Dog of the Dead
The scattered screams from countless survivors took him places.
Like distant sirens, these screams beckoned Quigley far beyond his neighborhood, far beyond the quiet streets close to his home. As he departed, his heart shriveling with grief, he left behind the familiar trees, the sidewalks, and the landmarks he had known and explored throughout his brief life.
The screams brought him to downtown Sparrowdale, where the full scope of the unfolding nightmare revealed itself in turbulent strokes of blood.
As the dwindling sunlight abandoned the mountain-ringed town, the downpour tapered off to a misty membrane. Soon after, it stopped altogether. The rainy evening gave way to the darkness, which inched its way through the chaotic streets, peppering glossy shadows around the glowing fringes of Sparrowdale’s flickering, yellow-hued streetlights.
Quigley sprinted past dripping trees, slick concrete, shredded bodies, and ominous puddles of brackish rainwater mixing with thick swirls of blood. The large dog sidestepped these shallow, tainted pools as he darted through the gloom, smelling the contamination within.
Quigley encountered several hordes as he ran; bulging mobs of angry-hungries that swarmed like furious wasps as they hunted for prey, bursting through doors or crashing through windows with reaching hands and snapping teeth. To a fault, they ignored Quigley as he passed them. Still, he skirted these larger packs of virulent monsters, recalling how one specific creature had noticed him earlier today and defied its nature by shifting its hostility toward the dog.
He wouldn’t take anything for granted anymore. Everything was different now. Everything was broken.
Gavin… he whined, his ribs tightening around his lungs again, the absence of his human companion crushing him like a vise.
I miss you so much, Gavin.
Contrition and sorrow haunted him as he ranged out farther and farther, seeking the screams, impeding the undead predators wherever he found an opportunity.
Gavin lingered in his mind with every urgent footstep, with every earnest pant. But whenever the fresh, stabbing grief threatened to overcome him, he retreated into his rage, finding comfort in his wrath toward the angry-hungries, the vile, wicked monsters that had wrecked his life.
There was also a primal call urging him forward, the disembodied voices of generations past. The millennia of dogs that had come before him, along with their wilder cousins, the great gray wolves that still prowled the mountains and forests nearby. Defenders of their packs. Guardians of their territories.
These canine voices beckoned Quigley as if they were right there, running beside him. Barking and howling their encouragement, they pushed him beyond his exhaustion and grief.
Aside from his rage, the dog’s instinctual drive to help those who remained in this frightening world was everything now. There was nothing else that mattered.
The screams led him to survivors. Men, women, and children in distress. Trapped, injured, or hunted.
There were so many he couldn’t help. Often, he was too late to save them. Some had locked themselves behind barriers, weeping in despair at the horrors outside. They were shielded, but often surrounded. Imprisoned within their refuges, unable to escape.
Others were already bitten and infected by the time he reached them; alive, but their humanity was fleeting. Melting like ice. Their mutated scent told Quigley that they would also soon fall victim to the plague, this nameless corruption that consumed humans from the inside out, ruining them and transforming them into mindless beasts.
Still, their tortured, crippled cries beckoned him. Compelled to offer whatever comfort he could before these wretched victims faded away, he allowed strangers to talk to him, to hold him even, until inevitably, they fell still.
But Quigley always left before they came back, changed. He didn’t want to see them after they had lost the battle against themselves. It was too ugly. It reminded him too much of Gavin.
Despite these countless heart-wrenching tragedies, Quigley still came to the aid of more people as night fell on Sparrowdale.
He helped a family escape their overturned minivan, hobbling then pulling away two angry-hungries who were hammering at the splintered windows. Yapping in encouragement, he ushered the frightened humans out of their damaged vehicle. Then he escorted the foursome to a nearby apartment building where they found safer refuge among other survivors.
Quigley also saved a young pregnant woman by knocking down the angry-hungry who had hounded her up into the lower branches of a small tree. Charging in, Quigley slammed the creature to the ground, then lunged with his jaws, biting deep into the back of its neck, snapping the monster’s cervical spine. After doing it once or twice, he had realized that this was a highly effective way of terminating the infected. His instincts urged him to go for the throat, but this never seemed to stop the angry-hungries, no matter how devastating a wound he inflicted. But cracking into the bones at the base of their necks, giving a few hearty shakes for good measure… It always seemed to do the job.
The young woman had clambered down the tree, thanking the dog through choking sobs, tears running down her flushed face. She had then sprinted away to her car, parked only a dozen feet away from her impromptu perch, and sped off into the night.
And there were many more. Old, young, groups, and loners. Although they all seemed faceless to him, he charged through town, tracking them down with his ears twitching and his nose to the wind, helping these strangers wherever he could. He downed their feral pursuers, giving the humans precious moments to flee. He guided terrified people toward shelter and dispatched any angry-hungries that stood in his way, relishing the sound of their vertebrae crunching under his teeth, and their twitchy, diseased bodies as they hit the ground and stopped moving.
Eventually, though, fatigue took over, even though only an hour or two had passed since he had left behind the home Gavin and he had shared. Bone-weary from his countless rescues and fights with the angry-hungries, the tall, shaggy Komondor found himself drained, unable to run any longer.
Lost, damp, aimless, and desperate to find somewhere warm and dry to lie down and shut his eyes for a while, Quigley wandered into the sparsely populated outskirts of Sparrowdale, far removed from the concentrated, teeming throngs of angry-hungries who still prowled the commercial streets of downtown and hunted its surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Quigley slunk through the shadows along the walls of a squat one-story building sitting on the edges of a neglected parking lot out in the middle of nowhere. The building’s cool, damp stucco brushed his flanks as he rounded the corner of the structure, drawn by a glowing rectangular signpost towering like a giant birthday candle on the opposite edge of the concrete area. It cast a blinking halo of bright white light across the lot, making the desolation almost seem like a strobing oasis in the darkness.
