Ian sat by the mouth of the cave on a case of corned beef and stared silently through the plastic barrier at the sky. Brooding black-brown clouds stretched in an unbroken ceiling to the haze of the horizon. Veiled by dust, the hills beyond the valley were mere shadows, stripped of form and color and without substance.
A loud slapping noise caught his attention. A taped patchwork curtain of green plastic garbage bags Ian had tied to the outside of the clear plastic barrier had come loose and was flapping in the breeze. The curtain was normally rolled up and tied at the top of the barricade. He had intended to use the curtain as a camouflage screen he could drop in front of the barrier in the event he ever had unwelcome visitors. He stood up and refastened the green curtain to the framework of branches supporting the barrier.
He glanced at the row of assorted plastic containers sitting across from him. He was running low on water. He turned and stared at the smooth slate gray surface of the lake. Soon he would have to go down to the lake for water; his growing and overpowering thirst was cutting quickly into his meager water supply. Despite the danger from possible radiation exposure, the prospect of journeying to the lake offered a welcome relief from the boredom of sitting endlessly for days within the claustrophobic confines of the small cave.
After lighting a cigarette, he sat by the mouth of the cave and whistled for Dog. His whistles were sporadic and faded off plaintively as he ran short of breath. Knowing that she was out there somewhere, dead, or dying alone and helpless, gnawed at his insides and filled him with an aching loneliness. Torn between the desperate desire to venture beyond the barrier and search for her, and the fear of overexposing himself to the deadly effects of radiation, Ian sat for hours staring through the plastic, searching the hills for a sign of life. He desperately needed the reassurance that only another living being could bring to his existence, even if that other being was only a dog.
Dog wasn't remarkable as far as dogs go - just a fat black and brown mongrel with ridiculously large floppy ears. Ian had found her lying in the middle of the lake road about a half-an-hour's drive past the junction by Sam's General Store. At first, Ian had thought she was dead, but she rose shakily on all fours as she heard the approaching rumble of Ian's truck, and stood half-crouching, cringing as if she were expecting a blow to fall.
Ian stopped the truck and stared at her through the windshield. His heart ached physically as he watched her shivering pathetically on the roadway.
He climbed cautiously from the truck and crouched down. He called to her softly. Her ears perked up at the sound of his voice, but she seemed afraid and didn't move. Ian whistled and called, clicked his fingers and patted the ground, but she remained where she stood.
Although better judgment told him to leave the dog where she was, Ian couldn't bring himself to leave her alone on the deserted highway. Keeping his eyes on her and chatting nonsensical words of reassurance, Ian walked to the back of the truck. He opened the tailgate window on the truck cap and reached inside. Digging into the boxes stacked on the truck bed, Ian came up with a tin of luncheon meat. It was perfect! He pulled the key from the side of the tin and slid it through the metal tab protruding through the label, opening the tin as he walked back towards the dog.
“Look what Uncle Ian's got for you, Doggie,” Ian said as he sniffed the opened processed ham, “Mmmmmm! Munchies. Doggie like munchies?”
The dog thumped her tail feebly on the asphalt.
Encouraged by the meager reaction, Ian pulled the meat whole from the tin and the gelatin dripped over his fingers onto his jeans. He broke off a bite-sized portion and tossed the morsel of meat to the dog. It landed at her feet.
The dog ignored it.
Ian pulled off another chunk of meat and held it out at arm's length.
“C'mon, Doggie. You want something to eat, Doggie?”
He edged closer to the dog stretching his arm until he could almost touch her. He waved the meat seductively in front of the dog's nose, and as the aroma reached her nostrils, she sniffed the air hesitantly. Finally, she gave Ian's fingers a tentative lick. After tasting the jelly coating Ian's fingers, the dog hungrily snatched the meat from Ian's hands.
Ian fed the rest of the meat to her piece by piece, occasionally popping a morsel into his own mouth. He patted her head and found himself uncomfortably disturbed by the look in the dog's eyes. He grasped her head with both hands and stared intently into the dog's face. The dog's gaze passed right through him.
“You blind, Doggie?” he asked, “You blind?”
Ian quickly shrugged off his concern and ruffled her ears.
He needed company.
