A Boy and a DogA Story by Stan
A post-apocalypse story
A Boy and a Dog
by Stan Morris
Buster was searching through his pockets for the piece of gum he had found under the passenger seat of the old Nissan Leaf, so Ferris saw the boy first. There was no way to tell what brand of gum it was, the letters had long vanished from the paper wrapping. Buster had offered to share, but Ferris didn't like vestiges of the past to reminded him of what he had lost. His wife had chewed gum whenever her plane was landing. He couldn't remember whether or not his little girl had liked gum, and now he would never know.
"Here, Fordog," Ferris heard, and when he glanced to his right, he saw the boy toss the small blue rubber ball forward onto the ground, and he saw the dog chase it.
The boy looked to be about ten or eleven; his high pitched voice suggested that he hadn't hit puberty yet. He had short sandy hair that looked like it had been shortened with a knife and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks. He was smiling at the dog, a mongrel, mostly shepherd, whose fur was the color of dark honey. The dog raced after the blue ball, grabbed it in the strong jaws, and carried it back to the boy.
The dog got a quick pat on the head as it placed the ball in the boy's open palm. The ball was tossed again and retrieved with the same speed, and Ferris could see by the absent minded swing of the boy's legs and the casual way he held out his hand that the two had played this game a million times. It wasn't unusual to see a boy playing with a dog, and sadly, it wasn't unusual nowadays to see the AK-47 slung over the boy's shoulder. A backpack lay at his feet.
Turning away from the boy who was tossing the ball again, Ferris saw his captain approaching.
"Captain Adams," he acknowledged on behalf of his comrade-in-arms and himself, for he knew Buster was unlikely to speak to anyone other than Ferris.
"How'd it go out there, men?" the captain asked, but all three knew he was speaking to Ferris.
"No news, sir. We didn't see any sign of scavengers, and we didn't find more than a few dead bodies, thank goodness."
Captain Adams nodded. "No news is good news."
There was a squeal of laughter and a bark from the side, and the men turned to see the dog jumping onto the boy and licking his face. The boy laughed again and grabbed the dog around the neck, so he could hug the beast.
"Where'd he come from, Captain?"
Captain Adams shrugged. "Don't know. Just wandered in yesterday from the north. Says his name is Syd. Couldn't get him to say anything about his kin, or maybe he doesn't know what happened to them."
"And the dog was with him?"
"Yep. They're a pair, all right. Calls the dog, 'Fordog.'"
"Easy to remember," said Buster, and the other two men looked at him with surprise on their faces. Buster didn't say anything else, so the men turned their attention back to the boy.
"He bring the weapon with him?"
Captain Adams nodded. "Knows how to use it, too. I watched him take it apart and clean it last night. Stripped it in a minute flat."
Ferris nodded. Although he had not seen the boy shoot, the kid's familiarity with his weapon told him that the boy was probably capable of sighting and hitting a target. The only question was, what kind of targets had he shot at?
"I was hoping you men would take him along tomorrow. Keep an eye on him. I'd like you to walk the arroyo beyond the road to the northeast. Should be safe enough."
Ferris scratched his bald head and looked at Buster. Their eyes met, and then Buster turned to study the boy and the dog. A bleakness crossed Buster's face causing the wrinkles around the older man's eyes to deepen, and then bleakness changed to resignation, and he nodded.
"Okay, Captain," Ferris said. "We'll take him."
But when they approached the boy, the dog suddenly took notice of them. It jumped between them and the boy, faced them with its long mouth slightly opened and showing its sharp teeth, and it growled low in its throat, its snout thrust forward. Its growl, one long continuous note of warning, continued until they stopped and then it barked twice. The boy looked up at the men and waited.
"Here now, we ain't trying to hurt your master," Ferris said to the dog, annoyed at the sudden rush of fear spreading through his body. He had never liked dogs, much.
After staring at the men for a long moment while squeezing the ball in his hand, the boy said with tender praise in his voice, "Good, girl. That's a good girl, Fordog. Come here."
The dog backed up to the boy and stopped growling, but it still watched the men with the same alertness. The boy put his arm around his dog's neck and hugged him. The dog relaxed and let out a whimper.
