Best Friends to the End of the World - a Sci-Fi Story
A Boy's Best Friends
One of the soldiers told me I was a sight for sore eyes. I wasn’t sure I understood why he said it, his eyes looked fine. Then he said it was discoveries like this that made him feel like it wasn’t really the end of the world.
Then they tranquilized me, and it was the end of mine.
I hate the cage they put me in. They don’t trust me. I don’t trust them. They say I’m going to be rehabilitated, but no one tells me what the word means. Everything bad happens when I’m in cages.
Mom was taking the dog’s puppies to the vet. The oldest dog, our German Sheppard, had to take a nap. Mom said she had to go to sleep, and she wanted it to be at the vet.
Mom also had all the puppies our mama dog made. The law said we could only have two dogs in the house. She’d keep the Mama dog, Lassie. She’d picked out a puppy we could keep. Both dogs had to get fixed so Dad didn’t have to pay a shit load of money to the fracking government. I knew from TV that fracking was bad.
Heidi, our German Sheppard, would go to sleep. The rest of the puppies were going to a PETA shelter from the vet, where they’d spend the rest of their lives with animal lovers. I didn't know if that was good or bad. Dad wanted to beat up the Daddy dog if he found it but couldn't.
Mom let us take Heidi into a room to be put to sleep. Heidi was put on a table and given calming medicine, her leash wrapped around a bar, while the vet, Ms. Ramirez, went to order the medicine. Mom put Lassie and the puppy Laddie in cages. They’d get fixed tomorrow. The puppies we’d been trying to train were put in their own cages. The vet had lots of cages. There were dogs, cats and even an ugly, huge guinea pig in one.
My older brothers dared me to get in one of the really big cages. I said no. They promised me a lot of stuff. Then my oldest brother said I’d get to spend the night with Lassie, before they killed her and all the extra puppies. I said they didn’t do that. They said Mom and Dad spent all their extra money on the permit for me, that’s why they couldn’t pay to keep extra dogs, too. I yelled they were liars. My mother said to cut it out.
They said that Heidi would be killed, maybe Lassie too. If I got in the cage, they’d pool their allowances and pay to save her. So I got in the cage. The dogs loved me, even if they didn’t. I got in. My oldest brother said sit down. I did. Then he locked the cage door. Top AND bottom locks. They started laughing. “What’s that for?”
“So you can’t get out until we say so?”
“So, I’m in!” I said, “Go get your money.”
My next older brother smiled. “Yeah, let’s go get it.” They went down the aisle, and I couldn’t see what happened. My mother asked them something. “Oh, I think he’s in the bathroom. Can we go home and get our money?”
I couldn’t see much except for dogs in some surrounding cages. How long would all this take? I could kind of see the narrow window up high that let some sunlight in. It started to mist up, gray like a thunderstorm, but there weren’t clouds out.
Yelling started. Mom must have got mad. Then there was screaming. That wasn’t Mom. Lots more screaming. Had my brothers started a big fight? It sounded really bad. Stuff in the waiting room broke. The gray mist became a thick greasy gunk on the window. Horns and sirens went off outside. A siren they used for tornado drills started screaming.
Ms. Ramirez, the vet, rushed into the room. She closed the door and tried to lock it. I started shaking the cage. The vet looked startled and scared to see me. “Who are you?”
“My brothers locked me in!” She looked at me like she was scared of me. “My mom brought all the puppies you’re going give to people.” She kind of recognized me. She undid the bottom lock. “You need to stay here, where it’s safe.” She started on the top lock when someone started banging on the door to the room. The top lock was almost undone when she scrambled back. There was lots of yelling and shouting. Ms. Ramirez backed away and got in big cabinet down the aisle. When she opened it, I saw dead animals. I tried to yell at her, but she got in anyway. She closed the door hard and fast, and it thumped as it closed. That was the last normal sound before the wood doors broke. The dogs started howling, the cats started screeching, and no one heard me.
The things came in then.
At first, I crawled to the front of the cage to look. Then I crawled to the back of the cage to hide. The dogs and cats and animals around me were pooping and peeing and making noise. It was so bad I threw up, but no one could have smelled it.
One of them wore “scrubs”, what nurses and vet techs who gave dog shots wore. Several of them wore uniforms of street fixers, with glow in the dark vests. They might have been those people, once upon a time. Now they weren’t. Their bodies were paler than they should have been, though the ones that had been a normal brown looked gray now. Their eyes were red like blood. Blood came out where tears should. Sometimes, it came out like sweat. They fell into the room and crawled and walked forward. Looking for something. For Ms. Ramirez. For me. They stalked the room like a herd of monsters.
