by Paul Antony Jones
The Nicelady was late.
Hector could tell because the light from the window was on the floor now, and the Nicelady was always home before the light fell on the big wooden box where she put all her things. That had been a long time ago, Hector was sure of that.
The Nicelady was always home by now.
Hector trotted over to the door and sniffed the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. She had left earlier than normal today, Hector could still recognize traces of her scent lingering along the passageway. But Hector also caught the odor of something … else … something that was not the Nicelady, and this smell was not nice at all.
Once, long before the Nicelady had found him and brought him home to the Niceplace, Hector hadn’t eaten for many, many days. While he was scrounging through the garbage left by the two-legs, he had found a dead-thing-with-a-tail in one of the tunnels running under the Noisyplace. He had tried all the other places where he would usually find some scrap of food, some morsel that would keep him going until he found the next little bite, but that day, there was nothing, nothing at all … except for the dead-thing-with-a-tail.
The dead-thing-with-a-tail had smelled really bad, but it had tasted worse. Hector recognized that same rotten smell drifting under the door into the apartment from the corridor. Hector snuffled and snorted, pacing up and down the hall that led from the front door to the living room. Each time he made his way back to the front door, the smell had gotten worse … and closer.
Hector was sure that the Nicelady wasn’t late on purpose. If he could have vocalized his concern he would have said that he knew this because, in the three years since she had found him whimpering and soaked to the skin behind a dumpster on 5th and Main Street, the Nicelady had never, ever, been late. She had never failed to open the door and greet him with a smile, throwing her arms around him and pressing her face into his neck while she cooed to him how much she had missed him.
And Hector would always reciprocate, licking her face and nuzzling the bridge of his snout under her chin, his tail beating triple-time against the floor, as happy to see her home as she was to be there. But, although Hector felt all these things, he would never be able to express them in words, because, no matter how intelligent he was, it was impossible to convey the true depth of his love for the Nicelady and his consternation at her absence.
Dim visions of his time on the street rose from the recesses of his mind. Memories of long nights spent cowering in dark corners as the strange two-legs — towering over him and seemingly oblivious to his presence — made their way to some unknown destination. But he pushed those fears out of his mind. Things smelled … different, they smelled really, really bad. He couldn’t put his paw on what it was that was making him so nervous, but he knew that something was very wrong.
There was a hard BANG! against the front door of the apartment. Hector gave a frightened yelp, levitating back two feet, his tail firmly between his legs. The bad smell was very close now, like one-hundred of the dead-thing-with-a-tail had been dumped in the corridor outside the apartment. There was another echoing bang, this one rocking the door on its hinges. Hector backed away, a low growl escaping from deep inside his chest. As if in answer to his challenge, a deep moaning filtered through the door.
Hector was not a big dog by any stretch of the imagination, but like all of his kind, the heart of a lion beat strong inside his chest. Despite his fear, he moved one tentative paw towards the door, chest low to the tile floor, his fangs bared in a silent growl, the hackles along his back as pronounced as the spines on a porcupine. With each step he took, the bad smell grew worse and worse, but Hector ignored it, focusing his attention instead on the small gap beneath the door.
He could see feet. They weren’t like the Nicelady’s at all, these were much bigger and they were covered in leather boots that squeaked as the thing outside the door to Hector’s apartment shuffled back and forth. As Hector watched through the thin slit, a second pair of feet appeared. These were a bit smaller than the first and clad in the same kind of shoes the Nicelady wore when she took him out to do his business at night. More feet appeared, and then more, until finally there were just too many for Hector to see. He gave a quiet whimper and began backing away from the door again.
How was the Nicelady going to get to him with all of these walking dead-things outside?
The clamorous banging against the door had steadily grown, and when a particularly loud thump caught him by surprise, Hector instinctively snapped a quick succession of barks that echoed down the corridor. Instantly, the banging on the door became more insistent. It sounded like there were a hundred fists smashing against the door. The groans of the smelly dead-things grew increasingly louder with each bark from Hector, mixing with the complaints of the cheap metal hinges as they strained to hold the door in place.
Hector scooted back as quickly as he could, running to the end of the corridor and into the living room. He turned just in time to see the screws of the first hinge pop from the wooden surround and spin to the floor. The second hinge quickly followed and the door toppled with a crash that echoed down the corridor, hurting the whining dog’s ears and making him cower even closer to the carpet. The bad smell suddenly became overwhelming as the stench of the dead-things wafted down the corridor to Hector’s nose.
In the exposed entrance to the apartment stood a lot of two-legs; if Hector could count he would have said there were at least twenty of them. But there was something terribly wrong with these two-legs. Hector knew instinctively that these were not nice people – their blood covered faces looked at him with dull, dead eyes. Some had no eyes at all and yet they still seemed to stare at him. Others had wounds that Hector knew meant they should not be walking, let alone standing here in the entrance to the Nicelady’s and his home.
