ZERO

Callista Van Allen

He has to be a good boy. Not for the treats or the praise, but for those depending on him. For the lives he could save.
Megan stands at his side. She’s trying to hide it, but her tremors run down his leash. Her lips are pressed so tightly her face pales. They’ve been paired together for years. He found victims and mourned deaths with her. She’s been sad. She’s been upset. But she never looks like this.
He whimpers, tail between his legs. It’s the tenth day at this site. It’s the longest they’ve been dispatched to, but they’ve hardly made a dent in the search.
Megan scratches his ears, then whispers a command.
He launches through the rubble, tearing past concrete, steel, and ash. He dashes past panes of glass, over crumbled desks and chairs. The wreckage spans blocks. Rubble towers into the sky.
In the back of his mind, he registers cars honking and people chattering. It wasn’t like that when they first arrived. It was eerily calm, like the world was frozen in time, drenched in the scent of a city on fire.
The skyscrapers cast strange shadows on the ground. As he pours over debris, hoping to catch a scent, he begins to understand Megan’s despair. Not a single hit, as if the victims were crushed beneath the buildings.
Then something wafts into the air, a trail so faint he almost misses it. Human? His legs pump as fast as they can. Seconds mean the difference between life and death, and there’s got to be at least one person he can save, right?
Maybe a weak mother, ready to be returned to her children. A brother, picturing his family. A businessman who wasn’t even supposed to be at work. Someone, anyone.
Instead, he finds the charred remains of an arm. He sits, letting out a single howl. He’s discovered a victim, but not a live one.
He’s found the same thing several days in a row.
If he can’t find them alive…is he a bad boy? He knows the other humans have started to hide, pretending to be victims for him to find. It’s supposed to make him feel better, but it’s fake.
He’s doing his best. Everyone is. Why aren’t they finding people?
As Megan joins him, a plane roars overhead. Everyone freezes, eyes trained on the clouds. Megan sucks in a sharp breath and he whimpers, nudging her with his nose.
She focuses on his find, swallowing back a lump before radioing for a recovery team. Recovery, not rescue. He hangs his head. It’s his fault they’re dead, isn’t it?
Megan scratches his ears. “I know,” she says, “You’re doing your best.”
Even if he’s a search dog, he can’t save everyone. But he can save someone, right?
This feels like saving no one.
“Come on, Buddy. We’ve got to wash you off.” Megan tries to sound upbeat, but stress sinks into her voice. “We’ve got more to do tomorrow.”

***

Callista Van Allen is an American author based in Arizona and California. Her favorite genre to write is fantasy, and in her spare time, she competes in foil fencing and collegiate Model UN. Her work previously appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in HauntedMTL.

black and tan miniature pinscher

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