This is the last chapter that I will be posting of this novel. It ends the current scene and that makes it a perfect place to finish.
Roger leaned his head against the back of the seat and rubbed his eyes. He was tired. He was always tired. Ever since the Rising had begun he had major trouble sleeping. It was the rare night that he was able to sleep through with nary a dream to wake him. Most of the time he woke up with his sheets soaked in sweat and a scream pursed on the tip of his tongue. It was something that the teenager knew he’d most likely have to deal with for the rest of his life.
He was considering getting out of the truck to see if there was any pop left inside the Safeway when movement caught his eye. It was from inside the store, and a blur of darkness set against the near black of the interior flashed but once and then was gone. Roger couldn’t be sure that he had seen anything at all, but he didn’t want to take any risks. He reached out with his hand and flicked on the lights of the Avalanche, illuminating the front of the store, showing the devastation the survivors and other looters had wrought upon it.
The Halogen beams cut through the dim interior like lasers, and it was then that Roger saw what had originally caught his attention. A large fur coated tail disappeared around the end of one of the aisles, and to the back he could just make out the beams of lights that were carried by his father and the others.
Cursing, he knew that there wasn’t enough time to warn his father over the radio, so he did the only thing he could think of at the moment… he laid on the horn.
At Harold’s sudden exclamation, Mike hesitated only for a fraction of a second. He brought the barrel of the Glock 22 and aimed at the centre of mass that was a huge Mastiff. It was almost as if his body was acting on pure instinct as he squeezed the trigger four times in rapid succession. All four rounds punched home and knocked the huge animal off its feet in a flurry of fangs, claws, fur and fury.
Mike’s reaction was all the others needed. Not even a second later Eric’s Glock roared a dragon’s breath of flame and lead, his target a glowing pair of eyes that was just out of line of the three survivor’s lights. Harold’s rapid fire crack, crack, crack of the 9mm he habitually carried joined in the chorus of weapons fire.
In the time span of a pair of heartbeats three of the attacking feral dogs were down, dead or wounded beyond the capacity of being a threat any longer. Three however was just a drop in the proverbial bucket.
From the darkness shot a dozen or more of the large animals. No one had any time to think or speak. As fate would have it, they barely had any time to react at all. The three men opened up with their various handguns, .40 caliber and 9mm rounds hitting more often than they missed. The lead runners of the pack dropped in yowls of pain, some snapping at the bloody wounds which blossomed on their furry forms.
It didn’t matter.
The dogs kept coming, determined to get at the un-corrupted meat that was valiantly attempting to ward off the attack. A large Doberman launched from the debris scattered floor like a muscular and fur covered missile straight at Eric.
With agility that belied his size, the former fire fighter twisted to the side and threw his shoulder into the oncoming dog, causing it to smash with a ear-wracking clatter into one of the nearly empty shelves. Before the dog had a chance to recover its wits and rebound, Eric pumped a trio of rounds into the animal’s center of mass, dropping it on the spot.
Harold’s 9mm barked in time with the rapid fire yips of another huge dog, this one a Pitbull. The yips and snarls ended as the animal’s skull split apart, death claiming it instantly. He quickly adjusted his aim and fired on another Pitbull, but instead of eliminating the threat, the rounds barely grazed it. The pain of the near-miss enraged the animal even further and it leapt at him.
He didn’t have the training that Mike and Eric possessed, but he did have a strong survival instinct. Instead of trying to dodge to the side or attempting to knock the animal away the way Eric had, Harold let his legs fold and he fell almost boneless to the floor. The Pitbull, not expecting the move, tried to adjust its trajectory in mid leap and only managed to twist its body around so that it landed on the floor, only a scant few feet from its intended target.
Seeing his comrade in peril, Mike adjusted his aim and put a single round into the neck of the animal, tearing out a baseball sized chunk of the dog’s throat. It was a killing blow, no matter how anyone looked at it. The dog tried to scream in agony but blood from the wrecked throat poured into its lungs and instantly the dog began to drown.
Just then over the near ear splitting din of barks, snarls, gunshots and the fear laced cursing of the three survivors, the sound of a massive horn ripped through the interior of the Safeway. The large group of combatants stopped in their collective tracks, all eyes turning towards the entrance of the building.
