IN THE MORNING WHEN he went outside he found that the milk and hamburger were gone.
His eyes rushed over the lawn. There were two women crumpled on the grass but the dog wasn't there. A breath of relief passed his lips. Thank God for that, he thought. Then he grinned to himself. If I were religious now, he thought, I'd find in this a vindication of my prayer.
Immediately afterward he began berating himself for not being awake when the dog had come. It must have been after dawn, when the streets were safe. The dog must have evolved a system to have lived so long. But he should have been awake to watch.
He consoled himself with the hope that he was winning the dog over, if only with food. He was briefly worried by the idea that the vampires had taken the food, and not the dog. But a quick check ended that fear. The hamburger had not been lifted over the garlic ring, but dragged through it along the cement of the porch. And all around the bowl were tiny milk splashes, still moist, that could have been made only by a dog's lapping tongue.
Before he had breakfast he put out more milk and more hamburger, placing them in the shade so the milk wouldn't get too warm. After a moment's deliberation he also put out a bowl of cold water.
Then, after eating, he took the two women to the fire and, returning, stopped at a market and picked up two dozen cans of the best dog food as well as boxes of dog biscuit, dog candy, dog soap, flea powder, and a wire brush.
Lord, you'd think I was having a baby or something, he thought as he struggled back to the car with his arms full. A grin faltered on his lips. Why pretend? he thought. I'm more excited than I've been in a year. The eagerness he'd felt upon seeing the germ in his microscope was nothing compared with what he felt about the dog.
He drove home at eighty miles an hour, and he couldn't help a groan of disappointment when he saw that the meat and drink were untouched. Well, what the hell do you expect? he asked himself sarcastically. The dog can't eat every hour on the hour.
Putting down the dog food and equipment on the kitchen table, he looked at his watch. Ten-fifteen. The dog would be back when it got hungry again. Patience, he told himself. Get yourself at least one virtue, anyway.
He put away the cans and boxes. Then he checked the outside of the house and the hothouse. There was a loose board to fasten and a pane to repair on the hothouse roof.
While he collected garlic bulbs, he wondered once again why the vampires had never set fire to his house. It seemed such an obvious tactic. Was it possible they were afraid of matches? Or was it that they were just too stupid? After all, their brains could not be so fully operative as they had been before. The change from life to mobile death must have involved some tissue deterioration.
No, that theory wasn't any good, because there were living ones around his house at night too. Nothing was wrong with their brains, was there?
He skipped it. He was in no mood for problems. He spent the rest of the morning preparing and hanging garlic strands. Once he wondered about the fact that garlic bulbs worked. In legend it was always the blossoms of the garlic plant. He shrugged. What was the difference? The proof of the garlic was in its chasing ability. He imagined that the blossoms would work too.
After lunch he sat at the peephole looking out at the bowls and the plate. There was no sound anywhere except for the almost inaudible humming of the air-conditioning units in the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen.
The dog came at four. Neville had almost fallen into a doze as he sat there before the peephole. Then his eyes blinked and focused as the dog came hobbling slowly across the street, looking at the house with white-rimmed, cautious eyes. He wondered what was wrong with the dog's paw. He wanted very much to fix it and get the dog's affection. Shades of Androcles, he thought in the gloom of his house.
He forced himself to sit still and watch. It was incredible, the feeling of warmth and normality it gave him to see the dog slurping up the milk and eating the hamburger, its jaws snapping and popping with relish. He sat there with a gentle smile on his face, a smile he wasn't conscious of. It was such a nice dog.
His throat swallowed convulsively as the dog finished eating and started away from the porch. Jumping up from the stool, he moved quickly for the front door.
Then he held himself back. No, that wasn't the way, he decided reluctantly. You'll just scare him if you go out. Let him go now, let him go.
He went back to the peephole and watched the dog wobbling across the street and moving in between those two houses again. He felt a tightness in his throat as he watched it leave. It's all right, he soothed himself, he'll be back.
He turned away from the peephole and made himself a mild drink. Sitting in the chair and sipping slowly, he wondered where the dog went at night. At first he'd been worried about not having it in the house with him. But then he'd realized that the dog must be a master at hiding itself to have lasted so long.
