Thank you,enjoy something new.

This short story is set in the Immortal Virus world.  I had originally conceived this as a storyline for my novels, but never found a place for it.  Still, it was a story that needed to be told.  Please accept this as a thank you for the support and patience you have shown me.  I promise new material will be forthcoming.

 

Buddy

It had been years since the pandemic wiped out most of the population. The larger cities were now little more than ghost towns. Bird calls echoed through the man-made canyons formed by the now empty buildings and could often be heard from over a mile away. Rats and other scavengers picked through the remnants of the now dead society that had built the once bustling city. Mother Nature was slowly reclaiming the land that was once Hers, though it would be centuries before even She could wipe out all traces of the men that often believed themselves capable of holding dominion over Her; but Mother Nature was nothing if not patient.

Even after the passage of so many years he could occasionally recall with great clarity what life had been like before the pandemic. More often than not it was certain smells that brought the past rushing back to him and made him miss the people who had once been his family. But even those memories were fading, and the once familiar odors he had associated with them were disappearing from the Earth, along with sights and sounds that died with the ones he had loved without condition.

Surviving on his own had been difficult at first. He was still quite young when everyone he had known died, and he had relied heavily on them to provide for him. Water had been relatively easy to find initially, but soon the easy sources dried up, and he had to go searching for new ones. Food had been a challenge from the start. After a couple days without eating he had gotten desperate, and was ashamed at what he had been reduced to. But once he had escaped the immediate area of his home, he had discovered hunting skills he hadn’t been aware that he possessed.

He spent his first few weeks on his own. Those had been the worst days for him. He missed his family and longed to find others like himself. The world was much quieter than it had been, and the sounds of nature were much more apparent: birds singing, crickets chirping, the wind blowing through the trees. This made unnatural sounds stand out all the more clearer, and he spent many of those first weeks running from them. Fear ruled over him at the onset of his time alone, made worse by those men and women who had not died along with everyone else.

He had been overjoyed at the sight of the woman walking down the street, and that had almost gotten him killed. He rushed headlong towards the woman, howling in delight, ignoring his instincts that told him something about this woman wasn’t quite right. And as he closed in on her, she reached out, he though maybe to shake hands, or maybe she wanted to give him a hug. But then she snarled, a sound that was half moan and half growl and like nothing he had ever heard come from a person’s mouth before. He tried to pull up short, but in his excitement he was moving too fast, and they crashed together.

Tangled together in the middle of the street, he tried to break free from her, but she held him tightly and painfully in her arms. He thrashed wildly, scared and confused as to why someone would act like this. One of her hands found a painful grip on his neck, and the other suddenly had a hold of his ear. Fear gripped him as tightly as the woman, and suddenly there was fiery pain as she bit through his ear. He cried out in agony, whipping his head around until his own teeth found a purchase on her wrist. He bit down as hard as he could, the familiar taste of blood and meat filling his mouth, and the woman’s other hand released its hold on him. He rolled off of her and bolted, putting as much distance as he could between himself and the crazy woman.

His ear bothered him for days afterward, but eventually it would heal, though it would forever be notched in a half-moon shape. This was the first battle wound he had received, but it was far from the last. He quickly came to recognize the crazy people and gave them a wide berth. Most gave chase if they spotted him, but they were easily eluded. As he grew and learned how to survive in this new world, and found others like himself, these crazy people would no longer instill fear in him.

He couldn’t be certain how much time had passed since the world had changed for him, the days blurred together when every waking moment was a fight for survival, but the day he finally found another like himself had been both happy and painful. While he was becoming a more adept hunter, scavenging was still the easier way to acquire food. Though all the fresh food had long since rotted and decayed, there was still packaged food to be had if you knew where to look. His travels were carrying him farther from home and closer to the city. He had been in a supermarket and had just discovered something that he had often been given by his family when the quiet inside the store was disturbed.

He froze in place. The gloom within the store caused no fear, he had grown accustomed to moving through structures lacking any unnatural light. But caution was always called for. He slowly moved his head around in an attempt to pinpoint where the sound had originated from when a dark shape rounded the end of the aisle. The shape was slightly smaller in stature, and leaner, likely due to inferior hunting and scavenging skills. But hunger can make one bolder, and more likely to fight for food that could otherwise be shared.

This case was no exception and the shaped charged forward. He held his ground, waiting for the shape to close the distance before springing to attack. They fought in near silence, with just the occasional grunt or involuntary yelp of pain when a particularly fierce attack landed, to attest to the potentially life or death struggle that was occurring. But he was better fed and stronger, and he soon had his opponent pinned to the ground. He had sustained only a few scratches and punctures in that fight before his opponent submitted; in the end they both ate well, and he now had a companion.

As time went on, others joined their little band, and they looked to him as their leader. He showed them where to find water, and how to hunt, and they quickly learned to work together as a cohesive unit. Smaller, weaker members fell by the wayside. Occasionally others would challenge him for the lead, but he was just entering his prime and repelled any challenges fiercely and without mercy. Soon, they had a territory staked out on the outskirts of the city and they defended it with equal savagery and ruthlessness. Even the crazy people that wandered into their domain were dispatched quickly and efficiently.

On rare occasion, they crossed paths with people who weren’t crazy, but the time spent hunting and scavenging on their own had made all outsiders unwelcome, and in lean times, potentially prey. There were times when they would have to shift their territory due to a lack of game or scavenging, and they were once forced to move when a larger group invaded their turf and pushed them out. But for the most part he led his group well, kept them fed, and even expanded their numbers.

As with all things, as time passed and he grew older. He had earned the respect of his followers, and they remained loyal to him as long as they could. But eventually the younger members of the group grew to an age where they wanted their chance to lead, and he could no longer fend off their challenges. His time had passed, and after a particularly brutal fight, he found himself once again on his own.

He wandered for days, finding water where he could, and scavenging for what meager scraps he could find. His knowledge of hunting was still there, but he was on his own and his ability and speed were no longer what they had once been. When he had left his group, he hadn’t had a destination in mind, but as he looked around, his surroundings felt familiar. As he continued onwards he soon recognized where he was, and broke into a run. He charged up the steps to the front porch, but the door was still closed and locked as he had left it all those years ago. He made his way to the back and entered the house through the same screen door he had escaped through.

He roamed through the house, examining the rooms of the home he had grown up in. The remains of his family were where he had left them and a soft cry escaped his throat. Finally, he made his way to the kitchen and found the item that he somehow remembered as being the first thing that had belonged to him alone. He pawed it, disturbing years of accumulated dust, gave it a sniff, and then lay down next to the bowl with the word “Buddy,” printed on the side. And with a last, soft whimper, his eyes fell shut.

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About scottamehlman

Scott A. Mehlman was born and (mostly) raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Having earned both a BS and an MBA, Scott has tried his hand at a variety of jobs without finding one that truly satisfied or engaged his creative impulses the way writing does. He has published his first novel, The Immortal and The Dead, which is the first book in The Immortal Virus trilogy and continues to work on the JAEGER e-book series.

Posted on August 7, 2016, in Fiction. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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