Paz and I are in trouble. We’ve been walking for days without shelter and the load of our belongings is beginning to wear on us. His panting has become ragged and his paw pads are blistered. He doesn’t complain though, just keeps pace with me. My mouth and throat are so dry and I can only imagine how he feels, tongue dangling in this stagnant air.
Walking through what was once Georgetown we spot a Super Mutant in the distance. He appears to have found himself a club that’s rigged with nails or metal. Paz stops before I do and stills in that way dogs do. High, silent, alert. His whole body rigid. The mutant is walking away from us and obviously patrolling. Scanning down the alleyways. Frantically I look around for a place to hide before it turns around.
To my left I see an old plaque reading “McClennan Family, 2026 Bradley Place.” This will have to do.
I crouch and move slowly toward the door hoping it isn’t boarded up, locked or occupied. Paz is so focused on what’s ahead of us that I have to gently touch his neck to get his attention that we’re moving. We crawl to the entrance and I check the doorknob. It swings open silently. We move inside and I shut the door. Without having to ask him, he remains silent. I take out my rifle and begin checking the rooms for threats.
It’s eerily quiet in the house and unless someone is hiding I don’t expect to find anyone. Everything inside is decayed as with every place we come across. The kitchen is empty. The kitchen table still stands though wobbly and the chairs are knocked over. I check the oven, nothing. The refrigerator contains three items: iguana meat, crispy squirrel bits and an empty Nuka Cola bottle. The smell hits hard and nearly knocks me over. If anyone has been here it’s been a while since they’ve returned. I give Paz the iguana and I force down the squirrel. We can’t be picky. We move into the closest bedroom. There’s a dormant Mr. Handy and a still functioning terminal. Mental note to return to this. It might be helpful. For now we need to clear the house and insure its safety.
The adjacent room was obviously a child’s. His or her skeleton is still on the bunk bed holding a teddy bear. It would be sad and shocking if we hadn’t seen sights like these all across the wasteland. As tired as I am and as hardened as I am I won’t be able to sleep in here. I wonder where the parents are. Did they perish here? Did they move on? We’ve found no other skeletons. Constant questions are all that flood my brain. Constant whys and wheres and whats. Paz whimpers and we exit. I reach down and rub his head to comfort him or myself, I’m not sure.
Upstairs the only room contains a large bed. This is where we’ll sleep for now. This is the last room and it’s vacant. For the moment, we’re safe. I set down all my stuff and rest my rifle against the wall closest to the door. Before I decide to crash I remember that I wanted to explore that terminal and see if the Mr. Handy could be useful. I look at Paz who’s already lying in the corner of the room. I head downstairs and he doesn’t follow. He’s worn out. His intuition continues to amaze me. Without communication he already knows we’ve determined the safety of the place.
Surprisingly, the terminal doesn’t require a password. It boots up immediately and gives me some options: Deactivate unit, Walk Muffy, Pick Up Grocery Order, Read Children Bedtime Poem and Home Security. I want to use the Home Security option but don’t want it to turn on us. I decide to test it and choose for it to Read Children Bedtime Poem. The Mr. Handy immediately boots up and becomes active, heading out of the room, but it doesn’t attack when it notices me. I don’t want to witness the machine read a poem to a child’s skeleton so I turn my attention back to the terminal and choose Walk Muffy.
I assume Muffy was the family’s dog. The Mr. Handy exits out the backdoor and begins calling “Here doggy doggy doggy.” Almost immediately it finds the dog along the side of the house. She’s dead and he starts attempting to get her to stand up for her walk. It’s fucked up. She isn’t yet decayed or ravaged and I assume she died recently, probably attempting to get back inside the house. Dogs are so amazingly loyal. I walk over and lean down to check her and before I can lay my hand across her the Mr. Handy becomes hostile, screaming that I must die. I stumble backwards as it continues to shout. It begins to shoot flames in my direction as I run into the house. Paz is running down the stairs coming to my aid and I yell at him to stay. I fall into the room with the terminal and land with my hands on the keyboard. The Mr. Handy’s shouting is getting closer and now Paz is barking relentlessly at the top of the stairs. The whole world is going to know we were here.
Before the Mr. Handy can cut the corner into the room I hit the deactivate unit command and sink down to the floor. The Mr. Handy shuts off in the doorway, Paz whines on the other side of him and I slide to the floor. My heart needs a moment to stop pounding. I remember quickly that we just caused quite a large amount of noise. I rise rapidly and push the Mr. Handy out of the way. I climb the stairs in twos, grab my belongings and tell Paz it’s time to go.
We head out the backdoor before the Super Mutant arrives to investigate the commotion. I was stupid to think the Mr. Handy wouldn’t be hostile. It’s programmed for that family alone. I wonder about the poem. I wonder about our possibilities had I not tinkered with the machine. I wonder if we’ll survive another day.
We rush down an empty alleyway and I hear the sounds of doors being kicked in. I know we narrowly escaped. Paz looks up at me and then proceeds ahead of me. I don’t know if he’s mad. Mostly I revel in his silence but sometimes at moments like this, I wish he could tell me everything I’m doing wrong and why he continues to stand so loyally by my side. He’s the only living dog I’ve come across in my journey in the wasteland and I think more than anything else, it’s the greatest tragedy of them all.
Sarah Frances Moran is obsessed with the Apocalypse. She thinks Chihuahuas should rule the world and prefers their company to people 90% of the time. Her work has most recently been published or is upcoming in Maudlin House, Blackheart Magazine, Red Fez and The Bitchin' Kitsch. She is Editor/Founder of Yellow Chair Review. You may reach her atwww.sarahfrancesmoran.com