Esther lied face down on her bed. Her face was red from crying, and she was still sobbing a little. What Zehnder had said kept playing in her mind. She tried to block it out; but it wouldn’t go away. She tried to tell herself that he was wrong. But that was the worst part. She knew he was right.
She could have had a normal happy life; playing with the other little children, growing up with friends, being in a home with happy parents. Parents who were alive. She thought about all of the things she had missed. Learning how to ride a bike with her father, learning how to sew with her mother, special moments like family vacations. But no. Zehnder killed her mother. There were to be no more happy family times. Only loneliness.
Esther rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. What would she do now? What could she do now? All she had to go on was the work at the bar, but even with that, it was hardly anything. She couldn’t go to college either.
Esther sighed. Now all there was to do was to scrape together what she could make in the world and wait for the cold embrace of death.
She got up slowly; time to move on. There was no use wallowing in self-pity. She picked up her bag, causing her hammer to fall out. It fell to the floor with a thud, a bit of dry blood still stuck to its metal head.
Esther saw this and began to cry again. She kicked the hammer away and turned her head so she couldn’t see it. For goodness sake, she had killed people! And for what? A few moments of happiness that didn’t last? Not to mention witnessing murders, to which she had done nothing to stop.
Those poor souls! Ron, that boy at the park, and the two at the gazebo. They could have lived happy lives, but no. She had to have been influenced by that sadistic monster. She had to go and kill them; mindlessly taking their lives like a child stomping on insects.
She should have seen the warnings. She should have known Zehnder was trouble when she first saw him, when he struck her and left her with a scar, and when he killed people mercilessly.
Esther got back on her bed, and cried herself to sleep.
* * *
And so, life returned to its normal state. Its sad, normal state. Esther continued to work in the bar, normal as usual. Returning to the state of before she got to know Zehnder, or even Ron for that matter. It was worse when she heard them talking about it.
“Hey, what happened to that guy anyway?” One of them would ask, his breath reeking of alcohol.
“What guy?” Another would reply, looking sadly into the bottom of his empty glass.
“You know, that weird guy with the files. Looking for the weird guy that kills people.” The first one took a drink from his own glass, which was not yet empty.
“Him? I dunno. Maybe he finally realized that if you mess with the killers they kill you.”
“I heard he was killed; butchered like a cow!” A third would pipe in, laughing at his own little joke.
Tears formed in Esther’s eye; Ron. She hadn’t really given him a chance. He had many flaws, but he didn’t deserve to die for them. They could have worked together, maybe to try and bring Zehnder down.
The others noticed her weeping, and tried to cheer her up; but it didn’t work. They thought she was sad because someone she knew had died, so they tried to be considerate.
After work Esther walked outside. Out of habit she looked across the street for Zehnder, part of her expected him to be there. Maybe he had changed, maybe all of that was just a misunderstanding or a joke. No. Of course he wasn’t there. What reason did he have to want to be with her?
Esther started walking back to her apartment. It was a little weird, going back so soon after nights of walking the streets till very late at night, or very early in the morning. As she walked, she heard footsteps behind her.
Then she noticed that they weren’t human footsteps; but that on an animal; a soft padding noise with the click of claws against the concrete sidewalk; along with the little jingle of tags shaking with the movement of the collar that they were attached to.
Esther turned around and looked; it was that dog. The sad little German Shepard, who’s owner was killed by Zehnder. The dog still had that leash attached to his collar; apparently no one had taken him in, or put him in the pound for that matter. The leash dragged against the ground, dirty from tracking along after the dog.
The dog itself wasn’t doing very well either. He was thin and scraggly. His fur was mangy and unkempt; and his muscles were wiry and lean. His ribs were lined against his skin, and his tongue hung out of his mouth; thirsty for a drink.
Esther felt sorry for the poor creature; he was alone, sad, and the one he looked up to was gone, just like her. She walked over to him and kneeled so she could get on his level. He looked up at her, his big, sad brown eyes gained a sparkle of happiness, and his tail wagged. He whined a little; so hungry.
Esther reached down and looked at the name tag on his collar; his full name was Maximus, a little ironic, for such a skinny little canine. She petted him on the head, he wagged his tail weakly.
“We’re a lot alike, Max. People like us should stick together.” She reached over and picked his leash off of the ground. Esther stood up and smiled down at her new companion. Max grinned, his joyful doggy smile made Esther happy. At least some good had come out of today.
* * *
Esther brought Maximus into her apartment. They didn’t allow any pets bigger than a common hamster, but she wasn’t going to abandon him. Max trotted around the small apartment joyfully, sniffing all these new places and objects. He whined when he smelled the bloody hammer, but he quickly turned and grew happy again.
First, Esther gave him food and water. Max wolfed down the food greedily, wagging his tail like it was a fan. After that, Esther gave him a quick bath. While his fur was wet and against his body, his bony frame was much more visible; Esther set a goal to help him become fit again.
With Max’s fur nice, clean, and dry, he looked much better. He hopped on top of the bed and settled down for a nap. Esther didn’t mind, company was nice.
Stressfully, Esther looked through her bills. She didn’t know how she was going to pay for both herself and Max along with the bills, but she would try to make it work. Flipping through them, she got to the last one. She looked at it forlornly and sat down on the bed next to Max, who stopped trying to sleep and looked up at her; his face was bright and happy. Esther stopped worrying about the bills and set down the one she was holding. Max’s happy face made her happy too; he was carefree and joyful now that he had back what he had lost.
It was late, so Esther decided to try and get some sleep. Like a big fluffy teddy bear, Max slept next to her.
* * *
Esther couldn’t sleep. Something was just bothering at her, poking at her mind, wanting to get free. There was something she had forgotten; something important. She sat up and turned on a lamp. Max yawned and looked at her, curious. Esther tried to remember; the memory was right there, she could feel it.
While she tried to think, Maximus got off of the bed and sniffed around at random. He came across the bill she had placed down earlier and looked at it full of wonder.
“That’s nothing special, just the hospital bill.” Esther pointed to her scarred right eye, “From when this happened.”
Max jumped back up on top of the bed and sat next to her.
“I’ve only been in the hospital three times.” Esther recalled back the old memories, “I don’t remember the first time, but it was when I was born. And then recently there was the time with my eye. And the third one, the third one was when. It was when . . .”
Then it hit her. That other time; this changed everything. Esther checked the time; it was almost dawn, but that didn’t matter. She got up and changed her clothes; Max whimpered, confused.
“Sorry Max, you can’t come with me. But I’ll be back soon, I promise!”
Esther opened the door and left, leaving the dog on the bed; his head cocked to the side and whimpering.