A Zombie Story About a Dog and His Soldier
It wasn’t easy surviving during this epidemic, the kind of virus morphing a man into the darkest version of himself, ripped into a fleshly fungus, virile and mechanical in nature. Zombies, yes; but I did hear unparalleled stories unlike anything you’d see in cinema.
The infected were like savages, filled with blood lust, the remains of humanity melted away into a distant memory when you could look into their glassy eyes and see that they no longer were…. Human. And I didn’t simply mean behavior-wise. I meant physically, too.
Some would resort to walking — or running — on all fours, their limbs cracking, misshapen, even looking like arachnids, especially with some hairs, which used to be homosapien, turned into thin spikes jutting out of the skin to even resemble the alien-like of the centipede, tarantula or scorpion, so I had heard.
Others were apparently able to slither — so no one could hear the footsteps. I listened to horror stories from scientists say the worst of the mutations, many hosts developing mandibles and dozens of tiny little “legs” all over the chest, mid-section, groin, thighs and shins to help propel the monstrosities across the ground without a sound. Then when reaching prey, the result was quite horrifying. And swift.
How swift? Well, let’s just say there wasn’t even enough time to give the virus a proper ‘name’. I just called it the plague.
The global pandemic was like chain lightning, connecting all to a nightmare that would never end. And probably the only way it could have been any worse was if it was an airborne contagion. Instead the entire metamorphosis of what felt like an entire planet — even in the oceans — took roughly a few months.
….The imagination was enough to terrify even the most fortified soul. Because the truth was this: I never did see any one of those monsters. I only heard stories. I could only hear those stories.
I was blind. Clinically blind.
In months after the final annihilation, I had since not heard a single human voice in real life. Sometimes that was the scariest thing of all. Especially when I felt forced to drift off into the imagination again, witnessing in my own mind the horror of what the infected would do to me, or what they did to my friends and family. Playing on a loop like a broken record as a way to torture me. Taunt me. That this would soon come for me one day.
Consider me lucky, fortunate, miraculously. I was still alive, locked in quarantine in my own house except for when I would need the necessities, and I would absolutely have to make that trip. Lucky for me, though…. I never had to make those trips.
I had Maximilian. My German Shepherd.
I honestly had no idea how he was able to manage making those trips. But it certainly helped that at one point, long ago in my life, I was his handler in the military for years. We were like brothers — if canine and human could ever be. Under God, anything was possible, even during times like this.
….I would prompt him with scents to bring back the necessities: toilet paper, toothpaste, snacks, canned goods. And I’d very slowly would slightly open the door to my house — a door with bars, fortified by steel — to let him out.
It was always the most heartbreaking thing for me to do.
As a former handler-turned-person, “owned” by him in every way, I had a way of understanding his “language” to know that he had to do something for me in my old age. Or else I would expire.
Truth be told that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen anyway. Look at the world! Look at how destroyed it had become, a pandemonium and pandemic married in twisted union, the remnants of an apocalyptic world of tattered and crumpled-up papers, stale polluted clouds in the sky and the utter silence with no wildlife in sight, save these bizarre harbingers roaming the new wasteland in search of something across broke-down palaces and abandoned concrete playgrounds. To leave the planet was a blessing.
Maximilian never understood that, of course. His first instinct was to help me, always. And after a while, his pawing and whimpering was more than enough for me, giving in to the so-called ‘hope’ emanating from his gruff sentiment.
By God’s grace he always came back — with plenty of goods.
Sometimes he took close to a week just to come back. I was always prepared to never see him again, resigning myself to the fate handed to me with the solace that I would end the way I wanted to and not continue this existence as one of those monsters. Only to be surprised at the sound of him pawing at my door, a feeling of glee inside me grow, I’d unlock the door to him dragging a canvas bag I’d always send with him to carry as many items as he could manage.
His escapades, adventures, tribulations, maybe even horror— I only imagined Max would fear the worst as the infected would charge after him with fervent fire, bestial as all can be to suckle down his own bone marrow. The true miracle was the fact that Max was still well into his prime years while I wasn’t. Fleet of paw and able to cover long distances, it wasn’t hard for him to outrun even the worst, and the good news was after a certain distance, the infected basically gave up.
