Days of Decay

   Ben stared blankly at the radio sitting on the dashboard of the truck, his blood stained hands fiddling nervously with a stray string hanging from his shirt sleeve. The heavy humid air clung to his body like a jacket as rays of the sun’s boisterous heat leaked through the cracked windshield.

   The  Cicadas that loudly flapped their wings in the distance suddenly grew silent as an inhuman like growl drawled through the air. Ben’s green eyes instantly snapped upwards, his hands slowly reaching for a large hatchet at the side of his leg. Grasping the hatchet to his chest, he sprung from his seat and snatched the radio from the dashboard, roughly shoving it in the back pocket of his backpack. With a swift movement, he flung the door of the truck open and jumped to the ground.

His small hunting boots crunched against the dead leaves as he jogged towards a nearby tree trunk strung with a rope. Kneeling down, He methodically untied the rope and forcefully jerked it forwards. An emaciated boy with nothing but bloodied stubs for arms suddenly stumbled from the darkness, a gurgled groan emitting from his mouth. Ben stayed frozen in his crouch as he watched the boy wallow towards the dirt road adjacent to the tree. With a frustrated but also relieved sigh, he harshly pulled his arm backwards causing the boy to nearly topple over his own clumsy footing.

“Come On Charlie” Ben snapped “We’re not going that way”

       Charlie groaned in reply, his yellow teeth strung with flesh gnashing together in contempt. Ben merely rolled his eyes before slinging his backpack over his shoulder and lazily walking the opposite direction. At the light tug of the worn rope around his neck, Charlie followed surprisingly silently behind Ben. The two made their way into the forest without even a snarl exchanged.

    As the day progressed and the sun sunk lower to the horizon, Ben became increasingly worried about the near twilight approaching. There was not a single vehicle in sight and despite Charlies earlier cooperation, he was becoming even more sluggish and hungry. Every now and then Ben would have to set himself a  few yards apart from Charlie in order to avoid getting his own arm bitten off. After only a mile more of walking, Ben reluctantly tied Charlie to a nearby tree and collected firewood. By the time he kindled a fire, the sun had dipped well below the far off hills and left only a orangeish glow across the dim sky above.

Not long after Ben nearly collapsed to the ground to scavenge through his backpack for something to satisfy his growling stomach . Charlie watched him with an unwavering expression of hunger as Ben triumphantly pulled a meal from his bag. Unfortunately instead of being a scrumptious can of beans, Ben’s hand held a square shaped container of SPAM.  Instantly, his eager face turned into a look of disgust. Charlie let out a gurgled snort that sounded like a near snicker at the sight.

“Oh you thinks that funny” Ben retorted at Charlie with narrowed eyes “I guess i’ll just eat the squirrel I caught for you myself”

   Charlie quickly clenched his jaw shut causing Ben’s lip to tug upwards into a smug smile.

    Seconds later a disfigured squirrel with a jagged cut across its stomach was pulled from Ben’s backpack and tossed to Charlie. Charlies eyes brightened briefly before he leaned forwards and chomped his teeth down against the squirrels flesh.  

   It was not long after that Charlie had finished his meal and sat back up with blood stained teeth and a slightly more satisfied feeling. He was still hungry, he was always hungry, but the gnawing in his stomach was not nearly as severe as it was before.

Yawning, Ben rested his head against the side of his backpack and stared blankly at the orange flames that danced around large chunks of charcoaled wood. Although he was laying a few feet away, the heat radiated from the fire, providing a comforting warmth against his cool skin. The trees above that added a thick canopy of shelter swayed gently in the breeze, allowing a tranquility to wash over him as he stretched his sore limbs. Slowly, his eyes began to droop shut, a heavy weight of sleepiness already beginning to envelope him. Ben felt peaceful.

    But as the distant crickets began to chirp and the fire slowly died, the harmonious silence  was broken by a loud growl. Instantly, Ben’s eyes fluttered open, his hands instinctively grabbing the hatchet laying at his side. In a fluster of movement, he stumbled to his feet and blindly walked towards the opposite side of the fire. Judging from a blurry and dark outline Ben was able to see the strained rope around Charlies throat as he forcefully attempted to walk forwards. Even though Charlie had no arms, his shoulders shifted as if he was reaching outwards for something.

Irritably rolling his eyes, Ben dropped the hatchet to his side and quietly pulled out a small flashlight from the back pocket of his jacket. With one small flick of his finger a ray of blinding light projected from his hand onto the tree. Charlie hoarsely hissed as his clouded eyes clamped shut and he fell onto the hard ground behind him. His body squirmed briefly before he tugged his thin knees up to his chest and moaned painfully.  Ben quickly redirected the ray of light to the area opposite of Charlie, a flash of concern dawning his features. Charlie luckily recovered rapidly and seconds later regained his footing to lunge towards Ben.

