TUESDAY: Puppy Love


Copyright is held by the author.

THEY WERE close. And getting closer.

I hadn’t been sure at first — the acoustics right on the edge of town were tricky — but now I was. The chorus of yips and howls was definitely coming closer.

I pull my legs in tighter to my chest, curling into myself, trying to become as small and inconspicuous as possible. Maybe they won’t come down this alley. Maybe they won’t see me. I close my eyes and hope.


I really wanted a dog. I’d had one in the Before Times; his name was Timmy and he was black and white with fluffy fur and floppy ears. I don’t know what happened to him… Deb says I shouldn’t think about it too much, but it’s hard. I don’t know what happened to my parents either, and I think about that a lot of the time too.

I was at school when the bombs fell — grade eight. The school wasn’t hit at all and some kids’ parents came to find them but not mine.

Mom worked at West Edmonton Mall and since that’s a crater now I can probably guess what happened to her, but Dad worked in the industrial park. Some of it was hit and some wasn’t so I think a lot about what might have happened to him. About why he didn’t come and get me.

When everything started happening they gathered everyone in the school together in the gymnasium to tell us about the bombs and wait for news. 

It was dark by the time I gave up on my parents coming. There were only four of us left — me, Mrs. Talbot, Mikey and Xia. We used Sharpies to leave messages on the front doors of the school in case anyone came looking and then climbed into Mrs. Talbot’s car to go back to her place for the night. We didn’t get far in the car though, the streets were pretty much impassible between rubble, other cars and people.

I remember it was a long walk to her house and when we got there Mrs. Talbot had a mini breakdown about the fact her husband wasn’t there. She kept trying to call him on the phone but, I dunno if she couldn’t get a line that worked or if he just wasn’t answering, but she freaked out. That’s when I got scared for the first time and I really wanted Timmy. My dog.

“Can we go get my dog?” I’d asked.

“Later,” she’d promised me through her tears. “Later.”

But later never came.


The pack is coming. They’ve stopped howling, but in some ways that’s worse. Occasionally one still barks or growls. It’s not a constant cacophony like it had been, but sporadic and random-feeling, so I can’t really judge how quickly they are approaching me. Any second now they could come around the corner of the alley and if they do that — once they do that — they’ll be able to see me.

It’s quite late in the evening but there is no darkness, to cover me because it is also high summer. There’s a blue sort of twilight, but it’s still more day than night.

I am hiding in a little cubby that had been built into a fence in the back alley. It’s far too small for my seventeen year-old frame, but I’ve got it crammed in here anyway.

We’d had one of these at my house in the Before Times. Dad had put the trash in it each week so the garbage collectors could get it by lifting the little roof but the birds and other animals couldn’t rip open the bags and spread it around. This cubby’s roof is intact but the front panel is broken open — that’s how I got in here. But it means I am surrounded by walls in every direction except the dangerous one. Except the one that faces the alley. The one the coyote pack will see if they come anywhere near.


Eventually we ended up leaving the city and going to Drumheller where some of Mrs. Talbot’s friends were holed up. “It’s like a field trip!” she told us. “We’re going to see the dinosaurs.”

We were all far too old for all that field trip crap, but we didn’t have anywhere better to go so Mikey, Xia and I just sort of went along for the ride. Really, we were probably all still in pretty deep shock, too.

At the dinosaur museum we’d met up with some of Mrs. Talbot’s friends and fellow teachers and basically just settled in. It felt like a bit of an adventure back then, before it just became day-to-day life. It helped that new people trickled in back then, including Deb and Tyrone, but there hadn’t been anyone new for a long time — at least a year.

And no one my age was left.

Xia had died last year — the adults called it an accident but everyone knew it was accidentally on purpose. And Mikey left shortly after, said he couldn’t be expected to live his whole life in the shadows of the past, or something. He always had been melodramatic.

Deb said he’d probably come back eventually. That he was just spreading his wings or something but all I knew for sure was that he’d left me. Us, yeah, sure, but more specifically me.

