Every inch of my body aches. I turn over on the couch and look at the dog sleeping at my feet. Hearing me stir, his head lifts and he wags his tail. His warm, brown eyes turn to slits as he yawns. He hasn’t left my side since I made it out of the river. The wolves didn’t bother to go after me as I made my way back home. The murky waters must have washed off any scent that drew them to me in the first place. I smell like a fish. This is the worst I have ever smelled in my life.
I look groggily out the window. The sun is low on the blue horizon. It must be around six thirty in the morning. I only slept for a couple of hours. I sit up to stretch my sore muscles. I was so close to being dead. Like Brad.
I close my eyes as a dull pain inflicts my heart once again. Is this how people feel when they are sad? I wonder how they make it through life if they feel this way more than once.
A door opens and closes upstairs. I groan as Corey rushes down the stairs. At the sight and smell of me, he stops at the landing and stares.
“Marie, what the hell?”
He takes a step toward me and his eyes widen at the sight of my new companion lying at my feet. “I’m confused.”
“Look, there was a guy who trespassed on our yard last night and I thought I’d go after him. I ended up chasing him all the way into the woods and then I fell in the river.”
His eyes widen. “Are you okay? Marie, are you crazy?”
“I sometimes don’t think I know you. Why would you run out alone into the night like that? You could have been hurt badly. That guy could’ve been violent!”
I laugh darkly. It turns out that guy was the least of my worries last night.
“You smell bad,” he remarks.
I drop my head onto the soft couch and groan. “I was exhausted when I got in early in the morning. I couldn’t make it upstairs to shower if my life depended on it.”
“Why didn’t you call me if you were all the way out there in the dark? You must have been freezing after falling into the water like that.”
“I lost my phone in the river.”
“You can say that again,” I say, stretching again and wincing at a painful knot in my back.
“Well, I’ll take the dog off your hands. The shelter is on the way to the airport, but I’ve got to leave now.”
“Wait! I’ll keep him.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. I want to keep the dog.”
Corey shakes his head. “You sure you’re okay?”
I shrug. “I think it will be good to have him around here. He’s very loyal.”
“That’s just like you, Marie. I go right, you go left. It’s how it’s always been with us. Fine. Keep the dog, but please take good care of him. He’s a nice animal. I’ve gotta go. See ya.”
He walks out the door and I sink into the couch again. I’ll have to thoroughly clean the fabric once I’m showered and dressed. Washing myself should be the first thing on my itinerary for the day. No. I need to feed the dog before that. I rush over to the fridge and forage through the boxed leftovers, picking the one with mashed potatoes and roast beef. I heat it up quickly in the microwave then test the temperature by forking a small portion in my mouth. It doesn’t seem too hot.
“I’ll get you real dog food soon, boy,” I promise.
I put the box on the floor; he devours it.
I rush upstairs to my bathroom and strip out of my smelly, muddy clothes. The hot water rushes over my skin and I wash my whole body twice to be sure the weird bog smell is off me. I wash my hair twice as well. I put on a hair mask and a face mask then bask in the warm, steamy room. I am grateful to be alive, but my brain is slipping. I am starting to feel things and I don’t know how to fix that. I can’t go to a psychiatrist for the issue. My sudden ability to feel empathy would be encouraged by mental health professionals.
I shudder despite the heat surrounding me. This is what hell must be. No one will help me find my sociopathy again. The world wants humans to feel pain and suffering, especially women. It doesn’t want me to be numb to other’s stupidity and pain. My kind is portrayed as monsters, mentally ill, psychopaths. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with these new feelings. They can’t last forever. Like sleep paralysis, perhaps this ache in my chest is caused by stress and will go away in time.
I perform my skin care routine, style my hair, get dressed, and apply makeup to my face. Realizing it’s been over two hours since I started pampering myself, I rush downstairs to see what the dog is up to. He is lying on the mat by the door. When he sees me approaching him, he trots up to me. I can’t imagine doing anything but good to him. I lower myself to the floor so I am at face level with him then I gently pet his head. He pants happily.
“You were there for me last night. I’ll never forget that.”
A piercing shriek sounds from outside. I rise, already knowing what it is. I rush outside to the backyard that I swore I’d never look at again unless it was to drown my husband there. I jog over to the pool. Sure enough, a little rabbit has fallen in and is struggling to get out of the pool. The dog whimpers, pacing back and forth behind me, yelping every few seconds. I stare down at the little head and ears bopping about the water’s surface. I have never felt anything more than a need to crush small things when I see them. It is so tiny and completely at my mercy as my hands hover above it. One part of me wants to push it under, but another part of me screams to help it like Brad did.
I bend down, cup my hands, and quickly lift it out of the water. It cries out, wriggles out of my grasp, and hops to the garden. The dog lazily chases it.
“Hey!” I call.
He returns to me wagging his tail. My heart is racing as I pet his golden head. There is something very wrong with me, but it doesn’t feel half bad. I helped something that had absolutely no benefit to me. I have never done that before.
I feel a presence behind me. Surely Brad is not haunting me in broad daylight. That would be too much. I feel a shiver as I turn around. It is Steve and he is not smiling. I jump almost a foot off the ground. The dog barks at him, but doesn’t leave my side.
“You scared the hell out of me! What are you doing here?” I cry.
I pet the dog’s head without taking my eyes off Steve.
“People are talking about you, Marie.”
“What are they saying?”
“A missing pool boy. Your odd, moody behaviour. Running into the forest at three in the morning with a knife. There’s been a lot to talk about.”
He’s wearing faded blue jeans and a grey Henley shirt, but nothing about his character is casual. I wonder if my backyard intruder last night had something to do with him.
“How do you know about all this?” I press.
“It is my job to know about everyone in my circle,” he says, taking a menacing step toward me. “I helped you erase someone from existence, but he’s more well-known than I realized. Brad was popular with a lot of the guys on the soccer team. They want to know what happened to him. Your husband in particular will pay good money to find him.”
I am not able to say anything, because I can’t breathe. Steve is just like me. At least, I used to be like him. A killer who will do anything to get ahead. I know he doesn’t care about me and there is no reason why he should, but I still feel anger about his betrayal.
He eyes me harshly. “Keep it together, Marie, or I will need to take care of this annoying issue you seem to be having.”
He looks down at the dog. “I thought you hated animals.”
“So did I. Listen, I think I’m going to be leaving soon,” I blurt.
He nods. “It might be the best thing for all of us. I’d do it soon if I were you.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
His eyes light up as he takes a step toward me. I can sense the sadistic glee he is feeling. “Well, I hate killing beautiful women when I’d rather fuck them, but I’ll do it if it’s for the greater good.”
That cold smirk of his would give anyone chills. I know the look. He is not bluffing. He will kill me if I don’t get the hell away from here.
“Fair enough, Steve,” I say. “I’ll go.”
“Good-bye, my lovely little Marie.”
I grit my teeth. Shouting out a biting retort will only complicate things. He walks out through the gate. It is time for me to leave.