Authors: Ryan King
"No," he finally got out around tears, "but I won't even be able to remember your birthday, or my wedding anniversary, or Thanksgiving for God's sake!"
Rachel shook her head, "Well I guess you'll just have to remember all those things every day."
Sam felt his daughter leaving him and refused to look away as she simply faded before his eyes, incredibly patting Molly on the head at the end. She had loved dogs so.
"Yes, indeed," he said. "Why not?"
He went to a grocery store and he was able to find canned turkey, cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, gravy in a jar, and even some powdered mashed potatoes. After getting his food and cooking supplies, he turned back towards the river, back tracking until he found a scenic park overlooking a bend in the slowly moving water.
It was only a little after noon, but they were done for the day. It was a holiday, no more traveling on Thanksgiving he decided. Sam prepared his feast on one of the grills and then ate with relish until he was near bursting, even letting the dogs have their fill.
Sam spent the rest of the afternoon listening to James Brown on the SUV's CD player while he fired arrows down the length of the river until they were all gone.
It was one of the best days he'd had in a long time.
He had just recently discovered audio books and couldn't understand why he hadn't thought of them earlier. Nothing made the monotony of driving fade like a fascinating tale. He also yearned for the sound of another human voice and forgot for a while that he was alone. Whenever he exhausted his supply of audio-books he would stop at another library and pick out more. Sam learned about the Peloponnesian War, how to make his love life more satisfying, how to enhance his memory, listened to a biography of Adolf Rupp, and dozens of works of fiction.
They continued northeast for several more weeks hitting the sea and then having to bounce back into the interior in order to proceed north and avoid the large coastal cities. Some of these cities actually appeared to still have fires going. Or maybe they were new fires like the dairy barn, he thought.
Georgia gave way to South Carolina which gave way to North Carolina. The days were getting much longer and hotter. All of nature seemed to rejoice in the end of winter and not notice the absence of mankind.
Sam decided to visit the Outer Banks in North Carolina. He knew he would be in bad shape if a storm caught him, but the weather was calm and he'd learned how to read a pocket barometer and spot the signs of impending bad weather.
Although he had traveled this coastline before, he was surprised at how much had changed. Many of the piers and houses near the water were now gone. Thick piles of blown sand covered parts of numerous roads causing detours. Sam even saw a gigantic cruise ship turned nearly on its side at rest not far out from shore. It hadn't been there a year ago and must have been totally adrift for years in the ocean before currents and waves washed it up on the coast. He thought about taking a boat out to explore the ship, but dismissed the idea after imagining all the confined bodies aboard.
Sam loved beach bars and the ocean, one of the reasons he stayed near the water as much as possible. He allowed himself to stop at a beach bar around noon each day, but limited himself to two drinks, presuming the bar's alcohol supply hadn't been looted completely. He never visited these bars in the evening because the temptation was too great to have more than his two drinks and then be unprepared for the night.
There were fewer bodies near the ocean and Sam supposed it was because they had either been washed out to sea or covered by blowing sand. He didn't want to think about all the crabs who likely dined on the multitude of human flesh available.
He was surprised one morning in his tent on the beach by the dogs barking their fool heads off. Sam imagined being attacked by more giant feral pigs or maybe a huge sea turtle, and looked out of the tent with rifle in hand. What he saw made him smile in surprise. Dozens of horses played and ran in the surf and sand. They were a hodge-podge of different breeds, colors, and sizes along with what might have been actual wild ponies. The equines seemed unconcerned with the barking dogs or the strange human-like creature whose appearance
may have stirred memories of days gone by.
Sam fished on the beach each evening and was astounded at the number and size of the fish he caught. He supposed nature was recovering rapidly without mankind's demand. After lots of trial and error he'd learned that cooking fish was easier than he had been making it. Initially he'd tried to de-scale and fillet the fish, but soon learned it was easier to just stick a pole or branch in the fish's mouth and then lean it over a fire. The charred skin would peel off easily and he could chew the meat right off the bone.
After about a week the distant horizon showed signs of storm clouds and the pressure on the barometer began to drop. He could have probably sought shelter and rode any storm out, but decided to play it safe. He headed back towards the mainland and continued further north, again on unfamiliar roads.
Making his way gradually on
secondary routes around roads blocks and through sad dead towns, Sam encountered a scene that wasn't foreign to him, but one he hadn't seen outside of a major city. At the North Carolina and Virginia border he had a strange feeling something wasn't right. Traffic was clogged along the road, but fortunately the median was clear and the ground dry allowing them to drive between lines of abandoned vehicles.
Sam saw large white tents ahead with giant red crosses on them. He next saw barriers blocking the road and providing a perimeter around the tents clear of vehicles. The inside of this perimeter was piled nearly knee high with bones upon bones and the ground underneath appeared to be
still moving with vibrant insect and rodent life. Sam tried to avert his eyes as he saw a roach the size of a gerbil crawl out of a skull's eye socket. He .looked away from the field of bones and saw about a dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers facing him with Virginia National Guard stenciled on the sides.
"They shot them down," Sam explained to The Pack who didn't understand or care what had happened here. "Likely closed the borders as if that would do anything and both the military and the civilians terrified out of their minds went at each other. It would be tragic if death weren't already inevitable for them." Sam laughed at his own cleverness looking at the dogs, but his wit was lost on them.
He hated backtracking worse than just about anything in the world, but there was no way in hell he was going to drive over those bones and that pit of purification. Sam imagined the SUV sinking into the dirt and all those roaches, ants and other unspeakable scavengers covering him. He shuddered. They turned around and went back the way they had come.
