Even after all the days I’ve endured it seems to get colder. My knees are shivering, but my heart whimpers more. Bugsy’s long floppy ears are as strained as I’ve ever seen them. His ribcage shows and his gnawed legs shiver more as daylight wanes. His breaths are short and his nose twitches along with his heaving chest. I can’t tell if his final blow will be from starvation or the hastily approaching ice age. “It’s okay,” I say through a choked voice. “You can go now. It’s okay, Bugsy.” His focus is half on his breath, half on something terrifying he already sees beyond. I expect to see my tears falling off my numb face and onto his mangy fur, but they aren’t coming. It’d finally happened – my soul was too numb to death to shed a tear. All I can think about is the setting sun and the freaks that will surely follow.
They’ve been tracking us for days now. A pack of them went into the remote 7/11 yesterday about an hour after I left. I suspect they caught the thick scent of strawberry perfume still lingering on Lara’s favorite shirt I keep in my bag. It was only a matter of time until they picked up Bugsy’s potent aroma too.
Bugsy’s breaths are shortening, getting faster. His brown eyes are pale as ever. I might not be crying, but my stomach aches with the impending reality – I’ll be all alone once he’s gone. I look up to catch the sun caressing the jagged horizon. About an eight of it is already behind the distant mountain, casting a foreboding shadow over the lawn.
I’m watching this time for any evidence of a soul. I’ve heard the human body becomes about 12 ounces lighter when the soul leaves it. Bugsy is rail thin in his final minutes, but I try to get a sense for his weight anyway. He might not be human, but I figure the same still applies.
Bugsy will be the fourth and smallest living thing I loved to die in my arms in the last six months. Each time I’ve watched it happen, I’ve felt a sense of overwhelming failure. This time after it happens I can say for sure I will have nothing left to offer. My will is thin as the frigid air.
The wind howls through the splintered window and takes another nibble at my frost-bitten face. It wants to take me too.
I hear the freaks’ howls distantly bouncing off frozen houses. One calls out, and the cries of at least three, maybe twenty more follow. I thought I’d be too cold for it tonight, but the terror makes me shiver harder.
The sun beams through the broken glass in the front of the house. It’s dipped about halfway behind the mountains now. The shrieks are still echoing, but they grow closer. Their raspy hollers rip through the wasteland. Now I can also hear their bare feet thwacking and peeling against the frozen ground as they sprint to their destination: me.
I don’t know how the freaks came to be – the world spiraled too quickly for a decent explanation. I have to assume they are the result of a human mind starved of purpose, perpetually trembling in icy loneliness. Perhaps they’ve seen too many they love die in their arms. I’ve always wondered how closely the human mind teeters on insanity – I suppose now I have my answer. After all, what is a human mind without another to care for? The freaks had been carted to the cliff-face by despair, but blown over by one last gust of wind.
Though my arms are numb and shaky, I feel a sudden change in them. Bugsy’s nose isn’t twitching anymore. His ears droop to the sides of his stricken face. I question my theory – his body didn’t get any lighter. Maybe there is no soul after all.
Another gust of unforgiving wind snaps through the broken window. Whatever is left of the glass crackles and pops in the window frame.
I buried the rest of our family, but the icy sheet covering the ground is too thick to break for a burial. I’ll have to toss Bugsy aside, only to be ravaged by a freak. I can hear one sniffing at the front door. Its croaky panting beats against the fragmented windows by the front door. Its nails are pattering and scratching across the petrified wooden door. Suddenly, the freak seems to hold its breath, focusing as much as its feeble mind can handle. Then it shrieks in a higher pitch than I’ve ever heard before. More feet begin slapping into the ice, running harder from all directions.
There’s a thick lump in my throat. It’s telling me I won’t make it through the night, but I don’t know if I want to. I’m no more than a lone white rhinoceros trekking through an open savanna surrounded by strangers, on its way to nowhere and no one. Whatever life I have left will be nothing but a lonesome freeze.
A lone freak could probably rip the skin from my bones, but it still calls for the others. In a way they all care for each other and share a speechless bond. They have each other – comradery, companionship, a kind of shared demented warmth. Me? I am nothing but the last of my kind.
I can’t remember the last time I hadn’t shivered. Perhaps humankind was meant to vibrate in perpetual darkness for eternity – especially if they’d be negligent enough to hoist this apocalyptic fate upon themselves with impunity. Perhaps it is me that’s insane – the one who walks alone, the one who finally cares for no others, the one who feels almost nothing as another life joins the frozen winds.
The last glimmer of sunlight disappears behind the mountains. I notice a long thick drool hanging from my lower lip wetting Bugsy’s fur. Suddenly, the freaks seem more normal now.