The three humans were the first to recover from the unexpected noise. Eric popped the magazine from his handgun and slapped a fresh one home and immediately began to fire into the mass of fur and muscle. Harold followed suit, ejecting his nearly spent magazine as well.
Mike opted to drop his handgun, knowing that it wouldn’t be difficult to find it later and let the Remington shotgun slip from his shoulder into his hands. He didn’t bother to cock the weapon, as he had a shell riding in the breach, waiting to fire. When the horn sounded again, Mike took that as a sign and he pulled the weapon’s trigger.
The 00 shot ripped into a German shepherd that had decided to ignore the sound. A hole the size of a basketball appeared in the dog’s bony chest and coated the aisle and shelves behind it in blood, flesh, bone and internal organs. The dog tilted its head in a curious manner, looking at Mike for an instant before the light of life fled its eyes and it slumped to the ground.
Several more shots rang out in the near total darkness and two more huge dogs fell to the floor, one dead from the bullets that tore through its chest, pulverizing the heart before exiting out the side, the other yowling in pain as its front left foreleg was blown off at the shoulder.
That seemed to be the final straw for the surviving members of the pack. As one, the remaining dogs turned tail and disappeared into the darkness, yips of fright and defeat following them as they fled the scene of so much death and carnage.
Heart pounding, Mike took off in pursuit of the fleeing dogs. They were a far greater threat than the undead at that moment and they had to be dealt with. Of course the animals were faster than he could hope to be, but he had the one advantage they didn’t… a firearm.
Sprinting across the floors was hazardous in the extreme, but somehow Mike managed to keep his footing. He had nearly cleared the length of one aisle when he finally skidded to a halt. Ahead of him a St. Bernard had hit a particularly slick section of the floor and had lost its footing. Mike didn’t hesitate for a second before he fired. The right side of the animal’s head disappeared in a red mist as the shot caught it.
Not bothering to stick around to check out his handy-work, Mike continued to half sprint, half walk towards the front of the store. He could easily hear the sounds of his friends as they too followed suit and went after the animals to put down the threat.
He cocked the shotgun, ejecting the spent case and replacing it with a fresh round. The closer he got to the front of the store, the more ambient daylight came through the shattered front windows. The fleeing animals shadow’s played chaotically along the debris scattered aisles, clouding Mike’s choices. He wasn’t sure what was actually a shadow and what was in reality one of the deadly animals. He decided to hold his fire, as he didn’t want to waste ammunition on what turned out to be nothing more than a trick of the light.
Even though it felt like an eternity, in reality only a scant handful of seconds passed before he found himself at the front of the store. A handful of the pack had already made it out of the store and was racing across the snow covered parking lot. Now that he had a clear target, he chose his targets carefully and downed two of the fleeing animals.
"Mike, are you ok?" Harold’s voice came from the darkened interior behind him. The unexpected sound of Harold’s voice nearly caused him to whirl around and fire, but he managed to control the impulse.
Harold wasn’t quite so lucky. He followed Mike’s example and was giving chase to a pair of Shepherds when the animals suddenly stopped in mid flight and turned to face him, their blood flecked teeth bared in a snarl of rage.
"Nice doggies!" Harold bleated out lamely, but despite the animal’s sudden change in attitude, he kept his handgun trained on them. He didn’t know how much time he had so Harold did the only thing that he thought prudent. He turned tail and ran back the way he had come.
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!" He repeated as he tore down the aisle, his feet barely touching the floor. The pair of Shepherds barked ferociously as the tore after him, somehow managing to keep their footing amongst all the spilled goods that littered the floor.
Whether it was instinct, a noise that the dogs made, or the hand of god himself Harold would never know. Without thinking about what he was doing, he literally leapt from the floor and bounded up the shelves to his left, free running in a way that would make a master like Jackie Chan jealous. Three quick steps later he flew across the narrow distance between the shelves and found himself on the top shelf, frantically wind milling his arms as he nearly lost his footing among the bags of chips that had been left.
