The Pack-a short story
The Early Years
The early years were both better and worse. Batteries still had life in them. They provided light in the darkness. They allowed me to drive a car. Not being much of a "gadget guy," I even figured out how to watch DVDs and listen to CDs. And that was all great. I watched everything imaginable available to me on DVD -- licensed stuff -- and stuff that people had downloaded from somewhere off the Internet illegally. I was constantly searching the apartment units for new material. When I could find none, I'd re-watch previously viewed material. It didn't seem to matter much. Movies, documentaries, porn, homemade pet videos, family birthday gatherings... anything.
But, of course, the batteries faded -- much too quickly, and I was left stranded with myself and an empty screen. I experienced panic attacks. I had allowed the videos to take me away, take me away from myself and my predicament.
When the car gave out, I figured I was about finished. Using a shopping basket to haul food and bottles of water left me exposed. The car's failure came upon me as a kind of terrible surprise, although it shouldn't have. I think -- and it's hard to remember now -- but I think I had this idea at the back of my mind that something would change before the car finally quit. Without really analyzing it, I suspect I unconsciously believed that some help would come. Of course I thought about help coming all the time or hoped it would. But, when the car died, I was faced with the terrible "certainty" that no help would ever arrive, and that things could only go downhill. It was an ugly thought, an ugly realization.
Batteries and the Suspension of Disbelief
These things did not happen simultaneously. The decay occurred very gradually. The flashlights went first. Okay. I made due with candles until they ran out. So, I got used to sitting in darkness. The batteries for small devices such as DVD/CD players followed soon after. I did my best to read books but found I lacked concentration. I'd read a few paragraphs then my mind would wander. And then lastly the car battery expired. I tried switching batteries with other vehicles without success. This last failure of the batteries was like having someone lop off my legs.
As long as the batteries lasted, life was certainly easier -- and in this sense better. But, in another way they just prolonged the inevitable.
The early years, upon reflection, often seem worse because I was still adjusting and still had hopes. During that period I could never have anticipated or expected that no salvation would ever arrive and that I'd be on my own indefinitely. I couldn't or wouldn't imagine it.
Even after fifteen years, I continue to spare my ammo. I do this because I fear there are much worse things out there than the dogs. Why the dogs come week after week and bark at my third-storey window is beyond my comprehension. Well, not totally beyond my comprehension, but I'll get to that later.
Something happened fifteen years ago that left everyone dead -- everyone but me -- or so it seems. I've speculated endlessly about the incident. I'm pretty sure that whatever hit the city was either chemical or biological. I estimate that the incident occurred about 3:00 a.m. That’s when the electricity stopped working according to most of the clocks. Naturally. almost everyone was in bed. There was little traffic on the street. If the whole thing was an attack -- say from a foreign country, no one ever came in to mop up or claim territory. Was there a counterattack that left the "enemy" depleted? Will I ever gain knowledge of the exact scenario? It now seems highly unlikely.
Upon many speculations, I considered the possibility that the incident was caused by a fast-acting biological agent that was accidentally released by our own government. Still, no one came to survey the damage. Did they also all die in the mishap? I was just left to wonder.
From my limited perspective, I woke up at 6:30 as usual on a Tuesday morning to get ready for work and discovered there was no radio, no TV, no electricity, no gas, and all around me were dead bodies. It's hard to remember now, but I think I sat in my apartment two days just trying to wrap my mind around this new reality.
I started writing this journal only a few weeks ago. I find that writing helps me to concentrate, confront my obstacles, and perhaps provide a chronicle for whoever may find it, if anyone. Maybe my observations will be of some minimal benefit. I tend to believe that others survived the incident. I also prefer to believe that some survivors might be like myself. However, I have an ongoing dread that any survivors could be like the dogs themselves, completely wild, with no regard for civilized thought. As much as I crave other human contact, I also dread it.
