The idiots called it the apocalypse, as if anything that had ended hadn't deserved it. Like it was horribly tragic, like the lives they were living had value, had meant something, had purpose. Like it was some unforgivable loss. Some unconquerable backward step. No, it wasn't an apocalypse, it wasn't even a cleansing. It was life. Nature was playing hardball. It was ruthless. You couldn't even prove you deserved to be here. There was nothing about deserving this dirty, nasty, new excuse for existence. You endured. Or you did not.
They called it a plague. A pandemic. Something horrifying, something terrible, something few people left alive were capable of really understanding. But all he knew was that fear was pointless. It came for you, or it didn't. You got sick, or you didn't. You died, or you didn't. And if you didn't, well, what was there to worry about? You had no job anymore because everyone was dead? Great. You had to fend for yourself now, because of food spoilage, torrential acidic rains, and the nuclear winter that came from some volcano blowing Iceland halfway across the globe? Great. Yeah, your eyes ran red and your sight blurred in the days that followed. Yeah, sometimes there were voices on the wind you couldn't quite believe were carried from afar. Yeah your hands twitched and your stomach shrank and your shit practically fled your bowels. Yeah, you had to learn to boil all water that wasn't saved from before, to burn your meat all the way through. New things. But, you were lucky, maybe. You were smart, enough. You endured.
This was life. Brutal, ugly, simple. All gleanings and trappings of civilization evaporated into ash that fell like grimy piss-tasting snow. He felt it in the Earth, when he curled up to sleep, in quiet, unfeeling automation. He felt it. This sickness only hurt humans. It lingered. The earth did not mind.
What was he that he did not mind? What was he?
And the wolves were coming.
He'd heard it would take years, centuries, millennia to erase the traces of man from the Earth. But there were places he found where he could practically forget the time before. Sometimes his eyes cried for no reason. Sometimes he grew wearier than he had cause. But there was movement here. He could feel himself changing. He grew thin, strong, yet constantly on the verge of dying before he learned what new thing had changed, what new things would kill him. This world was smarter, faster than him. He wasn't the fittest, but perhaps his body was fit enough.
He felt them, in dreams, at night, during the day. When the wind grew too strong and he had to hide, he felt them.
What the animals knew, he did not know. What they understood, he could not stand. But they let him run with them. Fight over food with them. He grew able to stomach the new tastes of meat, the bouts of dizziness and fever after eating that which was rare-cooked grew less. They ran. Their howls and whickers and whisker wiggling meant nothing to him. Their growls meant nothing. But they did not chase him out. They did not leave him to die. They did not support or encourage him.
He and his pack, of dogs gone wild, wolves, and scavengers tumbled over and around a city. There was a camp of people there, in the bend of the river. His pack smelled them. He felt the change in the wind. The humans were idiots, night blind and terrified. They clung to the rules and beliefs that had served them from Before. They did not know; they could not see, they would die, alone and cold, and still would not know. They refused to be content, to embrace what had happened. They did not understand that this was not a world in which the old ways would thrive. Many were sick, not with the Sickness, but sick. Maybe dying.
And the wolves were coming.
What the animals knew, he did not know. What they understood, he could not stand. And when they descended on the camp, he was not prepared for the slaughter that came, that he took part in. Dogs, wolves, man. They ran, they killed. Without whim or whimsy, without fear, or hate, or anger. Killed and killed again. And the wolves ran with men, and the river ran with blood, and the Earth was quenched as the rain had never done.