It was probably, he thought, one of those freak accidents that followed no percentage law. Somehow, by luck, by coincidence, maybe by a little skill, that one dog had survived the plague and the grisly victims of the plague.
That started him thinking. If a dog, with its limited intelligence, could manage to subsist through it all, wouldn't a person with a reasoning brain have that much more chance for survival?
He made himself think about something else. It was dangerous to hope. That was a truism he had long accepted.
The next morning the dog came again. This time Robert Neville opened the front door and went out. The dog immediately bolted away from the dish and bowls, right ear flattened back, legs scrambling frantically across the street.
Neville twitched with the repressed instinct to pursue.
As casually as he could manage, he sat down on the edge of the porch.
Across the street the dog ran between the houses again and disappeared. After fifteen minutes of sitting, Neville went in again.
After a small breakfast he put out more food.
The dog came at four and Neville went out again, this time making sure that the dog was finished eating.
Once more the dog fled. But this time, seeing that it was not pursued, it stopped across the street and looked back for a moment.
"It's all right, boy," Neville called out, but at the sound of his voice the dog ran away again.
Neville sat on the porch stiffly, teeth gritted with impatience. Goddamn it, what's the matter with him? he thought. The damn mutt!
He forced himself to think of what the dog must have gone through. The endless nights of groveling in the blackness, hidden God knew where, its gaunt chest laboring in the night while all around its shivering form the vampires walked. The foraging for food and water, the struggle for life in a world without masters, housed in a body that man had made dependent on himself.
Poor little fella, he thought, I'll be good to you when you come and live with me.
Maybe, the thought came then, a dog had more chance of survival than a human. Dogs were smaller, they could hide in places the vampires couldn't go. They could probably sense the alien nature of those about them, probably smell it.
That didn't make him any happier. For always, in spite of reason, he had clung to the hope that someday he would find someone like himself–a man, a woman, a child, it didn't matter. Sex was fast losing its meaning without the endless prodding of mass hypnosis. Loneliness he still felt.
Sometimes he had indulged in daydreams about finding someone. More often, though, he had tried to adjust to what he sincerely believed was the inevitable–that he was actually the only one left in the world. At least in as much of the world as he could ever hope to know.
Thinking about it, he almost forgot that nightfall was approaching.
With a start he looked up and saw Ben Cortman running at him from across the street.
He jumped up from the porch and ran into the house, locking and bolting the door behind him with shaking hands.
For a certain period he went out on the porch just as the dog had finished eating. Every time he went out the dog ran away, but as the days passed it ran with decreasing speed, and soon it was stopping halfway across the street to look back and bark at him. Neville never followed, but sat down on the porch and watched. It was a game they played.
Then one day Neville sat on the porch before the dog came. And, when it appeared across the street, he remained seated.
For about fifteen minutes the dog hovered near the curb suspiciously, unwilling to approach the food. Neville edged as far away from the food as he could in order to encourage the dog. Unthinking, he crossed his legs, and the dog shrank away at the unexpected motion. Neville held himself quietly then and the dog kept moving around restlessly in the street, its eyes moving from Neville to the food and back again.
"Come on, boy," Neville said to it. "Eat your food, that's a good dog."
Another ten minutes passed. The dog was now on the lawn, moving in concentric arcs that became shorter and shorter.
The dog stopped. Then slowly, very slowly, one paw at a time, it began moving up on the dish and bowls, its eyes never leaving Neville for a second.
"That's the boy," Neville said quietly.
This time the dog didn't flinch or back away at the sound of his voice. Still Neville made sure he sat motionless so that no abrupt movement would startle the dog.
The dog moved yet closer, stalking the plate, its body tense and waiting for the least motion from Neville.
"That's right," Neville told the dog.
Suddenly the dog darted in and grabbed the meat. Neville's pleased laughter followed its frantically erratic wobble across the street.
"You little son of a gun," he said appreciatively.
Then he sat and watched the dog as it ate. It crouched down on a yellow lawn across the street, its eyes on Neville while it wolfed down the hamburger. Enjoy it, he thought, watching the dog. From now on you get dog food. I can't afford to let you have any more fresh meat.