I would listen to podcasts about the latest research of these undead beasts operating not only by sound, but by scent — as if their prime power resided in what they were able to, well, smell. I never could understand that as from what I could tell, these beasts weren’t even “living.” They were like machines. But somehow they could just…detect us. Without even eyes to see.
How ironic. The blind against the blind.
I’m sure you’re asking just how I became blind, especially having been in the military…. Interesting story, in fact. (It just so happens that I can tell it as Max is out for one of those errands to bring back the goods we all need to survive this trying time. He had been gone already for a few days. I could measure it like clockwork.)
….That mortar shell, I remember, was enough to splinter my pupils into pieces, feeling like they were vaporized and dissolved into jelly, and as far as pain would go, that was something I never ever wanted to experience again. That perhaps played a major role in the lack of fear I truly felt in actually dying, yet I refused to go at the hands of the infected out of humane pride. It was true, though: the calamities of the past, no matter how debilitating, if not killing you, would only make you stronger in spirit.
I wore that bandage for what felt like a lifetime — with Max by my side. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, I most likely would’ve lost a whole lot more than my sight on the battlefield that perilous day.
My eyes were then simply a jagged black line a broken marker made across my face, leaving no semblance of vision in place. And where I would’ve felt comfortable wearing a pair of shades, you could only imagine…. It was no longer necessary in these dark days.
I was, maybe, 99.9% sure I was the only human left on the planet. Or at the very least, the city. No one to see that I was nothing more than a sort of leper, unable to envision the world as it should be. I could only imagine it. And that was the truest curse of them all: my imagination didn’t give me much to work with. Except a never-ending story of terror.
Don’t misunderstand, however…. It wasn’t always silently deadly in my home. Bear in mind I did mention my door had enough reinforcement to withstand perhaps a dozen of those infected, not to mention my windows were also heavily fortified. I came prepared; that came with the territory, having been in the military. But my preparations didn’t just happen by chance.
Oftentimes the walking dead made their way to the front yard, staring deeply from the un-mowed golden grass, right into my windows, as if to manipulate my mind into opening the door — so they can feed on me. At least a couple dozen of them, at max, I had seen once with my ears. You heard right from me; their heavy steps were enough for my “Spidey sense.” Spotting them from afar and hearing them stop, I had only imagined that they were stone-still in the yard, like the predators of the wild, funnel spiders waiting in the shadows for the next meal.
That wasn’t going to happen, of course. Not in a million years. Stare all you want, I would think.
Other times, they would feverishly climb the walls like massive desert wurms, driving claws and talons deep in for some sign that they’ve punctured life-giving flesh through the shell of my house, but to no avail. That typically happened only minutes after I would hear Max pawing at the door, pretty feverishly as he knew he was being chased down. I’d let him in, and then those deathly predators would make their way up, attempting to break through the windows. It was enough to cause a great deal of alarm.
But I did have my shotgun. Oh, yes.
Sure, I couldn’t see for my life’s worth, but I did have Max, and he had a certain way of telling me where and how to aim — believe it or not, I was pretty sure I nailed at least a couple of those bastards with some bullets. Thankfully the onslaughts didn’t happen often…. Because it was only a matter of time before my home would come down on me like a house of cards.
Yet many times after staving off the undead havoc, Max and I would relax on the floor, munching on chips as I held my smoking shotgun, and I would regale the stories of old on the battlefield with him, his jaw resting on my stomach, reciting the best war poetry you could imagine, something the bard would be deathly proud of….
Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more…. The armourers, accomplishing the knights, with busy hammers closing rivets up…. There are few die well that die in a battle…. Let him depart, his passport shall be made…. Sound trumpets. Let our bloody colors wave, after all…. For it would be either victory, or else a grave.
Man, I loved Shakespeare. So did Max. He’d huff like the smoking barrel of my shotgun.
Those were the days…. Diminishing more and more as the days went by, for while my greatest enemy seemed to be the undead all these months, there was an even greater one still. Within me.
