Written for Screams!!! 1/10/2020.
| "Daddy, Why?"
While we were driving along the highway there was no real indication of what we would soon be coming across. In fact, it was a much more relaxed and pleasant journey than the one we were used to making. The traffic was almost non-existent, and instead of silently fuming as I struggled my way through the queues, I found myself singing along with Emma and the kids.
That was until we turned off from the highway and headed through the more residential streets. The place that we called home was not so far away, but it still usually took us a while to get there.
Not today, for the streets were still eerily quiet.
Emma and I exchanged worried frowns. This just was not right. One car skidded around a junction in front of us, its horn blaring out.
"Daddy, be careful. There's maniacs about." Paul, the oldest, had remembered what I had said aloud on more than one occasion. I could only be glad that my more... colorful comments, I'd kept to myself.
Emma reached for the radio and I nodded. It was like some kind of bomb had gone off; one that caused no structural damage while it killed off all life-forms. Music was playing. That had to be a good sign, didn't it? If there had been some kind of attack, the reports would be all over the radio.
Two blocks from home we saw something strange. A pack of four, no, six dogs was surrounding what looked like a pile of rags. There had been complaints about strays raiding the litter bins. They must have pulled over a bag of trash and ripped it open, that was all it was. Someone was going to have a pretty big clean-up job once they'd taken what they wanted and moved on.
In spite of the lack of traffic, I still slowed, turned on the indicator. We just made the turn when Emma screamed. I slammed on the brakes as a pile of fur landed on the bonnet. Paul screamed and Karen, too young to know what was happening, began to cry in the baby seat.
"What the... ?" I said, slowing further so I could safely pull over. There was no way that I'd drive on and leave an injured dog laying beside the road.
"Jeff, don't open the door! Just drive!" In spite of the fact that she was keeping her voice low, I could feel the urgency of Emma's words. Her face was white; she looked terrified.
Something had seriously spooked my unflappable wife. I lifted my gaze to the mirror as I eased the car back into second gear. It was coming towards us, the dog that we had just hit. Even though it must have been quite badly injured it was running right at us.
"Go!" Emma screeched, and I did.
Two turnings left to the safety of our home, that was all. We could make it, I told myself as my shaking hands fumbled with the wheel. Almost everywhere we looked now, there were dogs, cats, gathered around what we had thought of as trash but were now having to accept was not rubbish but people from our own neighborhood.
"Paul, don't look out of the window," I said, swallowing the vomit that was filling my mouth. A mistake for, of course, he made a point of staring. "Daddy? Why do they want to eat us?" he asked.
"They don't, Paul," Emma jumped in, while I was still processing what I was seeing.
"But I saw!" he whined.
Before she had a chance to answer we were home. "You take Paul," I said to Emma, already opening the rear door to free Karen from her seat. I held her close to me as I dashed up the path behind my wife and son. I could hear barking in the distance. We had to get inside fast.
"What's going on?" Emma said. The two of us were rushing around the house, checking that all the windows were shut. Of course, they had to be shut, we'd just got home. Even so, we felt it best to make sure.
"I don't know, Em. They must have gone mad... a disease, or something..."
"But that dog, the one we hit. Surely it would have been unable to move. I thought you'd killed it, for sure."
"Don't say that. I feel bad enough as it is." We both adored animals. I couldn't remember a time that I'd been without a pet, until our cat, Pepys, had died. Neither Emma nor I felt up to replacing him yet, although we'd talked about it, wanting our children to grow up in the company of animals too.
"Daddy, look at them," Paul said, climbing up onto the settee to look out of the window.
There were four dogs in our garden, sniffing, tracking us all the way to our door. I moved to the windows and pulled the drapes across. As I did so, I could here them growling. We moved from room to room, closing off the outside world. They'd give up sooner or later; we just had to wait them out.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket, pressed 9. I was about to follow it with a 1 when I heard a meow. It sounded exactly like Pepys. He'd always had a very distinctive voice, more raspy than the usual cat one. It couldn't be him though; he had been buried a month before in the pet cemetery. Another cat? If so, how had it got in.
Emma's eyes met mine. We still had the cat-flap fitted to the back door. Very slowly, I began to turn towards the sound. My mouth dropped open in shock for there was no doubt about it; the cat I was looking at was, or rather had been Pepys.
The rumble was a warning. Always affectionate, he was growling at me. I looked into his eyes and there was no recognition. In fact, in the split second before he launched himself towards my throat, I realized that there was no sign of life there either.