I spoke to Erwin twice in my entire life, but I saw him almost every day while going to school. I’d pass on the other side of the street and naturally turn my head to the right to see him. An old man with patchy graying hair under a worn brown hat and squinty eyes.
That was Old Erwin.
He’d always been around as far as I knew. As a little kid he frightened me, I’d cling to my mom and ask her to hurry up. I didn’t want to be near the ‘creepy hobo’. Over time, I got used to his presence on the street corner. He was like a statue, a part of the structure.
Erwin never caused any trouble. He was quiet and although he usually had this empty rusty can next to where he tended to sit, he never asked passerbys for cash. And whatever money he did have went to taking care of the friends he had. The furry or feathery ones.
One thing that always cycled about his little home on the street was the companion he had next to him. Sometimes it was a dog with raggy ears, or three cats with feral eyes and twitching tails. Even pigeons would land next to his feet and let Erwin stroke their wings.
My dad liked Erwin. He’s the local vet, and would come home talking about Erwin bringing in a pregnant cat and spreading an assortment of quarters and pennies for her care, and of course for her to be fixed after she gave birth. Dad had a soft spot for the old man, and would rarely take cash.
“I’ll take the man who has no money but all the love for animals over the bitch who tries to pay me to put down a perfectly good dog because it barks too much.”
My dad got into this job because he loved animals and very quickly realized he hated humans. I think that’s why he cared about Erwin. I think he offered Erwin our guest room a few times, but Erwin always politely declined. Didn’t want to be a burden.
The first time I spoke to Erwin was before my very first date. It was with a boy in his sophomore year, and I was checking my hair out in a store window. My heart was pounding, hands all sweaty. I wanted to just run back home and hide, but Cory was so cute. And super nice. And I liked his dog. Which is absolutely not a shallow reason to go on a date with someone.
I barely noticed Erwin shuffling up behind me until I saw his silhouette in the reflection. I spun around in shock.
Erwin grinned, smile with a few holes. “You going out with someone, missie?” He whistled his s’s and his breath had a faint scent of cheap toothpaste.
I swallowed and remembered to be polite. “Yeah. A boy.”
“A boy?” Erwin repeated. I nodded.
Erwin smiled pleasantly. “Check how he treats the waitress, missie. Shows a lot how a person is, if you can see how they treat the staff,” He advised before he shuffled back to his spot on the sidewalk. He sat down and started petting this raggedy gray cat, who purred like a motor truck and leaned against Erwin.
His advice echoed in my ears when Cory complained that the waitress was being a lazy slut who kept flirting with him and then didn’t leave a tip. There was absolutely not a second date.
Good advice from an old man.
The second and last time I talked to Erwin was when he died.
I’d made cookies last night and at the last minute I put some in a Tupperware and tucked them in my bag for Erwin.
It was still dark, the frosty grass crunching under my feet as I hurried across my yard. My breath came out as cold puffs, and I made my way to the corner where I’d always find Old Erwin.
I knew something was very wrong when I turned onto his street. Erwin wasn’t sitting up, propped against the bricks with that whistle-y snore of his. Instead he was crumpled into a little ball, quietly groaning as the dog next to him whined and nudged at his face. My bag dropped to the ground as I ran to Erwin’s side, turning him to his back.
His face was swollen and purple and blood was speckled across his lips. His glazed over eyes blinked a few times before he slowly smiled.
“M… Missie, whatchu doin here?” He asked.
I couldn’t breathe. I could barely think. I saw his chest staggering, the blood pooling and sticky on his shirt and jacket. All I could blurt out was, “I brought you cookies! Do you like chocolate chip?”
“I love em, missie. I love chocolate chip cookies. Thank you so much.”
He passed away before he made it to the hospital. He never got to try the cookies.
During the night while he slept, he’d been attacked. The assailants were unknown, the nearest security camera had been broken for years. No one bothered to repair it. Nothing like this happened here in such a small town. And no one really had it out for Erwin, some people complained about the bum that always took up a part of the sidewalk but no one bothered to do anything about it.
I was one of three people at his funeral. One of them was my dad. The other was Erwin’s wife.
I had no idea Erwin was married. But she came to the burial site and told us that’s who she was. Her name was Perla. Perla had synthetic pink pearl earrings, smelled like incense, and wore lipstick too bright for her skin shade, but her eyes were red and it was clear she hadn’t slept in days.
The minister said a few words, and Perla rested a pink tulip on his coffin. She didn’t cry, although I swore I saw a tear take a course down her wrinkled cheek as Erwin was lowered into the ground.
She didn’t attempt to talk to me or my dad after the service was over. She walked away and stepped into a black car.
