The War Dogs of Lamar

May the best beasts win.

Duke tears into a fellow pit bull’s neck while Rocket, a thicker than normal Doberman, launches his jaws into one of its hind legs, sloppily severing it like it’s nothing more than a dried branch of pine.

Image of dogs. Original Image licensed via Shutterstock. Titling by author.
Original Image licensed via Shutterstock. Titling by author.

Dozens of our dogs converge on the injured pit bull, a leader of their pack, it seems, and tear it to pieces.

The melee continues for a few minutes, but the death of the alpha dog has taken the life out of the fight of our enemy, and soon prompts the rest of The Huntington Crew to scamper off amidst a cacophony of howling, shrieking, barking, and whining so loud that we can’t hear anything else.

A few of the Huntington Crew, snarling, saliva dripping from their bared teeth, turn back to reconsider their retreat, then reconsider again for their final withdrawal.

This kind of rout is rare. The Huntington Crew is well trained. The death of their alpha dog should not have altered their plans. Maybe it was the suddenness of it. The battle opened up with his death, which seemed to immediately affect the other dogs.

There are two main war dog packs. The Huntington Crew, which is based on the east side of Lamar and is housed in a long-abandoned supermarket, consists mostly of Dobermans, Rottweilers, and pit bulls.

There are not a lot of them, maybe two hundred or so, but they’re meaner than — wait. I can’t think of anything that is meaner than them.

Then, there’s our crew, on the other side of Lamar, who most people call the Peppers Crew. Ours are housed in more than 200 buildings and their adjoining yards.

Our crew is named after Justin Peppers, the man, long dead, who started it. We have thousands of dogs, maybe 5,000. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are even a few small poodles. There are schnauzers. There are chihuahuas. There are Labradors, German Shepherds, and Australian Ridgebacks.

There’s an Affenpinscher. He reminds me of a hairy monkey, with a dense coat of hair over his face. He’ll get almost anything we need out of a building and can elude drones and other war dogs with his clever running skills.

Another small furry dog is the Barbet. Barbets were bred as bird dogs. Now they’re drone dogs. Our Barbets can sniff out a downed drone and retrieve it so we can try to reverse engineer it.

We have pit bulls and Rottweilers, too, but not as many as the Huntington Crew.

Some of our dogs can be pretty mean, but we like to think they are disciplined. They don’t attack everything that moves.

In truth, the Huntington Crew doesn’t, either, or their handlers would be dead. I guess the easiest way to describe the difference is that our dogs are easier to control and have a more diverse skill set.

Try to send a Huntington Crew dog in to salvage, and the beast may come out with a rat in his mouth. Ours will get what he was sent for.

Our dogs, like all dogs, are empaths, but unlike the Huntington Crew’s handlers, we know what that means. Knowing what it means is our ultimate advantage in this war to control the city.

My name is Hattie Monroe. I live in a war zone. Our soldiers have four legs.

I’m 70 years old these days. You could say I’ve been runnin’ these dogs for twenty years or so, but it’s not really like that.

I am what a lot of folks used to call a dog whisperer. But it’s so much more than that. The dogs and I speak to each other, giving each other comfort, sharing our feelings, anticipating each others’ needs. My dogs do not have a servile relationship with me. I don’t order them around.

That’s because we have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Most of you by now know the background story. But sometimes, it’s good to include it in a short tale like mine to help ensure our history for posterity.

It all started when uncontrolled dog packs roamed the streets and terrified the people that remained.

Our eradication zone had been decimated. Nobody really knew why because from a triage standpoint, it should have been desirable for our oppressors to keep alive many of the people who lived here. This city was a center of technology in its prime. Electric car factories, chip factories, software companies, and technology company headquarters dotted the landscape.

Some folks say the city was singled out because of the big university in the center of town. Universities were hit hard everywhere because they were centers of resistance. Protesters lined campus streets every day when the eradications started.

In our city, the protests turned to riots that eventually saw the state capitol building burned to the ground.

There will be a time, I suspect, when none of us are left. The math just sort of says so. The technology of those few who were able to afford augmentation and were able to avoid the three eradications also dictates this.

They live in the towers of major cities, walled off by barriers of electric fences and impenetrable defense shields.

In our city, they live in castles along the river in homes protected by tall fencing and swarms of armed flying drones.

That leaves people like us and the Huntington Crew to fight in the ruined streets amongst ourselves.

You might wonder, “Why don’t you and the Huntington Crew band together in common cause against your enemy?” I have no answer to that other than the fact that the Huntington Crew has made it very clear that they wish us to disappear from the face of this planet.

The fight is generational. The few that were left after the last eradication fought each other in the streets with bullets, but eventually, the bullets ran out.

It isn’t like there’s much to fight for. We grow our food on old city lots. We protect them with wire fencing and dogs, but if the augmenters ever decide to use their drones to hunt us down like they do in the countryside, for sport, some say, we’ll be helpless against them.