Most of them ignored the dogs, so they didn’t notice me. They started to leave the room or push out an emergency exit, with the alarm going off. One of them growled at the dog across from me. The dog tried to bite it. It fell back and tried to get up, pulling on my cage. I cried out. It turned and saw me. It tried to get to me, but it couldn’t do more than shake the cage.
Heidi came running out to me then. She was a guard dog. Dad trained her to protect us. She attacked the monster. Her teeth ripped holes, and blood poured down it. I hid in the back of the cage. The rest of the monsters fled from her attacks at first. The one that tried to hurt me was dead on the floor. Heidi growled and barked at them, pushing them toward the front of the room. Then they fell on her, ripping her apart.
The other dogs howled. I cried. No one heard me. But no monsters returned to threaten me. I cried myself to sleep.
Best Friends Forever
I woke up in the cage. The lights were off, and the room was gray from light through the fog outside. I drank water from the water bowl. I was hungry. Finally, I was hungry enough to eat a couple bites of Kibble. I really hated my brothers then. I waited for Ms. Ramirez. I ate more dog food and drank the last of the water in the bowl. I got tired of waiting. I opened the cage.
I held it ready to close again, in case monsters showed up. Nothing came. I got out of the cage. “Ms. Ramirez?” I asked. Nothing but animal noises. I opened the door she’d gone through.
The closet was cold, like the refrigerator. It was dark. She was curled up among the dead dogs and cats in there. Her skin was gray or blue. Is this what a frozen person looks like? Or did she die because there wasn’t air? Dad said if I locked myself in an old freezer, I’d die without fresh air. All I could understand was that she was dead. I was alone. And all the dead pets …
I turned around and looked at all the dogs and cats that were not dead yet. They were going to get killed, die, if they stayed in the cages. I opened up all their cages. They started filling up the room, some fighting, some hungry. I went into the cashier’s corner, with the shelves of stuff they sold. She had all that super fancy pet food that Mom couldn’t afford. I ripped open a bag and poured it on the ground. They all ate! I was hungry, too.
I went into the lobby, trying not to look at the ripped up mess that was my good dog Heidi. Lassie walked with me. Her puppies were milling around. I found the small fridge where they kept all the bottled water and juices. Two dollars each, the sign said. I didn’t care. My brothers could pay for it. They left me in the cage all night, and they didn’t come back. And now I’m saving Lassie and her puppies.
Ms. Ramirez had security bars on the windows. Lots of people tried to steal her medicine, because the government didn’t let people get much people medicine. She had covers on most windows, so that people didn’t try to steal animals to save them.
Lassie started growling. That’s when I realized the front door was open. No one was in the lobby but me. I closed the front door. Then I locked it, like Mom showed me, in case any strangers might try to get in.
I found another bag of Kibble and opened it for Lassie. Her puppies were hungry. Other dogs came in to eat the food. I started to go for the vending machine by the bathroom. The other dogs started growling. I went over to Lassie, wondering if they were fighting over all the food.
One of the gray monsters hunkered in. It had thick hair on its head. Hair on its chest and arms stuck out around an old T-shirt. It had red eyes and tears of blood. It had brown circles with black dots in the middle. It saw me and started to run at me. Lassie growled, ready to attack it. I held her back, scared she’d get killed.
The other dogs jumped at it, biting and fighting. It killed three of them before the rest ripped it apart. Two more dogs died from how it hurt them.
I finally went to the bathroom, when the poop in my pants was cold. The other dogs walked around me, like a protective force field. My mother and brothers abandoned me, but I had a new family. This family cared about me.
At least the water still worked in the sink. I used all the money in the cashier drawer to get out food and soda, so I didn’t have to come back to the lobby for a long time. I slept in the cage with it locked, in case monsters came in the night.
These doctors remind me of Ms. Ramirez. They wear fancy, clean coats. They sound like they are nice. They kill those that aren’t wanted. It takes lots of bribery for me to finally tell them my name. I wonder if I wasn’t still a kid if they’d just kill me, instead of finding a family to adopt me.
Lassie’s puppies are my friends. I miss Lassie. She died one day, maybe sick. She wasn’t old like Heidi was. I don’t know how long that was.
They at first wanted me apart from the dogs, until they realized this was my social unit. This is what kept me safe. This is what keeps me same. I talk to the dogs. I thank them and praise them, and they sit and beg and fetch.
The doctors watch, taking notes on their computer pads. Dad wouldn’t let me get one until after Kindergarten tests were all E and S and yellow stars. They don’t tell me what my grades are.
I don’t like them near me, because I’m afraid they’ll put me to sleep.
I dream, sometimes, of what it was like to leave the vet. We only went outside when there was no more dog food, no more juice, and no more water from the sink. The dogs ate the guinea pig and cats before we went outside.
