Steel and Me
Steel’s breath smells almost as bad as the air here, downwind from what used to be a city. Mine probably stinks just as much as the dog’s, but he never bitches about it so neither do I. We may not be Dorothy and Toto, but he and I get along.
That’s how long Steel and I have been here on the west side. We have the cellar to ourselves and so far we have avoided the roving gangs of Burners. Our nighttime searches have been a bust though. All we have to show is one dented gas can, a few rolls of masking tape and the batteries.
Hell, I should feel thankful for those.
The last pack of batteries I found bought me three hots and a cot at the Ref-Center across town. Of course those were the square nine-volts and these are only double-A’s, but they should still be worth a fresh meal and maybe a pair of socks.
There’s a Drift I met by the burn pits—I think her name is Doris, or Daisy... something stupid like that—but she says she has a half-dozen sports-bras stashed, that she managed to steal from somewhere. If it’s true and one of them fits, I might just swap her a couple batteries instead. Safer than going to the Ref-Center, and I’d love to be able to run without having to hold my chest. I don't care what anyone says, boobs are a pain in the ass.
The sun’s getting hot again. Midday temps are reaching at least 130 now. Luckily we’ve been riding out the worst of it here, two levels deep. The air is a bit staler down here, but the heat is manageable.
We’ll need to make a trip to the lake tonight; we are down to two canteens of water, and Steel has been panting a lot today.
The mutt knows I’ll give him my share if I have to.
One of the Noonas at the Ref-Center told me she heard we are supposed to get some relief from the heat as autumn begins, but I wonder. Whoever the genius was who fired up the HAARP array, stripped the cloud cover off most of the planet before they could shut it down. The only rain we’ve seen in months, has been in our dreams.
I pour a little water in my hand and let Steel lap it up before we settle in for a siesta. It’s the best thing to do when it’s this damned hot.
I come fully awake from my nap all at once, like always. It doesn’t pay to be only partially aware. I learned that the hard way last year.
“Come on, Steel. Let’s go see if the group under the library wants to trade some mostly clean tape rolls for a new book.”
At least I would have something to read that way.
I almost make the stairs, when Steel’s warning growl, low and almost non-existent, stops me in my tracks. He smells something, and now I can hear it. Someone is in the room above us. I gently slide the bolt back on my rifle, and check the chamber before re-locking it.
I love you, dog. Let’s see who it is.
I make my way quietly up the stairs with Steel at my heels, all but silent on the pads of his feet.
I stop in the stairwell below the level of the upper floor, and slowly raise myself up on my toes, just enough to see through the weak light beyond the doorway above. It looks like a pair of Burners, probably on a foraging patrol.
Shit, they aren’t even trying to be quiet... probably feel invincible.
They should have checked the building completely, before acting all at-home and cozy. I bet they don’t even realize there is another level below this one.
I put my left eye against the scope, my right trigger finger lying gently inside the trigger guard. Just as I thought. Two boys in Burner boots and jackets; they don’t even look old enough to shave. I guess that’s a problem they won’t ever have to worry about now.
I raise my left hand, all four fingers straight up in the air. I can tell Steel has frozen at this signal without even having to look. We are a good team, Steel and me.
I think you might have some fresh food tonight, dog.
With a single motion, I close my hand into a fist and then stretch my fingers out flat. Steel lowers himself to his belly, crawls past me up the last few steps, and slinks toward the doorway. He knows how to flush out his prey.
Steel lays in the doorway quietly and turns to look at me. I brace myself against the steps and sight in on Burner #1, across the room. The idiot is standing in a thin beam of sunlight.
Almost too easy.
Even easier to imagine he is one of the crew who raped me last year. They are all dead—thanks to Steel and a couple well-placed bullets—but the anger comes on anyway, strengthening my resolve.
A simple quiet tongue-click is Steel’s cue and he begins to whine. Very softly and non-threatening. His posture is relaxed and his tail is slowly thumping up and down. He has his ears lowered and if I know Steel, he is grinning his silly-dog grin at them as well. He knows how to do the sweet and innocent act better than any human.
“What the fuck was that?” The sitting duck in my sights turns to look toward the darkened doorway with a bit of panic in his voice.
Maybe these two have a little brains after all.
His partner sees Steel and proves how green he is, sealing both their fates. He walks over and bends down, muttering some kind of baby talk to the dog. I gently squeeze the trigger on my rifle, and as the sound of the shot echoes up the stairwell, his buddy’s head explodes into a fine red mist behind him—bits of brain and blood spraying out across the far side of the room. I throw the bolt back, ejecting the spent casing, and slam another round home into the chamber before the noise is even gone.
The look of shock on the second Burner’s face is almost comical, but doesn’t last long. Steel uncoils like a spring, and without making a sound, tears out the asshole’s throat. His body falls to the floor, and his feet actually spasm a few times before his brain registers his own death.
I wait a few minutes to make sure the sound of the shot hasn’t attracted any unwanted attention, then stand up and enter the upper basement. I gotta hand it to the Drift who sold me this ammo. He said it would pack a punch, and he was definitely on track.
I quickly search the bodies. The headless one was packing a pistol with a full clip, but his buddy, Mr. Dog Food, was only carrying a 22-caliber pellet gun. Big Bad Burners they weren’t. Pitiful wanna-be’s is closer to the truth.
This is a tough world boys, too bad you didn’t figure that out sooner.
Between the two of them, they did have three canteens, which I use to refill my own supplies. The one I shot also had a bag of jerky in his pocket, so it looks like maybe Steel and I will both have a bite of dinner.
I signal the dog to have at it, and as he fills his belly on the remains of the Burner, I head back down to pack up my duffel. They were probably loners, but just in case, I’d rather not be here if their friends do show up to mourn their stupidity.
Oh well... it was time to move on anyway. Slinging my rifle, I lift the duffel to my shoulder and join Steel upstairs. Together, we make our way toward ground level and the afternoon heat. I pat the new pistol tucked into my belt, and smile at the dog.
Looks like I have a bit more than just batteries to trade now, mutt. Let’s go.
(c) 2017 - dustygrein