I suspect that they let us live because they like to watch our dogs fight. We see drones in the air all the time — small, glistening, spinning orbs that seem to defy the laws of aerodynamics as they buzz around high above.

I don’t know what their purpose is. Like I said, maybe it’s just to watch us fight. I can almost imagine a smiling television host introducing the next battle and urging his viewers to place bets on the winner.

I’ve been training a new dog commander. His name is Deion. He’s a tall, sinewy middle-aged man with ink-black skin and creases all over his face. Blackest skin I’ve ever seen, and I saw a lot growing up in the Philadelphia projects before the eradications.

Deion wears a black vest over a black t-shirt over a black long sleeve shirt. Chains crisis cross his chest and hang from his black pants. He wears a motorcycle hat with a dirty silver chain wrapped around the cap above the bill.

He could never have worn that kind of dark clothing in old versions of Texas before global warming eventually became one big chill and a permanent planetary overcast knocked out the food supply.

Long jets of tightly curled hair spray out of the bottom of his cap like a splash of black water captured by a perfectly timed photograph.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m training Deion, or if he’s training me. All he has to do is look at a dog for the dog to respond.

“It ain’t over,” he says as he looks over the retreating pack. “No. They’re telling me they are coming back.”

“Why would they tell you this, even if they were?” I ask.

“They don’t mean to tell me and they don’t really even mean to come back. I mean, it’s not their idea. Maybe that’s why they’re telling me.” He shrugs. “I don’t know. Well, I might know. But I’m not sure.”

“Looks like they’re leaving to me,” I say.

Deion shakes his head. “They’re not leaving.”

Without Deion saying a word, our dogs regroup as if on command. No. Deion doesn’t need my training.

Just then, the Huntington Crew swiftly turns as one unit. The dogs who were marching away pirouette quickly and charge. The dogs who hadn’t yet fully turned react and point their noses in the same direction. They all begin to run towards our dogs in a column shaped like an arrow.

The Huntington Crew howls and growls and yips, their sounds of combat bouncing off the buildings around us. Then, quickly, they turn their attention away from the dogs and toward us. We are protected by about three hundred dogs but I look at Deion with a fearful gaze knowing he is thinking what I am thinking, that the Huntington Crew will easily break through our ring of protection.

We quickly dodge into a building.

For years, we’ve fought without being attacked ourselves, as if the dogs have established special rules that the humans leading them are not to be accosted.

That looks to be changing.

Their feet thunder against the ground to the point where it sounds like they are horses instead of dogs. Only their screechy howls give them away.

This time, they easily break through the walls of our defenders, who had hurriedly rushed to form several rows of defense. Others among our crew attempt to run outside the Huntington Crew’s phalanx in order to encircle them, but are met with stiff resistance.

The battles between dogs are gnarly, ugly, and bloody. Injured dogs litter the broken streets, parking lots, and rubble that make up the battlefield.

Deion and I have taken refuge behind the metal doors of an old laundry mat. At one time, the doors had probably been quite different, probably with much larger windows than the tiny square one that’s there now. It has thick glass criss crossed with a wire mesh.

We can see well enough through it to see that the dogs from the Huntington Crew have gained the upper hand. They’ve broken through three walls of defenses and about fifty of them are heading straight at us.

As if possessed by demons, they begin to throw themselves against the metal door, snarling and barking maniacally.

Deion unlocks the large metal lock and chain holding the metal door’s long horizontal latch. I’m hysterically begging him to stop, not understanding what he could possibly be thinking.

“Don’t worry,” Deion yells over the commotion. “It took some time but they can finally hear me!”

When the dogs run through the newly opened door, Deion raises both hands in the air as if he is sacrificing himself. My only thought is that he is also sacrificing me. This was not how I was expecting to die.

Yes, I knew I may die at the mouths of dogs, but not at the invitation of some fool.

What you need to know about dogs, though, is that they are empaths. This is not the same as having sympathy for your cause. In fact, in a dog’s case, it’s unlikely it can possibly understand the true nature of your cause.

The dogs snarl but don’t attack. They bare their teeth, saliva dripping down their gums, as Deion remains straightened, his hands in the air.

Then he kneels down and the nearest dog immediately stops growling and wags its tail. Deion sets his hands on the dog and strokes the top of its head.

“Do you know where we are going?” he asks the dog. The dog seems to respond with a tail that swirls in a circular motion, as if Deion is presenting the tastiest morsel the dog has ever seen.

Deion looks at me.

“I was sent here by the high priestess of Moriah,” he says to me. I’ve never heard of the place.

“You probably know it as San Francisco, which is no more. And we’re bringing the dogs.” Then Deion grabs the dog by its head, a pit bull that had moments ago looked like it would tear Deion’s throat apart, and says, “Aren’t we sweetie? We’re gettin’ out of here. We’re going to MagicLand. All of us. Every single one of us. And we got us one hell of an entourage.”

This story is part of The MagicLand Chronicles: Short stories related to my debut novel, MagicLand, but with different characters and plots.