"Syd? That's your name. Syd?"
The boy nodded.
"Short for Sydney?"
The boy just stared at the two men and stroked his dog along the side of its honey colored fur.
"Well, look here, Syd. Captain Adams wants us to take you with us tomorrow. We're going out on patrol. Nothing serious. Come with us to our bivouac, and we'll see that you get fed. Your dog, too."
After a moment, the boy nodded and grabbed his backpack which clanked from the sound of metal inside. He slung the backpack over one shoulder, slung the rifle over the other shoulder and followed the two men. The dog brought up the rear.
By the light of an LED lamp powered by the battery connected to their solar panel, they ate in silence, the boy making sure that the dog was fed first. When they were finished the boy broke down his rifle and inspected it. It was clean from the previous night's cleaning, but the boy inspected each piece and oiled those pieces that could use the viscous fluid, and then he reassembled it. When he was finished, he fished out several magazines from the backpack and examined those. Ferris could see his lips move as he counted the bullets. When the light from the lamp dimmed, the men climbed into their small two man tent while the boy and the dog curled up in a blanket retrieved from the backpack.
Ferris rose at first light, shivering from the cold. He glanced enviously at the boy snuggled against the dog, the green wool blanket wrapped tightly around both. The dog probably smelled a bit, but the shared warmth may have been worth the smell.
After a breakfast of oatmeal in goat's milk and slathered with wild honey, the men, the boy, and the dog walked northeast on the road leading away from the small New Mexico town. At one time this had been the main route to Portales, but a big highway had been built long ago and even though it was also deserted, it was newer than this old road which had large chunks of asphalt missing. Anyone traveling on this road would be coming slowly, so the patrols would have time to leave the road and hide.
The land was desolate and barely adequate for grazing. The aquifer was a lot deep than in the basin to the south. Wells had been expensive back when they were still being dug. Spindly sagebrush and a few species of cacti dominated the arid landscape, among which were expensive brick homes, long since abandoned and looted, no longer safe to live in even if they had ever had good water. A few older wood plank homes, the white paint long since faded to bare wood, still had windmills standing next to tanks partly filled with stagnant water; these homes had been abandoned also. Scavengers and the pandemic had seen to that.
The town was a hundred seventy miles from the nearest major city, a pittance back in the days when people flew in planes. Now the nearest villages were reached by horse drawn carts or by using oxen, but most of the villages had also been abandoned due to small gangs which had looted the villages and killed the inhabitants, only to be killed themselves by militia from the larger towns. Ferris and Buster belonged to the militia in their town. They were not originally from this town, they were simply two survivors from a small destroyed village to the south.
As they traveled the boy toss the ball ahead of them and each time the dog ran to retrieve it. Sometimes the boy simply tossed the ball up a foot or so and caught it, and when he did so, the dog watched and waited eagerly, tensing each time the boy tossed the ball into the air. It would whine in frustration, until the boy finally threw the ball ahead, and then the dog scrambled for it. The boy and the dog played the game as they walked.
When they came upon a dry river bed, an arroyo, they carefully stepped sideways down the bank until they reached the sandy dirt at the bottom, which was much easier to traverse than the broken land above. The arroyo led to the slow flowing brown river in the east that ran from north to south, and the cutting passed through a line of low rises. They had no particular destination. This was just a patrol. Sometimes they passed a dead desiccated body, and when they did so, they stayed close to the opposite side, avoiding the flies. A sudden breeze raised acrid tasting dust.
They had walked a mile along the streambed and had entered a wash bordered by high slopes on either side when they heard voices ahead, but before they could even begin to look for a hiding place or for firing cover among the boulders and brush along the sides of the streambed, a woman dashed around a bend and ran toward them. She did not spy them at first; her head was lowered as if she was weak or out of breath, and her arms flailed at her sides. She wore a long open skirt, but she was bare from the waist up. She was emaciated, her ribs showing easily, but she was using every ounce of her meager strength to run, and she was so dazed by her effort and distress, she did not spy them until she was barely twenty yards away. When she did see them, she stopped short, amazement on her face first, and then disbelief at her misfortune, and finally resignation. She fell to her hands and knees and waited.