Harold was about to topple over when one of the Shepherds slammed into the shelving unit, only a foot from the top. Somehow this impact allowed Harold to regain his footing and he managed to right himself. His heart racing in his chest, Harold took a second to regain his composure. Finally he turned to look down at the two dogs, which were snarling and barking with such frenzy that foam flew from their mouths. As scared as he was, he managed to keep his wits about him. He pointed the barrel of his handgun at the nearest and fired, dropping it in mid bark.
The dog’s companion looked at the dead animal and then locked its deep brown eyes with Harold’s. A silent ‘how could you’ passed between man and animal. Harold shrugged. "It was you or me, and I don’t feel like becoming a pile of dog poop!" He fired again, killing the second dog.
Carefully he navigated his way across the top of the shelf, not quite wanting to hit the floor in case there were more of the animals waiting for him. He stopped and took in his surroundings. He could still hear the sound of the dogs racing through the interior of the store and the occasional shot coming from Eric’s handgun. Strange shadow’s played across the entrance to store as he continued to pursue the animals.
He just made it to the end of the rack when he caught sight of Mike’s form standing at the blown out windows. Mike’s shotgun bellowed twice before he finally held his fire. "Mike, are you ok?" he called out.
Seeing Mike’s impulsive move, Eric broke rank and went after the retreating pack. Eric ran half a dozen yards before coming to a halt. He raised his handgun and carefully took aim at a large black Labrador. His single shot was almost completely lost in the nearly deafening crescendo of barks and shots that filled the interior of the store. The animal dropped and slid into the half empty shelf and then rebounded. It tried to get to its feet when Eric fired again, putting the dog down once and for all.
He heard Harold’s litany of oh crap repeated several times in a row, which was then quickly followed by a tremendous clatter of something heavy crashing into the shelf. He looked in the direction of the sound just in time to see the flash of Harold’s weapon and the pain filled yelp of an animal mortally wounded.
The distraction nearly cost Eric his life.
Before he knew what was happening, a dirt streaked husky barreled into him and knocked him flat. His handgun flew from his grip, effectively disarming the man. Eric had barely enough time to bring up his left arm to protect his throat when the animal lunged in, teeth bared. The dog bit into Eric’s arm and he shouted in pain. Fortunately for him the animal was slightly off balance and the bite wasn’t quite as powerful as it could have been, and it didn’t penetrate the thick fabric of his jacket sleeve.
Frustrated at the inability to get at the flesh beneath the jacket, the Husky began to savagely shake its head back and forth. Eric felt like his arm was about to be ripped from its socket. Fear and desperation began to cloud his thinking so he did the only thing that he could. With his free hand, he groped around the debris that covered the floor and it came to rest on a small but heavy object.
Without conscious thought, his fingers wrapped around the object and he swung it out of the garbage with all his might, bringing it to connect soundly with the animal’s thrashing head. The impact was accompanied by a wet sounding smack and the Husky howled in pain, immediately letting go of its prize.
Eric didn’t hesitate, he swung again and again, each blow smashing into the dog’s head, neck and shoulders and after several blows, the dog slumped to the filthy floor, twitching out its last breath. Frantically Eric searched the surrounding garbage for signs of his handgun but in the dim gloom of the interior he couldn’t see it. Knowing how vulnerable he was, Eric opted to arm himself with the fire axe he had been carrying from since almost the beginning of the Rising. His breath puffed out in the frosty air as he scanned the aisle for more targets.
The dogs were gone.
It was at that time he heard Harold’s query ring out in the now empty store. "Mike, are you ok?"
A moment later the three survivors gathered in the growing light of the entrance to the Safeway. All three were breathing heavily, hearts still pounding in the short period of time since the fight for their lives had ended.
"Anyone hurt?" Mike asked the other two between pants.
Harold shook his head, and looked at Eric. The former fire fighter lifted his arm to look at the spot where the husky had tried to rip through the jacket and he flexed his fingers. The fabric was slightly torn but there was no sign of blood. "It’s going to hurt like a fucker in the morning," Eric stated, feeling the tingling sensation running through his arm. "But I think its ok."
"You know, since the dogs have been eating the zombies, I wonder if they bite you, if it would be the same thing. You die and then rise." Mike speculated.
The others stared at him, horrified. "Jesus, aren’t you the ray of sunshine," Eric snorted.
