Owen ThorneLady & Rudy A black SS Camaro cruised down a stretch of deserted highway, weaving around the odd abandoned automobile. Sometimes it would have to grab some shoulder to get around a large cluster of vehicles that blocked every lane, but it was no problem for the vintage muscle car with it's large wheels and mighty engine. It's previous owner had loved it like a father loves his only son. The man, who shall remain nameless, due to the inevitable fact that anyone who had known his name was no longer alive to pass the information on, had taken extra care to keep it in pristine condition. The leather interior was cleaned and polished on a regular basis. The paint job was cared for twice a week, and renewed on a yearly basis. The chrome detail and rims were inspected and maintained religiously. No aspect of the machine was neglected or left to chance. Which was good news for the man who now possessed the car. He didn't care about the leather, the paint, or the chrome. In fact, he had neglected all of these things. The only thing he cared about was speed and performance. The car was exceptional. It got him from A to B efficiently, and as a bonus, in style. The reason he'd taken this car over a Hummer, truck, or anything more durable and practical, was because of someone he loved. Someone he missed deeply. His older brother had always wanted an SS Camaro. He had fantasized and talked about buying and tricking one out since they were kids. So when he stumbled upon the jet-black beauty, he couldn't help but chuckle, fighting the tears away as he did so. He had taken the car as an unspoken obligation to his now deceased brother. A way of honoring his memory, and an inside joke between them. Because even after the end of the world as we knew it, he still had something close to a sense of humor. Inside the Camaro, two adult huskies sat in the back seat. One male, one female. The male was snow-white with rusty brown detail. He was a bit bigger than the female, who also had a clean white coat, but with a deep grey detail that was sharp and stunning. They sat side-by-side, glancing out the windows at the landscape as it rolling by. They seemed happy, content, despite all that had happened. It was a simple, beautiful moment that prior to the crisis which found them in the back seat of this Camaro on this ghostly highway, would have been tragically overlooked. The driver observed that tiny, profound and symbolic moment from the rear view mirror, granting a pleasant smile. That was what it all came down to. Most people would look at this picture and see nothing but a man and his dogs sitting in a car. What he saw, what he knew to be the reality and truth of the situation, was loyalty and love in it's purest, most brilliant and rawest form. Even after the world had gone to shit, when brother had turned on brother, and everything humanity had spent thousands of years building as a civilization had crumbled into chaos and terror, the unconditional love, loyalty and companionship of a man and his dog was left untouched by the hell that lingered just outside the doors of that Camaro. That was what made that moment so beautiful and special. It's the stuff you dig up from between the lines that's worth the most in it's weight. Owen Thorne had learned to view the world around him differently since the crisis. He began to recognize and appreciate all the subtle nuances that the universe presented before our very eyes each and every day. They're in those little moments, as well as the big ones. Sometimes it's not what's right in front of you, but rather the things you cannot see, or hear, that truly speak to us the most. Owen had merely learned how to listen to them. Owen cautiously made his way through a very small city just off of the highway. His supply of gasoline was running out, forcing him to search for more. Most of the vehicles that sat around the streets had long since been siphoned of any fuel left in the tank. Virtually every gas station and small pump was bone dry. Truth was, the majority of resources of any kind had been looted weeks, months, or even years ago. Finding almost anything of use or value had become comparable to a small miracle. Barter was the new scavenging. Old world currency was useless now; material for fires, or wiping one's ass, should the necessity present itself. The economic system had reverted back to the days of old. Now people traded commodities for other commodities. Gasoline for ammunition. Food for water. Batteries for medical supplies. Weapons for weapons. You had to hustle now, and you had to have something of value, something your mark wanted or needed in exchange for the commodity you were after. Water, food, medical supplies, and ammunition were the most valuable items one could possess. Water was the new diamond. Food, the new gold. Drop a bottle of mountain water on the table, and just about anyone will cave in to your demands. Water is the one thing you need, no matter what the scenario unfolds to look like. Given that fact, you could never have enough clean drinking water. You could be sitting on a warehouse filled to capacity with jugs of pure H2O, and you'd still need more... just to be damn sure you had enough. When it came to water, the smart people weren't fucking around. It was among the leading contributing factors to human casualties by humans since the undead crisis. Owen was nowhere near an established stronghold, the last of which he'd seen was almost a week behind him now. He'd gotten caught up in a power struggle between two opposing groups of survivors and killed a man before making his exit. There were very few strongholds, and none that were anything close to what you'd expect. Owen likened the experience to what he imagined prison must be like. Filthy, poor living conditions. Shady, sketchy characters you couldn't