It took most of the day to get back to a major intersection which allowed them to continue further west in order to then turn north again. He stopped to check a map and the dogs jumped out to explore. Sam, focused on the map, thought nothing of it. An unfamiliar bark in the distance brought his head up sharply. He heard Scotch's barking in return and it was alarmed, a warning. Sam whistled for The Pack, but only Tanner and Molly came to him. He put them both in the SUV as he heard the unmistakable sounds of animals fighting in the nearby field.
Sam was terrified as he ran towards the sounds. He came through the thin woods to see Scotch and Raven surrounded by a motley pack of thin angry dogs. Several of the dogs appeared disoriented and shaky on their feet with foam dripping from their mouths. Sam realized with horror that they were rabid. He stopped in his tracks and drawing his pistol fired a couple of shots into the air.
Most of the dogs ran off, with Raven in pursuit. Sam yelled at the stupid dog to come back, but Sam saw that one of the rabid ones turned towards him. The black and tan bull mastiff mix looked at the man for a moment and then began trotting towards him. Sam saw that Sc
otch watched and stood unsteadily with blood soaking the fur around his neck from several bite wounds.
The rabid dog's eyes were glazed and appeared to have difficulty focusing, yellow foam hanging from slack jowls. "Oh shit," said Sam as the dog came closer which only served to vector the dog in
to the sound of his voice. Sam pointed the pistol at the dog with shaky hands and fired a shot which missed. He fired another and missed. The dog was right up on him snapping at his body. Sam reacted out of fear striking the dog sharply on the skull with the pistol butt and hearing a solid crack. The rabid dog dropped to the ground and looked up at him panting heavily. He felt a moment's compassion for the dog, but then saw Scotch stumbling towards him on unsteady legs. Sam shot the rabid mastiff in the head.
Raven had returned with his
stubby tail wagging and evidently unhurt. He ran up and pranced around Sam as if to say, "That was fun wasn't it?" Scotch had meanwhile stretched out on the ground panting heavily.
Sam went to Scotch and saw the giant wolfhound's bleeding had slowed, but the wounds looked nasty as if the dogs had bit down and chewed before releasing. He didn't know if the bites had come from one of the rabid dogs but he had to assume the worst. Scotch lay on his side and licked Sam's hand looking up at him with trusting eyes.
He holstered his pistol and scooped up the giant dog, staggering under the weight back to the vehicle. Sam had to lay the dog in the grass while he opened the door and Molly and Tanner jumped out to join in the fun. He loaded Scotch in the backseat carefully and then after much frustration was able to get the rest of The Pack into the SUV.
It was getting dark, but Sam was afraid the giant wolfhound wouldn't make it to morning. He needed to find a vet clinic. He hoped it wasn't too late to get
a rabies shot into the dog and maybe save him. Sam consulted a map and saw the nearest town was ten miles to the south. He backed the vehicle around and went towards Clifton, Virginia.
Getting to the town was the easy part. He didn't like driving in the dark, but luckily the roads were clear except for a few herds of deer. Finding the vet clinic in the town was almost impossible. Although it was a small town of about eight thousand people, it spread out for several square miles and without street lights or directions he felt like he was trying to find his way home without a map.
He finally pulled over and broke into an office building and rummaged around through desks until he located a phone book. Sam pawed through the aging pages and found there was a Hob's Veterinary Clinic on 3rd Street.
He ran back out to the SUV and discovered Scotch shivering and whining. He drove fast through the center of town, crisscrossing streets looking at signs until he saw one that said 2nd
Street. He turned right and naturally enough the next street was 1st Street. Sam cursed and spun around the other way.
Once at 3rd Street he turned towards the greatest concentration of buildings, but again this proved incorrect. He was exiting the town without seeing the clinic before turning around to head the opposite direction, nearly panicked. Sam raced down 3rd Street faster than he had driven any vehicle in years.
Nearing the opposite town outskirts, he was almost losing hope when he saw a green on white sign for Hob's Veterinary Clinic which also evidently served dual purpose as residence for Doctor Hobs. Sam pulled the vehicle right up onto the front lawn nearly crashing the vehicle into the front porch.
He left the dogs in the SUV while he went to the door with the crow bar and hammer. Adrenaline made the lock easy work. Sam rushed through the house and found the clinic in the back. He flashed his light over a medicine cabinet and after several frantic moments saw vials for
Imrab Large Animal Rabies Vaccine. Sam didn't bother trying to pry the case, simply smashing the glass with the hammer. He pulled out the vial setting it on the table and then found a syringe. The vial had no directions on dosages, so Sam just decided to wing it, drawing about a fourth of the vial into the syringe. He ran back outside to the vehicle and found Scotch either sleeping or comatose. He plunged the needle deep into the dog's flank and injected the medicine.
Scotch whimpered slightly and Sam carefully remo
ved the dog and carried him through the house to the clinic in the rear. His back would be sore or maybe even locked up the next morning, and he knew he was lifting the gigantic dog mostly on adrenalin. He proceeded cautiously by memory through the house since he'd left his flashlight in the clinic. Once inside, he laid Scotch carefully on the table and went back out to the SUV for his pack and the oil lantern and ensured the other three dogs were inside the house.
Sam went back to the big wolfhound with the lantern and stroked his head. He seemed drowsy and Sam hoped that was a good sign. He found some antiseptic and bandages and cleaned the wounds and
, as best he could judge, none were deep enough to need stitches. Just to be safe he also gave Scotch an injection of antibiotics, hoping the dosage was close to correct.
He looked around, not sure what else to do. There was an actual fireplace in the living room and a neat stack of wood. Sam used some lighter fluid and started a quick fire for light and to take the chill out of the house. He
again staggered under Scotch's considerable bulk and laid him on a blanket near the fire. Sam dropped down close to him and hugged the dog tightly.
After a few minutes he felt the other three dogs settle in close around them. Eventually they all fell into a troubled sleep.