Mike shrugged slightly. "Something that we have to consider. I’m just glad that the bite didn’t break the skin."
"You and me both. Even if I didn’t die from the bite and become one of those fuckers, at the very least it would be one hell of an infection." Eric conceded.
The stench of cordite and blood hung thickly in the frigid air as Mike finally shouldered his shotgun. "We better get our weapons." He said as he turned and was about to head back into the store, where he could still see the faint illumination coming from his handgun’s light.
"Dad!" Roger’s voice called out from the front of the building.
Mike turned to see his son standing at the smashed out window, horror marring the young man’s handsome features. He wanted to berate the younger man for leaving the safety of the truck, but decided to keep it to himself. "We’re fine," Mike shouted back. "God damned dogs came out of no where!"
"I know, Dad, I tried to warn you."
"You did good kid," Eric yelled. "When you blew the horn, that’s what turned the tide for us."
"Do you want me to come in?
"No, stay with the Avalanche," Mike ordered. "We’re coming out soon anyhow."
Moving together, the three of them headed back into the interior of the store to where the attack had begun. Eric looked at the mass of dead animals, which were scattered around like so many stuffed animals carelessly discarded by a child who’d grown tired of playing with them. Huge pools of blood covered large sections of the floor, already congealing in the winter like conditions. Stepping on the spilled blood would prove to be exceptionally treacherous though.
Finally, he broke the silence. "Christ, its bad enough that we have to deal with the Zombies, but now we have to kill animals?"
Harold shrugged. "It was them or us." He said in a strangely lucid voice.
"Fuck, this sucks!" Mike snarled in frustration. "Why did it have to be dogs?" He loved animals with a passion and it tore at his heart having to cause the deaths of so many dogs. They weren’t inherently evil; the dogs were only going on instinct, trying to survive in a world that had gone horribly wrong.
"I dropped my gun when that Husky tried to rip out my throat, we need to find it." Eric said, fingering the empty holster on his hip.
They didn’t argue. Firearms in the post Rise world were worth their weight in gold, or in this case, food. Harold and Mike followed Eric to the aisle, where they saw the corpse of the Husky lying on the floor. Mike forced himself to look at the animal. He felt bile build in the back of his throat as he looked at the ruined skull. Eric was a strong man and when fear enhanced the man’s natural strength, it was truly frightening.
It took the trio only a minute to locate Eric’s lost weapon and finally the three men moved their way through the darkened store and came out into the weak late morning light. Roger was standing next to the idling truck, his eyes shining with concern as they made their way across the smashed out windows.
"Dad, I’m sorry," He started to say when the elder Harris held up his hand and shook his head.
"It’s alright son, you did fine."
Eric stepped up and patted Roger on the shoulder. "Back the truck up to the building and grab a cart, we’ve got tons of food to take."
Mike leaned against the truck and took in several deep breaths. He held up his hands and watched them visibly shake in the cool air. He was crashing and crashing hard. It always happened, the post combat shakes and crash. He knew that the others had to be feeling the same, although if Harold ever got the post combat shakes, he never showed it.
Eric caught Mike staring at his hands and came over. "You ok?"
Mike shook his head. "I’m crashing hard, how about you?"
Eric held up his hand and much to Mike’s consternation, it was as steady as a rock. "I’m good." They stood there, staring at each other for a moment. "Are you going to be able to do this?" Eric asked at length.
"I’ll do my best, but I haven’t crashed this hard in a while." Mike forced himself to stand up straight and he looked into the store. "With Roger driving, I’ll try to come down while we’re on the road back to the base."
Eric continued to eye his long time friend but then he slowly nodded his head. Eric figured it had something to do with his medical condition. The lack of proper food and the near constant stress of surviving in the new world were taking its toll on everyone. But he knew that it was hitting his friend harder than most. "As long as you’re sure man. Don’t try to act all macho, if you need to rest, do so."
It didn’t take the four of them long to gather up shopping carts, as they were scattered throughout the front of the store. Mike paused to scan the streets and noticed that the snow was starting to trickle off to a near stop. He also noticed that the air was considerably warmer than it had been only an hour before. "Huh, might be a nice day after all," he muttered to himself as he turned and pushed the cart into the interior.