Probably Sort-of Safe

The story so far:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

And now…Chapter 18

Outliers

It did not matter what channel you chose. Each bore the same story over and over again, though form and telling varied from station to station. Each newscaster wore the same wide-eyed, glazed over look of a professional who has decided that the day they are living is too wild to be real, and so they need only run out the clock before the waking world resumed.

“Scientists remain baffled-”

“Twice the size of Mount Rushmore-”

“Grover Cleveland and his undead horde have reached the Capitol-”

“Needles for fingers-”

“Blue flame for eyes-”

“Rapidly changing weather patterns-”

“-appears to be figures in the tornados. Figures…figures that appear to be riding the cyclone-”

“-coalitions of minor deities are breaking the Boston downtown area into territories-”

The world was slipping away.


Second sun was nearly done, black-black was all but set down. Scrount finally came back with some nibble-goods.

“Why so long?” whined Plinga. It released its jaw, hung it way-low, the better to cram in the yummy-nibbles.

“What care you?” snarled Scrount. It grasped the other’s lower jaw and pulled it down, way-down ’til it ow-hurt, and flung the other over and away.

Plinga shrieked, righted itself and charged its counterpart. Claws scratched at outer-self. What you bring?” it shrieked. “Is it goodies? Is it treats? Share! Share!”

Scrount screeched as the talons tore through outer-self and began to rip squishy-self. Its outer-self had been made, careful-keen, with every piece fitting together nice-and-tight leaving no soft spot. But rust and grime had left the armor clunky-dunk and easy-break.

“No yummies!” it said, slapping Plinga upside the head. “None today or last-day or next! Maybe no more ever. All blasted-gone.”

Plinga lay on the ground and began to wail. The desert camp echoed with the rattle and clang as pieces of its outer-self clapped together and fell to the ground. Plinga had paid more attention to shiny-nice than reason for its armor, so the pieces were already weak and easily detached.

This sort of problem had to be expected. Plinga’s thinking-cap had been fit too tight, and so the creature disliked wearing it.

“What we do?” Plinga cried. “What we do?”

Scrount shrugged its massive shoulders. “Die.”

“Aw,” said Plinga. “Not that again.”

“Let’s get fire going,” said Scrount.

Scrount ripped a piece of Plinga’s outer-self off and threw it onto the black sand. With a belch, a fireball shot out of Scrount’s mouth and struck the piece or armor. Soon the flames were climbing higher.

The children watched all of this from the other side of a sand dune, their mouths open in amazed horror.

“So what we’ve established,” said Melissa, “is that these guys are stupid, they’re hungry, and they can breathe fire.”

“Wow,” said Grub, “what a way to live.”

Lim said, “Let’s keep moving.”

They had spent the last few hours walking toward the castle, unable to tell if they were making any real progress. The terrain of endless dunes did not change, and neither did the size of the castle, perched as it was way off in the distance. The only change had been to the sky, as the gathering dark green of night and the rising orange moon had sent a chill down each child’s spine. When they had first heard the voices from the other side of the dune, there had been a hope that they might belong to a friendly source. The gigantic monstrosities with skin made out of a million pieces of discarded garbage had come as something of a disappointment.

“And where do we go, exactly?” said Derek. “I can’t even see the castle anymore, it’s so dark out.”

“You really want to stick around with those things?”

“Yes!”

“Shut up Grub, and no, of course I don’t. But I’d love to know what we’re supposed to do ’til morning.”

“You could always come to dinner?” said a voice in the darkness.

“Well, that’s awful nice of…wait, who said that?”

For an instant, Lim thought that the voice he had just heard might be The Voice, and that a trap had been baited and sprung, and all their efforts and intents had been for nothing.

But then he saw the pale blue eyes floating a few feet away. And the jagged teeth that glowed pale yellow with the reflected moonlight. He watched as the eyes went up, up, up.

“Evening,” said the third creature.

“Run!” Lim screamed.

They did. The black sand was loose beneath their shoes as they sprinted and slid down the dune.

There was a sound like thunder. Lim turned back and saw two massive forms crest the dune to blot out the orange-glow of the moon.

With a greedy screech, Plinga and Scround began to bound down the dune after the children.

“Oh what luck!” they sang. “Oh what a treat!”

Their arms and legs were as thick as sequoia tree trunks, and they moved with ease on two legs as well as four. Leaping down the sand as if they were jack-rabbits plowing through a field, it took them only moments to overtake the children.

