Another gray dust storm on the horizon. It was time to migrate out to the fields. I signaled to my two hunters, Crush and Kill.
They galloped out of the ruins with prospects in their mouths. One with a rusted can, and the other with a toy.
Crush had always been a better prospector. He was bigger than Kill, with light brown and black fur lining his spindly frame.
Kill was a friendlier-looking breed, desired my attention more, and was more reliant on me to keep him alive. If the two attempted to make their own way, he would be eaten by Crush after a few days.
I should have eaten Kill a long time ago, but the dope kept my spirits up.
Crush dropped the can at my feet, and then surveyed the area with suspicion. His ears were up, and his legs were lower. This was a sign that we needed to hide for a while.
There were other, more well-equipped people in the ruins. Where I had a single-shot rifle, they moved in groups, wielded military weapons, and ate each other.
Kill came over with his tail wagging, biting a small half-dissolved rubber toy. It was loud. It was annoying. It was his style.
He delighted with his find, and I stared in disbelief. None of the survival genes passed onto Kill. But Crush was on point. The two were opposites, but still fit in the category of a dog.
“Kill, drop it,” I commanded.
He ignored me, looking at Crush with an eye of superiority. The other dog ignored him, unmoving.
This meant we needed to move, now.
“Kill,” I moved to grab the toy from his mouth, “drop it.”
The dog retreated with galloping movements, then lay down to relish its prize.
“Kill! Come!” I signaled with my hand, unsure how loud I should be.
My heart began to beat faster. We should have been hiding a full minute ago. Usually, Kill would have listened by now.
I took a small amount of jerky from my pocket, offering it to Kill. His head came up, with the toy on his front paws.
Crush was already headed for cover, slinking with the stealth of a big cat. He had more survival skills than me, for sure.
Kill stared at the jerky in my hand. His tail began wagging. He grabbed at the toy, holding onto it, but looking at the jerky.
I moved a couple of steps towards Crush’s hiding spot. His were always the best.
It echoed in the ruins. I flinched, waiting for the sound of gunfire. The dope was giving away our position. Any other time I’d laugh and play.
“Kill,” I whispered, offering more jerky, “Come on, buddy. C’mon.”
Crush growled from inside his hiding spot a few feet to my left. It was his way of saying, “Get in here now, you idiots.” I agreed.
Kill’s tail wagged, with the rest of his body frozen with indecision.
I bent down to crawl under the jagged concrete, and then looked back at Kill.
You dope, I thought. Get in here, now!
He bounded over to us; the feeling of being excluded had been too strong. He kept his toy in his mouth as he snuggled up to Crush in a section of fallen building that I couldn’t get to. I grabbed at the dog, with more force than I’d like, and ripped the squeak-toy form his mouth.
He fought back, and when I ripped it from him, my arm shot backwards colliding with a piece of jutting rebar.
I stifled a cry of pain, jamming the toy into my pack. Kill whined and I stifled hitting the dopey thing.
I checked my arm, it was cut, and I was bleeding. If the gang had a dog, this would be all over.
You fucking idiot, I thought, looking into the face of Kill.
He panted, looking back with utter joy at being near me.
Crush was behind him, lying down. He was tense, ready to run at a moment’s notice. He would survive, the two dopes wouldn’t.
The sound of boots, at least twenty pairs. They marched over the trash, dust, and bits of concrete. None of them said a word to each other.
They passed by the entrance to the spot, merely feet away. Kill’s breathing stopped. It always surprised me to see the dopiness fall away in the presence of certain danger. Everything about that dog told me that he would bark at an approaching tank.
There were survival instincts in him after all.
The boots walked past. The gang was hunting, their footsteps were small, and he knew their stances. Rifles would be at their shoulders, as they scanned windows for movement.
We waited, and I wondered what the rusty rebar would do to my blood. Everything here was death, so I had no good imaginings. Would it be painful? Would it be quick? Diseases were never quick. Kill, you idiot.
The gang passed. We waited until there was silence, then waited some more.
But another sound came. It was a single creature. From the sound, four legs. Another dog? Oh no.
Crush’s head propped up with his body. He was ready to pounce.
Was it a gang dog? Was it destitute? Was it a scavenger?
It didn’t matter too much; Crush would do what he did.
The dog sniffed at the ground, and got close to the entrance to our hiding spot. Too close to be fell-fed. This dog was desperate and starving.
Its face popped into the spot. I froze, Kill barked, and Crush lunged.
It scrambled past me, into the other dog. It growled and snapped at the attacking dog, but Crush was well-fed.
He went fast, right for the throat. The other dog fought back, pulling away into the derelict street. They went out of my sight.
When Kill and I emerged the dog was dead. It had been following the gang, picking up scraps as they went.
It was our dinner for the next three days. Crush waited for recognition from me, but it was a hollow pat on the head. the fur around his mouth was covered in blood, and I couldn’t help thinking about my place in his mind.
He needed my attention less and less. I was no longer the alpha as long as I heeded to Kill.
Lifting the corpse to my shoulder, we headed into a nearby building to escape the impending dust-storm.
I decided to thank Crush, instead of patronizing him. He was better suited for the world than me. I owed him more than he owed me. If I had to submit to a dog to survive, so be it.