“For Whom the Dog Barks”

“For Whom the Dog Barks”

How many days has it been since everyone disappeared? Two, three days? A week? I haven’t slept much since I woke up that first morning. It was a Tuesday; I know that much. To paraphrase Arthur Dent, “I never got the hang of Tuesdays.” Sure, he was fictional. Now that I’m alone, it’s like everyone I ever knew was fictional.  Did they ever exist to begin with? I’m not sure anymore. But none of that matters because, I’m tired and high. Oh and by-the-way, getting high after the apocalypse? Mostly just scary. I need to sleep – getting loopy.

I woke up this morning early. I don’t know how much sleep I got. Not much. I’m sore from all the walking after my car ran out of gas. Feet hurt. But I feel a lot better than I did yesterday. My lifetime of laziness and bad posture have come roaring down on me since whatever the fuck happened, happened. Look at me, barely in my mid-to-early-late-thirties and I feel like I’m ninety-nine. Maybe not that bad; let’s not get too grim.

It was all the same up until it wasn’t. It sounds stupid, but its true. Life was normal and I was just there and part of it like everyone else and then – everyone else wasn’t. I don’t know where they went. I don’t know why it happened. I have run every conceivable scenario through my head and they all sound insane. I’m not going to play the game of wondering if I’m crazy here, because that is a brain-maze I’d prefer not to get lost in right now. Now, aliens or magic or whatever; it’s too much for me to wrap my mind around- maybe it was the rapture and I’m the only one who didn’t get into Heaven. Figures.

The why doesn’t matter. It’s whatever you want it to be. Ten billion years of human history and we never really figured out the “why” of anything. I can’t even figure out how to syphon gas, apparently. I guess I only ever saw someone do it on TV. Oh well. At least I know how to ride a bike. Need to find a better one, get a pump and some extra tubes. Last thing I need is a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Though, if I think about it, these days the middle of nowhere is everywhere.

I fell asleep earlier today in the shade of a tree. I had stopped there to get out of the sun and eat something. The cool of the shade and the sound of the tree was what I needed. I think I’ll start doing that more. Sleep in the daytime and pedal through the night. Feels safer somehow. Maybe I’ll get a tent. It’s quieter at least, not as much howling.

It was the dogs who let me know something wasn’t right. I had heard barking since getting up  and out of bed. I mostly ignored it. It wasn’t until I stepped out onto the balcony for my morning cigarette that I realized just how off things were. From every direction, dogs were barking. Going absolutely nuts. My first thought, as I lit my precious morning cigarette, was of some natural disaster; tornados, earthquakes, that sort of thing. Animals can sense that sort of thing. But as I stood there, nothing happened.

The sky was clear. The earth stood still. I finished my cigarette. Out in the streets it was the same. Nothing moved. Leaves in the wind. But the dogs! I went a few houses over because I knew that the guy living there, Jerry, had dogs – a pair of black labs. I knocked; got no reply but barking. I waited. Maybe he wasn’t home – no, his car was in the driveway. I called Jerry. Nothing.

House to house, street to street, no one was home. No one answered the phone. I drove through the neighborhood. No joggers, no kids on the way to school, and weirdest of all – no traffic. Stores were empty. As if they had never existed, everyone had just up an disappeared over night.

Confused and frightened, I did the only thing I could think of. I went home and went to bed. I hoped and prayed that I would fall asleep and, when I woke, everything would be just as it had been the day before. I didn’t stay in bed very long. All I could do was stare at the ceiling and listen to the continuous barking of every dog in the neighborhood. The noise of it made me think I was going to lose my mind! Why couldn’t they just be quiet?

Then, my stomach rumbled.

Shit, I realized, they’re hungry.

So, I did the only sensible thing: I went back over to Jerry’s house and kicked in the door. Fortunately, his dogs knew me. I fed and watered them, let them out into the front yard. Then I searched the house for some sign of Jerry. Nothing. From there I walked from one house to the next and knocked. If there was no response, I moved on. If a dog barked or there was a cat in the window, I figured out a way to let them escape.

That’s what I’ve been doing for… I don’t know, a week or so? I don’t really keep track. What’s the point? I just keep moving; I cruise the suburbs on a stolen bicycle, shooting out windows with a BB gun. And as I pedal along, I’m followed by an ever-growing pack of liberated dogs and cats. Maybe one day I’ll run into another person. That would be nice. For now though, this is okay.

