I wasn’t positive or noticeably enthusiastic this day, although I felt as though I should have been, just because I was still alive. My fingers were shaking with cold and my nose was running like a dripping tap. I couldn’t take my mind off the dog in the garage, the howling and the loneliness echoed through the space between my ears. I struggled to imagine the conditions inside. I would normally sleep through the day on a day like this, but the dog was lingering in my mind. The sky was dull and grey, the streets were bleak and deserted as always and there I was sat on the rooftop like a dying animal. The dog continued to bark hopelessly. Its voice box occasionally cut out from dryness and pain, but it still barked, waiting and hoping for escape. If I could let it out I would. And if it bit me, so be it. I couldn’t stand to hear it any longer. Every time there was a pause in the barking and howling, I prayed to whatever space there was left in heaven for its death.
I gazed upon cars with open doors and the smashed windows on the streets below. Some houses were still smouldering, with more smoke than fire. Everyone I knew was no longer here. I would say they were no longer with us. But there was no ‘us’ anymore. It was just me. Me and this dog, maybe I should start howling too in the hope that someone will come and save me and bring me to a warm home. I think God left us a long time ago. I was never much of a believer. But if I was, maybe things would have turned out better for me.
Where did everyone go. It was no longer a question. Just a sentence swirling in my mind, for I already knew the answer. I just couldn’t grip hold of what had happened and tell myself I’d make it through the next night. I missed her. I still remember the warm meals she would cook. Her apple crumble was as golden as her hair. I always enjoyed deserts because they were almost as beautiful as she was. But like the crumble would dissolve in my stomach, her golden hair and good taste was now dissolving in the wreckage and the smoke. Her hair undoubtedly singed and smouldering in one of these buildings. I can’t even remember which one, which house was ours? That was my wife once. She’ll never be able to look after me and cook for me again. She’ll never wake me up early to tend to our children crying in their cots from boredom. She’ll never ask me for fresh money from my wallet to buy new clothes. She’s gone, and you can never imagine how that feels. The children are gone too, but at this time, as horrible as it sounds, I hadn’t thought of them once. I couldn’t bear to. It’s just her in my memory, bringing me to the sour ache in my throat I still endure constantly.
I do hope she is still with me wherever she is. A world where she can have everything she wants, everyone she needs, no fire, no smoke, no suffering. Why was I still here? That was still a question. I should probably just jump. But what would she think of me then? A coward. A suicidal wreck. No, I won’t jump. Not today.
The dog was barking still. I was going to try again today, one last time. The locks on the doors were giving in when I last tried, but after the slate fell from the roof, my arm was incapable of bashing and hitting for a while. It still ached, but I owed this dog. Despite the sleepless nights, it reminded me that I was still there, not rotting somewhere nobody would ever know about.
The rooftop had an open skylight I could squeeze through every now and then if I took the risk of finding something to eat. The paint fell from the walls as I disturbed the still, smoky air. It fell like burnt paper and ashes. That’s all it was now anyway. Ashes.
I made my way down the stairs. They were still solid, yet I didn’t trust them because of the way I had trusted the roof to stay intact. My arm was stiff and it hurt when I moved. Humans tend to have a natural swinging motion with their arms when they walk, but not me, not anymore. That part of me had already faded. Humanity was gone now. What was left of my own humanity was like a flame under a glass. Fading into nothingness.
The kitchen was the only area not burned. I scavenged tins and small supplies in the evenings, but the pot of cigarettes had run out which darkened my mood further. I had a brief scan around for anything of use, but there was nothing. I found a calendar hanging from a cork board mounted on the wall. It was December, I knew that much from the cold, and it was also a Wednesday, I was always good with days, but never dates. Was it really the twenty fifth already? The calendar was marked with events I paid notice to. Events which never took place like “Meet Jim at Costa- Discuss work.” Two weeks must have gone by since everything had happened, and I still couldn’t face reality.
There wasn’t a second door to the garage. Just a wall I could hear through, to listen to the chains clinking against the concrete floor accompanied by the sound of cold, worn-out paws chipping at the surface. I would have to be quick if I were to go outside. I would need something heavy, to break the lock, and to fend off whatever was out there. I still didn’t know what it was. I hadn’t seen it, but I had seen my family’s house go down in flames, and I had heard them scream in agony as their skin dripped from their bones. My only assumption was that fire had come to life. Everything combusted. Every single house and tree and person I knew blew into flames.
As I made my way outside, the cold air condensed the mucus in my sinus and I hadn’t even realised my nose had stopped running when I was inside. But it continued again. My sleeves were crusted with it. The dog went silent for the first time in a few hours. I heard no barking as I went back inside and lifted a slab of marble from the kitchen work surface and struggled to carry it back outside. It was heavy enough to break the lock, but also heavy enough to pull a muscle in my shoulder. The chains rattled and clinked as the dog was hobbling around frantically, trying to figure out what I was doing. The lock was hanging on by a thin screw now. I could actually open this. I looked around quickly before I attempted to break the lock, there was nothing nearby. No threats or nightmares lurking. I was alone, with a chance to have a new friend. Someone to actually talk to. I glanced at the rooftop as a final precaution. I couldn’t tell if anything was going to drop off and cut my head open, and I took the risk anyway. With a lift and a drop of the marble slab, the lock practically fell off. It was easier than I expected. The dog whimpered with fright from the noise, but it didn’t have to be scared anymore, it would belong to me and we could share our agony to ease the situation surrounding us.