These were bad two-legs!
As if they had heard the dog’s thoughts the first dead-thing lurched through the empty doorway, quickly followed by another and another; guttural moans and drool escaped from their mouths as they shambled in Hector’s direction. The dead-things arms reached towards him, hands clawing at the air.
Hector knew that if he stayed where he was they would catch him. He didn’t know what was wrong with these two-legs or why they were dead and still moving, but he understood that if they caught him they would kill him.
He launched himself from his crouching position, just as the first dead-thing’s hands grabbed awkwardly at the now empty air he had just occupied. Running quickly past the others, Hector headed through the living room and into the kitchen area. The sound of the shuffling dead-two-legs following close behind him.
The apartment was small; two bedrooms, the kitchen, a bathroom and the living room. Luckily, the kitchen also opened up back into the corridor that led to the now open front door. Hector knew that this was his only chance of escaping the things that had invaded his home.
He sprinted quickly past one of the smelly dead-things and between the legs of another, heading back into the corridor. But there were more of the dead two-legs here too, and he saw that where the front door had been was now jammed with the smelly two-legs. Some had fallen, causing others to trip and fall themselves, as still other bloodied and gore-encrusted dead-things tried to clamber over top of them.
There was no way through the wall of dead, Hector realized, even if he ran his very fastest.
That left only one place for him to go. Hector darted quickly into the Nicelady’s bedroom and up onto the bed that she and he shared each night. The scent of the Nicelady filled his nostrils, and he allowed himself a brief moment to nuzzle into the sheets and pillows where she had lain that morning before leaving him for the day. The sense of joy and love he gained from those few seconds quickly dissipated as the first of the stinking two-legs shambled into the bedroom, quickly followed by another and then another, until the room was almost completely full of the things.
Hector, his backside pressed as firmly against the headboard of his mistress’ bed as he could manage, let out a terrified whimper as the first of the dead-things reached the edge of his bed. He had nowhere left to run now, the room was full of the creatures and he knew that there was no way he would make it past them all.
A sense of dread far greater than his own impending demise washed over him: What if the Nicelady came home and the dead-things were still outside? What would happen to her then? How would she get them out? Would they hurt her, too?
NO! he barked. He would not let that happen, he could not let these dead-smelly-two-legs hurt her – he would find her first. Hector had only a second to think about what to do next, his mind instinctively knew there was only one way left to take and he took it, launching himself at the large window that overlooked the street. The window shattered into a hundred shards as he exploded into the fresh air, his momentum carrying him outward and upward.
For a few long seconds, Hector the black Labrador knew the joy of what it was like to fly, until gravity finally exerted its grasp on him and he plummeted two stories to the road below.
* * *
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Connors said aloud. He tapped his partner on the shoulder and pointed off down the road toward two shapes that were slowly making their way between the abandoned cars and deserted shop fronts. “Take a look at this“.
Connors’ partner, a tall man with dirt crusted on his cheek and over his eyebrows, raised his binoculars to his eyes and looked in the direction his friend indicated. In the three months since the dead had first begun walking, the two men had seen some strange sights, strangeness that defied the imagination, but what he saw through the lens of his binoculars … well, this just took the goddamn biscuit.
The woman, she looked to be in her forties, had probably been very pretty when she was alive, but those looks were gone now forever, ruined by a jagged gash that ran from her jawline down the left side of her throat, terminating close to her navel. Blood had clotted on either side of the wound, and the man could see flies buzzing furiously around the dried gore. Her blood-soaked clothes were dirty and torn, hanging loosely on either side of the devastating wound, revealing the gray mottled skin beneath.
But it was the dead woman’s companion that stunned the two men into silence.
The dog was obviously dead; a large shard of glass was embedded deep in its chest. Connors could see the sun glinting off the glass as the dog limped placidly alongside the woman, its shriveled tongue lolling with each step it took. The woman’s hands drooped at her side, swinging listlessly back and forth, but every third step or so, the tips of her fingers would brush the head of the dead dog limping along beside her.
The two men had seen many shuffling dead since the apocalypse hit. They had also seen many dead animals; dogs, cats, cows – Hell! These sons-of-bitches would even kill and eat birds if they were lucky enough to catch them. But through all of the horror they had witnessed, it was only ever the humans that came back, never the animals … until today, at least.
The man with the binoculars brought up his rifle and drew a bead on the two undead with the rifle’s scope, sighting squarely between the woman’s eyes. As his own finger began to slowly caress the trigger of his rifle, he saw the tips of her fingers brush once more against the fur of the lifeless dog, and for just a second he thought he saw the trace of a smile cross the dead woman’s lips and the dead dog’s tail sway.
~ The End ~
Copyright by Paul Antony Jones
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