Buster and the boy were hastening toward a downed cottonwood laying across a boulder at the edge of the wash, and the dog followed the boy. Ferris started to follow the dog, but he stopped when the woman fell. He could hear voices in the distance; they sounded angry, and they were calling someone, but he could not make out the name. He ran toward the woman, but even when he reached her side, she did not look up, her head remained lowered, hidden by her long brown hair.
Ferris grasped the woman, barely more than a teenager he realized, and yanked her to her feet. She sobbed when he did so and feebly tried to pull away. Ferris urgently forced her across the streambed until they were behind the cover where the others waited. Soon they heard the voices and the stamp of feet.
"Norma," Ferris heard a voice mockingly drawl in a manner he remembered from when people gathered at ball parks and harassed the visiting team. "Norma, you come back here. What are you running for, girl? You know, you're better off with us."
Seconds later a group came into view. There were seven in all, five men and two women dressed in ragged clothing and carrying various types of guns and rifles. Three of the men appeared to be in their forties or older, the other two were younger. One of the women had streaks of grey in her hair, but the other one was probably in her mid thirties. When Ferris stood and fired a bullet several yards in front of the party, the women screeched and the men yelled and cursed. They ran behind some rocks and brush that had spilled out into the streambed. Ferris ducked behind his own cover and a few seconds later a bullet whizzed by.
"Who's out there?" he heard a voice say. "Show yourself. Have you got Norma?"
The girl partly raised herself, and yelled, "I ain't going back there, Lonnie. You have beat me up for the last time."
Ferris cursed and pulled her down to safety. Buster shook his head and looked worried. The boy seemed unaffected by the whole ordeal. He took out his rubber ball and began to toss it upward for a foot or so before catching it. The dog noticed and tensed, his snout trembling with anticipation. The boy failed to catch the ball once and it dropped to the sand. When Buster reached for it, the dog snarled loudly and snapped at the man's hastily withdrawn hand.
"Whoever you are, that girl belongs to us. Give her back, or we'll take her back. You'll be sorry, if we do."
"This girl is under the protection of the city militia," Ferris yelled. "If you have a complaint, you can take it up with the brass. Now, you go back the way you came from."
His command was answered by scornful shouts and a half dozen bullets. For several minutes, he and Buster traded shots with the outsiders. The girl hunkered down, and the boy kept toss the rubber ball up and then catching it, ignoring the confrontation. The dog's eyes followed the ball and every so often he whined in frustration.
"You got anything to eat?" the girl asked. "I'm awful hungry."
Ferris hesitated and so did Buster. They were not supposed to share their provisions with outsiders. The boy shrugged, opened his pack, and retrieved a sandwich. He tore it in half and after giving one part to the dog, he offered the other half to the girl who quickly consumed it.
The sun rose and as it did the day became hot. Ferris watched sweat drip from Busters brow and the dog panted. They were trapped in their cul de sac; attempting to leave would bring on a hail of bullets. The outsiders were not so unfortunate, and Ferris wondered how long it would take for them to realize that he and his small company could be outflanked by someone going back around the bend and climbing the high slope.
"I don't like this," he mumbled mostly to himself. "This is a bad place to be."
"Here, girl," the boy said and he tossed the ball to the dog.
Ferris glanced with irritation at the boy whose armament was still slung over a youthful shoulder.
"Can't you shoot that thing?" he asked as the boy took the ball back from the dog. "We're running out of ammo. They're gonna kill us."
"Please don't let them have me," the girl begged.
The boy stared at Ferris for a moment, and then he lowered himself to his belly and crawled to the edge of their cover. He watched and listened for sounds coming from the outsiders. For the moment everything was quiet as the two parties rested in the hot sun.
Ferris watched as the boy raised himself to his knees. He felt a flash of anger when the boy reached into a pocket, retrieved the rubber ball and started playing catch again. The dog padded up next to the boy; its eyes following the ball.
