Lindsay heaved a sigh.
Her daughter, Sharon, had just come to her with a limp hamster, the second one she’d killed this week. Lindsay had been forced to explain to Sharon the facts of life and death, much to her daughter’s consternation.
With her husband having left a little over a year ago, Lindsay was now relegated to the role of both mother and father for their little girl. A difficult task in any situation, but one made even more difficult by the fact that Lindsay worked over forty hours a week at the local grocers to make ends meet.
Lindsay would come home to find Sharon, who’d arrived a few hours earlier from school, playing with the hamster in the living room with the TV blaring one her inane cartoon shows. Lately though, the hamsters had been proving too fragile for the growing eight-year-old, who ended up breaking the little creature’s backs or necks. Sharon always cried and begged her mommy to “fix” the damage, but Lindsay could do nothing of the sort.
Now, sitting in the kitchen with her smoke break broken by the child’s sobs, Lindsay put down the joint in her ashtray and took the broken hamster from her daughter’s grasp. Sharon had fat tears rolling down her cheeks, dark eyes filled with grief.
“Mom, I didn’t mean to do it!” Sharon exclaimed. “He just stopped playing all of a sudden, and… and I picked him up… and *sniff* wanted to see what happened to him!”
“Sharon, I told you this already,” Lindsay explained. “You have to be careful with little things. A gentle hug could crush them, and rough grabs and pushes can hurt them.”
“How?” Sharon sobbed.
Lindsay sighed, her buzz waning now that she was forced to deal with the situation. “They have little bones, baby. Tiny things that can’t be bent. And their insides are squishy, too easy to hurt. You have to play soft with them.”
“Is he in Heaven Mom?” Sharon asked after a few moments’ consideration.
Lindsay stared at her daughter before giving a wane smile. “Yes, yes he is.”
Sharon blinked through tears, her face blotchy from crying. “I’m going to miss him.”
“I’m going to miss him too,” Lindsay said. “What do you say we give him a proper burial?”
“Okay…” Sharon said.
Together they took a shoe box, lined with wood chips and hamster food, and took him out into the backyard of the apartment complex. With Sharon watching out for any intrusive neighbors, Lindsay dug a hole shallow enough for the hamster’s casket to be submerged. The thirty-year-old woman patted the churned earth flat with her shovel once the task was done and hugged her daughter to try and calm the crying child.
That night, they had Sharon’s favorite meal (chicken nuggets) and they stayed up late watching cartoons on network television. When nine o’ clock rolled around, Lindsay tucked Sharon into bed, kissing her forehead once.
Returning to the kitchen, she sparked up her joint once more and took a long drag. She relaxed for a while, reading one of her trashy romance novels in the fluorescent lighting of the tiny room, before heading to bed herself.
Changing clothes into an old tee shirt and shorts, she paused when she heard the pitter-patter of feet running outside ion the hall. Opening her door, she looked around the darkened passage for any sign of her daughter.
“Guess I’m hearing things,” Lindsay said, rubbing her eyes. “Pot is making me paranoid, heh.”
Once the door was closed, she sank into her bed and resumed her reading, finishing off the joint over the course of five minutes. A soft knocking at her door made her look up.
“Sharon, honey, why are you awake?” Lindsay called out. When Sharon didn’t answer, Lindsay stood up and stalked over to the door, grumbling the entire way.
Opening her door, she looked out into the darkened hallway, only to see nothing. Flicking on the light, she jumped when she saw a stain of red on the carpet just outside her door, smeared into the carpet as if someone had danced in a pool of crimson. Shocked, Lindsay’s eyes followed the trail down the hall into the living room, where it turned out of sight. Running over the squishy carpeting, Lindsay opened he door to Sharon’s bedroom and shrieked when she didn’t see her daughter anywhere.
“No,” she wheezed, looking around back at the trail of crimson. “What in the world is all this?”
Walking around the corner, Lindsay let out another scream when she caught sight of the source of red. Blood pooling from the opened gut of a man, the dark clad stranger’s glassy eyes stared at Lindsay in a mixture of shock and fear. Intestines had been pulled out like garlands and a glistening organ sat half cut. A large knife, curved and wicked, was half-embedded in the corpse, the worn leather hilt slick with blood.
Lindsay suddenly became aware that someone was standing close by, just behind her. When she turned, she screamed.