His truck was edging closer and closer as breath after breath echoed into the air. His boots slammed on the asphalt over sidewalks, gravel, bushes, and parking lines as he ran for what seemed like an eternity. Every step followed closely by the slapping sound of foot and flesh ripping itself apart to catch up. There was a mass of these things behind him making grunting, roaring, and yelling sounds that echoed with hunger and desire. He couldn’t tell where they were or how many but he didn’t look back for a single second as he feared losing his step. The truck was only a few seconds away as he heard the carnal screeches and slurps of some… things.. that might have been human at one point.
He was never the fastest runner but the sight of the cat being ripped apart resonated louder and louder in his mind as he was reaching the limit of his body. Battery acid pumped through his veins as he pushed past the burning in his lungs to scoot his bag around to the front. Swinging his bag at a full sprint was a task in itself as he fumbled his gun just barely dropping it as he scrambled to unclip his keys. The truck now only a few paces away, he crashed into the door not realizing how weak his legs were until forced to stop on a dime.
In front of him there ran a cloud, or stream of lights running at full speed in what looked like a kaleidoscope of greens, whites, grays, and blues ripping through his immediate sight. He could see through them? Was it on them? He could see the streets and side walks behind them? Or in front of them? Their form resembled an ethereal shadow, vaguely retaining some glimpse of color, tone, and reflection. As he looked for a split second he was able to absorb the astonishing sight that was currently sprinting towards him. A handful of the beings were.. invisible.. as the one he had dealt with mere minutes ago, while a few seemed to be, unfinished? In a horrific sight that made his eyes a sheer black in a new found terror, some of the beings had exposed muscle and sinew that were straining and stressing at every single step. One of the being’s had what resembled part of a face, revealing what looked like the right side of a woman’s cheek as another’s organs glistened in the sun making it seem like a floating macabre of the human insides gliding at him unrelentingly. Some ran with immense speed as an invisible blur, while some seemed to be unfinished, not yet evolved into what they would become. The surreal sight of slower lingering and floating body parts trailing what seemed to be a cloud of colors, light and reflection was almost unbearable to retain as he quickly caught his senses and jumped into his truck with tremendous fear. Their desire seemed to fuel their speed as they crashed into the side of his Bronco with brutal a disregard for their well being.
Roars, grunts, yelling and screaming overloaded his senses, as the noises created by these things seemed as physically forceful as the impact they had just impacted on the truck. With one hand tight on the steering wheel, his other blood stained hand raced to place the keys in the ignition. He could hear dozens of fingers slapping against his windows and the side panel of the truck. They rocked against the bronco in a sense of angered confusion as to why this hunk of metal was preventing them from their prey. Having a better idea of what to do than the others, one of the unfinished beings made its way to the front, and slithered on the hood with relentless precision. He saw it, face to face, as they were only divided by a dusty windshield. It had one lidless eye still showing that; screamed with an untamed rage. It’s right bony rib cage was barely visible as the flesh around it seemed to have melted away resembling the splash of paint on canvas. The organs inside were seen pumping rapidly through its ribs as the being was very much alive with hunger. It’s hands slammed hard against the windshield with a slapping sound that only wet flesh can make. It’s left lower arm remained intact of its skin and revealed what could of been a mans hand with some knuckle hair left and a wedding ring still visible. His nails were blackened and cracked, filled with dark gunk and dried blood.
The engine, being warm from the day, took one turn of the key and roared to life as absorbing what was right in front of him was happening so unbearably fast he too was forced to ignite. The growl of the engine was drowned by his yell.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Rage, fear, and wrath poured out of his mouth as he stared directly at this thing. Both glared unrelentingly at each other as he slammed on the accelerator, unbalancing the being of flesh and invisible light. It fell over as its arms and legs flapped against the air desperately looking for something to grasp on to as it fumbled hard against the floor. The Bronco was pushed to its limits as she accelerated with all her might as both machine and man pushed forward with a desperation as if they both shared a need to remain intact. He looked at his side view mirror as the truck raced away. It was hard to tell at this distance just how many there were, as the blur of light these invisible beings emitted was barely visible. They seemed to stand still momentarily and then huddle away together from whence they came. They moved ominously as a pack, almost unbothered by the failed hunt.
