Telling Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, p 693
Around that time – because of numerous dislocations in the Valley, the abrupt abandoning of homes, for instance – it happened that packs of dogs began to roam around looking for food, particularly by night.
They moved and merged like flocks of sparrows on the wing, turning as if one, ducking down into an alley or crossing a street or huddling under a bridge, in a kind of near-union that the observers, themselves holed up in the remaining places, could never quite fully grasp. Were there ten dogs? Or a hundred? Did they travel mostly at night? Well, some did. Did they hunt or scavenge? Yes, both, and neither. Did they have a leader? A central hub or den? Did they ever pair off and mate, or was this the moment simply for survival, and procreation would be saved for more generous, fatter times?
They watched from their squatting places, huddled upon the third or fifth or eighth floors of the abandoned apartments, doors at the ground level tightly closed and double-locked against the potential for canine invasion.
They waited and watched, and they ate their scavenged foods, and they smoked their improvised cigarettes, and, unlike (or, perhaps, exactly like) the dogs, they fucked, but it was a half-hearted endeavor, one which was more for something to do than to create any new life, for, (and in that way they were exactly like the dogs) they saw in themselves nothing of worth and value to pass onto the next generation, save a fighting, surviving spirit.
Such a spirit would come in useful during lean times. Such a spirit actually was coming in useful during this lean time. And, as nobody really knew much about the outside world anymore, what with radio, television, internet communications cut off and overland travel still too dangerous, nobody bringing news of the lands beyond the city gates had arrived in more than a year. So their isolation grew.
Like a population of animals, separated by a physical boundary, like a river or a mountain, they, too, began to adapt to their unique environment and carve out specializations, niches which gave them slightly better chances of survival.
Nico, he got the cigarettes. Nobody else seemed to be able to find them, but he always had a pack on him. When asked, he would shrug his shoulders, as if they appeared by magic in his pack, but everyone else knew he was just better at that sort of thing.
Kyle excelled at scavenging food. From only partly moldy bread to relatively okay preserved meats and cheeses, they didn’t starve, and time enough had passed that they no longer complained about the steady diet, even if all of them remembered things like chocolate cake, beer, and a napkin.
Tobi and Karen provided the sex. Each one either took or gave as necessary, and it really wasn’t that bad, if your eyes were closed and you pretended it was your girlfriend from before.
And Zenney, she provided the hope. Preached it daily. Stood out on the stoop, eyes wide, arms stretched to the sun, and sang, songs of regeneration, renewal, paradise, whatever she could think to keep the despair at bay for one more sunset.
There were others, too. There were always others. But these were the most special, because they survived the longest, to tell their stories. The rest lived, and died, and were remembered, then forgotten. And that was how it should be.