The garage door was typically red. A rusty red, with swelled areas of paint with rust brewing underneath. The handle was hanging; semi-detached with a rusty screw keeping it there, it wouldn’t open if I pulled it upwards, so I used the palms of my hands and the remaining moisture I had on my skin to find a grip to push it upwards, grinding the rust from the bearings and almost getting it stuck as the rust clogged the passage. The dog sat there. It looked strangely healthy. It just sat there, emotionless and absentminded.
Unlike most animals, it had no look of sadness or excited-ness. It was just plain. A simple creature with no significant breed, it was like a Labrador, only it looked far more aggressive with eyes that had seen, but didn’t tell. It was largely built with black fur, which was crusted with dried blood. The garage was disgusting to say the least, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. The dog had to do its do somewhere. But that was when the smell of faeces was overwhelmed by the smell of death. It was then that I realised how the dog had stayed alive for so long.
There was more than one dog. To my horror I realised that this dog was feeding off of its siblings. Its own instinct to stay alive was to consume those it loved most. To kill or die, the dog had made choices most of people in the world would never even consider. That was if this dog was ever capable of loving. There I was thinking we could share each other’s agony, but little did I know beforehand that this dog had more of a burden than I did. Eating its own family. Killing its loved ones for a few more days of hoping.
The carcasses lay strewn around the garage floor. There were at least three other dogs, lifeless and rotting. Guts were plastering the corners of the room and blood was not hard to notice at all. It was everywhere. It stank. The dog itched its ear with the paw which was not burdened with chains. Then I noticed the bloodied leg of the poor creature. The chains had dug deep into its flesh, I thought for a moment that I could see bone, but it was just sheer horror taking over. Why would anyone chain a dog up by its leg? Why would anyone chain up an animal and leave it for God knows how long in the first place?
This dog killed and ate its own family. I wondered for a short while what the dog would do to me. It may be grateful for its rescue, but it could also be plain mad and plagued with aggression. The chain was attached to the dog by a hinge which was coated with blood. The hinge could be opened if I removed the pin, but did I really want to? I had to do something. I couldn’t help but question myself, would it be better to put it down? No. There was too much death, I needed to save this creature from this hell.
I edged closer. I fearfully held out my hand. It was shaking and moist from nervous sweat. The dog flinched at my every action and backed further into the garage with fresh footprints of sweat and the one paw-print of blood which marked every fourth step onto the dried blood which had previously been coated onto the floor. The dog froze. It eyed me curiously and I saw a tiny, tiny hint of emotion. Sadness. It came closer to me. I had not moved an inch further than I wanted to as I pondered my next decision. It stepped forwards with an occasional limp. It stopped before my feet where I stood frozen with worry. If animals could smell fear, this dog could practically taste it. The dog lifted its wounded leg and rested it on the flap of denim which had been half-torn away from my knees. This was the right decision. I knew it.
I knelt down to the creature. It whimpered at its own misfortune. If I were this dog, I would kill every human I could after what had been done to me. But dogs are far more forgiving than humans. They are man’s best friend after all. I pulled the pin from the hinge on the dog’s leg. Blood painted the tips of my fingers. I was doing everything slowly, all until I opened the hinge. It had been clotted with blood and it was stiff to open. I wedged my finger nails in between the cracks to find a grip and I eventually managed to force it off. But this action was fast and shocking to the animal. It yelped from pain and turned to bite whatever had hurt it. In this case it was me. Teeth burrowed their way into the skin of my arm quicker than I could clap my hands. I felt no pain, I think adrenaline had covered that part. But I was frightened all the same.
The dog lifted its jaw from my flesh and gave my wound a sympathetic lick. I still knelt there, frozen. I was barely human anymore. Normally I would have given a dog that had bitten me a kick, as punishment or a smack on the nose. Instead I eyed this creature sorrowfully. It gave me the same stare back and we found ourselves connecting. The dog grew more comfortable with me as it nudged its head into my arms. This was somebodies pet once. It had a family, a name, probably somewhere better to sleep and siblings too. It was probably some kids’ Christmas present which he or she grew tired of walking and picking up its mess. That was when it hit me. I remembered the slogan I used to have as a sticker on the back of my car. Today was the twenty fifth of December. It was Christmas day. A dog was for life and certainly not just for Christmas. This dog was my life. It was the only thing that had been keeping me sane; the fact that I could still do some good and help someone or something. My pain was bad, there was no doubt about that, but I could relieve the pain of others and that was a comforting thought. This dog certainly wasn’t just for Christmas. Now what should I name him?
More About the Author MJB Saunders
Max Saunders is a 17 year old aspiring writer from Exmouth in Devon (England.) He attends Exeter College, and studies English Language, Journalism and Media. Besides his most-focused-on hobby of writing, he has been a skateboarder for six years, and finds that skateboarding has taught him focus and concentration. To become a fictional writer is his dream, and he has been writing a novel since he was sixteen years old which can be found on his blog http://mjbsaunders.blogspot.com/