The dog smelled of smoke and singed fur, and Ian knew the dog had come from a bomb zone. He wondered how she had reached the highway and imagined a station wagon stopping a few feet from where he was standing. He pictured a stern, determined father getting out of the car. Ignoring the cries of his two children, the man dragged the dog out onto the road. He shouted at his grief-stricken children as he climbed back into the driver's seat and the car screeched away, leaving the dog, blind and helpless, to fend for herself. She lay down, alone and confused, to wait for the family to return, unaware she had been sacrificed to improve her owners' survival. Ian shook his head to clear the images, and reached down to pick her up. She struggled weakly in his arms as he lifted her.
“Boy, are you heavy!” he teased her, “I should call you Fatso!”
The dog tried to jump from his arms and Ian laughed. “Not impressed, huh? Okay, how about if I call you Dog?”
Dog wagged her tail and tried to lick Ian's face, but he avoided her tongue by tilting his head back.
“I don't kiss on the first date,” Ian told her as he carried her to the truck. He dropped her on the seat and climbed in after her.
“Well, Dog, how do you like your new home?
Dog wagged her tail and Ian smiled.
“I know it ain't much,” he confided in mock seriousness, “but it's all I got.”
The truth of his words brought a flickering, submerged memory to the surface, and his smile faded.
Ian shook his head again and started the truck. As he slipped the truck into gear, Dog laid her head in his lap and closed her eyes. He ruffled her ears and eased out the clutch. Ian drove and Dog slept quietly beside him. Idly, and out of habit, Ian turned on the radio. The truck cab filled instantly with a loud static roar and Ian reached quickly to fiddle with the dials. He punched the button for the FM band but the roar remained constant and he shut the radio off.
The countryside around him was bathed in a strange pastel orange twilight. A slight haze obscured the horizon, blending earth to sky, and oily clouds hung heavily above him in an unbroken, but constantly moving, sheet. Ian wondered if he would see the sun again. He slowly became aware of a growing warmth in his lap, and looked down at Dog.
“Oh, Jeez, Dog!”
She had been sick. Ian hit the brakes, and jumped from the truck as soon as it rolled to a stop. Dog looked balefully at Ian as if to apologize.
“Shit!” he shouted, “Just my fuckin' luck! I got a fuckin' dog that gets goddam carsick!”
Dog vomited onto the seat.
Ian dragged her from the truck, and she was sick all over his arms and chest. He groaned as the stench reached his nose. His stomach hadn't been stable all day, and a wave of nausea swept over him. He took deep breaths to keep himself from throwing up.
It didn't work.
Ian and Dog bent over retching onto the road until they both had the dry heaves. Ian supported himself with one hand on the side of the truck, and some of Dog's vomit drained down his arm and into his armpit.
He didn't care. As though he had been hit suddenly with a massive hangover, he was dizzy to the point of being disoriented, aware only of the tiny circle of space surrounding him. Ian couldn't stop heaving despite the fact his stomach was empty; he was convinced the spasms would last until he had choked up every organ from his body, and he was nothing more than an empty husk. Unable to support his own weight, Ian lowered himself to a sitting position, resting his back against the truck. He clumsily unbuttoned his shirt and took it off, using it to wipe away the vomit.
Slowly, Ian returned to a near-normal state. No wonder they dumped Dog on the highway, he thought. His annoyance faded when he looked at her. She stood quivering over a pool of red-streaked vomit. She looked guiltily at him, and he reached over and caressed her. Dog gave a feeble wag of her tail and tried to lick his face.
Ian turned his head in disgust. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to quell the rising pressure in his throat. He recovered and wiped his face with his shirt.
“You could have told me luncheon meat made you sick!” he complained to her.
He pulled himself to his feet, taking a few moments to wait for a sudden dizziness to pass. He bent down and picked up Dog, placing her back in the truck. She crawled painfully across the seat, curled into a disconsolate ball against the passenger door, and with a heavy sigh, closed her eyes.
“Don't move!” he warned her. She half-opened one eye apathetically, then closed it.
Ian retrieved his shirt, and after using it to wipe the seat, threw it onto the road. He walked to the back of the truck, pulled open the truck cap door, and climbed in over the boxes to his packsack. He pulled out a clean shirt and struggled into it in the confined space. He shivered. The air seemed cooler than it had earlier in the day. He extricated a heavy jacket and a clean pair of jeans from the rest of his belongings and dragged it behind him as he climbed out of the truck.
