"What's the plan?"
"Get to the West Coast, find a boat, and get my wife."
"You're fucking crazy. We've got to get somewhere we can hold."
"I'm going to California."
"California's going to be gone when you get there, brother. She's dead, anyway."
Keith Durant, despite nine years in the US Army - the last two attached to non-Department of Defense task forces - had never killed anybody before that moment.
The decision to travel more northern routes seems a bad one. Durant cannot afford to sleep so heavily. Traveling by night, struggling to stay warm, and killing his own food exhausted him far more than estimated. The two German Shepherds he rescued from the Blight occasionally bring him food, but much too infrequently. And he still had to skin and cook their kills himself. It is no surprise that, lately, he's been eating kills raw, hoping that his constitution adjusts quickly enough to keep him from falling too ill to travel. So far, so good. Regardless, he continues to cook most of his meals when fire can be readily concealed.
He often considers dumping some weapons. The consideration never lasts long. They are, to put it bluntly, more important than food or water. Without them he'd have been dead weeks and miles ago. It was sheer luck that his escape from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had taken him through the post's ammo holding area. He'd have probably stayed there were it not for wanting to find his wife. But the AHA had no food stores to speak of. Which meant foraging parties. Which meant purposeful contact with the Blight. Which probably meant everyone at the AHA was dead by now. At least the man in charge was nice enough to let Keith leave with a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Carrying it had been a hassle, but in the first days following the invasion - or the revelation, depending on what one believes - he went through bullets like piss. He still has his Army-issue M4 carbine. The shotgun he found on a dead man. The pistol on a dead cop. Dead cops were gold mines for equipment these days.
According to some Canadians Keith briefly traveled with through West Virginia, the United States was holding out against the Blight better than every other nation. Everyone agreed that it was due to the high percentage of guns among the civilian populace, and that was the reason why the Canadians came south across the border. That boded well for Keith. It gives him a decent chance of making the Pacific Ocean. He has no idea how many guns are in Australia. He hopes his wife managed to find one. Or, at least, find people with guns. No one knows if the Blight are alien or demon - or, he'd heard one posit, man-made - but they can be killed. Keith killed one with his Bowie knife not long after leaving Fort Bragg. It was already wounded, but the brawl exhausted Keith. Far easier to shoot them.
He doesn't think about it much. There's too much guilt to deal with. If he lives through this, he'll spend more time trying to figure out what the Blight are. Though they seem more like rabid animals to him than intelligent life, he doesn't really care. Right now, he only knows one thing: westward. His only reason for living. And he'll have to kill a Hell of a lot of things to make it there. People included.
It is Lavinia - the female German Shepherd - who wakes Keith. A cold nose creeps its way around the holes of his ski mask. It is an effective alarm clock. Aeneas - the male - is usually responsible for the act. Today, something has Aeneas' attention. Keith's transition from drowsy to alert is nearly instantaneous.
The dogs never make a sound. During their struggle with the Blight their growls and whines were loud, rapid, and clear in meaning. Since then Keith hasn't heard either of them so much as bark. Perhaps survival instinct was gracious enough to teach the dogs that noises allow the Blight to locate them. Or perhaps they were just quiet dogs to begin with. Keith did find the matter curious. But the begging question will have to wait.
Aeneas locks his body in a stiff pose. It reminds Keith of a Pointer-mix he had when he was a boy. Lining himself up behind his companion, Keith gazes down Aeneas' sight line.
A Blight is searching the woods. There's no indication that it knows human and canine are nearby. Keith has come to call this version of the Blight "scouts." He's never obtained a good look at one, but Scouts appear to Keith as colored wind. From what he's heard, Scouts are notoriously hard to kill.
He hopes the shotgun will wound it enough for Lavinia and Aeneas to bring it down.
*To be continued...