Beyond The Walls by Maira Dawn
Chapter 2 with audio
Wolf gasped. The dark-skinned teen’s head lolled to one side, his lips dry and cracked.
Wolf touched the canteen strapped across his body. He scanned the area—just because the boy was really in trouble didn’t mean it wasn’t someone else’s trap.
On alert, Wolf slowly placed one foot in front of the other as he used the backside of the clothing store for partial cover. After reaching the end, he crouched and once again examined the town for any movement.
Deciding it was safe, he rushed to the woodpile and scrambled over it until he was at the teen’s side.
The boy heard him coming and jerked back, eyes wide.
Wolf clamped a hand over the boy’s mouth. “I’m not here to hurt you!” He looked around again. “Are you alone?”
The boy nodded his head yes, his short dreads shaking.
Reluctant but knowing he had to take the chance sometime, Wolf slowly lifted his hand from the mouth of the wounded boy, who then clamped his lips together.
“What’s your name?” Wolf asked.
“Jayden.” His throat was so dry he croaked the answer.
Wolf pulled the canteen over his head, popped the lid, and handed it to him. “It’s water.”
Jayden pushed himself up and grabbed the canteen, chugging its contents.
“Take your time,” Wolf said. “You don’t want to throw it up.”
Jayden nodded. He dropped the canteen onto his lap and fell back onto the woodpile.
“How long have you been here?” Wolf asked as he glanced at Jayden’s legs. The boy had yet to move them. Was he injured?
“Two days, almost three. I was sure I was a goner.”
“Almost were. Are you from around here?”
“Yeah. My parents died during The Fall—burned with this house.” Jayden banged his fist against the burnt lumber beside him. “I only survived because I was at my friend’s place across the street. After a while, people started to leave, but I just couldn’t go with them. My friend’s family gave me their keys and waved goodbye. Mostly I’m alone, but the other day strangers came through.” Jayden grimaced and pointed across the street. “I couldn’t get inside the house in time to hide. Lucky me, I had something they were looking for.”
Wolf raised his eyebrows. “What?”
Jayden glanced at his legs. “A wheelchair. I can’t walk—never been able to.”
Wolf shook his head. How could people be like that? It boggled his mind.
Jayden continued in a bitter tone. “They said they were sorry, that someone in their group needed it.” He flashed Wolf an angry gaze. “I suppose you’re ready to leave me here too—now you know how it is.”
“What? Of course not,” Wolf reassured him.
“Well, if you can just get me set up with a way to get around, I’ll be fine.”
“I will. Don’t worry.” Wolf wasn’t sure how he’d do that, but he would try.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Jayden asked as he sipped more water.
“Looking for meds—penicillin, amoxicillin, anything like that.”
Jayden pointed to the grocery store. “Last time I checked, there was still some of that in there.”
Wolf’s spirits rose. “Awesome.”
Wolf allowed Jayden a few more sips before saying, “Hey, how about we get you out of this nest of two-by-fours. It can’t be comfortable.”
“It isn’t. But could you run into the store and get me something to eat before we go. There were still a few cans of vegetables left in there.”
“Sure,” Wolf replied, puzzled by Jayden’s behavior. “But I’ll get you out of here first.”
Jayden jerked away. “No. I’ll stay here until you get back.”
Wolf straightened and stared at him. “What’s this about?”
Jayden glanced around. “It’s just—um—”
“Is this about that hound?”
The teen’s eyes grew bigger. “You know about that thing?”
“A man down the road told me about him. Said he didn’t come this way anymore because of it.”
Jayden looked at the ground. “Smart man.”
Wolf scoffed. “You live here.”
“I’m usually inside. The wheelchair doesn’t roll around on these bumpy roads so good anymore.”
“Is that dog really that bad?” Wolf pointed to the weapon he carried on his back. “I’ve got my crossbow.”
“Good weapon.” Jayden pushed himself into a straighter sitting position. “And yes—that dog is fast and mean. And not like anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“I take it you think this woodpile is gonna save you?” Wolf swept his hand over the pile.
“I dragged myself over here. Those idiots left me in the middle of the road. It was near night and with all the commotion, I knew that thing was coming. I curled up in this here pile and used this to whack him.” He held up a two-by-four with several nails in it. “It was a fight, but in the end he realized I wasn’t gonna be the easiest meal of the day.”
Jayden flexed his biceps. “Superior upper body strength.”
Wolf chuckled. The boy was tough. He’d give him that. “All right, you stay here while I get you some food. Is there a wheelchair in there? Some stores had them.”
“There was one. I don’t know if they took that one or not.”
“Okay. I’ll check.” Wolf gave Jayden one last glance before he took off. He hated leaving the boy. It was clear he’d suffered over the last couple of days. He doubted Jayden could fight off a flea at this point.
Leaving the side door open, Wolf rushed through the small store. It still had a lot of stuff, which told him Jayden didn’t get much company. Of course, it was better he didn’t if everyone was going to be like the looters who took the teen’s wheelchair.
He grabbed a couple of bottles of water and the cans of vegetables Jayden mentioned. Wolf also found a can of Vienna sausages, whatever that was. It seemed to be meat and Wolf figured a little protein would do Jayden good.
What he didn’t find was a wheelchair.
At the back of the store was a large sign that said “Pharmacy.” It would only take a minute to look for the medication he needed.
He hadn’t taken two steps when Jayden yelled out. “Get out of here! Go on, go away!”
Wolf turned and headed out the front of the store. Looking around, he rushed to Jayden’s side but saw nothing. “Was it here?”
“I saw the bush in front of that line of trees moving around. I figure that’s him. He stalks people like that.”