He was always kind of mean to me, teasing me and just generally being a pain. But he’d been someone my age and I’d not realised until he was gone how much he represented in my life. Now I was the only teenager left here. There was no one else even near my age. The closest people to me were nine and twenty-one. Ridiculous.

So sure, maybe one of the reasons I wanted a dog was so I could have a connection with something else now that Mikey had abandoned us all and I was feeling lonely and sad, but who could blame me? Dogs were awesome.

Unfortunately, they were also a wee bit harder to come by than they’d been in the Before Times. You couldn’t just go to a pet store, or a rescue society or drive out to a farm to pick out a puppy like we’d done with Timmy. There were dogs around, certainly, but most of them were feral and ran in packs. They were definitely filed under the ‘Hazards’ category rather than the ‘Cute and Cuddly’ one.

But I had a plan.


I don’t know what to do. There are a bunch of houses around me, and if I’d moved sooner instead of just freezing in place the moment I’d heard the coyotes I totally could have left my hiding spot and made it to one, been safe and secure with walls all around me. But I hadn’t. I had totally frozen up the second I heard that first yip.

I was used to hearing coyotes but it was a whole different thing when you hear them from within the safety of a building than when you realize they can actually reach you if you want to.

And there was a lot of them. A lot. I could tell just from the sound.

It’s possible I can still make a break for it, make it into a house, or a yard, without being spotted. The coyotes are close but I haven’t seen any yet. But if I can hear them, does that mean they can hear me? How good is their hearing? Is it better to stay here, curled up in the corner and hiding, or to risk making a break for it and having to outrun them?


The whole town was broken up into areas controlled by different groups of people. The museum we lived in was a bit outside the town so our territory was pretty big and rural. That meant we didn’t have a lot of resources scavengers might want, which was good in that it meant we didn’t need to do much patrolling or defending, but bad in that it meant we didn’t have a lot of resources. It was also bad because it was a heck of a walk to the edge of town but the only pack of dogs that I knew about for sure were in town. But the weather was nice, I was in pretty good shape and I was determined.

I was going to get a dog one way or another.

I needed something warm and fuzzy to tell my secrets to and cuddle with at night. I needed something to love.

So I’d come up with a plan.

Over the past few weeks I’d been saving a wee bit of my daily food rations. Not too much, I wasn’t foolish enough to starve myself because then how would I make the walk? But a little bit every meal. And then every three days I made the trek to the edge of our territory. I’d picked the specific spot I did — an alley between a few houses on the edge of town — because one time I’d even seen three dogs — scruffy and mean-looking — pacing around the area, their noses pressed tight to the ground. That’s what had given me the idea in the first place, actually.

So every three days I’d go to this place and walk around and around, pacing all over the area, trying to sort of saturate it with my scent. And when I thought I’d circled the little patch of the alley enough I’d put down the offering from my rations right in the middle of it and back away. Then I’d sit on the cracked and crumbling remnants of the road — it was impressive how much it had deteriorated in just a few years, really — at the end of the alley and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The dogs never came but every time I came back, three days later, the food was gone. 

My hope was that my pacing would eventually make them get used to my scent so they wouldn’t be afraid of me. And that the food bribes would also be associated with my scent and win me a place in their furry little hearts. Then, the plan was, I would slowly get closer and closer to them until, finally, eventually, one of them wanted to be mine and would come back to the museum with me.

I knew it might take a long time but time was something I had a lot of. It’s not like I could play video games or watch tv. And I’d read all the books in the museum’s gift store and most of the ones various patrols had scavenged too.

But no matter how much time I had my plan would never work if the dogs only ever came at night when I wasn’t there.

So I decided to stay all night.


I can’t stay here any longer. I can’t decide if it’s the smart choice or the stupid one, but I suddenly just realized that if the coyotes do find me I have no chance to defend myself here. None. I’m crammed into a corner, cowering, and there’s only one way out. If that way is blocked by an angry coyote? I’m screwed.

I might be screwed anyway, but better to be chased down by coyotes under the open sky than to be torn to bits in a place that smells vaguely of garbage.