Ben scrambled from his path, his foot catching a large tree root in the process of attempting to escape. His body fell backwards as he harshly hit the end of a pointy tree branch. The branch snapped and tumbled to the ground with Ben, a series of curses following his descent. With one final thud his sudden fall ended and the branch fell lifelessly to his side.

While Ben slowly recuperated, Charlie continued to savagely push forwards from the tree, the rope tightening around his neck as a puffy line of red laced his skin. Moments later, a loose rock rolled from the sluggish trudge of Charlies feet and slammed against the the long tail of an animal. A yelp pierced through the cool night air, causing both of the boys to abruptly stare curiously into the wall of darkness.

Ben leaned closer to the line of trees, his hands cautiously searching for his small flashlight. The leaves rustled as his fingers finally grasped a compact cylinder of metal and soundlessly pulled it to his side. Wincing, he pushed himself up from the ground and turned towards the direction opposite of Charlie.

The flashlight clicked on, sending a residual line of light across the border of blackness. Two brown eyes and a long snout of black hair flashed across the beam, inducing Ben to step back in surprise. A few yards away sat a Dachshund no bigger than a house cat, quivering and whining as it nursed it’s injured leg. Although his eyes were drooping with exhaustion, he was able to make out the long bloodied cut that proceeded up the dogs legs and across its stomach. Judging by the hunched way it held itself and the water that glossed its eyes, the dachshund was in a severe amount of pain.

Bens feet moved on it own accord forwards, his hands slowly reaching out to calm the petite dog. The dachshund shrunk backwards until its back hit the trunk of a tree and began to whimper.

Charlie watched motionless from a distance, his eyes glinting with hunger as Ben gently picked the miniature dachshund up from the forest floor. However, instead of receiving another meal of fresh meat, he passed Charlie without a word and carefully placed what was anticipated to be Charlies second dinner onto the ground next to the fading fire.

Seconds later, Ben unzipped his backpack to pull out a roll of gauze and half-empty plastic bottle of water. With slow movements to ensure the dachshund would not panic, he shifted the dogs leg into his hand and began to clean the large cuts across its body. Once the wound  was disinfected to the best of his ability and nearly half of the dachshunds rear was wrapped in gauze, Ben took a small sip of water then shoved both of the items into his backpack.

“What a day” Ben muttered as he rested his head against his cushioned sweatshirt hoodie. Gradually, his eyes began to droop shut and his usual rapid breathing slowed into a steady, heavy rhythm. Serenity once again washed over him.

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As the weeks passed by and the humid season of summer slowly drifted into fall, Ben grew anxious of the near winter approaching. Already wildlife was growing scarce and although Charlie was fully in Bens control, his actions began to become erratically violent due to lack of fresh game.

The only part of his life that was practically keeping him sane was Roxy, the small dachshund he had found injured weeks before. Despite Roxy being considerably small and useless for pretty much any type of work, her optimistic nature always seemed to comfort Ben.

So as each day progressed he continued to walk, not because he wanted to but because Ben knew that if he decided to give up, both Roxy and Charlie would be forced to survive on their own. And he could not fathom the idea of Roxy being stuck alone with his bloodthirsty best friend.

But as the days got darker earlier and the nights got colder, Ben’s motivation grew thinner. The world seemed to feel much more isolated than it did before. Roxy no longer reassuringly nuzzled against his leg, instead deciding to keep a nervous distance between the two of them. Charlie only snarled every time Ben attempted to strike some kind of conversation with him, his irritation and hunger growing higher every minute.

By the middle of November, The three had nearly stopped walking. A few nights of exhaustion and one of the biggest mistakes of his life later, Ben realized that he had forgotten to tie Charlie to a tree.  Everything after was just a blur, a memory that he will never remember. A memory that he will never want to remember.

His two friends, his only friends gone because he was too tired to tie one knot. So there Ben stood, on the edge of a large boulder, staring blankly at the hatchet encrusted in Charlie’s blood. His legs shaking and lips trembling as he grasped Roxy’s homemade collar with strained hands. He could no longer control himself as his feet slowly inched closer to the edge of the boulder, his eyes growing more distant at every step.

But just as the slight breeze rustled Ben’s brown hair and his toe began to slide of the the course surface of the boulder, a loud robust of static erupted from his backpack. At first Ben though he was hallucinating, creating a reason in his head to not jump. But mere seconds later it happened again, this time more prominent in his ears.

Cautiously, Ben moved his foot away from the hazardous edge before hesitantly running the opposite direction. The sound continued to pierce through the heavy air until at last Ben pulled the small radio from his backpack . The radio once again crackled to life before a faint voice pierced through the static.

Hello? anybody out there?

Ben felt his lip slowly curl into a unfamiliar smile, a twinge of life and hope rushing through his veins. He wasn’t alone.