The doctors say the super-duper air conditioning to cut down on animal smells and grooming kept the air almost pure in the cage room. It ran on solar power or something else that kept the air clean, even when the power was off. They think that’s why I wasn’t a monster.
I finally opened the door to outside. I couldn’t see much out the window except gray gunk on the windows and smoke in the street. I just stood in the parking lot for a while, the dogs starting to sniff around.
There were cars in the parking lot. Mom’s car wasn’t there. I hated her then. She’d left with my brothers and left me alone. I hated them, too.
There were other cars. Some were smashed in the street. There were dead bodies, sick and twisted, halfway between human and monster. There were messes on the ground, like Heidi looked after being ripped up by the monsters. Did they all leave the vet because they didn’t want dogs, just people? If that was true, then I was only safe with lots of dogs to keep monsters away. And good dogs would kill monsters and keep me safe.
My father once said dogs were a man’s best friend. Heaven was filled with dogs. They are good, your friends no matter what you do, keep you warm, keep you safe, love you no matter what. All you have to do is feed them, give belly rubs and not hurt them.
The dogs had to attack one more monster that came toward me. I stopped counting how many died and how many were left, because it hurt too much. They died to save me, and my own mother left me.
Lassie loved me more than my brothers.
The doctors asked lots of questions of my life. They didn’t care about my rocket shoes, my favorite shows on the computer, Dad’s biggest swear words or my brother’s bad choices. They wanted to know about the vet. They wanted to know about the cage. They asked me about outside of the vet’s office when we were outside.
Like a kid can give them those answers. They’re the grown ups. Why don’t they know?
I hate the asking. It makes those times come back in stronger dreams.
I sleep with Lassie’s puppies with me. It’s the only way I can sleep. The doctors killed all our fleas, so we should sleep better. Should. Their questions make the nightmares worse. When I cry in my sleep, a dog licks my face until I wake up. Then I hold him or her, and I can go to sleep again.
They ask me about how long this and that was. I don’t know. How would I know? We stayed away from living monsters, hiding if we could. I tried to sleep at night in the cages at the vet’s office for a lot of nights. We’d get food from stores. Lots of their doors were open or broken. We did that until flies came in through the door and on all the animal poop and we couldn’t stay.
I couldn’t go home. I didn’t know the way home. We slept in Doctor Yackob’s office. He used to be my dentist. His office was across the street from the vet’s office. There were some dead people in exam rooms, but there were only red handprints on the play room.
He had water bottles in his fridge. He had snacks. I could smell that the yogurt in his fridge was bad. But we all ate white crackers and goldfish for a while. I put water in the piss bowls for the dogs to drink. I made them poop in the rooms with dead people so it wouldn’t smell so bad. I played with the toys. I wished someone was there to read the books to me.
I would look in the lobby sometimes, unless a dog was growling at the door. There weren’t any grown ups coming. I looked out the window a few times at the parking lot. Mom’s car never came back.
These doctors like taking some of my blood. They say my body makes more. Why do they need mine? Doesn’t their bodies make blood?
One doctor said it is a miracle I survived. I frown. Dad says you don’t talk about God in public. “I have my dogs,” I told him. “They protect me. They keep me safe.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” The doctor smiled at me broadly. “That is of course one reason why you’re one of the youngest survivors, and the only one so young to survive alone with such advanced reasoning.” I blink at him, trying not to be confused. Survivor was a TV show that had people in weird places, eating weird things.
The worst I ever ate was dead squirrel, duck and rabbit that my dogs catch and share.
I dreamed of church. It might be because of the bright lights they shined in my eyes. Or about the doctor talking about God and miracles.
The priest is up front, talking in his language to God. Dad is there. He’s kneeling, and Heidi is sitting like a good dog beside him, tail thumping out of happiness. Mom and my brothers are crying, in a fire, for their bad choices.
The priest turns to look at me and says, “You’re such a good boy.”
I don’t know whether it is me or the dogs or both he means.
I think the doctors give up. They realize I don’t know all their answers. They gave me books to read. I couldn’t read them. They gave me kid books. I said this was too hard. Then they realize I don’t know how to read. I only remember a little of the alphabet. But D is for dog.
The doctor stopped trying to find a cure, and they start teaching me to read. They give me little kid books like I remember. We do numbers, like they did in pre-school. I’m learning, though they tell me it is slow. I tell them I’m just a kid.
They got me books on Lassie, the books that gave my dog her name. One old man reads it too me. They won’t bring computer pads in here, because I might break it and the computers are precious. They can find lots of old books, especially ones no one really wanted to burn.
Lassie Junior and Lassie 2 lay down lazy-like. There is gray in their hair. They’re getting old. But the doctors make sure I get a lot of exercise.