Even after telling myself all that it’s still tough to make myself move. To force my arms from around my knees, to stretch out my legs. I move slowly, carefully, trying to make as little sound as possible. I can hear the pack but I can’t be sure how close they are because the acoustics are weird. Still, if I can hear them I feel certain they can hear me. So I creep slowly, oh, so, so slowly out of the garbage cubby.

Once I’m free of it, I risk a peek to the end of the alley, and while I don’t see a coyote I do see something that might be the shadow of one.

My heart does a little stutter and for a moment I’m frozen in place, my muscles absolutely refusing to follow my commands, but then everything releases all at once and I run.


 I knew it was risky, but figured if I didn’t attract any attention to myself none of the people in town would spot me or care, and maybe I’d see the dogs. Maybe they’d start to associate my scent and the food with my physical body and we could get this show on the road. The sooner we made friends the better.

I didn’t want to try and make my way to town in the dark so I snuck out just after dinner and practically skipped across the fields toward town. I mean, I didn’t actually skip because I’m too old for that and besides gopher holes are a real nightmare, but I was in a good enough mood that I could have.

This would take me one step closer to a dog and I could not wait. Sure they were scrawny and scruffy and dirty but once I got some food into them and gave them a good washing up they’d be good as new. I couldn’t wait to give them ear scratches and bury my face in their fur.

I arrived at the alley just as the light was turning from gold to blue, shifting slowly into night. I paced around and then left the food I’d saved up in the same place as always. Rather than taking my usual spot on the road, though, I picked out somewhere a bit more discrete.

Just last week Deb had called me impulsive and naïve. She’d said it in this lighthearted way that I think was meant to make it seem endearing but it had hurt my feelings and stuck with me. Stuck with me enough I was determined to prove her wrong on this trip. I wasn’t being impulsive, I’d thought about this for days before I did it, and I was taking precautions by hiding myself away so I’d be safe even if something bad happened.

And I waited.

And waited.

In the past year or so I’d really had a growth spurt and my legs were all gangly and awkward. I couldn’t find a comfortable position to put them in and the splintery plywood with its peeling paint was far from being as comfortable as my mattress on the floor in the museum. I was really regretting not bringing a blanket with me. Not because it was cold, because it wasn’t, but just because I wanted to have something to wrap around myself. Not like a security blanket, I’d outgrown those in the third grade, but just for its fuzzy warmth.

Sort of like a dog.

And then I heard them, and they didn’t sound like dogs.

They sounded like coyotes.

That distinctive “Yip! Yip! Yip! Hooooowl.”

And I froze.


My first step is a weird sort of half-skip/jump thing which makes the gravel in the alley crunch beneath my feet.

I don’t even look back to see if I’ve attracted the coyote’s attention, I just run.

There is no bark, no howl to signal that the pack has spotted me and given chase. The only thing I can hear is the sound of the gravel under my shoes, the blood rushing through my ears and the panting gasps of my breathing.

There another sound, the panting of a coyote or a pack of coyotes just beneath that but I can’t tell if it’s my imagination or reality and I don’t look to see.

I’ve watched enough movies to know that looking over your shoulder is how you end up falling down. And that’s how the murderer, the monster, the zombie or, in this case, the coyotes get you.

“Meep meep” a semi-hysterical little voice in the back of my head thinks, as I bolt down the alley and I almost laugh. Almost. I am scared to death that at any moment they are going to pounce on me from behind and knock me to the ground, but still, I almost laugh.

But I don’t stop running.

I don’t slow down.

To either side of me is fence, fence and more fence. I spot a gate or two but they are all closed and I don’t want to slow down to open them just in case the panting I hear behind me is not my imagination. Just in case the coyotes catch me.

So I keep running and then, like a miracle, one of the gates opens up in front of me.

I don’t miss a step, don’t stop to question why the gate might have opened, what kind of danger might be on the other side of it, I just turn and run through it.

I catch the outline of a person out of my peripheral vision, solving the mystery of how the gate opened. It’s a man. Tall and wide across the shoulders. I hear the gate latch closed behind me and I just keep on running. If it was dangerous to be a teenage girl in the Before Times it is triply dangerous now.

So I keep on running.