Debris fell from their hides. Lim dove out of the way as an antique typewriter slammed into ground right beside him.

He had only half-a-second to breathe before Chowdah flew through the air and tackled him to the ground. A washer machine crashed down onto the spot where he had been standing only seconds ago.

Up close, Lim could see the hundreds, if not thousands, of scraps and curiosities that made up the armor around the creatures’ bodies. Car doors and car hoods, antique furniture and toiletries, desks and doors and every other scrap and trinket you could imagine were interwoven to form protection for these great behemoths. The one called Plinga had attached a bulldozer cab and blade to its head as a kind of helmet.

The one called Plinga bore down on Derek and Melissa. The other, Scround, bit down on Grub. The small boy vanished as the mouth engulfed him.

“No!” cried Lim.

Scround pulled back its head. And there, hanging from the tip of its lip, little legs kicking in the air, was Grub.

“Grub! Hold on!” called Chowdah. “Or let go! Whatever works for you!”

Meanwhile, Melissa charged at the huge head, an Apple desktop weighing down her arms. She flung the computer directly into Plinga’s eye.

“Yow!” cried the creature. It reared up onto two legs and began to dance back and forth, clutching at its wounded eye.

Melissa pulled Derek up to his feet. The air was suddenly filled with metal. They ducked and dashed away, always within inches of being crushed by any of the multitude of crushing-capable pieces.

Scround tossed its head back and rolled its neck and blew out through its lips. But Grub could not be dislodged. He was a tiny speck on the vast expanse of the creature’s face, but this was one resilient speck, one that would not let go. Scround gnashed and smacked its lips, but the boy could not be moved.

A wicked thought struck Scround. Without its thinking cap, it was quite a bit harder to formulate plans, but it could be done. The plans that emerged from that dim-dark tended to be quite wicked in nature. Scround slowed down and turned its bulk around.

“What’s it doing?” asked Chowdah.

As if on cue, Scround dropped to all fours and began to charge at a dune.

“It’s gonna mulch him!” Lim said. “Oh my God, it’s going to smash him! Grub!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, “Grub you have to let go!

Grub looked back and saw a wall of sand growing bigger and closer by the second. Scround sucked in air and heaved its body forward, feet no longer touching the ground.

Grub let go.

The slipstream sucked him down and carried him beneath the long underbelly of Scround.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” he screamed. He spun around and around. Above him, the living junkyard rose and fell with every inhalation.

Scround dove into the dune. Grub crashed down into the earth, bounced seven times, then came to a rolling stop.

The creature began to roar as it tried to pull its head free from the sand.

Lim and Chowdah sprinted to Grub and got him sitting upright. His body was coated in sand, stuck tight to his skin by the layer of saliva and slime which covered every visible inch of him.

“Grub! Grub are you all right? Grub!”

“Awesome,” muttered the boy. He collapsed back to the dirt.

They carried him away. They had only barely reached Melissa and Derek when the roars began again.

Plinga and Scround had recovered and they were not happy. They began to circle the children. Slowly. The horizon was blocked out by their ever-mobile bulk.

‘Oh boy,’ thought Lim. ‘Oh crap.’

“Enough!” yelled the third creature. “You two! Honestly! What have I told you about wearing your thinking caps?” It approached, carrying two conical towers in one hand. A third tower tipped its own head.

“And now look! You’ve very nearly gobbled up our honored guests and almost certainly offended them to their very core. Come, come, get your brains on straight.”

“Not its business!” screeched Plinga. It leapt forward. Scround followed only seconds later.

In a flash, the third was upon them. They battled with teeth, with fists, and with feet. The children huddled together.

The noise of the battle was a living thing. It was a pulsing wall of invisible bricks that hemmed them on every side and reversed the flow of fluid to their brains so that they could not form a coherent thought for escape or any other movement. They grit their teeth, feeling their gums quake with the screech and bang of battle. They closed their eyes, but the noise did not care. It worked its way between the lids and sent sonic pulses to reverberate off their eyes and create distortions of light that came in consciousness-splintering waves and patterns.

Debris rained.

The silence, when it came, was as deafening as a bullhorn going off right beside your ear. It was the sound of a siren that would not fade, even after the noise itself had quit a long while ago.

They opened their eyes to the alien glow of the green night and its orange moon. They turned their heads and clenched their fingers, if only to prove that they did indeed still possess strength enough for that.

The creatures had come to an agreement. The sentient trashbins approached the children. Those teeth were still showing, still glowing in the alien light.