I got curious. I wanted to know who this ‘Perla’ was. So I did some digging.
Perla lived a few hours away and she was a psychic. She did readings over chatroom, so I decided to pay for about ten minutes. I wanted to talk to her… maybe to reach Erwin. So I could say a more proper goodbye.
The chat started off with this.
Perla: You’re the girl at the funeral? Very curious.
I hadn’t said anything about who I was. It sent chills down my spine.
You: Yes. It’s me.
Perla: Curious little girl. Very curious.
Perla: My husband wants you to know that everything will resolve itself. Justice will meet his murderers three.
My heart leaped into my throat.
You: Murderers? Can he tell me who they are? If I tell the police, maybe I can help!
Perla: Do not get involved. It will not be necessary. Erwin has many friends. So many. Hundreds. Thousands. And they will claim justice for him.
Perla: Our conversation is done. There is your questions answered. I’ll refund you for your remaining time.
And sure enough, she did. She didn’t have to, but she did. I was honestly a little confused. Thousands of friends? What the hell did that mean? Sure, no one flat out hated Erwin. But he wasn’t Mr. Popular. I bet most people didn’t even know his name. He was just the hobo who lived next to the pet store.
But the next morning another death caught the attention of the town.
This one wasn’t a murder, at least not technically. Most of the time murder has to be caused by humans. This one was… caused by cats.
No. No I’m not fucking with you. Seriously. The guy’s parents walked into his room and the room was full of cats eating their son. It was nasty. He was slumped back on his chair, his throat shredded, at least according to the rumors. Same rumors said the guy’s balls and eyes were also gone. Poor bastard. I think his name was Kevin. I really don’t know, we didn’t have any classes together.
Of course no one believed at first that cats would legitly murder someone, but autopsy report confirmed it. Cats killed Kevin.
People were still scratching their heads when the next death happened.
It was out of nowhere. Alvin, another kid from my school, was walking his dog when the dog suddenly turned on him. His dog, being a beagle, really didn’t cause much damage, just caused him to fall to the ground. But that was enough for the other dogs to rush in and finish the job.
My dad checked the dogs out afterwards. He told me these dogs showed absolutely no signs of aggression, no sign of suddenly turning on him- they were just normal dogs with pieces of human flesh between their teeth and blood coating their muzzles.
One death is suspicious. Two is headscratching.
Three is undeniable.
Cory was the final victim of the animals. But first he came to me for help.
I was chilling in my room, petting my cat Mittens when she suddenly wigged out. Hissing and spitting before darting for the window, claws out and yowling.
I thought Mittens had lost her goddamn mind when Cory popped up at my window.
“Abby! Lemme in! Pleasepleaseplease! They’re going to kill me!”
After throwing Mittens into the hall I opened up the window. “What the heck are you talking about?” I hissed, not sure if I was thankful or not that my dad wasn’t home.
“The animals! They’re going to kill me… for… for what I did to the old man on the street.”
I felt like I’d been hit in the chest. Cory looked desperate, afraid. No, he was just a little older than me, he couldn’t have… “What did you do to Erwin?” I asked.
Cory ran his hand through his hair. “… Just wanted to scare him a bit… Alvin started it, he was making his dad’s store look like trash, always parking his junk around there! We didn’t mean to, oh god, we didn’t mean to kill him, Abby…”
The words Erwin said to me flashed through my mind. About how a person treats the wait staff says what kind of person he was. And the last words he said to me as he laid on the street, choking on his own blood.
I felt my eyes well up with tears as the coldest rage built up in my chest.
“Erwin was kind to everyone and every creature he met. He has hundreds of friends because of that… I might even say he has thousands of them. And I’m one of those friends.”
I slammed the window down on Cory’s fingers. He squealed before he began to beg, plead for me to let him inside. I pulled down the blinds and let Mittens back in my room, who ran back to the window and jumped at it in a fury. I’ve never seen this cat move faster than a slow walk, wouldn’t even attack mice feeding from her food bowl.
I’m not sure what was out there that night, with such a deep growl and its pounce shaking the very foundation of the house.
I do know that Cory’s body was never found.
I went to Erwin’s grave two days later with more cookies. I sat there with him, his headstone plain but beautiful. I saw prints of a deer in the mud beside it, and a bird was making a nest next to it.
I don’t know how long I sat there, but I wasn’t alone for long.
“… Chocolate chip?”
Perla sat beside me, still wearing that garish lipstick but her lips turned into a smile now.
“That was always Erwin’s favorite, you know.”
I held one out. “Is it your favorite too?” I asked.
Perla softly chuckled and took it. “… As a matter of fact, it is.”