeletons. At the center of this new group, I saw a man swinging a club to keep the skeletons at bay. It was a losing battle; soon they would close in tight on all sides, penning him in.

“Only one thing to do, then,” I said, nodding at the sight.

Tumble hefted his gun and said, “Let’s go save a life.”

We moved in close enough for Tumble to take careful aim and blast one, two, three skeletons in quick succession. This was enough to create a narrow gap in the wall of bones surrounding the beleaguered man, and he did not hesitate to sprint through it towards us.

I started to ask if he was all right, but he cut me off.

“Are you the idiots who woke up the dead? Thanks a lot!” he yelled, shaking his club at us. Up close, I saw that he was young, maybe my age, and that his club was actually a spinal cord with its skull still attached.

Before I could respond, I saw his eyes widen as he looked over my shoulder.

“Oh great, you brought friends,” he said, and then took off running to one side where the wall of skeletons had not yet firmed up.

“Rude, isn’t he?” Tumble complained.

“Forget his manners,” I said, turning in circles to eye the coming horde. “Maybe he knows a way out. Follow him!”

* * *

Continue to Part 40.

11/11/12 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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

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.

* * *

Continue to Part 39.

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.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.