He pulled off his boots, setting them on the tailgate, and wriggled out of his jeans. He bundled his soaked jeans and underwear into a ball and after a moment's thought, threw them onto the road. Standing on the highway, he quickly slipped into the clean pair of jeans, then sat on the tailgate to pull on his boots, a growing sense of urgency nagging at him.
As Ian walked back to the cab, he could feel someone watching him. He stopped and shrugged into his jacket. As he buttoned it up, he gazed nervously into the line of trees along the road, trying to control his inexplicably growing paranoia. With a last furtive look down the road behind him, he climbed into the truck and drove off.
Ian's uneasiness gradually dissipated and his stomach settled. The winding road was now lined on both sides by tall evergreens, and Ian's view of the world was limited to only a few hundred feet in any direction. He soon became absorbed in guiding the truck smoothly from one curve to the next and the drive to the lake became almost pleasant. Dog stared up dejectedly at him as Ian chatted to her. He knew she wanted to be left alone to recuperate, but he was getting away from the worst of the war and he rambled on at her cheerfully...
“...so he talked me into - What the?”
Ian jammed on the brakes and the truck screeched to a halt, almost tipping Dog onto the floor.
A police cruiser blocked the highway.
Two uniformed officers sat idly on the bank beside the road and seemed as surprised to see Ian, as he was them. Ian sat motionless behind the wheel, feeling like a rabbit caught in a trap. With a predatory laziness, the two men stood up, hitched their belts and ambled toward him. The only physical similarity between the two was the fact they were dressed in the same uniform and wore identical mirrored aviator-style sunglasses.
The larger man was fat. Obese. The flesh of his belly protruded through the spaces between the buttons of his shirt, and the seams of his uniform threatened to give way to the strain of containing the large man's bulk. Three chevrons on the shirtsleeves marked him as being a sergeant.
The other, shorter than the sergeant, was thin and wiry. He seemed lost within his oversized uniform; pulled at an obscure angle by the weight of the holstered revolver which dangled dangerously from his hip, even the Sam Brown belt he wore was too large for him.
On two different men the contrast might have seemed comical, but the hairs on the back of his neck rose as the pair approached. He sensed that the physical imbalances between the two reflected their mental states, and that together, they were unpredictable and dangerous.
Ian discretely shifted the gear lever into reverse, his left foot trembling, ready to release the clutch at the first opportunity.
The thin officer undid his holster, and Ian wondered if the policeman had seen him change gear. The two policemen split up. His hand resting on his gun, the thin man cautiously worked his way toward the back of the truck as the sergeant continued nonchalantly towards Ian.
The sergeant smiled as he approached, the mirrored sunglasses shielding his eyes. Ian's uneasiness grew as the sergeant came alongside the truck.
“Where you goin' buddy?” the cop asked in a menacingly friendly tone.
“Uh... up the road to the lake,” Ian answered nervously.
The sergeant leaned with both elbows on the truck door, his intimidating bulk filling the open window. “This road is closed,” he growled brusquely, “No civilian traffic allowed.”
“I didn't see any signs,” Ian replied defensively, instantly regretting the tone of his voice.
The big cop laughed.
“Well, we didn't have time to make one up,” the sergeant said sarcastically. The man's attention was drawn to the boxes stacked against the rear window of the cab, and his smile broadened, revealing two gold front teeth.
“Well, what have we here?” he asked Ian with unsettling pleasantness. At the same moment, the truck swayed as the tailgate opened, and the thin officer let out a long impressed whistle.
“Hey come and take a look at this,” the thin cop called to his partner. “We really hit the jackpot with this one!”
The big man took a step backward from the truck to pull out his gun, and told Ian to get out of the truck. Ian hesitated, knowing no matter what he did, he was going to die.
The big man lost his temper, and stepped forward, reaching through the open window for the inside door handle.
Ian was blinded by a sudden flash of brown and black, and the sergeant yelled as Dog bit into his arm. Snarling, she shook the big man's arm with a frightening ferocity. The man tried to pull his arm free, but it was at an awkward angle. His gun banged on the roof of the cab as he tried to get more leverage.
