Craig looked down at the dog. The dog's look of bewilderment faded with its last breath and it lay still. Craig re-holstered his pistol and turned away pretending to feel nothing.
He wasn't that far gone.
He stopped and looked again. Amazingly, after all this time, the dog had the dirty remains of a red nylon collar around his neck. Once he was loved. Once he probably loved his owner, his family. Now, like Craig, he was just trying to survive.
Craig's eyes widened slightly as he realized he recognized the dog, the collar. It was, or rather once had been, Mrs. Klein's Golden Retriever from down the street.
Craig was standing on the loading dock of a large warehouse. He used a piece of wood from a broken wooden pallet to maneuver the dog onto a second pallet, which he then laboriously dragged a block away from the warehouse. He didn't want to attract scavengers, and he wanted avoid touching the body if possible. Infection was always a real concern.
Before he taught himself to shoot Craig was almost killed by a German Shepherd near a warehouse much like this one. He had been lucky and managed to kick it in just the right place. That's when he taught himself to use a gun. Almost right after he taught himself how to stitch himself as well as inject antibiotics and rabies vaccine.
Thank god for books. The internet was long dead.
That was eight months ago. Two weeks after the Disappearance. The first time he had ventured out past his block.
He had had little choice. The power had been out for days and there was no more fresh food. The canned stuff and packaged stuff was almost gone.
The day was warm. The birds were twittering softly in nearby trees, and the buzz and rasps of insects surrounded Craig. Otherwise there wasn't a sound to be heard. No traffic, no voices, no distant roar or buzz of machinery.
Craig went into the warehouse and found what he was looking for. He used his knife to cut open the thick plastic that was wrapped around two dozen large cardboard boxes sitting on a wooden pallet. Reaching up, Craig pulled a box off of the stack and set it on the floor. After opening the cardboard box and then opening one of the boxes inside that one and finally opening the clear plastic package, he had it in his hand. A Twinkie. Still edible. The wonders of preservatives. He pulled the candle he had been saving out of his pocket and stuck it in the twinkie. He hesistated a moment before lighting it. What did he have to celebrate?
Being alive would have to do.
The warehouse was dim. Filtered sunlight came through a couple of dirty skylights and through the open door where Craig had entered. There were no other lights, so the light of the candle was easily visible as Craig stared at the flickering flame, his expression stoic.
He sang Happy Birthday to himself, blew out the candle after making a mighty wish, and took a bite.
Fourteen years old today.
Yes, he was sure. Battery operated watches with dates were everywhere. It wasn't hard to keep track.
Craig shook his head and forced the depression that was starting to creep up on him away.
No, he had to keep hopeful. He had always been a smart kid. He knew about Occam's Razor. He knew about probability. Out of six billion people the chances that five billion and change could vanish one night without a trace leaving Craig Jamison and only Craig Jamison sleeping in his bedroom while wearing one dirty sock were remote. Ridiculously remote. Despite no evidence to the contrary in eight months.
He chewed and swallowed the last of the confection and stood up, licking his fingers.
A noise back at the doorway caught his attention.
Dammit! He cursed himself for his sloppy inattention, managed to pull out his pistol, ensure a round was chambered and the safety off when a shadow appeared blocking the sunshine.
Another boy rounded the corner and stopped suddenly, a pistol in his own hand half raised before freezing. Craig was sure the expression on the strange boy's face exactly matched his own.
Utter shock, obviously, along with bewilderment, uncertainty, and, most of all, absolutely most of all, overwhelming relief.
Maybe birthday wishes can come true.