It started in Kansas City like so many things that go unnoticed do. Rosie, a Short Haired German Pointer, lolled in the summer heat on ground worn bare and stuck her nose again into an empty water bowl. Flies and gnats buzzed around her face stealing what little moisture seeped from her lips. She shook her head listlessly whining at the pain of the tight chain digging into her raw skin.
Rosie had had a short, rough life. Bred as a hunting dog she was taken as a puppy and chained to a tree in the corner of a weed filled yard and mostly ignored unless she barked out of boredom or frustration. Barking was quickly kicked out of her the boredom and frustration never were. At two years old she had never gotten to run or hunt she had never gotten to play or ever even felt a kind touch. Now it was high summer the hottest in years and her water bowl has been empty for three days while Eddie, the man who kept her chained in his yard, drained beer after beer and flipped through television channels cursing the lack of football.
Eddie stopped flipping for a moment when he saw a pretty woman standing in front of a weather map boldly emblazoned with the words heat warning.
“You're what's making me hot, honey,” he muttered into his beer can.
With smooth professionalism the woman on TV ignored Eddie but she did say one thing that seemed to be aimed right at him. “Take care of your outdoor pets and animals. Be sure they have shade and lots of water they need special care in this heat.”
“Oh crap,” Eddie said again speaking into his beer as drained it then almost hurried to the kitchen window to look out over the weeds in his yard to Rosie. “Dogs are nothing but work.”
Scraping out most of the dried potatoes from a pot he filled it with water and walked out to the yard congratulating himself on his responsible pet ownership.
Rosie's lack of appreciation took a little of the edge off of Eddie's sense of good stewardship. In fact he took her inability to lift her head up enough to drink from the pot as a personal insult.
“Go on you stupid dog. I brought it all the way out here go on and drink it.”
Rosie wanted nothing more than a drink of the water but her tongue and throat were swelling and her kidneys already shutting down. She just did not have the strength to stand up nor the ability to lap up the water if she could. She was able to wag her tail feebly thumping it into the dirt grateful for the small bit of attention.
“Just goes to show,” Eddie said as he turned away headed for the house. “You can lead a dog to water but you can't make 'em drink.”
Sunset brought little relief to the dying dog. The still air cooled slightly but the ground she lay upon held much of the day's heat. She slept fitfully and dreamed of running free her paws twitching in tired imitation of her dream self.
Far, far above and many miles away thousands of stony objects penetrated the first thin shell of atmosphere and flared with the heat of friction. People the world over noticed. Some studied making calculations and projections, some just watched. Dogs like Rosie remained absolutely unaware.
The objects came in regimented waves spreading over the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet as it turned until their stony rain covered most of the inhabited land. People noticed that almost none fell into the oceans and were alarmed by the fact. People saw also that the falling objects came at the same angle of approach burning through the atmosphere at fifty degrees off the perpendicular from their projected impact.
It was the people that collected data, recording reams of information about the objects and noting that none of them reached the ground. Dogs as well as people noticed the flashes of light and the myriad of loud cracking explosions like fireworks overhead. People responded with millions of numbers that showed time, place, distribution and patterns. Dogs simply barked their fear and alarm as dogs do.
For all the numbers the people gathered and all the time they invested it was the dogs that noticed the important thing. After the light and the noise a new smell wafted down from the sky.
Even in her condition, Rosie's sensitive nose picked up the scent and like her canine brethren all over the world she wanted to slink away and hide. She was just too weak. The new scent was of death and rot mixed with the usually comforting smell of the pack and of man. There was something else though, the scent of an almost forgotten instinctual foe. It was the worst thing in the world to Rosie, unfortunately she was the best thing in the world for it.
Tiny invaders, invisible packets of semi-living proteins caught on the drag of Rosie's panting breath and lodged in her throat and sinus some making it as far as her lung. Within her body the heat and moisture activated genetic triggers and the invaders began to grow into their new home. They faced no defense, the dog's body was already fighting more than it could handle and of course Rosie had never had the shots usually given to a pet most importantly the one for rabies. Not that it would have made any difference. Deep inside her cells the invader replicated itself quickly sending copies into every system of the body. In the brain they dissolved connections and entire portions of the forebrain were eaten away.
Rosie's pain dropped away from her and so did her thirst but she felt hungry for the first time in days. After a while her eyes shifted looking for prey as her attack urge became almost irresistible. At midnight the sweet animal with the hard life slipped away into nothingness her empty carcass laying still in the bare dirt where she died. For almost an hour ants crawled over the body while blowflies laid eggs in the mouth and open sores around the neck.
Around 1:30 AM Eddie roused himself off the couch and decided to head to bed. He took a stop at the kitchen window to see if there were anymore of those fireworks he had seen earlier. Nothing was in the sky but he caught sight of Rosie standing in the yard silently straining at the chain that held her. Curious, Eddie flipped on the porch light and stepped out the back door to see what had the dog so worked up. The light from the bare bulb reflected in the coating in the rear of the dog's eyes but instead of green the eyes shone red. They tracked Eddie without blinking.
“What's going on with you?” Eddie flung his arm out towards the upside down box that served as a dog house and commanded, “Get on back there.”
The animal made no sound it simply stood at the tense end of its chain and watched Eddie. It did not pant, in fact its mouth seemed permanently curled into a soundless snarl. The tail did not wag it was straight and firm. Lastly, those eyes, those red hot eyes looked no where but at Eddie.
Without another word Eddie turned back into the house closing the screen door behind him. He took the precaution of slipping the little hook into the eye on the door before heading to bed.
