Bridge

Water is still pouring out. Maybe not quite as much as before, I can't remember. Even so, it doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. The river is hundreds of feet below. Still, I remember this whole region is a flood zone if the dam breaks. People used to talk about how everything would break down once people were gone. There was a book about it. The subways of New York would flood, homes would be overtaken by nature, bridges would fall, and dams would collapse.

The bridge is probably half a mile long. Pretty exposed. I remember how nervous I used to feel driving my truck over it—thinking one gust of wind, one swerve of an oncoming car, would send me right over the edge. I think of all the time I would have while I fell. Several hundred feet, how long would it take? A few seconds? The truck might save me from the impact, letting me escape and swim to safety; the truck might not save me. I'd awake, or not, to the dark river bed, the truck already full of water.

Today there is no truck. Just one through three and myself. We'll cross the bridge and walk a few miles to the shopping center. If we're not alone one through three will be useless for a few minutes while we cross. There's always the rifle but there will be no cover, plus I'm a terrible shot. Running is all we've got.

The first time I came here I slid down the side of the river bank. I wanted to look for a boat. There was no boat. No one would leave a boat here and even if they did the water would have washed it away by now. I ended up wasting half the day trying to get back up the bank, eventually walking a few miles downriver before finding someplace I could climb.

It's still dark enough that I'm sure no one would be able to see us while we're out here on the bridge. I see one through three as they run in front of me but they're so low and dark that I doubt anyone would notice. If they spot anything it will be a small figure running across the bridge, barely visible in dark clothes, except for my hands and face.

As we reach the other side of the bridge, I duck into the forest on the side of the road. I pull the rifle over my shoulder and use the scope to see if I can spot anyone watching from the other side. I hear two of the dogs sniffing ahead, three is guarding behind me. I saw a movie once where a sniper always kept a lookout behind him because it's such a vulnerable position. I figured training some of the dogs to guard me would be the next best thing.

There are a few miles of almost nothing but forest between here and the shopping center. This area wasn't very populated before, flood zone and all, but it's also the only road in or out of town, at least towards the city. So, it's not likely that anyone is around. But, if someone is traveling through, it'll be here.

I can barely hear the dogs over the rush of water, which is much louder on this side of the river, flowing through the half-open dam spillway. There's a service road that leads up to the dam, with a barb-wire fence and gate cutting off access to the dam itself. I didn't set out looking for tools, or even possibly a car, but if there's time later it might be worth checking out. I don't imagine that dam maintenance has been a high priority for anyone in a long time. That also might mean that no one has thought to clean it out yet, either.

Finding no one with my scope, I turn around to find where one and two went. They've been on this trip with me one other time, so they may have decided to run ahead, searching for scents, animal or otherwise. Three and I catch up to them, sitting silently at the edge of a clearing of an old breakfast diner. This place has been cleared out for a long time, so there's no reason to stop here. Well, no reason, except the car parked outside.

Car

There's only one reason you stop at this diner. There's only one reason you leave a working car unattended. It's because you're stupid. Actually, maybe there's two reasons, it could be a trap. The fact that the dogs are calmly sitting and staring at the building tells me that they found no other scents. Whoever it is, they're inside.

I snap my fingers to get the dogs’ attention. I point at one and two then make a small circle motion, perimeter. Three gets a point to me. One and two scatter toward opposite ends of the diner. Three and I slowly move along the edge of the treeline, moving to the back of the building.

The trees don't provide much cover. They're tall and thin, with hardly any branches or cover low to the ground, and they're spread out several feet between each one. They won't be much use in a shootout. It feels like all I ever think about is cover. It probably won't be necessary, remember: car, stupid. The other options is, of course, that they're so well-armed that they no longer feel the need to be cautious, knowing they will easily outmatch anyone who tries to ambush them.

I could take the car, if I knew how to hotwire it. I don't, so I'll have to take the keys. There's movement in the diner but I can't get a clear view to see who, or how many, I'm dealing with. It wouldn't be hard to sneak up to the back door or shoot my way in. Once the dogs are inside it would be over in seconds. But that can't be how it happens. There could be kids or parents, desperately searching for some food for their starving kid, in there. Rules of engagement—again, war movies—dictate that I find out who is in there before firing a shot.