Amy grasped desperately at the right hip pocket of her jacket as she shuffled backward from the dogs.
Her mind was frantic as she drew up blank after blank in a vain attempt to search herself for some type of expertise on violent dogs. Instead, she found only unhelpful fear-filled memories, like the time she was ten and she was cornered by a Rottweiler on the way home from her neighbor’s tennis court. Every time she tried to move past it, the dog growled and tracked her, until finally, miraculously, the dog was called home by its out-of-sight owner.
But she was an innocent, unarmed child then, not the hardened road warrior that she now imagined herself when she waxed romantic in quiet moments. Well, her romanticism was draining quickly as the four dogs continued their slow approach and Amy’s shaking, icy fingers failed to find purchase on the tiny metal zipper.
“Fuck these fucking zipper pockets,” Amy muttered.
The growling, blood-speckled Retriever took a slow, yet eager step forward as it observed Amy’s growing frustration. With his reddened, mangy coat, bared teeth, and raised hackles, it was an intimidating sight, in stark contrast to the playful, obedient Retrievers Amy had fed years ago under friends’ kitchen tables. She almost had to laugh at the juxtaposition, and she wondered, dumbfounded at what must have befallen the dog to render it thus.
The Shepherd and the Lab continued to slowly work at flanking her to her left and right, respectively, while the Pit Bull held back slightly, between the Shepherd and the Retriever, appearing to wait for Amy to make a move before springing into the attack.
Amy gave up on the revolver and began to work her left shoulder out of the strap of her backpack, which was inconveniently slung over the old .22 bolt action rifle she carried across her back. That was a mistake she told herself she’d never repeat.
Just as she worked her shoulder free, the Retriever lunged at her right leg with a snarl.
Amy jumped backward as she let the right shoulder strap slide down her arm, and in one single motion, she grabbed the pack with both hands and swung upward at the dog with all of the force she could muster.
She missed the direct hit she’d hoped for, but the backpack was heavily weighted with several bottles of water, cans of soup and vegetables, and other miscellaneous supplies. It clipped the dog’s snout with enough force to snap its mouth shut with a whimper. The dog shook its head and stared intently at the snow, briefly dazed.
The Shepherd, Lab, and Pit Bull froze, apparently startled by the sudden turn of events, and all three watched the Retriever for its reaction before moving.
Amy didn’t wait for more action. She was already turning with her swing, tromping up the street through the sickly, grey snow with as much speed as she could muster.
It was only a few seconds before the Retriever gathered its senses and launched itself after its prey with vigor, now incensed by Amy’s attack. The other three dogs followed suit, a bit more cautiously.
Though Amy’s escape was hindered by the snow, the dogs also had difficulty building any momentum over the terrain, as their small paws frequently broke through the top layer of snow and dropped them nearly face-first into the wretched substance. Still, Amy’s agility was no match for the dogs, and they were closing ground quickly.
Amy ran for the nearest door without thinking. To her right, just 15 feet away, was a glass storefront under a sign that read, CJ’s Smoke Shop. It was one of those pillars of community that showed its great respect for its customers by virtue of a steel-cage lined display.
She yanked at the handle on the front entrance. Locked.With no hope of breaking into the store through the front windows, Amy immediately turned left, up the street, away from the direction from whence the dogs had appeared.
CJ’s storefront ended abruptly in this direction; the severe two-story retail building and sidewalk giving way to an open yard and a weather-beaten red Victorian with white and green trim. There were several broken windows in the the wide second story, but that was fine. She didn’t need it to be airtight and well-insulated, she just needed to keep the damn dogs out. The ground floor looked secure, as far as Amy could tell. A slight depression in the dirty snow indicated a sidewalk leading up to a three wide steps and a covered porch. The house was set back from the street roughly 30 feet: A small-ish yard under ordinary circumstances, but it seemed like a mile in Amy’s current, frantic state.
Amy’s ongoing fear regarding houses, birthed at the Bauers’ house and reinforced by a handful of subsequent grisly discoveries, was momentarily quelled. She began struggling toward the house without hesitation.
Her departure was not a moment too soon. Just as Amy lurched toward the house, the Shepherd chomped hard at her left leg, but it found only air, and skittered past her into the storefront with a crash.
Amy whipped around, backpack flying in a low arc aimed to keep the dog on the ground. Instead of finding the Shepherd, the backpack caught the oncoming Lab in the left shoulder just as it was rounding around toward her at the Shepherd’s heels. The impact and the dog’s already-compromised center of balance launched the dog sideways, directly into the Shepherd.
The two dogs struggled to untangle themselves from each other as Amy spun back toward the house. As she did so, she glimpsed both the Retriever and Pit Bull working their way toward her. The Retriever was in the lead, fangs bared in a deadly grimace.
Amy shuddered as she turned back toward the house. She pushed her out of shape body as hard as it was capable, but she simply wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was her worst nightmare: caught in a deadly chase but unable to make any speed.
15 feet to go. The door still seemed so far away. Amy’s legs were burning unfairly as the blood-crazed dogs chased her. She could hear the Retriever’s ragged breath as it drew nearer. Close now. Too close.
Ten feet. Her legs were numb, running only on fear and a depleting measure of adrenaline.
Five feet. She was almost there. I’m going to make it, she thought. Please, God. Let it be unlocked.
The thought was barely out of her head when she heard the Retriever’s jaws snap shut just inches from her left ankle. With a scream, she half-jumped sideways while she stumbled forward the remaining distance to the stairs. But she was off-balance now, and she had neither the time nor the presence of mind to right her ship, and she went crashing sideways into the steps.
In an instant, the Retriever was on top of her, lunging at her face. Amy shoved her forearm at the dog in an act of self-preservation, and the dog clamped down on it, harder than she thought possible. It whipped its head back and forth, and with a tearing sound, the arm of Amy’s jacket was loose, and the dog stumbled a half step away from her. Amy kicked at it and scrambled backward up the steps, crab-style.
Suddenly, her back was at the door of the house, and she fumbled at the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge.
With growing horror, Amy looked back at the Retriever, who knew his prey was trapped, and approached slowly. Just on the other side of the Retriever, she could see the Pit Bull rushing in to join the fight, and beyond it, the Lab and Shepherd closing in as well.
Amy couldn’t believe she’d survived the end of the world, only to be offed by some fucking domestic dogs off their leashes. She scrunched up her eyes as she heard the Pit Bull growl its threat at her.
A second later, she heard snarls and scuffling from the Pit Bull and the Retriever, but the noises were not drawing any closer.
Amy opened her eyes, and was surprised to see the Pit Bull and Retriever locked in combat. Shaking, she rose to her feet, and shook the door knob in earnest, trying in vain to get through the door.
After a moment of resistance, Amy felt the knob slide in her grip, and, to her amazement, the door admitted her into a dark interior. Amy whipped inside and slammed the door shut behind her, throwing the deadbolt as she did so. She turned and fell backward against the door, gasping and sobbing with relief.