I dodge around the rusted out frame of a trampoline, all its soft parts long since deteriorated, and am making my way to the front gate when I hear my name.

“Haley!” a voice says. “It’s me. Goddamn it, it’s me!”

I skid to a stop, grabbing a hold of the trampoline to keep my balance. “Mikey?” I turn to look at him. “Mikey, is that you?”

“Mike,” he says. “It’s Mike now.”

He takes a step forward and I can see the shape I’d mistaken for a strange man really is Mikey. Mike. His hair is shaggy, his facial hair — he has facial hair! — is scruffy, and he’s filled out in all sorts of ways, but it’s definitely him. His eyes are the same . . . but the way they are looking at me is not.

“Oh, too grown-up for Mikey?” I tease, telling myself that the way my breath is catching has to do with my panic and the sprint I just took down the alley.

He laughs, closing the distance between us a bit more. “Maybe.” He stops just out of reach, and looks down at me. That’s also new, I used to be taller than him.

“Why are you running?” he asks.

“Coyotes,” I say.

“Rabbits can’t out run coyotes, but you think you can?” His mockery is softer than before he left. Friendly rather than hurtful.

I shrug.

“Coyotes are a couple blocks over.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

I see a line appear between his eyebrows as he pulls them together a bit, then he gestures to the attic window of the house whose yard we’re standing in. “I could see it from there.”

“Oh,” I say. I guess the shadow I thought was of a coyote was something else entirely. But I don’t tell him that.

“Yeah,” he says.

And just as the silence between us is beginning to become heavy and uncomfortable the coyotes begin yipping and howling once more. They are closer now than they were when I was hiding in the alley but the combination of a six foot fence and Mikey — Mike’s — presence reduces my fear. Still, I laugh nervously and so does he.

“C’mon in,” he says, walking the long way around the trampoline, far away from me, to open the door to the house. “Mi casa es su casa . . .”

“Thanks,” I say.

He holds the door open for me and as I pass by him to go through it I brush against him and feel something settle low in my belly . . . lower than my belly. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, accompanied as it is by a platoon of butterflies which flutter unexpectedly to life. He starts as though I’d just zapped him with electricity, and I wonder if it’s for similar reasons.

Up in the attic, which looks like it has been inhabited for quite some time, I look out the window and see, clear as day, the little cubby I’d been hiding in.

“Were you watching me?” I ask at the same time he says, “Thank you for the food.”

“Yes,” he says, looking from me down to his feet. “I wasn’t sure what you were doing but I was . . . well, I wasn’t sure what you were doing.”

Thank you for the food?

“Have you been here the whole time since you left?” I ask.

“Pretty much. There are fewer people here, less drama. Less rules. I didn’t want to leave the museum and just run straight into the arms of another group. I wanted to see if I could make it on my own. And I could, but I still appreciated your efforts.”

He thought the food I’d been bringing was for him. No wonder it was always gone but I’d never seen a dog!

“I . . . did you know it was me the whole time?” I ask, then turn to look back out the window. It is getting darker, so I can’t be sure, but I think I see some movement in the shadows a few blocks over that might be the coyotes.

“Yup,” he steps nearer, and I can feel him right behind me. His warmth radiating against my back.

“Why didn’t you come out?”

“You . . .” he sighs and his breath stirs my hair. Then he starts his thought over again. “Even after the apocalypse, some things are hard . . .”

I hadn’t known. I hadn’t even had a clue, but now I did. Now I get it. I understand the incessant teasing, the hints, the pointed way he’d looked at me before he left.

Maybe he didn’t need to know that it had been a dog I’d been leaving food for. Maybe I’d keep that little bit to myself. After all, I think as I lean back to feel his chest against me, his hands lifting to rest uncertainly against my hips, what I’d really been looking for was something, someone, to tell my secrets and troubles to. Someone warm to hold at night. Someone to make me feel less alone. Someone to love.

And maybe that didn’t need to be a dog.


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Rhonda Parrish is constantly creating shiny new poems and stories.
She hoards them, like a magpie dragon, at
https://www.patreon.com/RhondaParrish — the only place in the multiverse
many of them can be found.