BIOTANK UNIT X

Pietro felt around in the tank’s guts. With his arm fully extended through tangles of oozing hoses and pulsating clusters of bioengineered circuitries, his fingers barely reached a hard-plastic protrusion. It was the cap to the circulatory waste pan. He gripped it as best he could and gave it a twist. Nothing. Another twist and cap gave. Pietro turned it slowly; it popped loose and a burst of brown clotted blood spewed out.

Pietro cursed as he yanked his arm out of the access panel. He shook his arm to rid himself of the putrid chunks of rotten biomatter. He took a step back as the liquid oozed onto the floor and crept toward his feet.

Well, he thought, I guess I’ll go get the hose.

“Can it be fixed?”

Pietro flinched slightly, partially because he had forgotten the sergeant was behind him. However, it was mostly because the sergeant had a voice like a wheezing bicycle horn.

“Once I’ve got her cleaned out,” Pietro said, “I’ll be able to see how clogged up she is. Going by what I’m seeing here, I’m guessing you haven’t had her flushed in a while.”

The sergeant was a whisper thin lad, bald from radiation and sporting an expensive set of nu-arms named Higgs. Higgs rolled his eyes and snorted, “what I do with that tank and when I do it is my business, mechanic. Just fix it.”

Pietro pushed up the sleeves of his coveralls and went to the slop sink in the corner. Hands washed, he dried them with a ratty old towel. He looked at the sergeant, sized him up. He was the kind of runt, in the old days, Pietro would have put on latrine duty.

“I’ll have her running smooth by tomorrow,” he said, “I can show you how to check the waste levels when you pick her up.”

Higgs squared his shoulders in a pathetic attempt to make himself look larger. Pietro might have laughed had the young sergeant not had one of his titanium nu-hands resting on the handle of his shock pistol.

“Don’t worry sergeant,” Pietro said coolly, “she’ll be ready for you. I’ll forward the proper forms to your office.”

Sergeant Higgs relaxed, took his hand from his weapon and ran its metal fingers over his bald head as though he still had hair. Without a word, he turned from Pietro and stepped briskly through the open roll up door. He disappeared into the darkened streets. Pietro, sure that Higgs would not be coming back before morning, brought the door down and punched in the lock code.

A soft low groan emanated from the tank. The old machine was as much a patchwork of metal and plastic as it was flesh and blood. It had seen better days. He ran a hand palm along the rusted filter housing. This one, pitted and scarred by decades of heavy wear, looked like an original E26. If Pietro ignored the late-model blast shielding and top mounted gas launcher, this one was nearly identical to the one Pietro had commanded on the eastern borders. The crew had called her “Daphne” and considered the giant killing machine to be one of the team.

Where was it we lost her?

He exhaled, slow and deliberate to ease his nerves. He wished for a cigarette.

Pietro wondered at the jumbled memories of his war days. Years had passed since he and his crew lost their loyal tank somewhere along the Mississippi River. He felt the loss of Daphne as much as he did for any of his fallen comrades.

“Don’t worry old girl,” he said with a grin, “we’ll get you fixed up. Maybe charge that little turd Higgs double.”

The tank shifted slightly, settled, relaxed slightly on its treads.

Pietro lit a cigarette, a cherry flavored GMO hybrid of khat and marijuana, and wondered where he had left his flush out kit.

Someone banged on the rollup door. Pietro exhaled hard, grey smoke shooting from his nostrils like steam from a boiling kettle.

They banged again. The aluminum door’s squeaky rattle echoed through the garage.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” Pietro grumbled; his cigarette held tight between his lips and bobbed as he spoke, dropped ash on the floor.

He flipped open the locks and pulled up the door, ready to shout a few curses into the face of Sergeant Higgs. What the hell does he want now?

But it was not the smug young Sergeant Higgs. It was someone unknown to Pietro. He squinted, tried to make out the face. The face changed. What had appeared a middle-aged man became a young girl. It changed again and again, shifting faster than Pietro’s mind could process. A blur-mask?

Before he was able to fully process the implications of this, a searing pain spread through his chest. His legs failed him. Sprawled out on the floor, a warmth moved through his limbs. His mind was weightless. His vision darkened. He wondered if he’d see Daphne.