Ian popped the clutch. The truck shuddered as the rear wheels spun wildly on the asphalt, then leapt forwards as the tires bit into the road. The side mirrors slammed into the sergeant and spun him around. Ian heard a snap as Dog lost her grip on the man's arm, and the policeman was thrown violently sideways from the truck.
Ian didn't have time to think about what he was doing. He acted on reflex. He grabbed Dog by the scruff of the neck to stop her from jumping through the window after the sergeant. In a frenzy, she snapped at Ian, gashing his arm, and he threw her roughly onto the floor. He jammed the gearshift into first, and the rear wheels squealed madly as the truck lurched forward. The rearmost row of boxes toppled from the back of the truck, crashing onto the road, and Ian glanced behind him as the thin cop shouted in surprise.
The truck smashed into the back of the police car. The cruiser bounced sideways from the impact, and the truck careened into the ditch, spitting dirt from its rear tires. Ian spun the steering wheel frantically, and more by luck than skill, the truck bounced back onto the road.
Ian dropped into second gear, and the truck howled down the highway. He heard a thump from the back of the truck and glanced into the rear view mirror. The thin cop was hanging onto the truck, his legs dangling over the edge of the tailgate.
In his frantic efforts to pull himself into the truck, the policeman pulled loose a couple of boxes. They split open as they fell, spilling cans of soft drinks that exploded as they hit the asphalt.
In the distance, Ian caught a blur of movement. The sergeant was behind the wheel of the police car. It spun violently towards Ian, rear tires screaming and spewing smoke. The roof lights and siren came on as the big cop began the chase.
The cruiser gained rapidly on the truck even though Ian had his foot pressed to the floor. Within seconds, the police car was alongside him. Ian edged towards the cruiser and the two vehicles touched fenders and bounced apart. Ian almost lost control of the truck. He desperately tried to keep it on the road. The cruiser slammed heavily into the side of the truck. The cop clinging to the back of the truck screamed and the patrol car backed off. Ian glanced in the rear view mirror. The thin policeman crouched on the tail gate, gestured to the sergeant in the car, and the sergeant nodded. The car pulled in behind the truck, and the thin cop, steadying himself with one hand on the oil drum Ian had filled with extra gasoline at Sam's, reached for his revolver.
Ian jerked the steering wheel and the truck swung wildly, throwing the thin cop off balance. The man started to fall backwards, and clawed desperately at the oil drum. For a moment it seemed the policeman had regained his equilibrium, but his weight slowly tipped the oil drum backwards.
Ian depressed the accelerator.
The oil drum, and the man clinging to it, rolled lazily off the tailgate and under the cruiser. A huge ball of flame billowed out from under the cruiser and the car left the ground, slowly tipping over on its side, trailing flames behind it. Ian stared in amazement as the front end of the car touched the ground and the vehicle flipped end over end until it plowed to a halt, upright, on the road bank. The instant the cruiser came to a stop, it exploded into flames.
Ian brought the truck to a screeching halt. He stuck his head out the window and stared open-mouthed at the wall of flame spread across the road. He turned the truck around and faced the inferno. Ian's heart thudded painfully against his ribs, and his hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel. Desperately, he wished both policemen dead. He knew he wouldn't stand a chance against them in a shootout.
The doctor's revolver!
Ian wondered why he hadn't thought of using the gun when the police had first stopped him. It had been on the seat beside him all that time. He looked down.
It was gone. A flash of disbelief filled him until he realized it must have slid off the seat during the chase.
He looked on the floor. Dog lay in the corner. She rolled on her back in a gesture of supplication and Ian patted her reassuringly on the head, but he was preoccupied with finding the gun. He rummaged through the debris on the floor and Dog struggled onto the seat to get out of Ian's way.
She had been lying on the gun.
Ian grabbed the revolver and sat up. He stared at the flames until the fire burned itself out. There was no sign of life anywhere along the road. He glanced behind him at the jumble of cartons in the back of the truck. Most of his canned drinks were gone. So was the gasoline. He knew he would never be able to replace it. He stuffed the revolver into his pocket and opened the door.
He had lost more than he had first thought. Several cartons had split open and their contents, mostly tinned food, littered the bed of the truck. It took the better part of a half an hour to restack the load. Of the cases that had split open, there was only enough tins left to fill two boxes. Only three cases of drinks remained. The soft drinks were to have provided him with a safe drinking supply. Once he used them up, Ian knew he would have to rely upon open, and probably contaminated, water. He didn't want to, but he had to backtrack and salvage what he could.
