Authors: Ryan King
Sam had never been much of a coffee drinker, but he needed some the next morning. His back, arms, and legs were killing him and he threw down two aspirin before he could even begin the process of making coffee. He'd heard of cowboy coffee
, although he'd never paid much attention to how it was made and had stuck exclusively to instant since the end. After boiling water with immersed coffee grounds over the veterinarian's gas grill, he sipped the concoction with trepidation and admitted it wasn't bad. The old vet even had some powdered creamer and sugar.
He had awoke
n that morning to the familiar groaning and fake growling that indicated the dogs were playing, though not too rough. Sam smiled, then remembered where he was and what had happened the previous day. He rolled over and saw Scotch was still lying down, awake now and with mouth open growling up at a prancing Raven in mock combat.
Relief flooded through Sam. He didn't know if the dog was out of hot water, but he looked much better and that was enough for now. Sam coaxed Scotch up onto his feet and saw he could walk slowly at first, and then more firmly. He took the dogs outside so they could go to the bathroom and then brought them back inside for a breakfast of pasta, rice, and beans cooked on the gas grill.
After the dogs ate he laid Scotch back down by the fire which had grown low and wasn't needed with the rising sun. Sam went into the clinic and looked at the rabies vaccination in the light of day and eventually found an unopened box of the same medicine with a small paper pamphlet accompanied by more directions. He discovered the Imrab Large Animal Rabies Vaccine was actually for large farm animals like cows or horses and each vial was a dose. Sam did a quick calculation in his head and realized he had given Scotch too much but wasn't too far off the mark. Thank God, he was a monster of a dog.
He looked around for other types of rabies vaccinations and couldn't find any. Evidently Doctor Hob specialized in treating farm animals.
Sam hesitated then did some calculations on a piece of paper in the clinic. He carefully measured out an amount in a syringe and injected the vaccine in his own thigh. Sam next filled the same syringe with varying amounts of the vaccine and stalked the dogs until they were cornered and gave them each the vaccine. He doubted rabies vaccines were much different for large animals than they were for small or humans. He wasn't going to go through this again and he packed up a few boxes of the vaccine and some syringes just in case.
They rested there that day. Scotch seemed to be doing well, but Sam didn't want to rush him. The big dog would let him know when he was ready to move on. Besides, where the hell did they really need to be?
He explored the house, found no corpses and was grateful for that. The vet may have been out on a call when he succumbed to the disease himself. Sam had seen many examples of medical personnel who worked themselves without rest, taking care of others until they finally succumbed to the plague.
The vet had a detached workshop behind the little house and Sam explored inside. He had taken wood shop in high school and knew his way around all the typical machines and tools. Doctor Hob was clearly an accomplished woodworker. There were several pieces of furniture in various stages of completion and noticing a commonality he realized that the doctor had made many of the finished pieces in the house himself.
Near the back of the shop was a small table with an attached bench covered in small carvings. Sam bent close and saw there were dozens of incredibly lifelike animal carvings, shaped and polished with love and care. There were several horses, deer, squirrels, rabbits, a pig, cows, bulls, birds, cats, a raccoon, sheep, and even a small bear. There were also several dogs and Sam saw a small spaniel sitting on its flanks with its mouth open in a smile. It looked just like Tanner. Sam picked it up, placed it in his pocket and walked out of the shop, closing the door behind him carefully.
What of all the master works of man, Sam asked himself. What of works of beauty like in the woodshop or of Rembrandt, or Michelangelo? What of them now? Would archeologists or an alien race discover them millennia in the distant future and wonder about this creature called man? What would they think or conclude? Sam pulled the spaniel out of his pocket and looked at it closely. Hopefully they will think the best of us and not judge too harshly, he thought and went to check on The Pack.
