I crouched low, cursing and trying to silence my grumbling stomach. I held my shotgun close, leaning against the dead bush between me and the coyote that had come wandering into my lawn. It was a threat to the animals; it was a threat to me. It had to be dealt with, quickly. I slowly rolled back to a crouching position, turning just barely enough to see it, creeping along. Suddenly, its head snapped up, and it began sniffing furiously.
My stomach twisted with terror. It had smelled me, and now it was looking for me. I had never had an encounter quite like this, a life or death game of cat and mouse. Of course, the mouse had a weapon that could blow the cat's head clean off. He just needed a chance to use it without getting torn apart by the cat first.
I leaped up, pointed the shotgun, and fired. Before I consciously recognized my actions, it was over. The coyote - a tiny thing, just skin and bones - lay dead, a gaping hole in its head. The slug had gone into the creature's jaw and exited through its temple on the opposite side. I decided there wasn't enough meat there to be worth anything, so I left it. I half-considered giving a scrap to the dog, but then decided I didn't need her going cannibal along with the rest of the world. Besides, who knew what diseases it could be carrying?
When I walked back into the small farmhouse, I saw the dog sitting here, looking worried. She was making a whining noise in her throat, and looking at me with puppy eyes - the kind of eyes I had seen in no creature since that damn rock had touched down.
That worried me. She did not make faces like that because she was hungry. I slowly eased the wooden board that acted as a makeshift door back into place, crept through the main room, and slipped into my pantry, where I found three thieves all packing my belongings - my ammo, my food, everything - into loads of black garbage bags.
I chambered a new round into the chamber and fired at the first marauder - tall, covered in rags, filthy - within a split second. Then, I loaded another shell, and shot the second thief - a short woman with camouflage clothing and knives - who had been about to rush me. I got my shotgun reloaded and pointed at the last robber, before realizing that it was just a girl, about ten, with big, innocent eyes. The only weapon she carried was a small BB gun, and it didn't look like she'd hurt a fly.
My heart softened. But then, she pointed the little gun at me, and stared at me, those sweet eyes suddenly looking mean.
"Kid," I said, "I didn't want to do that to your family, but this is my house. People don't come in my house."
She screamed something that sounded vaguely like a stream of profanity followed by something about "gone chewier." Of course, my translation of gibberish wasn't very proficient. She was definitely a nomad - one of the many clans that sprang up after the impact, and soon they had their own family of languages and they were all known for being ferociously protective of their children, but the kids rarely fought themselves until about age thirteen, maybe fourteen.
"Kid, I'm sorry, but -"
More gibberish - or should I say, to be politically correct, Nomad-ish? Tears came to her eyes, and her grip on the bb gun wavered. I gently reached forward and took it from her, and she collapsed to the floor, crying uncontrollably. I sat there with her, trying to console her.
At the end of the day, though, what was the use? I knew what came next. She couldn't stay here, and she didn't stand a chance on her own. I helped her bury her - what? Her parents? Grandparents? Aunt and uncle? Adopted parents? And consoled her when she needed it.
I tried desperately the entire time to convince myself that I would be doing her a favor - when the time came, it would be the kindest way to go. But still - who could have it in them to do that to a child?
When we finished burying the girl's dead, I gave her a small granola bar, which she glared at like it was dog shit.
"Fine," I said, "You don't want it, I'll take it."
She glared at me again, and I stared back, not glaring, just wondering what could have happened to this kid to make her this way. But then, I laughed inwardly - what happened? The world ended. Everyone went insane.
When she fell asleep on the porch, I loaded a single shot into my revolver. It had to be fast. I would not put a child in pain, not even a second. Clearing every single thought from my mind, I pointed the gun directly at the back of her head...