He slammed the tailgate shut, but as he turned to walk back to the cab, he tripped over something soft. Ian rolled over as soon as he hit the ground, pulling the revolver from his pocket. The gun was pointed straight at Dog.
“So you can walk! Next time warn me, okay?”
Dog followed him back to the cab, but Ian couldn't persuade her to jump onto the seat. Sighing, he lifted her in.
As he drove slowly past the smoldering police car, Ian stared at the remains of the sergeant, its skull resting against the door. A loud cracking broke his attention. Leaning out the window, Ian looked down to see what had caused the noise. He had driven over the corpse of the thin officer. The front tire had caved in its chest; the cracking was the sound of the corpse's ribs breaking under the weight of the truck. The blackened, still steaming skull grinned up at Ian inanely, as if it were some final joke it had planned. The corpse's forearm stuck up in the air, its hand raised in a blackened claw, and in a last wave goodbye, it collapsed, falling apart as it hit the ground. An involuntary shiver ran along Ian's spine.
He drove on, searching the road for tins and boxes. Progress was slow and laborious, and his efforts yielded a quarter of the supplies he had lost. He could only collect those cans that remained intact.
Eventually, Ian reached roadblock where the police had stopped him. Amongst the cans and litter, pieces of red plastic showed where he had hit the police cruiser.
“Well, Dog,” he said wearily, “Last stop before we hit the lake - I hope.”
Ian climbed out and lifted Dog from the truck. She shook herself; then nose to the ground, wandered about, her tail wagging as if she had caught some familiar scent.
The road was littered with tins thrown from the truck. Ian picked up the undamaged tins and packed them into cartons that had survived more or less in one piece after their impact with the road. He hefted the bulging boxes and placed them in the truck. As he closed the tailgate, Ian noticed two cases half-hidden in the tall grass along the roadside. They weren't part of his load, and Ian walked toward them. Both cartons were intact and sat side by side, their labels indicating they contained tinned peaches. Ian ripped one of the boxes open and pulled out a tin. Canned peaches. He smiled and dropped the tin back in its box.
He carried both cartons to the truck. As he placed them with his own supplies, it struck Ian that the two policemen might have cached more than the two boxes he had found. He wandered into the grass hoping to discover the peaches were a part of a much larger stockpile.
Ian wasn't prepared for what he did find. A body. Two bodies. The sight of the corpses didn't upset him; he simply hadn't expected to find a corpse -two corpses- at that particular moment.
The bodies, both men, lay face down side by side. One was naked; the other clad only in boxer shorts and socks. Ian moved closer and noticed both corpses' arms were handcuffed behind their backs. Discarded clothing lay scattered around the bodies. Ian picked up a faded blue denim work shirt. A cloth tape marked with stenciled numbers was sewn over the breast pocket. He let the shirt slip from his fingers, deciding to leave.
He looked around for Dog. She had disappeared. Ian called her and heard the sound of movement in the underbrush from the woods bordering the road. He peered into the gloom amongst the trees.
“Dog?” Ian called anxiously. He was suddenly afraid to shout for her, or to make any noise at all. Ian groaned. He wanted to leave quickly, but couldn't leave without Dog. He would have to go into the woods and get her.
An old rutted and overgrown trail lead from the road into the woods. He slid the revolver from his pocket, and with a sense of foreboding, cautiously followed the track into the trees. Every muscle in his body tensed, and Ian held the gun nervously with both hands. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom of the forest, Ian caught a glimpse of something white ahead of him.
Dog barked. Ian froze, listening. Dog barked again, and started forward, one step at a time, pausing between steps to wait for a noise. Any noise.
There was none. Ian focused on the white object ahead of him.
It was a car. It sat in an open glade along with two other vehicles, a red pickup and a blue sedan. All three vehicles sat with their doors wide open. Other than Dog sniffing excitedly at the blue sedan, there was no movement or sign of life.
The strong pungent odor of rotting meat reached his nose. He walked slowly into the clearing toward the blue sedan that held Dog's attention. Dog had climbed into the back of the car and whined continuously, pawing at something on the seat. Ian reached the car and pulled Dog away to peer inside.