Sam was shocked at how quickly things he had considered relatively permanent were disappearing. He passed over a bridge spanning a small river and the water was already rushing up against the underside of the supports. The culprits were a colony of beavers who had built a gigantic dam a hundred feet
downstream from the bridge. When Sam and the dogs got out of the SUV to look at their handy-work the rodents barked at him and stared threateningly like gang members guarding their territory. He knew he would not be able to come this route again, the river would become a lake soon and cover the bridge. They drove on and away from the jeers of the beavers.
The beavers caused him to wonder what was now happening with the hydroelectric dams. Were they shut down, unable to run without the careful hand of humans, or could they possibly be pumping out electricity unconcerned that it wasn't used? Did turbines still turn powering lights and charging batteries? Sam wanted to think so and the image was so strong and appealing, but dams were
mostly to the west. He had no interest in going west away from his...well, away from the sea.
This led to another thought which was not nearly so appealing. How about nuclear power plants? What about all that nuclear fuel, evaporating the water in the cooling tanks and now exposed, heating up and radiating like the sun. Eventually the rods would melt down into the earth and there would be a radioactive meltdown caused by an inevitable chemical chain reaction. Hell, there could have already have been a meltdown. Maybe there were nuclear plants already dispersing radioactive clouds of invisible particles and poison rain. There was so much that had been created that wasn't meant to run on its own, but who could have foreseen everyone would just one day disappear? He hoped there was some sort of safety mechanism in the nuclear plants that prevented the scenario he'd just envisioned.
Sam noticed a giant decrepit billboard on the side of the road. He could see it had originally advertised a restaurant with the best pancakes in the state, but was smeared with red painted letters saying 'The End is Near! Repent Before It Is Too Late!"
He rarely noticed the graffiti and signs of the end, his brain had developed an internal filter that allowed it all
to simply become invisible most of the time. He didn't like to see such things because it reminded him of the end times, all the chaos, fear, and death. Sam had lived like a small rodent, hiding and coming out of cover with great trepidation. In those days if two people saw each other they were as likely to try to rape, torture, and kill each other as pass on their way.
Sam had killed his first man only a week after the National State of Emergency was announced. He was trudging out of the city with thousands of other refugees, no one talking or even looking at each other as the dreary incessant rain poured down on their cold bodies. A crazed, and perfectly healthy-looking, teenager had rushed from out of a knot of refugees directly at Sam brandishing a dirty knife. Sam was startled and had the lunatic instinct to turn away, that maybe if he didn't make eye contact with the onrushing menace it would go away.
Fortunately, a lady with a shopping cart went in front of the attacker and he spilled over her cursing and swinging his knife wildly, breaking Sam's paralysis. Sam dropped his heavy pack and turned to face the insane kid holding the baseball bat he picked up in front of him like a shield scared out of his wits. He'd never even been in a fistfight in his life and this nut was trying to stick a knife in him. The really unbelievable thing was that the refugees flowed around the two, politely giving them more space, and then simply continued on their way as if nothing was happening.
The youth stood up crouching, knife low and insanity in his eyes, "You took my sister you bastard! I saw you!"
Sam was relieved, the kid obviously had mistaken him for someone else. "Look, son, I don't-"
The boy stepped inside of the bat's range and swung the knife incredibly fast. Sam stepped back instinctively and instead of the blade cutting his throat it only sliced a deep burning gash in
his bicep. He looked for a place to run, but there was none. He searched for help in the crowd, but everyone was avoiding eye contact. Sam caught a glimpse of two police officers on the top of a building watching casually while smoking cigarettes. He caught the eye of one who looked back at him with a dead uncaring face.
Sam felt burning across his knuckles and almost dropped the bat. The boy was coming on fast and low. Adrenaline flooded Sam and he swung the bat in a wild arc which caused the desperate kid to slow his advance and step back. They stood staring at each other waiting for an opening, for the other to make a mistake. The boy's patience gave out first and he leaped forward thrusting the knife at Sam's chest.
