The Martin’s green SUV was buried in traffic near the front of the huge pile-up, their scent pouring from the vehicle like a river. Buddy was sprinting as fast as he could towards the smell, abandoning any attempt to hide from the sick/dead things which were shambling awkwardly among the cars. Several of them tried turning towards the dog as he raced by and invariably fell flat on the pavement with the abrupt weight shift. Even if one had managed to turn without face-planting they would have had no chance to catch him. Buddy had been fast and agile even before The Sickness - - he was mostly terrier, after all, a breed known for wicked speed and the ability to turn on a dime while tracking small animals. Long weeks on the road had further sharpened his reflexes and toughened his legs and now he was setting a blistering pace towards his goal, darting across lanes and zig-zagging around obstacles almost faster than the human eye could follow. He was mere yards from the vehicle now, and could see that one of the back doors was already open for him. He LOVED car rides! Buddy leaped through the door and bounded into the large back seat, tail wagging madly, spinning in circles with joy, bursting to catch the first sight of his humans.
The vehicle was empty.
Not entirely empty, actually. It was still stacked with camping supplies, food, and other items that The Man had loaded into it, but none of these held any interest at all for the dog. Buddy’s ears perked up. He LOVED to play hide and seek! He spent the next few minutes gleefully searching under seats, peering under the vehicle, and nosing though piles of abandoned baggage. The initial euphoria was passing, though, and Buddy began to realize that his humans might not be playing hide and seek. They might not be here at all. Buddy sat down in the back seat. Where a human might have grown suicidal with rage and depression, Buddy was merely puzzled. He tested the air again with his nose. The scent was strong, but Buddy suddenly noticed that it wasn’t particularly fresh. His canine brain had essentially whited-out as the scent had grown stronger that morning, and he had stopped really analyzing the odor, had been merely following the familiar smell mindlessly like a salmon swimming upstream. He began pacing around the interior of the car, nose working, peeling back layers of scent.
The Man had sat here.
The Woman had sat here.
The Little Girl had sat here.
The Man and The Woman had left the car at the same time, both moving to the back door Buddy had entered through. Both had entered the back of the SUV. The Woman had grabbed the Little Girl, The Man had grabbed items from the back storage area. The odors got mixed up immediately outside the open door but began trailing as a group to the east, off the road and away from the traffic jam. Buddy now noticed a large splatter of dried blood on the rear door, driblets of it patterning away from the SUV. He followed it. The Little Girl’s pink backpack was lying discarded off the shoulder of the road, a crust of dried blood also smeared across it. It was The Man’s blood. There was a lot of it. Buddy followed the trail further away from the road, jumping across a large ditch and ducking under a barbed wire fence, leaving the roadway completely.
The blood trail was growing fainter now, along with the initially strong smell. He began tracking across a bean field and towards a house located several hundred yards away. The soy beans had not been harvested that season (just one of many routines disrupted by The Sickness), and the frozen rustling of the 3 foot tall plants played havoc with his hearing and limited his vision to only a few feet in every direction. He stopped every few feet to listen and look, peering down the rows and straining his large ears. Fortunately for Buddy, the presence of the plants made it possible to visually track to some extent - - there was a fairly obvious trail of broken stalks leading away from the road. Unfortunately for Buddy it seemed that the Martins hadn’t been the only family moving away from the road across that field. There were numerous trails of broken plants moving every which way through the large field, and he had to take precious time sorting out the scents and tracks as they criss-crossed each other.
It took over an hour for Buddy to make his way from the road to the tree line which bordered the east side of the large field. The light was rapidly fading and a stiff, cold breeze had begun sweeping across the field, moving the beans in waves and rattling shrubs and tree branches. The gray sky was spitting snowflakes. Buddy needed to find a place to bed down for the night. He was only 100 yards or so from the farm house, a likely place to find shelter and, hopefully, food. He hiked his leg and peed on a shrub near the spot where the scent of his humans trailed into the woods. The mark would make it easier to find the trail when he resumed his search in the morning, a trick he had discovered completely by accident a few days after he left his house. He had filed that discovery away in his growing body of survival knowledge along with other useful tidbits (e.g., DO NOT attempt to share a skunk’s sleeping area without permission).
Task accomplished, he walked cautiously towards the house, but stopped outside when he was still some distance away. Buddy could hear and smell at least 3 of the sick/dead things inside, groaning and thumping as they tried to escape their rustic prison. The sick/dead things didn’t communicate with each other exactly, but Buddy had learned enough in the past weeks that he had begun to recognize certain sounds and how they related to their patterns of behavior. The creatures made a constant moaning sound that a human could hear, but also vocalized in ranges just below and just above normal human hearing. The trapped creatures were making a high-pitched keening sound, similar to that a dog would make just before it attacked. Dangerous. Best not to go too near. Buddy changed directions towards a series of outbuildings closer to the woods, settling on a large dilapidated barn. He squirmed underneath a splintered section of siding and went inside.
Buddy let his eyes adjust for a few minutes, but the gloom and his limited color vision (Buddy saw all the colors of the world as shades of yellow, blue, and gray) made him still primarily reliant on scent and sound. The barn was mostly quiet, but Buddy could smell a variety of other animals, a scattering of mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and other smaller creatures which had taken refuge there. Annoying, perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. He snugged himself into a pile of straw near the rear of the barn and tucked his tail over his nose, quickly drifting off into a peaceful sleep. He dreamt of playing hide and seek with The Little Girl, the pink backpack over her shoulders tauntingly near but always just out of reach.
Holmes: "You have arms, I suppose?
Watson: "Yes, I thought it as well to take them."
Holmes: "Most certainly! Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions..."
- The Hound of the Baskervilles