It was the third house that they visited that they found the first victims of the first wave. Lucky could smell it as they walked up the front walk toward the home that was barely standing. He stepped in front of Girl and prevented her from going closer. “We can’t help them.” He said solemnly.
“Not Paige!” Girl immediately started crying.
“I’ll go in ‘n check for her, Girl, but you gotta stay here. Promise me.”
She sat down right where she was, her knees drawn up to her chest. Lucky nuzzled her cheek gently before he turned away and padded up to the door.
He jumped through a broken window, paws landed in debris in the living room. He stopped for a moment, sniffing the air and listening. Nothing in the house was moving. There was no scent of people save the smell of blood and death. He followed his nose, as much as he didn’t want to, toward the back of the house. While the front of the home was still standing, if barely, the back of the house had collapsed. He found the family of three near the door to the basement. They had been crushed in the collapse.
He ignored the voice when it spoke to him as he sniffed his way from person to person, making sure none of them were still breathing. Deeply saddened he padded back out to Girl and rested his head on her shoulder, she buried her face in his fur, putting her arm around him tightly. The squirrel protested loudly before shifting his position to get out of her way.
“I’m sorry. They’re gone.” Lucky whined.
She nodded against him, her tears dampening his fur. They stayed that way for long minutes before Girl was ready to get up and move on to the next house. It was the first victims that they had discovered, but it was not the last. Night was falling by the time they returned to their collapsed home. Nearly three dozen people were gathering together to face whatever was coming. There was a kind of comfort to be had in that, when tragedy struck, humanity came together. Or at least one could hope there were more groups of people coming together throughout the world.
In this neighborhood, though, there was no question. There had been empty houses and houses filled with tragedy and loss, but those houses that had been occupied were here. No one had refused the call. They worked under the direction of Man and Lobo’s Man, both seemed to have taken charge in different ways. Man was a leader to the people, delegating tasks to the right person and certain that they would take care of it. He checked in on the children as their parents worked and made sure those who needed extra help, like Lady, got the help that they needed. Lobo’s Man, on the other hand, had taken charge of the supplies, pooling them all together and dividing them up into balanced loads for each of the vehicles. He was making a list of all the supplies and taking note of any glaringly overlooked necessities.
The four dogs that he knew in the neighborhood were all present. Sugar, a doughty golden retriever, was with her large family. She was playing with the youngest child while the older five helped their parents load their fifteen-passenger van. Calypso, red merle border collie, was herding some younger children in the middle of the yard, keeping them well away from the curbs and anything she deemed dangerous. Vinny, the blue-grey pitbull, sat with his head in Lady’s lap, keeping her company. Finally, there was Lobo pacing along behind his Man looking serious.
Off to one side, away from all the chaos, were a half dozen cat carriers. A few of the prisoners yowled in protest of their confinement. Lucky snorted as he recognized the grey cat from the other day. He wondered for a moment what she had done with her grass-words, but he was soon distracted by a gathering on the other side of the yard. Quigley was waiting for him just outside of the demarcations of Lucky’s front lawn. The muscly black and white bull terrier was surrounded by a handful of other strays. At his side was a sharp featured black and tan doberman, her deep amber brown eyes looked sad and her head hung a little. Around them were a pair of smaller dogs, one an apricot colored miniature poodle and the other a fluffy grey and black keeshond, and two larger dogs, a classically grey weimaraner and the other a brownish brindle striped mastiff.
“Lucky.” Quigley’s tone was stiff as he stood up. “Thanks for inviting me along, I hope you don’t mind that I brought a bit of company.”
Tilting his head to one side, his floppy ear falling loose, Lucky looked over the gathered dogs. “As long as they’re good dogs, we’ll be fine.”
“They’re all good dogs. It’s hard to really find a bad one.” Quigley said, his deep tone guarded. “I’ve only met a few in my time.” His amber eyes looked over the cluster of humanity working together. “It’s easier to find a bad people.”
Lucky sat back on his haunches, unsettled. He let a moment pass then said, “Have any of you seen the grass-words hovering in the air? They have no smell, but they may not be grass-words. Lobo sees another color. I’ve seen sky-words too.”
The doberman was the first to speak up. “I see sun-words, but I don’t know what they say. I hear a bright voice sometimes that tells me things.”
“When we reach our destination, Girl and I will start teaching all the dogs to read. So you can know what the words say. I don’t know how long it will take.”
“My words are the color of the sky in storm.” The keeshond’s voice was calm and gentle.
Lucky’s eyebrows twitched. “Obviously there’s something about the words we don’t yet understand.” He mused before shaking himself and standing up and centering himself on the group of strays. “My name is Lucky,” He began. “Three days ago, I first saw the grass-words and heard the voices. They said I had been chosen and that the End was coming and I should prepare.”
“I have been preparing, but for what we weren’t sure. Girl, Man, and I are going to Gran’s.” His fluffy tail wsa curled over his back and it wagged excitedly. “Gran’s is the best. She makes dog treats.” His front paws danced a little at the thought of those treats. “We’re bringing our neighbors and Girl says I can bring you. You’ll have to squeeze in the van with us, but it’s a big van. Girl says you’re my responsibility, so be on your best behavior. If you’re good, I beg Gran will give treats!” He was drooling at the thought of those treats.
Quigley’s white tipped tail wagged back and forth, but slowly. “You know me, Lucky, I’m good for it.”
The doberman pincher spoke up next. “My name is Val. I had a man until today. The hot winds stole him from me.” Her eyes were fierce when they met Lucky’s and his tail stopped wagging. “I will make whatever brought the wind pay, but until I find them I will protect your people.”