Over the years, I've come to recognize many of the members of the pack. They gradually transitioned. In the beginning, I'd see all sorts of fluffy mutts, but slowly they either died off or were replaced with better hunters. I don't know dog breeds, but the latest bunch appear to be the offspring of a one-time alpha dog and female. They certainly look more ferocious, with their long legs and big jaws. Their numbers seem to remain consistent -- about 25 individuals of various age. I think I've figured out who the alpha dog might be. But even after three generations, why do they keep returning? They seem to know that there is an intruder in their territory and want to be rid of him.
When I shoot at the dog pack, I normally aim at the fellow I think is the alpha dog. I always miss and end up bringing down three or four errant followers. On a few occasions, I brought down more -- just to curtail their attacks. A dog pack is really, really wild, and I'm not even sure how much the alpha dog has control over them. Once they are in an attack mode, it takes a lot to deter them.
Cumulatively, their losses have been tremendous, and I cannot help but think that the pack has some kind of vendetta. Yes, sort of like Moby Dick against Ahab. I really have to believe they want me for more than my meat -- or so it would seem. When they exit my street, I don't know what is sustaining them. They must have some unknown source of food beyond my purview. But, why do they keep returning to an essentially empty sector of town? Why would they put forth this kind of unrelenting energy unless it was for me? And that makes no sense. For a pack of 25 dogs, I'd be no more than a nibble. From the little that I understand, they just want to clear out their territory -- even if it consists of one single human survivor.
It has been fifteen years since I pulled all the dead bodies out of the apartment building in which I'm living. Can dogs remember a fifteen-year-old feast? I doubt it. And I'm not even sure they dined on the bodies. There are wolves too. I hear their howling at night. I've never seen a single dog actually pulling a body apart. At night I cannot tell what the wolves may do. They don't show themselves during the day. Is it because of the dogs? Dogs or wolves, they do a neat clean-up job. By the next morning, very little is left.
In any event, the dogs have made my life a nightmare.
Normally, I stay caged up in my third-storey apartment building, but I have to go out on a regular basis.
The plague, the virus or whatever spared me, but as a living organism, I still have to go out for food and water.
There is a fire hydrant about four blocks from my building that continues to gush what seems to be drinkable water. Where, why, how this water keeps emerging has kept me in suspense for most of my fifteen years of living alone.
Once I had consumed all the bottled water in the nearest supermarket, I began to depend on this unfathomable spigot. I now rely totally upon this one source for drinking and minor bathing.
Someone, fifteen years ago, drove his SUV into the hydrant with sufficient force to cause it to spew what seems like an endless supply of fresh water. The leakage is not a torrent but more like a non-stop shower. So, I go there to fill up my bottles, and douse myself -- when the weather is warm enough. That is to say, I let the spray cover me. Sometimes I'll bring along a bar of soap. But, this is no hygienic euphoria because I'm constantly on guard of the dogs. I never remove my shoes or clothing. Sometimes while in this routine, the dogs come and I have to grab the rifle and begin firing.
Even killing off the character I suspect to be their alpha (and probably not succeeding), the dogs re-group amazingly quickly. Thus, I forfeit the scrub-down, fill the water bottles, throw them into the cart and begin running.
My sphere is very small. I make no attempts to travel more than a few miles within my apartment. My fear of having to walk back to the apartment was always been paramount. Anyone reading this may think of my cowardice. Well, I have no excuses. I could have gone out, exploring for other human life, but I was too afraid. I preferred my bed, my can of corn or peas, a few sips of water.
Strangely, the incident only affected human life. I've seen plenty of insects, the usual exotic birds such as pigeons, crows and sparrows, (dogs, of course), cats, rodents maybe a wolf, maybe a coyote.