When the dog had finished it straightened up and came across the street again, a little less hesitantly. Neville still sat there, feeling his heart thud nervously. The dog was beginning to trust him, and somehow it made him tremble. He sat there, his eyes fastened on the dog.
"That's right, boy," he heard himself saying aloud. "Get your water now, that's a good dog."
A sudden smile of delight raised his lips as he saw the dog's good ear stand up. He's listening! he thought excitedly. He hears what I say, the little son of a gun!
"Come on, boy." He went on talking eagerly. "Get your water and your milk now, that's a good boy. I won't hurt you. Atta boy."
The dog went to the water and drank gingerly, its head lifting with sudden jerks to watch him, then dipping down again.
"I'm not doing anything," Neville told the dog.
He couldn't get over how odd his voice sounded. When a man didn't hear the sound of his own voice for almost a year, it sounded very strange to him. A year was a long time to live in silence. When you come live with me, he thought, I'll talk your ear off. The dog finished the water.
"Come 'ere, boy." Neville said invitingly, patting his leg. "Come on."
The dog looked at him curiously, its good ear twitching again. Those eyes, Neville thought. What a world of feeling in those eyes! Distrust, fear, hope, loneliness–all etched in those big brown eyes. Poor little guy.
"Come on, boy, I won't hurt you," he said gently.
Then he stood up and the dog ran away. Neville stood there looking at the fleeing dog shaking his head slowly.
More days passed. Each day Neville sat on the porch while the dog ate, and before long the dog approached the dish and bowls without hesitation, almost boldly, with the assurance of the dog that knows its human conquest.
And all the time Neville would talk to it.
"That's a good boy. Eat up the food. That's good food, isn't it? Sure it is. I'm your friend. I gave you that food. Eat it up, boy, that's right. That's a good dog," endlessly cajoling, praising, pouring soft words into the dog's frightened mind as it ate.
And every day he sat a little bit closer to it, until the day came when he could have reached out and touched the dog if he'd stretched a little. He didn't, though. I'm not taking any chances, he told himself. I don't want to scare him.
But it was hard to keep his hands still. He could almost feel them twitching empathically with his strong desire to reach out and stroke the dog's head. He had such a terrible yearning to love something again, and the dog was such a beautifully ugly dog.
He kept talking to the dog until it became quite used to the sound of his voice. It hardly looked up now when he spoke. It came and went without trepidation, eating and barking its curt acknowledgment from across the street. Soon now, Neville told himself, I'll be able to pat his head. The days passed into pleasant weeks, each hour bringing him closer to a companion.
Then one day the dog didn't come.
Neville was frantic. He'd got so used to the dog's coming and going that it had become the fulcrum of his daily schedule, everything fitting around the dog's mealtimes, investigation forgotten, everything pushed aside but his desire to have the dog in his house.
He spent a nerve-racked afternoon searching the neighborhood, calling out in a loud voice for the dog. But no amount of searching helped, and he went home to a tasteless dinner. The dog didn't come for dinner that night or for breakfast the next morning. Again Neville searched, but with less hope. They've got him, he kept hearing the words in his mind, the dirty bastards have got him. But he couldn't really believe it. He wouldn't let himself believe it.
On the afternoon of the third day he was in the garage when he heard the sound of the metal bowl clinking outside. With a gasp he ran out into the daylight.
"You're back!" he cried.
The dog jerked away from the plate nervously, water dripping from its jaws.
Neville's heart leaped. The dog's eyes were glazed and it was panting for breath, its dark tongue hanging out.
"No," he said, his voice breaking. "Oh, no."
The dog still backed across the lawn on trembling stalks of legs. Quickly Neville sat down on the porch steps and stayed there trembling. Oh, no, he thought in anguish, oh, God, no.
He sat there watching it tremble fitfully as it lapped up the water. No. No. It's not true.
"Not true," he murmured without realizing it.
Then, instinctively, he reached out his hand. The dog drew back a little, teeth bared in a throaty snarl.
"It's all right, boy," Neville said quietly. "I won't hurt you." He didn't even know what he was saying.
