Dog Days by Stephen V. Ramey
Imagine three dogs whose owners died in the Naonplague of 2020. Imagine them sitting in a circle, as nearly as three dogs can form a circle, on the crackling asphalt of the cul-de-sac once shared by their now-abandoned houses. The last of the Winter snow has nearly melted, leaving puddles.
The first is a stately German Sheppard bitch named Buttercup, the second a gangling Dalmatian who answers to Spot O’Tea, and the third, a passive-aggressive poodle named Maxine. This gathering has become a daily ritual for them.
“There’s no one to feed me,” Spot O’Tea yips. This is usually how she begins the conversation. Her ribs now protrude like the ribs of a steel can.
“I miss the petting,” Buttercup whuffs. She longs for the playful tousling of her owner’s mate. Now, even her owner’s gentle strokes are gone.
“You don’t have shit in your fur,” Maxine growls. “I’d give up biting groomers altogether, just to have a trim.”
“Here.” Buttercup trots to Maxine. “I’ll get that for you.”
Rather than presenting her encrusted tail, Maxine bares her teeth. “Lick your own butt.”
Which Buttercup proceeds to do with relish.
“I feel like howling,” Spot O’Tea yips. “The humans were certainly a handful, but the world is so empty without them.” She sighs. “I mean no disrespect to our pack.”
“I understand,” Buttercup whuffs. “It’s not just humans we miss, but their civilization.”
Next day when the three meet, they’re wearing hats. Spot O’Tea suggested it, recalling how their owners often wore hats when they went outside. “If we want to restore civilization, shouldn’t we become more civilized?” Secretly, she hopes the tantalizing secret of The Can Opener will be revealed to them via this process.
Spot O’Tea wears a lovely straw hat that shades nearly her entire muzzle. Buttercup sports a Yarmulke fit snugly between perked ears. Maxine has donned a dented hardhat.
“Why don’t you find something softer?” Spot O’Tea yips.
“Why don’t you bite yourself?”
“Now, now,” Buttercup intercedes. “We are trying to be more civilized, not less.”
Maxine growls, shaking violently. The hardhat skitters to rest upside-down against the swell of the cement gutter.
The next day, Buttercup arrives late. She continues to wear the Yarmulke, but now she has something in her mouth as well.
She drops a smoldering stick. “When the white cold came outside, my master’s mate would wrestle with me before a fire. Wonderful times.”
Spot O’Tea’s tail switches. “Humans used fire for cooking too. It’s very civilized.”
Even Maxine’s eyes alight, watching smoke curl from glowing embers along the stick’s edge. Wood smoke reminds her of the time she snatched a steak from her master’s plate.
Snoutfulls of twigs and leaves and shattered furniture soon create a raging bonfire.
“We’re getting closer to our objective,” Spot O’Tea yips. Buttercup bounds to and fro.
Darkness overcomes daylight. The fire rages on. Spot O’Tea stretches and rolls onto her other side. “Now the night is not so dark,” she yips.
“I want meat!” Maxine snarls. She trots away.
“Should we go after her?” Buttercup asks, lifting onto her haunches.
“No,” Spot O’Tea yips. “She just needs time to adjust.”
With a whuffling grunt, Buttercup settles onto the asphalt, considerably softer now.
“Go to sleep,” Spot O’Tea suggests. “Rome was not built in a day.” She heard her master say that.
“Here,” Maxine yaps, dropping a human hand onto the pavement. Chipped red polish marks the fingernails. “The ground has thawed enough to dig. We’re surrounded by bodies in shallow graves. Why should we go hungry?”
“They were our masters,” Spot O’Tea yips.
“Yes,” Buttercup agrees, sniffing the swollen hand.
Maxine bares her teeth. “And now, we are theirs.”
Buttercup backs away.
“She has a point,” Spot O’Tea admits. “Why should we starve? Our masters surely wouldn’t.”
Buttercup’s head cocks, ears leaning forward. “But to eat the very hands that once fed us?”
“Place it in the fire,” Spot O’Tea yips. “It must be cooked. I insist on that.”
After a hesitation, Maxine complies.
Sitting in a row, they watch the hand steam, then sizzle, charred skin peeling back to reveal pinkish meat. Saliva drips from Spot O’Tea’s mouth. Buttercup whimpers, but cannot take her eyes from the hand.
“Now this is civilization!” Maxine barks.
Stephen V. Ramey lives and writes in The New Castle, leash laws are strictly observed. He blogs at http://stephenvramey.wordpress.com/