trust, let alone depend on to have your back if shit hit the fan. People rolled in tiny circles, usually built on a system of history and seniority. Those circles covertly plotted against each other, and violence was a routine thing. People killed each other on a daily basis over personal bullshit, accusations of theft, or any other reason one could scrounge up. It was a chaotic and dangerous environment. Owen had come to realize and accept that fact fairly quickly. There was no hope, safety or comfort in the strongholds. They were lawless wastelands, the old west of the new apocalypse, and a place Owen didn't want to be, let alone want his dogs to be. He had raised them from pups in the back seat of several different automobiles. It was where they felt at home, where they wanted to be. It was all they knew. They were like children to Owen. He didn't view them as dogs, or pets. They were people, his son and daughter. His best friends. They were the only two souls left on this barren, forsaken planet that he could fully and faithfully trust with his life. No matter what happened out there. Now matter how the cards were dealt, he knew they would die to protect him. He'd never let that happen, but it was comforting to know it. Those beautiful little creatures would never betray him. Never plot against him, or weigh his life against supplies, or their own survival. They loved him and followed him unconditionally. There was nothing he could do to them to break that. So, who else did Owen need to have his back? Lady and Rudy, aside from being unconditionally loyal to him, had impeccable senses for hunting and watching his back. They were a lot easier on food and water than any human being, and they were agile and smart enough to avoid contact with any walking dead that he encountered. They were raised in this apocalyptic war zone, they didn't know any other life so it had become routine to them. Owen pulled to a stop as he set his gaze on what looked like three people in a grassy clearing off of the street he'd been driving down in search of potential fuel locations. They might have been corpses, so he scoped out the scene for several moments before one of them reached for the sky, waving their arms back and forth. "Hey! Over here!" a woman's voice yelled out to him. Owen immediately opened the driver's side door, getting out of the Camaro and closed the door behind him. As soon as he did so, both Lady and Rudy began to whimper, peering out the windshield from over the front seats. They had severe separation anxiety as a direct result of growing up in an undead-populated apocalyptic wasteland. Regardless of how much they hated it, though, they usually waited in the car. Owen hated risking them being hurt more than they hated waiting in the car. Even if he fell, they might be safe in the car, where they could at least die peacefully, together, not ripped to pieces by the living dead. Owen rushed to the aid of the three survivors, pistol drawn. There weren't many walkers around, but you could never be too cautious, if you wanted to stay alive. Stupid people let their guard down, got careless and started slipping. All it takes is one random and sudden twist of fate. A jerk of chance, or a yank of destiny. He'd seen it hundreds of times. Trained soldiers, seasoned survivors, tough, smart SOB's who just had a shitty few seconds of luck. Nothing in particular they had done wrong, just a nasty, unforgiving series of unfortunate events that lead to their death. The world had be come a chaotic, perilous war zone between man and monster, man and man, and man and nature. If you wanted to survive, you had to practice a little vigilance. As he got closer, he could make out one female and two males. The female was slender, wearing baggy, warm clothing and a backpack around her shoulders. The first man was tall and lean, wearing a thick, long, red winter jacket and camo fatigues with black combat boots. He had short dark hair and a goatee. The other man was short and chubby with a bald head. He wore blue jeans and a plaid, fleece winter jacket. He looked like a common working man, while the other looked ex-military. The girl he couldn't place at all. As he approached them, feeling uncertain of his decision to get out of the car at all, he glanced back at the Camaro. To his confusion and shortly after, dismay, he saw a tall man holding a rifle walking toward the vehicle. "What the?" Owen mumbled with a perplexed expression on his face that soon grew to anger. "Hold it right there, Haus," one of the men said, undoubtedly having the drop firmly on him. Owen slowly turned around to find 3 pistols returning his gaze. "Take his weapons, babe," the groups obvious leader ordered the female, who quickly complied. She held her gun close to Owen's chest, taking her eyes off of it to rummage around Owen's person, removing several pistols, and a large hunting knife. As she bent down to pull the knife from his Timberland boot, he swiftly grabbed her wrist, yanking the gun away from his body, twisting her around so that she faced away from him, gun still in her hand, but away from his body. In the same calculating motion, he drew a .357 semi-automatic from behind his back, firing upon the chubby man, hitting him in the center of mass. The man dropped lifelessly, and the other shouted his name in horror. "Eric!" "Don't fuckin' move, bud!" Owen ordered him, placing the .357 to the woman's temple. "We're all gonna take it real slow and easy. You can start by droppin' your guns. All of 'em." The man started to become emotional, angry, and he raised his weapon, as if intending to shoot. "Easy, Haus!" Owen yelled sharply. "You don't wanna get this bitches brains blown out, now do you?" Owen asked him with an intensity that made the man become even more emotional. Owen had found the man's weakness