He couldn't stop the dog from leaving. He tried to follow it, but it was gone before he could discover where it hid. He'd decided it must be under a house somewhere, but that didn't do him any good.
He couldn't sleep that night. He paced restlessly, drinking pots of coffee and cursing the sluggishness of time. He had to get hold of the dog, he had to. And soon. He had to cure it.
But how? His throat moved. There had to be a way. Even with the little he knew there must be a way.
The next morning he sat tight beside the bowl and he felt his lips shaking as the dog came limping slowly across the street. It didn't eat anything. Its eyes were more dull and listless than they'd been the day before. Neville wanted to jump at it and try to grab hold of it, take it in the house, nurse it.
But he knew that if he jumped and missed he might undo everything. The dog might never return.
All through the meal his hand kept twitching out to pat the dog's head. But every time it did, the dog cringed away with a snarl. He tried being forceful. "Stop that!" he said in a firm, angry tone, but that only frightened the dog more and it drew away farther from him. Neville had to talk to it for fifteen minutes, his voice a hoarse, trembling sound, before the dog would return to the water.
This time he managed to follow the slow-moving dog and saw which house it squirmed under. There was a little metal screen he could have put up over the opening, but he didn't. He didn't want to frighten the dog. And besides, there would be no way of getting the dog then except through the floor, and that would take too long. He had to get the dog fast.
When the dog didn't return that afternoon, he took a dish of milk and put it under the house where the dog was. The next morning the bowl was empty. He was going to put more milk in it when he realized that the dog might never leave his lair then. He put the bowl back in front of his house and prayed that the dog was strong enough to reach it. He was too warned even to criticize his inept prayer.
When the dog didn't come that afternoon he went back and looked in. He paced back and forth outside the opening and almost put milk there anyway. No, the dog would never leave then.
He went home and spent a sleepless night. The dog didn't come in the morning. Again he went to the house. He listened at the opening but couldn't hear any sound of breathing. Either it was too far back for him to hear or…
He went back to the house and sat on the porch. He didn't have breakfast or lunch. He just sat there.
That afternoon, late, the dog came limping out between the houses, moving slowly on its bony legs. Neville forced himself to sit there without moving until the dog had reached the food. Then, quickly, he reached down and picked up the dog.
Immediately it tried to snap at him, but he caught its jaws in his tight hand and held them together. its lean, almost hairless body squirmed feebly in his grasp and pitifully terrified whines pulsed in its throat.
"It's all tight," he kept saying. "It's all right, boy."
Quickly he took it into his room and put it down on the little bed of blankets he'd arranged for the dog. As soon as he took his hand off its jaws the dog snapped at him and he jerked his hand back. The dog lunged over the linoleum with a violent scrabbling of paws, heading for the door. Neville jumped up and blocked its way. The dog's legs slipped on the smooth surface, then it got a little traction and disappeared under the bed.
Neville got on his knees and looked under the bed. In the gloom there he saw the two glowing coals of eyes and heard the fitful panting.
"Come on, boy," he pleaded unhappily. "I won't hurt you. You're sick. You need help."
The dog wouldn't budge. With a groan Neville got up finally and went out, closing the door behind him. He went and got the bowls and filled them with milk and water. He put them in the bedroom near the dog's bed.
He stood by his own bed a moment, listening to the panting dog, his face lined with pain.
"Oh," he muttered plaintively, "why don't you trust me?"
He was eating dinner when he heard the horrible crying and whining.
Heart pounding, he jumped up from the table and raced across the living room. He threw open the bedroom door and flicked on the light.
Over in the corner by the bench the dog was trying to dig a hole in the floor.
Terrified whines shook its body as its front paws clawed frenziedly at the linoleum, slipping futilely on the smoothness of it.
"Boy, it's all right!" Neville said quickly.
The dog jerked around and backed into the corner, hackles rising, jaws drawn back all the way from its yellowish-white teeth, a half-mad sound quivering in its throat.
Suddenly Neville knew what was wrong. It was nighttime and the terrified dog was trying to dig itself a hole to bury itself in.
He stood there helplessly, his brain refusing to work properly as the dog edged away from the corner, then scuttled underneath the workbench.