The months got to me like a heavier and heavier weight, feeling like Atlas as the world seemed to get bigger. Shoulders kept hurting. I got a little weaker.
I wasn’t done, yet, though. And Max just wouldn’t let me succumb. Nuzzling his nose deep under my arm, he would paw at me as I laid there with my back against the wall. The undead were now clawing at the door much louder than usual, and I began to wonder….
Maybe they’re smelling…. ‘Death’.
And death was easier to take over than something living, breathing, kicking, and killing. Perhaps that was our greatest strength — and weakness — all that time. We just kept fighting — until there was no fight left inside. I began to wonder…. That may have been why sporadically they would just wait in the weeds of my yard.
Waiting for death to come.
A different kind of infection had hit me over the past couple of weeks, and as much as Max mustered the will and persistence to provide, it wasn’t looking promising. Yet I also kept nurturing and reassuring him any way I could — had to find some way to show him the most any good man would.
Praise. Gratefulness. Pride.
The fact was he had just come back from his regular errand with all sorts of remedies that I had trained him to target, but to no avail…. We humans were, well, mortal. This event with the hideous revenants forcing themselves more than I ever heard was my truest test.
You couldn’t help but chuckle. In my stupor, in my haze of confusion, in the weight of a mind slipping away, I felt the beads of sweat on my forehead suck themselves deep into the crevices of my brow, as the sorrow welled up inside. I felt the fear the most that night, tears falling from my tortured eyes. Max cried as well….
And he also nudged my arm. He nudged it up. A lot.
He barked. He howled. He suddenly pulled out from under my arm, feeling him crouch defiantly in front of me with the same fervor a stage actor would feel at the pinnacle of a climax, the last breaths leaving the body. And I swear I heard him say —
Either victory, or else a grave!
He utterly roared it into the night, through the windows, through the cracks in the ceiling, permeating the air. Maximilian cried out like a dragon.
The horrid monsters, those infected, the viral plagues themselves of the plague that would end all mankind — their exploits in tearing down the walls grew even more. They were loud, like piercing trains across tracks.
Never did I imagine that the sounds could be so visual to me.
As life slowly seeped out of me, I smiled…. I knew what Max wanted. I, for the first time, could…. See…. I could see him standing there, looking at me, with those honey-brown eyes of his, the rough coat battered by the elements, yet standing proudly as tall as a Great Dane, it seemed, regardless, looking as rigid and unwavering as usual.
I know what you want. I felt it. This was going to be it. This was my last charge into my battlefield.
Flashes of distant memory grazed my mind as hints and cuts into my soul, leaving me bleeding beautifully as a reminder that I was indeed alive. I saw Max younger. I saw myself stronger. I saw us playing catch. I saw us sleeping on the couch together one summer day after fishing in the pond. I saw us….
And then I snapped out of it.
“Either victory, or else a grave,” I said.
Max growled and barked in response.
….Let him depart, his passport be made.
I struggled to get myself up as my senses started to get fuzzier, or muffled. It was so hard to figure out how to describe that feeling inside my dying mind. Amazingly, Max was able to help me, guiding my hand with his head and doing everything he could to keep me upright. I held my shotgun with the other hand as I struggled to breathe. The scraping of the dead continued more.
“There are few….” I said. “That die well. Die well. Die in a battle.” Max barked again at the sound of my voice. “Die in battle.”
As I literally heard the walls shake, I gripped my gun tight. And I felt Max stare earnestly at the door.
Some of the hardest steps I had to make, but I knew what Max wanted. I also knew what Max knew I wanted. Every step led me closer to the door.
I felt the cold metal in my fingers. They were like gold to me, those locks on the door, so rich and icy to the touch. I started unbolting every part of them.
I swore I could see a look of determination in Max’s face, right by my side, as I slowly began reciting more of what made me a man. I knew Max was that angel on my shoulder, the one who made me a man the most, that fierceness of an ancient wolf ready to live and die this day.
As I was about to pull the door open, I somehow heard both of us at the same time suddenly say…. “Once more unto the breach, dear friend.”