The keeshond, his black and grey fur surprisingly matted with mess. “I had a woman this morning. She called me Norman. The wind took her, too. I am not a fighter, but I will help where I can.” Lucky’s tail began to droop.
“I’m Allegro.” The apricot poodle said, barely lifting her head. “I had two Dads. Big Daddy carried me in a bag to work with him most days. Today the wind came while we were at work. He took a nap and didn’t wake up.” His ears went down at that and a low whine rose in Lucky’s throat.
“Intrepid is what my woman called me. I joined Quigley when she was lost to the winds.” The weimaraner. “I’m a fighter.”
“My name is Axel.” Grumbled the brindle mastiff. “I didn’t have a person. Well, I did a long time ago, but I left.” He heaved a sigh, rising from his sit. “I’m not over fond of people, but Quigley said you were alright, Lucky, and that I should come along.”
“Thank you all for coming,” Lucky said. Sometimes there weren’t words. Lucky padded over to each dog in turn sniffing noses and offering physical comfort in the form of touch. Dogs thrive on touch, whether its a master or another dog contact is best medicine for misery. When he got to Axel, he just exchanged sniffs and then said. “There’s some people here that I know for sure are good people, but why don’t you stick with Girl, Man, and I for now, Axel. We’ll take good care of you.”
He shook out his fur, leaving bits of fluff and shed floating in the air. “It looks like they are almost done loading up.” He said as he glanced over the line of vehicles. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Girl.”
“Introduce us?” Quigley said as he got to his feet. “How are you going to introduce us?”
“I have a skill from the grass-words that lets me speak to people.” Lucky said.
“Are you heckin’ serious?” Quigley barked.
Lucky’s tail began to wag again at last. “It’s the best!” He stopped in his tracks, eyes shining and tail wagging. “I almost forgot! I can talk to squirrels too! You hafta meet Quick!”
“Squirrel!?” The bark came from six directions at once.
“Uh…” Lucky backpedaled as every one of the dog’s ears pricked forward and the tension grew in their bodies. He could feel Quick trembling in the ruff of fur around his neck. “Guys!”
They all turned toward Lucky and his tail dropped, almost going between his legs. Axel was a massive dog and Lucky would swear that Quigley ate nails for breakfast. “Guys! He’s not for chasin’.”
They leapt into motion toward Lucky and the multicolored mixed breed dog scrambled back, his rump landing in the dust as he practically turned over on himself before racing away, paws thudding on the ground and body stretching low into a run.
“Squirrel!!” The barks echoed in the quiet of the neighborhood.
“Guys! He’s not for chasin’. Quick is our friend.” He barked over his shoulder as he dodged around the few boxes and bags that were waiting to be loaded. He leapt over Calypso as she passed in front of him. She stopped running just past him and her head came up.
“Squirrel?” She barked, her red-nose working for the scent. “Squirrel!” She took up the call.
“Heck.” Lucky panted out the curse. “Quick isn’ for chasin’!” He was running out of breath for barking.
It was the sleek grey weimaraner that was close on his heels as he leapt the half-collapsed fence and into his backyard. Around the yard, over the picnic table, and then he ran right at the wall. He had practiced this the day before, over and over he had tried to run up the wall. This time, with a half dozen squirrel-crazy dogs on his heels he launched himself up, paws thundering along the only wall still standing. It shuddered beneath his feet as he kicked off the wall, executing a half barrel roll, and sailing over the tall privacy fence and into the backyard opposite Vinny’s yard. He skidded on damp grass from a leaking pipe and almost went down. The other dogs were stalled behind the fence, barking maniacally. Lucky heaved for breath for a moment, eyes wildly searching for an exit. “Quick, you okay?”
“No trees.” The squirrel chattered, his voice shaking almost as much as his body.
“There aren’t any trees I can climb.”
The poor squirrel was terrified. Lucky’s eyes narrowed and he stalked toward the still standing gate and nosed his way out. A deep rumble stirred in his chest and Lucky barked loudly, “Stop right now, you’re scaring my friend.”
**DA-DING!! You have gained +1 Intimidating Bark!!**
He leapt up on a plastic storage bench and looked down upon the gaggle of dogs. A grumbling growl rumbled deep in his chest and a couple of the younger dogs averted their eyes and crouched down.“You will not chase Quick, not now and not ever. I promised to protect him.”
He met each dog’s eyes that were still looking at him, lingering. “Understand?” His eyes were narrowed and challenging. Every one of the other dogs averted their eyes before he moved on.
Quigley spoke. “Sorry, Lucky.” He looked a bit abashed.
Lucky’s mouth dropped open in a smile. “I know. It’s real hard not to chase a squirrel, but Quick is my friend. There’s prolly other squirrels we can chase, but Quick is off limits. He’s real nice.” His bark chittered as he spoke to the squirrel. “Can you show yourself and we’ll let them get a good sniff of you so they know you’re off limits?”
The grey squirrel climbed warily from Lucky’s ruff to the top of his head, rising up on all fours and prepared to bolt if the dogs gave the slightest aggressive hint.
“Come one at a time so you don’t scare him. His name is Quick. I’ll introduce him to you when you come up.”
After introducing the squirrel, Lucky led the strays and the dogs who had lost their owners over to meet Girl. Girl, Man, seven dogs, and a squirrel climbed into the loaded Sprinter van and settled in for the long ride to Gran’s as the evening grew deeper. The caravan was long and stuck close together. Families drove every car they could, loaded with all the things they had scavenged from their ruined homes and those of their lost neighbors. The drive was surprisingly anticlimactic, despite the looming danger that Lobo and Lucky both sensed. Wherever the other shoe was, it wasn’t dropping just yet.
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Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.