Whatever it was that hit us was designed to wipe out human life exclusively. The other life forms left behind are flourishing. I leave my door open for the cats to keep the mice and rodent population at a minimum. The cats are all feral, and I wouldn't even attempt to pet one of them, but they are quiet and go about their duty in a stealthy manner. I think a large population of them live under the building but cannot be certain. I'm convinced that whoever/whatever wiped out our species was very specific and selective. I have even contemplated that the incident was caused by some extraterrestrial beings, but that suspicion is fading along with many other suspicions.
Why I survived and no one else (apparently) is becoming less and less of a concern. I'm sure there is a reason for it, but the biology would probably be beyond my comprehension.
While I lay on my bed, sweating, I really don't think of much of any significance. Sometimes a piece of music gets stuck in my head and I keep repeating it over and over. Sometimes, I remember episodes of movies or television. Sometimes I think about my childhood and school and the various bullies. Sometimes I think about work-related situations. It's strange. Even after fifteen years, I can sometimes find myself awakening from a dream -- a dream that required sudden action. My arm will move, and I'll awaken.
The summers are hot and the winters cold. If I were more mechanically inclined, I would drag a generator up to my room and and connect it to either a heater or some air conditioning device. I went to a hardware store and looked at a generator. How it operated seemed obscure to me. It also looked extremely heavy. Thus, during winters, I just cover myself with layers of blankets. During summers, I lay almost naked on my bed. I sometime wet towels and toss them over my body. During winters I could (and should) move to an apartment that at least offers a fireplace for warmth. But, I'm not about to make any changes even for my own betterment. From my apartment window I have a birds-eye view of what's happening on the street below. Sometimes I can see the dogs clustering. I change my patterns -- just as they change theirs. More importantly, if someone or something else parades up the boulevard, I can see it.
I don't find myself thinking or dreaming about yummy foods that are no longer available -- ice cream, hamburgers, steaks, etc., I don't even miss companionship very much. Not now. I go through periods. Sometimes, I think I think I'll go mad if I cannot find a woman companion, but it fades. Even the idea of a male friend doesn't plague me. I'm getting along fine without either.
What sometimes starts to really stab at me is a sense of boredom. You can only sleep so many hours out of the day and then you're left to think, to ponder. And this is when the claws can set in. I start to think, what is the point of stirring off my bed? There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to do.
There is a library about half a mile away. I went there a few times in the early years and brought home a small number of books. I learned some amazing and disturbing stuff about dog packs, which was useful. Dog packs are indeed dangerous and will not hesitate to tear you to shreds. They are very territorial, and even a sole invader will cause them to attack repeatedly. Dog packs have a hierarchy but it's less formal than a wolf pack. Dog packs can consist of many more numbers and do not always follow the lead of the alpha dog. None of the information was comforting.
As they limited my mobility, I came to hate them and wished I had a gatling gun to just wipe the whole lot of them out. I didn't have this type of equipment, so, at best I could only take out a few members at a time, which seemed futile. They obviously had some other source of nourishment and only came to visit me to clear me out of their territory. Their persistence remains remarkable. In some odd way I admire them. In another way I detest them and wish they'd all go to hell.
You cannot imagine what it is like to have a pack of wild dogs lunging toward you. If you are basically a coward and a poor shot, the adrenaline really flows, and it takes a long time to settle down. You get back to your little niche and quiver.
I blame the dogs for more than they are probably responsible. As I indicated before, I had a certain loathing about traveling far from my home turf. Maybe the dogs had a certain amount to do with this or maybe I was just too cowardly to take any chances. I had thoughts. If there was one dog pack maybe there were others. As long as I could keep myself supplied with food and water, I didn't feel a great need to drift.
Sometimes at night there would be a breeze, and I could smell the remnants of rotting corpses in other parts of the city. This could be mixed with rotting food, and it was a loathsome experience. After so many years, the material had to be desiccated but sometimes, when the wind was just right, I'd get more than I could bear and would find myself wrapping a cloth over my nose and mouth.
On a routine water run, the dogs came and cut my collection short. I grabbed the hunting rifle and began shooting as usual. I managed to hit three dogs -- the ones that kept advancing. The rest of them lingered for a while then moved off.