It took another hour for the weak link to give way and about one second to scratch through the screen of the back door. The animal that had been Rosie walked straight into the bedroom following the warm scent of Eddie.
Eddie smelled nothing but he did open his eyes in time to see two hot red dots growing larger over his face.
Rosie knew almost nothing but hunger and the need to satisfy it. After a few bites of Eddie she knew also that she was not satisfied, could not be satisfied by this meal. So she left him to hunt again. On the street, a Lab mix named Beau had gotten out of its yard as it often did. It meandered in a joyful freedom exploring the neighborhood to find new tastes in trashcans and new racoons to chase. Beau smelled Rosie before he heard or saw her, she smelled of death and blood. He was both attracted and fearful of the scent. When he saw her approaching Beau hunkered down in the street rolling over and urinating, protecting himself through submission. It didn't work. The strange silent dog came slowly but viciously, ripping huge bites from his neck and shoulders before Beau could get away.
By the time Beau died trembling under his owner's car Rosie had gone on to tear into five other dogs. There was nothing left of the cats she caught. Through it all there was no satisfaction to the terrible hunger, just the continuous driving urge to attack and eat. By the time what had been Beau crawled out from under the car three of the five other dogs were dead. All would rise to the unquenchable hunger.
As the sun rose that day there were twenty sets of red eyes and hungry silent mouths stalking Kansas City. The people noticed this. They talked and spread the word about dogs that did not act like dogs, dogs that attacked on sight killing and maiming people and other animals. Then the veterinarians told stories that most refused to believe, stories of dogs, beloved pets bitten by other infected dogs rising after death some even after lethal injections given for severe wounds.
As the sun set again the people believed the stories and many were killing their own family dogs out of fear or malice. Men banded into gun carrying patrols shooting dogs on sight but many of them came back with stories of dogs that would not die that would not even stop the attack after three bullets in them.
Midnight, twenty-four hours after Rosie stopped being Rosie the National Guard was rolling into Kansas City. Already soldiers were using the phrase zombie dog then a private from Saint Joseph made a joke about changing the name of the police K9 units to Z9 units.
At first the people hid behind locked doors peeking out at night to see unblinking red eyes staring back from every shadow. As the numbers of small prey fell in the suburban neighborhoods houses that remained occupied found themselves surrounded by silent sentinels. Empty homes were ignored completely. The regular sounds of shattering glass and screams carried down deserted streets prompting remaining families to board up every opening with anything at hand.
At the far eastern end of the Golden Oaks neighborhood, only two blocks from Rosie's home a small ranch style brick home was encircled by a thick knot of former pets. Their eyes stared hard at the walls teeth showing under bloody muzzles as they held motionless position waiting. No one knew what they waited for least of all them. Inside the home, William Rogers lay in his bed as he had for the last three years since the fall that broke his spine. He was awake and aware and alone. His home caregiver had not come that morning but she had left the curtain open the night before so he could see his yard with its trees and flowers. He saw only dogs and death.
William lay under the smooth white sheets as the tube drip kept him nourished and the ventilator kept his chest moving air. Science had been good to him, he had darkly joked in the back of his mind that he could not die if he wanted to. That seemed more a curse than a joke to him laying there watching the dogs watch his house.
Something moved in the distance and it caught William's eye. Something tall and brown and walking up his street. Soldiers, William thought. Going door to door looking for people like him. He wanted to shout to lean out the window and wave for them to hurry up but he could not even change the pace of his breathing. Staring out the window now just as hard as the dogs outside stared back he waited for another glimpse of salvation.
That glimpse never came, instead what he finally saw coming down his street was a tall brown Great Dane that he knew as Bruno. The big animal walked a straight path up the middle of the street all the while staring right into window William hid behind. Flecks of summertime sunlight came through trees and flashed in eyes that reflected back red. The lumbering beast plodded without stopping into the yard past the old Pin Oak and unerringly at the window. It didn't stop for the window or the shards of glass that gouged its face and body. It didn't stop for bed rails nor sheets or blankets or even William's silent prayers as it sank its teeth into the old man with loud, wet, smacking bites.
Other animals pushed their way though the smashed window filling the room and covering the bed with the weight of their hunger. As always now the feeding failed to fill the need so each animal ate only enough to send him looking for satisfaction elsewhere. William could not even feel enough to pass out from pain he remained conscious as each dog tried to stifle its hunger on his flesh then left to be replaced by the next. He watched as small dogs took toes and fingers larger ones left with strips of fat from his belly. One large bloody Poodle ripped off his genitals then let them drop from its dissatisfied mouth. He watched until his eyes were gone but the machine kept him going until he was alone again fading into a slow death even science could not prevent.
Perhaps it was the accumulation of the little invader proteins from so many different bites, maybe it was the time it took for death to claim him, or maybe it was just that the machine kept air flowing into his dead lungs but something happened as William died. They found him almost twenty-four hours later in the door to door search that William had once hoped for so badly. The soldiers searched the rest of his empty house before coming back to William's room. The body was a bloody red mass. His Face, crawling with fat maggots was missing eyes and lips even his tongue was gone.
The young private from Saint Joseph who had coined the term Z9 glanced out the window then checked under the bed. Nothing. Holding his breath and turning away his face he reached over William's face to turn off the ventilator that pumped air past the exposed teeth into the dead chest. He screamed as teeth sank into the fleshy underside of his extended arm. Jerking away from the pain he felt his own muscle and skin ripped to a bloody shred then watched gnashing yellow teeth chewing the bloody mass the mouth could not swallow. As he passed into shock thousands of tiny bits of invisible proteins pumped through his body settling into warm wet spaces.
The invasion had begun in earnest.