They reminded him of the stories of groups feral dogs that had been seen roaming around neighborhoods after things had gotten bad. When it came down to rationing food, and puppy chow not being a national priority, many had to abandoned their animals due to the very real fact of hunger. Let your child starve or your pet starve? The answer had seemed easy enough to him as he would give anything to lay down one more time with his furry girl, but he knew the decision of a parent was one he respected fully. At first they had been seen hunting the neighborhood ducks and squirrels but quickly had grown savvy and started hunting… larger prey. Just how true these stories of dogs turned feral were, he didn’t know, but he didn’t doubt them. During some quiet nights he had heard howling, yipping and barking not too far down the block which would cause him to race down the streets hoping to find his girl. His search always ended empty handed and with a heavy heart but nevertheless hopeful that maybe she had found something or someone to keep her safe, even if it was a group of wild dogs.
He ran into a main intersection on 137th ave which was once heavily guarded to stop late night illegal family visits or social gatherings. Tents and vehicles remained in their position but there was no sign of anyone or anything; devoid of any life. He turned right, almost at full speed, still heavily shaken by what had just occurred as he noticed his bag was still slightly in front of his body. He slipped the bloodied bag off his shoulder and threw it on the passenger seat as sweat continued to pour off his face and down his beard.
He grabbed his phone.. pressing hard against the screen “Cmon, Cmon, PLEASE…PLEASE!”
His parents… nothing
His sister… nothing
He tried more contacts but now the sweat on his fingers had made the screen impossible to use as his eyes were now wide with the sobering reality that these things could be anywhere. Had they gotten his family? His friends? If they almost ripped him apart what about the easier targets like his parents? What the hell turned them this way? The idea of a sci-fi ending he laughed about this morning now made him feel nauseous.
He turned left, very close to his gym, not knowing why he was heading in this direction anymore. Maybe he was driven by a sense of control, habit or comfort. How many times had he taken this route never considering it could be his last. How many time had we walked in reluctant to smile or train, not knowing how he would long to see the face of one his lifters.. one of his friends. How badly he missed the days when simple exercise was the only weight of the world. He felt his sweat turn cold when he pulled up to the gym.
Warehouses and non essential spaces had been divvied up to the population in order to isolate homes and families. The navy had sent ships to the coast to house those who had shown minor symptoms while the more serious cases had remained in hospitals or sent to other undisclosed government locations. This had caused an uproar in the community but as the fatalities began to rise, people’s anger turned quickly to paranoia and distancing as even those with a minor cough were treated as lepers. It was friends against friends and family against family as the need to survive became a primal priority. Those were horrific days as families were ripped apart physically and mentally. He remembered thinking those days mirrored medieval times where families would abandon their children sick with the plague. What he thought impossible, quickly became a reality again hundreds of years later.
He parked in his spot, as he always did, and stared at his door. The grass outside was thriving as weeds and bushes had remained unbothered by human presence and trimming. The side walk cracked as roots and shrubs seemed to be slowly trying to outgrow their cement counterpart. The windows had been boarded up, as were most warehouses and homes, since most people felt the idea that safety outweighed decor. Any fond memories he was about to have quickly drained from him as he saw the large government sign glued against the maroon door. The sign, which was used to identify newly housed or acquired locations, was a stiff reminder of how militant things had become.
“Mendoza, Male, 1, NOT-INFECTED”
He opened the dented driver side door of his truck and slid down, too tired to jump down as he normally did. He hadn’t taken into account just how much energy he had expended as the soreness of survival was quickly spreading. He reluctantly took out his gun that he had placed back in his bag during the drive. The weight of the weapon now seemed monumental as one thing was killing some invisible, roaring, screeching creature… another would be aiming this at a human man. A man who had probably been stripped away from his family too, who was just trying to make it. Confused and angry and counting down the days when he might be allowed to rejoin his former life. Wondering when enough was enough and when surviving against a virus was not worth it… if it was to die alone so far from everything that was once the very reasons for living. So far from everyone when hours turned to days, and weeks and months and rationality slowly slipped into a fearful madness..
The door had been slightly cracked as if someone had been in or out. His heart began to pound again as his whole body ached from the battles of the day. He put his ear against the door again as the feel of the cool steel against his ear was so different then the wooden apartment doors he had checked this morning. He listened intently and for a long careful moment not to move the door knowing full well the parking of his truck had already alarmed whoever or whatever was inside. He was bordering on complete exhaustion and desperation as his mind searched for answers and his body longed for safety.
He waited several minutes before mustering the courage to say something to someone. He exhaled out of his mouth just slightly as he whispered “hey…”
He cleared his throat embarrassed by how soft the initial words came out not knowing if it was panic or spit clogged in his throat.