Sam's instinct took over and his mind was blessedly cleared for a split second. He had been something of a baseball star in high school and even played softball up until several years earlier. Age had taken away his speed and ability to field well, yet even up to a couple of years ago he still had the power and coordination to put a softball over the fence once or twice a game.
He stepped back with his right foot and swung with all his power at the onrushing kid's head striking the boy's forehead with the sweet spot of the bat. The hit felt wrong, like hitting a watermelon. He looked down and saw the boy crumpled in a heap at his feet, his head no longer recognizable.
He looked up at the police and the one who had met his eyes earlier moved his cigarette to his mouth and gave Sam a polite and silent golf clap. Sam dropped the bat and threw up all over the wet pavement. The refugee bubble was already starting to close back up around them, and people stepped over the still warm body of the teenager.
Sam picked up his pack and the bat and kept moving, his disgust and loathing masked by the cold rain. It was not the last man he would have to kill in the days to come.
They found an RV park that afternoon. Sam liked RV parks because they had plenty of propane and clean water. Additionally, getting bodies out of an RV was easier than out of a house. It also seemed less personal, less invasive to the corpses' lives and memories somehow.
He probably could have continued on a little farther, but wanted to make sure Scotch got plenty of rest and sleep. The big wolfhound never slept while riding in a vehicle unlike the other dogs.
Sam found the biggest and nicest camper and discovered the door unlocked, a good sign. There were no bodies i
nside, it appeared to be a mess but un-looted. He checked the gas and water level and found them both at least half full. Sam took a shower and put on new clothes he had procured earlier that day. He then went outside and cranked open the big awning on the side of the camper and started a fire, more for comfort and light than cooking since he could use the camper's stove. He set out a lawn chair and enjoyed the fading sunlight while smoking a stale cigar. Scotch rested on a blanket nearby while the rest of the pack sniffed around the perimeter.
As the last rays of sun faded from the sky, Sam heard mosquitoes buzzing and ate a couple of match heads. The sulfur that was coming out of his pores was from the match heads he had eaten the previous night, but the mosquitoes always reminded him.
He went into the camper and rummaged around in the cabinets until he found several plastic bowls and then went out to the SUV. He pulled out four cans of dog food he'd found at the vet's and plopped one into each plastic bowl, setting Scotch's next to him on the blanket. Sam also filled up a larger metal bowl with clear water out of the faucet and set it out beside the big wolfhound.
Now it was time for Sam's dinner, one he had been anticipating all day. Back in the very rear of the vet's cabinet, Sam had found an extra large can of chili. It had literally been years since he had chili and it was one of his favorite meals. Before The End he wouldn't have dreamed of eating the slop that came out of a can, but now he bet it would taste just exactly like heaven.
He put the chili in a pan and on the gas stove to heat. He'd also found a sleeve of crackers at the vet's he planned to have with the chili. Sam opened the plastic and smelled. It smelled off and he popped one in his mouth experimentally, but almost immediately spit it out. The cracker tasted like it had been mixed with some sort of chemical. How could crackers go bad, he asked himself? Weren't they just stale bread? He tossed the sleeve of crackers outside onto the fire, not wanting to attract rodents.
Sam dug through the cabinets for another bowl and in the back found a nearly half-full bottle of real Jamaican rum. He pulled it out and was tempted to try
it, stopped himself, and instead pulled out a large red glass Pyrex dish. Sam spooned some of the bubbling chili into the bowl and then turned the stove eye to low. He grabbed a spoon and went outside to sit by the fire.
The chili was divine. He gobbled it down licking the inside of the bowl and went back inside for more. He hadn't yet stepped inside before he knew something was wrong. Stomach cramps nearly doubled him over with pain. He went into the bathroom and tried to make himself throw up, but very little came out and he had to spin around quickly to void from the other end. "Damn!" he yelled out.
Must have gone bad. Hopefully it was just some little bug and not something serious like botulism. He didn't have any medications for food poisoning, another stupid mistake he had made. How could he possibly be this dumb and still be alive, he asked.