An idea finally came. Neville moved to his bed quickly and pulled off the top blanket. Returning to the bench, he crouched down and looked under it.
The dog was almost flattened against the wall, its body shaking violently, guttural snarls bubbling in its throat.
"All right, boy," he said. "All right."
The dog shrank back as Neville stuck the blanket underneath the bench and then stood up. Neville went over to the door and remained there a minute looking back. If only I could do something, he thought helplessly. But I can't even get close to him.
Well, he decided grimly, if the dog didn't accept him soon, he'd have to try a little chloroform. Then he could at least work on the dog, fix its paw and try somehow to cure it.
He went back to the kitchen but he couldn't eat. Finally he dumped the contents of his plate into the garbage disposal and poured the coffee back into the pot. In the living room he made himself a drink and downed it. It tasted flat and unappetizing. He put down the glass and. went back to the bedroom with a somber face.
The dog had dug itself under the folds of the blanket and there it was still shaking, whining ceaselessly. No use trying to work on it now, he thought; it's too frightened.
He walked back to the bed and sat down. He ran his hands through his hair and then put them over his face. Cure it, cure it, he thought, and one of his hands bunched into a fist to strike feebly at the mattress.
Reaching out abruptly, he turned off the light and lay down fully clothed. Still lying down, he worked off his sandals and listened to them thump on the floor.
Silence. He lay there staring at the ceiling. Why don't I get up? he wondered. Why don't I try to do something?
He turned on his side. Get some sleep. The words came automatically. He knew he wasn't going to sleep, though. He lay in the darkness listening to the dog's whimpering.
Die, it's going to die, he kept thinking, there's nothing in the world I can do.
At last, unable to bear the sound, he reached over and switched on the bedside lamp. As he moved across the room in his stocking feet, he heard the dog trying suddenly to jerk loose from the blanketing. But it got all tangled up in the folds and began yelping, terror-stricken, while its body flailed wildly under the wool.
Neville knelt beside it and put his hands on its body. He heard the choking snarl and the muffled click of its teeth as it snapped at him through the blanket.
"All right," he said. "Stop it now."
The dog kept struggling against him, its high-pitched whining never stopping, its gaunt body shaking without control. Neville kept his hands firmly on its body, pinning it down, talking to it quietly, gently.
"It's all right now, fella, all right. Nobody's going to hurt you. Take it easy, now. Come on, relax, now. Come on, boy. Take it easy. Relax. That's right, relax. That's it. Calm down. Nobody's going to hurt you. We'll take care of you."
He went on talking intermittently for almost an hour, his voice a low, hypnotic murmuring in the silence of the room. And slowly, hesitantly, the dog's trembling eased off. A smile faltered on Neville's lips as he went on talking, talking.
"That's right. Take it easy, now. We'll take care of you."
Soon the dog lay still beneath his strong hands, the only movement its harsh breathing. Neville began patting its head, began running his right hand over its body, stroking and soothing.
"That's a good dog," he said softly. "Good dog. I'll take care of you now. Nobody will hurt you. You understand, don't you, fella? Sure you do. Sure. You're my dog, aren't you?"
Carefully he sat down on the cool linoleum, still patting the dog.
"You're a good dog, a good dog."
His voice was calm, it was quiet with resignation.
After about an hour he picked up the dog. For a moment it struggled and started whining, but Neville talked to it again and it soon calmed down.
He sat down on his bed and held the blanket-covered dog in his lap. He sat there for hours holding the dog, patting and stroking and talking. The dog lay immobile in his lap, breathing easier.
It was about eleven that night when Neville slowly undid the blanket folds and exposed the dog's head.
For a few minutes it cringed away from his hand, snapping a little. But he kept talking to it quietly, and after a while his hand rested on the warm neck and he was moving his fingers gently, scratching and caressing.
He smiled down at the dog, his throat moving.
"You'll be all better soon," he whispered. "Real soon." The dog looked up at him with its dulled, sick eyes and then its tongue faltered out and licked roughly and moistly across the palm of Neville's hand.
Something broke in Neville's throat. He sat there silently while tears ran slowly down his cheeks.
In a week the dog was dead.READ MORE >>