“Hey!” He heard movement. Something rumbled inside but it was not human. It didn’t screech or roar like those things had. Something inside was moving and it sounded like more than two feet. The gentle but purposeful pat, pat, pat, of something moving around on all fours was coming directly at him. It moved quickly and seemed to be right on the other side of the door in the blink of an eye.
FUCK, FUCK, FUCK… he uttered to himself as he stepped and raised his gun. Thats when he heard it … the bark…
The bark started with a raspy throat clearing sound as whatever the animal was had been sleeping deeply. It was a low and toughened bark that ended with a howl that brought him to his knees. As if struck by a paralyzing bolt of lightning his body went limp as he exploded into tears. He sobbed uncontrollably barely able to talk as he fumbled for words and yelled “BRYN!!” He knew that bark. He had raised that bark since she was 6 weeks old and fell asleep on his stomach. He had hard that bark every single day for 5 year. He knew that bark. Every single nuance of it, reminding him of everything she was to him and everything she had represented.
“BRYN!! Mama its me!!”
The barks continued behind the door but this time broken apart as if continued. The door slightly cracked open as a pink freckled nose slipped just enough to smell the air.
“BRYN!!!!!” He yelled. He yelled unbothered by who and what would hear him. Unbothered by any other sound or sight in his mind. That pink nose that he had squeezed for years. That warm dog breath and he hadn’t smelled in months that once accompanied to him to the gym every single day. Those warm licks that were relentless and defined unconditional love. It was his dog. It was their dog. She was everything that had once been right in his world.
She stuck her head out as those deep brown and caramel eyes locked on to his and her tongue softly dropped out of her mouth as if to smile.
“BRYNNNN, MY GIRL!!!” She bolted at him. Throwing the door aside with immense force as her nails and paws now skidded against the cement at full speed. Ears back, eyes wide opened as an open mouth and wet nose came crashing into him head first, diving deep into his chest as pit bulls so lovingly do.
He wept. He wept like never before. He was a small child crying his eyes out with unrelenting emotions. He sobbed, he cried, he yelled, as tears and snot came pouring out of his nose. He drove his face as hard as he could against her neck flaps as both man and dog howled into the air.
He wept. He wept as if everything he had lost in the world was right in his arms. He could barely breath as he spoke inaudible loving sounds only a man and his dog could understand. He hugged her and cried into her shoulder as if the weight of the world was pouring off of him and on to this four legged column of hope. She licked him uncontrollably, barking slightly, whining, and yelping as her tail wagged like never before.
He wept. He wept beyond measure because he was reminded of everyone and everything. The sight of his parents, family, friends, his life and HER pummeled into his mind as the idea of losing hope quickly vanished.
“Im sorry mama, I am so fucking sorry… I searched for you. I swear I looked every single day. Mama I am so sorry. I failed you. I failed all of you. I swear I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how I got this way, how any of this got this way. I fucked up. I know I did. I am sorry. I was nothing without you. I should of never called those times. I hate myself. I could of been better and stronger. I am so sorry. Im sorry.. Godammit.. I’m so sorry I hurt you!!!” He exclaimed uncontrollably no longer knowing who he was talking to, grabbing that much tighter to her furry frame that seemed a little harder and muscled than he remembered.
Without hesitation, the second dog or what appeared to be Bryn’s sidekick, raced out the door. The second dog was much smaller than Bryn bully size body. She was much quicker and the longer haired, white, gray and black cookies and creamed colored dog ran at him boldly as if a grown man with a gun was a playmate not a threat. Obviously approved by her bigger counter part, the smaller dog began to lick his face as her snout dug deep into his eye socket. For the first time in a very long time he felt like a person. Out in the fresh air, breathing and panting like he was alive, he smiled deeply. Despite the mornings horrible events, for this very moment he was truly human..
He didn’t know how long he had been there with his newly found pack. He had spent most of the time talking to Bryn as if she was going to return the conversation. The little one he had named Bleu because her coat and face resembled a block of bleu cheese. He laughed when he had called her that because thats something she would of named a dog, clever and having to do with food. He couldn’t help himself, as he asked Bryn how her day was, he spoke about the weather, his lack of hygiene and health. He spoke to her like his long lost best friend and caught himself laughing and crying talking fondly of not too far off memories.
Some time had passed during these one-sided conversations before he unknowingly drifted into a deep nap on the pavement with his pups. Unaware of what or who was awaiting him inside…