Wolf remembered the tall grasses along the road moving like that. Had that been the dog? “Okay. Let’s get you inside then. Which house are you staying in?”
Jayden pointed to a blue house across the street and to the left—too far for Wolf to carry a boy that was as big as he was. “No wheelchair in the store. I gotta find something to move you with.”
The bushes near the trees shook again.
Jayden snapped his fingers. “There’s a wheelbarrow two houses down—in the front yard. But that’s toward the dog.”
Wolf glanced from where Jayden pointed, to the bushes where the dog hid. The house and the dog were in the same direction, but the bushes were several backyards away and to the right. The white house was only two small front yards away and to the left.
He could do this.
Wolf made sure Jayden had his board with nails. “You good?” he asked.
“As good as I’m going to get.” Jayden sat up as best he could on the pile of wood.
Wolf moved a few pieces closer to support Jayden’s back. “I’m just going to get that wheelbarrow and come right back.”
Jayden nodded, grasping his makeshift weapon more firmly. He glanced up at Wolf. “We got this.”
Wolf grinned. “Of course we do, dude. It’s just a dog.”
“Uh, yeah. A kinda crazy one.”
A crazy one? Wolf forgot the strange comment as he swung the crossbow off his back. At a quick walk, he crossed the open area where the animal could see him. Once Wolf was in the shadow of the first house, he quickened his pace, running toward the front yard of the second house.
He reached it without incident. And the fact that Jayden had not called out an alarm was a good sign too.
Wolf returned the crossbow to his back, grabbed the wheelbarrow, then sprinted back toward the first house.
Jayden’s face lit up when he saw Wolf coming toward him. “You did it!”
Wolf parked the makeshift trolly as close to the woodpile as possible. He glanced at the brush and froze when it shook, but no animal emerged. “Okay, let’s get you into this thing.”
Jayden put down his two-by-four and held his hands out. “Pull me up, then turn me toward the wheelbarrow. I can do the rest.”
“Will do.” Wolf did as instructed.
Jayden had enough strength in his legs to hold himself in position for the few seconds it took to move from Wolf’s grasp into the wheelbarrow. Once seated, he pulled his legs in and pushed with his arms until he was comfortable.
He held out a hand. “Better give me my stick—just in case.”
Wolf handed Jayden his weapon. “You keep an eye on the woods, okay?”
Jayden craned his neck until they were in the shadow of the first house. He blew out a sigh. “Okay. We are doing good.”
Wolf picked up the speed, then scrambled when he hit a low spot in the grass and Jayden almost tumbled out. After that, Jayden laid his weapon beside him and grabbed the sides of the wheelbarrow.
The boys were almost to the road when an open area between houses gave them a full view of the trees with the brush below it.
“It’s there!” Jayden said, pointing.
Wolf glanced over his shoulder at the infamous dog and froze, skidding to a halt. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before.
The nightmare animal had four legs and its head and body roughly resembled a dog—but the resemblance ended there.
It had no fur, but rather fire-red skin the color of lava, as if it had crawled up from the bowels of the earth.
“What is that?” Wolf stammered.
Jayden slapped his arm. “Go! It’s fast. Very fast.”
Wolf set his gaze on the blue house with the partly open white door and willed himself there as quickly as possible.
Jayden‘s fingers whitened as they clamped the sides of the wheelbarrow.
When they reached the other side of the road, the fire hound’s panting breath was right behind them.
Jayden took one hand off the wheelbarrow to grab his weapon.
The vicious animal moved parallel to the teens.
Wolf’s eyes widened as the hound’s shoulders bunched to jump. “Get away!” he shouted, kicking out at it.
The animal jerked back, growled and revealed razor-sharp teeth like a shark’s. Crooked and blood-stained, they overfilled its mouth.
Short spikes lined the backbone of its skinny body.
The fire hound’s black, soulless eyes stared at Wolf with emotions he’d never seen in an animal’s eyes before—rage, hatred, and death.
Wolf’s mouth went dry. What was this thing?
He snapped his head forward and found speed he didn’t know he had. The fire hound’s hot breath spurred him on.
Wolf went at the door full tilt, stopping only when the wheelbarrow crashed into the doorframe and banged into the door, shoving it wide open.
Wolf grabbed the top of the doorframe and pulled himself up, distracting the fire hound so Jayden could drag himself and his weapon over the lip of the wheelbarrow and onto the floor.
The fire hound snapped at Wolf’s foot, almost chomping it.
Wolf swung and kicked the animal in the face.
It jumped away and changed direction, disappearing behind the house’s outside wall to the left of the door.
Wolf swung back and let go, landing inside the door right beside Jayden. Together, they shoved the wheelbarrow as hard as they could and watched it roll backward, toppling over onto the front walkway.
Wolf grabbed his crossbow from his back and aimed at the open door.
Jayden reached out and grabbed the side of the door, ready to swing it shut.
A deep, raspy growl came from just outside. The fire hound lunged from the left, landing squarely on the walkway in front of them. The skin of what should’ve been its ruff wrinkled and its legs became stiff. It was ready to pounce.
Inside the house, Wolf took a step forward, almost touching the hound’s head with his crossbow, his finger on the trigger. He stared into the animal’s glaring black eyes.
“I will kill you.”
Something shifted in the fire hound’s gaze—some kind of intelligence. It gave a vicious growl.
Wolf tightened his grip on the crossbow and squeezed the trigger.
Nothing. He tried again. Another misfire.
The beast lowered its head and flexed its spine as it got ready to spring.
Wolf’s heart hammered. In one motion, he stepped backward into the house and he and Jayden slammed the door shut. The hound’s skull thudded against it.
Wolf looked at him with raised eyebrows. “You call that a dog?”