Buddy awoke after his brief nap and spent the remainder of the day continuing to track. Even if a human would have possessed the olfactory ability to attempt such a task, most would have quickly talked themselves out of such a mad and likely hopeless pursuit or eventually abandoned it to frustration and monotony. The thought of stopping never crossed Buddy’s mind. He approached the task with a sense of purpose and determination that only canines seemed to possess. Buddy’s entire world had narrowed to the faint scent trail and he continued with single minded focus, stopping and starting, hiding or running from the sick/dead things, slinking past, over, or under obstructions, weaving and circling back and forth to catch the merest slip of odor.
The sun was beginning to set when Buddy caught a different scent, one which forced his attention away from the task at hand. He had smelled and heard dozens of dogs since he began his journey the day before. Most were dying, slowly wasting away from starvation and dehydration, trapped in their houses or kennels or backyards when their humans had died or left. This was the smell of another dog, but one that was outside like him and close by. Another dog nearby might mean food or water or a safe place to stay for the night. He stopped for a few seconds to isolate the direction of the odor, then unhesitatingly moved off the road and towards the smell.
Nose to the ground, he ducked around several wrecked vehicles and passed a police cruiser which had flipped over on its side. A long smear of human blood was clotted across the outside door and trailed away from the patrol car and away from the road, the ripe scent of the blood mixing with the smell of the other dog until they were conjoined completely. Buddy continued to follow the smell, stepping around the bodies of unmoving sick/dead things which were scattered along the same trail he was following. Empty shell casings glinted in the grass along his route. Buddy was not visually tracking but he could tell by the scent signature the injured human had fallen at one point, even though the trail continued beyond. He followed the trail to an alleyway a few hundred feet from the road then paused, peering into the gloom. The smell was strong, but the narrow brick walls were blocking out the light of the fading sun and made it impossible to see into the passage. A jumble of the sick/dead creatures was lying at the entrance to the alley. At least three of them had been torn literally to pieces, the rest were more or less whole, all of them were stiff and unmoving. Buddy had begun cautiously moving deeper into the alley when a low growling stopped him cold.
Stop. No closer, little dog.
Buddy began to back away from the entrance, stumbling over the bodies of the sick/dead things. He could hear canine footsteps on the broken pavement coming towards him and could sense a dangerous change in the air. Running was pointless. He stopped and waited, heart pounding, head and tail tucked submissively, a dribble of urine puddling underneath him on the asphalt. The source of the growling came slowly into view, illuminated by the dull red glow of the sunset.
Dogs don’t differentiate between breeds, at least not like humans do. The world of dog interaction is enormously complex, but categories by which dogs recognized each other are very basic when broken down into human terms. Buddy saw and smelled a dog which was female, big, dangerous, and dying. A person looking at the same dog would have filled in the blanks with similar details but also added elements of importance to humans. The dog was indeed big, especially for a female German Shepard, and she was filthy, her coat streaked with blood and dirt. The police K9 kevlar vest she was wearing was similarly stained and ragged, and hung loosely on her emaciated frame. The dog was limping, one back paw nearly torn off, and she was suffering from dozens of other minor and major wounds. One ear flopped loosely, held on by a mere strip of skin, and her eye on the same side was missing, a clotted bloody socket in its place. Her teeth were bared, exposing her canines. Two of those killing teeth were broken off at the gum line. A search would have revealed the tooth fragments buried in the skull and spine of one of the nearby creatures.
Despite the horrific injuries the dog was alert, her posture aggressive, and her scent gave Buddy no doubt that she would be more than his match if she chose to fight. The dog WAS dying, though, and it was only a matter of days, maybe hours before a combination of slow blood loss, starvation, infection and dehydration killed the animal. Until that moment she was a force to be reckoned with. It was not Buddy’s place to initiate, but after several long moments of silence he nervously broke protocol.
Hello, dog. You are the Alpha.
Both animals knew this, it was merely a formality. In a normal interaction this recognition would have initiated the mutual sniffing and pawing and nose-bumping that any human would have recognized as basic dog greetings. This was not a normal interaction. The big Shepard continued to stare at the small dog, her gaze drifting in and out of focus.
Alpha, you’re hurt. You’re starving. You’re dying.
I must not leave my human, little dog. I WILL NOT leave my human. I will protect her. Come no closer.
Buddy’s eyes had adjusted to the twilight and he could now see a uniformed woman behind the Shepard, slumped against the wall of the alley several feet inside the entrance. She had been dead for weeks, but her pistol was still locked in her grasp. Dried blood covered her legs. Buddy was puzzled.
Alpha, the human is dead.
The human is mine to protect, little dog. I WILL protect her!
Buddy suddenly realized the dog was delirious, either unable or unwilling to realize the woman had died. He could feel fevered emotions pulsing off the dog, shimmering like a mirage. The combination of scent and energy baking from the dying animal played like a ghostly movie in Buddy’s subconscious.
…the squad car swerves violently, flipping on its side and skidding to a stop. The dog crawls from the wreck uninjured. The human isn’t so lucky. Jagged metal from the twisted door frame has torn a huge gash in her thigh, the severed artery pumps bright red fluid. With shaking, blood-slicked hands she has twisted her belt around her leg, pulling it as tight as possible to try and stop the hemorrhaging. She staggers from the car, the dog following closely. Dozens of the creatures are already moving their way. The next few minutes are a haze of gunfire and snarling, biting fury. The woman has fallen, still firing, the dog is now dragging her by her vest. The sick/dead things are still coming. The woman and the dog are in an alley, hemmed in by another car wreck which blocks their exit. The woman’s scent is rage and death. She is still trying to shoot, but her hands are numb, fingers refusing to work. Her pistol locks open, empty. Her head slumps. The sick/dead things move in. The dog backs up to the dying police officer, turns towards her and gently licks the woman's face a single time, then spins back again and launches herself at the shambling creatures…
Both dogs continued to stare at each other. Finally, the Shepard seemed to have a brief moment of clarity.
You should leave this place, little dog. The sick/dead things are all around. I can’t protect you both. You should find someplace safe.
I’m trying to find my humans, Alpha. My humans left me.
The bigger dog paused as if searching for a recent memory.
Follow the road, little dog. I’ve smelled humans on the road. Your humans might be with them. Be wary. The sick/dead things are attacking everything now. THEY can smell US.
Thank you Alpha. Goodbye.
Goodbye, little dog.
The injured animal turned back towards the alley, stumbled to her knees, then slowly regained her footing. Her head was still upright, held there through sheer force of will. She limped back to the dead officer and laid back down, facing towards the alley entrance. Buddy turned and walked away, glancing back once at the Shepard as she laid there quietly, head resting in the dead woman's lap, her good ear upright, nose working, searching for danger, protecting her human to the end. The vision faded away in the dark.
Buddy spent the night curled up in the tall grass underneath the loading dock of an abandoned factory. His tail covered his nose. His sleep was dreamless.
Holmes: "You have arms, I suppose?
Watson: "Yes, I thought it as well to take them."
Holmes: "Most certainly! Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions..."
- The Hound of the Baskervilles