Mr. Chan activates a mirror. He makes the lights even brighter. “How old are you?” he asks me.
“No. How old is the person in the mirror?”
I don’t know who it is. It looks a lot like my oldest brother, but these doctors shaved me a little while ago. It looks something like pictures of Dad at Grandma’s house.
“It’s a hologram,” I argue.
“Do you know what a hologram is?” Dr. Chan asks.
“They were expensive things to see at the mall.”
“We finally found recovered medical files, where we were able to get a DNA match. You are the youngest child of your parents, Isabella and Raul Garcia. You recently turned fifteen years old.” It sounds impossible. I had to think about the math. Nine years?
“What happened?” I asked. How did I get so old? How did I get grown up?
“There was a world-wide bio-warfare strike. Dispersal weapons that unleashed a plague upon the world, in hundreds of cities. You were in a town that received a direct strike. Yet you were not infected. You then lived for at least half a dozen years in a gray zone. That is an area where the virus was dormant in dry storm drains, basements, nooks and crannies of buildings and the top layer of the soil. Yet you survived. You were a mere child, without a protective suit or even protective supervision. Do you understand that?”
“God?” I asked. “Or my dogs.”
“The men who rescued you had to wear protective suits. You have never worn one. We need to understand how you were exposed and survived, without changing.”
“I grew up,” I argued.
“Yes, that is true. Your mind doesn’t seem to have advanced, but that may be due to the extreme stress or malnutrition or a lack of stimulation. We’ll work on that. Oh, if we could figure out how you survived so well, you could be the key to a vaccine.”
“Do I need more shots?” I asked.
“No. No. We can’t learn anything more from you. We’ve sent teams back to the area you’ve described to try to learn more. Perhaps it is the indirect exposure or zoonosis that permitted you to develop immunity. We’ll learn more later.”
“Ms. Ramirez is there.”
“She’ll get a proper burial, I promise.”
I don’t believe him. I don’t trust him. He sounds like Ms. Ramirez.
They are giving me second grade level books now. It is hard to learn. They say the virus altered me very little, but my body didn’t change as much as it could. I’m almost grown up in my body, but my mind isn’t a grown up. They’ll teach me so they don’t have to take care of me as much.
They want me to go back to Ms. Ramirez’s office. Show them exactly what and specifically where. Maybe pointing and talking will teach them what just talking didn’t.
I am down to five dogs. It hurts. Lassie’s nine puppies and the other dogs I saved are down to five. I feel fear that the number will go down further, leaving me alone. Really, totally alone.
I went to sleep with the dogs around me. We’re going back to Ms. Ramirez’s office. It feels good. It feels like home.
The dogs are asleep when we leave for the office. I’m told that they’ll clean up after the animals while I’m gone.
I have to wear a biohazard suit while we travel. It is worse than the haz-mat bag they put me in to bring me here the first time.
The soldiers didn’t have to kill many monsters. Most of them died in the first months after the attacks. Most monsters now are infected by monsters who fled these first areas, finding fresh people to attack. There are few monsters here, because there’s no one left to attack. Except the soldiers.
I point. I talk. I try to explain. They do not bury Ms. Ramirez. They put her body in a bag and pack it up to take back. Kind of like when I was bagged up, but with more ice.
They take pictures. They download videos. They talk about how much it had to stink, and how could I stand it.
I hate it here, for the first time. I can’t stand being here. I’m alone, in front of all these cages, and I don’t even have my Lassie dogs. “I want to go home,” I cry out. One of the soldiers puts a hand on my soldier. “We all do. We all do.”
Finally, we do.
My dogs are gone. I rip up the place looking for them. Then I try to rip up the doctors who put them to sleep. Who killed them?
I start screaming at them. Several doctors and soldiers come in. They shoot me with a dart gun. I get angry at their faces, and the blood boils up inside of me. The world goes red, and they keep shooting darts. I run toward them, slashing and screaming and tearing at them. I cannot stand to see these monsters live after seeing my family killed.
There is yelling and screaming. There are tears coming down my cheeks. I wipe at them, and I see blood. Whose? Mine? Theirs? I run after a guard, hitting and pulling. I am like Heidi, a guard dog, ripping the monster apart. I cannot save the dogs again, but I can save someone else by killing them. They bring in metal guns. It rings out, loud, and I tall down. It is dark, and sleep finally comes.
I dream of Heidi and Lassie and all her puppies, sitting around me, keeping me warm, keeping me safe, licking me with their raspy tongues. My father says they are my best friends, and it is true. As long as they were with me, the monsters were far away, and I cannot live without them.
My dogs are gone, and now there is nothing to stop the monsters.
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