The body of a small boy about three years old dressed in filthy yellow pajamas was sprawled facedown on the blood-spattered seat. One arm hung lifelessly over the edge of the seat, the tiny fingers almost touching a grimy teddy bear with one eye missing. Through the open door, Ian could see the body of a woman in the grass on the opposite side of the car.
He glanced back at Dog. The killing was all so senseless. He shook his head and walked up to the white car. The windshield was peppered with bullet holes. The paint on the hood and roof had blistered and peeled. The plastic around the grille and headlights was twisted and melted, and the blackened headlight lenses had cracked open. Ian found an open suitcase beside the car; its contents, mostly clothing, lay carelessly scattered on the ground.
The interior of the car was littered with clothing and broken glass. The blistered, bloated and naked body of an elderly man lay on the front seat, half-hidden by an overturned suitcase. Ian reached into the car and pushed the suitcase onto the floor. The corpse stared blankly up at Ian, its disfigured face caked with dried pus and blood. Its gaze unnerved him. Ian backed away from the car and his foot touched something soft.
He had stepped on the body of a woman in her late twenties, naked except for the torn remnants of a blouse twisted around her neck. Ian bent down and pulled the tattered piece of cloth away. Her neck was sliced open, the windpipe completely severed.
Ian stepped back in horror, suddenly feeling he was suffocating. He gasped in an effort to pull more air into his lungs. The revolver slipped from his hand and he dropped weakly to his knees. Bile rose in his throat and he began to heave uncontrollably. The nausea finally passed and with a deep breath, he stood up.
For the first time, Ian noticed someone sitting motionless behind the wheel of the red pickup. He crouched instantly, grabbing for the revolver, but before his hand wrapped around it, Ian knew the figure in the pickup was dead.
With a strange mixture of reluctance and anticipation, he walked stiffly over to the truck. Ian had no wish to stare into another lifeless face, but he couldn't leave without searching the truck for salvage.
The body behind the wheel, a man his own age, had been shot in the chest. Ian climbed in beside the corpse. A black, visored wraparound motorcycle helmet sat on the seat between them. Thinking it would offer better protection from fallout than Sam's sou'wester hat, Ian tried it on. It fit perfectly.
The body beside him slumped forward onto the steering wheel and the horn blasted loudly through the silence. Ian whirled the gun around, almost shooting at the corpse in fear. Annoyed, Ian gave the corpse a quick shove and it toppled sideways out of the truck onto the grass.
He opened the glove compartment. It was empty. He found two packs of cigarettes and a thermos on the floor. He pocketed the cigarettes and twisted the top off the thermos. He sniffed at it. It was half full of whiskey.
He took a tentative sip. The liquid burned his insides, but as it hit his empty stomach a pleasant warm glow radiated through his body. He swallowed two large gulps and rested his still-helmeted head against the rear window of the cab. The alcohol cut into his stomach, but the pain subsided as the warmth of the whiskey spread outward. He sat sipping at the thermos watching Dog.
She was still sniffing around the blue sedan. He wondered if the owners of the car had been her family. There's no point in wondering about anything anymore, he thought. What the hell does it matter? He tossed the thermos carelessly onto the grass and slid out of the truck.
The pickup box was covered with a greasy tarpaulin held down by an equally greasy yellow nylon rope. Ian loosened the rope and pulled the tarp away from the truck, revealing an assortment of goods ranging from cardboard boxes of food to a large portable radio.
Ian dropped the tailgate and climbed onto the truck. Some of the contents of the boxes he couldn't use. There were a lot of frozen food packages. He held up a dripping carton of vanilla fudge ice cream wondering what had possessed the dead owner when he had packed it. He threw it over the side of the truck. He placed the portable radio on the tailgate. Ian sorted the load quickly, and after a few minutes had amassed a sizeable stack of food. Besides the radio, he had acquired a large toolbox packed with tools, two rifles, a shotgun, several boxes of ammunition, a long-handled axe, a crowbar, and a first-aid kit. Hands on his hips, he stood staring at the other vehicles.
Spurred on by the prospect of more bounty, Ian grabbed the crowbar and walked over to the blue sedan. He tried prying open the trunk, but the lock held fast, and he only succeeded in bending the lid slightly. He hit the trunk in frustration and perversely it popped open.
