The U.S. of After Chapter 48


Howard

I followed them up into the city.  At least they waited until dark but that was probably not the wisest choice.  Clayton walked right behind Gideon, and then Amy came right behind him.  Two of Gideon’s men walked to their left, shotguns at the ready.  Amy had been carrying that Winchester since Ralph died and it had become almost an extension of her arm.

As we passed through the deserted streets, the glass windows of the buildings looked down on us, great glistening eyes of derelict giants.  Paper and other trash blew around the lamp posts and gutter drains, and abandoned cars sat still, their tires low or flat.  Some of them had been turned over and some of them were burned out hulks of steel and re-hardened rubber.  There was a smell in the air, an acrid smell of burning trash and I knew that eyes were watching us, the eyes of something left over and neglected and feral.

An H.E.B. drugstore built into one of the storefronts loomed ahead, it’s rounded red letters faded and full of bird’s nests.

“That’s our objective, people,” said Gideon, chambering a round in his bolt action rifle and then slinging it to pull out his .45 pistol and ready it with a pull of the slide.  “Be ready for anything.  Anything moves, give them a mouthful of lead.”

We moved closer, and that is when the group stopped just outside the smashed glass of the front door.  Dried blood was all over the ground and smeared on the glass of the store front.  There were black hand prints and smelly streaks all over the walls and even on the concrete posts that stood up as smash and grab barricades in front of the store.  Gideon stood before the shattered glass door for a few seconds, his pistol in both hands pointed directly into the darkness of the store, and then he let one hand free to motion everyone inside.  Gideon stepped across the threshold.

We all heard the low growl of several savage animals.

They came at us, five of them, teeth flashing, mad eyes wide, a group of gnashing dogs, some of them biting each other, some of them biting at us.  The group began firing into the store, their empty shells bouncing on the shattered, glass strewn pavement.  One of the dogs, a shaggy mix of a sheep dog with something unknown, it’s matted fur clinging together in clumps, pulled at Clayton’s pants leg, writhing back and forth.  Clayton beat it away with his walking stick.  After the men fired several rounds, the sheep dog dropped to the sidewalk, and the other dogs ran away creating a slowly growing vacuum of sound.  Amy spoke up, and I could tell she was stifling a scream.

“Anybody bit?” she asked, voice a vibrato.

“M’ pride is a little worn, that’s all,” responded Clayton, his heart pounding.  I could hear it thumping faster and faster.

“Good,” Gideon said, pressing his boot on the neck of the dead animal.  “This one here’s got rabies.  Man, I hate cities.”

“Let’s just get the stuff and get outta here,” Clayton agreed.

All of them walked cautiously into the H.E.B, their guns at the ready, their pride a little shaken by the repulsive greeting they had just received.  The store inside was a mess.  All of the shelves had been toppled over and what looked to be useful items at first glance seemed to be gone.  They began to rummage around, a practice that become second nature to most of them.  They picked through the remnants of the store for some time, two of them always keeping guns pointed out toward the street in case more trouble arose.

It did.

After Amy shoved twenty six cans of random foodstuffs from vienna sausages to pork and beans into her bag, a noise started to build in the street outside, a sound of a strange crying in the distance, then growls and barks and gnashing of teeth and then sharp, high pitched yowling.  Apparently the dogs they had encountered were only a scouting party for a larger pack of maddened mongrels.  Gideon stared at them from the broken window of the store front, and watched them circling around in the street, their glowing eyes reflecting the cold glow of the moonlight.

The humans could not see them, but the enemy was herding the dogs, canines infected with mange and rabies, to move ever closer to the front of the store.  The enemy knew full well that Clayton and his friends could not possibly have enough bullets for all of the dogs, and the leftover pets of Shreveport would be easily spooked into charging the store if given the right prodding.

They crawled low to the ground, their patchy backs rippling as their weakened muscles worked, their mouths dripping with foam, lips pulled back to reveal teeth that seemed elongated from the mangy separation of tooth and gums.  Large black scabs covered their skin in places where the fur had fallen out, and they were covered with every kind of parasite.  They were so hungry, so hungry for any type of flesh.  They had been eating garbage and rats for nearly a year.

So many pets, yet so many owners falling victim to the pandemic or countless other disasters, now turning on their masters with violent results.  There was a reason no one had ventured in to this part of the city.  These dogs owned it.

Gideon and the others formed a firing line in front of the store, but I think they all knew that someone may not make it back.

Clayton began to pray.  He stood quietly, his mouth moving, his eyes closed, holding fast to the hickory walking stick, and my brothers arrived to go to work, to do what we had been called to do, and that was help the humans in any way we could.

As the first few brave alphas eerily stopped growling and charged the front door of the H.E.B and the bullets flew from the flaming barrels of guns, we went to work.

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