The boy stood and said, "Here, girl," and he threw the ball hard. The dog yelped gleefully and sprang forward, her paws a blur on the pale yellow sand.
Startled, Ferris stood and watched the ball cross the space between the two groups, the dog close behind it. The ball and the dog disappeared behind the boulders. The boy was not far behind; he slipped his weapon from his shoulder as he ran. Ferris heard startled cries from behind the boulders, and then he heard the dog roar. He heard screams, more dog snarls, a flurry of bullets being discharged, and then a high pitched yelp of pain that abruptly ended. He saw the older woman scramble out of the cover and run up the slope. The boy sidled past the boulders, aimed the AK-47 and sprayed the area with a hail of lead.
Ferris heard the younger woman crying, "Not me! Not me!"
The boy aimed, shot once, and the cries stopped.
Stunned, Ferris and Buster approached the position of the outsiders. The boy laid his rifle against a boulder, butt down, and got down on his knees. As they drew close, the two men could see that the boy was searching for something, and he emitted a cry of satisfaction when he found it. He stood, holding up the rubber ball and examined it anxiously as a doctor might look for a wound.
The boy seemed contented with the condition of the ball. He put it in his pocket and retrieved his rifle. He lifted it and sighted it on the older woman who had almost reached the top of the slope. He fired once, and Ferris saw the woman throw her hands skyward as her lower body jerked forward. She fell backwards and rolled several yards down the slope until she came to a rest face down.
Buster was kneeling by the bullet ridden body of the dog. The other outsiders were all dead, their bodies lying in grotesque positions, expressions of surprise on their faces, large holes in their bodies from which blood still dripped into the bitter dust. Ferris looked down the wash in the direction the outsiders had come from.
"We better get out of here," he said, and Buster nodded.
They walked back to where the girl still cowered in the brush.
"You better come with us," Ferris said.
She stood and looked to where the bodies of the outsiders were hidden by the boulders. She nodded and followed the two men and the boy as they strode up the wash. Buster fished a shirt out of his backpack, so she could cover her breasts. The boy hardly glanced at her.
After a half mile's walk, when the slope's incline had lessened considerably, the boy abruptly turned toward the right and started up the slope. Ferris and Buster were ahead, so they only knew this when the girl hailed the boy. They stopped and turned at the sound of her voice.
"Where're you going?"
The boy was staring down at the girl with a puzzled expression on his face.
"That way," he said, pointing to the north.
The boy rolled his eyes, amused at the ignorance of the girl.
"Cause I got to get me another dog."
The girl thought about that and then asked, "How many have you had?"
"That was dog four."
The girl gave the men a sidelong glance and then asked, "Can I come with you?"
At his side, Ferris heard Buster emitting sounds of distress in his throat, and he laid a hand on his friend's arm.
The boy stared at the girl, and then said, "Okay."
The girl started up the slope. When she was a few yards from the boy, he took his rubber ball from his pocket and said, "Here, girl."
He tossed the ball in a gentle arc toward the girl. Surprised for a moment, she quickly recovered and caught the ball. With a startled look, she stared down at the boy and then her expression became subdued as she handed it to him.
"I'm not a dog, you know," she stated anxiously.
"I know that," the boy answered scornfully. "You're a girl."
Ferris and Buster watched as the young boy and the older girl started up the slope, a few feet apart, and when they reached a level spot, the boy again tossed the ball to the girl. Ferris heard Buster utter an inhuman sound, and he turned swiftly, grabbed his friend's rifle barrel, and shoved it upward.
"No, Buster," he said, his voice both a command and a plea.
For one moment, Buster tried to level the rifle barrel again, and then Ferris felt his friend's arms relax. Buster lowered his head and nodded. Ferris grasped Buster's arm and turned him firmly toward the way home. One glance to the side told him that the boy and the girl had disappeared over the rise. Ferris released his friend's arm. They began to walk along the dead streambed, and Ferris tried to ignore the tears falling on Buster's cheeks.
© 2013 Stan
AboutSpeculative Fiction writer. Born and raised in California, Educated and married in New Mexico, Lived in Texas before moving to Maui, Hawaii. Operated a computer assembly and repair business before r.. more..