Seven Dogs – Excerpt

For your reading enjoyment…

Seven Dogs

by Suzzanne Myers

 

 

It could be any street in any town. Slim, two-story houses sandwiched together along a narrow, paved corridor. Street lamps on the corners, metal signs to mark location. Block E-16, Row 4.

Except that it’s not any street in any town. It’s a row in Prison City and it’s dark now, the street lamps bereft of power, no people left in the houses. The buildings are plain concrete, the windows shuttered with thick, retractable plates, the insides gutted from the war. Once, it was a free town, a place where people started over. Now Dogtribe owns this city and there’s nowhere to hide from them, nowhere they can’t find you. They can sense your fear, your anger, your hate, and it’s a beacon. It draws them, and you’ll never see them till it’s too late, because they are just flickers in the dark, shapes unseen except for a sense of presence filling empty air and then gone a moment later. Moving fast. Hunting.

I am being followed, and by more than one thing.

I dart into a nearby doorway and ease the door closed behind me just as footsteps sound on the pavement outside. They look like humans, but they don’t think the same way. They don’t hunt the same way. I close my eyes, suck in a breath, and try to force my thoughts to silence. But there is a soft scratch at the door behind me. A whimper, and then another scratch.

My hands are shaking.

I know what I should do. Run. Every muscle in my body aches for it, every instinct reaches toward the back of this crumbling house. Run. I look up, measuring the distance; fifteen feet to the back door, thirty to the courtyard gate. How much farther to my horse—a hundred feet? Two hundred? I stare hard at that back door, swinging slightly in the cold wind, and I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye; if I go now it’s a straight shot down the alley, and then out of Prison City. With the horse, I can make it. Dogs can’t outrun a horse.

But I’ll never get to my horse, because the minute I run they’ll have me. And even if I could outrun them, it’s still a choice between two deaths, Dogtribe or starvation. Staying behind was a bad idea and Jav knew it. He warned me. But I told him I would do it. I grabbed hold of his very last shred of hope and I made him and all the rest of them believe I could do it.

I look up at the ceiling and remember that night so many months ago, when I watched the night sky glow over Hadrau with the blue gaslight of exploding starships. When I fell through layers of atmosphere and the debris flashed and sparked all around me like pinpricks of souls lighting the dark. I believed in something then and I still believe it now, and I can’t run no matter how much my instincts tell me to. If I do, I’m giving up on hope and dying anyway.

So I swallow my fear. I shove it down deep inside where it cannot remind me what the Dogs will do to me if they catch me. I close my hands into fists and I fill my heart up with the faces of those who are still alive, of those twenty withered and beaten, half-dead souls counting on me, and I draw my knife.

The Dog at my door screams and throws himself against it. Now his whimpering is not soft or scratching but a full howl, a roar against the steel between us. He has the scent of fear in his senses and he will not let it go. Again and again the door shudders behind me. It doesn’t have much to give, not against a demon Dog.

That’s when I see him—a shape, more than just shadow, looming in the back door. My mind immediately registers Dogtribe, because the impossibility that it could be another human is beyond reason. It’s been two years since the war and we haven’t seen another one of us in months. We’ve watched day and night with the scopeglass, looking for movement on the city streets, for lights here and there, and it’s always been the same thing: no one’s seen a human since Dogtribe came to Prison City.

But the man’s fingers tremble where they clutch the door frame and I know he’s got to be human. “Come on!” he says urgently, beckoning. My heart soars. For a moment I dream there are more of us, and they’re surviving.

Then the door crashes in and I’m thrown against the opposite wall as the Dog surges through the room. His roar fills the empty space, tearing at my eardrums, but the thing’s not coming for me. It lunges past me for that empty door, for the stranger and his shadow who are, even now running. I fall back against the wall, shocked, untouched. I am invisible in the settling dust, just a hunched creature in a corner, forgotten because the real prey is running and I have swallowed my fear.

A howl pierces the night and a man screams, and suddenly something electric comes alive inside of me. I push myself to my feet and grip my knife as I walk to the back door. The man is on the ground and five Dogs dance above him like savage things, their shadows stretching tall and gaunt and blacker somehow than any normal shadow should be, as if they suck the very night into their bodies.

Five dogs is too many.

But they do not see me, and there is something alive pumping through my veins. They do not hear me, so wholly is their concentration on their victory. I move down the steps swiftly, across cracked and broken flagstones, and come up behind the nearest one. I expect him to twist away as I wrap my arm around him and jab my knife between his ribs, but instead, he screams, writhing, wilting to his knees, as if my very touch is acid. A moment later his scream dies as I open his throat.

There are stories that a Dog’s touch can steal your soul, that it turns you into a crazed animal. Maybe it’s true, or maybe what they do to you is so horrific that any who survive are left somewhat less than they were. But in that moment, something passes between the dying creature and me. I feel him die. I feel his anguished life squelch out of him, inking out into the very darkness that contained him, dissipating into dust and wind. What is left is stillness. His body slumps to the ground and I know that somehow I have done this, somehow I’ve killed him and taken his life and cast it out for good.

Our tests show the biologic takes over quickly once it starts to leak, my Commander warned me, back when I was safe, when I was on a different planet in a war room that smelled like cigars and too much starch, wearing my best dress uniform. They say that by the time you know it’s happened, you’ve only got a few hours. They say you’ll probably feel like a god until you drop dead.

The others are on me in that moment. I turn to meet my attackers, whipping my knife in a tight arc, but there are too many. One is too many, four is beyond me, but I’m not running. I step in and grab hold of my closest attacker, shoving my knife up in the same motion, but he blocks my thrust. My fingers curl around his arm, squeezing, willing him to die, but he doesn’t scream or fall down in agony like his lifeless companion. What I did before I cannot do again.

A leak is unpredictable, you got that? Unreliable. So you activate right away and the biologic will flood your system. You’ll have seventy-two hours till you burn out, but you’ll have full control. If you wait and the chip leaks, well, the Stars only know what will happen. But it won’t come to that, will it, soldier?

No sir, it won’t come to that, I’d said.

Except, it had come to that. The Dog turns my wrist sharply and I drop the knife. The others are at my back and there is nowhere to run, and that’s when I realize I’m staring up into the face of a Dog who calls himself Flayer. He is smiling, sharp, filed teeth glistening in his too-wide mouth, and his tongue snakes out and licks my cheek.

“Ah, little angel,” he says against my ear, “I’d hoped to see you again.”

A dozen terrifying memories slam back into me. Four grisly, tortured deaths. I don’t hear the shouts of war in that moment, don’t recognize that the fighting has resumed around me, that there are men fighting Dogs. All I see are Flayer’s eyes boring into me, glistening with triumph the way I’ve always known them to do. The way they did when I stood over him with my knife dripping his cold, black blood onto the ground. When he was supposed to be dead.

 

Like this excerpt? Want to read more?  Get a copy now, in print or digital!  And don’t forget to check out the beginning of this story with “Withered Tree!”  You can read an excerpt from that story here:  Withered Tree – Excerpt

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