already; it was struggling in his arms as they spoke. "Just let the girl go, man," he pleaded with Owen, nearly in tears. Owen tightened his grip around her neck, jerking her gently. "Not until we all have ourselves a little talk. Come to terms where we can all agree on what's about to go down here. Now besides your boy Eric here, no one's gotta get hurt." Owen explained calmly, but still having the intensity and grit that sold this little show. "You shot him dead," the man mumbled, staring at the body of his late friend. "You're payin' attention, Haus. I like it." Owen said with a splash of wit for good measure. He wanted Haus to firmly believe that he wasn't fucking around, because he wasn't. "Just fucking shoot him!" the woman yelled, squirming violently in Owen's arms. "Now that... would be a bad fuckin' move for everyone. Right Haus?" Owen asked the man, who was quickly approaching a state of panic. "Please man..." he pleaded and begged Owen, tears forming in the wells of his eyes. "There's two ways this can go down. One; Haus shoots me, and I shoot you. Judging by the look on Romeo's face, that about makes us all losers. Two; you can let me be on my way, and we can all walk away from this with what we want most." Haus looked at the woman he loved, stuck in the spider's web that Owen's arms represented. He began to sob, hiding his face from Owen, and the woman. "Now I don't give a fuck about that car, but my dogs are in the back seat. Now you can go ahead and correct me if I'm wrong, but this girl is the only thing you give a fuck about right now?" He didn't answer Owen's question. "Well those dogs are the only thing I give a fuck about," Owen explained truthfully. "Is that your man up there with the Enfield?" Owen asked sternly. By that time the man had positioned himself on Owen, waiting out the situation, no doubt shitting himself, otherwise he would have taken the shot by now, and Owen would be laying dead in the grass. "That's my brother, Billy," Haus answered him, emotionally flustered and compromised. "You go ahead and tell him come down here, nice and easy. And leave that Enfield," Owen ordered him. "Come on down here, Billy. Leave that rifle." Billy didn't reply at all. He didn't even move. Owen took his hesitation as the element that closed this situation. Up until that moment, Billy's being perched up the way with an Enfield was the only variable he couldn't control in this situation. But now he knew that he had total fucking control of it, and that was bad news for these novice looters. "Come on now Billy!" Haus yelled impatiently, inspiring Billy to haul his husky ass over toward the others after dropping the rifle. "Glad you could join us, Billy," Owen said as Billy got closer to his brother. "There's a reason I let you keep that gun on your hip, Haus. I'm tryin' to establish some trust here. A mutual understanding of intent. Now I know it must be hard right now, given that I've got a gun pressed against your girlfriend's noggin, but try to see things from where I'm standin'. You had every intention of robbin' me blind. Maybe even killin' me, and my dogs. See, I don't wanna rob you, and I sure as hell don't want to kill you." "Eric would probably disagree," the woman piped up again, clearly enraged by her being captured, Eric's untimely demise, and this entire goddamn situation. "Well it's a good thing no one asked for his fuckin' opinion, sweet heart," Owen replied with a growling whisper in her ear, placing more pressure on her skull with the barrel of his .357. "Now I'm trying to resolve this little situation we got ourselves in here without anymore blood on my hands, or yours! So this is how it's gonna work; you're both gonna turn around and get on your knees," Owen ordered the brothers. "No fuckin' way," Haus protested. "Was Eric a nice guy?" Owen asked plainly. "Yeah..." Billy replied quickly, lost within some memory of the man Eric used to be. "Yeah, he seemed like a nice guy. I blew his fuckin' head off without thinking twice, and I don't even like this bitch. So keep ignoring the gravity of this situation, and we'll be in for one messy conclusion," Owen explained bluntly. "Go fuck yourself, asshole," the woman in Owen's clutches once again horned in. "Not helpin' your case, princess," Owen whispered in her ear once again, applying a vicious, but momentary surge of pressure across her throat that made her wince with pain. "Knees, gentlemen. Now!" Owen barked maliciously. The two men turned around slowly, kneeling down in the cold, firm grass. "This is where I walk away real calm," Owen explained confidently. "When I feel like I'm in the clear, I'm gonna let her go. But if she so much as opens that mouth of hers, I'll be forced to shoot her in the face, Haus. You don't want that now, do you?" "No," Haus answered him, almost under his breath, in a weak, broken tone of voice. He was drained, and just wanted this to be over with so he could hug and kiss his girl and go the fuck home. "Then you best remain fuckin' calm," Owen explained intensely. "On the count of three, I'm gonna start movin' real slow." Owen's gaze grew darker somehow. His brow lowered, becoming more stern, as his eyes narrowed, right hand grasping the .357 tighter. "One... Two..." On the count of three, two shoots from a .357 rang off through the crisp, cool air and found their mark in Haus and Billy. The both slumped face-down as Owen violently tossed the woman to the ground, quickly taking aim and pulling the trigger... Owen drove down a stretch of highway late at night. He seemed as though in a trance as he puffed on a cigarette, eyes fixed intently on the road ahead of him. Lady and Rudy slept in the back seat, snuggled together for extra warmth and comfort. Next to him, riding shotgun, was a Lee Enfield bolt action rifle, and two cans of gas sat on the floor in front of it.