The trunk was packed with an odd assortment of boxes and cans, as if someone had packed whatever had been in their kitchen cupboard. Ian decided against taking the food because most of the packages were open and could have been contaminated. He dumped what he couldn't use onto the ground, putting the things he could use to one side. Having completed his search, he carried an armful of blankets, a handful of cutlery, and a propane camping lamp over to the red pick up and set them on the tailgate.
He walked back to retrieve the crowbar, which he had left on the roof of the blue sedan. Dog was lying beside the body of the little boy on the back seat of the car watching Ian silently. Ian reached in and patted her head gently after he picked up the crowbar. She looked up at him sadly, acknowledging his gesture with a half wag of her tail. He glanced over at the white car.
One more to go. He ruffled Dog's ears and started towards the white car. As he approached, Ian noticed the trunk lid was slightly ajar. He wouldn't have to force it open.
Thankfully, he flipped the lid open.
Stuffed inside the trunk were more bodies. He didn't know how many. The corpses registered in Ian's brain as a huge ball of arms and legs, a macabre creature with human limbs drenched in blood. The shock was too much for him.
He attacked the car with the crowbar, screaming as he hammered the fenders and smashed in the windows. In a frenzy, he spun around wildly, flinging the crowbar from him. It whistled through the air and shattered the windshield of the red pickup.
“No!” he screamed and banged his fists in uncontrollable anger on the dented roof of the white car.
“No! No! No!”
Suddenly, Ian whirled around and ran from the clearing. He raced to his truck and jumped in. As he started it, Ian revved the engine viciously. He jammed the truck into first, heedless of the grinding gears, and drove recklessly off the road. He raced along the track and into the clearing, jerking to a halt beside the red pickup. He threw the newly scavenged supplies into the back of his own truck and called Dog.
She didn't move. He strode over to the sedan and she cringed as he approached.
“Goddammit Dog!” Ian shouted angrily at her, “Get over here!”
Dog flattened herself against the seat. Ian grasped her roughly by the scruff of the neck and dragged her squealing to the truck. He hauled her onto the seat and she squirmed onto the floor, cowering in the far corner of the cab underneath the dash.
Ian climbed in after her, slamming the door. He savagely gunned the engine and popped the clutch. The truck bounced wildly along the trail and spun out onto the road. Dog whined in fear.
“Shut up!” he yelled at her, “Shut the fuck up!”
Off in the distance Ian could see the burned-out shell of the police car and the black lump of the charred corpse that lay in the far lane of the highway. A grim smile formed on Ian's face as he deliberately crossed the double line in the center of the road.
He felt the jolt of the front wheel as it crushed the skull. He slammed on the brakes and dropped the gearshift into reverse. Mindlessly, Ian drove back and forth over the broken remnants of the body on the road. He wanted to destroy it completely and remove all trace of it from the face of the Earth. In his fury, Ian accidentally put the truck into the wrong gear and it stalled.
“Fucking bastards!” Ian screamed as he leapt from the truck, “You fucking bastards!” He kicked a piece of bone under the truck, then stormed to the back of the vehicle. He yanked open the truck cap and pulled out the shotgun he had commandeered. He pulled the magazine from the breech. It was full. He grabbed a box of shells and emptied it into his pocket. Ian pumped the gun with an angry jerk and fired at the scattered remains on the road. He turned and shot at the hulk of the blackened police car.
He marched toward the patrol car, stopping alongside the burned-out shell. He fired point-blank at the grinning skull resting against the doorpost. The dead man's head exploded, instantly showering the inside of the car with pieces of bone and cooked brain. Ian pulled the trigger again, but the gun was empty.
He tried to reload the shotgun, but his hands shook so badly he dropped the shells on the ground.
With a scream of rage Ian whirled and smashed the gun on the roof of the police car. The gun broke in half. All he held was the barrel and part of the breech. He let the gun fall, and slowly he collapsed, sliding down the side of the car.
“Damn!” he whispered pathetically, “Damn!” As he reached the ground, Ian felt a soft touch on his knee. He opened his eyes listlessly.
It was Dog.
She sat with her paw on his leg, and Ian pulled her toward him. He sat hugging her, rocking back and forth, comforted by the feel of a warm, living, body. Her vitality was feeding him, replenishing the emptiness that had overcome him.
“Oh, Dog,” he whispered, tears obscuring his vision, “Oh Dog...”