The parking lot stood deserted except for a large, dark van. Stationed right in front of the building, its headlights beamed into the store, and its rear doors remained open wide. The vehicle’s glaring lights illuminated the storefront’s shattered entrance, which looked like it had been rammed by something heavy and determined. Broken glass and crumbling stucco lay sprinkled on the pavement, catching and bouncing the signpost’s blinking glow. It almost looked like starlight, darting in and out behind the cover of wispy nighttime clouds.
Quigley’s ears flicked underneath the coils of his heavy fur. He picked up voices ahead, inside the store.
“Hazel, I might need to hire a translator at some point down the road if I’m to keep up with your stories. Still, do keep ‘em coming,” said a man, unseen. An elderly churlish giggle followed his light-hearted statement.
Quigley turned toward the voices, although the speakers remained hidden. He stopped for a moment, sniffing the air, trying to determine who was ahead and whether they might pose any danger to him.
Quigley smelled humans. Two of them, both uninfected.
Still, he hesitated. His nose told him they had weapons with them. A staggering number of firearms. The overwhelming tang of brushed, oiled steel and idle gunpowder was unmistakable.
These strangers who were chatting behind the building’s walls… They had guns. So many guns.
The large dog knew all too well what guns and rifles could do, and the power they represented. He’d witnessed their impact throughout the evening. He’d seen survivors using them to great effect, saving lives or protecting their loved ones from the angry-hungries. But in the rampaging panic and chaos of Sparrowdale’s expanding disaster, Quigley had also seen those weapons get used against the wrong targets. He’d heard the piercing rounds blasting into the bodies of frantic, uninfected humans as people shot each other in confusion. And twice already, Quigley had watched as survivors, their pheromones surging with hot, heavy despair, had turned their weapons on themselves rather than fighting on to stay alive.
The echoes of those terrible detonations tore through him, almost as if the bullets had pierced his own brain instead of the people they had felled.
But these humans beyond the walls… Their voices told a different story. Despite the horrors nearby, they sounded friendly. Confident, even.
One was a man. His scent and voice were young, like Gavin’s had been. There was an elderly woman with him, chattering along. Humor and intimacy colored their words to one another.
Although it had only been a couple of hours since this had all started, it felt like a lifetime had passed since Quigley had heard anything but terror, fear, grief, or hatred in human voices. The good-natured tones before him beckoned him, drew him in, and he took a few steps toward the storefront’s shattered entryway.
But suddenly, a thunderous roar bloomed in the night. A deafening mechanical wave of rumbling, rolling power crested on the horizon, echoing from somewhere farther down the long, isolated road that stretched alongside the parking lot.
Quigley’s ears twitched as the growling surge of raucous engines built, drawing nearer.
Motorcycles, he thought, recognizing the sound.
Sparrowdale was a popular destination for motorcyclists. They loved touring the endless, winding mountain roads at this time of year, often stopping in town to see the sights, or to rest from their nomadic travels. But this was more than just a few motorcycles approaching. This was a vast herd, charging straight in, their raging motors unleashed.
Quigley’s ears flattened under his matted fur. The sound was overwhelming, dangerous. He had to get away, but there was no time. He had already spotted the piercing beams of almost two dozen headlights slashing through the night, aiming toward the building where he stood, his pale profile a stark contrast against the dark wall beside him.
There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Nowhere except…
The huge white dog bolted, charging toward the van as the motorcycles throttled down, slowing as they turned into the parking lot. Like a bullet, Quigley leapt into the van’s rear hatch, blowing past the open doors, plunging into the vehicle’s darkness. Inside, he skirted some large stacks of equipment crates, cases, and assorted containers, hiding his body behind them.
Guns and ammo, he knew, smelling what lay inside several of the containers. The vehicle was full of guns and ammo.
The motorcycles outside pulled up and stopped, ringing the van, their engines purring.
Shielded from their headlights behind the crates, Quigley dove, squirreling his colossal body underneath a towering, jumbled pile of mover’s blankets. Although his tail and snout peeked out from beneath the soft blue mountain of quilts, he lay still, surrounded by rolling thunder. His nostrils filled with the idling motorcycles’ exhaust fumes, along with the newcomers’ leathery sweat, their adrenaline, and the sharp scent of the countless firearms surrounding him.
Quigley listened as the anxious voices of the two strangers inside the store clashed with the husky tones from the motorcyclists. There was caution in those tones, he sensed. Stress, defensiveness, and territorial posturing.
And yet, despite the imminent danger enclosing him, exhaustion took over the dog’s mind and body. Concealed within the heavy mound of blankets, his breathing slowed, and his eyelids grew heavier and heavier.
He was just so comfortable right now. Finally. Warm, sheltered, and forgotten.
He could ignore what was happening outside for a moment, he decided. These odd, rowdy humans… They could do whatever the heck they wanted to do to each other, and just let him drift away, unseen.
Quigley would rest now. For a while, at least, he would allow himself to dive into a calm void, a peaceful space where there was no more guilt, fear, rage, or grief.
The strangers outside talked, their muffled voices rising and falling like the surf. And as a deep, dreamless sleep took hold of Quigley’s mind and body, the noises outside the van faded away. And with them, his raw, painful memories from the hours past also disappeared into the ether.
Quigley slept, his low snores muted by the thick blankets and the rumbles of the motorcycle engines.
The large dog didn’t even stir when, a few moments later, the van’s heavy doors clapped shut behind him, and its engine roared to life.
QUIGLEY’S ADVENTURES WILL CONTINUE IN UPCOMING ZOMBIE VALE NOVELS