One of the dogs was only wounded, but I left him.
I had to return the next day to replenish my water supply. One of the dogs was still there on the street, which surprised me. I hadn’t seen this before.
I felt a sense of pity and approached the animal. My intention was to put a bullet through his brain to end his suffering. I noticed he had a lot of bite marks. I attributed the bites to the night-time wolves (the clean-up crew, as I came to think of them) but really had no way of knowing. I saw where my bullet had penetrated -- somewhere around his front foreleg.
I aimed my rifle at the animal's skull but could not fire. The dog did not look upon me as friend or foe but definitely saw me standing above him.
I stood there a long while. He seemed close to death, totally incapacitated. Somehow, he had fended off other attacks during the night.
I bent down and touched his head. He did not snarl or try to bite me. I felt something. I guess you could call it pity. Without rationalizing it, I lifted the creature and put it in my shopping cart and brought him home. I expected him to die before I could carry him into my apartment. While on the move, I kept asking myself, "Are you insane?"
I laid him on my dining room table. Then I had a long crying session. I didn’t know what I was crying about. Was it the dog? I don’t think so. But, something in the dog’s heroic efforts to survive triggered something dormant within me -- something that reminded me of myself (I guess) that caused me to weep uncontrollably.
When I finally regained some semblance of composure, I actually attended to the dog’s wounds. I first concentrated on the bullet -- and removing it was not easy. I had no anesthesia, so it’s removal was a haphazard effort. I doused everything with hydrogen peroxide. All I had was a pair of needle-nose pliers. The dog flinched and growled several times, but I got the bullet out. The other wounds were more or less superficial. I just drenched them all with the hydrogen peroxide. With the bullet wound, I put on a bandage, then wrapped a bunch of tape around it.
I gave the dog some water. He lapped it up in his sidewise position.
I never thought “poor animal” or “bad me” for shooting him. This whole procedure was just something to do.
I awakened one early evening to find the dog standing next to my bedside. I kept my rifle in another room, so I expected the worse. It turned out to be just a moment of panic. The dog was still very weak and just stared at me.
In the morning I found him at the side of my bed, sleeping. I thought he had finally died, but when I stirred, he lifted his head. I wasn’t sure what to do. Slowly, I let him smell the back of my hand. He sniffed then went back to sleep.
He stayed there without moving. I still figured he was at death’s door but that the event was going to take longer.
By mid-day I went out to fill my bottles but went into the old supermarket and grabbed some cans of dog food -- stuff I hoped I’d never have to go near for my own survival.
When I returned to the apartment, the dog was still sleeping near my bed.
I scooped out a couple spoonfuls from the can onto a paper plate and placed it near the dog. He awakened, sniffed the contents and began licking the food. He obviously still did not have strength enough to eat.
Over a period of weeks, the dog got better and actually began eating. He never made a sound. He didn’t whine, he didn’t whimper, nothing.
Eventually, he began moving about the apartment, favoring his injured leg. He’d move from my bedside to the window. He’d look out the window, and I could only wonder what he might be thinking.
The dog would spend long periods of time just staring at me me, and this was unsettling. I once tried to change his bandage and he snapped at me, so I just gave it up. He seemed to trust me to a certain extent. He knew I was a reliable source of food, but he wouldn’t let me anywhere near his old wound.
I led the dog outside once I felt confident he could walk stably, but he never wandered far from my side. He was unleashed, so could have dashed off at any time but didn’t. When I’d had enough of walking around the block, I might say something like, “Come on. Time to go home,” and he would just follow.
During this period there were no dog attacks, so I wondered if I had hit the alpha by luck.
I had no idea what I was doing with this dog. It was a strange relationship. It wasn’t like a normal master/slave relationship between an owner and his pet. Yes, the dog relied upon me for food but that was about it. He didn’t come to me to be petted, and I didn’t approach him for any kind of affection. When he wanted to go out, he scratched at the door, and I’d accommodate him. And during this period he started looking very healthy indeed. He put on weight and his fur grew longer and more luxuriant.
