This was my latest entry in a Facebook short story competition, I don’t think I got any votes this time. I can’t be bothered to give it a name. I actually got to choose one of the topics, but ran out of time to submit my choice (they used something from a comment I had made which wasn’t completely serious and didn’t change it later when I had an idea). The topic choices were:
“1) A soldier (male or female) returning from war and the reception by those at home. The war can be past, present, future or fictional.
2) Amnesia – take it any direction you want. ”
The street was empty, fortunately. The front gate was only slightly open, a good sign, I thought. I crept carefully past the side of the house and noticed that the back gate was still closed. I used the wooden gate to help myself get up onto the shed next to it, allowing me to check the back garden. It was clear. The back door to the house was wide open. I’d left it open only a crack but expected it to have moved. I carefully dropped down off the shed and made my way back to the front of the house with my crossbow ready. Underneath my old bedroom window was a ledge, with a chest height wall nearby. I slung the crossbow over my shoulder, easily lifted myself on to the low wall, and then reached up to the ledge to prepare myself for the difficult part. I spotted some movement near the garages opposite my house, a safe distance away, but I couldn’t resist having a shot. The bolt flew from the crossbow and lodged itself in his brain. I never miss, at least not when they aren’t chasing me. I made a mental note to collect the bolt later; it would probably be broken, but was worth collecting nonetheless.
I struggled to lift myself onto the ledge, scraping my chin and arms in the process. I wasn’t as agile as I used to be, when I’d sneak off out of the house after being grounded. I’d left the window open a crack, just enough so that others wouldn’t notice it. I opened the window as far as it would go and threw the crossbow onto the bed at the other side. Hauling myself through took a lot more effort, I felt like I was going to tear myself in two when I rested all of my weight on my stomach, but I made it through eventually. My bedroom was unchanged, so I carefully and quietly gathered a few supplies. I had a couple of survival guides, some weaponry which was mostly useful for display but could come in handy, a first aid kit I used to use whilst camping, an old torch which needed fixing, and considered taking a guitar as they are always useful for boosting morale. I left them all on the bed, except for one of the swords, and tried the door.
The door had been locked from the outside using a very simple lock. I knew that I had to make some noise to open it, there was no way around that, so I pulled as hard as I could. In the silence of the house it sounded like an explosion, I struggled to keep calm, but nothing came. I breathed a sigh of relief, then stopped breathing when I saw her. She was lying outside my room, not moving, she looked as though she was sleeping. Her fur couldn’t hide the bones that had become prominent through her skin. As my eyes began to well, I forced myself to step carefully over her body, so that I could check every room in the house. The whole place was untidy and stank, but each room was empty. In the kitchen the sink had overflowed, but the tap was no longer dripping. I’d left it to steadily fill up so that they wouldn’t struggle to find water.
I saw no sign of the other dog, she must have escaped. She was capable of climbing the high back wall, but she must have been petrified or desperate in order to do so. She could still be out there and I might never find her. I felt sick. I gave myself a moment and resisted drinking from the water in the sink. My whole body was shaking as I returned upstairs. She always waited outside my room when I was in there, and she was still waiting, even though she was gone. I cradled her body in my arms, slumped against the wall, and wept. I remembered the welcome home I used to get; even when I had only been gone for half an hour they would throw themselves at me, wanting to lick my face, wagging their tails, their whole bodies wriggling in excitement. This time there was no such welcome. I tried to take comfort in the thought that she had not been attacked or eaten, but all I could think of was her starving to death waiting for my return. She’d always loved food. She used to beg for it too much, but I’d have given anything to have her annoying me, pestering for leftovers.
I tried to tell myself that I did the right thing. If I had taken them with me we would almost certainly have all died. Those… things, they were attracted to sound, and my dogs are noisy creatures. Were noisy creatures. I felt selfish, I felt like I should have given them a chance with me. Other dogs had survived with their owners, but I panicked and fled, leaving them without food. They were my family, I had a responsibility to look after them, and I failed. I don’t know what I expected. I deserved no fanfare, but I still had hope. Even with the dead stalking you, their companionship would make it bearable. I came looking for something to live for, I came looking for the love they gave, but found only death. That’s all there was in this world – death. It was the only constant, whether the dead got to you or you were simply unable to live in this world, death was the only guarantee.
I looked down at the animal in my arms, she’d waited for me, but the other got away. There was some slim hope. I kissed her forehead, tears streaming down my face, and whispered “Goodbye”. I laid her down gently, found a blanket in a nearby cupboard and wrapped her up in it. There might still be time to find the other alive; I might still get that fanfare.