For me the dog was a welcome distraction. He caused me to think about something other than myself. The dog didn’t bother me. He was a kind of reserved companion -- not affectionate or playful, but alive. Having something alive in my apartment after so many years was strange.
While visiting the local supermarket for some more cans of dog food, the dog stood still for a moment, made a low, guttural sound then suddenly ran off. I didn’t know what to make of it. But, he disappeared, and I found myself uncharacteristically lonely. Somehow, I’d gotten the impression that the dog would stay with me indefinitely, but this was based on nothing.
Some weeks later I was awakened by a low rumble. In a groggy state, I went to the window and looked out. I suppose it might have been around 7:00 a.m. My greatest hope and fear materialized down the boulevard. It came in the shape of about two dozen men and women on motorcycles. I didn’t know what to think. The group looked ragged and dangerous, but I had no idea. On a gut-instinct level alone, I was more afraid than invigorated by their arrival. I asked myself, what did I expect? Did I expect any band of survivors to meet a certain dress protocol? If they had been wearing uniforms, would I have been less afraid? I went for my rifle.
The men and women on motorcycles slowed, came to a stop, dismounted, and started gazing around them. One guy with a handgun began shooting out windows, so I had to duck. From my cowering position, I heard him (or someone) say, “Like I said, no one here.” Someone else, another voice said, “Probably nothing here too.”
When the shooting stopped, I peeked out the window. The fellow at the head of the group spat into the dirt. I heard him say, “Well, strip the joint as usual. Fill up the gasoline tanks. Yeah, probably won’t be any different than the others. Shit.”
Then I heard someone scream, then someone else, then someone else. I heard some gunfire.
I looked out and saw a huge contingent of dogs leaping themselves upon the motorcycle people from multiple angles. Few of the motorcycle people seemed prepared for an onslaught of wild dogs, but that’s what they received without any warning. And even those few motorcyclists who managed to fire a shot or two from their weapons seemed to hit nothing.
The dogs brought them all down so quickly, I was stunned. I saw a few of the gang members getting up to take aim at one dog or another, and I began to fire … not at the dogs but at the motorcyclists. I know I shot at least four of them … and I didn’t know what compelled me to do so.
The dogs ravaged the motorcyclists. Their deaths were not quick or efficient. It was the most horrific scene I’d ever witnessed in my entire life.
When it was done, I slumped. I wanted to put the barrel of the rifle in my mouth and pull the trigger. It was one thing killing dogs to keep yourself supplied with water and food but quite another to bring down fellow human beings just because they “invaded” my space. I didn’t know anything about the men and women down there on the street. They might have been savages or they might have been decent people. They could have been some weird amalgamation of Christians on motorcycles ... I had no idea. But, when I saw the dogs attacking, something rose inside me, and I … joined the animals.
After the attack, I heard a faint whining from the street below. I figured it was just one of the wounded dogs and didn't attempt to move for a long while. The whining continued intermittently. I finally seemed to possess enough strength to straighten my posture and look out the window. There was nothing left in me, so all I could do was turn my head, and I saw my dog, or I should say the dog. He was alone in the street aside the dead bikers and some dead dogs. He saw me at the window and barked exactly one time. We looked at each other for about a minute then he scampered away.
So far the dogs haven't returned. They seem to have accepted me as a sole occupier of this part of their domain. I can go out, collect my water, my cans of food, without interruption. And I'm not sure whether or not I hope to find any kind of Salvation Army or Red Cross. Would the dogs allow it? Would I allow it? In a fundamental way nothing has changed but in another way everything has changed. If you chance upon this journal, within which I confess to the killing of my own kind, just regard me as another kind of wounded animal. I'm just another member of the pack -- no better and hopefully no worse.